Weekly Roundup, Friday 24 November, 2017

Good morning

<Insert traditional comment of your choice about Thanksgiving eating excesses here!>

I hope you too enjoyed Thanksgiving, which felt very much like a holiday for me this year.  Having Anna at home on Wednesday (her school came up with a coincidental reason why there should be no school on Wednesday either) broke up the weekly routine, and the cold dark wet days made it feel much more like Christmas than Thanksgiving.

I gather from a number of delighted responses back that my special email earlier in the week was well received, and that quite a few of you did indeed rush out to buy an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet at the astonishing bargain price of $100 – including one gentleman who first bought one from Best Buy, then liked it so much he promptly ordered two more as Christmas gifts.

Happily, I see that, at least as of Thursday night, the Fire HD 10 is still on sale at $100, as is the Fire HD 8 at $50 (usual price $80).

Appropriately enough, with many of us now thinking of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ deals, I’ve had another busy week, preparing for the ‘Christmas Gift Giving Guide’ that I promised; with the time-consuming part being publishing more reviews to support the recommended items.  So you’ll find below not just the guide itself but also two more product reviews.

In total there are a nominal ten items in the guide.  One of them proved more complicated than expected – an external battery pack to recharge portable devices with.  Sure, I’ve reviewed these things many times before, but I decided to do so a bit more scientifically this time, and observed that the three ‘current’ battery packs struggled to give 55%, 58% and 61% of their rated power capacity when recharging devices.  I’ve always empirically noted that you don’t get the entire promised capacity, but these shortfalls were astonishing.

So rather than accept at face value the claims, clearly I’m having to carefully test each and every unit, and have ordered in an assortment of such units.  I expect to provide results next week.

And what else for you to enjoy while quietly snacking on yesterday’s left-overs?  Please continue for :

  • Reader Survey – Airline Amenity Kits
  • Boeing’s Battle with Bombardier Escalates Again
  • Eastern Airlines Closes Down
  • Flying Car Time, Again
  • A Tesla Timewarp?
  • What About Las Vegas?
  • Thank You, Miss Manners
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Airline Amenity Kits

Reader Jerry was reminiscing last week about flying on a Chinese domestic flight in the early 1990s, and being given an amenity kit that included a shower cap.  Neither he nor anyone else on the flight could understand the relevance of shower caps.

Which got me wondering about the amenity kits that are passed out in business and first class on most international long haul flights.

What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever received in an airline amenity kit?  What is the most useful thing you’ve ever received?  What did you formerly get in amenity kits and wish was still included?  What else would you like included (be realistic, recognizing that airlines don’t allocate much money to such things)?  Please write in and share your experiences and ideas.

I remember, when I was a much less frequent traveler, that an airline amenity kit was a thing of precious value, to be treasured at home for years – albeit usually unused/untouched.  I also remember the kits being actually good, with nice bags/pouches and good things inside.  Now, I often notice when walking off a flight that some of the amenity kits have been instantly junked and left behind.

I always roll my eyes when reading a press release by an airline boasting about upgrading to a special name brand of cosmetics or using a high-profile designer to design the kit bag or something inside it, because whenever I get one such thing, it inevitably contains the same throwaway junk as always – eyeshades, maybe sock-things, earplugs, micro-toothbrush and toothpaste, perhaps a razor, and maybe some ‘smelly thing’ and some lotion.

So, please, do let me know what you have encountered variously as the most unusual thing, the most useful thing, the good thing no longer included, and your idea of something that could/should be included.  No need to reply in depth or detail, but if you have a thought or observation, please send it in.  I’ll collate responses and feature them next week.

Boeing’s Battle with Bombardier Escalates Again

Boeing’s successful co-opting of the US Commerce Department to levy draconian import duties against the Bombardier Cseries jets – a jet which in no way competes with Boeing – continues to outrage people around the world and create further pushback.  The appallingly one-sided nature of this David vs Goliath dispute – a dispute over nothing – is seeing Boeing losing goodwill internationally.

After Boeing’s actions forced Bombardier into Airbus’ arms, resulting in a strengthened Cseries program and the potential to add larger Cseries planes that would compete against Boeing, or at least, now give Airbus a broader product range than Boeing, we have seen several airline orders go to Airbus/Bombardier.  This last week we have now seen the EU clear its throat gravely and hint at possibly retaliatory punitive tariffs being imposed on Boeing planes being sold into the EU.  Suffice it to say that both the quantity and the tariffable (is that a word – it certainly should be) value of Boeing planes sold into the EU is orders of magnitude greater than the similar measure of Cseries jets going to the US.

Details here.

Eastern Airlines Closes Down

No, this headline isn’t 26 years out of date.  A revival of Eastern Airlines appeared in 2011 and commenced flying in 2015, but their operation, while quickly getting off to a promising start, floundered and failed, and the airline has now disappeared once more.

But the person who spearheaded the Eastern Airlines revival, and who left when things started to go bad, is now trying again, this time to restart World Airways, a predominantly charter airline that closed in 2014.  Details here.

What is it about people who seek to start new airlines with an old airline brand?  I’m unaware of a single one of the many such attempts (including multiple attempts to revive the corpse of Pan Am) ever succeeding.

Flying Car Time, Again

It is a slow news week this week, I guess, because there are not just one but two flying car stories out there (and some recycled supersonic plane stories too which I’ll spare you!).

This article tells the latest twist in the long running story of Terrafugia, a company that has been promising flying cars ‘real soon now’ since its inception in 2006.  It has just been bought by the Chinese company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the same company that now owns Volvo, Lotus and the London Black Cab company.

It is a sad situation when a company that was started by MIT graduates is now deemed more likely to succeed after being bought out/bailed out by a Chinese company.  Geely expects to get their flying cars into the air by 2019.

This article cheers on a new British startup that plans to have a futuristic flying car in the air (and on the roads) by 2020.

So – flying cars – now a sure thing, real soon now?  Maybe.

A Tesla Time Warp?

Fair’s fair, and if one is to point out the regular flow of Tesla news that some might think reflects poorly on the company, its products, and its management, it is only fair to also point out its successes, with an apparent success being Tesla completing a project within their promised 100 day terms.  But, like so much to do with Tesla, when you scratch the surface, strange things start appearing.

Read through this with me, and see if you can make sense of it.

The state of South Australia suffered an embarrassing power outage and was experiencing ongoing power supply problems, in part due to using renewable energy sources that weren’t always producing as and when needed.  So back on March 9, Elon Musk tweeted a promise to build a 129 MWh battery system for the state within 100 days, and if he failed to get it operational within the 100 days from signing a contract, he would do it for free.

The state agreed, and Musk completed the project within 100 days, with the system expected to go online pretty much any day now.

Congratulations to Tesla, right?

Now we’re not going to count the days, but an astute person would note there is more like 250 than 100 days between 9 March and today.  Ah yes, but the deal timer only started from when the contract was signed.  So when was the contract signed?

It is clear that by July, Tesla knew it was getting the contract and was even able to start preparations for the project – here’s a 7 July article stating it as a done deal, but there’s no need to rely on possibly ‘fake news’.   Here is Elon Musk himself, on the same day, referring to the contract apparently being activated.

And now here is an article dated 29 September that refers to Tesla holding a party to mark the half-way point in the project.  If we go back 50 days from 29 September, that seems to take us to a contract signing on about 10 August, which is a long way after 7 July.

If we also count 50 days on from 29 September, that takes us to 18 November, a week ago.  But we’re only now being told that work is being finalized – which is absolutely not the same as saying it is completed – and we’re also told it is expected the project will be complete well within the 100 day timeline.

And this article, dated 28 September, says the contract was signed on Friday 29 September (the time difference being due to the date line) but also notes that construction was half complete at that point.  This might seem like a contradiction, but the article chooses not to explain that.

If the contract was signed on 29 September, 100 days would go through to 7 January next year, not 1 December this year.

This article, dated 23 November, refers to the contract deadline as being 1 December.  100 days before then would be about 23 August.

So, when was the contract actually signed, and why was the contract signing delayed so long?

Was the contract signed on 7 July, 10 August, 23 August, 29 September, or some other time entirely?  Why all the conflicting stories, and if the contract wasn’t signed in early July, are we to believe that Tesla would start work on apparently a $50 – $100 million project, and continue for several months, with no contract in place and no payments being made?  That seems impossible to believe.

What About Las Vegas?

If we’re approaching Christmas, it is the time of year when the State Department often bestirs itself and emits a travel alert for Europe.  This year is no different, and the State Dept has issued an alert applying to all of Europe between now and 31 January next year.

The usual combination of backward looking statements about things that have happened before and useless platitudes are offered up.

And if that isn’t enough, there is also an ongoing worldwide caution too.

But, interestingly, there are no travel warnings applying to our own country (well there are, issued by other countries, but not by our own State Department).  I guess we are perfectly and officially safe here.

Thank You, Miss Manners

A few years ago in a reader survey, two-thirds of readers indicated they prefer hotel beds with sheets and blankets rather than with a single duvet/comforter.  I’m strongly in the two-thirds category, and at the risk of over-sharing of my bed related preferences, I like a top sheet and blanket that is tucked in at the foot of the bed and which readily comes up to cover my shoulders at the other end.

As a moderately tall person, that is often a problem with blankets (I surmise they shrink with repeated washings) and always a problem with ‘lying loose on top’ duvets.

Plus, how does one regulate the degree of warmth with an ‘all or nothing’ duvet?  I’m either too hot with it on, or too cold with it off.

Why is it, with most guests preferring sheets and blankets, that hotels are steadily shifting to duvets?  Because they are cheaper is of course the unsurprising answer.  Cheaper to buy and cheaper to launder.

In an article last week, Miss Manners weighs in on the subject of suitable bed linen arrangements.  Hoteliers, take note!

And Lastly This Week….

Uber has patented a device it says will stop passengers from getting car-sick.  The device is described as

The car would use data from its self-driving “eyes” to create a “sensory stimulation system” that syncs up your eyes and ears. That could be done with controllable seats that move and vibrate with the car, bursts of air, or using a display or “light bar” within the car to create visual stimulation such as an augmented reality live stream of the surrounding environment.

Sounds to me more like a device guaranteed to make you car sick twice as quickly.  Details here.

Talking about Uber, that makes me think of Amazon, which is increasingly taking a leaf from the Uber book and creating a growing army of ‘self employed contractor’ delivery drivers to get our packages to us.  And, just like Uber, Amazon’s attempts to get the most possible productivity at the lowest possible cost is causing problems.  Here’s an interesting read.

France is such a strange country, isn’t it.  Among other strange things is their reactionary pride in the French language, and their determination to ‘protect its purity’.  This is of course the utter opposite of the anarchistic nature of the world’s most popular language, English, which ‘bends with the wind’ and survives by assimilating any possible competitors.

Here’s a fascinating story about the latest attack on French – read it with concern, for fear it should happen here, too.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and good luck with your bargain buying






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