mm147: The Crazy Eddie economy

September 20, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Always one of MUDGE‘s favorite reads, Daniel Gross enlightens us about the true nature of our economy, in this Slate story regarding a couple of recent very visible pricing actions.

crazyeddy

slate

The alarming lesson of the iPhone price cut.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007, at 4:31 PM ET

Crazy Eddie, the electronics retailer who advertised insanely low prices, went out of business nearly 20 year ago. But the company’s spirit is thriving in blue-chip American corporations. On Sept. 5, Apple sharply cut the price of the 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399. Last weekend, Hovnanian, the big home-builder, held a highly promotional “Deal of the Century” campaign, slashing prices for 72 hours on new condominiums. In some Hovnanian developments, prices were cut by up to 25 percent. Other builders are now following suit. Welcome to fire-sale nation!

High-profile price-chopping tends to occur whenever companies freak out about the vicious combination of a slowing consumer economy and the prospect of getting stuck with big inventories of unsold goods. The tactic often works in the short term. The hype over insanely low prices functions as a form of free advertising, and the lower prices tend to attract buyers. Apple announced on Sept. 10 that it had sold its 1 millionth iPhone. Hovnanian’s preliminary results show that it notched sales of 2,130 units over the weekend. (The company reported inventory of about 3,200 homes on July 31.) For the entire third quarter, Hovnanian delivered about 3,500 homes.

I’m not an iPhone user (see below) but who could miss all of the hype, which during all of 2007 has rivaled or even exceeded the last Harry Potter for consumer interest?

And, how did it make you feel, iPhone owner or not, to hear that the price was suddenly reduced by $200, and in (partial?) assuagement present owners would receive a $100 store credit?

As Mr. Gross puts it, I would probably be iPissed. (WIWICWLT!)

But, in true economist fashion, from this example, as well as the Hovnanian (not a name this observer knows — must be less active in the Midwest? Or perhaps it’s because this writer has never purchased a new-built home?) home price cuts, Gross builds a convincing case for how damaging this tactic is for the companies, and for perhaps the economy at large.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Crazy Eddie economy. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine

From my many exhausting and tortured years in entrepreneurial business, I know too well that there’s no such thing as too low a price, and if price is the only grounds for competition, you are doomed to bankruptcy.

Gross points out the domestic U.S. auto manufacturers as perfect examples of the walking dead, the zombie behavior caused by selling a product no one will pay full price for.

Ask a bank that writes auto leases what it thinks of Detroit-origin cars, compared to Toyotas and Hondas, which may have spot incentives to correct the occasional inventory imbalance, but usually never very high in comparison, nor very long.

Now about that phone.

This is not meant to start warfare: I simply have always been resistant to Apple’s lovely, but oh so expensive charms, be it computers, music players, and now smartphones.

When it came time for me to upgrade my personal cell (it’s a BlackBerry 8703c for work, tyvm) I found that I had En-V envy.

En-V

Yes, it’s the LG 9900, known for some reason as the En-V. Candy bar (a fat one) on the outside (nice 2MP camera opposite), and it flips open to reveal a pretty fair keyboard and nice large display. MUDGElet No. 3 likes to text — now I can text back.

It’s been two months; I like it. Call quality (it is, first and foremost, meant to be a phone, after all!) is best I’ve ever had, regardless of network (and in MUDGE‘s part of the world, Verizon’s is pretty good).

The camera produced that ad hoc shot I shared after the Boston conference.

0808071931a

For a larger view, click here.

The navigator feature gave us spoken turn by turn instructions to a restaurant, complete with a changing map on the bright display as we drove. Not too shabby.

And with a 2-year contract (is there any other way these days?) and loyalty discounts, it was $50. $599 or even $399 for a phone? Not this curmudgeon. Can’t feel like a chump, no matter what happens to the price from here!

That’s the best pricing power a consumer has, really. Finding a good, maybe great product, at an everyday competitive price. I’m not bankrupting LG (the phone, popular as it is, has been out for most of a year, very mature for technology these days, so you have to figure they’re making piles on it), nor Verizon (per the 2-year contract), nor, hopefully, myself.

Win-win-win.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm146: Left-handers on roll as numbers triple

September 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

There is no more appropriate story for a blog very particularly titled Left-Handed Complement than this one from the Sunday Times of London:

timesoflondon

LEFT-HANDEDNESS has reached record levels, with a more than threefold rise over the past century in the proportion of those using their left hand to write.

A large-scale historical study of handwriting down the ages by academics at University College London (UCL) has found that the proportion of left-handers has gone up from 3% among those born more than 100 years ago to 11% today.

Chris McManus, professor of psychology at UCL, said the surge in left-handedness may be due to a reduction in attempts to coerce naturally left-handed children into using their right hands.

McManus’s team have reinforced the theory that left-handedness is growing by analysing film shot about 1900 which shows that only 16% of those living at the beginning of the 20th century used their left arms to wave, compared with about 24% of people today.

Your obedient servant happens to be lefty in more than politics, thank you very much.

Can it really be that there are more of us?

Can we really believe a Rupert Murdoch newspaper to get it right?

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Left-handers on roll as numbers triple – Times Online

Well, they quote an apparent expert, Chris McManus, of whom we found reference at an interesting site, the Left Handers Club. Their page touting Left Handers Day (guys, it was August 13 — we missed it!) has some interesting information, including the always intriguing chart of how the brain is supposedly organized:

No-one has come up with a definitive reason for WHY some people are left-handed, but about 13% of the population around the world are, and it is thought to be genetic – it definitely runs in families. Researchers have recently located a gene they believe “makes it possible to have a left-handed child ” so if you have that gene, one or more of your children may be left-handed, whereas without it, you will only have right-handers – sorry! The good news is, that if you are left-handed yourself, you have that gene and will pass it on through the generations!

Left handed tour – Being left-handed

brainorganized

Clicking the picture will take you to their page, where you’ll find reference to Chris McManus’ book on the subject of handedness.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link above for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

So there are more of us than ever?

If you peruse some of the comments to these stories you’ll find some fascinating insights. Like some of the writers, MUDGE is quite left handed, writing, using silverware, etc., but some things I do right handed.

Baseball: I throw left handed, bat right-handed (just the opposite of what makes a successful hitter these days).

[Aside: MUDGE has a close friend who made a point to train all three of his right-handed sons to bat left-handed. It’s that extra step-and-a-half closer to first base, don’t ya know?]

I’m sure my righty batting, as well as my righty golf swing (academic only; haven’t set foot on a course in 44 years or more) is due to my right-handed parents and teachers of the games.

Computer: Right-handed mouse from day one.

Go figure.

But mostly, a lefty.

Google left handedness and you find some interesting sites, including one or two NSFW. One had an apparent still from The Simpsons of good ol’ Ned Flanders’ Leftorium:

leftorium

Trademark & Copyright Notice: TM and ©: FOX and its related entities. All rights reserved.

No statistics found regarding we who happen to be double-lefties: politically as well as handedness. Wonder what, if any, correlation there is…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm145: Revelations from Pandora’s music box

September 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s no secret to faithful reader of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© that we’re mammoth fans of Pandora.com (you can refresh your memory here, here, here and here to mention just the best instances — a Sequitur Service© of L-HC).

Today, an interesting interview turned up on CNET.com with Tim Westergren, Pandora’s founder.

The interview spans several interesting topics, including the state of musicians’ livelihoods today (not an idle concern for this writer whose No. 3 child knows that some day you’ll know his name).

newsmaker What will it take to create the middle-class musician?

By Candace Lombardi
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

Published: September 18, 2007, 11:50 AM PDT

It’s an idea Pandora founder Tim Westergren thinks about a lot.

Between 100 town hall meetings and several sessions for seniors at this year’s AARP conference, Westergen has been campaigning for more Internet radio listeners for both Pandora and musicians in general.

Pandora uses the Music Genome Project, a tool that compares musical genetic codes of songs, to create personalized radio stations. You tell it what you like; Pandora plays those artists and others that have songs with similar musical qualities. With music from both big record labels and independent artists, listeners get more selection and increased knowledge about music.

So read about its history, Westergren’s analysis of what it takes to be a self-supporting musician in this country (spoiler alert: virtually insurmountable odds against — sorry, MUDGElet No. 3 — better line up a terrific day job!), and the current battles with the music licensing organizations over punitive fees, being fought with the help of Congress.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Revelations from Pandora’s music box | Newsmakers | CNET News.com

This writer remains an enthusiastic fan (in the original meaning: fanatic) of Pandora (ya think? the links at the top represent only about half of the references I found just in our own nanocorner etc).

The selection, the sound quality, the thin footprint (Lastfm requires you to download and install an executable file that runs separately when you want to listen, whereas Pandora runs very nicely in a tab within my Firefox browser) have all combined to make Pandora this listener’s non-classical music source of choice. And, when am I not running my browser?

What I respect most is the entire Music Genome Project. Most web business enterprises are pretty XML and CSS draped over a very straightforward financial plan (okay, some more fanciful than others, but regardless, one can always tell that the $ and ¢ and € are never far away).

Pandora is wrapped around a serious intellectual process, where it has analyzed zillions of artists and their songs in order to truly deliver on their promise: You’ve told us you like A; so now, listen to B, C, and D. We’ll bet you like what you hear.

And you know what? In this closet-pop music fan’s case, it seems to work, more often by far than not.

I’ve had one glass of wine tonight — it would probably take the entire bottle to loosen MUDGE up enough to disclose how pop is his pop — so don’t ask what I’m listening to.

But, if you haven’t tried Pandora yet — why not?

I’m awed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW007: About that storm…

September 17, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

Previous post in this series, hopefully (I suppose) titled “Quiet before the storm,” we commented that it had been a considerably quiet summer.

MUDGE is here to announce that, despite the 75° temperatures as this is written at 8:15pm, summer is over.

We spent the entire day today “on location” covering three large scale meetings for three different internal clients.

Alas, MUDGE is employed by a company with not only global aspirations, but a substantial global footprint.

Today’s first meeting, client: our manufacturing division, was scheduled to accommodate third-shift workers coming off shift and first shift workers grabbing a meeting before clocking in, and of course many, many employees in Europe.

In Western Europe, the meeting began at 1:00pmCET.

In the U.S. Central time zone, tech call for this 6:00am meeting was 4:30am.

There oughta be a law.

But, there ain’t.

So we rolled out of bed at 3:10am.

It’s a wonder I wasn’t decapitated shaving.

But I got there. Good thing the sedan knows the way.

Meeting went fine; there were about 40 people in the room and about 25 connected on line.

Grabbed some breakfast (fortunately, this meeting, due to be repeated two more times throughout the day [although not on line] was actually located in half of a large company cafeteria), took down my equipment (two laptops, mini network hub, cables, telephone headset with transformer for monitoring the conference audio, etc.), and literally took it all downstairs to deploy absolutely all of it again in another conference room, where a significant department of our legal division was about to begin a marathon annual meeting.

This meeting had no global aspirations, as it was important enough that the global players had all flown in for the occasion, but one or two U.S. based individuals could not get away, and at the last minute (for my calendar, a request received two business days ahead is last minute) I was asked to provide service.

So let’s talk about what I do in such a meeting with all of that equipment.

A web conference is a lovely thing to behold, when it’s sitting on a desk in front of you.

Not so great if it’s projected onto a very large screen in a large conference room.

So we split the difference.

The presentation (usually the ubiquitous PowerPoint) is run completely independent of any network involvement off of a PC connected to the conference room projector. This delivers what we call the “Steven Spielberg experience” (you know, dark room, bright screen, maybe popcorn — and they were delivering popcorn to the second meeting as I was leaving!) for the local audience.

The web conference, with all of its exposed plumbing (participant list, chat area, hand raising buttons and all) is run in parallel at the back of the room, and is thus invisible to those physically present, who might after all have tomatoes to throw if displeased with the experience.

In larger setups, such as the manufacturing meeting, the presentation is also controlled by an a/v technician at the rear table, which can be a crowded place: audio technician with his microphone receivers, amps, mixers and telephone equipment; a/v tech controlling the slides, with two PCs (need a backup after all) connected to the projection system; often a representative of the speaker to supervise, especially if the presenter is, as was true at this early morning meeting, a corporate VP; and yours truly with two more PCs, the mini hub, cabling for both, etc.

Quite a scene.

The legal division meeting had an audio tech (lots of microphones in the room — our attorneys value every single word they utter) but the meeting was run from a PC at the podium, so my two PCs occupied the space next to the audio tech, a respected friend, without other interlopers.

Seemed a lot of effort though, for just two remote participants.

Just as well, since when we left that meeting SIX HOURS LATER it was still going on. Yeah, there were some breaks, and they did provide a snack and a cold cut lunch, so it wasn’t onerous.

And, one or two of the speakers (attorneys all) were almost entertaining.

Almost.

Had to leave early, as a previous commitment to my own IT division’s VP’s meeting took highest priority. Took down the PCs, the mini hubs, cables, etc. Packed it all away, trundled out to the car to drive to the north end of campus.

The third meeting of the day began a mere nine hours after the first one officially began.

For the third time today the complete setup was deployed. Dual PCs, hub, cabling — you’ve got the drill.

This one was a low budget affair. No audio tech after it began, just an ordinary Polycom speakerphone at the podium, and a portable projector in the middle of the room (a satellite cafeteria as it happened, very convenient for vital pre-meeting hydration and snacking) substituting for the built in equipment of the earlier meetings.

But it also went well, with more than 70 people connected, primarily in the U.S., as expected for a 3:00pmCT start. The previous Friday morning’s version of the same meeting in the same locale had accommodated one of the larger groups, with nearly 300 remote participants, including a bunch from overseas.

So I guess I’ve been leading a charmed life, with four critical meetings across two business days proceeding without incident.

Meanwhile, our server environment has experienced nothing but incidents. Our almost-but-not-quite-productionized past is overtaking us.

But whatever shrapnel thrown up by server failures missed me, and considering the visibility of the meetings, for that I am most grateful.

So, approximately 12 hours after arriving, and for the third time, we packed up laptops, mini network hubs, cables, extension cords etc., and dragged our bags out to the parking lot to head home.

Sometimes it can storm while it’s 80° and sunny.

But, a good day-and-a half, all things considered.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm144: WIWICWLT #4

September 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Wow! I wish I could write like that!

We’ll keep this short. Almost choked on my lunch today while catching up with the best magazine on the planet, The Economist.

In an otherwise sober story about motorcycle gangs in England (who knew?) the following sentence appears:

… The victim, G[…], was a member of the Hells Angels, a biker gang that has a difficult relationship with the law (and with apostrophes)….

Wow! I wish I could write like that!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm142: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

September 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Got to tell you, like most of us, I have long since developed war fatigue. And I’m nowhere near the front. All I seem to be able to do is wring my hands and whimper, “Get our soldiers out of this!”

But, I have a soft spot for technology, and this is a technology story, about Iraq. But of course, wars are fought by women and men. And this is even more a story about a creative and determined man who took on as his mission to sell a particular technology to the command structure.

So we’ll take a look.

latimes

Greg Harbin saw a way to streamline airstrikes. The solution — and his cause — was the Rover, a device that would one day save his life.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 13, 2007

In the summer of 2003, an Air Force pilot named Greg Harbin was doing desk duty at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

Day in and day out, Harbin sat in front of five computer screens, scanning photographs and video sent by unmanned planes flying 1,200 miles away, over Iraq and Afghanistan.

His job was to take that information, along with reports from ground troops, and identify fresh targets — Taliban fighters or Iraqi insurgents.

But one thing puzzled him.

When regular units called for an attack by a Predator drone, the request went to Harbin, and then, if approved by a general, to “pilots” in Nevada, who fired the missile by remote control. The process often took as long as 45 minutes.

By contrast, special operations forces could call in attacks by unmanned Predator aircraft in less than a minute.

The difference, Harbin learned, was that a handful of special ops units were equipped with a device called the Rover, which gave them the same view as the pilots in Nevada. This greatly simplified communications.

Why don’t all American fighting units have the Rover? he asked himself. Then he put the question to his boss, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan, commander of the Air Force in the Middle East. Buchanan’s reply: Why indeed.

There’s a lot that’s intriguing about this story. The Predator UCAV, symbolic of technology (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) that will one day make human aircraft pilots sitting inside their aircraft an obsolete and quaint artifact of the first century of aviation.

Then there’s the Rover technology.

The Rover, or the Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver, was born in 2002, shortly after the Afghanistan war began.

Christopher Manuel, an Army Special Forces chief warrant officer, had long wanted ground units to see, in real time, the video footage shot by Predators. After serving in Afghanistan, he traveled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to make his case. Engineers quickly developed a prototype of the Rover system.

Over the next year, it was used exclusively by special operations forces. Harbin’s mission to widen access to the technology began with the 82nd Airborne, the first conventional forces to use the system. His next stop was Mosul, Iraq, and the 101st Airborne Division, which happened to be his brother Eric’s unit.

And then there’s Greg Harbin’s unique story. Take a look at the complete article, along with its embedded video.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

There’s so much to like here. The Katrina angle.

The life-saving angle (his own!)

The technological evangelist angle (your humble correspondent likes to believe he maintains that role for the technology he represents in his place of employment).

“I am not the guy who invented it. I am not the guy who built it. I am not the only one who believes in it,” Harbin said. “My role was to get it out there.”

But, mainly, it’s about how one person, among millions, has used his creativity, initiative and will to make a difference. It’s Archimedes’ lever.

In the light of Harbin’s example, how much more tragic is it that, as of this writing, 3,781 soldiers have died in Iraq.

Once again, even worse than the trillions Bush has mortgaged and squandered, the human capital lost is even more irreplaceable.

Can’t get that bumper sticker out of my thoughts:

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

Congress, do the American people, especially its courageous women and men combatants, have to wait that long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm141: More false optimism on the Iraq war

September 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

So it’s MUDGE‘s hometown paper, the oh so conservative Chicago Tribune.

So, Steve Chapman, also of Reason magazine, is on its editorial board.

So, it’s not your father’s (or grandfather’s or great-great-great-grandfather’s Tribune.

chitrib

Petraeus the latest general with rose-colored glasses

Steve Chapman

September 13, 2007

Gen. David Petraeus says the Iraq war is going well, and I believe him. I believe him the way I believe the coach of a perennial football doormat who, every August, assures fans he expects a winning season. Coaches don’t get paid to admit they’re bound to lose, and generals who are tasked with military missions don’t get paid to announce that they can’t get the job done.

Petraeus is, by all accounts, an experienced, capable and intelligent commander. So when he says that “the security situation in Iraq is improving,” the natural impulse is to trust his battle-seasoned judgment. The Bush administration encourages this notion by suggesting that the opinions of military commanders are the only sound guide to policy.

But if high-ranking military officers are a good barometer of the future, I have a question: Where are the generals who told Americans when things were about to get worse in Iraq, as they have over and over? Which of them warned that insurgent attacks would steadily proliferate in 2005, after elections that were supposed to quell violence? What guy with stars on his shoulders forecast that Iraqi civilian deaths would double over the course of 2006?

Who told us that last year’s military strategy of “clear and hold” would fail — as even the administration admitted afterward that it had? Who predicted that the average number of Americans killed each month this year would be 34 percent higher than last year?

Not the top brass, which has consistently taken an optimistic public stance since the beginning. In November 2003, Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said achieving victory would require hard work but said “it will be done.” In November 2004, Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler said we had “broken the back of the insurgency.” In March 2006, Abizaid assured us, “We are winning.” Three years ago, Petraeus himself said that “18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress.”

But of course, there’s been no progress, except for Halliburton, and maybe the outfit that supplies the Pentagon with body bags and the guys who furnish Walter Reed with prosthetics. Their business is, I’m sure, over the top.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

More false optimism on the Iraq war — chicagotribune.com

This week’s championship level performances by Petraeus and Crocker fooled very few — except for 535 of our finest citizens who were elected to represent the 300million of us who count on them to get to the truth.

If confident predictions by generals could be taken as gospel, this war would have been over long ago. But the totality of evidence gives no more reason to think we will do any better in the future than in the past. Given the choice, it’s better to have commanders who believe they can overcome any adversity than commanders who are easily discouraged. But sometimes, as we have learned repeatedly in Iraq, optimism is just another word for self-delusion.

Steve Chapman, from his right-of-center point of view, has no trouble seeing through the cock-eyed optimism.

It’s not just the knee-jerk peace-niks who want our young people home. Establishment type Tribune writers want that too.

Saw a bumper sticker the other day:

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

Congress, do the American people, especially its courageous women and men combatants, have to wait that long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm140: No, I didn’t forget…

September 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I never have, and probably never will.

No, I did not know anyone directly affected by the events of 11-September-2001, but nearly 300million of we U.S. citizens were hit hard that day, and have not yet recovered.

Here’s an image that I found in Entertainment Weekly, oddly enough, in the first issue that NYC based magazine published after Black Tuesday.

I suspect that it’s a composite; even in its earliest days in the Seventies, my recollection is that the WTC was surrounded by buildings, so I infer that the superimposition of Lady Liberty is only (only!) artistic rather than real.

This image makes up the wallpaper on every computer I work with: this one I work with daily (and nightly) at home; and the three (3!) I use every day, or occasionally, at work.

elegy391558

ELEGY

“The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace… a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”
–Minoru Yamasaki,
chief architect, during the construction of the Twin Towers

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm139: Fear & Loathing At The Airport

September 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ve tackled the unpleasant topic of air travel a couple of times this summer.

As a subject of interest, it won’t go away.

A couple of recent cases in point, about a week old, but worthy of attention nonetheless.

We begin with Business Week, recently demoted from its 35-year reign as MUDGE‘s #1 absolute all time favorite business magazine by the new (160-year old!) #1, The Economist, the best magazine on the planet. But, BW is always a fine read, and this was the cover story for the Sept. 10 issue:

bw_255x65

Long lines, late flights, near collisions—everyone is unhappy with the state of the U.S. air travel system. Unfortunately, no one, especially not the FAA, seems able to do anything about it

When Marion C. Blakey took over at the Federal Aviation Administration in 2002, she was determined to fix an air travel system battered by terrorism, antiquated technology, and the ever-turbulent finances of the airline industry. Five years later, as she prepares to step down on Sept. 13, it’s clear she failed. Almost everything about flying is worse than when she arrived. Greater are the risks, the passenger headaches, and the costs in lost productivity. Almost everyone has a horror story about missed connections, lost baggage, and wasted hours on the tarmac.. More than 909,000 flights were late through June of this year, twice the level of 2002.

And if you think the Summer from Hell is over, fasten your seat belt. The FAA predicts 1 billion passengers a year will take to the skies by 2015, a 36% increase from the current level. FAA officials say this year’s Labor Day crunch could become an everyday flying fiasco within eight years, costing America’s economy $22 billion annually.

There was a time not long ago when the head of the FAA would be the last person you’d expect to express public doubts about potential catastrophe. Today, Blakey is unabashed about the rising risk of flying. There have been 339 incidents so far this year where planes got too close to each other or to objects on the ground, up from 297 in the same period last year. On Aug. 16 a passenger jet on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport came within just 37 feet of another airliner—the eighth such incident this year at LAX alone.

“While it is the safest form of transportation,” Blakey says, “deep in your heart you still know that [when you’re] flying at 30,000 feet with no safety net you’re counting on the system—a system that is at the breaking point.”

So why is it that we can put a man on the moon but can’t fly him from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., without at least a two-hour delay? While Blakey bears some responsibility for the abysmal state of air travel, she follows a long line of FAA chiefs who failed to put much of a dent in the agency’s to-do list. It’s not a lack of money. Last year the FAA did not spend all of the money it was allocated. Nor is it a lack of knowhow. Existing technology could easily meet the demands created by the exploding number of fliers. Nor, for that matter, is it security concerns.

Instead, it’s a fundamental organizational failure: Nobody is in charge. The various players in the system, including big airlines, small aircraft owners, labor unions, politicians, airplane manufacturers, and executives with their corporate jets, are locked in permanent warfare as they fight to protect their own interests. And the FAA, a weak agency that needs congressional approval for how it raises and spends money, seems incapable of breaking the gridlock. “The FAA as currently structured is impossible to run efficiently,” says Langhorne M. Bond, administrator of the agency from 1977 to 1981.

When no one’s in charge, no one can be held accountable. Small aircraft operators blame the big airlines for scheduling too many flights out of the major airports. The big carriers say the smaller operators aren’t paying their share of what it takes to maintain the air traffic control system. The controllers complain they are understaffed and underpaid, and that their facilities need repair. The FAA says it needs new revenue sources to invest in new technologies. Congress says the FAA needs to manage the money it has better. And passengers blame everybody in sight, but aren’t willing to spend a dime more on tickets.

The balance of the story is useful, but check back here after you take a look at it, and let’s compare notes, shall we?

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fear & Loathing At The Airport

BW places the blame on the antiquated air traffic control system, and paints this discouraging picture of its replacement’s chances of appearing in many of our lifetimes:

The FAA has been trying to shift to a satellite-based system, as well as better computer and automated communications networks, since the 1980s. But this rational, not particularly controversial goal has been difficult to achieve because the agency has to please so many constituencies. Ask Charles Leader, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and aircraft industry executive who heads the Joint Planning & Development Office, a consortium of seven government offices, which is charged with designing what the FAA calls its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The new system would allow planes to fly straighter paths, closer together, even in bad weather, freeing up space in the air and reducing work for the controllers. It’s expected to cost upward of $44 billion—half paid by the government for facilities, half by airplane owners for gear in the planes. The catch: The current completion date is now estimated to be 2025. As a result, Leader talks not in years but in “epochs.” The parties involved include the FAA, NASA, and the Transportation, Defense, Homeland Security, and Commerce Depts., along with the White House. “It’s very challenging,” Leader says. “Not because anyone is against it. There are just so many agencies.”

Ugh! Looks cool, though…

bwnavigation

What Business Week totally overlooks is Patrick Smith’s insightful explanation (followed up here) for why the issue has reached its tipping point this year:

Regardless of what is or isn’t causing this climatic weirdness, its impact wouldn’t be half so bad if not for the staggering volume of air traffic attempting to navigate through and around it. I’ve never seen anything like it. Long waits and holding patterns are routine now, even on clear sunny days. And an ever-growing percentage of that traffic is made up of regionals. Check out those evening conga lines at Kennedy, and you’re liable to spot a 500-passenger Boeing 747 sandwiched between four 50-seaters. Elsewhere it’s similar. At LaGuardia and Washington-National, the number of RJs and, to a lesser extent, turboprop feeder craft, is astonishing, often outnumbering the Boeings and Airbuses of the majors.

Smith’s thesis is that the airlines have systematically downsized aircraft, in order to fly fewer empty seats, and as a result ever more passengers are being flown in ever smaller airplanes, cluttering up the taxi lanes in the ways he and Business Week illustrate.

The system is broken, and we beleaguered passengers are caught between the gears. Because, just like with our lead-painted toys from the home of always low prices, we passengers demand the absolute lowest fares, regardless.

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Around the same time the BW issue appeared, one of MUDGE‘s favorites, Stanley Bing, weighed in:

bing

jefferson.jpgAs we enter into this Labor Day Weekend, with so many of us hitting the skies to enjoy this last little lick from the ice cream cone of summer, I thought it would be timely and appropriate to offer what seems to me to be an achievable, realistic draft of a document that has been much discussed by lawmakers and other philosophers: A Traveler’s Bill of Rights:

  1. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do while imprisoned within the air travel system can and will be completely ineffective.
  2. You have the right to get to the airport very early, only to find that your trip has been canceled.
  3. You have the right to accept the excuse for that cancellation or not, whatever.

Bing continues in this vein:

The Bing Blog The real air traveler’s Bill of Rights «

Best of all is this right, not exercised nearly enough:

20. You have the right to stay home.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm138: Tired and Disgusted, Stop the Lies!

September 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Poking around this evening, looking for some perspective on this day in recent history, as well as the 2nd day of the Congressional hearings on the Iraq war.

Faithful reader may recall seeing our anticipatory post the other day.

Found this fiery analysis:

smirkingchimp

by Timothy Gatto | Sep 11 2007 – 3:26pm |

Today is September 11th, 2007, and we have finally heard from “The General” on the situation in Iraq. Let me be the first to thank him, before yesterday I thought we were just treading water, now thankfully, I know that the forces of “good” and the soldiers of “Christ” are actually winning this confrontation with the forces of evil. I am so glad that I took time from my busy day to hear his report. I can now hold my head high, for now I understand, thanks to General Petraeus, where we are headed in our “Global War on Terrorism”; we are “turning the corner” and with that statement, I would just like to comment on this fact. The truth is, we have turned the corner so many times, we are precisely at the point at which we took up this journey, the corner is familiar and I realize that beyond this corner is another, and beyond that another…

The other shoe fell, and we did not learn anything new.

The time for “listening” is rapidly coming to a close. The American People have been listening to this administration and we have heard nothing except misinformation and propaganda. The very same lies that the government told during the Vietnam War are being told today. The same results that we achieved in Vietnam will no doubt be echoed in Iraq. The very idea that you can win an “occupation” of another nation is the question here, not the question of whether or not we can defeat an “insurgency”. The fact remains that if we don’t ask the right questions, or if we don’t face the truth about what we are really doing in Iraq, we can’t possibly expect a favorable outcome, especially if we can’t even decide what it is that we seek.

Check out the balance of Gatto’s argument:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Tired and Disgusted, Stop the Lies! – The Smirking Chimp

What grabbed me was this challenge:

Americans can accept that we have no voice as to what is being done in our name, or we can stop blindly accepting authority and stand for what we believe. We can link arms and stand our ground, or be swept away like so many in history before us. We can argue about the correct way to demonstrate and oppose what our government is doing until our voices are permanently silenced, or we can put away the semantics of dissent and do whatever it takes to get the truth to the American people.

I looked back on a story we clipped from mid-July, a story from the Fox News watching heart of this country:

“I don’t know that you can win,” she said of the chances of victory in Iraq. “But if you can’t accomplish what you need to accomplish, get them out of there. There’s been enough. One is too many.”

What’s it going to take to galvanize this country to make the changes that must be made?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE