Archive for the 'Travel' category

My Privilege Triggered TSA Action

Nov 25 2015 Published by under Travel, Wackaloonacy

Drugmonkey has a series of vignettes he uses to launch a discussion of privilege and disparities in NIH funding. The first of these reminded me of a recent event in my own life. Briefly, it involves a guy with TSA PreCheck status who gets a secondary bag search and the dude is SO INCONVENIENCED.

If you fly more than occasionally, the TSA PreCheck rocks. You take your passport to a center where you get photographed and fingerprinted. After a background check, you are assigned a known traveler number that you enter when you book an airline ticket. The security line is generally shorter. You pass through a metal detector instead of the scanner. You still run your bags through the x-ray machine, but you can leave laptops and CPAP machines in your case, as well as your bag of tiny liquids. You still only carry on 3.1 oz bottles in a sandwich baggie, but you don't have to dig everything out and repack. You can also leave on your shoes, unless they set off a metal detector. I would like to thank Tory Burch for putting so much metal in the logo on my ballet flats that I still get to wander through barefoot. All things considered, my PreCheck status is well-worth the $85 I paid for 5 years of facilitated screening. For my travels, that works out to less than $1.50 per security screen.

This last return trip, my purse got a secondary search. They had looked at its x-ray for a long time, so I knew something had piqued their curiosity, but I had no idea what it might be. I had added nothing since my uneventful screening en route to Baltimore.

Here is the culprit:

Expensive but gorgeous; click to Sephora

Expensive but gorgeous; click to Sephora

Apparently they had not seen Louboutin's lovely lipstick before. It costs enough and it's new enough to make it scarce in the TSA world (it's clearly a symbol of my socioeconomic status and privilege). They handed it to me and had me show them how it worked.

I am glad that they take screening duties seriously, even though I am sure they felt a little silly making a fuss about a lipstick. The whole thing was pretty hilarious to me, and it barely slowed me down. Finally, I'm so grateful to not unpack laptop, liquids, and that damn CPAP machine that I can handle occasional nonsense like this event.

I hope the people Drugmonkey documents can learn a lesson from their experiences although I doubt that it happens. If you have not read his post yet, what are you waiting for? I'll even put the link here again, just in case scrolling up to the first paragraph is too inconvenient.

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Almost Home #KidneyWk14

Nov 15 2014 Published by under Travel

Kidney Week is once again winding down. Today I ran my last meeting of the Kidney News Editorial Board. I will miss putting that magazine together, but new blood often generates new invigorating ideas for a publication. The new editor is keeping me on the board, so I still have a voice.

Oklahoma expects snow tomorrow for my return home. My car sits in an open lot, so I will have to clear it off. At least only an inch or two is predicted. I just hope Denver stays clear so I do not get delayed like I did en route to Philadelphia. Reentry to regular life is just that much more difficult when you are sleep deprived.

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Work Re-Entry After Travel

May 14 2014 Published by under Travel

Nothing on your backlog rates this response...

I have returned to my office/clinic/hospital after two weeks on the road. I often tweet "No trip goes unpunished" during this period, because I always find an amazing amount of catch-up, even if my travels took me to something work-related with no opportunities for fun.

Some things can make this adjustment more tolerable:

  • Return home a day early, or take an extra day off: I got home Saturday night, so some of the laundry and household stuff got handled before I had a single chore at work. It cannot always be accomplished, but it sure helps if you can swing it.
  • When traveling on business, organize receipts during the trip: For this past travel block, I had 4 separate conferences. Receipts must be kept for reimbursement and, when I am paying my way, for tax purposes. Having each meeting's receipts in a separate envelope improved my mood substantially as I scanned and organized them. Scanning en route provides the most efficiency (see my review of Expensify from last year) so your report can be assembled quickly, but some organizations still want hard copy receipts.
  • Even on vacation, scanning your email for 5 or 10 minutes each day can make re-entry so much more pleasant: at least two-thirds of the emails I receive can be deleted, often without reading. Most of the rest requires no action on my part or a quick reply via smart phone. After a week incommunicado, I could easily accumulate 500 messages. Coming back to 20 makes that first day less onerous.
  • Finally, prioritize: Many of these items have been on hold pending your return to reality. Most of them can remain on the back burner until it's their turn for action. You do not have to get everything done at once. If you try, you will make yourself crazy, and then you will just need a vacation (and do this all over again).

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A Little Break...OR IS IT?

May 03 2014 Published by under Travel

I previously related my two weeks, four meetings, cross-country travel extravaganza. Jet lag no longer troubles me; my body has no idea what time zone it inhabits, not which one it should be in. I now find myself about half-way through my travels, with a beautiful day of me-time.

Hand Held Scanner Cam

Hand Held Scanner Cam

Today I went to a DC hot spot I had never visited, the International Spy Museum. The museum brings you in via an elevator filled with flashing lights, up to a third floor where you pick an identity. I went with a 50-year-old female microbiologist (although she was born in Viet Nam and now resides in California). You watch a short movie about espionage (narrated by Linda Hunt), and then you enter Spy School.  From there you have more exhibits about gadgets and spy craft.  For example, at left is the "rollover" camera that took photos as you rolled it over a large document. Sound anything like, say, hand-held scanners?

Pigeon Cam

Pigeon Cam


At right is my personal favorite from the pigeon room, the Pigeon Cam. Carrier birds provided invaluable transmission of messages during WWI. Someone came up with this small, light, automatic camera that took photos as the bird flew its route. The most famous pigeon, Cher Ami, won the Croix de Guerre for delivering a message, despite fatal wounds, that led to the rescue of a lost battalion. While her story made this museum, her taxidermied body minus the leg lost in battle can be seen in the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian. This bird also made Time Magazines list of heroic animals (in fourth position).

Remember Cher Ami next time you kick a pigeon out of the way or call them "rats with feathers."

As it says, a rectal tool kit, filled with sharp instruments...

As it says, a rectal tool kit, filled with sharp instruments...

The gadgets and gizmos section also showed a number of miniaturized tools that would make Q jealous. Many were developed for paratroopers who needed stuff when they dropped in behind enemy lines, but it had to be small, light, and not easily found. This led to knives, compasses, and other items secreted into shoe heels, uniform buttons, and other locations...although the next photo would be "above and beyond the call of duty" in my opinion (all puns intended).

This option never came up in the James Bond movies, although there is an exhibit of 50 years of Bond Villains in the museum. All sorts of movie paraphenalia is on display, and the biographies of each villain are outlined. My favorite portion here involved a giant touch screen. When you hit a button, it opened metal "doors" into a tank of sharks (no laser beams; sorry, Dr. Evil). After just long enough, a large, open, toothy mouth hits the screen, appearing to break the glass. I watched a young boy damn near wet his pants!

The day continued on with the 007 theme. Raymond Benson and Jeffery Deaver are the only two American authors that the Fleming estate has allowed to write Bond novels. They have assembled and edited a collection of stories of Cold War intrigue, Ice Cold. They did an hour of Q&A, discussing their writing techniques and how they approached an iconic character like Bond. They also discussed the books and movies, as well as their own stuff.

They deny having anything to do with Putin's latest activities that have raised Cold War images again (although clearly the book's marketers have got to love it).

I also got to give Jeffry Deaver a piece of my mind for the 6 months I could not take a cab after I read The Bone Collector. He told me a couple of activities I may shy away from if I read his latest novel, The Skin Collector. You know, I really won't miss my laundry room.

Tomorrow it's back to business after a train trip to Philadelphia for the fourth Vision 2020 Congress. Or is that really the purpose of my trip? Can anyone really be certain?



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The Trouble with Travels: #xBio 2014 Edition

Apr 18 2014 Published by under Travel

This time of year often makes me crazy.

  • April 25: Fly to San DiegoAirTravel
  • April 26-29: Blog EB
  • April 30: Fly home*
  • May 1: Fly to Washington, DC*
  • May 2: Meeting with American Society of Nephrology in DC
  • May 3: Hang in DC because there is no sense going home for <12 hours
  • May 4: Take train to Philadelphia by 3pm for first event
  • May 4-6: Vision 2020 Congress
  • May 6: Finish Congress and fly home
  • May 8: Fly to Chicago
  • May 9-10: WESH Summit
  • May 10: Finish meeting and fly home
* Please recall that there is no April 31

My spreadsheets for wardrobe planning are going full-time right now. I have to look business casual and/or vaguely professional for at least portions of these events. I have planned my EB wardrobe so it has no overlap with what I am wearing for the next escapade. I will get home, dump the dirties in the hamper, and shove the next trip's stuff in the suitcase, perhaps after a bit of Febreze to keep it all fresh.

Yes, I know I have chosen to do most of this to myself. I really like to travel, but I wish I had a day or two to breathe between some of these events.

Oh, well, if my blogging lightens up after EB, you will know why.

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No Trip Goes Unpunished: Many Tiny Receipts

Apr 26 2013 Published by under Travel

One of the "joys" of returning from a trip involves sorting receipts.  Food, cabs, and other expenses have to be documented, either for reimbursement or tax purposes. Manually entering stuff into a spreadsheet seems so last decade...

Expensify provides a 2013 method that even interfaces with Evernote, a ubiquitous clip-and-file app that works across all major desktop and mobile platforms. You get receipts into your Expensify account through several methods, including email (great for airfare), scanned PDFs (hotel bill), or photographs taken with your smart phone (most everything else). The latter can be saved to an Expensify notebook in Evernote which will automatically sync with your online account. Alternately, you can use the smartscan app within the Expensify app to add those items. The service can identify the vendor and total amount without issues. It dates receipts by default with the date of the scan; I wish it would use the date on the receipt instead, as it does for the ones I entered in other ways. You can add comments, tags, and categories for your receipts via the smart phone or web platforms.

You then assemble the receipts into a report. You can cluster your items by category or in other ways. Below is a screen shot from the web site:

The report can then be emailed to other users, saved as a PDF, or merely printed out. The report will include thumbnails of all receipts plus full-sized versions. My four-day trip to Boston generated 18 receipts, mostly for cabs. The final PDF is 25 pages long because it includes all of these images.

The Expensify app is free, and a Core account includes 10 image receipts per month. Upgrading to the Pro level lets you scan additional receipts at $0.20 each, a bargain in my opinion. I had my information organized in a flash this morning, all ready for the IRS in 2014.


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Stiff Upper Lip and All That

Apr 16 2013 Published by under Travel

Yesterday our hearts went out to the people of Boston and the Marathon. I cannot imagine running 26+ miles, let alone facing carnage at the end.

Of course, like a number of other scientist types, I am visiting Boston for Experimental Biology later this week. My husband's first reaction last night involved me cancelling the trip.

No, I decided. Boston will be swept with a fine-tooth comb over the next 4 days. It may be the safest place in North America.

Also I am reading a book set during the London blitz right now, with the population dealing with German bombs from the skies and IRA bombs in the tubes. Did Britain let these threats stop them? Hell, no! They plastered the buildings left standing with inspirational posters and hunkered down.

We should do the same, so I made this today:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Turns out there is a website where you can create your own variations on this poster. You can even buy merchandise with your message on it.

Terrorists/criminals win if they keep us away, and we will not help a single person by staying home. Let's show them what scientists are made of and get our butts to Boston!

It's the patriotic thing to do.

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Dear Airlines of the US

Oct 23 2012 Published by under Travel

I flew last week on a carrier that was not my usual one. As a Premier member, I get early boarding on United; on American, I was in the last group on the plane. This only becomes an issue because of overhead baggage space. For a 3-day weekend, we did not need or want to check bags. Every flight, we had to fight for those last spaces for the roll-aboards.

I can solve this problem for the airlines. Really, it could be pretty easy. Since stowing bags is a major factor slowing the boarding process, everyone might be happier.

Image from Amazon

Charge for roll-aboards. Yup, all travelers get a personal item that fits under the seat in front of them - purse, laptop case, whatever. Give your frequent fliers the perk of a free roll-aboard in the overhead bin. Let everyone have a free checked bag, but make them pay for a roll-aboard. For the convenience of not awaiting my luggage, I would have gladly shelled out $50 each way this past weekend. To have you juggle and potentially lose my bags? Not so much. Have too many people paying for overhead space? Have your computer shunt them to the free checked bag alternative during the check-in process.

A lot of folks will choose to check if the alternative is $25 per bag. Getting on and off the aircraft will go much more smoothly.

At least think about it.

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Adventures in Air Travel

Jun 15 2012 Published by under Travel

As you may have noticed, I went offline for a bit while traveling to and from the diabetes meetings. My travels were supposed to end Tuesday evening; instead, I spent an extra day on the road in Houston, Texas.

First, the plane that would take me from Philadelphia to Houston arrived over an hour late from O'Hare. No one seems to be saying why this delay occurred. Once it got there, we boarded quickly and started our journey...sort of. See, Air Force One landed at PHL and backed things up a bit. We were number 35 in line to take-off on the single useable runway.

The only reason I might have made my connection in Houston came from a thunderstorm moving into southeastern Texas. While it did delay the final flight of the day to Oklahoma City, it did not do enough. That plane departed while my flight from Philadelphia tried to find an open gate.

I had already received an email with my booking information for the following day, but I had to stand in line for 1.5 hours for a hotel voucher. I ended up at a very nice Super 8 near IAH at 1 am. (Given the number of tight connections in Houston, I'm adding this place to my directory so I can bypass that line next time; I am willing to pay the extra $20 per night.) I slept, showered, and put my unclean clothes back on, landing in OKC 12 hours later.

Did I mention we had company coming that night? I went from the airport to the grocery store.

My saving grace is that I kept my schedule clear of patients the day after my trip, just in case. Hubby, on a different airline, got stranded in Atlanta and flew in much earlier on Wednesday. He saw patients all day long in his dirty laundry.

When, science, when?

My biggest question right now is why Air Force One flies in and out of civilian airports, disrupting air traffic? Why doesn't the prez use military facilities? Was it because this is a campaign trip or something?

Of course, had the plane been on time from Chicago this would not have been a problem.

When will we have that Star Trek transporter physiology worked out?

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Packing for #EB2012

Apr 13 2012 Published by under Fashion (or not), Travel

Many of us will travel to San Diego in a week for Experimental Biology. You have spent time registering, picking a hotel, making travel arrangements, and considering sessions. Now it is time to consider your packing.

San Diego makes it easier; most of the year the temperature runs about 70 and the sun usually shines. Could we get rain? Sure, but really bad weather is not a strong possibility. You should have a fold-able pocket umbrella in your suitcase anyway. Check the weather forecast right before you finish packing; they don't get particularly predictive until the 5-day time-frame.

Conference travel involves at least 3 types of activities. These include travel, attendance, and presentation. With a bit of planning, you can get appropriate apparel for a 5-day trip into a case that fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane. What do you sacrifice? Shoes. If you need more than 2 pair (one to wear on the plane and one to ride in the case) it's unlikely that you will get by with just the roll-aboard.

On travel days, comfort may be the primary consideration; however, you should also consider what happens if checked luggage does not immediately make it to your final destination. Having a clean set of underwear and all personal necessities available can make that delay tolerable. Also consider wearing something you could wear to a session; nice jeans with a shirt and jacket can work for almost any meeting session and can be just as comfortable as sweats. OK, not sweats, but you know what I mean. Also, wearing a jacket avoids taking up valuable suitcase room. Nice slip-on shoes also work well. You want something that won't slow you down too much when you hurry for a connection, but not something so complicated it will take you half-an-hour to redress in security. The people behind you in line will be more of a threat if you wear above-the-knee lace-up boots (trust me, I have seen this happen) than any terrorist.

The rest of the meeting you have two things to avoid: looking sloppy or slutty. You are meeting potential colleagues and reviewers; if I receive your next manuscript, do you really want me to remember the girl with the dragon tattoo or your unusual navel piercing? When you present, a suit-like ensemble is ideal, especially if you are young or female. Like it or not, dressing professionally will make you seem more authoritative. Pissed that people may judge you by your clothing? It happens whether you like it or not.

Finally, remember all the chargers for your gizmos and never let anyone check your presentation. Posters should only enter the luggage compartment if pried from your cold, dead fingers.

This advice has been compiled into a brief slideshow below. Enjoy, and may you and your luggage always arrive together. See you in San Diego!


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