February 2009


Sometimes when I get tired of listening to all the top 40 hits on the radio, I like to listen instead to the chatter of airline pilots and air traffic control (ATC). LiveATC.net offers feeds from nearly every major airport in North America and from many smaller ones as well. They also have feeds from many other airports around the world. The major exception is the UK due to laws banning eavesdropping on radio communications.

What’s really fun is combining the air traffic chatter with a map that shows flights in near-real time so you can see which flights are going where. FlightAware is a tracker website that shows flights and provides technical details about their trek across the US. It provides a visual reference that helps make what ATC and pilots talk about on the radio. The site provides all kinds of details that only an aviation geek would love like what waypoints a plane is following so that it stays on track.

But for the non-geeks, FlightAware is also useful if you’re going to pick someone up from the airport. When I was waiting for a friend’s flight to get in so we could meet up for dinner, I tracked his flight from Chicago to Orlando. As his flight was handed off to the Orlando tower and began to land, I knew it was time to head off to the airport to meet him. If for some reason his flight had been delayed, I would know without having him call me about it.

These sites are also useful if you want to get more details about flights gone wrong. Right now, LiveATC.net features on its front page the audio transcript of US Airways 1549 which went down in the Hudson. In fact, it’s this site where many of the media get the audio to replay on their newscasts. It’s eerie to listen to such feeds but also reassuring that even in a situation where a plane loses both engines it’s possible for pilots and ATC to react calmly and make good decisions about what to do next. FlightAware also featured the flight’s path on its site for a few days, complete with a line representing the flight plunging into the Hudson.

All in all, these websites have given me a deeper appreciation for just how complex getting planes from point A to point B can be. It’s also just fun knowing how the system works and makes any flight I take just a little more interesting.

Sometimes when I get tired of listening to all the top 40 hits on the radio, I like to listen instead to the chatter of airline pilots and air traffic control (ATC). LiveATC.net offers feeds from nearly every major airport in North America and from many smaller ones as well. They also have feeds from many other airports around the world. The major exception is the UK due to laws banning eavesdropping on radio communications.

What’s really fun is combining the air traffic chatter with a map that shows flights in near-real time so you can see which flights are going where. FlightAware is a tracker website that shows flights and provides technical details about their trek across the US. It provides a visual reference that helps make what ATC and pilots talk about on the radio. The site provides all kinds of details that only an aviation geek would love like what waypoints a plane is following so that it stays on track.

But for the non-geeks, FlightAware is also useful if you’re going to pick someone up from the airport. When I was waiting for a friend’s flight to get in so we could meet up for dinner, I tracked his flight from Chicago to Orlando. As his flight was handed off to the Orlando tower and began to land, I knew it was time to head off to the airport to meet him. If for some reason his flight had been delayed, I would know without having him call me about it.

These sites are also useful if you want to get more details about flights gone wrong. Right now, LiveATC.net features on its front page the audio transcript of US Airways 1549 which went down in the Hudson. In fact, it’s this site where many of the media get the audio to replay on their newscasts. It’s eerie to listen to such feeds but also reassuring that even in a situation where a plane loses both engines it’s possible for pilots and ATC to react calmly and make good decisions about what to do next. FlightAware also featured the flight’s path on its site for a few days, complete with a line representing the flight plunging into the Hudson.

All in all, these websites have given me a deeper appreciation for just how complex getting planes from point A to point B can be. It’s also just fun knowing how the system works and makes any flight I take just a little more interesting.

For those of you who need a laugh, comedian Louis CK makes some hilarious comments about the miracle of flight during the “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” show. The flying commentary begins about halfway into the clip. Enjoy!

Of all the goals on the top ten list, this is the one that I struggle with the most. If procrastinating could be a job, I’d be a professional at it. More then once I’ve found myself up at 2 in the morning working on some project that I could have done days or weeks ago instead of the last minute. I found it so much easier to put off later whatever I could do now.

But college started to change my procrastinating ways. During the last year, I was taking courses in my majors (telecommunications and English) and working on complex projects. I was doing a lot of video editing work and special effects which is very time-intensive. Even when I wasn’t actively working on a computer, the computer needed time to process and render out the final result. Plus, I was working on 20+ page papers for my English degree at the same time. Waiting until the last minute to do these projects was simply not an option. So I developed some techniques along the way that helped me avoid problems.

1. Break up a task into smaller pieces. By breaking a task down into smaller, more manageable bits, it makes it easier to see how to tackle a task. For example, here in the US it’s tax time. Taxes have to be filed with the government on April 15th. In order to file my taxes, I need to have documents from my employer and my bank, have a way to file them like through a tax program, and then use the program to file the taxes.

So by breaking this task down into smaller bits, it helps me to figure out what I need to do and when I need to do it. Instead of trying to do all my taxes in one day; I gathered up the forms needed one day; picked out a program the next day; and did the rest when I had a free afternoon. It made the process much easier and stress-free for me.

2. Set your own deadlines. Many times with big projects I’ve had just one deadline of when that project has to be finished. In many cases that deadline is weeks or months away and the project is too large to wait until the last minute. So after following step one of breaking down a task into smaller pieces, I then set a deadline that I need to finish each piece by. That way I have a timeline for the project and a way to gauge my progress and make sure I’m not falling behind on it.

3. Understand why you want to procrastinate. Sometimes my need for procrastination has nothing to do with organization, timelines or deadlines. I simply just don’t want to do it. This is usually because of either having to do something unpleasant to me or because I have to stop doing something I enjoy to take on the project. For example, I generally don’t like making phone calls to people that I don’t know. I’m afraid of misunderstanding the person on the other end or not being able to accomplish what I need to do in one phone call. But since I know I have this fear, procrasinating isn’t going to make it go away. Instead, I rehearse phone conversations in my head which makes it easier to make the call. And 90% of the time, the call goes well and it’s nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be.

In other tasks, such as cleaning my apartment, I have to stop doing something I enjoy in order to do it. That’s where the next step comes in.

4. Reward yourself. By giving myself something fun at the end of a task, I’m much more motivated to not put it off. I like playing video games. So I won’t play any games until I finish a task like cleaning my apartment. That way, I can play the games guilt-free and I don’t have any tasks nagging at me.

5. Set up accountability. If all else fails, asking someone to hold me accountable to a task works nearly every time. I don’t like letting other people down, so just knowing if someone will ask me if I’ve made that phone call makes all the difference to me.

What do you do to avoid procrastinating?

This post is part of the Top Ten Life Goals series. Previous posts include the list of the top ten goals and  Goal #1- Losing Weight.

In the last couple of days I’ve read about some new entries into the travel search engine field.

One is cFares. cFares is a bit different from most other search engines in that if you buy a Platinum membership for US $50, you can get a discount on some airfares. I ran several searches and found the fare difference between their two rates to be as little as $0 and as much as $45. If you buy several tickets through their site, then the membership will pay for itself. But it’s still worth checking out other sites as well since some had lower fares then cFares did.

The other is Fly.com. This site was launched by TravelZoo and it made headlines because the company paid over $1 million for the URL. For the price, it isn’t much to look at.  This site is very similar to Kayak, right down to the layout. The nice added feature of the site is that they include price comparisions for business and first-class fares as well. The downside is that it doesn’t include hotel or car searches.

When it comes to fare searches, the key is to check several sites. I like starting with Kayak and using its “search other sites” feature to do multiple searches at once. When I do find a fare, I normally book it directly through the airline to avoid additional booking fees and because some airlines offer additional frequent flyer miles for going through their site. The exception to this is if I’m going for a package deal that includes airfare and hotel- I’m not always able to get a better rate by booking the two separately.

Happy searching!

In the last couple of days I’ve read about some new entries into the travel search engine field.

One is cFares. cFares is a bit different from most other search engines in that if you buy a Platinum membership for US $50, you can get a discount on some airfares. I ran several searches and found the fare difference between their two rates to be as little as $0 and as much as $45. If you buy several tickets through their site, then the membership will pay for itself. But it’s still worth checking out other sites as well since some had lower fares then cFares did.

The other is Fly.com. This site was launched by TravelZoo and it made headlines because the company paid over $1 million for the URL. For the price, it isn’t much to look at.  This site is very similar to Kayak, right down to the layout. The nice added feature of the site is that they include price comparisions for business and first-class fares as well. The downside is that it doesn’t include hotel or car searches.

When it comes to fare searches, the key is to check several sites. I like starting with Kayak and using its “search other sites” feature to do multiple searches at once. When I do find a fare, I normally book it directly through the airline to avoid additional booking fees and because some airlines offer additional frequent flyer miles for going through their site. The exception to this is if I’m going for a package deal that includes airfare and hotel- I’m not always able to get a better rate by booking the two separately.

Happy searching!

I was talking with a fellow traveller last weekend about where we liked to stay while travelling. I mentioned that I liked to stay in hostels in the US and he looked at me very surprised. He only thought that hostels existed only in other countries. It hadn’t occurred to him that there would be hostels here in the US and that he could stay at them, even though he was from the US. I’ve gotten similer reactions from other people as well.

I’ve stayed in hostels across the country from San Francisco to Philadelphia with plans to stay at more this year. The main reason that I like staying in hostels is the cost- usually around $30. It’s also a great way to meet people around the world and find people to explore a city with. If you are travelling alone, hostels are a fantastic way to meet up with other solo travellers. The downside is the fact that you are sharing a room with strangers, but I haven’t had any issues with security or having stuff stolen.

Most hostels I’ve stayed at are clean and well-maintained. Most provide breakfast and some will also include linens and/or free internet. Some also provide activities ranging from group tours of local attractions to bar crawls to movie nights. In many cases, hostels are located near public transit and are close to local attractions. In Seattle, for example, my hostel was located across the street from the Pike Place Market (this photo was taken from the front entrance to the hostel).

Hostel World has listings on thousands of hostels and provides reviews of them. Becoming a member of Hostelling International can get you discounts at their member hostels and other travel benefits.

In short, staying at a hotel or on a friend’s couch are not your only stay options. Hostels can provide a traveller with international connections in a local setting. They have certainly provided many adventures for me and a chance to find companionship while travelling.

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