Jan 252019
 

The 500 year old Chenonceau Castle in the Loire Valley – we visit it on our tour this September (see below).

Good morning

I hope you had a nice long weekend.

I spent much of mine listening to music – through a new pair of Bluetooth equipped noise cancelling headphones.  Although I love technology and gadgets, and definitely love noise cancelling headphones, I’ve not been able to convince myself that adding Bluetooth to a regular pair of headphones is a good idea, either from a convenience or a quality point of view.  Alas, it is getting harder to avoid this though due to the trend started by Apple to remove headphone jacks from their phones.

The result of my listening, and struggles with the Bluetooth interface, can be seen in the review that follows this morning’s newsletter.

What else this week? Some administrative things, and some of the usual news as well.  Please keep reading for :

  • Reminder :  Firearms Safety & Self Defense “Tour”
  • September Loire Valley “Land Cruise”
  • December Christmas Markets
  • February 2020 – Holy Land Tour
  • Mystery Tour Anytime
  • New Twitter Feed Now Operational
  • Did United Lie About the Reason for its Emergency Landing?
  • Boeing’s Flying Car and Flying Tanker
  • Why Boeing Wants to Delay its 737 Replacement
  • TSA Deliberately Slows Down its Screening During Govt Shutdown?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reminder :  Firearms Safety & Self Defense “Tour”

Can I remind you about the need to quickly register your interest for the class and training program in late March that I’m coordinating in Pahrump, NV (just out of Vegas).  It truly is a very valuable, educational and enjoyable experience, whether or not you own firearms, and even whether or not you like them.

Full details here.

We also visit the magnificent Chateau at Chambord, where we see works of Leonardo da Vinci who lived and was buried nearby.

September Loire Valley “Land Cruise”

I’m just about ready to put up the full details of our late September land cruise of the Loire Valley.  This will be a wonderful week, timed to avoid the summer crushes but while the weather remains warm.  We will be based in the lovely city of Tours, and explore the extraordinary castles and chateaus along the Loire, to say nothing of beautiful towns and villages and of course, wineries (and some less common experiences such as even a mushroom farm).

The Loire is France’s longest river, and the valley is the third largest wine growing region in France.  It is overflowing with beautiful scenery and sights.

Before the tour, we have an option to stay in Chantilly, a lovely little town conveniently close to CDG, and after the tour, we have an option to continue on to Bordeaux, truly a wine-lover’s heaven.  So whether you love France, natural countryside in general, castles and architectural history, or, ahem, food and wine, there’s plenty to enjoy.  Please keep the last week of September, plus a bit before and after, free in your calendar, and look for the full tour details next week.

December Christmas Markets

I liked our land cruise in December last year, but was thinking of alternating each year between land cruises and river cruises, and so was looking at river cruises for this year.  But, here’s the thing.  Even when discounted by $500, the cheapest decent quality one week cruise, in a reasonable sized cabin, runs about $4000 per person (plus port fees and tips), whereas our land cruise last year was $2400.

Sure, our land cruise didn’t include three meals every day (but it did include one and sometimes two), but other than that, it was a generally superior experience at a vastly better value point.  So it looks like we’ll do another “land cruise” Christmas Markets tour this December, too, probably around 8 – 15 December.

We might base ourselves in Germany rather than France this time, and I’m thinking possibly somewhere in Bavaria – probably Munich, which would allow us a chance to tour around some of Germany (Neuschwanstein Castle, Regensburg, Nuremberg and smaller towns, and Austria (glorious Salzburg and Innsbruck) and possibly hop across into Switzerland and Lichtenstein as a pre or post tour option, and of course, everyone’s favorite –  Prague and other Czech towns as the other pre or post tour option.  There are a huge number of wonderful places to visit, all within two easy hours of Munich.

So please keep these dates open, too.  More details in February.

February 2020 – Holy Land Tour

Would you be interested in a tour to Israel and Jordan in about February of 2020?  I’ve never been, myself, and have always been a bit anxious at the reports of unrest in the area.

But it seems tourists are seldom impacted by such things (Egypt is more dangerous than Israel for tourists!) and if, like me, you’d enjoy both seeing another part of the world and also some of the Biblical locations, please let me know.

Mystery Tour Anytime

I’ve another “off the wall” concept I’d appreciate your thoughts on.  Have you ever stared blankly at a map and struggled to choose where to go and what to see and do once you get there?  Or, maybe, you and your travel partner(s) all have different ideas, and it is hard to find a win-win compromise?

I’m considering offering a new service.  You simply answer a bunch of questions about when you want to go on a vacation, places you do and don’t like, how long you want to be away, the budget you have, and your various likes/dislikes/preferences, and I’ll then create an itinerary for you and arrange everything.

Here’s the kicker.  I’ll not tell you where you’re going until a few days prior to departure.  I’ll tell you the dates earlier on, of course, but you’ll not know where you’re going until the point where you need to know if you should pack swimwear or snowgear.

Does that appeal?  Again, please let me know.

New Twitter Feed Now Operational

Our new Twitter feed, @TheTvlInsider, is now smoothly operating and already has almost 700 followers.  If you were formerly following the earlier Twitter feed, you’ll have noticed that we’ve stopped tweeting there, please shift to the new feed.

If you’ve been getting our daily email newsletter, that too has shifted to this Twitter feed.  Good news – we listened to the many people who asked we preserve and continue the daily newsletter.  Simply go here and join the news feed and you’ll get daily summaries, similar to before, but with more articles and comments.  For most people, you can simply accept the default settings offered to you when requesting the daily digest feed.

Did United Lie About the Reason for its Emergency Landing?

In October 2018 a United flight from Chicago to London made a sudden descent and diverted for an emergency landing in remote Goose Bay in Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador province, causing the passengers to then endure eight hours trapped in the plane.  At the time, United said this was because of a bird strike – something very unlikely for a plane that was apparently at 40,000 ft at the time.

But one of the passengers chatted with the pilots during the stop at Goose Bay, and has now filed a law suit based on what they told him.  He claims the event was nothing to do with a bird strike, and all to do with a mechanic over-tightening one of the windows, and says that the window nearly totally failed, which would have had instant and lethal consequences.

The fact remains there weren’t any lethal consequences, so a reasonable person might wonder exactly what his lawsuit is all about, but he is claiming $75,000 for what he terms “fair compensation from United from his close brush with death due to United’s negligence”.

Details here.

Boeing’s Flying Car and Flying Tanker

We’ve always been a bit puzzled as to how it is that Boeing – a company that has shown no interest at all in airplanes smaller than holding about 150 passengers, has over the last few years simultaneously shown an eagerness in developing a “flying car” type of vehicle.  The overlap of skills and markets seems, well, minimal at best.

But this week they lit up with self-praise for having managed to get a prototype flying car to hover a few feet above the ground for less than a minute.  Not exactly a world-beating achievement at all, but you can read about it here.

This week also saw Boeing triumphantly deliver the first of its Air Force tanker planes, what is now termed the KC-46 Pegasus.  This too was a rather underwhelming achievement.

After a terribly slow contracting period that went from 2001 to Feb 2011, the Air Force finally chose a Boeing 767 design for its new tankers.  All Boeing had to do was tweak its mature 767 design, but doing so ended up taking almost exactly eight years from contract award to first plane delivery to the Air Force, with almost $4 billion in cost overruns and apparently a delay of three years for the delivery of the first tranche of planes, and not complete functionality on the planes that are now starting to be delivered.

The incompetence behind this is hard to comprehend.  Details here.

Why Boeing Wants to Delay its 737 Replacement

Talking about Boeing moving slowly, there’s no more stark a poster child for this than its antiquated 737.

As we regularly point out, the 737 was designed in the early/mid 1960s, evolving from the earlier 707 and 727 airplanes.  Although much has been updated over the years, it still has its roots firmly in a design paradigm that is now about 55 years old.  Regular model refreshes have helped extend its life, and most recently, in a delayed response to Airbus bringing out its upgraded A320neo designs, Boeing announced the 737MAX series.

This is surely the final variant of the venerable 737.  And while it has been thoroughly outsold by the A320neo to date, there is a surprising reason why Boeing isn’t rushing to replace it with an all new design of airplane, built out of all new materials, and with all new engines (such as is otherwise desperately needed).

The reason is that Boeing feels it has a great chance to upgrade current operators of older model 737s with the new MAX series.  This would fit more readily into airlines’ existing fleets and pilot certifications.  Releasing an all-new plane would have less similarity in terms of maintenance and require new pilot ratings, and because of that, would enable Airbus to compete on a more level field, offering their new plane alongside Boeing’s new plane without Boeing having so much benefit of being an easy upgrade to what has come before.

So, Boeing’s plan for future success is not to innovate or lead the market.  It is to trail the market, delaying innovation and promoting less fuel-efficient plane designs (which are also less comfortable to us as passengers), offering obsolete planes to old airlines, perpetuating their historical lock into the Boeing design ethos.

In the intervening years between the early 1960s and now, entire plane models have come and gone (757, 767, and essentially the 747 too) and totally new planes have been developed (777 and 787).  Airbus itself wasn’t even founded until 1970.  But Boeing clings stubbornly to its 737, fearful of the consequences if it abandons its historical advantages inherent in the 737.

Innovation?  Not really, at all.

TSA Deliberately Slows Down its Screening During Govt Shutdown?

To be clear, I find it beyond extraordinary that the US has a system that can result in a “limited government shutdown” and which is used by both parties as a public bludgeon to try and force the other to capitulate to some demand or another.  There’s not a single thing that is appropriate about this concept, and one of the most inappropriate elements of all is the requirement that government workers should continue working even though they’ll not be paid until the shutdown has been resolved, at which point, they’ll be paid for the period they worked without pay.

But.

Having said that, one of the worst parts of these “limited government shutdowns” (what an oxymoron of a concept to start with) is how people with vested interests immediately start using them as “proof” of the venality of the other side of the debate and the “harm” being caused by the shutdown.  I’m minded in particular of how, in the previous administration, the national parks were all told they had to shut and not allow visitors.  This was decried by all as unnecessary, particularly because many national parks charge an admission fee.

This time around, the national parks have been told to stay open, but it seems many of the same people who decried their closures under Obama’s shutdowns are now decrying their remaining open during the Trump shutdown.  Permanent damage might be done to the parks by allowing people in to them, or so we are told.  Even worse, we are told that parks may be forced to use the fees they continue to collect from visitors and spend those fees on necessary park maintenance.  (You can’t make this up, can you….)

Turning now to the TSA, much has been made of the minor increase in absenteeism as a result of employees calling in, ostensibly “sick”.  People have delighted in distorting these numbers, claiming in mock horror that there’s been a 50% or whatever percent increase in absenteeism, and predicting a total failure of our airport screening.

So here’s the thing.  The TSA generally have a 3% – 5% level of absenteeism, every day.  Add 50% to that and you’re looking at another 3% or so of employees absent (on Thursday 24 Jan, they reported 7.5% absenteeism compared to 3% the same day last year, the previous day it was 7.4% compared to 3.2%, and a week ago it was a barely measurably 6.1% compared to 5%).  What does that mean?  It means that on Thursday, for every 22 or so TSA employees you’d see in an airport prior to the shutdown, there are now 21 or so employees instead.  Does that really suggest to you much of a difference in service levels at all?

But we read of airports being “forced” to close one of their half-dozen or so screening areas due to staff shortages.  How can a reduction of 3% or 4% (or even 10% or more) of TSA staff force the entire closure of one of their screening areas?  Are the remaining TSA employees deliberately “going slow”?

We believe that yes, they are.  As evidence of this we point to a report that the TSA closed one or more of their PREcheck security screening lines at Atlanta airport.  The reason we seize upon this is because PREcheck lines are the most efficient use of TSA manpower.  They screen two or three times as many passengers per TSA employee in a PREcheck line as they do in a regular line.  If there are shortages of TSA staff, the very last line they should be closing is the PREcheck line.

And Lastly This Week….

Yet another claim about where MH 370 may have crashed, this time suggesting a totally different location to that which conventional wisdom has focused on (but failed to find the plane anywhere near).

We did an article on this year’s CES show a couple of weeks ago, and in particular we mentioned the race between Google and Amazon to integrate their respective voice operated controllers into all manner of different products.  In it we inexplicably omitted one particular product – new toilets that can be “controlled” via Google Assistant.  But if you’re thinking you need a new toilet, be warned that the Google Assistant equipped toilet costs a bit more than the regular ones you’ll find at Home Depot.  $7000 (or $9000 in black), to be precise – details here.

We’re not even going to speculate as to the additional information Google might harvest from having its Assistant in your toilet.

Perhaps one of these “automatic” toilets would be just the thing on airplanes next time a problem like this arises.

A couple of interesting stories about passports.  First is the strange contradiction inherent in the EU eagerly welcoming Muslim “refugees” who instantly go on welfare; but now becoming less eager to welcome the very rich who have, in the past (and the same as is offered by most other countries including the US) bought expedited/instant citizenship for six and seven figure sums.  Why wouldn’t you welcome the very rich if you also welcome the very poor?  Why do you worry about possible criminal backgrounds for the very rich, but not about possible terrorism backgrounds for the very poor?  Details here.

The other story is a bit of background and history on one of the original “micro-states” – a former WW2 era anti-aircraft platform the Brits built in the English channel, just outside their territorial waters, and now the self-proclaimed Principality of Sealand.  This long-read gives a fascinating look at some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of this “country” and its leadership struggles.

Talking about foreign countries, how would you like to stay, for free, for three months in Italy this summer?  Details here.

Truly lastly this week, Elon Musk claims he has built a test model of a rocketship capable of flying to Mars.  Maybe so, but unfortunately, a strong wind blew it over last week, causing apparently appreciable damage.  One can only wonder at the type of quality control and safety procedures (or lack thereof) that sees something as complex and fragile as an interplanetary spacecraft being blown over in the wind.  Details here.

But at least Musk is continuing to spend money on developing his various space programs, unlike the Stratolaunch company that had been founded and funded by Paul Allen.  After his death in October last year, the company has now announced it is laying off 50 of its 70 staff.  Details here.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

 

David.

 

 

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