An archaeologist and writer who caught the travel bug early on and still hasn't shaken it. He's currently writing a book on Harar, Ethiopia. Sean is the author of numerous books including BYZANTIUM: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY and the historical novel A FINE LIKENESS, set in Civil War Missouri.
Music is becoming common on hotel websites, but does it really make us want to book a room?
A scientific study has come up with the answer: yeah, kinda. The journal Psychology of Music has published an article titled, "Congruency between instrumental background music and behavior on a website."
As the author states in the abstract:
"Instrumental music (jazz and djembe) was played or not [played] while participants browsed the website of a well-known seaside resort and participants were instructed to select a type of accommodation. It was found that djembe music was associated more with a choice of outdoor accommodation while jazz music was associated with greater interest for hotel accommodation. Both music conditions showed a significant difference from the no music control condition. The ability of instrumental music to prime different memories and feelings is used to explain these results."
So basically when we hear jazz we think of sipping bourbon in smoky interiors, while djembe makes us want to dance the night away in the moonlight. Um, OK.
Reading the article further, it turns out there's a whole field of study devoted to figuring out what background music will do to our buying habits. Classical music makes us buy more expensive wines, for example, and playing French music will make us more likely to buy French wines. And here I thought the major determining factor was the physical attributes of my date.
The results of this study are pretty impressive. Eighty percent of the participants in this experiment picked a hotel room when they heard jazz, while 62.5% of the djembe listeners picked camping. For those who didn't hear any music, 27.5% picked the hotel and 30% picked camping. It appears that mood music is aptly named.
Of course, hotel websites looking to get our money have to pick the right music. More often than not it's some cheesy tune that makes us turn off the volume, or even worse for the hotel, click on another website. The annoyance factor is even higher if the music is clogging your slow connection or starts ringing out across your office, announcing to everyone that you're slacking off.
So instead of spending money on music for their websites, perhaps hotels should spend more on music in their rooms. While Blind Willie McTell isn't around anymore to play his 12-string guitar while you scarf down all the pillow mints, there are plenty of out-of-work musicians who would be happy to serenade you for a small fee.
Museums have a lot to compete with these days. With so much information available for free online, many people who are less than enthusiastic about going to museums may think there's nothing new to be learned by peering into glass cases full of ancient artifacts.
But museums are fighting back. Museum apps are available for most major and many lesser-known museums. Generally they give a walk-through of the galleries and what's on display, such as MoMA's app, while others offer closeup views of famous artworks you can't get in real life, like the Louvre's app that helps you push through the crowds around the Mona Lisa.
Often museums create special apps for major shows, such as the British Museum's app for their exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. This app has interactive maps and timelines, detailed studies of more than 250 objects and heaps of information about the excavations.
As an incurable museum junkie raising a Mini Me museum junkie, I'm of two minds about museum apps. On the one hand, they're great for enhancing a visit with all those flashy gadgets that kids love so much. It's yet another way of beating museum fatigue while actually learning something.
On the other hand, it's a grand distraction. A good museum can spark the imagination without needing extra technology. Take the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, my vote for the coolest museum in the world. The display cases are jam-packed with everything from Melanesian war clubs to witches trapped inside bottles. The lights are turned low and the guards hand out flashlights so you can peer inside the cases and spot hidden treasures amid the jumble. Beneath the cases are drawers that pull out to reveal Indonesian cut-out puppets and scarab beetles from Ancient Egypt. My son and I love creeping around this place, pretending to be explorers and always discovering something we never noticed before even though we've been there countless times.
This is the kind of museum that kids pester their parents to visit. Does the Pitt-Rivers have an app? Maybe it does. I didn't check because it doesn't need one. Take note, museum directors: be cool and they will come.
Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo was the wife of a wealthy merchant and is rumored to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci's famous portrait. She was a famed beauty in her time and lived across the street from the famous artist and inventor. When her husband died she became a nun at the convent of San Orsula in Florence, where she died and was buried in 1542.
A team of scientists went looking for her in a crypt under the convent. DNA in the bones they found is now being compared with samples taken from the Gherardini family tomb in hopes of finding a match. The next step will be facial reconstruction to see what the woman looked like in life. Perhaps they'll find the mystery to her enigmatic smile.
Facial reconstruction and DNA analysis have already been done for the remains of King Richard III, found last year under an English parking lot. Researchers are also examining the possible remains of King Alfred the Great.
A white rhino has been killed by poachers in Nairobi National Park in Kenya, the BBC reports. While it's the first time in six years that a rhino has been killed in the park, unfortunately the poaching of rhinos in Kenya has been on the rise in recent years.
Kenyan authorities say that 35 rhinos have been killed in their country this year. What makes this incident unusual is that the park is only four miles from downtown Nairobi. Most poachers prefer more remote locations, but the high prices international buyers will pay for rhino horn are making criminals increasingly bold. One group of robbers even stole four rhino heads from an Irish museum.
Police in many African countries are getting tough on poachers. There have been firefights and even a plan to use unmanned drones to search for poachers.
While policing can be effective (over in Asia, Nepal's rhino population is rebounding) the only thing that will stop the poaching of rhinos is to stop the demand. Rhino horns are valued in East Asian folk medicine, as are body parts from various other animals. Until these countries get serious about changing attitudes in their human population, Africa's wildlife population will continue to be threatened.
It's easy to drink too much in Las Vegas. Hell, they want you to drink too much. As Hunter S. Thompson observed in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, "In this town they love a drunk. Fresh meat."
Not only do bosomy waitresses offer free drinks to gullible dupes who don't understand statistics classy high rollers, but pretty much all the bars and restaurants have cheap booze.
It makes for a great evening, but the morning after can be hell. That's when REVIV--The Hydration Medspa comes to the rescue. Their slogan is, "What life takes out of you REVIV gives right back." Founded by four emergency room physicians and staffed by registered nurses and paramedics, this spa specializes in rehydrating people who have had a bit too much fun in the sun.
Once you stagger through their doors, REVIV staff will sit you down in a plush leather message chair and offer you one of a number of IV treatments to get fluid, vitamins, and minerals straight into your system.
This is the suggestion of Michael Batt, founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group, which owns 6,000 travel agencies. He was speaking at this week's Global Business Travel Association meeting in San Diego.
The idea is that since middle seats are often left untaken, the aisle and window passengers could pay 50 percent of a full fare for the privilege of sharing it. This would generate income for the airlines without the expense of serving anybody or hauling any extra weight. Batt claims that passengers would love it.
So would I love buying a half-seat on a plane? Hell no, and here's why.
It's always good to learn a new word every day, and today's word is fatberg. A fatberg is exactly what it sounds like--a giant mass of fat. In this case, a giant mound of fat blocking up one of the world's largest sewer systems. So what does a fatberg look like? Watch this video to find out, but don't blame me if you can't ever bring yourself to eat a kebab again.
The fatberg in question was discovered in Kingston, southwest London. A congealed slab of oil, fat, food and other trash such as cleaning wipes, the 15-ton monstrosity was the size of a double-decker bus and had reduced the main sewer line to only 5 percent capacity, preventing locals from flushing their toilets.
They should be grateful. Thames Water officials say if they hadn't caught it in time, the toilets would have started backing up and raw sewage would have spewed out, a bit like that barbershop scene in the remake of The Blob.
"The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa'ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013."
D.C. Metro staff and passengers had to come to the rescue when a woman started giving birth in L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station yesterday, the Washington Post reports.
Shavonnte Taylor, 23, was on her way to an appointment with her obstetrician when she started having contractions two weeks before her baby was due. She tried to continue her journey but the baby had different ideas.
Luckily Autumn Manka, a licensed emergency medical technician, was passing by. She lay Taylor down on the floor as more passengers, DC Metro staff, and two Metro Transit Police officers came to help. Within minutes the baby was born next to a broken escalator near the Seventh Street and Maryland Avenue exit.
Inevitably, the kid got his own hashtag, #metrobaby. Several Twitter users posted a snarky headline from today's Express, while others suggested naming the baby L'Enfant. "L'Enfant" of course, is French for "the infant."
His real name is Amir Mason. He weighs 8 pounds, 5 ounces and is doing fine.
If you care about gay rights, you might want to rethink your drink.
Gay rights groups are boycotting Russian vodka after the country cracked down on gay activists and pride parades, the BBC reports. In addition, new legislation makes it illegal to teach "non-traditional values" (ie. gay-friendly values) to children.
On June 29, a gay pride parade in St. Petersburg was attacked by thugs and several marchers were badly beaten. Police then rounded up the marchers (not the thugs) and arrested them. You can see photos from this and related events in this shocking photo essay from Buzzfeed.
The boycott started in the U.S. a few days ago and has since spread to other countries. Gay bars have pulled Russian vodka from their shelves and an online petition is calling for Manchester to "untwin" from its sister city St. Petersburg. Protesters have dumped vodka on the street in front of the Russian consulate in New York City and taken to Twitter with hashtags such as #dumpstoli and #dumprussianvodka.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia almost two decades ago but there's been a severe backlash against the LGBT community in recent years.
One major vodka brand, Stolichnaya, has come out with a public statement in support of gay rights and says it shouldn't be targeted by the boycott. They say that while they use Russian ingredients, they are in fact a Latvian company.
There's an ongoing discussion in the LGBT about expanding the boycott to include other Russian products and also the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.