Thursday, June 5, 2014

Low-Rolling in Vegas for Not Quite Free - Part 3


An original photo, for a change:  our breakfast.

Breakfast at Harrie's

We forewent free breakfast and instead headed 3 minutes up Swenson to our other favorite restaurant in Las Vegas, Harrie's Bagelmania, located in a shopping strip on Twain Ave. that has seen better days.  Once inside, this place feels like old Miami Beach.  Correction, this is Broward County all the way.  You will be welcomed and the person sitting behind you (and it is always one particular person in a party of two or more) is talking so loudly you can hear his entire conversation whether you choose to or not. That, and their website doesn't even have its own domain name, looks like the owner did it herself in 1997 when someone said she needed to get herself a website, and features the disclaimer, "If you have any comments, suggestions or ideas please visit the restaurant."  I did, but I'm fairly certain it had no impact.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Low Rolling for Not Quite Free in Las Vegas: Summary of Accounts


Tips for shuttle drivers @ SAN and LAS $4
Expenses (excluding CVS purchases) for 2 people:
Burger and Yogurt in San Diego Airport : $23
Rental car (total for 3 days): $67
1am breakfast for 1 (incl. tip): $10
Plus 12,837 southwest points + $10 for flights
Plus 24,000 Hyatt points for room

Total cash spent: $114 (of which $6 was tip)

Low-Rolling in Vegas for Not Quite Free: Part 2


Woke up and exploited the Hyatt House Las Vegas's standard complimentary breakfast buffet:  fresh fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt, cereals, scrambled eggs, sausages, breads/bagels.  The bagels were pretty hard but everything else was fine.

The Hyatt House had an interesting mix of clientele.  Being a small airport hotel with breakfast and airport shuttle service, it didn't have the anything-and-everything of a Strip resort.  Guests largely consisted of Southwest employees overnighting between flights, but there was also a sizeable contingent of people in their early 20s who looked like they had just come from the gym and seem to spend a lot of time there generally.  A bunch of dudes were preening around at the breakfast buffet in nothing but shorts, muscles, and attitude.  (Actually their attitude was fine, other than their violation of the implied dress code.)  It seemed peculiar, until I realized we were across the street from the Hard Rock hotel.  They were most likely  going to spend their weekend at the Rehab pool party, but were too cheap or too late to get a room at the Hard Rock itself.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Low-Rolling Winning in Vegas for Not Quite Free: Part 1

Our first trip without the kidz in 2 years - Memorial Day Weekend in Vegas.

A lot has happened since my last blog post: most significantly, relocating to San Diego.  And, of slightly lesser significance, I obtained 2 Chase Southwest credit cards in order to get a Companion Pass, which allows one other designated person to travel with me anytime I travel on Southwest, even on a rapid reward ticket. The Sister in Law and her husband racked up a bunch of credits with us for bringing their family out for their early summer vacation and staying here, and offering to keep our kids with her while we do some mostly-childlike stuff for grownups.


The Flight

With the companion pass we were able to get a round-trip flight from San Diego to Las Vegas for 12,837 points (equivalent to $183.38 using the 70:1 exchange rate), plus $5 TSA charge, and a second companion ticket for only the $5 TSA charge.  At that price it isn't really worth driving, especially on a heavy-traffic holiday weekend.

The flight was late, as seems to be Southwest custom.  Nancy bought a hamburger at the airport and I bought the world's most expensive yogurt cup for $6.  The last Friday Night flight from San Diego to Las Vegas was the usual party bus: a bachelor party right behind us, a bachelorette party a few rows behind them, everyone getting in the zone.  Used my Southwest coupons for the kickoff special: Bailey's and coffee, to get the buzz going while needing desperately to not fall asleep.

Ground Transportation

Arrived at McCarran airport on time, around 11pm, and hobbled to the rental car terminal as fast as possible, given my foot still slightly sore from a recent flareup of gout, the Disease of Kings, in fact, as it was once known, or the disease of Fat Old People as it might be known today.

Getting to the rental car terminal, we observed this at the Thrifty/Dollar counter:
(This actually wasn't my picture, it is posted on yelp.  But it looked the same.)
Each person waiting will spend about 10 minutes at the desk giving a reservation number, being upsold for a higher level car, a tank of gas they won't use, and all kinds of bizarre insurance products they don't understand, and giving a credit card number.  For 30 groups being handled by 4 clerks, that's about a 60 minute wait, maybe more.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Elon's Hyperloop

As a diversion from my regular (rare) blogging, here are some thoughts after reading through Elon Musk's Hyperloop Proposal:

First of all, as an aficionado of low-cost travel and as someone who has frequently dealt with I-5 traffic, I can authoritatively state that a new type of high-speed transportation that eliminates or reduces driving at low cost is fantastic and an idea whose time has come.

The $68 billion California High-Speed Rail Authority has completely ignored the proposal, which is a shame.  Embracing, or at least exploring, a new lower-cost technology would greatly improve the reputation of an agency currently viewed as a huge boondoggle.  I well know the pain of investing a lot of time in something, only to be one-upped by some know-it-all, but the CHSRA needs to swallow its pride and give the Hyperloop some real consideration.  No ego is worth 68 billion dollars.

My family makes the trip from Sacramento to LA at least twice a year, and we would go a lot more often if the trip took less time to drive (low cost), or if it was less expensive to fly (low travel time).  The Hyperloop seems to address that space.  The HSRA doesn't appear to care about it much.

Given that, here are some thoughts. I assume that the basic technology that enables the hyperloop to propel across the San Joaquin Valley are sound and leave the questioning of that to other more qualified skeptics.


These are the biggest challenges that come to mind. 
  • The proposal pretty much punts on what a non-physicist such as myself envisions as the greatest technical challenge of the project, which is to push upward through the steep Grapevine section of I-5 southbound between the Grapevine travel center and the summit near Castaic.  The proposal does note that the southbound speed is reduced to 300 mph, about half the travel speed of the remaining journey, but I suspect that this segment of approximately 40 miles in length will require a much greater amount of energy and much slower travel than suggested in the proposal.
  • Another tough problem is the last 5 miles between Oakland and San Francisco, which requires construction or retrofitting of the Bay Bridge.  Perhaps the old Bay Bridge section between Oakland and Treasure Island, which is to be retired shortly, could be retrofitted for use by the Hyperloop.  However, the segment from Treasure Island (which already has problems with power supply) to San Francisco would have to overlay the existing Bay Bridge, which was built without consideration of the Hyperloop.  Alternatively, the Hyperloop would need its own dedicated bridge or submarine tunnel.
  • Others have commented that the lack of restrooms would likely cause passengers not to use the Hyperloop.
  • What about safety?


After reflection, I don't think any of these challenges are deal breakers.  Here are some suggested workarounds:
  • So what if the capsule travels up the Grapevine at 100 or even 50 MPH.  I suspect the Hyperloop, if priced on the order of what Elon Musk suggests (average cost of $20 per person one way, plus cost of capital) will be plenty subscribed even if it takes two or three hours to travel from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.  This amount of time is still competitive with air travel, given the time required getting to and through airports. 
  • The entire Bay Area design would probably be much more practical if it did not go all the way to San Francisco.  The way I see it, it doesn't have to.  Why not set the Northern terminal instead in Dublin or Livermore, where it can connect to BART while avoiding complicated and costly construction in the Bay Area and across the Bay itself.  There is plenty of space there for a large Hyperloop terminal with parking, rental cars, luggage services, etc. for those who want to drive or ride BART to the terminal.  Even if the Hyperloop were to terminate in San Francisco, most people would be transitioning to it on public transportation anyway, since parking in San Francisco is scarce.
  • It would make sense for the Hyperloop to have more park-and-ride stations across the San Joaquin Valley, such as at Stockton, Mendota, Buttonwillow, and Santa Clarita, for travelers transiting to Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Palmdale/Lancaster/Las Vegas (until extensions are built), respectively
  • The Hyperloop can operate without restrooms.  Cars don't have restrooms, and yet people drive them on interstates with long stretches between rest stops.  The Hyperloop would need to have more stops, and someone in a capsule would need to be able to signal to stop if needed.  Alternatively, the Hyperloop could offer "local" capsules which stop, allowing anxiety-prone passengers to get off, and "express" capsules which could bypass intermediate stations and would stop only in the event of emergency.  As a last resort, people can do what this person allegedly did.
  • Luggage could travel in a separate capsule from humans, in cargo capsules (along with, say, FedEx packages, etc.)  Folks could drop off their luggage at the terminal before they board, and it could travel ahead of time while passengers are waiting to board their own capsules.
  • If we can safely land a rover on Mars, we should be able to safely insulate cars from colliding with one another, by means of some combination of parachutes, spring-loaded bumpers, air bags, seat belts, etc.

Other Thoughts

Again, even a 3 hour trip from the Bay Area to LA would be a huge improvement.  It still beats the time it takes to deal with waiting for flights and luggage.  In fact, if folks could travel 400 miles in less than an hour, the entire landscape along the train route would be altered, with suburbs sprouting up across the San Joaquin Valley whose residents commute daily to Los Angeles and San Francisco.  It's not clear that this would be beneficial to California. 

Pricing would have to be dynamic to get the most efficient use of the system.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving weekend would likely be expensive due to high demand; whereas traveling at 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday should be priced at cost.  Even if prices are high during peak periods, it would draw significant traffic away from I-5, thereby alleviating congestion.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of technological, regulatory, and financial hurdles before the Hyperloop is any kind of a reality.  That said, I believe that most of the problems that the bloggerati have suggested aren't really technical, and are very much surmountable.  I for one am bullish and hope that something comes of it in my lifetime.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Start Spreading the News: Part 2 - Connecticut to New York

Part 1:  Heading East
Part 2:  This page

With a 3-hour jetlag effect, we didn't get to bed until well after midnight.  And that night happened to be the switch to daylight savings time, so we didn't get out of the hotel until around 10:30.

We spent a few terrific hours with some family we hadn't seen in years, and then hit the road.  We made the mistake of relying on our GPS and not the map we had bought the day before but left somewhere in the luggage.  Anyways, I think it took us at least an extra half hour more to get to New York City than it needed to.  

Once in New York, we made good time on the Henry Hudson Parkway until we got to the light at around 57th (?) street, where we stopped and spent about a half hour trying to get through a traffic light.  We drove on streets to get from there to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Soho, and it took at least another half hour.  But we found the hotel and it is pretty unassuming from the street.  Knowing that we would be returning a car soon,  we had kept our eyes open for a gas station but never found one.   I dropped off the wife and kids, we had a porter handle the luggage, and I went to return the car.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Start Spreading the News: Part 1 - Heading East

Part 1:  This Page
Part 2:  Connecticut to New York

Our flight was Saturday morning from San Francisco, 90 miles from our house, to Newark.  We looked into a "park and stay" deal at several of the SFO airport hotels, since I was out of points.  It would have cost about $170 for the week.  Not terrible but it's above the $50 threshold that warrants further research.

We had asked my aunt who lives in the Bay Area if we could stay there and if she could drive us to the airport, and she happily obliged. 

Left Friday evening after I got home from work to head out to the Bay.  Stopped at our favorite sushi restaurant for dinner, got to our aunt's house, and everything went as planned.  She even was willing to drop us off and pick us up, saving about $65 in parking fees and an hour on each side of the trip.