Weekly Roundup, Friday 30 October 2020

One of the last DC-7s. See article, below.

Good morning

I wonder what our Halloween will look like this year.  Has trick or treating been banned in your area?  It has in some areas; I don’t even know what is happening here, and as I usually do, bought candy with an eye on the items I most like myself, in full expectation of having lots left over.

Of course, after the “trick or treat” event on Saturday, we have a different sort of trick or treat event on Tuesday, don’t we.  It has been one of the strangest campaigns ever, and not just because of the virus, but also because of the increasing role of social media as activists and participating in the election campaign.  Rather than giving everyone their own voice, they are now restricting our ability to share our thoughts and instead are shaping what we think.

You might not even know that the nation’s fourth largest newspaper has been banned from Twitter, completely, until it apologizes for telling the truth.  You’d not know this because most of the mainstream media have been complicit in the silence, and Facebook too censored all mentions for a while before relenting somewhat once the initial newsworthiness had safely faded and the left-wing media had cobbled together a narrative to justify the initial panicked actions.

Ironically, a strongly left-wing supporting journalist, who founded a one-time excellent online journal that was based on “telling the truth wherever it leads” (Pulitzer Prize winning Glenn Greenwald, founder of The Intercept), has now been fired or resigned from that publication for refusing to step back from telling the truth of this matter.  Another strongly left-wing and very iconoclastic journalist (Matt Taibbi) writes about this hypocritical and dishonest conspiracy of silence and half-truths here.

This situation is unlikely to change who you vote for, and unlike too many others, I’ll not insult you by suggesting I know better than you who deserves your vote.  But it is important we all understand how actively our knowledge of the world around us is being subtly shaped and formed by the media who are supposed to be neutral pathways of news, not biased and active filterers and embellishers of the news.  How can we keep our political leaders accountable when the media refuse to do so?

This is not political – it has become so extreme that even these two principled left-wing journalists are now recoiling in horror from the actions of their peers.  This has also always been one of the cornerstones of The Travel Insider – to tell the truths that no-one else will tell.  Primarily about travel, about technology, and at present, much about the virus too.

Lying has become an essential element of business strategies and political campaigns, and a lazy electorate prefers comforting lies to uncomfortable truths.  You need to continue to seek out the truth-tellers.

So what truths do I have for you today?  I’m still struggling with and failing to develop any affinity for my new Samsung phone, and am on the cusp of returning it.  A combination of utterly incompetent “technical support” and a corporate decision to try and force users to accept Samsung versions of all the major functions on the phone – the dialer, contact management, messaging system, email, and browser, for example, makes the phone unappealing and dysfunctional.

But what phone is better?  That’s the difficult problem, and I’ve been looking beyond the well-known phone brands and considering some of the less well-known brands.  The problem that then arises is many of these phones don’t support all the necessary frequency bands to work well in the US (or internationally, too).  Which in turn begs the question – what frequency bands are required?

The answer to that question – or, at least, the first half of the answer – is appended below.

Some more truth telling in Thursday’s Covid-19 diary is also appended.  Coming back to my comments just above, I’m astonished this is a topic which needs the bright light of truth shone on it, because I’d thought medical facts to be self-evident and needing no further gloss.  If you still believe that, I’ve one word in reply – or is it two, or possibly three?  Hydroxychloroquine.  The deliberate campaign of disinformation against this life-saving drug shocks and horrifies me, all the more so as the lies continue to this day, long past any point where any reasonable person could claim there to be any remaining reasonable doubt about HCQ’s efficacy as a Covid treatment.

As always, the Sunday diary entry, which went out to people who get daily or immediate updates, is online here for those of you receiving just the weekly newsletter.

It has been a “short week” for me – my excuses being a two-day 1300 mile trip-from-hell to and from Montana, then a day to celebrate my becoming eligible for Medicare on Wednesday.  But a number of items for you this morning, including :

  • Reader Survey Results – Gratuitous Air Travel
  • Air Passenger Growth Continues
  • Airport Challenges
  • More on Boeing’s Dilemma
  • DC-7 End of an Era
  • Two Views on Virgin Galactic
  • The Danger of Car Auto-Cruise Features
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results – Gratuitous Air Travel

I asked last week how you’d respond to an offer to buy a one hour flight to nowhere, such as some airlines have been doing in some countries, providing a flight-fix to people apparently desperate for the experience.

As you can see, the answers skewed heavily to the three “No” responses; indeed, one of the three “Yes” responses got no takers at all.

Overall, 97% of the responses were of a “No” type than a “Yes” type.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a unanimity of opinion on any other topic!  Perhaps the US airlines have done their own polling and seem similar responses, which is why they’re not also offering flights to nowhere?

Or perhaps it is because in the US, we still have plenty of chances to fly to plenty of places, which brings me to the next point.

Air Passenger Growth Continues

As you can see, the almost straight line of increase for daily air passenger numbers continues to inch upwards.

The airlines must be desperately trying to come up with ways to accelerate that increase, which is perhaps why the press is full of stories about how safe it is to travel on planes.  Take such stories with a grain of salt (or perhaps, more efficaciously, a dose of HCQ!).

If I was an airline, I’d see my glass as half-full.  Air travel numbers are stronger in the US than almost everywhere else in the world, other than China.  The airlines should be grateful that people are still bravely flying at numbers almost ten times higher than when the bottom was reached in April, even though new Covid case numbers are not down, but up almost three-fold, from when only 3.6% of normal travel volumes were occurring in April.

Airport Challenges

Virus-related changes in air travel patterns are seeing some strange things, like Heathrow Airport now having less traffic than Paris/CDG.  This is probably a temporary anomaly.

Reductions in passenger numbers in general are threatening the very existence of some airports, particularly privately owned ones in Europe.  Over a quarter of Europe’s commercial airports are desperately close to being insolvent at present.

Their hope that air travel numbers will start to recover by year’s end seems to be starkly at odds with the reality of Europe’s new wave of shutdowns and restrictions due to terrible rises in virus cases.

But whether airports will close down, or be bailed out by their governments, remains to be seen.  One airport claimed to be in dire straits which we’re certain will never be closed down is Heathrow.

In September, US air travel was running at about 33% of last year, whereas in Europe, it was running at about 25% of last year’s numbers.

More on Boeing’s Dilemma

I wrote last week about Boeing’s dithering and inability to decide what to do about future new airplanes.

This analyst agreed with us this week.  And the ever astute folks at Leeham detail further Boeing’s problem, which they feel requires both a 737 as well as a 757 successor (I agree).

Meanwhile, American Airlines is trying to work out how to encourage people to start flying its 737 MAX planes when they are returned to service, possibly at the end of the year.  Its solution is to invite people to go on tours of the new plane.

That’s an interesting solution, but what would people see that is any different to any other 737 plane?  Are the seats any different?  The overheads?  The toilets?  Maybe they’ll let people look inside the cockpit door, but are they going to demonstrate how the new flight management controls work?  Unlikely!

DC-7 End of an Era

I don’t think I’ve ever flown on a DC-7; I’m not sure I’ve even seen one.  The last of the Douglas four-engine propeller powered planes, it was quickly superseded by the DC-8, with just five years of production between 1953-1958.  That was enough time for 338 planes to be made – a lot back then.  They were common in several US airline fleets, including American, Delta and United as well as names long since disappeared from airport signs such as Braniff, Eastern and Pan Am.

The last remaining operational DC-7 has just stopped flying.  It was a tanker for dumping water and retardant on forest fires.  A bit of nostalgia, here.

Two Views on Virgin Galactic

With Virgin Galactic’s latest deadline for getting its craft into almost “space” slipping further away, it has been interesting to note the first hint of disquiet appearing on Wall St.  On the same day that an article titled “Virgin Galactic May Be an Interstellar Buy as Breakout Looms” another article appeared with the title “Virgin Galactic Stock Sees First Sign Of Doubt On Wall Street“.

The article, reporting on an opinion from Goldman Sachs, touched on many of the same concerns I’ve expressed before, and added a new one.  Lack of repeat business.  I mean to say, after you’ve paid your $250,000, flown up high above the earth, possibly vomited all over your fancy designer “space suit” while briefly weightless for 4 minutes, and then blessedly landed 15 minutes later, are you likely to ever want to do that again?

There’s not a lot of people who’re likely to want to experience the pseudo-space experience of a Virgin Galactic flight anyway, especially with more genuine real-space experiences about to start appearing, and I’ve got to think that none of the people who would do this once would ever choose to do it again.

Meanwhile, after saying in September its next flight would be on 22 October, we’re now at 30 October and no word has yet been received from the company about when this flight will take place.  Delays are the daily currency of Virgin Galactic, but usually they’re fairly quick at setting a new revised target date – this silence is surprising.

The Danger of Car Auto-Cruise Features

As I tried to make my way through ice and snow to/from Montana this week, I had plenty of time to think how nice it would be to just push a button on the car dashboard and have it take care of all the driving itself.  Tesla recently came out with their new improved autopilot functionality that claims “full self-driving capability” – except that you need to realize that they are writing this claim not in English but in a foreign language, perhaps called Muskish.  In regular English, it should read “limited self-driving capability”, as this article vividly illustrates.

Therein lies a problem.  Increasing advances in automation make it almost good enough to do everything itself, but not good enough yet to rely on or trust.  But because the automation does so much, so well, most of the time; it becomes very much harder for the driver to remain fully engaged and alert, so much so that such systems are now having to add features to monitor the driver and make sure he is focused on the road and alert.

Which creates a curious conundrum.  If you still have to be gazing at the road, wide awake, sober, not watching a video or reading a book, what actual value is an almost-self-driving-car system?  Isn’t it harder to stay awake and focused while doing nothing than when having to all the time be in control of the car?

Consumer Reports recently reviewed the various self-driving features of cars and decided it liked GM’s system most of all.  The reason for liking it the most?  Because it was the one that was most relentlessly ensuring the driver kept alert and participative.

We understand the backward logic of that, but it is a huge disappointment.

And Lastly This Week….

I’ve occasionally written about the plans for a replica of the Titanic to be built.  The concept was announced in 2012 – the 100th anniversary of the first Titanic’s sailing, and the ship was planned to commence sailings in 2016.  Since that time, there have been delays and changes, and the current plan has the ship possibly being launched in 2022.

Unfortunately, it is a look-alike rather than a replica.  There are of course changes to safety systems and lifeboats, and also to passenger accommodations and public areas.  That rather takes away from the interest of sailing on an exact replica of the Titanic, but maybe it might be still be an experience to sample.  Here’s an update about the project.

The good news?  There’ll be no long lines for the rides when Disneyland reopens in Anaheim.  The bad news?  There’ll be no rides!

Disneyland without rides is a bit like – well, I’m not sure.  I can’t see it being a winning proposition, and for sure, it would be hard to justify their $100+ admission prices with an only partial reopening.  Details here.

Here’s a great video about one of British Airways’ biggest blunders – the time it decided to turn its back on its Britishness.  Most airlines are proud of and celebrate the country they’re based in, but BA felt apologetic about being British, only to discover that its passengers were proudly British or at least Anglophiles and appalled at BA trying to become even more generic and bland than it already was.

And while you’ve your YouTube player open, here’s a short piece on a fascinating bit of geographical miscellanea – I’m surprised, considering the patchwork quilt of artificial borders that Europe is, that there aren’t more such anomalies as this one.

My favorite line in the video is the reference to “putting the cross-country in cross-country travel”.

I wonder if we’ll have any idea who our new President will be, this time next week?

Until next week and that interesting concept, please stay healthy and safe





1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 30 October 2020”

  1. Great blog post this week. I’m old enough to have seen a Delta DC-7 operational. It was an impressive airplane even next to a DC-8. About the censored Hunter Biden information. It should affect who you vote for when you realize that the Biden family was actually doing what Trump was accused of in Russia collusion and the Ukraine impeachment. The censored emails plus on-the-record allegations proved this to me.

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