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February 2018 - ATX Fun - Austin-San Antonio Fun, Travel & Educational Opportunities

Austin Forum, Tuesday, March 6

Austin Forum LogoThe Austin Forum is a series of presentations about technical, medical, musical and social topics. Admission is free, nothing is for sale, and meetings are held in the ground-floor meeting room of the new Austin Public Library downtown.

The next meeting will be this coming Tuesday, March 6, 2018. The topic will be ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: HOW MACHINE LEARNING WILL CHANGE (ALMOST) EVERYTHING.

From the Austin Forum website:

Artificial intelligence has been a vision almost since the dawn of computing, but has been stymied by technology limitations, as well as lack of understanding of how human intelligence works. However, one approach — machine learning — has gained tremendous traction in the past two decades, aided by advances in our ability to collect digital data and in the algorithmic techniques of developing systems that learn from data.

More recently, the explosive upturn in digital data production and the exponential increase in computing power, enabled by computing processors, has enabled researchers to develop and optimize algorithms in deep neural networks on rich data to achieve astounding successes in AI.

From systems that can now recognize objects and speech better than humans can, to systems that can out-strategize experts in complex games such as poker, chess, and go, the new AI applications are exceeding human performance in many areas — and we’re at the very beginning of the revolution.Android

AI is considered by many to be the most the most important technology of our time, and will disrupt, transform, and accelerate almost every field, from healthcare to transportation, retail to finance, manufacturing to agriculture… everything. Come learn what AI, machine learning, and deep learning are, why they are so important (and will be even more so), and the opportunities for Austin to be a leader in the AI revolution.

Get the deets and register at

Hint: Follow @AustinForum on Twitter, so you will be eligible to win some very nice prizes at the presentation.

Not Even Past — An Excellent Website from the UT History Department

Not Even Past LogoThe History Department at the University of Texas at Austin has its own website named Not Even Past, filled with a variety of resources in text, video and audio formats.

One feature of the website is the series of “15 Minute History” podcasts. A recent podcast by Lauren Henley tells the story of the “Servant Girl Annihilator”, American’s first serial killer who happened to live in Austin, Texas.

Another is links to a “Faces of Migration” series of movies (free admission), shown on campus in the Liberal Arts Building.

The Not Even Past website also has downloadable documents, reviews of popular films set in the past, and a wealth of other information.

Not Even Past can be found at It’s definitely worth checking out!

Record-Breaking Week for Firearms in Carry-On Luggage

Pistol in Purse X-RayAs reported on Travel Weekly, a new record has been set by passengers caught trying to take firearms through security at U.S. airports. In the week cited, 104 guns were found by TSA agents at checkpoints, breaking the old record of 97. Of the 104 guns found, 80 were loaded.

In all of 2017, the TSA found 3,391 firearms in carry-on baggage.

Many, probably most, of the firearms were carried by properly-licensed individuals. It’s likely that most were brought to the airport accidentally, with no sinister motives.

On Jan. 6, 2017, a passenger legally checked his 9mm handgun onto a flight headed for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Upon landing, upon retrieving his luggage he loaded the gun and shot 11 people at baggage claim, killing five of them.

Falling For the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon PostcardEd Pizzarello is a travel blogger, one of the best, with a young family. His blog is named “Pizza in Motion.”

Recently Ed and his family visited the Grand Canyon National Park, and he has been publishing a detailed series of posts about their visit.

Ed chose to take the 2-hour train ride from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon. He recounted that trip, with photos and prices of all the options, in this post.

Yesterday he posted about his 5-hour visit to the South Rim. You can read that here.

Coming soon are posts about where they went after leaving the park.

Seating Options on American Airlines Flights

American Airlines
American Airlines

TravelCodex has published a thorough listing of the kinds of aircraft that American Airlines flies, and how much comfort (or discomfort) to expect in each.

The blog post is here.

If you fly American (as I often do), this listing will tell you what seat pitch (distance between rows) and seat width to expect in First, Business, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra and Main Cabin seats. It also includes information about IFE (in-flight entertainment) and power available at seats.

This is an excellent resource by Rohan Anand, well worth bookmarking.

Fly Southwest to Baltimore, Then Delta Premium Economy to Beijing Cheap

Delta Airlines LogoDelta is offering the low fare of $767 round-trip from BWI (Baltimore-Washington) to Beijing. This fare is available for quite a few date pairs in March and April, a good time to go before the summer heat builds in Beijing. Note that it’s in Premium Economy, with the extra legroom that you will cherish for this long flight.

Secret Flying has the details and some date pairs.

If you want to stop over in Baltimore-Washington, there is plenty to see and do in both cities.

Seven Classic Travel Scams to Avoid

Sign in Quito, Ecuador
Sign in Quito, Ecuador

When you are traveling you are in unfamiliar locations and situations, surrounded by people you do not know, and often in a hurry. That is part of what makes these classic scams so effective.

The author of this blog post has given them names:

  • You dropped your wallet
  • Say cheese
  • Do unto others
  • It’s in the bag
  • Friendship bracelets
  • The hotel welcome
  • Taxi turmoil

There are other scams, of course, and if you travel you will encounter them at some point. I’ve been very lucky so far in avoiding loss, but am aware that could change at any time while traveling.

My best advice is to make a photocopy of the information page of your passport, keep a spare credit card and some cash somewhere other than your purse or wallet, and (men) keep your wallet somewhere other than your back pocket.

Austin to Quito, Ecuador, Round-Trip for $350. Continue to the Galapagos Islands!

Galapagos Airport Arrival
Galapagos Airport Arrival

Scott’s Cheap Fares reports airfares as low as $350 round-trip from Austin to Quito, Ecuador. Quito is one of the two gateways to the Galapagos Islands (the other is Guayaquil, Ecudaor). Several airlines from from Quito and Guayaquil to the Galapagos for reasonable airfares, or even airline frequent-flyer miles.

Check Google Flights for airfares on American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and United.

Last month I flew American Airlines from Austin to Guayaquil for 17,500 frequent-flyer miles in Economy. Airfare for a flight on LATAM from Guayaquil to the major Galapagos airport was about $200. The entire trip back, from Galapagos to Austin, was just 30,000 AA miles in First Class.

You do not need to spend a lot of money to see the Galapagos. During my 5 nights there, I spent less than $1000 for hotels+tours+dining.