Double Booking Dark Pattern on AirBnB

I recently booked a single night stay in London with AirBnB, who promptly told me on completion of payment that I already had a booking confirmed for that night, and would I like to cancel one of them?

It’s easy to cancel, but you don’t get a full refund; AirBnB keep the booking fee, which was about £10 in my case. The obvious question here is that if AirBnB knew I’d already booked a place for that date and even told me after booking, why didn’t they tell me before payment confirmation?

The answer is obvious. Sometimes there are shades of grey when it comes to business, but this is wholly wrong.

Canadian Travel Notes: Toronto & Ottawa

The Canadian National Exhibition (aka CNE/”The Ex)

My understanding of state fairs comes largely from longform pieces in magazines like The New Yorker by people like David Foster Wallace, so it’s hard to compare the CNE in Toronto with others. My expectations weren’t high, but it still felt more soulless than I’d imagined.

For example, I’d had a vision of rows of little indie food stalls each offering only a few weird and outrageously unhealthy dishes. In reality, most food options were larger and from bigger chains, which is perhaps not surprising given the scale of the event but still disappointing. Overall, it was fine: I had a noodle burger and a funnel cake with soft-serve ice cream. In retrospect, we should’ve tried the comparatively-deserted ribfest instead, but it was a bit out of the way and we only came across it later. I imagine it’s much busier in the evenings.

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The indoor lantern festival, Legends of the Silk Road Come to Light, was quite pretty in an obvious way. Someone in China has clearly figured out that westerners really like to look at realistic-looking lanterns, and decided to engage in a bit of not-so-subtle cultural diplomacy that a) takes a modicum of credit for all achievements made along “Silk Road” nations and b) encourages us to feel good about their dreadfully-named “Belt and Road Initiative”.

I’d like to know more about how these lanterns are made. It’d make for a good longform article, I think. I can’t imagine they’re especially challenging to make, and I would like to see more daring and innovation amongst the endless dragons and such.

There was a water skiing demo featuring a truly groan-worthy framing story about a wedding party. I guess these stories are a way for announcers to fill the silence and make proceedings seem more ‘approachable’? In any case, I was impressed by the announcer pre-emptively telling us that each stunt was extremely risky in case of its likely failure. One of the skiiers had a ‘water jetpack’ which was even cooler than my highest expectations. We also walked past the parkour, whose audience sounded like they were having more fun..

The flower competition was getting a bit wilted by the time we arrived. I occasionally entertain the idea of finding the least competitive category and entering, so I can add it to my bio.

The shops were generally bad and not worth visiting.

Ottawa

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First off, you must get the National Museums Passport! It costs only $35 and it’s worth it if you plan to visit more than one museum – which you absolutely should. Continue reading “Canadian Travel Notes: Toronto & Ottawa”

How to Get eBooks, Audiobooks, Magazines, and Newspapers from Edinburgh Libraries

Like many library systems, Edinburgh has an odd collection of digital resources for members, including multiple providers of eBooks, audiobooks, newspapers, magazines, and reference materials. Last week, I joined in the hope of getting access to some newspapers and magazines I read, and if you’re curious or also want to join the library, you may find this interesting.

How to Join

This is very easy. You can do it in person at any branch with some ID (e.g. passport, utility bill). You can also begin the process online by filling out a form, which will get you a temporary ‘UNREG’ number that gives you some limited borrowing rights. However, it doesn’t provide access to any digital resources, so you’re going to have to visit a branch with some ID anyway.

If you’re good at filling out forms online, you might as well start it on the web since it will save a little bit of time. Otherwise, just skip it and go to the branch – the process will only take a few minutes.

Once you’ve joined, you will have:

  1. A library membership number with the format B00XXXXXXXX (where the Xs are numbers)
  2. A four digit PIN code (absurdly insecure, but what the hell)

These two things will grant you access to all the digital resources you need. In some cases, they only need your membership number ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s typically not necessary to create logins for the resources, although in some cases it can be useful.

Digital Resources

I’m not going to detail all of Edinburgh Libraries’ digital resources, but here are some that I find particularly useful:

Overdrive has the single largest digital book library with around 5000 eBooks and 900 audiobooks. It also has the best apps. The Overdrive app is mediocre, but the new Libby app is well-designed with a good reading experience. It’s not perfect though – it didn’t sync my progress between my iPhone and iPad.

Pressreader offers almost 4000 magazines and 3500 newspapers. Most aren’t in English, but plenty are. These are exclusively print versions – you won’t get access to the online versions of the magazines or newspapers. You’ll definitely find something useful here, whether it’s British broadsheets like The Guardian and The Telegraph, or US papers like The Washington Post. There are also some very fine periodicals like The New York Review of Books and Bloomberg Business Week. You’ll want to read these on a computer or high resolution tablet, since most of the time you’re looking at PDFs (Pressreader’s text view is execrably formatted).

RBdigital has around 300 audiobooks and 130 British magazines, including Time, New Scientist, National Geographic, and Wired. It’s a smaller selection than Pressreader, but generally higher quality in the UK, and with back issues going back around 1-2 years. Its app has a surprisingly good text view, but overall, the app is not pleasant to use, lacking the ability to favourite magazines.

You can also get around 800 audiobooks from Borrowbox and 300 from uLIBRARY. Yes, it is absurd that these resources are so spread out – ideally, libraries should collectively demand a common API that makes things much easier for members to search for and browse titles.

There’s also full access to the Oxford English Dictionary, the British Newspaper Archive (millions of pages of newspapers from 1710-1955), The Times Digital Archive (1785-2011), and the John Johnson Collection, “an archive of printed ephemera”. These are a puzzle-setters dream.

Overall, I’m pleased with the resources available but disappointed by their fragmented nature. There’s a very limited number of eBooks – popular titles are there but you don’t have anything close to the selection of printed books in the library – so I imagine it’s really the audiobooks, newspapers, and magazines that will be the most useful to most people. And it’s free! So if you live in Edinburgh, take a few minutes out of your day and sign up.