Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Moviecle Movie Vending Machines: Now in Boston

The way we think about renting movies at the while traveling is about to change thanks to a new vending machine from Canada based FADOW.

Until now, renting movies at airports involved acquiring physical DVDs and DVD players from kiosks or shops and then dropping them off at another airport location. Some airports have tinkered with providing movies for download over their wireless networks, but this practice is slow and limited to a few airports.

All of these rental practices may soon become outdated when the Moviecle fast downloading self service kiosks, which were recently launched for tests at terminal A of the Boston Logan International Airport, go nationwide. By quickly transferring movies and other video content to a flash drive, the Moviecle kiosk allows travelers to easily acquire movies and travel guides at the airport.

Here's how Moviecle works:
1. Find a Moviecle kiosk.
2. Insert your flash drive into the USB slot.
3. The interactive menu is activated when you plug in your flash drive. Select the content that you'd like to download.
4. Wait for the download to complete. Downloading takes 2-3 minutes depending on your drive and the size of the file. Advertisements will be displayed during the download.
5. Connect to the airport wireless connection and pay for your selection. Connecting to internet in order to pay for your movie rental is free.
6. Watch your video any time in the next 48 hours.

I recently tried out one of the Moviecle kiosks, and I was pleased to discover that there were several free videos to download. FADOW also provides several free travel guide videos. The process was easy and two 12-minute videos took just over a minute to download.

To get a better idea of how the kiosks work, I've taken a short video:

The cost to rent a movie from Moviecle is between $3.99 and $5.99, which seems a little high for a 48 hour rental. However, there are the selection and convenience factors to consider. If a movie that I've been dying to see is available via Moviecle, I just might be tempted.

The kiosks that are currently at the Boston airport are prototypes to work the bugs out of the system, and I did notice a few bugs. Of the four machines that I saw, three of them had monitors that were not functioning (each kiosk has 2 interactive monitors). I also noticed a loose USB port when using one machine. I was kicked out of the main menu once, which I'm assuming this had to do with the loose USB port.

Due to the file protection used, movies will only work with Windows XP, sorry Mac users. However, free content is available in Quicktime format which is Mac compatible. System requirements for activating the movies can be found at the FADOW website.

The Moviecle kiosk concept is solid, but there are a few kinks to work out before they catch on in a major way:

1.Kiosk Durability
The condition of the kiosks was not great. Kiosks need to be able to run without constant hardware problems. Adding new movies should be the most common maintenance done, not repairing monitors and USB ports. Children (and travel bloggers) will be banging on these machines all day long, so they have to stand up to the punishment.

2. Compatibility With Other Devices
While Blackberry support is in the works, the ability to support the iPhone could drastically increase the use of Moviecle kiosks. Many tech savvy people do use Macs, so general Mac support would also be an asset.

3. View Before You Plugin
Currently, you have to plug in your flash drive before you see what content is available. It would be great to be able to see the selection of available movies before you dig out a flash drive.

What does this mean for the current leaders in airport movie rentals, InMotion and Redbox? With its ability to deliver content without handling physical disks or devices and the lack of need for attendants, FADOW can theoretically undercut the competition while maintaining a profit. Personally, if I were at InMotion or Redbox I'd start worrying as Moviecle kiosks just may be the future of the airport movie rental industry.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Product Review: Nap26

Photograph by Nicole Holt

Nap26 is a non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive and non-habit forming nap aid that is supposed to lull you to sleep before waking you up again 26 minutes later. In a NASA study, 26 minutes was found to be the perfect duration for refreshing the napper without making him or her groggy.

Nap26 works by presenting slightly different sound patterns, which sound like white noise, to each ear. This helps the brain relax so you can fall asleep, 26 minutes later you wake up to the sounds of birds chirping.
While the concept of this product is certainly appealing, I also find it a bit creepy. This is mostly due to having seen too many movies about brainwashing. After using this product, I am happy to report that I have had no desire to assasinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. However, I did have an uncanny desire to watch Total Recall again.

I tried this device several times, in several different locations (plane, bus and couch), and it has yet to induce me into a restful sleep. What it has done is to draw my focus to the sounds and away from outside influences. In focusing on these sounds, I'm able to focus on mental tasks that are otherwise difficult on which to concentrate.

This period of clear thinking is quite refreshing despite the lack of actual sleep. While I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep, the total time that I was using the Nap26 did not feel like 26 minutes. It is kind of like when you wake up in the middle of the night and look at the clock, then you close your eyes for what seems like a few minutes but open them to find that 45 minutes has passed.

I asked my father, an accomplished napper, to try this product. After his Nap26 cycle was complete, he reported that the sounds did help him regulate his breathing. He also noted that during the nap he saw several faces that sounded, based on his descriptions, as those belonging to wood spirits.

It's not completely surprising that both my father and I didn't instantly fall asleep with this product because, as I am fond of saying, everyone is a beautiful snowflake and everyone is a little different. The fact that this product works for many people is pretty impressive.

Nap26 comes in two different forms: a CD that contains an audio file and a stand alone MP3 player. I found that the file on the CD didn't work with my non-iTunes compatible MP3 player, but it worked fine playing via iTunes. The stand alone MP3 player works fine, but if you are already carrying an iPod then the CD makes the most sense.

I did find that the documentation that comes with this product was lacking. The stand alone player isn't completely intuitive, and the only way to find out how it works is either by trial and error or by checking the Nap26 website. A short sheet of instructions detailing the use of the MP3 device and how to get the most out of the device would have been extremely useful.

If you respond to this device like I did then this is a great product if you find yourself needing a bit of clear concentration time when traveling is getting the better of you. If it works for you as advertised, then this would be invaluable for helping you adjust to a new time zone or to give you an afternoon energy boost.

This product also comes in a version designed to help you fall asleep without waking you up. This is certainly worth a shot if you have problems falling asleep. All of the Nap26 products are available for purchase at www.nap26.com.

I've created a short companion video review which you can watch below:

The products reviewed in this article were generously provided by POWRNAPS.

If you've used this product before, please let me know what your experiences were.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Apple Martini Recipe Featured at Big Red Kitchen

Greetings loyal readers of Graham's Travel Blog! Today I have something a little different to share with you. In addition to traveling, I also like to spend time in the kitchen cooking, baking and mixing drinks.

Today my recipe for my Apple Martini was featured at the blog of one of my friends that I met through blogging. She runs Big Red Kitchen, is always quick with cooking related advice and has been a great supporter of this blog.

Please take some time to read Graham's Best Apple Martini at Big Red Kitchen. As an added bonus, this blog entry features my first foray into the world of video with video instructions on how to actually mix the drink.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Riding the Bolt Bus

I've traveled between Boston and New York, NY by train, car, plane and now, I'm proud to say, by bus. Flying may be the faster, traveling by train may be more romantic, but you can't beat the raw economy of traveling by bus.

A short notice work trip sent me down to NY City for less than 24 hours. The work didn't require that I take a large toolkit, so it was just me, some clothes and whatever food I could scrounge up around the house. After comparing the prices between taking the train and taking the Bolt Bus, I decided that it was high time that I took the bus.

While it is true that riding on a bus puts you at the mercy of traffic, detours and the like, I figured that it was worth the risk for the savings and for the experience of riding the bus that everyone is talking about. Considering that there are also delays with planes and trains, riding the bus is a flat out bargain.

My ticket was $15.50 into New York. On the train, this would have been $63.

If you aren't familiar with the Bolt Bus, it's a specialized arm of Greyhound which only serves a few cities. The buses don't stop to pick up more passengers and all of the busses are equipped with free wireless internet as well as a few electrical outlets.

A note on the electrical outlets. Not all seats have them so if you want one, you'll have to hunt one down. Outlets are located in the seat in front of you, about a foot off the floor. They aren't easy to miss, but if your row doesn't have them then you'll be looking for them the whole trip. On the bus that I was on, the outlets were mostly in the back of the bus.

The free wireless internet works quite well. I was able to check e-mails and get some work done so the Bolt bus edges out the train and the airplane as far as productivity goes. It's true that the train has outlets for every seat, but the lack of a wireless internet connection reduces its utility greatly.

The seats are firm and quite comfortable. They have not yet been worn down to the springs like so many airplane seats that I've sat in. There could be a little more legroom, but that's always the case. I was lucky in that my bus wasn't particularly crowded and I was able to spread out a bit. Traveling mid day probably had something to do with this, but I'm not complaining about the lack of fellow travelers.

What I will complain about is the queue management that was employed at the Bolt bus gate. Loyal readers will know that queue management is a favorite topic of mine so please excuse the digression (see: Queue Madness or Why I Hate Standing in Lines for details). Three lines were clearly laid out and were marked A, B and C. Beneath each letter there was an arrow pointing to the left in such a fashion that, if you followed the queue management, only two lines would have formed within the marked area, the third would be out of the defined lines and one line would be completely unused.

This may sound like I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but everyone that got in line after I did asked about which line was which. This, easily fixable, sign error was the only flaw in an otherwise decent queue design.

All in all, the trip went quite smoothly with the bus arriving at about the same that I would have arrived if I had taken a regional train. Considering the savings involved and the additional connectivity that this mode of transportation offers, I may just become a regular on the Bolt bus.

As an added bonus, the rewards program is by far more straightforward than that of any airline or Amtrak. Ride the Bolt bus 8 times and you get a free trip. You do have to purchase your tickets online, but I'd rather do that anyway to know that I have a seat.

If you are interested in learning more about the Bolt bus, you can visit their website at Bolt bus Have you ridden on the Bolt bus? I'd love to hear about your experience.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On the Topic of Local Travel

The past year has been one of many changes. Faithful readers will know that I moved across the country, switched to decafinated coffee and they might have surmised that I've been doing a bit more local travel than I have done in previous years.

The number of personal road trips that I've taken lately has been on the rise and professionally I've seen a shift in my travel responsibilities. Being in Boston puts me in close proximity to many of my current clients, and in the past 6 months I've been on three trips that are within 10 miles of my home.

Being able to hop in my car or catch a bus to work has been a big change for me. There are new logistical elements that I am now aware of though I don't have to worry about not getting a good night's sleep because the couple in the next room is "working on their night moves", hunt for a decent cup of coffee or wonder what surprises the TSA has for me.

Having regular snow is a new experience for me that I've become all too aware of this past few weeks. Fortunately, the area that I'm in has fairly good service when it comes to keeping the roads clear in the winter. Unfortunately, I still have to dig out my car after a storm. This isn't something that I've had to do until now, but I'm getting a lot of practice.

If a storm hits while I have one of these local trips, I will have to budget some extra time to dig out my car. This scenario can be dealt with, but I worry about driving my car someplace and having it buried while I'm working for the day. Public transportation is pretty good in this area, but I don't think it would be very fun to have to leave my car at a customer's site.

Bus schedules are another thing that I've had to learn about. It seems that while there is a schedule, the degree to which the schedule is kept varies wildly day to day. This is understandable but it would be nice if the buses could be spread out a little better in areas with infrequent service. An extra 25% is added to my commute time to account for schedule variations.

One of these days everything will go wrong: my car won't start, the busses won't be running on time and I'll be terribly late. I always have a contact number to use in case I am delayed, but I hate using it. In 6 years I've only used it twice. Once was because my flight was very delayed due to a snow storm and another time my coworker got us lost.

In order to avoid having to hastily assemble a plan when everything goes wrong, I'm thinking about it now and I could use your help. In addition to having copies of bus schedules and the phone numbers of taxi companies, how else could I be prepared? I suppose that an iPhone or similar device would be invaluable in such a situation, but I'm open to any other suggestions in order to be prepared.

Please let me know if you have any special plans for getting around your city when your primary mode of transportation fails. Thank you in advance for your help.

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