World’s Oldest Souvenirs Included All Kinds Of Contraband

berlin wall fragment
Garry Wilmore, Flickr

Who here doesn’t have a collection of mini monuments, fridge magnets, key rings and mugs collected on vacation? For as long as humans have been traveling, we’ve had an inexplicable urge to bring back some sort of object that reminds us of our trip, and that’s the focus of a new exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But don’t be fooled, you won’t find any mugs or magnets here.

The collection displays some of the world’s oldest souvenirs and harks back to a time when travelers clearly didn’t have to contend with airport customs officials. You see, back in the early days, there were no souvenir shops attached to museums where you could pick up your trinkets, so tourists eager for a knick-knack just took whatever they wanted. On display is one traveler’s souvenir of a napkin that belonged to Napoleon, and another tourist’s odd collection of hair, including tresses that belonged to George Washington.Other souvenirs that would clearly be illegal to buy or take today include pieces of the Berlin Wall, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and a piece of marble chipped off the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that we started catching on that taking home actual relics and historical objects was a bad idea, and it was this realization that sparked a boom in souvenirs — as shops started manufacturing the kitsch Eiffel Tower statues and collectible teaspoons that we know today.

Still, the abundance of souvenir shops doesn’t stop some travelers from collecting their own unique mementos. Last year, Rome chastised tourists for stealing bits of the city’s cobblestone roads and mosaics, while in Dublin, religious relics were stolen from a historic church. In South Australia, someone managed to walk away with the bones and jaw of a whale that was on display in a tourist park, though at two meters long, we’re not sure exactly how they stuffed that into their luggage.

Do you know of any other strange souvenirs that travelers have collected?

Undiscovered New York: Christmas display spectacle in Dyker Heights

Welcome to this week’s edition of Undiscovered New York. The holidays are nearly upon us here in New York, and like much of the rest of the country, the city is in full-on holiday mode. The giant tree is lit in Rockefeller Center, the holiday gift merchants are out in Union Square, and the 50 foot tall animatronic Santas, synchronized light shows and guerilla armies of toy soldiers are waiting out in the Dyker Heights.

Few places on earth can match the pure Christmas zeal of Dyker Heights, a residential neighborhood located in the southwestern Brooklyn. Each year this largely Italian-American community competes to win bragging rights for the title of biggest and best Christmas display. Residents will stop at just about nothing to prove their decorating prowess. Displays include everything from neon-lit manger displays to giant Santas plus enough decorative Christmas lights per square inch power a small country.

The displays are so huge that Dyker Heights has created a mini-cottage tourist industry during the holiday season. Each December as many as 100,000 visitors make the trek to this far flung neighborhood to check out the lights and have their pictures taken among the outlandish and festive decorations.

Are you Christmas crazy? Will you be visiting New York this holiday season? Why not make the trek out to Brooklyn for one of New York’s most unique Christmas spectacles? Click below to learn how to get there and see some video footage from a special Dyker Heights holiday visit by none other than Conan O’Brien.
Where do I find the displays?
The epicenter of the Dyker Heights spectacle is 84th Street, with many of the houses enclosed in the blocks between 80th and 86th Streets and 10th to 13th Avenues putting up some kind of display. Here’s a map to help you get your bearings. Though the most convenient way to get to Dyker Heights is by driving, enterprising visitors can also take the R Train to 86th Street in Brooklyn. Just look for the giant Christmas toddler and polar bear display and you’ll know you’ve made it.

Is it really worth checking out?
Check out this segment from Conan O’Brien if you need any further motivation to go check out the Dyker Heights Christmas spectacle:

Virtual exhibition: Calling all Paolo Coelho fans

If you’ve read the The Alchemist and want to be a subject of a virtual art exhibition hosted by the man himself — Paolo Coelho — the process couldn’t be easier. Send a picture of you reading the book, and voila, you will forever be part of virtual art history!

The exhibition is to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Alchemist, that has till date sold a 100 million copies. Holy gonzoly. So far, 38 people have sent in some cool photos of them reading the book; the photos will be uploaded for the rest of the year.

Coelho is quite the tech-savvy writer dude. He keeps a regular blog, and has the occasional vlog. Obviously, he understands the importance of connecting with his readers, and enjoys the process too.

So take that picture and send it in to: paulocoelhocovers[at]gmail.com, perhaps you will be displayed in a gallery somewhere someday! If you don’t have the Alchemist on hand, any of his books will do. Coelho wants to see your face, so be careful not to cover it with his book, and don’t stress about quality.

(In the image, I’m holding his book Eleven Minutes, one I enjoyed way more than The Alchemist. I haven’t read any others. Urrr…yup, I’m going to send it in.Cheap thrills.)

Photo of the Day (6/26/08)

The winner of our photo of the day for today is from Dave and Chi who captured this display from the annual fireworks competition just outside of Paris in Chantilly. He calls it “Nuit de Feu – Yellow Sky”

Amazingly, our crew ALMOST went to this display on June 14th. I had plans to capture just this kind of picture. But I know that Dave and Chi probably did a much better job than I could. There’s always next year, I guess. Now that I see his pictures, I really think we should have checked it out.

Congratulations Dave and Chi! They even blogged about the experience.

Are you a Flickr user who’d like to share a travel related picture or two for our consideration? Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!

Review: 3M Computer Privacy Filter

Not too long ago, I mentioned 3M Computer Privacy Filters. Remember? The filters are thin plastic sheets that attach to your computer monitor so the display is only visible to someone directly in front of the screen. (You can see the effect in the pictures above.) They’re perfect for business road warriors who want to keep their sensitive work away from those pesky corporate spies.

I picked one up the other day for my traveling laptop, and I’ve been quite pleased with the results. I took a few photos of the privacy filter in action, and you can check them out after the jump.

3M offers their privacy filters in sizes ranging from 12.1″ to 20.1″ with formats cut to fit both standard and widescreen displays. I picked up a 14.1″ standard aspect privacy filter from an office supply store for about $60.

My laptop display is only 10.6″, so I had to cut the filter down to size. It’s fairly easy to trim the soft plastic to the correct size, but I had some problems with my slide cutter. (You’ll be able to see my horrible cutting job in the close-ups.)


Installing a privacy filter is quite simple. Simply affix the included plastic clips (above) along the sides of the computer display. (The clips attach to the display with a weak adhesive that won’t leave a mark if removed.) Then, slide the privacy filter in front of your display using the clips to hold the plastic sheet in place.

The plastic sheet does not cling or adhere to your screen at all. It stays in place because of the clips. This makes it convenient to remove and install the privacy filter by sliding it in and out of the clips.


Here is the privacy filter in place over the display. The plastic clips hover over parts of the viewable image, but they’re not very intrusive. I rarely notice them when I look at my screen.


You will lose a bit of brightness when you place the privacy filter over your display. (Screen shown with the privacy filter over half of the monitor.) If you’re used to a radiant screen, you will probably want to turn your brightness settings up a step or two to match the old light level. Of course, turning up the backlight will reduce your average battery running time.


The privacy filter isn’t perfect. Here is a view of the display from 45 degrees to the left which is about the angle at which someone on an airplane would see your screen. Some of the image is still visible, but most of it is obscured. Click on the image to get a larger view.


The image completely disappears if the display is viewed at more than 45 degrees.

Pros:

  • It works. Your display is obscured from view from a little over 45 degrees to the left and right.
  • Easy to install and remove. Just place the plastic clips around the display and slide the filter in or out.
  • Lots of standard sizes. Filters are available for both standard and widescreen formats for screens sized 12.1″ to 20.1″.

Cons:

  • Partially viewable at about 45 degrees. The privacy filter would work great in a coffeehouse setting, but it’s not complete protection from nosy neighbors sitting right next to you.
  • Reduced brightness. A filter will capture a bit of the light from your display. This might lead to reduced battery time if you turn up your backlight brightness.
  • Cost. A 14.1″ filter cost me a hefty $60.
  • No odd sizes. There are privacy filters to fit most monitor sizes, but if you have a sub-notebook, you’ll have to do a bit of trimming.

Sure, I may have listed more cons than pros, but I still recommend the 3M Computer Privacy Filter. (Those cons are mostly nit-picks.) It gets the job done, and I never have to think about annoying people watching me work. You might have some picture leakage if someone is sitting very close to you, but that person will only see about 20% of the actual screen.

You can find these privacy filters online or in any fine office supply store.