Category Archives: Travel

Connect Three

Here’s a new Trail Baboon feature – three connected topics I’ve seen this week. I would say it’s akin to a primate swinging from tree branch to tree branch, but baboons are known for spending most of their time on the ground.

1.  It starts with a nice tidy explanation of how GPS works from Jeff Blossom, who makes maps for journalist Paul Salopek’s seven-year-long globe spanning project, the Out of Eden Walk. Thanks to a group of satellites and Blossom’s maps, we can clearly see exactly where Salopek spent some time standing around in Saudi Arabia. Yes, this technology can track your loitering habits. Even when on a ambitious mission, it sometimes becomes necessary to wait.

2. Those satellites are an essential component in guiding the autonomous cars we were discussing this week. I found a lovely Google video that drives home the point that such cars would be a delight for the disabled, kids, and old people.

3. But there is always a dark cloud on the horizon, threatening to blow your candy-colored dream to smithereens. Like an enormous power grid and technology-destroying electromagnetic pulse from the sun. People (including some at the Defense Department) are considering the ramifications of such a calamity, but none more ardently than Rocky Rawlins of The Survivor Library, who I heard in an interview with Bob Garfield on the program On The Media.

Rawlings is collecting knowledge about how to accomplish basic tasks and build and operate old-world devices that pre-date the digital age. Like how to make and felt a hat, for instance.

As a person with a hat-necessary type of head, I appreciate this attention to detail. But I’m a bit leery of the alarm-junkie quality that many survivalists bring to the task. There seems to be a bit too much of the “I Told You So” quality to their planning – as if this is all a wonderfully fun set up to a supreme moment when the rest of us dullards realize they were right all along.

What priceless skill could you contribute to a smoldering Hellscape of a non-digital world?

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Coming Soon To A Parking Lot Near You

The ideas-unconstrained-by-reality people are busy imagining the future in a world of self-driving cars. After all, the technicians need to know what to build, and the technology is moving forward at an amazing clip.

People at the design firm IDEO came up with three possible expressions of autonomous car technology.

Pretty impressive, and they even gave one of the vehicles a friendly-sounding name.

But why not name them all?

And while you’re at it, leave a few brain cells unoccupied to do the important work of imagining the worst that could happen.

Notion #1 is Marge, a family car that looks at your e-mail and your calendar and already knows where you want to go when you get into it.

How could this fail? A car with access to your e-mail might know where you ought to go and where you’re supposed to be, but one that looks at your Internet browsing history may fully understand where you’d rather be instead. When you get in your autonomous car you might not know who’s driving – is it your Id or your Super-Ego?

I guess we’ll find out when we get there.

Notion #2 is Cody, a delivery truck that is a nimble, see-through tube reminiscent of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, except it knows where you are and what you want. Combined with Amazon’s purchase-prediction software, these babies may be orbiting your neighborhood already stocked with what the algorithm says you are going to order.

How could this fail? Salespeople will ruin this for everybody by flooding neighborhoods with delivery vehicles that are cruising advertisements for the stuff inside. Imagine the narrow snowy streets of December clogged with gift-laden vehicles, each one jockeying to catch your eye.

Notion #3 is Dante’, a roving work station that is your portable office. Let it take you and your co-workers anywhere – for inspiration or collaboration.

How could this fail? Fights over the beach vs. the scenic overlook vs. the blank downtown brickscape where I can concentrate on this damn report I have to finish! Could we turn the office around so I can have the sun coming in on MY side for once? Do we really have to co-work with them in OUR parking lot today? Why don’t they ever invite us over to their place? Is there something wrong with it?

So many idea clouds, so many gun-metal gray linings. And there are so many notions the IDEO people didn’t suggest …

Notion #4 – is Sherlock, an autonomous chase vehicle that will follow you on that blind date you dread, and provide you with a quick getaway if it’s as awful as you fear it will be.

How could this fail? Hey, it looks like someone is following us. Hang on! My last girlfriend said I’m almost good enough to be a Hollywood stunt driver!

Notion #5 – is Budge, a Parking Space Holder. If we’re going to the Ordway Saturday night I’ll send Budge over there around 4pm to orbit Rice Park looking for one of those handy metered street parking spots to open up when the matinee crowd leaves. Twenty minutes before the curtain rises we’ll head over there in the second car (“Diva”) to trade places and claim our spot while Budge ambles home.

Notion #6 – is Flash Fleet, not a single autonomous car but rather a bit of software developed by highway hackers to commandeer large numbers of autonomous vehicles to “flood the zone”, creating targeted slowdowns and traffic jams at pre-arranged times in carefully selected places. The goal – anarchy.

How could this fail? Actually, this one is a no-brainer. It’s definitely going to happen, and it will be a terrific headache.

What else could happen?

Happy B’Day, Subway

Today is the 110th anniversary of the opening of the first underground segment of the New York City Subway System.

Whenever I go to Manhattan, the subway is how I get around. I think I’ve only been in a New York cab once. Everything about the taxi experience was troubling and question-producing. Will we get where we’re going? What will it cost? Does this driver really have a license? Are we going to die?

Compared to that, the subway is a paragon of predictability. The noise, the crowds, the graffiti and the unsavory smells of the underground train are exactly what I expect to find there, and because I’ve anticipated them, they are nothing more than minor inconveniences. And apparently I’m not alone. The NYC Subway system is setting ridership records. On six separate days in September, more than six million people used the subway.

NY_Subway_1904

You can see in this image from 1904 that the NYC Subway had a fresh look at the beginning. It makes me think of a Disney World ride – clean, attractive and harmless. I expect to see a jolly little choo-choo come puffing around that bend any moment, brimming with charming characters. But of course there is no connection – the Disney rides were built on the popularity of a cartoon mouse, while the NYC Subway system has the Norway Rat as its totem animal.

Those rats were tested recently. Researchers at Columbia University found that the subway rats carry around disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and single-celled organisms in amazing numbers, much in the same way subway cars carry all different types of unsavory humans around. There were 30 viral species, including a 18 viruses that were previously unknown to man.

Among the many rat-borne delights – the Seoul Hantavirus, which causes an Ebola-like hemorrhagic fever.

And yet – next time I go to New York, I will take the subway as my first transportation choice. Yes, there are risks, but a prudent traveler can manage these ordinary hazards with a few simple rules.

  • Don’t put your feet on the seats.
  • One seat per customer.
  • Don’t make eye contact.
  • Don’t lick any surfaces.
  • Don’t make eye contact with,  or lick,  any Norway Rats.
  • Enjoy your ride!

What’s your favorite mode of transport?

View Point Ahead

Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

One of the reasons I like to travel – especially when it’s “over the surface” of the country by car or train, is that I always come home with a slightly different perspective on my life.

Being in touch with all that space just gives one pause, and last month’s road trip to Utah is no exception. The highway (I-70) that we drove through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains was lined with aspens that look like yellow flames in the dark evergreen forests.

In southern Utah, one canyon made you think you’re in a cathedral, and the second must have been dropped there from another planet.

We noticed all kinds of little differences between there and home – names like Grizzly Creek and Hanging Lake; towns called Eagle, Leadville, Rifle, Yellowcat. Road signs warned of “Falling Rocks” or “Avalanche Area”.

And sure enough, several times along Utah’s scenic Highway 12, we slowed for small groups of cattle grazing in the ditch.

My favorite road sign, “View Point Ahead”, echoed my mood.

I am prepared to come home from any journey with a change in point of view – I look forward to it. This time I’ve arrived with shifted priorities, ready to explore what I can and cannot do with my life.

When have you known a change was coming?

Our Home in Paradise

Image: (Nature video)

One of the pipe dreams I occasionally entertain is that I have found a way to live on a Hawaiian island. And since this is a complete fantasy I make certain my island home is situated at the end of a long dirt road and that it sits on a rocky outcropping, surrounded by a merrily sloshing surf and whales that salute me with blowhole water jets as they swim past.

It’s a lovely, impossible scene.

But now with the publication of new research we discover that our actual planetary home in the Milky Way is on the outer edge of a vast collection of galaxies that connect through gravity as a supercluster now called Laniakea, which means “Immeasurable Heaven.”

Finally, a Hawaiian name I can add to my address.

It is coastal property, sort of. But rather than overlooking the water we are one with the current, flowing with neighboring galaxies in a long, thin line towards “a gravitational dense basin of galaxies known as the Great Attractor.”

I’m somehow comforted by the knowledge that everything here is being pulled towards The Great Attractor. It explains so much about our behavior. And I’m glad it’s a GREAT attractor that’s dragging us along and not some dumb little diversion that leads absolutely nowhere.

So three months from now, when icy pellets are flying past your window and the temperature is -20, remember that none of this can change the fact that you live on the edge of Laniakea.

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve lived?

On The Road, Again

In the past on this page we have discussed where we are from and where we’ve lived. Baboons can be both wanderers and stay-at-homes. It can be a surprisingly tough mental exercise to walk back through your biography to list the places you’ve lived in the proper sequence, and for how long at each stop.

Likewise, each state of the union has a specific history of who happens to live there and from whence they came. Only demographers and other numbers geeks can find much enjoyment in looking over the columns of figures that tell those stories.

For the rest of us the info-graphics experts at the New York Times have developed 50 fascinating charts that display the data as strata – a cross section cut from each state’s census showing the last century’s changes in where residents were born.

Some of the curious things that appear:

Based on your personal history, you can get a sense for how common (or uncommon) you are in your current environment when birthplace is the sole yardstick. Back in the 1970′s I was part of a sliver (3%) of Illinoisans born in the Northeast. Now in Minnesota, my kind are still a rarity at a mere 2%. Rare as hen’s teeth. Precious as gold.

Sometimes we have to go out of our way to feel special.

After looking at this I’m left with the impression that people accumulate in specific places based on a variety of economic forces that drive them there. Because certain individuals may be rooted in place while others are entirely footloose, there is a variable and distinct human geology that defines each state.

Or maybe it’s just the wind.

Where are you headed?  

Barge Traffic

Last fall we were enthralled by the news that Google had floated two mysterious barges on the east and west coasts of the United States, for what purpose the fevered minds of conspiracy theorists everywhere could only guess.

And there were many guesses. The least exciting ones had to do with the barges being mobile showrooms for Google’s “Glass” product – basically a head-mounted computer that projects a screen image on the lens of a pair of glasses. It is a device so extremely powerful, it can make anyone, even some of the world’s most gorgeous models, look like a complete dork.

But Google being Google, it has incredible resources at its disposal and no shortage of imagination, therefore there is no limit to what secret purpose the barges might be hiding.

One of my favorite guesses came from tim during a discussion of this issue on Trail Baboon’s companion blog, The Baboondocks.

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 1.51.30 PM

To this I say “Yes”. Clearly tim had already been in the transporter and his head had been turned (possibly all the way around) by the mind-scrambling potential of this secret, barge-borne technology.

And it makes sense that the labs would be floating in San Francisco Bay and off the coast of Maine – this was Google’s way to create safe, mobile and discreet places to work on a device that teleports items (and someday, people) from coast to coast, or planet to planet.

They are safe because barges are islands that can be detached from shore to discourage intruders and curious, snoopy competitors. Mobile so the technology can be moved to a better location if reception is weak. And discreet so the horrible disfiguring, non-survivable teleporter accidents that are bound to occur can be quietly dumped into the sea.

It all makes a weird kind of Google-ish sense.

But now we will have to re-imagine what Google is up to, because the company has started to sell off its mysterious barges.

Or at least the barge in Maine has been sold. But to whom? And how did the buyer know it was for sale since no one understands what the barges are for to begin with? Is there a mystery structure realty firm that cuts secret deals for enigmatic properties?

And why sell now? Is the experiment complete? And if so, was it a complete success, or an utter failure? So many questions!

What does this mean?