Friday, February 23, 2007

In addition to my complaint about Pechanga, I thought I should mention their policy of disenrolling tribal members, as well as their refusal to pay out a jackpot due to a "machine malfunction." Quite the class act, they are.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pechanga Resort and Casino is on notice!

Thanks for getting my back, Colbert.

I went to Pechanga Resort and Casino last night. Actually, first I went to Valley View Casino, and lost some money and ate their wonderful buffet while I waited for traffic to die down. I arrived at Pechanga around 8:30. I had a free room for the night, and was looking forward to scouting out the place. I'd only been there once before, for a George Jones concert. The casino was pretty busy for a Tuesday, not packed, but brisk business, especially at the tables. I decided to check into my room and rest for a bit before playing. When I checked in, I was informed the only room available was a Jacuzzi Suite, which sounded nice until I was informed the Jacuzzi Suite has a fold-out couch instead of a bed. I was uncertain about this, but decided to be a sport. The room was nice. The sofa bed was uncomfortable, but the bathroom was quite large. Quality shampoos and soaps (Gilchrist & Soames), a sewing kit, and even a bowl of candy, among other amenities.

The casino was nice, too. I remembered from my previous visit appreciating the amount of empty space in the casino layout. Casinos try to maximize the amount of money every square foot of casino floor makes, so it is always refreshing when a casino has wide aisles and walkways, and generally avoids the claustrophobic atmosphere of other casinos (Valley View, I'm looking at you). I was also happy with the table games. In particular, I was happy to see that they had double-deck games, which offered surrender. So I sat down and played, losing most of my cash, then winning it all back, then suffering a modest reversal. By 1 AM or so, I was very much in the pro-Pechanga camp.

Then came Magdy, a casino pit boss. What happened was, I was playing a double-deck game with one other woman, and several empty seats. The other player sat out a few hands, so I was playing heads-up. The other player came back and wanted to play, but the no mid-deck entry rule requires new players to wait for the shuffle to begin or resume playing. So I played another hand heads-up, when two people sat down to play, and were told that they, too, would have to wait. I lost that hand, and while the dealer collected my bet, the new player suggested I sit out. With no players, the dealer would have no choice but to shuffle, and the new players could begin playing. So I pulled back my bet and asked the dealer to shuffle. As dealers must anytime they shuffle prematurely, this dealer called over a pit boss for approval. And so Magdy enters the story.

Magdy immediately smells a rat. Clearly, this "shuffle" strategy is a brilliant con, designed to rob the casino of millions. He points angrily at the discard pile, stating that it's far too early to shuffle, and forbids the dealer to shuffle. I'm angered, not so much by the pit boss' decision, but by the anger evident in his expressing of said decision. The dealer was visibly uncomfortable, and the other players also seemed taken aback by the rudeness on display. I tried to shake it off, laugh if off, and placed a bet, which should have ended the situation. But another player asked, what happens if he goes to the bathroom or leaves the table. Magdy's reply: "We'll wait for him." They would allow one of the six crowded double-deck tables grind to a screeching halt for an hour, potentially costing the casino thousands of dollars (while I was not one of them, there were people at my table routinely betting $200-$300 a hand), all while I pretended to take a crap, rather than allow a dealer to spend ninety seconds shuffling a deck of cards. I quickly pulled back my bet, threw my players club card on the table (which I would no longer need, since I would never bet another penny at Pechanga), and colored up my chips, shaking with anger. What really infuriating me about the entire exchange was, none of Magdy's comments were directed at me. He seemed to make a conscious effort to ignore me the entire time, yelling at the dealer and another player at the table, but barely even looking in my direction. Why this is, frankly, baffles me. But I took it as a personal offense, and it is largely why I let this matter so upset me.

And make no mistake, I was upset. After I cashed in my chips, I went back up to the room and paced for a bit. I intended to go to bed, drive home in the morning, and just put this matter behind me. But as I steamed for fifteen minutes or so, I decided I would not tolerate the situation. So I went back down, got Magdy's name off his name tag (when I asked him his name during the incident, he ignored my request and turned his back to me, apparently considering the matter closed and me irrelevant), and then checked out of the hotel and went home. I was surprised that the desk clerk, while perfectly pleasant, didn't ask if there was a problem when I checked out of my room at 1:30 AM, but later it occurred to me that visibly upset people probably check out of the hotel in the middle of the night pretty frequently, after losing all their money, and the desk clerks are probably trained not to add to their burdens by asking if anything is wrong. Which is probably a sound policy. It's just over an hour drive home, so around 2:45 or so, I arrived home, much to Tanner's relief. I then proceeded to write a complaint letter to Pechanga, which I mailed off this afternoon.

I intended to reprint the letter in its entirety, but I realize now most of the letter will be redundant, following this post. Perhaps I will print the letter later, if I receive a response from Pechanga to share. For now, I'll just offer this snippet:

Again, I am not writing to object to casino policy. I personally believe permitting an occasional courtesy shuffle is good business, both for goodwill, and for getting in more hands per hour (by allowing additional players to join the game). I realize shuffling slows down the game, and the casino has other reasons for prohibiting shuffles early. You are welcome to set your own policy. Had Magdy said no, the dealer cannot shuffle early, I’m afraid our policy forbids that, I wouldn’t have cared. In fact, I’m rather shocked how angry I was at the conclusion of this incident—I merely asked for a shuffle at the request of another player who wanted to join the game (though I personally dislike playing heads-up myself, and thus was not opposed to the shuffle). Magdy went out of his way to be hostile, and create a situation where being in Pechanga made me intensely uneasy. Enough so that I would rather drive home at two in the morning than spend another minute there.
That's the crux of the situation. Magdy managed to take something I really didn't care about, and did everything he could to make it impossible for me to not care anymore. This, after I'd decided I liked Pechanga, and would like to come back sometime. But that won't be happening now.
Clown-killing on the rise in Columbia.
It occurred to me this afternoon that there must exist an online Stephen Colbert "On Notice Board" generator, and lo, the intertubes did not disappoint. As for why I needed an On Notice Board, you will see soon enough.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Tofu Hut, recently returning from a long hiatus, has a very informative post on Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette. Definitely worth a read and a listen. Includes several MP3s sampling the offerings of a new remastered recording of Polk Miller cylinder recordings.
XM, Sirius Satellite Radio to merge. I'm surprised; reading various internet speculation about such a move, I really didn't think it would happen. Makes sense for the two companies, but I tend to doubt this gets regulatory approval. I'm sure Clear Channel's lobbyists will do everything they can to kill this deal.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ray Evens, dead at 92. In addition to standards like "Mona Lisa" and "Que Sera Sera," MSTies will remember Evens for "Are You Happy in Your Work," an extremely catchy number from I Accuse My Parents, featured in one of my all-time favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

EMI exploring DRM-free downloads, but only if they can slip in a fatter profit margin, apparently. The most interesting point in this article is the observation that labels fear DRM-free music downloads might be too successful, and would cannibalize CD sales. So basically, DRM isn't about preventing piracy, it's just designed to be a pain in the ass so you'll skip iTunes and just buy the damn CD.

Of course, without rampant price fixing, CDs wouldn't have a higher profit margin. After all, delivering digital music to an online store involves virtually no overhead. But what strikes me as odd, from my personal experience, is that most CDs, if you shop around, are pretty close in price to digital downloads. In fact, while I generally prefer downloading songs (instant gratification, plus the fact that my CD-ROM sucks, and I often have to re-rip songs that have skips), I often find the CD is actually cheaper. I got the Dixie Chicks' new CD from Amazon for cheaper than iTunes, same with Lady Sovereign at Circuit City, and the other day I was planning to download an old Johnny Cash CD, and iTunes wanted $11.99, while I found it online for $9.99. Twelve bucks to download a thirty-minute album from fifty years ago? $0.99/song seems a fair price to me, and I can see tacking on a few bucks for a hot new album, but the amount of old albums fetching a premium price on iTunes is just bizarre, if the goal is to sell songs.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I was at Vons this afternoon, picking up a fennel bulb to make soup, when I noticed the DVD vending machine had a sign on it indicating new customers could get one free rental. So I made a note to take a look at it on my way out. Turns out the machines don't have great selection (Idiocracy and The Black Dahlia were M.I.A., for instance), but had many new releases available, including The Illusionist, which I'd wanted to see. So I went ahead and took advantage of the free rental offer (if I don't return it by midnight tomorrow, I owe $0.99/day, which is a fair price). The movie wasn't bad. Watching it reminded me that Ricky Jay was a consultant on the film, which led me to wander over to his website to see what he is up to these days. Turns out, he was performing his stage show in L.A. through most of January. As is often the case, I learn about a show I would absolutely have loved to see, only after it is too late to attend. Really disappointed me to learn I could have had the chance to see him. It was expensive (tickets started at $75), but very intimate (the theatre seats 84 people). It was held over well past its original run; let's hope it was successful enough to return to L.A. soon (or maybe he would be kind enough to venture down to San Diego, though no particular venue comes to mind that is well-suited to his performance (if St. Cecilia's was still around, that would have been ideal).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Wil Wheaton on the death of the video arcade. This article prompted me to check, and while I knew the Wunderland arcade I most frequently visited is no more, there is still a Wunderland in National City. I remember fondly many trips to Wunderland, including my first introduction to a little game called Dance Dance Revolution. It was also a great place to celebrate Christmas. The guy behind the counter was not happy he had to work Christmas Day, and really did not do a very good job guarding the prizes. We thought we were real slick, short-changing him on the tickets, until we realized we could just grab whatever we wanted, and he didn't care. And for the most part, they offered a very solid pinball selection (this changed in the latter years).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith, dead at 39. This is one of those stories that is absolutely shocking, until you think about it for about two seconds. This should throw several legal proceedings into disarray (inheritance, paternity, Trimspa-related fraud).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Can photographers be plagiarists?
Wal-Mart joins with union in advocating universal health care. At least, in theory, as a goal to be reached by 2012. And they're not going to pay for it. And the day before they announced this, they announced they would go all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid answering charges of gender discrimination (they're absolutely not guilty, they assure us, but they're scared to death of standing before a jury). But it's a start.

The purpose of groups like Wal-Mart Watch isn't to unionize Wal-Mart (though I'm sure they'd love to do that, too). The idea was to convince Wal-Mart that universal health care is in their best interest, and get their massive lobbying power behind it. And it's beginning to sound like that strategy is getting results.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Steve Jobs thoughts on DRM. Nice to hear Apple's willingness to sell music without DRM, if they could, but I think his claim they would embrase it "wholeheartedly" is a bit questionable. They'd do it, but they're not thrilled about it; they're perfectly happy with the status quo, seeing as it helps cement the market dominance of the iPod/iTunes juggernaut. But perhaps they're confident that they've got the MP3 player market locked up, and maybe they figure a DRM-free store would be enough to kill off competition from Napster/Rhapsody and other subscription models (I don't think the music industry would allow unlimited downloading for a monthly fee without DRM).

The timing of this article is what I found interesting. Why would Steve Jobs post a rare open letter now? He is probably trying to deflect criticism from European governments for not licensing their FairPlay DRM technology. But I like to think that Steve Jobs has been paying attention to recent reports of a shift in the industry away from DRM, and thinks now is the time to jump on the anti-DRM bandwagon. Given Job's sense for the industry, I don't think he'd publish this letter if he didn't think there was a reasonable chance the industry would go along (maybe less than 50/50, but still a real chance). In any event, this letter makes me think that predictions that 2007 is the year the music industry ditches DRM might be plausible, after all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Office as Miis.

I really should get a picture of my Mii up here. It's pretty sweet.

Netflix is rolling out streaming video to subscribers. Apparently, for every dollar you pay for your existing mail-rental subscription, you now get one hour of streaming video, as well.

I've been considering returning to Netflix, and this gives me another incentive. I've put a moratorium on new DVD purchases, making exceptions for things I really, really want, and know I'll watch (season one of Extras, for instance). But I've been considering Netflix, to meet some of my desire for new releases, while I work through my backlog of DVDs. But now that I have digital cable with a DVR, and now have both a DVD and taped-movie backlog, I'm thinking my money might be better spent elsewhere, while I get caught up a bit. But this article certainly piqued my interest, especially the discussion of "movie-surfing," using the service to preview films or just watch one's favorite scene in a movie (even if you own it, digging out a DVD to watch one scene always seems like more trouble than it's worth, at least if you're as lazy as me).

The New York Times Magazine on the modern trend of designer dogs. The general theme seems to be that we want dogs that behave more like cats.

There was plenty in this article to angry up the blood, both in descriptions of the designer dog breeders and their AKC purebreed counterparts, but the description of a Pug "side-by-side" (starting on page 9) was pretty amusing:

Kolesar positioned her bitch, Birdie, on the floor. Woody sniffed rambunctiously and mounted. As the dog began his dedicated thrusting, the unlikelihood of him ever managing the transaction on his own was plain. And so, as planned all along, Jutta Beard crouched behind him and concluded things with an expeditious right hand. In an instant, she was holding up a plastic bag with a dime-size clump in its corner.

On a somewhat related note, I finally got Nintendogs for the Nintendo DS. I'd been reluctant to purchase it, since I do have a real dog, and would feel bad neglecting him for a glorified Tamagotchi. But Target had it on sale for $18 a few weeks ago, so I decided to pick one up, but had to settle for a rain check. But they finally had Dachshund & Friends (the version on sale) in stock this week, so I picked it up. It is very cute, and certainly meets my expectations. And just as I feared, it has given Tanner a complex. He's already stressed, because we put up a barrier, so he can't go into the garage anymore--given our recent inclement weather, we've given the garage to Sable, a stray that has taken up a transient residence on our property. So he already feels like his territory is being impinged, and now he hears me shouting orders to Bandit, my new Siberian Husky; I found myself teaching Bandit to sit, only to look up and see Tanner in a seated position (about the only command he knows). So I'm making an effort not to play the game in his presence.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Randy Newman's new song on YouTube:
Okay, after writing the previous tax-related post, I got to thinking, and decided the situation I was in with TurboTax kind of made me mad. Or maybe irritated is a better word. Again, I don't blame them for wanting to get paid, but I felt like they'd suckered me out of more than I should have to pay. At first I didn't care, because it didn't seem like much money, but I was comparing the full-priced basic service to my discounted rate, through my Vanguard account, for the deluxe version. Comparing the discounted basic price to what I was paying, I was paying $15 extra for services I didn't need or want. Fortunately, TurboTax doesn't make you pay until you're ready to file, so there's no penalty for bailing out mid-stream. So I decided to give Tax Act a shot.

Overall, I was impressed, even though I had some problems. Their approach is much like the Tax Freedom Project's used to be. Instead of offering a crippled product to force you to upgrade if your tax filing is at all beyond the most basic (or if you want direct deposit of your refund), Tax Act offers a basic but fully-functional product, which actually feels a bit less bloated than TurboTax (though TurboTax easily has the superior navigation). They do charge for filing a state return, or for additional guidance in preparing your taxes, and they don't hold your hand at all if you don't pay. My tax return is pretty basic, but there was one little thing that required a bit of finesse. On TurboTax, I had a bit of trouble entering it, but in reviewing my return, I found the problem and easily fixed it. In Tax Act, the minor issue caused me a lot of grief, with the program asking me to enter line items from various IRS forms, with no explanation as to what these forms were. I had to go to the IRS web site and find the forms, which made it easier to understand what the software wanted. But I could see how this could throw off people used to TurboTax's ease of use.

My recommendation? I liked Tax Act, especially for free. But TurboTax is a good program, and if your taxes are on the complex side, the guidance and clarity is probably worth the price. However, the $25.00 extra fee TurboTax assesses to include state taxes is a bit much; Tax Act charges $15.95 total for the deluxe package and state taxes ($12.95 just to add state taxes). Reasonable price if you want the convenience, though California's free online tax filing option means I won't be paying to file my state taxes.

I've completed my taxes, but haven't filed yet (I'm waiting for one last form I should receive soon, to verify the information I entered for that account is correct). If I have any problems filing with Tax Act, or if it ends up costing me any money, I'll bring you an update.

Yesterday I mentioned Intuit's Tax Freedom Project. I was just looking at it again, and I noticed it doesn't even support free direct deposit of your refund check in the free software. Now, I really can't blame Intuit for wanting to be paid for their product, and TurboTax is a good program, but if you're going to offer a free tax program, and pat yourself on the back for your civic-mindedness, don't cripple the product. Perhaps Tax Freedom has outlived its usefulness: it was originally a public-private initiative to get more people to file electronically; now, most people don't need any incentive to do so.

I should note, if it sounds like I'm just needlessly whining about a free product, this free product did end up costing me money. I thought the free product was the same as TurboTax Basic, so I thought I had to pay for TurboTax Deluxe. I didn't realize that the free TurboTax is actually a stripped down version of TurboTax Basic. So I bought more services than I needed. Not the end of the world, but frustrating, none the less. Leaves just enough of a bad taste in my mouth, I might experiment with a free offering like Tax Act next year.

Friend Codes holding back Final Fantasy Online for the Wii. Friend codes suck.