Security Musings

Security Musings

Information Security Travel Guide

Stephen Northcutt, an Information Security Researcher, United Airlines 1k, Writer and Instructor, documents the struggles of the travel and hospitality industries as we all face continually increasing energy costs. He and his peers share their travel experiences and give you quick tips and short reviews of the companies they do business with as they travel. If you came across this article because of a Google search, what you want is probably here, just use find with your browser (CTRL - F), it is easier than reading from top to bottom; however, you may get some useful tips if you stick around and read. Each major cluster of trips is documented in a separate file.

Other Related Articles in Information Security Travel Guide

Information Security Travel Guide: August-September 2008, Boston, Richmond, Virginia Beach, Chicago, Branson

By Stephen Northcutt
Version 1.4

Stephen Northcutt's Security Travel Guide August and September 2008. In this edition, Stephen, an Information Security Researcher, United Airlines 1k, Writer and Instructor documents travels including Boston, Fredericksburg Virginia, Virginia Beach, Richmond Virginia, Chicago, Branson MO and Chesterfield Virginia, including restaurants and products encountered. This is a follow on to our earlier journey to Atlanta Georgia and Quantico Virginia. If you came across this article because of a Google search, what you seek is probably here, just use find with your browser (CTRL - F), it is easier than reading from top to bottom, though you may get some useful tips if you stick around and read. Lots of people say they want to travel; Kathy and I are living the dream, working our way with writing and teaching across this nation and the world.

[September 20, 2008] Richmond VA (RIC) to Lihue Kauai (LIH). The night before we flew, I had been puzzling over something. Kathy and I went to the Richmond Ballet with Kathy's mother. We went to Studio 1, and I drove up after work and the ladies had been out together. They parked three weeks away from the theater. After the show, we walked Kathy's mother to her car. After she drove off, an apparently homeless person was shadowing us and walked on an intercept course. We both are pretty big and we kept a fast but not desperate pace, and as we got closer to the theater, he turned around. I have been wondering what we should have done. According to a New Zealand Police Web Site: ""If you think someone is following you, cross the street more than once if necessary, vary your pace and change direction, to confirm your suspicions. If someone is following you, go as quickly as possible to the nearest place where there will be other people. This could be a service station, fast food outlet, or house with lights on. Call the Police immediately."" Looking back, what I should have done was to walk the ladies to my car and we should have driven to Norma's car. That would have given us more options at night in a less than stellar neighborhood. Anyway, we got a good night's sleep before our flight.

The next morning we left the Candlewood Suites at 4:30 AM and headed for the Richmond Airport. The TomTom 730 navigated flawlessly until we were actually at the airport; it is under construction and the TomTom probably just had not been updated. We dropped off the rental car at the Enterprise lot, no one was there so we used the key drop. Now here is a small problem, because neither the Candlewood Suites or Enterprise is manned by people at zero dark thirty in the morning, I do not have receipts for either, I hope they have some way of accommodating business travelers. The United Airlines plane from Richmond to Dulles (IAD) was on time and it made the easy 20 minute flight. The United flight from IAD to Los Angeles (LAX) was wonderful, we were on a 767-300 and we had used miles to upgrade to business class. If you are like me and do not have an infinite number of miles, this might be a leg to consider investing in; the link I gave you for the 767 is SeatGuru, a wonderful web site for understanding airplane seating layouts. The 767 has those international flight style reclining seats, very nice. Got to LAX on time and headed to the United Red Carpet Club. We pay for my membership with miles and I think it is worth it, especially if you get stuck in an airport for several hours. They have clean bathrooms, lots of electrical outlets to plug in laptops, snacks, and most important, a tea and coffee station. As a SANS Instructor, I speak for 5 or more days at a crack teaching security and that is hard on the voice, so I drink a lot of hot tea. I have learned to carry a nalgene water bottle with me and keep it full of tea. It is also very important to stay hydrated while flying; the link I just shared with you has several tips for staying healthy while flying. The LAX Red Carpet club had fewer tea selection than I have been accustomed to, but I decided to go without caffeine and chose the Bigelow Cranberry Apple Herb Tea. The main ingredient is Hibiscus and ""Studies have shown that drinking hibiscus tea can effectively lower high blood pressure and reduce high cholesterol levels in many individuals.

We had a couple of hours in the Red Carpet Club, so I read some of my email. Sharon Gonsalves took the time to write with her analysis of some of SANS top selling security courses. I appreciated her objective approach and insights. Here is a snippet of what she wrote:
  • SANS Security Essentials, Security 401 leading to the GSEC certification - tried and true, still our most offered and most purchased course, just keep offering it. To keep this course current, add mention of mobile device security if it's not already in there. SN note: I am involved in analyzing the security of the Apple iPhone and the ATT Tilt, can't cover ALL mobile devices and of course we cover bluetooth, wireless and the like).
  • Hacker Techniques, Exploits and Incident Handling, Security 504 leading to the GCIH certification - Ed Skoudis is great and hacking is fun. Capture the Flag ( an exercise on the last day) is still a big draw.
  • Network Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking, Security 560 leading to the GPEN certification - More excitement for the hard core techs in the trenches. Ed rules! With the other certified instructors (John Strand, Dave Shackleford) this course continues to sell. Now being offered at Community SANS events.
  • Computer Forensics, Investigation, and Response, Security 508 leading to the GCFA certification - Forensics is where it's at for crimestoppers: FBI, police departments, government contractors, DoD are taking this course. Now that some states like Texas are starting to consider the qualifications one should have for forensics, an indepth course and certification are really important.
  • SANS® +S™ Training Program for the CISSP® Certification Exam, MGT414 - leading to either the CISSP or the GISP certification. The CISSP cert is widely recognized and highly regarded. Eric Cole's efforts to help people pass this exam really pay off. DoD 8570 has increased interest in this course.
  • SANS Security Leadership Essentials For Managers, MGT512 leading to the GSLC certification. We've got to include management and speak to them in their own language. This course does just that and also gets decision makers familiar with SANS. GSLC and 8570 may be influencing sales.
It is always interesting to hear someone else's point of view when it comes to security training and certification. Well, the time came to board our United flight to Kauai; we left on time and the service was good. The inflight movie was The Visitor; at first I thought this was a boring film, but then I got swept up in the story, I think it is worth a watch (especially if you are on an airplane). As noted before, the service on the plane was good; United has improved their salad and substituted a really nice Black Forest Style Chocolate Cake for the ice cream sundae since I last flew to Kauai. We arrived 12 minutes early. There was some malfunction getting the bags to us, and I noticed the bags with the United priority sticker did not come out first; not just ours, none of the first twenty bags had a priority sticker. Taxi ride home was uneventful, then I zipped off to Safeway to get some food while Kathy opened up the house. Six weeks on the road is now behind us; we ate home cooking and slept in our own bed. I will try to blog tomorrow about some of the travel tips we learned on the trip, have mentioned some of them in passing, but let's get it all in one handy place.

[September 11, 12-19, 2008] Springfield MO to Richmond VA. We drove up to Springfield and stayed in the airport Marriott Courtyard. The hotel was clean, but the next morning we had a real merciful noon flight. We had a ""Do Not Disturb"" on the door and the maids opened the door four times, I think that is a hotel record for us. Storms in Chicago delayed air travel, but we got to Richmond safely. The hotel we went to was the Holiday Inn Select; our room was musty so we decided to bail out.We hit the Internet and found the Candlewood Suites. This is one of those extended stay hotels. We had plenty of room and it has kitchen facilities. We mostly cooked instead of going out and it was an easy drive to where I was working. It did have a bit of a problem with tiny flies. The job was at the Defense Logistics Agency, Richmond. They are a great facility. I really liked meeting their IT managers, they are very sharp; our country is lucky to have them. They have to prepare to take their GSLC exam, a DoD 8570 requirement. This is my fourth time to do an onsite class for DoD. One of the biggest eyeopeners for them was the Josh Wright video explaining that if you use a bluetooth earpiece for your cellphone, people can hear everything that you say.

[September 1, 2008] Travel Tip, toothpaste on the road. An alarming number of toothpaste vendors are changing their packaging to non-screwtop toothpaste tubes, so-called screwflips. These do not seal tightly, and it would be sad to have a toothpaste explosion in your bags. I prefer Crest toothpaste (notice all the pictures of their packaging only show the back of the tube), but keep getting the screwflip in Crest packaging; that is fine for home, but it will not work on the road. For the present, at least, the Arm & Hammer 7.2 oz. tubes are still screwtop. You can also refill travel size toothpaste tubes by gently pressing the air out and putting them ""mouth to mouth"" against a full one. I never thought I would end up doing such a thing, but I am not going to travel with a screwflip tube, so I do what I have to. By the way, if you are interested in search engine optimization and web marketing, do a few searches on things related to toothpaste and oral care; the vendors are really working for top position with Google, and it will be interesting to see how they do in a year or so. There is a fairly amusing blog on the screwflip subject if you have too much time.
OK, this has been a fun trip down a rabbit hole, but I am on the hook for a keynote to the Federal Reserve on Enterprise Security Architecture and I will start on that as soon as I brush my teeth - I feel a sudden need *smile*.

[August 31, 2008] Jewel-Osco, Skokie IL and House Wine. This is an awesome supermarket located a block from the Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center, Skokie, IL. They have a huge selection, prices seem reasonable, they are Kosher friendly. Though Kathy and I love eating in restaurants, we also love a good picnic on the road, so after working out in the gym for an hour, we got showers and watched the US Open and did a picnic. We enjoyed Ivory Teff gluten free wraps with Hillshire Farm rotisserie seasoned 99% fat free chicken packaged in gladware (always a plus on the road), pre-rinsed salad in a closable container, spiced up with Marzetti Gorgonzola cheese dressing and spicy Wholly brand guacamole from 100% Hass Avocados. This comes in two pouches, a nice plus when you are on the road, we just cut the corner off the bag and squeeze the guacamole on our food pastry chef style. On the Teff/Millet wraps, don't get us wrong, we love great bread, but when you are on the road for an extended period, it is nice to take a break from bread once and a while. We also shared a bottle of 2006 House Wine. This is a meritage style table wine that doesn't take itself too seriously, but for the price, is a wine worth considering: bold, sufficiently aged, dark red, 13.9% from the Columbia Valley.

[August 31, 2008] There are a large number of excellent food choices near Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center, Skokie, IL. One of the things Kathy and I like to do is scout the area around a hotel for food choices so when the SANS students have questions about where to eat we can have a ready answer, what else would you expect of a security travel guide? In no particular order, this is what we found within a couple blocks of the hotel. Bonefish Grill is a decent fish chain, they often have a backup to be seated, the bench outside many of their restaurants is a clue, but you know the rule, avoid showing up at 7:00 PM; either come earlier or later and you will be fine. Think of this as a steakhouse for fish (though they have steaks as well). I am partial to the Wood Grilled Grouper, but chose the excellent Whitefish special and Kathy let me have a bite of her Grouper. You get to pick a sauce, Kathy started with the Chimichurri sauce on the side, but they also gave her a container of Pan Asian sauce (essentially teriyaki) in case she wanted variety. When you order your side, consider the vegetables or green beans instead of one of the starches, though Kathy feels the Potatoes Au Gratin are the best she has ever had. The bread at Bonefish is awesome, straight out of the oven and they have an olive oil pesto dipping sauce that cannot be beat; don't miss it. Meat eater's should consider the Fontina Chop, I didn't have it this trip, but it is excellent. Entrees are a touch pricey, I would skip the appetizer, stick with water, skip cocktails and you will come out of there with a reasonable bill and a great meal.

Portillo's Hot Dogs, is FAR more than a Hot Dog restaurant. Family style, very large menu, leans towards salad, sandwich and soup. If you are throwing a party, they have an awesome catering menu. Chipotle, the Mexican food chain, with all naturally raised meat products is also close; I am impressed with CMG and Kathy and I are considering investing in the stock, the price is certainly right. There is also Edwardo's Pizza. When you come to Chicago, pizza has to be part of the plan, they do pizza right here. If you like stuffed pizza, consider the classic Edwardo's Special, and being from Hawaii, I am partial to ham and pineapple pizza and Edwardo's gives our beloved Kilauea Bakery Pau Hana Pizza a run for their money with their thin crust, but sorry Edwardo, you have the second best Hawaiian Pizza in the world; keep tuning your mix and I will check back in next year. There is also Ruby of Siam with everything Thai you can imagine. They have a lovely lunch buffet for $8.95, this place is popular with the locals and that should tell you something.

If you cross the road to the Old Orchard Shopping center there is a food court with all of the standard food court type offerings, great for a low cost lunch during a conference and a five to ten minute walk from the hotel. Also of note in the shopping center is a Maggiano's. While this is a chain, we feel it is a great chain; Kathy and I had lunch family style and ordered the Spinach Salad with gorgonzola cheese, bacon and pine nuts, and their lasagna (a Maggiano signature dish) with Marinara sauce. It was all we could do to finish it. Another popular local eatery in the Old Orchard Shopping center is the Corner Bakery Cafe; in the same way Portillo's is more than hot dogs, this is more than a bakery. Great salads, consider the Trio, which is a sampler of three of their innovative salads. There is a wide selection of sandwiches, but we recommend their Chicken Carbonara Pasta, it is as good as it gets. There is also a Johnny Rockets, featuring the retro chrome diner car atmosphere. I have been to the one in San Francisco and had the Tuna Melt and it was OK, but make no mistake, this is a hamburger house. We didn't visit Johnny Rockets restaurant this trip, there are just too many great food choices near the Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center, Skokie, IL

[August 31, 2008] Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center, Skokie, IL. This is a good looking building, our room is clean, the price is very reasonable. I hope that we have a good relationship with this hotel. I am a bit nervous because this is a smaller conference than normal by far, and hotels want to see our thousand person events, but it is up to us to work to develop Chicago into a good city for SANS Security Training and that takes some time and effort. First impressions were marred by no bellhops coming out to meet our car. You can only travel so light when you are on the road for six weeks. But, we daisy chain our suitcases and can manage. But, I would have preferred to tip, my understanding is that the proper tip is about two dollars per bag. Our room was clean which is a huge plus. The towels are really big which is also nice. The hotel soap comes in a cardboard box instead of an indestructible, unopenable plastic bag. The coffee maker is a Wolfgang Puck single or double coffee maker supplied with Sumatra coffee. It was a nice cup of coffee, a bit strong, that happens with these single cup makers sometimes. Don't throw the pod away, make a second up of coffee with it, I think it is better than the first. They do not have one of those retractable indoor clotheslines in their shower, which is odd, it appears to be an airport hotel, over half the folks checking in yesterday were flight crew. My biggest initial complaint about the hotel is there are no available electrical plugs, I had to plug the coffee maker into the bathroom (not a bad idea anyway if they produce too much liquid). But what is going on, they give you a very generous desk so you can really do some work but no plugs? So, I looked again, on the right hand side of the desk are two plugs built in.
== Travel Tip: You can't take everything in the world with you on travel, but consider a surge protector, especially in the summer time. We just use a standard six plug protector. It would be terrible to have a lightning strike near your hotel and lose your laptop, cell phone, digital camera, all the things you leave on charge.

They have a pool and a gym, both small, but usable. The gym has two treadmills, an elliptical trainer and two universal machines, on which I was only able to figure out how to do pull operations, no push. And the room has a fridge. We are happy to give the hotel restaurant business, but when you get hungry at 11:00 PM, it is nice to have a healthy snack. Still, here's hoping for a great report and a long term relationship.

[August 31, 2008], Richmond Va (RIC) to Chicago (ORD). We left for the airport early in case of Labor Day craziness, but all was well. We dropped off the rental card at the Richmond Airport Enterprise rental car return. There was a bit of a wait, fifteen minutes, to drop off the car, but all in all, Enterprise is still outperforming the other car companies I have rented from, especially Hertz. Ticketing and security went fine and we read our email till it was time to fly on United Express. Great day to fly. We ordered a car from Chicago Chauffeurs instead of hoping to get lucky with a taxi. The car was clean, there were no amenities like chilled water, the driver showed some road tension but no personality (until I tipped him 30%), and they were twenty minutes late picking us up, so it might be best to go with another car company; but, to be fair, they seem to have a good reputation on the Internet and we are only one experience; if you decide to use them try (800) 456-2474. Also, the price was right, $49 for a twenty-five minute drive.

[August 30, 2008] We drove from Virginia Beach to Richmond Virginia to get into position for our flight to Chicago tomorrow. Traffic was just what you would expect on Labor Day weekend. We were lucky, we started early enough to get through the tunnel. 64 East was a bit crazy. People were jumping lanes left and right trying to get ahead. I wish they wouldn't do that; if there is a traffic accident, it hurts everyone. We decided to stop for lunch at the Roma Ristorante Italiano, the best restaurant within a couple miles of the Richmond airport. Kathy had the Tortellini Angelo (chopped bacon, sliced chicken breast, green peas and their awesome Alfredo sauce). I had the Veal Marsala, very nice and the price of either entree includes salad, and I also got a side of spaghetti. Excellent value, excellent food and we fly in and out of Richmond fairly often, so this is one to remember. We shared their signature lemon sorbet that is served in a lemon rind, nice trick. We are visiting with family and are ordering a supreme salad, (House Salad topped with a thinly sliced chicken breast, crushed red pepper, and Mozzarella cheese), slice of Hawaiian, slice of Remocaldo Renegade (broccoli, spinach, artichoke hearts, and fresh crabmeat), pasta with white sauce, smoked turkey and roasted red peppers and a thin sliced cheese pizza with mushrooms and artichokes to eat family style from Bottoms up Pizza. Their slices are very generous so this is plenty of food.

[August 29, 2008], Isle of Capri, the best VA beach restaurant we visited. It is within three blocks from the Sheraton in the Holiday Inn Sunspree. Italian style restaurant, we had the grouper special, superb, also the pork tenderloin medallions with portobello mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese. Great atmosphere, I wish I had gone there earlier in the week, I would have visited twice. After spending over a week in the Sheraton Oceanfront here is my basic take. Please keep in mind you have to give extra points to beachfront hotels. Unless you are willing to exceed $300.00 per night for the room, they are going to be campy. The Sheraton is fairly clean. They allow pets and my conference manager had to change rooms because of fleas. The catered food was so so, not great, not bad. They have an odd habit of piling all the trash and used room service stuff on the floor in front of the elevator on the Sheraton preferred floors and leaving it there for hours (like until 4 in the afternoon). They are friendly and the complimentary valet service was snappy. I would avoid the hotel's restaurant, Aqua Vi, at all costs. There is a great pizza place, North End Pizza, a block to the south that is fast, good food and clearly organized. Would I use the Sheraton facility again for a conference? Despite their quirks, without question, for Virginia beach, this is a good property.
One caveat: they use Wayport for their Internet service and it is really bad. There are times, you have to reconnect with the access point every ten minutes and the bandwidth was so slow, that even when I had all of my students close their laptops so that I was the only one using Internet in the class, I could not play a YouTube video. Make sure you have tight terms of service in your contract if you are buying Internet for your conference.

[August 26, 2008] Mahi Mah's. This is a great Virginia Beach restaurant meeting. Great sushi, the crab spinach dip is incredible, the peel and eat 1/2 pound shrimp were huge. Good restaurant on the beachy, informal side. Valet parking.

[August 25, 2008] Sheraton Oceanfront restaurant, Aqua Vi. Very disappointing, I would keep this restaurant in reserve in case it rains. We are spending a lot of money with the hotel running a conference here and I was wearing my SANS shirt when I made a reservation and requested a water facing table. The restaurant was less than half full and yet the hostess would not give us an oceanfront table. The bread was fresh, but didn't taste particularly special. The food was so so. I spoke with several others who visited the restaurant and they also felt going out to eat was the wiser choice. The same night another instructor ate at the restaurant, got sick and believed it was the salmon he ate at Aqua Vi. If you have a car, consider Mahi Mah's.

[August 24, 2008] Rudee Flipper. We took the dolphin watching tour, it was good, they have drinks and burgers on the boat, great weather, good price (18.00 each) and a lovely sunset. What is not to like. Also, bad weather is starting to sock in. The cost is minimal because this is sponsored by the aquarium, the crew works for tips, be a caring person and put a couple dollars in the tip jar.

[August 22, 2008] Kathryn Fifarek's birthday. The VA Beach restaurant guide came through again. In order to support Eric Cole's bootcamp session we could not leave till seven and, since it was a Friday night it was not possible to get a reservation anywhere at a seafood restaurant near 7 PM, we chose the Lynnhaven Fish House Restaurant.We chose them partly because they are so well known, but also because the do not take reservations and are known for handling large crowds well. We checked in, it was a 45 minute wait, so we watched the sunset and talked and, after the sun had finished setting, we made our way to the restaurant and our table was ready. The wine list was not that impressive, but they do fish well. There were about ten fresh selections, the portions were generous. You can order your fish and how you wanted it stuffed or sauced. Kathy had the flounder stuffed with crab, always a favorite, Katherine, the wahoo, with Dijonaise Sauce, and I tried the Herbed Ruby Red Snapper. I think the ladies made better choices, but it was all quite good. The Sheraton Oceanfront is still working out well, the valet team is fast and friendly, and we visited the wine bar in the hotel last night. I like the wine choices, but the bartender was not friendly and she broke the cork on the bottle and when a big piece of cork fell into the tasting glass, did not notice; they need to send her to Denny's, but everything else about this hotel is great.

[August 21, 2008] Virginia Beach. Oh yeah! I have a good feeling about this hotel and city. We are booked into the Sheraton Oceanfront. I will report more on the hotel as time unfolds. We will be here for eight days, plenty of time to really get to know a property, but first impressions were good, with very friendly staff. They have complimentary valet parking and we have a rental car, this is a marriage made in heaven. Totally different than the experience in Boston described below. We went to One Fish, Two Fish for dinner on Long Creek; dress nicely, this is upscale. Great food, decent price, acceptable service that wants to be great service, what is not to like? I found them by using the VA Beach Restaurant Guide. The replacement TomTom 730 allowed me to navigate flawlessly. On the way back we went to the Lynnhaven Mall; Kathy has blown out her goggles strap and they have a Sports Authority, and also, I am going to retire my travel shorts. I have been using nylon cargo shorts from Ex Officio. They are five years old, stained, and never integrated well with belts, so I replaced them with North Face Horizon Cargo Shorts. I will report on how they perform as time unfolds, but at first glance, they rock. When you are on the road, it is critical to exercise discipline; if you buy something, throw something away, so the Ex Officios are in the trash.

I also tried to upgrade my wallet system; I bought a Geoffrey Beene Slim credit Trifold from Macy's, but my credit cards do not fit in the wallet, so it looks like we have to return to Lynnhaven to return the wallet. It is enough to make me shake my head; why would you sell a wallet that is just 2% too small to put credit cards in, especially if you call it a credit card wallet.

[August 21, 2008]
Had a problem with the TomTom 730, it failed to boot; it is apparently dead at three days of age - infant mortality. That was a problem as I was planning on using it to navigate to VA Beach. I handed Kathy my iPhone and we looked up the number of Circuit City where I purchased the GPS in Richmond. Kathy called at least five times, but no one answers the phone there; she tried multiple menu options while, all this time I was headed east. We decided not to return to that Circuity City, so instead we used the web search on the iPhone to look ahead and found that there was a Circuit City in Newport News. We called ahead, we had reached Williamsburg at that point, and the Newport News store had a TomTom GO 730 in stock. We used Google Maps to chart a course, pulled off of 64 just as the traffic was starting to increase and found the Circuit City. I ran to that area of the store and got a box with a 730 (it had been opened, by the way). Next, I went to customer service and waited, and waited, and waited; there were only two people in line in front of me, but thirty minutes went by.

I found a guy acting important, Drew, the store manager. I asked him if he would help me. So we pulled up to an empty counter (there are more than than a few empty counters at Circuit City Newport News). I explained my problem and showed him my receipt. I asked if I could exchange what I had so I could move on. Drew said no, I didn't have the cardboard box the TomTom came in. I explained I had all the contents, but I was on travel for 6 weeks and could not keep cardboard boxes. I also told him he could have the cardboard box of the GO 730 I was exchanging. He said that was not accep
table, I needed the cardboard box. We went through this for three iterations. I looked Drew in the eye and said, I am going to buy this second 730 and ask my credit card company to reverse the charges on the first one. If that is not what you want to happen, you need to act now. Drew was silent. I bought it, I also spent $100 on Circuit City's maintenance policy, this is close to Mafioso; Circuit City's return policy is so bad, you have to buy insurance in case the product they sell you does not function after you have used it for three days. My advice, obviously, is not to patronize Circuit City. I didn't know any better, I am from a rural island in the Pacific where we don't have Circuit Cities.

[August 21, 2008] Headed for VA Beach. As soon as I finish writing this, I need to pack; Kathy and I are driving to VA Beach. We will have lunch at Bottoms Up Pizza; if you think all Pizza places are created equal, think again. This is an incredible pizza experience and yet, if I understand it correctly, there are only two locations. Can you say franchise? They have huge amounts of branding already developed. We couldn't even find a parking space; we had to park in the McDonald's lot and the drive-in window lady yelled at us, ""these spaces are reserved for McDonald's"". However, it was a shopping center, there were no signs saying parking reserved to McDonald's. So, we parked at McDonald's; sue me. The drive to VA Beach was fine. We left Richmond VA just before 2 PM on a Thursday. Try that on a Friday and it is nuts, but this was pretty easy.

[August 18, 2008] Kathy, her brother Trey and I hooked up and went on a day hike at Pocahontas State Park. We did the Beaver Lake Trail, good fun, and I enjoyed being in a Virginia forest, it has been a long time. Lots of gnats, so you will want to have good wraparound style sunglasses like Maui's to keep them out of your eyes. Then I headed north to our Network Operations Center, I checked into the Hilton Garden Inn at Central Park. My goodness, Central Park is amazing; if you want to buy something, there is a pretty good chance they sell it there. Nice enough hotel, clean, you cannot yet walk to a restaurant without taking your life into your hand crossing the highway, but they are building like crazy and, by the time you read this, that is probably changed. One sad note, my favorite Mexican restaurant has closed. For over 25 years, I have enjoyed awesome, fairly priced meals at El Charro's. Time to find a new favorite I guess.

[August 17, 2008]
Left Boston for Richmond VA. The Boston airport was quite tolerable on a Sunday morning. We did have a small issue, when I checked our bags at the curb, they told me the security line was backed up, but there was a premium passenger line. There was no premium passenger line, but there are four lines for the United gates and two TSA screeners. The screeners were not load balancing well and the two inner lines were going faster than the outer lines. No big deal, we were there early. The Red Carpet Lounge in Boston is quite nice, I had a delicious pear and hot tea. Changed planes in Dulles, this is the second flight in August there was 30 minutes or less between landing and boarding, no big deal; while it increases risk, it also makes for less time in airports. We picked up a rental car and used Enterprise again; another nice experience, but they did not have a GPS available. I am going to be driving in unfamiliar territory for almost three weeks so I dropped into a Circuit City and purchased a TomTom 730, the review I just linked to helped me with that choice over any other. I love it and would be sad if I ever had to go back to a Hertz NeverLost. I also upgraded my iPhone to the 3G; not sure that was smart, now having some problems with dropped calls.

[August 9, 2008] Cambridge, Hyatt Regency. Kathy and I ended up in a pretty dirty taxi that greased my travel pants. I am testing the ""covert"" 5.11 Tactical Series cargo pants. This trip, Kathy and I are on the road for six weeks so it will be a good test. They are cotton, Teflon coated, and the cargo pockets are inside the seams so they don't look like I am on safari. The Teflon coating probably saved the day, I had them dry cleaned by the hotel and all the grease came off. However, I do not know if they are perfect for a long road trip because they get wrinkled looking pretty quickly. I am trying to test out my wardrobe for our upcoming trip to Europe and these appear to be somewhat hard to pick pocket.

We are staying at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge hotel. According to their write up, ""the Hyatt is located along the scenic Charles River overlooking the Boston skyline and is in the midst of two uncommonly exciting cities, Boston and Cambridge."" That is true, but the ""in the midst"" means no man's land. If you are considering the Hyatt as a conference or travel hotel, you should know that it is about a two mile walk to get to restaurants, plus parking is $35.00 day. They do have a shuttle (drop-off only, no pick-up); the staff tries to work with groups, but if I were contracting the hotel for an event, I would press hard for some F&B concessions because you are going to need them. There is only one restaurant, the Zephyr, which, according to BostonUSA, ""features dramatic floor to ceiling window views of the Charles River and the Boston skyline. During the warmer months dine in the ""Garden Terrace"" – a quaint shaded terrace, directly overlooking the river."" It is a pretty good restaurant and they are trying hard. The Friday night seafood buffet is the highlight, reservations for Friday are strongly recommended, and this is one of the best deals in Cambridge. August is a great month in Boston/Cambridge, and this is a walking town. Strolls along the Charles river or towards Cambridge are lots of fun, and it feels pretty safe.

The closest restaurants to the Hyatt in Cambridge are found by walking Southwest on Memorial Drive (the road along the Charles River). If you are going the correct way, the monster Citgo sign will be at your back. You can head for the bridge (Boston University Bridge) and cross over, there are plenty of places to eat around Boston University. Also, you can go the opposite way when you get to the bridge; there are two Italian places on Brookline about a mile out, you are very close when you get to Erie St. If you aren't tired or in a hurry, another mile on Brookline gets you to Central Square, which is packed with places to eat. A final, somewhat close alternative is to stay on Memorial Drive past the bridge, and in about 1/2 mile (727 Memorial), you reach a Trader Joe's so you can eat picnic style.

If you happen to be at the Hyatt in Cambridge on a Sunday, see if they are still having a church service at 1030. It was African American/Caribbean style, very expressive, we were the only Caucasians in the place. Make sure to come late or you end up in the front of the church. Great preaching, the pastor was very well prepared and only strayed from straight down the fairway doctrine a little bit.

If you are with a group of people, say six or more, a restaurant favored by locals is the Middle East Restaurant at Central Square. Get a reservation, there is exactly one table that can seat six. Don't be mad at me when you step inside; yes, it is a lower end restaurant, but the food is great and the price is reasonable. Order family style so you can taste lots of dishes. I always tell people to order something you have never tried. It is a bit of a walk, but head for the Citgo sign and you are in the basic area of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Lovely museum. If you like Indian food, do not miss the Quality India Restaurant; this is, bar none, my favorite Indian restaurant on US soil, and there are a bunch! I get the mixed grill; it is enough food for two days and they are so gracious about packing up the leftovers.

[August 8, 2008] Departed Kauai via Lihue airport (LIH) on the United red eye to San Fran (SFO). It was the most crowded I have ever seen Lihue airport at night. Fortunately, the United 1k/first class line had no one in it, so Kathy and I breezed though. The security line was long, but moving; we had arrived 1.5 hours early to the airport, so we had time to enjoy a glass of wine in the hotel bar (LIH does not have a red carpet club). Flight was good, weather was fine, service on the plane was pretty good as well. They could not find the corkscrew and offered either white wine or economy cabin wine; not to sound like a snob, but I elected to close my eyes and woke up on the descent to SFO. We had only 15 minutes before they started boarding the flight to Boston (BOS), so we refilled our waterbottles and headed for our gate. Flight from SFO to Boston was very nice, a small amount of turbulence coming in, but considering the storms you get in Boston in August, this was truly a blessed flight.