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Speaking of bags and luggage, Ben Hammersley swears by the Zuca Pro, an overhead-legal rollaboard bag that you can sit on, and that organizes its contents into drawers. It's been years since I've bothered with rollaboards (I hate gate-checking luggage), but this is pretty danged cool, and Ben is one of the few people I know who logs as much mileage as I do.
I imagine those drawers are seriously useful, especially if you pre-packed a bunch of them like travel cartridges ("beach," "business meeting," "in-room coffee stuff") and stacked them as the trip required.
• 41" Telescoping handle
• Aluminum alloy frame is light, super strong and rated to safely support 300 pounds
• The removable, hand washable, insert bag is made from premium water resistant 1680D ballistic nylon and coated with water resistant polyurethane
• 4" lightweight polyurethane wheels absorb shock and make for a seriously silent ride. And, because the wheels are recessed, the luggage meets FAA specifications for carry-on baggage
• A gear platform to carry additional loads
• Feet, made of nylon 6, go easy on scratchable surfaces
• Chrome plated, rust resistant screws
At one point — I think it was about halfway through climbing the twisting warren of dark staircases and pipe organ parts that leads to the top of the 10-story slide — I turned to my husband and asked, incredulous, "Why the hell wasn't this place in American Gods?"
Opened in an abandoned shoe factory and warehouse in downtown St. Louis in 1997, The City Museum is not so much a museum as it is a massive, rambling fantasy playground. From the rooftop to the strange subterranean tunnels built beneath the lobby floor, sculptor Bob Cassilly and a team of 20 artisans have, bit by bit, created something truly wonderful. Imagine what might happen if somebody turned Maker Faire into a full-scale amusement park. That's The City Museum.
There's a 1940s ferris wheel creaking and groaning its way through a glorious, rooftop view of the city. There's a human gerbil trail that winds around the first floor ceiling, providing great spots to check out the intricate tile mosaic fish that swim across the floor. There are columns covered in gears, and columns covered in old printing press plates. There's a giant ball pit; two gutted airplanes suspended in midair; and so many chutes, and slides, and tunnels that, by the time you walk back to your car you will find yourself thoroughly conditioned into reflexively contorting yourself into every dark hole you happen to see. Also, there are bars. Also, there is almost entirely zero supervision.
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Back in May, we linked you to the reporting of Outside's Grayson Schaffer, who was stationed in the base camps of Mount Everest, watching as the mountain's third deadliest spring in recorded history unfolded. Ten climbers died during April and May. But the question is, why?
From a technological standpoint, as Schaffer points out in a follow up piece, Everest ought to be safer these days. Since 1996 — the mountain's deadliest year, documented in John Krakauer's Into Thin Air — weather forecasts have improved (allowing climbers to avoid storms like the one responsible for many of the 1996 deaths), and new helicopters can reach stranded climbers at higher altitudes. But those things, Schaffer argues, are about reducing deaths related to disasters. This year, he writes, the deaths that happened on Everest weren't about freak occurrences of bad luck. It wasn't storms or avalanches that took those people down. It wasn't, in other words, about the random risks of nature.
This matters because it points to a new status quo on Everest: the routinization of high-altitude death. By and large, the people running the show these days on the south side of Everest—the professional guides, climbing Sherpas, and Nepali officials who control permits—do an excellent job of getting climbers to the top and down again. Indeed, a week after this year’s blowup, another hundred people summited on a single bluebird day, without a single death or serious injury.
But that doesn’t mean Everest is being run rationally. There are no prerequisites for how much experience would-be climbers must have and no rules to say who can be an outfitter. Many of the best alpinists in the world still show up in Base Camp every spring. But, increasingly, so do untrained, unfit people who’ve decided to try their hand at climbing and believe that Everest is the most exciting place to start. And while some of the more established outfitters might turn them away, novices are actively courted by cut-rate start-up companies that aren’t about to refuse the cash.
It’s a recipe that doesn’t require a storm to kill people. In this regard, things are much different now than in the past: they’re worse.
Image via Outside and photographer Rob Sobecki
Salvador Bachiller's €95 R2D2 rolling baggage looks great. I know nothing about its materials, handling or build-quality (for all I know, it corners like a 30-year-old supermarket trolley, crumples the first time you fly with it, and scratches if you look at it crosseyed), but it sure is cool-looking.
The Belleville, IL Executive Inn sounds like one of the worst hotels in the world, judging from the TripAdvisor reviews. Incredibly, it's rated 8/10 for the city, which means that there are two worse hotels in town. Here's cpratt:
Oh sweet lord where do I begin :( first the room was filthy, they never cleaned in the two weeks I stayed there. The supposedly free wifi don't work, the tub, toilet and sinks were all clogged and backed up constantly. The water smelled like rotten fish, the ice machine was broke, there was a hooker that lived upstairs and did her job in front of her child! The management never cleaned the hotel, the residents do that! It smells and the pool don't work, and the management is rude. There are drug deals being done constantly, prostitution is ramped and there is black mold growing everywhere. I have the hospital papers to prove the black mold made me ill ! Heck I was in St. Elizabeth's for a week. If you value your health I would recommend you don't stay here. Hell the health department needs to shut the place down until the owners, who live and stay in California by the way, fix the hell hole up!
Some highlights from “Bring some bleach. And a weapon," by an anonymous reviewer:
The room, although massive, appeared to be the room that the hotel "forgot about". It didn't look like anyone had cleaned it in years. Honestly. The window was broken, the carpet was stained to the point that it almost looked like old flannel, the beds were broken and crooked... the bathroom would have been too gross for an uncensored HBO special, I think that the walls in the actual room were made from cardboard - I don't even know if the TV worked because we turned around immediately and asked for another room.
She understood, and gave us a key to a room upstairs. As we walked upstairs and through the hall, we were "greeted" by a man who burst out of his hotel room and looked a lot like a haggard BB King, fresh after a shot of "mace" directly to the eyes. After asking each one of us (there were 4 of us) if we had any cigarettes or anything to smoke, he let us go, but not before watching us take every last step into our 2nd room...
I would recommend visiting this place if you don't have any children to care for and want to shoot a documentary on the inner-workings of a drug ring.
John Streeter, who is a television producer with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, sends this cool video and tells Boing Boing:
NASA.gov link, and here's the video on YouTube.
It is all real, all shot from the International Space Station and all beautiful. It is time-lapse photography that showcases stars, cities at night, lightning storms and the aurora all from the vantage point of the space station. Also, there is a link at the end where you can visit, download and create your own videos if you wish.
The station is a remarkable engineering achievement and this is just a small side benefit of being in orbit. I hope you enjoy.
I don't know what the best words ever written in the English language are, but I'm willing to put "Top of Launch Pad 39A, Address is Approximate" up there on the short list.
Among the images you can now explore online with the click of your mouse are the space shuttle launch pad, Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Firing Room #4. Gaze down from the top of the enormous launch pad, peer up at the towering ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building (taller than the Statue of Liberty) and get up close to one of the space shuttle’s main engines, which is powerful enough to generate 400,000 lbs of thrust. And even though they recently entered retirement, you can still get an up-close, immersive experience with two of the Space Shuttle Orbiters—the Atlantis and Endeavour.
I'm not sure when this went live, but it's seriously phenomenal. And it's part of a larger series of special Street View galleries with geeky appeal. There are sets for Antarctica (see Shackleton's shack!), historic Italy (wander around the Colosseum!), and UNESCO World Heritage Sites (includes Pompeii!). In general, discovering this could be a major time-suck for me, if I'm not careful.
Researchers at MIT used network theory to put together a model of how an infectious disease might spread around the world with the help of American airports. The model shows which features—geography, connectivity, levels of use—most impact the spread of disease and use that to predict which airports would be at the heart of an outbreak.
Some are not a shock. ("Oh, you say JFK and LAX could serve as worldwide hubs for disease?") But the model also reveals some surprising spark points. Like, say, Anchorage. It's also interesting to see the order that the model ranks airports in. Would you believe that Honolulu has more disease-spreading power than Atlanta?
Read the full journal article at PLOS One, an open-access scientific journal.
Read a short summary at the Nature Medicine blog
Reading this Reddit thread on stupid customer stories reminded me of the stupidest thing I've ever done as a customer. I had flown all night and gotten into my hotel near San Francisco International very late. Blearily, I unpacked my toilet case and brushed my teeth, had a pee, flushed and climbed into bed. The toilet's plumbing made a moderate amount of noise as the cistern refilled, but just as it got to the point where the stopcock kicked it, it began to make a horrible, loud, nerve-jangling BRRRRRRRRRRRR noise.
I waited a couple of minutes for it to stop, but it wouldn't stop. I got out bed and looked under the toilet. I jiggled the handle. I flushed. BRRRRRRRRRRRR
I called the front desk. "Hi. There's something really wrong with my toilet. I flushed it and now it's going BRRRRRRRRRRRR. Can you find a maintenance person, please?"
It was about 1AM. There weren't a lot of maintenance people around. Ten minutes went by. BRRRRRRRRRRRR. Fifteen minutes. BRRRRRRRRRRRR.
I called the front desk again. "Hi, I don't mean to be impatient, but I've got a meeting early tomorrow morning and I really need to get some sleep. If you can't get a maintenance staffer in the next couple minutes, I think I'll need another room, OK?"
The maintenance guy came. I told him what had happened. We stood in the bathroom together, blearily, confronting the incredible, loud, nonstop BRRRRRRRRRRRR that seemed to come from all around us as the pipes shivered in the very walls. "I've never heard a toilet make that noise before," the maintenance guy said. "Me neither. I'll just wait in the room."
I went and sat on the bed, half-fuming, half-dozing. Suddenly, the BRRRRRRRRRRRR noise became much quieter: brrrrrrrrrrrr. Then, quieter still: brrrrrrrrrrrr.
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In 2007, my husband and I were privileged enough to take a month off and travel around Europe. Given that we spent most of our time in Western Europe, there really wasn't a whole lot of cultural confusion, with a few notable exceptions*. Chief among them, the squat toilets we stumbled across at a very inconvenient moment in Italy. "Inconvenient moment" here defined as "actually having to use the bathroom."
My friend Frank Bures is a travel writer and he understands the squat toilet problem all too well. Frank is, after all, somebody who has traveled extensively in places where squat is all you got. In a piece from 2006, he shares some hard-earned advice on squat toilets. How I wish I had read this before my venturing into small towns in coastal Italy.
Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth is probably the world’s foremost expert on excretion, a real Buddha of Bowel Movements, and she’s not afraid to get into the details. “My technique when I’m teaching volunteers about to go abroad,” said the author of How to Shit Around the World from her UK office, “is that when you’re learning, you need to take everything off below your waist: socks, shoes, pants, underwear. Then squat over the toilet. Pour water over your bum, and with your left hand, just whittle away with your fingers and try to dislodge any lumpy bits while pouring water. And that’s actually not too unaesthetic, because any mess that goes onto your fingers comes off in the water.”
What to do: Most important: Cultivate the right mindset. Relax, pretend like you’ve been doing this for years. Remember, using your hand is (according Wilson-Howarth) actually more hygienic, not less, than using toilet paper. “You get good bacteriological cleaning with just rubbing your hands together with soap under running water four times,” she says, and cites a study which says you don’t even need soap. “It can be ash or mud, just rubbing your hands together under water with some kind of washing agent. Even dirt from the river bank will give you good bacteriological cleaning.”
*Another notable exception: Andouillette sausage is not the same thing as andouille. You've been warned.
The annual FlyerTalk survey of frequent business travellers' greatest hotel annoyances found that the top three peeves are all related to network access: expensive Internet, inaccessible/inadequate electrical outlets and slow Internet topped the list in positions one, two and three. As one traveller put it, "If I can get free wifi at Starbucks where I’m buying a $4 cup of coffee, why can’t I get free wifi at a hotel where I’m paying $250 a night?" Preach, sister!
The Atlantic's Max Fisher does a survey of foreign tour guides to the USA and finds in them a frank view into how America is viewed outside the USA. Travellers are advised that the real price for restaurant food is 20% higher than advertised ("You have to calculate 20%, write it under the subtotal, and sum to arrive at the real price. Taxis work the same way."), to avoid small towns if they are gay, to be punctual, and to let Americans lead when it comes to hugging and cheek-kissing.
You might say that global food cultures tend to fall into one of two categories: utensil cultures and finger cultures. The U.S., somewhat unusually, has both: the appropriate delivery method can vary between cuisines, and even between dishes, and it's far from obvious which is which. Baked chicken is a fork food, but fried chicken a finger food, depending on how it's fried. If you get fried pieces of potato, it's a finger food, unless the potato retains some circular shape, in which case use your fork. And so on. Confused yet?
The books emphasize that the U.S. is safe, with one big exception they all note: "inner cities," which are described with a terror that can feel a little outdated. "When driving, under no circumstances you should stop in any unlit or seemingly deserted urban area," Rough Guide warns, going on to describe dangerous scams - a strange man waving you down for "auto trouble," another car hitting yours out of nowhere so that you'll get out - in a way that makes them sound commonplace.