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October 1, 2007

'He had stumbled upon a little-known trick that many online travel companies would rather keep quiet'

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The details appeared in Michelle Higgins's article in yesterday's New York Times Travel section about finding the best deals.

Read the first four paragraphs of the article below for details on how to use the trick; reading the rest of it, you'll learn even more cool stuff about how to save a euro — or a thousand of them.

    When the Best Deals Don’t End in .Com

    For a trip to Barcelona, Jorge Cuadros, a lawyer from Alexandria, Va., turned to the Internet to book a rental car. On Hertz.com, Mr. Cuadros was quoted a price of 626.12 euros for an automatic Mercedes for five days in October. At $1.42 to the euro, that amounted to about $890.

    Out of curiosity, Mr. Cuadros switched to his native Spanish tongue and checked Hertz’s Spanish Web site, www.hertz.es, where the same car was offered for 263.92 euros — about 58 percent less. He had stumbled upon a little-known trick that many online travel companies would rather keep quiet.

    “It seems that the car rental companies are in some cases even charging twice the price to residents of the U.S. than to Europeans,” said Mr. Cuadros, who compares the practice to how some pharmaceutical companies charge more in the United States than they do overseas. “This is abusive behavior.”

    Some of the best travel deals on the Web these days don’t end in .com but can be found on a travel company’s foreign offshoot, which usually ends with the country’s domain name, like .fr (France), and .de (Germany). Though the travel companies don’t advertise it, they often charge different prices based on the country of origin.

    In an effort to expand their global reach, online travel agencies based in the United States like Expedia and Travelocity, as well as individual airlines and car rental agencies, are creating Web sites geared to foreign counties. Travelocity, for example, just started Travelocity.com.mx for customers in Mexico. It also has Travelocity.co.uk for Britain; www.Travelocity.de for Germany; and Travelocity.ca for Canada. Expedia has 13 foreign sites including Expedia.dk (Denmark), Expedia.it (Italy) and Expedia.fr (France).

    The savings can be considerable. An Expedia.com search for a round-trip flight from Melbourne to Sydney in August yielded a $350 airfare on Qantas as the lowest available, including taxes and fees. The same flight was listed on Expedia’s Australian Web site, Expedia.com.au, for 224.34 Australian dollars, or about $187 at 1.20 Australian dollars to the U.S. dollar. Expedia.com.au also listed a lower fare (about 200 Australian dollars) on Virgin Blue, an Australian low-cost carrier; the United States site did not search that airline.

    On Budget.com, a recent search for a six-day rental in Dublin pulled up a two-door, economy car for 109 euros a day. The same search on Budget.ie, the company’s Irish offshoot, offered the same category of car for 82 euros.

    Travel companies defend the multitiered pricing structure, saying that they set prices according to what each market will bear. “For decades, the market where goods and services are purchased has been a pricing factor in the travel industry, car rental included,” Paula R. Rivera, a public affairs manager at Hertz, wrote in an e-mail message. “Costs and competitive conditions in individual markets are among the considerations that affect pricing.”

    Expedia said its travel suppliers dictate prices, but added that it negotiated different agreements in each country. “Our Australian point-of-sale accesses domestic fares within Australia through a consolidator, giving the Australia site access to Virgin Blue, which we do not sell on Expedia.com in the U.S.,” Katie Deines, a spokeswoman for Expedia, said in an e-mail message. But customers in the United States, she added, can’t complete purchases on Expedia’s Australian Web site unless their credit card billing address is based in that country. (Budget and Hertz do not have that restriction.)

    “The requirement is among the measures we take to ensure the validity and security of bookings made on our points-of-sale,” Ms. Deines said.

    Some airlines do the same thing, and restrict purchases on their foreign Web sites to customers in those countries, said Keith Melnick, executive vice president of corporate development at Kayak.com and a former revenue manager at American Airlines. “In airline speak,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “the airlines differentiate their pricing based on the point-of-sale (P.O.S.). However, it is generally not a good idea to start searching the site in these other countries since the ones that do differentiate pricing by P.O.S. don’t want you to do this and will prevent you from purchasing by requiring a local credit card.”

    When this is the case, there are few work-arounds. If you are visiting friends in a foreign country, see if they can make a reservation for you. Likewise if you’re traveling on business abroad, perhaps your company’s foreign office can arrange your travel. You also might try contacting a travel agent in the area you’re planning to visit and ask them to make the purchase for you. The savings may outweigh any fees charged by the agent for processing the transaction.

    While country-domain hopping may uncover deals for rental cars and domestic flights in those countries, it doesn’t seem to work as well for hotel chains. “The large chains like Marriott have implemented a single image inventory to ensure rate parity across all channels,” said Ram Badrinathan, a Mumbai-based senior analyst at PhoCusWright, a travel consulting and research company.

    Bargain hunters should also watch out for hidden fees. Car rental agencies may charge foreign customers more for liability coverage. Web sites often assume that you are a resident of that country when you book online, so the additional cost may not appear until you pick up the car.

    Also, the foreign spinoffs of airline travel sites may require that the trip originate from that country, making round-trip searches of little use to American travelers. Still, those sites may be useful if you’re planning to travel within that country. A recent search on Kayak.com for the lowest airfare between Paris and Nice found a $171 fare on Air France. The same search on Kayak.fr turned up a 100-euro ticket on easyJet.

    Those sites might also come in handy for finding a cheap side trip. A recent glance at Travelocity.co.uk highlighted four-star hotel offers in Rome starting at 48 euros a night and vacation packages in Krakow, Poland. Meanwhile, Travelocity.com was advertising deals in Florida, New York and Mexico.

    So while searching the foreign version of a travel Web site might not always lead to the lowest price, it might just lead you to a destination you never would have thought to visit.

October 1, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Jeweled Lifetime Nail File

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From the website:

    Jeweled Lifetime Nail File

    Glamorous jeweled case holds a long lasting, super smooth ceramic file ready to touch up or fix a damaged nail at a moment's notice!

    Accented with genuine Swarovski crystals, this dazzling, compact case slips easily into any handbag.

    2-3/4" diam.

$14.95.

October 1, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Spam Chronicles — Episode 2: TypePad Responds

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Above, this morning's response to my inquiry of yesterday.

Props to TypePad for what as best I can tell (but consider the source — me) is a real response from a real person as opposed to a botmail.

And they got back to me within 24 hours, again impressive.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that after doing what Michel said — namely, going to the link he suggested (below)

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and then following its instructions, I still can't figure out how to have comments "flagged as possible spam and held for your approval."

But, on the brighter side, I did go through my list of banned URLs and words and found a few common ones like "spam" and "mother" and suchlike that I'd banned years ago when they kept coming up in spam.

So we'll see if things improve.

Send those comments in — let's test this puppy.

October 1, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Butt Station Desktop Organizer

1ay8132ii

I've heard of multitasking while you're on the throne but this is ridiculous.

From the website:

    Butt Station Desktop Organizer

    He looks like he's sitting down on the job — in fact, he's got everything under control.

    This fabulous modern piece combines the function of your tape dispenser, paper clip dish, sticky note holder and pen stash, all in one funny unit.

    Bonus: Magnetic hiney.

    Need we say more?

    6"L x 2"W x 6"H.

    Plastic.

$19.95.

October 1, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What happened before time began? 'Cosmic forgetfulness'

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Sounds nonsensical, right?

After I finished Charles Q. Choi's article in the October 2007 Scientific American about new thinking on the subject, my head hurt — I felt like my brain was a Möbius strip that had crashed headlong into a Klein bottle at inflation speed.

Here's the story.

    New Beginnings

    Ideas for a time before the big bang — which might be testable

    The big bang is often thought of as the beginning of everything, including time, making any questions about what happened beforehand nonsensical. Now exotic theories that suggest the existence of an era before the big bang are growing in number. They indicate that imprints of this era might exist and that an upcoming generation of telescopes could detect them.

    According to conventional big bang thinking, the universe emerged from a point of infi nite energy and density, a singularity where the laws of physics break down. The universe then underwent “inflation,” briefly expanding much faster than the speed of light. By smearing the cosmos out fairly evenly and smoothing out the early universe’s curves, inflation solved a number of puzzles, including why spacetime is “flat,” whereby light commonly travels in straight, not warped, lines. Ripples occurring during inflation could also explain the overall pattern, or structure, of galaxies seen now.

    Observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation — the leftover heat from the big bang — have confirmed several broad predictions of the inflationary model. Still, inflation should have caused powerful gravitational waves that in turn should have distorted cosmic microwaves in detectable ways. The telescopes have not seen such distortions yet, ruling out several inflationary models. Moreover, critics say that the theories underlying inflation should mean that inflation is an eternal process; it should generate an infinite number of pockets of space with different properties, requiring more complex theories for why we live in a pocket that has the flatness and structure we see.

    In the past 15 years, challenging theories arose that conjectured an era before the big bang, during which our universe contracted and then rebounded. Researchers say that the ekpyrotic scenario could successfully generate the current universe’s structure, flatness and other features. (The name comes from the ancient Stoic notion of ekpyrosis, a fire in which the universe continuously gets reborn.) The cyclic model, derived from the ekpyrotic model in 2002, also accounts for the dark energy posited to be now causing universal expansion to accelerate [see “The Myth of the Beginning of Time,” by Gabriele Veneziano, Scientific American, May 2004].

    Still, these bouncing models did not convince many theorists. These scenarios posit that ripples before the big bang successfully passed the daunting barrier of a singularity to initiate structure in the current universe, an idea “most cosmologists are extremely skeptical of,” admits Princeton University cosmologist Paul Steinhardt, who with University of Cambridge theoretical physicist Neil Turok helped to develop the ekpyrotic and cyclic models. In addition, the models were originally couched in terms of string theory, which many scientists disdain, because it calls for undetected extra dimensions of reality beyond those of space and time.

    A flurry of new bouncing models has just burst out in the past few months. Strikingly, they come in a variety of different flavors, many of which avoid a singularity and all of which require no dimensions beyond those of space and time. “There’s a lot of skepticism against bouncing, due perhaps to string theory,” Steinhardt says. “These new results use more familiar physics and should convince most cosmologists — even those who don't want to consider extra dimensions — that there are real alternatives to inflation.”

    For instance, to prevent a singularity at the big bang, two models suggest that, essentially, a strong push kept the past universe from collapsing to a point. This force comes from a “ghost condensate,” a fluid of exotic particles that can theoretically exert more pressure than even dark energy. These scenarios originated independently from theoretical physicist Burt Ovrut of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues and cosmologist Paolo Creminelli of the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Italy, in partnership with Harvard University cosmologist Leonardo Senatore.

    Another way to evade a singularity could be the intrinsic nature of spacetime. Relying on loop quantum gravity, an alternative to string theory, Pennsylvania State University theoretical physicist Martin Bojowald calculates that at extremely tiny scales, spacetime can become repulsive, preventing it from collapsing. A consequence of his scenario is what he calls “cosmic forgetfulness,” in which the universe after the big bang forgets some of its past properties and acquires new ones independent of what it had before.

    The new bouncing models should have resulted in post–big bang gravitational waves far weaker than inflation would generate, by 50 orders of magnitude. If more sensitive future telescopes, such as the Planck Surveyor, still fail to spot the distortions in the microwave background that inflation and its gravitational waves were supposed to have created, then such null results could support the idea of an era before the big bang. “At the moment I think it fair to say that inflation is more compelling,” Creminelli says. “At the end, however, experimental data will decide between the alternatives.”

October 1, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Baguette Computer Wrist Rest

Bookofjoe_knows

From the website:

    Baguette Computer Wrist Rest

    This cushy baguette is the perfect size for keeping your arms positioned at the best angle with soft, cushioning cell foam that looks remarkably real.

    1"H x 13½"W x 2½"D.

....................

The best part will be catching someone trying to break off an end 'cause they're really hungry.

$19.95.

October 1, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'The office of Steve Jobs called me today...'

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Up top is the headline of a post by Ben Gray that appeared last Friday, September 28, 2007 on his website, openswitch.org, about what happened after he emailed Steve Jobs about his unhappy experience following the recent purchase of an iMac.

You can read all about it there — the thing that most interested me is buried in the comments on the post and reproduced above: a working email address for Steve Jobs.

Not steve@mac.com but, rather, the address I featured here on September 7, 2007: sjobs@apple.com

Why waste your time with Apple service and support when you can take it directly to the top?

Have fun.

October 1, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Daisy Chain Multicharger

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From the website:

    Daisy Chain Recharges Every Conceivable Device Simultaneously — At Home or in Your Car!

    Just plug Daisy Chain into your wall or into your car’s lighter socket, and you can recharge all your personal electronics — at once!

    Eliminates completely that annoying tangle of wires and bulky transformers.

    Uses advanced voltage regulator circuitry to safely and simultaneously charge different devices.

    Comes with a single Mini-USB cord that fits Motorola RAZRs, SLVRs, KRZRs, and Blackberries; order additional adapter cords to fit your specific camera, cell phone, iPod, PDA, or Bluetooth headset.

    Includes AC and DC power cords and one Mini-USB charging cord.

$69.95.

October 1, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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