Two data SIM card experiences: Rebelfone (awful) and b-mobile (good)

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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What 7 million skulls look like - the Paris Catacombs

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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TSA screening about to get a lot worse

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. Cory 23

The worst 48 hours in Minneapolis/St. Paul

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 Skies Belong To Us: Love And Terror In The Golden Age Of Hijacking

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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International United Airlines flight lacked toilet paper

Gawker's 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."

Book multi-city itineraries as one-ways and save

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

HOWTO hotel-room upside-down cold-brew coffee


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

Google's Field Trip - an iPhone guide to the "cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you"


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)

Abandoned Russian cruise ship drifts toward Europe

Dina Spector reports on the Lyubivy Orlova, a Russian cruise ship adrift in the North Atlantic. It snapped free of towing cables while en-route from Canada to new owners in the Caribbean, and for various reasons no-one is taking responsibility. It, and its suspected payload of rats, is now just 1300 miles off the Irish coast. [BI]

Penguin stranded 1000 miles from home

A royal penguin, somewhat worse for the wear, was found stranded on a New Zealand beach after going on a 1000-mile holiday by mistake. [AP]

Awesome Chinese inventions for the long New Year's train ride home

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.

Rubber chickens, ostrich heads ease China's rough ride home (3:39) (Thanks, Meg!)

Travel guide to Detroit written by seventh-gen locals: "Belle Isle to 8 Mile"

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."

Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider's Guide to Detroit (Thanks, Rick!)

Snake actually on a plane

Reuters: "The three meter-long (9.1 foot) non-poisonous Amethystine python appeared about an hour into the Qantas flight between Cairns in northern Queensland and the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby on Thursday."

Over the river and through the woods

We still don't know exactly what causes motion sickness. NASA has some working theories, though.