Another Saturday morning, time for my third mileage run of the year.

This would one be different from my previous trips in two ways. First, I’d be flying on Alaska Airlines rather than American, and second, I’d have time to go into town. I’d flown Alaska before, but those flights had all been red-eyes out of Seattle to Los Angeles and I slept the whole way. This would be a daytime trip and I looked forward to seeing what the service would be like.

I got to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in plenty of time for my flight, or so I thought. I had checked in online the night before so I went straight to the security check-in line — that’s when I found I had made a mistake. When I fly on American Airlines I have elite status and my boarding pass is labeled “Priority AAcess.” This allows me to go to the front of the security line. I have no such status on Alaska, that meant I would have to wait on the line and it was a very long line this morning. Oh well, lesson learned.

Thankfully the line was moving quickly; three x-ray machines were open so we moved through fairly rapidly. Even so, it took long enough that I did not have enough time to go to the Admirals Club before boarding my flight.  I went directly to the gate, had enough time to buy a bottle of water, and then board the flight.

The flight was aboard a 737-800, and would go non-stop to San Jose. The weather was on my side: Austin was hit by a major ice-storm a day earlier, the San Jose flight was six hours late. Today the only delay was for the ground crew to de-ice the wings, and then we took off.

American Airlines used to offer non-stop service between Austin and San Jose. Given all the technology companies located in both cities that flight soon earned the nickname “Nerd Bird.” However, American dropped the service in 2009, saying it could not make a profit on it. Less than two weeks later Alaska Airlines, which did not even offer service from Austin, announced that it would offer daily non-stops between the two cities. They also offered a non-stop to Seattle, service that American had also dropped. It’s interesting that one airline cannot make a profit on a route while another can. This shows the challenge facing American Airlines; as the largest legacy carrier to not file for bankruptcy protection, it has the highest labor costs in the industry, costs that make it difficult to make a profit. In this case American’s loss was Alaska’s gain. UPDATE: Alaska Airlines has announced that they will discontinue non-stop service between Austin and San Jose. Apparently the competition from Southwest Airlines was too much. Southwest will be the only airline offering nonstop service between these two cities.

We had a smooth flight to San Jose. I appreciated Alaska’s beverage service: they actually served cookies in coach. I can’t remember the last time American offered a free snack on a domestic coach flight.

We arrived on time at San Jose and I went to get my rental car. I had posted a message on FlyerTalk asking for suggestions about things for me to do and said I would be using public transit. Every reply I got said that was a mistake on a Saturday, that the public transit schedules were so reduced that I would have a hard time getting around; they all suggested I get a rental car. So I checked prices, saw I could get a car for the day from Enterprise for $23 and made the reservation.

Getting a rental car at the San Jose airport is a very easy thing to do. I left the terminal and walked across the street to the newly-built parking garage. At the far end was a sign for the Rental Car Center. I went in and saw the rental counters for all the companies at the  airport. I took care of the paperwork at the Enterprise counter, then took the elevator to the sixth floor. When the door opened an Enterprise representative dressed in a jacket and tie greeted me by name and took me to the cars. I actually had a choice of several vehicles, I chose a brand new Ford Focus. After signing the paperwork I was on my way. I brought my GPS unit from home and turned it on. It could not recieve the satellites’ signal in the garage so I planned to pull over once I left the terminal to key in my destination. That seemed like a good idea at the time.

I left the building and found myself on the exit road from the airport: no place to pull over and set the GPS. I came to an intersection and had no idea which way to go. But I saw an office building with a parking lot. Perfect! I could pull in there and take a few moments to get the GPS up and running. So, I pulled into the lot, entered my destination, the Tech Museum, and then looked up at the sign on the front of the building. I had stopped in the eBay parking lot — I decided not to place a bid for it! :-)

It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the drive downtown. I found a parking garage and then walked a few blocks to the museum.

The Tech Museum. The inside of the dome is the screen for the Hackworth IMAX theater.

I  entered the lobby and bought a ticket: it cost $10 but included an IMAX movie. There were several IMAX movies to choose from; I wanted to see the Hubble Space Telescope movie but my schedule would not allow that. So I told the clerk that I’d see Under the Sea.

I walked around the Museum and enjoyed it, but not quite as much as I had hoped. It has a lot of interactive displays, but it seemed that many of them were designed to excite the imagination of a child, rather than someone my age.

Does it look like me? My thermal picture, taken at the Tech Museum.

I spent an hour wandering through the exhibits, then went to the to the Hackworth IMAX Dome Theater located in the museum. Tha Hackworth is the largest dome theater west of the Mississippi. The museum has put together a nice video about the theater that gives a great tour of the IMAX projection booth and an explanation of how this incredible cinematic experience works.

After the movie ended I left the museum and looked for a place to eat. I heard drums banging and saw a crowd in front of the Museum of Art a few blocks away, and walked over to see what was going on.

What I saw was a New Year’s celebration; specifically Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

A local Vietnamese group provided the music for the Tet celebration.

Dancers performed the Lion Dance to the enjoyment of the crowd.

The Lion Dance ended when the lion stood up and displayed a Happy New Year banner.

I enjoyed the celebration. When it was over I looked for a place to eat. While there were several restaurants near the Tech Museum, I wanted something fast so that I would have enough time to go to my next destination, the Computer History Museum. I found a fast food Oriental restaurant, ordered soup and a noodle dish, and, after eating it quickly was on my way.

I walked back to the parking garage and entered my parking ticket in the machine to pay my bill; I was glad to find out that although I had been parked for a few hours, there was no charge.

I entered my new destination in the GPS, left the garage and got on the 101 Freeway heading west. I drove past Moffett Field, This airbase was home to the USS Macon, a 785-foot long dirigible during the 1930s. As I drove by I saw a massive hangar that looked large enough to hold a blimp; Hangar one was built in the 1930s and is now used by NASA’s Ames Research Center and is designated a Naval Historical Monument. I wish I had had the chance to take a few photos of this magnificent structure, but there was no place for me to pull over on the side of the road to do that.

I drove on and soon arrived at the Computer History Museum. I paid the admission fee ($15) and began my tour of the Museum. This museum was the exact opposite of the Tech Museum; Tech Museum had a lot of hands-on displays and was suited for children. The Computer History Museum had almost no hands-on displays and was aimed more at adults than kids. It tells the story of computers, starting thousands of years ago with the Abacus, going forward through the Babbage Engine, Eniac, microprocessors, to today’s machines. They even had my first home computer, the Commodore-64!  It’s a fascinating story, with examples of each device on display. There is a lot to see, and a lot to read at each stop along the way. Frankly, I did not have enough time to see it all so I only did the highlights. I wish I had had more time to spend at this museum.

I left the Museum and drove back to the airport, stopping along the way to fill the car with gas. I was impressed by the Focus’ mileage; I had driven a little bit less than 30 miles, and put in less than one gallon to fill it! I got to the airport, returned the car, then walked back across the street to the terminal and went to the security check-in line. I was pleased to see that I was the only person so there was no long wait.

I took off my shoes and jacket, putting them in the plastic tub and was ready to go through the metal detector when the TSA agent told me that I would have to go through the full body scan e-ray machine instead.

These machines caused a great deal of controversy last year with the infamous “Don’t touch my junk” video. Some people have no problem with them, others find the machines to be intrusive, others find the enhanced pat-down procedure to be both intrusive and embarrassing.

One of my concerns with these new machines that used back-scatter technology is that no one knows the long term effects of these machines on someone who has had a large number of medical x-rays taken of them. TSA can say that they are safe, but the machines have not been around long enough for anyone to know for certain what the long term effect is. I had a lot of x-rays done last year when I had some major surgery and I don’t want to use what I consider to be unproven technology.

So, I told the agent that I would be happy to go through the metal detector or have the enhanced pat-down, but I would not go through the full body scan machine. He immediately announced very loudly “I have an opt out.”

I stood there as two agents collected all of my belongings that I had put on the conveyor belt, then I was instructed to walk through the metal detector, which did not go off.

Along with my belongings I was taken to the side where an agent met me and asked if I was familiar with the program. I explained that I was, told him of my concerns based on my medical x-rays, and said I would follow his instructions. He asked if I wanted to leave the area and go into a privacy room, I said no. At that point the pat-down began. The agent was both professional and polite, explaining everything he would do. He emphasized that he would only touch me with the back of his hand. The pat-down did not take long, and he never did “touch my junk.” When he was done he shook my hand, wished me well, and cleared me to enter the terminal. It was not a very big deal.

I had a short wait until my plane left. We boarded on time and the plane actually pushed away from the gate a few moments early. It was not at all crowded, I had a row all to myself. It was a smooth flight back to Austin, landing at 11:28 p.m. I got home shortly after midnight.

It had been a good day; I had the chance to leave the airport and see a little bit of San Jose, I got home safely on time, and I earned almost 5,900 miles. Mission accomplished!