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12 February, 2010
My comment last week, from London, that the
best part of my trip was the flight over remained true on the return
back to the US.
As you know, part of my 'thing' is to be somewhat
cynical and critical of airlines and the service they provide, and
I started out my journey anticipating that I'd have lots to dislike when
flying a US carrier's international business class.
Like many other regular fliers, I've long
had the perception that, for some mysterious reason, US carriers can not
or will not do as good a job in their premium cabins on international
flights as that offered by foreign carriers. So I've tended to
avoid them wherever possible.
So imagine my surprise at discovering my two
international flights with Delta (DTW-LHR & LHR-ATL) were excellent and
almost faultless in every respect. Imagine my continued surprise
to discover that Delta's business class is not only better than most
other international carrier's business classes, but almost as good as
international carriers' first classes.
So, in a complete reversal of my usual
lead-in to an airline review, where I invite you to read a litany of
disappointments and shortcomings, please now visit two pages full of
positive commentary :
This Week's Feature Column :
Delta Air Lines Business
Elite : Offering better food (and served better),
better in-flight entertainment, a better seat, better boarding, better
lounges, and in all respects, a better experience than a certain
international carrier I recently flew, Delta's Business Elite class
service is very good in all respects. Well done, Delta.
Twitter followers (my
Twitter ID is davidrowell) were invited to preview a draft of this article earlier in the week. I've been
reading conflicting stories about Twitter, and wonder if it is already a
fading fad, or if it is becoming a mature accepted product and as such no
longer exciting quite so much press coverage.
And so, let's have a reader survey. Do
you use Twitter more or less than you did previously? Or not at
all? Please click the response below that best describes your
involvement with Twitter - this will create an email with your response
preloaded into the subject line. I'll collate and present the
answers to you next week.
I've never used Twitter and have no plans to
I've not yet used Twitter, but might give it
a try in the future
I started using Twitter in the last 3 months
and am continuing to use it
I started using Twitter in the last 3
months, but am using it less now than before
I started using Twitter in the last 3-6
months and am continuing to use it
I started using Twitter in the last 3-6
months, but am using it less now than before
I started using Twitter more than 6 months
ago and am continuing to use it
I started using Twitter more than 6 months
ago, but am using it less now than before
In other fall out from my abortive trip to
London last week, on Thursday of that week Hilton promised to respond to
me within three business days about my problem with their London
Kensington hotel refusing to turn on the a/c to cool down my toasty 78°
room. At the time I did tell them I didn't want a response in
three days, I wanted a cool room then and there.
They didn't/wouldn't cool the room, and
neither have they got back to me with who knows what sort of further
excuse/apology. I've heard nothing further from them.
And my Dell laptop, the main villain in last
week's drama, had another sting in its tail for me. I extremely
foolishly used it to update the firmware on my iPhone.
Unfortunately, the laptop froze in mid iPhone update, which corrupted
the iPhone's firmware, changing it from a phone to a dead weight.
Ooops. But this was entirely my fault - I should have known better
than to update my iPhone with an unreliable computer.
The laptop went back to Dell on Monday,
hopefully to be repaired. Whereas in the past they've turned the
laptop around the same day and so got it back to me 48 hrs after
shipping it to them, this time the laptop is expected back on Friday,
four days rather than two days later.
It seems it isn't just my computer that
seems to be going slower; so too is Dell's service.
Quick update on our June
Scotland's Islands and
Highlands Tour. We've added an optional pre-tour stay at
ancient Culcreuch Castle, a small 700 yr old castle only 20 miles from
Glasgow, and a place I've been enjoying since it first opened to accept
guests in the mid 1980s. It even has a ghost that puts in an
occasional appearance; but if you absolutely don't want any chance of
meeting the ghost (which is seen in only one room) then you can request
a room in the former stables block instead of inside the castle itself.
Dinosaur watching : United
Airlines turned in a strong profit for January, beating analysts'
expectations, and causing a massive 18% daily gain in its share price on
Tuesday as a result. This increase has been sustained and even
slightly augmented on Wednesday and Thursday. The good news from
United caused a major lift in AA, CO and US stock prices too; DL also
enjoyed a brief lift, but whereas the other airlines managed to sustain
their lift, Delta failed to do so.
Does this mean that airline stocks are due
to rebound, with the worst of times are now behind them? On the
face of it, possibly yes. But one of the problems with operating
an airline is that you are very vulnerable to things over which you
have no control and little ability to respond to.
Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin
group of airlines, train operators, space ship operators, and who knows
what else, and other industry leaders in Britain
sounded an alarmed warning earlier this week about how they see the
future price of oil strengthening yet again, an issue that has a double
impact on airlines.
First, it pushes up their costs, which both
marginalizes their profits and requires them to increase their fares.
Second, increased oil costs harm the economy as a whole, reducing
discretionary income and reducing the ability of both business and
leisure passengers to pay higher fares (or any fares at all) for their
air tickets, which means fewer people flying, which means even more
losses for the airlines.
So rather than marking a turnaround point,
United's excellent January result (the key good news being that they
managed to increase revenue per flown mile by about 10% - more info
here) and the firming in most aviation share prices that followed
may be a temporary blip only, followed by more gloom as/when oil
prices inevitably resume their upward march back to $147/barrel and who
knows how far beyond.
United might well need every bit of extra
profitability it can secure. Another external vulnerability that
it can do little to control is the fees it has to pay to airports.
Its major hub airport, Chicago O'Hare, is
attempting to increase landing fees by an impressive 38%, and
increase therent it collects on the terminal facilities used by the
airlines by 15% - 17%. United and other airlines (particularly
American, who also has a sizeable hub at ORD), feel that the city of
Chicago is reneging on earlier undertakings made to the airlines, and
IATA helpfully offers a different solution to the city's voracious
desire for extra funding - increase fees to passengers.
Thanks a lot, IATA. Details
It is easy to attack airlines as being near
monopolies, and to criticize them for taking advantage of the power they
have to act unilaterally. But spare a thought to the other
monopolies that are almost as powerful - the airport monopolies.
Few of us live in any area where we - and the airlines we prefer to fly
- truly have valid choices of equal convenience in terms of the airport
we fly from. And in cases where we think we might have choices,
there's a good chance that the 'competing' airports are actually owned
by the same parent company/authority.
In Seattle's case, for example, we have
three good airports, but two of them are subject to massive restrictions
on passenger flights as to make it impossible for regular scheduled
service to operate, even though proposals for this sometimes surface
(and then sink again). Chances are you're either in a similar
situation, or, even worse, there's only one airport that can handle
passenger planes anywhere nearby to start with.
And which is the greater evil? Private
airports operated by corporations seeking to maximize the profit they
make from their investments? Or airports owned by local government
authorities, who may variously use airport revenue to fund other
transportation needs, or who may spend money inefficiently, or in some
other way create a scenario that ends up just as costly as private
Is there a solution? Probably not in
the US. Airports are unavoidably costly creations, requiring large
amounts of costly land, expensive land and building development,
hopefully reasonably close in to a city and well served by road (and
ideally rail) transportation,. The planes that fly in and out are
noisy and intrusive on residents for a broad swathe of distance around
the airport and its approach/departure traffic patterns, further
limiting where airports can be located and adding to the
environment/cost offsets needed.
And to look at things from an airport
owner's point of view, it is hard to know who has the greater dominance
and bargaining power. Airlines can - and do - come and go from
airports, seemingly on a whim, and so, to an extent, can dictate to the
airports the terms and fees they'll accept. Worse still, airlines
can simply go bankrupt and walk away from any sort of long term contract
that the airport might have been relying on to fund capital
Another piece of positive news came from an
unexpected source. BA's struggling OpenSkies subsidiary
airline announced plans to start new service, this time between Dulles
and Paris (Orly). After having cut back its services last year, it
is great to see the airline growing again.
about OpenSkies and reviewed their two slightly different business class
type cabins in October 2008. But I much preferred my Delta
experience last week.
In other positive BA news, they are trialing
a new first class cabin in a single 777, and assuming everything
survives the stress of the real world, will roll it out successively
over the next 18 months or so to all their 777 and 747 fleet.
Representing a £100 million investment, the new seats are a major
enhancement over the earlier first class seats, which seem to me to have
been largely unchanged since BA pioneered the concept of lie-flat
sleeper seats way back in 1996.
I still remember the sense of wonder over
the concept of sleeper bed seats, and my excitement the first time I got
to fly in a sleeper bed equipped cabin, followed by my sense of
disappointment at the uncomfortable experience it provided.
BA's new first class sleeper seats are
wider, have a much larger 15" video screen, extra seat electronics,
'fully integrated ambient and mood lighting' (whatever that is),
personal electronic blinds (over the window) and an 'intelligent'
mattress (the mind boggles at that one).
In addition, 'a new premium service style
has been developed for cabin crew to ensure world-class service for
customers who can eat, sleep and work whenever they want to.'
*Yawn* We've all read that promise before, haven't we, and it
seems to always end up meaning the same time hallowed dinner, served the
same way, and at the same time as always before.
It is nice to see that BA, even as it
struggles with massive losses and reduced premium cabin traffic, seems
to understand that the solution to these problems is not further
cutbacks in service, but rather augmentations and enhancements.
In other BA news, the report of the
inquiry into their 777 crashing just short of the runway at Heathrow,
two years ago, has now been released.
The report blames icing in the fuel tanks
for the loss of power in both engines that occurred, without warning,
less than a minute prior to touchdown. There's an interesting
here, and the point that stood out most for me as a passenger is
that this issue occurred with no warning, and the pilots had no
chance to advise the passengers to brace for impact.
From a passenger perspective, they'd not
have known anything was wrong at all until the sudden hard landing.
This is exactly as I state in the first part of my four part series on
survive a plane crash :
The transition from normal flight to
disaster can sometimes be slow, but more commonly (and particularly
for the passengers) will be completely sudden and utterly
unexpected. For example, one minute you are impatiently
waiting for the plane to land at the end of its flight and watching
the ground approaching out the window, same as always. Then
all of a sudden something goes wrong with the landing, and the plane
is careering off the runway, hitting things, breaking up, and
possibly bursting into flames.
Prepare for a plane crash before it
happens, because you'll likely have no warning and probably no time
if/when it does happen.
There's also a fascinating
of the ATC radio traffic at the time of the 777 crash. The pilot
barely has time to utter the briefest of Mayday messages.
Talking about safety related issues, my new
favorite airline, Delta is making software and avionics changes to
prevent a repeat of the October 2009 incident in which one of its jets
(well, at the time, a Northwest Airlines flight), 'lost contact' with
air-traffic controllers for 77 minutes and flew on, past its Minneapolis
destination on auto-pilot. Although the two pilots deny it, many
people suspect that the reason for the lost contact was simply due to
both pilots falling asleep. It was only when the pilots were
woken up hailed over the internal intercom system by a
flight attendant that 'contact was restored'.
In addition to ATC trying to raise the
pilots on various different radio frequencies, the airline itself sent
text messages to the cockpit. However these messages merely
illuminated a light on the dashboard, they didn't ring a loud bell that
wake the pilots up draw the pilots' attention to
the arrival of a message.
So Delta is now fitting what it terms 'a
unique aural alerting option'. When the plane senses it is about
to be flown into the side of a mountain, it triggers an aural alert 'Wooop!
Wooop! Terrain! Pull Up!'. So I guess this new one might be
'Brrrrring! Brrrring! Sleeping! Wake Up!'.
In other Delta news, they - and pretty much
all other airlines - come in for criticism in this
excellent and interesting article by Scott McCartney. The gist
of the article is that travel times continue to lengthen with airlines
adding more and more padding to their flight timetables. He cites
examples of flights that 14 years ago were scheduled for 60 minutes now
being given 80 minutes, two hour flights growing to two and a half
hours, and a six hour coast to coast flight now taking seven hours.
Airlines would previously adopt more
optimistic schedules so as to appear closer to the top of a computer
display listing of flights (which are typically sorted in terms of
traveling time), but now show longer flight times so as to boost their
That's an interesting trade-off - which
would you prefer to take? A flight that shows 2 hours and an
ontime arrival statistic of 50%, or a flight that shows 2.5 hours and an
ontime arrival statistic of 90%?
Both approaches are bad. It is as
inconvenient to arrive an hour early as it is to arrive an hour late (a
recent flight of mine from JFK to SEA arrived an hour early), and it
means that we can't really rely on published airline schedules in terms
of planning for people to meet us, or for activities subsequent to a
flight arrival, other than with a window of imprecision that can span an
hour either side of scheduled arrival time (and of course, sometimes
much more than an hour).
More Delta news. After swinging first
one way and then the other, it seems that Japan Airlines has now firmly
and finally forsaken Delta, choosing to remain allied with American and
the other Oneworld carriers. Details
But on the basis of you lose some and you
good news for Delta downunder. They've secured approval in
Australia for a joint venture with Australia's new international
carrier, V Australia, allowing them to work together on flights
between the US and Australia. US approval - also needed - is still
This would actually be a good thing for
us as passengers. Rather than removing competition, it creates
it. Currently flights to Australia are massively dominated by
Qantas, with Air NZ and United as weak 'also ran' carriers partnered
with each other, and Delta and V Australia struggling to stay in the
By allying together, Delta and V Australia
create a stronger and hopefully viable third alternative for passengers
to consider, and will do a better job of holding Qantas' feet to the
flames - fares between the US and the South Pacific have been, for too
long, much higher than on other routes, and have represented a
disproportionate share of Qantas' annual profits.
American Airlines announced that it will now
charge passengers wishing to fly, standby, on an earlier flight
the same day, a $50 fee. In a nice piece of obfuscation, a
spokesman said this was mainly to improve the boarding process by
eliminating the crowd of people who hang around the checkin desk at the
gate, but he did concede 'there is probably some revenue involved here'.
On the other hand, some uber-airline
apologists made excuses for American Airlines, most notably George Hobica,
founder of airfarewatchdog.com who said of the new fee 'It's not a
new fee. It's the elimination of a free loophole.'
Wow. That's some watchdog. For
those of us who used to standby for free and now need to fork over a $50
bill, it sure feels like a new fee.
This is an interesting example of an
airline charging us to do a favor for them. You see, all
airlines would dearly love to have passengers on future flights take
earlier flights, on the basis that the future is uncertain. Who
knows what might happen by the time the (eg) 10pm flight is due to
depart - maybe the inbound flight will be delayed, maybe there will be
mechanical or weather problems, or maybe a competing carrier will cancel
a flight and offer to pay good money to move 50 passengers over to it.
So any passengers that can be taken off the 10pm flight and moved onto
the 8pm flight, which for sure is operating, gives the airline more
flexibility for how it manages its later flights of the day.
So now we'll pay AA for making their
operational life easier.
AA is also joining the blanket charging
brigade. $8 buys you a blanket and inflatable pillow on flights
longer than two hours. First and business class passengers, and
all passengers to international destinations (other than Canada, Mexico,
the Caribbean and Central America) will still get free pillows/blankets.
The $8 purchase comes complete with a
voucher worth $10 off a future purchase of $30 or more at Bed, Bath &
Beyond. So it's not too onerous a charge, and - in theory - it is
something you only need to buy once and then can reuse many times.
But if you're like me you'll end up buying lots. I'm the guy who
keeps buying reusable grocery bags, but who forgets to take them with
him when going to the supermarket.
It might also make sense to consider some of
the more upmarket blanket and pillow alternatives. I'm off to the
Travel Goods Show in early March and will report back on the state of
the art in terms of blankets and pillows.
Meanwhile Southwest has come up with a
new excuse for why it no longer provides blankets and pillows.
You may remember that its last excuse, offered at the end of any/all
fears at all about swine flu, was it was removing them due to concerns
about swine flu infection being passed from passenger to passenger via a
Their new excuse, offered at the end of
this story, is that passengers appreciate the extra overhead space
freed up by not having pillows and blankets stored up there.
That's an even more ridiculous excuse than the swine flu excuse - not
only are most of the pillows and blankets taken out of the overheads by
passengers wanting to use them, but the few that remain can always be
squashed alongside the illegally oversided carry-on items that are
over-filling the overheads already.
I wonder what their next excuse will be, and
when they'll offer it to us. Perhaps they could talk about the
weigh saving presented by taking 50 featherweight blankets off the
plane; I'm sure that translates to saving a pint of fuel per flight.
Or tell us they're doing it to save the environment, a bit like hotels
Southwest doesn't seem to be doing too
well in the excuse department when it comes to FAA fines for
safety/maintenance oversights either, being faced with now a third
investigation into new allegations of not properly following safety
orders related to the maintenance of older planes. Southwest was
earlier fined $7.5 million for operating over 60,000 flights with planes
that had not undergone inspections for structural cracks.
Inspectors allege the airline and a repair
shop near Seattle did repairs on 44 planes without getting FAA approval
first. The planes flew more than 100,000 flights.
Talking about maintenance, on one of my
flights last week I was offered a copy of USA Today, with the paper
having a huge headline on the front page declaiming that something like
65,000 passenger flights have been operated over the last six
years by planes that shouldn't have flown due to improper maintenance
Not the sort of headline one likes to read
upon boarding a plane, but I laughed to the slightly embarrassed flight
attendant and pointed out 'what the article doesn't say is that all
65,000 of these flights landed safely'. Maybe that comment was
why they gave me a bottle of sparkling wine as I left the plane?
Airline lobbying group ATA also
points out that this is 0.1% of flights operated during that time.
99.9% of all flights had no maintenance issues (which by the way are
often nothing more than not having the proper paperwork records), and
add that there hasn't been a maintenance related accident since 2000,
and neither has there been a single passenger fatality for maintenance
done by third party contract maintenance companies in 30 years.
A lot of these articles have as a subtext
'our planes are being maintained by foreigners who can't be relied upon
to do as good a job as American workers'. By the ultimate measure
- demonstrable actual airplane safety - there is, to date, nothing to
support that claim.
And talking about airplanes, happy
birthday to the 747, which turned 41 this week. Wow - 41 years
since the first 747 flight. Airplane innovation is slowing down,
On the other hand, this week also saw the
latest model 747 take to the air on its maiden flight - here's a
relevant article, which not only chronicles the airplane's history
some, but also points out its latter day lack of success. However,
whereas in the past, Boeing has closed down production lines for plane
models that have passed their 'use by' date, note also the comment -
hopefully in jest - about wanting to continue the B747 for another 40
years into the future!
After going through previous models in the
747 series numbered 747-100, -200, -300 and -400 (with subvariants of
these usually denoted by letters after the number) this latest model is
called - guess what?
Well, if you had even half a brain, you'd
assume that the next model 747 would be known as the 747-500. But,
alas, you'd be wrong. The next model is, of course, the 747-8.
Both Boeing and Airbus are in a sickening frenzy to include the
number 8 in their airplane models as much as possible these days,
due to it being a lucky number in China. That's the main reason we
have an A380 instead of it taking the logical next number in the A
series (A350), it is also why Boeing chose to continue its 7n7 numbering
for the 787, and it is further the reason why the initial model variants
of both planes (and the new A350 too) are the 787-8, A380-800 and
Are the Chinese really as stupid as
Airbus and Boeing? Will they choose a plane with an '8' in its
model designation in preference to a plane that doesn't have an '8' in
its designation purely based on its number? If that's really so,
I've a suggestion for Airbus and Boeing. Both manufacturers
are planning on future models of their A350, A380 and 787, to be known
as the the -9 or -900 models. Why not number them the -88 model?
And if you come out with a third variation, make it the -888? And
so on and so on?
And talking about China, not only has
China now been confirmed as the world's largest exporter, but Asia
as a whole has now become the world's largest aviation market.
In 2009, 647 million people flew within Asia, whereas 638 million people
flew within the US and Canada.
China represents the largest part of this
market, of course, flying more than twice as many seats each week as
formerly leading Asian market, Japan.
Didn't they have a cell phone?
A UA flight departing New Orleans was delayed two hours due to the
flight's pilots not arriving at the airport in time. And, when the
pilots did arrive (all say this together) the crew's duty time had
expired, forcing the flight's cancellation and requiring the passengers
to stay overnight.
The really bad part of this? The plane
loaded its passengers then sat at the gate for two hours. The
pilots say they were stuck in post Superbowl celebratory crowds and
unable to get to the airport in time. Okay, that is probably true,
but didn't either of them have a cell phone? Couldn't they have
called the airport and said 'hey, guys, we're not going to make the
flight for some time, don't board the passengers until we get there'?
The pilots may or may not be at fault for
getting to the airport 2 hrs late. But they are 100% at fault for
treating their passengers with utter contempt and disdain.
rather funny piece of news about the antics of airlines in
Britain - Easyjet and Ryanair get into a name calling contest - a
contest from which there can only be one winner, and that has to be the
name caller par excellence, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary.
I owe a vote of thanks to the excellent and
freeTripit software this week, for causing me to spot an awful error
I'd made, and a backup vote of thanks to Priceline.
Late at night earlier in the week I booked
two hotel rooms for myself and a colleague to attend a trade show in
Vegas in March, booking it through Priceline and scoring a great price -
$78 plus taxes/fees per night at the Trump hotel on the strip. I
thought no more of it, sent a copy of the booking to Tripit to start
building an itinerary, and a copy to the guy I'm meeting there.
The next morning I booked flights to match
the dates I was attending the show, sent that itinerary to Tripit too,
and later in the day, went to look at something else in Tripit. I
saw, to my puzzlement, that somehow Tripit hadn't merged my air and
hotel bookings into a single combined Vegas itinerary, the way it is
supposed to do.
And then, to my horror, I saw the reason
why. My flights were correctly booked for 22-25 March. But
the hotel booking was for, ooops, 22-25 February. Ouch.
Not just my hotel room but my friend's as well, booked through
no-changes no-refunds no-nothing Priceline. $540 wasted by my
Happily, a humble request for help from
Priceline saw them refund the hotel charge in full, while holding back
their fee, and they said if I made a new hotel booking, they'd also
waive the fees, other than a nominal $25 charge. That was very
kind of them, and I'm very appreciative of Tripit for helping me spot my
Oh - talking about spotting silly errors, my
friend still hasn't noticed I booked us for the wrong month. So,
if you're reading this, Ken, don't worry, it's all taken care of.
Do you use
www.tripit.com? It is a great way of combining together
different parts of your itinerary - for example, air bookings, hotels,
rental cars, and so on. You just register your email address with
them, then forward your various confirmations and they automatically put
it together for you. The software is free. A great deal.
Talking about great deals, we're still
six weeks away from the iPad going on sale, but already people are
starting to speculate not only on the next release of second generation
model iPads (which will have cameras in them, apparently) but also on
price reductions for the first generation of iPads. A company
that specializes in costing out hardware has estimated that an entry
level iPad which sells for $499 costs Apple only $230 to make.
Costs of course rise for the more advanced units, but so too do the
Their inference is that these are generous
profit margins and would allow Apple to slice the pricing if they felt
the need to - either to boost the sales of iPads or in competitive
response to other products out there. The most expensive part of
the unit is, unsurprisingly, the screen. That costs $80.
Interestingly, commentators are becoming
increasingly - well, not negative, but definitely much less positive -
in their appraisals of the iPad. Mind you, like a movie that is
panned by critics but which proves very popular at the box office,
critical reviews prior to product launch don't count for much at all
compared to how the unit sells and what new software will be developed
to make it into a 'must have' product for us all.
As for me, I've decided not to get a
wireless equipped unit - I'll be happy with the basic Wi-Fi capabilities
without needing 'go anywhere' 3G data too, and with either 32GB or 64GB
of memory. If I decide to load lots of videos onto it, then it
would have to be 64GB, otherwise, 32GB might be enough (although I
nowadays only have 5GB free on my 32GB iPhone.
Talking about 3G wireless and Apple
unavoidably makes one thing of AT&T, Apple's exclusive wireless partner
in the US, and the wireless company that people love to hate. Many
people complain about the lack of speed or coverage offered by their
AT&T 3G service.
It was interesting to spend a couple of days
in London last week, and to have a chance of testing several other
companies and the 3G service offered in London. They were all as
bad (or, if you prefer, as good) as AT&T - they too suffered from areas
of no coverage, and very slow bandwidth on occasion. My feeling is
that AT&T is no worse than any other wireless companies; the problem is
that AT&T is saddled with all the iPhone users, many of whom have
unrealistic expectations of what wireless 3G service is capable of.
Cell phones are bad for your health,
continued : Here's an
interesting article on that topic. Bit by bit, the evidence is
becoming harder and harder to ignore.
Which is sort of like the evidence for
global warming, - but in reverse - isn't it. Here's a
fun site that lists 690 different things that have been attributed
to global warming. Here's
an article lifting the lid on some of the recent global warming
claims that have been exposed as unscientific fictions, and here's an
excellent piece of balanced coverage that starts from the acceptance
that maybe there is global warming and then attempts to wonder what
might be causing it.
I read an interesting statistic - almost
half of US consumers (ie 48%) now use some sort of GPS device, up from
22% four years ago. You may recall my
comments two weeks ago about the 'backup' system for GPS - Loran-C -
being discontinued. My concern then revolved around other
countries using high tech space weaponry to disable some of the GPS
satellites, causing much of our modern lives to grind to a halt due to
the lack of GPS signal. Did you know that even bank ATM machines
rely on GPS signals (they use the time signal to key/code the
transaction time)? Rather like the Y2K bug (the thing that never
was) our reliance on GPS these days is not always intuitive and obvious.
Reader David writes in to point out that a
large part of the vulnerability of GPS is much more simple and basic
than that which requires high tech complex and costly antisatellite
weaponry. If you google 'GPS Jammer' you'll see that you can buy
or build a GPS jammer for under $100; David (a pilot) wonders what would
happen in bad weather like we've had this week on the east coast if a
few terrorists placed GPS jammers in the approach paths to several major
airports. Loran-C, by comparison, is regularly proven in DoD tests
to be virtually unjammable.
But even that isn't the only other risk
factor associated with a reliance on GPS.
This article suggests that increased solar activity on the sun could
disrupt GPS signals too. So don't go throwing away your Rand
McNally or OS map just yet.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
Nick George is a fresh faced clean cut all-American college student in
the Los Angeles area studying physics. But that didn't stop him
from being handcuffed, arrested, then interrogated by the FBI and jailed
for four hours as a result of being 'caught' by the TSA when attempting
to fly from Philadelphia back to Los Angeles.
His crime? He was traveling with a set
of flash cards - smallish sized pieces of paper that had English words
on one side and Arabic words on the other. As part of his studies,
he is learning Arabic.
No plane has ever been destroyed with flash
cards, and there's no law against learning Arabic - in fact, our country
is desperate for more Arabic speakers at present. There is no law
against traveling through airports and on planes with any materials in
Arabic. Nick is not on any type of watch list.
But that didn't stop the TSA, local police
and FBI for detaining him and interrogating him for four hours.
Four hours??? Doesn't that make you embarrassed to be an American?
story of a guy arrested for being in possession of, well,
'inappropriate pictures' (trying not to get this newsletter censored by
your hyperactive filtering.....). Okay, he's a creep and probably
deserves what will be coming to him.
But, if you read the article, notice how
this prosecution came to be. He was subjected to a traffic stop.
Somehow the officer who stopped him then inspected the guy's cell phone
and found the images, and it all evolved subsequent to the search of the
motorist's cell phone picture library.
Am I the only person to feel uncomfortable
about the clash between our Fourth Amendment rights on the one hand, and
having our cell phone subject to an intrusive search if we're pulled
over for a traffic stop?
We're sliding down a slippery slope here,
with liberty, freedom, rights and due process at the top, and
totalitarianism and thought crimes at the bottom.
On the other hand, however, and as yucky as
it may seem, what is the alternative to screening procedures such as
here? If we're to truly protect against and detect terrorists
and cleverly hidden away bombs, there is not really any alternative to
Most of all, let's count our blessings that
the procedures spoofed in this
short video clip
currently remain a joke rather than a reality. But only just.
Here's a different sort of transportation
video - a lovely
wonderful feel good bit of silliness. You'll notice in the
related links a somewhat similar undertaking filmed in NZ too.
Lastly this week, if you've read through to
here, I've some great news for you. Congratulations. You're
clearly at a
risk of heart disease than the average person.
I'm taking my daughter to Disneyland for a
few days, but will be back with the usual newsletter in time for Friday,
assuming I can drag us both away from Anaheim! I may or may not
post some twitter comments while stuck in interminable lines for rides,
if I can think of anything to say other than 'waiting in line sucks'.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels