Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 November 2021

Three views of a Sheaffer Snorkel pen (my favorite) – it is Fountain Pen Day today.


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Good morning

Happy Guy Fawkes Day to you all.  “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, of gunpowder, treason and plot”, as the ditty goes.

It is also, today, Fountain Pen Day.  I’ve long been an aficionado and collector of fountain pens, with my favorite being the Sheaffer Snorkel PFM – described as probably the most mechanically complicated mass-produced pen ever made.  Yes, that sure sounds like something I’d find appealing, doesn’t it!

When did you last pull out a fountain pen and use it to write with?  In my case, I have to think way back to the last time I even wrote anything with any type of pen, other than an occasional scrawled one or two word note for myself.  But my typewriter keyboards tend to last less than a year before the keytops of most of the letters have been totally worn away.

Because I can remember back to when a keyboard cost $1,000 and more, I don’t begrudge the $25 or whatever a year it costs to keep me in keyboards.  The strange thing is, I can type for hours at a time without looking at the keyboard at all, but when the tops wear off, I find myself getting hung up on letters/fingers that don’t give me pause for thought normally.

Most of us have long bemoaned how the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier each year.  The US actually has a fairly decent demarcation barrier – Thanksgiving.  It is difficult, but not impossible to start promoting Christmas buying when there are still turkeys to be sold.  Some other countries now start Christmas as early as September (the Philippines, I believe).

One other event that seems to lengthen and start earlier each year is Black Friday – the sales the day after Thanksgiving, and the “Cyber Monday” attempt by online merchants to “double dip”.  Okay, so Cyber Monday has now become the week rather than just the Monday, and Black Friday has been stretching back as far into Thursday as brick and mortar retailers can manage, but have you noticed how online sellers are already firing up their Black Friday sales?

Amazon has been running steady sales on its Kindles, Echoes, Fires, and other Amazon branded gadgets for perhaps ten days already, and WalMart is starting to offer some early Black Friday sales too.  Even Costco, which once never seemed to have sales, now has something that looks awfully like sales pretty much all the time.

I’ve noticed that some merchants get a bit vague when describing some of the merchandise they are selling, particularly as to if it is truly new or if it is the previous model now being remaindered off.  If you see a headline saying “Special low price on all-new iPad 8th Generation” you tend to assume that this refers to the current model iPad, don’t you.  But, actually, it doesn’t.

So I’m coming up with a series of “Buyers’ Guides” (never quite sure where that pesky apostrophe should go!) to help you through the minefield and to understand what are real deals and what are not.  I’d released, a couple of weeks ago, a first part of that, an updated Phone guide, and now, in a slightly different format, I’ve a new iPad Buyers’ Guide, attached below.

Both the phone and iPad guides have special supporter supplemental sections in them – you’ll need to log in to the website to see those, they don’t appear in the email versions.

Later Friday (today) I expect to release a Kindle buyers guide – Amazon has Kindles on special at present.  I’ll also update the Alexa/Echo Buyer’s Guide in the coming week – they’re on sale at present, too.

So, lots either already online or coming soon.  Hopefully it will help you select appropriate deals.

Also attached is Thursday’s Covid diary entry, and Sunday’s is online, here.

We’ve a new reader survey, below, too.  Please do share your thoughts, I’ll publish the results next week.

And what else?  Please keep reading for :

  • Reader Survey :  Daily Room Service?
  • Air Passenger Numbers Rise then Fall
  • Europe Starts to Close Down Again
  • It was American Airlines’ Turn for “Bad Weather” This Weekend
  • Expect More of the Same
  • Electric and Fast Planes
  • The Secret Do Not Rent List
  • Daylight Savings Ends – But Does Anyone Want it To?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey :  Daily Room Service?

It has long been standard that most hotels and motels have housekeepers service rooms every day.  There have been modifications to what was provided as part of a daily room service over the years – we’re all familiar with the omni-present “save the planet, re-use your towels” placards, but we might not be so familiar with a change from changing all linen every day to now having linen changes much less frequently.  Other things like in-room vacuuming have become less frequent, too.

But, the expectation has remained that each day someone would come and do something to our room, and we’d have a freshly made bed, emptied trash, cleaned bathroom, etc at the end of their visit.

The Covid crisis provided a great excuse for hotels to start cutting back on this, in the name of safety – safety for the guests as well as for the housekeepers.  But now that Covid concerns are reducing, the question is being raised – should hotels start to provide daily room servicings again, or not?  What do you think?

Please click on the answer, below, that best matches your thinking on this subject.  Clicking the answer will create an empty email to me with your answer automatically coded into the subject line.

I expect and want daily room servicings, as part of the normal daily rate

I would be prepared to pay less than $10 extra (per day) for daily room servicings

I would be prepared to pay more than $10 but less than $20 extra for daily room servicings

I’m happy with one room service every two days

I’m happy with one room service every three days

I’m happy with one room service every four days

I’m happy with one room service every five days

I’m happy with one room service every six days

I’m happy with one room service every seven days

As long as I can call for more supplies if/when occasionally needed, I don’t care about the rest

I’ll share the results next week.  Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and preferences on this topic.

Air Passenger Numbers Rise then Fall

The last week saw daily US air passenger numbers, as a percentage of 2019, first rise, set a new high since the start of Covid (other than over holiday weekends), then fall again, ending up on this Wednesday slightly lower than last Wednesday.

Why the spike up and fall back?  That’s anyone’s guess, although AA’s cancellations over the weekend certainly didn’t help any.

Europe Starts to Close Down Again

Countries in Europe are starting to respond to the inexorably growing rates of new Covid cases all across the continent.  Parts or all of Austria, Germany and the Netherlands have announced new masking and social distancing type restrictions this week.  Generally, the restrictions (but not the masking) applies only to unvaccinated people.

Now that the concept of new restrictions has been accepted, we wonder how far such restrictions may go, particularly with case numbers continuing to rise in many internationally-popular countries.

Our almost unchanging advice to not make far-in-advance travel plans, but rather to go quickly, continues in place.

It is also worth noting that the UK’s dropping case numbers, and the same here in the US, are both leveling out.  The US numbers dropped by less than 3% in the last week, the UK had a stronger 6.9% drop.

The big question is whether these variously rising numbers (in Europe) or slowing of falling numbers (US/UK) is “just because” or if it signals the start of a new surge over the winter months.  Add to that a new variant of the Delta variant that is slowly making its presence felt, and which might be slightly worse again than the original Delta variant, and it is not easy to feel completely confident about the next few months.

It was American Airlines’ Turn for “Bad Weather” This Weekend

American cancelled over 1,500 of its flights over the weekend, blaming high winds earlier in the week for the cancellations some days later.

That’s not quite as severe as Southwest’s cancellation of over 2,000 flights a couple of weeks earlier, but it does have one thing in common.  In both cases, the airline initially blamed bad weather, even though other airlines seemed miraculously unaffected.

Many people believe that the largest contributor to the AA cancellations was a shortage of staff.  Let’s understand two important things.

First, there was no sudden unexpected massive surge in flights (nor in passenger numbers).  All the flights that were cancelled were not last-minute additions, they had been timetabled and planned for months in advance.  To only discover, the day before, or the day of the flight, that the airline lacked the people to operate it is inexplicably incompetent.

Second, the government (ie us) have been paying all the airlines many billions of dollars to keep staff on their payrolls, to make it easier for them to return to “normal” operations.  AA shouldn’t merely have enough staff available for its operational needs – it should have spares, too, being paid for from the government grants.

Another thing in common – both airlines not only cancelled flights, but also delayed many more.  One person complained on Twitter that AA was refusing to cancel her flight, but was delaying it for a day.  When does a delayed flight become a canceled flight?  I’m pretty sure that a 24 hour delay counts as a cancel, not a delay!

We need EU type penalties associated with both delayed and cancelled flights, setting out a formula for mandatory minimum compensation that airlines must pay to inconvenienced passengers.  That seems to be the only meaningful way of influencing airline behavior.  Johnny Jet has a good piece on the lack of oversight/obligation at present.

It isn’t just cash compensation that should be required.  It should also be a return to the “good old days” of Rule 240 – an airline with a delayed or canceled flight was formerly required to move its passengers to any flight, on any other airline, and at no additional cost, if the other airline could get the people to their destination sooner.

To be told “sorry, we’ll put you on our next available flight or refund your fare” doesn’t really work when there are other airlines with empty seats, but with expensive last-minute walk-up fares.

Although some experts still advise you to ask for a Rule 240 transfer, the chances are 100:1 that if you do so these days, the podium staff will laugh at you and tell you that rule disappeared decades ago.

Expect More of the Same

The misery and disruption of first the Southwest cancellations and now the American cancellations are unlikely to be the only problems awaiting us through the end of the year.  In addition to the ever-present threat of winter weather problems (where’s “global warming” when you need it?), it seems not just many airlines, but many airports and the TSA too are all short-staffed and struggling to hire more people to make up the numbers they need to operate efficiently.  Add to that the ambiguity of if/when federal vaccine mandates will come into effect and if employers will have to “suddenly” (there’s been plenty of warning) lay off staff, something that could make things quickly get very much worse.

This article gives gloomy predictions of what is yet to come.  This article talks about Denver airport arranging with the TSA to add more screening lanes – a surprising requirement when we’re still generally about 20% below 2019 passenger numbers, and this other article talks about Denver Airport holding a jobs fair.

They have about 1,000 vacancies at the airport, and hoped for about 5,000 people to come to the event.  How many people turned up?  100.

Electric and Fast Planes

Several articles on the topics of electric powered or supersonic planes this week (but no articles about electric powered and supersonic planes!).

This article echoes the thinking of other specialists I respect and suggests that “real” commercially sensible electric powered planes are at least a few more decades into the future, and will require new battery technologies not yet identified or developed.

This article is similar (there are, after all, only so many different ways to say “there’s no way electric planes are possible”), and pokes fun at an experimental tiny electric plane now proudly taking to the air.  A good and short article.

But to be even-handed, I got an email on Thursday from a company announcing it is converting a BAe 146 conventional plane into a battery-electric plane.  It will seat 100 passengers and have a range of 460 miles, with the plane due to start flying in 2026.

If this happens, that’s revolutionary and an extraordinary accomplishment.  I sent a list of nine quick questions to the company to better understand how likely this might be to happen, but have heard nothing more.  So I’m leaving it on the “maybe” list for now rather than anything more substantial.

And here’s one of those annoying articles (about SST) with their headline phrased as a question – a question which the article never actually quite answers.

The Secret Do Not Rent List

We all know about the “Do Not Fly” lists.  But did you know that rental car companies have “Do Not Rent” lists?  The really shameful thing about these lists is that a rental car company will accept a booking from you, and not tell you you’re on their Do Not Rent list until you turn up at the airport counter to collect your car keys – a time when they have maximum leverage over you.

Reader Dan shares his experience :

It’s not nearly as consequential as being on a Do Not Fly list, but I spent a week (or more?)  on the Avis Do Not Rent list and I thought you might be interested….perhaps there are more of these secret lists…

The worst part of being on the Do Not Rent list is, like the Do Not Fly list, no one seems to know anything about it, and the customer service agents cannot tell you if you are on it or not, or how to get off it.  The Avis staff, who are usually super helpful, were just about useless in this situation.

I arrived in Philadelphia Airport last Thursday and took the shuttle to Avis to pick up my prepaid 3 day rental that I had rented some 2-3 weeks before.

When I arrived at the Avis Preferred location I was sent in to the counter and told I could not rent a car because I was on the “Do Not Rent” list.  What was this about I asked.  Can’t tell you – you need to call security.  How do I call security I asked?  They gave me a phone number.  It didn’t reach anyone.  They gave me another number.  I reached someone who said he doesn’t handle the Do Not Rent list but he could give me the email address of the person who does.

I did learn why I was put on the Do Not Rent list.  Some 5 months ago I had a rental with Avis where I was overcharged by about $50.  Disputed the charge with Avis and resolved it (or so I thought) and forgot about it.  Avis apparently did not consider it resolved, sent the $50 charge to a collections agency.  When I received the notice from the collections agency,  I provided them with the resolution notice and forgot about the issue.

In the meantime I was able to make reservations with Avis without anyone bringing up this problem.  Only when I showed up at the airport for my rental was this an issue.  After talking to one agent and emailing the correspondence to the security person I was told it would be fixed, I would be taken off the Do Not Rent list and I could pick up my car.  Great I said I am at the counter at the airport.  Oh no that wont work, the system needs 24 hours to update…….

At this point I got pretty incensed, but fortunately my better half was with me.  So she rented a car with the same credit card and we were on our way only an hour later than planned.   Had my wife had not been there, I would have taken the bus back to the airport, caught another shuttle to another car rental and tried to rent another car, not an easy process these days.  Probably would have used a lot of language I would have regretted as well.

A couple of days later I called Avis to ask for a refund of the prepaid rental I could not use.  Oh no problem, said the friendly agent.  Can I also confirm that I am no longer on the Do Not Rent list, I asked?  Oh I can’t tell – you need to call security.  They gave me a phone number.  It didn’t reach anyone.

What an extraordinary sequence of fails on the part of Avis, and what a great telling of the experience by Dan.

It seems clear that if a rental car company accepts your booking request, and gives you a confirmation number, then unless there is some prominently displayed warning on the confirmation paperwork they email you saying “This is not a confirmation, and your reservation request is not guaranteed until the renting office checks to see if you are on our Do Not Rent list”, they’ve entered into an enforceable contract with you, and can’t break it without exposing themselves to liability for the consequences of their breach.

It seems there might be as many as three different “Do Not Rent” lists.  One for alleged bad debts, such as Dan fell afoul of.  Another for “bad” renters that return dirty cars (isn’t that what a cleaning fee is for?) or who are too much trouble, or too accident prone.  And a third for people who the rental car company judges to have too many driving offenses recorded against them – not while renting cars, but just in general.

If you get too many speeding tickets, you might find the rental car company won’t give you the keys when you turn up with your confirmation number in hand.  The excuse for this is “we only run a license check at the time of rental so we don’t know before then” – that’s a thin excuse, and made thinner because the rental companies don’t give warnings or provide clear unmissable disclosures about rental confirmations being subject to a time-of-rental license record check, and don’t provide clear guidance as to how many offenses is too many.

Daylight Savings Ends – But Does Anyone Want it To?

Over the last some years, nineteen states have approved the concept of staying on daylight saving time year-round.  Two already are on year-round daylight saving (HI and AZ).  But all 19 states will be turning their clocks back on Sunday morning, the same as always.

Why?  Because either the US Secretary of Commerce must approve the change in a state’s time zone keeping, or Congress must pass an act permitting it.  And neither has happened, for year after year after year.

Why not?

To many of us, accustomed to a lot more an a one hour time change most times we travel, the biennial clock-change seems like a very trivial issue.  But, perhaps because it is trivial to many of us, I (and perhaps you too) am entirely happy for my state (and your state) to adopt any time zone and changes it wishes.

So what is the hold-up?  19 states have clearly expressed a wish to stay permanently on daylight saving all year.  I can understand the incompetents in Congress being unable to shift from their nonsense infighting and actually pass a sensible bit of legislation – especially legislation that doesn’t have a price tag attached to it, but what’s with the Secretary of Commerce?  Why is she doing nothing (Gina Raimondo – not exactly a name that is well known to us all – was sworn in on March 3)?  For that matter, what about her predecessor, Wilbur Ross, in office from Feb 28 2017 through Jan 20, 2021?

Why does no part of our government seem to function the way it should?

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

The luddites are at it again.  This article reads like a depressing “blast from the past”.  Remember the bad old days of having to switch off all electronic devices prior to plane pushback, and then off again prior to descent and landing?  Of arguing if noise cancellation headphones and Kindle ereaders were allowed to stay on?

And then do you remember how the restriction was miraculously lifted?  Nothing had changed.  The airplane avionics were the same.  Portable electronics were, if anything, even more emissive of radio signals than before.  But the FAA and FCC removed the restriction – the concept of “out of an abundance of caution” proving, yet again, to be nonsensical and unnecessary.

I even remember when Qantas banned, outright, CD players on flights.  Why?  Because “they had lasers in them”.  And the danger of the laser?  That was never explained (because, of course, it was unexplainable, due to being more nonexistent than Australian bunyips), but I’d regularly get into arguments (and always lose them) about if I could use my CD player on a boring 15 hour flight.

Now we’re being told there is a “potential” for “degradation to the capabilities” of assorted airplane equipment with 5G phones.  What exactly is the “potential”?  How real is the danger?  Of course, no-one has any idea whatsoever, and a lot of the time, claims of interference are based on behind-the-scenes unrelated politicking in fights for who can get access to hotly contested spectrum bandwidth.

This is another “out of an abundance of caution” nonsense.  But get ready for arguments on board flights once more.

This is an article worth reading about how scammers can now easily trick you out of the annoying special two factor authorization codes that are texted to your phone.  In unrelated news this week, Google announced it will make two factor authorization mandatory on its gmail accounts, starting soon.  I’m sure the scammers are delighted at the news.

Whatever happened to the promise of Amazon’s drone delivery service?  This article asks – and largely answers – the question.

While some high-tech companies bend over backwards to accommodate each and every one of China’s increasingly strict and strident demands, Yahoo has decided to take the high road, and is pulling out of China completely.  Good on them.  Your turns next, Facebook and Google, please.

Here’s potentially more information than you need to know about the continued problems and temporary “solution” to the toilet challenge on the SpaceX Crew Dragon crew capsule.  A 6 – 19 hour journey with no toilet doesn’t sound like much fun, for sure.

This article tells you not to rush to install Windows 11.  I’d absolutely confirm that statement.  The software is and continues to be frustratingly buggy and with badly thought out elements.  A huge disappointment, and with no “must have” new features to compensate.  Stay with Windows 10 – I wish I had.

I mentioned above about how the air travel system is likely to be stressed and overloaded over the next couple of months.  But there’ll be exceptions.  Such as people fortunate enough to travel on this plane – it sure beats the “charter bus from NYC to Atlantic City” concept!

Until next week, please stay healthy and happy






4 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 November 2021”

  1. Because of its frequency a 5G signal only has a reach of about 1,500 ft from a tower. A 4G signal has a reach of about 10 miles from a tower. I’m pretty sure nobody will be using 5G service while the plane is in flight, and unless the airport puts in a lot of towers don’t expect 5G service out on the tarmac either.

    1. Hi

      5G signals can travel a great deal more than 1500 ft if unobstructed line of sight. Keep in mind these are the same frequencies used by long-range radar sites, and they can surely “see” a lot further than 1500 ft (although, yes, they also have more narrowly focused beams and strong signals). My point is simply that there are no unusual propagation challenges for direct line-of-sight signal transmission.

      The concern is not so much signals from towers on the ground (they somewhat beam-form their transmission patterns to send more signal “flat” outwards and therefore waste less of it going up into space, anyway) but signals from 5G phones in the plane, trying to reach out and find a 5G tower.

      David (NZ9G)

  2. Re Windows 11. I’m suffering updater’s regret too.

    The piece you link to says it should probably be called Windows 10.5. That’s partly right. The most noticeable changes are indeed purely cosmetic.

    The most important “innovations” are just steals from the mobile world or from Apple. And most of those — like widgets, or the multiple desktops feature — are pretty crude and/or awaiting future development.

    And as someone whose work demands a lot of screenshots, what’s happened to the Snipping Tool is a disaster that began with Win10 and gets worse with Win11. I should have waited. My bad.

    1. I’ve grown to quite like the new form snipping tool, although I dislike the way it sometimes buries a new snip under countless other open windows. On occasion, I also use TinyTake – some of its markup tools are much better.

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