Turn Your Phone Into A Subway Card

If you’ve ever visited one of the more technologically advanced Asian metropolises like Tokyo or Hong Kong, you’re probably already familiar with the easy-to-use technology called RFID. It works like this – instead of paying cash for a bus or subway fare, you hold up a simple plastic card (or a chip embedded in your cellphone) to the ticket gate, and voila! You’ve paid and gotten on your way without pulling a dime out of your wallet.

Wouldn’t it be great if that same technology worked back in the USA, dear reader? Well, now you too can embed an RFID reader inside your fancy iPhone, thanks to a little creative hacking and a DIY company called Adafruit Industries. Using a relatively inexpensive tool kit sold by the company, they’ve put together the nifty video above showing how to install your very own RFID card for use with your iPhone. Not all cities have RFID payment systems, but an increasing number of American cities accept it on their mass transit systems. Care to give it a try? Check out the video above for a tutorial.

Could you live in Portland?

There will be a moment during your visit to Portland, Oregon when you’ll have an epiphany. Maybe it won’t happen during your blissful stroll through one the city’s giant public parks, your nostrils fresh with the scent of pine trees and clean air. And it might not hit you during your $3 lunch at one of Portland’s plentiful food carts, your taste buds humming to a savory, cheesy mac n’ cheese made with locally produced Tillamook Cheddar. It might not even cross your mind as you get lost in aisles of Powell’s, a temple of a bookstore that fills an entire city block. But at some point you’ll be overwhelmed by how much you’re enjoying yourself and start to wonder: could I live in Portland? Why am I not here already?

Portland is a place that seems as if it was created with travelers in mind. Everything about it, from the city’s accessible size and convenient public transportation, to its killer food and beer culture, top-notch shopping and easy access to nature, is made to appeal to the visitor in ways that feel welcoming, inspiring and surprising. In a word: wonderful. Sure, as a visitor it’s easy enough to glance over the city’s problems: the unemployment rate is currently hovering above 10%, and for much of the year the city is shrouded in a gloomy, misty haze of rain. But these facts ultimately pale in comparison to the reasons why Portland is such a forward-thinking, livable destination.

Could you live in Portland? Or maybe you’re just curious about making a visit? Keep reading below for our Portland tips.Getting in, getting around
Portland visitors will arrive at Portland International Airport (PDX), located about 45 minutes from the downtown city proper. Don’t bother with a taxi – for just over $2, you can jump on the clean, speedy Light Rail to whisk you towards downtown. Public transport is a big win here: a one-day pass covering rides on all city light rail, bus and street car lines is just $4.75. Travelers who are renting/driving a car will find there’s ample street parking, though the city does have occasional traffic gridlock (no place is without a few flaws, right?).

Portland is bisected by the Willamette River, and most addresses and neighborhoods identified by their relationship to this body of water. On the West side of the River you’ll find Portland’s main commercial center. Just North of this (in the Northwest) is the Pearl District, a humming district of art galleries, shopping and killer cuisine. In the NW, the area along 23rd Avenue is also popular for shopping.

The East side of Portland is decidedly more low-key, but definitely worth a visit. In the Northeast you’ll find plenty to check out on Mississippi Avenue. The happening Southeast is anchored by plenty of great dining and shopping along Hawthorne Boulevard.

What to do
With so much to see, eat, buy and explore in Portland, a better question for first-time visitors might be, what shouldn’t you do?

  • Have a brew – like beer? Welcome to Nirvana. Boasting one of the largest concentrations of microbreweries in the country, you’d be hard-pressed to come to Portland and not enjoy one of the town’s outstanding, locally-crafted beers.Though you can’t go wrong at most bars, spots like Deschutes, Henry’s Tavern and Laurelwood get consistently high marks.
  • Eat out – not only is Portland a great town for beer, it’s also a great town for outrageously fresh, delicious food. One of the greatest features of Portland is the city’s many cheap food carts. Ditch that bland bag lunch and track down tasty fare with the locals, like Schnitzel sandwiches and tip-top Thai food at Nong’s. At night, head to the SE for dinner at Pok Pok, one of Portland’s best restaurants.
  • Parks – Portland’s reputation for livability and beauty has a lot to do with the city’s plentiful parkland. It’s a great way to spend the day, enjoying a blissful trail hike, riding a bike or simply stopping to smell the roses. Check out Forest Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks. During the summer, stop by Portland’s Rose Garden for thousands of the colorful flowers overlooking the city’s downtown.
  • Shop local – the diversity and quality of Portland’s small-scale retail is unmatched. Visitors will be hard-pressed to track down a chain store and everywhere you look are creative, one-of-a-kind handmade goods. The mother of all bookstores is Powell’s, a modern-day “Great Library” bursting with new and used tomes. Music lovers flock to stores like Mississippi Records in Portland’s Northeast.

Killer food and drink. Blissful nature. Quirky local shopping. What’s not to like about Portland? Perhaps it’s time you came to check out this buzzing Pacific Northwest capital for yourself. But consider yourself warned – spend a weekend in Portland and you’ll come away wanting more.

Undiscovered New York: Handmade in Brooklyn

Brooklyn remains one of the more fiercely independent places in all of New York City. Although the Borough was officially incorporated into the greater city in 1898, it has long-rivaled its more popular neighbor Manhattan across the river for the tallest buildings, the most impressive parks and museums and for the ingenuity of its residents.

One of the more visible artifacts of this competitive spirit and creativity is Brooklyn’s love affair with all things handcrafted, artisanal and one-of-a-kind. What is it about Brooklyn that makes it so creative exactly? Call it a symptom of the pride Brooklyn’s residents have for their unique brownstone neighborhoods. Or chalk it up to the high creativity of the area’s many transplants from around the world. But whether it’s made-from-scratch pickles, chocolate or beer, a lovingly crafted musical instrument or quirky piece of jewelry or hooded sweatshirt, the labors of Brooklyn refuse to be homogeneous.

And what about you, dear reader – are you looking for a one-of-a-kind gift or souvenir from your visit to the Big Apple? Does the prospect of some handcrafted beer make you thirsty? Perhaps some custom-made cologne, perfume or clothing is more your style? Grab the next subway out of Manhattan: this week’s edition of Undiscovered New York is handmade, straight from Brooklyn. Click below to read more.
Handmade Gifts
They say smell is the sense most closely associated with memory – Brooklyn scent-makers at D.S. & Durga seem to have taken the idea to heart. The pair of budding smell-smiths have been producing small batch handmade colognes and perfumes since 2007, sourcing plant extracts, resins and oils from around the world. Stop by one of their Brooklyn retail outlets and pick up a custom made bottle for yourself.

While D.S. & Durga are playing around with notes of scent like citrus and ginger, the craftsmen at Sadowsky Guitars have a very different kind of note-making in mind. Though New York has a long history as a center for guitar-making companies, the team at Sadowsky operates out of a small store in Brooklyn. They have produced custom guitars, basses and audio products for such musicians as Adam Clayton from U2 and Lenny Kravitz. If it’s good enough for these accomplished axe-handlers, guitarists everywhere can bet there’s a custom guitar there waiting to built just for you.

Independent Fashion
When it comes to clothing, Brooklyn’s got a style all its own. Men and women alike swear by local clothing chain Brooklyn Industries. They stock a wide range of quirky bags, outerwear, t-shirts and dresses to suit the most discerning fashion-lovers. It’s gotten so popular you can now find retail outlets well beyond the chain’s Brooklyn home in locations as far away as Chicago and Portland.

If customization is your thing, look no further than Brooklyn favorite Neighborhoodies. The clothing chain, which lets customers design one-of-a-kind hooded sweatshirts and t-shirts emblazoned with personal messages and imagery, first got its start in this most creative of Boroughs. This isn’t your boring old iron-on we’re talking about here – the letters can be hand-stitched onto any clothing item and can include graphics like guns, monkeys and thunderbolts.

Free-form Food
As was noted in a recent article by the New York Times, Brooklyn has become ground zero for one of the country’s most interesting and creative artisanal food scenes. Passionate foodies and chefs are making just about every kind of foodstuff imaginable from scratch, including items like chocolate, cheese and pickles.

But it doesn’t stop there – beer lovers should make sure to try out one of the Borough’s several local brews. Local favorites include Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery, where visitors can take a tour and to sample a few of their recent specialities, or the Brooklyn brewers at Sixpoint Craft Ales. Meanwhile, the small-batch pickle makers of Wheelhouse crank out seasonal experimental pickle flavors like Champagne Vinegar Spears as well as standbys including Big Bang Okra and Top Shelf Beets.

Through the Gadling Lens: photo gifts for Mother’s Day

Last week, my friend Willy pinged me via instant message: “Hey, do you have any ideas on how I can share photos? I have a ton of them sitting on my hard drive doing nothing.” I know the problem: if it weren’t for the fact that I had a photoblog, I’m sure most of my photographs would never see the light of day. But since we’re approaching Mother’s Day here in the United States, it occurs to me that using your photographs for some great Mother’s Day gifts might be a cool way to share some of your best travel photos. And so this week, I thought I’d share some of the best ideas I could find for Mother’s Day. So read up and take note: time is running out.
Gifts for the Mom Who Doesn’t Understand Why, If You’re Traveling All the Time, You Can’t Stop In and See Your Mother Once In a While

Both my husband and I aren’t from the United States, and therefore, we have family all over the world. And as you can imagine, if we take a trip to somewhere other than where our family is located, they Aren’t Always Happy. So sometimes, it helps to send them lovely photographs of their children and grandchildren having Lovely Happy Family Time in far-off places, so that they can think, “Ah, well, our children are happy, that’s all that matters.”

Or something.

Anyway, here are some gifts we’ve given in the past that seem to have scored pretty high:

a) Photo books: Everywhere you turn these days, you can upload your photographs to a website or a software application, a few clicks here and there, and badda-bing, a credit card number later and a bound volume of your photographs appears at your (or your mom’s) doorstep. Most of these services even let you customize your own photo captions, with things like “Mom, as we were sitting here staring at this beautiful sunset, I was overcome with emotion thinking about the love you have shown me all these years,” or something equally heartfelt and sincere. Ahem.

Some of my favourite services:

Qoop — an online service where you can upload your photographs, or even better, simply suck them out of your Flickr account. Softbound books start from as little as US$ 12.99, and hardbound books at US$ 29.99, each of them 20 pages long. Very simple to use, and books are of decent quality.

Blurb — another online service that helps you create “bookstore quality books.” Browsing through some of their “staff picks,” and you’ll see the beautiful work that’s possible to be created using their service. Mom will definitely be impressed.

iPhoto — If you have a Mac, don’t forget the iPhoto software that came free with your computer — the software comes with free templates that help you customize your photos into softbound or hardbound books, which you can then order online.

b) Digital Photo Frames: I actually purchased one of these for my dad on a Father’s Day gone by, and this might actually be his favourite gift from me ever. This wireless photo frame has its own e-mail address, and I merely email photographs to this frame, and the photograph magically appears on his desk. This is a particularly effective if your parents also happen to be grandparents — trust me, once they receive pictures of your little cherub having the time of their life in some beautiful paradise, they’ll forgive you for traveling so much. Just Google “digital picture frame” to find the thousands available for purchase (remember, your Mom is going to have to have an internet connection to make this work).

Gifts for the Mom You’re Married To, But Now That The Baby Is Here, Who Knows When Your Next Trip Is Going to Happen

Ah, remember that wonderful trip you took — the safari, perhaps, or the mountain climbing expedition — as your last hurrah before the baby came? Nowadays, as your little bundle of joy keeps you awake at obscene hours of the morning, it might look like you may never travel like that again. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to have some prints made and featured for when the baby finally naps, and Mom has a few moments to reminisce about the intrepid old days. So in addition to the photobooks above, here are some of my favourite ideas.

a) Create a photo wall — Have a wall in your home that you’ve been wondering what to do with? Create a photo memory wall: pick some of your favourite shots from one of your previous trips, and have them printed to a similar size. Then buy some matching frames (IKEA has some great inexpensive ones, as do most hobby or craft supply stores), and arrange accordingly. For inspiration, be sure to check out some of the images on Flickr.

b) Create a photo lantern — Feeling handy? Then check out this great little do-it-yourself project courtesy of the amazing design site, decor8. The entire project takes relatively few supplies, and with the help of battery operated tea lights, your photographs will be highlighted with a warm romantic glow — a great way to feature those lovely shots you took in the back streets of Rome or from a balcony in Santorini. And with warm weather just around the corner, Mom will love sitting outside with these memories all around her. Full instructions can be found here.

Gifts for the Mom Who Is Morally Opposed to Email

Finally, perhaps the mom in your life is like mine: email’s cute and all, but nothing beats a lovely, thoughtful, handwritten note. So why not use your photographs to create stationery for your mom? There are really great services which will allow you to upload your images and create custom stationery: tiny*prints is one, for example. However, my favourite way of creating stationary is to simply print 4″x6″ prints of my favourite shots, and then purchase some blank 5″x7″ folded notecards (available at most arts & crafts stores). Then I simply adhere 8 prints on 8 notecards with 8 envelopes, tie the stack with a pretty ribbon and voila — totally personalized stationery for my mom, featuring my favourite images, from places all over the world. And trust me on this — when you give you mom this gift, and she realizes her baby made it especially for her, just like he did when he was in kindergarten? Dude, you’ll be rolling in maternal goodwill for months.

Hopefully this helped provide a few great ideas for using your travel shots for some Mother’s Day gifts. Now get out there and get your presents together — Mother’s Day is only 3 days away. And next week, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Through the Gadling Lens.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

The Frankenguide: Make your own DIY guidebook

Whenever I travel somewhere new, instead of dropping $30 on the newest Lonely Planet Wherever and lugging it around in my already-small pack, I’ll create what I call a “Frankenguide”: a mishmash, do-it-yourself collection of torn-out pages from an official guidebook, printed websites, Wikitravel guides, pages from history books, and anything else that might come in useful when I’m on the road. Bind it together with some staples or paper clips, toss it into a Zip-Lock bag, and off I go. It might not look pretty, but it gets the job done and is infinitely customizable. Here’s how you can make your own:

First start with the official guidebook. I usually go with Lonely Planet just because, but any guidebook will do — choose your favorite brand. But instead of buying a new one, I’ll opt for an older, dated model which costs a fraction of the price. The sections I pull out of the book for my Frankenguide are the timeless bits of information: historical backgrounds, landmark descriptions, stuff like that. All of the information that has an expiration date — hotel and hostel reviews, restaurant listings, and so on — stays in the Lonely Planet. Instead, I get this information from a variety of places that have less of a chance of being outdated. This means I don’t bring along Lonely Planet’s list of restaurants in San Francisco, for example, because I could easily hop on Yelp with my laptop (or the nearest Internet cafe) and figure it out as I go. Further, the guy working the newspaper stand is probably going to have a good idea of where to get the cheapest, best-tasting Dungeness crab in the area. Ask the locals.

Next I’ll go to WikiTravel and look up my destination. More often than not, there’s some extra information in the guide that I don’t really need. So instead of printing the entire thing and wasting countless sheets of paper, I’ll open up a new Word document (or whatever) and copy and paste the bits that I can use. This also allows me to format the text to suit my needs, and add pictures or maps as necessary. You can also load a book template into Word so that you can maximize the space used on each sheet of paper. Print in two columns, front and back, and fold the pages in half, book-style. Pound in a few staples, and you’ve got yourself a decent little home-made guidebook.

The rest depends on your trip, and only limited by your imagination. If your trip to San Francisco is centered around exploring the hippie culture in Haight-Ashbury, for instance, fire up Google and find articles, websites, landmark descriptions, maps, and other information that will guide you. This neighborhood guide from the Chronicle would be perfect to include, for example. Throw in some conversion charts and a list of common phrases if you’re traveling internationally.

Your final product should end up being much cheaper and lighter than a new guidebook. Further, it’ll be completely relevant, and void of any unnecessary information. Now have at it!

The image above is the remains of Lonely Planet: South India after I pillaged its pages. Click to enlarge.