Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's Tuesday evening, and I've survived two days of my intensive Latin course. It's actually not too bad. It seems like, if you really get down to it, we're probably only covering about twice as much material as we would in one class, but without the dead days for quizzes and tests, when we probably wouldn't cover much in a regular class. In this course, we have to cover two new chapters the night before the quiz on the last chapters. But if you've sucessfully navigated two chapters beyond what you're being quizzed on (though he says some of the material in that night's homework will turn up on the exams), you should be pretty well-prepared. And the new textbook does seem a lot less overwhelming than Wheelock's Latin, the definative textbook of the subject, which the professor explained was being temperarily abandoned both as an experiment to see if the summer course's 50-75% attrition rate can be improved, as well as the existance of sites like the one linked to above, giving the answers to every homework assignment in the book (which doesn't seem particularly helpful when exams are almost your entire grade, and you are required to read and discuss the homework assignments in class).

Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic of my chances in the course. And I've already booked my post-school Vegas vacation. I had hoped to take a more leisurely trip, along the lines of my last trip, but I forgot Mom was going up to Michelle's for the baby shower, so I have to stay home with the dog. So my trip was cut short, and now I have to fly. $118 round trip with taxes, more than the last time I flew (years ago), but the price seemed reasonable enough to me. Fly in Sunday after work, stay three nights at the Las Vegas Hilton, and fly back that afternoon. I hate flying, but when the destination is Vegas, I'll face down Satan himself to get there. I get off work at 5, and my flight is after 8, so I should have plenty of time to get hammered before I get on the plane. Looked into renting a car, but that's a lot more expensive than I anticipated, so I think I'll just take a shuttle or taxi.

The on-line poker's going okay. Since I mentioned my big poker wins here, I haven't had much luck, just treading water. But that beats losing. Breaking even isn't bad at all, considering I fully admit I'm not that great a Texas Hold 'Em player. But that's obviously the way the wind is blowing, so I should learn. And I am improving. I've carefully considered why I lost the tournaments I've lost, and while there are other holes in my play, it seems like at least half the tournaments I've busted out of, the pivotal hand that killed me involved my misplaying of middle pairs. I'm pretty comfortable throwing away low pairs, but 77 and 88 have killed me quite a few times. So I've been much more cautious playing those hands, and seem to have noticed an improvement in my bottom-line (I've also been watching how others play the hand, and it seems like improving one's skills in playing such hands can give one a big advantage over a lot of fairly decent players). Of course, I just now (and I mean just now, I was playing in one window while typing here between hands) got knocked out of a tournament with AQ when someone went all-in with 22 and made trips, so what do I know?

I don't think I've mentioned my summer reading. I've been reading Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America. From what little details I knew, the story of the flood and its aftermath sounded fascinating, and I was eager to learn more about it. Also, as a Randy Newman fan, it seemed a good opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of the song "Louisiana 1927." The book is quite interesting, taking its time in telling the back story of the river. I wasn't sure how interesting 100 pages on the arguments of engineers on how best to manage the river would be particularly interesting, but it is. I've just now gotten to the actual flood, so I can better judge the book after I've gotten through the heart of it, but just from the set-up, I give it a thumbs up.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A storm is brewing over dice-based craps-style games in California tribal casinos. It demonstrates the awesome power of the California state gaming regulators that half the casinos with the game in San Diego have no qualms ignoring their edicts.
My host at Valley View Casino just called me back. They signed me up for the slot tournament, but explained that the resort was booked up, so I wouldn't get a room. The offer clearly stated, "rooms based on availability," and I don't doubt they were in small supply, but it still sucks, because that is a long drive. I might look in to a room at Harrah's, they no longer like to give me free rooms, especially on a weekend, but I wouldn't mind paying a reasonable amount. Unfortunately, a quick check on-line reveals a quote of $99 for one night and $149 for the other, so I don't think I'll do that. I don't look forward to driving up to Valley View early in the morning, two days straight. If the tournament turns out to be a bust, they may have a disillusioned player on their hands.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I was at the mall last weekend, and I ducked into Target, to see if they had the new WarioWare game for the Game Boy. I enjoyed the previous installment in the series, and was tempted to plunk down a bit of my gambling winnings on a new game. Target did have the game in stock, but I noticed it was on the wrong shelf, where some old game was being advertised for $14.99. So I asked the clerk if she could tell me how much the WarioWare game was, since it was misshelved, and she said, since the wrong price was posted, she would give me that price. Turns out the game was $30, so I saved 50%. Pretty sweet, especially since it turns out to be a pretty cool game.

If you're unfamiliar with the original game, the idea was to advance as far as you could on various levels, by playing a variety of games. The gimmick is that each game lasts only five seconds. You're given a one-word instruction, and you have five seconds to figure out what you're trying to do, and do it. I got a lot of mileage out of the very addictive game, probably as much if not more than any Game Boy game I've ever owned. The best part of the game was trying to figure out just what you were trying to do in some of the odder games, but even once you're well-familiar with all the games, it still holds up to repeat play. So I had high hopes for the sequel, even though it sounded a little too gimmicky. In WarioWare: Twisted, the twist is that you literally have to twist the game. The cartridge has some sort of centrifuge in it, which detects motion, and so the only way you can control the game is to tilt the entire Game Boy (some games also use the "A" button, but that's it). I feared this would just be another example of a failed attempt by Nintendo to introduce some new bizarre gimmicky device they can use to justify higher game prices, and I also feared that the controls might be too difficult. I am pleased to say I was wrong, and the tilting controls work great, and are fun to play. The game includes a rumble pack, so in addition to the screen, the vibrations give you good reinforcement as you twist the game. Sometimes it's hard to see the screen when you're really frantically twisting, but that's part of the challenge of the game. And the graphics and sound are very reminiscent of the first, so if you liked the look of that game, you'll have no complaints. Only time will tell if this game's replay value is as high as the original. But so far, I've been very impressed.

So, I've just been squandering time, waiting for summer school to start this week. I got my textbook and parking permit today, so I'm all set to start the fun of Intensive Latin. Should be a hoot.

In anticipation of lots of homework, I've been looking for ways to waste time, and so I've been playing poker on-line again. I've been leery of on-line poker, because I'm an okay poker player, and tend to win more sessions than I lose, but on occasion I get upset and lose far more than I ever win, and very rarely do I actually cash out any money from on-line poker rooms (I've had better luck in brick and mortar establishments, but the poker rooms around here aren't all that great, and with the large rake and lousy comps, not worth the long drive...especially since Viejas almost never spreads 3-6 Stud/8 anymore). I'm playing at Paradise Poker, a site I've played at before. I chose to play there primarily because they will cover your Neteller fees for an instant transfer, so I could start playing right away and not wait a few days for the funds to clear (or pay the 8.5% instant transfer fee). It also looked like the site was still doing well, though maybe not quite as busy as it was a few years ago. Or it could just be that the non-Hold 'Em games have lost players, so it just feels that way. In any event, in hopes that things will be different this time, I'm pretty much sticking to tournaments. That way, if I go on tilt, the most I can lose is the tournament entry fee. So I've played quite a few tournaments this week, and to my surprise, I've won quite a few. I've mostly been playing the $10+1 single-table tournaments, so the wins haven't been huge ($50 for first place, or lesser amounts for the rest of the top three), but it's added up pretty well, so that I've made about $130 this week. And that's including the losses I suffered when I tried moving up to $20+2 tournaments (I got third place a few times, but that doesn't really help much, you lose one tournament, finish third in another, and you're still down money after the entry fee). So that's not bad at all. I'm not a great hold 'em player, but I'm not bad, and seem to do well in the single-table tournament structure.

I figure on-line poker for low stakes will satisfy my gambling urges between Vegas trips, but it looks like I will be making one stop by my local indian gaming establishment. I got an invitation to a slot tournament next month at Valley View Casino. Unlike their standard offer, a monthly $6,000 tournaments, this one has a $60,000 prize pool, with a $10,000 grand prize. Also included is a weekend stay at Pala Mesa, a posh golf resort up in Fallbrook somewhere (this is a pretty nice offer, being what is called in the business a "hard" comp...Valley View doesn't own a hotel, so putting me up in a room involves them paying cash for a room, and while I'm sure they get a good deal since they're probably renting out most of the resort, it's still a bigger coup comp-wise than a free hotel in Vegas, say), four free meals, and a gift valued at $1100. I am sceptical as to the true value of the supposed eleven hundred dollar gift (my guess is some sort of crystal vase, that seems to be a popular gift at high-end slot tourneys...or possibly jewelry...probably nothing I want), it's still a great offer. I had decided I wouldn't be going up to Valley View much anymore because the long drive offsets the value of their very generous comps. But an offer like this reminds me that they really do treat their players right. A stark contrast to Harrah's, down the road from them.

Unfortunately, it is not confirmed 100% that I will attend the tournament. I've taken a lot of time off work due to summer school, and I felt really bad asking for another weekend off. But I called work today, and while Ross has to check with the big guy, it looks like we're adequately staffed that weekend, and it should be fine. So I think I shall attend. Also, my next Vegas trip has morphed a bit. I was hoping to go Monday-Thursday, but it turns out Mom is going out of town Wednesday afternoon for Michelle's baby shower. So I need to be home to take her to the airport and be with the dog while she's gone (Tanner's sick today...I was concerned until I learned Mom gave him a hot dog...well, gee whiz, Mom, you think that has something to do with the vomiting?). So I've decided that I need to do what I hate to do, and fly to Vegas. I can get the Southwest "Fun Fare" of $49 each way, and fly out after work on Sunday, so by getting a little extra time Sunday, and being able to gamble longer on the days that would mostly be taken up by driving, I don't think I'll miss the extra days. And I'll only have to take one day off work, which should make them happy. Mom will fly out Wednesday, drive herself to the airport, leave the parking ticket in the car, and I'll drive the car home myself when I get in. A plan so perfect, it just might work. I hate flying, and hate not having a car (though between the deals on rental cars and the rising expense and hassle of taxis and shuttles, maybe I'll rent a car), but this will work. I have a good offer to stay at the Las Vegas Hilton those days, which includes $100 in promotional chips (you can't cash them in, but you play with them until you lose...I got a $25 promotional chip at NYNY this last trip, and turned it into $150). I'll probably go ahead and book that, but I'll keep a close eye on my mailbox in case the Venetian or Wynn sends me any juicy offers.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I'm home (well, at this very moment, I'm actually at work), resting and recuperating after a fun and profitable Vegas vacation. I won a fair amount of cash, enough to offset the money I won't be making during summer school, when I'll be down to working one day a week. And I had fun, playing in some new casinos and checking out the sights of the Strip.

I attempted to post a second time from my hotel room at Green Valley Ranch, but my two hours ran out right before I finished the post. As I suggested in my last post, I wasn't as impressed by Green Valley Ranch this stay. Partly, I may just be growing complacent, not appreciating the luxury of the hotel now that I've stayed there many times. But there were definitely problems with my stay. My first night there, I woke up at about six in the morning with a sharp pain in my right calf. I don't know why, but for some reason the leg was suddenly seized by an excruciatingly sharp pain. I got up and walked around, and it gradually got better, and I went back to sleep, planning to sleep in. Instead, I was awoke at 10:00 by the sound of drilling outside my room. Apparently they were replacing the light fixtures in the hallway, even though this wing of the hotel is only months old. The next night, I was awaken even earlier, by hammering before 10:00. No hotel should allow work in the common areas before 10:00 AM. So that annoyed me.

My other main complaint occurred moments after my previous post. As I said, I concluded my post and went downstairs to dine at Il Fornaio. I wasn't hungry earlier, so planned on a late dinner, as the in-room guide said they close at 11:00. But lo and behold, I go downstairs and they were closed. They close at 10:00, just as virtually every place to eat at Green Valley Ranch does. The only place still open was Fatburger, so I ate there, even though I don't really get the appeal. But they don't take room charges, so I had to pay with my slot club points, and I still owed a dollar. The upshot was, I had close to $50 to spend on breakfast the next day. So I ordered room service, and was really blown away. Yes, it was expensive, but it was top quality. I ordered the french toast, which was corn-encrusted, with a cream cheese filling and bananas foster sauce on the side. I really liked it, and the sausage and toast I ordered on the side were pretty good, too, though there's not much you can do to toast. I also ordered a double latte, just because I had the funds available; it was fine, but with the in-room coffee-maker, not worth $6. Service was real good, too, arrived a few minutes early, and the server was all class. I've never ordered room service before, so it was a nice little thrill, and I'm sure I'll do it again. That used up about half my remaining credit; I spent about $15 in the gift shop, and that got me pretty close to the $100 mark.

I checked out of Green Valley Ranch around 11:00, down a small amount of money, and drove to the Las Vegas Hilton to play for awhile until I could check in at New York-New York. Sadly, my luck was pretty sour at the Hilton, so I left, to go explore the Wynn, via the Riviera. It was hot, and the cocktail service at the Hilton was poor (I couldn't get a bottled water to save my life), so I was dehydrated, and the walk across the asphalt just from the Hilton to the Riviera was unpleasant. I got some water at the Riviera, and planned to sign up for a players card there, to get the $10 free slot play they give new sign-ups, but the line was too long, so I left for the Wynn. The walk from the Riviera to the Wynn was longer than I thought, and rather unpleasant. I wouldn't recommend the walk. Also, coming from the North, I had some difficulty finding the entrance to the Wynn. I personally confirmed reports that the front of the casino was poorly designed, as the traffic circle in front seemed woefully inadequate for a resort of this size, with quite a backlog of taxis. Once I gained entry, however, I was instantly impressed. Entering through the central entrance, one immediately faces a beautiful garden, with tons of flowers and natural light. Later on, I would go to the conservancy at the Bellagio, a monstrosity with animatronic eaglets as part of a gaudy 4th of July patriotic theme. A comparison of how the Bellagio is currently managed and how the Wynn is being run puts Steve Wynn in a much better light than many of the Wynn Casino reviews have suggested. There are certainly aspects of the design in which, yes, the understated qualities are overstated, but this garden, for instance, is simply understated elegance. I especially would appreciate the natural lighting when I returned that evening, and discovered it was now evening in the garden, as well. What other casino actually notes the passage of time? True, once you're in the gambling hall, natural light is replaced by 24/7 brightness, but still it's a nice touch. I walked around, checking out the sights, and was suitably impressed. Then I got a players club, and took a seat at a blackjack table. I heard reports they often have $25 limits at double-deck, but I didn't see any. I did find a $50 minimum table, which was raised to $100 shortly after I sat down (I was grandfathered in at the lower limit). I had good luck, mostly, and won back what I lost at the Hilton. Played with a couple rich Texans, who were splashing money around just like everyone else in this joint. I didn't mind gambling there, but I must admit not feeling really comfortable there. Not that anyone working there made me uncomfortable; service was top-notch all-around. Drink service was excellent; for those who are interested in such things, my cocktail server looked more like a stripper than a waitress. But despite the ample silicone on display, the service was superb, the sort of service you expect from the older waitresses in town, who know they have to depend on their service for good tips. I played almost two hours before cashing out. I'm hoping the action I gave them, as well as a little bit of video poker play the next night, might get me some mail. I'd be surprised if I got a free room, but I wouldn't mind paying a fair price to stay there. I wasn't looking forward to walking back to the Hilton, but fortunately, I noticed a sign pointing to a monorail shuttle. The pit boss explained that it takes to you to the convention center stop, which is one stop away from the Hilton. So I was excited by that. The wait for the shuttle wasn't long at all. It turns out, the shuttle just takes a loop along the back end of their property, dropping you off on the edge of their lot, across the street from the convention center shuttle. I was now fully hydrated, and decided to save the $3 and walk back. A much more pleasant walk than the crowded walk along the strip, and in no time I was at the Hilton. I chose not to gamble here again, got my car, and headed to New York-New York, hitting a drug store to get food and water for the room.

Check in at New York-New York was fine, and in a matter of minutes, I was on my way to the room. The front desk clerk was helpful, and gave me a map to find my way to the elevator. To use the elevator, you need to insert a room key. My hands were full with my luggage and shopping bags and paperwork, and on top of that, the technology didn't work very well, so I had to just ride the elevator a little while with other befuddled guests, until we finally got it working and selected our floors. The layout was a little strange, with twisting halls, which was just slightly claustrophobic, but not too bad (which is to say, not like Imperial Palace). My room was not far from the elevator, and my first impression upon entering was how small the room was. It was nice, though. I settled in a bit, then went into the bathroom, which was fairly nice, with lots of marble. I then admired the various toiletries offered in the room: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, used bar of soap, half-roll of Rolaids. I was a bit peeved that they did such a poor job cleaning my room, when a few minutes later I discovered the previous occupants trip itinerary. I thought that was odd, but on closer examination I realized they were not due to check out until Friday. After verifying that their luggage was not in the room, I called down to the front desk and explained that I found some possessions of the previous guest, including a flight itinerary they might need, and that I believed they might still be in the hotel in another room. Rather than appologize for doing such a poor job cleaning my room, they seemed annoyed I was wasting their time, and at first denied that anyone moved out of my room, but then verified they were in fact still in the hotel. So I brought it down to someone at the front desk, who seemed confused but said she would pass it along. The poor housekeeping service, and the overall unimpressive room, made me fairly certain I wouldn't stay here again, so I had no problem gambling elsewhere, and not worrying about future comps here. I ended up playing a little video poker one night, and playing some pai gow the next, with a $25 promotional chip they gave me, but played very little here. I did play some video poker at Bellagio as well, which uses the same players card as New York-New York.

I did eat two free meals at New York-New York. As part of my stay, they gave me a $25 credit at Nine Fine Irishmen or whatever they call their Irish Pub. I ordered meatloaf, an odd choice for me, as I don't think I've ever ordered meatloaf in my life. I wasn't particularly hungry, so it was probably a poor choice, as I got a huge block of meat. It was pretty good, though. It's just not the kind of food I like. But I ordered it partly because it had been so long since I'd had meatloaf, and partly because I figued it would be a good thing to eat cold in my room later, and I was right (though it did give me horrible heartburn around four in the morning). The pub is overpriced, and the atmosphere didn't do too much for me, but if you like pseudo-authentic Irish pubs, and you're on the South Strip, you might like it.

I had lunch the following day at the ESPN Zone. This comped meal had nothing to do with gambling, but rather was the result of a great promotion they have on their website. All you have to do is join the ESPN Zone MVP Club, and you'll receive a $20 gift certificate, a $10 game card for the arcade, and a free six-pack cooler. Sadly, I would leave the six-pack cooler at the Pai Gow table (which is actually a shame, as it was pretty nice, much nicer than I expected), but I took full advantage of the other two gifts. $20 will barely cover a meal in the overpriced restaurant. Actually, as all I wanted was a cheeseburger, I got off cheap, and probably could have squeezed in dessert, too, though I might have owed a dollar or two. But you can't complain about getting $20 in free food for just signing up for an e-mail newsletter you can cancel anytime (the free magazine offer they tout is something you have to opt-in for, so no need to worry about cancelling it unless you want to receive the free issues). I forgot the menu said burgers served well-done unless requested, so I found the burger rather dry. But not bad, and the fries were good. The arcade was okay. Not a lot of stuff I like to play, but they had two pinball machines. I also managed to score respectably on the golf simulator, for a first-timer. I didn't want to waste much precious gambling time in an arcade, but it was a nice little break.

So concludes my impressions of New York-New York. While I generally spend a lot of time in the hotel I'm staying at (I never went outside during my two days at Green Valley Ranch), this trip I moved around a lot. I set food in the Monte Carlo for the first time (wasn't impressed). I gambled at Bellagio for the first time (won $100 on video poker). I rode the monorail a lot (which meant trekking through the MGM Grand a lot--another casino that really doesn't impress me at all). I spent most of my time, however, on the North Strip, especially the Venetian and Wynn, and a fair amount of time at the Las Vegas Hilton.

While at Green Valley Ranch, I read an odd and disturbing article about the Venetian gondola attraction's duck infestation. It was distressing that the ducks would be left to starve, but the article seems to suggest the ducks will soon be able to leave on their own, or that they could very easily be relocated. So it seems like it's gotten rather blown out of proportion. But still, I was tempted to pick up some cheerios to feed to them, but decided not to. When I made it over to the Venetian, I looked for the ducks, and sure enough, they were chilling on some gondolas, not looking like anything was wrong. I intended to buy a bagel or something to feed them on my way out, but soon it was late, and the ride was running, and I'm sure security would have frowned on me feeding them. And it's my vacation, and I was a bit self-absorbed, nothing wrong with that. I'm sure the ducks will be okay.

I don't know if the Venetian is feeding the ducks, but they fed my wallet pretty good. I had some small wins on a few visits, and my last night, I really cleaned up. They have a pretty good game, and I was surprised by the low limits. Considering the place was fairly busy, I was surprised I could consistently get a seat at a double-deck game with a $25 minimum. I imagine the situation is different on weekends, but compared to their neighbor the Wynn, the limits were completely reasonable (I never found a $50 table at the Wynn again; my last visit, the limits on the three open double-deck games were $100, $200, and $300 respectively). Their are better games in town, but for a property of its caliber, I was surprised by the availability. I played here a fair amount, and am hoping some good offers. I would really like to stay there, especially as I found myself feeling more comfortable than I thought I would there. It always seemed a bit too ritzy, with well-dressed executives mingling with trendy eurotrash, and I figured I'd feel out of place. That's why I like Green Valley Ranch, with an ultra-swank hotel partnered with a locals casino with a more down-to-earth clientele. But I didn't feel too out of place at the Venetian. Money talks, and any slob in a smelly tee-shirt is treated fine if he's playing enough. I don't see it becoming my home casino anytime soon, but with the Harrah's/Caesar merger ruining my last home casino (I played three hours there this trip, and earned a whopping $3 on my card), maybe I shouldn't have a home casino anymore...move around from trip to trip. But I would like to stay at Venetian sometime, check out their rooms. Pictures on-line sure make them look nice.

Incidentally, I thought I might have played blackjack with Stephen Spielberg at the Venetian. I think I was mistaken, though. Looked a lot like him, though. But maybe I'm just doubting myself too much; I would be more certain, but I was pretty sure I was playing with Quentin Tarentino the night before, but it turns out it was just a real ugly guy.

I won't go on about every single time I gambled. I'll just say the North end of the Strip is showing a lot of potential. I liked Venetian, liked the Wynn. Stayed away from the Stardust, just because the offers they've been sending me in the mail are an insult. $39/night for that dump? But I can get free rooms at Green Valley Ranch, which go for $250/night or so? Get real. I think they're just trying to trim the riff-raff from their database before they level the place to build Borgata Las Vegas, as the rumor has it.

Beyond the gambling, I didn't do to much. Went to the Bellagio, saw the conservatory, which was crappy, as I've noted. I never did see the dancing fountains there this trip, though...which is a shame, I really enjoy watching that. Saw a little bit from a distance, but that's it. I was over near TI, but the pirate show was cancelled due to technical difficulties. I've never seen the revamped show, would like to know if it's as bad as everyone says. I guess seeing the Wynn was the main spectacle for the trip. I enjoyed the common areas. I also enjoyed the outside approaching from the south side, from the Venetian. The mountain doesn't seem like much, just a bunch of waterfalls, but the effect is quite nice. More understated than the Mirage volcano, and as a result much less ridiculous. All in all, the Wynn doesn't reinvent Las Vegas or anything, it just shows that Steve Wynn has learned his lesson from the Golden Nugget/Mirage/Bellagio/etc., what works and what doesn't work, and produced a pretty neat place. Next time, I'll have to eat there, see if he got that right.

So in the end, I earned a not insubstantial amount of money. I figure it's easily more than I will be missing out on when I'm only working one day a week during summer school, so that's a plus. My last day in Vegas, I checked out of the hotel, had lunch at Paris, riding the monorail one last time (I got a good value out of my $10 one day pass, and passed it on to some guy outside the MGM Grand station before I left, to enjoy the last few hours left), and used up my credits in the ESPN Zone arcade, then hit the road. I hit the road a bit later than usual, and had some traffic along the way. I didn't stop much, just to get gas, and later to use the bathroom at Target, where I got Tanner a toy (a pink flamingo he really seems to enjoy) and myself a Mint Mocha Chip Frappachino at Starbucks (hated it). Hit traffic, but was home by 6:30 or so. All in all, a profitable and enjoyable trip. Green Valley Ranch disappointed me, but is still a pretty nice place. Wynn was nice to see, exceeding my expectations, lowered as they were by negative reviews. My opinion of the monorail improved, as it does seem to be a good value if you're staying on the North end of the Strip (I forget just how far apart some of the casinos are). I see no reason to stay at New York-New York, but at least I can add one more hotel to the list of Vegas hotels in which I've stayed. I saw a duck, which is always exciting to me, even if it was under uncertain circumstances. And Tanner got a new rope and plush toy to destroy. A fun vacation and a well-needed refresher. Now I just need to book a vacation for the week after summer school ends (I figure if they can do without me at work for six weeks, one more won't hurt).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hello, in what I do believe is my first ever posting live from Las Vegas! I am currently in my room at Green Valley Ranch, where I have paid $6 for the priviledge of accessing the internet for two hours in my room on my hotel TV. I forgot, the lastime I used one of these, I vowed, never again, because the technology and keyboard are crap. I hope this is relatively error-free, but I appologize if it is more typo-laden than usual, and blame my keyboard and the ridiculous display.

So yes, I'm in Vegas. I forget if I got out a quick goodbye post, but yes, I did leave, and yes, I'm here. The drive was uneventful; getting past Barstow was a bit hairy, and while it didn't seem like I was stopped that long, the total drive took about 5 hours and 40 minutes, which is pretty slow for me, espeically since I didn't stop much. I checked in to my room at Green Valley Ranch around 3:30. Nice room, but not particularly thrilling, just what I expect from them, which is pretty high quality. I have a view of the parking garage, unfortunately, but nothing else to complain about. After checking in, I immediately headed down to gamble, and immediately got slaughtered. Some splits and double downs really turned ugly. I took a breather up in my room, then gave it another try, and did even worse (though it took me longer to lose this time). So it was on a sour note that I went to dinner.

I had an early lunch, and was hungry, so I decided to have the all-you-can-eat sushi the first night, rather than Il Fornaio. I was on the fence about the sushi place, so this would be a good chance to make up my mind. I must say, the all-you-can-eat deal is a solid value. The sushi didn't really blow me away, but it was quite reasonable for the price. Except for some market price items, the menu was pretty inclusive, including expensive rolls and non-sushi appetizers, as well as soup and noodle bowls. But I stuck to sushi. They post slightly intimidating rules, which were fairly reasonable, mainly that you have to eat the rice, too, you can only order one roll at a time, and you will be charged for uneaten portions. This being my first time there, I think I felt too much pressure to get top value for the cost, and ordered too many rolls, which aren't my favorite, necessarily. The Alaskan roll was pretty good, but the Godzilla roll (eel and fried shrimp, and I think some other form of seafood as well as avocado) was just too much. But if you enjoy this kind of thing, this buffet is a great value, since those rolls can be close to $15 there. My first order of Unagi was fantastic, but a follow-up order was some of the grittiest eel I've had. I understand this happens with Unagi, but it was still disappointing. The Mackeral was pretty good, too. I got there just after opening, and they weren't busy at all, so I was impressed by how fast I got my made-to-order sushi. Again, on straight quality, while it's not bad, I'm still not real impressed. But for the value, the all-you-can-eat weekday special is something I will return for.

I really need to go get dinner, so I'll keep this short. Gambling was uneventful, pretty much; I won most of my money back. Will take one more stab at break-even after dinner; it would be nice to be even or ahead before I begin my strip vacation, but in any event, I've done well enough that my bankroll will still be respectable when I get over to Las Vegas Blvd. and check out the Wynn. I had breakfast at The Original Pancake House. It was okay; I ordered french toast, and wasn't as impressed as I had been by their pancakes, so I guess I'll stick to their specialty in the future. The coffee was good; don't know how good it was, but I'm not one to rave about coffee, so if I noticed it, it must be pretty good. I had lunch at the buffet. I wasn't very hungry, but felt like I got a decent value. I wasn't impressed in the past, and was even less impressed this time; I mostly just ate some decent chinese food. But the desserts are impressive. Most notable is the real hot fudge (not hershey's syrup, or even real chocolate sauce), something I don't think I've seen in a buffet before. Since I often move on to dessert quite early in my buffet dining experience, this alone moves the Green Valley Ranch buffet way up on my list.

And now I will be getting dressed and heading down for a late dinner at Il Fornaio. This is the only restaurant at Green Valley Ranch that really impresses me, so I'm sure it will be a fine meal. All in all, I'm having a good time. I like the hotel here, and I enjoy the colorful characters you meet in the laid-back casino. I just wish I hadn't paid for this crappy internet (especially since I didn't have any good e-mail)--though with my hotel credit from the marketing department, I shouldn't have to pay my own cash. I should even have enough after dinner to order room service for breakfast (though the 20% gratuity on the inflated prices cuts down on the value, although I usually tip high as a percentage for breakfast, especially when dining alone). But I'll wrap this up now, and post any stories that occur to me when I get home. I realize it's a boring post, but I just wanted to let you know Las Vegas has not yet devoured me and spit me out.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

For the second year in a row, I have coincidentally booked my Las Vegas vacation to coincide with the Las Vegas film festival. Last year I was trying to rush over to see a documentary on Billy Joe Shaver (who was profiled in a rather bland piece on 60 Minutes last week), but hit about the worst traffic I've experienced on my way to Vegas (the drive back is usually the bad one) and missed it. This year, the only thing I see that I'd really like to see while I'm there is The Aristocrats, which plays the evening of my first night in town. Might be hard to pull myself away from the tables to be on stand-by for a movie that just involves telling the same dirty joke over and over again, especially since it appears to be sold-out and I'd be in the stand-by line, but it is something I've been wanting to see for some time. So we'll see how the tables treat me at first, and if I'm ready for a break, I might check it out.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Work has begun on The Simpsons: The Movie. Of course, based on some recent episodes, it's hard to get too excited. Like that god-awful episode where Bart becomes a rapper. God, how many times have they re-run that piece of crap?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Apparently, John Coleman, local San Diego weatherman and founder of The Weather Channel, won some sort of meteorological award. I just caught the tail end of the news report, and having become obsessed with him for some reason I can't quite say (and a few interesting stories I've heard, which libel law forbids me repeating here), I tried to find a news story on-line, but no luck (KUSI doesn't have a web site to speak of). But I did find this interesting article about Mr. Coleman's ability to polarize our fine city.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Read the shocking story of comic legend Gallagher's latest tale of woe here and here. Gallagher apparently turned violent when waitresses selling alcohol became, in Gallagher's words, "distracting to the magical moments I'm trying to create." And truly, has a better discription of the genius of Gallagher ever been uttered? It's a shame for poor Gallagher, but the true victim here is audience member William Edwin May III, a Gallagher fan for 20 years, who believed, before the assault, that Gallagher is "here to the truth." Amen, brother...now what is he supposed to believe in? Gallagher 2?
The Museum of the American West in Griffith Park is opening an exhibit on Sergio Leone in July. Sounds exciting.
So, school is just about done. Friday was the last day of instruction. I have a paper due Monday, and a paper due Friday. The Friday paper is something I should be able to crank out in an hour or so, so I'm hoping I can turn it in Monday as well, save myself a trip to the literature building. I was supposed to have another take-home final, but the professor surprised us on Friday by saying there would be no final after all (not a huge shock, since it had occured to me, were there to be a final, she probably would have given us some details before the last day of class). She just wanted to keep us motivated, so we'd all go see Head-On in film lab the last week of class.

The only substantial piece of work I still have to do for the quarter is an eight-page paper on Benjamin Franklin and Gerrard Winstanley on their conflicting notions of citizenship, with Winstanley rebelling against the enclosures and demanding an end to private ownership of land, while Franklin is attempting to define a notion of business ethics and how to be a good citzen within a capitalist system. Or something like that. I intended to compare Winstanley with Margaret Cavendish, with a similar thesis regarding the role of a citizen in forming a utopian society, but it was a stretch, and in the course's pentultimate lecture, on Franklin and business ethics, among other things, it seemed a more interesting and less forced argument to compare him to Winstanley. I have yet to write a word of the paper, but I am confident I can write a tightly-argued paper to the satisfaction of the requirements laid out for the assignment. Our grade is basically two papers, I got an A on the first, so as long as I don't self-destruct on this paper (which I have done before), I'll be fine.

I had hoped to make substantial progress on the paper today at work, being a Sunday, which means I'll be in the office most of the day. Unfortunately, I forgot Sir David Attenborough is going to be speaking here today, receiving the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. I don't know how many attendees of his lecture will also be coming to the aquarium (the lecture is free, but does not include aquarium admission), but we'll probably be busy, and even if we're not, they'll probably need me to man checkpoint and do other duties. But even if I just get a page or two written, the first page is always the hardest, and if I can get a little momentum going before I get home and finish the paper, maybe I'll get to bed at a decent hour, and be able to get my other assignment completed in time to turn in Monday, as well. Of course, the fact that I'm writing this post rather than the paper shows I'm allowing myself to get distracted. But I'm sure it will all work itself out somehow.

I had dinner last night at East Buffet on Miramar Road. It purports to be the largest buffet in San Diego, and after eating there, I'd be hard-pressed to argue the point. The selection was quite broad, and while the food was not of the top quality, it was certainly adequate, and at $12 for dinner on weekends (weekdays and lunch prices are even more of a bargain), you can't beat the value. The sushi station was quite good by buffet standards, with the various rolls you expect, but also plenty of nigiri sushi options, including salmon, tuna and mackerel. Again, not the best selection or highest quality fish, but for the price, better than I expected. I definately recommend it, especially if you like seafood and sushi. The mongolian grill looked good, but always had a long line. Desserts were actually pretty good, by asian buffet standards. It was pretty busy on a Saturday night, and I understand the wait to be seated for lunch can be long.

With the pressures of school reaching their peak in the final weeks of the quarter, and with the daunting task of taking intensive latin in summer school casting its dark shadow on my soul, how do I find relief? I booked four nights in Vegas the week after finals, two nights at Green Valley Ranch and two at New York New York. The trip will give me a chance to recharge before summer school, but the real value is in the anticipation, keeping my eye on the prize as I struggle through the quarter's endgame. Of course, the trip itself will be nice. I've never stayed at NYNY before, and as I probably won't gamble much there for reasons I'll leave unsaid, I can expand my horizons along the strip. I got a decent offer in the mail from the Venetian, for $99/night rooms weeknights, with just a minimal amount of slot play, so I intend to play some blackjack there and see what mail that generates. I hate paying for rooms in Vegas, but if I can get them down a little bit more, I'd pay to check out the Venetian, given all the great things I've heard about their rooms. I also will be checking out the Wynn, of course. I was surprised that the blackjack limits there were lower than I thought; I figured you'd be SOL looking for anything below $100 in double-deck. But I was wrong, apparently, and I intend to play a bit there, too, see if I can generate any room offers, or maybe get a buffet comp (though reviews of the buffet sound rather underwhelming). The japanese restaurant is also supposed to be more affordable than I thought, so I might give that a try. But I will be having the sushi buffet at GVR, and I do have several free dining offers to take up on while on the strip, so I don't know if I'll pay for sushi this trip (or if I do, it will be to take advantage of happy hour at the Fashion Show Mall across the street from the Wynn). I also am toying with the idea of seeing Gladys Knight this trip, which I consider almost every trip. The one time I finally resolved to see her, she was sick. With a four night stay, making time for a show shouldn't be too hard. I'll probably leave it up to fate, and go if the 1/2 price ticket outlets have any tickets for her. But I definately will see her sometime; "Midnight Train to Georgia" is one of my favorite songs. Beyond that, my goals are to make a bunch of money, see the Wynn, have some good food, relax, see the Bellagio Conservatory (it was closed for the seasonal change-over last time I tried), try to have the Paris buffet for tradition's sake, and just have a good time. I can hardly stand the wait. If you would like to recreate my anguished websurfing while waiting for the week to pass, check out Las Vegas Advisor (though there's not much for free here, and I'd have a hard time recommending a membership since I'm less and less certain as time goes on I'll renew) and Cheapo Vegas, one of the best websites around on Vegas, and funny enough to entertain those not that familiar with Vegas (it's a labor of love, mostly, but they do update fairly regularly, and already have some comments on the Wynn).