Disney World Hotels react to Covid-19 … slowly

As the Covid-19 ravaged other countries, it was very clear that the United States was on the same path as other countries, just delayed.  Yet our federal government was in denial for a long time, and many people (to borrow a phrase from our President) behaved as if there would be no serious impacts from the disease.

There are many ways to monitor this sentiment, but I chose one very close to home: the price of a weekend stay at a Walt Disney World area hotel.  I’m not saying which hotel, other than that these are not Disney owned hotels but they are all nice hotels to stay at if you were going on vacation to Disney World.

My theory is that you can see the gradual dawning of awareness of how serious this is going to be as the prices of rooms drop. I believe that we are destined for a prolonged shutdown of the theme parks in Orlando and that, therefore, demand for hotel rooms will evaporate.  Will this collapse of demand be sudden, like the end of the bull market on February 28th? Or will it be gradual, as more and more people start to realize they need to back out of their travel plans?  I decided to watch and see.

I picked three hotels, two I like to stay at (so there’s some bias here), and one “low end” hotel (that’s still a very nice hotel).  They are all part of a single large family of hotels so presumably share a very well honed revenue management system.  Starting on March 1st, and every day thereafter, I have gone online to find the AAA rate for a weekend stay at the end of the months of March, April, May, June to use these as my sentinels.

The first hotel is high end, luxury hotel.  Think Waldorf, except it’s not a Waldorf:

For the High-end hotel, we can see that on March 5th and 6th there were huge drops in the closer-in rates, while the May and June rates (which are post spring break) remained relatively lower.  On March 12th there was another smaller drop in rates.

The second hotel is what Disney might call a deluxe hotel.  Think Hilton, except it’s not a Hilton.

While the first hotel is “outside” of Disney World, this hotel is inside the perimeter you might call “Disney World”; it is very close to the Disney parks.  You can see that the March rate dropped to a $98 a night, as the weekend I choose is one where Disney World is shuttered.  In fact, a sister hotel to this one closed completely (I was lucky to pick the “survivor” for data continuity purposes).

What’s interesting is the $98/night rate represents, clearly, the approximate incremental cost to the hotel of renting a room: additional staff overhead, wear and tear, and things like electricity, water, housekeeping.  There is almost no reason to stay at a hotel adjacent to a shuttered theme park, so this must pretty much be the costs of them keeping the lights on.

The final hotel is what Disney might consider a “moderate” hotel, except it’s not a Disney hotel.  Think a “inn & suites” hotel.  Like the first hotel (and unlike the second), it is just outside the perimeter of “Disney World”, although only by a bit.

I find it fascinating that it’s been able to keep its rates up more than the higher end hotels; this suggests to me that more price conscious travelers are not cancelling their travel as quickly as more spendy travelers.  All three hotels are co-located with convention facilities, so convention and meeting cancellations should affect each somewhat similarly.

While the March rates for the hotel have taken a bit of a battering, as we can see by the May rates, they still have a ways to go before they hit the rock bottom.  I expect that in the days to come we will see these prices collapse.  Let’s see if I’m right.

More details on the charts:

The dates on the bottom of the charts represent the date I checked the rates;  the lines represent the average nightly rate of a Friday-Sunday stay on the last weekend of the month indicated (note that this misses memorial day weekend in May).  I present the lowest offered AAA rate (which is not a prepay or other highly restricted rate).

 

Epson’s evil firmware upgrade for the XP-430 printer to break 3rd party ink cartridges

I was having some issues with my Epson XP-430’s scanner and thought I’d try upgrading to the latest firmware.

Very. Bad. Idea.

After the upgrade, it identified that I had installed 3rd party ink cartridges — as I have a legal right to do — and refused to print unless I replaced them with genuine, vastly overpriced, rip-off Epson cartridges.

So I decided to downgrade the software to restore the previous behavior. Here’s how I did that. (I’m on a Mac running High Sierra, if that matters).

First, I downloaded an older firmware image with installer. I got it from this page: https://www.latestprinterdrivers.com/epson-xp-430-driver-download/

Next, I plugged into the printer with a USB cable to the back connector.

Then, I turned on the printer in Firmware load mode: I held down the stop (circle with triangle), left arrow, home buttons all at once and, without releasing them, pressed the power button. A very sparse white type on black screen came up.

I then ran the installer, which identified the printer and the firmware that I downloaded. I let it load the firmware into the printer.

At some point the printer screen fills with a completion message, and I pressed OK. The printer restarted.

That’s it.

Before I started this, I had removed all the print cartridges and turned the printer on, so it thought the problem was no cartridges, not non-Epson cartridges, but I’m not sure that’s needed.

Hope that helps someone!

Fixing Chrome Crashes, Glitches, and Lockups in High Sierra

I recently upgraded my iMac to High Sierra, and all of a sudden once or twice a day it would lock up.  The mouse would work, and if I had audio playing it kept working.  But no matter what I clicked or what I typed, the screen was otherwise frozen.  Eventually I’d give up and power the computer off and on.

At other times, the computer would keep working but the rendering would be glitchy, like this:

I found lots of vague, similar sounding complaints on the web, but in the end I determined that the problem was due to a driver problem with my NVIDIA GPU.  Here’s how I fixed it.

First, do you really have an NVIDIA GPU?

Go to the Apple menu, and select About This Mac:

That brings up a window like this:

Do you have an NVIDIA GPU? If not, then I probably can’t help you.  If you do, then you have two things you can do to try to fix this.

Disable Chrome’s use of the GPU

If you enter chrome://flags/#enable-gpu-rasterization into Chrome’s URL field, you’ll see something like this:

Change GPU Rasterization to Disabled.  That seems to fix the problem, at the cost of a bit of lost performance.  But it’s also a good first test — if this fixes it, then you know you’ve found the right cause.

Install NVIDIA’s own Drivers

Instead of using the drivers Apple supplies with High Sierra, you can use NVIDIA’s own drivers.

For High Sierra version 10.13.1, the driver is here (last checked 12/6/17):
https://www.nvidia.com/download/driverResults.aspx/127529/en-us

Note that if you read this after this is written (November 1, 2017 December 6, 2017), there may well be newer and better drivers.

Installing this driver fixed the problem for me, and so I turned Chrome’s GPU rasterization setting back to Default. And then the problem crept back, so I’ve turned the GPU rasterization off again until NVidia reports that the drivers are no longer beta for my machine.

Final Notes

There are a bunch of applications that have their own, embedded version of Chrome — Slack, Atom, etc.  I’m not sure if you change the flags in Chrome whether it affects them or not, but I think it does not.  So if you have one of them open too, you may still get a lockup even if you’ve changed Chrome’s settings.  Updating the driver seems to fix them all.

Fingers crossed.

Upgrading WordPress to PHP 7 and broken permalinks

I recently upgraded this server from PHP 5 and Debian 7 “Wheezy”  to PHP 7 and Debian 9″Stretch”, and everything seemed fine.  Except that all my permalinks stopped working.  I’m running Apache (2) as my web server, and it had been working fine with PHP 5, so at first I assumed it was something with PHP 7.  There were some places where my config files needed to be updated for PHP 7, but that wasn’t the problem.

Turns out that in apache2.conf there was a configuration that read:

<Directory /home/www>
 Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
 AllowOverride None
 Require all granted
</Directory>

That needed to be changed to:

<Directory /home/www>
 Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
 AllowOverride All
 Require all granted
</Directory>

And after restarting apache2, it all worked (bolding just to show the change).