An Interview With The Geneticist Who Overcomes Flight Phobia To Study The World’s Fastest People

October 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Air, Books, Discussion, Health and Fitness

yannis Pitsiladis

I first read about Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis MMEDSci., PhD, FACSM in The Sports Gene, a book by David Epstein about what makes super athletes different than the majority of us. Dr. Pitsiladis is a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton who has done research on obesity and the detection of doping in athletes but his passion is running. He travels around the world studying the genes and environments of the world’s top runners (often on his own dime) and created the largest known DNA bio-bank from world-class athletes.

the sports geneThe Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Additionally, Dr. Pitsiladis must deal with a severe fear of flying before boarding planes to places like Jamaica and Kenya. Dr. Pitsiladis was kind enough to answer a few questions about facing his anxiety to research the fastest people on Earth.

What is the extent of your fear of flying?

I typically have to ingest alcohol to board the flight. I cannot work, especially when there is turbulence. I also have to sit at the window and spend most of the time looking outside even in the dark. I only fly with certain airlines and often choose to drive long distances especially in Africa so as not to take local airlines. As a scientist this makes no sense as I am aware of the data.

How often do you travel and what is an average year like for you?

I travel typically every week of the year.

herb mckenley

[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis with 4-time Olympic medalist Herb McKenley of Jamaica.]

Has all of this flying changed your anxiety, for better or worse?

I go through ups and downs depending on how bad/good the previous experience is but mainly depending on the airline and weather. On a British Airways flight on good weather my anxiety is low. On a Russian airliner in bad weather my anxiety is sky high! My anxiety is also very high when my family travel with me although I do my best to hide it so as not to pass on my fear to them – often without success.

There’s a saying that there is no greater enemy than one’s own fears, what about your research motivates you to overcome yours regularly?

Yes totally. I never let it stop me flying with a few African examples where i will drive 7 hours to avoid a 30 min flight across the Great Rift Valley.

Yannis Pitsiladis

[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis sampling blood in Africa.]

I’m fascinated by descriptions of the Champs [Jamaica’s annual high school sprinting competition] and would like to hear your impressions or favorite memories from the events you’ve attended.

The atmosphere, especially when the victorious school is clear, which is more exciting than an Olympics – even the 100m final day at the Olympics.

Which runner(s) have been the most difficult for you to reach due to travel constraints?

For data protection i cannot answer.

Finally, where are you headed next?

To break the 2 hour marathon barrier…

Thank you again Dr. Pitsiladis for taking the time to share some of your experiences in the air and catching the fleet-footed on the ground. You can read more about Dr. Pitsiladis’ research on why people of east African descent seem to always win marathons, Jamaicans excel at sprinting, plus studies done by others in a fascinating book I highly recommend, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance.

Is Hurghada Safe?

September 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Air, Lodging, Security, Travel

hurghada marina

In many ways Egypt hasn’t changed much since its 2011 revolution – politically the military is back in power, media reports it’s more dangerous than Yemen (based on a truly bizarre conclusion by the World Economic Forum), and life in Hurghada sails along peacefully for tourists and kite surfers.

Terrorism, Protests Out Of The Way

There are a lot of good reasons to visit Hurghada and one why you’re probably hesitant to – it’s in Egypt. Although our brains are wired to generalize bad news, like most places, national borders are too broad to define boundaries of safety. Egypt has more land area than Germany, Malaysia, and New Zealand combined. Hurghada, where there hasn’t been an incidence of terrorism since 1994, is isolated from Egypt’s main population centers by 450 kilometers (250 miles) of land and physically separated from the Sinai Peninsula by 30 km of sea.

hurghada kempinski soma bay

There is a single road leading to Hurghada which is strictly controlled by an Egyptian military who is well aware that tourism brings over 10 billion dollars into the economy each year. Even the U.S. State Department, generally the most cautious western power with its travel warnings, advises that travel to Hurghada is safe.

Protests in Hurghada are something of a local running joke – there was one on August 16, 2013during the height of unrest that year in Egypt. Political revolutions don’t begin in resort towns and everyone, demonstrators included, knows it.

Low Crime Rate By High Common Sense

According to a 2014 Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) report on Egypt, crime in the country as a whole remains low despite increasing over the past 4 years. The biggest worries for tourists are pickpocketing but women in particular should take specific advice from my related live chat and this Solo Friendly article.

hurghada fish market

Roads in and around Hurghada are fairly well paved concrete running straight through flat desert terrain which is probably why most the traffic accidents happen to and from the city – not in it. Egypt’s roads are about as safe as India’s, so buckle up whether you’re in a car or bus.

Paradise Oasis

Recent news might have you wondering if you should cancel your travel plans but as others do, it’s the best time for you to make some if you haven’t. Prices at resorts like the Kempinski and The Breakers in Soma Bay are relative bargains as Turkish Airlines adds more weekly flights direct from Istanbul. As it was 4 months after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, there is now a rare travel window of opportunity you can take advantage of along the shores of the Rea Sea.

How To Share One Paid Hotel (Airport Or Otherwise) Internet Connection With Your Friends For Free

July 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Air, Lodging, Money, Tech

bikers holding hands

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you can’t find wireless passwords at airports that don’t have free wifi or simply have to accept the inevitable hotel room that charges for Internet. (Come join us in 2014, you know who you are.) When facing your credit card, it might be enough to hold back your tears knowing it’s possible to share one paid Internet connection through a laptop to other devices or with friends who might split the travel cost with you.

Breaking Down Connections

borat high fiveLet’s begin with a few fundamentals, the first being things depend on how you’re getting the paid Internet connection (i.e. through Ethernet or wirelessly). Sharing a wireless connection over wireless using the same network card is nearly impossible with a Mac whereas a few Windows apps make it a snap. Also, the process is a bit different between Windows and Mac OS X (I’m omitting Linux flavors) but in general, when given options these are the most straightforward configurations:

  • Ethernet To Wireless: Mac OS X
  • Wireless To Wireless: Windows 7 or 8
  • Wireless To Ethernet: Take your pick

You can also share an Ethernet or wireless Internet connection to other devices over Bluetooth as well and it’s pretty simply for both operating systems as you’ll see below. Additionally, if you’re only traveling with a tablet or mobile you can share their Internet connection in most cases using Bluetooth.

Share A Cabled Ethernet Connection Over Wireless (Mac OS X)

Most recent versions of Mac OS X make turning your laptop’s Ethernet connection into a wireless hotspot fairly easy.

  1. Open System Preferences > Click Sharing
  2. If you want to protect the wireless connection using a password, select Wi-Fi Options. In the window that opens up, name the new wireless network anything you want or stick with the default (your Macbook’s name), choose WPA2 Personal from the Security drop-down, pick a password, confirm it and click OK.

mac os x share internet

  1. In the box labeled “To computers using:“, check “Wi-Fi
  2. Finally, check “Internet Sharing” on the left hand side

You should now be seeing the wireless network you just created from other devices and be able to connect; unless you’ve already forgotten the password because you’re blessed with terrible traveler’s memory.

virtual router plusEthernet To Wireless (Windows 8)

There are two ways to go about sharing an Ethernet Internet connection using Windows 8. The first – much easier – way is to download the free program Virtual Router Plus. Though if you’re ready for a bit of command prompt jiu-jitsu, here’s how to configure a Windows 8 hotspot yourself.

  1. From the Start screen > All Apps > Windows System > Command Prompt
  2. In the command prompt that opens up, type the following, with the SSID being a network name you choose along with any password: netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=NetworkName key=Password
  3. Hit Enter
  4. Type > netsh wlan start hostednetwork > Enter

When you’re done sharing, be sure to enter this in the command prompt: netsh wlan stop hostednetwork. Now, if you’re gotten this far, you’re probably wishing you had just downloaded Virtual Router Plus. Also, although Microsoft has announced it’s going to end support for Windows 7 in early 2015, sharing Internet connections on Windows 7 is so simple, you might be tempted not to upgrade just yet.

Wireless To Wireless (Windows 7 and 8)

Sharing a wireless connection using one wireless card requires a bit of software magic that Connectify Pro ($40) provides for both Windows 7 and 8. Manual configuration is possible but you’ll have to get your hands digitally dirtier than you might want.

connectify

Wireless To Wireless (Mac OS X)

Sharing a wireless connection over wifi isn’t something Mac OS X supports natively, potentially skewing a decision over whether you should buy a Mac or Windows laptop for your travels. (Unfortunately Connectify mentioned above is Windows-only.) Rather, in addition to extending your wireless range, purchase one of these USB wireless antennas which will run you about $30. Connect the antenna, then follow the Ethernet To Wireless (Mac OS X) instructions above, with the following modifications:

  1. Open System Preferences > Click Sharing
  2. In the box labeled “To computers using:“, check “Wireless_LAN_Adapter” (or some very close variation)
  3. Check “Internet Sharing” on the left hand side

Share A Wireless Connection Between Laptops Using An Ethernet Cable

There’s a reason I always travel with an Ethernet cable in my backpack and being able to share a paid wireless connection with a traveling companion is one of its many benefits. Turning one Internet connection into two is an easy process for both Windows or Mac which I cover on Tech Guide For Travel.

ethernet cable

Sharing Wifi Over Bluetooth (Windows 7, 8, And OS X)

Due to the Bluetooth’s limited range and the extra configuration required, you’re probably only going to need this when you want to share Internet from a mobile device or are having trouble turning your Macbook into a wireless to wireless hotspot. Here are a few guides on possible setups:

Drawbacks Of Sharing

Of course, sharing an Internet connection means sharing (or splitting) the total amount of bandwidth available to all of the connected devices, meaning it’s not the ideal time to stream your favorite TV shows. Turn off bandwidth hogs (at least it will help extend battery life) and remember that  most shared connections won’t work if the host is connected to a virtual private network. It is best to book cheaper airfare using a VPN before your digital generosity begins, though if anyone has a complaint, remind them who can pull the plug on their Internetz.

Does Traveling Age You Physically?

old clock riga

There is a lot of evidence to support the mental benefits of traveling and related activities, such as learning to speak tourist before your next vacation. Few activities stimulate our minds like a trip that stretches our senses. All of these firing neurons, according to neuropsychologists, leaves us with stronger short and long-term memories – something you may have noticed while experiencing the return trip effect.

Physically however, jet lag, irregular sleep, and varying leg room all have more subtle, cumulative effects on the rest of our bodies. Here’s what to look out for and all of the treatments you need to keep your traveling body as young as your sexy mind.

superman escalatorRadiating Flights

Earth’s atmosphere protects us from solar, stellar, and magnetic radiation from the cosmos and is less dense the further we get from the surface. The logic goes that the higher up we are, the more radiation we are exposed to, damaging our cells and ultimately aging our bodies. A study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOC) on pregnant women found that while flying does expose us to more radiation than at sea level, an average high-dose flight only exposes a human body to 15% of the maximum dosage for a 24 hour period.

  • Calculate Your Recent Inflight Radiation Exposure – Both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommend very frequent flyers and flight crew be aware of the amount of ionizing radiation they’re being exposed to. The FAA has a free tool you can use to estimate your exposure over a given time.

The same study by the AGOC also found that levels of radiation increase to potentially dangerous amounts during some solar-energetic particle events. Travelers, especially pregnant women should monitor the Space Weather Prediction Alerts website.

Stressing On Altitude

mexico izamal food

Flying at high altitudes means less oxygen inside pressurized cabins – a travel technology originally designed for war – which increases oxidative stress in the human body the Journal of Nature found. The effects were measured on athletes training at moderate altitudes of 915 meters (~3,000 feet) for 2 weeks. Although there was a measurable increase in free radicals, the test subjects who were given antioxidants were less effected.

Researchers of the study concluded that pilots, flight attendants, and frequent business travelers who spend extend periods in the air may be adversely affected by increased oxidation and should consider consuming produce high in the vitamins A, B, C, E and Z. To further combat the stress of jet lag on your body, be sure to shift your mealtimes 24 hours in advance of crossing timezones.

Combating Clots With Wine Aerobics

Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that those who took flights of 4 hours or more were more than 3 times likely to develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT). One effective (and fun) way to prevent DVT is by consuming small amounts of red wine while staying physically active at least for 5-10 minute per 2 hours of flight time.

Remember to also wear stylishly loose socks and pants so you’re not restricting blood flow further to your lower parts – a fashion choice that could also save your life in a plane crash.

Back To Sea Level Basics

It might by now seem like every flight is trying to kill you but all you need is a bit of exercise, sleep, and wine to prevent the aging effects of flying in the sky like a jelly bird. The biggest – most common – worry is one we deal with everyday: bacteria. Your chances of getting ill after a flight or two increase due to being confined in close quarters with other people, not because of circulated air. Avoid the dirtiest seats on the airplane, wash your hands frequently, and keep your internal alarm clock hydrated to prevent traveler’s constipation.

I published a slightly aged version of this post originally back in 2008.

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