Going to Guam in a few days, if United Airlines doesn’t re-route me to Guatemala by mistake. Time zone changes as drastic as this (plus 15 hours, per my iPhone’s clock) are weird. Should I be sleeping now? Or getting up for the day?
The flight itself is quite a sojourn, I leave at 6:40 or so, and even in the best of times, travel to the airport takes about 30 minutes.
In other words, I’m already cranky and I’m not leaving for a few days.
Am so looking forward to seeing the Queen of Guam though, it’s been too long. For all of the 21st century’s shrinking of the planet, Earth is still a big place.
Per WebMD, I should be attempting to live on Guam time already, that’s probably impossible however.
Hmmm. What’s the privacy implication? But I’d be moderately interested in trying version 3 or 4 of this concept…
Imagine if you could explore Europe’s greatest cities without having to constantly look down at your phone to make sure you’re on course to your next destination. U.K.-based regional airline easyJet is trying to solve that problem, at least in theory, with a new pair of internet-connected sneakers that signal to wearers when to turn left or right by vibrating underneath the respective foot. This way, sightseers’ heads can stay up, taking in the surroundings while they walk, without losing their way. The shoes buzz twice to indicate a wrong turn, thanks to a connection to Google Maps via Bluetooth, and easyJet’s proprietary app. They also adjust to provide a new route if a user veers intentionally off course. Upon arriving at the destination, both sneakers will buzz.
I can’t say I often enjoy staying in hotels, usually because if I’m staying in one, I’m on a business trip, and am stressed out by it. Jacob Tomsky, a hotel lifer, has come up with ten small tidbits to make your stay more pleasant, including this one:
6. NEVER, EVER PAY FOR THE MINIBAR.
Minibars. Most people are appalled at the prices. However, you never have to pay for the items in the minibar. Why not? Minibar charges are, without question, the most disputed charges on any bill. That is because the process for applying those charges is horribly inexact. Keystroke errors, delays in restocking, double stocking, and hundreds of other missteps make minibar charges the most voided item. Even before guests can manage to get through half of the “I never had those items” sentence, I have already removed the charges and am now simply waiting for them to wrap up the overly zealous denial so we can both move on with our lives.
7. BOOK ON A DISCOUNT SITE, GET A DISCOUNT EXPERIENCE.
Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms. Does this seem unfair? First of all, we earn the slimmest profit from these reservations. And honestly, those guests didn’t really choose our property based on quality; they chose based on value. We were at the top of a list sorted by price. But the guest behind them in line, the one with a heavy $500 rate, she selected this hotel. When she comes to New York, she goes to our website to see what’s available. Since we have no reason to assume Internet guests will ever book with us again, unless our discount is presented to them, it truly makes business sense to save our best rooms for guests who book of their own volition.
As a Mac user, I don’t like the implications of this business model…
Orbitz Worldwide Inc. has found that people who use Apple Inc.’s Mac computers spend as much as 30% more a night on hotels, so the online travel agency is starting to show them different, and sometimes costlier, travel options than Windows visitors see.
Orbitz has found that Apple users spend as much as 30% more a night on hotels, so the online travel site is starting to show them different, and sometimes costlier, options than Windows visitors see.
The Orbitz effort, which is in its early stages, demonstrates how tracking people’s online activities can use even seemingly innocuous information—in this case, the fact that customers are visiting Orbitz.com from a Mac—to start predicting their tastes and spending habits.
Orbitz found Mac users on average spend $20 to $30 more a night on hotels than their PC counterparts.
Orbitz executives confirmed that the company is experimenting with showing different hotel offers to Mac and PC visitors, but said the company isn’t showing the same room to different users at different prices. They also pointed out that users can opt to rank results by price.
Add this to the list of Things I’m Pissed Off About…
The list of outrages coming out of the House is long, but the way the Republicans are trying to hijack the $260 billion transportation bill defies belief. This bill is so uniquely terrible that it might not command a majority when it comes to a floor vote, possibly next week, despite Speaker John Boehner’s imprimatur. But betting on rationality with this crew is always a long shot.
Here is a brief and by no means exhaustive list of the bill’s many defects:
¶It would make financing for mass transit much less certain, and more vulnerable, by ending a 30-year agreement that guaranteed mass transit a one-fifth share of the fuel taxes and other user fees in the highway trust fund. Instead it would compete annually with other programs.
¶It would open nearly all of America’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling, including environmentally fragile areas that have long been off limits. The ostensible purpose is to raise revenue to help make up what has become an annual shortfall for transportation financing. But it is really just one more attempt to promote the Republicans’ drill-now-drill-everywhere agenda and the interests of their industry patrons.
¶It would demolish significant environmental protections by imposing arbitrary deadlines on legally mandated environmental reviews of proposed road and highway projects, and by ceding to state highway agencies the authority to decide whether such reviews should occur.
Where that $40 billion will come from is also unclear. The idea that oil revenues from increased drilling will provide it is delusional. Even if new leases are rushed through, oil will not begin to flow for years, and neither will the royalties.
In any case, none of this is good news for urban transit systems, including New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which, in 2010 alone, received about $1 billion from the trust fund.
Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, rightly calls this the “worst transportation bill” he has seen in 35 years of public service. Mr. Boehner is even beginning to hear from budget-conscious conservatives who believe that relying on user fees is the most fiscally responsible way to pay for all transportation programs.
I finally made a first pass through all my photos from our visit to London last year. There might be a few others, but I found and processed the most obvious “keepers”, in my estimation. If you have a few moments to spare, and want to see a large photo set of one of the most glorious cities in the world, you should click here to view London 2010 – a set on Flickr.
The slideshow version is here (Flash, and thus takes a moment to load).
I was thinking about London in comparison to Chicago. When I moved to Chicago from Austin, I was impressed and intrigued by the diversity and energy of the city. Austin is many things, but it isn’t a very old city, it isn’t really that big, nor overly walkable, and thus there isn’t much history to be discovered while strolling. I love to explore a place simply by walking, discovering beauty and decay partially by chance, partially by design.
London is an even larger multiple of this equation: a vibrant, diverse place with a rich mosaic of history woven into the fabric of the streets. I’ve been in London for less than two weeks, total,1 but it is easily one of my favorite cities. I could never really see myself living in Manhattan, for instance, but living in London would be grand.
Milwaukee Road rail line coal-burning locomotive was clocked going 124 m.p.h. on a stretch between the Twin Cities and Chicago — in 1939.
Bringing up the rear of the Art Deco-style Hiawatha train was the “Beaver Tail” parlor-observation car (so-named for its downward-sloping shape), where passengers lounging on recliners and couches watched the countryside pass by.
Such long-distance trains routinely barreling across the Midwest at speeds exceeding the century mark may have been far ahead of their time 70 years ago. On the other hand, today’s back-to-the-future plans by the federal government to encourage development of 110-m.p.h. train service in parts of the U.S. may simply lack the spirit and forward-looking approach that was alive back then, or even as recently as the 1960s, when 200-m.p.h.-plus “bullet train” systems were built in Asia and Europe.
The question is whether that transportation system will be the envy of the world, or barely exceed speeds and travel times delivered by past technology.
“I am shocked by the timidness of America. If billions of dollars are going to be spent, why end up with a rail system that is only half as good as what the rest of the world has?” said Andy Kunz, president and chief executive officer of the US High Speed Rail Association. The non-profit association was created in July after the Obama administration announced $8 billion in economic stimulus funding to start construction of a high-speed rail network.
The association’s goal is to advance and coordinate a state-of-the-art system connecting major U.S. cities by 2030. The vision includes building track dedicated to serving 220-m.p.h. electric-powered trains, advanced control systems, top-of-the-line passenger coaches and elegant stations.
The U.S. government did not regulate train speeds in the early 20th Century, effectively encouraging manufacturers to build lightweight, streamlined trains and prompting railroads to rehab their tracks with heavier rails.
In his book The Hiawatha Story Jim Scribbins, who spent his career working for the Milwaukee Road, described Hiawatha equipment designed to cruise at 100 m.p.h. and reach speeds of 120 m.p.h., with reserve power if needed. “Ninety-one m.p.h. seemed like 45,” Scribbins said about a run on May 15, 1935, between Milwaukee and New Lisbon, Wis., during which 112.5 m.p.h. was maintained for 14 miles.
“At 100 m.p.h., a shout erupted from the mechanical department personnel doing the timing — 103.5 … 105 … 105.5 … 109, and still comfortable. Finally came 112.5, and the train rode like a dream. In the diner, a full glass of water held every drop.”
After half a century as more of a curiosity than a convenience, passenger trains are getting back on track in some parts of the country.
The high cost of energy, coupled with congestion on highways and at airports, is drawing travelers back to trains not only for commuting but also for travel between cities as many as 500 miles apart.
In the Midwest, transportation officials are pushing a plan to connect cities in nine states in a hub-and-spoke system centered in Chicago. The nine states included in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative are Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
Californians are considering selling billions of dollars worth of bonds to get going on an 800-mile system of bullet trains that could zip along at 200 m.p.h., linking San Francisco and San Diego and the cities in between.
The public is ahead of policymakers in recognizing trains as an attractive alternative to cars and planes, said U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
There is some momentum building in Congress towards fully funding Amtrak, without preconditions.
Amtrak…, drew a record 28.7 million in the year ending Sept. 30. That is 11 percent more than the year before and the sixth straight year that ridership has increased. Ticket revenue hit a record $1.7 billion, a $200 million increase from a year earlier.
Rail travel is gaining greater favor in Congress, which provides the subsidies needed to keep Amtrak rolling. Lawmakers are trying to find ways to deal with high energy prices, congested and aging roads and bridges, and an air traffic control system that relies largely on World War II-era technology.
Despite the opposition from the usual idiot opponents who hate Amtrak for some reason, like Bush:
President George W. Bush, an Amtrak critic who has opposed anything more than minimal money for the rail service over the past eight years
and John McCain:
Republican presidential nominee John McCain has been a persistent critic of Amtrak’s reliance on subsidies. Obama co-sponsored the recent Amtrak bill; McCain voted against it.
I believe strongly that subsidy for a national rail system helps the country, insisting Amtrak pay for itself solely with fees collected is stupid policy.
Then there are ignorant Senators like Jeff Sessions:
Unlike Europeans, whose cities are connected by passenger rail networks, relatively few Americans travel by rail except in the popular corridor from Washington to Boston, in parts of California and routes extending from Chicago. Outside the Northeast, ticket fares usually do not cover direct operating costs.
Critics say it is unfair to require people in areas where there is no Amtrak service or infrequent service to subsidize the train travel of people in the few corridors where there is frequent, fast service.
“I do not think you can justify many, perhaps most, of the routes Amtrak is running,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said during Senate debate in September.
Finally, another good reason to vote for Obama – he strongly supports Amtrak.
In the Midwest, expansion of the passenger rail network is supported by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Some cities that would be in the network have passenger train service to Chicago, but it is often slow and infrequent. The regional plan calls for using 3,000 miles of existing rail rights of way and introducing modern train cars and engines operating at speeds up to 110 m.p.h.
Two items, commingled: Amtrak should be fully funded, and some photos from my recent trip to Milwaukee.
First, we took an impromptu day trip to Milwaukee to visit a friend who used to live in Chicago. We didn’t want to drive, so decided to take the train. What an absolute pleasure. We left our house 15 minutes before the train departed, purchased tickets from an automated kiosk1 and squeaked through the final gate just in time. Cannot imagine doing that flying. Either Chicago airport is 45 minutes or more away, plus security lines, baggage search, the seemingly interminable delays of departure, and mechanical failures.
Once we made it to our train, we stumbled into the so-called “Quiet Car” which was exactly that. We didn’t realize at first there was such a designation, but our snotty, aging car-mate loudly asked the ticket collector to enforce the rules. We were happy to oblige with the idea of treating the car as a library, actually, especially after changing seats to avoid looking at our nemesis. Quiet is good, no cell-phones, no loud conversation, perfect for reading the newspaper. The train car was exceedingly quieter than an airplane, and you could stand and stretch as necessary without airline stewards glaring at you with the stink-eye.
The train was nearly empty. On our return journey, we quizzed the train conductor, I could tell he wanted to talk a little. He had worked for Amtrak for 21 years, initially the Hiawatha was three cars long, then four, now five, and considering adding one more. The train used to travel over 100 miles an hour, but with the advent of cars, the signal system necessitated slowing the train down to a more stately pace of 80 miles an hour. Amtrak engineers have almost figured out how to reconfigure the signal system so the top speeds could be achieved again. Our conductor expected that to occur within a year or two, knocking 25% or so off of the travel time2.
Our ticket cost $44 round trip, each. Quick mental arithmetic confirmed this was slightly more expensive than taking the company car, but we didn’t want to drive in traffic, and our friend was picking us up anyway. I am baffled that the United States does not give Amtrak as much budget as it needs to run a first class national train system. Most people3 factor in costs of travel rather simply – how much gasoline would it take to go where I am going, how long will it take, or should I fly. Riding the rails should be encouraged – if the price of a train ticket was significantly lower than the cost of driving, more people would take the train, lessening the congestion on the highways, reducing pollution, reducing gasoline (and rubber, asphalt and whatever else is consumed by automobile travel), reducing the need to constantly repair highways, and so on. Good for the whole society in other words.
I am enough of a student of history to appreciate the role trains used to have in America, but most travelers don’t even consider riding Amtrak for local trips. I priced a trip to Denver, with a sleeping car, and it would cost nearly $2,000 for the two of us. Crazy. How about4 instead of government bailouts for investment bankers and pasta-forbid, Detroit automotive corporations, we invest in encouraging train travel? Increase staffing so the trains and stations are spotless, add WiFi5, add engineers, invest in tracks and signals so the train can go faster!
We both really liked Milwaukee, we are considering renting space there for a summer house. Though my sample size is small6 I think Milwaukee is way more interesting than the city often mentioned, Madison. Madison seems very small, with not much going on for non-students. Milwaukee has a more varied character – a loft district like where I live now, but cleaner, with more preservation of historic facades, a large park along Lake Michigan, and with a bonus that the Amtrak to Chicago is sleek and efficient.
Anyway, here are a few annotated photos from Saturday:
The Quiet Car
perfect for us introverts. We both brought plenty of reading material, spread out to adjoining seats, and before you realized, we were pulling into Milwaukee.
View from the Hiawatha
The route took us through fields of resplendent fall folliage, nature preserves, and farms. I took a bunch of photos, using the wrong lens7 and with various other camera settings fracked8, most did not turn out well. By the time I realized my errors, we were almost in Milwaukee. Oh well, next time.
Factory of Rex
“Factory of Rex” – sounds like a band name.Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee. Their first EP could be called, “King of Bitter”.
I was wearing a light coat, but they had bare backs, arms. Must sacrifice for fashion, presumedly. I wouldn’t know.
Wisconsin Cold Storage
I think the other side of the river is called the Fifth Ward.
Historic Third Ward
as it claims: nearly every building seemingly has a historic marker on it (Registered on the National Registry of Historic Places).
Menomonee River, South – Third Ward
or whatever it is called. Slightly modified in Photoshop to warm the colors.
Menomonee River – Third Ward
or whatever it is called.
Fred Vogel Building
yet another historical marker in the aptly-named Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee.
Fifth Ward – Milwaukee, with biker
As a billionaire, there would be a lot of buildings I would purchase in Milwaukee. This was one, for some reason. I’d turn most into art collectives – cheap studio space for artsy-fartsy types, an under-served demographic, and hire management to figure out logistics.
a coffee house and/or bar, didn’t have time to stop and check. Fifth Ward, Milwaukee.
I Threw Up
luckily, I did not.Street art, Historic Fifth Ward, Milwaukee.
which in retrospect was a little too close: we were galloping through Union Station as the announcements called out, “Train 333 leaving in 3 minutes!” “Train 333 departing in 1 minute!” “Train 333 departing in :30 seconds!” [↩]
90 minutes down to something less. I doubt the top speed could be achieved the entire journey – there are too many road crossings and stations. I am no expert however. [↩]
Senator Tom (“Global Warming is a lot of crap“) Coburn hates trains in general, hates Amtrak in particular, and especially hates passengers on Amtrak and similar commuter trains. Coburn would be much happier if everyone drove Hummers to and from their jobs instead of taking the communistic commuter rail.
Legislation that would mandate collision-avoidance systems for trains is being blocked by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who objects to a provision that would provide a major funding boost for Amtrak that was bundled together with the safety measures this week.
In a phone interview, Mr. Coburn said that in addition to the specific reservations he has over the increased spending in the rail package, which has an estimated cost of about $14 billion over five years, the $700 billion federal rescue plan makes fiscal discipline in other areas even more imperative.
“We’re on a short financial leash for at least the next couple of quarters,” Mr. Coburn said. “We have to start doing things now … that will make a difference for the future.”
Transportation leaders in Congress reached an agreement Wednesday on a long-pending package of bills related to rail safety and service. Supporters of increased funding for Amtrak’s passenger rail service hoped to overcome Mr. Coburn’s opposition by combining that measure with legislation that would attack railway safety problems highlighted by the Sept. 12 train crash in California that killed 25 people. The safety measures include increasing the number of federal railroad inspectors and limiting the consecutive hours train crews can work.
Mr. Coburn also opposes a provision that would steer $1.5 billion to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, saying passengers and local authorities should fund mass-transit operations in the nation’s capital.
Made it with only minor airline problems (some faulty engine part delayed our departure by about 90 minutes). We are in one of the highest buildings in Rapid City (population 67,000), so the view is pretty extensive, even though today is raining and overcast.
[Rapid City, looking out from the Radisson Hotel at Mount Rushmore road. Found free WiFi, bonus!]
Found a Japanese restaurant, Ichiban and drank a few celebratory beers. Whoo hoo.
Tomorrow’s weather forecast is for clearer skies, hope to get a few photos. Actually, might be time for a brief nap prior to walking around the historic downtown. For some reason, there seem to be miniature statues at every street corner, or several. Not sure why or who the little people are, but intend to find out.
The nation’s oldest mountain range, the Black Hills provide a nearly complete stratigraphic history. The Hills are among the top 5 localities in the U.S. for a variety of minerals. In addition to the state’s official mineral, rose quartz, more than 140 other minerals are found here. Vivid agate deposits, especially the multicolored Tepee Canyon agate, hide in scenic limestone canyons. The states official gem, the Fairburn agate, can be spotted in alluvial deposits along the foothills. The rockbeds are scattered near Kadoka, Interior, Scenic and Fairburn. These eroding badlands areas, where collecting is allowed, are administered by the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Collectiong is not allowed, however, in the Badlands National Park. Mineral collections are found at the Museum of Geology in Rapid City and the June Culp Zeitner collection at the Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo. Advice is available from rock shops in the area, or from local gem and mineral societies.
The uncrowded, natural surroundings of Western South Dakota are ideal for walking, hiking and back-packing. The Black Hills National Forest and surrounding State and National Parks offer around 400 miles of both nature walks and bona fide hiking systems on approximately 75 different trails throughout the Black Hills. For a map and more information on Black Hills trails, contact the Black Hills National Forest at; 605-673-2251. Click here to see a map of the Black Hills’ trails or visit the brochure.
sounds great. As does:
From mountain-climbing goats to prairies of roaming buffalo, you’ll encounter opportunities to view and photograph wild animals up close. Bald eagles, prairie dogs, elk, bighorn sheep, wild horses and many more species call the Black Hills home. The wildlife parks of the southern Black Hills are renowned for nature photography. Nearly 1,800 buffalo roam free in Custer State Park and are easily spotted from the road. Buffalo can also be viewed at Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park.Custer State Park, Wind Cave and the Black Hills National Forest also offer elk, antelope, Bighorn sheep and bald eagle sightings. Always have your camera ready and be prepared to pull off the road.
Of course, there is the famously lame Mount Rushmore, a prominent plot point in Alfred Hitchock’s masterpiece, North by Northwest:
The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the form of Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance.
The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Native Americans, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 8 miles (13 km) away from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture’s final dimensions will be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mt. Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high.
The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is still far from completion. If finished, it will be the world’s largest sculpture.