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February 19, 2008

New Passport Cards to be Issued

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Maybe I'm the only one around the office who's constantly contemplating my escape abroad ... but I was surprised to find out the U.S. government would begin issuing so-called passport cards this spring.

Passports can cost upwards of $75 to obtain, but the wallet-sized passport card can be had for as low as $20 (for a renewal). (Or submit applications for both at the same time and save!)

Though the passport card is valid only for land and water crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, the card's cost and size is expected to ease travel for U.S. residents in border communities.

As with the e-passport, the passport card will contain a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. Unlike the e-passport, the passport card's RFID chip will be capable of being "vicinity read," which "will allow CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officers, in advance of the traveler's arrival at the inspection booth, to quickly access information on the traveler from secure government databases, and allow for automated terrorist watch list checks without impeding traffic flow. In addition, they foresee that multiple cards can be read at a distance and simultaneously, allowing an entire car of people to be processed at once."

I just had this vision of a carload of people all happily waving their passport cards in the air. Somehow I doubt going through the border will be any more fun. Though the government hasn't yet set a release date for the card, it's already accepting applications.

U.S. Passport Card (Dept. of State)
Crossing U.S. Borders, including the latest rules (Dept. of Homeland Security)
"Here's What You Need to Get Back into U.S." (Chicago Tribune)
Previously: "Passport Woes"

April 5, 2007

The Five Least Visited National Parks

We’re wrapping up The World Almanac for Kids 2008 and already starting work on the next World Almanac (*phew*). While looking up the most-visited sites administered by the National Parks Service in 2006, I decided to scroll down to see what were the least-visited of the 359 areas. I was wondering if they’d be mundane or just completely bizarre. I guess it’s no surprise that the least visited places are actually some of the most remote. They are neither mundane nor bizarre, just crazy inaccessible.

Looking for a place to truly get away from it all? Read on:

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#355 Alibates Flint Quarries (1,882 visits) in northern Texas, you got lucky! The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (1,559 visits) in Brookline, MA stole your spot on a technicality. The home to the landscape architect and co-creator of New York’s Central and Prospect Parks closed in late 2006 for major renovations.




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#356 The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve (1,265 visits) is pure wilderness in the far northwest of Alaska, just 3 miles from Russia. It’s not for the rookie backpacker. I liked this subtle smackdown from the webpage: “For those looking for a more predictable adventure into remote Alaska, the Administrative Offices… have a small interpretive center that offers limited exhibits and films as well as special programs.” (Translation: Hey girlie man, here’s a nice predictable museum. Leave the real hiking to us.)



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#357 The National Park of American Samoa (1,239 visits) was created in 1988 and doesn’t have many amenities but the 13,500-acre tropical park does offer rainforest, pristine shorelines, coral reefs, and secluded villages. Too bad airfare from Los Angeles is more than $1000 on special.





Click through for the bottom two...

Continue reading "The Five Least Visited National Parks" »

March 29, 2007

Great Museums: Celebrities Edition

Celeb%20Museums.jpgBurt Reynolds & Friends (Jupiter, Florida): The mission of the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum is to preserve the history of the cultural contributions of Burt Reynolds, and provide educational opportunities to young actors and filmmakers.

Long Island Music Hall of Fame (future home in Long Island, New York): “...dedicated to the idea that Long Island's musical heritage is an important resource to be celebrated and preserved for future generations.” Members include Perry Como, George Gershwin, Joan Jett, Billy Joel, and Twisted Sister.

Museum of Celebrity Leftovers (Kingsand in Cornwall, England): “The Old Boatstore cafe in Kingsand has started displaying the leftovers of the likes of Pete Doherty and David Bailey… Now the food scraps from an array of famous names are on show in the Museum of Celebrity Leftovers, displayed under matching glass domes on a specially-erected shelf.”

Dr. Nick's Memories of Elvis touring exhibit (locked in an airport hangar in Nevada): “Includes a stuffed dog, a desk carved by Elvis' Uncle Vester, a .38 Smith & Wesson, the laryngeal scope used to examine the King's throat, and the official red strobe light issued to Dr. Nick in case he needed to race to Graceland for an emergency.”

Photo from llahbocaj's Flickr photostream

March 19, 2007

Passport Woes

Epassport_cover.jpg About eight weeks after mailing out my renewal form, I finally received my new passport. I'd been concerned because passport renewal by mail typically takes 6-8 weeks to process. The U.S. Department of State, however, recently amended the information on its website to reflect current processing times. Because of a deluge of applications, the State Department warns it might now take up to 10 weeks to receive a passport.

Not only are January through April the peak months for passport requests, requests have increased because of new regulations that went into effect on Jan. 23 of this year. People must now present a passport when reentering the U.S. by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere, including, for the first time, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.

An AP article from Friday referred to a notice sent by the State Department to lawmakers saying that "Applications received between October and this March have risen 44 percent over the same period in 2005-2006." The article also mentions that the department expects to process about 17 million passports this year, compared to 12 million in 2006.

I was also surprised to find out my new passport was not an electronic one. The first of the new electronic passports--which have a computer chip embedded in the back cover--were issued to tourists in August 2006. Apparently not all passport agencies around the country are equipped yet to issue e-passports, the technology for which has caused controversy because of privacy concerns.

Links: Passports Home (U.S. Department of State)
"Passport Requests Flood State Department" (Associated Press)

Photo: Cover of new U.S. tourist electronic passport. The logo at the bottom is the international symbol for an electronic passport.

February 27, 2007

Great Museums: Fast Food Edition

Welcome to the first installment of a new occasional series. Suggestions for future installments are appreciated...

hamburg1.jpg The International Vinegar Museum (Roslyn, South Dakota): "See vinegars from all over the world. Taste vinegars made from all kinds of plants. See paper made from vinegar. Learn how vinegar is made in factories, villages and homes all over the world. Learn all you never knew to ask about vinegar!"

The Mustard Museum (Mount Horeb, Wisconsin): " The Museum features an extensive collection of prepared mustards - over 4,300 jars, bottles, and tubes from all 50 states and more than 60 countries. The Museum also is home to hundreds of items of great mustard historical importance, including mustard pots and vintage mustard advertisements."

The Condiment packet museum (online): "Where do you obtain all these packets? Some of them I obtain myself from restaurants, the fridge at work, other peoples' kitchens. I have many friends on the lookout who live in other areas of the country."

The International Hamburger Hall of Fame (future home in Daytona Beach, Florida): Design (right) from the architect, Eugene Tsui, "The client requirements of this project were that the building must look like a giant hamburger; or at least that it express the interior contents (hamburgers) in a clear fashion."

February 16, 2007

America's Favorite Buildings

empire.jpg In celebration of their 150th anniversary, the American Institute of Architects compiled a list of America's favorite buildings. Based on the nominations of Institute members, the public was invited to vote for the 150 most familiar, innovative, and distinctive structures that American architecture has created so far. The top 10:

America's Favorite Architecture
1. Empire State Building (1931): Shreve, Lamb & Harmon
2. The White House (1792): James Hoban
3. Washington National Cathedral (1990): George Bodley
4. Jefferson Memorial (1943): John Russell Pope
5. Golden Gate Bridge (1937): Joseph B. Strauss
6. U.S. Capitol (1793-1865): William Thornton
7. Lincoln Memorial (1922): Henry Bacon
8. Biltmore Estate/Vanderbilt Mansion (1895): Richard Morris Hunt
9. Chrysler Building (1930): William Van Alen
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982): Maya Lin

The list is bound to generate a lot of controversy: all but two of the top 10 are in New York City or Washington, DC, and only one structure is on the West Coast. I have other problems with the list. (Is the White House really one of the greatest examples of American architecture?) Lucky for those displeased with the selections, the AIA has the complete list on their website, with architectural details about each structure and with an area for people to post comments on the selections suggest omissions.

America's Favorite Architecture

Flickr photo from ljcybergal

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