Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It seems serendipitous to me that I finished reading a history of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 just in time to witness the recent hurricane damage on the news. I find myself somewhat lacking in sympathy given the horrendous behavior of the town fathers of New Orleans toward their neighbors during the prior flood, which I realize is horribly unfair of me, but what can I say? But still, it's interesting to witness similar sorts of destruction, if on a smaller scale. And my Randy Newman google news alert is keeping busy, as just about everyone has to mention "Louisiana 1927" at some point in their description of the destruction. Why no one on the Weather Channel chooses to express their sympathy by saying "Isn't it a shame what the [hurricane] has done to this poor cracker's land" is beyond me.

But however cold-hearted I may be tempted to be due to early 20th-century history, my sympathies to those who lost homes or loved ones. And my deep sympathy to the people of Biloxi, who have lost several casinos, a loss I can truly relate to.

Dinny of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is now the spokes-dinosaur of the creationist movement. And I'm not talking Intelligent Design creationists, I'm talking "Dinos marched two-by-two onto Noah's Ark" creationists.

Incidentally, isn't it odd that right-wing fundamentalists have embrased intelligent design so? I remember not that long ago (I still see the documentary airing on public access with that helmet-haired fellow defending the honor of Thomas Jefferson) that fundamentalists were aghast that one would dare to suggest that our founding fathers believed in anything other than the hands-on role of God in even the smallest matter, and now they argue that God merely put the forces of evolutionary development in place and let things play out? Sounds like a Deist view of the universe to me. How things change.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Last night I saw John Wesley Harding perform at an Acoustic Music San Diego concert, and had a great time. He was performing with the Love Hall Tryst, which consists of Kelly Hogan, Brian Lohmann, and Robert Lloyd (supplementing the line-up in the absence of the very pregnant Nora O'Connor). Kelly Hogan was the name that got me in the door (I love her voice, and think she deserves Neko Case's career), but I looked forward to hearing Harding, of whom I was only passingly familiar.

I also looked forward to checking out the venue. I was unfamiliar with Acoustic Music San Diego, but their line-up looked interesting. And they hold their concerts in an old church, which sounded like an appropriate environment for hearing old folk tunes. As I approached the church on Adams Avenue, I saw some sort of carnival ride rising up over the local businesses, and wondered if I had forgotten about the Adams Avenue Street Fair, but it turns out there was just some sort of carnival going on across the street from the church. But there still was plenty of parking available, and the carnival wasn't too noisy (the occasional screams that seeped into the church only seemed to compliment some of the more gruesome folk melodies). The church was nice, an about average-sized sanctuary with vaulted ceilings, and a typical lightly-adorned motif with stained glass windows and cross and whatnot. The acoustics were good, and the atmosphere suited the evening well.

For the first set, the various musicians performed a few of their own songs, before the second set, dominated by the material from the Songs of Misfortune Love Hall Tryst album. I was almost immediately taken by Harding's material, as well as his voice, which seemed a mix of Jon Langford and Elvis Costello. He performed "Miss Fortune," sort of a prelude to the second act, a song which seemed a bit heavy-handed when I encountered some of the lyrics in print, but which just comes across as direct and unassuming when performed. Brian Lohmann performed a few amusing songs in the novelty vein, which were somewhat underwhelming following Harding's material, but were fine as a palate-cleanser. Kelly Hogan's set was as enjoyable as I'd hoped, and I was surprised when she said the first song she performed was from the women's wrestling documentary, Lipstick & Dynamite, giving me another reason to see that film when I get the chance. She also sang a duet with Harding, the Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn tune "It's Only Make Believe," which was a highlight of the evening for me.

The second set was predominantly devoted to performing the Songs of Misfortune album (they performed every tune save one), a collection of mostly a capella folk tunes referenced in Wesley Stace's (Harding's real name) historical novel Misfortune, some of the time period, some written in the style of the time. Some of the new songs, such as "The Sanguinary Butcher," I mistook for songs of the era, while others, such as Leonard Cohen's "Joan of Arc," possess a rather modern mindset without removing the listener from the conceit of the project. I loved the songs, and their presentation, and am certain the CD will be my next music purchase, and Stace's novel my next book purchase. Harding broke up the Love Hall Tryst material with mini-sets of his other material, including an amusing summary of Hamlet, which is available for download on his old website.

All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable evening. Kelly Hogan was great, I became a fan of John Wesley Harding, and I discovered a great venue to see acoustic music in San Diego (Dave Alvin will be there in a few months). And seeing the carnival across the street reminded me that the Adams Avenue Street Fair is just a few weeks away.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I've been watching the Season 6 boxed set of The Simpsons, and enjoying it very much, as well I should. Some great episodes in season six, including the classic "Bart of Darkness," with the Rear Window parody. But I was most excited to see that "A Star is Burns," the Simpsons/Critic crossover, was included. Matt Groening was unhappy with the concept, and took his name off the episode. I was looking forward to hearing about the details, and witnessing the fun that was portended on a previous season's audio commentary, when guest voice Jon Lovitz needled Groening about the situation (on "A Streetcar Named Marge," possibly my favorite Simpsons ever). But lo and behold, I listen to the audio commentary, and Matt Groening is nowhere to be found. James L. Brooks is present, as is Lovitz, and it's a funny commentary (Lovitz' comments about Phil Hartman stealing his Charlton Heston impression are outrageous). But despite Lovitz' constant digs, it seems like it's straining a bit much to be non-controversial. So that was disappointing. And even more inexplicably, that episode is missing the belch sound effect from two scenes. They even discuss Maurice LaMarche's belching talent, yet the actual sound is missing. Very confusing--did Eudora Welty's estate threaten to sue? But don't let that prevent you from picking up this volume (or any of the previous, should you be lacking--come on folks, it's only money).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I went to Sycuan today. I recently went up just to cash in a coupon for $15 they sent me, played a poker tournament, lost, and went home, a $3 winner. No point gambling there, since all they ever send me is small cash coupons and 2-for-1 buffet coupons. Fortunately, my brief visit didn't register on their computer, so I got a $50 coupon, one of those "we miss you" things. Interestingly, the letter assured me that they have improved their comp system, so that it is easier to get free meals while playing. I arrived having eaten, so I can't say how easy it is to get a meal these days. Back when they first opened their "high limit" room, I remember the cocktail waitress would keep coming by with random food for me. I graciously accepted a shrimp cocktail, but declined buffalo wings, considering I was handling cards (and hate buffalo wings). That didn't last long. The last time I was there, I lost a frightful amount of cash, and was informed I could get about $4 in food. So that was my last visit. The fact that they would send out $50 showed that maybe they've loosened up on comps a tad, and someone at my table was dealing with a host and doing okay. Me, I didn't ask for anything, just got my $50, played about 45 minutes, and left up a very tidy sum. I still don't really like Sycuan, it just has a bad vibe, and I've had problems there in the past, and know others who have, too. And their buffet is pretty bad (cafe is good, though). Hard to recommend over, say, Barona, but if their comps for table players have in fact loosened up, at least that's something.
I mentioned awhile back enjoying the Wonka brand candies I purchased at Target. I just felt I should add that I found myself at a 99 cent store today, and found they had a variable cornucopia of Wonka candies. The Target bundles are probably a better deal, if you enjoy all the candies within, but since the Wonka corporation (I belive Nestle ran poor Charlie Bucket out in some hostile takeover a few years back) has ruined "Everlasting" Gobstopers, you're probably better off consulting your local bargain retailer. You can't ruin Nerds, after all. The new Wonka donut is rather disturbing, however. Actually does have an almost-donut-like consistency, but too chocolatey and sickening sweet. But love them Nerds. Sadly, no Runts or Bottlecaps were to be seen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I went to Valley View Casino last night for a blackjack tournament. Busted out in about five hands. Lost a mint on video poker, then hit a machine with my last few dollars, and ended up leaving ahead. Good buffet as always (love the berries and angel food cake, with fresh whipped cream), and I earned the gift of the month (wine glasses I'll probably never use). The tournament was okay, but the tables were just crammed into the back of the casino in what seemed to be a clear fire hazard to me, and like about everything they do, the execution could use some work, as I had to wait in about five lines to finally get my tournament registration, and the woman who signed me up was a bit testy. The tournament probably wasn't worth the long drive, but I combined the gambling junket with a trip to the Wild Animal Park, showed my mom their botanical gardens, and watched some road runners run around their cactus and native plant gardens. A pretty fun day overall, but it wore me out, and as I haven't been sleeping well lately, I was barely able to get myself out of bed to go to work, even though I didn't start until 10:30 today.
I saw The Aristocrats last week. Good fun. I was uncertain how a film about one joke could be amusing for 90 minutes, but it was. I figured it would be interesting, a look into the darker netherregions of the comic mind, but didn't know how entertaining it could be. Turns out it's damn entertaining, and while a few tellings of the joke really fall flat, most of the film had me in near-hysterics. All this without really having much of substance to say; I had a good time, but can't say I learned anything. Which is fine, as not every film must have the deep social commentary of Road House--which, I recently learned, has a sequel in development. But lots of funny, horribly offensive humor is on display, and maybe you leave the theatre with a bit more understanding of the mechanics of obscenity. And I was reminded that, lame sketches on Leno notwithstanding, Gilbert Gottfried can be very funny (his telling of the joke at the Friar's Club Roast of Hugh Hefner is the climax of the film, but his earlier explanation of just why their is blood involved in the routine of the joke's titular family act probably got the greatest belly-laugh out of me over the course of the film).

Going back to my Vegas trip, my decision to fly, and spend several hours sitting around airports, meant I finally finished Rising Tide. It took me awhile, it's a long book, epic in scope. Overall, I enjoyed it very much, but I found it interesting that the set-up to the flood was actually more interesting than the discussion of the flood itself. I guess that's because my thumbnail understanding of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was fairly accurate. Of the history of civil engineering and efforts to control the Mississippi River over the nation's history, I knew almost nothing. I also was aware of the racial tensions that erupted during the struggle to survive the flood, but I was unaware of the paradoxical pattern of the racial strive; the "refugee camp" (which, like most such camps during the flood, was actually a concentration camp to keep black sharecroppers, who would be needed to rebuild the post-diluvian South, from fleeing to the North) in Greenville, Mississippi, perhaps the most racially-harmonious community in the Mississippi delta, became a poster child for abuses in the system. Greenville's racial harmony emerged from necessity; making the delta region profitable required enormous manpower, and treating black sharecroppers fairly could prevent a labor shortage. Yet when the flood put pressure on this arrangement, things got ugly. Rising Tide covers the flood, and it's massive impact on American history, about as thoroughly as possible (I think a little bit about the role of the flood in propelling Huey Long to power). And as the overall impact of the flood is difficult to overstate, it is a very important story to tell.

I should note, the main reason I read Rising Tide is to gain a better appreciation of the Randy Newman song, "Louisiana 1927." And it served its purpose. "Louisiana 1927" has virtually the same tune as "Sail Away," another Newman tune, with slavery as its topic. The dichotomy between the beautiful orchestral score of "Sail Away" and it's subject matter has always been clear; the more I learned about the flood, the more the irony of "Louisiana 1927" came through. Now that I've finished Rising Tide, I have begun Randy Newman's American Dream, an unauthorized biography by Kevin Courrier. I'm not very far into it, and should withhold judgement, but I'm not yet hugely impressed. Newman declined to participate in the project, so the book seems to rely heavily on published material. Which is fine, but the more he references various articles and interviews and critiques, I find myself wishing he hadn't written a biography, but instead edited The Randy Newman Reader. Now that's something I'd like to read. I'll share my full opinion of his biography once I've finished reading it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

An interview with Andy Kindler on the state of the comedy industry.
My latest foray into on-line poker continues to grind on. I'm still playing primarily at Paradise Poker. You've probably seen their ads on T.V., for a million-dollar freeroll tournament they're hosting. While Paradise Poker has been lagging behind other sites (like Party Poker) by neglecting advertising, this new promotion is obviously bringing in a lot of new players. The most obvious sign of this is server problems. I'd never had an issue with maintaining a connection to the table at Paradise Poker, until the last week or two. Connectivity was an issue when I played at Empire Poker, and now it is becomming an issue at Paradise, too. It seems to have improved a bit in recent days, but it is still obvious the site is suffering from growing pains.

The new players also means the games are feeling more like games at Party Poker and Empire Poker (those two, incidentally, are essentially the same site, with different "skins" and promotions, but the same players and games). I should count my blessings, and not complain about softer, less experienced players coming into the fold, I've been having bad luck lately, with people sucking out on me playing hands I would never consider playing. Saturday night, I got creamed in about six tournaments in a row. Right before going to bed, I lost a tournament I was doing quite well in, when I raised substantially with AK and got called by the chip leader with 58, and the flop came K58. So that kicked me out of the tournament and off to bed. What made the situation more upsetting was, early in the tournament, I flopped a set three times in a row, and no one would call me then. But Sunday my luck turned, and while I never won a tournament, I placed in the money several times. And I ended up winning about $125 last week, so I shouldn't complain about a few bad beats.

I still consider Paradise the favorite site of the ones I've played at recently, but the connectivity problems are one strike against them. And the poker ecosystem of the site is coming to resemble Party Poker or Empire Poker, to a degree. Still, it's probably the best mix of strong and weak players I've played with. I enjoy playing sit-and-go tournaments (one table format), and both the level of players and the format make Paradise Poker a good site to frequent. Empire/Party Poker, both due to the prevelence of weak players and the higher blinds in relation to starting chips, are more dependent on luck, while the Poker Stars tournaments, with skilled players and low limits, require too much skill for me, even with nine players at a table (which means the prize money in a single-table tournament is only 90% of that at sites with 10-player tournaments). So for my current favorite game, I'd rather play Paradise. Their promotions aren't that great (the million dollar freeroll is fun enough, but the odds are really stacked against you). They don't offer many deposit bonuses, and you have to play a lot to earn the bonus (it works out to a 10% rebate of the rake--I've been playing there for about two months, and haven't cleared by $85 in bonuses yet). Empire Poker is better with offering bonuses, but again, clearing the bonuses is difficult (10% of the rake, and tournament fees paid don't count; only live play clears the bonus). Poker Stars bonuses are probably the easiest to clear, but they only offer deposit bonuses occasionally. Their bonuses are the easiest to clear with tournament play, but I don't like their tournaments. I stick to live play at Poker Stars, and have had good luck at Stud/8 there. At the moment, I'm still focusing my play at Paradise, but if I decide I need a little break, I might go play some at Poker Stars.

And finally, I should mention the issue of funding one's account. I use Neteller primarily (Paypal and most credit cards will decline any gambling transaction), with no problems. Neteller is free to use, but takes time (4-5 days for an electronic transfer); instant transfers are avaialable, but at a hefty 8.5% fee. Paradise Poker will pay the instant transfer fee for you, which is why I started playing there. The other sites I've mentioned will not, but Empire Poker will electronically transfer money directly from your checking account for free. Poker Stars does not offer any free, instant deposit option. So one must plan ahead to fund a Poker Stars account (I usually just cash out money from Paradise Poker into my Neteller account to fund Poker Stars). Where Poker Stars excels, for me at least, is in cashing-out. My cash out requests are processed in about five seconds. I believe it takes longer at first, but I've played at Party Poker a lot in the past, and have reached a level where my cash-outs are not delayed or reviewed, but the money is just instantly sent to my Neteller account. Paradise Poker isn't too bad, putting the money in my account the next business day. Empire Poker is the slowest of the three, taking about two business days (this was my first cash-out there, future cashouts might be faster).

My final verdict: Paradise Poker is my favorite site for sit-and-go tournaments, but I enjoyed playing live at Poker Stars. There are still a lot of poker sites out there, however, and I intend to try out more in the future (I didn't mention Planet Poker, where I have played in the past--this site is pitiful, and while being one of the originals, it has been creamed by the competition; no reason to play here). I think either Bodog or Poker Room will be the next new site I try; I'll keep you posted.

I chatted with my host at Valley View Casino about my football invitation. Turns out I'm not quite qualified to go to a Chargers game, so I have to settle for an Aztecs game, instead. Which is fine. I'm not a football fan, and I figured I might enjoy a college game more, since the players have more to prove and aren't spoiled, and don't have drug and gun problems. But why include Chargers games on my invitation, if you're not going to let me go? Apparently, I was pretty close to meeting the requirement, so they wanted to know who I was bringing with me. I was brining my mom, but I gave them a friend's name, who has been up there with me. The host said his play didn't help at all, and laughed. So I guess I should have said I was bringing my mom, as she gets pretty good offers in the mail from them, and must have run a decent amount of money through the nickel machines. So Valley View has somewhat annoyed me by pulling the invitation that was extended to me, but as I mainly just want to hang out in the skybox and enjoy the free food and booze, I'm perfectly happy with a college game. And they're still far more generous with comps than any other San Diego casino.
Bob Moog, dead at 71.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Valley View Casino sent me an invitation to see a football game in their skybox at Qualcomm Stadium. I hate football, but would like to see the skybox (which I was told is nicer than the one I was in at Petco Park). And my mom likes football and wants to go, so it will be a nice chance for her to see me get pampered by a casino, and wonder where she went wrong, raising such a degenerate gambler.
Fiona Apple's new album will be released in October. I downloaded the album when it was leaked on the internet. I don't really like her that much, but I did enjoy the album. I bought the new track, "Parting Gift," off of iTunes. It's not bad. I've listened to the new version of "O' Sailor" on her web site, and marginally prefer the original, though I don't find a great deal of difference between them. But I'm glad Fiona will have a chance to make a buck, finally.
Okay, so I've been back from Vegas for some time, and all I've posted here are some obituaries (I thought Barbara Bel Geddes was in Strangers on a Train as well as Vertigo, but apparently I was thinking of Pat Hitchcock--but if you're only going to be in one Hitchcock movie, Vertigo is the one to pick!) and a Japanese logic puzzle (which I've gotten bored with, as I thought I might). The main culprit in the delay is that most of the time I'm on the computer, I'm playing poker, and don't need the distraction of writing this. But my luck has been rather vile of late, so I'll take a break and end my silence.

The trip was a bit boring. I flew out Sunday night after work, in order to get an extra night in Vegas. But the flight was an hour late arriving in San Diego, and then we were kept waiting on the tarmac for almost 90 minutes, so I didn't arrive at the Las Vegas Hilton until close to midnight. Considering the time I spent waiting at the airport before my flight, it would have been faster to drive (though I don't relish the thought of driving through the desert in the dark, especially with thunderstorms raging). The flight was bumpy, but not really that bad; my dread is much worse anticipating flying than it is when I'm actually strapped into the plane. A taxi from the airport cost me $17 with tip, which isn't unreasonable.

I played a bit on Sunday night with little luck, and went to bed. The room at the Hilton was nice. This is the second time staying there, and I was not happy with my room the first time, but I didn't notice the thin walls and bizzare noises from the plumbing that bothered me last time. I had a view that included both part of the Strip and the mountains, which was nice (I hoped to watch some thunderstorms in the mountains, but never saw any). Bathroom is okay, but the vent over the shower was slightly creepy, in that it had wide slids in it, and looking in as one bathed, one couldn't help but think how easy a large camcorder could be concealed in it, when one wasn't wondering what that asbestos-looking compound was. There is no light switch in the bathroom; the switch is on the wall outside the bathroom, set back enough that it's not easy to reach around and hit, so I ended up peeing in the dark a lot. There was a large empty space in the room, suggesting that a couch is usually present. Apparently they knew of my penchant for throwing couches out of hotel room windows, and took precautions. I've certainly stayed in nicer rooms, but I don't really have any complaints about the room, either. Except maybe the $3 charge to use the room safe. Paying someone $3 a night not to steal from me irks me a bit. I just don't enjoy extortion.

Of course, I didn't anticipate paying the $3. I figured if I played enough, my host could pick up most of my food, and I could use my players club points to pick up the rest of the charges, like the room safe. I also was looking forward to receiving $100 in promotional chips from the casino after playing for four hours. Which would come in handy, as my luck wasn't that great. I was up at some points, but mostly was down a small amount most of the trip, except when I was down a whole lot Tuesday night. Made a comeback, though, with no help from the promotional chips. I received them, bet one $25 chip, won the hand, was paid $25, and the dealer took the chip. When I'm given a promotional chip, I consider it mine to play with until I lose. It can't be redeemed for cash, but it can be played as many times as you can win with it. So that irked me, as it cuts the value of the chips in half ($100 in promo chips the way I understand them to work are worth $100, assuming you were going to gamble anyways...the way these chips worked, they're only worth about $50). Now, the strategy for these chips is to bet them at roulette on long odds, since the chips really only have value if you lose the bet. But I'm not sure if they would accept the chips at roulette--the offer, I later noticed, said, "Receive $100 in promotional chips worth up to $100," which makes me think they were only good for even money bets. As it is, I played them at blackjack, and I belive I won two hands, and lost two chips on one hand when I doubled down. That left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, however.

I mostly stayed at the Hilton, since I didn't have a car, but I did walk to the Wynn on Tuesday, where there was no double deck blackjack table with under a $100 minimum, so I just played some video poker, lost, and moved on to the Venetian, where I had the best luck of my trip, winning enough in three hours to rougly cut my losses for the trip in half. And the pit boss was perfectly willing to give me a comp for a late dinner, once I got his attention away from the table with the guy betting about $7,000 a hand. They gave me $30 to the Grand Lux Cafe. I knew the cafe was run by the Cheesecake Factory people, and that one should have an appetite. But I never have much of an appetite in Vegas. The booze is one factor, I'm sure, but even when I'm not drinking, I'm not often hungry in Vegas, even though I generally have only two meals a day, and maybe a dessert or two somewhere along the way. So I waited until after 11:00 to have dinner, and was beginning to get a little hungry. However, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and when I went to dinner, I suddently found myself freezing. It was hot outside on Tuesday, though not outrageously so (the heat wave broke right before I got there, and it was in the 90s on Tuesday, and even lower on Wednesday--though still humid). But the casinos always keep it freezing during the summer. I ordered hot tea to warm myself with, and that eventually got my shivering under control. Per the pit boss' recommendation, I ordered the shrimp scampi, which was very good, with the shrimp having a gently cripsy texture that was interesting. I ordered banana cream pie for dessert, expecting a slice but getting an entire mini-pie. It was a generous portion, but as I prefer the filling to the crust, I would have preferred a slice. The bill with tax came to $30.49, so I paid $0.50 (and tip) for a lot of food. I ordered one of the more expensive entrees, beverage and dessert, and would say the price was reasonable; most entrees looked to be $10-12, with the basics available for a tad less. Desserts were slightly pricy, but reasonable given the portions. The Grand Lux concept somewhat escapes me; the restaurant is beautiful, but the menu doesn't look much different from the Cheesecake Factory's, at least as well as I can remember from my one visit to the local Cheesecake Factory. Apparently, the concept was cooked up to avoid a turf war with the Cheesecake Factory at Caesar's Palace, though it does serve some more complex dishes, especially on the high end of the menu.

If you're hungry, I'd recommend the Grand Lux Cafe at the Venetian, not as a bargain, but as a good value for the money. However, as I said, I was not very hungry, and the walk back to my hotel a bit after midnight was unpleasant, as the food didn't sit well. But I made it back in one piece (as I was at the Hilton, and never ventured south of the Venetian, I decided to save my money and skip the monorail, travelling on my feet instead). Besides that outing, I pretty much stayed at the Hilton until checking out. My luck at cards kept swinging wildly, but at least I got to play a lot of hours without dipping too deeply into my cash reserves. I did play a few slots, and hit one minor jackpot, but ended up pretty much break-even for the machines at the Hilton (down a fair amount when the Wynn video poker losses are included). I had several meals at the Hilton, none that blew me away, but few complaints, either. The coffee shop is fine, with prompt counter service, and all the basics. It's where you eat at the Hilton when you just don't care, which usually describes me perfectly. I light sandwich is just right for my Vegas-sapped appetite. I only had the buffet at the Hilton once, for lunch. A fine buffet at a fair price, but there are much better buffets in Vegas for not too much more. I filled up on bagels and lox, and was impressed by their desserts, especially a chocolate mousse cake. I had sushi at Teru Sushi, part of Benihana Village. It was very good, basic sushi, done right, and I was mostly impressed (the salmon was lackluster, the mackeral fantastic). But it was horribly overpriced. Miso soup and edamame are each $3.50, and the cheapest nigiri sushi items are $7.00. I really had no more than a snack, and the bill was over $30. I think it may be the best sushi I've had in Vegas, but that's not really saying a whole lot. I don't think I can recommend it for the price, unless you're on a comp.

I didn't mind running up such a tab, since I hoped my host might pick it up, and if not, I could still use my points to pay the bill. I hoped my host would pick up the coffee shop/buffet tabs, and I'd use points for the rest. I earned about $40 in comps this trip, maybe a tad less, and I had about $14 on my card left over from previous visits. I went to see a host in the morning, and there was no one in the office, as they had been moved somewhere during remodeling. I asked a pit boss to call me a host, but apparently someone called in sick, and none would be available until 11:00. A bit after 11:00, I called the host on duty myself, and got his receptionist, apparently, who glanced over my bill and assured me there was nothing she could do for me. So I got the brush-off from a host's secretary. Which angered me. I got $30 in comps at the Venetian for 3 hours' play (though to be fair, that comp may be based in part on previous play there), and the Hilton gives me about $40 in comps based on about 14 hours' play. To be fair, I did get a room, and those damn chips. I think the chips did me in, they probably credited them as a $100 comp, which I had to earn before they would give me additional food comps. I used my points on my card, but still owed about $5, but I found out that, in addition to my comps, I had $20 cash back from my slot play, so that covered all my room charges, including tips (which are never comped). So I can't say that the Hilton screwed me or anything, but they were less generous than the last time I stayed there, and I thought I was entitled for a bit more in comps than they offered (and I felt that the promotional chip offer that led me to stay there was misleading). And I was annoyed that I didn't even speak to the host, just the woman who answered his phone. But while she did brush me off, she wasn't rude or condescending, like my host at Green Valley Ranch (who now works at Luxor, I'm told).

After being rebuffed, I decided I didn't want to play at the Hilton anymore, and went to the Riviera. I bought lunch in the food court, signed up for a players club card and played the $10 free slot play they give you for signing up, lost that, and played blackjack, winning a bunch, giving half of that win back, and leaving Vegas a little less of a loser than I would have had I not gone to the Riviera. I'd never played at the Riviera. It's not bad; it reminds me a bit of the Stardust, but with fewer double-deck games (and no games that stay on soft 17). I overheard someone at another table saying he was there for a gin rummy tournament. I found the tournament's website, and apparently it is operated by a third party, hosted at the Riviera a few times a year. $200 entry fee. Sounds like fun. Though I'm sure that I, gin rummy wizard that I am, would still be thoroughly out-classed.

I headed to the airport with plenty of time to spare, got through security in a jiffy, and read in the airport until my plane departed, avoiding the airport slot machines. The flight back was fine, and I enjoyed looking at the huge thunderheads in the desert. I still hate flying, and don't think it's a good value or a convenience in going to Vegas, but it didn't work out too badly for this trip (though the flight over was a bit unpleasant). Mom's car was at the airport, as she had just caught a plane up to San Jose for my sister's baby shower, so I drove myself home. Tanner was very glad to see me (I'm told he had been depressed).

This trip to Vegas was a bit boring. I suppose the Hilton is a bit of a boring place. I would consider staying there again, but only if I didn't have a better offer. I'm hoping to get some free rooms from the Venetian. I would love to stay there at least once. My first few visits I felt uncomfortable there, but it's grown on me a bit. I've had problems with Green Valley Ranch; I'm pretty sure I've mentioned a mysterious minibar charge they billed me for, and how they promised to refund me the $7.47. They never did, and I've had to dispute the charge with my credit card company (I just this very moment checked my credit card statement online, and see the refund posted today). The experience makes me wonder if I wish to stay there again. So I need to find a new home casino. I think the most likely outcome will be that I no longer have a home casino. Why put all your eggs in one basket? I always have a few offers, though the Paris/Bally's offers dried up even before the merger with Harrah's. I always have free rooms downtown, but they're crappy. The Hilton will still send me free rooms, I'm sure, and I can always spread my action around more when I stay there in the future, generate room offers. I'm pretty sure the Venetian will send me something, and the Riviera, as well. Stardust sends me free rooms from time to time, but seems schizophrenic in their mailings, sometimes giving me the moon, sometimes charging me ridiculous rates. I'm sure a host will probably hook me up there, but I don't like the uncertainty of hosts. I should stay there once, though, before they tear it down. And who knows, maybe the Wynn will send me something. That'd be sweet. In any event, I don't think I'll be to Vegas again for a few months. So that will give the casino mail some time to build up, and I'm sure I'll find a sweet offer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Heard of sudoku puzzles? Looks like a crossword puzzle with numbers, but it's actually a logic puzzle, where you have to fill in the numbers 1-9, so that each row and column, as well as each 3x3 box, contains each number exactly once. I managed to waste most of a workday on these sudoku puzzles, when I could have posted about my exciting Vegas vacation. They're kind of fun, but I have a feeling they'll get old fast. I finished the two easy ones, but made some mistakes on the medium level puzzle. Just carelessness, really, putting the same number on the same line twice. I'll have to try playing the software version when I get home (I've just been doing it on paper). Of course, that would waste valuable poker time (got to win back that cash I lost in Vegas somehow).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ibrahim Ferrer, dead at 78.
Andy Kindler on the state of comedy. I met Andy Kindler once, and I think offended him, when I told him how much I loved Dr. Katz, which had at that time been off the air probably close to a decade. I heard him muttering to his guests as he walked away, sounding slightly disgruntled, but was polite enough to my face. I don't think I'd ever seen Everybody Loves Raymond at the time, so how was I to know if he was still working?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I'm Vegas-bound tomorrow, late tomorrow. Flying out after work, flying back Wednesday afternoon. First post-9/11 flight, and I'm nervous, not because of terrorism, but the myriad other ways the huge steel box I'm in can fall out of the sky. It will be interesting to see first-hand how security works these days. But I really should have just rescheduled my trip, rather than flying to squeeze a trip in on the couple days I had free. But I'm sure I'll have fun once I get there. Had some bad luck on-line this week, mostly because I get mad after loosing a tournament by some bozo getting a lucky card on the river, and then going off and playing some game I have no right playing and expecting to win, and blowing more than I should. But long-term, I'm still doing okay with poker, and hopefully I can work more on being a disciplined player, once I get back from my vacation. And hopefully I'll have a much more substantial bankroll to attack the poker rooms with when I get back from Vegas.

I do feel bad leaving Tanner with his condition, but he seems to be taking to his new medication pretty well. He doesn't seem particularly lethargic, but he definately shows an increased appetite. He's always underfoot if you go anywhere near the kitchen. But other than sleeping in later in the morning, he doesn't seem too sedate or drugged out from the pheno. In fact, he attacked my cousin the moment she came in the front door, and nearly bit her. Good for him, I say.

I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I also enjoyed the experience of the Drive-In, more or less. Their employees were a motley crew, and the snack bar wasn't very inviting. But it's nice to be able to bring lots of food and not have to worry about cell phones and such. And the SUVs in the front row didn't really block my view, though the open hatchbacks got close. And $6 for a first-run double-feature isn't a bad deal. I really don't understand the business model: Do they get some sweetheart deal from the studios to prop up their struggling industry, a tribute to a buygone era? Do the studios just figure that the drive-in is out in the sticks and no one out there will pay for a full-price ticket, so they might as well get something out of them? Does the theatre lose money on ticket sales in order to make it up on concessions (the popcorn was cold and unpleasant, and while it falls into the range I think theatres should charge, it was not exactly a bargain--$2.25 for a small, if memory serves)? Or is it a massive front for something? I best be careful, I would hate to get the Drive-In cartel on my ass.

Anyway, I'll have to go back sometime, if they have a double-bill I'm interested in. As I said, Charlie was pretty good; as far as the portion of the film which occurs outside the factory, it's probably better than the original. The first act of the original really drags. Inside the factory, it's tougher to say, but I give it to the original. They don't improve much (the squirrels are fun), and it just feels a bit rushed and disjointed. I liked the Oompa-Loompa songs, but it's hard to understand them, and as they are supposed to beat you over the head with uplifting moral lessons, the lyrics are important. And the original oompa-loompa songs are classic (the lyrics in the new movie come from the book, apparently--it's been probably close to 15 years since I read the book, but that's what the credits claim). I've never liked Tim Burton as much as I felt like I should, but I liked this film, and consider it second to Pee Wee's Big Adventure in his ouvre (sorry, Beetlejuice, but while your the sentimental favorite, the newcomer edges you out).

The Island, you may be shocked to learn, is an unmitigated piece of shit. For christ sake, you have Scarlett Johansson in your movie, and you don't let her do anything! In fact, all the film is is a long commercial, with the most blatant product placements I've ever seen. I thought maybe they were trying to work some jab at consumerism, using the placements ironically, but no, around the time characters start talking about "MSN Searching" someone, it became pretty apparent it was all about money. Though it definately saved them some cash; characters take a hover-train to L.A., where they ride hover-bikes, yet cars are still exactly the same as they've always been, and happen to be cars currently commercially available. But why compain about the ads when characters fall 80 stories and live, Big Brother can monitor who you talk to and how closely you stand, yet cannot detect that a clone is running around a restricted hospital with impunity, discovering all their secrets, and, again, Scarlett Johansson just stands there looking concerned? I hope the makesrs of Parts: The Clonus Horror sue Michael Bay right out of Hollywood. But really, what was I hoping for? I guess I just resent the fact that the film thinks it is intelligent. Why is their a Picasso painting on the wall of the "Relaxation Room" where the clones are made docile? Picasso is supposed to sooth the soul and render one submissive? And, speaking of that room, why does McGregor's character wonder why the doctor was looking at Johansson's file, and deduce the terrible truth partly from that fact, when almost the sole subject of their conversation is Johansson? Maybe that's why he was looking at the file, Sherlock! Oh, well, next year we appaerently can see Johansson in The Black Daliah, that should be something. One of the most powerful books I've ever read, just made me feel dirty for being alive. Gnarly stuff, and it's taken a long time to get filmed, I'm curious to see if they can pull it off. If only Michael Bay was attached to that project, I could sleep better at night.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Novak suspended from CNN. Can't wait to see The Daily Show tonight.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I see William Hung has covered Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." Very disturbing. (I think the quotes in the artice I linked to are ficticious, but it's hard to tell, Randy's quote seems plausible)
Aibos dancing to Daft Punk. I enjoyed Tara on the DDR.
I had dinner at Il Fornaio last night. I've eaten there several times in Vegas, and enjoy their food very much. And again, was quite impressed, this time eating in Coronado. The food was great (I had seafood lasagna), the desserts were fantastic (a creme brulee with a chocolate mousse topping), and even the wine was good, and I'm not a big wine guy. But what really blew me away was the atmosphere and the view. We didn't have a window table, but still had no problem enjoying the view of the downtown skyline, able to see how much it's changed in just the last few years, and also watch the ship activity down at the port. Patio dining was in high demand, but it looked to me like they cram a lot of people out there; inside, you still get the view, and a bit more breathing room. Not to mention that it was a bit chilly outside (a nice change). And the best part is, Il Fornaio is a chain, and the prices here were typical of the chain; standard to cheap for up-scale Italian. No premium for the primo location. Dinner for two, with dessert and (a somewhat pricy) wine for me, only came to $54 after tax/tip. Compare that to a place like Anthony's, where you'd pay about 50% more, at least, for a view that doesn't compare with this. I was highly impressed.

I ate there with my mom last night, because we had tickets to see Pump Boys and Dinettes at the Lamb's Players Theatre. This show was not part of the schedule when we bought our season tickets, but was added later. As I haven't really enjoyed their previous performances (though Metamorposes wasn't bad), and as it sounded suspiciosly like such god-awful plays as Triple Espresso and American Rythms (if I'm remembering correctly the title of one of the worst things I've ever sat through), I didn't have high hopes. So the fact that it wasn't terrible made it pretty enjoyable to sit through. Not much to it, but the musicianship of the actors was good all-around, there were a few catchy tunes, and it was short. Not bad. I'm looking forward to The Winslow Boy, coming up in a few months. I doubt I will get season tickets again, though.

I tried to go see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this afternoon, but got lost trying to go to the AMC Palm Promenade. Got off the wrong freeway exit, apparently. The good news is, when I got home to find a new showtime to go to, I noticed it's playing at the Santee Drive-In. I've been meaning for years to go down there, I haven't been since I was a little kid. So tonight I'm going. I've sent out some e-mails, hopefully someone will join be, but if not, I see that they permit dogs. Tanner hasn't seen a movie in a theatre in some time, and I'm sure he misses the experience, being so ingrained into his early subconscious. And his new drugs might keep him mellow. But I doubt I'll bring him, as I'd like to scope the place out, first. Never know about those East County folk; they might let packs of pit bulls wander the grounds or something.

Tanner had another seizure over the weekend. That makes two in the month of July. So I decided it was time Tanner became a pill-popper, and took the vet's advice to start him on Phenobarbital. He just took his first pill this morning, so it will take awhile to see if he suffers any adverse reactions, but so far, he seems okay. Had several coughing jags today, as he is prone to do, but I don't think that's because of the pills. The vet did send out some more blood work, so I'll know by the end of the week if that turned up anything. The emergency hospital did most of the blood work already, but my vet wanted to do one more test, for kidney problems. But given his age and breed, it's most likely epilepsy (epilepsy, unfortunately, can't be directly tested for, but is just assumed when no other cause can be found). The vet did say, if he goes a long time, like over a year, without a seizure, we might be able to ween him off the drugs, which made me happy. I'm sad for Tanner, and don't relish the thought of giving him pills twice a day for perpetuity, but I'm not too worried about his long-term health. As it is, the seizures seem more upsetting to me than to him.