Archive for the ‘Misc’ Category

I took that crazy cheap flight to Barcelona

July 22nd, 2017

Park Guell
Barcelona skyline from Park Guell
 

Recently a new airline called Level introduced a crazy cheap nonstop flight from Oakland to Barcelona. I immediately decided to take the plunge and book a trip. If that sounds insane, keep in mind Level is from the same company as British Airways and Iberia, so it’s not just some random startup with an airplane made out of cardboard and duct tape.

Now I should mention that going in, I knew that the cheap ticket wasn’t without its limits. The flight did not include free food, checked luggage would cost extra, and selecting a seat was also an extra charge. I only paid for the latter — I’m an aisle seat kind of guy because I drink too much coffee.

The first step was buying the ticket, from there I needed to find out how much time off I could take from work. When that turned out to be a month, I also needed to figure out where else I wanted to go in Europe.

I’ll get into some trip details some other time, but first I learned a few things traveling to and from Europe on the cheap. Here’s what I found:

 
Book now, ask questions later

Over a couple weeks I found my friend in Greece was interested in traveling with me, I could stay at his place in Athens, and that we were both interested in visiting Rome. From there we had to figure out what we wanted to see together, and I had to figure out where else I wanted to go.

After booking half a dozen tours, a few flights, train rides, airport bus shuttles… somehow a couple months had gone by. Oops.

For better or worse, the cheapest flight out of Europe by that time was also on Level, and was also from Barcelona — but for almost double the original price. I shouldn’t have spent so much time on research. Damn!

The worst part of it is that many of the most interesting tours, museums, even restaurants that I went to were the ones I found after I’d landed in Europe, either because someone told me about them or because I happen to Google them late at night before going to bed. Clearly, mistakes were made.
 

Pack light

Discount airlines charge extra for checked luggage, so only bring the absolute minimum with you — and the absolute minimum back. For me this meant I had to buy a few extra supplies like a new toothbrush and more sunscreen while abroad. Not a big deal.

You might think traveling light is hard; I found the experience the exact opposite. Instead of trying to lug a rolling suitcase over cobblestone roads and dragging it up and down flights of stairs, it was just me, a backpack, and whatever was in my pockets.

Clothes were not a problem. Most of the places I stayed at where Airbnbs with their own washing machine, so about four days of clothes was enough. I actually overpacked; I bought a pair of pants and a sweatshirt that I never wore due to the hot summer weather.

Still not convinced? Well don’t take it from me, travel expert Rick Steves recommends packing light as well. Besides, there’s no better feeling than walking past the baggage claim, eyeing your fellow passengers collecting mountains of luggage while silently mumbling “suckers” to yourself.
 

Prepare for liftoff

No food on the plane? No problem. Buy some food at the airport that will last a while, and eat it on the plane when you’re hungry. Bring a bottle of water and some tea or whatever. Most importantly, bring an energy bar or something in case you’re hungry. In theory you could buy food before you even got to the airport, but that can result in TSA headaches.

Like many airlines, Level does have food for purchase on the airplane but it’s overpriced and there’s no guarantee it will still be in stock by the time you’re starving, so it’s best to buy food ahead of the flight.

As with any air travel, check SeatGuru to see what each seat has — in flight entertainment, USB charger for your phone, electrical outlet for your laptop, etc. Even if there is in flight entertainment, it still doesn’t hurt to have some TV shows, movies, audiobooks, and podcasts all ready to go at your fingertips. This is especially important for very long airplane rides.
 

Don’t fear the cheaper

So, what’s the trade off for a cheap flight like this? Here’s what I noticed.

Both flights were reasonably on-time, with the flight back getting delayed 30 minutes or so. Not bad for a transatlantic flight. Seats were as comfortable as other airlines, and the airplane was brand new. Level doesn’t have its own points/miles system, but at least for the moment you can earn Avios points through an Iberia Plus membership.

The flight leaves from OAK instead of SFO. For me anyway, I think the BART ride is a little shorter to OAK so that’s fine. However, the airport food options leave a lot to be desired. At the Barcelona airport the plane doesn’t connect to the gate, you have to get on a bus that takes you between the tarmac and the gate. This seemed a little weird because the Barcelona airport is enormous and not all of it is currently used, but maybe this saves money somehow?

The in flight food ordering system was supposed to work through a touch screen, but it was buggy and impossible to place an order without help. I suspect this will be improved in the future, and I was an unwitting beta tester. As a result the flight attendants could be a little slow to help sometimes.

The in flight entertainment was much better than I would have expected. I finally had a chance to watch Deadpool and finish the first season of Westworld. I also watched the Assassin’s Creed movie, but the less said about that the better.

Online check-in was broken on the flight out, but was working and integrated with Apple Wallet on the flight back. This is a huge time saver when you only have carry on luggage. It also means you have to make sure your phone still has a charge by the time you get to the gate, of course.

Obviously, cancellation or changes are not included in the lowest fares.
 

Just do it

If all that sounds fine to you, then by all means book an inexpensive flight like this on Level, Norwegian, or whatever. But make sure to book as far in advance as possible so you get the lowest rates, and say no to upsells you don’t need.

In my experience, I’ve always flown economy in all my transatlantic flights, and this seemed easily on par with what you’d get with a more expensive major carrier like United. I’d even go so far as to say that not including meal service is a plus, since the cabin frankly smells a lot better without the nauseating stench of airline food.

So if you want to cross some travels off your bucket list without spending a lot, by all means try the new cheap airlines. You have nothing to lose — especially if you don’t check any luggage.

The guy who teleported to Mars with Obama is running for president

April 30th, 2016

Back in 2012, I covered the story of Andrew Basiago, a man who claims he teleported to Mars with Barack Obama.

This even made it into Fox News. When they covered an unrelated story on my blog, they described MrEricSir.com as so:

The sign was first reported by the MrEricSir blog, whose other topics of interest include posts headlined: “A look behind Obama’s Mars Teleportation Scandal” and “Lisbon’s Super Mario Bros. Obsession.”

To be fair to Fox News, that’s a pretty accurate description of the kind of bullshit I tend to write about here.

Recently there’s been a major development in Basiago’s story: he’s running for president! According to his campaign website, Basiago is “a prominent figure in the Truth Movement.” Here’s a few of his campaign promises:

  • The President should list the Sasquatch under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
  • The President should foster global development by promoting daily per capita egg consumption.
  • The President should declassify and reveal the technologies in America’s time travel arsenal.
  • The President should end the ET cover-up in a live, televised address to the American people.
  • The President should issue an Executive Order banning all chemtrail spraying by US agencies.

Basiago claims to be an avid time traveler, and as such I’d presume he already knows the outcome of this election cycle. So while he may not have the financial backing of more mainstream candidates like Clinton or Trump, this guy has some inside information that may propel him to victory.

But what a strange coincidence that we’d have two presidents in a row who both once teleported to Mars at the same time. What are the odds!

If he’s not elected, we can only assume the time traveling extraterrestrials colluded with the United States government to rob this man of his rightful position as POTUS.

For more details of Basiago’s presidential run, check out this story on Gizmodo.

My homemade pipe stool

November 13th, 2015

Pipe stool
 

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about design, and specifically how the environments we encounter can suggest that one take a certain course of action. By keeping my shoes near the door to my apartment for my own convenience I’d accidentally created a bad design — a situation that subtly suggested one should remove one’s shoes, but didn’t offer any place to sit while doing so.

I honestly don’t care if people remove their shoes or not but I want people to feel welcome if I’ve inadvertently suggested it. What I needed was a place to sit.

Yeah, I mean I could have just bought a chair or a stool, or even found one on Craigslist. But that’s no fun.

Loosely following the design from this blog post I bought some iron pipe fittings at the hardware store and for the seat I purchased a tree slice from Amazon. I removed loose bark from the tree slice and applied a few layers of spray-on lacquer.

The pipes were more of a challenge. After a couple hours of wrestling with heavy iron pipes (and getting a few bruises along the way) I managed to get the pipes locked tightly into place. Then it was simply a matter of adjusting the caps at the bottom until the thing was level, and the floor flanges on the top so they were all level with the seat.

A few screws later, and I had a most unusual homemade stool. But most of all I solved a small design problem I’d accidentally created in my own living space.

ClickHole’s obsession with firetrucks

July 1st, 2015


 

The Onion has always had long-running gags to tickle the minds of their most astute readers. For example, does the name Don Turnbee ring a bell? If you’re an Onion fan, it should: he’s a recurring Onion character who loves food.

To expand their coverage beyond news and into the exciting world of clickbait internet content, The Onion recently created ClickHole. Much in the same way The Onion parodies the news, ClickHole parodies sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy with absurdities and non-sequiturs. So far they’ve only snuck in one* running gag: firetrucks.

ClickHole’s first foray into firetrucks was about a year ago when they intentionally confused a firetruck for a marketing campaign. And it only got weirder from there:

Updates:

That’s all for now; will there be more exciting #firetruck content in ClickHole’s future? One can only hope!

(* Though it should be noted that Larmers™ brand ham medallions have been “America’s Favorite Taste” since 1928.)

Surge resurges in 2014

October 20th, 2014

Surge 2014 edition
 

Before Red Bull reached American shores in 1997, there were no “energy drinks” on our store shelves. Not knowing what we were missing, we went about our daily lives content with plain old coffee, tea, and soda. Hard to imagine that only 17 years ago, your local liquor store didn’t have an entire shelf dedicated to Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster, and 300 other beverages, each more foul tasting than the last.

But it wasn’t a sudden transition. A year before we had Red Bull, Coca-Cola introduced Surge. In both look and taste it was like an alien version of Mountain Dew. Similar amount of caffeine, similarly artificial flavor, but dyed slime green instead of neon piss yellow.

Around the same time Pepsi countered with the incomprehensibly marked Storm, another lemon-lime flavored soda that was also caffeinated — sometimes. This confusion caused more than its share of caffeine withdrawal headaches and it was dropped in 2000.

Sadly, three years later Surge met its demise as well. In spite of protests from enthusiastic fans and nerdcore rap songs about the beverage, Coca-Cola ignored cries for this fan favorite. Until now.

 

Coca-Cola is selling Surge again in limited quantities through Amazon in twelve packs of 16oz cans. I was able to get my hands on one of these rare shipments of Surge just before they sold out. Technically you can still find this neo-Surge online, but it’s from hoarders trying to resell the stuff at 20x the price. (Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.)

So, how does it taste? Pretty gross, actually — and exactly like I remember. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this retro soda so I can stay up all night playing Nintendo 64 while listening to the Stone Temple Pilots.

Bud Light Lime introduces new way to induce vomiting

August 29th, 2014

New method to induce vomiting

Need to throw up? Just look at that billboard and try to imagine what Bud Light Lime’s awful new concoction would actually taste like.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to run to the bathroom and puke.

Free bed frame, nightmares

March 19th, 2014

image

Need a bed frame? Want to have terrifying nightmares? This sidewalk bargain is perfect for you!

Collect it now, it’s near 16th and Dolores.

Best company tweet ever

May 1st, 2013

Eat24 is an online restaurant ordering service that bills itself as the OpenTable of delivery. Their website reminds users that no pants are required for delivery, but the unusual approach to public relations doesn’t end there. The above Tweet suggests another use for their service; satisfying munchies brought on by excessive nighttime intoxication.

While some companies might delete such a tweet and find an intern to pin it on after sobering up, Eat24 has left the tweet intact. And I say good for them — nobody wants to read another bland company Twitter feed.

So let me ask: could this be the best company tweet ever?

Truth in fine print

April 18th, 2013

Truth in fine print

Hold on here. Unlimited mobile phone service for a tiny fraction of what I’m paying now? That sounds too good to be true.

Let’s take a closer look.

There's the rub

Ah, there’s the rub. That’s the price for seven days of phone service. (Because who needs a phone longer than a week, right?)

$13.99 per week is what us normal people call “$60 per month.” Suddenly that amazing deal doesn’t sound so amazing, does it?

 
(Spotted at the dollar store at Mission and 17th.)

Copenhagen

November 18th, 2012

Recently I had some time to explore the streets of Copenhagen. It’s the capital of Denmark, an old seaside city with a distinctly fairy tale look. Every Dane is blond, blue eyed, in great shape, and is born with a bicycle in their hands. If you forget someone’s name, you can just call them “Christian Christiansen” and there’s a 95% chance you’ll be correct.

Important fact: Danes tend to speak English fluently. I had to ask people “Do you speak English?” now and then, but the answer was always “Of course!” The majority of the time Danes sized me up immediately and spoke to me in English before I could even say hello. Something to keep in mind if you’re unilingual.

 

Rune stone Round Tower ramp Cupid and the three graces Rosenborg Palace

Of the museums and such, I had a great time in the National Museum, the Round Tower, the Thorvaldsen museum, and the Rosenborg Palace. Of those, the National Museum is always free and has an impressive section on early human history. If you enjoy Romantic Era art, the Thorvaldsen museum is a must. Each sculpture contains enough symbolism to make a liberal arts major’s nipples explode with delight.

There’s two towers you can walk up in and get a view of the entire city: the Round Tower (Rundetårn) and the Church of Our Saviour (Vor Frelsers Kirke.) Since after a cramped airline flight and a lot of walking my knees were on their last legs (so to speak) I went with the Round Tower — for the first 3/4 of the way up the tower it’s a pleasant stroll up a winding ramp. After that there’s 2-3 flights of stairs and you’re out on a deck overlooking the city. Tickets are only a couple of bucks and the view is worth the price and hike.

 

Copenhagen airport bike pump OMG bikes!

The airport has a bicycle tire pump. I’d heard biking was big in Copenhagen and sure enough the airport bike pump was key evidence #1. There’s bike rental places are everywhere but it seems they welcome you to bring your own on the flight over.

It wasn’t until I saw rush hour during the week that I realized how many people bike in Copenhagen. The bike lanes fill up with congested traffic, bicyclists tailgating one another and riding side-by-side. But for the most part the lanes were clearly marked and people tended to obey the rules.

Bicycle fans, rejoice at the following facts about Copenhagen:

  • Mail is delivered via tricycle
  • The busiest bike lanes have their own traffic lights
  • Steep car and gas taxes encourage cycling
  • Second only to Amsterdam in terms of bicycle friendliness
  • Danish clothing companies design clothing for hipster bicyclists

 

Copenhagen Metro Mobile Tickets Copenhagen Metro

The first thing to notice about Copenhagen’s Metro is the drivers: there aren’t any. It’s like an airport tram, you can sit in the front and watch it move down the track on its own. The underground stations have interior doors for safety. (Coincidentally, we had two deaths on the subway tracks in San Francisco while I was away. Is this something we should be doing?)

90 minute transfers on the bus/Metro system are pricy at around $5-$6, but it’s cheap compared to a cab. The iOS/Android app makes it easy to buy an electronic ticket.

The system is entirely proof of payment. Only once did anyone check my ticket, a friendly older guy who looked well past “retirement” age and well into “Wal-Mart greeter” age.

Currently there’s a whole new Metro subway line under construction that makes a ring around the downtown area. The ring should be completed in the next couple of years. Oh, and did I mention that all Metro trains run 24/7? To put it bluntly, Copenhagen’s Metro makes Tomorrowland look like Frontierland.

 

Bella Center Valve at UDS

Ostensibly I was in Copenhagen for Ultra Dork Summit Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), held at Bella Center. The hotel convention center reminded me of the old Metreon, with its striking design and strikingly ill-conceived layout.

This was the event where Valve announced the beta of Steam for Linux. Soon, children might not need a copy of Microsoft Windows to play those damn video games.

 

Pumpkins Danish jack-o-lantern Halloween in Copenhagen

When I was in school we were taught that Halloween was an American holiday. While religious harvest holidays in the Fall dated back thousands of years, we were taught that Trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns were American traditions. But in recent years, I’ve heard of these traditions cropping up in places as far away as South America and the UK. And now I’ve seen American-style Halloween activities in Denmark with my own eyes.

At first I thought the jack-o-lanterns in near my hotel (the Nyhavn neighborhood) might be aimed at American tourists. But I didn’t see many American tourists. And I kept finding Halloween merchandise at local markets that were off the beaten path.

I visited my co-worker’s place on Halloween. He rented via AirBnB in a more suburban part of town. That night, the streets outside were crawling with costumed children going door to door! Who knew?!

 

Mural in Freetown Christiania You are now entering the EU

If you enjoy hippie communities, you won’t find many places that fit the bill better than Freetown Christiania. It’s an authentic 70′s hippie commune neighborhood that makes Haight Street feel like Union Square. Sure, there’s little boutiques and cafes, but there’s also a few genuinely dive-y beer gardens, stages with live music, and not to mention the “Green Zone” where people sell marijuana in an open market.

Christiania is a beautiful little neighborhood, with winding streets that you can aimlessly explore for at least an hour or two. Despite the laissez-faire attitude, they do have many rules, one of which is that photography is (understandably) only permitted in certain areas. I wish I could have taken more photos, but I think rules are a good thing for communities like this; self-policing means less interference from the government. As the sign says when you exit, “You are now entering the EU.”

 

Windmill boat View from Round Tower Windmill at Bella Center

Denmark is big on wind energy. My hotel claimed to be 100% wind powered. Given that the nearby winds often felt like being tackled, I can believe it.

The photo to the left above is a boat designed for installing offshore windmills. The thing is massive, about the size of an oil platform. The right photo is a view of the coast. The windmill installation boat in the middle. If you look at those small white pillars just offshore, each one of those is a windmill.

Denmark doesn’t have any oil so wind makes sense. But I suspect another reason behind all the bicycling and clean energy: the entire country is flat and nearly at sea level. If the sea were to rise two meters they’d have a Kevin Costner scenario.

 
 

If it wasn’t obvious from everything above, I really enjoyed Copenhagen. It’s one of those places that’s both welcoming and foreign at the same time. And most importantly, more often than not the Danes make a great cup of coffee.