Friday, April 28, 2006

Fear of flying

Oh my, major trauma for a techie: problems with my computer. It started a few days ago with an error when I turned the computer on, the dreaded BIOS message that there were errors, press a key to enter the BIOS setup program. Then something about the secondary hard drive not talking. Well, I only have one hard drive, so I browsed through the BIOS settings and continued on with the startup sequence. Everything looked OK until I tried to get email – couldn’t talk to the internet. Or the other computers on my home network. So I got a new network card, and last night had problems installing it.

Fortunately I’m in with the help desk group here at work. So I brought the computer in, and after a few hours Jeremy couldn’t get it to work either. Out to Fry’s for a new hard drive. For those of you that have never been to a Fry’s, imagine the biggest store you’ve been to – like Costco or Super Walmart. Then double the size, and make everything inside electronics or computer related. That’s Fry’s. And lunchtime on a Friday besides. But there was a 250gb fast hard drive on sale for $89. My old drive is only 80gb, so this will provide lots more room. For what I have no idea, still lots of space available on the old one. The old drive still works, but Jeremy wanted to install Windows XP to sort out the hardware problems. So my old drive will still be there, but now I’ve got to reinstall all of my programs and passwords and pointers. Not a fun way for a tech guy to spend his weekend.

The good news, I’ll move up to Windows Office 2003. I’ve written lots of programs for one of my customers, a travel agency. Part of the main booking program lets them click a button and send an email to a customer. One of the new computers has Office 2003, and the programmed link to Outlook does not work with Outlook 2003, so the person at that machine can’t automatically send emails. I will now be able to try and figure out the problem, if I can find any info on why 2003 does things differently. That’s sure to kill quite a few hours. But it also means I’ve got to move all of my emails and address books over to the new Outlook, and I’m sure there will be problems – there always are.

Yes, I know in the big scheme of things a new hard drive and operating system upgrade is rather small potatoes. But it’s where I spend many hours a day, so to me it is a big deal.

But we’re off to see Rita Rudner tonight. She’s been a regular at New York New York for almost five years, and her contract is due to expire and not be renewed. I liked Rita when I saw her on TV years ago, she is supposed to have about the ‘cleanest’ show on the strip. I don’t know what is going into the space her show occupies, but the casinos like to rotate shows. I also want to hit the feathers and showgirls at the Tropicana before that closes – the parent company is in negotiations to sell all of their casinos, and the Trop is one of the older properties on the strip. Rumor has it that the building will be torn down and fully rebuilt, when it opens again I am sure there will be different things there.

That’s interesting about Vegas – anything over ten years old is old. If the owners can redue they will, if not then it’s an implosion and new build. Caesar’s Palace just finished a big remodel; new hotel tower, doubled the shopping space, revamped the casino. Wynn knocked down the Desert Inn. Lots of other casinos are scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt. I wish I made enough money in ten years to be able to fully revamp myself. That might be interesting – but not sure how I’d like a full implosion. Though some days I feel like one is happening anyway.

Our daughter and family are out of town this weekend. They went up to Portland to look around and buy a house. Her Canadian husband just does not like Vegas – not enough green and too hot. Portland is a good change; lots of moisture, lots of green, and nowhere near as much sunshine. But that means granddaughter goes too. Oh well, if that’s what they want to do, nothing could stop me from moving out west, so I doubt if there is anything that could keep them from moving away either.

My wife attended a Red Hat Society dinner the other evening. I don’t know how widely the group is distributed, but it seems quite popular here. There are about a dozen Red Hat groups in Vegas. Basically it’s just for ladies, they wear purple outfits and red hats and go out to party without the guys. I’ve seem stories in the local paper. They’re off to picnics and casinos, last summer taking a whole busload out to a brothel in Pharump for a tour and barbeque. I get out to play with trains and stuff, B needs an outlet away as well. One of the ladies here at work was discussing the group and invited B, so off she went. Had to go shopping for purple and a red hat of course, those are not normal colors in our house. Don’t know why, it looked pretty good to me.

I signed up for a WalkAmerica thing tomorrow morning. It starts at Neonopolis downtown, and wanders the streets. We haven’t been downtown in the daylight in quite a while, so we’ll be off to see the sights on foot. I haven’t seen the revamped canopy down there at night – years ago Fremont Street was closed off and made a walking area, with a big canopy extending over several blocks. The canopy is composed of thousands of little lights, and it becomes a giant computer screen for several shows a night. Last year they replaced the relatively big lights with a lot more little lights, basically improving the resolution, so that you can now go downtown and watch a really big screen – a street wide and three blocks long.

Over at Google, no really good shots, but you can go look at Bill & Toni's Wedding and see some nice pics and a movie. My camera isn’t very good at night, so you probably will not get many pics from me. Well, you will definitely not be getting any until I get my computer fixed. Looks like Brighton is having computer problems too.

Rob asked about airport security. Well, I think they do similar things in Europe, but the US has become really anal about ‘security’. We’ve hot a whole new government organization, called the Department of Homeland Security, that does nothing but spy on citizens and figure out how to make life much more annoying. Since the aircraft hijackings on 9/11 one of their big focus points has been airports. We used to have armed National Guard troops patrolling the airports, don’t know what good they would do, I was more afraid of being shot by accident than appreciative of them ‘protecting’ me. The hijackers back then bought tickets and just boarded planes, so the guards would have been useless. But today they are all over in Iraq, so nobody’s left to act like soldiers. But there are full time employees that just live to make your trip as miserable as possible.

It starts out with an interrogation when you purchase your airline ticket. Then there is a long wait to go through one of the ‘security checkpoints’. One of the waits I went through in Los Angeles was over an hour. You get up to a metal detector and must remove all metal items and place them, along with all carry on items, on a moving belt for the xray investigative treatment. This usually includes your coat, belt, and shoes, as well as any keys, coins, phones, pens, or whatever metallic item you might have in your pocket. Experienced travelers just start stripping things off in line when they get close, emptying pockets in anticipation of the interrogation. Then through a metal detector that frequently detects the fillings in your teeth. Any beep requires you to be pulled to the side and examined more closely. This sometimes can be 10% of the crowd going through, slowing things even more as the limited number of searchers end up with another line. A full wanding, and at times a move behind a screen and removal of other items of clothing.

If you look suspicious, or the xray shows something unusual, your carry on stuff will then be torn apart and closely searched. They automatically take away such violent-prone articles as nail files, fingernail clippers, and any pointed object. Your items then might be wiped with a special magic cloth, which is deposited in a machine that supposedly detects explosive materials. Which I understand can also be set off by certain types of hand lotion. If that detects something you are then taken away, with all of your items, to another room. I have no idea what goes on in there.

Your name is also searched for in a big database of people that are not allowed to fly. On this list are names such as Ossama bin Laden (at least I hope he’s on there) and Robert Jacobson and some other very violent sounding names. Problem is, if you are Robert Jacobson, not the violent Robert Jacobson, you too are not permitted to fly. This list is not published, you cannot find out how your name got there, if it is even there, except by the inference since you will be escorted from the airport, or how to get your name off the list. There have been stories of six month old kids being denied boarding because their names were on the watch list. Serious stuff here.

A newspaper article a few months ago discussed some of the people on the election campaign for George W’s opponent during the last election. They were continually on airline flights during the campaign, off to speeches and appearances and stuff. But right after the election suddenly their names appeared on the ‘do not fly’ list. It took them several lawyers and almost two years before they were allowed to fly again. Strange, how their names just showed up. No, not revenge or anything. There was not even an admission from the government that their names were on the list, they just were thrown out of airports. Sounds like a good way to get back at somebody you don’t like, tell the IRS that they are cheating on their taxes (resulting in endless financial audits) and report them as potential terrorists. Oh, mean.

If you get through that line prior to your plane taking off you then might get caught up in another inspection. Some people are ‘randomly’ pulled off for additional inspections as you board. This usually catches my daughter (the potentially violent person she is). Supposedly this is a random selection of people, but when you look over at who is chosen you will usually find five or six Arabic looking guys and one small blond girl. The blond is usually my daughter, chosen I suppose to prove that the selection is random, and not just because of a person’s appearance. That way they can say ‘no, we don’t just pick Arabs, see, there is a little blond woman there too’. Yea, right. This group again has their carry on luggage torn apart, and some of them also are strip searched, depending on the ‘random’ selection of the computer. Hopefully the inspection is done before the airplane takes off, hopefully.

And any luggage that you check in is also available for inspection. You no longer can put locks on your luggage to prevent things from ‘mysteriously’ disappearing in flight, as an inspection might be required. If you have a lockable suitcase then a big pry bar will be used to force open the case, which may or may not then be taped shut to continue on the flight, spilling items as it goes. The federal government is buying large high-speed machines that supposedly detect explosives inside of luggage. Every airport is supposed to inspect every item of luggage by the end of the year. Las Vegas is getting enough machines to process about 15% of the bags that flow through. The airport has no idea what they will do, as they are required to inspect but not given the tools, or employees.

So, you are told to be at the airport several hours before your flight, in case of delays in the inspection process. Then you still might be delayed if you are one of the ‘chosen’, or right behind one of them. If the line is short you are then faced with a multi-hour wait at the boarding gate, with probably not enough seats for everyone, so you get to stand or sit on the floor. Most airlines have given up on any type of food service, and some don’t even offer peanuts any more. With seats being pushed closer together in order to fit more people on each plane a flight is more like a bus trip than an enjoyable experience.

With fuel costs increasing it will soon be even more uncomfortable on the plane. On the news last night one airline said that they are cutting back on weight, just removing five magazines per plane would save them $10,000 in fuel costs over the next year because of the reduced weight. If their analysts can come up with things like that, expect the removal of all items that are not necessary, such as seat cushions, pillows, water, and who knows what else. You can ask Virginia Gal, she works for an airline and frequently comments on how to make flying easier.

So I no longer fly if I can drive someplace. Thus what should have been an hour flight to San Francisco can become a four hour ordeal. I would much rather sit in my car for eight hours, look at the scenery, listen to music I select, not have to fight for an armrest or put up with some idiot next to me than fly.

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