Monday, October 31, 2011
This makes sense
The United Nations has just voted to grant the Palestinians full membership in UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
To be clear, this is the UN body whose stated purpose is "to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and the human rights along with fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter".
These are the same Palestinians who teach their school children that there is no such country as Israel.
These are the same Palestinians whose leader denies the Holocaust.
These are the same Palestinians who consider all archeological finds in the near east supporting a Jewish presence here for thousands of years to be planted 'Judaization' of the area.
These are the same Palestinians who celebrate the release of cold-blooded murders from Israeli prisons by firing scores of rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians.
And of course, irony of ironies, these are the same Palestinians who aren't even observer members of the UN... yet are being allowed to join a UN body as a full member.
I guess this makes a certain amount of sense since another august UN body - the UN Human Rights Council - traditionally contains some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
If this doesn't warm your heart...
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Another Israeli story
On my way to work this morning I was pulling up to a security check point when my scooter died. Not a violent death like the engine seizing or the belt parting.... just a sudden strange silence where the soft purr of the engine used to be. I tried a few times to restart the engine, but despite making all the right sounds, the engine just wouldn't catch.
Using the last of my momentum I rolled up to a pretty female soldier who, recognizing me, smiled and waved me through. I smiled back and didn't move.
I explained that my scooter had died and that I needed to pull over. She indicated a clear spot off to the side and I pushed the scoot out of the way of the cars behind me.
Once I had the scooter off to the side and up on its center stand, I tried to start it again. It started right up. Strange. Not wanting to be late, I climbed back on the scooter, pushed it off the center stand... and the engine promptly died.
Lather rinse repeat several times... same result. The scooter starts fine on the stand but dies when I take it off stand and put weight on it.
It was clearly something electrical (a fuel issue wouldn't happen so suddenly) so I lifted up the seat and started poking around the engine compartment looking for loose or frayed wires.
Before I knew it, I had several soldiers, police and civilian security people looking over my shoulder asking for details and making speculative diagnoses. Very quickly it became apparent to all that, of the group, I was the least mechanically capable... so I was quickly nudged aside and more seasoned hands began probing and pulling on things inside the engine compartment.
Soon the commander of the check point came over, and after getting an explanation of why I was there, pointed a knowing finger at the guy who was shoulder deep inside my scooter and offered the following advice before strolling away:
"That one knows how to take things apart but has trouble putting them back together again. If you let him play around in there for too long you'd better find a big bag to hold all the leftover parts he won't know what to do with."
The others laughed loudly and some good natured ribbing followed, during which I found out that the guy the commander had called incompetent was a reservist who in civilian life was a mechanic who worked as a senior inspector for the Israeli version of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Every few minutes a new officer would come over, see my gun sticking out of my jacket and would give me an impromptu security briefing which amounted to some variation on a theme of, "If there is a security 'event' you are not to pull out your gun… even to defend yourself. This is for your own safety. Do you understand?" After the third time I'd gotten the briefing I realized that they weren't worried about me accidentally shooting any of them, but rather, they were worried that if (G-d forbid) there were a terror attack while I was there, someone who didn't recognize me might mistake me for an additional terrorist and shoot me!
After nearly an hour of the soldiers poking around and not finding the cause of the problem, the commander of the check point came back, and with a smug smile said to me, "I told you he'd do more harm than good". And then, turning to the mechanic and his helpers, hooked a thumb at me and continued, "Dudu (a diminutive of David), if this guy rides out of here under his own power today I'll make you coffee for the next week!"
The gauntlet had been thrown. No Israeli man will stand by and let his mechanical prowess be publicly questioned. Not even in jest.
With that, the soldier/mechanic got down on his back and really started poking around under the scooter with gusto. Within a few minutes he yelled something I didn't quite catch and another soldier handed him a flashlight. Once he had the flashlight, he started yelling for nearby soldiers and security personnel to find him some electrical tape. Once it had been found in someone's glove compartment, he spent a few minutes making manly repair noises.
After a few minutes he stood up, brushed himself off and told me to give it a try. Sure enough, it didn't die when I took it off the center stand. He explained that the wire from the coil to the spark plug was a tad too long and due to the flex of the shocks when I was sitting on the scooter, it was coming into light contact with the exhaust pipe. After a certain amount of time, the hot pipe had burned through the wire's insulation, causing a momentary short circuit that robbed the spark plug of the power to ignite the fuel.
I shook hands all around, giving special thanks to the guy whose reputation had been sullied (and then salvaged). As I was putting my jacket and helmet back on, I heard him shouting over to the commander to come take a look. The commander was walking towards us as I started the scooter and pulled back onto the road. And as I was pulling out into traffic the mechanic/soldier held up two fingers towards his commander and shouted, "Black coffee, two sugars… Sir.".
I love this country.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Zero-Calorie, 'Inhalable' Caffeine. Finally!
The nanosecond this stuff goes on sale online (soon, according to the article) I am ordering a metric buttload.
Hat tip to my friend Balashon
The title of this post is an adjective which is used to describe a task well and efficiently done.
In my limited exposure to the word, it is often applied to jobs that are actually quite complex/difficult, but which are accomplished in such a way as to make them seem almost routine.
Picture a private citizen who is injured in a public place or on the property of a private business. He/she has limited or no experience with how to bring a law suit in order to get a legal judgement and have damages awarded.
What does the hapless victim do?
He/she turns to a law firm specializing in personal injury, because they have all the necessary legal forms already filled out on their computers but for the description of the accident/injury and the names of the injured party and individual/company they want to sue.
With the click of a few buttons, a wave of legal paperwork can be produced that will, hopeful, compel the property or business owner to offer a hefty settlement. That is an example of a workmanlike effort.
I'd like to use the word 'workmanlike' to describe the apparent ease with which the United Nations and other mechanisms of international law are brought to bear on any and every alleged Israeli mis-step.
In the case of 'just about anyone' vs. The State of Israel, it seems like the forms are already filled out, needing only the name of the complainant and the offense for which Israel is to be charged.
Take for example Israel's Foreign Minister's remarks yesterday that "Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] ...is the stumbling block to peace and not the settlements".
For context, on the same day, Mahmoud Abbas made a satement that Israel was the primary obstacle to peace, and that the real problem was that Israel was trying to "'Judaize' Jerusalem".
Political leaders all over the middle east call for Israel's destruction. and the international bodies are silent.
Political leaders from Europe call into question Israel's very nature. Are they called onto the carpet for unstatemanlike conduct? Does anyone chastise them for potentially spoiling the chances for peace?
Why do we continue to subject ourselves to a system that is well oiled when working against us, and balky and unwieldy when we want/need something done?
Our legitimacy is questioned at every turn. Our right to define our borders and capital city are ignored and trod upon.
Even our right to define the very nature of our state is beyond what we're allowed, and every single aspect of our existence is considered open for international debate.
Yet we somehow feel we can get a fair hearing in such company?
Is this the way we really want to go? Not a rhetorical question, people!
Monday, October 24, 2011
I need this bumper sticker
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Proof again... Less is more
My friend Ben Chorin nails it in fewer words than I normally use paragraphs.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Eating my hat
Five and a half years ago I wrote on this blog that I was fairly certain that Gilad Schalit was dead. The terrorist's refusal to provide a sign of life or to let Red Cross representatives have access to him both seemed bad signs.
And after the second Lebanon war ended with a shameful spectacle where the wives of other kidnapped soldiers, who had also been held without a sign of life, ended up watching their husband's coffins being handed over in exchange for live terrorists, I was even more sure that Gilad was dead.
In a terrible way, it was easier to advocate for harsh measures against terror leaders and a hard line on any potential prisoner exchange based on the assumption that Gilad was dead.
But once the terrorists finally showed a sign of life, the father in me (who will be sending the first of my children to the army next year) couldn't be objective anymore. All I could say to myself was that we could always track down and kill released terrorists... but that if we could possible return Gilad to his family, we had to do anything necessary.
Seeing today what 'anything necessary' means pains me beyond words. But I still think we did the right thing. A million terrorists behind bars won't bring back a single terror victim or prevent further terror deaths. Only a death penalty can do that.
I'm sitting on a beach with my family right now following the news on my iPad. I'm watching how the Palestinians are rioting and demanding "a new Gilad Schalit" in order to free the rest of the terrorists held by Israel.
That's fine with me. The timing of the release was all about trying to make the Palestinians appear statesmanlike as they try to convince the world to grant them a state. But they still have some hard questions to answer about their role in the war crime of kidnapping a soldier and holding him without letting the IRC have access to him. I'm sure the world will try to ignore that bothersome detail, as they will now ignore the Palestinian calls for more kidnapping and armed resistance.
It's up to me and you to remind them at every turn who it is behind this obscene request to join the family of nations.
And in the mean time, as I exchange tearful congratulations with strangers here on the beach over the return of a hostage we all know simply as 'Gilad', as if he were our own family (which in a way he is), I don't mind eating my hat over making the wrong call five and a half years ago.
I think we made the right call this time.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Perspective on the Schalit deal
Since the announcement of a deal in which Israel will be releasing as many as 1000 security prisoners (many with blood on their hands) in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit (who has been held in Gaza for 5 1/2 years), many have come out publicly either for or against the deal.
Many Israelis are experiencing some combination of relief and delight that a soldier son who has been held prisoner for so long will finally be returned to the family and nation that fought and prayed so hard for his release.
But understandably, many israeli families who have lost loved ones in terror attacks perpetrated by those slated for release, have been quite vocal in their objection to the deal. They have even gone so far as to file petitions asking the Israeli supreme court to block the release of the murderers.
Like many, I can honestly say that I understand and agree with both positions.
But it was my synagogue's rabbi who was finally able to help me gain the proper perspective for viewing this deal.
He said that he too was torn about whether this deal was an acceptable one, much less a good one. But then he realized that it was impossible to decide by looking at it from the viewpoint of either the bereaved families of terror victims or the bereaved family of a kidnap victim.
He said that we are reminded many times by our sages that all of Israel is responsible for one another. He posits that this means that we are obligated to view ourselves as one large family rather than a nation of families, and must make decisions based on that viewpoint.
He didn't tell us whether he favored or disapproved of the deal. But he said it was made clear to him what the right course of action would be once he looked at the situation, not from one family or the other... but rather when he looked at it as if he were a parent of a single family who had had one child killed in a terror attack, and a second child kidnapped and awaiting ransom.
That, he told us, is the only way the nation of Israel can begin to contemplate such a terrible choice.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Another Useful Idiot
Yesterday morning while I was waiting at a stop light near the start of my commute to work, a late model compact car pulled up on my left and stopped.
I looked over and noticed that the driver was a young (20-something) Arab man, and the passenger was a young Scandinavian-looking woman with short, straight blond hair, and wearing a kafiya wrapped around her neck.
But what really caught my eye was that she was pointing a huge SLR camera directly at me; of which the lens alone probably cost more than I make in a month!
Her window was open, so I leaned over and asked her conversationally why she was taking my picture.
She lowered her camera and quite literally screamed at me, "Because you're part of the armed occupation of Palestine, and I'm documenting your war crimes!"
Although by my reckoning, 6:10AM is pretty early to be out committing war crimes, I suddenly realized what had attracted her attention: The Glock pistol peeking out of my riding jacket pocket. She was almost certainly thinking, 'Here's one of those armed settlers I've heard so much about, and I'm damned well going to bear witness to him daring to ride through occupied Palestine brandishing a weapon!'
I smiled (although she couldn't see it through my full face helmet), and said, "I'm curious ... where is all this anger coming from? Your friend there seems like a nice guy... he's relaxed, driving a nice car... and most important, he isn't yelling at anyone. Why are you screaming at a total stranger, and accusing me of war crimes?"
It was like I had poked her with a cattle prod. Her cheeks flushed with color and she started raving about 'occupied land, illegal settlement, ethnic cleansing.... yadayadayada'... (I have to admit I sorta tuned out most of it). But when she uttered the words "...perpetrating a holocaust against the innocent Palestinian people", I held up my hand and stopped her.
I said, "Look Bridgette or Gretel or Kristen or whatever your name is, I'm not going to give you a history lesson while sitting at a traffic light. But I'd really like you to do something for me when you get home to Germany or Norway, or wherever you came from. I want you to sit down at your computer and Google the term 'Useful Idiot'. Can you do that for me?"
Without waiting for a response, I zoomed off through the now-green light.
I'm sure this misguided young woman is here doing a few months of volunteer work with ISM or some similar group of rabble rousers. I suppose this kind of activism-tourism is a fun way to kill some time, and a lot more fun than going to school or [~gasp~] getting a job. But I really wish some of these useful idiots would adopt a pet or find themselves a hobby that doesn't actively exacerbate the already delicate security situation here.
Friday, October 07, 2011
A Pre-Yom Kippur Request
Before I spend the next 25+ hours asking The Higher Power for forgiveness, it seems appropriate to first ask forgiveness from real live people.
So, my readers, I am certain that over the past year I have trod upon a few of your toes... I've offended some of you with my views or inappropriate humor... I've stretched your patience with my long-winded posts (when a few lines would have sufficed)... and I've remained silent when some of you needed comfort or understanding.
For all these things, as well as anything I may have missed, I apologize and ask your forgiveness.
I have no excuse. Not one.
But I promise I will try to do better in the coming year, or in however much time I have left, to make amends.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Of Renewable Innocence, Not Loss
From the start, Steve Jobs knew that an apple had to be associated with his vision. The first logo of his nescient company was Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree; a reference to both scientific discovery and placing oneself in the correct environment to receive inspiration.
But very quickly he realized that the apple – the catalyst for Newton's 'Eureka' moment – had to be the logo for his company.
This sort of winnowing down, distillation… getting directly to the core (pun intended) of what had to happen next, was what set Jobs apart. His choice of the apple over the entire Newton-discovery scene was, for him, an obvious nod to what was the essence of the discovery. Of all the elements in that first logo, only the apple was ubiquitous. Newton was clearly unique. But because it was the apple – the generic apple - at the center of Newton's changed perceptions, Jobs chose it as his new company's logo. With that choice he broadcasted his belief that the opportunity for discovery and innovation was all around us. We just had to become open to seeing things in new ways.
Although never directly stated, one can assume that the logo; an apple with a bite out of it, is also a reference to Adam and Eve becoming enlightened after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. However in Judeo-Christian theology, that early chapter is associated with a loss of innocence; specifically trading enlightenment for innocence. But in the case of Apple Computers, the emphasis seemed always to be on renewable Innocence. Nearly every new innovation from Apple seems to have been designed to return us to a state of childlike wonder… of slack-jawed awe.
As Clarke's Third Law states: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
In Sir Arthur Conon Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, a recurring theme was Holmes' reluctance to reveal his methods to Watson. In his own words, "You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all."
Steve Jobs knew that once we started using his 'magic', we would become instantly comfortable with how simple and obvious it was. But unlike Holmes, Jobs wanted that to happen. He knew that with each new revelation, people would become comfortable with the new technology… creating the forward momentum necessary for the next discovery… and the next ('next' being, not coincidentally, the name he chose for the company he founded during his exile from Apple).
Tech writers and Apple fans will be writing about loss today; about the untimely loss of an innovative genius; about the loss of a leader in the technology sector that was founded by Peter Pan-like child prodigies… wunderkinds building wonder machines in their parent's garages.
But for me, Steve Jobs' legacy is about never having to mourn the falling of the scales from our eyes; That we need never experience a sense of loss when it comes to understanding and adapting to new technology. We may pine for the warmth and fullness of phonograph records or the throaty, simple power of muscle cars. But he helped create a world where we would never need to look longingly back at C: prompts, Windows 3.1 or even the Apple II. With each genuine innovation the world around us was recreated anew.
Steve Jobs helped establish a reality where every few months, or even weeks, we could renew our innocence and wonder at the latest discoveries that had fallen from Cupertino as (seemingly) easily as an apple falls from a tree.
I selfishly hope that he left enough of himself and his philosophy behind at Apple, Inc. so that we can continue to renew our innocence and sense of wonder, for decades and centuries to come.
Monday, October 03, 2011
Stuff I've been saying my whole life with no clue...
Seriously, what the heck are smithereens?!
Sunday, October 02, 2011
Trep's Travel Tips (Part 2)
[A while back I posted a bunch of travel tips that I'd been collecting over the years. To keep things organized I'll post them again at the end of this new list.]
1. The hotel concierge is your friend. The concierge maintains lists containing a jaw dropping assortment of goods and services a traveler might want/need. It might be something as simple as a good optometrist for getting new eyeglasses made up. It can also be as complex as finding all the necessary people to arrange all the details (from invitations to seating arrangements) for a hasty reception to celebrate a newly signed contract. Hankering to cross 'ride an elephant' off your life list? Ask the Concierge to find you the closest place to do it.
2. The Hotel doctor is your friend. Most good hotels have a doctor on staff (or at least on call). As a seasoned traveler, you should have brought all your prescription meds with you, along with copies of the prescriptions themselves in case you run out or lose your supply. However, most foreign pharmacies want a prescription from a local doctor before they'll start passing out pills; especially stuff that can potentially be abused or cause harm if taken incorrectly. A quick phone conversation with the hotel doctor will usually get you a local prescription for anything for which you have a foreign prescription. The front desk will usually send someone up to get a copy of your paperwork in order to fax it to the doctor if he/she isn't on-site. If you have a new problem, or didn't bring your prescription with you, the hotel doc will usually take your word for what you need, provided it sounds reasonable and isn't something open to abuse (i.e. don't count on a hotel doc giving you a scrip for 100 Oxycontin tablets). Lastly, if you succumb to 'Delhi Belly' or some other typical travel ailment, the hotel doc will be able to assess whether some Imodium will sort you out, or if you need to be hospitalized to keep you from passing away from dysentery.
3. Airline sickness bags are your friend (but not for the reason you think). You are probably vaguely aware that on every flight you take there is an airline sickness bag in the seatback in front of you. Unless you're a queasy flyer, you've probably never given it any further thought. However, as a kosher traveler, you need to think about the fact that these airline sickness bags are uniquely constructed to help you out during your travels. In most places, the only hotel meal where a kosher traveler will be able to find a wide assortment of permissible food is breakfast. The typical breakfast buffet contains yogurts, fruits, hard boiled eggs, breads, butters, individual servings of jams and honeys, etc.. So while I have my breakfast, I generally prepare a bag lunch (or late afternoon snack) for myself. And what better bag to keep it from soiling the inside of your briefcase? Why yes, that wax-lined air sickness bag you swiped from you last flight. BTW, lest you worry that they won't be there for the next traveler who sits in your seat on the plane… I spoke with a flight attendant about this and she assured me that part of the pre-flight routine is making sure the seatbacks contain the requisite headphones, magazines and yes, air sickness bags. If one is missing, they have plenty to replace them with.
4. Charging electronics in flight. There are a lot of outlets on most commercial aircraft. Forget about the one in the bathroom. Unless you are planning on spending the flight in there to babysit your laptop or phone, you need to look elsewhere. Luckily there are some excellent sources of information. The following is an excellent website that is organized and helpful: http://www.seatguru.com/articles/in-seat_laptop_power.php. Here's another recent discussion of the subject: http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2010-05-18-businesstravel18_ST_N.htm. If you really want to ensure you have an outlet, when booking your ticket, tell them that you are traveling with a CPAP breathing machine and will require an outlet to run it near your seat. This is becoming an increasingly common request, and will get you near the desired outlet.
5. Charging electronics in airports. Airports used to go out of their way to hide the electrical outlets from travelers. But in today's wired world, they have come to realize that a traveler who is working quietly on his/her laptop or talking on their cell phone is a traveler who won't be complaining to airport staff or making demands on their time. A common sight in airport waiting areas these days are cell phone charging stations (with multiple adaptors) and even instructions on how to access the free WiFi.
6. "Can I help you with anything else?" This is a simple question that nearly every single hotel employee is instructed to ask you before they take their leave. It could be the chamber maid, room service waiter or laundry delivery guy. For the first few years I heard this question, I tuned it out as a formulaic closing and didn't give it much thought. But during the last few trips I've taken I've started assuming that they mean it… with wonderful results. A recent example: In a hotel in Visakhapatnam, my room had a beautiful fruit basket containing grapes and bananas (two of my favorite snacks). The grapes were deep purple concord style that reminded me of the delicious grapes I'd had as a child in New England. Sadly, by the time the chamber maid came to do turn-down service that evening, I'd polished off all the grapes and all but one of the bananas. When the inevitable leave-taking question came, I answered, "Would it possible to have more of those delicious grapes?" Within minutes I had two overflowing bowls of them on my night table. Not only that, but when I checked out the following day, the desk clerk mentioned that they'd added my preference for those grapes to my profile and would ensure my room was well stocked with them on all future visits.
7. In-room movies. It is pretty standard for hotels to have hi-end televisions with cable access. This is fine for getting the news, HBO, basic cable fare and maybe even some local color. But more and more I have been seeing DVD players in the rooms as well. At first I thought it was assumed people would be traveling with their favorite DVDs (I even bought a few movies at the airport for this very reason). But on a hunch I asked the duty manager if the hotel had a library of DVD's to lend, and was delighted to receive a multi-page list delivered to my room. I picked three I'd never seen before and within minutes they were sent up for my enjoyment. Not only that, there was no fee for using the DVDs! Also, as more and more of us travel with our laptops, iPods and iPads, it might be worth adding A / V cables to our travel kit so we can hook up to the big flat screen TV in the room to play the movies and other media we brought with us on our devices.
8. Coming home with clean laundry. Hotel laundry service is no bargain (compared with doing it at home). But if you check, it isn't that much different from what your local dry-cleaner charges. Unless I have a meeting immediately upon landing, I usually bring a dirty suit and a few dirty shirts. Immediately upon checking in, I call the hotel laundry to come pick them up. That way I don't have to worry about travel wrinkled clothing. Many hotels are also starting to realize that one of the real bummers of traveling is having to do a few loads of laundry immediately upon walking through your door (not to mention sending out your suits for dry cleaning). Many of them are starting to run specials where they will do all of your laundry before you check-out so that you arrive home with a suitcase full of cleaned, pressed and folded clothing. If it isn't advertised, ask if they can give you a good rate.
9. The hotel phone is for internal (i.e. inside the hotel) calls only! Use it for ordering room service, wake up calls and for other similar interactions with the hotel staff. But don't ever use it to call outside the hotel! They will charge you enough for each local call that you could have purchased a prepaid cell phone at the airport. And for international calls… you might as well have flown the person you called to where you are to hold the conversation. Seriously, think of it as an intercom, not a telephone.
10. Happy Hour is your friend. Many high-end hotels have what is called 'happy hours' where you can get free or deeply discounted drinks and snacks. They generally schedule this brief window of hospitality either just before or just after dinner in the evening. For many years I didn't avail myself of this offering because I've never been the sort to frequent bars. However, hotel bars/lounges are not the smoky honkytonks I'd hoped to avoid. They are usually well-appointed places with free WiFi, comfortable overstuffed chairs and couches, billiard tables etc. Being able to find a comfortable corner and swill cheap/free beer/cocktails while checking emails is a heck of a lot more pleasant than looking at the four walls of your room. When you check in, ask if they offer a happy hour. Quite often it is available only to the upper tiers of the hotel chain's 'membership club'. But in my experience the front desk staff usually has a lot of latitude about handing out this particular perk.
Here's the list I posted back in November of 2008 (i.e. Trep's Travel Tips - Part 1):
1. Use a full-service travel agent wherever possible (the kind with a 24 hour emergency number). You may save a couple of bucks using the on-line deals and airline portals, but when flights are canceled or rescheduled... or you need to make a change to your itinerary mid-trip... it's sure nice to have someone who can do the grunt work for you.
2. Get your immunizations! If you are going to the third world (or any developing country, for that matter), go to your doctor and get whatever immunizations are recommended for your destination(s). Make sure you go well in advance of your trip as some shots need to be given multiple times. Also, if you are going to a country where Malaria is prevalent, make sure to get a prescription for malaria pills (and take them!). If you haven't had a Tetanus shot in the last 5 years, have your doc throw one in for good measure.
3. Don't be shy about demanding the good seats on the plane. Someone is going to be enjoying the extra legroom in the emergency exits and bulkhead seats... it might as well be you. Your travel agent might be able to help you with this, but more often it is up to you to check in as early as possible (many airlines allow you to do this on-line up to 24 hours in advance) and try to get your seat assignment locked up.
4. Eye shades and ear plugs. I can't place enough emphasis on the importance of these two things in your travel kit. If you have the bucks (which I clearly don't) spring for the Bose noise canceling headphones which can double as a portable concert hall for your iPod. You will sleep on the flight like never before.
5. Tank up on water for a day or so before the flight and take a half an aspirin (or a whole baby aspirin) before you board. Make sure you also drink during the flight and get up to stretch at least a few times on long flights.
6. Dress in loose clothing for the flight and wear slip on shoes. Not only will the shoes make security go easier, but the combination of kick-off-able shoes and loose breathable clothes will make your flight much more enjoyable. I actually bring a pair of pajama bottoms (Old Navy) and an old tee-shirt in my carry-on bag and change once the lights go out.
7. If the flight is not full (a rarity these days) try to scope out an empty row while people are still boarding. ten minutes before they close the door you can jump over there without attracting too much attention. Stretch out and enjoy!
8. If you are the kind of traveler who has trouble falling asleep, don't bother with Ambian and other prescription sleep aids. I have it on good authority from an anesthesiologist that Benadryl is just as effective at inducing sleep (if not more so), and it is not habit forming or an overdose risk.
9. Get on the good side of your flight attendants. Compliment them on a pretty pair of earrings of a handsome watch... and ALWAYS thank them for the littlest thing they do for you. They have a thankless, mind-numbing job. Anyone who takes the time to treat them with respect will be singled out for extra-nice treatment.
10. When you land make sure to go to the bathroom while you have only your carry-on to worry about. Once you get your luggage you are helpless (unless you are traveling with someone who can watch it for you).
11. Hopefully you booked your hotel in advance of your flight. Most good hotels have a hotel courtesy shuttle. The day before your flight fax them your flight info and ask them to send a car or van. Having that guy standing there with the little card with your name on it is a welcome sight after a long flight.
12. OK, you didn't arrange the courtesy pick-up. Your bad... do it next time. Meanwhile, NEVER take a ride with one of the parasites that stand around the arrivals gate saying "Taxi... you need a ride... touring... hotel... really cheap...". Sure most of them are just trying to make a living, but some of them are going to take you to a dark alley and take everything you own. Do you really want to play those odds.
13. While we're on about security, I never take the first taxi offered to me... even if I have been standing in a long line. Call me paranoid, but I like being able to choose my own cab.
14. When you get to your hotel, be nice to the people checking you in. They often have the ability to upgrade you to nicer rooms if the place is not full. give them a reason to do so. Also, ask what services are included in your stay. Free breakfast, bottled water and laundry services are often there for the asking if you know to ask.
15. On the subject of laundry... hotel laundry is your friend. Whether it is free or not, your really only need three or four changes of clothes (at the most!) and I have often gotten away with two on shorter trips. Having freshly washed, pressed and folded clothing is a huge morale boost when you are away from home... and nobody cares that you wore that outfit the day before yesterday.
16. Bathroom swag. I can't help it... I'm addicted to bathroom swag. Especially in the really good hotels. Not only do the soaps and shampoos come in handy for those tiyulim and camping trips... but sometimes you can sample moisturizers and lip balms that you would never have bought on your own. Oh, and those little shoe buffer things are priceless for a last minute touch-up before an important meeting.
17. If you aren't a member of the members club at the hotel where you are staying, ask to join when you check in. It is free and will usually get you a free paper on your door in the morning and maybe a happy hour pass for drinks in the afternoon.
18. Don't be a tip victim. In many places in the world there will be hordes people who will try to get a tip for simply standing near you during some part of your transit or for simply touching your bag as you get out of a cab. Tip generously when someone is a genuine help but handing out tips to everyone within arms reach is going to attract more vultures... not less.
19. I always read up on the local culture where I'm going and try to learn a few basic phrases of the local language. But once you are settled in your hotel, ask a clerk or waiter for an explanation of any local customs or costumes you find interesting. If you ask with respect you will get an education that can't be found anywhere else. If you are lucky, they will offer to give you the name and location of the best places to shop for local gifts and handicrafts (i.e. not the usual tourist crap).
20. Sleep on the side of the bed away from the phone. I can't remember who gave me this bit of advice, but pound for pound, it is the best travel advice I have ever received. Sure you have to skootch over to answer your wake up call in the morning... but that also helps make sure you don't roll over and go back to sleep. But everyone sleeps on the side of the bed by the phone so that part of the bed is more likely to be lumpy and saggy.
21. Stay away from the 'courtesy bar' at all costs. Why pay 6 bucks for a candy bar (or 12 for a can of nuts) when you can buy them for real world prices within a block of the hotel. Better yet, make a note of all the stuff that always tempts you in the courtesy bar and buy a bunch of it before your tip. I usually bring a bottle of wine to enjoy at some point during long trips. I put it in a tube sock in the checked baggage to keep it safe.
22. Sign up for a service like iPass before you go abroad. They have WiFi hotspots all over the world (including the Chennai departure lounge) and it will let you surf the web for free in airports, cafes and hotels nearly anywhere you go. Yes, there's a fee... but nothing like the fee most places charge for an hour's worth of service.