The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Things I learned from my trip, part 2 (Dubai Residency day 1)

Yes, the 7-hour layover at Heathrow did me in. The total trip took 28 hours and 48 minutes, during which I slept a couple of times but not well.

Another thing I learned: it's hard to fix a laopto when they don't let you have tools in your carry-on bag. It appears that the connection between my laptop's monitor and its video chip has come loose. The screen appears to be missing half of its pixels, but otherwise it still works. A loose cable is the best case, anyway; the worst case—the monitor itself has died—requires me to get a new laptop. I'll have to try fixing it after my macroeconomics exam, which starts in 13 hours and for which I am woefully unprepared.

So, even though I have a few minutes right now, without a working monitor I can't really prepare any photos. Otherwise I'd have art. I'm digging the hotel room, I must say.

All the little things

I generally love American Airlines, to the extent that I fly oneworld carriers unless there simply isn't another way to get there. But today, in an effort to be helpful, an AA ticket agent actually made an error that may have dashed a dream I've carried since I was six.

I'm on my way to Dubai for school, and to get there I'm going through London. (Faithful readers may recall I tried going through Amman, but that didn't quite work.) Going through London means British Airways, which doesn't let you choose a seat until 24 hours before flying unless you've got the equivalent of American's Platinum status. It turns out, I'll have Platinum status in two weeks, but not yet, and "almost" doesn't count.

The dream since I started flying is as nerdy as it is prosaic: to fly in the upper deck of a 747. I arranged my flight to Dubai so that I would fly one segment on a 747, in the appropriate class of service to sit on the upper deck. And because of the peculiarities, just mentioned, of British Airways' seating rules, I got up very early this morning in time to book the seat I wanted. And I succeeded. Woo hoo! Friday is Hump Day!

Flash forward to my check-in at O'Hare. British Airways and American have a deal that allows passengers to check their baggage through even if they've booked multiple reservations. Not wanting to go through baggage retrieval at Heathrow, and not wanting to schlepp my enormous (33 kg of baggage—comfortably less than when I went to the first residency) pile of crap to Heathrow's Terminal 5, I asked the O'Hare agent to check my stuff through all the way.

I don't know how, but whatever she did to check my bags through, she also erased my seat assignment—the one I woke up early to get—and there's nothing I can do about it until I get to Heathrow tomorrow morning.

I suppose I need to look at this in perspective. I'm going from Chicago to Dubai in less than a day, something imposssible even when I was a child. So, I'll just have to depend on the charity of British Airways' Heathrow agents, or wait until some other time.

Last-minute preparations

I pack in the morning, which means, five hours before my flight takes off, I have yet to dig my bags out of the closet. Everything to be packed is either on my desk or hanging in my closet; Parker's food is already in the car; and I have nothing else to do but get out of town.

One little niggle: why does British Airways not allow people to pick their seats more than 24 hours ahead unless they have the equivalent of American Airlines Platinum status? Not that I had any difficulties, as the flight doesn't seem full yet.

I got pretty much the seat I wanted. More important, it was in the cabin I wanted: the upper deck of a 747. Little kid moment coming: I've always wanted to fly in the upper deck of a 747, so, following my own oft-repeated advice, I now have the means and opportunity. I'm almost as excited about that as I am about going to Dubai.

All right. First flight leaves in 5 hours, 15 minutes...and 24 hours from right now I'll be lifting off from London on my way to Dubai.

Very strange coyote behavior

A pack of coyotes attacked a hiker in Nova Scotia yesterday, in a well-traveled area near enough other people that a police officer drove off the attacking dogs. Coyotes almost never attack people; what's going on here? The A.P. reports:

Wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft said coyote attacks are extremely rare because the animals are usually shy.

Bancroft, a retired biologist with Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources, said it's possible the coyotes thought [attack victim Taylor] Mitchell was a deer or other prey.

"It's very unusual and is not likely to repeated," Bancroft said. "We shouldn't assume that coyotes are suddenly going to become the big bad wolf."

An official with Parks Canada said they blocked the entrance to the trail where Mitchell was attacked and were trying to find the animals to determine what prompted such an unusual attack.

Possibly the encroachment of humans on their territory has made them less afraid of us? Still, coyotes don't usually behave like that.

What news?

Not one single new. Even though MSNBC sent me this urgent update: BREAKING NEWS: Poll: 47 percent of Americans support an increase in troops in Afghanistan.

As I shake my head, I feel impelled to blog the following questions:

  1. Who did they poll?
  2. What question or questions did the pollsters ask?
  3. Why did the people they polled answer one way or another?
  4. In what way is a poll that shows less than a plurality in any way newsworthy?
  5. Why did MSNBC feel this important enough to send a news alert?
  6. What do the people responsible for (5) want to happen as a result of this news alert?

Call me crazy, but I think the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is so difficult and complicated that I really don't care what popular opinion has to say about it. I think we all deserve more complete information, as this is a republic; but I also think most people haven't got enough of a clue to have an opinion that matters.

Possibly the major news media in the U.S. would have more relevance if they tried. But a news alert like this? Heavens.

Pack, read, repeat

The CCMBA Dubai residency starts in just over 3 days, and I'm leaving in 53 hours. I hope I've learned from the mistakes I made in the London residency, so I can make all new mistakes. Some observations so far:

  • I do not need the one-kilo power converter; I only need a couple of UK-US adapters. This is because, as I realized in London, everything I have with a plug accepts all international power characteristics. (The U.S. is 110 volts, 60 Hertz; the U.K. and U.A.E. both use 220 volts, 50 Hertz, with U.K.—style plugs.)
  • The weather forecast for Dubai calls for highs of 33°C, lows of 23°C, and sunny skies every single day. This should significantly reduce the mass of all the clothing I need to pack. Except, I'll have to get to and from O'Hare and I'll be spending two days in London on the way back. Packing for three different climates? Fun!
  • I won't have mobile phone service in Dubai. Oh, sure, my GSM phone will work in the UAE, but as T-Mobile would charge something like $5 per minute and $1 per text there, I'll just leave the thing off entirely.
  • But when will I have time to make phone calls? The program schedule has us running around up to 15 hours a day, starting at 8:00 the first morning we're there.
  • As an aviation geek, I'm particularly excited about the flight from London to Dubai. It'll be the first time I've been on a 747 in over 20 years. (American Airlines hasn't had them since the early 1980s.) I'll have a full report sometime in November.

In conseqence, I'm a lot more laid-back about this trip than I was for London.

Highway robbery? You bet

Chicago Tribune transport columnist John Hilkevich is shocked—shocked!—this morning to find that Chicago parking tickets are up 26% this year:

The stepped-up enforcement contributed to a $7 million year-over-year increase in parking ticket revenue, which totaled $119.2 million from January through August, the Chicago Department of Revenue reported.

Fines assessed from tickets go to the city's nearly depleted general fund. Revenue collected from a four-fold increase in parking rates this year is kept by Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which paid the city $1.15 billion as part of a 75-year lease to manage on-street parking.

The extra emphasis on enforcement may be contributing to an abundance of parking spaces in many parts of the city where finding street parking was previously luck of the draw.

The clampdown also is discouraging some suburbanites and others to limit their trips to the city.

Discouraging? No kidding. I'm in North Carolina this weekend, where I took advantage of a clothing sale I could have gone to at the same store in Chicago, because even N.C.'s 7.5% sales tax is better than downtown Chicago's 10.5%. (Maine was just too far to go for one suit.)

Mayor Daley fils has done some great things for Chicago, but the biggest things—privitization of public assets, unbelievable taxation, etc.—threaten his legacy. Perhaps now that we don't have the distraction of the 2016 Olympics anymore, he'll turn his energies toward making the city more financially livable again.

High-speed train robbery? Not really

The state of Illinois mysteriously doubled its funding request for upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor to handle moderately-high-speed trains. First, of the $4.5 bn now requested, only $1.2 bn will go to the actual track upgrades; the state now wants additional funds to build a second track along the route. Second, the upgrades will increase the route's top speed from 126 km/h to only 176 km/h, not exactly a serious rival for other HSR projects worldwide (like, for example, Shanghai's MagLev, which has hit 501 km/h, or France's TGV which routinely travels at 320 km/h.)

Here's Crain's:

"The state's plan is not high-speed rail," says Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Assn., which advocates a new, 350 km/h Chicago-St. Louis route. "Four hours doesn't change a lot. It's not transformative. What is transformative is two hours."

That would cost $12 billion to $13 billion, he estimates, in line with a detailed, 256-page proposal for a complete Midwest high-speed rail system centered on Chicago that French National Railways, known by its French acronym, SNCF, filed recently with the Federal Railroad Administration.

... With Chicago's status as the nation's rail hub, the state's longtime subsidization of passenger rail and its unprecedented clout with the Obama administration, Illinois is considered likely to get a big chunk of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail to be disbursed soon, plus billions more expected in future years as Congress embraces one of the president's top priorities

Is it worth billions to improve rail traffic between Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Detroit? I don't think there's an objectively correct answer, but I vote yes. The European experience of moving more people more cheaply (and more quickly) by rail than by air, with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, shows that HSR can make a huge difference in a region. But Europe makes different choices than the U.S., and in a democracy it's permissible for one population to decide that its quality of life has a higher price than for another.

Still, two hours to St. Louis? Thirty minutes to Milwaukee? That would be cool.