Monthly Archives: October 2010

Tweet, Tweet, Chile

Great news – I’m one of the five finalists in the Tweet, Tweet, Chile contest. Whoever can get the most votes will win a seven day trip to tour Chile and sample the incredible wines produced there.

Please go to http://tweet.winesofchile.org/vote/ and vote for me, then pass the link along to your family and friends. Seriously – help would be greatly appreciated, as I’d love to use this trip as an opportunity to learn a great deal first-hand about Chilean wines.

Please vote now!

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Delta Ups the Ante Versus Scottevest

This is just nuts. Delta has started a new round of intimidation tactics against Scottevest, sending a cease-and-desist letter and threatening a lawsuit because the clothing company was hosting a contest on its site where the prize was…wait for it…a free flight on Delta in the United States.

Scottevest clearly didn’t intend to pick a fight with Delta – the prize was pretty clearly an effort to show the company wanted to move past its Delta magazine ad war with them. After all, Scottevest was going to spend money to send people on Delta flights. This was hardly an act of corporate warfare on Scottevest’s part. CEO Scott Jordan responded to the Delta cease-and-desist letter (from a moving car):

Scottevest has done the sensible thing and side-stepped the Delta attack by changing the prize for the Carry-On Coat Contest and clarifying that Delta isn’t associated with it:

Please note that the prize is now a US domestic flight on any airline that works with the Amex points system, not just Delta… and that no endorsement, ownership or association is implied or to be inferred between SCOTTEVEST, the Carry-on Contest and any airlines or trademark holders mentioned.

Here’s a thought. Delta is once again picking a fight with Scottevest. As the threatening letter says, Delta is a massive corporation with “28 billion dollars in annual revenue.” Scottevest is a small business. Those of us who work in politics professionally know that you never punch down, it makes you look small and it makes your opponent look bigger than they are. Well, Delta clearly doesn’t know this. Delta is punching down. Again. Delta really should knock this off.

Rolf Potts @ Google

A really interesting talk by Rolf Potts at Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

Fjallraven Vintage Backpack 20L

Fjallraven Vintage 20L

I’ve been using the Fjallraven Vintage 20L Backpack for the last six months or so. It’s ranged from being my mainly daily backpack for commuting two and from work – carrying things like my iPad, gym clothes and whatever else I need that time – to a business travel carry on pack with my 17 inch MacBook Pro, iPad, noise canceling headphones, and notebooks. I haven’t done any real hiking or camping with it, though I am considering it as a good longer-term travel pack.

Fjallraven Vintage 20L back

Fjallraven has been making packs in Sweden for fifty years. The Vintage Backpack is very  much in their tradition of simple, durable packs. It really screams “Old School Backpack” – from its color to three compartment design to its leather straps. What makes it really slick, though, is the back of the pack has a raised, mesh Air Vent support system that keeps the bag itself off of your back. I’ve always been annoyed by carrying a full bag on a hot day, pressing against your back and causing a big sweat stain down the center of my back. I’ve never had that problem with this bag because of the Air Vent system. But I should back up first. While I was looking into buying this bag online, I could find almost no pictures of it beyond what it looked like closed and from the front. I was pretty surprised at how modern and technologically advanced that Vintage Backpack was when it arrived in person. The Air Vent system includes metal beams which curve the back of the pack’s main compartment. The upside, as I’ve mentioned, is it keeps your back cooler. The down side is that the main compartment doesn’t have a straight back, but a curved one, which reduces the amount of space in it, as well as makes packing big, rectangular items (like a laptop) a bit trickier.

Fjallraven Vintage 20L front

While we’re on the back side of the pack, the shoulder straps are great and well padded. They can be adjusted through a strap system of metal grommets and buckles. There is also a waste strap and upper chest strap, though I haven’t had the need to use these.

The first thing that stands out with the pack is that soft, supple tan leather straps that close the main and side compartments. The leather is very high quality. The biggest issue with this system of leather straps and metal buckles for closing the bag is that they are much slower to open and close than a zipper. But beyond a little slow to open and close, they work really well.

The two side pockets are actually quite sizable. I usually am able to keep pens, a small notepad, business cards and a handkerchief in one, and a sunglasses case and umbrella in the other, without filling them. The only complaint I have with them is that they are fairly tall and the strap closures don’t cinch down to make the items really tight. The pockets can hold a lot, but for a regular use pack it isn’t ideal to have a quasi-open pocket at all times. Yes, the tops of the side pockets are still good at keeping things dry and in place even while not full, but they don’t help keep things safe and secure. If I were to use this bag on a long trip, I’d probably punch in a couple extra holes in the side straps to make the pockets seal tighter.

Fjallraven Vintage 20L main compartment

The main pouch has a two level cinch system that creates a tighter seal under the top flap. The top flap itself has a zipper pocket which is great for assorted valuables. There’s no way to easily reach into it, so it’s quite secure. I’ve used for keeping USB keys, house keys, and other wires and plugs. The only other feature in the main compartment is a vertical cinch tube on the back left of the compartment. I haven’t used it, but it would be useful for holding tent poles, a fishing poll, or a larger umbrella upright in the pack.

The last great feature is that the bottom of the bag has a tough, rubbery material. This is great for both keeping things dry if you’re setting the bag down on a wet surface and for dealing with the extra wear and tear the bottom of a pack deals with.

I’d really like to try doing a long trip out of this bag. It’s only 20L and is quite simple in its construction. Mostly, it’s just a bag. It’s not technical. It’s not heavily compartmentalized. It is simple. While it lacks some of the modern conveniences of contemporary packs, it’s stylish and comfortable. The only other knock on the bag is that it isn’t cheap. I had to order it online from the UK and it was about $130 with shipping. Despite the cost, it’s been a great bag that I use almost daily.

More pictures below the fold. Continue reading

iPod Qua iPhone

Lifehacker has a great post up exploring how you can use an iPod Touch as a replacement device for an iPhone. The idea is that a new iPod Touch is cheaper than a new iPhone 4G and running things this way could save a lot of money. Noting that the hardwear and functionality for both is now identical in the 4G versions, with the exception of the iPhone being a phone, Adam Dachis walks through the things that you need to make this a money-saving reality. All that’s needed is a 4G iPod Touch, a VoIP app like Skype, Fring or Line2, a constant wi-fi connection, and a headset that can work for the iPod. Wi-Fi is easy at home and work, but a mobile wi-fi hotspot like Verizon MiFi or Clear is needed to make this actually work. Of course, adding the data plan for a mobile wi-fi device actually is where the bulk of your costs come with this setup. Dachis writes:

$10 a month seems pretty reasonable for just Line2 phone service, but if you want contant connectivity, throwing in $70/month for the Verizon MiFi is a lot. How exactly is this better than just buying an iPhone? Well, if you get the cheapest, most limited plan the iPhone offers it’s not—you’d actually be spending $10 more by getting a MiFi and using Line2 on your iPod touch. If you get AT&T’s unlimited plan for iPhone, however, you’d save $45 per month by using a MiFi and Line2 on your iPod touch. Here’s the breakdown:

So basically you can pay $10 per month more than the cheapest iPhone data & phone costs, but get a massively larger data, SMS, and talk minutes pay-out. Or you can save $45 per month from the unlimited iPhone option that people who find this post appealing likely already have.

The only other big knock that I see with this setup is that the battery life on a MiFi is not that good, while adding another device you have to worry about charging:

Battery life, however, is a bit of a problem. The iPod touch will last you all day and then some, but the MiFi will not. If you’re lucky, you’ll get four hours out of the MiFi before it quits on you, and a little over three is more likely. On the plus side, you can purchase an extended battery to give you a day’s worth of use, but that’ll set you back an extra $100 and add a bit of bulk to the wonderfully slim MiFi. If you primarily use the MiFi in your car, however, you can always charge it with a USB adapter for your car’s power port.

Another downside to using a MiFi for your connectivity is that you have to carry around and charge two devices. The advantage of having your connection separated from the iPod touch is that you can leave the iPod touch in your pocket and place the MiFi elsewhere, allowing you to get a better signal without having to adjust your position. The MiFi (with the standard battery) is also ridiculously slim. Combined with an iPod touch, they’re about as thick as an iPhone in a case. This isn’t necessarily the most elegant solution, and it’s not without it’s problems, but all of these sacrifices can save you a lot of money on your monthly cellphone bill, so they’re worth some consideration.

For this swap to work, you have to have a functioning MiFi with battery life. If you’re not on wi-fi, the substitution of an iPod for an iPhone stops working, as you can’t receive or place calls or texts.

I think more than anything, this sort of substitution is a fun proof of concept. Yes, you can save some money by going this route. But you also will be creating a more complicated mobile phone setup by taking a one device solution and turning it into a two device solution. That might not be a problem if you don’t mind carrying an extra device, but it shows that saving dollars here requires adding more stuff to the mix. It’s not so slick as to make me want to jump up and do it now, but I’d be curious to find out if anyone does make the switch and keeps it going persistently.

Interesting Read

Over at Lifehacker, Sam Hughes has a post titled “A Minimalist Lifestyle Does Not Make You a Better Person.” No kidding. Actually, despite the bombastic title, the post is pretty straightforward. Hughes writes about how minimalism has simplified his life and, for him at least, made him happier, but not a better person.

It is not possible, nor is it desirable, to own nothing. In fact, a point comes when not owning critical stuff (a bed, a toilet, a room) starts becoming stressful again, in a whole different way from “too much stuff” stress. “Simplicity” is a relative term, and perhaps inapt; try “convenience”, which has more useful connotations. Fitting my life into a small number of boxes tucked under my bed makes me happy. Fretting over the precise enumeration of the items in those boxes would completely defeat the object of the exercise. [Emphasis in the original]

I guess there is both a real and implied moralization in a lot of the online writing about minimalistic living. It’s certainly often perceived that way by people who aren’t living that way and feel threatened by it. But I think Hughes post is a good reminder that minimalist living choices don’t equate to making someone a better person. It really just means they lead a potentially simpler life, less filled with stuff. Everything else is up to them.

Maximized Vacations

Nomadic Matt has a post up about “Maximizing Your Vacation Time.” It’s a really good read and actually fits well with my usual methods of travel. From his post:

Go off the grid – They say it takes 2 days for people to settle to relax and settle into “travel mode.” To expedite that process, turn off your electronics, get off Facebook, and don’t even think of opening your inbox. Disengage yourself from the real world and spend your time thinking about your trip and all the wonderful things you’re going to do while you’re on the road. Keeping your plugged in means you’re simply keeping yourself back home and not where you are.

This is tough for me. I work in the online political space and am literally on multiple email accounts from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. I’m on dozens of email lists and all told, probably get and read between 200-500 emails a day, depending on the time of year. For the first couple of years in professional life, I essentially couldn’t sign off of email. I was addicted and I would always be anxious about missing important emails or breaking news. It made traveling not much fun.

Over the last two years, though, I’ve been getting much better at this. I turn off email listserves. I put up an away message on my work account and diligently refuse to check it. I limit myself to a brief amount of time checking my personal account each day. I’m not totally at the place where I can completely go offline, but I get better with every trip I take.

Travel like a Turtle – I already mentioned above that less is more when you travel. Don’t feel like you have to see everything and go everywhere on your short trip. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time in a place and getting to know it. Most travelers check off the majors sights and then move on to their next destination. You can do better than that. Get to really know London instead of trying to squeeze half of England into your trip. You can always come back. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off ensures only have time for pictures.

This is one of my core things with traveling. I want to enjoy where I’m visiting and I can’t have a good time when I’m rushing. I’d rather see one or two interesting things in a day at a leisurely pace than see every major site a city has to offer. This means make choices, sometimes hard ones. But more often than not, being able to immerse myself into what I’m doing while I’m away is more rewarding than coming home with 300 pictures of churches and monuments.

I was in Italy for spring break my freshman year of college with two friends. We figured out that the best way to enjoy what we were doing involved a lot of sitting around, watching people, drinking espresso, and studying art and architecture. We got the point where our days were so filled with sitting our way through Rome that we thought about writing a book, “A Sitting Tour of Rome,” spoofing off books that focus on walking tour. We planned to include places that had lots of benches, good views, what times of day they were in the sun or shade, and whether anyone would hassle you for loitering. The book never happened, but my appreciation of enjoying a good sit in a different part of the world certainly has.

Relax – This is your vacation. You want to relax and rest and experience your trip your way. When I go to a new place, I like to get into the pace of life there. In places like Barcelona, for example, that means sleeping late and staying up late, and in place like Fiji it means early to be and early to rise. Go with the flow, relax, and enjoy your trip. It’s not the number of things you do but the fun you have that matters.

This is so key. As I’ve advanced in my professional life, the value of relaxing and de-stressing in my travel has increased dramatically. I recognize that I lead a busy and professionally stressful life and vacation is key to my ability to keep working at a high level. In many ways, I more look forward to slowly taking in a destination, unplugging and relaxing than I do the specific details of where I might go. The joys of a particular city, island or country are what make travel interesting. But in my life as a young professional, it’s hard to separate travel from my need for decompression. Hopefully I find time to do more extensive and long-term travel at some point in the future, where the focus for the trip will move beyond primarily about taking a break from working and shift to being more exclusively focused on experiencing other cultures and embracing their pace. In the mean time, I’ll keep practicing unplugging from my electronic life when I travel.

Scottevest vs Delta Update

Gear Diary has must-read additional reporting on this saga, including a rebuttal to the notion floated by Delta that Scottevest baited them with an ad the company knew the airline would reject. Dan Cohen writes:

So, in part, I am writing this to set the record straight. Do I think Scott Jordan intentionally baited Delta into this for the sake of the media story and the resultant PR?

Absolutely not.

In fact, I don’t think it, I know it.

How do I know it? Because at my request Scott shared some of his internal business email exchanges with me. This was after I had agreed to report on the emails’ content without sharing specifics. These emails make it clear that Scott went into this media buy fully expecting that SCOTTEVEST would pay for their ad’s placement with the intention of reaping sales from the exposure of the full-page ad.

Scott was surprised when it was rejected, and he tried to rework the ad in a manner that would be more acceptable to Delta but would not compromise the way in which he has positioned his company and its core message. He was increasingly frustrated to find his ads rejected time and again.

The emails I saw make it clear that this was an honest exchange which occurred in real-time, and it went from bad to worse. This was not some plot by Scott to draw Delta into a pissing match, and it is surely not a scandal. [Emphasis in the original]

Cohen goes on to look at some specifics of Delta’s charge – namely that an ad provided to them by Scottevest as “representative” of their ad designs for submission was approved and then Scottevest submitted a different, Delta-specific ad. Cohen provides ample visual evidence to support Scottevest’s claim that the ad submission provided to get them pre-approved to advertise was merely representative, as it was one that had ran in Men’s Journal previously and clearly not designed to target the Delta audience. Cohen notes, “So many reasons were given as to why his ads were being denied that it began to smack of the “spaghetti approach”, where you throw enough possibilities out there and hope that one will stick.” This strikes me as about right. Delta’s responses have been shifting throughout this debacle for them and none really seem resonant. After all, while it’s clear that this fight has been a PR boon to Scottevest, you can’t blame them for taking advantage of Delta’s censorship (which not incidentally takes place to protect their ability to collect millions of dollars in checked baggage fees).

The path of this story is pretty standard: a big company is threatened by a small business and tries to muscle it out of the way. Normally this is a productive prospect for big companies. But when you’re dealing with a new media savvy small business who is trying to talk to a market of frustrated travelers, the dynamics are shifted. As a result, Delta is getting bad press and Scottevest is making a very big name for itself. Delta can continue to try to punch downward at Scottevest, but that isn’t likely to win them many customers anxious to pay for checking their luggage.

Zappos & Cole Haan Return

I promised I’d follow up on my review of the pair of awfully made Cole Haan Air Samuel Plain Oxford shoes with an update on my effort to return them to Zappos. The good news is that Zappos is refunding me the full amount of my purchase, even though the shoes had been worn once. Normal Zappos policy says returns can only be for shoes returned in out-of-the-box condition. Zappos is known for their high quality customer service and this is as good an experience I’ve had with them. Their commitment to my having a positive experience is why I’m going to continue to be a customer of them, despite having been sold a really bad pair of shoes.

Packing for a Big Trip

This is a whole other level of no baggage, ultralight travel. When you’re going into space, you can’t stop and buy more supplies, so what you bring with you becomes pretty important.

The video covers some of the survival systems that go into astronauts’ suits for manned space flight and the contingencies that an astronaut might face during and after launch, including oxygen tanks, fresh drinking water, survival radios and life preservers. It’s also interesting to see how many normal, household items go on the flight – pencils, paper clips, kitchen timers and so on.