The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Delhi residency, day 1

After waking up at 4:30 for two mornings in a row, I really would like my body to figure out what time zone it's in. Maybe the problem is the Indian half-hour (it's 11½ hours ahead of Chicago, not 11, not 12), or possibly it was the two overnight flights in a row? Maybe I should just be glad I've had a relatively easy time getting to a point where I go to sleep at night (last night around 9:30pm) and wake up in the morning, instead of the reverse.

Meanwhile, back in Raleigh, it looks like they have some weather this weekend:

Tonight: Snow likely before midnight, then snow and sleet. Low around -4°C. East wind between 13 and 21 km/h, with gusts as high as 40 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total nighttime snow and sleet accumulation of 8–12 cm possible.

Saturday: Snow and sleet before 1pm, then freezing rain and sleet. High near -4°C. Northeast wind around 24 km/h, with gusts as high as 47 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New ice accumulation of less than a 1 mm possible. New snow and sleet accumulation of 8–12 cm possible.

Friends have reported stockpiling mac and cheese and wine. In some respects, I wish I were there. In others...well, it's going to be 20°C and foggy in Delhi today, while we Dukies go out to the Red Fort and Old Delhi.

More, with photos (I hope), tonight.

Delhi residency, day -2

Apparently it gets foggy in Delhi. My four-hour connection at Heathrow unexpectedly turned into a 13-hour connection, so I took my sleep-deprived self out of the airport for a while. Yep, definitely not Delhi:

And when in London, why not have a traditional breakfast?

It was as good as it looked.

Only one problem: my coat was in my checked bag, somewhere in the bowels of the airport. No problem: I now own a passably warm Reebok starter jacket, bought on sale for £22.

It's 3pm now, and my flight is rumored to start boarding at 7 for an 8pm takeoff. That puts me in Delhi by 9:30am local time. I hope to regain consciousness before classes start Saturday morning.

Update: It turns out, some of my classmates got diverted to Mumbai and had to spend almost 24 hours there. More details later.

Ach, noo to the wee beastie!

The United States will shortly lift its 21-year ban on Scotland's national fruit, the haggis:

The "great chieftan o' the puddin-race" was one of earliest casualties of the BSE crisis of the 1980s-90s, banned on health grounds by the US authorities in 1989 because they feared its main ingredient ‑ minced sheep offal ‑ could prove lethal.

Some refined foodies might insist it always has been and always will be: in the words of Robert Burns, in his Ode to a Haggis, looking "down wi' sneering, scornfu' view on sic a dinner". But now, as millions of Scots around the world prepare to celebrate Burns's legacy tonight with an elaborate, whisky-fuelled pageant to a boiled bag of sheep innards, oatmeal, suet and pepper, its reputation has been restored, on health grounds at least.

... Nearly £9m worth were sold in the UK alone last year, the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth, up by 19% on 2008. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, was delighted. "I am greatly encouraged to hear that the US authorities are planning a review of the unfair ban on haggis imports," he said. "We believe that reversing the ban would deliver a vote of confidence in Scottish producers, and allow American consumers to sample our world-renowned national dish."

In other news, the Boeing 747 turns 40 this week, and the Economist has a link to its original story from 1970:

Apart from the very first flight of all, for which around 2,000 people applied for seats, and which would have taken off with a full load of 362 seats (the replacement aircraft that eventually took off to cheers some time after 2 a.m. the following morning was still as full as makes no difference), bookings for 747 flights have been relatively slow coming in. The well-publicised troubles with deliveries, air-worthiness certificates and, most recently, engines, may have something to do with it, but so also has a certain timidity about embarking in a vehicle that most resembles a small flying cinema.

Like cinemas, some seats are better than others. First class apart, with its lounges and spiral staircases, the premium seats are probably the block that runs two abreast down one side of the aircraft, but not those too near the tail, which has a tendency to swish about, nor the extreme front nor behind the engines, where the noise level is above average. Least attractive are the three abreast seats along the opposite wall. The large block of four seats in the centre, with an aisle on either side, turns out to be more comfortable and less cramped than it looks; big men packed four abreast passed an uncomplaining night mainly because the seats themselves are larger than average.

I sincerely hope the 747 I'm flying on tomorrow morning is somewhat newer.

United, others roll back fare hikes

After American Airlines raised fares last week, all the other majors followed—for about three days. Delta bolted first, and yesterday United and American caved:

The increase, which was from $6 to $16 round-trip, was initiated last week by AMR Corp's American Airlines and later matched by rivals, including Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines, said Farecompare Chief Executive Rick Seaney.

The airline industry has been groping for pricing power after demand for business travel sagged during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.

Seaney said Delta was the first to retreat from the hike, followed by American, Continental and UAL Corp.s United Airlines.

The price rise evidently reduced the number of seats bought past the point where it made sense. That's great for travelers in the short term, but in the long term, all the majors have serious financial problems. Low prices don't help much.

Still, American went ahead and released its weekly Net Sa'aver fares, including $259 Chicago to London, $323 to Brussels, and only $70 to Toronto (each way).

The Toronto route is on sale most likely because people (a) may not want a long weekend on the north shore of Lake Ontario in the middle of winter; and (b) the airline, at the TSA's insistence, has added severe restrictions on carry-on luggage to and from Canada. And that $70 fare? A round-trip with taxes is actually $205, which isn't bad, but it's not exactly a give-away.

Unusually nerve-wracking travel

I travel a lot, both in the U.S. and overseas. Last year I flew about 93,000 km, including three trips to the U.K., one to Ukraine, one to Dubai, and another dozen in the U.S. So I'm pretty sanguine about travel in general, and thanks to the American A'Advantage program, I get a few perks along the way that make it even easier.

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to India for the first time. This has given me a kind of pre-travel jitters I don't ordinarily experience.

First, most obviously, it's the farthest I've ever gone—12,000 km over the pole or 13,000 km through London—requiring 18 hours on airplanes and 5 at Heathrow.

Second, I've never traveled anywhere requiring vaccinations and doxycycline, where an errant mosquito can put you in the hospital for a month.

Third, I've never had to get a visa before arriving. Really, we Americans take that for granted, as we can travel visa-free to about 180 countries. India, it turns out, is one of the few that requires us to get one ahead of time. So do China and Russia, where I'm going in April and July, respectively. (Good thing I got a fat passport last time.)

I did learn an important lesson traveling for the first two terms, so I'll have probably 10 kg less luggage this trip. (I did not learn the lesson about having a long layover at Heathrow between long flights, though. I blame British Airways for that.)

So, I've got my passport, my visa, some cash, the afore-mentioned anti-malarials, a feathery 4 kg of books, one suit, a few changes of clothes, and a fully-loaded Kindle (including one of my course books). Now all I have to do is finish everything I have due this week within the next 22 hours and I'm good to go. Oh, and sleep. Some time between now and Saturday, I should do that too.

I hope.

Airline, or airline-light?

When I last flew from Raleigh to O'Hare, I took an American Eagle flight. Today I took a full-blooded American Airlines flight. AMR owns both airlines, and they both operate out of the same concourse (and the same gates sometimes) at both airports.

Heavens, but the two airlines have differences.

First, most obviously, American Eagle doesn't fly anything larger than the 70-seat Bombardier CRJ-700, while American doesn't fly anything smaller than the 140-seat Boeing MD-80 (which they are phasing out in favor of their newer Boeing 737-800 planes. This makes sense, as Eagle flies short routes to small cities and American flies all over the world.

Second, less obviously, American has a fleet of baggage trucks at O'Hare, while American Eagle apparently has one rickety bamboo cart pulled by a 20-year-old mule. Evidence? The last four times I flew in on Eagle, I waited 40 to 45 minutes for my checked bag. Today, flying in on American, in the 12 minutes it took to walk from the gate[1] to the baggage claim, my bag had gotten to the carousel.

Seriously, Eagle? It's time to retire Francis and combine baggage teams with your parent airline.

[1] K19, the farthest gate possible in American's terminal, a gate so far from baggage claim they have Sherpas to guide passengers, and still two AUs closer than the C-concourse is from United's baggage claim on the other side of the airport.

Political morass in Illinois

States can't declare bankruptcy. If they could, Illinois would probably have done already:

While it appears unlikely or even impossible for a state to hide out from creditors in Bankruptcy Court, Illinois appears to meet classic definitions of insolvency: Its liabilities far exceed its assets, and it's not generating enough cash to pay its bills. Private companies in similar circumstances often shut down or file for bankruptcy protection.

...Despite a budget shortfall estimated to be as high as $5.7 billion, state officials haven't shown the political will to either raise taxes or cut spending sufficiently to close the gap.

As a result, fiscal paralysis is spreading through state government. Unpaid bills to suppliers are piling up. State employees, even legislators, are forced to pay their medical bills upfront because some doctors are tired of waiting to be paid by the state. The University of Illinois, owed $400 million, recently instituted furloughs, and there are fears it may not make payroll in March if the shortfall continues.

In unrelated news, the current temperatures are 16°C in Raleigh and -1°C in Chicago...

Friday afternoon potpourri

Randomness:

Really. January.

Three months forward in two hours

As "Chicagoans gaze out at a cover of snow for the 21st consecutive day" today, I'm once again in Raleigh, where snow fell once a few weeks ago but decided not to stay the night. It's already 9°C, going up to a predicted 16°C this afternoon. I plan to walk as far as my legs will take me (or Parker's will take him) later on.

That's the problem, of course: in Chicago, we get maybe three days like this between November and March, so I'm a little giddy about it. On the other hand, Chicagoans do get a lot of work done in the winter. Probably because we have no opportunities to play.

Not a bad place to spend the winter

It turns out, Raleigh isn't that cold. All my life I've just accepted that Chicago winters build character. But I'm not sure anymore, especially after three sunny, 5°C days here while temperatures back home have skulked around -12°C. Then, today, this:

A winter storm warning will be in effect across the Chicago area from this evening through Friday morning.

By the end of that warning, anywhere from 15 to 30 cm of a fairly fluffy snow will have come down, according to the National Weather Service. The heaviest snows are expected near the lakefront.

... The heaviest snowfall will occur between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday, with snow falling at about an inch an hour, [said Charles Mott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service].

Forecasters predict snow in Raleigh tonight, too: about 1 cm or so. Of course, that amount could halt all commerce in North Carolina, so we'll be stocking up on bottled water later.

Seriously, though, Raleigh averages 19 cm of snow annually; Chicago, 98 cm. Then there are the normal temperatures of both cities. I'll say nothing else right now except that the average January daily high temperature in Chicago is the average January daily low temperature in Raleigh.

Let's see how I like Raliegh in July. But today, it's fine.