Tuesday, April 19, 2011

where is Turkmenistan?

Well, I would recommend that people check on a map. However, the title question is actually the more typical reaction that I get from people when I mention that I will be working there next. I received very similar reactions about Congo and Gabon as well. I cannot say I am surprised by this, but I am rather amused. Work, with it's very international taste and having met people from all over the world, has given me at least a semi-decent sense of where countries can be found on a map. Frankly, it's not very important for most people to know where Gabon or Turkmenistan are and without a compelling reason to look them up, the events in those countries are not especially relevant to most Americans on a day-to-day basis.

Monday, April 18, 2011

not much blogging from CA

Historically, I have done very little actual blogging from California. The primary reason is that I see most of my actual readers in person when I am here and thus lose my most compelling reason to cast my voice out into the ether that is the internet. The secondary reason is that I run a totally different routine, or rather, lack of a routine while in CA and don't hit the usual writing strides. Also, I blame the internet, ironically enough. More bandwidth means getting a chance to catch up on the latest memes that I have been missing.

S&P downgrade = what?

I have the opportunity to do something that I could not practically do in Gabon and that is listen to NPR. (Thankfully, it seems to have not been defunded). While I can get the same sense of news online while overseas, there is something much more visceral about listening to the news on the radio. While it is typically not as in depth as a well researched article, but having to listen to quotes from whoever has been deemed relevant to the story and other sound-bites is able to induce a much stronger reaction from me than merely reading the words on a computer screen.

In this case, I've been mulling over the S&P downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. You can read about it from from any number of articles on the issue. However, the move is fundamentally a political one. The end-game of it is perhaps not entirely clear, but the business-level savvy of S&P (and Moody's, the other major credit rating institution) is highly questionable given their failure to assess what was going on during the great boom of mortgage-backed securities. My boy Barry Ritholtz expresses it much better than I can just how much disdain he has for the credit rating agencies.

Friday, April 08, 2011

trade schools and a volunteer military

I am cheating with the date on this post since I wrote much of this but never published it when it was first on my mind. With that said, trade schools and a volunteer military.

Yes, those two subjects were linked together by the man in front of me at the Air France counter after we all filed off the plane that did not take us to SFO. As a side note, that same plane ended up flying that night to Rio and we ended up with a different 747 (which was much newer) that went to SFO the next day. (Though even that flight was nearly three hours delayed). After we all filed off the original plane, there was of course a lengthy line at the Air France service counter to give everyone their meal and hotel vouchers and rebook the couple people who wanted different travel arrangements. I ended up in a lengthy conversation with the man in front of me (who happens to live in Santa Rosa and work for Cisco) and we discussed a number of topics that were all in some way related to the state of the U.S. economy and the direction that the country is headed. I suppose all topics related to the U.S. are somehow related to the direction the country is heading.

We both expressed a bit of frustration with the state of U.S. manufacturing and the difficulty with convincing people of the difference between price and value. The latter topic is quite important to me since I work for a company that seeks to sell based on value most of the time rather than cost. The former is perhaps how we ended up working our way to the subject line of this post. America needs a strong middle class. This is incredibly important for both the general welfare of people, but also the stability of the country. We need a skilled middle-class and many of those departing manufacturing jobs are winnowing the available opportunities for that group. But how is this related to the military and trade schools? Well, my line compatriot's opinion is that the military serves an important function in the skill-building process for many young Americans. This has allowed for trade schools, which seem to be more prominent in Europe, especially Germany, to play less of a role in U.S. education and training. My linemate postulated that with the military as an all-volunteer group, the relative lack of trade schools compels many who do not have the means or desire to go to a 4-year university to seek it out for training.

It is somewhat of a chicken and egg argument. Does no trade schools help nudge people to the military? Or does the military help reduce the need for trade schools? My line buddy didn't go as far to say the word "conspiracy" but he did imply it was mostly the former and that the military and powers-that-be had an interest in there being fewer trade schools to help shunt people towards military service. It's an interesting idea. What say ye, my three readers?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

airline logistics

With my flight from Paris to San Francisco postponed until tomorrow to fix a mechanical problem, I have been pondering the logistical problems that such a delay creates. The scheduled departure was 1040, but we didn't board until nearly noon and finally deplaned around 1400. During that time, I can only assume the machinery for handling the potential (which came to be actual) need to rebook or otherwise accommodate passengers is put into motion early on. When there is a delay and the potential for a serious problem, I imagine hotels that airlines have on some sort of contingency are notified and contacted to see how many rooms are available. After all, it's not like the airport Hilton is going to have 400 empty rooms. (It's also possible only us superior mileage status uber-humans get to stay in the Hilton while the proletariat stay elsewhere).

Booking people to stay overnight is one thing, but rescheduling is another. I imagine most of us will be on the flight tomorrow. For the few who had an urgent need to travel, their rebooking options were probably very limited. We didn't deplane until 1400 and most did not reach the counter for assistance until 1500 or 1600 given the long line. By that time in the day, most Stateside-bound flights form Europe have already left. Going west is a day flight. Only going east, especially from the West Coast is it an overnight flight. Even if you manage to get another booking, your luggage is not going with you. For the record, almost all checked bags have been left on the plane and will be there when we (hopefully) fly tomorrow. Finding a handful of specific suitcases in a cargo hold of nearly 1000 bags would take a few hours. More likely than not, even if you actually made your way onto another flight, your bags would still arrive with your original plane.

Then there is the plane problem. Not our flight, because we get the same plane for tomorrow. The problem is this is a CDG-SFO non-stop that flies every day of the week. This plane needs to be in San Francisco later today so it can be turned around and flown back. (There are a minimum of two planes to sustain this rotation since one needs to fly each direction each day and it's too long for a single plane to make the round-trip). The question becomes, how do the people who were planning to fly from SFO to CDG today now get where they are going? It's not like spare 747s are lying around and certainly not at a non-hub for Air France like SFO. No one is going to say, "Oh looky here, we found one that fell behind the storage locker" unless it is the storage locker that holds this. In fact, I was flipping through the Air France magazine and they only have ten 747s and five Airbus A380s in their fleet (and Wikipedia claims even fewer with eight and four respectively). Regardless, these are all planes that probably fly or have some predetermined schedule well in advance. That's part of why we didn't move to a different plane here. This is their hub and there wasn't an available 747. The SFO-to-CDG group did have more time to try and rebook people, but this is 400+ people who all of a sudden need a new plan.

I can only assume airlines, and Air France in this case, have contingency plans and have largely planned for these types of scenarios in advance. It should be standard exercise for them to find a plane, repair a problem, rebook passengers, get hotels, etc. These are all high-probability needs, not on any given day, but given volume and time, these plans will need to be used. In the same way, I assume the U.S. military has "contingency" plans for an invasion of Canada. You don't want to ever use it, but stuff happens and then your hand gets forced. So Canada, you've been warned!

waylaid in Paris for a night

Just like the title says. I'm in Paris, at the delightful Hilton by Terminal 3 at CDG for one night due to mechanical problems on our B747-400. Apparently, they don't like to fly planes when the winglets are not fully attached.

Monday, April 04, 2011

last night in Gabon

Barring any unfortunate flight delays, this should be my last night in Gabon. I'll be back in California Wednesday afternoon local time. That's all for now.