Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 May 2019

An inconvenient truth which try as it might, Boeing can’t ignore or explain away.  See article, below.

Good morning

Many thanks to everyone who sent their opinions in on whether they’d be comfortable flying the Boeing 737 MAX once it returns to service.  As promised, your answers have been collated, and I’ve also contrasted them with the answers to the identical question when the 787 was grounded six years earlier.  The results are in a separate article, attached to this morning’s newsletter.

When I’d written a couple of articles about testing car “jump starter” battery packs a month or so back, I’d mentioned that I’d destroyed my car’s battery in the testing.  Well, yes, I indeed did.  But I didn’t have to spend way-too-many hundreds of dollars on a new battery, and still have the same old battery in the car – a battery which must be probably 11 or 12 years old already, and which is again working perfectly.

How is either part of that possible?  A 12 year old battery, or a restored battery that failed?  Ah, well, the answer to that question can be found in the other article, also attached to this morning’s newsletter.  If the thought of getting twice or more the life of your vehicle batteries interests you, be sure to read that.

We’ve had a nice flow of people signing up for our two September tours, and both tours are now dropping in price due to the increasing number of people who have decided to participate.  Yes, each time the price drops due to more people joining, all the people who have already joined have their price reduce as well.

The Scotland’s Highland Highlights tour has reduced by $200 in two steps as the numbers have grown, and is now down to $1995 per person.  If we get three more people (which is about all we could manage due to hotel room shortages) the price would go down again to $1895.

The Loire Valley Landcruise tour has also reduced by $200 in two steps and has just flipped over to $2495 per person.  If we have six more people, it would drop further to $2395.

So, now, at better prices than ever before, please do consider joining either or both of these lovely tours, with great groups of fellow Travel Insiders this September.  There were some specials on airfares on offer earlier this week too, making the total experience excitingly great value.

What else this week?  Please keep reading for :

  • What to Do to Passengers Who Take Bags With Them in an Emergency?
  • Boeing Starts Digging Itself a Deep Hole
  • The Subjective Nature of Lead Hazards
  • Google Responds – Brilliantly – to the Growing Pushback Against Overpriced Phones
  • Micro-SD Cards – Better Than Ever
  • Amazon’s Mother’s Day Deals
  • And Lastly This Week

What to Do to Passengers Who Take Bags With Them in an Emergency?

You probably have seen the horrific images of the Aeroflot plane that was struck by lightning shortly after taking off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and so decided to return back.  While nothing is yet official, it seems the pilots panicked (or, to be more politically correct, “were suffering from lightning-related equipment failures that have not yet been fully revealed”) and didn’t dump or burn off any of their full load of fuel, and in their anxious state, proceeded to put on a display of what seems to be spectacularly bad flying when landing.  Although they were slightly over-weight for landing, it should have been survivable and certainly nothing like what we saw happen should have occurred.

For some reason, the plane bounced up off the runway, then crashed down again, and destroying the undercarriage as a result.  The recovery from the bounce looks very bad and much too severe, and it has been suggested that what is known as “pilot induced oscillation” was involved (a series of over-corrections like can sometimes happen if your car slides one way and you over-correct, etc etc).  That is possible, or maybe a panicked desire to urgently get the plane on the ground before it ran out of runway intruded as well.

The plane dragged its fuselage along the runway, and almost instantly burst into flames.  It seems likely the destroyed landing gear punctured the fuel tanks, and fuel would then have got in the pathway of the hot engine exhaust gases, ignited, and been blown onto the sides of the plane.  Very nasty indeed.

As soon as the plane came to a stop the passengers proceeded to evacuate, but over half the passengers (41 of the 78 on board) failed to get out of the plane before being overcome by the flames and smoke/toxic fumes.  (As an aside, look at the pictures and the clouds of nasty looking thick black smoke billowing out of the plane, and ponder what it must have been like inside.  Generally, more passengers die in such conflagrations from smoke/toxic gas inhalation than they do from the fire itself.)  The fire happened towards the rear of the plane, and it is thought no passengers located aft of row 12 managed to exit the plane.

As seems to invariably be the case, pictures and video showed the lucky survivors walking across the runway, and in many cases clutching their carry-on bags close to their chests.  In particular, reports have focused on one gentleman who was more portly than most, and reports say he slowed everyone down while getting his backpack from the overhead and then struggling to get himself and his backpack out the emergency exit.

In the case of this crash, it seems there is little or no doubt.  Tens of passengers died because the passengers ahead of them were slow to evacuate the plane.  The reason the passengers were slow to evacuate the plane was due to the extra time they were taking to get their carry-on items and then take them with them to the exit and out of the plane.

That man’s backpack was probably saved at the cost of, who knows?  Some unknown number more passengers could have lived in the time it took him to get his backpack and finally get to the exit and out.  And the same for the other survivors and the belongings they retrieved as well.

In a situation where the flames and smoke were literally at the heels of other passengers, and seconds counted, the passengers in the front of the plane were leisurely retrieving their personal belongings and taking their time to get off.  They felt no sense of urgency or panic – they could see the exit, close in front of them, and they couldn’t experience the fire behind them in the same way that the passengers a dozen rows back could.

These survivors deliberately disobeyed the lawful commands of the crew to urgently evacuate and leave everything behind.  As a result, people who could have and should have survived the crash and fire instead perished.

Causing death as a result of an illegal act is generally considered either to be second degree murder or third degree murder/manslaughter.  All those passengers should be so charged, convicted, and then sentenced to rot in one of the less pleasant Russian prisons for the rest of their probably shortened lives.

One final comment about this.  Safety standards require airplanes to be able to be evacuated in under 90 seconds, and with half their exits remaining closed.  Here’s a plane that had a total of 5 crew and 82 passengers, and which is capable of carrying up to 98 passengers, so only about 80% full, and which clearly was unable to evacuate sufficiently before being overcome by flames.

With larger passengers and smaller seats, there are recurring concerns about the adequacy of current evacuation safety standards and how emergency evacuations are simulated on the ground (healthy active people who obey all flight attendant commands and never delay to get their bags out of overheads).  The FAA tells us there is nothing to worry about – that would be the same FAA that was slow to see any safety issue with the 737 MAX, of course….

See this article about possible pilot error, this article which includes the video of the hard landing, and this article about the man who blocked most of the rest of the passengers.

Boeing Starts Digging Itself a Deep Hole

For the briefest of moments, Boeing seemed to be making some brave admissions of corporate culpability about its shortcomings that resulted in the two fatal 737 MAX crashes.

But then someone let the lawyers loose, and it has been backpedaling frantically ever since, and unfortunately, in the process, making some statements that seem to be utterly and totally contradicted by the inarguable reality of two crashed planes and their loads of dead passengers.  Denying the plain and obvious reality of events doesn’t protect a company from liability, if anything, gauche attempts to avoid admissions of guilt add aggravating factors and validate larger claims for damages.

Further, there is a steady drip of more revelations and bad news about the entire process that allowed the inadequate software and control systems to make it to production planes.  If you’re interested, here are a selection of articles from the last week.

Boeing knew about the problem for over a year before advising the FAA

Engineers claim Boeing pushed to limit safety testing in rush to get the plane certified

Boeing didn’t fix the AOA warning issue when first discovered in 2017

Boeing lets mechanics inspect their own work, leading to undetected and repeated mistakes

The missing alert feature “did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation”

In particular, the last item and quote would seem to be staggeringly tone deaf.

It is a statement that could be made if the logic/control system flaw was discovered and ignored, but no planes crashed as a result.  However, with two disastrous crashes, how can anyone reasonably argue there was no impact on airplane safety, and with all planes now grounded for two months so far, and probably for another month or two still to follow, claiming no impact on operations seems a bit of a reach as well.

When you add these headlines, in just the last week, to the steady drip of adverse news ever since (and prior to) the grounding two months ago, it seems there is something very bad at Boeing at present – more than just a single issue, something more pervasive and structural.

How many people were killed in the two plane crashes?  346.  How much has this cost Boeing? $1 billion and more so far, increasing every day.  How many Boeing employees have lost their jobs?  As best I can tell, none.

The Subjective Nature of Lead Hazards

We know people who have had to spend many thousands of dollars to remove lead-based paint from their houses, requiring the entire house, or a side of it at a time, to be placed inside a “tent” and then space-suited technicians to do something to remove the paint from the exterior.  We’ve always thought this to be beyond ridiculous – just use paint stripper and the gunk that it forms is hardly going to aerosolize, and no-one is going to eat it, and even if they did, the strong alkali would be much more dangerous than the lead in the paint.

But when it comes to “saving the planet” no-one has ever felt constrained by common sense.  So we just desperately hope that when it comes time to sell our house, we don’t have any lead paint or asbestos insulation anywhere.

Actually, we know we don’t – we had a kitchen fire some years ago and no-one would touch anything in our house until we’d paid several hundred dollars (which, although a direct consequence of the fire, our fire insurance did not cover) to have various parts of the structure tested for lead and asbestos.  None found.  Big relief.

Talking about fires, though, when Notre Dame’s roof burned so spectacularly a couple of weeks ago, well, the roof was made of lead.  Hundreds of tons of it.  Some unknown amount of this was released into the air and of course, subsequently fell back down to the ground.

Samples around the vicinity are now showing lead concentrations of up to 65 times the recommended limit of 0.3 grams per kilogram of ground (a curious way of measuring it – it would seem the easy way to reduce that concentration is just dig a deeper sample of ground).

So is much of central Paris about to be sealed off?  Will tourists need to put on bio-hazard space-suits before going for a boat cruise past Notre Dame?

Well, while we know what would happen if it was a private residence, when it is Paris, different rules apply.  The authorities have suggested that exposed surfaces of homes and buildings should be wiped down with a damp cloth, and that pregnant women and children should wash their hands frequently.  Apparently that’s all that is needed.

I’m not saying that is foolish advice.  But I challenge you to reconcile that advice with what would happen if it was discovered you had a dab of lead paint somewhere on your house.

Details here.

Google Responds – Brilliantly – to the Growing Pushback Against Overpriced Phones

The latest version of the iPhone X series costs anywhere from $749 for the under-featured disappointing XR up to $1449 for the top of the line XS.  The latest Samsung phone also grazes the $1000 mark (or the $2000 mark if you consider the hastily withdrawn non-release of their folding phone that showed an alarming propensity to break within a day or so of being delivered).

At the same time, more modestly priced Android phones can be had with almost every feature imaginable for $200 and sometimes even less.  Apple has been slow to acknowledge that the reason for its slowing sales is due to its skyrocketing phone prices – an utterly counter-intuitive trend when so much in the way of electronic items steadily drops in price.  Indeed, Apple probably can’t respond – its entire business model requires them to be able to sell their iPhones at way above market prices.  That was possible some years ago when their phones were actually better than other phones, but now that’s no longer the case and is creating problems for Apple.

Google has a totally different business model that doesn’t depend so directly on phone sales profits, and has noticed this growing awareness that the high end phones aren’t really any better than phones costing one half (or one quarter, etc) the price.  They’ve not only noticed, but now are responding.

Over the years, Google has flipped and flopped with the hardware it releases and the prices it asks.  Its first “Nexus” branded phones combined fair pricing with reasonably high end features, and were tremendous bargains.  More recently, it rebranded its phones as “Pixel” phones (no idea why they did this) and changed from being high-value to instead being high-price.  Their current top of the line Pixel 3 phones are either $799 or $899, although are often discounted by at least $100.

This week they announced a new pair of Pixel 3a phones, priced at $399 and $479, right around half the price of the other two phones they sell.  The Pixel 3a phones appear to be fully featured, and blessedly also include a headphone jack, reversing the trend to eliminating something that most users wanted.  You can even get a further $100 price reduction if you add them to a Google Fi account, and at a net price then of $299 or $379, they become incredible bargains, particularly because Google has promised to support them with new software releases for at least the next three years (something that is often an issue with Android phones).

If you’re in the market for a new phone, then this seems to be one of the best bargains out there at present, although if you want to pay even less, the Motorola G6 or G7 will knock another $100 or more off the Google Pixel 3a pricing with very little compromise in features.

Here’s an article written about the declining consumer interest in overpriced phones, published prior to the new Google Pixel 3a phone release.

Micro-SD Cards – Better Than Ever

Talking about the steady drift downwards in high tech gear, I was stunned this week to see the latest prices and capacities for Micro-SD cards.

It is not all that long ago that 128GB cards were the highest capacity available, and selling for $250.  Then a 200 GB card came out which had us all amazed, and before long, it was followed by a 256GB card.

Now there are both 400GB and 512GB cards, and both are essentially available at the same cost/GB as lower capacity cards, so you’re not paying much price premium for these stonking huge-capacity cards.  If you’re planning on recording some HD video this summer, you’ll definitely want to have a high capacity card to record it onto.  Whether you choose to do so onto the now very much lower price of a 256GB card, or if you decide to go all-in for a new 512GB card, have a look at Amazon’s current pricing.

We recommend you get the fastest U1 or even better U3 cards if you’re considering recording 4K video.  And, speaking from bitter past experience, we urge you to record video in the best possible quality, because even if you think, today, that there’s no need for such unnecessary extra quality, give it a year or two and what today seems unnecessary will become commonplace.  We remember, only a few years ago, when we were recording 480P video, telling ourselves “that’s as good as a DVD, there’s no reason to waste extra data for unneeded extra quality”.  Now, of course, it looks disappointing, and we regret having lacked the foresight to record to conform for the future, not for the past.

We also recommend you stick to name brands such as Samsung and SanDisk – beware the unknown brands that “coincidentally” have similar logos and color schemes.  A 256GB name-brand card can be yours for $45, a 400GB for $62, and a 512GB for $90.

To put that in context, and to tie that back to Apple’s pricing problem, they charge $200 to add an extra 256GB of memory to their iPhones – four and a half times the retail price of a 256GB Micro-SD card.  And you know that a chip in a phone, ordered ten million at a time, costs a lot less than a chip mounted on a Micro-SD card and packaged for retail sale, one at a time.

That’s why I love my current Motorola G6 – I can add Micro-SD cards to it at market pricing, of whatever capacity I choose, now and in the future, rather than be forced to pay up front for what I think I might need, at usurious prices, from Apple.

Amazon’s Mother’s Day Deals

Amazon has special pricing on some of its hardware products as a Mother’s Day celebration.

Our interest was tweaked by the $30 price on the newest version of the Echo Dot device or the $25 price on a refurbished previous model Echo Dot (you can never have too many of either model of these around your home), the $60 price on the Amazon Fire HD8 tablet, and the $120 price on the Fire HD 10 tablet.

There’s a bunch of other stuff, too, so if you’re feeling like treating someone, including yourself, for a little something this weekend, see what tempts you.

And Lastly This Week….

There’s been a lot of talk about the discovery of cameras being built in to the seat back video monitors on many planes.  If the possibility that someone, somewhere, is watching you through the camera concerns you, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has just the thing for you – removable stickers to place over them.

Slightly more seriously, it makes great sense to cover over the camera on your laptop and other devices.  The nice thing about removable stickers is that hopefully they don’t gunk up the glass so you can still readily use the camera when you want to, but don’t have to worry about it when you don’t want it working.

The EFF stickers are a bit pricy (but they’re a good cause).  You can get little sheets of dots from most stationery stores, too.

I’ve written before about the pricing differential between buying things from China, including shipping, for less than the cost of postage alone if ordering similar items in the US.  Here’s a brilliant explanation (the first of the replies on this page) and an example – 8c to ship a lightweight wristband from China to the US compared to 92c to ship it from somewhere in the US to somewhere else in the US.

Yet another Tesla competitor is slowly progressing from drawing board plans, this one being well funded and developed by Dyson (the vacuum cleaner people).

You’ve heard the expression “as dodgy as a $3 bill” or words to that effect.  How about a new expression “as dodgy as a $50 bill with spelling errors on it”.  As is apparently the case with the new Australian $50 banknote design.  They’re printed 46 million of them so far and had them in circulation for six months before someone noticed the typo, admittedly in the tiny “micro print” rather than in the larger wording.  Details here.

A long-time loyal Avis renter returned his car after a rental in Hawaii.  It was checked in at the depot with no problems.  But three weeks later, the renter received a bill in the mail – a cleaning fee because there was apparently some sand in it.  Not exactly an astonishing discovery for a family rental in a beach location, and nothing that a couple of minutes with a vacuum cleaner wouldn’t quickly solve.

Avis charged $350.

When asked to explain why it was so much, they said that vacuuming the sand out of the car required it to be taken out of service for three days.  A statement that insults the intelligence of anyone who has ever owned or driven or vacuumed a car.

Shame on Avis.  Details here.

I’ve repeatedly referred to Amazon’s problem with fake reviews.  But did you know they also have a problem with fake books.  Here’s an interesting story about how Amazon is passively allowing its “Amazon Unlimited” service to be gamed and tricked by fake book authors.

I’m not quite sure what would be an appropriate comment to make when passing this story on to you – a story about how a passenger died in the Cathay first class lounge’s bathroom at SFO, but no-one noticed for 17 hours.

And lastly this week, best wishes on Sunday to everyone who is a mother, who has (or had) a mother, or who knows a mother (did I leave anyone out?).

My 14 yr old daughter Anna and I are celebrating Mothers Day by attending a 3 1/2 hour opera performance; and while that might sound like a long opera to you, it is actually amazingly short.  It is a condensation of the entire 15 hour Ring of the Nibelung four-opera epic by Wagner.  I’m saddened by the missing 11 1/2 hours of wonderful content, Anna perhaps not quite so much!

I do hope she realizes it is nothing to do with the Lord of the Rings…..  But I’m sure after this brief 3 1/2 hour “taste”, she’ll be keen to see the whole thing.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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