2012.01 minutiae

  • I hadn't seen Lizzie in a while, and she wasn't scheduled to fly down here until February, but there didn't seem to be any affordable way for me to visit her in Canada. A ticket from the Bay Area to Seattle generally runs around $70, but the few extra minutes into Vancouver triple that at the very least, and tickets to Victoria generally run around $400 — and that's with an advance purchase. The costs to get back are similar. Lizzie was scheduled to return to Victoria from visiting her parents on December 30, and when I idly checked prices a couple of days before that, the cheapest tickets any time in what was then the near future were going for over $800 after fees… except for a direct flight that was 80% off! I guess the discount was because it landed on New Year's Eve, a couple of hours before midnight, and who flies from SFO to Victoria B.C. then? In any case, I figured I'd best hop on that offer lickety-split.

    The only problem after I booked that ticket was that I still had to get home, and the cheapest options were $600+. One trick I've pulled in the past has been to take the ferry to Seattle and then hop on a cheap flight home… but the Victoria-Seattle ferry doesn't run the first two weeks of January. It looked like the cheapest way to get home would be to take the ferry to Tsawwassen, a bus to Vancouver, another bus to Seattle, light rail to Sea-Tac, a Southwest flight to Oakland, and BART back to my house, but that would mean losing an entire day to travel. So I kept trying ever more roundabout ways to fly home, hoping for another price outlier, and eventually I hit the jackpot. It occurred to me that the cheapest air option might be to connect through Las Vegas, as Vegas flights tend to be substantially less than those to other destinations in the region. Instead I found something even better: an extremely inexpensive flight to Las Vegas that connected through San Francisco. I just hopped off at SFO and elected not to use my final boarding pass. Ah, but what about my luggage? Wouldn't that be checked straight through to LAS? Sure… except I tend to travel very light, and everything I brought with me fit into my shoulder bag. No luggage to check. The upshot is that I flew to another country and back on a few days' notice for under $400 total, after taxes and fees. Finding a way to pull that off was almost as fun as the trip itself!

  • In the security line at SFO I found myself surrounded by the entire USC basketball team. I'm pretty sure that Dewayne Dedmon is the first 7' tall person I have ever stood next to.

  • While I was in said line, a tatted-up redneck with long ratty blond hair paced around the ticketing area thundering to all and sundry that "zayy wun't lemme onna plane cuzzay said I'zz drunk! I wun my six hunnerd dollars back! Zayy say urr gonna semmee a check bud I wunnit now!" The USC players seemed extraordinarily sympathetic to his plight.

  • Lizzie wanted to rent a car for a day while I was in town so she could run some errands (she can't drive). The rental agency gave us a late-model Ford Focus, which gave me fits. There was no key — the engine was started via pushbutton, and doors were locked and unlocked with a key fob attached to nothing in particular. Here's the problem. I take the key fob. I press the lock button. I pull on the door handle to see whether the button worked; the door opens. I close the door and press the lock button again. I pull on the door handle; the door opens. Finally I consult the manual to see what the issue is — maybe that wasn't the real lock button or something? It turns out that the answer is that the doors automatically unlock in the presence of the key fob. To check the door, I had to stand far away and have Elizabeth tug on the door handle. Now, you might ask, why not just trust that the door is locked? Why the insistence on pulling on the door handle to make sure the door doesn't open? But if you do ask that, then, dang, I don't understand you at all.

  • I was looking through some Usenet posts from over a decade ago now and found a post in which I made a reference to a 1980s PSA, assuming that it would be hopelessly obscure. Man, remember when things could be obscure? I.e., you couldn't just type them into Youtube and have them pop up?

  • Recently I watched a few '80s sitcoms on Youtube out of nostalgic curiosity, and while I anticipated that they would be uniformly dreadful, I was surprised to find that some of them might actually be kind of good if not for the music cues.

  • As documented by @herpderpedia, the one-day Wikipedia blackout elicited howls of outrage from semiliterate students who protested that (a) they didn't understand why the blackout was happening even though it was clearly explained on the blackout page and (b) they couldn't "write" their essays without Wikipedia. I knew that Wikipedia was a great boon to students; what hadn't occurred to me was what a great boon it must be to teachers. No longer do they have to check multiple competing encyclopedias for evidence of plagiarism.

  • I also have to assume that the Wikipedia article about Arcade Fire sends a sizeable demographic into infinite loops of confusion.

  • I keep hearing supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline saying, "Let's get our oil from Canada instead of the Middle East!" …which is like saying, "Let's get our oxy from a corrupt doctor instead of that guy down on the corner with the neck tats!"

  • On Solano Avenue I saw a dog sitting by itself on the sidewalk, and as I passed, I noticed it was wearing a tag. The tag said, "I AM A THERAPY DOG." Again, there was no one else around. Maybe the dog was just offering therapy to passersby?

  • On Marin Avenue I saw a woman, presumably from a day care center, pushing a kind of hybrid between a stroller and a wagon — it was a big red plastic thing with wheels and at least half a dozen seats, with six or seven toddlers piled into it. It looked to me like nothing so much as a "bring out your dead" cart (except that the occupants were squirming around).

  • This semester I'm auditing an integrative biology class — the first time I've taken biology since 1986-87. The class has 450 students in it, at least 400 of whom are female. Is that typical? (It also looks like at least 400 of the 450 are Asian, but you could say that about any public university class in California post-Prop 209.)

  • How long has the Opportunity rover been going? Here's a clue: its fake social media account is on Livejournal.

  • gma.yahoo.com: TMZ posted a photo of Deen woolfing down a cheeseburger. So she was giving a moment-by-moment account of the cheeseburger's thoughts?

  • This month in Tales of the Exceptionally Sheltered: I overheard a guy in my economics lecture lamenting that "Losing your water bottle sucks! It's like the worst feeling."

  • It turns out that I'll be paying 26.4% to the feds for 2011, a 90th percentile rate even though I made less than half a 90th percentile income. It looks like the main culprit is that I'm single and childless. Society wants me to spend money on babies, not Bay Area rent.

  • This may turn out to be a bad idea, but I've changed the 0 to 10 rating system that I've used on this site for ages to a finer-grained 0 to 24 scale. I know that 0 to 10 feels more intuitive to most, even in the non-metric U.S., but I eventually decided that it was more misleading than helpful given that the scale was (and still is) asymmetrical. The whole thing is explained on the pages where it appears, but the quick rule of thumb is that a double-digit score now means that I definitely liked something, and a single-digit score… less so.

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