In 1978, Brian Eno invented ambient music as a direct result of a particularly inconvenient layover at Cologne-Bonn Airport. It is still today heralded as a seminal work, using looping techniques that were ahead of their time (at the time) and generally being so artistic as to be installed at New York La Guardia Airport for a short but progressive time during the 1980s. This is possibly the last time that La Guardia has been associated with avant-garde music. The album is minimalist and soporific, and though beautiful, it doesn't really evoke the airport experience very accurately, unless there's an airport somewhere that hands out Ambien at check in and is populated by gentle, smiling crowds all dressed in white leisure wear. Take a listen:
Fast forward 30 years and the climate has changed. Pioneering electronica group The Black Dog release a riposte, Music for Real Airports. The band themselves mark the differences: ""Airports have some of the glossiest surfaces in modern culture, but the fear underneath remains. Hence this record is not a utilitarian accompaniment to airports, in the sense of reinforcing the false utopia and fake idealism of air travel. Unlike Eno's Music for Airports, this is not a record to be used by airport authorities to lull their customers." The album is borne out of 200 hours of field recordings, much of it mixed in actual airports as the artists wait for their flights. Instead of a calming, dream-like experience, the composition titles hint at edgier experiences: Empty Seat Calculations, Strip Light Hate, Sleep Deprivation. Compare and contrast...a little more like a recognisable airport experience? :
Forget the sweary ice bucket challenge toddler and mind-traumatising ISIS war terrors, the news story that matters today is the one of the United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, which was diverted after two passengers got into a real, physical altercation on a loaded plane.
In case you’ve been asleep or working as a living statue for 22 hours straight, what happened was that one passenger (a man) was using his laptop computer for an unspecified activity, and had employed a crafty device called The Knee Defender. This accessory attaches to the tray table and stops the seat in front reclining. Passenger two (a woman), tried to recline, spotted his subterfuge and got a flight attendant to ask him to remove it.
The man refused, the woman threw a glass of water over him, and they were both taken to Chicago, where they were ejected from the flight and left there to think about what they’d done. Reports that the incident sparked an unlikely but passionate romance are yet to surface, but wouldn’t that be cool?
The Right to Recline debate has spectacularly sidetracked the internet. Should anyone on a plane be allowed to recline their seat and just sprawl out like we’re in our third hour at a Chinese opium den? Or should we all sit as God intended, straight-backed and with heads held high, so as to be closer to heaven?
Shandy Pockets are at last plunging into the debate, having weighed up the arguments for literally an amount of time. And we come down heavily (just like the back of our seats onto an unsuspecting pensioner) on the RIGHT TO RECLINE.
Listen, sonny Jim, we’ve (usually) paid for that seat, so damn skippy we’re going to use it to its full potential, and manipulate the full range of kinetic variables at our whim, come hell or holy water. And there ain’t no computer nerd going to get in our way with their gadget sneakery. So we get into a fist fight and are ejected from the plane? Well, jokes on you, knee boy, because I DON’T HAVE A PROPER JOB AND I CAN GET THROWN OFF AS MANY PLANES AS YOU CARE TO BE STUBBORN ON.
And the moral objections to reclining your seat? There’s a tall guy behind you: listen bud, all the women on the dating sites I frequent all want men over 6’3”, so you win some, you lose some, and it’s time for your chin to reacquaint itself with your knees. Small child or, say, a Peruvian dwarf behind you? Reclining your seat puts otherwise unreachable items – the tray table, the touch screen entertainment centre – right into their sweaty grasps and they should be thankful. Let’s cut the bullroar and just cut to the quick: it doesn’t matter who’s behind you, because the beauty is that THEY CAN ALSO JUST RECLINE THEIR SEAT and we can all fly together in a semi-recumbent orgy of slouch, no water, laptops or unlikely romances necessary.
Just back that thing back up when we’re all eating. It gets messy and consuming food while not bolt upright is a bit, you know, continental for our taste.
You may remember last week that British people are being told to stay home and think about what they've done thanks to the chaos at the passport agency. Well, that punishment looks even more cruel given the context of the power of the British passport.
We came across this great infographic, which shows you which countries have the most powerful passports in terms of which other countries you can go to without having to get special visas, write lengthy begging letters to the government, sneak in in someone's hand luggage, etc.
At the front of the VIP section and being waved in under the velvet rope of immigration are Finland, Sweden and the UK. Their perennial plus-ones include Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg (sneaky little devils) and of course, everyone's entitled young cousin, the USA. Over 170 countries welcome all these nations with open arms.
Looking rather like their dance card is empty are the countries that virtually no-one will let in without a severe pat-down and police background check are places such as Pakistan and Somalia (32 countries), Iraq (31) and poor old Afghanistan, which has visa issues with all but 28 friends on this planet.
Of the big economies, it's surprising that China is so far down the list - just 43 countries lay out the welcome mat for them, though given the stories we've heard about trying to get visas to get INTO China, they might want to show a little willing to get invited to the cool kids' parties.
We all do them, even though we know we're not exactly being original. But deep down, we know that the old 'point the camera out of the plane window and snap a sunrise/sunset/amusing-shaped cloud' move is one of the more cliched things we can do in a plane.
That's not to say that you can't capture some great wacky colours and atmospherically jetset views or anything. It's just that...everyone takes that shot, you know? Including us. Every time. There's no shame in it.
However, step forward Alex Merga, who has just RUINED THE ENTIRE ENTERPRISE FOR EVERYONE EVER by nonchalantly peering out over the wing of his 757 flight from London to New York and taking a casual shot of OH, THE MILKY WAY. Way to raise the bar to an incredibly high standard there, Merga.
Actually, the process sounds far from nonchalant, and it sounds like he had to hunker down and do some pretty intense photography tweaking. He may even have missed out on one of the inflight meals, who knows? Either way, the story is told in more detail right here. Nicely done, sir. Can we interest you in a blurry sunset over Cleveland? No? Oh well, suit yourself. (thanks to @Co_Semie for the link).
The internet is a-buzz with talk about the internet, and some of it about how expensive it is to SEE the internet in certain hotel chains. Among the lead accusers is the champion of hotel consumers, Hotel Chatter, who publish an annual list of which hotel chains charge the most for wi-fi and why (fhy).
This fiscal outrage is all well and good, and the more hotels that let us download illegal copies of current cinema releases, the better for everyone, n'est-ce pas? Only a layman and a communist would argue FOR hotel internet charges.
So, please step forward one Daniel Edward Craig, a hotelier of unknown repute, who puts forward a case for the daylight robbery of his long-suffering clientele. Get ready to froth at the mouth like an in-room cappucino as he, er, sets out a pretty sensible defence of the whole thing, actually. Some of the arguments are a bit, "Well, we're not as bad as airlines!" but on the whole you can kind of see his point. See what I mean HERE. Marriott can probably still go suck it, though.
We all like to think we're taking that once in a lifetime shot as we approach the world's famous sights, but it turns out we all pretty much just snap the same thing. Instagram film maker (that's a job now?) Thomas Jullien has patched together a short mash up of the world's great landmarks using photos from 852 photographers. They show a world documented somewhat uniformly, but the result is captivating.
“Sir, could you open your bag, please?”
I wasn’t worried, just more embarrassed as I passed through security in New York. My bag, which I’d packed with electronics from digital cameras to hard drives to sound recording equipment, was the lair of the spaghetti monster. Open it up and it looked like a robot had vomited up its circuit board.
We spent some minutes untangling everything so that the various bits of equipment could be run through the line again in a way so that the x-ray machine operator could tell them apart.
Everyone travels with electronics and we do like to keep them with us, jamming them into our take on luggage. But how to store them in a dignified manner?
I’ve seen various hacks for the wires and leads that come as the obvious by-product of our gadget love. I’ve even used some – to whit, hair curlers to sort my USB leads, which I felt all great and recycle-y about but they’re not the most stylish and I’d probably still wince if John Q Security wanted a closer look.
That’s why this little nugget of simplicity could be just the ticket. Just slightly larger than a credit card, the Global Plug & Wire Tidy (from wrapwire.co.uk) is a tough slice of plastic, moulded and carved to accommodate just about any lead or charger from just about any country.
There are slots for all the main plug variations, and the wires just twist around the body, keeping things in order in your hand luggage. There’s a label so you can identify your camera USB in a hurry and without unravelling everything. And…er, that’s it.
It’s the kind of thing you’re kicking yourself for not inventing. I imagine it’s what it was like when wheels on a suitcase came along and people must just have thought…how come we didn’t think of this sooner?
I live in the marshy metropolis of New Orleans, and there’s some division as to how healthy or otherwise the Mississippi swamp water that comes out of the taps here really is. To be honest, most locals are fine with drinking it straight from the tap, but I’ve seen an awful lot of water filters in homes. Also, when you think about the brain eating amoeba that were found in local water systems this year, you kind of get on board with the filtration set.
The Western world is obsessed with filtered water. You only need be overwhelmed by the choice of brands in your local store to realise this. The other things you quickly realise about store-bought water though: it’s chronically wasteful and there’s all those plastic garbage islands floating around in the ocean. Also: you’re being aquatically mugged every time you buy a bottle if they’re charging you more than a dollar.
That agreed upon, it’s obvious that even the most urbane, soy-latte-chugging city dweller who consumes water that isn’t coming out of their own private spring could use and save wads of money with this little black bottle, going by the name of Water-to-Go.
It’s a water bottle, yes, but in its cap is a space-programme-endorsed filtration system that nixes 99.9% of impurities and contaminants. We’re assuming brain-eating amoeba fall into that number. The everyday pollutants that sneak into tap water, even in developed nations, are easy meat. You can treat 200 litres of water, which by my reckoning is about three or four month’s worth unless you’re a particularly Thirsty Theo.
Now imagine how useful this could be if you’re going to places where you can’t actually drink the local water, which to us sensitive westerners is just about anywhere they have to overdub The Big Bang Theory. If you’re heading to, say, Africa, then shoving this into your hand luggage could save you hours of dehydration and almost eliminate the worries you’d have about your digestive system holding up.
Your health. Your bank balance. Your liberal guilt about landfills. All could be assuaged with one water bottle. If you’re science-minded, you can find out more at www.watertogo.eu and there’s lots of info for none-scientists, too.
Prices start at £25 for bottle plus filter, with filters costing £14.95 for two. See website for stockists.
I arrived at Heathrow Airport T5 this morning in the middle of the usual hordes of newly-arrived passengers all trudging towards passport control. It's at this point, dear reader, that I usually feel two things: 1. A rare sense of smugness, having been one of the few people that signed up for what was unarguably A Good Idea - the Iris recognition system that allowed me to wander unfettered through Border UK as all and sundry looked on with barely-concealed envy. 2. The feeling that I was undeniably LIVING IN THE FUTURE. How much more space age do you need to feel than when a robot looks into your eye tissue and decides to let you into a country?
This morning, though, my double-sided balloon of self-satisfaction was burst with some aplomb as I arrived at the usual spot to find that not only was the IRIS system not in operation but that it had been SCRAPPED FOR EVER. How am I meant to feel superior to my fellow travellers NOW? I don't have any other way at my disposal. Signing up for that scheme was all I had.
I checked with the Border Agent and he confirmed that the days of IRIS were over and that the next big thing would be facial recognition, but that "could take decades".
I just looked up what happened to IRIS, and it seems that the systems were already out of date when they were implemented and that in most airports they were actually slowing things down a lot, which doesn't do anything for my need for shallow victories at immigration control but I guess you can, begrudgingly, give up the future if it's not really delivering any benefits.
The chip in my passport doesn't work, so I'm back to the analogue method. See you at the back of the queue.
In 1953, when you weren't allowed near a TV presenting role without your Oxbridge PhD in Philosophy and Calculus (and rightly so), the BBC made this at-the-time-near-impossibly futuristic film, using "trick photography" (which had only just been disassociated with witchcraft).
The POV film, from the front of a train running from London to Brighton, became famous. Well, the BBC weren't satisfied with that and they re-filmed the whole jolly event in the same way thirty years later and then thirty years after the thirty years later. Check out our blog in 2043, when the film will either be taken from some magnetic/jet powered super-train or a pack of radiation-blighted mules, depending on how things go. (Via Kotke and the BBC.)