Ever wonder where that plane that flies over your house at three o’clock every day is coming from or going to? Yeah, there’s an app for that.
Lee Armstrong is a British computer programmer who wondered the same thing, so he started sprinkling devices on high places around the world that read the signals aircraft automatically send out regularly identifying who they are, where they’re flying to and from, how high they are, and other details.
The result is an app and web site called Planefinder. Click on it, and you’ll see in real time every plane in the sky except in some places where Lee doesn’t have receivers, such as rural parts of Africa or China.
While writing this commentary, I clicked on a plane flying from Australia and found it is Hawaiian Airlines Flight number 452 en route from Sydney to Honolulu. It’s cruising along at 531 miles per hour at 41,000 feet. It’s a two-engine, Airbus 330-200.
After the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the airline didn’t stop using the flight number, so for days, folks sent emails to Armstrong saying, “Hey, I found that plane.”
Sadly, of course, they hadn’t, and Malaysia Airlines soon retired the flight number.
Last year the Food & Drug Administration warned that a common anti-malarial drug whose trade name is Lariam can cause serious neurological and psychiatric side effects. And I recently met a world-traveler whose family can attest to that.
The gentleman I met visited Africa with his wife and college-age daughter a couple of years ago. They took the Lariam regimen starting two weeks before their travel, the standard procedure for the drug that promises to protect from malaria.
Two weeks after returning from Africa, his wife began feeling extreme pain in her extremities. It was agonizing for her to touch anything with her fingers; it was torture to don a pair of reading glasses. And shortly thereafter, her husband awoke to debilitating pain in his joints. And soon after that, their daughter experienced a sudden weight gain.
The culprit was Lariam, and all three have been undergoing periodic treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Lariam’s manufacturer, Roche, no longer sells Lariam in the US. There are generics substitutes, but here’s the important thing: You want to avoid any anti-malarial drug with mefloquine. It’s the third-most prescribed anti-malarial drug prescribed in the US. And while I’m not a doctor or scientist, I’d give anything with mefloquine wide berth.
Yesterday I told you about the Oculus Rift, a Virtual Reality device perfected by a 19-year-old, Southern California native named Palmer Lucky. Facebook bought the rights to produce the device for more than $2 billion a few months ago, and, for travel, it’s a game changer.
Imagine walking virtually along a canal in Venice. You can turn around 360 degrees, and it’s as if you’re standing in the Piazza San Marco. There’s no border around what you’re seeing in the Oculus Rift, no motion sickness that plagued earlier Virtual Reality devices when a wearer moved his or her head.
So you can virtually climb Mt. Everest from the comfort of a living room sofa. Soar over the Sahara Desert or raft the Grand Canyon. WIRED magazine senior editor Peter Rubin did a June cover story in the magazine detailing the birth of the Oculus Rift—you’ll find a link to it here.
The Oculus Rift will allow those who can’t afford to travel or who are physically unable to travel to experience the migration across the Serengeti and any number of other incredible places and events. This is going to change everything.
For more than a decade, everyone from NASA to inventors with PhDs after their names has been trying to perfect Virtual Reality, or “VR.” VR allows you to slip a device over your head and enter another world. You have a 3-D, 360-degree view of whatever is being presented to you. Gamers have craved this for years.
But early devices caused nausea because when a user turned his head or manipulated a joystick, what he was seeing didn’t adjust in his view at exactly the same time, leading to motion sickness. Lots of people threw up trying new VR devices.
But as a June cover story in WIRED by Peter Rubin detailed, a 19-year –old, Southern California tinkerer working in his garage figured out how to make a bug-less VR. And a few months ago, at age 21, that inventor with the great name of Palmer Lucky sold his company to Facebook for more than $2 billion. And by this time next year, we may all be able to buy his Oculus Rift for about $300.
Here’s a link to Rubin’s cover story in WIRED. Tomorrow: What this means for travel.
Now that it’s been a few weeks since the Malaysia Airlines tragedy over Ukraine, it’s worth taking a longer view. And one of the most oft-asked questions following the downing of the plane was: “What was it doing flying over that region in the first place?”
I’m reminded of a blog posting of Patrick Smith, a frequent guest on my weekend radio show and a commercial pilot who flies internationally. He’s also the author of the very good blog called AskThePilot.
Shortly after the disaster, Patrick wrote, ““Dozens of airline flights pass each day over Baghdad. I have personally piloted flights over Eastern Ukraine, close to where the Malaysia Airlines 777 met its fate.
“Over certain countries — Afghanistan, for instance — commercial overflights might be prohibited outright. Compliance with these restrictions is important, but they are not difficult to follow. Crews don’t simply wander unknowingly into dangerous airspace. On the ground, air traffic controllers are fully aware of who will be passing over, and when.”
Patrick notes the airspace over Eastern Ukraine and was being used routinely by European and Asian airlines when the Malaysian jet was brought down. And US airlines had not been warned away from flying.
“What a double-dose of agonizing luck,” Smith wrote, “for Malaysia Airlines. One of the world’s most highly regarded carriers has lost two Boeing 777s in less than a year’s span, with neither accident likely being its fault.”