Monday, July 21, 2003

More notes from the trip (Days 4 and on) Again, please examine other articles on it before proceeding:

Something I forgot from Miller Park: Leaving the stadium, there was a band playing in the Biergarten as we passed, playing some pseudo-jazzy rock instrumental. At the same time, Ned Yost's postgame press conference came through a speaker. The result sounded almost exactly a track off of a Cake album.

Okay, Day 4.
Sioux City Stadium: I give great credit to the folks at the stadium for putting up with us. We asked if we could pick up some souvenirs. I went after another hat, this time with the letter "X" on it. I had the thought, that as an ultimate pranking of the world some day, in the tradition of human chess and giant scale Monopoly, I should try to arrange human Scrabble. (100 baseball caps, each with appropriate letters). The budgetary constraints, of course, kill the notion for me.
Corn Palace 1: Okay, Craig brought up the picture but I have to point out how much it bothered me. If you're going to what purports to be the Corn Palace, you would expect it to have, thematically, corn everywhere. The fact that the vending machine contents are predominantly potato-based, is incredibly disillusioning to me. Even if you grant them corn syrup (which I will), they don't even get to 50% corn content there. Yes, it's crazy, but it bothers me.
Corn Palace 2: They have a special exhibit dedicated to the farmer who has supplied them with different color corn for decades. This was the impressive bit for me. He has collected various strains from around the world and bred them to get them beyond yellow, and black, to shades of red, blue, and in development, orange. The whole design of the Corn Palace reminds me of my Christmas time job of sugaring cookies (where I end up striving for as much realism as the pointillism of crystal sugar will allow.) That this guy gives them the ability to shade their presentations with additional color means he gets my approval.
Driving across South Dakota: If it weren't for billboards, South Dakota would be amazingly bleak. With the billboards, however, it becomes incredibly amusing. I kept getting upset at the ads for "Reptile" Gardens. The first billboard I saw had a spider on it. The second, a rainforest frog. In fact, we saw something like 10 billboards for this, and it wasn't until we got within 20 miles of it that they even hinted, via pictures on ads, that they actually had reptiles.
Wall Drug: Much like the Disney oblasts and as we later discovered, Vegas, the Wall Drug staff have name tags that indicate where they are from. Very strange. I fulfilled another childhood necessity here, I collected patches for all the states I hadn't been in before for the trip. (Save New Mexico, which I forgot about.) As a small child, I collected these obsessively for a denim vest I had. Now I've got more patches than space for a vest.
The Badlands: Wow. I got involved in fluid mechanics in college because of how cool the patterns were, and because if I had tea in a glass mug I could watch the dynamics. The Badlands are another cool example. You can see where the air took away the rock, you can see where the water took away the rock. Very cool, but I still wouldn't want to live there.

Day 5:
Mount Rushmore: Giant stone heads are works of art that engineers can appreciate. Neoclassicism meets high explosives, I like it. Also it's very cool to see the slope of rocks that were blown off, and note exactly how large the trees that have grown in the waste have become, and how tenacious those trees must be.
Crazy Horse: I almost like this one much more, because it's still in progress. There's something very cool about the notion that I can come back in about 50 years, and point out to future progeny: "Yeah, it's still not quite a horse yet.
Somewhere in Colorado: We have perhaps the bleakest Mexican meal ever. I can't be sure, but I think the entire town was in the restaurant with us, and there were only four people there.
Nebraska: It's South Dakota, minus the amusing billboards. Carhenge WAS the high point.
Sonic in Fort Collins: Why couldn't this have been the southern chain to move into Washington County? (I don't really know if it's southern or not. All I know is in previous travels it's had the same ecological niche as Waffle House.) Green chiles on cheeseburger, strong. Coconut slush, strong, blue does not mean raspberry there.

Day 6:
The Guns Guns Guns Shop: What utterly made this was other sign that I missed photographing. A sign that said "Safe's Homeland Defense." It was almost like I was home.
Mascots at altitude: Man, we were whacked out. I can only blame lack of oxygen.
Boulder's Mall: The previous gold standard I saw for bad mall collapse was either Parkway Center Mall in Pittsburgh (lost all its anchor stores simultaneously), or Village Square Mall in South Hills (lost its anchors, and finally decided to close the interior of the mall, and only have exterior stores. It's doing okay now, but it was touch and go.) This was an amazing collapse. Not only was it larger than the other two I had seen, but this looked like it had taken out the center of town in the process.
Pearl Street: Certain things will irritate me and push me further to the ideological right. If you want an example, consider the sign I saw in Boulder at the pedestrian mall.


I may have missed the count on "blahs" but I think I have the gist right. The last thing you should ever be when panhandling is be smug. Clever is nice, cutting through the bull of the transaction is nice, but I'm not giving you money.
Coors Field: I've now eaten sushi in two ballparks, in locations where I should know better. I can't argue against $1 seats. (even though it was due to us spending $50 at a Rockies store hours before, especially when it gave me a chance to add the letter V to my possible Scrabble game.) I can argue against the Santa hat giveaway. I called a quality seasonal pimp hat, sight unseen, because I realized how fraught and limited in usage the concept of velour finish purple cloth can be.
Leaving Denver: The 11:20 SportsCenter radio comes on. "Pittsburgh Pirate Randall Simon has been arrested..." Once again, a Pirate screws up, and does so in the most ridiculous, deranged, embarrassing, and yes, funny method possible. It's the reverse of Red Sox fans. They expect these things to happen, and can't rationally explain why they happen. Pirate fans don't expect these things to happen (who could predict this), but we certainly, immediately can trace why this happened.

Day 7:
Silverthorne 1: Good grief, Randall's on CNN.
Silverthorne 2: Combustion is harder than you would expect at high altitudes. But that doesn't make it impossible. An attempt to prove this generates my best line of the trip, mostly due to my delivery in the style of Travolta in Broken Arrow: "Can you please not light a fire next to the gas station...thanks." Very low-key, and with that, I just piled in the van.
Moab 1: We were all set to eat at a restaurant (not the one offering the finest sushi of the Utah desert), when we find they are not open for lunch. This despite them having a very clearly lit neon sign marked Open. Are neon signs not binding contracts in Utah? We never found out the answer.
Moab 2: Why are snow cones so good? I don't know. There is a fundamental simplicity in ice+syrup, but there's so much more to it. All I know is that I had my third and fourth snow cones of the trip in Moab, and with the temperatures in the low 100's I needed every bit I could have.
Moab 3: We spent most of the way to Moab arguing which route to take down to Four Corners and then to Las Vegas. Eventually we decide to ask the locals. The overwhelming response is, on the return trip, come back through Moab and go back to 70. It wasn't so much that the road was better, it was that if the car broke down, your bodies might be found. Nice.
Four Corners 1: The original plan for Four Corners was for US to play Twister there. 100 degrees basically killed that idea, if we had brought a Twister mat rather than the dots, we would have needed tools to scrape the mat off.
Superstition Mountains: I just want to note that it was midnight, the elevation was high, and it was still 100 degrees outside the car.
Four Corners 2: It occurs to me that the overwhelming message of the Las Vegas "What goes on here, stays here" ads is that Vegas apparently doesn't obey extradition treaties.
Las Vegas: The first thing we encounter in the lobby of the hotel is two people definitely acting out a financial transaction, complete with purchase of room, and an order of 7 and 7. Going up to our room, my only thought was "You ain't in Nebraska any more, Mr. Kidder, you ain't in Nebraska any more."

Day 8:
The Strip: The original plan for some point of the trip was a long walk up and down the strip. The first steps out of the hotel stopped that idea. It was 105 in the shade. Instead we drove up to a buffet for lunch. In spite of my efforts at our training buffets at Mitchell and at Moab, I felt I was woefully unprepared for this. Technically speaking, any buffet offers the best payoff odds in the casino. Still, I only went through 3 trips. The bit that amazed me was that I didn't eat a meal again until the next morning. The only thing I can assume is: they do pump oxygen in those things.
UNLV: The interesting bit about UNLV is that it looks like it isn't there. I mean, you can see the arena, but until you're actually on the campus, you don't actually see the campus. For that reason, I kept thinking of the old SNL sketch about Winston University, a school that doesn't really exist, just splits 50-50 with you the tuition money your parents give them.

Day 9:
The conference/tournament 1: I'm not sure what to make of the attendance. While it was probably below what the organizers thought it would be, I thought it was more than well balanced by the quality of attendees. Even better, I think it's a positive step in growing quiz bowl, beyond the what is now the circuit. Before we can reasonably expect people to flock to quiz bowl, we have to make sure they know we exist. Between TRASH's work in setting this up, Kevin's appearance, and Mike's Game Show Round, they know we exist, and they know we are people they want to come together with. Even better, the teams that had never played quiz bowl before did well, once they adjusted to format.
The conference/tournament 2: It's a weird thing, playing in hotel rooms. I always have the feeling the room is too crowded (air conditioning is not designed to support nine people at once), and I'm way too used to playing sitting in desks to get my positioning right. A slightly bad thing, I guess, but I can work through it. The other bit of that that was weird was realizing people were playing games in your room while you played somewhere else. That creeped me out a little, on either end. I didn't know whether I should use the rest room (I didn't) or if someone was looking through my stuff in my room (I'm sure they weren't, but it was one of those nagging paranoias that preys at the edges of your consciousness.)

Day 10:
The conference/tournament: Hey, we won this thing! Cool.
CBS: We spent an hour serving as a test audience for pilots and pilot ads for the fall season. I don't think my opinions will be well recieved by the CBS suits (in fact I probably voided all opinions from Pennsylvania for quite a while), but you might enjoy them.
On "Joan of Arcadia": "By putting Joe Mantegna in this show you are taking away time he could be spending working with David Mamet. Please stop."
On "Rock me Baby": "Oooh, baby pee joke, edgy. Do you slackjaws not understand the white-hot passion that Americans reserve for the loathing of Dan Cortese?"
On "Two and a Half Men": "Please take the gag writers from this, and give them an original concept to work with. This is just The Odd Couple with a kid, right down to the poker game." The other guys liked it a bit more than I did, because the gags were sharp, but I just loathed the concept. It felt pre-fab as all get out. The one really good character, psycho girlfriend, simply can't last long term.
Running around before our flight: There is no truth to the rumor I was carving obscene cartouches in the Luxor bathroom. That's a dirty lie. No that's not MY book on hieroglyphics.

Day 11:
Leaving Detroit Airport: Okay, we now have billboard ads styled like Calvin Klein ads, featuring Snuggle the fabric softener bear. That's some quality cognitive dissonance. I guess the ugly rumors about his sexuality finally got to him.

Overall, I enjoyed the trip, going across the country was something I needed to do once in my life. That said, I don't think I'd do it again for a long time. As for Vegas, I'll go back if they hold it there again, but I remain convinced that it's some sort of parallel universe out there.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Okay, Craig's given a good overview of the trip (Parts one and two), and Mike is about to unleash his version, so rather than give you 50% more Rashomon, I'll just add some footnotes. Please start off reading their versions, up to day 3 and come back here when you're done.

I'll wait.....

Okay, done? Good.

Day 1:
Before we leave the Ann Arbor-Livonia metroplex: The cooler (a former Honeybaked Ham container) begins to squeak loudly from rubbing on the back seat. I immediately respond with "What's that boy... Timmy's trapped in a walk-in refrigerator?!" This immediately starts the "name the cooler" competition. Winning entry: Caleb the Cooler.
Indiana toll road: What exactly is wrong with this picture? (update: Curse you, geocities!)
Gino's East: You can tell you're deep in sausage country when the options on your deep dish pizza are to have the sausage in patties or broken up. (For the record, patties is recommended, and it makes sense given breaking it up could release more grease.)
Miller Park: We need to remember to send this one to Page 2. Separated at birth: Wes Helms and John C. Reilly.
Driving through fireworks in the night: Dave had a video camera with nightshot. It will be interesting to see how similar the scenes shot in Wisconsin with nightshot resemble embedded reporter feed.
Black River Falls, WI, Super 8: The hunting lodge theme at the Super 8 was very cool. (One of my utterly botched shots was one of the bear towering over the lobby.) However, the really cool bit was the fact that they kept their pool running until 2am (a positively unheardof time). This allowed me two things I thought I'd miss out on for the Fourth of July: swimming and fireworks.

Day 2:
Breakfast: McDonald's. Sausage biscuit. This is the fourth meal I've had involving sausage. Must cut down.
Mall of America, The cereal snack store: Realizing I need to start eating healthier, I go with a snack with a Wheaties base. While this was my best option, the notion of Wheaties in a brownie form, marshmallow fluff binding, and a layer of chocolate icing isn't a long term winner.
Mall of America, Legoland: The amazing bit of the whole thing for me was not so much the giant statues, or the ingenuity of some of the designs, no, for me the two big things for me were the fact that you had benches made out of Lego. Structurally sound, but worn through in places from sitting.
Lunch: Arby's. The sausage streak is broken, but since I had the Chicken Bacon and Swiss, the pork product chain continues. In future we'll call this Hams across America.
Sioux Falls 1: The most amazing thing to me about the Sioux Falls Storm game has to be that the game was played on the same night that there was a Sioux Falls Canaries game in town. (The Canaries are Northern League baseball.) I didn't expect the two to be willing to conflict. I certainly didn't expect them to be willing to share the same parking lot. Yes, the arena and the stadium are adjacent. It appears that neither game suffered. Go figure.
Sioux Falls 2: They kept asking the fans at the Storm game to make some noise with their thunder sticks. Problem was, aside from the 5 or 6 sets dropped from a blimp in the arena, the only thunder sticks in the stadium were being beaten by a Bismarck fan.
Sioux Falls 3: Dinner, barbeque sandwich. Pork trend continues. Dessert: Snow cone. Sioux Falls breaks out real quality snowcones, I got Margarita flavor. Only problem is under fluorescent lighting, I'm eatin' the yellow snow. (Zappa will return later in the trip.)

Day 3:
Breakfast: Omlette, with ham. Streak continues. I totally befuddle a waitress in Sioux City by asking for hot tea. I'm not exactly sure what was so frightening to her about this, but for the rest of the meal our party is eyed strangely by the diner denizens.
Driving through Sioux City: At a stop light, we find a tire store which has made a statue entirely out of tire parts. Later, while stopping for gas, we find that they have made concrete barriers more weatherproof by wrapping them in strips of cut up tires. Conclusion: much as the ancient Sioux of the Plains used every part of the buffalo, the modern Sioux of the City use every part of the tire.
Rosenblatt Stadium 1: I understand it was 100 degrees, but if the crowd we saw was typical (three digits of attendance), they're in a lot of trouble.
Rosenblatt Stadium 2: By far the most disturbing mascot we encountered in our trip had to be the Coca-Cola polar bear. The reason for this was its method of interacting with the kids. First it would greet the child, then deflate its own head. Yes, the polar bear was an inflated suit surrounding its operator. So children would be greeted by this bear creature that would wiggle its ears by deflating slightly, then once it had the poor kid's attention, it would deflate it head completely. Once the kid is scarred for life by this behavior, pop it up to full size and move on. Creepy.
Rosenblatt Stadium 3: I bought a new hat, an simple Omaha Royals "O". My reasons: I could play games with people and my other hat on the trip, the Quebec Capitales "Q" hat, and swap them when people weren't looking. I also enjoyed the notion of odd letters on hats. I passed on some of the more interesting souvenirs: the angry O symbol on some hats, the Royals tarp crew shirt with the slogan "Shut up and Pull" (thanks, Craig) with the angry O dragging what looked like a distended colon, and a Warren Buffett bobblehead. Yes, I did say a Warren Buffett bobblehead, why do you ask?
Rosenblatt Stadium 4: Extra nice touch of the Omaha scoreboard: When the opposing team huddled at the mound, the scoreboard went to a view of a stopwatch and a digital count up of elapsed time. Excellent way to speed up the game.
Rosenblatt Stadium 5: Around the sixth inning, Craig went questing for a foul ball that had ended up in the right field stands. He attempted to get past the security people, and he did convince them to let him into the empty stands. However the ball had fallen down into a gap between the outfield expansion and the regular seats. He was able to see the ball, three drunk guys fighting over it, and a book someone had left behind. Ironically, it was part of the Left Behind series. It became increasingly obvious. Low attendance, surrounded by mascots behaving bizarrely, and abandoned books....obviously the Rapture hit Omaha. It was time to move on.
Lincoln: I break the trend up with Chili Cheese Fries. After Craig had fought the mascot (Homer the Saltdog), and I recorded the event, I went to get the fries and a Coke. After returning to my seat, I am surprised by Homer who demands to see the pictures, and sits down beside us. He reviews the film, including the fun with Omaha mascots, and leaves, apparently enjoying it. Five minutes later, I realize Homer has had his revenge; in sitting down, Homer passive-agressively knocked over my Coke while he had us distracted. Curse you, Homer! Vengeance will be mine!

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I'll recap the trip when my job stops dropping on me, (figure that to be Thursday, they set a deadline of 5pm dev freeze.) Until then, I'll just make the joke I've been making since this news hit. If someone else has come up with it before I got it to you, I apologize.

Randall, that's not how you make a corn dog. Yes, I know the recipe said "batter the sausage"....

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Have vacated. Gone west.
Those of you heading to Vegas next weekend, see you there. Don't know if I'll have anything from the road.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Even money says this article won't net you two questions next year, but I find the names fascinating.

I had a magnificent ride going on my suck league team in the past month (basically rolling from middle of the pack to being within one pitcher inferno out of first), but in the past couple days it's all come crashing down. To wit, I've seen 20% of my active roster get sent to the minors. Jimmy Anderson, Ruben Quevedo, Brian Meadows, and the two that really kill me, Josh Bard, and Omar Infante. The last two really hurt as they were the majority of my offense of late (or lack there of), and most catchers and shortstops (being the two most valuable positions) have been snatched up by now. I've got backups, but I really need to solidify them before I go on the trip.

Joe mentioned the Ohio Valley Greyhounds game, but I do have to mention what I thought were a couple great punchlines for something. The first was an absolutely obvious offsides by Myrtle Beach, which prompted the response as the accused returned to the huddle: "Hey guys, the count was on two-and-a-half, right... right?" The second was when Blitz, the Greyhound mascot basically realized he had way more cookies to give out than people in our section. After he went nuts throwing cookies into the stands. We noted. "Everybody Gets Nutter Butters Night... sponsored by Oreo."

If you sum up my easily amusing faults, number one on the list (for me, at least) is that I am cheap, extremely so when it comes to myself. I absolutely hate to spend money on anything out of the ordinary, whether it's new furniture (still don't have the coffee table), books (Half Price Books is my friend), food, whatever. My key problem is I've got to be one of the few people who has buyer's remorse before even buying something. I become physically ill at the thought of spending. I don't know if it's the product of nature or nurture (both my folks have the same cheap tendencies, but I'm much worse), but it's almost to the point where it's annoying me. It doesn't matter the scale of things, I've gotten worked up about stuff costing $10. I can fight through it if I feel I'm getting a discount, but full price and I'm nauseous. This was what I had to fight through on Sunday. I got a digital camera for the trip to Vegas, but it took me a good hour just to work up the stomach to even consider the price. I drove around to five different locations, considered prices, wanted to puke, and finally got something. Not top of the line, just functional. So expect some interesting bits from the trip, maybe from the road, we'll see how it goes.

News from Vanadium Stadium: Element 110 is going to be called Darmstadtium, which incidentally will be where the Bridgeville Trolls NFL Europe affiliate will play next year.

Actual Quiz Bowl Content
1 Biography of Empress Carlotta
2 Definitions of how you derive curves from a base curve (part of the Famous Curves Index)
3 Plot summary of Cosi Fan Tutte (among others)