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19 February, 2010

Good morning

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 them.  Tom 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 understand.

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 Twitter.

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 messages).

Here's a pie chart showing all the different responses received.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this interesting survey.

There's 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 old daughter.

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 do.

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 aviation industry.

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 here.

If you're generally curious about the cost of airline fuel, here is the definitive website that tells you more than you'd ever want to know.  And for oil related costs in general, this is 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 so.

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 account.

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.

I reviewed 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 BMI.

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 class?

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 great.

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.

The 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.

Here's an 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 spot.

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 experience is?

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.

Here's 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 six months.

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 speechwriter?

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 from.

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 internet routes?

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 too.

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 here.

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.

More details here.

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 employee.

Follow up question - in the average career lifetime, how many HSD employees ever need to wield or fire their weapon, even once?

More details here.

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

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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