Loud Music is a $40 Fine

Just my personal blog.

August 16, 2007

Hoover Dam

As part of the Las Vegas Power Pass, we took the mini-Hoover Dam tour. We boarded a mini-shuttle bus outside the Excalabur, which took us to the Planet Hollywood hotel, where we got our tickets, paid our $4 fuel fee, and got on a big bus.

We had a driver from a former communist country (can’t remember which) who’d been in the US since the mid-70’s. He was a wealth of information about Nevada, Las Vegas, and the other cities we passed through on the way to the dam. For example, he warned us to not cross the street unless we had the “hand or the man”; that is, unless we had the walk signal. He said that Las Vegas police had stopped 1000 random cars and ticketed almost 450 of them for drunk driving.

We finally got to the dam about an hour after we left. Right before the dam is a government check point. A law enforcement officer came on board and did a cursory look around to see if anyone had brought a WMD on board. Luckily, everyone left them at home, so we were passed.

The road curves and switches back a few times, and it’s hard to imagine driving a car on the road, much less a bus. And our bus driver was driving with one hand and holding a microphone with the other, so I don’t see how he did it, but we didn’t get killed.

He took us across the dam to the Arizona side to a little store where we stopped for a few minutes (I wonder how much these places have to pay to be a “stop” on the tour?). Then he turned the bus around and went back across the dam and to the visitors’ center.

As we got off the bus, he gave us the tickets for the tour, and we were told that for another $3, we could get the guided tour down to the generators. We opted to do that.

When you do the power plant tour, you get on an elevator that takes you about 600 feet down. The guide walks you through some tunnels until you come out to the generator room. The Nevada side has 8 or 9 generators (the whole dam has 17 total), but only about 4 of them were actually running, due to the low water depth of Lake Mead.

After a few minutes down there, they send you back up for the “self-guided” portion of the tour. They had a few exhibits but if you’ve seen any of the Discovery Channel shows about the building of the dam, then you’ll know more than what the exhibits show you.

We reboarded the bus and left for our final tour stop, Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory. The M is short for “Mars.” We took a short tour through the factory, bought a few things, then it was back on the bus.

We arrived back at Planet Hollywood around 3 pm, after having left Excalibur that morning at 9:15. If you drive to the dam, you’ll want to leave early; as we were retuning and passed by the check point, the traffic was backed up for at least 4 miles. They’re working on a bypass that will route traffic away from the top of the dam and cross over the Colorado River just downstream of the dam, but that won’t be ready for another few years.

Overall it was in interesting tour.  I’m glad we got to see it. I wish they had tours going down into the dam, but I guess that won’t ever happen again. If you go to Las Vegas, set aside a day to see Hoover Dam.

August 15, 2007

The Luxor

On our recent trip to Las Vegas, we stayed at the Luxor Hotel at the south end of the strip.

We got there on a Wednesday afternoon (around 4 pm) and had to wait 15 or 20 minutes in the line to check in. Before we got in that line, we were approached by what we thought was an employee, who asked us how long we were staying and if we were going to see any shows. As it turns out, to get the “free” show tickets, we only had to sit through a three hour presentation. This proved to be the first of many attempts to get us to see some kind of timeshare or something.

So, we finally registered and were given a room on the 11th floor. You get up to your floor via an “inclinator”, which is basically an elevator that goes at a 39 degree angle up the corner. It takes a little getting used to, since when it starts, you move sideways a little.

The Luxor opened in 1993, and is showing its age.  Our room had two queen-size beds that were comfortable enough. The bathroom didn’t have a bath tub, just a shower and commode. The air conditioning unit was similar to the ones you see in the cheap motels that’s installed on the outside wall, except this was on the inside. While we were there, the daytime temperatures reached over 100 degrees each day. The A/C unit wasn’t up to the task of keeping the room cool. But, since we were usually out of the room by 9 or 10 each day and back in the evening, it wasn’t too big a deal. But I couldn’t imagine staying in the room during the day (and that may be the point; the casino floor is very comfortable temperature wise).

On the Atrium level they have several attractions, including a replica of King Tut’s tomb as discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. It’s $15 to get in, and if you spend more than 20 minutes in there, you’re being slower than normal. The admission to us was included in the Power Pack we got, so we saw it at a discount. It’s not worth $15.

We also “rode” their IMAX ride “In Search Of The Obelisk”. This is a motion simulation ride that has a film with actors that couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag. Again, it’s not worth the admission price (but if you get the Power Pass, try it out anyway).

There are several restaurants  and shops on the Atrium level as well. Our first night there we went to the Mexican place, and had their big nacho deal. That and three soft drinks was almost $20. Not a good deal. They also have a food court with a McDonalds (which I never got to eat at, due to the long lines), a Lil Caesar’s Pizza, a Quiznos, and maybe one or two more places. The shops run the gamut from high end to tourist stuff.

We went down to where the buffet was, but never ate there. The buffets on the strip are way too expensive ($12 or $14 for lunch).

As far as the casino goes, it’s ok. They’re remodeling the night club that was apparently in the middle of the casino, so everything was a little confusing. I finally figured out the best way to get to the poker room on Saturday. The signage was terrible (but then I found that to be true in most casinos). They had a couple of $30 tournaments a day, which was the cheapest I saw while there. I played in the Saturday tournament, and found out how bad I am at live poker.

Overall, I’d give it maybe 2.5 stars out of 5. Would I stay there again? Probably not. We really only picked the Luxor because of Criss Angel, and never saw him the first time. There was even an empty spot out front where one of his cars was supposed to be. I guess he made it disappear.

August 14, 2007

Western Swing

We flew into San Diego from Nashville on a Thursday, rented a car, and checked into the Holiday Inn by the Bay. It’s an OK hotel, and at least they had free WiFi in the room.

On Friday, we went to the “World Famous” San Diego Zoo. It’s a huge place. We took the bus tour for the first 45 minutes there, then walked around looking at the individual animals that the bus wasn’t able to get close to. I think the San Diego Zoo is “world famous” mostly because of Joan Embry’s appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Maybe I was expecting too much, or maybe it was because they had relocated some of the animals to the Wild Animal Park to renovate a section of the park (to, believe it or not, place fake animals in their place), but I was not that impressed.

Saturday, before we drove up to Oceanside, we walked over to the Midway Museum. That’s actually the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that first sailed just after World War II ended in 1945 and last saw combat action in the first Gulf War. Just across the bay we could see the Navy’s newest carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan.

So, we drove up to Oceanside and visited with family for a few days. On the way back to San Diego on Wednesday, we took the scenic Highway 101, which goes by the coast. We saw some incredible ocean views.

Next up, Vegas!

We got into Las Vegas Wednesday around 3:30 in the afternoon. That’s the first airport I’ve seen with slot machines. We had a pretty packed time planned for Las Vegas. We took advantage of the Las Vegas Power Pack, which gave us three days’ admission into a lot of attractions. I also got a deal on tickets to see the Cirque Du Soleil show Love on Saturday night.

The Power Pass included a two hour visit to Hoover Dam. That’s a pretty incredible structure. We went down into the generator house on the Nevada side. Because of the low water level, they only had about half the generators running.

We also took in the two attractions at the Luxor (which is where we stayed). We went up into the Stratosphere (where people were actually on top riding the three rides). We went to Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Finally, we saw Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and then went to the Adventuredome in Circus Circus.

I’ve never walked so much in my life.

I have to say the highlight was the Cirque Du Soleil show. Those folks were doing incredible acrobatic things, all set to Beatles music. I guess the second highlight was playing in a real live poker game. It was a tournament with 18 players, and I finished 9th. I learned that I’m not that good at poker.

Overall, it was a very nice trip. If I had it to do over again, I would not have rented the car and instead would have taken Amtrak up to Oceanside. Also, I don’t know what I was thinking by booking the trip in August. Although the temperature in Southern California barely got to the mid 70’s, in Las Vegas it reached 100 degrees every day we were there.

I think over the next few days I’ll write more extensive reviews of the places we saw and the attractions we visited.

August 13, 2007

Back In The Saddle

Well, we got back from our trip out west Sunday night. We were gone for a total of 10 days and visited San Diego, Oceanside, and Las Vegas.

I’d planned on blogging while away, but the only hotel we stayed at with free internet access was in San Diego.  I wasn’t about to pay $10/day to access the net, so being “net free” for a few days was in itself a vacation.

In the next few days I’ll be posting about what we did and saw out west. Some of the highlights were the San Diego Zoo, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas in general.

August 6, 2007

Go West, Young Man

I’m writing this from my hotel room in San Diego. We arrived here Thursday night on a flight from Nashville. That’s the first time I’ve flown in a couple of years, and I was dreading the security procedures.

But it was harmless enough. I did my research online before, and knew what we could take and how things had to be packed. About 30 minutes after we got to the gate, a strong thunderstorm blew over, and they had to shut down everything for a while. We’d already been told our 4:55 flight was going to be about 15 minutes late, but the thunderstorm made it even later. We were finally in the air a little after 6.

We went to the San Diego Zoo on Friday. I’d been looking forward to it, but in reality it was somewhat of a letdown. Sure, they had animals there that the Nashville Zoo didn’t have, and the Zoo was a lot bigger. But they had moved quite a few animals to a Wild Animal Park in preparation for renovating some of the park. We did get to see a baby giraffe, which had been born Thursday night.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Bay. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a bay view. Our view overlooked downtown. Just acros the street, they’re building at least three high rises. And they start work shortly before 7 am. Thankfully we’re still operating on Central Time, so we were mostly awake when the construction noise started. But for some reason, they have trains running all night, and those trains had to blow their horn about a half block away.

As I write this (on Saturday), we’re killing time, waiting for the Maritime Museum to open. After that we’re going to check out the USS Midway Museum. Then it’s up to Oceanside for a visit with some relatives. My next post will probably be from Las Vegas.

August 2, 2007

Drive Through Bill Of Rights

I hardly ever go to fast food joints and eat inside. I usually go get the food and bring it back home or to work. So I have a lot of experience with drive through lanes at most of the fast food places. After yet another sub-par experience at a drive through tonight, I finally decided to write something about it.

The Drive Through Bill Of Rights

All customers are entitled to have the following from the fast food place:

  • Their order read back to them (unless there’s an electronic display of the order)
  • Clear sounding audio from the drive-up speaker
  • A native English speaker or someone without a heavy accent taking the order
  • A napkin, spoon, knife, or fork without having to ask for it
  • A drink cup not overfilled so that when you put the straw in, it comes out the straw hole
  • Your food or drink inside the wrapper or cup, not dripping on the container
  • Your order prepared the way you ask, and fulfilled correctly
  • Speedy service (anything over 90 seconds from when you are asked to pull forward is excessive)
  • The amount owed given to you before you pull up to the payment window
  • The contents of a “large” item to be of greater quantity than the contents of a “small” or “medium” item
  • If you’re asked to pull around because they’re cooking something (e.g. fries), then they should wait until that item is ready before packaging the other items

As a corollary, customers should give other customers in line the following considerations:

  • No more than 2 feet between cars; if you can parallel park between your car and the car in front of you, pull up
  • Pay attention; don’t make the folks behind you wait while you fiddle around when you should be pulling forward
  • Know what you want when you get to the speaker
  • Have the money ready when you get to the window
  • No more than two separate orders per car

I’m sure there are more. Leave me a comment if you have any and I’ll add them as an update to this post.

[Note: I originally posted this on December 18, 2006]

August 1, 2007

NASCAR: Still Full of BS

Tony Stewart was fined $25,000 and docked 25 points for saying a dirty word on TV the other day. As usual, NASCAR pops out the ever popular “Actions detrimental to stock car racing” as their basis for the fine and points deduction.

That’s BS.

I understand that NASCAR wants their drivers to be good representatives of the sport; I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is the deduction of championship points for an off-track incident.

Can you imagine the uproar that would occur if the NFL started taking points off of games because players went to strip clubs? (Actually, in that case, all games would probably end in a 0 to 0 tie.) I can see the newspaper report now:

The Tennessee Titans scored 21 points on the field today in their game against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders scored 20, but won the game due to the actions of Pac-Man Jones which cost the Titans a penalty of 3 points. Jones got into trouble again after the game when he went to a strip club and his “entourage”…

Stewart effectively finished second in the race, if you don’t count the bonus points. I can see fining a driver for a slip of the tongue, but taking points away seems unfair.

And ESPN should have their hands slapped in this mess as well. Why not fine them a few million to get their attention? Why were they not running a delay on the main program?

July 30, 2007

NASCAR: Thoughts On The Brickyard 400

Just finished watching most of the Brickyard 400. It was kind of like a lot of recent races: exciting at the beginning, fast forward through the middle, then kind of exciting near the end.

Of course, congratulations go to Tony Stewart for winning the race. It’s nice to see a race won by a driver who actually passed another car under green for the lead.

I’m a little surprised at the lack of security around the car when Stewart parked on the start/finish line. I remember a few years ago here in Nashville they almost took away a win by Jeff Purvis in the All American 400 because someone put some lead shot in the car after the race, while it was in victory lane.

I’m not sure what to think about Kevin Harvick’s “love tap” after the checkers. Stewart didn’t seem to think there was any malice in it, but it sure looked suspicious to me. I guess it looked suspicious to NASCAR too, since they called him to the trailer afterwards.

Just asking: how many cars does it take to have a “big one”? 10% of the field? 20%? Wrecks involving 10% and 20% of the field happened at Indy. Why do we only hear about the “big one” at Talladega and Daytona? I’ve seen more cars involved in wrecks at Bristol than have happened in the plate races.

The face of NASCAR continues to change, and not all for the better. I predict that within 5 or so years, there will only be 10 or 11 teams, each with 4 cars. Since NASCAR increased the number of cars it allows from 2 (which was never enforced) to 4 (which is semi-enforced; how else does Roush still have 5 teams?), then that’s given teams a target to aim at. Then once we see only 10 or 11 owners in the series, we’ll have a situation where there’ll be defacto franchising. To get into the sport as an owner, you’ll have to buy an existing team.

There’s no way this can be good for the sport. Look at what’s happened to CART. NASCAR should have started enforcing the two-car rule per owner when they had a chance. Instead, you had 5 car teams with shady ownership deals designed to get around the rule.

July 27, 2007

NASCAR: Notes After An Off Weekend

The Nextel Cup was off this past weekend, but a lot sure is happening in the series.

  • DEI is buying Ginn Racing. In a deal that leaves Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek, and Regan Smith out in the cold, Mark Martin will drive the 01 car for DEI, splitting duties with their new driver Aric Almirola. Paul Menard will pick up the points from either the #13 or #14, which will guarantee him a starting spot in the Brickyard 400. Marlin and Nemechek will apparently be unable to drive for anyone else until all of this is settled, while Smith gets a ride in a truck on Friday night.
  • At least 4 Nextel Cup drivers have indicated that they want to run full time in the Sprint Cup and the soon-to-be-former Busch Series next year. Great guys. All NASCAR really needs to do then is, at the beginning of the season, make you declare in which series you’re running for the championship. You want to race on Saturday? No problem, but you’re not going to earn points for it (unless you’ve declared for the championship, in which case your Sunday drive is for money only).
  • Apparently Rusty Wallace’s deal with ESPN has a provision that keeps him from owning a Sprint/Nextel Cup team due to the inherent conflict of interest. OK, I can see that. But is that any worse than the conflict of interest in having him comment on Busch races in which is son drives Rusty’s car? Why the distinction?
  • Thirty-five provisionals is too much. Jayski reports that NASCAR may be looking to change that. Here’s hoping they do.
  • Wow. I went to my old site, RacinDeals.com to see what those folks had to say, and I see it’s “under construction”. I wonder what happened?
  • Robert Yates Racing is merging with Newman-Haas Racing. Wonder how long that’ll last?
  • With all the activity this year in NASCAR, what with driver changes, team mergers, etc., I daresay the highest paid person on any team is probably the lawyer. It seems these days that driver contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. How can a team release a driver who’s supposed to be under contract for another year?

So the Brickyard 400 is this weekend. This will be ESPN’s first Cup race since they lost the revamped TV deal in 2000. They’ve got some technological tricks up their sleeves, so it should be interesting. I just wish they had a better broadcast crew. Rusty Wallace is ok, but I think it’d be great to have Buddy Baker up there in the booth as well.

July 24, 2007

GPS Woes

I’ve owned a Garmin GPS V for several years. I bought it when I had the illusion that I’d be doing a lot of “adventure” biking on the Kawasaki KLR650 motorcycle I bought in 2002. I had that bike about 8 months before trading it in on a cruiser.

The GPS unit fit my needs at the time. I still use it for trips and it’s helped out quite a bit going into unfamiliar places. I just create the route on the computer, upload the route, waypoints, and maps to the unit, and then it’s ready to go.

The unit came with the unlock codes for version 4 of Garmin’s North America maps. I upgraded the next year to version 5 (at $75), and then the next year to version 6 (another $75). Last year I got the version 8 upgrade, but never purchased the unlock code for it. Since we’re going out west in a couple of weeks, I figured I’d go ahead and update the maps and get the latest (yet another $75).

The GPS V comes with a little less than 20 megabytes of storage, so you kind of have to be selective on the maps. I’d already created routes and waypoints and selected version 6 maps in the MapSource program on the PC, and found that I was probably going to be a little short on memory. I remembered reading that the newer version had better compression, so I figured I could get the same maps in a smaller space.

I just finished the unlock process. You install the maps, then you plug in your unlock code that you’ve purchased.  Relatively painless if convoluted.

So I went to the Las Vegas area. In version 6, there were two map areas that needed to be selected, which added up to about 8 meg of space. With the 2008 version, the Las Vegas map had just one area (that included the two I’d selected from the old map), and it took up about 7 meg. I figured I was good to go.

Then I started plugging in the San Diego and Oceanside maps. Since there’s an outside chance we might drive up to Los Angeles,  I wanted to include those maps as well. Fifty megabytes of maps later, I’m thinking I got screwed.

Basically, there’s no way I can include all the areas I want if I use the 2008 map; my unit just doesn’t have enough memory. And there’s no way to add memory.

All that makes me think that Garmin wants me to buy a new GPS. And if I do that, the unlock codes I have for the GPS V all become unusable with the new unit. That doesn’t leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

The GPS V had the features I wanted when I bought it. It was water resistant and there was a motorcycle mount for it. But I guess the weakness it had was lack of memory expandability.  Which means that I’ll be looking for something new with similar features, but which can handle the maps I need.

Anyone have any recommendations?