Saturday, May 31, 2008

Three Essential Las Vegas Guides

FOR SOME LAS VEGAS TIPS you won't find in any printed tourbook, I offer you three guides that may boost your fun, ease your losses, and keep you out of jail. Excerpts of each guide are included:

1. Dr. Pauly, Bloggers Invading Las Vegas Tips (scroll down to Nov. 19 entry)

The fifth version of this road map for the the world's poker bloggers as they gather periodically to donk it up in Sin City. Compiled by top poker journalist and kickass world-wandering writer Dr. Pauly, aka Pauly McGuire, who is combining both talents to cover the 2008 World Series of Poker on Tao of Poker in high style. Even those tips that are more inside-baseball for hardcore online hold'em addicts are worth scanning to see how a previously far-flung group of strangers bonded a few years ago via this crazy game and the Internet to become a community. An occasionally very, very drunk community.
10. Never underestimate the importance of a $20 tip.
Do you wanna get shit done in Vegas? Tip the hell out of every person you see. I'm from New York City and we tip everyone. In a town like Vegas, most of the people working in the service industry are not paid extravagantly. They rely on tips to supplement their wages. You would be surprised how much attention you can get with a simple $20 tip. Heck that's like one big bet for some of you. . . .

Now if you think $20 gets you a long way... try tipping $40 or $100.
2. Rands in Repose, The Rands Vegas System

My friend Matt brought this to my attention, and I declare this guide a solid addition to any Vegas warrior's stash of holy texts. Rands is a software-engineering manager, insightful tech-culture essayist, coiner of the term Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder — or NADD — and author of Managing Humans, which collects many of his most useful posts for helping managers treat their charges like people and not soulless 1s and 0s.

We’re all still laughing about the time when Vegas tried to convince the world that it was a family town. You remember this? This was back during the Internet boom, money was free, and Vegas was pretty full of itself as it’d as it had every instant multi-millionaire with huge amounts of disposible cash stumbling around the casinos literally bleeding cash.

With this new wad of cash, Vegas was wondering, What’s next? Where was the growth? Who were the new Vegas customers? What about families? In Sin City? Sure, why the hell not? If they can sell cat food on the Internet, why not get families to think of Vegas as Disneyland? Rollercoasters, yeah, that’s the ticket.

What a complete crock of shit.

3., Drinking for Profit—Poker for the Casual Vegas Player

Not everyone totes sheaves of $100s to Vegas for the big hold'em tourneys or to score bottle service one table away from Jay-Z's posse. Some prefer to turn the city's poker rooms into a free-floating — and free-drinking — home game, and let Sin City serve them . . . until they can barely stand. Follow message board poster Grange95's detailed description (and sly parody of a zillion poker strategy books) to get the most top-shelf tipple for the smallest donation to waitresses and tablemates.
Introduction: The recent poker boom has brought forth a veritable cornucopia of books, manuals, treatises, and websites devoted to improving poker playing skills. These publications have fed the swarms of poker locusts who inhabit most Vegas poker rooms, stripping every last chip from the assorted donkeys, fish, sloths, wombats, platypi, and conventioneers who find themselves attracted to the olfactory siren song of cigarette breath, four day old underwear, and pieces of sandwiches putrefying in the fat rolls of the guy in the five—and six—seat.

But what about the casual poker player, the intrepid soul whose sole purpose for playing poker is that it seems like a “cool” way to get hammered while losing less money than playing $25 blackjack next to a tattoo-covered LA trust fund baby and looking more manly than playing nickel slots next to a chain-smoking granny? Although the poker-drinker is a common denizen of the Vegas poker scene, his (and he is male more than 98.62% of the time) unique poker strategies have not been subjected to rigorous mathematical and game theory analysis. The current poker-drinker is forced to live by his wits, learning by trial and error and the occasional “secret tip” from a degenerate fraternity brother.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Deus ex Machina, Hold the "Deus"

I DON'T BELIEVE IN A SUPREME being, or a team of them; or in fate, karma, destiny, or (reluctantly not) the Force. I believe in science, evidence, statistics, and probability. But I am willing to accept coincidence. Thus it was today.

May has been an up-and-down month for me at work. After again successfully striving with a deadline during the first week of this month, I was exceptionally burnt out. I took a "sick day" the Friday of that wek after a strong feeling of being "done" at work. You can read about some other random discontentment in that post too. Despite some later optimism about my new coworkers, it was tough to feel motivated during the first two weeks of this production cycle.

This was risky, even with the extra hands on deck, because we were facing a couple of artificial obstacles on the schedule. We lost two days midmonth while bringing the new gang up to speed on their duties, and I naturally took Memorial Day off. We will face higher postage costs if we don't get the magazine out by this coming Monday. We'd beaten this deadline the past three issues, despite being told about it at the last minute the first time, and with only two editors versus the usual five. But I was finally getting very fatigued over this breakneck pace.

I've been training the new staff at the same time as I've been giving them work to do. They seem to be fast learners, but because we have no departmental guidebook or procedure manual, I have to tutor from scratch. So I've had to interrupt my workflow to assist with this at irregular intervals. Did I mention that I despise training, even though I'm good at it? Yes. So throw that in as another leech of my will.

I also got my review around the middle of the month, which was quite good (I should know, I wrote most of it). After a couple of days of not hearing about any raise, I took the loathsome step of asking HR. I would rather argue with a steroid abuser over a parking space than speak with our HR person. Apparently, the small adjustment I got out of the blue at the beginning of the year was my 2008 raise; I won't see any result of the good review I'd just gotten until 2009. (Considering this person sent the review forms out late this year, a New Year's bump is not likely.)

Taking my own advice to ask for anything that might be available, I asked if there were any chance that part of the raise could be applied earlier, perhaps in recognition of all of the hard work I had done in keeping the book moving — which apparently is something even the top guy knows about and appreciates. All she did was shrug and say maybe my outgoing managing editor could appeal to her boss; but she said the economy, company budget, blah blah, blah, made this unlikely. Pissed but restrained, I pointed out that, because they hadn't been paying three higher, veteran-level, New York City–area salaries since the beginning of the year for my departed coworkers, there ought to be a little left over for an advance in good faith. This didn't register with the person, so I bailed on the further waste of time this had become and returned to my desk.

(I did have a fallback position. I summarized this exchange for my outgoing manager, and said that, since any early raise seemed unlikely, perhaps they might consider a few more paid vacation days. This is a briar-patch strategy; given the choice of time or money, I will take time any day. She said she'd look into it. At worst, they know I look out for my own ass.)

With all of this going on, the issue is not going to hit prepress on the date my eternally optimistic former boss has been trumpeting. It's something I've had to fight against each issue we've had to do together — we get to a certain point and I start warning folks we're going to have to suck it up and eat the extra postage — but three times so far, we've managed to make it under the deadline anyway. So my Cassandra routine has failed to sport fangs thus far. This time, I suspect, will be different. Because with the three days we've lost in the schedule, with all the training, and the time I've pissed away trying to squeeze a few more benefits out of the system, very little finished copy has transited my desk.

And of course there's one more major obstacle coming next week: I bail for at 5:00 Tuesday night to get things in order at home — and make some ridiculous effort to sleep — before the Vegas trip the next morning.

Not that I haven't been trying to hit the mark. I rescheduled an eye doctor appointment this Friday to devote more time to finishing the issue (and let my bosses know I'd done this). I had intended to stay late last Tuesday, but — once again — the building's AC died, and I was forced to leave on time, at less than full strength in any rate with a pounding, heat-induced headache. I stayed until 9:00 last night, with a break for dinner . . . and I did send finished work to folks at that hour to let them know I'm breaking my ass outside normal work hours. (Always document any extra effort.) Heretical for me, given my resolution this January not to emulate my departed manager's habit of clocking in one or two hours each night, to the point where she needed an anxiolytic to get through it.

Far more heretical was my plan to come in this Saturday for a spell. Packing for Vegas is a reflex by this point and can be done at a sprint. With rain in the works this Saturday, I thought — even if I couldn't completely get the issue out — I could put in a strong final effort to shove it along as far as possible, and then leave folks with a list of what still needs to be done. Plus the artist called in sick this morning after coughing like an exploding munitions factory through most of yesterday, leaving his work in the overburdened hands of another designer. So shit's getting slowed down as it is. And my hints about not making the deadline were not registering.

And this is where my aforementioned faith in faithlessness might be shaky. Early in the afternoon, we got a note from our facilities manager. They're doing massive work on the building this weekend; we need to be out promptly at EOB on Friday, and there will be no admittance throughout the weekend, nor any access to our servers. So my plan to come in Saturday? Impossible.

Some might say God stopped the bullets. Others could claim a cosmic balance has compensated me for busting out a few extra hours last night. I will only go so far as to say, I appreciate the coincidence that this shutdown will keep me from working through Saturday. Any proximity on my part to the office will also be coincidence, and a transient one at that.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Violent Beauty

TWO SORTA RECENT VIDEO GAME ad campaigns juxtaposed tableaux of in-game combat with music of stunning emotion. If you'll permit a pair of YouTube links, these are worth sharing.

Gears of War, featuring the Michael Andres/Gary Jules cover of Tears for Fears's "Mad World"

Halo 3, featuring Chopin's "Raindrop" Prelude in D flat major (direct link if the video's a bit jerky):

Perhaps I'm an old softie, or a sucker either for sad piano music or Tears for Fears, but both of these choke me up a little.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Mouth on Me!

I'M APPARENTLY BECOMING A CARD in my old age. The key to humor? Know your audience. Witness this exchange last night at the local supermarket.

I was using the self-checkout station, which in this store abuts the customer service desk. The 20-something female desk clerk watched me scan and bag my two items, the second of which evoked an error message when I bagged it — the weight and the item's UPC didn't match.

I rebagged it, only to get the same message. The clerk said, "Sometimes it needs to adjust itself."

After 20 seconds of waiting, I smirked and said in a Paulie Walnuts tone, "I gotta adjust myself sometimes, too, but I don't take this long!" To which she laughed loudly.

I won't be opening for Carlin anytime soon, but it's nice to get a 100% positive audience response now and again.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"God Will Be Cut"

I PICKED A HELLUVA MOVIE to watch just earlier during my post-workout "cooldown" of 10 minutes on an elliptical machine: Kill Bill Volume 1. Even though the guide said it was on Telemundo, I flicked it on for the duration. The language barrier proved meaningless; I entered as the Crazy 88 were zooming through that Tokyo tunnel as Beatrix Kiddo streaked behind in her yellow Bruce Lee suit, followed closely by the epic entry of O-Ren and her crew to "Battle Without Honor or Humanity." Yeah, my pulse wasn't dropping out of triple digits any time soon.

I was hoping Telemundo might be as loco in its attitude toward violence as it is toward boisterous, Benny Hill–style T&A. No such luck; when the luscious Julie Dreyfus got a shoulder-height manicure, the chambara gore-gasm was trimmed as neatly as her arm. Likewise the near-bloodless snuffs of the 88s who tried the Bride's Hanzō sword in battle. I ended my cooldown before the Gauntlet-style slayfest of the remaining 88s, which probably was also pruned way back.

Which reminded me of the approach I thought Tarantino ought to take when releasing the DVD. A good stretch of the House of Blue Leaves fight is presented in black and white, partly as chambara homage, partly to toe the rating back out of NC-17 territory. Now in Japan, you can get a version of the DVD with this battle in full color throughout. I thought Region One viewers ought to have a menu option that, in homage to Steve Buscemi's brief role as waiter "Buddy Holly" in Pulp Fiction, would offer two choices: "Burnt to a Crisp" (with the Blue Leaves sequence's original black and white) or "Bloody as Hell" (in glorious arterial color).

Considering Tarantino is taking his sweet-ass time in crafting the combined Parts 1 and 2 version, it might not be too late to get this suggestion to him. Someone contact his people. He can have this idea for free.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Clouds Parting Over Work Future?

I'VE RECEIVED SOME HOPEFUL SIGNS regarding the remote office that will house the new staff on my publication. I've had extensive recent contact with the entire new staff, and they all seem very excited to get rolling on the magazine. They flew out to get some basic training from me and my outgoing managing editor on running the book, which we delivered in small yet informative bites; this meal appears to have satisfied their appetite for details.

I'd originally had trepidations about their two-day visit. As you may have gathered from my recent Bullet Points! post several days ago, I've not been in the best of moods lately. Part of it was related to anxiety over whether I'd be get along with the new Central City crew and not feel lonely at the office without the traditional group of coworkers with whom to chat. Fortunately, the incoming editor-in-chief is very gung-ho over the potential for the book, and I've already exchanged work with my new direct boss. In fact, I've tutored him on two of my regular columns, which at least demonstrated at an early stage for him that I am dedicated to keeping the book rolling. From what I gathered, he was way hep to getting such a detailed guide (though a bit Dickensian in length).

So I don't feel as "done" as I thought I was earlier in the month. Everyone seemed very happy with the introduction I helped to prepare for them, and my outgoing managing editor wrote a great review for me (which may or may not founder on the rocks of fiscal attenuation when we talk wampum). For now, it seems like I'll have a home there and the chance to pick up skills and contacts for what else I would want to do.

Still really not sure what that might be.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

If You're Indian or Italian, Don't Read This!

REGARDLESS OF YOUR NATIONALITY, welcome to this description of my first culinary mashup. I'd never had risotto before, but I dig the concept. I also dig curry. I decided to introduce them to each other. Oh, the heresy!

To backtrack, while eating the Whole Foods Indian hot-tray food this past Saturday, I reflected on the ingredients. There's a fair number of good veggies in various curries. Indian cuisine was my gateway to sampling cauliflower, for instance. I suspected there was a way to prepare Indian-style vegetables on the home front, if I had the right recipe.

I've also nursed a recurring fascination with risotto. I don't know how many of the local Italian restaurants offer it, so I suspected I'd have to make my own. It seemed labor intensive, but after reading about the basics of risotto in How to Cook Everything, I revised that impression.

Sunday dinner left me with a spare, whole Costco roast chicken. Lots of free meat. I'd also bought broccoli and cauliflower, in the hopes of digging up some way, on the Net, of making a veggie curry from them to serve over rice.

Then I thought, why not satisfy two urges in one pot?

Trader Joe's sells arborio rice and vegetable stock. (I often find chicken stock overwhelming, especially when reduced, as it would be in this recipe.) I grabbed both. I already had spices and some of the other elements of risotto. So I figured I'd give it a whirl, with a trip to the local pizzeria as backup in case I conjured a funky ruin.

The risotto recipes in Bittman called for butter as the primary fat, as do most Indian dishes, but I had also seen olive oil used in some online risotto recipes. So I started with 3 tablespoons of oil, which I heated over a medium flame along with 2 teaspoons of Penzey's Hot Curry Powder, to bloom the spices.

Once it began foaming, I added ¾ cup of arborio rice, or half the amount in one of the Bittman recipes. I'd also begun heating about half the recommended amount of stock, 2½ cups, in a saucepan. I stirred the rice until it was evenly coated with spicy oil, then let it heat until it steamed slightly.

At that point, I added my first ladle of stock. A plume of curried steam greeted me. The rice immediately began absorbing the stock, which led me to turn the heat down a touch. I added a couple of shakes of Penzey's Hot Chili Powder, a few grinds of pepper, and a bit of salt, then set the microwave timer for 10 minutes. I added more stock bit by bit, and then stirred the rice every so often until it began to "tighten up." Once it seemed a little more dry than wet, I added more stock. Very scientific.

At the 10-minute mark, I added 3 oz. of finely cubed chicken and a double-handful each of broccoli and cauliflower chopped small. An extra amount of stock allowed them to begin blanching. The rice at this point still had a crunchy core. I set the microwave for another 10 minutes, then continued to add stock and stir as before.

I eventually used the entire box of stock, as by 15 minutes, I was running low of the heated stuff in the saucepan, and there was about a half-cup or so left in the box, a small amount I couldn't imagine using over the rest of the week. The trick now was to get the rice to the proper level of doneness while cooking off, or inducing the absorption of, the remaining stock.

I managed to bring it home well at the 20-minute mark: not too loose, still easily stirred, but with tender rice all the way through. The veggies were cooked but not mushy, and the chicken was beginning to shred nicely. I didn't add any more olive oil at the end; some recipes call for a last dab of butter to finish, but I decided not to up the calories any further (this essentially is a starch-based meal, which I usually try to avoid for weeknight dinners). I filled a plate and sampled it.

This would've made a great cold-weather meal, as its physical and spice-based heat would've beaten a heating blanket soundly for warmth. I feel I succeeded in crafting a basic curry risotto.

And a helluva lot of it too: Even after two servings, I still had half a pan full of it. I'd heard that storing risotto and resurrecting it the next day was sometimes dodgy, but I just covered the pan and placed the whole thing, once cooled a bit, into the fridge. With any luck, there's still enough moisture in it to warm and loosen the mix tomorrow over the stove.

Considering this was a cobbled-together, unorthodox take on risotto, I feel qualified to follow a more traditional recipe for it, assuming this stuff is indeed good tomorrow. Leftovers are always nice. It also let me sample Trader Joe's vegetable stock, which might be a good base for a chicken curry or basmati-rice/veggie recipe. So my first experiment in cultural mix-and-match was a success.

I sense spicy doings ahead, and I haven't even gotten to Vegas yet.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Schizohedron Bullet Points! for 5/3/08

SOME SCATTERED SAMPLINGS FROM RECENT days, by way of a catch-up:

• Fitness is progressing well. I have been hitting the gym an average of six days out of seven for a few weeks now. Having gotten this habit in tune, I still need to improve my dinner habits, but further results will pay off such diligence. Besides, I'm nearing a week of free-range grazing; I have about one month before the Vegas trip, where experience tells me I will gorge lustily. I want to go there in good shape, so if I slack off on exercise there, I won't have much catching up to do upon my return. Wynn Las Vegas is rumored to have a grand spa and gym, but . . . well, it is Wynn Las Vegas. Temptation comes with the territory.

• I had weird dreams or nightmares all week. Ordinarily I'd record them upon awakening and share them here. Not this time; they're best forgotten. The nightmares disrupted my sleep patterns. The non-nightmare dreams featured an unusually large number of people I know and one I don't: Vice President Dick Cheney. I don't have enough to deal with that I gotta be haunted by that fuck in my one legit, unassailable refuge?

• I feel like I'm done at work. The artist is not going to follow his job to Central City. When he leaves, I will be alone out of the fine crew I met upon starting there. My few interactions with my new Central City coworkers (can you call them "coworkers" if they're not in the same office?) have been positive, and I'm told my aid will be crucial in managing the transition and division of labor among that bunch. But while writing a guide to how I hunt for and write up stories for two of my columns, even though this was going to help me lighten my workload and plan ahead on the tasks I retain, I felt like I was giving away some of my reasons for being there. And in the back of my head I still imagine they'll keep me as long as it takes for the Central City group to be working, then hire my replacement out there. My best hope is to revise my resume, take what I can by way of connections, skills, and money, and brace for the next eventuality. At minimum, working with an entirely remote workgroup may be good training for freelancing, into which I've been looking lately (with aid and encouragement from the excellent Amy. How an inexperienced freelance editor and writer like myself would find work in what all rational observers are calling a recession, though, is a non-rhetorical question. And that's not even addressing the healthcare question.

• To my surprise, being single has been upsetting me these past several weeks, for the first time in years. The ratio of days when I don't care about living solo, to those when I do, has dropped from 75:1 to about 3:1. These are not odds that this gambler enjoys seeing rise on this Kentucky Derby Day.