Weekly Roundup, Friday 12 April 2019

An impression of the interior of the new Istanbul Airport, just now opened and the largest in the world.

Good morning

An unplanned, but interesting (I hope) attached article today, being a review of a third emergency car battery “jump-start” unit.  Unlike the two reviewed last week, this one works well and I can recommend it with only a very little bit of “maybe” appended to the recommendation.

I’m so pleased to no longer have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind about the car’s battery life – with very short runs during winter, and having both window and seat heaters on, the battery charge was going steadily down as displayed on the three (!) different voltmeters I had displaying battery charge in the car (What, me, obsessive/excessive?  Never!), and it was getting to the point where I was asking Anna not to turn her seat heater on in the freezing cold on the way to school in the mornings, for fear of depleting the battery entirely.  Now we can happily luxuriate in electrical warmth, with no fear of dire consequences if the battery dies.

Talking about Anna, this week I updated my review of Google Fi.  If you missed it when it came out a couple of months ago, you might want to check it out now.  I wrote the review after only having had a short time using Fi, but since then I’ve not only added a couple more months of usage, but I’ve heard back from a number of you about your own positive experiences too.

The reason that mentioning my daughter reminded me of Fi is because she is in Russia at present, and for the first day or two, only she could access the internet, easily and quickly (and inexpensively).  They didn’t know the Wi-Fi password for the place they were staying at, and her mother didn’t have internet access on her phone, but Anna’s phone worked perfectly, and she had unlimited full-speed fast data, just the same as at home, and costing the same as at home, too.  I see, on the daily reporting I can view, her data usage did shoot up for a couple of days, but now they have Wi-Fi too and things are back to normal.

If Fi works perfectly in suburban St Petersburg, Russia, the chances are it works well wherever else in the world you’re considering traveling too.  Plus I really love having my iPad connected to the internet via Fi “for free”.  There’s no extra device or extra connection fee, just the cost of the data it uses.

So, great service, and great price.  Do check it out.

What else this week?  Please see :

  • Only in New Zealand – But Should be Here Too
  • Boeing’s Parking Problem
  • Airline Fantasies
  • Very Close.  But.
  • Turkey’s New Airport – If You’re Brave Enough to Visit
  • Cruise Lines Try to Save the Environment
  • More Amazon Review Mischief
  • And Lastly This Week….

Only in New Zealand – But Should be Here Too

Can you guess what the most respected brand in New Zealand is?

According to Forbes, in the US the most reputable brand is Campbells (Soup), followed by Nike, and then Bose.  Barnes & Noble comes 4th, then Kellog’s, Hershey, Hallmark, Smuckers, Canon, and at tenth place, Amazon.

Yes, there are a couple of surprises in that list, but you haven’t seen NZ’s list yet.  Actually, most of it would mean nothing to you, because 9 of the 10 are domestic brands.  But the tenth on the list is a surprise – Auckland Airport.  And the first most respected?  Air New Zealand.  This is no surprise to New Zealanders, because this is the fifth consecutive year that Air NZ has earned top place on their list.  Details here.

Now, yes, we can laugh about that (or, more exactly, laugh because we know our airline brands are way down on any list, as are our airports), but shouldn’t we stop and wonder why it is that in some countries (not only New Zealand; across the Tasman Sea, Qantas always comes near the top in Australia too) their airlines are nationally respected and admired, but in the US, they are the subject of derision and dislike.

It isn’t just that we Americans are harder on our airlines than other countries are on theirs, either.  International rankings of airlines never have American airlines near the top – that is exclusively the preserve of Asian airlines, and, yes, both Qantas and Air NZ show well in international rankings, too.

Instead of a race to the bottom among our US carriers, and the passive acceptance of same by us, their passengers, isn’t it time to do something about it?  Well, what can be done, you might ask?

The answer is simple.  Allow foreign carriers to operate domestically in the US.  We allow foreign everything else to operate domestically in the US, why should airlines have a unique and charmed existence, particularly when the net result of that is they’ve become complacent and lazy, and a few major airlines now dominate the skies entirely, making new entrant competitors almost impossible, unless they are foreign airlines that already have route networks and infrastructure that they simply wish to add to.

The protectionism for US shipping – the Jones Act – has failed dismally.  By coincidence, here’s a recent and excellent article pointing out the terrible failure and unintended consequences of the Jones Act that is well worth reading.

Why leave similarly dismally failing protection in place for the US airlines?  Wouldn’t you enjoy a chance to fly Emirates between Los Angeles and Chicago, or alternatively, explore the bottom of the market with a $29 fare from New York to Denver with Ryanair, or whatever/whoever else?

In a possibly related story, more western airlines are relaxing the dress codes for their staff.  Not so, the Asian carriers, who still insist on both their men and women being immaculately dressed.

Boeing’s Parking Problem

For the first couple of weeks after the 737 MAX grounding, Boeing continued to churn the planes out at a rate of 52/month, but now it has announced a temporary reduction to 42/month, which on the face of it doesn’t really seem that much of a reduction.  Why did it do this?

There is not a lot of space for completed planes where they are assembled in Renton, just south of Seattle, so what Boeing had been doing was flying the finished planes just a short distance north of Seattle to Paine Field in Everett, where there main 777/787 assembly lines are.  There’s a ton of space at Paine Field.

Unfortunately, Boeing has had to stop doing that because it is having difficulty getting engines for the planes from CFM, and (surely I don’t need to say this!) without engines, the planes can’t be flown up to Everett.  Poor Boeing.  Details here.

In other Boeing news, for the first time in seven years, it had an entire month (March) without a single order for a 737.  Boeing sold 675 737s last year – an average of 56/month (although of course, not evenly spread out like that) but March 2019 saw not a single order.  This is as likely to be a coincidence as it is a response to its two 737 crashes, but it is not a happy-making headline for Boeing, whatever the reason.

Airline Fantasies

From time to time someone comes up with wildly improbable sketches of airplane cabin layouts that feature all manner of ridiculous concepts.  Exercise gyms, shopping malls, lounges, and so on.

It was understandable, when the 747 first came out, how airlines would greet with puzzlement and amazement all the space on the plane, and then again when the A380 was being constructed, there were more wild speculations about all the passenger amenities that could be added to that enormous plane.  In both cases, of course, for the average person in coach class, all they got was a little less than the absolute bare minimum of space, and as for any other “recreational areas”, all they got were fewer and fewer, and smaller and smaller toilets.

But now, seizing on the notion of ultra-long range planes where sometimes they can’t fill the plane with seats due to weight restrictions, designers are at it again fantasizing about how to use all this “spare” space.  We particularly like the picture showing glass bottles of drinks in a cooler – we wonder what would happen to them when some unexpected turbulence came along.

Enjoy the pictures, but don’t expect to experience the reality of this.  Ever.  Details here.

Very Close.  But.

Probably very few people were following the progress of the Israeli spacecraft, Beresheet, because it took a long time from when it lifted off on a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral on 21 February to get to the moon.  Normally (if one can use that word in the context of journeys to the moon) it takes about three days to get to the moon, but the Beresheet “hitched a lift” on the SpaceX rocket along with other payloads, and so had to then adjust and synchronize its orbit around the Earth with the best time to then break out of orbit and fly on to the moon.  A three day journey could be made exciting in the media, but almost two months, not so much.

Thursday was the day it was due to soft-land on the moon.  It got most of the way down to the moon’s surface when its main motor cut out, causing it to crash the short remaining distance and break up.  Details here.  Only three nations have landed spacecraft on the moon – the US, Russia and China.

Israel says it will try again.  We wish them luck.  Meantime, NASA is struggling with its plans to return to the moon.

Good luck also to the company from that other well-known space-faring nation, Georgia, that bizarrely wishes to grow grapes on Mars.  Methinks the people expressing that wish have been sampling their terrestrial product a bit too much.  Details here.

Turkey’s New Airport – If You’re Brave Enough to Visit

The new Istanbul Ataturk Airport is the largest in the world, opened on 6 April.

It is not yet the busiest in the world – last year it had 70 million passengers, compared to 107 million at Atlanta Airport, the world’s busiest, but it is planning for steady increases in passenger numbers all the way up to a maximum capacity, as presently envisaged, of 200 million passengers, so may overtake ATL.

It seems very nice in the pictures, but of course new airports always do.  The reality is invariable different.  Details here.

But will you be brave enough to go there?  Quite apart from the dismaying growth in unfriendliness towards the west, the US State Dept has placed Turkey on a new list of 35 nations in which Americans are deemed to be at risk of kidnapping.  Mind you, Turkey is in “good” company.

As well as the “usual suspects” such as Sudan, the Congo, and Mali, other countries we are cautioned to keep away from include Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines and Russia.  It’s a nasty world out there, apparently.

Cruise Lines Try to Save the Environment

We’ve all rolled our eyes at the increasingly desperate pleas by hotels to re-use our towels, not because it saves them money – a point they’re utterly silent about, but because it “saves the environment”.

The cruise lines are catching on, particularly to the “re-use your towels” thing.  I’ve noticed on some cruises that the twice daily towel changes have quietly become once a day, and I’ve noticed both on shore and on ships that the maids are starting to actually rigorously enforce the towel changing code, which has also become more complicated.  Now, often, if you don’t leave the towel actually in the bath, it won’t be replaced.  Leave it on the floor, drape it over the side of the bath, and it’ll still be there in the evening.  Only if in the bath will it be replaced.

The cruise lines’ latest move to save themselves money the environment is to no longer make the whimsical towel animals that used to be a ritual on cruises.  It was always fun to see what strange shapes the maids would twist towels into, but Norwegian Cruise Lines has decided to save the planet and cut back on this.  Details here.

The thing is, cruise ships are filthy things, spewing forth massively more carbon emissions than you’d think (no regulatory bodies in the middle of oceans after all).  This article suggests an average of 0.83 tons of carbon are emitted for every cruise ship passenger, the same as would apply to a roundtrip from London to Tokyo and back.

Furthermore, cruises, themselves, are totally voluntary discretionary indulgences which no-one can ever pretend they need, unlike air flights which are at least “a means to an end” rather than an end in themselves.

So, here’s a suggestion to Norwegian Cruise Lines.  If, as you say, “Our mission is to continually improve our sustainability culture through fresh innovation, progressive education and open collaboration” here’s a really innovative idea for you.  Turn your engines off.  Permanently.  Tie up alongside a pier somewhere and never set sail.  That will be so much more sustainable than saving the washing of a few towels, particularly because washing them was probably using “free” hot water from your engine heat exchangers in the first place.

Quite seriously, cruise lines have to be careful how much the “feed the monster” that is environmentalism before they find themselves being attacked by the very monster they have created and empowered.

There’s more truth in my words than you might think, and an irony that it is Norwegian Cruise Lines that are the first to bring in this policy.  In Sweden, news this week of a growing trend where people are giving up on air travel because they feel guilty at the impact on the planet of their flights.  I’d thought this article was a late April Fool’s Day joke, but apparently it is quite real.

You can be certain that those Swedes will not fly to join a cruise, and if they even could get to the port to meet the ship by bicycle or whatever other earth-friendly method they employ, they’ll not be mollified by the cruise line “saving” a towel a day when confronted with the 0.83 tons of carbon their cruise is creating.

One more thing about saving the planet, something that annoys me every time I come across it.  People who virtue signal by demanding paper bags at grocery stores, rather than accepting plastic bags.  Or high-end grocery stores that only provide paper, not plastic bags, because of their own environmental sensitivity.  And cities/counties/states that now levy a fee on plastic bags.

Having worked in the plastics industry, I’ve a more even-handed perspective on that.  If you look at the “whole of life” environmental impact of a plastic bag compared to a kraft paper bag, the plastic bag is actually massively better.  As in, 43 times better.

And as for those eco-friendly cotton reusable bags.  You’d have to use one of those 7,100 times before you’d balanced out the extra environmental impacts, compared to 7100 plastic bags.  Oh – wait?  Your cotton bag is organic?  Then you’ll have to use it 20,000 times to neutralize the huge extra impact that has.

Don’t believe me?  Few people do.  So here’s a fascinating article with a table comparing the impacts of nice clean environmentally friendly plastic bags with all the terrible alternatives.

More Amazon Review Mischief

Ever since Amazon refused to publish a review of mine because it was negative, I’ve been noticing things about their reviews.  Last week, when reviewing one of the car battery jump-starters that dismally failed, I had to express surprise at how all six reviewers (five gave it 5 stars, the other gave it 4, and two of the reviews were a mere six words in length) apparently had their units work perfectly (including a couple of the reviewers who not only said their unit worked perfectly, but worked perfectly repeatedly – they must have lots of battery problems!), whereas mine couldn’t have been more useless if it truly was a brick.

This week I came across an interesting article pointing out something else Amazon does, and which I’d never really thought much about before.  It will bundle together reviews for a family of products, such that you’re never quite sure which reviews are for which members of the sometimes extensive product family, or what the average review scores are for each item in the family.

This can produce some very distortive effects.  An interesting article.

And Lastly This Week….

We’ve sometimes seen people leave things behind at security checkpoints.  It is easy enough to do.  But surely, at some point, the person realizes they’ve left something behind, and depending on what it is and its value, may make some effort to try and retrieve it.  So while it is possible to understand just about anything being left behind, it is hard to understand how a person wouldn’t subsequently remember and seek to retrieve this item.

Do we really need the new 5G wireless data service that is starting to pop up in our cities?  The benefit, we are usually told, is that it is so fast we can download a movie to our phone in seconds.  But, you know, I’ve lived my life to this point with never needing to do that, and at home, as long as I can stream a movie real-time through my Roku player to my television, I’m very happy, and that sort of capability doesn’t even require 4G speeds (if one were to use a phone).  Here’s an article that touches on the topic that everyone is very carefully avoiding – the possible health dangers associated with this latest massive increase in radio-wave/energy pollution all around us.

I remember, ten years ago, refusing to review a product because it only offered Wi-Fi and not wired ethernet internet connectivity.  For some time, I fought a valiant rearguard action to try and keep Wi-Fi out of my home.  Now, I’ve totally surrendered.  I have, at any time, 15 or more Wi-Fi devices all transmitting radio signals all the time.  So I’ve given in, but my excuse is I’ll be dead from who knows what other ailments well before the Wi-Fi radiation gets me, but I look at my daughter, and others her age, and wonder/worry about them.

On a similar note, here’s an interesting concept.  Good for them.

You may have read about towns in Italy, faced with declining populations, and virtually giving away empty houses for as little as €1.  But you know there are strings attached when you read the fine print, and discover that to apply for a €1 house, you have to send in a €2000 deposit.

(The fine print relates to doing the houses up, and also often agreeing to live in them for some of each year, too.  Still a heck of a deal.)  Details here.

Here’s a good reason to do like I do, and always have Uber/Lyft cars pick you up a few houses down from your house.

If you have plans to go to Phuket any time soon, be careful what you photograph.  The authorities are threatening the death penalty for people who photograph planes coming in to land.  Not a late April Fool’s Day joke, either.

And, truly lastly this week, the Chinese are using facial recognition technology to keep track of “uncivilized” visitors and black list them.  But that’s not all.  They’re all using it to track toilet paper usage in their public toilets.  Again, not an April Fool’s Day joke.  Just what passes for normal in increasingly authoritarian China.

Until next week and Easter, please enjoy safe travels





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