Friday May 23, 2008

Google streetview goes to Wisconsin


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Google's GPS equipped cars visited Southeastern Wisconsin last summer, during some of the best weather Wisconsin has to offer. They visited my home town during one of the brightest days. It's amazing how thoroughly they've covered southeastern Wisconsin, practically every road and even the blue sky above in photos that are much sharper than those I've seen taken nearer to Google's California headquarters.

It's strange to be sitting over 3000 miles away and see neighborhoods I never visited while growing up there. I understand the privacy concerns. When virtually touring narrow streets in Racine such as Gideon Ct., you almost expect people to come out and yell at you for stepping on their flowerbeds. It is useful to see a destination before driving there for the first time and it's nice to be able to show friends the house I grew up in and also the brick houses overlooking Lake Michigan that my Pomeranian ancestors built when they emigrated to the U.S. in the mid 19th century.

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Thursday Aug 10, 2006

Airlines and safety...

I was never convinced with the logic behind the fact that nail clippers and walkmen were forbidden but laptops containing 50 watt-hour batteries and high voltage power supplies were allowed onboard aircraft. Now that we're starting from scratch with practically nothing allowed, I wonder if we could come up with sane and safe guidelines for hand luggage?

According to this Ryanair notice,

The only items permitted to be carried onboard are the following items:
Travel Documents (passport), Keys (but no electrical key fobs), baby food, milk, sanitary items and prescribed medicines (except in liquid form unless verified as authentic) essential for the duration of the flight.

O.K. There we are, so the books, magazines, newspapers, mp3 player and (of course) laptops are forbidden. It appears that Sun Ray (ID) cards are still allowed, so Sun employees trying to decide between a 10kg laptop and a 5 gram smart card will have more incentive to leave the laptop behind.

Anyone who has ever travelled knows that a certain level of random inconvenience completely outside their control is to be expected. Airlines interested in reducing the increased level of inconvenience caused by these terrorists, without impacting security, should consider the following:

  • Provide soft drinks gratis or for a reasonable price, if those 125ml coke cans are your profit margin, I worry about other corners you might be cutting.
  • Don't charge for normal checked baggage. Again, if this is your profit margin...
  • Stock diapers, nappy wipes, formula and other baby essentials.
  • Stock some toys, dolls, pillows and other distractions for the children on board. If you can screen it properly, stock some handheld games, cards, origami instructions, puzzles.
  • If an airline doesn't have enough food, drink or blankets for each of the paying passengers, please send someone back into the terminal to get more. I'd like to think that someone has an accurate count of the number of passengers on board.
  • Provide some newspapers, magazines and books.
  • Increase the selection of in flight music and programs.
  • Stock some basic non-perscription medicines such as children's tylenol, aspirin, antihistamine. Also, emergency supplies (insulin, inhalers...)
  • Provide crayons and paper for children (and adults.) Are pens and pencils too dangerous?
  • Find some way of distinguishing powered key radio controlled fobs from (unpowered) USB memory sticks.
  • Improve hand luggage screening procedures to better detect chemicals and dangerous devices. (Much better technlogy does exist.)

Alternatives?

Yesterday, after noticing that the price of flights to the U.S. might prevent us from travelling there this year, I searched for other transatlantic travel options. (Which may have put a red flag next to my name in some cloak and dagger database.) Here is what I found:


It looks like air travel is still the most convenient option, but sailing across could be quite an experience. I'm still waiting for someone to start a sail or kite assisted passenger ferry service.

update:

The pen is mightier than the palmPilot, or at least it is considered to be more dangerous. As of Wednesday night, ballpoint pens were banned from hand luggage on our flight from the U.K., but laptops, palm tops, phones and some other small electronic devices were allowed. Our airline advised passengers to arrive 3 hours before flight on Saturday, but check-in staff only arrived about 1.5 hours before the flight. They advised two hours before the flight on Wednesday, but this wasn't nearly enough. Queues from the X-ray machine went down the hall and circled the food court.

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