Friday, July 1, 2011

Totally Awesome Time-Lapse Film Of Vegas

You all remember Philip Bloom? He's the British filmmaker who last year threw a questionable tantrum against the Wynn Las Vegas, accusing them of nearly killing him because they failed to remove a feather pillow from his room. That was a messy drama that ended with Bloom first threatening to sue me and then making the whole matter disappear from his blog and elsewhere.

Well, we come not to bury Mr. Bloom but to praise him. This is just spectacular and beautiful and well worth the accolades that Mr. Bloom's many fans have bestowed on his technical genius. Check it out. It's about 4 minutes of sumptuous Vegas Porn, shot from the MGM Signature. I've watched it several times now and just think it is sensational.

24 Hours of Neon from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Hat tip to Markus Hundt in Germany for passing along the link.

Source: Bellagio Abandoning Awful Floral Wallpaper In Redesign

The Twitterverse, podosphere and blogland have been going nuts in the past week or so over photos leaked to VegasTripping.Com that show some fairly hideous design features for the redesigned basic rooms in the main Bellagio tower. A disgusted Chuck Monster of VegasTripping.Com, on the most recent episode of The Vegas Gang podcast, said it made the rooms look like they belong in the Stardust and others chimed in that it looked like something that would give Roger Thomas hives.

With good reason. That above and this...

...are pretty awful. Also, it reminds me of Blanche's bedroom in Golden Girls:

Well, I'm happy to report that a trusted MGM Resorts source tells me that even when the sample rooms were being shown to various employees, the staff was being told the designer herself had decided she didn't care for that wallpaper and that it would be replaced with something understated. No word yet what that choice is.

The rest of the furnishings and such, however, will be as these photos show them and actually look "pretty cool" in person, I am told. If you look at the pictures and imagine that wall print gone, the whole scheme is infinitely better if still not all that great.

The first floor of rooms come into circulation within 10 days, I am told. Starting last month, they are taking four floors out of commission at a time in the main tower and plan to completing/releasing a floor a week until December when they're all done. It's the first main-tower room redesign since before the Spa Tower opened, which puts it at about 7 years. That's letting things slide modestly, given the high-end Vegas standard is to redo the rooms every 5 years, but these haven't exactly been the flushest of times for MGM.

I tend to think that Chuck's analysis on Vegas Gang was fairly spot on: This is appears to be an effort to bring the Conservatory into the rooms the way Mirage has borrowed design motifs from the volcano. But, really, the pale greens and stripes and the clashes with the carpet do not feel sophisticated, and that will harm the Bellagio brand.

Still, at least someone had the wisdom to realize that wallpaper would be offensive in a Radisson, let alone in the best-loved and most iconic luxury resort on the Vegas Strip. Can't wait to see it for myself.

[Thanks to Chuck for permission to use these images. Check out a couple others on his site.]

Thursday, June 30, 2011

LVW Col: Vegas Blew It, And Not In A Good Way

Here's the columnized version of the blog post of the other day. Also, you can hear me, Chuck and travel agent Terry Wilsey discuss the topic on Las Vegas Weekly Radio Mag tonight on KUNV, 91.5 FM, at 5:30p. I'll update this post with the link when there's a podcast version available. -sf

When it comes to gay marriage,
Nevada is a few states too late



Like most gay Americans not on the happy streets of Greenwich Village on Friday as the New York Senate deliberated whether to make my home state the largest and coolest state to recognize same-sex marriages, I sat with one eye glued to cable news coverage and the other avidly scanning the web. And amid that hullabaloo, an email arrived from Nevada’s foremost conservative activist, Chuck Muth.

He, too, was paying attention and took the unfolding historic moment to call on his Silver State minions—those who sign his anti-tax pledges and cower when he unleashes his ire—to embrace marriage equality because “it’s inevitable. It can and will be delayed, but not stopped. And eventually, it will be as acceptable as black/white marriages.”

It was at once a reality check and a warning against being on the wrong side of history. It wasn’t the first time Muth or other principled conservatives—those who follow their credo all the way to the belief that government should stay out of personal as well as economic lives—had made such remarks, but his timing heightened the message.

To sweeten the pot, Muth added this: “As an economy based almost solely on tourism and entertainment, Nevada—and especially Las Vegas —should accept reality, embrace the inevitable, repeal the state’s ban on gay marriage and scarf up on the tourism bonanza that would result rather than suck hind teat behind the likes of Hawaii and New York.”

Sorry, Charlie.

Read the REST at LasVegasWeekly.Com

The Show is UP: Ex-Harrah's CEO Phil Satre

New show, turned around really quick! Bill Harrah died 33 years ago today, so this is good timing. Enjoy. Click on the date below to play or right-click to save the show. Or you subscribe -- for free -- in iTunes or Zune and you'll always get it first. -sf

June 29: Phil Satre Is Not Harrahfied

This fall will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Harrah, the man whose name is on more casinos in the world than any other. His former company, which recently changed its name to Caesars Entertainment, has very little planned outside of some promotions at the original Harrah’s resort in Reno, but we decided he deserved a little more attention than that. Harrah died 33 years ago tomorrow at the age of 66, so Steve spoke with his successor, Phil Satre, who helmed Harrah’s for 21 years and is responsible for spreading that name around the world. Satre, who left Harrah’s in 2005 and is now the chairman of the board of IGT, talks about the quirks and visions that made the man what he was and then explains several decisions made in the 1980s and 1990s including the choice for the company to never build any new hotel-casinos in Las Vegas. Also, Steve introduces Satre to the term “Harrah-fy” and asks Satre whether he feels he degraded the quality of the resorts he acquired.

In Banter: Octavius, Plaza, Bellagio, Maloof, Hilton and an aquarium-related Vegas-set reality show.

Open & Banter: Start to 25ish
Phil Satre Part I: 26-58ish
Trivia/Poll/Letters: 58ish-1:06
Phil Satre Part II: 1:07-1:48ish
TSTToTW: 1:48-end

Links to stuff discussed:

A news report on the Plaza and the stuff they bought F-Blew
See pix of apparent Bellagio room redesign and hear Chuck and others pan it on the latest Vegas Gang show
VegasHappensHere with Flickr slideshow of Octavius Tower VIP suite and bathroom
Oprah on the toilets at the fancy Caesars Palace suites
Peter Greenberg Radio Show, which Steve is on on July 2
Hilton and Hilton Worldwide in conflict over franchise
Electric Daisy succeeded, says Las Vegas Weekly
Steve’s column on why Las Vegas missed the financial boat on gay marriage
Brian Greenspun’s column on the honorable, now-2% Palms owner George Maloof
The brief on TANKED on Animal Planet
The Sunbelt Car Collection can be seen, according to our TSTTotW from Sept. 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Las Vegas Hilton To Be Renamed!

Both the Review-Journal and VegasInc is reporting today that Hilton Worldwide is terminating its franchising agreement with the folks who own the las Vegas Hilton, effective the end of 2011. Chuck at VegasTripping.Com, in an item referencing the R-J piece, wrote that this means the Hilton will have to change its name. The R-J report says no such thing -- gigantic, glaring omission, bro -- but Liz Benston in VegasInc does.

This is kind of a pretty big deal. That sign alone cost $8 million and was the most expensive marquee ever when it was built. Other than the Barbary Coast-Bill's and Aladdin-PlanetHo name-changes -- both brought on by ownership changes -- can you recall another property losing its identity? I mean, the Flamingo Hilton became the Flamingo, but big whoop. And, yeah, the Las Vegas Hilton was originally the International. So there's that.

I have a few ideas, though! Since they're always pimping the Elvis connection over there, the Elvis-a-Rama is presently available. Or maybe it's time to create an Electric Daisy Resort so at least the peace-loving stoners will have a place to rest their weary heads next time the slither on by these parts. Or, given that the property almost stretches far enough north, could this be the New Sahara? I'm sure Sam Nazarian would happily liquidate the name along with the toilets for the right, probably not terribly high, price.

My money? Something far more boring. Remember that massive flagship Marriott that's supposed to spring up one of these decades across from the convention center? Well, look it! They can skip the construction costs and all that bother! Hooray!

Pictorial: Caesars' Octavius VIP Suite & Toilet

When I got the request last week to come to Caesars Palace to record a spot on this upcoming Saturday's Peter Greenberg Radio Program, I was sure there was some kind of mistake. The info indicated we'd be recording in the Marcus Aurelius Suite in the Octavius Tower, but I hadn't realized there was anything actually functioning in the otherwise gift-wrapped but empty building.

Turns out, there are three completed suites of about 11,500 square feet, each with a patio just slightly elevated from but overlooking Caesars' courtyard of pools. From what I was told while I was there, the company is in the process of completing six more such suites above and below the one I was in, but you can't rent them. They're only for VIPs.

So I took a bunch of photos, and you can either see them on Flickr with their titles/captions or here's a Flickr slideshow:

I did promise the Caesars peeps I wouldn't dwell too much on the toilet, which is why I put all of that above up front. But, umm, those toilets -- as regaled about by Oprah during commercial breaks during her taping in the Colosseum three years ago -- really is quite a thing. The seat pops up -- and warms up -- for you when you enter, and check out the remote control:

It's enough to make you say, "Holy crap!" Talk about solving a first-world problem.

Meanwhile, and perhaps tangentially related, I found this new sign by the valet door of the Augustus Tower, necessitated by the fact that Caesars now allows guests to bring their pooches, kind of oddly worded:

Just who is getting the relief? Your dog or all the other guests who are sick of hearing it yap? Just wondering.

The Strip is LIVE tonight @ 8pm PT!

Tonight, we go in-depth with former Harrah's CEO and current IGT board chairman Phil Satre, who led the company from 1984 to 2005 and is largely responsible for the company's head-spinning growth and dominance in the world of gaming loyalty clubs . We called on Satre because this fall would have been the 100th birthday of Bill Harrah, but the company that until two minutes ago bore that name has precious little planned to commemorate the moment. Satre offers up some terrific tidbits about the quirky founder's personality, reacts to recent data showing slot machines may be able to create a chemical dependency, talks about that one thing he almost built on the Strip and much more.

So here's zee plan: At 8 p.m. PT, we will begin to play the interview with Satre, and you can hear that and chat with other listeners -- and watch Black, Jack and Aces gnaw ferociously at treats -- on this UStream site. We'll stop playing the interview when Miles gets home from work so we can do the regular parts of the show, and then, of course, the podcast of it all -- in the correct order -- will be available tomorrow with the whole Satre discussion intact.

I hope you'll be there. But if not, I'll try getting the podcast out as quickly as I can, so you can subscribe to The Strip (it's free!) in iTunes or Zune to get the latest show and various specials.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Media Muddle Extra: A Week In Righthaven

This deserved separate treatment from the prior post, so here we go.

On Wednesday, Jon Ralston faux-hammered Steve Gibson, the CEO of Righthaven, the company that has been suing hundreds of websites for alleged copyright theft for the R-J and the Denver Post. It was entertaining, especially watching Ralston nearly and literally fall out of his seat trying to shove questions upon Gibson, who evidently believes bad posture and donning sweater vests in 105 degree heat are ways to appear smart and knowledgeable on TV. Watch it:

Jon did pull off a few stunt questions designed to amuse viewers more than get serious answers, stuff like "You really screwed this thing up, didn’t you?" and "This is just a shakedown, that’s all this was." (Dream responses: "Yeah, that's why I'm an alcoholic now" and "Of course, how do you think I pay for these bitchin' designer specs?" Real responses: "No" and "No".)

Ultimately, despite Ralston's efforts to appear tough, Gibson got away with spouting off some pretty awesome rhetorical lies. The problem Righthaven faces is that a Nevada judge spanked him for possibly deceiving the courts as to who actually owns the rights to the material over which Righthaven has been suing possible infringers. Gibson disagrees, naturally, with the judge's suggestion that only the true and full owner can do so. Righthaven believed that getting the R-J to sign over some but not all of the ownership rights would cut it, but they didn't tell the court they didn't have all rights to the material.

This matters because the whole purpose of Righthaven taking over the copyright was essentially to protect Stephens Media from being liable should something go cockeyed in this litigation. Like, say, if someone on their side does something wrong like, I dunno, committing perjury. The person liable is whomever actually owns the copyright, and since Stephens didn't give it all up, the judge says there's no reason why the court should listen to Righthaven.

But here's how Gibson put it to Ralston:

An analogy here is, you can own a house and have title to that house. And then you can lease, allow someone to use that house. Allowing someone to use the house doesn’t mean you lose your title with respect to that house and being able to do certain things with that house. The debate that we’re having is whether or not the documentation with the clear intent of Stephens Media and Righthaven, is to have Righthaven own the house, whether or not that documentation at this point supports it.

OK, so this makes no sense whatsoever, even if Ralston didn't notice. If I lease my house, my renters can't go into court and sue, say, my HOA if they're mad about something. They would be committing fraud if they told a judge they were the owner just because they paid me some money to use my house. No matter what they say, unless I sign over the whole title to the renter, I still own the house. I suppose the renters could appear in court on my behalf if I let them, but I'm still the central figure in the litigation. Everybody who is in court is representing me, not themselves. And they must, legally, say so.

Righthaven told the court they owned the house so the court would recognize they have a stake in the lawsuit. But it turns out, they did not own the house and don't have a stake. Heck, they weren't even renters. Gibson's house renter isn't analogous to Righthaven, it's analogous to the people who pay to reprint R-J content. They get to use the material without actually owning it, just as a renter gets to live in the house without owning it.

Oh! Here's another pile o' baloney from Gibson that sailed on by Ralston:

If you Google a search, Google doesn’t say, "Oh we’re only going to show you the content if it’s at a megasite," they’re going to show you the content if it’s topically relevant. You understand that?

Holy crap! Gibson just defied comprehension of precisely why anyone uses Google, which is specifically to sort material in a useful way. That means that if the Drudge Report and GibsonsAMoron.Com post the same article, the Drudge Report's version is going to show up at the top of the Google chain and the version will probably appear several pages down where nobody ever looks.

So, Steve, yes, Google will show you the content that is topically relevant, starting with the MOST POPULAR venues where that material appears. That means that being ripped off by HuffPo is more significant than being ripped off by RunninFromThePoPo. You understand that?

No, I suspect he doesn't because the brilliant, proprietary secret sauce of Righthaven is obviously to set up customized Google news and blog alerts that ping them every time someone uses something with a catch phrase or term. Yes, in that case, you get every last thing regardless of if it's from a major outlet or some site nobody's ever heard of. In that configuration, all that comes up is what is "topically relevant." But that's not functionally how most people use the Internet or Google.

(Aside: I don't have the time to do this research, but it would be enlightening to take all the R-J material over which Righthaven has sued and analyze them to see what phrases they all have in common. Then we'd know what the search was. Why do I have this feeling the term will be "Las Vegas Review-Journal", meaning they only found these infringers because they were stupid enough to, uh, cite the source? Just a hunch.)

The thing I'm most bummed about, though, is that Ralston didn't say to Gibson: "What did Sherm Frederick know and when did he know it?" That's the good stuff, the human stuff, the non-legalese scandal of it all. This whole debacle was green-lit by the already-disgraced former publisher, who surely knew the court filings misrepresented the true identity of the ownership of the material. Now Frederick is gone and his former company is staring down the barrel at possible court sanctions. He's a guy who has been advocating personal responsibility for decades, as many conservatives do, but thus far he doesn't seem too willing to own up to any errors he may have made in all of this.

Sad Shermy published a column on Righthaven today and he almost snookered me into agreeing with him yet again! He chose to address a different ruling against Righthaven, one in which a judge seemed to have a bizarre view of what constitutes a column worthy of copyright protections. Certainly, what the judge wrote in weighing whether the posting of a Sad Shermy column was Fair Use was questionable and weird.

Alas, Sad Shermy left out some fairly significant and relevant details, as usual. Leave it to Steve Green from the VegasInc.Com fill them in in his assessment of Sad Shermy's piece. In a brutal piece that explains how the mishandling of the Righthaven campaign has actually systematically made intellectual property on the Internet less protected rather than more, he noted:

Here’s something else Frederick didn’t point out in today’s column: Pro’s finding that the Frederick column at issue in the Hoehn case “contains a significant informational element” as opposed to being purely creative, is a factor that “is not terribly relevant in the overall fair use balancing.”

The key factors were that Hoehn “did not and could not profit from posting” the column, that he posted it for informational purposes to foster discussion on a public policy issue and that Righthaven failed to show any harm to the market for the column.

What?!? Sad Shermy wrote an entire column on a straw man argument? The judge said that how he defines Fair Use isn't where he rests his case? It was that the poster could not actually profit from posting the thing? I wonder if he thinks the courts are as stupid as he thinks his readers are, that maybe appeals judges will dwell on the irrelevant part of the ruling just as he did.

Sad Shermy also forgot to explain what he knew and when he knew it regarding Righthaven's telling the court that they owned copyrights that they did not own. I suspect that will have to wait for a deposition. Bring popcorn.

Media Muddle: KNPR, Bornfeld, Electric Daisy Cartoons

It's Sunday and I've got tons of writing to do, which means that I'll set it aside as usual to muse. Loads and loads of stuff:

* We expect our media critics to be forthright. But on Thursday, when Steve Bornfeld of the Review-Journal announced the end of his Mediaology column, which analyzed the local TV news universe, he did so with this bizarre and ridiculous statement:

[T]he issues [this column] addresses are finite. Believing they're infinite would result in increasingly strident, repetitive columns. Readers and TV pros deserve better.

Uh, what? He's run out of news? Can you imagine if Norm Clarke said, "You know, every original celebrity scandal that's ever happened has happened, so I don't want to bore you all anymore. Bye!" Or if Jon Ralston said, "These elections are so frigging repetitive. Someone wins, someone loses, people get mean, people lie. How boring. I'm done!" Or maybe Howard Stutz might perk up one day and say, "The earnings go up, the earnings go down, they keep having these poker tournaments, so what, we've got the gaming thing fully covered. Let's move on, shall we?"

The TV news business is a perpetual news machine of its own. The personalities, decisions and circumstances -- especially in a rapidly changing era of media -- present endless stories, reasons to opine, worthwhile topics to delve into and important matters to continue to explain to readers/viewers about how and why the news as it is. Every time a major story breaks, someone independent ought to assess how it was managed by the medium that still provides the most information to the most numbers of people. There is so much wrong with local TV news it makes my head explode, and Bornfeld barely scratched the surface. Yet after just three years, Bornfeld can't come up with anything more to say? What?

Nope, not buying it. Something else is happening here. Maybe he's personally just tired of doing it, which is fine but don't pretend like the entire pursuit is no longer worthy or valuable. Maybe the newspaper decided the space could be better used for more advice columns and puzzles, which we'll find out soon enough. Maybe, having fired staffer Corey Levitan, the Features Section decided they needed Bornfeld to pick up slack elsewhere, and the one thing that needed to go before he snapped was this. But to say, "Hey, we did it all! Nothing left to see!" is inane and disingenuous. Any journalist with that little creativity should leave the business altogether, and I don't believe Bornfeld is that guy. Yet since he's writing a column about the MEDIA BUSINESS in which he has certainly advocated transparency, this dud of a swan song is especially pathetic.

[Disclosure: I generally do not comment on the local TV news biz because my partner is an executive at KSNV, Channel 3, so it's awkward and compromising. While some suggest I have a bias in my print-media commentary toward Greenspun Media because I write a column for GMG's Las Vegas Weekly, I suspect the likes of Ralston, Joe Schoenmann, Robin Leach, Delen Goldberg, David McGrath Schwartz, John Katsilometes and others would agree I haven't laid off on GMG when the spirit moves me.]

* Speaking of the TV, I was on it on Friday with KSNV's Jim Snyder discussing the hullabaloo surrounding the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Here's my part:

So far, so good with EDC, by the by. No serious injuries or hospitalizations to speak of.

* Tangentially, I was fascinated to find this cartoon about the EDC on the R-J's editorial page:

(It's four frames, so I've excerpted it for the purposes of illustration as I didn't want to be sued for providing the whole thing.)

It's worth noting because at first I thought this meant that Las Vegas jitters over EDC had scored so high on the national radar that a political cartoonist had opted to make fun of it. And not just any, but Ted Rall, a nationally syndicated cartoonist who is presently the president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. He's also an award-winning columnist.

So I looked around online to find the cartoon and see where else it had run. I couldn't find it. So I went back to look more closely and I found this... between panels. Which means the R-J had commissioned Rall to draw this specifically for the newspaper. I had reported a few months ago that the R-J had fired its longtime political cartoonist, Jim Day, and bemoaned the expected lack of cartoons commenting on local issues since then. So I'm fascinated by the notion that the R-J is evidently paying syndicated cartoonists -- and very prominent ones -- from outside the city to do Vegas-related work.

* In today's column, Greenspun Publisher Brian Greenspun says out loud what I've been saying for years regarding why the Las Vegas Sun faced its massive layoffs and suffered such internal strife. You'll recall that I criticized a Las Vegas CityLife cover story by Amy Kingsley that basically suggested the paper's woes were brought on by internal conflicts between the print and online sides and suggested that it was the company's money-bleeding -- perhaps because of a failed online strategy -- that led to workforce reductions.

I argued -- and then-publisher Geoff Schumacher slapped back harsh at me -- that Kingsley's piece missed the point, failed to take into account the entire situation and was ultimately a failure. To respond to Schumacher, who felt the story was just dandy as it was, I wrote:

Kingsley's piece makes many assumptions about why Greenspun Media Group hit its rocky shoal, all of them focusing on journalism. Schumacher does the same. What Kingsley overlooked and Schumacher forgets is that the Sun has never been a profitable publication, not when Hank Greenspun started it and probably not for the vast majority of its life including recent years. And definitely not when they won their Pulitzer.

The Las Vegas Sun and most of the GMG publications have been propped up for all this time by the Greenspun family fortune. It is only because THAT has faltered that suddenly economic realities have hit them. Sure, was an abject failure and yes, there are disgruntled people, but the Greenspuns are heavily invested in THREE businesses that have fallen apart right when Curley & Co were trying to make their big splash: Real estate (American Pacific), gaming (Station Casinos) and media (Tribune Co as well as GMG publications).

In today's column, Greenspun praises George Maloof for sticking with The Palms and not declaring bankruptcy or using the other easier ways to reorganize and paper over his business problems. Along the way, he tossed in this nugget:

By way of full disclosure, my family has not escaped the bludgeoning that has been leveled without discrimination across the country. Actually, the heartache has been disproportionately felt in those areas that relied on real estate and gaming. Throw in the media collapse, and it appears that my family hit the triple jackpot.

Ta-da! THAT is why his family reduced their workforce, shut down CineVegas, rejiggered all sorts of things. Not because the guy running the online department had singlehandedly run the enterprise into the ground, as Kingsley shouted from her cover story. But because, as I said before, the losses on every front were so grave they decided they couldn't bleed THAT MUCH from their media holdings. That was the story then, and CityLife missed it.

* Two random pieces from the Sunday paper that intrigued me:
  • Sonya Padgett's feature on all the folks who sell water and art on the pedestrian bridges on the Strip. People make $1,000 a day reselling bottles of water in the summer? Holy cow.
  • Paul Harasim's piece on the fact that not a single Nevada pharmacy has participated in a two-year-old program that asks them to donate unused cancer medication to a pill bank for those who can't afford them.

* Big congrats to KNPR and its crew for the 2,000th episode Friday of the indispensable local talk program State of Nevada. Host Dave Becker had me, R-J columnist John L. Smith and frequent host Ian Mylchreest on to assess Vegas as it stands and peer into the crystal ball about what happens next. I was honored to have been asked, and you can hear that episode here.

As I left the studio, I told KNPR General Manager Flo Rogers they should re-air the very first episode of the show or put it in the podcast feed, and she told me it is available in their online archives. I believe she may be mistaken, as I went to look so I could provide the link and the earliest episode available is from Oct. 31, 2003. It's clearly not the first***, as the commentary from Robert Fielden references previous requests for feedback from listeners. It's also available only for playing on Real Player. Here's hoping that for history and curiosity's sake, they go ahead and post their first episode and make it downloadable.

***UPDATE: Flo Rogers says the 10/31/03 episode is, in fact, the first hour of State of Nevada. I haven't listened to all of it to see if that is ever acknowledged on the air, but I will do so soon.