Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kindle Fire

A couple thoughts on the newly announced Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi.  These are just very quick first impressions without really digging into any details or facts about the thing.

  • If they have a good (and affordable) comic book subscription service, it is probably worth it to me...this is the killer app on the iPad for me.  Amazon just had to show a picture of The Watchmen didn't they.
  • I don't know how much I will actually use it for reading e-books.  The standard Kindle's e-ink is so nice to read, that I don't think I could easily switch to a backlit screen again.  I guess it will be good to read in the dark though.
  • Streaming movies from Amazon looks easy...especially if you are a Prime subscriber (and the new 20th Century Fox content agreement).  
  • It is at a very nice price point for a tablet computer.
  • Looking forward to seeing all the Android apps that work on it.
  • Looks to have much better music controls, so could actually be used for audiobooks and mp3s.
  • Kinda kills all the arguments for a Nook.
  • My experience with my regular Kindle makes me really curious to see how this performs.
  • Looks like a lot of distractions to keep me from reading.
  • I suppose the next Kindle iteration will be called BlazeTM (or something else equally bad).
  • I'll probably get one, but don't feel the need to be a first adopter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Economic Recovery

Even though all you seem to hear about on the news is the doom and gloom of the economy...I feel things are getting better.  Of course, my method of judging the economic recovery is probably a little different than most people's.  I don't look at unemployment numbers, home sales, or trade feeling is based completely on my success at cart return shopping.

Cart return shopping is simply finding items and bags of items that people forget to take out of their shopping cart when they place the cart in the return area.  It happens more than you think.  I've found all kinds of things - food, scrapbook supplies, spices, beverages, towels, tools, hardware, CDs, and even a bank bag full of checks and cash (which I was hoping came from a large, evil corporation so that I could justify keeping it, but instead came from a local cheer and dance team...and so was returned to much thanks).

This is not something that I obsessively do.  I don't stake out parking lots and watch the cart return all day.  It is just something where if I happen to be at the store and walking by the cart returns in the lot, I will glance over and see if there is anything there.  9 times out of 10 there will be nothing or just used coffee cups or other trash...but every once in a while you find something worth checking out.

So how does this help me judge economic recovery?  When the economy dropped into the dump in 2008, there was no cart return shopping...nothing was left behind.  People weren't shopping as much, weren't buying as much when they did shop, and were very careful to get everything they paid for.  Only in the past year has cart return shopping started to pick up again.  It is not back to the levels it was, but I have found more things in the past 6 months than I had in the previous 2.5 years combined.  I take that as a sign of progress for the country, people are being a little more carefree with there money.

Tips for cart return shopping:

  • Like Wil Wheaton always says - Don't be a dick.  If I happen to see someone actually leave an item behind, I will alert them to the fact.  Even if I don't actually see the act of the item being left behind, I make sure to ask anyone that in nearby if they forgot the item.  If there is any kind of identifying a prescription pill bottle, take it to the lost and found.  You are not trying to take advantage of people.  It it a good feeling helping others out, even if it is just telling them that they forgot a can of tuna.
  • Don't be afraid of the items.  I have been told stuff like "That's gross" or "You don't know where that has been."  Most stuff I find is boxed/canned items that don't require know a 12 -pack of soda (this is by far the most common item forgotten because they are almost always put on the bottom rack) or maybe a bag containing a couple quick microwave lunch things.  I can also say with 99% accuracy that this item has been in the store, in a cart, and forgotten, I just don't see someone tampering with food like this.
  • Refrigerated items.  I have found stuff that needs to be refrigerated and there are a couple factors that help me decide.  1) Is it still cool?  Widespread modern refrigeration has only existed for about 100 years, man survived before this...if it is still cool, you are probably fine.  2) How often does your favorite store empty its cart returns?  Mine usually gathers carts at least once an hour, so I know it has probably been there less than that.  3) Do I really like the item?  I will usually pass on milk even if it is still plenty cold because I don't care that much for milk, orange juice on the other hand will be made at home in my fridge.
  • Some stores are better than others...and many things go into this including the kind of people that frequent the store, cart design (carts with a nice lower shelf are best), quantity of cart returns (if there are lots of returns, the person doesn't have to walk as far and will be less likely to notice a forgotten item).
  • Go when people are busy...and forgetful.  Lunch time or right before closing seems the best because people are usually in a rush.
  • You are not taking advantage of anyone (if you aren't a dick), not even the store...these items are paid for.  I have never found anything really expensive and if I did, I would turn it in...but what is the lost and found really going to do with a 12-pack of diet coke?  Would a customer return for this?  I don't think so...and I have seen the cart gather throw everything away that is left in carts, including bags of items.
  • Don't keep what you don't need/want.  I don't keep a lot of the stuff I do find...if I have no use for an item - vagisil, baby items, re-fried beans, etc...  I don't take it, that is just something that I end up throwing away.  I leave that for someone else to salvage, I am not collecting junk.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Fun Day" at Adventureland

On Sept 11th I went to the local amusement park, Adventureland.  I wasn't about to let the terrorists win by not having fun on this day.  It was a beautiful weekend and I figured with all the 9/11 stuff going on that the park might not be too busy.  Neither Jesse Eisenberg, nor Kristen Stewart were working that day.

I had been years since I had been to Adventureland...the closest that I could figure out was perhaps I was there around 2001.  I am not sure why it had been so long.  Adventureland is a pretty decent amusement park...sure it is not as big or as exciting as World's of Fun, Six Flags, or Disney...but it 10 minutes away.  I  think part of my long absence had to do with the fact that Adventureland didn't really change that much for a long time.  The last time I was there The Underground was still being touted as the new, exciting ride and it was several years old at this point (and sucked).  I guess, being older is also part of it - either no one wants to go or everyone has kids (and I've had plenty of the Infant Ocean).

Adventureland had changed a lot since I had been there.  I knew there were lots of new rides like the Space Shot and Splash Over, as well as, the entire new water park area Adventure Bay.  Then there was the fire a couple years back.  The heart of Adventureland remains - the circuit where you head left, jump on the Galleon, walk back grab a funnel cake, twirl on the Lady Luck, head to the Tornado, take a spin on the Silly Silo, and then jump aboard the Sky Lift to start back at the beginning.

The Tornado - a classic
I brought my swimsuit to check out Adventure Bay, but it was closed...which makes sense, I am sure it would take more effort than it is worth to keep the water clean all week only to be open on the weekends.  I was a little sad, I didn't get a chance to test it out though.  There was still plenty to do.  I enjoyed all the rides that I went on (a couple like Splash Over and the Inverter happened to be closed this day).  Space Shot was just what I expected and fun.  Short lines meant next to no waiting, so you could easily ride several times in a row.  All three roller coasters were still pretty good.  The Outlaw was rougher than I remembered, but the Dragon still knocked my head around leaving me with a minor headache...just like I remembered.  The Tornado is still a highlight for me.  It doesn't really have any gimmicks like many of today's coasters, it doesn't go upside down, it doesn't corkscrew, or have an incredible vertical drop...The Tornado is just a classic wooden roller coaster and is still pretty thrilling and fun 35ish years later.  The first (and maybe the second or even third) time I went to Adventureland as a child, I was too short for the Tornado.  I was super envious of my older brother who could ride (although secretly a little relieved too).  I wonder if the still sell the "I survived The Tornado" t-shirts like they used to in the 80's.  I didn't think to look.  The Tornado really doesn't seem that scary of a coaster now, but I remember it being the height cool to have one of these tees back in the day.

My favorite ride of the day...well, probably the Silly Silo.  That has always been one of my favorites ever since I first came to Adventureland.  How can you not like spinning until you are stuck to the wall?  It is awesome.  I didn't ride it fifteen times in a row like when I was a kid (even though I was tempted), but a couple times was good and brought back good memories.  Luckily, I have never been on it when someone has vomitted, but it did happen while I was sitting on the bench waiting for friends to get back from the Log Ride...employees rushed up with buckets, mops, and bleach, and the Silo was closed for about 30 minutes.

My favorite "new" to me...was The Sidewinder.  This ride did not exist the last time I was here.  It is a giant swinging arm, where riders sit in saddle shaped seats on rotating disc at the bottom of the pendulum.  I thought the best way to ride was to just be totally relaxing and let your body flop around like a rag doll.  It was good time - short bursts of free fall when the pendulum hit its peak and then nice centripetal force as it swings down and back up the other way.  Since the bottom of the pendulum slowly rotated, you were never sure if you would be facing up or down when you hit the top of the arc.  Both where fun, but I found I had to grab hold of my sunglasses when I ended up facing time, they will be in my pocket (lesson learned).  Every one of the the "new" rides were lots of fun, and I must applaud Adventureland for adding a good variety of entertaining rides over the past decade.

Der Flitzer/Himalaya  (photo courtesy of
Lakesidecyclone @ Coaster Fanatics)
Even though all those are all still good, I still really miss the Der Flitzer roller coaster (my family called it the Himalaya fact, I didn't even know it was called anything else until writing this piece and trying to find a picture).  It was the small snow capped mountain themed coaster, that was to the left as you walked in the park in the Alpine area...where the Giant Skywheel is now.  The coaster was the epitome of Adventureland for me for several reasons.  First, it was the coaster that I could always ride (when I was too short for the Tornado) and I always rode it several times whenever my family went to Adventureland.  Der Flitzer was also always the first ride we went on...probably because it was the first ride that you would come to when entering the park, but that is besides the point.  Once you rode this, you really felt like you were at Adventureland and were ready for a day of rides, games, and cotton candy.

Take a chance and win some crap!
I was disappointed in the Alpine Games area...including the new arcade.  Although I have heard that this area didn't bring in as much money as the other two games areas.  This was always the games area for had the huge bank of full size skee ball machines, it had ring toss, frog launch, and the various basketball and milk can games.  It had a little bit of everything.  I remember playing skee ball there with my older brother and working on winning a couple small stuffed moose, that we then combined and traded for a large stuffed moose...which we would then fight over who actually owned the moose for the next several years.  Sure, we probably spend $25 for a $1.50 moose, but that moose was pure gold in our hearts.  The Alpine Games area was on the way out...this is where you would spend the last of your money.  You didn't want to be that guy that wins the huge stuffed animal and then look stupid carrying around all day (I'm looking at your shaved headed, Harley vest guy carrying the giant stuffed neon green raccoon).  Wait till you are about to leave, then play the games.  This was my philosophy.  Most of that area is gone now.  There are still a few of the stand alone games, but the ones connected to main street are all gone in the re-built main street.  Supposedly, this elimination of these games gave more room for the Penny Arcade.  I always loved this arcade...I loved the fact that at least half of the arcade was dedicated to classic games - Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Ikari Warriors, Spy Hunter, Jungle Lord could go in this arcade and just play tons of great games from the Golden Age of video games.  It was something special, something that you just didn't see very often any more.  I guess they all burned in the fire because the new arcade might have been bigger but it had far fewer games (I would call it a handful) and they were all the new ticket redemption games like Deal or No Deal or Big Bass Wheel.  It just didn't seem like an can play just as many (and the same games) in Wal-mart.  So what was taking up all the room in the "new and bigger" arcade?  Adventureland decided to move the G-Force ride in there (that was like the Scrambler but for little kids).  It was very disappointing.  I knew it would be difficult replacing some of the classic games, but I had hoped they would at least have a few...and if not, may be some newer arcade games that you don't see every place else.  I don't even think they tried.  It is sad.

It was a "Fun Day"
My favorite thing of the entire day though was a sign right outside of the souvenir shop as you first walked in the gates.  This sign brought me all kinds of joy (sorry for the not so great picture).  Why would this be written in some sort of title case?  But even more pressing what do you mean by "Fun Day"?  Usually when something is in quotes like that, it doesn't actually mean what the words actually say...or is said in a sarcastic tone.  I know there a entire blogs dedicated to inappropriate use of quotation marks, so it is nothing really new, but I still found it highly amusing.  After reading this sign, I wasn't entirely sure how much fun I was actually going to have...maybe they were trying to tell me something!  But it did start off the day with a smile and snicker at other people's idiocy.

Adventureland stands up better than I thought it would 10 years ago.  I had a good time...although I wish it was a little less expensive.  If you haven't been to Adventureland in a while, I would suggest that you check it out.  For me it was a good mix of new experiences and old memories.

Friday, September 2, 2011

An Anatomically Incorrect Rock Odyssey

In a couple weeks, Stage West Iowa will be presenting a run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Stoner Theater.

I'm not even sure how my brother and I first came across Hedwig, I think we might have been flipping through channels and saw the title Hedwig and the Angry Inch and were like "That sounds fucked up."  And it was...but it was also wonderful.  Great music, messed up characters, and a lessons about coming to terms with who you are and about making the best of your situation.  It quickly became one of my favorite movies.  The movie was based off the musical play created by John Cameron Mitchell.

It is a difficult decision to take a date to Hedwig.  Hedwig is hard to describe...well hard to describe without scaring people off.  It contains cultural taboos like transsexualism, cross dressing, sex change operations, homosexuality, and rock and roll.   But that all just sets the stage for the story and the characters feelings, motivations and the identity crises that are created.  Long story short - in the late 1980's Hansel, an East German boy, gets a sex change operation to emigrate West through the Berlin Wall with his love, an American soldier.  Hansel becomes Hedwig, but the sex change operation doesn't work as planned (that's the angry inch).  A year later, Hedwig is dumped and the Berlin Wall falls.  Stuck in the middle of nowhere, Hedwig decides to become a rock star but her new young lover takes off with all her songs and then strikes it big.  Bitterness, complex relationships, mental breakdowns, and identity crises ensue and coming to terms with it all is the beauty of Hedwig.

Hedwig (the musical, not the movie) takes place during a single concert at Bilgewaters Family Restaurant in <insert your town>.  I saw Stage West Iowa's previous Hedwig endeavor in 2002.  They did a pretty good job.  Hedwig and Yitzhak both did a great job.  And Hedwig is a difficult character to play (I would imagine...I am not an actor), because although she is outrageous and over the top, you can't go so far over the top to be cartoony.  Hedwig has to be likable and relatable...even when the audience has little in common with her (well, I would hope not that many people have chopped off their wieners to get out of East Berlin).  I expected a little more animation from the backing band...even though they aren't a major part of the show, I expected them to be rocking out more and being more like an actual band.  I know Hedwig is the spotlight hog, but I was hoping for more pep from the band.  I think this may have been at least partially intentional - A) Hedwig doesn't want to be outshone, B) band is supposedly bored with Hedwig...but I thought it detracted somewhat from the performance.  I have seen "real" backing bands go both ways - energetic and laid back.  Energetic is always more fun and exciting to watch.  I don't want them to distract from Hedwig, but they can at least look more like they are in a rock band rather than just standing there and playing their instruments.

I am highly looking forward to seeing what they do with Hedwig this time.  I suggest you all check it out too.  If you are able to keep an open mind about the not quite normal sexuality of the characters, you can really enjoy the music...much like Rocky Horror Picture Show.  When you give the music a chance, you will be amazed, it is really a great story.