Monthly Archives: September 2016

Google Trips: A simple travel planner for the Gmail user

Earlier this week, the Google Trips app for Android and iOS was launched, promising to save hapless travellers from situations like finding a goat instead of accommodation where you expected your hotel to be.

As you might already know, I am a bit of a Google fan, so I was quite eager to see what travel assistance our Google overlords have to offer those of us who have willingly surrendered our data in exchange for free email (i.e. Gmail users).

I’ll let the official Google blog do the honours of listing all its advertised features, and will zoom straight to my general impressions of the app.

The Good

Automagically-populated trip info Things to do (For you) Day plans Food & Drink Saved places Saved place in Google Maps

  • Convenience – Google’s social contract with users is that we offer it our personal data so it can deliver more targeted ads to us, while it delivers us products and services that make our lives… better? This is where Google manages to deliver rather well – with access to my various reservation confirmation emails, Google Trips was automatically pre-populated with my trips (upcoming as well as past) when I launched it for the very first time!
  • Simple itinerary planning – I found the “Things to do” section pretty useful. There’s even a targeted ‘For you’ section that presumably makes use of your email and search history to surface places you might be interested in – Tsukiji Market appeared as the first item for me while looking at suggestions for my recent Tokyo trip, presumably because I’d searched for it while planning previously. The ‘Day Plans’ section also offers suggested itineraries with map locations, while the Food & Drinks section is, of course, indispensable to the average Singaporean traveller.
  • Google Maps integration – I particularly like the fact that places saved from within Google Trips are also starred in Maps, allowing for easy navigation later.
  • Extensive information – essentials such as transport (even on info such as bike rentals) and tipping culture are all covered, easily accessible within the app.
  • Offline access – the ability to pre-download and later access information when offline is a useful one, even though I usually get data roaming / local SIMs these days.

The Bad

Missing flight information Missing flight information even after updating in Inbox

  • Limited manual entry – the app is great when it works, but when it doesn’t… there’s nothing much you can do about it. I noticed that for some of my trips, there was some missing information – after fiddling for some time with the app, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only edits you can make are to the trip name, destinations and dates. That suffices for itinerary planning, but I was hoping that it could also be used as a quick reference for my reservation details so I can refer to things like flight details as required. The ability to key in details manually would help with that.
  • Troublesome manual entry – from what I understand, Google Trips evolved from the Trip Bundles feature within Inbox by Google – since they use the same data set, you can add/remove associated trip-related emails by accessing inbox.google.com, which is rather troublesome and hardly an ideal solution. What’s more, even after adding the correct relevant email, Google sometimes fails to recognise information, like a shared itinerary from SIA (I suspect the formatting differs from a typical booking).
  • No Google Flights integration – I find Google Flights to be an awesome resource for searching through airfares and even tracking prices. I think it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that Google Trips doesn’t integrate some of this functionality to allow users to look for cheap flights while building their itineraries!

The Ugly

Incorrectly ordered hotel stay in Trips Incorrectly identified year for hotel stay

  • Errors in automatic data recognition –  I have one particular trip scheduled for next year where the final hotel stay was listed incorrectly first. Puzzled, I took a look and realised that Google had somehow registered it as a 2016 stay, even though the reservation email clearly states that it is for 2017! I’m rather puzzled by this anomaly.
  • Inability to amend details – Limited data entry capability is bad, but when there’s no way to correct errors, I think it’s turned ugly. This is not limited to errors – sometimes, reservation details simply change (e.g. change in flight timings). Google sometimes captures and updates this data, but not always. Where it reflects outdated reservation information, there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to correct it.

Conclusion
All in all, the app feels more like a beta version than an actual polished product (i.e. typical Google). It has its strengths – I like being able to easily generate itineraries  – but its reliance on algorithms to extract reservation information can be really annoying.

On the other hand, I fully expect Google to eventually get its act together, so I’ll probably soldier on as an early adopter and use it for itinerary planning in the near future…

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Published!

So I’m now (kinda) a published writer! On a platform that has a readership higher than one, anyway. =)

Almost (but not quite) a year ago, I’d resolved to start blogging on a weekly basis – if nothing else, to keep the writing muscle active. Along the way, I’ve struggled with generating content (I lead a rather boring life, I suppose) and occasionally missed the target. I also started following some travel-hacking blogs such as One Mile at a Time and The MileLion, and eventually ended up doing some travel-related posts of my own, primarily to record my own memories of travel experiences.

One of the wife’s colleagues apparently saw one of those posts and commented that people would be interested in reading them. Since I was essentially creating content that’s rather similar in style to the stuff I was reading, I figured this was probably true, and one day I emailed Aaron of The MileLion about the possibility of guestwriting.

And so, here we are. Since I now have a platform with relatively decent readership to contribute to, I think I’ll be pushing most of my leisure writing energies in that direction for now – other than mirroring my existing content, I intend to eventually contribute a few posts of my own.

I guess that updates on this platform will be becoming sporadic once more. All in all, I’m rather glad about how this whole thing has turned out!

Writing in green

So I’ve been called back for a reservist course and one of the pieces of pre-course homework is a 500-word essay. I kid you not. Since I had to write one anyway, I figure this should also count as my weekly blog post!

What are your thoughts on becoming a Signal CSM?
To fully understand my thoughts on becoming a Signal CSM, it might be best to begin by recounting my NS experience..

It all began in the typical Singaporean manner – enlistment as an NSF, beginning with BMT. I can’t say that I was thrilled to go through NS; but I understood its need and could appreciate having to do my part for the country’s defence. In the typical Singaporean manner, I discharged my duties as I waited for the end of the two (and a half) year service period.

After ORD, I went off to further my studies and left my NS duties behind for a number of years without being called back. Somewhere along the way, though, I was assigned a unit – and thus began my journey as a NSman.

It had been almost 8 years since I had donned the green uniform – and my NSF experience had been as an instructor, not an active unit – so I was really apprehensive about what to expect. I didn’t really remember very much, and fully expected to be completely useless in the grand scheme of things. Thankfully, my reservist unit was used to taking in ‘blur sotongs’ like me, and eventually I figured out enough to get by during ICT.

I still didn’t really have much idea of what the overall organisation of the Bde Signal Coy is, though, or its exact operational role. As an individual spec within the Coy, I never really needed to find out – I just needed to fulfil my assigned duty and all would be right. Having been nominated to take on the CSM role, though, that will have to change – having a bird’s eye view of the situation would be beneficial (and even necessary).

Other than supporting the Signal OC in operational matters, the Signal CSM would also be responsible for day-to-day administrative matters, including the overall welfare of the Coy. This is a responsibility I take seriously, as I believe that an having happy personnel working efficiently on assigned tasks would surely boost the effectiveness of a unit.

To be frank, I suspect that one of the main reasons I was nominated to take on the CSM role was my relative newness to the unit (thus having a longer ‘runway’ than the other specialists). That said, I have been discharging my duties responsibly and efficiently, and will hopefully continue to do so as a CSM in the future. The additional responsibility is a bit of a burden as a NSman, but if I am able to help sustain and even improve my unit’s effectiveness, that would be a burden I am indeed willing to take up.