Monday, September 7, 2009

Trivial Pursuit: America Plays

I have finally seen the end of civilization as we know it.  
No, it's not a financial collapse or secret government conspiracy, it's "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays."
We have finally managed to find everything that is wrong with our culture and our education and distill it into a half hour of shame.  
Let's dissect the show a bit.  
The people on the show are clueless
We have a number of dumb asses, picked from the LA talent pool of stand-ins get up and attempt to answer disgustingly hard questions like "name 3 of the original thirteen colonies"  (answer "Philadelphia")  or "name a major superpower of the east" (answer "Asia").  
Yes the questions are that easy

I think most of us admire long lasting quiz shows like Jeopardy, but this show makes a mockery of that heritage.  Even when the questions are about history or economics, they writers of the show usually manage to slip in a pop culture reference.  
"America" is playing at home?

An interesting twist to the show is the addition of about 20 people that ask their own questions of the in studio dunces…I mean contestants via video.  If the final round is lost, the 20 "at home" contestants get the money.   The show plays up the fact that they are from all over the US, but it appears to me that they just set up a camera in a shopping mall and asked random people to read cue cards.  I wouldn't be surprised if the people asking the questions were in the audience.  
Peter Brady must want to jump across the podium and smack these poor clueless bastards.  
Host Christopher Knight (aka Peter Brady) is not bad as the host.  I think if I had to pick the best part of this train wreak it would be him.  I'm guessing that they shackle his feet to the podium.  To his credit, he doesn't even blink at the contestants when they say the stupidest answers.  I want to play poker with this guy.  
So in summary, skip this show.  I don't believe I'm saying this but go watch "Millionaire" or something a little more stimulating.  Better yet, pull out a history book and do some reading.  TV really is rotting our brains.
Addendum: why the hell was I watching this?

I was watching this because I came across it on a otherwise dull Labor Day.  I wanted to know what I was missing on TV during the week day.  Now I know I'm not really missing anything at all.  The things I put myself through for this blog.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Really Random Predictions: iPod Touch

Just read an interesting article by Jordon Golson entitled "Is the iPod Touch a Bigger Game Changer than the iPhone" on the wonderful GigaOm website.

I posted my predictions for what next weeks purported release of the new iPod Touch SHOULD be.  Just thought I would past my comments here since it seemed to be (somewhat) well constructed.

Let me know what you think.

I think that the killer hardware updates for the iPod Touch should be a camera and a GPS. 
If Apple could do a test deal with Verizon to market the Touch with MIFI like capabilities for even $60 a month, I think that millions would flock from the iPhone to the Touch.  This would allow Apple to move away from AT&T (which would make the FCC happy) while still honoring their existing contract.  This would provide a rich testing ground for the rumored tablet.  It would also be a win for those Apps in the store that are more "IPhone only" to be used on the touch (such as the newly released TOM TOM GPS app).
Let's face it, we deal more with emails and twitter now then phone calls.  We need an internet communicator, not a phone.  I'm perfectly happy to carry my slim phone in my pocket while I use my Touch for everything else.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Carvelli's Italian Buffet

My wife selected WI Dells as a location for our family getaway.   I will be blogging about various locals and things we do along the way.
As our vacation was winding down, we were really just looking to eat and run.  As we toured downtown Wisconsin Dells, we really weren't finding much that looked good.  Then we stumbled upon Carvelli's Italian Buffet.
Situated at the end of the "touristy area" of Broadway, Carvelli's looked inviting.  The staff welcomed us in and explained the menu.  The food is served buffet style, but is actually served by someone working behind the buffet, which I love.  It's such a "first world problem," but I hate it when I pay good money to have to get my own food at a restaurant.  
Carvelli's has a wide assortment of Italian/American food.  They take the novel approach of providing giant trays that are about the size of standard cafeteria trays.  This provides a lot of room, without the hassle of the dishes.  I especially loved the tortalini and vodka sauce.  They also have a lot of pizzas and other pastas.  Plus....canoli's for dessert (note: not part of the buffet).  
I have often commented that  there is a zone somewhere down the Midwest where good Italian food just doesn't exist.  The good news is that by visiting the Dells, I was able to cross the outer limit of the zone and find delectable Italian food once again.  
If you just want to sample some really good Italian food, take a trip down to Carvelli's.  Where you can have a lot of food for a very low price.  

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pirates Cove Mini Golf and Family Fun Center

My wife selected WI Dells as a location for our family getaway.   I will be blogging about various locals and things we do along the way.
After hanging out in any resort, you eventually have to get out and explore your surroundings.  Unfortunately, we picked a really cold and windy way in Wisconsin Dells.  
This played to our favor while visiting Pirates Cove Mini Golf and Family Fun Center.  I especially was excited to play some mini golf.  It had been many years since I put mini putter to ball.  
If you have been to any other Pirates Cove Mini Golf (there is one in Rapid City, SD) you will be surprised to know that Wisconsin Dells has the LARGEST Pirates Cove!  It is indeed large.  There are five different 18 hole courses ranging from very easy to extremely difficult. The beautiful landscaping and elegant (though a bit too blue) waterfalls keep you visually captivated between putts.  
Since we had a four year old with us, I thought we should tackle the easy course.  My daughter had never been mini golfing before and it took her a few holes to get it down, but she finally started to understand.  The courses was indeed easy, but the last third of the course did a good job introducing us to some of the traditional challenges of a mini golf course.  The obstacles were always natural (rocks, water, and holes) vs. the generic windmill that I have seen at way too many mini golf courses.  
The best thing about this particular Pirates Cove was that after 18 holes of mini golf, you could visit the attached Family Fun Center.  There wasn't a whole lot of things to do at the Fun Center, but those that were there were great for kids.  The best by far was the "jumping pillow" that is like a jumper on steroids.  Ever get tired of only letting your kids jump in boring jumpers?  Now you can jump alongside them (see the movie from the Jumping Pillows website).  
You could spend an entire day at Pirates Cove.  It is truly fun for the whole family.  

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Buffalo Phils: Better Food In My Garbage Disposal

My wife selected WI Dells as a location for our family getaway. I will be blogging about various locals and things we do along the way.

Since the buffet wasn't open in at night (see my earlier post), We decided to stick close to the lodge for supper. We drove right down the way and encountered the mammoth "Buffalo Phils".

I wasn't really in the mood for burgers and fries, especially after eating at the wonderful Cheese Factory, but it was close and we were hungry.

A lesson to the wise, don't let your stomach do the thinking. We should have figured out that this wasn't the best place in town due to the lack of cars in the parking lot around 5:00 PM.

The interior was very "country" which I don't particularly care for. When you throw in the unbearable Country music, it was a total buzzkill. The other big mistake was sitting out on the patio. My water soon tasted like cigarette smoke from the three "5 pack a dayers" that were chain smoking the whole time.

Now let's talk about the food. Or maybe I should use the phrase "pseudo" food. I'm just guessing here, but they must follow the Applebees's "nuke" methodology. Everything from the burger to the fries had NO TASTE. I could have sucked on ice cubes and got more taste (made especially true due to the cigarette smoke).

Since this was a BBQ joint, I thought that maybe the sauce would save me. That turned out not to be the case. The three sauces at our table were equally terrible. I really want to know what is in their sauces. My biggest guess is a TON of pickle juice from the bottom of a Vlassic pickle jar that has been shoved into corner and forgotten for two years.

The service was OK, but I really hate to have a waitperson come by every two minutes (probably due to the lack of people in the restaurant) and ask if "everything is OK". The nacho were the only saving grace for the whole meal. They were delicious. Even that was ruined however when our main course was presented to us FOUR MINUTES after our appitiser. It was almost like they wanted us out of there right away. The good news is that I really didn't want to waste my time there.

Buffalo Phils is located close to Interstate 90 so make sure to avoid it the next time you are passing through the Dells. There are a lot better places to experience than this.

The Cheese Factory Restaurant: A REAL taste of Wisconsin.

My wife selected WI Dells as a location for our family getaway.   I will be blogging about various locals and things we do along the way.
As we entered town, I started to notice a few things.  There seemed to be a plethora of places to eat.  What I found odd was that there seemed to be "chain" type restaurants or local eateries with a cultural bent (e.g., Italian).  
I kept driving because I wanted to taste food FROM Wisconsin, not to get away from it.  
My search was soon rewarded by finding what I think is a gem in the somewhat battered crown of Wisconsin Dells: The Cheese Factory.
From the lovely outside to the historic inside, The Cheese Factory was all I had hoped for in a local Wisconsin eatery.  The biggest bonus for me was the SODA FOUNTAIN.  I think the last time I was in a shop with a soda fountain was when I was 7 years old.  The selection of flavors were a bit limited (I used to love Lime Coke), but it was certainly worth having a real Vanilla Coke again.  
The friendly staff were more than willing to chat and give us a rundown of the menu.  The food is very traditional Wisconsin...heavy on the cheese and meats.  All of the items seemed homemade which is become more of a rarity in todays American fast food culture.    My wife had the portabella mushroom sandwich which was marinated to perfection.  I had the cheese and tomato sandwich which was HUGE.  I also couldn't pass up the beer cheese soup which only seems to be made correctly by people of Wisconsin genetic background.  
I know that I haven't explored the Dells completely yet, but this place was a winner right off the bat.  I might have to run back and get that beer cheese soup recipe from their cookbook...

Wisconsin Dells Adventure: Great Wolf Lodge

My wife selected WI Dells as a location for our family getaway.   I will be blogging about various locals and things we do along the way.
Great Wolf Lodge
According to their website, the Great Wolf Lodge seems to be the most "child friendly" lodge.  It boasts a giant indoor water park (that actually seems to be three distinct water parks) as well as an outdoor component.  
I can definitely say that this is a place that tries really hard to cater to children.  From the kid friendly staff, to the art center, to the 8 PM story time, the lodge manages to distract kids and allow them to do more than just swim.  
The standard rooms are average and nothing to write home about.  For some reason, I have an inherent bias of hotel rooms that don't have a flat panel TV (but that's just me).  For considerably more money, you can get a specialty family suite that boasts its own built in log cabin sleeping area for the kids.  
There are a variety of places to eat in the resort, however I find the lack of a "fine dining" restaurant a bit distressing.  I have to remind myself that this is the midwest and pizza and all you can eat buffets are king.  The "Camp Critter" breakfast buffet is awesome and not too expensive.  The biggest drawback in my eyes is that after lunch, "Camp Critter" turns into a "Pizza Hut" for the dinner crowd.  
The cost is a bit high for a comparable non-midwestern local, but with the right combination of discounts and coupons, Great Wolf Lodge is affordable and VERY kid friendly.  

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Audible Takes A "Snail Mail" Approach

Nice Marketing Trick
Something unique was put into my mailbox the other day.  I'm not talking about my email box, but my mail box.  
It seems that has come up with a unique idea.  Apparently, they weren't having very good luck with the email response setting up their new email mailing list.  So someone in their marketing department decided to send all current Audible customers a PHYSICAL LETTER asking them to sign up for the mailing list.  They even gave us an Audible credit (good for one download) for signing up.  
A lot of people would see this as an intrusion.  I actually felt it was more personal and got my attention a lot faster than an email that in all likelihood would have ended up in my spam folder.  
Audible has really been at the forefront of advertising by supporting podcasts and vidcasts.  Now they have taken a more traditional "snail mail" approach and still made it seem fresh.  
That marketing guy at Audible needs a raise.  
Now if they could just work on the integration of iTunes Audible books with their Audible website.  It would really be the perfect service.  I just want to be able to use my subscription credits with the iTunes store.  
Well, I had to complain about something.......

Monday, August 17, 2009

Got Me A Blu-ray from WALMART?

Ok, ok, I gave in. I got a Blu-ray player.
For those of you that know me personally, you will realized that I have been ranting about how Blu Ray is "crap' and that downloads are the way of the future. While I still think that is true, I went out and got the damn thing. Let's examine my motivation.
I happened to be watching a recent episode of the wonderful "HD Nation" on the 'Net (play the segment for the full review) and watched a review of the new $99 Magnavox Blu Ray player. What startled me the most was that they LIKED it. I didn't think I would see a good review of a sub $200 player until at least the holidays. I have to admit that planted the seed in my mind. Thanks Robert and Patrick.
I have a Netflix account that I LOVE. I have watched more movies and have spent less money for them. I already took advantage of their streaming service, so i thought I would go for the trifecta of the Blu Ray service as well. WARNING: you will be charged a few dollars more a month for the Blu-ray service.
HD TV without true HD.
It's big, it's black, and it's sitting in my movie room. I have a high def TV that is capable of 1080p input and all I feed it is 420p DVD's. Something surely must be done.
The Magnavox Blu-ray NB530MGX
This cheap bucket of low cost Walmart parts was worth it. True, it didn't come with a way to connect the player to the internet (something that is needed for most modern Blu-rays), but I was more interested in its ability of up-converting my existing DVD's.
The Magnavox is indeed basic, but if you really just want a to get your feet wet with Blu-ray, you certainly can't beat the cost. I purchased "Iron Man" to test it out. I can safely say that by the first half hour of viewing the movie, my eyes were tired of the excessive brightness. This isn't a bad thing, I guess it just might be something that I will have to get used to. The picture is indeed stellar and while not the best picture I've seen from a Blu-ray, more than does the job for now.
My goal is to not purchase a ton on Blu-ray movies. I really am going to rely on Netflix for the bulk of my movie watching. I just really don't want to amass another collection of useless discs that will get piled in a closet somewhere.
One exception to this rule is the BBC's "Planet Earth" which I will review as soon as I have finished watching it.
If you are a dedicated videophile, this probably isn't the player for you. I think many of the Samsung models are fantastic for around $250. If you are also a gamer, the PS3 is probably your best bet. If you are just curious about the world of high def video, than the Magnavox is a good start. For the price, it can't be beat.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Be All You Can Be: In Theaters

Dear local movie theater chain:
I just thought I would take this time to give you some feedback regarding the ads you are running in front of your "feature presentations".
I decided to take my daughter to your giant, mega, ultra, orgazmo palace to see the newest 3D movie. I was happy to see your theater was packed for the feature. Hundreds of kids were waiting there all in their 3D glasses ready to be amazed by words flying out of the screen.
Usually, I'm a fan of your ads that are run before the movies. I like to see local ads that give me an idea of a relator that I might use or a place to take my daughter for dinner after the movie. Even the really annoying guy that introduces us to new corporately owned bands and mega blockbusters really doesn't bother me.
The ads that were running for this particular movie didn't work for me. I question how smart it is to run ads for the US Military in a kids movie. I can see the sense of it in an action movie or a R rated movie, but a G rated movie? I know you probably have to show these ads contractually a certain number of times a month, but it just doesn't work in a kids movie.
I'm not trying to sound like a crazy pacifist here. I would be proud if my daugther grew up and served in the military. I'm just suggesting that we let our kids be kids for a little while.
The tone of the ads were a little misleading as well. I know this is beyond your control, but I don't think that targeting kids by showing them how war is fought with drones from far away ("so they stay safe") is dealing with the reality of the military? Also, comparing a career in the armed forces to a video game is about as unreal as you can get. What ever happened to the tradition of the classic US Marine Ads? Teenagers are not stupid. They would respond to an ad about the tradition of service as well the educational and personal benefits of a career in the military.
Sorry for the rant, but I would ask you to consider your audience the next time you run an ad in your theater. The ads would reach their intended targets and the advertisers would be happier.
Of course we would still be stuck with that corporate movie guy. Oh well....