Travel Blog

Commercial Airliner

As an experienced leisure and business traveler, I’m constantly amazed at the way commercial airlines have regressed over the years. This once-glamorous industry has shot itself in the foot time and time again. Well, without being asked, I’ve come up with a solution to the industry’s biggest, unaddressed problem: Luggage.

Shopping cart with the Boot

I’ve been shopping online since the early days of the Web. And I’ve gotten pretty good at online shopping. Sure, I’m no better at choosing the best products than before, but once I settle on something, I can now usually find the best price that’s available at the time using this shopping trick.

Keyhole

Working in the advertising business, I’m privy to a lot of online “services” which are dedicated to tracking your every move on the Internet. Their hope is to figure out who you are, learn all about your interests and activities, tie all that information to your public records and finally sell a frighteningly detailed and accurate personal profile to anyone with literally $39. So, as a public service, here are a few things you can do to thwart these nosy bastards. Services like Intellius.com, BlueKai , and RapLeaf and a host of others are creepy as hell and, frankly, dangerous to everyone who’s not a stalker or identity thief (in which case these services are super convenient). Here’s a great explanation of how and why online tracking happens . For even more detail, read the EFF’s page about online tracking. So what can you do? The first thing you can do to protect your privacy online is to use a non-commercial browser like…well, there’s really only one: Firefox . As a product of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation (and entirely open-source), Firefox isn’t trying to study your web habits or sell your personal data (although they DO get a cut of any Google search you do through their in-browser search field, a small price to pay for a top-notch, free browser). Once you download and install Firefox, you should quickly install a few addons: NoScript (or Ghostery or BeefTaco, all three do about the same thing, I just prefer NoScript). They basically prevent “javascripts” from running inside your browser (including viruses!) which would allow those damn third-parties to gather your personal data. When you visit a site nothing happens until you “allow” each script you want to let run. NoScript then builds a white-list of approved sites so you don’t have to keep allowing the same scripts every time – it’s kind of annoying at first, but it gets better over time. Other recommended addons include AdBuster (blocks ad networks), CookieMonster (manages browser cookies), and especially BetterPrivacy which manages your “super cookies” (aka “ flash cookies ”) the most insidious and eternal tracking method. Firefox also has a Do Not Track...

apple, computers,

If you’re a normal person–and by normal, I mean, anyone who doesn’t know what the Turing Test is–then you should only buy Apple products. Seriously. Sell your Windows PC, Crackberry or Android phone right now. Why? Because, by comparison, non-Apple products frankly suck. Well, for the average user, I mean. For the kind of person who just wants to tweet about their lunch plans, post a cat video link to Facebook, reply to some emails by replying-to-all, surf the web’s many phishing sites, and upload pictures of themselves doing keg-stands. You know, the average person. For those n00bs, Apple is Nirvana and Steve Jobs is rightfully the Messiah. They offer the experience that normal people expect from electronics– you plug them in and they just work. Sure, you’re “locked-in” to their system, but that’s like locking people into only driving a BMW–it’s not that bad a situation. Likewise, Apple products are certainly worth the extra money–I cannot stress this enough: It. Is. Worth. The. Price. Ironically, it’s thanks to Apple’s well designed hardware and software that I’m no longer a “normal person” (go ahead, ask anyone). Whereas Windows computers punish users for experimenting–with crashes, Blue Screens Of Death and other random software bugs–Apple computers reward curiosity by revealing cool, new functionality. And that positive reinforcement led me to go deeper and deeper into geekdom (and further away from dating). Sure, there are some things you can’t do inside Apple’s walled tech-garden. But normal people rarely hit those limits. Normal people just want shit to work (a novel concept to the folks at Microsoft). They just want to be able to do things with their devices, not to them. And Apple makes that easy, peasy. With each product they release, Apple proves that computers don’t have to be complicated or difficult to use. Apple is now, perhaps more than ever, “the computer for the rest of us.” And that’s why I have stopped buying Apple products. Thanks to Apple, I now know enough about computers to not need them anymore. (And they don’t need my support anymore.) So now, I’m all about open-source: I now use a Motorola XT720 (a decision...

This once-proud nation has fallen on hard times of late. America’s manufacturing industry is in the toilet (mostly because that toilet was made cheaper in China). Our non-immigrant kids are no longer the best in math, science or anything that doesn’t involve racking their ‘nads . And now it seems that even our criminals are getting lazy. They’re no longer putting in long hours or taking dangerous risks. So whose fault is the demise of our criminal’s work ethic? Most likely, yours. What many people don’t realize is that their social networking status updates are providing specific and timely information on their whereabouts to total strangers, some of whom are no-good, low-down criminals. In the past, these no-good, low-down criminals would have at least had the decency to stake out your home and wait until you’d gone on vacation before pilfering your stuff. Nowadays, criminals are lazy and complacent. They just sit at home reading your publicly viewable status updates and–when you’re out of town–they rob your home without any risk or fear of discovery ( see pleaserobme.com ). Frankly, this lack of initiative on the part of America’s low-life scumbags is nothing less than shameful. It seems Facebook was making it all too easy for nogoodniks by suddenly making “ Share With Everyone” the default setting for anything you posted, even if you had set it differently before. Not surprisingly, public outcry forced them to rejigger their Byzantine, purposely complex privacy settings , yet they remain confusing to all but the nerdiest among us (I’m looking at you, writers of The Big Bang Theory ). And don’t forget about location-aware apps like Foursquare, Yelp and Gowalla which announce to the world that your home is unoccupied and available for robbery. But digital hardship shouldn’t mean that we just give up and give away our privacy. No, rather we should rise to the challenge and take five minutes out of our busy day to do our due diligence by looking into all the ways companies are using our personal information to take advantage of us. Just like freedom, privacy isn’t free. And the price of privacy is eternal vigilance. Failing...

The reality for those relegated to these privacy and “Feng Shui”-absent open plans is quite different than the sales pitch – instead of “fostering collaboration,” the open plans foster annoyances, resentment and employee defections en masse.

The days when you could anonymously visit websites about big-breasted women with glasses, or guys wearing diapers while getting spanked are fast coming to a close. Is it the end of the Internet? Not necessarily. But probably. Thanks to browser cookies, Flash-cookies, IP tracking and a myriad of other surveillance techniques currently being abused by corporations and Homeland Security, the odds of someone not knowing about your predilection for being crushed under an Amazonian woman’s feet are not good. But similarly low are the odds of an unscrupulous Pharmaceutical company not knowing the results of your recent medical exam. Welcome to a brave new world without personal privacy— Nineteen Eighty-Four is arriving a little late. Recently, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google and now likely heir apparent and torch-bearer for their ‘don’t-be-evil’ mantra, said the following: I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines – including Google – do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities. This, ironically, despite that fact that in 2005, Schmidt blacklisted CNET for publishing info about him gleaned from Google searches, including salary, neighborhood, hobbies, political donations and reputed girlfriends . Oopsie. Of course, let’s not forget his predecessor, Scott McNealy, former chairman of Sun Microsystems, who once famously commented, “privacy is dead, get over it.” Clearly, your privacy is not an issue of concern for CEOs of major tech companies. In response, some guy named Schneier put it eloquently like this: Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance … For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism … We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that – either now or in the uncertain future – patterns we...

Got a BMW, Mercedes or Volvo? Tired of getting reamed up the ass by dealers? Then you should check out Auto Analysts . They’re an independent shop in SOMA that does great work at a fair price. Weird, huh? When I first moved to San Francisco, I went to someplace called Pete’s Garage that did good work on Japanese cars. But when we bought a 1995 BMW, we had to find a new (and more conveniently located) mechanic. That’s when I walked next door to my office and tried Auto Analysts . I noticed that most of the local NBC-TV affiliate employees took their cars there, so I tried them out. [inline:autoanalysts.png=Click to enlarge] Look for the big arrow overhead. When I walked over to pick my car up, a man in his 60s walked over to me and said, “You are new here. I am Cesar. This is my shop.” Needless to say, I was pretty impressed that he knew his clientele that personally. Frankly, he couldn’t have made a better first impression. From then on, I took my car there for every service and every problem. SERVICES: Oil change, Detailing, Troubleshooting, Repair, Safety Inspection, Pre-purchase Inspection, Diagnostics and probably other stuff MAKES: Most European cars, including Volvo, Mercedes, and BMW CANDY: Yes After a few years, they moved to their current location at 5th and Howard. It’s not as convenient sometimes, but they’ve done a great job maintaining my car and it now has almost 250,000 miles on it. As an independent shop, Auto Analysts doesn’t have nearly the overhead of a dealer. So they charge you what it costs them in parts and labor. Period. No funny stuff, and they’ll walk you through all the charges if you ask them. They have nothing to hide, and they do good work—I should know, I used to race cars in my youth and know my way around an internal combustion engine. [inline:FamGrp.jpg=Click to enlarge] The family in ‘family-owned’ Don’t believe me? Check out their reviews on Google . Or look them up on Yelp . (And, hey, why don’t you believe me? That hurts. It really does.) If you’re...