Skip traffic, fly to work
James Franco attended 4 graduate schools in different places).
How might one pull that off in the coolest, most flexible way possible? Well, one way is to fly your own plane around everywhere.
For specificity, let's say you love boating around Nantucket on the weekends, but you got into the top English program at Yale. You want to have your cake and eat it too. The not-so-obvious solution is to buy a small airship and fly it to and from school as needed. How do you become a pilot and what are the costs?
You can obtain a Private Pilot license with 40 hours of instruction for $5,000 - $12,000. A flight instructor might cost $50-80 per hour to teach you, and each hour on a plane costs $100 (give or take) for small, old planes. There are other costs (like textbooks and logbooks that are minimal compared to these other costs). Therefore, if you are a sharp, hardworking student, you might get a license for just around $5,000. If it takes you longer, it may take over a year and cost more like $12,000.
You can do the training in under 2 months if you try hard. Try to log at least two hours of flight time each week because otherwise you forget your training each week and it will take you longer and cost you more. Because you can only begin training in clear, bright conditions, it can be much easier to learn to fly in places like Florida or California.
Alternatively, think about first obtaining just your Sport Pilot license which requires only 20 hours of flight time. This can halve your costs and training time. With your Sport license, the FAA lets you fly during clear, bright days with up to 1 other passenger at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet (basically the max altitudes of small planes). A Sport License has no requirements except that you must have a driver's license (and thus passed a rudimentary eye exam). You can always log the next 20 hours of training to obtain the Private Piot license so that you can fly at night with more people in more airspace later. The Private Pilot license has the extra requirements of accurate color vision and a full medical exam.
Then you can buy or rent a plane to fly between Nantucket and New Haven. Small planes cost about the same as expensive cars. You can buy a small, old cheap Cessna 150 for a round $20,000. They no longer produce these models, but they are reliable and common. The Cessna 172s are still in production and can be $40,000 used. These planes can achieve max speeds of ~150 miles per hour with ranges of over 800 miles. Other small ones that carry 1-4 passengers might go up to $80,000. Bigger or luxury planes can cost millions.
You can rent a plane cost effectively. Planes rent by the number of hours that you actually use them in flight. So, if you fly to Nantucket in the morning in 2 hours, go fishing all day, and then fly back at night then you only pay for 4 hours of flight time usage. The cheapest planes might cost only $80 per hour "wet" (with fuel included in the hours rate). More pricey small planes might be only $100-150 per hour wet. Even much larger planes that seat 10 or dozens might cost only $2000-$5000 per hour which is comparable to driving on a per person-mile basis. Note that you can rent a plane for multiple days, but most charge a minimum number of flight hours per day (like 4/day).
The advantages of your own plane include the flexibility of choosing your own schedule and the fact that you can fly into any airport you want. For small or secluded areas with infrequent travelers (like Nantucket and New Haven) this can save you a lot of time and car traffic congestion. Cities run small municipal airports for free just as they do roads for free.
Flying your own plane is a fun and safe (but expensive) way to travel or commute like a badass James Franco. It's not any more dangerous (it's safer with the right care, since a drunk driver won't hit you in the sky) than driving the same distance on a road trip.
I found it surprising how easy and attainable in price (though not cheap, unfortunately) it is to become a licensed pilot. It doesn't take millions to reach the heavens and fly like a bird, just a little saving up and a few weeks of training.
The secrets to winning business in Japan
I really love the Economist, and I learned a lot recently about doing business in Japan.
If you're visiting Japan for business, you're likely to be in Tokyo. As the largest city in the world Tokyo has services and amenities that you would expect in a large city as well as certain things you'll want to know about that are specific to conducting business in Japan.
International flights arrive at Haneda or Narita airports. Narita is farther away from the center of Tokyo. Upon landing, naturally you'll go through customs which is efficient but thorough.
Once through customs you'll likely head to a hotel in the center of Tokyo. Transportation costs depend on which airport arrived at. Narita is farther away from the center of Tokyo. For international travelers taking a taxi from Narita Airport to the center of Tokyo can run about $150 whereas a cab from Haneda Airport to the center of Tokyo runs usually about $30.
There’s also mass transit available at both airports that is less expensive than taxis. One important note to make about Japanese ideas of good manners is that tipping is deemed an insult in most cases. Therefore, unless you're rounding up your bill to avoid receiving change, you won't have to worry about tipping your taxi driver.
You should bring two maps one in English, one Japanese with you to help communicate with your taxi driver. English is not commonly spoken. If you choose mass transit, the good news is that mass transit frequently has signs that are in English as well as Japanese.
Two common places for business travelers to stay in Tokyo are the Okura Hotel and the Hilltop Hotel.
When you are ready to go to your business meeting, for men, you'll likely be wearing a tie though in warm summer weather ties are often not worn. Japan's summers are very warm and avoiding summertime travel, especially during August is advisable.
Before your meeting you should have determined the language that you’ll be using at the meeting. If the language is not English, there are many translation services around that can range from about $200 to $500 an hour.
Japan's business culture does use bowing. Your safest bet is to practice a bow that uses your head and neck and avoids being a deep bow even if the person bowing to you bows deeply. There are different reasons for the deep bow, such as a means of showing you respect by hotel workers, but the short bow should do it for you.
Don't be surprised if your business meeting does not cover a lot of substantive matters because the Japanese tend to spend time cultivating business relationships. While you might leave your business meeting with the impression that you’ve covered very little business, be prepared to cover business after hours at dinner engagements.
Alcohol in the form of sake or whiskey is frequently a part of these business dinners. You should consider business dinners as an opportunity to discuss business matters as your Japanese companions will likely bring up business.
Tokyo has the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world. There are great opportunities for good cuisine.
One thing you should note is that Japanese business people frequently assume that foreigners don't like to eat Japanese food so they'll recommend restaurants that serve non-Japanese food. If you like Japanese food you can indicate that you would like to eat at a Japanese restaurant.
When it comes to getting money from an ATM you should head for a 7-Eleven or a Citibank because these are primarily the locations that accept foreign cards.
As you make your way around Tokyo becoming familiar with unfamiliar customs and language challenges, there is a valuable piece of good news which is that Tokyo is an extremely safe city so that you likely will not have to worry about becoming a victim of crime as you navigate your way around the city."
Python in Italy
I was in Europe for a bit this summer. I wanted to go to a technology conference to meet fellow hackers internationally. I saw that EuroPython (the Python language conference of Europe) was in Florence, Italy this year. They were offering scholarships for students for free tickets to the conference plus hotel. I applied, pointing to my many contributions to Python like my Python web framework.
I got it, and had a fantastic time. It was incredibly well-organized, and I met some brilliant hackers. My room-mates made Kivy touch platform, psyco, and the Italian Pirate Bay. I met Armin Rigo, the hero-genius behind PyPy.
I gave a talk about my minimalist with-statement based Python templating system.
Google also hosted a programming competition, Google Code Jam. I got 2nd place among all contestants at the conference and I won a nice new Android phone!
It was a good trip that paid for itself.
What to do in Budapest
Hungary is known for its Turkish baths. The Ottoman Turks conquered the area at one point in Hungary's history. The baths are very authentic and fun. Szechenyi baths are the most well-known.
Szechenyi baths are great, but they are a huge tourist attraction. If you like to live more like a local, the Margit Island baths habitate almost entirely locals, at least on the weekend. The people selling food there speak only Hungarian, because they never see any tourists. Margit Island is the big island on the danube between Buda and Pest. These baths are only outdoors, (they don't have any fancy indoor baths), but they do have a water slide and a wave pool! It's very fun, and I recommend you visit; they have the same hot, warm, and cold baths as does Szechenyi.
Hungarian is very different from almost any other language, so it would be an interesting learning experience (as well as practical when visiting the Margit baths) to learn at least a few phrases like greetings and how to order food and drink.
The national liquor there is called palinka. My favorite is cherry but they have various fruit palinkas there such as pear and peach.
You'll probably end up doing this anyway, but walking by the Danube at night (or even day), and seeing the many gorgeous bridges lit up is an unforgettable setting. The Opera House, and actually most architecture there, is beautiful as well.
I recommend the ruin pubs. They are friendly and relaxed with an interesting decor. I lived by Instant (pronounced IN-shtant), which is a cool one. A big, popular one is Szimpla (pronounced SEEM-pluh) nearby. Szimpla has one seating area with a bathtub chair.
I really love Corwin Teto (the rooftop club at Corwin mall in the summer). It's big and open-air and friendly, and they have theme nights like Reggae Wednesday.
I had a lot of fun trying out goulash almost every day. Some places have excellent gyulas, but many have mediocre. If you have just one good experience of the spicy, meaty dish, then the whole trip is worthwhile.
Hungarians also love their pastries, cottage cheese -based deserts, paprika (mmm, paprika crackers!), and sweet wines. Try them out at the local supermarket.
I like to travel light. Anybody who has traveled significantly understands the importance of staying lean. A heavy bag, or series of bags, can ruin the experience of hopping from city to city, which can color the whole trip. Practically, it can cost extra money to move extra bags on a flight or drop off the bags at a bag holding service. Waiting for a checked bag can add more than an hour to your commute time at some airports in certain seasons. Every time I traveled to Miami airport, I waited for at least half an hour and once 2 hours for my checked bag to circle around the carousel.
Some people think that they travel light, but they do not. One checked in bag is not light. Checked bags are the bane of the traveler. You do not want to wait for your bag to come out a turnstile. It is boring and tedious and you never want to do it.
One carry-on is much closer to the ideal. My friend the other day went to Hungary. He decided to travel light, and just bring one duffel bag. He bought some clothes, and other essentials. But if you are running around a city for a whole day, say on a 12-hour layover in Milan, rolling a bag around can start to tire you out. You can check it in, which I did in Zurich, but that delayed my 10-hour layover by over an hour. I would have much preferred to travel with little than to bring even one small bag.
My friend took a small amount, but he could have taken less. I took one small backpack to Hungary. It contained my MacBoook Air laptop, which fits in a manila envelope, an Amazon Kindle, a legal pad, my passport and money, my 3oz green travel towel, my Vibram five-finger shoes for running, my sweat pants for sleeping, and black shorts for running.
I realize that I could have brought even less.
I did not need my travel towel, since anywhere with an actual bath or shower will also have some kind of towel since nobody expects anyone to travel with towels. My apartment had a maid who provided towels. Hotels provide towels. Even hostels have them available.
I hurt my toe, so I could not wear my Vibram running shoes. I wanted to run, so I just took a run around Budapest with my sandals, and it was fine, and in some ways better. I learned that I don't necessarily need my Vibrams either. Budapest clubs are not so haughty as to disallow sandals. Europe is littered with H&M stores, which have quality fashion at absurdly low prices, so i shopped for clothes there instead of packing clothes.
I recently started to use the Kindle app on my iPhone 4 on my 35-minute walks to work. Of course, the large-screen Kindle DX is a hugely better experience. But, the iPhone has the advantage that it is always in my pocket, always. It's also faster to turn the pages and scroll through books. The new version includes the Oxford English Dictionary, so I can look up words, highlight, and take notes much more quickly than on the Kindle. I love my Kindle DX, but it is unnecessary for travel. Although I have to hold the smaller font closer to my face, the Kindle app on the iPhone 4 delivers an acceptable experience.
The legal pad, sweat pants, and shorts I could honestly buy anywhere in the world. They would not be as high quality, perhaps it would be white paper instead of legal paper, maybe some random shorts instead of high-tech Lululemon gear, but they would work for a few weeks of travel.
In fact, if not for my work heavily involving computers, I would not need a laptop either. The iPhone would serve me fine for checking email and reading news. Relieving myself of this, I would need to take none of these things to Hungary.
I could travel naked, with clothes of course but with nothing else really. No bags, no trinkets, nothing to hold me down.
Vibrams? Just Run in Sandals
I took a run in Palo Alto the other day, around Stanford. You see, Stanford has this large park area called "The Dish." Everyone from Stanford knows about it, as it is a popular hang out spot for the day (at night, mountain lions roam). The Dish lies about 1 mile from the main campus. It is a large, hilly area, from which its name is derived: Stanford locates a (few) large satellite dishes on the tops of these hills, hundreds of feet up, pointed at the sky. Stanford is nice enough, however, to also maintain a running path there and allow the community as a whole to use it.
Anyway, I was running through the park in my Vibram five-finger shoes. The Vibrams help keep me my feet strong and fit. They are also small and light, which makes them great for travel. I was busily enjoying them, when this guy came up behind me. He said, "Nice Shoes." "Thanks." I was tired, so I did not immediately know what to say next. Then I looked down at his shoes, and he was running on the trail with sandals. I was astonished. Sandals easily fall off, so they require a certain continuous focus and muscle tension to keep them on.
I asked him about it, and he shrugged it off as nothing. He wanted some Vibrams, but he was able to pull these off in a pinch. He would be running barefoot, but the soles of his feet aren't toughened up enough for that, he said. "Wow," I muttered. This guy is intense. I tried to keep up with him for a 3rd loop around, but I was dehydrated and exhausted and I could not make it all the way up the second climb. I walked home. This thought lingered, but I kept my Vibrams.
But this guy helped me notice that my Vibrams were not entirely necessary. I do love them, and they make walking barefoot, flat great. But I may not need them. As you know, I am religiously careful about owning stuff, and I am constantly evaluating the few things that I own or consider owning within my stuff minimization framework. I thought that Vibrams would help me stay fit and lean, minimizing a beer belly, while themselves being light and small enough to throw into a bag without taking up much room as shoes would. They do, actually. Yet, if I can run with sandals, then I don't need them.
I did run in sandals in Hungary in this past trip. I could not use my Vibrams because I had a huge gash on my toe and I lost a toenail. It was painful to touch my toes, yet I could still run in my sandals with only a slight change in my form. Moreover, my new form for long-distance sandal running, based on my research, is an even better form for health and efficiency. The constraints of my stride imposed by the sandals force me to run in the optimal style.
I will probably not buy another pair of Vibrams once these wear out (the seams along the toes keep ripping, which I would call a defect in the manufacturing or design as many of my friends have the same problem).