Book reviews + geography hatred - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book reviews + geography hatred
Saturday, 31 May 2008 at 11:41 pm
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I have managed to write up a couple of the books I was reading while travelling:

Steven Brust: Phoenix
Pamela Dean: Tam Lin


The only other thing I've managed to do today is establish that there is no affordable way I can manage my intended trip to north America this summer. I've been poking around every internet site I can find, and I can't get the price down under £900. I'm almost tempted to do it anyway, since I've set my heart on it, and I really, really, really want to see rysmiel and darcydodo and compilerbitch. But it's not sensible; I have to compare how much holiday in Europe I could get for that kind of money, or how many trips to England. And compilerbitch is going to Mars so I wouldn't see much of her, and darcydodo is coming to England in August so I'll see her at least briefly then.

The reasonable thing to do is to come to America sometime when I have more flexibility, so it's not the middle of peak season. And spend this summer's vacation exploring somewhere I haven't been before, such as the remote parts of Sweden, or the interesting bits of Europe. But I am sick as a dog about missing my people. Stupid evil horrid geography.


Whereaboooots: Älvsjö, Stockholm, Sweden
Moooood: lonelylonely
Tuuuuune: Bowling for Soup: Luckiest loser
Discussion: 21 contributions | Contribute something
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hairyears: default
From:hairyears
Date:June 1st, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 02:35 am (hairyears's time)
(Link)
The era of cheap air travel is over. As in over. Gone. A thing to tell your grandchildren.

If you haven't been to North America, Australia, the Far East, and Africa, then you might still go as a once-in-a-lifetime holiday or That-thing-we-do-every-three-years-and-do-without-a-lot-of-luxuries-to-afford-it but long-distance travel isn't a commonplace thing any more. Not on your income, not on my income. It's over.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:June 1st, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Yup. As someone who emigrated to the USA, I'm not best pleased by this. As someone who cares about the planet, I'm delighted. With any luck the shipping lines will realise that the market for transatlantic crossings in steerage is opening up again, and start running crossings which aren't cruise holidays - but that won't happen right away.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:June 1st, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:17 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
You're entirely right, it's better not to fly. And I would totally travel transatlantic in steerage if the option existed, and maybe even take three days travelling across the US by train if it were vaguely practical.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:June 1st, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:23 am (livredor's time)

à propos de rien

(Link)
I can't remember what you said about people using your alef-bet postcards as LJ icons? cartesiandaemon needs a dragon, and the ones that crawl all over your letters are nicer than anything else I can find online, so I was thinking of making one into an icon for him. How do you feel about that?
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:June 2nd, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: à propos de rien

(Link)
For cartesiandaemon, by all means. Lemme know if you want anything emailed.
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rysmiel: the daleks WILL go on
From:rysmiel
Date:June 1st, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, May 31st, 2008 10:46 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
Define cheap.

For those of us who have been pinned into peak times by school holidays and the like but see imminent prospects of not being so any more, it's not that bleak-looking a medium-term future.
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darcydodo: default
From:darcydodo
Date:June 1st, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry, May 31st, 2008 11:29 pm (darcydodo's time)
(Link)
Right now at least the exchange rate makes it vaguely favorable for you Europeans. :(
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:June 1st, 2008 10:19 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:19 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
True, and that sort of balances out the way it's cheaper to fly out of the US than into it. Getting that £900 fare I managed to find did depend on the dollar being worthless. You at least have air miles, if I'm not mistaken? I wish there weren't so much bloody geography, I really do.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:June 1st, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:15 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
I don't know; I was under the impression that the cost of fuel isn't the major determinant of the price of an air fare. (If it were, how could there be an order of magnitude variation between prices for the same route, depending on time of year and which airline you pick?)

I was trying to do something stupid, namely see friends in both Montreal and San Francisco, which aren't exactly the same place, in the height of season. If I wanted a straight forward return flight to New York, and I was prepared to travel midweek and off season, it would be totally affordable. I wouldn't say cheap, but while I'm not rich I live comfortably within my means, and I can reasonably spend two weeks' income on a holiday once a year.

It's always been expensive to go to Australia; Asia and Africa are not full of my friends, so if I wanted to go there it would be as a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll do so when I have enough time to make the travel part of the holiday itself, go overland or in short hops if that's cheaper. But actually if I never make it to China I'll regret it only mildly.

From a budgeting perspective, travelling to see my friends is pretty much the only luxury I am interested in; I rarely eat out, and spend little on books, clothes, gadgets or entertainment. Oh, and I don't run a car or take taxis except in rare emergencies. So I suppose you could say I'm doing without luxuries to be able to afford to travel; I don't really think of it that way. I don't feel as if I'm depriving myself of things that middle class people are supposed to aspire to, I just don't want most of them. I don't say this to boast of how frugal I am, I'm just a lot more people focused than thing focused.
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hairyears: default
From:hairyears
Date:June 1st, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 03:23 pm (hairyears's time)
(Link)


Yes, I guess that we all have a disposable income, and we can still spend a few hundred or a thousand a year on air fares. But it's no longer something I regard as cheap.

A quick note on the economics: the media are a bit behind the curve on this, and talk in terms of a 50% rise in fuel costs only loading the fare by 10%... That's three years out of date - when crude was $40 a barrel, going on $50, fuel wasn't the major determinant; at $120 it definitely is.

Here's an article from 2005 about the cost of aviation fuel for different operators. It paints a complacent picture about airlines' ability to absorb fuel price increases: with a major airline paying about $1.25 a gallon, fuel's $4 Billion on top of a $15 Bn non-fuel cost base.

A 50% rise in fuel costs is therefore a $2Bn cost, or about 10% extra on the overall operating costs... At 2005 prices.

The current cost of fuel to the bulk carriers is undisclosed but it's between $3.50 and $4.00 per gallon: the big operators have contracts with the fuel suppliers (and use financial instruments, like futures) that even out the spikes in the 'spot' price of fuel, so 'headline' prices of $7 aren't relevant - but the long-term price is relevant, and estimates (and futures prices) are still rising. It'll be in the $4.00 to $4.50 range next year, barring severe price movements, and it could be a lot higher.

Whatever. $3.75 per gallon gives our hypothetical major carrier a $12Bn dollar fuel bill on top of the $15Bn cost base. Or, to put it another way, a $190 economy ticket from NY to LA fare goes up to $270. Not, on the face of it, a deal-breaker - it's a £500 economy translatlantic ticket going up to £700. Yes, that's a crude average (fuel's a bigger proportion of a long-haul ticket) but an extra £200 or £300 isn't going to deter you if you were originally prepared to spend £500.

Except that it isn't just you, and a drop in passenger numbers means that the $15Bn fixed cost base has to be spread amongst fewer passengers. In the medium term, that cost base will shrink as airlines pare down the flight schedule and sell off aircraft - your ticket won't pay for as many empty seats - but in the short-to-medium term, you'll pay for the people who aren't flying.

The long term is that fewer flights mean less competition; a move away from 'economy' to 'luxury' bracket flights - think of it as paying the current business class fare - and fuel at $7 a gallon and rising.

I don't think that we'll go back to the days when a 'jet set' of the rich and fashionable were the world's frequent flyers, and everyone else flew once a year if at all; but aviation is moving out of the mass-market and up into the middle-income range. Which is, as you say, affordable to you.


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livredor: geekette
From:livredor
Date:June 1st, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 03:50 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Cool, thank you. This is the clearest explanation of economics I've come across in a long time. It makes sense that airlines would have the financial clout to smooth the short-term fluctuations in the oil market, but I didn't know how that worked.

I must admit I always thought of transatlantic flights as a luxury rather than cheap, but there's still a difference between an affordable occasional luxury and utterly out of budget. And any price increase is going to put the cost beyond the absolute ceiling for some people, which as you say will further increase prices.

I think what I imagined would happen would be that we'd eventually reach a stage where the air passenger industry would just be totally non-viable, but until that point prices would creep up only incrementally. But that doesn't take into account that people are used to the idea that they can fly if they feel like it; probably there will still be air travel until there is literally no oil left in the world, even if the reserves are needed much more urgently for other things.
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hairyears: default
From:hairyears
Date:June 1st, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 05:30 pm (hairyears's time)
(Link)
until there is literally no oil left in the world

Quite. But there's still a lot of oil. Not, admittedly, cheap oil, but there's plenty out there. The example I quote at 'peak oil' doomsayers is the Colorado Oil Shales - a hydrocarbon reserve exceeding Kuwait and, by some measures, Saudi Arabia. The economics are ambiguous and it's possible that it's viable at international crude prices of $40 per barrel. Personally, I think the oil shales work at a stable price of $75. That's one example: there are others.

Which means that expensive air travel will remain a viable industry for decades.

When there's literally no oil left? Or, more realistically, so little oil that the price goes over, say, $500 a barrel? Somewhere over $130 a barrel it's economical to plant jojoba and soya for oil production, although it'd need more than 40% of the USA's arable area to fuel all their road transport. I hesitate to ask what that'll do to world food prices, but the poor don't seem to matter and the economic overclass will continue to fly, even if their newspapers spell it out in very small words that someone died when they could've eaten the crops that were turned into aviation fuel.

I fear that the middle classes - us - will continue flying too. Meanwhile, enjoy it while you can. And maybe cellulosic ethanol will resolve the food-vs-food conflict, although I'm inclined to doubt it.
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emmavescence: leaving on a jet plane
From:emmavescence
Date:June 1st, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry
(Link)
I'm so glad I'm no longer part of a transatlantic relationship. We used to fly and see each other every 2 months, for 18 months until early 2006. Student loan was good for something...
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rysmiel: among my own I go alone by my own doing
From:rysmiel
Date:June 2nd, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:28 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
I've done several of those, but they work a lot better when you are perfectly happy seeing each other once every year and exchanging lots of email the rest of the time.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:June 3rd, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 02:55 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
You're awfully good at geography. I don't know, if I could reliably see you and hatam_soferet and darcydodo and compilerbitch once a year, I'd still be grumpy at geography, but less heartsick. And yes, of course we communicate by email (and phone and IM and LJ), but it's not the same. Whether I could do a romantic thing on those sort of terms I don't know; I think I probably could, but the only time I tried it my sweetie couldn't handle that much geography, and it's quite possible I'm too optimistic here.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:June 3rd, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 02:52 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Yeah, that was really a lot of geography, and generally not good for sanity. My long distance thing is working quite well so far, because Sweden to England is affordable about one weekend in a month, and I actually prefer not having someone in my space all the time. But I can see either drifting apart because we don't spend enough time together to sustain the relationship, or growing closer feeling more and more deprived that we can't be together more of the time. So I'll have to see if it's as sustainable as I hope. (My attempt at a trans-Atlantic relationship folded before we'd had time to even try to visit eachother.)

My trouble is that I have loved ones all over north America, and I want to see them, maybe not every week, but at least more than once every couple of years which is all I can manage. Because they're not partners, in some ways it feels less justified to spend lots of time and money visiting them, though they are just as important to me as a romantic partner would be. But there are several of them, and not all in the same place, which makes it even harder.
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darcydodo: heron
From:darcydodo
Date:June 1st, 2008 04:33 am (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry, May 31st, 2008 11:33 pm (darcydodo's time)
(Link)
So, at least you might like to know that I've booked my tickets to-and-from England. I'm flying out of SFO on July 31, arriving at Heathrow on August 1 at 1:35pm. Let me know if I'll be able to stay with you in Cambridge or if I should be looking into finding somewhere to stay.

While my flight home isn't until August 18, I figure I'll spend a week-or-less in Cambridge and another week or more in Oxford (with thalassius's blessing, so I should really check on that), and then go visit Kathryn W. near Geneva for a week or so and kick about the French Alps.

I'm sad we won't see you out here, though. :( (But at least I get to see you!!!)
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:June 1st, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 11:21 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
Yay, this is really cheering news. And it's cool that your Europe visit is going to include time in the Alps, yay. I need to be in Cambridge most of the first week in August, in order to go to shreena's wedding. I shall talk to the parents about you staying over; I'm sure they'll be happy, they like you. But if you would rather be with pseudomonas in order to avoid parents and be closer to the town centre, I'm not going to be offended. Or we could potentially organize to share you.

I am feeling all defeated by evil logistics, but I shall try to organize August ASAP once I get over being disappointed about my North American trip.
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darcydodo: default
From:darcydodo
Date:June 1st, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 11:55 am (darcydodo's time)
(Link)
I need to be in Cambridge most of the first week in August, in order to go to shreena's wedding.

Obviously why I'm going to be there too. :P

I don't need to avoid your parents! And I feel no real need to be near the town center, at least if I'm going to have you around as my native guide. ;) If our friends in Great Wilbraham were going to be around (but they're not), I'd probably stay with them! They've in any case given me permission to go eat fruit from their garden (currants! gooseberries! raspberries!), so maybe we can all take a picnic out there, or something.

In any case, yes, maybe you and pseudomonas can share me, especially if that ends up working better logistically for the sake of when you and I are each arriving in England, or something.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 2nd, 2008 12:50 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Have you checked these

(Link)
Hi, You should check out zoom airlines and also aer lingus which are doing north american deals at the moment, if you haven't already. It made my summer trip possible after I too thought I was going to have to stay in Europe... Good luck.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:June 3rd, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 02:57 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Hello, anonymous person. Do I know you? It was by looking at Zoom and Aer Lingus that I managed to get the price down to £900 rather than £1200 plus, but it's still too expensive. Perhaps if I'd got organized sooner, or was doing a simple round trip rather than a triangular route across the whole continent, I might have been all right.
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