The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Routers that don't speak American, and other UK adventures

I didn't intend to go dark for the last 48 hours, but it turns out none of my devices (laptop, tablet, phone) could connect with the WiFi hub where I've been staying.

Not that I tried any more than the most basic troubleshooting (reset laptop WiFi, reboot router, change router channel). I've been in Edinburgh, with only one full day to explore the city, and struggling with my computer for half an hour seemed like a bad way to spend it.

I've also not shaved since Sunday morning because of Scottish energy prices. Let me explain.

The friend who lent me her spare room last night, and also who generously spent her day touring the city with me, lives in a really cute house just a few minutes outside central Edinburgh. She has a hot-water tank and a boiler, but also, for reasons she has given up trying to work out, an electric shower. The landlord put the electric shower in probably for the same reason people in the US put in granite countertops: because that's what everyone else does. And as she told me, "after looking for a place to live for eight weeks I didn't feel I needed to check the plumbing before signing up."

This friend lived in Chicago for a while, so when she uses relative expressions to compare the two countries, she isn't exaggerating. She told me that heating up an entire tank of hot water costs quite a lot of money. Further, it only goes to the kitchen and W/C taps along with the radiators. So in the summer, she leaves the hot water heater off, since outside the shower (which has an electric heater) she has no compelling need for hot tap water.

You can see where this is going.

It turns out, I don't have an electric shaver; I use shaving cream and a razor. Though my host and I didn't discuss her shaving habits, I infer that she has no difficulty shaving in the shower without a mirror. So, no hot water in the taps, and no mirror in the shower, and at the moment I've got a Don Johnson thing going on, only without the hair, looks, or white jacket.

It's these little differences between the US and UK that keep me coming back.

Southampton Arms, part 2

I've spent the day all over London (oh, so that's Brixton), and I've just got a few minutes to check email and finish this morning's post about the Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak.

This is England:

That is a Curious Pale Ale and a packet of cheese and onions crisps. Later I had an ELB Pale Ale (not as good as the Curious) and a Mosaic Pale Ale, which was better than the first two.

Already present in the pub were a group of visually-impaired people and their guide dogs (3 dogs in all). This is Keira:

Keira decided I had good hands and kept wandering over for a scritch—a fact that her owner would obviously not notice until I returned her or he needed to go to the loo. By the time they all left, Vickie (a Parker-sized black Lab) and Malone (the yellow Lab behind Keira, above) were coming over to me sometimes two at a time, tails wagging. I know that it's impolite to pat working guide dogs, but I think there's a loophole when the dogs are on break at a pub, right?

Then this happened:

That's a pub crawl. They were on Pub #3, and left within half an hour, hoping to get to pub #8 before last orders. There were about eight of them. This guy, Paul, explained that they'd come up with the idea on their pub crawl last month, but they actually made the costumes while sober. Mostly sober.

If I ever move to London, I'm renting the apartment above this pub.

Mustn't moan about the weather

One was able to make do yesterday. Here, for example, is the dreariness on Hampstead Heath:

Also, yesterday I was able to prove conclusively that there is no Airbus A320 hovering over Russell Square:

After suffering through all this non-English weather, I wound up once again at the Southampton Arms:

I will have more to say about it in my next post. (It's getting on to noon and I have to check out of the hotel, so I don't exactly know when that will be.) Suffice it to say that a new show came through about every two hours, and I still managed to finish my book. I could not have spent the day better.

Forgot to post this

As London continues to suffer with perfect weather this weekend, I'm taking a moment to get in from the cool sunny breezes and small cumulus clouds obscuring almost 10% of the sky. Yesterday the temperature soared to an unimaginable 24°C, causing Londoners to seek solace by standing outside pubs in groups drinking lagers. Today things have cooled off to more realistic levels (19°C right now), but the sun continues to make Londoners miserable and wait the restoration of normal weather.

Anyway, I've been meaning to post this map, which shows the U.S. population by race—one dot per person. Here's Chicago:

The yellow area south and west of the Loop are mostly African-Americans; you can see the abrupt change where the Austin neighborhood meets Oak Park on the west side. White people are blue dots, so purple-ish areas are well-integrated, while bluer areas are not.

Other parts of the country have different stories. Play with the map and take a look.

Back in the land of my forebears

Actually, that's not true. I don't even have one bear. *rimshot*

I've arrived at Heathrow, taking advantage of another benefit from using frequent-flyer miles: the arrivals lounge. Shower, breakfast, tea, checking email. Also my second experience in two days of a government adequately staffing their immigration and customs checkpoints to get us through in just a few minutes. Thank you Canada, thank you UK.

All right: now to London.

The most disgusting thing in London

I can scarcely imagine how much a team of Thames Water maintenance workers enjoyed removing this:

Last week, officials at Thames Water removed a 15-tonne lump of lard from a trunk line sewer beneath the London suburb of Kingston. It was the fattest fatberg ever recovered from the London sewers, and by extension, probably the largest subterranean grease clump in U.K. history.

"A fatberg," says Simon Evans, media relations manager at Thames Water, "is a vile, festering, steaming collection of fat and wet wipes." Fatberg creation is a vicious cycle, according to Evans, who coined the term. "Fat clings to wipes, wipes cling to the fat," he explains. "They are the catalysts in this horrible fatberg game."

And—you know you want to watch this—Thames Water released video of the thing:

So remember, folks, don't flush your bacon grease or your wet-wipes. Or condoms, but that's another story entirely.

Also, this is probably the first literal use of the "Kitchen Sink" category in Daily Parker history.

Two "oh, dear" aviation stories just now

First, a Boeing 787 caught fire at Heathrow this afternoon; fortunately, no one was aboard:

Video footage showed the plane surrounded by foam used to quell the flames. The airport said in a statement that it was an on-board internal fire, but didn’t offer more details. It said the plane was empty, parked in a remote area and there were no reported injuries. All flights in and out were temporarily suspended Friday afternoon -- a standard procedure if fire crews are called out.

Ethiopian Airlines said smoke was detected coming from the aircraft after it had been parked at Heathrow for more than eight hours.

You can bet that Chicago-based Boeing will watch this story very, very carefully. Their shares dropped 7% on the news, for one thing.

In other unfortunate aviation news, the San Francisco Police have confirmed that one of the two victims of the Asiana 214 crash got run over by a fire truck, but they don't know yet whether she was alive when this happened:

Medical examiners will not release autopsy results for “at least two or three weeks,” San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told NBC Bay Area on Sunday. Coroner’s officials are working to determine how 16-year-old Ye Mengtuan died.

Police officials confirmed that the girl was hit by the truck in the chaos that followed the deadly crash, which also killed her classmate and travel companion, identified by the airline as 16-year-old Wang Linjia.

The girl was blanketed in white foam emergency crews sprayed to douse the flames billowing out of the Boeing 777, police said. She was discovered in the tire track of the fire truck, police spokesman Albie Esparza told NBC News.

Not a good week for aviation.

Opaque airfares

Last night I poked around, musing about taking a pair of trips this fall. Two, because during the fall and early winter, airfares and hotels are cheaper than the rest of the year, at least in the places I like to go.

My original thought was to buy a trip to London and use miles for a second trip somewhere else, on the theory that with 8 daily non-stops between Chicago and London, fares would be lower than to somewhere that has only one daily flight. No, not so much.

For travel the weekend of 10-15 October, here are the best airfares I found on oneworld carriers:

Dublin5,910 km$776
London6,360 km$1,144
Honolulu6,826 km$808
Berlin7,099 km$889
Tokyo10,094 km$1,159
Hong Kong12,538 km$1,200

All of the options save London have one daily non-stop from Chicago. As you can see, they're in order by distance, and also as you can see, there seems to be no connection between the distance (a proxy for the cost to the airline) and the airfare.

To add more confusion, all of those destinations cost 30,000 frequent-flyer miles (except for Honolulu, at 22,500, and Hong Kong, at 35,000) each way in coach or 50,000 each way in business. I say "confusion" because now I'm trying to balance two competing miles forces and coming up with a deranged result.

The pressures are these: earn the most flight miles per dollar—flight miles are super valuable compared with other kinds—and spend the fewest flight miles per trip. As you can see from the data, it actually works out better if I use miles on the shorter trip (to London or Berlin) and buy my ticket for the longer trip (to Asia).

Just a little more figuring, including the cost of upgrading to business class on overnight segments and each city's hotel costs, and holding the dates constant, puts 10 possible trips in this order:

Quito, Ecuador; Honolulu; Hong Kong; Dublin; London; Madrid; Manchester, U.K.; Dusseldorf; Tokyo; Berlin; Paris; Santiago, Chile

How did that happen?

Quito is cheapest because without overnight flights, I won't upgrade from coach. And their hotels are really cheap.

Santiago comes out most expensive because both directions have overnight flights.

Hong Kong comes in so inexpensive because I can't use miles to upgrade on any airline other than American, British Airways, or Iberia. The Chicago-Hong Kong flight is Cathay Pacific. I will fly that route someday—but not all the way in coach. Fourteen hours on a plane is fine; but not overnight in coach.

Dublin looks like a back door into London, since flights from Dublin to London are around $150 round-trip; but London works out to be cheaper because AA runs a morning flight from Chicago. No upgrade needed.

I have to conclude the following: because of the insane airfares to Europe and the equally insane airfares to Tokyo, caused by the weak yen and European departure taxes, the cost-per-mile to Tokyo is about half the cost-per-mile to London. Ergo, buy the Tokyo ticket and get the London one for free.

Will I actually take these trips? I can't say. I hope so though.