Weekly Roundup, Friday 15 May 2020

One of the most beautiful planes, ever. See final item.


Good morning

It has been an excitingly busy week.  I’ve been hard at work developing the business plan for my new travel/tourism concept, based on what I perceive as the changing style of tourism and vacation/lifestyle experiences people will wish in the future.  As I mentioned last week, I’m looking for a few investors to go into this with me.  Let me know if you’d like to know more.

I’ve also now released a new set of pages about classical music.  Among the many other benefits of good music is that it is believed to boost one’s immune system – I’ve no idea how this happens, but it seems to truly be a valid thing.  So what better way to keep one’s Covid-19 defenses on a high state of readiness than via enjoying some of the world’s finest classical music.

I do know that not everyone is comfortable with classical music, so as well as carefully selecting what I hope you’ll find to be easily enjoyed pieces of music to get you started, I’ve also got a couple of pages introducing you to what classical music is, and how to listen to it.

The first introductory page is below this morning’s roundup.  There are links from there to the other pages.

I’ve of course written another seven daily diary entries about the coronavirus.  Yesterday’s entry is also below; and here are links to the other entries over the last week.  Please keep in mind, if you’d like to get these every day simply add yourself to the Express or Daily Full Text emails on this page.

Thursday May 14 (also attached)

Wednesday May 13

Tuesday May 12

Monday May 11

Sunday May 10

Saturday May 9

Friday May 8

(earlier entries from this page)

And, what else?  The interesting results from last week’s survey, and an assortment of the usual bits and pieces.  Please see :

  • Reader Survey Results :  When Will Things Return to Normal
  • Boeing CEO Puts His Foot in It
  • The Big Difference in Amazon’s New Fire Tablet?
  • Elon Musk Maybe Beats a Deadline
  • Dogs – Not Always a Man’s Best Friend
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results :  When Will Things Return to Normal

Just over a month ago, I asked when you thought the current problems will fade away, social distancing rules cease, with life (and travel) returning back to normal.

It seemed like an interesting idea to see how people’s views have changed over the last month.  Of course, you probably don’t exactly know when things will return to normal (I don’t think anyone truly does) and – as a colleague pointed out – I’m not really setting any definition for “normal” other than “whatever you think it to be”.

However, with the exact same question asked, one month apart, the results are very different.

The colors are the same in each chart.  As you can see, in April, half the responses were from people expecting things would be back to normal no later than early August this year.  Now, less than one in seven are that optimistic.

Instead, half of people now expect some time between now and some time in the first quarter of next year.

The change continues all the way through.  In April, 80% of readers expected the problem to be solved some time this year, now that percentage is down to  40%.  In April, 96% expected the problem would be solved by the end of 2022, with only 4% expecting something worse.  Now 89.5% expect a resolution by the end of 2022, 1.5% say in 2023 and 9% say never.

We certainly agree, at least that there is no measurable reason to see us any closer to a solution today than we were a month ago.  New case and death rates continue at similar rates to a month ago, and the country’s best guess projections for total deaths have more than doubled during the last month.  Ugh.

Boeing CEO Puts His Foot in It

Some truths are best never spoken, and polite social fictions are better to be observed.  “No, that dress doesn’t make your butt look big”.  “Yes, I’ll respect you in the morning.”  And “All our US airline customers are on a firm financial footing”.

These days there are only four major airlines in the US.  American, Delta, Southwest, and United.  On Tuesday, Boeing CEO David Calhoun went on the record and said he expects one of them to go out of business as a result of the coronavirus.  He didn’t say which one.

Not astonishingly, no airline executives were thrilled to hear this comment, and in some ways, Calhoun’s refusal to say which one, or to place odds on them all, made it even worse, with all four airlines feeling insulted.

He is now furiously walking back his comment, while his PR people are politely pretending he didn’t mean what he said, saying

We’ve had long-standing personal relationships with the airlines and they’re highly valued customers.  We will all get through this current pandemic and be stronger in the end.

That of course remains to be seen.

As you can see from the two charts above, air passenger numbers are steadily increasing again and are now at about twice the level of when they bottomed out in early/mid April.

That is either good or bad news for airlines.  Doubling from as low as 3.6% of last year’s numbers, and now sometimes reaching 8.6%, is encouraging, but no airline can make money with less than one-tenth its passenger numbers of last year.  Even 50% is a disaster, and 75% a serious problem.

So let’s just say that, depending on how much more money the government might gift to the airlines, there’s every possibility that if Mr Calhoun is wrong, it is only because instead of one airline failing, perhaps two might fail.

Back to Boeing; it had a bad April.  No new airplane orders, but airlines cancelled 108 planes on order, and Boeing took another 101 planes off its backlog list because it no longer expects them to become real sales.

It still has about a six year production backlog (about 5000 planes) but because of the way airlines schedule their deliveries, when one order is cancelled, all the other orders don’t necessarily automatically move forward.  So there are growing gaps throughout the next few years where less planes are needed than Boeing will make.  In normal times, that is seldom a problem, because the chances are some airline somewhere will end up wanting to get the available earlier production slots, but that’s less likely to happen in the next year or two.

Boeing will start making 737 MAX planes again this month, even though it has hundreds sitting around, undelivered and undeliverable, at present, and still no certain timeline for when the plane will be recertified to start flying again.

It surprises us they are bringing the restart of 737 production forward – it had not been expected to start until next month or later, and we doubt any airlines are desperate for planes that aren’t allowed to fly.  But they know best.

The Big Difference in Amazon’s New Fire Tablet?

Amazon brought out a new Fire HD 8 tablet this week with remarkably little fanfare or promotion.  Perhaps it was a bit embarrassed, because there’s only one clear change of any note – the price increased from $80 to $90.

There might be a little more battery life and slightly better cameras, and more onboard memory, and now it charges from a USB-C connector rather than the previous micro-USB connector, and of course it says it has a slightly faster processor.  However, the most important aspect of the tablet for most of us is its screen, and it still has the same comparatively low-resolution 1280×800 screen that its predecessor had.  That is unfortunate, meaning it can’t show the now common 1920×1080 resolution high-quality video in full detail.

We don’t dislike the HD 8, and even at $90 rather than $80, it is still an excellent price.  But we feel, and always have, that the HD 10 unit is by far the best choice in their Fire tablet line up.  A 10.1″ screen makes a huge difference, as does its 1920×1200 pixel resolution.  It is $150 – an extra $60, but that’s money very well spent to give you a massively bigger/better screen for watching video on.

The HD 10 was recently updated to a new model, and the new HD 8 seems to be the smaller screen equivalent, so we’re not expecting any upgrade for the HD 10, at least, not for the next six months or more.

Elon Musk Maybe Beats a Deadline

We’ll only believe this when we see it actually operational, but at this stage it seems that Musk’s tunneling company may have possibly completed drilling the tunnel loop under the Las Vegas Convention Center.  The promise is that the new transport system will be working in time for the major CES show next early January, and of course, at this point there’s some uncertainty whether CES will take place due to the virus.

Peculiarly, the LV Convention and Visitors Authority CEO is now saying that if CES is cancelled or delayed, they’ll hold off on opening the new tunnel transport system.  You’d think that if everything is completed on schedule (or even ahead of schedule) they’d be keen to boast of that and open it up, even if just for the press, and then immediately idle it until their halls started filling with conventions again.

Dogs – Not Always a Man’s Best Friend

One of the most popular security measures employed by the TSA is sniffer dogs.  Whenever readers comment on them, it is always to wonder why the TSA doesn’t get hundreds more dogs.  There’s nothing better than a dog’s nose to sniff out explosives, or drugs, or food, or whatever, or so many people think.

Plus they’re so cost-efficient.  The TSA could breed their own, and how much do a couple of cans of dog-food a day cost, the reasoning goes.

Unfortunately, the reality is very different.  Dogs require years of training, and not all “graduate”.  This makes them costly to acquire.  While dogs can be good at explosive-detecting, their attention wanders and they have a very low “duty cycle” – ie, time on duty before they lose focus and need to be given a break.  I’ve had first hand experience of that – an explosive detecting dog who failed to alert to the recently fired and (of course) fully loaded concealed pistol I had, right almost at his nose height, inches from him.  His handler was boasting to me how gifted the dog was.  I nodded, while struggling to keep a straight face, and patting the dog with a hand that almost certainly had explosive residue on it.

This article explains some more about the challenges in training and operating dogs at airports.

And Lastly This Week….

Our previous reader survey was about places you might want to travel once traveling becomes possible and desirable again.  I don’t think anyone mentioned the Bailiwick of Sark, which is a shame, as it is a fascinating island with a fascinating history.  Here’s a nice article about it.

What do you have on your coffee table or somewhere else prominently visible to, ahem, impress visitors with them?  Well, the question is probably not very pressing at present – who among us have visitors currently – but with an eye to that happy time with when people start coming around, what’s your preferred objet d’art to show off?

Depending on the size of your coffee table, and, ahem, your wallet, this might be just the thing.

Continuing the focus of classic old planes, here’s a lovely video of a Super Connie actually taking to the air and flying around Germany.  It is billed as the only one that still flies – I’d thought one of the two Australian preserved planes still could fly too, (VH-EAG) but perhaps its certification has lapsed.  There’s a second one recently restored at the lovely Longreach Qantas Founders Museum – something I’m an honorary life member of, not that I’ve ever visited, but I think that is a static display, not an actual flyable plane.

Talking about airplane nostalgia, if you’re missing airline food, good news.  You can order it and get it delivered to you.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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