Meg from Reuters Asia sez, "This is our latest video about some crazy gadgets that Chinese travelers are talking about and using for their long journeys during Chinese New Year. Our reporter (bravely) got on a train and tried some of them out and even spoke with one of the inventors. Most Boing Boing readers who haven't been to China might not know how crazy the rail system is and doubly-so during the New Year period. It's a short fun video piece that we are pretty proud of even though it's not breaking news. Here is our official summary: 'Millions of Chinese are heading home for the holidays, and social media is abuzz with wacky inventions that promise to make the grueling journey more comfortable. Jane Lee puts a few to the test.'"
200 million Chinese people make the trip home for the holidays, many spending three days or more on a train, often without a seat -- let alone a sleeper car.
Rick Prelinger sez, "I'm not a Detroiter, but I've been visiting from time to time since the 1980s, and I hope you will too. It's really unfortunate that most of what we see and hear about it amounts to repetition of the same old cliches -- deindustrialization, poverty, ruins, hipsters, cheap houses. But Detroit's much more than that. It's one of America's most fascinating cities, and if you want to see its unique combination of long-term residents, mostly African American, with rock-hard faith in their city, and new Detroiters aspiring to build Utopia, you better get on a plane soon.
"And when you go, bring Belle Isle to 8 Mile. I just got my own copy, written by three siblings who are seventh-generation Detroiters. It's full of hundreds of city landmarks, eating places and arts spaces, but it's more than the ordinary hip insider travel guide. I see it as testimony to places and businesses that have survived years of adversity and disrespect, as well as an incredibly deep guide to the new Detroit, which is an uncommonly exciting city. Excellent, inspiring read."
Last week, I got to visit the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. It's an amazing collection — well worth driving out of your way to see. I was expecting just a selection of different animal skeletons. The actual collection was a lot bigger and more awesome than I'd guessed it would be, and included some really nice exhibits on evolutionary adaptation, convergent evolution, deformed skeletons of both humans and animals, and the process of stripping a body down to a clean and shiny bone structure.
One of the things I found really fascinating was the skeletal features that you can't see just by looking at the outside of an animal. Take this Indian Rhinoceros, for instance. You'll notice that his horn is not a part of the skull. That's because the horn isn't really bone. The "horn" isn't a horn, at all.
Horns are made of bone. They're hard on the outside thanks to a thin layer of keratin — the stuff that makes up your fingernails and hair. But the majority of that material is living bone. Rhinos, on the other hand, have "horns" that are almost 100% keratin. They're really thick bundles of protein fibers.
That's a pretty well-known fact. But it's one thing to know it intellectually, and another thing entirely to see the place where that keratin horn attaches to the animal's actual bone structure. The intricate, lacy network of spongy bone was absolutely fascinating to me. It reminded me of the way ceramic artists will attach one piece of clay to another by scoring little cuts into both pieces and then applying a layer of thin, goopy clay that cements the cuts together as it dries. Seeing the rhino skull really drove home the idea that the "horn" was something else entirely. The horn was attached to the bone. It wasn't part of the bone.
Retro DPRK is a blog that collects images of North Korea from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Getting into North Korea from the United States and Western Europe is not easy today. But up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was even more difficult. If you weren't also from a Communist country, chances were good that you weren't going to get even a glimpse of the place.
But, at the same time, North Korea was also promoting itself through propaganda, and as a tourist destination for citizens of the USSR. Christopher Graper — who leads tours into North Korea today from Canada — has scanned scenes from postcards and tourism brochures — rare peeks into the little-documented history of a secretive country.
The collection blends familiar scenes that wouldn't look terribly different from American advertisements of the same era with an amusingly odd sensibility (who wouldn't want a whole book of postcards documenting every detail of Pyongyang's new gymnasium?) and quietly disconcerting scenes like the one above, where a seaside resort town appears eerily empty — like a theme park before opening time.
Thanks for pointing me toward this, Gidjlet!
In 1993, Stanley Williams survived a close-encounter with a volcano. A volcanologist, he was standing on the rim of Colombia's Galeras volcano when it erupted with little warning. Six of his scientific colleagues and three tourists were killed. Williams fled down the mountain's slope — until flying rocks and boulders broke both his legs. With a fractured skull, he managed to stay conscious enough to huddle behind some other large boulders and dodge flying debris until the eruption ended and his grad students rescued him.
Williams and the other scientists were there to study Galeras, and hopefully get a better idea of what signals predicted the onset of eruptions.
This is something we still don't understand well.
While volcanologists have identified some signals — like distinctive patterns of small earthquakes — that increase the likelihood of an oncoming eruption, those signals aren't foolproof predictions. There are still volcanoes like Galeras that give no warning. And volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens. In 2004, that volcano gave signals that it would erupt. And it did. Sort of. The Seattle Times described it as "two small burps and a lava flow". Basically, the signals don't always precede an eruption, and even when they do happen it doesn't tell you much about how big any ensuing eruption will be.
And that presents an interesting question, writes Erik Klemetti at Wired's Eruptions blog. How close to volcanoes should tourists really be? That's a question with real-world applications. This year, New Zealand's White Island volcano has been ... rather grumbly. Even as tourist boats continued to ferry people over for a view of the crater.
There has always been a fragile relationship between volcanoes and tourism. Volcanic features are some of the most fascinating in the world – just look at the millions of people who visit Yellowstone or Crater Lake National Parks for but two examples of hundreds of volcanic tourist attractions around the world (and that doesn’t even consider all the extinct volcanoes or volcanic deposits that can create amazing landscapes as well). However, with the splendor of volcanic features comes the danger that you, as a tourist, are visiting an active volcano. Sometimes, that danger is low, where either the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years, but the signs of magma beneath are still visible. However, the danger can appear to be low in some places but in reality, you are literally putting your lives in the hands of tour operators when you make the visit.
Read Stanley Williams' account of surviving the Galeras volcano
Photo by Michael Rogers, via GFDL and CC
Marilyn sez, "Chris Elliott gives 5 good reasons to participate in the Opt Out protest against the TSA's full-body scanners over this Thanksgiving weekend and so far, 65 percent of the people reading his column on Huffington Post say they will take part (including me)."
1. They're not adequately tested and could be dangerous. Unfortunately, the scanners you'll be asked to walk through haven't been properly tested. The latest independent evaluations are actually based on data provided by the TSA. The government wants us to trust it, but it won't give us a reason. That's unacceptable.
2. They're easily foiled. It's not difficult to sneak a weapon through a full-body scanner, according to several reports. The career criminals who might want to do us harm have figured out how to get around the scanners already.
3. They're too expensive. At a quarter of a million bucks a pop, the scanners are a huge waste of taxpayer money. To use one, or to allow one to be used on you, is is an endorsement of an iffy technology. It also lines the pockets of undeserving security contractors, say critics...
5 Reasons I'm Opting Out Of The TSA's Scanners (And You Should Too) (Thanks, Marilyn!)
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.
Read the rest
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.
Read the rest
Read the rest
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.
Crappy, expensive Internet and insufficient laptop plugs top business travellers' hotel annoyance list
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.
This playlist from YouTube user hideyasann features more than 100 short clips of trains and train restrooms in Japan. Most of the train videos are of trains pulling into a station, or changing tracks. Most of the toilet videos emphasize the flushing mechanisms—of which there are a surprising variety.
As a rail fan, it's interesting to see what so many different Japanese stations and trains look like. And there's no narration, so it's also interesting to watch these very matter-of-fact clips and think about the visual context they trigger in your head. Men in suits waiting on a platform for a train to change tracks—that's a scene from a serious drama about the inner psychology of a businessman. A shakey clip where the videographer walks towards an arriving train, and a station agent, while breathing heavily—that's totally a scene from a horror movie. I'm honestly not sure what to make of all the toilets.
It's also kind of awesome to just think about the level of obsession that went into this playlist. I'm not really sure what hideyasann is trying to document—Train variety? Train cleanliness? Is he or she just collecting the same footage from as many trains as possible? Whatever the goal, you can clearly see the love and fascination here. There's totally a Happy Mutant at work.