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Friday, June 11, 2010

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The BYTE Fiasco


June 11, 2010

I found this while looking for something else. It tells a story from ten years ago: how the world has changed since then! And for some reason I found it interesting enough to include as a report (I am assuming I didn't already do that!)

The NEC MobilePro still works. Of course it has been somewhat replaced by netbooks and other small laptops and hand held computers, but I did get a lot of work out of it, and I still have it.

Herewith a story of a trip home from PC EXPO in the year 2000.



Friday, June 30, 2000

The adventure continues...

This will be a good test of the NEC MobilePro 780 which so far has my cold dead fingers award. I can actually use it on an airplane, and I am writing this as I head for Burbank on what with luck is the last leg of my adventure.

Flight 761 to Dallas out of LaGuardia started normally enough.  For that matter the day started normally enough, but there was a warning sign. It took me a while to pack up: there was just a lot of stuff I had collected at PCEXPO, and it overflowed. Usually when I take Gargantua, the enormous standup rolling wardrobe, there's plenty of room,  but not this time. Fortunately I had brought a spare backpack and a big duffel bag. Both got used. Gargantua has an external strap system that lets me hang other luggage on its front, then stack more on the top of it braced by the handle. Then I can strap my briefcase to the carry-on roll-on, and all checked luggage is in one package and carryon in another. Five bags, two to carry on, seemed like wretched excess, but there it is.

The New Yorker hotel is pretty good for PCEXPO provided you know what rooms to reserve in advance, but the service staff is almost non-existent. You can get a bellman but you'll have a long wait, and I usually deal with my luggage myself. The doorman, though, is very good. He had my mountain of luggage before I could get out the door, and asked if I wanted a taxi or a Lincoln: the difference was about $5, and the Lincoln Towncar was a lot more comfortable. Alas: he started to load my luggage in a waiting Lincoln, and there exploded a conversation in Farsi (I'm pretty sure that was the language; it sounded Indo-European rather than Semitic). That should have been my warning that the day was turning weird.

 It turned out that car was booked. There I was off the curb with my luggage and no car or taxi... but only for a minute, and another Lincoln pulled up, and my luggage went in, and while the driver spoke very little English he was polite and knew his way to LaGuardia. I used my cell phone to telephone his license number to my voice mail, a cheap form of insurance, but that was just for drill. I wasn't worried. We took the tunnel, traffic was normal, and all seemed well. I don't fly out of LaGuardia much. I recognized the route, huge cemetery, good views of the Manhattan skyline.


Long line to check my mountain of luggage, or I could let the Skycap do it, but there wasn't a Skycap until I was already saddled up, bags strapped to Gargantua, and all easy to roll. I had a book, and nothing to do, and plenty of time so I stood in the line and alternated reading with people watching. Novelists do that. I had the Olympus c-2500 around my neck and used it to get a few shots of interesting character types, and I practiced trying to describe them in a few words or sentences. Novelists do that, too.

 No problem with the luggage or the tickets. Flight definitely on time. Some have been delayed due to air traffic control, but all seemed normal now, and the plane should be on time, leaving in about two hours, enough time for me to set up the Armada E500 and get some work done. Now to find the Admirals club.


My next warning was security. I had a new little Olympus DS-150 voice recorder in my shirt pocket. I'd been playing with it in the taxi. Getting it set up is simple once you wrap your head around the instructions, and it's a pleasant little device to use, easy to carry, wonderfully slim, and very handy. There's a port to transfer files to your laptop, and in general it seems well designed. I also had the Olympus C-2500 camera around my neck. I think I had a Dragon NaturallyMobile voice recorder in my hip pocket -- I've always liked it, although Olympus may wean me away with the DS-150. One of the things I want to test.

 I keep all my pens in a BYTE.COM pocket protector, making it easy to put them in the bowl so I got through the metal detector. I dropped that in, added wallet, Dragon, DS-150, and camera. And the lady wanted me to turn them all on. She wanted to look through the camera.  I had to remove the lens cover and turn it on so she could do that. She wanted to see the screen light on the DS-150. Understand, this thing is about as big as your index and middle fingers combined, far too thin to be useful for smugglers, and anyway, it takes nothing to make a screen show words. I had to do that. And for the Dragon. The sensitivity on the metal detector was so high that with nothing whatever in my pockets I still set it off. Must be the bits of metal in my leg, That's happened before, and sure enough, the gizmo screamed at my knees, but not enough to upset the rather bored chap who was using it.

 But understand, my bags I sent through the xray were crammed with electronics including two computers, another Dragon NaturallyMobile, pliers, cables, thick external camera battery, you name it -- and they never wanted me to open those. If I'd left the DS-150 in the briefcase and stuffed the camera into the roll-on, no one would have said a word. So it goes. Everyone was pleasant, as was I, and it was only a moment's delay, but I did wonder what would have happened if the batteries were dead on those devices so they couldn't flash some kind of message on the LCD screen.



The Admirals club at LaGuardia is nice. Everything seemed in good shape. I called Roberta to report all on time so far. Then I set up the Armada E500, deciding not to fight with the phone to log on -- it was possible because some chap did it after I abandoned that phone, but after all I'd be home in a few hours, and anything I hadn't done in the morning in the hotel room could wait. I answered some mail and did some work on my web page. All that would be uploaded next time I got on line. They kept announcing late flights. One Dallas flight left three hours late. Mine remained on time.


 I got on the plane ahead the rush -- one advantage to having a platinum lifre membership card to the Admirals Club. I got that back in my aerospace days when it was The half-million mile club and no one knew there were these special lounges in airports. Then sometime in the early 60's the secret was out, and people who didn't have half a million miles sued to be able to join and airlines discovered they could make some money selling memberships. My old card was upgraded to life membership in the new lounge club. While I was at it I bought life memberships in some of the others, and  between that and the International Airlines Passenger Association I have a place to go in just about every major airport and airline in the world. Beats sitting in those steel and plastic torture devices they keep in the terminal.

Anyway I got on the plane, stowed my carryon’s, and found I had a pleasant seat companion. All looked well. We got away from the gate on time and headed for the runway.


 Then the adventure began.


It seemed like we were waiting a long time. Finally the Captain came on with a note of disbelief in his voice. We had been next for takeoff on the long runway. The plane ahead took off -- and they closed the runway to outbound and shifted to inbound traffic. We had no runway clearance.

 We had two choices. Wait for what they hoped would be less than an hour until they ceased landing on that runway, or try to go to another (and shorter) runway and get in the takeoff line there. The problem was that we were too heavy to take off on the shorter runway. We might have to offload passengers or baggage. The flight was, of course, dead full. This being the 4th of July weekend, all flights everywhere were full and overbooked. Anyone getting off wouldn't be likely to get a flight.

 Neither alternative sounded attractive. Worse, to get to the shorter runway we would have to CROSS the active runway they were landing planes on, and at LaGuardia ground traffic control is one frequency, air traffic and takeoff is another, and the ground traffic people having turned us over to air traffic (without checking to see that air traffic was going to let us go, they assumed we were set and out of their hair) -- ground traffic was no longer listening to us, and the Captain couldn't get their attention.

 So we waited. Idled down to one engine, still enough for cool air.  It wasn't unpleasant. American's tourist class seats are all right. We could use cell phones, since we were stationary and on the ground. I had books and this MobilePro 780 as well as my big E500 Armada. I could even play with web page updates and putting up some email.

 An hour went by. Then another. By now the weather in Dallas was clear and we didn't need extra fuel, or they thought we didn't, and the pilot had ground traffic control, and we were able to cross the big active runway -- a bit frightening -- and get in line for the short runway. They revved up the engines to burn off enough fuel to make us light enough to take off. The Captain said he was sure we had enough fuel to get to Dallas, but we might, just might, have to refuel in Memphis, but probably not. We had 12 planes in front of us, and we'd have burned off enough to be light enough by the time it was our turn to take off. In an hour or so...

 Nine planes. Five. Four. Three. Two. It's our turn.

 "Folks, this is the Captain again. I don't believe this. I've been flying this airplane for 8 years and never had a problem, but we have a failed fuel temperature gauge. We'll have to go over to the hangar and replace it. That ought to take about 20 minutes...."


At this point several passengers wanted OFF. That meant getting a gate, which would take an hour, then we might or might not get back in line for takeoff...

 And the replacement gauge didn't work either. Maybe the fuel sensor. But the Captain didn't want to ask for an exception. So we found a gate. This was now maybe 4 hours after we had pushed off from that gate. They told us we could leave our bags while they fixed the airplane, and foolishly I started off with only  my briefcase. Then I came to my senses, and sat down to let the mad rush past, then went back to my seat and pulled my roll-on down from overhead and brought it along too. Back to the Admirals Club perhaps 5 hours after I had left it. It was about 8PM New York time. I kept Roberta up to date as much as possible -- cell phones are great -- and the girls at the Admirals Club were pleasant and efficient. They  booked me on several alternate flights out of Dallas. This assumed I could get to Dallas. They still hoped to fix the airplane and thought they’d be able to. The alternative would be to go over to JFK and try to get to LAX, but all seats were booked,  Gargantua and his kin were checked to Burbank and at that moment still on the doomed Flight 761, and this seemed like a poor idea. I figured that if you had to be stranded without an Airplane and you're flying American, Dallas is the right place to be. Good Admirals Club and it's American's home base hub; if airplanes are to be had they'll be there.


About 10 PM they asked all Flight 761 passengers to come to the Admirals Club desk. Flight 761 was cancelled. Now for frantic efforts to get us to Dallas on something else. Alas, a brand new agent had just come in, and she got my ticket, and didn't know what to do to cancel the old and make out a new, and three people got seats on the  next flight while this one dithered with mine. But fortunately the senior lady there took over from the newcomer, and there I was, booked to a flight that would get to Dallas. Not today, not this month, but a bit after midnight Dallas time, which would be July 1 by the time I got there.

 That plane was held up by LaGuardia ground control inefficiency: there was a plane behind us and we couldn't get away from the gate. Half an hour went by. The Captain was getting irked. So were we. But I had a good seat, a book, my carry-on luggage, and an airplane. The Stewardess was Kelley Kelly. It was a married name. "I did it to myself, it's not my mother's fault..."  Very pleasant. She didn't know for certain but she was pretty sure my luggage would have been transferred from 761 to this new 791. That seemed reasonable to me, and anyway there was nothing I could do. Sit back and read a book. Of course I saw a suitcase -- not one of mine -- fall off a baggage train car and lay there forlornly on the tarmac for ten minutes until some other baggage tractor driver saw it and took it away, heaven knows where. Reassuring. But again there was nothing I could do.

 And eventually the plane got away from the gate. Now we're in line. Five ahead of us. Four. Three. Two. Around the turn. Line up. Roll -- and we lumbered off the ground, heavy, low angle of ascent, but we were headed up and out.


Kelley Kelly promised that a gate agent would meet us even though they are all off at midnight and try to go home the instant their shift ends. The Captain was even then in contact with American headquarters. A gate agent must open the door, and at worst they'd trap that one. Someone would meet Flight 791 with its score of survivors of the doomed 761.  A promise.

 And indeed, they did. As I emerged from the jetway I was met by three of them. They handed me a sheaf of papers: my connection, a crew pass for the Dallas airport Hyatt, a meal ticket, and directions to the American Airlines bus that would take us to the Hyatt. My plane for Burbank would leave at 10:50 the next morning.

 The adventure was nearly ended.


Well, no. Although there were four busses, the driver of the lead bus wouldn't go, and wouldn't go, and we were sitting there on the bus waiting for it to fill, and half an hour went by, and at that point I used my cell phone to call American's 800 reservation line. I got a nice young lady in Tulsa, explained to her the problem, told her that if they had given us a Dallas number I'd be happy to call it but she was the only human American employee I could make contact with, the driver being, let's be charitable, initiative challenged, unwilling to go until told to by radio only no one was listening to his plaintive attempts to contact superiors who had undoubtedly bugged out at midnight.

 And Lo! Tulsa came through, someone in ops at Dallas called our driver, and we drove the fifty yards to the Hyatt. Fifty yards. Shorter than the distance from the Admirals Club to the jetway in the airport. An easily walked fifty yards, only no one told us.  We needn't have waited. We didn’t need a bus, we needed directions. So it goes.

 At the Hyatt all was well, Room Service delivered a hamburger and took an order for an 0900 breakfast, the phone worked and I was able to log on to see if there was any important email -- none, but lots and lots of spam. Sigh. I think I will have to give up my EarthLink email address. It seems filled with spam. The problem is that some legitimate press services send me email at that account. I'll have to try to arrange to have them send to another. At home I can use rules to sort much of this but when you get 35 messages on a hotel phone line and 31 of them are spam enough is enough. EarthLink has GOT to change its ways since a lot of that spam comes from places that have been and ought to be blackholed: ALL messages from some domains should be refused, not relayed, ignored. Blackholing domains that send spam or allow it to be relayed through them will help a lot.  Apparently EarthLink doesn't believe in blackholes and spam filtering. And enough is enough. This morning there was a lot more, most with NO ONE IN THE TO: field. Surely they can filter stuff that doesn't even have an address???  Surely. EarthLink, are you listening?

 And of course there were multiple copies of that stuff.  I have kept it. Until something unpleasant and physical happens to spammers this will all continue. Fines won't do it.  We need the Godfather.


The Hyatt charged me $12.10 for a 3 minute phone call. Otherwise their service was exemplary, the room pleasant. But the adventure wasn't quite over.

 The desk clerk at 0900 was Mr. T------  B-----. American had told me everything but the gate for my morning flight. I had a reservation but no ticket (my unused Dallas to Burbank ticket from yesterday would have to do) so I didn't know the gate. I do know that the Admirals Club will know. Mr. B----- didn't know what an Admirals Club was (although American puts people up in his hotel) and thought I was being disrespectful to him when I said I knew it was policy and not his fault but I wanted to register a protest at being charged $12.10 for a 3 minute call to Studio City at 2 in the morning.  Mr. B----- was extremely rude, and instead of hotel guest relations ought to be starting an exciting new career in concrete breaking.

 But the Bell Captain knew where the Admirals Club was, the young ladies in the Club took care of my ticket with grace and efficiency, and I am now in an airplane over White Sands and headed home. With luck the adventure ends here. And the NEC MobilePro 780 is wonderful.