Weekly Roundup, Friday 31 July 2015

Is this the remains of a suitcase from MH370?
Is this the remains of a suitcase from MH370?

Good morning

After my extensive travels in May/June, I decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and get a slightly larger backpack.

There seems to be some sort of ‘traveler’s rule’ – the larger the bag, the more stuff you need to put in it, and being bad at packing discipline, rather than force myself to be more constrained with what I carry, I gave in to my weakness and got a larger backpack – a decision made all the easier by a current 45% discount on the manufacturer’s website.

The review is attached to today’s roundup.

Talking about reviews, I’d love to give you my first impressions on the new Windows 10, but unfortunately I can’t, due to a ridiculous approach to the ‘free upgrades’ adopted by Microsoft.

Please also see, below :

  • Reader Survey :  How Many Email Addresses Do You Have?
  • MH370 Wreckage Found
  • Thai Airways Gives Up on the US
  • Pilot Shortages Now a Reality?
  • Not Everyone Stands to Benefit From Driverless Cars
  • Disney’s Regional Discounting Under Fire in Europe
  • Scotland Yard to Offer a New Form of Bed and Breakfast to Guests
  • Welcome, Windows 10
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey :  How Many Email Addresses Do You Have?

A group of us were discussing how we manage our email, and we all admitted to having multiple email addresses, including in some cases forgotten/ignored/never used ones.  Many of us have a Gmail address, a Yahoo address, maybe an older AOL or Rocketmail or Hotmail address, perhaps a work email address, a college address, or one from our ISP, and so on.

I was curious if this is just us, and so offered to conduct a Travel Insider Reader Survey.  How many email addresses do you have?  Please ignore ones you’ve not touched in a year or more, and think of the ones which you occasionally access, once every month or more regularly.  This does not include Twitter and Facebook IDs, just regular email addresses.  Please also include email address ‘aliases’ which get combined/amalgamated into one combined-access account.

Please click the link to send an empty email to me with your answer encoded in the subject line.

I’ve really no idea what the average number will prove to be – some Googling suggested perhaps two or three – and of course will share the results with you next week.

As a thank you for sending in your answer, I’ll also offer you an email hint/tip.  Way back when, it was common for people to use a ‘free’ email address that was offered by their ISP.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with doing so, except for one little thing the ISP doesn’t want to tell you.  If they can keep you using ‘their’ email address, they are more likely to keep you as a customer, because think of the hassle involved in changing your email from your old account (that in reality belongs to them, not you) to your new account.

That is a bit like the bad old days before phone number portability, when changing your wireless service provider required you to change your phone number, too.  Or when changing from one address to another required you to change your phone number – except that, of course, for landline users, you probably still need to change your landline number when moving from one city to another.

I’d recommend you move to Gmail or one of the other major free generic email services, so that if/when you decide to switch ISPs – maybe just because you move address and the new address doesn’t have service from the same ISP – you don’t have to also change your email address, making your switch not as hassle filled as it otherwise would be.

MH370 Wreckage Found

Although officials are being surprisingly slow to confirm this, I’m going to come out and say that the ‘flaperon’ wreckage discovered on Reunion Island, just to the east of Madagascar, is indeed from the mysteriously disappeared MH370 flight that vanished in March last year.

It seems credible that the piece of airplane discovered is indeed from a 777, and there just aren’t that many unaccounted for 777s out there!  Or, in other words, MH370 is the only one that has vanished.

Some articles are showing charts showing that it is possible the wing piece could have drifted on ocean currents from the probably crash point to Reunion, although it would require the currents to be at the top end of their strength/direction.

The other exciting thing, although of less unassailable provenance, is part of a suitcase and its contents also being found on the same beach at the same time.

A word of caution, however.  Simply discovering this wreckage, and even discovering a great deal more wreckage, won’t necessarily tell us what happened to the plane, or why, or how, and not even, to within some thousands of miles, where.  It may help establish a region of possible crash sites in the ocean, and those which are congruent with other calculated possible crash sites of course then become more likely crash sites, as do the theories associated with how the plane would have come to crash there.

But whether the plane’s disappearance and crash was a deliberate act or an accident remains a total mystery, and one which is unlikely to ever be understood, unless the black boxes are recovered and they prove to contain some revelatory information.

It is somewhat surprising that the wing piece didn’t just sink.  Yes, there could be trapped air inside, but one would think that over the course of 16 months and a few ocean storms, the air would have gradually been replaced with water.  Aluminium, while light, is almost three times as dense as water, and although one commentator suggested that maybe the part had a high percentage of carbon fiber, we don’t think that is so as best we can tell, but even if true, carbon fiber is 1.5 times as heavy as water, too.

We say this not to suggest ‘it is impossible that this is from MH370’ but rather to suggest this is an outlier event and it is unlikely there’ll be a lot of additional plane parts washing up on Reunion or anywhere else.  Possibly other debris from the passenger cabin though – naturally buoyant objects such as lifejackets, possibly some clothing and other items too.

Here’s a good and comprehensive article on the discovery.

Thai Airways Gives Up on the US

As part of cutbacks that also sees Thai eliminate its Bangkok/Rome service and halve its flights to Heathrow and Frankfurt, the airline will end service to LAX from 25 October.  It has been operating four flights a week to LAX, its only US gateway.

The airline lost money in three of the last four years, with its biggest loss being in 2014 and second biggest in 2013.  Yes, at a time when other airlines were setting new records for profitability, Thai Airways has been setting records for losses, and there was even a rumor – which happily didn’t eventuate – early in 2014 that the largely state-owned airline might go bankrupt that year.

It is understood the airline generated a profit in the first quarter of 2015.

Pilot Shortages Now a Reality?

Republic Airways, a regional carrier that operates flights for all three major carriers (AA DL UA) has announced it is unable to man all its planes and scheduled flights, due to a shortage of pilots, and so it will be cutting back on its operated flights.  It isn’t yet clear exactly how much of a cutback there’ll be, but in an industry with generally and/or potentially growing demand for air travel, even simply staying the same size is unusual.

Is this because they are not paying their pilots enough?  It could perhaps be said that, in the final analysis, it is always about money, but if that is true, the solution is not to pay pilots who already earn good six figure salaries even more money, but instead to pay entry level pilots at regional airlines such as Republic more than the pittances they get as starting first officers.  Republic starts new co-pilots off at $23/hr, and with about 1000 flying hours a year, that equates to about $2,000 a month.

On the other hand, even at Republic, a pilot can look to make over $100,000 a year, and of course at the major airlines, almost $300,000 a year.

Paying a junior co-pilot $2,000 a month is as ridiculously low as is paying a senior pilot $25,000 a month ridiculously high.

However, the real blame for the pilot shortage (if in fact there really is one) lies with the government.  In an act of unrestrained lunacy and panic after several crashes in the 2005 – 2009 period, which were more starkly and obviously due to pilot incompetence than is usually the case, Congress raised the required number of hours to qualify for an airline co-pilot license from 250 to 1500.

It is true that more hours of flying are generally better than fewer hours, although there’s a great deal more to getting a skilled pilot than just hours in the air, and to focus merely on hours alone is the least desirable approach to improving pilot competency.

This is born out by the overlooked fact – none of the pilots who caused the ‘headline crashes’ that brought about this new legislation had fewer than 1500 hours.  Indeed, my analysis of the eight fatal crashes in the ten years preceding the legislation showed that the least experienced pilot had 2790 hours of flight time, and other pilots had up to 13,000 hours of flight time, so raising the training requirement from 250 to 1500 hours would have had no effect at all on the eight preceding fatal accidents.

This was ill-informed feel-good legislation that while having no effect on pilot flying standards, did have an impact on pilot intakes.  Raising the cost of getting a pilot license (other than for ex-military) effectively six-fold, and also extending the elapsed time it takes to fly those hours, does make it much harder to qualify, although traditional paths to qualification (most notably becoming a flight instructor and getting paid to fly) still exist.

I wrote about this in 2010, and my article, arguing against the increase in qualifying hours, created quite a lot of controversy, but none of the people disagreeing with me have ever been able to back up their empty but extravagant assertions with a shred of proof.

Not Everyone Stands to Benefit From Driverless Cars

Talking about transportation safety, one of the many enormous benefits of self-driving cars is a probable massive reduction in accidents, injuries, and fatalities on our roads.

It is stunning selective blindness at present that allows us to require ridiculous procedures and extravagant costs to minimize risk in some parts of our life, such that the cost per life saved is somewhere in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, but apart from some very minor tweaks, one of modern society’s greatest killers – the automobile – is allowed to continue killing us all, tens of thousands each year in the US alone (36,000 in 2012), and over a million world-wide.  And then there are all the injuries people suffer, and the property damage too.

We now require airline pilots to have at least 1500 hours flying time before they can become a co-pilot, but how many hours does it take to become a licensed automobile driver?  Probably less than 15.  Why focus on the less than 100 airline fatalities in the US most years – why not focus on the 320 times greater number of automobile fatalities?

The US does not lead the world in terms of auto safety.  It isn’t even near the top.  Indeed, this table shows that US fatalities, expressed in terms of miles driven, are twice the rate of Sweden, almost twice the rate of the UK, and 55% higher than Germany, even though Germany has its glorious autobahns, often with no speed limits whatsoever.

And this table shows a wide disparity in fatality rates within the US, with the most dangerous states having a nearly four times greater risk of fatality than the least dangerous states (Montana the most dangerous, DC the least dangerous).

Clearly fatalities are unrelated to dense or sparse population, or to speed limits, and with such enormous variations and massive numbers of fatalities, you’d think there’d be a clamor to understand and identify the risk factors and resolve them.

On the other hand, car accidents are ‘big business’ – and perhaps therein lies part of the problem.  Responding to and resolving the outcomes from car accidents provide a huge amount of work across many different industries, creating an interesting scenario where, by some measures, our economy – if not at risk of being harmed – would certainly change appreciably if auto accident rates plunged.  I’m not saying anyone is actively lobbying to make cars dangerous, but for sure there is a selective blindness about the need to make them safe.

One such industry that would paradoxically be harmed is also one of the most effective at apparently lobbying for highway ‘safety’, although their self-interest might perhaps explain their enthusiasm for measures that at times might seem more to be about penalizing drivers than about enhancing driver safety.  This is the insurance industry, and here’s a fascinating article pointing out that lower accident rates might harm rather than benefit the insurance industry.

Expressed simply, the concept behind this surprising suggestion is that if the insurance industry makes a profit by retaining a margin on its premiums, that would suggest that if losses halved and premiums similarly halved, then the industry would have to make do with half as much margin as before.

So if (some might say ‘when’) you see insurance companies and their mouthpiece, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, calling for caution and controls on the deployment of self-driving vehicles, it would be appropriate to understand the complexity of conflicts the insurance companies are having to wrestle with in their advocacy.

On the other hand, self-driving cars aren’t without their potential problems.

Disney’s Regional Discounting Under Fire in Europe

The single market economy concept of the EU – a bit of a myth at the best of times, but used as justification for layer upon layer of bureaucracy and controls, is being invoked to justify a probe into Disney’s regional discounting of package deals to its Paris Disneyland.

Disney offers different package deals (accommodation and admission tickets) in different countries, and a distinctive feature of these deals is that to qualify for the offered rate, your credit card’s billing address has to be in the country the promotion was targeted at.

The pricing variations are substantial – the same package ranges in price from €1346 in France, up to €1870 in Britain and €2447 in Germany.  No word on what price for Greece!

Scotland Yard to Offer a New Form of Bed and Breakfast to Guests

London’s Scotland Yard has, of course, offered accommodation and food for a long time, but the previous ‘guests’ weren’t necessarily there of their own volition, being prisoners in cells.

The original Scotland Yard building was superseded by a new location, known as New Scotland Yard, in 1890, and another move occurred to even larger premises in 1967.

The original Scotland Yard premises, plus an adjoining building, is now to be made into a new five star hotel, with the premium suites costing £10,000 (US$15,500) a night.  A far cry from its original accommodation.

Details here.

Welcome, Windows 10

Wednesday saw the official release of Windows 10.  By all accounts, the upgrade and upgrading both seem to be positive experiences, and those of you who maintain that Microsoft alternates between good and bad releases will see this as further confirmation (ie XP good, Vista bad, Win 7 good, Win 8 bad, implying Win 10 should be good) of this strange sequence of successes and failures.

I’d decided to wait a week or two before upgrading any of my computers from their present Windows 7 and 8.1 versions, but by lunchtime on Wednesday I couldn’t wait any longer and so was clicking the Windows 10 upgrade icons on several computers.

Unfortunately, that didn’t give me instant upgrades, but instead simply put me in the queue, and required me to wait for who knows how long before my turn at upgrading comes along (36 hours so far).

If you’re similarly impatient, there is a way to push yourself to the top of the queue.  Well, to be more exact, to avoid the queue entirely.  Simply go to this official Microsoft page and download the upgrade from there.

But – and yes, there is a ‘but’ involved.  With a flash of brilliant idiocy that shows the ugly old Microsoft is only thinly concealed by the more appealing veneer of Satya Nadella’s “new” Microsoft, you can only apply the manual upgrade to your computer if you have its original Windows license.  If you’re like me, and wanting to upgrade a variety of machines, up to as much as seven years old, and with no idea at all where the original disks and licenses might be found, then you’re stuck.

For reasons best known only to itself, you can’t cause a copy of Windows to display its license ID.  The only way to determine this, at least for us as owners of the software, is to find the old fashioned hardcopy slip of paper.  A low-tech, unnecessary and old-fashioned requirement for sure, particularly for a company that has abandoned any pretense at providing any printed documentation with its software at all.

The automatic upgrade you have to wait for doesn’t require the original license information, and it beggars the imagination that the manual upgrade process isn’t clever enough to look into the Windows registry and ‘see’ the presence of a valid software license (or not) and proceed accordingly.

So it will be some time yet before I report on my Windows 10 experience.

And Lastly This Week….

Apparently the $450 million new airport terminal and related tarmac apron and taxiways might be settling and sinking at Kuala Lumpur’s airport.

That’s possibly a small problem for Malaysia, but we’re not without similar situations in the US, where one new study suggests the entire DC area is slowly sinking.  That may or may not be a bad thing.

Do you remember the ‘good old days’ where it was reasonably easy to get invited into the plane’s cockpit?  These days, it sadly seems there are only two categories of people who get to enjoy cockpit rides.  Pilots and – well, click the link.  And, all of a sudden, I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for what truly is ‘the best view in the house’.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






5 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 31 July 2015”

  1. Given that Microsoft STILL does not provide decent image backup capabilities in windows10, I’ll be waiting to upgrade until 3rd party providers (e.g., Acronis, Macrium) have a proven product that will run on windows 10. (Yes, you can make an image, but I expect image creation along with an incremental and difference backup capability, on an automated schedule.)

  2. I have upgraded several genuine Windows 7 computers to Windows 10 using the “Manual Method” mentioned above. Works well without having any old install disk or even knowing what the Windows 7 key is.

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