Weekly Roundup, Friday 21 August 2020


Good morning

It has been an exciting week again this week, with a great deal of progress on my “magnum opus” paper all about the Covid-19 virus.  This time last week, it was offered in an initial 35 page form, and now it has grown to 112 pages of published content, with about 40 more pages still being developed.

The free version has grown from 21 to 60 pages.  The full super-sized 112 page document is for the kind and generous Silver/Gold/Diamond/Platinum Travel Insider Supporters, as a small but sincerely meant reciprocation for your kindness to me and The Travel Insider.

If you’d like the full document, and a bucket-load of other additional content too, you are of course encouraged to become a Travel Insider Supporter yourself.  It is quick and easy to do, and validation/access is instantly granted to all the extra exclusive content.

If you’ve not yet taken a look at this document, or if you don’t have the most current version, it is available here in both its public and Support-Only version. I’ll be continuing to release more content in the days that follow.

What else?  A long-time loyal supporter recently renewed his annual membership, and reminded me of my incomplete series about Solving Power Cut Problems, and asked me to add an item about generators.  I made a start, and after almost 4,000 words, realized this was a two part article rather than a one part article, so published the first 4,00 words today, on smaller sized portable generators, and will write more about larger generators subsequently.

Portable generators have changed amazingly in the last decade or so, and if you’ve passed them over in the past, maybe now is a great time to consider one, in preparation for fall windstorms, California blackouts, or general vicissitudes of as-yet unknown form.  The article follows this roundup.

I’m also attaching yesterday’s Covid-19 diary entry.  Sunday’s edition can be seen on the website.

What else this morning?  The most important event I’m preparing for at present for me is on Monday, which sees my daughter Anna turn 16.  Wow.  As many of you know, this is another of life’s milestones that seems to have come along way much sooner than either of us expected.  We’ll probably celebrate some of the day by going for a drive somewhere – with, gulp, Anna at the wheel.  I’m delighted to see she is actually taking to driving like a “natural” and the process of learning to drive is going remarkably smoothly for both of us.

Plus, immediately below, the usual assortment of items :

  • Passenger Numbers Continue to Grow
  • American Strands Passengers on a Plane for Seven Hours
  • Easyjet – “Pilots Followed Normal Procedures” – but Plane Nearly Crashed
  • Does China Have Too Much High Speed Rail?
  • Some Amazon Deals
  • And Lastly This Week….

Passenger Numbers Continue to Grow

As you can see above, the resumption of steady growth in air travel is more plainly apparent now, although the last week’s increase has been mild, although consistent, every day.

I have to admire the increasingly tough line airlines are taking on requiring passengers to wear masks, and not just any masks, but sensible masks that actually work.  It does encourage me – almost – to return to the air.

But when I read of fights breaking out on planes between mask wearers and non-wearers, and when I read about people claiming special entitlement to not wear a mask because they are slightly famous, I fail to understand – how do these people get onto the planes in the first place?  Isn’t the control point when you get your boarding pass scanned prior to entering the jetway?

There is also a very simple solution when passengers refuse to wear a mask.  A mask gun that shoots a mask onto their face.

American Strands Passengers on a Plane for Seven Hours

A very frustrating part of this very frustrating story is American’s intransigence and willful refusal to allow passengers to deplane, as they are required to do by the DoT.  You’d think that particularly in these virus-fraught times, the concept of confining a group of people all together, on a stopped plane on the ground which no longer has its lovely high volumes of air flow, would be one that any decent caring airline would do all it could to avoid.

But the most frustrating thing of all is that although the DoT has long had a rule in place requiring airlines not to do exactly what AA just did, it almost never then fines airlines that break that rule.  The fine that the DoT threatens is up to $27,000 for every passenger on a plane that doesn’t let delayed passengers off.  We’ll guess there were about 100 passengers on board, so in theory, AA is liable for a fine of up to $2.7 million.

Care to guess if they’ll be levied any fine at all?  My money says no.

There has always been a curious element about this “fine”.  You’d think a fairer concept would be to require an airline to pay compensation to the stranded passengers who suffered the terrible nightmare of being imprisoned on a plane for an unknown ongoing amount of time – usually with the a/c not working so the temperatures often soar unbearably high.  But, no, the fine, if it were ever to be levied, is payable to the DoT, not to individual passengers.

Never mind AA’s bad behavior.  Yet again, we’re betrayed by the regulators who are supposed to be there to protect us from such bad actions by airlines and care for us.

Easyjet – “Pilots Followed Normal Procedures” – but Plane Nearly Crashed

I guess they are normal procedures, because for the third time in less than a year, pilots messed up how they programmed their airplane computers and nearly crashed their plane on take-off.

Note the plural, as well.  Both the two pilots are supposed to independently enter the take-off calculations into the computer, and by some amazing coincidence, they both made the same identical mistake.  Reminds me of at school when we’d copy each other’s homework and end up being caught because we all had the same wrong answers.

But, of course, that would never happen with pilots.

Instead, by amazing coincidence, both pilots failed to tell the computer that they wanted to only use half the runway to take-off, and instead accidentally told the computer they’d use the full runway.

We should add that common sense and a desire to be safe would mean that if you’re going to use half the runway, you use the first half, not the last half.  That way if anything happens, you still have the other half up your sleeve.  That’s sort of obvious, you might think.  But the pilots figured they could cut down on taxiing time by not taxiing all the way to the far end and so decided to just use the last half of the runway.

Because the major wear component in a jet engine is the time it spends at full thrust power, the computer worked out the least amount of power necessary for the plane to take off while using almost the full length of the runway.  The pilots then failed to notice that the plane was leisurely ambling down the rapidly reducing remaining stretch of the runway, and only when they saw the warning lights at the end of the runway did they possibly boost the throttle setting and get the plane into the air 1.3 seconds before it ran out of runway.

Easyjet describes this as

The pilots followed normal procedures for take-off and the flight took off without incident

I might beg to differ with both the first and second parts of that statement.  Details here.

Does China Have Too Much High Speed Rail?

Here’s a really puzzling article that says China has too much high speed rail and shouldn’t build any more.  This statement is “proved” by pointing out that much of the rail infrastructure in China loses money.

But if profit is to be the measure by which national rail networks are judged, is there a country in the world that wouldn’t now shamefacedly find itself required to lift up much/most of its track?  What would we make of Amtrak?  It is also interesting to note that apparently the most profitable rail lines in China are the fastest ones.  Maybe speeding up the rail network is indeed the right thing to do?

Some people also see under-used rail as an opportunity and investment to build upon in the future.  It is also a social benefit, and while the writer sneers at China now connecting smaller secondary cities to its national rail network, isn’t that a good thing, not something to be castigated?

The writer goes on to complain that China is pushing this project as a way to boost its slowing economy.  Ummm – excuse me, but isn’t that part of the role of central government – to protect and grow the national economy?  And surely one of the best ways to do so is building a rich tapestry of enduring infrastructure, sort of akin to the incredible national boost to industrial efficiency the US derives from its interstate highway network.

There’s also a school of thought that promoting rail travel is “good for the planet” because it takes people off planes and onto less-polluting and impactful trains.

In other China travel news, they too are restarting cruises – domestic cruises on the Yangtze River.  Noting how China is apparently enjoying a mere 25 or so new virus cases a day (adjusting for population, that would be the same as about 5.7 a day in the US, so almost ten thousand times fewer than us) the cruises are probably extremely safe.

But don’t go rushing to book a Yangtze River cruise.  China isn’t allowing Americans in to the country at present, due to our high rate of new virus cases.  There’s a certain irony in that, isn’t there.

Some Amazon Deals

Using the slightly controversial concept of “back to college” to launch a sale, Amazon has the usual discounts on the usual things at present.  Their lovely 10.1″ Fire HD 10 tablet is $100 instead of $150, and their Alexa Echo Dot units are $30 instead of $50, plus other discounts on other things – details here.

If you saw my earlier article pronouncing the Kindle eReader dead for most general use now, perhaps it is time to take advantage of the saving and get a Fire – either the 10″ or 8″ model – while they are on sale.

As for the Echo Dot units, I am increasingly amazed by these products, and integrate them more and more into my life.  Amazingly, so too has my dog.  If Anna or I want to call the dog, and we’re not quite sure where in the house she is, we can simply page her through the Echo units and ask her to come to us.  The really clever part of that is how Sophie (the dog) hears our voice calling her through a nearby Echo unit, but she knows to come to whichever of us it was who called her, where we actually are, rather than just being puzzled about hearing us call her through a speaker.

I’m also amazed at the ever improving diction used by the artificial voice.  Just yesterday I was told, via an Echo unit, that my shipment of “Oscilloscope probes” had been delivered.  Surely “oscilloscope” has to be one of the rarer and more difficult words, but the Alexa speech pronounced it perfectly – soft “c” and perfect stresses on each of the four syllables.

Technology – sometimes amazing.

Talking about amazing technology, here are a couple of unrelated articles to add to your reading pile.  One speaks of a secret iPod that Apple doesn’t even officially know was developed, and doesn’t know what it was developed for.

The other talks of a new wonder material that promises the usual laundry list of things (I’m sure that new better batteries is one of the things it can be used for, to say nothing of SST planes!).  Well, I don’t know about SST planes, but one of its potential uses is as a wonderful new rocket-fuel.  The product?  Metallic hydrogen.

And Lastly This Week….

Toilets with a view?  Tokyo is trialing clear sided toilets for reasons of public safety – people can see inside them before entering and be certain there isn’t any nefarious person lurking inside.  But what about – – well, you know…..  The article reveals all.

Alternatively, outdoor toilets that make French pissoirs look intensely private, in Amsterdam.

And lastly, the chocolate was molten in the town of Olten.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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