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.

Mobile Phone Use While Flying: Not All That Popular Says Survey

Just when those who would like to use their mobile phone in the air get a break, a new survey says most travelers would prefer that they keep it turned off.

Not long ago, Virgin Atlantic announced it would allow mobile phone calls during flights on its London to New York route. Calls made will cost £1 a minute and a text will be 20 pence, much more than on the ground but worth it to those who need uninterrupted communications ability.

But a new survey from flight comparison site Skyscanner has revealed 86 percent of those surveyed said it would be “annoying to listen to other people’s conversations” reports Caribbean News Digital.

“In a world where we are now almost always ‘on call,’ it seems people don’t want to say good-bye to their last sanctuary of non-connectivity,” says Sam Baldwin, Skyscanner Travel Editor. “Flying allows us to switch off for a few hours, both from our own calls, and other people’s.”

Even those who like the idea of using their mobile phone in the air are not all that excited about it. Only 1 percent of respondents said they would actually pay more to fly with an airline that offered mobile call ability – surely not enough to get airlines in the mood to offer it.
The Skyscanner survey also revealed 48 percent said they would send texts, 35 percent said they would surf the web, 10 percent would send email, but only 6 percent would actually make and take calls.

[Flickr photo by Tim Psych]

Gadling Gear Review: Mobius Solar iPhone Battery/Charger

I kind of hate how much I love my iPhone. It’s not right and yes, I’m addicted to it and shut up, don’t you have something else to give me a hard time about? Like my social media addiction, which also, you could leave me alone about because it’s a critical part of how I make a living, so back off already.

Plus, it was super cool when, thanks to the wonders of my phone, a roaming data plan, and the fact that Tanzania is dotted with cell phone towers even though there seemed to be a scarcity of power outlet, I could shoot video of the landscape in the Serengeti or the road to Arusha and then, whoa, upload it so my pals on Twitter could see it, like, right away. That’s just freaking magical.

The thing is, that social media/cell phone addiction keeps me tethered to a power source and that can be kind of limiting. Hey, even when you’re in a highly developed place, sometimes the rental car doesn’t have an outlet and you forgot your car charger and you’ve burned up your battery trying to find directions to the B&B. What I’m saying is this: It’s easy to chew through the juice you’ve got on your phone and not always easy to re-juice it.

I actively disliked the last solar charger I tried, it didn’t work well as a case and it took too long to grab what limited power we get from the sun in the winter at home. I was keen to try out something new, that’s how I ended up with the solar iPhone charger/case/battery from Mobius. I like this one considerably better, but it’s still got some flaws.

First, the good stuff. It works well as a case. It’s got a fairly efficient solar panel compared to the other model I tried. It charges over a standard mini to USB connector so you can use your laptop or that little USB plug thingy that comes with your iPhone to charge it. It’s a little bulky, but because you can use it to hold your phone, it’s not just some random extra gadget kicking around. It doubles the usage you get out of your phone — nice if you’re shooting video, uploading fat files, playing lots of music and podcasts, the “beyond phone calls” stuff that keeps junkies like me handcuffed to our cell phone overlords.Now, the stuff I didn’t love. I keep wanting these things to be smaller — it’s a little bulky. I realize I may be just waiting for the future, I’m aware of that. The phone gets confused if I connect the charger cable while the case is in it and tells me that “charging isn’t supported.” This means if I want to charge the batter via an outlet, I have to remove the phone. I wish it used the connector that Apple uses because man, I am tired of dragging hundreds of yards of connector cables around the planet.

All that said, I think the Mobius charger is a great improvement over my last test run on a similar gadget. And I love that fact that it helps free me from the dearth of outlets that’s a scourge on my power and media addicted soul. If I’ve got the case out in daylight, it’s doing its bit to recharge and keep me connected. I like that. Whether that’s a good thing or not is another issue entirely, but as far as enabling my addiction goes, this device is doing its job.

Shop around. If you buy it directly from the folks that make it, it’s about 80 dollars, but I’ve seen it for 60 in other online markets.

Aquarium crocodile swallows cell phone

A visitor to an aquarium in the Ukraine was trying to take a picture of a crocodile with her cell phone when she dropped it right into the creature’s mouth, the BBC reports.

Last month at an aquarium in Dnipropetrovsk, Rimma Golovko reached her hand towards Gena the crocodile in order to get a good shot as it opened its mouth. She fumbled and the phone fell right into the Gena’s gullet. The reptile then gulped it down. She told the aquarium staff but at first they didn’t believe her. It was only after Gena’s tummy starting ringing that they realized the crocodile had, indeed swallowed the cell phone.

Funny? Well, yeah, but not for the croc. Gena has since lost its appetite and energy. Considering all the harmful chemicals involved in making a cell phone (they’re considered hazardous waste, after all) it’s not surprising the critter is feeling a little under the weather.

The aquarium’s vet has tried giving Gena laxatives-laced meat, but the it didn’t take the bait. Now he’s considering an operation.

And Ms. Golovko? She says she wants her Sim card back. Well, too damn bad, Ms. Golovko. I’m sympathizing with the giant predator on this one.

[Photo courtesy user MathKnight via Wikimedia Commons]

Ask Gadling: What do you do when your guidebook is wrong?

Ever bought a guidebook and discovered when you arrived it was useless? Full of outdated maps and ho-hum restaurant picks, your guidebook is better suited for Grandma’s group tour than a grand night on the town.

Rest easy, mindful traveler. Rather than being something to worry about, discovering your guidebook is awful should actually be cause to celebrate. In fact, you might as well chuck that lousy thing out your hotel window.

Here’s the truth: for anyone looking to add a dose of spontaneity, authentic local culture and plain old randomness to their travels, going guidebook-free is a blessing in disguise. Still not convinced? In an era of ever-present Internet and cheap mobile phones, you’re never more than a step away from all the information you’ll ever need. Keep reading below for four ways to get rid of those guidebook woes, once-and-for-all.Enjoy the Randomness
Wait a second. An expert travel site is telling me to spend my hard-earned vacation wandering around aimlessly, with no plan whatsoever? Yes. Travel isn’t just about checking sights off a list. It’s about immersing yourself in an experience totally different than what you’re used to at home. The best way to do that is to lose the guidebook and get lost. Walk down a street you don’t recognize. Get on a city bus that you don’t know the destination. Talk to a random stranger. Do anything really. The point is that without a plan, you’re all the more likely to have rewarding, unexpected experiences. They might not end how you “planned” – but all the better.

Pull out your mobile phone
In an era of super-smart Internet-ready mobile phones, guidebooks aren’t just out of date: they’re downright obsolete. Whether you need the public transit schedule in San Francisco, are looking to track down some good Cuban food in Miami or want instant translations of a foreign language menu, a mobile phone with a data connection can likely find you the answer. From Augmented Reality to Location Services, mobile phones have become the new guidebook. Best of all, they’re a guidebook that fits comfortably in your pocket.

Ask a local
You won’t find the best tips for a destination in a guidebook. Instead, savvy travelers know to ask the locals. Even if you think you know your destination’s most important sites, locals will often suggest off-the-beaten activities and unexpected highlights that even the most detailed up-to-date guidebook would never find. What if you don’t know any locals in your destination? Not a problem. Either strike up a conversation when you arrive (don’t worry, they won’t bite) or use web tools like Twitter, Facebook or Couchsurfing to ask around for help. Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, you’ll have a local showing you around in no time.

Not loving your guidebook? Perhaps it’s time you gave it up. These days, with help from technology, local expertise and a little willingness to be surprised, traveling without it is easier and more enjoyable than you think.

[Photo by Flickr user Matt Murf]