Links for 2012-06-14

In which physics tackles a burning question from the world of computing, a famous biologist says something idiotic, and the world's smallest violin plays for frequent fliers.



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The download bar article was kind of weird. If the first chart is to be believed, the download speed picked up towards the end of the download. This may have been for a variety of reasons, but it is no where mentioned in the article. It could easily have accounted for the inaccurate download estimation. If traffic gets lighter as you get out of town, you might get to your country cottage sooner than you expected.

You are right. The folks at the Daily Riff have a problem with math, even the mathematicians. Yes, math uses symbols, but so does language. That's what words are. Mathematics is a language, and learning it requires learning a different way of thinking, just as learning French does. Having been tutoring a few high school kids in math, I am aware that there are serious problems with how it is taught, however that is no reason to simply give up. I assume the title reference is to Einstein's statement about imagination being more important than knowledge, but that dichotomy doesn't seem to be addressed in the article.

I wouldn't be so hard on the elite fliers. As predicted when the airlines were deregulated, the industry has devolved into an oligopoly. Any 1930s economics textbook would have explained the mechanisms and trajectory if anyone had still be reading them in the late 70s. Still, air travel is a rather wretched thing these days. One is ingested into the system, masticated, then puked out at one's destination. Imagine enduring this on a regular basis for one's living, then finding that one's primary amelioration mechanism has evaporated.

I'm with Kaleberg on the frequent flier article. For at least a couple of years now, checking in for a United flight has felt like a shakedown: Pay extra for the special security line (fine print: Not available in all airports). Pay extra for Economy Plus seats. Pay extra to check baggage. (Delta is not quite as bad in this regard; I have never flown American Airlines domestic. Southwest is not immune, either; you can pay extra to check in 36 hours before departure rather than 24, greatly increasing your chances of getting a coveted A group boarding pass.) That's before you get to the airport, where further indignities await. Don't count on being able to carry your second bag aboard, which means you'll have to wait as much as an hour to pick it up at baggage claim. And then they expect you to pay for food on board--I'd like to go back to the days when airline food was a staple of comic routines. Also, hope that you don't miss a connection or have a flight cancelled out from under you--it can be days before you can get a seat on another flight. The Big Four (down from Big Seven as recently as 2001) airlines routinely appear on lists of companies most disliked by their customers, and their customer service has been trending worse, not better. Elite status used to offer partial compensation for your trouble, and that was when there was less trouble to be compensated for.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Jun 2012 #permalink

My problem with the frequent fliers is that their complaints read less as "flying has become miserable for everyone" than "the unwashed masses now have access to the things we have used to make flying less miserable." It's not a complaint about the conditions of air travel in general, which have sucked for a long time, but a complaint that they're not getting special treatment any more.

Keep in mind, Southwest is my airline of choice, in large part because they don't have different classes-- everybody's the same. Even there, they have started offering a few class-like perks, but the benefits are minimal and the extra charges are small ($10 guarantees an A-group boarding pass, and a boarding pass in the first 15 is about double the price of a regular ticket, rather than the order of magnitude price jump for first class on other airlines).