Las Vegas update

June 22, 2012

I just returned from a trip to Las Vegas, and I am sorry to report that the deterioration of the games I reported on earlier (see continues.  Although I did not visit the Cosmopolitan this time, I have heard that all 9/6 Jacks or Better machines have been removed from that venue (that is why I did not visit the Cosmopolitan this trip).  Also, I was surprised to discover that 9/6 Jacks was gone from the Mirage.  It’s distressing that these somewhat classy venues cannot offer a decent (but by no means the best, and one still favoring the house) video poker game  even at a relatively high level, say $5.00 (which means the player has to deposit $25.00 per spin).

In essence, when a casino worsens its games, it is increasing the cost to its customers of playing them.  In a bad economy, is this really a good way to increase profits?  For example, reducing the flush payout in $5 Jacks or Better from 30 to 25 costs the full-coin player $25 for each flush.  I suppose (and the casinos hope) many players do not notice, or even care about, the reduction in value, but my experience leads me to believe that those playing at higher levels do.  A flush appears on average once every 90 hands.  I have heard of playing speeds of up to 1,000 hands an hour, but let’s assume  a very conservative 200 hands per hour, in which case the reduction of the flush payout costs the player an additional $50 per hour.  Unless the  reduction is offset with better comps, or unique attractions that justify a trip, I suspect more and more people, especially the higher rollers, will keep their gambling dollars at home if they can find a better return there in comparable surroundings with comparable amenities.

Radio variety

June 5, 2012

When I moved to Albany from the New York City area, I found the variety of radio programming here wanting.  WAMC is great for news and interviews, and shows like Car Talk and Wait, Wait, though the signal quality is very poor where I live, and WMHT is great for classical music.  I’m not a great fan of extremist political pundits, popular music, incessant, loud commercials or yelling DJs, which seem to be what most of the commercial stations offer.

The answer for me has been streaming.  I recently discovered Tune In Radio, an Android app that lets you stream just about any radio station in the world, as well as specialized Internet-only programming, including infinite varieties of jazz and other non-commercially viable forms of music.  For specific programs, podcasts are an option as well.  I use them to make sure I don’t miss some favorite programs.

In order to easily listen to streaming programs away from my computer, I recently bought some Bluetooth enabled speakers.  When I want to listen, I fire up the tablet or phone (making sure it’s set to use wi-fi, not cellular data), activate the connection to the speaker, and I’m listening to what I want, when I want.  The phone or tablet is like a bed side or chair side remote control.

I imagine it’s only a matter of time before our phones will control many other household devices.  The big downside I see to that is rapid battery drain, which will require users to be more attentive to keeping their phones charged.  Another down side is that conventional stereo systems are being rendered obsolete; I know I haven’t used mine in months.

A bit of history

June 3, 2012

I was not aware of the controversy surrounding the 1968 Kentucky Derby, recounted in this fascinating NY Times obituary about the owner of the horse that was disqualified.

Favorite quotes

June 1, 2012

Everyone has some favorite quotes that pithily or humorously sum up truths about life. Here are some of mine:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'”

“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“I came to the conclusion long ago that all life is six to five against.”

Damon Runyon, A Nice Price

“Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying.”

“I’ve done the calculation and your chances of winning the lottery are identical whether you play or or not.”

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

Fran Lebowitz

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

Mignon McLaughlin

“Scratch a lover, and find a foe.“

Dorothy Parker

Bicycle path controversy

June 1, 2012

This recent story in USA Today and a recent ride on the Ashuwilticook trail in the Berkshires caused a few thoughts about bicycling to pop into my head.  As one who has ridden a bicycle regularly in urban and suburban areas for over 50 years, and as one who was hit by a car while cycling in the Albany area a few years ago (fortunately, the injuries inflicted by the hit and run driver were minimal), it is clear to me that places allowing for safe on-road cycling near where many people live are rapidly disappearing.  The future of this activity is on paths and roads that are physically separated from motorized traffic.  Many great cities outside the USA have extensive networks of such bicycle paths, which benefit society by providing means of economical, non-polluting transportation, diverting automobiles from crowded roads, and providing healthful opportunities for exercise and recreation.

What’s not to like?  Apparently, in New York City, plenty.  Drivers of autos resent any infringement on their turf, which has expanded over the years (when I lived there, I was shocked to find that autos generally were allowed on park roadways in Central and Prospect Park (OK, I get the need for crosstown access through Central Park, but not for traveling on the other park roadways).  Olmstead would spin in his grave if he could see how his park lanes are jammed with taxis and other traffic. Mayors from Koch to Bloomberg have had the uncanny knack of locating bike routes and lanes where they will tick off the most motorists.  And cyclists who ignore traffic laws to the point of terrorizing pedestrians and who engage in inappropriate demonstrations have exacerbated tension between cyclists and motorists.

Motorists need to be a little more “live and let live,” particularly in urban areas where the automotive-centered lifestyle has exacted large costs in terms of traffic jams, air pollution, depletion of resources devoted to public transit, and use of land for roads and parking lots.  An extensive network of bike lanes can improve the quality of life for residents, ease the strain on roads and transit facilities, and even attract tourists.  Montreal has done it, as have many other cities around the world.  New York should be world class in this area, too, and our region, with lots of abandoned rail lines crying out for productive re-use, should be a regional leader in developing off-road bicycle routes.  Everyone would benefit, and the monetary investment required would be relatively small but would produce large rewards.