Version of Newsletter] [Newsletter
Archives] [Advertising Info] [Website Home Page] [Please Donate Here]
4 December, 2009
I may have been premature in offering some
praise for Dell and expressing excited anticipation at my expected
lovely new Dell laptop computer last week. Alas, in something that
currently contains a distinct smell of 'bait and switch' the laptop I
ordered turned out not to be the laptop they shipped me. Attempts
to reach someone sensible and caring in Dell to resolve this are
ongoing, but at this stage are not looking good.
So if you were about to also buy a Dell, I
suggest you hold off a week. Maybe you and I will both be better
advised to join the throngs of others who have abandoned Dell in favor
of other suppliers such as HP. More next week.
In between doing battle with Dell, I've been
working on an article listing good iPhone applications that you should
consider adding to your own iPhone (or iPod Touch), building on the
recommendations sent in by readers a few weeks earlier.
And in a manner that is quite common with my
articles, as I started to write about the programs, I realized I needed
to preface the actual program listing with some general comments about
how to find iPhone apps - both for the benefit of people who already
have an iPhone, and to explain this process to people who are
considering getting an iPhone (and doesn't that cover just about
everyone - who among us is not either already a delighted iPhone owner,
or looking curiously/enviously at people with their iPhones and
considering getting one too?).
As I wrote some introductory comments, well,
they ballooned out to 3000 words, which is way too much for a single web
page, and the result is now two pages of introduction to iPhone apps.
Rather than spread it out over two weeks, I'm releasing both pages
today, and hope to follow up with some actual recommends apps next week,
but because I'll be in Prague, that may or may not be easily achieved.
This Week's Feature Column :
How to Choose Extra Apps for Your
iPhone : With some 110,000 different programs available, how do
you find the really good apps to add to your iPhone or iPod Touch? In
the first two parts of a new series, I attempt to spare you from needing
to wade through all 110k programs, one by one.
I'm considering what to offer in the way of
Travel Insider tours for next year. A Christmas Markets
cruise is almost certainly a given. I'm also considering a
Norwegian coastal cruise, and a European river cruise perhaps from Basel
up to Amsterdam.
Any requests or suggestions? It is
always helpful to know what people are interested in.
As an amusing aside, one of the nice things
about river cruising is that usually you're offered free wine or beer
with dinner each night, unlike most regular cruises where drinks are
never free and usually expensive. Celebrity Cruises has just
announced a new option on their cruises - all you can drink packages.
There are six different drink plans available for purchase along with
The healthiest option is the unlimited
bottled water package, priced at a ridiculous $13.50 per person per
cruise night - much cheaper to take the free fountain drink package at a
For those of you wanting something stronger,
the challenge is to get value from a $34.50/night unlimited beer
package, a liquor package ranging upwards from $51.50/night, and upscale
wine packages from $114/night.
They all require some serious drinking to
break even or 'win' at.
Dinosaur watching : I'm going
to start off this week by adopting a very unusual role - that of
defending an airline, after a New York Times reporter used his access to
the newspaper's columns to unfairly bully Jetblue. He stupidly
(now else to describe it) arrived at Newark airport a mere 30 minutes prior to his flight's departure
(and slowed down further by his two children in tow),
then doubly stupidly couldn't find the Jetblue gate (even though the gate
number was printed on his boarding pass), and so arrived at the gate after
the flight had closed. The gate staff refused to reopen the jetway
and allow him to board due to his arriving five minutes after the flight
He blamed Jetblue (for his own arriving
late, I guess),
backing up this assertion of blame with a 'certified letter of
complaint' to Jetblue's President and also lodged a small claims court
action against the airline.
Although he settled with Jetblue prior to
the small claims case being heard, he next
published a column in the NYT with the misleading opening that if
you're flying Jetblue, out of Newark, you should beware and be early.
A better opening is that you should be aware and on time. He was
If you read his rant, you'll see at the
bottom that the reader comments are almost universally unsympathetic.
So guess what happens next? The NYT
publishes a second column headed 'Readers Speak Out About a Missed
Jetblue Flight' and rather than choose from the scathing criticism of
the reporter and his original article, they feature five reader comments, all of which are
critical of Jetblue and somewhat supportive of the reporter. That
is far from a representative selection of reader comments.
One has to guess that some senior editor at
the NY Times also missed a Jetblue flight - how else to explain the
original biased article from the reporter being printed, and the doubly
biased analysis article as follow up? Whatever the reason, this is
I'm as keen as the next person to criticize airlines,
but sometimes the airlines get it right, and their passengers get it
wrong. In this case, my money is 100% on Jetblue.
In other Jetblue news, and notwithstanding
its beating in the NY Times, the airline has
announced further growth in Boston, with new flights to the
Caribbean such that Jetblue will now be Boston's largest carrier both in
terms of destinations served from Boston and also passengers carried.
This partially fills the gaps caused by US
Airways which is scaling back its Boston flights.
Talking about US Airways, it is deferring
the delivery of 54 of the 72 Airbus aircraft it was scheduled to
receive in 2010-12 (46 A320s and eight A330s), and will push back the
launch of its A350 service from 2015 to 2017. It now plans to
accept a mere 2 A320s and 2 A330s in 2010 and 24 more A320 planes in
2011 and 2012.
The 54 deferred deliveries will commence in
In other vaguely Jetblue related news, their
main base and largest hub is at congested JFK. Their initial plan
for locating there was based on scheduling their operations, as much as
possible, outside of the peak periods of the day when JFK truly is
Possibly bad news for Jetblue and other
airlines flying to/from JFK - the airport will be closing its major
runway - 31L(13R) - for four months next spring so as to widen and
strengthen and resurface it, a process that basically involves tearing
the old runway down and laying a new runway.
The runway handles half of the airport's
takeoffs and in total about 30% of all takeoffs and landings. More
This does prompt an interesting thought -
BA's new flights from JFK to London City Airport (reviewed
last week) are being promoted as getting you closer in to the heart
of London than is the case with flights to Heathrow.
Maybe they should base the other end of
these flights at LaGuardia - closer in to the heart of New York?
Here's an interesting bit of research -
although often considered apocryphally as the busiest travel period
each year, in actual fact, Thanksgiving doesn't rate a mention on
the list of busiest travel days, neither this year, last year, nor any
According to Department of Transportation
figures, not one single day during November last year even came in the
top half of travel days for the entire year. Indeed, November
hasn't had a day in the top 35 most-traveled days for many years, with
the busiest air travel days tending to be over the summer period while
school is out.
Still, there is one undisputed but
little-known title that the Thanksgiving holiday can fairly claim:
busiest plumbing period. The day after Thanksgiving typically
brings 6,200 jobs for Roto-Rooter plumbers. That is about 50%
higher than the typical Friday volume, and is the busiest day of the
plumbing year, according to spokesman Paul Abrams. Households
crammed with guests, and sinks crammed with bones and other leftovers
better suited for the garbage, help spur demand.
The more things change, the more they remain
the same? Do you remember back to the 'good old days' at London's
Paddington rail station where you could check in for your flight from
Heathrow, then take the express train out to the airport, with the
'check in two hours prior' timer applying to when you arrived at
Paddington, rather than when you arrived at the checkin counter at
Sadly, the airlines discontinued that
excellent service. But now it is slightly reappearing. You
can sort of check in again at Paddington - well, to be exact, you
can now print boarding passes at three check in kiosks, but only if
you're flying with Delta, Finnair, Iberia and/or United. However
you'll still have to ride with your luggage to Heathrow and check that
as a separate activity there, so the actual time and hassle saved is
Any airlines that wished to compete with the
possible convenience/simplicity of BA's new London City Airport flights
might find it easiest simply to re-institute full checkin facilities at
Paddington. You could cut an hour off the total travel time
(and thereby easily beat any advance offered by BA's LCY service) by
allowing passengers to check in at Paddington rather than the airport,
and with fast track lanes through security at Heathrow.
That sure seems a lot simpler than buying
new planes, creating new flights, etc etc.
As a some-time professional marketeer, I
will confess to occasionally having doubts as to the wisdom of many
marketing campaigns. In particular, many years ago I tutored
marketing at college and marked assignments - I noticed one consistent
omission from every 'marketing plan' submitted as assignments.
The students would write diligently about all the classic components of the
marketing mix, but almost without exception there was no discussion
about analysis of the effectiveness and the profitable outcome of the
I'm reminded of this upon reading an
interesting statistic this week. Verizon and Motorola are
expecting to sell 1 million of the wonderful new Droid cellphones by the
end of this year. That's a good number - nothing like the
quantities of iPhones being sold by AT&T (they are believed to have sold
about a million iPhones in a single weekend at product launch) but still an
But - get this - the marketing budget to get
these sales? $100 million. Yes, that is a budget of $100 per
phone for marketing/promotional costs - I'll guess the $100 in
marketing costs is probably almost the same as the underlying cost of
the components in the phone.
When I see things like this I wonder if we
haven't gone too far.
Talking about going too far, I feel
compelled to mention something that the main stream media are being
deafeningly silent about.
Longer term readers know I'm a global
warming skeptic - I'm skeptical both as to if our planet really is
warming up, and - if it is - I'm doubly skeptical as to the reasons why,
and - most of all - I'm trebly skeptical as to the new mega-industry in
carbon trading, carbon offsets, punitive travel taxes, and all the other
big-bucks paraphernalia that somehow seems to equate spending money
with 'saving the planet'.
Whenever I express my doubts, I'm soundly
told off by readers claiming that it is completely accepted by the vast
majority of 'real' scientists that of course the planet is warming up
and of course it is all our fault. Apparently 'real' scientists
are, by definition, only those who advocate global warming.
So imagine my interest when a story started
to break a week or two back about how hackers had managed to intrude
into the email systems of possibly the world's foremost center and
advocate for global warming - the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the
University of East Anglia in England.
Guess what? They found an amazing
series of email exchanges where leading scientists appeared to be
conspiring between themselves to manipulate and doctor climate record
data to make it support global warming theories, and scheming as how
to best present this to support their theories and how to suppress and
discredit scientists who might disagree with their faked results.
talking among themselves and in the belief that their discussions would
never become public, they forthrightly admit to using a "trick" to "hide
the decline" in the Earth's temperature since 1960 (as one
e-mail says). Still another describes their manipulation of the data
thus: "[W]e can have a proper result, but only by including a load of
The leaked e-mail exchanges also show the
vaunted scientists engaging in a possibly criminal effort to delete
their own smoking-gun e-mails in response to a Freedom of Information
And then last weekend, with the scandal over
the emails that are now being made public growing in prominence, the CRU
said that all its data on the Earth's temperature since 1960 had been
CRU has been regularly cited as the leading authority on
analysis' - including by the very news outlets that are now burying the
current scandal, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. The
CRU alone received more than $23 million in taxpayer funds for its work
on global warming.
Having claimed to have collected the most complete data on the Earth's
temperature for the last half century, the CRU's summary of that data
was used by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change for its 2007 report demanding that we adopt a few modest
lifestyle changes, such as abolishing modern technology, reverting to
hunter/gatherer status and taxing ourselves into servitude.
Apparently there may be something funny
going on at NASA too. NASA has another huge repository of global
climate data, gathered from its various satellites over the years, and
appears to be resisting sharing the data (or, to be blunt, is flagrantly
avoiding its obligations to release the data in a timely manner under
the Freedom of Information Act) with a climate change skeptic.
A few brave politicians are calling for
enquiries into the scandal that is revealed by the CRU emails.
Barbara Boxer, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee, said that the recently released e-mails, showing
scientists 'allegedly overstating the case for climate change' (as it is
coyly referred to in
this article), should be treated as a crime.
But - wait. When she says it should be
treated as a crime, she's not referring to the alleged overstating.
She's referring, instead, to the release of the emails. The
scientists should get a free ride, it is the whistle blowers who should
be charged with crimes.
Don't like the message? Shoot the
Second to lastly on this topic - and yes I
am ill concealing my glee at these revelations - that renowned climate
change scholar, Paul McCartney, is advocating we should all eat less
meat so as to save the planet. As quoted in
this article, he is saying that if we have one meatless day a week,
greenhouse gases could be reduced by up to 80%.
So, let's see. If we eat meat one less
day a week, we reduce greenhouse gases by up to 80%. Now, what
would happen if we ate meat two less days a week? Does that mean
greenhouse gases would reduce by up to 160%? Instead of CO2
flowing into the air, it would instead reverse and somehow start
magically plunging back down to earth? All the greenhouse gases
from China's incredible number of coal fired power stations, from all
our gas guzzling cars, our air travel, and everything else - all will be
more than compensated for simply by going without meat somewhere between
one and two days a week?
Wow, with insight like that, one can expect
McCartney to be awarded an honorary doctorate from the CRU, and maybe
even a Nobel Prize.
And now, lastly, this is
the most serious point, and I plead with you to consider this aspect of
the topic, no matter what your view. I know I may have
alienated a lot of you in my preceding comments, and I expect I'll get
the usual wave of unsubscribes as a result.
But there is one
thing I plead - I beg - you to do. Buy a copy of the newly
published book SuperFreakonomics - you can click the link to get it from
Amazon, or go to any bookstore. Please
read the section in that book on global warming.
Although the book is written
in a very popularist and approachable fashion, it makes some irrefutable
claims not just about whether the planet is truly warming or not, but
also then details some incredibly low cost solutions to the 'problem'
(if indeed such a problem should exist).
The authors have no axe to
grind, one way or the other; they are merely seeking to sell books, and
simply delight in poking fun at 'conventional wisdom' in all its many
forms, in this book and its best selling prequel,
Freakonomics. Both books are excellent reads, and in light of
the worldwide attention being given to the topic and some of the scary
lifestyle changes being proposed, the section on global
warming/cooling in SuperFreakonomics should be mandatory reading for us
This Week's Security Horror Story :
Remember the 'Shoe Bomber' - the guy who tried to set fire to some sort
of explosive device in his shoes on a flight, but failed because he
couldn't even light a match? His legacy is with us every time we
take our shoes off.
Remember the people arrested for planning to
smuggle liquid explosives onto planes flying from Heathrow? Their
legacy is with us every time we have a bottle of water confiscated at
And of course, remember the 9/11 terrorists
with their boxcutters - their legacy is with us every time we have a
miniature pocketknife confiscated at security.
Now, please think back over the last half
dozen years or more. The total number of passenger fatalities and
airline crashes caused by terrorists - zero. In the last week
alone there have been two fatal plane crashes - one killing six of eight
people on a seaplane in BC, Canada; the other killing three of the seven
crew on a MD-11F freighter in China. There was another one the
week before, and so on and so on.
My point - and here it comes - is simple.
Terrorist acts, or the mere threat of terrorist acts, result in instant
massive overreaction by 'the authorities' at enormous ongoing cost to us
as passengers and to the airlines (both directly in terms of compliance
costs and indirectly as the inconvenience and hassle of flying forces
more of us away from their flights). But terrorist acts are
On the other hand, when we're talking about
air safety issues that don't involve terrorists with bombs and/or
boxcutters, 'the authorities' go back to sleep and largely do nothing.
These less headline grabbing issues are killing more people each year,
and causing more plane crashes, than all the terrorist attacks combined.
Why are the authorities so hyper-responsive to terrorist threats, but so
complacent to other air safety issues. If one's plane crashes,
does one really care if it was a terrorist bomb or faulty maintenance
that caused it - doesn't one want the level of safety assurance and
protection to be equally high for all types of threats?
Case in point - do you remember the 777
crash just short of Heathrow last year. That was one of three
recent incidents where the 777 engines have failed. The National
Transportation Safety Board came up with recommendations about replacing
some suspect parts on the 777 engines to reduce the likelihood of engine
failure reoccurring. The FAA has
to delay the implementation of the NTSB recommendation until 2011.
Shoe bombers - instant response. Engine failure - let's wait a few
Case in point - remember the possibly
sleeping pilots who were out of radio contact for 75 minutes on a flight
from San Diego to Minneapolis? If they'd slept a bit longer, the
plane could have run out of fuel and crashed. The FAA has now
announced it has no plans to change its work rules to allow pilots
to officially sleep in the cockpit (but not both at the same time);
instead it simply expects pilots to turn up for work wide awake.
Case in point - runway incursions and
mistakes and 'near misses' are alarmingly commonplace, and indeed the
world's worst ever airplane disaster was when a 747 hit another 747 -
one was taking off, the other taxiiing. 583 people were killed.
So you'd think that the regulatory authorities would be very sensitive
to anything to do with managing the ground movements of planes.
Not so, according to the NTSB Chairwoman, who
this week criticized the FAA for failing to act on runway safety
recommendations the board repeatedly has made, including multiple
recommendations first issued in July 2000.
So, I again ask my question. Why do we
immediately respond in a fully urgent and perhaps over-reactive manner
to terrorist threats, but in a more leisurely manner allow proven
threats that actually are causing accidents, crashes and fatalities
right now to continue for years without response, even when a solution
And on that note, it is time for me and
doubtless many of you to plan for my/your next flight! Please note
I'll be freshly arrived in Prague next week, so the timing and nature of
next week's newsletter is a little uncertain.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels