Vacation Planning Apps Abound

As I begin my little annual Cape May shore vacation I wonder to myself should this little technology blog take a vacation as well. Sadly for me I sit on my porch watching it rain so there is some time to spend with you, my dedicated readers.

There are a couple of cool apps that can help you plan your next vacation. For me I have not used these extensively because Mrs. Mann is kind of a walking – talking vacation planner. For those of you who are not quite so lucky give these apps a whirl if you need help planning your next vacation. Mrs. Mann always asks me, “What would you do without me?”. Well one of the first things would probably be to get to know one of these 3 apps!

Hopper

Sometimes you know where you want to go, but you don’t know when. Not sure when the best time is to visit Hawaii? Then Hopper is the right app for you. Type in your desired destination and the app shows you a color-coded calendar which indicates when flights are the cheapest. Green means you’re getting a good deal and red means you’re paying the max. If you want to go from San Francisco to Hawaii, you’ll save $100 by going in September.

You can also set up price alerts and get notified when fares are coming down. Store your passenger and payment info, so you can book as soon as the flight fits your budget. The app is free and available on both the iPhone and Android.

Musement

If its city guides you are looking for check out Musement which sports a sleek design and a commitment to showing you how the locals live. The app highlights New York’s best rooftop bars or where to get the city’s best hot dogs. Musement also makes it easy to sort what’s nearby and open right now.

The app incorporates Foursquare recommendations and has venue contact information integrated into each entry. You can also book event tickets, such as concerts, directly through the app. Musement is free and available on both the iPhone and Android.

The Outbound

If hiking and hang gliding is more your speed, check out The Outbound for planning an outdoor adventure. The Outbound makes it easy to search for places to go surfing, backpacking, mountain biking and more. Search by city and see suggested trails with photos and information about the route.

The Outbound provides tips for each activity, tells you what time of year to go, and reminds you about what you need to pack.

Well there you go – so even of you do not have a vacation planning spouse – one of these apps will probably do the trick for you.

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United Airlines’ Bug Bounty

It is the first of its kind in the airline industry.United Airlines has reported that it is launching a bug bounty program that aims to protect customer personal data and privacy.

What is a Bug Bounty Program?

Bug Bounty programs have been gaining in popularity with larger corporations recently. But what is this program? A bug bounty program invites security researchers to discover and report issues that impact the confidentiality, integrity and the availability of customer or company information. The program even offers researchers awards for being the first to discover a bug. Of course United Airlines is not paying out rewards in cash but miles. A remote code execution find, for example, gets the highest prize of 1 million miles.

Growing Cyber Threats 

It is clear that United Airlines is responding to recent cyber threats, real or unreal.

For example this past April, the FBI issued a alert in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The alert came after cybsersecurity researcher Chris Roberts tweeted a joke about how simple it would be to hack the Wi-Fi network on his United Airlines flight.

“Although the media claims remain theoretical and unproven, the media publicity associated with these statements may encourage actors to use the described intrusion methods,” according to the warning posted on the FBI’s InfraGard site. “Attempting to gain unauthorized access to the onboard networks of a commercial airliner violates federal law.”

The alert explained what flight crews should be looking for, including suspicious activity involving travelers connecting unknown cable or wires to the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system or unusual parts of the airplane seat; IFE systems that show evidence of tampering or forced removal of covers to network connection ports; and social media messages with threatening references to onboard networking systems.

It is unfortunate but cyber security follows us in the air and it is certain the all airlines are working behind the scenes to secure their computer systems from would be hackers and cyber criminals.

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Keep Those Devices Charged Travelers

TSA-mainI can’t really say I saw this one coming but it looks as though the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) screening process is about to get a bit more complicated for international travelers. NBC News reported last week as well as other news agencies that due to new terror threats from organizations like al Qaeda, travelers on international flights into the United States will have to prove that their smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices can turn on before they board their flights.

It is believed that TSA is concerned that al Qaeda could implant explosive devices within non-functional smartphones, tablets, or notebook computers in order to later detonate them while aboard an airliner.

The TSA provided a bit more clarity on the new guidelines with the following statement:

As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.

I am a little confused by this and I am not sure how this can be enforced 100% of the time. For example let’s say you are on vacation and purchase a new smartphone or tablet for someone as a gift. How with this be checked by the TSA?  I am hopeful that if this is truly necessary, which sadly it probably is that circumstances like the one I note here are considered and planned for by the TSA.

International Travelers who are affected by the latest TSA restrictions would be “processed” from U.S. bound flights originating from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

Life just keeps getting more complicated.

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FAA Changing Gadget Rule

It seems I have been complaining for years about the silly requirement of turning off our mobile devices at landing and take off of airplanes. Good news may be just around the corner because we will eventually be able to continue using our mobile devices on takeoff and landing, according to the FAA. The American government organization overseeing air travel today announced that travelers won’t face regulations that are as strict as we have been accustomed to when it comes to electronics on planes.

However this does not mean you can continue playing Candy Crush or in my case Mahjong while waiting for your takeoff just yet. The roll out and specifics of the changes will vary depending on each airline since there are differences between types of planes and how things are run at each different carrier, but the FAA anticipates that most will allow passengers to use their mobile devices “in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.”

Passengers can use e-book readers, play games and watch videos on devices, and can hold gadgets during both take-off and landing, or else stow them in the seatback pocket. These gadgets need to be in Airplane Mode or have cell service turned off during both landing and taxi/take-off, but you can actually use Wi-Fi during your flight and continue to use Bluetooth accessories connected to your phone.

Soon I will be able to finish watching Star Trek as the plane lands!

My personal  belief on this long time rule is that the FAA simply wanted the passengers to pay attention during take off and landing and that no iPhone has the ability to take down a airplane. I am glad that finally this out dated and unnecessary regulation is about to end. Do you know how many times I had about 10 minutes left on my Star Trek episode when the announcement is made to turn off all electronic devices and my wife starts hitting me in the arm repeatability saying “Turn it off Bill!” 

I will talk about “airplane mode” in more detail in a future article.

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