Saturday, October 27, 2007

Other Stuff About Boise

Other than the disappointment of not seeing the capitol, Boise was cute and pleasant, very chilly and cloudy my first day but sunny enough today for a walk along the Boise River greenbelt amid the golden foliage. Unfortunately, my camera's battery was exhausted by then.

A few fun observations. Along West Idaho Street, one of the main cafe and dining districts downtown, it was refreshing to see that the Starbucks seemed constantly empty and two locally owned coffee shops, the Flying M and Java Downtown, were both packed at all times.

It was nice that the Boisans (Boiseganders?) are such pet-loving people (see above left) who are so excited by their libraries (see right). I especially enjoyed the graphic and wording on the pet sign. It notes that you should pick up and leash your dog (I think they mean pick up poop and leash the dog, not pick up dog and leash the poop, huh?) "unless otherwise posted," but I didn't see any place where it said, "Dog poop welcome! Drop and leave!" Also, if you look carefully at this sign you can see that this dog is clearly leashing its owner and not the other way around.

You wonder what's in Boise for me. Well, I was up there working on three stories, at least one of which I'll definitely get published and the other two are in a bit of flux at the moment. No, none have to do with a certain toe-tapping senator. I'm not really at liberty to say what's what, but one of the more timely and newsworthy things that's in Boise is the National Interagency Fire Center, which is essentially the spinal cord of the massive firefighting efforts going on at the moment in Southern California. This is where the nation's supplies of hoses, weather gauges, radio equipment and other fire gear is dispatched from, where the folks are who coordinate getting, say, firefighters from Las Vegas to go to San Diego. It's the home of the Smoke Jumpers, essentially a federally funded daredevil program in which firefighters are trained to parachute into the middle of hard-to-access wildfires. To your right are several pieces of equipment and clothing returned from the California front for cleaning and repair.

I sat in on a live video conference briefing between personnel there and folks from Washington D.C., including the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, formerly an Idaho governor, as Friday's strategy for battling the devastating conflagrations was devised and revised.

Anyhow, that's that except one last little thing. This has to be the messiest desk I've seen, and I'm a journalist...

First Larry Craig, Now THIS?

As many of you know, I've got this thing for state capitals and their capitols. I had been to 23 of them -- capitols, that is, not capitals -- and so I essentially manufacture reasons for work or fun to get out to the ones I'm missing and check them out. That is how, in the past year or so, I've made it to Salem, St. Paul, Juneau and now Boise.

But, Idaho, you disappoint me so. The capitol was closed for massive renovation which involves adding a pair of wings UNDERGROUND. They needed more space, it seems, but they didn't want to attach something modern and unsightly to the classic old structure. So now I must return to Boise again in about three years to see the INSIDE of what looked like a beautiful 208-foot-tall Greco-Roman building based obviously on the U.S. Capitol.

So here's my Boise Trip Money Shot, taken with my cam on auto-click propped on a stick on a picnic bench because a straight couple was too busy mauling one another in public to help me:

But I can't really count it because I didn't get to go inside. I do, however, get to mark off another state I'd never been to, leaving now only Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming untouched by the Friesster.

Friday, October 26, 2007

MGM Mirage Hell Jeopardizing AAA rating?

I'm up in Boise for some assignments and not able to blog much today, but before I headed out into potatoland, I wanted to offer some quick updates from my email.

Solid sources have told me that last Sunday, as the crash was at its peak, the inspector from AAA came in to check in at 6 p.m. and walked out, returning at 10 p.m. It's hard to gauge the accuracy of this particular claim, but I've heard it twice now from separate sources. The property takes pride in its five-diamond AAA rating; not sure if such a problem would actually impact such a thing.

Meanwhile, MGM Mirage is like Compville these days. Front-deskers are giving out smaller comps to the quieter whiners ($50 value), bigger ones to the squeakiest wheels ($1,000+). I'm also told that folks who complain via letter will get more back, so do that if you've been staying there the past week and feel you're due.

Also, if you missed this, here's a testimony in the blog comments from someone who says he/she is a phone reservationist:

"I work room reservations for one of the MGM Mirage properties and it has been a nightmare for the last 5 days. Most people don't understand what "our system is down" means. They keep asking us the same questions over and over. The question of the week has to be "are you up yet?" and unfortunately the answer of the week is "No". Our hands hurt from manually writing all the reservations and then hoping we'll be able to get them into the computer sometime during the day or early evening. It has been insane and to we're exhausted is an understatement."

Finally, this reader is also a blogger and an affected Bellagio client. Read his account here.

So far as I hear, the nightmare's not over even now, a week after it started.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Take It Back...

Norm himself just alerted me to this piece by Benjamin Spillman in the Review-Journal yesterday about the problems. I was too busy yesterday to read much of the paper, so my bad for whining. And no, the R-J news reporters have never been good about crediting others for breaking stories they follow up on. Odd that they didn't have comment from the Micros guy, whose direct personal phone number is on their website.

Oh, one new tidbit: Today they brought in massage therapists at Bellagio to sooth the angst of the front-deskers. Misery continues.

Boise Bound Later Today

Yes, continuing with my effort to hit every state capital, I'm off to Boise today for two nights to work on at least two and maybe three stories. So my apologies if I can't post as much, although traveling does tend to present opportunities.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

MGM Mirage Nightmare Continues!

It seemed the MGM Mirage mess was winding down yesterday and Micros CEO Tom Giannopoulos told me the system had been “substantially restored.” Micros makes the Opera Reservation System. He told me:

“It’s not a product issue, it’s directly related to the environment. We are trying to find out exactly what happened. There could be many reasons from degradation of the data to a virus that may have come into the system.”

But from what I'm hearing, today was worse than yesterday in some spots. All information had to be taken down manually from guests and double-booking rooms was frequent. That is, it's harder to know if a room being issued is already occupied, so folks are walking in on one another or the original room occupants are finding their key cards stop working.

Normally the Bellagio allows guests to check in as early as 6 a.m. if their rooms are available, but today they told everyone not to check in until 11 a.m. Then, at 11, they told everyone to wait another hour. Guests were getting extremely rankled and many have had their first nights and some meals comped to make up for it. At Bellagio, they've got servers roaming the lobby to sooth ire with trays of free bottled water and coffee; at the Mirage it's so bad they're actually taking cocktail orders!

The front desk crews are miserable, too. At Bellagio, they brought in a very elaborate espresso machine for clerks to enjoy.

The Opera system, by the by, is used by the Wynn Las Vegas and Macau as well as the Four Seasons and the international arms of Marriott, Hyatt, Intercontinental and other places.

Meanwhile, it's been five days and not a syllable on any of this in the local papers or the local TV stations with the exception of a paragraph in Norm Clarke's column in Sunday. Norm's website also linked to the coverage provided here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

If you're affected by the MGM Mirage Reservations Mess...

I want to chat with you. Email me your phone # to ASAP, please.

The Strip is LIVE Tonight @ 7:30 pm PT w/ Miley Cyrus' Pa

Join us at LVROCKS.Com at 7:30 PM PT for much more discussion of the MGM Mirage Reservations mess, the David Copperfield mess and lots of other news. Plus, our achy-breaky chat with Billy Ray Cyrus.

We're starting at 7:30 pm tonight because Miles is starting some wacky new exercise thing, so we'll discuss that, too. Join us live or download the podcast on Thursday!

Monday, October 22, 2007

NYT on Vegas Hotels Glitches

My quick hit on the computer glitches at various MGM Mirage properties is here. It's not much, but it's not really that big a deal when half of California is aflame, huh?

MGM Mirage Detroit, Too

MGM Mirage Detroit is also on the OPERA system. Makes sense, since it's new.

Quote from spokesman Gordon Absher at MGM Mirage: "It’s not a situation where it’s down and the car won’t start. It’s a situation where we’re trying to determine what’s causing it to function more slowly at certain times.” Apparently, these problems have been ongoing since FRIDAY. Yikes.

What you may see if you try to book...

The systems at the affected hotels seem to be working sporadically. But as of 6 pm PT, these are screen shots of what I found when I tried to book. Signature seemed to be working OK, for now. Earlier I had not included Mirage, which is the other property on the OPERA system, but just now I tested their site, too, and as you can see they're in the same boat.

Click on the pic to see the images more clearly. I am awaiting reax from MGM Mirage PR. Kinda interesting how each site has different kinds of errors.

BREAKING: MGM Mirage Reservation System Crashes For Bellagio, Four Others

Right now, if you try to book rooms online at the Bellagio, Beau Rivage, Treasure Island, New York-New York or Signature at MGM Grand properties, you probably cannot. And if you have a reservation, prepare for a very cumbersome check-in process. For at least two days, guests have had to have their rooms checked in by back-of-the-front-desk reservationists who manually place them in their rooms and create their key cards. Guests must leave cell #s at the front desk, at least at Bellagio, and are called and sent to a ballroom to get their keys when they're ready.

The trouble stems from the new OPERA reservation system that the company has been transferring over to for the past couple of years. Apparently the addition of the New York-New York may have overloaded it and caused the system to crash and has limited the number of reservations who can access it.

The inconvenience is costing MGM Mirage big bucks. At Bellagio, for instance, some guests are getting comps worth hundreds for the messiness they've encountered.


Game Show Bafflement

I’m still a fan of the idea of the $250,000 Game Show Spectacular at the Las Vegas Hilton, an hour-plus afternoon program hosted by one of three TV legends, Chuck Woolery, Bob Eubanks or Jamie Farr, in which audience members get to hop on stage and win prizes for playing a variety of games, many of which were seen in some form on old-time TV shows. I’m just a little concerned about some of execution of it.

Is it really smart, for instance, to have a game in which three husbands must try to guess their wives’ weights? Yes, they do this. Then they weigh these women on stage -- the audience, thankfully, isn't able to see the actual tonnage -- and the host tells everyone which of the men came closest or is, per the game, the "most honest." Now, I have three sisters and a mother, none of whom would have ever let me see their scale results in private, much less on a Vegas stage!

The show I saw, the third woman was pretty hefty and the poor schlub she’s married to didn’t know what to say to ease her inevitable humiliation. How long until some modest woman runs off stage in tears? Why not, if they're so committed to this idea, switch it around and have the women guess their men's weights? I doubt the men would be nearly as embarrassed.

There’s also a version of the Newlywed Game in which husbands are sent away while wives are asked questions and then the husbands must answer the same way. In a reminder that this is a live show in Vegas in 2007 and not the quaint TV show of the last millennium, the first woman’s answer to “Where is the oddest place you and your husband has made whoopee?” was, uh, a sex club in New York City. And the guy came on stage and confirmed this! Woo hoo! The Hilton has outed swingers! Fun! Or something.

Finally, the press material claims they give away prizes to 50 audience members. It may have just been the show I saw, but they only had 40 on stage. The prizes were good ones, though, mostly money for the winners and tickets and gift certificates to Hilton shops and restaurants for the losers. Not a bad deal.

And one more thing: I wonder if, in this day and age, they might not invite same-sex couples up to play these games as well?

Our First Petcast Video

Emily and I went to SuperZoo 2007 in September and our two shows on the conference are going up this week. (Episode #110, featuring our summations and an interview with a Florida guy who invented a new type of dog collar, can be found here.)

Anyhow, Emily went to SF and tested out one interesting product, paw pads, on her sister's yellow lab Georgia Peach. We discuss the outcome on Episode #110, but Emily provided this footage and I spent some time last night learning for the first time how to edit and dress up video on iMovie! (Episode #111, with interviews with a guy who claims animals can learn commands from his video and a woman who makes wigs for dogs, will post on Friday.)

Please be kind. I know the words are blurry -- not sure why -- and that the video quality, coming from a cellphone camera, isn't terrific, but it is our first try. I'm feeling emboldened, which is good because we have tons of video from my fancy video camera from SuperZoo and I'll try to do something with that, too, soon.

Also, it's only a minute long. But fun! Click on the video above or click here!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Halloween Fun!

One of the things I'm most grateful about is that Jamie, the Little Brother I've mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters since 1997, managed to have made it to 17 without ceasing to enjoy the fun, creative traditions of childhood. There was no hesitation when I called up to suggest we take a hoard of pumpkins to my friend Natalie's house in Henderson so we could carve them with her, her two boys, one of our other friends, Rose, and Rose's two boys.

Oddly, when we all got right down to it, the little boys -- ages 2 through 9 -- showed no interest whatsoever in the craft. Try as we might have, they could not be riveted from their Charlie Brown cartoons, so it ended up being me, Jamie and two grown women around a patio table enjoying a youthful throwback experience over adult conversation. Not bad, really.

Above to the left is a pic of me and Jamie with our results and above to the right is a shot of the ones that Natalie and Rose created on behalf of their kids. I was also impressed by this yard in Natalie's neighborhood (left), especially considering that this (right) is all Miles and I could be bothered with!

I spent this afternoon roasting the pumpkin seeds from all those gourds, which is like crack to me and I'll have to have Miles regulate my intake. But mostly I'm trying to figure out why, for the second year in a row, my carved pumpkin is starting to cave in and get all gross just one day after it was cut up. Is it my imagination or didn't these things used to last longer when we were kids?

Anyone have any suggestions for preventing pumpkin spoilage long enough to make it to, uh, Halloween?