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I'm catching a taxi to the airport at 5am tomorrow, and will subsequently take approximately 28 hours of travel to reach my destination. (Blogging will, therefore, be sparse until I recover from the jet lag).

Just a thought: the cost of an air fare to the antipodes today, in 2006, is on the order of one month's salary for a full-time skilled worker in the developed world. The journey takes 24-48 hours depending on stop-overs, and is somewhat uncomfortable.

This compares quite accurately to the price of a stage coach journey across the home counties of England in 1806.

We're not living in a global village, exactly, but the world has nevertheless shrunk unimaginably in scale in just two centuries, so that we become blasé about it — so that we get annoyed because Boeing 747s and Airbus 340s seem slow. What does this tell us about our expectations, beside the obvious?


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We want to live in a world like that of Glasshouse, where you can travel the lightyears between the rooms of your house by stepping through a gateway.


Ah! The romance of air travel.

According to the NY Times, the 'pitch' (average space between seats) has shrunk 3 inches since 1978. The trend continues with more than half the airlines who ordered Boeing's 787 Dreamliner opting to put 9 seats abreast into a recommended 8 seats abreast space.

I also notice that the space is now so small that convential laptops are no longer feasible and we must now purchase tablet PCs to get any work done.

There was a anecdote about modern airline seats offering 2 inches more room than the ships carrying slaves but I cannot find a concrete reference to it. Still, I consider the slave ship analogy more accurate than the stage coach one in many respects.


David, at least the airline journey is over in under 36 hours, and you're not manacled in place (unless you count the seat belt) and there's some padding.

I suppose ...


Also, the food's better and they don't throw you overboard as much.


Stage coaches were hardly comfortable.

"Across the Home Counties"? Would that be something like London-Brighton or more like London-Bath? Not that it matters much. Given the fiction about the period I read, maybe it should be London-Portsmouth.


What are the Home Counties? I've seen that reference sometimes in British writing, never known precisely what they are.

Suppose I could Google it, but what's the fun in that?


The area around London. A good first approximation would be to say it's the commuter belt, but that's bigger than it was when the phrase came into use.

The phrase has a certain air of class-distinction in it. "Home Counties" suggests the outer band of commuter-space, and a rather posh house; people who can afford to pay for a bit of space. That seems to go back to the pre-railway era, when the Home Counties were the sort of place that Kings built palaces, far enough from London to be out of the bustle and stench but still easy to reach.


Ah. Thank you.


The home counties are specifically those counties that adjoin London - originally Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex; with Bucks, Berks and Herts added later when the County of london mutated into the GLC.

In general usage however the 'London commuter belt' or 'SE England' is a better sense of the meaning.

Darcy has a line in Pride & Prejudice that is relevant - "And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day's journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance." Darcy's modern day social equivalent would have a private jet for Europe and would travel first class for long haul.

Regards Luke


Checking in: Glasshouse sighted in bookshop window, Gamla stan, Stockholm..



I greatly enjoyed your story about Ctulhu and servitors, but I feel you could expand the story-universe on that branch quite a bit further. For one thing, I do believe I would like to buy quite a number of books in a possible series along that storyline.

So my advice to you, as one geek in ten thousand, would be to expand upon that.

Cheers, Oilpipelineistan


David: Slave Ships??? Not the best analogy...(lack of manacles and legirons,not to mention food service and sanitation) Everything is being upsized again to cope with fat american asses, anyway.

I'm old enough to have a newspaper clipping telling of my amazing journey coming to america from Japan as a 6 month old. How commonly do babies cross continents and oceans today? We ARE blase about the shrinking world, but I remain amazed.

See you at Philcon clock clobbberson


The whole cheap international air travel and freight thing could be ending. If Peak Oil pans out then Charlie's next trip to Australia may be on a repurposed cruise liner and take 3 or 4 weeks. "Crossing the line" would be fun and there'd be plenty of time to write in one's cabin. Travel and freight-wise the 2020's may look a lot like the 1950's (without the internet and satellite TV on board).


David S.: somewhere on Google groups there is a discussion between Doug Muir and myself that points out why your prediction will not come true, even if oil spirals upwards to $1200 a barrel in real terms.

Hell. (Googles. Cuts and pastes.), table 6a, column 4. A doubling of the price reduces demand by 38%. This is, of course, for intra-European travel, where the alternatives are rather better than for trips to Australia.

Consider that fuel made up only about a quarter of air transport costs in 2005.

In order to double the cost of air travel (holding everything else constant) you'd have to raise fuel costs fivefold. Assuming that the price of aviation fuel tracks the general cost of oil, that's roughly $300 per barrel in real terms. (This also implies a world in which gasoline in the U.S. is pushing $12 a gallon in real terms.)

Not likely. As in, I would and have bet large sums of money against it. But let's say that happens, and we wind up smack in the worst "peak oil" nightmare. Would the demand for air travel decline 38%?

No, because all other things are not equal.

First, even if productivity growth drops to 1%, a return to the bad old days of the 1970s. Real incomes will still be 22 percent higher by 2025. (If growth drops below this, then lower incomes will hold fuel costs down.)

Second, I've already mentioned that the demand for long-distance air-travel will hold up far better than the demand for short-distance travel.

Third, the cost of long-distance air travel will rise much more slowly than the rise in fuel prices. Planes may get slower and bigger; but a 25% increase in travel times is a far cry from a return to ocean liners. In point of fact, energy use per passenger-mile fell at an annual rate of 2.2% between 1993 and 2003.

In other words, a science fiction novel that had people taking ocean liners to Australia in 2025 is one that I would not be able to finish. Desuspension of disbelief.

But I am turning Charlie's home for musing into AHF. Apologies.


My thinking is that, if ocean travel replaces air travel, ocean travel will become as ghastly as air travel, except it will take weeks and months instead of hours. Gah.


Stop complaining, folks. Things are better than you think.

A coach ticket with three weeks advance notice from London to Sydney costs US$1,321 on British Airways and takes 21 hours with a Singapore stopover. Median monthly earnings in Britain in 2004 came to US$3,306. So that's not the level of service that Charlie's talking about.

Business class is US$5,544 on Emirates; US$4,728 on Lufthansa. But biz class has seriously gotta be hella nicer than taking a stagecoach, let alone a slave ship. I actually look forward to long business class flights myself.

Anyway, the point is that the supersonic transports have stubbornly refused to arrive on schedule, but the amount of resources we use to get the transportation services we got is pretty small and falling. That's gotta count for something, right?


Some comments and musings.

I found it interesting that I said "Still, I consider the slave ship analogy more accurate than the stage coach one in many respects." and a number of posters proceeded to assume what respects I was aluding to. Someone (in private mail) indicated that what I said was offensive. It was not my intention to offend and if I, inadvertantly, did, I apologize for that offense.

Regarding stage coaches: As I understand it, only the relatively well off had the option of travelling inside the coach. Others had the option of sitting with the driver or standing at the back hanging on. Hanging on the back was considered the normal place for servants such as footmen, I believe. Still others were precluded by the cost and forced to walk.

Regarding the cost analysis of air travel vis-a-vis shipping: How does that change if we consider lighter-than-air craft such as those being built to handle cargo? I can see the travel time increasing but with the opportunity to offer more of a 'hotel' style of travel than found in aircraft would the savings on fuel balance against the provisioning and per-person space required issues?

I am half way through Glasshouse at the moment. If only my darned real-life didn't keep getting in the way.


Uh, David? My point was that once you look at the numbers, airplane travel is cheap enough that even a sixfold (well, fivefold now) increase in fuel costs is not going to make the alternatives competitive.

"Slower planes" refers to airplanes designed to cruise at (say) 500 mph rather than 550 mph, in order to save fuel. The idea that airships will replace airplanes in the near future doesn't make any sense.

I'd venture to say that it doesn't make any sense for the far future either, but my crystal ball doesn't extend that far.

If you weren't referring to me I apologize, but I'm not sure who else you'd be referring to, since I'm the only guy who posted a cost analysis.


Noel: Yes, I was referring to your post. (Sorry for the hazy reference.) What I was wondering was whether the economics of airships made them viable relative to current commercial air travel.

This article:,14632,Soldiertech_Walrus,,00.html

Seems to imply that it makes sense for cargo since it is a) faster than conventional shipping, b) much more fuel efficient than, say, a fleet of aircraft, and c) not as constrained by geography.

This got me wondering if the same could be said when moving passengers albeit with the understanding that the requirements for passengers is much different. Would you, for instance, be able to offer slower-speed delivery - not on the scale of 500 vs 550 knots - but on the scale of 200-300 knots if it meant more room, better amenities, etc.? That is, would the improvement in the experience offset the increase in time from point A to point B?

Having phrased it that way, I suspect I can infer the answer by comparing it to the United States before and after the introduction of the interstate highway system. In the 'before' case, the journey was as important a component of the trip as was the destination. In the 'after' case, the journey was simply the most efficient means to arrive at the destination.


One thing to keep in mind about ships vs airplanes is that ships aren't exactly cheap to travel on even now. The cheapest option is probably riding as a passenger on a frieghter, and that can cost $1500 per person one-way to cross the Atlantic. Plus, it can take 5-7 days.

If fuel costs go up that much, then shipping costs are likely to increase as well. I expect people would rather pay $10,000 to fly in 1 day than $5,000 to sail in 5. Either that or they won't go at all.

Of course, fuel costs will never go that high, so it's a moot point.


David Haynes - It wasn't just the interstate highway system that simplified long-distance driving--it was also the introduction of roadmaps.

Roadmaps are one of those great, modern inventions that everybody takes for granted. Previously, when land travel was limited to the speed of animal transportation, you knew how to get to your destination, or you asked somebody who knew. With the introduction of the automobile, trips of dozens or hundreds of miles started to become routine. For the first time, people were routinely going under their own power to places where they'd never been, had no idea how to get to, and nobody they knew had any idea how to get there.

Great article in a recent issue of The New Yorker, on this subject. Deals in part about the different solutions that were tried before the current, aerial-view roadmap that we take for granted, was invented.

The first cross-country automobile trip in the U.S., 100 or more years ago, was quite a huge adventure, highly publicized and sponsored, somewhat like the transatlantic airplane crossing was, a couple of decades later. Many people tried to drive cross-country, and failed, before one man succeeded. (Of course, the cross-country drive was different from the trans-Atlantic flight in that the people who tried, and failed, didn't fall into the ocean and die. They just had to, um, walk home.)

Now, of course--due to the interstate highway system, and good roadmaps--cross-country U.S. car travel is routine. I'm one of the few people I know who haven't travelled by car from one coast to the other. I even know a few people who've done the trip by bicycle.

From what I understand, stagecoach travel was pretty miserable, even inside the coach, even if you were rich. The author of the Hidden Family novels would be more familiar with this than I am, though.


Yeah, the interstate system is great. When I go from Connecticut to Florida to visit relatives it's pretty much a straight shot 1000 miles down I-95 until I reach I-4. The only time I get off of it is to get gas. With gas prices as high as they are it's almost cheaper to fly though.

And when my family moved from Arizona to Florida, we were able to take I-10 almost the whole way, 2000 miles.


Our family travels transAtlantic by ship rather often in comparison to flying. (Caveat: as a "mixed marriage" -- Hungarian and American -- we travel transAtlantic a lot anyway.) On ships with an Internet connection (increasingly popular) it's a great way to travel. If it were half as expensive as flying, there would be no contest. Of course, when we travel I'm not off work, so our time requirements are different from those of most travelers.

When things get iffy for the travel industry, that's when cruise ships make sense. In 2003, all four of us got from Florida to Spain for $1200. And the ship was basically empty. It was wonderful.

Second point: you can still see the old pre-map attitude in Puerto Rico, where we lived for two years. The island is small enough that you basically do know how to get close to where you're going, then you ask people how to get the last mile or two. Nobody knows any street names; it's always "go down two, no three, stop lights, turn left at the Burger King, and it's the next street."

When we first moved there, I made the mistake of trying to use Mapquest to show me how to get to the post office. Mapquest, you see, relies on accurate data. Puerto Rican cartography has none, or at least wherever Mapquest bought their data was the wrong place. At any rate, the post office wasn't even indicated in the right part of town and I ended up having to just ask directions anyway. And everybody laughed at me for trying to use Mapquest for Puerto Rico. (So I'm not the first...)

Much, much later I managed to get a PDF map of the flood plains of the city (Ponce, in the south), where the engineers had drawn all the streets. That was, and is, the only accurate map of the city of Ponce I have ever seen. I still email it to people; they are amazed at the concept of being able to find a neighborhood by name and see on the map how to get to it -- without even asking anybody! It's like magic!


A couple of years ago I read a book called "Across America by Motorcycle", a travelogue of a British pilot who, after demobbing from the First World War, travelled, as might be expected, across America by motorcycle. As far as he could tell, he was the first Englishman to do so.

(I think my Nan gave me the book when I was fifteen and I never quite got round to reading it until recently.)

He gets maps from friends and calls in at local offices of the American Automobile Association to get directions, but still gets lost several times. Also, most of his journey is on what is called "natural gravel" - dirt tracks. At some point in the west, there are basically two roads he can travel; one is definitely out, and one is probably okay ("It's a good road" the local AAA rep says, by which he means, it's possible to get through).

He falls off over a hundred times. I can't remember how long it takes him, but it's weeks. Occasionally he has to camp by the roadside. He runs across vehicles stuck in mud or sand many times. This was in 1919. Until I read this, I'd not noticed that I didn't know how travel in America worked between the Old West (horse, railway) and Modern times (highways, airlines). Goes to show how the interstate and maps have changes things.


How did these dudes travel? And is there a science fiction story inside?

Evidence of pre-aboriginal Australians? Robin Hanbury-Tenison Times Online July 26, 2006

Could Australia be the cradle of global culture? It seems a surprising idea, but recently a controversy has been raging about whether a sophisticated people may have lived in the remote and inaccessible Kimberley region of NW Australia as long as 60,000 years ago, before being wiped out by the aborigines....

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 17, 2006 12:57 PM.

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