Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 January, 2018

The waterfront in the lovely fishing village of Fowey, in Cornwall, England.

Good morning

I hope your 2018 is off to a great start, and that if you watched a fireworks display, it was spectacular, but not in the sense that this display was.

Can I first talk about our Travel Insider tours for 2018.

Our Grand Expedition of Great Britain is almost full – not so much in terms of the number of people the tour could accept, but in terms of available hotel rooms in some of the small towns we’re visiting.

The good news is there is a single lady in her 60s who would be interested in sharing a twin room with another lady.  She has traveled with me a couple of times before, so I know her to be a pleasant lady and an easy person to share a room with.  If you’re interested in the tour, and wanted to avoid the single supplement, please let me know and I’ll introduce you to each other.

Indeed, there are lots of single people on the tour overall, so if you were feeling awkward at coming alone, there is no need to feel that way because there are many other singles, and the couples are generally very friendly too!  I just counted, 19 of the 24 people have traveled with on a Travel Insider tour before, including 10 who have done the other Scotland tour.  So, those who know about Travel Insider tours are eagerly coming along – why not join us.

If you’ve been thinking that maybe you will, maybe you won’t come on this tour, please do now choose to join and send in the paperwork (the joining form is most of the way down this page) as urgently soon as possible.

I’d also like to hear from you very soon if you’re interested in our Front Sight Training Course at the beginning of March.  I need to know the numbers for that asap, too.

The other tour that is not all that distant is our Triple K Tour of Kiev, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in late May.  We are building up a great core of travelers for this out-of-the-ordinary experience, with most also being return tour members.  Please do register your interest in joining that tour, too.

There’s a lot of new content this week.  I added four new pages to the main website all about Cornwall in England, and include a ‘teaser’ piece about that after tonight’s newsletter.  Cornwall is prominently featured in our Grand Expedition in June, and because it is greatly under-appreciated as a tourist destination, I added these four pages to explain why we’re spending time there.

I also had one of tonight’s items grow from being the typical paragraph or two to a longer dissertation, so ‘upgraded’ that to its own standalone article.  This is about electric car sales in 2017, and their future in 2018.  Of course, it includes some commentary on Tesla, and in case I need to say this again, I feel the truths about Tesla is one of the biggest unwritten stories out there.

A largely uncritical press, and even more astonishingly, uncritical analysts and investors, have created a company that at times has had a capitalization greater than General Motors; an astonishing scenario for a company that has never made a profit, which breaks every deadline and promise, and sells very few cars.  Even more surprising, but as shown in the charts in the article that follows, Tesla is losing market share and struggling to keep US sales at the same levels as the previous year, while continuing to revise the truth about when the eventual full-scale production rate for the Model 3 might be achieved.

But, notwithstanding those inconvenient truths, I’d still love to own a Model S, myself!

What else for our first issue in 2018?  Please continue reading for :

  • President Trump’s Selective Safety Successes
  • New List of the World’s Safest Airlines
  • Airbus Comes Up From Behind
  • Naughty Motel 6 Gets Sued
  • Hotel Privacy Rights Under General Attack
  • Apple Responds to its Slowing Phones Down Controversy
  • Where’s Elon Musk When You Need Him
  • And Lastly This Week….

President Trump’s Selective Safety Successes

In very good news, 2017 saw no passenger jet crashes whatsoever.  Indeed, out of the entire, worldwide, commercial aviation operations, with probably 4 billion passengers flying, there was only one fatality (a passenger on an ATR plane that crashed on take-off in Canada, in September).  It was the safest year for flying, ever.  Here’s a great article that lists exactly how safe the year was and when the most recent accident occurred in the past.

Unexpectedly (although this could be said about many of his tweets) this global combination of good practice and good luck (never forget that, no matter how stringent safety issues are, luck always plays a part in every flight, every day) caused President Trump to volunteer a claim for responsibility.  In a tweet, he said

Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation.  Good news – it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!

Without diving into exactly what ‘very strict’ means (because it surely doesn’t mean the DoT responding to the petition to enhance airline accountability by allowing in-cabin video filming of confrontations, and it also surely doesn’t mean the DoT deciding not to impose a requirement for airlines to disclose all their fees up front), one wonders why it is that President Trump wasn’t also very strict on Amtrak.

If he is responsible for a perfectly safe year in the skies, surely he is equally responsible for the multiple fatalities with the recent Amtrak crash?

And also, if/when the inevitable next plane crash occurs, will he then tweet out an acceptance of equal responsibility for the accident and deaths that may ensue?

Other groups were very quick to politicize and respond to the great aviation safety year too.  In particular, a tragically misguided group of individuals who feel that having lost loved ones in a plane crash somehow makes them experts on aviation safety are calling on President Trump to continue the ridiculous requirement that pilots have 1500 hours of flying time before being allowed into the cockpit of a commercial passenger jet.

As I’ve written, several times before (see the first article in this newsletter, for example), none of the last half-dozen or more airplane accidents in the US were caused by pilots with less than 1500 hours of flying time; rather, most of the pilots involved had two or even ten times that number of hours of flying time under their belts.  The only thing this requirement is doing is making it harder for airlines to find pilots, and forcing them to pay more to get pilots, costs which inevitably end up in our ticket prices.

New List of the World’s Safest Airlines

In the bad old days, it was relatively easy to make a list of the world’s safest airlines.  You simply counted the number of accidents and fatalities for each airline, did a bit of abstract figuring and adjusting, and, hey presto, there was your list, clearly ranked from 1 to 100.

But what do you do when every airline has zero accidents or fatalities for many years in a row?  Especially if you have a business that requires you to rate airlines?  You surely don’t stop, instead, you extend the parameters for how you rate ‘safety’.

That seems to be the case for the website “AirlineRatings.com” which has just published a ranking of the 20 safest airlines in the world.  It did fudge its listing by ranking all 20 airlines as ‘first equal’ which makes the list pretty farcical to start with, but even more farcical was the apparent reason that some airlines weren’t also included.  And why stop at just 20 equal most safe airlines – what caused the 21st airline not to also be included?

As an example of a strange exclusion and apparent reason for being downgraded, Delta was excluded, apparently due to problems it had with cancelled flights due to bad weather.  Not flying in bad weather makes an airline less safe?  Really??

And confirming the idiocy of the rating system, poor old Air Koryo, the acceptably ordinary and exceedingly safe national airline of North Korea, is again playing the role of airline whipping boy, ranked last equal along with a Suriname airline, an Indonesian airline, and four airlines in Nepal.

Details here.

Airbus Comes Up From Behind

2017 was looking like a year in which Boeing would get to record a very convincing ‘win’ over Airbus in terms of new airplane orders recorded.  In mid-December, we were all mentally preparing pieces on how Boeing had finally got its moxie back and was vanquishing Airbus on every front, including of course the obligatory snide comment about the probably demise of the A380 due to lack of sales.  Boeing was showing 633 orders through the end of November, almost exactly twice the 333 posted by Airbus.

This was to be a particularly significant loss, because the Airbus head of sales, the charismatic John Leahy, is due to retire this month, so his final year heading up the company’s sales efforts looked to be a disaster rather than the usual triumph.  A sad way for the guy to go.

And then, in literally the last few days of 2017, Airbus announced several major new orders, adding 705 new planes to the 333 ordered through November, and pushing them past 1000 orders total, and allowing Leahy to leave on an extraordinarily positive note.  There might be some offsetting cancellations and perhaps not all orders are new or bookable, but Airbus seems to have overtaken Boeing, which is thought to have ended up with about 900 orders.  That makes it a great year for both manufacturers.

You can see past year airplane order and delivery statistics on this page; I’ll of course update it when the official counts are subsequently announced.  Airbus has reported more orders than Boeing for eight of the ten most recent years.

About the only disappointment to the astonishing flood of last-minute orders was the failure to land the 36 plane A380 order with Emirates which is the pivotal event on which the entire A380 program seems to currently be resting.  We hope this may be confirmed very soon.

Naughty Motel 6 Gets Sued

Photogenic young Democrat Bob Ferguson, Attorney General for WA and almost certainly a man with further political ambitions, has found time in his busy schedule of suing to overturn President Trump’s immigration restrictions to take on another vote-winning action, suing Motel 6 for actions he describes as ‘disturbing and unlawful’ – ie, sharing information about more than 9,000 guests who stayed at Motel 6 properties with ICE.  Several people were reported arrested ‘near’ to Motel 6 properties as a result.

This follows on from an earlier case I’d previously mentioned, when similar activities were uncovered in Arizona.

In Washington state, its Supreme Court had earlier ruled that guest-registry information in private, making these voluntary disclosures, offered up without any paperwork, search-warrant, or probable cause, offensively egregious.  I hope the case proceeds and succeeds.  Details here.

Hotel Privacy Rights Under General Attack

The guest right-to-privacy issue of course is in turmoil at present; I’d mentioned last week about Disney replacing “Do Not Disturb” signs with “Room Occupied” signs and instituting a policy that all hotel rooms will be searched inspected daily.

Well meaning commentators are saying that instead of this, maybe hotels should be more ‘aware’ of what bags guests are taking into their rooms.  That’s a threat that terrifies me – how long before we have our bags scanned when we enter hotels, just like when we board cruise ships?

And, for sure, you know that the instant hotels think they can get away with that indignity, they’ll do two more things.  The first will be to charge a fee per bag, and/or to have a limit on how many bags you can bring into your hotel room (that could sometimes be a problem for many of us if we’re traveling with extra boxes of stuff for a trade show, for example).  The second will be to prohibit all sorts of things.  Firearms, of course (and that’s a problem for me, because I often travel with firearms).  And alcoholic beverages, ostensibly for security/safety, but in reality so as to force you into the mini-bar and its ridiculously inflated prices (yes, potentially yet another problem for me!).

If you think that would never happen, it briefly happened after the Vegas shooting in October.  Much more sinister, however, are reports that an out-of-the-way off-strip hotel in Las Vegas is already experimenting with a covert full body scanner.  Remember the whole-body x-ray scanners at airports that everyone was up in arms about, and which raised credible concerns about the radiation they were emitting and filling us with?  As I understand it, the covert full body scanner is like one of those bad (and now thankfully abandoned) airport scanners, but on steroids, needing to blast more radiation longer distances, and without the benefit of people freezing in place to get x-rayed.

We’ll be secretly strip-searched without realizing it, and simultaneously dosed with radiation, also without realizing it.  All, of course, for our safety and comfort.

Apple Responds to its Slowing Phones Down Controversy

I was reminded again today of just how much I hate Apple and its iTunes software, after struggling to find where in iTunes I could see the apps on my phone and new apps to potentially add to it.

Eventually, after a call to their Customer Support, it turned out that Apple had quietly removed that functionality, and now the only way to view, manage, or order new apps is via your phone itself.  No longer can you enjoy the greater ergonomic comfort of a big screen on your computer, faster internet connection, and a proper keyboard to type on; instead, you have to view everything on a 5″ instead of 25″ screen.

But that’s a story for another time.  Last week I mentioned how Apple was caught red-handed, guilty of slowing down older iPhones, ostensibly to reduce the load on their older batteries.  Something that might have been acceptable if Apple had explained what it was doing, and definitely would have been acceptable if offered as a user option, ended up as totally unacceptable by just being imposed on us, with no warning or advice whatsoever.

After howls of outrage, even from moderately devoted Apple enthusiasts, the company relented this week, and in addition to vague promises to change how the speed restrictions are imposed at some future point, they have offered a reduced rate battery replacement service, apparently running through all of 2018.  Now you can replace your old iPhone battery for only $29 instead of $79.

The belief is that if Apple’s software sees a newer and ‘stronger’ battery (no, I’ve no idea what ‘stronger’ means or how it may be measured) it is less likely to then feel the need to slow down the processor speed (battery drain being closely linked to processor speed).  But even if that happens imperfectly, being able to replace an old iPhone battery for $29 is a good deal.  If you charge your phone’s battery every day, and/or if you leave it on the charger for extended periods, its capacity will be measurably dropping to the point that after a couple of years, it might be only 50% – 70% of its original new capacity.  In other words, if your phone is 2+ years old and you recharge it a lot, you might get 50% – 100% more battery life after a battery replacement.

So, if you have an iPhone 6S or 6 you should definitely do this now.  If you have an iPhone 7, maybe do it towards the end of the year after having got more use out of your current battery.

And, with your new battery, here’s how to get the most life out of it.  Charge your battery up whenever the charge goes down to 20% or so, don’t wait for it to go all the way to almost zero.  And, most important, don’t charge all the way to 100%.  Take it up to 90% or so then stop.  And try to avoid leaving it connected to a charger.

Don’t charge the phone if it is hot, and try to charge the phone when you’re not also using it, especially for high power applications like GPS mapping and video watching.

If you can observe these guidelines, you’ll get much more life out of your new battery.

Where’s Elon Musk When You Need Him

Many of us have come to look upon the New York Times with a bit of a jaundiced eye, viewing it as an increasingly politicized newspaper unable to see anything except through its anti-Trump world-view.  But here’s an excellent example of the hard-hitting investigative journalism that once won it respect and praise the world over – an article that exposes the rampant inefficiencies – some might say corruption – that have seen the construction costs for new subways lines in New York spiral to a point where costs are at a ridiculous level quite unlike any other developed nation.  It isn’t just costs, it is manning levels too.

This is a sobering article that should make us realize that while it is easy to scoff at other countries and their corruption scandals, perhaps the bigger scandal is the calm acceptance of business practices such as reported in this article.

The Elon Musk connection?  His stated aims of drilling tunnels underneath cities to provide a faster and less expensive means of transportation than above ground roading.  One wonders how he’d fare in New York – certainly the city desperately needs a new broom to sweep clean and to clear out the appalling grift and graft documented in the NYT article.

But it seems that Mr Musk’s main focus, at present, on his new tunnel drilling company, named ‘The Boring Company’, is on selling baseball caps.  But, don’t laugh.  Apparently he sold out of an order of 50,000 of the caps, which were being offered for $20 each.  Yes, that’s a million dollars (let’s say the caps cost $3 each, so $850,000 profit).

And Lastly This Week….

Your driver’s license might no longer be accepted at TSA after 22 January.  But it probably will.  In 2005 Congress passed the “Real ID Act” requiring stricter guidelines for issuing driver’s licenses and the form in which they should be printed.  The TSA occasionally says it will start enforcing that law, but then delays it, yet again, and 22 January is merely the next moveable date.

Besides which, in the now almost 13 years since 2005, most states have finally got their act together.  This article tells you if your state license is in compliance.

One unlikely but possible issue – maybe your state is now in compliance, but you have an older ID from your state that hasn’t yet expired and which is not in compliance.  If you’re not sure, your best bet is to pack your passport with you.

Talking about passports, most of us reading this will usually travel with a US passport.  Some of us have one other nationality and passport too, and I occasionally meet people with three passports.

But no matter how many passports you have, there’s probably one that you don’t have – the world’s rarest passport.

We’re always told not to make jokes about bombs when going through airport security.  Indeed, it is generally thought safest not to even mention the word ‘bomb’.  With that in mind, what should we make of this story – a man in India was arrested for possibly phoning in a bomb threat, but who claims he wasn’t talking about bombs, but rather about Bombay!

Talking about Bombay/Mumbai, the copilot on a Mumbai to London flight walked out of the cockpit in tears after she had an argument with the pilot.  This caused the pilot to go out of the cockpit too, to try and persuade her to return.  Yes, if you’re doing the math, that meant there were no pilots in the cockpit at all for a stretch.  Details here.

Talking about jokes, I was sent a link to ‘an oldie but a goldie’.  You might like to treat yourself, also, to this classic Dean Martin sketch.  Not quite as funny as the two true stories above, but close.

Truly lastly this week, an article about a ‘semi-secret’ airline.  How can you have a semi-secret airline?  Read the article to find out.

Until next week, please enjoy safe flights





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