Weekly Roundup Friday 14 February 2014

Caution - the distinctive appearance of this object is now trademarked (see below).
Caution – the distinctive appearance of this object is now trademarked (see below).

Good morning

Another week, another series of weather related disasters.  Except, it isn’t really weather that is the problem, and we need to stop allowing everyone to play their weather-related ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card in such cases.

Surely we all know that the reason our airports, ATC, and airlines roll over and play dead in bad weather is because it is cheaper to do so than to spend millions – possibly even billions – creating a more robust infrastructure that can handle bad weather.  But is it only about dollars?  Don’t public services and public carriers have an obligation to create a reliable transportation system that we can count on, and are we truly doing the correct sums when we cost out the pluses and minuses.

It is not too difficult to work out the costs to airlines and airports, but what about the costs to us, their passengers/customers?  I’m not even just talking about the dollar costs, I’m talking about the consequential costs, both in monetary terms and other equally important measures.  What has been the cost to the economy as a whole from delays/cancellations of people traveling – and of freight, too?  I even had a minor brush with this myself – an overnight package that struggled to get there a day later than it should, missing its recipient.  The ‘guarantee’ – money back shipping – was a trivial recompense for a disruptive hassle.

How about conferences, conventions, business meetings?  Or ‘just in time’ businesses that don’t get their materials in time?

And what about the social costs?  Weddings and funerals missed?  Or the general angst associated with planning any travel around the winter season, not knowing for sure if your flights will operate or not?  Or the time cost of ‘adding an extra day, just in case’ so as to be sure of being able to make important meetings (and still not making them!)?

My point is this.  While these delays are described as ‘weather delays’, 95% of the time, they are not weather delays.  They are infrastructure failures, caused by the deliberate decision of the people who manage our air travel system deciding to save money and design their foul-weather capabilities to only handle the ‘one in a hundred day’ storm rather than the ‘one in a hundred year’ storm.  Okay, so designing for the one in one hundred year weather event is probably overkill, but don’t we deserve a better foul-weather management capability than we have at present?

Extending the concept of travel problems further, can I mention again the value of trip insurance.  This year’s Sri Lanka trip is setting a new Travel Insider record for the number of last-minute cancellations – we’re probably at 25% of the total group number having cancelled in the last month or two (ie after full payment and well and truly into the ‘penalty zone’).  Now that is a record, for sure, but in general, it seems we have a 10% or so rate of ‘insurable events’ on all our trips – things that end up costing the tour members money, whether in cancel or change fees, or delays or luggage problems or medical costs, or whatever.

If you can afford to ‘self insure’ and also can accept the terrible bad karma associated with not only having to cancel a ‘trip of a lifetime’ but also lose the $5000 or more that you’ve spent on it, then this is always the best strategy from a financial point of view.  But if you’d prefer to insure, not only against the financial losses/costs, but also to eliminate much of the bad karma that is associated with unfortunate events interfering with your travel plans, then, truly, the trip insurance – while not inexpensive – is simultaneously a bargain.

I have a three-part series about travel insurance starting from here, including links to trip insurance ‘shopping sites’ where you plug-in your trip details and automatically/instantly get quotes from all the major insurers.

Whether you’re traveling with me or any other way, I urge you to consider travel insurance.  I’ve never seen anyone regret having purchased it, but I’ve seen way too many people in the tragically opposite situation.

Let’s swap to a positive travel story, and – astonishingly, about the TSA, although it does make one wonder about some things.  I was traveling recently with a foreign national and my daughter.  All three of us were anointed with Pre-check status and sailed through security – no lines, nothing out of bags, shoes and jackets on, and so on.  I’m not sure, but either their metal detector was turned off completely, or at least set to a very low sensitivity level, because I had some metal on me that I forgot to remove.

I qualify for the Pre-check, and perhaps my young daughter can be fairly guessed to be a low security risk.  But how about the foreign national, a temporary visitor to the US, about who the TSA presumably knew nothing at all?  That seemed a bit gratuitous.

My daughter was randomly chosen for secondary inspection, which seemed a strange juxtaposition of things – given Precheck status and also taken aside for random secondary inspection.  What is the point of that?

There’s not much else this week.  I’m enduring the torture of travel with not only a sick laptop but also the dreadful latest version of Office (2013).  Between the two problems, a simple email can take up to 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds to send, and of course, when traveling, one has less time for such challenges to start with.

Talking about internet and computer issues, the US came top of a recent survey determining the incidence of hotels with broadband internet.  89% of US hotels offer broadband internet access, followed by New Zealand, where 82% offer internet.

However, I find this a totally useless survey.  Much more interesting would be to also reveal the speed of the internet connection, and the price charged for it.

But attached is what I hope you’ll find an interesting article.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how new technology – 4K ultra-HD big screens – are now allowing us to recreate, at home, a cinema type experience, and wondered about the implications of that for movie theaters.

This week I look at the other end of the movie making process, and wonder at the implications of the new high quality low price cameras, editing, special effects, and the new channels of distribution to get movies to us.  Is new technology removing the studio’s stranglehold on movie making?  Please enjoy the article and form your own opinion.

In the past, many people have held the ambition/desire to write and publish a novel.  Perhaps now we can all instead direct and produce a movie!

Several other things…..

737 Speculation – To Be 10% Slower

I regularly bemoan the lack of progress with airplane design, and also delight in pointing out that quite apart from the Concorde, even with standard sub-sonic planes, jets today fly slower than they did 40 years ago (early 707s and 747-SPs).

Here’s an interesting piece that speculates about what form the replacements to the A320 and 737 might take.  Distressingly, the author suggests they might be as much as 10% slower than present planes.

So while trains are getting faster and faster, planes are slowing down.  The ‘sweet spot’ for train service – the travel distance where it is as fast or faster to go by train rather than plane – is growing larger and larger.  How fortunate the US airlines are that this country continues to ignore the enormous benefits high-speed rail could bring to our domestic transportation system.

Progress is a funny thing.

Interesting Windows 8 Factoid

I hate the new Windows 8 Metro interface, and can’t start to understand the idiocy of the people who brought it to the Windows environment.  But it is fairly easy to avoid using the Metro interface, and if you can succeed at avoiding Metro, you instead have an excellent operating system that is very stable and has a number of extra features that make it much better than Windows 7.

Of course, most people don’t know how to get rid of the Metro interface (use the Stardock add-in) and so Win 8 has sold very poorly.

Interestingly, when it was first released there was a rush by hardware manufacturers to preload Win 8 on their computers and it was very difficult to buy a computer that still had Win 7 on it, even though most people wanted to do that.  But now, what to make of the situation at Dell, where their new high-end laptop, the Latitude 6540, only comes with Win 7 and not with Win 8 at all?

Progress is a funny thing.

Netflix for Books

You surely know about the wonderful product that Neflix has evolved into.  Forget the old Netflix and DVDs in the mail; these days Netflix is all about delivering HD quality movies over the internet, direct to your screen (be it phone, tablet, computer, or television).  Unlimited movies for $8 a month, a heck of a deal.

There are also various audio streaming services that let you listen to unlimited music a month.

It has been a strange anomaly that while we can watch unlimited movies and listen to unlimited songs, for pennies a day, but there is no equivalent product for reading eBooks.  Instead we have to buy them, one at a time.

Until recently.  There’s now a wonderful service, Oyster, that allows you to read unlimited books a month for one flat fee, $10.  They have a wide variety of titles from a good selection of the major publishers, and if you typically buy at least one eBook a month, maybe it is good for you.

Currently it is only available for iOS devices (how rare it is to see something not available on Android too), but if you have an iPhone or iPad, maybe you should at least try its 30 day free trial.

Perhaps the best thing is that you don’t have to sign a contract.  So if you’re going to be going through a period of intense book reading (in my case, when I’m on the road), you can turn it on, and then when your book reading diminishes, turn it off again until you next need it.

Well worth checking out.  Sometimes, progress is a good thing.

Miniature Toy Gun Toting Terrorists Strike Again

Our heartfelt congratulations to the very ‘special’ security screening officers at London’s Heathrow Airport, for alertly spotting a security risk and confiscating it before it could be taken on board an airplane.

The security risk?  A plastic toy gun smaller in size than your fingernail.  Details here.

How very safe we are when flying from Heathrow.

Some but not All Duty Free Liquids Now Safe

Good news if you’re flying back home from a foreign country and bought yourself a bottle of duty-free something when flying out of the foreign airport.

We can now keep our bottles of whatever, even if changing flights and going through domestic TSA security, as long as they were packed into a secure, tamper-evident bag, in the duty-free store.  Unless the bottle is opaque, ceramic, or metallic.  Believe it or not, we are told that the TSA X-ray machines can’t see through these types of bottles.

But it is at least some small step forward, and for that we must be grateful, right?

And Lastly This Week….

The French copyrighted the Eiffel Tower, and anyone taking pictures of it is breaching their copyright.

And now Australia has gone one better, by trademarking the shape of the Sydney Opera House.  That’s a far cry from the days when Australia was desperate to elevate the Opera House from a slightly strange design of opera house in a city you don’t normally associate with opera, to the iconic building it is now.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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