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Spotting Fake Travel Reviews

I learned something today from AOL. I had to read that sentence a couple of times before I believed it myself. But it’s true! They’ve got an article on how to spot fake hotel reviews and it’s worth a look. Many of these are something that you look for anyway, but some aren’t obvious. After reading this I have a better sense of what I usually do when I spot a review and say “This looks like an ad.”

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ASUS eeepc 1005HA-P Review

I went and grabbed the Asus eeepc 1005HA-P for my upcoming Mystery Trip. It is very light and is quite powerful for its size, though there are some down sides. I’m dual booting Windows XP with Linux Mint as my primary OS and it’s pretty impressive.

The 1005HA-PU1X-BK, as it is officially known, is small in size, lightweight and gets 10.5 hours of battery life! I considered the 1101HA, which has a larger screen and slightly longer (advertised) battery life. But all the reviews said the processor was anemic (1.33GHz) so I decided to stay away and I’m happy with my decision.

That said, this is a very solid and capable netbook. It is built and designed quite well – it looks nice and feels sturdy and refined. The screen tucks behind the keyboard the way Macs do and the body is sleek and comfortable to hold. The system is very responsive and quick compared to the eeepc 900 – the last netbook I used – especially after upgrading it to 2GB of RAM.

I run Linux Mint most of the time and it is pretty well tailored for the eeepc. The current version (Gloria, based on Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope) installs fairly smoothly but, like with much new hardware, my network drivers weren’t loaded out of the box. That was easy enough to fix with these instructions, though, and the next version (based on Karmic Koala) seems to work with the hardware just fine. There is one issue I ran into with the eeepc tray software where the wireless network would drop out fairly often, but that was solved by adding the following line to my /etc/default/eeepc-acpi.local file:
WIFI_DRIVER=”ath9k”

Overall, I am very satisfied with the laptop and am sure it will make a great companion on my trip. I’ll keep you posted on how it works out – starting September 20th.

Here’s how the 1005HA stacks up against other netbooks:
Pros – powerful, long battery, sturdy and polished construction
Cons – hard-to-use trackpad

A note on netbooks
The size of all netbooks, however, has its disadvantages. The 1005HA is best-of-breed in many aspects, though there are inherent weaknesses in this breed. The screen size, though standard to large by netbook standards, is difficult to get used to. I can only see a few lines at a time and some interactive interfaces are too big to fit the 1024×600 screen. A higher resolution would have been MUCH appreciated. The keyboard and trackpad (again, standard to large by netbook standards) are also smaller than I prefer. I’ve got big hands and they are quite squished in the small space. It’s not very comfortable to type for long periods of time. And the processor, fastest available in its class at 1.66GHz, can be a bit sluggish. I can stream TED videos, for example, but sometimes it gets jumpy.

New Jersey’s Toxic Waste

I have my obligatory New Jersey toxic waste story now. I still feel A little ill from the fumes and thinking about the mess makes me nauseous. People kept telling me that Jersey was actually a decent place and that it wasn’t as bad as everyone said. But then I hit the Reo Diner.

It came recommended at the hotel, apparently people said it was pretty good. They didn’t have what I had. Now there are ways to serve rancid meat so that it’s not quite so bad. Luke warm and covered in gravy is not an effective way to do this.

I don’t know that it was the meat that made me ill. It could have been the eggplant dish which was very gritty. Either dish alone would have been cause for complaint. It must be said, however that the baked potato was the perfect thing to help buffer the reaction in my gut. That’s what helped me to limp back to the hotel without pulling over to the side of the road.

Vibram Five Fingers Review

A few weeks ago I grabbed a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers shoes after seeing them in a video blog post by Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose. As soon as I saw them I said to myself that they were made for my barefoot lifestyle! All of the barefoot and none of the splinter and glass and getting thrown out of restaurants. Sandals are nice and I liked my Sanuks at first but they got tattered and stinky fast.

Wearing these things it feels like I’m wearing nothing at all (as Ned Flanders would say)! These are the closest things to being barefoot and, as such, you quickly realize that man was never meant to walk on concrete. But walking on grass or gravel feel practically wonderful. It’s always interesting walking on different surfaces and actually feeling the textures. For example, some carpets have odd textures you can feel. Your feet, long forgotten in the sensing world, are now giving constant feedback on your world. More than once I’ve stopped and looked down to see what I was walking on – some ordinary seeming ground feels different and interesting.

The soles are rubber and have striations which enhance their grip on slippery surfaces. After walking a while you will notice that you’re not walking on your heels quite as hard as you would in normal shoes. That’s probably partly because of the large amount of padding on the heels which mean less penalty for smashing into our heels and which contributes to the way normal shoe heels stick out a little by design (after going barefoot or wearing sandals for a few days I often find myself tripping on the heels like Hank Azaria in The Birdcage). In the Vibrams I tend to strike closer to mid-foot with the heel only used as a pivot point to redirect the force of the step. Striking the heel hard as in shoes stops forward motion and puts stress on knees, hips and back.

One caveat: you’ve got to be more careful where you put your foot. The soles are thin and briars and thorns go right through. Ouch. So don’t use these for hardcore hiking, but then you probably wouldn’t anyway.

Bag Review: Rick Steves’ Convertible Carry-On

I travel a lot and I’m always looking to make the necessities easier so I can focus on those things that are unique on each trip. Getting the right bag to fit all my stuff is a big part of that. So I figured I should start talking about all of the bags I’ve gone through.

First, a few requirements that I have. I’m very picky about what I carry so my requirements are fairly strict. First, I want something I can put on my back or over my shoulder backpack style – roller bags are for dorks. Second, it’s got to fit in the overhead compartment and/or under the seat in front of me – checked bags are lost bags. Third, it’s got to be able to fit my basic outfits:

  • Two-piece suit – preferably without wrinkling it too much,
  • Two business shirts,
  • Two to Three undershirts,
  • A week’s worth of underwear,
  • A week’s worth of socks,
  • A pair of shoes,
  • Toiletries (inside a plastic bag in a convenient location), and
  • A t-shirt and pair of shorts/pants.

Those are the minimum things that I look for in a bag. Other niceties are things like someplace to put extra books, roller wheels (hey, sometimes my shoulder gets tired), internal structure, tie and belt compartments, lightweight, etc.

I took the Rick Steves’ Convertible Carry-On on my trip to Dallas. I’ve had it for a while but just didn’t put it to much use. So I pulled it out of the attic and opened it up. The bag is at the maximum allowable size for carry-on luggage by most airlines, which makes the interior cavernous. Also it expands a couple of inches. As far as carry-ons go, this is as big as you’re likely to find.

I put all of my stuff in it and still had room to spare. There was a good amount of room for my suit and business shirts and I locked them in with the internal straps so they wouldn’t go anywhere when I slung it on my back. Unfortunately everything else sagged to the bottom.

The bag is kind of lumpy and awkward. Even filling it up took effort as I had to lay it out, move it around, fit my clothes in, and move it around more. It’s like filling up a grocery sack – if you’ don’t just cram stuff in it’s not going to be pretty. And wearing it around felt funny. There’s just no structure to it or anything.

Pros:

  • Fits anything you’re likely to carry, short of a VW.
  • Extremely light and flexible

Cons:

  • Awkward when empty and uncomfortable to wear
  • Ugly

Conclusion: If it’s fully packed out, this bag is probably great. But nearly empty it’s just cumbersome. I’s built for trecking across the globe so that’s no surprise. The bag is very light so that’s also good for long hauls, especially in the Winter when you’ve got to pack lots of bulky stuff. But at that point you would probably be better off just grabbing a frame pack and going with that.

Score: C

Cheap TSA Friendly Laptop Bags

The TSA recently allowed you to leave your laptop in your bag to go through screening. But not just any bag qualifies. Basically, the bag has to allow the screener to see through the material without any cables or other things over it. There are lots of custom bags out that will do this. But here’s what I’ve used a couple of times: a plain siliconized shopping bag that you may get from clothing stores.

You can carry the “laptop bag” with you up to the screening point, then stow it in one of your carryon bags if you want. Or if you just want to have easy access to the laptop in your bag, the silicon seems to be easier for me to grip when sliding it out. For me this is a better process than buying a new bag just for ease of use.