Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday Madness

I appear to have been in another of my predictable blog droughts. It's not that there hasn't been enough going on, in this case there's probably been too much going on. As a result, this blog is brought to you by Google Calendar: "The only way to know what all you did the past month!"

  • Went to two musicals plus the Seattle Symphony's holiday pops concert. All of which deserve their own reviews, but may or may not get them. We'll see how much time I make for them today.
  • Lots of curling, culminating with a break from actually curling, only to be the head official for the state junior curling championships this past weekend. Being both competent and willing to volunteer is a dangerous combination. Tiring but a lot of fun.
  • Started the process of looking for a house. I'm sick of my apartment, and after waiting for a year or so until the market is finally right, it's time to buy a house. Now I just have to find the right place. Once the new year starts, it should be prime time for people to start selling decent places again... I hope.
  • Christmas came and went, and New Year's is here. I don't think I really realized Christmas was coming until about the Friday before. Things have been a bit hectic.
  • How can I forget how this all started? The day I got home from vacation in Hawaii (well, actually the day before I got back to work), my company decided to lay off 18 people, including half of my team. I was spared, but half of my friends and coworkers were told their last day was December 12th. It's made for quite the uninspiring holidays around the office. Fortunately a few of us insisted on making things a bit cheerier and helped decorate the office for the holidays. I strung my customarily tacky Christmas, er, Secular Festive Non-Denominational Culturally-Inclusive Wintertime Holiday Lights, throughout my aisle of cubes and from the ceiling and all. It was quite nice. Regardless, unless things drastically change around work, 2008 may become time to look for a new place to work.
  • And yes, I know I'm behind on Amazing Race episode blogs. Legs 6, 7, and 8 are all on my DVR waiting to be watched, I've just had more important things to do. At least this way I can just sit down and watch them all at once one of these days.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

AR12 - Leg 5 - Counting Gnomes

7 teams remain, who will be eliminated next?

Off to Vilnius, Lithuania. The biggest question I have is will the two teams with their photo-finish at the end of the last leg team up and work together, or will they continue as adversaries. Hard to say.

Observation of the night #1: is it really that hard to pronounce "VILNIUS"? I think it's pretty much as it's spelled, nothing to funny there.

It's reaching the point in the race where the energy has worn off and now the teams will start to get sick of each other.

Who would have thought getting airline tickets would be such an ordeal. The conclusion I have come to is to always have your tickets before you leave. :) It's officially 20 minutes into the episode and no team has yet made it to the airport. This isn't much of a race. 3 different flights with 3, 3, and 1 team respectively. Now it might get interesting.

Team Tacoma took the gamble and were the only team flying through Prague... good gamble I think, they easily could have come out ahead with that one, but in this case it didn't work, and they have ended up in last.

Roadblock... deliver the package, deliver another package, get a clue. This is the kind of roadblock I like, it's entertaining watching them find it, yet not frustratingly complicated. Team Tacoma gains huge time by completing the roadblock and are back in 3rd place.

Oh, the blondes' car nearly gets t-boned by a tour bus. Classic. DC1 is about to kill each other. Also classic.

THE ROAMING GNOME IS BACK! How exciting! I have my Travelocity Roaming Gnome sitting on my bookshelf in my living room. I love the gnome. Sure it's gratuitous corporate sponsorship, but man that gnome is cool.

Detour: Count Down or Step Up. Count the pickets in a picket fence, or walk on stilts down a path. Counting pickets would be easy, except that they put all kinds of distractions along the fence they needed to ignore along with it... and there were 717 pickets. Too funny.

Andrew apparently speaks gnoma and has translated the Travel Gnome's travel myths for us...
travel myth #122: 7 teams of two cannot find flights to lithuania
travel myth #42: blondes do have more fun... and count really well
travel myth #49: men with hernias cannot walk on stilts
travel myth #78: anyone can find their way to the university square in a foreign country
travel myth #460: lithuanians don't have forks larger than their heads
travel myth #45: the last one to the carpet is given a reprieve

TK and Rachel, the Newlydaters make their first appearance as Team #1. The Goths finish closely behind at #2. Tacoma finished 3rd. Siblings 4th. DC1 5th. Gramps comes in 6th. The blondes are the last to arrive and are eliminated.

It's getting exciting again. We're down to 6 teams. This was one of those episodes that made me want to go on the Amazing Race because it looked like so much fun. Until next week...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Aloha Huskies

As expected (at least by me, considering the rest of the season) the Huskies lost. I was prepared for this, and don't mind losing when you're outplayed, but when you get screwed by bad calls, I am less pleased.

But that's the short of the story, the rest of the story begins now...

We met up with about 20 of Amy's friends in 6 cars in the parking lot of an old Costco near Aloha Stadium to carpool over to the stadium for tailgating around 6 hours before the game started. Tailgating is hard work. Fortunately, they were all fully prepared with plenty of food and drink and it was a good time. Once we finally got situated in the stadium parking lot, it was more like 4 hours to game time, which wasn't so bad. I was pretty impressed with the Hawaii tailgaters, though I must admit it was a bit of a step below the supreme tailgating that the fans at Husky Stadium provide every week.

Fast forward to game time, we made our way into the stadium and found our seats. I had gotten my tickets through the UW so had pretty good seats in the 3rd row in the upper deck right on the goal line, though most of Amy's friends had tickets in various sections in the lower deck of the end zone. I must say, it was a refreshing change to actually see the game from above, it was amazing how much you can actually see the plays and what's happening. I've become so used to watching games from the bottom 10 rows or so of every stadium, which usually involves watching the games on the big screen, rather than the actual players on the field. The nice thing was that Aloha Stadium only holds 50,000, and the upper deck isn't nearly as high as, say, Husky Stadium, so our seats were remarkably close to the field and easy to see what was going on. Added advantage was the overhang over the upper deck, which just stretched to about the 2nd row. Thank goodness for that, as at the end of the first half the skies opened up with a brief downpour, which we observed from our safe and dry seats.

The game itself needs no further commentary. After an exciting and promising 21-0 first quarter score, things made their way back downhill and the referees failed to be of any assistance (at least not to the Dawgs).

After the game we went to a local sports bar back near Waikiki and got some food before everyone basically was falling asleep and headed back home. I think I made it to bed by somewhere close to 2am, and managed to sleep until about 11:30am.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed, as I decided to go off on my own and do some sightseeing and drove up Tantalus Drive as high as I could go above Honolulu. There'll be some pictures sooner or later when I get them posted. I also walked down to the beach and wandered around Waikiki, though wasn't too impressed with it all. It was still nice, when I wasn't caught in the occasional downpour.

Tonight for dinner, about 10 of us went to a Japanese-style barbeque where you cook your own food at the table and such. It was pretty fun, though I must say a bit of a novelty and far too much work just to eat. :) However, it was darn tasty.

After that the real excitement happened as we went to a local karaoke bar. It is times like this when my sister makes me proud. So this bar is obviously a hangout for the locals, and Amy decides that she's going to win them over by singing a Hawaiian song. She proceeds to sing (very well, I might add) some Hawaiian favorite, and indeed wins over the crows with quite a glowing response. It is at this point she screams out a "Go Huskies!" immediately negating everything she had just achieved. She was instantly booed and heckled. That's my sister. It took her at least another half hour to work over the locals and convince them she wasn't so bad. :) She did a good job, but all of us wouldn't let her off the hook as easily as they did. It was a classic moment.

I proceeded to be the designated driver for three inebriated and loud fools, one of whom was my sister, back to the hotel, where they wandered over next door to continue celebrating the last night here. I had had enough and now am here relaxing and catching up on some blogging. Tomorrow we head home... and it's about time to leave the world of vacation, but I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to return to the real world of work. More on that later.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


I guess I should blog a bit on my current vacation to Hawaii. For those not privy to the story, I'm down here for the UW vs. Hawaii football game that will take place tomorrow evening. I took advantage of Alaska Airlines's introductory fares a few months back when they started new service to Honolulu from Seattle... for a little over $200 round trip, it's hard to say no.

Thursday morning we went to the airport to fly to Hawaii. I must say, I was surprised how many Dawg fans were at the airport. Apparently the lack of any bowl games the past few years has a lot of the die-hard fans ready to take anything they can get, even if it's an end-of-season game against Hawaii. We had probably at least 20 on our flight who were "obviously" going to the game, and probably others who weren't so apparent.

The flight was rather uneventful. I guess it went by pretty fast, but I wasn't the most comfortable, and started to get a bit of a headache by the end of the flight which didn't help matters. The plane was very nice and new (probably one of the newest Alaska Airlines planes I've ever flown on), but still was just a single-aisle 3-by-3 plane, that doesn't really scream "sure, take a 6 hour flight in this aluminum tube". Either way, it wasn't so bad.

We made our way to Honolulu, and as I stepped off the plane, didn't notice the heat so much as the humidity. Temperatures were probably in the low 80's, but humidity about 80%... suprisingly tolerable. I've determined that humidity is fine, as long as it isn't accompanied by blazing high heat. We got the rental car and headed to the hotel in Waikiki.

We were all hungry (myself, my sister and her friend), and were wanting some food. I figured we could just go to the hotel and then find something from there, but Amy insisted on finding a Zippy's and getting "real" food. After winding through the tangles of streets that they call Honolulu, we finally got to it and had food. Food good. I approve.

After making it to the hotel, the rest of Thursday was pretty uneventful, besides the obligatory post-flight nap time. Our hotel, the Aqua Waikiki Wave, is not glamorous, but it's big and right in the middle of everything. It's right behind the International Marketplace, and well located to just about anything you could ever want. We explored a bit, before we went to dinner with some of Amy's friends at Angelo Pietros, what I would describe as the closest thing you can get to an Asian Italian restaurant. It was mainly pizza and pasta, though the pasta definitely had an Asian flair to it, rather than being strictly Italian. I had spaghetti with clams, and it was, however, very good eats. After that Amy's Hawaiian friends all started showing up in droves as we spent a few hours at Senor Frogs. (Well, *they* spent a few more hours than I did, but that's besides the point. Fortunately it's only 3 blocks from our hotel, and I could just walk back when I got sick of them all. :))

Friday morning, Amy slept, as expected. I got up and drove out to the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. I'd been there the last time I was in Hawaii, which was nearly 15 years ago, and wanted to check it out again. It hasn't changed much in 15 years. In fact, I decided not to wait the hour delay before I could take the boat out to the memorial, and decided to just head back. I stopped at Hilo Hatties for my fix of random Hawaiian junk and souveniers before swinging back by the hotel to pick up Amy who was finally up and ready to go. We got lunch at Bubba Gump's at the Ala Moana mall... I had probably some of the best fish and chips (mahi mahi) I have ever had. Food good. I still approve. We then went back to the hotel to rest for a few hours, and eventually get ready for the evening's dinner and festivities.

Long background story shortened to a few sentences... my sister Amy got really involved with the Hawaiian crowd when she was at the UW, so she has about 20 friends from Hawaii, half of which have since graduating moved back to the islands. This UW/Hawaii football game has sort of become a UW reunion for a lot of them, so it's been pretty well planned full of group events. Not a bad thing, I get to tag along and enjoy it. I actually have met most all of her friends before at various times in the past, though don't ask me to match faces to names for most of them. :)

So we went to this dinner that they had organized at the Natsunoya Tea House, which is apparently a long-standing institution in Honolulu, for a full Japanese dinner with tons of tasty food. There were 22 of us having this full family-style feast. It was tasty... mostly. :) More good food. Yet again, I approve.

Closing the evening was planned karaoke. I disapprove. I wasn't going to go, but I did for a bit. It was painful... painfully boring. Is it just me who does not understand the appeal of karaoke in the slightest. I don't really want to hear people sing bad versions of good songs. I think it would have been more fun if it were my friends, rather than 20 of Amy's friends, most of whom I don't know very well. I made the most of it for an hour or so, before leaving to head back to the hotel. Fortunately with enough of her friends, Amy can get a ride back on her own.

Waikiki is abuzz tonight, as I attempted to park in this micro-sized hotel parking garage which was completely full. I had to park in the garage on the next street over, which was sufficiently a pain in the neck, and about 20 minutes that really started to make me grumpy at 12:00am when I just want to get back to my hotel room and relax and sleep. But I finally made it back, found time to blog a bit, and now it's time for bed. This vacation is going to seriously mess with my internal clock, I say.

Tomorrow is the big game, much pre-game tailgating is planned, so it should be good times. But I should be awake for that, and that won't happen unless I sleep now. More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

AR12 - Leg 4 - No chicken, no check-in

And we're off again with leg 4 of the Amazing Race. Will it prove as exciting as I predicted in the previous leg? Probably not, but we shall see...

More marked paths through nowhere. Pick up a chicken... you'll eat it later. "No chicken, no check-in." Oh yeah, and click-it or ticket. Prediction: there's going to be a chicken chase sometime during this leg.

Detour: Shake your pan or shake your booty. Objective vs subjective. Meh... whatever. Except that everyone seems to want to dance. Classic. It seems obvious that creativity was valued above any traditional dance steps. These Africans have never seen Britney's moves... so the blondes succeeded well.

"Caution: U-Turn Ahead"?!?!? A U-Turn? What is this? Could it be ALMOST EXACTLY WHAT I INVENTED AS A 'DEAD END'? Slightly different, in that much more like a yield, a team in front can selectively force another team to go back and do the other detour. But man, I was right on! Feeling of great satisfaction here.
And the blondes U-turn DC#2, who were next to last behind them. Pretty callous use of U-turn. It wasn't really an effective use of the U-turn, I don't think. Just going to make some enemies.

Roadblock: ride a bike with a "potentially uncooperative goat" to deliver the stuff to someone at the market. Uneventful. C-.

Ronald: "Ok, I'll shut my trap." Yes, please do.

What a race to the mat! The siblings beat out DC1 by a nose for first place. "I just feel like everyone should have their turn and they've already been first." HAHA, it's a race kids, deal with it. I wouldn't have let them finish first either. I would have been racing them too. After all was said and done, the U-Turn successfully took out its first victim, DC2 is the last team to arrive.

Besides the U-turn, I wasn't too thrilled by this leg of the race either. It looks like we're off to someplace new next week. Change of scenery should be nice.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sky-High Dining

Every so often someone comes up with a new idea that makes you go... WHAT?!

[USA Today Article]

Presenting "Dinner in the Sky": dine at a table suspended from a crane 165 feet above the ground, harnessed into a chair like you're in a roller coaster.

This begs the immediate question... WHY? Are people really that fascinated with cheap thrills and gimicks that this actually would sound like an appealing proposition? In the spirit of cynicism, I present the Top 10 Things Heard During a Dinner in the Sky Event:

10) "As we prepare for our descent, please make sure your plates are securely fastened."

9) "Whew... I think I had a bit too much iced tea."

8) "It was like eating with the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ." [Quote from the co-inventor.]

7) "Anyone have a fire extinguisher?"

6) "Timmy? What happened to all your vegetables?"

5) "Check, please!"

4) "Ladies and gentlemen, we're expecting a bit of turbulence... please return to your seats."

3) "Welcome to Dinner in the Sky, the world's largest lightning rod!"

2) "Waiter, there's a bird in my soup!"

1) "Look at all the people below us... Oops! Can I please have another steak knife?"

In a related story, Dinner in Disguise? Sky-high dining reports drop in reservations after bout of violent food poisoning.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

AR12 - Leg 3 - Fly where?

9 Teams remain... who will be eliminated next?

Amsterdam. We begin by finding out that Ronald developed a hernia on the last leg of the race and was treated during the pit stop. This does not bode well for Team Tacoma.

Fly to Ouagadouguawhatkhcasmasomewhere... er... somewhere in Burkina Faso. Though first the teams have to figure out that's where it is. Once again though, we have an incredibly long flight to start off the leg. This should once again equalize the teams into a couple big groups. Even closer, it's going to be 1 team on a 7:20am Flight, 8 teams all together on an 8:00 am flight. Of course, as expected, the 8am flight suffers "mechanical problems" that may cause all 8 teams to miss their connection in Paris. Of course that wouldn't happen, would it? Of course not. Now all 9 teams are equalized onto a single flight to Ouagadougou. I wouldn't want to have to pay by the letter.

Now take the last train to nowhere. I-24... BINGO! Bingo, Burkina Faso is uh, in the middle of nowhere. The train stops on the tracks and you jump off. Classic. It's quickly becoming reminiscent of the driving through Southern Africa on AR7. And what do you do in Bingo? That's right, a roadblock... milk a camel... and then drink it. Bleah.

Lead 4 camels across the savannah all the way to a group of waiting nomads... destined to become the most famous Burkina Faso nomads in the entire world. And how easy it is to get lost when there are no roads and everything looks the same.

And Ronald is singing again... great. And DC2 is having a breakdown. Oh the drama. If there's one thing the Amazing Race has taught us all, is that screaming will solve any problem. :)

Detour: Teach it or Learn it. Teach 10 English words to children who know no English whatsoever. Or, the opposite, learn 10 Mori words. Kids learn better than older people, so I'd teach it instead of trying to learn it.

Yes, teaching kids the words "skyscraper", "camera" and "cowboy" when these kids have certainly never seen one of any of them in their entire lives, makes a lot of sense. :) Classic moment of the night goes once again to Ronald for describing skyscraper in terms of King Kong on the Empire State Building. Word association only works if they can associate it to something else they know. :) The siblings, however, take the learn it approach and pull into 1st place.

To the pitstop they go... and the wind and rains begin. Phil stands on the magic carpet with an umbrella... as the sibling are team number 1. I think the mat will need some dry cleaning after this leg of the race. I hope they have spares.

DC2 is still trying to milk their camels. They are so far behind, I see little chance remaining for them not to be the next victim of the Amazing Race. Teams 2,3,4,5 and 6 all arrive on the magic carpet within a minute of each other. The blondes arrive shortly later as team #7. The remaining 2 teams (DC2 and the Sisters) are significantly behind and it will be a race to the finish as both are trying to Learn It. DC2 survives to make it 8th. The sisters are the last team to arrive.

I must say this leg of the race was pretty straight forward, though interesting at least due to the unique locations and challenges. I kinda hope that they continue on their adventures through Africa, because on some level all cities start to look the same after a while. Once you're in the middle of Africa, everything is new and different... until the nothingness starts to look too familiar, but that's when it's time to leave. We'll see what happens next week.

Friday, November 16, 2007

40 days and 40 nights

The date is November 16th, an entire 40 days before Christmas. To put that in perspective, Biblical references use "40 days and 40 nights" as synonymous with "a very, very long time". Why the significance, you might ask? Well, as it seems to happen earlier every year, today it happened again... WARM 106.9 started playing non-stop Christmas music. Truth be told, I wouldn't even had realized it until I stopped in at Subway on my way home from work and as I walk in the door, hear Andy Williams singing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and had to do an auditory double-take. [Don't ask me how that works, by the way.]

Avid readers of my blog will recall prior references to my long-standing rule regarding holiday music. I am, of course, a huge fan of Christmas music of all types, but have instituted a rule (which admittedly, like the Pirates' Code is more a guideline than an actual rule) that I shall not intentionally listen to Christmas music until Thanksgiving. This was officially amended in 2004 to allow anytime starting the week of Thanksgiving. So in actuality, even according to my guidelines, as soon as Sunday it would be acceptable. But still... I think it's the fact that Thanksgiving this year is so early that it just seems too early for the holiday season to be here already. The whole point of the rule is simply to make sure that I'm not completely sick of Christmas music by the time December 25th actually arrives.

I guess you can't change it. By Monday I'll have the Christmas music ready to play on the radio, and my all-star collection of holiday music cascading from the headphones of my MP3 player.

At least I still have 39 days to start my Christmas shopping.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

AR12 - Leg 2 - Ditch Valuting for Dummies

10 teams remain... who will be eliminated next?

Tarry no longer in Ireland, they're immediately off to Amsterdam. The only thing for certain about starting off with a flight is that all of the teams will be relatively equalized into a couple of groups. Especially when they're all starting off around midnight or 2am.

Quote of the night so far comes from Kate and Pat, "We are religious people, but we have no allusions that God cares if we win The Amazing Race." Too funny.

Well, apparantly it wasn't quite as much as getting to the airport to catch a plane to Amsterdam, but to attempt to book the flight fast enough. And some early morning drama on the first morning of the race, probably a bit of lack of sleep makes the tempers rise. What else is to be expected? Of course, the producers will capitalize on that and try to make it seem more dramatic than it is. However, 9 teams make it on the first flight to Dublin, 1 team gets left behind for the next flight. But... you never know, that team will probably end up in first when all is said and done.

Ooohhh, and Team Tacoma pulls the nice card and tries to get a step ahead on the standby list for the flight, but apparently fails as they end up on the second flight. Ronald goes on a bit of a tirade at Grandson about how being rude won't get you anywhere... he might take a bit of his own suggestion and avoid making too many enemies this early on the race. At least *pretend* to be friends with everyone. :)

Detour: Hoist it of Hunt it. Hoist 5 pieces of furniture using pulleys to a several story building. Or hunt for two specifically marked bikes among hundreds, and bike 5 miles to get your next clue. Hoist it seems pretty quick and easy, hunt it seems long and painful. By my long-standing philosophy, take the harder one. But I just can't imagine hunt it to be much easier than this. Though hoist it seems like any of a thousand cartoon episodes where they try to hoist a grand piano 5 stories only to have it crash to the ground on Wile E. Coyote instead of the Road Runner.

This brings us to my latest idea for a new game element... and this is sheer genius if you ask me... I call it the "Dead End". It occurs in association with a Detour on the race, but after you complete one of the detours, it leads you to the forementioned dead end after which you have to go back and take the other detour and try to catch up the lost time. The only problem is that it's really a random penalty if you just happen to choose the wrong detour to take the first time. I think the only time it would be reasonable to do that is if it's a very short detour that won't take long, but just enough to be a minor penalty for choosing poorly. But it would be fun. I hereby place this idea in the public domain... so if the producers of the Amazing Race decide to read my blog and want to try it, go right ahead. :)

Back to the race, we're off to the next stop. As I suspected, those who did Hoist It well managed to pull about 5 spots ahead of the first place team who did the Hunt It.

Roadblock. The Dutch sport of "Ditch Valuting". The name says all you need to know. Sounds like fun to me. And incredibly easy for DC2. Lorena and Jason, are off to the pit stop. This is going to provide quite the comic relief though.

The final 3 teams are just now making it to Amsterdam. But I suspect they'll make it further than some who are already there.

"Lorena and Jason... you're team number one!" DC1 makes it #2, followed shortly by the blondes at #3. Could we pick three more annoying teams as the first three teams? Seriously.

Ronald talks too much. Shut up.

Pops... oh my goodness. "I have no comment," says grandson. I concur.

The goths come in #4, siblings #5 and the newlydaters #6. I actually like these teams.

Ronald still talks too much.

But team Tacoma pulls of a #9 finish.

Kate and Pat are going to hear the 6 words no racer wants to hear "You're the last team to arrive".

This was a rather quick moving episode. Again, not particularly interesting. But we are proceeding to eliminate the only teams who are actually distinct. I have yet to be really interested in what happens next... but it's early in the race and still not the real exciting stuff yet.

Oh, and the show's over... but I have this suspicion that Ronald is still talking too much.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Into the Woods

Last night I saw Into the Woods, a musical composed by Stephen Sondheim back in the mid 1980's, at the 5th Avenue Theatre. This was yet another of the "musicals I don't recall ever hearing of or seeing," besides the occasional reference. The musical interweaves four famous fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella) within a common setting and then attempts to answer the question "what happens AFTER 'Happily Ever After'?"

The first act is pretty straight-forward, and tells each of the four stories, threading them together with an original fifth story that builds its plot using elements from each of the other four. At first, I expected it to become quite a mess of subplots that would be nothing if not confusing to follow. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it very easy to follow, probably the result of the four fairy tales being so familiar and the characters so distinct. But despite how busy it was, I found the first act to be very level-toned, with not much excitement or any climactic points whatsoever. It was a very long (1.5 hours for the Act I alone) set up for the second act. If fact, at the end of the first act, short of a "To Be Continued!" announced by the narrator, you'd likely be asking the question (as some around me did), "Is that the end? Or is it just intermission?"

Act II is where the stories converge and the real embellishment occurs as the characters from each of the stories unite in a common goal of defending themselves against the Giant of the Beanstalk's wife avenging the death of her husband in the first act. I must admit, as the second act began, I had that momentary dread of "should I have left at the intermission?" But the second act proved to actually be a bit captivating, and rather entertaining, which kept my attention easily until the conclusion.

As this was one of the 5th's local productions, the cast drew from the finest musical performers Seattle has to offer, who are certainly not a disappointment. The scenery and other effects were top-notch, while without all the flash and awe that seems to have become the requisite of current Broadway musicals. It was a solid musical in the genre of what I would call "traditional American musicals."

On to the ratings:

Script - 3 stars - Interesting premise, but it just didn't appeal much to me.
Technical - 4 stars - Solid and quality. Even the occasional pyrotechnics. Well designed and well executed. It was like looking into a storybook.
Cast - 4 stars - An outstanding local group of performers, with some definite highlights but consistent quality overall.
Music - 3 stars - Despite its Tony award-winning score (edging out Phantom for the honor in 1988), I just wasn't impressed. Though not bad, I didn't come away humming the tunes or wanting more.
Overall - 3 stars - Hard to justify more. I would see it again if given the right opportunity, but not otherwise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Election Roundup 2007

Rarely am I compelled to write about anything political, but after yesterday's election festivities, I thought I'd make a few comments considering about everything I voted one way on went the other way.

Prop 1 - the aptly named "Roads and Transit" package that would bring light rail everywhere and lots more roads, failing miserably. I think the problem all along has been the "roads" part of it. I'm a huge fan of light rail wherever they want to put it. The vocal masses opposed to this measure took issue with the roads part, and well, I guess I can't blame them for that. The problem was they tried to put it all together. I think people would have approved the light rail if it were all on its own. Oh well... I guess we'll just have to wait another decade for solid public transportation options and pay twice as much.

Initiative 960 - Tim Eyman's latest attempt at "armchair legislating" which would require 2/3 legislative approval (or any voter approval) for any tax increase in Olympia, PLUS an "advisory vote" of the people for any new tax... passing. How anyone can vote for anything that comes out of Eyman's bag o' crap anymore still astounds me. The one commonality that every one of his initiatives have demonstrated countless times before is that they create sweeping changes that hurt far more than they help. Can we recall back to his first $30 car tabs initiative that was passed? You don't have to look far to see the lack of decent bus service and sky-high ferry tolls to see the results of that. Oh, but Timmy's Lexus SUV is as cheap as ever for him to license. Good thing we saved him some money. On the bright side, this ridiculous piece of legislation will likely be tied up in court as they determine it contradicts with the state constitution and then shoot it back down. Then Eyman will start crying out that the "will of the people" is being ignored by the state, blah blah blah... we've been through this all before.

EHJR 4204 - Reducing the requred vote from 60% to 50% to approve school levies. Is this just a change to make it easier for school levies to pass because they keep failing? Of course it is. But does it still make sense? Of course it does. Why should schools be held to higher requirements than anything else? It only takes 50% (+1) of the people to approve stupid initiatives, and other major taxes, why do schools have to get more? This never has made any sense to me. Plus, schools need the money, and it's a much better way to spend it than on most of this other junk. If 50% of the people don't want it, that's fine, but 40% shouldn't be able to dictate the terms.

Everything else on the ballot is relatively uninteresting. We didn't have any elections for any big state or federal positions, so it was relatively uneventful. But at least it's all over now, and I can stop seeing all of those darn commercials.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Amazing Race 12 - The Race Begins

I have decided to resurrect my ongoing musings and running commentary related to the new season of The Amazing Race [Sundays, 8pm, CBS]. Longtime, avid readers will recall back to 2005 (yes, that long ago) when the first of my series, the Amazing Race 7 Travelblog, was produced, followed later that year by the Amazing Race 8 Travelblog. After being seriously turned off by the Family Edition that was AR8, I have taken a break from watching several of the latest seasons (AR9, AR10, and AR11's All-Stars Edition). But I'm back, partially because there is little else to watch on Sunday night, and I have little else to do on Sunday night, as well as the fact that my blog is desperately in need of some new material.

This time, though, instead of sticking everything in its own separate blog thread, you'll find it right here along with the rest of the random postings you've become accustomed to. Plus, it's easier for me that way. For those of you new to the format, a brief introduction: I sit here and type-type-type in real-time what I think as I'm watching the show. There isn't much editing, you get whatever comes out of my head, and fortunately, I fast-forward through the commercials for you. :)

Well, the DVR is cued up and my typing fingers are ready, so without further ado, let's kick off the Amazing Race 12 Travelblog.

Here's Phil on top of some skyscraper in Los Angeles, looking much the same as he always does, even after 12 seasons, does this man not age?! Seriously? Anyway, let's meet the teams... as past experience has indicated, some of these aren't worth caring about, especially at this early in the race, but we'll try to give each of them their 10-seconds of fame, which is about as much as the producers gave them.

Marianna and Julia - The sisters from Miami. Will "use their looks to win challenges". Touching.
Ronald and Christina - The obligatory father and daughter, but from Tacoma. Nice local connection there.
Kynt and Vyxsin- Goth couple. "Everyday is Halloween!"
Nicholas and Donald - Airline Pilot and his grandfather. First impression, these look like they'll be a fun team to follow.
Nathan and Jennifer - Dating couple #1, gotta have a few of those because it's free drama.
Azaria and Hendekea - The obligatory brother and sister team, but both engineers.
Lorena and Jason - Dating couple #2. These look less drama, but looks can be deceiving.
Kate and Pat - Married lesbian ministers. I'm pretty sure that's a first for AR.
Ari and Staela - Best friends and coworkers. This is going to be one of the fun teams.
Shana and Jennifer - Friends from LA - but shall be known forever more as "The Blondes"
TK and Rachel - Newly dating, also from SoCal. Newly dating in Episode 1, sure to be newly broken up by the Finale.

Welcome to the Playboy Mansion, which was obviously chosen for the scenic and discrete locale, as it is barely mentioned that that's where they are. This is a family show, afterall. Phil gives the quick rules... "Good Luck, Travel Safe, and GO!" STAMPEDE!!!

Waste no time in LA, they're off the Shannon, Ireland. Let's see who knows how to drive their minivans through LA and find the airport. As usual in the first leg of the race, there's plenty of enthusiasm to go around, reality hasn't quite set in yet.

AND the opening credits. Dramatic poses, wait for it, and turn to face the camera. Typical. I guess the formula is so good they don't bother changing it.

First to the airport, who really cares. I mean, everyone's gonna make it to Ireland within about an hour of each other, that's the way the show works. Both the dating couples were in the first group to arrive. The siblings hit the cutoff point, "Sorry, the flight is full." 7 teams miss out on the first flight. Tragic. But the first alliance has formed, Siblings and Tacoma join forces to use the power of the internet to do some pre-search on the destination. Smart cookies.

Ah, Irish accents, at least I can understand what they are saying. Find the smallest church in the world, a rock thing on a hill, of course, they'll be stranded there until morning waiting for a ferry. Oh, it was so worth it pushing and shoving your way to the airport, wasn't it?

I wonder if you can tell where you are in the world solely by the taxi drivers. In New York, you'd find middle-eastern guys with turbans, but in Ireland, old guys wearing sweaters. We'll have to revisit this in a later episode.

It's obviously rainy season in Ireland. OOohhh, wait for it... Nathan and Jennifer (Dating Couple #1) are already yelling at each other! Did I predict that just 10 minutes ago, I think I did. DC1, you have a phone call... Dr. Phil wants to book you for his show after you get eliminated.

OK, I already like Team Tacoma, these folks are just nice people, definitely from the Northwest. Unfrotunately, I don't think that bodes particularly well for surviving the race. We'll soon find out.

Next stop, Cleggan Farm, ride a bicycle-built-for-two through the mud to find your next clue. Oh this should be tons of fun. Who will fall off first? Well first we have to get there. Wow, DC2 (Lorena and Jason) is just about as much drama as DC1. "We're not going the right way, I know it, just listen to me." "I feel like we're not communicating well, which is our problem in real life." Hilarious. This is one who's watched TOO MUCH Dr. Phil.

And the goths' bicycle chain broke, that sucks. But doesn't seem to change much. The bicycles seem to be a non-event.

Road Block: high wire bicycles. Probably a bit scary, but not too difficult. Also a non-eventful event.

Fun with donkeys. Getting any animal to go where you want it to is a challenge, let alone a donkey. Oh, now starts the mayhem. Some donkeys go fast, some go slow, and others don't go at all. One thing's for sure, yelling at the donkey "if you don't go I'm going to cut you up and eat you"... probably not the best method of motivation. Wow, stubborn as a mule... wait a second...

And it's off to the pit stop. Who's team will reign supreme? Who will be the first team to be eliminated, and fall into the ranks of "who were they?"

And the siblings arrive... and there's Phil on the magic carpet. "You're Team Number One!" Nice people. I approve. Followed shortly behind are the goths. Newlydaters are #3.

Ronald of Team Tacoma sings a lovely rendition of Danny Boy while pedaling along the high wire. That's awesome.

DC2 arrive #4 on the mat. DC1 have the stubborn mule and keep watching as half the other teams have already passed them. Pilot Nick and Grandpa Don come in #5. The blondes make it #6. Tacoma is #7, followed by the Kate and Pat #8. Both teams are just glad to have survived the first leg. Sisters come in 9th, followed by DC1 as 10th after finally pushing their stubborn mule all the way there. And finally we have the best friends, Ari and Staela, who just couldn't make it fast enough, and are the first team to be eliminated from AR12. Probably a good thing, because I didn't have a good nickname for them, and was having a heck of a time spelling Staela.

Well, as is customary with the first episode of the season, it was a bit frantic. I'm glad that they resisted the urge to turn a frantic 1-hour episode into a painfully long and boring 2-hour episode as they have in the past. Once again we seem to be heading east around the world... but that can always change. They usually like to mix things up a bit.

Interestingly enough, no detour on this leg of the race. And the roadblock wasn't hard enough to cause any real separation. As a result, it stayed pretty much a follow-the-leader the entire way through. Not very exciting, but the teams should be interesting. So far though, none of the teams really stand out to me as front-runners. Maybe it will be a close race each week.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Weekend festivus

It's been an eventful weekend so far, and it's only Saturday night. I'm incredibly tired, yet awake right now. This weekend has been filled with curling as we have our annual Autumn Bonspiel. I curled on a team with 2 of the guys I curl with on Thursday nights, and one other guy. After the luck of the draw gave us our first game at 10:30pm on Friday night, we proceeded to lose all three of our games and were done Saturday night. While this is somewhat disappointing, it does mean I don't have to curl at all on Sunday and I have a nice relaxing day ahead of me, including a Bonus Hour due to the miracle of Daylight Savings Time.

A rather amusing story: late last night I was driving down Aurora coming home from the curling club, and I look in my rear view mirror and there's a car tailgating me. After uttering a few things I usually do when stupid drivers annoy me (I'm very talkative, especially when nobody else is in the car) I pull forward and change lanes to let them get through since they were obviously in such a hurry. This red car paces me to the side and I look over and who do I see... my sister. Pay no attention to the odd coincidence that we both were driving down the same stretch of road at 1:45am. Truth be told, she didn't really know it was me in front of her either, she thought "that looks like Joe's car" but thought "naww, Joe wouldn't be out at 1:45am, he's lame like that". [Judicious readers will note, that she was tailgating me, without actually having any belief it was me at all.] But yes, it was me afterall... and a strangely funny coincidence.

I don't think I have much more exciting to say. I think it's time for bed.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Joining the list of the best musicals I've seen recently is the 2005 Tony Award winning Best Musical, Monty Python's Spamalot. Based on the legendary comedic film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," it was 2-hours of non-stop hilarity. Whether or not you are a fan of the original movie (I've seen the movie a handful of times, but have never been overtly obsessed with it like some people), you're bound to be entertained by the show. Cleverly toe-tapping numbers are abundant throughout the irrelevant plot. Anyone who has seen the original movie knows that the plot is only a clever way to get from one bit of randomness to another. Understandably, describing it to someone who has not seen the movie or musical before is an excercise in futility.

Since I know you're all looking forward to my classic rating scale...

Cast: 4 stars - no, really, there were only four stars in the show. Maybe not quite. But regardless, it was an outstanding cast of funny and entertaining characters.
Script: 4 stars - it would have to be.
Technical: 4 stars. Everything you would expect from a Broadway musical, though I reserve my 5-star rating for things that make me go "how'd they do that?" at least once.
Music: 5 stars - my toes were tapping most all the way through, and songs have been stuck in my head ever since. This will likely be making an appearance in my iPod-like-device shortly.
Overall: 4 stars - close to a 5-star musical, but lacking any obsession with the Monty Python genre, I give it a 4. Anyone who is a fan of Monty Python would certainly consider this a 5.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend Update

[I wrote this originally on Sunday night, but apparently it didn't post. Pretend it did.]

What a busy weekend! Friday night I met up with a group of friends to go to the Seattle Symphony Pops' Sci-Fi Concert. We met for dinner at Rock Bottom downtown beforehand and had a good dinner before heading over to Benaroya Hall for the concert. The concert was outstanding. The main focus of the concert was the music of John Williams, including much music from Star Wars and Superman, as well as selections from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Harry Potter. Though not exclusively John Williams music, the show included music from the various Star Trek series, as well as a medley of themes from TV shows spanning the past 40 years, from The Twilight Zone to the X-Files, and many others inbetween.

The show included a "laser light show", which frankly I could have done without. It was somewhat interesting, but entirely unnecessary, and on the whole unimpressive and hokey. They could have taken the $1.99 they spent on the laser show and put it to better use elsewhere.

Additional features included George Takei, Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek series, who was "narrator" but really only played a small role by providing a few anecdotes prior to the Star Trek theme medley, as well as narrating the opening into to Star Trek. While we would have liked to see a bit more of him, he still was a good addition. A featured soprano, complete in uniform, was the highlight of the Star Trek medley as she adeptly sang the wordless melody to Star Trek. Overall, an outstanding performance to one of the more packed houses I've seen at Benaroya.

Saturday I met up with Kristen, Mark, Annie and Adam in the afternoon before Cat and Aaron's wedding. The wedding was at 6pm at Cat's church over on Queen Anne. It was a very nice ceremony, about an hour long but didn't nearly feel that long. The reception was downtown at the Women's University Club, a very posh social hall down on 6th and Spring. I have to say the reception, in addition to being in one of the classiest settings for a wedding reception I've seen, was also one of the most smoothly run. An emcee kept the entire reception moving, and it all went splendidly and was a fun event with fun people.

Sunday was a good day to relax. I was considering being productive, but afterall decided to stay around, do some grocery shopping and laundry, then watched the first episode of Ken Burns' new The War documentary. Now for another week of work, well, 4 days at least before I take my weekend trip to Disneyland this coming weekend. Hopefully it's not a long 4-day week.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I am a blogging slacker!

You know how it is when you get out of the habit of doing something, you tend to forget about it completely. Yes, such is my blog. When I'm not on vacation, I tend not to remember to put anything interesting here. BUT... today I shall change that. Today is the first day of the rest of my blog. Or something.

Did you notice how in that entire first paragraph, I had a lot of words and almost zero information. That's space filler, folks. Now for a barrage of updates:
  • Since I never really wrapped up my last vacation blog... yes, I made it home from Upstate New York. I posted the last few pictures I had previously forgotten to upload. Really nothing other than some long plane riding adventures complete the trip blog, and I actually do have one final blog entry that I scribbled down on a piece of paper while sitting on the plane on the way home. I'll probably get that posted in the next couple of days.
  • Speaking of vacation, while posting the last of my vacation pictures, I also threw in some pictures from work I took one day when I happened to have my camera. Not too enthralling, but if you've ever wondered where I spend at least 40-hours a week, that can serve as a little glimpse into my world. Also on the topic of pictures, I still have a slew of pictures from Emily and Nathan's wedding in Yakima that I have yet to post. Maybe by their first anniversary I'll get around to that. Hmmm.
  • Speaking of weddings, yet another wedding in the "Year of a Million Weddings" continues this weekend with Cat and Aaron's wedding. Fortunately, this is one of the few that don't require me travelling long distances to go to. And this time, lots of people will be in town this weekend for the festivities. Plus, on Friday night myself and a bunch of friends are going to the Seattle Symphony for their Sci-Fi Concert featuring music as expected, plus a laser light show (in Benaroya Hall, that should prove interesting) and narration by none other than George Takei, whom I last saw at a Husky halftime show riding around in a cardboard USS Enterprise that made me fear for his safety. Hmmm... should be interesting.
  • Speaking of football, another season of Husky Football is once again upon us. After a 2-0 start to the season, the Dawgs had a sloppy game against Ohio State to come back to 2-1. Though overall, I'm not too disappointed about the game. We still look far better than any team that's taken the field the past several years, and good potential for a decent season.
  • Speaking of a decent season, another year of curling is fast approaching. That chilly pasttime that seems to consume at least 3-nights a week, 6-months out of my year, is back again. This will be my 3rd year of throwing rocks at houses, plus to add to the mayhem, I agreed to take over as the league manager for the Friday night league. That should actually be more fun than not, though of course, yet another thing to add to my plate of things to do.
  • Speaking of things to do, next weekend (after this one) I'm heading down to Disneyland for the weekend. I'm trying to squeeze out a bit of extra mileage out of my Annual Pass I got last October, and found next weekend to be the best time to do it. Not sure who else may show up as well... Amy may go down if she "has nothing better to do," and Heather may drive down from Encino to hang out with me for one of the days. But of course, it'll be fun no matter what. It's actually often easier to get around by myself, when all is said and done. :)
  • Speaking of being done, I think that's the last of my updates for now.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lakes and Falls

Saturday brought about a good day to drive around and see part of the scenery around Rochester. We drove up to Sea Breeze, NY, which as the name might imply (and might not, for that matter) is right on Irondequoit Bay up on Lake Ontario. We did some letterboxing in a park nearby and then continued around to see (a very small part) of Lake Ontario.

Then we went to the DCA Drum Corps World Championships, right down the street at Paetec Park in Rochester. The DCA is apparently the level below the self-proclaimed "major league of drum corps" which is DCI. But it was fun to go watch. We heard some good bands, and saw some good performances.

Sunday we headed over to Buffalo and then up to Niagra Falls. The falls were spectacular. The funny part to me is how the American side of the falls is a state park, with lots of green landscape and trees, whereas the Canadian side of the falls is mass commercialization. We started at the Horseshoe falls on the U.S. side and proceeded to walk all the way around through the crowded Labor Day Weekend masses, to the American Falls, and over the bridge to Canada. Most of the pictures you see of the falls are all taken of the American Falls from the Canadian side. But once you cross into Canada you feel like you've walked onto the Las Vegas strip, with wall-to-wall stores, Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood, wax museum, well, every other tourist trap attraction you could imagine. Nice to see capitalism is alive and well in Canada. We walked past most of that and walked up the Canadian side of the river, then turned around and headed back where we came from. Noticing the final insult, a 50-cent toll to leave Canada and get back into the U.S., we made our way back and after spending about 4 hours exploring the falls, headed back home.

A note of warning to those viewing my online photo album: there are about 3 dozen pictures of Niagra falls, from all different angles. No, I don't expect anyone to think half of the pictures are any different from the other half of them, but hey, some turned out better than others, why be picky? :)

Monday was Labor Day, though having a holiday in the middle of a vacation doesn't really feel much different than anything else. Today we went to a minor league baseball game between the Rochester Red Wings (AAA-Minnesota) and the Buffalo Bisons (AAA-Cleveland) in Rochester. Yes, that's bisonS with an S on the end... apparently rules of plurality don't matter when it's a sports team. It was a fun game to go to, about 10,000 fans showed up for the final game of the season, where neither team had any chance of making it to the playoffs, but the home team Red Wings were victorious 8-5.

After we returned we had dinner with some friends of the Gingras' from their church. And now it's time to wind down and get things ready to head home tomorrow night. It's been a nice vacation, but it's about time to head home, me thinks. Hopefully my airport adventures aren't too adventurous either.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Rochester to Syracuse

The day started with what you're supposed to do on vacation, sleep until you can't sleep any more. So that's what we all did. Once we got up in the morning, er, afternoon, Andrew and I headed over to the George Eastman House. As the name implies, it was Eastman's mansion he built in Rochester with all his money he made from the Kodak company. A slightly eccentric, slightly insane person, if you ask me, he had lots of pretty crazy ideas. But he also was a big fan of music and, well, photography obviously. His mansion, however, was like walking though a real life game of Clue. Every time I went into a room, I half expected to see a dead body on the floor. Fortunately, we did not find any. Nor did we find any secret passages, which I have to say was quite a disappointment. There was also a special exhibit of Ansel Adams photography. While some of that was interesting, I have to say that of all art forms, photography is probably the least thrilling to me. But it was still an interesting place to visit.

After that we walked back to Andrew's parents place, and got ready to head out to Syracuse for the football game. It took a good 2 hours to get out there, both with the traffic, waiting at the I-90 toll booths (yes, it seems wrong to me too), and passing by the New York State Fair which was going on just outside of Syracuse. We made it through the sea of orange everywhere and pulled into a parking garage, we made our way up towards the Carrier Dome, walking past the Sheraton where the UW Warm-Up party was. The band had just played and was hanging out on the lawn just past so we stopped and said hi to the few remaining people we knew, as well as Brad and the crew. We made our way across the Syracuse campus, which is actually quite a nice campus, and over to the Carrier Dome for the game.

The Carrier Dome reminds me of the Kingdome, in as much as it's a big, round, cement monstrosity with a domed roof. OK, so not quite as big, but still a monstrosity. But we found our seats, near the back of the UW section, just behind and to the side of the UW Band. The game was quite an adventure, but a rousing success with a 42-12 UW victory. Looks like some good potential for the UW season, now we'll just have to see how we do against Boise State and Ohio State in the next two weeks. Some of the non-game highlights were watching the Syracuse fans filter out and become virtually non-existant by the time the game was over. Before the game started, the Husky legend, the Dawgfather himself, Don James, comes and takes his seat in the UW section, as thunderous applause comes from the rest of the Husky fans in attendance. Though apparently, Real Dawgs Wear Yellow, as DJ decided to wear a canary yellow polo. :) I guess he can wear whatever he wants.

The band made quite a post-game performance to a vastly empty Carrier Dome, as the UW fans started to filter out. Syracuse's band wasn't much to be impressed by, at least by Husky Band standards. Though Syracuse band members seemed to enjoy the Husky Band's post-game performance too, as they watched on.

After the game, it was another 2-hours or so getting back to Rochester, with a late night stop at McDonalds for some much needed food. Then much sleep ensued. All in all, a highly successful day of vacation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Time to Play!

Today I am fully adjusted to East Coast time. Woke up around 8am, and after lazing around all morning long figuring out what we wanted to do, Andrew and I went over to Rochester's own Strong National Museum of Play. That's right, of play. It's not exactly a full-fledged children's museum, but it's mostly a place where parents with children would go. Fortunately, Andrew and I like to play nearly as much as little kids do, so we fit right in.

Words can't exactly do the place justice, so I'll refer you to my photo archives for a detailed trip report. But some of the highlights included:
  • Sesame Street - a reasonably accurate replica of Sesame Street itself, complete with lots of interesting history and facts about the show, and of course hands on fun for the kids.
  • National Toy Hall of Fame - some of the finest collections of classic toys and games you'll ever find. We had fun walking a Slinky down the stairs, as well as building some fine Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys stuff along the way. Fun stuff.

After spending close to 4 hours at the museum, we left and came back home. The rest of the evening was pretty laid back, relaxing and pretending we're on vacation. Sometimes vacations can just be relaxing.

Tomorrow we will eventually head over to Syracuse for the big game. Game starts at 8pm Eastern, so it will be a late night getting home. Hopefully a victory for the Dawgs, but then an hour and a half drive back, will be nothing short of a late night arrival back in Rochester. Saturday should be a somewhat recovery day before we head up to Niagra Falls on Sunday.

Until then... Go Dawgs!

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Yes, that's a complete grammatically correct sentence, and a fitting start to my Upstate New York trip blog.

It was the best of flights, it was the worst of flights. It all began with a red-eye flight out of Seattle on Tuesday night. My $200 roundtrip flight to Buffalo, NY makes up for the fact that it was a) a red-eye, b) Seattle - Buffalo, with a 3-hour early-morning layover in Atlanta, and c) AirTran Airlines. All things considered, it worked out pretty well. My flight left on time, if not a bit early at 9:45pm on Tuesday night, and it was a pretty peaceful flight, on which I sat in the exit row next to the window. This has its advantages, and its disadvantages. I had plenty of leg room, so could easily stretch out and not feel squished in like sardines. However... being next to the window exit, way up in the sky it was surprisingly cold. Which was fine until you leaned against the side of the airplane, and nearly froze your leg off. Either way, after arriving in Atlanta a full 30+ minutes early (not exactly an advantage when you already have a scheduled 3-hour layover), I wandered around the surprisingly busy airport at 5:30am, found myself some early morning Chick-Fil-A breakfast, and pretended I wasn't really still awake at 3am Pacific Time.

Truth be told... I was really still awake at 3am Pacific Time... and 4am... and 5am, when finally my flight from Atlanta to Buffalo left. As I boarded the plane and made my way back to my seat in 18A, a little boy was sitting in my seat next to his mom. She asked if she could trade seats with me so she could sit next to her son. I was happy to help, and she gave me her seat in 1C, at the very front of the plane in "Business Class". Honestly, I would have probably traded seats with her regardless of where her seat was, but this was just icing on the cake.

Now, AirTran's "Business Class" is nothing to be too excited about. The seats are larger and have a bit more leg room (though probably no more leg room than my exit row seat did on the previous flight), and you get free booze. Well, that's great, but at 8am EDT, or 5am PDT, I was not really there to take advantage of the free alcohol. I did, however, sleep almost the entire 1.5 hour flight to Buffalo.

All in, I probably slept about 3.5 hours over the course of the night. I made it to Buffalo, and Andrew, who had coordinated his flight from Birmingham to arrive nearly the same time as mine, arrived shortly after, and his mom had come to pick us up from the airport.

We drove back to Rochester, though I saw no winged buffalo along the way, and then spent the day exploring around Rochester, and going grocery shopping. Normally grocery shopping isn't too noteworthy, but we went to Wegman's. Now, Wegman's is a chain of grocery stores that started in Rochester, but now has stores as far south as Virginia, and is often ranked the best supermarket chain in the US. We went to the Cadillac of Wegman's, their flagship store. This place is like a Costco-sized Whole Foods, only not quite as creepy as either. I took a handful of pictures, before they threw me out of the store for taking pictures. OK, I didn't quite get thrown out, but they man at the Cheeses of the World counter told me I couldn't take pictures in the store. I still never understand why some stores have those silly policies, but I guess whatever makes them happy.

Back to the house we came. Now, the best way I can describe this house is if you've ever seen a classic brick rowhouse somewhere in New England, with all its old-world charm and style, like you'd see on an episode of This Old House, but before it gets renovated. :) This specific 3-story house has been turned over the years into a 3-unit building, with Andrew's parents currently residing on the first floor. It's actually a pretty nice place, though Norm Abram and Bob Vila could turn this place into a palace, if they really wanted to.

After dinner, my lack of sleep from my travels caught up with me, and off to bed I went. More days of vacation to come.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Young Frankenstein

Tonight I went to see Mel Brooks' new world premiere musical Young Frankenstein at the Paramount Theatre. In a rare, yet becoming more common, pre-Broadway premiere here in Seattle before it heads to New York, it proved to be all that you would expect from a Broadway musical.

Based on the classic movie created in 1974, it is typical Mel Brooks vaudevillian, often slapstick comedy filled with innuendo, repeating gags, and one-liners. Now, this doesn't typically fall into my preferred comedic genre, but I still found it quite entertaining. As expected, near constant laughter filled the theatre. A Broadway-caliber cast including Megan Mullally, best known as Karen Walker from the sitcom Will & Grace, was one of the headliners, though really only because she was one of the biggest names in the cast. Her actual role was incidental to the plot, and in fact she only was on stage for perhaps one-quarter of the entire 2.5 hour show. The real showstopping performance for me was Andrea Martin, who may not have much name recognition, but made a big name for herself as crazy Aunt Voula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She provided and outstanding and absolutely hilarious performance in her supporting role.

The music, also completely composed by Mel Brooks, was as unique as the dialogue. However not particularly diverse in its style. With many recent musicals trying to set themselves apart from others by using unique styles and themes, this was a refreshing return to more traditional musical numbers. The emphasis is on the words, not the music. Though filled with musical numbers, the music isn't what defines this show.

As for the technical aspects of the show, it was probably one of the finest I have ever seen in Seattle. Its Broadway-bound budget was apparent throughout, from the sets to the costumes, and especially in some not-to-be-missed special effects that several times made me believe I was watching a movie, rather than a musical. I had several "how'd they do that?" moments.

And on to my ratings:

Script - 3 stars - I can't say I'm a big fan of this story. The movie has achieved cult-classic status, which is probably the only reason this story was compelled to become a musical.
Cast - 4 stars - This is the epitome of a Broadway cast. With a bonus 5th star to Andrea Martin.
Technical - 5+ stars - One of, if not absolutely, the finest technical production I have seen.
Music - 4 stars - Filled with songs, but none of which meet my primary criteria of being stuck in my head as I left the theatre.
Overall - 4 stars - I can't say I'd pay to see this again. The show wasn't particularly compelling to me. But it was so well produced I can't say it's not worth seeing once.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dell Urban Challenge

Earlier this week, my sister Amy told me about a promotion Dell was putting on called the Dell Urban Challenge. It sounded like a lame attempt to do an Amazing Race-style competition in 9 cities across the country, Seattle being one of them. I was reluctant at first, but seeing as I had nothing better to do, I decided to be her teammate for the race.

The race began last night with an e-mail clue to where we needed to be by 9am this morning to officially start the race.
Find the Dell Lounge at this nightclub where the main, blue, and card rooms come
together to complete the triad.

Amy easily determined this to be the Trinity Nightclub down in Pioneer Square near 1st and Yesler. She picked me up this morning and we arrived at Trinity around 8:30am. We were the first participants to arrive. We got all registered and had our first real chance to understand the complete rules of the race.

As teams registered, they would be assigned a color group and given corresponding t-shirts. The colors, coincidentally, corresponded to the 8 colors available in Dell's new line of laptop computers, consisting of white, black, yellow, red, blue, green, brown, and pink. Each team would be competing solely against the other teams of that color group on a race around the city. At the start of the race, each team would receive a series of 8 riddles, or clues, to locations around the city. At each stop, you had to get your gamecard stamped with one of the 8 stamps (each again, a color of the new laptop line) and the first team from each color group back to the starting line with all 8 stamps would win 2 brand new Dell Inspiron 1521 laptops, in any color they choose, valued at $1,253 each. Additional rules: any mode of transportation is acceptable, only one person from the team is necessary to get each stamp, but both team members must reach the finish line together.

We were assigned the color Blue and proceeded to wait around while the other teams arrived. We had no clue how many teams would be participating, and heard anything from 100 - 300 teams had pre-registered, depending on who you talked to. We proceeded to scope out the Blue competition, determine who the real threats were, and were convinced that these two bicycle messenger guys looks like the most difficult competition. Around 10am the teams were all assembled at the starting line (a Windows Vista "Start" button, classy), and we there had to have been no more than 30 teams total. That's not much competition! But we identified 5 Blue teams, including ourself, which doesn't take a math genius to determine we had about a 20% chance of winning. Not too bad. Red group was the first to start, 4 teams assembled at the starting line, and off they ran! Next up was the Brown group, but only 3 teams this time! Amy flexed her muscle with the event organizers and the Dell reps there, pointing out that there were 5 blue teams but only 3 or 4 each of the other colors. In the interest of fairness, (or something like that ;-)) Amy and I switched colors to the Yellow group which only had 3 in it. Brown started, next up was Yellow. We threw on yellow t-shirts over our blue ones and lined up at the starting line with the other 3 teams. AND WE'RE OFF!

Having arrived so early, we had parked at a parking meter just across the street from the club. We had the plan, Amy would drive, I would jump out and get the stamps as necessary. The 8 clues were as follows:

Come find this f-oto studio in Pioneer Square, take some pictures and show
your top model flare.

You might understand why there is such a demand if you come to this "Marine
Michaelangelo's" land.

Dancing, drinks and hanging bras; bull riding and cowgirls. Yeehaw.

Its door is one less than four with jazz music that's played around great

The name is the color of some types of grapes, and grapes are the ingredients
of some of its tastes.

This famous wall of stickiness was created because of this theatre where
patrons waited.

On your Qwest to the next location: you'll find us where you can buy sports
gear of the animal that can fly.

In the midst of the busy downtown, just a step off the street; find your Zen
in this small park-retreat. Think water, trees and concrete.

A few were easy, but we wanted to hit them in the most efficient order to save time. Our modus operandi was to keep moving, figuring out the next clue while we're driving to the ones we know. Fortunately, we had both secured our "phone-a-friend" lifelines to handle any Google searching we needed. Amy's friends proved one thing, they can't Google worth a darn. Fortunately I called upon my long-distance phone-a-friend Andrew all the way in Birmingham, Alabama to save the day and do research on those clues we didn't know.

Flying down to 1st Avenue, clue #3 was obviously Cowgirls, Inc. a club Amy knows well, we pulled up to the stop light, I jumped out got the stamp and jumped back in before the light turned green. Following down to the Seahawks team store at Qwest Field, Amy pulled a questionably-legal left turn around a car waiting in the turn lane to knock off clue #7. After a quick spin around back to 1st Avenue, we headed towards the Triple Door jazz club (clue #4) on 2nd and Union, but on our way Andrew decrypted clue #6 to be a reference to the Gum Wall in Post Alley at Pike Place Market. I jumped out and ran a few blocks around to cover the length of Post Alley on foot, only to have that "duh" moment when I realized the clue was referring to the Market Theatre which is at the other end which I later tracked down. We continued up to knock off clue #4 at the Triple Door (which we were the first team overall to reach, always a good sign), and then zigzagged a couple blocks down to 4th and University where Amy knew of a wine bar named "Purple" which was the solution to clue #5. We dropped back down to 1st Avenue, and caught the Wyland Gallery (Wyland is a marine life artist known as the Marine Michaelangelo) which Andrew pointed out was about a block south of the Seattle Art Museum around 1st and Seneca as clue #2. As we were driving south on 1st Ave. we were stopped at a light and looking everywhere, until we looked right to the side of us and saw the trademark lime-green shirts of the Dell challenge workers. I jumped out and got the stamp while Amy maneuvered over to the curb. Back to the car, with only 2 clues left, which we determined were both in Pioneer Square, we high tailed it back and tracked down the Waterfall Park (clue #8) on 2nd and Main. Andrew's incredibly resourceful google searching decrypted clue #1 to be "The F-Stop" photo studio about a block from the finish line. We decided to drop back and park in the same place we started, and while Amy parked the car I ran out to track down the final stamp. After running up and down the block, Amy came back and met up with me, finish line clearly visible across the street, all the staff cheering us on, and we finally found a small non-descript sign above a door. We went down the stairs and found the final stamp there (and much to our surprise, found out that we were the very first team to find it). We got the stamp and raced back across the street in glorious Amazing Race form, to the thunderous cheers of the green-shirted staff waiting to validate our results.

AND IT'S OFFICIAL! If Phil Keoghan from the Amazing Race were there it would go something like this... "Joe and Amy... you're the first team to arrive!" We not only were the first yellow team to arrive, but also the first team overall, defeating both the Red and Brown teams who started before us. Right on our heels the first Red team arrived and Brown shortly thereafter. Much celebration occurred as we all would be the proud recipients of new Dell laptop computers.

The organizers severely underestimated the resourcefulness of the Seattle teams, as they had expected the challenge to take 90 minutes or so, though after our team starting at around 10:12am, we actually finished shortly after 10:45 about 35 minutes later. We have to send in notarized affidavits of eligibility this week and then sometime after will receive information about how to order our new laptops. Woohoo!

The Dell marketing reps who attended the competition were pleased with the results and the excitement of the event. They were in communication with the events going on concurrently in New York, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and apparently heard similar positive reports from the other sites (and also a lot more participation than Seattle). Amy and I may have to participate at the next challenge. :)

I don't think we would have been nearly as successful without the successful team of Amy's mad driving skills and her maneuverable Dodge Neon, my crazy running all over, and Andrew's amazing puzzle solving and Googling skills. Andrew will receive an appropriate reward for his services. :)

Much video and photos were taken, and we were told to expect to see a fair bit of post-event promotion on the Dell Lounge website in the coming weeks and months. I'll be sure to post some updates if it appears.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Will It Blend?!

I was introduced to a most outstanding website today...

All I can say is... GENIUS! The site is produced by this company called BlendTec, who coincidentally enough, makes high-quality blenders. It appears that their marketing department decided to backup their claims that their products can "blend anything" by doing just that, blending everything!

They have a series of nearly 60 short episodes of a show they call "Will It Blend?" The episodes fall into two categories "Try this @ Home" and the far more entertaining "Don't Try This @ Home." It is hosted by a man who is purported to work in their labs, and I wouldn't doubt this to be true. But he is the epitome of a cheesy mad scientist. What tops it off is that the episodes are professionally produced and edited, complete with ultra cheesy (and oddly catchy) theme music.

Must see blends:

EZ Cheese
Glow Sticks
Magnets (not so much for the result, but for the comedy)
McDonalds Extra Value Meal (again, not for the result, but this time for the yuck)

Until next time folks, keep it smoothie!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sing That Tune!

It was an inevitable combination, the beloved pastime of karaoke meets game shows. What couldn't be expected is that two networks premiered different karaoke-themed game shows the same week.

Last night, NBC premiered "The Singing Bee" hosted by former boy band member-turned-dancing star Joey Fatone. The format is much as the title implies, like the familiar spelling bee. A panel of contestants move on by correctly filling in the missing lyrics, or if they miss they're eliminated, until there is one. The winning player plays a "bonus round" of sorts where they can earn the top prize of $50,000 for correctly answering 5 out of 8 missing song lyrics.

The concept is good, and fits well within a half-hour format, and is actually surprisingly entertaining to watch. Joey Fatone is no great host by game show standards, but he is entertaining and fits well with the excitement and theme of the show.

Tonight, not to be out done, FOX premiered "Don't Forget The Lyrics!" hosted by another man known for music, Wayne Brady. While it also has its roots in karaoke, it is vastly different from "Bee". First, it uses the familiar money ladder ripped off from Millionaire, with the top prize of $1,000,000 if you answer 10 missing lyrics correctly. You also have 3 lifelines, or as they are called, "backup singers," if you need help along the way.

Wayne Brady does a decent job and is pretty funny, though you know he just wants to join in and start singing along with them. Also in a half-hour format, it would fit much better stretched into an entire hour. The premiere's contestant only made it through 5 lyrics before the episode completed, and you can't really expect to watch every episode to keep up. If you're going to have a half-hour show, at least finish a contestant in a half-hour.

Despite the differences, there are a lot of similarities between the two shows. First, both feature live bands, though the Bee's house band was far superior. The songs used were all hits that most anyone would know, and the missing lyrics weren't too obscure and usually came from the chorus. Though I don't find it particularly compelling splitting hairs about every "well", "and", or other extra syllable in the lyrics. Don't Forget did a much better job of handling this, by limiting the answers to a small set of words that usually didn't involve such minor bizarrities.

One of my biggest issues with Don't Forget is that the contestant sings the entire verses leading up to the missing line. I do NOT need to hear a bad singer trying to muddle her way through a song, if I wanted that I'd watch American Idol. Fortunately Bee resolves that by having professional singers as part of the band, who sing everything up until the missing lyrics along with the contestant, who you can barely hear. This makes it much more like listening to a great cover band than a bad karaoke night. Seriously, karaoke is all about hearing people you know sing bad, not people you don't know.

The Bee also included some gratuitous dancers, who I think were all previously laid off from Shatner's short-lived "Show Me the Money." While I didn't really understand the purpose, they certainly added to the exciting and upbeat setting of the show.

Overall, I think The Singing Bee comes far closer to the mark than Don't Forget The Lyrics! does. Neither is perfect, but I'll actually set the DVR for the former.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Just a few random articles in today's news media:

Hypocricy Lives On - ["Bork v. Bork" (Editorial), New York Times, 6/14/2007]

No Nuts for You! - ["German squirrel on a rampage injures 3 people", MSNBC, 6/14/2007]

Satisfaction Guaranteed! - ["Man in pants lawsuit: Customer is always right", MSNBC, 6/14/2007]

Put it in your radiator, just don't put it in your mouth - ["Counterfeit Colgate toothpaste recalled", MSNBC, 6/14/2007]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Update, Vegas, and More

It's been a rather busy past two weeks, which requires a bit of an uber-update. This update is brought to you by Google Calendar... the only way to remember what I did the past two weeks.

West Side Story

Went and saw West Side Story at the 5th Avenue Theatre last Tuesday. As expected, an outstanding show which was worth of its own entire writeup, but I was a slacker. Few people don't know at least one song from the show, and hearing it all live was quite the exciting experience. I had very little to complain about, and much to praise. The original Jerome Robbins choreography was performed with oustanding athleticism and skill. What can I say?

Music - 5 stars, with an outstanding full orchestra to boot!
Cast - 4 stars, some great performances by some great actors.
Technical - 4 stars.
Overall - 4 stars. Nothing to complain about, but it wasn't quite as polished as you'd expect from a major Broadway production. That's not to say it's not worth seeing, even more than once.

Las Vegas

In what seems to have informally become an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas with my Dad, this year my sister decided to come along too which was fun. In my many Vegas vacations, I've determined that 3 nights is too long, which is why I opted for 2 nights this time, which decidedly was an excellent plan. However, the adventure began somewhat slowly with the plane out of Seattle boarding about 40 minutes before the scheduled departure, only to depart 1 hour behind schedule. You do the math. It seemed everything was working against us. First the original pilot apparently became seriously ill, and the replacement was stuck on a ferry trying to get to the airport. He arrived shortly thereafter. Then during the pre-flight checks, they found--and don't miss the direct quote here--that "the plane came straight out of the hangar, but they forgot to change the blue water" that is used in the toilet system, and thus we had to wait while they serviced that. FINALLY we were ready to go, and the man on the push tug that backs the plane up had a broken headset so had to get a replacement before he could push the plane out. Something was working against us, but we finally got out and off to the desert.

Amy and I decided we wanted to go see The Beatles' LOVE, one of the newest Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas, and bought a ticket for Dad for Father's Day. On Sunday night we went and saw the show, and it was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. I've seen one other Cirque show over 10 years ago, Mystere, which was the first show in Vegas to feature that crazy Canadian acrobatic troupe. Much of the same bizarre antics were seen in LOVE, everything from bouncing off trampolines, dangling from ropes, and countless other amazing things that make you even more impressed once you realize that those spinning things dangling from the ceiling are actually people. LOVE is unique in that it feature zero live music. The entire soundtrack was developed from original Beatles master tapes and assembled specifically for the show. The advantage here is that you know most of the songs right off the bat, unless you've been living under the rock of pop culture for the past several decades. The creative visual interpretations of the music in the show would be exciting whether you're a Beatles fan or not, but even more so if you like the music. As most shows in Vegas go, it's worth every penny, though it'll cost you a whole lot of them to see it. I'd absolutely see it again.

As for the rest of the vacation, it was a good time. As usual, I redistributed money within Vegas by winning from the rich and losing to the richer. Not very Robin Hood-like, but tis better than losing to everyone. :) But on the other hand, I'll be heading back to work tomorrow... no life-changing jackpots for me... but having a nice relaxing vacation was more than sufficient.

Now back to the daily grind. And I've spent too long writing this, and it's time to sleep. :)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Alaska Airlines - New Hawaii Service

Alaska Airlines announced new non-stop service from SEA-HNL and SEA-LIH (Lihue, Kauai)starting in October. First of all, for anyone from Seattle who likes to travel to Hawaii, this is a great deal.

More importantly, they've released introductory fares for the routes. SEA-HNL service starts October 12th with Mon-Thurs fares at $236.30 Round Trip after all taxes. What a steal!

Anyone who knows me knows I'm less than enthusiastic about Hawaii... but more enthusiastic about a huge fare sale. I've decided to go down for the UW/Hawaii football game on December 1st this year, leaving Thursday returning Monday. Can't beat that.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Imagineering the Music update

Avid blog readers will remember my post from a couple weeks ago regarding the talk I attended with Marty Sklar of Walt Disney Imagineering. Well, Disney news and information is one of the hottest blog topics on the net it seems, and my brief recap was recently picked up by The Disney Blog, an outstanding resource which seems to scour the web for Disney bits and bites. (And scour he must, especially if he found my little home on the blogosphere.) While I follow a good number of Disney blogs, I'm ashamed to say I never previously encountered The Disney Blog, though have quickly added it to my daily blog roundup I check everyday.

It makes me wish I had more to say about the talk... but alas, I have a horrible memory and didn't write much down. Next time I have the opportunity to see something through, I'll certainly have to take better notes to share with the blogging world. :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Random updates

It's been a while since I just posted a random collection of bits of things that have been happening lately... so here it is:

On the apartment front, I had a note on the door this morning that due to the construction on the street the power will be out today from 9-2. While this won't really affect me since I'm not there, it's nice short notice for those who perhaps, work from home? I'm not sure if it has to do with the impending repaving work on the street (they've been working on curbs and street corners nearby), or the house that they totally demolished across the street to make way for what appears to be yet another giant mixed-use commercial/residential building, probably exactly like the other one they're building two blocks down the street or the two they just built two blocks up the street.

Also included on this notice was that within the next 60 days they will be starting construction on my own building. (?!) They will be replacing all of the carpet in the internal hallways of the building, as well as completely remodelling the front entryway and lobby. This isn't a bad thing I suppose, though the carpet isn't exactly falling apart, and the entry is probably better looking than many other buildings I've visited, so I have to wonder. Are they just beefing this place up so they can sell it? Are they doing this just to have something to point to when they raise everyone's rent again? Or perhaps they just want to keep the building in good shape. This is, afterall, the same building management who replaced my water heater two years ago, not because it had stopped working, but because it was "old and should be replaced". So it could just as well be their routine maintenance on the building and I shouldn't really worry. Time will tell.

Today at work is a complete wash. We've got meetings most of the morning, then this afternoon we have a big off-site release party for our latest software release. Fortunately, I don't mind a day of complete unproductivity. :) In related news, this month I completed 4 years with the company, which normally wouldn't mean much, but in this company it means that I now get 4 weeks of vacation per year. To steal a phrase from my sister, "I love me my vacation." Now I just need to figure out what my next big vacation will be.

Back to not working...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Webapalooza I

Realizing there are some web sites I frequent but nobody else has ever heard of, I introduce Webapalooza, a brief introduction to sites I think are great and worth knowing about.

Travel-related web sites:

Kayak - - One of the best airfare search engines out there, though also does hotels, cars and more. Unlike some other travel sites, Kayak does no booking, but rather helps you find the cheapest flights then takes you directly to the site to book it. Similar to some others out there, but I find Kayak far superior. Definitely worth checking out.

Travelocity - - I'm not a huge fan of these consolidated booking sites, but I do use Travelocity for one good feature they have. If you are simply looking to find what the cheapest airfare to a destination is, regardless of when you want to go. To find that, enter the origin and destination, but instead of entering dates click "Flexible Dates". You'll get a list of all airfares on all available airlines. If you're looking for the absolute cheapest fares, this is a good place to start. Never book it on Travelocity though, go directly to the airline's website.

FareCompare - - This is a relatively new site on the web travel landscape. It's unique in that it keeps a decent airfare history for every route, which helps you know how good a good deal really is. It seems to have much the same use as how I use Travelocity, and may be a bit better.

SeatCounter - - SeatCounter is designed for one specific purpose, to see flight availability by fare bucket. This is useful mainly to figure out availability for frequent flyer award tickets and such, and really you have to deeply understand how airfares work to find this site useful. :) But I use it.

Site59 - - The place to look for last-minute airfares. If you're looking to book tickets for travel within the next 3 weeks, you can get some incredible deals here. One caveat is that you must either get Air+Hotel or Air+Car together, but even at that it's usually cheaper than buying the exact same airline ticket alone from another site.

Disney-related web sites:

MiceAge - - THE definitive site for the latest news on Disney theme parks. A lot of underground Disney news breaks here before it even publically released by Disney. Other news and reviews from a great team of reviewers and reporters. I keep it on my daily web rundown.

MouseSavers - - This site always has the latest Disney deals and discounts. I mainly use this to keep up on the latest deals for Disney parks, but it also has deals for other Disney-related merchandise, as well as the other theme parks around. Definitely a must-see next time you're trying to plan a Disney vacation.

AllEarsNet - - A one-stop shop for all things Disney World. They have a bit of a section on Disneyland too, but are much more focused on Orlando. This is one of the oldest web sites dedicated to WDW, and as such has a HUGE amount of information, all consistently updated.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Imagineering the Music

Tonight I attended a talk at the EMP with Marty Sklar, former president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Talk about a man with some stories, he has worked at at WDI for over 50 years, and started way back as a writer for Walt Disney himself. You quickly realize that he's been involved in some way with nearly every project that Disney has ever undertaken, and certainly has plenty of stories to go along with them.

He began with a perpared multimedia presentation, including some talks about the history of Imagineering, but then the second half of the presentation really focused on the music used throughout all of the parks. Several themes came through during the presentation, most notably his real love for Epcot, the park that he really shaped. I think there were little bits from nearly every ride's soundtrack at Epcot. It was really a well-imagineered presentation.

But then following his 45-minute or so presentation, he took a few questions, that actually amounted to at least another 45-minutes. Fortunately there were quite a few good questions that came from others in the audience, and Marty had a story for every one of them. One of the more entertaining quotes was in response to a question regarding the relative failure of Disney's California Adventure:

"You can't build a park with 18 attractions next to Disneyland with over 70 attractions and charge the same price. People are too smart for that."

I really got the impression that those in Imagineering really care about the work they do, it's really what you expect. They've proven time and again that if you build it well, people will come, but if you cut corners like the executives with MBAs seem to like to do to save a few bucks, you'll lose in the end. Funny how that seems to be a common trend you see everywhere.

It was a fascinating and entertaining talk, and since I'm an EMP member it was free, except for the $6 I had to pay for parking down at Seattle Center. Oh well, it was still worth it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


A belated review of last Wednesday's performance of Rent at the Paramount. This is the fourth performance of Rent I have attended, all of which have been on the various touring productions that have come to Seattle over the past 10 years, which seats it firmly at the top of my list of most-viewed musicals. As such, this review is going to be a bit more detailed than most of my other musical reviews, and most of my references will probably only make sense to those who have seen the musical before (or to some extent the movie, which does the musical no justice whatsoever).

As always, Rent draws quite the diverse audience, including many of the non-regular theatre goers. In this case, quite the younger crowd was represented, with many high-school and even younger kids attending a show which would easily get an R-rating from the MPAA (though notably, the movie received a PG-13 rating, no thanks to editing a lot of the dialogue and scenes). Despite this, I think most of the younger crowd dressed more appropriately for the theatre than the "Seattle casual" some of the older folks tend to wear (as I've ranted on in previous blogs). If only their theatre ettiquette matched their attire. But overall, I wasn't bothered too much by the audience around me.

As for the show, overall I'd have to say it was probably the weakest of the productions I've seen. That's not to say it was bad, I just have a lot to compare it to. Of course, there are some constants that don't change, including the script and scenery, all of which has been the same across all productions I've seen. That leaves the differences to the band and the cast, which I will detail now:

Primary cast -
Mark: Good work, I enjoyed his performance... I thought he really captured the demeanor of the character better than some others.

Roger: Came to the tour straight from the London production... and it shows. London audiences probably think nothing of the fact that he has a British accent, in a musical set entirely in the slums of New York City. I wasn't at all impressed with his performance. It was obvious he had worked hard at covering up his accent with a more American one, but frequently it would come through. I also noticed his singing was a bit reserved, which surprised me for such a dramatic and frequently angry role. I wanted more edge, but consider the possibility that in giving more edge, he would be unable to cover up his accent as successfully, thus he toned it down. Whatever the reason, I wasn't as thrilled by his performance.

Collins: Absolutely outstanding performance. This is the role pioneered by Jesse L. Martin (who popular culture knows mostly from his current role as Detective Green on the original Law & Order series). This role is consistently one of the strongest actors in the cast, and this one was probably the finest I've seen.

Angel: By far the most athletic and energetic performance I've seen... which many may say is what the role calls for. Personally, I think it was overdone. It was so overdone it was distracting from the dialogue/music to me.

Benny: Eh, something about him didn't thrill me. His role is designed to elicit a loathing from the audience, and this time he especially succeeded. Maybe he was too good. Either way I wasn't thrilled.

Maureen: A bit of background... the first time I saw Rent, Maureen's big protest scene was probably my least favorite part of the entire show. (In contrast, for most people it's quite the opposite reaction.) Each time I've seen it it has grown on me, and in this performance, it was absolutely hilarious. The actress who played Maureen did an absolutely outstanding job. She seemed so completely ditzy... it fit the role perfectly.

Joanne & Mimi: Both of these were good, and didn't stand out as better or worse than I've seen previously. They just didn't stand out at all.

The band: The music had a bit of a rough start. For most of the first act it felt like the band was pushing the tempo the entire time, and it was just causing a bit of tension between the music and the singers. This came back together towards the second act, but even then, the music just seemed a bit off balance at times, and while the artists were incredibly proficient, I wasn't as impressed as previously.

Overall rating: 4-stars. This is with a musical that would easily receive 5-stars from me on any other day. It definitely won't stop me from seeing it again every time it makes a stop in Seattle.