The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

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.

Another minor navigation error

Technically yesterday's incident happened on a Northwest airplane, but since Delta owns Northwest now, and after last week's error, I'm wondering if the jokes from the 1990s about Delta's navigation abilities might not be coming back in earnest:

Today a Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 flight missed their destination of Minneapolis by 150 miles.

The flight crew said they became engrossed in a conversation about airline policy (and honestly, who couldn't?) and lost track of their location. However, the FAA is investigating if pilot fatigue played any roll in this event.

The flight from San Diego to Minneapolis had 144 passengers onboard and none of them were aware of what happened, until the aircraft was swarmed by police once they finally arrived. The police kept all passengers onboard until they were allowed to question the flight crew.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has more:

Military jets had been on standby to track down the jet after it dropped out of radio communication for about 75 minutes.

"When you hear that fighter jets were ready to scramble, that just gets you really mad," said passenger Scott Kennedy.

I certainly hope the next American Airlines flight reaches its proper destination...

Could have been worse

First, via AV Web, a report that a Delta 767 landed just a bit off the runway centerline returning from Rio de Janeiro Monday:

A couple of Delta Airlines pilots have been suspended after the Boeing 767 they were flying from Rio de Janeiro landed on a taxiway at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport early Monday morning. The FAA reported there were no other aircraft on the taxiway and the landing and rollout were normal. Spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the crew was dealing with a medical emergency on board and had been cleared for Runway 27R.

Instead, the crew landed on taxiway M, which runs parallel to the 12,000-foot runway. There was no indication that approach, runway or taxiway lights were malfunctioning. Taxiway landings occur from time to time, but Bergen told Atlanta media that she believes it was the first such incident in Atlanta.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more.

And this, from Tom Vanderbilt...well, good thing the pedestrian had a running start:

I guess the parking meter deal wasn't all that

Mayor Daley found another $500m hole in the city's budget this year, so he's proposing...nothing new:

Mayor Richard Daley unveils his new budget this morning, and he's going to call for spending more money from the controversial parking meter lease, slashing the tourism promotion budget and ending Chicago's longest-running public party, Venetian Night.

A key labor union that bankrolled challengers to Daley's council allies in the last election praised the mayor's decision to raid reserves from the $1.15 billion parking meter deal. The 75-year lease, which aldermen quickly approved last year, ushered in sharp rate increases at more than 36,000 public parking spots.

More than $400 million was used to balance this year's budget, records show. And the city already has announced plans to spend at least $146.3 million in privatization proceeds next year.

Remember that, even at a conservative discount rate, the $1.15bn parking meter deal was about $3bn too cheap. So we've given up 75 years of parking meter revenues worth $3bn in exchange for, what, about 6 years of partial operating revenue?

We also got some bad news from recent arrival Boeing, which lost $1.6bn last quarter:

Boeing, the world's second-largest commercial plane maker after Europe's Airbus, has struggled with a series of setbacks: Production problems have delayed its eagerly awaited 787 passenger aircraft and a bigger version of its 747 jumbo jet, resulting in charges from write-downs and penalties.

Those charges, which were expected, led the company to cut its 2009 profit forecast to $1.35 to $1.55 per share, down from $4.70 to $5 per share. Analysts had predicted $1.53.

On the other hand, today is probably the warmest day we've had in a month, and probably the warmest we'll have until next spring. So Parker and I will now go for a long walk.

Why are guns in cockpits a bad idea?

Because sometimes they go off all by themselves:

An arbitrator has ruled the US Airways pilot whose government-issue gun accidentally went off in flight can have his job back. Jim Langenhahn was fired after the 2008 incident and his union is welcoming the arbitration decision. ... Langenhahn's pistol shot a hole through the aircraft's fuselage, but the Department of Homeland Security helped his case when it faulted the design of the captain's holster. However, the Transportation Security Adminstration, which oversees the Federal Flight Deck Officer program claims, the same holster design has been used by thousands of pilots without incident.

Airline pilots were given the option of undergoing firearms training to carry guns in the cockpit in 2002. Langenhahn, a former Air Force pilot, claimed the gun discharged in the cockpit when he was putting it away before landing a flight out of Denver for Charlotte. No passengers or crew were hurt, and the aircraft landed without further incident.

Again, only two things have made airplanes safer against terrorism since 9/11: passenger vigilance and reinforced cockpit doors. Guns? Probably a bad idea.

British Airways inaugurates an all-premium flight to Kennedy

Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, British Airways has resurrected flight BA001 as an all-business-class flight from London City to New York's Kennedy. They're using tiny Airbus 318 aircraft that have to stop in Shannon, Ireland on the westbound leg to pick up fuel. Still, for less than £4,000 round-trip, it's a lot more convenient and just a bit cheaper than flying in the same class to Heathrow:

Flying from London City means the planes need to land at a much steeper angle than normal - the Airbus A318 which is being used for the new service is approved for a five and a half degree approach slope, compared with three degrees for a normal approach.

The plane will carry only 32 passengers, in seats that recline to fully flat beds.

The airline thinks it's got a winning case for a new business service and will be hoping a resurgent banking sector will provide the custom.

London City airport is only about 15 minutes from the financial center of London, unlike Heathrow which is a good 45 minutes by car or express train. Also, passengers will be able to clear U.S. Customs in Shannon, allowing them to walk off the plane at Kennedy without any delay.

On the other hand, Kennedy is a lot farther from Manhattan than LaGuardia, and has fewer connections to U.S. destinations.

I'll be keeping an eye on this one. I'll also be flying discount to Heathrow the next time I fly to London, so it's not going to affect me much. Still, one wishes British Airways one's best, yes?

Another round-up post, full of links and signifying nothing

Duke will release our financial accounting exam on the 8th, and we'll have 24 hours from the time we download it to finish and hand it in. Our professor, when asked this morning for general guidance about the exam, seemed confident that someone who didn't need to look anything up (e.g., an accounting professor) could finish it in "four to five hours."

In other words, until October 8th, I will likely post link lists, like this one. Sorry.

  • The Economist's Gulliver blog highlighted the differences between Virgin America and the "legacy" carriers. Now, as a lifetime elite member of American Airlines' frequent-flyer program, I might be treated better than non-elite passengers. It still sounds like Virgin America might be on to something. (I'm still going to fly American, because I live in Chicago, which they dominate.)
  • Mark Morford outdoes himself this week tackling the problem of how to talk to a complete idiot. He explains: "The absolute best way to speak to complete idiots is, of course, not to speak to them at all. That is, you work around them, ignore them completely, disregard the rants and the spittle and the misspelled protest signs and the fervent prayers for apocalypse on Fox News. Complete refusal to take the fringe nutballs even the slightest bit seriously is the only way to make true progress."
  • The Cook County Sheriff this week broke up a dogfighting ring at a day care. The descriptions of the dogs they found turned my stomach. (The current story on the Tribune's website omits the descriptions.) That this went on in a building where 10 children spent their days added to the horror. People who inflict cruelty for sport deserve nothing less than the same inflicted on them, I think.

More later. Now, back to financial accounting....

Security theater, 8 years on

Patrick Smith ("Ask the Pilot") wonders why we still can't get airport security right:

[T]he primary threat to commercial planes is, was and shall remain explosive devices. The Sept. 11 skyjack scheme is today unworkable for a variety of reasons. Yet those who run airport security refuse to acknowledge this, wasting time and resources ransacking people's luggage for what are, in effect, harmless items. Has anybody at the Transportation Security Administration bothered to peruse the air crimes annals of the past 50 years? The agency, along with too many Americans in general, seems to exist in a world that did not begin until 2001, oblivious to the long record of terrorist sabotage against civilian airliners.

My ranting on this topic might be redundant, but remember there are hundreds of lives, and tens of billions of dollars, at stake. A bombing, or multiple bombings, would be devastating to the U.S. economy and possibly catastrophic for the airline business. In the past, airlines were able to pull through after incidents of sabotage. People recoiled in horror, but they didn't stop flying. Nowadays our mind-set is very different. We are, I'm afraid, more predisposed to panic and rash behavior.

The entire column is worth a read.

Meanwhile, back home (London residency day 7)

As sleep deprivation and other physical assaults continue here in London, and as we begin a five-day sprint through all of Financial Accounting, I pause to note one of the bigger news stories from back home in Chicago. No, not the Cubs sale to the Ricketts family or United's and American's shared panic; I mean the alligator in the Chicago river:

A 3-foot-long alligator was caught in the Chicago River last night and is en route to a more suitable home, according to a spokesman for the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control.

Animal Care and Control called the Chicago Herpetological Society, which sent two people in a canoe last night to set traps for the reptile.

All right. I can deal with that. Moving on...