Tech/Travel News Commentary for May 18-21 2012

 Expedia China•Bag Revenue•New Rollercoasters•Longest Flights•Cost2Drive•Swimming High•Pixar Catastrophe•Privacy Malpractice•Banansynth•& More


eLong, Expedia’s Chinese subsidiary, had significant year-over-year-gains from the first quarter of 2011 to Q1 of 2012. In Q1/2011 less than half of eLong’s bookings were made online while in Q1/2012 more than two-thirds were made online. Year over year for the same period eLong also realized a 65% increase in hotel room nights and a 58% increase in net income. Despite its success, eLong must contend with competitive threats similar to those present in other markets. Just as Expedia’s U.S. points of sale must compete with Google, eLong is facing competition from Qunar, a travel search engine that is majority owned by China’s dominant Baidu internet search engine.


Tnooz quotes a lineup of four Expedia Worldwide senior managers on their visions for how travel booking should be. (Amusingly, the stock image Tnooz used to illustrate the article shows them all to be  4 feet 6 inches tall or shorter.)


U.S. airlines earned less in baggage fees in 2011 than the previous year despite carrying more passengers. Reasons for the decrease include

  • Increased adoption of airline credit cards with baggage benefits
  • Travelers have learned to pack lighter
  • Travelers taking more carry-ons. One guy on the last flight I was on tried to carry on 5 large bags—that didn’t fit into the overhead bins—for himself, his wife and infant. It delayed our flight by 10 minutes and earned the guy the enmity of every other passenger and crew member. With people like that around, I can’t blame Allegiant and Spirit for charging for carry-ons.


Vacationers rejoice: a host of new U.S. theme park attractions, including significant additions to Disney and Universal parks, and at least 20 new roller coasters, are set to open during 2012.

Fox News Travel

And for those who prefer their wonders to be natural, here are four new ones to consider:

Fox News Travel

Singapore Airlines’ 9,535 mile Newark to Singapore route leads this list of the 5 longest regularly scheduled non-stop flights.

Fox News Travel

Google launches mobile app for Schemer, its existing social destination experiences service, based on Google Plus. Schemer joins an array of other Google travel services and apps. The article reiterates the idea that travel appeals based on motivation will be more successful than those based on inspiration.


Debating whether to fly or drive for your next holiday? Car travel website Cost2Drive has launched a new version 2.0 platform as it passes the one million user mark. The site calculates the cost, distance and time of driving, offers TripAdvisor hotel reviews and gives a Kayak link and price for a flight alternative. An iPhone app is also available, free through Memorial day. [ref tnooz]


I never tire of discovering the unusual amenities the competitive hotel market is fostering these days. Check out this cantilevered glass-bottomed hotel pool that lets you swim 24 stories above the ground and see all the way down to the Shanghai streets below.




A cautionary tale on the importance of making and verifying backups. During the production of Toy Story 2, someone at Pixar (inadvertently?) issued a command that deleted tens of thousands of files, representing some 30 person-years of work. When they tried to restore from backup they found that unbeknownst to everyone, the backups had been failing for the past two months! The linked video and story recount how they recovered much of the lost two months of work, thanks in large part to a new mom who had copies of key files on her home computer so that she could work at home while caring for her infant.


Cautionary tale number two, on keeping personally identifiable information secure. In this case from Utah Department of Health, pretty much everything was done wrongly. Eastern European hackers were able to acquire personal details of 780,000 Utah residents, including the social security numbers of 280,000 of them. To give an idea of the magnitude of the breach, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2011 population of Utah to be 2,817,222, meaning nearly 28% of state residents had their information breached.

Here are all the mistakes I count:

  1. Collecting unnecessary information: the system in question is meant for Medicare, Medicaid and children’s health information, yet health care providers routinely submitted information for patients who fall into none of these categories.
  2. No perimeter defenses: 99% of state data is behind two firewalls, but not this server.
  3. Weak passwords were used.
  4. Default passwords were left in place for service accounts.
  5. The data was not encrypted.
  6. Data was retained for longer than necessary, exposing more peoples’ details.
  7. Finally, no audits were run that could have caught these egregious errors.

What this is, is IT medical privacy malpractice.

Sophos Naked Security Blog

Facebook closed around $34 today, $4 below its IPO price. This writer argues it’s worth more like $16 to $24 per share. As a travel-related aside, some observers had been speculating that Kayak would move forward with its IPO if the Facebook IPO warmed the market; it will be interesting to see what Kayak decides in the wake of Facebook’s less-than-stellar launch.

Business Insider

Startup Ark launches its new people search engine across multiple social networks.


Localities are offering incentives including 5 years of free rent to land a desirable Apple Store.

ars technica

Just one more: I was looking around for the Just one More “closer” tonight and knew I had found it the instant I came across the Bananaphone capacitive touch synthesizer. This is fruit hacking at its finest! In all seriousness, it’s a cute demonstration of how readily-available hardware modules are enabling the maker movement.



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