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People and the bears of Asheville

N.C. State University and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission scientists are studying the bear population in Asheville and, as the Asheville Citizen-Times reports, have come up with some interesting findings. It turns out that brown bears are basically everywhere in Asheville. And how are city residents handling having these large mammals as their neighbors? Better than you might have thought:

“People in general are a lot more tolerant of bears in their neighborhood than we suspected,” [N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Mike] Carraway said. “We typically are dealing with people who are mad about a bear in their neighborhood, so it’s a pleasant surprise that a lot of people are pretty much OK with it.”

Which is something to keep in mind as bears continue to spread across the state.

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The changing world of video

Over the past decade, Netflix pretty much killed off the video store. Now streaming video is suppose to be the next big thing and is turning Netflix’s DVD business into an endangered species. So this should be a good time for lovers of more obscure movies, right?

Absolutely not. Jon Brooks of KQED in San Francisco offers up a detailed explanation of the latest development in the world of home movie viewing and why people that are at even marginally selective in what they choose to watch are going to be disappointed.

The death of Netflix DVDs could very well spell the end of the golden days of one-stop shopping. Check out this 2013 Netflix PR video communicating that the company should no longer be looked upon as a massive movie library. What it really is, it says, is the “Internet’s largest television network.”

With every title we add, we remain focused on our goal of being an expert programmer (vocal emphasis in the video) offering a mix that delights our members rather than trying to be a broad distributor. We’re selective about what titles we add to Netflix …. we can’t license everything and also maintain our low prices. So we look for those titles that deliver the biggest viewership relative to the licensing costs. This also means that we’ll forego or choose not to renew some titles that aren’t watched enough relative to their costs.

Brooks references a Bloomberg story from January that lays out the core issue:

Old-fashioned video rental stores, and Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service, are governed by something called “first-sale doctrine”: Once I sell you a physical copy of a movie or song, you can do whatever you like with the physical object, except copy it or show it publicly… But streaming is governed by a different set of rules for digital content. You can’t stream a movie to someone unless the rights holders have agreed to let you do so. … Essentially, Netflix cannot afford to buy the rights to all the movies you want to watch.

The likely outcome? Subscribing to multiple streaming services, none of which offers anything near everything you want. And possibly the continued existence of video stores — Visart, I’m looking at you — if they’re nimble enough to file the resulting niche.

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Bigger Aircraft Will Shake Up Local Aviation

Got a column out for Carolina Journal on some changes in the airline industry. Here’s it is in it’s entirety:

CHARLOTTE — Local business leaders, economic development types, and government officials reflexively think of air service in terms of the number of flights handled by their airports daily. For most North Carolina airports, that number will drop significantly over the next few years.

Technological innovations greatly influence how we travel. And that’s especially true in air travel. Ten to 20 years ago, a new class of planes — regional jets, seating up to 50 passengers — radically transformed how the airlines operated. Today, another wave of change is shaking up the aviation business, with 50-seaters being replaced en masse by larger aircraft.

Twenty years ago, you had two basic types of airlines: those flying jets seating 100 or more passengers and commuter carriers flying turboprops generally seating only 19 passengers. Communities that could attract 10,000 airline passengers annually typically could justify scheduling service at their airports — in other words, three flights daily on 19-seat turboprops that are half-empty.

Fast forward to 2014, and 19-seaters are only slightly more common in American skies than passenger pigeons. Industry economics changed beginning in the mid-1990s, as commuter carriers, operating at the major airlines’ behest, acquired 50-seat regional jets and used them to replace both smaller turboprops on feeder routes to airline hubs and bigger jets on routes with limited demand.

Along the way, communities including Hickory, Rocky Mount, Winston-Salem, and Kinston that couldn’t generate enough passengers to fill these 50-seat regional jets simply lost all their scheduled air service.

But the economics of 50-seaters leaves a lot to be desired, especially given today’s high fuel prices. As a result, the regional carriers that fly for American, Delta, and United are starting to dump 50-seaters. The planes replacing them are larger, seating at least 76 passengers and sometimes as many as 110.

This would represent a huge increase in capacity if the aircraft replacement were on a one-for-one basis. That’s not how things are working out, though, with Delta, the airline that’s the furthest along in the process, aiming to keep the amount of capacity it has available about the same.

For most smaller communities, that will translate into fewer flights but on bigger planes. For those cities that just barely are holding on to any scheduled air service at the moment, it can mean a future with no flights at all — there’s a minimum number of flights a day to keep an airport attractive for business flyers, and without those traveling on their employer’s dime, service in such markets just isn’t viable.

It isn’t a question of merely having air service. Having air service to more hubs, especially those in distant locations — in a North Carolina context, think Dallas, Detroit, Houston, or Minneapolis — offers a competitive advantage in business recruitment for a smaller community.

The move to larger aircraft will affect more distant hubs. Indeed, here is where the shift to larger planes will happen first, as the economic viability of relying on 50-seaters may not work on longer routes.

Fewer flights with larger planes also will affect airport operations. Most obviously, it can place a bigger burden on screening operations by the Transportation Security Administration if several larger planes are scheduled to leave roughly at the same time. But the challenges extend beyond that — is there enough room at the gate and bathroom capacity to accommodate passengers at smaller airports if several 110-seaters (or even larger jets, which sometimes get mixed in) are all getting ready to depart?

For some airports, this won’t be a problem. For others it will require significant changes. In all cases, though, how people, especially civic leaders, in smaller communities think of aviation will have to change.

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Missing: A whole lot of water

If sighted, please contact the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department at 311. Seems that CMUD is losing a lot of water somewhere in eastern or southeastern Mecklenburg County, but even after looking for a day, CMUD crews haven’t been able to find the location of the leak. Which probably means that a large sinkhole will develop along some major street any time now…

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Patrick Cannon’s sentencing posponed

To October 14, so that a New York psychiatrist can testify on his behalf, which adds another ring or two to the media circus that will exist when Cannon finally finds out how long he will have to spend in prison. The main question remains whether Charlotte citizens will get any real closure at that time by learning the fully extend of Cannon’s corrupt activities or at least why the FBI decided to target Cannon.

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US Airways & American Airlines have another bad month over the Atlantic

As in a 81.3 percent load factor in August, down from 87.4 percent last August. The vaguely good news is that the 6.1 percentage point drop in load factor in August is better than the 6.6 percentage point drop this July versus the year previous. Either way though, that sort of a drop will cause the airlines to reduce capacity.

While the sharpest year-over-year reductions are likely to happen next spring and summer, US Airways has just published cuts to its European operations from Charlotte for this winter. The airline’s second flight a day from Charlotte to London Heathrow begins on Saturday and was suppose to operate yearly year-round. US Airways though updated its schedule over this past weekend and the second flight now isn’t go to happen from January 16th through February 12th. Also, its Charlotte to Frankfurt flight only operates six days a week (not on Mondays) from January 12th through February 2nd. This mark the second cut to the service.

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Hood on education in North Carolina

Figuring out what you need to do starts with understanding where you are and how you got there. And as JLF head John Hood observes, in education, North Carolina had a strong period of strong student achievement gains in the 1990s but things have largely stagnated since:

If you want to know how North Carolina’s public schools are really faring, the best measures are external. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administers rigorous tests to state samples of students in grades four and eight. During the first decade of NAEP testing in the 1990s, North Carolina made impressive gains. In math, the average score of our 8th-graders rose 30 points, more than double the national increase of 12 points. In reading, our 4th-graders posted a five-point gain from 1992 to 1998 while the national average was unchanged.

Around the turn of the century, however, our performance gains began to level off. From 2000 to 2013, the nation’s average 8th-grade math score rose another 12 points. North Carolina’s rose by nine. It wasn’t just perennial education pacesetters such as Massachusetts that posted the largest gains. States such as Mississippi (17 points), Tennessee (16), South Carolina (15), Texas (15), Louisiana (14), Georgia (14), and Virginia (13) also experienced larger math gains than North Carolina did.

In reading, our 8th-graders posted no gain at all from 2002 to 2013 while the average national score rose three points and all of our neighbors except Virginia gained as quickly or faster than the national average.

North Carolina’s lackluster performance since 2000 didn’t erase the effects of the earlier gains. In fact, our reading scores rank in the middle of the national pack, along with those of most of our neighbors, while in math we still outrank South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. My point is that virtually all of North Carolina’s relative improvement in reading and math occurred during the 1990s — before there could have been any effects on NAEP scores from much-touted reforms such as Smart Start, More at Four, the teacher-pay hikes under former Gov. Jim Hunt, or (in fairness) charter schools.

Hoods recommendations for the future?

There’s room for bipartisan agreement on the next phase of education reform in North Carolina, as well, which should include higher academic standards, rewards for high performance, accountability for low performance, and the provision of a diverse array of school choices for parents, students, and educators.

A precondition for consensus, however, is for North Carolina to adopt independent, rigorous annual measurements of student performance — and then stick with them.

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The phone book shrinks again

Thickness of the Charlotte AT&T Real Yellow Pages® phone book:

September 2009: 2 3/8 inches
(…)
September 2013: 1 5/16 inches
September 2014: 7/8 inch

I wonder how much longer the phone book will still even exist.

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Beware of the puss caterpillar

It looks nice, soft, cute, and almost cuddly but it stings like a bee. Or actually worse than a bee. So don’t play around with a puss caterpillar.

H/t: JH

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CLT aviation baseline 2014: everybody else

Recently ran a summary of US Airways and American Airlines flights from Charlotte. Here’s the service level for all the other airlines flying from Charlotte and Concord. Flight levels are for Thursday, August 7th. (OK, I’m a bit behind.)

International:

• Air Canada: 2 daily (OK, 12 times a week) to Toronto on 50-seat regional jets

• Insel Air: Once a week to Curaçao on a MD-80

• Lufthansa: Daily to Munich on an Airbus A340-600 (typically five days a week on an Airbus A330-300 over the winter). The Airbus A346 is the biggest passenger plane that regularly flies into CLT.

Domestic:

• Delta: 33 flights a day: Atlanta 11 times a day on a mix of 140 to 160-seat mainline aircraft; Detroit five times a day on mainline jets, Minneapolis-St. Paul 4 times a day (2 mainline, 2 large regional jet), Salt Lake City once a day on a mainline jet, New New LaGuardia seven times a day on large regional jets, New York JFK two a day (one large regional jet, one 50-seater), Cincinnati three times a day on 50-seaters.

So in total 19 flight a day on Delta Air Lines proper (mainline), 10 flights a day on large regional jets featuring a first-class section, and only four flights a day on 50-seaters.

• Frontier: Four times a week on an Airbus A 319 to Trenton, NJ. And on August 20, started day-day a week service to Washington Dulles on an Airbus A320.

• JetBlue: 2 flights a day to JFK and 2 flights a day to Boston, all on 100-seat Embraer E190s

• Southwest Airlines: Seven flights a day on 137-seat or 143-seat Boeing 737s, two each to Baltimore, Chicago Midway, and Houston Hobby plus a single flight to Orlando. The second Houston Hobby flight is a summer seasonal while service to Orlando ends — apparently permanently in November.

• United: 21 flights, 6 flights on 50-seat regional jets (!) each to Newark and Houston Intercontinental. 5.5 flights a day to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and 3.5 flights a day to Washington Dulles (IAD) One plane goes ORD-CLT-IAD which explains the fraction. ORD and IAD service are mainly on a mix of large regional jets and 50-seaters though one Chicago flight is on United mainline.

In total, one United mainline flight, four large regional jets with a first class section, and 16 50-seaters.

• Dropped routes: Earlier this year, Delta ended flight from Charlotte to Memphis while United ended its Charlotte – Cleveland service. Memphis service had traditionally been three flights a day on a regional get (50-seat or sometimes larger). Cleveland service was on 50-seaters, with between two and four flights a day, depending upon the say of the week and time of the year. The Memphis and Cleveland hubs both cut axed, which explains why the routs were cut.

Concord flights: Allegiant flies from Concord to Orlando Sanford International Airport (secondary airport in the Orlando area) but the schedule is a rather variable depending upon the time of year. In August, it was four times a week. Flights on MD-80s. The airline has announced plans to start flying St. Petersburg, FL twice a week come November.

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