Gogo Unveils New In-Flight Wireless: Boasts 3X Improvement In Bandwidth

Gogo’s jet-propelled test lab took flight yesterday with several reporters and one very important fin added to the underbelly of the plane.

On the quick flight across western Illinois, CTO Anand Chari showed off the significant speed increases and signal stability of their new ATG-4 (Air To Ground – 4) wireless system. Initially using the current ATG wireless, pages loaded slowly or timed out completely when a crowded plane was simulated. Switching to the new technology showed speeds reaching closer to the estimated max of 9.7 Mbps. When an additional 15 users were simulated on the plane, loading of pages slowed, but never stalled.

“This is a significant tech advancement,” said CEO Michael Small. “We can serve considerable larger number of passengers – over half the plane [before degradation of the service]. The sky is going to keep growing. We’re on a path to getting full service to a full plane of users.”

Streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are still too big of a burden for in-flight connectivity, but the company’s recent release of Gogo Vision offers a nice compromise – 100+ titles to watch streaming on your wireless device for $4.99 a movie or 99 cents a show.

Over 40 planes are already equipped with the ATG-4 technology, with Virgin, Delta and US Airways on board (launches for service on American Airlines and United are expected next year). The company plans to have over 500 planes equipped by the end of 2013.

How do you tell if your plane is equipped with the latest tech? If possible, look under the first third of the plane, near the door – if you can see two fins, the smaller will be the old ATG modem, and the larger will be the ATG-4. In addition, two directional antennae and a second modem will provide another clever bonus – by checking for signal in several directions, the plane will choose the strongest one to use, while the other keeps searching for the next best signal.

[Photo Credits: Dan Morgridge]

Dust Storms Descend On The Middle East

A spate of dust storms caused massive disruptions and several fatalities in the Middle East this week. In Pakistan, winds reaching up to 68mph struck the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, destroying roofs, uprooting trees, upending billboards, and reducing visibility to under 100 meters. Flights out of Islamabad International Airport were delayed, and at least fifteen fatalities were recorded.

Elsewhere, in Kuwait, heavy dust storms shut down the Basra ports, paralyzing tankers and costing the country some 1,000,000 barrels a day in exports. Flights out of Kuwait International Airport were continuing with normal, albeit limited service. This follows a late May dust storm that shut down Baghdad’s airport only days before a critical nuclear talk. And a dust storm near Mecca raised temperatures to 113 degrees before giving way to a rainstorm – possibly the hottest rainfall on record at 109 degrees F.

Dust storms can seriously impact travel in the Middle East, and visitors are cautioned against the dangers of going out into a storm without proper preparation. The gallery below documents some of the biggest storms in the region to date.

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8 Amazing Night Festivals Around The World

Whether it’s in the clubs of international hotspots or bustling metropolitan hubs, there are plenty of places where those so inclined can find something to do all night. But only a select subculture of hard-partying youth and industry workers will typically prowl the clubs and 24-hour diners. What does it take for the average person to indulge their inner night owl? Whether it’s a religious festival, an artistic exhibition, or just a party too big to be limited to daytime hours, we’ve rounded up some of the best recurring nighttime events in the world – and you don’t need to get past a velvet rope to enjoy any of them.

Nuit Blanche
Ever since its introduction in St. Petersburg, the “White Night” festival has become an institution in cities around the globe – Paris, New York and even Toronto (above) have adopted the practice. Originally designed to capitalize on the phenomenon of the midnight sun, the concept has been carried over to cities with a more natural evening – museums, galleries and local or visiting artists will blanket the city in artwork to be appreciated through the night. In addition to installations, there are public performances of music, dance and theater occurring throughout the city until sunrise.
Chichibu Yomatsuri

Every December 2-3 in Saitama Prefecture, the Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu Night Festival) finds thousands of revelers observing or participating in the procession of two lantern-laden floats as they make their way to and up a hill. The only drawback of this process is that the 10-ton floats are moved entirely by hand – several dozen men and women pull on ropes and push from behind. Complicated matters are the choirs, fan wavers and taiko drummers who perform atop the float as it moves. Eventually the procession reaches the top of the hill, and the crowd can enjoy noh plays, eat at roadside food stands and enjoy a fireworks show.


Mardi Gras
A festival that should need little introduction for most, Mardi Gras’s splendor is easily apparent, but its origins are more mysterious. An offshoot of Carnival, the French introduced the holiday to the area, where it began to be championed by secret societies in the 20th century. These “mystic societies” crown their own kings, hold secret balls and create floats for the day’s big parade. Mardi Gras “Indian” societies dress their chiefs in colorful feathered suits and “walking clubs” made of on-foot musicians walk and play through the streets. While Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar) is the principle day of celebration, Mardi Gras-related balls will begin as early as “Twelfth Night” on January 6th. Parades and Krewes will begin processions as early as the week before, and festivities rage until the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, when police promptly clear the streets.


Long Night of Museums

While the concept of a night in the arts seems like a no-brainer, the museums of the world realized they could get in on the fun as well. A dozen European cities have adopted the model pioneered by Berlin in 1997 – participants use a single pass to gain access to every museum in the city with the goal being to introduce a new swath of patrons to the arts who might otherwise skip a day at the museum. The practice has done so well in Europe that in 2007, Cebu, Philippines, became the first Asian city to participate in the event.


Tet
The Vietnamese New Year comes a month or two after the Western calendar’s version, and allows for a slightly warmer affair. A celebration of spring and renewal, families spend time together, cook special foods and decorate their homes with symbolic plants. But much happens outside of the home – children and adults take to the streets to parade with gongs, firecrackers, and anything else they can use to make noise to ward off evil spirits. (Urban centers like Ho Chi Minh City will host concerts, flower festivals and noisy parades of their own.) Afterwards, the people will return to their families for a peaceful meal.


Bonfires of St. Johns

This Spanish holiday adds a pyrotechnical twist to the celebration of St. John. After building large artistic wooden monuments known as falles, the day is spent showing them in parades or festivals before eventually these and other wooden bonfires are set ablaze. The falles are often depictions of events or important figures of the past year; as such, their burning also represents a new beginning for the year. In addition, beauty contests are held to pick “beauties” to represent each of the many neighborhood festival commissions in the city, and one ultimate “Beauty of the Fire” to represent the whole city.


Scarlet Sails

The Scarlet Sails has origins in the White Nights Festival that inspired Nuit Blanche. But St. Petersburg’s festival finale contains a massively popular event within the event for children. The Scarlet Sails night is named for a popular 1920s children’s book, and is held late in June in conjunction with the end of the school year. The event features ships with appropriately crimson sails, circus and dance performers, fireworks and a general celebration that school’s out for summer.


Rio Carnival of Rio de Janeiro
The measuring stick for any other festival in the world, Rio de Janeiro’s celebration of the traditional Carnival draws millions of people to the city each February. While boasting some of the most impressive floats and parades of any festival in the world, Rio’s celebrations have one element that pushes them over the top – a world-class samba school dance competition occurring amidst the festival. Dancers and their floats are presented for audience judgment in large arenas known as Sambadromes, where revelers watch from stadium seating.

8 Of The Manliest Competitions Around The World

Males are naturally drawn to competition. Whether for food, mates, territory or just for sport, often you’ll find men ready to accept a challenge at the drop of a hat. But every sport has its place in the pecking order, and while the world’s fastest tandem bicyclists are no doubt phenomenal athletes, they’re not likely to cause people to turn and whisper upon entering the bar. The following contests are some of the best measures of manliness – some are displays of strength or athleticism, some a mastery of technical skills. Some are simply a display of sheer will (and or gluttony). Whichever may be true, these are some of the world’s best ways of answering the question: “Who’s The Man?”

Highland Games (above)

An event with origins that predate recorded history, the Highland Games were purportedly a large influence on Pierre de Coubertin’s creation of the modern Olympic Games. Consisting of traditional sports like the caber toss, stone put and sheaf toss, the games also showcase other feats of strength; the Maide Leisg consists of two men pressing the palms of their feet against each other and attempting to lift their opponent out of a sitting position using only the staff that they grip between them. While still very traditional in garb and style, the games have spawned numerous offshoots across the world. You could attend the largest Scottish games – held in August in Dunoon, Scotland – with some 3,500 other spectators. Or take a trip in July to Linville, North Carolina – their Grandfather Mountain Highland Games has some 50,000 visitors each year.

Arm Wrestling Championships

One of the most iconic images of male competition, two men arm wrestling is the best way to settle matters of pure machismo without resorting to blows. Although little can be added to such a pure sport, there are nevertheless modern tweaks that have created a field of competitors worthy of their own governing body and world championship series. World champions like John Brzenk use a variety of grips to turn the tables on their opponents – and sometimes experience outweighs young guns. At 47, Brzenk looks just a little older than when an audience caught a cameo of him in Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 arm-wrestling movie “Over the Top.”

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

While appearing to be a simple hot dog stand on Coney Island, Nathan’s Famous is the host to the highest-profile eating competition in the world. Featuring men and women attempting to eat as many hot dogs and buns as possible within ten minutes, ordinary-looking people have consumed ungodly amounts of food. The current rivalry between Japanese eating legend Kobayashi and American Joey Chestnutt has proven especially heated, with Kobayashi being banned from competition due to contractual disputes; he had two judges record him eating in time with the competition at a different location. Chestnutt won the official contest by eating 62 dogs but Kobayashi claimed to have eaten 69.

National Finals Rodeo

An overall display of cowboy knowhow and mastery of semi-wild beasts, the National Finals Rodeo is possibly even more American than apple pie. Held annually in Las Vegas, the event draws almost 170,000 fans over its ten days of competition. With contestants scoring in fields as diverse as Team Roping, Steer Wrestling and the ever-famous Bull Riding, the winners are determined by overall purse winnings throughout the year. The “World All-Around Rodeo Champion Cowboy” is the individual who earns the most money in purses in at least two different categories through the year – that title currently belongs to Ryan Jarrett, a native of Georgia (and only the second champion in history to come from east of the Mississippi River).

Iron Man World Championship

One of the most grueling physical activities a person can perform, the ironman truly measures an athlete’s all-around skill. Created to settle a dispute between athletes (truly a competition about competition) the championship course and event hosted in Hawaii consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a final run of 26.2 miles. Current champion Craig Alexander of Australia also holds the world record – an impressive eight hours, three minutes and fifty-six seconds.

Skeleton Luge

Combining the precision of bobsledding with the gutsiness of extreme sports, Skeleton has exploded in popularity after being reinstated to the Winter Olympics. Invented in 1887, the first skeleton riders were merely soldiers tobogganing headfirst. The dangerous variant took its name from a modified sled invented in 1892 – L.P. Child’s bare-bones frame (originally called “The America”) was compared to a skeleton, and the rest is history. Today these daredevil sledders take on the same tracks as luge athletes, except for the fact that they are travelling headfirst and at speeds approaching 90 mph – almost as fast as the heavier bobsleds.

Iditarod

The Iditarod is the ultimate dog-mushing race, and while the trip from Anchorage to Nome requires only a standard level of physical fitness on the part of the humans, they must still survive freezing tundra winds, traverse heavy snows and care for a pack of dogs that will ultimately decide the fate of their victory. Of course, one thing separates the Iditarod from most of the other competitions here – there is no gender divide in the competition. What’s more, women have shown they have just as much fortitude and skill in the wilds of Alaska as the men. Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the race in 1985, followed shortly by four-time winner Susan Butcher in the 1990s.

World’s Strongest Man

There are few spectacles on earth quite as masculine as the World’s Strongest Man competition. Owing some debt to the Highland Games, the strong men will even compete in a caber toss now and then. But other feats of strength have been designed for pure machismo – carrying the frame of a car over a set distance, or tossing kegs over a steel wall. And while being able to squat a certain amount of weight will win you a medal at the Olympics, there’s something much more impressive about seeing a man pull an airplane over his shoulder.

8 Exclusive Private Islands

Everyone wants to get away from it all for a while. Of course, whether that’s through your own private hideaway or a relaxing vacation, most people have to choose one or the other. But with a bit of money saved up, you can join the elite of the world in owning a solution to both. These islands aren’t necessarily the most remote or extravagant islands (although there’s plenty of both here). What they all share in common is unmatched exclusivity, where your company on the island can be the wealthiest of the wealthy…or perhaps just a family of turtles.

1. Ni’ihau

Ni’ihau is famously known as Hawaii’s “Forbidden Isle,” and for good reason — it’s private property. Bought by a private family in 1864, the island is home to fewer than 200 people, for whom Hawaiian is the primary language and English second. Although now home to a military base and some hunting tourism, Ni’ihau’s rules are still very strict in terms of visitors – even for the native’s relatives. A notable exception was made in 1992, when parts of the movie “Jurassic Park” were filmed on location. Historically, “The Ni’ihau Incident” — where a Japanese pilot crash-landed on the island returning from Pearl Harbor, was captured and then escaped with the help of Japanese locals — is considered to be a major factor in the eventual Japanese-American internment during the rest of World War II.2.Wakaya

Wakaya is one of the 332 gorgeous islands that make up what we know as Fiji. It is not the source of the controversial and popular Fiji Water (said to be drawn from an artesian aquifer on the main isle of Viti Levu). Instead, Wakaya is the island that company founder David Gilmour (no relation to Pink Floyd) bought in 1973. In addition to building a village, a marina, a gym and a school, Gilmour also built a 10-bungalow resort named Wakaya Club and Spa. A night at the resort will set you back a cool $7,600 plus taxes, but that hasn’t deterred Bill Gates, Tom Cruise, Spain’s Prince Felipe and others from making a visit.

3.Santo Stefano

For those who are looking to invest rather than visit, there are a couple options. If you’re in the mood for something Mediterranean, there are worse options than Santo Stefano — just under fifty miles from Naples, neighboring beautiful Ventotene island, and hosting a number of older rustic buildings. One in particular will probably catch your eye — an 18th century prison built to hold 600 inmates. While the prison is not currently included in the sale of the island, listing indicated it could be added in for the right price. As the asking price is a mere 20 million Euros, why not splurge a little?

4. Taprobane

If you’re picturing an island getaway, you think of relaxing first and foremost. But imagine your stay lasting a little longer, and all sorts of activities come into mind — sailing, making tropical cocktails and eventually writing/drawing/composing a magnum opus. Taprobane is one of the smallest islands on this list, but it has played host to a large number of artists — and many of them drew particular inspiration from their stay. Since being founded by the Count de Mournay, this Sri Lankan satellite has played host to author/composer Paul Bowles, painter Balthus and pop singer Kylie Minogue who immortalized the island in her song “Taprobane (Extraordinary Day).”

5. Moyenne

The glamour and wealth of owning a private island is made very apparent in some of these destinations. Yet Brendan Grimshaw’s private island is as far from lavish as humanly possible. While Grimshaw hosts walking tours on the island and offers a small restaurant for the tourists, much of the island was restored to natural habitat by his own hands. Despite rumors that the island holds buried pirate treasure, two digs have come up empty-handed. Grimshaw’s greatest treasure is much simpler — a population of more than 100 land tortoises. The eldest is in his seventies and is named Desmond, after Grimshaw’s godson.

6. Skorpios

If the name of Skorpios is not instantly known, its owner’s should be to anyone alive in the ’60s. Aristotle Onassis, in addition to being one of the wealthiest men on the planet, was also the second husband of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who he married on the island in 1968. The couple lived there for a time and Aristotle, his son, and his daughter Christine are all buried on the island. A 2001 census revealed a population of two on the island — likely caretakers, as the current owner (and Onassis’s granddaughter) Athina lives in São Paolo and for years did not even have an active Greek passport.

7. Double Island

Off the coast of Australia and protected by the Great Barrier Reef, Double Island offers a serene southern Pacific getaway. In addition to being used in television shows like “The Mole,” the island has also been a resort for local gold miners and has been used as cattle grazing land. Of course, the island is probably most important to the Djabugay Aborigine people. In their religion, Double Island is the resting place of the great Rainbow Serpent Gudju Gudju, ancestor of all creation.

8. The World

Of all of Dubai’s ambitious projects, perhaps none have quite the lack of hubris that The World does. A series of artificial islands created from dredged sand, the man-made archipelago from Dubai’s state-owned Nakheel Properties was planned to have almost 300 islands laid out in simulation of a world map. Stars were rumored to be buying some for homes and investors bought various islands for commercial use — the “Ireland” isle was at one point in development to host villas, an Irish Pub and a recreation of the Giant’s Causeway. Unfortunately, the market’s collapse in 2008 resulted in an almost complete abandonment of the project with no development save for a show home on one of the islands. Nakheel has been building on the mainland while they restructure their billions in debt, and the islands themselves are reported to be slowly eroding back into the sea.