Weekly Roundup, Friday 4 December 2020

The stunning Sistine Chapel. If only one could photograph it…. See last item.


Good morning

This time last week, there were 274 very kind Travel Insider Supporters.  Today, we’ve grown to 287 – actually a few more than 13 new members, because several people didn’t renew their expiring memberships from last year during the same week.  Great thanks to the very kind new members, of course.

I’m sure many of you were busy with Thanksgiving last weekend, and probably had the best of good intentions to respond to this year’s annual fundraising drive, but got distracted and overloaded with other things.  Can I ask you now to please help us the rest of the way to our modest target of 400 members (one year we almost reached 1,000 members!).  This won’t happen without you and your support.

I’ve had some people complain about me spending too much time asking for money.  I understand their view, and don’t much enjoy it either, but like visits to the dentist, it is an unavoidable and essential thing.  So let’s get this year’s fundraising drive wrapped – it only takes a minute or two for you to become a Supporter and to get us closer to our 400 member goal.

You’ve probably received over 300,000 words of content during the last 12 months – the equivalent of four books.  How much would you pay for four books?  Or, using cups of coffee as a measure, if you like to sip on a morning coffee while reading your Friday morning newsletter, how much would you pay for 52 cups of coffee?

Imagine there’s an old-fashioned “honesty box” alongside your computer.  How much would you drop in it each time you open a Travel Insider article, review, or newsletter?  Can you now please “empty the box” and send the contents on to me.  It is truly needed.

My thanks as always to all of you who do help keep The Travel Insider online and active.  It is hard work for me (I’m already at midnight at present, and it will be another hour or two before I finish tonight), but I enjoy it because you tell me I’m helping and improving your lives in the process.  Please help keep this going for us all for 2021.

There’s plenty of other material for you today.  It is a two coffee read rather than a one coffee read, perhaps.

You’ll see attached this year’s “Christmas Gift Giving Guide”.  I love the challenge and fun of writing these – of finding items and objects you’re unlikely to have thought of otherwise.  This year I’ve 14 items for your consideration, and also recommend you revisit last year’s recommendations too, which were an excellent set of ideas (if I do say so myself….).

One small point about this year’s Guide.  One item has been left off for now – a reader has very kindly sent me a gift of a new set of noise cancelling headphones.  They were scheduled to arrive on Thursday and I wanted to immediately test them and add them to the Guide if they were as good as their manufacturer boldly claims; the exciting thing being they are at a very fair price point.  But in what is becoming a commonplace experience at present, the shipping has been delayed and they are now expected today, Friday.  I’ll update the article as soon as they’ve come in and I’ve had a chance to check them out.

Also attached is a short virus related article, pointing out a curious challenge that afflicts those of you with iPhones.  Facial recognition doesn’t work if you’re wearing a mask, and there’s no backup fingerprint reader on iPhones.  Android phone users usually have both capabilities these days.

And then there is Thursday’s Covid diary entry, with some important analysis on the “fake math” being spread by the vaccine manufacturers, and some equally important bonus content for Supporters about what, to my mind, is the biggest mystery of all about the virus.  Sunday’s entry is online.

Plus, today’s roundup items below.  Please be sure to help with the reader survey!  Also in the newsletter :

  • Reader Survey :  2021 Post-Covid Travel Plans
  • Air Travel Rises, then Falls
  • It Ain’t Like Riding a Bike
  • Good News for Boeing
  • Boeing Shamefacedly Boosts Corporate Governance, Perhaps
  • Who Do You Complain To When…..
  • This “Tesla-Beater” Story Misses the Point
  • Virgin Galactic – A Pure Hype Stock?
  • China’s Space Program
  • Get Paid to Watch Football
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey :  2021 Post-Covid Travel Plans

When do you expect to resume your international travels?  And where will you go once you can safely and enjoyably do so?  Those are the key two questions of the latest reader survey, together with a very important section where I ask for your suggestions and advice as to where I should offer some Travel Insider tours, once it is safe.

I sometimes get Google and Amazon reminding me of where I’ve been, a year, two, three, and so on ago – perhaps you do too, and right now of course, I’m getting a flood of pictures I took during past Christmas Market tours.  This year, most Christmas Markets in Europe are completely shut!  I’ve been getting emails from tourist groups in Europe, struggling to be positive while regretting their closures, and of course, hoping desperately for a different outcome next year.  While I’ve plenty of cautionary thoughts about the new vaccines that are about to be approved, I’m reasonably hopeful that some time next year will see us knock this nasty virus on the head and win back some of our fundamental freedoms.

Anyway, please could you/would you pass on your ideas on future travel ideas.  Because this is a bit more than a one line instant answer question, would you please visit the survey page I’ve created here to share your thoughts.  All questions are optional and all answers are anonymous.

I’ll share answers next week.

Air Travel Rises, then Falls

The latest upward trend in travel numbers ended a three week run when it peaked on Wednesday last week, stayed level for Thursday and Friday, and then spent the next five days falling.

The last rise was puzzling, because it continued even while virus numbers were skyrocketing and states were reintroducing restrictions.  Whether the last five days will become an extended dip, or are just a short term correction, remains to be seen.

I am continuing to tweet the latest figures every morning, in case you can’t wait a week for the next update.

It Ain’t Like Riding a Bike

Riding a bike is famously a skill that once acquired is never forgotten.  This is because there’s a direct sensory mechanism between what is happening and how you’re responding, and it is easy to create “muscle memory” of a sort that can be locked in, almost permanently.

Driving a car is a skill that is also reasonably retained, for similar reasons.  There’s a direct correlation between what you do and what happens.

But flying a plane?  Not so much.  Things like turning involve a complicated combination of moving the stick (both to the side, then to the center, then to the other side, then center again, as well as also pulling back) and rudders (not so much in commercial planes these days that have auto-rudder functions); climbing or descending involves not just moving the stick but adjusting the throttle too (and remembering which you do first); and flying in cloud is totally disorienting where your senses quickly become unable to tell if you’re in level flight or turning or climbing or descending.

Even so, we were surprised to read this article about just how quickly some commercial pilots are forgetting so much.

Good News for Boeing

One of Boeing’s biggest – and most loyal – customers has stepped up to buy more 737 MAX planes.  Ryanair announced an order for 75 more 737 MAX 8 planes, to be delivered on an accelerated timetable.

This is an interesting contrast to Ryanair’s arch-competitor, British Airways.  About 18 months ago BA very visibly expressed its intention to buy 200 more 737 MAX planes, a move that won accolades as being a bold expression of support for Boeing and the 737 MAX at a time when the reputation of both Boeing and the plane was in tatters, with new revelations of terrible issues and actions coming out almost every week, and the delays from grounding to recertification lengthening daily.

But – here’s the thing.  BA never went ahead and confirmed its order, and I think Boeing no longer even has it on its “maybe” list of tentative orders.  That’s not something to blame on the virus – BA had from June last year until perhaps February/March this year to make good on its promise, and never did.

Ryanair, on the other hand, has ordered 75 planes and are asking for fast delivery of them.  In return, we guess they got a better than 60% discount off list price, plus quite likely some other “soft” benefits too.

Kudos to Ryanair, and shame on BA.

Boeing Shamefacedly Boosts Corporate Governance, Perhaps

Until recently, Boeing had a single person as both CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors.  This is never a corporate best practice, and shareholder activists have complained from time to time.

After a non-binding advisory vote by a majority of shareholders supported splitting the two jobs earlier this year, Boeing initially did not heed the vote, but then quietly did so.

One of Boeing’s problems is that its Board has been viewed by many as being too passive and not much more than a rubber stamp to approve almost all executive recommendations.  It has always been a strange assemblage of people, with a mix of politicians, the inevitable retired senior military officers, as well as “leaders of industry”, and the longest serving member has been on it since 2007.

Will a Board Chairman become more assertive, or will he just be another rubber stamp?  That remains to be seen, but there’s little reason to expect any noticeable changes in corporate governance.

Who Do You Complain To When…..

Canada’s equivalent of our DoT/FAA is the Canadian Transportation Agency.  They’re the people Canadians complain to when unhappy about their airlines and the service they provide.  There have been a lot of complaints this year, especially due to airlines not refunding tickets on Covid-cancelled flights – over 22,000 complaints in less than a year.  Five years ago, a full year saw only 800 complaints.

The unsurprising results – the CTA is way behind in responding.  They say they are at least nine months behind.

Who do you complain to when the “complaint department” doesn’t respond?

Meanwhile, in the US, the DoT has just made things a bit easier for the airlines, and a bit harder for travelers.  There’s no danger of the DoT becoming overwhelmed with work.

This “Tesla-Beater” Story Misses the Point

There continues to be a steady stream of stories about new and existing auto companies and their exciting plans to release new battery powered vehicles that will be “Tesla Beaters”.  The common thread among all these stories is that their planned new vehicles are never actually already available for sale.  They are always expected next year, or the year after, or in the case of this story about VW’s plans, not until 2024.

To show the enormity of the lead Tesla has, their Model S car was released in June, 2012.  So it seems it will be 12 years from the Model S appearing until VW expects to have a viable competitor.  That, to me, is the real story – not VW’s plans, in another almost four years, to have a product that might compete with Tesla’s current models (who knows what Tesla will have in 2024), but the fact that VW – one of the world’s largest car manufacturers – has failed and failed again to do so at any time and all times prior to now.

This continues to be a huge mystery.  Tesla is now valued at $560 billlion.  General Motors is valued at $63 billion.  VW at about $90 billion.  How did tiny Tesla become so big, and why has no other car manufacturer, big or small, yet mounted a credible competitor?

It is not because Elon Musk is so clever.  Maybe he was clever to start with, but the lack of response from the other companies is nothing to do with Musk.  It is all about the sleepy complacency of the other major auto companies, everywhere in the world – even, astonishingly, the Japanese companies.

Virgin Galactic – A Pure Hype Stock?

Virgin Galactic’s major accomplishment this last month was cancelling its latest scheduled test flight with the thinnest of excuses.  It has now come up with a new “launch window” (what a ridiculous phrase for a sub-orbital flight) which starts next Friday (11 December).  Notwithstanding giving its competitors more weeks to advance viable alternatives to the Virgin Galactic concept, and more weeks of almost no income, its stock price has increased 60% over the last month.

This caused Mark Tepper, the president of Strategic Wealth Partners, to say

It’s a pure speculation, pure hype stock. It amazes me that this thing has a market cap of $7 billion and it’s going to do less than $1 million in sales this year. The valuation is absolutely crazy.

However, one of the large flock of Virgin supporters, Todd Gordon, founder of TradingAnalysis.com, claims the valuation reflects the way that companies with visionary CEOs are commanding really high valuations, and so feels Virgin Galactic’s valuation may be justified.

So, what about Virgin’s visionary, CEO Michael Colglazier?  Not exactly a name on everyone’s lips, is he.  And only recently appointed to his job, in late July, just over four months ago, after formerly heading Disney Parks International.  As for his “vision”, this article hints at little or none at all.  Just bland platitudes.

China’s Space Program

I wrote about the Arecibo radio telescope last week.  Between now and then, the structure has sadly massively collapsed.  This should be a matter of national shame, and a new facility recreated, either at the same location or elsewhere.  Instead, it is another area of science/research in which we’re ceding leadership to the Chinese.

Meanwhile, China is halfway through a moon mission.  It has landed a craft on the moon, is gathering samples, and then will fly it back to China.  This will be the first roundtrip to the moon’s surface since the last Apollo flight in December, 1972.  48 years ago, almost to the very day.

In case it isn’t obvious, this unmanned expedition is only a small step away from a manned expedition.  I’ve no idea where we are in our on-again/off-again attempts to return to the moon, and of course, the new administration will probably totally change the priorities from what they were.

Get Paid to Watch Football

A publicist reached out, asking me to offer you a chance to be paid $500, plus given takeout food and new furniture, to watch football from the comfort of your own living room.  Details here.

I had to decline, myself, because the only part of the game I understand are the cheerleaders, but maybe some of you have a better understanding.

I remember, many years ago, being flown to Sydney to watch an attempt to interest Australians in American Football. One of the city’s major stadiums was filled with potential football fans and a match between some American team and a group of Australians took part.

I was fortunate to be in the Qantas VIP booth with a small group of Americans and Australians.  The Australians and I congregated at the well-stocked bar in the rear of the booth, with our backs to the game, concentrating instead on the much more enjoyable business of drinking and talking about recent cricket and rugby matches, turning around only to enjoy the cheerleading displays; while the Americans were at the front of the booth, commenting on things that we totally didn’t understand.

American football failed to catch on in Australia, as best I’m aware.  But cricket and rugby remain very popular.

And Lastly This Week….

Do you have fast or slow internet?  Here are a series of three reports that give a fascinating insight into the internet in the US – average speeds, costs, and trends.  I was actually reminiscing with a reader just a day ago on that topic – I still vividly remember when a “T1” data line was an impossibly fast (and impossibly expensive) internet connection.  Twenty five years ago, you’d pay over $3000 for the data line itself plus extra for the internet connected to it.  And its speed?  1.54 Mbps.

Today, I’ve a 500 Mbps internet connection at a $50/month cost.  Sure, that’s a bit of speed overkill, but as for the adequacy of the once impossibly fast seeming T1, simply streaming a Netflix video can require as much as 15 Mbps of bandwidth.  25 years ago, that would have cost $40,000 or more a month.

Don’t you hate it when you’re somewhere that forbids photography.  It always seems such an unnecessary restriction, an insult to visitors who have probably paid plenty for admission anyway.

One of the strictest bans has been the Sistine Chapel.  But do you know why?  This interesting article tells you, and it isn’t the reason you thought.

A bit of airline nostalgia that I stumbled over this week – a mass take-off of DC-3s as part of the D-day celebrations last year.  Don’t you just love the sound of the classic DC-3 radial piston engine – interestingly, these days many of the remaining DC-3s are being re-engined with lighter-weight and more powerful turbo-prop engines.

If any of you know an operator looking to hire DC-3 pilots, a friend’s well-qualified pilot/son is looking…..

Closing comments (requests) :

1.  Please don’t forget the reader travel survey.  Thank you.

2.  Please also don’t forget our annual fundraising drive and become a Travel Insider Supporter.  Thank you again.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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