Thursday, July 31, 2008

Memo to Delta Air Lines

To: Delta Air Lines

From: Thomas

Re: Get your shit together

I recently returned from another in a series of business-related trips to Dubai. As I have done for most of my trips there this summer, I flew from Houston to Dubai via Atlanta on Delta Air Lines. My experience with Delta, while not exactly horrible, was not particularly pleasant this time around. You guys really need to get your shit together.

Let me start by saying that I understand that this is currently a very rough time for virtually any major US airline, Delta included. The economy is sluggish, gas prices are spiraling out of control, airlines are hemorrhaging money and several have already called it quits this year alone. And I also understand that I am probably old-fashioned in my belief that customer service should still count for something in today's commercial aviation industry. But the pressures facing the aviation industry shouldn't be used as an excuse for an airline that is poorly-run and indifferent to the comfort and experience of its customers.

I began my most recent trip in early July at Bush Intercontinental Airport here in Houston, where I was greeted at the Delta ticket counter by a long, slow line. I am a fairly frequent traveler and I am accustomed to relatively quick lines at ticket counters, manned by agents that are helpful and efficient. The Delta ticket agents at the counter on this day, however, were neither. They were so slow in doing their job that I began to wonder if I was even going to make my flight, and they were not particularly good at their jobs, either.

Case in point: because I am a Continental OnePass frequent flyer, and because Continental and Delta are both members of SkyTeam, I am entitled to frequent flyer miles whenever I travel on Delta. Normally it's not a big deal: I give my OnePass card to the ticket agent, explain that I am eligible for miles on this flight, the agent adds my OnePass account number to the ticket and I earn the miles.

But not this time: the ticket agent claimed that he couldn't put my frequent flier account into the system because the name on my frequent flyer card did not match the name on my reservation. This is complete bullshit because previous agents were able to give me frequent flyer credit on previous flights even though my names "didn't match" (the difference being that my middle name is not spelled out on my OnePass card). More likely, this ticket agent, who seemed to struggle just to check me in and take my bags, simply didn't know how to add my frequent flier information into the system. Instead, he gave me the number to Delta's SkyMiles customer service center and told me to call them. (When I called them, however, they told me that I'd need to call Continental's OnePass customer service center, and when I called OnePass, they told me that I need to send them a flight credit request in the mail. Why do I think that I'm about to get screwed out of about 8,000 frequent flyer miles simply because one of Delta's ticket agents at IAH doesn't know what they're doing?)

After waiting through the TSA security line to get to my gate, I had to wait in another long, slow line at the gate to pick up my boarding passes for the Houston-Atlanta and Atlanta-Dubai legs of my trip. This is because I was not given the actual boarding passes at the ticket counter, but rather some sort of voucher that I had to trade in for boarding passes at the gate itself. It didn't make any sense, but I've come to discover that it has something do do with Delta's cheesy practice of beginning Flight 8 to Dubai in Houston (which, by the way, keeps me from choosing my seats on Delta's website, because I fly on multiple aircraft). The line was so slow that they began boarding the aircraft before I even got my passes!

The flight from Houston to Atlanta was fine if I ignore the fact that I got to sit in the very back of the aircraft, right next to one of the MD-88's loud-ass engines that completely blocked the view out of my window. And the layover in Atlanta was fine if I ignore the fact that the first leg of Flight 8 arrived at Terminal A and the second leg of Flight 8 departed from Terminal E. But the flight to Dubai on the Boeing 777 departed on time, I managed to luck out and end up with a front-section seat with lot of legroom, and everything seemed fine until I tried to turn on my in-flight entertainment screen.

Nothing. No music, no movies, no flight tracker. Just a dark screen. It didn't even appear to be connected. And as it turned out, my screen wasn't the only one not working. The flight attendants simply shrugged; there was nothing they could do.

The end result was that I arrived in Dubai 14 hours later with a bad taste in my mouth. "Delta really needs to get its shit together," I thought.

My experience on the flight back a few weeks later started out fine enough. The ticket agents at DXB were quick and efficient (and, I might add, were able to add my frequent flyer information to my ticket without any problem), the time spent waiting at the gate was short, there were no hassles boarding the plane and it appeared that we were ready for an on-time departure back to Atlanta.

But we didn't go anywhere. We sat, instead, at the gate, for AN HOUR AND A HALF while a dispute regarding the aircraft's load and takeoff requirements were being resolved.

The explanation we were given went something like this: the flight dispatcher back in Atlanta felt that the Boeing 777 was loaded to the point that, given the length of the runway at DXB, it needed to fly into a headwind in order to generate sufficient lift to clear the runway. That evening the wind was blowing off the Gulf, from west-to-east, meaning that the airplane needed to take off from east-to-west in order to take advantage of the headwind. Problem was, that's not the direction that the runway was operating that evening, and Dubai's civil aviation authorities weren't about to change the airport's operating patterns just for the benefit of one airline.

Finally, it was decided that a cargo pallet would be offloaded in order to make the plane light enough to take off with the tailwind. This was done and, at long last, we were finally on our way. And, to be sure, the aircraft did manage to use almost all of the runway even without that cargo pallet; I was almost worried that the landing gear was going to hit the tops of the trucks driving along Emirates Road as we rotated off the ground and flew into the night sky.

Let me say that I'm obviously glad that the plane was able to take off safely. But there are a few things that nevertheless bother me. Firstly, the concept that your airline's altimetric margins are so narrow that the offloading of a single cargo pallet is potentially the difference between an airplane being able safely clear a runway or not is, in itself, disconcerting. Secondly, it's not a situation that should arise to begin with: Delta knows what the length and standard operation of the runway at Dubai is, Delta knows what the maximum take-off weight for their aircraft is, and there should be meteorological staff either in Atlanta or Dubai who can predict, in advance of the plane being loaded, which way the wind will be blowing that evening. And finally, why did it take so long to reach the decision to remove a cargo pallet in any case? If an aircraft is deemed too heavy to safely perform, offloading some cargo would seem to be the most obvious solution and it shouldn't take an hour and a half to make that decision.

Aside from the fact that everybody on that flight had to spend that much more time sitting in their seat for a flight that is long enough to begin with, the end result was that we got into Atlanta an hour-and-a-half late and a lot of passengers, myself included, missed their connecting flights. This kind of delay is the hallmark of an airline that really needs to get its shit together.

This time my in-flight entertainment system did work, if only just barely. Every time I tried to watch a movie my system would crash and reboot. The guy sitting in the seat next to me had the same problem; he asked a flight attendant about it but all she could do is shrug. At least I could use the in-flight entertainment system to listen to music (which brings up an annoying quirk about Delta's in-flight entertainment software: why is it that, whenever you listen to a CD, you have to press the forward button to hear the next song? Why can't the system play an entire CD all the way through like, say, every other a CD player in existence?) and watch my flight's progress on the flight tracker.

But even the flight tracking software had a glitch in it: somewhere over Greenland, the "time remaining until arrival" clock stopped counting down and started counting back up! What was a six-hour remaining flight time became seven hours, and then eight hours, even as we got closer to Atlanta. It was like the airplane was caught in some weird Twilight Zone episode, and it began to concern me - was the plane slowing down in order to conserve fuel or something? - until I finally came to conclusion that the flight tracking software was simply malfunctioning.

Seriously, Delta: if you are going to spend all this money to put sophisticated in-flight entertainment systems, with screens on the back of every seat in your aircraft, then shouldn't you at least take the time to maintain them properly?

To Delta's credit, the ticket agent at the counter outside of customs who re-booked me was very kind and competent and even put me on the next flight to Hobby Airport, because the wait time was shorter than the next flight to Intercontinental. And the flight back to Houston (which was actually operated by a regional partner) was fine.

But all in all, my most recent experience with Delta Air Lines was lousy. I wasn't treated rudely or with hostility, but I was treated like Delta didn't really give a shit about me.

Like I said, the current economic situation for the domestic airline industry sucks ass, and costs have to be cut somewhere. So maybe you have to furlough your more experienced (and more expensive) ticket agents for cheaper, less-experienced ones, and that's why my experience at the ticket counter at IAH was so poor. And maybe belt-tightening is causing you to defer non-essential maintenance, and that's why my in-flight entertainment consoles didn't work. And maybe you need to load your planes to the fullest order to squeeze as much revenue as you can out of every flight, and that's why I had to sit on the tarmac in Dubai for almost two hours because sometimes those planes become too fully-loaded. And maybe, with the merger with Northwest Airlines only a few months away, the entire airline is in a holding pattern, so to speak, simply biding its time until the merger actually occurs and things actually start happening.

But in your relentless drive to maximize revenues, are you really doing right by your customers (aka, the folks who are keeping you in business)? Do you really think that charging $50 for a second checked bag, or tweaking your frequent flyer program to make it more difficult for rewards to be redeemed, is going to pay dividends in the long-term? Or is it just going to make your customers angry and make them want to fly on other carriers?

And if this is the way Delta Air Lines is being run right now, what's it going to be like a few months from now, when the merger with Northwest begins and chaos inevitably ensues as corporate cultures clash and duplicate services are cut?

Instead of using the current economic situation as an excuse to suck, Delta should be taking this opportunity to focus on customer service, to encourage people to keep flying, and to build its brand with an eye towards the merger. The best way to do that is to GET. YOUR. SHIT. TOGETHER.

Make sure your ticketing agents know what they are doing. If you must operate a single flight on multiple airplanes, don't make it a hassle for the passengers flying it. Make sure your in-flight entertainment consoles work so your customers will have something to do on 15-hour flights. Don't let your planes sit on the tarmac for hours simply because you can't get loading calculations right. Smile. Treat your customers like real people with real needs, not as mere revenue units. Demonstrate to them how bad-ass you think your new, merged airline is going to be in a year or two.

I freely admit that Delta is not my first choice when I fly to Dubai. I prefer the Emirates nonstop because it is, after all, nonstop. But up until now Delta had been my second choice. Now, I'm not so certain.

And finally, Delta: when you made your most recent in-flight video, did you have to choose to feature your scariest-looking flight attendant in it? I can't tell if she just had bad plastic surgery or if she really is possessed by demons, but I can't even watch this video without her giving me the creeps:

Charles Ray "Blackie" Lightfoot 1936 - 2008

Until I read his obituary, I didn't know that Uncle Blackie's real first name was Charles. Everybody just called him Uncle Blackie, and that's how I always knew him.

Anyway, Lori's uncle put up a courageous three-year fight against cancer, but that fight is now over. Blackie's obituary ran on the Montgomery County Courier's website, but since I don't know how long it will be available there, and because I've begun to make it a tradition of preserving obituaries of both my and Lori's family members here:
Charles Ray “Blackie” Lightfoot lost his three-year battle with cancer on July 25, 2008.

Blackie was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on August 13, 1936, to Iris Faye and William “Earl” Lightfoot.

He is preceded in death by his mother Iris, his father Earl, his brothers Steven and Jerry Lightfoot, his beloved sister-in-law Cindy Stevens and, lastly, his son and fishing and hunting buddy Tony Glenn Lightfoot. Also, we can’t fail to mention his dearly beloved furry family members Precious, Two-Two, Whiskey and almost grandson, Beau-Beau.

Blackie proudly served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps. The greatest love of his life was his family, which also included the infinite number of friends that Blackie counted as family. His passion was hunting and fishing. Blackie was lucky in that he was able to combine the two and make it his livelihood. He was a Turbine Engineer for Worthington for many years, but, then, decided to follow his love of the great outdoors, and became a fishing guide.

In 1986, he was hired by Whopper Stopper Lures as their traveling Ambassador. From there, he started working as Fishing Ambassador for Pradco Lures. He also co-hosted many episodes of Honey Hole All Outdoors. Blackie had countless articles written about his fishing and hunting expertise. He was nominated three times for the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife of more than 22 years and love of his life, Lorena. He is also survived by his son “Chuck” Lightfoot and wife Peggy of Pasadena; daughter Selina Bellar and her husband Norman, also of Pasadena; and son Mark Lightfoot and wife Laura of Montgomery. He is also survived by his brother Mike Lightfoot and wife Loretta, his sister Sandy Beck and sister Marinell Belden and husband Jack, also his sister by heart Lois Hesser. He is also survived by countless grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews who he especially adored. Blackie also had many friends that he loved “like a brother.”

Services for Blackie will be held at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, located at 3947 Old 105 W. in Conroe, Texas, as follows: 2 p.m. - visitation for family and friends (refreshments provided) and 7 p.m. - memorial service.
Needless to say, this has not been a very easy few months for Lori's family; the fact that Blackie's death was "expected," so to speak, does not make it any easier. Uncle Blackie was a great guy whom I unfortunately didn't get to spend enough time with; he will be missed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pictures from New Orleans

It occurred to me that I visited New Orleans over six weeks ago but never wrote anything about it. Better late than never, I suppose.

Anyway, last month's visit was my fourth trip to the Crescent City since it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Every time I go back I see that the city is indeed recovering, however slowly: more businesses are open, more tourists are exploring the French Quarter, more houses are occupied and fewer FEMA trailers are seen in front yards or in parking lots. This isn't to say that the city has completely recovered, of course; as of a year ago it was still slightly less than half of its 2000 size in terms of population and evidence of the hurricane's devastation is still not very difficult to find.

But I wasn't there to painstakingly evaluate the city's on-going recovery; I was there to have a good time with my family. Given the trauma and stress of the previous weeks, a few days of taking it easy in the Big Easy was a good idea for everyone. So after attending a conference in Chicago, I flew down to join my mom, dad, wife, son, brother and brother-in-law for a short vacation.

My brother-in-law Danny had never been to New Orleans before, and my brother David hadn't been there since he was a small child. It didn't take them very long to get acquianted with the French Quarter and its many bars and restaurants. Because my parents' timeshare is close to the French Quarter, in fact, we spent most of our time there. Due to its architecture, its ecclectic mix of uses and its history, the Vieux Carre really is one of the nicest neighborhoods in the United States. Even in the pouring rain.Vacationing in New Orleans with small children presents some dilemmas, since there are some parts of the city that are decidedly not kid-friendly. Bourbon Street is an obvious example. One evening all of us went to a restaurant on said street for dinner; I guess we were too hungry to give much thought as to whether it would be appropriate for Kirby. The restaurant turned out to be fine, but as we finished our meal, took Kirby outside through the raucous and drunken Bourbon Street hordes, and returned to our timeshare, Lori couldn't help but comment that she felt like a bad parent for exposing her innocent toddler to the depravity and debauchery that is Bourbon Street. The following evening, however, I found myself back on Bourbon Street with David and Danny, and as we walked down the street I overheard another woman, her small child in hand, say exactly the same thing. So I've come to the conclusion that a lot of small children have been exposed to Bourbon Street at night, and that it probably isn't a big deal as long as it is limited.

To be honest, David, Danny and I liked the bars right off Bourbon Street better than the ones on the street itself. They were smaller, quieter, more friendly and the drinks were maybe a little cheaper, too. They were neighborhood-type bars, as opposed to the tourist-oriented bars on Bourbon Street itself. Pat O'Briens is overrated.

Like any good visitor to New Orleans, we spent as much time eating as we did drinking. I finally got to eat at Tujague's on Decatur Street, which was so good I'm already looking forward to eating there again the next time I visit the city. Mothers, at the corner of Poydras and Tchapitoulas, used to be one of our favorite restaurants, but they've jacked their prices up so much since Katrina that we don't eat there that often anymore. Cafe Maspero on Decatur is just as good and less expensive, but I could do without their "we have to keep it real so we don't take credit cards" policy. Cafe du Monde is overrated.

Service on the historic St. Charles streetcar line had been restored as far as Carrollton when we visited. Shortly after we left the remaining portion of the streetcar's route was put back into service. The St. Charles streetcar now fully operational, almost three years after Katrina. Until the red replica streetcars that were used on the Riverfront and Canal lines and which were flooded by Katrina are completely repaired, the olive green Perleys are operating along the entire rail network. Pretty good for vehicles manufactured back in 1923. Kirby called the streetcars "trains." At his age, everything that rides on rails is a "train." He enjoyed riding them, while I enjoyed looking at the stately homes lining St. Charles Avenue. A couple of men sat on the front porch of this house, watching the cars, joggers, bicyclists and streetcars ply up and down the boulevard: Lori wanted to take a "real" swamp tour, so I went along with her. We drove several miles south of New Orleans to the Intracoastal Waterway and got in an airboat with several other people and a local guide with a rather thick local accent. Lori and I struggled to understand him, so we have no idea if the two people from England who were part of our tour understood anything he said at all. Not that it mattered; the beauty of the Louisiana swamp spoke for itself:
Our guide took us to a lake where some "friends" of his lived. One them climbed up the side of the boat to say hello, causing many people on the boat to scream.Alligators like marshmallows, by the way. They are white, which makes them easy for the noctournally-sighted reptile to see, and they float on top of the water, which makes them easy to approach and eat. Whether marshmallows are actually good for alligators is, of course, a different story.

Aside from the re-opening of the last portion of the St. Charles streetcar line, we also missed the grand opening of the Audubon Insectarium by one week. Since it was on the French Quarter side of Canal Street in the old US Customs House, we passed by it everyday. It looked interesting through the windows and we thought that it might have been something Kirby would enjoy. Maybe next year.

The last day we were there we took a paddlewheel cruise down the Mississippi River. Traveling down the Mississippi, and seeing all the wharves, ships, industries and in action, reinforces the concept that New Orleans, as the port at the mouth of the Mississippi River, is absolutely crucial to the economy of the United States of America. Hurricanes or no, the existence of New Orleans is not negotiable. Yet, even as it struggles to recover from Hurricane Katrina, it continues to face threats: wetlands erosion, old and unsafe levees, and indifferent or even hostile national attitudes towards its recovery and well-being. That is indeed unfortunate, because for all its problems, it really is one of the most vital and unique cities in the country, if not the world.

Yes, New Orleans, you are beautiful.

Adventures in abysmal customer service

Samuraisam has a fascinating account of how it took Etisalat, the telecom monopoly here in Dubai, 43 days to upgrade his internet connection.

It's a very long post, but worth the read if you have time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Halfway through rotation four

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. We're facing a critical project deadline this Thursday so I've been pretty busy here at work.

I think the fact that I've spent the better part of the last four months here in Dubai is beginning to take its toll. It's gotten to the point that I'm really looking forward to returning to Houston next week, and I'm really wishing my return here in August for my fifth rotation would somehow get canceled.

It's not that I don't like Dubai. Anybody who knows me knows how much I enjoy this city. But being not-quite-halfway around the world from home, and away from your family, for weeks at a time is not fun. It is stressful. Especially when your wife just lost her mother and you can't be there to support her.

Work is beginning to grate on me as well. I'll never get used to the way business is conducted in the Persian Gulf: schedules constantly change, client demands that would be immediately dismissed as unreasonable or infeasible in the United States are routinely granted here, companies tend to take on more work than they can handle and the resulting office culture is one that is chaotic and last-minute in nature. I'm not feeling very good about the deliverable we're submitting on Thursday, in fact, because I don't think we've been given enough time or resources to do it properly.

But it's my transportation situation here in Dubai that is really annoying me. Being dependent on taxis to get around town is not fun; it means that getting to and from work every day is a real adventure. Waiting in the hot sun for a taxi, dealing with asshole cab drivers who don't want to take me from my hotel to my office because the distance is too short to be worth their while, taxis that don't show up even after I've called for them, drivers who are too distracted to safely transport me, drivers whose body odor is pungent enough to kill small animals and drivers who don't know their way around town are all routine Dubai taxi hassles. And don't even think about getting a cab during the morning and afternoon peak; it's gotten to the point that I stay at the office until at least 8 in the evening because I know that there's no way I'll find a cab before then.

But, other than the crowded, slow and infrequent bus route that goes from my office to someplace near my hotel (and yes, I've ridden it before), taxis are my only realistic transportation option. I absolutely refuse to rent a car: I'm not going to try to drive in the utter chaos that is Dubai traffic, and there's really no place for me to park it at work anyway. And I don't want to walk: I've done it a few times before but it takes over an hour to get from my office to my hotel on foot, pedestrian safety is not a high priority here, and the heat makes long walks uncomfortable, even in the evening. There are hotels within much shorter walking distance of my office, but they're unfortunately out of our project budget's price range. Which means I'm stuck with taxis.

I really shouldn't complain too much; I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to come over here and help out on this project. But I think I've just about had my fill. I'm really looking forward to this project being completed and me returning home for good.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Budweiser is not real beer

Belgian brewer InBev SA has purchased American brewer Anheuser-Busch for a cool $52 billion, and some people are upset about the loss of a piece of Americana to foreign interests.

I, on the other hand, think this is a good deal. Because now, under European guidance, maybe Anheuser-Busch will quit brewing that disgusting swill known as Budweiser and start brewing real beer.

Seriously. Budweiser is not real beer. Real beer does not have rice in it. Real beer also has actual taste, something Budweiser lacks.

It's not just Budweiser that falls into this "not real beer" category, either. Most mass-produced and mass-marketed American brews - Miller Lite and Coors, for example - have the same problem: they aren't real beers and they taste like shit.

It's not that Americans cannot brew real beer. Samuel Adams, Yeungling, Abita Turbodog and even Shiner Bock are good examples of real beer that tastes good. It's just that way too many Americans simply don't know any better: they've been tricked into thinking that crap like Budweiser is actually real beer, even though it is not.

Fortunately, the Belgians have been brewing beer for far longer than the United States has existed. They know what real beer is. Hopefully, they'll use their takeover of Anheuser-Busch to educate the American people about real beer, and in the process do away with the flavorless horsepiss that is Budweiser.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Houston-based ExpressJet ends self-branded service

Take a good look at the airplane in the picture below, after September 2nd, you won't see it anymore. Houston-based regional carrier ExpressJet is pulling the plug on its self-branded service.Until 2002, ExpressJet was a Continental Airlines subsidiary known as Continental Express. Even after becoming an independent company, it continued to operate regional services for Continental Airlines under the Continental Express brand. Its stand-alone service was an idea borne out of neccessity after Continental reduced ExpressJet's role as a Continental Express operator in 2005; faced with the prospect of idling a quarter of its fleet and laying off hundreds of crew, ExpressJet decided to enter the airline market under its own name.

It made intuitive sense: using smaller-capacity Embraer regional jets, ExpressJet would operate nonstop service between city pairs that were not economical to be served by mainlane carriers with larger aircraft; for example: Austin - Tucson, Kansas City - Jacksonville, Albequerque - Oklahoma City, Sacramento - San Antonio, or LA/Ontario - Omaha. ExpressJet's branded service allowed travelers flying between these two cities a one-seat ride, without the hassles of transferring through a larger carrier's hub-and-spoke network. Service began in 2007.

Operating in a nache market, however, had is perils. On some city pairs, there were barely enough passengers to make the service worthwhile. Some cities, such as Corpus Christi, proved to be unprofitable to serve even with the smaller ERJs. On other city pairs, however, the opposite problem occured: ExpressJet's service between New Orleans and Birmingham was very successful and caught the attention of Southwest Airlines. Southwest then began operating its own New Orleans - Birmingham service, forcing ExpressJet to drop that route. Ultimately, however, the same rising fuel costs that have hammered the airline industry as a whole forced ExpressJet to cancel its year-and-a-half-long stint as its own airline.

Several cities will feel the effect of ExpressJet's shutdown. New Orleans, San Diego, Sacramento and LA/Ontario were airports with a significant ExpressJet presence, offering nonstop service to several destinations that no other carrier could match. "ExpressJet offered twice as many nonstop routes than any other airline operating from Ontario," the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. "Once the airline departs for good, travelers through Ontario Airport should expect more of what they used to experience -- a stop or two."

In addition to its stand-alone service, ExpressJet is also ending its contract as a regional carrier for Delta. ExpressJet will continue to operate as a regional carrier for Continental Airlines and will continue to operate a charter service.

An acquaintance of mine works for ExpressJet as a dispatcher. I hope his job isn't affected by this service cut.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What do New Orleans and Denton have in common?

According to the US Census Bureau, New Olreans and Denton are two of the top ten fastest-growing large cities in the United States. New Orleans, which continues to repopulate following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, grew by 13.8% in the year that ended July 1, 2007, making it the fastest-growing large city in the United States. As of a year ago, the Census Bureau estimated the Big Easy's population at 239,124. It is doubtlessly even larger today, but is still nowhere near its 2000 population of 484,674.

Denton was the tenth-fastest-growing large city in the United States. The Census Bureau estimated its one-year growth rate at 4.7%, with a population of 115,506 as of July 1st of last year. The fact that Denton has been growing so rapidly (it crossed the 90,000 threshold in 2000, when I worked and lived there) is not a surprise to me; the fact that Denton is considered a "large city" by the Census Bureau is, on the other hand, a bit of a surprise. And Denton wasn't even the fastest-growing city in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for the year ending July 1, 2007, either: McKinney, next door in Collin County, had a growth rate of eight percent, making it the third-fastest growing large city in the nation.

And here's another interesting tidbit from the Census Bureau:
In terms of sheer numbers, Houston led the nation's cities in numerical increase during the period. Houston added 38,932 residents in the year ended July 1, 2007 to reach 2.2 million.

In spite of that, Houston might not be the nation's fourth-largest city when the 2010 census is taken. The Census Bureau estimates that Houston is currently tied with Phoenix, Arizona at the number four position with 1.6 million inhabitants each.

New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are still the first, second and third-largest municipalities in the United States, respectively.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Well, at least it waited until I got back to Houston

The hard drive on my work laptop crashed yesterday. One minute, I'm happily working away. The next minute, I hear a screechy grinding noise and my computer freezes up. Great!

Luckily, my company's IT folks were able to install a new hard drive, and I'm back in business. I'm also fortunate in that I was fairly good about backing up all my local files onto my company's servers, so I haven't lost anything that was absolutely critical to my work (although, to be sure, I have lost a few files I would have liked to have kept). The worst thing is that it's been a real productivity-killer for me at a time when I have a lot of work to do. Reconfiguring preferences, mapping to servers, connecting to printers and transferring files back to my local drive is a time-consuming pain in the ass.

I kind of wish they would have just given me a completely new laptop. Alas, no such luck.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Greetings from Dubai International Airport

I don't know what's slower: this airport's wireless internet connection or the drink service at this bar.

Anyway, my flight boards shortly, and I'll be on my way back to Houston. Via Atlanta, of course. It turns out that the nonstop service on Emirates is booked solid through the end of the summer.

I'm looking forward to seeing fireworks with Kirby tomorrow night. Not that I'll be jetlagged or anything...

Is Oklahoma City a major league town?

I guess it is now.

Meh. I never liked the Supersonics anyway.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Obama versus McCain... In Dubai?

The Washington Post's David Ignatius unveils an interesting, if not far-fetched, idea apparently making the rounds in the royal palaces here: why not invite Barack Obama and John McCain to hold one of this fall's presidential debates in Dubai?
The idea for this debate emerged in conversations and e-mails over the past week with officials in Dubai. It appears to have the unofficial blessing of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid, the emirate's ruler. Dubai's leaders "realize the importance of such an idea and are ready to receive the candidates and organize the event," one senior official told me.

There is, of course, no chance that it would actually happen. I'm not aware of any case where presidential candidates for any country any have held a debate outside of their home nation, American voters (most of whom, sadly, can't even find Dubai on a world map) would likely find such a spectacle confusing and off-putting, and the logistics with arranging such an event - travel, security, media set-up, not to mention the time difference - are overwhelming. But I do think it is a novel and even worthy idea. What better place than Dubai, after all, to discuss crucial regional issues such as America's future in Iraq, its relationship with Iran, the fight against terrorism or its dependence on Middle Eastern petroleum? Ignatius thinks it's a good idea, too:

I hope that McCain and Obama will think seriously about these unofficial feelers from Dubai. The Middle East is a mess, sad to say, and dealing with the problems of that part of the world will be job one for the next president. We Americans like to talk about the miracle of our democracy, but putting that democratic process on the road would make it real for billions of people.

I especially like the idea of Iranians watching on satellite TV as Obama and McCain debate the future a few miles away across the Gulf. Now that would be good political theater.

(hat tip: UAE Community Blog)