Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is it Good Eats?

For those fans of Alton Brown and Good Eats like myself, it's easy to appreciate the creativity of the show's writing, which extends all the way into 12 seasons (and counting) of creative episode titles. Today's quiz challenges you to separate fact from fiction. Enjoy!

Below are the titles of 30 episodes of Good Eats... or are they? Some of them are completely bogus. Can you find which 10 titles are definitely not Good Eats?

1) Wake Up Little Sushi
2) Alton Crown Affair
3) Okraphobia
4) It's Up, and It's Gouda!
5) Bird is the Word
6) Steak Your Claim
7) Withering Bites
8) Send in the Clams
9) Starfish Wars
10) Rice, Rice Baby
11) Chops Ahoy
12) Field of Greens
13) Fry Hard
14) Pretzel Logic
15) Ifs, Ands and Butts
16) Your Pad Thai or Mine
17) Let Them Eat Foam
18) Ginger and Rosemary Ann
19) Melondrama
20) House of the Rising Bun
21) Summer of Salmon
22) Churn Baby Churn
23) Grand Salami
24) Puff the Magic Pastry
25) Great Balls O' Meat
26) It's About Thyme
27) The Icing Man Cometh
28) Please Sir, Can I Have S'More?
29) Mission: Poachable
30) This Spud's For You

A mile isn't as far as it used to be... UPDATE

Updating my previous article on changes at Alaska Airlines, the airline announced today a slight amendment to their changes set to take effect on November 1st, based apparently on numerous complaints from customers:

Money and Miles Award changes The "AS50" Money and Miles award will continue to offer a 50% discount up to $250 for 15,000 miles round-trip; however, these awards will only earn 50% of the miles that they earn today. These miles and 100% of the segments flown will count toward MVP/MVP Gold qualification. The change will apply to all Money and Miles awards booked on or after November 1, 2008.

This amends the previous plan which was that using the AS50 discount would earn no miles at all on the flight. While I did say this was reasonable all things considered, this is a far better solution in my book, and added bonus points to Alaska for listening to customers and a willingness to compromise.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sound Transit - Round 2

Despite the economic downturn (or perhaps partially because of it), Sound Transit has opted to come back to voters once again this November in an attempt to get a light rail system in Seattle off and running.

As most know, I'm a strong proponent of anything that will improve the public transportation infrastructure in the greater Seattle area, most notably light rail. While I did support last year's Roads & Transit measure, based solely on the light rail portion of it, I'm pleased to see that Sound Transit is coming back with a transit-only package that hopefully will appeal to a wider audience who believes as I do that the solution is not adding more lanes onto freeways, but rather adding more mass transit options.

The new 15-year plan includes a good compromise on time-to-build vs. reaching the most people. The features include:
  • Increased ST regional express bus service.
  • Increased Sounder commuter rail service.
  • Light rail north to Northgate by 2020 and to Lynnwood by 2023.
  • Light rail south to north Federal Way (272nd) by 2023.
  • Light rail east to Bellevue by 2020 and to Overlake by 2021.
  • More potential expansion planning and design and right-of-way purchase.

This adds on to the existing approved (and under construction) light rail service from downtown to the airport in 2009, and to the UW by 2016.

The cost? Not exactly cheap, but it's all relative. A half-percent increase in the sales tax in the Sound Transit RTA (most of King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties). This will bring the sales tax from the current 9.0% to 9.5%, a difference to the average consumer of about $69/year (depending on who you consider the average consumer, but remember folks, state sales tax is also now a deduction on your IRS income taxes).

I'm all for this, but I must admit the timeline is always a bit daunting. The first of any of this additional light rail won't be functional for 12 years, but if things are this bad now, can you imagine what traffic will be like 12 years from now? Yeah, exactly.

I know there are plenty of people who don't think light rail is the answer, for any number of reasons. Certainly there are plenty more who don't like the idea of more sales taxes. My perspective continues to be that if we don't start now, we'll never get anywhere. The time isn't going to get shorter, and the costs not cheaper. See what happens.

More details about the new plan are at

Friday, July 25, 2008

A mile isn't as far as it used to be...

For many of us air travellers in Seattle, Alaska Airlines is our local airline of choice and where we choose to bank all of our frequent flyer miles. Not surprisingly, in the current economic downturn and sky-high (pun intended) gas prices, all airlines seem to be making changes. Alaska has bucked the trend of charging passengers for their first piece of checked luggage, but has instead decided to take a more reasonable approach and changed their frequent flyer plan.

Yesterday they announced Upcoming Mileage Plan Changes on their website, effective November 1st. I've always thought Alaska had some of the few really outstanding deals for frequent fliers, and that doesn't seem to be changing, but it does appear they will be somewhat less outstanding. I'll review some of the more notable changes below.

  • 25,000 miles for a free round-trip flight in the continental U.S. Previously for a mere 20,000 miles, and suitable planning, you could fly anywhere in the U.S. (except Hawaii) for free. Virtually no other airline had such low mileage redemption levels, most in the 25,000-30,000 mile range, but not Alaska will join the pack. Still a good deal if you're flexible and have good planning.
  • 3 award levels instead of 2. It used to be there was "Peak" and "Saver" awards, now we add a third class in the middle called "Choice" and rename the others "Full Flex" and "Super Saver". What does that mean? Nobody really knows, other than there'll be three buckets of availability to work with, and you can hope the flight you want has some "Super Saver" awards still available, or your 25k round-trip becomes 40k miles in Choice or up to 55k miles in "Full Flex" with no restrictions.
  • New Intra-State Awards. Fly round-trip to any airport in the same state for just 15,000 miles in "Super Saver". This is probably a great deal for states like California, where you could fly from the Bay Area to San Diego cheap, but for those of us in Seattle, we're limited to Spokane and/or any podunk towns in eastern WA. I guess those who frequently fly to Yakima or Tri-Cities on Horizon could cash in on this, but it might be nice if they decided to include Portland in our WA Intra-state awards.
  • No miles on the 50% award. A unique award in the Alaska lineup, any fare Alaska offers can be slashed in half (up to a $250 discount) for just 15,000 miles. The one difference from conventional awards was that in this case, you still received the actual miles flown for the trip. As a frequent user of this award, I've always been somewhat surprised by how I can save $250, but then get miles anyway, effectively making the mileage cost of the 5,354-mile Seattle-Honolulu round-trip just 9,646 miles for $250/off, a value of about 2.5-cents per mile. The new changes eliminate this loophole of sorts, which caps the value at 1.6-cents per mile, which still seems reasonable to me if you can take advantage of it, especially given the new award levels.
  • $25 fee for redeeming partner awards. Using your miles for flights on non-Alaska flights? Expect to pay a $25 surcharge. Seems a small price to pay for the flexibility and advantage of cashing in your miles for some big-ticket flights on other airlines. Again, a reasonable change.

An important note that none of these changes take effect for flights booked before November 1st, so if you have your travel plans for the next year already lined up, book those tickets before then and save over the higher rates. Of course it's disappointing Alaska has had to raise rates, nobody likes that, but thanks to them for resisting the urge to take the nickle-and-dime approach like other airlines are doing.