Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Road Trip - Sedona Arizona

We went on a field trip last weekend – my new employer actually gives us time off on holidays, and Monday was President’s Day. Conveniently located between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, I don’t know if this was a created day to give us another holiday or a consolidation of those two to give us one less holiday. But we did not have to come to work that day, so I don’t really care. We took the time to go on a short trip that my wife has been requesting for a few months.

Her cousin has temporarily moved from Vegas to a small Arizona town named Camp Verde. It is the historical location of an old fort, where soldiers were stationed to keep the ‘Indian scourge’ in check, and enforce the move of the Navajo nation into concentration camps (oh, sorry, Indian Reservations). Yes, Native American is the correct phrase, but back then they were the fierce red man. A friend of mine from the train club (yes, I play with toy trains) has also moved to a small Arizona town named Cottonwood, not far from Camp Verde.

Its 300 miles from our house to that area, so we planned on a three day trip. Out west we don’t always talk in miles. Since the speed limits are 65 or 75mph we usually talk hours. So from Vegas to Camp Verde it’s five hours, including a stop in Kingman for gas and food. One night at the cousin’s house, and one night in a hotel. I would much rather do hotels than guest rooms – our own tv, don’t have to worry about keeping up somebody we know, and able to get up and wander to the bathroom in our underwear.

This is what residential Cottonwood looks like. Downtown is about three blocks long and not very photogenic.

It was named after all the cottonwood trees down by the river. Like the rest of Arizona this area is also dry, but the Verde river flows through here, providing water and shade. It does get up over 100f during the summer, but the water also provides a convenient place for mosquitoes to breed, so they have bug problems that we don’t have in dryer Vegas. It was also a big mining area – lots of copper mines and slag heaps still around, though the active mining is no more.

Near Camp Verde is the historical Montezuma's Castle, a national park just three miles from downtown. It’s one of the best preserved cliff dwellings, abandoned over five hundred years ago.

B grew up in Phoenix, about 75 miles south. She remembers climbing up into the ruins when she was a kid, before the park service fenced things off and started on improvements.

Out in front of the castle is Beaver Creek, the water source for past residents.

About thirty miles north is the town of Sedona. This area is known for the red rock formations and it’s gathering of psychics, mystics, and crystal lovers: those that draw energy from the earth.

This is the road from Cottonwood up to Sedona. Rocks in the distance, and not much else. No water up here, so there is no farming. There are some farms down along the Verde River, but mostly nut trees.

We were riding with my friend, and he was just zipping along so I didn’t get much of a chance to take photos – I’ve got a lot of fuzzy ones taken through the bugs on his windshield.

On the way back we did hit a storm up on Rt. 40. The place we hit it is around 4,500 ft elevation, and the snow line was around 5,000 ft. We did run into some snow as the rode wandered up and down through the mountains, but mostly a lot of rain. These are the mountains over Kingman, where we stopped at the Burger King for lunch.

The ride then took off north and crossed the dam and back to Vegas.

I still don’t understand the ongoing paranoia in this country with ‘security’. There were checkpoints on both sides of the dam where officials searched your car for explosives. Trucks and busses are not allowed on the dam any more; they are forced to go south fifty miles to cross the river, and a big bridge is being constructed so traffic can bypass the dam. Have you ever seen the movies of the construction of Hoover Dam? There is so much concrete in there that I doubt if anything short of an atomic bomb would do anything to it. A truck full of dynamite exploding on top wouldn’t do much – all the force would go up, producing almost no damage. But I guess people feel ‘safer’ with those searches, and don’t mind the FOUR HOUR DELAY during peak tourist season. Just like those idiots that have no complaints about airport security (the main reason I drive so much). Even during our trip it took a half hour to get past security. Big waste of time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sun and three years

OK, some complaints yesterday about my weather comments. Look guys, you too can move to warm country. There was a show on HGTV last week about a couple buying a condo in St. Maartin, and some pretty nice ones were going for under $200,000. So you could have sun, sand, a short drive to some of the best French food in the world and really relax. (How good it a judge’s retirement? Ready to move D?) Or you can move to LA or Florida, where you hardly ever get snow. We’ve been here in Vegas through three winters, and have had snow every year. Of course, it’s only been an inch or so and gone by noon, but we have had snow.

But last week was warm and sunny. Well, it’s always sunny, but it was in the 70s and nice. This week back to the mid 50’s and windy, so we do get colder weather. Our fruit trees are starting to bloom, and E is enjoying digging in the dirt and finding worms. She likes bare toes in the grass and dirt.

Just noticed that this is my third anniversary. Feb 27, 2004 I wrote my first episode. On my second post I put up a photo of our snow that winter – one day at the end of December when we awoke to find this scene across the street.

Our neighbor’s olive and palm trees turning white. But it did get up to 60 that day and it all disappeared rather quickly. No snow shovels out here. (nya nya)

In previous posts I suggested things to do on the strip. I'll try to pull together a post with suggested restaurants and get it up soon. If any of you want specifics, please email me with questions.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Warmer weather

Wow, looking at the weather in the Midwest from here. I used to live in Rochester, upstate New York, and had to put up with the cold and snow. Now I complain when it doesn’t get over 60 in the afternoon.

But we had a few weeks of cold weather back at the beginning of February, with nighttime lows down around 19f. But for the past few weeks it’s been warmer, with the lows around 40f. Out here the difference between nighttime lows and afternoon highs is usually 30f to 35f. So a low of 19 gave us afternoon temps in the high 50’s, and yesterday’s low of 39 still gave us close to 70f during the day.

With the cold, and then the return to warmer weather our trees and bushes feel that it’s spring, and have started to bloom. I hope it doesn’t freeze again or we’ll lose lots of flowers. But for now our peach and plum trees have started to bloom. No leaves yet, but hopefully we’ll end up with a big pink ball out back, like it was the first year we moved in.

E also noticed the different colors.

Friday, February 23, 2007

E Friday

Still trying to do it for VG.

In the morning mom brings E over on her way to work. Usually she runs in smiling and then goes over to her little table and plays with her puzzles and animals. When Grandma is done talking she walks back into the kitchen and puts together E’s breakfast – it’s usually oatmeal with blueberries. Sometimes during this process E wanders back in and indicates she is ready to sit down and eat by looking at us and saying ‘T – T – T - Emo – emo – emo’. This means that it’s time for Sesame Street and Elmo. The TV only goes on for a little while during breakfast, SS is also fun to dance with and as indicated before she loves Elmo. She sometimes just sits, fascinated with whatever Elmo is doing, and grammy ends up spooning oatmeal into her mouth. She also is fairly good at handling the spoon herself, and usually gets it in her mouth. Usually.

She also works with the spaghetti. That doesn’t work too well with the small fork, so usually fingers are called for. She likes grandpa’s spaghetti.

This week she has decided that her animals want to participate in whatever she is doing. She now has too many to carry by herself in one trip. They communicate at lunch.

And with the warm weather this week they all like to ride in the swing together. This is another one of E’s ‘smile for the camera’ smiles.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Three things Thursday

For Clare

1. Having a friend at work that knows more than you do, and doesn’t mind showing you things when problems come up.
2. Having the time to learn new things and a boss that appreciates your increase in knowledge.
3. Finding that there are always new things to learn.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thanks Miranda

Like I really needed this

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to be so accurate.

The Venetian

I’ve pictured a few assorted casinos in the past, time to get back to displaying the reasons that most people come to Vegas. Today we’ll discuss The Venetian Resort and Casino.

We wander around the casinos on the Strip once in a while, usually when out of area visitors come and want to see something. We do make it a point to hit the Bellagio periodically to see what new decorations are in the conservatory, but besides the seasonal decorations along the front shopping area that’s about the only thing we go to see there. But I do like to visit the Venetian and walk along the canals, there is usually entertainment in St. Mark’s Square, and it’s more open. The sky is always blue and filled with puffy white clouds, and the casino seems miles away. This is the big square – it used to be empty, but some of the fancy restaurants now are spreading out with ‘outdoor’ dining. To the left is Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. Another new one is going in behind the wall on the right: this one by Mario Battallio.

On the square is a small stage where there are usually entertainers. This is one of the quieter ones – painted white, he just stands without moving. We saw similar ‘entertainers’ around Paris when we were there. Just to the left is a small box where an organist sits, putting out some music. A few minutes after I took this photo a group of singers and dancers moved in

Here’s another one of the ‘outdoor’ restaurants. This one Italian (who would have thought?)

Here’s the canal, with some of the fancy shops behind.

You can always get a ride, and listen to the gondolier sing a song just for you. ($60 for two, or ride outside for $10 less)

I was walking around taking these pictures and came across a shot that I almost missed. Let’s see, I did get a similar one over at Mandalay. Hard to spot

Of course – a bride in wedding dress wandering around. There was no guy in a tux accompanying, so I don’t know where she was off to.

One of the unique shops here sells Venetian masks. Our daughter brought us back a real one when she visited Italy last year, probably would have been easier to pick it up here.

Oh, better put in a shot of the gambling floor. After all, that’s what pays for the rest of this stuff. Somehow all the casinos seem to look about the same down here – at least the slot machines are the same.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Apparel shows

Last week Las Vegas was hosting the annual MAGIC show – Men’s Apparel Guild in California. Don’t know why they hold the show in Vegas if it’s in California, we are not there yet. The show is held at the Las Vegas Convention Center (our biggest competitor) and some associated groups (that probably don’t want to pay the MAGIC organization overhead) hold shows here at my place. These were going on last week. Downstairs in the big hall was a show full of fancy men’s clothes – nice suits from Italy, silk ties, expensive shoes, that sort of stuff. Upstairs is hip stuff for the younger crowd – lots of jeans and leather jackets and stuff. Both shows had several bars set up – I guess the apparel crowd find it convenient to drink and schmooze while negotiating. Both shows were basically filled with suppliers and manufacturers, and the attendees were people with stores lining up their fall fashions.

This is what upstairs was like – small booths with semi-transparent separators, concrete floors and lots of sequins and flash.

In the center of one hall was the biggest bearskin rug I’ve ever seen. Guess it came from one of those prehistoric polar bears that stood forty feet high.

Unfortunately no naked models lounging around on it getting their pictures taken.

Downstairs everything was much more conservative. Guys in fancy suits talking softly to other guys in fancy suits, with clean white carpeting everywhere.

A few companies built their own booths, I guess to express a little grander image.

And to get in on the action, Hendrix Vodka had this loverly lady with the large flat hips giving out free shots. There was also a similar lady giving out chocolate chip cookies. I have no idea where they found two girls with such skinny ribcages and such pronounced hips to do this kind of work. They both did balance that glass tabletop very well. No liquid spillage evident.

I passed on the vodka, but did imbibe in the cookies.

The shows broke down and moved out on Friday night. Coming down from the parking garage this morning I did notice two big dumpsters that had not been emptied over the weekend, each with a big roll of white carpet piled on top. I guess they don't recycle all of the stuff used to create the booths.

Friday, February 16, 2007

E at the park

The weather was nice here this week – supposed to be up in the low 70’s again. I used to live in upstate New York, and have to laugh remembering what it was like, now that Oswego has had what, ten feet of snow the past week? Oh well, glad somebody likes that stuff or else the nice places would be packed with even more people.

I was going to do a series on E eating, but in honor of the warm weather thought I’d do her trip to the park yesterday instead. We live two blocks from a nice big park, with lots of grass and a kids play area. B pulls E down there in the wagon whenever the weather is nice and she wants to go. It’s easy to tell – she’ll climb in the wagon with all her toys and sit saying “go – go – go!”. Some days this week have been spent in the grass in our back yard, in bare feet – E likes the grass between her toes. But back to the park –

On the side of a big structure with slides and steps and towers is this big climbing net. E has learned how to get up a few steps, not all the way to the top yet.

She does go up the steps very well now, and really likes the slide.

She’ll go up and down and up and down for quite a while.

But she also likes the swings. We have one in our back yard, and she can sit and watch the birds and clouds and grass go by for quite a while, as long as you keep it moving. She hasn’t learned how to move it herself yet.

But this is my favorite shot. She really does look like she wants Grammy to join her.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Thought I’d show you who my customers are here. At the last place I supported several hundred telephone operators, presenting them with information on people and placing phone calls. Here I mainly support the show floor – with web sites that let exhibitioners book services and items for their booths at shows. So I guess you could say that my main customer is the show floor.

Upstairs (above) the ceilings are 32 feet high, downstairs only 14 feet.

Last week we had a show about floor coverings.

There were lots of booths with hardwood floors, carpets, marble tile, and booths with support stuff – installation tools, removal tools, kneepads, carpet cleaner, and all other sundries. Some of the big manufacturers had huge booths upstairs:

Don’t know if you can see it, but there is a second floor on this one, with people up there at tables getting the sales pitch.

And downstairs are the smaller booths, for companies with not quite as much money.

Lots of Chinese companies – I guess with recent trade agreements they are starting to cut down their forests and make hardwood strips for floors. With cheaper labor, and container shipping costs really low, they are cost competitive with American manufacturers.

This week is fashion show week. The Convention Center down the street is filled with MAGIC (whatever that stands for), and we have a lot of associated things as well. Some high end shoes up in the fancy rooms, accessories in a smaller hall, fancy men’s clothes down in the big hall and upstairs are hip fashions.

Walking around looking at booths downstairs I see lots of fancy men’s suits, cashmere, silk ties, shiny Italian shoes, and dress shirts galore. Upstairs are people in denim and leather, loud rock music, beads and crystals and sparkly stuff. I feel too underdressed for downstairs, overdressed and under-tattooed for the group upstairs. But it's nice to be able to wander around and look at all this stuff.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Friday the 13th comes on a Tuesday this month

Oh my, sorry Clare, it’s been a while for my three things. We’ll make them all work related today:

1. Working at a place where everybody is smiling because they like being here.
2. Working in the tourist area of town where most of the people you come across are on vacation and also smiling because they are here to have fun and don’t have to work.
3. Being able to go on a short break and walk under blue skies next to a canal with gondoliers singing, no matter what time of day or season of the year.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Roof views

Driving down Spring Mountain Drive to work I pass the construction site for the new Venetian hotel tower. This construction will add over 3,000 rooms to the Venetian’s 4,000 making this the largest hotel in the world, overtaking the current Largest Hotel In The World – the MGM Grand with 5,500 rooms. Underneath the new tower are parking spaces for 4,500 cars, the first Strip hotel to have parking underneath the facility.

One lane of Spring Mountain is closed, leaving room for construction vehicles and delivery trucks. Also diverted is the sidewalk, which is temporarily covered by a plywood roof to protect people from ‘falling objects’. (I don’t know what good that would do if a crane dropped one of those multi-ton steel girders, but it’s there). A series of concrete dividers keeps cars away from pedestrians. These dividers are used all over the west whenever there is road construction. But these are the first ones I’ve seen with plants glued on top.

Even if the flowers are plastic embedded in concrete, at least there was an attempt at making the place look pretty. To the right is one of the dead trees in a big pot – dead because nobody waters them, and there is no way you can count on Vegas rain to keep them alive (guess they should have used plastic trees too). You can also see the covered walkway, and the top of a concrete truck behind that. The morning I took this shot – from my car when I was stopped for another concrete truck to back up to a pump – there were about twenty concrete trucks lined up ready for a big pour.

Rounding the corner and putting my car on the twelfth floor of the employee (sorry, Team Member) parking garage I come upon this view, which only the employees have:

It’s the top of the Sands Expo Convention Center looking North, with the Venetian towers to the left. You can see the new tower going up in about the middle, with the lower floors already getting their glass put in, even though the top twenty floors haven’t even been framed with steel yet. The Wynn tower is a little to the right.

Turning a little to the right is the rest of the roof:

The row of towers on the left is the Turnberry Place condos, where you can spend $20,000,000 to get a nice Strip view. The new Wynn Team Member parking garage is on the right, with the monorail track above it. The big green area is the Wynn golf course.

Even though the top twenty floors have yet to get steel put in place, much less everything else that goes with a new building, the estimated opening date is still December of this year – shows that when a private company wants to build something the work gets done.

I tried to figure out the roof area covering the convention center. I think it comes out to around 17 acres, covering two floors with over 1,800,000 square feet of convention space, including the five story tower with fancy meeting rooms you can see in front of the new tower (no windows, meeting rooms don’t need windows).

Friday, February 09, 2007

E Friday

Friday – OK, I’ve got photos from work but let’s go back to E Friday for VG – I might have a few picture sitting around someplace (if I can find them).

We were playing around in her room, and she demonstrated how to sit in her Elmo chair – the best position was on your head, but I was not quick enough with the camera to get a shot of that.

Interest in the horse comes and goes, but when it rocks it plays some music, so she always pushes on it when she walks past.

At times E likes to handle the spoon herself, and other times it’s just easier to open your mouth and wait for something to get pushed in.

But doing it yourself is also OK. As you can see, the mouth opens just as far either way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


This is where I get to park – Vegas is filled with parking garages, land is too scarce to have big lots any more. Well, the local shopping centers still do, but downtown you have to pay to park in the casino’s garages, at least on the Strip parking is still free. The new Venetian tower will have 4,500 parking spaces underneath the hotel – the first time in Vegas parking is placed below the facility. Well, the Fashion Show Mall has a level of parking underneath, but the also have several parking towers out back.

Out in front is the elevated track for the monorail - a big goes nowhere money loosing transportation service.

Our facility is for ‘team members’ only, shared with the hotel next door. It’s sixteen stories – looks to be about 250 spaces per floor, so that means room for 4,000 cars. I get in around 9am, and end up on the 12th floor. There are some spaces lower down, but if I park in the same place every day it’s a lot easier to find the car. Most employees do work days, and there are lots of empty spaces when I leave.

There is a bridge we use to get across the street, directly from the garage to our back door. Over on the hotel side is an interesting area

Yesterday it was just filled with screams – I am still surprised at how noisy a group of four year olds at play can be. It’s nice that the hotel has on site day care – it costs about $100 per kid per week, which for this area is fairly reasonable. And you get to drop the kid off and pick them up where you work and a lot easier than having to travel to do it. I think day care is available for night shift workers, and they do have weekend hours too. Guess its part of the extras that have to be provided to attract good workers.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New job

Ok, long time no post. I’ve been getting used to my job: trying to learn something new and still try to show the boss he made the right decision in hiring me while I figure out what’s going on. At home our marvelous internet provider, Cox Communications, has been treating our side of town in their usual marvelous customer oriented manner. Internet access has been up and down for a week – over half the time when I click on a web site I get the ‘cannot connect’ message, and down totally for the past two days. In order to get the internet access we had to subscribe to the Cox ‘digital package’, which requires us to use a set top decoder box, but does provide an additional 150 channels (and still nothing’s on, well, noting interesting to us). One of the critical items this provides is access to PBS television, which is the provider of Sesame Street.

Sesame Street, and more particularly, Elmo’s World, has become a critical item to have on screen during breakfast time. Somehow somebody in our house has become ‘hooked’ on Elmo, and it is a requirement now, not a luxury. The past two weeks we have had Sesame Street visually, but with a very low sound level. Well, the voices when speaking were very low but for some reason the music was loud. And if you have ever watched Sesame Street you would know that music is an important part of the show. Which means we either listened to the music at a comfortable level and then could not hear the characters speak or we turned it up so that we could hear Elmo but then were deafened by the loud volume of the music. And then yesterday the decoder would not provide a picture at all. This resulted in much complaining, and eventually a disconnect of the box and a reconnection, which did provide us with the all important channel but lost us the upper 150. But nothing is as important as Elmo.

So I thus have a bunch of photos sitting awaiting upload, and you just get words today. I have been hesitant to post from work, still getting adapted here, but figured it was time to start.

I really like working at this place compared to my last employer. There the MIS department had about 30 programmers, with around 450 other bank employees – mostly phone people. Everybody had a computer in front of them, and the programs drove the phone dialer and popped up information on callers, and was basically a requirement for operation. Here there are only two programmers, out of about 180 full time employees. The main thrust is rental of the large halls, and providing services such as power and lights and food and cleaning for the booths rented for shows. The programs I work for are used to order services, and perform accounting functions, and accept credit cards as payment. But if the computers are down they can still function on paper, though the computers are not allowed to be down. So the IT department is not as integral a part of operations here as it was at the bank. We are more of an overhead accessory instead of a required part of operations.

This feels like a great reduction in stature, but along with that comes a great reduction in stress. No more 2am phone calls about the transmissions being late and nightly processing delayed. No more calls about the statistical reports on collections calls being two hours behind. A lot simpler here, though there are times when things become critical, it is quite different.

So it seems more like being an employee of a small company – having a staff of 180 is considered a small firm here. But there are the benefits of being attached to a hotel with over 4,000 rooms and thousands of workers. Right now they are setting up for a big show – all of our space is being used: over 1,000,000 square feet. 35,000 people are expected to attend, and there are hundreds of vendors setting up. This is a show that deals with carpets and tile and wood floor coverings, and the tools to install them and the software to plan installations and everything associated with this stuff. On Friday setup started, and there were over twenty big trucks at a time in the hall upstairs being unloaded. There were over fifty fork lifts zipping around unloading the trucks and moving stuff to the right area of the hall. As one truck emptied another one came in to take it’s place.

There were piles of crates and boxes and wall segments and all sorts of stuff. The show opens tomorrow, and so everyone is scrambling to make it pretty. Yesterday the halls were full of tile installers putting down every type of floor tile and countertop tile imaginable, and wood installers putting down hardwood floors of every color, and carpet people and laminate installers and carpenters building walls and houses right inside our hall to show how their stuff would look. Downstairs the ceiling is lower and it’s mostly smaller booths, with kitchens being set up to demonstrate cabinets and countertops, and tools being laid out, and literature assembled. It is amazing to see all that it takes to put a show together.

I am impressed with the coordination involved. Somebody had to lay out where all of the hundreds of exhibitors would have booth space, who paid for a better location or a bigger space, who needed how many electrical outlets, who wanted carpets or tables or chairs, who wanted extras. Before the trucks arrived somebody put tape on the floor and labeled each booth. The electricians dropped wires from the ceiling and set up power. And somebody had to figure out where to park several hundred big trucks, and the order they should arrive to be unloaded so that the stuff in back was put there first so as not to block the stuff coming in later. Where to put the food booths and the coffee machines, where to put chairs to rest in and small places to sit and talk. How much food to order, how many sandwiches and cokes and salads would be consumed. How many servers would be needed, and custodians to clean up during setup and each evening after the show closed. Dozens of security guards to watch every door are also here. And then to have a place where exhibitors can come and complain about missing a crate, or order more power, or ask for extra chairs.

I tried walking around the hall yesterday to see the construction, but all the aisles were filled with boxes and open floor space was being used to build counters and walls. The floors were slippery, covered in sawdust and trash. Lots of people are pushing brooms and hauling away packing material. Hundreds of people all interested in getting their individual space set up correctly. It is quite different than wandering through the cubicles of collections agents back in the bank.

So I like it here – even though my office is down in the basement and not as nice as at the bank. I can always take a break and go up to walk along the canals of Venice and watch the entertainers. There are food courts and fancy restaurants available. We get vouchers for the food service when shows are here, and I get to watch while they build and then wander the aisles to see all of the wonders presented. Last week was a show for the catering industry, with exhibitors showing off plates and silverware and coffee makers for hundreds and delivery trucks and all kinds of pretty restaurant things. This week it’s floor coverings and counters, next week it’s fancy shoes. Each week is something different.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

E Friday again

A few quick items – a few days ago I put up a photo of E having breakfast, and was asked what she was eating – well, here is yesterday’s counter in preparation for E’s arrival

As you can see, some oatmeal awaiting preparation, and her bowl with the blueberries defrosting and some honey already put in. With a bag of cheerios and some cran-grapes to put into it, taken along to the park for a snack.

Later that morning they went to the park – it was a little cool, and as you can see the grass is no longer green -

Same park as here in November, when things were a little greener

Hey, it’s a park, they don’t paint the grass.