Gadling Gift Guide: Tech for Travel

Tech Gift Guide: Samsung 9 laptopTravel has certainly changed in the last decade and most of us would probably agree that those changes haven’t always been for the best. Fortunately, technology has been one of the bright spots over the past few years however, and we now have a plethora of options for entertainment, staying connected, and getting work done while on the go. Here are a few great gift ideas for the techie traveler on your list this holiday season.

Laptops
More and more of us are traveling with computers these days, even if we don’t always need them to do work. A laptop keeps us connected while on the go, allows to play games, watch movies, upload photos, and so much more. With that in mind, here are three great options for travel.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
This powerful and rugged laptop is perfect for adventure travelers heading to remote destinations. Built on a carbon fiber frame and packing a water resistant keyboard, the X1 is designed to take a beating and still keep working. It also happens to be one of the thinnest ThinkPad’s ever built and weighs in at just 3.7 pounds, which is amazingly light for a ruggedized laptop. The battery lasts a solid 5.5 hours and can be recharged to 80% of its power in just 30 minutes. ($1467)

Samsung Series 9
If you’re looking for something a bit more stylish than the ThinkPad X1, without compromising durability, then look no further than the Series 9 from Samsung. It’s Duralumin case is built from the same materials as modern aircraft, which makes it strong, yet light and flexible. This ultra-thin notebook is just .6 inches thick and weighs in at a mere 2.9 pounds, which makes it a lightweight and powerful travel companion for those extended trips abroad. The 7 hour battery life will be appreciated on long flights as well. ($1550)

Asus Zenbook UX21
One of the first of a new line of laptops dubbed “ultrabooks,” the Zenbook UX21 from Asus is a great option for individuals who like to travel light. This diminutive notebook weighs just 2.4 pounds and is razor thin, allowing it to slip inside your carry-on with ease. The Zenbook offers 5 hours of battery life, features a 128GB solid state drive, and premium sound for listening to music and movies while on the go. It also packs a pleasant price tag, with Amazon offering it up for just $966.

Logitech Ultimate Ears 600vi headset
MP3 players have made possible to take our entire collection of music with us when we travel, but you’ll need a great pair of headphones to get the best sound possible. We were suitably impressed with the Ultimate Ears 600vi ear buds when we reviewed them a few weeks back, awarding them high marks for both comfort and sound quality. The integrated microphone, volume, and track controls work great as well, and the included hard carrying is more than appreciated when throwing them in your pack before you go. ($95)

Travelers looking for a more traditional set of headphones that are both super-comfortable and noise isolating, will want to investigate the Bose QuietComfort 15. While pricier than the Ultimate Ears, they also set the standard for sound quality on a mobile device. ($300)

Want to share your music with friends? Then check-out the iHome iHM79 portable speakers. They feature rechargeable batteries and great sound, in a tiny package. ($42)Amazon Kindle E-Reader
Sure, the Amazon Fire is the new hotness (pun intended!), but it is tough to beat the original Kindle, especially at it’s new $79 price point. The device’s e-ink display is perfect for reading in nearly all conditions and the device has outstanding battery life that is measured in days, not hours. The Kindle has done for books what MP3 players did for music – allow us to bring our entire library with us when we go, and it is still a great gift for the tech obsessed traveler on your list. ($79)

Tech Gift Guide: Nikon 1 J1 CameraNikon 1 V1 Camera
Digital cameras have revolutionized the way we capture photos and video from our travels, and Nikon has one of the best new options for travelers this year. The Nikon 1 is the company’s first foray into the micro 4/3 category, which offers up a compact and lightweight body, as well as a line of interchangeable lenses. Smaller than a DSLR, but more powerful than a point and shoot, the Nikon 1 takes amazing photos and video, without taking up too much room in your bag. ($599)

For those looking for simpler and more affordable option, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP1 is tough to beat. It is a compact point and shoot camera with great image quality, fast focus, and outstanding battery life. ($120)

iPhone 4S
While the iPhone 4S is rightfully getting lots of attention for its new digital assistant, Siri, and it’s outstanding camera, that isn’t why we’re putting it on our holiday list. The newest version of Apple’s iconic device is also a World Phone, which means you can now use it in over 200 countries. That alone makes it easy to recommend for travelers looking to stay connected while visiting foreign lands and previous iPhone users will rejoice that they will no longer need a separate phone when traveling abroad. ($200)

Outlets To Go Powerstrip
Keeping our gadgets powered and charged while traveling can be a real challenge, especially in hotel rooms, which seem to always lack convenient places to plug-in. A simple travel powerstrip, like the Outlets To Go from Monster, can help solve that problem. The tiny device packs three AC outlets and an integrated USB port, which is fantastic for keeping your phone, iPod, or other small electronics charged. ($12)

International travelers may want to pair the powerstrip with the Kensington All-in-One Plug Adapter as well. I take one with me whenever I leave the country, and have found it useful on many occasions. ($15)

Roku 2 HD
While not specifically a gift for travelers, who doesn’t enjoy returning home from a long vacation and curling up on their own couch? The Roku 2 HD streams all kinds of Internet content to any TV, including Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, YouTube, and so much more. It is also a great way to share photos from your latest adventure with friends and family, on your big-screen, high defnition television. Best of all, it costs just $70, which isn’t much for a tiny wireless device that offers so much entertainment. ($70)

New Seven Wonders of Natural World revealed amidst controversy

The Amazon is one of the new seven wonders of the natural worldAfter four years of hype and fanfare, the new seven wonders of the natural world were unveiled last Friday, honoring some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet. But as the competition drew to a close, dark clouds of controversy formed, casting a shadow over the entire affair.

The selection process for the new seven wonders began back in 2007, when 440 natural wonders, from 220 countries, were first submitted for consideration. Over the course of several rounds of voting and judging, that number was eventually reduced to 28 finalist. The seven winners were selected from that list following months of online voting.

According to the preliminary results, the new seven wonders include the following: the Amazon Rainforest (South America); Halong Bay (Vietnam); Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Jeju Island (South Korea); Komodo National Park (Indonesia); Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (Philippines) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

The organizers behind the new seven wonders are quick to note that this list is for the provisional winners, as they are currently conducting a recount of the votes to ensure that the correct wonders have been named. The results are now being independently verified and they expect to confirm the winners in early 2012.

On the eve of the announcement of those winners, disturbing stories began to emerge about how organizers were attempting to collect millions of dollars from the nations that were home to the finalists. When the search for the new wonders first began more than four years ago, countries were required to pay a $199 entry fee, but as the selection process narrowed the candidates, some countries were asked to pay large sums of cash to aid in a world-wide marketing campaign. The Indonesian government claimed, for example, that the organizers wanted $10 million to cover licensing fees and an additional $47 million to host the official closing ceremony. Earlier, the Maldives withdrew from the competition altogether when costs to participate spiraled upwards towards $500,000.For their part, organizers of the new seven wonders competition say that their branding efforts were optional, and that allegations of charging exorbitant prices are completely “baseless.” They also refused to discuss exactly how much individual countries were charged for taking part in the branding campaign, but did acknowledge that the fees varied by nation.

Considering that the entire “new seven” idea was the brainchild of an international marketing firm, it should come as no surprise that it was seen as a way to make some money. Critics have pointed out however, that the firm should have secured financial backing prior to announcing the campaign four years ago, thus avoiding any attempts to seek funds from the countries involved.

Which brings up another issue with the whole competition. Since the organizers also don’t disclose voting numbers, we have to take it on faith that they are reporting the correct winners. After all, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that a country that paid the large fees would receive some kind of preferential treatment over those that bulked at them. I suppose the independent verification system is suppose to keep everything on the up-and-up, but there is no denying that there were some strange decisions made along the way.

Those issues aside, what are your feeling on the list of the new seven wonders of the natural world? Did we end up with some good selections or are there others sites that were more worth of inclusion

Bolivian president vetoes Amazon road

Bolivia votes down plan to build Amazon road. Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a law on Tuesday that forbids the construction of a new road through the Amazon Rainforest. The road was seen as a threat to the ecosystem of one of Bolivia’s more popular national parks and a tribe of indigenous people that live there.

The new road was to be funded by Brazil and would have been approximately 177 km (109 miles) in length. But the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia, and a number of environmental groups spoke, out against the plans, and as a result, Bolivia’s Legislative Assembly created a law halting construction on the project. The road would have passed through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory, but Morales’ signature ensures that will never happen.

This story is similar to the plans to build a road across the Serengeti in Tanzania, which drew heavy criticism from conservationists and scientists alike. The government in that country said the route was necessary to promote economic development, but it was also seen as a major threat to the wildlife as well. Eventually the plans were abandoned in order to leave the Serengeti’s ecosystem intact, but unlike Bolivia, it took months for the Tanzanian government to change their plans.

The road through the Amazon would have likely brought an economic boost to Bolivia as well, and that country could sure use one. But the government there recognized the value of their natural resources and didn’t want to do anything to put those resources, or their people in danger. As a result, they made the hard, but correct, choice to resist the easy money in favor of protecting their environment for the future.

Uncontacted tribe discovered in the Amazon

An uncontacted tribe has been discovered in the AmazonOfficials from Brazil‘s National Indian Foundation (Funai) have announced the discovery of another uncontacted tribe living deep inside the Amazon Jungle. The tribe is estimated to have a population of about 200 people who have continued to live in the same natural manner for centuries, untouched by the modern world.

Evidence of the tribe first surfaced when researchers spotted a small clearing while reviewing satellite images of the Amazon. The clearing intrigued them enough to conduct a flyover of the region in April, which produced photographs that showed several small huts clustered together in the rainforest near a copse of banana trees. The images that were taken also provided enough data to allow Funai to estimate the size of the tribe.

The tribe is said to be just one of several living in the Vale do Javari region of the Amazon, which is amongst its most remote places on the planet. Researchers believe that there are as many as 14 uncontacted tribes still living in that area, with roughly 2000 people amongst them.

In recent years, it has been the policy of the Brazilian government to avoid contacting these tribes in remote regions and to work instead to preserve their environments. That will be the case with this most recently discovered community as well, although their lifestyle is ultimately threatened by a number of outside forces. For example, deforestation, mining, hunting, and numerous other environmental concerns are taking their toll on the Amazon, which could eventually have an impact on these tribes as well.

Still, I think it’s amazing that there are people in remote places that have yet to be visited by outsiders. We really do live on an amazing planet.

Five places to see shrunken heads

srunken head, shrunken heads
Call me sick, but I’ve always been fascinated with shrunken heads.

“OK, you’re sick!”

Fine, but you’re still reading this, aren’t you?

Throughout history many cultures took heads as trophies, including the ancestors of many Gadling readers–the Celts. Celtic warriors used to cut the heads off of enemies and attach them to their chariots to look extra intimidating in battle. Japanese samurai, Maori warriors, and angry peasants in the French Revolution all took enemy heads as trophies.

Yet only one culture, the Jivaro of South America, actually shrank heads. Living in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador and Peru, the Jivaro people developed the strange custom of cutting off an enemy’s head and shrinking it down to the size of a man’s fist. Called tsantsa, these shrunken heads served not only as proof of a warrior’s valor but also as a way to destroy the victim’s spirit, which might otherwise take revenge.

The process was gruesome but simple. Different sources give different recipes. This one comes from the well-researched site Head Hunter. Once you get a head, cut open the back so the skin and hair can be peeled from the skull. Throw the skull into a river as an offering to the anaconda. Sew the eyes shut, and close the mouth with wooden spikes or thorns. Boil the head for no more than two hours, then turn the skin inside out to clean off any nasty residue. Turn the skin right side out and sew up the slit you cut in the back.

%Gallery-126587%To shrink further, drop hot stones through the neck hole. Roll them around to ensure even heating and prevent any unsightly burn marks. The head will continue to shrink until the neck hole is too small to allow stones to enter. Now use hot sand to shrink the head even more. Press hot stones against the face to singe off any excess hair and shape the face to look nice, and use a hot machete to dry the lips, which will not have shrunk as much as the rest of the head.

Now put three chonta, or palm thorns, through the lips and tie them together with long, decorative string. Hang it over a fire to harden. You may also want to blacken the skin with charcoal to avoid the man’s spirit from seeing out. Pierce a hole through the top of the head so you can put a string through and wear your trophy around your neck.

The whole process takes about a week but with a bit of patience and practice, you’ll have a keepsake of your favorite battle and a surefire icebreaker at parties.

Shrunken heads fascinated early European explorers. They became a hot commodity and warfare increased in order to meet the demand. Often tribesmen found it easier and safer to make a fake head by using an animal head or making one out of leather. Some researchers estimate that up to 80% of all heads on display in museums are actually fake. This week a study was released of a DNA analysis of a shrunken head in an Israeli museum that turned out to be genuine. Researchers are hoping to test more heads to determine if they’re legit.

Some fake heads are actually real, in a sense. When a warrior killed an enemy but couldn’t get the head for whatever reason, or killed an enemy who was a blood relative and therefore wasn’t allowed to take the head, he could make a head from that of a sloth as a stand-in. Magically this was considered a real tsantsa.

Controversy over displaying human remains and the demands by some tribes to have them back has meant that many museums have removed their displays of shrunken heads. So where can you still see these little darlings?

Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, Williamsburg, Virginia. This branch of Ripley’s fun chain of museums has several shrunken heads on display.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, Seattle, Washington. Forget the Space Needle, this is the coolest attraction in Seattle. Once you’ve seen the real shrunken heads, head over the the gift shop to buy a cruelty-free replica.

Lightner Museum, Saint Augustine, Florida. This huge collection of nineteenth century bric-a-brac housed in an old mansion is an odd place to find a shrunken head collection, but people collected all sorts of things back then.

Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, England. Britain’s favorite museum has artifacts from all the world’s cultures, including a display case full of shrunken heads and trophy heads.

Madrid, Spain. Get a double dose of headhunting here at the Museo de América and the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

If you’d rather do some armchair traveling, check out the shrunken heads flickr group and Doc Bwana’s Shrunken Head Museum online.

Do you know of any other places still exhibiting shrunken heads? Tell us about it in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Joe Mabel. In my opinion these are fakes, mostly made from monkeys, but they do look cool]