Quotulatiousness

October 19, 2017

America’s third-world air traffic control system

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In City Journal, John Tierney says there’s hope for improvement, but the crony capitalists might yet manage to keep the crappy system in its current state anyway:

Members of Congress are about to face a tough choice: should they vote to replace America’s scandalously antiquated air-traffic control system with one that would be safer and cheaper, reduce the federal deficit, conserve fuel, ease congestion in the skies, and speed travel for tens of millions of airline passengers? Or should they maintain the status quo to please the lobbyists representing owners of corporate jets?

If that choice doesn’t sound difficult, then you don’t know the power that corporate jet-setters wield in Congress. They’re the consummate Washington crony capitalists: shameless enough to demand that their private flights be subsidized by the masses who fly coach, savvy enough to stymie reforms backed by Democratic and Republican administrations.

While the rest of the industrialized world has been modernizing air-traffic control, the United States remains mired in technology from the mid-twentieth century. Controllers and pilots rely on ground-based radar and radio beacons instead of GPS satellites. They communicate by voice over crowded radio channels because the federal government still hasn’t figured out how to use text messaging. The computers in control towers are so primitive that controllers track planes by passing around slips of paper.

The result: an enormous amount of time wasted by passengers, especially those traveling in the busy airspace of the Northeast. Because the system is so imprecise, planes have to be kept far apart, which limits the number of planes in the air — leaving passengers stranded at terminals listening to the dread announcements about “air traffic delays.” When they do finally take off, they’re often delayed further because the pilot must fly a zig-zag course following radio beacons instead of saving time and fuel by taking a direct route.

Surprisingly, the Canadian air traffic control system is the model to emulate:

The Trump administration is pushing Congress this month to turn over the air-traffic control system to a not-for-profit corporation supported by user fees instead of tax dollars. It would resemble Nav Canada, which has won high praise from the aviation community for modernizing Canada’s system while reducing costs. Nav Canada’s controllers use GPS technology and text messaging, as do the controllers at the corporation that has taken over the United Kingdom’s system.

October 6, 2017

Regulation and the unregulated sharing economy

Filed under: Australia, Bureaucracy, Business, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

This particular article talks about the situation in Australia, although it’s quite similar here in Canada:

Living in Australia sometimes feels like living in a bureaucrats’ version of a spaghetti western. The heroes are the brave and all-knowing public servants, while the villains are the naughty people who are too foolish to realise that government knows best.

Politicians and bureaucrats alike want to regulate first, ask questions later. It seems barely a week passes without someone trumpeting the expansion of the nanny state. And with each new crackdown, ban or tax, our freedom gets that little bit smaller.

Whereas once the government would at least go through the motions of citing things like market failure, all it takes now is for a politician to want to look tough or be seen ‘doing something’. So it is with the proposed regulation of short-term accommodation platforms like Airbnb and Stayz.

Sharing our home with someone is as old as time. Who has not stayed with a family member or friend, or the friend of a friend? The difference these days is that it is much easier. Technology allows us to stay in someone’s home nearly anywhere in the world.

The immense popularity of these platforms is simply staggering. Globally, Airbnb has just passed four million listings, more than the rooms of the top five hotel brands worldwide. Australia is particularly fertile ground for the company, with almost one in five adults having an account. The company claims Airbnb is the “most penetrated market in the world”.

For government, the platforms are confronting. With no red tape or government involvement, travellers are protected, bad apples ejected and quality maintained via hosts and guests providing reviews of each other using sophisticated technology and a trusted online marketplace. Airbnb says that, on average, a host could have a new reservation every day for over 27 years before experiencing a single bad incident. A track record like that would be the envy of any pub, hotel, motel or caravan park in the country.

The so-called sharing economy challenges the idea that people need red tape, regulations or government to keep them safe from harm. But that does not stop some from trying. Currently, the NSW Government is toying with a grab bag of Big Brother and nanny-state policies ranging from new taxes and caps, to licences, planning approval and complete bans.

No modern government has ever seen a healthy, flourishing market without feeling the need to insert itself into the process, usually justified by the need to “protect” consumers.

October 3, 2017

QotD: Generation selfie

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

There was a whole section of the catalog I picked up in which the models obscured their faces with their phones by taking selfies. Unlike most models these days, who affect a look of unutterable misery (perhaps it is not an affectation, given that they are not allowed to eat and are treated like slaves), the models taking selfies looked very happy, at least in those pictures in which it was possible to discern their facial expression. Perhaps, then, it is in looking at oneself that true happiness lies, at least for some people.

Certainly, at every famous tourist site these days one sees whole troops of people taking pictures of themselves: me and the Mona Lisa, me and the Eiffel Tower, me and Big Ben, me and the Empire State Building, me and Mount Everest. It is the me that counts in these photos, of course; no one’s friends really care about Mount Everest, and even concern for the me is relative. A selfie with Mount Everest is like an alibi when one has been accused of claiming to have been there without having been there; the proof is in one’s phone, although it must be admitted that these days, with an ability to alter photos at will that would have brought joy to Stalin’s heart, anything can be arranged. I read in the memoir of a French model that, having starved mannequins to the size of minus 6, they are fattened up a little afterwards by computer at the printing stage: a remarkable testimony to mankind’s capacity to combine wickedness with stupidity.

The selfie is an example of the new social contract brought about by the social media: You pretend to be interested in me if I pretend to be interested in you. Thus, I agree to look at your selfie at Machu Picchu if you agree to look at mine at Angkor Wat. And this, after all, is as it should be, because it is a long way to go to either of those if no one believes you have been. A classic book is a book that everyone wishes he had read; a wonder of the world is a place at which everyone wishes he had been photographed.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Suit Yourselfie”, Taki’s Magazine, 2017-09-16.

August 30, 2017

James May loves airships! MORE EXTRAS – James May’s Q&A – Head Squeeze

Filed under: Germany, History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Mar 2013

You asked for it! In a previous episode of James May’s Q&A, James discussed the sad demise of the airship as a popular mode of transport. And during filming we literally couldn’t get him to stop talking about them! Clearly he loves airships and loves to talk about airships. A lot! Lucky for all you people we captured it all and can present it now as Exclusive Extended Extras on the rise and fall of airships.

Original clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug5UafJFEYc

James May’s Q&A:
With his own unique spin, James May asks and answers the oddball questions we’ve all wondered about from ‘What Exactly Is One Second?’ to ‘Is Invisibility Possible?’

August 3, 2017

QotD: Improved quality of life doesn’t always show up in GDP figures

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

We economists marvel, too, but we also wonder how free apps fit into GDP. They do have their long-run downside, as we forget how to read maps and plot routes ourselves. (Anybody out there remember how to work a slide rule? No? That’s not a loss for computation but it does mean lower average numeracy.) But in the short run they save billions of hours in wrong turns not taken and trillions of cells of stomach lining no longer eaten up by travel anxiety. Not to mention their entertainment value.

But hardly any of that very big upside shows up in GDP. In one respect, in fact, GDP goes down. I used to buy maps, including travel atlases. I’m unlikely to do that anymore. Maps purchased by consumers are a “final good or service” and thus do enter into GDP. Maps I interact with online but don’t pay for aren’t GDP. So well-being has gone up — a lot — as a result of Google Maps. But GDP may well have gone down.

In fact, apps do produce some GDP. Google sustains itself in part by selling ads, including to retailers and restaurants looking to pay for prominent mention on its map display. Its ad revenue is an intermediate input into GDP. Many of the entities buying Google ads are in the business of selling “final goods or services” and if they’re money-making, the prices of their goods have to cover the cost of their ads. So by that circuitous route the “value” of the apps does end up in GDP.

But what’s the relationship between what advertisers pay for my eyeballs and the value of the app to me? The two are not completely unrelated. The more I use the app the more I’m likely to buy the advertised products, presumably. But in practice, the probability of my buying is pretty small while my benefit from the app is pretty big. How strange that miracle apps can change our lives but not our GDP.

William Watson, “How using Google Maps on your summer road trip messes with the GDP”, Financial Post, 2017-07-18.

July 13, 2017

Words & Numbers: Do Airlines Charge Too Much?

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

Published on 12 Jul 2017

This week on Words & Numbers, James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies tackle the issue of airline pricing. Why do they charge what they do? What do those prices mean? Is it too much and are passengers being ripped off?

May 16, 2017

11 Things to see in Athens

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Mar 2017

On February i got a few days away to relax from everything. I left you with some automatic videos, so you wouldn’t be without new documentaries and i went on holiday to Athens, Greece. I wanted to share a little bit about what i saw. This video is the first video made by me. (Be good, please!)

May 1, 2017

The Canadian Pacific Railway – 1920s Across Canada by Train, All ABOARD!

Filed under: Cancon, History, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 6 Apr 2017

Historical footage of the places and highlights of one of the greatest train journeys in the world, a trip across Canada from sea to sea on the Trans-Canada Limited, Canada’s fastest transcontinental train.

The Trans-Canada Limited was considered as one of the world’s finest trains in its time. The concept of this train was that of a de luxe ‘Hotel-on-Wheels.’ It was the world’s longest-distance all-first-class sleeper train, with the fastest time across the North American continent from one ocean to the other.

The Trans-Canada Limited was operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was inaugurated in 1919, just after World War I, and lasted until 1930.

As a result of the economic depression following the great Stock Market Crash of October 1929, it was cancelled in 1931. As with any other CPR passenger train, the equipment was the very best available, yet in June of 1929 the whole train was completely re-outfitted with 10 brand new sets of cars – each set costing in excess of one million dollars.

This early travelogue documents travel across Canada by rail, introducing major cities and places of interest. Traveling over 3,600 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific takes five days to by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The journey starts in Saint John, New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy. Highlights of the trip are: Algonquin Hotel; salmon fishing. Quebec City is the oldest city in the North America; The Chateau Frontenac Hotel towering over the St Lawrence.

Montreal is Canadian Pacific headquarters and Trans-Canada Limited. Ottawa is the capital of the nation. Toronto is the Queen City. Niagara Falls is connected to the French River and Georgian Bay. [edit: no, unless you include the Niagara River, Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River, and Lake Huron] Canadian Pacific steamer carries its passengers across the Great Lakes.

Winnipeg to the prairies and across the prairies through Regina and Saskatoon. Arrival at Calgary and Edmonton. Banff and Lake Louise are located in the Canadian Rockies. Through the Rockies, the train ends in Vancouver where English Bay and Stanley Park are located. The city of Victoria gives an image of England on the Pacific.

Source footage: The National Archives of Canada – https://www.canada.ca/en/library-archives.html

April 29, 2017

100 Days of Trump: Three Best and Worst Moments of Presidency So Far

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 28 Apr 2017

Reason presents the three worst—and the three best—achievements of President Trump’s first 100 days.
____________________________________________

Third Worst Moment: Replace and Repeal FAIL.

Along with his pledge to build a wall on the southern border and deport illegal immigrants en masse, Trump’s campaign was all about ramming through the “Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act,” which would have cut red tape, gotten rid of the individual mandate, and created a true marketplace for medical insurance. Instead, thanks to the president’s own lack of savvy and GOP dithering, it didn’t even get a proper vote in Congress.

Third Best Moment: The nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.

The nomination of an intellectually powerful and highly respected jurist to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court demonstrated that President Trump isn’t the flake that many critics figured him to be. Neil Gorsuch might not be libertarian, but he is, in the estimation of Georgetown Law’s Randy Barnett, a serious thinker who believes that government power is and should be limited.

Second Worst Moment: The Country That Bombs Together.

The one action for which President Trump has received bipartisan praise was the bombing of a Syrian government air base to protest the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Even opposition leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer signed on to a starkly humanitarian intervention that served no greater purpose than rallying voters here in America.

Second Best Moment: Deregulatory appointees at the FDA, FCC, and EPA.

There’s no question that Trump has picked some terrible cabinet members—Attorney General Jeff Sessions has openly talked about ramping up the war on pot in states where it’s legal, for instance. He also defends asset-forfeiture abuse and has hinted at reviving federal porn prosecutions, too. But picks such as Ajit Pai at the Federal Communications Commission, Scott Gottlieb at the Food and Drug Administration, and Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are serious deregulators who are already starting to prune back regulations that accomplish little but cost taxpayers and innovators lots of time, money, and resources.

Worst Moment: Muslim Travel Ban.

The president has issued two executive decrees calling for a moratorium on travel from several majority-Muslim countries and the suspension of America’s refugee program. Both have been stayed by federal courts and it remains unclear if one will ever become the law of the land. Regardless it’s anti-American to effectively establish a religious test for travelers and migrants here—and it also undermines attempts to reach out to the vast majority of Muslims who are the primary targets of Islamic fundamentalism.

Best Moment: He’s Getting Real.

Every new president enters office thinking they can direct the course of human history via his pen or, in the case of Trump, his Twitter feed. For all his bluster and lack of self-awareness, he’s also learning that the world is more complicated than he reckoned. He’s pushed back deadines for all sorts of projects, from funding for his stupid and useless immigration wall to a timeline for tax reform, which shows that he is living in the real world at least. To the extent he realizes that his best path forward is in cutting economic regulations rather than vilifying immigrants, renegotiating trade deals, and starting new wars, he’ll not only be a better president—he’ll create a better America too.

Written by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Paul Detrick and Alexis Garcia.

April 17, 2017

Why big organizations act like idiots (United Airlines is only the most recent example)

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin knows about big corporations making themselves look foolish … and far too often doubling down on the stupid:

This whole recent thing with United Airlines has me thinking, once again, about how big organizations act like idiots. […]

Like all good consultants, I have a Model, mostly cribbed from others, based on two observations:

  • The SNAFU principle: the farther up a hierarchy information has to travel, the more information is lost. This is because no one likes giving people bad news, so the news tends to get better the farther up it goes.
  • The Peter Principle (modified): people rise in a hierarchy to the limits of their competence in rising in a hierarchy; further, the skill of rising in a hierarchy is largely independent of the skills needed to deal with actual issues.

Of course, the implication of this is something I’ve called Carl’s Corollary (for a friend and co-worker Carl Madison, who first pointed it out). Carl’s Corollary implies that most decisions are being made by people less and less competent to deal with the situation, using increasingly bad information.

Naturally, this results in bad decisions being made. The usual result is that once the bad decision has been made, someone is identified to be responsible, that person is punished, and a new policy is issued to make sure no one makes that mistake again.

[…]

United, though, has a different scheme, clearly. They have a Book, and it Must Be Followed. No one on the ground in Chicago — at least no one in reach of the gate — had the authority to do anything but offer an $800 voucher, which just wasn’t enough. (I can relate. I used to be a “45 weeks a year” road warrior, and there were some nights where if they’d have tried to bump me off a flight home, I would have either killed someone or just thrown myself on the floor of the terminal screaming.) So they followed the Book, and when they couldn’t get Dao to leave, they followed the book again saying he was disruptive, and then the mall airport cops went all Cartman on him…

https://media.giphy.com/media/B1TMcmoBAaSZi/giphy.gif

… and the rest was history.

Now, imagine if, instead, the gate people had the authority to offer more. And the gate agents knew their primary responsibility was to make customers happy and not get bad publicity.

April 13, 2017

United Airlines Honest Commercial [Jimmy Kimmel]

Filed under: Business, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on Apr 11, 2017

“No one wanted to volunteer to get off the plane because the next flight wasn’t until 2 p.m. the next day, which is almost a full 24 hours later,” said Bridges, who added that the airline selected which flyers to eject “based on an internal algorithm that weighs in … who was the last to purchase.” Bridges said the unidentified passenger was told he had to leave, but the man refused to do so.

“He said he was a doctor, he had patients he had to see in the morning, he wasn’t going to get off the plane,” Bridges recounted, “and the gate agent was like, ‘You have to get off the plane. If you don’t get off, we’ll call in security.’ And he was like, ‘Fine, call security, I’m not getting off the plane.’”

Bridges said the man wasn’t being violent with security and police officers who responded, but did say he was “kind of [flailing] his arms and trying to keep them away from him and ultimately they had to use the force, as you can see in the video.”

The shocked passengers berated United employees who boarded the plane in the ejected flyers’ place.

Late Monday, United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement apologizing for having to “re-accommodate these customers.”

“Does that look like re-accommodation to you?” Carlson asked. “There’s no mention of the fact that this guy is bloody and unconscious. That’s re-accommodation, according to United Airlines.”
[http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2017/04/10/united-airlines-passenger-describes-moment-unconscious-man-was-dragged-off-plane.html]

April 12, 2017

United Airlines implies that the beatings will continue until customer morale improves

Filed under: Business, Humour, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

One of several videos from other passengers on the flight:

Some reactions from around the net to a United Airlines initiative to treat their customers like unruly prison inmates:

Reason‘s Brian Doherty:

The world is rightly abuzz over an awful incident yesterday in which a man was beaten and dragged off a plane by police at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for the crime of wanting to use the seat he’s paid for on a United Airline flight getting ready to leave for Louisville.

The man claimed to be a doctor who had patients to see the next morning, explaining why he neither took an initial offer made to everyone on the plane to accept $400 and a hotel room for the night in exchange for voluntarily giving up his seat nor wanted to obey a straight-up order to leave, in an attempt on United’s part to clear four seats for its own employees on the full flight.

No one considered even the $800 that was offered after everyone had boarded enough for the inconvenience, so United picked four seats and just ordered those in them to vacate. But the one man in question was not interested in obeying. (Buzzfeed reports, based on tweets from other passengers, that the bloodied man did eventually return to the plane.)

While United’s customer service policies in this case are clearly heinous and absurd, let’s not forget to also cast blame on the police officers who actually committed the brutality on United’s behalf. NPR reports that the cops attacking the man “appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police.”

However violent and unreasonable the incident might appear to us mere ignorant peasants, the CEO assures his minions that beatings of this sort are totally within normal procedural guidelines:

The head of United Airlines said in an email to his employees Monday that the security guards who violently dragged a passenger from his seat were following “established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” according to a tweet by CNBC reporter Steve Kopack.

“As you will read, the situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact the Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” wrote Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines.

Munoz’s message to staff comes amid public scrutiny after a passenger refused to relinquish his seat on an overbooked plane and was violently dragged off the plane by three security officers.

Surfaced videos of the incident have since gone viral.

February 23, 2017

An open letter to the DHS on social media identities

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow:

A huge coalition of human rights groups, trade groups, civil liberties groups, and individual legal, technical and security experts have signed an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security in reaction to Secretary John Kelly’s remarks to House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month, where he said the DHS might force visitors to America to divulge their social media logins as a condition of entry.

The letter points out that the years’ worth of private data — including commercially sensitive information; privileged communications with doctors, therapists and attorneys; and personal information of an intimate and private nature — that the DHS could access this way would not belong only to non-US persons (who are, of course, deserving of privacy!), but also US persons, whose lives the DHS would be able to peer into without warrant, oversight or limitation.

The letter also points out that once America starts demanding this of foreigners visiting its shores, other governments will definitely reciprocate — so American travelers would be forced to reveal everything from trade secrets to the most personal moments with their loved ones with governments hostile to US interests.

Trade disputes tend to devolve into tit-for-tat retaliation. Initiatives like this will work exactly the same way (except you can be certain that politicians will hold out for their own right to privacy while demanding that private citizens and foreigners give up theirs).

January 10, 2017

Gentrification hit the BDSM community years back

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 20:55

In Salon, Annalee Newitz wrote about a quaint little San Francisco B&B that offered specialized services to the BDSM community before George W. Bush was inaugurated:

In a quiet San Francisco neighborhood, surrounded by views of tree-covered hills, a quaint little B&B welcomes visitors from across the country. Guests can choose from four well-appointed rooms in this refurbished turn-of-the-century house, all personally decorated by Elizabeth, the proprietor. While they’re staying at Elizabeth’s B&B — called Differences — guests are also welcome to use all the amenities of the house: an extensive dungeon in the basement, metal hooks tucked into lacy corners and the genuine antique bondage devices adorning the rooms. Of course, guests will also need to make their own pancakes — B&B stands for bed and bondage here. Elizabeth doesn’t do breakfast.

Like other renegade subcultures, S/M is gradually becoming gentrified. This is partly economic — getting flogged on a Friday night isn’t as cheap as it used to be. Dozens of exclusive sex stores have popped up, peddling high-end toys, devices and leatherware. A typical private “play party” runs each guest as much as $30 (this is a site cost — you pay for the space, not the sex). Certain clubs even enforce a pricey dress code: If you aren’t all gussied up in latex or leather, you don’t get in the door.

This isn’t the kind of gentrification one sees in urban landscapes where yuppies suck up all the warehouse spaces and formerly low-income housing. Nor can one locate some previous version of the S/M community that was less wealthy. Indeed, tracing S/M’s origins back to its Founding Daddies — the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — one finds that S/M’s earliest class connections are purely aristocratic.

[…]

Odder still to an outsider would be the experience of attending an S/M seminar at QSM’s San Francisco warehouse, where a room full of well-dressed people in orderly rows of folding chairs watch politely as a well-known “dominant” demonstrates how to torture nipples correctly and why it’s important to employ bondage devices that won’t cause nerve damage. To avoid appearing “unsafe,” players plan their taboo violations and transgressions to a ‘T.’ It can be too much — Joe, a member of the coordinating committee for the Third Annual Leather Leadership Conference, notes ruefully that “the S/M community is, at times, overwhelmingly geeky. Players will spend hours and days debating finer points of flogging safety instead of just getting together and having fun.”

Given the lack of law-breaking and general air of wholesomeness in the S/M scene, it’s no wonder that Jack and Jill Suburb have come to join the fun. The question is, what gets lost in the translation when S/M values begin to percolate into the white-picket-fence world of middle America?

H/T to “SG” for the link.

September 4, 2016

Our First Trip To WW1 Locations Was An Epic Journey I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Sep 2016

Map of all the locations we went to: http://bit.ly/2bxRZCg

Indy & Flo talk about our first trip to original WW1 locations in Poland and Ukraine. The trip was a great experience for all of us and you will surely like the future episodes we will publish throughout the next months. Thanks again to everyone who made this possible.

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