Here's a beautiful gallery of publicity shots of the Canberra Skywhale, a lighter-than-air sculpture created by Patricia Piccinini to celebrate the centenary of the capital city of Australia. The Skywhale is a fanciful, breast-studded creature from a contrafactual alternate history:
"My question is what if evolution went a different way and instead of going back into the sea, from which they came originally, they went into the air and we evolved a nature that could fly instead of swim. In fact coming from a place like Canberra where it's a planned city that's really tried to integrate and blend in with the natural environment, it makes a lot of sense to make this sort of huge, gigantic, but artificial and natural-looking creature".
You know how aviation is a spiralling horror-show of discomfort and bad service? Well, not if you're in Congress:
At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.)
Being a member of Congress also means never having to rush to catch a flight. The airlines allow lawmakers the special privilege of simultaneously booking themselves on multiple flights, so that if they are late or their flight is canceled, they’re guaranteed a spot on the next one. A few years ago, a prominent senator paused in the middle of a conversation with me to bark at an aide, “Book me on the 6, 7, and 8 p.m. shuttles!”
To members of our fly-in-Tuesday-fly-home-Thursday Congress, these perks are a big deal. Most fly a lot, and many fly first class
From Slashdot submitter Trims: "The TSA is now in the public comment stage of its project to roll out Advanced Imaging Technology (i.e. full-body X-ray) scanners. The TSA wants your feedback as to whether or not this project should be continued or cancelled. Now is your chance to tell the TSA that this is a huge porkbarrel project and nothing more than Security Theater. You can comment at http:///www.regulations.gov and reference the docket ID TSA-2013-0004." You've got until Jun 24.
If you're booking a multi-city trip by air, you should really price it out as a series of one-way flights, rather than as a single ticket. As Mike Masnick discovered, the arcane airline ticketing rules require ticketing agencies to stick random, high-priced business-class tickets into multi-hop itineraries, which can double the cost of your trip. The ticketing websites -- Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, and Orbitz -- all either failed to show this information, produced suboptimal itineraries with unnecessary overnight layovers, or obscured the best flights in some other important way. Masnick got a spokesperson for Hipmunk to explain it all:
After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.
That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing." That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.
In the end, it really feels like a scammy way of making fliers pay a lot more than they need to, without them realizing it. What I do know, however, is that if you're looking for the best deals, do not assume that a multi-city search will turn up the cheapest prices -- and also recognize that the different search engines can give out extremely different answers. For example, if price was the only concern, and short flight times/non-stop flights were less important, then obviously that British Airways option at the end is by far the best price -- but it turns up on none of the other search engines. However, I'd imagine that most casual fliers have no idea, and I wonder if many people end up booking multi-city flight options, not realizing that they could save a ton by booking the exact same flights individually.
Redditor Federal Reservations has made a handy post enumerating all the regressive, authoritarian, corporatist policies enacted by the Obama administration in its one-and-a-bit terms. You know, for someone the right wing press likes to call a socialist, Obama sure makes Richard Nixon look like Che Guevara. And what's more, this is only a partial list, and excludes the parade of copyright horrors and bad Internet policy emanating from the White House, via Joe Biden's push for Six Strikes, the US Trade Rep's push for secret Internet censorship and surveillance treaties like TPP and ACTA and TAFTA; the DoJ's push to criminalize every Internet user by expanding the CFAA, and much, much more.
Here's a writeup of Evan Booth's Hack the Box conference presentation on making lethal weapons out of items bought in airport duty-free shops. It's pretty ingenious stuff (the video above is from a related presentation at CarolinaCon 2013).
The problem here is that legitimate purpose of airport security is not protecting passengers and flight attendants from harm. In reality, there's no way to accomplish that goal against a determined attacker. The real and legitimate purpose of airport security is to protect airplanes and cockpits from harm -- to stop people from hijacking and/or crashing airplanes (this is why the TSA correctly relaxed its rules about carrying small knives onto planes -- and why so many of their other rules are pointless and stupid). So long as none of these lethal weapons can crash an airplane or beat an armored, bolted cockpit door, they embody no new incremental threat to aviation -- on the other hand, the improvised battery-bombs are a real threat.
Besides a bomb knew Booth also easy to make a bow and arrow of stuff he had bought in a shop in an airport. For this he used an umbrella, hair dryer, socks, a leather belt and condoms. Too obvious things like a lighter and deodorant as alternative gas burner he did not elaborate.
Booth also made a crossbow of an umbrella, floss, grab a toy, a rolkoffertje, a straw and tape. With a straw, cotton and a piece of metal from a remote controlled helicopter he was able to make a blow gun for firing arrows.
Remarkable is also a club that he made a gift, what magazines, floss, a leather strap and tape. In a test showed that so firmly, that he with a single blow a coconut in several parts stores.
Sai has "a neurological disorder that causes episodic muteness and muscle spasms" -- basically, he sometimes becomes mute and gets bad shakes. His doctor has advised him to have juice continuously available, and this helps control his condition. TSA rules allow him to bring any amount of juice through a checkpoint. Unfortunately, the TSA doesn't read its own rules. Instead, Sai is detained at checkpoints for endless, illegal questioning and searches of his personal papers, confidential business documents, etc. When he loses the ability to speak, he uses pen and paper to communicate, but the TSA takes the pen and paper away as soon as he cites language from a landmark legal case limiting their power to search him.
He's videoed one of these encounters, with the TSA and its private contractors at SFO, and he's filed grievances with various agencies over that incident and another at Boston Logan. The TSA is illegally refusing to follow its own administrative procedures, so he's getting ready to sue them (he needs an ADA and/or FOIA-specialized lawyer qualified for the bar in MA and/or CA and/or federally -- any takers?). He's also trying to force them to disclose their secret procedures.
The edited, subtitled video of his run-in at SFO is fantastically infuriating. The TSA and its private contractors are vindictive, lawless, brutal. But Sai is an inspiring example of calm under fire, a guy who knows his rights back and forwards, and doesn't let the fact that his physical condition is deteriorating -- you can see his tremors -- make him lose his cool (here's the unedited version, which runs to about an hour).
Sai's site has plenty of ways you can help with this, including a petition to Congress and a questionnaire to help him with his Freedom of Information suit. And by helping him, you help everyone who has to fly -- and everyone who cares about freedom in America.
On March 1, 2013, San Francisco TSA refused to allow me to travel with medical liquids. My liquids had been been tested clean by xray & explosive trace detection, and the official on scene specifically acknowledged reading the TSA's Special Needs Memo (including that juice is a medical liquid and that there's no volume restriction on medical liquids). This directly involved the most senior TSA officials at the airport, who detained me for about 50 minutes total.
This is only the most recent in a long string of personal incidents of harassment, denial, or direct refusal to obey TSA's medical liquids policy. This time, though, I got it all on video.
A TSA screener at JFK pepper-sprayed five of his colleagues at Terminal 2 on Tuesday, according to the New York Post. The screener, Chris Yves Dabel, found a pepper-spray cannister on the floor and believed it was a laser-pointer, so (for some reason), he aimed it at five other screeners and pressed the trigger. The six were sent to Jamaica Hospital.
The screener sprayed five other TSA agents around him, sending all six to Jamaica Hospital and halting security checks at Kennedy for at least 15 minutes, police said.
No passengers reported injuries. Dabel refused medical attention.
TSA officials scrambled to keep the embarrassing incident under wraps yesterday — until The Post began inquiring about it, a source said.
An empty cake-shipping box abandoned at the Tampa airport reportedly freaked out passengers and Portal players: "My visit to Tampa has drawn to a close, and The Lady just dropped me off at the airport. Right by the Air Canada entrance, this styrofoam box marked “CAKE” has been unnerving passengers. It’s empty — it probably held cake for transport but was too big to fit into the car that picked it up — but I let some airport staff know that it was beginning to worry some people. Namely, the security-conscious and Portal players."
In a rare, welcome moment of sanity, the TSA has announced that it will allow small knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks, wiffle bats, and similar items on planes. Given that you are allowed to bring on canes -- that is, clubs -- and 40-oz duty-free liquor bottles -- that is, long glass knives, this represents no new risk to flight crews. However, aviation employees are beefing and saying that this represents the TSA's convenience, not theirs. Gee, thanks.
On the other hand, they still ban box-cutters -- small knives of a specific, but not particularly lethal form -- because "there’s just too much emotion associated with them, particularly the box cutters." That's from John Pistole, head of the TSA, and apparent believer in sympathetic magic.
The agency will permit knives with retractable blades shorter than 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) and narrower than 1/2 inch, TSA Administrator John Pistole said today at an aviation security conference in Brooklyn. The change, to conform with international rules, takes effect April 25.
Passengers will also be allowed to board flights with some other items that are currently prohibited, including sticks used to play lacrosse, billiards and hockey, ski poles and as many as two golf clubs, Pistole said.
Yesterday morning, I flew the final leg of my 23-city book-tour. I was supposed to fly Kansas City -> Chicago -> Toronto, but the Kansas/Chicago flight was delayed, because United had scheduled the crew too tightly on its turnaround, and the FAA grounded them until they got a full night's sleep. I was able to get on another flight in Chicago, but my bag didn't make it.
But they assured me it would follow. After all, there are several United flights every day from Chicago to Toronto. The ground agent in Toronto even offered to expedite the bag.
But it didn't show up. When I called last night, the automated system reported no updates. This morning, it was the same. After a very long time on hold, I was told that they'd flown it to Las Vegas and forgotten about it. When I asked what I was going to do about toiletries, medication, workout stuff and a change of clothes, they offered me a whopping $75. That won't cover it -- especially since I have to dress up for an event tonight (bad enough that I had to finish out the tour without clean socks or underwear). And when I spoke to a supervisor, he wouldn't budge.
Screw you, United. This has been a comedy of errors, from the scheduling screw up in Kansas to the series of bag and reporting screwups, to the awful treatment from your customer service department. Every one of them was your fault, and you left me high and dry. You suck.
Matthew, a young man who blogs about air-travel, was thrown off a United jet after a flight attendant chastised him for taking photos of the new first class seats. She apparently thought he was a terrorist. According to Matthew, she lied (and the captain backed her up) and said that he refused to stop taking pictures when asked. The captain apparently threatened to have him taken off the plane by the police. Matthew says he's logged 950,000 miles with United though he's only 26 years old, and that this has made him question his views of the airline.
Captain: Sir, you are not flying on this flight.
Me: Can you tell me why?
Captain: My FA tells me she told you to stop taking pictures and you continued to take pictures.
Me: That's a lie, captain. She told me stop taking pictures and I stopped. I did try to explain to her why I was taking pictures—I am a travel writer [I offered him one of my business cards and he too refused to accept it].
Captain: Look, I don't care. You are not flying on this flight. You can make this easy or make this difficult. We'll call the police if we have to.
Me: Why are you threatening me? Your FA is lying—I did not disobey any crewmember instruction.
Captain: Look, we're already late. I'd advise you to get off this plane now. Make it easy on yourself. Don't make us bring the police in. Goodbye.
Me: Wait. Captain, may I have one of your business cards?
Captain: I don't have any, but United will have no trouble finding me. My name is...[removed].
The TSA has given the boot to Rapiscan, maker of about half of the pornoscanners in use in America's airports:
TSA gave Rapiscan until June 2013 to come up with a software upgrade to prevent the scanner from projecting the naked image. TSA officials said Rapiscan won't be able to meet that deadline.
"TSA has strict requirements that all vendors must meet for security effectiveness and efficiency since the use of this technology is critical to TSA’s efforts to keep the traveling public safe," the TSA said in a statement.
Yes, they seriously named their pornoscanner company "Rapiscan." Seriously.