The perils of rain

Driving a scooter is dangerous. Driving a scooter in the rain; a thousand times more so. Let’s examine the plethora of reasons why:

  • The waterproof jacket flaps around in the rain and creates a blind spot in the mirrors.
  • You’re inclined to drive in the middle of the road. Not everyone can fit there.
  • Breaking speeds are significantly lengthened, obviously.
  • If, on the rare chance, it gets a bit chilly, then fog can build up on the visor.
  • It’s necessary to use the visor or your eyes get a battering. The curvature of the visor trends to bend the light from oncoming traffic, or something like that.
  • You can be tempted to sway out into the road to avoid a large puddle. Not helpful with overtaking cars.
  • Mirrors are all but useless with raindrops blurring the vision.
  • Many locals drive with one hand in the air as a makeshift visor. Cue slower braking speeds and less driving control.
  • It’s far trickier to make out road markings. It can even be hard to make out the curb.
  • Overflowing drains brings up all sorts. All sorts of sanitary issues.
  • Probably not impossible for the long rain jacket to get stuck in a moving part or melted from the engine’s heat.
  • You can’t see (and anticipate for) potholes (and there are many).
  • Most people have resided to the fact that they’re going to get wet and drive slower. But there’s still people who think that going faster will help then avoid raindrops.
  • You can aqua plane across large puddles and lose grip on the road.
  • Splashes from cars on the other side of the road isn’t fun and could be dangerous.
  • I’ve seen roads closed from landslides and fallen trees. I’d not like to be on the road when this happens.

The conclusion is that when it’s raining, it’s better to pull in, sit it out and enjoy a cup of tea.

Update:

  • You sometimes spot some real clowns who drive with an umbrella in one hand.
 Tags: Random   Published: 5th November '13

List of Co-working & co-living events

It’s amazing to see the explosion of co-working spaces popping up in every corner of the globe. Co-living and co-working events and spaces, often in rather exotic locations, are also springing up quickly.

Here’s a roundup of all the events that I’m aware of. I’ve featured a mixture of events (often running once annually) and permanent fixtures where you can potentially just drop-in whenever.

  • Project Getaway: The one that started it all. Originally just held in Bali, it’s now spreading globally with events occurring throughout the year. Typically for 1-month and open to around 20 folk. Packages are all inclusive, even including a weekly massage. Luxurious, fun, and inspiring. It’s great to now see the concept now spread.
  • Startup Getaway: The PG spin-off, if you like, where you can live in a villa in a quiet spot in Bali. Available year-round, with rates being fully inclusive (food, laundry etc). Great networking opportunities with international and local minds.
  • deceler8 me: A bit of a different event; a 5-day retreat geared towards taking things slow and reflecting. The inaugural event occurs this October on the sleepy Indonesian island of Gilli Air. Open to around a dozen entrepreneurs.
  • Change Ventures: 20 person event occurring for the first time this September, also in Bali. B&B package in a luxury villa setup. Small team of business mentors makes this a bit more unique.
  • Coworking Camp: An all inclusive event (even including flights!) kicking off at the end of this year in Egypt. Open to a massive 75 participants.
  • 47Ronin: A permanent co-living/working space in Kyoto. Pretty rad opportunity to live and work in a very cool city. Accommodation is shared, but quite affordable.
  • Startup Abroad: A 2-week event for 10 entrepreneurs that happened last year in Ubud, Bali (a super town). This year it’s in southern Italy!
  • Sunny Office: A German-lead event that occurs in various spots in Spain, with the next even happening in Barcelona in September 2013.
  • The Surf Office: A permanent fixture in Gran Canaria. A lovely island with perfect year-round weather. A large house with office space. Offers just bed, desk space, and encouragement to hit the waves.
  • Coco Vivo: An isolated villa in Panama where you can escape to live and work with solar power and snail paced Wifi.
  • Cork Screw – Spark: A one-month event occuring throughout the year in a few global spots, including good old England. All inclusive package with a very focused schedule of activities.
  • The Ignition Lab: 4-day event in Nicaragua. Only available to a small group, with lots of time spent with the founding partners. Quite expensive, but aimed at those with a good track record looking to develop ideas amongst a private group.

Please leave a comment if you’re aware of any others.

Update #2: Some additions:

  • Nest Copenhagen: A co-living space being created in downtown Copenhagen. Made up of 4 apartments, it’ll house 17. Kicks off in January 2014.
  • Hus24: Same as the above, but in central Stockholm.
  • BlackBox Mansion: Communal living and working in the heart of Silicon Valley (in FB’s hood). As covered by the BBC. A way of entering into the right networks for the next big thing. Was bookable with Airbnb, but seems to be no longer available.

Update #3:

  • Startup Abroad is going ahead again this year. This time it 2-weeks in Italy.

Update #4:

  • Exosphere: A couple of months in Chile.
  • Campus: A bunch of co-living/working houses in SF/Silicon Valley, geared towards creative folk and not just nerds.
 Tags: Random   Published: 20th July '13

Paradise: Mashup of Bali & Thailand?

I seem to spend a good chunk of my time split between Thailand and Bali. It’s a bit boring, perhaps, but they are cracking spots. Still, it’d be even better if we there was a third place that blended the best of both. Here’s a go of what our paradise shall contain:

  • Thai design, fashion and architectural aesthetics and sensibilities.
  • Thai prices, except for petrol.
  • Colours and smells of Hinduism.
  • Relative simplicity and pleasant tone of the Indonesian language.
  • Thai food, with some extra additions.
  • Ready access to cheap, fresh fruits on every corner in Thailand.
  • Clean water sidewalk dispensers in Thailand.
  • The mixed crowd of Thai nightlife.
  • Walking markets of Thailand.
  • Less obsession with sugar in Bali.
  • Beaches of Thailand.
  • Vivid greens of Bali rice fields and foliage.
  • Roads and infrastructure of Thailand.
  • Beauty of Balinese people.
  • Reliable, fast and affordable Internet speeds in Thailand.
  • Way less dumping of trash in Thailand.
  • Less traffic and crop-burning pollution in Bali (relatively!).
  • Less stinky drains in Bali.
  • Much less evident sex tourism in Bali.
  • Balinese use of natural building materials.

I think I’ve said this a dozen times with like-minded folk; Thailand is a far more rational choice as a location to do what it is that I do (cheaper and better Internet being two important factors), yet Bali has a rather special charm that wins over the heart vs. the brain.

I fully know this is written with an extremely narrow vision; there is much I have yet to see in these respective locations and across the world.

Any omissions dear readers?

 Tags: Random   Published: 2nd June '13

AdSense Checker w/ Twilio Call, SMS & Email Alerts

Many moons ago I posted a little script that I had made. It scraped the AdSense UI, extracted some top line figures (revenue so far today, yesterday’s revenue amount) and printed it out in simple HTML. The main purpose was to allow me to check my AdSense revenue on-the-go without utilising a 3rd party service (which is a security no-no). After some further hacking, the script also made a prediction for the day’s income (using an understanding of the intraday trending of revenue during a typical day) which was handy for knowing how your revenue was shaping out for that day.

Anyway, all that broke some months ago (scraping data puts you at the mercy of updates that can instantly self-destruct everything). I’ve now had it re-made using the official AdSense API, thus making it full-proof for the indefinite future. I’ve been flexing my own development skills recently, so managed to also tack on the Twilio API. So now I have the script execute once daily (shortly after the stroke of midnight PST time when Adsense starts a new day), and it sends me an SMS and makes a phone call (using text-to-voice) to let me know how things are going. I also added an email alert if yesterday’s revenue was below an accepted threshold. Now the whole script has a real use-case – it let’s you know when things are going amiss, letting you take immediate action to rectify issues. You can hack it to make it work how you want it – so you only get a SMS if the revenue is below a threshold, and maybe a phone call just on super good days.

Download the script here. I was going to get fancy and put it on Github as an open source thing. Let’s see if anyone finds it useful first. Warning: the code is a mess. But it works, just. You’ll need to go through the code and make a bunch of changes for your setup, replacing “XXXXXXXXXXXXXX” with your API keys and what-not. Feel free to make improvements and share them back :)

 Tags: Random   Published: 21st May '13

Introducing Freebie-Finder.co.uk

A new site has joined the Lunatude family; Freebie-Finder.co.uk. It’s my biggest acquisition to date and represents a huge opportunity to grow the business.

The website provides guidance on where users can obtain “freebies” (ie. free products, trials for services, free samples and so on) and makes some revenue through partnerships with companies offering some kind of free offer.

Here’s the current homepage, which will be getting a fresh lick of paint in due course:

freebiehomepage

 Tags: Introducing   Published: 3rd January '13

Ubud Top Picks

Ubud is full of superb spots to eat, and after a ~4-month stint here, I’ve tried quite a few places. Here are some standout locations (in no particular order):

  • Clear Cafe: A firm favourite. Only vegetarian, but so good you quickly forget.
  • Kafe: The original local hangout.
  • Seniman Coffee Studio: Funky coffee place.
  • Biah-Biah: Balinese food, tapas-style, and cheap.
  • Melting Wok: Well deserving of it’s uber high TripAdvisor ranking. Attentive service and cheap, good eats.
  • Warung Saya: One man show. Great food, but be expecting a bit of a wait.
  • Cafe Pomegranate: Amazing location in the rice fields. Great food too. A must see.
  • Gaya Gelato at Gaya Fusion: Silly good gelato.
  • Ibu Oka: Famously suckling pig, favoured by bus loads of tourists and locals alike. Of by Anythony Bourdain fame.
  • Palau Kelapa: Located next door to the $100+/head Mosaic. Wooden chalet building. Pan-Indo. Cheap and really great.
  • Kebun: A step into the Med.
  • Five Elements: 20-mins outside of Ubud, but deserving a mention. Beautiful resort. Only vegan/raw. Pricey.
  • Taksu Spa: A spa with a restaurant. Set in the jungle, comfy, fast-wifi, free Tea refills and a smashing breakie.

Some other really rather great, but not outstanding places:

  • Dayu’s Warung: Same road as Sopa – great organic fare.
  • Alchemy: Kinda expensive, but delightful salad bar. Vegan, so salad options is a bit lacking.
  • Warung Sopa: Just vegetarian. But also great.
  • White Box: The closest thing you’ll get to a French patisserie in Ubud.
  • Bali Buddha: An old favourite with a great dessert menu.
  • Fair Warung Bale: Charity outfit claiming the #1 spot on TripAdvisor. Good food with profits going to charity. Fair enough.
  • Mojo’s Flying Burritos: Best burrito in town.
  • Naughty Nuri’s: Also popularised by Anthony Bourdain. Probably the best ribs in town.
  • Bernadette’s: Known for its Rendang; my favourite Indo dish.
  • Warung Schnitzel: A great schnitizel and killer deserts.
  • Cafe des Artist: Best steak I’ve had in Ubud.
  • Four Seasons: Incredible souffle!
  • Bettlenut: An event location. Good food, I thought.
  • Sari Organik: Great setting just beyond Cafe Pomegranate. Overrated, I think.
  • Putu’s Wild Ginger: Nice fare.
  • Il Giardino: Probably the best Italian in town.
  • Lamak: Souffles! Upmarket joint.

Popular places that don’t really float my boat:

  • Fly Cafe: Frequented by older ex-pats.
  • Ibu Rai: Nice setting, but only so-s0.
  • Bebek Bengil: Famous duck that just isn’s so special.
  • Taco Casa: Good Mexican, probably the best in town, but best restaurant in Ubud? Nah.

For spa’s, I’d recommend these:

  • Putri Spa
  • Cintika
  • Taksu Spa

Many more places to check-out. I’ll give this another update sometime.

 Tags: Random   Published: 26th December '12

Global Airport Lounge Access for £50

Despite supposedly inventing the concept of a credit card (or charge card, to be more accurate), holding a Diners Club card is fairly pointless.

However, one of the perhaps lesser-known perks of the card is that it entitles you to complimentary access to airport lounges. We’re not talking about First Class lounges for flagship airlines, but rather generic independently-branded lounges. You’ll typically find that you’ll get a more comfy area to rest, free snacks, drinks (including alcoholic), wi-fi, and sometimes showers and other amenities.

With lounges located in all major airports, obtaining unlimited free-access for £50/year (the annual cost for a Diners Club card in the UK) is a no-brainer for a frequent flyer. If you conservatively value all of the above for £5, you’d need only fly through an airline 10-times during the year for it to make sense. AMEX offers a similar perk on with a Platinum card costing £450/year, whilst the similar access-providing PriorityPass card costs £259/year.

 Tags: Random   Published: 1st November '12

Some Travel Tips

Downtown and need a pee? Skip Starbucks and head to the nearest 5*/posh hotel (typically located in handy to find spots) and defecate in style. Refresh yourself with some Molton Brown hand cream and congratulate yourself on a job well done. The fancier the hotel, the more likely that staff have been trained not to confront people wandering around. It helps to walk with purpose and head to the bar/restaraunt area; the toilets are likely to be adjacent. Sniff it out, so to speak.

Downpour? A cheeky extension of the above; take the persona of a guest and hang a little while by the exit. The doorman/bellboy will promptly offer you a nice branded Golf umbrella. Give it back afterwards, of course.

Concierge as your guide. Hotel staff are less likely to do you up like a kipper – use them to get ahold of maps, advice and proper recommendations. Asking for their 2nd favourite restaurant might jolt them out of recommending their “preferred” default option.

Pack light, really light. It makes jumping on and off public transport so much easier, security improves, and wondering around in the heat no longer poses a health hazard. I’ve been working on perfecting my packing list for the past year – I’ll post a video on here someday. The general trick is to get yourself a small backpack; thus forcing you to pack little. I’ve got a 28-litre bag, which is a bit extreme – something around 35-litres is just right. Be prepared to rotate through clothes at a rapid rate.

Opt for small, quality gear. Good stuff lasts longer, generally speaking. You can get pretty hi-tech with even your underwear and making the right choices helps keep the size/weight of your backpack under control, plus see you through different environmental conditions. My packing list wouldn’t work in Wintery conditions, but I surprisingly feel that I have too much, rather than too little.

Don’t plan too much, especially if you’re on a budget. Book your first night in a new location in advance, if you must. But you’re usually better off sniffing out things when you arrive by just wondering around and asking people. You’ll get better deals haggling in person too; paying the rack-rate is balmy.

For fancier urban hotels, using the Internet is a must. “Secret Hotels” on Lastminute.com can get you a real bargain, as can Priceline’s “Name Your Price” model. Hotels typically pay some 20% commission to OTAs (online travel agents; Expedia etc) – call up the hotel direct and state the best price you spotted. They’ll typically match the price on their own website anyway, but propose that you book direct (generating more revenue for them) in return for an upgrade, or a free breakfast.

Use airport websites when searching for flights. Kayak is a superb meta search engine with a very comprehensive data set. However, it doesn’t yet have data feeds for every low-cost airline. A smart way to uncover who flies in and out of an airport is to check their live departures/arrivals section on their website.

 Tags: Random   Published: 28th October '12

In Search of (Digital Nomad) Paradise

Hitting Thailand has long been on my bucket list and after a 3-month stint in Chiang Mai, it was time to check out the islands. I was eager to not only revel in the beauty of the place, but also turn it into a research mission looking for the “perfect” spot to potentially relocate to for a more extended period time in the future. My core criteria included: affordability, natural beauty, plentiful activities and things to do, reliable Internet (slow is permissible, but flakey is not).

It’s sometimes redundant reading singular review of places that lack any kind of relative comparison. Whilst my trip was by no means exhaustive, I did end up checking out a number of places. Here’s a recap of my thoughts (written many months later):

Hat Yai
Hat Yai is a bustling little town close to the Malaysian border and made by first stop. There’s a clear Muslim influence in the air and it had a different feeling to what I’ve become accustom to in Chiang Mai and the North. The direct flight from Chiang Mai made this the ideal starting point for my island expedition. The town isn’t beautiful or charming in any way, but did the job as a transport hub. On two separate occasions I was approached and informed by that I was handsome – a nice ego boost to kick off the trip!

Pak Bara
A port village two hours West of Hat Yai. The only purpose of being here is to grab the ferry. And you’d only stay here, like me, if you didn’t quite make that day’s ferry. There’s basically only a couple of hotels and a shop or two. If you you know that you’re set to miss the ferry that day, than you’re better of staying in the Pak Bara proper or Hat Yai (departing early the next morning).

Koh Lipe
Lipe had come recommended by a couple of friends who knew their stuff (ie. had visited a few places themselves), so expectations were running high. The beaches and water was the most beautiful that I encountered on the trip. There was a nice blend of party action, chill out spots and relative isolation. I stumbled upon an apparently old copy of Lonely Planet which only used a paragraph to describe the island as a desolate place. Development will likely continue at a furious pace, but I reckon the island will continue to attract a civilised crowd and it’ll retain its charm. There’s a lack of agriculture on the island, meaning that everything is imported – something that dampens some of the exotic feel somehow. It hurts to think about how amazing it would’ve been to visit only just 5-10 years ago. Spent some time chatting to a local chap and the changes he’s seen in his lifetime is staggering – there were once Tigers on the island, which baffles in the mind. Internet speeds weren’t fasntastic, but it was workable. Good mix of some relatively upmarket places to eat and more reasonably prices local options. Dogs everywhere, and they get pretty fisty at night, just as I had to trek inland to the guest house. Swedish everywhere, but more the older crowd.

Koh Ngai
I had in mind to mind to move up North to Lanta and had heard that Ngai was a bit of a gem, so made an extended stop along the way, spending something like a week here. There’s only around 5 hotels and a couple of budget options. Eating out is limited to just the hotels too. But the island is very beautiful and quiet – I found myself quite at home. Kayak and Agoda will be your good friends to get the best rates (offering some ~30% less than the rack rate) if you’re looking to book in advance or understand your haggling room. Made a fantastic kayak trip around the island, stopping on an isolated beach, trekked inland and encountered some locals who lacked any English but kindly offered me some coconut.

Koh Muk
I made a classic 4-island day trip from Ngai and Muk was one of the first stops. Despite its small size, the island inhabits some local people and so has a bit less of a resort-only vibe.

Koh Kradan
Just here for a few hours, but rather impressed. I can only recall some nice shallow waters, sandy beach, and general tranquility.

Koh Lanta
Lanta is a gigantic island in relative comparison. The port area is built on stilts and is somewhat hectic; so the arrival experience was a little different than landing on an empty beach. I was a bit puzzled at first why the island had come recommended; the sheer size meant that it didn’t really feel like an island. Moreover, whilst the beach and water were perfectly nice, they hardly leave you in awe. On the other hand, the size meant that everything was really spread out and it gave a relaxed vibe. You’d have no problems finding a huge chunk of beach to claim as your own. The local inhabitants and bridge link to the mainland means better food and availability of cheap eats (a welcomed change). I had a blast just scooting around on a moped, but was glad also to move on.

Koh Phi Phi Don
Quite a different picture. The island is beautiful, but very developed. Crazy, especially when you consider that everything has been just rebuilt in the years following the tsunami (which hit the island very badly). Party-goers everywhere and a bit intimidating. Some nice Swedish babes for sure. In amongst the mayhem were some good eats and a local market of sorts. The viewpoint is definitely worth the uphill trek. Other parts of the island are much nicer in my books.

Koh Phi Phi Ley
Of “The Beach” fame. It is really very beautiful. The sand, water, cliff enclave, and palm trees paint the perfect picture. I’d heard of “horrific” stories of hoards of tourists descending on the beach during the day, so decided to instead charter a 6am boat just for myself. You can sleep on the beach overnight, but there’s no options to stay here and that’s a good thing.

Ao Nang
The Swedish Acapulco? The Beach itself is okay, but ruined by the ambience of the area, especially in the evening. The town is non existent apart from a strip of restaurants and tacky shops, curiously all of which are run by Indians.

Railay
I’d heard mixed reviews of the place, but found it generally nice. The geology is quite difference with many dramatic steep cliff-faces, perfect for rock-climbing enthusiasts. Railay is only accessible by boat and it was pretty quiet when I was there. Accommodations options generally lean towards the upper end of the market. The area is well developed, but not overwhelming.

Koh Phayam
Saved the best to last? Certainly not the most beautiful, but rates highly for liveability. Relatively “difficult” (but still incredibly easy) to get to and it was good to see that it attracts a large number of Thai tourists. Very quiet and spread out, and easy bike paths that cross the island. Options to live by, or very close to the beach for a totally reasonable cost.

Some islands I’d still like to check out:

  • Koh Jum
  • Koh Phangan (and Bottle Beach)
  • Koh Tao
 Tags: Random   Published: 20th October '12

Obtain Backlinks You Already Have

If you have an old, well established site, it’s likely that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of inbound links across the web pointing to the homepage and other pages on your site. You may be surprised by just how many of those links are dud; caused by typos, or links to pages that no longer exist (or perhaps have never existed).

Users may still end up arriving on your 404 error page, but a significant chunk of the SEO juice will be lost if Google does not see a congruent match in content between the source page, anchor text of the link, and the destination page.

301 redirects placed in your .htaccess file can help fix the issue, helping both users and the search engines find what they were looking for. In addition to typos, you’ll want to fix-up deleted pages too, by redirecting users back to an approximately-similar page, or just the homepage.

Both Google Webmaster Tools and AdSense provide a list of crawl errors; showing pages that Google tried to crawl but was unable to do so. Simply work through that list, matching the erroneous URL with the correct one, and then appending that to the .htaccess document. Webmaster Tools reports the source URL of the link, so you could plug those into Open Site Explorer (or similar tool) to then prioritise redirects by the SEO-weight of the links.

I’ve scheduled a reoccurring monthly task to update the list of 301 redirects. It’s hard to measure what impact it makes, but it intuitively makes sense as a worthwhile endeavour.

 Tags: Business   Published: 18th October '12