published at 9:07am on 07/17/12, with 3 Comments
I recently had the misfortune of booking a Ryanair flight and discovered a secret little $20 fee hidden behind a checkbox.
First of all, if you’ve never had the pleasure of purchasing a ticket from Ryanair, especially out of London, I would highly recommend avoiding it at all costs. The problem with flying out of London is that it requires at least three different searches (for the three regional airports) which can not be combined. You then have to do the mental gymnastics involved in figuring out which airport provides the schedule you want, let alone the price that you’re comfortable paying (after all, this is a “budget” airline, so you’re certainly competing on price here). But beyond their abysmally bad web experience, Ryanair are known to charge fees on just about every part of the travel experience, from the £1.50 charge to have an SMS confirmation sent to your phone, to baggage fees for everything besides your one carry-on, to fees for checking in at the airport.
So against all better judgement, I had settled on a flight from Gatwick to Dublin. During the checkout process, however, I noticed that as I entered my credit card information, the ticket price on the web page automatically updated and was listed in both pounds and the converted dollars that I would actually be paying.
It turns out that Ryanair will quote you a ticket price in the currency of the departing country (hence the price quoted in Pounds in this case), but will actually bill you in your home currency (in my case, US Dollars). The interesting bit comes behind the “more information” link, which will show that they have taken the liberty of providing you with their own currency conversion rate which is, as you’ve probably guessed, much worse than the current rate.
At the time, this £235 ticket was quoted by Ryanair as $386, and xe.com as $368. Simply unchecking this box will bill my card in Pounds and will let my credit card company do the actual currency conversion, which should be a lot more fair than the Ryanair rate (not taking into consideration the foreign transaction fees that a lot of cards charge, but that’s another story).
You’re probably going to get screwed by flying Ryanair anyway, but at least make sure that it’s on your own terms.
published at 11:05am on 05/12/12, with No Comments
The animated GIF is a delightful art form that sits solidly in between the still photography and a moving film. As a technology, it’s not much more than a fluke, but as art, it shares a rich history with the zoetrope, the stereograph and even the flip book.
It’s amazing that this one quirk of this one file format can provide such a rich medium for creativity, but it does. As it is such a portable file format, the number of “digital movie to GIF” apps that have cropped up in recent years is quite astounding. The moments captures in the GIFs on If We Don’t, Remember Me are absolutely stunning, and are art unto themselves. They’re a far cry from the “under construction” animations that I first came across in the mid-90s.
But it is the jerky, raw GIFs that really appeal to me. Individually recorded still frames, stitched together in software, endlessly looping back and forth between two, three, or four frames, at most, that I enjoy making the most. While the video GIFs seem like much more of an extension of film, these two-frame animations feel much more like an extension of still photography to me. When I make a still image, I am choosing a particular moment in time to present to my audience. A single moment that has to communicate the entire feeling that I am trying to communicate. When I show that boy smiling, is it a smile that is about to turn into a grimace? A laugh? It’s up to me to tee up the moment, and up to the viewer to follow through.
Animated GIFs let me cheat.
An animated GIF lets me show two or three moments, a before and after, the smile and the grimace. The ice cream cone before and after it topples to the ground. But it also forces me to choose those two moments. It is, in some ways, harder to choose exactly the right frames to convey exactly the right moment, but it is there that lies the challenge and the joy. When a moving image is complete, I often find myself watching the frames flicker back and forth between each other, wondering which moment came first and which came second and wondering when, if ever, time will carry on.
published at 3:04pm on 04/22/12, with 3 Comments
Enjoy London by bike share, even as an American. Even with one of your silly swipe credit cards.
I love exploring a city by bike. Any city worth its grid will have a public transit system, but in order to really get a sense of the street life, the pace of the city, and the scale, a bike is the only way to get from place to place. The magic of an underground system is great, but you miss out on everything you can see when you go from point A to Z. And walking just takes too damn long.
The last time I was in London, I was pleased to learn that the bike share program had finally implemented a “Casual Use” plan, which allows you to use the bikes on a day-to-day basis without purchasing a membership (which requires UK residency). I was even more excited to see that the machines support American-style swipe credit cards as well as the chip and pin cards that are common in Europe.
Despite the cold January day, I decided to embark on this adventure to see how hard it was going to be for an American to actually use the Boris Bikes in a casual hire capacity. As it turns out, it’s pretty straight forward, with a couple of caveats.
The onscreen instructions walk you through every step of the hire process, but here are the things to note, both about the hiring process and the bikes themselves:
- The machine may not read your card the first time you try. In the cases where it didn’t read the card, I ended up trying again. And again. And again until it finally worked. The first machine I tried didn’t read the card at all, so I walked to the next bike share station, but I’m not sure whether persistence would have paid off.
- The first time you use the system, you have to swipe your card twice: once to register your card with the system, and once to actual hire the bicycle. On subsequent hires in the rental period (I always did it for £1 for one day, but you can register for longer) you will only need to swipe the card once to check the bike out again.
- You will receive two pieces of paper: the receipt for your rental, and the unlock code, a 5 digit number that you punch into the lock next to the bike you wish to borrow. You need that number to unlock your bike, so remember it before you cram the paper into your pocket.
- The first 30 minutes of the bicycle hire is free. As long as you check your bike back into a station before that 30 minutes is up, you won’t have to pay more than the initial fee for the day. You can’t however, just check out another bike when you park your first one – you will have to wait 15 minutes or so.
- Carry a handkerchief with you – someone had squeezed toothpaste on the seats of all of the bikes at the station I went to one morning. Because people are assholes.
- Watch out for bum bicycles. Before unlocking, I always make sure that the seat adjusts properly and that the tires aren’t flat. The Boris Bikes are incredibly heavy as it is, and a flat tire will make the ride even more painful.
- On a related note, allow at least 50% more time than you’d expect for a bike ride of any given distance – the bikes are heavy and are not geared for going fast.
- After you unlock your bike, getting it out of the stand is actually kind of tricky. You end up having to kind of lift up the seat and lift/pull it out of the stand. If you can’t get the bike out immediately, the lock will reengage itself. Don’t worry – you can just punch in the same code and it will unlock again.
- There are a number of mobile apps that will tell you where the nearest station is. These were indispensable. If you need a mobile data plan, read my tips on getting a mobile data plan while abroad.
- RIDE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD.
That’s it. Especially as the weather starts warming up, I highly recommend that anyone visiting London take full advantage of the bike share system. It really is a wonderful way to get around town.
published at 1:03pm on 03/26/12, with No Comments
A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk at SXSW about the implications of our increasingly digital lives, and the audio and slides are now online! This slideshow contains audio, so press play and enjoy (and if the play button is greyed out, reload this page and try again – the Slideshare audio is a little finicky)!
published at 1:02pm on 02/09/12, with 3 Comments
When you’re on the road, send a customized photocard home and be a hero.
Whenever I am traveling, I try to set aside an hour or two to send postcards to my family and friends around the world, and ever since I started shooting digital, my postcards have gotten a thousand times more awesome.
As it turns out, 4×6″ prints send rather nicely through the post.
There is most likely going to be a photo-printing kiosk wherever you end up in the world (if you’re having trouble finding one, try the nearest drug store). Just pop your camera’s media card into the machine and choose the photos you want to print. Most of the time you’ll get your prints back in under an hour and very often, you’ll get them back immediately.
A couple of things to keep in mind as you are printing out your photocards:
Remember your audience. The best photocards are the ones that mean something to the recipient, so take a minute to find something appropriate. When I was in London, the crazy statue in St. Pancras station reminded me of a statue in San Diego, so I printed out a photo of it to send to my sister who lives there.
Add a border. You won’t be sending your image in a frame, so a simple white border will add a bit of polish to the final card.
Matte, if you can. I suppose this is more of a personal preference, but I like to send matte photocards if I can as I think they tend hold up a little better as they make their way through the mail.
Keep it brief. The nice thing about sending a photocard is that the image itself is the message, so you can keep your words to a minimum. Tweet-length is good.
And really, that’s it. Write the address on the back, slap a stamp on it and wait. A few days later, it will show up in your friend’s mailbox, and you will totally make their day.