May 2009

21 May 2009
Amtrak
Rob Fisher

Science fiction author Charles Stross is shocked at how slow and inefficient travel by train is in the United States.

07 May 2009
My A380 flight
Rob Fisher

A few weeks ago I flew on Emirates EK002 from Heathrow to Dubai.  I specifically chose that flight to try out the A380.  From the front it looks a bit ugly.

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Front of A380

Once inside, the first thing I noticed was the stairs.  They look like the entrance to a London night club.  Commoners like me were not allowed up the stairs.

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A380 stairs

The seats were pretty spacious for economy class.  I am six feet tall and did not feel at all cramped.  I don’t think it was much different from 747s I’ve flown on, though.  The interior didn’t look much different either, although Emirates put tiny lights on the ceiling to look like stars, which was quite pretty when the main cabin lights were dimmed.  One odd thing is the entrance to the cockpit, which rather than being on the top deck like a 747, is on the lower deck but up a few steps.  There are two sets of steps: the left set leads to the cockpit and the right set leads to toilets.

The in flight entertainment system was the best I’ve used.  The screen is nice and big, there were lots of movies, every number one single ever and some slightly better than usual but not great games.  You can plug in a USB stick and view your photos.  I managed to send an email to Michael Jennings, but didn’t get his reply even though the system told me I would.

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In-flight email

Best of all were the three external cameras.  The front one was best and offered a good view of the approaching runway while landing, the downward facing one was mostly useless except shortly after takeoff when the front one only showed sky, but the most spectacular was the tail camera, even though image quality seemed slightly worse on this one.  Unusually, the system was switched on from the gate until landing, so you get to keep an eye on everything.

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Tail camera

If you’re not interested in planes and you’re flying economy, you won’t notice much difference.  But if you like planes or you get to try business class or better, you’ll have a lot of fun on the A380.

Biking freedom will end any day now
Rob Fisher

This month’s Bike magazine celebrates the best of Britain with 39 ways to enjoy motorcycling in Britain.  #03 points out that in Britain we have fewer regulations on things like engine power and after-market exhausts.  #37 starts with, “Because we can still get away with it.  Britain is not a police state.  A smart rider with his wits about him can still make his own decision on speed and risk taking.”

But for how long?  In his column in the same issue, Rupert Paul laments that “they hate us again.”

The EU is talking again about a 100bhp limit for bikes, and manufacturers are terrified at the prospect of other compulsory ‘safety’ laws.  The UK government wants to reduce the speed limit on 400,000 miles of country roads to 50mph, using average speed cameras.  A Hayabusa rider gets six months for doing 122mph.  Derbyshire council installs hidden roadside motorcycle detectors that identify bikes, track their movements and calculate their average speed.  There are parking charges for bikes in London—and every other city before long.

He complains that it’s very easy for box-ticking civil servants and politicians trying to get re-elected to To Something About motorcycle death tolls and recognises that reducing death tolls at any cost can interfere with liberty.  Riding a bike,

...involves judicious speeding.  And yes, if you get nicked, you should usually get fined and points.  But it’s not the mindless, suicidal rush into oblivion that the road-safety lobby imagine.  It’s a moment-to-moment excersise in judgement and responsibility.  Because if anything goes wrong, we cop it.  We gladly accept that risk in exchange for not having to sit in a steel box like everybody else.  And the resulting freedom is a source of meaning, satisfaction and happiness.

I’m worried that it’s days are numbered.  I should get out on my bike and enjoy it while I can.