Thursday, May 29, 2008

Waiting Room Observations

Things I noticed while the doctor's office staff sort of forgot I was there this morning:

  • The clock on the pencil holder was 11 minutes faster than the clock on the wall
  • The sign should have read, "Patients who are in for physicals should wait to provide a urine sample," not "Patients that..." Though it took much restraint, I did not grab one of their Lamasil pens and correct that sign.
  • A "healthy seating area" in a doctor's office is slightly less useful than a "non smoking section" in a restaurant. The germs don't know not to hop over two chairs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blooper Reel

I was video chatting with PengSis, PengBrotherInLaw (who needs a shorter nom de blog) and the fledglings tonight, sitting on my big inflatable exercise ball, when I got a graphic illustration of why it is inadvisable to own both inflatable furniture and cats. One minute, I was sitting there chatting, then Chessie walked behind me. One stealthy claw, a quiet pop! and a much less quiet expletive later, I was on the floor, atop what is now a giant floppy Pac-Man. Unfortunately, I do not have video of the event, but PengSis may be able to elaborate on the visuals. Such is the power of webcams, that they bring your bloopers 3,000 miles so that your siblings can share them, live.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Told You That You Wouldn't Believe It

Above is a photo of the terminal screen for the Las Vegas Monorail ticketing kiosk. The monorail runs the length of the strip, behind the casinos, and I heartily recommend it as a way to get around. If you look at the right hand column of selections closely, you will notice something odd about the fee structure. Granted, Las Vegas did not get where it is today by attracting visitors who are good at math. Still, how many of those yard-long frozen daiquiri beakers does it take for someone not to notice that, for the price of one 3-day pass, a person could get three 1-day passes and a yard-long beaker of banana daiquiri?

The Dessert You Have To See To Believe

One of the daytime activities at the convention was a cooking demonstration in the Bellagio's million-dollar kitchen studio. The first three courses of lunch were demonstrated and prepared by one of the hotel's main chefs, who, as it turned out, was on his last day working at the Bellagio. The next day, he left to join the catering staff of the Burj-Al-Arab, that sail-shaped hotel in Dubai where suites start at $1,600 a night and are bigger than my first two apartments combined. Appetizers were goatcheese stuffed zucchini blossoms, fennel-pollen-dusted scallops and butternut squash risotto. The salad course was microgreens and flower petals in a citrus-wildflower honey vinaigrette. The main course was free-range petaluma chicken breast stuffed with peas, sauteed pea tendrils and sous-vide white asparagus. The main course was the one I managed to splatter all over my white shirt. Cue the waiter with a napkin and a bottle of Pellegrino ($15 from the hotel honor bar) to blot up the chicken juice--and, before you go there with it, he let me do the actual blotting; he just decanted the mineral water onto the napkin for me. That is the kind of service that almost made up for the hotel's lack of an in-room coffeemaker.

The dessert course, designed and prepared by the pastry chef, is what is photographed above. Back in the 1980s, Kraft foods made a novelty product called Jello 1-2-3. Made properly (easier said than done), it separated out into a gel layer, a creamy layer and a foamy layer as it set. This dessert is much the same concept, except that the layers are created and layered individually and it is not flavored with a Tang taste-alike. The bottom layer is a jello made with hibiscus flowers, with raspberries floating in it. On top of that, there is a coconut cream layer topped with little coconut crunchies. On top of the coconut, there is a foam layer made with lychee puree, and nestled in the lychee foam is a scoop of rose ice cream, which should be one of Baskin Robbins 31 flavors. The thing sticking up on top is a sugar-coated rose petal. It was one of the weirder taste sensation I have ever had, but not in a bad way. Catering did not let us keep the glasses, although we did get a nice souvenir hat, which I did not wear through airport security.

Dolphin Urine Sample

As promised, the saga of my newfound knowledge of collecting a specimen from a dolphin. On our second night in Vegas, the company had arranged a private party at the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, where the animals from Siegfried and Roy's show live when they aren't on stage. Technically, all of the animals live in quarters away from the public areas and take turns spending the day in the exhibit habitat. When there is a private event, the animals stay out a little later and keep their trainers and keepers up to talk to the people. One of the dolphin trainers mentioned that the cetaceans-in-residence take part in research projects, mostly related to dolphin breeding programs, and that researchers from universities often call them up for blood or urine samples for off-site research projects.

This leads to the inevitable pondering: these are marine mammals. How does one go about collecting a urine sample from something that swims around all day? I figured that I was only going to get one shot at finding out, so I asked. As it turns out, one gets a urine sample from a dolphin in much the same way one gets one from a human: get the mammal to pee in a cup. Since one can't exactly send a dolphin into the bathroom with a Dixie cup, the dolphin has to come up onto the shallow platform, tail-first. It then lifts its tail up and the keeper squeezes the necessary specimen out of the dolphin. The photo below has two of the smaller dolphins from the habitat demonstrating the position, face-first instead of tail-first.
You learn something new every day. Today, that something is collecting urine samples from a dolphin. The keeper was a little more circumspect about how they get the dolphins to voluntarily give semen samples, except to say that in dolphins, it is a muscular reaction, rather than the nerve-based reaction it is in humans. This bonus factoid is brought to you by the letters T, M, and I.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Answer to Game #1: How fast can we get from Mandalay Bay to The Venetian?

Las Vegas needs the opposite warning as the one on automotive sideview mirrors. Objects on The Strip are not anywhere near as close as they appear. The Strip is about 4 miles long. On the first day or two, the hotels seem really close together, but after a couple of days hoofing up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, the distances get much farther. On our last day there, I was convinced that the monorail station at Bally's had inched its way into Arizona during the week.

After some quality time walking through Mandalay Bay, located at the southern end of The Strip, we had to get up to The Venetian to make our rendezvous with the gondola rides on the second floor (yes, the indoor canal is upstairs). Google Maps puts the distance between the two hotels at about 2 miles, keeping to the streets. The pedestrian route: take the tram from Mandalay Bay past the Luxor to the Excalibur. Take the skyway from the Excalibur over the 13-lane road over to New York New York, turn right at the Nathan's Hot Dog stand to the skyway over Las Vegas Boulevard to the MGM Grand. Go downstairs, past the lion habitat, through to the back of the casino and pick up the monorail. Ride the monorail to the Harrah's/Imperial Palace station, then walk through to the front of Harrah's and take the sidewalk past Casino Royale to the moving sidewalk over the mini Rialto Bridge into the Venetian. We made that in 35 minutes.

Friday, May 16, 2008

One More Thing About the Hat

This never happened to Indiana Jones, but I am having some difficulty adjusting to the blind spot just above my head. Wednesday afternoon, we were meandering through the carnival midway at Excalibur. Because I did not see it, I smacked my head into a six foot tall stuffed penguin hanging from the ceiling. That's the sort of thing an intrepid archaeologist and/or Vegas tourist should see before it whacks them on the skull (crystal or otherwise).

Yes, I am bored waiting for my plane and the airport has free wi-fi.

Gratuitious Vacation Plug

If anyone finds themselves in Las Vegas, I highly recommend the buffet at Mandalay Bay. Lunch is $20 a head, but that is a particularly good value considering that I don't think I will be able to eat for at least a week. The lunch spread we got had carving stations with prime rib, pork tenderloin, turkey breast and salmon, a full sushi spread, a selection of pizza and pastas, veal osso bucco, burrito bar, five kinds of potatoes, salad bar and a dessert selection second only to the dessert I will describe when I get home and get the photos of it off the camera and onto the computer. That dessert fell into the category of "No one will believe this if we don't have pictures." Other things in that category: "Menopause: The Musical" and the fee structure on the Las Vegas monorail.

Pengy and the TSA Checkpoint of Doom

I'm blogging this at gate A10 in McCarran Airport, fresh out of airport security, which has managed, yet again, to provide more entertainment than security. This time, it was particularly good.

Even with the ozone layer intact, this penguin sunburns easily, so I have been in search of a nice travel sun hat for a while. Emp. Peng. found one for me at an establishment called "Hattitude" at the mall inside the Planet Hollywood casino (for those who haven't done the Strip, most of the hotel/casinos also have a mall similar to the local mall back home, except instead of an Orange Julius, these malls have Daiquiri bars that sell Sloshed Puppies in yard-long beakers). This particular sun hat is a wide brimmed brown felt fedora with grosgrain satin hatband. While the hat is billed as "collapsible," the guy at Hattitude recommended I not test that too much by packing it in my luggage. This brings me to why I was wearing an Indiana Jones fedora through the TSA checkpoint.

As anyone who has experienced the thrill ride that is airport security lately can attest, it would go a lot faster if we just all agreed to do it naked. Nonetheless, we still remove shoes, hats, glasses, jackets, jewelry, laptops, water bottles and all detachable cybernetic implants, place them in little bins, and reassemble ourselves on the other side. This time, after I got myself put back together and my glasses on, I was looking for Emp. Peng., who got routed to a different metal detector. Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable strains of the Indiana Jones theme coming from two metal detectors over. Out of the guys manning the x-ray machine, who were pointing me out to their co-security-personnel. I might feel better about airport security if they had been watching their own line.

More Coming Attractions:

Look for games of "Which of these people are being paid to look pretty?" and "Which of these people are dead, and which are just sloshed?" Although I cannot share the game, we also played "How fast can we get from Mandalay Bay to The Venetian?"

Tomorrow, the penguins will be migratory. After that, I will give a full recount of the fun we have been having this week.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Coming Attractions

Emp. Peng. and I attended an private party at the mini zoo in the Mirage where the animals from the Sigfried and Roy show live. I will explain when I get back to the Rookery how it is that I found out how one gets a urine sample from a dolphin.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I Want...

the Lawnbott lawn-mowing robot. Finally, someone has made a lawn-mowing robot capable of mowing the 2-acre lot that the Rookery sits on. Technology-wise, it is roughly what you would get if the Roomba and Magic Bullet hand blender got together after hours. Did I mention it is a freakin' autonomous lawn-mowing ROBOT? You program it for when you want it to mow, then forget about it. The lawn gets mowed without you.

The issue with lawn-mowing robots has been battery life. Up to now, none have had what it takes to do 2 acres. Some get taxed on a decent sized city lot. Let's face it: if you have a patch of grass the size of a breath mint, you don't need a robot to do your mowing. Five minutes and a pair of manicure scissors would do the trick. Me, I spend 3 to 4 hours a week just mowing. That doesn't count any quality time with the weed whacker, either. With gas prices going the way they are, a $4,000 lawn mower might be worth it just because it is electric. The autonomy would just be a bonus.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

This is Why I Love The Big Bang Theory

Here is a clip from last week's episode of The Big Bang Theory, the Nerdvana Annhilation.

The full 8:33 is hilarious, but the relevant portion to my personal enjoyment is the first 34 seconds, when Sheldon is explaining why his sandwich is "an unmitigated disaster." I, too, have to have my cheese adjacent to my bread to create a moisture barrier. The "simple solution" Sheldon devises around 4:40 is something I would come up with, too, although I would never execute it since I get vertigo standing on tippy-toe.

Bizarre Penguin News

If you ever thought having your leg humped by a terrier was bad, check out what scientists from the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria witnessed at a colony of King penguins. A 100 kg fur seal attempted for 45 minutes to (ahem) non-consensually mate with a 15 kg King penguin. The seal was unsuccessful, and the penguin appears to be OK. WARNING: the article contains somewhat graphic descriptions of the event--caveat clicker.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day...and me without a comic book shop nearby.