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Have you noticed the days becoming noticeably longer? I have, and it is great to see that some of life’s rhythms are continuing, unaltered, even in these strange and straightened times.
Something else that has sadly continued unchanged is my colossal disappointment with Amazon’s large-screened Echo Show 15 unit. I’ve now had it six weeks, and finally the stand for it arrived this week (delivery was promised for before Christmas). This caused me to re-visit the unit, and forced me to answer the question “Where will I put this?”.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as astonished by such an extraordinary blunder as that by Amazon in designing and releasing this unit. Their Alexa range of products is one of their key strategies for the future, and with the virtually unlimited resources Amazon has, you’d think they’d spend the money needed to get it right. Prior to Christmas, I told myself that maybe they just rushed it to market to get Christmas sales, but now, six weeks after receiving the unit, it is still virtually unchanged from the useless piece of disappointing junk that it was in early December.
I’ve sort of given away the content of the review that follows, but if you’d like to know why I feel so strongly, or if you are getting/did get one, and just want to know about the stand, please do read it.
I’m still writing two Covid diary entries each week. Sunday’s is available online, here, and yesterday’s is also attached. February will mark two full years of writing about Covid, with the current count being 281 articles published (and one big book, too, of course). I hope to be able to scale back in February, although that is not the same as saying “I think the virus will go away in February”.
The other notable thing for the week has been the continued escalation of rhetoric, primarily between the US and Russia, secondarily between NATO and its member nations and Russia, too. I’ll readily acknowledge that invading another country is a bad thing. But I don’t understand how our national interests are sufficiently threatened by the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine as to justify increasingly bombastic statements and threats that are hovering on the brink of us fielding US troops in a situation that almost certainly would see them directly confronting Russian troops. Russia has massively modernized and upgraded its armed forces over the last two decades and now is most definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Having just lost one war, but against a motley group of “rebels” rather than a major world force, who among us relishes the thought of yet another foreign war, but at a much higher level of intensity, cost, and casualties?
On the other hand, as this article gloomily explains, our interests are very closely intertwined with those of Taiwan. As formidable as Russia is, I fear China to be an even more implacable foe. And while we’d need our carriers to “project force” in a Taiwan conflict, don’t count on them remaining afloat all that long, as this article explains in terrible detail.
Continuing on below is the (un)usual miscellany of other “bits and bobs” :
- Guessing at US Air Passenger Numbers
- International Travel Update
- No Winners, Only Losers
- The Real Reason Boeing Bought Into An Air Taxi Venture
- Airline Hypocritical “Greenwashing” Exposed
- Arrest Warrant Issued – For a Cruise Ship
- Tantalizing Technology 1
- Tantalizing Technology 2
- Tantalizing Technology 3
- A Surprising Acceptable ID at Airport Security
- And Lastly This Week….
Guessing at US Air Passenger Numbers
Last week I said that if the TSA didn’t get their act together, I’d come up with the best representation of air travel numbers that I could manage, myself, challenged because their data now has at least one and possibly two anomalies within it.
I’ve heard nothing further from them, so I’ve done the best I can, because we’re all keen to know what is happening. There are three lines on this chart, representing the percentage of 2019 passengers traveling on about the same day then, compared to the numbers traveling in 2020 (blue), 2021 (ochre) and 2022 (green).
Unsurprisingly, at present, the 2020 numbers are running slightly over 100% of 2019 numbers, because that was in the “good old days” before Covid became a thing. Currently the best measure is to look at the 2022 line compared to the 2021 line, and our numbers are up on 2021’s January, but are down on much of the second half of 2021. That intuitively sounds about right, due to the Omicron outbreak.
But with Omicron numbers now dropping, and a growing feeling of complacency and returning to whatever “normal” now is, I’d expect to see number climbing back up over the 80% level that we’d been at for some of the second half of 2021, and continuing on beyond that.
My sense is we’ll not exceed 100% of the 2019 numbers for quite some time, because there’ll be elements of remaining caution, and some people will have lost the “travel habit”, with video meetings and other arrangements, now after two years of becoming the new normal, supplanting some travel requirements, and lingering travel restrictions and inconveniences also putting a brake on some people’s travel, too.
International Travel Update
The new trend that I’ve been anticipating, and which is now starting to appear (for example, in Spain) is countries requiring visitors not just to be vaccinated but also to have received a booster shot of vaccine too. In Spain’s case, it will require you to have either been fully vaccinated no more than 270 days ago, or to have received a booster shot since then, to quality as “vaccinated”.
This troubles me personally, because I’ve no great wish to have another dose of any of the current vaccines, while waiting with growing impatience for “real” vaccines to become available. As I mention in yesterday’s Covid diary entry, the FDA have been sitting on an application for a real vaccine (already approved by WHO and 13 other countries) since November 5. I’d take that vaccine in an instant, and be glad of the chance to, and can’t understand why the FDA is doing nothing.
If you are happy taking more doses of controversial mRNA chemicals, the requirement to be both vaccinated and boostered won’t trouble you. But if that is something you’d prefer to avoid, international travel might become more difficult again, although in Europe’s case, the way to get to, for example currently Spain, is simply to fly in to a different European country and then get to Spain via a train or domestic flight.
No Winners, Only Losers
“The customer is always right” is one of the more stupid adages out there, and has been roundly abused by people insisting their most outrageous demands be met, even if the issues are due to their massive misunderstandings, mistakes, bad behavior and outright lies. Herb Kelleher, former Southwest Airlines CEO got it right when he spoke against that and said he’d always favor his staff over his customers (all other things being equal).
But there truly are some “customers from hell” that force any business to rethink whether or not it actually wants a problem customer’s business or not. That’s an acceptably painful decision to make in a market where there are lots of other competing suppliers, but when there is only one other supplier, while you might not want a customer yourself, sometimes you don’t want to give the customer to your competitor even more, and so you keep them.
I’m not saying that Qatar Airways is nearly that bad a customer, although they do have a reputation for being very demanding and slightly capricious. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about their dispute with Airbus over some A350 planes that are developing unusual blistering on their external composite fuselage panels. Neither Qatar nor Airbus seems to clearly understand what is causing it, and it has not been acknowledged as happening with other A350s operated by other airlines.
But, be that as it may, and not unreasonably, without a cogent explanation and solution from Airbus, Qatar still expects Airbus to resolve the problem. Qatar is an airline, not an airplane manufacturer; of course it should expect Airbus to resolve the problem.
Airbus has been strangely reluctant to do so. The dispute has slowly escalated, and now court cases have been initiated, but this week’s latest event was particularly surprising. Airbus canceled Qatar’s order for 50 A321 planes, apparently in retaliation for Qatar’s court case filing.
This seems to be a classic lose-lose outcome for both Airbus and Qatar Airways, and I find myself much more sympathetic to Qatar’s plight than I normally do.
The Real Reason Boeing Bought Into An Air Taxi Venture
Boeing has invested another $450 million into an air taxi developer. But an article suggests the real reason for Boeing’s buy-in is nothing to do with the fanciful improbability of vertically taking-off and landing air taxis becoming commercially viable. Rather, Boeing is more interested in the pilotless flying technology the air taxis will use.
The reason for Boeing’s interest might surprise you. It isn’t to save money, or even to allow airlines to save money. It is to make its planes safer.
I’ve long stated that pilot error is the cause of half of all airplane accidents, and so, if we eliminate pilots, we’d halve the accident statistics. Of course, the reality is slightly more complicated than that, but the underlying truth is that, to some degree, pilots probably cause more accidents than they avoid through rare “heroic” acts of ultimate piloting skill.
It turns out I was underestimating the degree of pilot blundering. The article states that pilots cause 80% of crashes. Four out of every five. And that is a historical number, before airlines started giving hiring preference not to the best pilots, but to pilots from “under-represented minorities”. Whether it be Supreme Court justices, Vice Presidents, or pilots, I’d prefer the jobs be given to the best qualified candidates, not the ones who check off the largest number of politically correct boxes.
As an aside, and not to excuse any part of Boeing’s shameful role (or should that be, roles) in the two 737 MAX crashes, it is relevant to note that the crash-causing condition had happened multiple times prior to the two crashes, but other pilots had been able to “fly their way out” of the problem. So Boeing’s poorly phrased attempts at blaming the pilots for those two crashes was founded in some logic.
Airline Hypocritical “Greenwashing” Exposed
As you know, I regularly roll my eyes when reading of airline pledges to work minor miracles and become eco-friendly paragons, saving the planet from all manner of ills, be they real or not. The mainstream media love such statements, and delight in repeating them uncritically, because it helps them further their self-imposed agenda of planet saving, and shows how high-profile “offenders” are eagerly and voluntarily reforming their nasty carbon-emitting ways.
I’ve also noted the contradiction between the importance given to airline claims and the unimportance of what they actually do. A single “test flight” of a new carbon-neutral fuel? A totally unnecessary action and good only for media public relations.
But I’d made one mistake in all of this. I’d assumed the airlines kinda sorta actually meant it when they pledged to save the planet.
This article points out the truth. The latest round of airline promises and targets, to reach some wonderful state of carbon neutrality by 2050, have to be contrasted with promises made in 2011 to be carbon-neutral by 2020. Now, in 2022, we’re expected to laud the airlines for – ummm – for reneging on their 2011 pledge and rolling the target date back 30 years? Oh, and their promises are all predicated on massive government support to help them reach those targets.
Apparently, the last laugh is on us, not on the airlines.
Arrest Warrant Issued – For a Cruise Ship
You might immediately guess that the unlikely concept of trying to arrest a cruise ship (what sort of jail cell would you need for it to fit inside!) is the result of some infringement of environmental laws – spilling oil or dumping trash.
But it is for a much more mundane issue – an unpaid fuel bill, although if you’re a cruise ship, it can cost quite a bit to fill your tank(s). The ship is the Crystal Symphony, and comes in the wake of Crystal’s bankruptcy, announced late last week.
Crystal has suspended its ocean cruising through the end of April, and its river cruising through the end of May. What happens beyond those times is anyone’s guess at present.
It is a shame to see a good cruise line suffering, obviously in consequence of virus, and I’m surprised more cruise lines haven’t done the same. Or maybe they have and I missed it – I occasionally read about minor airlines based in far away lands that have also gone through bankruptcy over the last year or so, but don’t see all the details when they first happen.
Tantalizing Technology 1
Tesla and its battery partner, Panasonic, has again mentioned its new larger-sized battery. The article acts as though it is unaware that they’ve been promised for a year or more already, and goes on to suggest they’ll not appear in production models for another year or more. Which puts it in that large category of battery stories – sounds good, but nothing real to benefit from right now.
The article says the new batteries could be 10% – 20% cheaper, and give about a 15% increase in range. Both points are good, but the batteries themselves are the same old standard Li-ion that Tesla has been using all along, just in a more efficient package.
Talking about Tesla and batteries, you probably are vaguely aware of its “Powerwall” product – basically a huge Li-ion battery you have at home. You can use it to accumulate power when it is lower priced (if you have time of day pricing) and use it when the utility power would be more expensive, or you can use it to store power from solar panels, or you can keep it charged in case of power cuts.
It is not inexpensive. Indeed, it is so ridiculously expensive that this article points out a better strategy : Buy a new electric powered Ford F-150, and use its batteries, having the same capacity as a Powerwall unit. The astonishing justification for this suggestion is that, when comparing equal capacities of storage, the F-150 is cheaper than the Powerwall. How’s that for a bargain – an emergency storage battery that you can also drive!
Tantalizing Technology 2
When I was first professionally involved in the computer industry, data communications primarily consisted of dial-up modems, with a 300 bit per second speed one way and 75 bit per second speed the other way. Local area networks ran at around 9,600 bits per second. That was in the early 1980s.
Of course things have sped up a great deal since then, but my sense of wonder is again evoked when reading of AT&Ts plan to offer 2 Gbps and even 5 Gbps internet service in over 70 US cities. In particular, the astonishing thing is that this is faster than most of us can get from our local area networks in our homes, whether it be ethernet or Wi-Fi or both. Who’d have thought that outside connections would be faster than internal ones.
It is so fast, it is even faster than the effective speeds most of us get when we directly plug something into a USB port or SD card reader on our computer. Absolutely astonishing. And, most astonishing of all, it is offered at costs starting at $110/month for 2 Gbps or $180 for 5 Gbps.
Tantalizing Technology 3
Something that has surprised me, continuously, for the last seven years, has been how Apple has managed to maintain a clear and unchallenged lead in the smartwatch category. The first Apple Watch came out in April 2015, and through the successive generations since then, it has always been streets ahead of any competing products.
It is possible that supremacy may finally be about to be challenged. This story posits a possible Google smart watch – something rumored for many years – might finally appear in late May. Google’s myopia and studied lack of interest in smart watches has been astonishing to behold, even when it comes out with new releases of its Watch type operating system version of Android, and makes the usual ritual noises about its commitment to such devices.
A few years ago, there were an astonishing range of different companies all hoping to catch a ride on Apple’s coat-tails and sell other makes/models of smart watches. Most of them have disappeared. It would be great to see Google finally give Apple a run for its money.
A Surprising Acceptable ID at Airport Security
TSA’s mission creep has been repeatedly observed. While ostensibly it is exclusively focused on making sure you are not a terrorist and are not carrying any forbidden/dangerous items onto a flight with you, there are an abundance of cases where the TSA has arranged for local law enforcement to get involved and arrest passengers, not due to any terror/danger issues, but due to apparent violations of “ordinary” laws. Fill your carry-on with cash, or with drugs, or assorted other forms of contraband, and see what happens.
The TSA has also denied it alerts local police if a person going through their checkpoints has an outstanding warrant. The fine-print of the denial seems to indicate that although the TSA does not check any national databases of outstanding warrants when verifying your ID, if a police authority has notified the TSA of an outstanding warrant against you, and the TSA then makes an entry in its database of that fact, the next time you step up to show your boarding pass and ID, you can expect to be shortly joined by a police officer suggesting you change your travel plans for the rest of that day.
News leaked out this week that the TSA has been accepting copies of arrest warrants as proof of identification when illegal aliens wish to fly within the US. That’s so wrong on so many levels, starting off with the concept of any copy of any document sufficing as ID, extending on to note that even illegals probably have some type of ID from their home country, or some sort of new ID from the US, and extending on further to how the TSA will allow illegals with warrants out for their arrest onto flights without demur, but if it knows you have a warrant outstanding, it’ll let the airport police in on your secret.
And Lastly This Week….
That’s all fine and dandy, and unlike many other proposed air cars, this one really looks nice. But this is the same air car I wrote about a few weeks ago- the one that is 2 1/2 feet too wide to be allowed on US roads – a limitation that probably applies in much of the rest of the world as well.
I doubt we’ll see many of those in our skies, and of course, none of them on our roads.
Remember Paul Allen – the co-founder of Microsoft? After leaving Microsoft, he invested his billions in many different ventures, ranging from the improbable to the unlikely, and few of which ever had any genuine potential for profit. He died a few years back, and many of those quixotic ventures quickly disappeared.
One such venture was (is) Stratolaunch, initially planned as a new way to fly rocket cargos up to higher altitudes where they could then proceed on up into space on their own. It required the development of an enormous airplane to hold the rockets.
To my surprise, the plane is still “out there” and had another test flight last Sunday. The new plan is to use it as a way to carry SST and hypersonic prototypes up into the air before launching them.
The cockpit picture at the top of the article is of this plane, nicknamed the Roc. The clue is the six throttles and other instrumentation. It has six engines (each of the type used on 747s), necessary to develop enough power for it and a payload to take-off.
It is always interesting to see such a novel sort of airplane. It is unlikely any more of these planes will be built, so if you’re anywhere near anywhere it might be flying, be sure to go have a look.
Until next week, please stay healthy and happy