A Letter from the Dog

August 28, 2008

clip_image004TO: GOD

Dear God: Why do humans smell the flowers, but seldom, if ever, smell one another?

Dear God: When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?

Dear God: Why are there cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the
mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit, but not ONE named for a dog?
How often do you see a cougar riding around? We do love a nice ride! Would it
be so hard to rename the ‘Chrysler Eagle’ the ‘Chrysler Beagle’?

Dear God: If a dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is
he still a bad dog?

Dear God: We dogs can understand human verbal instructions, hand signals, whistles, horns, clickers, beepers, scent ID’s, electromagnetic energy fields, and Frisbee flight paths. What do humans understand?

Dear God: More meatballs, less spaghetti, please.

Dear God: Are there mailmen in Heaven? If there are, will I have to apologize?

Dear God: Let me give you a list of just some of the things I must remember to be a good dog.

  1. I will not eat the cats’ food before they eat it or after they throw it up.
  2. I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc., just because I like the way they smell.
  3. The Litter Box is not a cookie jar.
  4. The sofa is not a ‘face towel’.
  5. The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.
  6. I will not play tug-of-war with Dad’s underwear when he’s on the toilet.
  7. Sticking my nose into someone’s crotch is an unacceptable way of saying
  8. I don’t need to suddenly stand straight up when I’m under the coffee table.
  9. I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house – not
  10. I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.
  11. I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch.
  12. The cat is not a ‘squeaky toy’ so when I play with him and he makes that noise, it’s usually not a good thing.

Wikipedia: The half-assed Encyclopedia Britannica

August 28, 2008

image It’s no secret that I seethe at the lack of accountability that is Wikipedia. 

It’s like how YouTube gets copyrighted content posted to it and declares that ‘it’s not responsible’ for what people post and that removal or lockdown is done on a best effort basis.

Saying that it’s a reliable authority on any given topic is like throwing a dart at a corkboard and assuming all throws hit bullseye.  It’s a poster child of how the unregulated “power of liberal community” does not work in the same way that knowledgebases and support databases do.  You can’t fire someone for entering irresponsible data into Wikipedia.

Well, good ol’ Kotaku has recently pointed out yet another point of evidence of how ludicrous Wikipedia has gotten.  Their eyes have been focused on the fact that in terms of content posted:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog has 7,832 written for it where as GOD has 3,726. 

Unbelievable.  GamesRadar continues with other comparisons like:

  • Call of Duty vs. World War II
  • Electronic Gaming Monthly vs Time Magazine
  • Pokemon vs Poker
  • Master Chief (Halo) vs ANY given US President
  • Starship Enterprise vs the Automobile
  • Metal Gear Solid 4 vs War & Peace
  • Final Fantasy Music Albums vs ALL Rock & Roll history
  • Megaman X bosses vs ALL Serial Killers
  • Minor Star Wars characters vs US Founding Fathers
  • …etc…

KOTAKU LINK:  http://kotaku.com/5022282/fifteen-minutes-on-wikipedia-is-like-a-semester-at-yale-if-yale-was-a-wow-server

GAMESRADAR LINK:  http://www.gamesradar.com/f/the-wtf-world-of-wikipedia/a-2008062510326553058/p-3

HOWTO: Boosting your comps ‘Part 2’: Some feedback from actual pit bosses

August 26, 2008

image The other day I benignly wrote a blog post that surmised that one’s casino rating was possibly skewable using a number of methods that I’d witnessed others using in the casinos (Hey – there’s not much else to do other than observe others in the casino once you’ve thoroughly chatted to your tablemates and the dealer) and while I hadn’t actually tried some of them, I’d seen people do it and assumed the reason was to ‘up’ their play ratings.

Welllllllll, that was a few days ago.  Since then much to my surprise, I’ve been contacted by a few people that were actual former casino pit bosses at Las Vegas strip casinos (Boy, you guys surf a lot! [grin]) about this post and got… well… a lot of interesting lessons about how things really work, not to mention more than a pocketful of advice.  (Translation:  There were a lot of people willing to school me Tony Montana-style for many of the inaccurate bullet points I wrote up.  Sorry guys.)

So here’s some of the corrections to what I originally wrote:

    A common thread amongst folks that wrote was that your initial bet is hardly the only bet recorded and really over a normal period of time doesn’t do much at all for your average if the pit boss tracks your bet level with the correct frequency, which almost all will.  They observe, record, and make judgments about your behavior on a consistent basis… which is their job.
    One person noted that the only reason hosts want you to put things on your hotel room is so that when you ask to be comped, they can simply slash it off your bill.  Having services purchased on your hotel charge and having it comped by a host is apparently a easier thing to rationalize instead of outright handing someone a free dinner or spa treatment.
    The general consensus is that removing chips off the table or ‘ratholing’ is a well-known & obvious practice to 100% of all pit bosses.  Sure small amounts could be very slowly ratholed but these low numbers make the result not worth actually doing anything and only results in unnecessary risk. (i.e. the wrath of the pit bosses & managers for trying to mess with their work)
    The technique of cashing-out & buying-back-in (the thing that the woman that was sitting next to me during my last trip was doing) raises your overall buy-in but this number is compared to your “actual win/loss” when you walk away.  In other words, disproportionate buy-ins are relatively easy to detect.  It went unsaid however I assume that the implication here is that this is pretty much pointless unless you lose a lot, in which case – who cares what you’re being rated at since, well, you’re losing.
    I was told by a couple folks that the real reason I catch people ratholing chips is because they’re trying to cycle time through the casino with cash borrowed on casino credit i.e. markers to ultimately take out an interest-free 30 day loan without actually gambling the money borrowed. 

    Huh???  Yeah – that’s what I said.  It apparently has nothing to do with the player’s comps.  Call me surprised, but for my part, I’ve always had more than enough casino credit everywhere I’ve played and this isn’t something that I’d even fathomed a player doing being that I always have the cash in the bank to back up any marker I place. (I’m just too lazy to withdraw the money and take it with me to the casino)  Apparently, and I guess not surprisingly, a lot of people in Vegas need money loaned to them in these increments and this is, I guess, an easy albeit unethical way to do it – not to mention a quick way to destroy your credit across town.

One interesting thing was that all the individuals I talked to seemed… uh… frankly a little angry about my post, despite having “retired” from the casino industry, which I found interesting.  In talking with them, some seemed a bit hardened by their time working as a pit boss, others seemed at relative ease, being almost jovial about their former employment.  But they all sounded like by writing that post, I’d committed an injustice that needed to be rectified – hence their immediate desire to IM me, email me, or post a comment.  My guess was that they either felt compelled to quash my ignorance (regardless of my ultimate insignificance), or they felt some loyalty to the “cause” of pitbosses & dealers everywhere, which I guess is understandable.

Either way, in case any of them are reading this, I did appreciate the information.  Really.  Thanks everyone for having the patience to answer my questions.

Now, on a positive note, my dear reader, one of these former pit bosses told me a variety of ‘very interesting things’ that I’m still debating as to whether I should post for fear they could find their way back to that person.  Apparently, as one would surmise, knowing how things work ‘on the inside’ can provide a great deal of opportunity for… what said person called, ‘mischief’.

How about this:  If you know me, just ask me the next time you see me and I’ll tell you what this person told me.

“Hungover for Vegas” – Joe Sedita Band

August 26, 2008

Just thought I’d share this little ditty with anyone who’s reading:  It’s a song that was first posted on the “Five Hundy by Midnight” website (“The original Las Vegas podcast”) and it’s really gotten stuck in my head.  And there’s only been a few songs that have managed to wedge itself in the vacuous space known as my cranium and I guess this is the latest

imageThe song’s called “Hungover for Vegas” and besides the awesome licks, the lyrics brings back memories of some of my trips to Vegas when I was in college and couldn’t afford anything but a room at Circus Circus and $1 blackjack tables at the Frontier.  It makes me want to fire up my lighter and hold it up in the air:

LISTEN:  http://www.myspace.com/joesedita


Incidentally, until this song the Sarcastic Gamer song “How you kill a Brand” was the song most commonly stuck in my head.  Thank you Joe Sedita for finally dislodging this remake of the Fray’s song “How to save a life” from the ol’ dome.  For what it’s worth, these songs follow an illustrious line of highly catchy tunes that I’ve found myself humming to myself on the drive home from work… going back as far as “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band.

Here’s the last song in my head:  Sarcastic Gamer’s “How to Kill a Brand

Large Denomination United States Currency… how cool is that?

August 24, 2008

The folks at Five Hundy’s most recent podcast talked about how Binion’s is putting up $1,000,000 up on display, much like they used to have back in the old days.  It’ll be stacks of $100s, $20s, and smaller bills.  What’s interesting is that the $1,000,000 that Binion’s used to have on display used to consist of $10,000 bills.

$10,000 bills?  Yep.  I’ve never seen one either.


So I did a quick search and sure enough, there’s some really neat photos of the large denomination bills that were created back in 1918 that the public really and truly could own.  Apparently, the original $10,000 bills from Binion’s were auctioned off by the last owner of Binion’s for as much as  $160,000.  Sick.  Really sick. (http://www.moneyfactory.gov/document.cfm/5/42/160.)

But why not $100,000 bills or some other denomination?  Well, $100,000 was the largest denomination ever created in the U.S. and I seem to remember there being something illegal about owning a $100,000 bill and sure enough, I was right.  In 1934 they printed these bills and they were used explicitly between Federal Reserve Banks.  And yes, it’s illegal for even collectors to own them. (http://www.moneyfactory.gov/document.cfm/5/42/1359)

image image

Interesting Las Vegas links for a Visitor

August 24, 2008

image If you were going into a part of the city where you knew people were trying to take your money everywhere you go, wouldn’t you want to be on your guard by doing some research first?  Where should I go to avoid getting held up?  Where are the safest places?  What should I do to protect myself?

Guess what?  In Vegas – everyone wants your money.  Don’t just go to Vegas ignorant. Go to Vegas armed with information to protect yourself.  ‘Cause like G.I. Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

  1. Resort Comp Calculator
    What kind of comps can you roughly expect based on your current level of play? 
    And no, your $10 betting isn’t going to get you a free room.
  2. Casino Game Odds
    What is the house advantage (or ‘edge’) against you as a player? 
    nd why the hell are you still playing Keno & Wheel of Fortune?
  3. Casino Death Watch
    What casinos are looking like they’re going to ‘go under’? 
    Yes, Circus Circus has been on here for years.
  4. Las Vegas Restaurant Reviews
    Check out what others say about that “high priced, highly acclaimed” restaurant before you go.
    Seriously.  Check this out before you go anywhere.
  5. Resort & Casino Property Owners
    Who owns that Vegas spot that you like to go to?  Is the comp plan aligned with others?
    Long live the independent properties!
  6. Vegas Hotel Discounts & Coupons
    Looking to book a room at a discount?
    Pamela’s got all the hook up and going to Vegas on the cheap.
  7. Maps of Vegas
    No, not the crappy ones you see online.  Really good ones you’d be proud to use printer ink on.
    Check out the “Coke vs. Pepsi” map!
  8. The Original Las Vegas Podcast
    Want to listen to something that’ll get you in the mood for Vegas?  This is the best thing to load up your music player with to start that engine running.
  9. Photos of Vegas Food
    Wanna actually see what the food looks like at a given location?  This photographs everything she eats.  It’s an unmatched encyclopedia of visual notes on basically every Vegas restaurant’s food.
  10. Construction in Vegas
    What the heck is getting built on property X?  What’s the back story on that?
  11. Pre-reading for Blackjack Players
    I wrote an blog post specifically for folks going to Vegas to play Blackjack.  You might find it informative.
  12. Blackjack Basic Strategy Card
    Here’s something to print out right before you go to Vegas.  How to play perfect Blackjack.
  13. Advice around Taxis in Vegas
    Want to avoid getting ‘longhauled"’ i.e. getting taken for a longer ride than necessary between the airport & the resorts?  Read this article.

HOWTO: Avoid being overcharged by Vegas taxis

August 22, 2008

image In my younger years I was the victim of several taxi scams in Las Vegas.  A little older, but admittedly not a whole lot wiser, I can tell you that these sort of things still go on but you can take some specific steps to prevent yourself from getting Shanghai-ed by a disreputable driver.

The most common way for a taxi driver to overcharge you is to do what locals call “long-hauling”.  Basically this is the practice of taking a longer than necessary route to get you to your hotel/resort destination.

The most frequent long-haul from the airport to resorts is to “use the tunnel”.  The tunnel connects the airport to the I-15 and tacks on around $5 or more to your cab fare depending on the route they take after getting off the I-15.  It’s very obvious after you’ve taken the trip from McCarron International to the strip several times.  The fare just seems excessive.  The driver will always say that it’ll save time but most of the time it actually adds time to the ride and it charges you for the taxi’s movement.

It should be noted that if you’re staying on the far end of the strip or downtown, this route DOES make sense.  Anything on Fremont Street for example, is better approached via this route.

Otherwise, as a general rule, always have the taxi drive to use Paradise Road when going to or from the Airport. It will be a lot cheaper, it could save you $10 depending on your destination.  The cost for a taxi from the McCarran Airport to the Las Vegas Strip:

  • $9.00 to South end of the Strip (MGM)
  • $13.25 to Mid Strip (Mirage)
  • $15.50 to the North end (Sahara)

(Note:  An interesting article about this was written by a Las Vegas cabbie and offers something of an alternative view.  YMMV.)

Here are a few scams that have purportedly been used in Vegas to up fares as taken from Mr. Vegas’ web site:

  • Zone Charges. Every once in a while, a Las Vegas cab driver may try to impose a “zone charge”. This will typically occur when the particular taxi ride is to one of Las Vegas’ outlying areas.  “This is a zone 3 trip” the driver may suggest, trying to add a few dollars onto the meter fare.  Be forewarned, there are no zone charges for any Las Vegas taxi cab.
  • The Shim.  The “shim” is a small piece of plastic  (or toothpick) that some drivers will place in the buttons of their meters to play a trick or two with the fare total. Most commonly used from the Airport or when someone leaves the cab to “run in” for something.  Presently, only two cab companies have “shimable” meters. I won’t tell which two, just be on the look out for strange objects sticking out of buttons on the meter. This one is almost obsolete, as this type of meter is being replaced.

You can not for the most part hail a cab in Las Vegas – unlike other cities, this is illegal and most cabbies will drive right by unless you’re in an alley or some place out of view.  They can’t even pick you up at a restaurant or bar unless you specifically called them to have them pick you up so you can’t even wait at the door of a place like Lawry’s and expect someone to come by.

Cabs can only pick you up if you’re at a casino or hotel so find the nearest Vegas Casino and ask the bellman or valet where the taxi stand is located.

Do not bring alcohol into the cab.  It’s illegal to do so.
Do not attempt to pay in casino chips.  This is illegal as well.
Do not barf in the cab.  This may result in a $25-$50 charge and a really ticked off cabbie.
Do tip your cabbie.  Below $10, assume you should tip $2 for any ride.  Above $10, 20% is considered standard.  (The IRS taxes all cabbies on the basis of an assumed 23% tip for every fare.)  And if you leave something in your cab – like you cell phone and you get it returned to you, be doubly sure to retip heavily.  The cabbie is losing a ride by honestly bringing your valuables back to you.

This was some advice I am taking verbatim from a comment on Frommer’s web site:
”Always note the taxi number of the cabs you take. The name of the company does not matter as each number is unique. Should you have a problem with the cab “long-hauling” you, call the taxi Authority at (702) 486-6532. Get as much information as you can (time of pick-up, name and description of driver, etc). They will investigate and the cab drivers that are found to be abusing this can lose their licence.”
Here’s a web site for submitting complaints:  http://taxi.state.nv.us/ComplaintInstructions.htm

HOWTO: Boost your casino comps from your blackjack play

August 22, 2008


UPDATE 8/27:
After receiving a fair amount of feedback from a few folks formerly from the casino industry, I wrote a follow up article here that corrects many of the items below. 


ORIGINAL POST:  (Be sure to read the follow up here)
I’ve read various articles on the Internet about how to get comped at Las Vegas casinos and what to expect depending on what sort of play you have.  Most of the articles centered around a couple things:

  1. Average bet at the tables
  2. Length of time at the tables per day
  3. Number of days per trip
  4. The rules & the type of game played at the tables

Some things that I haven’t seen brought up are:

  • the amount that you’re willing to gamble
  • the amount you actually lose
  • the amount of money that you spend at the resort 

A lot of people I talk to tell me, “That has nothing to do with it.  The casinos are only interested in what your expected loss is based upon the house edge and the amount of time & money you play.  I’m sorry:  I know that’s true but there’s just got to be other elements that certain casinos use.  Casinos evolve and it seems to me that it would make sense that a casino would not just look at your play but also other elements of your stay because at the end of the day, its about making money. 

To support my point, I’m constantly told by every host to put everything on the room charge and a few have outwardly stated that they want to be able to value all my expenditures on the resort property.  Being that the cost of doing things other than gambling on the same casino property grows, like eating, going to the spa, attending a show, etc. doesn’t it make sense to factor these elements into a player’s overall worth to a resort?  And everyone knows that the pit boss constantly obsesses over your initial buy-in and the total amount you leave the table with. (a.k.a. “Hey buddy – let me color you up so you don’t have to walk around with all those chips!”)  Isn’t what you’re effectively willing to lose a factor in how a casino views you?  If you’re that liquid, you’re likely to spend more money that someone who doesn’t have that kind of coin.

More importantly, I’m just a $50-$100 avg bet player on any given blackjack game.  Sure my bet may sail to $400 at times but that’s uncommon.  If you calculate out the expected value that the casino gets from my play based on the game I’m playing over the time I play and, there is just no way I should be getting the offers that I do.  RFB… and a lot of free match play always comes my way.

So here’s a few things that could help boost your rating.  Honestly at one time or another I’ve done all of these EXCEPT #6, which was something that I’ve just seen recently and kinda got weirded out by.

  1. Go big for your first bet.
    This simple action can do so much to your rating.  Your first bet sets the pace.  This will likely be your rating level for a while even if you lower it and the pit boss reviews you play level again.  I usually bet $100 for my first bet, even if I’m at a $25 table.  Some folks think this is psycho but since my average play is $50-$100, this is simply on the high side of my average.
  2. Get good casino credit and always buy in with a marker.
    Wanna be memorable?  Ask for a marker and be sure to ask for a lot.  When the pit boss has to stop, validate your credit, see how high it is, then have you sign a check to close the transaction, you bet they’re going to know your name and remember how large you played.  Casino credit defines how much your willing to lose at the tables and your play is rated accordingly.  To apply for credit at any of these casinos, fill out the applications below:
    1. Wynn Credit:  http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/pdf/CasinoCreditApp-AgrmntPDF.pdf
    2. Venetian/Palazzo Credit:  https://secure.venetian.com/APPS/CreditApp/index.cfm
    3. Hard Rock Hotel Credit:  http://www.hardrockhotel.com/las-vegas/casino/pdfs/HRHCreditApp11.pdf
    4. Bellagio Credit:  https://secure02.mgm-mirage.com/marker/default.asp?CO=190
  3. Take care of your dealer.
    You always want to be the generous one at the table without killing your stack.  Your dealer controls a lot of things contrary to popular belief.  They control who plays at the table and who’s being offensive enough to “boot”.  The can raise the minimum bet at the table and they can mistakenly allow two hands to be played without requiring twice the bet.  They control where the cut card is placed in the deck.  They control how much is reported when you “color in” and walk away from the table.  The pit boss will even often ask the deal what your average bet was throughout your play if they weren’t watching carefully during busy times. 

    And this last thing is they may not be able to control the cards, but they can control whether or not the atmosphere in which you’re playing is a pleasant and courteous one, or a nasty and belligerent one.  No one likes a dealer that snickers when you lose or messes around when a dealer bust is the difference between the table’s happiness or sadness.

  4. Bill everything to your hotel room
    Besides allowing you the opportunity to have items comped by a host, billing everything to your hotel room like restaurant bills & spa massages allows you to total up the amount you are spending at the resort.  If you’re a $50 player that plays 8 hours on a six deck blackjack game, your total expected loss to the casino will be anywhere from $200 to $400 dollars for the whole trip.  But if you go to a restaurant where the casino makes 2% on restaurant revenues, you can add to this every time you eat by increasing your total spend at the resort.

    I don’t really know how much this affects your over all rating, or if it even does in a given casino, but what I can say is that it’s been hinted toward by many casino hosts that I’ve run into.  And judging by the fact that I tend to spend a LOT on restaurants, spas, shows, and resort amenities, I’m pretty sure this doesn’t hurt.

  5. Stash chips
    I hesitated to mention this because casinos really frown on this practice although I’ve seen it done in a lot of the cheaper casinos, but basically, this is the principle of pulling chips off the table (a.k.a. “ratholing”) and implying a higher loss or smaller gain than what was really obtained by the player.  For example, if the player loses a lot – say $1000 – in a single hour with a supposed average bet of $25 per bet as recorded by the pit boss, that implies that the dealer dealt a measly 40 hands and the player lost every single one of them.

    Not frickin’ likely.  What was more likely the story was that the average bet of the player, assuming he really lost $1000, was that he bet closer to $50-$75 a hand and crapped out in just an hour of play.  But they can only calculate that on the basis of how much you purportedly lost.  And if you’ve taken chips off the table, your total loss or potentially your average bet is much higher.  And that affects your rating – all while you really have a bunch of chips stashed away.

    Note that this is irrelevant if you play at an RFID enabled table.  See #6 below for an explanation.

  6. Cash out, and buy in again
    Now this is something that I haven’t done but it certainly is unusual and it’s apparently effective enough that the casinos seem to be concerned.  It was explained to me by a dealer only a couple days ago who I was playing heads-up with for a while that I had toked quite a bit… and because the woman next to me was doing it to an extreme – so much so that I noticed it.

    Basically the idea of this technique is that you rathole chips from the table and then, when you take a “bathroom break”, you cash out the chips you’ve hoarded and on your return to the table, you buy-in with the supposedly “new” cash.  This artificially raises your total buy-in and skews your play rating.  Note that this is useless for casinos that have RFID tables being that they know exactly how much you’ve got on the table at any given time based on radio feedback and electronics within the chips used by the casino.  If you take chips off the table, they know you’ve ratholed something.

    So how do you know if you’re at an RFID table?  I’ve noticed that usually the arm rests get unusually warm in odd places.  Wynn is like this.  And there’s usually a pin hole in the faces of the chip’s plastic to reveal a tiny amount of metal to allow unfettered emission of the passively induced RF signal.  Also, if you want a true test, simply bring a basic strategy card and lay it on the table.  It’s allowed in most casinos, except for those with tables with RFID and if the dealer or the pit boss tells you to pick it up… well, there you go.  I believe the casinos are concerned about the card blocking the RFID signal in the surprising event the card is made of a thin layer of metal somehow designed to reflect the RFID signal or something.


August 21, 2008

image My wife and I were walking down the aisle of the casino at the Palazzo.  If you’d read my posts, you know there’s no way I’d go near some of those tables but while we were strolling along, the noise from the ambient area was a relative murmur. 

Until all of a sudden:  “AW YEAH!”

A huge bellowing voice permeated the casino, practically echoing around the coliseum that is the Palazzo casino.  I turned around to see where it came from.  Everyone like to see a winner celebrate right?  It was clearly coming from one of the blackjack tables.

But before I could find the guy:  “AW SHIT!”

Same table, same voice, same direction.  I find the guy and he’s pounding on the shoulder of the guy next to him who I can only assume is his friend.  Being that the sequence occurred so quickly, I could only surmise that his hit on a 16 resulted in a 20 but the dealer hit to a 21.  This continued to happen several more times over a 2 minute period.

Needless to say, I was in stitches, laughing myself silly at this drunkard exploding every 60 seconds with, “AW YEAH!  AW SHIT!  AW YEAH!  AW SHIT!”  I found myself just standing there in the middle of the aisle watching this guy, waiting for his convulsive explosions and giggling uncontrollably whenever he did it – so much so that others started joining in.  A group of girls stopped and looked and I had to explain what I was laughing at.

Sometimes the entertainment isn’t in the showroom, but rather right there on the casino floor.

The Old Man & the Dog

August 21, 2008

image by Catherine Moore

"Watch out! You nearly broadsided that car!" My father yelled at me. "Can’t you do anything right?"

Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn’t prepared for another battle.

"I saw the car, Dad. Please don’t yell at me when I’m driving." My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt.

Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil.

What could I do about him?

Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn’t lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn’t do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing. At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived.

But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor’s orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue. Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind. But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered. In vain. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, "I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article." I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world’s aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed. Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?" The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement.

"He’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow." He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. "You mean you’re going to kill him?"

"Ma’am," he said gently, "that’s our policy. We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog."

I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision.

"I’ll take him," I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch.

"Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!" I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. "If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it" Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples.

"You’d better get used to him, Dad. He’s staying!" Dad ignored me. "Did you hear me, Dad?" I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate.

We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father’s room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.

The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made filling the church. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life. And then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers."

"I’ve often thanked God for sending that angel," he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the right article…

Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter. . his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father. .and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Yup. He’s got it about right.

August 21, 2008

Or at least what America’s perception is.  ‘Cause with the massive growth of China, we’re pretty much all going to be referred to as “Hop Sing” in the future.

…although his impression of Sean Connery is quite wily and cunning.


August 21, 2008

We’re gonna have to take out this traitor for revealing the master plan.  “Praise be to Buddha.”

VEGAS ‘08: Our Itinerary in Las Vegas

August 21, 2008

image In case you’re curious as to what we did while in Vegas this past week, here’s a quick overview of our itinerary.  I’m pretty anal when it comes to planning out Vegas trips.

  • Tue 12: FLIGHT – LAX/LAS Southwest
  • Tue 12: HOTEL – Checkin – Wynn 12-15 (Three nights)
  • Tue 12: Pick up tickets:
    • Venetian Phantom Box Office Theatre (Phantom – 13th 7PM)
    • Wynn Theatre Box Office (Le Reve – 14th 9:30PM)
    • Planet Hollywood V Theatre Box Office (Greg Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theatre – 17th 4PM)
    • Mirage Danny Gans Theatre box office (Brad Garrett – 16th 10PM)
    • Palazzo Theater box office (Jersey Boys – 18th 7PM)
  • Tue 12: DINNER – Mesa Grill (Caesar’s Palace) 877 346 4642, 7:00PM
  • Wed 13: LUNCH – Wynn Buffet ( http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/buffet, http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-buffet-at-bellagio-las-vegas)
  • Wed 13: SHOW – Phantom – Venetian, 7:00PM
  • Wed 13: DINNER – Bouchon (Venetian) (702) 414-6200, 9:00PM
  • Thu 14: Workout
  • Thu 14: LUNCH – Poolside, Terrace Point
  • Thu 14: SPA – Couple’s Massage 3:45PM, (Spa & Fitness Center 6AM-8PM)
  • Thu 14: DINNER –The Country Club (Wynn) (888) 352-3463, 7:00PM
  • Thu 14: SHOW – Le Reve – Wynn, 9:30PM
  • Fri 15: Depart Wynn
  • Fri 15: HOTEL – Checkin – Palazzo 15-19 (Four nights)
  • Fri 15: LUNCH – Woo, Palazzo (702) 699-8966
  • Fri 15: DINNER – Yellowtail Sushi (Bellagio) 702-693-8300 6:00PM
  • Fri 15: SHOW – Hall & Oates – Hard Rock Fr15 8PM (Fri, Aug 15, 2008 08:00 PM)
  • Sat 16: Workout
  • Sat 16: LUNCH – Bouchon Champagne Brunch (702) 414-6200 11:00AM
  • Sat 16: SHOW – Vegas Podcastapalooza – Palms 4:00PM
  • Sat 16: DINNER – BLT Burger – Mirage
  • Sat 16: SHOW – Brad Garrett – Mirage, Sa16 10:00PM
  • Sun 17: Workout
  • Sun 17: LUNCH – Bally’s Sterling Brunch (702) 967-7999 11:00AM
  • Sun 17: SHOW – Greg Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theatre – Planet Hollywood, 4:00PM
  • Sun 17: DINNER –Social House (Treasure Island) (702) 894-7223 5:00PM
  • Sun 17: SUPPER –The California, Oxtail Soup 11:00PM
  • Mon 18: LUNCH – Woo, Palazzo (702) 699-8966
  • Mon 18: SHOW – Jersey Boys – Palazzo, 7:00PM
  • Mon 18: DINNER – Cut (Palazzo) (702) 414-4300, 9:00PM
  • Tue 19: FLIGHT – LAS/LAX Southwest 1:30PM

VEGAS ‘08: Thoughts on the Palazzo Las Vegas

August 21, 2008

image Ah, the Palazzo.  I’ve never stayed here in all the time it’s been up despite having the opportunity to do so several times.

Let’s get this out of the way:  Sheldon Adelson has completely trumped Steve Wynn when it comes to room amenities at the Palazzo.  Adelson’s definitely got class and understands his customer base – the conventioneer or business traveler.

The bed is better.  It doesn’t move when you get into it, thus not waking up your partner if you’re coming in to the room hypothetically at 4AM after hitting the tables for a long stretch.

There are no power outlets near the office desk.  This is a really WEIRD oversight considering how much time has been spent figuring out how to make the business traveler feel accommodated.

The wireless is LOCAL i.e. it seems to be driven off the same wired tap that you connect to your PC.   This is a really interesting concept – the idea of having your own personal router in the room, ensuring that you get dedicated bandwidth instead of sharing an access point with a hundred other people.

The room safe has a really nice amenity that did not escape my wife’s & my attention:  It has a power outlet inside it.  Why?  Well, if you lock up your laptop, you can charge it in the safe.  Nice.

Oh – by the way, the $20 trick works at the Palazzo.  Be sure to hand your driver’s license to the registration desk clerk along with a $20 bill under it and ask for ‘any upgrades’ available to your room.  We got a fantastic view of the strip as well as the Las Vegas skyline.  We also got a view directly in front of the Treasure Island pirate show which includes fireworks.

One crappy point:  Verizon Wireless phone reception really blows from where we were at.  I could barely maintain a signal compared to the Wynn.  It might have been just our orientation in the building but nonetheless it was annoying.  Also the phone in the room is a piece of crap compared the Wynn’s wonderful Avaya business phone.  It might have been VOIP based but I didn’t check.  Heck – may be that’s why the Wynn’s network didn’t work and the Palazzo’s did.  (The Palazzo’s Internet connectivity was spot on.)

The TVs are generally better than even the Wynn which has a really nice 42” Sharp LCD display.  If you’re, say, watching the Olympics, there are 3 LG Plasma flat screen TVs in the Palazzo suite, including a large one in the bathroom.

The Palazzo suite is clearly designed to double as a hospitality suite for business guests.  There’s enough meeting space, coffee table room, an wet bar amenities to make it a great place to discuss business.  There’s a DVD player there along with a 3 seat meeting table as well as a reaaaaaally nice sectional sofa & love seat wrapped around a coffee table.  Basically, it’s like a Venetian room on steroids.

The thing that really sets the Palazzo room apart in my GEEKY opinion is the fact that the printer is an all-in-one design with both a fax line as well as copier/scanner capability and…<drumroll> a USB cable to hook it up to your laptop to act as a personal printer.  Want to print out your flight passes in your room?  No problem.

Last but not least, the overall furniture and design of the rooms are just plain awesome.  The drapery & blinds all open & close automatically, driven by a remote control and the attention to detail is just stunning from the carpet to the crown molding to the dark woods of the table tops.

Something that bugged me more than I thought it would was the lack of availability of a 21 & over or topless pool like the Wynn had.  The reason for this is that the pool at the Venetian and the Palazzo has an inordinate number of kids.  And it’s just downright hard to enjoy yourself once you’ve experienced the calm of the Sunset pool at the Wynn.  And for the record, it’s not like the Sapphire Pool at the Rio:  It’s an actual mature and non-stripclub-like atmosphere for real adults that just want to relax and chat with other adults, away from the tweeners and toddlers with floaties.

And in general, there were long lines for women’s bathrooms nearly everywhere we went.  The Wynn didn’t have any problems with bathroom lines.  Clearly, the Palazzo & the Venetian pools are ‘at capacity’ for women, but then again, that’s to be expected I guess with Tao Beach going on.

Tao Beach is the “day club” booming in the background of the Venetian side of the house.  It’s a raucous party going on all day in the pool and is 21 and over only.  You need to bring your ID for certain.

The spa & the workout facilities has a big plus and big minus to it.  The Palazzo spa & facilities aren’t quite built out yet, so they encourage people to walk through a passage all the way to the Venetian’s Canyon Ranch Spa which is probably the best workout facility in Las Vegas.  They’ve got everything you need using top notch equipment and they have a great spa available to soak in afterwards.  The only problem is that you have to walk a few minutes just to GET there from the Palazzo, but all in all, it’s worth it.

Incidentally, there is a deal available called the “Resort Package” (http://www.palazzolasvegas.com/resortpkg.aspx) which I highly recommend.  It’s a deal that goes for $29/day and must be purchased for every day of your stay but what it provides is:

  • Spa & Workout Facilities access daily for TWO people (worth $70)
  • One dining voucher for each day good for $20 off any bill at 1 of 15 participating Palazzo/Venetian restaurants (worth $20 daily)
  • Two tickets to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (worth $50)

No, we didn’t use the spa/workout facilities every day but we used it twice and we used virtually all the dining vouchers along with the wax museum tickets which incidentally was definitely worth the visit much to my surprise. $270 in usage for $120.  Not bad.

We went to both “Woo” & “Zine”, two Chinese cuisine restaurants that are separated by a philosophical difference.  “Zine” is more like a the quick dish joint with a really large menu whereas “Woo” (which has it’s originations from the famed Mayflower restaurant locally in Las Vegas) has a small menu with very carefully selected & prepared tasty dishes that will always please the palate.

image Hands down:  “Woo” has become a favorite restaurant of ours in Las Vegas.  The shrimp dumplings and the Kalbi Ribs on rice were two of my favorite dishes while in Las Vegas last week and we’ll definitely be back.  It sort of reminded me of Kevin Wu’s old Dim Sum restaurant at the Venetian called “Royal Star” which has since closed much to our dismay and disappointment.  And if you ask nicely, you can order “off the menu” and ask for basically anything.  The chefs are skilled in creating virtually anything you want but I’d try what’s on the menu first.  This is the best Chinese food I’ve eaten in Las Vegas without a doubt.

One dark spot:  Wolfgang Puck’s “Cut”.  While the food was decent, it was nothing to write home about.  What really bugged was the service:  We were left waiting with only a moderately filled restaurant at 9:30PM just to get some bread.  After two hours, I can say that our experience was not even close to being worth the $300 price tag that the meal had.  I would have preferred to go back to “Woo” or eaten at Delmonico Steakhouse over at the Venetian.

Alright – now this is where it gets hairy.  In a sentence, the Palazzo has the SINGLE WORST TABLES & SLOTS… EVER!

We fed $200 into the Palazzo slots at $1 machines playing max bet and got almost zero returns, zero bingos, and zero fun.  We were astounded by how poor the payout was on the machines and how fast the cash got sucked in.  The machines ate our bills in under 3 minutes of play.  Disgusted, we left to go inspect the tables.

…Only to find that the Palazzo ONLY PLAYS $25 8 DECK SHOES with 70% penetration, no surrender, dealer hits on S17, DD on any two cards.  They supposedly have double deck games but they’re played 6-5.  Every day, I would walk through the casino and exclaim out loud, “Why do you people play here?!?  WHY?!?” 

I instead would walk over to my old haunt, the Venetian, and play my money there.  There they have 2 friendly double deck games with lousy 65% penetration granted but at least it’s a $25 game that’s playable.  (Incidentally, I managed to get the penetration expanded to around 70% with some rather heavy tipping of reds throughout the night)  For the record, I love the Venetian and it’s tables, despite having lost overall during my trip there.  I like the action and the atmosphere regardless of what Vegastripping says.  Their games aren’t bad and it’s nice and close to the eatery which includes Cocolini – the gelato shop which is where I end every night at the Venetian.

Incidentally, the cashier was horrific at the Palazzo.  I’m sure glad I didn’t need to go there but there was constantly a line trying to cash in chips there with a lot of annoyed people waiting.

The comp program – Club Grazie – is awful.  Only the most loyal players seem to get rewarded when they shove a TON of money into slots.  I couldn’t dream of actually numerically getting anything through slot points.

That being said, the invites from table play are AWESOME.  My last invite was $200 in match play, 4 nights at the resort, $50 in dining credit, and a 2 for 1 pass for the spa.  And the best part is the invite is unlimited for this season.  I plan on calling in another trip next month.

Y’know, I love the Palazzo’s rooms and “Woo” is fantastic for a quiet and delicious restaurant that clearly has pride in what it serves and how it serves it.   The casino invites for the Palazzo are probably the best on the strip for moderate green/black chip players like myself and the amenities merged with the Venetian makes it a winner in many areas… other than the casino.

Despite my love for the Venetian, I think I’ll prefer to stay in the Palazzo… then get some exercise and walk over the the Venetian whenever I want to hit the tables.  I hope that’s okay with you Mr. Adelson.

VEGAS ‘08: Thoughts on the Wynn Hotel & Casino

August 21, 2008

image I got an invite for 3 nights at Wynn Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.  So I’m here and I’ve noticed a few things already.

The rooms have shades/blinds that have motorized controllers that open and close them automatically.

Invitation/promo credit is not usable as match play.  It has to be cycled through the slots which is lousy but it did lead us to discover the conditions of their slot banks.

The hotel is entirely 21 and over.  People below 21 must have a minor accompanying them and there’s a big sign outside that says as much.

Internet access at the Wynn absolutely blows.  We’re talking suckage on a level not seen by man since the premiere of “Battlefield Earth”.  Neither the wireless or the wired connections will issue DHCP assigned IP addresses most of the time.  It’s a total crapshoot – as verified by the technician we had come up to check on our wired & wireless connections.  The only reason I can post this is because I’m using my Windows Mobile as a tethered wireless modem.

There are very few electrical outlets outside of the ones near the desk.  My wife noted that there’s an ironing board and an iron, but where the heck’s the iron?

The inkjet printer in the room is usable as a fax but there’s no USB cable to hook it up to your PC in case you want to print directions, show tickets, or poolside reading.  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. 

There’s a private taxi stand for guests of the west tower.  Otherwise the taxi line at the Wynn has a moderate wait of 5 minutes.

Wynn is running a promo at their Red Card stand:  Sign up for their player’s club “Red Card” and receive a “free spin of the Red Card wheel” which serves up primarily $10/free slot play credits and every so often gives 2 free Wynn Buffet passes that must be used within 24 hours.  (Other prizes that I didn’t see won included $1000/free slot credit & a free vacation – assumedly to the Wynn Las Vegas in the future.)

Oh by the way – folks cashing in a promo invite like myself are not eligible for the "Red Card wheel spin”, which to me seems a little nitpicky.  When the spin generally averages $10/slot play, isn’t that a little lame to invite someone to the property for 3 nights, hand him $50 in slot play, then tell him, “Oh no sir – we can’t afford to flip you $10/slot credit.  You’ve taken advantage of us already.”  WTF?

Note:  I may sound like I’ve been down on the Wynn so far, but it’s actually quite the opposite.  While there are challenges with this hotel, the casino is absolutely bitchin’.

150 points on your Red Card gives you 2 free Buffet passes at Wynn.  This is the equivalent of playing about $450 through a slot machine, or 150 plays of 3x Maxbet $1 slots.  After that it’s 500 points.  Needless to say, getting to 500 points for both my wife and I was a piece of cake.  Finished that in like 15 minutes of play, so we effectively earned 5 free couple’s Buffet passes.  We burned two for lunch… they’ve got great watermelon!

I can only speak to the $1 slots…  Top Dollar & Pinball in particular which is a favorite of my wife’s.  Boy, their machines are loose.  We played for a good hour plus on a single Benjamin each.  She came out ahead by $40, myself I was up $65.  Stay tuned for our review of the Palazzo slots.  Hint:  It wasn’t nearly as rosy.

The tables seem to have RFID in them.  How do I know?  Well, the cashier has an big black plate that they put the chips on to know how much to cash someone out of, instead of counting the chips.  Additionally, the corners of the blackjack tables are at times uncomfortably warm because of the RFID sensors.

My ‘playing partner’ at the table (a guy I’d just met who stuck around at the table for the same several hours that I had even while others came and left, discovered that we both came to the Wynn on the exact same 3-night comp-ed invitation and played at the exact same places.  The only difference between him and me was that he was a 50 some odd year old lawyer and I was a 30 some odd year old computer engineer.

And speaking of comps, my playing partner also had a comp across the street at the Palazzo just as I did but instead of taking the comp right after the Wynn like my wife and I did, he CHECKED IN.  See his brother in law needed a place to stay while he was staying at the Wynn so he checked into both places so that he could use both comp times at the same time.  Sneaky.  Probably frowned upon in a huge way but nonetheless sneaky.

The blackjack rules here aren’t as bad as I’d thought they’d be.  $25, 6 deck, 3-2, early surrender, double down on any two cards.  Split up to 4 times.  The penetration is 70-75% which is okay.  They do have double deck but the minimums are $100 during the day, $200 during the evenings, meaning I can play the day and then only the evenings if I’m grandfathered.

I’m seeing pretty wild variation right now because of the 6 deck shoes here.  I also played very disciplined blackjack on day 1 and was up a grand then for some reason lost a little of my discipline and ran into a horrific streak of bad hands and lost most of my winnings on day 2.

The dealers here are really nice.  I mean, they have a personality and they seem to actually avoid the “robotic stare” that so many other casinos have.  Note to dealers:  I toke dealers I like that enhance my gambling experience not those that sneer.  Yes, I’m talking to you MGM Grand.

The girls here at the Wynn – and I’m talking about the arm candy of the patrons – are amazing specimens of preserved youthful appearances.  There is more cosmetic surgery and face peels per capita here than in Beverly Hills.  The pit boss of my blackjack table was so utterly fascinated by one woman who was just bursting out of her evening dress that he spent his entire time over at her table, stopping by our table only to give us guys the report on what ‘her deal’ was.  Boobs fake… lips real… lipo on the tummy but not on the butt… timely, high quality information.  Thumbs up for the Wynn blackjack pit crew!

It’s 105 degrees here.  105.  And it feels like 105.  WTF?  You can basically cross the street and that’s about it before you start to seriously sweat. 

The pool.  It’s basically a long river with chairs and cabanas all along the path however at the very end is “Sunset Pool” which is basically topless with a casino poolside (no swim up blackjack though) and no children allowed.  I’m thinking of renaming it ‘paradise’.  Around 4:45PM the shadow of the Palazzo completely blocks out the sun for a half hour then sunlight resumes.

Country Club is one of Wynn’s restaurants.  We’d already been to Wing Lei, Okada, Alex, Terrace Pointe, and of course the Buffet.  We had a really nice candle lit meal with a view of the golf course and the view so so pleasant that my wife said, you really could forget that you were in the middle of Sin City.  The only thing that tarnished the experience was the fact that APPARENTLY, the maitre’ d doesn’t uphold the purported spirit of the required attire.  We were surrounded by two families with unrelenting screaming kids (one of which found themselves leaving after numerous evil stares) wearing t-shirts & blue jeans or Bermuda shorts.  The only reason I was annoyed by the attire bit was the host had made such a BFD about their dress code when I made reservations that it seemed a bit disingenuous to let this circus in after the fact.

While the hotel rooms themselves leave something to be desired relative to some other 4-5 star strip resorts, there’s no question that the Wynn restaurants, the Wynn comp system, the Wynn pool, and the Wynn casino rocks. 

I think this has instantly made one of my top 3 favorite resorts in Vegas.
(In case you’re wondering, the other two are the Venetian & the Hard Rock.  More on ‘why’ later.)

VEGAS ’08: “The Sterling Brunch”

August 20, 2008

image I am a foodie.  I love a good meal.  And a loathe a bad one.

During my vacation in Vegas, I discovered a place that actually made my eyes water with tears I was so happy.  It’s called the "Sterling Brunch" and it’s a champagne brunch at Bally’s.  Held in the steakhouse in the very back of the hotel only on Sunday mornings, this meal doesn’t just qualify as a rare gem:  I would classify it as a OMG, one-of-a-kind, must-visit experience. 

I have photos of this but I don’t have time to upload them right now.   Suffice it to say that I’ve been to a ton of buffets and famous chef-type restaurants in Las Vegas.  In fact, just this past week alone I had meals at:

  • Wolfgang Puck’s "Cut"
  • Wynn Buffet
  • Thomas Keller’s "Bouchon"
  • "Country Club" at the Wynn
  • "Yellowtail Sushi" at Bellagio
  • "Woo" at Palazzo (from the Mayflower Cuisiner family)
  • "BLT Burger" at Mirage
  • Bobby Flay’s "Mesa Grill"

…and none of them, not a single one, held a candle to our meal at the "Sterling Brunch" at Bally’s.  This place is utterly phenomenal and I hate it when people gush over places but then don’t give you details about WHY the place was so great so let me try to get into the nitty-gritty elements of this culinary masterpiece to help you, my dear reader, understand why I will NEVER EVER EVER miss going to the "Sterling Brunch" ever again when I’m in Las Vegas.

0817081150a First of all, it’s important for me to tell you that you absolutely must have a reservation to get in.  This thing books up and fills fast so call ahead early.  It’s open from something like 9:30AM to 2:30PM and will set you back an even $75 a person.  No, it’s not cheap especially for brunch, but believe me, it’s the best $75 you’ll spend all week.  I would recommend this single meal over any place in Las Vegas, and this includes Picasso or Michael Mina’s @ Bellagio, Charlie Palmer’s @ Four Seasons, Carnevino @ Palazzo, Nobu @ Hard Rock, or any number of other highly touted restaurants.  I told my wife that I could have done without some of the show tickets I’d bought for the two of us just to go to this place again, if we could, including Jersey Boys or Hall & Oates. 

And she agreed.  What does that tell you?

Yes, I know it’s at Bally’s which makes this whole experience a bit out of place.  I mean who are we kidding?  The typical Bally’s patron isn’t likely going to have a spare $75 lying around to buy brunch for Ma & Pa Kettle, are they?  No matter – when we approached the restaurant, things got quieter and the atmosphere began to change, starting with the patron’s apparel.  While just outside, you’d expect to see people wearing t-shirts that read, "I’m with stupid" (with the accompanying arrow pointing toward the spouse next to them) but around the restaurant, people were wearing golfing outfits, collared shirts, and pleated well-pressed pants.  It reminded me of the oasis that is the Steakhouse at Circus Circus.

When we walked in, we were immediately served champagne.  This usually rings hollow to most foodies being that the champagne is usually two-buck-chuck… but this was Perrier Jouet!  Hell – my wife and I drank this after I’d proposed to her at the Fairmont in Whistler, BC, Canada.

As we were seated, we were offered beverages other than our delicious champagne.  Coffee & Orange Juice please.  A glass & a cup appeared and lo-and-behold. the OJ was FRESH SQUEEZED and the coffee was smooooooooth – not at all sour or bitter.  Things were lookin’ awesome.

I know what you’re thinking.  And you’re right.  I hate buffets.  I’ve been to the Bellagio Buffet, the Le Village Buffet, the Wynn Buffet, the Rio Seafood Buffet, blah blah blah.  I’ve got news for you.  They’re all marginal-to-moderately good.  (although the Rio’s gone into the toilet over the past few years)  The other three are okay and have their strengths.  They have reasonable quality and you’re not going to get sick at any of them but you’re not going to come away with an OMG-thatwassogood reaction.

This was completely different:  None of the aforementioned buffets even comes close to the Sterling Brunch – it’s in a class of it’s own.  The buffet literally glowed under the warm incandescent lamps above.  Here’s a list of the things that I sampled from this embarrassment of riches that laid before me.

  • Hot gourmet-prepared Lobsters
  • Caviar with toast, breadcakes, creme fresh, onions, egg crumbles, & chives
  • Steamed Alaskan King Crab legs
  • Prime Rib with Au Jus & 3 different types of horseradish
  • Rack of Lamb with Mint Jelly
  • Extremely fresh fruit on ice including watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and various melon slices
  • Huge shrimp… I mean really large prawns… with cocktail sauce
  • Shucked oysters on ice
  • Omelets ready-to-order with sausage, mushrooms, green onions, and a variety of other ingredients
  • Sushi of all sorts (Didn’t eat any of this)
  • Lox & Bagels (Didn’t eat any of this either)
  • …and a lot more that I didn’t look at.
    (Bally’s Sterling Brunch Menu)

Normally, at a buffet – the shrimp are some of the first things you ‘hit’.  In this case, they were the absolute LAST things we tried.  No joke.  I mean, heck – we figured, you can get shrimp anywhere.

Understand, it was really hard not to just pig out.  What with all the champagne being poured and fresh coffee being decanted, and the bottomless glass of fresh squeezed, sweet orange juice that I was being spoiled with, I really couldn’t tell you what I was doing other than stuffing my face and pretending I was a Roman Emperor.  One thing I can recommend is for everyone to be selective about what you get.  It’ll be there later when you want to try it – they don’t run out.

In all seriousness, any one of these buffet items would have been worthy of a delicious paid for meal in-of-itself.  I told my wife that I could sit and gorge myself on the lobster alone it was sooooo sweet, soft, hot, and did I mention they had an endless supply of melted butter to go with the endless supply of lobster?

But no, the thing that I spent the most time with was the caviar.  I love caviar.  I once won a @#$%load of money at the Bellagio blackjack tables and spent most of it on a multi-thousand dollar bill for just caviar at Petrossian of Paris, the caviar bar near the Bellagio lobby.  The Bally’s caviar was obviously American Sturgeon caviar and not the heralded Iranian Osetra or Beluga but it was oh so so so good, I went back for seconds.   And thirds.  I actually felt guilty and embarrassed at one point for how much I was eating but I got over that quickly when I realized that there were people in the restaurant getting caviar that had no idea how to taste it with creme fresh and the other accoutrements.  One guy ate it straight with a soup spoon.  Another put it on a saltine. 

I’m tellin’ you – these are the things that make Jesus cry.

I talked about this briefly but it can’t be overstated how luxuriously indulgent this place is.  Imagine having everything you ever wanted… all the most expensive foods in the world in one location… and you can eat an unlimited amount of it.

Every minute or so there was another champagne bottle popping as someone was getting their glass refilled with Perrier Jouet.  I never saw the bottom of my orange juice glass it was filled so quickly and even the water, dispensed from bottles, was tasty… really!  It was Italian water that was exceptionally drinkable in massive quantities. 

Dishes were being removed from tables at a frenzied pace.  I should also point out how incredible the service was:  The people there are just the pinnacle of professionalism.  To put this into context, our meal a couple days later at Wolfgang Puck’s "Cut" was sullied by what I can only describe as weak, slow, disorganized service, whereas everything we could possibly want or need at the Sterling Brunch was tended to without our even saying so.  The term "Johnny-on-the-spot" came to mind numerous times as my champagne glass was being automatically filled or my empty plate was being removed just as I’d finished it.

A lot is made over the Paris’ Le Village Buffet, in particular, for their desserts.  Here’s a tip:  The desserts from the Bally’s Sterling Brunch are all made by the same dessert chef and she serves them to you from the dessert area.  Chocolate Ice Cream…. massive chocolate covered strawberries… parfaits of all sorts… cream cheese pies…

Don’t get me wrong:  I couldn’t eat most of them.  I had a couple strawberries and that was it.  We were absolutely stuffed.  God bless you, Bally’s.

I think it’s safe to say that this will forever be on my list of places to go in Vegas from here on out.  It’s only available on Sundays, but I think it will be well worth it to "stick around" on Sundays to go to the brunch before heading to the airport. 

This is truly the "One Meal to Rule them All".

LINK:  http://www.harrahs.com/casinos/ballys-las-vegas/restaurants-dining/sterling-brunch-detail.html
Reservations: (702) 967-7999

Jason Lezak of the US 4×100 relay swim team is a frickin’ GOD

August 11, 2008

I don’t think I’ve yelled so hard at my TV since the UCLA win against Missouri in the 1995 NCAA Basketball Championships.

imageIn case you hadn’t seen it, the United States beat the French in the 4×100 Freestyle relay by a tenth of a second.

But to me, what made the competition so amazing wasn’t the win and it wasn’t the fact that despite being underdogs and being the recipient of some smacktalk from the French swim team.

It was how Jason Lezak closed the gap and ultimately beat the French.  Take a look at the statistics on the NBC Olympics results site:

imageIf you watched the race, you saw famed swimmer Michael Phelps basically go neck and neck with the French in the first leg of the race (47.51 vs. 47.91), Garrett Weber-Gale overtake the French to take the lead (47.02 vs. 47.05), and Cullen Jones subsequently lose the lead to the French during his leg. (47.65 vs. 46.63)

Now it’s important to note that Cullen Jones didn’t perform poorly at all.  To the contrary the time for his leg was about the same as the famed Michael Phelp’s. (47.65 vs. 47.51)  No, that fact was that the French swimmer, Frederick Bousquet, for the 3rd leg was JUST THAT GOOD, beating Jones’ time by more than a full second.  No – everyone on the United States relay team performed admirably up until that point. 

imageBut what was just so amazing was Jason Lezak didn’t just close the gap on the French… he didn’t just beat his man during the leg…

No, Jason Lezak beat the FASTEST SWIMMER on the French team and he did it with the FASTEST leg time of anyone on not just the United States team, but on ANY TEAM competing. (46.06 vs. 46.73) 

Just look at that time:  46.06 seconds!  Everyone else took at least 46.5!

So seriously – if you haven’t seen it, you simply have to see this race.  They’re saying it’s the best 4×100 Freestyle in the history of the Olympics.

VIDEO:  http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/share.html?videoid=0811_HD_SWB_HL_L0194

But perhaps it was the expressions on the faces of the smacktalking Silver medal French relay team that puts the cherry on top of just an amazing United States victory:

Uh… what just happened?

Man – everyone loves a good smackdown. Go USA!

Apple pulls $999 AppStore product after 8 iPhone users actually go and buy it

August 9, 2008

Everyone loves a story about “justice served” and this is one of the funniest, most precious stories I’ve ever seen and a perfect example of both:
– people who don’t want to accept responsibility for their actions and
– a company so fixated on end user control that that their actions vilify them

Armin Heinrich created a $999 application that was posted to the iPhone App Store essentially as an attention getter i.e. an advertisement for his other applications.  He put a price tag of $999 on the item apparently to dissuade people from buying the software which does nothing but display a picture of a gem on the device.  He fully describes the functionality of the application and never cons anyone about what it is that it does. 

vfeo5Then Apple goes and pulls the product without notice from the App Store catalog after 8 morons apparently had the idiocy to buy it – either accidentally or otherwise.  The creator’s purportedly made $5600 off of people who apparently don’t have any common sense.  (Actually, one person did willfully buy the product in an effort to purchase every single product on the App Store)

Listen to this jackass whine about his own irresponsibility, saying his purchased was ‘just a joke’ and calling the product a ‘scam’ when he willfully pressed BUY on the product and now finds he owes $999. (See review)

So let’s review:

  • A developer finds a crafty way to advertise on the Apple App Store
  • To his surprise, 8 people actually go an purchase his software, netting him a healthy profit. with one whining about how it’s “ridiculous” and “fake”, demanding his money back
  • Apple decides that it’s people can’t handle accountability and takes down the product from purchase without explanation

Ah, you Apple folks are just a bunch of silly geese.

(Read the comments.  They’re fantastic.)