Monday, January 31, 2005

Driving home

OK, time for some more Vegas pictures. I took these driving home a few days ago - to show you what the strip looks like coming up from the south.
This is driving northbound on Las Vegas Boulevard - this used to be the main way into town from LA before I-15 was built.

You can see all of the big hotels. The Mandalay Bay is most visible to the left, as it's the closest coming from this direction. The end of the runway airport fence is on the right. Lots of billboards. The palm trees to the left are on a golf course. I drive up almost to the Mandalay, then turn left just before it.

That's the Welcome sign to the right of the picture. These are a little blurry - it was getting dark, and with the traffic I couldn't slow down. My camera isn't too good at low light levels, but it gives a nice motion blur (if you want it).
On the center divider is the famous 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign. About three nights out of five there are people out there getting their photos taken by the sign. Tonight there was a TV news crew out. Last week there were some fashion photographers, with lots of lights and a pink Cadillac. I couldn't see if Elvis was there too.

More windy days

One of the features of Las Vegas that we didn’t know about before moving here was the wind. I say feature because it is something very difficult to ignore. In the big hotels and casinos the weather, and even the time of day, is easy to ignore – there are no clocks or windows in the casinos – you can sit and play forever and never notice the passage of time. But walk the streets between places and some days you might be blown away. I don’t mean in awe and wonder, I mean blown away like in the Wizard of Oz. Not via tornado, but just a gust of wind.
Lying in bed last night I listened to the wind. And walking around at lunchtime today it was still around. My house is fairly well insulated – one story, with 2x6 outer walls fully insulated and a layer of bricks around most of it. Most of the windows are double pane and keep out noise. I hear the wind mostly from above, causing sounds down through the swamp coolers, making noises in the exhaust vents in the bathrooms and causing a low roar in the kitchen stove exhaust fan. Just little (or not so little) indications that something is going on outside.
The plants that make the wind most evident are the palm trees. Perhaps because most trees have some dried fronds that rattle, and all have fronds that make lots of noise when rubbing together. It’s a very loud rustling. And being so tall and full they sway back and forth while rustling. Most other trees are bare this time of year, but those that aren’t usually suffer broken limbs. Our two olive trees now have quite a few broken branches either on the ground or still semi attached, awaiting a long ladder and some sawing to remove. Looks like I’ve got another task to do when things calm down. With all the rains followed by these winds I’m sure there are a lot of shallow rooted trees that have been pushed over.
There are many windy days, and quite a few of them are very windy. Just something else to get used to here.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Today it's religion (and other things)

Let’s switch from my government complaints over to religion today.
I just finished reading an article in the New Yorker magazine (yes, back to having time to read that by not reading the propaganda.. sorry, newspaper) about problems in Amsterdam. A movie producer was recently murdered there, and it has revealed a lot about internal problems. One of the quotes about Holland has been ‘when the world comes to an end one should go to Holland, for everything there happens fifty years later’, meaning that things take a little while to become established or even recognized.
The government has been very supportive of immigrants, and there have been several waves from various countries or minority groups around the world. Most groups integrate into society, but one most recently seems to be having problems in fitting in. Tying in with American events, that group is composed of the followers of Islam. While other groups become more similar to the Dutch, or can be ignored, this group does not want to integrate, and is becoming harder to overlook.
The movie producer mentioned recently produced an eleven minute work written by a woman born in Somalia and raised a Moslem, she suffered from some practices that are standard there, and eventually escaped to the Netherlands. She ends up with an extreme hatred of her religion, writing very negative stories and plays, and is a firm supporter of women’s rights. The movie they created ended up being a fairly negative portrayal of the followers of Islam. The producer said he liked creating negative movies as it forced things out into the open and produced discussion, rather than the Dutch attitude of ignoring things as if they were not happening.
The discussion he produced was from a Islamic fundamentalist who shot him repeatedly then cut his throat. The writer is in hiding, unavailable even to her friends, and a number of politicians and other writers are under armed protection. Not from the producer’s attacker, he was quickly arrested, but from others that cannot permit anyone to attack their religion, either physically or verbally.
There are similar thoughts flying around the Las Vegas papers. Someone wrote that we should not ignore the Moslem attitude of hate and jihad, responses of ‘we are supposed to be tolerant of other’s beliefs’, responses to that of ‘how can you ignore a basic desire and teaching of quite a few religious leaders that America is the enemy leading to more 9/11 events’, and back and forth.
I cannot limit this to the one religion of the moment. The Catholics had their inquisitions and crusades, early America had witches burned at the stake, Hitler led a European extermination of minorities, Bush feels we have to bring our version of democracy to a backward world, Tutses kill Hutus, . . . . No need to go on with more examples.
Is it just a basic instinct for us to hate others that are not like us, and feel that we cannot permit them to exist like that, they must be eliminated or converted? Whether it’s someone with a Bible or other book coming to my door, or an army forcing people to a concentration camp, or an army forcing people to an election booth, or a crowd with machetes chopping off hands and heads, or just one individual with a belt full of explosives, why?
I have a hard enough problem in understanding why my little dog feels it necessary to attack somebody that isn’t part of his pack, much less how supposedly intelligent human beings have to change or kill other human beings. Is it impossible for people to learn, or am I wrong in being so open? Why can’t I force them to be like me?
Or do I just think too much?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Local news - deport them

One of the big local stories concerns two local sisters, aged 17 and 18. The immigrated with their father from Soviet Ukraine in 1991. Their father is applying for citizenship and is currently awaiting processing. When the oldest daughter went to DMV to get a driver’s license she was asked for immigration papers. When the father tried to obtain papers the US Department of Immigration realized that the girls were here illegally and sent agents to their house to arrest them. That was on January 14. The girls were taken to a Los Angeles facility and locked up.
Since the Soviet Union no longer exists, the Department of Immigration attempted to deport the girls to Armenia, the country that used to be the former Soviet Ukraine. Armenia refused the girls because they were not citizens there. So the girls sat locked up in LA. Eventually the State Department pressured Armenia into giving the girls temporary visas, and to accept them. The girls were about to be sent to a country they have not been to since they were 3 or 4 years old, with no relatives there, and no understanding of the language.
Somehow the father found an attorney, who obtained a restraining order preventing the deportation. But the girls still sit locked up in LA because they are deemed a flight risk and following Homeland Security guidelines the Department of Immigration is attempting to deport all illegal aliens it finds.
Once the father obtains citizenship he can petition for the girls to stay, but that may be months away. Once the girls are deported they will be marked as deportees and not permitted to return.
Imagine being 17 years old and taken by armed police, taken to a jail 400 miles from your family, and told you are to be sent to a place that you don’t know, never to return.
So this is what has been the leading local news story for the past week, two Armenian Girls. Different people trying to get the girls to stay here, government officials keeping them locked up and trying to deport them. Editorials about compassion. Our congressmen ignoring everything.
So this is our Department of Homeland Security working with the Department of Immigration working to keep our country safe. So far I have seen very few stories of terrorist being arrested or charged with anything. Most of the arrests under the Patriot Act have been for bribery or other crimes that law enforcement officials cannot prosecute under existing laws. Where are all the terrorists?
OK, another political rant. Fill in more paragraphs here for me, I’ve typed enough.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Driving in towards Wynn

Lots of words the past several entries, somehow I haven't pulled together pictures for the last few weeks. But here is a shot of the Wynn driving in to my last job. Heading east on Desert Inn, just before crossing over I15.

To the right is TI and then the Mirage.
And this is what it looks like going to my new job. Coming down a small hill, from about four miles away.

Still looks pretty big. I leave a little later in the morning, and the sun is just coming up.
But before I left one day last week I caught this in my back yard.

Standard block walls, like southern California. Some trees. Hopefully with all this rain we will have some pretty nice blooms on the peach and almond trees this spring.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Lunchtime walk

Just back from a lunchtime walk around the block. A few years ago I went through a weight reduction clinic and ended up losing around 40 pounds. Part of the regimen was eating right and part was exercise. I’m not big on health clubs – tried one for a while back in California and I just couldn’t get into performing in front of a group. So I would rather just walk. The doctors at the clinic said walking was great, and they had us shoot for an hour a day. I was able to do that in San Diego – we had a nice old neighborhood with sidewalks and little traffic, and I had a route along the outside by the canyons that took about an hour. I tried to keep it up when we moved here, even though our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, but after I got a ‘real’ job it kind of fell apart.
So now I’m back to trying to walk more. Once around the block here takes about fifteen minutes, so I’ll try to branch out.
This is a light industrial area, mostly offices. Down to the sidewalk from the parking lot and start down the side street. There is a bird in one of the street trees just singing his heart out. I imagine it’s either looking for a girlfriend – ‘listen to me, I’m the best singer in this neighborhood, come over to my tree and lay some really health eggs’ – or telling the guys ‘Back off – this is my tree and I’ll whomp the feathers off the butt of any other guy that comes around’. With this warm weather they are starting to build nests in the palm tree in front of our house already. But it will get cold again for another few months, so they better wait.
At the back corner of the block is some kind of warehouse – very few of the buildings have company signs or logos. All of the buildings are fairly new, concrete tilt-up construction with flat roofs. Most are really big, even if they are split up into offices. I can see inside of the warehouse when the roll up doors are open. Today it’s around 60f, so it’s nice enough. I can’t see what’s in there, but right outside of one door is a gas barbecue. Is that a west coast thing – having a barbecue at work? I’ve seen them at businesses before, mostly behind the loading dock. Fire them up for lunch on Friday, and I guess everybody chips in for burgers or brats.
A little further along and across the street is a building with few windows and a big walled parking lot. Streets on both sides of the building, with access to the parking lot from both sides. There are big rolling gates across the driveways. You have to pull up and stick a card into a slot to get the gates to open. Big gates, steel bars and panels. It’s about fifteen feet high, and wide enough for two lanes. The wall around the lot is about twelve feet high, and concrete. No barbed wire on top, though. Looks like there are some loading doors back there, I can see the tops of the rollup doors. I guess the gates are big enough for trucks to get through. On one side of the building is a short circular driveway, which goes behind a wall parallel to the building. I guess to hide whoever comes and goes. The only place I’ve seen something similar is behind the ‘downtown corrections facility' in San Diego.
With all the casinos in town it might be that they have their bookkeeping, office and computer departments off site. I know strip and downtown property costs a lot, so if they use all of that for customer support then they can put the extra employees off site on cheaper land. So they might be counting money, or processing checks out here. Only those that can get inside know for sure.
Around the next corner is a large paint and body shop. The front of their lot is full of smashed cars, awaiting paint and bodywork. A tow truck was dropping another one off today. Some of them are pretty dusty, probably been around for a while awaiting insurance approval or for the owner to come up with some money. Some belong to businesses. One is a small bus with wrap around advertising for a place of entertainment – ‘nudes with liquor!!’. In California, and I thought in Nevada, you can get a topless permit if you serve booze, but if you want to show total nudity then you can’t get a liquor license. In California the nudy bars (spell checker doesn’t like that one) only serve soft drinks and juice. Here in Vegas I thought they were limited to beer.
Across the street is a lot for some rental car companies. There is no room at the airport for rental lots, so when you fly into Vegas and rent a car you go up to a rental counter, make your deal, and then catch a bus to the car lot to pick it up. Drop off is the same for most, hit the lot and get a bus to the terminal. I think Hertz has a drop off right at the terminal, but the smaller outfits don’t. I was looking over at people waiting to pick up a car, even today standing in the shade waiting. I like imagining where they came from, if it’s there first time here, what they expect to see and do. I live here, so somehow I’ve gotten used to all the lights and noise and stuff. When I go on vacation I like to go to big cities, where there are things to see and do. I tried Hawaii, and was bored.
But people coming here are about to hit something different. Las Vegas is something that people see on TV but don’t really feel until they get here. Walk down the strip and take a few hours to hit the big casinos and feel the crowds and the noise and the gambling. Different than anywhere else. The local tourist board started an advertising campaign last year – ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’. Showing people doing things that they wouldn’t do at home. Saw an ad on TV last night for cable internet access – it showed a girl at a wedding chapel, about to be married, trying to phone her mother. The line is always busy, so she assumes that mom’s on the internet. So, ‘what the heck, go ahead’ and she ends up marrying some grizzly old dude, with Elvis in the background. Yea, that’s Vegas.
Down the block before turning the last corner I look out at the airport only a block away. We are across the runway from the terminals, so it’s all open space and concrete runways. You can see and hear the planes taking off and landing. Depending on the wind direction they change runways. Most of the time planes coming in from the west coast fly over our house on the west side – really high so you can see them but not hear them – heading east, they make a U turn at the mountains and land on the bigger runways heading west. Sometimes they fly in directly from the east, you can see a long line of planes in the sky lined up for their turn. One night I could count the headlights from eight planes in line out there. I could smell the jet fuel today, and hear the roar as they jump airborne.
Around the corner and back into the building. Maybe next week I’ll be up for two rounds, or try a different direction. With the runways to our north and the freeway two blocks south there are few blocks to walk around here – so I guess it will be out and back.
And I didn't have to shuffle through knee high snow trying to feel my nose. (Chicago - 32f feels like 24?) Enough winters in Rochester, NY learning what 20 below was like. Give me the heat.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Different voices

At my last job (there’s that last again) I was in an office filled with ‘typical’ programmers – a bunch of plain old white guys. (Am I allowed to say that? Guess so, it’s by blog). All male. All white. All going (or about to go or will eventually go) pudgy and grey. At most of the places I have worked the programmers were all male and white. I don’t know why – it would seem to be a good profession for anyone. But that seems to be the way it started and the way it still is.
My first programming job was for Xerox Corporation, back in Rochester, New York (long time ago). This was back when Xerox built computers – they had recently purchased Sigma Data Systems, and the computers were still called Sigmas. Mostly sold to colleges, a really good system for students. The group I was in moved applications from old replaced systems onto newly purchased Xerox computers. After a salesman sold a computer to a company to replace their Brand I(bm) computer they then tried to sell our conversion services. So I learned a variety of applications for a variety of new customers.
There were about twenty people in our group. At first the only woman was our manager’s secretary (back then it was not ‘executive assistant’). She was not very intelligent. We called her the SnowPaque Queen. Back then all letters were typed (before word processing – yes that long ago) on real Xerox (of course) typewriters. If you made a mistake in typing you either retyped the whole letter or you used product called SnowPaque or WhiteOut, which was just white paint that came in little bottles with a brush in the cap and was painted over the mistake. You could then type back over the WhiteOut and fix the error. Her letters had so much paint on them that you could almost peel a layer off with the letter on it, leaving the paper behind. She was fortunate in that originals were filed and everything that went out was a copy (a XEROX copy of course). But in looking at her there were two obvious reasons why she worked there – physical attributes being more visible than mental abilities. And her job was not very demanding, so she had a day to do a letter.
Under pressure our boss eventually found and hired a woman as a programmer. Large companies were under mandates to expand cultural diversity, though it wasn’t called that then. This new programmer had three things going for her: female, black, and a Spanish surname. So she filled in three spots on our diversity form and percentage wise brought our group into compliance on her own.
Well, she ended up being a lousy programmer. Our boss would have been happy if she just sat at her desk, but somehow she felt she had to do something. Whatever she tried to do she always ended up messing things up on the computer. Usually she deleted many man hours of programming work that then had to be redone. (yes, man hours – no woman hours or person hours then).
Eventually the rest of us grew tired of having to redo things and offered great protests to management. Our boss had a great difficulty in getting rid of her, having to justify the loss of diversity to so many company committees and departments. I don’t know if she was ever let go, as I was transferred out to California to start a new branch of our group. But that’s another story.
Back to this place. Well, here we have diversity. Out of ten programmers there are several women and several non white faces. One of the analysts is a woman from Australia, and the programmer across from me is Indian. (no, not Native American, he is originally from that country in the far east called India). I’m sitting here listening to their conversation, one half in that female Australian accent and the other in the lilting Indian accent.
It’s just a lot different than I am used to.
Meanwhile one of the financial analysts a row over is talking to himself again. He does that quite often. He kind of whispers, but in a more vocal manner. Sounds kind of like the voices coming out of the TV on science fiction shows where you talk to the dead via electronic means. Every time I hear him I expect a little girl to crawl out from under the bed. (ok, ok, so you didn’t see Poltergeist, ignore this part then)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

News shorts

When reading a short filler in the paper during lunch I came across an interesting story. It was about an attorney in Memphis describing her experience with a recent jury selection pool. It seems that most of the people did not meet her expectations for a jury on the case she was involved in. She described one man that admitted he had recently been arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. He said that he should have been suspicious because ‘she had all her teeth’.
I lived in Memphis quite a while ago, and am not familiar with all neighborhoods, but I know a little of Vegas, and I can guess what area of town here that comment would refer to.

Driving in (without pictures)

Well, you can imagine pictures in your head.
At work I can take a few minutes now and then to write a little and post periodically. I want to get up more photos but somehow things get so busy at home I just haven’t been getting around to it. Next time, I promise.
But a while back somebody commented on my drive to work – so I thought I would describe that. I took photos but need to pull them together, so they will come soon. It is an interesting drive, not with country views, or ocean vistas like I had in San Diego, but past a lot of man made stuff.
My last job (nice to be able to say that about THAT place, LAST job) was almost due east of downtown. Most of the tourist part of Las Vegas is along a north-south line. Downtown is the older area, encompassing just a few blocks along Fremont Street. Go east from Fremont a few blocks and you come to Las Vegas Boulevard, which runs north/south. Turn right (south) and about two miles down, past old Mexican restaurants and a ton of wedding chapels, you come to the tall needle of the Stratosphere. Besides the 1000 ft tower there is also a large hotel and casino. This marks the north end of the ‘Strip’, as Las Vegas Boulevard is referred to. It’s at Sahara Avenue, and this also marks the end of the city limits. That’s right, all of the bigger strip casinos are not in the city of Las Vegas, but in Clark County, as is the airport.
For the next five miles or so driving south on the Strip you drive between all of the huge casinos and hotels, ending up at the airport on the south end.
I live on the west side of town, about even with the center of the Strip and five miles away. I can see the lights at night from my front yard, looking between the houses across the street. I used to drive east on Desert Inn, which is the only street that does not cross the Strip but goes underneath it. Passing the hugh new Wynn building to my right, shown in past postings, past the old Desert Inn golf course, under the convention center, to the next main cross street of Maryland Parkway. I would turn left, drive two miles to Sahara, turn left and one block later go down a side street into a parking garage. Usually took 20 minutes, depending on traffic lights.
Now I drive south on Torrey Pines a mile, and turn left onto Twain Avenue. Twain is four lanes, with a speed limit of 30. I get to stay in the right lane doing a little over the speed limit so people in a rush (the standard driver here) can zip around me and pass in the left lane. About two miles down Twain goes down a small rise, and I have a nice view eastward of the big hotels. They Wynn is almost straight ahead, a large slice with the rising sun off to the right. This area is mostly apartment buildings on both sides of the road. Apartments here are all just two stories, usually four or six units per building with lots of them grouped together in complexes with parking lots between.
Crossing Arville I pass a big topless club on the corner, and then go behind the Rio parking lot. Twain passes under the railroad tracks, then through a little tunnel beneath I-15 and it ends behind the Mirage and TI. I turn right onto Frank Sinatra Drive. This street just opened a few months ago, and is not used by very many drivers. In the morning I am almost the only one on the road, guess I miss the casino shift starts.
On my right is a row of oleander bushes along a chain link fence, then all the lanes of I-15. For the next five miles I continue on Sinatra, with I-15 on my right, I think 15 is nine or ten lanes wide here. The nearest street to my left is Las Vegas Boulevard about a half mile away, but between Sinatra and Vegas are the large casinos and hotels. This time of year the sun is up low, usually behind the buildings but sometimes I cross a strip of bright sunshine. I say bright, one reason we like Las Vegas is the bright sunshine, no clouds, low humidity. So picture it, bright blue sky, row of bushes to my right with lots of cars behind, and to my left all of these hugh structures. Every mile I pass underneath a cross street overpass.
Mostly what I pass close up are employee parking garages and loading docks. To my left at first is the employee parking garage for the Mirage. I can’t see the hotel because the three story parking garage is right up against the road. Then comes the employee garage for Caesar's Palace and construction for a new section of Caesar’s. Then is a large empty lot with the Bellagio past it, I can see the Eiffel Tower of Paris on the other side of the Strip. I drive underneath the two big Bellagio signs – big legs on either side of the four lane Frank Sinatra Drive, towering up about six stories high. The first one is one large poster advertising “O” the show, with a big golden “O” about 40 ft high against a blue water background. The next sign, the same size, has smaller advertisements for the other shows and restaurants at the Bellagio. The south side of this sign is a big TV screen, but the north side is just posters.
Then to the left is the the Monte Carlo – a big gold and white tower. Then comes the skyline of New York New York, with the Empire State Building the tallest, and a big hump of their roller coaster going up and down just before the buildings. Flat parking lot here between me and the skyline. Then comes the Excalibur, with it’s tall white walls and fairy tale castle towers inside. Then it’s the Egyptian pyramid of the Luxor , and the tall golden tower of Mandalay Bay. At this point the parking garage of the Luxor and Mandalay Bay are alongside Sinatra, as the strip comes closer to I-15 and the buildings are not as far away. I drive under the Mandalay Bay sign – same size as the Bellagio signs. This side advertises Mama Mia, the show. Then the big block of the Mandalay Convention Center – no windows, four stories high and about a half mile long. Loading docks behind with room for big trucks to unload stuff for the shows.
The road now goes under Russell Road, and makes a U-turn, going behind a big golf course which is behind a high earth berm topped with palm trees, ending up at a light at Russell. Facing the south side of the convention center, with the golden towers of the Mandalay behind. I turn right for a block and end up looking across at another little wedding chapel. I turn right and continue south on Las Vegas Boulevard. On my left is the end of the airport runways, paved just behind the chain link fence. To my right is the golf course, and then a big fire station and more golf course. On the left I pass the Executive Airline Terminal, with a row of expensive private jets. Then a helicopter operation, with six or eight helicopters parked. Sometimes there is a gas truck filling them up. They fly up to a small lot on the strip next to the Monte Carlo where tourists can get rides over the strip and down to the Grand Canyon. Past the back of the famous ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign, then more runway concrete and across railroad tracks to the light at Sunset Drive. Usually it’s red, and I can see the large expanse of Fry’s Electronics down and to my right. Fry’s is famous in the West as the cheap computer and electronics warehouse. Think bigger than your largest Sears store, big warehouse like CostCo with only computers, TV and stereos and appliances.
I turn left onto Sunset, with the airport still on my left across the six lanes. To my right is first another golf course, then ‘the best’ batting cages and a go cart racing track. Then a few fancy glass fronted restaurants and the start of the Hughes Airport Center complex, lots of one story concrete office buildings and industrial park. Down a mile, looking east at the line of airplanes descending to land at the airport. I turn right, and a quick left and into my company parking lot.
Takes about twenty five minutes, depending on how many red lights I hit on Twain. Nice drive, low speed limits and not much traffic until I get to the strip. Traffic is much busier coming home, especially on Frank Sinatra Drive. I guess I hit the shift change for all the employees at the hotels and casinos, coming and going to the employee entrances along the road. Each of the places I drive past have several thousand hotel rooms, and hugh casinos and entertainment complexes. Caesar’s has a really big new shopping mall inside as well. Bellagio has seven top class restaurants, including Le Circe and Picasso which are AAA five diamond award winners (talk $$$$ here to eat – lucky if a party of two can get by for under $200 for dinner, without wine) in addition to several smaller places to eat and the standard gigantic Las Vegas buffet. I don’t know how many employees work at these places, but it’s got to be quite a few.
So that’s my morning commute. Listening to the radio and starting to daydream now that I have been on this circuit for two weeks. Not as exciting as the London Underground, not as peaceful as a drive through the trees, but if I take the time to look it really is an interesting view along the way.
OK – your turn – how about posting your drive to work on your blog, then come here and leave a comment with a pointer back. Pictures optional. Yes – I will take some and put them up here.
Boy, thought I'd get a small post up, but this really ran quite long.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

More political rants

Listening to the PBS news this morning I heard an article on Condoleza Rice testifying before congress. This is for her confirmation as new Secretary of State. Yes, I was going to avoid this type of story, too much for my blood pressure, but I switched over from commercials and was waiting for the local garden spot to come up so waited through the news.
The story played parts of her testimony. One line I found interesting was about the direction that she and the president would be pushing the country – spreading democracy around the globe. It sounded like an evangelist on a mission, to make the world a better place through democracy. Kind of like a religious missionary, out to save the world.
For some reason I find this kind of offensive. Somebody stating outright that their way is better, they know more than you and you are not capable of making a decision yourself, you need to be ‘saved’.
Sorry, I think I can save myself, and when were you chosen to be my savior? The world did not select the United States to be the savior for democracy. Most of the world would rather have us just stuff our opinions and keep our ideas to ourselves. Missionaries come to my front door to ‘save’ me? Sorry, keep your ideas to yourself, I don’t want to go to your heaven, let me go where I want to go, I don’t want to be saved by you.
Why not spread democracy through good works? I read where we are spending around $3 million per hour in Iraq. Per hour. Over $200 billion so far, with requests about to be made to congress for another $200 billion.
How far would that go in providing housing for the families in my own town that are living in their cars, or health care for the kids in my daughter’s class that have never seen a doctor or dentist, or warm beds for all of those guys sleeping under the freeway overpass? How far would that go in providing food for the drought areas of Africa, where thousands die every year of starvation? How far would that go in providing new homes for the Sri Lanka wandering after the tidal wave?
I can think of better ways to spread democracy than through force.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Seat update for Daniel

I didn't find it listed at Home Depot, but here is a supplier of an automatic toilet seat. Go for it. There is a spicery air deodorizer, and it is "ulti-functional to let you be at ease and handiness". Gosh, I love those people that don't use English as their primary language. (Sorry, I mean American, we do talk superiorior)

Friday thoughts (thanks to Daniel)

This is the end of my second week on the new job, and several thoughts come to mind this morning.
First, this job is much better than my last one. At that one, which I have written about numerous times, things were a little stressful and the excitement level was pretty high. Usually the excitement came at the end of every day when you found out you still had a job. Our new manager was a little different than the previous one – somehow a pattern had been established about firing people on Thursday right after lunch. So a few of us took to taking longish lunches on Thursdays, always talking about who would still be there, and if we would be called into the boss’s office upon return. I was only there nine months, but one co-worker had six months more than me, and in his time period he could recall seven people canned on Thursday. Unfortunately for our old manager this remained the procedure, as he was fired on a Thursday also.
Our new manager didn’t follow the pattern, and for him any day could be THE day. My mentioned co-worker was hit on a Friday morning for example. This greatly increased the stress level, as instead of just worrying about Thursdays we now had to be concerned about every day.
Back to this job – there is a more relaxed atmosphere. There is a little time to take a short break and relax for a few minutes. Many here wander outside for an hourly smoke break. This differs from California, where they (the infamous ‘they’) were even trying to make it illegal to smoke outdoors. Here most casinos are just filled with smokers. At least the restaurants usually have a no smoking area, some are even smoke free inside. But rather than smoke I get to cruise some regular blogs. The hard part about this is trying to prevent short outbursts of laughter irritating those in adjacent cubes that are trying to work.
I just returned from the rest room with several observations. At my last place of employment there was one restroom on each of three floors, with only one stall each. Not many for over four hundred employees. This provided for some frantic searching when an available space was required. The building of my current employer has rest rooms that I can only relate to those in airports or the larger casinos – large rooms with a dozen choices, hard surfaced with lots of echoes. After Daniel's post today I noticed we didn’t get the scent providers, but rather large exhaust vents above every stall. And a few stalls down were some rather strange sounds, more what I would expect coming from adult movies than a men’s room. But let’s not go there.
Fridays here are ‘casual’ days. Looks like I better get in the company spirit, as I am the only guy I see not in jeans. Somehow dressing up makes me feel that I just don’t belong instead of feeling that I’m at work rather than at home, so I better get with the program next week.
Speaking of rest rooms – I got to visit a few last evening. (nice segue there) My wife has expressed a desire to see the performance of “O” by the Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio. When living in San Diego we used to go see performances of the traveling group of the Cirque du Soleil. (Note – if any of you have not gone, and one comes to your town, be sure to go). Basically, it’s a circus performance without animals – at least that’s the way it was advertised years ago. Now performances have evolved into some gorgeous spectaculars. Here in Las Vegas the Cirque has permanent performances at three locations, with the MGM building a venue and Wynn’s also building a theatre. Current shows are at the Bellagio, Treasure Island, and New York New York. The Bellagio hosts “O”, which is listed as “A theatrical encounter with the possibilities and symbols of water”. (go look at the web site – pretty nice Flash work). The Bellagio built the theatre just for this performance, which has been here now for probably four years. I think it cost them over $30 million in construction costs. MGM supposedly is spending even more, and of course Wynn will try to outdo everyone else. Ticket costs reflect the expense – tickets for “O” are in three ranges, $150, $125 and $99.
But my wife has wanted to see “O” ever since she heard about it. Today is her birthday, so I purchased some tickets on line and went to pick them up on the way home from work last night so I would have something to give her today. No, I didn’t do jewelry, but it probably would have ended up cheaper, if I include the food costs for that night, and the Bellagio is not a cheap place to eat. The web site says that tickets can be picked up at any of the Mirage properties. Besides the Bellagio this includes the Mirage and Treasure Island. The Bellagio parking garage is only accessible from the center of the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) and most people that live here try to avoid driving on that section of road, myself included. TI parking is available from Spring Mountain Drive, so I thought I would stop there on the way home.
I am still trying to find the best route traveling between my new job and home. My most recent path takes me down Frank Sinatra Drive, which parallels I-15, running behind the casinos. I thought I could enter the parking garage from behind and slip in and out quickly. Well, I found out that the entrances from Frank Sinatra are either employee only parking or loading docks. After many U turns I finally hit on a drive that took me behind the Mirage, and after many turns routed me into the self parking garage there. At least the casinos on the Strip have huge free parking garages. Finally finding the entrance to the Mirage I asked for directions and after a ten minute walk (yes, these places are big) found the ticket office. The Mirage does not have a Cirque performance but has Danny Gans. It used to be Sigfried and Roy and their tigers, but I'm sure you have heard about Roys' experience. So Danny is now the headliner. So it’s the Danny Gans Ticket Office that I had to find. It is right in front of the Danny Gans Theatre, so is easy to end up at, but is rather far away from the parking garage and front desk. By the way – if you come to Vegas be sure to see the Mirage front desk area – they have a huge salt water fish tank right behind the clerks, which is very impressive. But in Vegas most things are Very Impressive. The Mirage also has Sigfried and Roys’s White Tiger exhibit, and a volcano out front that erupts every fifteen minutes. But back to the ticket office.
Arriving there I found that yesterday it closed at 5. This is because most big shows are ‘dark’ for several weeks in January, and Danny is also off. So, thinking that Treasure Island (oops, it’s now being pushed as the TI, not Treasure Island) was right next door I would just walk over there. Well, after taking the long trek back to the front door I passed the tram to the TI and just missed the train. (In Vegas most commonly owned properties have trams that run between them.) So I thought I’d just walk. Well, another ten minutes navigating past the taxi queue and entrance driveways I made it to the front door of the TI. Around on the corner I could hear that the pirate battle was still going on – well, it has recently changed from pirates to the ‘Sirens of TI’, following most places moving from kid directed stuff back to adult oriented stuff with scantily clad Sirens instead of Yo Ho Ho pirates. There is a big sea battle, with guns and sinking ships every few hours out in the big bay in front of the TI. Haven’t gotten there to see the Sirens yet, but thought I would skip it last night. Think of Disneyland's Pirates of the Carribean, but with lots more money. Or Disney's Pirates of the Carribean movie, with two boats that big out in front of the casino in a bay big enough to hold them, with cannons going off and people singing and falling overboard and one of the ships actually sinking at the end of each battle. And if you hang around long enough after the show you can see the ship rise again, ready to fight the next fight.
Here I was faced with another ten minute walk to find the Mystere ticket office. It also is in back, but right next to the tram stop so if I would have waited for the tram I could have avoided my twenty minutes of walking. Not much of a line, Mystere (also a Cirque du Soleil show, but we’ve seen it twice and still worth going back to) is dark for January also. I got the tickets and this time caught the tram back to the Mirage, inside and just across the lobby to the parking garage, then back to figuring out the driveways to get me around to the Spring Mountain exit and home.
Mystere having been around longer has tickets at $60 and $95, and yes, feeling cheap I only sprung for the balcony seats at “O”. First available weeknight was Thursday Feb. 6, so look for a review here then. Weekend tickets usually must be reserved six months ahead, but since they’ve been here for a few years now it is possible to get seats on shorter notice. Being local I try to avoid the Friday-Saturday crowds and do most entertainment stuff on week nights.
Just went to New York’s site to look at prices for Zumanity, their Cirque show, and found out they are also a ‘Mirage property’, so I could have gone there to pick up my tickets. Well, probably would have taken just as long to get to the box office. By the way – follow the trail from Bellagio to TI to Entertainment to the Sirens of TI – can’t link direct as it’s from a flash page that doesn’t provide the direct address. Since you aren’t here to walk it you can take the time to click the links. Not the same experience as traversing the casino through the jungle to the restaurant area past the slots and craps tables around the roulette tables past more slot machines dinging away and through the shopping areas and more eating areas to get back to the ticket offices. And yes, it is as complicated, noisy and entertaining as it sounds. Something I should do more often, it is an experience everyone should have. Since I don’t throw money into the slots it is my form of cheap entertainment. Well, as long as I’m not picking up expensive tickets it’s cheap.
OK, back to my original line. (Wow, a short discourse on my Friday thoughts sure turned into a long post, didn’t it.) Anyway, Daniel's recent post discussed the men’s room at his company, and I digressed into the men’s room here, and tried to move to casino rest rooms. Due to a few cups of coffee and a big bottle of water yesterday afternoon and the extended time of my casino traverses I was able to (really, was forced to) visit the rest rooms at the Mirage and TI. Both had entrance alcoves with shoe shine personnel. Both were even larger than the ones here at work. And the trend is towards automation – no handles to flush, the devices know when you are done and about to walk away. Faucets on the sinks do not have handles, you just put your hands down in the sink and water appears. You still have to push a button on the soap dispenser, but the paper dispenser also has no handle, just hold your hands up and paper rolls out. They don’t have that one yet in the stalls, but there is a Japanese toilet seat (available at Home Depot) that will wash and dry at the push of a button. I haven’t tried it, but don’t know how it would feel to be automated instead of using my own hands to handle things down there. (Maybe Daniel can try this out and report on it???)
OK, ok, back to Friday at work. So, wear jeans next Friday. Enjoy the large exhaust ducts in the men’s room. And am very, very happy to be here instead of the last place.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Inauguration thoughts

Driving in to work this morning I was listening to PBS radio – yes, I know I said that I stopped watching the news, but PBS usually has interesting stories, and when they get to the war stuff I push the button and move to local commercials – I would say local radio music, but it seems that every time I switch stations it’s commercial time. Anyway, this morning’s main topic was the upcoming inauguration events in Washington. There were interviews with a woman that ran a large hotel in DC, talking about things they were doing. Asked whether they had increased prices for the event she said “Yes, but only about 20%. It’s not price gouging, just charging what the market will bear.” I liked that explanation – it could fit just about anything. I could hear a three year old explaining about why he hit his sister – “well, it’s what the market would bear, she didn’t cry, did she?”
One of the stories was about the parade route, and where protesters would be able to stand and protest. It seems that the National Park Service is the organization that gives out space permits, and of course they give most of the space to the winning party, after all “it’s their event, they deserve the space!” The Washington police seem to have a history of large pre-emptive arrests of protesters at an event, several of which have prompted ACLU lawsuits. So they are preparing for this one.
In speaking to a Republican about one protest group not getting much space the answer was “well, they have aligned themselves with the enemy. It’s like giving Osama Bin Laden space on the parade route!”
Seems kind of paranoid to me, but that is the apparent direction that large parts of the country are moving towards – the ‘us versus them’ philosophy. If you don’t do it the way I am doing it, and don’t feel the way I feel then you must be the enemy. And we’ll pass laws preventing that. Maybe we’ll call it the Patriotism Law, and prosecute people for making signs that say things we don’t want them to say, and then arrest them and make them pay huge legal fees until some stupid right wing judge finds the law unconstitutional. Then we’ll change the constitution. After all, we’ve got God on our side. But that’s another topic.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Street names due to flooding

Came across this article in our local on line Review Journal (link to right) just after reading about the London Tube stations (link to right) and somehow all the street names just seemed strange:

Roads closed due to flooding
Raod crews report the intersection of Elkhorn Road and Rainbow Boulevard in the northwest part of the valley is closed due to flooding. Water and debris may be on other northwest roadways, including Durango Drive at U.S. Highway 95; Elkhorn Road at Durango Drive; Shady Pines from Lovely Pine Place to Wavering Pine Drive; and Osa Blanca Road at Severance.

I-215 southbound between Jones, Rainbow, Buffalo and Durango is closed due to water run-off from the Red Rock Retention Basin. Metro Police is diverting traffic to I-15 and Blue Diamond.

(Cut and pasted from their web site, don't blame me for the spelling)

More and more rain

My new job is going well. It is pleasant to work at a place where people like to work. We had a team meeting yesterday, five programmers, project manager and two analysts. It’s been a long time since I worked at a place that had business analysts. They are the ones that talk to customers, become knowledgeable in what the business does and how things are supposed to be done, and in the workflow of the whole system. They also make up test cases for testing program changes I make. At most places that’s what I had to do, in addition to programming.
It’s another rainy day in Las Vegas. In January we had over three inches of rain (OK, Portland, no comments here), which is very unusual. Our yearly average is only four inches, so unless we have a really dry summer ahead it looks like this will be considered a wet year. California looks even better. The heaviest snowfalls in the Sierra Nevada Mountains since 1916. Great skiing in Lake Tahoe. Our own Mt. Charleston had an avalanche yesterday, burying some snowboarders. First time for that also.
It snowed here last Friday. Everyone at work was running around looking out the windows as if they had never seen snow. Well, it really didn’t snow here on Friday, more like snow mixed with rain, or rain mixed with snow. Did have snow on the west side, where I live. When I got home from work it looked like those houses I see on TV, the ones with the white lawns. But it was back to brown when I got up the next morning. It did the same thing last year, so in my experience it has snowed here every winter since I’ve moved here, and rained a lot. So I guess the stories of a hot dry Las Vegas are exaggerated. Last summer it didn’t get much over 110f, and in the two summers we have been here it has never gotten to the 120f I keep hearing about.
Kind of like Portland. I keep hearing stories of rain and clouds, but when we went a few years ago we stayed for a week, and it was warm and sunny the whole time. No proof by me that it’s a cloudy place. When I took my wife back to Rochester, NY a while back it was also sunny and warm, we even ate at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the falls. So she doesn’t believe my stories of 20f below any more. Of course, we went in June not in January, but it’s the principle of the thing.
We went on an Alaska cruise a long time ago (probably 20 years ago – long time), I taught a class in computers on board, so got a pretty good deal. We stopped in Ketchican, a small town that had a big sign about 260 inches of rain a year. But it was sunny and warm for us. They were having the annual blueberry festival, usually held in the parking garage under the town hall, but moved to the parking lot because of the sun. We talked to the groundskeeper at the town cemetery, and he said it was the second day of sun, the longest sunny spell anyone could remember. A likely story. But he was really really sunburned, as were many residents there, so maybe he was telling the truth. Or just a story to keep people from moving there. Probably the same in Portland, to keep more Californians from moving and driving up house prices even further. But after this winter’s rains in California maybe it will not matter.
Bouncing around the net this week brought up a few interesting sites, first is the complete site of pencils. Everything you always wanted to know, or more.
And for unusual stories, there is Mike the Headless Chicken. I didn’t know they could do that. Until you look closely at the anniversary date of Mike’s accident.

Quotes from other places

For Jo, something to think about (since you talk about dog periodically)
Do monomaniacal paranoid schizophrenic agnostic dyslexic insomniacs lie awake at night wondering if they might be the dog that's out to get them?
(thanks to BlackWidow on alt.quotations) (thanks to )

And thanks to Miranda,

I am nerdier than 96% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

nya, nya.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

From low to high in under ten seconds

(with thanks to Schmo)
Low - sitting in the bathroom, reaching for the paper to find the white roll is really the last forlorn piece wrapped around the cardboard.
High - looking back to find a new roll sitting on the tank, left by some thoughtful person (thanks Bobbie).

Friday, January 07, 2005

Why I stopped reading the paper

On November 5th we cancelled our newspaper subscriptions to the local Las Vegas Review Journal and the Wall Street Journal. I liked the local news, and the WSJ always had interesting articles. But their undying faith in the current government system and vicious attacks on the candidates from the 'other' side ended up being just too much for me to take.
So we stopped reading the paper, and stopped watching the news. The local news was no problem - here it's either full of fluff pieces about the casinos or whatever, or copies of the national news stories just repeated from the wire services that we really didn't watch it too much anyway. We ranged through the network channels, but after seeing their lack of reporting for things I felt important made it OK to stop watching. We usually watched the PBS McNeil report, which was rather unbiased, but there was little uplifting news there either, and the nightly toll of the dead was rather depressing. It's hard to keep hearing about something over which I have no control at all, and really does not affect me much anyway. (yea, pretty crass, huh?)
But my mother missed reading the daily paper, and I missed seeing what movies were playing in the casino theatres (almost all the movie screens are in casinos in Vegas - usually nice ten screen places with fancy stadium seating - got to keep the kids occupied while the parents gamble). So we started getting the evening paper the LV Sun. It's more Democrat than the morning Republican paper, but still little uplifting stuff.
I usually content myself with the local section, and the Arts & Entertainment section - for the comics at least - but Wednesday I made the mistake of reading the first (national news) section. And quickly found out why I stopped reading it a few months ago.
First was the headline about "Car bomb kills 20 at Iraq Police Academy". No mention of dead American soldiers on page one, at least this issue. On page three is a column "In Brief", with a paragraph about "Patriot Act used against man". I figured, well, they finally got a terrorist on American soil. But no, it was about a guy that used a laser to light up an airplane, and so he is up for 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Sounds like the right tool for the job.
The first use of the "Patriot Act" was here in Vegas right after it was passed. The FBI used provisions of the "Act" to wiretap phones of the owners of some topless clubs, and got access to their financial records as well. Not because they were a threat to national security, but because it was a convenient law to use, since they couldn't get a judge to permit the taps before it was passed. (Update - nobody has been to trial yet as part of that investigation.)
And we were assured, and are still assured, that the "Patriot Act" will only be used against terrorism. Right - what politician do you believe today?
So what is the "Patriot Act" used for? Spying on US citizens not remotely connected with terrorism, hauling them into court and threatening them, and - oh yes - locking up several thousand people thought to be in the country illegally, again not part of terrorism, but just a convenient law to use. And most of those are still in prison, with no idea of trial or accusations. Just sitting because the government can.
And on the editorial page, a letter headed "Our generosity should extend to soldiers, families", which talks about the $250,000 to $1,500,000 that each family of the 9-11 tower attacks received, the $350 million plus manpower for the Asian tragedy, and the 1,500 dead and 10,000 wounded Americans from Iraq who receive almost nothing. Why do the families of people who just went to the office on the wrong day receive so much, while the soldiers that are shot at get so little?
I'll ignore the other stories for now, enough of a blood pressure increase. I will just try to ignore the front section, and keep putting on the home improvement channels when I get home from work. I would much rather see how to put in kitchen cabinets, which will affect me, than another 20 dead soldiers in Iraq, which fortunately do not affect me (other than in my mind and probably in my taxes) and which I have absolutely no control over anyway. I tried, yes I voted with the "minority", giving that group a "mandate" (at what, 50.5% of the vote?) to do what they want.
Make me sound evil? Well, what can I do about 140,000 dead on the beaches of Asia, or what can I do about the millions with Aids in Africa, or what can I do about the Egyptian nuclear experiments, or the North Korean bombs, or the Indian bombs, or just about any of it? Sorry, I have adopted the attitude that if it has no direct impact on my life then it does not really matter to me. I will pay more attention to my family and friends and those I care about than for people listed in the news that I have never seen. My mental attitude is more important than knowing about all of those deaths.
Rant for a Friday night. I really should get more of a life here.
Well, everyone else is in bed (dogs included). I am playing with my toy trains, and will meet with the group tomorrow morning to discuss playing with more. But donuts and coffee might overcome the political struggles in a club of eleven people.
Leaving you with something off of Allesandra's page. I thought she had some interesting posts, until I read today's and found out her feelings about others (sorry, Alessandra, but I find my opinions totally at odds with yours on several matters. I agree on some ideas but...) Anyway, an earlier post listed an interesting New Year's Telephone Message: "I am not available right now, but I thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes."
Nice way to phrase it - 'you are one of the changes'. I guess you can call my ignoring the news 'one of the changes' I will be making.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New job

Well, I've been at the new job for two days, and see a tremendous difference from the old one. This place is like a real business, with real bosses, a Human Resources department, Welcome New Employee packets and information, an intro to the company session, explanation of benefits, a 401k plan, and lots of other neat stuff.
Here is some indication of the difference - this is a shot of one of the call center rooms at my old company.

It's a medium size room with small tables stuck side by side with computers. About 80 reps sit at a computer and take incoming calls. When the caller wants to cancel their account the rep tries to talk them out of it - standard business practice. If the caller still wants to cancel the rep raises their hand, and a TO (Take Over) supervisor comes over, takes the rep's seat, and continues the sales pitch. The rep then moves to any open computer and continues to take calls. Lots of noise, constant calls to keep the noise down. No permanent desk, just people moving from computer to computer whenever a TO has to take the call.
Here is the call center at my new company

Does it look a little different? Each rep has their own work area, with low cubicle walls and a permanent desk. They put up pictures and cards and stuff. The floating number balloons are visual indicators from the company of people's worth - given at the start of the year for people who have been there for 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 years (the company has been here 9 years). About a third of the reps here have numbers floating over their cubes. Relatively quiet. And nobody yelling.
At my old company, which has been around 8 years, the person at the call center that has been there the longest has about 18 months on the job. Out of 100 or so in that center the turnover is about 10 per week (or more). So you can calculate that the average stay is - drumroll - 5 weeks! Some longevity. Leadership by threat - "if you don't follow the script word for word you are fired, no warning or second chance" - some motivation.
I've already completed one project, and started on another. Trying to learn the new system. At the old place we just kept track of things to do, tested ourselves, and put new programs right into production. Most things died after running a few minutes, no matter how well you tested the users pressed different keys and did things we could not anticipate. At the new place there is a formal change request process, analysts that review requests, a formal testing area and sign off process, and real documentation. And this place has fewer employees than the last. Big difference between having two almost hands on owners that have no leadership training or ability and a real corporation.
And now for something completely different - a clear day today, after solid rain yesterday. We had a record rainfall for one day in January - are you ready for this - of .78 of an inch. Yes, a little over three quarters of an inch of rain. Flooding everywhere, over 400 reported traffic accidents due to stupid drivers, and two feet of snow up at Mt. Charleston (45 minutes away). The valley is ringed with snow covered mountains, sparkling in the sunshine today.
But I am captivated by the blue sky - this was my first view Sunday going out for the paper -

I really like it here, even better now with a new job.