Friday, December 30, 2011

Viva Vegas!

Las Vegas is a heckuva place. 
If you had asked me back when I first turned 21, I would have told you that I had no interest in going to Las Vegas. Gambling?! Waste of money. Buffets?! Gross. Glitz and themed hotels?! Cheesy. No thank you. Then somewhere on the way I started having a little more fun and you know what? Las Vegas is a heckuva place. It's still ridiculous, but it's a fun ridiculous and I didn't learn my lesson: After a good 6-8 hours in the casino, I was actually up $5. Time to start planning the next trip.

I can't really say that I saw the real Las Vegas. What I visited was more Las Vegas® and Old Vegas, which is the strip and downtown. Outside of these Disneylands, I'm sure that there is a far different side of Vegas, both good and bad. The next time I'm here, I'll have to spend more time off strip, where I suspect that there are some truly great local places, but for anyone headed to Vegas, here's my basic advice:

1. Forget that the monorail exists, and go public transit. The monorail is both not that useful because it drops about a quarter mile from the strip and not the best example of monorail technology. The bus, on the other hand, is a good deal. Be sure to pony up the $2 for the 24 pass for less stress.

2. From the airport, just take a cab. The shuttle buses are slightly less expensive ($6 per person), but a cab for two or more people is going to be less expensive.

3. On a related note, when you're getting ready to leave, don't forget that the airport is less than 10 minutes away. We made the mistake of allocating way too much time to get to the airport and ended up waiting around.

4. Bring cash with you. ATMs in the hotel will run you $5 per withdrawal and less expensive ATMs are hard to find (There's one here for $3, here (4th floor, and broken when I tried), and supposedly one here, just in case).

5. Do have fun. If you decide to play, don't feel shy about asking the waitresses for a drink (but do tip $1 a drink) and make sure you're comfortable losing whatever you put up. Set a limit and stick with it. Shows are good too, but shop around for the best price. Tix4Tonite managed tickets for us to Love! at about a 20% discount (but better deals may have been about). Whatever you like to do, do it.

After the break, more pictures from everywhere, including the Stratosphere and a couple of other restaurants! Keep reading!

Flight Report: To Sin City and Cheating on United

For the past few years, I've been a bit of a purist: United was my preferred airline, followed by Lufthansa. Continental was a good option because of the ARN-EWR flight, but overall I never really enjoyed them and I never experienced any perks with them except for a couple of lucky domestic upgrades. On Lufthansa, on the other hand, they once bumped me to first class for no apparent reason on a transatlantic flight and United   bumped me to business on my way back from Japan. That's very welcome.

However, now Continental has taken over United and there have been changes. Most notably, to the mileage program and as a direct result, I'm now shopping for a new carrier. Heading down to Las Vegas was a great opportunity to try out Alaska which is an airline I used to fly a lot with as a kid back in the late 80s and early 90s, but haven't used recently.

After the break, photos from takeoff and the flight, plus Mt. St. Helens.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Flight Report: Challenging Copenhagen Connection Complications

Flying back from Sweden gave me a chance to experience something new: A fully missed connection with no later flights to my final destination. In the past, a delay has meant a couple of extra hours and maybe a rebooking to a red eye, but this time around the flight I missed was the last one of the day and the flight that was delayed by three hours was the last one out of Copenhagen to the US. In other words, I’m not getting home today. Here's what happened...

The first plane of the day

The day started out well enough: One of my friends gave me a ride to the airport in exchange for a Starbucks mug with “Stockholm” on it, and the first flight of the day was a quick hop to Copenhagen: A true bread and butter flight on a trusty 737. It was a wet start from Stockholm and we were quickly on top of a steady blanket of clouds which would be the scenery for the flight. On the approach the cloud cover gave way and revealed a bit of the countryside of southern Sweden, and the landing itself was in some pretty gusty cross winds. Once on the ground and in the airport, this is where the fun started…

After the break, the full story, lessons learned, and another example of a Kosher meal in flight, this time on SAS.

Graduation Day and Diplomutdelning på Stadshuset

This was the reason that I flew out to Stockholm. Graduation day, which took place in the same hall as the Nobel prize fest, followed up a reception in the Gold Hall. Since I just got back, I don't have any of the pictures that others took, but these give an overview of where it was and why I wanted to attend. They only hold the event twice a year, so this was the one that I was invited to after graduating in October.

The ceremony takes place in Stockholm City Hall, which is a masterpiece of a building. Until now, I've only been here as part of a tour, but it's quite a different experience to actually be there for an event.

Friday, December 16, 2011

All I want for Christmas...

Dear Santa,

I would like one of these cufflinks, maybe the New York or SF ones. And world peace.

...but focus on which ever is less trouble for you.

Thank you,


[Uncommon Goods]

Monday, December 12, 2011

Flight Report: To Sweden for My Graduation

I officially graduated from KTH in October. The degree is in my hands and unless I end up coming back for a conference or some other reason, I have done everything that I need to do at KTH. My main interaction with my school from here on out will be to look up towards the campus when I switch to Roslagsbanan, the suburban train that serves Northeastern Stockholm. Before that, though, I have my graduation. In some ways, this is a bittersweet graduation. The policies at KTH are such that in order to attend the graduation ceremony in June, you have to have your degree issued by the end of April. For “normal” students, their defense would be in May and for those that defend in early summer, they are invited to the event in December.

The event itself is worth attending: It’s in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall, which is a fantastic building and where the Nobel dinners are held every year. Despite its name, the hall itself is actually red from the bricks used. The story is that the architect originally planned to paint the hall with blue paint, but changed his mind on seeing the space. It is beautiful and it’s also open to the public, if you visit Stockholm. The Stockholm City Hall tour will take you through all the spaces and are offered in a variety of languages. That said, there is something disappointing about being asked to wait six months to celebrate an accomplishment and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to attend the celebration in the summer was part of the reason that I decided to expand my thesis and defend in September. No one celebrates something six months stale. It’s not even appropriate for a belated card. At that point, you might was well resign yourself to congratulating the person for their next accomplishment on time and feign ignorance. Basically, who has ever heard of a super bowl party in August? Or who has actually, seriously, celebrated Christmas in July?

After the break, three flight reports, some pictures of the in-flight meal, and some comments on suburban roads, plus pictures from the whole trip, including another shot of Mount Rainier.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Transit Pass Collection: Istanbul (Updated)

A little while ago, I posted about the the Akbil, which was the mass transit pass for public transit in Istanbul. Recently, I went back to Istanbul and found out that they've updated their systems! As a result, I got a chance to get the new card and take a few pictures of it.

 The card is basically what we see in most areas that have made the jump to RFID. It's no SUICA (then again, that's Tokyo. Nothing is quite like Tokyo, where you can buy donuts in the train station with your card). This one uses an ePurse which is drawn from to pay for rides, but I didn't notice any major discounts over using the tokens of Akbil.

 A transit nut too? There are close ups of the token after the break...