Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 June 2020

Feeling the need to go on a cruise again? Keep waiting…. (article below)


Good morning

What a strange weekend it was.  In my case, a 12 hour power cut made Saturday much less productive and pleasant than it should have been, and provided a curious contrast between a nation that can fly two men up to orbit, but a nation that can’t guarantee continuity of electricity to its citizens.  This reminded me of my incomplete series on what to do when the power fails, and I’ll come back to that probably next week with a further article.

Then of course there was the rioting on Sunday.  Having felt mildly threatened by the rioting, I feel compelled to comment.

My dog watching for looters on Sunday

I had been happily saying to a friend, earlier on Sunday, that at least in my quiet little bit of sleepy suburbia, there was no danger of rioters coming anywhere near where I lived.  Within an hour of that prognostication, I learned on Twitter there were rioters at a shopping center 1.25 miles from me, and heading into the residential areas.  That was alarming, to put it mildly, and required me to, ahem, “open the special safe” and prepare for uninvited visitors.

It subsequently turned out they weren’t going into residential areas.  Just as well, as even liberal and generally gun-hating Seattle quickly transformed into groups of well-armed home-owners blocking off entrances to their neighborhoods.  I think the rioters understand that.  It is one thing to loot and plunder empty businesses in central business districts while the police strangely stand back and allow them to do so.  It is an entirely different thing to threaten armed people actively defending their homes and neighborhoods, indeed, there are plenty of videos of looters prudently turning and fleeing when armed business owners appear in front of their business, too.

It is disappointing to observe the number of enablers who believe the rioters are doing so due to outrage over apparently egregious police brutality in Minneapolis.  Perhaps someone could explain to me how smashing into an electronics store and absconding with a big screen television helps prevent further police brutality.

There’s also a massive assumption that the police brutality (assuming it to actually be as bad as it seems to be based on the short video clip we’ve seen) was motivated by racial issues rather than being just generic police brutality (seems more likely noting that the officer had I think 17 complaints already filed against him in the past).  The victim had both fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, to say nothing of a five year jail sentence for armed robbery in his past, so it doesn’t stretch the limits of credibility to wonder if he wasn’t being entirely cooperative.  Let me simply say I’d like to see a complete video of the encounter before I too rush out to Walmart, smash my way in, and help myself to a new big screen television.

Worse than the enablers is the rush to “virtue signal” by companies and their narrow perception of the act in Minneapolis and the response thereto as being racially motivated, and their great desire now to one-up each other by practicing more and more reverse racial discrimination by supporting all types of preferential treatments for black people.

If these companies truly believe black lives matter, why not focus on the 7,407 black homicide victims in 2018, the vast majority of which are believed to be killed by their fellow blacks and who go unmourned and unnoticed by the country as a whole, rather than the 220 or so black people killed by police each year, usually in justifiable circumstances, and less than ten of those deaths being of unarmed black people (here’s a case by case analysis of these ten situations).

One other point for these people to consider.  In this Wall St Journal article, we are told that a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.  Where is the outrage over that?

The police are far from perfect, but the biggest cause of black killings is the illegal acts of other black people on themselves.  Why is no-one pointing that out?  Why are we talking about the “mote” (tiny speck) in the policemens’ eyes while ignoring the “large beam of wood” in the black community’s eyes?

Noting also that many more white people are killed by police each year than black people, where is the outrage about white lives mattering?  Why are we only being lectured about black lives mattering?  Don’t white lives matter, too?  How about Asians?  Hispanics?  Even New Zealanders?  :)

Do the virtue signalers not realize it is their rush to embrace the notion of police brutality narrowly in racial terms that validates and empowers the overreactions, rioting/looting/plundering, and mis-definition of a broader problem.

All lives matter (including police lives too).  All inappropriate police behavior is reprehensible.

What else this week?  I’ve cut back on my “Covid-19 Diary” posting frequency, and after 11 weeks of unbroken daily articles, now plan to do this once or twice a week rather than every day.  Thursday’s diary entry is attached to this morning’s newsletter.  There’s some good stuff in it (or so I think).

On the same general Covid-19 theme, but from a travel angle, I took a careful look at just what the risks might be at present to fly somewhere.  More and more people are returning back to flying, and more and more countries are to some degree re-opening themselves to international visitors and tourists.  This makes the topic of air safety (from a viral point of view) more relevant and pressing to answer.  The result is a two article piece, also attached below.  In particular, the 19 specific suggestions for what to do if you’re going to fly somewhere will hopefully be helpful to you.

Beyond the three articles attached, yes, there are some other items in this morning’s roundup.  Please keep reading for :

  • At Last – an Airplane Seat Enhancement that Makes Sense
  • Embraer’s Futuristic Doodling
  • Playing the Guessing Game About Where You Can Fly
  • And Where You Can Cruise, Too
  • Elon Musk Wins Some and Loses Some
  • Unfair Article on Electric Cars
  • More Electric Car Competition?
  • If it’s Good Enough for the CIA, it is Good Enough for the Chinese
  • And Lastly This Week….

At Last – an Airplane Seat Enhancement that Makes Sense

There’s something about airplane seat designers.  We can understand the risk of having one’s brain explode from the conflicting ideals of trying to design a more comfortable coach seat for airplanes, but at the same time, being required to do so in less space than ever before.

So we regularly see fanciful and ridiculous concepts, ranging from bicycle seat style semi-standing arrangements (benefit – you can squash people in more closely if they’re all basically standing up rather than sitting down) to “pretend” concepts such as Air New Zealand’s “coach class sleeper” (three coach class seats with the arm-rests up and the space where your legs go made into extra “bed” – too short to stretch out in and too narrow for two), and plenty of other ideas that mercifully have not yet been implemented.

But here’s a design we like – converting a middle seat into a barrier between the aisle and window seats.

The problem is the airlines have done the math and claim that going from three to two seats on both sides of the aisle would require a 50% increase in ticket prices to balance out the fewer seats available.  That’s a hefty increase in ticket price, for sure.

We’ve a feeling that the airlines might be overlooking a few points in their 50% extra cost claim.  We’ll write about that next week, and for now, we do like the idea of the barrier.

Embraer’s Futuristic Doodling

I’ve often ruefully observed that there have been no real innovations in airplane design in over 50 years.  All commercial airplanes today comprise a long thin cylinder, with wings sticking out in the middle of each side, engines hung beneath the wings, and a rear tail/elevator group at the back.  They all cruise about 15% below the speed of sound.  The only real difference is that some are bigger than others.

We get hints of what could be when we see military planes with strange wing shapes and tails and canards, and when we look into the past for inspiration from the Concorde and Boeing 2707 SST.

Occasionally students of design schools, unfettered by commercial (and sometimes physical) realities will create interesting looking concepts, albeit ones which probably would never fly effectively and efficiently.  Here’s a look into a possible future from Embraer (follow the link in the article to a short YouTube video as well).

It is a nice idea, although we shudder at the thought of all that glass.  Keeping it scratch free would be a challenge, and if it cracked/broke, that would be another challenge of a different kind, too.

Playing the Guessing Game About Where You Can Fly

We’re all very eager to know if we can realistically and prudently plan to travel anywhere this summer.  After three months of virtual lockdown, we all feel we deserve to treat ourselves to a little something of a getaway.

But the problem is none of us can predict what the virus will do, and neither can we predict how countries will react and respond to the next twists in the virus battle.  Nothing is certain or guaranteed, and everything is subject to change at any time.

As an example, a Qatar Airlines flight from Doha to Athens was discovered to have 12 of its 91 passengers infected with the virus when it landed.  Faster than you can read about it, the Greek government suspended all flights to/from Doha until mid-June.  This was quite in contrast to the country’s aggressive stance on encouraging people to start visiting Greece again.

We can’t even guess what other types of unpredictable events and outcomes will occur.  Make sure you have travel insurance to cover any such eventualities.

And Where You Can Cruise, Too

We’ve been expecting a series of small extensions of when it is cruises are expected to start operating again, and we’ve also hoped for some sort of coordinated approach to setting these dates across cruiselines and across destinations.

Alas, none of this seems to be happening, making it very difficult to know what to expect, or what the different dates are for cruising to restart.

This week Canada rubbed its crystal ball until it could see clearly and far into the future and announced it would not allow cruise ships to operate in Canadian waters through the end of October.  There’s no Alaska cruising in November and December, so that basically kills the Alaskan cruising entirely for this year.

We were surprised that Canada took such an aggressively conservative view, rather than announcing no cruises through, say, the end of July, and early in July choosing whether to confirm a restart on 1 August or another month of delays, and so on.

Sure, it gives some future certainty for the cruise lines, but it isn’t the sort of certainty they wish, and there aren’t a lot of other destinations they can reassign their ships to at present.

Curiously, although Vancouver is closed to cruise ships, Seattle is theoretically open.  Norwegian, for example, appears to be accepting bookings for cruises from 1 August, and also shows a port stop in Victoria, Canada.  We suspect its website isn’t up to date, which is regrettable.

Currently the CDC has a ban on all US cruises running through until 24 July.

If you have a travel agent who specializes in cruises, he or she would be a good resource to help you through the contradictions and inaccuracies.  Always assuming you decide you want to risk a cruise at all, of course!

Elon Musk Wins Some and Loses Some

Space-X’s achievement in successfully flying a two man crew up to the International Space Station at the end of last week was a wonderful thing to see.  We hope the return back to Earth will be similarly successful, and that this marks the beginning of a new generation of US-based manned space flight.  Definitely, a win for Elon Musk.

Bu the day before the Dragon-2 successfully launched, a prototype of their next generation Starship rocket exploded during a static test of a rocket motor.  This makes it 0 for 4 – all four Starship prototypes constructed so far have now failed.

Unfair Article on Electric Cars

Talking about Mr Musk, it is impossible not to be reminded of his flagship project – his Tesla company and its electric cars.

Even an entry level Model 3 has a 250 mile range, a long range Model S has a 391 mile range.  Sure, if you start driving early in the morning, you’ll probably run out of charge before the end of the day, even in a 391 mile Model S.  But this is less and less a problem, because Tesla is steadily building out its network of proprietary “Superchargers” – places where you can quickly recharge your car.  Sure, there are very many fewer than there are regular gas stations, and they do tend to be concentrated on the interstates.  But they continue to grow in numbers.

If you don’t have a Tesla, you’re not quite so fortunate.  Tesla superchargers will only work with Tesla cars.  No other car company has invested in a charging infrastructure, and third party services have been slow to evolve and appear.  Equally regrettable are the twin challenges of most other electric vehicles having appreciably less range, and most (but not all) other chargers not charging as quickly as Tesla does with its proprietary network.

It was still regrettable to see this article that complains about the paucity of charging stations for other types of electric cars.  You can usually tell the difference between an electric car owner and an electric car reviewer.  The reviewer obsesses over the concept of many-thousand-mile roadtrips over back country roads and the lack of chargers.  The owner says “Who cares.  I don’t go on that sort of a roadtrip more than once a decade, and if/when I next do, I’ll either use my other, petrol-powered car, or I’ll hire a rental car.”

Your needs are probably similar.  99.5% of the time, a typical day of driving means going to work and then to home again, or maybe some shopping and visiting over the weekend.  You seldom if ever exceed 100 miles a day, and if you have a Chevy Bolt (259 miles range), a Hyundai Kona Electric (258 miles) or a Kia Niro Electric (239 miles) you’re set for all normal driving needs.  For that once-a-decade extended roadtrip, you use one of your other vehicles or are slightly naughty and rent an unlimited-mileage rental car for the journey (I know people with normal cars who always do this – they claim the saving in mileage based depreciation and wear and tear more than pays for the rental car cost).

The article points out an apparent 353 miles between two fast (non-Tesla) chargers – and has carefully chosen the part of the US with the thinnest density of chargers.  But, assuming it is accurate, there are plenty of closer “not so fast” chargers to bridge the gap (see the map here for a fairly thorough listing of chargers).

Range anxiety is understandable, but rapidly fades if/when you treat yourself to an electric vehicle and get to experience the reality of how it all works and the mileage/range you really need.

More Electric Car Competition?

We regularly marvel at the lack of credible competitors to Tesla, meaning that for eight years now, Tesla has largely had the entire electric car market to itself.  Nissan, an early pioneer and leader, lost its initiative and now is an also-ran, General Motors promised much with its Bolt but failed to effectively market the car to its mass markets or develop it further, there are some good new cars coming from Korea but they are supply-limited for now, and that only leaves a few high-end niche models like the extremely disappointing Jaguar (too little range, inefficient, expensive).

Why have none of the major auto manufacturers come out with a realistic competitor to any of the four current Tesla models?  Instead, we get protestations of their “commitment” to electric power, and the promise of new electric vehicles some time in the future.

The latest example of this is Audi.  Audi is part of the VW group, at times rating as the largest car manufacturer in the world.  They’ve enormous resources and very deep pockets, and smarting from the scandal over their diesel emissions test cheating, they’re ostensibly committed to electric power.  But this news item reads like all the other news items from all the other manufacturers over the last many years.  It talks about ambitious targets for 2025 and 2029.  But where are the electric cars for 2020 and 2021?  Nowhere.  The closest they can get is 2024 for a “highly efficient electric car”.

Elon Musk laughs, yet again.  By 2024, who knows – he might be on Mars.  :)

Here’s an article that has a poor choice of headline, indeed by the time it gets to the final paragraph, it more or less reveals the correct interpretation.

Amazon’s possible purchase of startup driverless/electric vehicle company Zoox is not a challenge to Tesla.  It is a challenge to UPS and other delivery services, and is another glimpse at Amazon’s plan to control their entire distribution system.

In other Amazon distribution news this week, the company announced it is leasing another 12 767-300 freighters, bringing the total fleet for “Prime Air” to over 80 planes.

That is still very much smaller than the largest air cargo company – Fedex, with more than 650 aircraft.  But Amazon is growing its air freight arm as rapidly as it can, and we expect to see further plane acquisitions in the short term future.

We wonder if Amazon has considered putting in a bid to buy the US Postal Service?  Probably not – they’d find USPS way too inefficient for their liking, and might think it easier to build their own network rather than buy out USPS.  But it is an interesting thought.

Other countries have privatized their mail services.  It is surprising the US continues to have what is essentially a government owned enterprise.

If it’s Good Enough for the CIA, it is Good Enough for the Chinese

There’s been a lot of discussion about the US concerns of using Huawei equipment to control much of the modern internet infrastructure and “backbone”, and similarly for new 5G phone systems.

You can almost see the eye-rolling in some articles ridiculing the US concern that somehow the Chinese government will or already has suborned Huawei so they can build in some sort of “back door” to spy on all the voice and data traffic passing through the Huawei equipment.  The UK government decided there were no security concerns and ignored the US pleading with them not to install Huawei equipment into critical infrastructure applications.  “Huawei is cheapest” seemed to be the ruling guideline and only measure that was applied.

As for deeming the equipment was secure, any sort of declaration like that just shows the lack of imagination and talent on the part of the people doing the evaluation.  The world is full of people who have announced their computer systems to be super-secure, only to discover a short while later that they are spectacularly wrong.  With the complexity of equipment these days, and no ability to evaluate the source code that drives the equipment, such statements asserting “totally secure” are totally impossible to make.

There is also, however, an overlay of even more naive belief that the Chinese government is too nice and high minded to wish to spy on other countries – never mind its army of spies all around the world, helping themselves to trade secrets whenever the need arises.  And Huawei asks us to trust them when they disavow any plans to snoop on the traffic passing through their equipment.

There’s one good reason not to trust them, however.  That is the slightly embarrassing revelation, just a few months ago, that the CIA has been doing almost exactly the same thing through a private company that it secretly owned together with its German counterpart, the BND, from 1970 until 2018.  Fascinating details here.

So when Senator Tom Cotton compared using Huawei gear in sensitive US networks as equivalent to having the Russians build our nuclear subs (or, famously and unbelievably, allowing the Russians to build our new Embassy in Moscow, which actually happened) he could have also compared it to the CIA project with Crypto AG.

And Lastly This Week….

We remember when the first American fast food restaurant opened in New Zealand.  It was a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Auckland.  Traffic jammed the roads for miles around, and there was a huge line of people eager to try out this strange new type of food and service.

It was similar when McDonald’s first opened, in a location about 15 miles north of the capital city of Wellington.  It was swarmed with people too; indeed, it became a Sunday tradition for my friends and me – going there for a special Sunday lunch.  We were used to hamburgers with such things as beetroot and pineapple and fried eggs in them – a Big Mac was an entirely new taste sensation.

Our excuse was it was new and different.  But McDonald’s is causing traffic chaos again, this time in the UK.  Why?  Because it is now allowing drive-through customers, after being totally locked down during the peak of Britain’s lockdown.

It is funny the things you discover you cherish, but only when they are taken from you!  At least we could still get drive-through food from McD’s here.

Many thanks to Suzanne who sent these funnies in, purportedly being conversations between pilots and control towers.

Tower: “Delta 351, you have traffic at 10 o’clock, 6 miles!” 
Delta 351: “Give us another hint! We have digital watches!”

A Cessna inbound at the reporting point over Manly Beach, Sydney Australia

Tower (Female voice):  “Cessna WYXD, congestion at airport approach. I’m going to have to hold you over the Manly area.” 
Cessna WYXD: “Oh, I love it when you talk dirty to me.” 

Tower: “American 241, for noise abatement turn right 45 Degrees.” 
American 241: “Center, we are at 35,000 feet.. How much noise can we make up here?” 
Tower: “Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 737?”


From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long take-off queue:
I’m  f…ing bored!” 
Ground Traffic Control: “Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!” 
Unknown aircraft:  “I said I was f…ing bored, not f…ing stupid!”


O’Hare Approach Control to a 747:  “United 329 heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o’clock, three miles,  Eastbound.” 
United 329: “Approach, I’ve always wanted to say this…
I’ve got the little Fokker in sight.”


A student became lost during a solo cross-country flight.
While attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, ATC asked, “What was your last known position?” 
Student: “When I was number one for take-off.”


Truly lastly this week, here’s a fascinating analysis of the UA 232 DC-10 crash that happened back in 1989.  Astonishingly, this 37 minute presentation was given by a programmer, at a developer conference.  It is very interesting and readily understood.  Truly it was an amazing bit of piloting by the four pilots involved.

Until next week, please remain happy and healthy




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