Friday, March 22, 2002

37 Cent Stamps
Figures that I just bought a roll of 100 of the current 34 centers.

From birthday cards to bank statements, charitable appeals to newspapers and magazines, it'll cost more to send mail starting in midsummer. The increase — including a 3-cent boost to 37 cents for first-class mail — could come as soon as June 30, giving the cash-strapped postal service a boost as it tries to cope with declining business and hundreds of millions of dollars in costs from the terror attacks last fall.
Daley Weather Vacation
I'm leaving on Sunday for a week long trip around the Southwest. Posting will be slow or non-existant. So don't expect lots of content before April 1st.

Am I supposed to blog April Fools jokes?
AOL Mail Problems
Apparently when AOL took over Time Warner they insisted everyone use AOL for their corporate email. The result? Not pretty:

Instead, management got months of complaints from both senior and junior executives in the divisions involved, who said the e-mail system, initially designed for consumers, wasn’t appropriate for business use. Among the problems cited: The e-mail software frequently crashed, staffers weren’t able to send messages with large attachments, they were often kicked offline without warning, and if they tried to send messages to large groups of users they were labeled as spammers and locked out of the system. Sometimes, e-mails were just plain lost in the AOL etherworld and never found. And if there was an out-of-office reply function, most people couldn’t find it.

The rest of the article talks about things like a 2% rate of lost email and the fact that employees starting using Fedex more to insure documents arrived. Now that is cost saving for you!

Thursday, March 21, 2002

The Free Internet
Lots of talk today about Yahoo starting to charge for email accounts for people who connect via another mail reading program. Unclear about how many people this impacts, but the feeling is that this is just a trail to see how the net community responds. If people sign up for it expect to see a lot more charges at Yahoo.

Of course Yahoo says it is doing this to improve services. But the cynics will probably agree with the Register:

Yahoo! claims it is imposing the subscription so that it can "improve service quality…and reduce spam". The fact that Yahoo! lost $92.8 million last year obviously has nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Airport Security Sabotage?
That is the suggestion of this article from Strategy Page:

Recent incidents in which airports had to be emptied and the passengers rescreened (delaying dozens of flights) may be the result of disgruntled employees of the current airline security companies who fear they will not have jobs with the new uniformed federal security service. In one case, a metal detector was unplugged, possibly by such an employee. The FAA is looking into ways to minimize the problem by compartmentalizing airports (so that only part of it would have to be emptied) and by using equipment that is harder for employees or pranksters to disable.

If true then the feds really better get their butts in gear and get rid of the current crop of screeners. I note we keep making the job easier to get and these people are still worried they are going to get canned. My local county board is pushing for the citizenship requirements to be dropped:

Santa Clara County supervisors added their voices to a growing chorus of California officials who support legislation that would scrap the federal government's requirement that airport screeners be U.S. citizens.

The county conducted a survey of the three Bay Area international airports and found that 75 percent of the San Jose screeners, 70 percent of the San Francisco screeners and 35 percent of those at the Oakland airport would be affected. The citizenship requirement has become a touchstone issue amid new aviation security standards.

I don't know what rock the reporter and politicians crawled out from under, but I don't think the citizenship requirement is the touchstone issue here for the traveling public. The frequent fliers would say the touchstone issue is competency. No more unplugged equipment, sleeping on the job, or screening all 3 year olds. If we are just going to focus on re-hiring the same people who have demonstrated their inability to do the job then we might as well put the INS in charge of security.

Monday, March 18, 2002

Frontline On SUV's
Just caught the PBS Frontline show on the rollover threat of SUVs. Frontline has done a lot of good shows, and this could have been one of them. But it was very one sided and overly political. Political in the sense that it wraps itself in the glory of the power of regulation to save us all. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is shown as fighting the good fight under President Carter. But then that evil meanie Reagan comes in and actually tries to stop regulation. Obviously he is in the pockets of the auto industry. His successor Bush 1 is no better. Somehow the wayback machine jumps over the entire Clinton Administration despite comments about how the deaths from SUV rollovers increased over the last ten years. But we know Slick Willie was a good guy so we won't blame him.

Of the six major face interviews used in the show only two are SUV proponents. And guess what? The only one shown with shocked sounding reporters asking tough question is one of the proponents, a former head of NHTSA during the Bush 1 years. The anti-SUV NHTSA head from the Carter Administration is allowed to present her views with only softball questions from Frontline.

Hidden in the Frontline site is this quote:

What is the U.S. traffic fatality rate?
In 2000, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel fell to an historic low of 1.5. In 1990, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 2.1.

I know- lies, damn lies, and statistics. But this was not in the on air program. If you watched it you'd think that every other SUV is going to flip over tomorrow. And they blamed SUV's for killing people in smaller cars. Apparently despite the fact that 1 out of 4 vehicles purchased last year was an SUV, the number of people dying is going down.

Another fact that didn't make the on air report is contained in the interview of the Bush 1 Administration NHTSA head General Jerry Curry. The documentary repeatedly condemned SUV design because only 10% of SUV's are ever driven off road. But it neglected to tell you why SUV's are rolling over in the first place. According to Curry:

There is a problem with rollover. Ninety percent of all rollovers take place off the highway. Only 10 percent happen on the highway. You know what this means? This means if you can keep your car on the highway, you won't roll over. And the way it happens off the highway is the driver loses control. He goes off the highway, the tire starts, say, bunching up into the sod or it hits a curb or something, and it rolls over. It trips it; that's what we call "tripping" it. The vehicle is going sideways, it trips, and it rolls over. But that happens after you leave the highway.

I take that to mean they go off highway when the driver looses control of the vehicle or is involved in an accident.

You know, a lot of this comes down to how the regulators view the public. Curry says (and this was on air):

FRONTLINE: Isn't forcing manufacturers, not to eliminate SUVs, but to build them lower and wider, a partial solution both to the highway and the off-highway problem?

CURRY: The first thing is, if they did that, I would shoot them personally.

FRONTLINE: If they did what?

CURRY: If they built them lower and wider. I have an SUV because I live on a mountain. I have rocks and I have tree stumps, and I go over them. And I don't want an SUV that is lower and that is narrower or wider or however you want to put it. I don't want that. I want one that's pretty much just like it is. I bought this SUV for that reason, and the SUV was designed for that reason: to go off-road. And I like to go off-road where I live, and I think people like me want that kind of vehicle. Should I have the right to buy that vehicle? Absolutely. Should the manufacturers then make that kind of vehicle? Yes. Is it more dangerous than a vehicle that is lower and wider? Yes. I'll take the tradeoff.

FRONTLINE: But 90 percent -- above 90 percent -- of the people who buy SUVs never go off-road with them. And is it your contention that those 90 percent of the people don't deserve protection from rollover, but that they ought to know, just intuitively or commonsensibly, that these things are more dangerous, and accept that risk?

CURRY: My contention is that the American people are not stupid. They buy what they want to buy. They know that vehicle is higher. And if [after] all of the TV press over the last 20 years you don't now know that an SUV is not like a car, something is wrong with you. I believe in the American people. I think they have the right to buy SUVs, and I believe that if they don't want them, they won't buy them. That's the way supply and demand works. ...

Contrast that with the views of Michael Brownlee, an NHTSA official from 1978 through 1997. Frontline shows a video that Ford included with new Explorers (from the Frontline transcript):

NARRATOR: Despite the rollover problems of SUVs, auto makers marketed them directly to families though they seemed well aware of the potential dangers. Ford distributed videos like this with new Explorers.

MAN: One of the things you should remember when driving a four-by-four is that it handles differently from a passenger car, especially when fully loaded. That's because four-by-fours are designed and built to be used under off-road driving conditions. Because of the extra clearance needed by off-road vehicles, they have a higher center of gravity, requiring extra caution when driving through emergency situations.

Then Frontline follows with this exchange:

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the drivers of these cars are aware that they are tippy and can roll over more easily?.

MICHAEL BROWNLEE, NHTSA Official (1978-1997): I'm not sure they're fully aware. I believe everybody thinks they're a better driver than they actually are. And the old notion that "I'm a good driver. I can handle anything, even if it's a sport utility vehicle," just doesn't- doesn't hold up. We're not nearly as proficient on the road as we think we are. And the tendency of vehicles to roll is going to show itself in accident statistics, death and injury and human suffering, clearly.

Curry believes that people are not dolts. They can judge the trade offs between a low slung sports car and an SUV. Brownlee thinks that warning labels and videos are not enough to convince people SUV's are not cars. People must be protected by the government because they obviously can't make rational judgements- they are overly confident in the drivers seat. Now I've seen way too many people driving their SUV's way too fast. But frankly I don't think they would be driving any different if you put them into another car. And I do think people are aware that SUV's have a higher center of gravity than a car.

Finally word- credit to Frontline. They put all this material on the web so you can fact check them. Many programs don't. I just disagree wit their spin on this story.
LA Times On CAFE
The LA Times came out against the decision not to increase the CAFE standards and apply them to trucks. Since I came to the exact opposite conclusion, I thought I'd compare their views with mine. You be the judge:

Just how dumb do they think Americans are, these U.S. senators who voted against a major energy security measure on the pretense of protecting soccer moms and preserving the pickup truck? Do these leaders, Democrats and Republicans, want us to believe that making a sport-utility vehicle get more miles per gallon would force mothers to drive their shin-guard-clad darlings around in golf carts? That fuel-efficient pickups would endanger the family farm?

They want you to understand that Americans are not dumb. They think that if the vehicles end up costing more that family farmers will not be able to buy that fuel-efficient pickup. They know that it will be next to impossible to get an SUV to achieve anything close to 35 mpg in the next 10 years.

The Democrats bear much of the blame, both because they control the Senate and because they are usually the first to brag of their support for the environment. Nineteen Democrats from auto-producing or farm states joined the GOP in rejecting the measure by Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to raise the average auto fleet mileage standard to 35 miles per gallon by 2015, saving a million barrels of oil a day.

Seeing how those Senators represent people who might loose jobs or have to pay more for trucks I'd say they were representing the voters in their districts. I'd like to think they were deciding to be anti-regulation, but that is probably wishful thinking on my part.

They voted instead to let the Department of Transportation set new standards in the future--as if that will happen.

What? The government won't be exercising its power to regulate in the future? I must have missed that part of the deal. Now I like it even more!

I think what the LA Time is driving at is that the with a Republican in the White House the DOT won't be doing what the LA Times wants.

The current standard for autos is 27.5 mpg but only 20.7 mpg for light trucks, a category that includes SUVs. The auto makers and industry labor unions claimed that higher standards would keep them from making safe vehicles and put hundreds of thousands out of work. These are the same arguments that were mounted in 1975 when mileage standards were imposed and 15 years ago when they were increased. They were wrong then and are wrong now. What is surprising is that so many lawmakers should reiterate such nonsense on the Senate floor.

First let me address the safety argument. Raising the milage standard did end up costing lives. That was true in 1975 and is still true in 2002. Even if we make all cars and light trucks lighter there are still lots of heavy vehicles on the road. And Congress can't make trees and concrete walls lighter. Better milage has required lighter vehicles, and lighter vehicles have lead to more deaths. The National Academies of Science has said the same thing.

Second is the jobs issue. Here the overall question is whether things are the same in 2002 as in 1975. Do we have as much technological wiggle room to increase fuel economy today? So far the only promising technology I am aware of is hybrid gas/electric vehicles. They seem to run about $4,000 per vehicle more than similar all gas vehicles. I'm sure some of the cost would drop down with economies of scale, but if new cars are going to cost say $3,000 more than today I'd suggest that many people won't be able to afford them. And that will cost jobs. On top of that, none of the American car makers has hybrids on the road today. Both Honda and Toyota do.

If Americans value fuel economy in cars, then automakers will build them. As the LA Times was so happy to point out, people aren't stupid. Most people I know consider mpg in their car buying decision making. All other things being equal, they will buy the car with better milage. So why do we need the government to tell us what to buy? Who says a Senator knows more about my transportation needs than I do?

Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) actually said, "I don't want to tell a mom in my state she should not get an SUV because Congress decided that would be a bad choice." And Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) said his successful move to exempt pickup trucks from future mileage standard increases was a vote for "the working man . . . a vote for rural America."

Why should Congress tell car companies what gas milage their vehicles should achieve? If they want to discourage gas consumption, they can tax the hell out of gas like they do in Europe. If a pickup truck costs more, does the LA Times think that cost will not be passed on to consumers when businesses and farms have to buy those more expensive trucks?

Fortunately, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both California Democrats, didn't buy those lines and supported Kerry and McCain.

Of course this is an easy vote for both Boxer and Feinstein. No cars are made in California. The environmental vote is huge here. But that doesn't mean it isn't a stupid vote.

Alas, Wednesday's follies may even be outdone soon when the Senate is told that the real path to American energy independence is drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Expect someone to say it's all for the sake of the caribou.

No one ever suggested that raising the CAFE mpg ratings would lead to American energy independence. Nice straw man!

Should mention that the vast majority of Alaskans want drilling in ANWAR. Alaska depends on being able to exploit natural resources for jobs. Quite intelligently no one has built major industry in Alaska. But that is another story for another time.
Airport Security, Take 10
Or something like that. I'm frankly really interested to see how this new federal security system is going to work. Since I don't fly much, I've been frequenting the frequent flier boards to see what they think. These are folks who travel for a living, and their takes are an interesting view on the system.

The latest comment of note is this one:

At about 9:45 p.m. yesterday in AA's Terminal 8 at JFK, the security guard stationed to prevent folks from entering the exit to the concourse with the low-numbered gates was fast asleep. Half of the passengers in my exiting cluster chortled. The others were shocked.

As the discussion unwound several people said things like:

How did you know he was just sleeping and wasn't dead?


He is probably equally effective while asleep.

But the most damning statement was this one:

If the guard were reported, wouldn't they empty the airport for a couple of hours to search for dangerous objects and people? I guess each person walking by the sleeping guard was making a mental calculation of value of enhanced security v. value of getting to my destination promptly.

So thanks to the fact that the system, when prodded, acts in incredibly stupid ways people would rather overlook obvious security problems to avoid the probably annoying consequences. This is really the behavior we want to encourage in travelers!