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19 February, 2010
It has been another week of Dell challenges,
but I am delighted - yes, delighted - to report that after some false
starts and disappointments, I've managed to finally find two people at
Dell who are all that one could ever hope to find in a company - both helpful and knowledgeable. Lisa in Customer Service not only
understands things from the customer's perspective but then makes things
happen to ensure positive outcomes - a happy change from people who can
only quote company policy and hide behind it.
And Tom in Technical Support truly knows their products and how to fix
is actually uniquely qualified by having both a technical qualification
and also a degree in religion - he can not only fix the computer but
make the customer feel better, too!
Not to go on at undue length, but I was
amazed that Tom is not a twenty-something year old, but is
actually 66 (yes, I know, we've been spending way too much time on the
phone together this last week!). It is rare to find someone of that age who chooses to
remain in the fast changing and always challenging computer industry,
and Dell and I are fortunate that Tom is still out there and adding value both
to his employer and his customers.
It is a shame that it took too many
frustrating calls to
people in off-shore call centers, and too many interactions with people
who had not the slightest concept of customer service, but I am very
reassured to have finally struck gold with Lisa and Tom. Noting
horror stories that many of you have shared with me that equally extend
to most other computer manufacturers too, maybe one is indeed better off
with the devil one knows, and so - believe it or not - I'm planning on
sticking with Dell for the foreseeable future.
Whenever I talk computers, I get
the usual flurry of people telling me to buy an Apple computer.
But Apple is no more a perfect computer supplier than any other company,
and indeed at present I'm enmeshed in a support nightmare with Apple
regarding my iPhone and Apple's rip-off priced MobileMe software.
Apple charges $100 a year for this; other companies sell similar
functionality for around $10 with unlimited nonexpiring use, or give it
away entirely for free. But these less expensive programs are only
available on other phones, not the iPhone.
Why not on the iPhone? One of the ugly
dark secrets of Apple and the 130,000+ apps it so proudly talks about
being available for its iPhone is that Apple does not allow developers to
distribute/sell any type of program that might compete
with Apple's own programs. And so, rather than getting the
synching functionality of MobileMe for free, or for a trivial sum (as is
the case with Blackberry and Android phones), I am forced by Apple to
pay $100/yr for this item.
Worst of all, while Apple charges this huge
sum, it doesn't provide phone support for the product.
Instead, I'm enmeshed in a slow-motion trainwreck of a support
experience with interactive chat sessions on the computer and email
exchanges. The chat sessions involve lengthy pauses - my guess is
the support rep is chatting with a dozen different customers
simultaneously, and get little resolved. Emails they send are
often inappropriate for my problem, simply wrong, and impossible to
So much for the wonders of Apple. Oh -
there's another reason I don't switch to Apple as well. Switching
to Apple is a lot more than buying a single computer. If I were
to switch to Apple, I'd need to buy two desktop computers and one
laptop, plus all the necessary software to drive the computers, and my
guess is that in total I'd be dropping close on $10,000. Even
after all that, I would still need
to run Windows emulation software for some of my programs that are only
available in Windows versions. That's a huge amount of money for
an uncertain return, and basically is too much for too little. As
good as Apple may or may not be, there's a valid reason it remains a
minor bit player in the personal computer world.
Continuing the technology theme, I
asked about your Twitter experiences in
last week's newsletter. The survey received a great response,
with 7.2% of readers replying. Thank you.
The most interesting thing - for me - was to
see that 81.5% of readers do not and have not used Twitter. When
we consider both that everyone who reads the newsletter clearly has a
computer and possesses at least some computer skills, if only 18.5% of
Travel Insiders have ever used Twitter, that shows Twitter to be far
from the major new 'social medium' it has claimed itself to be.
In addition to the 18.5% of readers who
currently (or formerly) used Twitter, another 12.1% say they might give
it a try in the future. But that still leaves 69.4% of readers who
say they'll never use Twitter.
It is also interesting to look at the rate
that people join Twitter. Twitter started in March 2006, but
really only became a significant factor in perhaps late 2008 or early
2009. As you can see from this table, most readers first started
using Twitter more than six months ago. Not so many joined in the
3-6 month ago time frame, and still fewer joined in the last 3 months.
This does not seem to show a growing
popularity for Twitter, quite the opposite.
Now let's look at the 18.5% of readers who
currently use Twitter. Of those who have been using it for 3
months or more (enough time to stabilize their usage patterns), 30.5%
report their usage continues much as it always has (or possibly even is
increasing). But 69.5% report their usage has decreased over time.
This diminished usage is also reflected in
those people using Twitter for less than 3 months, too - clearly it
doesn't take long for the gloss to wear off.
These results don't mean that Twitter is
doomed, but they do seem to mean that Twitter's growth is slower than
expected and that it is not likely to become quite as global as some
people have predicted.
Twitter provides a good means
for companies and service organizations to transmit news and information
to their Twitter followers - for example, I follow the WA Department of
Transportation to get updated news on mountain pass conditions and local
traffic issues/problems. I follow a local restaurant to get news
of special promotions. Some people follow political groups via
But as a general means of general and social communication, Twitter's
applicability is more limited - its greatest strength (140 character
maximum size of messages which make it easy to quickly send out a
message without feeling pressured to write in much detail) being also its greatest limitation - it is
hard to say anything other than banal and trivial in 140 characters (as
you can see from my own Twitter
Here's a pie chart showing all the different
Many thanks to everyone who contributed to
this interesting survey.
no feature article this week, in part due to productivity problems
caused by my laptop while traveling for four days, and in part due to
the nature of the travel itself - a visit to Disneyland with my 5 year
It was quite some years ago that I was last
at Disneyland. Much is the same as it has always been, and of
course there was also the smattering of new attractions too. It
was interesting to see Disneyland through the dual perspective of a 5 yr
old on her first visit and as an adult, going back one more time.
Several things stood out.
First, the positive. At the risk of
stating the obvious, Disneyland really is a wonderful experience for
children. Anna had an absolutely marvelous time, and I couldn't
help noticing that we have now passed that watershed event in life where
now she has more energy and can keep on going for longer in a day with
no sign of tiredness than me.
But now for the other comments. Sure,
it was a holiday weekend, and so were two of Disney's busier
days, but the park just couldn't cope with the people. There were
crowds of people everywhere, not just waiting for rides. Even a
simple thing like buying a drink or snack from a streetside vendor cart
would involve a line and maybe a 5 - 10 minute wait. All
restaurants were full with nowhere to sit and long lines to buy food.
Even the toilets were crowded. The almost literal crush of people made everything
less pleasant, more time consuming, and more hassle filled.
Well, not all restaurants were full. I
found one restaurant that was largely empty. I noticed the menu on
display outside showed no prices, so I asked to see a real menu.
Yikes! Lunch entrees for $30 - $35 a portion! No wonder it
was almost empty.
Which leads in to my second observation.
Everything was appallingly expensive and offensively overpriced.
Disney clothing was selling, inside Disneyland, for much higher prices
than at regular stores elsewhere.
I bought Anna a Disney hat for,
I think, $13 at a local Target store at home before we traveled down,
the same/similar hats at Disneyland were selling for $20. A bottle
of Coke (or water) for $3, more if you wanted 'vitamin' water. And
let's not forget that the entrance fee for a two day ticket was $151 for
me and $131 for Anna. Parking is an additional $14 a day.
So, in total, with tickets, parking, and a
minimum of food, drink and souvenirs, we spent almost exactly $500 for
two days. Wow.
Disney is a very effective efficient retail
operation and should be able to sell at lower prices than elsewhere
because they don't have to pay middlemen and have less overhead for
stores, etc, than is typical. Instead, it seemed that many prices
in Disneyland were close to twice the price of what the same items could
be found in Anaheim stores nearby.
The corporate types that now own Disneyland
still pay homage to Walt Disney's vision of Disneyland being a wholesome
positive experience for a family outing. But did Walt's dream
extend to gouging the visiting families for way more than is fair and
reasonable? I suspect not, and while it seems I have no choice but
to take Anna back again (and again) for her sake, it surely isn't an
experience I feel good about.
One more thing. Disney is proud of its
'Fast Pass' system that promises to reduce your wait in line for rides.
But, like most other things at Disney, the Fast Pass system is more an
illusion than a reality. Disney has made the system as cumbersome
and inconvenient as possible, clearly so as to minimize the number of
Fast Passes each person can get. Why not be honest about it, and
simply tell people that there is a limit to how many Fast Passes each
person can receive, but make it easy to request and obtain them.
To get a Fast Pass for a ride - a ticket
that gives you priority admission with a much shorter wait during a one
hour time window - you have to actually go all the way to where the ride
is to get its Fast Pass issued. For example, we got Fast Passes
for one ride; the passes were issued at noon but wouldn't become valid
until the hour between 6.10pm and 7.10pm. And we couldn't then
request any more Fast Passes for two hours. At 2pm we got two more
Fast Passes, for a different ride, and they weren't valid until 6.20pm.
So the first Fast Pass ride we could take wasn't until 6.10pm.
For many of us, the key limiting factor of a
day at Disneyland is the miles and miles of walking that one needs to
do. The Fast Pass program greatly increases the walking one has to
It would be so much more convenient if there were centralized
Fast Pass issuing booths near the park's entrance and at other strategic
locations, and if a person could then request a whole day's worth of
Fast Passes to be issued there and then; saving the need to walk to each
ride twice. This would also allow one to strategically pick and
choose which rides one gets Fast Passes for, based on the relative
delays between asking for a Fast Pass and being able to use it.
In other Disney news, in Orlando the Magic
Kingdom is to undergo the largest expansion in its history, with each
Disney princess to be given her own themed village in Fantasyland
Forest. This will take three years to complete. If you don't
know about the Disney princesses, feel free to ask my daughter - she can
tell you all about each of them. There are apparently nine
currently, from a very politically correct assortment of races.
This is a relatively new part of the Disney marketing juggernaut, having
been initiated in 2001, and with sales of princess branded products
(there are over 25,000 different Disney princess branded items)
estimated at $4 billion last year.
Update on Disney's busy days. I asked
Cara Goldsbury, expert on all things Disney and author of 'The Luxury
Guide to Walt Disney World Resort' (reviewed and excerpted
here) about when
the busiest times are and she replied in very full detail :
Busiest: Presidentís Day
week; mid-March to the week after Easter (staggered spring break
around the country); the second week of June to the third week of
August; Thanksgiving Day through the weekend; the week of Christmas
to New Yearís Day.
Busy: The last two weeks
of February (avoid Presidentís Day week) to the first part of March
before the onset of spring break; the week after Easter until the
second week of June ; the month of October (a big convention month,
the PGA Golf Classic, and Halloween celebrations at the Magic
Kingdom and Universal Orlando); the first two weeks of December.
Least busy: Just after
New Yearís Day to the first week of February (avoiding the Martin
Luther King holiday weekend in January); the third week of August to
the beginning of October; the month of November excluding
Thanksgiving weekend; just after Thanksgiving and again the week
preceding Christmas week, a special time when the parks and resorts
are festively decorated for the holidays.
Dinosaur watching : Happy birthday to
JetBlue, which turned ten years old last Friday. The airline now
flies just over 600 flights every day, to more than 60 different
destinations, and employs 12,000 people. Here's an interesting 'fansite'
about the airline and its first ten years.
Jetblue was - and remains - innovative for
one thing in particular - combining low fares with high quality service.
It has also been profitable for most of its life, and clearly it has
consistently grown during ten of the most difficult years for the
Jetblue is a force for good, and let's hope they
continue to grow for many more years into the future.
Spirit is another low cost airline, and
they've just released an interesting new feature on their website - a
fuel cost calculator that shows sort of what it costs them to buy fuel
for your flight (although they add a gratuitous 12% surcharge to the
fuel cost). You might be surprised to see the passenger miles per
gallon figures they calculate, ranging from 42 to 60 mpg, comparable to
what two people would experience in a car. Details
If you're generally curious about the cost
of airline fuel, here is the
that tells you more than you'd ever want to know. And for oil
related costs in general,
the site to visit.
And talking about jet fuel, British Airways
has taken a break from pleading poverty and reporting massive losses to now announcing its plans to
create what it believes will be Europe's first sustainable jet
fuel plant. The plant will produce aviation fuel from plasma
gasification of biomass into BioSynGas which is then converted into
biojet fuel. The facility will process all types of biomass and residue
feedstock which will mainly be sourced from local waste management
facilities. The process produces no waste products other than an
environmentally-benign slag that can be used as construction aggregate.
The plant is planned to come online in 2014. It will convert
500 kilotonnes of carbon-based material per year into 16 million gallons
of jet fuel. While that quantity is described as twice the fuel needed to
power all BA flights at London City Airport (BA flies very few flights,
which are typically operated for only short distances, from this
airport), this total annual
production would provide enough fuel for the US aviation industry's
requirements for a mere 4.5 hours of operation.
Or, to put it another way, there would need
to be 2000 such plants in operation to provide sufficient fuel for the
US aviation industry.
Quite apart from the 'drop in the bucket' nature of this biofuel
plant, one has to wonder as to the cost of the fuel. The press
release was silent on this point, and my guess is it will be more
expensive than regular jet fuel.
One wonders what BA's possibly soon to strike flight attendants think
of that? Would they prefer BA to buy regular jet fuel and pay them
more, or to spend money that could otherwise go to the flight attendants
on nice clean green jetfuel?
Talking about BA, to no-one's great surprise, the
DoT has now given BA
approval to join forces with American Airlines under the safety blanket
of anti-trust immunity. This application - the third time BA and
AA have asked - has been granted subject to the pathetic proviso that
they give up four pairs of takeoff and landing slots at Heathrow - two
pairs for Boston/London flights and two for any other market that a
competitor might want to serve.
A mere four sets of slots -
contrast that with the DoT's requirement that a request by Delta and US
Airways to swap slots at LGA and DCA be only allowed if the airlines
sold 20 of the 125 LGA slots and 14 of the 42 DCA slots.
DL and US weren't seeking anti-trust immunity or anything, just
permission to swap slots between themselves, and they got slapped down
with the requirement to get rid of 34 slots. BA and AA ask for
much more, and have to merely release 4 slots.
The DoT said the new marketing monster 'would provide travelers and
shippers with a variety of benefits, including lower fares on more
routes, increased services, better schedules and reduced travel and
connection times', none of which is likely to be remotely close to true.
Intuitively, anyone other than a DoT employee would surely realize this,
because if this permission to, hmmmm, fix prices were indeed to be even
half as massively beneficial to the public as the DoT claims it will be,
then there's be no benefit to the airlines, and they'd not wish to do
The DoT completely fails to understand a
fundamental thing about private enterprise. Most companies do
not set its prices at the lowest possible point at which the corporation
struggles to make a return on capital invested. Instead, they set
their prices at the highest price possible before demand starts to tail
off. In this universal business paradigm, there's no such thing as
'too much profit' and if costs drop, if efficiencies grow, the business
does not respond by dropping its prices, instead it simply allows its
profit to grow.
The DoT failed to explain - because it can't - how reducing competition
would allow for lower fares and increased services with better
schedules. Have the DoT been taking the Alice in Wonderland ride
at Disneyland too many times? The DoT seems to feel free to make
any outrageous statement it chooses to, without providing any facts to
back it up.
Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic erupted into predictable and
justifiable fury. I'd tell you more about what he said, but for
some strange reason his airline no longer sends me press releases, and
their PR agency ignores my emails. I guess that's what comes of
poking fun at them on occasions when they deserve to be called to
However, I did find out that
Branson said 'Four slots pairs is a complete joke and those
responsible for this decision should hang their heads in shame.' - a
sentiment I echo and endorse. He says that contrary to the DoT's
expectation that travelers will benefit from the alliance, millions of
travelers will be adversely affected. I again agree.
I mentioned last week that BA subsidiary Openskies, the tiny airline
which operates flights between JFK and Paris (Orly) is now adding
service from Orly to Dulles as well. This week BA itself says it
might expand its new all business class service between London City
Airport (LCY) and JFK, and add flights from LCY to BOS and/or IAD.
BA's JFK-LCY service
in November; I basically liked it, but didn't feel the benefits of
flying to LCY were sufficiently substantial to motivate people
who'd fly other airlines to switch to BA so as to fly to LCY rather than
to LHR or LGW. Maybe I was wrong.
While there might be ambiguity about whether
or not BA's cabin crew will choose to go on strike, there's no such
ambiguity at Lufthansa where their pilots are striking on Monday for
four days. This includes their subsidiary Germanwings.
The pilots are worried that Lufthansa might
put some of the (lower paid) crews from other airlines that LH purchased
last year onto the carrier's main routes. LH was on a bit of a
buying spree in 2009, picking up Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines
And talking about all business class airlines, there's an interesting
report of Qantas down-configuring some of its lovely new A380s and older
747s, by removing the first class cabin. The planes will reduce to
a three cabin configuration - business, premium economy and coach class.
As I've said before, it
is my feeling that what is happening is not so much the loss of first
class, but rather the evolution of first class. Today's business
class, such as that offered by Delta (reviewed
very positively last week) is sufficiently identical to first class,
and better than first class was ten or more years ago, and the clear
result is that very few people need or can justify the extra cost of
first class when business class has almost all the same things.
With both cabins offering lie-flat sleeper seats, both cabins offering
upgraded premium food and drink and entertainment, both cabins offering
priority checkin and priority luggage handling, what else is there to
encourage you to spend thousands of dollars more to move into first
Plus, look at the premium economy cabins. They're getting more and
more like business class of 15+ years ago. I remember when the
standard seat pitch in business class was 39" and the amazement we all
felt when it grew first to 50" and subsequently more; these days
the premium economy seat pitch seems to be standard at 38", almost the
same as business class formerly was (and with thinner seats these days,
there's more leg room in a 38" pitch today than there was in a 39" pitch
before. Sure, the food isn't as good, but the pricing and value is
So, in effect, whereas we formerly had airlines with three classes
called first, business and coach, we now have airlines with three
classes, much the same as before, but now called business, premium economy and coach. The more
things change, the more they remain the same.
I got to see a couple of Qantas' A380s at LAX while flying in and out
this week, and was struck again by how wonderfully Qantas looks after
its planes, with their paintwork fresh, gleaming and glossy.
South Pacific is now very well served, with Qantas, Air New Zealand,
Delta and V Australia all providing excellent quality services.
Oh, yes, United also operates flights downunder.
You may have heard the story of the large
sized movie director who objected to being charged for a second seat on
his Southwest flight earlier in the week. Interestingly, he'd
initially purchased two seats, but then changed flights and only paid
for one seat on his second flight, and claimed he'd purchased the second
seat for privacy rather than space reasons.
He gets little sympathy from me, and just
because he might have been able to squeeze into a seat, while spilling
out above and below the armrest doesn't mean much if he was, well, let's
be politically correct and say 'broad shouldered'. One's seat
space should be considered as having an invisible force field/barrier
that runs vertically up and down from the middle of the arm rest to the
floor and up to the ceiling. I've suffered from people who not
only don't share the armrest but who also take up much of my space above
and below it too. I feel a measure of sympathy when they're in the
middle seat - they've nowhere else to go; but what about when it is me
in the middle seat?
How about a thought for thin people's
rights as well as fat people's rights? Apparently, thin people
have no rights if their neighboring passenger chooses to invade and
claim much of their personal space for themselves.
interesting article that tells how airlines basically refuse to
enforce one's entitlement to all of one's seat. It makes one
wonder why the airlines are so insistent about passengers needing to be
able to sit with the armrests down, but why they don't give any
consideration at all to passengers who spill way over the sides of their
seats above and below the armrest.
Airports are also in the news, and not just with respect to slots.
The Airports Council International, with 1633 member airports in 179
countries, has just released its annual list of best airports worldwide,
and by region and category. Topping the world-wide list were five
airports, all in Asia - Incheon (ICN), Singapore (SIN), Hong Kong
(HKG), Beijing (PEK) and Hyderabad (HYD). What's the magic that
Asia has that we lack?
The top five for North America were Austin (AUS), Halifax (YHZ), Ottawa
(YOW), Jacksonville (JAX) and Portland (PWM). A 'most improved'
award was issued to Cleveland (CLE). The best airport in Europe
was Keflavik (KEF). More details
here, but alas, no mention was made by this airport promotional
organization as to which airports scored at the bottom of the list.
And while bigger isn't necessarily better,
the three largest airports in the US from an international passenger
perspective are JFK then MIA then LAX, with MIA pushing LAX into
third place in 2009.
Two more comments about my visit to
Disneyland and high prices.
First, you surely don't want to
'accidentally' go into a car pool lane on the freeways in Los Angeles.
The minimum fine for a carpool lane violation is $341.
I'm not sure what a carpool lane violation
is, and worried a bit when I was possibly committing one - I-405 has a
carpool lane with limited entry/exit points, and at each exit point it
tells you which freeway exits are coming up that you should leave the
carpool lane for. I was driving up from Anaheim to the airport,
and to my astonishment, there was no sign to exit the carpool lane for
LAX. So I had to, ahem, leave the carpool lane at a non-designated
And I've now encountered the most
ridiculously priced gas of anywhere. Although you can buy gas
at the pump for $2.79 - $2.89/gal, if you return your vehicle to Hertz
and ask them to top your tank up for you, they'll charge you $8.999 a
gallon - and I'm not sure, possibly may add tax to that sum.
But even if they don't add tax, to turn around and charge $6.15 or
thereabouts more per gallon for gas than the retail price which gas
stations sell profitably for a living has to set a new low for rental
car company depravity.
Whereas there was a time when rental car
companies made money by honestly charging a fair rental fee for a car,
with fair optional extras, these days it seems to have become standard
practice to start off with a loss leading headline daily rental rate,
and then to attempt to trap the renter into a growing number of
optional and mandatory fees, charges, cost recoveries, and anything
else the rental car company can creatively impose upon us.
Rental car companies probably lose money on
their core business these days - renting cars. But they for sure
profit from their insurance coverages, their facilities improvement
charges, sundry other miscellaneous charges of dubious provenance, and
their $6.15/gallon fee for pumping gas.
This week saw the release of a new
Microsoft mobile phone operating system, what they refer to as their
'MS Windows Phone 7' operating system. After a series of
disappointing earlier releases carrying lower numbers (the most recent
being version 6.5) and each with very minor evolutionary tweaks from the
version it supersedes, it seems the new version 7 is truly revolutionary
and totally different.
One sort of feels that Microsoft might have
been well advised to have completely renamed the phone operating system
(as it has done in the past). Linking itself to its far from
illustrious predecessors is hardly a positive association.
Will it reverse MS's steadily declining market share of the mobile phone
operating system marketplace?
I wish I knew the answer to that question.
My challenge is that the new operating system is indeed so revolutionary
and different that I can't even understand the description of what it
is or what it does or why. See if you can understand (or care
about) this, for example :
Most notably, Windows Phone 7 Series features a start screen that
rejects static icons in favor of real-time feeds from the Internet's
most popular social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, as
well as other applications. It also offers always-on access to e-mail,
Xbox games, Bing search, and other tools.
Hubs are what Microsoft is calling partitions in the software that allow
users to group similar content. In addition to Music and Video, Windows
Phone 7 also has hubs for People, Pictures, and Games.
Unsurprisingly, MS CEO Steve Ballmer is
enthusiastic about the product, saying 'Windows Phone 7 Series marks a
turning point toward phones that truly reflect the speed of people's
lives and their need to connect to other people and all kinds of
seamless experiences'. I'm not sure I understand what that means
either. Apparently he thinks we have a need for all kinds of
seamless experiences - do you even understand what a seamless
My rule of thumb - if a product or service
or concept can't be explained in simple terms in a short paragraph, then
the product/service/concept itself is not simple and probably doesn't
solve any existing marketplace need or solve any customer problem.
some more about Windows Phone 7, but with the first phones loaded
with the software not due to appear for perhaps six months or so, by
which time we'll have had at least one more upgrade to the iPhone
software and hardware, countless more upgrades to Android software and
hardware, and a major enhancement to Blackberry products too, there's
every possibility that Windows Phone 7 will prove no more relevant or
viable than its predecessors.
I can understand Microsoft's desire to try
and stem its bleeding market share, but I absolutely can't understand
the six months of additional delay between the product's
announcement/release now and its first appearance on a phone in maybe
I ridiculed the
rubbish that was being offered up to us by our President and his
Secretary for Transportation three weeks ago when they crowed about how
'one day, not too many years from now, ours will be the go-to network,
the world's model for high-speed rail'.
It seems that offering up nonsense
targets is a contagious pastime, because now we have the Chairman of
the FCC unveiling his '100 Squared' initiative as part of the FCC's
National Broadband Plan to be submitted to Congress in March.
This 100 Squared initiative calls for 100
million homes to have 100 Mbps broadband connections, perhaps by 2020.
There are 113 million households in the US.
Echoing the earlier comments about high
speed rail, he added
And we should stretch beyond 100
megabits. The U.S. should lead the world in ultra-high-speed
broadband testbeds as fast, or faster, than anywhere in the world.
Do you think FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
and Dept of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood use the same
The problem with this plan is simple, and it
starts with the fact that, just like with trains, the US has gone
from world leadership (we did, after all, invent the internet, even
if Al Gore may not have played a leading role in its development) to
now being perhaps the 16th ranked country in terms of broadband
penetration. If we're to lead the world, we've got to first
reverse our current falling further and further behind, before then
playing catch up and overtaking other countries that are massively ahead
of us in this field of technology.
And - gosh - isn't this amazing. We've
fallen so far behind on something that once seemed such a core
American value - technology, innovation and marketplace acceptance.
I still remember the shock I experienced in the late 80s/early 90s.
I moved from New Zealand to the US in 1985, and at the time, moved from
a technologically backward country to the world leader. But when
returning to NZ on a visit a few years later, I observed that not only
had NZ caught up with most of the things that had delighted me upon
moving to the US, it had actually overtaken the US in key areas like
cell phone technology.
Now for the biggest part of the problem.
Who is going to pay for this massive broadband building project?
Chairman Genachowski was totally silent on what the costs would be to
achieve his ambitious 100 Squared goal, or where the funding would come
One last comment. I'm as much a fan of
bandwidth as anyone else. But do we really need 100 Mbps - a speed
which almost no-one has, even in the 15 countries beating us at present?
Even if we were pumping full Blu-ray quality video down our connection,
that would only represent about 20 Mbps. What websites would be
able to feed out their content at that speed? Not only would it
require a massive upgrade in hardware, but it would require enormous
bandwidth out of popular websites.
My own humble website sometimes has 100
people browsing through it simultaneously, if my site was required to
send out 100 Mbps x 100 users simultaneously, that would overload my
server many times over. Currently it has one single 100 Mbps data
connection to the internet.
While it is true that 100 simultaneous
requests at 100Mbps wouldn't require 100 times the bandwidth, it
definitely would massively increase the cost of anyone/everyone who
wished to host a website and offer responsive connections to visitors.
Think also not just of the 'last mile' from
a major internet point to your house, but also of the internet 'cloud'
and 'backbone' - these would all have to massively increase in data
handling capacity too. If you've 100 million households with 100
Mbps internet connections, what sort of speed do we need on the main
This 100 Squared project isn't just about
feeding state of the art fiber optic cables to houses, it would require
a complete re-engineering of the entire internet within the US.
My current internet connection at home is 10
Mbps, which coincidentally is also the speed of my ethernet LAN at home.
I don't really need and can't use anything more than 10 Mbps, and
probably you don't either. If our internet connection were to grow
to 100 Mbps we'd have to upgrade both our wired and wireless networks
I have a vague memory that it is currently
costing Verizon somewhere between $1500 and $5000 for every house that
it runs its FIOS fiber optic cable to, and I believe it has a maximum
rated speed of 50 Mbps. So, thinking only of the last mile issues,
we could be looking at a cost of as much as $250 billion to achieve
one part of the 100 Squared goal.
I've no idea how much the enhancements to
the internet infrastructure in general would cost, and neither do I have
any idea how much the costs to me to publish my website would increase,
but to think that a country which ekes out an inadequate $8 billion to
achieve nothing for High Speed Rail is about to find $250 billion for
High Speed Internet is a flight of foolish fancy.
More details of this overly ambitious but
underly funded plan
It has been another target rich week for
global warming. My
pick of the week is the 'High Priest' of Global Warming now
conceding that there's been no global warming at all since 1995
and saying that temperatures were possibly higher in the middle ages
than they are now.
But he still insists that global warming is
both happening and is man-made.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
The Fiqh Council of North America - apparently a group of Muslims - has
issued a fatwa instructing all Muslims not to go through the new whole
body imaging scanners at airports.
Their order says 'It is a violation of clear
Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and
women. Islam highly emphasizes haya (modesty) and considers it
part of faith. The Quran has commanded the believers, both men and
women, to cover their private parts.'
The TSA has responded by saying Muslims will
have the option of a pat down search by a security guard if they prefer.
I'm sorry, that's not good enough.
Pat-downs, unless they become extremely intimate, do not reveal as much
about what a person has secreted under their clothing as do WBI scans.
At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, we all know it is Muslim
terrorists we're attempting to protect ourselves against, and - whether
for this reason or not - Muslims should not be allowed any less scrutiny
than law abiding Christians or any other group.
Quick question - guess how many people work
for the Homeland Security Department? Answer - 185,000. And
that's almost certainly more than you'd have guessed.
Follow up question - guess how many guns the
HSD has lost negligently, in places ranging from bowling alleys to
public restrooms? In the period 2006 - 2008, they lost 289
firearms in total, with 89 being deemed excusable losses. The
other 200 were negligent, and involved not just pistols but shotguns and
'military rifles' (whatever that means) as well.
Follow up question - with 185,000 employees,
including all the TSA (who don't carry firearms), and loads more office
workers, guess how many weapons in total the HSD owns? 190,000.
That's probably an average of two or more firearms per gun carrying
Follow up question - in the average career
lifetime, how many HSD employees ever need to wield or fire their
weapon, even once?
If you're not one of the very few Twitter
users among the readers, you probably didn't see my tweet earlier this
week about a Russian hacker who caused a traffic jam, and even
apparently gave one elderly man a heart attack, when he took over a
large digital billboard and started showing something other than
advertising on it. So, for the 81.5% of you not on Twitter, here's
a link to the story.
Lastly this week, here's a list that appears
regularly around the internet, and now making its latest appearance of
Britain's rudest place names. It motivated me to look up one
word that I'd heard before but never really understood; now that I've
done that, I really rather wish I hadn't.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels
and be careful in traffic jams