My year in cities 2011

I'm able to write this post a little earlier than usual as my trip to Istanbul was my last trip of 2011. This is the fourth year I've done this summary but I used a new tool to come up with the miles. In the past I've used the awesome Great Circle Mapper but this year I stumbled across OpenFlights which is a bit more weapon's grade. It spits out neat analysis of all the flights you enter, some of which I've listed below. So for 2011 I did 29 flights covering 80,732 miles, down substantially from last year's 103, 828 miles on 36 flights. But still a heck of a lot of travel. I made a conscious effort to travel less this year so I could spend more time with my wife and son and it seems to have worked.

Why you can't use your iPad on takeoff

The FAA has drawn a lot of ire for steadfastly refusing to relax the ban on all electronic devices during takeoff and landing, a ban which, as Joe points out, seems hypocritical when pilots use iPads on the flight deck as Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs.) As a recovering airline employee and airplane nerd, I have a couple of ideas on why this weird rule remains in effect.

Maj Gen A. G. Patterson CB DSO OBE MC - My Grandfather

My Grandmother sent me this article a few years ago, I typed it up because it's truly an amazing article. It's a fellow soldier's recollections of my Grandfather. My Grandfather was a Major General in the British Army and also a Gurkha. He was fearless and tough as nails and the more I hear about him, the more I wish I was able to get to know him better. This article really highlights his bravery and loyalty.

The 13 things I've learned in 13 months as a dad

I've been a dad for just over 13 months now. It's been a truly wonderful experience so far but never in my life have I had to learn so much so quickly. I started thinking about some of the things I wish I had known at the beginning of this journey. After a few hours of scribbling I came up with the following 13 things I've learned as a new dad:

Cost of Apple products in the US vs UK

I recently an order together on the UK Apple website and seen the total with tax and shipping when I had a thought. I'm going to the US in June, I wonder if it would be better to get all this stuff there. So I put together the exact same order, same specs, same equipment, etc on the US Apple website. After I got the total, again with local tax and shipping, I compared the two prices.

What Wheel of Fortune taught me about branding

Remember watching Wheel of Fortune (or "Fat People Guessing" as it's sometimes know) back in the 80s? Of course you do. Well in the final round everyone picked the same letters R, S, T, L, N and E for the vowel. Why? Because more often than not the word or phrase contained those letters. Why? Cos they're the most frequently appearing letters in the English language. It was a given, everybody did it, if you didn't there was something wrong with you. From then on you relied on your wits to solve the Ivy League puzzles that Vanna White threw at you.

Speech feedback

Instead of retweeting twitter mentions during conferences, I've decided to catalog, for my own benefit more than anything, Twitter feedback on my speeches. The first thing I do after I get off stage is talk to people, answer questions, share ideas, etc. The second thing is check Twitter. Twitter gives me almost instant feedback on how the crowd reacted to my content, delivery, personality, etc. It helps me refine my content and delivery for future events and often sparks off interesting conversations and debate.

Inspector Sands

I learned something last night. I was standing on the platform at Earl's Court Station at about 11:50pm waiting for a train back to Parsons Green when over the PA comes a very odd announcement. An announcement came over the PA in perfect Received Pronunciation and in a clearly rehearsed manner said:

"Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately."

Why retweet marketing campaigns are the devil

Recently United Airlines (@UnitedAirlines) ran a campaign on Twitter to celebrate the 1st anniversary of their Twitter account, or “Tware” as they like to call it. The basic structure of the campaign involved asking Twitter users to retweet a marketing message for entry into a contest. This is a bad idea. A very bad idea.

Best burritos in London

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Mexican food, specifically burritos (I know, they're not technically Mexican but you know what I mean.) I have been on a never-ending quest to find a serviceable burrito in London, ever since I moved here two and a half years ago. Recently, I tweeted my dismay that Chipotle are opening their first UK store this week. Chipotle are literally the McDonald's of burritos and while I admire their iphone app, you can get MUCH better burritos in London. On the back of my tweet, I received several messages from people asking me to share my London burrito recommendations. So, without further ado, the best (and worst) burritos in London: 1) Chilango (Islington) - My personal favourite for a number of reasons. Chilango has 2 locations in London and a few more scattered across the UK. Started by a former technologist, the Chilango team have put massive amounts of time and energy into bringing a solid burrito experience to the UK. They go on regular research trips to Mexico and the US to hone their already excellent burrito recipes. Never ones to compromise on quality, I've heard co-founder Erik (@chilango_uk) rant about the availability of fresh produce that meets his exacting standards. Free refills and good salsas are the cherries on top of what I think is the best burrito experience in London. They've also nailed their customer service platform and are genuinely passionate about engaging with their customers. After all, they did host the UK's first burrito eating competition!

From a Qype review: "My chicken burrito was tasty and well made, and my wife clearly enjoyed her carnitas burrito. Rounded off with chips and salsa fresca and it was well worth the trek. Best burrito I’ve had in London to date."

2) Benito's Hat (Fitzrovia) - a close runner up behind Chilango, Benito's Hat in Fitzrovia puts together a very solid burrito. If you're looking for a food coma, this is the place to go. Their slow-cooked meat is truly excellent (try the pork), and the burritos are stuffed to bursting with meat, rice, beans, sour cream, etc etc. Their salsas (of varying potency) are excellent too and it's nice to find Monterey Jack cheese on this side of the pond. Reasonably priced, my only criticism is that there's very little space to sit down so your best bet is to get your burrito "to go" - just make sure you have a wheel barrow  handy to get it home. Oh and they also deliver - nice touch.

From a Qype review: "The burritos are so good here that my husband ate lunch AND dinner here last weekend...and I was so jealous."

3) Freebird (Soho) - If you can judge the quality of an eatery by the queue at lunchtime then Freebird should have a couple of Michelin stars. This is literally a stall in Soho that serves up some truly excellent burritos. Made right in front of you, like Chilango and Benito's Hat, there's not a whole heap of choices to make when deciding on fillings but what you get is incredibly tasty and fresh and really excellent value for money. Their salsas are excellent and the meat marinades are perfectly spiced.

From a Qype review: "Having been born and raised in Southern California, this is one of the very few places in London that reminds me of a genuine Taqueria. The flavour and freshness of the ingredients, and the spiciness of the salsa makes this an excellent burrito!"

4) Daddy Donkey - Another stall-based operation, Daddy Donkey doesn't mess around with its burritos. Operating since 2005, a fellow American calls this his favourite burrito place outside of the US…but he's from the East Coast so what does he know about Mexican food (sorry, Chris!). Seriously though, Daddy Donkey serve up gut-busing, intensely flavourful burritos with a smile - these guys are clearly passionate about burritos. Don't be put off by the inevitable massive queue, it moves quickly and is worth the wait.

From a Qype review: "As fine a burrito as you shall find in London, jam-packed with more juicy Mexcan succulence than Salma Hayek's t-shirt."

And the worst….

1) Tortilla (Fitzrovia) - Ugh. I'd like to share part of a previous review I wrote about this place: "Have any of you ever seen that episode of the Simpsons when Marge develops a gambling problem and Homer has to make dinner which consists of cloves, Tom Collins mix and pre-made pie crust? Remember his face when he takes that first bite? Yeah...that was me when I bit into this burrito. The pork seasoning was just....wrong. Like really wrong. It had flavor alright but it was like chipotle gone wrong, horribly wrong. I thought it might have been a one-off so I ploughed through but no, the taste remained throughout. Carnitas are supposed to be toasty and warm with subtle flavors that let the braised pork shine through. Not with this one though, no sir. It should be noted that I went through what must have been 10 napkins while eating this thing. It wasn't well put together and the watered-down ingredients destroyed the tortilla within minutes." Now, in Tortilla's defence, after reading my review they sent me a very nice email apologising for my experience and inviting me to meet with them about how they can improve. I admire that. They also have free refills and reasonable prices but that doesn't make up for a weak product. Avoid until they sort their product out.

From a Qype review: "Until something drastic happens I'm resigned to a fifteen minute walk to get some 'proper' Mexican food."

2) Wahaca (Covent Garden) - Oh suppress your audible gasps, I'm serious about this one. Wahaca was one of the first Mexican joints I tried in London and it just put me in a bad mood. It's so typical of many London restaurants these days, "interpreting" types of cuisine with bland an uninteresting results. It’s what you would expect a winner of Masterchef to interpret Mexican food as (which is exactly what it is). My steak burrito had cabbage and pickled onions in it…..who the hell do they think they are? To their credit, the wait staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the food is clearly fresh. But it's not Mexican food and I wouldn't go out of way to go there, let alone wait in the ridiculous lines that seems to form there.

From a Qype review: "My problem with Wahaca is that the food is just underwhelming. There are some fantastic Mexican places in this city, and Wahaca can’t compete with them."

Top 10 tips for easy travel

During a recent workshop I gave at FOWA Miami, I made an off the cuff comment about my obsession with the travel industry and the pleasure I get from "hacking" airfares and hotel rates. There was a stunned silence and a voice from the back said "Oh dude, you can't just say something like that and not share that shit!" Consequently we spent a good chunk of time after the workshop officially finished talking about travel, airfares, loyalty programs and the tactics I've used to get cheap flights and hotels. At the request of some of the attendees I started jotting down a few nuggets of experience. After I finished the 4th page of scrawled notes, it seemed to make sense to turn it into a series of blog posts because so much of the travel "advice" I've read over the years was clearly written by people who have never left their house, let alone the country. And that's how I arrived at this, the first of what I hope will be many travel related posts. I plan to cover the basics, "hacking" airfares, airline and hotel loyalty programs, and the fear of flying, amongst other things. I hope you dig! So without further ado, here's some basic travel tips that so many of us seem to overlook.

  • Don't buy flashy/expensive luggage. It's a good tip to thieves that the contents will also be flashy/expensive. Your criteria should be; durable, expandable, wheelable. That's it.
  • You can leave the kitchen sink. When you're packing, get everything together you think you need, lay it out on your bed……now put half of it back. You don't need it, you really don't, and there's nothing worse than having to lug around a heavy bag that's full of crap you're not going to wear or use. You can easily pick up extra clothes and necessities if you need them, hand-wash small items, or run them through the hotel laundry. Incidentally, my ebook reader was one of the best travel investments I've ever made - I have a library of books with me without the need for chiropractic spinal care when I get home from lugging my holiday reading around.
  • Hoard travel-size toiletries. I have a whole basket of them at home and I always stock up at Boots, Target, etc…..or in hotel rooms. This makes packing for a quick trip so much easier and you don't have to deal with buying full size toothpaste, shaving cream, etc at each destination or packing them in your checked-in luggage.
  • Prep for security. I know this sounds obvious but prep for airport security BEFORE you get to the conveyor belt. So many times people with a jacket, laptop, liquids, 2 pieces of carry on, a scarf, thigh- high boots, a hat and a water bottle screw it up for the rest of us by spending 15 minutes disrobing while the conveyor belt drags their bag away from them, flustering them even more. Loosen/remove your belt, take your jacket off, untie your shoe laces (or even better, wear slip ons), unzip the pouch on your bag where your laptop is stored, put your sunglasses, wallet, keys, phone etc in your carry on while you're in line - the people in line behind you will thank you.
  • Don't go nuts with the booze on a flight. Not only do the physiological effects of alcohol increase at altitude but it dehydrates you, can make jetlag worse, and you really don't want to be "that guy" on the flight. This especially goes for those who aren't comfortable with flying - more on that in a later post.
  • Ease through immigration. If you travel even moderately frequently, the government sanctioned immigration, customs, and security "fast pass" programs can be a huge timesaver. The UK's IRIS system is one of the best.
  • Tip the right people at the right time. Tip hotel housekeeping staff a lot at the BEGINNING of your stay, like on the first day. They work hard and it will ensure a pleasant stay. It irks me that we tip people for opening doors, showing us to our table, bringing us a soda but not for cleaning up our hotel bathrooms and beds each day. I'm completely with Chuck Thompson on this one. Oh and to my British friends traveling in America, the easiest way to (roughly) calculate the baseline tip on a restaurant bill is to double the tax - that usually gives you between 15-20%.
  • Buy the local transport system's commuter card. If you're in a city for more than a day, pick up their transport system's stored value card (like London's Oyster and Hong Kong's Octopus) and put a few bucks on it. Not only is it much easier than buying a ticket for each journey, in many cases (e.g. London) it's substantially cheaper than a normal ticket and will allow you to travel on undergrounds, buses, trains, trams, etc. Also, the lines for ticket machines at busy stations can be unbelievably long, especially during tourist seasons.
  • Don't eat in hotel restaurants. They are expensive and almost always uninteresting and sterile. Unless your hotel is in the middle of nowhere, there's going to be interesting local food just around the corner which will almost always be cheaper, tastier and a far better reflection of local culture and cuisine. Don't be afraid of "street" food either, I've had some of my favourite meals from hawkers, dai pai dongs, taco trucks, etc.
  • Let your bank know you're going to be out of town. If your bank is anywhere near as "proactive" as mine, as soon as you use your ATM or credit card overseas you'll trigger red flags in their system. Enough "suspicious" activity and they'll disable or even deactivate your card. There's not a whole lot worse than your ATM card not working when you're 4500 miles from home.
  • Bonus Tip for people visiting the US. GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. If you go to the US and get hit by a car or something (heaven forbid) and you don't have insurance, be prepared for a logistical, legal, and financial nightmare. So get travel insurance, it's not expensive and can save you from disaster. Check with your bank or credit card provider as many of them have insurance services built into their account/card products.
  • Bonus tip for people visiting London. The Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express are a rip off. The tube will get you to central London quickly and easily from Heathrow, and the scheduled national rail services from both Gatwick and Heathrow are a quarter of the price and not much slower than their overpriced "Express" cousins. Actually, I think there's a whole blog post on visiting London.....expect that soon.

Finally, if you have any basic travel tips, leave them in the comments, I'd love to hear!

The future of sport

I have seen the future of sport. And it is good. I was playing golf at Poppy Ridge in Livermore, CA and was just blown away by their tech set up. Take a look at the golf karts...

I love introducing this element to sport, especially golf, because it doesn't interfere with the playing of the game but brings some data into play, allowing you to play a little more intelligently. Not to mention making the course easier to manage from the Club's perspective. Is access to data the future of recreational sport?