Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Monday, May 30, 2016
Cirque du Soleil's production "Love" based on the music of The Beatles is the other main reason we came to Las Vegas this time around. Some of the family had seen the original production shortly after it premiered in 2006 at The Mirage Hotel, but not me. Rumor had it they had re-worked a lot of the performance, so it would be like new for everyone. The show was an enjoyably amazing fantasmagoric amalgamation of music, acrobatics, dance, lighting, gymnastics, and theater. Totally captivating. A veritable feast for the eyes and ears.
The Beatles were probably the most influential musical group ever. So many superlatives, so little time. So much great and timeless music.
Cirque du Soleil was founded in Montreal in 1984 by two street performers and has become the largest theatrical producer in the world. They employ over 4,000 people from 40 countries, and have 20 shows currently in production, with seven of those in Las Vegas. Cirque and Vegas are a natural combination, kinda like Lennon and McCartney, but not really.
The surviving Beatles were even involved with the original production. Turns out George Harrison knew one of the Cirque founders, Guy Laliberté. The result: gold.
The only way that show could have been better is if we'd had some acid beforehand.
Two odd angles, or, beefs, if you will.
|just after the show|
One, just before the performance began, a man on the P.A. comes on to say that there will be some props that could be just above the heads of those in attendance, and please refrain from reaching out because you could endanger the performers. Well, no performers came anywhere close enough to us to worry about that, but at one point, they extended gigantic psychedelically illuminated sheets that covered almost the entire audience, and you had to grab it and extend it over your head so that the people behind you could grab it and extend it all the way out. So, you had to touch it, but they said don't touch it. Mixed messages can be too much for some people.
Two, before the show, they have some photographers cruising the incoming crowd like feeding sharks offering to take their pictures with an eye towards selling the crowd pictures of themselves. On the one hand, it's a decent way to produce a momento of the show for later. On the other hand, every single attendee has a camera and everyone is already taking pictures. The twist here is that the photogs will place your picture into a Love "album", along with a picture of the cast, and will only charge you $40 for the album.
It struck me as just another way to snatch some bucks from the crowd. One money-making scheme, or scam, after another. Oh, and you can save money if you buy more than one. Well, of course you can!
Here is a taste of Love from Cirque du Soleil:
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Here's a piece of advice if you plan to see Santana in Las Vegas. Do not bother with the "Up Close and Personal" package offered for each evening. Why?
#1 - you are not really "up close and personal". At best, you will be 30'-40' away from the stage, with a bunch of standing-room-only concert-goers in front of you. But you are, at least, elevated a little so you can see over their heads.
#2 - the dinner portion of this Up Close and Personal package is served in the Foundation Room of the House of Blues. This room is located on the top floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and there is a nice view up there, but the food is grossly over-priced (even for Vegas) AND (the kicker) the tip for the dinner is NOT included in your package price. I read that little tidbit in the info before we went to Vegas but didn't give it much mind. But when we were presented for the "bill" for the tip, the total came to $130. Now, granted, we had a party of six, so if you divide $130 by six you get $21.66 each. If you were a party of two, the bill would be $42 - maybe not a big deal. But with six, I was just floored. That one thing pissed me off more than anything.
#3 - the free bottle of wine or champagne that is included with your package is about the cheapest thing they could find. Maybe not a surprise, but you get this listing of available wines for the show and you get a choice of the cheapest one, or you could pay an extra $50-$200 for a "premium" bottle.
#4 - the "goodie bag" that you get as part of this Up Close and Personal package has a DVD of a Santana performance and three pieces of art, which are pretty decent, but there should have been more, in my opinion.
#5 - the "table" that you get to sit at for this package is a table for 4. Online, the table looks pretty big; in person, you can barely see it, and it shakes and leans whenever anyone even sneezes. Maybe that's being a little picky. Most attendees at the show didn't even get a table.
As for the performance, I have to say I was disappointed for the most part. I have seen Santana live perhaps five times already over the last 40 years, and I have to say this was the most disappointing. For some reason, Carlos wanted to play as fast as possible on the five or six high-tempo tunes he started the show with. And I didn't even recognize most of them. He did get around to playing a few of his hits (BTW, the entire show is billed as "Santana's Greatest Hits - LIVE" which is simply not true), but not many.
Black Magic Woman/Oye Como Va
Seriously, that's about it for the hits everyone would know. When Carlos FINALLY got around to slowing down and playing some of his memorable melodic stuff, it literally brought a tear to my eyes. That's how much his melodies can affect me, but that was not what he chose to play this evening. Maybe Carlos has grown tired of his slower, more melodic stuff and just wants to party and jam these days.
If you like Santana's music, do yourself a favor and opt for one of the stadium seats in an upper level of the venue. Those can be had for as little as $120/each. Get your own dinner somewhere else and buy a beer or two when you are at the show (for $8 each), and you'll be far ahead of those fools below who got ripped off with the "Up Close and Personal" package.
Carlos, you can do better, and you should. And, BTW, Carlos, what's with the fucking horns? Not on your head, but the trumpet and trombone, which frankly have no room in your repertoire. Lose 'em.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
So the family - I should say, my wife's family - is heading to Las Vegas, Nevada for a few days. They like to travel in a pack, which takes some getting used to for me, as my family is about as close as M101 is to M104.
You been hearing all these stories about how badly the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is fucking up? Recently, "a team of investigators from the Department of Homeland Security managed to sneak weapons and fake bombs past airport screeners in 95% of their attempts to beat the system."
Really fills you with confidence, doesn't it?
And now we have super-long lines at TSA checkpoints. Much of this is likely due to passengers trying to take everything on board, since the airlines are charging for most checked bags, but it's also surely because the idiotic GOP Congress insisted on cutting the TSA budget.
When I checked-in online for our flight to Las Vegas, we were listed as Pre-Check. Well, hallelujah. This means we don't have to take off our shoes, or belts, or even go thru the X-ray scanner. Our carry-on still gets X-rayed, but not our bodies.
Can anyone tell me how to get Pre-Check for every flight? Yeah, we should check out the Global Entry thing, but we don't really fly that much. I don't like it.
Hearing those TSA horror stories, we went to the airport early, just in case. Sure enough, we breezed through the Security line and had plenty of time to relax before the flight. Then we learn that our flight would be delayed from 2:55pm to 3:56pm. Then it was delayed until 4:25pm. Then it was moved up to 3:45pm. Kind of a fucking mess.
When we finally got on board, it was a horrible flight. Turbulence almost the entire flight. Towards the end of the flight, the pilot comes on and says, "Uh, due to the turbulence, we are going to begin our descent into Las Vegas." Like, WTF?
We landed hard and fast and needed every inch of that runway. Survived another one! Let's go gamble our brains out!
More on that next time.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Bernie Sanders appeared on the latest Bill Maher Real Time. Bill invited Fraud Trump and Hillary Clinton too but both declined. I still prefer Bernie over Hillary. If we had a Democratic House and Senate with Sanders as President, oh, the things we could do. It's possible. Not likely, but possible.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
The New York Times frequently reviews apps on the market for smartphones, tablets, and computers. I'm sure there are other publications that do similar things, but there is just not enough time in the day to peruse every publication and review on the market.
The Smartphone Way to Inner Calm
I've used the Calm app frequently and love it. Perhaps I will stuff the others onto my smartphone too.
The Smartphone Way to Inner Calm
from the New York Times
OUR busy modern lifestyles have a million wicked tricks for increasing stress, including the repeated pings and buzzes of our smartphones. But with the right app, a smartphone can actually be a tool to help reduce stress and find calm.
One such app is Headspace, which is all about guided meditation. A narrator talks through a mental exercise and meditation session intended to help meet a goal, such as reducing stress or coping with anxiety.
|The Headspace app offers|
mental exercises and meditation
sessions intended to help
meet a goal, such as reducing stress.
The guided meditation can be a series, which contains several mediation sessions that last from a few minutes to as long as an hour. There are also single sessions to help with a particular problem, like managing a panic or anxiety attack. You just choose a meditation session, make yourself comfortable, pop on some headphones, hit play and let the soothing narration change your state of mind.
The app is easy to use, with minimalist controls and a straightforward interface. The narrator’s voice reminded me of being read to at night when I was a child. The language used is also easy to understand, dispensing with the mumbo jumbo that some meditation apps use.
You do have to commit to using the app regularly to make the most of it, which may not be easy for everyone. To help keep people on track, the app logs a user’s progress by filling in a graphic as a session is completed, which can be motivating.
Headspace is available on Android and iOS. It includes a limited number of sessions free; for access to more, the subscription fee is $13 a month.
|The Calm guided meditation |
app features several
Calm, from calm.com, is a guided meditation app that is simpler in terms of features and menus than Headspace, and more relaxing in its look and feel. Its main feature is the ability to choose the theme that is seen and heard during a meditation narration, with a long list of options like “coastline at sunset” or “fireplace.” An attractively filmed video then runs in a loop on the screen, accompanied by a soothing soundtrack.
Calm’s design and the language in each guided meditation is simple and unfussy. The length of some guided meditation sessions can be chosen to suit the time available, from two minutes to around half an hour.
The free version of Calm contains a surprising amount of content. A premium subscription costs $10 a month, or $40 a year, and provides longer meditation programs. Calm is available on iOS andAndroid.
Another technique for maintaining inner balance is to keep a journal. The $3 iOS app Gratitude Journal by Happy Tapper puts an extra spin on this idea by encouraging you to make journal entries that focus on things you are grateful for on a particular day. The app has a brightly designed interface, with clear controls and a layout that make it easy to type a few sentences that talk about what you are thankful for.
You can rate each day using a five-star system and include photos or videos. The app automatically appends a quick weather summary for your location so that when you read back through previous entries, you can get a sense for how the weather influences your mood or experiences. There is an option to protect your entries with a code, to keep prying eyes away from personal matters, or you can share an entry on social media if you want to be open.
|The Pacifica app includes |
a mood tracker,
a health tracker,
and chat groups.
Lastly, the Pacifica app is a bit of a Swiss army knife for relaxation because it combines many different techniques. The app includes a mood tracker (awareness of how your moods fluctuate can help you gain control over them) and a health tracker, alongside guided meditation audio tracks to help with different problems. It also has chat groups on various topics to discuss concerns or experiences, as well as a community section to share tips with other users, such as movies that lift you up or inspiring quotations.
The app, available on iOS and Android, includes a limited amount of free content . You can unlock the rest for $4 a month or $30 a year.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Well, good for Samantha Bee. Her segment on the Religious Right was pretty good, but she also had a follow-up. This one highlights Frank Schaffer. He was instrumental in the rise and manipulation of the religious right. His only saving grace is that he regrets what he did and is trying to make amends. A little late, though, Frank.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Breakthrough Starshot is a research and engineering project by Breakthrough Initiatives to develop a proof-of-concept fleet of light sail spacecraft, named StarChip, capable of making the journey to the Alpha Centauri star system, 4.37 light-years away, at speeds between 20% and 15% of the speed of light, taking between 20 to 30 years to get there, respectively, and about 4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival. The conceptual principles to enable this interstellar travel project were described in "A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight", by Philip Lubin of UC Santa Barbara.
The project was announced on 12 April 2016 in an event held in New York City by physicist and venture capitalist Yuri Milner and cosmologist Stephen Hawking who is serving as board member of the initiatives. Other board members include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The project has an initial funding of US$100 million to start research. Milner places the final mission cost at $5–10 billion, and estimates the first craft could launch about 20 years from now.
The story of humanity is a story of great leaps – out of Africa, across oceans, to the skies and into space. Since Apollo 11’s ‘moonshot’, we have been sending our machines ahead of us – to planets, comets, even interstellar space.
But with current rocket propulsion technology, it would take tens or hundreds of millennia to reach our neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri. The stars, it seems, have set strict bounds on human destiny. Until now.
In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.
Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.
A number of hard engineering challenges remain to be solved before these missions can become a reality. They are listed here, for consideration by experts and public alike, as part of the initiative’s commitment to full transparency and open access. The initiative will also establish a research grant program, and will make available other funding to support relevant scientific and engineering research and development.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Ever heard of the guy? He's a spiritual healer! He's a mind reader! And he wears a funny wig! (most likely equipped with a radio receiver)
It's kinda sad and a little scary that these guys still exist. The video below was uploaded in 2011, but Spivey is still kickin' it.
I guess it's a good thing I didn't hear "Jesus" once in this video. I guess.