Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Spring in February?

Yes, last week in February and we are wet here. More rain in the past two months than ever before - similar to LA, but not quite as much. LA has what, over 38 inches? And we've got around 6. But it's wet. At least today was nice and sunny, due for a few more showers tomorrow, but nice over the weekend, and another storm system in on Monday.
Here are two shots of my drive in that I retook - again, not too good that early, or from a moving car, but it still looks nice.

That's the back of New York New York, with the Monte Carlo to the left. You can see the strip of the NY roller coaster at about mid level of the Empire State Building.. You board the roller coaster from an El platform right over a Greenwich Village street inside, and roll on to the outside, up and over along the side, back, and front and then back inside. I've not been on it yet. If you watch the original CSI you used to see Grissom riding roller coasters several times. We've got quite a few - from the one on top of the Stratosphere, 1100 feet above the strip, down to a hugh one at Primm, south fifteen miles on the California border. Probably six or eight, all tied to casinos.
And across Tropicana is the Excalibur. From some angles it just looks like a white wall, but in the middle is the castle. There are two angled walls forming a square, with narrow openings on either side. Through the openings you can see the castle, over the parking garage here in back. The other opening diagonally across is on the corner of Tropicana and the Strip.

And for those of you with snow and cold weather, I said I would give the promise of Spring.
Here's our back yard peach tree in the sunshine last weekend.

And underneath it is our version of snow. But fragrant and warm.

Well, not too warm - only around 60f in the afternoon, cools of to the high 40s at night. We're turning over the planting beds, putting in some veggie seeds. The California poppy seeds we planted last fall are up and close to blooming. Most of the trees are starting to green up. Hope we don't get a freeze to stunt all the growth.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Live, from Las Vegas, Cirque photos!

Watching sixty minutes tonight, they had a segment on Cirque du Soleil. If you watched, there were a number of scenes from the "O" show, wiht people flying through the air and landing in water. So I figured I better tie in and get my O shots down.
As stated before, my camera is not very good in low light situations. As well, the show as so interesting I forgot to try and take many pictures, but here are some.
We started out at the Bellagio parking garage. In keeping with our Homeland Security national theme they stop every car entering the self-parking garage and search our trunk. I have no idea why they do this – they are the only hotel on the strip to do anything like this. The Venetian has guards at the entrance to the lot, but they just look at you stern faced and wave you on. What are they looking in the trunk for? Makes me want to get a bunch of old toilet paper rolls, paint them red, but strings in the end for fuses and put a big alarm clock with them in an open box next time we go. But I’ll probably get arrested and have to spend tons of money on lawyers just for a joke that no one will get. Maybe I can get the ACLU to prepare beforehand – And what do they usually see? Well, it’s people checking into a hotel – most trunks are filled with luggage. Guess it would be simpler to just put a bomb in a suitcase instead of leaving it laying out open in the trunk. But I digress.
The first thing we do in going into the hotel is visit the conservatory. This is a big glass ceiling room that is filled with trees and flowers and water – the theme gets changed frequently. This being Chinese New Year it was in that theme

Here are some precious little Chinese children (made of mums) playing with firecrackers. Don’t portray people now. Usually there are just animal themes. Over Christmas there was a pine forest, and it really snowed inside. This one was pretty, they usually are. This is just one corner - less that 10% of the total area. There was a hugh talking chicken in the middle - about fifty feet high, speaking Chinese. Probably saying "Happy New Year", but I couldn't tell.
On to the lobby,

the ceiling is filled with large glass flowers, blown by an artist from Venice. It is really pretty – wish I could have a ceiling like that. Each flower is about three to five feet across, and probably cost aroung $10,000 each. They have some smaller stuff in a glass shop off of the conservatory, and it's all $$$$. So you can estimate how big the lobby is if each flower is five feet across. And estimate the cost of just the ceiling. You've all probably seen shots of the fountains. If not, go to the Bellagio web site and see.
The slot area is about like the rest of the casinos – after all, it’s all about the money.

Here are about the only shots that almost came out of the show – this is the pool that makes up most of the stage. Can't see what activity is going on down there, too blurred.

There are platforms that rise up, and come out from the sides and back.
And here is that big silver boat that flew in – it’s full of about a dozen acrobats, that swung and jumped and did all sorts of marvelous things. You can almost see the shapes of the people on board - at this point they were making it swing back and forth, prior to all jumping down.

Over to the right you can see the red spot of another actor that was just floating by. Down below assorted figures would walk around the front of the stage. All of the Cirque shows have people that are continually wandering through. Just to keep things lively.
After the show we wandered back to our car. And across the way was the Monte Carlo. There was a ledge to put the camera on, so it came out OK – those are the Polo Club condo towers in front. And the towers of New York behind.

All together, a very nice night. Now I just have to save up my money for one of the fancy restaurants, and get some tickets down front. Wonder how far in advance those are going for?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More local news - economics?

One of the current local controversies here in Las Vegas deals with an instructor at UNLV. That’s University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Last Spring an economics professor was teaching a senior level course in economic theory and was discussing savings patterns.
That seems to be a current US topic, with our valiant president pushing for reform of the social security system with the use of personal savings accounts. Current figures show that the level of savings in the US is the lowest it has been in eighty years, and our government is trying to figure out how to change that.
Well, the economics professor was talking about how different groups of people view savings and retirement plans differently. He was quoting assorted studies and statistics (yes, I know that statistics can be used to promote almost any viewpoint, but that’s not the point of this topic today) that describe the savings patterns of groups. He stated that married people tend to save for the future more than singles, blacks tend to save less than whites, homosexuals tend to save less than heterosexuals, along with several other examples.
One of the students filed a formal complaint with the administration about his portrayal of homosexuals. This was relayed to the professor, and at his next class he said that he was speaking in broad generalizations for groups, and homosexuals tended to save less both because they had no children (usually, as a group) and lived a lifestyle that did not promote saving for the future. He was not specifying individuals.
This led the same student to file another complaint, that the professor did not take his first complaint seriously. The professor in question has been in his post for over twenty years and has tenure with the University. The student did finish his senior studies, and graduated last June.
The complaints were forwarded to an academic committee, and the result is that a letter was placed in the professor’s permanent record, he was docked a week’s pay and he was up for formal censure (whatever that means). The professor felt he did nothing wrong, publicized the process, and the ACLU has taken up his cause, threatening to sue the University unless they apologize and state that the professor did nothing incorrect in his lecture. The University currently has no comment due to pending legal proceedings.
So, by stating that ‘as a group, in general’ some particular portion of the population does something, should a university professor be prevented from presenting statistics if a member of the class is offended? I know that statistics can be selected to present almost any position, but isn’t that the purpose of an education, to present different points of view, and new theories and ideas, so that students can interact and discuss things and learn something they don’t already know? Yes, the current direction of education (and the country, and our TV shows) is towards being non-offensive to anyone or any group, no matter how small or close-minded. This professor wasn’t stating that a particular group was bad, or God condemns them, or they should all be prevented from living. He was stating that they tend, as a group, to spend their money in certain ways. Somehow that would be like saying that I, as part of the group of starting to go gray old farts don’t by baby diapers or teething rings (well, maybe I’ll start up again as I move on to adult Pampers eventually). What’s wrong with that? I used to do those things, but somehow stopped when the kids moved on to training pants.
The complaining student did go on to graduate, but still complains about the lectures. One of his complaints is that the professor did not then lead a classroom discussion onto this topic. The teacher responds that students can always raise their hands and ask questions, and start a discussion themselves. Who is responsible for getting more info, the teacher, who after twenty years of teaching probably had a full lesson plan, or the student, who after a number of years in school (he was a senior) should have asked questions?
When I was in college I did file a complaint about a professor of mine. Not about what he thought, but because he was always drunk. This was an 8am class on writing. Three mornings a week, first class of the day. The teacher was always drunk, rambled on at most times in a voice too low to hear, and usually not making much sense. After four years in the Navy I was used to drunks, but several other students were not. I ignored the teacher most times, but after a few weeks heard somebody behind me discussing how he was scared to be there because he didn’t know what the teacher was going to do. This prompted me to go up to the dean of the general studies school (I knew him from a committee I was on) and talked about the situation. He said there were things happening, and he had heard similar things about this teacher and would do something. The teacher was not replaced, but he did start coming to class in a less drunken state. I don’t know what happened officially, but at least our class was more pleasant, and we did move on to learn something (I got an A in it eventually).
I usually take the position that people should complain about situations they don’t like instead of keeping quiet. But is this the type of thing that should be prevented? If it was a history class and the professor was discussing World War II, about how the Japanese did something to start the war, should a Japanese student in the class be offended? And should the university then censure the instructor for making a student uncomfortable?
Come on, the world is rather diverse. We have too many people complaining about situations. I know we don’t want to go back to wearing hoods and burning crosses on lawns (yes, some parts of the country still do it) because people are different that us. But people are different, and we should be free enough to discuss it. Especially at school. But I am still bothered by my neighbor (as discussed before) wanting to move before THOSE people take over. That’s a little different attitude than a teacher in economics talking about savings patterns of groups, or am I missing something?
OK, too many words. Let’s at least have one picture –
Here is a shot down the street from my house, taken last week when we had snow on the mountains to the north.

And, last week I talked about the balloons at work – here you are –

I think it looks nice. You can see the sea of cubicles, but sorry, the nice blue-gray color isn't evident.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Mayor Goodman and Mr. Happiness

Las Vegas has a lot of unique qualities. In addition to all of the adult playgrounds, we are the only county in Nevada where prostitution is illegal. That’s illegal, not unavailable. Our yellow pages phone book has over a hundred pages of ads for ‘escort services’. I’ve never used them, but rumor has it that you can get additional services besides escorting.
We also have a unique mayor. Oscar Goodman is a former mob lawyer. Back when the mob ran most of Las Vegas, before it became owned by big corporations and Steve Wynn, the gambling was reportedly controlled by ‘the mob’. Mr. Goodman, an attorney by trade, as the ‘corporate’ lawyer for several individuals that were later convicted of organized crime and of breaking assorted laws, in addition to legs. I wasn’t here when he ran for mayor, but I understand that these allegations were part of the campaign.
Columns in our local paper discuss some of these events. A recent article talked about the loss of a local landmark. This was a ‘hock shop’ on Sahara that was used for the fencing of stolen goods from all over the country. At one time the FBI was watching the place, and had installed ‘bugs’ inside the building. The owner, who had offices on the second floor, frequently paid consultants to search the building for installed listening devices, the searches evidently not being very successful as tapes made from these devices were later used in court cases. Since the owner felt there were bugs around, whenever his lawyer visited they would walk around the building talking rather than converse inside. Mayor Goodman was the lawyer discussed in this article. The story went on to say that the walking tactic was not successful either, as the FBI used parabolic microphones to record these outside conversations anyway. I don’t thing that Mr. Goodman was ever convicted of any wrongdoing, he just gave legal advice and representation.
Mayor Goodman is a big part of the Las Vegas publicity campaign. He likes to appear at events, and travels the world pushing Las Vegas as a resort destination.
While driving in to work in the morning I listen to several radio stations in my car. The DJ’s on one station frequently call the mayor to discuss things. Over the past several years the DJs and the mayor have had friendly bets about who would win the Super Bowl. It seems that the mayor is not very good at picking teams, as he has lost these bets every time. The wagers were not for money, but for publicity. Three years ago the mayor lost and ended up dressing like the construction worker from the Village People and performed with a singing group downtown. Last year he lost again and dressed as one of those Hot Dog On A Stick employees, complete with red and yellow striped uniform and hat, and made lemonade at one of their stores.
I was listening to the station last Thursday when they made their bet on air. The DJs are evidently not very savvy at sports betting as they did not understand what betting the point spread means. They and the mayor selected their teams to win, and the mayor offered to even things out by giving the DJs the point spread, which was seven points. The DJs did not understand fully what this meant, but they agreed.
Well, if you are a Super Bowl person you already know who won. And the winning team won by only three points. So the mayor’s selected team won the game, but he lost the bet based on the spread. So this week they mayor paid off.
We have a lot of other colorful characters in Las Vegas. One of them calls himself Mr. Happiness. He stands on a street corner on the west side of town, not too far from my house, and entertains. He dresses in unusual costumes and plays the guitar. It’s an electric guitar, and he does not plug it into an amplifier or anything, so he is the only one that can hear himself play. He sings and dances and waves to cars. No, he’s not out there to beg for money. If you stop to offer him something he just laughs and waves you off, and keeps hopping around.
For losing the bet the Mayor went out to the corner of Sahara and Fort Apache and performed with Mr. Happiness. He put on a colorful coat and sang and danced. This was in the morning, so that the DJs could broadcast the event. The mayor and Mr. Happiness both wore microphones, and a show director was there to give directions and report. I heard part of the performance, and it sounded like the mayor was complaining about losing by the spread, but he was having a good time dancing around and waving to cars. Mayor Goodman loves an audience, and I am sure he does not really hate losing these bets, as it gives him a chance to be out in front of people even more.
Several TV stations showed up, in addition to our local papers.
The Las Vegas Sun had a photo and article of Mayor Goodman out there. Go take a look at him enjoying himself. And see if you can pick out which one is the mayor.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Pictures of morning drive

Well, here are some of the pictures I promised. These are on my ride to work one morning.
I showed you the view of the Wynn from out east. This first shot is after I turn the corner on to Frank Sinatra Drive.

It’s the back of some new thing Caesar’s Palace is building – I don’t know if it’s a convention center or parking expansion. The two buildings to the right are the Bellagio – the main building and the newer small tower is the Tower at the Spa.
After I drive a little further, right behind the Bellagio, are these two signs. I saw in the paper that they are called marquees – you can see from how they span four lanes, and the size of the car approaching, that they are rather large.

This one advertises “O” the show. Photos of that to come.
Further down I pass New York New York and the Luxor, but those shots came out too blurry – I’ll try again. At the south end is the Mandalay Bay. Here is the back of their parking garage.

And a little further down is their marquee.

Big draw on this one is Mama Mia, a musical based on a bunch of Abba songs, for those ‘young at heart’.
Turning the corner I come up on Las Vegas Boulevard. Right across the street from my traffic light is the Little Church of the West Wedding Chapel.

This is the chapel furthest south in town, or the first one you used to come to when driving on the old road (before I15) from LA.
And a mile down is the back of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

Just to the left is the Executive Terminal at the airport. You can see one of the smaller jets that park there. Last weekend, Superbowl, we had almost 300,000 visitors in town, a pretty good weekend. Many high rollers flew in on their own planes, and parked them here. There was quite a crowd, probably forty or fifty jets on Friday night and Monday morning. Then they started to leave, and now are down to about four.
I turn the corner and am on Sunrise, just a little bit from my work. I’ve been going for lunchtime walks, and there are two big blocks I make in 40 minutes of fast walking. One leg takes me back along Sunrise, along the south side of the airport runways. Looking north across the airport, through the big chain link fence, is the strip stretching away.

From the left, Mandalay Bay, the Luxor pyramid, the wall of the Excalibur castle, New York New York, the Monte Carlo, and the big green wall of the MGM Grand (the biggest hotel in the world). You can almost see the peak of the Eiffel tower above it. To the TI gold on the right. Just above, at the right of the picture, you can almost see the snow on the peaks to the north.
So that's the side tourists don't usually see. It's more for casino employees and locals.

Song trivia (for you older readers)

Listening to my French Lazy Radio , they are playing Judy Garland singing 'You made me do it' (sounds like a very young JG). I've heard the song before but on this recording they included a spoken introduction, which I am sure was part of the song when it was written. She speaks as if she was writing a fan letter to Clark Gable, talking about how she fell in love with him because of the way he acted in the movies she saw.
Well, wrong there. I just searched for the lyrics on Google (is the correct phrase 'I Googled the lyrics'?) and found the song was written in 1913, well before both Clark and Judy. So I guess it was rearranged for her, perhaps in one of her 'Andy Hardy' movies way back then.
Well, looking at the Internet Movie Database says that this version of the song, titled 'Dear Mr. Gable" was a birthday present for Clark Gable's 36th birthday. Composer Roger Edens adapted the old song “You made me love you", which was sung at the birthday party by a young Judy Garland. Producer Louis B. Mayer was so impressed that he gave an order to let Garland sing it in her next MGM musical, which ended up being Broadway Melody of 1938 .

OK, Garland born in 1922, Gable born in 1901 means his 36th birthday was in 1937, so Garland was 15.

From the trivia – another takeoff from the Andy Hardy ‘let’s put on a play’ series. This movie contained that famous line ‘the show must go on’, which somehow I thought I heard in a bunch of the ‘Golddigger of 19xx’ movies.
OK, I guess you can tell I'm a sucker for the old movies. My favorites were the Busby Berkley series of Golddigger movies from 1929-1933. I just loved the hundreds of tapping feet, the moving pianos and the flourescent violins.

More balloons

Came in to work yesterday to find a new field of balloons in our call area. This part of my company deals with credit cards. People evaluate card applications, mail or call for more info, and answer phone calls about accounts. We have another building across the street with the collections call center – those who phone you when you are late paying your bill. Picture a room about the size of a football field, with high ceilings (about twenty feet high), filled with cubicles. The room is painted basic off white, the cubicle walls are movable cloth covered, in a deep blue grey color. Low cube walls, about four feet high, and a maze of walkways between. Your status is evident by the size of your cube – basic workers get an area about the size of a desk – maybe three feet deep by five feet wide, sitting with your back to the walkway between rows. Group leaders get a cube five feet deep. Higher level supervisors get a cube about eight feet deep, with a small back section.
This room is about half the square footage in the building, with smaller rooms at the ends – the one I am in has six rows of six cubicles. Being ‘exempt’ – (really, means we get a salary rather than hourly pay, and don’t get paid for overtime, which most companies expect) we get cube walls that are five feet high instead of four. And the cubes are a little larger, more counter space for books and printouts. Along one end of our room are four offices, with doors. This is where management sits.
I mentioned before that our company is big on balloons – helium filled, awarded for doing something good, or big three foot high numbers for employees here over five years. Yesterday they started a campaign called ‘Improve Customer Experience’ (ICE). There was a white balloon with our logo on one side and ICE on the other taped to each cube. Each on a ribbon about five feet long. Picture the big room, with several hundred cubes, with several hundred white balloons floating above. So the balloons are all floating a foot or so above your head. Scattered among the white balloons are big colored numbers for the five year and up employees. Probably about a third of the cubes have numbers. It really is very pretty.
I just picture the crew working at night to fill all of those balloons, tie ribbons to them, and walk around putting them on every cubicle. I don’t know who did it, probably employees and not a contracted group. We deal with peoples credit, there are cameras everywhere, electronic locks on all the doors, security guards up front, we all wear badges and go through periodic security training classes. I can’t see a group of ‘outsiders’ just walking around. But it does look nice.
This company tries to use positive reinforcement as a training tool. New phone employees go through a three week training course in what to say and how to deal with customers. The last place I was at had a three day class, with the last half day sitting with somebody listening to how they handled calls. Then you were alone on the phone. The average employee only stayed there a few weeks. Motivation there was along the lines of ‘you better f****** be f****** nicer to callers or you’re a** is f****** out of here’. And it was. I heard that another programmer has left there. That makes my friend John the most senior, behind our project manager, being there only three months. Much nicer to be here. With balloons. (Oh, our group didn’t get the white balloons, guess since we don’t deal directly with customers we aren’t part of the ICE program).

Monday, February 07, 2005

More dumb questions on handling people

Some questions on how to handle situations – (I don’t think I posted this before, but if I did go on, ignore it)
But first – OK, I admit it, I didn’t watch any of the Superbowl, or the pregame shows, or the postgame shows. And I really don’t care. I’m just sorry I missed the commercials. And from what I remember of past games, there were probably more commercials than game. What is the ‘clock’ time for a football game anyway, 60 minutes? So if it’s scheduled for four hours on the tv guide, how much room is there for commercials?
But Steve Wynn supposedly snuck in a Las Vegas commercial during the halftime (as reported in our local paper), standing over the big W on top of his new casino. Vegas has been having a feud with the NFL about advertising this sinful location. Wynn’s place is due to open in April. Lots of construction still going on, but it should be impressive.
Back to the topic, when I lived in San Diego for a while I used to go on morning walks. Seeing my neighbor across the street did the same thing I shifted my times and walked with him for a while. Eventually another neighbor joined in. Milt from down the street worked in the load department of a local bank.
The walks were OK for a while, and then something was mentioned about a house sale a few blocks over. Milt made the comment, ‘well, as long as the new neighbor isn’t Bbbbb (fill in any group here)’ and proceeded to tell us how bad people of THAT group were, how they couldn’t be trusted, how they cheated and brought down property values, and on and on and on. He then spread the wealth and went through several other groups and how he was glad that none of THEM were in our neighborhood. Strange, because Milt is in a minority group that historically has been very well stomped upon.
As Milt is in his early sixties I figured he was pretty well set in his ways, and could find no value in arguing with him. So I kept quiet. However, monologs of this style continued for the next several days and I just stopped walking with those guys.
My wife was recently talking to a neighbor here, the guy across the street with the triplets. He was raised in Michigan, but has been here in Vegas for quite a few years. She said he expressed the desire to move to a small town someplace else, as Vegas was too big for raising kids, and anyway there were getting to be to many Mmmmmmms here and things were going downhill. Again, my wife could not find anything to counter that with, and did not say anything about it. But to me she said that it would probably be pretty hard for him to move anywhere and not find minorities present.
Let me say that both my neighborhood in SD and here are kind of ‘upper middle class’ places. Nothing big or fancy (well, maybe a few homes here are over the top). Most people have OK jobs and seem to be reasonably well off. Both sections are plain white communities, almost devoid of minorities. At least if you don’t consider the gay guys across from us in SD, but they were both white. Oh, Milt had a lot to say about ‘those gays’ also.
I recently bounced around and found a web site that seemed well written but not very well visited. I stopped by periodically for a while, and interchanged comments with the host. I usually like to leave comments just to let people know that somebody is reading their stuff. But then one day there was a post that seemed really off – a cut and pasted section from some discussion group on the topic of ‘who God loves’ or something like that. There were quite a few back and forth comments by the site host presenting the opinion of why God hated people ‘like that’ and they didn’t deserve to live among us. I was quite surprised, and after seeing similar thoughts the next few times I visited I deleted the site from my ‘to visit’ list and stopped going back. No comments why, just redirected myself.
So, how should have situations like these been handled? What good would it do to tell people like this that they are full of Ssss? I’ve got to live across the street from that guy here, and do like to talk to him otherwise (and he is a big help with yard projects). I can avoid the web site with no problems. But is it best to just keep quiet? Brings to mind a story about some part in Europe in the 30’s – ‘they came for the xxx and I kept quiet, then they came for the xxx and I kept quiet, and eventually they came for me and there was no one left to say anything.’ Should I have said something? Do you say anything?
I don’t hear much from people complaining about those that are negative. I did read someone’s (thanks, L) stories about people who are always in the right. Their side is the only ‘right’ side, and the rest of you suck off. How do you tell them to get lost if they are your neighbors and you see them every day? How do you tell them if they work a few desks away from you and you need your paycheck? How do you tell them if 50.7% of the voting public put them in office and they are there for another sucking four years because of the great mandate? (OK, getting political again, but how do you?)
I just see more and more of this ‘we are better than them’ stuff and do not know how to handle it. More and more I see the attitude in the US going in a direction I don’t like. College students don’t know the Bill of Rights, and think freedom of speech is only for speech they agree with. How long do I ignore it, and what can I do if I want to speak up?
I tend to hang around with people that I agree with, as most people do. I read blogs and comment on ones that have interesting things to say, and don’t go back to those that rant about things differently than I do. (I don’t know, would I even keep reading this if I didn’t write it? But at least I don’t pick on too many people, except for those darned Republicans.) But how long do you stay quiet, and keep to yourself? Is it time to buy an old missile silo in Montana and lock myself away? Time to move to Canada, or New Zealand, but it’s like that there too, isn’t it? How’s Portugal, anyplace else I can hide?
Oh, and Miranda,

You are Debian Linux. People have difficulty getting to know you.  Once you finally open your shell they're apt to love you.
Which OS are You?

And I don't even know what Debian Linux is.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Seeing "O" at the Bellagio

Last night we made it to see the Cirque du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio. Got home to late to process my pictures, so I thought I’d do a short write-up on the evening first, then post images later.
First off – the Bellagio is probably the ‘classiest’ casino on the strip. Everything about this place is fancy, from the famous dancing fountains out front to the glass flowered ceiling in the lobby to the five star restaurants inside. If you’ve got money to spend, this is the place to blow it on.
Steve Wynn first became involved with Cirque du Soleil back when he was building the Treasure Island in 1992. Wynn liked the group so much he built a theatre into the TI just for them, and the Mystere show at the TI is still going strong. When Wynn built the Bellagio he spent around $95 million for the theatre and production setup. Now that Wynn’s moved on, he is supposedly spending $165 million over at the new Wynn resort for another theatre and new Cirque production. There’s a good Review Journal story on the Cirque du Soleil.
We’ve seen the Mystere show several times, and if you ever make it to Vegas I would highly recommend it. It’s been here over ten years now, and tickets are down to $49, so please try. “O” has only been open a few years. Prices here range from $99 to $149. It used to be sold out for six months in advance, but as time goes on that has eased up. I booked tickets on the Internet. They only list shows a month out, and I only found tickets on the far end. Feeling cheap, I got the $99 tickets, which happened to be the only ones available. Being local, we usually avoid the weekend tourist crowds and try to do things on Wednesday or Thursday.
Arriving at the Bellagio last night we thought we would cheap out and hit the buffet – all casinos in town have a buffet, it’s expected. This one went for $25 per person, average for a big strip place. The buffet was rather small, and not as comprehensive as other places. I was disappointed in the limited choices, but everything was of great quality. My wife hit the seafood section – lots of sushi, a number of shrimp dishes, and big king crab legs. I hit the meat – and found a few things not found at other places. I got to try buffalo sirloin, wild boar ribs and free range turkey. In addition to prime rib and leg of lamb. Fancy stuff, but I would suggest you hit the Rio buffet and less $$ and a lot more choice. But if you’re staying there I guess it’s OK.
Other choices were the fancy restaurants, but those would have run us $100 a head, and we didn’t want to keep looking at our watch with a leave time required. I do want to try the Picasso and Renoir restaurants some day, but when I can take time to enjoy the five-diamond food (I’m a sucker for good food).
We hit the show, and found out that our tickets were probably the last ones available – we were the back row the end seats in the highest balcony. Had something similar in San Diego, when a company I worked for bought us all tickets for an SD Chargers football game. Good tailgate party, but the tickets were the cheapest available, top row, up with the blimp taking pictures. The field was so far away it was like not even being there, but we carried on and partied and had a good time all by ourselves up on the Group W bench.
But “O” was a little different, it’s got the new movie popular ‘stadium’ seating, where each row is higher than the one in front. And even though we were far back we still could see everything very well. And it was a different show for us than for those down below in the expensive seats…
The stage is really a large swimming pool. Built in a circular shape, with an arc of platform out front. The bottom of the pool is made of several sections, each of which can be raised or lowered. So when the show started there was just a large flat dry stage. Then parts of the stage sank down and became wet. During the performance different areas rose up to produce shallow areas, or came above the water’s surface to give a dry stage. When down the pool was pretty deep – there were divers dropping into the water from the ceiling, about fifty feet above the stage level. So it had to be deep enough for them to land in.
Cirque du Soleil shows have always been acrobatic, and this was no exception. During the performance there were large rings and cables and ladders and platforms coming down from the ceiling or floating out from the sides. There were people climbing up, or over, or swinging, or floating, or jumping, or swimming up or walking by or just being there. It was very impressive. A skeleton of a ship flew in, with a dozen people on it. The proceeded to swing and jump and do all sorts of things, and ended up diving twenty feet down into the water and just disappearing (into some underwater exit).
The Cirque shows usually have a clown or two, and this one did also. The clowns wandered through the audience before the show started, and wandered through the performance periodically. The even floated through twice, on the roof of a house sunk in the water complete with smoking chimney and tv antenna.
Being up high we were about even with the top curtain, and most of the activities were straight ahead or below us. We could see the platforms rise and fall under the water. But those down on the lower level had a flat view of the stage, with everything going on in front of them or above. So to them one minute people were walking across a dry stage, the next people were splashing through knee high water and the next an acrobat was diving into the stage from fifty feet above and disappearing in a splash of water. That must be interesting to see from down there, not knowing what to expect. But we could see into the pool, and see things happening under the surface. And see the shapes of a dozen black suited scuba divers down there helping the performers, and attaching rings and ropes and setting up tables and stuff.
The show was typical Cirque randomness – with different groups of actors walking or running by, different things swinging in, stuff floating by, boats floating over the water, wooden horses with riders coming down from the sky. A crowd of twenty people might come on stage from different directions, start performing acrobatics, throwing each other across stage, and then just have the stage sink and all of them would just disappear into the water. At one point there were three big swings set up on different areas of the stage. Four people would be on each one, swinging like crazy, and then the front one on each would fly twenty feet in the air to land in the water on the section of stage that had sunk down.
It was amazing. An overloading two hours.
I was thoroughly impressed. It was too dark for pictures most of the time. The two or three I took might not come out (we’ll see tomorrow when I have time to look at them). But I would highly recommend it. I’ll probably wait a while, and then try to go down to the ticket office and score some bottom level seats (yea, it’s probably worth the $149 each) and go back to see it from a different angle.
We then wandered around the casino, watching people at the $100 minimum blackjack table betting piles of chips. Busy for a Thursday night. The Bellagio opened a new tower a few weeks ago, with a big spa area and new convention center. The conservatory was full of decorations for Chinese New Year. Some four-star pastry chef had a new patisserie in the spa tower area – gelato and the fanciest little pastries you could imagine. But we were full from the buffet, and will be back to try that stuff another day.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Procesing questions

I am a programmer working at a bank. Part of my job is supporting the credit card processing group. I’ve only been here a month, and am still learning the complexities of the systems. Today I’ve been working on code that evaluates new applications for our credit cards.
Part of the process is to compare applicant addresses against a table named BOGUS. Evidently in the past credit cards have been issued to people that supply bad information, then use the card and skip out on their debt. The addresses used by such people are put into this table, so that if any new applications come forward using this address someone will be alerted. Sounds logical – try to make the automatic program more aware of problems that can occur.
Looking at this table I came across a street address on State Jail Road in El Paso, Texas. Now, I’ve never been to this part of Texas, and don’t want to bring any pain to people who live there, but somehow mailing anything of potential value to somebody living on STATE JAIL ROAD in anytown would lead me to evaluate what was going on. Perhaps there are many happy families living on that street, if so I apologize.