Newspapers with No Hot Links

Posted by Chika On 2:04 PM 0 comments

Yogyakarta Batik by Carl Parkes

Is it just me, or do newspapers seem to be shooting themselves in the foot with every passing day? You write a story about ten useful travel websites, and you don't even provide any hot links in your website? Hello, newspapers, there is this new thingie called the internet, and it survives and blooms off something called "links."

I can hardly believe this.

Every year, as more travelers use the Internet to plan and pay for their vacations, more players are trying to get a piece of the action.

In 2005, more than 64 million Americans bought or reserved an airline ticket, hotel room, rental car or package tour online, up nearly 20 million from 2004, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. With each leisure traveler spending an average of $1,288 online, real money is changing hands. We took a look at several dozen sites that have come online during the past year. Most weren't worth more than a cursory glance, but several broke new ground, fit a niche or at least accomplished what they set out to do.

Here are 10 sites worth checking out.

Arizona Central Link via Washington Post

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Lombok Cattle Traders by Carl Parkes

It sounds so good, but few people actually allow themselves to indulge in spontaneous travel, but Neil Woodburn at Gadling recently answered the call of impulse, with impressive results. Me? I'm going to Texas next month, northern Arizona in May, and perhaps Philadelphia in June. Nothing's all planned well in advance.

Spontaneous travel is rare in life, but when it occurs it is fabulously rewarding.

Case in point: Saturday at noon I was sitting at home in Los Angeles talking on the phone with my girlfriend who was at a conference in San Francisco. Over the course of a 15 minute conversation, I learned that my college team, UCLA, was playing in the Elite Eight in San Francisco (I had thought they were playing on the other side of the country). I also remembered that Gogol Bordello, after their Friday show in LA, was also playing in San Francisco Saturday night.

By 12:30 I had reservations on a 2:00 Southwest flight. I made it to the airport by 1:00, arrived in San Francisco at 3:30, caught a BART bus to the Oakland Sports Arena by 4:00 and, by tip-off, was sitting in a seat my girlfriend had procured from a scalper a mere two hours earlier.

After the game, which UCLA won, we headed out to dinner, and then to a club called Slim’s where we tipped the doorman $50 to let the two of us into the sold-out Gogol Bordello show. By 2 a.m. we were wiped out. A quick cab back to the very hip and cool, highly recommended Ian Schrager hotel Clift, and then it was night-night.

Gadling Link

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Oxford Dictionary FAQ

Posted by Chika On 4:23 PM 0 comments

Chappelle Burns His 50M Comedy Central Check

From Oxford Dictionaries, whatever the hell that might be, a collection of their most frequently asked questions. Might prove useful for writers such as myself, who have no idea what they are doing.

We have built a database of some of the questions sent in to the Oxford Word and Language Service team, so it is likely that if your question is a fairly broad one on grammar, usage, or words then it will be answered here. Simply choose a category and then browse the list of questions.

Ask Oxford Link

They may refute the "supposed disease," but I memorized pneumonultramiscroscopticsilicovolcaniosis early in my days, and I stand by my childhood challenges. It's a disease you get from inhaling volcanic ash.

Use it someday, and impress your friends

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Creative Airplane Seating

Posted by Chika On 3:57 PM 0 comments

Plane Subterfuge by Bjork

Tired of getting bumped from flights which are supposedly filled, when you know for sure there are plenty of empty seats, but the airlines computers are so screwed up they haven't a clue?

Me too.

Some young lady so desperately wanted to attend the recent movie/rock/SFSX week in Austin took matters into her own hands, with hilarious results. I'd say the gatekeepers should be disciplined, and she should be given a medal.

AUSTIN, Tx. -- A Chicago woman accused of stowing away on a plane to attend the South by Southwest Festival faces a federal charge.

Catherine "Cat" Chow, a 33-year-old artist, was on the standby list for a flight from St. Louis to Austin, booked through American Airlines. When she found out the flight was full, Chow snuck past gate agents, boarded the plane and hid in the bathroom, authorities said.

When a passenger knocked on the bathroom door, Chow took the man's seat. When his wife made her move, she took another seat. After she was forced to move again, a flight attendant discovered her, court documents said.

An agent with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force was called to the airport. Airport police also were waiting for Chow when the plane landed.

Chow told authorities she "knew what she did was wrong, but wanted to meet with her friends in Austin . . . to participate in the South by Southwest activities," documents said.

Airport police said they found marijuana and six antidepressant tablets without a prescription label. Chow was charged with boarding an airplane without permission, a federal crime, and two state misdemeanors, possession of marijuana and possession of a dangerous drug. Chow was being held in the Travis County jail on a $3,000 bail.

NBC5 Link

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Reasons to Live Abroad

Posted by Chika On 11:08 AM 0 comments

Vietnam Motos by Chuck

Checking my RSS links to blogs from Vietnam just brought up this outstanding article by a former San Francisan architect who found himself burned out in the U.S., and so took his Vietnamese wife back to Saigon, where he has reinvigorated his life. It's an insightful reflection on the reasons to leave it all behind, and start a new life in a new country. Do click the link to read the entire post, and find the connecting link to the story he recommends.

Approaching civilizations other than our own...

Preya has posted a very thought-provoking essay on her blog Dreaming of Hanoi (she currently lives in Colorado). This essay goes to the heart of why westerners choose to visit, live and work in Viet Nam. Please read her essay. She is very articulate in expressing her opinion that many westerners come to places like Viet Nam out of good intentions to see and experience new things, but often espouse condescending views towards the ongoing changes in these countries that are the choices of those people to improve their lives.

She sees westerners as wanting to preserve the innocence and simplicity of overseas life "for our viewing pleasure" to replace what we can no longer find at home. In so doing, westerners are using Asia as a means to the end of regaining what we have lost in the western world, treating Asia as an extension of the west rather than the unique place of Asians for Asians. I hope I have done Preya justice in this summary.

In her essay, though, she gets to the very core of my own reasons for relocating to Viet Nam. She states:

"Do not go overseas and treat the places you see and the people you meet as if their only purpose in life is to "spice up" your world and make your travels more interesting, or provide you with a place to unwind, discover yourself, etc."

Antidote to Burnout Link

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Doug Lansky Interview

Posted by Chika On 5:27 PM 0 comments

Doug Lansky

Doug Lansky is probably best known as the guy who writes the weekly travel column "Signspotting" syndicated in several dozen newspapers here in the U.S., but he's also the author of several books by Rough Guides that cover the fundamentals of planning a trip around the world. Doug currently lives in Sweden with his Swedish wife (duh), and is a full time columnist for the inflight magazine of Air Scandanavia, or whatever they call their airline. Here's an insightful interview with Doug posted last year at a website that specializes in vacation rentals, but has loads of background content on most anyplace in the world.

Interview: Doug Lansky
Author, Speaker and Travel Writer

By Nana Chen - After telling copy machines where to go, Doug Lansky packed his bags and took off saying goodbye to life as an intern at Late Night with David Letterman, "Spy Magazine," and "The New Yorker". That was in 1992. Much has changed since. After traveling around the world and becoming an expert at it, Doug Lansky has now penned and edited numerous award-winning bestselling travel books, including The Last Trout in Venice.

Currently working on three new titles, including the upcoming “Rough Guide to Travel Survival: The Essential Field Manual,” Doug Lansky gives lectures on world travel at almost every destination you can imagine. In addition, Lansky serves as the editor of Scanorama, the In-flight magazine of Scandinavian Airlines and is a regular contributor to several major newspapers and magazines. We were able to share a few words with him via email.

Nana: You've been traveling for nearly ten years now. May I ask why you started traveling? What event started it all?

Doug: I was in London studying for a semester and between the freezing rain and almost four hours per day on the Tube, I wasn't enjoying my travel experience much and was thinking I'd just head home. I figured I'd do a bit of Inter-Railing before heading home and maybe it was the change of weather when I arrived in Portugal or falling asleep on the trains or the excitement of getting a job selling carpets in Morocco -- probably all -- I fell profoundly in love with travel. After finishing university, I told myself I wanted to travel around the world before turning 25. After 2 1/2 years on the road, I was still as hooked as when I started.

Nana: How were you able to finance your travels when you started? I know a lot of people go on work holidays, teaching ESL in Korea or milking cows in Denmark. Please tell us what sort of jobs you've had on the road.

E-Margaux Link

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World Travel as College Credit

Posted by Chika On 3:30 PM 0 comments

Albert Hoffman as World Traveler

I've always supported the idea of world travel as a way for anybody and everybody to learn about the similarities between international cultures, and help spread the ideas of peace and prosperity through mutual understanding. Jon Carroll, our local columnist here in San Francisco, passes along a great idea: kids should be able to spend a year or more on the road and get college credit for their roadside education. Personally, I probably learned more about life by traveling than by the four years I spent pursuing a degree in Economics from the university, so I think everyone should hit the road for an extended period and open their eyes to the wonders of this world.

The wonderful Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (who will, rumor has it, win the Pulitzer Prize this year, and good for him) has made a modest proposal. I could paraphrase it, but I'll just quote it:

"Traditionally, many young Britons, Irish, Australians and New Zealanders take a year to travel around the world on a shoestring, getting menial jobs when they run out of money. We should try to inculcate the custom of a 'gap year' in this country by offering university credit for such experiences.

"So here's my proposal: Universities should grant a semester's credit to any incoming freshman who has taken a gap year to travel around the world. In the longer term, universities should move to a three-year academic program, and require all students to live abroad for a fourth year. In that year, each student would ideally live for three months in each of four continents: Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe."

I endorse the idea without reservation. About 20 percent of Americans own passports (that's an informed guess -- despite what you've read, that figure is not readily available), and a somewhat smaller percentage actually use them. I think there are lots of reasons for that, including geography -- unlike Europeans, we have to travel quite a way just to find a border to cross.

But there's xenophobia too; we seem to be a fearful lot. People who don't speak English scare us; people who don't have a lot of money scare us; people who eat organ meats scare us. Things can look dire in photographs, more dire than they are in person. And anyway, dire is not by itself life-threatening. People who live in the worst slums are, by and large, alive at the end of every day. Christians traveling in Muslim countries are, similarly, healthy -- and well fed -- when the clock strikes 12.

Even when Americans do travel, they tend to travel in groups. There is a huge English-speaking tourist bubble in almost every large city, and many people never get outside it. They see the sights, but they don't see the country. (The citizens of another famously xenophobic country, Japan, likewise tend to travel in packs; until very recently, the solitary Japanese traveler was as a rare as a nuthatch in Nome.)

I taught on a high-end cruise once, and at each port of call the travelers were ushered off the boat to a pricey hotel restaurant, then taken to an equally pricey mall for an afternoon of shopping. I still remember hanging over the rail in Mumbai, watching porters struggle with huge ceramic elephants that were going to be carted up and brought back home. Progress: It is now less acceptable to bring back the pretty parts of dead elephants.

Jon Carroll at SF Chronicle Link

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Ferrari at 170 MPH

Posted by Chika On 3:28 PM 0 comments

Ferrari Crash PCH

Ferrari Ruins

More news about that amazing Ferrari crash last month on Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles.

Video May Hold Clues to PCH Wreck

L.A. County sheriff's officials say two men who crashed a rare Ferrari in Malibu last month may have been filming the incident.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's investigation into a mysterious crash that destroyed a rare $1-million Ferrari in Malibu last month is now focusing on a videotape that was purportedly shot from inside the vehicle at the time of the accident, according to sources close to the case.

The sources said that Ferrari owner Stefan Eriksson and the other man in the car, identified by authorities as Trevor Karney, had a video camera rolling as they raced on Pacific Coast Highway on the morning of Feb. 21 at speeds in excess of 162 mph.

Deputies who arrived at the scene did not recover any video equipment. But sources said detectives were later told that the high-speed driving was taped. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation.

The revelation is the latest twist in a crash that has prompted both an accident investigation and a probe by the Sheriff's Department's Homeland Security Division.

Although no one was injured in the crash, the investigation has generated significant attention because of the strange circumstances and the fact that it destroyed one of only 400 Enzo Ferraris ever made.

Eriksson, a former European video game executive, told deputies who arrived at the scene that he was not the driver and that another man, named Dietrich, was behind the wheel. Eriksson said Dietrich fled the scene.

But detectives have always been skeptical of his version of events. Investigators have taken a swab of Eriksson's saliva to match his DNA against blood found on the driver's side air bag of the Ferrari.

Eriksson also told deputies that he was a deputy commissioner of the police department of a tiny transit agency in the San Gabriel Valley.

A few minutes after the crash, two men arrived at the crash scene, identified themselves as homeland security officers and spoke to Eriksson at length before leaving.

Sheriff's Sgt. Phil Brooks said Wednesday that a few weeks before the accident, Eriksson was pulled over in West Hollywood without a driver's license.

At that time he told officers that he was a deputy police commissioner of the anti-terrorism unit of the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority and showed a badge, Brooks said.

Before coming to the U.S., Eriksson lived in England. According to Noel Hogan, a British private investigator, formerly with Scotland Yard, Eriksson once told him that he was a police officer. Hogan had been trying to recover a Mercedes SLR worth more than $450,000 that had been reported stolen in England and which Eriksson had in his possession.

Officials at the transit agency, which provides transportation for the disabled and elderly from Monrovia, said Eriksson was given the title of deputy police commissioner after undergoing a background check and offering the agency free video security cameras for its five buses.

Eriksson left video game machine manufacturer Gizmondo last fall after a Swedish newspaper printed allegations of his criminal past.

L.A. Times Link

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Round-the-World with the Guardian

Posted by Chika On 2:48 PM 0 comments

North Korea Leader

I always wondered why Kim Jong-Il wore those elevator shoes, but now I know.

In other news, the Guardian (London newspaper) is once again looking for contestants who can take three months of their lives and travel around the world, snapping digital photos and running a blog of their adventures. But check the pitiful pay:

a digital camera
a camera phone
about $3000

Come on, Guardian, you can bump it up. That's only good enough for a weekend in Cabo, but they expect me to blog, travel, sleep and eat for that paltry sum.

They're looking for a "green" traveler (whatever that means) and a "grey" traveler over the age of 50.

Get paid to go on holiday

This week, Guardian Unlimited is launching a new series of Netjetters, the competition that allows readers to win cash, kit and a three-month trip around the world, in return for writing a regular travel diary of their experiences.

'Green' and 'grey'

This year, two Netjetters will be chosen to travel and write on the themes of "green" and "grey" travel. One recruit must come up with a trip that allows them to travel as "greenly" as possible, in line with the rising tide of interest in eco- and responsible tourism. You may choose to base this on where you go or stay, your mode of transport, what you leave behind and how lightly you tread along the way. Or it might be what you choose to do, for example volunteering or working with protected wildlife.

The other chosen Netjetter will be aged 50 years or over, to reflect the growing number of people embarking on travels later in life. To be selected in this category, you must not have outgrown your spirit of adventure.

Each of the Netjetters will win up to £2,000 towards their trip, Fuji S9500 camera, a Nokia 6630 3G camera phone and a state-of-the-art laptop, all of which will be theirs to use on their Netjetter journeys and to keep thereafter.

Guardian Link

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Guidebook Reviews at The Times

Posted by Chika On 4:20 PM 0 comments

Luggage Meltdown in Philadelphia

The Times of London recently reviewed a handful of travel guidebook publishers in an attempt to sort out the strengths and weaknesses of each line. Not bad, but there are several obvious problems with their methodology. First, since it's a British newspaper and primarily geared toward a British readership, British guidebook publishers dominate the article. And yet most American and Australian guidebook publishers have distribution in Great Britain, so you'd expect them to at least include a few American publishers.

The reviews themselves are posted by a variety of people, who exact backgrounds aren't really revealed. Perhaps readers in London know who these people are, but I didn't have a clue. A larger problem is that everyone has a different set of criteria to judge a book, so a dozen people review a dozen books with no common thread. It's not unlike the problem of some large guidebook being written by 12 people, with 12 different personalities, and 12 different opinions about most everything. There's no uniform opinion, and you really can't compare different chapters of the book.

The Times is British and I would imagine enjoys being polite, but there isn't much criticism in any of these reviews. A bit more honesty would have made this piece far more useful to the average reader contemplating purchasing a guidebook.

It would have been much more fun if each publisher submitted the same book, or if not, a book similar to the standard. OK! Everyone send in your guide to Paris (or New York or Bali, etc.). Then have a single reviewer dig into the books and make a side-by-side comparison, and the strengths and weaknesses of each publisher would have been much more apparent.

Still, it's worth a read.

A guidebook can make or break your holiday — so it’s crucial you take the right one. The Sunday Times experts sort the bona fide from the blather.

About 4,000 travel books are published every year, and the majority are guides of one sort or another. The choice is bewildering, but what most of us want from a guidebook is simple. We’d like it to be relevant to our needs and tastes; and we’d like it to be reliable. So how do you know which guide is for you? And how do you sort the expert travelling companion from the blathering impostor?

We’ve done it for you. We asked six leading publishers to nominate the guide they’re most proud of: a book that typifies their approach. Then we asked our own experts - each with a wealth of knowledge about the relevant destination - to check them out.

The Times Link

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Travel Writers and Comps

Posted by Chika On 2:06 PM 0 comments

Bill Dalton, Wife and Kid

Doesn't this just piss you off? Some travel writer in Los Angeles is paid a decent salary, or is paid decently for his freelance work, and ALL of his expenses are paid for by the L.A. Times, and he has the nerve to criticize other organizations for accepting freebies from some upscale hotel.

He doesn't pay for his perks, but he is so self-righteous that he demands everyone else follow the guidelines set up by the Times? Most, if not all, freelance travel writers accept complimentary hotel rooms, meals, and flights in order to make ends meet. It's an accepted industry standard and understood by everybody, aside from those few writers who have regular paying gigs at major publications.

And then they have the nerve to tell me about perks and comps and my attempts to make a living as an independent, freelance travel writer?

I could pick up the phone today and be on a plane to just about anywhere in the world tomorrow completely complimentary. Being a travel writer for major media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune (both owned by the Tribune Co.), just about any airline or hotel would be happy -- nay, thrilled -- to fly me or put me up completely free of charge. In exchange, all they'd expect from me is to give them coverage.

Now as a travel consumer journalist, here's why I don't accept free travel -- it is flat out wrong. It's wrong because it gives the impression that my journalistic independence may be swayed for the price of a free bed or an airline ticket. Did you get that -- not that my independence would be swayed, mind you, but it's the impression that it might be. Plus I'd never work in this town again (at least not for the papers I currently write for).

"Our policy does not allow us to accept complimentary accommodation or travel of any kind," says Catharine Hamm, editor of the travel section of the Los Angeles Times. And that applies to freelancers like me as well as staff writers.

What that means is that every time that I travel I pay for it entirely out of my own pocket. I won't even take a meal from a representative of a company that I might be writing about (I will accept a cup of coffee). I've even turned down a bagel and orange juice. It's just not worth the risk to my integrity as a journalist for the paltry payback.

And at the end of the day, the single most valuable asset we have as journalists is our integrity. Without it, we lose credibility and the respect of our audience. Screw with that and we're no better than any PR flack trying to sell the public soap. I quote the late, great Otis Chandler on the subject:

"If a newspaper, even a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, loses credibility with its community, with its readers, with its advertisers, with its shareholders, that is probably the most serious circumstance that I can possibly envision. Respect and credibility for a newspaper is irreplaceable."

This is all a long way of trying to sell my fellow Tribuners over at KTLA on the idea that it wasn't a good thing they did taking free rooms at the Ritz Carlton Huntington in Pasadena for three of the hosts of their morning show in exchange for "airtime" (first reported Saturday in the Pasadena Star-News, today in the Los Angeles Times). It's not that in doing so they were necessarily swayed in their coverage, it is the impression that they may have been that is damaging -- and not just to KTLA, but to other Tribune journalists and to journalists in general.

"I think witting or unwitting, whatever anybody in the media does reflects on every other person in the media," says Ms. Hamm. Amen to that.

It seems like journalism ethics 101, but KTLA remains steadfast in their resolve that nothing untoward was done. Ask yourselves this:

Can viewers of KTLA ever be sure that KTLA is giving the Ritz the same scrutiny they may to other hotels? Might a negative story about the Ritz slip to the back burner that maybe should have seen the light of day on KTLA? Again, it's not the actual fact of it, it is the impression, the feeling, that slight inkling that readers and viewers will take away from this. Is that loss of faith really worth the 1,200 bucks or so it would have cost for those three rooms?

KTLA should immediately reimburse the hotel for the actual, street-value expenses of its hosts' stay at the Ritz Carlton Huntington and issue a statement saying that it was wrong to accept the stays and that it will not do so in the future. The morning show hosts (who I doubt had any inkling what their producers were getting them into) ought to read it on-air. Then each of the comped hosts should reveal one negative thing about their stay at the hotel, even if it is something as minor as the water took too long to heat up in the shower, or the orange juice wasn't fresh.

Finally, whoever was responsible for booking the fiasco needs to perform a mea culpa on KTLA's website to journalists everywhere for their blundering lack of judgment. Don't journalists face enough challenges today without creating them within our ranks?

The Daily Traveler Link

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Airline Myths and Legends

Posted by Chika On 4:07 PM 0 comments

Airplane Landing Caribbean

James Wysong is apparently a fully employed flight attendant at some American airline which hasn't recently descended into bankruptcy, and so has the time and money to blog about his experiences, including this recent hilarious missive about airline myths and legends.

James, grow a beard or goatee, or put a tattoo of some screaming, naked babe on your forehead, but please do something about your photo on your blog. It's pitiful. See my stupid blog author photo for some inspiration.

Have you ever heard an airplane story that has been passed down from year to year, only to realize when you hear it a second time that it has changed in some way? Who starts these stories? Are they true?

I have been in the airline business for many years and I hear the same stories over and over. I can't tell you positively if they are true or false, but I can give you some opinions on their probability. Take a look at these myths and legends, for instance.

Legend. An extremely large female passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight finds herself sealed to the toilet after she flushes it. It takes three mechanics on the ground to free her.

Reality check. False. Yes, airplane toilets have very powerful suction, but when the seat is down (as I assume it would be when she sat down), there is a small gap between the seat and the toilet that prevents an airtight seal from forming. I once put this story to the test by creating an airtight seal, then flushing the toilet. Yes, there was a lot of force, but after the flush cycle the pressure was released, so our robust passenger would be free to go.

Addendum. I once tried stringing a line of toilet paper from the back lavatory to the front of the airplane, then flushing the toilet. Sure enough, the string of toilet paper got sucked out in one piece. (No, I guess I didnÂ’t have anything better to do with my time.)

Myth. The "Mile High Club" is so enticing because the sexual climax is 10 times more intense on an airplane due to the altitude and the cabin pressure.

Reality check. False. It's just the excitement of doing it in a bizarre place and maybe getting caught - or so I am told. With the deplorable state of most airplane lavatories these days, I am barely able to raise a smile much less anything else. Or is that just age talking?

Legend. A white passenger on a British Airways flight from Johannesburg objects to being seated next to a black man and asks for another seat. The flight attendant says she'll see what she can do. She returns to say there is a seat available in first class and that the captain has approved an upgrade because he feels that no one should have to sit next to such an offensive person. The flight attendant then turns to the black man and invites him to the first class seat, to the cheers and applause of other passengers.

Reality check. I don't know if this is true, but I will tell you that I have upgraded passengers sitting next to obnoxious neighbors quite a few times.

Myth. You are more likely to get sick when flying because the airplane's circulation system spreads viruses.

Reality check. Actually, airplane air is quite healthy because it is run through HEPA air filters, which can catch up to 99.9% of small bacteria and viruses - even SARS and the bird flu virus. The real culprit is more likely to be that guy in the next seat who sneezed on you.

Legend. A Pan Am flight attendant working in first class has to deny a meal choice to a celebrity passenger. Indignant and upset, the celebrity launches into a temper tantrum. "Do you know who I am?" the passenger repeatedly exclaims. The flight attendant quickly gets on the passenger address system and announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a passenger who does not know who he is. If anyone can help us with this information it would be greatly appreciated."

Tripso Link

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Tim Leffel and Perceptive Travel

Posted by Chika On 3:58 PM 0 comments

Tim Leffel Tome

Travel writer Tim Leffel has launched a new website aimed at perceptive travelers, and provides travel stories from travel guidebook authors "on the road" as well as bi-monthly reviews of new travelogues authored by Tim himself. His March-April review of three books is just great, as he praises one book profusely and slams the other two into the ground.

Fine, honest work, Tim.

He also goes on with some comparison between the cost of round-the-world travel and buying cigarettes for a year in NYC. Very funny stuff with loads of truth.

If the travel budget seems daunting, is there something else that’s sucking up your funds?

The new issue of Perceptive Travel is out today. I ended up doing the book reviews. Two books that I wasn’t so impressed with, but one that was great–The Devil’s Picnic. Why I’m bringing this up is that one line in there is really appropriate in terms of finding money for travel. The author, Taras Grescoe, notes in passing that supporting a pack-a-day cigarette habit in New York City for a year costs as much as a round-the-world plane ticket.

That can’t be right I thought–until I pulled out a calculator. At $7.50 a pack, a common price there, the tab after 365 days would be $2,737.50. That’s not just enough for a bare bones round-the-world ticket; it’s actually enough for one with a fair number of stops.

If you take that reasoning a step further, quitting smoking for two years and putting that $7.50 per day away in the bank would result in a plane ticket and enough to fund three to six months of travel in cheap countries. I’m not picking on smokers really. They get enough abuse. Apply the same reasoning to those with a two-a-day mocha latte habit, or to those who can’t stop buying new shoes, people who spend hundreds of dollars a week at restaurants, or anyone who feels they have to have the latest hot sports car in the driveway. Unless you’re really making close to nothing, budgeting is all about priorities. You pay the fixed costs and then divvy up the rest according to priorities. In too many cases, the priorities revolve around buying and consuming at a frenetic pace, or purchasing short vacation packages in the same way a shopper would purchase a new TV.

The people who most often ask how I can afford to travel so often are usually earning more money than I do. The problem is, it’s all going into their new car, their ever-growing wardrobe, and their oversized house filled with too much stuff.

Those who really want to travel do. I’ve shared guesthouses with school teachers, janitors, bartenders, and construction workers. They made travel a priority, saved their money, and took off. For most of us, it’s simply a matter of will

Tim Leffel Link

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Work for Hire? Royalties? Advance?

Posted by Chika On 3:10 PM 0 comments

Work for Hire?

New blogger Lynn Scanlon has recently stirred up the pot with her post about advances and flat-fee work for book projects. MediaBistro has been all over the controversy with comments and criticism coming in from all directions.

When you are selected to write a book (guidebook, whatever), should you take a flat fee or a royalty, and should you request a large flat fee, or advance, on signing or should you decline the flat fee/advance for a somewhat higher royalty rate?

I've done all of the above, and feel that a high royalty rate without an advance is the best way to go. Flat fees are a suckers game. Insist on royalties. If your book sells well, then you will make longterm decent money that continues to roll in over the years. And if it doesn't sell well, you probably should have found a different book project.

Writers should assume the same risks and rewards as the publisher, who must pony up the money upfront for printing costs, editorial work, and sales, promotion, and distribution.

Here's Lynnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.. sort of like Jack in the Shining where he types for six months: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy:

Lawrence LaRose neatly ducked a question thrown at him today while he gave a talk about his 2004 book Gutted Down to the Studs in My House, My Marriage, My Entire Life at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, New York.

He was asked how well the book was doing. Amazingly he didn't blink. He didn't get dodgy-eyed.

Gutted is selling as a used book on Amazon for $1.23.

LaRose's 1996 book, The Code: Time-Tested Secrets for Getting What You Want from Women -- Without Marrying Them, is selling on Amazon for $.30.

He wanted $20 for the hardcover version of Gutted, a few copies of which were available on a table nearby. I offered him $10. He said: "But you're an author, too." (Like I'm supposed to show some sympathy.) I pointed out to him that I could buy the book for $1.23 online!

Sold: $10.00!

Cruel and heartless though I may be toward a fellow author, I know he is just learning a lesson that I learned a long time ago, and moved over into the business side of publishing. The retail price of a book is meaningless. There is no money in publishing for the vast majority of authors. Having a book sell more than 100,000 copies is as difficult as making an NBA team.

I read somewhere, and I believe it. My titles sold very well. Maybe his first book did, too, since he smartly spoofed and rode the coattails of The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right on the publicity circuit and onto a sofa beside Oprah. But just because you sell tens of thousands of copies or even hundreds of thousands of copies, doesn't mean the big checks will roll in for the author. Not like they do for the publishing house. Read the contract.

What's an advance against royalties, really? It's a loan. Something you have to pay back before you see a dime more. Yes, there is the possibility that enough copies will be sold at high enough prices and you'll receive the maximum royalty, and you may actually manage to "pay back" that loan, but the likelihood is slim, slim, slim.

And that's the way publishers like it. The contract is designed to fill the coffers of the publishing house, not the polka-dotted, porcelain piggy bank of the author.

Here's what I recommend for authors today. Don't accept an advance against royalties. (Yippee! A $100,000 advance against royalties! OK, make it $10,000.) Surprise! It's doled out upon signing the contract, turning in an "approved" manuscript, being published, and (horrors!) reaching the sixth month mark after the pub date if the publishing house can get away with it. Get a check upfront as payment in full. Say the magic words "work for hire." You can take less than the $100,000. (What? Give up $100,000?!) Money you have in your hand today is worth much more than money tomorrow.) The size of the check you are offered will indicate the kind of support your book will get.

The Publishing Contrarian Link


And MediaBistro readers send in their responses.

Your comments on this morning's post about Lynne W. Scanlon's advice to authors to forgo advances and take a one-time payment from publishers for their books are coming in...and you're not exactly enthused over the idea. "There are so many reasons this is stupid tenumeratet even begin to ennumerate them," writes one agent. "Seriously. And I'm a guy who tends to like contrarian ideas. Maybe if you're talking about a certain kind of gimmick-driven nonfiction this makes a certain degree of sense. But for the vast number of authors, this amounts to giving away the author's piece of the future for a smaller piece of the present, which literally makes no sense."

Literary agent Janet Reid calls Scanlon's proposal "interesting," but outlines some key objections: "First, there are tax issues; all the money up front means it's all taxable in that QUARTER: 30% right off the top. Second, publishers pay advances based on what they think the book will earn... Third, this completely ignores smaller publishers who depend on paying future royalties for a book rather than big up front advances (let alone bigger up front work for hire paychecks)."

Some folks took issue with Scanlon's characterization of advances as loans. "Is there something here I'm not understanding?" asks one reader. "A loan is money given to you so that later, you pay it back." Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen provides further clarification: "It's NOT a loan (at least, it isn't in any of my contracts). It's money I get to keep, even if only ten copies sell." And, she points out, the size of the advance is a strong indicator of how much marketing push the publisher will give your book when it comes out. "If they give you a seven-figure advance, do you think they're gonna let that book die in the stores? No way. They'll throw more money after it, in advertising and promotions, to ensure their big investment doesn't flop."

Not everyone hates Scanlon's idea, though. One publishing exec says it has "a lot of merit," and asks, "Since a publisher is taking on all the risk, why should the publisher share the profits should the book take off?" He looks to the music industry for inspiration, citing the work-for-hire approach adopted by Naxos Records to produce budget-priced classical music CDs for "a slow-growth/no-growth, overpopulated market" that he views as comparable to contemporary publishing. "You need to keep costs as lean as possible and make smart pricing decisions," he says. "Naxos's model is one the book industry should consider studying."

MediaBistro Link 1

And here's some more reaction from MediaBistro readers.

Readers are still reacting to Lynne Scanlon's comments about work for hire, leading to a third wave of letters coming in. "I still don't get her point," says Tess Gerritsen. "Since advances are calculated partly on how many copies the publisher thinks will sell, how is that different from 'work for hire' where the publisher pays a flat fee based on how many copies they think the book will sell? It's still cash on the barrel, with the obvious difference: If the book sells like gangbusters, the author benefits from that success with royalties." Gerritsen also observes that "many, if not most, top-selling authors never earn out their advances—and they have absolutely no problems negotiating their next contracts."

Mark Haskell Smith points to Hollywood for a less glamorous countermodel of work for hire. "The board of directors (and many members) of the WGA in Los Angeles have been trying for years to figure out a way to get ownership of original written material retained by writers," he says. "Right now the studios own the material and all work is work for hire. In that environment, an author could easily sell a novel to a publisher and then discover another novelist coming in to 'polish' it before it hits the marketplace. Since the original material would be work for hire, the publisher would own it and could, basically, do whatever they want." For that matter, I'm sure that comic book authors and artists would have an interesting perspective on the work for hire debate as well...

The executive who expressed support for the idea returned to clarify his comments about publishers taking all the risk. "I'm simply pointing out a fact," he writes. "In the writer-publisher relationship, the publisher takes on the financial risk. The writer gets paid no matter what. The publisher is spending money in the hope of a return. Many books post losses. In my experience, most writers don't try to live on their writing income, so it's not correct to characterize their activity as risking a financial loss. They are not 'in business' in the same way a publisher is."

The debate continues over at Scanlon's Publishing Contrarian, including her "bottom line" rationale for why her approach is right: "Ten-thousand-copies-sold is often enough, no MORE than enough, for a publishing house to be happy. In fact, very happy... It's the 10,000 copies here, 10,000 copies there, that are the bread and butter sales for a publishing house, but not for the author."

MediaBistro Link 2

And then Scanlon responds to her critics, with a new post and commentary at MediaBistro. She must be loving this.

Contrarian Rebuts Your Criticisms

Publishing Contrarian Lynne W. Scanlon responds to some of yesterday's letters reacting to her recommendation that writers embrace the "work-for-hire" compensation model when dealing with publishers. An agent pointed out that getting all the money up front meant it would all be taxable in one quarter; Scanlon replies, "Most advances are tiny and most writers have more than enough write-offs to offset the tax issue. Stretching a $10,000, $25,000 or even $40,000 advance over a year or two years or three, rather than getting the cash in hand (when it isn't much to live on anyhow) makes no sense to me if you want to pay your bills." In response to Tess Gerritsen's observation that an advance against royalties isn't a loan, in the sense you don't have to pay it back if the book doesn't sell enough copies, she retorts, "If you 'default,' so-to-speak, and do not 'earn back' your advance, best of luck with your next contract!"

But it's actually the comments from a publishing executive who appreciates Scanlon's idea that drew the most response yesterday afternoon. "Of course a publishing executive thinks that going to a work-for-hire model has a lot of merit," replies one agent. "Publishers have always wanted the ability to control the intellectual property of an author without strings attached." In response to the executive's claim that publishers take "all the risk" on books and shouldn't have to share the profits, writer and industry educator Bella Stander (at whose "Book Promotion 101" workshops, I should disclose, Sarah and I are both scheduled to speak) says, "I find this singularly arrogant. As we know, the author takes a huge financial risk by writing a book." Another reader concurs, "Without the author's time, there would be no book, no book signings, etc. If the author doesn't make enough on their investment, there may be no second book. Both the publisher and the author need to make money and both need to be rewarded if the book takes off."

That same executive cited budget-CD label Naxos as a model for publishing work-for-hire content, prompting one of the agents who first wrote in to return with an additional comment. "Naxos is a great model," he says, "if you don't mind skipping over the best (or even the second best) talent. For the most part, Naxos uses third-rate orchestras with middling grade talent to produce cheap recordings. Most writers I know want to be considered first-rate, and they want to be treated that way."* Janet Reid also came back to respond to this line of reasoning: "Naxos pays musicians on a work-for-hire basis, not composers. Musicians are not the creators of work like writers are creators of a novel, and most of the composers Naxos records are well beyond collecting royalties given they died not just in the last century but the century before that!"

*Exceptions to the rule exist: Marin Alsop's excellent work with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on John Adams and Philip Glass, for one, and the 3-CD set of William Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience for another... (See, we don't just know books here at GalleyCat!)

MediaBistro Link 3

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Amazing Race 9

Posted by Chika On 12:26 PM 0 comments

Bill Bryson

One of the few commercial TV programs I attempt to follow is Amazing Race, which combines the love of quirky characters with exotic destinations that remind us all of how exhilarating travel can be in our packaged world. Last night's kickoff for season 9 looks promising with the first visit to Sao Paulo and the introductions of the core participants.

Can you come back from jumping the shark? Of course you can. Last season, the Amazing Race had its "Cousin Oliver" moment when the show turned into an unwatchable "Family Edition" format. But we are a forgiving group here at Jaunted, and we welcome back our beloved "classic mode" Amazing Race, warts and all.

This week's premiere started off per usual, with Phil introducing the race, and each team introducing themselves. These intros quickly put the teams into nice, manageable, stereotypical boxes: Southern racists, bickering couple, gay dudes, your token sexagenarians, oh, and don't forget the always entertaining mother/daughter action.

After his usual race preamble, which this season took place at Red Rocks, Colorado, Phil sent the kids off to São Paulo Brazil.

Before the eleven teams headed to Brazil, the dentist and his subservient wife informed Ray that his name was Lake, "like the ocean", and then once Ray was out of earshot, began to mutter what sounded like racial slurs. Way to make a first impression, Ocean.

Jaunted Link

The last few seasons of Amazing Race have also been well covered with excellent commentary provided by travel wizard and fellow writer Edward Hasbrouck.

The Amazing Race is back!

Back in Sao Paulo for the second time. (Don't be surprised if you've forgotten their first visit four years ago -- they didn't actually do much in Sao Paulo.) Back to teams of two adults, instead of teams of four that include children. (Too bad: As I've said repeatedly, the television producers missed a huge chance to show the world as children experience it, and to teach adult viewers how much more quickly and easily children adapt to unfamiliar settings.) But most importantly, back to travelling around the world (or at least to many continents), rather than just around North and Central America as in the most recent flop of a season of the reality-television race.

The lack of audience interest in the previous season of the race, as host Phil Keoghan has admitted in recent interviews, suggests that the excitement and education we get from travel is as much about diversity of people as of places. Yes, the USA has both tropical jungle and arctic mountaintops. Yes, the USA is a melting pot of peoples. But the world is still a lot more culturally diverse than the USA or any one country, and changing scenery outside the window of your SUV is no substitute for cultural encounter and immersion.

Edward Hasbrouck Link

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