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Everything is Shovel-Ready in China

Construction in China happens very quickly; but people with shovels have hardly disappeared. This crew rebuilt a section of road near the Beijing Zoo in a few hours. Possibly it was more efficient to use them than to bring in heavy equipment for a very small job; possibly the government is reserving some work for unskilled labor – I had no way to tell. Even in Beijing food is very cheap and workers can live on a low end salary of about $10/day.

On the other hand, when China decides to have a stimulus program, they can build big and fast. At $750 billion their stimulus program of 2008, which was passed to counter a slow-down in demand from customer nations, was about the same size as ours. The difference is that they actually managed to build infrastructure with the money. The already-planned high speed rail network was accelerated. The line between Shanghai and Hangzhou opened in October of 2010 and the 819 mile Beijing-Shanghai line started service at 236 mph in June of this year just slightly more than three years after construction began!

These trains run on a specialized elevated roadway built out of concrete with almost no curves and very little grade. It goes through hills which can't be moved out of the way. Huge equipment as well as massed manual labor was used in the railroad expansion project. Acquiring right-of-way is apparently not difficult when the government owns all the land to begin with; environmental permits weren't a problem.

But all is not well with the high speed project to build high speed rail. On July 23, 2011, a train which had been disabled by a lightning strike was hit from behind by another train – something the signaling system was meant to prevent. The government says that 40 people died; some Chinese we talked to said the actual death toll was much higher (they get their information from the Internet, natch). There has not yet been an official announcement of what went wrong.

Whatever the truth is about cause and fatalities, the government abruptly shut down the entire railroad construction project countrywide by denying the responsible ministry the authority to issue further debt. According to China Daily, $40 billion was just released, but that may be just enough to pay contractors and laborers for work that was done prior to the defunding – all payments stopped after the accident. We saw partially done rail projects in several parts of China and no evidence of ongoing work.

When we took the train from Beijing to Shanghai it had been slowed down to 186 mph for "economy and safety reasons"; so the 819 mile trip took 4 hours and 45 minutes with one stop. Obviously this is still very competitive, downtown to downtown, with flying the route – the distance is a little less than the highway miles from New York City to Chicago; imagine a train that did that in under five hours. Eighteen car trains run several times an hour during the day although some have more stops. This is infrastructure that makes a difference, although I have no way to judge the cost/benefit.

We don't have to adopt China's political system in order to make major infrastructure projects feasible again in the US. But, unless we reform our permitting system and curb the power of NIMBY to cause endless delay, we won't be able to compete with China's economic system.

Related posts:

Google Finds Nothing is Shovel Ready, Not Even for Free Fiber Build

Irene Lesson #2: Nothing in America is Shovel Ready – Until It Has to Be

America's Industrial Revival

Fast Off the Mark in China

In the US we have countdown timers on green lights to tell us how long we have left to get across the street. In China the red lights count down so you can be fast off the mark when the light turns. This particular speed up technique isn't very effective because you can't count on the cross traffic stopping when their light turns red; busses and cars anywhere near the intersection just lean on their horns and keep going.

Much more frightening from a competitive PoV is the school day. From elementary school on, kids start at 7:30 AM; there's a break from 12:30 PM to 2:00; then classes continue until 5:30. Wow!

On the lunch break kids can go home if there is someone there to feed them. If both parents work, the children can either eat in school (where they don't like the food) and be supervised by teachers for a siesta or go to nearby private mini-daycare apartments. If hard working parents aren't going to be home at 5:30, the kids go to private places where they get homework help.

Class size averages around 70. Chinese parents would like it to be smaller but it is what it is. Apparently discipline is not a problem in these large classes. Teachers have and use authority.

Education is free through middle school although our sources on a recent trip to China told us that "contributions" are required to get into the best public schools; there are also private schools. Parents are expected to pay for high school and college. However, only those who have done well through middle school stay on an academic track; the others usually go to a trade school after middle school. About 50% of high school graduates go on to college, up from 5% a generation ago. College campuses, obviously, are growing enormously and moving to the suburbs to find expansion room.

The very limited number of Chinese we talked to still consider American universities to be the best in the world and want their children to have the option of coming here. I hope they still feel that way a generation from now. They're not going to wait for us at the traffic light or anywhere else.


Why Men Don’t Ask Directions

My Droid X was a pretty good navigator for most of the road trip Mary and I took. Sure there was the incident of the virtual off ramp when it insisted the best entrance to a hotel parking lot was directly from an adjacent Interstate – not! And there was the attempt to leave Atlanta Airport the wrong way on a one way street. All in all, the Droid did pretty well and there was no reason for Mary to suggest we ask directions so no arguments caused by my refusing – until we tried to find the southwestern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The paper tourist map showed the southwest terminus of the scenic route in Cherokee, SC. I spoke that destination to the Droid as we left Atlanta and headed north. Sure enough, as we approached Cherokee, even though the unnumbered parkway itself didn't show up on the Droid, the souvenir shops and outlet malls thickened and there were occasional highway signs for the Parkway. At a crucial intersection, there was no sign; as navigator I confidently made the wrong call to go right. We found ourselves on US 441 going south. Even though there were signs for Asheville, our destination for the night, there were no more Parkway signs.

"I must've been wrong," I admitted. "Let's go back and try the other fork." That was US 441 North; but no signs for the Parkway there either. I talked to the Droid about the Parkway; it told me we were 100 miles away, can't be right. We needed to use a restroom and had only half a tank of gas. "You might as well ask for directions," I said before Mary could make the suggestion. We were at a big gas station attached to an even bigger kitsch shop. Mary went in while I worked on a new problem, couldn't find the latch in the rental car to open the door to the gas tank.

In desperation, I was reading the manual from the glove compartment when Mary came out of the store. The good news was that she flipped the latchless gas hatch open by pushing on it. The bad news: "This road goes to Tennessee; we have to go back and take a right. That's the way to Asheville."

"But we don't just want to get to Asheville; we want to take the Blue Ridge Parkway," I objected.

"That's what the man in there said," Mary said, "and a woman agreed with him."

"But that's back the way we came," I said. "That can't be right."

"You go ask."

So I did. I took my tourist brochure for the Parkway (which didn't quite describe how to get on to it) with me to show the picture of it intersecting US 441. I told them I knew that US 441 North would bend over to Tennessee but just needed to know where it intersected the Parkway. I showed them the map. "Turn around; go back," they said. I kept arguing as politely as I could.

Finally, another man came out from the back. "The Parkway entrance is two miles up the road on the right," he said. "There's a great big sign."

"I never heard of that," said the first man.

"Me, neither," said the woman.

But the sign was there and so was the Parkway.

Which all goes to show what all men know: the closer you are to something, the less likely it is that anyone in a gas station will have heard of it or give you correct directions to get there. The second man was the exception which proves the rule. He must've been from somewhere else.



Getting Back Online

You don't want to be without your computer at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare; my computer was stolen the day before in a smash and grab. The hotel has a business center, which is run by FedEx; the charge for using a slow computer there is $.40 PER MINUTE; printing is extra, almost $1.00 per page. This follows the inverse price rule with which business travelers are familiar: the higher the nightly charge, the less amenities like free WiFi, parking, breakfast, and use of computers.

In the sleepless hours before dawn, after changing my passwords, I'd made my plan. Bought a couple of computer mags at SFO to read on the way to ORD to get hints on the latest in laptops. On arrival would go right to the business center and fill out the online accident report for Hertz, order a restore CD to be overnighted from Mozy- where hopefully I'd backedup everything I needed to restore, and I'd shop online for a computer.

In the laptop mags I learned that 15 inch screens don't have any more total pixels than 14, but are harder to carry and – even more important – drain their batteries more quickly, was reminded that keyboard backlighting is a good thing, noticed how much more powerful video processors have become except in "business" machines, and saw that ThinkPads still have the eraser tip cursors that I prefer to touchpads for portable mousing.

OK. Better submit the Hertz form before shopping. It's at https://images.hertz.com/pdfs/VIR20090515.pdf if you'd like to see an example of how NOT to design an online form. In order to enter numbers you put one digit in each space and then click with the mouse to the next space, tabbing gives you an edit error. If you just type numbers they all run together in one number space. Found, reasonably enough, that Hertz wanted me to supply the number of my own insurance policy (I didn't pay for the collision damage waiver, of course, but Visa is supposed to cover that) so postponed completing the form.

Was disappointed to see that Mozy wouldn't promise delivery of the restore disk before three or four business days (but the disk did actually arrive in two days).

Shopping online, even forcing myself to ignore the $.40/minute charge, was frustrating. I'd decided not to buy my third Toughbook in a row even though I'd liked the two I had. Now most boats have a GPS and so does my phone; so I don't really need one in a waterproof computer with a touchscreen. The Toughbook graphic processor didn't let me take advantage of wide desktop screens; the machine is fairly slow; and typing on the waterproof membrane keyboard (optional) made me miss a lot of letters I had to go back and fill in later; the touchpad was so bad that I always carried a mouse. But it was great not to worry about dropping it or getting caught in the rain; and it doubled as a footstool on long flights. Anyway, the decision was easy because it takes a long time to get a Toughbook configured the way you want it and email on my Droid was quickly becoming a pain.

Nothing else I wanted was available quickly either. Dell has a page for machines that can be shipped immediately but all too low end (they ought to let you specify the shipment window you can accept and then search). Thinkpads, fuggetaboutit. BestBuy can tell you when you can pick up a particular model in a particular store or when it will be shipped to you; but none of the specific models I'd been attracted to in the computer magazines were available in any reasonable period of time. Not much luck with a couple of other online retailers. Realized later when I shopped for peripherals that I should have tried Amazon; they do seem to be able to ship immediately even when the manufacturer they're buying from can't.

Anyway, decided to go to BestBuy and search in person. You do want to try keyboards before buying. A cab to BestBuy wasn't much more expensive than shopping online in the business center. Looked at every instock Windows laptop and decided without too much thought (the cab was waiting outside) to buy a 14 inch Toshiba Satellite E205 with 4GB of RAM, 456GB harddrive, and 64 bit Windows Home Premium. It claims five hour battery life, has an LED backlit display and keyboard, USB sleep-and-charge so you can turn off the computer and still charge stuff, and a wireless way to transmit to your HDTV screen. About $800 dollars before tax and including the receiver that plugs into the HDTV.

So now I had my own computer to complete the Hertz form with, although, this being an expensive hotel, I had to pay for WiFi ($10 from t-mobile and it still worked the next day in the airport) . Called my agent and got my policy number. But, even with everything filled in to the best of my ability, each time I clicked the "send" button I got a message saying there was an edit error but not telling me where or how to fix it. Couldn't print and fax (without going back to the business center). So I printed to Microsoft XPS Document Writer which creates a file, and emailed the file to Hertz. Asked for a confirmation of receipt which I still haven't gotten three days later.

Next steps: loading and learning the computer.

Beginning of the story: Blog Blocked by Breakin.

Blog Blocked by Breakin

Shards of shattered window glistened on the asphalt and on the backseat where my laptop bag shouldn't have been so conspicuous. The bag was gone, of course, and with it the laptop, extra batteries, several cables and chargers, a mouse, a USB multiport, my Garmin watch and chest strap, miscellaneous pills, and whatever else had accumulated in the bag's many pockets. I always put the valuable stuff in the carryon bag so it won't get lost by the airline. Ironically the to-be-checked suitcases lightly disguised under the hatchback weren't taken, and Mary's carryon bag was still on the floor of the back seat. Truly a smash and grab and a lousy way to end a great week visiting grandchildren and their parents.

The purpose of this post isn't to whine, though, or even to make an excuse for not blogging for a couple of days (there's an unfinished post still on the laptop – maybe). The real story is about technology, reconnecting, and help from the cloud.

First things first: Mary called the cops; I called Hertz. The very polite Sunnyvale police told us we were unlikely to get the computer back; but opened a case and gave us a number. You can't file any claims without a number.

Hertz said they'd come and tow the car but that I'd have to go the Hertz office to file a report, not what I wanted to at the moment since son-in-law Hugh kindly said he'd drive us to the airport hotel and we didn't need another car. They said I had to; but, when the human hung up, a robot gave me further instructions for reporting an accident, which said I had 24 hours to report and gave the URL of an online form. Much better.

The stolen computer has built in Verizon wireless connectivity so, while waiting for the tow truck, I 611'd VZW. I could get to the place in the voice menu where it asked if I wanted to cancel the phone I was calling from – "Duh, no". But I don't know the pseudo phone number associated with the radio in the phone. Pushed zero for an operator. Was told zero is not a ten digit number. Tried zero again. "Push zero to confirm you'd like to be connected to an operator." Did that. Robot hung up. Tried again; same sequence; same result. Calling and immediately saying "operator, operator" AND pushing zero did get through to a very helpful human who retrieved the computer's number and suspended it without inadvertently killing the phone which was now my only remaining connection.

In the hotel in the middle of the night it occurred to me to worry whether I had let the browser remember my password for anything important. The computer itself was protected by its own password but I assume someone knows how to hack through that. Decided to change my passwords for Google, PayPal, and Amazon; but, of course, had no computer to do that with. Took my Droid into the hotel bathroom and fired up its browser. All three of these services have mobile-formatted pages but none of them let you change a password without going to the regular version of the website. I could never have done this on my old Blackberry but did get the passwords changed for Google and Amazon. PayPal's site and the Droid couldn't agree about where on the screen I was touching (clicking); and PayPal was the service I cared about most.

Ah, but I still had my Kindle, which had been in Mary's bag. Kindle has Internet capability. Used that to change my PayPal password but didn't quite get back to sleep before it was time to get up for the 6am flight.

There was a lot not to panic about. My computer, except for the partially completed post I'd worked on that day, was backed up in the Mozy cloud. Incremental backup happens every connected night. I wasn't out of email touch since I get and can respond to email on my Droid. My contacts and calendar are not only on Mozy but also on Gmail thanks to gsyncit; and they replicate from gmail to the Droid. A year ago I would have been much more concerned and much less connected.

next the world's worst e-form, an unfriendly business center, and training a new computer: Getting Back Online

Stromboli Volcano – A Must See

You can hear the gurgles, coughs, and explosions of the Stomboli lava tube clearing its irritable throat before you reach the southwest edge of the caldera at 3000 feet. The guided hikes, all the way from sea level, of course, are timed to put you on the ridge at dusk after a brief stop to put on dry shirts, jackets, and helmets. The eruptions are a thousand feet below you because of the collapse of the northwest wall of the crater 13,000 years ago. Stromboli is the archetype of the stombolian volcano, a tube in almost continuous small eruption

The horseshoe of fire above is a constant. Every ten to twenty minutes there are explosions like the one I did a bad job of photographing below as bubbles of gas are explosively released from solution and throw magma hundreds of feet into the air. Most come from the main vent, but occasionally a side vent flares with fire and red hot pumice. Every few years there are larger eruptions, which can throw lava bombs dangerously close to the small town on the island and create lava flows which reach the sea.

As you can see from the gps map below, the route up (about three hours) is a series of switchbacks),mostly on loose rock. We worried that we wouldn't be able to keep our footing coming down, even with our headlamps (the guide didn't speak English so we may have missed some explanations). But, when we started down after an hour on top, we went straight down in an almost rock-free cinder and ash slide; this semi-skiing technique of long steps, heal first, then a slide is easy to learn and easy to execute even on very tired legs. We were down in a little over an hour.

Where the path down went through vegetation, it had been worn shoulder-deep by walkers and water. But worrying about man-caused erosion on the cone of an active volcano is hubris.

Related posts:

Hiking Down Aetna

Blog on Vacation

Hiking Down Aetna

Click Picture for Live Google Map with Garmin Data

For two days we'd been in a hotel halfway up Etna (as it's spelled locally) waiting for the rain and snow to stop and wind to calm down so that we can go the rest of the way. Yesterday was the day. It was cold (but not by Vermont standards), and it was clear above although undercast below.

You can walk up; we didn't. We took a cable car about half way and then a bus with huge tires up a road just cleared by a snow blower to a parking lot at close to 10,000 feet. Unfortunately there'd been an "explosion" near the summit the day before so we weren't allowed to go up the final thousand feet and peer down into the crater. We took a guided walk down, which you can see in the picture above. The trail was traced by my Garmin Forerunner 305, which, unlike my droid, had no trouble figuring out where it was. If you click on the picture, you'll get a live Google map with much more data about my heart rate during the descent than you could possibly be interested in.

The loop at the top is around the rim of a recent small cinder cone, still steaming at the sunken center. The ground on the rim was warm to the touch, nice because our hands were freezing in the cold wind. Above us yellow smoke puffed from a recent vent in the crater wall. The very large crater on the right side of our path is the remnant of an earlier Etna caldera when the eruptions were just off the then east cost of Sicily.

The last 2000 feet down were a controlled slide, something like skiing without traversing, on a slope of loose cinders and ash. This must be a great ski area in the winter since the lava flows make natural trails. There are quite a few high altitude lifts.

On the way up we met Sonia and Sebastian who are bloggers (and CRM consultants) on a four month sailing adventure. Check out Sonia's Etna post on www.sailingchallenge.de for a great set of pictures and a video of the cinder ski (Mary and I are in the opening and closing frames).

VZW Droid X Flunks Foreign GPS Test – GPS Status to the Rescue

Where in the world are Tom and Mary? We knew we were in the Hertz lot in Catania, Sicily; but our droid X GPS insisted we were in Somalia – not what we had in mind. Mary wouldn't let us sit more than five minutes to let the GPS find itself; good thing because a day later it still didn't know where it was. Driving with printed directions is so yesterday – and didn't work very well since the signs Google thought would be there weren't and street names were invisible. We weren't even talking to each other after neither I nor my droid could navigate in time to give Mary directions on twisty, narrow streets in the rain and gathering dark.

Once I had an Internet connection, I searched for droid GPS problems. There are a lot reported on various fora, most involving loss of GPS capability but not all related to foreign travel. I tried all the various prescriptions for hard reboots including taking the battery out for half an hour, holding the power key for 30 seconds with the battery out, etc. etc. Droid is still lost a day later.

There are two related problems. I already knew (and posted) that standard droid navigation, which downloads Google maps on the fly, wouldn't work without a wireless connection, which I wouldn't be able to get with my CDMA Verizon Wireless phone in GPS-standardized Europe (even if I wanted to pay roaming data rates). Lots of people who posted about problems with navigation outside the US were confused about the lack of Google maps. But I had downloaded a free map of Sicily from MapDroyd; that wasn't my problem.

On some forum I read about GPS Status, a free app (donation requested), which gives you details on what satellites your GPS sees. Downloaded that and saw that my GPS saw nada –like all the birds went silent at once. GPS Status also lets you flush and reload your GPS assistance file. Hmm, I thought, that could be the problem. When cell towers are available, the droid gets a crude location from them and then can more easily do the trigonometry to figure out precisely where it is from GPS signals. The last time my droid knew where it was, it was in Vermont; it can't get info from European cell sites. Maybe my new location just didn't compute.

So I reset from GPS Status and used a WiFi connection to download a new helper file, which would presumably contain hints based on my IP address. Looked hopefully at the display: no satellites. Did all the battery out drills, some twice. Restarted the GPS and GPS Status. Still no satellites. Another trip of grim paper-based navigation, in thunder, up Etna.

Did two things: emailed EclipSim, the makers of GPS Status, to ask if they heard of similar problems and did a more serious search of the Motorola Support Forum. EclipSim (to whom I'd as yet paid nothing) wrote back within an hour saying that users had reported a problem getting the GPS to work when in airplane mode; roughly the same thing in a post on the Motorola forum.

Now, naturally, you're in airplane mode when you don't expect to (or want to) connect to cellular networks. In Europe I can't connect to cellular networks but still want to save the battery. Once I turned airplane mode off (meaning turned the cellular radio on) and did one more reset and reload with GPS Status, my screen showed a sky full of good GPS signals and MapDroyd correctly located me on a rainy balcony halfway up Etna! The cellular network shouldn't be needed for GPS location even though it can provide hints. In fact, the cellular network ISN'T needed for the GPS to work. But you still CAN'T be in airline mode when you get your first fix – allegedly can go back to airline mode after but I haven't thoroughly tested.

BTW, in droid settings under "location and security" I have "Use wireless networks" off, "Use GPS satellites" on, and "Enable Assisted GPS" off; don't know if this matters but it does work.

A raspberry to Motorola and Google for this weirdness. And a hat tip to EclipSim for both a great product and great support. Now let's see if I can be a better navigator.

Related posts:

Packing My Droid for Travel

Droid, Gmail, gSyncit, iPhone, Outlook, Mary and Me

Navigating on My Droid

Swyping from my Droid – The Supplement

This post was swyped on my droid

Droid Setup – Day 1 of My Re-Retirement

Packing My Droid for Travel

My Verizon Droid isn't going to be able to communicate with cell towers in Europe; it uses CDMA technology and Europe is all GSM. But I've gotten dependent on the droid for lots of things including navigation. In most cases, there's an app for that - even two or three apps.

Let's start with navigation. My droid is now my GPS; its screen is plenty big enough. But it navigates using Google maps, which it downloads on the fly over my data connection to Verizon Wireless (VZW). Not going to have that connection in Europe. Googled "droid download maps", quickly found a few solutions, and downloaded a couple of them for good measure.

MapDroyd is free including a very good selection of international maps which I can download and save on my droid now while I'm still online. I need Sicily and they've got that. The trouble with MapDroyd is that it doesn't do turn-by-turn directions, say they plan to a future plus version which they'll probably charge for. Still, it could be a help so it's now installed on the droid.

CoPilot Live for the Android does do turn-by-turn and has downloadable apps. Its maps are expensive, though; the all Europe package is over $100 and'll take up a lot of space on my phone. There are supposed to be country-specific maps which are smaller and presumably cheaper; but it's not clear how to select them from the droid marketplace. I asked CoPilot Live tech support via email but haven't got anything but a robo-acknowledgement yet.

Don't know whether it counts as navigation but I downloaded Google's free Sky Mapfor good measure in case I find myself in a starship.

Calling over WiFi should be a good thing even when I can't connect to VZW (or maybe even when I can). The Skype application for droid is a disappointment. It does connect over WiFi in the US; but, if the call is domestic, Verizon charges you for it. You do save money if your calling another Skype user or if you're making an international call to a regular phone in which case you pay Skype and not VZW rates. Apparently, it won't call over WiFi outside the US so useless for calling home, which is exactly what I want to be able to do.

Fring looks like it may be the call-home answer. The app is free and can even make video calls fring-to-fring and supports free calls to SIP users. But not all my friends are SIPing nerds (if you don't know what SIP is, don't worry). FringOut supports calling ordinary phone numbers at a low cents per minute (one cent to the US, 1.7 cents to Italy); these are rates to landlines, though; it takes too much searching on the Fring site to find that mobile rates are much higher to countries outside North America where there is usually a mobile surcharge. I have an old phone that'll I get an Italian SIM for to make calling and texting locally cheaper.

Using WiFi instead of VZW. Wanted to make sure I will be able to use fring and send and receive email when I have a WiFi connection but am traveling out of range of VZW. Enabling WiFi on the droid was easy and logical. It found my home network right away and linked to it and through it with no trouble. Hopefully will do as well with networks with different security. It's not obvious whether your WiFi or VZW connection is being used when you have both, but I needed to know for testing purposes. Good trick is to go into airline mode which disables VZW, WiFi, and Bluetooth, then selectively re-enable WiFi. Fring and email and browsing DO work in this configuration. Phew. Consensus of the droid fora is that WiFi is used by most apps (but not Skype outside the US) whenever it's available, so enabling at home helps save you from going over the 5 gig "unlimited" limit on your droid.

Findle app. Came with my droid; enabled it by giving my Amazon account info. Downloaded a book I've been reading on Kindle. Opened right to the page I was reading on the Kindle. Cool!

Plans B and C. I will be taking my laptop which has built in WiFi and GPS so can use both of those; and I have a Skype account on that. Have an Ethernet cable, of course. Also have a couple of USB cellular modems I've accumulated into which I ought to be able to put SIMs to get prepaid cellular data in Italy. Have my real Kindle – the international edition. And Mary has her iPhone which does work in Europe (because at&t uses GSM) although at an outrageous price. I'll let you know how much I can rely on droid plan A.

Related posts:

Droid, Gmail, gSyncit, iPhone, Outlook, Mary and Me

Navigating on My Droid

Swyping from my Droid – The Supplement

This post was swyped on my droid

Droid Setup – Day 1 of My Re-Retirement

Ryan InterContinental

Why is the luxury InterContinental like low-cost no-frill Ryanair? Read on.

What a deal! Mary went on Priceline and got us three nights in the Athenaeum InterContinental Athens for $100 night, just a little more than we paid for the three star Acropole Hotel in Delphi.

At check-in, knowing we were paying so little, I accepted the €30/night upgrade offer to a renovated room on a high floor. The room is nice and we can see the Acropolis, which is lit up at night. I'll never know what the un-upgraded room would've been like.

Well, of course the Acropole had free WiFi; it's €19.95/day for the cheapest option at the InterContinental up to €49.95 if you want 10Mps and need it to work not only in your own room but in public areas and meeting rooms.

Breakfast was included at the Acropole. It's €30/each at the InterContinental (but you can get your eggs other than hard boiled). Mary and I like cheap, greasy breakfasts (she actually prefers sticky to greasy) but the InterContinental is in a commercial zone which seems to be free of competing restaurants. That also meant that last night, when we were tired from a day on the Acropolis, in the Agora (birthplace of democracy), and walking around the old city, we ate in the hotel restaurant. Pretty good food but ouch! A bottle of three buck chuck equivalent goes for €26. A bottle of Jack Daniels (which we didn't have) is €140.

Ryanair will famously fly you for a single euro plus tax on some routes. But then there are the booking fees, credit card fees, baggage fees (where do you think US airlines learned that trick?), priority boarding fees (no assigned seats so you want to be able to make a dash to stay out of the middle), lots of opportunity to buy things inflight, and nada for free.

Has lnterContinental learned to use Priceline as a low cost lure? Probably not but it wouldn't be a bad strategy.

See http://blog.tomevslin.com/2007/03/easyjet_is_chea.html for my experience with Ryanair clone easyJet.

Now on Kindle!

hackoff.com: An historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble

CEO Tom Evslin's insider account of the Internet bubble and its aftermath. "This novel is a surveillance video of the seeds of the current economic collapse."

The Interpreter's Tale

Hacker Dom Montain is in Barcelona in Evslin's Kindle-edition long short story. Why? and why are the pickpockets stealing mobile phones?

Need A Kindle?

Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device

Not quite as good as a real book IMHO but a lot lighter than a trip worth of books. Also better than a cell phone for mobile web access - and that's free!

Recent Reads - Click title to order from Amazon


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