Author Archives: Scott

Amtrak’s DC-Orlando Auto Train

UPDATE (29 JAN 2014): Skipped the Auto Train this year and tried the Miami to NYC ‘Silver Meteor’. While slower than the Auto Train, thanks to many more stops, Amtrak’s Silver Service trains go beyond the Orlando and DC only destinations of the Auto Train, making things more convenient for traveling outside those two areas – though without the benefits of carrying your car.

UPDATE (2 JAN 2013): I tried the Auto Train once again this holiday season and found it much the same – the convenience, relaxation, pleasure at avoiding both I95 and the airports, all were just as enjoyable as last year. The restrooms can get a little gamey after a few hours, but still a solid way to get to/from Florida.

While not as classy as the City of New Orleans between Chicago and the Big Easy, Amtrak’s DC-Orlando Auto Train is convenient as hell for getting you and your car to/from Florida. You drive up to the station, hand your keys to an attendant, grab the stuff (change of clothes, toiletries, booze) you want to take on the train, then walk inside the station and prepare to board.

Amtrak Auto Train Auto Racks - Image courtesy Wikipedia

Amtrak Auto Train Auto Racks – Image courtesy Wikipedia



Once you drop off your vehicle (anything from a motorcycle to an SUV), an attendant will drive it onto an enclosed car carrier. This will be the last you see of your vehicle until arrival, so be sure and get everything out of it you want on the train.

Once inside the station, you wait in line to pick up your boarding pass and schedule dinner in the dining car – with nearly 500 people on the train, the evening meal is served on a rotation. And the dining car attendants do not take kindly to anyone arriving late or dallying through a meal.

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How to send mail to North Korea; China to grant visas to 40K NK workers, miners

Two surprising North Korea stories today: Inter-Korean mailman goes legit about a new South Korean organization focused on helping separated family members send mail and donations, plus arrange meetings, with people inside the North (actions normally semi-legal, at best, in SK). The story highlights the experience and skills the organization’s 80-year-old founder has used to overcome barriers to smuggle get items into, and information out of, North Korea. A useful, interesting skill set indeed.

The second is China hires tens of thousands of North Korean guest workers about China’s plan to support the North, and dodge sanctions on aid to NK, by granting visas to at least 40,000 guest workers to labor in factories, mines, and construction projects in Chinese cities along the border. These northeastern areas of China, unlike the southeast and other more developed regions, have little need for additional, low-cost workers – highlighting both the concerns China has over North Koreans getting past its border region, and the aid-based, versus business-need, focus of the effort.

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Problems with Audio Files and Quizzes in Apple’s iBooks Author

After a brief hiatus, finally back at work and finishing up my first book using Apple’s new iBooks Author digital publishing platform. As this project winds down, a few new issues (for more writings on iBooks Author, head to the Digital Publishing section of the blog) have become evident.

First, as shown in the screenshots below, the audio controls differ markedly when switching between the portrait and landscape orientations. I prefer the portrait view’s smaller controller size and would love to be able to use that controller in both views. Unfortunately, if it can be done, I’ve yet to figure out how.

Second, if you look closely at the two screenshots, you’ll notice the portrait view has the recording I made for “during midnight” (a common Korean-English expression discussed in this book on Konglish). Unfortunately, the recording disappears when the book is switched to landscape view, a problem that happens at least one other time in the book. Despite deleting and reloading, plus numerous other attempted workarounds, I’m unable to fix the problem. This leaves a reader using only landscape view deprived of the book’s full content. I’m not sure why this happens, but it shouldn’t.



No Sound

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NYT’s Kristof in Iran

New York Time’s columnist Nicholas Kristof recently spent some time in Iran and posted some interesting columns (including videos) on the trip: Hugs From Iran, Pinched and Griping in Iran, In Iran, They Want Fun, Fun, Fun, and Not-So-Crazy in Tehran.

He was able to travel without a guide (theoretically at least), which I envy. While I learned a lot from Professor, my guide during my trip, some of the most interesting experiences in the country happened when I was alone. I’m curious what else Kristof was able to come away with that he couldn’t/didn’t fit into his writings and videos.

I was most heartened by his final take, “We can’t do much to nurture progress in Iran, but promoting Internet freedom, shortwave news broadcasts and satellite television all would help. A war would hurt. […] Iran looks childish when it calls America the ‘Great Satan’ or blusters ‘Death to America.’ Let’s not bluster back or operate on caricatures. And let’s not choose bombs over sanctions and undercut the many Iranians who are chipping away at hard-line rule in tiny ways — even by flashing their hair.”

This was not so far off from my take in 2006, of Persians as a group of people that loved their country but hated their government – so long as no one attacked it. Iran is one of the few places I’ve traveled where most people, especially the young and educated, seem to genuinely like Americans. Given time and appropriate encouragement, this will help further U.S. interests far more than bombing Natanz.

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NK Resumes GPS Jamming in SK

UPDATE (3 July): Pyongyang denied it was responsible for the jamming. Thanks to North Korea Tech for the updated info (and my apologies for taking so long to post it).

North Korea has reportedly revived last year’s campaign to jam GPS signals in South Korea, harassing flights around both Incheon and Kimpo international airports. Affected airlines include Korean Air, United, and Delta, plus international freight carriers FedEx and UPS.

Last year’s jamming campaign only lasted for a few days, but this year’s has been ongoing since the end of April. The South plans to protest the North’s action (something I’m sure is keeping NK’s leaders awake nights) to the International Telecommunication Union. Much handwringing and a very light slapping of wrists likely to ensue.

Unlike last year, there are no reports of the jamming affecting cellphone systems inside Seoul – perhaps due to SK Telecom (and presumably others) updating their systems to protect against NK jamming.

Interesting to see how NK, easily East Asia’s least technologically advanced country, is attempting to weaponize the technological sophistication of its rivals by finding and exploiting the new weaknesses of the networked era. Jamming GPS signals and launching hacker offensives at the South is a relatively cheap, safe, and punishment-free way of tormenting its neighbor, giving Pyongyang’s military and hardliners something to do, and developing a new chip to be traded away for some future benefit. Worth keeping an eye on.

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