Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 March 2021

All of this, at supersonic speed, and for the cost of a regular business class ticket? Impossible? Depends on who you believe – see article below.
356 Supporters (unchanged from last week) Target :  400  Please Join Here


Good morning

I wanted to explain one thing about the supporter stats I’ve started to show each week – immediately above if you’ve not noticed it.

It might seem, some weeks, that nothing has happened for a week, but many times, an unchanged supporter count obscures the very welcome renewals of members who had expiring memberships – for example, last week saw three members renew their support.  So, although the total number might be the same, it has actually been a good week because three people with expiring memberships renewed their support for another year.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The saga of my car repairs is unfortunately continuing.  Last week, I had the wheels balanced at Costco, but when I headed over to eastern Washington this week, I discovered the vibration as felt in the steering wheel is still present.  I’m hoping this is merely Costco having forgotten to do a wheel, and the car is going back to be rebalanced later today.  The alternative to a simple wheel rebalance isn’t nearly as benign!

Some countries define the start of spring as 1 March, and there is definitely the start of a spring feeling in the air here, and I hope there is for you too (and as for antipodean readers, tough luck – it’s our turn for the sun and warmth again!).

Unfortunately for us in WA, early spring, while meaning no more snow, doesn’t mean our main west/east interstate freeway is now reliably open again.  Despite spending tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars in the last few years to improve its reliability, stretches of 40 miles or more of it is now randomly closed, for random periods of time sometimes reaching 3 or 4 hours, for “avalanche control” (even though the actual “danger” area is only a couple of miles long).  We’ve had a lot of snow in the hills this year (about 50% more than normal) – that global warming thing is sure manifesting itself in strange ways.

That’s a bit like in New Zealand where, on Thursday, a series of strong earthquakes hundreds of miles off-shore caused people living close to the coast for about half the length of their North Island to be urgently told to evacuate inland to higher ground for fear of tsunamis as a result of the earthquakes.

The “tsunami”, when it arrived, was of course filmed by many eager spectators, but the media were curiously reluctant to report it.  I managed to find one clip, of what appears to be a very mild wave and is described as “a large surge”, perhaps a foot in height where it was concentrated into a small bay.  Hardly a reason to evacuate to high ground.

What else this week?  Yesterday’s Covid diary entry is attached, and Sunday’s is available online if you didn’t get a copy on Sunday night/Monday morning.  Plus the usual assortment of things immediately following, including a reader survey request :

  • Reader Survey :  Flight Misbehavior Penalties
  • Air Passenger Numbers
  • Reader Reply – TSA PreCheck for Seniors
  • Hard-hitting Journalism?
  • A Flight of Fancy
  • How Long Does it Take the Europeans to Respond to an A320 Design Flaw?
  • Spectacular Video of the Latest SpaceX Explosion
  • China’s New Airships
  • The Truth About Airbnb is Not What You Think
  • Never Mind Passengers.  The Real Air Security Threat is….
  • Tesla’s Market Share Starting to Dwindle
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey :  Flight Misbehavior Penalties

What type of consequence should a passenger suffer if they become disruptive on a plane?  In the immortal words of words of William Schwenk Gilbert, and sung to Sir Arthur Sullivan’s tune by the Mikado, “the punishment should fit the crime”.  (Here’s a fun version taken from what is known as the “White Production” by English National Opera and starring Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, dating to 1987, totally crazy in the way that only the English can be, and well worth watching in full.  As a bonus, here’s the first act entry of Eric Idle.)

Criminal justice is actually a fearsomely complex topic.  How do you equate totally different offenses when it comes to determining punishments?  Is the object of punishment to deter, to rehabilitate, to punish, to obtain reparation, or some combination?  Should a billionaire be fined the same sum as a homeless person?  Is a five year jail term equally just to a 25 year old as to a 75 year old? And so on.

But now zooming in on misbehavior on planes, there was a recent case where a passenger refused to wear a mask, ended up in a scuffle with a flight attendant, and was “escorted” off the plane while it was still at the gate.  What do you think would be the fairest consequence/punishment?

Imagine you’re Judge Judy, perhaps.  Please click the link for the outcome you feel most appropriate.  This will create an empty email, with your answer coded into the subject line.

If you can’t decide on just one outcome, feel free to click two or more.

I’ll collate all the answers and report back to you next Friday on the results.

As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Air Passenger Numbers

We’re entering an interesting time, statistically speaking.  In January and February, it was appropriate to compare air passenger numbers traveling each day with either (or both) 2019 and 2020.  But starting from early March, last year’s numbers started to plunge down, and so it could be argued that it now makes sense to compare this year’s numbers with 2019, the last year before the virus hit; and also, but on a different scale, with 2020, as a measure of our recovery from last year’s numbers.

I’m trying to come up with a new presentation of these three sets of numbers – 2020 compared to 2019, and then 2021 compared to 2020 and also compared to 2019.  There are some problems that will quickly appear in terms of scale choices, but for this week, the simple chart above still shows little variation between the 2019 and 2020 comparisons.

The essential element for last week is that air travel numbers slowly rose during the week.  We suspect that the growing confidence, and the starting to be measurable number of vaccinated people who no doubt now feel able to travel domestically with greater safety, will see a generally steady rise in travel numbers for the next few months, assuming that new virus strains don’t force a new lockdown and rise in cases.

But a felt freedom to travel safely within the US is not the same as being able to easily travel internationally.  That remains complex and difficult.

Reader Reply – TSA PreCheck for Seniors

I wrote last week about whether the TSA PreCheck program made sense for people over 75, because they get some special treatment from the TSA in any event.

Reader Alan didn’t entirely agree with my comments and writes

I humbly disagree with your advice, although my experiences are a year or more out of date.

It is true that TSA treatment of over-75’s is inconsistent, although generally good in my experience.  On top of that, as a lifetime “gold” member of AA’s mileage program, when I book a flight through AA I seem to get a “TSA-Pre” boarding pass automatically, without being a member of TSA-Pre, so I get the same treatment without paying up the $85 member fee to TSA.  It has failed once or twice, usually on international travel, but not enough to bother with TSA-Pre membership.

When airlines first started giving this preferred treatment to their frequent travelers I think TSA objected, probably because it severely cut into their sales of Pre membership, so the response, at least by AA, was not to discontinue doing so but to quit publicly admitting that they do.

As for age, the usual TSA treatment is to queue over-75’s into the Pre line, so even if you don’t have “Pre” on your boarding pass, you can usually get into the Pre line by showing your age to the TSA agent queuing folks into the pre versus regular line.  Bottom line, with a bit of attention and ingenuity over-75’s can get the benefits of Pre 95% of the time, which is good enough for me.

One last point of amusement:  at IAD, because of so many extremely-frequent travelers, the Pre line is often longer than the regular line, so one does well to hide your “Pre” status and just go into the regular line.  When you get to the front and show ID over 75, you’ll get the same benefits as Pre.

There’s a lot to respond to in Alan’s comments, and he does fairly point out some of the ambiguities and idiocies about who gets into the PreCheck line.  If your experience is similar to his, then maybe you too can save the $85.

One small point.  I too have sometimes seen cases where the PreCheck line is longer than the regular line.  But just because it is a longer line doesn’t mean it is a slower line – generally the PreCheck line moves more quickly, and you’re much less likely to be hassled when it comes to what you have to take off and take out and whether you walk through a metal detector or have to stop in a whole-body imaging device.

Hard-hitting Journalism?

Here’s a gushy piece of admiration appearing on the CNN website, expressing unbridled admiration for JetBlue’s “airplane seat revolution” (yes, this was their headline).

The piece goes on to suggest that the Mint Studio seating has “all kinds of hidden touches that wouldn’t be out of place in Architectural Digest”.  Really?

It reads like a poorly written press release rather than an actual piece of factual reporting.

A Flight of Fancy

Talking about poorly written press-releases masquerading as editorial content, here’s an article that one can’t look at without a feeling of sick deja vu, but with a twist.

You’ll remember all the nonsensical articles wondering what airlines would do with the immense amount of space the A380 offered.  There’s be shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and gyms, and all sort of other utterly nonsensical concepts, or so we were told in many articles before the planes entered commercial service.  The reality is, of course, that the A380 planes, as lovely as they are, are crammed full of regular ordinary seats, the same as every other plane in the sky, with the only exceptions being two tiny bars and two tiny showers on Emirates planes and a very few ultra-luxury suites on some other airlines.

But this article goes one step further.  It imagines an empty spacious cabin, almost devoid of things like, ummm, seats for passengers, but on a tiny little supersonic jet rather than a spacious A380.

This spaciousness is all the more ridiculous because the flights between New York and London would only last 90 minutes, or so the article claims.  This too is a nonsensical and impossible claim – the planes would fly at not quite twice the speed of regular flights, which currently take 7 hours.  With the better part of an hour of any journey spent variously on the ground, or at low speed while at low altitude, or in holding patterns waiting for a turn to land, a plane that cruises at twice normal speeds would probably take four hours.  The much faster Concorde (Mach 2.04 instead of Mach 1.6 for this proposed plane) took 3 1/4 hours.

As a final flourish of insanity, the article claims that ticket prices could end up at a similar cost to regular high-density business class seating in ordinary boring slow planes currently.

How Long Does it Take the Europeans to Respond to an A320 Design Flaw?

The FAA has had to soak up a lot of criticism, and all deserved, about its role in certifying the B737 MAX when the plane absolutely should not have been certified, and where the fix took over a year and a half to develop and get approved.

But it is fair to note that other aviation safety/certification bodies are not necessarily paragons of virtue, themselves.  The case in point today dates back to an event on May 14, 2018, when an A319 in China had one of its pilot windshield panels “explode” causing a rapid decompression event in the cockpit, and lesserly to the plane as a whole.

In other words, that’s a fairly major problem to experience.  The plane landed safely, but you’d not want to have such things happen on a regular basis, because sooner or later, the sudden decompression will harm something in the cockpit (such as, ahem, the pilots!) and maybe the plane might not survive the event.

The European equivalent of the FAA – the EASA – investigated and issued an airworthiness directive requiring all operators of A318, A319, A320 and A321 planes to check the windshields.

How soon after the May 14, 2018 event was this airworthiness directive (AD) issued?  A day?  A week?  A month?  A year?

The answer is that it hasn’t yet been issued.  This week, the EASA promulgated a proposal to issue an AD.  The actual AD will follow, assuming the airlines don’t too strenuously object.  So, nearly three years and no action yet initiated.

Details here.

Spectacular Video of the Latest SpaceX Explosion

As you may have heard or seen, the latest Elon Musk/SpaceX Mars rocket test ended much the same as the two tries prior to it – in a spectacular fireball.

However, this time was much closer to a success.  The rocket took off, ascended ten miles, then returned safely back to land on its launching pad.  It was only after what seemed to be a successful landing that something then caused the rocket to suddenly then explode.

Here’s the official video of the short (six or so minute) test flight.  Unfortunately, that video ends seconds before the explosion.  A shame, because it would have the very best camera angles, and it is a bit meanminded of SpaceX to omit the explosion from their official video record of the event.

Here’s a video showing the amazing way the rocket swung itself around to orient itself for landing.

And here’s a video with commentary starting off saying that it was all done and a great success and then a shocked “oh no it just exploded” and here’s another video perspective of the explosion.  Note the way the camera shakes from the explosion’s shock wave.

One point that springs to mind about all of this.  The trial was done at SpaceX’s facility in Texas.  Why is it not being done at the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral?  Surely, a taxpayer funded facility that is about 90% under-utilized by the hollow shell that is NASA these days could and should provide lower cost services and better support than requiring private companies to now duplicate effort and resources and build their own space ports?

China’s New Airships

It is a fairly easy series of thought processes to go from “massive explosion upon landing” to thinking about airships.  Here’s an interesting article about China’s progress in creating a suitable-for-tourism airship, a vessel (is that how one refers to an airship, I wonder) designed for up to 9 passengers and one pilot, capable of traveling up to 450 miles, at a speed of 45 mph.

I like airships, and am curious how this new craft will evolve and what its uses will be.  It seems like a good “area touring” vessel, but not so good a craft for point to point travel, due to its susceptibility to weather impacts and its slow speed – good for sightseeing but bad for covering long distances efficiently.

The capacity for nine passengers (or fewer if they each have luggage with them) also suggests the airship would not be a very affordable means of travel, but would have opportunities for an hour or two of sightseeing at a time.

Returning back to the “massive explosion upon landing” thing, the Hindenburg burst into flames (this was not an explosion) when coming in to land in Manchester Township, NJ, in May 1937.  35 of the 97 people on board perished.  There are four leading theories as to what caused the Hindenburg fire, but the ultimate scapegoat/vulnerability was deemed to be its use of hydrogen as a lighter-than-air gas.

As a result, the world turned away from hydrogen based airships for decades, and only cautiously has returned to airships, using safe and inert helium as a gas rather than hydrogen.

There are two problems with helium.  The first is that it is much heavier than hydrogen, so isn’t as effective a source of lift.

The second problem is that helium is scarce and irreplaceable.  Depending on who you believe, we might run out of helium in less than 30 years, or we might never run out.  But one thing is for sure.  The cost of finding helium is rising, our usage rates are also rising, and once it has all gone, there won’t be any more.  We can’t make more.

Hydrogen is an abundant gas – not so much in free gaseous form, but it is all around us in water (H2O) and in any form of organic chemical  or fuel source (carbon-hydrogen chains).  While it too is something we can’t make more of, there is so much of it that it is impossible to imagine a time when it would not still be abundant beyond measure.

I’d like to see a return to hydrogen as a lifting gas in airships.  With modern materials and designs and safety measures, there’s no reason to fear hydrogen any more.

The Truth About Airbnb is Not What You Think

Airbnb, together with the various other similar products, have become one of those amazing new “disintermediation” concepts made possible by the omnipresence of the internet, providing an efficient and effective way for people with spare rooms or apartments to rent them to people looking for something different to a regular hotel/motel stay.

Most people think of Airbnb as comprising lots of “ordinary people” renting out spare rooms or mother-in-law apartments or the other half of their duplex or whatever, and it seems like a friendly “everyman” concept, where ordinary people get to benefit from the spare/unused space they own.

But the truth is different.  There has been a rush by larger property investors to buy up properties in certain markets and rent them on Airbnb.  The suitability of properties to be used as Airbnb rentals has now become a tangible factor in valuing a property.

This story, largely paywalled, hints at the truth of who rents what on Airbnb.  5% of Airbnb hosts control almost a third of all inventory on Airbnb.

Never Mind Passengers.  The Real Air Security Threat is….

How many billions – possibly even trillions – of dollars have we spent securing our airports and airplanes since 9/11?  How much inconvenience has each of us, personally, come to accept as the new normal when going through airport security, with those of us not belonging to PreCheck wearily removing shoes and belts, removing assorted items from carryons, and so on.  Even PreCheck passengers are still limited to tiny amounts of liquids.

But did you know there are almost 2 million airport workers who access the secure side of airports every day, without having to go through a TSA checkpoint (unlike flight crews) and with only a minimum amount of security checking?

The latest federal audit perceives this as a risk, and in 2018, a new law gave the TSA a year to come up with plans and policies to better reduce the risk these people present.  Three years later, and nothing has been done.

Why does the TSA make our lives a misery every time we travel, but ignore the two million people who enter and leave airport secure areas every day?  If our air travel system truly is at risk, shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on these people too?

Tesla’s Market Share Starting to Dwindle

One of the things that has long appeared to be as impossible to reach as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has been Tesla starting to shed market share to other auto makers.

But this article says Tesla’s share of the battery electric vehicle market fell from 81% a year ago to 69% for February, with most of the 12% of market share lost being taken by Ford’s new Mach-E Mustang.

That’s a very credible result for Ford’s new car, and an interesting loss of market share by Tesla.  Is Tesla finally approaching the inevitable but long postponed marketplace reckoning?

And Lastly This Week….

When you or I need money, we go to the bank and take out a loan.  But when Boeing finds itself a bit short of cash, it doesn’t do anything as crass as get a loan.  Instead, it “Seeks another $4 billion of liquidity“.

For you and me, a loan is a burden to be reluctantly shouldered and paid back.  To Boeing, obtaining liquidity is an enabling happy thing.

Here’s an interesting article that points out how Verizon and other companies are hinting that 5G wireless connectivity drains phone batteries faster.  I wouldn’t know – I’ve such wonderful battery life with my Google Pixel 4a 5G that it isn’t a problem at all.  After my terrible experiences with the awful Samsung phone, I can’t tell you how much I love the Pixel phone.

Truly lastly this week, here’s another confirmation, should it be needed, that our world has become irretrievably and totally dysfunctionally crazy.  It is bad enough that Dr Seuss books are now being banned, and Mr Potato-head is now being made gender-neutral.  Some people who live their lives eagerly seeking out reasons to be “outraged” managed to somehow imagine that a change in the Amazon app icon was a secret hidden depiction of Hitler’s mustache.

The world has always had crazy people like this, and in the past, we’d laugh at them and tell them to get a life.  But now, we instead validate their lunacy (ooops, not supposed to say that word these days – another craziness), apologize to them, and change whatever it is that caused them to go off their rocker.

The linked article bravely dares to show the offense-causing version of the Amazon icon and the new guaranteed-not-to-look-like-Herr-Hitler’s mustache icon.  I’m trying to think of what other offense-causing-thing it might look like instead…..

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe.





2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 March 2021”

  1. Sorry to dilute the impact, but the Dr. Seuss books are not banned (but the publishing consortium that controls them is no longer publishing four of them) and Mr. Potato Head (Mrs. PH too) remain as is. The company name changed, but not the toys.

    1. David Rowell – Seattle, WA, USA – New Zealander now living in the United States.

      Hi, Carol

      As the linked article reveals, there are actually six Dr Seuss books no longer being published. You can choose however you want to describe the effective outcome – “no longer publishing” is a gentler term than “banned” for sure. But the fact remains that six of his books were deemed “inappropriate” and, as soon as stocks have been exhausted, can no longer be bought – not because they are unpopular, but because some shadowy figures who claim to know better than you and me what is acceptable for our children have deemed his work “inappropriate”.

      The company name that produces the Potato Head toys remains the same. But the name of the toy group is no longer Mr Potato Head. Yes, you can still buy a designated male figure as part of the variants available, but the toy series is no longer called Mr Potato Head. One can again play at semantics, but the awkward fact remains that the name of a toy series was changed because it was felt inappropriate by shadowy figures to have them jointly designated as “Mr” Potato Head.

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