Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Incremental Innovations

In this trip within the US, I saw a couple of incremental innovations that were pleasing. (When you live in a country for 20 years, you start to take things for granted and stop noticing the improvements.)

Used to be that in museums, we'd pay around $6-$8 to rent an "audio guide" – a long black hand-held device which would narrate once we pressed the exhibit's number. This time, I saw that in several places, they asked us to use our cell phones instead. No renting or paying anything. You dial the number and the displayed extension, and a voice recording tells you about what you are looking at, with options for more details if you are interested. I saw this in the OKC memorial, in art galleries in Taos, and also in a botanical garden in Lincoln, NE. This is a great way to increase the usage of a device that all of us carry around -- the cell phone.

In the Wal-Mart in Durango in Colorado, I noticed that the receipt was unusually small. Then I saw why. Both sides of the paper had been used to print our purchases! It may not sound like much, but I am sure eventually the savings in paper used adds up to something significant.

"Most of the innovations that matter are the tiny changes we constantly make to the millions of procedures and methods we use."
Robin Hanson, Innovations and Economic Growth

Friday, June 25, 2010

Harley Pride

In this road trip through several of the southern states in central U.S., the sheer number of motorcyclists surprised me. They are a proud bunch, typically traveling in small groups. Two or three or four motorcycles per group, driving through national parks and scenic byways.

They seem to be really enjoying the summer, sauntering along in no big rush. At every vista point or overlook, they stop and get off their bikes. Then they pull out their cameras, take a quick peek at the view, then they turn around and photograph their shiny bikes from different angles. Then they get on, and drive off to the next scenic spot.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Highway Quotes

Perhaps because I am on the road these days, these quotes resonated:

No matter what road I'm traveling, I'm going home. – Shinshio

"The great gifts are not got by analysis. Everything good is on the highway." – Emerson.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Product Endorsements

It is not as hypocritical for an aspiring anti-materialist like me to be endorsing products as it initially seems. If you are going to own only a few things, they must be of very good quality so that they can last.

Here then are a few products that have really helped us in our travels, and I thought it might be worth recommending to others when they travel.

Teva footwear: This will be no big surprise to those who have owned Tevas before. These are open footwear with Velcro straps. Each pair lasts for years, and no traveler should be without one. (I wore mine daily for a full year in India, so much so that many people assumed I didn’t own any other footwear. I didn't want to wear my black shoes (too formal) or rubber flip-flops (too informal), so Teva it was.

REI Cargo Pants: Just before heading out to India, I happened to pick up two sets of cargo pants from the local REI store. These are ideal for travel, with lots of side zips and pockets to stash away tickets, passport and cash. It has lasted through numerous wash cycles, and only now is beginning to show signs of wear. I'd recommend buying one pair first to see if it works for you.

Kelty Backpacks: Ours is over a dozen years old. The credit for researching this before we made our purchase goes to my wife. Mine has gone on dozens of trips. Sometimes, I think I'd like to upgrade to a new backpack, but my current one still looks good.

Vacuum Storage Bags: We hesitated before buying these. It seemed a waste to pay around $20 for what was essentially a set of 3 big-sized Ziplock bags. But I am a convert now. We put our "good clothes" in one and stuffed our winter wear in another of these giant bags and then vacuumed the air out. For one whole year, the bags sat in storage, and the clothes are just as we left them. (Upon my return, when moving things around, one bag fell to the ground and instantly "exploded." So they should be handled carefully.)

Obviously, I am not affiliated with any of the products above. I am just a satisfied customer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Your Radio or Your CD Player?

I was at the auto mechanic's, getting the car we had just purchased ready for a long road trip in the US. The radio was only able to receive one or two stations, and neither of them was NPR. I wanted that fixed.

The mechanic spent nearly 20 minutes pulling out everything. He conferred with his boss, and then they both came to discuss with me. "The antenna can go either to the CD player or to the radio, but not to both. Which one do you want?"

I had to decide on the spot, and since we had paid an extra $300 for the luxury of having a 12-disc CD player, I told them to leave it the way it was. Sensing my disappointment, the head mechanic only charged me half the quoted price.

On the evening before our departure my friend Kalyan said, "Part of the fun of a long road trip is being able to listen to random radio stations in the places you are driving through." I then wished that I had opted for the radio.

The next day we set out, with a few favorite CD's in the player. That evening, in Bloomington IL, when my wife was out of the car somewhere, I decided to fiddle with the radio again. And to my surprise, NPR came on loud and clear. Earlier, sometime during the drive, my wife had pushed a couple of buttons to shut off the CD player. (Later on, we figured it out. The radio would come on only if the player was fully shut off, something that both the mechanics had missed.)

So now I can listen to my CD's or to NPR in the car as much as I want. Happiness, it seems, is in having small choices.