Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Mice and Groups? The value of good translation!

After staying 5 days in the Blau Punta Reina Resort on Mallorca (see review here), I wanted to figure out where Blau is based (it is the German word for "blue" after all). While perusing the homepage wasn't that successful, I did find this in their menu bar:

2017-05-18 - Blau Resorts

I suppose "Mice & Groups" is better than "Mice in Groups"…

Going by the phone number at the top, I presume the company is based in Spain somewhere - or perhaps even directly on Mallorca. Which goes to show the advantage of having a native speaker go through the translation of your worldwide web presence…
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What is the best model for charging stations?

This article on Scientific American made me think: will that be the new Air-BnB for electric car owners? After my experience with the BMW i3 in Hamburg (sorry, German only), I would definitely welcome any system that makes find a charging station as simple as finding a hotel room.

However, I very much doubt that this "people for the people" model will work. For one thing, unless you have a garage or at the very least a dedicated parking space near your residence, you're not going to have simple access to your private grid. So, once again we're out of the city, out in the countryside where people own homes. Ok, say you have a home, you put some PV on top to juice up your e-car on weekends (you have it at work during the week, remember) and you join a network like the one featured in the article to make that power connection available to travelers in need.

Do you really want to deal with the logistics of having someone hooking into your power grid? Where is the car going to be parked? What if your car is parked next to the grid, what if it is plugged into that semi-fast-charging outlet when they call? Can you trust these strangers? What if they are not looking to top off their battery at all, but to find out the best way into your home later that night?

Now, take a step back to the year 2000 with me. Back then, Wifi (can you believe 11 MBits?) was just coming into its own. If you had a Wifi-capable device, you would swarm to any café, restaurant, bar or other facility that offered Wifi, either for free (i.e. "surf while you eat") or for a small charge. I'm willing to bet that Starbucks would be far from their current customer base, had they not realized that Wifi was a major factor for getting - and keeping - customers into the store!

So… take your average supermarket, restaurant, café, bar… many of these (ok, maybe not in cities) will offer parking. Why not offer a number of reserved-for-charging parking spaces?

Juice up your Nissan Leaf while you juice up your stomach? "If your check is more than $20, charging is free, otherwise you pay just 15 cents / kWh". Something along those lines. Why do stores offer parking? Because people go elsewhere to shop if they didn't. Parking spaces are expensive, after all. Now, you have a chance to capitalize on a few of these spaces - either by keeping customers longer ("better charge for an hour, hon - have another milkshake") or by drawing them away from your competition.

Maybe in 20 years, car charging will be absolute standard? This would be a great line to hear: "hey, did you hear about that new restaurant? Food is good, but jeez, no charging!"



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"Free" Internet at Brussels Airport

Ok, I've seen quite a number of airports in my life - and nowadays, most of them do offer free internet access via Wifi. Yes, there will be the obligatory "check here to agree to our terms" bit, but usually, you don't have to register with personal data in order to use Wifi.

Not so at Brussels BRU airport! They expect you to create an account, filled with lots of personal information, in order to get access:

BRU_Data_Wifi

That doesn't show what is above these fields - you also need to give them your mobile number so that they can text you a registration code… and yes, ALL of these fields are requirements.
I put in a bunch of crap, of course, but the system balked at the entered birthdate (in 2003) calling it "not valid"… what, a 13-year-old can't use this service?

Oh, lets have a look at the Terms of Use:

BRU_Terms_Wifi

Well that is very comprehensive… mind you, it doesn't matter wether you click on "Terms of Use" during registration or any of the links on the login screen:

BRU_Login

To put the icing on the cake, once I had everything entered and corrected, the system came back with:

BRU_Error

So needless to say, I gave up.
This airport rocks! Just like the city does!
And yes, that IS sarcasm…


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Bizarre Train Story

After a successful business meeting, my colleague and I went back to „Copenhagen H”, the central train station, to catch the train to the airport.

We checked the electronic billboard, the next train would be at 12:41h on platform 5. Down to platform 5 we went. Sure enough, the monitor on that platform indicated the same thing. Unfortunately, the monitor displayed some other, later train just a few minutes into the wait. There was some announcement, which the locals apparently understood better than us foreign folk, because quite a few folks went back up the escalator, apparently to change to another platform.

We rode the escalator up as well and checked the electronic sign right next to the entrance to the platform. It now showed the train to the airport to be leaving from platform 26. This was quite a walk - strangely down the same platform we had just left. So back down we went, and we started following the signs to platform 26.

We ended up going up an elevator (that played eerie, cut-off pieces of marching music), over to the next elevator and back down (more eerie music). There we were - at platform 26 (it felt more like platform 26 1/2) - and all alone. The color monitor on the platform did indicate that this was the right one to the airport, so we waited. According to the printed timetable (without platform numbers, mind you), the next train would leave at 13:01h. Fine.

The weather had turned quite soggy and cold, so we stood under a small, roofed waiting area. The departure time came and went, we felt like someone would be hiding behind some pillar for Candid Camera. The next train was due at 13:21h, so we went the same way back that we had come (eerie music and - yes, you guessed it - eerie music).

Once back down on platform 5, we were happy to see that the 13:21h train to the airport was expected to leave on that platform (as per the monitor). Unfortunately, de-ja-vous hit when, just a few minutes before the train was due to leave, the display once again changed. No announcement this time.

This time, however, we had located a monitor that showed a list of the next trains to leave the station, and here, the train to the airport had now changed to platform 4. Up the escalator we went, down the next (it was more like running), and just as we got to the bottom of the escalator, the train to the airport entered the station.

It is good to see that this stuff happens in other countries as well, though I would have preferred not to participate in the little spiel.
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Powerless in Schipol

Okay, I travel quite a bit. And like most people, I use a mobile phone. I tend to use it a lot, which leads to frequent charging. Sometimes, it is even necessary to give it a short boost of energy while waiting for a plane.

Let me state an assumption. It is my belief, that a good chunk of bottom-line profit of most airports in Europe comes from business travel. Would you agree? If I look around me while waiting for my delayed flight from Schipol to Frankfurt, I see a lot of laptops and Blackberrys in action.

So you would think that an airport would be interested in catering to their business customers, no?
No. Not at Schipol (and a lengthy list of other airports around the world). While I’ve seen special “laptop and mobile phone charging stations” at airports in the U.S., I don’t recall coming by one of those in Europe.

I spent a good fifteen minutes at Schipol today, frantically looking for an outlet so that I could keep my mobile phone alive. I did pass a guy that had struck gold in an outlet probably made for cleaning machines. Needless to say, he had to sit on the cold floor to charge and use his laptop.

The ultimate non-business-friendly airport is King Khaled Airport Riyadh. I don’t know how they vacuum or polish the floors there - they apparently have no outlets at all - anywhere! Maybe all the cleaning equipment in use there is battery powered, who knows.

Is my sucking of a couple of watthours of current really going to affect Schipol’s bottom line? I highly doubt it. Please folks, get some access to power outlets set up for us poor folks that depend on our electronic communications equipment to ensure that our employer makes enough profit to buy more airline tickts, a healthy portion of which goes towards the airports those planes fly out of and into.
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The Wait Continues...

Complaining on a very high level: this is certainly a better alternative to thousands that are stuck in airports around the world:



Well, my hopes for a trip home today are doomed, this morning the German airspace was closed until at least 20:00h tonight, which means my flight due to arrive in Frankfurt at 18:40h is cancelled (once again).

I booked a flight to Linz on Wednesday morning, as the Austrians opened their airspace this morning - hopefully, it will remain open until then! Even if the German airspace opens up tomorrow, there will be chaos at the airport with everyone trying to get on the first plane(s) out. With my flight cancelled, it is open game with trying to get a seat.

This way, I have a very good chance of getting home late Wednesday evening - there is a decent train connection from Linz to Frankfurt airport (where my car is parked). Cross your fingers for me.

What is really annoying is that the airlines are not using simple and available methods of communicating with their customers. For every ticket I booked, I had to leave my email address - obviously, since they have to email me the receipt for the electronic ticket. You’d figure someone would implement a process that sent an email once the flight was officially cancelled, but no!

Even worse, the website of the various airlines and airports have information that is sometimes many hours old. For a while, I still had hopes that my flight to Frankfurt this afternoon on SunExpress might leave a couple of hours later to arrive not at 18:10h but at 20:10 or so (the airport was officially closed until 20:00h). The status page on the SunExpress website still has the flight as uncancelled, even though a check of the Frankfurt Airport arrivals info shows it as cancelled as of 11:00h.

The Frankfurt Airport website was down for hours on end today - both this morning and this afternoon:


Not using simple and cheap communications tools such as a website that takes just a couple of minutes to update is - in my opinion - unacceptable. I guess there is still a long way to really good customer service!
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Disaster Strikes - the Cloud rolls in

All sitting in a row - these are planes from companies like Pegasus Airlines and SunExpress, sitting like waiting ducks at Antalya airport.



If you don’t know what cloud I’m talking about, read the news. A little hint: it has to do with Iceland. Let me ask you this: can’t those guys control their volcanoes, or what? Just put a lid on it, folks!

I had planned on flying back from Istanbul yesterday (Friday), but that wasn’t meant to be. As I watched all the airports in Germany close their gates (on the web), I recklessly booked a flight to Zürich - but that was closed in the night to Saturday.

This morning, I got up at 5:00AM, saw the situation go red and booked a flight from Istanbul to Antalya and then from there on to Frankfurt, since it was one of the few flights that hadn’t been cancelled.

Just before I left Istanbul, the Antalya-Frankfurt connection was annulled (what a horrible word) and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do... the joker Antalya, that looked so bright just that morning, might be a nightmare with fewer flights going out from there than from Istanbul.

But as it turns out, I was able to re-book the flight to an early-morning (6:00 AM!) one to Stuttgart, due to arrive tomorrow (Sunday) at 8:35AM.
This evening, German Flight Control had set the null-window to 8:00AM, so I stand a chance that I’ll get home tomorrow.

If that doesn’t work out, it looks like I’ll be stuck here until Tuesday, as all the remaining flights (that might not go after all) are filled up.
Really annoying was the hotel Turkish Airlines put me up for the night in: some shoddy city job in Antalya (Cilur?) - what a dump! Luckily, I had reserved a nicer hotel (all-inclusive for 68€/night) “just in case” before flying out of Istanbul - and that is where I went.

It is the Lara Beach Hotel in - you guessed it - Lara, just east of Antalya.

Cross your fingers for me!
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These Elevators are BIG!



Ever see an Elevator able to transport 120 people at once?

You can - three of them - at Dubai’s new Emirates Terminal. I shot a short movie with my travel camera, because seeing these things go up and down is really something.

There is a “water-wall” right behind the elevators - unfortunately, getting an angle to capture both the elevators and the water-wall with a small point-and-shoot is almost impossible, but if you stand between the two, its quite an impressive sight.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles - from Paris to Utrecht

I really prefer traveling by train to taking a car everywhere. Most of Europe is so heavily congested on the roads, that you spend a lot of your time in traffic jams. On a train, you can work, read, relax... or can you?


It all started with a slight error in using the German Rail website to get connection information from Massy in the south of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport. Type in "Charles de Gaulle" and the system assumes you mean "Place Charles de Gaulle  Etoile" for some reason. I hadn't made sure it had registered the airport but merely printed out the three connections that would get me in between 3PM and 3:30PM to make my 4:50PM flight.

It *could* have registered that the trip to Charles de Gaulle took only marginally longer than the trip from Gare del Norte to Massy and would require one change of train even though the RER B line goes straight from Massy to CDG (that, my friends, is the Charles de Gaulle airport abbreviation). But it didn't register.
 
When I started putting one and one together while in the 40th minute of riding the 15-odd stops of the RER-B northward, I realized it would be a really close call. Luckily, the last 5 stops before getting to Terminal 1 of CDG were skipped altogether, a sort of "airport express" function. It didn't help.
 
By the time I finally arrived at Terminal 2 and started running, it was 4:15PM. No problem, I thought - wheezing my way up the escalator's left side - but it was. The distance from the train terminal to Terminal 2 position C37 is about the length of four football fields. At least it seems that way.

I was drenched and completely out of breath when I got to the check-in counter, only to be told that the flight had been closed. At a normal airport, I would have understood. Check in takes a couple of minutes, getting to the security line another couple, going through security can take its time and then the final leg to the gate - well, at an airport like Frankfurt, that can take care of your 3-mile run for that day. Here, however, the security line was 5 people deep and right behind checkin - the gate was right behind security. What the *&%!?
 
So I went across the way to the ticket sales office (ever wonder why they position them handy like that?) to see what my options were. After waiting a good 15 minutes while the girl behind the desk typed a novel or two into the terminal, trying to change a group of four's tickets, I was assisted by a gentleman that had apparently decided the line of 4 people waiting for service would warrant him to come off break.
 
This was the British Airways ticket sales agent booth - keep that in mind for what is about to transpire. After typing a short story on his terminal keyboard, he informed me that the only option I had was to purchase a business class upgrade, at a cost of more than €600. Just a few seconds later, he tried to sell me on a KLM ticket, which at 540€ came in cheaper than the BA upgrade, and would be a direct flight (not via London, as my BA ticket). Strange - the official BA ticket sales office trying to sell me on a KLM ticket? Ah, yes - there would be a 30€ service charge, of course.

I told the guy I'd think about it and headed back a couple of football fields to where I had entered the terminal, and where the TGV train station was located. Some searching by the ticket agent showed that I would at least be able to get to Rotterdam that evening. Oddly enough, I was able to get a complete connection listed on Deutsche Bahn, showing a connection from Rotterdam to Utrecht as well. As the agent told me: that's Europe, not even able to get a complete through connection to show when trying to take a train from a major french train station.

I bought the ticket (€140 for a first-class trip) and headed down to the TGV platform. Now, the French demonstrate a strange combination of trying to be high-tech with a touch of class. Take current Renault models, for example (my wife has had two Renault cars in the last 5 years, a Megane CC cabriolet and a Scenic XXL. If you ask me, too much focus on design and not enough on getting it right. If you've taken a TGV anywhere, chances are good you know what I mean.

Can you believe being on one of the fastest trains in the world (going in excess of 300km/h) and stopping in the middle of nowhere between Strasbourg and Paris. Would you believe a deja-vu experience of the most important hand signal in the (Windows) world, the ol' Control-Alt-Delete? Yep: this train stopping in the middle of nowhere and having to be rebooted!

Well, something nearly as freaky happened on the way from CDG to Rotterdam, just across the border into the Netherlands. After the TGV was late getting into Brussels due to some issue with the train, the Dutch train from Brussels to Rotterdam broke down due to engine failure. Luckily, there was another train waiting across the platform that - according to the conductor - would leave earlier than the original one. 

So everyone sprinted across the platform and headed to Rotterdam, where I had but three minutes to change from Platform 3 to Platform 8 to catch my final connection into Utrecht.
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