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1 January, 2010
Phew. What a crazy final week of the
last year of the first decade of the twenty first century. Our
shared anticipation of a quiet lazy relaxing week was thrown into
disarray by the crotch bomber and the TSA antics that followed.
Although the idiotic new rules for
controlling passengers in-flight were quickly (but quietly) quashed, the
only slightly more sensible heightened security for passing through
airports has unsurprisingly been extended and currently continues in
place, as do the various airline-imposed restrictions on cabin baggage.
The circumstances which allowed the
crotch-bomber and his bomb onto the plane show an unfortunate series of
missed opportunities and failures to respond to intelligence obtained,
as well as proving (should anyone have doubted) how ineffective airport
security is and probably always will be in defending flights again
crotch bombers and their skillfully concealed bombs.
There's been a lot of rushes to judgment and
a lot of calls for action already. Much of this, although
doubtless well meaning, is misdirected and overlooks the neediest parts
of the total security process while concentrating on the showiest parts.
Needless to say, I've a few thoughts of my
own, and needless to say, they're somewhat different from mainstream
thought. And so, can you guess what is being offered to you as :
This Week's Feature Column :
Lessons from the Multiple
Security Failures on NW253 : Airport security screening
didn't fail us when it failed to detect the crotch-bomber's bomb,
because it was never capable of finding such objects in the first place.
But read this article to see what did fail, to see which suggested
solutions probably won't work, and to get the bottom line story on what
we should be doing to protect ourselves on future flights.
One different perspective on this topic.
The last week saw not only the failed crotch-bomber, but also the 737
that overshot the runway in Jamaica and which broke into three pieces.
It too could have as easily resulted in the deaths of everyone on board,
and unlike the crotch-bomber, who managed to do nothing more than burn
the side of the plane a bit, the 737 was completely written off.
But whereas we had the TSA rush out poorly
thought out panicked new 'security' measures within hours of the
crotch-bomber, there has yet to be any response at all to the 737 crash.
Equally to the point, plane crashes upon
landing have happened more regularly in the past, and can be expected
more regularly in the future than crotch-bombings (or any other sort of
airplane bombing). Our risk of death/injury is vastly greater from
a bad landing than from a bad person. But society's focus is
tilted way too far towards the concept of terrorism while blithely
accepting risk levels in other parts of the total flight process that
dwarf the minimal risk associated with terrorism.
By the way, did anyone else catch reference
to the fact that both crotch-bomber Mutallab and Ft Hood army gunman
Nidal Malik Hasan were associates of and interacted with the gentleman
politely referred to as a 'radical cleric' (and we're not talking Church
of England here, folks), Anwar Al-Awlaki?
Is it just me or is the terrorist issue
being massively downplayed with the Ft Hood shootings?
With three special newsletters sent out this
week already, and the holiday week in general, this will be a short
newsletter. And with all the focus on air travel in the special
newsletters this week, I'm limiting this newsletter to non-air related
Amtrak, eat your heart out : China has
unveiled what it says is the world's fastest rail link, a train
connecting the cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan, with trains maintaining an
average speed of 217 mph. The high-speed train reduces the 670 mile
journey to three hours - more than seven and a half hours less than the
previous travel time.
Building the 670 mile high speed rail line
took only four years. Work began in 2005 as part of plans to
expand a high-speed network aimed at eventually linking the business hub
of Guangzhou with Beijing. Test runs for the service began earlier
in December and the link officially went into service last Saturday.
Who wouldn't choose a train over a plane if
one could travel 670 miles in three hours - about the same amount of
time we have to allow for checking in at one airport and collecting our
bags at the other airport alone.
New transport of a different and slower sort
is to be seen in London, which is to get new double decker buses in time
for their Olympics in 2012.
These buses will echo the design of the
famous 'Routemaster' buses that dated back to the 1950s - in particular
the open rear platform which allowed commuters to hop on and off the bus
any time it was stopped, not just at official bus stops.
Rather than prognosticate about the
uncertain future of travel in the year that follows, I thought I'd share
some thoughts about 2010 and the more certain evolution of some of
the more exciting developments in consumer electronics, all of which
will impact on our lives as travelers.
This promises to be another very exciting year for cell phones and hand
held mobile computing devices in general. Things to look for
include a color screen equipped eBook reader, the Apple 'Tablet', a new
iPhone and a Google phone.
Several different companies are close to marketing color screen based
eBook readers (and of course, if you're reading an eBook on a laptop,
netbook or cell phone, you're already using a color screen anyway).
Although I've continued to argue against the validity of a dedicated
eBook reader, advocating instead that you read books on your phone or
Netbook, few people have actually done what I've done - truly sat down
with their iPhone and read a long book from cover to cover.
Dan Brown's latest mega-novel, The Lost Symbol, in a single nonstop
session on my iPhone, and found it a perfectly acceptable and even good
experience. I roll my eyes every time someone who has not done
this tries to persuade me that it couldn't possibly be convenient or
comfortable - I am reminded of how scientists managed to 'prove' that a
bee couldn't possibly fly. So too can you 'prove' that reading a
book on an iPhone is an awkward inconvenient experience, but whatever
you prove fails to reflect the reality of actually reading a book.
Try it before you knock it.
Anyway, for better or worse, it is true that intuitively there's a lot
of appeal to having a dedicated eBook reader, and the massive marketing
push given to its Kindle reader by Amazon seems to have succeeded in
making the concept of eBooks a viable and ongoing concept, and at the
same time, seems to be giving validity to the concept of dedicated eBook
readers too. There is a growing number of other companies also releasing
eBook readers, and while currently they are all primarily based on the
same 'E-Ink' technology (a very low powered unlit low contrast black and
white only screen that allows for extended reading and low battery
consumption) there are increasingly viable new screens appearing that
offer brighter and color displays.
The ability to add color - both to text and to pictures - will open up
an entire new level of eBook titles. Currently eBooks have
perforce been primarily limited to simple fictional novels and some
non-fiction titles that are heavy on text and light on graphics or
images. But once color becomes viable, look for - well, for
example, travel guide books - to become much more prevalent, and the
wonderful removal of the cost restrictions of publishing a print book in
full color will allow for massive new creativity in book design and
enormous enhancements in presentation and imagery.
The Apple Tablet is a much talked about device that can be thought of as
something like a larger screen equipped iPhone/iPod Touch (reputedly it
will have a 10" screen, and probably more computing power and
capabilities than the iPhone) which will provide a new device to bridge
the current awkward gap between cell phones with tiny screens and
keyboards, and full sized desktop computers.
Little is known for sure about this device, but expectations (and hype)
are/is high. It may be called the iSlate, and may be announced in
late January. One thing you can be certain of though is that
reading eBooks on the 10" Tablet screen will be a further
marginalization of the need for a dedicated eBook reader. It
should be released some time in the first quarter this year, however, so
stay tuned for further details.
Tablets in general are becoming a hot new
product category - the devices had suffered for years as a result of
Microsoft's unpopular attempts at creating tablet type devices, but
newer devices that are smaller, lighter, and which use touch screens
that can accept multiple touch inputs (like iPhones) rather than
requiring styluses (styli?) are promising to make tablets more user
friendly than previous models, and may supplant/replace netbooks as a
midway step between phones and laptops.
It seems close to certain that Apple will also continue its regular
annual releases of new iPhone models, with a new iPhone to appear in
about July (Apple also has an annual release schedule for iPods, a bit
later in each year), and with the massive advances in Google Android
powered phones, the iPhone's lead over competing phones has
This year Apple's new version iPhone might
have to be somewhat adjusted to reflect the reality of the new Tablet
product - in other words, Apple won't want to create too much product
clash and overlap between its Tablet and iPhone. At the very least, hope
for a slightly larger and higher resolution screen, maybe a little more
battery life, and more storage, plus some new enhancements/tweaks to the
operating system capabilities.
But the first of these events to occur is scheduled for next week -
Google's announcement of its own phone. Don't confuse what the
term 'Google's own phone' actually means, however.
Google released its mobile phone operating system -
Android - back in 2008. This is an open architecture free
operating system that any phone manufacturer could use, with Google
primarily acting as a central coordinating point for the development and
management of the OS itself. The first Android phone, called the
G1, made by the Taiwanese company HTC that makes many phones under
different names but seldom under its own name, and sold by T-Mobile
vaguely either as the 'T-Mobile G1' or just as the 'G1', has now been
joined by many other phones, made by many other manufacturers, and
available through most wireless companies.
The original G1 is now massively showing its age, and no longer is
'state of the art' in any respect. But the latest
Android based phones such as the Motorola Droid (available through
Verizon) are very impressive and have closed a lot of the lead which the
iPhone has on the rest of the market.
The latter part of 2009 had an increasing level of rumor about Google
now developing its own phone hardware, to sell under its own name, and
of course using its Android OS. On the face of it, this seemed
like a strange move, and one which would surely alienate the broad range
of other phone hardware manufacturers, who would suddenly find that
instead of having Google alongside them as a supportive partner and
supplier of a high quality and free OS, they now had Google ranged
against them, selling its own branded hardware.
These considerations remain valid, but it seems Google is ignoring them
(another of the several examples of Google starting to suffer from
hubris in the marketplace, perhaps?) and it seems that the Google phone
- now named the Nexus One - will be announced at a release event on
Wednesday 5 January.
Interestingly, the Google phone isn't actually made by Google.
Instead it is being made for them by HTC, and will initially be sold
through T-Mobile (reportedly for $180 with a two year contract or $530
with no contract, and with monthly service plans starting at $70/month).
So how is it actually a Google phone at all, if the hardware is made by
HTC, and the phone itself sold by T-Mobile? Everyone assumed that
the G1 phone was so named with the G implying Google. In what way
is Google advantaging itself by now more prominently branding this new
The answers to these questions are obscure. But what does seem
probable, at this stage, is that the phone will be at least as good and
possibly better than the current 'King of the Hill' of Android based
phones, Motorola's Droid. One can only guess at how Motorola feels
at having its pre-eminence upstaged by its software/development partner,
and one has to wonder if this won't encourage some hardware
manufacturers to return back to what is essentially the only other
operating system game in town, Microsoft's lackluster and
increasingly irrelevant Windows Mobile OS.
But after almost 15 years of development into an operating system that
has never succeeded in capturing much market excitement or attention,
one wonders if it is possible for Microsoft to now improve their game,
to speed up their development cycle and to create an OS that sparkles
and excites. It was, after all, in large part the lack of appeal
of Windows Mobile and its antecedents that encouraged first Apple and
secondly Google to develop much better operating systems and user
However, for us as the users of phones and other mobile gadgets, one
thing is clear. There will be lots of great things coming our way
If you're not yet an iPhone convert, then the Google
Nexus One could become the phone for you - I'll let you know more about
this, possibly even next week. And if you are an iPhone user, look
for exciting new things with the Table and/or the next generation of iPhones in June/July, then decide if you want to stay with the iPhone
architecture or move across to whatever the latest/greatest Android
phone might then be.
This Week's Security Horror Story :
As you are hopefully aware, it is becoming increasingly important that
the name on your flight reservation is exactly the same as the name on
your Photo ID. No longer will security screeners necessarily show
any common sense when Bob Jones presents a driver's license in the name
of Robert Jones. This is, of course, for our added protection
Two sisters recently suffered from this new
policy and ended up not being allowed on their flight because their last
name was too long for the airline computer reservation system.
Their last name, Moravec-Flores, was truncated as Moravec-F in their
booking, and this meant they were not allowed to board the plane.
Do you think they felt safer?
teaser/trailer for a new documentary/movie about air security
scheduled to be released next year.
Lastly this week, I've often wondered what
impact modern telecommunications has on business travel. Here's an
interesting article that says in Britain British Telecom estimates
it cut out more than 700,000 face to face meetings (and 1.4 million
journeys) due to people using conferencing services instead. This
was in 2008.
Oh, the article also reports that the most
popular place to join a conference call was from one's bedroom, followed
by the bathroom.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels