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Sean's Blog

MGM Grand Illusion

The conference I was attending had useful presentations and discussions during the days, but on the Tuesday evening, there was to be something called the “Client Event”.  There had been no information published in advance about what went on there, and when I asked some people about it, I found that the content of this event is normally kept secret each year at the conference.  What I was told was about some of the past ones, many of which had been concerts with surprise performers.  The conference materials did indicate that it would be a concert, and that there would be 2 headlining acts, plus a house band.

News did leak out about the bands, though.  Just a few hours before the concert event, I was talking to a trainer (who shall remain nameless), who told me that supposedly the acts would be Styx and Sammy Haggar.  I was excited to see the former (not so much for the latter).

I got to the concert during the house band’s first set.  This was a group called Liquid Blue (note: a video will start to play automatically when you load their website) who do covers of all sorts.  They were pretty decent, though not super interesting.  I eventually made my way near the stage, hoping to be close by in case Styx were the next act.  Here’s a pic of LB just as they had finished a song:

When they finished their set, the video screens, had the Styx logo appear on them, and the crowd moved over to the larger stage near this small one.  I ended up in the front, but over on one side, as the band came out.

Here’s the crowd, just as excited as me, I think:

Eventually, I discovered that the current incarnation of the band only contains 2 of the members I know from the ’80s.  Here they are – Tommy Shaw (left) and James Young (right):

More pics:

Flailing away on the drums is Todd Sucherman:

This is current bassist Ricky Phillips:

Better picture of Tommy:

On the left below is the keyboardist, Lawrence Gowan:

He sang lead on several of the songs, with others led by Shaw.

James Young closer up:

Lawrence at the keyboard (which he was able to spin completely around on its stand):

For a few songs, the band brought out its original bass player, Chuck Panozzo, who doesn’t perform with the band too much because of his health:

I had a lot of fun seeing them, as I’ve liked their music since I was a kid, but never saw them in concert before.  Songs they played included:

  • Come Sail Away
  • The Grand Illusion
  • Paradise Theater
  • Miss America
  • Renegade
  • Lady
  • Too Much Time on My Hands
  • Foolin’ Yourself
  • Blue Collar Man

After Styx left, Liquid Blue came back for another set, and I made my way to the seating area farther from the stage, as my feet were still hurting from walking the Strip the night before.  During this LB set, there were various odd (and kind of lame) computer animations playing on the video screens in the arena:

I stayed in my seat when Sammy Haggar came on stage, as I’ve never been a really big fan of his.  Mostly the only music I know by him is from his years with Van Halen.  He did do a few VH songs, unsurprising since his stage band included Michael Anthony, the bassist from VH.

One interesting thing about the stage setup was a platform on which several fans from the crowd got to stand during the performance:

You can see them in the center of the stage.  The musicians are in the spotlights below that. Since I was so far from the stage, I mainly watched the screens, which usually were showing Sammy.

I stayed until the end, only somewhat appreciating the Haggar set.  He finished up just after midnight, and I headed back to my room to get some sleep before the last (half) day of the conference.


Posted by seaking on 11-20-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Arts/Media, Travel with 0 Comments


Continuing where my previous post left off, here are things I saw as I headed back south on Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip).

I don’t recall for sure which hotel/casino this belonged to, but it may have been the Riviera:

Here’s the front of the Riviera:

Here’s a ship at the casino Treasure Island:

It is floating in actual water.  Near it, “carved” into the “rock face” is this:

Then at the other end of the Treasure Island lagoon is another ship:

As I was leaving the sphere of influence of TI, I passed these statues, which I believe are related to TI:

It seemed to be popular for tourists to be photographed with their head in the lion’s mouth (I saw at least 2 people pose that way).

Soon I came upon Caesar’s Palace, which I think is one of the larger casino complexes.  It has a lot of statues and fountains:

Here are the main fountains, with a couple of the buildings in the background:

Around this point, I took a picture looking south:

One thing I found fascinating about walking around this area is that it looked like everything was very close together, but then it would take quite a while to walk to a landmark that I’d been able to see for the whole time.  I suspect the reasons for this are the large size of some of the buildings, as well as the flatness of the area (so you can see a long distance.

Here are some features of the Flamingo:

Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall:

Here is the Bellagio:

This place has famous fountains (at least I’d heard about the fountains).  Specifically, there are water jets submerged in their lagoon/moat/whatever, which put on a show every 15 minutes.  I waited a few minutes and got to see it:

I took some video of that show as well, so you can see what the motion of the water is like:

While I found the show impressive, I can’t help but wonder about all the water usage in an area that’s essentially desert.

Back down at Tropicana Blvd., kiddie-corner from the MGM Grand is the Excalibur:

I continued south from there, and came to the Luxor.  That’s the one that’s basically a big pyramid:

With its sky-polluting light on top.  They also have a sphinx and an obelisk sign:

Near the base of the obelisk:

South of the Luxor is the Mandalay Bay, which had one feature worth photographing – these creature statues:

The big casinos peter out at that point, but a ways further south is the Las Vegas welcome sign:

That’s the side you see if you’re headed north.  Going south, you see this:

By this time, I’d spent a few hours walking, and my feet and hip were hurting.  I headed back north to get back to my hotel room.  On the way I passed a motel that had this statue:

Before I made it back to the Tropicana, I spotted a cat:

I had to bump up the brightness on that picture to show something besides the cat’s eyes.  I moved to take a picture from a different angle, and another cat jumped up on a nearby cinderblock wall to get away from me:

I think these cats were feral, as this one jumped into a nearby tree when I got a little closer to it:

I then left them in peace, and ambled back to the hotel.

The following morning I got on the computer and mapped the distance I had walked.  I had spent a total of 4 hours walking and taking pictures, and I had actually travelled nearly 9 miles in that time.  Taken together with the walking I’d done during the day at the conference, it was no wonder my feet hurt.  It took 2 days for them to feel normal again.

Next post: what happened Tuesday night.

Posted by seaking on 11-19-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Surreal, Travel with 0 Comments


Visiting the Las Vegas Strip, that is.  It’s a long section of Las Vegas Boulevard where most (I think it’s most) of the big casinos and attractions are located.  On Monday night I had a the evening free, and decided to go walking up and down the Strip.

I started from the MGM Grand, which is at the intersection of Las Vegas and Tropicana Blvds.  Just across Tropicana Blvd. is the Tropicana itself, which has these light-wrapped palm trees:

Right next to the Tropicana is this place:

Who knew they operated a hotel or casino?  Not me.

I also noticed this set of signage:

With its helpful electronic portion, better seen in the darker picture below:

I think it read the same the whole time I was in town.

Coming around the corner onto Las Vegas Blvd., I saw a corner of the MGM that isn’t really visible from other angles, and where there is a large lion statue:

As John Linnell might say, “I pale before the monolith that towers over me.”

Across LVB is the casino New York, New York:

There’s your visual summary of the island of Manhattan.

Next I headed north on LVB.  Here’s a view up the street in that direction:

I soon encountered a guy dressed like Gene Simmons of Kiss, who was being photographed by others.  I went to take his picture, and he held up a sign saying that he appreciates tips for photos.  So I gave him a couple of bucks.  I would soon realize that there are a lot of such people on the Strip, some of them in pretty impressive costumes.  Anyway, here’s “Gene”:

The sign in the background reads, in the Kiss font, “Kiss Me, I’m Jewish!”

In a glass case was this statue of – I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s a Yak?

The casino called Paris has this balloon:

And some sort of tower:

That thing seems sort of familiar…

The Harley-Davidson Cafe has an unsurprising theme to it:

I ran into several more costumed folks, most of whom I didn’t take pictures of because I didn’t want to tip them.  However, I couldn’t resist when I ran across a stormtrooper.  When I handed him some money, he said “You wanna be in the picture?”  So he handed me a lightsaber, and I handed my camera to another passerby to take pictures.  Unfortunately, the passerby didn’t wait for the camera to focus:

Besides the costumed people, there were also occasional regular panhandlers.  One of them I gave money to who had a cat with her, sitting in a short sack – the cat looked like it might be recovering from injuries, as it seemed to have bandages around its midsection.  I didn’t ask what was up with the cat, but thought later that I should have.

Continuing up the street, I came to the Venetian, which has a “canal” with gondola rides:

They also have a fancy fountain:

In Vegas, even Mickey D’s is glitzy:

Also, while there aren’t many billboards on the strip, I couldn’t fail to notice this one:

Courtesy of the website World Net Daily (no link, as I don’t really want to send them the traffic).

Another thing you run into a lot on the Strip is these people:

They have shirts saying things like “Hot girls direct to you in 20 minutes”, and they attempt to hand out cards or flyers to anyone walking by.  If they have cards to hand out, they make noise with them such as slapping one card against the rest of the stack before proffering it, or flicking the card edge with a fingernail as they hold it out.  I assume the noise is to get people’s attention.  Curiously, none of them say anything to passersby, though a few times I heard a couple of them talk to each other, or on a cell phone headset (these conversations always seemed to be in Spanish).  I didn’t take any of the cards or flyers, but I’m assuming that these are for escort services or the like (prostitution is legal in Nevada, after all).  The workers who do this (mostly men, but there were some women) are pretty expert at hitting just about everyone on the sidewalk moving around a lot to get people going in both directions (the constant motion is why my pictures of them tended to be blurry).

As I got near the Northern end of the Strip, I saw the casino Circus Circus (which I’ve heard of before):

Sometimes I wonder how the themes for different Vegas establishments originated.  I suppose I could look at the websites of the different venues at some point (I haven’t been linking them all here simply because I’m lazy, but they should generally be easy to search for).

Not long after this, I came fairly close to the Stratosphere, which looks like Seattle’s Space Needle:

At that point, I think I was near the end of the Strip, and started heading back south.

I took more pictures of other things on my way south, which will be detailed in my next post.  Stay tuned.


Posted by seaking on 11-18-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Surreal, Travel with 0 Comments


Just a short post tonight, as I’m getting to today’s post fairly late.  It’s another in my ongoing Las Vegas series (which will continue for a few days, even though I’m home now).

This is the convention center attached to the MGM Grand, in which the conference I was attending took place:

I’ve only been on a couple of trips in the past to places that have palm trees, so I still find them quite a novelty:

From the third floor of the convention center you can look into a large courtyard that houses a bunch more such trees, as well as several swimming and wading pools:

The pools are closed for the season, which is just as well, as I didn’t bring my bathing suit.

Here’s a view of the hotel tower during the day:

The building is actually somewhat green – it’s not just the green lights that make it look that way at night.

Here is a view of downtown LV/the Strip from the convention center:


Tomorrow I will have more time to post, so I really will put up pictures from outside the MGM complex.   🙂


Posted by seaking on 11-17-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Travel with 0 Comments

Lions and Weddings and Slots, Oh My!

But mostly lions.

This was the view out my hotel window the first morning, as the sun was about to come up over the mountains:

I wandered around the hotel area the first night to get dinner, which included walking through the casino.  It’s pretty extensive:

And it has a car in it:

You can get married in the hotel in its own wedding chapel:

There are some renovations going on, marked with this large poster:

It took me a second to get the visual joke.

One neat thing they have in the hotel, in keeping with the lion theme, is a lion habitat.  It’s an area that, for a section of each day, has a couple of lions in it, playing, being fed, sleeping, etc.

Apparently the lions don’t live there full-time.  There are a whole bunch of them that live on a ranch outside town, and they transport a couple each day to the hotel in a specially designed vehicle.

The staff of the habitat were attempting to get the lions to play:

They would play a little, but mostly just wanted to lie around.  (they are cats, after all)


Next: some stuff I saw when I left the hotel.

Posted by seaking on 11-16-2011 at 08:11 pm
Posted in Cats, Travel with 0 Comments

How Green Was My Hotel

The hotel where I’m staying (and at which the conference is taking place) is the MGM Grand.  Here’s what it looks like, as seen from the southeast (on Tropicana Blvd, near where the bus from the airport dropped me off).

Those ads near the top are static, so I think they might be some kind of poster, but I’m not sure.  They could be screens of some kind that are left on the same image for a long time.

Walking up to the hotel, one comes to the covered dropoff area near the main entrance:

The actual entrance doors are pretty distant there, as there are several lanes for traffic here.  The area for the valets is in the foreground, and seems to be heated (and maybe lit a bit) by these big gas flame things (low temps in Vegas this week are around 50 degrees, so I’m not sure how much the heat is actually needed).

Upon entering the lobby, one is greeted by a stern lion:

“You will obey the hotel rules.”

My room is up on the 23rd floor.  It faces back southeast, so on that first night I was able to see from whence I’d come:

You can’t really tell from the photo, but I have a great view of the airport.  I also have a closer vantage on Mr. Copperfield:

I think I’m a floor or 2 below the Cirque du Soleil sign.

Here’s the room itself, complete with pictures of old MGM stars:

I think the one on the left is Sophia Loren, but I have no idea about the guy on the right.  Nor am I sure who this is:

This is an image I’ve seen many times before (filming the famous roar):

This looks like an armoire, but is actually the TV cabinet:

Here is the bathroom:

Complete with marble-tiled shower:

Here, you can see that the hotel advocates for access to legal, safe abortion:

Who knows what that has to do with the sprinkler head…


While I was taking pictures out of the window, I noticed that green light was shining up from the parking lot (which gives the building its color at night) and it reflected off of anything close to the window, and then back off the inside of the window.  So I was able to capture my image in the glass:

This picture looks like it should be on the cover of an old science fiction paperback or something.

Next post: images from other parts of the hotel.

Posted by seaking on 11-15-2011 at 09:11 pm
Posted in Travel with 2 Comments

Las Vegas: Fly by Night

So I flew to Las Vegas yesterday to attend a conference for work.  When was hunting around for fares, I found the best price on Southwest airlines, which I haven’t flown in a very long time.  I was surprised to discover that I could get a direct flight from Connecticut to LV.  The flight out was 6 hours long, but that didn’t bother me much, as the leg room was okay.  Also, they did beverage and snack service more than once (and were generous with the snacks – initially letting each passenger take however many snacks from a box that we wanted).

Because the flight took off in the late afternoon, most of the ride was after dark.  The cool part about flying at night is seeing cities all lit up, and trying to identify them.  I was on the left side at a window, so I was looking south.  At one point, I saw a city that I thought might be Toledo or someplace in Indiana.  Then I suddenly saw a big blank area with no lights, closer to the plane, which I figured had to be water.  “Lake Michigan,” I thought, though then I doubted myself.  Maybe we hadn’t gone that far, and this was Lake Erie?  Suddenly, a member of the flight crew came on the PA and said we were just about to see Chicago.  So there you have it.

Here is a picture of Chicago, looking south:

That’s the lake off to the left, there.

Later I believe I identified Omaha, because after we passed it there were no other major concentrations of light until we got within view of Vegas.  Vegas itself has a lot of lights, but I didn’t take pictures as we descended because all gadgets had to be turned off.

As soon as I left the gate, I knew what city I was in:

Yes, there are slot machines on the concourse.  In baggage claim, too, as well as other places.

I took a city transit bus to the hotel (cheapest way to go), and checked in.  Didn’t take pics of the hotel itself yet, but I’ll get some tonight (it is a sight, as is just about everything in this town).  Also, I can only upload pics from my cell phone at the moment, as I forgot to pack my regular camera’s USB cable.

I headed for a late dinner around 8:30 pm local time, which is 11:30 where I’m used to, so it was a really late dinner.  It was tasty, though, at a Mexican place in the hotel complex.  As I was going over the menu, they brought chips with 3 kinds of salsa, and 3 salt blends:

Left to right are salsa verde, a smoky salsa of some kind, and salsa fresca.  The salt on the left has avocado in it, but I don’t remember what the others are (and I hardly had any of the salts).

All for now, as I have another conference session to get to.  More later!

Posted by seaking on 11-14-2011 at 04:11 pm
Posted in Surreal, Travel with 2 Comments

Cake, Dogs, and Imported Candy

(Note: I’m writing this post while sitting in the airport.  I’m about to fly to Las Vegas – more about the trip in subsequent posts.)

Last weekend I drove down to West Springfield to drop some people off at the Big E fairgrounds, and to pick up a birthday cake from a bakery there (not my birthday).  I got to the bakery a little earlier than the time I was supposed to pick up the cake, so I took a short walk around the area (which I believe is the city center).

I saw this dog statue outside the public library:

Here’s the library building itself:

I thought the dog might be a unique thing, but a few blocks later I spotted another one, outside a bar/restaurant:

I suspect that these are remnants of one of those events where a city gets a bunch of fiberglass statues of a given shape, and has local artists decorate them in different ways (Easthampton did it with bears, and Springfield with athletic shoes, for example).

I then picked up the cake (which turned out to be pretty tasty – definitely better than other bakeries we’ve tried in the area).

While killing some time before I needed to pick people up at the Big E, I drove around, and ended up passing a place called Victory International Market (they don’t have a website).  I thought it might be an interesting place to stop.  In fact, it was.  Most of the products on the shelves appear to be Russian, and there were customers and staff speaking Russian around me, so I imagine it is run by a Russian family.  What I found most exciting about the place was a whole aisle full of candy.  Some of the candy was from other European countries, but much of it seemed to be Russian.  I got a few varieties of Russian ones, though they weren’t all actually imported.  A closer inspection of the wrappers later showed that some of them are manufactured in New York.

Still, I’ll want to visit the place again sometime.  I hadn’t even known it existed before, and it was just chance that I found it that day.

Posted by seaking on 11-13-2011 at 04:11 pm
Posted in Food with 0 Comments

Internal Turmoil

The other night I was cutting up several leeks to make soup.  When I sliced one of them open, I found that there was some waviness inside:

I’m not sure what could have caused this.  It seems like something was pushing down on the middle of the plant, forcing those center layers to buckle.  Maybe it was the snowstorm of a couple weeks ago (this leek came from the CSA we participate in at the nearby Hampshire College Farm Center).  I could imagine a weight of snow on the leek pushing down in such a way as to cause this, and maybe the dirt would have provided enough support to keep the outer layers intact.  This is pure speculation, of course.

By the way, the soup I was making is a pretty common recipe – potato, kale, and leek soup.  My version is based on a recipe out of a cook book (the New Basics Cookbook, page 100, “Winter Vegetable Soup”), but I’ve made so many alterations and omissions that it’s really its own thing now.  Basically, I saute a bunch of leeks (sometimes adding celery in I don’t have a ton of leek) in oil for 10 to 15 minutes, add some thyme and tarragon and saute a bit more, then add salt and many (12-14) cups of water.  Bring that to a boil, and add cubed potatoes (about 5 pounds), and boil until the potatoes are near done, then add a pile of chopped kale, turn off the heat and set aside.  The kale will cook fine with the residual heat.  I soak and cook the chick peas separately (2 cups dried), and then add them after the rest of the soup is done.  The soup is great with a big slice of bread.

Oh, and there was no discernible difference in taste because of the waviness of the leek.

Posted by seaking on 11-12-2011 at 04:11 pm
Posted in Food, Humor, Surreal with 0 Comments

Roasting Is Not Actually the Best Way

We’ve collected a number of recipes that use chestnuts, some of which we didn’t end up liking.  The one that has been the best was chestnut flour pancakes.  This is the recipe that we started with, and I converted the metric measurements to English (and the weights to volumes).  I further changed the proportion of white flour to chestnut flour.  Here is the form of the recipe I currently use:

.75 cups white flour
.5 cup chestnut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbsp oil

To make the chestnut flour, we just take the good meats and grind them up in a small food processor.  Then we store the flour in the freezer until we want to use it.

As I mentioned in the previous post, peeling the roasted chestnuts is hard on the hands.  We did roasting again in 2010, though we hardly got any chestnuts that year.  This year, we wanted to see if there was a way to make things softer and easier.  From some more research, we decided to try boiling the chestnuts instead of roasting them.  The prep is the same – cutting an X in each nut – and then they get boiled in a pot for 20 minutes.

Boiling seems to make a big difference in the softness of the shells as well as the tenderness of the meats.  Our hands no longer hurt from the peeling, and we weren’t finding a significant number of hard nut meats.  Some sites say that it’s nice to boil the nuts and then roast them briefly to finish them, but we found with the nuts this year that the boiled ones taste just fine.  They’ve been great, and we’ve got a lot of flour put up at this point, as we had another bumper crop of nuts.

And chestnut pancakes have become our regular Saturday breakfast for the past 6 weeks or so.  We’ll probably have them again tomorrow.


Posted by seaking on 11-11-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Food with 0 Comments

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