As foreign travel becomes more of a mission than a pleasure, sites and services are emerging to help reduce inconvenience, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Foreign travel should be fun. But, in recent years, security controls, delays, high cost and the pervasive bureaucracy of airlines and airports has turned it into a trial. Add business travel to the mix, when you have to lug equipment with you worrying about compatibility with power supplies around the world and it becomes almost a matter of luck whether a trip will be successful.
At the same time, though, more and more resources are emerging to reduce the element of luck, and help travellers regain control. Here are some of the best I have found.
Power socket guides
Not sure what plug you will need for what country? Or whether you need to take extra plugs at all? One of the best resources in the world to keep this one firmly plugged in is at http://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity.htm. The site provides a comprehensive country chart with the types of plug in use in each country. For a point-and-click option, it includes a colour-coded socket map of the world, along with both diagrams and photos of each type of socket and plug.
Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets) provides a less structured approach, but offers far greater depth as it drills down into the detail of each plug and explains the history and standards behind each.
Too much information? Not when you’ve been stuck with a powered down laptop in a foreign country where the nearest electronics outlet is at the airport the one you just left behind..
Nothing can make or break a long trip more than having a good or bad seat on a flight. With most airline web sites allowing online booking only in the last 24 hours before a flight, it is usually a matter of luck to get an aisle seats or one of the emergency row seats.
However, if you know in advance what type of aircraft you will be boarding, you can identify ideal seats by their exact seat numbers. Your airline won’t tell you? There is a site for that. Visit Seatguru.com, type in your flight number and date of flight, and it will not only tell you what plane you will be boarding, but will also show a detailed seat map.
Seating plans are available for every aircraft in use by commercial airliners. The map even flags problem seats as well as those with special benefits, like extra legroom. It is invaluable in preparing for long flights, indicating power supply in seats and even Wi-Fi on board along with advice on where to sign up in advance for special deals. Want to strategise getting an aisle seat on the exit row? This is the blueprint.
Assuming you’re a member of a frequent flyer programme if you’re not, do sign up call the programme’s support line and request pre-allocation of the specific seat you have identified. This may not always be possible, but it is the single travel act with the highest return on effort.
Choosing a hotel
There isn’t yet a seatguru equivalent for hotels, but Tripadvisor comes close. Travellers themselves supply reviews and ratings by category of travel, which means you can see a hotel through the eyes of a business traveller, a family or an elderly couple, for example. This means that ratings go beyond one person’s viewpoint, bringing relevance to your needs to the fore.
Tripadvisor has become such a standard tool, many hotels have its plaque at their entrance, with the average stars awarded on the site replacing traditional tourism association star ratings.
Using digital maps in foreign countries can consume huge amounts of data if you’re using wireless roaming. Prepare for bill shock on your return, unless you’ve learnt this little trick and have a phone with built-in GPS navigation: While in a WiFi zone, i.e. with data access that doesn’t incur extra cost for how much you use it, call up the map of the area you are most likely to explore, ensuring that you explore the map to download all likely areas in which you will move around. On an iPhone, don’t close the map, so that the data remains active. In Android, the map data should remain active as long as you don’t switch off the phone or manually stop the app from running. Now, with mobile data disabled, the phone’s GPS will continually show you where you are on the map.
There is an app for almost every travel need, from airport gate maps to flight trackers to weather. Simply search the app store linked to your device, and the choices pour out.
There is one final rule: most of these work only if you plan in advance. This, by definition, does not include starting once you’re at the airport. More on the topic next week.
¬∑ Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee
Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?
It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.
Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.
When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.
That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.
In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.
The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.
Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.
“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.
“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”
Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.
In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world
A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.
But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.
Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.
On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.
In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.
What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.
The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.
The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.
Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.