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All the statues eat there

All'antico Vinaio

… so you know it’s gotta be good.

(All’antico Vinaio, on Via dei Neri, in Firenze.)

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southbostonstorm

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Gordon Lightfoot, from “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

A storm on Lake Superior drowned the Edmund Fitzgerald. From the way it looks now, a storm over the Atlantic destroyed Air France Flight 447 earlier this week.

A book and a movie nailed the “perfect storm” meme in our heads, and I suppose the label might apply here. Flight 447 was crossing through a region known to weather professionals as the intertropical convergence zone. Storms rise quickly there, and concentrate in a band that runs around the Earth like a broad equator of roiling clouds. While lines of thunderstorms familiar to those of us in temperate zones can run for hundreds of miles along a weather front, these intertropical mothers are different in several senses, not the least of which is that it’s harder to avoid getting tossed around while weaving through them in an airplane — especially in the middle of the night over the middle of an ocean. This is due partly to the widespread and rapid-forming nature of the storms themselves, and partly to the absence of navigation guidance from the ground.

There isn’t any ground underneath. The nearest radar is far beyond the horizon. And, in some cases, such as Flight 447′s, guidance from the air is also lacking. According to that first link (a Bloomberg piece by John Hughes), less than one flight per hour takes the route flown by Flight 447, which was last heard from at 2:14am, local time, over the Atlantic appoximately midway between South America and Africa.

That also puts it over the broad Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a mountain range that runs like a baseball seam between tectonic plates. It’s mountainous down there. Go to 3° 34′ 39.72″ N, 30° 22′ 27.84″ W (3.5777, -30.3744) on Google Earth, drop about 12,500 feet below the surface, and you would see approximately this –

flight447_depths

– if it were not also the blacker than the darkest night down there. Good luck finding the flight data and voice recorders. Or anything else that doesn’t float.

My guess is that our best guesses will narrow to some combination of known facts. Chief among these is that the plane was passing through a region of big thunderstorms that had also shown up quickly. I’m guessing that the pilots did their best to avoid the worst of what they could see with their instruments, and failed. Here is a summary of final messages from the plane.

Whether the plane broke up at altitude (we know it depressurized) or went out of control and crashed intact, the terminal moments of the flight must have been frightening beyond description for those on board.

I’m a frequent flyer who loves aviation. I’ve flown enough to be jaded and calm. But thunderstorms still creep me out. One pilot friend told me a few days ago that the last thing you want to do is go through a “hole” between two thunderheads, because turbulence there can be even worse than inside the clouds themselves. When you see thunderheads building, the expansion itself is a kind of wind, and so is what happens to the air pushed aside as the head builds its visible parts.

One wonders if any decisions will be made, based on what we learn from the crash of Flight 447. Will similar Airbus planes be given a new caution? An upgrade to avionics or reporting methods? A new procedural guide for times when scary storms suddenly materialize? Dunno yet. We’ll see.
I’ll be flying back and forth to London next week. I’m looking forward to the flight as well as the work — as I always do. But, like many travelers, I’ll not be quite as calm about the weather.

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JD Lasica at Social Media has put up a list of front-line 2009 conferences.

For what it’s worth, I’ll be attending fewer of those kinds of conferences this next year, while I get more heads-down with and Linux Journal work. The current calendar includes several VRM-related conferences (plus the usual IIWs), Public Media ’09, Supernova, LinuxWorld, OSCON, Reboot and Lift. When VRM takes off, it will become a topic of other conferences as well — and that alone should push me past another 100,000 miles on United next year.

That’s actually small potatoes compared to what many other business travelers compile, especially ones who travel frequently across oceans. I flew to Europe four times last year, from Boston to London, Paris and Amsterdam (hubbing through Frankfurt, Zürich, Warsaw, Chicago and Washington). That seems like a lot, and it is; but I’m guessing that two trips from anywhere in the U.S. to anywhere in Asia would yield the same sum of miles, or more.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to make travel better with VRM: by providing passengers with the tools required to improve airline service. I might have more to say about that in the next few days, or after we get back to Boston from our very pleasant family vacation in Santa Barbara. (Which is just a  paradise right now.)

Bonus link to an old but still relevant Conor Cahill post, plus the comment I just appended to it (currently pending approval):

I realize this is an old thread, but it comes up at the top of a search for United Global Services, so it’s still current in that respect.

I’ve been 1K for three years running, and flew at least two full-fare business class flights overseas from the U.S. in 2008. I’m also rather publicly a United flier, with over a dozen thousand photos taken from the windows of United planes. (Plus thousands of photos tagged United, UAL and United Airlines.)

Before that I was a Premier or Executive Premier flier on United, going back to the early 90s.

But in the current economy no clients are funding business class flying for the near future, and my total miles with United are still a bit short of a million. So I figure if I reach GS, this will have to be the year for it. Otherwise, ain’t gonna happen.

By the way, my experience with United has included nothing bad in all the time I’ve been with them. My only persistent complaint is an odd one: I don’t want upgrades to business or first class if it’s not to a window seat. I’ve been offered several upgrades this past year to aisle seats and have turned them all down. (I accepted one that did go to a window seats.) One time this past year I was upgraded to an aisle seat and it annoyed me badly because the seat I gave up in economy had a windwow. Yet I still managed to shoot this set in a hurry while the woman with the window seat next to me was asleep.

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Let it Snow

We were flying along in the bus when wham: it started snowing. Heavily. Now we’re creeping along through Westchester, and the road is clearly getting a little dangerous. There’s an inch or so on the ground now, and it’ll probably get a lot deeper before it starts raining later and turns it and turns it all into slush. Or “wintry mix,” as they now call it.

Love the weather map above, though. Looks like a flag.

Arg. I’ve got the picture, but WordPress won’t let me put it in this post. Dunno why.

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