Business news bias

The BBC does not have a good reputation for reporting business news, and despite my affection for In Business on Radio 4, I’m inclined to agree.

Today’s financial results from the online bank Egg provide a good example. In French woes double Egg’s losses the BBC focused on the bank’s negative performance in France:

Internet bank Egg has doubled its losses as its French business helped push the UK firm deeper into the red. The troubled group, which is 79% owned by insurer Prudential, said its annual pre-tax losses for 2003 had risen to

Terrorists or Texans

Last week the US Congress scared the living daylights out of Americans by denouncing Canada as a welcoming haven for terrorists (see Terror groups flourish in Canada: U.S. report).

Now there’s equally scary news for Canukistanis as it appears Texans have been caught taking all their bad habits into God’s Country accidentally. According to the BBC (Grenade closes US-Canada border):

There are two Vancouvers – one is a small American town, the other is the large Canadian city. On Monday, a woman from Texas trying to find the small town ended up at the Canadian border.

When officials there searched her vehicle, they found a hand grenade in the glove compartment. Within minutes, the border was evacuated and the bomb squad was on the scene.

Once the woman explained her story though, things quickly calmed down. A Canadian police spokesman says they are satisfied that the woman was simply lost and had never meant to go to Canada. They soon released her and reopened the border.

As for the hand grenade, police say, the woman had no idea it was in her vehicle.

I think that makes both countries even. I mean, terrorists or crazy Texans … which would you prefer?

Orchids at Kew

Phalenopsis orchids

The 10th annual orchid festival at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, opened yesterday and orchids exposed is proving very popular. Today the Princess of Wales Conservatory was crowded with orchid fans, which made viewing the impressive displays rather difficult at times, but it was still well worth it.

A man-sized orchid swan

The six-foot tall Phalaenopsis swan.

The exhibition is sponsored by the cruise ship company, Swan Hellenic, and someone had the bright idea of constructing a giant swan out of white Phalaenopsis orchids. As you might expect, it’s displayed prominently at the entrance to the exhibition.

Phalaenopsis spilling into the pond.The same flowers were used quite artfully in the main display around a pool of giant carp. A large group of moth orchids were placed as if they’d just fallen out of an enormous terracotta urn.

There must be thousands of orchids on display in this exhibition, which runs for the next month; and if you can visit on a weekday you might even be able to enjoy the numerous blooms without the thousands of amateur orchidologists.

Managing expectations

Almost two years ago I wrote:

The railways in Britain have suffered from a lack of investment for decades, and commuters are now paying the price. I don’t think the general public appreciates how difficult it is to rejuvenate an industry like rail. It could very well take as long to renew as it took to decline, which puts the current Government in a difficult position. What can it possibly do to improve the railways before the next election?

Well, it looks like the answer is — nothing.

Now, given this morning’s Guardian story headlined Blair: fixing key services will take 15 years, it seems the Government hopes to change public expectations instead.

Surprise, surprise.

Virtual plane-spotting

My better half flew to New York last week on business, and I took the opportunity to update my knowledge of online air traffic tracking applications (as you do). To my surprise I found that things have moved on significantly in the last couple of years.

It’s still possible to listen to live air traffic control communications for several airports in the USA. For example, JFK’s ATC is available in Windows Media Player format at Of course, it’s more interesting if you understand ATC jargon, but several ATC glossaries are easily accessible online.

CheapTickets Flight Tracker

CheapTickets Flight Tracker

The oldest flight tracker for North America of which I’m aware is still available care of the CheapTickets web site. It displays a map of the region over which the flight is flying and uses Java to move an aircraft icon across the map as the flight progresses. Three instrument dials indicate speed, heading and altitude.

FlyteComm's flight information page

FlyteComm’s route map

Now a few more flight trackers have taken off. FlyteComm offers real time flight information, including current position and altitude for any flight in the USA or Canada. It provides a stationary map of the world with an icon indicating the aircraft’s position and details about the weather at the relevant destination.

Lycos Flight Tracker route map

Lycos Flight Tracker route map

The Lycos Travel Flight Tracker, provided courtesy of FlightView, offers similar information for all flights in the US and Canada, and illustrates the flight path on a map.

Airport Monitor 2.0 uses a stationary map to display the position of all the air traffic in a given airspace, not just a single flight. In the case of JFK, for example, the aircraft icons are colour coded: blue for those landing at JFK, green for those departing JFK, and red for whichever JFK flight you select with your mouse. Details for your selected flight, such as altitude and aircraft type are provided as well.

Airport Monitor 2 for JFK

Airport Monitor 2 for JFK

It’s a veritable plane-spotter’s heaven, but why would anyone go to the trouble of providing all this information for free? Well, it seems it’s all about airport PR. Here’s the explanation from the company’s web site:

Give Neighbors A Better View Of Your Flight Operations

Until you let airport communities see the airspace with their own eyes, you will never create the trust and partnership you need. After all, seeing is believing. Our web-based visual tools help transform community relations by putting clear arrival and departure information at the fingertips of your neighbors.

When local residents have a clearer picture about what’s happening in the air above them, it’s better for the community. And the airport. Planes make noise. But neighbors don’t have to — if you’ve given them the right tools to understand the airport’s operations.

That strikes me as a fairly enlightened approach to community relations, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it helps. Perhaps such a system would have prevented that ridiculous case of plane-spotter spying that occurred in Greece not long ago. On the other hand, I suspect diehard plane-spotters would argue that there’s no substitute for the real thing.

Walcott the islander


The Pitons, St Lucia

This week’s edition of The New Yorker magazine has an interesting article on Derek Walcott, the nobel laureate from the Caribbean island of St Lucia. Here’s an excerpt:

As a young man, Warwick [Derek’s father] worked as a copyist at the Education Office. (Subsequently, he worked for St. Lucia’s Attorney General and Acting Chief Justice.) At night and on weekends, Warwick painted, read Shakespeare and Dickens, and gathered around him like-minded friends, who put on amateur theatricals. One of the members of this group, which Warwick christened the Star Literary Club, was Alix Maarlin [subsequently Derek’s mother], the daughter of Johannes van Romondt, a white estate owner on St. Maarten, and Caroline Maarlin, a brown woman. Alix had moved to St. Lucia as a young girl, apparently to finish her schooling. Her guardian, a Dutch trader, was part of a small clan who helped establish the Methodist presence on St. Lucia. Alix, too, practiced Methodism, which was practically a cult on the Catholic-dominated island.

Many of my paternal ancestors were prominent Methodists in the Caribbean. It’s amusing to think that they were at the centre of a “cult”. It explains a lot!

Public toilet explodes

This just in from the BBC:

A so-called ‘superloo’ exploded in a town centre when an electrical fault caused water to surge back into the toilet, blowing off its roof and lifting the pavement.

Luckily, however, we can all relax. A spokesman for the utility company said “We would like to reassure domestic customers this isn’t something that is likely to happen in their own homes.” Phew.