Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

An Ode to Waffle House

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

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To those of you who have never ventured into the southern part of the U.S., the words Waffle House don’t mean much. But to the people of the South, the Waffle House is an establishment; like Starbucks in Seattle or In N Out in Southern California. Yet I can’t really compare it to anything we west-coasters know because I don’t think we have any place quite like it.

For starters, there are a lot of them. I mean they are everywhere in the South. You can hardly go a mile in a city and not run into the distinctive giant yellow block sign. Then of course, they are all open twenty four hours a day. That makes it THE place to go after a night of drunken partying. You never saw a place as busy as a Waffle House at around two in the morning. Or eleven in the morning. And the food there is CHEAP. So cheap I did not believe it the first time I went.

I have a theory that there is some town, farm, or factory assembly line where they are churning out the people who work at Waffle Houses. I have been to one in at least three different states now and the people working there are like clones of each other no matter where I go or what kind of town the place is in. They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

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Since we’re talking about a restaurant I guess I should say something about the food. I can’t speak to the variety on the menu, although its definitely there. You can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner any time of day or night. I’ve only eaten one thing every time I’ve gone and its so damn good that I don’t know if I will ever bother trying something different: scrambled eggs with cheese, hash browns, raisin toast with apple butter (extra apple butter), and a side of country ham. That meal is probably a coronary served on a plate but I don’t know for sure and I don’t want to know.

As for the rest of the menu, I have no doubt it is great. How do I know without having tried any of it? Well that’s easy — Waffle House told me. In fact if you were to believe the signage at this place, you would think it was the finest dining establishment in the country. The claims made include, but are most definitely not limited to:

  • America’s Best Coffee
  • America’s Best Chicken
  • World’s leading server of REAL hash browns
  • World’s leading server of waffles

Hopefully that list gives you an idea of the important contribution Waffle House makes to enhancing America’s culinary reputation. I had trouble finding them in my copy of the Michelin Guide but I’m sure that’s because I have an out of date copy. It is amazing that they can serve such great food at such dirt-cheap prices. My meal of choice can be had for between $5.50 and $6.50 depending on the area and it is a big breakfast! Those prices put IHOP, Denny’s, and any other wannabe late-night breakfast-serving place to shame.

Oh yeah, don’t forget all the immitators either. For those times when the Waffle House is too pricey, fancy, or busy you are welcome to try your luck at the local Waffle King or Omelet House. These places lurk notoriously close to their Waffle House brethren. They also sport block-letter signs that look a lot like the Waffle House one. I haven’t been to these places but natives tell me they’re even cheaper and grimier than the standard-issue Waffle House.

Despite (because of?) all this, I have to say I love the Waffle House. I love the food, the hours, the cookie-cutter locations and people, and the kitschy small-town diner feel of it. I wish we had one on every corner out west just like back in the South. But I doubt we would be able to recreate them out here. I don’t think we have the people out here to run them and I doubt anyone would dare serve my cheese and eggs breakfast for anything less than $10 in Los Angeles. I guess my cravings for country ham will just have to wait for my infrequent visits to the South then.

Thanksgiving All Over

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Last year for Thanksgiving week I took a trip out to the east coast and visited family and friends in Boston, New Haven, and Washington DC. I had a terrific time. Tonight I’ll be leaving on another trip to try and top last year. I’ll be spending a week in Cancun, then heading over to Nashville to spend Thanksgiving there with Matt’s family.

Expect some pictures of this trip, and some others I have been going on since I last posted, when I return! Happy Thanksgiving!

Backpacking Western Europe

Monday, August 6th, 2007

euro_teaser

Loyal readers will have noticed that I have been M.I.A. for about two months now. The biggest reason for that was the planning for, going on, and recovering from a whirlwind two-week backpacking trip across Western Europe. I had wanted to take a trip like this two years ago when I finished at Cal but, with my Let’s Go Western Europe book in hand, plans fell apart at the last minute. Now, two years later I had the vacation time, the money, and another chance to go on just such a trip — let’s take a moment to celebrate not being college-student-poor anymore. Add to that Ara was wrapping up his time at Cal and looking to go on a big trip before sinking the next few years into investment banking. Oh and add to that my buddy Anurag also wanting to join in on the European fun. The time was clearly ripe for a backpacking trip to remember.

So we spent mid-to-late June hightailing it across a bunch of places all over Western Europe including:

  • London
  • Paris
  • Amsterdam
  • Berlin
  • Nurburg
  • Munich
  • Barcelona
  • Girona

Overall the trip was great; we all had a ridiculously good time and I’ve got memories from this trip that I will cherish forever. As I sort through the photos from the trip, I intend to put up a series of posts, one for each country probably, with some of my thoughts on the places we visited and of course, some funny stories.

That point also brings me to probably the only low point of the whole trip. While in Munich, near the end of the trip, and after snapping 600+ of probably some of the best photos I have taken yet, I left my camera unattended for about 30 minutes and it was stolen. Although I didn’t write about it here, I had finally taken the dive into the world of SLR photography by procuring my own Canon 20D. I thought it was an awesome camera and I was having a lot of fun learning how to best use it to expand my abilities as an admittedly amateurish photographer. You can see some of the shots I was able to take with it in my photo gallery here and here. Anyway, the point is that although I will be posting a bunch of photos from the trip soon, I cannot take credit for taking the vast majority of them; that credit goes to Ara and Anurag.

Stay tuned for more Euro action.

Hacking It Up – Black Ops Style

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

A couple of weeks ago on a harmless April Friday, we held our first Hack Day at work. It was totally inspired by and loosely modeled after Yahoo’s Open Hack Day, with the notable exception that ours was not “open”. I think Yahoo’s Hack Day was a great idea and I was very excited to see us doing something similar.

Given the fact that I hadn’t done any serious programming for a while — sorry Expedia Dashboard widget, you don’t count — I was itching to enter the contest to stretch my coding skills a bit and, of course, blow everyone away with something so cool we had to win. Lucky for me I had some friends at work who were interested in doing the same. So armed with two rock star developers and two crazy program managers who code (“why would PM’s write code??? they say), we formed an elite black ops unit that began to meet and discuss the details of our project.

Hack Day came around and we hacked our little hearts out. I learned JavaScript tricks I never knew existed, we became intimately familiar with the Prototype library (don’t write JavaScript without it!) and writing object oriented JS, and we wore out the JS debugger and other tools in Firebug — the Firefox extension sent from the heavens unto web developers everywhere.

Working day and night through the weekend on our project (yes I know it was Hack Day but they said if we wanted to work all weekend, more power to us) took me back to the nights spent in Soda Hall on the Berkeley campus trying to finish up one of our many CS class projects a few nights before it was due.

Lots of lines of Java, XML, JavaScript, and CSS and three days later we had completed our vision for a next-generation travel shopping experience. We showed our prototype at the judging the following Wednesday and it was a big hit. Since the initial presentation we’ve been inundated with questions and requests for demos for various groups. Tonight we found out that we won and tied for first place. We had a lot of fun working on the project and I can honestly say I’m very proud of the work we did.

Anyway, if you were wondering why I had been MIA the last couple of weeks, now you know what I was doing pretty much that whole time. I can’t post screenshots or videos of our prototype here but if you know me and are interested in hearing more about this, get in touch with me. Hopefully someday soon I can point to something on the live site and say it was inspired by (or is!) our Hack Day project.

Expedia Travel Search Dashboard Widget

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Screenshot of Expedia Search Dashboard widget

Download the Expedia Search Dashboard widget

A few weeks ago I noticed that Apple finally released a beta of Dashcode. I grabbed it of course and started to play with it; happy that widget creation wasn’t mind bogglingly annoying any more. This Expedia Search Dashboard widget is the first product of many from my tinkering in Dashcode.

The widget gives you a quick way to look up travel destination information, availability, and pricing. The whole thing is based on the Expedia Travel Search feature which is in Beta right now.

Here are some examples of searches you can do with this Dashboard widget:

  1. General Destination Search – “Atlanta” will take you to a page with deals for traveling to Atlanta and information on attractions for when you get there.
  2. Flight Search – “Seattle New York” will show you results for round-trip flights from Seattle to New York City in departing in two weeks. You can also specify a date range (6/21-6/26), a month (June), or a season (summer).
  3. Hotel Search – “Hotels in London” will show you results for hotels in London in two weeks. You can get specific with dates and months just like the flight search.
  4. Rental Car Search – “Cars in Miami” will get you the results for rental cars in Miami; same date stuff applies from flights and hotels.
  5. Cruise Search – “One Week Caribbean Cruise in July” will get you results for 6-9 night Caribbean cruises leaving in July. You can be less specific with the length of the cruise or the date range if you want.
  6. Popular Destination Search – “Disneyland” will get you to a page with deals and packages to visit Disneyland.
  7. Itinerary Search – “[your itinerary # goes here]” will take you to an updated view of your saved or booked Expedia itinerary. If you don’t know your itinerary number, you can search for “My Itineraries”.
  8. Flight Status Check “Flight Status AA 495” will get you the status of American Airlines Flight 495. You have to use the airline’s two-digit code for this one.
  9. Check the Weather “Weather in Seattle”, or any other city instead of gloomy Seattle, will take you to… a weather forecast for that city. Surprise!
  10. Currency Converter “Currency” or “Currency Converter” will take you to a currency converter.

Oh and remember:

  • Anything you search for is NOT case sensitive.
  • If you don’t enter a date, it will assume you’re leaving in two weeks.
  • It will remember your last ten searches. Just click on the little magnifying glass to get a drop-down selection.

That should be enough to get you started. Wow, this little guy sure does a lot. But remember, the text search feature at Expedia is in Beta and it’s not perfect. I know the guys at who built it and you’re more than welcome to leave your feedback on this widget, and the Expedia Travel Search feature in general, right here in the comments for this post. I will relay any non-widget-specific feedback to the search guys. And just to be clear, this is not an Expedia-endorsed product. I built this on my own, in my own time.

Next time I will try my hand at an Expedia Fare Calendar Dashboard widget. In the meantime, you can check out the official Expedia Fare Calendar Google Gadget that was just released.

Enjoy your trip!

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Expedia’s New Ad Campaign – Go With Confidence

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Update 2/28/07 – Link to a page where you can view the new Go With Confidence Expedia ad.

At long last our new ad campaign is revealed! Our ads have traditionally been sort of funny and always catchy. I’m not sure what it is about Expedia ads that stand out and maybe I am just crazy to think so. I think it may have something to do with being one of the first “dot com” companies to heavily advertise on television and to be one of the very few that still does so with the “.com” in their name. Or it could be the beloved (hated?) and memorable jingle.

That being said, I like the new ad campaign. I especially like the yellow suitcases that Expedia “customers” take with themselves on their trips. I even like our new spokesman. What I don’t like is that we’re no longer using the original Expedia.commmmm jingle. In fact, I’m devastated about this one insignificant thing. Or is it insignificant? Watch the new ad and tell me because I am curious what people think of the new rendition of the old jingle.

You can catch the new Expedia ads at your local purveyor of quality prime time television starting this week, including Deal or No Deal, Late Show with David Letterman, Heroes, Law & Order, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and other fine shows brought to you by the letters E and C, the number 1, and your local cable company.

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Introducing ThankYou Travel Rewards by Expedia

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Expedia + ThankYou Network

This is it, it is finally here… today is the big day. Expedia.com introduces their travel rewards program in conjunction with Citi’s ThankYou Network. This program was over a year in the making and a result of the hard work of many people in both groups (myself included).

Here is what you want to know about this program and the ThankYou Network in general:

  • Starting today, you can earn ThankYou Points for booking hotels, vacation packages, cruises, and activities on Expedia.com. Depending on what you book you get 1-2 points per dollar spent. You earn these points no matter how you pay for the travel!
  • You still earn the loyalty points you normally would from the airline, hotel, or car suppliers.
  • If you make the booking using an eligible Citi credit card, you earn another 1 point per dollar spent plus a point for every mile you fly.

So for example you book a flight+hotel trip for two from New York to Las Vegas that costs you $1400 on a Citi PremierPass credit card. You could earn upwards of 6,500 ThankYou Points for just that one booking!

Then you can redeem your ThankYou Points for all kinds of things including gift cards, gifts, and most importantly, more travel. There are no blackout dates for the travel redemptions and no tricky rules. The Travel Rewards portion of the ThankYou Network site is powered by Expedia and is what I have spent most of my first 15 months at Expedia working on.

You need to be a ThankYou member to sign in to the site and see what I’ve built but it is free and easy to join so, what are you waiting for? Go sign up for your free ThankYou Network account now!

I’ll include the press release after the jump and also post my personal thoughts about working on the program later…

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Vancouver Fireworks Show “Celebration of Lights”

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Back at the beginning of August, Anurag, Rodney, and I drove up to Vancouver to meet up with some more folks and check out the final night of Vancouver’s “Celebration of Lights” fireworks competition. The team representing Mexico was performing that night, plus the grand finale to close out the show.

The show takes place by English Bay, but they really should have called it Crazy-Rude-People’s Bay. Everyone who wants to see the show goes to sit at the beach on the bay. Now we’re not talking just a few hundred people here; there was probably tens of thousands of people there to check out the event. There were no open areas; the place was just crammed full of people sitting on towels and tarps on the sandy beach. Part of our group had arrived early and saved a spot for us very close to the water. All we had to do was get to them and we would have a place to sit and enjoy the show.

This was easier said than done since apparently the crazy Canucks at the event thought they were sitting in a VIP box at a stadium instead of an ultra-crowded beach filled with thousands of people trying to enjoy a free show. Groups of people would refuse to move the slightest bit to let us pass and get to our friends. Two girls got real cheeky when I tried to get by them and started screaming and cursing; one of them even threw her sandal at me.

Despite the barrage of footwear, and narrowly avoiding a fight after being mistaken for some guy who trampled a little girl, we did in fact finally get to our group and took our seats. The show put on by the group from Mexico was arguably the most impressive fireworks display I have ever seen. Lucky for me I don’t have to stumble over words to describe the show to you; you can just watch some of it below. I took a few two-minute clips of it on my digital camera and strung them together to make the video you see here.

I was also lucky since I happened to go to the show the night that the winning team performed (there were four nights/teams).

What you might do in Canada

Friday, August 25th, 2006

Imagine this post is a picture-book of British Columbia, except somehow the words and pictures got separated. Try to follow along.

British Columbia Trip Photos

A couple of months back my mom, grandma, and brother came to visit me up here. I took a couple of days off and decided to make my first venture north of the border. We woke up before the crack of dawn to drive up to Anacortes to catch a ferry that left at 7:45am for Vancouver Island, by way of the San Juans. Our destination was the city of Victoria. As you might guess, there is a slight relation between a city called Victoria and the various “Victorian” things out there like architecture. Although we were in Canada, it felt like we were in a quaint British town near the coast. Or at the very least what I think that should feel like, since I have never been to Great Britain.

The most interesting that happened on Vancouver Island was probably our visit to the Butchart Gardens. There are plenty of photos that Ara and I took at the gardens in the photo gallery. We spent no more than a day and a half on the island. The funniest thing I saw while on the island was this kid with shoes that made a rubber ducky sound with every step she took. Allow me to show you a short clip of what we stood next to for several minutes while checking out a castle.

We left the high tea people in Victoria and took a ferry over to Vancouver.
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March Wrap-Up Part 2

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

Photos still apply.

When I last left you Two months ago before an insane period at work, I had spent a weekend with my dad and brother in Seattle. The next Thursday I flew down to LA…

It had been my mom’s birthday a few days earlier and my aunt had told my mom she was planning a trip to Palm Springs that weekend for her birthday. What my mom didn’t know was that my aunt and I were planning the whole thing together for weeks, and that I was coming down to join them on the trip. Thursday night Ara picked me up from LAX and we headed home. He walked in and said hi and all that and they closed the door while I stayed around the corner where my mom could not see me. After a minute or two I went ahead and knocked on the door and my mom opened it. The look on her face was priceless. She was so shocked that I had made it that she was speechless; could not utter a complete sentence. I of course had a huge smile on my face and I gave her a big hug.

I had a giant cut of filet mignon at LG’s Prime Steakhouse which was excellent. I also got to see how Ceasar dressing was made. Who knew there was a raw egg in there? Most people freak when I tell them I eat raw egg in goglie. Man, I haven’t had that in a long time, I miss it.

Okay that’s enough wrap it up here.