Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Magical Welcome Back

Except for my free birthday admission in 2009, I hadn't been to Disney since my last seasonal pass expired in Spring of 2008. Yesterday, I returned, and the birds sang, the flowers smiled and rainbow-colored fairies lifted me off the ground and I flew around the as the crowds cheered my triumphant return!

Well, not really, but it was still quite a lot of fun indeed...

I chose Disney's Hollywood Studios as my park for the day. Though I have more energy now than I have had in more than a couple of years, thanks to being some 40 pounds lighter, I still haven't the spirit or stamina for multi-park days (never mind doing all 4 in a day like I used to when I first came to Florida over a decade ago).

I arrived around 9:30, went to the ticket window and they handed me my weekday only season pass. No weekends, blackout dates apply and no free parking, it still cost a pretty penny ($190 and change). At over $500, there's no way I could afford a premium annual pass.

Once inside I made a B-line for the newly revamped Star Tours attraction. The pre-ride queue decoration and theming changed a little but only in minor ways. The ride itself was still in those big boxes on hydraulics made to look like the inside of a space transport craft. But once they opened the view screen I saw the changes immediately. The screen was much bigger now and the whole plot and movie was new. It looked much more like an actual Star Wars film and the 3-D was great. Very nice job!

I watched a little of the Jedi Training Academy routine, a guest interactive show outside the Star Tours facility featuring guests' kids dressed in brown Jedi youngling cloaks and being trained in stuff like light sabre fighting. Cute!

Next I wondered over towards the Muppet Vision 3D theater and thought about going in but I had seen this show several times before and it's good but nothing spectacular, I skipped it for today.

Toy Story Midway mania, another newer attraction I wanted to hit up was closed for some reason so instead I made my way into "Walt Disney: One Man's Dream". This walk-thru museum-ette featured artifacts from the early years of Disney such as rare Mickey Mouse toys and working prototypes for what would become animatronics to the present day Disney empire highlighting the various films, animation, TV productions and international theme parks we're all familiar with now. It was capped by a short bio-pic narrated by none other than Walt Disney himself. (Maybe it was his frozen head speaking?)

It was close to the 11:30 showtime for Beauty and the Beast so I walked briskly through Hollywood and popped into the Theater of the Stars for this live action musical performance. Here is some video I took highlighting two of the hit songs from the film:

After the show, it was time for a beverage. Beer prices seem to have remained pretty much the same as 3 years ago ($5.50 for a 16 oz. Bud Light) but food prices are now freakin' crazy! The one-time lauded "deal" of the theme parks, the big smoked turkey leg, used to be a relatively great value back in the day for less than $5, now they're over $9!!

I meandered back toward the center of the park and came across one of the great little improv skits the "Olde Hollywood" type actors do. This one was a Barney Fife-ish cop (equipped with a banana in his holster) and a fancy wannabe Hollywood elite insider. They were done up in the period (Hollywood Golden Age) costumes and were poking fun at various members of the assembled audience and innocent passers-thru. The lady even  picked on me saying I was giving her "the snake eyes" (I was wearing a black T-shirt with a silkscreen graphic of a motorcycle and a pair of dice that had the words "Snake Eyes" on the top).

Next up, one of my all-time favorites, The Great Movie Ride. Our tram driver was really great (I hate when they're too scripted sounding) and the gangster was terrific! For some reason I totally forgot about the Alien section of the ride, though I confirmed with older YouTube videos that it was there all along.

Tummy was growling so I opted to fork over the $8 something they wanted for a "gourmet" hot dog (topped with mac and cheese and truffle oil) and another beer, thank you. The dog was in a tasty bun, mac and cheese on it seemed average but it had bacon bits, not truffle oil. And though it was supposed to come with coleslaw, I was given a bag of chips. Eh, it was okay. Over $8 okay? Not really.

The wait for either the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was too long (over 30 minutes) so I made my way towards American Idol Experience but it had just started and the next show wasn't 'till 4:00. I browsed through a few shops, contemplating buying some Disney swag and it started to rain.

I decided to sit through the Magic of Disney Animation presentation. It's okay. A good place to wait out the rain. The only problem I had with it was it featured the animated dragon from Mulan called Mushu. I don't even remember this character, but the live actor "animator" presenting and interacting with the cartoon stated he was a lesser known character at the top of the show.

The rain had died down a bit and since the Tower of Terror had been closed during the downpour (yes, of course there was lightning...hello, it's Central Florida!) the queue time dwindled down to just 15 minutes.

Having had a couple of cups of coffee this morning, the 2 beers hadn't been enough to settle my nerves yet so I was actually a little scared on the ride. The drops seemed really fast and at the end they opened the doors and played a bit of the ending Twilight Zone hologram...but it was a trick! The elevator shot right back up and dropped us down as fast! Good one!

Before you know it, 3:45 came around and I made my way over to the American Idol Experience. I have to say this was the best of the day!

The theater looked just like the one on TV used for the real show. The guy who was our warm-up was super great with lots of energy and the host looked and sounded so much like the real Ryan Secrest it was scary! The judges were great, especially the Randy-like black guy who had a few cute one-liners too.

But it was the three performers who blew me away. They were just ordinary guests who went backstage to audition earlier in the day and were selected for the show. They were really good. They each could have easily been on the real show.

The last of the three, a blond 30-something dude, probably from New Orleans though they neglected to state where he was from (he had a "'Datman" T-shirt and his last name is Cajun-French) was phenomenal. He could definitely be pro! (Then again, I'm sure they don't do a ton of background checking on guests who audition only that morning so maybe he was.) Of course, he won.

So I headed back home around 5:00 grinning from ear to ear. I indeed had a magical day!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thar She Blows!

My favorite drag queen Haley Star channels her inner weather girl and reports live, from a "devastated" Rhode Island being pounded by Irene. Well, someone got pounded anyway...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

MINECRAFT MANIA: Another Nighttime Skyline Shot

Someday I'll take a daytime pic, I swear. And maybe one or two from a different vantage point. It'd be nice...wouldn't it?

Diggy Diggy Hole! Buildy Buildy City!

Oh, BTW, in case you're unimpressed...Did I fail to mention that I never use cheats? I dug up or crafted every "man-made" item in this entire world. Every block of cobblestone, every re-positioned block of dirt, sand or gravel, every pane of glass, every twinkling torch. So there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come On Eileen, Er, I Mean Irene

Come on Eileen, I swear (well he means) 
At this moment you mean everything, 
With you in that dress my thoughts I confess verge on dirty 
Ah come on Eileen.
"Come One Eileen" -Dexy's Midnight Runners

Yes, I know...the hurricane is called Irene, not Eileen...but it's close. And I like the song.

And besides, it expresses my devilish attitude which is basically: "Come on you pussy hurricane! Why don't you just try and hit us here in Florida?! Are you too afraid that we'd be too prepared? Screw you then, go ahead and turn away. What? You say you're gonna smack into Rhode Island instead? Excellent!!!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

MINECRAFT MANIA: Map Of The City And Environs

The City, formally We Built This City, is coming along as usual. I thought I'd put up a little map of the city and surrounding area while it's still in the growing phase.

First some stats. I started this city back in January of this year. After spawning (at site I), I climbed up from what was then just an empty beach area and saw this interesting outcrop protruding from the mountain immediately to the north. At the end of the jutting ledge on the top there was a small floating island of dirt and stone.

But all this natural beauty was soon destroyed in order to form what would be the main castle complex of the city I call Heart of the City. It still exists today wedged between the skyscrapers built in the subsequent months.

In fact, this complex is still very vital and I'm continually adding to it, remodeling it and such. It houses the most oft used foundries and workbench and contains the largest vault room with about 12 large chests. One of these chests holds all the precious wealth of the land which tallies up to the following at the time of this writing.

225 Redstone
128 Iron Ingots
82 Lapis Ore
18 Gold Ingots
7 Diamonds

Kinda pitiful, I know, but I've had the hardest time finding some of the really rare ores and such.

The city grows organically. That is, I sometimes plan what I'm going to build and where but most times I just build some building based on the materials I have on hand or can readily obtain and in whatever configuration strikes my fancy. I keep the scale a bit small with most buildings having a footprint of only 9 X 7 or so (on average) in simple, rectangular layouts for ease of construction and similarity to a "modern" skyscraper-filled cityscape. And I don't generally have streets put down before the buildings as to allow a more haphazard evolutionary feel.

Here is a map of the city area and points of interest:

A. Taiga Gate Island and the Citadel
B. North Bay Fort
C. Monument to the Trees and North Bay Park
D. Eastern Road to the Eastern Mountain Region
E. A still unnamed harbor town
F. Monster War Memorial
G. Harborside Park and the Great Lighthouse
H. Picture point, this is where I build a temporary sand tower to take snapshots of the city skyline
I. Harborside. Includes the Harbormaster Tower and the Original Spawnpoint
J. The Harbor including a docked freighter
K. Obsidian Pit. Straight down in one of the largest cavern systems ever discovered
L. Harborside Bridge
M. Portal Construction Site. Soon to be The Portal Complex. Ultra Top Secret.
N. A large concave shaped mountainside
O. North entrance to the Grand Canal
P. South entrance to the Grand Canal
Q. Downtown Northwest. Includes the Main Train Station, The Lava Cube and the current tallest building in the city, The ZircoCorp Mining Company Building (y: 117)
R. Downtown Northeast. Includes the Glass Monument, The City Museum, The Royal Theater and The Water Monument
S. Downtown Southeast. Includes Rolling Falls and Observation Tower, City Courthouse and Flatlands, a future development site
T. Downtown Southwest. Includes the Clocktower, City Hospital, Mid-City Bridge, Monument to the Fallen Heroes and the Torchlight Coal Corporation Building.

Oh, BTW, here's a new picture of the nighttime skyline:

*UPDATE: New city views available here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bless It, Monkey Boy!

I have Nugget gassed up and ready for a late night drive to Tallahassee. I even cleaned her windshield extra well for added nighttime driving safety. After all, it doesn't count if I don't make it there.

I have Susan's phone number memorized so I can call her and let her know I'll not be coming in to work tonight. And probably forever.

I might swing by Ric's on the way to the state capital. We can party tomorrow night after the presentation of the big giant check. Maybe we'll drive over to New Orleans from Tallahassee. In a brand new metallic tasman BMW Individual X6 that I could buy in the afternoon. Or maybe we'll fly?

I'm not sure what else I can do to be prepared. I could watch the live drawing in an hour or just access the website soon thereafter. Either way, I'll need to confirm it ASAP.

'Cause tonight, Monkey Boy, with your magic mojo working for me...tonight we will surely hit it big.

Two Hundred and Twenty Million, Baby!

With you blessing this ticket, dear little Monkey Boy, we just can't lose!

An Interesting Couple Of Weeks

Late last month, Ric's A/C went out so I invited him to stay overnight at my place during our mutual off-from-work weekend (Sun - Mon). At first I promised myself I'd only drink sodas but before you know it I was hopping from bar to bar, sucking down margaritas, followed by hurricanes in fishbowls. And puking it up (a little bit) in the back of a cab at 2 am. Ah, what a great friend I have in Ric. Just not if I'm trying to stay sober. (Or save money...one night = $120)

My boss emailed me a couple weeks ago saying a position was going to be opening up soon since the person doing the job now was going out on maternity, and not coming back. I thought the job might have some benefits greater than what I have now, namely, 9-5 ish, weekdays, mostly office work and more money.

Well, after shadowing with the girl doing it now, it's 9-5 ish (but only if your schedule isn't manipulated last minute by the boss, which happens frequently), your office duties are intense and your expected to also do direct care and (the clincher) it's only a 20 cent an hour increase in pay. I politely declined the offer. I'll stay here on the night shift with the moon and bats and creepy-crawly things.

Joe and Zach moved back in with Ric last week. (Did I ever mention a couple of months ago when they moved out?) They also have a big pit bull named Leo now. And they leave him for Ric to care for most days.

Last week I took Nugget into the dealership to have the recall things taken care of (and to have a strange sound looked at). Everything was pretty much paid for being either under the factory recall or (in the case of the sound...some wheel drum something or other) under drive-train warranty so I got away cheap.

But then a few days later, her check engine light came on. Oh Brother. And when I went to fill her with gas, it started gushing out from the bottom of the tank!

I drove it back to the dealer: it turned out to be a crack in the gas tank which they didn't out-right admit they caused, but c'mon...one of the recall issues dealt with the gas tank being removed and put back in place so they handled it. They paid for a new tank and my rental car while they did the work, so I guess they somewhat admitted guilt after all.

After they were done and as I pulled away from the service bay and went over a speed bump, I heard a harsh grinding from under the car. The metal shield on the tank was loose, so again they had to put Nugget up on the racks. OMG! The associate handling me was very polite and apologetic but I doubt I'll be going back to them anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Isn't ABC's "Combat Hospital" Bad Taste?

I just now flipped on the TV and watched a few minutes of the new primetime ABC drama "Combat Hospital". When I heard about this series I immediately was reminded of other TV dramas dealing with similar themes. And my summation was exactly the same as the one this writer espouses in the article copied and pasted below.

ABC's "Combat Hospital" raises moral issues

ABC is airing promos for a new summer fictional drama entitled Combat Hospital. This is aCanadian-conceived show set in 2006 in a military hospital at the Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan, and purports to depict "the frantic lives of the hospital's resident doctors and nurses from Canada, America, the UK and other allied countries."

Wartime hospital dramas on TV are nothing new. M.A.S.H. was set during the Korean War, and China Beach depicted an evacuation hospital during the Viet Nam War. But both of these shows were created years after the conflicts they dramatized. Combat Hospital will be a fictionalized account of an ongoing war, and that raises some moral and ethical issues in my mind. There's much that doesn't feel right about having a fictional account of a war simultaneous with the actual death and suffering that's taking place on a daily basis in Afghanistan.

  • The show will undoubtedly depict casualties in graphic fashion. What will be the effect of such scenes on viewers with family members or friends who are in actual harm's way?
  • The doctors will surely be able to save some lives in the show. How does that play with viewers whose loved ones weren't saved? And when the inevitable medical failures occur, is there a "multiplier effect" for the grief and trauma of those who suffered loss in real life?
  • Are there ethical implications of having actors portraying soldiers and being paid many times more than the salaries of those men and women in the military who are not acting but serving in the same roles?
  • If the story lines play out true to "Hollywood" form, there will be subplots involving "foxhole romances," and dark humor. Will those things trivialize the real life-and-death drama of the ongoing war? And while there's no doubt that humor is a healing and strengthening technique even in times of intense stress, does it matter that such humor is originating from a writer's imagination? (I don't know if any of the show's writers have served in the military, and specifically in Afghanistan. That could make a difference in the answer to some of these questions.)
  • Will the show's writers be able to keep their personal opinions about the war out of the story lines, or will Combat Hospital be a vehicle for propagandizing a specific political viewpoint? And if the program promotes an agenda or perspective that's the slightest bit at odds with American military goals and strategies, how might that feed the enemy's own propaganda machine and morale?
We live in an age of compressed news cycles and real-time reporting. That's not a bad thing, unless you subscribe to an "ignorance is bliss" philosophy. But when that leads to an overlap or blurring of lines between actual and dramatized events, troubling questions arise.

One might argue that such TV shows serve a useful purpose in helping us to remember the truth in the saying "war is hell," and the reality of the sacrifices being made each day by those serving in the military (and their civilian support infrastructure). The counterargument is that if the actual news reports aren't sufficient for such purposes, then a fictionalized television show won't make any difference.

For me, and I suspect for many other Americans, Combat Hospital is too much, too soon.