New Cruise Ships – Three to Sail This Summer

3 New Cruise Ships To Book This Year

While the economy might be on the road to recovery, leery Americans are still hunting for bargains and spending discretionary income cautiously. So not surprisingly, the hottest trend predicted for travel this summer is in cruising, that all-inclusive vacation long valued for its cost-effectiveness and family enjoyment. Anticipating both the demand and the competition, major cruise lines this year are introducing dazzling new ships with jaw-dropping innovations such as loft suites with double-height floor to ceiling windows, the first-ever water-coaster, and a suspended rope-climbing course. You could say the latest super-ships are as delightful as the ports-of-call.

DISNEY’S DREAMBOAT

With accommodations for over 5,000 passengers and crew,the Disney Dream is 40 percent taller, wider and longer than its two sister ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder. The Dream’s maiden voyage was January 26 and like the others, it harkens back to the glamorous golden age of cruising during the 1930s with original whimsical art, lavish murals and Art Deco ambiance.

With the Disney name on the bow the Dream obviously caters to families and most of the staterooms come with a new innovation- split bathrooms, complete with a tub and shower, and separate sinks that allow for multiple people to use the space at the same time. The inside cabins which are normally windowless, also herald an industry first- virtual portholes, with a real-time view outside the ship using high-definition cameras.

But the Dream’s largest bells and whistles were reserved for the public area. In addition to the lavish restaurants and entertainment venues, there’s the first-ever cruise industry water coaster, aptly named AquaDuck.

The Dream’s itinerary is set for 4 and 5 day cruises to the Bahamas.

ALLURING ON THE SEAS

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line launched Allure of the Seas in December 2010, sister to the Oasis of the Seas and the world’s largest cruise ship. How big is it? On its 16 decks it can accommodate 6,360 guests. With all that space Allure has a lot to offer, including a whopping 37 categories of accommodations, including 28 two-story Loft Suites featuring contemporary fixtures, modern art, and double-height floor to ceiling windows. Imagine waking up to that sunrise! The lofts, an industry first, are the highest accommodations at sea and measure 545 square feet. The space includes an upper-level bedroom that overlooks the living area and extended ocean views.

The mega-ship continues showing off all its extra space in public areas with whimsical surprises like a full-sized classic carousel, and another industry first, an Aqua Theater.

The Allure’s itinerary is set for 7-night eastern and western Caribbean.

CARNIVAL MAGICIANS.

The newest addition to Carnival’s 22-ship fleet is the Carnival Magic, arriving in May, featuring SkyCourse, the first ropes course at sea and the industry’s first-ever outdoor fitness area. The new attraction will offer thrills and adventure along with magnificent views of the sea nearly 150 feet below. On SkyCourse, guests strap into a safety harness and choose from a beginner or intermediate course, traversing across rope bridges, swinging steps and beams suspended above the top deck. Approximately 20 guests at a time can zig and zag along the two 230-foot courses.

The outdoor fitness center, Sky Fitness, features a wide array of exercise equipment and a jogging path that surrounds the entire area. There is also a lighted multipurpose space for basketball, volleyball and soccer and the Carnival’s first two-level, nine-hole miniature golf course.

The 3,670 passenger ship is slated to debut in Europe with a series of seven-12-day Mediterranean cruises until Oct. 16. Following a 16-day trans-Atlantic crossing, it will launch 7-day Caribbean services from Galveston, Texas, Nov. 14, becoming that ports largest year-round cruise ship.

Piranha’s Killer Happy Hour

Piranha Killer Sushi undoubtedly has one of the best happy hours in Austin. For they offer something so rare, it is virtually unheard of: The Reverse Happy Hour. The late hours and convenient downtown location make Piranha a perfect stop for some after-drinks dinner. Though timing and location are everything, I have yet to share my favorite part about this particular happy hour. Piranha is the only restaurant, in all of my happy hour days, that discounts my favorite drink of all time, The Wedding Cake Martini. Church-bells ring at just the aroma of this vanilla and amaretto treat. And for all of you limoncello lovers, The Italian Ice Martini is equally as delicious. My other all time favorite, ceviche, also made the cut. You will be hooked after one bite of the salmon with mango and cilantro salsa. It’s hard to share this delicious plate and for only $7, you might want to order 2! I share my addiction to this heavenly ceviche with Fort Worth Monthly who has voted Piranha Killer Sushi “Best Sushi” three years in a row! Not to mention, Executive Chef Kenzo Tran was named “Best Sushi Chef” in 2006.

Last week Piranha hosted a happy hour at Legacy on The Lake Apartments and impressed guests with their sushi bar set up and generous cocktail service. The “Forget About It” roll was all the rave and sure enough, can be found on the happy hour menu for $7. And the delight doesn’t stop at dinner. Piranha’s knows that the late night snack often comes with a sweet tooth so they’ve half-offed all desserts, even the Tower of Chocolate! For something light, the Green Tea Ice Cream is a welcomed refreshing and simple option. With so many favorites, Piranha’s happy hour menu is remarkably impressive and as genuine as the staff. Go with friends for an after downtown snack or share a late night dessert with a date.

Needle and Pain Free Vaccinations

The development of a needle-free vaccination delivery system has been identified by the Grand Challenges in Global Health (GCGH) initiative as one of the major challenges facing global health care today.

Millions of needles and syringes are used each day in health care. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 12 billion injections are given each year. Only about 5% are used in the delivery of vaccines for immunization and prevention of infectious diseases. Even though vaccinations have saved lives over the years, there are some hurdles to overcome. One of these is the use of needles or “sharps” to deliver the vaccines.

According to Myron Levine of the Center for Vaccine Development, University of Maryland School of Medicine and member of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) “three fundamental themes remain in common worldwide: first, high immunization coverage of target populations generally must be attained for maximal public health impact; second, most current vaccines are administered parenterally using a needle and syringe; third, there is a broad recognition of the need to find ways to administer vaccines without the use of ‘sharps’ (that is, needles and syringes).”

The disadvantages of needle delivery of vaccine include:

(1) Pain and irritation of vaccination site. A large fraction of our population is scared of needles, probably as consequence of a previous bad experience. The majority of patients at the delivery end of vaccination are very young children under the age of two and needle pricks in this patient population can cause a lot of pain and distress. Needles may also cause discomfort at the injection site long after the shot has been applied.

(2) Lack of compliance. The World Health Organization’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) has recommended six basic vaccines for infants in developing countries: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus toxoids (DPT), bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), and attenuated polio and measles. In developed countries such as the US, more vaccinations are required by health authorities. However, for the so-called “herd immunity” to work, a certain % of the population must comply with vaccination schedule.

(3) Safety. Vaccination with needles produces dangerous infectious waste that come with serious health threats to both patient and health care professionals. The reuse of unsterilized needles has facilitated the transmission of blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis.

(4) Speed and efficiency. Recently, the threats of bioterrorism and pandemic flu have highlighted the need of fast, easy and safe vaccine delivery to the masses should the need arise. Definitely, vaccination using syringes and needles was not designed for these situations.

(5) Cost-efficiency and logistics. Doing away with syringes and needles can make vaccinations in less developed countries cheaper and more accessible. Syringes and needles need to be transported and stored for vaccination purposes. Injectible vaccines need to be refrigerated during transport.

Although needle-free delivery systems exist for many drugs, vaccines present a challenge because they usually consist of large molecules that cannot be easily delivered transdermally. Myron Levine summarized in a review article the different methods of administrating needle-free vaccines.

(1) Vaccines delivered through mucosal surfaces. Though theoretically possible, this form of delivery hasn’t caught on except perhaps with the use of the nasal spray.

(2) Oral vaccines. Specific vaccines can be given orally in the form of pills. Oral polio vaccine has already been around for awhile. Other vaccines can be delivered via this route including certain types of cholera vaccines and the new rotavirus vaccines. However, this delivery route presents some problems for very young infants who might not be able to swallow properly and whose digestive system may not be able to withstand the effects of the vaccines.

(3) Nasal vaccines. The nasal vaccine through the respiratory tract is a very popular alternative to the flu shot. The FluMist” nasal spray, made from live, attenuated, cold-adapted vaccine, has been approved by the FDA and is delivered using a single-use spraying device through the nostrils.

(4) Aerosol vaccine. This mode of administration through the respiratory tract has been tested for measles vaccine. This is an alternative to the nasal spray and can be used with liquid aerosol and dry power for mass immunization.

(5) Needle-free percutaneous jet injection. This device works by propelling liquid through a small skin pore under high pressure. The liquid is then transported to the dermis and underlying tissues and muscles. There are multiple dose injectors available, making this type of delivery fast and practical for mass immunizations. However, it has the disadvantage of a high incidence of local irritation at the vaccination site as well as the possibility of transmission of infectious diseases.

(6) Transcutaneous delivery. This is commonly known as the “vaccine patch” and is delivered via the skin. The adhesive patch is applied after a preliminary hydration, directly on the skin. The occlusive patch makes the skin permeable to the vaccine. The cutaneously applied antigens are then taken up by Langerhans cells found in the upper layer (epidermis) of the skin allowing the immune-processing cells to migrate to the lymph nodes.

In recent years, several biotech companies have invested millions of dollars in developing, testing and finalizing different forms of needle-free delivery systems for all kinds of drugs, not only vaccines. The most promising of the needle-free vaccination systems at this juncture is Trans Cutaneuous Immunization (TCI).

Several advantages of the TCI have been identified. including cost-effective, safe, fast distribution, easy storage (can be stockpiled!) and easy administration, with the potential for self-administration.

In 2007, American researchers tested the efficacy of TCI with Clostridium difficile toxoid A in mice, with positive results. The bacteria C. difficile is the leading cause of nosocomial diarrhea, e.g. infectious diarrhea transmitted in the hospital setting. Also in 2007, Johns Hopkins University researchers tested the protective efficacy of TCI with the heat-labile toxin (LT) of enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). The results showed that the patch “induced anti-toxin immune responses that did not prevent but mitigated the illness.

Apollo Life Sciences has developed and patented a needle-free drug delivery and in May 2007 it released the results of preliminary studies on needle-free transdermal delivery of tetanus toxoid vaccine in mice. Apollo has developed the non-invasive transdermal carrier, TransD” which works by delivering “a protein-laden water layer across the skin and into the surrounding dermal and sub-dermal layers. It has potential to replace injections for biodrugs based on molecules such as interferon, growth hormones and anti-TNF (tumor necrosis factor).”

The TCI developed by the biotech firm Iomai, now owned by the Austrian company Intercell has recently made the headlines. Drug Delivery Report described how it works: “Administration is a two-step process. First, the skin is prepared by placing the device on the patient’s arm and pulling a tab. The tab draws a mildly abrasive substance across the skin, making a painless and nearly imperceptible dent and simultaneously leaving an ink mark to indicate where the patch should be applied. The patient then wears an adhesive patch [with the vaccine] for several hours.” The innovative design company Ideo helped designed the patch which required removal of an extremely thin layer of skin (about one-thousandth of an inch!).

Currently, Intercell’s vaccine patch against traveler’s diarrhea or the so-called Montezuma’s Revenge is showing promise. The disease is a major cause of diarrhea among travelers, with symptoms ranging from stomach cramps to vomiting and diarrhea. Dr. Herbert DuPont of the University of Texas is one of the researchers involved in testing the vaccine. He told Reuters: “I think it’s one of the most exciting new developments in travel medicine. People could buy this and put it on themselves whenever they take a trip. It is the most convenient form of immunization I have ever seen.”

The vaccine has been tested on visitors travelling to Guatemala and Mexico and showed 70% efficacy against traveler’s diarrhea. In another field study of 170 travelers as part of the vaccine patch Phase II trials, the vaccine patch reduced the risk of developing moderate to severe traveler’s diarrhea by 75%. Phase III clinical trials are in process. If approved, this will be the first vaccine to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. The study results were published in the Lancet and conclude that “the vaccine patch is safe and feasible, with benefits to the rate and severity of travellers’ diarrhea.”

A second promising Intercell vaccine patch is targeted against the pandemic flu. If successful, the patch will expand the limited vaccine supplies by allowing fewer or lower doses of vaccine. The program is funded by a United States Department of Health and Human Services contract.” The patch contains a vaccine made from the H5N1 influenza virus. Results of a Phase I/II trials showed that a small amount of the vaccine triggered a protective immune response in 73% of the study participants. Phase II trials are expected to begin in 2009.

The Home Buying Process, Step by Step

1. Get Pre-Approved or Pre-Qualified
Experts recommend speaking to a lender about getting pre-approved or pre-qualified for a mortgage as soon as you become serious about buying a home to see what price range you can afford and what your approximate monthly payments will be.

* most homebuilders have their own mortgage companies, or they have a list of preferred lenders with whom they do business. Homebuilder sales consultants are very skilled in helping potential home buyers get a good idea of what they can afford. Many offer a mini application that can help buyers begin the application process. They can also provide a list of preferred lenders they do business with.

* if a home buyer decides to work with a Realtor, one of the first things the Realtor will do is help the buyer become pre-approved or pre-qualified

* if the home buyer is working with an assistance program, the program can help match the buyer with the best lender.

* a home buyer can also contact a mortgage lender directly. The buyer is always free to choose the mortgage company of their preference. Always compare interest rates and fees. A single percentage point difference in the interest can make a big difference in your monthly payment.

* to become pre-qualified, you submit general information about yourself and your finances to a lender. Based on information you provide, which is not confirmed at this point, the lender will issue a pre-qualification loan amount. This can help you start thinking about what you can afford, and can help you begin looking at new homes. Pre-qualification is not to be mistaken for a letter of approval for a certain loan amount.

2. Pre-approval
To become pre-approved, you agree to a loan, you give the broker or lender a check to cover the cost of a credit report. The lender may ask for other information, such as your last two or three bank statements, W-2s, and pay stubs. Once the credit report is back, the lender should be able to provide a loan rate, lock the loan in if you wish, and provide a truth-in-lending statement. This statement will outline the costs of the loan, and what would be required to close the purchase.

There are several advantages of being pre-approved for a loan. Most important, you can relax and feel comfortable that you already have your loan ready for when you need it. Now, all you have to do is find the right home.

3. Think Credit
You don’t have to have perfect credit to buy a new home, and you don’t necessarily need to have credit cards. Today, many lenders consider alternate forms of credit, such as rent and utility payments.

Checking your credit report before you apply for a loan is a very good idea. In general, lenders are going to want to see a credit report with no problems on it for the past 12 months.

Potential lenders will view your credit history, which includes information on how much debt is accrued, how many accounts are open, whether the payments are made on time, etc.

There are three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. You can obtain a report from each company to ensure it is accurate, and clear up any problems before you apply for a loan.

Avoid credit repair companies, as they will charge you for a service you can do on your own. They do not try to resolve credit issues, but only contest any negative issues on your report. What happens is they raise your credit score temporarily, without resolving any negative issues.

It’s very important to not make any major purchases, such as a new car, during the time you are trying to buy a new home. You can jeopardize your pre-approval by getting credit on another major purchase during the preclosing period and ruin your chances for a new home.

4. Decide what you can afford
A lender might approve you for a certain amount, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can afford it. Be sure to factor in other debts and expenses, along with savings goals. When looking at a certain loan amount and interest rate, it is very easy to figure out the monthly principal and interest (P&I), using a mortgage calculator. For example: A 30-year loan for $100,000, with a 6 percent interest rate. The monthly P&I payment would be $599.55.

You must also add other costs to your payment such as:

* Hazard Insurance
* Property & School Taxes (in some cases Municipal Utility Dist. Taxes)

The 1% rule is very reliable. Just take 1% of the loan amount, and that is what your approximate monthly payment will be. Usually, it will be a little bit less. If you had a loan for $100,000, then your total monthly payment (including P&I, insurance and taxes) will be right around $1,000.

5. Shop for Insurance
As a home buyer, you will need to purchase insurance, and your builder, Realtor or lender can be good sources for recommendations. Again, make sure your credit report is accurate. Credit histories are sometimes used to determine whether a company will insure you, and at what rate. Many people think that all homeowner insurance policies are the same, but they are not. The Texas Department of Insurance governs offers a helpful English and Spanish website, with a price guide and shopping tips.

6. Know Everyone’s Role
Who is involved in the home purchase process? Let’s quickly define their roles:

The Realtor – Represents YOU and can provide you with invaluable help and advice in your home buying process. Remember, there is NO CHARGE TO YOU for using a Realtor; the home builder you buy from pays the Realtor commission fees; whether or not you decide to use a Realtor, the home builder will charge you the same price.

Experts recommend interviewing several Realtors, getting referrals from family, friends and neighbors. Select someone who knows your market and the neighborhoods you prefer. If you are going to need down payment and closing cost assistance, ask potential agents if they know about the programs.

The Home Builder Sales Consultant – The sales consultant is an employee of the homebuilder who works in a specific community or neighborhood. Sales consultants are very skillful in helping buyers begin the loan process, if they have not done so already. They might recommend the builder’s own mortgage company, or a list of preferred lenders. The buyer is free to choose whichever lender they want.

The Loan Officer – The loan officer is the human face of the lender, which is the company or institution that provides the funds to the home buyer. Try to choose a lender who has been referred either by your Realtor, your home builder sales consultant, or by someone who has gone through the entire loan process with that lending institution and loan officer. The best advice we can offer you is to: shop and compare lenders as you would with any other major purchase. It could save you a lot of money.

The Title Company – The title company is often overlooked and little understood, but it plays several important roles in the purchase of your new home. The company conducts a title search and provides the buyer with title insurance. This is to make sure that when you buy a home, the people selling it actually have full and legal title. In other words, they are the legal owners, and the home is theirs to sell. Title insurance protects against loss arising from a dispute over ownership of the property. Title companies also collect and disburse the funds needed in the selling and buying of the property. Finally, title companies ensure all documents are executed and filed correctly with the county courthouse, so that the property becomes legally yours.

7. Understand What You Sign
You will be asked to sign numerous documents in the home buying process. Remember that everybody else in the home buying process is a professionals, and they do this for a living. The only one who does not go through this process regularly is you. Read and thoroughly understand everything before you sign. Don’t let anyone pressure you to sign a document if you don’t understand or don’t feel comfortable. If you need one, a translator can be provided to you. It’s your right.

8. Closing
Closing is the formal transfer of ownership from the seller (the builder) to the buyer (you). There are several things that take place leading up to the closing.

A “Walk Through” – is your final chance to inspect your new home. Make sure everything has been completed and is properly working.

“Closing Statement” or “Settlement Sheet” – is an itemized statement of charges to be paid at closing. The charges can vary depending on your loan type. You will attend the closing meeting where you will be asked to sign the final documents. If you have one, your Realtor and the Builder Sales Consultant will also be in attendance. Your loan officer will guide you through every document to be signed. Ask questions if you do not understand something.

Closing documents you typically are asked to sign include some of the following:

* HUD-1 Settlement Sheet. An itemized list of closing costs.
* Truth-in-Lending Statement. This outlines the cost of the loan and the APR (annual percentage rate). It also defines the loan terms and number of payments.
* Mortgage Note (also called Promissory Note). This is legal evidence of your promise to repay the loan according to the agreed terms outlined in this document.
* Mortgage. The legal document that gives the lender a claim against your house if you fail to uphold the terms of the mortgage note.
* Deed. This document is signed by the seller at closing to transfer ownership to your name. You receive a copy at closing. The original will be sent to you after it is recorded.

When you’re finished, you get the keys to your new home!

Permanent Weight Loss – 4 Causes of Weight Gain and Strategies to Avoid the Yo-Yo Effect of Dieting

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to gain weight? You know, the way it creeps up on you until you notice one day that your favorite shirt just doesn’t fit as well as it used to or how you can’t play with your kids for as long without feeling tired and sluggish. I ended up gaining almost 40 pounds during 2006 exactly like this.

The truth is simple: You can lose some weight on almost any of the fad diets that you see advertised if you try hard enough, but the real challenge is keeping the weight off one it’s gone. The thing is most people end up gaining back most, if not all of the weight they’ve lost on the different fad diets out there because these programs fail miserably at addressing the underlying cause of weight gain and obesity. Many times they actually make the problem worse in the long run.

How?

When you lose weight some of the loss will be comprised of things like water and some fat, but a portion of the weight lost will be in the form of lost muscle mass. That’s exactly what you don’t want! The reason why is simple: Muscle mass=Metabolism

While this list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, here are 4 causes for weight gain and some strategies to address them.

Low Metabolism – One of the main differences between someone who is skinny and someone who is overweight or obese is the rate at which their bodies burn calories. The higher your metabolism, the easier it is to lose weight (or to put it another way; the harder to pack on excess pounds).

Studies have shown that a pound of lean muscle mass burns approximately 30 calories at rest per day, so when people end up losing muscle mass while dieting alone, they are actually making it easier to gain the weight back in the future when they go back to eating “normally”. This is the underlying cause of the yo-yo effect you see with most weight loss programs.

One of the best ways to increase your metabolism is to eat 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day (especially starting with a light breakfast). Easy enough, right? When you skip meals, your body’s natural response is to try and store energy in the form of fat because it thinks it’s starving! You may know that you’re going to be eating later in the day, but your body doesn’t. So in response to your body thinking it’s experiencing a famine, it slows down your metabolism while trying to hold on to its “precious” fat reserves for as long as possible.

Eating Poor Quality Food – This is one of the major causes for overeating, in my opinion. When the majority of someone’s diet is made up of processed, refined, unnatural, nutritionally devoid food, they tend to eat much more than your body actually requires, because their body is trying to get vitamins and minerals that just aren’t present in the food.

The good thing is that knowing what you’re putting into your body isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. When you’re shopping at the grocery store, ignore what’s written on the front of the package. This is marketing. Its purpose is to get you to buy the product by throwing around buzz words and half truths (“Look, it says No Trans Fat!”), so ignore all of that and flip the package over to the nutritional informational. If it reads like college-level chemistry text book, put it down! A great article with some excellent tips on how to decode food labels was recently printed in Experience Life Magazine.

Sluggish Digestive System – When your digestive system isn’t operating properly, problems can occur like gas, bloating, and improper nutrient absorption to name a few. One of the easiest ways to tell if you might have a sluggish digestive system is to use your nose. Unpleasant, I know, but one major cause for particularly foul gas and bowel movements is undigested rotting food in the colon.

A few things that can help avoid this issue are taking digestive enzymes before eating large meals, not drinking a lot of liquid before or while eating (this dilutes natural digestive enzymes and stomach acid), drinking a lot of water, and adding probiotics to your diet. This can be accomplished by eating foods like yogurt and cultured vegetables or through a high quality probiotic supplement (one that guarantees the billions of friendly bacteria will still be alive once it reaches the colon).

Emotional Eating – We, as humans, tend to have a deep emotional connection to our food as something way more than just sustenance required for survival. Some thank God for providing our meals, some people use food as a means to spend quality time with friends and family, but some people eat as a way to deal with emotional things like stress. I know I used to. I was so busy with work, and life in general, that I’d find myself eating more than I needed because it felt like something I could actually control.

One of my favorite ways to address this is a form of personal acupressure called the Emotional Freedom Technique or “tapping”. I’ve personally found it to be effective in addressing the negative thoughts and emotions that cause emotional eating, and best of all it’s simple to learn and very quick to do. For more information, you can go to The Tapping Solution. For serious issues, it’s always a good idea to seek the services of a qualified mental health professional.

Lastly, when trying to achieve your permanent weight loss goals it’s important to have a strong support structure to keep you on track. It can be in the form of a friend that is going on your weight loss journey with you or even an online system that includes thousands of people who can offer words of encouragement as you go through your transformation.

Where To Go For BMW Repair And Maintenance

While cars are generally a necessity for most people, these are prized possessions for some. In fact, some people are really very choosy when it comes to picking out cars. While performance is the utmost consideration in choosing a car, some other factors like luxury, cost, and comfort are considered as well.

According to the data in global car production, there are approximately 51,971,328 produced in 2009. All in all, there are over 600,000,000 cars that travel the street around the world today. This is definitely some figure to consider. Just imagine how it is for the automobile industry with this high demand that they have to cater to. With the number of cars spread out all throughout the globe, every color possible is probably out there. However, with this great number, about one third of this is produced from the European Union.

Indeed, nothing beats the performance and quality of cars produced from the European Union, most especially Germany. Since time immemorial, Germany has always produced high performance automobiles, including the ever famous, BMW.

BMW is actually a German automobile, motorcycle, and engine manufacturing company that is known for its high performance and quality cars and motorcycles. In fact, the BMW is most known for its performance and luxury vehicles. Truly, BMW has lived up to the expectations of the world.

Although BMW automobiles and motorcycles are relatively costly compared to other brands; everything that you paid for it is actually worth every penny. As such in order to protect your investment, you should properly care for this prized possession.

Proper care and maintenance should be provided for all vehicles, not just BMW. It is important that you select authorized auto centers for the maintenance and repairs of your car.

Aside from the fact that these auto centers know all about your car more than any other general auto shops, certified automotive professionals personally handle your car as well. Moreover, if you own a BMW, you should see to it that you consult auto centers that specialize in German automobile or BMW for that matter.

Most German auto centers or BMW service centers offer all types of maintenance and repair services such as air conditioning, trans axle clutch service, catalytic converter tune up, alignment and replacement of wheel bearings, electrical system, body and trim, chassis and suspension, and engine repair and replacement among others.

With the number of auto centers that offer various services, it is important to consider the track record of the auto center and the expertise as well. For cars like BMW though, it is advisable to choose the auto center which specializes in it and one that is equipped with modern facilities too. Fortunately, a number of these centers are spread out in different parts of the United States, specifically in Austin, Texas. Thus, for all your BMW’s or any other German car’s needs, you can always an authorized German auto center nearest you.

Kai Tak Remembered

More than a decade has already passed since the former Hong Kong International Airport at Kai Tak closed for business on July 6 1998 to be replaced by the superb new facility built on reclaimed land at Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island. The two airports are like chalk and cheese; one futuristic, the other was long past its sell by date; but there are still plenty who mourn the demise of the old place. Many are pilots who readily recall the adrenalin rush as they guided their aircraft along the instrument guidance system (IGS) just a few hundred feet above densely populated Kowloon tenements towards the infamous orange and white painted checkerboard. When this was in view and the aircraft correctly aligned at a height of just 675 feet (206 metres), a sharp 47 degree turn was required to take the aircraft through a sweeping curve before levelling out 150 feet (46 metres) from the runway threshold.

At night, a unique lighting system set precisely at 400-foot intervals on rooftops and specially built gantries guided pilots towards the runway centre line. As final approach was imminent the spacing between the lights decreased to 200 feet. The need to use lights to guide pilots in this way, enforced a ban on flashing neon signs throughout Hong Kong to avoid distracting inbound pilots. The weather was often bad; typhoons, microbursts and severe crosswinds added to the workload of pilots and in many respects Kai Tak was a major accident waiting to happen. A few errant aircraft did end in the shallow waters of Kowloon Bay and it was indeed fortuitous that no commercial airliners ever came down on the crammed dwellings of Kowloon or missed the turn to end up ploughing into Lion Rock. This was due mainly to extremely good aviation skills, excellent air traffic control and, more specifically in the early days, an amazing element of luck. The airport certainly had its share of incidents and many aviation enthusiasts will have seen the video on ‘You Tube’ that shows how close a Korean Air Boeing 747 came to disaster during an extreme weather landing.

Mr Kai and Mr Tack
The story of the airport dates back to the 1920s when two businessmen, Sir Ho Kai (a trained medical doctor) and Mr Au Tack* (owner of a photographic business) formed the Kai Tack Land Investment Company Ltd to reclaim land they intended to use to build new homes. The project failed mainly because few people desired to live on land that was still infested by mosquitoes. The reclaimed area was left vacant until it was taken over by the government. In November 1924 the Royal Navy ship HMS Pegasus arrived in Victoria Harbour carrying four Fairey IIID seaplanes that were used to conduct aerial photography. These were flown on aerial reconnaissance missions over Mires and Hias Bays, the known haunts of notorious pirates that plundered shipping on the South China Sea. Sir Reginald Stubbs flew in one of these aircraft and in so doing became the first Governor of Hong Kong to survey his territory from a seaplane.

There was obviously the need for a military facility within Hong Kong but under the 1021 Washington Agreement the British were not permitted to establish a base east of Singapore. The British Government candidly found a solution by building an airfield for civil use on the site that could also be used by visiting Fleet Air Arm aircraft. In January 1925 American dare devil Harry W Abbott, was granted permission to start a flying school on the site that he called Kowloon City Field. On Lunar New Year Day he announced the inauguration of his school by taking off in a Curtiss Jenny with fire crackers attached to his rudder. But the fireworks failed to ignite and this was considered bad fung shui by the watching spectators. His colleague, the Chinese-American pilot Henry Yee Young, performed a series of aerobatics before Abbott returned to the air with Richard Earnshaw aboard who made a parachute decent. But things went badly wrong and Earnshaw landed in the harbour, got tangled in his parachute and drowned. A series of incidents continued to court Abbott and by August he was broke and forced to sell his aircraft.

The Royal Air Force took over the airfield on March 10 1927 and apart from the Japanese occupation during the War remained in some form until 1993. The posting was not popular at first because of the pungent odours emitting from the local nullah (open drain) that competed with the smell of lard from a factory situated close by. The pungent nullah continued to greet passengers aboard arriving aircraft right up to the final days of the airport.

On November 18 1928 a flight of Shorts Southampton flying boats touched down in the harbour and were tied to special moorings in Kowloon Bay. This was the famous Far East flight of Group Captain Cave-Brown-Cave that was being flown from Singapore to Australia that later evolved as 205 Squadron. In order to haul the aircraft from the water a concrete slipway had to be built and a steam crane was used to hoist the planes onto dry land. Things had started to develop and the Legislative Council set money aside for improvements and maintenance at the facility. By 1930 the runway had been levelled and re-turfed and a metal hanger was completed to replace the matting structures that were prone to catch fire. In September Mr A J R Moss arrived from London to take up the position of Aerodrome Superintendent followed by his assistant Erik Nelson five years later to influence the development of the airfield.

The Imperial Link
In 1932 the flying club members became embroiled in a disagreement that forced its closure. Vaughan Fowler, the prominent manager of the Far East Aviation Company, suggested reforming the club and it became the Far Eastern Flying School with a fleet of aircraft consisting of one Avro Avian and three Avro Cadets. The business employed a staff of ten Chinese, ten English and had forty two engineering students; an indication of how interest in aviation had progressed. Two years later the airfield was further developed with the addition of a sea wall, a surrounding fence and a ramp for sea planes. Work was also completed on accommodation for the RAF on the eastern side of the old runway where buildings were erected on a dirt track that led to the fishing village of Lei Yut Mun. These had a commanding view over a sandy beach and stood 30 metres above the airfield on land where blocks of high rise flats would later dominate the backdrop on the eastern side of the airport. There were also plans to tarmac the runway.

In 1928 the British and Hong Kong governments promised to spend £200,000 to convert Kai Tak into a modern facility. In London the Colony was still given only secondary consideration and it took until 1935 for a civilian control tower and offices to be built and for the first fire engine to be acquired. On March 25 1929 the long awaited first commercial flight arrived when the de Havilland DH 86 G-ACWD Diana Class ‘Dorado’ of Imperial Airways touched down. This had operated the inaugural feeder service from Penang and Saigon that had connected with the delayed UK to Australia (Empire Route) flight that had departed from London on March 14. The experienced Imperial Airways pilot, Capt J Lock was in command when he reported seeing three sharks basking in the waters of the South China Sea below his aircraft as he neared the Colony. Sweeping through an area known as Magazine Gap at around 11.30am the magnificent vista of Victoria Harbour opened before him and he was escorted on his approach by a squadron of aircraft from HMS Hermes. Awaiting the flight was the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Andrew Caldecott and 200 VIPs who expected to greet just the crew when the aircraft came to a halt. There was an element of surprise when the first commercial passenger ever to land at Kai Tak emerged from the plane. Ong Ee-Lim, a keen amateur pilot, had squeezed between 16 bags of Her Majesty’s mail after flying his own aircraft from Kuala Lumpur to Penang specifically to be on the flight.

The Imperial Airways DH 86 had visited the Colony before when Capt Armstrong had flown the aircraft in a series of proving flights the previous year. The people of Hong Kong had followed the progress of these flights for some considerable time and when poor weather threatened the first of these, Armstrong not wishing to disappoint the people or risk losing the precious mail contract flew 1852 miles (2980 kms) from Penang in a single day (September 16). When the route opened to regular traffic it cut the 34 day sea journey between England and Hong Kong to ten days by air. Later, when agreement was reached with Siam (now Thailand) the shorter route via Bangkok cut a further day and a half from the journey. By the time Imperial Airways had started operating C Class flying boats to Singapore, the 15,000 mile (24,140 kms) route had been reduced to 5½ days with the DH 86 providing the final link between Singapore and Kai Tak. Today, due to the progress made in establishing over-flying rights, shorter routes over Russia, Siberia and China have substantially reduced the distance between London and Hong Kong to around 6,000 miles (9,856 kms) that modern jets can cover non-stop in less than twelve hours.

Between the Wars many famous long distance and round the world record breaking pioneers landed at Kai Tak even though regular commercial services were slow to commence. During 1932 the Compagnie Français Air Orient intended to connect Hong Kong with their Marseilles-Saigon service but plans were dropped. Two years earlier the Sino-Deutsche Luft Hansa owned Eurasian Aviation Corporation had also proposed a mail route between Kai Tak and Europe but this idea fell by the wayside, but later extended its Peiping (Beijing)-Canton service to Hong Kong on June 29 1937 using the versatile Junkers JU-52. Then, on August 10 1938 Air France arrived from Paris in their Dewoitine 338 tri-motor F-AQBF ‘City of Vientiane’ in six days before setting a new record between Hanoi and Hong Kong in 3 hours 20 minutes.

In February 1930 Juan Trippe’s Pan American Airways staked a 45 per cent share to form the Chinese National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) in collaborated with the Chinese Ministry of Communication. On October 8 they opened a flying boat service linking Shanghai, Wenchow, Foochow, Amoy, Swatow and Canton with Hong Kong using Sikorsky S-38s. Two years later they flew the route twice-weekly using Douglas Dolphin amphibians, later introducing the Douglas DC-3 as passenger traffic increased.

Pan Am had been keen to add Hong Kong to their trans-Pacific operations and on April 28 1937 this was achieved with the arrival of the Sikorsky S042B flying boat (NC16734) ‘Hong Kong Clipper’ on the extended service from San Francisco and Manila. By then the Japanese were already overrunning parts of China and by July Peking had fallen. As a result, commercial flights over China became inherently dangerous and regularly came under fire from the Japanese. CNAC courageously continued to fly and in 1938 a Douglas DC-2 of the company was shot down near Macau killing all 14 on board. The aircraft was returned to Kai Tak by barge, repaired and put back into service. In October 1940 and May 1941 two more DC 2s were shot down with fatalities while flying the Chunking-Kunming-Hong Kong service. The airline’s final pre-war flight departed from Kai Tak on December 12 1941 just as the Japanese prepared to bomb the airport. The British military had already declared Hong Kong indefensible and when the enemy invasion commenced on Monday December 8 1941 the RAF had only three Vickers Wildebeests based at Kai Tak and two Supermarine Walrus amphibians tethered offshore. The airport continued to be strafed destroying six parked airliners and Pan Am’s ‘Hong Kong Clipper’ that was at anchor. Four more airliners miraculously survived a bomb that went through the roof of their hanger but failed to explode. Over the next two days CNAC aircraft relentlessly evacuated airport personnel to China while the RAF detachment moved to Hong Kong Island before the British surrendered the territory on Christmas Day. The Japanese took Kai Tak for military use but flights operated by Greater Japan Air Lines that had served the airport in peace time continued. Two tarmac runways of around 4,266 feet (1,300 metres) in length were constructed by prisoners of war. Kai Tak was bombed many times from 1942 tom 1945 by American forces with considerable success but it was deemed impractical to mount any prolonged effort to remove the occupying forces.

Japan surrendered on August 15 1945 and the British re-established their presence. Although Fleet Air Arm Grumman Hellcats and Avengers flew into the airport on August 29 the runways were still littered with bomb craters and the debris of wrecked enemy aircraft. By mid-September the RAF had started to re-establish a presence with a squadron of Supermarine Spitfires and by Christmas four squadrons had become operational. Short Sunderland flying boats and Douglas DC-3 Dakotas were added to the mix of aircraft using Hong Kong. British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) had expressed their intention to establish their flying boat services from Hythe to the Colony that had been postponed at the outbreak of war. These services, using the Hythe Class Short Sunderland commenced on August 24 1946. During the same year a major typhoon hit the area wrecking several parked aircraft. This was followed in quick succession by a Douglas Dakota military aircraft crashing onto Kowloon Tong after take off.

RAF squadrons came and went throughout most of the post war period bringing with them an assortment of aircraft including de Havilland Venoms, Hawker Hunters and various helicopter types that were used for a range of duties including search and rescue. The British military also deterred a threat from Chinese Communist forces in the Pearl River Delta in the late 1940s and played a role in helping to quell the Hong Kong riots of 1967. From 1993 onwards the airport was home to the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force, the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps Air unit and later the Government Flying Service. The Hong Kong Aviation Club also had their facility at a corner of the airport close to the threshold of runway 13 that in later years provided an interesting viewpoint for enthusiasts.

Cathay Pacific and Post War Developments
In October 1945 a former CNAC pilot, Roy Farrell, who had flown the infamous eastern Himalayas ‘Hump’ between China, Burma and India during the War bought an ageing Douglas C-47 that he had converted for civilian use as a DC-3. He flew the aircraft from the USA via a roundabout route to Shanghai where he met his old pal, former Australian war ace, Syd de Kantzow. The friends formed an airline that in February 1946 started operating cargo flights out of Shanghai. The aircraft was registered VR-HAD and named ‘Betsy’ and the name they adopted the company, Cathay Pacific Airways, became a legend. A second DC-3 (VR-HDB) named ‘Nikki’ was added and the enterprise quickly became extremely profitable causing trepidation among their Chinese rivals. The situation had become ‘unhealthy’ in the old Chinese city and Farrell and de Kantzow saw the wisdom of moving their operation to British controlled Hong Kong. After advertising for air hostesses Cathay Pacific began making trial passenger flights to Manila, Bangkok and Singapore. A year later five more DC-3s and two Consolidated Catalina PBY 5a amphibians were acquired second-hand as more destinations were added. Catalina, VR-HDT ‘Miss Macao’ made history when it was subjected to the first act of air piracy. On July 17 1948 four Chinese attempted to take control of the aircraft between Macau and Hong Kong in the belief that gold bullion was being transported. One of the hijackers was said to have had a basic knowledge of flying the aircraft type but things went wrong when a struggle ensued and Captain Dale Cramer was shot in the head. The aircraft went out of control and crashed into the Pearl River Delta with a crew of three and 23 passengers aboard. One of the hijackers was the only survivor. On June 15 1972 a further incident occurred when a bomb aboard one of the company’s Convair 880s destroyed the aircraft over Vietnam.

In 1948 one of the ‘noble’ British trading companies, John Swire and Sons invested in Cathay Pacific. Farrell sold his stake in the airline and returned to Texas in 1948 and de Kantzow resigned in 1951. The airline grew substantially and is now one of the world’s foremost operators. Swire’s main rivals, Jardine Matheson owned Hong Kong Airways that also operated from Kai Tak. BOAC had invested in this airline to link Chinese cities to its international routes, but in 1959 Hong Kong Airways merged with Cathay Pacific. The airline also established a highly reputable maintenance facility, the Hong Kong Aviation Engineering Company (HAECO) at Kai Tak and in more recent years it became a major shareholder in the two other Hong Kong based airlines; Dragonair and Air Hong Kong.

Since the War the structure of Kai Tak continued to change to meet the rapid requirements of an ever changing airline industry. During the 1950s the airport witnessed a massive increase in regional and international operations. Many international carriers including BOAC, Pan American Airways, Qantas, Air India, Northwest and Canadian Pacific added Hong Kong to their schedules. Douglas DC-4s and DC-6s, Boeing B-377 Stratocruisers, Bristol Britannias and Lockheed Constellations were regular visitors and with the turbo-props came the need for a longer runway. In 1958 a new 8,340 feet (2,542 metres) x 200 feet (60.96 metres) runway was opened on reclaimed land at an elevation of 16 feet (4.87 metres) above Kowloon Bay with overrun areas of 750 feet (228.60 metres) at the northwest end and 300 feet (91.44 metres) at the water facing end. Over 3,000 workmen toiled on the project that commenced in January 1956 but completed on time for the arrival of the first flight on August 31 1958. A parallel taxi-way and a new passenger terminal building were also added. At the official opening of the runway on September 12th a Comet 4 of BOAC specifically flown to Hong Kong from the de Havilland airfield at Hatfield became the first jet airliner ever to land at the airport. By the end of 1958 4,773 aircraft had arrived and 19 airlines operated 184 flights a week to and from Kai Tak. On July 17 1959 a Cathay Pacific DC-3 officially opened night operations into the airport after additional lighting had been installed.

In 1960 Pan Am flew the first B-707 into Kai Tak followed in the same year by the first DC-8 operated by Japan Air Lines. A milestone arrived when the first B-747, Pan Am ‘Clipper One’ touched down on April 11 1970 witnessed by a vast crowd. The arrival of the wide bodied era brought additional pressure to further increase the runway length. By 1974 an extension had extended this to 11,130 feet (3,390 metres) and extra taxiways, turn-off and parking areas and a new fire station had been added. Traffic had increased to such an extent that by 1995-96 61 airlines using Kai Tak were contributing 2,850 passenger and cargo flights and 230 non-scheduled flights weekly. 78 per cent of these flights were wide bodied aircraft and this had increased the number of passengers passing through the terminal to 28 million. The facility had also become the world’s second busiest cargo airport handling 1.48 million tonnes. With 31 scheduled movements per hour Kai Tak had reached maximum capacity and hundreds of extra requests for landing slots had to be refused. It was obvious that the new airport was essential and when it opened for business at 6.20am with the arrival of Cathay Pacific CX889 direct from New York it was not before time.

*For some reason the ‘c’ was dropped from the airport name although it did appear as Kai Tack on the original gates.

Freezing Your Credit File – Does It Really Protect You From The 5 Forms Of ID Theft ?

If you live in any of these states – New Jersey, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, Nth. Carolina, Sth. Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin- then you have the right to place a security freeze on your credit file to try to protect yourself from Identity Theft. A security freeze simply means that your credit files cannot be shared with other potential creditors.

To place a security freeze on your credit files, what you have to do is write to each of the 3 credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. Then when the freeze is placed, a potential creditor who looks at your files will see a message or a code that your file is frozen. This is why many people quite often freeze their credit files only after an incident of ID Theft.

Sounds advantageous if you’re an identity theft victim right? Somewhat. Why you ask? Because financial identity theft represents just one form of identity theft. Unbeknownst to many people, in addition to financial ID theft, there are 4 more types of Identity Theft, which include criminal identity theft, DMV identity theft, social security identity theft, and medical identity theft. And a credit freeze will not protect you from any of these aforementioned forms of ID Theft.

Let’s define the 5 types of ID Theft:

1. Financial ID Theft – otherwise at times known as credit card fraud, but can be far more reaching where bank accounts or loans are opened under your name.

2. Criminal ID Theft – when a criminal assumes your ID and commits crimes under your name. The criminal is subsequently arrested, bonded, and never appears to court. As a result, an arrest warrant is issued under your name.

3. DMV ID Theft – when a criminal assumes a driver’s license under your name for which you are never aware of until the criminal is arrested and his/her true identity is discovered.

4. Social Security ID Theft – when a criminal assumes your name to gain social security benefits or even takes on a job with your ID. Very prevalent with illegal immigrants who use false ID’s and real SS#’s to obtain work.

5. Medical Identity Theft – this form of ID Theft can literally kill you. When a criminal is admitted to a
hospital and obtains medical treatment under your name, all the medical information and medication prescribed is now merged with your medical files through a central database shared
by hospitals and health insurance companies.

So let’s ask the question again. Does freezing your credit files prevent ID Theft from happening to you? As you can now see, the answer is no.

The reality is that there is no magic bullet out there that will prevent ID Theft from happening to you. And whether ID Theft happens or not, is no longer the question of the day anymore. The reality is that it’s only a matter of when it happens, and then to what extent.

So the answer to this dilemma is to maintain vigilant. One of the best ways to keep an eye on your credit is by employing an effective credit monitoring program. But again, credit monitoring only watches out for financial identity theft. That’s why it’s important to also consider taking advantage of a credit restoration program that also includes credit monitoring services. Reason being, when Identity Theft does hit, you won’t have to take the time off from work to make countless of calls to financial institutions, creditors, and collection agencies. The service will do all that for you on your behalf.

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The Perfect Cruise Vacation – How to Spend Less For the Very Best

Who ya gonna call? –

Where do you buy your cruise tickets to get the best price? Should you buy from a traditional travel agent, an online mega-seller or direct from the cruise line? Surprisingly, when it comes to the base fare, it doesn’t make much difference. Price variation is more contingent on qualifying for a particular type of discount; promotional, seasonal, past passenger, military or last minute booking- than on where you buy your ticket. The real variables between booking channels are in the level of service provided during the process and perks offered. So read on to learn how to max the experience while making sure you are getting the best value.

When trying to determine actual price from the advertised price, cruise fares can be almost as maddening as airline pricing. Advertised cruise prices are often misleading and unnecessarily vague. Published prices are always per person based on double occupancy. Additional people occupying the same cabin pay less…usually a lot less. Port taxes and other fees are considerable and are the same for everybody, regardless of category and whether they are the first or fifth person in the cabin. The add-on fees and taxes when combined with the base fare have been known to add 20% to 50% to the total per person, especially on shorter, already deeply discounted cruises. Always remember to ask about price inclusive of all fees and taxes- or note the fine print if you are reading a brochure. Some cruise lines include the added fees in their advertised prices, most do not. Always ask.

How to qualify for discounts –

The most common discounts are seasonal, last minute, military, geographical, past passenger, senior citizen, positioning itineraries, promotional and distressed categories.

Seasonal – Caribbean cruises are typically discounted in the fall. Alaska cruises will be cheaper at the beginning and end of the season (May, September and October). Ditto for European and Mediterranean cruises – avoid the peak months of July and August and you’ll probably snag a good deal.

Last Minute – Waiting to book can also lead to a great bargain, especially if you are prepared to depart on short notice, having no strong preferences on which ship or itinerary.

Military – Tell the agent that you won the Medal of Honor fighting alongside Sgt York at the Battle of Verdun and you might get an extra 5% to 10% off.

Geographical – Sometimes small discounts will be available because of where you live – say in Paris, Texas instead of Paris, Tennessee. (Don’t ask why – it is something known only to cruise line executives.)

Past Passenger – lines will frequently offer discounts and/or perks to loyal customers -depending on the number of previous cruises with that particular cruise line.

Senior Citizen – If you are over age 55, ask if an age related discount is available.

Promotional – These kind of discounts can rear their pretty little heads for any number of reasons – again, some only known by cruise lines executives.

Positioning Cruises – These are necessary but less popular itineraries needed to get the ship from one seasonal station to another – say, from Miami to Seattle for the Alaska season. These itineraries are available mostly in the spring and fall and almost always offer deep discounts. But be forewarned – these positioning cruises involve long days at sea and fewer ports. This is especially true of trans-Atlantic positioning cruises.

Category Sale – Another frequent price promotion – a ship may be over-sold in one category and grossly under-sold in another; resulting in deep discounts on the latter.

How to get the most perks –

Many times it is as simple as asking! If you are working with a travel agent, have the TA quiz the cruise line reservations department about any and all available promotions and perks on the sailing(s) that interest you. A good, experienced agent will have a long laundry list of possible perks for which you might be qualified. Or, if booking direct with the cruise line, use what you have learned here about booking direct- but you will need to play the role of Grand Perk Inquisitor yourself.

People who are associated with a group of passengers traveling on the same sailing will automatically qualify for some combination of perks- such as category upgrades, on board spending credits, free photo, bottle of wine, private meetings, a free shore excursion, etc.

Tip – What most would-be cruisers don’t know is that you only need to be associated with the group on cruise passenger list – not literally. Hence, you only need to find an agency or online consolidator that has group space reserved on cruises that match your desired dates and destination- and before you know it you’re cruising in Perk City. Additionally, if the group is a theme group lead by a celebrity- you might find yourself temporarily basking in the glow and glory of one of your all time idols. Imagine the thrill of being part of the Simon Cowell School of Charm Cruise – complete with an in-the-flesh tongue lashing and public humiliation by Mr. Warm & Fuzzy himself!

Many mega-agencies will have hundreds of departures available with blocked group space into which they can slip perk hungry purchasers.

How to keep on board costs low –

Cruises were once all-inclusive – one price paid for everything. Today the cruise fare can pale in comparison to the bill you receive at the end of your cruise. There are so many extra cost options – you need to manage those activities as you go.

On board you have no need to carry cash, a credit card or even your wallet on your person – you are issued one card with a magnetic stripe that does triple duty as your room key, on board spending card and boarding pass. You can purchase anything on board with this little piece of plastic convenience in your pocket- alcohol, soft drinks, gift shop items, shore excursions, photographs, spa treatments, art work, surcharges for alternative restaurants, internet access, ship to shore phone calls- you can even buy chips for gambling in the casino.

Tip – many ships now allow real time access to your on board spending tab at any time from the closed circuit TV in your cabin- displaying a current, up-to-the-minute running total – with details for each line item. So, you can rein in spending if it appears to be getting out of hand. Plus, you can call the front desk at any time to dispute an item if you think the charge is incorrect or excessive for any reason.

Tip toe lightly through the minefield of extra costs –

Alcoholic beverages – Booze is always at extra cost with prices running about what you would expect to pay for similar service in a moderately upscale on-shore establishment.

Sodas – priced from $2 to $4 per soda depending on ship and cruise line – if you consume soda daily best bet is to buy the flat rate “unlimited sodas” option for duration of the cruise.

Wine – always at extra cost with prices running about what you would expect to pay for similar in a moderately upscale on-shore establishment – there will be some “freebies” like at the Captain’s Welcome Aboard party or a complimentary bottle if it is your anniversary.

Specialty & Alternative restaurants – most have surcharges of $15 to $40 per person per reservation – the average being about $30. In our opinion the price is well worth paying for a night or two – especially if you want to experience elegant, high-end dining at a level that could easily cost $100 or more per person in a similarly upscale shore side establishment.

Internet access – Available on most ships, you can purchase a basket of minutes for a fixed price. To economize on these dearly priced minutes, read and compose email offline – then log on just for sending and receiving.

Ship to shore phone calls – forget about it! Charges run $2 to $3 PER MINUTE! Buy the Internet access plan instead – then use Skype from your laptop. Plus, your regular cell phone will work on occasion – especially if you are departing from a US port and near land. My Sprint phone usually works just fine from the deck of the ship when within 5 or 6 miles of Miami, Ft Lauderdale or any US island like St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, etc.

Coffee bar – Although regular coffee at meals is included in the cruise fare, you are charged extra for specialty coffees such as espressos and cappuccinos – priced at about what you would expect to pay at Starbucks.

Photos/videos – They are grossly over-priced but it’s a captive audience, so they can get away with it. Even so, you might want to go ahead and buy one or two. My spouse and I always like to get a classy shot of us all dressed up in our matching pink satin bib overalls on formal night.

Shore Excursions – another huge profit center and usually way over-priced – but there’s good news; there are now highly reputable and reliable third party options that can save you a ton of money. Shoretrips.com is a good example.

Art Auctions – Usually held on days at sea to insure a captive audience, these events are intentionally set in a high trafficked public place to guarantee that innocent victims strolling by will be sucked in by the slick, silver-tongued Art Auction barker. You are cautioned to hold your hand firmly over your pocketbook when in proximity, as well as averting your eyes, humming loudly to yourself to drown out the beguiling sales pitch. It is our personal theory that these Pimped Up Picasso Pushers may be a contributing factor in the recent rash of suicides by jumping overboard. But, that’s just us.

On Board Shopping – What started out years ago to be just a storage closet with a Dutch door – only open for business for an hour or two each day – primarily for elderly passengers to stock up on essentials such as Denture Cream and Preparation H (sold separately so as not to be confused) has now morphed into mega-malls to rival those of a small city. And, the deals have gotten better and better – with volume has come lower prices – sometimes even lower than shore side because of the lack of taxes.

Tip: Merchandise often goes on sale during port visits – if local authorities allow the shops to stay open while in port – as well as on the last day of the cruise. If you can wait to buy that tacky tank top that says “I went down on the Titanic”, you might save a few bucks.

Gratuities – This is another aspect of cruising that has changed drastically over the years – from no tipping, period…to no tipping required…to “you’d better tip if you ever want to see your luggage again”…to prepaid tips. On cruises today you can expect to tip – but our preference is to maintain control over who and how much. So we stick with the old fashioned method. Pretending to be Congressional lobbyists, we go around the ship on the last night passing out envelopes stuffed with cash. However, if you are into convenience – go the prepaid route. You can always give a little extra on the side at the end of the cruise.

Gambling – There is a reason why the English blackjack dealers refer to customers in the casino as “punters”. For that same reason, our advice is to STAY OUT!…especially if you are easily mesmerized by loud noises, flashing lights and shiny objects going around in circles (NASCAR fans…are you paying attention?)

Tip: Occasionally people just have to test Lady Luck. If this is the case, set aside a fixed amount of money – an amount that you can afford to lose – and when that is gone, casually sip the last of your drink – but NEVER eat the ice; nervous, out-of-control ice eaters have been known to snow in their pants – then slowly but humbly stagger away from the table with downcast eyes, pockets turned inside out. Your dog will still love you.

How to earn a free cruise –

It is a well known secret that cruise lines offer a “TC” – or Tour Conductor berth – to travel agencies booking groups. With most cruise lines the ratio is one free for every fifteen full fare paying passengers traveling on the same cruise. The sixteenth person pays only the taxes and fees. (Note that only the first two people occupying a cabin are credited towards the TC- third and fourth people sharing a cabin at a discount rate don’t count- so you can’t stack-the-deck by cramming five people into each of three cabins.)

Tip – There several ways to leverage this offer – and most travel agencies will work with you on this. Give the credit away to a fellow cruiser; use it to defer your own cost of cruising; tell your travel agent that you want the credit to be an overall discount for the group- or, like a bankrupt CEO bailed out by tax payer money – skip the cruise, pocket the credit as a cash bonus and retire to your deluxe double-wide on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Pros & cons of booking direct with the cruise line –

Pros – If you know exactly which line you want to take, the cruise line should be able to answer all your questions in great detail and will take your booking direct. You can access a cruise line’s online booking engine 24/7 and not have to wait for the travel agency to open for business.

Cons -The cruise line is going to offer the same price as travel agents – you won’t save any money on the fare. However, they are not going to tell you about any other cruise line that might match your needs – or have lower prices for the same itinerary. If you register on many of the cruise lines own sites for information, the lines will contact you often. One can receive weekly phone calls and emails for months or years!

Once you’ve talked with a travel agency, you need to let the agency handle the cruise booking details, follow up questions, etc. (although other cruise related add-ons such as airfare, hotels, car rental, travel insurance, shore excursions, etc. can still be handled on your own – or online if you are a “do-it-yourselfer” and wish to avoid agency service fees.)

If the cruise line knows that you have already reserved space through an agency they are not likely to provide further information. In such case, when called directly, the cruise line will stonewall – relentlessly referring you back to your travel agent for any more details.

Now you are ready to cruise – to max the experience while controlling the costs. But there’s more. Coming soon – articles on getting the best airfare; the best stateroom, maximizing shipboard experiences such as dining, activities, entertainment, as well as how to get the best deal on travel insurance (hint: it is usually NOT the coverage offered by the cruise line).

The History of Video Conferencing – Moving Ahead at the Speed of Video

No new technology develops smoothly, and video conferencing had more than its share of bumps along the way before becoming the widely used communications staple it is today. The history of video conferencing in its earliest form goes back to the 1960’s, when AT&T introduced the Picturephone at the World’s Fair in New York. While viewed as a fascinating curiosity, it never became popular and was too expensive to be practical for most consumers when it was offered for $160 a month in 1970. Commercial use of real video conferencing was first realized with Ericsson’s demonstration of the first trans-Atlantic LME video telephone call. Soon other companies began refining video conferencing technologies, including such advancements as network video protocol (NVP) in 1976 and packet video protocol (PVP) in 1981. None of these were put into commercial use, however, and stayed in the laboratory or private company use. In 1976, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone established video conferencing (VC) between Tokyo and Osaka for company use. IBM Japan followed suit in 1982 by establishing VC running at 48000bps to link up with already established internal IBM video conferencing links in the United States so that they could have weekly meetings. The 1980’s introduce commercial video conferencing In 1982, Compression Labs introduces their VC system to the world for $250,000 with lines for $1,000 an hour. The system was huge and used enormous resources capable of tripping 15 amp circuit breakers. It was, however, the only working VC system available until PictureTel’s VC hit the market in 1986 with their substantially cheaper $80,000 system with $100 per hour lines. In the time in between these two commercially offered systems, there were other video conferencing systems developed that were never offered commercially. The history of video conferencing isn’t complete without mentioning these systems that were either prototypes or systems developed specifically for in-house use by a variety of corporations or organizations, including the military. Around 1984, Datapoint was using the Datapoint MINX system on their Texas campus, and had provided the system to the military. In the late 1980’s, Mitsubishi began selling a still-picture phone that was basically a flop in the market place. They dropped the line two years after introducing it. In 1991, the first PC based video conferencing system was introduced by IBM – PicTel. It was a black and white system using what was at the time an incredibly inexpensive $30 per hour for the lines, while the system itself was $20,000. In June of the same year, DARTnet had successfully connected a transcontinental IP network of over a dozen research sites in the United States and Great Britain using T1 trunks. Today, DARTnet has evolved into the CAIRN system, which connects dozens of institutions. CU-SeeMe revolutionizes video conferencing One of the most famous systems in the history of video conferencing was the CU-SeeMe developed for the MacIntosh system in 1992. Although the first version didn’t have audio, it was the best video system developed to that point. By 1993, the MAC program had multipoint capability, and in 1994, CU-SeeMe MAC was true video conferencing with audio. Recognizing the limitations of MAC compatibility in a Windows world, developers worked diligently to roll out the April 1994 CU-SeeME for Windows (no audio), followed closely by the audio version, CU-SeeMe v0.66b1 for Windows in August of 1995. In 1992, AT&T rolled out their own $1,500 video phone for the home market. It was a borderline success. That same year, the world’s first MBone audio/video broadcast took place and in July INRIA’s video conferencing system was introduced. This is the year that saw the first real explosion in video conferencing for businesses around the globe and eventually led to the standards developed by the ITU. International Telecommunications Union develops coding standards The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) began developing standards for video conferencing coding in 1996, when they established Standard H.263 to reduce bandwidth for transmission for low bit rate communication. Other standards were developed, including H.323 for packet-based multi-media communications. These are a variety of other telecommunications standards were revised and updated in 1998. In 1999, Standard MPEG-4 was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group as an ISO standard for multimedia content. In 1993, VocalChat Novell IPX networks introduced their video conferencing system, but it was doomed from the start and didn’t last. Microsoft finally came on board the video conferencing bandwagon with NetMeeting, a descendent of PictureTel’s Liveshare Plus, in August of 1996 (although it didn’t have video in this release). By December of the same year, Microsoft NetMeeting v2.0b2 with video had been released. That same month, VocalTec’s Internet Phone v4.0 for Windows was introduced. VRVS links global research centers The Virtual Room Videoconferencing System (VRVS) project at Caltech-CERN kicked off in July of 1997. They developed the VRVS specifically to provide video conferencing to researchers on the Large Hadron Collider Project and scientists in the High Energy and Nuclear Physics Community in the U.S. and Europe. It has been so successful that seed money has been allotted for phase two, CalREN-2, to improve and expand on the already in-place VRVS system in order to expand it to encompass geneticists, doctors, and a host of other scientists in the video conferencing network around the world. Cornell University’s development team released CU-SeeMe v1.0 in 1998. This color video version was compatible with both Windows and MacIntosh, and huge step forward in pc video conferencing. By May of that year, the team has moved on to other projects. In February of 1999, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) was launched by MMUSIC. The platform showed some advantages over H.323 that user appreciated and soon made it almost as popular. 1999 was a very busy year, with NetMeeting v3.0b coming out, followed quickly by version three of the ITU standard H.323. Then came the release of iVisit v2.3b5 for both Windows and Mac, followed by Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), version 1. In December, Microsoft released a service pack for NetMeeting v3.01 (4.4.3388) and an ISO standard MPEG-4 version two was released. Finally, PSInet was the first company to launch H.323 automated multipoint services. Like we said, 1999 was a very busy year. SIP entered version 1.30 in November of 2000, the same year that standard H.323 hit version 4, and Samsung released their MPEG-4 streaming 3G video cell phone, the first of its kind. It was a hit, particularly in Japan. Rather predictably, Microsoft NetMeeting had to release another service pack for version 3.01. In 2001, Windows XP messenger announced that it would now support Session Initiation Protocol. This was the same year the world’s first transatlantic tele-surgery took place utilizing video conferencing. In this instance, video conferencing was instrumental in allowing a surgeon in the U.S. to use a robot overseas to perform gall bladder surgery on a patient. It was one of the most compelling non-business uses in the history of video conferencing, and brought the technology to the attention of the medical profession and the general public. In October of 2001, television reporters began using a portable satellite and a videophone to broadcast live from Afghanistan during the war. It was the first use of video conferencing technology to converse live with video with someone in a war zone, again bringing video conferencing to the forefront of people’s imaginations. Founded in December of 2001, the Joint Video Team completed basic research leading to ITU-T H.264 by December of 2002. This protocol standardized video compression technology for both MPEG-4 and ITU-T over a broad range of application areas, making it more versatile than its predecessors. In March of 2003, the new technology was ready for launch to the industry. New uses for video conferencing technologies 2003 also saw the rise in use of video conferencing for off-campus classrooms. Interactive classrooms became more popular as the quality of streaming video increased and the delay decreased. Companies such as VBrick provided various MPEG-4 systems to colleges across the country. Desktop video conferencing is also on the rise and gaining popularity. Companies newer to the market are now refining the details of performance in addition to the nuts and bolts of transmission. In April of 2004, Applied Global Technologies developed a voice-activated camera for use in video conferencing that tracks the voice of various speakers in order to focus on whoever is speaking during a conference call. In March 2004, Linux announced the release of GnomeMeeting, an H.323 compliant, free video conferencing platform that is NetMeeting compatible. With the constant advances in video conferencing systems, it seems obvious that the technology will continue to evolve and become an integral part of business and personal life. As new advances are made and systems become more reasonably priced, keep in mind that choices are still determined by network type, system requirements and what your particular conferencing needs are. This article on the “The History of Video Conferencing” reprinted with permission.