Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Cold Truth About Pinball Wrist

Two weeks ago I discussed my passion for playing pinball while traveling in Pinball on the Road. What I didn't mention was that I injured myself while playing Pinball.

I was having a really great game on Pirates of the Caribbean, I was set to beat my personal best, when my ball was about to drain so I grabbed hold and shifted the game to the right. While I did save my ball momentarily, I felt a sharp pain in my wrist. Every time I pressed the left flipper with my index finger, the sharp pain came back. I abandoned my game and called it a night from playing pinball.

The next morning the pain subsided, but it still returned when I picked up heavier things. Weeks went by and the pain came and went until I decided it wasn't going away on its own. I went to see a doctor and after explaining what pinball was and getting back a clean x-ray, I was diagnosed with tendinitis of my left index finger.

Getting to the point, my left hand is to be immobilized and I'm not to type with it. This is making working on my blog more of physical challenge than it should be, but I'm hanging in there.

My posts may be shorter over the next few weeks while my tendon heals, but I will write something new each week. For now I have some exciting posts coming up that I can let you know about.

There will be two more entries in the regional cookie series and one of those, believe it or not, will be Oreos. I've got three product reviews in the works including a review of a spork that some silly marketing department calls a foon.

As always, I've got some trips coming up. In May I'll be in Akron, Ohio trying some of their micro brews and I'll be in Sudbury, ON to pick up some Coffee Crisp candy bars. No personal travel, but I've got other things in the works on that front.

Thank you for you continued support of Graham's travel blog. For now, I'm going to rest my good hand.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Video Tips for Hotel Safety

I am fond of the phrase "safety is no accident". It reminds me that safety doesn't just happen, but rather it is the result of daily diligence and practice. In our every day lives we have our trusty deadbolts, guard dogs, motion activated lights and in some cases firearms to keep us safe

When we travel, we don't have the luxury of these defenses, but rather we depend on the security of the places in which we stay. For me, this means depending on the safety precautions of hotels of various quality. Sadly, the security at hotels often leaves much to be desired, so I'm always on the look out for ways to make my stay a safer one.

Today, I'd like to discuss two safety issues that I've run across recently. I've also created videos of these problems which clearly illustrate them.

Faulty Doors

I've mentioned faulty hotel doors once before in Hotel Room Rituals, but it is worth repeating. When you check into a room, you should always check to make sure that the door latches and locks on its own when released from being open wide enough for a person to pass through. If the door doesn't latch, then an overworked housekeeper could inadvertently leave your door ajar for the better part of the day.

This happened to me once and, being slightly paranoid, I threw out my toothbrush and my razor because there's no knowing who might have been in my room. I notified the front desk and they moved me into a room with a properly functioning lock. As a result I ended up sharing an elevator with Dee Snyder, but that's another story all together.

Since then I've always checked my door to make sure that it latches on its own. How can you tell if it isn't latching? Watch the video and you'll see exactly what I mean. I've seen this problem repaired before and it's a simple matter of loosening a couple of screws on the hinge, but it's best to let the maintenance staff deal with this.

Room Number on Card Keys

When you check into a hotel, it is a common practice for the check-in person to slide your keys into a paper envelope and write your room number on said envelope. The number isn't on the card so if you lose it, you probably won't have some serial killer waiting for you in your room when you return for the day.

The problem is that most of the envelopes are very thin and the pressure used to write down the room number with a ball point pen is usually enough to lightly scratch the room key with your number. Every time I see someone do this to my keys, I ask them to issue a new card that doesn't have my room number scratched on it. The problem is easily avoidable by using a pen that does not require as much force to write such as a felt tipped pen.

In an ideal world hotel staffers would realize that this is a problem and change their behavior. Unfortunately, ball point pens are ubiquitous in a hotel, so there is little hope of triggering a systemic change.

Remember, safety doesn't just happen. Be aware of what's going on and you too can be a safer traveler.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pinball on the Road

Photographs by Nicole Holt

My fascination with pinball has been long in the making. Growing up, we had a pinball machine in our house and living in Southern California meant that there were always plenty of machines to play in arcades and even at the local hobby shop. When I moved to Oregon, I could easily find pinball in pizza joints, bars and even at some gas stations. In short, access to pinball is something that I have taken for granted.

About a year ago I became acutely aware that as far as pinball is concerned, all places are not created equal. Before deciding to move to the Boston, MA area, I did not check out the pinball situation. This turned out to be a mistake as there just aren't that many places to play out here. When I do find machines, they aren't always in playable condition. If you've spent much time playing pinball you know that playing a malfunctioning machine can be worse than playing no machine at all.

When my travels took me back out to Oregon, I made it a point to visit one of my favorite pinball destinations: Ground Kontrol.

Ground Kontrol proudly advertises itself as a "barcade" because after 5PM they serve a variety of bottled and canned adult beverages. This is a wonderful strategy for an arcade since the more you drink, the worse you play.

The ground floor houses the bar along with a variety of arcade games, but I'm always more interested in going upstairs where the pinball machines are located.

On the second floor, you'll find a large variety of pinball machines which will appeal to both the hard core fan, those with just a passing pinball fancy and members of the video game generation who get lost trying to find the restroom.

There's usually an old electromechanical machine in the mix, but most of the machines at Ground Kontrol are from the 80's through present day. On my last visit I counted 23 machines, nearly all of which were fully functional. They take pinball maintenance seriously here, so if a game is not 100% they'll turn it off until they can fix it. I appreciate these efforts greatly.

Ground Kontrol may be my favorite place to play pinball, but there are two other pinball destinations that I'd like to mention. The first is Shorty's of Seattle, WA and the second is the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, NV.

Shorty's is another barcade, but they boast a full bar, a food menu and the booth tables are made out of old pinball tables. To get to the pinball "cave", just pass by the bar, but don't forget to show them your ID as pulling it out mid game is not fun. Shorty's is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

The Pinball Hall of Fame boasts over 200 playable pinball machines at any given time. I don't know if you've ever seen 200 pinball machines in the same room before, but it is a sight to behold. If I ever get back to Las Vegas, this will be one of my first, and likely last, places that I visit.

As long as I'm on the subject of pinball and travel, I must mention the mythical "pinball train". A couple years ago, my father-in-law was on a train from Portland, OR to Eugene, OR and claims to have found a whole car that was full of functioning pinball machines. I've searched for mention of this on the internet, but I haven't found any details or pictures. If you have any information about the pinball train, I'd greatly appreciate it.

I would also be grateful to anyone that can point me toward good places to find Pinball in the Boston area.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Vending Machine Roundup #3

Once again it's time for another vending machine roundup. It has been a while, but I've continued to keep an eye out for the best vending machines that I encounter on my travels. Here are some of my favorites that I've found in the last six months or so. Highway rest stops are a great place to find vending machines, but they aren't always the most interesting. While you can't always find the novelty of a new machine at rest stops, sometimes you find surprising a surprising quantity of machines.

At this New Hampshire rest stop there were 16 machines which included the following:
1 Water machine
5 Soda machines
1 Sport drink machine
1 Energy drink machine
1 Ice cream machine
3 Chip machines
2 Candy bar machines
1 Nesquick machine
1 Coffee machine

While anyone of these machines alone would not be noteworthy, that they were all in the same place was quite extraordinary. Amongst the standard fare, I found packets of No-Doz and even chicken salad.

In the Zurich airport I found this vending machine that not only sold souvineers, but it also sold handy travel gadgets like earplugs, power adapters and AA batteries. Selling small travel gadgets s a great use for vending machines in airports for when you cannot find an open newsstand, and I hope to see similar machines in other airports around the world.
Before I left the Zurich airport, I spotted this coffee vending machine and thought of one of my coworkers that loves her espresso, but never with cream. I sent this photo to her and she's considering framing it.
If you've never seen this type of vending machine then you are missing out. A description really doesn't do it justice, but let's just say that it's a mechanical wonder. I'm hoping to take a video of it in the future. This machine was in a Connecticut highway rest stop.

This is perhaps the best vending machine that I've ever seen. Paperback books ranging in price from fifty cents to five dollars out of a repurposed snack machine; what's not to love? If you'd like to check out this machine, you can visit Lorem Ipsum Books in Cambridge, MA.

There you have it, another vending machine roundup. I hope that you enjoyed it. Please let me know if you've seen any interesting machines in your travels and I'll be sure to keep a sharp eye out for them. I'm still hunting for a french fry machine, but I'm starting to think that I'll never see another.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Thoughts on The Boston Globe Travel Show

When I first heard about the Boston Globe Travel Show, I was filled
with glee. I travel, so it should be fun. I checked out the event's
website, and I admit that I wasn't thrilled at the booths that were
listed: a mix of tourist boards and cruise lines. I held out hope
that there would be something for me that wasn't advertised, I
decided to attend and registered as a member of the media.

Upon arriving, my wife and I quickly realized that very little had
been omitted from the website. We encountered an array of booths
representing international and domestic travel locations along with the aforementioned
cruiselines. Had we been in the midst of planning a large family trip or one that focused around packaged tourism, this might have been useful. For those more casual travelers, such as ourselves, it wasn't very useful.

Having recently moved to New England, we did pick up some great information about local areas that we have wanted to visit.

Florida was well represented at the show with more floor space than any other
state (and most countries). What surprised me most was the booth for the Holy Land
booth from Orlando, Florida. I couldn't resist snapping a quick picture of a man dressed as Jesus. I was hoping to get a candid photo, but it turns out that this particular Jesus is a poser. I find the fact that such a theme park actually exists a little disturbing.

To me, this travel expo was not for travelers, but for tourists and vacationers. The website did not misrepresent the show, but the title is a bit misleading. The Boston Globe Vacation Show would have been a more accurate name.

Standard entry to the show was $10, which I found a bid expensive for what turned out to be a a collection of tourist boards and cruise lines that are all trying to sell you something. In my experience, a show like this should have been free much like a home improvement show. It is true that there were free tickets being offered on Twitter the day before the show, but for those who bought their tickets ahead of time or purchased tickets at the gate, where was the value for the entrance fee?

Another local travel blogger also visited this show and was a bit more positive about the experience. Check out Beers and Bananas.

To prove that I can do more than complain about things, which I've
been doing a lot lately, I'd like to present to you some ideas that
could be incorparated into my ideal travel show.

1. More travel books. Sure, there was a small Barnes and Noble stand,
but what about an extended section with a wide variety of travel
guides, maps and even books by travel writers. Heck, book signings
could have taken place to boost sales. People love meeting authors
that they have read and being exposed to new points of view.

2. More travel gear. The travel gear at the BGTravelShow was limited
to one vendor selling imported leather goods and one guy selling
handmade snowshoes which seemed more like works of art than
utilitarian gear. I would have like to see representation from
manufacturers of luggage, backpacks and travel clothing. Travel
gadgets and accessories that make life easier going through securitiy
could be highlighted here such as TSA friendly laptop cases and belts
that won't set off metal detectors.

A vendors section with representation from a company such as
Campmor would to well in my ideal travel show so that you could
easily pick up some small Nalgene bottles for shampoo and maybe
finally pull the trigger on that new travel pack you've been eying (at a show special price of course).

3. Travel electronics. This area is growing rapidly and was not
represented at the travel show. I'd like to be able to get my hands on the
latest cameras, GPS devices, eBook readers and NetBooks before making
a decision. Having made such a decision, the ability to buy on site at
special show prices would have been great. Who doesn't travel with at
least some electronic device? Traveling with electronics has quickly become normal for
travelers and any "Travel Show" that fails to recognize this seems to
be, at least for me, missing the point.

Travel is much more than a destination. It's about getting there,
enjoying what is there to be enjoyed and inevitably being disappointed by something yet making discovering something else that makes you smile. Travel is about meeting new people and seeing more of the world than you exposed to in your daily life. It's about finding the small things that make you smile even though you're many miles from your home and
family. For me, travel is definitely not about package deals and itineraries.
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