Jun 152013
 

Spotted in London at Foyles (which is moving into a newly constructed building next door in early 2014): Penguin UK’s brilliant and audacious reissue of Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ It’s designed in the classic orange and white bands as mid-century Penguin paperbacks were, but it’s embossed and redacted.

No American publisher would have the courage to let a book’s theme drive the design so confidently that the title of the product would be obscured.

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May 062013
 

20120717-220452.jpgI just got this excellent message on my Facebook page.

It seems the mystery of “Who’s leaving smiley faces beside celebrity graves” has been solved, and the answer is rather beautiful in its guilelessness:

Hi Jason. — It’s been brought to my attention that you have been curious to who has been leaving the rock smileys on the celebrity graves… That would be me!
I also leave them on other graves that catch my attention, next to street art, and anything else that catches my attention in the Los Angeles Area. — Also as the commenter on your blog mentioned, Pittsburgh. I just came back from visiting there where I spent a lot of time visiting their cemeteries and leaving my rock smileys.
If you go to my Facebook page, you will see several albums of pictures of where I have left them.
It all started with my friend Tamra finding a little rock with a face on it, and how it made her smile. Then a few of us thought we’d leave some rock smileys around for others to find, sort of like a pay it forward type of thing. — And well, I’ve gone a little crazy with it.
And I am totally flattered that you made a blog entry about my rock smileys… :)
—Lisa Albanese

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Apr 302013
 
WorthSide

Fort Worth’s namesake is a traffic island. Rude!

I stopped at a New York City monument for lunch. Although thousands of people visit it every day, it was never a popular attraction. Near the northwest corner of Madison Square Park, in an concrete traffic triangle bordered by Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 25th Street, a squat obelisk is encircled by an iron fence.

It was built in 1857 as the central feature of one of the city’s most important intersections. Today, everyone who rides the N train slides right under it. Every tourist who photographs the Flatiron Building would be staring at it if only they’d turn around. Around back is a hatch.

Inside, General William Jenkins Worth’s corpse rests quietly in the middle of one of the busiest traffic interchanges in Manhattan.

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Apr 202013
 

New York Travel FestivalI spoke today about how to avoid travel scams at the New York Travel Festival. If you missed my talk, Spike the Baby (And Other Rules for Dodging Travel Scams), you missed a lot of detail about various scams both tried-and-true and newfangled.

One element of my talk was a brief list of resources for finding out the latest scams and knowing how to ward them off. Here are some key links for doing your own country-by-country research before you set off on your own.

Recent travelers keep warnings current on the many excellent travel sharing boards such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and BootsnAll (although beware that some people think that voluntarily overpaying for an inferior product qualifies as a “scam” — it doesn’t), here are a few additional links that you should keep in your  bookmarks. Be warned that the State Department’s Travel Safe mobile phone app is not updated with the speed of international events, so it’s best if you avoid using that and stick to the Web-based warnings pages, which are updated more attentively.

Because the U.S. State Department doesn’t have the good sense to create easy-to-use URLs for its most important travel update pages, I have taken the liberty of creating shortlinks that you actually stand a chance of remembering at the moment you need them most.

My NY Travel Fest talk was about avoiding scams while you’re on the road. I gave a separate talk, with its own list of prescriptions (click here for that), at the recent New York Times Travel Show, and it covered ways to protect yourself when you’re still at home, booking travel.

As I said during my talk today, if you should fall prey to a scam, don’t beat yourself up. Stuff happens, and there are professionals who devote every one of their dastardly brain cells to devising new methods of outwitting you. The happy fact is that major scams are fairly rare. Don’t be afraid.

Apr 032013
 
Me with Mark Burnett

Me with Mark Burnett

It has been a while since I wrote about Shark Tank here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t often still get questions about the show.

The most common one? It’s whether I can connect people to Mark Burnett. (If you think I can, perhaps you aren’t ready for the intellectual rigors of pitching the Sharks. Here’s the general application link.)

But there are other things you didn’t know that I could tell you.

 

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Mar 312013
 

I get a lot of press kits on USB drives. A decade ago, when they replaced paper kits (thank goodness), they were uninspired and utilitarian, and they often stored as little as 256 MB of information, so they didn’t hold much interest even in re-use. Now, even a standard stick drive can contain 2 to 4 GB and they compete to be memorable. Even though they publicize American attractions, nearly all of them are still made in China.

I saved a few of my favorites.

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Who knows — maybe I’ll add more cool designs as I run across them.

Mar 292013
 

DanRatherandMeI forgot to post this when it was called to my attention last month. Waywire, the news startup backed in part by Cory Booker, has engaged Dan Rather as one of its faces, and in this video segment, Dan Rather calls me one of the “Top Anchors” of the Web.

I come right after Matthew Keys, the Reuters social media editor who was subsequently indicted with aiding hackers. (Can’t say Dan isn’t still ahead of the big stories!)

But it’s what Dan Rather said about me that had me sideshifting from amused to bewildered. I think I confused the fella.

He seems really bewildered by my twitter bio. I mean, it’s an honor just to be noticed, but anytime someone feels obligated to say the phrase “all due respect,” you know they probably don’t have much.

For the record, pop historian is an established term these days. Both the esteemed Simon Schama and Stephen Ambrose have worn the mantle. And I proudly do, too. It allows me to keep talking about the past without having to publish research papers that put people to sleep.

Like I said. It’s an honor to be noticed.

Mar 252013
 

What’s the deal with these bird’s-eye photos of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida? They appear on Google Maps when you zoom in and click “Satellite.” They seem fabricated. Why?

1. Parades don’t do that.

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Check out the configuration of the parade. Normally, the enter the Hub from the bridge at 10 o’clock, travel clockwise, and exit at 6 o’clock. Here, the floats go round and round the entire Hub as if it’s a carousel. In real life, floats pack together, with lots of dancers between them, and with no large gaps. But look:

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Mar 222013
 

New York Travel FestivalOn April 20, a new breed of travel show will make its inaugural appearance. It’s called the New York Travel Festival, and as my friend Valarie D’Elia describes it, the TravFest “promises to reinvent the consumer travel show.”

Travel shows, if you have never been to one, are often big meeting halls full of lots of kiosks where semi-informed representatives jockey to hand out brochures about whatever they’re selling. In a separate area, you’ll usually find conference rooms, and at the head of those rooms, long tables where travel experts sit dutifully behind their name tags, pouring Dixie cups of water from a sweating pitcher and trying not to say anything too earth-shaking. Traditional travel shows are, ironically, a somewhat passive experience for audiences who presumably go because they’d rather be in motion somewhere.

Not this one. The New York Travel Festival is about vigor and action. Walking tours of New York City are built into the schedule. There will be food tastings. Experts will tell you how to explore corners of New York that most guidebooks and magazines shrug off. Even the panelists have been tasked to challenge each other — intellectually, not like the WWE — by taking opposing views of the same topic.

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Mar 192013
 

I have a confession: I haven’t read a travel book in years.

I’ll dip in. But I usually can’t get myself enthused enough to finish. For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me. I’ve worked in travel journalism for 13 years. Why do I get bored by travel writing?

It may say something about my poor introspection, but it took many years to figure it out.

For me, travel is about the place, not someone’s reaction to it. I would rather cut out the middle-man.

Travel isn’t just about vacations. It’s a study of history, food, people and nature. That’s why it’s inexhaustible.

So although I don’t read travel books, I am voracious about non-fiction books. Books about the history of salt, about Reconstruction, about a guy who grew up in Bombay, about the banana trade, about the heyday of silent movies in Hollywood. I always have at least 8 to 10 in the dugout, waiting for their turn to step up and knock me into their world.

All are the stories of other places. Isn’t that the essence of travel?

The concept of “travel writing” is so limiting. Far fewer people want to read about the act of travel (the revenue figures are cratering) but reading about the world has never gone out of style. The act of travel is a personal process, and it often involves details (taxicabs, tickets, uncomfortable beds) that obstruct actual learning. If you drop the “travel” and are just a “writer,” you haven’t lost a yard of territory. You are still covering the whole planet.

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