Weekly Roundup, Friday 23 July 2021

New designer trash cans for San Francisco, at a cost of up to $20,000 each. Details in last item, below.
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Good afternoon

Sorry for the late and short newsletter this week.  A nasty combination of issues, which tragically extended to accepting that my lovely long-serving laptop (almost eight years in service, typically powered on 24/7, and with who knows how many miles of travel under its belt) is now overdue for mandatory retirement, has delayed its publication.

I’ll be writing about the selection process for the new laptop in due course.  Suffice it to say, for now, that there’s been some huge changes in laptop design and choices over the last eight years, but of course that should surprise none of us.

I’d hoped to publish this week a story on huge changes in at-home video viewing, but it too fell a casualty to the respective frailties of my computer and also, alas, myself.  Next week for that.

But you do get Thursday’s Covid diary entry, and I suggest it to be a fairly powerful one.  This is attached below, and Sunday’s version can be seen online, here.

What else?  My regular two articles on air passenger numbers and travel to Europe, and a couple of other things for today :

  • Air Passenger Numbers Astonishingly Level
  • European Travel Update
  • A Surprising Boeing-related Development
  • Save the Planet – Take a Joyride to Space?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers Astonishingly Level

You can clearly see in the chart above how astonishingly flat the line has become, for now 12 days in a row, with 2021 US air passenger numbers staying firmly just below 80% of the same numbers in 2019.

But maybe that is a good thing?  All the airline executives who were plaintively claiming that the growth of air traffic numbers had taken them by surprise (a totally nonsense claim as is clearly shown by the orange line prior to now and general industry predictions of steady growth) have now been gifted a two week breathing space to catch up and deploy sufficient planes, pilots and flight attendants (to say nothing of airport staff and customer service agents) to adequately handle the people now traveling.

I had wondered, a few weeks before things leveled out, if this might happen – if we might reach a point where leisure travel numbers were back to “normal” but a continued curtailment of business travel might see numbers plateau, at least for a while.  Perhaps that is what is happening at present?

Another possibility is that much of the remaining/missing 20% of passenger numbers are people who would have been boarding international flights.  While domestic flight numbers are now high, international flights are still at very low numbers compared to 2019 – I saw, in passing, a suggestion that international travel is around 20% of normal, although it varies greatly from destination to destination, and can change quickly if/when countries change their policies and make it harder/easier for people to visit.

I’m also seeing plenty of commentaries concluding that air travel is best avoided, for example, featured in joesentme.com today, “You’re on your own with no support and too high a level of unreliability. I don’t miss flying a bit. I’d much rather do driving trips” (from commentator Phil Baker), and “Whatever was “normal” pre-pandemic flying is baaaaack!  And it ain’t pretty” (from commentator Will Allen).

I’ve not had a single person tell me they’ve been pleased to be back in the air again, or tell me about the wonderfully smooth and positive easy travel experience they’ve enjoyed.  Maybe we’d forgotten how bad air travel has become, and had romanticized it in our minds when we couldn’t fly, and so are now shocked to rediscover its barbaric savagery?

But will the airlines respond positively?  There’s precious little sign of that.

European Travel Update

I’d mentioned in Sunday’s Covid diary entry an example of the type of unpredictable challenge that might suddenly confront you in Europe at present.

France, responding to an alarming growth in new Covid cases, has decided you need a health pass to be allowed to eat in restaurants, drink in bars, travel on long-distance (rather than commuter) trains, attend public events and shows, and possible other things too.  The health pass shows you either to be vaccinated or recently tested and found to be free of Covid infection.

That’s probably a good idea.  But the French failed to remember they are the country with more tourists visiting each year than anywhere else in the world (second is Spain, third the US, and fourth is China).  Indeed, France has a population of 65 million and over 90 million tourists in a normal year.

But, by “forgetting” about this, France has no provision for how visitors can also get a health pass, meaning if you’re visiting France, you might not be able to get anything to eat or drink, or even travel to another city or country via train.  That will certainly make for a memorable trip, if not an altogether pleasant one.

This is part of the reason why I felt I had to cancel my group experiences, both in the summer, and also in December.  Sure, if traveling by myself, I could go to a local 7-11 type convenience store, grab a bag of chips, a tin of salmon, a chocolate bar and a bottle of vin ordinaire, enjoy it in my hotel room, and call that dinner, but it is harder to tell a group of people to do the same and to consider it our formal group welcome dinner!

Who only knows what other surprises might not come and go without warning over the next few months.

For example, earlier this week the US State Department, acting on CDC advice, upgraded its travel warning for Britain, now giving it the maximum level “Do Not Travel” warning.

Sure, State Dept warnings are laughably stupid at the best of times, with such gems as the typical boilerplate warning for tourists to stay away from tourist sites – how realistic is that!  But a “Do Not Travel” warning does have consequences, for example, some travel and medical insurance policies are voided if you go to a “Do Not Travel” country.

Also worth repeating from Thursday’s Covid Diary is mentioning the risk of four hours or more waiting in line to go through Immigration upon arrival in Britain.  Ugh.

At present, with case numbers continuing to rise in both Europe and the US, we don’t see any signs of any improvements or reductions in uncertainties in the near future, so either go immediately and hope things don’t get worse, or wait patiently and go whenever it is you deem things are “better”.  The traditional concept of planning and confirming a vacation 6 – 12 months in advance is not really appropriate at present.

A Surprising Boeing-related Development

Commentators are tip-toing around this issue for fear of lawsuits, I suspect, but the fact the article appeared on a blog titled “Corporate Crime Reporter” gives you an idea of the perspective the matter is viewed as.

It is probably best you read the story yourself and form your own conclusions, but the three stand-out items seem to be the strange venue for a federal lawsuit against Boeing, the very kind negotiated settlement between Boeing and the Feds, and the happy career outcome for the federal prosecutor who oversaw things.

There could well be valid underpinnings for every part of the article, but I do know if this happened in countries where the rule of law isn’t so strictly observed, people would rush to form the conclusions that even appear invited here….

Save the Planet – Take a Joyride to Space?

Jeff Bezos became the second billionaire to ride his own rocket to the edge of space on Tuesday, in a 10 1/2 minute total flight from lift-off to landing.

Bezos is of course an eco-freak, the way that bazillionaires love to be, although many of them combine their fervent desire to infringe on our rights and freedoms with the curious belief they should be allowed unlimited use of their own mega-yachts, private jets, and multiple mansions.  Bezos had at least some self-awareness and realized his joyride was being criticized by the very people he loves to mingle and virtue-signal with, and so he said he has an environmental vision: “We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is“.

Let’s think about that for a minute, shall we – something he clearly hasn’t done.  Heavy industry – ummm, sort of by definition, that is heavy.  Say we move steel mills into outer space, and let’s ignore the concept of moving a perhaps thousands of tons steel mill into space and just assume it gets there, as if by magic.

So we fly the iron ore up to space, smelt it, and then return the finished steel back to earth, as Bezos advocates.  Not that he’d care, being sometimes the wealthiest man in the world, but that would increase the cost of steel – although I’m sure he’d say “nothing is too much to pay to save the planet”.

A pound of steel, made terrestrially, costs about 30 cents per pound.  Currently it costs over $1,000 per pound to fly material into orbit, and more to fly it back down to earth again.  But let’s allow for efficiencies of scale, and say $1,000 per pound, roundtrip.

Plus, as you probably vaguely know, steel mills consume huge amounts of energy to heat the iron ore and transform it into steel.  Where’s that energy coming from – either an impractical number of square miles of solar panels, or else probably from nuclear reactors.  And that’s something I’m sure we all want, right?  Nuclear reactors being flown up on rockets into space, spending some years up there, and possibly at some point crashing down to earth again, maybe burning up on re-entry but equally maybe, perhaps not.

But let’s ignore the energy cost and implications and just wonder what will happen when we start making all our steel in outer space.  What about buying a new car, for example?  A 4,000 lb car would see the underlying cost of the raw unmachined steel rise from about $1200, and now cost $4 million.  Similar ridiculous increases would occur in the cost of everything else which uses steel, or any other “heavy industry” material.

Oh, one unkind slight afforded to Bezos.  The FAA updated its definition of “astronaut” (who even knew there was an official definition?) to specifically rule out joy-riding passengers such as Bezos (and of course, Branson too).  We’re delighted to see this, and only a few months back pointed out the ridiculous nature of Branson and Virgin Galactic self-styling their passengers as astronauts.

And Lastly This Week….

Still talking about “saving the planet”, we all know that electric cars promise to save the planet, don’t we?  Except that, according to this article, maybe they won’t.

Truly, there is a vociferous minority of people who won’t be happy until we’re reduced to walking everywhere.  Not even bicycles or horses will be approved, and possibly not shoes either (unless made of vegetable material rather than leather).

On a similar topic, here’s yet another article about an amazing new battery technology that promises to transform the world.  Except that, the same as every other article, the battery technology is still some years away from reality, and in every other case to date, that reality seems as reachable as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Here’s another of the lists we like to laugh about – this one being an annual list of “The World’s Best Airlines“.  The most mirth inducing part of the list might be United Airlines placing as the eighth best airline in the world.  Perhaps its greatly improved rating was based on its massively reduced flying schedule?

In keeping with the growing belief in our educational system that everyone should be a winner, everyone should be in the top quartile and no-one in the bottom quartile, the list makers created so many categories and sub-categories that just about every airline can claim to be well placed on some list or another, but UA’s 8th position is on the main master list of all airlines.

Not on any list I know of, but if there were ever to be a published a list of “The World’s Most Expensive Trash Cans”, there is no doubt that the designer-rubbish bins (pictured at the top of the newsletter) due to start appearing in San Francisco later this year would be at the top of the list.  Their cost?  Apparently about $20,000 each.

I wrote about this last week, but it bears repeating, and this article is now claiming even longer times – 24 weeks to get your US passport issued.

Until next week, please stay happy and healthy

 

David.

 

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David.