Info ~ travel musings for the masses

Posts from the Technology Category

Recently, Amazon Prime increased in price from $79/year to $99/year, even for existing members. Of course, there was the usual gnashing of teeth and complaining that usually comes with these types of announcements, but I took it in stride.

Prime has a lot of value for me, most of which centers around the free 2-day shipping and the Amazon Prime Instant Video features. With the recent announcement that a number of HBO shows would be coming to Prime Instant Video, the service increased in value even more for me.

The 2-day shipping feature though is where I really see the value, even at $99/year. When I am on the road and think of something we need around the house or if I forgot something over the weekend, I can open up the Amazon app on my iPhone, order what I need, and when I get home it is waiting for me. Sure, this creates the challenge of having impulse buys but if you have a little self-control, this should pose no problem. It removes the headache of having to fight traffic for something you do not need right away and let’s you focus on other things.

There are a few downsides to using Prime though. For one, you are not always going to get the cheapest price. We were hoping to be able to buy dog food via Amazon Prime but the price is much higher than what we can get the food for in the store. I am sure there are other items out there that are very similar. Secondly, you do have to wait. Next day shipping still costs extra (as it should) so in the cases where you need something really fast, you may be better off picking it up directly from a store. My last qualm is that Amazon Prime Instant Video adds/removes available free content on somewhat of a whim. There are a few shows that I really want to watch (Mind of a Chef) that recently left Prime Instant Video and don’t look like they are going to return anytime soon. It would be nice if Amazon would make users aware of what content would be leaving the free video selection in the near future so that people could watch if they wanted to do so.

Anyway, there is still a lot of value in Amazon Prime for me, even at $20 more a year. Free 2-day shipping is huge, even if you only buy a few items a year, plus the streaming video service has allowed me to get rid of cable and still keep up with the shows that I want to watch, saving me money in the process.

If you are interested in giving Amazon Prime a try, they have 30-day free trials available. This is an affiliate link and I do receive a small reward if you sign up for a trial.

I am a sucker for this kind of, in Jeopardy terms, potpourri. Priceonomics has a short piece on why UPS trucks do not make left turns. The most telling part:

UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents.

UPS even has a page describing the practice of no left turns and they expand on the above idea.

What we found: A significant cause of idling time resulted from drivers making left turns, essentially going against the flow of traffic. From there we explored routes where these turns were cut out entirely, and then compared data.

The use of data to make a decision that goes against logic is what I love. UPS leadership was experimental enough to say “we are going to implement this and see if it works” and then study the results from that test. There are a number of very large companies that I have worked with that would immediately balk at this idea. They almost go through stages of grief (sans depression) with ideas like this.

  1. Denial – the companies claim the data is wrong or that it is flawed
  2. Anger – the workers who are responsible for causing the data become upset that someone found out about their poor work habits
  3. Bargaining – to get out of making a change, people start tossing out different ideas, none of them good
  4. Acceptance – “I guess we’ll just have to do it”

Then there are the companies who do the complete opposite. They implement a terrible idea based on bad data, or their understanding and interpretation of good data, and it blows up in their face. Once that happens, they become very adverse to ever trying a new idea again. We need new ideas backed by data and I think it’s awesome that UPS took their data and made some interesting choices that have paid off.

About six months ago I switched all of my office to airport transfers in New York City from different car services (Carmel, Dial 7, etc.) to Uber, a service that lets passengers use their smartphone to schedule a ride in real time and have a drive at their location in a short amount of time.

At first, I was skeptical. In fact, I was hesitant to even use the service based on the negative press I had read. But, I gave it a try and had a mediocre first experience. The price was a little higher than what I was originally quoted in the app and the driver did not take the roads I had recommended, leading to being stuck in traffic for forty five minutes.

But I gave it another shot and after the second ride, I was hooked. Then Uber announced lower flat rates between Manhattan and Newark and I was really hooked. Sure, I have received less than helpful service from drivers or had cars that were not really that clean, but the majority of my trips have been great. The cars are usually very clean and new and the drivers are very courteous. Last week the driver called me after I requested a ride at Newark and asked if I minded walking upstairs rather than him driving all the way out of the airport to come back around. He was at the departure level and him calling me probably saved 20 minutes of waiting.

For the next 10 days Uber is offering double referral credits. So, for every person who signs up using my link, they receive a $20 ride credit and so do I. So, if you are looking for a new car service to try, give my referral link a click, sign-up for Uber, and take a ride. You may really like it, you may not, but it is worth a try.

As you probably know by now, the FAA now allows use of personal electronic devices from gate to gate. Each airline has to come up with their own policy and implementation plan and a number of have started doing just that. JetBlue, Delta, American, United, and others now allow personal electronic devices during all stages of flight and more airlines are sure to follow.

My personal experience with the new policy has been solely with United. The airline took around a week and a half to implement the policy and I flew with them the first day it was in place. The flight attendants were very upbeat about it and stated that the only two caveats were that heavier devices, computers mostly, needed to be stored for takeoff and landing, and, that all devices needed to be in airplane mode during flight. The ability to use the device for the entire flight felt a little strange. I usually carry a physical book for takeoff and landing, now I just need my iPad mini or Kindle and I’m set. It is one less thing in my bag and that is always welcome. I would also say that it must be a relief for the flight attendants to not have to walk around and police people’s hand movements or worse, make those announcements, you know, “The captain has informed me that a sensor in the cockpit shows 10 devices still being used”. We can also stop policing each other. Passengers no longer have to hide that they are using a device to listen to music, receiving an ugly glare from their seatmate.

If you are flying soon realize that some carriers have not yet implemented gate-to-gate policies, the Express arm of United is one example. Also know that for international flights, most countries and FAA like bodies have not approved electronic device usage below 10,000 feet. Keep all of this in mind if asked to turn off your device. Sure the flight attendant may not have received the memo but they could also be correct when asking you for your cooperation.*

*As I wrote this there was a passenger arguing with a flight attendant about turning off her laptop.

I am thinking of having a summer cleaning fest. Not necessarily one of physical items, though I’m sure I could find plenty of knickknacks to throw out. No, I am talking about a purge and clean up of my digital stuff. There is tons of it. Photos, music, movies, documents, code, and a whole bunch of other stuff sits on my desktop and on my different hard drives. The behavior of letting my digital household go uncleaned has slipped into my browsing habits and my smartphone usage. I keep way too many tabs open in Chrome and the number of apps on my iPhone has become ridiculous.

Starting today, I’m purging all of the extraneous stuff that I don’t need. I will be looking at my different applications on my computers and the different apps on my phone and flat out deleting those things which I do not use on a regular basis. I know there are a few apps that I have not used in months and they need to go. The same applies to bookmarks in my browser and files/folders on my hard drive.

I do not think it is just me that struggles with this. I have written things before about how we are being inundated with information and it is hard to filter out what is important. I have yet to succeed at becoming really good at filtering things like Twitter and Facebook but my move to clean up my devices is an attempt to filter where I go for information. It is the start of really focusing on what’s important and ignoring what isn’t. We’ll see how well I can do, I am known for holding on to things (trinkets, papers, etc.) and deleting things in the digital realm is just as hard for me.

Yesterday I uploaded my first Instagram video. Besides the quirky and funny videos that are out there, I have to wonder what, if any purpose the video functionality actually offers. Instagram has been a place to quickly share art. Some people share the photography off of their high-end cameras but a lot focus on what they capture with their iPhone or Android device. This “share what you see now” mentality is what I enjoy about Instagram. Sure, there are a lot of food and self-portraits, but there is also a huge amount of very well composed and thought out shots as well.

But how does video fit into this realm? When Instagram was announcing video the initial reaction was that the feature would be a Vine killer. However, that type of video does not really seem to fit into the same realm of what I love about Instagram. In fact, I would say my first video does not fit into that style. I did find some examples of Instagram videos that do seem to fit the idea of well composed and thought out art and are moments of “what I see now”. User squarerootof9 has some great videos. They are more moving art than they are videos. I am going to try composing Instagram video this way and see if changes my mind on the feature.

Change is always received negatively at first but I think a little time might make the Instagram video grow on me.

Before I took the trip to Berlin a few weeks ago, one of my readers suggested I try to get a flight on a Junkers Ju-52. To be honest, I did not even know such flights existed. I started poking around the website that I had been sent and found a very large schedule for this year (German).

Junkers Ju-52

The Ju-52 has a storied history, being one of the early commercial aircraft for the new airline Luft Hansa, now known as Lufthansa. Being able to enjoy a ride on such an amazingly well restored piece of history is on my bucket list, if you can call my list of travel wishes a “bucket list”.

My mission to fly on the Ju-52 started in earnest immediately after being informed of the service and realizing that it would not be possible during the Berlin trip. I have now started looking at multiple dates and options for hitching a ride on the trimotor. The best prices to get to Europe are in May, but the Ju-52 schedule that month is not very good. I have started exploring options in June and July but due to the summer demand, the transatlantic prices make it difficult to justify the trip.

I will continue to watch the airline prices and if for some reason the prices drop, tickets will be purchased in a flash. The Ju-52 schedule is unique in that it doesn’t just offer sightseeing flights but also point to point flights as they move the aircraft around Germany. I would love to get in a couple of destinations. While pricey, it would be completely worth it to fly on such a beautiful piece of history.

photo by: bagalute

One of the travel issues that I have been struggling with is internet access while in foreign countries. As some of my travel destinations become more obscure, access to the internet becomes more difficult. Do I absolutely need internet when traveling abroad? It is definitely one of those items that would be nice to have if I encountered problems with flights or travel in general and if for some reason I need to do some work or access a file back home having the access would be welcome.

I have been looking at items like this Unlocked WIFI Mobile Hotspot and I thought it would actually fit the bill until I saw that it wasn’t actually 4G. I have heard from a few friends that it is possible to get a real 4G device unlocked from stores in England. Then it is as simple as getting a data SIM card from a local carrier in the country you are in and presto, you have internet access. Of course these devices are fickle and in some cases it is hard to find a data SIM but for most scenarios, the process should work as advertised.

With all of that said, is internet access really necessary? I am sure that if the circumstances were dire, I could find an internet cafe or pay for an international phone call. Internet is really just a “nice to have” item. During my recent trip to Budapest, the internet in the hotel was as slow as molasses and having an alternate connection would have been very welcome. At the same time, travel is opportunity to disconnect and focus on the trip. By not having that internet connection overseas, it is a motivator to get out and see things rather than try to keep up with what is going on on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

If you have actually found a 4G device that works well overseas, I would love to get your thoughts on it.