The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Back at O'Hare

I had planned a quick getaway to New York this weekend, one involving a single carry-on, dropping Parker off this morning and picking him up tomorrow afternoon, and putting my new camera through a live-fire exercise in Manhattan.

Then, Thursday evening, I found out I'll spend the next two weeks in southwestern Connecticut. So now I have a checked bag and Parker has almost a week of boarding ahead of him. The client wants us onsite Monday at 8am through 2pm Friday, which few clients ever ask for. This reflects the short duration of the project and the client's level of security (they're a financial firm), the latter characteristic meaning I'll have no email, mobile phone, or (gasp!) Facebook access during the business day. The silver lining from that is we won't be allowed to work on the project after business hours.

So it looks like I'll get to spend more time in my third-favorite[1] city in the world. I'll also get to see a couple more friends, assuming I can get off the client site early enough to have dinner in the city some day this coming week.

Now if the plane taking me to New York weren't delayed for an hour getting out of New Orleans this morning, I might get there sooner...

[1] Chicago and London have the top two spots; New York and San Francisco are tied for third.

The Blizzard of 2011: Economic impacts

The storm this week forced 20,000 flight cancellations costing $120-150 million:

American Airlines, the country’s third-largest carrier, took the biggest hit after high winds and ice closed its Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport hub Tuesday.

American, along with American Eagle and its other commuter operations, racked up more than 5,300 cancellations for the week, according to FlightAware, which tracks airline performance.

Assuming that 10 percent to 30 percent of stranded customers choose to not reschedule, the cancellations likely reduced first-quarter net income of parent company AMR Corp. by $41.5 million to $51.3 million, or 12.5 cents to 15 cents a share, said Vaughn Cordle, chief analyst at AirlineForecasts.

None of the airlines the article discussed commented on the figures.

Elementary travel arithmetic

Here's a brain-teaser: take one part Heathrow, one part Iberia Airlines, and a sixty-five minute connection at Madrid Barajas. I'll give you a moment to work your sums.

If you got "no, really, a 2-hour connection," you're correct!

Instead of walking at a normal pace between two gates (that, it turns out, are 600 m apart) inside one terminal to make a fairly routine domestic connection, I walked at a normal pace off my flight from Heathrow right to the nearest Iberia service desk. We all shrugged. "Es Londres, es normal" we had to agree. Up to the lounge[1] I go, to check my email and write a blog entry.

Ah, but, this is no ordinary Western European capital airport. This is Madríd. The lounge has delicious Spanish wines, fresh olives, tasty sausages and cheeses, and no freaking WiFi. The conversation at check-in went something like this:

— ¿Como se puede conectar por el WiFi?

— Ah, desculpe, no tenemos el WiFi; es de pago.

— ¿Verdad? ¿De pago? No free WiFi?

— Sí, ¿es curioso, no?

— Sí, es curioso. Gracias.

So, here I sit, snacking on olives, brie, toast, sausages, a fruity Ribera del Duero number ("Condado de Haza Crianza, 2007: La Recomendación del Sumiller"), and probably in a moment those dates I see over there, composing a blog entry in flipping Notepad.

But let me review, just to keep things in perspective. Yesterday morning I woke up to a healthy snowfall in Chicago and tonight I'm going to bed in Lisbon, having spent the better part of the day in London. The total cost of this trip will come in somewhere around one month of housing (just housing, not groceries or electricity or anything else). And unlike the situation that existed even in my lifetime, getting a visa to anywhere in Western Europe requires presenting my passport to the bored guy at the arrival gate and getting a stamp.

Late update, in Lisbon: It seems the free Internet we take for granted in the U.S. and Northern Europe does not extend to Southern Europe. My hotel has free WiFi—in the bar and lobby. In the room it costs €22 per day.

[1] As a happy consequence of (or sorry consolation prize for) flying all those miles last year, I get access to all oneworld business-class lounges worldwide. I would like to note again, just because it really annoys me at the moment, that a principal benefit of every other business-class lounge that I've ever visited is free bloody WiFi. Dear Spain: ¿WTF?

Home for a day

Parker got to come home from boarding today even though he's going right back there tonight, a canine prisoner furlough for good behavior. Immediately upon returning home he sat in the kitchen and whined as I parceled out his food for his next prison sentence. Poor dude.

The Duke Dividend, a result of not having 20 hours of schoolwork every week, has started to pay off in books. I'm halfway through Ender's Game, after blasting through The Hunger Games trilogy in three days and re-reading Howl again—a new copy I picked up Saturday at City Lights, which I thought appropriate.

Bike trail paved with good intentions

When I visit Half Moon Bay, Calif. (which I do about three times a year), I get up several hours before the family because (a) I stay on Chicago time and (b) they sleep later than I do anyway. I usually then walk down California Route 1 for about 1.5 km from the house to the Peet's Coffee so I can work without disturbing anyone.

Since my last visit the city has built a bike trail along the highway, making the trip immeasurably safer and less muddy:

Excellent. They even spent several hundred thousand dollars building this bridge over a drainage ditch:

Astute readers will notice something about this photo: either I took it standing in the drainage ditch or on some other bridge over the same ditch. Three guesses which one is true. In fact, the bike trail parallels the frontage road for about 400 m until it gets to this very expensive bridge, prompting even the most-boosterish citizens to ask why the trail doesn't just dump onto the frontage road before getting to the bridge.

Now the punchline: the trail ends 50 m farther up:

It's a pretty bridge, though. And I suppose it allowed the city to use up the state and Federal grants more completely, and it employed a few dozen Californians for part of the summer. So it's not completely stupid, right?

"I thought YOU were taking watch!"

A trio of crab fishermen had a very bad day earlier this week about a mile from my dad's house:

A crab fishing boat flipped on its side in the surf at Francis State Beach early Tuesday morning, sending three crew members scrambling to the beach. All three men were reportedly uninjured.

The incident occurred about 1 a.m. Tuesday. The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and rescue boat from their San Francisco stations and, upon arrival, rescuers found the three crew members clinging to the hull of the listing “Phyllis J.”

Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Laura Williams said the three unidentified crewmen apparently were able to make it to shore on their own and that none of the men required medical attention.

Other reports in the town's printed newspaper suggest owner Larry Fortado and two crew members each thought another man was taking watch as the boat headed to its home dock a few miles away. Right now, local, state, and Federal authorities have to deal with the accident's environmental fallout:

In the past two days, a joint response team of public agencies and private companies were able to avoid a potential oil spill by draining 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 500 gallons of residual contaminants from the boat, despite being challenged by blustery winds and tide at its grounded location in the surf zone.

"The plan is to cut the vessel in half, and move the boat up on the beach right next to the bluff," Parker said. "Then a crane at the edge of the bluff will pull it up and get it on a transport to the owner's yard, where he'll weld it back together."

When Dad and I checked out the wreck yesterday afternoon, the salvage crew had started trying to tow the boat farther onto the beach, but the machines couldn't get enough traction.

I imagine Fortado will be crabby for some time.

One embarrassed pilot, 255 annoyed passengers

Oops:

The cause of the communications equipment problem that caused a United Airlines flight out of O'Hare International Airport to make an unscheduled stop in Toronto this week was the pilot's spilled cup of coffee, Canadian officials said.

The flight to Frankfurt, Germany was diverted after the pilot dumped a cup of coffee on the plane's communication's equipment. The unwanted liquid triggered a series of emergency codes, including one for a hijacking, according to Transport Canada, the agency that regulates transportation in Canada.

News reports today have mentioned "communications equipment," but it should be clear that they meant the airplane's transponder. Every airplane flying on an instrument flight plan (which includes every airplane flying above 5,500 m) broadcasts its altitude along with a discrete base-7 code number. The numbers from 7000 to 7777 are reserved for emergencies. So in the pilot's defense, I have to ask why the transponder started sending out 7000-series codes when it got wet. You'd think it would just shut off? And can you imagine the scene at the local TRACON when "United 940 Heavy" started rapidly changing its call sign? What would that look like on the scope?

By the way, the important 7000 codes (7500, 7600, 7700) cause TRACON scopes to go nuts. That would have been exciting to watch, I'm sure.