Monthly Archives: September 2010

My Own No Baggage Challenge?

Scott Jordan, CEO of Scottevest, has posted a new call for bloggers or writers to do a no baggage challenge with either no bags or no checked bags. This definitely is something I’d be interested in doing. I’m planning a trip to Japan for 10 days in November and would love to do it as light as possible. I’m reaching out to Jordan and expressing interest in taking him up on his challenge and I’ll update if I hear anything back.

Review: Cole Haan Air Samuel

I recently purchased a pair of Cole Haan Air Samuel Plain Oxford shoes. I’d heard good things about the use of Nike Air cushioning in a formal dress shoe. My biggest problem with dress shoes has been that the soles just aren’t forgiving for extended wear.

 

Cole Haan heels

Cole Haan, falling apart after 1 day

It turns out that these are probably the worst made shoe I’ve ever bought. Within about 10 minutes of walking, I realized there was something bunching up in the toes of each shoe, making it really uncomfortable to walk. I assumed it was my socks and when I had a chance, I checked to see how I’d twisted my toes up.  It turns out neither shoe’s insole was glued in. They were just floating around. Additionally, while the heel of the insole was about normal insole thickness, the insoles taper in thickness towards the toes, which are only slightly thicker than a handkerchief. While I only wore these shoes for one day (and am trying to get Zappos.com to take them back, despite being worn), I would have to imagine that the thinness of the insole in the toes could become uncomfortable over time.

Unfortunately the poor quality did not stop at the insole. At the end of one day of wearing them and a grand total of about 15 city blocks walked — with the rest of my day spent walking indoors on carpet and tile — the heel and toe of the soles looked like they were a year old. Whereas some shoes have wood or hardened leather for soles, Zappos described these as having a combination leather and rubber sole. If this stuff is leather, it’s the lowest quality and softest shoe sole leather I’ve ever seen. After one very easy day of use, these are look akin to spray painted hard cardboard. They have no durability and the severity of wear from one low-key day was truly appalling.

Cole Haan full

After 1 day of use, heels look a year old

 

Beyond the lack of quality and durability, these shoes actually were fairly comfortable. It’s pretty disappointing that they are so poorly made. There’s no use making a comfortable shoe that promptly falls apart.

These shoes cost $158 on Zappos.com. That’s not cheap and I expected something orders of magnitude better than what I got. I’d say the shoes I got are probably worth about $30 at a discount shoe store.

I’ll update this when I know if Zappos is going to refund me for my order or not. Their policy is no returns if something has been worn, but since this is such an obviously defective pair of shoes, I expect them to take the shoes back for a refund.

Update:

Zappos has accepted my return and fully refunded me for this purchase.

Southwest + AirTran

I was actually pretty excited to find out this morning that Southwest is acquiring AirTran. I’ve had a pretty good set of experiences on both of these budget carriers over the years. Plus AirTran has more flights out of the Washington area to places that Southwest doesn’t fly, making it easier for me to travel on a carrier I like. From the SWA press release:

This acquisition…offers Customers more low-fare destinations as we extend our network and diversify into new markets, including significant opportunities to and from Atlanta, the busiest airport in the U.S. and the largest domestic market we do not serve, as well as Washington, D.C. via Ronald Reagan National Airport [sic*]. The acquisition also allows us to expand our presence in key markets, like New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan, and Baltimore/Washington. It presents us the opportunity to extend our service to many smaller domestic cities that we don’t serve today, and provides access to key near-international leisure markets in the Caribbean and Mexico.

The Washington area has three airports – National (DCA), Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington International (BWI). Dulles and BWI are between 45 minutes and an hour away from northwest Washington, while National is about ten to fifteen minutes by car and slightly longer by Metro. While BWI is accessible via the MARC commuter rail and Amtrak, Dulles has no public transportation access and is about a $70 cab ride or $40 Super Shuttle. As a result, the only convenient airport option in DC for me is from DCA. Southwest is primarily out of BWI and does not have flights from DCA – so flying a carrier I like has meant added travel time and costs to do it, which really isn’t an appealing combination. Getting to fly a carrier I like from an airport that is convenient is a huge plus for me, so I definitely approve of this merger.

* NB: only Republicans call it Reagan. The rest of us call it National or DCA.

Kindle vs. iBooks

iBooksKindle

Ever since I got my iPad, I’ve been reading a fair bit through the iBooks app. Though the iTunes store has a really limited selection of books, the picture quality is incredible, so incredible that it actually makes me want to read more. I’ve quietly suffered through the lack of selection in the iTunes store for about six months. While I’ve found it so limited that it’s borderline useless when it comes to finding books I actually want to read, it’s still saved me on a couple trips where I’ve finished my physical book and not wanted to scrounge for a semi-tolerable airport novel.

It wasn’t until this week when I happened to be looking for a book that wasn’t on the iTunes store on Amazon.com that I realized I should give the Kindle for iPad app a try. Amazon offers a free version of the Kindle for iPad, iPhone and Mac (along with other platforms that don’t interest me). The Amazon library of books available for Kindle is orders of magnitude larger than the iTunes library. Amazon is generally slightly cheaper than Apple, too.

But what really makes this for me is that the Kindle syncs reading across up to six devices. I can start reading in the morning on my iPad at home, contine reading on my iPhone while I’m riding the bus to work, then pick up the book again on my Macbook Pro while I’m eating lunch at my desk at work. By contrast, while I can have the iBooks app on both my iPad and iPhone, it doesn’t sync across devices.

I do prefer the interface of iBooks over the Kindle app. The finger swipe page turning in iBooks is a lot slicker and more familiar than the Kindle app. I also like the built-in note, highlight, search and dictionary functions better on iBooks.

I guess I would say that if Apple dramatically ramped up their available catalog for books, while slightly lowering their pricing and adding multi-device syncing, I would prefer it to the Kindle app. But for now, the Kindle app is likely to be my electronic reader app of choice. Syncing and selection are simply too important for defining what an effective alternative to physical books is to be ignored. Hopefully Apple is paying attention and working to improve iBooks to the point where it is really competitive and not just the first choice of company loyalists like myself.

RTW & Books

Travel author Rolf Potts is currently in the midst of a round-the-world trip in which he isn’t carrying a single piece of luggage. The No Baggage Challenge is sponsored by travel clothing company ScotteVest and the travel site BootsnAll. Potts is wearing clothing that is both flexible for the various climates he is visiting, as well as full of pockets that allow him to carry everything needs to make his trip. The blog has become a must read for me, as it’s both well-written and full of very high-level videos from the trip. For background, check out this post about why Rolf is traveling with no luggage and this one explaining how he’s managed to pack for a six week trip with no bags.

As he’s traveling without bags, it’s not surprising that Rolf is forgoing any physical books. I’ve always traveled with books. Reading while I travel is actually one of my favorite things about traveling – as I’m able to devote more attention to what’s in front of me when I’m not at my desk or in an apartment with laptops nearby. Now Rolf is still able to read digital books on his iPod, but his latest video includes an interesting comment about how he’s missing physical books (from 0:56 to 1:22 of the video):

One interesting thing that happened while I was at a safari lodge in South Africa is that I was, I walked past this giant bookshelf full of travel books. And up until that moment I didn’t really miss travel books, but there was something about the physicality of seeing those books and taking them off the shelf that and looking at them and smelling them that made me realize that I missed books, maybe in the physical sense more than the reading sense because I can read books on my iPod. But something about seeing an old school bookshelf sort of got to me.

I can relate to this. I spent 2007 and 2008 working on political campaigns. I was based first in Washington, DC and then Anchorage, Alaska. In both places I was renting furnished apartments month-to-month. Other than my computer and clothes, I had basically nothing of my own where I was living for the better part of two years. I’m a big reader and I did accumulate a pretty respectable stack of books over that time period that moved with me from the District to Alaska, but this was just a small fraction of my library. As time went on, I found myself developing a deep longing to be back in an apartment filled with not just my furniture and artwork, but especially my books. This went from being a slight twinge to, towards the summer of 2008, I’d say a pretty strong nesting desire to be surrounded by the hundreds of books I’d read for work, for pleasure and for education over the last number of years. In many ways, it was the strongest pull towards home that I’d felt in my adult life. Whether the desire to be around my books was a proxy for something larger or the real desire in itself is something I can’t answer, but the phenomenon intrigued me.

I’ve never really traveled without a physical book. On my last trip to the west coast (last week), I went on the plane with only my iPad (and a magazine for the periods of the flight when electronics were prohibited). But beyond the iPad, in my luggage I had a copy of Huey Long’s autobiography, Every Man A King. I’m traveling to New England this weekend and plan to only bring my iPad for reading, so we’ll see how it goes. I have bigger plans to rely on this alone when I go to Japan later this fall, though if I get really adventurous, I may just try going with my iPhone.

One question I have is how usable electronic versions of travel books are – I’ve never used a travel guide on a mobile device, but I have to imagine that they exist and are functional.

Of course, the natural question following Rolf Potts’ experience in South Africa is will I miss physical books if I end up traveling for a week or two without them? I doubt the time frame is long enough to really experience the sort of withdrawal he references above.

Reading List

Right now I’m reading two books by travel author Rolf Potts, Vagabonding and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There. The former I’m reading on the Kindle for iPad, iPhone and Mac and the latter I’m reading on my iPad through the iTunes Library. Vagabonding is something of a bible for, well, vagabonds and minimalists who love to travel. So far it is fantastic. Marco Polo is excellent as well – featuring pieces Potts has written on his travels in the past.

I’m also reading Cocktail Techniques by Japanese bartending master Kazuo Uyeda. I’m very slowly getting into Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein. I really stress the slowly part here. I’ve been a bit discouraged to lug it with me on recent trips, as it’s about 700 pages long. There is a Kindle version – something which would have been useful for me to know before I bought the paperback book. But since I just got into using the Kindle app, I can’t really blame anyone other than myself for this one…

Bundled Packing

Via Lifehacker

I travel a fair bit for work – usually two short trips per month, though depending on what’s happening, more frequent, week-long trips are common. Over the course of the last three years, I’ve gotten extremely good at packing quickly and efficiently. However, I’ve almost always been traveling for work and therefore packed lots of things like multiple dress shirts, pants, sports coats, and undershirts. Packing has generally been an exercise in taking the minimum of stuff needed for a one shirt, one undershirt per day, well folded and tightly layered. That is, while I’ve gotten used to packing well, I thought, I never really considered myself as packing truly light.

Recently I read about a method of packing by building a layered bundle. You take your largest items, start with them on the bottom and layer on top so you’re fitting the folds of each garment into the ones beneath it. The video above gives a good demonstration of the process. The result is that you are packing more items in a smaller space, while simultaneously reducing the volume and crease of wrinkles.

On my last trip to the West Coast I tried this sort of bundling, though instead of going for a rectangular fold, I created a rectangle layered with slacks, shirts, and undershirts and the rolled them together. I did a similar layered roll with gym shorts and underwear. I found this gave a really compact result as well. I’ll have to try the rectangular bundle from the video on my next trip to see what works better.

One other caveat: when I travel for work, I’m now using a Swiss Army 22" rolling carry-on with a built in garment sleeve. It’s pretty good for moving dry cleaned clothes on hangers and keeping them wring free. Additionally, the sleeve has two built-in bolsters for folding, so it builds a relatively compact bundle. I’m not that big a fan of rolling suitcases as carry-ons. It doesn’t feel like much of a carry-on when you can easily stuff in 40 pounds of crap and be just as slow moving as someone carrying a larger checked bag. I really prefer rocking a backpack as my only carryon back. I like feeling like I can just walk off a plane to where I’m going (even if it means my first stop is to baggage claim to pick up a suitcase).

Blogger Hamlin

In 2007 and 2008 I had the privilege to work on Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign. My job as Deputy Internet Director was pretty great. I got to travel with Senator Dodd on all of his political trips — basically a lot of visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, along with the other frequent stops in the 2008 cycle (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Nevada, and Utah). My primary role was to serve as the campaign’s videographer and blogger from the road. Given my name (Matt Browner-Hamlin) it wasn’t surprising that my nickname on the campaign was Blogger Hamlin. I never really embraced it then, but am doing so now as the name of this blog. I’ll see if it sticks, but for now I think it’ll do just fine.

Getting Started

I’ve been blogging about politics for almost six years and writing about cocktails, bars and spirits for about two years.

I want to start this site to be for something else – not an aggregator of my writings on politics or cocktails, but a different and unique space. I’m leaning towards writing about traveling, technology, social networks, and life as a digital native. What that really means I do not yet know. Maybe it will end up being a blog just about my life (something I’ve never had a strong desire to write). Maybe it will be a place where I review a lot of the different gear and technology I interact with. Maybe it will be about my frequent travels for work and less frequent travels for pleasure. Maybe it will be about the places I draw inspiration from around the web. We shall see…