Teaching Geography With Google Maps

Travelers aren’t born, they’re raised.

Last week we talked about how to connect with your kids while you’re away traveling. There are plenty of ways to get them interested in this great big world of ours while you’re both at home too. One of the best and easiest ways to fire their imagination is with Google Maps.

Like many good ideas in our family, my seven-year-old son thought of it first. He’s recently gotten into Internet Radio, especially Tonik Radio out of Dublin. Tonik and most other stations show a Google map with pointers to where their listeners are. I find it kind of freaky that our house is clearly indicated on a map for all the other listeners to see. The kid just thinks it’s cool. He’s of a generation that has always known the Information Age and thus has a whole different attitude towards privacy.

So as he listens to House and Trance he surfs the globe, looking up where the other Tonik Radio listeners are–the cluster of fans in Dublin, the farmer in Israel, and the guy in the apartment block in Sterlitimak, Russia. Zooming in with the power of satellite photography, he can see what far-off countries look like from above. In some places he can even use Google Street View.

Once he gets bored hunting down his fellow radio fans, he starts exploring the Terra Incognita of the spaces between the points. This week he conducted a close-up survey across the Pacific and happened upon the Johnston Atoll, a lonely little former U.S. military base that I had never heard of.

I also show him places where I’ve been. He got an aerial view of the amusement park in Baghdad where I ate mazgouf. When the satellite took its photo, a small plane was flying over the riverside park and left its shadow on the water of the Tigris. A week later I came into my office and he’d found it again. He’s learning to navigate.

I can even show him my past, hovering with him above the Danish farm where I was an exchange student back in my teens. I brought him up the country lane to the nearest highway and its bus stop, the same route I rode with my bike when I wanted to go to Slagelse, the nearest town. The hedge and ditch where I hid my bike before I caught the bus are still there.

Strangely, this obsession with the computer hasn’t killed his interest in regular maps or his light-up globe. So if you have a young kid who’s curious about the world, try surfing Google Maps. It’s more than a bit Orwellian, but it’s a lot of fun.

Image courtesy Google Maps, copyright 2011.

Galley Gossip: Can Passengers View Pornography on the Airplane?

Photo courtesy: Bekathwia

From time to time I get questions from readers who want to know what the rules are regarding viewing pornography in flight now that Wi-Fi is available on board most airplanes. Thankfully, it hasn’t been much of an issue (knock on wood). But planes are crowded, personal space barely exits, and when passengers do things they shouldn’t, well, they usually get caught.

Last week on a flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale, a coworker had to ask a 10-year-old boy to turn off the erotica and to fasten his seatbelt. On either side of him sat his younger brother and sister. Across the aisle were his parents who had no idea what was going on until we informed them why he may have been holding the computer screen so close to his face. On a different flight another passenger was caught reading a Playboy Magazine. Next to him sat his young son. What gave this man away was the opened centerfold he was eyeing up and down. When a flight attendant politely asked him to put it away, he yelled at her for embarrassing him.

How common is it to see someone watching something rather risqué on a laptop, iPad, tablet or even the in-flight entertainment system in the air? I can only think of a few instances I’ve seen something that might raise a few eyebrows. When this happens, I’ll gently inform the passenger that there are children on board and remind them that other passengers seated nearby might find what they’re viewing distasteful. Nine times out of ten they’ll either fast forward through the scene or turn it off – end of story.

Do passengers ever complain about the content of something that a different passenger is watching? I’ve never had anyone rat someone out for watching pornography in flight. But I do get a lot of complaints about kids watching movies or playing video games that are too loud. Most parents forget to bring headphones for their little ones. I always hate having to tell a nice family to turn it down, but rules are rules and they apply to everyone, even those under 2 feet tall.

Is there a firm policy on how to handle passengers who are watching adult content openly? Pornography is not allowed on the airplane. If a flight attendant does come across it, we’ll discreetly ask the passenger to put it away. If that doesn’t work, we might issue a written warning. The warning informs the passenger what will happen if they choose not to comply. Refusing to obey crew instruction is a federal offense.

Bletchley Park: see where codebreakers listened in on the Third Reich

You’d never know by looking at the cluster of nondescript buildings that they were the scene of the single most important effort to defeat Nazi Germany. During World War Two, Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, England, was home to thousands of code breakers listening in on and analyzing German military transmissions. The site was so secret that its existence wasn’t revealed to the world until the 1970s.

It was here that the famous German Enigma and Lorenz code machines were broken, allowing the Allies to follow German troop, air, and naval movements. It’s impossible to say just how much this helped the war effort, but one intelligence historian, Sir Henry Hinsley, estimated it shortened the war by up to four years.

The work on Enigma was actually started by the Polish Cipher Bureau, which broke the Enigma code five weeks before the war started. They shared the information with their British and French counterparts. Although Poland was soon overrun, many Poles fled to the UK to continue the fight. The Poles also sent over a cloned version of the Enigma machine, which proved invaluable.

Of course the Third Reich continued to improve and change the Enigma code, but this early head start helped the Allies keep listening. The Polish machine was later used as the basis for the “Bombe”, a more sophisticated machine the British used to decipher Enigma transmissions. It’s shown above in this photo courtesy Tom Yates.

More than 12,000 people worked at Bletchley Park at some time during the war, the majority of them women. Cryptographers were recruited from universities as well as more unusual sources such as chess clubs. Basically anyone who had a knack for puzzles was considered desirable. In one famous incident, the Daily Telegraph hosted a contest to see who could solve their crossword in under 12 minutes. The fastest winners were offered a job.

Despite its obvious historic importance, the site has been struggling with funding for a long time. Now it’s had a change of fortune, with a £4.6 million injection courtesy the Heritage Lottery Fund and the listing of its Block C as a Grade II building, meaning it will be preserved for all time. Block C housed the massive library of punch cards used by Colossus, the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer. Colossus was used to analyze the sophisticated German Lorenz code.

Today most of the original buildings are open to the public and tell the story of the secret fight against the Axis powers. The original buildings house a wonderland of old tech, as you can see in the gallery to this article. The site also houses the National Museum of Computing and the Radio Society of Great Britain. Bletchley Park is within walking distance of Milton Keynes station, making it an easy day trip from London.


Galley Gossip: Electronic devices & the passenger with the cat-like reflexes

When a passenger said to me with a straight face that he had cat-like reflexes, I tried not to laugh. Only it’s impossible not to laugh when a person says something like this, and actually means it. FYI: I’ve been around a lot of passengers and I have yet to meet one with these kind of reflexes. At least not in this day and age of distracted air travel.

How did I meet my funny feline friend? We had just touched down at La Guardia airport in New York. While taxiing to the gate, I spotted him, a business man, sitting in the aisle seat of the last row of coach with a mammoth-sized computer resting on his lap, fingers typing away.

From the back of the airplane over the roar of the engine, I called out, “Sir, excuse me, Sir! “

Either he couldn’t hear me or assumed I was speaking to someone else. I unbuckled my belt and gently tapped him on the shoulder. “You’re not supposed to be using that right now.”

Fingers continued to peck at the keys. Eyes remained glued to the screen. “I thought we were allowed to use electronic devices after landing.”

“It’s okay to use your cell phone after landing, but not a computer. That should be off and stowed.”

On a mission, the fingers kept moving. “I’m….almost…done.”

Almost was not soon enough.

“Do you know why you’re supposed to have that stowed?” I asked. Finally the fingers came to a stop, and for the first time during the course of a two and a half hour flight, the gentleman and I made eye contact. “If there’s an emergency and I have to pop the slide and evacuate this plane, you’re going to waste a lot of precious time fumbling around with that fifty pound laptop! Do you think your neighbor wants to gets blocked in, or worse, whacked in the head? Also what if I need your help?!”

Sheepishly he smiled. “What if I told you I have cat-like reflexes.”

And there you have it. That’s how this passenger, a middle-aged man, became known as The Cat Man. As for his amazing reflexes, I’d seen them in action and I was not at all impressed. During the flight when I went to put a cup of club soda down on his tray table, I had to wait a few minutes for him to figure out what to do with the laptop. And the Blackberry. And the other Blackberry.

On a recent flight a first class passenger thought nothing of pulling out his cell phone and texting while I stood right in front of him demonstrating the safety announcement! Another chatted away in coach as we turned onto the runway. “I heard you!” barked a woman when I asked her to turn off a game boy. Now I had already asked her twice to put it away and I kinda-sorta needed to take my jump seat before takeoff, so now wasn’t a good time to discuss why she couldn’t keep it in “airplane mode.”

Last week on a flight from New York to Aspen, after the lights were turned to bright and the flight attendant in charge made the announcement about turning electronic devices off, stowing bags, and putting seat backs in the upright and locked position, I went through the cabin and row by row had to practically invite each and every passenger to do as they were told – not once, but a few times! No joke, my four year-old has better listening skills than most of the adults on this flight. And there were 124 passengers on board! Never in my life has it taken me so long to prepare a cabin for landing! Because some of these passengers had more than one electronic device in use, I couldn’t get their attention, and when I finally did, they still couldn’t grasp what I was saying. I had to resort to a game of charades. Try acting out “head phones off. Power down computer” twenty times in flight and you’ll know what it’s like to be me.

Now when I encounter these kind of passengers, I can’t help but think of my old friend and his not-so cat-like reflexes. But instead of laughing, I feel more like hissing and scratching. Just consider yourself warned.


Photo courtesy of Svacher

SkyMall Monday: USB Cup Warmer

Is coffee part of your morning routine? Do you need coffee to wake up in the morning? Do you tell people not to talk to you until you’ve had your third cup of coffee? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you most certainly have a caffeine addiction. Don’t worry, I’m not judging. I don’t drink coffee, but most of my friends do. I’m used to them making me stop at coffee shops with them so that they can get their fix. Heck, my girlfriend starts everyday here at SkyMall Monday headquarters by brewing herself a cup. So, I’m familiar with coffee culture. That means I’m also familiar with the delightful grimace that coffee drinkers make when they take a sip of coffee that has gotten cold. Cold coffee means another trip to the cafe, break room or kitchen. It’s wasted time (that non-coffee drinks spend resenting you). Thankfully, SkyMall has a way to extend the life of your coffee while you’re working. The next time you’re trying to stay productive, keep your coffee warm with the USB Cup Warmer.Now, you can keep your coffee close, warm and delicious. And you can finally force your computer to maximize its power output. It’s about time your computer started supplying power to something useful. The time you used to spend disposing of cold coffee can now be dedicated to churning out TPS reports and attending extra conference calls. Won’t that be awesome?

Think that only approved office electronics should be plugged into your computer? Believe that insulated coffee mugs are all that you need to keep your coffee hot and fresh? Well, while you figure out what’s in non-dairy creamer, we’ll be reading the product description.

This USB Powered Beverage Warmer can keep your beverage, coffee or tea hot all morning long. Since it’s powered from your computer’s USB port it doesn’t require batteries! You’ll be able to keep your drink warm and a safe distance away from your valuable computer with the USB Powered Beverage Warmer’s 56 inch long USB cable.

In addition to keeping your beverage warm, this amazing USB Powered Beverage Warmer also includes four USB ports so you can connect even more USB devices to your computer.

Who doesn’t want an extra almost five-foot-long cord on their desk? At least it keeps your coffee away from any valuable electronics. Unless, of course, you plug some valuable electronics into one of the four additional USB ports. But why would you do that? Because you can? Hogwash!

It seems to me that you have only two choices: Quit drinking coffee (and having stained teeth and horribly offensive breath) or keep your coffee hot with a USB Cup Warmer. I think your decision is pretty obvious. Enjoy this riveting video of your next SkyMall purchase!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.