A Recent Visitor’s Thoughts on the Brussels Lockdown

I’m looking at a photo of soldiers on patrol during the Brussels lockdown, and I keep thinking "This is not the Brussels I saw."

In mid-October, I spent five days staying in the now-infamous Sint-Jans-Molenbeek neighborhood with my wife and 10-month-old daughter. It was part of a trip that, over two weeks, took us to Germany to visit family, to the UK to visit friends and to Belgium just because. We stayed at Hôtel BELVUE, which was our favorite hotel on this trip by a long shot. We took day trips to Ghent and Bruges.

Brussels lockdown
This is the Brussels I know.

It’s really shocking to compare the Brussels lockdown images in the news to what we found in Belgium. Most of our wandering took us south of the canal that separated Sint-Jans-Molenbeek from the city center. If I had to sum Brussels up to another traveler, I’d say things like "Stylish but easy-going. Great food, coffee and beer. Good public transit, very cool architecture, lots to do."

Brussels lockdown
This is Molenbeek, the neighborhood you’re hearing so much about during the Brussels lockdown.

I always try hard not to fall into the trap of over-estimating a city’s good side when I travel. When you’re traveling, the view is always rosier than living and working somewhere. But still, Brussels seemed to have this vibe of a healthy attitude toward balancing work and life. The streets and restaurants all seemed busy and upbeat. It was just an unbelievably pleasant place even if you’re not a fan of the secondhand smoke (which I’m not). The population was diverse, and people of all backgrounds seemed to intermingle. Only one small spray of graffiti that I couldn’t even translate but clearly mentioned Islam seemed to be the only sign of tension.

Brussels lockdown
The only sign of tension I saw, and I can’t even translate it.

Thinking of Brussels braced for a "serious and imminent attack" is sobering and sad. Recognizing places in the news photos makes this situation hit closer to home. Maybe it shouldn’t – we should, I suppose, feel the same regardless of whether we’ve been there before. But I can easily imagine some of the same people who smiled at my daughter or sat next to us at a cafe now wondering what the hell is happening in their city. And that definitely makes this personal.

I don’t have any answers about what Belgium should do. I don’t want to offer any platitudes to Brussels and the people who live and work there. I just want to offer a different view of what you’re seeing in Brussels right now for those who have never been there. And I want Belgium to do its best to keep people safe without trampling on the rights of decent people who have nothing to do with the current threat, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

Read about my recent encounter with the TSA to see what happens when “security” runs amok.

PressReader by NewspaperDirect: A Quick Overview

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Can a smartphone and the right app keep you connected to your favorite news sources – all in one place? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m still burned out on newspapers – even though it’s been about 10 years since I last worked full-time at a daily. My time working for a public relations firm didn’t help.

This is why I viewed PressReader by NewspaperDirect with a certain “here we go again.” I love the notion of newspapers – but online curating and aggregation has left print sprawled and unconscious in the ring. Newspapers have nobody to blame but themselves … or more accurately, gray-haired, jowled shareholders/publishers/executive editors who harrumphed about the passing fad of the Internet (much as people like them did about rock ‘n’ roll, electric lights, the telephone and so on ad nauseum).

PressReader contacted me to offer a few thoughts on its app. I admit my use has been a bit limited, but I can still offer you my impressions.

The Process
I started by entering my credentials via laptop on the Newsreader site. Then I downloaded the app on my Samsung Galaxy S Blaze S. From there, I could select my newspapers. You can search by country, language, favorite status or recently viewed. Scroll through the list, click a paper, select your date, wait and – BOOM! – there’s the edition you wanted.

The Wall Street Journal – a paper I’d like to see in PressReader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading
Not bad at all. No, make that “pretty darned good”. Scroll through using your touch screen. It’s all the same pinch-and-swipe action touch-screen users have come to know. Click a headline, and it opens to just that story. It’s intuitive, even for a reluctant smart phone guy like me. One of these days I’ll be an early adopter for some bit of technology. But this wasn’t one of them!

The Clunky Bits
There are quirks, of course. After I select a source and try returning to the full list, I seem to get a truncated list. I have to hit the “Sources” tab. And be careful about using your phone’s “back” function from any menu: Odds are good that you’ll kick yourself right out of the app.

And the by-country selection needs a better organization system than just alphabetical, which is just too long. I’d suggest a “by circulation” sub-menu before the alphabetical list (Sorry, Boyerton Area Times, but I don’t want to sift through the lightweights to find the The Denver Post.)

There are some notable absences from the list, too. Among the most prominent are The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. I hope they hop aboard.

Keeping Informed Abroad?
I didn’t get to test PressReader while traveling. The PressReader team positioned it to me as a benefit to travelers.

But here’s the thing: No app can really help travelers stay informed abroad. It’s not their fault – it’s just that there is so much rigamarole that comes with staying connected when you travel. You need to unlock your phone, get a code from your service provider and get a new SIM card that serves the region you’ll visit. And yes, this applies to so-called “World Phones.” Until the service providers get their act together, an app – no matter how high performing – will never keep travelers connected through a smart phone. If I’m wrong about this and there’s a cost-effective solution, please-oh-please clue me in!

What PressReader does well is collect a bunch of newspapers that you can read on the go via smartphone or tablet. You’ll get a solid sense of the design asthetic, layout and other X factors that are part of the hard-copy newspaper-reading experience.

Prices range from a per-download price to a monthly subscription of $29.95. I think PressReader should look beyond news junkies and travelers – I predict a very receptive audience in media professionals … people who make a living knowing about newspapers, how they cover the news and what they’re printing.

And I hope the decision makers at print newspapers take a look at how PressReader melds technology with the old-school reading experience. They’ll kick themselves and wish they’d come up with the idea first.

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British Airways Adds Extra Flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor

Sky Harbor needs more than a daily flight from London to make Arizona a major air travel player.

British Airways will increase the number of flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to London Heathrow Airport from six a week to daily.

Phoenix city officials are aflutter about the extra flight, which starts Dec. 5.

“Intercontinental flights are huge contributors to the success of our Phoenix airport system, our city’s economy and our region’s overall economic future,” says Mayor Greg Stanton in a press release. The same release claims that British Airways flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor put $100 million into the local economy.

Even if we take that figure at face value (and I’m skeptical), let’s curb our enthusiasm: The mayor’s overstatement of economic impact belies typical Phoenix thinking – measuring success against its own past rather than against cities of similar size.

If I were the mayor, this would be my quote.

“This is a minuscule step in the right direction. The Valley of the Sun is far too populous an area to be served by only one airline that connects us to but one intercontinental destination. It’s an embarrassment that residents need to stop in other cities to reach international centers for business and leisure travel. Phoenix Sky Harbor must connect to the world – for commerce and for tourism – if we are to grow beyond being the nation’s largest small town.”

The press release includes a quote from David Cavazos, city manager: “My goal is to continue to gain additional international routes, while ensuring that this British Airways flight remains successful.”

I hope that’s in his annual review with measurable expectations of success. In my time here, Phoenix Sky Harbor has done a pitiful job of being “international” in anything more than name (remember the Lufthansa service to Frankfurt? R.I.P.). Of course, Cavazos says “international,” which could mean more routes in North and Central America. Big deal.

This extra British Airways flight is nice. But those charged with pursuing new routes and airlines should be cautious about patting themselves on the back before Phoenix Sky Harbor connects non-stop – at a minimum! – to Asia, Oceania and continental Europe.

Why Phoenix Councilman’s Stance on City Parks is Bogus

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has come out adamantly against a $2 a day parking fee for about 700 of 5,000 parking spaces at city trailhead parking lots. Here’s what he has to say in the latest newsletter he sent out (including to people like me who never signed up for it).

Let’s parse the massaged public relations quacking and uncover the truth, which will prove that DiCiccio’s stance is nothing more than a bush-league politician’s PR ploy:

1. The voice and presence of people who showed up, who contacted the council members, who passed out fliers and who talked with their friends and neighbors – that at least temporarily stopped the city from adding the $2 parking fee.

Right. So far, every single one of the opposition’s attempts to unite have been an abject failure. The NoFee2HikeAZ.com "protest hike" in August fizzled – according to its own Facebook photos, all of five people showed up. Its Twitter feed is followed by an avalanche of 12 people. And The Arizona Republic is reporting that "residents who spoke at the last parks board meeting Aug. 26 were 3-1 in favor of the fee."

2. First the Parks Board was convinced that if it didn’t produce revenue to kick into the general fund that pays normal city operating costs, cuts even harsher than the deep ones imposed in the current budget could be forthcoming. It considered a parking fee as high as $5 a day on hikers

Even at $5, the day fee is still less than the $6 day-use fees at Maricopa County Regional Parks. And I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t consider that a bargain for excellent trail systems. Phoenix and its parks lag behind – they’re good, but they simply don’t equal the county’s offerings. A day-use fee for Phoenix might lessen the gap. Quality costs.

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