Weekly Roundup, Friday 31 July 2020

See article below for commentary.

Good morning

My main computer has been running hotter and hotter over the last while, to the point where I was sometimes having to limit the load on it for fear of temperatures becoming way too hot.  After a really nasty crash this week I decided to blow some compressed air through it, getting rid of quite an accumulation of lint and dust and much dog fur.  It is now running at least 50° cooler than it was before and I’ve no problem loading up the CPUs much closer to 100%.

Heat accelerates wear in computers.  I suggest you should do the same as I did, and blow compressed air through your computer.  If you’ve a laptop, there’s no need to open it up, just use a piece of tissue paper to determine which of the slotted portions of the case are the main inlet and output for the air flow, and give several generous blasts in both sides.

It might seem like a strange item to sell (and buy) but you can buy cans of compressed air that are intended for just that purpose.

You want air that blows fast and at a reasonably impressive volume too, so as to get everywhere, shake everything up, and rather than just limply redistribute the dust and dirt, get it all out of the computer completely.

I use the free Advanced SystemCare Performance Monitor from IOBit (see image) to keep an eye on temperatures and other things – for example, sometimes I’ll find programs that are “misbehaving” (some web pages in my Chrome browser can sometimes be extraordinarily CPU intense) and consuming way too much CPU power.  Recommended.

There’s the usual Thursday Covid-19 diary entry attached to this roundup.  Ugh.  At what point, I wonder, did writing about this terrible pestilence become “usual”?

And, below, please keep reading for :

  • Reader Survey Results – Escaping the Virus
  • New Reader Survey – When Will It End?
  • Air Travel Trends
  • Self-Flying Planes?  Sound Great to Me!
  • Boeing 747 Production to Cease
  • What It is Really Like on a Private Jet
  • Good News for the LA-LV Train
  • Farewell to the Phantom
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results – Escaping the Virus

I asked, last week, what you thought about the idea of escaping the virus.  I think a term increasingly being used is to create a “bubble” in which a small group of people can safely live normal lives, completely virus-free.  The biggest such bubble is of course New Zealand, and as I mention in the virus diary entry attached, Hawaii is now considering creating small bubbles of tourists on its islands – not necessarily virus free, but at least safely insulated from the locals.

As I described the concept last week, this “escape” would be a rural location here in the Pacific Northwest, limiting access only to residents, who would have to be quarantined into the enclave any time they arrived, then after completing quarantine, would be free to enjoy the safe enclave as they wished, with no masks and no social distancing needs.  New testing technologies promise to make the quarantine requirement less onerous and shorter than is presently the case.

To my positive surprise, almost half of all respondents either wanted to immediately move to such a place, or wanted to know more information about the concept.

Almost another quarter said they liked it and thought other people would like it too, but due to practical constraints on their present lives, it wouldn’t work specifically for them currently.  The remaining one third didn’t like the idea at all and thought it would hold no interest for other people either.

This was a greater level of interest than I’d expected.  Thank you all for your responses.

It makes me think about the earlier survey, now twice asked, about when you think the virus will finally be behind us.  So …..

New Reader Survey – When Will It End?

In early April, and again in early May, I asked you when you thought the current virus related problems will fade away, social distancing rules cease, with life (and travel) returning back to normal.  I’d be curious to see if there’s been any change in your opinion (well, for sure, the April optimists who were hoping for a return to normal by now are probably revising their expectations).

Of course, you probably don’t exactly know when things will return to normal (I don’t think anyone truly does) but it would be helpful to get a sense of what people are guessing at and expecting and how that may have changed over the last few months.

As always, please click the link that best describes your current thinking.  This will create an email to be sent to me with your answer coded into the subject line.

August
September

October

November

December

First Quarter of 2021

Second Quarter of 2021

Second half of 2021

Some time in 2022

2023

Probably never

As always, I’ll tabulate the answers and share them next week.

Air Travel Trends

Talking about getting back to normal, I’ve been carefully watching each day’s data about how many people are flying in the US at present.

As you can see in the chart at the top of the newsletter, numbers have more or less frozen in place during July.  After bottoming out in mid April, there had been a clear and steady upward trend until the 4 July weekend, then after that, the three weeks that followed have been closely repeating themselves, neither appreciably rising nor falling, and wobbling around about the 25% of last year level, about 650,000 people a day instead of about 2.6 million a day this time last year.

So the call for renewed shut-downs as a result of new virus cases now occurring at twice the peak rate of before, while not seeing people abandon air travel as much as they did in April, has at least shown the previous growth rate pause.

If your glass is half full, you say that six times more people are traveling than in mid April.  If your glass is half empty, you say that four times more people traveled this time last year than are traveling this time, this year.

What will the next week show?  A continued freeze?  A resumption of growth?  Or a drop?  Wait seven days, and I’ll update you again!

Self-Flying Planes?  Sound Great to Me!

Airbus is quietly making impressive progress with making its planes completely self-controlled, from gate to gate, without a single pilot intervention.

For those of you who feel safer with a cockpit filled with pilots, maybe this article will give you some pause for thought.  Two pilots who didn’t even realize their airplane wing had struck something on the ground while taking off, and only discovered the problem at almost 30,000 ft.

When they returned for an emergency landing back at their departure airport, they told the passengers on board it was due to a “computer problem”, not due to having hit something when taking off and not realizing it for 15 minutes subsequently – just remember that the next time a pilot tells you something.

The “computer problem” has turned out to be so severe that American Airlines is scrapping rather than repairing the damaged plane.

More planes crash because of their pilots than are saved from crashing by the pilots.  Most planes fly themselves nearly all the way on most flights now anyway, and the pilots only fly the plane by hand if they’re bored or want to remember what it feels like.  Indeed, even “hand flying” is often not as we’d understand it – instead of moving the control column and operating the rudder pedals, you simply dial new settings into the auto-pilot.  If you want to climb from 20,000 ft to 25,000 ft, you ask the auto-pilot to do that, rather than adjust the throttle and pull back the stick yourself.

Boeing 747 Production to Cease

This is a story that has been waiting to be written for several years.  Boeing’s latest model 747, the 747-8 (the -8 being yet another sycophantic sop to the Chinese, using a lucky Chinese number out of sequence in the hope it would encourage the Chinese to buy some) never sold well.  It went on sale in 2005, and picked up launch orders for 22 freighter versions of the plane.  Over the 15 years that followed, Boeing has sold a total of 106 freighter versions and a mere 45 passenger versions (plus two to the US Air Force as new Air Force One planes).

There haven’t been any new orders for the plane since 2017, and with a diminishing forward order count now below a dozen planes, Boeing has simply run out of customers and orders for the plane.  With the Airbus A380 now also safely discontinued, Boeing no longer needs to keep the 747-8 on its books as a defensive or face-saving measure, and so the company announced this week it is closing its order book and will produce the final plane next year.

This decision has been expected for several years, and can’t be blamed on the virus-related aviation slowdown.  That doesn’t stop some people from choosing to see a link between the virus and the cancellation, but it truly is unrelated.

When Boeing stops making 747s and Airbus stops making A380s, there will no longer be any commercial three or four engined passenger jets in production.  All the planes will be twin engined.  It is true the largest twin-engined planes (the A350 and 777) hold more passengers than early 747-100 and 747-200 jets, but without the upper deck, and without four engines, they somehow seem “smaller”.

On the other hand, counting engines is perhaps a bit like counting funnels on passenger liners.  They went from four (although the Titanic had three working funnels and a fourth dummy funnel to make it look “balanced” and more powerful) to three (Queen Mary) to two (Queen Elizabeth) to one (almost all modern cruise ships).  But while I have no qualms in a ship with one funnel, I’m not quite ready yet for a long over-the-water flight in a plane with one engine.

Few people would have guessed, 20 years ago, that the future of the airplane industry would be in the form of smaller planes rather than larger ones.  Progress is a funny old thing, isn’t it.

What It is Really Like on a Private Jet

I know people who have flown on private jets, either corporate jets due to their position in a company, or private jets due to their position, period.  But it has never been my good fortune to do so myself, which means I too must vicariously experience such things through slightly trashy articles like this one.

I’ll have to ask my private jet flying friends which parts of the article apply to them.  And if you’re a private jet flier yourself, feel free to ‘fess up, too!

Here also is an interesting pictorial on private jets.

Good News for the LA-LV Train

I love trains in general, so am predisposed to be enthusiastic about the proposed train that will operate between Las Vegas and “almost” Los Angeles.  A new bond issue means the developers now have the ability to raise $4.2 billion of the $5 billion needed to get the train on the rails, as it were.

The problem is the western end of the line is not actually in Los Angeles.  It is in Victorville, something like 85 miles out of downtown LA, and those are the slowest most congested miles of the entire journey, which people would still need to drive themselves – the miles where a train would be most helpful.

But in further good news, this week also saw a suggestion that the train company will try and get permission to extend the line further west to Rancho Cucamonga, which is little more than 40 miles out of Los Angeles, where the train could connect with regional commuter services, and possibly also with Ontario Airport.

In theory, the airport connection could be good, but there are few places in the country where it would make more sense to fly to Ontario then take a train to Vegas, rather than simply fly directly to McCarran Airport in Vegas itself.

Farewell to the Phantom

I still vividly remember a fascinating lesson in real-world economics.  I was in London in the late 1980s, and happened to be walking past Her Majesty’s Theatre where “The Phantom of the Opera” was ensconced.  It was shortly before that evening’s production was due to start, and while every performance was always sold out months in advance, there were a number of “scalpers” hanging around, furtively flashing tickets at people they thought might wish to buy them.

I asked what the price was, and from very vague memory, they were asking three or four times the printed price on the ticket.  I tried bargaining a bit, but none of them would drop their price.

Out of curiosity, my then wife and I stayed there, and when the time came that the performance was starting, I went back to a scalper, and trying to conceal my triumph, asked what the price for a pair of tickets would be now that the performance had started.  I expected they’d now be priced at list price or even lower – what value do tickets have when a performance is over, after all.  I reasoned, perfectly rationally, that they’d now be desperate to salvage any money they could from their investment.

The price the scalper was prepared to now sell his tickets for?  Exactly the same as before.  I explained that the show had already started, and with each passing minute, I was missing the performance and his tickets were plummeting in price.

He refused to budge on his price.  Only subsequently I realized that he was actually much smarter than me.  He and his fellow scalpers didn’t want to encourage and reward “bad behavior” and so were willing to take a hit on some unsold tickets in order to preserve the perception of value for their ticket stocks for future performances.  They didn’t want to get trapped into a situation where everyone would wait until the last minute to buy their tickets at rock bottom prices.

Since that time, I’m enjoyed seeing the show in many different venues around the world, and at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, and had somehow thought it would become like The Mousetrap, a show that would never stop being performed.  I might have been right, but for the virus, which has seen all London’s theatres close.

Trying to have social distancing in a theatre is as difficult as it is on a plane, as is trying to profitably stage a show with fewer than half the seats sold each performance.  And so, the production company that stages Phantom has announced they are ending their “home” show in London at Her Majesty’s, plus all the traveling versions of the show, too.

They say they’ll bring it back at some future time.  Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

There’s a lovely gentleman on the Scottish Isle of Islay, he owns one of the local hotels, and has a fancy sports car.  It is usually to be seen proudly parked outside his hotel’s front door.

There’s only one problem with it.  Like many fancy Italian sports cars, it has very close-to-the-ground suspension, and the roads on Islay are too bumpy (particularly where they have settled over the peat bogs they almost literally float on top of) for him to drive his car, other than at a crawl, steering desperately for the flattest parts of the road, and being overtaken by regular cars that are untroubled by the uneven roads.

Good news for you.  You can now be just like Peter, even if your local roads are of perfect quality.  Lamborghini have announced a new supercar that will not be street legal, anywhere in the world.

But if, unlike Peter, you don’t want to at the very least park your car in front of your home or work, Lamborghini have just the solution for you.  Not only should you pay a sum of money that this article was way too polite to mention to buy a car you cannot drive, the company suggests you leave the car with them for storage purposes.  So, yes, why not indeed spend something over $2 million for a car you can’t drive and don’t even take possession of.

We had to check our calendar when reading this article.  It seemed like an April Fools Day joke.  Alas, it appears to be totally serious.  I’d also point out to Portland’s City Council that there is a solution for women who wish to make use of urinals.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe

 

David.

 

 

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David.