Weekly Roundup, Friday 17 August, 2018

Is the world flat or round? Increasingly, people believe it to be flat (see item below).

Good morning

You surely saw some of the news covering the theft and crash of a Horizon Air commuter plane last Friday night.  Alas, what you didn’t necessarily see was much in the way of sensible informed commentary – a lot of what was promulgated by the instant experts was, alas, specious nonsense designed merely to advance their respective special interests, rather than thoughtful discussion.

So, as always, I’m here to bring balance and sense to the topic.  I published an article on Wednesday, and then a true industry insider (thanks, Art K) helped me polish it on Thursday, meaning the already lengthy article grew another 1,000 words, with the final 4,000 word result now appended to this morning’s roundup.

Notwithstanding its length and detail, the surprising conclusion could perhaps be paraphrased as “There’s nothing to see here, folks, move along please”!  My fear is that this very unusual event may be misused as a reason to rush all sorts of unnecessary, expensive, and unhelpful “security for our safety” into place, so perhaps read the article and understand why the only real response is – gulp – the one that no-one is talking about.  Something that would be low-cost and highly effective.

And a few more morsels for your morning’s read :

  • There’s Two Sides to Every (Airline) Story
  • Is it Time for Travelers to Start Worrying About Brexit?
  • Uber Drivers Taking the Long Way
  • Managing Your Taxi’s Route
  • More on Mapping Issues – Google’s Fault/Solution?
  • Does Elon Musk Have ADHD?
  • A Tale of Bad Luck and Dubai
  • And Lastly This Week….

There’s Two Sides to Every (Airline) Story

According to this headline, Southwest is about to become the latest airline to crackdown on the exploitive nonsense that has underlied the plague of ‘service/support animals’ on planes.

That’s a good thing, right?  Well, yes, but how about this headline that points out that miniature horses will be allowed as support animals.  Couldn’t Southwest have been a bit more assertive.

There have been two problems with support animals on planes.  The first has been the ever-expanding menagerie of animals claimed to be support animals, and it is true that Southwest is moving in the right direction on that front.  The other problem has been that in order to qualify yourself as needing a support animal, and your pet as being the official support animal you must have with you, you simply go to any of a dozen different websites, pay a small fee, and get a PDF certificate emailed instantly back to you.

Southwest’s response to the accreditation of service animals problem?  Ummm – they say passengers will have to provide credible verbal assurance plus a letter from a medical doctor or mental health professional.  In other words, the same old certificates that you buy for $10 online will continue to be accepted.  Even if the letter were bona fide, how can a doctor or shrink attest to the level of training of the animal in question?

Is it Time for Travelers to Start Worrying About Brexit?

I guess the answer to this question depends on if you live in Britain or not, and whether you wish Brexit should proceed or not.

After Britain narrowly voted (52% to 48%) to leave the EU back in June 2016, the country has conducted the most extraordinarily ham-fisted job of failing to prepare for their actual exit from the EU, which is currently scheduled, with all the certainty of a date carved not in stone but in warm butter, to occur at midnight on 29 March 2019 (ie immediately before the start of 30 March), EU time.

This is utterly unsurprising, because most of the people charged with making Brexit happen are people who don’t wish Brexit to succeed.  So they’ve dragged their feet, they’ve bemoaned the impossibility of it, and they’ve mismanaged every step of the negotiation that they could, in the hope that their self-created “proof” that Brexit is either going to be very bad, chaotic, or impossible would cause for a public change of heart and a retreat back into the ineluctable clutches of European hegemony.

The latest FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) they have been promulgating is that there will be food shortages if Brexit proceeds, perhaps because if Brexit does proceed, these same people insist that Britain should no longer allow European food to simply drive into the country the same it way it currently does – even if refusing to welcome EU food means the entire population of Britain will risk starvation.  This article in a stridently anti-Brexit newspaper predicts food shortages in two days and medicine shortages within two weeks.  And this article in an equally anti-Brexit paper says that stockpiling food, now, is the only way for people to be ready for Brexit.

Other FUD tactics have claimed that if food can still be found, it will soar in price.  Those claims have been roundly rubbished (in a pro-Brexit paper).

Perhaps the clearest example of how the ‘Establishment’ in Britain are fighting, tooth and nail, to destroy Brexit relates to airports.  At present, as you surely know, there are two immigration lanes at UK airports (and EU ones too) – one for EU citizens, the other for everyone else.  That is copied elsewhere in the world as well – here in the US we have “US citizens/Permanent Resident” lanes and “everyone else” lanes.  It is perfectly normal to do this – a citizen returning home is automatically entitled to entry into his home country, and so can quickly be processed through immigration.

But Britain’s Home Office (a bit like our Department of State) has been resisting amending the EU lanes and making them only UK lanes (or, please please, returning them to their earlier form of UK and British Commonwealth lanes).  Why on earth would they be opposed to this?  It beggars the imagination, and clearly shows how the Establishment is determined to “punish” the British people for having voted to leave the EU.

Fortunately, the Prime Minister appears likely to over-rule this particular nonsense.

But what does this all mean for us – not as Brits, but as people considering travel to Britain or Europe in March/April next year?  That’s a good question, and of course, the FUD merchants have been working overtime.

We are told that possibly all international flights to and from Britain might have to cease, because Britain’s air treaties with other nations are part of its membership of the EU, not separate treaties that would remain in place, no matter what Britain’s EU membership may be.

We are also told, particularly by the Irish PM, that flights to/from Britain, and British flights in particular, may not be able to overfly his country, and therefore, not overfly any other part of Europe either, because there would be no overflight rights negotiated.

But these are double-edged swords.  In their desperate attempt to inflict pain and punishments on the UK for daring to turn its back on EU bureaucracy, the bureaucrats are showing their typical lack of vision.  Where do a huge number of flights to and from Europe come from or go to?  Ummm, that would be Britain.  More European flights travel between Britain and Europe than do British flights.

Do they not realize that for every flight they would refuse to allow to operate between the UK and Europe, there is likely to be more Europeans on that flight than there are Brits?  This is inevitable, because while Britain has a population of 66 million, the rest of the EU has a population of 446 million.  Plus those same flights also carry a bunch more people from other countries trying to get to Europe to spend tourist dollars and do business deals.

The phrase “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” springs to mind.

Even people who are on non-stop flights between another country and Europe and think they’ll be unaffected by this temper tantrum might not realize that perhaps their plane then flies on to Britain next, and if the British legs have to be taken out of the schedule, the economics of the entire route become challenged, perhaps causing the frequency to be reduced and, for sure, the fares to be increased.

And has the Irish PM looked at a map and noticed what gets in the way of flights between Ireland and Europe?  A large long island called Britain, and the sovereign airspace surrounding it for another 12 miles.  A Dublin to Paris flight would lengthen from 482 miles to 700 miles.  Going to the capital of the EU, Brussels, would go from 485 to 750 miles.  Amsterdam goes from 470 to 805 miles.  Dublin to Frankfurt would grow from 680 miles to 860 miles.  But London to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or anywhere else on the west coast of the US and Canada would remain pretty much unchanged.  To the east coast, add maybe 20 miles.  There’s probably nowhere else that British planes fly that would go over Ireland.

I know people like to make jokes about the Irish (I bet you can’t read these treasures without laughing out loud), but the Irish PM’s threat to ban British planes from his skies seems even funnier than the most far-fetched of such jokes.

We expect and hope that at the last minute, the bureaucrats will capitulate and allow common sense and fairness to return, and that flights will continue, same as normal, perhaps on the basis of “Emergency temporary approvals” or whatever else they wish to call it.

Uber Drivers Taking the Long Way

Here’s an interesting twist on the age-old problem of taxi drivers taking an indirect route.  Uber drivers apparently will sometimes deliberately take a longer than necessary route, and for the age-old reason – to inflate the fare they earn.  But, and here’s the twist.  The extra cost of the extra minutes and miles doesn’t get billed to us.  It gets billed to Uber, because Uber has extended a guaranteed price to us when we started the hire.

So, a victimless crime, perhaps?  We’re only out a few extra minutes of travel, but with no dollar cost attached to it.  Should we instead recognize the exploitation of its drivers by Uber and feel sympathetic at their need to do whatever they can to boost their meager paycheck?

Well, no.  Whether it be immediate or subsequent, direct or indirect, if Uber is paying its drivers more, you just know that is going to translate to it charging its passengers more.  It isn’t as though Uber is wallowing in so much profit that it has problems spending it all – quite the opposite.  Uber remains obstinately and seriously unprofitable every quarter.  And as a middleman, it can only move to profit by doing one of two things – reducing its costs or increasing its billings.

Those joyriding drivers will unavoidably mean that the standard price quoted to us will increase.

So, for our own benefit, we should report and complain about roundabout routes.  Although, good luck with that.  When I tried to do so on a recent Uber hire, there was no way I could find anyone at Uber to talk to directly and no way I could get anything other than inappropriate generic replies from their customer service email responders.

The driver, hearing my foreign accent, tried to tell me that he was detouring to avoid road works, and then modified that to say he was doing it to avoid traffic.  He was surprised when I called him on both lies – there were no road works on the shorter route, and at the time of day we were driving, the traffic congestion was all in the opposite direction.  But when I tried to insist he change his route, he then became ‘all foreign’ on me and feigned not to understand me.

Here’s more on this practice, what is being called ‘long hauling’.

Managing Your Taxi’s Route

Whether it be in an Uber/Lyft or a regular taxi/hire car, if you’re being charged by the mile and minute, it is always in your interest to be taken the most direct route to your destination.

As the linked article in the previous item about Uber drivers going the long way mentions, sometimes taxi drivers, when confronted, will bluff and lie directly to you, claiming that they need to do a roundabout route in order to avoid traffic or roadworks.  Unless you’re a local, there’s no way you can respond to that claim.

Except that, nowadays, there is.  Many of the GPS mapping programs include real-time traffic and road condition updates.  They rely on there being a reasonable number of people using the app in the area you are in, so that they get automatic and manual feedback from their users, so if you’re in the middle of nowhere, the only car for hundreds of miles, and – worst of all – without cell phone data service (think driving in Australia’s Outback, for example), then the apps won’t give you accurate updates.  But if you’re in a reasonable city, they will.

The best app I’ve found to date is Waze.  These days it is owned by Google, and there’s a fair overlap of data between it and Google Maps, but for accurate route information that is realtime updated with road traffic closures and conditions, you can’t beat it.  Many of the Uber and Lyft drivers use it themselves already, preferring it to the official apps offered by the two companies.

I suggest you make sure you have a copy of Waze on your phone, and whenever you’re in a hire car and paying by the mile and minute, either ask the driver to use Waze (and follow along) or use your Waze app to first note its opinion for how long it will take to get where you’re going and what the driving distance will be, and then use it as an authority to query any changes he makes, and a reference point at the end for actual time/distance vs the Waze estimate.

It truly is amazingly accurate.  I even use it driving in the Seattle area, around places I’ve driven for 30+ years, because its traffic rerouting can sometimes save me time and hassle.  Chances are you have some routes too with optional ways of getting to your destination, and you’re never quite sure which would be best – now you can now.

More on Mapping Issues – Google’s Fault/Solution?

Astonishingly, the younger you are, the more likely you are to believe the world is flat, as shown in the survey reported in this article.  Only 66% of millennials are sure the earth is round, and another 9% said they used to believe it was round but now they are unsure and have some doubts.

A resurgence of flat-earthers – all of whom can vote, the same as us – is an astonishing and slightly frightening thing.  This may well reflect on our education system.  But might there be a darker force at work?

What else correlates with younger age groups?  Greater computer use, right.  And think of a tool that many of us use, many times a day.  Google Maps.  Until recently, it has shown the world as a flat sheet.

Has this been subliminally programming the younger generations to believe the world is indeed like they see on their computer screen, as depicted by the ultimate authority on everything, Google – flat and rectangular?

Perhaps it is in recognition of the consequences of what they’ve done that Google has reprogrammed their mapping program to now better convey the spherical nature of our world.

Some of us fondly remember our Concorde flights which took us so high up (55,000 – 60,000 ft) that if we looked down, we could see the curvature of the earth, and if we looked up, we could see the black of space.  Ah – those were the days….

Does Elon Musk Have ADHD?

We ask this question not as an insult, but out of curiosity, and in search of an explanation for his mercurial shifts of focus and parade of interests.  For example, what is the status of his manned trip to Mars?  What is his current involvement with Hyperloops?  How many new models of Tesla vehicles is he planning to introduce, and when?  So is he taking Tesla private in the probably largest privatization ever?

Among these and other questions is a new one that arose this week.  It is to do with another of his dalliances – what he calls, his “Boring Company”.  Boring in the sense of digging tunnels.  The company that he seems to be trying to fund by selling caps and “flame throwers”.

Where is the first working tunnel going to be developed?  Will it be for regular cars, for hyperloop pods, for cars on sleds, or for something else?

That last question arises from a new twist on this chameleon of a concept.  As reported here, Musk is now suggesting he’ll build a 3.6 mile tunnel from E Hollywood to the Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, with a planned journey time of 4 minutes, so that is probably 60 mph plus starting and stopping time.

Strangely, the article says that this tunnel would allow for about 2,800 people to travel to and from a game.  The stadium can hold 56,000 people, so it isn’t exactly a deal-changing service.  We don’t know how many minutes would be allowed for people to wait to ride, but on the basis of perhaps a 45 minute time window, that would suggest some form of transport capable of carrying about 60 people a minute.  Sounds a bit like a bus, doesn’t it.

So is this just a one lane bus tunnel he is building?

As for the ADHD thing – a trait admitted to by some very successful business people so not necessarily a bad thing, here’s a thoughtful commentary.

And last week’s news – his astonishing claim about maybe taking Tesla private, buying up shares at $420?  You might remember from my comments last week that the share price was about $345 before his announcement, then shot up to about $380 before falling back down again as people judged the reality of his claim with their pocketbooks.

While Musk has made more noises this week about how he really means it, and has dropped the names of possible backers and investment houses to help him in this project, the share price is now at $335.  Less than before Musk said he’d buy people’s shares at $420.  In other words, he has something really special to now boast about – based on the reactions to his announcement, he has a negative net credibility!  People holding shorts who didn’t panic last week must be laughing every which way at him now.

A Tale of Bad Luck and Dubai

Usually what follows a heading like this would involve first mild drunken debauchery and secondly imprisonment for an extended period of time.  But here’s a slightly different twist on life in that extraordinary country, Dubai.

A visitor hired a rental car while in the Emirati nation.  Nothing unusual about that.  Well, it was a Lamborghini, not something usually found in the Emerald Aisle at your local airport, but it is Dubai after all.

He took it for a four hour spin shortly after collecting it, as you would, wouldn’t you.  And it seems he may have inadvertently slightly exceeded the speed limit on occasion during that four hour drive, but one suspects in a Lamborghini that you don’t need much more than a fast idle before you’re up into three figure speeds.

The net result was the Englishman was handed Dh170,000 in fines, as a result of 35 speed cameras clocking him during the four hours at speeds of up to and over 125 mph.  That works out to US$46,300 ($11,575 an hour).

Fortunately, the local constabulary were amenable to the concept of a cash discount, so after handing over a mere Dh117,000 ($31,900) the matter was adjudged settled.

Who says the Dubai authorities aren’t reasonable!

And Lastly This Week….

Some people have strange senses of humor.  Like, for example, the people who went to considerable trouble to print up and deploy these.

Many public facilities, buildings, and parks have a bit of a love/hate relationship with birds – particularly seagulls and pigeons, but other birds too.

However, some clever people in Paris have figured out a way to turn the local birds from a liability to an asset – by ‘paying’ them to pick up and remove litter from a local amusement park.  You have to feel sorry for the poor groundsmen who used to walk around with the scooper-upper things.  If it isn’t robots, it is birds threatening to take away their jobs!

Blame it on over-tourism?  A fight broke out at Rome’s Trevi fountain, because some tourists thought other tourists were taking too long to take their pictures in front of the fountain.

It is true that some people can take an astonishing amount of time to snap a quick selfie, and seem oblivious to or offended by other people also wishing to do the same, but it is unfortunate that the contretemps ended up involving eight people of both genders.  Might have been quicker to just wait their turn.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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