The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

St. Michael's

I found myself distracted today by 22°C sunny weather and a 3-hour client meeting. Moving on: more photos from Kyiv, of St. Michael's monastery (Михайлівський золотоверхий монастир):

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Incidentally, you have to be this tall to go on this ride:

(Yes, it's cliché, but sometimes the classics are best.)

Post-trip catching up

After returning home yesterday evening, I'm now caught up on my email (including the 2,400 server status messages and 4,400 spams caught by my filter, my sleep, and Parker's walks. Now I'm going through the several hundred photos I took, so watch for those over the next few days.

But where, in fact, did I go? Ah. That's still a mystery. But here's a clue: this photo, from last Thursday morning's approach to the first airport I saw that day, shows an eyeful—including the spot where thousands of trains have met their Waterloo:

More, I hope, later today.

High-speed rail corridor in Illinois? Define "high-speed"

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a Tribune article about how the U.S. lags the rest of the industrialized world in rail technology. The Economist this week continues the discussion:

There are reasons, however, to be cautious. First, the cost of any one project far exceeds the money available. California, which has the most advanced plan, would connect the state's biggest cities with trains running at more than 200mph. In November Californians approved $9.95 billion of bonds for the project. On top of this, officials hope to get $12 billion-16 billion from Washington. The plan is expected to cost $40 billion in all. But the stimulus contains only $8 billion for the whole country.

Second, many plans would make trains high-speed only in a relative sense. Proposals that are cheaper than California’s are also much slower. A plan for the Chicago-St Louis line, for example, would speed up trains from 79mph to only 110mph. Multiple road crossings require trains to move more slowly than in Europe. Adding to the problem, most passenger trains run on track owned by freight railways. Congestion makes service less reliable.

I'm actually sad to see $2 gasoline again, because I think a couple years of gas prices around $4 (or even $9, like in Europe) would finally give us a decent rail system. So the next time I fly to London I'll take solace in the Heathrow Express when I get there, and try to forget about the Blue Line that brought me to O'Hare. (Though, in fairness to the CTA, in the past two years they have cut the trip from the Loop to O'Hare from an hour and a quarter down to 40 minutes.)

Beginning of Quarter Round-up

All of these are true, and all of these are appropriate for April Fool's day:

  • Punzun Ltd., my software firm, proudly announced record earnings yesterday, earning a net profit of $0 on $0 of gross revenue and ($0) expenses (all figures in millions). It's the best quarter we've ever had, 11% better than our last record in 4th quarter 2004.
  • Mark Morford, on GM's "recovery:" "Behold this weird new Camaro. It is, in sum, exactly the wrong car at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong attitude attached to exactly the wrong hopeless hope for a return to a rather crude automotive golden era that never really existed in the first place."
  • The Justice Department is halting its prosecution against former U.S. Senator Stevens (R-AK), figuring he's suffered enough. This, you remember, comes after the conviction. Yes, it's April Fool's day, but no, this isn't a prank.
  • Congress is set to repeal the ban on travel to Cuba. The loudest opposition came from U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who said the measure would prop up the Castro regime, though one expects not for any longer than the Castro brothers' walkers would, given they're both in their 80s.

Finally, the creaking, old Weather Now demo project is getting an injection of mojo. I'll have more when I release it for real, but meanwhile you can check out the Beta version. (It's actually a ground-up re-write, even though it looks the same. Really. It's cool.)

American Airlines partner oddities

I fly frequently, more often as a "revpax" (revenue passenger) than as pilot. And I've mentioned before, given the two full-service options in Chicago (American and United), I long ago chose American as my preferred carrier. I have, in fact, been a member of their frequent-flyer program since 1988.

American is one of the two lynchpins of the oneworld alliance (typography and letter casing theirs), the other being British Airways. Only, they seem to hate each other's customers.

Exhibit: neither's customers can use or earn miles on the other's trans-Atlantic routes. Chicago to London? No choice, if you want your 3,953 elite-qualifying miles each way. Because miles are reedemable for travel and upgrades at up to 2c per (e.g., 25,000 miles for a round-trip domestic ticket that would otherwise cost $500), and elite miles are particularly valuable, BA's fare needs to be almost $100 less, all things equal, to make it worthwhile to fly the other airline.

OK, so I get that there are regulatory issues and other things they're taking into account. But I can hop a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo and earn the same number of miles I can earn on a competing AA flight. So what gives?

It's even more peculiar when you start flying on BA flights on "domestic" European routes. Now it starts to annoy me.

Later this spring I'm flying to a European city to which the only reasonable connection is through Heathrow, and because it's a discount ticket, I'm only earning 25% of the miles flown for the trip. I could, of course, upgrade to a full-fare economy ticket for, oh, £200; but that's really not cost-effective, now, is it? I only discovered this by reading the fine print yesterday.

My conclusion will have to be, avoid BA flights when an alternative routing exists on another oneworld carrier. For example, to the place I'm going this spring, I could have flown American to another major European city and flown on Malév, Finnair, or Iberia, and gotten 100% mileage credit—and more miles to boot, because the routing is farther.

So again, why does British Airways not want American Airlines customers? Or is it American that doesn't want me flying BA?

Visa mystery resolved

Romi Tharakan at Henley & Partners AG, the Swiss firm who produced the visa-free travel list I mentioned before, sent me their master list of visa-free travel as of 24 July 2008. I was right: the lists for the U.S. and Canada are not completely orthogonal. Americans (but not Canadians) can travel visa-free to Côte d'Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea; Canadians don't need a visa to visit Bolivia (but Americans do).

Mystery solved.

Canada's Czech issue

After posing my question about why Canadians need a visa to go to one more country than Americans do, several commenters on the original Gulliver post chimed in about a squabble Canada had with the Czech Republic at the end of the last decade.

It seems, however, that the commenters, and quite possibly the report Gulliver quoted, were out of date. According to the Canadian Embassy in Prague, the countries ironed out their differences in 2004:

The Government of the Czech Republic has decided to lift its visitor visa regime for citizens of Canada. As of May 1, 2004, holders of valid Canadian passports no longer require visas to enter the Czech Republic for visits up to 90 days - such visitors are prohibited from engaging in gainful employment during this time.

Canada lifted their requirement that Czechs have visas in 2007.

So, either is there yet another country that prefers Americans to Canadians (I mean, officially), or is the report out of date? I will endeavor to find out with all the passion and zeal required by such a question.

Update: Of course, the report could well be up to date, but the lists might simply not be orthogonal. It has occurred to me that there might be many countries that have different visa regimes for the U.S. and Canada. I'm still curious, as the Czech Republic hypothesis actually had some evidence behind it.