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5 February, 2010

Good morning

And hello from, today, London.

When one says 'the best thing about my trip were the long international flights' you know they must have had a very bad time at their destination.  This is the most awful visit to Britain I've had in decades, with the only highlight being truly excellent flights on Delta (review of Delta's astonishingly good Business/Elite service to follow next week).

Things are so unbearable I'm cutting my journey short and returning today (Friday) after less than 48 hrs in London.  For this decision I primarily blame my Dell laptop, but I'd like to share the blame generously with the Hilton London Kensington too.

My laptop has a problem - it disconnects from the internet randomly, with internet programs freezing when that occurs.  Dell is now telling me it might be a motherboard issue; my guess is it is a Windows 7 incompatibility, but they're the experts so I'll let them figure it out.  I had suggested this to them, but they said they would charge me money to troubleshoot any Windows 7 related issues (even though their website claims my laptop to be fully Windows 7 compatible), but they'd happily replace hardware for free.

The logic of this - phone support that costs them little, compared to paying to courier me overnight a shipping box, then paying to courier my laptop to their repair depot, then paying to replace the motherboard, then paying to courier it back to me - is nonintuitive, but, as I said, they're the experts.  I hope.

As an interesting aside, I saw something on one of these crashes that I haven't seen for a while, something I thought had finally been obsoleted and which no longer occurred.  It was a 'Blue Screen of Death' - the sudden plain blue screen with large white type spewing out an inscrutable error message and lots of hexadecimal, while the entire computer and OS crashes.  Clearly while Windows 7 might be better in some respects than its predecessors, there are other areas where it still needs improvement.

 I've had an awfully frustrating and costly time making international calls to Dell USA and also local calls to Dell UK - interestingly, it seems that wherever I call, I usually end up speaking to someone in India.  Strangely, the people in India I reach when routed through their UK number tell me they can't do anything on behalf of the US people, even though my guess is that the 'US' people are probably in the next room over in the same call center and they all share the same common databases.

Most impactful was having one of my data files damaged in one of these crashes and I can't complete its repair prior to the computer crashing again (and again).  Plus with getting something like 5 minutes productive work out of every 20, and working on writing that requires more than 5 minute attention spans, I'm totally dead in the water.

Recommendation :  Try not to have problems with your computer when you're traveling.  But how to do this?  Try never to travel with a new laptop that isn't 'battle hardened'.  Learn the idiosyncrasies of any new hardware or new software (the learning curve associated with Windows 7 is worse than I'd thought) before leaving home, not when on the road.

In other words, do as I say, not as I do!

The second challenge is with my hotel room at the Hilton Kensington (in London).  It is too hot.  Currently the in-room thermostat shows it to be a steamy 78 degrees, even though I've got the window open as far as it will go and a cacophony of street noise from the busy main road immediately outside is filling the room with objectionable sounds and sirens, etc.  It is 9.20 at night, it is cold outside, but the temperature in my room has been steadily creeping up from 73 when I returned to the hotel room at about 4pm.  The Hilton refuses to turn on their air conditioning (cooling).  (Update at 7.30am - still 78 in the room.)

On the first day's stay, it took six hours of prevarication and outright lying before the staff grudgingly agreed to turn the cooling on for a mere 30 minutes.

On the second day, we started to go through the same charades of promises broken, undertakings not honored, contradictory explanations, and requests for me to wait while mysterious things were allegedly done.  But eventually, I was bluntly told by the Duty Manager that they would not turn the cooling on because it would cost the hotel too much money to do so.

I pointed out that the hotel promotes itself as having a/c in its rooms, to which he replied 'I'm sorry, but it is out of my hands'.  I asked him who was the person who could authorize the turning on of the cooling, and he said that he was the only person that could do so, but it was out of his hands and he would not.  He offered to move me to a new room, but when I pointed out the same problem would occur in any room until such time as he agreed to turn on the cooling, his only other responses were to bring a fan to the room (to recirculate hot air?) or to send a bottle of chilled water to the room so I wouldn't dehydrate!

A new approach to 4 star hotel management.  They'll take their guests' money, but provide nothing in return if it costs them money?  Well, it is true that I'm staying there on a very low Priceline rate, but it is unacceptable they've now decided to allow their guests to swelter and sweat rather than to turn the cooling on.  If nothing else, if they're so cost sensitive, surely it is costing the hotel substantial extra money to unnecessarily heat rooms all the way up to 78 degrees?

Bottom line - I'm beat, in all respects of the word.  Not only can I not get a newsletter or feature article to you this week, but if I were to stay, I clearly couldn't get you one next week either.  So, I'm rushing back home on Friday, five days earlier than expected.

Two things to leave with you, one good and one bad (you can decide which is which).  First, our Scotland tour continues to gain new participants, meaning the price per person continues to drop.  Assuming no cancellations, it looks like we have 17 people joining us, so this great tour gets better and better in all respects.  Please do let me know if you wish to come too.  I keep going back to the hotels asking for more rooms, and soon there'll be none left to get!

Secondly, we've already had the shoe bomber and now the crotch bomber.  We've discussed in humorous detail other possible hiding places for liquid or powder explosives, and it now seems possible that our most extreme jokes (or should I say our most extreme nightmares) may be coming true.

Read here about bosom bombers and buttocks bombers - people with their explosives being surgically implanted inside them, not left dangling outside.  The explosives would probably be activated by injecting the activating chemical into the bags of explosive implanted inside the person.

Needless to say, such explosives are 100% undetectable by any current method or by any method in present development.  Puffer/sniffer machines?  No way.  Metal detectors?  Nope.  Whole body imagers?  'Fraid not.  Pat down searches?  Don't think so (unless they take on a major new dimension of intimacy).  Visual inspection for surgical scars?  These days, the scars can be cunningly concealed, and anyway, is the presence of surgical scars (and possibly the presence of augmentation procedures) going to mean that any person so discovered is not allowed to fly?

The only possible saving grace is that an internal bomb would have a fair measure of its explosive force absorbed by the person's body - somewhat like a soldier who throws themselves on top of an about-to-explode grenade to protect his fellow platoon members.  But, for sure, I don't want to be on any plane when such a person goes into the restroom, presses their backside or frontside hard up against the plane fuselage and injects themselves with the activating solution.  Would such an act blow a hole in the fuselage and emperil the plane?  My guess is yes.

Lastly, it seems that almost everyone (including me) has seen fit to offer their comments on the iPad.  And now we can also enjoy the wisdom and thoughts of Adolf Hitler about the iPad, in this extremely amusing dubbed video.

In case you're unaware of this bit of internet/Youtube trivia, there is an active cult of people who have taken this particular film clip and overdubbed it with commentary on anything and everything imaginable.  I'm thinking I might come up with a couple of dubs so we can enjoy Hitler's thoughts on Dell and Hilton......

Until next week and the resumption of normal newsletters, please enjoy safe travels

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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