Info ~ travel musings for the masses

Archive for

Not a large number of links this week. There were some political and budgetary things I was going to share, but I figure everyone has heard enough about that.

With the economy heading nose first for the pavement there has been an increase in stories about people feeding their families on the cheap. One story last week discussed a family of five living on $100 worth of groceries a month. The family bought a lot of canned goods, frozen vegetables, and stocked up on meats when they were cheap. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this, but when health and sustenance are taken into account, the family’s plan does not sound so great.

A Google search for multiple terms did not bring up the exact story but something that did pop up was an eHow article titled “How to Spend $100 on Groceries and Eat Well For a Month“. It is basically a shopping list for an entire month and though it contains dried fruit, a majority of the items are heavily processed and/or salt heavy. By no means am I a doctor but the list looks like a terrible diet, there is barely any fiber, there is a ton of starch, and most of the starches are bleached white flower.

The family on television had a similar list and apparently shopping for so little money is becoming a trend. This leads me to my question, is sacrificing diet for cheap food a good idea? Are there not better things to knock-off of one’s budget to allow for more spending on food, a vital piece of life? I am not suggesting that everyone should be shopping at Whole Foods or upscale stores, I just think that what we feed our bodies should be more healthy than a loaf of white bread everyday.

The way that Jessica and I budget is that we figure around $80-$100 per week for food. We usually sit down one night and go through cookbooks and make a menu for the next week, the whole process takes 30-minutes. Jess writes down all of the ingredients and then compares that to what we have in the pantry and the fridge and marks things off that we already have. We then go to the grocery store together and buy as much as we can for as little as we can. Lately we have been looking at shopping at an extra store to get things that we know will be cheaper at one place, especially with meat products.

One glaring observation I have made from shopping with Jessica is that vegetables are cheap, as long as they are in season. The amount of green leafy vegetables that can be had at a low price is amazing and it does not end with them, there are tons of options ranging from avocados to leeks. Fruit is a little trickier but grapes and apples are usually available year-round and at a decent price.

The trick with all of this is to actually eat the food that is bought. Dinner is made every night and the leftovers are taken to work the next day by both of us. Some dinners last two or more lunches (soups and sandwiches). Doing the math, I figured that our daily cost for eating a meal is around $2 each. Now I am sure the families that eat on $100/month are down in the pennies per meal, but does that really matter when the meals are not necessarily healthy?

What do you think? How much do you spend a month on groceries?

If you read the posts here via a feed reader, you may have noticed some technical difficulties yesterday. There are some issues with FeedBurner that I am getting worked out and trying to correct. I have temporarily redirected the feed to here

I am hoping this issue is corrected some time today.

I noticed this video making its way through the blogosphere and thought a few comments could be made regarding the content.
The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

The video does a great job of simplifying the current banking crisis into understandable terms but it may be a little too simplified. What the video fails to point out is the government enacted legislation used to make banks give out more loans to higher risk borrowers all in the name of lower housing costs.

What happened next was squarely on the banks, the selling of the sub-prime mortgages to investors and investment banks but as borrowers started defaulting on their mortgages, investors started losing money, sending us into the tailspin we are in now.

I like the video, I don’t like fact that it focuses on investors only.

This week’s links are a real hodge-podge!
  • Single Google Query Uses 1,000 Machines in 0.2 Seconds – A neat look inside of Google search. To use that much processing power in such a short time span is unbelievable.
  • Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0 – If the allegations of Yelp using its ability to change results for reviews to sell services are true, shame on them.
  • Delta to Close 170 Gates – As a side product of the merger with Northwest, Delta will be closing 170 gates across the country. The airline landscape in the U.S. is about to look a lot different.
  • Easy Poached Eggs – This one is random. We have fallen in love with Eggs Benedict, which requires poached eggs. We’ll be experimenting with them tonight.
  • Slice of Stimulus Will Go to Faster Trains – Not enough money to buy a high-speed train though. So we continue down the same path we’ve been on before, one that is plagued with a nonchalant attitude toward the power of rail.
  • A Prayer for Archimedes – A long lost text shows that the mathematician had begun to discover the principles of calculus; Long before Newton and Leibniz.

008-IMG_3230, originally uploaded by Stephan Segraves.

On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, Continental Airlines published a mistake fare from Seattle to Tokyo-Narita for a price of $590 after taxes. The fare was a “B” fare, a type that earns 150% elite miles. By taking red-eye flights, the ticket could be routed through Houston, giving it the earning power of 25,551 elite miles (essentially locking in Continental’s lowest tiered status for a flier). For Continental, this was a rare event, a severely under priced ticket on a business heavy route is not something that they do very often, but for other airlines, this type of thing is common. So mistake fares beg the question, is it ok to buy these tickets knowing that they are mistakes?

I’ll be honest, I bought one of the Continental flights to Tokyo. The thought of passing up the miles was just too hard to bear, but late last night, I made the decision to cancel the ticket and use the money to buy a camera. The length of the trip was the main reason I cancelled because the trip would essentially be me on a plane for close to 48 hours. Also, if I am going to Tokyo, I would like to spend more than a day there exploring all of the sights and I just could not pull that off with the fare.

Where do I stand on mistake fares? It is a little bit of a tricky question, because on one hand, the airline made the mistake and I simply caught it. If I walked into a store and was sold an item for $10 and left but the manager ran after me to tell me that the item was actually $100, I would probably not be too happy and would want to keep the item for the price I paid. On the other hand, if I knew the item was actually $100 but let the clerk charge me the wrong amount, I think there is a moral dilemma. Which is why I am torn, we see these fares as mistakes but the average traveller sees a great price on a trip.

There have been a few cases recently where airlines have refused to honor tickets where they had made a mistake, the one that has plastered the internet is the case of Swiss Airlines publishing a $0 Business Class fare and refusing to honor it. Eventually, Swiss honored some of the tickets, but I have to wonder if they were a little jipped here. The guy that is mentioned in the article knew that the price of $0 was not right, but went ahead and bought the ticket. Yes, Swiss should be on top of their game when publishing fares, but should we not expect our fellow man to have some sort of moral fortitude?

I am not completely convinced either way, but I would like to hear what you think! Leave a comment letting me know where you stand.

I thought I would try something different and post links that I have bookmarked during the past week. I will try to do this every Friday.


Those are the links for this week, though I may find something interesting during the day and add it here.

008-IMG_3178, originally uploaded by Stephan Segraves.

My laziness has subsided and the majority of pictures from my trip to Paris and Brussels have been uploaded.

I started on January 15, 2009, with a flight to Newark, New Jersey to meet-up with my friend Steve for our flight to Paris. The Boeing 777 was nearly empty, with passengers only in every other row. This gave me a chance to stretch out and make a bed for myself, leading to some decent rest before arriving in Paris.

Because of amazing tailwinds (upwards of 200 mph), we arrived in Paris in five and a half hours, leaving us to stand in the immigration line for an hour before it opened. A quick trip to Gare du Nord train station to lock up our bags and we were off to explore the city. Notre Dame was the first stop, complete with a self-guided tour. There is a lot of begging that takes place outside on the steps of the cathedral with young girls coming up to tourists asking “Speak English? We need money”.

The next stop was the Louvre and the Arc de Triumphe, both of which are a little underwhelming but interesting. However, I was fascinated with the efficiency of the Paris Metro, especially when I compared it to the system in Brussels (more on that later). In Paris, the trains were on time, for the most part clean, and the system maps were easy to understand.

After the Louvre we decided that our time was limited if we were to catch our high speed train to Brussels, so we made our way back to Gare du Nord, grabbed our bags and hopped on the Thalys, the high speed option to a bunch of different destinations in northwestern Europe. Going 180mph through the French countryside was an experience with closeup objects going by in a blur. The trip only lasted an hour and a half and by 6pm we were in Brussels.

Brussels has life. Not the kind of life you see in Chicago or San Francisco where it is abuzz with busyness but the kind of life where people are cordial and everyone seems to enjoy each other and the city in a pleasant manner. There is a big tourist element and some of the local businesses prey on travelers and their wallets. I noticed my back pocket being brushed a little more than usual, though, I know this is a problem all over the world. The other type of preying I saw was restaurant owners/workers doing a kind of bait-and-switch where they offer great specials outside just to lure customers in, then change prices once the people are seated. My understanding is that the Belgian authorities are attempting to eradicate this behavior and maybe in the near future it will be complete history.

The beers in Belgium deserve their own paragraph, not only in a literary sense but by demand of the taste buds. I do not think I tasted a single bad beer, every single one was pleasing to the palette in their own way. There were a few that I did not prefer, but not because they did not have flavor. All beers brewed in Belgium are required by law to have their own glass, so walking into a pub in Belgium is a lesson in glassware. The bartenders have also mastered the art of pouring beers dependent on their type and each have their own artful way of getting the beer from the bottle to the glass. My favorite beer while there, Chimay, was dark with a fruit and nut after flavor and it lacked the bitter undertones that make dark beer so difficult for people to handle.

The Brussels public transportation system is a complete opposite from the beer. It might be the worst public transportation system in the world, ranking right up there with the BART in San Francisco in terms of platform smells. There are maps of the system everywhere, the only problem is, they are all in different languages and none explain that some “trains” are in fact, buses. So, you walk into a subway station thinking you are catching a train, when in fact you have to be on the surface catching a bus. Not a user friendly setup.

Overall, Brussels is well worth a visit. From beer to food to sights, the city has a lot of them and there is even more outside of Brussels, including Brugge and Antwerp, which are rumored to be wonderful cities.

To see more pictures from Paris, Brussels, and the flights, click here.