Weekly Roundup, Friday 3 October, 2014

Airbus celebrated the certification of its new A350 plane by flying five of them in formation.
Airbus celebrated the certification of its new A350 plane by flying five of them in formation.

Good morning

What an awful week it has been with strikes, threats of strikes, and even fires, oh yes, and of course, a bit of weather too, all disrupting our plans and adding an unwanted additional element of uncertainty.  Let’s hope for a better week next week.

More positively, it was an exciting week for Airbus in a good way, with their new A350 airplane receiving official EU certification. FAA certification is still pending, and there is a thought that possibly the FAA may be slower in certifying the plane, after what seems to have been a too-fast certification of the 787.

Apart from a few small delays early on in the A350 development program, Airbus has done a remarkably good job of sticking to its schedule, and proceeding smoothly through the airplane development and testing processes. This is, of course, in enormous contrast to the problems Boeing had with its similar 787 and its many delays.

The first A350 to be commercially operated will be with Qatar Airways, sometime between now and the end of the year.

I wrote last week about a wonderful little ‘USB stick’ Wi-Fi device. At a cost of only $18, it is very easy to recommend it, and it seems a lot of you chose to get one.

I have now received my lovely free Wi-Fi router from T-Mobile. Unlike my earlier routers, it provides both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands, and so I have been able to do a lot more experimentation with both the dual band router and the dual band Wi-Fi stick.  This router is amazing, and has abilities I’ve not yet fully tested (such as using it as a network hard drive resource, or a network printing resource) and allows one to create up to six different networks (not devices, but networks) all operating simultaneously on Wi-Fi, while also connecting to the internet through two different connections.  It has very long range and seems to be much faster than previous routers I’ve used.  It is a wonderful benefit as part of subscribing to T-Mobile service.

I had not realized that it is necessary to connect separately to the 5 GHz and the 2.4 GHz signals (which requires two Wi-Fi connecting devices). This creates another and compelling reason to have two Wi-Fi connections available on your laptop. With two connections, it is possible to connect to both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz signal at the same time; if you only have one, then Murphy’s Law dictates that whichever service you choose will be the more congested and inferior of the two services!

In a hotel, it may be the case that any congestion problems are with the Wi-Fi link within the hotel, rather than the connection on out to the internet as a whole, and so if the hotel offers multiple Wi-Fi connection possibilities, it makes sense to take advantage of them all.

The combination of two Wi-Fi connections and the excellent Connectify Dispatch software makes a huge difference to your Internet connectivity and bandwidth when you are traveling. I repeat my earlier recommendation that you should strongly consider getting one (or possibly two!) of these lovely little devices.

I am continuing to learn more about my new iPhone 6+. My latest discovery is not entirely unexpected.

Not only does the phone have a much larger battery inside it, but it also consumes battery power more quickly. The larger battery (twice the capacity of an iPhone 5S) more than balances the faster power consumption, giving overall longer life per charge, but there is one scenario where this becomes a problem.

It seems that a normal slow rate USB charger is insufficient to simultaneously power the phone – particularly if its GPS service is running – and add to its battery charge.  I have watched, for 30 or more minutes, the battery charge percent stay unchangingly the same while the phone is running in my car and connected to a slow (0.5 Amp) charger.  The new iPhones can accept charge rates of up to 2.1 Amps (older iPhone 5 model phones took approximately a maximum 1.0 Amp charge).

If you have, or are planning to get one of these lovely new iPhones, I recommend you also get the four-port high-speed car charger I reviewed just a month ago. This definitely does get ahead of the ongoing power consumption when you are trying to charge the phone, and at only $20, is another easy financial decision to make.

What else this week?  Please read on for :

  • Happy Birthday, Hawaiian Airlines
  • Cockpit Screens Possibly Affected by Personal Electronics?  And so…..
  • An Expensive Checked Luggage Charge
  • Driverless Cars Continue to Move Forward
  • Tesla Needs Your Help
  • This Week’s Ebola Update
  • Have Our Security Organizations Foiled 54 Terrorist Plots Against the US?
  • New Walk-Through Airport Security Scanner?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Happy Birthday, Hawaiian Airlines

One of the very few airlines I actually like is Hawaiian Airlines, and I’m looking forward to flying them to New Zealand a bit later this month.

To celebrate their 85th birthday (they were founded in 1929) they published some interesting comparative numbers.

In 1929, they offered three roundtrip flights a week to neighboring islands.  Each journey took 1 hr 40 minutes, and the plane they flew (a Sikorsky S-38) weighed 10,480 lbs.

Today, they operate 560 roundtrip island flights a week, with each flight taking 36 minutes, and their larger A-330 planes weigh 507,000 lbs.

In 1929 they had 13,000 passengers in total.  In 2014, they anticipate 9.9 million passengers.

In 1929, it cost $15 for a one way inter-island flight, which is equivalent to about $210 in current dollars.  Today it costs $70 for a one-way flight.  A further measure of the increased value of their service is that in 1929, a barrel of oil cost $1.27 (1/12th of the cost of a ticket).  Today it costs $110 – 1.5 times the cost of a ticket.

And, lastly, for those of you who lament about the disappearance of the ‘golden age’ of airline travel – in 1929, passengers were served with a stick of gum and some cotton wool on their flight (to relieve discomfort from the pressure changes).  Today, Hawaiian is the only US airline to serve complimentary meals on domestic flights.

Yay for Hawaiian.

Cockpit Screens Possibly Affected by Personal Electronics?  And so…..

It is amazing how quickly and how completely the airlines’ attitudes towards our personal electronic devices have changed.

As you’ll recall, until about this time last year, we had to have everything switched off from when the cabin door shut, prior to pushback, and until the plane reached 10,000 ft, and then on the descent, from something usually way above 10,000 ft and until the end of the landing roll.  Even though there was no evidence of any possible danger or harm, and quite the opposite – plenty of anecdotal evidence of electronics left on, deliberately or accidentally, and causing no problems at all, we were told there was an unacceptable level of risk and we were forced to turn everything off, on the ‘better safe than sorry’ principle.

Then all of a sudden, overnight, the truth changed, and now we can have our electronics on all the way through the flight.  Nothing happened to either airplane avionics or to our mobile devices, but what was formerly too dangerous to risk leaving on became, via the stroke of a pen, completely safe.

Now, even more astonishingly, the FAA has discovered that the screens in 1326 of the 737 and 777 planes operating in the US are at risk of being interfered with by mobile electronic devices.  So, guess what?  Instead of re-instituting the ban on personal electronics on those planes, the FAA is requiring the airlines to upgrade and replace the displays (at a cost of about $10,000 per plane).

It is amazing (in a good way) how the ability to use our personal electronics has now been deemed to be essential rather than unnecessary by the FAA.  Details here.

An Expensive Checked Luggage Charge

We all cringe at the cost of checking our bags these days, and it is true that sometimes we pay more for our bags than we do for ourselves to travel somewhere – for example, this article mentions how on some routes, you can pay as much as $600 roundtrip to take a bag with you on Delta.

But for a dose of shock therapy that will have you craving to be allowed to transport a bag for ‘only’ $600, what about the woman who discovered that while her fee to take a bag with her on the flight to her destination was a moderate £17.50, the cost to bring it back with her was going to be £23,659,381,921.73.  Ooops!

Details here.

Driverless Cars Continue to Move Forward

You may recall I’m predicting that driverless cars will be commonplace by the turn of this decade.

How revolutionary is that?  To put it into context, the average American drives a car that is 11.4 years old.  Maybe your car is only half that age – 6 years old.  Whatever its age, the technology in it, compared to today’s new cars, is probably almost completely unchanged.  But we’re predicting that if you now look instead of six years back, if you look six years forward, new cars at that time will be profoundly altered.

You should keep this in mind.  If I’m close to correct, when self-driving cars become available, there is likely to be an enormous hit in the value of second-hand non-driverless cars.  It would be a terrible shame to invest heavily in a very expensive brand new car in a couple of years time, only to see its value plunge when a new self-driving model replaces it a couple of years later.

Two further steps towards driverless cars were announced this week.  The first sees the cost of a key component of a self-driving car – its  main sensor – drop in price from about $75,000 down to $8,000.  That is still an enormously expensive item, but there’s no reason not to expect another zero to drop off – the underlying components are not unduly expensive, most of the cost is in the form of recouping R&D and low volume assembly.  Indeed, even an application of Moore’s Law, to anticipate a halving in price every just-under-two years, would see the $8,000 drop down to $2,000 by 2020.  See here for details.

The other piece of news is that Tesla expects to be releasing a new semi-self driving car by the end of next year, which will probably be capable of 90% auto-piloting.  Exactly what that means is unclear, but there’s a big new Tesla reveal scheduled for next week (including a new model vehicle), and hopefully more will become known then.

Tesla Needs Your Help

Talking about Tesla (the motor vehicle company) there’s another Tesla that needs your help.  Nikola Tesla is a person who people simultaneously know of – and also know almost nothing about.

A Serbian American, he can credibly be considered to have pioneered radio transmission and AC power.  He also did some preliminary work on wireless transmission of electrical power, and high energy particle beam weapons, as well as theoretical explorations into all manner of other esoteric concepts that remain puzzles to this very day (he died in 1943).

Rumors persist of some of his futuristic inventions and ideas having been seized by the US government, and even today, the almost 300 patents he is known to have obtained often appear when inventors are researching ‘prior art’ for their own patent applications, much to their astonishment upon discovering what they thought to be a revolutionary new concept had been patented perhaps 100 years earlier.

Although some of Tesla’s inventions were commercially successful, he gave away or sold his rights for very little money, and spent most of the latter part of his life desperately short of money and relying on charity, mainly from the Westinghouse Corp.  The lack of money hampered his ability to continue building prototypes and developing his theories into practical working devices, and it is a matter of enormous regret that he wasn’t able to develop some of his more amazing ideas into reality.

Here’s a reasonably good biography, if you are interested.

Now – how does a dead man need your help?  Well, to be more accurate, the Nikola Tesla Museum in Shoreham, NY, needs your help.  A donation from Elon Musk (of Tesla Motors fame) enabled them to buy the Long Island site where Tesla’s final laboratory was located, and now they are seeking further support to build a museum to showcase the man’s life and works.

Details of their fundraising appeal are here.  If you can’t afford a brick, you can also contribute any other amount you choose.  It is a very worthy cause.

This Week’s Ebola Update

Last week I wrote how the World Bank President assured us that Ebola won’t strike the US.  This week, news has broken of an Ebola victim discovered in Dallas, Texas, and there is the possibility that the victim may have infected other people in the US prior to being hospitalized.  Ooops.

The Liberian national lied on a departure questionnaire when leaving Liberia, denying he had come in contact with any Ebola infected people prior to commencing his travel.  Who’d have thought that people would lie, when presented with an opportunity to urgently fly to the US and be given VIP access to the very best healthcare our country can offer?  I’m shocked!

To make matters apparently even worse, the UN’s Ebola Response Chief is warning that the virus could mutate and become able to be transmitted via airborne pathways, greatly increasing the risk of infection to us all.  Of course, also on the list of things that could happen this week are such things as you winning the lottery, the sun exploding, and President Obama admitting prior knowledge of and personal responsibility for, well, just about anything.  So while we acknowledge the possible risk of this, we’re not yet rushing to dig a disease-proof bunker in our back yard.

Airborne transmission or not, none of us, anywhere in the US, are now any more than a flight and a short drive to/from the airport away from Ebola.  Some people are apparently already taking their children out of school, and before long, you’ll probably find that face masks, gloves, and other similar things can’t be purchased, anywhere in the country.

Meanwhile, overall, the CDC website is counting total deaths, as of 2 October, of 3300, an increase of 383 from last week’s 2917, and an increase in weekly mortality from 287 the previous weeks (but still less than a couple of weeks prior to that with 483 deaths.

So – should we panic?  Not yet would seem to be the answer, but it would be appropriate, in the form of some ‘pre-match training’ to become more aware about and conscious of simple hygiene.  We recommend you (re)read our article about Ebola and how to avoid it.

And here’s an interesting article about what it would take to contain the disease.  The bad news?  It is very difficult to achieve in Africa.  The good news?  It would be much more readily achievable here in the US.

Have Our Security Organizations Foiled 54 Terrorist Plots Against the US?

According to this article, we have 17 major intelligence organizations in the US, and we spend about $68 billion a year between them all.  This count of 17 agencies is actually low, and probably depends in part on some definitional hair-splitting as to what makes up an intelligence agency or not.  For example, the Secret Service isn’t included, but it would be laughable to suggest that the Secret Service doesn’t have intelligence gathering and analyzing capabilities and a budget for such activities.  Then there are all the agencies that are ‘agencies within agencies’ that we can only guess about.

But, anyway, let’s accept the 17 as a number to work with for now.  The article reports that the NSA alone claims to have foiled 54 different terrorist attacks in the years subsequent to 9/11/01 – just over four every year on average, or, if you prefer, one for every $16.4 billion spent, plus or minus a few pennies.  Admittedly, only 13 of those 54 foiled attacks had a US focus, but even so, it is at least some sort of valuable return on our money, right?

Well, actually, wrong.  The article goes on to point out that a panel appointed by President Obama examined the NSA claims and found not a single one had merit.

So, we’ve spent close on a trillion dollars since 9/11/2001, and have exactly what to show for it?  Meanwhile, our leadership claims it has been blindsided by the growth of new virulent international terrorist organizations like ISIS/ISIL, while simultaneously seeking ever closer access to every part of our personal information.

New Walk-Through Airport Security Scanner?

Ostensibly, this may be good news – a new type of security scanner where we simply walk through a passage way, without stopping.  This CNN article suggests that it could handle up to 400 people an hour and would see the end of lines/delays at airports.

Well, yes, but – the CNN brains trust neglected to consider the other parts of the process – the bits which really slow things down.  You know – taking off your jacket, shoes and belt, emptying your pockets, taking your computer out of your carry-on, putting your liquids separately, and then putting everything back together again.  When you think about it, most of the delay when we go through security is nothing to do with our personal screening, it is all the other stuff related to our clothing and carryon, isn’t it.

That’s not to say that, if it does work as mooted, it wouldn’t be a good idea, but will it see the end of airport delays?  We very much doubt it.  Delays have become institutionalized, and if the lines shriveled down to nothing, the TSA would simply reduce their staffing levels to bring the lines back up to ‘acceptable’ levels, and redirect their staff to other places where they’re so visibly keen to get involved – you know, bus stations, ball parks, and anywhere else they can establish a beach-head.

One final point about this.  A ‘walk through’ scanner.  That’s not actually as futuristic a concept as you might think.  Isn’t it just a fancier (and much more expensive) version of a traditional metal detector, such as are still doing sterling duty in some security lanes at all airports around the country at present?

So tell me again how this new device will actually be any faster than a regular metal detector?

And Lastly This Week….

We often see lists of ‘Top Ten Most Popular Destinations’ of one form or another.  But how about a ‘Bottom Ten’ list of the least visited tourist attractions in England?

The softening of Ryanair’s image continues, with the latest casualty apparently being their annual staff calendar.  The calendar, published since 2008, with staff members volunteering to be featured, has always been slightly controversial, even though all profits from it go to charity, and even though there are much racier calendars available at Barnes & Noble and probably displayed on the walls of your local car repair shop.

Why the fuss?  Who could object to a charity calendar?  Details (and pictures) here.

Truly lastly this week, see if you can guess the access code to this airport security door.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Free Weekly Emailed Newsletter

Usually weekly, since 2001, we publish a roundup of travel and travel related technology developments, and often a feature article too.

You’ll stay up to date with the latest and greatest (and cautioned about the worst) developments.  You’ll get information to help you choose and become a better informed traveler and consumer, how to best use new technologies, and at times, will learn of things that might entertain, amuse, annoy or even outrage you.

We’re very politically incorrect and love to point out the unrebutted hypocrisies and unfairnesses out there.

This is all entirely free (but you’re welcome to voluntarily contribute!), and should you wish to, easy to cancel.

We’re not about to spam you any which way and as you can see, we don’t ask for any information except your email address and how often you want to receive our newsletters.

Newsletter Signup - Welcome!

Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

We’ll send you a confirmation email some time in the next few days to confirm your email address, and when you reply to that, you’ll then be on the list.

All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.