Quotulatiousness

July 19, 2015

QotD: Virtue vs. temptation, touring version

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We did not succeed in carrying out our programme in its entirety, for the reason that human performance lags ever behind human intention. It is easy to say and believe at three o’clock in the afternoon that: “We will rise at five, breakfast lightly at half-past, and start away at six.”

“Then we shall be well on our way before the heat of the day sets in,” remarks one.

“This time of the year, the early morning is really the best part of the day. Don’t you think so?” adds another.

“Oh, undoubtedly.”

“So cool and fresh.”

“And the half-lights are so exquisite.”

The first morning one maintains one’s vows. The party assembles at half-past five. It is very silent; individually, somewhat snappy; inclined to grumble with its food, also with most other things; the atmosphere charged with compressed irritability seeking its vent. In the evening the Tempter’s voice is heard:

“I think if we got off by half-past six, sharp, that would be time enough?”

The voice of Virtue protests, faintly: “It will be breaking our resolution.”

The Tempter replies: “Resolutions were made for man, not man for resolutions.” The devil can paraphrase Scripture for his own purpose. “Besides, it is disturbing the whole hotel; think of the poor servants.”

The voice of Virtue continues, but even feebler: “But everybody gets up early in these parts.”

“They would not if they were not obliged to, poor things! Say breakfast at half-past six, punctual; that will be disturbing nobody.”

Thus Sin masquerades under the guise of Good, and one sleeps till six, explaining to one’s conscience, who, however, doesn’t believe it, that one does this because of unselfish consideration for others. I have known such consideration extend until seven of the clock.

Likewise, distance measured with a pair of compasses is not precisely the same as when measured by the leg.

“Ten miles an hour for seven hours, seventy miles. A nice easy day’s work.”

“There are some stiff hills to climb?”

“The other side to come down. Say, eight miles an hour, and call it sixty miles. Gott in Himmel! if we can’t average eight miles an hour, we had better go in bath-chairs.” It does seem somewhat impossible to do less, on paper.

But at four o’clock in the afternoon the voice of Duty rings less trumpet-toned:

“Well, I suppose we ought to be getting on.”

“Oh, there’s no hurry! don’t fuss. Lovely view from here, isn’t it?”

“Very. Don’t forget we are twenty-five miles from St. Blasien.”

“How far?”

“Twenty-five miles, a little over if anything.”

“Do you mean to say we have only come thirty-five miles?”

“That’s all.”

“Nonsense. I don’t believe that map of yours.”

“It is impossible, you know. We have been riding steadily ever since the first thing this morning.”

“No, we haven’t. We didn’t get away till eight, to begin with.”

“Quarter to eight.”

“Well, quarter to eight; and every half-dozen miles we have stopped.”

“We have only stopped to look at the view. It’s no good coming to see a country, and then not seeing it.”

“And we have had to pull up some stiff hills.”

“Besides, it has been an exceptionally hot day to-day.”

“Well, don’t forget St. Blasien is twenty-five miles off, that’s all.”

“Any more hills?”

“Yes, two; up and down.”

“I thought you said it was downhill into St. Blasien?”

“So it is for the last ten miles. We are twenty-five miles from St. Blasien here.”

“Isn’t there anywhere between here and St. Blasien? What’s that little place there on the lake?”

“It isn’t St. Blasien, or anywhere near it. There’s a danger in beginning that sort of thing.”

“There’s a danger in overworking oneself. One should study moderation in all things. Pretty little place, that Titisee, according to the map; looks as if there would be good air there.”

“All right, I’m agreeable. It was you fellows who suggested our making for St. Blasien.”

“Oh, I’m not so keen on St. Blasien! poky little place, down in a valley. This Titisee, I should say, was ever so much nicer.”

“Quite near, isn’t it?”

“Five miles.”

General chorus: “We’ll stop at Titisee.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

July 11, 2015

Reason.tv – The TSA’s 12 Signs You Might Be a Terrorist

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Humour,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 9 Jul 2015

Traveling this summer? Avoid these officially terrorist-y behaviors—or you might get detained.

July 1, 2015

Riding the “Budd cars” from Sudbury to White River

Filed under: Cancon,Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Malcolm Kenton reports on his recent trip on VIA Rail’s unique passenger service between Sudbury and White River, Ontario:

VIA Rail Canada’s Sudbury-White River train (formerly known as the Lake Superior), consisting of two (sometimes three) Budd-built Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) that operate three days a week in each direction along a 301-mile section of Canadian Pacific’s transcontinental main line, is the only passenger train of its kind in North America for several reasons. It is currently the only regularly scheduled intercity passenger service using Budd RDCs (the only others being used as backups on two commuter lines, Tri-Met’s Westside Express in Oregon and Trinity Railway Express in Texas, and on a handful of excursion trains). It is the only intercity passenger train in Canada that uses Canadian Pacific trackage for a significant stretch (western Canada’s privately-run Rocky Mountaineer excepted). And it is one of three passenger train routes in northern Ontario that delivers people, supplies and equipment to points along the line that are not accessible by road (except for a few dirt logging roads) or air (except for a few wilderness lodge sites that have small landing strips for bush planes). I had the opportunity to travel aboard this service — whose parallel cannot be found on this side of the 49th Parallel — last week (June 18 & 19).

VIA refurbished all three of the RDCs within the past year, giving them new seats, electric outlets at each seat, restrooms, heating & air conditioning systems, and wheelchair accessibility features. One car has a large restroom whose doors slide open or closed and lock with the push of a button. A crew member on my trip referred to it as “the Cadillac bathroom.” Next to the engineer’s cab on each coach is an area that doubles as a baggage area and a crew break area, with refrigerator, sink and coffee maker. The highest passenger train speed limit on the route is 75 mph, reached for just a brief stretch between Sudbury and Cartier. Otherwise, it generally tops out at 60 — though on rare occasions where the train has had to run with just one RDC, it is limited to 45 mph — meaning the trip is usually completed just barely within the engineers’ legal limit of 12 consecutive hours of service, between which periods crews must be given at least eight consecutive hours of rest.

The vast majority of passengers on “the Budd cars” (as most locals refer to the train) — usually only a handful on each trip, though occasionally all 48 seats on both cars are occupied for a portion of the trip — are visiting remote cabins along the line to fish, hunt/trap, canoe or kayak, mountain bike, or otherwise enjoy the great outdoors. There are also year-round residents of the mid-route communities of Ramsey and Chapleau who use the train to visit family and friends and go to medical appointments in Sudbury (as there are no medical specialists in their hometowns). Passengers bring aboard an array of gear for wilderness expeditions — canoes, fishing gear, coolers, etc. — which is loaded into the baggage section of one of the RDCs (in the busy season, a third RDC car is added that is solely a baggage car, as was the case on my jaunt). And owners of cabins and retreats near the line use the train as a parcel service, having others buy groceries and supplies at one of the endpoints and drive them to the train, to be loaded into the baggage hold and unloaded at the stop nearest their outpost.

Eastbound train 186, with the RDC baggage car in the lead, passes a CP freight train carrying backhoes at the small White River, ON yard on June 19, approaching the station to begin its run towards Sudbury. (Photo by Malcolm Kenton)

Eastbound train 186, with the RDC baggage car in the lead, passes a CP freight train carrying backhoes at the small White River, ON yard on June 19, approaching the station to begin its run towards Sudbury. (Photo by Malcolm Kenton)

June 24, 2015

QotD: Surge pricing

Filed under: Business,Economics,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

New York just killed every economist’s favorite thing about Uber: surge pricing. Sure, many economists also love convenient car service at the touch of a button. But black-car services have been around for a long time. Explicit surge pricing — which both creates new supply and rations demand — has not, but it’s long been a core feature of Uber Technologies Inc.’s business model. While it can be annoying at times (during a recent rainstorm, I noticed a sudden epidemic of drivers canceling rides, which I suspect was due to the rapidly rising surge price), it also allows you to be sure that you will be able to get a taxi on New Year’s Eve or during a rainstorm as long as you’re willing to pay extra.

Sadly, no one else loves surge pricing as much as economists do. Instead of getting all excited about the subtle, elegant machinery of price discovery, people get all outraged about “price gouging.” No matter how earnestly economists and their fellow travelers explain that this is irrational madness — that price gouging actually makes everyone better off by ensuring greater supply and allocating the supply to (approximately) those with the greatest demand — the rest of the country continues to view marking up generators after a hurricane, or similar maneuvers, as a pretty serious moral crime.

Megan McArdle, “Uber Makes Economists Sad”, Bloomberg View, 2014-07-09.

May 21, 2015

Jonathan Kay, ebike martyr

Filed under: Cancon,Environment,Humour,Media,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):

City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.

It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.

In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.

Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.

Jonathan Kay - ebike ad

May 10, 2015

QotD: The German love of order

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box, and to regard with contempt the few uncivilised outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges. In course of time every German bird, one is confident, will have his proper place in a full chorus. This promiscuous and desultory warbling of his must, one feels, be irritating to the precise German mind; there is no method in it. The music-loving German will organise him. Some stout bird with a specially well-developed crop will be trained to conduct him, and, instead of wasting himself in a wood at four o’clock in the morning, he will, at the advertised time, sing in a beer garden, accompanied by a piano. Things are drifting that way.

Your German likes nature, but his idea of nature is a glorified Welsh Harp. He takes great interest in his garden. He plants seven rose trees on the north side and seven on the south, and if they do not grow up all the same size and shape it worries him so that he cannot sleep of nights. Every flower he ties to a stick. This interferes with his view of the flower, but he has the satisfaction of knowing it is there, and that it is behaving itself. The lake is lined with zinc, and once a week he takes it up, carries it into the kitchen, and scours it. In the geometrical centre of the grass plot, which is sometimes as large as a tablecloth and is generally railed round, he places a china dog. The Germans are very fond of dogs, but as a rule they prefer them of china. The china dog never digs holes in the lawn to bury bones, and never scatters a flower-bed to the winds with his hind legs. From the German point of view, he is the ideal dog. He stops where you put him, and he is never where you do not want him. You can have him perfect in all points, according to the latest requirements of the Kennel Club; or you can indulge your own fancy and have something unique. You are not, as with other dogs, limited to breed. In china, you can have a blue dog or a pink dog. For a little extra, you can have a double-headed dog.

On a certain fixed date in the autumn the German stakes his flowers and bushes to the earth, and covers them with Chinese matting; and on a certain fixed date in the spring he uncovers them, and stands them up again. If it happens to be an exceptionally fine autumn, or an exceptionally late spring, so much the worse for the unfortunate vegetable. No true German would allow his arrangements to be interfered with by so unruly a thing as the solar system. Unable to regulate the weather, he ignores it.

Among trees, your German’s favourite is the poplar. Other disorderly nations may sing the charms of the rugged oak, the spreading chestnut, or the waving elm. To the German all such, with their wilful, untidy ways, are eyesores. The poplar grows where it is planted, and how it is planted. It has no improper rugged ideas of its own. It does not want to wave or to spread itself. It just grows straight and upright as a German tree should grow; and so gradually the German is rooting out all other trees, and replacing them with poplars.

Your German likes the country, but he prefers it as the lady thought she would the noble savage — more dressed. He likes his walk through the wood — to a restaurant. But the pathway must not be too steep, it must have a brick gutter running down one side of it to drain it, and every twenty yards or so it must have its seat on which he can rest and mop his brow; for your German would no more think of sitting on the grass than would an English bishop dream of rolling down One Tree Hill. He likes his view from the summit of the hill, but he likes to find there a stone tablet telling him what to look at, find a table and bench at which he can sit to partake of the frugal beer and “belegte Semmel” he has been careful to bring with him. If, in addition, he can find a police notice posted on a tree, forbidding him to do something or other, that gives him an extra sense of comfort and security.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

March 29, 2015

QotD: Writing about scenery

Filed under: Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Lastly, in this book there will be no scenery. This is not laziness on my part; it is self-control. Nothing is easier to write than scenery; nothing more difficult and unnecessary to read. When Gibbon had to trust to travellers’ tales for a description of the Hellespont, and the Rhine was chiefly familiar to English students through the medium of Caesar’s Commentaries, it behooved every globe-trotter, for whatever distance, to describe to the best of his ability the things that he had seen. Dr. Johnson, familiar with little else than the view down Fleet Street, could read the description of a Yorkshire moor with pleasure and with profit. To a cockney who had never seen higher ground than the Hog’s Back in Surrey, an account of Snowdon must have appeared exciting. But we, or rather the steam-engine and the camera for us, have changed all that. The man who plays tennis every year at the foot of the Matterhorn, and billiards on the summit of the Rigi, does not thank you for an elaborate and painstaking description of the Grampian Hills. To the average man, who has seen a dozen oil paintings, a hundred photographs, a thousand pictures in the illustrated journals, and a couple of panoramas of Niagara, the word-painting of a waterfall is tedious.

An American friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, who loved poetry well enough for its own sake, told me that he had obtained a more correct and more satisfying idea of the Lake district from an eighteenpenny book of photographic views than from all the works of Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth put together. I also remember his saying concerning this subject of scenery in literature, that he would thank an author as much for writing an eloquent description of what he had just had for dinner. But this was in reference to another argument; namely, the proper province of each art. My friend maintained that just as canvas and colour were the wrong mediums for story telling, so word-painting was, at its best, but a clumsy method of conveying impressions that could much better be received through the eye.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

March 22, 2015

QotD: Conveying useful information

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one to read this book under a misapprehension.

There will be no useful information in this book.

Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his difficulties.

I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte. This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me by experience.

In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day. Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to what should be regarded as affording amusement and what instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to people about to marry — long, earnest advice that would, had they followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a rabbit farm saps the judgment.

We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland, and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other journals.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

February 1, 2015

QotD: Travellers’ phrase books

Filed under: Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[George] handed me a small book bound in red cloth. It was a guide to English conversation for the use of German travellers. It commenced “On a Steam-boat,” and terminated “At the Doctor’s”; its longest chapter being devoted to conversation in a railway carriage, among, apparently, a compartment load of quarrelsome and ill-mannered lunatics: “Can you not get further away from me, sir?” — “It is impossible, madam; my neighbour, here, is very stout” — “Shall we not endeavour to arrange our legs?” — “Please have the goodness to keep your elbows down” — “Pray do not inconvenience yourself, madam, if my shoulder is of any accommodation to you,” whether intended to be said sarcastically or not, there was nothing to indicate — “I really must request you to move a little, madam, I can hardly breathe,” the author’s idea being, presumably, that by this time the whole party was mixed up together on the floor. The chapter concluded with the phrase, “Here we are at our destination, God be thanked! (Gott sei dank!)” a pious exclamation, which under the circumstances must have taken the form of a chorus.

At the end of the book was an appendix, giving the German traveller hints concerning the preservation of his health and comfort during his sojourn in English towns, chief among such hints being advice to him to always travel with a supply of disinfectant powder, to always lock his bedroom door at night, and to always carefully count his small change.

“It is not a brilliant publication,” I remarked, handing the book back to George; “it is not a book that personally I would recommend to any German about to visit England; I think it would get him disliked. But I have read books published in London for the use of English travellers abroad every whit as foolish. Some educated idiot, misunderstanding seven languages, would appear to go about writing these books for the misinformation and false guidance of modern Europe.”

“You cannot deny,” said George, “that these books are in large request. They are bought by the thousand, I know. In every town in Europe there must be people going about talking this sort of thing.”

“Maybe,” I replied; “but fortunately nobody understands them. I have noticed, myself, men standing on railway platforms and at street corners reading aloud from such books. Nobody knows what language they are speaking; nobody has the slightest knowledge of what they are saying. This is, perhaps, as well; were they understood they would probably be assaulted.”

George said: “Maybe you are right; my idea is to see what would happen if they were understood. My proposal is to get to London early on Wednesday morning, and spend an hour or two going about and shopping with the aid of this book. There are one or two little things I want — a hat and a pair of bedroom slippers, among other articles. Our boat does not leave Tilbury till twelve, and that just gives us time. I want to try this sort of talk where I can properly judge of its effect. I want to see how the foreigner feels when he is talked to in this way.”

It struck me as a sporting idea. In my enthusiasm I offered to accompany him, and wait outside the shop. I said I thought that Harris would like to be in it, too — or rather outside.

George said that was not quite his scheme. His proposal was that Harris and I should accompany him into the shop. With Harris, who looks formidable, to support him, and myself at the door to call the police if necessary, he said he was willing to adventure the thing.

We walked round to Harris’s, and put the proposal before him. He examined the book, especially the chapters dealing with the purchase of shoes and hats. He said:

“If George talks to any bootmaker or any hatter the things that are put down here, it is not support he will want; it is carrying to the hospital that he will need.”

That made George angry.

“You talk,” said George, “as though I were a foolhardy boy without any sense. I shall select from the more polite and less irritating speeches; the grosser insults I shall avoid.”

This being clearly understood, Harris gave in his adhesion; and our start was fixed for early Wednesday morning.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

January 23, 2015

QotD: Taxicab cartels

Filed under: Government,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Around the world, the government-charted monopolies and cartels that run the taxi business responded with protests and violence to the emergence of technology-empowered competitors such as Uber, which does not undercut traditional taxis on cost — in New York, its drivers earn about three times what a traditional cabbie makes — but is much more convenient for those who do not live or work in areas that are generally well-served by traditional taxis. As in most cities, New York law imposes price uniformity on taxis and long protected them from most competition, with the entirely predictable result that consumers are the worst-served parties in the taxi business. (It does not help matters that, unlike their London counterparts, famously steeped in “the Knowledge,” the typical New York cabbie cannot find the Brooklyn Bridge without GPS or turn-by-turn instructions from the passenger.) The lack of consumer focus has some perverse consequences here in New York: The taxi fleet schedules its shift change from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., meaning that taxis all but vanish from the streets during the hours when they are most needed. The New York Times calls this an “apparent violation of the laws of supply and demand,” which, New York Times geniuses, is exactly what happens when you use regulation to take supply and demand effectively out of the equation. A platform that combined Uber’s on-demand service with Google-style driverless cars would probably put the traditional taxi out of business — assuming that the cartels are not able to use government to strangle innovation in its cradle.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

January 11, 2015

QotD: Always make a list

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The wheel business settled, there arose the ever-lasting luggage question.

“The usual list, I suppose,” said George, preparing to write.

That was wisdom I had taught them; I had learned it myself years ago from my Uncle Podger.

“Always before beginning to pack,” my Uncle would say, “make a list.”

He was a methodical man.

“Take a piece of paper” — he always began at the beginning — “put down on it everything you can possibly require, then go over it and see that it contains nothing you can possibly do without. Imagine yourself in bed; what have you got on? Very well, put it down — together with a change. You get up; what do you do? Wash yourself. What do you wash yourself with? Soap; put down soap. Go on till you have finished. Then take your clothes. Begin at your feet; what do you wear on your feet? Boots, shoes, socks; put them down. Work up till you get to your head. What else do you want besides clothes? A little brandy; put it down. A corkscrew, put it down. Put down everything, then you don’t forget anything.”

That is the plan he always pursued himself. The list made, he would go over it carefully, as he always advised, to see that he had forgotten nothing. Then he would go over it again, and strike out everything it was possible to dispense with.

Then he would lose the list.

Said George: “Just sufficient for a day or two we will take with us on our bikes. The bulk of our luggage we must send on from town to town.”

“We must be careful,” I said; “I knew a man once—”

Harris looked at his watch.

“We’ll hear about him on the boat,” said Harris; “I have got to meet Clara at Waterloo Station in half an hour.”

“It won’t take half an hour,” I said; “it’s a true story, and—”

“Don’t waste it,” said George: “I am told there are rainy evenings in the Black Forest; we may be glad of it. What we have to do now is to finish this list.”

Now I come to think of it, I never did get off that story; something always interrupted it. And it really was true.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

January 10, 2015

Sub-orbital airliners? Not if you know much about economics and physics

Filed under: Economics,Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Charles Stross in full “beat up the optimists” mode over a common SF notion about sub-orbital travel for the masses:

Let’s start with a simple normative assumption; that sub-orbital spaceplanes are going to obey the laws of physics. One consequence of this is that the amount of energy it takes to get from A to B via hypersonic airliner is going to exceed the energy input it takes to cover the same distance using a subsonic jet, by quite a margin. Yes, we can save some fuel by travelling above the atmosphere and cutting air resistance, but it’s not a free lunch: you expend energy getting up to altitude and speed, and the fuel burn for going faster rises nonlinearly with speed. Concorde, flying trans-Atlantic at Mach 2.0, burned about the same amount of fuel as a Boeing 747 of similar vintage flying trans-Atlantic at Mach 0.85 … while carrying less than a quarter as many passengers.

Rockets aren’t a magic technology. Neither are hybrid hypersonic air-breathing gadgets like Reaction Engines‘ Sabre engine. It’s going to be a wee bit expensive. But let’s suppose we can get the price down far enough that a seat in a Mach 5 to Mach 10 hypersonic or sub-orbital passenger aircraft is cost-competitive with a high-end first class seat on a subsonic jet. Surely the super-rich will all switch to hypersonic services in a shot, just as they used Concorde to commute between New York and London back before Airbus killed it off by cancelling support after the 30-year operational milestone?

Well, no.

Firstly, this is the post-9/11 age. Obviously security is a consideration for all civil aviation, right? Well, no: business jets are largely exempt, thanks to lobbying by their operators, backed up by their billionaire owners. But those of us who travel by civil airliners open to the general ticket-buying public are all suspects. If something goes wrong with a scheduled service, fighters are scrambled to intercept it, lest some fruitcake tries to fly it into a skyscraper.

So not only are we not going to get our promised flying cars, we’re not going to get fast, cheap, intercontinental travel options. But what about those hyper-rich folks who spend money like water?

First class air travel by civil aviation is a dying niche today. If you are wealthy enough to afford the £15,000-30,000 ticket cost of a first-class-plus intercontinental seat (or, rather, bedroom with en-suite toilet and shower if we’re talking about the very top end), you can also afford to pay for a seat on a business jet instead. A number of companies operate profitably on the basis that they lease seats on bizjets by the hour: you may end up sharing a jet with someone else who’s paying to fly the same route, but the operating principle is that when you call for it a jet will turn up and take you where you want to go, whenever you want. There’s no security theatre, no fuss, and it takes off when you want it to, not when the daily schedule says it has to. It will probably have internet connectivity via satellite—by the time hypersonic competition turns up, this is not a losing bet—and for extra money, the sky is the limit on comfort.

I don’t get to fly first class, but I’ve watched this happen over the past two decades. Business class is holding its own, and premium economy is growing on intercontinental flights (a cut-down version of Business with more leg-room than regular economy), but the number of first class seats you’ll find on an Air France or British Airways 747 is dwindling. The VIPs are leaving the carriers, driven away by the security annoyances and drawn by the convenience of much smaller jets that come when they call.

For rich people, time is the only thing money can’t buy. A HST flying between fixed hubs along pre-timed flight paths under conditions of high security is not convenient. A bizjet that flies at their beck and call is actually speedier across most intercontinental routes, unless the hypersonic route is serviced by multiple daily flights—which isn’t going to happen unless the operating costs are comparable to a subsonic craft.

January 7, 2015

In praise of the bus, but not “the buses”

Filed under: Britain,Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Over at The Register, someone accidentally let Simon Rockman get up on his hobby horse and start yelling nasty things about buses:

A bus is a fantastically efficient way to move a large number of people. Buses however are not. They are a dreadful system for getting people to work.

The difference is not as subtle as that sentence may make it seem. What lies behind it is that when you want to move a large number of people from one place to another all at once, a works outing for instance, a Charabanc makes perfect sense.

But it doesn’t scale. If you want to travel by bus there needs to be a regular service. That means lots of buses have to waft up and down a route in anticipation of there being someone who wants to get on. In a major city, and I live in London, that’s good for some of the time. So long as there is a steady supply of people there can be a good number on the bus. This of course doesn’t work very early in the morning or late at night when there are not enough people.

What’s worse is that buses don’t go from where people live to where they work. Unless you live by a bus stop, in which case you have the kinds of people who hang around bus stops hanging around your house, you’ll have to walk to it. The same is true at the other end. Then you have to wait for the bus. If I walk down to my nearest bus stop and a bus arrives as I get there I think it’s a fantastic, special happening. If I walk out of my house and my car is there I think “that’s normal”.

January 4, 2015

QotD: Camping in the rain

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Camping out in rainy weather is not pleasant.

It is evening. You are wet through, and there is a good two inches of water in the boat, and all the things are damp. You find a place on the banks that is not quite so puddly as other places you have seen, and you land and lug out the tent, and two of you proceed to fix it.

It is soaked and heavy, and it flops about, and tumbles down on you, and clings round your head and makes you mad. The rain is pouring steadily down all the time. It is difficult enough to fix a tent in dry weather: in wet, the task becomes herculean. Instead of helping you, it seems to you that the other man is simply playing the fool. Just as you get your side beautifully fixed, he gives it a hoist from his end, and spoils it all.

“Here! what are you up to?” you call out.

“What are you up to?” he retorts; “leggo, can’t you?”

“Don’t pull it; you’ve got it all wrong, you stupid ass!” you shout.

“No, I haven’t,” he yells back; “let go your side!”

“I tell you you’ve got it all wrong!” you roar, wishing that you could get at him; and you give your ropes a lug that pulls all his pegs out.

“Ah, the bally idiot!” you hear him mutter to himself; and then comes a savage haul, and away goes your side. You lay down the mallet and start to go round and tell him what you think about the whole business, and, at the same time, he starts round in the same direction to come and explain his views to you. And you follow each other round and round, swearing at one another, until the tent tumbles down in a heap, and leaves you looking at each other across its ruins, when you both indignantly exclaim, in the same breath:

“There you are! what did I tell you?”

Meanwhile the third man, who has been baling out the boat, and who has spilled the water down his sleeve, and has been cursing away to himself steadily for the last ten minutes, wants to know what the thundering blazes you’re playing at, and why the blarmed tent isn’t up yet.

At last, somehow or other, it does get up, and you land the things. It is hopeless attempting to make a wood fire, so you light the methylated spirit stove, and crowd round that.

Rainwater is the chief article of diet at supper. The bread is two-thirds rainwater, the beefsteak-pie is exceedingly rich in it, and the jam, and the butter, and the salt, and the coffee have all combined with it to make soup.

After supper, you find your tobacco is damp, and you cannot smoke. Luckily you have a bottle of the stuff that cheers and inebriates, if taken in proper quantity, and this restores to you sufficient interest in life to induce you to go to bed.

There you dream that an elephant has suddenly sat down on your chest, and that the volcano has exploded and thrown you down to the bottom of the sea — the elephant still sleeping peacefully on your bosom. You wake up and grasp the idea that something terrible really has happened. Your first impression is that the end of the world has come; and then you think that this cannot be, and that it is thieves and murderers, or else fire, and this opinion you express in the usual method. No help comes, however, and all you know is that thousands of people are kicking you, and you are being smothered.

Somebody else seems in trouble, too. You can hear his faint cries coming from underneath your bed. Determining, at all events, to sell your life dearly, you struggle frantically, hitting out right and left with arms and legs, and yelling lustily the while, and at last something gives way, and you find your head in the fresh air. Two feet off, you dimly observe a half-dressed ruffian, waiting to kill you, and you are preparing for a life-and-death struggle with him, when it begins to dawn upon you that it’s Jim.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he says, recognising you at the same moment.

“Yes,” you answer, rubbing your eyes; “what’s happened?”

“Bally tent’s blown down, I think,” he says. “Where’s Bill?”

Then you both raise up your voices and shout for “Bill!” and the ground beneath you heaves and rocks, and the muffled voice that you heard before replies from out the ruin:

“Get off my head, can’t you?”

And Bill struggles out, a muddy, trampled wreck, and in an unnecessarily aggressive mood — he being under the evident belief that the whole thing has been done on purpose.

In the morning you are all three speechless, owing to having caught severe colds in the night; you also feel very quarrelsome, and you swear at each other in hoarse whispers during the whole of breakfast time.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

December 22, 2014

Repost – Happy Holiday Travels!

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

H/T to Economicrot. Many many more at the link.

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