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GEAR & TECH

Biofuels in Texas: Too Much Ain't Enough

Don't Mess
What Continental engineers
were drinking the morning of
the test flight. 

Photo: texasterritories.com

by Guy Martin

Texans like stuff big. It's apt, then, that the U.S.'s first-ever trial burn of plant-based fuel on a commercial airliner took place aboard Continental Airlines Boeing 737 flying out of Houston last month. Big-ass jet, big-ass engines, big-ass mix of jet fuel and . . . what was that, again? Algae? Jatropha? The mix for the two-engine jet was, according to Continental's spokesman, one engine on jet fuel (kerosene) and the other running a 50/50 mix of jet fuel and algae-jatropha juice. Engine didn't even need to be retrofitted, just ran like a wild bronc. Hot damn! Ro-day-oh!       

This epoch-defining eco-milestone should finally confirm for the 282 million non-Texans among us that the noble Lone Star State does in fact have it all:  killer barbecue, killer chili, killer beer, Flaco Jimenez and the Texas Playboys, the Alamo, that superhot al-Qaeda target living on that little ranch in Crawford, and not least, the jeans-with-rhinestone-appliqué-on-the-butt thing that has held mall rats around the globe in thrall for decades. How could any state in our beloved union possibly top that? 

Despite Continental's test flight, let's not, in the service of greenhouse analysis and proper historical context, forget that every man, woman, and child in Texas owns an average of six to ten trucks at any given moment.

Continue reading "Biofuels in Texas: Too Much Ain't Enough " »

GEAR & TECH

More Tech Items for Travelers

Following up on her top five tech picks from this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Condé Nast Traveler Deputy News Editor Deborah Dunn gives us five more favorite tools for chronicling your next trip--and enjoying the ride.

TomTomPortable GPS devices seem to be getting better by the day, and TomTom's GO 740 Live is the latest addition to the increasingly competitive field. The most promising feature is the new Google search function, which means no longer depending on the Points of Interests stored in the TomTom database. Instead, you can now access the address and other pertinent information of any place listed on Google. What's more, the 740 has real-time updates on traffic and fuel prices, improved voice recognition, and a service called Map Share, which lets you swap routing tips and map changes with other TomTom users (tomtom.com; $500; available in spring or summer).

The three-year-old Slingbox, possibly the greatest tech innovation since DVR, allows you to watch any of the programs broadcast on your home television from your laptop--wherever you may be. As long as you have broadband Internet access, you'll never have to wait to see, say, the latest episode of Mad Men. The newer SlingPlayer Mobile software airs those TV shows on smartphones, including Blackberry Pearls, and come March it'll be fit for iPhones, Blackberrys, and several other kinds of smartphones. Best of all, the application lets you program your DVR remotely (slingmedia.com; $30).

Find three more top tech picks after the jump.

Continue reading "More Tech Items for Travelers" »

GEAR & TECH

Nose to Nose with Velázquez on Google Earth

Googleprado_dt

Far be it from us to dissuade you from visiting Madrid's Museo Nacional del Prado, one of the best museums in the world. But today Google unveiled the next best thing. A new layer on Google Earth offers highly detailed views of 14 paintings from the museum, including Velázquez's Las Meninas, Goya's The 3rd of May, 1808 in Madrid, and Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. And by highly detailed, we mean images that contain as many as 14 million pixels. We are talking about the ability to read the brushstrokes, the weave of the canvas underneath, and the cracks in the paint from age. You can't get that kind of resolution at the museum--at least not without placing your nose flat against the canvas and risking the wrath of Prado's muscled security. 

To view, open up Google Earth and fly to Museo del Prado. Make sure that you have the 3D buildings layer turned "on."

Don't know what we're talking about? Visit the Google Earth landing page to learn more.

GEAR & TECH

Top 5 Tech Items for Travelers at CES

by Deborah Dunn

The most visible signs of the economic downturn at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, which wrapped up yesterday in Las Vegas, were shorter taxi lines and thinner crowds ogling the booth babes (except for the throngs huddled around the cheerleaders at the Casio booth). But while there may have been slightly fewer attendees than in past years (Sin City's largest convention usually draws some 140,000 tech junkies), I uncovered just as many lust-worthy new toys as I scoured the thousands of exhibits. All the major electronic companies unveiled their latest products, including a slew of great new gear for travelers, everything from Lilliputian laptops to ever-more clever cameras. The only hitch is that most of the gadgets won't be available until later this year and some were only in the prototype phase. Over the next several months, Condé Nast Traveler will be rigorously testing and reviewing as many of the new products as possible. In the meantime, here are my top five favorite finds:

LG watch 1. The star attraction at the LG booth was concealed behind a glass case: a sleek-looking watch (left) (albeit a little on the big side) with a built-in 3G phone and a music player. It's also equipped with voice recognition and a touch screen. James Bond's Q couldn't have designed it better (slated to go on sale mid year in Europe; price hasn't been announced yet).

 

 

Sony Webbie HD2. Sony's candy-colored mini camcorders, the Webbie HD line (right), are as fetching as they are affordable ($169 and $199; on sale in March)

 

 

 

3. Netbooks--small laptops designed primarily for web surfing--made a big splash at this year's CES but the two-pound, no-fuss Asus Eee PC T91 seemed to pack more punch than the others, thanks to its TV tuner, FM transmitter, GPS, and best of all, swivel touch screen. (slated to go on sale in mid to late 2009; price hasn't been announced yet)

4. Powermat's foldable travel mat (right) charges three wireless devices at once, including laptops, iPhones, GPS devices, even batteries--and only requires a single cable ($100, plus $30 per casing for each of the devices; on sale at the end of the year).

Worldsavers5. Polaroid's Pogo is a digital camera and mini photo printer in one pocket-size package. The photo quality is only fair, but the instant gratification can't be beat ($199; available in March). 

 

 

 

Deborah Dunn is Condé Nast Traveler's Deputy News Editor.

Further reading:
* Video: Las Vegas shopping, dining, relaxing and dancing
* Gear, Tech, Etc.
: Travel meets technology

GEAR & TECH

Nine Tech Tools to Use in '09

Emirates
Canon's Mark II 

You can't be too small, too thin, too fast.  No, we're not talking about Conde Nast's new venture dedicated to models who resemble whippets, we are talking about the key to successful travel tech and gear. 

In "The Future is Now" Condé Nast Traveler contributor Mike Haney gives the rundown on nine new travel technologies and services for 2009.  Pick up a copy of the December issue or read it here

Here's a sneak peak:

The first SLR camera to also capture full-resolution HD video, Canon's Mark II can store clips up to 12 minutes long in H.264 format, which is easy to edit and plays on iPods. The 21-megapixel shooter is also a pro-level still camera, with live preview on the three-inch LCD and ISO speeds up to 25,600 for amazing low-light shots (canonusa.com; body only, $2,700).

GEAR & TECH

Easing Your Laptop Through Airport Screening

Waterfield
WaterField Designs' laptop sleeve.
Photo: SFBags.com

by Sara Tucker

A few weeks ago, I watched helplessly as the gray plastic bin carrying my laptop past TSA screeners was knocked clear off the conveyor belt by a passenger. I was being held prisoner at the time, pulled over for wanding. "Sorry," the woman muttered as she scooped up my laptop, threw it back in the bin, slammed the bin back on the belt, and ran off to catch her flight.

But wait, there's more: Three weeks later, the same thing happened to me again! This time, however, somebody managed to catch my laptop on the way down, and a sympathetic (yes, they exist) TSA agent informed me that I am now allowed to keep it in a protective "gel pack" while it goes through screening. I was already on the plane before I thought to ask what a gel pack is.

What I do know is this: The TSA has recently relaxed its procedures enough to allow laptops to remain tucked safely inside certain types of bags through the airport screening process.

I want one of those bags.

Continue reading "Easing Your Laptop Through Airport Screening" »

GEAR & TECH

Eye-Fi Update

Eye-Fi

Tired of straining to view photos on his digital camera's tiny LCD screens and sick of losing spontaneously snapped cell-phone pictures to cell phones gone by, Alex C. Pasquariello examines the wireless ways to upload images to his computer and the Web.

Eye-Fi update!

The Eye-Fi, as you recall, is a SD Card that turns your digital camera into a wireless device, allowing you to upload your photos to a Windows or Mac OSX computer. The Explore model will also put your memories in the cloud, uploading them to whatever photo sharing site you use via pre-configured Wi-Fi or more than 10,000 Wayport hotspots nationwide.

Today the company announced a partnership with SmugMug.com giving members of the photo-sharing site one year of free Wayport hotspot access--even if you're using one of Eye-Fi's old cards or opted for the Home or Share cards that previously didn't have Wayport access.

How could this be? Well, it turns out that all levels of the Eye-Fi SD Cards feature the same technology (small Wi-Fi antennas) and therefore have the same capabilities. The Wayport access and geotagging features are authorized on the backend to those who paid for the Explore card through the Eye-Fi's Web page and its desktop photo manager software that you set up on your computer.

Continue reading "Eye-Fi Update" »

GEAR & TECH

The Amazon Kindle: The Best Travel Gadget Since the Neck Pillow

Austin
Photo: Amazon.com

by Tom Loftus

I have to admit that praising an e-Book reader in the middle of iPhone Summer seems so 2005, but I'm starting to lust after my wife's Amazon Kindle. She's in the publishing business and someone at her company--bless him or her--decided that money (and trees) could be saved by loading manuscripts onto the Amazon Kindle. Adios clutter.

On a lark I took a look at the screen. Whoa! The words read so clear. I would later learn that the print came courtesy of E Ink, electronic paper that...well never mind. Look it up. Guaranteed many of you will be reading from some form of E Ink or similar technology in the very near future.

I spent more time with the Kindle. I actually curled up with it, playing with font sizes, creating bookmarks, running word searches, and using the built-in dictionary. I did the kind of stuff I couldn't do with a dead tree. 

But here's the thing that makes the Amazon Kindle the most important piece of travel technology since the inflatable neck pillow. Say you're on the road and you suddenly realize that you must have--must have!--Oprah's new book. All you need to do is turn on the Kindle and connect to the store. (The connection is through Sprint's EV-DO network. It's free.) You'll have to pay for the book, but it will be cheaper than the dead-tree version. Or, if you wish, you can download sample chapters for free.

There are some drawbacks to the Kindle's portability. Right now, the wireless download is limited to the U.S. So if you're heading outside the U.S., it makes sense to just pack your Kindle with reading material beforehand. Amazon says that the Kindle can store 200 books. One more drawback: You probably wouldn't want to take this $350+ device to the beach. You don't want sand to get in the works, and besides, placing a Kindle on your head to block out the sun is both ineffectual and rather silly. Stick with dead trees for that. 

Further reading:
* Gear Review: The Sony Reader

 

GEAR & TECH

Eye-Fi on the Loose

Eyefi_dailytraveler
With the help of an Eye-Fi wireless SD card I can share and geotag a photo of the FDR skate park in Philadelphia.

Tired of straining to view photos on his digital camera's tiny LCD screens and sick of losing spontaneously snapped cell-phone pictures to cell phones gone by, Alex C. Pasquariello examines the wireless ways to upload images to his computer and the Web.

The promise of Eye-Fi's wireless SD cards would seem much too complicated and functional to come to fruition in a normal-sized memory card. But pop it into any old digital camera saving to an SD card, snap a photo, and the camera wirelessly uploads its stored pictures to a Windows or Mac OSX computer. It also will put your memories in the cloud, uploading them to whatever photo-sharing site you use. If that site supports geotagging, your antics will show up plotted on a map, retracing your every move. And again, all with an SD card--no longer, thicker, or wider than the one you're using now.

Seems too easy, right? I tested out the wireless SD card last Sunday in Philly. One of my favorite things to do on the road is hit up the local skate spots, so I started my morning at the legendary FDR in South Philly's Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. This skater-funded and -built course curls in, around, up, and down the supports elevating I-95 (a.k.a. the Delaware Expressway). (The graffiti scrawled on the banks and walls, alone, are worth the shot.)

From there I headed north to South Street and one of the City of Brotherly Love's true gems, Magic Gardens, where it would be impossible to take a bad picture.

Continue reading "Eye-Fi on the Loose" »

GEAR & TECH

Drop It Like It's Hot

Drop.io

by Mollie Chen

When it comes to technology, I operate at a grade school level. Email I can handle, but once you get into the realm of RSS feeds, twittering, and network clouds, you've lost me. I am, however, a prolific picture taker. Until now, I've been painstakingly uploading my pictures to sites like Kodak Gallery and then forwarding them to all my friends. (And I'm guilty of creating the occasional Facebook album.) But I'd love a more streamlined way to share photos and files with coworkers, family, and friends.

My good friend Sam Lessin has come up with a perfect solution. His site, Drop.io, is basically a drop box for whatever you might want to save or share from movies to PowerPoint presentations (that's for all you consultants out there) to photos. It's so easy that I think even my staunchly anti-Internet editor (she only semi-jokingly asks me to look things up on "the Google" for her) could figure it out. I love that you don't have to create an account in order to use it: All you do is pick a name for your "drop" and as long as it isn't taken, it's yours. From there you can customize your drop--add a password if you like, set up administration controls--and then e-mail the link to anyone you want. A recent Ars Technica article explains it better than I can. All I know is that this past Sunday I had Saturday's birthday party pics up and distributed faster than you can say Snoop Dogg.

GEAR & TECH

Ultra-Portable Laptops

All hail the MacBook Air laptop.  So narrow you could stuff it in an envelope.  So sleek and sexy, you could close it and use it as a cocktail tray.  But wait...Apple isn't the only player in the race to outfit business travelers with lighter, smaller, portable laptops.  In this month's Conde Nast Traveler, Mike Haney takes a look at the MacBook Air and two lesser known players, the Linux-based Eee PC and the HTC Shift which runs a version of Windows Vista.

I carried three of the latestthe much hyped MacBook Air and lesser-known models from two Taiwanese companieson various trips and tried common tasks on each, including Web surfing, editing a Word document sent to me as an e-mail attachment, watching a movie, posting a blog entry, and uploading photos. Each laptop had its strengths and weaknesses, but the takeaway was clear: There's never been a better time to be a laptop-toting traveler.

Read the article to find out how each laptop fared.  Then watch CNT's Alex Pasquariello give the laptops the hands-on treatment in a video review.

GEAR & TECH

That Bump in the Night? It's Just Someone Wii'ng!


Towel boy.
Nintendo of America

by Tom Loftus

Westin Hotel & Resorts guests jarred awake by nocturnal rumblings coming from another room now have something else to blame: the Nintendo Wii. This week two Westins, the Westin Times Square in New York City and the Westin Bellevue in Washington state added the video game console to their fitness centers as part of the hotel calls its WestinWORKOUT program. An additional eight Westins will receive their Wiis later in May.

Video games in the gym?  Surely this must be one of the signs of the Apocalypse! But this is the Nintendo Wii, the console credited with getting couch potatoes back onto their stubby appendages--called "legs" in the pre-remote control era--thanks to its unique motion detection controllers. 

Sidenote: I've played the Nintendo Wii and can vouch for the sweat (as well as the humiliation) generated in a quick match. 

The "Westin Wii's" will come outfitted with Wii Sports, the title credited with causing tens of thousands of dollars of household damage nationwide as players flogged their controllers as if they were playing the Centre Court at Wimbledon, as well as Wii Fit, the platform's first exercise game. According to Nintento's Web site, Wii Fit will allow players to do everything from engage in muscle toning and flexibility exercises to checking their body mass index. 

Does this signal the end of the hotel gym as we know it?  More important, where do you get your towels?

GEAR & TECH

The Grand (Theft Auto) Tour


The Conde Nast Building?
Image: Rockstar Games

by Tom Loftus

Here's a vacation suggestion for all those worried about gas prices: Liberty City, an East Coast metropolis with all the perks of New York City--architecture, culture, diversity--plus a little more. Never heard of it? Liberty City is the setting for the recently released video game Grand Theft Auto IV

Since the title's release the other week, players and reviewers have identified the "touring" aspect of the digital experience--tooling around the virtual five boroughs listening to Karl Lagerfeld (!) deejay one of the dozen in-game radio stations, checking out the Empire State Building, etc.--as enjoyable as partaking in the usual mayhem that has defined the series and angered senators for the last decade.

In the spirit of travel reportage, the Daily Traveler decided that Liberty City was worth a visit and, taking solace that its editors have visited gangster redoubts in the past, the DT shelled out $60 for the game and found someone with an Xbox 360.  Surprisingly, the owner wasn't a subscriber!

The verdict? Anyone who recalls the last time game creator Rockstar Games made news knows that this particular experience is not G-rated. Still, the DT discovered that one can traipse through Liberty City without firing a shot--one does pass a number of strip clubs, however. The virtual world as presented in Grand Theft Auto IV is so detailed--and so cleverly a send-up of culture--that it's actually worth exploring, if only to discover how much of New York City it got right (hello, Domino Sugar Factory!) . . . and wrong. We really don't think that "borrowing" someone else's car in real life is so easy.

Is this virtual world worth spending all summer cooped up in Mommy's basement? No. But the DT is not going to judge. There are a number of very real locations that have a virtual-world quality to them.   

More Reading:
* A helicoper tour of Liberty City. Some of the audio comments are NSFW.
* Real-world inspiration for some of the restaurants found in Liberty City.

GEAR & TECH

Google Earth: Ultimate Travel Planner

Conde Nast Building
Conde Nast Building: Where
the "magic" happens

2008 Google

by Tom Loftus

Productivity dipped last week after the latest Google Earth, version 4.3, hit servers and the beleaguered workforce found yet another tool to add to its desktop. Don't have it? Get it now! Check out Google Earth's new ability to swoop through a landscape of three-dimensional buildings. Outdoorsy types should appreciate the sunlight feature that allows them to track the sunrise and sunset from any location (thus identifying those shady spots that still might be too cold in late spring). Over at the technology blog Slashdot, one contributor had fun using this suntracking feature to look at the entire globe at once:  "It really brings home why northern latitudes get longer daylight this time of year."

Of course, the required first stop for most Google Earth users: seeing what their houses looks like. My Brooklyn street still looks like a dump, but at least the 4.3 upgrade includes a rough date of when the satellite photographed my nabe.

More Reading:
* Google Street View Gallery:  A neighborhood block party, a kid wiping out on his bicycle, topless sunbathers...all forever immortalized
* Video:  Google Earth 4.3 demonstrated
* UN uses Google to pinpoint refugee crises 
* Some potholes: A municipal company asks citizens to use Google Earth to indicate trouble spots


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