Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hard Rock

Thought I'd write a little bit more about what's going on in Vegas - after all that's what I advertise as my subject.
Topic this week in the local news is the Hard Rock Hotel, one of our local landmarks. It's not really on the strip - one of the new style of 'off strip properties' that chose to buy land on one of the cross streets a mile or two off of Vegas Boulevard. I don't know the prices, but probably one tenth the cost of a similar piece on the strip. Other off strip places are the Orleans, the Rio and the Palms. The Rio just rebuilt it's buffet, and I would really recommend it - about the best around and not as expensive as the big strip ones, and the Monday seafood special has crab and shrimp and lots of neat stuff. We usually hit the Orleans buffet, as they have crawdads every lunch and dinner and my son just loves to fill up three or four big plates and pig out. Too far to walk to the mail road, but only a short taxi ride away.
Anyway, The Hard Rock obviously pushes Rock and Roll. In keeping with this corporate image they tend to advertise in a manner not in keeping with the child friendly Vegas attitude that is slowly changing back to the topless runway show fantasies of long ago. Yes, LV used to be known for tall topless showgirls, then morphed into a kiddie playland, pushed by the likes of Circus Circus with, what else, a circus theme under the big top, and the Excalibur with a knights of the roundtable, castle theme. Both of these are owned by the Mandalay group, one of the major players in town. But after realizing that kids don't gamble, and parents that bring kids don't gamble as much as parents that don't, Las Vegas is moving back towards being an adult playground, with more skin. Typical of this is the Crazy Girls review at the Riviera. (be sure to click on Riviera, it's about the best Vegas fly in intro around).
Back to the Hard Rock - they ran a series of billboards that some prudish locals deemed to risque for the youngsters.

This one went up during rodeo week, trying to attract all of the cowboys in ten gallon hats off the strip and into the Hard Rock gambling hall. I think they even installed one of those bull riding things in the bar for the week.
After several complaints the local gaming commission tried to fine the Hard Rock several hundred thousand dollars for inappropriate advertising (in Vegas?) It was big news back then - see the Buck all Night billboard story from January 2004.
The Hard Rock then ran some print ads that also were deemed offensive.

Hey, at least she has some of her clothes on.
Lawyers appealed the commision fine, citing first amendment rights to advertise, and the hearing was last week. Leading up to the appeal the hotel put up another series of billboards.

I looked at this and saw some cartoon animals, and a punch line trying to poke fun at the gaming commission. Other people saw other things - one letter writer to our local paper pointed out that the billboard showed a pussy, a beaver, and a couple of rabbits, 'and you know what rabbits do'. I never saw it that way, but the hotel never said how to look and perhaps that is what they were trying to say.
But, at the hearing the Hard Rock got off of it's fine. I'm not sure how, but here's another billboard story that talks about it.
So, that's what is in the paper around here for the past few weeks. And filling up the TV news as well. Not the 'pussy/beaver/rabbits' part, but the right to advertise stuff.
Search google for Hard Rock Billboard and you'll get a ton of news articles listed, some of them rather funny.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Not in Use

I brought my camera to work last week, and snapped a few pictures of something you will not be seeing in Vegas for a while -

Yes, our new monorail is again down for the count. It seems that things keep falling off of it, which is not really safe. At least for people walking underneath. It seems that the three month test of the monorail was extended to seven months after experiencing lots of problems. It finally opened a few weeks ago, and still was not doing very well. This one was parked between the Sahara station and the parking barn at the end. Right off of Paradise and Sahara. The Sahara hotel is to the right, our new condo towers to the left. ($$$$)
Then last week a wheel fell off of one train while it was running. This did not seem to be very good. There was an investigation - seems that there was a warning on a monitoring computer, something like 'wheel problems - it might fall off', and this was ignored by the crew. Well, guess what happened the next day? Right! - a wheel fell off. How unexpected. But what problems can dropping a wheel cause? At least the 60 pound wheel landed in an unoccupied parking space.
Then the next day a drive shaft fell. Well, it didn't fall far. Seems like one fell off during the testing (yes, hit the ground then too) and some safety brackets were installed. These don't keep the drive shaft from falling off, they just keep it right under the car when it does. So the safety brackets worked - held on to the shaft. But the car stopped moving without a drive shaft.
So the monorail is down for testing again. No word on when it will be back running.
Here's the back of the Sahara station.

This is currently the last stop on the north end. The MGM station is the last stop south - only four running miles, but from both ends of the strip. If it works then it will be extended downtown, and eventually to the airport. Then it will be useful for more than a quick ride.
And here is another of my favorite Vegas scenes - clouds. We don't see too many of them, so when they do show up they are dramatic. I missed the bright red and orange colors a few minutes before, it all changed dark when I ran for the camera.

But it still looks pretty.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

More at work and around town

In my last post I discussed some funtime activities at work. My current project, the one I've been working on for two months, has been to modify the script that some of the phone people use when fielding complaints.
My company has about 500 employees. We solicit new customers via mail - we buy lists of people with poor credit, who have been denied credit elsewhere. We then mail them a very nice letter along with a phony credit card, telling them to call in to activate their card. (sorry, it's not a CREDIT card, it's a MERCHANT'S card). When they call we get their checking account number, and tell them we will be billing them for around $500, in pieces over the next few months. Most of these people are minimum wage, or less, who don't understand what they are told. Most of the electronic charges we make to their checking accounts bounce due to being NSF or closed. When some go through we then get calls from the people screaming about not being able to make their rent, or feed their kids, because of our sucking them dry.
I think the company has about 100 people on the phones in activations, talking to people calling for the first time. I've been working with Benefits and Card Services (BCS), about 100 people who take calls from when people sign up until we suck money from their checking accounts. Customer Service has about 100 people that talk to our CUSTOMERS after we have taken their money.
Our main product is a catalog, filled with nice overpriced stuff. The catalog department has about 10 people. You can compare what's important - 10 people to actually take orders and sell something, or 300 people that talk customers and potential customers into paying membership fees and yearly dues and theft protection benefits.
So I was given a new script written by one of the two owners. I spent about four days with my project manager and the company president going over the script and diagramming out what should happen. And I've spent two months programming the script. By script, I mean the words that show up on the screen. Where information and sales pitches are given, and based on the customer response different answers can then come up.
This is a small part of the flow chart we came up with in our planning meeting.

We covered up white boards on three walls, this being about one fourth of one board. We filled eight boards, and erased some to make more room.
Look like fun?
The boxes match paragraph numbers, so when a customer says "I can't afford it" the operator then asks a question, such as "don't you want to build your credit" and if the customer says "yes, I guess I do", and the customer is in a debit cycle, and they have previously called and extended their payment once then the operator then moves on to the next sales point, if they have extended their payment twice they get a different pitch, etc.. If the customer says "No, I can't afford it" then something else comes up. You get the idea.
For the around Vegas part, I took this shot a few months ago, of Wynn's new resort/casino.

It's since been topped out, and a new neon sign has been installed. I drive heading east to work every day, and this building is directly in front of me for ten minutes as I approach the strip. Sitting and traffic lights, I have become very familiar with it.
Right across the strip from Wynn's is the Fashion Show Mall. This is a rather pleasant shopping center, that has been at it's location for a great many years (Vegas years, that is). Last year it had a full makeover, being expanded and upgraded and made really pretty.
The only Apple store in town is there, and so a few weeks ago one of my fellow workers wanted to buy an Ipod, so we went there for lunch.

The Neiman Marcus store has a really great fast restaurant, where we ate. The mall has a central area that turns into a runway, and they have live fashion shows (what a concept) every lunch hour, so you can watch models when eating stuff from the food court.
You can see the 'runway' in the picture, it's the red area in the floor. At showtime it lifts up three feet, and an entire room also rises behind it, with elevators inside to bring up the models. It is an impressive architectural feat.
That's it for today's installment.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Fun time at work (bad words, be careful)

I am a computer programmer. Currently I work for a company that offers credit to people that can't get credit elsewhere. We charge them a fortune, take their money, and sell them stuff at outrageous prices. (If my boss is reading this, you already know how I feel). But I still go in and help the owners make more and take my pieces of silver from the poor.
Several weeks ago one of the computer file servers died, taking a lot of data with it. After the crash it was found that there were very few tape backups made, most could not be read, and we lost a lot of data. Many hours were spent in reconstruction, people taking manual inventory and entering orders from paper copies, and lots of time in pulling print files into data files. As a result of the crash my boss (the big one) and a hardware guy lost their jobs. My boss because he didn't plan for problems, the hardware guy because he didn't make tape backups on the drives my boss didn't authorize purchase of. (sound good?)
This company is owned by two men that are concerned with what goes on, but I am told that they at times are a little emotional over people that mess up. I've only seen one of them once, and the other sends instructions through the president. Everybody is afraid of them.
This morning my project manager had a problem, and just as he was about to demo his new program to one of the owners he lost some program files. It took a while, but he found that there was no backup, and he had no backup copies of his own. After last month's episode this didn't sound too good. Especially since we were all supposed to practice with demos for the owners, and were not supposed to mess up. Especially with backups.
Lots of yelling took place at assorted times, and in early afternoon the hardware manager walked in talking on his cell phone. I guess he was being blamed for not having a backup of my PM's computer (no, he backs up the servers not the 400 desktops). He was talking to the emotional owner, and said that the owner wanted us to all hear the conversation. Putting the cell phone down on the PM,'s desk, we proceeded to hear the most interesting one sided conversation that I have ever been part of. I think it deserves an award for the longest single rant by someone who never took the time to breath. The conversation went something like:

I f*****g am f*****g tired of f*****g around f*****g people who f*****g can't f*****g get f*****g their f*****g act f*****g together. If f*****g you f*****g people f*****g can't f*****g do f*****g your f*****g job f*****g you f*****g all f*****g can f*****g just f*****g pack f*****g up f*****g your f*****g desks and f*****g get f*****g out f*****g of f*****g here f*****g and f*****g find f*****g work f*****g some f*****g other f*****g place f*****g else.

There were about ten minutes of screaming, most of which was not intelligible because of the volume which caused the little cell phone speaker to go all fuzzy. But I am sure that there were rarely two words in a row that did not have the word f*****g inserted between them. I put down 'tired of' above, but it was probably 'f*****g tired f*****g of f*****g', but I can't remember for sure.
My PM did find a copy of the program only about a week old. He worked for a few hours to enter all of the changes he has been putting in, and gave a demo again around 4. He fully expects to last no more than a week before being told to leave, if that long. He has been here four years, and knows the owners well. But not well enough to mess up in a demo for them. The office pool gives even odds (nice phrase, even odds - appropriate for Vegas) that our entire group (6 programmers) will be canned, leaving the company to really fall apart without software support. (the programs really are unreliable, and there are daily problems). But I guess if you start up and are sole owners of a company you can get as mad as you want to with your slaves (sorry, employees). Nice, friendly environment.
Sorry, no f*****g pictures of the f*****g event. I f*****g wouldn't f*****g know f*****g what to f*****g photograph f*****g anyway. (Sorry, I just had to.)

But, since I promised a photo blog I better put some shots in.

We recently took a Grand Canyon trip - here is the cabin we stayed at at Jacob Lake (actually a mud puddle) just outside the park entrance. Different environment than Las Vegas. But the cabins were small (about a foot on each side of the bed) and cold.

And we've been working on our patio, and I wanted to show you how nice it looked.

These are two shots taken today. You can see the two fans I just put up, they work well to give some breeze when the wind isn't blowing, and the lights make it nice at night.

Does it look like it's 102f? The lower picture gives a more tropical feel, with the green grass and trees. The upper shot gives more of the Vegas-boy-it's-really-hot impression.
My son and I did the steel work. I put the roof up around ten feet, to make this section feel more like it really was outside rather than feel like an outdoor room. It covers the full 55' width of the house, and also wraps around to the kitchen door, just to the right in the upper picture, and then down along the north side. This side of the house faces west, so you can see the shade provided by the cover. My son does good work, welding in addition to working with wood.

And just to round up the work that has been going on around here, this is what our front room floor looked like during installation of the new Pergo.

My wife decided on diagonal, and fortunately having put in the stuff before at our San Diego house I almost knew what I was doing. It took a while, and I still have to finish the transitions, but it looks pretty good. I don't want to remember the hours spent cutting the angles around the corners, and into the closet (the door at the left). This is at about the half way point. I still need to do the dining area, where I'm standing. It's done now, with furniture back in, and really looks nice.

More politics (ignore if you want)

Reading the paper and watching the tv news yesterday I was surprised at how little play was given to our 1,000 military death in Iraq. This morning's paper brought the new count up to 1,005, and at least the local paper had several articles on how these deaths affect the families involved.
I am appalled at how little people pay attention to our military volunteers dying for no apparent reason. Yes, I know that our president talks about how the world is safer today now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge, but you say that to the parents and wives and husbands and children of those 1,005 Americans (and growing at 2 a day) how much safer we are because they died. I really doubt that they would agree that it was worth it.
In April of 1971, in a statement before the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry asked the committee: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Hopefully he will get to pull these troops out before too many more have to continue to die. There have already been too many, and that country is still a mess, and I don't feel a bit safer because we are there.
Sorry, but I said it before, and feel that I haven't said it enough. My wife finally got me a Veterans for Kerry button that I wear to work. So far two people have been negative, and about two dozen positive. I explain it, and would rather talk than wait.
Sorry, no pictures here.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Busy summer

We've been busy this summer. My oldest son Ken is getting married next week. Here in Vegas. At one of those wedding chapels on the strip near downtown. (No, he wouldn't go for Elvis either). - (Driving home today I saw Elvis turning the corner onto Paradise, in a pink 1954 Cadillac. You can see him (or his ghost) lots if you look, all ages and weight ranges) - And we'll be having 80 attendees partying in our backyard after the ceremonies.
So, my wife has her 'honeydew' list that I've been taking my time to get to, which suddenly developed an end date.
One of the things we wanted to do was put in the back patio, which I've been documenting here as the work progressed. I finally finished wiring the fans and lights, and lights around the pool are in too.
Another big thing was to get rid of that 70's sunken living room. It seems that every house we looked at was built in the 70's, and all had a living room that's about five inches lower than the rest of the house. Usually this is the room at the front of the house that had the fancy company furniture and nobody ever used it. Well, ours is next to the dining room, and one of the last owners cut down the railing that divided it up. We pulled down a short wall, and have finally pulled up the carpet and put down Pergo. Here is my son filling up that space.

That's our front door open to the right - it was a solid double doors with picture frame trim when we moved in. We pulled the trim off and filled it to make it flat, then I cut the strip windows into it and installed a ribbed glass. My wife tried to paint it bronze, but didn't like it when it was done, so she changed it to a red red. It really stands out against the pale green and white brick. And the glass stripes really add something to it. Another one of the things we did ourselves because we're cheap and like DUI.
I've got plans to replace that big sheet of glass with French doors (sorry, if you are for Bush then I guess it's Freedom doors.) We can then walk out to the enclosed patio on the front of the house. The front faces east, so we can get the morning sun and sit with coffee and the paper, except I've got a job now and weekends have been too busy.
All of the floors here are poured concrete slabs, very few basements and no houses like SD with a small crawlspace. I guess concrete was cheaper than using wood for floors. Since it was covered with carpet the builders did not have to be precise, and the floor did vary a little bit. But since we wanted wood from one high end over the low spot to the other high end we needed to fill in that space. I could have gotten concrete in to do it, and it would probably been easier.
But since my son is a union carpenter I figured that we'd make him work on it. It took him two days to measure and scribe each of these pieces (I think the lowered area was 13x22) put them down and put down the plywood subfloor. You can see the pale cream carpet in the front of the picture, in the dining area, which we didn't pull up until we were ready for the wood. I then covered it with the underlying foam, and put the Pergo down. My other computer's off, so I'll grab an 'after' shot for the next post - but it looks pretty good.
We're just getting done with our summer monsoon season, not much this year. But there is a lot of humidity in the air, (wow, usually around 12% humidity now, about 3% during the winter) and so clouds. This means the sunsets are pretty nice. Like we had in California.

But to show you that we are still in a desert, and the Nevada Department of Highways does not waste water on unnecessary plantings, this is what most of our freeways look like.

Some trees and shrubs clustered here and there, but mostly gravel.