As is always the case, a typical rush to get ready for the 2017 Travel Insider Christmas Cruise saw some projects failed to complete. But I don’t feel too abjectly guilty at not completing the external battery pack project though, because I have been nonstop continuing to test batteries all the last week.
The results have often been so astonishingly bad that I’ve been trying all different types of testing to confirm the outcomes, and when it can take a full day for a single battery to discharge through a measured circuit, there’s only so fast that these things can be progressed.
And after writing an article last week about Amazon’s delays, would you believe that the then twice delayed delivery of battery packs was delayed a third time? The article has received quite a few comments from others, also suffering from Amazon delivery problems.
But if by some chance you want to buy one or more external batteries for Christmas gifts, I offer comments on seven of the units tested, below. And, as a reader and friend asked me a day ago, which will I be traveling with to Europe today? I’m probably going to give Anna my favorite of the units, the 10,000 mAh Elefull, while, if my carry-on can fit it, I’ll take the 26,800 mAh Charmast. Plus also the lovely little Kolumb Ultra-Slim. Yes, belt and braces.
Happy 25th birthday to the text message. In a world where people now preferentially text each other rather than speak, even when they’re in the same room, it is hard to remember that 15 years ago, texting was virtually unknown in the US, it being another case where the US was slow to keep up with the rest of the world. I would go months between text messages in the US, but as soon as I traveled somewhere else – even Russia with a different alphabet – my phone would light up with text messages, the same as everyone else’s phone around me.
It was curious to note the slower adoption here – probably because our voice plans were cheaper. I think text messaging got a boost in countries with expensive costs per minute of voice calling – texting was cheaper, but in the ‘bad old days’ in the US, it was the opposite. Texting was massively more expensive than phoning.
Now, however, both texting and voice calling are close to free, and everyone seems to be migrating to text messaging, including, alas, corporations, now using/abusing texting as another way of getting in front of us. Progress, a funny old thing, isn’t it.
A shortish newsletter today. Then there’ll probably be one or two weeks of silence before returning. So please read slowly and savor :
- A Solution to the Pilot Shortage
- A Bad Choice of Woman to Harass on a Flight
- Airline Fees – Big Business
- Delta et al Suffer a Political Setback
- External Battery Packs – Quick Results
- US State Department Ups the Ante – Now a Global Travel Caution
- California Issues a Purple Alert
- November Electric Car Sales Results
- Batteries – Good News and Bad
- Copycat Trickster?
- And Lastly This Week….
A Solution to the Pilot Shortage
There was a time when an airplane cockpit was a crowded place. There was a pilot, co-pilot, engineer, navigator, and radio operator. The radio operators went first, then in the 1950s, the navigators too. Flight engineers started to disappear in the 1970s, much to the chagrin of pilots, who mounted a public campaign claiming that flight engineers provided an important third pair of eyes, making it more likely that mid-air collisions could be avoided.
An interesting study proved that quite the opposite was the case. The flight engineer’s position at the rear of the cockpit was such he had a poor view of the ‘danger’ areas ahead of a plane, but in three-man cockpits, the two pilots tended to be less directly attentive themselves. So, as part of a compromise, the airlines developed automatic anti-collision systems instead, and starting with the 737, two-man cockpits, once unthinkable, became standard. Here’s a fascinating albeit somewhat technical and very detailed history of some aspects of the evolution of cockpit manning levels.
Of course, history is currently repeating itself. The pilots tell us that two pilots are an essential safety measure, but studies show that pilots cause more crashes than they prevent. Automation is once more the solution that would allow flight decks to reduce to one or even zero pilots.
It will take a while for social perceptions to catch up with technological capabilities, so rather than go from two to zero pilots, it seems we’ll have to endure a transitional period with one pilot.
This item discloses that Airbus is developing systems to make airplanes operable by a single pilot, using the pilot shortage issue as a way to progress this needed safety enhancement and cost-cutting measure.
A Bad Choice of Woman to Harass on a Flight
What an extraordinary story a passenger has shared about her experience on an Alaska Airlines flight, where she was a first class passenger and being harassed by the passenger next to her, pretty much all the while on a three-hour flight.
When she complained to the flight attendants, they offered to separate the two of them. There was apparently only one remaining empty seat on the plane – yes, you guessed it, a middle seat near the very back. So did the creepy drunk guy get his comeuppance and get evicted from first class and sent to a middle seat in the back?
Ummm, no. Inbetween joking with the guy about his bad behavior (apparently he was known to the crew as a serial offender and had flown the route and misbehaved many times before), the crew suggested to the lady that if she didn’t like the man’s lewd suggestions and crass behavior, she should go to the middle seat at the back of coach class!
The lady has aired her grievances in public, probably including on Facebook. You see, she is the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Details here.
Alaska Airlines calls the incident ‘very disturbing’ and says it is investigating further. What exactly is there to investigate, and why does it take more than five minutes to do so?
Airline Fees – Big Business
$57 billion. That’s how much the world’s airlines will charge passengers in fees this year. They’ll also bring in another $31 billion from selling frequent flier miles to third parties such as credit card companies. Details here.
To put that into context, the total global airline profits for 2017 are projected to be around $35 billion. Is the fee ‘tail’ now starting to wag the airline ‘dog’?
There is, of course, a specific reason why US airlines love fees. They don’t have to pay the federal excise tax of 7.5% that is levied on the base air fare. So not only are fees ridiculously high, the airlines avoid having to share them with the government.
Delta et al Suffer a Political Setback
Talking about airline taxes, it is rare to see the airlines lose in Congress. But lose they definitely did. Although Delta had the political power to persuade Senator Jonnny Isakson from their home state of Georgia to move a ridiculous amendment to the new tax bill, it was roundly rejected and failed to proceed.
The amendment would have taxed airlines from countries where the US airlines didn’t fly at least twice a week. This would contradict international treaties that have airlines taxed only in their home country, but Sen Isakson, in his zeal to snap to Delta’s bidding, wasn’t about to let a little thing like legality and convention stand in the way of his amendment. The main target of his amendment would have been the big three Gulf airlines that Delta is seeking to be politically protected from, but analysis showed it would actually impact on airlines from 11 different countries. Details here.
This was a very bad idea that threatened to undo much of the harmonization of international air travel that has quietly occurred in the background, all to pander to Delta’s inability to compete against the Gulf carriers. Here’s a great smack-down of the legislation.
External Battery Packs – Quick Results
After evaluating 18 different portable battery packs, with claimed capacities ranging from a low of 1,500 mAh to a high of 26,800 mAh, and pricing from $8 to $60, and assessing them via multiple tests of more than 32 different factors, we’ve come up with some winners and some losers, and a whole bunch of ‘also rans’.
Best small ’emergency’ take everywhere battery : The Kolumb Ultra-slim. $12 on Amazon, a rated capacity of 2500 mAh and an actual delivered charge of 1750 mAh (70% of rated charge, one of the best performers). It is small and light and can be kept in a pocket or purse, and comes complete with a built-in cable and connectors for both micro-USB and iOS devices. The charge isn’t a lot, but it is enough to give you another half charge into most phones, which is surely enough for emergencies.
Best medium capacity battery : The Elefull 10,000 mAh unit, for $14 on Amazon. Much smaller and lighter than other 10,000 mAh units, and delivered an actual charge of 5,400 mAh, compared to other larger heavier units that struggled to get to 4,000 mAh. Looks nice and stylish, too.
Best high capacity battery : The highest capacity battery was a Charmast unit with a stated capacity of 26,800 mAh, and an actual transferrable charge of 13,200 mAh. It had a lot of features, and I liked you could be charging it through two inputs simultaneously, and also liked its USB-C connection. But at $45 on Amazon, you get not quite 300 mAh per dollar, making it disappointing in that respect.
In contrast, the Topmate 20,000 mAh unit, which costs $20 on Amazon, delivers a real 9950 mAh of charge, which is almost 500 mAh per dollar spent and the best value of all 18 units tested. But the Charmast is actually smaller and lighter, which is a consideration when traveling and adding ‘just one more thing’ to your carry-on. Do you really need more than 9950 mAh? If so, pay more than twice as much to go to 13,200 mAh and a smaller lighter unit with more features. Otherwise, stick with the Topmate.
Favorable mention should also be made of the RAVPower 16,750 mAh unit, which delivered 9900 mAh, almost exactly the same as the Topmate unit. It is smaller and lighter than the Topmate unit, but is priced at $24 rather than $20. We generally liked the RAVPower units.
Don’t buy : The Bonai 10,000 mAh unit has an attractive price ($10 on Amazon) but you only get 3,650 mAh out of it. Another 10,000 mAh unit, also at $10, the Aibocn, delivers 4,300 mAh, and the recommended Elefull unit, while costing a little more, is smaller, lighter, and delivers 5,400 mAh.
Don’t buy : The Techniroux 4,000 mAh unit, priced at $9.50 on Amazon, would only deliver about 800 mAh at close to its rated 1A output. That’s an appalling 20% of rated capacity. If it was babied at a mere 0.65A, it would deliver a more meaningful 2500 mAh, but who has the time for that.
US State Department Ups the Ante – Now a Global Travel Caution
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the State Department serving up a travel alert for all of Europe between now and the end of January next year, while observing how the State Department studiously avoided any reference to dangers here in the US itself.
Now they’ve decided to double down on their advice, and have announced a Worldwide Caution, and without any expiration on it. So, no matter what happens, or where, or when, the State Dept can now triumphantly say ‘We told you so’. Except, or unless, the incident occurs in the US. There is still no mention of domestic challenges.
California Issues a Purple Alert
Not to be outdone by the State Department, California issued a Purple Alert on Thursday. Of course, not to do with terrorism, but the terrible fires invading Los Angeles.
If you’ve ever wondered what color alert ranks above red, well, now you know. One wonders what color follows on from purple. Possibly mauve?
November Electric Car Sales Results
Monthly sales data for electric cars sold in the US in November have been released.
The most popular electric car in November? The Chevrolet Bolt, selling 2987 units. The second highest was the Tesla Model X, with 1875 units sold, then the Chevy Volt with 1702 and the Tesla Model S with 1335 units. As for the Tesla Model 3, about the kindest thing to be said is that its sales are massively up on the month before, having grown from 145 sales in October to 345 in November.
Here is an interesting chart. It shows a rolling three month average monthly sales count. Note the basically stalled nature of Tesla sales, and how the Bolt is now beating both Tesla models and showing a consistent steady increase.
Meanwhile, Nissan has announced they’ve started assembling the new generation Leaf at their Smyrna, GA plant, and the car will go on sale in January. We wonder if they will be able to ramp up production faster than Tesla, and look forward to seeing the January and subsequent sales figures for the Leaf, too.
Whereas we felt the earlier model Leaf was awesomely ugly, the new model looks almost like a ‘normal’ car. Chances are it will sell well.
Batteries – Good News and Bad
The good news is that rechargeable battery prices continue to drop, with a 24% reduction having occurred in the last year alone. This article suggests that, by at least some measures, batteries now cost $209/kilowatt-hour, although some other studies suggest considerably lower prices already prevail.
But, whatever the actual price, all studies agree on the trend – a clear and steady price drop, causing the up-front extra cost to get a battery/electric car instead of a petrol/internal combustion powered car, get smaller and smaller.
The bad news – there’s apparently currently an acute shortage of some battery types, and in particular the nearly omnipresent 18650 type battery, used in many different applications from portable electronics up to Tesla cars.
The reason for the shortage? According to this article, a lot of the battery making equipment has been shipped from Japan to Nevada, to Tesla’s new Gigafactory. But, surprise surprise (not), Tesla are very behind schedule on actually making batteries with the received equipment, and the result is an increasingly desperate shortage.
The article suggests that supplies will become more freely available halfway through next year. But it doesn’t suggest this will be the result of Tesla finally starting to make batteries in appreciable quantities.
Sometimes it might be a mistake to fully report on stupid security events.
I wrote last week about a prankster who set his phone’s hotspot network name to “Bomb on Board’ while on a Turkish Airlines flight. The discover of a Wi-Fi network on the plane with that name caused the pilot to divert and make an emergency landing in Khartoum. No bombs were found, and no-one owned up to the joke.
This week a mysterious security event occurred on an Alaska Airlines plane while still on the ground at San Jose Airport, CA; but authorities seem to be wising up. They’re describing it vaguely as “an apparent Wi-Fi message indicated that there was some sort of bomb threat”, so they evacuated the plane, checked the plane and rescreened the passengers.
You’ll not be surprised to learn that no bombs were found. Details, such as they are, here.
And Lastly This Week….
’tis the season for office parties. But if you find yourself enjoying a party with more unattached, attractive and friendly people floating around than you typically see in the office canteen, maybe your company is affording an extra treat for their employees this year.
Some Silicon Valley companies are hiring attractive single men and women to join their parties to, well, I’m not quite sure what. Their official title is ‘Ambience and Atmosphere Model’. At a cost of $50 – $200/hr per model, one assumes that, well, in some form or another, they give good value. Details here.
Talking about adding an extra dose of fun to office parties, it seems that life working on board a cruise ship is just one big, all expenses paid, party for the crew. Or so this article would have us all believe.
How times have changed. When I worked at sea, we had one only female crewmember – the ‘nurse’. She was a forbidding creature of indeterminate age, and none of us dared give her a second glance.
Truly lastly this week, some museums are hallowed halls of utter boredom. But this museum/exhibit in Los Angeles seems like a much more interesting museum.
A reminder – I don’t expect to publish a newsletter next week, not too sure about the following week.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels