Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Profile of the fantabulous Western Casino, Las Vegas.
Winners and losers in the MGM Mirage/Mandalay Bay merger. Interesting, if I disagree with several points, especially the notion of the unions being a winner in the deal. Also, it downplays the notion of debt, which I think will be a huge albatross around the new company's neck. Especially if they go further in debt to renovate/redevelop their flagging properties. Given another terrorist attack (or airline strike, or continued rising fuel prices, or anything that hurts tourism significantly), the company could face a very serious threat to its very survival. In hard times, the merger could be a real boom to its competitors. If I was looking to invest in Vegas, Ceasar's and Boyd with look interesting (though, last I checked, not at their current prices). And I believe Wynn's new company is publicly trading, might be worth a look.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

When I got home from Vegas, I was greeted with a large UPS package. Before leaving, I purchased, on sale at amazon.com, a DVD recorder with built-in hard drive (for over $100 less than they currently offer it). I ordered it right before my trip, figuring that I would either win in Vegas and not care about the cost, or lose in Vegas and figure, what's a few hundred more? The enabling logic of the compulsive gambler is a beautiful thing. So I've been playing around with this for a few days now. I haven't tried burning a DVD yet, but I have been getting a lot of use out of the hard drive, like Tivo, but without the program guide. I enjoy being able to pause live TV, and I really enjoy the ability to skip ads. I just start watching the show ten minutes or so after it starts, and then I can fast forward the ads. And the quality is great, and I can edit out ads if I plan to keep a program. I've practiced editing programs I don't plan to keep, cutting ads from King of the Hill, and singling out Busy Philips' interview from Conan O'Brien, and found it easy to do. Burning DVDs looks a tad more complicated, but as soon as I get around to buying blank DVDs, I don't think it will take long to figure it out. But just for the hard drive, it's well worth it.
Just got back from seeing Fahrenheit 9/11. Enjoyed it, though ultimately I think the impact it has will be minimal, at least as far as changing people's votes. Judging from the reactions of the nearly-sold-out crowd, it was clearly preaching to the converted, but it was a nice morale boost. And some funny moments, some tragic and disturbing moments. As we freak out over beheadings in Iraq, it is illuminating to see the Saudi government beheading criminals. And the film seems above reproach as far as accuracy; reading some of the criticisms, the only criticism I could see stand up is that he slightly overplays the speed with which the Bin Ladens were ushered from the country. But Michael Moore seemed to actually tone down his schtick a bit, letting the facts speak for themselves. If you've watched the Daily Show religiously (and I hope you saw Jon Stewart on Larry King last night), there isn't much new here, but it's worth seeing, if only to keep it at the #1 slot as long as possible, see how long Bush can call Moore an extremist.
Green Party refuses to endorse Ralph Nader.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Children's Pool issue will be coming up for a vote again.
So, I'm back from Vegas. Got back Tuesday, actually, but hadn't had a chance to tell you good people about my exploits until now. I won a substantial amount of cash, but despite that only had a pretty good time. But I'm glad I went, mainly because I was well-rewarded financially.

I left early Friday morning, hoping to make a screening at the CineVegas film festival. But that didn't happen, I'm afraid. Traffic was not too horrendous, but just bad enough that I couldn't make it on time. I had planned to stop in Victorville for lunch, but continued on to Barstow, since somehow I figure that if I stop for lunch later, I get there faster. Which I guess makes since if a later stop means I don't need a bathroom break later. But I hit Barstow right about noon, and the place was packed. So it took me forever to get my food, and set me back even more. So I was a bit later in arriving than I had hoped. Los Straitjackets, Lyle Lovett, and the Bottle Rockets provided some of the soundtrack for the drive, and I also listened to a David Cross album. Stopped at the outlet mall at Primm. I forgot a coupon for $10 off Penn & Teller, and was hoping to replace it at the visitor's center there (no luck). Also, and more importantly, I forgot to pack underwear. So I looked around for some there, but all I could find were boxers at the Old Navy outlet, and they all had little wacky novelty designs. I almost bought the one with popcorn boxes on it, but I didn't relish the idea of wearing slightly irregular underwear. Though it did occur to me that, if they're going to have novelty designs, maybe underwear brandishing the slogan "slightly irregular" might sell well. I did buy a new pair of running shoes at the Reebok outlet (motion control shoes, see if that helps with my foot pains), and some shorts. I eventually managed to find a Wal-Mart to buy some undies with a side of shame (when I got home, I had a solicitation in the mail from United Farm Workers, so I sent them a donation to regain a shread of my Union Yes! integrity).

My itinerary began with a two-night stay at Green Valley Ranch. I've always been a fan of the place, and still love the hotel. The casino is nothing spectacular, but I do enjoy playing at a "local's joint," since the clientele seems to be more interesting and less obnoxious. After winning a little bit of cash Friday night, I went up to my room and saw that room service had delivered a complimentary fruit basket, which kept me well-nourished for most of the trip. I was invited to a $20,000 invitational blackjack tournament, which I busted out of in the first round. I had to stick around for awhile Sunday for the wildcard drawings, for a chance to get back in, but even after they had to redraw a lot of times because people had left, I still never made it back in. I lost quite a bit of cash Saturday night, took a sushi break, and then returned to clean up at the tables (still down, but within striking distance). Sunday I lost a little bit more, then asked to talk to my host. After giving them a not insubstantial amount of action over the weekend, I figured my request that she comp a $17 check from the sushi bar would be handled rather perfunctorily. But I was told, in a rather condesending manner, that that was simply impossible, since they casino had already been so generous as to give me a room for the weekend. Considering the action I gave them, and considering the amount of money I lost just while we were having this conversation, I found the host's refusal a tad surprising. I could understand not wanting to give me a comp ahead of time, since it would have been easy to run up a $75 bill or more there, but to turn me down at the end of the weekend, when my only request of the host was one reasonable room charge, was annoying. And her attitude made the matter far worse. It only served to magnify little problems I'd noticed along the way: about half the buttons on the remote control didn't work, and the TV itself seemed to be having problems; housekeeping was remiss in replacing used toiletries, cocktail service was slow. And, of course, Green Valley Ranch's biggest problem: Location. If they were going to stiff me on food comps on the strip, I could just play a few hours at another casino to get food. But when I stay at Green Valley Ranch, I tend to gamble there exclusively. So by refusing me a few dollars, while affecting a smarmy attitude, my host forced me to recognize Green Valley Ranch's limitations, and wonder if I really want to stay there again.

After my weekend there, I spent two nights at the Imperial Palace. I can't remember exactly why I chose to stay there, but I think my logic was something along the lines of, at least I'll get on another mailing list, another source of free rooms. But the place was a dump; if my displeasure at my host wasn't growing in my fertile mind, it would have made the Green Valley Ranch look like Shangri-la. The room itself is simply underwhelming, like a decent Motel 6 room. The table and chairs in the room were one step above lawn furniture. But I didn't expect much from the room, and so the room was satisfactory. The hotel as a whole was the problem. The hotel apparently expanded in fits and starts, so there are several attached towers, and my room was in the back. The hike to the casino was bad enough, but it was getting to my car that really got me hating the Imperial Palace by the end of the trip. Construction on a monorail station was on-going, and so one had to maneuver through confusing hallways and detours, so that sometimes it took me close to a half-hour to get to my room. It was especially bad on Monday, when the construction workers got back to work. And driving into and out of the garage was confusing, as well. I can say with some confidence I will never stay there again.

The casino was okay. It tries to be a low-roller's oasis on the center strip, but falls short of Casino Royale on that point. And I'm not really looking for a low-roller joint, anyway. They have a "Dealertainer" pit, with celebrity impersonators dealing the games. During peak hours, they have dealers who look like the celebrity they're supposed to, except, inexplicably, the Elvis impersonator (they couldn't find a good Elvis in Las Vegas?). On other shifts, they don't try as hard. "Lookie here! She's wearing a cowboy hat...It must be Patsy Kline!" I gambled here a little bit, in their Champagne Pit, where the dealers are dressed as old-time New York gangsters, apparently, and where you win free beads with every blackjack. I lost a little bit and left.

The most serious gambling I did on the strip I did at the Stardust. I like the ambiance, the loose comp policy, the onion rings and root bear float at the coffee shop, the pit boss that reminds me of Lunchlady Doris and exudes Vegas from her leathery, smoke-tanned skin (she did her Vincent Price impression for me, probably the high point of the trip). And their games aren't bad either. I lost a nice chunk of change, however. Still, I'm always glad to spend a little time at the Stardust. Word on the street is Boyd is going to fix the place up after Wynn's new casino opens across the street; I hope they don't ruin it like Harrah's (and Becky Binion-Behnen) did the Horseshoe (I walked through it briefly this trip...very sad).

So mostly I've talked about losing, so let me turn it around now. The Las Vegas Hilton recently added a new attraction to the Star Trek Experience. In addition to the old motion ride, they now have a movie based on the Borg. They call it 4-D, which means not only is it in 3-D, but your seat vibrates and prods you, and mist blows in your face and stuff. It was very much an homage to William Castle, in a way. The 3-D effects worked pretty good, once I got the 3-D glasses aligned with my eyeglasses. I prefer the original ride (with a paid admission you can go on each attraction once), and I think non-Star-Trek fans would be disappointed with the Borg feature, but overall I had fun. But what is worth noting is what happened beforehand. The Las Vegas Hilton was sold by Caesar's, and the sale was being finalized the day I was there. I wasn't quite clear on what this meant for the player's card, but as I read it, it seemed I was going to be given a comp balance with the new Las Vegas Hilton player's club equal to my balance on the old card (and keep my old balance at the other Caesar's properties). So I waited in line to get a new card, and once I get up there, they can't find me in their system. No big deal, I was hoping I'd have enough to comp the Star Trek ride, but seeing as I'd never gambled at the Hilton in my life, I'm not going to make a fuss over it. But they sign me up for a new card, and I decide I'll gamble a little bit, see if I can get on their mailing list. I generally refrian for mentioning dollar values in my discussions here, more because it sounds gauche than because of any privacy concerns (and maybe a bit of a desire not to sound too much like a degenerate frittering away obscene sums). But for this discussion, I think it's necessary. I found a double-deck table with one player. It was a $100 minimum, however. That's a wee bit pricy for me, but I figure, what the hell. I buy in for $500, and hope to double it and run. Twenty minutes later, the casino brings in a new dealer, and I have over $6000 in front of me. I have had some nice wins in the past, but I have never won that much, that fast. Had a little crowd of gamblers standing behind me, watching. Also had a nice crowd in the pit watching me. I decided to cash out, and the pit congratulated me, told me to be sure to come back soon, because it's just that easy....if I ever need a house payment, just stop by. I ask if I can move into the penthouse suite like Howard Hughes. I cashed in my chips, did the Star Trek thing, and went back to my room to reassess my position. I was down a fair amount, so this wasn't all profit, but I was still up a staggering sum. I decided to switch to tourist mode, and set aside a few hundred dollars to play around with, just in case lightning might strike twice. It didn't--I didn't have a winning session after that, but I still made it home with a nice cash infusion.

So allow this trip report to slip into tourist mode now. I intended to see the new sexed-up Pirate Show at TI and the dancing fountains at Bellagio, but only made it to Bellagio. From a distance, I heard the climactic track of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, "Ecstasy of Gold," playing, and kicked myself for missing it. By the time I got there, "All that Jazz" was playing, rather underwhelmingly. But then, about two minutes later, "Ecstasy of Gold" starts up again, with the fountains shrouding the lake in fog as it slowly builds to a stunning finale. Really amazing, reminding me why I love to watch the Bellagio fountain. The next show was the Star-Spangled Banner, which didn't really work with the fountains that well. Tha was at midnight, and I thought it was the final show, so I left, and as I was crossing over to Barbary Coast, I hear "Ecstasy of Gold" again. So I guess it must have been a new addition to the rotation they were really eager to show off. Or maybe some high-roller just kept demanding to hear the western one again. In any event, I enjoyed seeing it, and I enjoyed hearing it again as I left.

Monday I went downtown and looked around, gambled a little at the Plaza, was saddened at the Horseshoe, had a deep-friend twinkie, and used the Las Vegas Club's internet kiosk. Nearby, the LVC had a small arcade, and I saw Simpsons Pinball Party standing alone in a corner. I got a buck in quarters and began to play. They had it on a much easier setting, and so I was easily able to win quite a few free games. More exciting to me, I was able to complete all the missions, and play the climactic Alien Invasion mode, which I've never made it to at the Boardwalk. After playing for an hour or so, I had to walk away, leaving a free credit for the next person who came around.

Monday night, I went to the Rio to see Penn & Teller. That had been my tourist-goal this trip--it's usually a real effort to get me away from the tables to see a show, especially when I have to pay for it. But I made it this time, and had a great time. Sometimes I wished Penn would talk a bit less, so they could get to the next trip. His juggling routine went on way too long, for instance. But he's such a funny guy, it's easily forgivable. I'd seen most of the routines before, but they're still fun. For their opening act, Teller escapes from a locked trunk, and rather then put a screen up, they go by the honor system; if you want to believe it's a miracle, just close your eyes. While other acts (for instance, "burning" an American flag) seemed a bit preachy, I thought this a nice gently subversive way to make their point about the degree of willful ignorance in this country. I was excited to see Teller do his act where he cuts a flower's shadow, and parts of the real flower fall off. He also put on a nice shadow puppet show based on a Shel Silverstein poem, which was really awesome. And the closer of the show is the magic bullet routine, which is always impressive. I'm really glad I finally saw them live.

Tuesday I got up early, checked out, and had the Plaza's horrendous breakfast buffet, and left down. Took bathroom breaks and bought a drink, but skipped lunch, making it to San Diego around 3:45. Some construction in the desert slowed me down a bit, but overall it was a pretty smooth drive. Deposited my cash in the bank, got my mail, and went home to see a very excited dog. Again, I was left cold by a few things this trip, mostly related to my accomodations, and the fact that I paid for a lot more things than I'm used to in Vegas, but I did enjoy getting away, I did enjoy winning a lot of money, and I did enjoy seeing the sights. Can't wait to go back. (August? Sooner? Only time will tell.)

Deep Discount DVD is having a 20% off sale. Since they have the cheapest prices on most DVDs already, that's a really good deal. You need a coupon code (DVDTALK or PRICESEARCH both work). They expire tomorrow, the 25th, so act fast!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

I've been a bit remiss lately in writing about my oh so exciting life since school got out. I leave for Vegas in the morning, so I won't be writing much now. Besides, not much exciting has happened. I saw Mary Chapin Carpenter last night, pretty good show. I bought the tickets before the new album came out, and I was rather underwhelmed by it. So my expectations weren't that high, but I had a good time.

Season Four of The Simpsons is now out on DVD. "A Streetcar Named Marge" is probably my favorite episode of the series, so I was excited for this to come out. I haven't had much time to watch it, but I watched "Streetcar," and some of the supplemental stuff on that episode, including a featurette about how that episode offended the good people of New Orleans.

Well, I really should go get ready for my drive. Plan on getting a fairly early start. So hopefully the next time I post here, I will have a nice winning story to tell.

The Cabrillo Bridge is on fire. They are apparently having a lot of trouble fighting the fire. It would be a real shame if the bridge is irreversibly damaged. But apparently they believe the bridge is still structurally sound.
Free CDs from the music price-fixing settlement are overwhelming libraries. I don't know about you, but I'd be excited to receive 74 copies of Three Mo' Tenors.
Nellie McKay interviewed in The Onion's A.V. Club.
So, there seems to be some dissention on wheter that was in fact Walton who came to the aquarium today. I would stick to my guns, but after my "I swear I saw Macauley Culkin at a concert in L.A., and he was sporting black dreadlocks" claim seemed to have fizzled out, I'll admit I could be mistaken.

Speaking of mistakes, turns out both the earthquakes I mentioned in previous posts were responsible for Tuesday's rumblings, both struck within a minute of each other, explaining why if felt like such a long quake.

Today at work, I sold tickets to fellow Helix High alum Bill Walton. Which was particularly exciting because my mom despises the man (I'm not sure why--she's a huge Larry Bird fan, so I think maybe there was a rivalry between the two, but maybe there's other reasons). I'm telling you, the fun never stops around here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

It only took a week, but Netbank finally got my account straightened out. So I'm not out any money from the fiasco. I'm more annoyed that it took a week to correct the problem then the original snafu. In any event, I'm still pretty soured on Netbank, despite their good interest rates. Since they worked it out, I'll probably not close the account after all, but I think I'll be keeping more of my money at the credit union instead. And I still might be wooed over to State Farm, they have pretty good rates. I'll worry about it more when I get home from my vacation (less than 48 hours to go).

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Bill Griffith of 10 News has male breast cancer. Interesting to see he's going to the same oncologist as my Dad.
I will amend my last post: I think the earthquake I felt was a 5.1 off the shore of Baja. It's a shame our seismographic equipment is off display for a few days while they install carpeting.
Apparently the earthquake was a 4.7, centered on Lancaster, near Mojave. I'm surprised we could feel it so strongly here in La Jolla (apparently it was really strong in La Mesa).
Just had one of the strongest earthquakes I've felt in some time here in San Diego. Not bridges-falling strong or anything, but strong enough that you couldn't not notice it, and it lasted a good 40 seconds at least. I'll be curious to see where it was centered.
Suicide note full of Simpsons allusions.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Netbank sucks ass! I had an automatic balance transfer set up, a day before two credit card bills were to be paid from the account. The balance transfer never happened, and I'm now stuck with two $28 returned check charges. Fortunately, I logged in last night and saw what happened, and was able to contact the credit card companies and make last-minute payments. So I'm only out the fee Netbank charged. But I sent them a message last night, and they have yet to contact me (they're in Georgia, so I assume they've probably closed for the day by now). So hopefully I can talk them out of the fees, if they ever bother to contact me, but this isn't the first problem like this I've had. Last time a balance transfer I set up disappeared, I noticed it early enough to set up another one, and no harm was done. But it's messed up that this happened twice, and could have been very costly if I hadn't arranged to pay the two bills in question (my health insurance was deducted just two days prior, if that had bounced, I'd have a real problem). So I'll be leaving Netbank very soon. Looking online, I've decided State Farm's banking looks to be a really good deal, actually. I wouldn't have expected it, but their interest-bearing checking is paying close to 1.5 %, which is hard to beat at the moment. So I think I'll give them a try, and tell Netbank where to stuff it.
Ray Charles, dead at 73.
Pros and Cons of some vice-presidential choices.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Houdini used a trunk with a trap door in his Metamorphosis illusion. Some magicians, like David Copperfield, are outraged that this piece of information is publically available. As though we were all idiots and couldn't figure this one out. I see their point to an extent, but David Copperfield is a braying jackass, so whenever he makes a point, I'm less inclined to agree. Apparently saying you're not using camera tricks and then using camera tricks isn't against the code of ethics, David? "My God, the Statue of Liberty, it's gone! That's right, here in this helicopter, I do not see the Statue of Liberty anywhere!" What a putz.
Madstone Theaters out of business.
I never knew Ronald Reagan's final film was The Killers, in which he plays a heavy. I have it on DVD, the Criterion Collection, which I bought for the 1946 version, and have yet to watch the 1964 made-for-tv Reagan version. Guess I know how I'll be spending Friday's day of mourning (did you know we don't get mail?).
My summer has finally begun! I think finals went okay, neither great nor spectacularly bad. We'll see soon enough, I suppose. I'm just glad to be done, now I can get cracking on all those little things I need to get done that I've been putting off. Not to mention my upcoming Vegas adventure. Speaking of Vegas, got a mail offer from Paris yesterday, free room and free tickets to see We Will Rock You, the new musical based on the music of Queen. It's no Mamma Mia, I'm sure, but exciting nonetheless.
I believe I mentioned this here before, but now that it's official, I'll mention it again: Pee-Wee's Playhouse is coming to DVD. Two volumes will contain all 45 episodes, with a Christmas Special DVD sold seperately, apparently. Fun times.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Working on my paper, including this quote, which seemed to reflect my feelings pretty much at the moment: "The masses, as before, for the greater part take away from the schools nothing but a contempt for them." Not to complain too much (I did enjoy the class), but always during tenth week/finals, I feel quite an urge to tell the entire school system to go to hell. A similar quote later from the same piece: "In Germany nine-tenths of the school population take away from school a mechanical knowledge of reading and writing, and such a strong loathing for the paths of science traversed by them that they never again take a book into their hands."
It is 9:07, and I have finally forced myself in front of the computer, and turned off the T.V., but have yet to write a word of my paper, due tomorrow at 11:30. This post is evidence I am still avoiding it, but I think this is about the end of the line of procrastination. How bout that Regan, huh? And Smarty Jones. I didn't bet, but I know people who took a bit of a hit. Ah, bet, to be in Vegas now...but I've got a few days to wait. Right now, I have to write a paper on Tolstoy's views of education. I don't really have a point, but hey, I've gotten B+s without a point lots of times (I got an A last quarter, in a class where I wrote a seven-page paper basically explaining the difference between a hill and a mountain). Now to get to work. Really.
A pair of articles on "Manos" The Hands of Fate.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

David Reimer committed suicide last May. If you ever saw the sad, disturbing, and enraging episode of (if memory serves) Dateline, which seemed to be rerun constantly a year or two ago, I'm sure you'll join me in hoping he has found peace.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Heartbreaking country ballad paralyzes trucking industry. "Fearing for the financial and emotional safety of their workers, industry leaders have asked President Bush and the FCC to remove the song from the airwaves, as President Carter did during the 'He Stopped Loving Her Today' crisis of 1980."
The secret code to unlock the U.S. nuclear arsenel? 00000000.
Democrats pick up a seat in South Dakota.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The atrocious writing in the judge's profile notwithstanding, The New York Times is printing an interesting series on the allure of Las Vegas.
Follow this link on June 1st, and look at the "Mystery Person of the Day" trivia challenge. Tell me, are we really that stupid at a nation that this is considered trivia? I thought the "celebrity mix-it-up" at the movies, who is this: "OMT RUISEC," was just an isolated phenomenon, but maybe not.
Anna Karinina is this summer's selection in Oprah's book club. I wonder if Oprah is aware of Tolstoy's problems with women? Though I suppose the book's message, that if a woman doesn't have lots and lots of babies, she will go down a road to ruin, might appeal to some of Oprah's core audience. And if I decide to give Oprah my e-mail address, I can access some reading aids which might be useful for my final exam next week.

And in fairness, it's easy to make fun of Oprah, but if the woman can get millions of housewives to read Anna Karinina this summer, I think she deserves props for that. And looking at her web site, it appears that One Hundred Years of Solitude was the previous selection; that's pretty cool (though I would have thought Love in the Time of Cholera would have been more suited to her audience).