New series: Our past in peril, Greek tourism faces the economic crisis

Greek tourism, Greek
This is a sculpture of a fallen Greek warrior from the temple of Aphaia on the Greek island of Aigina. Made in the 5th century BC, it’s an important example of Early Classical Greek art. This was a time when Greek artists began imitating life with realistic poses and expressions.

We owe so much to the ancient Greeks–our ideas of art, architecture, democracy, philosophy, theater, and a lot more. When Greece was conquered by the Romans three centuries after this sculpture was made, Greek culture actually flourished, finding new outlets in the receptive and expanding Roman Empire. Horace once said: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit (Captive Greece took captive her rude conqueror). The suffering yet proud face on this fallen warrior reflects Greek history–cycles of tragedy and triumph.

Suffering yet proud. That’s the impression I get of Greece these days. An economy in shambles, general strikes, people being forced to give up their children. At the same time, an increasing number of Greeks are going back to the land and sea to revitalize the traditional cornerstones of the Greek economy. Meanwhile, Greeks from all walks of life are taking to the streets to protest cutbacks that threaten their livelihood.

The cutbacks threaten our past too. Not the Greek past, our past, because Western civilization is based to a large extent on Greek civilization. Regular general strikes against the austerity measures imposed by the IMF mean that seeing the physical remains of our heritage has become a game of chance. A minister’s suggestion to lease the Acropolis and other ancient sites was treated with scorn one week, and approved the next. Three important paintings, including one by Picasso, were stolen from the Athens National Gallery because cutbacks had left only one guard on duty. And it can get far, far worse. Allowing Greece to fall would be like burning an attic full of family heirlooms and photo albums.

For the next week I’ll be in Greece interviewing museum curators, archaeologists, and regular Greeks about the problems facing our collective past. How are the strikes inhibiting access to museums and sights? How much are staff cuts reducing opening hours and the nation’s ability to conserve and restore our heritage? I’ll also be seeing, strikes permitting, some of the nation’s greatest monuments such as the Acropolis and Agora, as well as lesser-known treasures such as Mistra, briefly the capital of the Roman Empire, and the Crusader castle of Villehardouin.

Unfortunately, this sculpture will not be among them. It’s now the property of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek in Munich, Germany. The same country whose banks currently own the second largest share of Greek national debt after France. The statue of the fallen Greek was taken by a German baron in 1811 when Greece was under the control of a different foreign power–the Ottoman Empire.

Next in the series: Athens nightlife: desperate pensioners on the hustle!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

10 products for your JetBlue “All You Can Jet” high-tech survival kit

So, you just booked yourself a JetBlue All You Can Jet ticket? 30 days of non stop jetting around the country (and beyond).

You are either extremely smart, or up for a month of hell in the skies. Either way, on your trip, you are bound to run into all kinds of challenges. Getting a good seat is going to be the least of your worries. For the next 30 days you’ll need to worry about packing light, keeping gadgets charged, and what to do if you find yourself stuck at the airport overnight without a hotel reservation.

Worry not – we’ve collected ten brilliant products designed to make your life easier during your 30 days of All You Can Jet.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig]

Suite Arrival deliveries

The idea behind Suite Arrivals is brilliant – pre-order toiletries, snacks and other items, and have them delivered to your hotel or other address. Now, before you leave on your All You Can Jet adventure, order up whatever you think you’ll need, and it’ll be ready waiting for you when you arrive. Prices start as low as a dollar, up to around $20 for a well stocked snack and toiletries set. Keeping toiletries out of your bags means less time messing around at the security checkpoint.

Price: $1 & up
Product page: Suitearrival.com

Boingo Subscription

When you travel, The Internet can quickly become your best distraction from the otherwise boring hotel or airport. Instead of paying $10 for each online session, sign up for a monthly pass to Boingo, and use a single monthly fee to get online as often as you want. With thousands of locations, you’ll quickly find that Boingo is almost everywhere you are.

Price: $9.95/month for unlimited domestic usage
Product page: Boingo.com

Eye-Fi card

During your All You Can Jet adventure, you’ll (hopefully) be making as many photos as you can – which means your memory card will be filling up at an insane rate. For active photographers, not much beats the convenience of the Eye-Fi memory cards. These 4GB and 8GB memory cards can upload your photos any time your camera is in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Best of all, when you combine your Eye-Fi card with Devicescape and a Boingo subscription, you can turn your camera on as soon as you land at a Boingo airport, and instantly upload your photos. All without having to press a single button. Photos that have been successfully uploaded can be wiped from your card, means you’ll almost never run out of storage space.

Price: from $49.99
Product page: Eye.fi

ZAGGsparq 2.0

During your 30 days of flying, you’ll probably only have a couple of days of access to a power outlet. For the days your phone is away from AC, the ZAGGsparq 2.0 can be your new best friend. Inside this compact USB charger is a massive 6000mAh battery pack, with enough juice to keep your iPhone or other phone going for almost a full week.

Its own AC charger is built in, so as soon as your are near an outlet, plug it in, and get it back to 100% in a few hours. With its two USB ports, you can charge two devices at the same, as long as your remember to bring the right USB device cables!

Price: $99.99
Product page: www.zagg.com

HotelPal, FlightTrack Pro, TripIt

This trio of smartphone software provides the ultimate in travel support. With TripIt, you can gather all your flight plans, FlightTrack Pro keeps track of your flight status, and HotelPal lets you search and book local hotels. Seriously, load these three on your phone, and you’ll have everything you need to prevent, avert and resolve flight delays and cancellations.

To use the apps, simply forward all your confirmation emails to TripIt. TripIt will then translate all the information in the emails, and load your itineraries into its system. FlightTrack Pro then syncs with TripIt and constantly monitors for delays, cancellations, gate changes and more. FlightTrack Pro and HotelPal are available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Pro-users can even setup shared TripIt calendars, so friends and family always have easy access to their itineraries.

Price: TripIt (Free), FlightTrack Pro ($9.99) and HotelPal (Free)
Product page: Tripit.com / Mobiata.com

Briggs & Riley BRX luggage – 22″ Upright

If you are a smart planner, you’ll try to minimize your time in hotels, along with the weight of your luggage. The new Briggs & Riley BRX line of luggage takes the luxury side of Briggs & Riley, and turns it into a super-lightweight adventure style line of bags. The 22″ BRW Upright weighs just 7.5lbs, features wide all-terrain wheels, a sturdy handle and four compression straps. Its front zippered compartment holds a 16″ laptop, and thanks to its outer handle assembly, the inside is nice and flat, perfect for keeping shirts wrinkle free.

Price: $290
Product page: Briggs-riley.com

Griffin Travel Stand for iPhone and iPod

Sure, JetBlue may offer live TV and radio, but at the end of the day, there is only so much you want to watch on TV. If you’d rather sit back and enjoy your own programming, consider the compact Griffin Travel Stand for iPhone and iPod. Don’t let the name fool you, this smart gadget works with almost any smartphone, and combines a device stand with a neat headphone case.

Price: $14.99
Product page: Griffintechnology.com

Monster Beats Tour High Definition headphones

I don’t care how much of an aviation buff you are – after a couple of days, the jet noise will get to anyone. Even pilots wear good headphones, but your lightweight packing procedure won’t have enough space for a pair of bulky headphones. So, unless you want to leave your clean underwear at home, consider a pair of good quality headphones.

The Monster Beats Tour headphones block out a good amount of outside noise, while providing fantastic audio and bass. Best of all, their connector is ultra low-profile, which means it won’t stab you in the side when plugged into the seat audio jack.

Price: $179.95
Product page: Monster Beats Tour

Smartphone, iPad, netbook or laptop

Picking the best device for your trip is a tough one – everyone has different needs, and not everyone will want to be connected all the time. If you just want an affordable media player, you could consider the affordable Archos 5 series or 7 series Android tablets. For a lightweight laptop without compromises, check out the Toshiba T135. For a lightweight media tablet with fantastic app support, you’ll obviously get a lot of love out of an iPad.

Price: from $199

Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano placeshifter/streamer

This is the only product in the list that doesn’t actually travel with you. The Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano stays home, connected to your TV and cable box. With it, you can remotely watch and record anything you receive at home.

Want to watch the latest episode of your favorite show when you wait at the airport? Watch it live over the Internet, or download it to watch on your device during your flight. Want to watch live TV in your hotel room? Connect your laptop to the hotel TV and forget the lousy channels the hotel provides. Landed at your destination, and want to setup a recording? Browse the electronic program guide, and tell the Vulkano to record what you want, when you want. On-the-road entertainment doesn’t get much better than this.

With the Vulkano, you’ll be able to stop spending money on movie rentals or streaming video purchases, and get to enjoy the content you want.

Price: From $259
Product page: myvulkano.com

[Wi-Fi sign photo from Flickr/Futureshape]

Archos 7 Home Tablet review

Last week, we reviewed the Archos 5 Internet Tablet – a device that surprised us by being quite competent. In today’s review, we’ll take a closer look at the newest Android powered tablet from Archos, to determine whether bigger really is better.

On paper, the Archos 7 Home Tablet seems to be quite decent – a 7″ touch screen, USB host, 8GB of storage, a MicroSD card slot and the Android operating system. Sadly, “on paper” is where the good news ends.

The hardware is a real disappointment – it feels cheap, there is a small hole on the front where someone had obviously planned to install a webcam, and even the good things carried over from the Archos 5 have been screwed up – like the kickstand. On the Archos 5, this kickstand is a sturdy metal leg, but on the 7, it is a flimsy piece of plastic.

Then there is the screen – In order to keep the price down, Archos obviously decided on a fairly cheap screen, but in doing so, they turned the device into a major disappointment. Colors look dim, the touch sensitivity is weak and inaccurate.

Applications

Sadly, the worst part of the unit may be its software – the Archos 7 Home Tablet runs on Android 1.5 – a version that is well over a year old. And this means you miss out on a lot of the features included in current Android version. And – like the Archos 5, the 7 lacks access to the Google app market – opting to offer downloads through the awful Archos applib. This means the majority of good apps for Android are unavailable. Of course, there are ways around this, but the extra effort involved may not be worth it.

The unit comes with a very basic assortment of apps – browser, email (but no Gmail app), an e-book reader, music/video player, file browser, global time app and photo browser/photo frame.

Performance is also a major issue – some basic actions (like opening the video app) take almost 20 seconds – inexcusable on any kind of tablet. Opening a similar app on my Nexus One takes no more than 2 seconds.

Multimedia features

The Archos 7 Home Tablet comes with an Archos developed music and video player – both apps are pretty competent, albeit a tad basic. Audio is great – thanks to speakers on each side of the screen. Sadly, in their infinite wisdom, Archos removed physical volume control buttons, which means you need to tap the on-screen volume controls.

Like the Archos 5, the 7 has a good array of media format support – including MP3, OGG, FLAC,APE, WAV and ACC in the music department and H.264, Realvideo and MPEG-4 (.avi, .mp4, .mkv, .mov and .flv) in the video department.

I also noticed that the video player constantly “forgot” to play movies in expanded width – so each time I opened a video clip, I had to resize it. Not a massive inconvenience, but still something that should be fixed.

Hardware

The Archos 7 Home Tablet feels fairly well made – most of the front and back are covered in polished metal. The 8GB of memory is sufficient for a couple of movies and songs – but you’ll need to invest in a MicroSD card if you want to carry more.

Unlike most other Android devices, the 7 lacks an accelerometer – this may not seem like a huge deal, but some apps insist on starting in portrait mode, and there is no way to rotate them.

Inside the unit is a 600MHz processor, 128MB of ram and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. It lacks the video output options of the Archos 5 (and we could not confirm that is even has any kind of video output available). A “USB host” option is advertised, but you’ll need to invest in a separate cable for this, because it shares the MicroUSB port on the device. With USB host, you’ll be able to add a USB keyboard and/or mouse. Personally, I would have preferred to see Bluetooth instead, but that is sadly lacking on the 7.

For travelers

Unlike the iPad, the Archos 7 Home Tablet is the perfect size for watching a movie on a plane. Its built in (flimsy) kickstand mean you won’t have to invest in a case/stand.

Archos rate the battery at 42 hours of music playback, and 7 hours of video – making it surprisingly decent given its lightweight design.

Final thoughts

This is a tough one – at $199, you get a fairly decent 7″ media player – something you won’t find from any other brand name company. But that $199 also comes with a bunch of compromises. The screen, lack of Android market and lack of video output make it a pretty weak option in my opinion. That said – if you just want the most basic of devices that can play music and video, you can’t really find anything better right now (at least not at this price point).

Android tablets are going to be very popular – there are at least 20 of them on their way later this year, but if you can’t wait for them, this $200 investment won’t be too disappointing – assuming you only buy it for media playback or Internet browsing. A purchase expecting a full Android experience will let you down, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Archos 5 Internet tablet review – an Android powered iPad alternative?

The Archos 5 Internet tablet is the first Android powered device from this French media player company. The device features a 4.8″ touch screen, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and storage through built in memory with MicroSD expansion or hard drive storage up to 500GB.

The device runs the Android operating system, along with a whole host of Archos developed improvements and applications. The device takes the regular Android experience, and turns it into a very compact media/Internet tablet. So – can this $249.99 device really take the place of the iPad?
Multimedia features

The Archos 5 Internet tablet supports music, photos, video and online content – half of the device is a great portable media player, and the other half is a portable computer. The Archos 5 even features a built in FM radio and FM transmitter – something not found on most portable devices.

When connected to a TV, the tablet itself acts as a trackpad to control all the playback features.

Hardware

The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is extremely thin – a mere 10.4mm (0.409 inches) on the MicroSD versions, and 20mm (0.787″) on the hard drive versions. Unlike Android phones, the Archos 5 Internet tablet relies entirely on screen presses for controlling the device, though there are power and volume buttons on the top. On the left side is a MicroUSB port and a headphone jack, and on the bottom are the usual 2 ports found on most other Archos players.

Battery life is rated at up to 22 hours of music, and 7 hours of video, and in my tests this turned out to be quite accurate. When you connect the Archos to its mini dock, you can use the USB host connector to add a mouse or keyboard.

When out of range of Wi-Fi, you can also use the built in tethering feature to hook the device up to your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone.

Expansions galore

The list of available accessories for the Archos 5 includes a DVR station that turns the device into a TV recorder, a mini dock with video output, an mini HDMI dock, a mini DVR dock, a battery dock, a variety of cases and (on the non-hard drive models), MicroSD cards. Ideally, video outputs like component and HDMI would have been built into the device itself, without the need for additional accessories.

Hardcore geeks may even want to replace the Android operating system with something a little more powerful – and Archos provides all the information you need to turn the device into a dual-booting portable computer.

Prices

The cheapest Archos 5 Internet tablet comes with 8GB of storage an a MicroSD expansion slot. At $249.99 it is quite a bargain. The 16GB version is $299.99, 32GB is $379.99, 160GB is $399.99 and 500GB is $499.99.

These prices are quite good – the 8GB model may not have enough space for most people, but for around $30, you can add a 16GB MicroSD memory card.

The Archos 5 Internet tablet for travelers?

The Archos 5 has pretty much everything a traveler needs – movie and music playback, excellent browser, email client and a variety of decent Android apps. With the optional mini-dock, you can plug the Archos into a (hotel) TV, and with a USB or Bluetooth mouse/keyboard, you’ll even be able to use it as a full computer replacement. Unlike some devices, the Archos displays everything from its screen onto a TV – not just specific TV enabled apps.

In my tests in a hotel room, using the Archos 5 as an entertainment device was just fantastic – very easy to set up and a breeze to use.

A viable alternative to the iPad?

Can the Archos 5 Internet Tablet replace an iPad? In one word – maybe.

It all depends on your requirements. The Archos 5 Internet tablet will most certainly not replace your iPad if you enjoy the applications Apple offers on its devices. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of decent Android apps, but the Archos lacks access to the Android Market, opting for a specially designed app store built by Archos which does not offer access to some of the most popular Android apps.

Where the Archos beats the iPad (in my opinion) is multimedia – there is no need for iTunes to load content onto the device, and with an available 500GB version, you can carry a lot more content.

The Archos 5 Internet Tablet also has more media format support than the iPad, offering video support for MPEG-4 up to HD resolution, WMV, MKV, M-JPEG and optional support for MPEG-2, VOB and WMV HD. Music support is built in for MP3, WMA, AAC9, OGG and FLAC. The device even supports subtitle files for movies.

I also find the form factor better for travel – the iPad is a really big device, and watching a movie on it when flying just isn’t all that practical. The 5″ screen on the Archos is just right – nice and bright, and the kickstand makes it perfect for movie watching. I’ve used it on several flights, and actually enjoyed it more than using my iPad in its case.

As delivered, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet does not come with a dock or video output – so you’ll need to invest in the Archos Mini Dock ($29.95). Ideally, this should have been included with the package as it seems like such an essential device.

Final thoughts?

The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is not perfect – it suffers from a fairly mediocre touch screen and the lack of Google apps (market, Gmail) are a bit of a disappointment. That said – there is a very easy way to load these apps onto the device without having to be too much of a hacker. Obviously, this is not an Archos endorsed method, but it really does improve the device.

Video, audio and photo support is just fantastic – with its long list of formats that work, you won’t have to waste time encoding clips to work on the device.

The hardware is also very good – I love the kickstand on the back, and the general look and feel of the device shows a lot of effort went into designing it.

All in all I am quite surprised by the usability of the Archos 5 Internet tablet – so much in fact, that once I send this review unit back, I’m ordering one for myself. The unit is one of the only on the market that has so much video format support, and the option for a large hard drive. Of course, being a huge Android fan only helps my decision.

To make a great media player better, it also works very nicely for email, web and other applications – and you can even use the pre-installed navigation system to turn it into a GPS system.

When selecting an Archos 5 Internet Tablet, you’ll want to order the largest you can afford – as delivered, more than half of the space on the 8GB version is occupied by apps and demonstration content.

You can learn more about this very competent little tablet at Archos.com.

Daily gear deals – $30 carkit, $99 camcorder and more

Here are the hottest gadget deals for today, Friday June 12th 2009. Remember, these deals are often only valid for one day, so act fast before they are gone!

The first piece of gear for today is this Avantalk Bluetooth handsfree carkit for $29.24 with free shipping. It is small enough to bring along for a rental car, and will help prevent getting ticketed for talking on the phone in a state or city with handsfree laws. Click here for this deal.

Looking for the best of the best in GPS? Check out this Garmin Nuvi 855T for $360 – and before you complain that this is about $250 more than most budget GPS units, read the list of features on this amazing unit. If you really, absolutely, must have a reliable GPS system with every feature under the sun, then this is one unit worth considering. Click here for this deal.

The Archos 605 media player has it all
– 30GB storage, support for most major audio and video formats, WiFi, optional browser and a handy built-in kickstand. With its optional DVR base, it can even be turned into a video recorder. Click here for this deal.

To finish off today’s lineup of deals, check out this Sanyo Xacti 6MP digital camcorder for just $99, over at Dailysteals.com.