Monthly Archives: August 2006

Yet another reason not to fly Ryanair

Ryanair, the leading European low-cost airline, is installing equipment to allow use of mobile phones in its planes. Michael O’Leary, CEO, comments to the Financial Times: “If you want a quiet flight, use another airline… Ryanair is noisy, full and we are always trying to sell you something.”

Ryanair modelled itself on Southwest Airlines, but where its CEO, Herb Kelleher, is famous for humor and enthusiasm, O’Leary is determined to be a bastard. But his flights are very cheap.

The Obama-Brown axis

James Forsyth on the Foreign Policy blog has a great idea for the upcoming Labour party conference in Britain. It’s designed as a riposte to the resurgent Conservatives having John McCain at their conference:

“Invite Barack Obama to Labour’s party conference. The sight of the Democrats’ rising star praising Brown’s work on Africa would pre-empt Conservative attacks on Brown. Being eulogized by an opponent of the Iraq war would also subtly distance Brown from the most unpopular aspect of Blair’s foreign policy. Plus, Obama is far closer to the mainstream of British politics than McCain and the best platform speaker around.”

It’s still very early days in the jockeying for the next British general election (heck, Tony Blair hasn’t even stepped down yet). I’m still reckoning on Gordon Brown succeeding Blair and winning the next election, but I have to confess to worrying about the Conservative comeback more than at any point in the last decade.

Update After reading this account of the Kenyan government’s reaction to Obama’s criticisms, I wonder whether the Labour party would worry about the invitation. After all, wouldn’t it be natural for Obama to lay into the Iraq war while Tony Blair sits on the podium next to him? And how eager would Obama be to associate himself with the Labour party’s own internal struggles over the war?

You can't read it on

Today’s New York Times had a fascinating article about the alleged terrorist plot in London to mix liquid explosives blow up a number of airplanes.

But I can’t link to it. The Times explains: “Publication of this article on has been delayed temporarily on the advice of legal counsel. It is also being omitted from the British circulation of The International Herald Tribune. This arises from British laws that prohibit publication of information that could be deemed prejudicial to defendents charged with a crime.”

I’ve never seen anything like that before. I can understand the legal position: the Times article is filled with the kind of detail that British papers would never publish before a case came to trial. But in the Internet age, such restrictions seem a bit like Canute trying to hold back the tide.

President Jeff?

I know the effort to draft Jeff Sachs to run for president is about as ludicrous as anything in politics could be. It’s also unclear to me how high the correlation is between brainpower and political effectiveness. But it certainly would be nice to have someone in the race whose heart is unquestionably in the right place on many issues.

I’m also happy about another arm-twisting attempt that has higher probability of success. Why not Al Gore (although he has consistently said he won’t run again)? The grassroots effort seems, however, to have run out of money pretty quickly, which strikes me as very odd. What were they spending money on?

Beware iMacs bearing gifts

I suppose I’m old enough to know better, but…

A month ago or so, we bought our children an old iMac for what seemed a bargain basement price. At last, neither my computer nor my wife’s would be hogged by kids either doing some homework or playing Runescape (more likely the latter). It shouldn’t be hard, I reasoned, to bring the computer up to date.

I went to the friendly Genius Bar at our local Apple Store. Not as easy as I thought. Just about everything these days requires OS X, so I’d need to add some memory, get an AirPort adapter and card (to access our WiFi) and update the system. He counseled buying a MacMini as the path of least resistance.

Undaunted, I plunged ahead. Tonight I enjoyed opening the back of the machine to slot in the new memory and the AirPort stuff. I’m pretty good at this kind of DIY, I kidded myself. Then I went to update the system with the Panther discs I’d bought from Amazon. Uh oh. It turns out that I need to update the firmware first. In fact, it seems as though I need to install OS 9 before I can install OS X (our old iMac runs OS 8.6).

So unless I can discover something different, I’ll have to wait a few more days until my eBay-sourced OS 9 disks arrive. Pop those in, and I should be ready to install the OS X. I probably should have bought that MacMini.

Eccentric lead story

Hmmm. What’s in the news today? FDA and the morning-after pill, the UN force for Lebanon, US housing slowdown.
Not a big news day, but still the Financial Times’s front page lead is baffling: “Apple in battery recall over fire fears”.
That’s a lead for the local paper but not within miles of being the kind of global news FT readers expect.

Where's my bag?

I’m astounded at the absolute chaos continuing at London’s Heathrow Airport in the aftermath of the security crackdown the other week.

A colleague of mine flew through Heathrow on the Monday after the terrorist alert. Although he was flying British Airways first class, he was only allowed to take a small plastic bag with a handful of personal items in it. He had to check his suitcase, including his laptop and his mobile phone. Medications that weren’t required during the duration of the flight also had to be checked. He wasn’t even allowed to carry a notebook or a pad of paper.

It’s now 10 days after that flight and he still doesn’t have his bag. Apparently BA update him every 12 hours on the search, but they are dealing with tens of thousands of bags that have gone astray. So with vital business meetings looming, my colleague is missing everything he needs for business.
Neither the BA nor the BAA (the company that runs Heathrow) websites have any information about the chaos.

Turn here for the secret nuclear bunker

Way back when, I became interested in inviting Xavier Sala-i-Martin to Davos because he had the weirdest web site of any academic I had ever encountered. Upon examination, it also turned out that he was a very good economist and an engaging speaker.

Even though I don’t share his sour view about governments, his gallery of misguided public works is a treasure (be sure to click to the second page). Via Marginal Revolution.

Only in Berkeley

Coming back to my office from lunch today I did a doubletake. And then another.

On Heinz Avenue in slightly industrial west Berkeley, there was a large farm truck, with its ramp down. Gleefully charging out of the truck was a large drove of goats, being herded into a derelict, hugely overgrown site. I know this is the future home of a new Berkeley Bowl (the world’s greatest supermarket), so I guessed this was a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way to reduce the thistle-ridden site to something manageable.

Sure enough, it turns out Goats R Us has been running for the last 11 years, based in next-door Orinda. I’m still shaking my head in wonder.