Thursday, May 31, 2007

Alaska Airlines - New Hawaii Service

Alaska Airlines announced new non-stop service from SEA-HNL and SEA-LIH (Lihue, Kauai)starting in October. First of all, for anyone from Seattle who likes to travel to Hawaii, this is a great deal.

More importantly, they've released introductory fares for the routes. SEA-HNL service starts October 12th with Mon-Thurs fares at $236.30 Round Trip after all taxes. What a steal!

Anyone who knows me knows I'm less than enthusiastic about Hawaii... but more enthusiastic about a huge fare sale. I've decided to go down for the UW/Hawaii football game on December 1st this year, leaving Thursday returning Monday. Can't beat that.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Imagineering the Music update

Avid blog readers will remember my post from a couple weeks ago regarding the talk I attended with Marty Sklar of Walt Disney Imagineering. Well, Disney news and information is one of the hottest blog topics on the net it seems, and my brief recap was recently picked up by The Disney Blog, an outstanding resource which seems to scour the web for Disney bits and bites. (And scour he must, especially if he found my little home on the blogosphere.) While I follow a good number of Disney blogs, I'm ashamed to say I never previously encountered The Disney Blog, though have quickly added it to my daily blog roundup I check everyday.

It makes me wish I had more to say about the talk... but alas, I have a horrible memory and didn't write much down. Next time I have the opportunity to see something through, I'll certainly have to take better notes to share with the blogging world. :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Random updates

It's been a while since I just posted a random collection of bits of things that have been happening lately... so here it is:

On the apartment front, I had a note on the door this morning that due to the construction on the street the power will be out today from 9-2. While this won't really affect me since I'm not there, it's nice short notice for those who perhaps, work from home? I'm not sure if it has to do with the impending repaving work on the street (they've been working on curbs and street corners nearby), or the house that they totally demolished across the street to make way for what appears to be yet another giant mixed-use commercial/residential building, probably exactly like the other one they're building two blocks down the street or the two they just built two blocks up the street.

Also included on this notice was that within the next 60 days they will be starting construction on my own building. (?!) They will be replacing all of the carpet in the internal hallways of the building, as well as completely remodelling the front entryway and lobby. This isn't a bad thing I suppose, though the carpet isn't exactly falling apart, and the entry is probably better looking than many other buildings I've visited, so I have to wonder. Are they just beefing this place up so they can sell it? Are they doing this just to have something to point to when they raise everyone's rent again? Or perhaps they just want to keep the building in good shape. This is, afterall, the same building management who replaced my water heater two years ago, not because it had stopped working, but because it was "old and should be replaced". So it could just as well be their routine maintenance on the building and I shouldn't really worry. Time will tell.

Today at work is a complete wash. We've got meetings most of the morning, then this afternoon we have a big off-site release party for our latest software release. Fortunately, I don't mind a day of complete unproductivity. :) In related news, this month I completed 4 years with the company, which normally wouldn't mean much, but in this company it means that I now get 4 weeks of vacation per year. To steal a phrase from my sister, "I love me my vacation." Now I just need to figure out what my next big vacation will be.

Back to not working...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Webapalooza I

Realizing there are some web sites I frequent but nobody else has ever heard of, I introduce Webapalooza, a brief introduction to sites I think are great and worth knowing about.

Travel-related web sites:

Kayak - - One of the best airfare search engines out there, though also does hotels, cars and more. Unlike some other travel sites, Kayak does no booking, but rather helps you find the cheapest flights then takes you directly to the site to book it. Similar to some others out there, but I find Kayak far superior. Definitely worth checking out.

Travelocity - - I'm not a huge fan of these consolidated booking sites, but I do use Travelocity for one good feature they have. If you are simply looking to find what the cheapest airfare to a destination is, regardless of when you want to go. To find that, enter the origin and destination, but instead of entering dates click "Flexible Dates". You'll get a list of all airfares on all available airlines. If you're looking for the absolute cheapest fares, this is a good place to start. Never book it on Travelocity though, go directly to the airline's website.

FareCompare - - This is a relatively new site on the web travel landscape. It's unique in that it keeps a decent airfare history for every route, which helps you know how good a good deal really is. It seems to have much the same use as how I use Travelocity, and may be a bit better.

SeatCounter - - SeatCounter is designed for one specific purpose, to see flight availability by fare bucket. This is useful mainly to figure out availability for frequent flyer award tickets and such, and really you have to deeply understand how airfares work to find this site useful. :) But I use it.

Site59 - - The place to look for last-minute airfares. If you're looking to book tickets for travel within the next 3 weeks, you can get some incredible deals here. One caveat is that you must either get Air+Hotel or Air+Car together, but even at that it's usually cheaper than buying the exact same airline ticket alone from another site.

Disney-related web sites:

MiceAge - - THE definitive site for the latest news on Disney theme parks. A lot of underground Disney news breaks here before it even publically released by Disney. Other news and reviews from a great team of reviewers and reporters. I keep it on my daily web rundown.

MouseSavers - - This site always has the latest Disney deals and discounts. I mainly use this to keep up on the latest deals for Disney parks, but it also has deals for other Disney-related merchandise, as well as the other theme parks around. Definitely a must-see next time you're trying to plan a Disney vacation.

AllEarsNet - - A one-stop shop for all things Disney World. They have a bit of a section on Disneyland too, but are much more focused on Orlando. This is one of the oldest web sites dedicated to WDW, and as such has a HUGE amount of information, all consistently updated.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Imagineering the Music

Tonight I attended a talk at the EMP with Marty Sklar, former president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Talk about a man with some stories, he has worked at at WDI for over 50 years, and started way back as a writer for Walt Disney himself. You quickly realize that he's been involved in some way with nearly every project that Disney has ever undertaken, and certainly has plenty of stories to go along with them.

He began with a perpared multimedia presentation, including some talks about the history of Imagineering, but then the second half of the presentation really focused on the music used throughout all of the parks. Several themes came through during the presentation, most notably his real love for Epcot, the park that he really shaped. I think there were little bits from nearly every ride's soundtrack at Epcot. It was really a well-imagineered presentation.

But then following his 45-minute or so presentation, he took a few questions, that actually amounted to at least another 45-minutes. Fortunately there were quite a few good questions that came from others in the audience, and Marty had a story for every one of them. One of the more entertaining quotes was in response to a question regarding the relative failure of Disney's California Adventure:

"You can't build a park with 18 attractions next to Disneyland with over 70 attractions and charge the same price. People are too smart for that."

I really got the impression that those in Imagineering really care about the work they do, it's really what you expect. They've proven time and again that if you build it well, people will come, but if you cut corners like the executives with MBAs seem to like to do to save a few bucks, you'll lose in the end. Funny how that seems to be a common trend you see everywhere.

It was a fascinating and entertaining talk, and since I'm an EMP member it was free, except for the $6 I had to pay for parking down at Seattle Center. Oh well, it was still worth it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


A belated review of last Wednesday's performance of Rent at the Paramount. This is the fourth performance of Rent I have attended, all of which have been on the various touring productions that have come to Seattle over the past 10 years, which seats it firmly at the top of my list of most-viewed musicals. As such, this review is going to be a bit more detailed than most of my other musical reviews, and most of my references will probably only make sense to those who have seen the musical before (or to some extent the movie, which does the musical no justice whatsoever).

As always, Rent draws quite the diverse audience, including many of the non-regular theatre goers. In this case, quite the younger crowd was represented, with many high-school and even younger kids attending a show which would easily get an R-rating from the MPAA (though notably, the movie received a PG-13 rating, no thanks to editing a lot of the dialogue and scenes). Despite this, I think most of the younger crowd dressed more appropriately for the theatre than the "Seattle casual" some of the older folks tend to wear (as I've ranted on in previous blogs). If only their theatre ettiquette matched their attire. But overall, I wasn't bothered too much by the audience around me.

As for the show, overall I'd have to say it was probably the weakest of the productions I've seen. That's not to say it was bad, I just have a lot to compare it to. Of course, there are some constants that don't change, including the script and scenery, all of which has been the same across all productions I've seen. That leaves the differences to the band and the cast, which I will detail now:

Primary cast -
Mark: Good work, I enjoyed his performance... I thought he really captured the demeanor of the character better than some others.

Roger: Came to the tour straight from the London production... and it shows. London audiences probably think nothing of the fact that he has a British accent, in a musical set entirely in the slums of New York City. I wasn't at all impressed with his performance. It was obvious he had worked hard at covering up his accent with a more American one, but frequently it would come through. I also noticed his singing was a bit reserved, which surprised me for such a dramatic and frequently angry role. I wanted more edge, but consider the possibility that in giving more edge, he would be unable to cover up his accent as successfully, thus he toned it down. Whatever the reason, I wasn't as thrilled by his performance.

Collins: Absolutely outstanding performance. This is the role pioneered by Jesse L. Martin (who popular culture knows mostly from his current role as Detective Green on the original Law & Order series). This role is consistently one of the strongest actors in the cast, and this one was probably the finest I've seen.

Angel: By far the most athletic and energetic performance I've seen... which many may say is what the role calls for. Personally, I think it was overdone. It was so overdone it was distracting from the dialogue/music to me.

Benny: Eh, something about him didn't thrill me. His role is designed to elicit a loathing from the audience, and this time he especially succeeded. Maybe he was too good. Either way I wasn't thrilled.

Maureen: A bit of background... the first time I saw Rent, Maureen's big protest scene was probably my least favorite part of the entire show. (In contrast, for most people it's quite the opposite reaction.) Each time I've seen it it has grown on me, and in this performance, it was absolutely hilarious. The actress who played Maureen did an absolutely outstanding job. She seemed so completely ditzy... it fit the role perfectly.

Joanne & Mimi: Both of these were good, and didn't stand out as better or worse than I've seen previously. They just didn't stand out at all.

The band: The music had a bit of a rough start. For most of the first act it felt like the band was pushing the tempo the entire time, and it was just causing a bit of tension between the music and the singers. This came back together towards the second act, but even then, the music just seemed a bit off balance at times, and while the artists were incredibly proficient, I wasn't as impressed as previously.

Overall rating: 4-stars. This is with a musical that would easily receive 5-stars from me on any other day. It definitely won't stop me from seeing it again every time it makes a stop in Seattle.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spring is here

[4 blogs in 3 days... enjoy it or hate it while it lasts... either way, it's sure to stop soon.]

Spring is here... the sun is out and the weather is warm. I did a bit of spring cleaning today, and in the process realized that I have way too much junk, and nowhere to put it. Until I realized my laundry room was full of no fewer than 15 cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. They are now in the recycle bin, and lo and behold, I have space! It's a miracle!

And the surest sign that spring is here... I took the extra winter blankets off the bed.

Google hits the mark once again

I'm a devoted skeptic. And in the land of skeptics, Google is an easy target. Google defies all logic, all business sense, anything you could possibly believe to be a success. Other companies have tried and failed at creating a truly free-to-the-end-user service supported entirely by advertisers, but somehow Google has succeeded. Not only succeeded, they have blown the market apart. This is a multi-billion dollar company, funded by the advertisers (and a healthy endorsement by Wall Street investors), that founded the simple principle "do one thing, and do it better than anyone else." They hire the brightest minds in computer science (though given their rapid growth these days, I can only assume the bar is slightly falling as a result), who create amazing products, that cost the general user absolutely nothing. And those I know who work there have (usually) nothing but good things to say, though seem to work far more than I would care to on a given day. But despite all of this, they have moved from simple web searching to an armada of services, all of which have that same principle "do it better than anyone else". And with the latest services I've started using, they've done it once again.

Web Search - Still the best out there to find what you're looking for. "Just Google it!"

Gmail - The push to take e-mail from the desktop to the web started with the likes of Hotmail and Yahoo. But Google found the deficiencies in those (not enough space for mail, not as many features as available in desktop clients, etc.) and rose to the challenge. Now it's as fully-featured as most other non-web e-mail applications out there, gives you as much space as you should reasonably need, and is accessible from anywhere in the world. Your one-stop shop for e-mail. You really get the impression that the people who design Gmail are actual users who use the thing, and have built the features that they want to see. I transitioned to using Gmail for my personal e-mail over a year ago, and wouldn't go back.

Google Maps - MapQuest started the trend, and once again Google made it better. They harnessed the power of modern web browsers as no other mapping service had before, and just made it work the way you'd expect it to. Nothing's perfect, obviously, but 99% of the time you get where you need to go.

Google Calendar - Take the gold standard of the Microsoft Outlook calendar, and put it on the web, make it sharable, and accessible from anywhere. I just migrated my calendar over to Google this past weekend, after the frustration of being at work and not being able to check my calendar at home. Now it's all in one place, and I can see other people's calendars (who have chosen to share them with me) without having to ask them "are you free on Wednesdsay night?" This is a young product, and they definitely have some work to do before it really purrs... but it's a step in the right direction and I'm sure they're plenty receptive to enhancement suggestions from those early-adopters currently using it.

And finally...

iGoogle - Throw the old minimalistic Google search box out the door. OK, wait, don't throw it out completely. There's still a place for that. Enter iGoogle, your one-stop custom home page for everything you need. It takes all of your Google and non-Google services and combines them into one easily-customizable home page that takes the place of the classic Google search page. (Don't worry, the Google search box is still front-and-center at the top of the page.) You can add literally any blog to your page (may I recommend this one? :)), or many other useful little widgets. Truth be told, I haven't really road-tested iGoogle, and may have complaints that make me switch back to the classic quick-loading favorite. But it's something to try for a while.

To be completely fair, even Google makes mistakes... and some of the projects that come out of Google Labs (their playground for new and in-development projects) range from total disasters to downright ridiculous ideas. But I guess ideas have to come from somewhere, and sometimes you have to have a dozen bad ideas before you find one winner. I'm interested to see what else Google comes up with... though have to admit my skepticism tells me as soon as the revenue from advertisers stops coming in, someone's going to have to pick up the slack and what's free now may not be free forever. I hope this is never the case. I just know my experience is that I see the advertisers everywhere on Google products, but am I ever clicking those links? Rarely if ever. Hopefully I'm in the minority, or else these advertisers may get the clue and decide they do just as well without Google's help.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Cabaret Evening with Betty Buckley

Three words: Oh... the... pain.

I was expecting an evening filled with fun and exciting music sung by a talented singer. As the lights went down to start the show, a quick perusal of the hall saw a lot of empty seats. This is never a good sign. My first thought was, "what do they know that I don't know?" The answer soon became all too clear.

Ms. Buckley came out on stage, with a four-piece combo of saxophone, bass, drums, and piano--her personal backup band--along with a subset of the symphony. In reading the program notes, she obviously has quite the acting resume, including a Tony award for her starring role in the musical Cats. This should have been the recipe for an outstanding musical evening. Unfortunately, like tossing a clove of garlic into the chocolate-chip cookie dough, there was a disastrous error.

As Ms. Buckley explained in her brief comments between tunes, she was asked to program a "cabaret" evening of music, and as part of her interpretation included an array of sultry or lounge-style songs. In principle this was reasonable, unfortunately it was all to obvious that this is neither her forte, nor what the audience was hoping to hear. After the first 30 minutes, I began too compulsively check my watch. After 45, and a rendition of "Cry Me A River" that one could barely recognize as such, the agony was setting in. Judging by the lackluster applause from the rest of the audience, I doubt I was alone. Wrapping up the first act, she threw the audience a bone and sang a few show tunes from Sunset Boulevard and My Fair Lady, with full accompaniment of the symphony. A level of applause unheard to that point led us into the intermission.

The performance really shined at the close of the first act, but the mere thought of having to sit through another hour of pain was too much. I made my way to the exit, and in the elevator down to the parking garage was joined by several others who had the same reaction I did. A steady stream of cars cascaded from the parking garage.

It was a disappointing evening. I was looking so forward to a great show, but unfortunately, I guess you can't win them all.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Weekend adventures

I decided to actually do something productive today, so that's what I did...

I started by hopping the bus downtown, and walked over to the grand reopening of the Seattle Art Museum. They're open 35-hours straight and free all weekend. I actually arrived just about 45 minutes after they opened and had no wait at all to get in. The museum was... much as it was before the remodel, if you ask me, only it looked a bit newer. :) I definitely noticed much more in the way of contemporary or modern art than your classical oil paintings from centuries ago. For the most part, modern art doesn't really thrill me. But also quite a dedication to Northwest artists (and thus a lot of Native American art as well). I tend to have a rather short attention span at art museums... I pay lots of attention to the art for a while, then it all starts looking the same and I digress into just wandering through the galleries. It's always fun though. I had an odd fascination with the "porcelain room", which I can describe best as a walk-in china closet. Surprisingly interesting to see all kinds of plates, vases, jars, uh, and everything else made of porcelain.

After the art museum, I walked down the street to the market, watched some fish fly and grabbed some fried chicken for lunch. Then I walked up to Westlake and went shopping at Old Navy, bought some new clothes that I needed, then hopped a bus back down to Seattle Center. I FINALLY went to see the Disney music exhibit at the EMP, that has been open since November, but I have STILL never had the time to drop by and see it. It was most excellent, not too large of an exhibit, but very interesting (well, to me at least, but I have a small obsession with Disney music). The exhibit will be open until September, and I'll probably have to take another stop down there sometime to see more.

Then I headed home and watched the Most Exciting Two-Minutes in Sports... the Kentucky Derby. And for once, it actually was rather exciting. Almost exactly one year ago I was at Churchill Downs and now I can watch and say I've been there. Even the Queen of England took some time to stop by and watch the Derby... she looks rather British. :)

In other news, I got a flyer in the mail that they will be repaving the street in front of my apartment building between now and July. I suppose that's a good thing, because there are a few ruts in the road that could use some work. They've been working their way across 45th for quite a while now, and I suppose they'll turn the corner and head my way once they get here. Hopefully it doesn't cause me too much frustration having to get in and out of my building.

Tonight I'm off to the final pops concert of the symphony season, A Cabaret Evening with Betty Buckley. Ms. Buckley is a famous Broadway vocalist (whom I've never heard of, but I'm not much for names), so I can only assume some high quality showtunes tonight which will no doubt be stuck in my head the rest of the weekend. Full report will probably come later tonight or tomorrow. Until then...