Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 April 2020

See item below about last week’s reader survey.


Good morning

Happy birthday to the iPad, turning 10 this week.  I still have an original iPad – actually two (my daughter gave me her original one back when I upgraded hers, some years ago).  It is amazing how well they still work, even ten years later.

It is disappointing to see how the iPad pricing has stayed high or even gone higher (albeit for of course better/bigger units).  Perhaps that has been one of the reasons that iPads never quite lived up to their expectations – these days you can buy a good laptop for the same price as a high end iPad.

It is also disappointing to see how no other company has succeeded at coming up with a credible and equally prominent competitor to the iPad.  Android phones now beat iPhones and cost half or a quarter the price of similar iPhones, but where is the competition in tablets?  Sure, the Amazon Fire range of tablets are okay, but they’re not high end when it comes to capabilities.  If they included better cameras and higher resolution screens, plus GPS and cell phone data connectivity, and maybe another hour or three of battery life, then they’d truly be winners.  But even so, the Amazon Fire tablets are excellent for most “normal” tablet type uses.  I’ve bought three of them since I last bought an iPad.

Like the rest of life at present, today’s newsletter is in a slightly different style to what used to be normal.

Where Are the SSTs

Talking about no companies coming up with credible competitors, another thing that surprises and disappoints us, every day, is the lack of supersonic passenger jets.  The Concorde, which first flew a test flight in 1969, and entered commercial service in 1976, was forcibly and shamefully retired ahead of schedule in 2003, even though it was operating profitably – indeed, in some years, the Concorde was the only part of BA’s operation that made money.

Almost 17 years after Concorde’s disappearance, and 51 years after its first flight, there are still no other commercial passenger supersonic planes.  We have the technology now for much more efficient engines, and massively reduced or even almost eliminated sonic booms.  So where are the planes?

The closest to a Concorde in the skies now is this.  If only it were six times larger (and faster).

But there continue to be multiple promises of new SSTs.  But, wouldn’t you know it, we are now being told that development is on hold due to the coronavirus.  Such as with this project.

Coronavirus Stuff

And, so, it seems I’ve got this far before mentioning the coronavirus.  How nice to have a few paragraphs change of focus.

Last week, I asked you how long you thought it would be before things returned to normal.  I defined this as being the current problems fading away, social distancing rules cease, with life (and travel) returning back to what it was before.

I was surprised by the answers, which were a lot more optimistic than I expected.  As you can see from the pie chart above, almost half the replies received were from people expecting things to be back to normal by the end of July, little more than three months from now.  Almost exactly 80% give a date some time this year.  Only 20% think it might take longer.

We would desperately love the majority of our readers to be correct.  But we can not match their optimism with any realistic basis to support their positivism.

There are three ways our country can countenance a return to normalcy, and none of those three ways are what is implied at present.  Sure, yesterday (Thursday) probably saw the peak death day in New York, and the day before saw the peak stress on hospital facilities in New York, and other states (such as my own Washington) are already happily coming down their curves.

But, if we are to now relax our social-distancing constraints, guess what happens?  The virus rushes immediately back into our communities and our lives, and the second time around, we have a weakened economy less able to withstand multi-trillion dollar bailouts that imperfectly benefit some while missing out some people entirely (such as myself), and a healthcare system stripped of consumables and struggling to recover from the first round of cases.

These are incredibly important considerations that it is essential we get right.  Too much caution, and we’ve killed our economy.  Too little caution, and we’ve killed ourselves.

So what are these three choices, and how long do they each take to bring us to happy normalcy once more?  This has been my quest, for almost a month – to uncover the answers to this question.  Finally, after reading many millions of words on the topic, and writing over 100,000 in (so far) 33 articles about the virus, I think I’m reaching an understanding of the issues and time-line.  I write about this in a two part article series that is added to the weekly newsletter this morning.

I hope you’ll find time to read through it.  If you disagree, please share your disagreement so I can respond and improve the articles.  If you agree, please share the articles themselves with your friends.

I’m also attaching Thursday’s Daily Diary entry, and here are links to the others in the last week.

Thursday 9 April (attached)

Wednesday 8 April

Tuesday 7 April

Monday 6 April

Sunday 5 April

Saturday 4 April

Friday 3 April

(earlier entries from this page)

Boeing’s 737 MAX

Several issues have been starved of oxygen during March.  One was Bernie Sanders, and more broadly, the entire Democrat primary campaign.  The other is Boeing, and its still not back in service 737 MAX.

Two items came out at the same time this week.  One said Boeing has found more problems with its flight control computers, the other said Boeing has fixed two more problems with its computers.  It is not clear if the two articles are reporting the same thing, or two different sets of things.

Here is also another article about Boeing 737 computers.  It goes into some detail about how old and out of date the computers are (which is part of the problem with the software updates that have been added, overtaxing the ability of the computers to keep up with the data-streams being sent to them).

Talking about Boeing airplane computers, the (hopefully newer) computers on their 787s have to be turned off (and then on again) at least once every 51 days, or else they may experience a catastrophic failure – a catastrophe that would probably then be shared by the rest of the plane.

The Vanishing American Air Passenger

Last Thursday the TSA reported 136,023 people through their airport checkpoints, compared to 2.15 million the same time last year.  We wondered how much lower it could go.

Well, this Thursday, the TSA counted 94,931 people through their checkpoints, compared to 2.23 million last year.  That is a drop of 95.7%, year on year, and a 30% drop from last week’s already historic low.

Can it/will it go lower still?  Possibly, but when you consider the TSA numbers include flight attendants and pilots who go through screening, and also people who work in the airport beyond the security barriers, already that 94,931 count translates to not many more than 50,000 actual passengers.

One thing is for sure.  With gas now as low as 78c a gallon at some gas stations, and lower than normal traffic making for wide open roads, we’re desperately keen to go on a road trip – somewhere, anywhere.

Cruise Lines Get Their Come-Uppance

The concept of cruising has evolved over the last decade or so.  In the “good old days” it was a happy-making experience with almost everything on board the ship generously included for free, with the only real pain point being the cost of the excursions off the ship in ports.  Oh, sure, drinks were extra, but they were often fairly priced (when I was on a QE2 cruise, way more than a decade ago, the drinks were cheaper in their first class bar and restaurant than they were back home).

But since that time, the cruise lines have started to nickel and dime us, every which way, for every which thing, a bit like Disneyland.  Just as the exorbitant entrance fee is these days the cheapest part of a day at a Disney park, so too can the cruise fare be the cheapest part of a total cruise experience.

But if anything should go wrong on a cruise, you quickly find you’re on your own.  Even though you bought a cruise from an American company, seemingly headquartered in Florida or somewhere, and got on a cruise ship in an American port, sailed somewhere, then got off the cruise again in an American port, if you have a problem, you find that you’re not covered by any American laws.  The ship is registered in some other country – quite likely a country that the ship never actually visits – and the actual legal office of the cruise line might be in another country again.  Trying to work out where to sue for damages, and even bringing an action at all, becomes impossibly difficult.

This item starts off by worrying on behalf of the cruise lines.  Mercifully nearly all cruise lines have now stopped nearly all their cruises.  So they’re hurting every bit as bad as every other part of the travel industry.

But, because they have little corporate presence in the US, pay very little tax in the US, and hire very few US employees, guess what?  It seems they’re not eligible in much of bailout funds now.  How appropriate.

Note we said most cruise ships are now tied alongside the wharf, somewhere in the world.  A few are still out there, such as, for example, this one, now with 60% of their passengers on board having contracted the coronavirus.

That’s actually an interesting case study to examine – why only 60%?  Why not more?  There have been some very inadequate and over-reaching studies done of the Diamond Princess cruise ship (the first high profile ship to have an outbreak), it would be nice to supplement those studies with a look at this smaller cruise ship with a much higher infection rate.

One thing we wondered – what happened to the crews of all these ships?  Apparently, not much.

We also wonder – will buffet meals return at sea (and ashore too, for that matter).  If cruise ships had to serve regular plated meals all day, that would make things much harder for them (and, truthfully, less desirable for many of us).  This is an issue that everyone will have to feel their way cautiously forward with.

There’s another risk for cruise ships at present, too.  The risk of being shot at and rammed by a Venezuelan naval boat.  But, as it happily turns out, the risk is fairly low.  The attacking warship was sunk as a result of it trying to ram into the strengthened (ice breaking capable) bow of the cruise ship.  Details here.

And that too is also very appropriate.

And Lastly This Week

Are you thinking of somewhere to go when things do eventually get back to normal?  Here’s a country you’ve probably never been to before, even though it is conveniently in Europe between France and Switzerland.  Indeed, if you can speak a smattering of French, they’re looking for a new leader, too.

And while you’re in the general area, maybe go (back) to Chambord Castle in the Loire Valley, and ponder who designed it.  The linked article almost says it was Leonardo da Vinci, who lived nearby in his later life.

This reminds us of our cancelled tours to France and Scotland in May and June this year.  And talking about Scotland, here’s a bit of linguistic trivia about Scotland.  Not sure if it is a strong reason to go rushing off to Scotland as soon as things clear up, but then again, does one really need a strong reason to go there?

Ah – so much of the world still waiting for us to visit.  Frustrating, isn’t it!

Remember all the supercilious sneering at people choosing to stock up on toilet paper?  Well, it turns out that those of us who did so are actually more clever than others imagined – here’s an interesting article that looks at why there was (is) a need and shortage of toilet paper.  Who knew….

It is a rather strange Easter for us this year.  We do hope you’re not going to church this weekend.  But perhaps you might enjoy a virtual visit to some of these glorious churches.

Until next week, please be safe and well, and if you’ve time hanging heavily on your hands, please consider the daily diary entries.





2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 April 2020”

    1. It depends on what you’re using as the baseline assumption. I’ve seen suggestions of one unreported case for each known case up to as high as, per an article a day or two ago, 16 unreported cases per reported case. Today I’ll be having a note in the diary entry about another data source – sewage testing – that also suggests 4:1 or higher.

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