Mid-Year Update

It’s been just about a year since I bought this domain (just renewed). I’d planned on spending more time updating this blog, but you know how it is. I’m still on the move, but my plan is to spend a few months in a single place soon to catch up, so who knows slimming tablets. Optimism!

I’ve been using Foursquare to keep track of my travels, and one thing I thought that might be fun is posting a chronological list of where I’ve been this year. As of today (day 229 of the year), I’ve passed through at least 123 cities:

千代田区, 日本
三鷹, 日本
新宿区, 日本
東京, 日本
渋谷区, 日本
港区, 日本
長野市, 日本
名古屋, 日本
大阪市, 日本
京都市, 日本
渋谷区千駄ヶ谷, 日本
成田市, 日本
Los Angeles, United States
Santa Monica, United States
New York, United States
Brooklyn, United States
Venice, United States
Culver City, United States
San Francisco, United States
Palo Alto, United States
Sunnyvale, United States
Menlo Park, United States
Mountain View, United States
Oakland, United States
Portland, United States
Westchester, United States
Sepang, Malaysia
Singapore, Singapore
Tullamarine, Australia
Melbourne, Australia
East Melbourne, Australia
Richmond, Australia
Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand
Milford Sound, New Zealand
Te Anau, New Zealand
Manapouri, New Zealand
Tuatapere, New Zealand
Invercargill Central, New Zealand
Invercargill, New Zealand
Tokanui, New Zealand
Purakaunui, New Zealand
Chaslands, New Zealand
Kaka Point, New Zealand
North Dunedin, New Zealand
Dunedin, New Zealand
Frankton, New Zealand
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Mount Cook Village, New Zealand
Mount Cook, New Zealand
Wanaka, New Zealand
West Coast, New Zealand
Franz Josef, New Zealand
Hokitika, New Zealand
Punakaiki, New Zealand
Cape Foulwind, New Zealand
Murchison, New Zealand
Motueka, New Zealand
Kaiteriteri, New Zealand
Marahau, New Zealand
Stepneyville, New Zealand
Nelson, New Zealand
Havelock, Marlborough Sounds,New Zealand
Picton, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand
Te Aro, New Zealand
Karori, New Zealand
Otaki, New Zealand
Himatangi, New Zealand
Ohakune, New Zealand
Wairakei, New Zealand
Taupo, New Zealand
Waikite Valley, New Zealand
Waiotapu, New Zealand
Rotorua, New Zealand
Papamoa Beach, New Zealand
The Mount, New Zealand
Whangamata, New Zealand
Hahei, New Zealand
Haruru, New Zealand
Waitangi, New Zealand
Mangonui, New Zealand
Ahipara, New Zealand
Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Matakohe, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand
Manukau, New Zealand
Isla Mujeres, México
Tulum, México
Cancún, México
Gardermoen, Norge
Paris, France
Versailles, France
Paray-Vieille-Poste, France
El Prat de Llobregat, España
Hospitalet de Llobregat, España
Tossa de Mar, España
l’Escala, España
Cadaqués, España
Girona, España
Barcelona, España
Valencia, España
Madrid, España
Rygge, Norge
Moss, Norge
Flåm, Norge
Voss, Norge
Myrdal, Norge
Urnes, Norge
Jostadel, Norge
Bergen, Norge
Haljem, Norge
Stavanger, Norge
Kastrup, Danmark
København, Danmark
Frederiksberg, Danmark
Papirøen, Danmark
Potsdam, Deutschland
Berlin, Deutschland
Shelton, United States
Stratford, United States
Queens, United States

Best Purchase of 2015 So Far

Tokyo gets insanely dry in the winter, especially with an air-heater running. Behold, the <a href="http://www.amazon Web Site.co.jp/gp/product/B00G6EXQFK”>portable USB-powered humidifier, the best ¥1000 I’ve spent this year:

USB Powered Humidifier

Taipei Field Notes

My parents are from Taiwan, and historically I made it back there once every few years, mostly staying with or visiting relatives. I speak some (very poor) Mandarin Chinese (the official language) and slightly better Taiwanese (basically Hokkien/Fujian Hua). Earlier this year I visited for about a month total in my initial leg of my Asia trip.

Taipei is pretty familiar to me so it didn’t really occur to me to write a guide, but since I’m back, I figured I might as well type up some thoughts.

<a title="Morning Light" href="http://www.flickr slimming pills that work.com/photos/35034345551@N01/12601850315/” rel=””>Morning Light

General

  • Taipei can best be summed up as “convenient” – while Tokyo’s konbini/vending machine culture may be slightly more so, you can’t complain about the average 2 24hr convenience stores/block. ATMs are open 24/7 and everywhere, and public transit (and aptly named EasyCard system) is great.
  • While Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries on earth, and Taipei is cosmopolitan and bustling, it rarely feels as cramped/crowded as say Tokyo, Shanghai, or Hong Kong. There’s a surprising amount of greenery scattered around, and less traffic than you might expect.
  • Sadly, and this really is the biggest drawback for me personally, the mosquitoes are out of control here. Mosquitoes love me, so even in the “off” season I’ll attract their attention, but Taipei/Taiwan is pretty warm and wet, and doesn’t embrace the sort of extreme pest controls that say Singapore does. While I’ve never gotten anything like Dengue Fever (outbreaks are usually more common in the south), Taiwanese mosquitoes tend to give me ridiculously large/inflamed/itchy welts.
  • Wintertime is the best time to travel to Taiwan – right now it’s balmy, not too humid, and ~75F. Perfect, really.
  • Cost of living is generally about half of major cities in the US. Rent is a fair amount cheaper than LA (although buying property may be more expensive), and food costs are significantly less. While the economic growth has been pretty blah, especially for young people, even those working the lowliest service jobs can make a living wage.
  • One exception to costs is for hard goods (electronics, etc) – these tend to be unexpectedly more expensive than in the US, even for the common Taiwanese computer brands (Asus, Acer, Gigabyte, Netgear, Kingston, etc) – the explanation I’ve heard is due to consumer market-size disparities, which maybe makes sense, but still, it’s just a bit surprising.

Mobile

  • The big two providers are Chunghwa and Taiwan Mobile and they’re both pretty competitive. They have service desks where you can buy SIM cards at TPE, although they serve slightly extended business hours so are likely to be closed if you arrive early or late (these are pretty much your options if you’re arriving from LAX) so you might have to buy a card once you get in town. Even so, it might be worth taking a picture/checking out the pricing at the airport kiosk as the shops in town are rarely English friendly. Have at least your passport and maybe a second form of photo ID available.
  • Taiwan as fast HSPA+ that seems to have pretty universal coverage in the cities. LTE rollouts are supposedly happening (Q4/2014 and 2015) but I haven’t seen any yet wandering around Taipei so far (November 2014) w/ a Nexus 5 and an iPhone 5S.
  • Chunghwa has an “unlimited” 30-day plan for NT$900 (~$30). Taiwan Mobile has some time-based unlimited plans as well, but if you’re not planning on going crazy, they have great per GB pricing – 1GB for NT$180 (~$6) or 2GB for NT$300 (~$10) with 30 day expiration, or NT$700 ($~23) for 5GB with a 90 day expiration, which is pretty damn good.

Audio Gear: RHA T10i IEMs

Feel free to listen to my “Audio Audition” Spotify playlist on the right while reading this. I’ve been adding to it all year. These tracks are of course songs I like and know pretty well now, but also chosen specifically to test the headphones I try out across a good spectrum of the stuff I listen to.

Those of you who know me know that I’m a big music fan. While I try to keep my worst audiophile tendencies in check (past ABX and hearing tests have done a good job on that front), I do enjoy a good pair of cans. About a decade ago, I was introduced to my first Etymotics, and I’ve been a big IEM (in-ear monitor) fan since then.

As an aside, my IEM history can be summed up with: Etymotic ER4P, ER6, Future Sonics FS1, Atrios, Westone UM3X, Audeo PFE 232, Shure SE215se, Etyomic hf3, Westone UMPro 50, RHA T10is. I’ve had some regular cans as well, included modded Grado SR60s, Sennheiser HD 580s, and Denon AH-D2000s. I’ve also auditioned the Orpheus and Stax electrostatics and some ridiculous JH and Fitear IEMs. All that’s just a way of saying I have some experience listening to a wide range of headphones.

Especially while traveling, I’m pretty hard on my gear. I lost one of my UM3X drivers (detachable cables, natch) while going through Heathrow. My Etymotic hf3s that I picked up in Singapore earlier this year are electrical taped at the mic control and the connector. Sadly, I also occassionally misplace them. Notably, I lost my Audeo PFE 232s (which I’ve had for a couple years, loved, and are discontinued) at the beginnings of my travels in Taipei. I had to go through some replacements, which prompted a rant against the Wirecutter, and eventually I couldn’t resist buying a pair of Westone UM Pro 50s while I was in Tokyo (they were just over $600 at BIC Camera in Tokyo vs $700+ in the US, although they can be had for $650 now).

The UM Pro 50s are really fantastic, although the full bass/mid hump took me a while to adjust to, and was a bit unexpected as I had assumed it’d be more similar to the UM3Xs (which were notable for insane detail/voice separation). They settled down after a bit of burn-in though, and I ended up quite liking them. Still, if I were buying them again, I’d really want to sit down and audition/compare vs the Westone W50s ($750), W60s ($1000), Shure 846s ($1000), and maybe AKG K3003s ($1150) and the FitEar 334s ($1350+) to boot.

The UM Pro 50s (and a 3rd party MMCX TRRS cable) would actually be the end of my story if I hadn’t unfortunately, lost them a few months later in Amsterdam. That meant I had gone through well over a thousand dollars of headphones in less than a year, so I put myself on headphone probation and made do with the hf3’s I had picked up in Singapore (like most Etymotics, barely any bass to speak of, but good detail/clarity).

I had some vague plans to maybe buy some VSonics, but I eventually spotted a thread on the new RHA T10i and succumbed.

schmexyPretty schmexy looking! In fact, they are metal injection molded, a first for IEMs. Here’s their full spec sheet. They are a pretty reasonably priced $200, and shipping now.

I preordered them last month and I’ve had them for a week or so now. The summary is that I’m really digging them. They deliver fantastic sound quality for their price point, and they are pretty comfortable in ear – they feel very much like metal Westones for fit, and while a bit heavy in the hand, I’m able to wear them for long periods of time w/o physical or aural fatigue.

There are a bunch of  reviews (also in the linked thread) and some video reviews as well now, but I thought it’d be worth throwing my 2 cents in. I’ll just go into bullet points since that’ll be easier:

  • Build quality is great. The coated memory-metal ear wires and metal shells are really neat, especially when you put them on and they warm up. Between the materials and design, you really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth in a way that most much higher-end IEMs are missing.
  • The packaging/accessories are fantastic. They include a bunch of tips – I’m actually using one of the ball-shaped silicone tips after years of preferring foam/comply tips as the supplied foam tips are actually too large/uncomfortable for my ears. I prefer “Large” sized Comply tips, so that’s a bit of a surprise. The fit/sound is good w/ the tips I’m using however. Isolation is… ok (better than earbuds), but not as much as I’d like w/ my IEMs. We’ll see how they fare on the plane next week.
  • Related to that, microphonics are also… ok. Anything below the Y split is silent, but it has about average microphonics above that, although it’s not too noticeable w/ music playing under normal activity
  • The cable is TRRS w/ an Apple remote and a mic (yay!). It also has a really nice metal spring for strain relief, however the cables do not appear replaceable.
  • OK, enough of that, more about the main event. As I mentioned, the sound is surprisingly good. I don’t really have a dog in the balanced armature vs dynamic driver arguments, but in the past I’ve mostly preferred the sound/fit of the BA IEMs I’ve tried. These T10is have been great though – decent soundstage, good localization, and generally good clarity/detail. As good as anything else I’ve listened to in the $200-300 range.
  • The bass is well controlled (rarely boomy), but very present. I spent most of the first week with the reference tips listening to my collection (mostly V0 MP3s and Spotify Extreme quality) on my iPhone 5S and my Aune T1 DAC. Even after hours, it didn’t really settle, which wasn’t a problem so much for the bassy tracks, but would just constantly surprise me when it’d pop up in a random acoustic. Luckily the T10i comes w/ a couple filter tips, and I found the treble tip much more to my liking. I listened for excess unwanted silibance but didn’t find anything too objectionable – YMMV based on source material/listening acuity and preferences, but I found the treble tips to be much preferable. Bass is still there, but not overbearing (OK, I miss it a bit sometimes). But it also noticeably cleared up some mid-range congestion, making it a great tradeoff.
  • They’ll be available at Apple Stores apparently, so they should be easy to give a demo on fit (although it’s probably too loud/busy for critical listening)

Clothing Gear: Triple Aught Design (TAD Gear)

After my first few months in Asia, I swung by SF when I was back in the States, and since they have a couple stores there (“Dogpatch Base” being the main location?) I swung by to try some things on (quality is high, but so is the price).  Here’s how they’ve worked out:

Early on in my trip I lost one of my SmartWool Microweight T-Shirts (these won my travel t-shirt shootout from the month I spent in Africa and I’ve been wearing them almost exclusively since then) on my trip. Since I only carry 4 shirts with me, I was looking for a replacement and I ended up picking up a Patagonia Merino 1 Silkweight t-shirt at their Shibuya store. To summarize: don’t do that – it started pilling after about a month – this is from hand-washing and air-drying from someone that’s used to dealing with delicate Merino, mind you.

So, to make a long story short, I was still looking for a replacement shirt, and since I noticed TAD had a Merino shirt, the Traverse Tech T, I figured I’d give it a try. This weight is the same weight as the SmartWool Microweight (150g/m2) but it feels quite different – the TAD shirt has a looser/softer weave, whereas the SmartWool one is much more sheer/dense. I actually quite prefer the feel of the TAD gear for normal wear, although I suspect the SmartWool would do better as a base layer.

The main weakness w/ the SmartWool Microweight is that it tends to rip/wear through pretty quickly. I tend to have to either look ridiculous with tiny holes (especially near the waistline where it interacts w/ backpacks/belts) or replace them every couple months. So far, the TAD shirt has fared better. There’s one hole in the back, but it hasn’t grown or multiplied and in general feels sturdier. I’ve had it in rotation for about half-a-year at this point and there’s no pilling and nothing’s coming undone, and it’s as comfy as ever. It weighs the same (+/- 10g) as my SmartWool shirts and seems to dry as quickly as the SmartWool (that is, ridiculously quick), so I think this is will be my new go-to shirt that I’ll be cycling in as my other shirts wear through.

Both the TAD and SmartWool shirts are about $70/each, which are completely worth it if you travel – the Merino wool dries quicker than even synthetics, breathe amazingly in the heat, keep you warm in the cold, and also don’t stink up like synthetics.

 

I’d been previously wearing a pair of random cargo shorts that weren’t anything special, but just wouldn’t die. Since they’re probably the thing that I wear the most, I figure it’d be worth an upgrade. TAD has two types of cargo shorts, but the Recon ACs are the decidedly less “tactical” and slicker/more urban design.

They’re very lightweight (a medium thickness nylon) but sturdy and are quick drying and super well designed on the pocket front – each front side has a smaller “coin” pocket, and also an additional split in the larger pocket that’s pretty handy. Rather than flaps, the lower pockets are side zippered.

Now unfortunately, the Recon AC has two pretty huge weaknesses.  First, while the site description says that the crotch is gusseted, the version I have (that I bought at their Dogpatch store) definitely is not, at least not in a way that lets me get on a bike without turning it sideways. Considering how I was biking practically every day in Berlin, this was a bit of a bummer.

The second issue is almost laughable. For whatever reason, the zipper top is not as secure as you’d like it to be, and while it hasn’t caused too much embarrassment yet, more than once I’ve noticed that my fly’s been down.

So overall, I’d give the Recon a pass, and I’ll be on the lookout for some better shorts in the future.

 

So, to preface, the Stealth Hoodie LT is not cheap – it’s $475, by far the most expensive piece of clothing in my bag (in fact it’s almost the cost of the rest of my entire wardrobe), so to some degree, whether this is even something you’d consider depends on how much you value your outerwear.

Over the past few years, I’ve run into my fair share of wet weather. 50mph sideway torrents in Everett WA, tropical storms w/ 20ft swells in the Caribbean, floods that washed away my camp in South Africa, typhoons in East Asia – you name it. Every time I’ve upgraded my rain gear (it’s also made me a little obsessed with waterproof gear in general).

My last upgrade was to a Patagonia Torrentshell, Patagonia’s most waterproof rain shell I could find. Sadly, it seemed to have given up the ghost after a year or so. I wasn’t sure if it was just not dealing well w/ the rain+humidity combo in Taiwan, but by the time I was in the much colder rain in Tokyo, I’d concluded it had just given up.  While I’ve been a big Patagonia fan in the past, I have to admit that I haven’t had very good luck with them recently.  In any case, it was time for an upgrade.

I originally wasn’t completely convinced on spending so much on a jacket, but handling and trying on the Stealth Hoodie LT, you can immediately tell that the money is being spent on the construction – it’s meticulously put together, and feels rather bombproof. TAD has a comparison of how the LT compares to the regular  Stealth – if waterproofing is a concern, the LT is obviously the way to go.  It’s heavier than a light shell/rain jacket, and it’ll be interesting to see how it fairs in steamier environments, but since I was planning for fall/winter, I figured it might be a fair trade-off.

A couple notes: you’ll definitely want to try it out, as the sizing may be a bit tricky – I ended up w/ an M since that was the perfect sleeve length, but it is a bit tighter around my chest than I’d like. This may improve if I ever lose that weight I’ve packed on. Hope springs eternal. The pockets are a bit unconventional – there are two chest pockets, but none at the hips. It also has some big zipper pulls that can flap around noisily/ridiculously while biking hop over to this site. The zippers are all quite tight/seam-taped, and as mentioned, everything about the construction.

After a bit of wearing it around, I decided I wanted one, but they didn’t have the grey/unpatched version in stock, (The green was a bit too “tactical” for me. Also, you might think it looks cool, but don’t get the black unless you plan on never being out in the sun.) so I spent an extra day or so thinking about it before pressing buy from the online shop. The next shipment came in that week and I had it at my doorstep in days.

Six months in, and I have to say, I’m really glad that I picked this up. It’s broken in great, has enough storage (the chest pocket will fit my Kindle Paperwhite) that I often don’t feel the need to wear my ridiculous travel vest everywhere (more on that in the future), and honestly, if I don’t lose it, I don’t feel like I need to replace this thing for years. That being said, while I’ve been through some Berlin and Portland rain, I’ve yet to encounter much serious wetness, so we’ll have to see what happens there.

OK, that’s my 6 month review of my TAD Gear stuff. They seem to be quite popular with the outdoor/tactical crowd, so if you’re really interested and can’t stop by a store, there are lots of videos and reviews and such online. In any case, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Photo Gear: LensPen

LensPenMany of you may be like me a few months ago having never carried around a LensPen. These days, it’s hard for me to even recognize that foolish person.

Seriously though, if you shoot while traveling, this thing is amazing and by far beats any dry microfiber cloth for cleaning lenses of fingerprints and smudges. The tip is a chamois-cloth type material with carbon black, and it’s rather magical.  I use it all the time for my m43 lenses and X100s. It also does a great job on my iPhone 5S which constantly picks up prints, although it will leave some carbon on the metal.

A single pen is about $10 and I’ve been using one I picked up in Taipei back in February that seems to still be kicking. You can also buy a multi-form factor pen pack for $15.

This is one of my “must have” pieces of gear when I’m traveling or walking around.

Tokyo Field Notes

From my experiences Feb 2014 – April 2014 (ported from my hackpad)
General Tips/Notes
  • Get a Suica card immediately (can buy from machine for ¥2000 (¥500 refundable deposit for the card, ¥1500 initial balance). This will make your transportation life much easier – otherwise you have to buy separate tickets for each subway line and it’s confusing/terrible
  • The Suica card can pay for subways in cities outside of Tokyo, but you may not be able to recharge it. There are lots of competing subway card brands with different regional presences.
  • Get mobile data as soon as possible – life will be much easier with Google Maps and Translate
  • Download an offline dictionary app such as QuickDic (Android) or imiwa? (iOS) too
  • Most ATMs don’t work w/ international networks.
  • Japan Post (the post office) has ATMs that work but they typically close/lock them up after 7PM or 9PM. Can dispense ¥1,000 or ¥10,000 bills
  • 7-11s also have ATMs that work but they only dispense ¥10,000 bills. Unlike some other countries, getting changing/using these larger bills is typically not a problem
  • There are some Citibanks as well.
  • Discover is cross-compatible w/ JCB and Union Pay rails and is actually quite useful in Asia.
  • If you travel a lot, Charles Schwab is awesome since they refund all ATM fees at the end of the month
  • In  general, just try to be polite, my most useful word is sumimasen  (means: please, excuse me, and sorry). my conversations  usually go  ‘sumimasen, do you speak english’ 🙂 everyone says ‘no’ or ‘a  little’  but in tokyo i haven’t found basic communications to be too bad  and  everyone’s super nice and tries to be helpful. google translate  will  help w/ the rest.
  • Also bow and say “arigatō gozaimasu” (thank you very much) a lot
  • Ordering food is usually pretty simple since there are plastic food models and photos of everything. Also the machines aren’t too hard to order from when those are there. Otherwise, showing a picture of what you want (taking a picture of a picture, or using a Tabelog/4SQ pic, etc etc works pretty well)
  • Some places, noodle shops most commonly, have ticket dispensers at the front which may not have pictures. If you have an Android the camera function in Google Translate is very useful for this. If all else fails just ask for “shoyu ramen negi chashu” (ramen in soy sauce broth served with pork and green onion) or “konbu udon” (udon in salt broth served with seaweed)
  • Japan is pretty much the safest country in the world. Just ignore the Nigerian (more annoying because they follow you and keep bugging you if you seem Gaijin/to understand English)/Yakuza (polite and oftentimes will point you to where you want to go) touts and you’ll be fine.
  • Everyone uses LINE for chat, a lot of FB as well
  • You may not be able to add some Japanese residents on LINE due to LINE’s security features
  • Claritin is prescription-only, bring your own if you have allergies (Springtime is crazy pollen)
  • Many  restaurants don’t have napkins, bring your own. Conveniently tissue packets are passed out for free by advertisers on the street
  • Use konbinis (convenience stores) for their trash bins (sometimes outside, sometimes indoors)
  • There aren’t really any elsewhere…
Mobile/Internet
SIM cards are a pain in the butt in Japan – basically you can’t buy a prepaid regular SIM (you can get a data-only SIM though) – you can rent one, but data is like $15/day (Softbank SIM at airport) or you can get a data SIM (~$30+), but if you’re sharing w/ people you can get a wifi hotspot for not much more and is probably more useful.
Wifi pucks
  • eConnect
  • good reviews
  • about $150/30 days
  • unlimited 21Mbps 3g
  • they sell a 1gb/30day data sim  for like $40 and they will deliver to hotel or the airport for pickup  (make sure it’s during delivery desk open hours though if you do that) – there’s free wifi in the airport btw
  • Global Advanced Communication
  • these guys are a better price and offer a 4g (75Mbps) puck
  • for 30 days I think it comes out to like $120 as well and they do delivery
  • Telecom Square
  • ~$16/day for 75mbps + delivery to hotel available
  • Airport desk hours close at 11pm
  • I went with this one bc the GAC’s pucks were all rented out :/ 
SIMs
  • b-mobile
  • delivers to Airport or Hotel
  • if you get the Visitor SIM it’s no registration, just stick it in and go. If you buy a b-mobile SIM in JP you need to register online w/ a JP address (or pay an extra $25 to register via phone)
  • eConnect
  • about same price and is 30day/1GB SIM
  • BIC SIM
  • you can buy this at Bic Cameras (all around town)
  • the no-registration pack is 30days/500MB and $40, but your only no-registration option once you’re in the country
  • The pricing on the registration one is pretty good – $30 for SIM and then $10-20/mo (1-2GB hispeed before throttling). Requires registering w/ JP address. Comes with a free Wi2 wifi account that is extremely useful
There’s wifi everywhere but almost all are paid services that require registration. A lot of the free hotspots email you a code to login. That doesn’t help if you don’t have internet to start with (in  jp like all phones have email so i guess it makes sense, but it’s still  terrible)… JR stations have actual free wifi as does FreeSpot (very rare around town). Starbucks wi2 is free w/ registration (pre-register here: http://starbucks.wi2.co.jp/sp/sma_index_en.html )
Be careful about which apps you use when you’re on mobile data. Snapchat is a bandwidth hog if you’re on Android because it uses a lot of background data. It’s easy to slurp up data on Instagram too. FB messenger is great, but don’t browse news feed too much. Just think about the media types; generally images = yellow light, video = red light. 
Things to Do in Tokyo
See my 4SQ checkins: https://foursquare.com/lhl
So many neighborhoods to walk around: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Yoyogi Park/Harajuku, Ebisu/Yebisu, Tokyo Station, Roppongi, Ginza, Odaiba, etc etc
  • Sundays are “special days” – when the rockabilly, harajuku girls etc head to Yoyogi, Maid parades in Akihabara, etc.
  • If you go a stop out to Ikenoue Station (presumably Shimokitazawa as well) the street has an awesome farmer’s market/street fair vibe with little musical/magic performances, and lots of fresh snacks/food for sale
  • Park Hyatt Bar is cool, will probably be ~$100/head. Longpants required.
  • Fish Auction may not be worth it (I liked it) but breakfast Sushi is a definite YES – omakase + otoro at Dai was awesome (the shorter line one is supposed to be as good, is another father son duo, although more friendly I take it)
  • Walk through a pachinko parlor. Leave because it is loud and smokey and dumb
  • Walk through an arcade and marvel at Star Horse 3, Season 2, Blaze of Glory
  • Daikanyama Tsutaya is a pretty sweet book store / ok work hangout. There are some pretty good work cafes around.
Music
Shows are pretty expensive (¥2500+) but there are free/in-store performances around
Buskers are rare, but there’s some of that too
EDM: JP loves electro/techno. Gets sort of old. There is lots of nu-jazz and experimental/ambient stuff. Some indie pop/folk

Prague Field Notes

Wrapping up my summer in Berlin, I figured that I really ought to visit Prague. I only visited for 3 nights, which was a bit short for me – I definitely could have spent a couple more days wandering around and will probably have to drop by again soon.

Prague

General

  • Prague is a super pretty city. It’s apparently one of the few European cities not heavily bombed during WW2 and the skyline and architecture feel like “Old Europe” more than any others I’ve been to so far. It also still has a distinct post-Soviet vibe in some areas. A friend commented that it looked like Half-Life 2, and you do get that feel. (City 17 was modeled after a bunch of Eastern European influences)
  • While Prague has a reputation for being a bit sketchy (and I certainly avoided the taxis), overall I found it to be pretty nice/not too bad (even wandering around in the middle of the night). In fact, late nights were pretty subdued – maybe I just didn’t spot the nightlife. One bar/tavern I was in for dinner had last call at 10:30PM.
  • They don’t use Euros! ATMs are easy/everywhere. By default they may give you larger bills than you want, but on some machines you can pick what denominations you receive (select the “Other” option on amounts and you might see the menu). All ATMs should do that.
  • Most people speak some English and it’s the lingua franca for tourism (there’s huge mix of nationalities in the tourists, very global) and it wasn’t a problem at all getting around

Tram 9

Transit

  • Prague is only 5 hours by rail and I paid €88 for a round-trip 2nd class ticket (online posts mentioned there was little difference for 1st class). I bought it online but used the app for the mobile-only ticket – during my trip it was checked about 3-4 times each way (although in the Czech side they don’t bother to scan the QR code). The train ran about a half-hour late each way, but otherwise was perfectly cromulent. The German and Czech scenery was pretty bucolic – I’ll probably visit Dresden and Decin next time I’m nearby.
  • Public transit works great in Prague and a combination of the subway and trams will probably get you pretty much anywhere you want. Tickets are cheap (about $1/ride) and are good for 30 or 90m. Your first intuition might be to use the ticket machines (which only take change), but you can actually buy tickets from the convenience stores in the stations, which is easier. You can also get tickets via SMS, which is pretty awesome.

Mobile

  • O2 seems like the best deal for short term data (375MB/wk for $4, 3GB for $25) and they are very efficient, they advertise swapping out SIMs in a minute, but their stores seem mostly closed on Sunday (the one by the Museum station closes at 6PM – the Vodafone shop is open until 8PM on Sunday). Vodafone is a bit pricier (1.5GB for about $20), but also offers some ridiculously large data packages pretty cheap (10GB for $40, you can also apparently get 1GB data + a USB stick for about $33). I ended up getting one of each and both worked fine. O2 was faster/more responsive (and LTE), however they disable tethering on iPhones. Vodafone apparently has some LTE rolling out (Band 3/8) but I didn’t see any my entire time in Prague.

Bagcheck: South Africa, 2011

Over the next few days I’ll be importing a few of my old bagcheck lists that might have interesting travel info. This is one I made for the month I spent in South Africa. Highlights include the shots I took and my travel underwear shoot-out (the Ex Officio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs won and in fact are all I wear now).

Travel (South Africa, 2011)

Travel (South Africa, 2011)

I’m heading out to South Africa and some nearby countries soon. Here’s some stuff I’m getting/testing out. (I’ll be adding to this list as I order/test new stuff).


  • World Nomads Travel Insurance

    World Nomads Travel Insurance

    Explorer
    In the past I haven’t used travel insurance (even when I probably should have), but certainly for hopping around various countries in Africa w/ a fair amount of gear, the minimal price is worth it ($115 for 3 weeks for the premium Explorer plan).
  • Malarone

    Malarone

    atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride
    While more expensive, this is apparently the anti-malarial prophylactic w/ less side effects than Lariam (mefloquine). The CDC has a nice chart of what’s available, as well as country specific resistances/strains. For example, Chloroquine resistance is high in South Africa.I got 27 tablets at $6.95 each. (You take 1/per day, starting 2 days before and for 7 days after. According to the Dr, they are pretty stable, so if you have extras, you can keep them around for a few years. The is a “generic” but it’s apparently a licensed “generic” that costs the same and is there just for insurance purposes)
  • Vaccinations

    Vaccinations

    List of Vaccinations
    I figure I’d make a list in case anyone finds it useful. All of these can be done in one go. Yellow Fever isn’t present in South Africa, but is *required* to get back in to SA if you visit Zambia. It’s not super high risk where I’ll be (Victoria Falls), but in severe cases has up to a 50% mortality rate…Here’s what I got:
    $110 Yellow Fever (10yr) + WHO card
    $19 Flu
    $84 Hep A (1yr; lifetime in second shot, any time after 6mo)
    $57 TDAP (10yr)
    $62 Polio (lifetime)Also, $87 for oral Typhoid (4 pills, but lasts 5yrs instead of 2yrs), and a $40 Anti-diarrheal kit (10 doses of cipro+loperamide). (and $190 of Malarone as mentioned in a separate item).

    I’d previously gone through childhood rounds of MMR, and I *think* Hep B (Hep B isn’t transmitted through food/water like Hep A is).

    For those near LA, I went to the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena and they were awesome – prompt, clean, reasonably priced and attentive herbal slimming pills.

  • 3M Ultrathon SRL-12 Insect Repellent Lotion

    3M Ultrathon SRL-12 Insect Repellent Lotion

    2 oz
    Super long lasting (12hr time release) and water resistant, 34% DEET. Note, that DEET will literally melt plastics/synthetics and is neurotoxic. However, it’s been used for decades and is probably preferable to west nile/malaria/yellow fever/japanese enchephalitis.This can be ordered online, picked up at REI etc. I needed to grab some in a bit of an emergency and was able to pick some up at a Passport Health office, which was much closer than the nearest REI.
  • Sawyer SP543 Premium Insect Repellent Picaridin Spray

    Sawyer SP543 Premium Insect Repellent Picaridin Spray

    3,Ounce
    Picaridin (icaridin) is the new insect repellent on the block. While less tested, it’s supposed to smell less, and more importantly, won’t burn through plastic. In order to be effective 20% solutions appear to be required.There’s a pretty comprehensive guide on REI.
  • Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray

    Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray

    24,Ounce
    Mosquitos love me so I’ll take every advantage I can get.
  • Granite Gear Escape AC 60 Backpack

    Granite Gear Escape AC 60 Backpack

    I picked this up in Taipei in 2009 before a whirlwind cross-country tour of Japan (10 cities in 14 days) for a decent price (well, considering the circumstances) after doing some in-store shopping. It’s been a fantastic bag that I’ve used as a carry-on for regular travel. Despite the light-weight, it’s withstood plenty of abuse and has a built-in raincover pocket that’s most handy for wrapping the bag’s bits if you ever need to check the bag…

    My 2009 comparison chart:
    docs.google.com/spre…

    (Note: the Amazon link for some reason links to the Ki (women’s) version which on Granite Gear’s site doesn’t even appear to exist as a product? Bets are off if you’re looking to actually buy one of these.)

  • Nite Ize SBO-03-01 S-Biner Ahhh Carabiner Clip Bottle Opener
  • Vaultz Mesh Storage Bags

    Vaultz Mesh Storage Bags

    Assorted Colors and Sizes, 4 Bags VZ01211
    A bit of an impulse buy. Just a bunch of different sized mesh bags to help organize stuff. Seems like these will be useful.
  • Scottevest Travel Vest

    Scottevest Travel Vest

    The latest version of their vest has even more pockets (sort of ridiculous, really; one of the pockets can store an iPad), but also neat things like a capacitive phone pouch and a cable management system.

    If you’re buying one, you can use the code TWIT20 to save some money.

  • New Swiss Travel Products Black Ripstop Velcro Billfold Wallet with Removable Keychain

    New Swiss Travel Products Black Ripstop Velcro Billfold Wallet with Removable Keychain

    Crappy travel wallet w/ outside change pocket. The bigger tri-fold is good for non-US bills. I won’t be bothered too much if I lose this.

  • Pacsafe Luggage Cashsafe Belt Wallet

    Pacsafe Luggage Cashsafe Belt Wallet

    I have an old travel belt, but no idea where it went (too bad, It probably has some cash in there still). This belt will do the job, is cheap, and being all plastic, is TSA safe. I may start wearing this all the time.

  • Merrell Men's Pathway Moc

    Merrell Men’s Pathway Moc

    I needed a good lightweight outdoors shoe. I’ve had my eyes on getting a pair of Merrell Mocs for a while (so convenient), and have a pair of slip-on style North Face boots (ridiculously warm) that have been great. I was originally going to go for the Canvas version for extra breathability, but Amazon didn’t have the color I wanted and then I found that 6pm had the leather version on sale ridiculously cheap: www.6pm.com/merrell-…

    Interesting note: it looks like Merrell has gone whole hog into the barefoot/minimalist shoe thing and the Barefoot Life Slant Glove looks fantastic, however, while I’ve been meaning to try the barefoot thing, this trip probably wasn’t the right place to start…

  • Columbia Men's Bug Shield Long Sleeve Shirt

    Columbia Men’s Bug Shield Long Sleeve Shirt

    UPF40, quick wicking w/ Insect Blocker

  • Columbia Men's Silver Ridge II Convertible Pant

    Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge II Convertible Pant

    These have good reviews, are reasonably priced, have a good pocket layout (w/ closures) and have good sun protection/wicking technology. Also, they’re convertibles, so extra flexible/great for traveling light.

  • Black Rapid RS-5 Cargo Camera Strap

    Black Rapid RS-5 Cargo Camera Strap

    I’ll be heading out on Safari and will need a good strong strap for shooting (I’ll be renting a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM (5.2lb, $8K list but only ~$40/day rental).

    The extra pockets will able to carry the TX10, extra SD and extra batteries.

  • Fujifilm FinePix X100

    Fujifilm FinePix X100

    12.3 MP APS-C CMOS EXR Digital Camera with 23mm Fujinon Lens
    Of course I’ll be bringing my X100. I’m planning on shooting most of my travel with this. With a gaffed back, should be fairly inconspicuous. On safari, this will be useful for master shots/coverage and close encounters w/o lens swapping.I ended up shooting almost all my photos on my trip w/ my X100. You can see the results on Flickr. (Most of the safari picks w/ a rented 5Dmk2+ginormous lens)
  • Canon EOS Rebel T2i

    Canon EOS Rebel T2i

    18MP Digital SLR Camera
    Of the camera bodies at my disposal, I’m going w/ the T2i for a few reasons:
    * cheap; not disposable, but will be less concerned about it
    * super small/lightweight
    * uses SD card so can share w/ the X100
    * will shoot 720p/1080i video
    * free 1.6x extension (turn that 300mm to a 480mm; a 1.4x (1-stop cost) extender on top of that gives you 672mm of reach; 2.0x (2-stop cost) would give you 960mm. Ridiculous!)
  • Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10 16.2 MP Waterproof

    Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10 16.2 MP Waterproof

    We had this lying around in the office. I’ll be bringing it pretty much as a dedicated sweep panorama device. (Sony’s iSweep tech seems to beat the pants off everything else)

  • i.Sound Portable Power Max

    i.Sound Portable Power Max

    We bought about 2 dozen of these for production use earlier this year. These have 5 USB ports (2.4A max draw), claim 16Ah of charge and work as advertised. None of them have blown up yet. Recommended.

  • ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer Brief

    ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief

    Contender in Leonard’s Travel Underwear Challenge. ExOficcio underwear is apparently legendary within travel circles for its quick drying and great performance (sweat wicking, odor resistance, anti-chafing).

    After a month of travel, I’d say this came in #1. Some minor pilling, but overall, the most comfortable (very breathable) and pretty quick drying.

  • Minus33 100% Merino Wool Base Layer 702 LightWeight Boxer Brief

    Minus33 100% Merino Wool Base Layer 702 LightWeight Boxer Brief

    This is the final entrant into the Underwear Challenge. Will update at the end of the month…

    #2 – ordered a size larger, still a bit tight, but performed as well, if not better than the SmartWool and was a lot cheaper.

  • SmartWool Microweight Boxer Briefs - Wool - Men's at REI.com

    SmartWool Microweight Boxer Briefs – Wool – Men’s at REI.com

    Ridiculously expensive, we’ll see how this fairs in the Underwear Challenge.

    #3 – at $40/pair, they really needed to knock my socks off to be worthwhile. They were good, but not worth the premium…

  • Men's O Series Boxerjock® 6" Bottoms by Under Armour

    Men’s O Series Boxerjock® 6″ Bottoms by Under Armour

    Contender 2. Under Armour actually offers a bunch of different styles (like compression, different inseam lengths). This is more popular w/ athletes (and military apparently based on the reviews) than travelers. They wick and are odor resistant.

    #4 – these didn’t work so well for me. Just not on the same level in terms of comfort, dryness, overal performance. Also the waistband had a tendency to roll.

  • Microweight Tee Short Sleeve T-Shirt

    Microweight Tee Short Sleeve T-Shirt

    Men’s by SmartWool
    This was definitely the winner for me. Incredibly comfortable and amazed at how fantastically it performed in blistering/humid heat vs the other travel/”tech” T-shirts. Very quick drying, odor-resistant.Lasted about a year of frequent use before a small hole showed up, so up to you to decide whether to wear this all the time as it’s quite spendy (~$60), but for traveling, I’d give it my highest recommendation.
  • Nike Legend Dri-FIT Crew T-Shirt

    Nike Legend Dri-FIT Crew T-Shirt

    Affordably priced synthetic moisture-wicking shirt

  • Icebreaker Men's Tech T Lite Superfine Ultralite Tee

    Icebreaker Men’s Tech T Lite Superfine Ultralite Tee

    Figure I should compare the Merino wool to the synthetics…

    This shirt was comfy and quick-drying, but started to rip/acquire holes during my first month-long trip (100% hand-washing). Obviously this is only a sample size of 1, but for $60, I expect better.

  • REI Lightweight Polartec Power Dry Crew - Men's at REI.com

    REI Lightweight Polartec Power Dry Crew – Men’s at REI.com

    On clearance while I was picking up some other stuff at REI.

  • Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeve

    Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeve

    Originally I was looking at the Nike Dri-FIT Solar Golf Sleeves, but they weren’t available locally and when I got online and started surfing around, these were much cheaper and were well reviewed. They are a bit on the tight side, but work fine and are incredibly useful (they really do work, wicking away moisture even in humid/wet conditions and feels significantly cooler in direct sunlight vs bare arms. They are also a nice underlayer for when it gets a bit cooler. You will, however look ridiculous walking around in them.

  • AmazonBasics SDHC Class 10 32 GB Secure Digital Card

    AmazonBasics SDHC Class 10 32 GB Secure Digital Card

    Since I’ll be bringing 3 SD-card cameras, wanted to get a bigger spare card. This is ridiculously cheap ($35 at purchase). Yep, just over $1/GB for solid state memory. Ridiculous.

  • The SanDisk 16GB Extreme ProTM CompactFlash Card

    The SanDisk 16GB Extreme ProTM CompactFlash Card

    45 MB/s, SDSDXP1-016G-A75
    These are (were?) the fastest SD cards you can buy (45MB/s UHS-1) and I have 2 of the 16GB cards. Looking around there seems to be a new 95MB/s card coming out, but it doesn’t seem in stock anywhere.
  • Google Nexus S

    Google Nexus S

    Android Phone from Google
    I am currently running a ICS 4.0 ROM. Hopefully there’ll be an update for some extra speed/smoothness, but it’s fully functional.I will most likely be using this as my primary mobile device, particularly for it’s superior geo tools (GeoRecorder, MyTracks, Maps (particularly offline maps and + My Map layers), various OSM apps [OsmAnd, Locus, Orux]) and tethering ability (also, much better bandwidth monitoring and control, now built into the OS – replacing the need for a separate 3G Watchdog app; no iOS equivalent exists).I made a comparison chart of S African pre-paid mobile services (w/ a focus on data costs) here:

    docs.google.com/spre…

  • iPhone 4S

    iPhone 4S

    Confirmed w/ Sprint that their 4S is unlocked, so will take any MicroSIM. It is also a world phone w/ support for quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and quadband UMTS/HSPA (I/II/V/VIII) – interestingly it seems to be missing (or undocumented?) 800MHz band VI (big in Japan), which is a step back from the iPhone 4. Also, no 1700MHz IV of course.

    Sadly, w/o an jailbreak, it’s not suitable for tethering. I may end up using it mostly for its camera.

    I will probably get a dedicated MicroSIM for it, although I’ll also probably bring an adapter to have the option of swapping.

  • Round Bottle - 1 fl. oz.

    Round Bottle – 1 fl. oz.

    For less leaky liquids.

  • Comply T-100 Series Foam Tips

    Comply T-100 Series Foam Tips

    Platinum, 3 Pairs, S/M/L
    Replacement tips for my UM3X‘s. I always forget what size are best, so this one is a multi-size pack.Expensive, but super-comfy.
  • Carhartt Men's Utility Short

    Carhartt Men’s Utility Short

    A regular pair of shorts with the right number (lots) of pockets.

  • Red Ledge Vinyl Poncho - Men's at REI.com

    Red Ledge Vinyl Poncho – Men’s at REI.com

    Emergency use if it gets *really* wet.

  • Eagle Creek Travel Gear Hidden Pocket

    Eagle Creek Travel Gear Hidden Pocket

    For when I’m in transit and need to carry around my Passport cards, etc. The sashes/neck wallets etc are generally ridiculous. This attaches to the belt on the inside of your pants and seems generally less inconvenient and more inconspicious.

  • Nalgene Polyethylene Bottle - 2 fl. oz.
  • Columbia Bug Me Not Booney Hat

    Columbia Bug Me Not Booney Hat

    Slightly less ridiculous looking insect repelling hat. Would have gotten the Bora Bora and sprayed my own, but unfortunately, the outside mesh was changed to black.

  • REI MultiTowel Small Towel - 21.5" x 11.5" at REI.com

    REI MultiTowel Small Towel – 21.5″ x 11.5″ at REI.com

    This small hand towel is a lot more comfy/handy when the big towel is overkill.

  • REI MultiTowel Lite X Large Towel - 49" x 29.5" at REI.com

    REI MultiTowel Lite X Large Towel – 49″ x 29.5″ at REI.com

    The X-Large size doesn’t take up noticeably more space. The main cons seems to be that you’ll need to do a fair amount of prewashing since it bleeds color a lot…

  • Marmot Windridge LS Crew - Men's - 2011

    Marmot Windridge LS Crew – Men’s – 2011

    Vermouth
    I don’t know if I’ll actually end up needing/packing this, but it was pretty cheap. When I go through final packing I’ll decide on # of longsleeves (cut down dramatically w/ the Izumi sun sleeves)