Friday, July 31, 2009

Deaf

Hey, before you read today's post, go cast your monkuPoll vote! And catch up on the days you missed, too!

I know I've written about audio stuff here before so I apologize if this is just the same old stuff but then I don't have anything else to write about tonight. So why write, you might well ask me.. well, why read it, I might well ask you, lol..

I'm just wondering if I have very undiscerning (if that's the right word) hearing because I don't seem to be able to hear the differences that seemingly everyone else can hear between different pieces of audio equipment.

Now I can tell the difference between speakers, but that's probably the component that varies the most in sound quality. Other people talk about how they hear differences between amplifiers or preamplifiers or even cables but for the most part, it escapes me.

For example, I read reviews on a headphone forum/message board about various headphone amplifiers and how there was such a big difference when using x versus y. I had three different headphone amplifiers (now two since I sold one) and with the volumes adjusted to be equal, I heard no difference at all among x, y, or z. I could hear the difference between headphones, but not the amps.

Recently I bought some new audio equipment but in switching back and forth between the old and new, in most cases I really don't hear a difference. I read comments from other folks and they say things like, "I heard details I've never heard before," "the soundstage really opened up," and "it was as though a veil had been lifted," and stuff like that. Try as I might, I could not discern any meaningful difference when switching back and forth. Blindfolded, I couldn't tell you which one was which. When I thought I heard a difference, I'd go back to the 1st source and nope, there really was no difference. Now I said, "in most cases." Because at times I do hear a difference but that's in the wee minority of instances, certainly not with the frequency that others say they hear them.

Thing is, I can't very well post these kind of comments on the audio forums and message boards I visit.. I'd be ostracized! So I just share them in secret with you, my small circle of readers and hope you don't out me on one of those boards.

I read this joke long ago.. maybe I already wrote it in this blog but with so many entries already my mind is too mushy to remember.

A guy was getting his hair cut when his barber asked if he wanted to pay extra for the "special" treatment to protect his hair. When the customer asked what that meant, the barber explained it like this:

Every time you get your hair cut, it sort of "bleeds" a bit at the end, which damages your hair and eventually causes it to stop growing. The barber had a special potion to counteract this; treating the customer's hair with this potion would keep his hair growing nice and healthy.

"Then answer me this," responded the customer. "Why is it that I've been shaving my beard for over 25 years each day but yet it keeps growing back stronger than ever?"

The barber looked at him. "Simple," he said. "You ain't the kind of person this story was made up to tell to."

Anyway, I am wondering if I am saddled with lead ears because I sure can't hear the differences others say are so obvious. And I'm really sitting there listening intently when I do these comparsions, too.

Oh well.. maybe I'm listening to the wrong stuff or it isn't loud enough or whatever. One thing I can say for certain: happy Friday to you!










Thursday, July 30, 2009

Preorder

I was delighted to see that my favorite TV show of all is finally having its 4th season released in September: Taxi. Yes, I like it more than Seinfeld, which runs a close second. Taxi was more uneven but it had a human element to it that is lacking in Seinfeld.

Therefore I was more than happy to click the preorder button on the Amazon product page and reserve my copy! I hope the final season 5 follows soon thereafter because to me that had the best episodes.

For those of you who are familiar with the series, the episode that edges out the others is the one in which Reverend Jim's father passes away and at the end, Jim discovers a cassette tape his dad left him. He puts it in a player and hears Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." I know it doesn't sound very special but you just have to see it to know what I am talking about.

Do you preorder things? I like preordering stuff on Amazon because they don't charge you for it until it is shipped. It also locks in the price just in case it goes up, but if it goes down they lower your preorder price, too.

There's a few things I am looking forward to getting that are due for release later this year, besides Taxi:

Forrest Gump, Gladiator and the Wizard of Oz on blu ray. Seeing as how Forrest Gump is one of my favorite movies of all, that was a no-brainer. And I figure I have to see how good Gladiator and Wizard of Oz turn out on blu ray.

Today in my "quick picks" they offered a discount on the upcoming Beatles set of remastered albums in mono. Mono? Isn't that like black and white? Perhaps, but the original vinyl LP recordings were originally mastered and released in mono and that's how they should have sounded. Later on, engineers messed around with it and turned them into unnatural-sounding stereo albums that have the instruments separated too much. For the early Beatles, mono is the way to go!

The thing is, this collection is really expensive even with the discount that puts a little dent in the price. I'm wondering if I should really get it.. the good thing is I have until September to decide but meanwhile I have the order locked up.

Another order on hold is the Twilight Zone "Complete Definitive Collection." That was offered as the deal of the day last Friday. All 156 episodes at a big discount from the usual price but still expensive. I wondered if I should buy it since it had ALL the episodes ever made, of which so many are classics. Later in the day the current stock sold out and the status went from shipping immediately to "ships in 1-3 weeks." I figured if I clicked on the buy button, I would have 1-3 weeks to change my mind but meanwhile the price would be locked in just like the preorder stuff. So I clicked and there it sits in my open orders page.

I tell you, Amazon is dangerous!




Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Guys Do

I posted the other day about avatars and how one of the online forums I hang around is Emotiva's audio site.

Last weekend one of the members held a get together at his home in St. Louis. Over 30 people attended the event, which consisted of a lot of listening to audio equipment, eating and drinking. This one was especially nice because the owner of Emotiva and his chief engineer even attended.

Now if they held something like that around here, would I go? I'd certainly be curious, because I would like to hear what other people's gear sounds like and it might be interesting to actually meet the people whose posts I read every day, even though I am so reclusive. It might be nice to get together with fellow audiophiles and sit around and grunt like cavemen in appreciation high fidelity.

Here are some pictures of the event I took off the site to give you an idea of what it was like. For some reason there are no women in sight.. now had this been a get together of women, I can just imagine them all sitting around in a circle, chattering enthusiastically like they were all old friends. Either that or being catty with each other, haha.. but the men - well, they all staked out their territory and then sat down to relax!





Mmm.. I'd love to give a listen to all of that! Now some of you out there know just how much I love speakers, lol.. mmm, speakers..

On another note.. while the participation rate over at monkuPoll leaves much to be desired and certainly is not sufficient for any statistical validity, I found that some of the results are rather interesting. Such as..

The majority feels that women are worse drivers than men;

Yoshinoya leads the way when it comes to worst fast food;

Two people say they have seen ghosts and one claims to be one!




Tuesday, July 28, 2009

30 x 30

It seems In-N-Out burgers have been a frequent conversation topic for me recently so I thought I'd continue the trend and write about it today.

I had mentioned a few days ago when writing about my bus tour vacation that we had stopped at what to me was the most crowded In-N-Out I've ever seen, in Barstow. The other day someone mentioned to me that HE had stopped at the most crowded In-N-Out he had ever seen, this one near LAX. Naturally I had to interrupt him and say no, his wasn't the most crowded, mine was!

Yesterday we had lunch with my folks at Keiro and my sister was good enough to bring In-N-Out burgers for all of us. Mmm, even though they had traveled from Carson they were still good and didn't need to be warmed up. That is why I bought those krinkle potato snacks from Costco the other day, to bring to the lunch. Here's some advice: if you were wondering about buying those potato snacks, save your money. They look weird and don't taste anything like what the bag leads you to believe they will taste like. That said, if you are a Pringles addict you might like them.

Getting back to In-N-Out.. a friend of mine mentioned she had the "animal style" fries from them a while ago. Most of you probably know that In-N-Out has an entire "secret" menu of stuff that you can order with a wink, like those animal fries or animal burgers, etc. Or if a double double isn't sufficient for you, you can also order a 4x4 (four patties and slices of cheese). Or 8x8 (eight patties, eight cheese slices).

I mistakenly thought she was mistaken about the animal fries and that she meant the burgers that came wrapped in lettuce. Turns out I was mistaken, not her.. those burgers with lettuce and no bun are the "protein" style burgers.

Just to clarify things, you can see pics and explanations of the various secret items by clicking here.

Now I apologize if I am the last one to the party and you already knew about this and regularly order from the secret menu. But just in case, you know I like to share important stuff with my readers so consider this another public service message.

That said, perhaps you didn't know that In-N-Out also makes a 30x30. If you don't believe me, check this out:




By the way, don't forget to cast your vote on today's topic over at monkuPoll!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rummaging Around

Saturday morning I went to my usual place - Costco!

Here's the only thing I bought that I hadn't purchased before:


Is it as healthy as it makes itself out to be? I don't know, I haven't opened it yet. It's to take to a lunch tomorrow; otherwise I wouldn't have bought it. It has less calories and fat than the multigrain chips so that's why I picked it up.

As for the other stuff.. we always go the lazy way and buy the salad greens that come prewashed in a box. Costco's price is way cheaper than anywhere else. The only thing is having to rummage around looking for the box with the most distant expiration date. Today I got lucky and the first one I picked said to use by August 5. All the others said July 31. Whoo hoo!

They had some really nice looking avocados today - but expensive. $7.59 for a bag of 5!

Then I needed to get tomatoes. I've been buying the grape variety for a while because they are pretty tasty and have some sweetness, not like your typical store tomato. The ones they had today didn't look very appealing, though. And all the boxes looked the same. Then I noticed there was a tray from a different grower/company down in the stack. Hmm.. maybe those were better.

So I moved all the boxes around just to see if these were any better and indeed, they did look a lot better. I took one box from that tray and placed it in the cart, then put all the other boxes back where they were. Moving stuff around at Costco, the way they have everything stacked so high, isn't easy but it was worth it.

Then since I read that walnuts are supposed to be good for you, I checked out how much they were. $11.99 for three pounds, shelled. I compared that to the pine nuts I've been getting: $16 for 1.5 pounds. Wow, prices keep going up. So when our current stock of pine nuts run out, in come the walnuts.

I also got a few more things, but they were even less exciting than what I just told you about.

And that my Saturday Costco trip.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Did You Vote?

As some of you, whoever you might be, may know, I recently started up a new site called "monkuPoll."

If you haven't checked it out, or if you haven't cast your vote on some or all of the questions, please click here and go do so! It's no rocket-science site and it doesn't take very long. There's nothing that identifies you with your answer, in case you are worried about privacy if you select a weird choice or anything.. so don't worry!

Then what's the purpose, you might ask.. the purpose is I'm trying to develop a site that generates a fair amount of daily traffic from people who feel like taking a moment of their day to make their opinion known by casting their vote on that day's question. And if they want to elaborate, leave a comment. My hope is to generate some ad revenue via clicking on the Google and Amazon ads/links on the page.

Besides that, I also am just curious as to how people respond to the questions.

For example, as of now I see that the majority of respondents feel that women are worse drivers than men. Given that only 6 people voted, there's no statistical relevance to that although I'd have to say the majority know whereof they speak, haha..

And 11 of 13 people feel that Dave Carroll, the guy who posted the YouTube video complaint about his poor treatment by United Airlines was doing the right thing.

And so far, the Professor on Gilligan's Island is the people's choice. He's my choice, too.

Now for the question asking if you believe in ghosts, two people clicked on the response saying yes they did, because they have seen one. I don't know if they were kidding but it would have been nice to leave a comment about their experience, don't you think?

So if you would, please take a moment to make your vote count each day, and please bear with me as I work on refining the site and try and come up with some questions that are worth asking. There's a new one today just waiting for you!

Meanwhile.. happy weekend! Aren't you glad it's here?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Avatars

Do any of you post to online message boards or forums? If you do, do you have an avatar that you use?

One site where I can frequently be found is the Emotiva Lounge, which is the message board/forum for folks who have an interest in the Emotiva brand of audio equipment ("Emo" for short). Here is the avatar that I use over there:


Sometimes a person will use their actual picture for their avatar, but more often they use something else. Still, I find myself starting to think that they look like whatever picture they use and when I read their post, I imagine their avatar speaking the written words to me.

Here are some of the avatars from the Emo board:



Now this last guy, everytime I read something he writes I feel like I am being hypnotized. On the actual avatar his eyes keep blinking slowly.



It struck me that my avatar looks rather authoritative, wouldn't you say? So that probably lends credence to whatever I write in my posts to the board - I am giving out sage advice to all who are wise enough to listen, haha..

Here's one guy who was asking for advice about something and basically it was just he and I trading messages. As I went back to read the thread I kept looking at our respective avatars and imagined our message posts taking place as a conversation between the two of us, both looking so serious.



Just like the face behind the voice on the phone, you never know what you're going to find on the other end of that avatar. Like, "That's you?? Nawww!"



Hey, don't forget to cast your vote over at monkuPoll today!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just Something Short Today..

I was reading a forum thread whose subject was the worst movie you've ever seen and came across this nomination from one of the posters.

I've never heard of this movie before and from watching the YouTube clip I don't think it is the worst movie of all time, but it does seem pretty bad. It's also pretty funny. I mean, what inspired someone to make a film like this???




I kept looking for Alfalfa or Spanky or Buckwheat..

Someone uploaded all the other parts to the movie on YouTube as well, if you're interested!

Psst.. don't forget to cast your vote on monkuPoll today!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Customer Service

The internet is something that I take for granted and perhaps you do, too. Can you remember those ancient days before we were all hooked up to the WWW? During the rare times the cable isn't working or I am away without access, I am reminded of how helpless I feel not being able to go online but yet, the majority of my life has been spent without the internet. How did I manage???

Information retrieval is a breeze now. Just point and click. No having to call or write for something and then wait for days for printed material to arrive. Stock quotes are instantaneous. So are stock buy or sell orders. Now you have a library on the computer. You may not have access to a particular book you want, but at least you can do an online search to see which library has it, or you can simply order a new or used copy online.

The little guy doesn't get kicked around as easily these days either, thanks to the viral nature of sites like YouTube and applications like Twitter. It amazes me at how many views some of the videos have gotten on YouTube.

Today I found out about a particular person's use of YouTube to publicize his beef with United Airlines. Dave Carroll, a musician with the Sons of Maxwell band, had boarded the plane for a flight to Nebraska for a one-week tour when passengers saw his $3,500 Taylor guitar being thrown around by United's baggage handlers in Chicago. The guitar was severely damaged as a result.

While United admitted the damage, they refused to compensate Dave. After nine frustrating months of getting the runaround, passing the buck and getting refusal after refusal to pay for his guitar, he grew tired of fighting and decided to make a video about his experience. After this, United offered an apology and compensation, but it was too late, the damage was done.

The video is below.

After you watch it, please take a moment and head over to my beta monkupoll survey spot and vote for your impressions of the situation. Your vote counts!



I thought this was a great example of why customer service is so important and personally, I feel that United got what they deserved. Customer service should have been involved from the very beginning because it's the right thing to do, not because all of a sudden they get worried about negative publicity.

I'm always telling people that wherever I live, there has to be a Costco and Trader Joe's in the area. I've found that they know how to take care of their customers. Sure it isn't always perfect but I feel they do a much better job than most of their competitors. When I go on vacation I always look for an In-N-Out when fast food is in order. That's another great example of taking care of your customers. You would think that other fast food places would get a clue from them, considering how they seem to always be crowded. Have you ever seen an In-N-Out that wasn't busy?

Now with a tool like the internet, word spreads rapidly. As of today, there have been more than 3.5 million views of the video. That makes having great customer service all that more important!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So What Do You Really Do?

I've been thinking about the working world lately. More specifically, just exactly how busy are people at work? What percentage of the working day are they actually working?

As for me, I plead the 5th, but in trying to analyze this logically, here are some of my thoughts.

Some jobs require you to be active for your entire shift - like if you work at In-N-Out, or Porto's, or somewhere like that, you are constantly busy because the stream of customers never ends. Or if you are a phone support person for a place with crummy, bug-laden software then naturally you are going to be constantly busy. Even if your software isn't bug-laden but is in fact very good, odds are you will still be busy because your customers are crummy and bug-laden and can't figure out the simplest things on their own.

But other jobs seem to have their share of down-time. Banks, for example. I go to a bank and naturally tellers are only as busy as the number of customers that come in. Often that is pretty slim. But what about the people who sit at the desks? What exactly do they do when they aren't helping a customer? I might see them writing something but are they really working or just looking busy or writing personal stuff?

Even executive management; do they stay busy the entire day? If you are someone who calls the shots rather than the one who fills out papers, is there really stuff to do all day long?

Some people I know like to keep busy the whole time. When I worked in the student store at UCLA, our supervisor was this older woman named Grace who was constantly finding something to do. This consisted mainly of straightening clothes or straightening jewelry or dusting or straightening or dusting or straightening. Even if there was no dust and nothing to straighten. What's the point?

Then when I worked as an auditor we had a savings and loan client whose controller would come in around 10:00, read the newspaper, go to lunch around 11:00, come back and get his stuff and then go home, around 1:30. I also used to see government auditors, ones from the SEC, who would do pretty much the same thing.

The thing is, if there is work to be done, then you should be doing it. But how many jobs are out there in which there really is not enough work to occupy the entire day? Should you still try and keep busy anyway? If so, why? What exactly are you accomplishing?

I guess one thing that people in upper management do is attend meetings. Meetings here, meetings there.. but again, how much do most meetings really accomplish? Almost all of them are far too long and undisciplined.

Anyway, this is just something I've been mulling over. Just how efficient is the workforce? How many George Costanzas are out there?




Monday, July 20, 2009

The Rains

**prenote: there are TWO entries today, one begging you to test out a beta site so please scroll down and look at the entry below this one, if you've already come this far! I'll explain later**

Donna sent me a video not too long ago of a choir that performed Toto's Africa. At the beginning of the piece they did an acapella version of the rain and thunderstorm - pretty neat. Then the other day someone else sent me that video except it only included the beginning rain/thunderstorm part.

Naturally my head had to fill in the rest of it and the song Africa kept playing over and over in my mind - more specifically, the chorus where they sing, "I bless the rains down in Africa." And you know something like this, once it starts playing in your head it doesn't go away. So all day that's been repeating itself.. my brain has been on a constant : : : : pattern with continuous looping of that phrase.

However, what I suggest is to let that loop in all its grandeur in your own mind, but instead of "I bless the rains.." substitute the following phrases (and do it just as earnestly as they sing the song):

I felt disdain down in Africa

Ate quiche lorraine

I felt ashamed

I missed the train

Saw lion tamed

I got me maimed

I sang refrain

I changed a lane

I worked a crane

I went insane

Filled high octane

Got burned by flame

My leg went lame

I raised great dane

I staked a claim

I took the blame

I walked with cane

I talked with Wayne

No use complain

I felt contained

I grew a mane

My food was plain

Used tire chain

I kept the change

I cleared a drain

I found malaise

I searched for praise

It's not like Spain

Wrapped cellophane

Forgot my name

I played card game

I saw Mark Twain

Turned loss to gain

I chopped romaine

I had no brain

Read Mick Spillane

... sorry if this caused you to not be able to sleep.. haha.. feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments box.




Beta

Here is another interruption, not today's regular post.

Since I am so opinionated, I thought I'd ask for those of others, too.

I am experimenting with a new polling site and doing some beta testing on it. Can y'all do me a favor and go visit? Take the poll and leave a comment if you'd like. No muss, no fuss, just check it out. I want to see if it works properly.

Go to the monkuPoll. <-- click on dat.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Interruption

Just thought I'd add this.. today we were behind someone whose license plate frame said, "A WOMAN'S PLACE IS IN THE COCKPIT." When the signal turned green, I watched as this person drove a couple of blocks and then made a right turn from the left lane.

Remastered

Today was like a normal Saturday, heading off to Costco to be there when they opened their doors at 9:30. It sure was hot, though! I took TWO ice chests with me.

Among other things, here's some stuff I picked up. Two are actually reruns that have appeared in this blog before but since people like looking at pictures, here they are again.

Shrimp for lazy people: precooked and shelled.

I haven't tried this before and it doesn't look all that appetizing (to me, sausage ought to be brown) but the ingredients sound good so I put it in the cart. This one also comes in a 3-pack, whereas the Aidells brand I usually buy comes in a 2-pack which means more wrapping for the freezer.

We've had this Chicken Tuscany before and it isn't bad. They come in packages of various weight so I had to search for a lighter one, which still came in over 2 pounds.


They also had plenty of fruit there and being that it is summer, it looked so good. Too bad it doesn't keep longer or I would buy larger quantities.

What does all that have to do with "remastered," the title of today's blog?

Nothing.

While Julie went out shopping in this ridiculous heat, I spent some time blasting the stereo listening to the good old stuff. When I bought my first CD player, back in the 90's, I replaced many of the vinyl LP's I had with the CD version. Then wouldn't you know, a few years later the "remastered" versions of those CD's were issued, with fancier labels.

"Remastered" supposedly means they went back and reprocessed the original recording to make it sound better. So for some of my favorite artists, like Steely Dan or James Taylor, I bought the remastered version and, assuming these were better, sold the original versions I had bought.

In most cases the remasters did seem to sound better. They were "brighter" sounding, that is, they seemed to have more treble so they jumped out at you (in audiophile terms, they were "in your face") and also seemed louder.

Having gotten new equipment lately, I took out a lot of these remastered CD's and listened to them and many of them sounded harsh, actually painful to my ears. Was it the equipment? If you read the audio forums out there, you'll find many discussions about the recording quality of CD's and how people seek the original versions because the remastered ones are often done to exaggerate the bass or treble or make them sound more "in your face."

I bought a bunch of the original versions of my favorite CD's on Amazon and Half.com to compare them with the remastered versions. You can get the originals pretty darn cheap in many cases, less than what it costs for the shipping. I've been listening and comparing and in every case so far, I prefer the original version. It is not overblown. The remasters sound like American Idol contestants (I know, I used that comparison just recently but it is a good way to describe it - it's just way overdone and tasteless, barging in on your eardrums to no good effect).

Here's what I listened to this afternoon:

Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells a Story." The remastered version is really heavy on the high hat and cymbals, really bright sounding, and Rod the Mod's voice also doesn't sound right. The original version sounds more natural.

Chicago's first album, "Chicago Transit Authority." The Rhino remaster made me wonder if something was wrong with my equipment. "Introduction," the first song, sounded really shrill and harsh, especially the horns. It was very difficult to listen to this. The original version is much better.

Elton John's "11-17-70." This is one of his lesser-known albums but I think it's great. It is Elton before he got weird and before his concerts became a carnival act. The remaster has been overprocessed, with reverb and echo added and also, it sounds more like a mono recording, not stereo. The original still sounds bright but it also sounds more like a real concert because all those special effects are missing. Listen to that album - he really knew how to rock!

By the way - do any of you remember (are you old enough??) when that concert was played on the radio, back on November 17, 1970? It was broadcast on 95.5 FM which I think at that time was not KLOS, but was still called KABC-FM.

Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection." Again, this one sounds better on the original, The instruments all sound more natural instead of turned up to catch your attention.

You know what its like - like when you go looking for something at Best Buy. They have all the television brightness controls turned way up to stand out and look good in the store. It might look good there but once you bring it home and start watching it at those brightness levels, your eyes will get tired really quick.

It's the same thing with these remastered CD's. Upon first listen, compared to the original, they really seem to stand out and make the original sound kind of dull. But after you listen to them for a while, "listening fatigue" sets in and it becomes hard to listen because the sound is too bright, too harsh, too shrill.

The below video is what these remastered versions are like.. a disgrace.





Saturday, July 18, 2009

On the Road - day 7

Well, here we are at day 7 of vacation, the head-home day.. sigh..

Sorry, there aren't too many pictures today. I did take several pictures of the big hotels on the Strip but eh, I didn't think it was worth including them here.

Each day we were assigned different seats on the bus so that everyone could rotate from front to middle to back instead of having to sit in the same place each time. The tour guide pretty much just kept moving us in a circle.

The picture below is of Julie standing with the family that was in back of us the entire time - except for the day we rode in the very back of the bus, during which they were in the very front.

I included them because the little boy, Ryan, was quite a character. He was also quite active and wore his parents out, as well as got into the usual kind of arguments with his older sister. Ryan's nickname, or at least what his parents called him, was "Boy." Half the time he was Ryan and the other half Boy. As in, "Boy, we just going dump you out the bus."

What was funny was the way he got to know all the teen-aged girls on the tour.He just went up to them and started talking, introducing himself, and telling one of them that she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. He also would offer them food and walk with them, and tell his parents that he was going to have lunch with them, too.

"We're going over here when the bus stops."

"I can't go because I'm having lunch with the girls."

"No you're not, Boy, you're coming with us."

"No I'm not. I'm eating with the girls."

Haha.. pretty funny. They live in Alhambra somewhere and the daughter goes to San Gabriel High. Listening to her talk took me back to when Katie was in high school and I'd hear her friends jabbering about stuff.

The Stratosphere Hotel is easily visible from the main highway that goes past Las Vegas because of its height and also because it is not right next to any other hotel. But here's the secret tour section of the hotel where we stayed:


Just kidding.. it was some place across the street. I decided to break down and include one (1) picture from the Strip - see below.

After leaving Las Vegas, our next stop was the Tanger shopping outlet in Barstow. And right on the money, the tour bus pulled up next to a $10 all you can eat Chinese buffet for lunch. Julie and I, as well as several others on the bus, spied a much better destination as we were driving up the street and we made a beeline for it when the bus stopped.

This was the most crowded In-N-Out I've ever seen. It also had the largest indoor seating area of any in my experience and the place was literally packed. The entire front of the restaurant was sardined customers either standing in line to order from the cashiers at the four registers, or else waiting for their order to be called. All of the seats were taken. And this was at nearly 2:00! What a gold mine.

Mmm, the food was sooo good. I wish I had taken my camera in with me so I could show you just how crowded it was. Below is a picture of the outlet center. Not really much to see but I did buy some shoes at Timberland. I was thinking they had better well fit right when I got home since I couldn't return them.

Then it was back on the highway and back to the Knights Inn in Rosemead for the dropoff point. Below is a picture of the outbound Friday rush hour traffic.. Welcome to reality!!

As it turns out, we were the only ones who were supposed to go back to the 99 Ranch Market in Arcadia and our tour guide was going to take us. So we asked if he could just drop us off at the house instead since it was a few blocks closer. We ended up getting bus-to-door service! That was nice, especially since it was so hot and I would have had to walk back home from the market to get the car to go pick up Julie and the luggage.

All in all it was a very nice vacation. We saw so much in those seven days - America is one fantastic place. The bus ride got tiring but I wouldn't hesitate to do something like that again. It was more comfortable than the cramped plane ride we took to Beijing a few years ago, and shorter intervals between stops, too.

We also saw some decent movies, ones that redeemed the first two rotten tomatoes. Nothing great, but entertaining: Casino Royale, Jersey Girl, National Treasure, 21, Fast and the Furious (that was kind of stupid, though.. actually really stupid but it was fun watching the cars).

As I write this on Friday, it has been a whole week since we returned. I've been reliving it by writing about it day by day this week but now it is back to the normal grind.

All is not lost, though - tomorrow it is back to Costco! Yippee!

Friday, July 17, 2009

On the Road - day 6

Lots more pictures today.. from Ogden to Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, is not that long of a drive. I noticed that even though we arrived during what ought to be rush hour, there were no traffic jams.

Our first stop was the state capitol building. Very impressive and very clean. Everything was spotless. Maybe they cleaned it up the day before because they knew we were coming. Thing is, we saw nary an actual worker inside of the building.





Oh, here's a picture out of order. This is our room at the Days Inn the night before.

Okay, back to the capitol building.


Just a few blocks away was the Mormon Temple. They had arranged a short tour for us and split the group into two: one group went with the Chinese-speaking guides and our group went with the English-speakers. This first picture shows the massive pipe organ in one of the sanctuaries.


Below is a painting of Jesus, although he looks suspiciously caucasian..


The statue below is supposed to be Adam and Eve in the garden of eden, although once again, they don't seem to look particularly like middle-eastern folks.

Salt Lake City looks like a very clean place. Certainly a lot cleaner than the dump we call Los Angeles and environs. From there we went to the Salt Lake Marina but I didn't post any pictures since that was probably the most boring sight on our trip. Aside from some dragonflies and damselflies, there wasn't much to see.

Not too far from the lake was what I thought a much more interesting place - the largest copper mine in the world, the Bingham Canyon Mine, owned by Kennecott (which is itself a subsidiary of Rio Tinto corporation).

It is 2.75 miles wide at the top and .75 of a mile deep. It's large enough to be seen from space.

The equipment kind of looks like Tonka toy miniatures.

Looks are deceiving, though. The machinery and trucks are huge. The truck below has tires that I would estimate at around 10 feet tall. One of them costs $3.5 million and can haul 255-320 tons of rock in one trip.



After the mine we headed back towards the outskirts of Salt Lake City for lunch at.. you guessed it.. a $10 all you can eat Chinese buffet. The food was decent. I was thinking gee, the restaurant was probably owned by an immigrant Chinese family who moved way out to Utah to earn a living. And now their second-generation kids are living there and working in the restaurant because that's where their parents chose to relocate. On top of that, they don't know how to spell "customer" (see below). How different my life would have been had I been born and raised in Utah!

We left Utah and drove to that night's stayover destination, Las Vegas. I feel that the pictures below present a good overview of what that town is all about.








We stayed at the Stratosphere, which is on the northern end of the Strip. I really don't care much for Las Vegas. We had a pretty nice room, although they charge $11.95 to access the wireless internet connection so I did without for a night. And the buffet in the hotel wasn't bad at all. But that's about it. Everything else about the place is so garish and overblown, like most of the singers on American Idol.

Sex is all over the place. You walk down the street where the major hotels are, and there are literally lines of about 20 really sleazy looking men standing there handing out little cards advertising sex shows. Why do they need 20 people in a row? And they all look like they just got out of jail after serving their child molestation charges. Plenty of women dressed like hookers. You've got the people lined up to go to the clubs, all dressed to kill and then you've got the tourists sitting on stools in front of slot machines in the casinos that reminded me of the cows we saw in the pasture lands during our bus rides. Just sitting there looking dense as they fed the machines. Lots of really loud, obnoxious drunk people were out and about, too. I really didn't see very many people who looked happy. Sex is everywhere. Even the women card dealers in the casinos were standing there dressed in short shorts moving their hips back and forth as they dealt the cards. Has everyone gone nuts??

As you can tell, I don't like Las Vegas.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the Road - day 5

Lots of pics in this post so I hope you have a broadband connection or you're probably cursing by now.. click on any of them for a larger version.

That was our room, downstairs second from the right. We all boarded the bus and headed back into Yellowstone to see more sights.

There were a lot of hot springs, as you can see, with steam rising from the ground all over the place. We were warned to stay on the boardwalk lest we accidentally fall through the ground into one of the springs.










Here's Yellowstone's most famous attraction, Old Faithful. We really lucked out, arriving a scant ten minutes before the eruption. The average time between eruptions is 92 minutes, so we were fortunate we didn't have to wait very long at all. Amazing..



We walked from Old Faithful towards the Yellowstone Inn and saw these bison also out walking. One of the rangers was calling out to everyone to step back and stay away from them.

This is Yellowstone Lake. Huge.

Here are more of the hot spring pools. Look at how gorgeous the water is.


This part of the park had no running water. You had to be careful not to fall into the toilet because it looked like a pretty steep drop down to a bunch of rocks below. It was too dark for the camera to capture that and I didn't want to stick my head down in the toilet to snap a better picture!

The first time I went to one of the bathrooms, I opened the door and then this woman stood up, gave me a really dirty look like I was some kind of pervert, and yanked it shut again. I was thinking, why don't you use the lock??? I should have just kept opening the door so she could yank it shut until she got a clue that you can lock the doors from the inside, haha..

Here's some more of the awesome scenery.


The waterfall in the three pictures below is the most-photographed landmark in the park.



We left Yellowstone from the south exit, heading for Utah. On the way we passed through Grand Teton National Park. Our tour guide told us the mountain range below is what they use as the background for the Paramount Pictures logo in their films. Look familiar?

We made a brief stop in Jackson, Wyoming. A nice little town but very crowded and too touristy for me. Even though I was a tourist.



Our night's destination was Ogden, Utah. The below picture was taken at a rest stop around 10:00, still a ways from Ogden and we hadn't even had dinner yet. Julie and I just bought something from the mini-mart to eat. She had hot dogs and since I couldn't stand the thought of even looking at one more greasy hot dog I had a turkey sandwich which turned out to be pretty good when you're starving.

The bus rolled into the Days Inn at Ogden just around midnight. I feel sorry for any patrons who were staying there because I'm sure we woke them up with all the noise everyone was making. If that wasn't enough, then the sound of suitcases rolling across the courtyard would have done it!

What a long day.. but it was worth it.