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This is Ian Ozsvald's blog (@IanOzsvald), I'm an entrepreneurial geek, a Data Science/ML/NLP/AI consultant, author of O'Reilly's High Performance Python book, co-organiser of PyDataLondon, a Pythonista, co-founder of ShowMeDo and also a Londoner. Here's a little more about me.

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28 May 2013 - 11:41Thoughts from a month’s backpacking honeymoon

I’m publishing this on the hoof, right now we’re in Istanbul near the end of our honeymoon back home. Here are some app-travelling notes (for our Nexus 4 Androids).

Google Translate offers Offline dictionaries for all the European languages, each is 150mb. We downloaded new ones before each country hop. Generally they were very useful, some phrases were wrong or not colloquial (often for things like “the bill please”). Some languages had pronunciation guides, they were ok but a phrase book would be better. It worked well as a glorified language dictionary.

Google Maps Offline were great except Hungary where offline wasn’t allowed (it didn’t explain why).

The lack of phrase or dictionary apps was a pain, there’s a real dearth on Android. Someone should fill this gap!

WiFi was fairly common throughout our travels so we rarely used our paper Guides. WiFi was free in all hotels, sometimes in train stations, often in cafes and bars even in Romania.

WikiSherpa caches recent search results which are pulled out of Wikipedia and Wikivoyage, this works like a poor man’s RoughGuide. It doesn’t link to any maps or cache images but if you search on a city, you can read up on it (e.g. landmarks, how to get a taxi etc) whilst you travel.

The official WikiPedia app has page saving, this is useful for background info on a city when reading offline.

AnyMemo is useful for learning phrases in new languages. It is chaotic as the learning files aren’t curated. You can edit the files to remove the phrases you don’t need and to add useful new ones in.

Emily notes that TripAdvisor on Android doesn’t work well (the iPhone version was better but still not great). Emily also notes that hotels.com, lastminute and booking.com were all useful for booking most of our travels and hotels.

We used foursquare when we had WiFi, sadly there is no offline mode so I just starred locations using Google Maps. Foursquare needs a language independent reading system, trying to figure out if a series of Turkish reviews were positive or not based on the prevalence of smileys wasn’t easy (Google Translate integration would have helped). An offline FourSquare would have been useful (e.g. for cafes near to our spot).

We really should have bought a WiFi 3G dongle. The lack of data was a pain. We used Emily’s £5 travel data day plans on occasion (via Three). It works for most of Europe but not Switzerland or Turkey.

Given that we have WikiPedia and Wiktionary, how come we don’t have a “WikiPhrases” (“wikilingo”?) with multi-language forms of common phrases? Just like the phrase books for travel that we can buy but with good local phrases and idioms across any language that gets written up. This feels like it’d have a lot of value.

Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

2 Comments | Tags: Life, Travel

6 July 2012 - 0:45Some international flight tips

Having flown a lot recently I’ve discovered that whilst it isn’t super-fun, it is no longer terribly uncomfortable. Maybe the crutches I use are useful to someone else.

Water – it turns out that if you buy water in Duty Free they will bag it and carry it onto the plane for you. This avoids having your water confiscated at security. Bizarre but true. Useful for budget flights if you’re not sure what the service will be like.

Neck pillow – I carry a simple blow-up pillow, it offers enough neck support that I can sleep on a plane and it packs down to a tiny size. I don’t have a specific recommendation, just make sure you try it before buying. Some I’ve tried offer very little neck support which (for me) makes them useless. Most do seem to support the neck well (normally you can try them at the airport). I see this one in Amazon which has one of the highest ratings – I’ve never used this (it might be overkill!) but the reviews are probably a good starting point.

Hearos Xtreme Protection Ear Plugs with plastic carry case – the most effective noise-blocking ear plugs I’ve found, they’re soft and can be cut to size (so they don’t fall out of your ear). I find sleeping with these to be super comfortable (they only irritate if used several nights, all night, in a row). They’re way more comfortable than wax earplugs and they have the highest noise-blocking rating that I’ve found (so they cut out more noise than the other types). If you know of even more effective ear plugs I’d certainly be open to suggestions. The plastic case is great on a plane so you don’t lose them (they stop them being squashed during storage which can stop them expanding properly).

They’re recommended for use in construction (!) and cut out most of the noise of people talking, babies crying etc. They block some of the low frequency engine drone (enough so that I can sleep) but don’t entirely remove it. They’re cheap and seem to work for anyone who has tried them. If you’ve only tried the free earplugs on a plane then you should know that these are significantly better at noise blocking.

Jasmine Silk Filled Eye Mask – the most comfortable eye blinds I’ve ever used (significantly more comfy and light-blocking than the freebie ones from an airline).They’re really comfy (Emily uses them now too), block almost all the light even on a bright day and I’m about to buy a second pair (after a year the elastic has stretched and they’re now a bit loose). I use these in hotels that have rubbish curtains – great for jet lag when you need the dark.

Diphenhydramine based sleeping tablets (like these Nytol One a Night). Personally I use sleeping tablets to help with jet lag and to sleep on planes. I’m not recommending you do the same (specifically I’m not making a medication recommendation), I’m just saying what works for me. Diphenhydramine is a first generation antihistamine which just happens to make you sleepy. It takes about 15 minutes for me to feel groggy and typically I can sleep on a plane for 4+ hours with one tablet. Without a sleeping tablet I never sleep on planes (and getting half a night+ of sleep is a great way to kill time and feel fairly-ok at the other end). The downside is that you’re not alert on the plane which isn’t ideal if there’s an emergency.

Kindle wifi – Emily and I carry our Kindles everywhere. Great for fiction, reasonable for PDFs (e.g. some science papers – but not brilliant as the reformatting isn’t very strong), it is super easy to buy new eBooks via the Amazon site or through the device. We just use the wifi version (we rarely need to buy ‘on the go’ with 3G). The click-to-select keyboard (you use a cursor to ‘type’ on a virtual keyboard) is fairly rubbish but since you rarely use an ebook reader to type, that’s not a problem. It runs for weeks, is visible in most lighting conditions, is small and ‘just works’. We really like ours.

I also use Foursquare at airports to figure out where the good food is to be found (along with wall sockets and free wifi). Staff are often quite helpful if you need a recommendation, particularly in explaining how to easily move between terminals if they have a favourite cafe.  WikiTravel and TripAdvisor are also useful to learn about travel+safety and recommended locations too.

Update@natbat recommends TripIt for travel organisation (along with @seb_ly and @plo). Nat also suggests Melatonin – I used to use it as it helped get me to sleep faster (as in – within 5 minutes) but they didn’t generate a deep sleep (so I prefer an over the counter sleeping tablet for a flight now). The comments at Amazon on Melatonin products seem quite varied – do your reading.

Update – flightfox runs competitions to find the lowest flights e.g. this one is for <$2000 round the world travel. This seems to be an interesting site to try to shave money off of complex flight requirements.

Update – this NYTimes article (“How the Tough Get Going: Silicon Valley Travel Tips”) has a bunch of tips including lightweight clothing and ways to be more time efficient with US travel.

Ian applies Data Science as an AI/Data Scientist for companies in ModelInsight, sign-up for Data Science tutorials in London. Historically Ian ran Mor Consulting. He also founded the image and text annotation API Annotate.io, co-authored SocialTies, programs Python, authored The Screencasting Handbook, lives in London and is a consumer of fine coffees.

2 Comments | Tags: Life, Travel