Security: A better, cheaper lock for your luggage
A TSA inspector at a small East Coast airport has contacted us with a tip. I am choosing not to identify her because, as a TSA employee, she is not supposed to talk to the press without official permission. Plus, TSA workers do not have whistleblower protections, which other federal workers have.
That's an overly dramatic introduction, I admit, to a rather simple travel tip:
It's not necessary to buy the pricey, TSA-approved locks. You don't have to buy fancy luggage locks at all. Instead, buy a pack of plastic zip-ties, or cable locks, for about $1.
Here's what our tipster says:
I see hundreds of locks and zipper pulls get broken off as they go through the conveyor belts at airport security gates. The locks fall off and land under the conveyor belts.
Most locks that people use are the kind you could pick with a bobbie pin or paper clip.
Zip ties (also called cable locks) are something that we use at the airport. They are long plastic ties that lock. They can't be opened unless cut with a scissor or nail clipper, which are allowed to be packed in a carry-on bag. The ends of the plastic ties fit through the zipper pull tabs. They come in all sorts of sizes.
Use zip ties for carry-on or checked luggage. We put them on for people after checking their bags if they want them locked. I did this for a guy traveling to India today. If we have to cut a lock we zip tie it afterwards at my airport.
The zip tie is something I use for International travel myself. TSA locks are useless in other countries. I have never had a bag opened and you know if your zip lock (in your choice of color) is still there it hasn't been messed with, unlike a lock...which you can't tell if it's been opened or not.
As an aside, I will say that out of 2000 bags today maybe 40 bags were opened. If they don't alarm the X-ray machine then the bag is cleared.
100 count bag of zip ties, at Amazon.com for $5. Also sold at local hardware and housewares stores, typically for $2 for 100 count bags.
A leap forward in noise-canceling headphones?
Sony announced today that it has taken the technology behind noise-canceling headphones a step further with its (eloquently named) MDR-NC500D. Sony claims in its press release that the headphones will block 99 percent of noise in the range of a jet engine. That's good news: Some medical studies say that jet-engine noise helps cause jet lag because the brain gets worn out having to deal with the buzz for a prolonged period of time. Sony's headphones aren't a budget-travel option yet, given their expected $400 price tag when they go on sale in February. But hopefully the technology will filter down to lower-priced models in the years ahead. Gizmodo, a technology blog that was present at Sony's announcement in Las Vegas, asked Sony what exactly made these a world's first digital noise canceling headphones. Sony says that while other headphones use an analog mechanism for equaling out the sound, their headphones "do an analog to digital conversion using a digital signal processor with three filters. That should, in theory, result in far better sound since the sound gets cleaned up with digital equalizer before you hear it." If you can explain what that means, feel free to post a comment. EARLIER ON THE BLOG Before you buy a digital camera, visit this website.
A super, newsy new Facebook tool
As you may know, Facebook is the social-networking site of the hour. About 46 million members have joined and created profile pages, which list their favorite books, hobbies, and friends. If you aren't already a member, you're missing out on quite the party. It's free to sign-up, so why not give it a try? Washingtonpost.com (the big brother of BudgetTravel.com) has just launched a very savvy, useful Facebook application called newsTracker. It allows you to personalize the news articles that you want to follow, and it displays these articles in a remarkably intuitive format. NewsTracker takes about a minute to add to your Facebook page and to customize. I typed in "travel" as a search term. Now, each time I go to my Facebook page, I see a list of stories from hundreds of news sources (not just the WaPo) that match that topic. Full disclosure: I'm biased in touting newsTracker. The idea for the program came from Don Graham, the head honcho of the Washington Post Company, which owns BudgetTravel.com. Even so, I say without shame that if you're a news junkie or a frequent Facebook user, you'll find it worth taking out this app for a spin. It's fast and easy to install, and if you change your mind about it, it's fast and easy to uninstall, too. Facebook members can check out newsTracker by clicking here.
Flickr can help you buy a camera
The photo-sharing website Flickr has introduced Camera Finder, a feature that can help you buy a new camera by showing pix taken with various models. Images are organized by category--macro, night, etc.--and there are technical specs, price comparisons, and user reviews. (Some listings are incomplete: There were no prices for the Nikon D80, for instance, when we last checked.) If you're into the wisdom of crowds, the site also ranks models by popularity--Beth Collins Earlier: Before you buy a fancy camera, click here.
Before you buy a camera, check here
If you're planning to spend more than $200 on a digital camera within the next six months, and if you care about F-stops, lenses, and other advanced functions, be sure to visit Digital Photography Review. Think of this website as a hyper-detailed Consumer Reports for high-tech cameras. It specializes in thorough product testing and detailed reviews. This website also offers video clips of hard-to-explain camera features and functions. This morning, for example, Digital Photography Review was the first website to offer a full review of the the Panasonic DMC-L10, which is in the running for being the most interesting new camera of the year. With a $1,299 list price (ouch!), this camera isn't for most travelers. (For price comparison, Nikon offers a D40/D40X at about $550/$700 and Canon offers a Rebel XTi at $700.) But the features that this Panasonic camera is debuting may set the some standards for digital "single-lens reflex" model cameras, and many of its features will likely trickle down to cheap cameras within a few years. Among its many tricks, this camera can detect up to 15 human faces and automatically set the best focus and light exposure to capture the subjects clearly. The camera also has a viewfinder that flips out as much as 180 degrees, a feature common on many videocameras but relatively rare on digital "still" cameras. The screen also automatically adjusts its brightness depending on the surrounding conditions--becoming brighter on a cloudy day, for instance. The camera even uses supersonic vibrations to shake off dust clinging to the sensor and marring images when you change lenses. [via Digital Photography Review]