My favorite travel protip

Welcome to liveblogging from SFO, which has recently announced it will provide free wifi over the whole airport!

Well, sort of. Upon logging on, I found that Tmobile is providing 45 minutes of free wifi, and after that you have to pay their daily pass fees. Oh well. 45 minutes is enough to get a blog post off.

Now, I’d like to share my best tip for long days of travel, airline or otherwise: bring a loaf of bread. On the international terminal around gate A7 in SFO is a store with a rack of Boudin sourdough bread. Whenever I fly from San Francisco to New York, I make sure to buy a half pound round loaf for $2.99. When traveling all day, a loaf of bread is the best insurance against $15 sandwiches.

This tip has saved me more than once. When I was stuck on the train between New York City and my college for two hours with no dinner last year, that loaf kept me from going crazy. The same thing happened when my friends and I were stuck waiting for customs for hours on our train to Montreal. They had teased me about the bag of mini bagels I’d been shlepping around, but they sure were thankful for it later.

Cool airport stuff found

While on my way home from my trip to the Grace Hopper Conference in Tucson this year, I got to spend plenty of time in a few different airports. While in Dallas on a layover, I saw a couple uses of technology that I thought were particularly clever.

ipod_vending_machine• Gadget Vending Machines: I know these devices are not new. I’ve gotten used to seeing iPod vending machines in shopping malls; my local Macy’s has at least one. I had never understood the appeal, though. Gadgets costing over $100 tend not to be spur-of-the-moment purchases, so why would anyone buy an iPod or a digital camera from a vending machine? I’m sure better deals can be had online. When I saw one of these machines in the airport, however, it suddenly all made sense. Considering how easy it is to lose your gadgets when schlepping through security and such, an airport is one of the few places when you might suddenly decide that you needs a new digital camera or high-end pair of headphones. (I’m not sure about the iPods, because a factory-fresh iPod wouldn’t have any music on it, making it less than useful as entertainment on a plane.) The airport creates the perfect environment of hectic transportation and emergency purchases to support these machines, and I’d never thought of that before.

Ad-Supported Public Internet: As I walked down the terminal, lamenting the lack of free wifi, I passed a kiosk offering free public internet. I thought this was strange, considering that when customers are trapped in a closed environment, like an airport (or a plane, for that matter), they usually have to pay through the nose for basics like food and internet. Intrigued, I took a closer look. It turned out this kiosk did indeed offer free internet access, and it prompted the customer to click on one of three ads on the screen to continue. It turned out that clicking on an ad started a short video, and after that, there was internet access. I didn’t test out the machine much farther than that, because who knows what kind of tracking software could have been installed. Still, I’m a fan of ad-supported services (Gmail, anyone?), and I think it’s a step in the right direction for airports to offer ad-based services rather than the digital equivalent of the $10 ham sandwich.

The 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

ghc09I spent the past four days in the company of about 1600 technical women at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Tucson, AZ, an it was an absolute blast! I attended with two of my professors and four of my classmates (none of whom had ever attended the conference before). I went into the conference thinking that it wasn’t really going to be “for me,” but that assumption was in error. There was plenty for me to participate in:

• The Companies: I knew there would be several hundred professional representatives at the conference, but I wasn’t expecting that there would be loads of professionals interesting in networking with me! I collected at least half a dozen business cards from people I’d love to work for, who actually invited me to contact them later. I also gave copies of my resume to at least four companies doing the kind of web development I want to get into when I graduate.

• The Panels: The panels, as expected, were awesome as well, though some were more awesome than others. The main problem I encountered was that the interesting panels were all at the same time, leaving me with less interesting choices at later times. A couple times, the presentations didn’t live up to the titles, either: I was very excited for the cloud computing panel, but the presenters weren’t excited at all. I ended up leaving that panel before it ended. However, the panels in which the presenter was really excited about her work were a thrill to attend. My favorites were, “Engineering Self-Organizing Systems” and “Bits and Bytes: Explaining Communications Security (and Insecurity) in Washington.”

• The Networking: While I think the Connect Project was a success overall, it could still use some improvement. The idea behind the project was to include a barcode on every conference badge, and then if you wanted to share your contact information with someone you met, you could flag down a “hopper” (conference volunteers) who would scan your badges and “connect” you. I did this several times, and I’m excited for my connections to be emailed to me so I can send notes to the people I connected with. The only problem was that it was sometimes difficult to find a hopper, and sometimes the hoppers weren’t sure how to use the scanners. I think more training is in order for next year.

• The Swag: When my professor told me to leave extra room in my bag for the swag, I don’t think I took her seriously enough. More than one girl from my school had to check a bag on the way home because they gave us so much stuff! My favorite handouts include a four-way USB splitter, a hand-cranked flashlight, shirts from Google and Microsoft, and the shoulder bag that came with the registration (which I intend to use all the time – it has a pocket for everything!).

• The Hotel: The conference itself was only one great part of this trip. The hotel that hosted the conference, the JW Marriott Starr Pass, was amazing. The landscape was breathtaking (and filled with cacti) and the food was incredible. They served us breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two days, and I couldn’t believe how delicious everything was. I guess that’s what we get for getting a spa resort.

• The Price: While registration normally cost around $500, plus hotel and travel, I was able to attend at no cost to me thanks to a combination of scholarships from the National Science Foundation and a grant from Winnifred Asprey through the Computer Science Dept. at Vassar College. Thanks so much!

    This year’s Grace Hopper was a blast, and I can’t wait to go again next year when it comes to Atlanta, Georgia. In the meantime, I picked up a bunch of ideas for blog posts, so expect to see plenty of GHC-related posts in the coming days.

    My day of travel: SFO to JFK

    airplane7:56AM, waiting in SFO to board

    I have completed the first leg of my trip: making it to the airport I’m departing from. I accomplished this via BART, which I’m a big fan of. One of the best parts about living near a BART station is easy, driving-free airport access. I’m flying Virgin America today, and if it hadn’t been in the international terminal, I could have taken the airtrain to the right one, but the SFO BART station is conveniently right inside the airport, next to the international terminal.

    Checking my bag took all of about one minute, since I pre-printed my boarding pass. The security checkpoint took a little longer. Even though there were very few people there (for a security checkpoint, anyway), the line was backed up because they were using (one of those new machines that does a full-body scan). They said no papers in the scanner, so I left my boarding pass in my bag, but then they wanted to see it when I got through the scanner. I’m not sure how they expected that to work, but they sent me to my bag to get it. It was then I found that they’d taken my bag, the new Timbuk2 bag with my computer in it, to be scanned again because I didn’t remove the computer from my bag. I was not pleased about this, because as I’ve blogged previously, one of the main selling points of this bag is that it’s TSA compliant. I will be calling Timbuk2 about this. That said, the TSA dudes were in a patient mood today, and didn’t seem to be particularly bothered that I didn’t have my boarding pass or that they couldn’t see my computer; they just asked very nicely for me to fix it, and I did.

    The last thing I did before sitting down to write this is buy a loaf of sourdough bread to last me the trip. I expect to be traveling until at least 10pm tonight, so the bread should last me the day with no time to stop for meals.

    My flight boards in 25 minutes. Here’s hoping it goes smoothly.

    11:28 PM: safely on the ground

    The flight did go safely, if not smoothly. There were a few summer storms to go through and around, so there was some turbulence. We arrived in JFK only 45 minutes late, though. I count that as not bad. I was fortunate enough to encounter a friend at the baggage carousel, and since she was planning to take a cab into the city anyway, we shared a taxi and I had an easier trip to Grand Central Station. From there, I hopped on a train back to school, and I am now settled in my dorm room, safe and sound.

    The Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 Laptop Messenger Bag

    Commute 2.0 and Mini MetroThose who know me quickly find out that I am a big fan of Timbuk2 messenger bags. I’ve had a small Classic Messenger since high school, and last year I bought one of their Mini Metro bags while it was on clearance. The Mini Metro makes the perfect everyday purse, and the Classic Messenger held books and things going between classes these past two years. Both bags have served me well. My favorite part is how much stuff they hold: my Classic Messenger holds almost as much gear as a school backpack, and the Mini Metro not only accommodates all my personal items, but also is capable of holding a jacket if I want to take it off or need one for later. Timbuk2 is even based in San Francisco; what more could I ask for?

    Alas, for the past two years, my laptop has been missing out on the action. I have a separate laptop bag I’ve toted it around in, but when I need to bring both books and my computer somewhere, I either have to stuff both into one bag (not safe for the laptop) or carry both the laptop tote and a bag of books (not fun for me).

    The great news is that Timbuk2 introduced the Commute 2.0 (a redesign of their original Commute bag) last June, and ever since I saw the announcement, my laptop has begging for it. I held off for a while until they came up with a few new colors, but yesterday I went to their flagship store in San Francisco and bought it in black with the intention of decorating it somehow (probably with silver sharpies or pins). Now I will be able to carry both my computer and my textbooks to class without endangering the computer.

    Commute 2.0 (open)The big selling point of this bag is that it is TSA compliant, meaning that I do not have to remove my laptop from the bag at the TSA checkpoint when I carry my computer on a plane. Here’s how it works: the computer goes into a self-contained compartment on the back of the bag. When you get to the security checkpoint, you unzip the compartment and lay the bag flat open like a book, so that there is no metal above or below the computer (the image makes it a lot clearer). I will have the opportunity to test this ability when I fly to New York on Friday, and I’m excited not to have to dig in my overstuffed backpack to pull the laptop out, and then spend 10 minutes trying to stuff it back in afterward.

    Other perks include:

    • More pockets than I ever could have expected (I count 17 individual compartments)
    • Exterior water bottle pocket (though I think I’ll use it for my phone)
    • Included grab handle on the top and comfort pad on the strap
    • Reflector tabs for visibility at night
    • Promoting SF-made products

    I’m very excited to have bought this bag before going back to school; we’ll see how it holds up in an actual educational environment. I’d love to hear any ideas on how I should decorate it; expect pictures on how that turns out!