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Posts tagged with ‘travel’

Hilton Is Making The Invisible Traveler — Like Me — Happy

Hilton is about to earn my loyalty again. I had a Hilton Gold for a few years back in the ’90s when I was traveling quite a lot, and had a corporate expense account to lean on. But now, Hilton is catching my attention for another reason than frequent stay rewards: the company is investing huge in a ne mobile tech infrastructure:

Craig Karmin, Hilton Books Upgraded Technology

Guests already can check in and check out with a few punches on a smartphone or tablet-computer screen at all of Hilton’s hotels in the U.S., the company said. By the end of summer, travelers will be able to see the location of and select their own rooms by mobile phone at six brands, from the midscale Hilton Garden Inn to the luxury Waldorf Astoria.

Next year, Hilton says, arriving guests can begin using their smartphones to unlock the doors to their rooms, rather than waiting on any lines clogging the front desk to pick up a key. That feature will be available at most of the company’s hotels world-wide by the end of 2016.

To make this real, Hilton is dropping $550 million in an arms race with other chains, like Starwood, Marriott, and Intercontinental Hotel Group.

I am the quintessential example of the silent or invisible traveler. I’d rather channel all interaction with a hotel via smartphone app — to the extent possible — without waiting in a line at reception. 

I really want to be able to choose my room, to make sure it’s quiet and has a desk, and to simply walk to the room and open the door. All without the smiling faces in the cheesy uniforms. No offense.

But the big breakthrough is yet to happen, which is unbundling the hotel. Instead of a monolithically controlled experience, an interesting future hotel would be more like a city, with shops and cafes, coworking and cohabitation working areas, and a diverse range of spaces to hang, eat, talk, and work. This is something like the unbundling of work spaces (see yesterday’s  Beyond The Office: Workplace As A Service). 

One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.

Henry MIller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains. There is almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do; the task can be as paralyzing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand.

Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks — charged with listening to music, for example, or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious, practical part of the mind which is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness, and which runs scared of memories, longings and introspective or original ideas, preferring instead the administrative and the impersonal.

Alain be Botton, The Art of Travel

Google Alerts From Reading My Email: Next Step, Calendar Integration?

I was looking at a Google search result and I saw this alert pop up, regarding a flight:


I clicked on it and saw a second search page, where the search query was ‘My Flights’, and this popped to the top:


And the link to the confirmation email — from which the information had been pulled — was offered up.

So, I can see that Google could build a search-based competitor to TripIt relatively easy. Instead of having to forward travel confirmations from airlines, hotels, etc. to TripIt, Google could simply index them in a smart way. And Google could correlate trips with travel dates on my Google calendar. So imagine if I had a trip to Southern California on calendar as a multiday event, Google could have pulled hotel and other information together with the two flights there and back, and used the name of the event as a tag, or folder, and the calendar event could have collated all the travel information together automatically.

Look out, TripIt!


Flocations, for those that haven’t used it yet, is a visual-based flight search service that lets users seek and find flights, hotels and prices using a map-based layout. The site automatically detects a user’s location based on their IP address (though this can be changed) and, using its ‘price slider’, it then shows potential routes that can be taken within a designated budget. (via Flocations raises $570,000 to enhance its travel discovery service for Asia with new features - The Next Web)


Flocations, for those that haven’t used it yet, is a visual-based flight search service that lets users seek and find flights, hotels and prices using a map-based layout. The site automatically detects a user’s location based on their IP address (though this can be changed) and, using its ‘price slider’, it then shows potential routes that can be taken within a designated budget. (via Flocations raises $570,000 to enhance its travel discovery service for Asia with new features - The Next Web)

A friend’s father was sick while I was in Ireland. The idea came of inscribing to him the copy of Synge’s works I brought with me on this trip and leaving it in the little library on Aran. The librarian wasn’t there — she only works certain days of the week — but a very pleasant lady, when I told her what I wanted to do, opened the door for me and loaned me a pen and let me sit there in a sunny corner.

I can’t say that I enjoyed parting with this book, which was partly why it felt right to leave it. “The Complete Works of John M. Synge,” 1935 Random House edition, the only one-volume edition I’ve seen that has all of his stuff — it’s worth finding, not just for the sake of having all the plays in one place, but because it reveals a lesser-known Synge — Synge the writer of powerful nonfiction pieces, “The Vagrants of Wicklow” and “In the Congested Districts.” He wrote some of the best Irish walking journals ever, and that’s not a narrow genre; perhaps only Heinrich Böll’s are as good. Before handing over the book, I re-read a favorite paragraph from “The Aran Islands,” where Synge describes men bringing horses ashore in their small sailing craft: “The storm of Gaelic that rises the moment a horse is shoved from the pier, till it is safely in its place, is indescribable.”

The other nice thing about a collected Synge is that you can read the rest of his plays, the ones that didn’t become as famous, but all of which have moments that are on a level with his best writing. The night before, after Chris had excused himself to do some work — it turned out he did have some duties, as night manager, it wasn’t all sleeping and pint-pulling — I walked down to the dock, which glowed eerily in the orange lights they keep on constantly there and read some of “The Shadow of the Glen,” the plot of which came from yet another tale Synge heard on the Aran Islands. A husband decides to fake his own death, in order to test the loyalty of his wife — he’ll spy on her from his slab, see how she behaves with the men who come to pay their respects. A tramp shows up by chance, and the woman takes a liking to him. During a brief, magical, cursed night, she sits talking to her new friend while the falsely dead husband lies there listening (multiple vectors of betrayal converging: take note, budding playwrights). The woman allows herself to dream about the life she’ll have with the money her old man has left her in a sock — not a grand life, but less boring and awful than the one she was living with him. When at last he sits up, revealing his ghastly trick, she’s so horrified that she doesn’t know what to do except prepare herself for death. But the tramp won’t let her think that way. “You’ll not be getting your death with myself, lady of the house,” he says, “and I knowing all the ways a man can put food in his mouth… . We’ll be going now, I’m telling you, and the time you’ll be feeling the cold, and the frost, and the great rain, and the sun again, and the south wind blowing in the glens, you’ll not be sitting up on a wet ditch, the way you’re after sitting in the place, making yourself old with looking on each day, and it passing you by. You’ll be saying one time, ‘It’s a grand evening, by the grace of God,’ and another time, ‘It’s a wild night, God help us, but it’ll pass surely.’ ”

It was reminiscent of Christy’s speech from the ending of “Playboy,” and of countless other passages in Synge. It’s the great discovery he made in his study of the Irish character — the idea of survival as an act of imagination. Against the unacceptability of the void, he pits the howl of irrational humor and the keen. He was too dignified to apologize much for his work to hostile critics, but he might have said, in response to the charge that he was aloof from the true rural Irish, that he shared their unforgotten paganism.

People said he made clowns of the peasants — there are still writers who complain that his dialogue wasn’t always true to real Irish folk speech, a criticism that manages to be correct while driving past his achievement, which was to go beneath them, into something even older and deeper, the Greeks. He possessed the mercenary instinct of the artist and sought not to capture the Irish language but to mine it for his English sentences. He had in him something of Gabriel, from “The Dead,” who when chastised for not wanting to visit the Aran Islands and learn his own native tongue, answers sourly, “Irish is not my language.” In his room here at the inn, they say, Synge lay on the floor with his ear to the boards, listening to the talk of the people below, making notes. Out of that stuff he made plays that caused riots in multiple countries.

Whatever comes next, after the crash, Ireland will make itself anew. If it’s smart, that is — if it doesn’t insist, like us, on desperately trying to crawl back to the conditions that made the bubble. A century after Synge’s last works were published, he may be the writer Ireland needs.

- John Jeremiah Sullivan, My Debt to Ireland

The government might be causing more unnecessary interference on planes by asking people to shut their devices down for take-off and landing and then giving them permission to restart all at the same time. According to electrical engineers, when the electronic device starts, electric current passes through every part of the gadget, including GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular radio and microprocessor.

It’s the equivalent of waking someone up with a dozen people yelling into bullhorns.

As more and more people transition from paper products to digital ones, maybe it’s time to change these rules.

Michael Altschul, senior vice president and legal counsel for CTIA, the wireless industry association, said a study that it conducted more than a decade ago found no interference from mobile devices.

“The fact is, the radio frequencies that are assigned for aviation use are separate from commercial use,” Mr. Altschul said. “Plus, the wiring and instruments for aircraft are shielded to protect them from interference from commercial wireless devices.”

Mr. Dorr reluctantly agreed. “There have never been any reported accidents from these kinds of devices on planes,” he said.

- Nick Bilton, Fliers Still Must Turn Off Devices, but It’s Not Clear Why

Government stupidity and industry hypercautious behavior. It’s the same reason that people are shown how to put on seat belts in 2011, too.

The Amenity Travelers Want Most - Power for Their Gadgets - Susan Stellin →

Holiday Inn has been testing technology that will allow guests to use their phones in lieu of room keys, bypassing the front desk. After a customer makes a reservation, a text message is sent with a room number and a phone number to call upon arrival; once this call is made, the system validates the guest’s phone number and responds with a tone that unlocks the door. More tests are planned for later this year.

Yes, I’d like that.

I wonder when I last turned on a TV in a hotel room?

But I would like good speakers, with an audio jack for iPhone, iPad or MacBook. And maybe a good monitor, to watch a movie. But I can handle my own Netflix or iTunes.

Another Bad Flying Experience: Virgin Atlantic

[Note: misposted this on /Message the other day. Jet lag. I moved the various comments over]

Headed to London from San Francisco, as I was checking in at Virgin, I saw a sign that suggested that for $110 I could upgrade for an emergency exit row, for extra leg room. “Sure,” I thought. Since I already had an aisle seat, I made sure it was an aisle. No problem. I was confirmed.

However, the seat I got, 38c, on Virgin’s flight 20, May 15 2007, had a broken controller for the media, lights, and other controls. But of course I didn’t discover that until we had taken off, and the well-meaning flight crew had already moved people from other seats into the various emergency exit seats that had not been sold. So the 38a, 3bf and 38g seats that I would have happily moved into are now occupied by various folks who have not paid a nickel extra, and their movie and light controls work perfectly. Now it is too late to move me into one of those seats, without displacing and pissing off some other traveler, although I was the only one who had paid to be there.

The purser tried, I must confess, to some extent. After rebooting the entertainment system twice, I pointed out that the lights didn’t work, so it was likely that the controller was broken. He fetched a tiny, tiny DVD player, and some DVDs to play. Although the screen was 1/2 the size of the back-of-the-seat players, I figured “Fine, what the hell.” But the audio for “Superman Returns” was inaudible using Virgin’s headphones. I used my iPod earphones, although they seemed to only work in mono. I had to cram a piece of napkin in my ear, because I got tired of manually pushing the earphone into my ear to hear the audio. Then the tracking started to fail, and then the audio died altogether. I gave it up as a bad deal.

I suggested to the purser that I should get my $110 back, or my old seat back. He said he was unable to do that, that I should just move to 28b, which has working lights and entertainment system. I pointed out that when I upgraded, I had an aisle, and that I only took the upgrade because they guaranteed me an aisle. Tough, he said, more or less, in a pseudo-polite way. “I am offering you a seat equivalent to the one you had, sir.” Although now, it is a middle seat, with a fat guy from Sun’s elbow sticking into it, which I would never have paid $110 to upgrade into. A fact that is miraculously lost on this guy.

At this moment, three other people are in window or aisle seats, with no one in the center seats: watching movies, with full use of their lights, without having paid a nickel extra. I ask for my money back and he says, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that (translated: Blow me.)”

He offered to get me another DVD player. Maybe this one would work better. Extra bonus points: When I pulled the earphones from my ears the casing on one earphone pulled off, the one secured with napkin. Note that you can’t buy those earphones from Apple anymore: the old iPod earbuds. They are shot. He’s sorry. I’m out a set of earphones. Luckily I have another pair of earphones (not classic Apple ones, though) in my luggage (so long as it appears at Heathrow).

I don’t think that my complaint is going to lead to financial devastation for Virgin, but the episode to date suggests that they don’t care. I am not sure that anyone cares about their customers anymore in the airline business, but I certainly plan to find alternatives, now, to Virgin.

It’s so strange, since I spent a lot of time the other day, struggling with their website. I had to try three different browsers to sign up for their frequent flyer program. Firefox and IE both crapped out on Mac. Safari finally worked. I really wanted to Virgin to be the answer to European travel.

Now I want to send them hate-mail, but I am certain that they are inured to it, and will simply ignore me. I guess they are competing on price, and there is no margin for the customer left. So I will have to find someone else for the next $100,000 of my travel to and from Europe. I am not giving another dime to Virgin unless they make this whole thing right. And how can they? Refund my $110 and a roundtrip for the headaches: that would be a good start. Chances of it happening: next to zero.

I told the purser I was going to blog it. “I’m sorry you feel that way, sir. You can fill in a complaint form, if you’d like.” Yes, I’d like.

I will give them one chance. and one week. I bet I will be flying back from Europe on a different airline. Anyone out there want my business?

Next morning: The Purser must have had a change of heart, because this morning he asked me to fill in a few fields in some form, stating that he “was going to try to get my money reimbursed.” It’s astonishing to me that the Purser on a flight can’t unilaterally decide to refund a fee in a circumstance such as this. We’ll see what happens. I am giving them a week.

Serendipity 2.0: going fulltime on Dopplr

The folks at Dopplr, who I have not spoken to directly, have apparently built the ‘ships passing in the night’ app that I have cried out for for years (see here, for example).

The premise is simple, plug in your travel schedule, and a bunch of traveling fools as your social network, and bingo: you will know who is going to be in some time (or your home town) when you are.

The interface is clean and simple.

Dopplr Trips

Above you see a list of my trips. Note that I can’t seem to be able to access the RSS feed. Might be a polling interval issue. Dopplr supports iCal subscription from calendar apps.

Dopplr Buddies

Above you see my (tiny) set of pals. At the moment, only Petteri, from Jaiku. He invited me to Dopplr. And he’s boring, since he isn’t traveling in the near term, although I just met him, here in San Francisco, the other day.

If you click on a specific place, you see a page like this:

Dopplr Place

I didn’t add a note, yet.

Dopplr Map

Above you see a prospective map of my travels. And below, the same itineraries arrayed in a timeline view:

Dopplr Timeline

This last view shows one of the snags, I think. The app seems very day focused: I can’t seem to be able to state the time of day that I will arrive somewhere, and that is critical if you are planning to meet for lunch or dinner.

I love the feel of the app, but I will have to wait for a few dozen friends to get into the beta before I can get the feel of it’s actual social usage patterns.

And of course, I need the RSS feed to work. So, I am replacing my old timeline, built using 30boxes, with Dopplr, as soon as the RSS is up.

One last note. Dopplr creates a fuzzy version of your photo to display in a public page. Here’s the stoweboyd page:


It doesn’t look to me like the public page can be disabled at the moment, either.

There is an SMS interface to Dopplr, but you have to text a +44 number, and I decided to wait until they have a US SMS number set up.

More to follow.

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