Saturday, July 30, 2005
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Monday, July 25, 2005
I got an early start to get up to the casino for my Saturday morning check-in time. It was the most pleasant drive I've experienced going up there, given the early hours, and I made in just under an hour, give or take. I saw a big sign for the "Viva Las Vegas" slot tournament over their special events room (a trailer, essentially), so I went there to check in, but there was no check-in there, just some sort of lounge set-up. So I went inside, and went to the Elite Players Club booth to get a card. I forgot mine, and I wanted to confirm that I had elite status there. They never officially informed me of my elite status, just started inviting me to elite events, like this tournament, and I did receive a letter explaining changes in the qualification requirements for elite status, but assuring me I had already easily met these higher point requirements. But a quick stop at the booth confirmed that I had elite status, and I got a new card. With the new card, I could use special elite club lines, which proved to be most useful throughout the weekend, as the place was busy. And if you've ever been there, you know the packed casino does not accommodate crowds well.
I found the tournament check-in, and got in line. Not a long line, but it seemed to move slow, as check-in took longer than it needed to. Cross your name off a list, hand you your tournament packet, and move on to the next. But before long, I got an envelope with my tournament times, and information on my free gift. The invitation promised me a free gift worth $1100, and I felt that the quality of this gift would largely determine how I felt about the tournament. When I first saw the gift, I was pissed. I was given a membership in the Aquaterra Dining Club, which entitled me to large discounts on all my dining at the Aquaterra Restaurant and Seafood Bar. My first reaction was, that the casino gave me an Entertainment Coupon Book, only it was good at only one restaurant. I was about ready to tell them where they could cram their free gift, but I decided to look at it more closely while I had brunch (they gave me four free buffets for coming up for the tournament). And upon closer examination, it's not a bad gift. In addition to discounts on dining (50% off a party of two), you receive a number of gift certificates, including breakfast or lunch for two, a free night in the hotel, a free round of golf, and other freebies, and some good bargains, as well. Their website shows that the membership is currently available on sale for $149. I don't know how much use I'll get out of it, but I'll use the free room, I'm sure, and the free meal, if nothing else. And the golf goodies will make a nice surprise for my boss who golfs. Basically, they gave me a nice enough gift, but they blew it by saying it was an $1100 value. They should have just said free mystery gift, or say it had a $149 value, rather than add up all the possible discounts to reach a hugely inflated number so you feel cheated. But as I say, upon reflection, I decided it was a nice gift, and that I would continue to have an open mind about the tournament as the weekend proceeded.
The promised gift was one reason I came; the buffet was another. I love their buffet, and this weekend I had brunch there twice. I'd never had brunch there before, and I was disappointed, somewhat. It looked a lot like lunch. I was in the mood for breakfast, and they didn't have much traditional breakfast fare. But in truth, selection has never been their strong suit, and I'm willing to let it slide (for free; if I was paying for the buffet, I would say the weekend brunch prices are way out of line). And once I found the bagels and lox, I was content. I generally would prefer that buffets have mini-bagels, as you don't want to fill up on them, but as there wasn't that much else that interested me as a main course, I was perfectly content to load a sesame bagel with smoked salmon. I munched on a few other things as well, that didn't really impress, then went to look at desserts, when I discovered that since my last trip, they'd added a strawberry shortcake station. I ended up having two of those, with strawberries, mixed berries, and whipped cream. Hard to mess up strawberry shortcake, I suppose, but I thought this an excellent addition to their buffet; this is probably my favorite buffet, anywhere, when it comes to dessert (Paris Las Vegas probably has my favorite buffet, overall, but shockingly, they really lack in the dessert department). I also had some cake and ice cream and cookies, but the lox and the strawberry shortcake are what mainly impressed me.
To get the buffet talk out of the way, I'll just quickly add that I also had the buffet for dinner Saturday night, and found it as I remembered it. I'm not as impressed with it as I first was, but I always find enough to eat to leave satisfied. The crap legs were really bad, though; tough and stringy. But to be fair, I wasn't very hungry, and only ate it because I had the free coupon. I mostly just wanted to eat desserts, and was more that satisfied there. I ate two huge strawberry shortcakes, and for dinner they had replaced the mixed berries with a heaping bowl of blackberries, which are one of my favorites, and I ate so many I gave myself an upset stomach on the way home. In fact, I thought I was going to puke, just as my car entered "the slalom," a four-mile stretch of road leading to the casino, where construction barricades force you to continue down your single lane of traffic, with nowhere to stop. So by the time I was able to stop, my stomach had settled down, and the crisis was averted.
Anyway, to get back to the tournament, there were three rounds in the tournament; two Saturday, one Sunday. Of course, they stager your tournament rounds, and the final round from the announcement of prizes, so that they can keep you in their casino as long as possible. My rounds on Saturday were at 1:15 and 5:45, and both were the last times in that round. They gave me a $25 match play coupon for showing up, so I used that at blackjack with no success, and later did okay at Pai Gow, and fantastic at Pai Gow. I ended up winning a substantial amount of money, so I was very glad I came, regardless of how I did in the tournament. Which is good, because I had no luck in the tournament, and it was obvious at the end of the day I had almost no chance of winning anything in the tournament. And as the day wore on, and I won more and more money, I was worried about losing all my money before the day was out. I killed some time driving up the road to Harrah's, cashing in my $15 coupon, and leaving. They cut me down to $5 coupons in my most recent mailing, so I saw no reason to play there, if they weren't going to treat me right. So I just ran the $15 through a slot machine, quickly won some cash at blackjack, and after about five minutes, headed back to Valley View. As I say, I'd won a lot of money, and just wanted to kill time until the second round of the tournament. Fortunately, the special events room was turned into a lounge for tournament players. They had baseball on a big-screen TV, and nice refreshments. I had lots more smoked salmon, and they had these fantastic cookies, with icing on top done up sort of like Easter eggs. The first one I grabbed resembled a stuffed lime, but turned out to be mint, and was just wonderful. It was someone frustrating, that I had all those free buffet coupons, yet there was so much food to eat in the lounge I wasn't hungry. But I suppose that's a good problem to have. So I hung out in there some, played a bit more in the casino (at lower stakes), and successfully preserved my winnings for the day. After the tournament, I ate the buffet, and went home.
Sunday I could sleep in, as I didn't have to be back until 1:15. I went back up with a friend, and we ate the buffet after my tournament round. Again, my elite card's status as a line pass really saved us; the lines for the buffet were horrendous (with the exception of Saturday morning for the buffet, when there was no line). I knew I had no chance in the tournament, but to encourage us to return, they were raffling off ten trips to Vegas, with a stay at the Las Vegas Hilton (no big deal, I get free rooms there all the time, and am in fact staying there in two weeks or so), and gave everyone $100 in free slot play for showing up Sunday. Unfortunately, by the time they announced the winners (as expected, I got nothing) and activated the free slot play on our slot cards, I had lost a fair amount of money. I was still up quite a bit for the weekend, but was kicking myself for giving so much of my winnings back. I went to play the video poker machine I'd been playing most of the weekend, but couldn't get a seat, so I just sat down at a random slot machine and decided to play my free play there. I played a few hands, didn't hit much, and was down to about $50 in free play left, when I got triple bar in the first space, a 3x pay wild symbol in the second, and nothing in the third. The machine started flashing lights and a ticket for a substantial amount of money was spit out of the machine. I stared at the machine for awhile, but couldn't figure out what I hit. I finally decided not to worry about it, and played the rest of my slot play without hitting anything. The huge win on this machine meant I was a small winner Sunday, as well, so I made a lot of money this weekend. Later, I showed my friend the machine, and he explained that the wild symbols on this machine counted even if they don't stop right on the line. So I got the three triple-bars payout x3, because of the bonus multiplier (the bonus multiplier only counts if it lands on the line, though).
So, what was my overall impression of the tournament? Well, had I lost money, I'd probably be less charitable, but I think it was a good tournament. There was only about 300 or so players in the tournament, so the odds weren't too bad. Though the $60,000 prize pool was somewhat exaggerated; I don't think they included the Aquaterra membership, but I think they included the $100 in slot play in that figure, and possibly the trips to Vegas. Only about $20,000 in cash, or less, was given out in cash prizes in the tournament. Still not bad, though. And the lounge was a nice little touch, with fantastic food. Overall, a nice way of rewarding their most valued players. It will be a tough call whether I'll go back for the next one, assuming I'm invited. It's a long drive; if I got the hotel room, I'd do it, but if I had to drive out there both days like I did this time, I don't know if I'd do it. But I'm glad I went this time.
I saw Batman Begins last week, and was blown away. I was cautiously optimistic, hoping it might be an enjoyable summer blockbuster, but was shocked by how much I loved it. It's not a perfect film, but overall really captures the essence of the character; the sets are dark, and the subject matter is darker. A cautionary tale about how fear can destroy a society seems fitting for our time. And Michael Caine as Alfred is perfect casting. And Katie Holmes compensates for her miscasting enough to not ruin the film. I was really impressed.
In a film viewing more relevant to my recent life, I received the DVD of The Browning Version in the mail a little while ago. I'd seen it on TV years ago, and was looking forward, in the midst of summer school, to watching the pathetic tale of a retiring classics professor, who looks back on his life and realizes he wasted his life. Andrew Crocker-Harris, known as "the Crock" when his students are in a good mood, or "Himmler of the Lower Fifth" when they (or the headmaster, for that matter) aren't in such high spirits, has a reputation of terrorizing his pupils, as he drills them in rote translations that suck the joy out of the ancient texts he so reveres. Forced to retire due to illness, he is struck by a realization of how badly he's failed as a teacher, which, along with a sham marriage and the unexpected kindness of a student, overwhelms him. Every review seems to describe it as the anti-Goodbye, Mr. Chips (which is itself mentioned, sarcastically, in the movie), and it seems an apt description. The Crock doesn't get redemption at the end, but he gets self-realization, which is something, I suppose. The film lived up to my memories of it, and Michael Redgrave is fantastic as Crocker-Harris. The film builds to a climax in his retirement speech, a powerful moment, yet it is merely a reflection of the powerful emotions he unleashes throughout the film in smaller touches: reacting cruelly to a student's polite laughter at a joke (is he too cold to recognize the gesture as a courtesy, or his he angered at being the recipient of a young boy's pity?), breaking down after receiving another kindness from a student, or taking in the news of his nickname of "Himmler" (in a post-war Britain where the name certain stung more than we might appreciate). The film is old-fashioned, perhaps, and perhaps feels a bit stage-bound, but the minimalist direction is used masterfully (as someone remarks on the DVD extras, you can really appreciate the direction when you think of how various directors have ruined great plays). And as the number of films that really express the subject of failure well is fairly slim, I am very thankful to now have this film on DVD.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Of course, the announcement of the nominee was overshadowed here in San Diego by the announcement of Councilman Zucchet's resignation after he and that jackass Inzunza were convicted of extortion and corruption on Monday (Inzunza is so full of himself, he was refusing to resign, and only caved after Zucchet resigned). It seemed pretty obvious they were guilty of something, but it's hard to draw the line between a bribe and a campaign contribution these days, so I was just waiting to see what the jury decided. Hopefully this will have a sobering effect on local politicians, and perhaps give Donna Frye a boost, considering her sometimes adversarial role on the council. The best part, though, is that this is a huge boost to U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, whose next target is Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
In further local news, it's hot as fuck. It's been hot for awhile, but today some tropical monsoon or something brought rain and hellish humidity today, making it the first really miserable day. I spent part of the afternoon in Solana Beach, which wasn't too bad. I went up to buy tickets for Pink Martini at the Belly Up Tavern. I had thought of going up to see them in San Jose, but as my sister will be 8 1/2 weeks pregnant at the time, I thought maybe I better not get underfoot. But then last night, I got an e-mail newsletter from the band, which mentioned that the San Diego gig was almost sold out. That there was a San Diego gig was news to me, so I decided to drive up and buy the tickets, to save the service charge, and scout out the place (I've never been, nor do I think I've ever even been in Solana Beach). Grabbed a bite to eat in some hole in the wall place, bought my ticket, and went to some pet store, and bought tanner a thing to chew on that's supposedly good for his teeth (he sniffed it for awhile, then hid it, first underneath my pillow, then, when he saw me find it, under a chair cushin). Unfortunately, I forgot that today was opening day at Del Mar for the horseraces, so it was not a pleasant drive. Not as bad as it could have been, though. So I'll be seeing Pink Martini in September, which is very exciting.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
The nice thing about Thursday is, the place isn't too crowded, and since you don't have to worry too much about navigating the crowds, you can really cover the floor. I probably saw everything in about 90 minutes. I ended up walking the length of the convention center and back at least five times, always remembering something I wanted to see on the other end. Yet I still felt rushed, just because I only had one day, so I didn't tend to dilly-dally at booths for unfamiliar properties. But I managed to hit everything I wanted to see, and spend all my hard-earned money. The Peanuts booth had two Comic-Con exclusive T-shirts, which I will post pictures of when I get a chance. Old school images from the new Fantagraphics anthologies, with Charlie Brown on one shirt, and a cast of characters on the other a la The Brady Bunch. I don't generally wear brown T-shirts, but they are pretty keen, with some glittery writing and all. They had other shirts available, including a Peanuts/Mutts crossover shirt for the museum's new exhibit, which was pretty cool, but since I hope to make it up to the museum sometime relatively soon, I passed on them. I bought the new collection at the Unshelved booth; I was wearing their "Mad About Reading" shirt, so that got me some street cred there. I also bought the new K Chronicles collection. I learned later that his "I'd Rather be Masterbating" bumper stickers were not going to be reordered, so I missed my chance to pick up one a few of those collector's items. I also bought a Comic-Con exclusive Princess Leah action figure for my sister, and some Krazy and Ignatz collections, including some out-of-print books for which I think I got a good price. All in all, I spent just over $100 on stuff, which isn't bad considering the number of options one has to blow money at Comic-Con.
I attended a total of three panels, only one of which I was really excited by. First, I decided to attend the panel for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 2005, just to see what they hell they were thinking. Apparently, they decided the problem with the film is the lack of dialogue, so they digitally removed the original actors and placed new, talking actors into the original sets. It sounds like a terrible idea, but watching clips, it just seems unnecessary. Visually, it looks fine, and in the small, unfinished clips, the dialogue seemed to add nothing. I was offended by the repeated claim by the director that silent films, by their very nature, lack character development, because you can't have fully-rounded characters without dialogue. That's news to me. I am fairly certain I will pass on seeing the finished product, but it hardly seems worth getting too worked up about.
Later, I attended the Bruce Campbell session. I'm not a huge Campbell fan; I liked Bubba Ho-Tep, and vaguely recall watching Army of Darkness. But Campbell is a charismatic guy, and I anticipated he might be fun to hear. And I was right; his session was the highlight of Comic-Con for me this year. He shared some clips from upcoming projects; Disney's Sky High (which I will probably pass on, but which actually looks pretty good), an Evil Dead videogame, and the audio verison of his new book. But most of the time he reserved for Q&A. I have remarked in the past that the questioning at Comic-Con can be quite painful to listen to (my sole comfort in missing the rest of the Con is that I didn't have to listen to the Q&A at the Adult Swim panel...though I am curious if someone asked, "Why did you get rid of Captain Murphy, he was great!" without being aware that the actor died, for the third year in a row), but fortunately Campbell was up to the challenge of keeping things moving. CineSchlock-O-Rama already has a recording of the entire presentation on-line, so I won't go into too much detail. But he was more than willing to state the obvious, and respond to one question with a succinct, "You, sir, are a moron." He was constantly being asked when this or that property would be on DVD, and though he stock answer was, "I am an actor they don't tell me shit," he sometimes would expand a bit; for instance, when asked when Alien Insurrection would be on DVD, he asked, "Why, because it was so good? Are you being a smartass?" He tore into one questioner who asked about the paperback version of his new book, asking how such a cheap bastard could pay to get into Comic-Con. And near the conclusion of the panel, he was asked about his worst experience with Hollywood. Rather than discuss his experiences on a set, he discusses this summer's movie output. The A-pictures of today are yesterday's B-movies, he claimed. "If aliens invade earth in War of the Worlds, that's a B-movie." That may sound like an odd insult, almost a compliment, coming from a man so successful in the world of B-movies, but the B-movie formula doesn't mesh well with Hollywood egos and pomposity. And along with Hollywood, he also went after the exhibitors, and urged the audience to support their independent theatres and revival houses. Which was nice to hear (though our local indie theatre was so on-the-ball in promoting Campbell's new movie, that Campbell himself didn't know Thursday where it was playing...I had to go on the web that evening to find it was a midnight movie at the Hillcrest). Of course, Campbell concluded his call to arms to not support the Hollywood dreck by adding, "But see Sky High." It was a very fun hour of hilarity, and I highly recommend hearing the man speak if he ever is out your way.
The third panel I attended was Keith Knight's, obstensibly celebrating his tenth anniversary (he's been at it much longer than that, but he figured he could only get a panel if he said it was his big 1-0). He, too, was a funny guy, and gave an engaging presentation, more low-key than Bruce Campbell's, but still appealing in its own way. He showed a bunch of slides, talked about the odd controversies that have plagued the strip; a strip about crack whores was censored because a paper's white liberal readership would object to the supposed implication that all black people like crack (yet a Viagra-inspired series of penis jokes ran without comment). He also discussed his long history with Comic-Con, crashing Artist's Alley for several years, then running afoul of Con organizers with his afore-mentioned "I'd rather be masterbating" apparel (he told a funny story about a little girl noticing the bumper stickers, and pointing it out with glee to her mother, who decided it was just perfect for her 12-year-old son). He showcased a wide variety of his work, from the more bizarre and silly to the overtly political. He also disucssed some non-comic work, such as a flier he put up in San Francisco, offering the service of renting out black people for corporate events (he is at work expanding this idea into a larger project, he said). This panel is the reason I decided, if I could only go to Comic-Con one day, to go on Thursday, and it lived up to my expectations.
After the Keith Knight panel, I was ready to go home. I spent a lot of time on the floor, and when it's not too crowded, you can see everything pretty quickly. I was actually getting a bit bored. I think you're lucky, sort of, if you have to wait in line. Last year, I spent about 90 minutes in line to get autographs from the cast of Freaks and Geeks. That sort of thing sort of splits up your time, so you don't overdo your time on the floor. I also think it hurt that I didn't really have a plan, because I didn't think I was going to make it to Comic-Con this year. So once I bought the few things I knew I wanted, I didn't really have a mission. And basically Thursday isn't the most exciting day at Comic-Con. So the convention did drag at times. And looking over the entire schedule of events, there wasn't a whole lot that interested me this year. There were some things I would have liked to see, but nothing that pained me too much to miss. Still, I had a pretty good time, and am definately glad I went. Next year, I'll do Comic-Con right.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Comic-Con is in two weeks, and I will not be attending. I agreed to work that weekend, not realizing it was Comic-Con weekend. And I don't feel like paying $20 or so just for a one-day pass, when I can't make it on a school day before 2:00 or so. I haven't had time to peruse the schedule yet, so if there is something really cool Thursday or Saturday afternoon, I still might go. But I think I just need to focus on Latin this year.
I am gaining more experience with on-line poker. I learned the danger of the "blackjack" option at Paradise Poker. You can open a window with a blackjack game while you play poker. I've had good luck at it, while playing for modest stakes, mostly. But last night, I was playing a $0.50/$1 Hi-Lo Stud game, and lost $30, which pissed me off (lost a bundle with three Queens rolled up). I was just taking a little study break, so I didn't have time to play a tournament to win the money back, so I decided to make my stand at blackjack. And in ten minutes, I had no money in my Paradise Poker account. And I'd built it up pretty nice, winning some $20 buy-in tourneys. So that was an expensive lesson for me: no more blackjack on-line. I'll just stick to poker. I've done pretty good at poker; I've moved up to the $20 single-table tournaments ($100 first prize), and I came in first twice today, helping me start building up a poker bankroll again.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Friday, July 01, 2005
One annoying thing: Parking is as bad in the summer as it is all year. There's hardly any student parking lots left on campus. The first day, I tried parking in the Gilman parking structure, and while I knew it was mostly staff and faculty parking, I was shocked just how little student parking there is. There is a dorm parking lot not far from there, where I had luck parking the first couple days, but it was full on Thursday, and for the last two days I've parked over by the La Jolla Playhouse. I paid almost $100 for the parking permits (we run a week longer than the traditional summer session, so I had to buy an occasional use permit as well), and ended up parking a five-minute walk away from free street parking for almost half the week. At least I learned a valuable lesson to never again buy a permit for school (I still need occasional use permits to park at work, but at least there's plenty of spaces available).
Today I didn't even try to get a good parking space, seeing as the drive to school was bad enough. I spilled coffee all over myself, and didn't have time to go home and change. What was odd was, I managed to really up-end the coffee mug, so that I spilled some on my lap, but most of it wound up in my face. I had to pull over and get a rag out of the trunk to wipe my face and glasses clean. I don't quite understand just how I managed to pull that off. Guess it's just part of the bad luck I've been having playing poker on-line (I lost almost everything I won, but now I've won a good chunck of it back).