Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 September 2015

The lovely new Huawei Smart Watch, on sale in two weeks (see below).
The lovely new Huawei Smart Watch, showing one of its many different face and band options, on sale in two weeks (see below).

Good morning

Thursday was a watershed day – the first time since the coming of summer that I had to turn on the heaters in the morning.  Only a couple of weeks ago, the a/c was straining to control the 85°+ heat outside, and all of a sudden, without any graceful transition, we’re in the 50s and 60s.  Just in time for the long weekend, alas.

Talking about ‘just in time’, they say that prevention is better than cure, and that’s as true of computers as it is of people.  The increasingly anthropomorphic nature of computer viruses has now extended to the point of there being an, ahem, ‘USB condom’, the use of which is increasingly called for when inserting one device’s plug into another device’s slot.

No joke (alas).  For more on computer condoms and why you need them, please see the article below this week’s roundup.

Also below, please continue reading for :

  • A Hell of a Way to Run an Airline
  • Airline Competition the Way it Should Be
  • The US Subsidizes our Airlines
  • Germs on Planes
  • Flight Attendant Threatens Federal Lawsuit if Compelled to Do Her Job
  • MH370 Flaperon Now Confirmed (But Nothing Else)
  • There’s One Born Every Minute
  • T-Mobile Asks for the Opposite of What it Wants
  • Smart Watches Getting Smarter
  • And Lastly This Week

A Hell of a Way to Run an Airline

I needed to buy some Jetstar tickets last week (Jetstar is a subsidiary of Qantas) and was having problems on their site with it accepting my credit card for payment.  So, after doing the usual frustrating hunt to find a phone number, I was delighted to see not just a phone number (which would have required an international call to either New Zealand or Australia) but also a Skype ID, and an invitation to call via Skype (ie for free).

I called their Skype ID, and it answered ‘Welcome to Jetstar, blah blah blah.  If you wish to proceed in English, press one on your touch tone pad, for <various foreign languages> enter <other numbers>.’

No worries, right.  Just press the 1 digit.  Except that, ooops.  There’s no way – leastways, not that I could find on my iPhone – to enter touch tones in a Skype call.  Their incoming Skype lines just routed direct to their normal phone system, with the expectation that the caller was on a phone with a dial pad.  And if you do nothing, it just repeats and repeats, stuck in a loop with no way out.

I ended up placing a regular international call (I never did discover why the credit card wasn’t accepted on their website but went through no problems when I gave the number to someone on the phone), and then got one of those automatic survey requests in my email.  So I happily waded through the lengthy survey, delighted at a chance to tell them about their Skype issue, only to, at the end of the survey, have it generate an error rather than be saved and sent off.

A hell of a way to run an airline, indeed.

Airline Competition the Way it Should Be

New Zealand has a population of only slightly more than 4 million people – fewer than a decent sized US city, and so it has always been a struggle for the country to support more than one domestic airline.  The national carrier, Air New Zealand, operates a reasonable domestic network of flights, and while various airlines have established niches – either on very high volume or very low volume routes, none have ever attempted to duplicate Air NZ’s complete domestic network.

Welcome news has now emerged about Jetstar starting to offer domestic flights between these secondary towns/cities.  As soon as Jetstar announced its plans, Air NZ responded by slashing its fares by up to 40%, including on routes Jetstar will not serve.  Probably Air NZ felt social pressure acting on it and didn’t see how it could justify price drops on some routes where competition is appearing, but not on other routes; perhaps it is also a defensive measure to slow down a Jetstar invasion.

Air NZ is also attempting to appeal to the love/hate relationship that infuses how NZers view Australians and vice versa, by jingoistically claiming it will never be beaten by Australians on its home ground.  We’ll see…..  Meantime, the NZ traveling public (and visitors to the country) will get to enjoy more flights and lower prices.

Suggestion to Jetstar – why not start up some flights in the US, too?  Actually, there’s an answer to that question, and it is a sad one.  The US government forbids foreign airlines from flying in the US.  This is a strange protection.  Foreign car manufacturers can sell their cars in the US, foreign food manufacturers can sell their food here, and so on through most every other type of business/service.  But if you’re a foreign airline, stay away!

Isn’t it time to change this?

The US Subsidizes Our Airlines

I’ve commented before that the US carriers have historically received enormous subsidies from the US government, and that they continue to receive such subsidies now.  All the more reason, of course, to allow foreign carriers in to compete with our national carriers.

Here’s an interesting article that lists some of the ways US carriers get subsidies and support, from federal, state and local governments.

It also points out the specious nature of the airlines’ claims that US jobs are at risk if we allow foreign carriers to fly within the US.  The US carriers themselves think nothing of offshoring thousands – probably tens of thousands – of jobs to foreign workers, whether in call centers, maintenance centers, or other services.  Besides which, why should a surly American flight attendant get job protection when other workers in other jobs get no such protection at all?

Germs on Planes

I estimate that probably about half the time I take a series of long-haul flights, I end up with a cough or cold within a few days of the flights, whereas in my normal stay-at-home life, such infections are blessedly far and few between.

Amazingly, though, study after study seems to suggest this is all a coincidence and nothing related to having been on a long flight, and the airlines put out screeds of statistics boasting about how many times an hour they change the air in their cabins.

On the other hand, however, other studies point to astonishingly high concentrations of germs on various surfaces on planes, although here’s a study that, while acknowledging there are 30 times more germs on a seat back tray table in a plane than on a toilet stall door lock on the ground, suggests this is okay, because all those extra germs are not necessarily harmful.

No, I don’t find that reassuring.

Flight Attendant Threatens Federal Lawsuit if Compelled to Do Her Job

Two interesting opposites this week.  On the one hand, we have a county clerk jailed for refusing to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, due to her religious beliefs (to say nothing of cake bakers also in trouble).

But we also have a Muslim flight attendant refusing to serve her passengers alcohol; that being against her religious beliefs.  The airline didn’t seek to imprison her, but did discipline her and placed her on unpaid leave for refusing to carry out her duties.  The flight attendant has now filed a complaint with the EEOC and her attorneys say if she doesn’t prevail, they may file a federal lawsuit against the airline for requiring the flight attendant to do her job.

I’m not making any comment here about gay marriage, nor about Muslimism, and if pressed, I’d consider myself fairly tolerant on both issues.  But I am observing the different ways the two seemingly similar issues are being handled, and can’t help but wonder why that might be.

But in news that should please both ladies, Hilton says it will no longer provide x-rated in-room movies in its hotels.  Such content is now deemed to no longer be in line with the company’s ‘vision and goals’, and appears to be a response to pressure from a moral standards group.  No word from Hilton however about what it will do to attempt to restrict the, ahem, filming of such content in their hotel rooms!

MH370 Flaperon Now Confirmed (But Nothing Else)

Well done, France.  It only took you five weeks to officially agree to what anyone with half a brain knew within as many minutes – the recovered 777 wing segment, found on Reunion in late July, did indeed come from the mysteriously disappeared MH 370 flight.

To be fair to France, proving the provenance of the flaperon was apparently much more difficult than it should have been, due to shambolic record keeping at Malaysia Airlines, and it seems that ultimately, the French investigators ‘short circuited’ the airline entirely and simply matched the part’s serial number to the delivery records from the manufacturer, showing it to have been delivered to the airline and not otherwise clearly accounted for.  This is an interesting and fairly damning account of the problems the investigators encountered.

Furthermore, the confirmation that the flaperon comes from the lost plane raises more questions than it answers (a fairly easy thing to do because it essentially answers none).  How did the wing piece travel, submerged, but not sunk, from wherever it came off the plane to Reunion?

There’s One Born Every Minute

A month or so back I received a public relations pitch, asking me to write about a new type of travel jacket, which its designers were seeking to fund through Kickstarter.

I looked at the product, and it seemed essentially identical to, but slightly more expensive than, the current range of excellent travel jackets sold by Scottevest (which often come with 20% or better discounts), and saw no point in mentioning it.

But either I overlooked something, or 44,949 other people failed to do even elementary ‘due diligence’.  The jacket rapidly earned $9.19 million in funding from these people (ie an average of $204 per funder) – an astonishing figure and in extraordinary contrast to the funding goal of $20,000.

So – who is wrong?  The 44,949 funders, or me?

T-Mobile Asks for the Opposite of What it Wants

T-Mobile, and its combative ‘in your face’ CEO, John Legere, has done an excellent job of branding itself as the ‘un-carrier’; claiming to be customer-friendly, and truly breaking the mold of traditional wireless company contracts and terms/conditions.  No more two-yearly contracts, no extra charges if you go over your monthly allowances, no international data fees, and many other similar innovations have all emerged over the last couple of years.

T-Mobile is pursuing a very clever strategy.  With a small (but now growing) market share, it could sensibly discount to buy in new business, whereas the major players (ie AT&T and Verizon) would have been ‘giving away the store’ if they matched T-Mobile, merely to keep their existing business.  Instead, they’ve watched unhappily as T-Mobile has continued to play off their much less consumer-friendly policies, and as T-Mobile has picked up some market share from both of them.

T-Mobile continues to poke fun at its larger competitors, and in this article the company claims it is organizing a grass roots petition to force its competitors to drop their data overage fees.

The truth is, however, obviously completely the opposite of T-Mobile’s public posturing.  If its major competitors matched it, line item by line item, T-Mobile would lose its ‘consumer champion’ status and its better-than-normal deals.  It would no longer have any competitive advantage at all, and would have to discount something else to regain the competitive advantage it needs.

So you have to admire the brinksmanship played by T-Mobile – taunting its competitors, but terrified it will goad the other wireless companies into responding.

Smart Watches Getting Smarter

I’m still not feeling any desire at all to rush out and waste money on an Apple watch.  But there have been some exciting developments in the field this week.

Google finally confirmed the reality of what has already been half in place, and now Android smartwatches will start to become compatible with Apple iPhones as well as with Android phones.  I continue to expect that when I get a smart watch, it will be Android based, but I’ve no wish to replace my iPhone with an Android phone, so this is very good news.

Sony came out with a truly clever smart watch idea this week – they are putting most of the watch’s intelligence into the wristband, while the actual watch face is little more than that – a display and not much else.  This not only allows for more battery life, but also means that you can upgrade the watch’s electronics in the band without needing to also replace the watch’s display.  That’s a great idea, and attacks one of the prime objections of high priced smart watches – unlike traditional watches that can be expected to last for decades or longer, smart watches are expected to be obsolete within a year or two.  The sooner it comes to market, the better.  (It is expected to start shipping next March.)

Motorola has also released a new version of its smart watch, due to appear later this month, and priced from $299, and Huawei have released a truly classy looking smart watch, going on sale on 17 September, and priced from $349.  It is probably my pick of the crop at present.

And Lastly This Week….

One of the perks, such as it is, of becoming President, is that you end up getting all manner of things named after you – even airports, highways, and just about everything else.

But apparently, one of the drawbacks of seeking to become President is that things which were formerly named after you are now renamed, especially if the candidate in question is Donald Trump, and the items in question are controlled by the FAA.

I mentioned above the flight attendant who felt her religion made it impossible for her to serve alcohol.  Perhaps she could take some pointers from this hotel in Muslim Oman.

And truly lastly, I’ll confess occasionally feeling a pang of envy when reading stories of travel writers who no longer work, and just travel the world, paying their way by way of writing articles about their travels.  I’ve never understood how to make such an indulgence actually pay its way, because for most of us, there’s nothing more boring than reading stories of someone else leading a lifestyle that is equal parts detached from reality in some respects, and totally banal in other parts.  So perhaps I enjoyed a frisson of delight at encountering this story.

I hope you’ll have a great long weekend, and let’s all hope for a pleasant ‘Indian summer’ and that fall and winter be delayed as long as possible.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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