Monday, March 01, 2010

Guacamole and overhead bins 

This story is hilarious, and it reminds me of something I saw on the airplane last week. After years of faithfulness to Northwest (often undeserved except that they flew to St. Cloud airport and thus I had free airport parking and short drive times), I was willing to be moved by price on the trip to Vegas last week, even if I'm not paying the full price of the ticket myself. Orbitz kicked up a low combination air-plus-hotel package at the conference hotel which used Frontier Airlines. I had never flown them before, with their reputation of being cheap and being, well, cheap. But since Delta had badly underperformed for me recently I thought at least I could save some money while being treated like merde. So I booked the ticket.

I can say it was an OK experience. Particularly given my recent trips with Delta, the seats were the same, the delays not too out of line (someone apparently "soiled" a carpet in the aisle, so they needed an extra 45 minutes to clean it) and the service passable. I would fly them again.

But there was one interesting part of the gateside experience. You are quite hassled about bringing bags on the plane, but we know that there's a tragedy of the commons problem there too (like Donald Marron's story linked above with guacamole) so you are limited in how much to take. But Frontier tries to get you down to just one bag that will go under the seat, where my legs like to go instead. So two or three times they ask for your bags, which go with all the other bags to the claims area when you land rather than picked up in skyway. This I do not like because I don't like waiting in baggage claim, and there's a greater likelihood (I think -- how do I know?) that it gets lost. So I decline.

After seating first class and their loyalty program fliers, they then invite those who only have a bag to go under the seat to board next. Basically you're mini-royalty. And at least on casual inspection, I think more people responded to the incentive to get on the plane before those like me who insisted on using the overhead bins. This did not upset me at all -- I am benefited by having their bags not compete for space with mine, and if letting them on first is the cost of this, so be it. And it appears that Frontier had found a margin along which it could change people's behavior.

Perhaps it would work -- I will let you have all the chips you want first, if you don't touch the guacamole. But maybe not because it's guac and guac is good.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Notes from the road 

Las Vegas is such a weird place that it's hard to pay attention to much news. I am in my hotel room but have enjoyed some great food, people watching, and zero gambling. (I'll be speaking about sports betting in about an hour for a conference here.) We have this bizarre little group of five who study gambling here in the middle of a finance conference. We're the ones NOT wearing blue blazers.

Gary sends me a link to a criticism he wrote to a St. Cloud Times editorial. You see these in many newspapers -- why can't they get along? Why can't government get things done? Simple answer: We aren't designed that way. The Times seems to prefer a parliamentary system of government to our current form. Having lived in and worked with parliaments as an advisor, I can say that legislating in haste is seldom a good idea. Our system is meant to work slower. Smallish groups can slow things down because we want legislation to be considered. I would like to see an editorial board actually call for a constitutional convention to move us to a parliamentary system and explain why they think that's a good idea. If anyone at the Times is reading this, I promise I will give you a link and praise for boldness. But it's a bad idea.

Are the people who jog at 7am on the Strip the people who are at the blackjack table at 7pm? It's a little incongruous to see them jog by the four cops trying to get a drunk off the ground. I was neither -- we went to a breakfast place featured on Man v Food that had the best eggs benedict I have ever had. The plates were the size of manhole covers.

Walking through a casino I saw one thing and heard one thing that was worth noting. I saw TVs with CNBC on over a row of slot machines. Ben Bernanke was on the screen. Four people playing the slots below. Let your mind run with that. And for your aural pleasure, all those machines are playing your favorite 80s hits. In case you were worried Huey Lewis wasn't getting enough airtime, rest assured he lives on in Vegas casinos.

Just visited with a Canadian journalist on the phone for 20 minutes, who reads this blog. If I end up in his article, I'll post it here. In the meantime, I'm just happy to know someone wrote a piece after thinking about something I wrote here.

Thanks. Off to see if I can get this paper presented, and then go veg out on sports at Caesar's later this afternoon.

P.S. SCSU is 6-1 to win the Frozen Four here at Flamingo; to put that in perspective, the Red Sox are 5-1 to win the World Series. Good bet? I don't think the Sox bet is, but $10 is placed faithfully each year.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Being where you hadn't before 

The brain is a neural tangle of near infinite possibility, which means that it spends a lot of time and energy choosing what not to notice. As a result, creativity is traded away for efficiency; we think in literal prose, not symbolist poetry. A bit of distance, however, helps loosen the chains of cognition, making it easier to see something new in the old; the mundane is grasped from a slightly more abstract perspective....
Jonah Lehrer, arguing that travel is integral to a healthy mind. I agree, and it's why I want my students to study abroad. If you're a student reading this, read Lehrer, then go!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Reserve my table 

One of my pleasures in life is a TV that pretty much is my own. This is because of sports; I watch them pretty constantly, and when there's nothing good on there's Law and Order (or, in the summer, Burn Notice, the second season opening of which last night was a little less than hoped for.) That's pretty much all I watch. But many of us in the department are foodies, and both #1 Son and my sister are chefs (I use the term liberally with respect to #1, but a father must have his pride.) So food shows are viewed as well. I don't like the contest shows except for Iron Chef (not ICAmerica, which is a poor substitute.) But I confess a supreme love for Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, a combo travel-cooking show that blends my two favorite things -- travel to strange places, eat good food wherever.

He blogs from time to time, and today added a new place to the list of places I want to travel: Colombia.
In a world where the bad guys seem to win with a relentless regularity, and where even the presumed good guys appear, usually, to be their own worst enemies, it's really gratifying to see things get so dramatically better somewhere--especially a place where at one time, it really and truly looked hopeless. It is inspiring, when you've gotten used to the notion that some problems probably won't ever be fixed in your lifetime, to see some of the very worst kind of seemingly insurmountable problems so quickly and effectively improve. When you see a real change in the conditions and in the human hearts of a place where just a few short years ago, one neighbor couldn't walk twenty yards over without risking death from another, where drug cartels recruited their murderous young footsoldiers by the hundreds, where even the police feared to tread--it makes one hopeful again--about the whole world.

Colombia. Vacation Wonderland? Yes. Absolutely. ...

What you might not know about Colombia is that it's beautiful. That the food is really good--with the same kind of fantastic mix of African, European and indigenous influences that makes Brazilian cuisine so interesting and vibrant. That they actually like Americans down there.

It was against this backdrop of bubbly goodwill, that I watched Ingrid Betancourt and her fellow hostages freed from captivity a couple of weeks ago--in what appears to be yet another in a series of spectacular and effective strikes against the FARC, a particularly unlovely bunch of hardcore commie/narco-terrorist kidnapper/"guerillas" who've been getting knocked back on their heels in recent years.

On one hand, the government seems to be killing and capturing bad guys with skill and vigor. On the other hand, the local government in Medellin (for instance) has been improving transportation and social services for the working poor--and throwing an incredible FORTY percent of total budget at education. It looks and feels like a working combination.
My passport has no stamps from any Latin American country; Spanish is the one Romance language I have no experience with, and it seems lots of other people travel there; I like places off the beaten path like, say, Mongolia. But most of those places are where, as Tony says, "the presumed good guys appear, usually, to be their own worst enemies." What did it take for Colombia to get so good so fast? Perhaps some of it is Plan Colombia, the controversial strategy between the US and successive Colombian governments to eradicate coca fields. But more of it has been, undoubtedly, the hope of Colombians to participate in a stable trade arrangement with the US and others in FTA. That country's turnaround would be further strengthened by support from the next administration. One candidate traveled to Colombia this month, the other has no such plans. Where the candidates stand on free trade is important not only to the United States, but to its neighbors. And that might make them like us in more places than Colombia.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

This week, from Hawaii 

Like many other economists, I will be at the Western Economics Association meetings in Waikiki this week. Several friends I expected to see there have canceled, however, mostly because of high fares due to a decrease in competition.
After the recent bankruptcies or termination of service of the Hawaiian specialists ATA Airlines and Aloha Airlines, fares to and within the Hawaiian islands have soared. When fuel surcharges are included, the cost of flying roundtrip between Los Angeles and Honolulu can be as high as $900 for peak summer dates. The cost of flying from one Hawaiian island to another (like Oahu to Maui), which had gone down to as little as $39 each way, has recently soared to $74 and $84, ...
Posting will be light the rest of the day while I fly; my ticket (booked in early May) was well north of $1000, and the only way I could afford this was to schedule flying home on the Fourth, when travel is typically low.

Lots of miles, though; and I guess I'd better use them soon, before even their costs go up!

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Globalization and food 

My colleague Ming Lo has been posting while traveling to Hong Kong and Macau, and reports on a food court in HK:
Culture that represents modernity inspires people in the rest of the world to follow its path. Sadly, these disciples have often chosen to copy the superficial quality of the modern leaders. There may be twenty factors that contributed to the success of the United States. MTV and baggy pants are not one of them. To understand and to learn the true ingredients of success is hard. To buy the lifestyle of citizens of the modern world is relatively easy. Such is the unification of the low culture, an unnessary yet inevitable product of economic globalization.

The last frontier that is resisting this process is cuisine. History and geography has dictated what we prefer to put into our mouth. True, MacDonald and Pizza Hut have evaded much of the space in the second world (Europe) and the third world (the rest). But in most cases, they only add to the existing heterogeneity.

Today, in a upscaled mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, I ate in a food court that featured Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Italian cuisine. And mind you, this is not a unique phenomenon, not a single observation point. No matter how alike we dress, food is where people disagree.
I think there's less disagreement than Ming believes. As I mentioned in a comment, there are many kinds of such places around the world, often placed by emigres to these places (my favorite being the Vietnamese family who had fled to America, and then were lured by their daughter to set up a Viet-Thai restaurant in Budapest because they loved that city.) People don't disagree about food, they value heterogeneity.

Indeed, in travel and at home what we value is what we are served. Sometimes we want food fast, or we want to experience "typical American life". When I ate at a Pizza Hut in Cairo I would see many average Egyptians there. When I ate in the food court at the Hyatt, the Egyptians there were mostly of upper income levels. Prices matched this. When I travel in business or first class, the type of service I get from international airlines differs greatly from that which I get from local. American business flyers want space for their laptops; they work on the plane. So perhaps the quality of the service isn't that big a deal. When in Europe or particularly Asia, the travelers more often read and relax, so service quality has a higher value.
Markets are efficient at providing to each group that which they value more. Prices adjust -- I have always wanted to know on what price scale they measured these bundles of food eaten around the world -- and diets adapt. But we value means to extremes, and we value both heterogeneity and consistency. These are improved as we trade more.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

I want my STC 

In our QBR we asked questions about the airport here in St. Cloud. I drive from here to The Patriot each Saturday, which takes me about 80 minutes. As you may know, the station is awfully close to MSP airport. When I buy a ticket to go on Northwest somewhere, I frequently add the commuter flight from STC to MSP; this is mostly for the free parking and the short security checkpoint wait. We asked about whether people would be willing to pay to park at STC, and amazingly, only 2/3 thought they should continue to get what they receive now for free.

Most people want a second carrier to serve STC, with Chicago and Denver the most frequent options sought. Right now the only scheduled service is to MSP via Mesaba Airlines, which operates as Northwest Airlink. Mesaba is one of the airlines that gets money through a grant program called the Essential Air Services Grant. There is a second program called the Small Community Air Services Development program that also funds regional airports subsidizing air travel from small communities.

How much is it? USA Today reports that over $100 million is used to subsidize these programs. Mesaba's parent, MAIR Holdings -- who also owns Big Sky Airlines -- earns some revenue from EAS payments, though others have done better:

One beneficiary of subsidies has been the airlines the DOT picks in competitive bidding to run the flights. Great Lakes, whose business is largely subsidized flights, went from post-9/11 red ink into the black in 2003, turning a small operating profit three years ahead of the rest of the airline industry.

The subsidies alone, excluding fares from subsidized flights, made up 30% of Great Lakes' operating revenue in 2002-06, company reports show.

That second carrier people want in St. Cloud? You'll probably need to find a grant to pay for that. And when airlines are cutting routes repeatedly and the regional carrier industry has three times the capacity as current flyers, good luck with that.

(h/t: Peter Gordon)

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Actually, I get this 

Angus is really upset about Mike Huckabee's restaurant choices. What kind of guy wants to go Olive Garden or T.G.I.Friday's when he's eating in Manhattan on someone else's dime?

I can answer that: In my five years as a vegan who travels (in the first half of the nineties) I had a list in my head of restaurant chains and what they had that I could eat on my diet. Now I'm sure there are hundreds of restaurants that have better menus than the OG, but suppose I am sitting down to interview in one and scan the menu and find they do not have anything on it that is vegan. I am also trying to project myself in the interview as a guy who's a little aw-shucks, not pretentious, not a pain in the posterior. Do I want to take time reviewing some options the chef MIGHT cook for my fussy self?

Not that I'm a fan of the Huckster, but I can understand why he might look for a chain restaurant while traveling.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Why wouldn't this be true? 

This makes perfect sense to me:
According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are nearly 41,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, three times the number of McDonalds franchise units, and more than the number of McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King franchises combined!
If you run a franchised outfit, in order to make profits you have to limit entry. Franchisers will make money by providing exclusivity, so of course the number of Chinese restaurants will be larger.

Mrs. S and I were driving out to LA once, and laid up for the night at a half-decent hotel outside Ogalalla, NE. One of the tricks of traveling as vegetarians in America is to know where all the Indian and Chinese restaurants are. We ate at this place, which looked pretty iffy from the outside. I recall the food being only so-so, no better than most St. Cloud Chinese, but given the options in western Nebraska...

You wonder how that place ended up there.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

How NOT to run an airline 

For those of us living in the upper Midwest, encounters with service difficulties from Northwest Airlines are relatively common. Sometimes weather plays a role, but most often it's just an airline not paying attention to details because it figures it has a captured audience. Last night was one of those cases.

There has been runway construction this summer, which is scheduled to end this week. There are four runways at MSP, and taking one of the major ones out has put some strain on the remainder. So it came as little surprise to me, when flying into the airport last night after a trip to the West Coast over the weekend -- the reason for no posting Friday -- that I got hung up circling the airport for thirty minutes. Given I had a short connect to the commuter flight to St. Cloud, that was stressful enough.

Running out of the plane after it landed, I noticed the sign that said the plane was delayed by seven minutes. Good, I thought, I might make it after all. I have experience running through airports, but my PRs for getting from concourse C to B are now ten year old records.

I hit Concourse B at fifteen minutes before the flight is to leave, and as I approach I see people milling around the gate area. As I approach, the sign on the monitor behind the desk says the plan is not leaving for another 90 minutes. I tell the person at the desk that the monitors of departures indicated this flight leaving in fifteen minutes? She was nonplussed; "oh, they should fix that." Yes, you would think they would. "It might be longer; we're still waiting for the flight to get in."

So I watch the end of the Pats-Cowboys game -- deliciously ended with that extra touchdown to tell the world they are running up the score on everyone -- go back to the gate with 50 minutes to go and call my brother to talk about the day's games. While we talk, they back-up the departure time by ten minutes. OK, I'm getting home soon, this is fine.

I hang up, two guys who heard me talking strike up a conversation about football. A second guy approaches the gate podium. This, remember, is a commuter flight on a plane with 34 seats. There are never two people at this podium. Hmmm.

Next, they change the monitor for a flight to Eau Claire. Still say nothing.

Five more minutes pass, and they cancel the flight. "Weather related," they say, so no help with hotel. There's a late flight to St. Cloud but it's full, and so is the first flight the next morning. We are booked on the second flight. When people want their bags, they are told they cannot get them unless they wait for someone to get them and bring them to a carousel, and that this will take 2-3 hours. "But they are right there outside." Answer: Podium guy isn't the bag guy. What about a refund for that ticket? What about a bus to St. Cloud? No and no. We are left to fend for ourselves, or sleep wherever and wait for the 11am flight.

As you can tell from this post, I didn't wait. I found someone to share a $159 car rental (!) to get to the St. Cloud airport, where I picked up my car and went home. My checked bag is still probably in Minneapolis. And while we drove, there was very little rain. Indeed, MSP reported 0.13 inches yesterday.

Weather related? Or runway-closure related? And if it's the latter, where are the contingencies? What is the purpose of the second podium guy -- who said he was the decision-maker -- other than crowd control? This fellow was not very helpful and in fact quite rude. The people at the front desk would not issue a refund or any help, just giving me a book with a phone number to call today to request a ticket refund. What are they there for? To sell, only.

Is it unreasonable for me to think the airline did not have more information than I did about the probability of canceling the flight at the first moment I arrived at the gate? What would it take for me to get them to reveal that information? What is their interest in hiding it from me?

Any business that faces competition would not behave this way because if so they would lose customers. Failure to provide a service is one thing. Failure to provide anything more than a "tough luck, sorry" is unacceptable. NWA, I'm going to start encouraging people to do all that is possible to increase competition in that airport. I don't want you to fail; I want you to do better. But that means I have to act fickled.

So can I get you to believe me? Maybe I should learn a little game theory.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Places in Europe I love 

As you can tell from the previous posts, I really did enjoy myself in Milan and Como. It's odd to me that Milan is not seen as a travel destination by many, though certainly it's a comfortable place. One walk through the Galleria did this for me, though finding a little cafe on Verdi Street to have a collection of Hollywood trivia was really enlightening in this way. The owner seemed happy to be found by us. You do NOT get this in Eastern Europe.

But Douglas Muir mentions another favorite place that I literally stumbled into many years ago: the Billa Supermarket.
In addition to the usual supermarket stuff, it has cold shelves full of salads and sushi, an icebox full of smoothies, and a deli that makes sandwiches to order. All fresh and tasty, and less than half what it will cost at one of the overpriced eateries on the departure level or out by the gates.
It's been awhile since I've had to lay over out by the airport -- if you live in Minnesota, you usually fly through Amsterdam or Frankfurt, not Vienna -- but I have a real love affair with Austrian Airlines that began with the Billa Supermarket. I was going to Slovakia and Hungary in 1993, then circling back through Vienna and up to Prague later in the month. The bags coming over from Dulles got lost, so all I had was my backpack; I was going not to Bratislava but a small town about fifty km east of there, where there was an old castle that was the Slovak Academy of Sciences. I had finished detailing the bags to the airline and was trying to find where my compatriots were hiring cars to go to Slovakia, and I ran into this market. All the things I absolutely needed for the next two days were there, including those sandwiches. (Being vegetarian in a Slavic country is no fun, so I had them make three sandwiches to go.) Eighty euros later, I was ready. Amazingly, the bags arrived two days later; I was walking outside the castle and watched a slow red truck wind up the road, with Austrian Air markings on it.

Every time I get caught with a layover at the Vienna airport since then, I hit that supermarket for the same sandwich. And I've rewarded the nice van that brought my bags into the Slovak countryside with business for its airline as often as I can.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Got to go fast, so here's your picture 

OK, check these out. Those hinged things on the left come down as your seat for a seminar. They are covered in some vinyl stuff so that when you sit in them you make the sound Roseanne Roseannadanna made when she sat with Eric Severeid in that old SNL bit. They are convenient to make a classroom fit more seats, but once one is seated in the middle one cannot leave without making everyone else stand up. This sounds like a good idea -- students should stay! -- but faculty in a workshop won't, particularly at one that lasts from 8 am to 7:15pm with only lunch and an occassional coffee break. Cripes! They become very uncomfortable then, as these people appear to be.

But this school had a great restaurant in its basement, which served wine with lunch. Any chance we can have this in the MnSCU system? And Bocconi also has these interesting creatures guarding it as you enter. I am not sure what animal this is supposed to be or whether it is really fierce or not. Maybe so.

Anyway, that's about it from here. At six euros an hour the internet is too expensive to post more. So Janet will keep you until Wednesday. Arrividerci!


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why you want to have money 

I have found something I would give up this blog for.

I found Como.

This is actually up in Bellagio -- the only resemblance to the casino in Vegas is the port entry, which was actually disappointing -- which takes about 50 minutes by the fast ferry from Como. You could drive there if you wanted to, but the ferry and the small lake towns along the way are much better for the atmosphere.

The lake is long and thin with two branches, like an upside-down Y, and Bellagio sits at the junction of the two branches. Indeed, dinner was had today at a place called La Punta -- the point. Here's the view from there. The food was as always good. Hint: You need not ever order a real bottle of wine if carafes are available. The house wine is as nice here as any table wine in Paris.

Another fascinating thing: The use of pedals rather than handles in toilets. I consider this a great advance. In one very trendy club near the university at which I've been working, the styling is like an old taxi cab. This includes pedals for the toilet and the wash basin -- which is quite common -- with the foot pads for a car brake and an accelerator -- which is not. Better, the sink was styled like a drain pan for your oil.

The little bars and cafes are in the habit of putting food out with your beer. Tonight the first beer fetched chips with it. The second brought panini with Parma ham. And more chips after saying I don't eat ham. (My compatriots were grateful for zero demand from their drinking partner for the munchies.)

I also like the singing quality of the language here. It's not Chinese-style funky tonal. It's almost operatic. And how many ways are there to say Ciao? There are repetitive ones, there's a long one that sounds like a cat with a lisp, the one that comes with a kiss on the cheek, and the greeting that is like a ciao-contest. Who can make ciao sound more authentic? Film at eleven.

I have often argued that cities produce better styling particularly in females since competition is fiercer. Milan will stand as my proof. And this leads to molto coupling. Italians seem willing to neck anywhere, and in some cases they'd do well to stop at necking. This is the biggest annoyance I find -- the sound of smacking lips on the train is everywhere. The price of hotels may be part of the problem. But if this is the biggest problem, it isn't enough to detract from this place. Not that there's much to do in them. The room is hardly large enough to change your mind in, let alone be with the one you're with, as the Isleys might have sung. So you spend most of your time down here, which is the lobby of this hotel. (I'm currently sitting on that green couch that needs to be in Lileks next book of bad living rooms.)

It would be bad to be here without money, but nobody seems without money. The murderous part of being here is the current dollar-euro exchange rate, which is a hammer on my wallet every step of the way. There are very few Americans here, I believe in part, because of the cost of being in Europe right now. But the lake was worth it even at $1.4 per euro. What I need is enough money not to care.

BTW, right now on the radio in that lobby? Gorillaz.

Tomorrow: A really bad European classroom. And more food reviews!

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Alaska Pipeline, Design 

After the largest oil find in North America was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, AK, along AK�s Artic Ocean coast the challenge was how to get up to 2,000,000 barrels of oil a day to market. Numerous ideas were brainstormed, evaluated and tested. One was to ship the oil by supertankers from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez or Anchorage. The company that eventually became Exxon, spent $50,000,000 on this experiment, including special ice breaking escorts with an ice-breaking tanker, only to conclude that this system would not work.

$50,000,000 invested, $0 return.

Well, if we can�t go through the ice, why not under it? Maybe submarines could take the oil south. Even flying the oil with 747 airplanes was considered. None were economically feasible for a variety of reasons. Prudhoe Bay is incredibly isolated - the only people are pipeline workers and nature. Though there is concern with this part of the country, it is barren and what we learned with the first pipeline would lead one to conclude that a second pipeline would do zero damage to the environment.

Back to the access and distribution problem of the 1970's. The only way that would work and could be consistently monitored was an overland pipeline. AK presents some of the most challenging terrain on the planet. However, ingenuity, persistence, creativity (and later discussed, adaptability) all contributed to one of the most successful engineering feats ever undertaken by man.


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Vastness of Alaska 

Briefly mentioned last week is the trip my husband and I are currently taking - to Alaska (AK), the 49th state in the USA and our 50th. Yes, we have managed to get to all other 49 states. We have discovered a truly unique nation terms of people, ideas, experience, interests, and dedication. We are a very fortunate people.

This trip was conceived last winter while playing bridge with friends who are avid salmon fishermen. They invited us non-fishermen to join them. Of course nothing remains as basic as originally intended. Our one-week fishing trip morphed into a three-week adventure. Today, as I try to catch up on blogging, we're in Glacier Bay National Park, at the lodge, watching a misty rain fall in the bay and forest. It's beautiful but I get ahead of myself.

We flew from the Twin Cities to Anchorage, then took another flight north to Fairbanks. When arriving in AK from the east, one flies over multiple mountain ranges - all spectacular from their snow-covered peaks to the marshy bogs at the base. Everything below the mountains' snow range is green, green, green.

AK may be our largest state in terms of land area but it is by far the smallest in inhabitant per mile. Its vastness can be described only with superlative terms: huge, massive, majestic, expansive, lush, magnificent, etc.

More later. Unfortunately, Blogger is having problems and lost my cross references. Perhaps the next location will prove more user friendly.


Monday, May 21, 2007

How much travel do you buy? 

Visiting my parents this weekend taught me a couple of things about travel and gas. My parents drove perhaps 300 miles this extended weekend with trips to Boston, Manchester and other parts of the Maine seacoast area. They drive a Prism with about 125k on the odometer, it gets 32 mpg. So when I thought I compensate their gas costs by jumping out to fill up ($2.859 at a station in Manchester), I was comforted by the knowledge that the cost would not even support a week of my brother's coffee habit at Dunkin' Donuts. I drink less coffee, but I could support three weeks of my Caribou card charges off a similar fill-up, because I drive a more expensive car to operate. Part of that is because I drive 170 miles one day a week (Saturdays when I do NARN) and maybe a hundred the other six days. My city is more compact.

So I think Glen Whitman is focusing on the right issue here:
About a year ago, I posted a graph showing the affordability of gasoline as a percentage of household income, broken out by income quintile. The main point was that, although the price of gasoline has certainly risen dramatically in recent years, it still does not consume as much of our income as it did at its height in the early 1980s. The reason is that household income has grown since then, even for the poorest Americans.

...But as someone pointed out in the comments, people don�t really want gasoline per se; what they want is travel. And this matters, because fuel economy has risen substantially over the time period in question, meaning that people can travel the same distance with fewer gallons. So I have now reconstructed the graph, using more recent data, on the assumption of 25,000 miles of travel rather than 1000 gallons of gas.
But the consumption pattern differs by age group, by income group, and by place of residence, all of which Whitman recognizes. No matter how you slice it, the share of your income you spend on travel now is much less than it was in the 1980s, and that's true no matter what your income group is. That also means, assuming no change in the taste for travel, that the average consumer has less elastic demand than before. That would also explain the willingness of state governments to tax gas more.

That lower elasticity also shows up in this more humorous story from John Whitehead:
The hotel provides liters of Evian Natural Spring Water in each hotel room for $6/liter. When I soberly arrived I thought this a ridiculous price. Odd that my demand changed after a night prowling Bourbon St [in New Orleans -- kb.] Upon awakening this morning I demanded the entire liter and just as advertised, "detox with evian," I felt much better and quite able to suffer through my 20 minute presentation (the audience suffered even more!).
I suspect that price is a function of the fact that his hotel is on Bourbon Street. I see a possible student paper here: what is the gradient of prices on bottled water in hotel rooms as one moves further away from Bourbon Street?

Walking through four different airports today I notice this as well. The price of coffee rises 50% at the Portland Jetport before and after passing through security. An extra shot of espresso at the Caribou at the end of the A concourse in Detroit's airport is 60 cents versus 50 at my home Caribou; the cappuccino I normally order is 10% higher. None of this is of course surprising. So why doesn't it happen on the newspaper I want to buy before I get onto the plane, or the magazine?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A couple summer book ideas 

Joshua Foust has a good review of Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game. It's a great book to understand Central Asian history, though with a definite Anglophilic slant. I read it during the war in Afghanistan right after 9/11, and it was great to understand the region better. I call it "painless history."

Littlest is engrossed in Memed My Hawk by Yashar Kemal. A great adventure for tweens who want to get away from manga, it's also a very fun book for adults as well. Lots of action without gore or vulgarity, it's one of those books you're happy to give to the child of parents who think they have screened all the good books for their kids. And you can read it after, and enjoy it.

My own pile at home is actually down to three (still working through the books by Michael Scheuer and Thomas Barnett's Blueprint for America Action, and John Agresto's Mugged by Reality.) I'm working through the books of Eric Ambler while waiting for Alan Furst to produce something new. Amazon suggests Phillip Kerr as well, and I've already read the Berlin Noir trilogy. Good for travel reading, but not what I want on the bedstand (where I tend to nonfiction more.)

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Airplane Etiquette, #2 

We returned from our daughter's graduation on Sunday. As usual the plane had zero empty seats. This time we were accompanied by families with young children. Here's a key tip for parents: Any child under two or cutting teeth needs something to chew or drink for take-offs and landings. If teething, they need something to occupy (besides the airplane window frame) their mouths. Given the restrictions on liquids today, perhaps parents can take a straw with a powdered drink, empty bottle, and get water from the flight attendant to make a beverage for the kids.

All in all, we had six kids under the age of four quite close to us. Thankfully four of these kids had parents who came prepared: puzzles, their personal blankets, and something to help with air pressure changes. The other two, no such luck. I know problems can arise but having travelled on planes with a kid from age six months on, it doesn't take too much. We thanked the parents of the behaved kids. The parents with the screamer couldn't get off the plane fast enough - they could save themselves some embarrassment with a little planning.

In a previous post, I mentioned people standing immediately upon arrival. I was politely reminded that many people rise because they can finally stretch their legs - point well taken. Thank you.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Airline Manners 

Yesterday my husband and I flew to Los Angeles to attend our daughter's graduation tomorrow, Saturday. As a former business traveler, I've spent my share of time in airplanes. It is also understandable that today's flights more often than not are full. However, there are a few basics that one would think people have learned.

First, it has always amazed me that people must stand the second the plane gets to the gate. Now, how many of us are going to go anywhere in the first few minutes of deboarding? But, look around - from the front of the plane to the rear the vast majority jump out of their seats and vie for space in the aisle to get their gear from the overhead racks. It is a comical scene to watch. And, heaven help you if you have an aisle seat and just sit....

Yesterday, a second discourtesy manifested itself. I have no (well not too much ofa) problem with people who choose or need to save time avoiding the trip to the baggage claim area. I have no problem with people traveling with kids and all their paraphanalia (I did this for part of my life though we didn't have all the accoutrements parents seem to require these days). But I do have a problem when the kids are sent down the aisle but mom or dad block the aisle to gather all their kid's gear. No one behind them can exit the plane and some seem oblivious to their impact on others. It would be nice if they'd just let others pass, gather their stuff, then
when organized, leave the plane. Yesterday's adult was totally unaware of the frustration building up because of her behavior - the flight attendants had to come back, grab herstuff and politely encourage her to "move it."

For the record, we often wait until the plane is empty.