Saturday, March 18, 2006

Two Anti-Whines

by Tom Bozzo

1. A visit from the bandwidth fairy

Late last year, I had revisited our internet plan, since our CLEC/ISP was offering speeds of "up to" 4 megabits/second for what we were paying for our no-longer-that-fast 768K DSL. The nice new modem (with built-in ethernet hub and 802.11g Wi-Fi) arrived, and it turned out that "up to" meant about 1.5 Mbps. Not bad, but I was a little disappointed.

After returning from the week's bandwidth-limited travels, I noticed that a big download was moving along much more rapidly than usual. Some testing revealed that the 1.5 Mbps was now 3-3.5 Mbps. Woohoo! It's still subpar by the standards of the international crème de la crè of internet access speeds, but it will increase the temptation to fill in my viewing of the new Battlestar Galactica (saw the season finale on the road) from 'net sources before the discs start arriving from Netflix.

This firm, in an effort to rid itself of dependence of the new AT&T's wireline loops, offers a WiMax service elsewhere in the state — same "up to" speed, $20/month less than 4 Mbps DSL — and is in the process of building a wireless network in Madison for the same purpose. Good for them; competition is a good thing.

2. An airline seating anti-whine.

Yes, you got that right.

For one thing, I remain so pleased with the ability to get to Washington in two hours that I've mostly stopped thinking what the CRJ would be like if it were outfitted with ~12 seats instead of 44-48. Even when those 44-48 seats are jam-packed. (The high load factors suggest that the flight won't get canned for reason of insufficient loads.)

I'd been alerted to the new NWA premium seat-selling deal while rearranging my seats for this week's return flights via internet check-in. For an exit row aisle, $15 is not unreasonable — I'd go further to endorse Michael O'Hare's legroom premium proposal — though I happened to be flying on a fare that allowed me to select an exit row aisle for no additional charge.

Then, on a "completely full" flight, the middle seat ended up being unoccupied.

I thought, for a moment, that we were going to pick up a woman who announced herself to the cabin crew as a "furloughed flight attendant," but she took the window seat in the row behind me. The fellow sitting next to her must have asked something about NWA's labor challenges, as she described the basic doomsday scenario in which the airline voids the pilots' and/or flight attendants' contract ostensibly to save the airline, then the subsequent strike kills the airline.

But that was not all! The furloughed flight attendant did not stop talking the entire trip. You might say, raving. At first, she suggested that NWA management, a la Frank Lorenzo, would be just as happy to liquidate NWA and cash out with whatever they've arranged, rather than try to make a profitable concern out of it. That, at least, is in the possibly, if not exactly self-evidently, true department.

However, this particular flight attendant must have watched a few too many "X-Files" repeats, as somehow the airline finance train jumped the tracks and she was onto a conspiracy to murder JFK (Sr.) over his supposed plans to fold the Federal Reserve system, shutter the CIA, and get the U.S. out of Vietnam. Videotapes and an alleged girlfriend of LBJ were mentioned by the time the engines mercifully spooled up and drowned her out — for me, anyway. Next time I heard her, she was saying something about the sinking of the Titanic.

The present environment may well be blurring the lines between matters warranting healthy distrust and raving paranoia. But not that much.
If you're going to resume your frequent flying, maybe this is the sign that you need to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones ;-)

The downside of the $15 'upgrade' is that elite flyers can get them for free with a 48-hour advance while poor chumps like my must pay and get only a 24-hour advance. In other words, fat chance flying out of DCA.
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