Weekly Roundup, Friday 7 April, 2017

Part of the beautiful town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, a highlight of our touring after this December’s Christmas Markets cruise along the Danube.

Good morning

Amazon came out with a wonderful short-term sale on its tablets.  I’ve reviewed both their entry-level 7″ tablet and their greatly enhanced 8″ tablet before, and so I add a short item after this weekly roundup that basically records the deal and links you to the earlier reviews.

Amazon’s sale drops the 8″ tablet down to $69.99, and at that price, it becomes close to a ‘must have’ item – and it is so much better than the 7″ tablet that even if you bought a 7″ tablet last year, maybe you should think about upgrading.  Details below.

Also, tremendously exciting news.  I’ll offer a Christmas Markets cruise again this year.

The cruise will depart on Monday 11 December from Budapest, and end in Nuremberg, on Monday 18 December.  I’ll arrange a pre-night or two of accommodation in Budapest and arrange touring up to the lovely towns around the Danube Bend prior to the cruise.

After the cruise, I’m doing something slightly different.  Yes, of course there’ll be a Prague option – that is close to an essential part of a Christmas markets experience.  But we’ll get there a different way.  This becomes a two, three, or more night extension.

On Monday 18th, after disembarkation in Nuremberg, we go to a place that I can barely type the name of, because of the excitement of thinking of visiting it – the town of Bayreuth, the sine qua non experience for Wagner lovers the world over.  We’ll visit Wagner’s Festspielhaus, and if it has reopened after a major restoration currently underway, the Margravian Opera House as well, built 100 years earlier and now a World Heritage site.

After visiting this extraordinary town, we then cross into the Czech Republic where we’ll spend the night in the spa town of Karlovy Vary (aka Carlsbad), full of stately buildings.  Although dating back to 1370, it came into its own during the ‘spa craze’ in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the profusion of stately buildings of that time lining its streets give it an enormous character.

Talking of enormous character, our hotel for that night is often featured in movies (eg Casino Royale in 2006), doubling for some of the grandest hotels in the world – the Grand Hotel Pupp (careful how you pronounce it).

Then on Tuesday we travel through the Czech countryside, stopping for a quick break in Pilsen (famous for its beer) then proceeding on to the Holasovice Historic Village – a World Heritage site, before enjoying time in another World Heritage site, the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov.  After our time in Cesky Krumlov, we head up to Prague (our third World Heritage site in a single day!), noting another ‘beer town’ on the way – Ceske Budejovice or Ceske Budvar, of Budweiser fame.

I suggest you consider a two night stay in Prague, giving you a full day to enjoy Prague, but depending on your time commitments, you could stay for one night or for three and more nights.

The timing allows us to visit all the Christmas markets on our itinerary at the best time of the season, and still has you back home in time for Christmas – but if you wanted to stay another week and enjoy a European Christmas, well, why not!

The cruise is currently available at a special price – $1000 off regular pricing, making it the great value that we all like and seek out.  The cruise itself, along the perenially popular Danube, and on the lovely AmaCerto (a ship I’ve enjoyed repeatedly in the past), includes a stop in one of my favorite cities with my absolutely most favorite of all the Christmas markets, Regensburg, and also an excursion to glorious Salzburg on one of the days.

I’ll have the itinerary and booking form up in a few days and will let you know when it goes live; for now, please keep the dates clear in your calendar.  This promises to be a great experience, whether you’re doing it for the first time, or the tenth time (I guess that would be me!).

What else?  A few tid-bits for your Friday fancy :

  • Virgin America – Officially Not Cool
  • Airbus Re-invents the A380, Sort of
  • Something for Elon Musk to Read
  • This Doesn’t Look Like Australia
  • Australia Sues Apple
  • And Lastly This Week….

Virgin America – Officially Not Cool

Virgin America, along with all Sir Richard Branson’s other companies, aggressively and self-consciously pursues an image of being ‘cool’.  But, as everyone knows, if you try too hard to be cool, you’ll fail.

So, notwithstanding the garish colors, purple lighting, and loud discordant music played on Virgin America flights, it turns out the airline has been scored not only as less cool than Southwest (an airline with some remaining traces of coolness, perhaps), but even as less cool than United – which surely has to be about as uncool an airline as is humanly possible.

Google did a recent study into cool brands as seen through the eyes of Millennials and Generation Z.  It is semi-interesting, with the coolest of all brands turning out to be Google’s YouTube service, followed by Netflix and Google itself.  Least cool was the Wall St Journal.  Details here.

Also not cool, at least according to this article, is what it describes as Sir Richard getting ‘pissy’ over Alaska Airlines deciding to discontinue the Virgin name.  And Alaska Airlines disputes his claim that they’ll have to continue to pay royalties to him all the way until 2040.

Least cool of all is stablemate Virgin Atlantic getting fined by the DoT for ‘misclassifying fuel surcharges as taxes’ – the word ‘misclassifying’ sounds so much nicer than ‘deliberately and deceptively’, doesn’t it.  This is far from the first time that airlines have tried to pretend that their own spurious fuel surcharges are actually government taxes.

Perhaps because of the nice phrase, the airline is being given the lightest of gentle slaps on the wrist – $30,000, of which the airline only needs to pay half,  assuming it doesn’t re-offend in the next little while.  Astonishingly, it seems to have taken the DoT 2 1/2 years to rule on the original complaint.  Why so slow, guys?

One wonders how many dollars worth of ‘misclassified fees’ were involved.  One has to suspect it was more than $30,000 worth.  Every dollar so misclassified should now be required to be handed over to the government, plus some additional amount as penalty.

Airbus Re-invents the A380, Sort of

Airbus has lots of unrealized potential with its lovely A380.  Its wing design allows for the plane to grow considerably, and/or to have its range extended.  New engine technologies could see improved fuel burns and economies too.

But in a vicious Catch-22, Airbus is reluctant to invest more money in the plane, due to its current lack of widespread acceptance in the market.  That is an awkward no-win position – ‘our plane isn’t popular, so we won’t spend more money to make it popular’.

However, there is a low-cost way for Airbus, and its airline clients, to make the A380 more appealing in terms of operating costs and returns.  This involves deploying ‘the oldest trick in the book’ – squeezing more seats into the plane.

We never really expected to see the shopping malls, gyms, restaurants and bars that were fancifully originally proposed for A380 layouts, but airlines have – until now – stopped short of cramming in the maximum possible number of seats into the plane.  Airbus is now officially blessing the idea of adding about 78 more seats to a typical four-class layout, which would allow 575 people to be transported at a time – an almost 20% increase in passengers per flight.

Airbus says these changes would be done without any compromise in comfort levels.  Apparently, going from a ten across to an eleven across layout for coach seating does not compromise comfort levels, at least in Airbus’ eyes.  Not sure the guy squeezed into the middle of the block of five seats (formerly a block of four) would see things the same way.

If you think increasing the passengers on the plane to 575 is a lot, keep in mind that some of the two-class Emirates A380s already seat 615, and the plane is certified for a maximum capacity of 853 passengers.  Also keep in mind it is somewhat meaningless to compare airplanes in terms of seats, because a lot depends on how many of each type of seat make up the total.  When you consider that each first class seat could be replaced by three coach class seats (more or less), clearly the total number has to be considered alongside the seating mix.

For us all, no matter which class of service we’re traveling, the key measures are seat width (18″ starts to be good), seat pitch (depending on seat back thickness, 33″ starts to be good), and how readily we can get to an aisle.

Something for Elon Musk to Read

A month or two ago Elon Musk had another of his sudden outbursts of ‘inspiration’ on Twitter (hmmm, who does that remind us of), and announced he was so fed up with traffic congestion that he’d start drilling underground tunnels to relieve the congestion on surface streets.

But unlike his various other endeavors, he wasn’t also promising any new technologies to make tunnel boring suddenly transition from expensive, unreliable and slow, and become overnight something very much better.

So he might like to read this article about the disastrous behind schedule and over-budget experiences suffered by a new tunneling project in the Seattle area.  It took over 3.5 years to go under two miles, with the delays adding about $500 million to the total project cost.  But if that doesn’t alarm him, then good news – Seattle’s tunnel boring machine is now for sale.

With Tesla now being worth $47.3 billion, compared to Ford at $44.9 billion, and GM just slightly above at $50.8 billion, chances are he could afford ‘Bertha’ (as the machine is affectionately called), and even perhaps any cost overruns that might ensue.

This Doesn’t Look Like Australia

A month or so back we discussed/chortled, for several weeks in a row, a spate of people flying to a destination which shared the same name or very similar name as the place they actually wished to travel to.

This week, a Dutch student who clearly isn’t a Geography star was in the news.  When he chose his ticket to Sydney, he noticed that it was much cheaper than other tickets, but failed to notice that it was a ticket to Sydney in Nova Scotia.  Not the one with, you know, the Opera House in Australia.  And instead of a southern hemisphere balmy summer, it was a northern hemisphere blizzard.

Ooops.  Details here.

The story sounds strange.  If you ask any type of flight booking service for flights to Sydney, you get to choose only one such Sydney, so one wonders how he could have been tempted away from real fares to the Australian Sydney with a less costly fare to Nova Scotia.

Australia Sues Apple

Talking about Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is suing Apple, claiming that Apple acted unfairly by deliberately locking up phones which their owners had repaired by companies other than Apple.  Many times it is advantageous to use some other repair service – for example, you’ll sometimes find stalls in malls that will replace a cracked screen, on the spot, and for much less money than Apple charges.

The old canard of ‘you can only get it fixed by us’ is one that has long since been laid to rest and even made illegal, but it refuses to die.  Lots of printer manufacturers, for example, will do all they can to try and force you into using their ink cartridges.  Even something as trivial seeming as a connecting cable between an iPhone and a computer involves some trickery, with Apple doing all it can to make it difficult for third parties to sell cables for a quarter or less the unnaturally high price Apple charges for an official cable.

In the case of the repaired phones, it seems that the iPhones (and iPads) would lock up when connected to iTunes after having had some other company repair them, and Apple was reportedly refusing to resolve such events.

The Australian regulator is seeking fines of up to $1 million for every time this happened. Details here.

And Lastly This Week….


Here’s an interesting article, ostensibly about ‘psychological tricks’ that Uber plays on its drivers, but in reality, it is an interesting insight into how all sorts of companies design their customer experiences to encourage their customers to participate further.

And this is a terrifying sight at the best of times, especially if you’re slightly sensitive to being somewhere high and without a great deal of reassuring terra firma all around.  Astonishingly, a woman fell off a not-so-high part of the bridge, and lived to tell the tale.

So does that mean there’s nothing to be scared about?

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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