Info ~ travel musings for the masses

Posts from the Technology Category

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.

On Monday I flew Lufthansa between Budapest and Munich on one of their Airbus 320 aircraft (registration D-AIPP). When I sat down I started looking through their magazine and noticed an extra insert in the seatback pocket. On the insert was a description of the new in-flight entertainment system that is being tested and how to use it on this particular flight. I read through and downloaded the required application for my iPhone, called “my mediaworld”, to test it out. I registered the application (required before using the system) and was all set.

The system works off of a wireless signal that starts transmitting as the aircraft passes through 10,000 feet. You select the network and launch the app. You are presented with a number of options including WatchEnjoy (television, movies, etc.), ListenRelax (music, spoken work), eJournals (newspapers, magazines), and FlyLufthansa (flight information).


I played with each of the options just to see what was provided. The only one that did not really work for me was the magazines and periodicals section. I could never get it to actually load. I ended up selecting a movie to watch and it immediately started playing. The video quality was great and there was no lagging video artifacts that one usually sees with streaming video.

When I watched a few of the TV shows, they were only in German and there was no option to for subtitles. Not having subtitles was a little disappointing, but they are a German airline so having such content isn’t all that surprising.

Shorts Content Image

The video quality was just as good as what you would have if you downloaded the content yourself.

Video Quality Screenshot

There is also an inflight moving map that shows your current position and a few flight statistics. The application launches the web browser, in my case Safari, and presents the flight data and map there. Great information if you’re an aviation nerd like me.

Moving Map Launch Screenshot

Moving Map Screenshot

One of the neatest features is that when an announcement is being made over the aircraft’s intercom, the system pauses the content you are in. I was still a little sick and could not hear well enough to tell if the sound from the intercom was being piped through my headphones as well.

Public Announcement in Progress Screenshot

Overall it’s a very cool system and if this is the direction that United is headed with their inflight entertainment, passengers will be very happy. The only concern I had with the Lufthansa system was the lack of power ports in their short haul product. If you are doing some of their longer flights on a short haul aircraft, there are no power ports. Heck, even on Lufthansa’s new A380, there are no power ports in coach, meaning you’ll only be able to watch content until you run out of juice.

This really is the future of inflight entertainment and it’s good news for passengers. No more giant content boxes under the seat in front of you, no more watching movies on a tiny screen three rows in front of you, and no more watching the same content over and over on a loop.

Next time you are on a Lufthansa flight, be sure and check the inflight magazine, you may just have a wireless content delivery system installed on the aircraft (currently, this particular A320 is the only one with the system)! Also, I have included a few more screenshots of the product below. Lufthansa also has a full description of the “my mediaworld” system and available content on their website.

eJournals Screenshot

TV Series Screenshot


Movies Screenshot

Moving Map Screenshot

Music Screenshot