Friday, November 27, 2009

Slaughterhouse 48

(Written for a job application in 2001.)

START TIME: March 20, 1999
END TIME: April 30, 2001

My proudest accomplishment in the field of information technology came with the project I moved to Las Vegas to be a part of: the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas.

At the property that I transferred from, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago, we had three Novell servers and one NT box. There were eight interfaces between the systems on the property. The preliminary plans for our new property in Las Vegas called for thirteen separate NT servers and Category 5 wiring to all of the guestrooms. There would be a network, strictly for the guests, that was already larger than anything I’d worked with before. All 424 rooms would be attached to their own network and hooked to their own t-1 line. We would have a t-1 line for our own network as well. The property I came from connected to the Internet with 56K modems.

The first day I arrived I met my new boss and our new assistant. We sat at a picnic table at trailers across the street from the Luxor and divvied up who would speak with which technology provider. It was three months before we would open.

Three months later, after countless 18-hour days, seven day weeks, dozens of meetings with vendors, providers, partners, and Mandalay Resort Group executives, even taking up residence in the hotel two weeks before it opened, we were ready. I was standing with 600 of my coworkers on a staircase, listening to our CEO say that Las Vegas would hardly knew what hit them. I was making last-minute changes to some front desk machines; the hotel would be open to invited guests at 5 PM. I completed the last-minute printer mappings at 4:50 PM and went back to my office.

The General Manager came by and shook our hands, complimenting us on having everything ready so fast. And then it got quiet.

The doors opened up at 5; everything was free until 9 PM. Dignitaries and VIPs were all over the lobby. Then I began to wonder: what was going to fail first? Would it be the property management system with the configuration that we had invented from scratch after the vendor told us we could only use three printers, rather than 27? Would it be the point-of-sale system that was interfaced to 27 outlets at Mandalay Bay as well as four entirely different point-of-sale brands? Would the timeclocks stop and all of the employees get paid hours of overtime they didn’t earn? Would the room key system fail? Would my E-mail system crash? Sales and catering? Everything I’d worked on and tested was now about to go live and purportedly run without a hitch.

At 8 o’clock, we weren’t getting any calls, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I went up to my room. At 8:30, killing time until the systems went on for real, I called my wife. When I got off the phone, it was 9:15. I called Room Service and ordered a cheeseburger. Neither I, nor my assistant, nor my boss got a single call all night. All of the systems worked precisely as advertised.

The next day the CEO said it was the smoothest opening he had ever seen. When I got E-mail from my friends the next day, asking how crazy was it and did everything hold, I told them, “I got to watch it on television, same as you did.”

That right there, that I wasn’t busy saving a hotel from chaos on opening night because of careful planning, extensive testing and hard work, is my proudest technological accomplishment.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: Only about 400. It was an unusual week for training, for rest, for everything, so I just kind of let it go. The marathon is next week and then real life begins, my hair starts growing back, it's going to be great.



THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: Well, it's a holiday weekend and I don't want to stare at a computer screen. I'm writing some other items now, but you showed up, so you deserve some product.

I was asked as part of a job application in 2001 for my proudest career achievement. It's this week's posting. Ahh, the Good Old Days. I can't believe that was almost 11 years ago.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Slaughterhouse 47

END TIME: 11:07 PM

"what twilight character would you be?"

I will not count the words that I’m going to steal from November’s Esquire (which is now doing thousand-word essays on cultural topics), but as the preteen set goes bananas over the Twilight sequel, which opened at midnight last night/this morning you might want to consider this theory, posited by Stephen Marche:

“Edward, the romantic hero of the Twilight series, is a sweet, screwed-up high school kid, and at the beginning of his relationship with Bella, she is attracted to him because he is strange, beautiful, and seemingly repulsed by her. This exact scenario happened several times in my high school between straight girls and gay guys who either hadn't figured out they were gay or were still in the closet. Twilight's fantasy is that the gorgeous gay guy can be your boyfriend, and for the slightly awkward teenage girls who consume the books and movies, that's the clincher.”

(Read the whole thing at: )

Now, take that vignette out of your head and let’s move on.

My involvement in the Twilight series had to do with the fact a lot of other people were talking about how excellent it was, and I felt like I was missing out on a lot of cultural references by not knowing what it was about. Occasionally I’ll get sucked into things for really shallow reasons, and they’ll quickly slip into that category of Hours Of My Life I Will Never Get Back. The book and movie of this story counted as both. I was loaned a copy of the book and the DVD by a neighbor. I read the book first and realized that these weren’t moments I’d pine for on my deathbed, even though I realized I wasn’t the target audience. That thing said JUVENILE on the side for a reason.

But I watched the movie anyway, because again, cultural reference, right? Oh, my GOD. First off, the book made it rather clear that these are glitter people when it’s sunny, and the film carried this motif to extremes. Every one of the vampires was shot in such extreme brightness that these people would not prove to be a mere curiosity in town. The father, for instance, Dr. Carlisle Cullen? These simpletons, not sure how suspicious they should be of this family, entrust their medical care to a guy that looks like he isn’t just sort of pale, but glows in the dark, doesn’t age, and can’t explain any of the myriad weird things that surround his presence and family.

So maybe I’d be that guy – vaguely in charge, cool modern house, patriarch? Nahh.

I’m damned sure I wouldn’t be Bella, who alternated between solipsistic and confused (and handily Kristen Stewart, the actress playing her, had only two facial expressions in the whole film) for the entire movie. She actually thinks it’s endearing and romantic when Edward admits that yes, biologically she’s merely a warm snack, and he likes to watch her sleep at night and tries to read her thoughts. What woman wouldn’t be touched by such obvious devotion, right up until they’re calling ADT from the panic room?

And if that isn’t enough, we have Bella’s father, a movie parent so dumb he makes Ferris Bueller’s mom and pop look like Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. The town of Forks, where he is a police officer, has weird disappearances and a whole crowd of people who are Quite Obviously Different – and he doesn’t associate that anything might be unusual. His buddy the Indian attempts to tell him that whoa, hey, these people are trouble, but they’re more interested in sitting around and watching football than the only thing in the whole blasted town that could amount to actual crime. His daughter flies to Phoenix – FLIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY – without his knowledge. I guess the Seahawks were on.

So I wouldn’t be either one of those lummoxes.

I suppose I could be Edward, the isolated protagonist who “enjoys a wide range of music, including classical, jazz, progressive metal, alternative rock, and punk rock, but dislikes country. He prefers indie rock to mainstream, and appreciates rock and classical music equally. He mentions in Twilight that he likes music from the fifties better than the sixties, dislikes the seventies, and says the eighties were "bearable".

Edward doesn’t sleep. Edward runs really fast. Edward is six-two. Edward was transformed into a vampire in Chicago. Hey, look at that! This could work!

Ummm, Edward can’t eat food.

Nope, sorry, thanks for playing. If forced to choose, I’ll choose Edward. But if death is an option, I’ll be like Jim Morrison in “The Doors”, screaming “Gimme some death!” As that alone excludes me from the vampire population, I’ll take it.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 800. Yes, it was terrible. I had a lot of laughs and a lot of good conversations and a lot of good wine. I'm even kind of close to having a life that's not defined by the obsessive pursuit of perfection. Or I'm redirecting it, which is just as good.

But if I'd have written anything at all this week, it wouldn't have been anywhere as good as the applications versus infrastructure metaphor I came up with on the spot at lunch today - using an example of a marshmallow and a drinking straw.

Responses to last week's topic: 4, including a live performance.

This week's entries: 3 (Ken, Cami, Cami)

This week's question from Cami Coy: "what twilight character would you be?"

If anything could make me nostalgic for the Smurfs, this might be it. Off we go.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 11/20-21

Friday, November 13, 2009

Slaughterhouse 46

END TIME: 11:16 PM

"Write the dialogue for the Smurfs on "The Dating Game."

DON MESSICK: “Welcome to this special edition of the Dating Game. I’m your host, Don Messick. Today, we’d like to introduce our bachelors. Bachelor Number One is two apples high and visits us from the Smurf Village. He’s apparently distinguishable from the other 99 by black thick framed glasses. Please welcome Brainy Smurf.”


DON MESSICK: “Bachelor Number 2 is a free spirit who also joins us from the Smurf Village. An aspiring comedian and all around bon-vivant, his whole existence never leaves room for a dull moment as he’s always chock full of surprises. Please welcome Jokey Smurf.”


DON MESSICK: “And finally, Bachelor Number 3 has recently been seen on such Food network fare as Ace of Cakes, Top Chef, and Iron Chef Smurf Village. Rarely seen without a sample of his latest creation, he’s the reason this army of Smurfs smurfs on its stomach. Also from Smurf Village, please welcome Greedy Smurf.”


DON MESSICK: “And let’s meet our bachelorette. We’ll keep our bachelors behind this partition to conceal her-“
DON MESSICK: “Uhh, excuse me, Jokey?”
JOKEY SMURF: “There was *hic* ONE female Smurf on the SHOW! Like we’re gonna be too smurfin’ DUMB to figure THIS out. Bunch of smurfing low rent smurfsuc…”
DON MESSICK: “Now, Jokey, that’s ENOUGH. And I don’t know how you slipped that flask past our contestant coordinator this afternoon, but I’m not giving you any more coffee.”
JOKEY SMURF: “Haggh-ha-haeeegghh, it’s a SURPRISE, you smurf-eating sack of…”
DON MESSICK: “Cut his mic. I’ll be in my trailer, you sodden little twerp.”

(The bachelors sit in silence for a minute.)

BRAINY SMURF: “Actually, he’s got a point, but he’s a little bit off the mark.”
JOKEY SMURF: “Oh, smurf you, Slide Rule.”
BRAINY SMURF: “No, no, let me finish! There was another girl…”
JOKEY SMURF: “You’re going to count that little hayseed thing that they wanted to turn into a spinoff?”
GREEDY SMURF: “Mowmth mwmoth mommmnph mmmpph.”
BRAINY SMURF: “Smurfin’ smurf, Greedy, just keep your pie hole closed when you’re getting chatty, huh? Right, and she was like, four when our show was out, so that would make her what, 29 right now, and with that whole accent and the overalls and the Daisy Duke vibe, we are certainly talking Maximum Cute.”
GREEDY SMURF: “Mowmth mwmoth momnph mmpph.”
BRAINY SMURF: “Yeah, that’s attractive. She’ll be looking over and saying, “Smurf, I wanna smurf THAT.” You’ve buffaloed up since the Glory Days, no? Two apples high and the whole smurfin’ orchard around.”
JOKEY SMURF: “Hehhgh-heggh-*hic*…fat smurf.”
GREEDY SMURF: “Mowmth mwm-PTOOEY…So what do you want to do? Think we’re going to work a smurfin’ birthday party any time soon? You can’t get those boxes of yours past airport security. What kind of sick smurf trick was it to teach little kids that a practical joke consisted of a smurfin’ BLACK POWDER EXPLOSION in somebody’s FACE? Johnny Knoxville’s whole existence is your smurfin’ FAULT! And YOU! Every Saturday morning the smurfin’ episode would end with you gettin’ beaned in the head with a smurfin’ MALLET! Good thing we grew up hating all the smart people! The smurfin’ little smurfers that watched us all have kids who want to grow up to be Miley Cyrus, and the little Chinese kids all want to grow up to be Bill Gates! We made the whole smurfin’ Western world a DUMBER PLACE TO BE! And NOW, we’re reduced to THIS pile of smurf? FOR WHAT?

(Smurfette strides onto darkened stage, chain smoking Virginia Slims and visibly trying to keep her composure, yet appear bemused and aloof. The bachelors wear an expression of familiarity, horror, and contempt. In a voice sounding more like Miles Davis than Bette Davis…)

SMURFETTE: “Let’s get this overwith, OK? We’ve all been around this block before.”

(Brainy elbows Jokey.)

BRAINY SMURF: (whispering) “No smurfin’ way, dude. She smells like Wild Turkey and beard.”


Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 800 or so. Lot of work this week, a lot of fun this week, and there wasn't a lot of time for writing. There will be more time very, very soon.

Responses to last week's topic: 3

This week's entries: 1 (Ken)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: Write the dialogue of Smurfs on "the Dating Game."

Dammit. They've been following me around for a couple weeks now and now there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. All right, time to man up and take on the Blue Menace. I feel like Jerry Lee Lewis putting the handle of whiskey on the piano and screaming, "Rock and roll!"

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 11/13-14

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Slaughterhouse 45


If you were visiting Las Vegas for a couple days, how would you spend your time?

I've lived here for a decade now, and as a result, my Las Vegas is a little bit different than yours. While I do work on Las Vegas Boulevard, it's not technically the Strip, and it's certainly not a resort. I avoid the more crowded parts of the Strip the same way that Chicagoans avoid Michigan Avenue on the day after Christmas and New Orleans residents avoid the French Quarter - I know it's there all the time, so I try not to get bogged down in rows of slot machines, violently overpriced nightclubs, or interpretive dance establishments that end in sunlight.

We have two seasons in Las Vegas, Hot and Nice - and right now we're smack dab in the middle of Nice. On a Nice afternoon when it's in the 70s or 80s and is tolerable to be outside, I've never had a lousy time at the putting course at Angel Park Golf Club, which features several things that you've missed out on if you've spent your time putting into a zombie's mouth: Real grass, real sand, real water, and - the very bestest part of all - a full bar in the clubhouse. There's no Snapple machine here. You can verify the proven scientific fact, like I have, that I'm a better pool player, darts thrower, and golfer after 1.5 drinks. (Seriously. I'm All-Universe at 1.5, but when the ice melts a little and thirst overtakes me, my motor control just gets a little too fluid.)

I'm a view/aesthetics junkie, and yes, the Strip is fascinating to look at. (As are the people. I'm not allowed to share the details of Tourist Bingo with outsiders, but NASCAR apparel, fanny packs, and plastic yard glasses from La Salsa are usually a winning combination.) If you want to see the whole Strip and still stay relatively near town, grab a drink at Voodoo at the top of the Rio and get a table at one of the patios around sunset. The lights get brighter, the helicopters circle, traffic that you're not in meanders down Flamingo - it's perfect.

You do want to see the fountains at Bellagio. However, that show only runs a couple minutes, and on a really nice night people spend a lot of time setting up for it. Instead, go to the Paris across the street and get a patio table at Mon Ami Gabi (yes, a Chicago import, just like me) and catch the show at your convenience every few minutes over a meal - and because you're elevated over street level, the only way to get a better view is a kayak.

After dinner, take the walk out front of Paris and cross over the bridge at Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard to the Bellagio, the best-executed hotel on the Strip. You'll stroll through their shopping mall and into their casino - wildly colorful but not as smoky or quiet as some of its neighbors. Have a seat at the bar at Caramel and tell the bartender, "Two cable cars, please." It's their signature drink.

If you're in town on a football weekend, you'll want to hunker down at one of the more NASA-like sports books and watch eight games at once, while grown men shriek at televisions and throw losing tickets in the air. The best venues for this are Mandalay Bay and the Las Vegas Hilton.

And finally, depending on where you're staying, you'll want to hop in a cab, restore lost calories, and promote cell growth and development by going to your nearest Capriotti's (if you're on the Strip there's one on Flamingo near the UNLV campus), a Delaware-based sub sandwich shop that makes hot sandwiches so excellent that I want to throw my running shoes out the window. All of their subs are phenomenal, but my favorite is the Capastrami, consisting of hot pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Be sure to gamble away virtually everything you own. We could use it. Seriously, every plane out of here lately has been filled with nothing but WINNERS. Spend it all.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 4200 on two different projects. This means I earned bedtime. A reasonably paced, well-thought-out Slaughterhouse was ready one morning later.

Responses to last week's topic: 1

This week's entries: 3 (Ken, Ken, Ken)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: "If you were visiting Las Vegas for a couple days, how would you spend your time?"

A very common question, and in this gentleman's case, rather apropos...