Blacknell.net

Archive for 2007

December 31st, 2007

Happy New Year

Posted in Personal by MB

A year ago, I rang in the new year with some of my closest friends by unloading a few guns into the sky of Karachi.  This new year’s eve – which I had hoped to also spend with some of my closest friends – will instead be a quiet one at home in Arlington, as I nurse an unpleasant cold. Not the closing bookend I’ve have chosen, but on the whole, it’s been a good year.

Here’s to the same for you and yours in 2008.

December 31st, 2007

Gee, thanks, Google

Posted in Tech by MB

Sorry, your account has been disabled.
For more information about Google Accounts,
please consult our Help Center at

http://www.google.com/support/accounts/.

Really such a lovely message to see when you try to log in to your email, no?  But surely Google would not make such a mistake.  And if it did, it would be responsive and quickly fix the matter.

Heh.

This is why I recommend people ought not rely on web-hosted services.  You never know when they’ll fail, and when they do, you’ll be at their mercy (exercised in a leisurely manner, if at all).  For me, this was a small bit of trouble in redirecting some of my email addresses (previously forwarded to Gmail for convenience).  I did make the mistake of having not downloaded my Gmail inbox to my own machine in some time, so that’s a something of a loss if I don’t get back in.  Anyway, just a friendly reminder from me to you that Google can make mistakes (and does frequently, if the support forums full of similarly situated people says anything).  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

December 30th, 2007

A New Flickr Trick

Posted in Distribution, Society, Tech by MB

Somehow, I missed the announcement of Flickr’s new stats feature. I discovered it yesterday, and am quite happy to say that it’s the most interesting addition to the Flickr service in a long time. Not only does it give you a more detailed breakdown than what was previous available under the “Popular” tab, but it also offers referral info.

If you’re a frequent Flickr user like me, you probably often wonder where all of these views come from for certain photos. I mean, it’s easy enough to sort out how a picture arrived in Explore (say, with this or that picture). But now you can see what photos are turning up through web searches (e.g., googling for the ever-popular Liz Hatch, or “You’re Doing It Wrong“). And, even better, you can see who else might be using your photos elsewhere on the web. Today I discovered that a Japanese web site is offering my picture of New York from the air (among a few other works of mine) as wallpaper for your desktop, that this article from a Chilean newspaper used a snap of mine from Pakistan in a story about Bhutto’s return, and that this blog on architecture for children found my shot of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (in Mexico City) useful for illustration.  Unfortunately, the stats aren’t omniscient.  I still have no idea how in the world this comparatively uninteresting shot of an airplane is my fifth most popular photo.  And for photos that have simply been copied, and not linked, you’ll still have to manually search those out (I continued to be surprised at where my photos show up . . . ).

This feature is only available to “Pro” account holders at the moment, so if you’ve got one, check it out.  More info on how to activate this feature here.

December 29th, 2007

Essential Enroute Travel Sites

Posted in Tech, Travel by MB

As has been hinted at, my last trip was a near perfect storm of logistical problems originating with weather, the airlines, and myself. I spent no small amount of time on the concourse trying to sort out what options were available, and at what cost. Handling these challenges was much easier with a laptop and a data connection than, well . . . without either. I’ll sing the praises of a few websites/online tools that have served me well in situations like this:

  • Kayak.com – I almost always book my tickets directly with the airline, but Kayak.com is an excellent comprehensive resource in sorting out exactly how many routes are available to your desired destination, and how they compare in cost. The screens are what make it so useful.
  • Flyertalk – there is *always* someone with the answer to your question reading the forums at any given moment. Plus, most of them are cheap bastards with rich tastes, so you’ll get the straight scoop on how to achieve your objective with a minimum of fuss and expense. (Contrast this with LP’s near unusable ThornTree forums, which – to this day – remains one of the great tragedies of online travel resources.)
  • TripAdvisor – this is a surprising one, for me. I’d long ago dismissed TripAdvisor as being for the sort of folks who stayed at Best Westerns when they went to Europe. And while it still serves those needs, I’ll have to say that I’m pretty impressed with the depth of the information available for a very wide range of travel tastes/modes. Easy all in one resource when you need to quickly figure out the options in any given city.
  • Sleeping In Airports – exactly what it seems to be. Most recently used when I booked a 5am connection through LIM, having planned to arrive at 1am (told me that the upstairs food court was a common and safe place to make camp for a few hours). Has also done a good job in directing me to in-airport showers in the past.
  • Weather.com – because it helps to know if that Northeast storm is going to keep your Atlanta connecting flight from showing up.

Honorable mentions –

  • WikiTravel – dismissed years ago as a good idea, but lacking the necessary participation to make it truly useful, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it’s grown into a serviceable resource. I may spend some time contributing. (Yeah, I know.)
  • The Subway Page – maintained by Robert Reynolds, it’s a great place to snag a map of most any major (and lots of minor) public transport systems in the world.
  • BostonCoach – I’m somewhat embarrassed by this. Sometimes, you just want to know that you can step off the plane without thinking, see your name, and know that that person will get you exactly where you want to go, no fuss. BostonCoach can do that for you with very little notice, almost anywhere in the world.

Finally, for fellow Palm users, there is FlightStatus. A rather basic little shareware program written by a young fellow some years ago, it has turned out to be one of the most useful Palm apps I ever installed. Does exactly what it says – gives you flight status and gate information for most any domestic US flight.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few (such as Airpower), but I hope these will be useful to some.

Sunset at HKG

December 27th, 2007

A faraway country of which we (used to) know little.

Posted in Travel by MB

Today starts in Prague.  About 14 hours and 5400 miles later, it should end in DC.  The end to an unexpected – but quite delightful – trip.

December 23rd, 2007

Reviews of Places I’ve Not Been

Posted in Travel by MB

I was going to stay at Torre Dorada.  Ridiculously responsive via email, and entirely accessible via phone.  They rate a good Lonely Planet Review, and the top spot on TravelAdvisor.com’s ranking of Cusco lodgings.   But alas, I did not stay there.  Casa San Blas also rates an honorable mention in the category of email responsiveness (an indicator, I think, of lodging quality).

Much the same can be said for Rupa Wasi, in Aguas Caliente.  Unlike Torre Dorado, the grasp of the English language by hotel staff was slim.  However, a genuine helpfulness was in evidence when I requested bookings for nights for which they were full.  This?  Is rare.

Llama Path tours?  As best I could tell, they were the sort of folk you’d be comfortable entrusting four days and three nights of your existence in the Andes.  They were not only responsive, but clear in communications.  When it became apparent that I simply wouldn’t be able to make it to Peru in time for the trip, I’d hoped they’d be willing to apply some small portion of my deposit to a future trip with them.  That didn’t turn out to be the case, but I can’t begrudge it (90% of the deposit went to sunk costs).

Hotel Renew, somewhere between Waikiki and Diamond Head.  In anticipating a visit there, I discovered that my attitude toward travel in Hawaii involves a somewhat unearned bitterness towards the development that’s occurred since I moved away in the early 80s.  So when I think about going back, I don’t want to hear about $500/night rooms on Waikiki (or anything more than $40/night on the North Shore).  The pleasant surprises, then, were the rates offered by Hotel Renew for the holiday period.  $190 for an ocean view room, just left of Fort DeRussy.  Through Jan 31, at least.  Jump on it.

Backpackers Hawaii.  I’m sure that, with a bit more thought, I could explain the disconnect between my willingness to hang out in a shared-facilities hostel on the beach in Hawaii and my requiring a 5 star hotel in Madrid.  But until then, know this: the private rooms in the “village” at Backpackers Hawaii seem like the best deal in the state.

So, yeah, these are reviews of the places I thought I was going to, but never did end up in.  Turned out just fine, though.

“Kde se pivo vali, tam se dobre dari”
(apologies for mangling the language)

December 22nd, 2007

A Midnight Walk in the Cold

Posted in Travel by MB

Charles Bridge

December 20th, 2007

Moving (through unexpected spaces)

Posted in Travel by MB

December 20th, 2007

Travel Music (again)

Posted in Travel by MB

Facing East – Thievery Corporation. Amazingly universal. Whether preparing for a departure toward DCA from ATL in a tiny Embraer, or lumbering down a JFK runway for IST in an A320, this works.

Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones. A familiar bitterness. (linking solely for soundtrack)

Mad World – Gary Jules.

All around me are familiar faces, worn out places

[ . . . ]
And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad,
that the dreams in which I’m dying
are the best I’ve ever had.

Joe le Taxi – Vanessa Paradis. My first ever celebrity crush. I still remember watching this video on the Super Channel, out of Amsterdam. Over and over, and over again. She was, maybe, a couple of years older than me. Last I heard, she married some loser named Johnny Depp.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Jimmy Somerville. Oh, more on this some day. For now, go read about Jonathan Raban’s insight on the infidelity of travel.

Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan. This song has carried me across continents.

December 18th, 2007

Familiar Node

Posted in Travel by MB

ATL