In Praise of Audible.com

When we moved to St. Louis from the D.C. Suburbs in 2002, I drove my car out on Memorial Day weekend.  I left Gaithersburg, Maryland at about 6:30am and 13 hours later pulled into my temporary apartment complex in Chesterfield, Missouri.  Along the way, I listened to an audio version of The Hobbit on about 10 CDs.  I am not kidding when I write that I started the book a mile from my house in Maryland, and the book ended as I parked in Missouri.

This was the beginning of my love of audiobooks.  There is no place better and more cost-effective to get them than Audible.com.

If You Don't Listen to Books, You Should

I have been a subscriber at Audible.com since October, 2004 and in that time have downloaded 57 books and finished most of them.  I have listened to books as short as a few hours and as long as 33 hours (a biography of Walt Disney).

Audible is fantastic in its simplicity.  Log in.  Find a book.  Purchase it.  I then download directly to iTunes and sync with my iPhone.  However, Audible syncs with over 100 different MP3 players, phones, PDAs, and even Kindles.  (Kindle compatibility is not surprising, since Amazon bought Audible back in January, 2008.)

Pricing depends on your commitment.  Using the NY Times Best Seller List as a guide, audiobooks cost around $20 both on Audible and, for comparison, in the iTunes Store.  However, Audible offers subscriptions that cut the cost to $14.95 per book (1 book monthly) to as low as $9.56 per book (24 books, bought all at once).  In truth, you buy credits, but only once (that darn Disney bio!), have I used 2 credits on one book.  The subscriptions get charged automatically to your credit card, and Audible allows some rollover of credits.  Once you buy an audiobook, it remains in your library for future downloads forever.

If you haven’t listened to an audiobook, I urge you to do so.  I listen while driving, and I listen while running.  Books have gotten so engrossing that I’ve sat in the car in our garage or the parking lot at work waiting for a chapter or the book itself to end.  I have run four marathons and listened to books throughout my training.  I remember running 15 miles one day listening to a history of the transcontinental railroad.   I have listened enough that I have favorite narrators and search for them.  (Thanks Scott Brick for some great stuff.)

I primarily listen to non-fiction books that I know I wouldn’t read otherwise.  I mean, who has the patience to read a 33-hour biography of Walt Disney or a 15-hour history of the Island of Manhattan?  Listening I can handle.

I should note that many books come in abridged formats that, by definition, shorten the length.  However, these shorter versions cost only slightly less for cash customers and cost the same “one credit” for subscribers like me.  I have listened only to one abridged book and, that was by accident.

I find fiction books are best when there are multiple readers who turn the book into a play or when the narrator does the characters’ voices well.  An example of the former is The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, in which each of four narrators is read by a different person.  An example of the latter is the audiobook One Day, for which the narrator Anna Bentinck does an incredible job with male and female accents, both sober and drunk, from across the UK.

Audiobooks are not perfect.  You can’t see maps or diagrams.  You can’t page back to remember something.  Books that are very date dependent, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, can sometimes be confusing if you aren’t listening every time a date is mentioned.  For me, however, these are minor inconveniences.

As you can tell, I am a big fan of Audible.com.  I recommend, as a start, Bentinck’s reading of One Day, Brick’s narration of The Devil in the White City, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Help, and either of two books by Michael Lewis,  The Big Short or The Blind Side.

In Praise of Despair, Inc.

Most people in corporate America are familiar with Successories.  If you haven’t heard them called “Successories,” I’m sure you know them by sight.  Successories sells mugs, pencils, and pads, but is best known for posters which say things like:

ATTITUDE:  A positive attitude is a powerful force — it can’t be stopped!! (photo = waterfall)

SUCCESS:  Some people dream of success . . . while others wake up and work hard at it.  (photo = early morning golf green with footprints in dew)

TEAMWORK:  Coming together is a beginning… Keeping together is progress… Working together is a success. (photo = Blue Angels)

My favorite poster is one of a child that looks strangely like my son and I both did at that age.   It reads:

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

So with these sometimes sappy and sometimes motivational posters out there, along comes Despair, Inc. which turns Successories on its proverbial ear and provides a humorous turn to these posters.  Instead of platitudes like those I wrote above, Despair looks at things a bit differently.  It’s posters, called “demotivators” put forward statements such as:

APATHY:  If we don’t take care of the customer, maybe they’ll stop bugging us (photo = telephone)

CONSULTING:  If you’re not a part of the solution,there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem (photo = handshake)

IDIOCY:  Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups (photo = skydivers falling in a circle)

Here are three of my favorites:

There’s a lot more where these came from.  If you’ve got the guts in your office (I don’t!), they are spectacular.

In Praise of Sports Club Stats

Sports Club Stats is one of the neatest sites for sports fans to monitor the ongoing success of their sports teams as they progress towards qualifying for their league’s playoffs.  Once I found this site, I can say honestly that I visited every day during the last NHL season to watch the progress of the Washington Capitals towards the playoffs and towards capturing the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best record.

Sports Club Stats keep track of leagues from the first game to the last and tracks the probability of each team making the playoffs and the probability of finishing in a particular spot in the league.  It does this by replaying the rest of the season over and over and over – as in 10 million times each day for major league baseball now.  It replays the season two different ways:

  • “Weighted” – which considers records and home field advantage to predict each game’s likely winner
  • “50/50″ – which gives each opponent an equal chance at winning every game

As I monitored the Caps, “weighted” in mind was a more optimistic view and “50/50″ was a conservative view.  If the Caps looked good under the 50/50, then they were in good shape.  Because Sports Club Stats also shows which games that day have the most impact, fans can determine exactly whom to root for and whom to root against to help their team the most.

The site is fascinating because, by replaying the season and calculating the probable records, it automatically takes all the games and the specific opponents.  This means that teams are both eliminated from consideration and clinch playoff spots on Sports Club Stats long before they “officially” clinch in media outlets.  This also leads to some intriguing information (from this morning’s “weighted” scenario):

Sports Club Stats Says the Yankees Have a 95.5% Chance of Making the 2010 Playoffs

  • The Padres and the Rangers are the most likely teams to make the playoffs at 98.4%, higher than the Rays (97.5%) and Yankees (95.5%), which both have better records than the Padres and Rangers.
  • Because of the Rays’ and Yankees’ records, the Red Sox only have a 6.7% chance of making the playoffs.
  • Even though the Rays and Yankees have the best records, the Rays have a 20% greater likelihood of finishing first than the Yankees.  This may reflect an easier schedule and more home games for the Rays going forward.
  • The Cardinals can go 15-23 the rest of the way and still make the Wild Card in one scenario and can go 30-8 in another scenario and miss out on the playoffs entirely.

Sports Club Stats cover the major college and pro leagues in the US and soccer leagues from around the world.  (For what it’s worth, Chelsea, Blackpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Blackburn all have over a 9% chance of wining the Premier League title in England, but it is early days.)  Unfortunately for some, it looks like their auto racing tracking has lapsed a bit.  You can also can give the site with the league structure and schedule of your fantasy league, and the site will run projected finishes.

There is a lot more detail than I can possibly explain here.  If you like over analyzing your team’s chances and knowing exactly where they stand, you will enjoy the site as much as I do.

For example, I know that the Cardinals chances at the playoffs drop from 52% to 45% if they lose to the Nationals tonight.  If the Cards win, the likelihood increases to 56.4%.   As I write, the game is 10-10 in the 12th.

In Praise of OpenTable

Each Thursday, I have shared a web site that you that I find very useful, and this week is no exception.  Mrs. Spidey and I don’t eat out often, but when we do, more often than not we make reservations through OpenTable.

OpenTable has been around a while.  We first used it in 2006 on a trip to San Francisco to get a table at Sutro’s at Cliff House in Golden Gate Park.  For the average consumer, the application is very simple.  You choose your city, the time you want to eat, and the number of people joining you.  The site then shows you what restaurants are available at or near that time.  When it presents this list, it also give you a sense of how expensive each restaurant is and the type of cuisine that the restaurant serves.  When you find something you like,  you click on the specific time you want at the restaurant, and a reservation is confirmed.  It’s really that easy.

According to their website, OpenTable has over 14,000 restaurants in its database.  Its core business is restaurant management software, and it manages the reservations book for all or most of these 14,000 restaurants.  That’s why, when you make a reservation, it is instantly in the restaurant’s book.

Like similar sites, OpenTable also asks diners to rate their experience and provide comments.  The site includes more detail on the cuisine, menus, web site information, credit cards accepted, etc.  OpenTable also allows you to download your reservation into Outlook and send the invite to others.  It is a very robust site.  As an example, one restaurant not too far from us, but about 40 minutes outside downtown St. Louis, has 97 reviews.  Restaurants in larger cities will easily have hundreds of reviews.

OpenTable also allows you to make special requests.  At Sutro’s, for example, we requested a table by the windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Sure enough, the table was waiting when we got there, and we watched a beautiful sunset.

Tables by the Window at Sutro's Give You a Great View, Especially at Sunset

As a further incentive, OpenTable has a rewards program that nets users discounts of up to $100 based on points accumulated from making reservations.  If you are a restaurant goer and make reservations anyway, you might as well use OpenTable for the rewards.  Normally, reservations are worth 100 points, but OpenTable offers bonus points for specific restaurants or times.  Rewards start at 2,000 points (a $20  certificate), and sometimes there are 1,000 point bonus for a single reservation.

While we use the Web site, the most spectacular feature is the mobile accessibility of OpenTable.   It has applications for the Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, and Nokia systems.  The big benefit is with GPS-enabled phones.  You can ask OpenTable to “find restaurants near you.”  That really narrows things down quickly.  I have an iPhone and have used the OpenTable application more than the web site itself.

Here are three true stories that have led me to be a big fan of OpenTable:

  1. One spring, we took the kids skiing in Park City.  As we waited for kids where the ski lifts converge mid-mountain (with a pitcher of Bud Light), Mrs. Spidey suggested the two of us go to dinner without the kids that night.  Sitting there, a gondola ride up the mountain from our hotel room, I pulled up the application, found a local restaurant called Chez Betty, showed Mrs. Spidey the menu and made reservations.  It took maybe five minutes to do all this.
  2. This summer, in Las Vegas, we were heading to the Palazzo to see Jersey Boys.  In the cab, Mrs. Spidey told me about, Dos Caminos, a Mexican restaurant she had seen in the Palazzo casino when she picked up the tickets earlier that day.  When the cab got to the Palazzo, I told the application to find restaurants near by.  The restaurant came up, and we made reservations to eat after the show as we passed by the restaurant heading to the theater.
  3. Just last weekend, we were deciding to go out, and we remembered a nearby restaurant that we had heard good things about but had never been to.  It was about 7:40pm or so.  I opened the application, told OpenTable to find restaurants nearby.  The restaurant we wanted, Villa Farotto, came up as available for 8:00pm.  I chose it, and we were off.  It ended up being a very good meal.

In short, I just don’t think you can beat OpenTable for volume of restaurants, for reviews, and, most importantly for ease of use.  Well done.

In Praise of Seat Guru

Seat Guru is one of the most indispensable travel sites that I have seen, yet the premise is so simple.

Seat Guru has information about the seat configuration of all the planes for most airlines.  Whenever I make a travel reservation and am ready to get my seat assignment, I have Seat Guru open to the plane that I’m taking and look for the seats I want.

Seat Guru is owned by Trip Advisor, a site which certainly will get its own Thursday post at some point in the future.

You may think you don’t need Seat Guru because an aisle is an aisle, and a window is a window.  You may think you don’t need Seat Guru because the web site of your travel agency or airline already has a seat map.  You may think you don’t need Seat Guru because you are flying Southwest and can’t reserve a seat.

Seat Guru's Seat Map for the American Airlines 777

Wrong on all counts.  Seat Guru gives you information that really helps you make an informed seat decision, even if you are flying Southwest or any other airline that doesn’t provide pre-assigned seats.

The seats are colored yellow or red if there are potential problems from limited recline, to limited space under the seat, to a misaligned window and noise from the bathroom.  They are colored green if they are particularly nice for privacy or view or extra leg room.  Just by holding your mouse of the seat, you can learn what the plus or the minus is.

The seat maps also show where the galleys, bathrooms, and emergency exits are and where each cabin begins and ends.

The seat maps show the row number and letter number of each seat.  Airplanes routinely skip row numbers and skip letters in the seats from left to right.  I pulled up the seat map for an American Airlines 777 and added it to this post as a great example.  You will see that first class is rows 1-4, business class is rows 8-13, and coach is rows 20-44.  First class seats from left to right are A, D, G, J, and business class seats across are A, B, D, E, G, H, J.  You need the maps to know that in coach the aisles are C, D, G, and H, and to avoid E at all cost, as it is the middle of 5 seats.  You also need the maps to know that row 43 is the last row, has limited leg room and should be avoided.

Seat Guru also provides you other information about every airplane. Does it have a video or audio system?  Does it have electrical outlets at each seat, and do you need adapters to use the power?  How much does each seat recline?  How wide is each seat and what is the distance between rows (“the pitch”)?  If you are choosing between airlines and are looking for comfort, Seat Guru has a comparison table for each class of service, so you can see which seats are best.

As you peruse Seat Guru, you will learn that an aisle is definitely not an aisle.  Some aisles, such as the coach aisles on the American 777, have one person that would have to climb over you to get out.  Others on other planes have two.  When I’ve flown business class to Asia on a Continental 777, I make sure I get an aisle in the center of the plane, so no one has to climb over me when I’m sleeping.

You will learn that a window is not a window.  Some windows, in fact, have no window and are colored red on Seat Guru’s seat maps.

You will see that the seat maps on airline or travel agency web sites are not nearly as helpful, for they provide no extra commentary about the seats.

And, even you are flying Southwest, I recommend looking at the seat maps to know which seats are best and possibly make plans to go after specific rows.  For example, the maps show that seats in rows 1-3 are thinner have have less storage.  Row 10 doesn’t recline.  Seats 11D and 11E also don’t recline, but are two seats together in a row, and may seem nicer.    The exit row with extra space is row 11, but only on the right hand side as you walk back.  This is all information good to know before you board.

Bottom line is that this a great site.  Next time you travel, go to Seat Guru, enter your airline and flight number and make a good seat decision.

In Praise of [name your sport]-Reference.com

In the movie City Slickers, there is an early scene where one of the wives says, “I’ve been to games, but I don’t memorize who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960 .”  At that point, the characters played by Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby answer in unison, “Don Hoak.”

This has always stuck with me as the epitome of us guys (and some girls) who can’t remember the date we proposed to our spouses, but can remember absurd sports facts.

Don Hoak - Who Knew?

I didn’t know who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960.  That’s a bit before my time.  However, I do enjoy perusing a lot of meaningless sports statistics and information.  I’m intrigued by what teams players played for, when they were traded and for whom, what numbers they might have worn and other data.  Before all this stuff was on the Internet, Mrs. Spidey bought me a 10-pound book called “The Official Encylopedia of the National Hockey League,” which listed statistics of every player who ever donned an NHL uniform, including their stats in minor leagues and other countries before and after they played in the NHL.  It was fascinating.

Now you can get all this meaningless, yet fascinating drivel on-line, not just for the NHL, but for major league baseball, the NFL and the NBA.  What do I consider “meaningless, yet fascinating drivel?”  Data varies by league, but here are examples:

  • Uniform numbers worn by every player for every team on which they’ve played. Don Hoak wore #43 for the Brooklyn Dodgers when he first came up, but later wore #7 with the Cubs and then #12 for the Reds, Pirates and Phillies.
  • All signings and trades involving each player, including for whom they were traded and who was chosen by future draft picks.  Don Hoak was traded to the Pirates by the Reds in the same deal with Harvey Haddix, who is known for pitching 12 innings of perfect baseball in 1959 and then losing the game in the 13th inning.
  • Whether each player was an all-star, won an MVP or other award, or ranked in annual statistics. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, I now know that Don Hoak was 2nd in the MVP voting in 1960, behind teammate Dick Groat, but ahead of more famous players such as Willie Mays (#3), Ernie Banks (#4) and Roberto Clemente (#8).  In that same year, Hoak was 6th in the league in walks, 9th in on-base percentage, 7th in runs scored,  and 10th in RBI.

Enough about Don Hoak – I think you get the point.

With all the links back and forth, I could live on these sites for a long time.  These are among the few sites for which I might actually carry a laptop into the bathroom to substitute for a book or newspaper.

Here are a few other stupid jersey #  facts to whet your appetite for more:

  • Phil Esposito, who wore #7 for the Blackhawks and Bruins and, later #77 for the Rangers, briefly wore #12 for the Rangers for 76 games in 1976 after being traded. #7 was worn and later retired for Rod Gilbert.
  • Hank Aaron’s first jersey # for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 was #5, before he switched to #44 for the rest of his career in 1955.  No one on the Braves wore #44 in 1954, and no one other than Aaron would after 1955.
  • Mickey Mantle first wore #6 for the Yankees, before switching to #7 midway through the 1951 season.
  • Michael Jordan wore #45 for the Bulls, upon his return from a year of minor-league baseball.  Bizarrely, he couldn’t wear #23, because it had been retired – for him!
  • Franco Harris, the Hall-of-Fame running back for the Steelers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, finished up with the Seahawks in 1984 where he wore #34, not his traditional #32.  #32 was worn that year by Cullen Bryant.  Go figure.

So – before you click on the links below, please tell your spouse or roommate that you’ll be out-of-touch for a while learning about Reggie Jackson’s time with the Orioles in 1976 and Frank Robinson’s short stint with the Dodgers in 1972, learning which World Hockey Association team Wayne Gretzky played for before Edmonton, and finding out that Bill Russell was actually drafted by the St. Louis Hawks and traded on draft day to the Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley.

Enjoy.  Here are the sites:

Hockey-Reference.com

Baseball-Reference.com

Basketball-Reference.com

Pro-Football-Reference.com

In Praise of Webicon

For this Thursday’s “Other Sites I Like” post, I’ll add one more site that is purely for fun to go with Graphjam and GIFSoup that I’ve featured in previous weeks.

Webicon.me is a feature of Paste Magazine and allows users to take ordinary photos and modify them into one of five designs, with four core features:

  1. Obamicon which transforms photos into images with blue, grey and red colors reminiscent of the Obama campaign posters
  2. Luvicon which puts photos into a pink posterized format complete with a heart on which you can write a message
  3. Iranicon which similarly transforms photos but puts them into a green format similar to Iranian election posters
  4. Conanicon which modifies the photo to add a big swath of red hair to look like Conan O’Brien

Like similar sites, Webicon stores users’ creations and shares them in a gallery for rating and comment.  In addition, once you’ve created an image, you can order a mug, t-shirt, stamp and other items with that image emblazoned.

The pictures are all created with similar functionality.  Click on the design you’d like from the Webicon main page.  You then either snap your own photo with a webcam or upload any jpeg, gif, or png photo up to 4MB in size.  Once the photo is uploaded, you can choose to use the image as-is or tell the software where your main image is located by clicking around that image.  It’s a bit tedious, although the image of Marcia Brady at right took only three minutes to cut out.  Once you’ve saved your image, you can then change the picture text, rotate or zoom in, and change the color.  Click “save & submit” and you are all done.

(For the record, I don’t have a Marcia Brady thing.  Since I used Marcia for the animated GIF, I might as well use her here as well.)

To show the ease of this site – I create a few others below.

My fellow Washington Capitals fans should enjoy the one of the left and my kids the one on the right.  Enjoy.

I Like GIFSoup, But I Can’t Praise It Just Yet

For this week’s “Other Sites I Like Post” I want to tell you about GIFSoup (www.gifsoup.com).  Not unlike Graphjam, which I wrote about two weeks ago, GIFSoup is just plain fun.

(I want to give a nod to my friends at Japers’ Rink who introduced me to GIFSoup.  Thanks guys!)

Unfortunately, despite the capabilities that I describe below, which are pretty neat, GIFSoup continues to have problems that prevent me from really praising and recommending it.  I’ve delayed this post for about 24 hours, hoping that the site would get back to being functional.  It hasn’t.  That is unfortunate.  Googling a bit showed me that the site has had problems before on more than one occasion.

For any that don’t know, “GIF” stands for graphic interchange format, which was introduced by Compuserve in 1987 to display pictures.  In the 1990s, Netscape introduced the ability to animate a GIF and show motion in the picture.  For more on GIFs than you ever want to know, visit this Wikipedia article.

GIFSoup provides a service that allows any user to create an animated GIF from most YouTube videos.  It does not allow private YouTube videos to be used.  However, you can make a personal video temporarily public, copy it over, and then make it private again.  The animated GIF repeats an action sequence in an infinite loop.  Once you’ve created the animated GIF, it can be used as a static picture would.  It can be pasted in presentations, in emails, on message boards, blogs, etc.

GIFSoup offers two services.  The free services allows each user to create 100 animate GIFs up to 15 seconds long each.  Each GIF created for free also carries the GIFSoup watermark.  For $2.95 per month, users can create unlimited animated GIFs up to 25 seconds long each without a watermark.  Based on the site’s problems, I wouldn’t make the $2.95 per month investment just yet.

Creating an animated GIF on GIFSoup is very easy.  Once you find the YouTube video from which you want to create the GIF, you paste the URL (the web address) into a box on the home page and click “Create GIF.”  The video loads and you are taken to the next page, where you can view the full YouTube video and select the starting and end points for your animated GIF.  GIFSoup also allows you to preview your sequence and modify before saving.

When the site worked, I had some fun with GIFSoup before writing this post, and I created four animated GIFs.  They are all sequenced below.

Marcia Gets Hit in the Nose by a Football

Jordan Beats the Cavs

Keep in mind that GIFSoup has its share of problems.    So, as cool as it is, be ready for the frustration.  Unfortunately, it is the only site of its kind that I can find and, when it works, it is great.

———————-

UPDATE — Frustrations aside, two days later, I was finally able to upload a video of my son on the Flow Rider on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas from YouTube and made an animated GIF.  Again, because the site was up and functioning, it took all of a few minutes.  I also noticed this time that GIFSoup allows each user to make their GIFs private.  As noted above, once I created the animated GIF, I was able to go back to YouTube and make my video private there as well.

Here’s what I created:

The Flow Rider on Freedom of The Seas

In Praise of Kayak

If you read my blog (and I hope you are a return reader), you know I travel a lot and that I like to travel.  (If you are a first time reader, check Wednesday’s posts for more on travel).

For this Thursday’s “Site I Like” post, I thought I might write a few words in support of Kayak, which is my go-to site for checking airfares and hotel rates.

You may have seen some Kayak ads on television in the recent past, but those are relatively new. It’s trademark, visible in the ads, is a board that changes destinations like those old arrival and departure boards in airports and train stations.  Despite the advertising, Kayak has mostly flown under the radar.

Because most of my travel is for work, and we have a corporate travel agent, I use Kayak exclusively to find out what routes exist and what low fares exist.  I have to use my travel agent to book.  I can’t comment on the purchase process on Kayak.

One of Kayak’s great features is that is allows you to easily narrow your travel preferences to focus on your best options, including:

Kayak TV Ad -- The Image of the Destination Board in the Background

  • Your preferred take off and landing times for each leg by sliding a button down a bar – much easier than a drop down box
  • Your preferred airline or airlines or airline alliance (Star Alliance, OneWorld or Sky Team)
  • The total length airport to airport of your flight, including lay overs
  • The length of your lay over (I hate short layovers.  I like at least an hour.)

Kayak lists all the flights in a list and gives you several options to sort.  At first, it shows you just the departure to destination times of all options.  You decide if you want details like the flight numbers, the layovers, the fees, etc. and on which site the price is available. This allows you to do a quick scan of the best options.  I usually sort by total flight time and try to find something near the top of that list.

Another neat feature is that Kayak allows you to find all trip options based on one specific flight.  For example, if I’m traveling from St. Louis to Beijing and back, and I know I want a specific return flight from Beijing, I can find that flight and tell Kayak to show me all itineraries with that return flight.  This feature in particular is one that other sites need to have.  I often want to build my own itinerary, but don’t have that option elsewhere.

For comparison shoppers, Kayak will search five other sites simultaneously, including Priceline and Expedia.  I don’t use that feature much, because I’m so comfortable with Kayak, but I can see where it might interesting to travelers.

Kayak’s hotel search is similar, in that it presents the information in a simple list, letting you decide what details you want to see.  You can narrow the search based on brand of hotel, # of stars, price and amenities or any of many combinations.

Again – Kayak works for me, especially in terms of how quickly I can scan and sort options.  Other sites may work for you.  But, if you haven’t visited Kayak and you tend to research fares, you really should give Kayak a try.

In Praise of Graphjam

If you work in corporate America or in consulting, then you’ve seen your share of charts and graphs.  Thanks to PowerPoint and Excel, graphing anything has become way too easy.  Why talk about market share or profit growth or sales in text or bullet points, if you can show it in a graph?

Now, with Graphjam, you can express much, much more with the same types of charts.  As a regular creator and viewer of graphs and charts at work, I find Graphjam is a great spot for mid-day comic relief.

Graphjam is part of the Cheezburger network of 49 humor sites that post humorous (sickening?) photos from all different perspectives.  Each site allows users like you and me to post or create our own art and to vote and comment on others’ postings.  The Cheezburger network includes sites such as:

My favorite, however, is Graphjam.  Graphjam allows users to create pie charts, venn diagrams, line graphs, bar charts, and equations that tell a story you want to tell.  One of my recent favorites:

Each of us, however, has our own story that we can tell with a graph.  Here’s one I quickly created that conveys a simple reality.  Have fun making your own.

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