Category Archives: Travel

Flying Tips

Normally I just ignore and delete messages from the various companies who have my email address, including American Airlines. I get quite a bit of email from them because I’m a frequent flyer and I’m too lazy to bother opting out of their email campaigns so 99% of the time I just hit “delete” for anything I get from them that’s not related to a trip I’m taking. Then this morning I received an email asking me to share a travel tip and in exchange 250 miles would be donated to one of six charities – I would get to pick which – and I’d be entered into a contest with a chance to win something which I can’t even remember. I was eating lunch at my desk so I decided, “Ah, what the hell” and clicked on the link and I’m glad I did because there are a ton of travel tips shared by others that are kind of fun and informative to read. Here’s a couple:

easy snack (shared by maryt) – I pack single serve instant oatmeal packets and a plastic spoon. Just ask for a cup of hot water and voila, an easy breakfast

Empty Water Bottle (shared by StacyB) – Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after security. Save money, stay hydrated, be environmentally friendly. Help reduce the significant amount of water bottle waste created by air travel.

Pack a carabiner (shared by Kdro) – I pack a small locking carabiner. Attached to my carry on, it holds a small LED flashlight and it can fix a broken strap; it holds my hat, on my small shoulder purse it keeps track of my sunglass case, my umbrella and sometimes my water bottle. In a pinch, it can even be a belt extender.

maps (shared by Wal) – A few days before you depart download an offline version of Google Maps of the places you are visiting. Helps you around town even if you don’t have roaming data service.

Pre-Load Phone Numbers (shared by Gregg) – Load all of the phone numbers you might need to dial in advance so you don’t wast time searching if something goes wrong.

There were literally thousands of tips shared and I’m betting the airline is mining them for customer experience data as I type this. There was most definitely a lot of overlap, with scores of people recommending that you roll your clothes when you pack, make sure you have a change of clothes in your carry on bag, the empty water bottle thing, etc., but given enough time I think even the most seasoned traveler could find a useful tip in there somewhere.

I’ll end with one of my own tips, based on hard-earned experience. If you’re on a flight that ends up being cancelled at the gate then call the customer service number for the airline immediately to try and re-book your flight. I’ve done it several times while standing in the customer service line at the airport and invariably I get it done on the phone before I get to the head of the line. And if you know you’re going to be stuck in the airport overnight, and especially if it’s weather related and the airline isn’t providing a room, then find the closest airport hotels and make a reservation, either by phone or mobile app, ASAP. If you don’t you might find all the rooms booked and you’ll end up sleeping on the terminal floor.


Until 11 years ago I’d lived my entire adult life in Northern Virginia and had spent my time commuting to work in some of the worst traffic the United States has to offer. When we moved to the Winston-Salem area it felt like I’d gone to traffic heaven because rush hour literally didn’t exist. We kind of have a “rush quarter hour” but even that doesn’t feature the gridlock you find in most metro areas. Still, it’s all relative and I would regularly hear locals complain about the busy highways and I’d just shake my head and mutter to myself, “You have no idea how good you have it.”

That’s why I felt vindicated by this article relaying the news that our area has the second-best traffic experience (behind only Phoenix) according to data from Google’s WAZE traffic app. Here’s an excerpt:

You’re not just getting there, Friend. You are having a world-class automotive experience — at least according to a newly released study that suggests Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point offer some of the best driving scenarios on the planet.

The metropolitan area finished second, just behind Phoenix, Ariz., in overall driving satisfaction in the study by analysts for Google’s WAZE travel app who compared driving experiences in 32 nations and 167 of the globe’s most mobile communities…

The Triad finished first among the various metros for minimal traffic delays.

Motorists in the region average less than a half hour on the road in a commute that averages about 26 miles, the WAZE study found. A pittance compared to some places in the United States where commuters average more than an hour each way,

Interesting that it ends up my commute is almost exactly the average.

Convention Center Fined $600,000 for Jamming Visitors’ Mobile Access Points

This story won’t surprise anyone who’s been involved in trade show or event management:

The Marriott-run Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville was faced with a dilemma. Like all hotels and exhibition centers, it charges exhibitors and conference organizers exorbitant amounts for Internet access on trade-show floors, as well as nightly fees for guests…

Thanks to fast cellular networks and portable WiFi hotspots, though, these halls are losing their extortionate edge. A carryover from the days of a captive audience who had no other choice, the wheeze was always factored in as a cost of participating in trade shows and other events. Now, however, the 4G LTE standard–whose frequency range penetrates buildings far better than most older cellular technologies–offers data rates in the tens of Mbps…

The Gaylord Opryland came up with a clever plan. Some level of hotel management understood that its Wi-Fi intrusion-mitigation system came with a feature that could kick people off networks — and not just their own. So, as the FCC explains in a press release and consent order [PDF] released today, Marriott staff at the facility made it impossible for people in the vicinity to use personal hotspots, portable routers, and the like. This is a big no-no: a violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act. A clever visitor to the convention center — likely someone irritated at being knocked off his portable router over and over again — discovered the deauth behavior and reported it in March 2013 to the FCC…

Marriott (which acquired the property in 2012) is paying a $600,000 fine, and under the terms of the consent decree, must halt its Wi-Fi blocking and implement and report on a compliance plan at all its properties in America.

The lesson here? If you’re staying at a hotel and you keep getting knocked off of your own hotspot you might want to go in search of a geek to help you find out if the hotel is messing with you.

BTW, about ten years ago I sold trade show booths for one of my clients and the one thing I could count on was getting phone calls from exhibitors complaining about the cost to rent carpet, furniture, electrical service and, more than anything, the cost of internet connections. After the trade show was over the number one complaint on follow up surveys with the exhibitors was the crappy speed of the internet connections or the connection going down for hours at a time. Mobile hotspots were just coming online at the time and their signal strength was often terrible in the concrete bunkers that convention centers often resemble, but as the quality got better more and more exhibitors relied on them. That’s why it’s not a surprise a convention center would try this and, in fact, it’s really more surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to get caught.

Charleston’s One of Many

I stumbled across this fascinating profile of some of Charleston, SC’s creative set that’s part of an interesting new online series called One of Many that’s described thus:

What: One of Many is a monthly series of photo essays about twelve American cities and their creative communities.

Who: Designers, woodworkers, chefs, engineers, illustrators, writers and anyone else making something that moves people.

Why: To inspire and be inspired by the independent creative movement that is reshaping our economy and culture. To encourage others to make the leap. To empower those already there, and let them know they’re not alone.

Why Now: The growing creative independent movement, along with renewed interest in life outside the big cities, is rapidly reshaping our economy and culture.

Read much more at and find below the first of twelve One of Many essays.

The True Cost of Flying

Just about anyone who has flown at all over the last few years will tell you that the data on flight delays highlighted in this Freakonomics post is not at all shocking:

The cost of air travel is going up, and airlines are counting on us not to notice.

I’m not talking about airfares, which have actually declined in real terms over the past decade, despite inching up in the past few years. And I don’t mean the ancillary fees to check a bag, check in at the airport, speak to a live agent, or pick your seat, though these, too, are going up. Instead, I’m talking about the cost of delays and schedule disruptions that waste travelers’ time and force them to travel earlier to their destinations or risk missing important meetings and events. ..

Researchers at MIT and George Mason University estimate that delayed and canceled flights imposed on passengers an aggregate delay of 28,500 years in 2007. The cost of these delays, and of risk-averting behavior like traveling early to destinations, was estimated at $15.3 billion, a startling number that accounts for the opportunity cost of time but doesn’t measure the consequences of missing critical appointments like weddings or job interviews.

Indeed, on a business trip to San Diego this past June I ended up missing my connections in both directions and spending the night in Dallas both times. The trip out was a weather issue so the airline just rebooked me for a flight the next morning and I was on my own to find accomodations. The trip back was a mechanical issue and the airline paid for a night at a Dallas hotel. Both times I missed appointments becuase of the delayed flights and missed connections. Sadly, I think this is becoming more and more common. The data would seem to back this feeling up:

Airlines are increasingly consolidating service at the nation’s largest airports, according to areport this summer from MIT. Meanwhile, the number of large hubs has declined from 20 to 10, even as the number of flights channeled into large hubs has grown 75 percent.

This means an ever-larger share of passengers must make connections in an ever-fewer number of airports, including those in the most congested airspace in the country. If weather, security, or accidents halt or slow operations at one of those airports, effects can reverberate throughout the system, as late-arriving aircraft delay flights downstream elsewhere around the country. United passengers should find this particularly alarming as five of the airline’s hubs rank among the six worst airports in the country for on-time departures.


True Football

Unlike American football, which has very little to do with the foot meeting the ball, soccer, a.ka. football as the rest of the world knows it, is a simple game played by children all over the world. Even in the poorest corners of the earth children find a way to play, and this group of photos of homemade footballs in Africa shows you how.


(Photo by Jessica Hilltout)

Historical Marker Database

I use Google Reader to follow the Google alerts I've set up for various topics and a few of those topics are things like "Lewisville + North Carolina", "Foryth County + North Carolina", "Winston-Salem + North Carolina", etc. Over the weekend I noticed a lot of headlines like West Salem Historic District Marker showing up and decided I needed to take a look. That's when I found what promises to be a huge timesuck, the Historical Markers Database, an online database of historical markers from around the country that provides a separate page for each marker that contains the GPS location, inscription, a list of other nearby markers and a map. Way cool.