Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency for his own travel records, including the notoriously comprehensive "Passenger Name Record" -- what he got was '72 pages of shit,' a redacted jumble of arbitrarily collected and retained nonsense. He didn't get his PNR. If you want to give it a try, he's signposted the procedure.
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Bren, a self-confessed "noodle fanatic," has written a guide to the delights of Singapore's Changi airport, which he calls "Disneyland for backpackers." It is certainly a nice airport, the best airport ever built on the site of a notorious death-camp, but Bren misses its best feature: the outdoor rooftop pool. I always try make Singapore my stopover when I fly to Australia, and do an hour's worth of nighttime lengths in the pool before re-boarding. I like his play on William Gibson's classic moniker for S'pore, too: Disneyland With the Death Penalty."
Changi really does rock: butterfly gardens, cheap amazing food, great electronics, cheap massage, free Playstations, and free movie-theaters!
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Which online service offers the best deals for hotel rooms: Expedia, Hotels.com, TravelPony Booking, Hotwire, or Priceline? Nomadic Matt has the answer
Orikaso is a line of super-cheap, incredibly durable, brilliantly conceived flat-pack plates, cups and bowls, created by Jay Cousins (here's his blog). They're made out of super-durable, long-lived, environmentally sound polypropylene. Folding them takes bare seconds, and once folded, they stay folded and are perfectly water-tight. They unfold in seconds, and are (theoretically -- I haven't tested this) top-shelf dishwasher safe. My favorite piece is the cup, which has lots of grace-notes, like metric volume measurements on both side and imperial on the other, and a handle that's so clever I actually giggled the first time I used it. The whole thing is basically a magic-trick.
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When remote areas of Vietnam are flooded out, entrepreneurial swimmers set up informal ferries in which passengers climb into sturdy plastic bags and are then swum across the river against the current. The Vietnamese explanation accompanying the video is beyond Google Translate, but I'd love it if anyone out there could help flesh this out, because it's pretty amazing.
Marko Rakar writes, "Croatian journalist and editor Oleg Mastruko visited more than 47 countries in the past 10 years and made a number of postapocalyptic pictures in deserted places. Pictures include abandoned airforce bases, Cairo's City of the Dead, old military factories, a Nevada ghost town, were markedly void of people, 'a vision of failed civilization,' as Mastruko describes it. Oleg is currently running a campaign at Indiegogo in order to fund a picture book called 'Without people.'
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In Now, the latest XKCD cartoon, Randall Munroe provides a handy, continuously updated way to visualize the current time all over the world. I happen to know that Munroe is an inveterate long-distance driver who likes to pass the hours on the road by calling friends; I imagine that a wheel like this would be handy for helping him figure out which continent he should be searching for in his address-book in order to find conversational partners at any hour of day.
As journalists descend on Sochi for the most corrupt Olympics in history, they're discovering the region's Potemkin hospitality industry. The hotels that were meant to billet them while they reported on the games are half-built, unbuilt, falling to bits: but at least they've had their portraits of Vladimir Putin installed. Slave labor just isn't what it used to be.
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The Brunton Torpedo charger is a light-saberoid* cigarette-lighter USB charger with an integrated battery. Use it to charge up to two devices in your car, then take it with when you go and it supplies 2800mHa of power (enough for two phone recharges) on its own. Sounds like a great travel-bag item, perfect for rental cars: charge your phone while you navigate with it in a strange town, then pocket the charger and use it to recharge halfway through the day.
Brunton Torpedo 2800 2x Charger
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Redditor Mthomaseddy snapped this photo of the elegantly packaged "gas mask" (apparently an air-filter mask, not something to be used in gas-attacks) that was waiting in his room at the Shanghai Fairmont when he checked in. China's pretty damned smoggy these days.
Shanghai hotels know how to pamper you
(via Super Punch)
The Lay-N-Go Traveler is a water-repellent polyester drawstring bag that opens out to lay flat, making it ideal for carrying small, fiddly travel-stuff that you're forever losing in the dark corners of your pouches and sacks. It's got a pocket for tucking in the drawstring, and it locks in place with a fastener when it's closed. 20" in diameter, $30.
At a talk at the 30C3 in Hamburg, Ryan Lackey proposed an ingenious solution to detecting tampering with your computer, phone or tablet: paint the seams and screw-tops with glitter nail-polish and snap a photo of the random pattern formed by the glitter after it dries.
Security-conscious travelers have long used tamper-evident seals over their devices' screws and seams, but as Lackey points out, those seals are easy for spies, customs officials and other snoops to reproduce, especially if they can work in private (as happens when your laptop is taken away for a border inspection). But reproducing the random pattern of glitter polish is substantially more expensive that replicating a security seal -- it also takes longer, and there are no set procedures for doing so.
Lackey also recommends using stickers as an alternative seal; it's unlikely that a spy agency or a customs official has access to your favorite vintage Wacky Package sticker.
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Smoke, vomit, boredom, segregation and death: and you paid about five times as much for the privilege
. [Fast Company]
Inspired by her nephew's stories of bad food at the mess hall when he was on deployment in Afghanistan, retired photographer Jody Anderson created a recipe-book of meals that could be prepared using a coffee-maker (soldiers were allowed to have coffee-makers in their rooms), and posted some online. Coffee-makers are quick to clean, and the different stages of the coffee-maker give you different, simultaneous, cooking options (grilling, poaching and steaming). All useful stuff for frequent travellers: beats the old "cooking salmon in three thicknesses of foil using the ironing-board and iron" technique.
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Danny Choo visited the Ikaho Hot Springs in Japan and took lots of photos (as he always does whenever he posts something to his entertaining website). As I scrolled through the photos, I was worried that Danny forgot to bring his dolls with him, but I was relieved to see that he didn't.
Founded in the 7th century, Ikaho Onsen [伊香保温泉] (Ikaho Hot Springs) is one of Japan's most popular hot spring resort areas located in the Gunma Prefecture [群馬県].
The hot springs are concentrated around Ishidan [石段] - a 365 flight of stone steps which are also lined with traditional inns and shops.
Wifey and I managed to spend a day at Ikaho filming for a wee bit - today we take a look at the hot spring area and the traditional inn that we stayed at.
Places to visit in Japan: Ikaho Onsen
YouTube has been an existence-proof of forms of video that were lurking in potentia, unable to come into existence due to limitations of the distribution channel. The two-to-three-minute video has now been firmly established as a genre (with the six-second video hot on its heels), but there's plenty of room at the long end of the scale. Case in point: subculture of YouTubers who post full-length train journeys, hours and hours' worth -- and if that's not long-form enough, how about 134-hour sea crossings?
Given the modern vogue/panic about short-reads being mere "linkblogging" and the practice of spinning out a few hundred words into a "serious, long-form journalism" wheeze that is split across eight or more screens, this may just be the video form for our age (and please let it be a short one!).
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Pilots are allowed to use iPads during takeoff and landing, but passengers aren't. That might change after an FAA advisory committee recommended yesterday that "passengers should be permitted to use smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and other personal electronic devices during taxi, takeoff and landing," says MacRumors.
Under today’s recommendation, passengers would be able to use most devices, though some, like Apple’s iPhone, would need to be switched to airplane mode. Downloading data, browsing the web, and talking on the phone would remain prohibited, though reading e-books, listening to music, watching movies, and playing games would be permitted during all phases of flight.
Next week, the advisory committee will deliver the recommendation to the FAA (does it take a week to deliver an electronic document?) and the FAA will then take its sweet time deciding which parts of the recommendation, if any, will be allowed.
FAA Advisory Committee Recommends Relaxation of Electronic Device Restrictions on Commercial Aircraft
I go somewhere on a plane at least twice a month. For over ten years I’ve used a Briggs & Riley roller carry-on, and I’ve been fairly happy with it. It’s heavy for its small size and the zipper pulls all broke off (I made replacements from binder clips and Sugru) so I’ve been keeping my eye out for a replacement. After hearing great things about the accessibility and capacity of the Skooba Weekender duffle, I decided to give it a try. It turned out the be the most convenient carry-on I’ve ever used.
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More evidence that American travel is headed for a two-tier security theater
that is reasonable and light for rich people and business travellers, and increasingly awful and invasive for everyone else: as Pre-Check expands
, people who fly often enough to make it worth spending $85 will be able to keep shoes, jackets and belts on and avoid pornoscanners (including the new more radioactive versions
). Us dirty foreigners, as well as people who save carefully for one trip every couple of years to see their families, will get the ever-expanding Grand Guignol treatment, especially since everyone with any clout or pull will be over there in Pre-Check land, getting smiles and high-fives from the TSA.
Matthew Kepnes, who runs a budget travel website called Nomadic Matt
, wrote an article explaining why airline tickets cost so much these days, what leads to their price increases, and what consumers can do to find cheaper flights.
With fewer planes, less competition, and higher capacity, airlines can charge a lot more for tickets. There’s nothing to stop them and they don’t need to lower prices. United CEO Jeff Smisek said that only now are airfares priced appropriately. When you have a CEO say something like that, it means prices are not going to go down anymore, but only up.
According to Rick Seaney of farecompare.com, “Before 2008, things were in the favor of the passengers. After the 2009 crisis, the scale of justice tipped towards the airlines.”
Why Your Airplane Ticket is So Expensive
Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport under an anti-terrorism law that allows the cops to hold terrorism suspects and question them for nine hours without a lawyer. He was held for exactly nine hours, and questioned -- but not about terrorism. Instead, they questioned him about Greenwald's interviews with NSA leaker Edward Snowden. In other words, they misused a terrorism law to attack a journalist through his loved ones in order to get information on sources in a story that embarrassed the government.
What's more, they stole his laptop, his phone, his memory sticks, his game devices -- basically, all his electronics and gadgets. I say "stole" because there's no indication that they'll ever be returned. And of course, all the data on those devices is forfeit to the UK spookocracy, without any charge, suspicion, or colourable claim of involvement with any crime.
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UPDATE: Rebelfone contacted me and said they are waiting to find out from the overseas SIM card companies whether or not I used the SIM cards. If they determine that I did not use them, they will presumably refund my money. I will keep you updated.
UPDATE 8/26/2013: Chris from Rebelfone's support team emailed me the following message:
"As per your telephonic conversation, I am gratified to confirm that the management has approved refund for the 3 Mifi units which malfunctioned. I request you to remove the blog. The credit will be applied upon our agreement that no further dispute or disparagement shall be made against Rebelfone regarding this matter.
I replied: "Thank you for offering the refund. I will make a note on the blog post that the refund was issued. However, I will not remove the blog post."
UPDATE 10/8/2013: As of 10/8/2013 I have not received a refund.
UPDATE 10/9/2013: Chris from Rebelfone's support team emailed me the following message:
Thank you for your patience. We have credited $119.06 to your credit card, against three malfunctioned devices.
I went to Tokyo in June. Before I left, I made plans to get wireless Internet so I could make Skype calls, use an online map, take Instagram photos, and do email while I was away from the hotel. My iPhone is under contract with AT&T, and they have an international cellular data plan that costs $120 for 800MB. I considered it, but I wanted to see if I could find a better deal.
After some searching, I found a highly-praised company called b-mobile, which offers a "Visitor SIM" -- it's a pre-activated 1GB card advertised as being "perfect for Skype." B-mobile offered Narita airport pickup or delivery to a hotel. The price was ¥3,980 (US$40). Earlier, I'd purchased an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Pocket Android phone for $100, which I planned on using with the SIM card in Japan. (My iPhone is under contact and locked from using 3rd party SIMs.)
When I arrived at my hotel in Shinjuku, my b-mobile SIM card was waiting for me in a little envelope with clear English instructions. I popped it into the Android phone, followed the instructions, and within a minute or two I was online. I set the phone up as a Wi-Fi hotspot and my iPhone had no problem connecting to it. For the rest of my stay in Tokyo, I had access to high-speed Internet everywhere I went. It was great.
Now for my second experience, the awful one.
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My family went to London and Paris last week. One of the highlights was a self-guided tour through the Catacombs of Paris.
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The major check against the unreasonable, horrible practices on the part of the TSA is that people who fly are wealthier, on average than people who don't -- and people who fly a lot are wealthier still. That meant that the worst stuff the TSA did was felt disproportionately by people who had a lot of political juice -- people who get listened to. Increasingly, though, rich people can opt out of the worst of TSA treatment by buying voluntary background checks and bypassing the rigmarole of the plebs. Now, the TSA is expanding its Pre-Check program
, ensuring that pretty much everyone with any political clout will be spared the worst of it, letting the TSA's treatment for aviation's 99 percent spiral steadily downward, moving from mere Security Theater to Security Grand Guignol.
Reuters has a travel guide to how to spend a weekend in Minneapolis and St. Paul
. It's supposed to be an enjoyable weekend, I think, but that's not entirely clear. Beginning with a stop in the airport restrooms (no mention of Larry Craig) the travel guide recommends eating at generic chain restaurants, spending a Saturday in the Mall of America, and taking in a baseball "match" (which, readers are warned, can last as long as 3.5 hours, not counting the possibility of overtime). The guide is correct, though, on one thing. A view of the setting sun and skyscrapers from Target Field would
be impressive — especially considering the fact that the skyscrapers are decidedly to the South and East of the stadium, and not much of the seating faces West, anyway.
The next time you're patted down and pornoscanned, remember that there was a time in American history that skyjacking was so common it was almost comical. Between 1968 and 1973, there was a hijacking per week. Teenagers hopped on board with fake dynamite and asked to go to Canada. Disillusioned working stiffs jumped out of airplanes at altitude after gathering thousands in ransom money. Hijacking insurance could be had for $75 and ensured that fliers could sit back, drink free booze, and enjoy the windfall of having a wild-eyed miscreant yell “Take this plane to Havana.”
After all, the insured got $500 per day of captivity – enough for a nice vacation.
To be clear, this was mostly the airlines' fault. They didn't want to reduce the efficiency of their operations. In that era there was no airport security and you could, without issue, alight from your Ford Fairlane and waltz right to the gate in any airport around the world. You could rush onto a flight an buy a ticket from the attendants on board, all the while fiddling with your revolver, baseball bat, or bottle of Jack Daniels. You could even traipse around the baggage handling area with little interference. In short, flying used to be crazytown.
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Garielle Bluestone on the flight from hell
: "Traveling means inevitably forgetting something at home, but America's most hated airline, United, took it to another level this week."
If you're booking a multi-city trip by air, you should really price it out as a series of one-way flights, rather than as a single ticket. As Mike Masnick discovered, the arcane airline ticketing rules require ticketing agencies to stick random, high-priced business-class tickets into multi-hop itineraries, which can double the cost of your trip. The ticketing websites -- Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, and Orbitz -- all either failed to show this information, produced suboptimal itineraries with unnecessary overnight layovers, or obscured the best flights in some other important way. Masnick got a spokesperson for Hipmunk to explain it all:
After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.
That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing." That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.
In the end, it really feels like a scammy way of making fliers pay a lot more than they need to, without them realizing it. What I do know, however, is that if you're looking for the best deals, do not assume that a multi-city search will turn up the cheapest prices -- and also recognize that the different search engines can give out extremely different answers. For example, if price was the only concern, and short flight times/non-stop flights were less important, then obviously that British Airways option at the end is by far the best price -- but it turns up on none of the other search engines. However, I'd imagine that most casual fliers have no idea, and I wonder if many people end up booking multi-city flight options, not realizing that they could save a ton by booking the exact same flights individually.
Flight Search Engines And The Multi-City Ripoff
Kent sez, "Here's a travel hack that came to me all at once in a flash at SxSW this year: how to make cold-brewed coffee out of the horrible filter pack and inadequate equipment you often find in hotels in the USA."
Carefully unwrap (don't tear!) one or two of those premeasured filter-packs that came with your coffee service and stuff it gently into the cup. Ideally you want four parts water to one part coffee, but this is tough to estimate with filter packs.
Fill the remaining space in the cup all the way up with water. Tap water works; filtered or bottled is better. Try not to leave any air bubbles.
Don't worry if it seems it will result in a tiny amount of coffee; it will be concentrated, intensely flavored, and—assuming you're not stuck with decaf—highly caffeinated.
Kent's method is clever and upside-down-y, but I still like my method
, which involves using your own coffee and a disposable plastic breast-milk bag.
Cold-Brewed Coffee In Your Hotel Room
Field Trip is a free iPhone app was developed in conjunction with our friends at Altas Obscura. I'm using it on an upcoming road trip from LA to Phoenix.
Field Trip, your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you is now on the iPhone! Field Trip runs in the background on your phone. When you get close to something interesting, it will notify you and if you have a headset or bluetooth connected, it can even read the info to you.
Field Trip can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you walk next to those places.
Field Trip for iOS (Via iDownLoadBlog)