Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

It’s Rotten in Denmark | “Hamlet” @ HFF16

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 27, 2016 @ 6:51 pm PDT

Hamlet (HFF16)userpic=fringeWhen reading through the list of shows at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), shows catch my eyes for various reasons. For example, yesterday’s show, Hamlet, was written up thusly:

Hamlet is set in the 1940s of Las Vegas and the Royal Family is the mob. Having a struggling desert town working its way towards greatness as a parallel for the turmoil that Denmark was going through connects modern audiences to a time they never experienced before. With a script cut to emphasize the story’s moral and original language to emphasize the depth of the story, this retelling of a classic will wow audiences.

Reading this, I thought: “Wow! Ever since I saw the Four Clowns presents Hamlet, I’ve been wanting to see another take on Hamlet. Plus, I’m a student of the history of Las Vegas (especially the mob era in Vegas), and this blend sounds fascinating. I’m in”. So we booked our tickets, and last night we worked our way to West Hollywood for our last show of the Fringe Festival: Hamlet, from the Boundless Artists Theatre Company/FB.

Alas, the description was better than the execution. This is not to say that the performance was bad — it wasn’t (although it had some problems). Rather, it simply didn’t match the expectation created from the catalog description. Let’s analyze why, and what could have been done to fix it.

Let’s start with that first line: “Hamlet is set in the 1940s of Las Vegas and the Royal Family is the mob.” Great, great idea. So we walk into the theatre, and it is a black box with no set, no projections. The only intimation that we are dealing with the mob is that everyone is in black suits and dark shirts and carry guns, and the ladies are in heels with black hose. Yup. Damon Runyon (think “Guys and Dolls”) mobsters. That’s it. The language still refers to Kings and Queens and Princes and Denmark and France, but with a light New York accent. That’s all that gives us the sense of place. Doesn’t work. Nothing in this execution said “Vegas” at all.

So, what could they have done? First, move it up about 8-10 years. In the early 40s, the only resorts on the strip were El Rancho Vegas and The Last Frontier, both started before the war and both without heavy mob involvement. The Flamingo opened in 1946, and the era that is desired is the 10 year era after that, probably best between 1954 and 1956 when you had a number of mob-owned “union pension fund funded” resorts opening. 1954 is particularly good: you’ve got the El Rancho, Last Frontier, Flamingo, Sahara, Sands, Desert Inn, and Thunderbird operating. Go to 1958 and you can add about 5 more, including the Stardust and Riviera. Make Claude (Claudius) the general manager of the hotel, who bumped off the previous general manager and married his wife, Gertrude. Hamlet could remain Gertrude’s son, and perhaps be something like the Casino Director who doesn’t like the situation, perhaps because Claude was the general manager at a competing resort (and, yes, this happened at the time — look up folks like Gus Greenbaum, who was brought in to manage the Riviera in 1955, after successfully managing the Flamingo Hotel after the death (some would say mob hit) of Bugsy Siegel. In December 1958, Greenbaum and his wife were murdered in their Phoenix, Arizona home, reportedly on the orders of either Meyer Lansky or Tony Accardo. Make the other characters have similar changes: Ophelia as Hamlet’s girlfriend who works in the hotel; Laertes in another position and connected to his father, Polonius, who perhaps works with one of the union pension funds. The key point is that if you are going to set it in Vegas and the mob-controlled strip, you have to adjust the story to that context and mileau. Tweak the characters and names. As this is Fringe, use projections to establish the places: the hotel, offices, on the casino floor, in the desert burying a body. Make the costumes era appropriate and not caricatures of what you think the era is.

The mob Vegas aspect is a wonderful place to set the Hamlet story and to modernize it (doing so could be a great start at a fun screenplay). However, the execution of this version just failed miserably on that count. It was less visible than the Royal Nevada. The director, Rachel Lynn Walker (FB), who was also responsible for the adaptation and adjustments, needed to study and understand the era before attempting to do this.

Independent of screwing up the theme, how was this production as Hamlet itself? What would Billy Shakespeare think? By the way, if you aren’t familiar with Hamlet, either read the Wikipedia entry, the sparknotes, or the play itself.

On this aspect, the show was a bit better, but was still flawed (but see the note at the end). The adaptation did a lot of work to preserve the key lines that everyone expects from Hamlet. That was the good part. The bad part was that many of the actors spoke their lines far too fast, and without clear enunciation, which made it difficult for the audience to follow the story (which is already difficult given the unfamiliarity with Shakespeare’s language and language patterns). This was evidence from the moment when Bernardo steps on the stage and speaks his first lines (the actor playing Bernardo was one of the worst — but far from the only — offender). This problem I blame squarely on the director, Rachel Lynn Walker (FB), who has the responsibility to guide her actors to ensure they can be heard and understood by the audience. I have to tell technical students this all the time: slow down and speak clearly. This is certainly true for actors, who must add projection on top of that (and is doubly true when you are adding an accent).

So, we set aside the theme, and we set aside hearing many of the actors, and what do we have left? The performances. I’m pleased here to say there were some strong performances that offset the weak and worked to carry the story. We’ll do it in the usual tiers, with highlights.

At the time, of course, there is Evan Garcia (FB)’s Hamlet. For the most part, Garcia spoke clear but perhaps a little fast, and captured the emotions well (although he might need to a bit of work to convey the madness of Hamlet a little better). He also didn’t appear to have the strong connection required with Cynthia Asmar/FB‘s Ophelia, who is supposedly his love. Asmar’s Ophelia was fun to watch — kudos for casting diverse body shapes — and handled most of her lines well.

As the King and Queen, Richard Lozoya (FB) and Lauren Sanatra (FB), respectively, performed reasonably well. My wife thought Lozoya spoke a little fast; I thought he was OK. More importantly, other than the words there was nothing to convey a good sense of what the relationship was between Hamlet and these folks, and why he cared about them at all.

Polonius was played by Sergio Venegas (FB), and he had one of the best performances of the team. He spoke clear and loud, and did a great job of conveying his meaning. Shannon Walker (FB)’s Horatio worked well sometimes and at other times spoke too fast. In any case, she performed well and was fun to watch. However, there were a few points where it was clear she was struggling on the next line; by the 5th Fringe show that problem should have gone away. Her partner-in-crime, Daniel Verdugo/FB‘s Bernardo, was more of a problem. He always spoke too fast and too softly, and it was often difficult to figure out what he was saying or doing.

Rounding out the cast were Andrew Cercedes (FB) as Guildenstern, Joy Ann-Marie Horn/FB as Rosencranz, and Ryan Jones/FB as the ghost. Rosencranz and Guildenstern needed to work on their projection and slow down a bit more.

Turning to the production side again, there was no credit provided for set design, because there was no set. Costume and Prop design was by the director, Rachel Lynn Walker (FB), and here again there were some distracting fails. My wife noted that the shoes were wrong for the era. At one point Joy Ann-Marie Horn/FB was an a dress with a large opening in the back, and a bra strap was clearly visible. This did not fit the era in question — either the 1940s or 1950s. In the final scenes, Shannon Walker (FB) needs to watch out as she was about falling out of her top when she was leaning forward. Again — that’s a costuming problem that should have been caught by the director.  Actors seemingly kept dropping their props, and the variety of guns was off. On the plus side, the fight and dance choreography by Richard Lozoya (FB) was quite good. No credit was provided for stage management or lighting design. Justin Huen operated the board, and the production was presented by the Boundless Artists Theatre Company/FB.

Note: Writing this up uncovered the fact that most of the actors, as well as the director, of this production are relatively new to the industry. I do not want this writeup to seem harsher than it should — they were very good for their skill level. The problem is: the audience (especially an audience at Fringe) doesn’t know the actor’s skill level. As a result, the actors and production team need to up their game. There are things one overlooks because it is Fringe: fancy sets, fancy costumes, lots of rehearsal time in the space. But other things are space independent: learning to speak at a speed where the audience can understand, speaking with sufficient projection and enunciation to convey the story. Exhibiting emotions and relating is one thing, but what makes something a play over a pantomime is the writing. I encourage these young actors to keep practicing and working at the craft, and hope to see them much improved next year. This is where a skilled director can come in; they can educate and teach while molding and shaping. I fear the director in this case was overextended: not enough time to research for the writing, not enough time to rehearse with the actors, and not enough time to research to get the costumes to convey the message. In any case, this company still has a skill I don’t have — inhabiting another character. I’m just an engineer who knows how to write.

We saw the last performance of Hamlet, and it looks like it wasn’t extended for the Fringe Encore Awards.

Attention Programmers! Take the Fringe Programming Challenge! Scheduling your shows at the Fringe can be a pain in the …. I’m trying to solve the problem for next year, so take a look at my specs for a Fringe scheduling app. Can you write it?

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September is similarly mostly hold dates at this point. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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Fringe Preview Week News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 04, 2016 @ 7:17 am PDT

Observation StewThis is a busy weekend, with the start of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (we’re seeing 5 shows this preview weekend), a Bat Mitzvah this morning, a MoTAS meeting with Erin speaking tomorrow, and picking up the new car tomorrow afternoon. So its probably best to clear out the accumulated links before all the posts related to the above begin:

  • Op-Ed: History isn’t a ‘useless’ major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of “. Although perhaps grammatically challenged (ending a sentence with a preposition), a good point is being made: History teaches loads of skills, including the ability to think critically. It also teaches its students to see that simple solutions are often not the right answer; life, like history, is often complicated by a myriad of factors. As the article notes: “A historian, however, would know that it is essential to look beyond such simplistic logic.  […]  The utility of disciplines that prepare critical thinkers escapes personnel offices, pundits and politicians (some of whom perhaps would prefer that colleges graduate more followers and fewer leaders). But it shouldn’t. Labor markets in the United States and other countries are unstable and unpredictable. In this environment — especially given the expectation of career changes — the most useful degrees are those that can open multiple doors, and those that prepare one to learn rather than do some specific thing.” An op-ed piece well worth reading. PS: If you want to exercise the critical thinking skills of a history major, especially one that knows Yiddish, Jewish Studies, and Native American studies, I know of one looking for work.
  • Op-Ed: Why I hate Waze“. I agree with this article quite a bit. The point is not that Waze is useless, but our growing dependence on it and similar aps is leading people to lose their connections with where they live. Waze reduces navigation to points on a map. It is not a substitute for knowing your city, how it is laid out, the neighborhoods, the character. As the author writes: “Navigation, to me, is what the city is all about, and not just navigating the streets but the people. It’s one of the secret thrills of urban living, knowing how to get along, how to carve a passage amid the millions with whom we share the territory. […] This is why I avoid the apps; they strip us of authority, adaptability. They replace the subtleties of memory, of hard-won knowledge, with a device whose skills are generic — even, at times, incorrect.”
  • Date of First Riviera Tower Implosion Confirmed: June 14“. And more Vegas history goes down into a pile of rubble. The Riviera is one of the last hotels still standing from 1950s Vegas. All that will be left on the strip will be the two-story wings of the Tropicana. Next is Caesars and Circus-Circus, dating to the 1960s. I’m not arguing to save the Riv — that ship has sailed. Rather, this is a recognition that Las Vegas is a town where the past is bulldozed, tilled under, and reborn. Vegas does not create memories that can be revisited; it creates experiences that are lived in the moment.
  • There’s an Art Deco Airport Lying Ruined in Brooklyn“. Name your New York airports. You probably think JFK, La Guardia, and Newark. How about Floyd Bennett Field, New York’s first airport in Brooklyn. This article is a fascinating exploration of that field, which is still standing. “Long before JFK and LaGuardia, there was Floyd Bennett Field, New York City’s first municipal airport. Designed in stunning Art Deco style, it was once the most modern airport in the world, a glittering gateway into America’s principal metropolis. Many of the leading aviators of their day started daring adventures here during the golden age of aviation—pilots like Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and Roscoe Turner, the latter of whom flew with a lion cub as his co-pilot. […] But today many of the old hangars lie empty and abandoned. The deserted control tower looks over runways covered in weeds.” Fascinating read; c’mon 99% Invisible, how about a story?
  • How The FAA Shot Down ‘Uber For Planes’“. The sharing economy. We’ve seen apps for sharing unused space in cars, unused space in houses, and unused spaces at the dinner table. What about that unused seat on a private aircraft? The links in this discussion explore a startup that tried to address that space… and that got shot down when the FAA said it was a common carrier and would need to follow all of the rules of the big boys. Yet another example of the laws not catching up with our technology.
  • ((( How Twitter Is Teaming Up to Mess With the Nazis )))“. You may have seen the articles going around at the end of the week about a Chrome App that was being used by White Supremacists to identify “Jewish names” on the Internet so they could attack them. This app surrounds Jewish names with ((())) [the app has now been pulled by Google]. This article, which might be OBE, explores how a group of Twitter users decided to combat the antisemites in a different way: by everyone — Jewish or not — putting (((around))) their names. As the article noted: “It’s worth noting that the internet’s anti-Semites hate when their culture is appropriated by their opponents.”. How they must have felt when “It turned out a lot of people—not just Jews—liked the idea. Some anonymous accounts even outed themselves as Jews to show solidarity. Muslims, Christians, and Hindus changed their names to show their support. As of now, hundreds of accounts have appropriated the Nazi symbols as their own.”
  • Audio fandom: exploring the ambient noises of stfnal spaceships“. Have you ever watched Star Trek, and thought about the background noise? The Enterprise had a distinct hum (at least in TNG), which was very different than the background noise on DS:9. Those noises come from somewhere, and this article is an explanation of that “where”. It discusses how the sound and art designers come together to create an almost subliminal image statement about the ships.
  • How a Lost Marx Brothers Musical Found Its Way Back Onstage“. I know, you think I’m talking about the Marx’s interpretation of Chekov’s The Bear, as seen in “A Day in Hollywood, a Night in the Ukraine“. I’m not. There’s another Marx musical — one that has been unseen since the 1920s, when it was the Marx’s first show. This article explores how “I’ll Say She Is” — the first Marx Bros. musical (before Cocoanuts), which has been reconstructed and is about to reopen off-Broadway.
  • The Long Quest to Find Ashkenaz, the Birthplace of Yiddish“. As I type this, I’m digitizing some Yiddish cassettes for my daughter. Have you ever wondered where Yiddish might have come from? Where the “Ashkenaz” in Ashkenazi comes from? “The place name Ashkenaz occurs three times in the Bible, but by the Middle Ages the exact origin of Ashkenaz was forgotten. Because of the migration of the Ashkenazic Jews it later became associated with Germany. This led to all German Jews being considered “Ashkenazic”, a term which was then applied to central and eastern European Jews who follow Ashkenazic religious customs and who speak Yiddish.” This article attempts to explore that question, and is a very interesting read.
  • How to Listen to and Delete Everything You’ve Ever Said to Google“. You might not have realized it, but Google records and keeps everything you say: “Every time you do a voice search, Google records it. And if you’re an Android user, every time you say “Ok Google,” the company records that, too. Don’t freak out, though, because Google lets you hear (and delete) these recordings.” This article explains how to do that.
  • City Museum: A 10-Story Former Shoe Factory Transformed into the Ultimate Urban Playground“. If you are ever in St. Louis, this is a fascinating place to explore … and isn’t just for kids. “Housed in the former home of the 10-story International Shoe Company, the sprawling 600,000 square-foot City Museum in St. Louis is quite possibly the ultimate urban playground ever constructed.  […] So what can you find at the City Museum? How about a sky-high jungle gym making use of two repurposed airplanes, two towering 10-story slides and numerous multi-floor slides, a rooftop Ferris wheel and a cantilevered school bus that juts out from the roof, subterranean caves, a pipe organ, hundreds of feet of tunnels that traverse from floor to floor, an aquarium, ball pits, a shoe lace factory, a circus arts facility, restaurants, and even a bar… because why not? All the materials used to build the museum including salvaged bridges, old chimneys, construction cranes, and miles of tile are sourced locally, making the entire endeavor a massive recycling project.”

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Chum for a Sunday Afternoon: Drums, Drives, Drugs, Dust, Dresses and More

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 15, 2016 @ 3:08 pm PDT

Observation StewI’ve been on travel for my daughter’s graduation, and so I haven’t had a lot of time to write about the articles I’ve seen. I’ve got two themed collections of chum that I’ll write up after last night’s theatre review (not sure when I’ll post them). But first, here’s the stuff that wouldn’t theme, but that caught my eye:

  • Bang. Bang. Bang. Anyone who has attended Drum Corps, or likely even seen a band will recognize this name: Remo. The news in recent weeks included an obituary of the man behind the name: Remo Belli, who invented the synthetic drum head. Before Remo, drums were animal skins, highly variable. As the obituary notes: “Belli was a young professional drummer in the 1950s, backing singer Anita O’Day and others, when he grew frustrated with the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, which could wilt or expand depending on the weather. In 1957, he and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drumheads made of a resilient polyester film manufactured under various brand names, including Mylar, made by DuPont. He dubbed that first product the Weather King, a signal that it was durable no matter the atmospheric conditions of the gig, unlike finicky cow-skin drums.” Since then, his product has become the standard.
  • Long Commute. This article caught my eye because it deals with Las Vegas and teachers. Specifically, there is a group of teachers who live in Las Vegas, and commute daily to teach in the small community of Baker, at the gateway to Death Valley. Why? Pay, of course. The starting salary for teachers in Baker is $44,000. In Las Vegas it’s $34,000, though it will be $40,000 next year after a new contract takes effect. At the same time teacher shortages are ravaging America’s cities, however, rural schools have arguably been hit hardest. Teacher turnover is high, and many small towns are finding it hard to attract teachers. While many are attracted to Baker because of the pay, they stay because the work is satisfying, the way teaching should be but often isn’t in large urban school districts. Class sizes are extremely small: compared with the 30-50 in the large school districts, we’re talking 4-10.
  • Hacking the Brain for Fun… and to Relieve Pain. In our life, pain is a constant. My wife deals with arthritis; I deal with migraines. What do you think we would do for a good solution for the pain? Here’s an intriguing direction: A group is playing with a non-chemical solution that involves hacking the Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears. It travels down each side of the neck, across the chest and down through the abdomen. ‘Vagus’ is Latin for ‘wandering’ and indeed this bundle of nerve fibres roves through the body, networking the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It is made of thousands and thousands of fibres and 80 per cent of them are sensory, meaning that the vagus nerve reports back to your brain what is going on in your organs. Research shows that a high vagal tone (strength of your vagus response) makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Low vagal tone, however, has been associated with chronic inflammation. Said inflammation has been connected with arthritis and migraines. This article talks about using an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve to reduce pain. Fascinating.
  • Pain and Empathy. Chemical painkillers  can be insidious. For example, we all believe Tylenol (acetaminophen, paracetamol in the UK) is safe; safer than aspirin or other NSAIDs. But there have been numerous reports that even the slight overdose can cause serious liver damage, and slight overdoses are easy because it is in so many products because it is believed to be safe. Here’s another danger from Tylenol: In research published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University describe the results of two experiments they conducted involving more than 200 college students. Their conclusion: Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States, can reduce a person’s capacity to empathize with another person’s pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. In fact, I’m on it right now (just took two Excedrin). Ask me if I care ;-).
  • It’s a Gas — Porter Ranch Causes . One group I do emphasize with are all the folks in Porter Ranch, the community next to where we leave. Not only did they have to deal with the Aliso Canyon gas leak for numerous months, being relocated and such, but they are still having problems even after the leak was sealed. They have now figured out why. Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials say its test of dust in Porter Ranch homes turned up the presence of metals, including barium, that could have caused the kinds of health symptoms some residents have reported experiencing even after the big gas leak was plugged. County officials said there appeared to be  a pattern — or fingerprint — of metals to which all of the homes were exposed. Those metals were barium, vanadium, manganese, lead, strontium and aluminum. The county health official said the barium was in the form of a salt known as barium sulfate, which is not radioactive. It was found at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, which is in the Santa Susana Mountains directly north of Porter Ranch homes. Barium sulfate is added to the fluids that are used in the course of oil well drilling. As I said when the leak first started, this is going to be a clusterf*ck of tremendous proportions — unfortunately, one that will affect our synagogue and many friends and neighbors.
  • Taking Offense at Everything. There are more folks these days that are just finding any hint of skin or sex offensive. We’ve all seen the bathroom wars, where a subgroup of men either believe that men will just choose to dress as a lady to go into a ladies restroom to attack women, or that some woman dressed as a man will go into the mens room and see their shortcomings. Here’s another one: a female weather reporter wearing a beautiful black beaded dress on-air was handed a grey cardigan because some viewers complained they could see her bare arms. This didn’t happen in some backwater area either — this was in Los Angeles folks. Geez, get a life folks. If something offends you, change the channel. If you can’t control your urges, that’s your problem. ETA: Then again, perhaps it was all a joke. Perhaps. ETA#2: Yes, it was a joke.
  • Cell Phones and Theatres. Here’s a very nice piece on Broadway vs. Cell Phones. It explains why they are such a problem. First, taking pictures is making copies of a copyrighted design (yes, the show and all the design elements are copyrighted, and represents significant artistic work). Second, the light these devices emit can distract the performers on the stage, and can distract and disturb other audience members. Thirdly, if they  make noise, the noise can do the same: distract and endanger performers, and disturb the audience. Power them off, or silence them and put them in airplane mode. Why the latter? The signals sometimes interfere with wireless microphones.
  • Replacing Ikea. In Burbank, California, Ikea is moving down the street to an even larger facility. So what is going to happen to the existing facility? What will happen to the dying mall next to it. A report this week gave the answer. Crown Realty is proposing to build a six-story, mixed-use project with 765 apartments and about 40,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level of the current Ikea space. They also envision converting the site into a community gathering area where an outdoor ice rink could be built and a farmers market could be held. As for the neighboring mall, one of the major proposed changes will be redesigning the entryway at San Fernando and Magnolia boulevards. A section of the second-floor roof will be removed to create an open-space feel and an escalator will be installed to allow pedestrians to get to the upper level from the street. Other amenities — such as the food court, children’s play area and elevators — will be moved around to create a better flow and atmosphere in the mall.
  • Yiddish in Poland. Lastly, in honor of my daughter’s graduation, here is a map of the Hebrew and Yiddish language frequency in Poland based on the Polish Census of 1931. Those of you who know her will understand.


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The Sharks Are In Vegas, Baby

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 16, 2016 @ 8:04 am PDT

userpic=las-vegasThe sharks are in Vegas, and they’re looking for chum. News chum, that is. Let’s give them some:

  • Riviera Sign Down. One fascinating this article had to do with the Riveria sign — specifically, the one that was on the big glass wraparound at the southern end of the resort on the strip. The sign was taken down this week to go to a collector in Reno, who plans to restore and make the sign operational. But that wasn’t what I found fascinating. Rather, there was a very interesting comment in the VitalVegas blog about the sign: “Don’t know if anyone noticed, but the Riviera sign here actually was superimposed over the existing outline of the previous Splash sign that was on the side of this building when the show was shut down.” The image to the right should show this:rivsign
  • Doubling Down, Literally. Speaking of the Riviera, the funding has been approved to take the old dame down. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved paying $42 million to the contractor that will bring the Riviera buildings down in June and August. Officials say separate implosions are necessary because of the large size the Riviera, which closed last May after the authority purchased it to expand its convention space. Before the implosions of the Riviera’s Monte Carlo and Monaco hotel towers, crews are expected to tear down other buildings, such as parking garages and the property’s convention center, although it’s not clear when that will happen. Once all of the Riviera buildings have come down and the site is cleaned up, the authority plans for the land to become outdoor exhibit space. That needs to be done by early 2017 so a major trade show can use the land. Outdoor exhibit space. What a waste, and what bad news for the north end of the strip.
  • Lagoon on the Strip. Just a bit south of the Riviera, news comes out regarding the old Desert Inn property, now the Wynn and the Encore. This property had a large golf course just off strip — one of its prides. That’s partially going away. Steve Wynn has proposed expanding on to the golf course,with a 1,000-room expansion centered around a 38-acre lagoon that would host water skiing, paddle boarding and parasailing by day and fireworks displays at night. The project, tentatively called Wynn Paradise Park, would cost about $1.5 billion to build and open in 2020 if work begins later this year as planned. Now, what is interesting about this proposal is that it will save water over the golf course. You read that right: The proposed 38-acre lagoon project would actually use less water than the 18-hole golf course that currently sits east of the Strip resort. Uri Man, CEO of Crystal Lagoons US Corp. of Coral Gables, Florida, said that a 7- to 10-acre lagoon would use 30 times less water than a typical golf course and 50 percent less water than a park of the same size. Further, this water isn’t coming from Lake Mead. For Wynn Paradise Park, the company owns the water rights under the golf course, grandfathered in from the Desert Inn Golf Course that once stood on the property, and would use water from wells on the property.
  • A Rebirth to the West. I’ll believe this one when I see it: Yet another developer is promising to give the Moulin Rouge a rebirth. For those unfamiliar, the MR was a casino on the west side of Vegas that was best known for driving the other casinos in Vegas to integrate. Opened on May 24, 1955, the Moulin Rouge was the first racially integrated hotel-casino in Las Vegas. It drew customers but, apparently, not enough money to satisfy its creditors. Closed after an October 1955 bankruptcy, the casino opened sporadically under different owners over the next few years, and was best known for being the site where the March 1960 agreement to desegregate the city’s casinos was announced. It operated in a diminished capacity for years, ultimately becoming a short-term residential motel. A series of fires destroyed anything salvageable of the original structure, leading to a more or less empty space—and a blank slate. There have been numerous attempts to revive it over the 50 years of decline. Now, a new investor group wants to resurrect the casino and hotel, provide a resource center and museum to both help and preserve the history of the surrounding Westside neighborhood. In addition, a planned nonprofit, Moulin Rouge Cares, will reach out to the Westside. Groundbreaking is set for May 24, but experience says that the Fountainbleu will be completed before we see a new Moulin Rouge.


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Weekend News Chum to Fill your Loving Cup

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 14, 2016 @ 8:42 am PDT

Observation Stew’tis the weekend, and that means it is time to clear out the accumulated links that didn’t them… well, at least those I remembered to send back home from work. In the spirit of the day, feel free to share these stories with your sweetie.


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News Chum Unwrapped: Will It Be Coal or Crystal?

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Dec 25, 2015 @ 8:49 am PDT

userpic=chanukah-christmasTo all those who celebrate this day in the non-traditional way: The Merriest of Christmases to you. To all those that celebrate in the traditional way: I hope your movie is entertaining and your Chinese food delicious and MSG-free. Why look? What has 🎅 Santa left under the virtual tree? It looks like a collection of boxes of news chum! Let’s unwrap them and see what we’ve got. I wonder if any of them are for me?

  • 🎁 To: Porter Ranch Residents. I live in Northridge, just down the hill from Porter Ranch. The situation up there is a mess: it is bad for the homeowners, it is bad for the businesses in the area, it is bad for our property values, and it will be bad for all the customers of The Gas Company, who will have to foot the bill for this stupidity for years and years to come. For those that live in Porter Ranch, here are two things of interest: the first is a collection of resources from the Mayor’s office, the second is a commitment from SoCalGas that they will relocate residents faster.
  • 🎁 To: Map Collectors. Here’s a collection of 25 of the best Los Angeles maps. It is hard to pick a favorite on the list. I like the map of former streetcar routes, but I think one of the most useful ones compares the size of Los Angeles to other major cities. Most people don’t understand the sheer size of LA, and the distinct difference in density. The change in property values from 2004 to 2014 is also scary: our zip shows a -24%. Mind you, we bought in the top of the market in 2005 😒 . Of course, my favorite map isn’t on the list; my favorite is the one done by my daughter that maps Yiddish books to where they were published in Southern California.
  • 🎁 To: Those From the Midwest. EaterLA recently announced a present for those from the midwest, or those (like me) who have fond memories of visiting the midwest: it appears there is now a full-sized Steak and Shake now open in Burbank. I wonder if this will entice my dear friend Linda in St. Louis to come out for a visit :-). We’ll have to try it next time we’re in the area.
  • 🎁 To: Honda CR-V Owners. Sigh, like us. Honda has extended the air-bag recall to a wider range of CR-Vs. Luckily, we live in a low humidity area, and most of the problems are the result of humidity. That’s perhaps why repairs are so slow out here: I’m still waiting to hear from Toyota on the availability of my repair; the passenger airbag in my wife’s CR-V was repaired in April ’15, and the driver’s airbag in October ’14.
  • 🎁 To: Those Concerned About Government Waste. We’re all aware the government procures supercomputers. We’re probably also aware that those computers get replaced every few years to stay current, maintainable, and at the cutting edge to give our Nation the lead we should have. So what happens to the old computers that were so expensive to procure. The answer will not make you happy. Most are “put out with the trash”; that is, they are disposed. The most efficient, secure and financially feasible way to do it is by using a computer wood chipper, provided by contractors who specialize in IT asset disposition. This is true especially for the supercomputers with high-level security data. Some are repurposed, but the process isn’t easy. The first possibility is to try and trade in the supercomputer on a replacement with the contractor. Trade-ins are sometimes possible, and repurposing is sometimes possible. The third strategy, if the first two aren’t feasible, is to put the old supercomputer through the General Services Administration’s clearinghouse for distributing unused government property. But even though they are cheap, the new owner must come and get it, get it out of where it is, and possibly contract to remove and reinstall.
  • 🎁 To: Those That Like Android. We all know that Windows is trying to have one operating system to rule them all: Windows 10 on the range from the desktop to the phone. What about a phone operating system on the desktop. How well does Android work with a keyboard and mouse? The answer is “Not good, but better than you would think.” The biggest affordance Android makes for a desktop OS is that it supports a keyboard and mouse. Any Android device can pair with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and if you want to go the wired route, just about any phone can plug in a mouse and keyboard via a USB OTG cable and a USB hub. But from there…
  • 🎁 To: Las Vegas Lovers. Here’s an interesting collection of recommended books about Las Vegas. I’ve only heard of one of these. My list of Vegas books is over on the highway pages.
  • 🎁 To: Those Interested in Food Safety. Tumeric has recently been in the news for a number of reasons. In addition to its use in Indian food, and turning everything yellow, it has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties. Tumeric Tea can provide great relief from arthritis problems. Here’s another use: it is being infused into kitchen surfaces to make them safer. Using nanotechnology, the researchers developed a way to bind curcumin (a tumeric compound) to metal and glass; essentially they used tiny bubbles (nanovesicles) to enclose a curcumin compound. The coated surfaces kill microbes—including E. coli—and prevent food from spoiling without imparting turmeric flavor into the food.
  • 🎁 To: Food Waste or Waist Worriers. Being a member of the “clean plate club” (common in my generation) has been a terrible thing for my waistline, especially in these days of gigantic portions. But I also hate the notion of throwing away food. This is why I found this list of 12 things to keep food from going to waist or waste interesting. In addition to liking this being a list without a load of click-through screens, I like the following two tips: “Buying in bulk doesn’t save money if you end up throwing half of it away. When you don’t have a plan for how and when you will use a sale item, it’s more likely to go to waste, erasing any savings.” and “Shop for how you actually cook and eat, not for how you fantasize about eating. Exotic or otherwise aspirational purchases often go to waste.”
  • 🎁 To: Font Lovers. Back when I started using computers, you were lucky to have 5 different fonts (but then again, I only had 2 on the Selectric). Now there are thousands. But that’s less true if you are writing in Chinese. It is extremely difficult to create a Chinese font. This article discusses how hard it is. Just consider this: The default set for English-language fonts contains about 230 glyphs. A font that covers all of the Latin scripts—that’s over 100 languages plus extra symbols—contains 840 glyphs. The simplified version of Chinese, used primarily in mainland China, requires nearly 7,000 glyphs. For traditional Chinese, used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the number of glyphs is 13,053.
  • 🎁 To: Yiddish Lovers. Last week, I kvelled about my daughter being written up in the JWeekly in the Bay Area for her presentation at the Magnes about her Findery Mapping work. She just wrote an article for a Yiddish Journal about her experiences this summer.
  • 🎁 To: Board Gamers (Especially those who visit Las Vegas). One of my favorite places in LA (which, alas, I don’t get to as frequently as I like because they have poor parking) is Game Haus Cafe. This is a coffee shop with a large collection of board games. For those that go to Vegas, here’s some great news: There’s a similar shop in Las Vegas! Meepleville Board Game Cafe (FB) at 4704 W. Sahara Ave. The owner has more than 10,000 games in his collection. Meepleville will charge $5 for all-day play Monday to Thursday and $10 Friday to Sunday. They are open 10am – midnight Monday – Thursday. 10am – 1am Friday and Saturday. 10am to 8pm on Sunday, starting in January 2016. This is a must visit next time I’m in Vegas; it ranks up there with the National Pinball Hall of Fame.
  • 🎁 To: Those With Large Record Collections. Those of us who have large collections of anything have the worry of about how our kids will dispose of it. This is especially true for records. The blog “Easily Mused” captures this well (and luckily, it provides a solution):

    “Even now, as the icy finger of Death gently tap tap taps on your shoulder, you can not help but smile as you gaze lovingly at your vinyl record collection which you have so diligently curated. Each gleaming scratchless platter is as close to perfection as the day it was manufactured, a testament to your love for and dedication to the recorded arts.

    Say, have you stopped to consider what will become of this treasure trove after you have departed this mortal realm? Many people such as yourself have bequeathed their records to a close friend or family member, receiving sincere assurances that said records will be treasured, cared for, and passed down to each succeeding generation. Alas, nothing could be further from the truth.

    The painful reality is, you will scarcely even have begun your eternal slumber before the sweaty and possibly jelly-stained fingers of your son or nephew will begin carelessly rifling through your precious vinyl stockpile. “What’s this crap?” he will exclaim. “Who the fuck is Buddy Rich?”

    Your beneficiary, having failed to discern the inestimable cultural value of your collection, will then proceed to recklessly hoist your record crates into the back of his freakishly oversized pickup truck, drop them off orphan-style at the front door of the nearest thrift store and peel away, bobbing his head zombie-like to the rhythm of the latest gangsta rap hit.

    Soon, your prized possessions will be unceremoniously dumped on the floor underneath three shelves that contain hardcover books no one will buy for even a quarter, like Jimmie Walker’s autobiography, Dyn-O-Mite!  or any Jackie Collins novel after Hollywood Wives. They will swiftly be procured by an eagle-eyed entrepeneur who talks like a sophisticated music aficionado, but is really only interested in the crinkly tones produced by shuffling big stacks of cash.

    Through his Ebay store, he will sell your cherished records for exorbitant prices and then send them, one by one, to every corner of the globe. Your ghost self will watch helplessly as your Basie goes to Boise, and your Miles goes to Milan. You will then spend the rest of eternity wandering about aimless and confused, trying but endlessly failing to remember the tune of one goddamn song.”

    Luckily, they provide a solution.


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Swabbing the Rest of the Deck

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 19, 2015 @ 3:51 pm PDT

userpic=pirateNow, mates, time to swab the rest of the deck. The cookee said that he couldn’t use these tasty chunks in the stew — they just didn’t blend right. He says we should throw them overboard:

Music: Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County (2010 Studio Cast):Brotherly Love” (Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey)

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Life as a Theme Park

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Sep 01, 2015 @ 8:23 pm PDT

userpic=eticketAs we continue the process of cleaning out the links, today’s three-theme brings together articles related to current and former theme parks, although the term is used loosely:


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