The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Pre-Clearance coming to Heathrow

W00t!

[M]any of the 4m Britons who travel to the United States each year will no doubt be delighted to hear of a plan to station American immigration officers at two British airports, London Heathrow and Manchester. These will process travellers before they leave the country, and with luck considerably speed up entrance at the other end. And, as the Telegraph goes on, processing people before they board the plane would be popular on both sides of the pond....

Pre-arrival clearance has been available for those flying from, or refuelling at, Shannon airport in Ireland for some time. This was one of the bonuses benefits of IAG, the parent of British Airways, acquiring Aer Lingus, an Irish carrier. Eight other European airports may also be included in the scheme, reports the Telegraph, including Schiphol in Amsterdam, Madrid-Barajas and Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. Still, it will probably take two years for officials on both sides of the Atlantic to agree upon and then implement the scheme in Britain. And, of course, there is always the danger that the immigration officers that are sent over here will be just as surly and incompetent as those they employ at home. But let’s stay optimistic.

The other benefit to pre-clearance is that travelers will be able to connect directly to domestic flights in the U.S. Right now, people going from London to, say, Des Moines, have to land at O'Hare, go through customs and immigration in Terminal 5, and then re-check their bags and go through security in whatever domestic terminal they're leaving from. This makes the minimum sane connection time about two hours. With pre-clearance, passengers can get off their plane and walk a few gates over to their connecting flight.

For me, though, it'll probably only save about fifteen minutes, thanks to Global Entry. (If you travel outside the U.S. more than once a year, definitely apply for this program.)

It's not clear when this will actually happen. There are challenges. The Department of Homeland Security has not yet announced a date for implementation.

The Prime Meridian isn't where you think

Via IFLS, the Independent reported yesterday that the Prime Meridian is not at 0°W:

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world descend on the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to pose for a photograph astride the Prime Meridian, the famous line which divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth.

There is just one problem: according to modern GPS systems, the line actually lies more than 100 metres to the east, cutting across a nondescript footpath in Greenwich Park near a litter bin. Now scientists have explained why – and it all comes down to advances in technology.

According to a newly published paper on the discrepancy, which has existed for many years, tourists who visit the observatory at Greenwich often discover that they “must walk east approximately 102 meters before their satellite navigation receivers indicate zero longitude”.

I've visited the Royal Greenwich Observatory a couple of times, first in 2001. This sign was inaccurate then, but most people didn't realize it:

If you look at that photo's metadata, you can see the GPS location that I added using the mapping feature of Adobe Lightroom. According to Google Maps, the monument is actually at 0°0'5"W.

But the Prime Meridian was always primarily a reference point for time, not space, and therefore is exactly in the right place. As a commenter on the IFLS post pointed out:

The article uses the term "wrong" when in actuality Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is still based on the Prime Meridian, though with the network of atomic clocks it isn't used much anymore, however the marker itself is very much in the right place. It is just when you use the coordinates on a GPS you end up at a different location. This is because GPS doesn't use the Prime Meridian as a starting point. GPS uses multiple locations all across the globe as anchor points in which to triangulate a location from called the geodetic system. The system does not rely on fixed straight lines as we see on a map but rather contours to the physical and gravitational shape of the Earth. So in essence just as the gig line (navy term) of my shirt doesn't lie straight and flat across by oversized 50 year old belly neither does the imaginary geodetic lines. These imaginary lines if drawn on a map would deviate east and west and would appear wavy. In the end, it is not about being wrong (as the article implies) but rather why do the two systems not match up.

(See? Sometimes comments on the Internet are reasoned and mostly correct.)

And this is science, too. As the Royal Observatory's public astronomer Dr Marek Kukula told the Independent, “We’re forever telling this story, making the point that as we refine our measurements and get better technology of course these things change, because we want to have the best possible data."

As a bonus, here's a photo from my most recent visit, in 2009. Look at all the tourists lining up on the 5-seconds-west line:

Thieves, the lot of you

I go through Heathrow often enough that this pisses me off:

To the anger of many travellers, some airport concessions have been reclaiming taxes on purchases for consumption outside the European Union (EU) rather than passing the saving onto the shopper. The wheeze is simple. When you line up with your sandwich, suncream and bottled water, checkout operators ask to scan your boarding pass. If it is for travel within the EU then the VAT, or sales tax, goes to the government. If it is for travel outside the EU then it should be tax free, but the shop charges you the same price and pockets the difference—20% of the retail price.

The practice is legal but many think it downright dishonest. Travellers who ask why they need to produce boarding passes for items as innocuous as chewing gum are often told that it is for "airport security". Unsurprisingly, never, in Gulliver’s experience, have they said that it is actually so they can pocket the tax differential. The practice has prompted a backlash. David Gauke, a treasury minister, said the tax-relief measures were designed to be passed onto the consumer, not pocketed by the retailer.

I usually don't buy much in the cavernous post-security shopping mall, but the next time I do—potentially three weeks from Sunday—I'm going to be more vigilant.

Planning a long walk

For my upcoming trip to London I have once again planned a trip to West Sussex. I last visited six years ago this week, and walked along the River Arun and through the village of Amberley before refreshing at The Bridge Inn and heading back to London.

For just £13 I've booked a train not to Amberley, but one stop further, to Arundel, on my birthday. The plan is to walk through the village, past Arundel Castle, and then on various footpaths up the River Arun to Amberley and, yes, the Bridge Inn.

Wow, I hope it doesn't rain.

This is all part of a plan to catch up on reading, you see. And to catch up on cheese and onions crisps, which are hard to find in the U.S.

Squish

As feared, last month was the wettest June on record in Illinois, and the second-wettest month of all time:

The statewide average precipitation for June 2015 in Illinois was 242.1 mm, based on available data through June 30. That is 135.4 mm above the average June precipitation, and the wettest June on record for Illinois.

In addition to being the wettest June on record, it is the second wettest month on record for Illinois. Only September 1926 was wetter at 244.4 mm – just 2.3 mm higher.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, it was the cloudiest June in all 122 years of records, in part because we're covered in Canadian wildfire smoke making everything a little hazy.

On the other hand, it got up to 35°C in London today—and they don't generally have air conditioning over there. Yow.

Quietly moving ahead at Heathrow?

The Economist's Gulliver blog points out something opponents to Heathrow's third runway may have missed:

In Britain the long-awaited Davies Commission report on a third runway for London is set for release shortly. The main objections to new runways by locals is the additional noise they will suffer. But by the time any new runway gets built in a decade or more, much of the fleet serving London will have been replaced by these new planes that whisper rather than roar. Describing volume is tricky but Bombardier’s new CSeries, a small single-aisle short-haul jet, equipped with Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan engine, was barely audible at times during its flight at just a few hundred yards from the watching crowds. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner (pictured) and even Airbus’s A350 and A380 also made far less noise than would seem possible. Critics will point out that the planemakers do their utmost to make these display particularly silent, nevertheless the results are astonishing.

The noise reduction from new technology is significant. In early jet engines, which were ear-splitting, all of the air was forced through the engine core in which combustion takes place. High bypass systems, with some of the air directed around the engine core, made engines quieter and more fuel efficient. The engine on the CSeries uses a gear, allowing the front fan to turn at a lower speed than the engine core, reducing noise further. The CSeries, 787 and A350, constructed from composite materials, are lighter than their predecessors too, which helps keep noise down.

My new place is directly under the approach path to O'Hare's runway 28C, which opened in October 2013. Residents along this flight path worried that the runway would generate tons of noise. As it turned out, it really didn't, principally because of these new technologies. (Also because landing airplanes make much less noise than departing airplanes.) Someday, I hope London gets another runway, and I hope that people realise sooner rather than later that it won't be nearly as bad as they fear.

The Blackbird

The Southampton Arms remains my favorite pub in London, but The Blackbird comes in a close second:

I wound up having breakfast and dinner there yesterday, followed up with drinks at a suburban-feeling club down the block. (Maybe not suburban; more like bridge-and-tunnel.)

Now I'm at Gatwick waiting for my next flight to phase II of this trip: Venice. So far the flight is only delayed 40 minutes. And I may have figured out the Lightroom problem, or at least found a workaround. More on all of this later tonight or tomorrow.

Revisiting another HDR photo

As I'm still getting to know Lightroom 6 and its HDR feature, I wanted to revisit this one from 2013:

Here's the refresh. I think it's a more subtle result, and looks more like what I actually saw in Hampstead Heath:

On my next trip (in two days), I'll probably take a lot more HDR-ready images. The Canon 7D Mark II does a sort-of draft HDR in-camera, with a number of options for generating the raw files that my old camera didn't have. I'm looking forward to the results.