Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weird Tours That Make You Scratch Your Head And Say…Huh?

This week's vacation related blog is about weird and unusual tours. It's May and people are thinking about summer vacation, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Where to go.  What to do.  Travel far from home.  Stay close by.  Fly.  Go by train.  Drive.  Take a cruise.

So many decisions.

It seems that any place of even minimal interest to the average vacationer offers a tour.  All major travel destinations have a variety of tours from which to choose.  However, there are also tours out there that are really out there as far as their subject matter.  Here are a few legitimate tours of the unusual, weird, and even bizarre.

In The Ghetto—Los Angeles, California:  This bus tour goes through which is locally known as South Central, an area of Los Angeles that has become synonymous with gang warfare and poverty.  The tour guides are former gang members.  And with the sight seeing comes some education.  Reformed gang members recall their lives on the streets.  All profits go toward economic development in the community and helping to provide jobs for the youth.  The sights include LA County Jail and a graffiti lab.

Tour de Sewer—Paris, France:  If your fantasy is to live underground, indulge in a little Phantom Of The Opera role playing, then you'll be happy to know that there are several tour companies that offer the experience of exploring the underground sewers of Paris.  There is even a museum dedicated to the below street environs where you can see videos and displays showing the evolution of sewer technology.  The tour sights include drain pipes and underground tunnels.  This website is in French, but it offers a translation option that puts it into English.

A Paranormal Activity—Edinburgh, United Kingdom:  Numerous locations in the U.S., and worldwide, have paranormal/ghost tours.  This one is particularly interesting.  If you're afraid of the dark, you might want to think twice before embarking on this tour.  High levels of paranormal activity have been reported in the cramped passageways below Edinburgh's South Street bridge, a space once used as storage vaults for merchants in the 1700s.  Then the spaces were used as living quarters for the city's poor.  Rumors have long circulated that the underground lairs were used as dumping sites for murder victims.  Something that makes this tour different is that tour members are issued hand held Electro Magnetic Field recorders to carry with them on the tour in order to detect ghostly presences.

Love For The Slums—Mumbai, India:  With the success of 8 time Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire, what has been termed "poverty tourism" has become popular.  Over a million people live in the 550 acre area known as Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia.  Whether the tour is exploitation or educational is up to you, but 80% of the profits are donated to help Mumbai's poor.  Similar tours are offered in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, as well as Kenya.

Dead Celebrities—Hollywood, California:  The "Deadly Departed Tour" (one of several celebrity related tours) explores nearly 100 sites of celebrity scandal and death, a feast for pop culture lovers.  The tabloid tour lasts over three hours and is usually offered Wednesday through Sunday.

Hunt Or Be Hunted—Port Hardy, British Columbia, Canada:  For over ten years Great Bear Nature Tours has been taking visitors into the wilderness in search of grizzlies.  For anywhere from two to seven nights you go into the wilderness searching for bears with a biologist as your guide.  Binoculars and rain gear is provided.  Also included is a private room at the Great Bear Lodge with meals.  This is an Eco tour in a remote wilderness with breathtaking scenery.  The only shooting is done with a camera.

Scandal Sightseeing—Washington, D.C.:  There are lots of different tours available in and around Washington, D.C., but this one is done with wit and irreverence by the comedy troupe "Gross National Product."  On this tour you'll visit the familiar such as the Jefferson Memorial and the White House, but the guides let you in on the juicy details other tour operators tend to leave out.

Have any of you ever taken a weird, off beat type of tour?

Stop by next week for another offering in my summer vacation blogs.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Most Unexpected Flight Delays

Summer is almost here and that means vacation time for many people. This week my blog is about unexpected flight delays. My next few blogs will also be travel and vacation related.

Anyone who flies, even if it's infrequently, has experienced flight delays for one reason or another and it seems that they are happening more often then they used to.  It could be weather related at the airport where you are or perhaps at the airport where your plane is coming from which prevents the aircraft from arriving at your airport.  It could be mechanical problems with the plane.  Or simply more flights taking off and landing than your airport can handle.  Or a myriad of other minor inconveniences that delay your departure.

It's very frustrating when you've arrived at the airport the requisite two hours before departure, waited in the long line to get through security, had a personal possession confiscated by the TSA agent even though it was not on their list of disallowed items.  And you finally arrive at your gate only to find that your flight has been delayed.  Maybe for half an hour maybe for three hours.

But what about those truly unexpected flight delays?  Those strange occurrences so far out of the realm of normal that they defy description.  I recently saw a list of ten wackiest—and scariest—flight delays that I'd like to share with you.

10)  Bug Bungle:  Florida has the reputation for being a state that's home to many different type of creepy, crawly things.  An American Airlines flight from Miami to Washington, D.C., in March 2010 was delayed due to a cockroach infestation in the cabin.  Specifically on the curtain separating the cabin areas.

9)  Turtle Love:  In July 2009, something far less predictable than flight congestion at JFK airport caused a delay.  Seventy-eight amorous diamondback terrapins from nearby Jamaica Bay made their way across the runway looking for a place to breed.  They were rounded up and trucked by to Jamaica Bay.

8)  Toilet Trouble:  Some passengers aboard a Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight scheduled from Dhaka to London in August 2009 decided to test the toilet system on the plane by flushing all kinds of things including bottles and cups in the five toilets.  The clogged toilets were cleared in two hours, but more than two hundred passengers had to wait an additional eight hours for takeoff due to a night flight ban at London's Heathrow airport.

7)  Catfish Conundrum:  Catfish, it seems, are able to use their pectoral fins to go for a temporary stroll on land.  In August 2008, a Delta Airlines flight was denied landing permission in Florida due to the presence of four walking catfish on the runway, along with two gopher tortoises, a blue indigo snake and an alligator.  The plane had to circle until the herd was rounded up and relocated to a nearby pond.

6)  Flight Attendants:  In February 2010, Two female flight attendants on a Delta Connection flight from Rochester to Atlanta were removed from duty after a fight between them resulted in a flight delay.  The passengers had to deplane and take other flights to reach their destination.

5)  Over-Ambitious Employee:  Bomb threats are a scary reality, but in December 2009 American Airlines received a very unusual phoned bomb threat.  A secretary in Miami was concerned that her boss, who was running late, would miss his flight to Honduras.  So, rather than booking him on a later flight, she emailed the airport saying a bomb had been planted.  While the aircraft and the luggage was being searched, she was traced via her IP address to her office where she was arrested.

4)  Rabbits Doing Their Thing:  In June 2007, passengers at the airport in Milan, Italy, weren't prepared for the problems caused by an excessive number of mating rabbits.  Problems so severe that they halted takeoffs and landings for a few hours until they were rounded up and taken to a wildlife preserve.

3)  Forgetful Passenger:  At JFK airport in September 2008, an American Airlines flight returned to the gate after it had taxied and was just about to take off.  It seems that one of the passengers realized he had left his laptop computer in the terminal.  He was freaking out, wouldn't listen to the flight attendants, and refused to sit down.  He was taken off the plane and the flight was delayed even longer so his luggage could be located and removed from the plane.

2)  Gold Fever:  In Canada, hockey is a very serious endeavor.  During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, passengers were watching Canada and the U.S. play for the gold medal on airport televisions.  They ignored repeated announcements and pleas from gate agents to board their flight to Montreal thus causing a flight delay.

1)  MIA Baby Pythons:  It sounds like something from a horror movie.  In April 2009, a Quantas airplane missed two scheduled flights after it was discovered that four baby pythons were unaccounted for following a flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne.  The plane was fumigated and returned to service, but that didn't necessarily ease the minds of many passengers since the snakes were never found.

What's the longest you've ever been stuck on a delayed flight?  I was on an American Airlines flight scheduled to depart at 6:30am from Burbank, California, for Dallas where I had a connection departing Dallas at 12:30 that afternoon.  We sat on the tarmac at Burbank more than four hours due to mechanical problems which caused me to miss my connection in Dallas and also the next available connection in Dallas three hours later (missed that one by five minutes) and then the last connection of the day was grounded in Dallas because of fog at my destination so I had to stay overnight in Dallas and catch the first flight at 9:30 the next morning.  Not a fun travel day.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

20 Jobs That Will Not Exist in 20 Years

Last week we talked about jobs from the past that have already gone by the wayside. And this week is part 2 of my obsolete jobs blog. We're going to talk about jobs that are predicted to be nearly gone in the next 20 years or at least out-of-date.

What education should you get to best position yourself for the coming decades? What line of work should you be in, and which professions have no future and will disappear? What does the brave new world have to offer? Here is a list I saw of jobs predicted to be obsolete in 20 years—some logical, some surprising, and some seem a little far-fetched.

1. Actor: Actors in film and television will be replaced by completely realistic animations. Stage actors will of course exist for a while longer, and will probably be performing in many parts of the world simultaneously, through the anticipated widespread use of holograms. [I'm not really seeing either of these end results as being on the immediate horizon…the capability yes, but the reality no]

2. Cashier: Many grocery stores already have self-operated check stands, but that’s just a tradeoff between a cashier doing the job and you doing it yourself, making your groceries cheaper. [remember when ATMs first became available and we were encouraged to trust those machines and told it was a good thing because it would save money and in today's world we're charged ATM fees]  In the future, check stands will be fully automated. Just leave your groceries on the belt and let the robot tally it up many times faster than a human ever could. As a consequence, lines will be much less of a nuisance as they become increasingly non-existent.

3. Construction worker: Construction work can be hazardous, so why should humans risk their lives doing it? In the future, insurance companies certainly won’t cover a construction firm that takes such unnecessary risks. Robotics are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and they’ll be constructing buildings cheaper, and far more rapidly than humans.

4. Soldier: Compared to sophisticated robots, humans are relatively susceptible to mental deficiencies such as nervousness, pride, stupidity, miscalculation, and slow reaction time. In other words: computers can do the same job more efficiently, without risking human life, and without apprehension. [this one is surely going to be dependent on perfected artificial intelligence…that instant decision about a totally unexpected situation]

5. Security guard: Buy a strong, obedient robot that can see in the dark, never falls asleep on duty, and won’t accept bribes, to protect your home or your business.

6. Car mechanic: Cars will become too technically complex to repair for humans. Computers and robots will take care of it. Eventually, cars will fix themselves. They've already started driving themselves. 

7. Trash collector: Instead of two slow, weak and unhappy guys tossing trash into the back of the truck, a single fast, strong and highly motivated robot will complete the process in five seconds. [my trash pickup has recently been reduced to a one man operation and that one man is the driver—newly issued trash receptacles, instructions about where/how they are placed at the curb, and trucks with automatic arms that pick up the receptacle and dump the contents into the truck then return the receptacle to the curb]

8. Assembly line worker: Automakers, textile producers and furniture factories (to mention some industries) around the world are cutting costs by reducing their number of salary, pension and insurance absorbing employees, and shifting focus to mechanical solutions.

9. Toll booth operator: Many developed countries have already successfully implemented money-and-time saving automatic toll booths with video detection and post payment/subscriptions.

10. Prostitute: The completely lifelike robot girlfriends will satisfy the demand for carnal services in the future. [Westworld has become reality?]

11. Nature photographer: Close-ups from inside the lion's cave and year-long stakeouts without the need for food or shelter are the advantages of photographic robots. [but does all this robotic perfection replace the creative and artistic eye contributed by the human element?]

12. Surgeon: Why let a nervous, shaky doctor with poor eyesight cut you with knives and fool around inside of you, when a steady handed, ice cool and accurate robot can do it instead? Medical malpractice lawsuits cost the American health providers some $30 billion each year. This will end.

13. Pilot: Computerized pilots are not like regular pilots in that they are not prone to human error, i.e. they won't spill coffee on the instrument panels in the cockpit or miscalculate their landing angle. Nor do they need good visibility to fly, as their millimeter-accurate GPS and sensor systems will guide them blindly to their destination. Obviously, they will have to prove their merit before plane passengers, and by extension airlines, can trust them.

14. Film processor: Even today it seems absurd to have a full time employee engaged in nothing but processing film. In fact, it has become difficult to find a local place to process your film and equally difficult to find a place to purchase 35mm film for your old film camera. And also along those lines, most modern movie theaters are rapidly moving away from film which makes a projectionist also on the track toward being obsolete.

15. Librarian: Libraries will soon look very different. Why have a library containing 50,000 paper made books when you can have 50 million of them in virtual form, which you can access with your library card and download to your kindle or iPad. There will not be any need for humans to process the lending of books.

16. Call center operator: By 2029, when computers are scheduled to match human intelligence, a microchip will call your house and argue that you do in fact need flood insurance. [I get dozens of computer dialed calls now that play recorded messages]

17. News anchor: No mispronunciations, no misunderstandings, no Freudian slips, just a perfectly articulate teleprompter with an attractive face. [some more of the 'no actor' technology of item number 1?]

18. Mailman: Who sends snail-mail these days? Mostly nostalgic pen pals. While we may have a small segment left of the paper mail industry, most of the things we use the mail for is transitioning to or has already moved completely online: Bills, public notices, and business-letters. Although, we’ll still need package delivery at least until nanotechnology enables us to send and download material objects like we send files today, in 30-40 years. [or at such time as we all have 3D printers so we can purchase the article via the internet and print out the item in our homes]

19. Waiters: Robots don't have an attitude, won't spill your food, and don't need tips. They can work tirelessly around the clock, be ultra-efficient and be called upon by clicking a button in your menu.

20. Receptionist: Artificial intelligence and robotics sciences are approaching a point where the robots we can make will match humans in terms of intelligence. These robots will be our faithful servants who perform the menial tasks, so humans can focus on developing themselves.

Extra: Jobs that will be outsourced to countries with inexpensive labor. Yes, these jobs will still exist, but will be performed by personnel in countries that can offer inexpensive, skilled labor.
Web designer
Customer service
Many high-tech jobs

It seems that job predictions for the future usually include something about freeing us up to have more leisure time to enjoy and spend with family and friends.  However, they don't say how an ever increasing world population is supposed to earn a living in an arena of decreasing jobs.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

20 Obsolete Jobs

As time passes, the world changes.  And some of those changes center around the job market. What at one time was considered a vital occupation, in the reality of today's world is now obsolete.

Here's a list of 20 such jobs, formerly prevalent but now non-existent.

Wading through unprocessed sewage and sometimes dead bodies, mudlarks would dredge the banks of the Thames River in London at low tide hoping to find trinkets to sell. The profession was popular amidst children and the elderly during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Knocker Upper
Before alarm clocks, people hired knocker uppers to bang on their window—with sticks, pebbles or clubs—each morning to get them out of bed and off to work. The practice was especially popular in England and Ireland during the Industrial Revolution.

The first publicly available photographic process, called the daguerreotype, was introduced in 1839. Skilled daguerreotypists used light-sensitive chemicals and mercury vapor (later found poisonous) to create detailed images on copper plates.

Bowling Alley Pinsetter
Before the automatic pinsetter was introduced in 1946,bowling alleys hired staff to reset the pins and roll back the balls for clients. Since the job was part time, low paying and involved physical labor, it often went to teenaged boys.

Sin Eater
19th century families looking to rid their recently deceased descendent of mortal sin could hire a sin eater, usually a desperate pauper, to take on the relative’s offenses by dining over the corpse. The practice was very much frowned upon by the church.

Human Computer
Before electronics took over, workers were employed to act as human computers, converting figures and crunching numbers by hand. Teams of computers—often women with mathematics degrees—usually divvied up long calculations so that work could be done simultaneously and quickly.

Ice Cutter
Before modern refrigeration and air conditioning, ice cutters used saws to excise chunks of ice from frozen lakes for clients’ cellars and ice boxes. While the profession has died, the practice of ice cutting is still used for snow and ice sculpture competitions.

Hemp Dresser
When hemp was a major part of the linen industry, factories employed hemp dressers to separate the coarse part of the hemp with a toothed instrument called a hackle. Once smooth and straight, the hemp could be spun.

Listener For Enemy Aircraft
Before radar, troops used various listening devices, like acoustic horns, sound mirrors and war tubas, to detect the engine sounds of enemy planes. While their success varied widely, listeners were considered imperative until the 1930’s.

Whipping Boy
In 15th century England, only a king could discipline his son. Since the monarch was often busy, a whipping boy was hired to take beatings from the prince’s overseers when the little royal was being a royal pain. Seeing his pal—princes and whipping boys were raised together from birth—being lashed was intended to reform the prince.

Rat Catcher
Employed in Europe between the Middle Ages and early 19th century, rat catchers found and killed rats in order to control the population and prevent the spread of disease. Catchers used traps, cats, terriers and even their bare hands to snag the pests.

Leech Collector
A popular way to earn a living in the 1800’s was as a leech collector. These brave individuals would lie in ponds, using their bare legs as leech bait. They’d later sell the bloodsuckers to pharmacists and medical practitioners.

Before electricity, town-employed lamplighters used long poles to light street lamps every night and extinguish them every morning. They were also responsible for repairing and maintaining the lights. Many lamplighters also took it upon themselves to act as neighborhood watchmen.

Log Driver
Log drivers, nicknamed “river pigs,” were essential to the early lumber industry. Well paid but easily injured or killed, these men guided logs along rivers from the woods to sawmills several miles downstream.

In the 19th century, toshers removed manhole covers to enter the sewers in search of coins and miscellaneous scraps to sell. While the dirty gig paid surprisingly well, novice toshers could drown or get caught and penalized for illegally accessing the sewer system.

Gong Farmer
In Tudor England, gong farmers held the crappy—literally—job of removing excrement from privies and cesspits and dumping the gong outside of the city boundaries. Often called night men because they were only allowed to work after hours, gong farmers were disease prone the thus forced to live on the outskirts of town.

Also known as body snatchers, resurrectionists dug bodies out of graves to sell to medical schools for anatomy lessons and dissections. The industry boomed in the 17th and 18th centuries when executions, the usual source of corpses, became more rare and medical institutions multiplied.

Factory Lector
Late 19th and early 20th century cigar factory workers hired lectors to sit on raised platforms and read the news or novels. A prized lector not only had a pleasant reading voice but could also act out the roles in the novels he read.

Fullers, often female slaves, rid wool of oils, dirt and other impurities. Before you decide that doesn’t sound so bad, consider this: during Roman Times fullers had to stand in a tub full of wash, also known as human urine, which served as the source of ammonium salts needed for cleansing and whitening of cloth.

And finally…

Groom of the Stool
Like most English monarchs, Henry VIII employed a groom of the stool whose job consisted of conversing during defecation and cleaning the royal rear end. Though gross, the job was coveted because it provided unobstructed access to the king and also paid well.
Most of these jobs are obviously from times long gone. Much more recent additions to the list could include home delivery of blocks of ice for the pre-refrigerator ice box, rooms filled with telephone operators putting through long distance and even local calls using the old cord switchboards. As a child growing up in Los Angeles, I remember the milk man making home deliveries of dairy products, the bread truck making home deliveries, and even a company that made home deliveries of pet food.

And nearly gone are gas station attendants who actually pump your gas for you, check the oil, and wash your window. But that's one better left for next week when I talk about jobs predicted to be obsolete in the next 20 years. So, don't forget to come back to check that out.