Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Travelling noob

As a foil to my latest traveling post, I come to the blogosphere feeling like a noob.

I flew to a company location, that I've never been to before, in Maryland. I checked the weather, I packed the night before, I packed larger than 3 ounce toiletries knowing I would check my bag. It all seemed to be going okay.

I realized when I got in my rental car, I had no idea how to get from the airport to my hotel. After swearing out loud at myself, I calmly took my cell phone and used Google Maps Mobile. It couldn't find my hotel (it turns out I'm staying in the Courtyard Columbia by Marriott not the Marriott Courtyard Columbia). I followed the directions to Columbia and then decided I would use 411 to call the hotel and get guided in.

No such luck there. With all the web browsing to check my email in airports, my battery was almost dead. And as the nice recorded lady's voice on 411 said "Press 1 for the address," my phone died.

More loud swearing ensued. And I continued to drive in the direction towards the Columbia Town Center - there had to be hotels there. Maybe one of them would be mine!

I saw a movie theater and thought, "There are likely pay phones there and they'll have phone books." Right on the pay phone, wrong on the phone books. I tried Starbucks and they didn't have a phone book.s

So plan C or D formed in my head. I would go back to my car, get my chargers and either find the hotel online (T-Mobile Hot Spot at Starbucks) or use my phone and call and get directions. That worked and I was able to find my way to the hotel.

It turns out that about half of the people coming from out of town got lost too!

It doesn't help that the magazine on the last leg of my flight was the Road Warrior edition and there was a huge section about the Top 10 ways (reader contributed lists) to identify traveling newbies.

At least I used the alarm on my phone when my wakeup call was 10 minutes late!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Conversation with Heather

H: I fear for my sanity.
Me: Your sanity?
H: Nevermind, I found it.

I'm not so sure. I'll keep my eyes open.

Brought to you by, Cingular Wireless Messaging

Physical Online Communities

How is that for a dorky title for a post where the first line I want to write is:

I did the coolest thing Thursday night! I went to a cocktail party thrown by Yelp.com. I think that Yelp is the coolest website, their tagline says it best "Real People. Real Review." You can review anything, restaurants, bars, clubs, dry cleaners, grocery stores and more.

There is a social networking piece of it, too. You can make a list people's whose reviews you'd like to read, when they post something new. So, what was really great about this party, was that I was able to meet some of those people!

This isn't a MySpace, ohh, she's got a hot photo, I'll make her my friend, but you can find people who've been to the same restaurants and have similar tastes as you. That extension of an online community to a physical one is pretty neat.

There are a couple of other things I like about it a lot. I am a big fan of the Zagat guides. I've had great luck with them and I regularly review restaurants. But I have to wait a year, to get the new review book (free to reviewers) to see if my review got snipped down to a two word sound bite. Yelp reviews are immediate! Posted to the web for all to see.

They are also integrated into the details returned for businesses on Google Maps. That is really cool. Maybe it contributes to my 15 minutes of fame, but it helps get the reviews out to everybody.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you might have noticed that my posting frequency has gone down. Okay, from two a week to one a week, but still that is a decrease. It's because I'm Yelping!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Waste of perfectly good ice cream (and stout)

You might have read my review of Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe. Along with many others, I think very highly of the Shakin' Jesse, a milkshake of Guiness, espresso and chocolate ice cream. On a similar note, Alaska Airlines magazine had a one page recipe for a stout float.
I had Guinness at home and I purchased some vanilla bean ice cream. We were having Guinness floats.
We'll they didn't turn out so well. The stout was too bitter along side the ice cream. Maybe that was why the recipe called for a particular stout - maybe it isn't so bitter like Guinness.
Heather suggested chocolate syrup - at least that way they were drinkable.
Try the Shakin' Jesse if you are ever in Emeryville. Issaquah Brewhouse has something similar that I have yet to try. I'm sure it will be better than the float I made tonight!

Online communities turning into real world communities

This is cool. This extension of online communities to the real world is really neat.

Seattle Flickrites is picture-perfect for photographers

Yelp is like this. People will meet for dinner and they have an elite squad which has frequent get togethers too!

I've got a friend who on a trip to New York meet on of her Flickr contacts.

It's cool how the internet has gone from a collection of information to a way to actually interact with other people.

Last night I was IM'ing a friend across the country. He was catching up on my blog while I was reading reviews on Yelp. It is great how technology brings us all together!

Bicyclists and runners

While I was running this morning, the bicyclists wouldn't address the runners. I got passed once by a guy who had no light, said nothing, so I had no way of knowing he was there. At 6:20 am, in the dark, it is pretty surprising to be passed by something so quiet.

But when I would cross paths with a bike, I'd say "Morning." And they'd just silently go by.

The guy on the recumbent bike said, "Good Morning!" But he was a cheerful type and had a big, bushy white beard like Santa Claus.

The guy who was walking, but out of breath raised his hand in a gesture of a greeting.

The group of like a dozen (I couldn't tell because there were too many headlamps and runners with out headlamps) women running all said "Good Morning", too! :)

It was just the bicyclists. In the past, I've had some that greeted me. Heck, I've even got several friends who are bicyclists and they are quite friendly. Maybe these just aren't morning people and they are focused on their effort.

On a related note, since I've started working out regularly, I've noticed a marked improvement in my running. This morning was a great run.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Having trouble focusing

Our son has a big problem focusing on doing his school work, but not as much of a problem focusing on his Nintendo DS. Hmmm.

He has been working on the hypothesis and purpose of his science fair project and has been banished to his room to work on it. So far, he has thoughts, but not put into sentences.

Both Heather and I just got this email from him:

Can you please help me. You guys are smart. Can you please spend five min with me?? PPPPPPPPPPLLLLLLLLeeeeaaassssee!! :'( :'( right know i am sad those faces are crying!!!!

Love your unhappy son


My response:
I'm sorry, you need to work on this on your own. You need to give it some thought, but it has to be your thought.
Tough love is hard.

Friday, January 19, 2007

11 Things I've Learned Traveling

I've been doing a lot of traveling recently, and I'll be traveling a lot in the near future. Through all this I've gained some experience that I'd like to share.
  1. Southwest Airlines only flies a fleet of 737s
  2. Alaska Airlines flies a mixed fleet of 737s and MD-80s
  3. My roller bag easily fits in the overhead bin of a 737
  4. My roller bag fits with some pushing into the overhead bin of an MD-80
  5. Alaska Airlines loads from the rear of the plane (starting about row 20). Important when the roller bag is stuffed full. See points 2 and 4.
  6. Alaska Airlines baggage claim is slow in Seattle. I've waited almost 45 minutes for my baggage to come out.
  7. Security varies between airports. Oakland International seems to be pretty strict. Seattle will give you a ziploc bag; Oakland sends you back to your airline counter to get one. I went through security 10 times before they confiscated my mostly empty, but originally 4 ounce gel deodorant.
  8. The Starbucks on the A Concourse (most Alaska Airlines flights are on this concourse) is very close to the center of the airport and never has a line. So, you don't need to wait at the one in the Pacific Marketplace right outside security.
  9. The security checkpoint for the North Satellite concourse is quick to get through. The lines are very short and there are lots of metal detectors. Head all the way to the right once you go past the airline counters - you'll be able to walk back to your concourse. I assume there is one for the South Satellite, too, but I've never tried it.
  10. I like to park off airport (at SeaTacPark.com). They are just south of the airport (2 exits south on 5) and half as much as the airport lots. They are quick to drop me off and quick to pick up.
  11. Tickets purchased directly from the airlines are cheaper and more flexible than those purchased through my company's travel agent site (that in theory takes advantage of our combined purchasing power).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Yelp.com - Review of the Day

Check it out! My review of the Herbfarm was chosen as the Review Of The Day on Yelp.com.

Thanks to everyone on Yelp who voted for my review and if you aren’t a Yelper now, you should sign up!

I saw it this morning when I was checking my mail on my phone while waiting in the airport and now I’m writing this at 30,000 feet on my way to Oakland, so I can post it as soon a I get to the office. Isn’t technology great?

I apologize if the links are broken, although, I think through the indexing that Google Desktop Search does, I might have gotten them right!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fresh Fettuccine Alfredo with Smoke Salmon

Tonight, for dinner, we at homemade fettuccine with homemade Alfredo sauce with homemade smoked salmon. While this was a very satisfying meal to make, it just didn't have everything.

Dinner was satisfying for several reason. Firstly, everything was from scratch. Secondly, Chase and I made the pasta - from combining the egg and flour all the way through rolling it out. It is always a lot of fun to cook with the kids and this was no different. It was neat to watch her holding the long sheets of pasta, which she said looked like "Native American cloth," evidently a reference weaving. Chase helped with the alfredo sauce too, stirring it while I watched the pasta. We are a cooking team. Plus, we both wore our spiffy cooking outfits, me in the chef jacket and she chose the Dreyer's apron and chef's hat.

Dinner was lacking for a few reasons too. Firstly, I wasn't too careful on the timing of the pasta. Fresh pasta does have a slightly different texture, but it just didn't come out right. Secondly, I didn't make enough sauce. I would have loved to describe this meal as fresh fettuccine covered in Alfredo, but it was more tossed in Alfredo. I wish that there was sauce left in the bottom of the dish after we ate our serving - yeah, I know it is bad for the cholesterol, but it was my vision. Finally, the salmon was too fishy tasting. When I smoked them, one fillet was wild and one farm raised. The farm raised one was in tonight's dinner. Yes, there is a difference between the two.

All in all, I'll keep on cooking. It is fun and enjoyable, even if it doesn't always come out right! I keep getting better each time (yesterday's first batch of hollandaise sauce was thrown out, because it curdled, but I figured out to melt the second and third chunk of butter before putting them in with the yolk and butter, to keep it from overheating).

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Working on Food Presentation

Yesterday, we had a swim meet in Puyallup. Since we were that far south, we decided to stop at Ikea for lunch. Who can pass up their Swedish meatball values.

While we were there, we did a quick walk-through of the kitchen wares and stumbled upon the Ikea 365 collection. We have been in the market for new dishes, as the set we got when we married, 4 moves and 3 kids later is slowly disappearing. We were down to 6 matching dinner plates.

We both decided that we would like to have white dishes, because the food will stand out so much better on a white plate. How many restaurants have you been to that don't serve on white dishes - burgers wrapped in paper don't count. Heather also wanted a gigantor dinner plate - so that the foods don't have to touch each other.

Well, the Ikea 365 collection had it all. It was white, the dinner plate is huge-mungous and buying a dozen of each piece didn't break the bank.

We've had the plates for two meals now. Both of them have been nice meals - Heather made dinner: broiled salmon, risotto, asparagus and a pear-blue cheese salad and Chase and I made breakfast: house made smoked salmon, on a bagel with an egg and hollandaise sauce.

Not to toot my own horn, but I think I cook pretty well. Maybe someday you'll see me on Top Chef, although not for a while, but I would really like to work on presentation. Nice presentation makes a nice meal so much better. I love to watch the final plating of courses at fine restaurants.

Now that we've got the dishes, I'm going to be working on presentation. It should be an enjoyable process.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It snowed again!

There is snow everywhere and school is canceled today. We have about 6 inches of snow at my house right now.

It is so beautiful out (before all the kids get out in it an play and mess the snow up -grrr!) :)

While I was outside taking these pictures, I was talking to another neighbor who works out of his house. We decided that if school was canceled, we still have to work. But if the local office is closed, then the home offices are closed too. It sounds good to me, but I've got a lot on my plate...

I just got an email from the office wondering if anybody made it into work today... Ah, winter is great.

Maybe we'll go sledding later today. You know, there is even enough snow to cross country ski, with out tearing up your skis!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

One of my kids is really cool

I've got cool kids. But one (or maybe some, or even all) of them has raised the bar.

I had put a clean pair of pajamas on my bed this morning. I just went upstairs to get dressed for bed and upon my pajamas there was a small, plastic triceratops.

Most parents, when finding plastic toys in their bed or clothes, would complain. And I do, except that triceratops is my favorite dinosaur (geek score increasing logarithmically - oops there is goes again).

That is so cool that they would put my favorite dinosaur - maybe even give me the dinosaur - that they found while cleaning (or making) some mess.

I wish I wasn't wearing pants

Looking for some eye candy, are you? Photos only by request.

This morning, as I was getting ready to go running while Alec was at swim practice, I was looking for light gloves and my knit watch cap. I was already wearing some track pants and had to hustle Alec out the door. I was expecting it to be chilly, likely just above freezing.

When I got to Mercer Island, I was amazed to see that it was 50 degrees! It was way to warm to be wearing track pants. I've got to find something better for my lower body when I run in winter. Something that breathes better (that was the most part of my problem).

I'm not sure if I am secure enough to wear "running tights" but there has got to be something. Not leggings - maybe running pants. That sounds manly. I'll have to look for something. Any pointers?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The high cost of branching out

Well, it isn't such a high cost...

I tried some branching out in my Netflix queue. I made a movie choice that doesn't have explosions, car chases, boobs, or kung fu (although it did have some gun play). I chose a documentary.

I chose to watch The High Cost of Low Prices, a documentary about the influences of Wal-Mart on smaller independent retailers. It definitely had an anti-Wal-Mart undertone, but even with the examples where they probably were right about the evils of Wal-Mart, the dramatic or somber music and presentation over did it too much.

It went even as far to not really be a documentary, but more of just anti-Wal-Mart programming. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of Wal-Mart, but this had too much bias in it.

I didn't watch the whole thing. I tried. I skipped the last two chapters in the DVD and went to bed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Daily writing

Writing is improved through frequency. This is something that they try to accomplish in elementary school with daily writing and home journals.

While we were talking with a teacher a while ago, I came to the sudden realization that blogging was just the grown up version of daily writing. I have a fifth grader who sometimes struggles with the idea of daily writing. The geek part of me says, "Start a blog for him." The Dad part of me says, "Do I really want to open up that part of the internet to him?"

Frequency is also important to blogging. Not only do you write gooder, but more posts drive traffic. Having good content is important too...

Now, that Heather blogs, there is friendly competition between us as to how has better stats. Usually she does, until I write something that she claims is boring, something entirely techno-geeky. So, in checking my stats on Google Analytics, I see a big decline this week.

And it is no ones fault but my own. I haven't posted for a few days. But I have been writing quite a bit. I have gotten into Yelp quite a bit and written several reviews (yesterday). It is funny how you often you go places that you can review.

I plan on taking my wife out on a date tonight - either to a place found through Yelp or one I'll Yelp about later. Maybe she'll make me yelp later, too!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


My dad was supposed to retire today and it appears that he did. I called at 5:18 pm trying to be his last work phone call.

He never was a real late worker, so his voice mail (really a tape based answering machine) answered. No change in his message, "Hi, you've reached __ Raines with _____. Please leave a message."

How about, "I've retired. You can leave a message, but I might not get it. Because I'm retired!"

Maybe they came and got him and dragged him to a retirement party. You know how crazy those geologists can be. Rockin' geologists.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Yelp - user community reviews

This is a fitting posting for the firsts of 2007. One of the things about the internet that I find really interesting is that it can be used to increase interactions between people. Yeah, you aren't talking to them or seeing them face to face, but you still interact just the same.

It wasn't one of my written objectives for 2006, but I wanted to use the internet to interact with more people. I've searched for and found old friends and I participate in several user forums (Puget Sound MINI, restaurant reviews on Zagat.com, several Google tool forums, posting pictures to my Flickr account). One that I just stumbled upon is Yelp.com.

Yelp is another one of those user generated review communities, but for just about anything. I've seen reviews for car dealers, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and more. They have a really nice user-interface for searching places that are close by as well as a mobile version, which I'm going to have to try out.

But on top of all that, Yelp has a social networking side of things. Like other social networking sites, you have your list of friends and you can see quickly see their reviews or send them your own.

I've spent almost an hour this evening writing reviews - check them out and sign up!

Ending 2006 on a sweet note

For the last day in 2006, we went to the Seattle Aquarium and took the ferry to Bainbridge Island and walked around there.

When I was a kid, I would never wear a jacket out in winter. I know it would drive my parents crazy. Over time, maybe it has to do with time in Alaska, I have come to not like being cold. So, when we go out, I really try to dress appropriately.

How does this apply, you ask? I always forget that the most part of the Aquarium is outside! I think I am going to an indoor museum, so I'll walk across the street in shirt sleeves because I'll be spending time inside. WRONG! And about this time last year, I went to the Aquarium and was cold then, too.

But the best part was going to Bainbridge Island. We walked on the ferry - well, we ran because we were right on the cusp of the two minute rule and rode to Bainbridge. The ferry ride was quick and then we walked into downtown.

At the ferry terminal, there was a visitor's booth that had some maps of the island and of the downtown. It was a very short walk, 10 to 15 minutes, even with our almost-five year old, up a slight incline to get to downtown.

We found a nice little bakery, Blackbird Bakery, right on Winslow Avenue - the main drag through downtown. We ordered some soup, a Roast Beet for some and a white bean for others, and had some baked goods and hot chocolate. Everything was really good, especially the Irish Whiskey Gingerbread.

Heather asked, "Do you want to come here every sunday?" I would be happy to. It would also be really nice to find a local bakery in Sammamish.

We slowly wandered back to the ferry terminal, stopping and buying some discounted Christmas ornaments and then caught the 5:30 ferry back, with all the people heading into Seattle for New Year's Eve.

Yes, we stayed up late. We ordered Chinese takout and watched some movies and then the last 5 minutes of Times Square as recorded earlier on MTV (that appears to be our tradition for New Year's Eve).

Happy New Year everyone!

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