Saturday, June 23, 2007

Three Books You Should Read

This is going to sound really odd, but I just finished three books that should never be read back to back to back and came away surprised by all three in different, pleasant ways.

1. "Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker." The world's most successful female poker star writes a memoir accessible not just to poker fans but to anyone intrigued by how a pioneering woman navigates through a very tough male-dominated profession. What's more, Annie Duke isn't afraid to discuss her personal travails, namely an in-depth chronicle of her life of panic attacks. Catch my interview with her and her famous brother, Howard Lederer, on "The Strip" this upcoming week.

2. "Drop Dead Beautiful." Bestselling author Jackie Collins' next potboiler is being launched this weekend in Vegas, where it's largely set as a tale involving an effort to halt the opening of the heroine's new megaresort. It was campy, silly, utterly addictive and so full of sex that there's a blowjob on, I think, the fifth page -- and Ms. Collins reveals on this week's episode of "The Strip" that her publisher wanted that scene to open the book but she demurred. What restraint! My aunt tells me we don't call this "trash" anymore; it's now known as "beach reading." Mmhmm. Hear the Jackie Collins interview here or right-click to save it to your computer to hear at your leisure.

3. "The Year of Magical Thinking." So then I moved on, naturally, to Joan Didion's National Book Award Winner. I had hesitated to read what seemed likely to be an unrelentingly depressing memoir of the year in which her husband died and her daughter lay deathly ill, but it turned out to be a lovely, sensitive and remarkably thoughtful meditation on the experience of grief and the strange things it does to normal, sane people. Didion forced me to ponder who the great relationships of my life are whose death would launch me into that kind of mourning; in other words, a book on death and loss succeeded in prompting me to take stock and feel grateful for life, mine and those around me. That said, the book did drag a bit near the end, even at 226 pages, and became a little redundant. Well worth it, but mercifully succinct.

So now I'm low on books. Any suggestions?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wow, That Sucks

Doing some research, I happened to come across the website for the Marriott's Grand Chateau, a timeshare-hotel near the MGM Grand on Harmon Avenue. They're building a second tower, apparently, and the felt they needed to warn guests who are paying $200+ a night to stay here:

The resort will be under construction with an estimated completion date of 2016. Construction of the second tower has begun. Construction hours will range from 4:30am-5pm M - Sa. Although noise, dust, debris and views of construction will be prevalent and somewhat severe at times, the amenities and facilities of our completed tower will be fully operational. Features and amenities are subject to change.

Uh, 2016? It'll take them EIGHT

MORE YEARS to build the thing,

working 12 hours a day, six days

a week? What's wrong with this?

Also, this room is FUG.

Vegas and High Tech

Yesterday's R-J had a front-page story about a Las Vegas City Council effort to create a citywide wi-fi Internet hot zone. It's interesting and largely irrelevant to tourists on account of the fact that the Strip is not in the city of Las Vegas and the hotels and their Internet service providers would never allow such an effort to cut into the cash cow that is the extortion that is their daily Internet fees. (That, of course, was necessary now that so few hotel guests in the age of cell phones pay up the age-old scam that is the fees to use the hotel telephone.)

Anyhow, it's Benjamin Spillman's cheapshot lead that bugged me:

"A place where coinless slot machines are considered high technology is moving closer to the ranks of cities with widespread wireless Internet access."

Now wait a sec. Is the implication here that Vegas is some sort of Luddite state? That the best technology we're known for is ticket-in/ticket-out? Really?

In actuality, Vegas is a fascinating proving ground and an unusual application for a long list of intriguing new technology that I've been writing about for many years. Here are just five of my favorites:

1. The e-Winebook at Charlie Palmer's Aureole. (See my Newsweek piece.) It's an Internet tablet that allows diners to search the ginormous wine selection by price, varietal, region and food pairing, then email themselves their selections so they can buy it again when they get home. And after it takes the sting out of the usually intimidating experience of wading through the leather-bound brick of most wine lists, you can watch the wine angels via live, streaming video.

2. The Fountains at Bellagio. Nuff said.

3. The Theaters. The stage folds at Love, oscillates at Le Reve and O, spins at Ka. (See my NY Times piece on the Ka theater.) The chandelier plummets at Phantom. The backdrop is eye-popping for Celine/Elton. Amazing stuff, and nobody builds them like we do for several reasons I outline in this USA Today piece.

4. The Fremont Street Experience light show. See my Wired piece on it.

5. The Interactive Tabletops of Tabu. As predicted in my Wired piece on it years ago, the technology is spreading. It's now used to project images near Shark Reef, the MGM Grand Convention Center and during Ka.

Oh, and the slot machine technology is pretty amazing, too, particularly the advances made in video graphics and interactivity.

I'm sure I've missed a few. I may want to do a piece on this, so anyone got any other favorites?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Some Podcasts You Should Hear

It's that I find a new podcast to love because I barely have time for the ones I already listen to regularly.

That said, I'm now hooked on Wings For Wheels, a superb twice-monthly half-hour musician interview show by Dave Lifton, who has as hosty an NPRish voice and manner as I've heard on a non-NPR podcast. He's a listener of "The Strip," and I always give our listeners' shows a shot, but what's impressive is that he really doesn't go all-out music geek to the point that non-music geeks like me feel out of place. Lifton is also one of the only other independent podcasters like us who lands real made-for-podcast interviews with celebrities. I loved hearing from Michael Penn again, I found the chat with Chris Isaak's drummer fascinating and, of course, his and Five Hundy's Tim Dressen's rundown of great Vegas music on Episode 8 (how could it not have been Ep 7, Dave?) made me walk my dogs around the block five times so I could finish. Subscribe to iTunes here or visit the site here.

I also unearthed Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam's podcast, "Alex Beam Reads His Hate Mail." It's only once a month for about 20 minutes, but it's one of the most creative uses of the medium by the mainstream media I've seen thus far. Subscribe to it on iTunes here or visit the site here.

Meanwhile, it's World Series of Poker season in Vegas and poker podcasting pioneer Phil Gordon is back for the third year, this time he's essentially a Very Special Guest for a daily podcast of between 4 and 20 minutes length called the Expert Insight WSOP Podcast. It gives the quick highlights, interviews and some analysis. BUT -- what non-poker fans will be most fascinated by is not all the poker jargon but Gordon's chronicle as he psyches himself up before an event, analyzes his play midstream and then, at least thus far, explains why he lost. It makes this vaunted tournament far more human when a respected pro can sound excited, hopeful, exhausted, dejected and anxious as he moves from event to event. It should only get more intriguing as the Main Event, the $10,000 Buy-In No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em Tournament, begins on July 6. Subscribe to it via iTunes here or visit the site here.

Finally, I didn't mention it at the time, but I sub-hosted for Rob on Podcast411 again interviewing Heather of Rubyfruit Radio on Episode 204. She does a lovely podcast playing all female-sung indy music, largely of the Indigo Girls variety. Hear that here or right-click here and download it to your computer. Subscribe to Rubyfruit Radio via iTunes here or visit the site here.

Happy Listening!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Strip is LIVE at 7 pm TONIGHT

Join us tonight from 7-8 pm PT at LVRocks.Com for the live show and chatroom.

This week's guest is mega-selling author Jackie Collins, who dishes about her five Tivos, her disinterest in high literature and that first blowjob in her newest, Vegas-set novel, "Drop Dead Beautiful."

Plus, a special interview edition of the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week with the star of what I think is the best new show Vegas has seen in years!

See you later!

Celine & Hillary: Perfect Together?

In a lot of ways, Celine Dion and Hillary Clinton are similar. Both are women I admire -- from a distance. Both are ridiculously successful beyond anyone's expectations or anything that would make rational sense. And in both cases, I like what I hear and read from them but when I see them actually performing (and politics is as much a performance as anything) I find it difficult to believe that THEY believe/know what they're saying/singing. In both cases, there's something antiseptic in their delivery that's a put-off despite their technical excellence.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that this morning, a song by Las Vegas' first bona fide superstar was tapped by the woman who will be the first major-party presidential nominee.

Hillary selected Celine's "You and I" from 25,000 suggestions for her campaign anthem. Hear it here and read the lyrics here.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Review-Journal suggests HIV may not cause AIDS?

The back page of the Sunday Las Vegas Review-Journal's Viewpoints section always includes a collection of quotations that the newspaper finds somewhat interesting or, usually, dubious. It's not something that's available online.

Today's explainer of one of those quotes was nothing short of dangerous and shocking. Here's the whole thing, bold-faced where your attention needs to go:

"Well, sir, there were scientists who said the world was flat an there were scientists who said HIV doesn't cause AIDS." -- U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., responding to Russell Moore, a dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who scoffed at "apocalyptic" scenarios for global warming painted by the "secularist environmental movement" during Senate global warming hearings on June 7. In fact, it's Sen. Boxer's constituent, renowned University of California, Berkeley biochemist Peter Duesberg, who most prominently holds in his book "Inventing the AIDS Virus" that the "HIV-causes-AIDS" hypothesis fails to meet any of Koch's four postulates for disease causality. Medical scientists usually require such a hypothesis to meet all four.

Whoa. The R-J's editorial board does not believe global warming is caused by people, so the implication here is that the question of whether HIV causes AIDS is an equally suspicious notion. Never mind that Duesberg's claims in a 10-year-old book have been taken apart bit by bit by a long list of credible scientific organizations and journals, particularly his chronologically incorrect notion that AIDS could be caused by HIV medication like AZT, which is a pretty stupid idea seeing how many thousands of AIDS patients died in the years before AZT was developed to slow the progress of the disease.

The National Institutes of Health, in fact, has a full explanation of the HIV-AIDS link on its website. Plus, here's a lengthy list of links to studies and reports confirming the connection. And, of course, there's the disastrous example of South Africa, where President Thabo Mbeki's denial of the HIV-AIDS connection dissuaded many of his citizens from heeding warnings about how to avoid contracting HIV and from submitting to HIV medication treatments. (Mbeki has since backed off, by the way, seeing how South Africa has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.)

It is baffling and shocking that a major, legitimate daily American newspaper would toss out such a notion, even more baffling than the idea that Sen. Boxer ought to be held responsible for the nutty claims of one of her 36.5 million constituents.

The newspaper needs to clarify this bizarre remark as soon as possible.