Monday, May 31, 2010

How U.S. Currency Travels

A website named Where's George tracks the physical movement of U.S. currency, and, in this video, some economics students crunch the data.

The numbers reveal U.S. domestic travel patterns, since bills moving across the country are usually those which accompany a traveller.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Nomadism Means Vigilance"

This business of hassled travelers waking up not knowing where they are has always seemed false to me, a form of bragging, as when someone tells me at a business lunch that it's been years since he really tasted his food. The more I've traveled, the better I've become at orienting myself with a few clues, and the harder it's gotten to lose myself. I'm perpetually mapping and triangulating, alert to accents, hairstyles, cloud formations, the chemical bouquets of drinking water. Nomadism means vigilance, and to wake up bewildered and drifting and unmoored is a privilege of the settled, it seems to me -- of the farmer who's spent his whole life in one white house, rising to the same roosters.

-- From Up In The Air by Walter Kirn (2001).


Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Booker Prize and the Kindle: Batting .320

Sherman Oaks, California

I've been averse to buying a Kindle because the type of books in which I'm currently interested didn't seem to be offered on the platform.

But my conclusion was anecdotal, based on Amazon searches of random titles. So I ran a test last night, and the results were better than I expected but not exactly good.

Lately, I've been reading more literary fiction, particularly by Third World authors. So the test set was the 44 novels which have been awarded the Booker Prize, the prestigious award for fiction written in English by an author from the British Commonwealth or from Ireland.

Of the 44 winners, 14 are available in a Kindle edition, a rate of 32%. (I am including The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, the 1973 winner which, according to Amazon, is available for Kindle pre-order.)

Conversely, 30 winners are not available on Kindle, and some of the omissions are startling. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992). Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (1982). The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis (1986). Incredibly, the absentee list includes Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, the 1981 winner which is perhaps the most lauded novel of the last half century.

1997 is the demarcation line. Of the works which won the Booker before 1997, only three are available -- Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle (1993), The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989) and the aforementioned Krishnapur.

From 1997 to the present, all of the winners can be purchased from Kindle except Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (1999) and Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (2003).

I'm still not sold on a Kindle, but my resistance is flagging.

Pictured: In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul, the 1971 Booker winner which is not available on Kindle, was previously reviewed in Knife Tricks.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Science Is Settled: You Get More Boring As You Age

Sherman Oaks, California

I found this 2006 NPR piece last night after Googling "why do people lose their sense of adventure"?

It's age-related, according to the scientists interviewed. After a certain age, which can be as early as mid-20s, people stop trying new things. They don't want to eat new foods, they don't want to listen to new music, they don't want change. Same goes with baboons.

I've noticed this in a travel context. If people don't travel a lot before they have kids, they won't do it once the brood arrives. Something new + kids = too hard.

The piece also hits on the theme of success as shackle. People with career success, the scientists claim, are less adventurous. Makes sense. If the status quo has yielded positive results, they wouldn't want to change a thing.

Warning: The audio piece contains Billy Joel music. Avoid if allergic.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Asian Computer Malls

Hong Kong

It’s easier to have your computer repaired in Asia than in America.

Computer repair in the United States can be a chore. If you’re not in the PC business, you don’t know who to call or how to vet their credentials. Then, you have to schedule a time for the computer guy to come over to your house or office. It can’t be good for the environment to have Geek Squad and its competitors driving around the city half the day, and you’re ultimately paying for the tech’s gas and car and travel time.

It’s simpler and cheaper in East and Southeast Asia.

Most towns over a certain size have one or more computer malls. The first floor or two is dedicated to the big brands, with glitzy stores selling Apples and BenQs.

The middle floors are a hodgepodge of stores selling all the hardware, software and service a person could need. In the larger malls, like Pantip Plaza in Bangkok (pictured), you can find everything from mother boards to not-yet-released video games (don’t ask where the copies came from) to parts for handheld units which went out of production two years ago.

The top floors are the smallest of small businesses: one- or two-person firms, renting a few feet of counter space. Each of these retailers usually sells one hyper-specific product or service, like plastic cell phone covers or battery installation.

The computer repair people are sprinkled throughout the middle and top floors. You walk around, checking out their shops and talking to the personnel, who are usually the owners. In selecting a repairman, I apply the logic of the Barber Shop Riddle and look for an unkempt space with stacks of broken PCs. I X the stores which also sell new goods; I want a pure-play shop that makes its money solely from repairs. Then I drop off the balky hardware, leave a deposit, and return at my leisure.

This arrangement is superior to the U.S. system. Multiple vendors are concentrated in one place, vying for your custom. You have choice and bargaining power and a greater ability to judge each vendor’s skill. You shop on your time; no waiting for the repair person to show up. And you control the cost of transporting the PC to the shop.

So, if you have a wiggy notebook or two, bring ‘em along on your next trip to Asia, drop them with a suitable repairman at the computer mall and pick ‘em up before your return flight. Quick and easy.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok Closes, Engages in Understatement

Sherman Oaks, California

The stylish Metropolitan Hotel in central Bangkok will be closed until at least May 18th. The hotel's explanation:

Due to the recent turn of events in the Government's efforts to clampdown on the red shirts’ protest sites, the surrounding areas of Sathorn have now been affected.

Translation: "People in front of the hotel are shooting bullets and lobbing grenades."

Pictured: Knives may also be involved. Undated photo of Thai red shirt protester.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prime Minister David Cameron


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

One Day in Transport

Sherman Oaks, California

I woke up at a hotel in Kenmore Square, Boston, and proceeded to:

➊ Ride an MBTA Green Line C train to North Station ($1.70) (pictured, in 1988);

➋ Ride the MBTA commuter rail to Newburyport($7.75);

➌ Take a taxi to (lovely, revitalized) downtown Newburyport ($5.00);

➍ Walk around lovely, revitalized Newburyport (free);

➎ Take a taxi to the C&J bus station ($5.00);

➏ Ride the C&J bus from Newburyport to Boston Logan airport ($21.00);

➐ Fly United flight 167 from Boston to LAX ($2.50; redeemed miles, plus processing fee);

➑ Ride the LAX Flyaway bus to its station in Van Nuys ($7.00); and

➒ Take a taxi the 8 miles to my house ($25, plus $5 tip).

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