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29 January, 2010
To my delight, our
Scotland's Islands and
Highlands Tour is filling fast. We now have 14 people
confirmed, and two more couples may be going to confirm their
We've a very international mix - as well as,
of course, Americans, we have some Brits, Canadians, two more New
Zealanders (plus me) and even one Swiss. Seven of the
people have traveled with me before, and I'm getting to know the other
group members too, and it seems we'll have a wonderful mix of people,
enjoying a wonderful part of the world, and at a wonderful time of year.
Even better, as soon as we get a 15th and
subsequent person joining, the tour price starts to drop for all
participants, reducing by $100 per person for everyone for each of the
next two couples joining, and then by $50 per person for the next two
couples after that - assuming I can continue to get more rooms at the
hotels. While I'm willing to grow the group up to 24 people, I'm
not sure I can continue to get extra rooms at the hotels.
So, if you'd like to come, please do
let me know as soon as
My three year old laptop has been getting slower and slower, and
generating more and more problems. I hasten to add that these are
not hardware problems. The underlying Dell hardware is as good as
it ever was. The problems were mainly due to Windows Vista getting
clogged up with who knows what, and with small issues - perhaps as the
result of occasional system crashes and program errors - gradually
multiplying and getting more serious. A nearly full hard disk didn't help at all.
The bottom line was I really had no choice but to reformat the hard
drive and start over afresh, and if I were to do that, I may as well go
'all the way' and replace the never-good Vista with the improved
newer Windows 7.
So, with considerable trepidation, I went out and bought a copy of
Windows 7. I had hoped to buy the upgrade disk ($120) because I
had the original Vista disk that came with the computer, but I was told
that the upgrade requires one to install
Win7 over the top of Vista. I wanted a 'clean install' with no
contamination from the nasty and now damaged Vista at all, so the only way to do that was to
buy the complete program ($200). So much for the upgrade offer.
Windows 7 installed without
any immediately apparent problems. But by the time I'd
loaded Win7, plus the main programs I use, a bunch of music files, and other
essential data files, there was only about 20GB free on the 100GB hard
drive, much the same as before. I might have a lovely fresh OS and
a faster running computer, but my hard drive was still as clogged
So, phase 2 - I went out and bought a new hard drive. And here's
the trick of this. Going from a 100GB to a 500GB hard drive did
not just increase my storage capacity five-fold, but it increased it
more like 20-fold (going from a net useable remaining space of 20GB to a
net useable remaining space of almost 420GB). That's a huge difference
and should see me content for quite some time.
Plus - talk about getting something for nothing.... The new
five-times greater capacity hard drive uses less power than the older
one - 0.451A compared to 0.58A. As an interesting aside, and not
as I expected, all the Seagate hard drives, both slow 5400 RPM and fast
7200RPM drives, and of capacities from 160GB up to 500GB, use exactly
the same power. I had always guessed that the faster drives used
more power, and had also thought that maybe higher capacity drives might
use more power too. Apparently, not so.
Bottom line on hard drives - buy the fastest
(in RPMs) and biggest (in GBs) one you can find.
It will not cost a lot more in terms of $$$, and gives you a huge extra
resource with no performance or power/battery life penalty.
So, I had to of course reinstall everything a second time onto the new
hard drive, but that again proceeded with no up front problems.
Another benefit of upgrading to Windows 7 is
that the better power management features in Windows 7 will allow the
battery to last about 10% - 20% longer than before. You may recall
just a couple of weeks ago I ran out of battery life, and several of you
commented that you too find it harder and harder to find places to
recharge while traveling, so the 30+ minutes of extra battery life given
to me by Win7 is much appreciated.
To complete the laptop's midlife upgrade, I
increased its memory from
2GB to 3GB (this just involved plugging in a new memory card, no need to
reinstall anything again).
I can't give you specifics of the performance impacts
this has, but my sense is possibly the disk drive is used less
now, and with memory being so brilliantly faster to access than the hard
drive (and using less power when accessed) this has to be another
positive performance tweak.
You'll recall that prior to Christmas I was trying to spend the thick
end of $2000 to buy a new laptop from Dell, but they refused to supply
me the laptop I'd ordered and paid for as they'd promised they would.
But now, by spending $200 for a new OS, $135 for a new hard drive, and
$60 for an extra 1GB of memory, I've ended up with a familiar faithful
friend that may be good for as much as another three years. Sure,
the computer is handicapped by a much slower processor than the latest
computers have, and sure it doesn't come as a brand new computer with a
new three year warranty, but these small upgrades have saved me over
That's not to say that this has all been the work of a few brief minutes
of course. Downloading (or finding the original disks for) all the
different software on my laptop has been a several day process, and
there's still a bit of learning curve to adjust to Windows 7 compared to
Vista, but all in all, I feel it has been time very well spent.
I do begrudge the time required by PC Tools to register their
Spyware Doctor program - one has to type in a 48 character registration
key in addition to typing in one's name. 48 characters (8 of them
are dashes, but even so)!!! The 40 character password is enough to
give more than a billion different unique identifiers to every man,
woman and child on the planet, plus with ample check digits to prevent
people guessing other valid identifiers.
What sort of corporate
conceit requires such a long registration code? Even Microsoft only
requires 25 character codes.
It gets worse. After manually typing it all in, if you've
made a single mistake (as many of us will, and as I did) rather than telling you and letting you
edit the one tiny error you
made, it zeroes out all the data and requires you to type it all in
With Microsoft now offering a complete free anti-virus program, you'd
think that companies that still hope to sell their similar products such
as PC Tools would lift their game a bit (I'm only continuing to use PC
Tools because I bought a multi-year multi-computer subscription which
has yet to expire).
Win7 might be better than Vista, but it - and the other
Microsoft programs - are still far from perfect. The system still
sometimes freezes. But at least a reboot is vastly quicker now than it was
in the 'bad old days' of a three year old Vista based system.
The system also seems to be demonstrating
some instabilities, dropping its network connection on a random basis.
Some underlying Win7 problem, perhaps? Unfortunately, the latest
Dell drivers for the computer are generally 2 - 3 years old; and so are
pre-Win7. Whatever the problem is, the usability of the laptop is
currently greatly compromised. One step forward, two steps back,
Joe Brancatelli told me an interesting story
of his Windows 7 upgrade experiences. He had two identical laptops
- one with few applications on it, and one with lots of different stuff.
He upgraded them both to Win7, in the same way, at the same time - not
by reformatting and starting over but by installing Windows 7 on top of
the previous OS and preserving all its settings and software/data.
But although the laptop with lots of applications and data installed
perfectly, the laptop with few applications and data - the one which
should be the easier install - gave him no end of problems.
Software these days, particularly from Microsoft, seems to be as much a
matter of good luck as good management.
Talking about Dell - yuck, how I hate to
talk about them, and how I hate, even more, to talk to them. I got
an email on Thursday telling me I was being charged $49 for a service
call. I've happily had no contact with Dell for some weeks, and my
laptop still has a couple of weeks warranty remaining on it, so I was
surprised by this.
I called the contact number in the email,
and keyed in the seven digit extension number to directly reach the
person who'd raised the charge, only to get into an
endless loop whereby the result of entering the seven digit extension
number was a request to enter the seven digit extension number, and so on
and so on.
Impassioned pressing of the 0 key finally
got me to someone who was unable to help me, but who transferred me to
someone who could help me. Unfortunately, that person was also
unable to help me, and transferred me to a third person (unable
to help), who in turn
transferred me to a fourth person. All four people were in India
not the US, and the phone line quality varied between average and
unintelligible, and none of them were able to tell me anything about the
charge. Eventually I gave up and accepted the fourth gentleman's
promise to 'look into it and email me and explanation. Ten hours
later, I've heard nothing more.
But maybe that makes sense, at least in some
sort of alternate Dell universe. He tried to tell me that it
was a service call placed on 29 Jan, but the conversation was occurring
on 28 Jan. So I guess he can't look into it until after it has
occurred - insert Twilight Zone music here.
that as lenghty introduction, what's an obvious next thing to talk about?
Yes, of course. How can I avoid joining in the chorus of comments
about Apple's new iPad tablet device, announced on Wednesday. So -
quick question/answer - is it a 'must have' device that you should rush
out and get as soon as it becomes available for sale?
This is the
question I've been mulling over ever since Wednesday's release event.
Try as I might, I can't think of a single compelling reason to get one.
That's not to say that I probably won't get one, anyway, if for no other
reason than to be able to talk more knowledgeably about it, but at
present, it seems the device is deliberately trying to straddle the
gap between intelligent phones and laptops; doing some features of each,
but not doing anything as well as the device that is primarily designed
to do such a thing.
Will the sum of the parts - will the new
'convergence' offered by the iPad - in total create a value proposition
that the individual stand alone components do not?
Steve Jobs and Apple are betting on the answer to that being yes.
I'll concede that the iPad certainly will be a vigorous competitor in
the Netbook market, and it only needs to get a moderate share of the Netbook market to succeed.
We may also see some new and as yet unthought of 'killer apps' be developed for the unit that vastly
extends its value appeal.
that question in further detail, I've take a break from my whisky
writing (now at 30,000 words) to analyze and opine on the iPad. I
also decided to speculate, sort of, on the new iPad and all the business
that will grow up around it (I was getting press releases from accessory
makers within hours of the iPad announcement, touting their new devices
that will work with the iPad), and so grabbed a website name in the hope
that someone might now turn around and seek to buy it from me for a
ridiculous sum of money.
I've added some content to populate a few pages on this
new site, and so rather than pointing you to a regular page here, I will direct you instead to my skeletal brand
new iPad site for :
This Week's Feature Column :
The Apple iPad : The hype prior to this product's release was
matched by the superlatives and rhetoric at its launch event on
Wednesday. But is any of it actually valid? Visit
allaboutipad.com to find out
say, if you'd like to have a lovely new website name, do let me know!
To my astonishment, the site had 25 visitors on Wednesday, even though
no search engines yet know anything about it. People must be
desperately searching for any possible information on the iPad.
High Speed Rail : There was a
lot to dislike in this year's State of the Union address, but I'm
confining my comments narrowly to that closest related to travel - I am
outraged at the outright lies that are being thrown at us under
the rubric of a national commitment to building the best high speed rail
network in the world.
Rather than analyze the deceit behind this
claim in the newsletter, I've set it out on the website. Please do
visit, accordingly, my commentary titled 'The
Government's Outrageous Lie about High Speed Rail Funding'.
Read it and weep, as I do myself, for this missed opportunity at really
truly doing the great and good thing our government pretends they are
watching : The struggle between British Airways and its cabin crew
is reaching epic proportions, with BA upping the stakes by declaring
that any cabin crew who go on strike will permanently lose their travel
privileges when they subsequently return to work. Risking their
travel privileges is a big
deal for most staff members, many of whom get good use out of this
benefit, and even if they don't, they probably pass the benefits on to others
via the 'friends and family' provision.
crew are currently voting on whether to conduct strike action against
the airline or not. Results will determined late February.
I'm all for
a knock down high stakes fight to the finish, because, if BA is to
become successful on the international stage, it needs to reset the old culture of lazy
entitlement and replace it with a more realistic work focused one and a
cost structure in line with its competitors.
A stand-up knock-down
fight to the finish is more likely to do that than a trivial bit of
compromise that as much as anything reaffirms in the mind of cabin crew
their dual sense of both entitlement and being wronged. A
piecemeal approach would necessarily involve ongoing returns to the
bargaining table seeking further concessions; much better for BA as a
company, and us as their anxious passengers, to do it all at once.
On the other
hand, when one looks at BA's rapacious so-called fuel surcharges, one
wonders how it is they can possibly lose money, and how it is they can't
afford to generously pay all their staff huge 'fuel bonuses'.
their surcharges defy logic and are clearly totally unrelated to the
underlying cost of fuel. For example, a coach class surcharge
between London and Seattle is £132 if you're buying a ticket in Britain,
but $282 if you buy a ticket in the US. £132 converts to about
$212 - what is the extra $70 for?
example, although the plane burns the same amount of fuel wherever in
the plane you sit, the surcharge increases from $282 in coach to $354
in premium economy, and up to a hefty $410 in business and first class.
Oh - one
more thing. If you cancel your ticket, if the ticket is
non-refundable, so too is your fuel surcharge non-refundable. Why
is that, BA? How much fuel do you consume to process a computer
booking and a computer cancellation?
sees the solution to its terrible losses as unfairly gouging its
passengers and cutting back on staff, United sees the solution to its
terrible losses as - well, I guess United has already scored close to
max on passenger gouging and staff cutbacks, so instead, it is time for,
yet again, the return of the beast that will not die, or, if you prefer,
business plan no more sophisticated than 'if you can't beat them, join
them', the airline execs who pull down the massive mega-million dollar
salaries are again beating the merger drum, as witness
Is mindless merging really the finest
business strategy that these highly paid executives, presumably
representing the fullest flowering of western and American free
enterprise and competitive know-how, can come up with?
about union problems and United, here's an interesting story. The
Air Line Pilots Association has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought
against them by some of their own members, senior pilots at UA. They
claimed the union didn't fairly represent their best interests in a
pay cut agreement with United, and the union is now settling with 2,000
pilots, with a $44 million settlement (ie about $22,000 per pilot - of
course, less attorney fees totaling a cool $15.4 million). Details
On the basis
of what goes round comes round, ALPA is now suing UA for the $44 million
it has had to pay its members. Is the union now saying 'It is your
fault we accepted a bad deal from you'? That sounds like a bit of
a reach, doesn't it.
to show there's nothing new in the airline industry, stories are
coming out about another high-cost airline planning to float a lower-cost
subsidiary to provide regional services. The new airline
subsidiary will be based in a smaller regional center, will have faster
turnarounds, use regional airports rather than central/major/expensive
airports, have fewer checkin staff and use more outsourced services.
surprise - it isn't one of the US dinosaurs announcing this plan.
It is Air France, announcing a new regional carrier to be based in Nice.
Another airline trying to re-re-invent
itself is Aer Lingus. Their latest approach to the market is,
using their words, to stop trying to become another Ryanair and begin to offer
better service to customers willing to pay more for a ticket.
airline will adopt a hybrid model somewhere between a discount carrier
and a full-service carrier. It wants to attract more business fliers so
it plans to offer better food and a faster check-in. It will
add more short-haul flights by working with Aer Arann and will try and
find more code-share partners.
Aer Lingus' CEO said a review of the
airline showed the low-cost model was limiting its ability to maximize
revenue - a limitation that strangely doesn't seem to apply to
Ryanair. Flights on Aer Arann will be branded "Aer Lingus Regional" and
tickets will be sold by Aer Lingus.
Rumors that Aer Lingus might try and rejoin
the Star Alliance are currently being denied. But being as how its
departure from the alliance was based on a claim that Aer Lingus was
downgrading itself to a discount carrier rather than a full service
carrier, if it is now returning back to being a full service carrier,
then surely it would want to return back to Star (or another) alliance?
in the black. It posted an $11 million profile for the last
quarter of 2009, up from a $58 million loss a year ago.
Continental, AirTran and Southwest have previously also reported profits
for the last quarter. And Allegiant has just announced a profit
twice that of last year - $76.3 million, its best ever, and with the
fourth quarter being its 28th consecutive profitable quarter.
happily reported a loss of $240 million for the quarter, and $651
million for the year. Why happily? Because last year it lost
Delta - now
merged with Northwest, of course - reported a loss for the quarter of
$225 million (excluding special items). For the full year, it lost
So tell me
again exactly how great the DL/NW merger is? Unmerged Continental
can make a profit, but merged DL/NW continues to make losses.
One sign of the health of the airline
industry is a 10% growth in the incidence of involuntary denied
boarding of passengers (ie bumping) - airlines seem to be getting
more aggressive at overbooking flights (or maybe less generous with
their offers for passengers to accept voluntary bumping in return for a
I've written comprehensively on
do if you get bumped, how to avoid getting bumped, and even how to
increase your chances of being bumped in a massive eight part
series. Click the link for more than you ever wanted to know.
Zealand beats Virgin to delivering on a long stated promise of Sir
Richard Branson. Sir Richard has long promised Virgin passengers a
double bed on his planes, together with lashings of innuendo that the
bed isn't just to allow two people to, ahem, sleep together. Nudge
nudge, wink wink.
promises notwithstanding, there's been no making good on such undertakings.
Now Air New
Zealand has revealed new seating that truly does become a double bed -
okay, so a narrow one, but a double bed of sorts nonetheless. And
- get this - their double beds aren't in overpriced first class, or even
in business class or premium economy class. They are in their
coach class cabins - initially to be offered on their 777s and then to
be added to their 787s when delivery is finally secured for these new
What Air NZ has done is take a row of three
seats, and have a fold-out extension of the seat cushion on each seat.
Lift up the two arm rests, fold out the seat cushion extension, and
you've a flat bed that is probably about 60" long and maybe 25" wide.
A double bed, it surely isn't.
Indeed, it's not really even a single bed, being both too short and too
narrow - a point entirely overlooked by the large contingent of
sycophantic commentators Air NZ flew down to NZ to introduce their
'couch' to, who in turn dutifully chorused their positive comments
online. But Air NZ, undaunted, is suggesting that two people book
the three seats and, when the mood takes them, convert the seats to the
bed layout and somehow squeeze together in the tiny space available.
They offer the three seats for the price of 2.5 seats, making it a great
deal. There are some pictures and a video
here (the second half of the video shows the new coach seating).
As part of
a massive upgrade of its coach class cabins, Air NZ is also offering at
seat power, USB and iPod connections. I'm tempted to fly them
again myself after not having been near an Air NZ flight for several
Sir Richard. Never underestimate a bit of Kiwi ingenuity!
Talking about videos, here's an
video animation of the Hudson River crash landing last year.
Well worth watching. And if you're sufficiently moved after
watching the video, you can actually
Continuing my series of exposed global
warming myths and scientific fallacies, this week let's look at the
myth about the ocean levels rising.
According to Al Gore, the oceans will rise
20 ft in the next some years; a ridiculous claim that not even hard-core
global warming advocates accept (but he got a Nobel Prize and Oscar, all
the same). According to the official UN Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), the oceans may rise by 17" in the next 90 years.
But according to an actual oceanographer who
specializes in monitoring sea levels, there has been no rise in ocean
levels in the last 50 years, and he says that - at most, the water
levels might rise 4". He points to evidence that ocean levels
might currently be dropping rather than rising, and complains that the
IPCC study was based on computer projections with faulty assumptions and
bad data, rather than real world observation.
He also points out that not a single one of
the 22 contributing authors to the two IPCC studies is a sea level
expert. More details
We are often told by people who can't give
us evidence or proof about global warming that we should accept it
because all leading scientists believe in global warming.
Not only is that statement untrue - there is
no more any type of consensus than there is any type of proof, but I'm
reminded also of Einstein's comment. When told that 100 leading
scientists disagreed with his Theory of Relativity, he replied that he
preferred one fact to 100 scientists' opinions.
But, then again, perhaps I should accede to the
impassioned requests from some
readers who tell me that commentary on global warming has no place in my
newsletter (even though global warming is being used as an excuse for
surcharges on and demands for curtailment of air travel), because it
seems that few of us are even interested in global warming any more.
latest Pew Research Center poll shows that global warming is viewed
by Americans as the least important of 21 different current issues; with
highest priority going to the economy, jobs, and terrorism (as in
protecting ourselves against).
Apologies for boring you,
I'd spoken very enthusiastically about Blu-ray technology last year -
this being the high definition successor to DVD, finally triumphing
after a confusing several year battle with a competing high definition
At the time there were two issues. The first was that not many
movies were released onto Blu-ray disks, and the second was that there
was a massive cost premium associated with buying Blu-ray rather than
DVD disks. And, to my astonishment, some readers picked out some
ill-considered commentary by other observers and predicted that both Blu-ray
and DVD technology was doomed, to be replaced by on-demand internet
delivery of movie 'rentals'.
A lot can happen in a year, particularly in consumer electronics, and it
is perhaps helpful to update my Blu-ray comments. Blu-ray players
are becoming more common and less expensive, with models now for as
little as $120, and a similar price now applies to adding combo Blu-ray/DVD/CD
players to computers too. The selection of Blu-ray movies is
growing by the day, with more studios choosing to support the format,
and most new releases appearing on both Blu-ray and DVD.
Even better, the cost of Blu-ray movies is dropping. I bought my
first Blu-ray disk for under $10 a couple of weeks ago, and there is a
growing inventory of movies for under $20. Amazon and other
retailers have regular specials with titles for $15 or less, and even
with brand new movie releases, the extra cost of a Blu-ray compared to
DVD version is narrowing down to sometimes only $5. Some Blu-ray
movies now come packaged complete with a second 'free' disk in DVD
The amazing picture quality enhancements remain as compelling as ever
(but require a modern monitor to fully appreciate - ideally one that
supports 1080p video), and the more vivid audio is a further bonus,
although again requiring a reasonably high-end sound system to get full
benefit from it. But if you have a reasonably good sound system,
do try playing one of the battle scenes from the Generation Kill
television series at 'realistic' surround sound levels (remember, when
choosing your 'realistic' sound level than a rifle shot, up close, is an
almost deafening sound....) for a truly overwhelming experience.
Meanwhile the promise of comparable high definition downloadable movies
remains elusive, and the cost/benefit equation as between the inferior
quality of a downloaded so-called 'high definition' movie that you can
play for only a brief time interval and the superior quality of a Blu-ray
disk you can play as often as you choose continues to point more clearly
in favor of Blu-ray.
Blu-ray player shipments tripled in volume in 2009, and marketplace
projections now predict that Blu-ray revenues will exceed DVD revenues
in 2013. The market is speaking - Blu-ray is the future, and it is
a positive future you should consider embracing. Here's an
about choosing a player.
Security Horror Story : It is in German, but
this video is more or less
self explanatory. An English speaking gentleman, who seems to be a
rep for a body scanner company, proudly gives a demonstration of his airport
security scanner. Unfortunately, the demonstration fails to detect
four or five different things hidden on the test subject's body, none of
which were 'artfully concealed'.
After the demonstration and revealing of the hidden items, and after
some embarrassed excuse-making by the scanner rep, at the 7 minute
point, there is then a demonstration of the power of the Thermite which
the test subject had hidden about himself. It seems they are
pointing out that Thermite can melt and set fire to aluminium (such as
the fuselage material of an airplane).
In particular, imagine the effects if half a dozen terrorists each took
packets of Thermite through security and then concentrated them together.
starkly honest statement, much as we might wish to the contrary.
The Director of National Intelligence, in congressional testimony, said
that it is inevitable that the intelligence community will make more
mistakes in the future similar to the ones which allowed the crotch
bomber on his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
So, if the new scanners won't detect
carefully concealed explosives, and if the intelligence services will
occasionally make mistakes in the future, just how safe is one's next
We hear a lot about terrorism these days,
but what exactly is a terrorist attack? Apparently, in
Canada, if you're the Federal Fisheries Minister and a Seal Hunt
protester from PETA sticks a pie in your face, then some MPs there are
advocating for it to be considered an act of terror.
video of the 'terrorist attack' - you decide.
Talking about Canada - a reminder :
Don't forget your passport if traveling to Canada and then
subsequently wishing to return back to the US. You can now go into
Canada without a passport, but you can't return back home without it.
I wrote last week about a TSA member who
played a practical joke on a passenger going through security screening.
Reader Noel writes in with some more amusing interactions :
TSA joking - For some reason my backpack
almost always gets looked at and, a while back when flying out of
Dayton, the TSA guy found some matches from a
bar when doing his search.
"Oops, forgot those were in there," I said.
"It's okay," he said. "You need something to light the bomb with."
I told him I preferred a low-yield nuke and he laughed.
Here at Manchester airport they asked to see my wallet.
"Why do you want to see my wallet?" I asked.
"Just seeing if it's a block of C4," says the TSA guy with a grin.
I said, "I really like Semtex better".
And he laughed. "Have a good trip," he said.
I know it's unwise to joke with these guys, but when they start the joke
you have to wonder!
Lastly this week, what will they think of
next? Well, if you're the Holiday Inn in England, it is
human bed warmers.
It has been a busy week. Computer
upgrades, a new website on the iPad, an article on high speed rail,
10,000 more words on whisky, plus all the other normal stuff too.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels