I miss the sun

Posted in books, personal at 8:19 pm by danvk

It set at 4:53 PM today. And it’s only going to get worse over the next month, as we head towards the winter solstice on December 21.

For some perspective, check out Graham Robb’s excellent New York Times op-ed piece on human hibernation, The Big Sleep. Well into the 19th century, people in the European countryside went into partial hibernation during the winter. Robb’s book is near the top of my reading list.


Virgin American

Posted in personal, travel at 5:25 pm by danvk

I flew Virgin America recently and, since they’re getting a lot of buzz, I figured I’d write up my experience.

First off, you have to be flying amongst San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York JFK and Washington Dulles. Those are the only cities Virgin flies to. The good news, though, is that they’ll almost certainly be the cheapest option if you can use them. A cross-country ticket cost me $130 each way, though I see that their rates have recently gone up to $170.

When I got on the plane, there was mood lighting and really energetic music. Virgin really advertises the mood lighting, but I think it’s just silly. It’s not as though the lighting turns it into a party plane (now that would be cool). Seriously, when was the last time you were bothered by the lighting on a plane?

Another difference is that, instead of having a “beverage cart” go through the plane once or twice per flight, you order drinks and snacks through your in-seat computer. Non-alcoholic drinks are free, and snacks cost some small amount ($1 for cookies). You can also order a meal if you’re so inclined. This lets you get drinks when you want them (good for someone who likes to sleep on flights) and frees up the aisles.

The in-seat computer is the main difference between a Virgin flight and one on any other airline. Their very-trendy interface is called “Red (BETA)” and lets you listen to music, watch TV or movies, chat, play games, and order food, as I mentioned earlier. It must really be a beta, since it crashed on me at least once. The pilot made a friendly announcement at the start of the flight that it would “crash and need to be restarted, just like your computer at home!” I find it incredibly amusing how folksy this sounded when he said it. For what it’s worth, these things run Linux and X11. You can tell by cursor and background, but it’s most obvious when you restart and see a command line. =)

The music selection was fairly random. They picked a few popular artists from several different genres (pop, rock, hip-hop, classical) and had between maybe 7 and 15 songs from each. This led to some unusual picks. While 15 songs probably isn’t enough for the Beatles, seven is too much for a current artist like Justin Timberlake. Another oddity: songs were listed in reverse chronological order. That’s fine for JT, but it led to a really weird playlist for Bob Dylan. I was surprised to see “Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee” as his top song.

The full movies were $8/view, and I just don’t care that much about Shrek the Third. There were also free shorts available, but these looked thrown together at the last minute. They seemed like some sort of “best of YouTube” collection.

The games were pretty cool. I played Doom for about half an hour on my flight home. I assume it was under emulation, since it was pretty sluggish. But it was playable, and reminded me why I never got into first-person shooters as a kid. I’m terrible at them! With some more games and a larger controller, this could be a good way to pass a flight.

There was also seat-to-seat and group chat, but I didn’t see the point of this. Do I really want to chat with a random person on the plane using an undersized keyboard on the back of my remote? The person sitting next to me sure did. She was pretty into it. To each his own.

All in all, Virgin was pretty cool. It’s not worth going out of your way to get the “Virgin American experience”, but if they’re the cheapest option, the by all means, go for it!


D.C. and Hawaii!

Posted in personal, travel at 11:46 pm by danvk

I had a busy week of travel last week. First there was D.C. Gras, where I met up with many college friends and some high school friends too:


They’d get links, but they have no web presence. Come on, guys!

After a great weekend in D.C., I flew back to San Francisco and then to beautiful Maui for a work-related off-site morale event:


Here’s one of my favorites, from the Haleakala National Park:


I’m staring up at a 400 foot waterfall from a nearby hill. Ryan (who has a web presence) has all his wonderful photos from the trip here.