Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
Yesterday, June 10, 2012 I took a drive to Point Reyes National Seashore, California USA from my home in San Francisco. Even though I moved to San Francisco from Chicago, Illinois after 9th grade in high school, I had never been to Point Reyes before. It’s not far from San Francisco, so I feel silly for waiting so long.
Sadly, I arrived at 5pm, but the walkway to the famous Point Reyes lighthouse closes at 4:30pm, so I didn’t get to touch the lighthouse. I did get to stand on the very windy peak above the lighthouse to take the photograph above. I estimate the wind was a constant 40 miles per hour while I was up there. According the the sign, winds have exceeded 100 miles per hour up there.
The lighthouse is not at the peak height because that would place it in the fog more frequently. The lower perch makes it more visible to passing boats and ships.
Amazingly, there are cattle ranches at Point Reyes, and the cattle at one ranch are not separated from the road by fences or even space. I was able to park and take this picture of a female cow.
Her name is 834.
I used the same Canon 135mm lens I use when I photograph female people. I asked my subject if she had any more flattering ear rings to wear other than the gaudy yellow pair she’s sporting here, but she ignored my remarks. I took dozens of pictures, just like I do on a photo shoot.
I drove home on California State Route 1, which for the most part follows the coast of California and is thus very twisty and is demanding of drivers. Just after the sun went down I took the shot above. The sun isn’t directly showing in this shot, which I enhanced in Adobe Photoshop to make it more dramatic. I don’t often photograph sunsets, but this one just presented itself.
Before I went to the lighthouse, I stopped at a charming grocery store and delicatessen in Inverness, California named simply The Inverness Store. This store is simple, but it is a treasure on the inside because it houses the most diverse collection of gourmet soda pop that I have ever seen in person. The photograph above shows about half of the selection offered, but this photograph shows dozens of flavors, such as Rhubarb soda and Huckleberry soda. I had one of each, and they were delicious. I don’t drink much soda anymore — only a few per week at the most. But when I do drink soda, I love these artisan products, which I have written about before on this blog.
In keeping with my new persona as a blogger, I introduced myself to the wife and husband team that own The Inverness Store — Nav and Raj Singh. I was so charmed with the soda selection that I came back around 7pm and asked if I could take some photographs. I asked if I could set up a still life, and Raj said that I may. I set up in the evening sunlight on a table just inside the front door. The low angle of the sun in the shot above bounced off the yellow label of the bottle on the right and penetrated the brown bottle of Hank’s Gourmet Vanilla Cream Soda in front, setting its contents aglow. The still life is arranged on a poster of a vintage school bus conversion from the 1960s, which the store had on sale for just USD $5.00 each. Since I love buses, this setting just felt right.
After I completed my photographs, I chose a bottle of Huckleberry soda to drink on my drive home, and when I went to pay for it, Nav gave it to me. That’s the first gift I’ve received as a blogger, and it made my day. Thank you Nav and Raj!
As usual, I uploaded these pictures at full resolution. Click on the pictures to see the full size versions, which are larger than your screen, even if you have a new Apple MacBook Pro with a Retina super high resolution display (over five million pixels), which was announced to the world today in San Francisco at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. I upload my pictures at 21 million pixel resolution.
I follow Kristof on Facebook, and that’s how I found Schermerhorn’s essay.
I am reprinting Schermerhorn’s essay in its entirety here because I don’t think she will object, given she wrote this knowing it could receive widespread public attention. Furthermore, this is not New York Times text, but Schermerhorn’s personal text. Of course I’ll remove this text if asked by Schermerhorn or The New York Times.
As you can see above, Rice University devoted prime space on the front of their website telling the world of Schermerhorn’s win.
According to the Rice story about Schermerhorn’s win, she will travel with Kristof to Africa and will blog for The New York Times during her trip. How exciting! I am really happy for her.
What Scermerhorn has written is inspiring and powerful. She’s a good writer. I predict she will do great things in life. Her heart is in the right place.
I identify strongly with what Schermerhorn has written.
I plan to tour the US and world in my super green 4 cylinder bus conversion to advance the idea that we can tread far more lightly on the planet with existing technologies if we would only change our perspective on what it means to be happy. I am exchanging heaps of easy cash I could make by writing code for established companies to pursue my desire to help save the world. I can get by just fine on the more modest cash I make working for myself and managing my investments. I can do this and write at the same time.
Scermerhorn says she wants to help her fellow classmates pursue their desires to change the world. She plans to help them by writing. She plans to show them how to avoid going to work for oil companies and consulting firms. She’s already on her way by winning this New York Times prize. Congratulations Jordan!
By Jordan Schermerhorn
Text appeared in The New York Times March 15, 2012
I remember, as most people probably do, the instant I realized the world was bigger than my hometown.
It’s all the fault of a high school science teacher. After having rarely left San Antonio, I ventured few horizon-shattering hours out to West Texas for an academic competition my senior year. The long roads and desert panoramas struck something in me, and I decided that it would be a good idea – or, at the very least, a good story – to repeat the adventure alone. A few weeks before leaving for university, with recklessness that only an eighteen year-old can manage, I took an early-morning drive out to Big Bend National Park, across from the Mexican border.
Wading knee-deep in the banks of the Rio Grande, I could see the village of Boquillas on the other side. The border within the park – formerly open to all travelers who dared to chance a makeshift gondola – closed after 9/11, and the town’s decay from lack of tourist revenue was evident even from such a distance. Cardboard with chicken-scratch Spanglish scattered the ground in strategic locations near signposts, beckoning those passing by to examine decorative walking sticks and tiny creatures of the desert sculpted from wire. “Please take,” they read. “Suggested donation $5.”
As I slept in my car that night, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough: putting a few dollars under a rock was a way I could help, but it wasn’t the way for me to help. Leaving the next day I noticed my money was gone, and the wire scorpions had been replenished.
I arrived at Rice University shortly thereafter by the grace of a scholarship, hesitant but motivated, and eager to explore further. New friends from Indonesia and Pakistan threw me for a loop from which I’m still recovering. I chose to study bioengineering, a vague term that shifts in definition from institution to institution, but my passion for the past three years has been my minor: global health technologies.
I had been looking for years for a way to marry my feuding passions of science and policy, of writing and action. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have found a field that combines all of these things seamlessly: to participate in both diagnostic research and Model Arab League, and to grasp at the common ground between the two. For the past four months, I’ve been hard at work developing a low-cost monitoring system for apnea in premature infants. It’s rewarding – I’m not an electrical engineer, and I by no means knew how to program this time last year, but I’ve managed to help build a tool that can save lives. This kind of tinkering isn’t too complex, and it’s not out of reach.
But I still feel limited. I see my fellow students invest thousands of hours in capstone projects that can provide real and immediate help to those in need, only to abandon them in favor of more traditional pursuits after walking the stage. Medical school, graduate school, “real jobs” with oil companies and consulting firms: these are where many of my peers end up, and I don’t blame them. I know several who wish it were easier and less risky to drive forward with their makeshift syringe pumps, their diagnostic smartphone applications. They just don’t know how.
I’m looking for a way to communicate the potential for these ventures. I’d love to help demonstrate to students and budding entrepreneurs that there IS a vast set of untapped opportunities here to build, create, and implement solutions to complicated problems in the developing world. And I could help reach a nontraditional audience whose potential to improve lives remains largely untapped.
Engineers can’t write? It’s a classic stereotype, and one I hope I defy. I contribute articles for two student publications; I blog and tweet rampantly, receiving ironic in-person compliments on my Facebook posts. I love making things – but I love talking about them more, and getting people excited about making progress in global health.
Standing near the border four years ago is still the closest I’ve been to leaving the U.S. I’d like to cross it, this time, and use writing to bring others with me.
Fairfax was the first known person to row a boat by themselves across the Atlantic Ocean. He accomplished this impressive feat in 1969.
The obituary for Fairfax is colorfully written and entertaining. John Fairfax was quite an adventurer according to Brent Lang writing for The Wrap. Lang writes that Hollywood should make a movie about John Fairfax.
I’m impressed Fairfax was able to convince his girlfriend to row across an ocean in a rowboat. That gives me hope that I’ll be able to convince a woman to travel the world with me in my eco bus conversion, like my Facebook friend Herman Zapp is doing in his 1928 automobile.
I found the following video on Digg. This is a ‘sponsored ad’ meaning Acura paid to place this ad on Digg. Normally I would never clutter up my blog with a paid ad, but this one is funny and meaningful to me. This video shows Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld vying to be first in line to purchase the new Acura NSX.
When the Acura NSX came out I wanted one. I was sad when I discovered I am too tall to fit inside one. I tried to find a shop that would modify the seats to lower them, but no shop would touch the project, citing worry I would sue them after a crash if the modified seats came loose. I was prepared to buy a new NSX, and the dealer would not help me find a way to make the purchase work for me. I never even test drove the car because I had to bend my head over at an angle just to even sit in it.
I don’t know why Acura couldn’t have provided more head room. I fit with room to spare in the much smaller Lotus Elise.
Perhaps the new NSX will have more headroom than the earlier models. However, I don’t particularly care for the pictures I’ve seen of the new NSX. I much prefer the Lotus Evora or the Ferarri 458 Spider.
I’m not in the market for a new car anyway, as I just got a really nice silver BMW 528i with a 5-speed stick shift transmission. I have wanted a stick shift 5 series for years. They are rare compared to automatics. My BMW has the best feeling stick shift I have ever driven, even better than in the Lotus Elise and the Mini Cooper S, which both have outstanding stick shifts.
My new BMW is not brand new. I don’t buy new cars and I never plan to buy a new car, as they represent a poor financial transaction to me. But my new to me car is so shiny and lovely that my neighbors asked me if it was an actual new car! To top things off, my new BMW has fold down rear seats with a pass through area for skis. Now I can bring back 12 foot lengths of steel and aluminum from Bayshore Metals without having to cut them in half with a hacksaw in their parking lot.
Last week when I was in Oregon, USA visiting my 100 year old grandmother Elsie Battaglia, I stayed in Eugene for two nights, once on the way to Tigard, Oregon where Battaglia lives, and once on my way back home to my house in San Francisco, California.
I stayed in Eugene for two reasons:
The first reason was that my girlfriend Teanna Keller from when I was about 23 years old was from Eugene, and I have always wondered what that city was like. I worked at Newell Color Laboratory (since closed) back then with Jennifer Viksten, who I’m still in touch with thanks to the wonders of Facebook. I also worked at Newell with Hershel Klein, Bobby Ulloa and Shawn Renee Roberts.
The second reason is I have wanted for some time now to see a Cabela’s store in person. Patrick Nolan, a fellow bus enthusiast, introduced me to the Cabela’s catalog, and I was super intrigued when he showed it to me. The Cabela’s catalog is the old school Sears Catalog of fishing, boating, hunting, shooting and camping equipment.
I knew there was a Cabela’s opening up in Eugene because on my last drive to Tigard, this summer, I saw the billboards advertising the upcoming grand opening. The store is now open and I spent some time looking around.
I was shocked at how many models of hand guns they have on display. There were dozens of hand guns in glass cases, some over USD $1,500. There was a sign by the door advising people to declare their weapons upon entry to the store. Weapons were not prohibited to be carried into the store — Cabela’s just wanted you to tell them about them up front.
The store was big and lush, but its dedication to so many hand guns ruined it for me. I don’t see why hunters need handguns. Even if they do need handguns, do they need dozens of handguns?
One product that really caught my eye I discovered on the Cabela’s website. Have a look at this window mount wood pellet stove. It mounts in a window like an air conditioner. You plug it in to electricity and fill it with 30 pounds of wood pellets and you then can get up to 28,000 BTUs of heat out of it.
This product has the power to change lives, in my mind.
Hacker Dojo was too far away for me to visit regularly, and my romantic partner at the time hated me going down there to work because I spent less time with her at home. I investigated Noisebridge, and it showed promise, but the space is unheated. There is no natural gas service to the space, and the space is too large and too poorly insulated to economically heat with electricity. In the winter it’s so cold in Noisebridge you can see your breath and you have to wear a parka and gloves. This made it impossible for me to productively program, so I made other plans.
However, I still love the idea of Noisebridge, and I’m toying with the idea of joining if I can persuade the organizers to heat the space when it’s cold, which could be in the summer given the cool weather San Francisco is known for.
This pellet heater is portable and requires no chimney. That makes me believe that it may be installed just when needed, and without a building permit. I can see it might be impossible to get a permit at Noisebridge to install a fixed wood burning stove, as I rarely see wood stoves in commercial spaces.
At 28,000 BTUs, it would probably only take one or two of these stoves to fully heat the space, perhaps one at each end, where the windows are. Pellets can be delivered in truck load quantities for prices that are much lower than it would cost in electricity to produce comparable heat through resistance heating.
Noisebridge has a large freight elevator and lots of space, so taking deliveries of even tons of pellets would be practical. Their membership should increase if the space is kept warm and inviting. The increased membership fees will pay for a heater or two plus the pellets to feed them. The electricity this heater requires is to run the automated feed mechanism, a trivial amount of power. I understand their lease prohibits space heaters, but I suspect this window mount unit is not legally a ‘space heater.’ Since it’s mounted and secured in a window opening, it can’t be accidentally tipped over, and since it’s not at floor level, it’s more protected than a space heater would be.
I am hopeful Noisebridge will warm up to installing these heaters.
I have written about my dream of traveling the world in my bus conversion to promote green living. That might seem a contradiction since such a large vehicle uses a lot of fuel to move. But the dwelling part of the vehicle will likely be the most efficient home many people will have ever seen. I think it’s a fair trade off to burn some fuel to spread the word about how little fuel one can use to live day to day.
Even people who travel the world by plane to spread the word about green living burn a lot of fuel to move those planes around the world.
On a per pound basis, my bus conversion is a lot more efficient than a Toyota Prius. I get 11 miles per gallon on the freeway in my conversion, and the vehicle weighs 28,000 pounds. That is outstanding compared to a set of Prius cars that weigh the same.
Today I want to share a story of an inspirational family lead by Cadelaria and Herman Zapp, pictured above with their four children.
The Zapp family is traveling the world in a 1928 Detroit-made Graham Paige Model 610 automobile. Herman and Cadelaria started their trip 11 years ago before they had children. They had 4 children during their travels, with each child born in a different country. The map above shows almost the first four years of their travels, which started January 25, 2000. That trip was a mere 43,717 miles long.
So far the Zapps have traveled over 145,000 miles, all on secondary roads as their car is not freeway capable since its top speed is just 40 miles per hour.
The family has made thousands of friends along the way. I just sent a Facebook friend request to Herman Zapp, where he already has 4,671 friends.
The Zapp family includes Herman Zapp, Candelaria Zapp, Paloma Zapp, Pampa Zapp, Wallaby Zapp and Tehue Zapp.
The friends the Zapps make are crucial to the success of their adventure. When their car broke down in Puebla, Mexico, a new friend they made showed them to a nearby car museum. The staff at the museum disassembled one of their cars on display and gave the Zapps the replacement part they needed for their car. That’s right — the museum ruined one of their cars to keep the Zapp’s car on the road. That’s an extraordinary story of kindness.
I would love to meet a woman interested in going on such an adventure with me in my bus conversion. I can easily imagine homeschooling any resulting children and blogging daily about our adventures. I like to write, and I can see writing books about our travels and selling them online, as the Zapps do to make money. I’m a pretty good photographer so I could illustrate the blog and book with thousands of images. Who knows, maybe I might even make some stock photo or stock video income, since I also shoot video.
I plan to grow vegetables and raise fish, chickens and quail on my bus conversion. This may sound crazy, but I’m already growing vegetables and raising fish and chickens in my backyard, and it’s not that difficult. I see no reason except for possible agriculture laws in some locales to keep me from becoming partly food independent during my travels.
The Zapp’s 2007 book about their travels is called Spark Your Dream. As of today it has 30 five star reviews on Amazon. It has 2 four star reviews and zero reviews with fewer than four stars. It promises to be a good book, and I plan to check it out of my library if it’s available.
The Zapp’s have been featured in many newspapers along the way, including on the front page of some. Their website has a great section that shows off scans of the actual papers, most of them not written in English. I have a hard time reading the scans since they’re not at high resolution. I hope they find this blog and rescan the articles at a higher resolution so one can blow them up to read them directly. Right now you can blow them up but they’re fuzzy.
Another recommendation I have for the Zapps is they should post all their photographs at much, much higher resolution. Most of their pictures are tiny. Since what they are doing is so newsworthy, they should make it easy for printed media to publish their travel pictures. A magazine can’t use the tiny pictures the Zapps have on their site currently. I suggest nothing less than 6 megapixels or so.
My brother Andrew Warnock and his wife Krista Warnock homeschool their children. Their kids are the best behaved and most inquisitive I know. Granted, I know few young children, but from my perspective their home schooling is a complete success.
And as for any plans of stopping – “We have driven almost the distance to The Moon from Earth and we aim to keep going,” Mr. Zapp said.
The video by Rich Mereki I show below doesn’t make me cry like the just linked to video did and still does. The video below is fun and inspiring.
Mereki’s work was covered in The Huffington Post.
Here’s the abstract from Vimeo, where the video is hosted:
3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage… all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ….into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films…..
I had an unusual trip to the bank today. As I was heading back to my car in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California USA, three Chinese women traveling together asked me for directions to the De Young museum. I pointed them in the correct direction and walked with them a distance.
I mentioned to Lisa that I had a great time during my 2005 trip to China, when I visited Wuhan and Beijing. I can’t recall Lisa’s Chinese name.
By the end of our conversation Lisa had invited me to visit her in Beijing, where she lives. What a nice gesture. Thank you Lisa.
I expect to hear from Lisa as she asked for my card so she could email me. I gave her my card and I’m looking forward to receiving her email.
On July 30, 2011 I wrote a long post about Airbnb. I used to be an active Airbnb host so I’m still on their email list. On August 1, 2011 I received a lengthy email from Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, which I reproduce in double quotes at the bottom of this post.
Starting August 15, 2011 Airbnb will offer hosts a USD $50,000 guaranteed against property damage done by guests that book their stays via Airbnb. This is generous, and much more than I suggested in my July 30th analysis and discussion. I had suggested Airbnb cover the homeowners’ or renters’ insurance deductible, which is likely to be much, much lower than $50K.
I applaud Airbnb for their generous guarantee, which should reassure nervous hosts that they take on little risk by being a host.
I predict this mess will blow over but that Airbnb will benefit from this small scale incident.
What Airbnb needs to loose actual sleep over is a host being killed by a guest. I hope they’ll take some of the suggestions I wrote up on my July 30th blog post to help guard against that. I pray Airbnb never has to confront a guest killing a host or a host killing a guest. One of the best ways to avoid either situation is to take steps now to make both scenarios less likely.
I’ll expand on my thoughts I wrote in my July 30, 2011 post by saying that the phone apps I suggested could be used by guests to send the identification of the host to Airbnb. I had written that the reverse should happen, but while writing this it occured to me that guests might be concerned about their hosts.
If both sides know their IDs are securely on file at Airbnb before anybody goes to sleep, everyone should sleep better, including the CEO of Airbnb.
Here’s Chesky’s email, from start to finish:
“Last month, the home of a San Francisco host named EJ was tragically vandalized by a guest. The damage was so bad that her life was turned upside down. When we learned of this our hearts sank. We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post trying to explain the situation, but it didn’t reflect my true feelings. So here we go.
There have been a lot of questions swirling around, and I would like to apologize and set the record straight in my own words. In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management. I hope this can be a valuable lesson to other businesses about what not to do in a time of crisis, and why you should always uphold your values and trust your instincts.
With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. In working with the San Francisco Police Department, we are happy to say a suspect is now in custody. Even so, we realize that we have disappointed the community. To EJ, and all the other hosts who have had bad experiences, we know you deserve better from us.
We want to make it right. On August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book reservations through our website. We will extend this program to EJ and any other hosts who may have reported such property damage while renting on Airbnb in the past.
We’ve built this company by listening to our community. Guided by your feedback, we have iterated to become safer and more secure. Our job’s not done yet; we’re still evolving. In the wake of these recent events, we’ve heard an uproar from people, both inside and outside our community. Know that we were closely listening.
Today we are launching a new safety section of the website (www.airbnb.com/safety) with the following offerings:
- Airbnb Guarantee
Starting August 15th, when hosts book reservations through Airbnb their personal property will be covered for loss or damage due to vandalism or theft caused by an Airbnb guest up to $50,000 with our Airbnb Guarantee. Terms will apply to the program and may vary (e.g. by country). This program will also apply retroactively to any hosts who may have reported such property damage prior to August 1, 2011.
- 24-Hour Customer Hotline
Beginning next week, we will have operators and customer support staff ready to provide around the clock phone and email support for anything big or small.
- 2x Customer Support Team
Since last month we have more than doubled our Customer Support team from forty-two to eighty-eight people, and will be bringing on a 10-year veteran from eBay as our Director of Customer Support next week.
- Dedicated Trust & Safety Department
Airbnb now has an in-house task force devoted to the manual review of suspicious activity. This team will also build new security features based on community feedback.
- Contact the CEO
If you can’t get a hold of anyone or if you just want to contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve also added several other safety-related features to strengthen the trust and confidence of our community:
- Safety Tips
Suggestions for both guests and hosts on how to utilize our tools to better inform your decisions.
- Verified Profiles
Our updated user profiles chronicle their public history on Airbnb, giving you more insight than ever about a potential host or guest. Along with standard social information, you’ll also see if a user has verified their phone number, connected to their Facebook account, and whether the majority of their reviews are positive or negative. And as always, you can read their reviews and references.
- Customized trust settings
We now give hosts the ability to set custom trust parameters for bookings; those who don’t meet the specified requirements will be unable to make a reservation. Selections for Trust Settings include: verified phone numbers, profile descriptions, location information, with more coming soon.
- Product suggestions poll
Have more ideas on improving safety? Now, you can submit and vote on the best ideas through our new product suggestions poll.
Many more product updates will be released in the coming days. In addition to these new features, there are safeguards already in place to protect the community. These include over 60 million Social Connections, private messaging to screen before booking, a secure reservation and payment system and transaction-based reviews. We also provide verified photographs, fraud detection algorithms, and flagging capabilities.
These steps are just the beginning. Improving the safety and security of our system is ongoing. Although we do have these measures in place, no system is without some risk, so we remind you to be vigilant and discerning. As a member of the community, you have invaluable experience that we hope to draw upon to improve our system. If you have any constructive ideas or feedback, please share them with us at www.airbnb.com/safety.
What’s made us proud during this trying time is the response of our community. Emails of support to EJ poured in; many hosts offered her a place to stay in their homes. It’s been inspiring to see that Airbnb can really bring out the best in people. Like Airbnb, the world works on the idea that people are good, and we’re in this together.
When we first started Airbnb, I told my mom about our plans for the business and she said, “Are you crazy? I’d never do that.” But when I told my late grandfather he said, “Of course! Everyone used to stay in each others’ homes.” We’re bringing back this age-old idea with new technology. Now each day, you and the rest of the community are creating meaningful connections around the world.
Thank you for being part of Airbnb.
According to news reports like this one on TechCrunch.com, a host’s home was ransacked by a paid guest. Apparently this is the first time this has happened, even though Airbnb says their site has arranged over 2 million nights of stays.
If this is the worst that’s happened in 2 million nights, that sounds like a better record than hotels and motels likely have. I suspect that the rate of guests being actually attacked in a hotel is higher than 1 in 2,000,000, though I have no facts to back up that hunch.
There is controversy about what happened, with Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator saying the host may be lying. I don’t know what did or didn’t happen, and I’m not taking sides here.
Here are some more links to stories about the controversy:
I will share my experience with Airbnb below.
I was an Airbnb host in 2009. I made about USD $800.
I offered the living room in my detached San Francisco house at USD $40.00 per night. I had a lot of takers, and I absolutely loved being a host. It was a highlight of that year. I got to meet so many interesting travelers, including guests from France, Czech Republic, Austria, Japan, Oklahoma and even San Francisco.
I never felt unsafe even though I hosted groups as large as four people.
I increased my feeling of safety by installing an electronic deadbolt. I assigned a new door code for each guest or group of guests, and I deleted the code when they departed. So nobody retained access to my house after their visit.
I also made a copy of the government issued identification documents of each guest, and I locked these copies in a safe and scanned them and emailed them to myself. So even if a guest burned down my house, I would be able to give the authorities copies of the IDs of my guests.
I would guess that the person who allegedly had their apartment ransacked didn’t make a copy of the ID of their guest. I think AirBNB should instruct hosts to do so. After all, hotels and motels in the US are required to ask to see your ID, so guests are trained to not think anything of such a request. I’ve been asked for my passport at all the hotels, motels and youth hostels I’ve stayed at outside of the US, so I suspect there is a law requiring such requests almost worldwide.
I suspect that people are less likely to ransack a place after they’ve had their ID copied by the host.
One of the most interesting guests I had in 2009 was a guy who arrived by motorcycle from his San Francisco apartment. He stayed the night but didn’t shower in the morning. He went home for that, I guess. Why did he stay here, alone?
Airbnb was considering hiring him, and part of the hiring process required that applicants try the service. He was very talkative, and since we were both in the Internet field, we had a lot to talk about. I recall Airbnb had fewer than 10 employees at the time. I could tell Airbnb was a great company on its way up, up, up. What a business model — I recall they collect 20% of the rental price for playing matchmaker and escrow agent.
According to recent news reports, Airbnb recently closed a USD $112 million dollar venture capital investment at a valuation of USD $1,300,000,000 (sic). If that guy that stayed with me for a night got hired, he’s likely now worth millions on paper. I’m happy for him.
Here are some links to articles about Airbnb:
I know two people who used Airbnb to book a multinight stay in an apartment in Paris, France. They got the entire place to themselves. I saw pictures and the home was charming and simply lovely. There was no elevator and there were six flights of spiral stairs to climb, but I bet those stairs made the place particularly memorable for the travelers. I am not criticizing Airbnb or Paris for the stairs. I really believe that charming old buildings help their occupants form strong memories. It was probably a pain to lug suitcases up six flights of stairs. But as those memories fade, I believe the fond memories of the apartment will remain, and that even 50 years from now those travelers will fondly remember their cute Paris apartment, but they won’t remember any of the corporate hotels they stayed at back then, no matter how costly or opulent.
I was inspired to become an Airbnb host by my brother Andrew Warnock. On his honeymoon with his wife, they booked an apartment in Prague, Czech Republic by visiting a booking booth in the Prague central train station. He said the apartment was really great, and that he would repeat the experience.
Now, back to the Airbnb property damage controversy. AirBNB is worth more than a billion dollars now. They are famous. They are targets, and they’ll need to deal with that, sadly.
I can easily see a situation where hosts stage a trashing of their home, hoping to get new housing, courtesy of a rich and well liked startup. I would think that Airbnb will ultimately decide to require hosts to email them the IDs of guests on the day of checkin. This will allow Airbnb to be a central repository of the identification documents, and will help greatly if a host is ever hurt such that they can’t point the authorities to the location of the IDs. Airbnb already stores the credit card details of its guests, so storing their IDs should not raise the eyebrows of well intentioned guests. However, it should greatly alarm poorly intentioned guests.
With the widespread adoption of smart phones with cameras, hosts can photograph and send photos by MMS or email. If it’s decided such systems are not secure enough, Airbnb could write a set of phone apps that would use the camera to take the picture. Then, the apps could encrypt the picture and directly connect to servers at Airbnb. In this way, the sensitive ID documents could be securely transmitted to Airbnb while bypassing the Internet’s open email infrastructure.
Again, I don’t know what happened in the current ugly situation in the news. If the host’s home was ruined by a guest, then perhaps AirBNB should pay the deductable for any insurance the host carries. I do think that AirBNB shouldn’t be fully on the hook for all the damages, because that’s what renters’ or homeowners’ insurance is for. What if a guest accidentally burns down an apartment building by careless use of candles or the stove? Should AirBNB have to spend millions to rebuild an apartment building? I don’t think that’s fair or just. The terms of service should require that hosts carry suitable insurance as a condition of being a host.
I’m sure all these issues will get worked out. I met one of the founders of Airbnb in 2009 when he came to my house with his camera and tripod to take pictures for my profile. When he learned I already had pretty good pictures on my profile, he didn’t take any and we used his time at my house to talk about Airbnb. I had a good feeling about him, and I suspect if his other cofounders are similar, that the company will come though this situation stronger. The founders of Airbnb are Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. I can’t remember which founder came by my house.
I have a website for my house where you can see the pictures I used when I was an AirBNB host.
I continue to be a huge fan of Airbnb and I hope to again be a host. The reason I am not a host right now is I have four young female roommates sharing my house as tenants, and it just doesn’t seem nice to ask them if I can allow random strangers to share their bathroom, as much as I think it’s safe.