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22 January, 2010
I am struggling to throw off the feeling of
guilt I have about not releasing a feature article last week.
However, last week's newsletter was, ahem, not insubstantial in size
(almost 7500 words, in fact - more than twice what it 'should be') so my
feeling is that you got more words from me last week than would normally
be the case with a more sensibly sized newsletter and feature article.
I make these comments because I am now
breaking my promise to release the whisky article to you this week.
I'm almost certainly giving it too much attention, but whisky is not
only the most complex of all spirits to appreciate, but it is also
without doubt the most complex to write about - for example, I currently
have over 5500 words in the single section 'The magic of whisky' - all
about the subtle and semi-secret aspects of making whisky that cause one
bottle of whisky to be different to the next, and sometimes profoundly
so. In total, the article series is pushing 20,000 words - much more and it will
be capable of being published as a free-standing book!
I want to end up with a comprehensive
treatment on the topic that can be accessed either piecemeal or in toto,
and this is dissuading me from releasing it in pieces each week.
Besides which, as I continue to add to the overall total
project, I find I am adding/modifying parts that I'd earlier thought
complete, and shifting around the sequence of topics to make into a
better flowing entirety.
So, please bear with me and my struggles;
I'll try to have it all done for next week. And, for those of you
wondering what this all has to do with travel, it is intended as a segue
into our lovely Scotland's Islands and Highlands Tour this June.
Now that the latest knee-jerk nonsense has
subsided after the crotch-bomber alert at Christmas, international
travel becomes more acceptable once more, and Britain/Europe -
especially in the early summer - is always a wonderful destination to
consider. My challenge is to come up with interesting touring
opportunities that will take you places you haven't been to many times
before, but which you've always wanted to visit.
That's not easy, because you've probably
been many places already. But I'll wager you've not yet toured
around Scotland's lovely islands (well, one couple coming on the tour
actually has, but they enjoyed it so much they're coming back for a
repeat experience) so here's a great 11 day tour that you can enjoy
either as part of a broader European vacation or as a great standalone
And for those people who are curious about
whisky, I'll be holding a formal (but optional) whisky tasting class one
evening where you'll have a chance to try widely differing styles of
whisky, including some of Scotland's award winning second best (out of
3500+ different contenders) single malt, and several other of what are
generally considered the reliably best 'top ten' single malt whiskies in
But, if you don't drink (and even if you do)
there's still lots to enjoy. We'll have long days (being far north
and touring right over the summer solstice) giving us a chance to get
the most out of each day, and it seems we've got the core of a wonderful
group of people, four of whom have travelled with me four times before
and one who has traveled with me three times before.
So, for a wonderful time, in a wonderful
place, at a wonderful time of year, and with a wonderful group of
people, please do consider joining our
2010 Scotland's Islands and
This has now become another enormous
newsletter (over 8000 words) - again longer than a typical newsletter
and feature article. Should I apologize or not? I'm not sure
to be proud or embarrassed!
For those of you who don't read it all, and
I will admit that there are some arguably off-topic lengthy bits that
may have you reaching for your Page Down key repeatedly, please do
continue on down to the bit about an amazing new data plan from AT&T
for the iPhone - an incredible deal for anyone who travels
internationally and another reason (if one were needed) to get an iPhone
rather than any other type of phone. How wonderful to at last see
a crumbling of the exorbitant rip-off rates for international data
To make it easier to find, I've put an all
caps heading 'WONDERFUL AT&T iPHONE NEWS' at the start of the section
Dinosaur watching : You presumably
received my special newsletter on Tuesday explaining the non-event (for
us as passengers) of JAL's bankruptcy filing that morning, and referring
also to a BA fare sale, with discounted fares and packages to Britain
and Europe, good for travel through the end of March, with tickets on
sale through next Thursday.
Several of you pointed out that BA was
probably only doing this to try and encourage people onto their flights
at a time when there is a grave risk of their cabin crew going on
strike. Is that true? Well, maybe yes, but also maybe no.
Firstly, there is nothing particularly
unusual about a fare sale at this time of year for travel through the
dregs of winter. Many airlines do them every year, and BA does
this most years too.
Secondly, I've tried to understand the
dynamics of the possibility of a BA cabin crew strike. It is hard
to know exactly what to expect, but the key facts seem to be :
BA's cabin crew, through its union (called 'Unite') overwhelmingly voted
to strike shortly before Christmas, but their strike decision was deemed
to be invalid and ruled illegal by the courts in Britain. Amongst
other things, the union sent ballots to more than 1,000 retired cabin
crew, who certainly would be keen to have the still serving cabin crew
strike if it served to protect their retiree benefits.
So the union is sending out a new ballot on
Monday, 25 January. Voting closes four weeks later (22 February).
Allow a few days for the votes to be counted, and then the union can
lawfully strike, if the vote so affirms, seven days after the result is
So the earliest we'd likely see a strike
occur would be perhaps the second week in March.
But - there's another complicating factor.
With an eye on getting good rather than bad publicity and realizing that
the public is generally unsympathetic, the union has said it
won't strike over the Easter period. This year Good Friday is on
April 2, and if the union did go on strike prior to then, it would need
to end its strike several days prior to Easter so as to allow BA to
restore full services and for people to complete their 'going somewhere
in time for Easter' plans.
Does that mean the union will strike for a
couple of weeks in mid March? That is possible. On the other
hand, the union might feel that when (if!) it is armed with a strike
authority, it can then go back to the negotiating table with BA and
threaten management with the plausible certainty of a strike if their
demands aren't acceded to, and also cause more harm to BA commercially
by having advance notice of a strike, giving people more time to book
away from BA.
One last factor. BA is preparing a
response for any possible cabin crew strike, and is training volunteers
from its ground staff
to go in and replace any no-show striking flight attendants. The
airline would almost certainly not cease operations during a strike.
It would also, almost certainly, suffer substantial cuts to its flights,
but my guess/hope is that it would selectively cancel the least
strategic flights so as to inconvenience the fewest travelers, and that
it would move passengers over to its Oneworld alliance partners and
possibly even to other unrelated airlines wherever possible, and maybe
even be fair in terms of helping delayed passengers who did suffer
problems with their flights.
Many of us have suffered cancelled flights
before, for one reason or another. The worst sorts of cancellations are
those that involve many hours at an airport, standing in lines, and with
no knowledge of what is happening to oneself or one's luggage. A
strike is usually not in this category - unlike a weather or operational
(and thereby unexpected) cancellation, you'll know all about the strike
as soon as it happens, and can then start to make plans as you get
successively close to your flight.
I say this not to encourage you onto BA, and
not to make light of the possible hassles surrounding a strike, but
merely to explain the overall issues. BA's airfare sale is good,
but it isn't exactly a compelling 'best deal I've ever seen' type offer
either. At least now I hope you can make a slightly more fully
And just in case you think I've somehow
switched roles from being a perennial thorn in BA's side to now being an
apologist, here's an
interesting item about a new lawsuit BA must defend. The
objecting to BA's policy that forces male passengers to move if they end
up seated next to an unaccompanied minor, and says that BA is treating
all male passengers as perverts.
In fairness to BA, my understanding is that
BA is not alone in this - other airlines have similar policies. On
the other hand, in the particular case this man is complaining about, BA
forced him to move away from being next to his pregnant wife - if they
think that a man traveling with his pregnant wife is a potential
predator, then they've gone so far into the land of politically correct
lunacy that even the biggest lawsuit loss will fail to bring them back
BA's response to the lawsuit is more
detailed than their inadequate nonsense statement originally quoted in
the linked article. BA now says it was 'examining the case and looking at a
potential settlement by meeting the customer's claim', whatever that
means, and touting their many years of safely flying children (perhaps
as a result of their 'nowhere near a man' policy?).
Apparently BA even has a special seating department that is supposed to
sometimes seat unaccompanied minors together and in an area close
to where cabin attendants congregate.
The incident occurred in April 2009; one wonders how much longer BA will
take to 'examine the case'.
Continental and American Airlines have now reported their 2009 results -
CO lost $295 million and AA managed to lose an impressive $1.5 billion.
About the best thing one can say about that loss is that it is less than
last year's $2.1 billion.
But, if one excludes special items, the
two years show a loss of $1.2 billion in 2008 and $1.4 billion in 2009,
suggesting the underlying movement was negative rather than positive.
However, losses notwithstanding, AA is positive about its future -
perhaps because earlier this week it started off the first round of
airfare increases for 2010, with increases of between $6 - $16
roundtrip. AA also said it plans to increase its international
services this year.
Indeed, in general, if the airline lobbying group ATA is correct,
saw the largest ever annual drop in airline revenue, with total US
airline passenger revenue dropping 18%. The previous record was a
14% drop in 2001.
December 2009 represented the 14th straight
month in a row of declining sales, with traffic down 3% and revenue down
4% (compared to Dec 2008).
With that as perspective, here's an
interesting article about the five best proposals to fix the airline
industry. Unfortunately the comments that follow it tend to be
naive, unrealistic and sometimes massively off topic or just plain
wrong. Sometimes 'vox pop' comes up with good ideas, but not
on this occasion, and perhaps this also shows the underlying
complexities of the airline game - the biggest one of which is that
customers want/demand services that they refuse to pay for.
For example, there are various suggestions that airlines should make
seats bigger. Hello? If you want a bigger seat, there's
already one on most planes. It is called 'first class'. Oh
yes, right - it costs more. What these people are really saying is
'airlines should be forced to offer their services for less money' - and
that surely isn't going to help fix the airline industry at all.
Perhaps the best partial solution is updating the outdated air traffic
control system. Everyone is agreed on the benefits this will offer
- our airways are over-crowded at present, and a
new improved ATC system is similar to adding more lanes to the air
Better than just reducing congestion however is the
promise of allowing for more direct flight paths and better take-off and
landing ascents and descents, reducing fuel and flight time, a 'green'
win-win that saves us time, saves the the airlines money, and also helps
enhance air traffic safety too (but when did you last hear of two planes
colliding in the sky - other than over Brazil?).
With all these benefits - and cost savings - you'd think there'd be a
positive move forward on this front. But, alas, the concept has
been languishing for more years than any of us would wish to remember,
due to arguments about who will pay the up front costs of establishing
the new system.
The phrase 'penny wise and pound foolish' springs to mind, and indeed,
isn't that the biggest problem of all that permeates the entire airline
industry. When they're not nickel and diming us out of lettuce
leaves and pillows/blankets, they're refusing to spend their own money
to invest in their future.
An interesting choice of speaker at a White House forum on modernizing
government was Southwest's CEO, Gary Kelly. As a keynote session
on customer service he said it was more important to be on time and have
great employees that to offer frills.
He also made the interesting comment that communication with his
company's customers didn't cost much, because the airline's blog gave
them valuable customer feedback - feedback that other companies would
pay a research firm to generate.
Looking ahead, the airline industry forecast seems better. According to the OAG
(remember them - apparently they're still around in some form or
another) January 2010 shows a global increase of 3% in flight capacity
compared to Jan 2009, and on a global basis, by their statistics, there
have now been five consecutive months of global capacity increases, with
most of that growth being in the low cost airline sector, and at the
expensive of the dinosaurs.
Naughty United doesn't get 'time off for good behavior' - or, in this
case, a remission of half its fine. Back in August, the DoT fined
UA $75,000 for not disclosing taxes and fees in the initial advertised
fares on its Web site and for showing one-way fares that were only
applicable for round-trip travel. As is usually the case, UA had
to pay half the fine, and was told that if it didn't commit any more
violations for twelve months, the other half of the fine would be
Let's ignore the amazingly gentle slap on the wrist that a fine of half
$75,000 represents to a multi-billion dollar airline. Let's
instead see if UA learned its lesson.
Ooops. United was fined $30,000 last Friday for a
violation, after United's website left out the 7.5% federal tax that the
government requires airlines to hide into their fares (apparently the
government doesn't really want us to know just how much tax we pay at
every turn) for a 60 hour period. This 'programming error' (as
United describes it) and the $30,000 fine means that UA failed to be
well behaved for twelve months, and so now has to pay the other $37,500
of its earlier fine too.
Hey, DoT. How about, next time, you add another zero or two to
these fines? United may have made more money by showing these
lower fares than the cost of the pathetic fines you levied against them.
Talking about the DoT and naughty airlines, one should see one's glass
as half full rather than half empty. It is my clear sense that the DoT is becoming ever so slightly more activist and participative in
attempting to create and enforce some rights for us passengers.
Just a month ago it promulgated new rules setting obligations on
airlines to care for passengers on tarmac-delayed flights (plus some
other rules too), now they have launched an
updated website at a slightly
different address to make it easier to file complaints about
airlines. The site also has some other consumer information.
Now if they could just kick some life into the people who judge airline
mergers as being consumer unfriendly and uncompetitive, things would be
close to perfect.
I don't think anyone has kept track of the flow-on bankruptcies caused
when an airline goes into Chapter 11 and reneges on its debts and
obligations. And so maybe there is some poetic justice in learning
of how a recent airline bankruptcy may have been partially as a result
of problems with its credit-card processing company.
Now defunct Scottish airline Globespan was
apparently owed £35 million by its credit card processor, E-Clear.
Apparently E-Clear may have been holding back the moneys due to
Globespan (and other travel companies too), and E-Clear has now been
placed into bankruptcy administration with external managers, as it
appears the company may owe in excess of £100 million.
Typically banks hold money back from
companies that they are worried about, and companies have had to meekly
submit to such hold-backs as an unavoidable business cost that must be
accepted in return for the privilege of accepting credit cards.
No-one has ever thought to question the
probity or financial strength of the credit card processing company.
And another bankruptcy with business as
usual (except for its creditors) is the Las Vegas Monorail, which
filed this week, showing between $10 and $50 million of assets and
between $500 and $1 billion of liabilities. Being as how the
monorail's bond insurer Ambac could now be facing as much as $1.16
billion in liabilities, it would seem that liabilities are closer to $1
billion than $500 million.
The monorail has been in trouble for some
time, and while it may have been earning enough to cover its ongoing
operating costs, it has not been earning enough to cover debt
repayments. But notwithstanding it first tapping into cash
reserves to make debt repayments back in January 2008, it is choosing to
blame the last year's general slowdown in Vegas tourism as the main
reason for its collapse. It always has to be someone else's fault,
Amazingly, the monorail still hopes to
expand to the airport and extra places along the strip.
One more bankruptcy thing. Here's an
interesting article about JAL's bankruptcy that exposes some of
the massive inefficiencies in Japanese aviation, and throws into
stark highlight JAL's inability to trade profitably, even with the
protectionist regime it has enjoyed in the past.
The big 'take home' idea from this article
and the JAL bankruptcy is the reminder that Japan, Japan's corporations,
and the Japanese way of life is not necessarily greatly better than our
own. There was a time, a decade or two ago, when it seemed that
'Japan Inc' was the unstoppable new economic giant that would march
across the world, with US and European corporations falling helplessly
to the wayside in the face of Japanese superiority.
Well, of course that never happened.
But can we extrapolate from the pricking of
the Japanese bubble to a similar fall from grace for China? At
present, it surely seems that China is the new unstoppable monster
- economically and demographically - and that its rise to pre-eminence
is almost guaranteed with the only issue being when. But does
China too have weaknesses that are currently obscured by its
enormous 'catch-up' type growth, and will it in turn also prove to be no
more invulnerable than Japan?
I'd like to think so. But I'm far from
sanguine. Here are some more thoughts about China.
First, some more background. China's
economy continues to surge ahead - for example, in 2009, and global
economic slowdown notwithstanding, its economy is estimated to have
grown at an overall rate of 8.7%, with the fourth quarter
overcompensating for some slower earlier quarters - after a low of 6.1%
(annualized) in the first quarter, things were roaring ahead at an
annual rate of 10.7% in the fourth quarter - a rate which would see
another doubling of its GDP in just under seven years. Look for it
to displace Japan as the world's second largest economy this year.
Because a lot of this growth represents
simply bringing impoverished members of its population into something
more akin to a 'normal' international standard of living, and because
there's still a very long way before its income per head of population
gets anywhere near international norms in the first world (city dwellers
earn on average $2700/yr, rural dwellers a mere $750) there's a great
deal more upward potential before its economic driving forces start to
slow down. More details
China remains a curious contradiction of
freedom and control, with its communist leadership struggling to
find some way to keep its citizens happy as it moves the country
forward, and to find some way of reconciling free enterprise with
communism. For example, these days, although the government builds
major new freeways everywhere all the time from state funds, it then
turns around and charges drivers for driving on those same roads.
And healthcare is not free - sure, it is also a great deal less than in
the US, but China does not provide universal free healthcare to its
citizens (or, if it does, most Chinese people choose not to avail
themselves of it).
As example of the contradiction, the annual
Index of Economic Freedom released earlier this week ranks China at
number 140 out of the 183 countries ranked (Cuba, Zimbabwe and North
Korea came at the bottom), but Hong Kong - now a semi-sovereign somewhat
integrated part of China again - came at the top as the
freest place in the world (Singapore, Australia and New Zealand came
Clearly, in the 13 years since the British
returned Hong Kong to China, the mainland government have been careful
stewards of Hong Kong's business focused ethos.
Should we be afraid of China?
Is there an inevitable conflict looming between this still communist
country and the western democracies? Recognizing that war is an
extension of economic policy by other measures, one hopes that China
might recognize the economic imperative of keeping the peace, for what
would it gain if it were to destroy the west, its major trading partner?
This reasoning has been a key part of, in
particular, the US's approach to engagement with China, attempting to
sooth the savage beast with economic self-interest, and in the
belief that as China developed its economy, freedom would naturally
spring from that (with the last part of that assumed process being that
free nations would be 'just like us' and no threat).
Our two last presidents respectively said
'In this global information age, when economic success is built on
ideas, personal freedom is essential to the greatness of any nation'
(Clinton) and 'Economic freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of
liberty create expectations of democracy ... Trade freely with the
Chinese and time is on our side' (Bush).
But has this process actually occurred to
any discernable extent?
This article suggests that there has been no sign of any
relaxation of government control, no new freedoms introduced to China at
all, and goes on to opine that there is no reason to expect such a
social evolution to occur in the foreseeable future either.
Meantime, China's military continues to
grow well beyond anything needed to safeguard the nation and protect its
borders from enemies that largely do not exist. The
development of a 'deep water' navy, and Chinese missile systems that
threaten US naval dominance in the Pacific are also causing concern in
Washington, as is the reality of China's military buildup always
exceeding our prior intelligence estimates.
Back here in the US, informed sources
suggest that the nation with the most active network of spies operating
in the US is, ummm, China. Some of their spies focus on military
secrets, some on industrial secrets. Forget about Russia, forget
about other countries; when it comes to spying, China is where most of
the action is coming from these days.
So, let's get this right. Ignoring
stateless terrorism, the nation with both the present and probable
future biggest challenge to the United States, economically and
militarily, is China. It poses the most credible threat, both
short term and long term, to our nation's security.
So what does our government choose to do?
Overriding the disagreements of both the Director of National
Intelligence and CIA Director, and focusing instead on the political
implications of not upsetting China, it has downgraded China from a
'Priority 1' intelligence status to a 'Priority 2' status. This
leaves North Korea and Iran as the two remaining Priority 1 intelligence
About the only good thing that can be said
about this is if we're now stepping back from our watchful alertness
about China because we're worried what China might think, then
there's unlikely to be any future battle between our two nations,
because the battle has already been lost. And, ahem, we're not the
Two closing comments. I'm not
criticizing China at all - it is acting in its own selfish best
interests, as should all nations. Unfortunately, if China
perceives a collision between its best interests and our own, then it
will attempt to secure outcomes that are best for China rather than
negotiate compromises or allow us some victories.
Secondly, don't downplay the extraordinary
growing powerhouse that is China until you've seen it for yourself.
Travel across China, and in particular, go out of the cities and into
the smaller towns. You'll see prosperity and amazing development
and construction everywhere, not just in the big cities - new high rise
buildings, new multi-lane freeways, and new high speed rail lines.
Alas, you'll also see pollution everywhere
too, because China is choosing not to constrain its growth with any
concerns about global warming or carbon emissions.
So perhaps it is a good thing that the UN
is now backtracking on yet another global warming myth and
downgrading still further the possible threat of 'global warming'.
This is an interesting example of the
evolution of a global warming myth, because it illustrates how
unscientific nonsense becomes hallowed after multiple repetition and
becomes accepted conventional wisdom. Two years ago the UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark
report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed
research into the impact of global warming. A central claim and
great headline stopper was that the world's glaciers were melting so
fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035. The report
said the probability of this happening was 'very high' - ie more than
90% likely to occur.
It now appears that such a claim is
colossally untrue, as anyone with half a brain would have always
realized. With most of the Himalayan glaciers hundreds of feet
thick, this would require a melting rate so fast that it might even
be visible to the naked eye.
amazing story of this exposed myth in Britain's The Times newspaper.
Would you like another example of
national short-sightedness? Here's an interesting one - the US
is about to close down its LORAN navigation system.
LORAN (short for Long Range Navigation)
evolved during WW2 and was used by both airplanes and ships for
navigation. Since that time, it has been enhanced several times,
but in its current form (LORAN-C) it is much less accurate than GPS
based systems (GPS is maybe 5 - 10 times more accurate), and requires
more expensive equipment.
So with the worldwide network of GPS
satellites, the decision has been taken to save some money by
decommissioning the LORAN network. On the face of it, this is
acceptable, but what it means is that just about everything that moves
or needs to know its position is now dependent on GPS, with no backup
system (other than celestial navigation, a much deprecated skill that
few people know and which, of course, relies on being able to see a
clear sky, and can not be done to great degree of accuracy or
timeliness). Details of LORAN's retirement
How likely is it that our planes and
ships might need a backup system? As I discussed last year,
the integrity of our GPS network is currently under threat, with the
projected life expiry of current satellites exceeding the replacement
rate of new satellites, and with some alarmingly optimistic projections
being made about the ability to deploy new technology GPS satellites on
time and as expected.
So there is a known concern at present,
extending over the next five or more years, about possible threats to
the reliability of the GPS network.
And how about unknown threats?
Well, the GPS satellites are safely way up in the sky, right? It
isn't as though a terrorist could launch a SAM and hit one (a MANPAD/SAM
can rise maybe 5 miles, the GPS satellites are more than 10,000 miles
Well, yes, that is all true, but if we were
to find ourselves in a conflict with another technologically advanced
nation, is it not possible that the adversary might launch killer
anti-satellites to destroy our communications and GPS satellites?
Indeed, with our total battlefield reliance on satellite based systems
for everything these days, any nation that could do so would consider
it the best possible strategy to neutralize our own space assets.
Interestingly, most of our potential adversaries have maintained strong
low-tech C3I systems that would not be jeopardized by the loss of any
space based assets of their own.
But, heck, we're not planning on going to
war with eg Russia or China are we? Two answers to that.
First, a prudent nation plans for the unexpected, not only for the
expected. That's why we have a standing military force - to be
ready to respond to unexpected challenges.
And the second answer would be - how about
nations such as, well, the other two nations on the top of our
intelligence priority list - N Korea and Iran. N Korea has
high altitude missile capabilities already and test launched at least
one satellite last year, and as
this article reports, Iran is planning to shortly launch not just
one or two but three satellites.
Still feel good about putting all our eggs
in the one (GPS) basket?
It had been my quiet resolve not to mention
a word about Haiti, not last week, not this week, and hopefully not
ever. We're all being bombarded, in all the usual places and in
some quite unusual places, to donate towards relief efforts, and as
worthy as the cause may be, there comes a point when one has to start
just saying no. Visit half a dozen stores and you'll probably have
nearly as many exhortations to give, and so on and so forth. It
seems to me that when we give a contribution, we should be given a
button to wear saying 'I've already given' so we don't feel obliged to
give again and again as if for the first time.
But. I've been amazed at the
extraordinary lack of comprehension shown by the people who have been
decrying continued visits to Haiti by cruise ships. In
particular, Royal Caribbean Line has been strongly criticized. It
has its own private beach and tourist attractions at Labadee, a sea-side
resort about 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince and an area unharmed by
Would someone please explain to me how
halting the lucrative cruise ship visits to Labadee will help the
Haitian economy? Royal Caribbean says their port calls provide
employment for about 500 Haitians; the ships are bringing relief
supplies as well as tourists, and the cruise line is currently donating
all of its net revenue from the port visits to relief efforts.
So please tell me how putting 500 people out
of work and cutting back on relief funding would be a good thing?
Would not a doubling of port calls to Labadee actually be better?
Two fascinating new bits of information on
Google's Nexus One cellphone.
The first piece of information is that
apparently Google sold a mere 21,000 units in its first week of
release - compare this to the Motorola Droid which sold twelve times
more in its first week of release, or to any iPhone release which
typically sells way more than a million in its first week, and always
could sell more if it weren't for stock/supply shortages.
So is Google's phone likely to change much
at all in the marketplace? Apparently not.
The second piece of information is that the
company that makes Google's phone for them, HTC, is expecting to shortly
release a phone, which HTC calls the Bravo, sometime in the next month
or two. The Bravo is apparently almost identical to the Nexus
One in all but name.
If we can safely assume that the Bravo will
be sold for less than the Nexus One (and with an underlying
manufacturing cost of about $180, the retail price of $530 that Google
is asking for its Nexus One is surely able to be reduced some by HTC),
who would now choose to buy a Nexus One instead of a Bravo?
Meanwhile, rumors are rife that Google's
move into direct phone hardware competition with Apple is destroying
one of the last remaining shreds of cooperation between the two
companies - it is being suggested that Apple may be about to remove
the Google search engine from its iPhones and replace it with
Microsoft's Bing instead.
You can surely understand Apple's outrage in
seeing a former partner now seeking to directly compete against it.
First was Google's indirect competition - providing the operating system
platform for new smartphones to use in an attempt for them to match
Apple's iPhone OS, and now their is Google's direct competition, with
its own branded smartphone. If Apple does now turn to Bing, Google
will have only itself to blame.
Google's entire involvement in phones - both
phone OS and phone hardware - remains a puzzle. The Google search
engine was already the search engine of choice or at least conveniently
available on nearly every smartphone out there, so how did/does it stand
to benefit by getting involved in OS development and hardware sales?
Now, perhaps Google will blow Apple off the
same way it did China by saying that the revenue impacts of losing its
search engine status on iPhones is negligible. But if it does
that, it is being as short-sighted as it is in allowing itself to be
beaten in China by a better search engine (Baidu, which actually
increased its market share during Google's attempts to win the Chinese
market). As evidence of the vital importance of cell phones to
Google, a new study from the Gartner Group predicts that in 2013 there
will be more browser equipped phones capable of accessing the internet
than computers, and that in 2015 (that's just over four years from now)
phones will have become most people's primary internet browsing device.
So Google is willing to sacrifice its
relationship with Apple, a key player in this new marketplace, all for a
'me too' phone under its own brand which is being outsold by the iPhone
approximately 50 to 1?
Don't get me wrong. I'm delighted that
Google's Android OS exists, but if Android didn't come along, something
else would have appeared to exploit the yawning gap between the iPhone
OS and things like Windows Mobile. Nokia (and other companies)
still continue development on the Symbian OS, for example.
To repeat, Google's entire involvement in
phones - both phone OS and phone hardware - remains a puzzle.
WONDERFUL AT&T iPHONE NEWS
I had a phone call earlier this week from an
AT&T salesman at a local retail store. I've no idea what prompted
her to call me - I had bought my iPhone from Apple, not AT&T, and I'm
hardly a big customer, but she called to offer me a new data plan that
included - wait for it - unlimited international data roaming.
Prior to now, whenever I took my iPhone out
of the country, I had to switch off its data services, except for the
rare occasions when I was within range of a free Wi-fi service.
All of the phone's wonderful value-add intelligence would shut down
while out of data range, as would its email handling. This was
because AT&T was, in round numbers, marking up the cost for data
100,000% - what would cost a few dollars a GB for local users in eg the
UK was being sold by AT&T for slightly more dollars, but per MB rather
than per GB. Yes, that's a 1000-fold markup, plus a bit more
because you can be sure that AT&T wasn't paying full retail for the data
it sells on to its customers.
Every so often, someone would misunderstand
that and, being used to the unlimited data included in their home
service, would use the phone the same way while traveling
internationally, and so would come home to find a bill from AT&T for
many thousands of dollars. For sure, AT&T has become a lot more
pro-active at warning people about the costs of data, but warned or not,
the outrageous costs remained the same.
Until now. AT&T has just now quietly
introduced a new unlimited international dataplan that, at least
earlier this week, was only being offered to customers with at least one
year account history, and requiring a manager's approval. But, for
whatever reason, my new best friend Katelyn extended this to me, and for
the very fair cost of $35/month, I can now use my phone
internationally exactly the same as I can in the US.
Wow. Wow, wow, and again wow.
This transforms the phone's global usefulness, and is a huge change in
AT&T's tariff. If you have an iPhone and travel internationally,
call AT&T and get this service added to your phone too.
My expectation is that when the plan becomes
more broadly implemented and normalized, I'll then be able to tactically
switch it on and off, only turning it on when traveling out of the
country, and turning it immediately off again upon my return, thereby
reducing the cost of international data roaming down from $420/yr to a
few pennies over $1/day. But until this all happens, I'm not
giving up my new unlimited international data roaming, for fear of not
being able to get it back again.
And to put this into context, until now I've
had to also pay a monthly subscription to T-Mobile for a Blackberry with
international roaming - $40/month every month just to have the phone
switched on, and $20/month when internationally roaming. So I'm
ahead of the 8-ball right from the get-go and at long last can
happily turn my back on the last vestige of the 'bad old days' of
relying on a nasty Blackberry for email and data services.
Longer time readers know that my style is to
'tell it like it is' in my reviews, and to mercilessly point out the
faults in products that I'm reviewing. Very few of the mainstream
media writers are similarly blunt, or similarly detailed in picking
apart a product, but I have to give full credit for having encountered
one reviewer in particular who writes exceedingly well, very clearly,
and who can be at least as merciless as me.
I'm referring to David Pogue of the New
York Times, and to prove my point, you absolutely should read his
review of Barnes & Nobles' Nook eBook reader. He takes no
prisoners as he absolutely destroys this product, and supplements his
brutal (but brilliant and absolutely on topic) review with a spoof
video, too. Amazing.
Amazon currently have 90% of the market for
eBooks, and with B&N fielding an apparently grossly inferior reader
and charging appreciably more for their eBooks, it is hard to see
how the Nook will, ahem, carve out a nook for itself in this new market.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
Now that the first round of excitement and hysteria has subsided
slightly, let's think about the
logic behind the new security rules on flights. As you know, they
apply only to passengers from certain countries, on international flights coming in to the US. The
security requirements are designed to detect hidden explosives being
smuggled on to planes by passengers from these named countries, and may or may not be effective.
Let's not even start with the question 'So,
if the terrorists know which countries of origin will cause them to be
given special treatment, why won't they choose a different country of
origin?', and let's not wonder about things like the shoe bomber Richard
Reid who was, hmmm, a British citizen. Being as how Nigeria was
apparently only added to the list of 'bad' countries by virtue of the
crotch bomber being Nigerian, shouldn't the same logic be applied to
But, as I said, maybe we should leave these
easy simple questions unanswered and trust that our government knows
best about such things.
Instead, here's another question : Why are only passengers on international flights to the US being
given this treatment? Why is there an assumption/belief that no
passengers on domestic flights in the US would also be suicide
bomber/terrorists? Or, for that matter, passengers on flights
leaving the US? For sure, the potential damage is identical in all
And, if we think about it, if the crotch bomber had simply flown to the
US without attempting to blow up the plane he was on, he could then have
subsequently taken a domestic flight in the US and done the same thing
on that flight as he attempted to do on the international flight from
Amsterdam to Detroit.
And, if I were a terrorist, I'd rather stage an attempt on a domestic
flight, so as to massively disrupt the flying plans and convenience of
the entire US flying public. Terrorists want to harm the US as a nation.
They view destroying a plane with 300 people on it as a means to that
end; they're not interested in killing 300 people, their objective is to
harm the US and destroy our way of life, ourselves, and our country.
For sure, a much higher impact on all our lives would flow from their
using the same crotch-bomb tactics on a domestic flight within the US.
Are we to believe that it is impossible for terrorists to enter the US,
with or without bombs (if they came to the US without any bomb, it would
be a relatively simple process to mix up the explosive here)? That
is a nonsense belief, for many reasons, including our new understanding
that the 'Do Not Fly' list is very small and that most terrorists are
not on it. And then there's our wide open southern border and all
the helpful 'Immigrant Rights' groups doing all they can to help people
to sneak into our country - I don't think they check illegal aliens
against the various watch lists before helping them on their journey.
Any terrorist with the desire to reach the US can almost certainly
achieve his goal.
So, what actually have we ended up with? Largely ineffective
procedures that apply to only a tiny percentage of flights with US
citizens on them. Completely unprotected outbound
international flights, and completely unprotected domestic flights that,
by all accounts, are a more tempting terrorist target than inbound
flights from other countries.
That is the part that really bugs me. What's with the assumption
that terrorists won't want to attack a domestic US flight - have we
Some good security news - Canada is
slowly returning to normal and is now allowing passengers flying
from Canada to the US to take one small carry-on onto the plane with
them. The bag should be 'equivalent to the size of a small gym
bag' (whatever that means), and there will be sizing templates (that may
or may not ever be used) deployed.
In addition, you can also bring on board
some personal items such as a purse, laptop, crutches and camera bag.
A man smuggled himself onto an
international flight by hiding in a plane toilet until after the
flight had taken off. Good job that he wasn't a terrorist, isn't
This individual worked at an airport.
But if you want to get into the secure area of a US airport without
going through security screening, you don't need to be an airport
employee. There's another, simpler way. Simply climb over
the airport's perimeter fence.
This article points to how the NY/NJ Port Authority's airports are
having major problems with their perimeter alarm systems and so, much of
the time, simply switch them off.
Although the alarm systems are proving
unworkable, it isn't because the Port Authority bought the cheapest
system that was inadequate. It has already paid substantially more
than the $100 million originally contracted for a fancy system from
Raytheon - a system that is not only over budget and not working, but
also behind deadline.
Here's a story that would be funny if it
weren't also true. A devout Jew donned his tefillin on a commuter
flight from New York to Louisville. What's that? You don't
know what a tefillin is? Neither did I, and neither did other
people on the flight. A flight attendant worried that it might be
a bomb, so the pilot diverted and made an emergency landing at PHL where
the plane landed at a remote part of the airport and was surrounded by
police. After about 15 minutes, the police decided the tefillin
and its wearer were no threat, but the plane was searched anyway (why?).
As for the tefillin, here's a
and this Wikipedia entry
tells you all you'd want to know about the objects.
We all know that we're not supposed to joke
about bombs or anything when we go through airport security. But
did you know that apparently the TSA aren't supposed to joke with us
This story sympathetically explains what happened to an overly
sensitive woman who was at the receiving end of a TSA screener's
While I agree the screener was a bit heavy
handed in his humor, I think it sad that we all have to pretend to be
terribly serious about something we all know is utter nonsense.
Rather than summarily fire the TSA screener, I'd have promoted him and
made him officer-in-charge of introducing a note of levity and humanity
into the charade that we all undergo every time we fly.
We're often told that all the new security
and surveillance measures that are descending upon us are there for our
protection, and that we, as innocent upstanding citizens, have nothing
to fear from an increased level of state awareness of every part of our
That intuitively sounds sort of true,
doesn't it. What have we to hide?
To answer that question, look to
this story about how the police in Britain are making a game out of
charging otherwise ordinary normal honest citizens for minor violations,
and abusing their online surveillance capabilities to do so. Worse
still, many of the violations they are issuing may be incorrect due to
faults in the databases the police are using to create their charges.
Not sufficiently stated in this article is
that while the police are writing out tickets for not having vehicle
insurance, even if the car owner/driver in fact does have vehicle
insurance, they are turning their backs on the real crime that pervades
so much of Britain these days. Policing has become a 'numbers
game' with police forces often being instructed by their own senior
officers to go after 'paper crime' rather than real crime, just so as to
keep the numbers of crimes 'detected' up.
Don't just take my word for this, though.
For more, I very strongly commend the
Inspector Gadget blog.
This blog is anonymously written by a serving British police officer,
and the regular revelations he shares with us about the dreadful
misdirection of police priorities will almost drive you to tears.
Do you know how hot the air is coming out of
a jet engine? One unfortunate private jet owner now has a very
clear understanding of this interesting bit of airplane trivia.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels