A Night Of Poker and Pictures

Las Vegas Boulevard was dead last night around midnight when I headed out. This is the slow season.

There comes a time in every vacation when it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with the action in the blog. That’s where I am now.

I played a little poker last night. Surprise. I was going to play at the Mirage where there is a nightly 5:00 PM tournament. There were only a dozen registered when I asked, a few minutes before the start time. I passed on that and headed across the street to the Venetian.

There was a time when the Mirage was the hotel for poker. All the big games took place here. But when Steve Wynn built Bellagio he moved the higher stakes games there. Sure Mirage expanded the room during the poker boom, but it’s not the leader it once was.

The Venetian has a 7:00 PM tournament and there were 82 entrants. Nine would cash out. I finished 12th. Sigh.

Helaine was really bushed and went to bed early. I picked up Clicky and headed down to The Strip. Though I’ve brought five lenses, I left the backpack upstairs, screwed a 10-20mm Sigma on my camera and headed out with my trip and the thought of doing some HDR photography. HDR works best where there are huge differences between the brightest brights and darkest darks.

The first three HDR shots I’ve processed are attached to the bottom of this entry.

Las Vegas Boulevard was dead last night around midnight when I headed out. This is the slow season.

The people you meet in the hotels and see on Las Vegas Boulevard are different. The hotels are intimidating and not necessarily family friendly. The Strip, on the other hand, is open-to-all and full of free entertainment. There are families and groups of people representing any ethnicity you can think of. And everyone has a camera. I’ve written about this before, but it bares repeating–nowadays everything is documented. Cameras are ubiquitous.

We’re in our last twenty four hours. Still more to do.





My job has little in the way of manual labor. I don’t lift boxes or fix cars in a hot garage. Still, I’m exhausted after a really difficult week with lots of long days.

We just installed some new weather equipment. It won’t make me more accurate, but it will allow me to make the weather presentation a little more compelling and a little more easily understood.

The new system we got replaces a few very old pieces of hardware. If you’re a computer geek, you’ll recognize the name “Silicon Graphics.” Silicon Graphics, aka SGI, was the leader in computer hardware that worked well with video.

SGI did it with proprietary hardware – meaning it was very expensive. On the other hand, our SGI “O2” and “Octane” computers were both built like brick shit houses. Can I say that?

When PCs became dirt cheap and lightning fast, SGI had a problem.

Anyway, our two SGI boxes were dead, or dying, and had to be replaced. The new PC based equipment does nearly everything&#185 the SGI machines did, but at many times the speed.

In the weather department that means it’s possible to manipulate our data and present it with a little more movement and flash.

I’ve been through these graphic upgrades in the past – more than once. It’s all incremental, with no individual upgrade being Earth shattering. Still, viewers would notice (and not in a good way) if we ever went back even a single step.

Of course the problem with new hardware is, you’ve got to learn how to use it. Then, you’ve got to learn how to integrate it into your presentation. I don’t want to use flashy stuff just to be flashy. I’m still trying to tell a story with visual aids.

I worked a 12 hour day all week. On Monday I helped with the installation. Tuesday and Wednesday I trained and prepared new graphics. This morning was supposed to be the debut. It was just the start of another 12 hour day.

At air time the going got a little rough and our original equipment was re-energized and put back on-the-air. It’s a sign of how we’ve come to accept computers as just another troubled relationship that no one was bent out of shape. It wasn’t unexpected… though it wasn’t expected either.

By 5:00 PM we had ironed out the kinks and went live.

So much of using these systems is trying to be artistically creative. I’m sure some of what I’ve done so far is is lots of effort with little reward. I’ve spent time producing graphics that just don’t make the grade.

That comes with the territory. It will take a while to understand what I can do and how it will look (even before it’s produced).

At the moment I’m mentally exhausted.

I expect to get a phone call or two over the weekend as others run into trouble. I might even have to run in for a hands on fix. I’ve got no problem with that.

I’m looking forward to Monday when the hours will be a little shorter and the challenge of this system will be fresher.

&#185 – Systems, like the one in our weather area, only have an installed base in the hundreds. The software is never finished, and always buggy, when it first comes out. Over time are all the features added (and the bugs swatted).

Right now, this system only works in a 3D world. It needs to work in both 3D and 2D simultaneously. The last sentence sounds confusing, because the whole concept is confusing… and difficult to achieve.

Radio Days

Bad news travels fast. A friend of mine, from my radio days, has been fired from a job he’s held a dozen years. That is, unfortunately, the way of radio (TV too). Few jobs have permanence. Everyone is expendable.

It’s a shame because he’s a great guy – as nice as they come. And, from the articles I’ve read, he’s taken the high road. I’m not so sure I’d be that nice.

All this got me thinking back to this special radio station where we met. It was one of the last stations to try and make a go of music on AM. We were not successful.

I started at WPEN in 1975. We were on Walnut Street between 22nd and 23rd in Center City Philadelphia. It was an old building, full of history and a few mice.

The studios were nondescript, but I do remember the fire escape. It was ostensibly used to catch a smoke and some fresh air. That it overlooked the girl’s dorm for an art college was incidental.

We played oldies. So did another station, on FM. They were the station most oldies fans listened to. It had little to do with the quality of programming and everything to do with the very real difference between AM and FM.

The reason this station holds such as soft spot in my heart is because of how well defined it was. We made no bones about it. There was nothing hip about this place. We were a rock ‘n roll oldies station – very stylized.

The most original part of our sound wasn’t our music or jocks, but our news department. Yes, we presented the news, but with verve!

Each newsman had three names on-the-air – whether they did in real life or not. Brandon Barrett Brooks, Bruce Erik Smallwood, Rod Allen Fritz and William Wellington Cole&#185 (among others) graced our air.

There was a joke that Walter Cronkite had applied for a job, but was turned down. No middle name!

Smallwood was the leader of the band. When he said “Thunderstorms,” your radio shook. He is best known for what he said when Philadelphia Electric was going to raise its rates.

“Ready Kilowatt says his costs are up, so he’s going to (pause for effect) up yours!

I loved that station. It helped define my radio career. It was a fun place to work. Those days are not coming back anytime soon.

&#185 – William Wellington Cole was actually Mumia Abu Jamal. He is my only close encounter with someone who became a convicted murderer.

Some Stuff I Don’t Want To Know

You know I get excited about Letterman’s last show before Christmas. It is Darlene Love, Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) night. My DVR is set and I will force my family to re-watch the segment… more than once.

I don’t want anything to spoil that for me.

From Page Six NY Post –

Even a guy as laid-back as Paul Shaffer can lose his cool every once in a while. At a taping Monday of tomorrow’s David Letterman Christmas show, “there were lots of nice, touching holiday moments, including Darlene Love singing with a choir amid falling snow. The show ended with a nice positive feeling,” said one audience member. “But once the show ended, Paul Shaffer stormed over to one of the people working on stage and started spewing profanities and getting in his face. A complete tantrum.” Shaffer, the leader of Letterman’s band for 21 years, was man enough to admit he lost his temper. “It was a long day. I’m an ass. I’m sorry,” he told PAGE SIX. “Late Show” executive producer Rob Burnett cracked, “I also think Paul is an ass.”

Bah humbug!

Under Siege 2 – Dark Territory

I’ve done my best to establish my slavish devotion to the cinema of Steven Seagal. In fact, I previously wrote Under Siege was the best movie ever made!

Wrong. My apologies.

The real winner is Under Siege 2 – Dark Territory.

I’m going to rave about this movie in just a second, but I have to preface that with this warning. Steven Seagal movies in general and this one in particular are violent and gory. It is gratuitous violence. It is always graphically portrayed. In many ways it is cartoon violence. In addition, there are a few scenes with strong sadistic overtones.

I would like the movies just as much if the action wasn’t as graphic – but it is.

Seagal is, again, playing Casey Ryback. He’s a Navy Seal, commando, red state patriot and smoldering tough guy, who is forced to finish his navy career as a cook. He knows his way around the kitchen, including all its cutlery. As with the original Under Siege, he can make a bomb with simple materials found around the kitchen.

That’s a talent!

The plot has to do with a rogue scientist electronically capturing a spy satellite. The satellite is also a secret deadly weapon capable of creating earthquakes on demand. How convenient. The rogue scientist is played by Eric Bogosian.

Without a doubt, Bogosian is the finest, weirdest villain ever portrayed in an action movie1. He is totally geeky and over the top. He is consciously funny – nearly breaking down the fourth wall. His kinky, curly hair only adds to his off center persona.

Let’s me answer the standard questions asked about a movie of this genre.

Seagal is bulletproof and capable of killing a few dozen of the enemies finest mercenaries without breaking a sweat. He has “MacGyver” like abilities to fashion weapons out of anything electrical or mechanical. Anyone he recruits to help him (Erika Eleniak in the first movie, Morris Chestnut this time) goes from quivering wuss to gun slinging operative in just a few minutes while becoming impervious to attack!

Of course the final scene pits Seagal against the leader of the bad guys without guns. In fact, in an exhibition of extreme machismo, both throw away the clips from the sidearms and fight hand-to-hand with very sharp knives.

I hope I’m not spoiling it, but the world is not destroyed and Casey Ryback survives the film, should another sequel ever be suggested.

I would never see one of these movies in the theater. This is TV fare – especially good on weekend nights after the rest of the family has gone to bed.

Though I’ve seen this movie a few times before, this was the first time I saw the first 5-10 minutes. Amazingly, they weren’t necessary in order to grasp the plot.

I know watching these movies must say all sorts of bad things about me, but I can’t help it. I am a slave to this genre.

1 – Though Eric Bogosian is great, the most evil villain ever portrayed in any movie of any genre is James Cromwell as Captain Dudley Smith in LA Confidential. Here was a man with no sense of humanity. Cromwell nailed the role.

Rick Springfield in Cromwell

As a married man, I understand there are certain things I should do for my wife (just as there are certain things she should do for me). A marriage is a partnership and you want your partner happy.

That’s why I scheduled a vacation day for Thursday, the date of the WTIC-FM Second Chance Prom. It’s not that either of us wanted to go to a prom (neither of us did the first time around – though only one of us was a social misfit while in high school… guess which of us it was). It had more to do with the entertainment – Rick Springfield.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog you know Helaine is a bit obsessed (though in a perfectly fine way) with him. A fan for 30 years, she is the leader of his New York City Area Street Team – a grassroots promotional organization that’s probably more responsible than any paid promotion for whatever success his latest CD and single have had.

I consider Rick Springfield a dot-com success story. With little airplay or promotion he is still able to sell out midsized venues across the country. His fan websites, run by the fans themselves, have an incredibly loyal base of users. Many of them think nothing of driving hundreds of miles to see him again and again.

From my perspective, it’s fascinating. And, it’s a method of success (and make no mistake about it – he is a success today) that didn’t exist until the advent of the Internet.

As long as I was going, and to make my wife a little happier, I offered to produce a story for the station. We’ll run on our Sunday morning news show which has a slot for celebrity interviews. Of course I was upfront in my reasons for wanting to do the story.

Thursday afternoon, Helaine, Steffie and I headed out to the Radisson in Cromwell (nice hotel – good sized room – plenty of towels). Since the prom was 21+, and Steffie is 17+, we got a room and checked in. I met up with Ronnie, Rick’s road manager, setting up the specifics of the interview. In many ways, Ronnie reminds me of Arthur (Rip Torn’s character) from the Larry Sanders Show.

By 3:30 PM Andy, my photographer, had arrived. We scouted out a vacant meeting room, borrowed a few balloon arrangements from the prom, and set up. The background wouldn’t look so sparse with the balloons.

Rick came down and we were ready to go. We talked about 15 minutes. I tried to avoid asking him about Jessie’s Girl – only because I had heard it asked every time I’d heard him interviewed… and every interviewer misunderstood the actual meaning of the song – how he wished that he had Jessie’s girl. But we talked about the Internet fans and Street Team and his new CD.

The interview went well. He opened up and answered thoughtfully. I couldn’t have asked for more.

As we got up to walk into the main room for the sound check, Helaine turned to Rick and recounted a story about how, while working in radio in 1981, she had picked up his dinner tab and he had told her the next dinner was on him. Though the statute of limitations on dinner had surely run out, Ronnie asked us to join their group for dinner.

I’m sure I’ve been to band sound checks before, but I never really thought about the tedium for the band. Each room is different. Often, a different city means different equipment. It always means different acoustics. But a sound check isn’t really music as much as it’s repetitive note playing.

Dinner was nice. The band was like any bunch of guys, on the road, away from home. Helaine sat between Rick and me. He and I spoke through most of dinner. We talked politics and Iraq. He told us about his sons, one a recent high school graduate on his way to college. Steffie soaked up the conversation. Helaine was in heaven.

We went upstairs and changed to our evening wear. Everything went fine, except putting on the studs! I’m not sure who designed them but they were murder to get in place. Of course without them, the shirt was buttonless – there was no choice.

We made the prom around 7:30 PM. I knew some of the folks from WTIC-FM and said hello. Rick came on at 8:30.

Of course a significant portion of the audience was his loyal supporters – and they crowded the stage. But, I sensed the people who were there as prom attendees were also getting into it. Yes, he was a soap opera pretty boy – but that doesn’t mean he can’t play.

The concert was as loud as any I’ve ever heard. The fact that we were inches from the speakers probably didn’t help.

He played the hits, and the new stuff and we went upstairs happy.

Tonight, I finished my end of the deal. I screened, wrote and then voiced the Sunday morning package. Later today an editor will look at my notes and try and cut it as I wrote it. I’ll see it the first time Sunday at about 8:50 AM.

Giving 110% For Evil

Just an observation.

Israel kills the leader of Hamas. The Palestinian’s say that act has