Weekly Roundup, Friday 3 June 2016

Not all NZ food is bad!  Some of our 2014 tour members enjoying a lovely lunch at a winery before being personally shown around the winery by its owner (and an old school friend of David's).
Not all NZ food is bad (see article below)! Some of our 2014 tour members enjoying a lovely lunch at a winery before being personally shown around the winery by its owner (and an old school friend of David’s).  Come enjoy this same experience later this year.

Good morning

Another summer has semi-officially started, and right at the point where many of us are getting ready for our summer vacations, the State Department in its infinite wisdom has decided to issue a travel advisory notice for all of Europe for the three months June, July and August.

That is sufficiently broad (and vague) a geographic region, and sufficiently extended a period of time, as to be almost assured of being proven right, while simultaneously being utterly useless, as are the tired old homilies trotted out – avoid crowded places, monitor media, and so on.  Another exercise in ‘CYA’ – not that anyone in the State Dept is likely to have their jobs at risk, no matter what goes down anywhere in the world, while simultaneously serving up nothing useful or helpful to American travelers at all.

What will the next warning be – a global warning in perpetuity?

As a counter current to the travel warning and the subtext of ‘stay at home’ (although truly, where in the world is distinctively more safe than anywhere else these days, including the US itself) is this interesting article, pointing out that one of the biggest regrets we all feel as we age is not having traveled more.

The Travel Insider would certainly encourage you to avoid the risk of regret, while staring down the risk of terrorism and not blinking.  Come join us in France in late July or in Eastern Europe through the Balkans in late August.  Alternatively (or additionally), there is one possible answer to the largely rhetorical question about safe places in the world – New Zealand and Australia.  Why not come on our NZ/Australia tour in late October.

And, talking about NZ, fellow travel writer Joe Brancatelli wanted to do a food themed roundup of travel related articles this week, and so I wrote an article about the ghastly food I used to eat in New Zealand.

What’s that, you say?  Here I am, leading an ‘Epicurean Extravaganza’ tour to NZ in October, and I’m writing about NZ’s awful food?  Ah – but read the sentence carefully, please.  Used to eat.  These days, NZ food is among the very finest in the world, but 40 years ago, it was among the worst.  I hope you might find the article interesting and even slightly amusing in places, at least inasmuch as bad food is ever funny.  It is at the end of tonight’s roundup.

Also this week

  • Egyptair Update
  • Air NZ Shows How it Tracks its Planes
  • JetBlue’s Fashion Police Strike
  • Dirty Horizon Air – FDA
  • The TSA Should Take Lessons on How to Work Smarter, Not Harder
  • Tesla Makes the New Model 3 a Little Less Appealing; Hyundai Now a New Competitor
  • Would You Pay 10c for Every Web Page You Visit, To Avoid Advertisements?

Egyptair Update

My confidence in the apparent pinger signals having been located from the crashed plane’s black boxes last week was misplaced.  But in time for this week’s newsletter, is another series of claims that now, for real, pinger signals have been detected.  We’ll have to wait and see.

An interesting aspect of the case is that there have been no terrorist groups rushing to claim responsibility for the crash.  While it isn’t guaranteed that the people causing an airplane crash will always boast about it, most times that seems to be the case so the silence is another suggestion that the cause of the crash is far from guaranteed to be terror related.

There’s an article about how the plane was having issues on earlier flights, having to cancel and reschedule flights on three occasions in the previous 24 hours due to technical/mechanical issues.  This may or may not be significant, and is interesting.

Air NZ Shows How it Tracks its Planes

Here’s a ‘behind the scenes’ video from Air New Zealand, showing how they track and monitor their flights.  It was interesting to note that they get updates from all planes once every seven minutes – the new IATA mandate for flight monitoring is going to require a much looser update rate of once every 15 minutes.

A jet airplane can travel up to 150 miles in 15 minutes, and as the Egyptair crash is vividly reminding us, knowing to the nearest 150 miles where a plane crashed still can leave a huge amount of ambiguity and searching.

JetBlue’s Fashion Police Strike

Changing from one JetBlue flight to another proved to be unexpectedly problematic for a passenger, who discovered that her shorts, while accepted without comment on the first flight, resulted in her being refused boarding on the second flight.

JetBlue denies she was refused boarding, and claims that it was merely suggested she buy some other clothing to wear and that she voluntarily complied.  That’s surely not the version the passenger is now sharing.  Details (and photos) here.

Dirty Horizon Air – FDA

The FDA sent a letter to Alaska Airlines’ sister company, Horizon Air, complaining that on many of its turbo-prop planes, there was no handwashing facility in the onboard toilet, and pointing out that the inability for employees to wash their hands after using the toilet violated basic principles (and laws) of hygiene.

Bizarrely, the focal point of the FDA’s objection related to serving ice in drinks, which the FDA has now forbidden flight attendants from doing.  Horizon Air is trying to get the FDA to accept the use of ‘hospital grade disinfectant’ as a hand sanitizer in lieu of installing wash basins in its toilets.

That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it.  Our drinks would now reek of hospital grade disinfectant, rather than be crawling with airplane grade germs.  Only an airline would consider that an improvement or a solution.

Details here.

Note to the FDA – perhaps consider cars next.

The TSA Should Take Lessons on How to Work Smarter, Not Harder

It is hard to countenance how bad the TSA must be when it has reached the point that an airline needs to step in and show them how to do screening more efficiently – a circumstance that also points again to the big lie that is the underlying premise of the TSA : That the government can provide a better screening service than private enterprise.

Delta says it spent two months and $1 million on developing a screening workflow that it believes can double the productivity of the TSA personnel – ie, get us through the lines twice as quickly.  That would be an extraordinary transformation in the screening experience, and to prove the validity of its suggestions, it has created two lanes using its ideas at Atlanta airport.

Might the net result be a dwindling down of line wait times to almost zero, and instead of the TSA bleating about how it needs tens of thousands more screeners, the TSA being able to lay off tens of thousands of the screeners it already has, and a reduction on the security fee we pay on all our tickets?

Well, we all know that is never going to happen, don’t we!  But we also all now know that it could happen, if TSA were to simply follow ‘best practices’ such as even an airline can develop and deploy in a mere two months and at a cost of only $1 million for the entire project.

Details here.

Tesla Makes the New Model 3 a Little Less Appealing; Hyundai Now a New Competitor

One of Tesla’s claims to fame has been its network of ‘super chargers’.  The first part of its claim is that its super chargers will recharge a Tesla battery much faster than other chargers recharge other cars’ batteries.  That remains true, although the difference in charging time is narrowing and will likely continue to narrow into the future.

The other part of the claim is that Tesla owners can get unlimited free access to the super chargers for life, any time they wish to top up their vehicles.  That’s an appealing claim indeed, but Tesla has mitigated its apparent generosity in a couple of ways already.  Firstly, it seldom has super chargers in cities – it places them remotely on the freeways, in locations good for people traveling long distances, but with no significant nearby population of potential Tesla owners all seeking free weekly recharges.

Secondly, it has tried to walk back its original extravagant promise of unlimited charging, always for free, everywhere, to the point that it has even sent letters to people it has noticed using chargers close to their homes, politely asking them not to use the Tesla charger, but to use their own home charger (and therefore pay for the electricity themselves).

At the Model 3 launch, Elon Musk talked up the super charger network, and said that to respond to the increased utilization the Model 3 would place on the super chargers, the company planned to double the number of super chargers out there.

But he was silent on one point that this week was clarified.  Unlike owners of the expensive previous models (Roadster, S and X), Model 3 owners won’t get free unlimited lifetime charging.  It is unclear if they’ll pay per charge, or per month/year, or simply pay a one-time extra fee to access chargers, but Musk did say that ‘obviously’ Model 3 owners wouldn’t be getting unlimited free charging.

How much is the free charging worth, anyway?  Well, if you do a typical half charge at a super charger, that means you’re probably getting 45kWhr of power – something that you’d pay perhaps $5 for at home.  And if you live where the nearest super charger is nowhere near, you’ll seldom if ever get even that $5 of value/benefit.  Even if you’re doing a weekly long distance commute that causes you to need and use the super charger twice a week, that’s only $10/week in benefit you’re getting.

So the free super charging offer has always been a classic example of a benefit that is valued much higher by the buyer than it actually costs the seller to provide.  It was a very smart move by Tesla to do this – addressing some of the ‘range anxiety’ felt by their customers, and offering a low cost but high value benefit.

Which makes their decision not to include it, for free, with the Model 3 surprising.  The same dynamic – an appealing and highly valued benefit that actually costs very little to provide – applies as much or more to the Model 3 (because with a smaller battery pack, each of those occasional super charge topups might involve fewer kWhrs of power).  By excluding it, Tesla is making their Model 3 seem more a ‘me too’ electric vehicle rather than an exceptional one.

And, talking about ‘me too’, the competitive field is broadening every week or two.  This week saw Hyundai announce its plans to enter what is becoming an ever more crowded and no longer deluxe line-up, with a 200 mile range electric vehicle, to be released in 2018.  This will probably at the same time, and possibly even sooner than Tesla’s Model 3, slated for release at the end of 2017, but that’s a date few commentators believe.

That means that whenever the Tesla Model 3 comes out, deliveries of the Chevy Bolt will have already been underway for probably a year (the Bolt will be released late this year), and other model electric cars with similar pricing and range capabilities will be also either already released or coming out within a few months of the Model 3.  That’s a very different marketplace to the one it entered with the Roadster, the Model S and more recently its troubled Model X.

Many analysts have worried if Tesla will be able to ramp up its production for the Model 3 to the levels it is targeting (ie 500,000 a year in 2018); but perhaps the bigger worry isn’t so much if Tesla can built that many cars – the bigger worry might be if Tesla can actually sell that many cars.

Would You Pay 10c for Every Web Page You Visit, To Avoid Advertisements?

So there you are, standing in line waiting to go through security at the airport.  What do you do?  In my case, with my smartphone, after I’ve checked for any new interesting emails, I tend to go and read news articles on Flipboard or elsewhere – a great way to spend the time semi-productively.  The ads on such pages are always a nuisance, of course, particularly when it seems I accidently ‘click’ on one and end up with a cascade of pages and ads assaulting me all of a sudden.  And as for the video clips that are close to impossible to stop, I hate those with a passion.

Would I pay 10c for every page I browse/surf, to avoid the ads?  Absolutely not.  That would add up very quickly indeed.

But, here’s a related thought.  Of course, all those ads not only slow down page load times, but also consume data.  That data cost is notional rather than real if we stay within our data plan, but what if we start to go over it?  Or what if we’ve simply adjusted our dataplan based on our usage, without thinking how much of the data we are using is actually unwanted advertising?

A fascinating article this week in the NY Times looks at the time and data costs of advertising on web pages.  Their finding – a typical web page on a typical news site loads 5 seconds or more slower due to the ads than if there were no ads on it.  The worst offender was the Boston.com site, which took 31 seconds to load advertisements and only 8 seconds to load the actual content on a typical page.

And – here’s the real kicker.  The article assessed the data cost of the Boston.com ads as being in the order of 32 cents – for every page!  With a coincidental correspondence of about 1 second costing 1 cent, most news pages are costing around 5 cents each to view.

That’s a sizable chunk of change – that wait in the TSA line might end up costing you a couple of dollars, every time you do it.

Even more surprising, and not stated in the ad – that 5 – 30c cost to us to view a page and its ads is much more than the publisher probably gets from its advertisers for displaying the ads.  Maybe there’s a new way of monetizing their pages, by selling ad-free page views.

On the other hand, there is software out there that strips most ads off pages automatically for us, already.  The article also covers the concept of ad blocking software.  While, as a publisher, I’ve been terrified at the thought of ad blocking software; as a user, I see the compelling need for it.  Alas, it is greedy publishers who overload their pages with offensive advertising and therefore speeding their own demise by forcing us to install ad blockers.

The unwritten social contract has always been ‘you can read our content for free, in return for us displaying ads on our pages’ but the expectation by readers has been that the ads will be appropriate rather than offensive, and not too obtrusive.  The publishers broke that contract first, so have to accept the consequence of us as readers no longer doing our share in return.  How publishers will monetize their content in the future is becoming increasingly unclear.

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

New legislation in France will ban all cars older than 1997 models from Paris in a bid to cut down on the pollution problems in that city.  My still nearly new (45,000 miles) 1995 Jaguar is outraged at such blatant agism.  I’ve reassured it that I have no immediate plans to take it to France.

And still considering France, here are 37 fascinating facts you might not have known about the country.

Here’s an interesting article about CRCs on planes.  What is a CRC?  Crew Rest Compartment.  Looks much nicer than coach class, that’s for sure!

Two semi-related articles, perhaps.  The fastest, tallest and longest roller coaster is opening in the US, and – oh yes.  There are no federal and in some cases not even any state inspection standards for roller coaster safety.  Four people die each year in the US on roller coasters – that we know of.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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