Round trip to San Diego on Delta Airlines: nice seats

I was recently in the USA for business and due to the past experience with BA’s delays (3 trips to San Diego in 2012), lack of comfort on the economy cabin of the 777 from London and significantly better price I’ve changed habit and went for Delta with connection in ATL when going to the US and in JFK when coming back.

Web checking was problematic in both direction: it wasn’t possible to book the seat for the domestic flight and I had to check-in at the airport and get the actual seat at the gate.
This was nicely compensated by the fact that both times I was assigned a seat in the comfort economy and I was able to sleep fairly well.

The in-flight entertainment was a bit problematic in both intercontinental flights: audio was missing in my seat row (not only my seat) on the flight to ATL (overhead monitors) while in the flight from JFK the system had to be hard reset to deal with major problems in playback (individual screens, system running on RedHat Linux dating from the 2002-2003 period) and the resistive touch control on the screen was not working in the lower left part.

I think that in the future cabin refreshes all that will be needed from the entertainment point of view is power outlets (CA and USB) and a simple retain system for the tablets that are becoming more and more ubiquitous.
If differentiation is desired an app (android and iOS) to stream content from the USB link should complete the needed package.

The quality of the seats, or to be more precise the fit of the seats to my body, were more than compensating the issue with the entertainment system.
The overall balance was good: Delta will be high in my preference list for future trips to SAN.

Comply tips: there’s no rose without a thorn

I’ve recently posted my extremely pleasant experience with the Comply tips in my Ultimate Ears 700 and is really sad that I have to add a downside.

The Comply tips seems to be very fragile and don’t last long.
The first pair is already showing a major indication of wear: you can see that is tearing apart in the picture below.


At 19.99$ for a set of 3 pairs the tips could quickly become a greater cost than the earphones themselves.
Hopefully it’s only bad luck with one of the tips.

Bernard’O restaurant in San Diego

Yesterday evening a colleague pushed me to go to Bernard’O for dinner.
The dishes in the menu appeared overly rich in the list of ingredients for my general preference when I took a glimpse before entering but looks like it is a fairly common practice in this area making the choice hard for someone looking for simple food.

I was not very hungry so I went for something small and that should fit well with the fact that the cook is french: a french onion soup.

While waiting we were offered bread and butter:
the bread was hot but fairly undercooked (at least for the italian standards) and the butter was absolutely sub par: almost perfectly tasteless.
If I decide to hit my health I want it to be worth and I think this should be a general guidance for everyone.
Skip the butter altogether at Bernard’O.

Then the onion soup arrived.
The first thing that I noticed as soon as I raised the first spoon is that the broth was heavy on taste enhancers.
I wonder if it actually ever had the opportunity to see some actual meat.
The taste was very heavy on pepper while the onion test was almost completely missing: ridiculous for an onion soup.
It’s a classical french dish: it’s not acceptable to have it made like this in a french restaurant.

The restaurant site claims that they won the “best french restaurant in San Diego” in 2008.
Either they changed cook in the meanwhile or I don’t want to try any other french restaurant in the area.

Save yourself the money (the place is not cheap) and the time and avoid it as long as you can.

The figth against noise on long flights: ultimate ears 700

A few weeks ago I posted about my experiments dealing with in-flight noise and anticipated a new test.
Today I’m reporting what I found when using the Ultimate Ears 700 from Logitech that I recently purchased.

It is an in-ear solution that is noise blocking or, if you prefer, is doing passive noise canceling.
It comes with the option of using either silicone plugs or foam plugs (“Comply” tips): the former solution is comparable with the standard tips coming with most of the in-ear solutions while the foam tip is less common and makes a difference.
I’ve tried both and picked up the Comply as the best solution for me: better noise blocking, more comfortable, lower cable noise.
Pay attention when fitting the foam tips as it’s a bit harder than fitting correctly the silicone ones and you don’t want to remove the earphones leaving the tip inside your ear.

How good they are?
unbelievably good.
Two weeks ago I was in our London office working on a presentation and needed to focus so I used the earphones to avoid the distraction of the conversations in the open space.
At one point I noticed the colleague on my right jumping on the chair: it turned out that someone slammed hard a door but I did not notice at all.

I thought that I might be too focused to notice but it turned out to be really the good performance of the Ultimate Ears that made the difference.

Last week I used them again, this time for the purpose I originally purchased them: dealing with the in-flight noise.
When the music was turned on, even at low volume the humming of the 737 was totally removed and the only noise was coming from the seat and through my spine.
With the music off the noise coming in is similar to what gets through when I use the 3M plugs mentioned in the earlier post.

It’s all perfect? Almost.
I have relatively small ear canal so there it is a bit of fatigue after a while. It may happen to other people too.
To ear the cabin crew you have to remove the earphones.
I discourage using them in places that are not totally under control because anything can happen with you not noticing; you really don’t want to do jogging while using them.

And the musical fidelity?
It is there too.
At least as far as an in-ear solution can go: I like the physical impact provided by a loudspeaker and no earphone can provide that.
They are in a totally different league compared to the Creative and Philips solutions I tried earlier.

When working at my desk I always prefer my pair of indiana line 5.04 with the support of the DTA-100a amplifier over the earphones when neighbours complains are not a risk.

I’m very happy with my ultimate ears 700 and I recommend them.

Thistle City Barbican in London: just a bit better than sleeping under a bridge

This week I had to be in London for the second time in one month and my experience was to some extent even worse than the previous one.
Apparently the city was packed and room availability scarce so I had to deal with a hotel that I would normally not pick up on the basis of the reviews: Thistle City Barbican.

The first night I was in the Thistle Kensington Park: my room was facing the HVAC cooling section that produced a continuous hum during the night and the bed was fairly uncomfortable: for 226£ expectations were higher.2013-05-22-095[1]

The very bad experience was the second night with the City Barbican: the room needs a major renovation for at least 10 years now.
In the bathroom a tile was missing from the floor and the chrome of the tap (two separate ones) was just a distant past.

Wood panels and water don’t play nicely together and it is was clearly a bad decision to heavily use them in a bathroom.


Tapestry on the wall was bulging, the desk finish was of low quality wood-like hard plastic and some large patches were missing altogether.



No need to say that the carpet has made his time and the rest of the furniture was not in great shape either.

I was lucky to be very tired and able to fall asleep without thinking of the cleaning.

226£ for a room that would be just ok for a free emergency shelter is absolutely a shame even if the personnel was very kind: in the end it’s 20 minutes dealing with them and 8 hours dealing with the room.

Stay away from the Barbican.

I was overbooked :-(

It’s widely common knowledge that airlines sell more seats than available in the airplane.
Maybe it’s because sometimes in the airport you hear the request for volunteers that are available to take a later flight (happened to me last year in Copenhagen) or because it’s frequent enough that it happened to a lot of people.

What is less common knowledge is that it might happen with hotels too.

I was in London 3 days ago and after a long day of traveling and business meetings I reached my booked hotel (Holiday Inn Express Park Royal) at 11pm.
I was warmly greeted and told the news about my missing room; I was then offered something to drink and invited to wait for the taxi that would bring me to a hotel with an available room with the reassurance that the complimentary taxi would be made available to me also the following morning to bring me where I needed to go.

The taxi arrived and after about 15 minutes I reached my new hotel (Holiday Inn Express Brentford Lock).
The clerk told me that the next morning there was no issue for transportation in the morning as a bus stop was near the hotel and would make me able to reach a tube station: no reference to the complimentary taxi.
I was very tired and simply went to my room to get some rest without arguing.

In the morning a different clerk mentioned the taxi (good move) but also told me that it would take 15 minutes for the taxi to arrive at the hotel and that using the bus would have worked fine and without additional cost for me as I have an Oyster card.
Unfortunately the part about the additional cost was not true (bad move): it costed me extra £ on top of the tube ticket. And clearly the hotel change costed me extra time (more train stops as I moved from zone 2 to zone 3 and a dozen bus stops not needed in the booked one) and discomfort.

No discount or complimentary benefit (WiFi, drink from the minibar) was offered to me.
I’ll think twice before booking again with Holiday Inn and I suggest that you do the same.

The figth against noise on long flights

I do spend quite a bit of time on airplanes (2012 is a good example) and there are mainly 2 things that are very fatiguing once in the air: sub-optimal seat ergonomics and background noise.

The first one is hard to overcome without a recurring increase in expenses (using business class or premium economy class) while the second one is a bit easier and I’ve made a few experiments in this area.

7 years ago I bought Creative Labs’ HN-700 noise canceling headphones for about 50€ new on sale. On an airplane sound quality is acceptable (way better than what is offered by the ones offered in economy by the airline) and noise reduction (both active and passive) is there to a degree.
Active noise canceling with this headphone is not an option in a normal home/office environment due to the high level of white noise that is generated even in a silent environment.
Sleeping while wearing them is really not an option due to the size.
Also long use is not comfortable due to the weight and to the fact that the ear is completely inside: sweat builds up.
The bulky construction is a bit of an annoyance too.

The last 3 reasons led me to the purchase of an in-ear alternative, again with active noise canceling.

About 9 months ago I picked up Philips’ SHN4600. On sale I paid 49.90€
They are light, sweat-free, occupy a small volume, and again the sound quality is better than the one from the airline: potentially perfect on the paper.
Unfortunately the reality is different: there it is a very noticeable cable noise and repeated insertions and removal of the tip bruises a bit the ear canal with the remaining of the moulding process on the silicone; compensation of pressure while climbing and descending is a bit difficult
The passive noise isolation is in a different frequency range compared to the NH 700 and the same is true for active canceling. They can be kept on while sleeping.
The “talk mode” button works but it’s not really as good as simply removing the earphones.
Production and quality control can be improved: the left ear bud has problems of major distortion as soon as the volume moves up and bass tones are played and this was from day 1.
Overall I’d not buy this model again even at an even lower sale price.

When sleeping the best option so far has been to use earing preserving devices commonly used in the construction business and made by 3M.
I usually pickup either the orange ones or the yellow ones
Fitting is very good as is the noise dampening: it’s necessary to remove them to have a conversation with the cabin crew.
In some cases I’ve used the earplugs in combination with the HN 700 (with the volume way up) to get rid of as much as possible of the external noise while listening to music or watching movies during a flight.

The HN 700 recently broke (I made it somewhat useable again by securing the left can in a fixed position with the help of a fair amount of electric insulating tape) and the SHR4600 is not a satisfactory either.
Sooner or later I’ll have to go shopping again for a noise canceling solution.

I’ve tried the latest generation of Bose and the difference in performance is impressive, but I’m not sure that’s worth 300€.
If anyone has a suggestion based on personal experience please comment.
Thanks in advance!

Delle 6430U and airport IONSCAN system did not played nicely together

From time to time happens to each frequent flyer that the hand luggage gets tested for various substances.
It happened to me a number of time and until recently it was always a minor slow down: a piece of white fabric (or fablic-like material) is rubbed against the luggage, but in the machine and then after a few seconds I moved head.

Until I got my luggage including the 6430U tested one week ago.
The IONSCAN machine turned the writings on the screen to red and I suddenly gained a lot of attention.
All of my personal belongings then got scanned a few more times in the x-ray machine and with the IONSCAN system, I got carefully checked with and hand-held metal detector and then by hand.
The personnel was very rigorous in the checks but professional and always kind.

After the process was completed and I had answered a lot of questions about what I had done during my trip I was told that everything was fine with the sole exception of the notebook.
This meant that it had to be shipped and I could not keep it with me until my arrival at home.

The notebook got packaged in a box and shipped.
After about 3+2 hours of flight the box was completely destroyed: the people handling it was not really paying any attention to the clearly visible red labels stating “FRAGILE” and I was very happy that I have no mechanical drive inside the system.

Finger crossed for the next airport control!

Dinner @ The Balcony Restaurant of the Bella Sky in Copenhagen

On Tuesday I’ve had a very fatiguing day and I’ve decided to have the dinner with a colleague of mine in the restaurant of the hotel where we were for work.

I sat down at 9pm and after a few minutes a very kind waiter came to pickup the orders.
I selected one of the two available menu (starter+main course+dessert) and my colleague got a starter and a main course with a side dish.

My salmon tartare had almost no salmon taste left after the preparation and was in the range of the 35 grams. Given the taste the small quantity was a benefit.
The salad with roasted goat cheese was good and a fair amount.

Main courses:
I had a beef steak and my colleague a tuna steak; when asked we both said we wanted our grilled food made rare.
Unfortunately it looks like the concept of rare is not shared across the globe as we had only a light hint on pink in che very center of the steak.
The grilled vegetables were ok albeit nothing to write home about and the same is true for the fried potatoes.

The dessert (Crème brûlée with pear sorbet) tasted good, but to arrive to the dessert it took over 90 minutes and the time was split into 75 minutes of waiting and 15 of eating: really too much!

Cost of the dinner: 128 euro with water and without any wine.

Do yourself a favor if you happen to stay in the Bella Sky hotel: take the metro and go to eat somewhere else.

Dell 6430u: second run on battery and BIOS upgrade

I’ve just made a second trip with the 6430u with me.
As it was a bit longer than the previous one I had the opportunity to upgrade the bios (that was just released) and then continue to use it mainly in battery mode.

It looks like the version A04 has improved the fan management reducing the use while on battery while when connected to the power supply it’s still up fairly often even in powersave mode.
In the previous test I had a very long run of McAfee security endpoint: it’s not happening anymore, likely it completed the massive first encryption.
Unless improvements for the power management come with future releases of the BIOS the machine (as configured) is not able to run from dawn to dusk on a single charge.
On the positive side is the fact that the power supply is a bit smaller and lighter than the older ones from Dell. Why apparently only Apple makes really small power bricks for the notebooks remains a mistery for me.

Here is the chronicle.

5.40, 100%, put to sleep, disconnected power
8.10, 98%, turned on, 3G key inserted
8.29, 92%, 3g key removed, put to sleep
10.55, resumed from sleep
11.05, 88%, put to sleep again
11.15, 87%, quick received email and calendar check
11.25, 86%, put to sleep, estimated runtime 5h07m
11.50, 86%, resume from sleep and turned on wifi
12.33, 73%, wifi off, fan running
13.22, 60%, only light use (chrome, outlook 2010 in bacground)
13.34, 57%, only light use, some screen backlight off due to inactivity
13.42, 55%, 3h30m estimated runtime
14.15, put to sleep
14.56, 46%, resumed from sleep, 2h42m estimated runtime, wifi on
15.08, 42%, 2h12m estimated runtime
16.11, 24%, 1h21m estimated runtime
16.18, 21%, 1h13m estimated runtime. Connected charger.

20+10+145+22=297m runtime + 345m on sleep with 79% battery

17.59, 98%, disconnected power
18.06, 96%, put to sleep estimated 6h28′
23.43, 91%, resume from sleep, light internet navigation
00.39, 77%, estimated runtime 4h46m
00.50, 74%, went to high performance for some gaming, fan went crazy
01.07, 66%, game over, back to power saving, put system (and owner) to sleep
08.29, 60%, resume from sleep
08.49, 54%, put in charge

7+67+17+20=111m runtime + 879m on sleep with 44% battery

10.08, 100%, put to sleep
10.40, 98%, resume from sleep, wifi off
11.57, 81%, put to sleep
12.30, resumed from sleep, wifi on
13.51, 55%, started charging

77+81=158m runtime + 65m on sleep with 45% battery

13.54, I felt lucky and upgraded to bios A04 (february 26th). Funny enough it says that it’s including ACPI support, I’d have expected this to be in from day 1 of the release
16.03, 100%, disconnect power
16.08, put to sleep
16.34, 99%, resume from sleep, wifi off, light excel activity
16.59, 93%, 7h32m expected runtime, put to sleep
17.56, 91%, turned on, expected runtime 6h4m (strange math)
17.57, turned on wifi
18.12, 88%, put to sleep
18.36, 87%, resumed from sleep, wifi off
18.46, put to sleep
22.18, 83%, resume from sleep, wifi on, light navigation and email
23.49, 60%, estimated runtime 4h21m, wifi off, put to sleep, looks like the bios update has changed the fan behaviour when running on battery.
07.43, 53%, resume from sleep
07.54, 50%, set to sleep
08.56, 48%, resume from sleep, plug power in

5+25+15+10+31+11=97m runtime + 916m sleep with 52% battery