Archive for June, 2012


Colorado Springs is burning.  Massive evacuations on the northwest corner, including the MCI office where I worked for three years.  Many homes lost.

The Flying W Ranch is gone.  A favorite of tourists and locals since the 1950s.  I hope they will rebuild sometime.


Categories: Pet Peeves

Energy Crisis

Why am I so tired all the time?  Damn, I don’t know, but here is a partial list of contributing factors:

  • Work.  I am required to actually go there from time to time, even before noon.  Life is unfair.
  • Dog.  She seems to know when it is 2AM and likes to go out.
  • Puppy.  As opposed to dog.  Requires much watching and is usually in a biting frenzy when I most need sleep.
  • Conan.  We have family on his staff, so have to watch sometimes, and he doesn’t even start till 11PM.
  • Light sleeper.  Always have been.  Find it much easier to stay asleep than to fall asleep, so would like to sleep in.
  • Wife.  Just the opposite.
  • Stepsons.  Young.  Nothing good happens before midnight.
  • Texts.  Young men out on town after midnight find lots of reasons to text Mom.
  • Mother-in-law.  Having some aging issues.  Knows that, if she falls out of bed, family will come visit.
  • Drivers.  Our fuel yard is next door and the drivers like to start work at 4AM.  Why has never been explained.
  • Alarm system.  The toy that cried wolf.  R2D2’s evil twin.
  • Alarm company.  They alert us to technical problems at 3AM.  Hey, they know we’re home.
  • Houses.  We own three.  Could you sleep?
  • Cars.  Six.  Only four drivers.
  • Insurance.
  • Skylight.  Nice, but used more often to view low-flying helicopters or visiting raccoons.  One word: dawn.
  •  Train.  Tracks about a block away.  Shakes house.
  • Fire whistle.  The firemen all have pagers, but they still like to blow the thing.
  • Stomach.  Indigestion is just part of being a Berntson, even if you eat Jello.
  • Bills.  Large enough and old enough that they should probably be addressed as Williams.
  • Pool.  Just an accident waiting to happen.
  • Trampoline.  Ditto.
  • New York.  Home to about a quarter of the world’s practicing attorneys.
  • Writing.  Can’t.  Too tired.  Worry for future.  Can’t sleep.  Loop.
  • Celebrities.  More than half the ones I know are dead.
  • Morning.  Once a certainty, then a goal, now a chance.

I am told there are people who view coffee as optional.


Categories: Pet Peeves

Africa Hot

It has been pretty hot in the Northeast the past couple of days.  Africa hot, as Neil Simon would say.

It wasn’t like we eased into it, either.  The temperature just shot up.  We have been in the low nineties for two days.

Naturally, this is when the pool decides to spring a leak – where, we have  no idea.  Also, just to add to the Book of Job routine, this heatwave comes right at the start of pool heater season.

You see, my family is in the home heating business, fuel oil and propane, and this past winter had been one of the warmest on record, so while it was great for our customers, it was less than great for us.  Now, we have a strong heatwave, probably for another couple of days, just when schools are letting out and people with school kids should be coming out to their vacation homes and flipping on the pool heaters.

Some will not care and will turn on the pool heaters anyhow, firm in the belief that pool water can never be warm enough, and the people I am talking about can easily afford to do so.  Others, however, will agree with George Carlin that “hot water doesn’t need to be heated,” and away will go what little profit margin we get out of summer.

So, here is hoping that we have a lot of cold, rainy weekdays and beautiful sunny weekends that people want to swim in.  Flame on!


Categories: Pet Peeves

The Easter Parade

So, how did ancient islanders move those big statues on Easter Island?  Some scientists have a demonstrable new theory.  Check out the video at the bottom of the article.

Categories: Uncategorized

Passport to Neverland

If you love Disney – I love Disney – then you will be as annoyed as I am to hear that Disney is raising the price of a one-day theme park ticket to over a hundred dollars, following an increase by Universal.  The price of tickets has been on an upward curve above inflation for decades now.

By comparison, a three-day passport, as they were then called in 1982, only cost a little more than thirty dollars, ten dollars a day.  It allowed unlimited access to The Magic Kingdom and the brand new Epcot Center on any three days you chose.  They never expired, come back two years later and you could use that unused third day.  It would not surprise me if inflation from 1982 to present might bring that price up to forty or fifty dollars a day, but not a hundred.

Whenever Disney is asked about ticket prices, they always defend it by saying that there is so much more to do now, with four theme parks and two water parks.  Okay, except that the answer does not make much sense.  A person can only do so much in one day and building more parks and things to do does not help any.  The reason they built more parks is not to get people into more parks per day, it is to get people to spend more days overall.  Used to be that you could do most of what they had to offer in three days, now you could spend over a week – and many people do.  That’s the point.  More days means more meals, more hotel nights, and more spending in general, per guest.

Now, they could make the point that they used to be under-priced – that could be true.  In the days after Walt and before Michael Eisner, the company operated as a sort of mausoleum to Walt.  It was during the Eisner years that the ticket prices jumped quickly, but the purpose of that was to use the funds to greatly expand the complex – and build other theme parks around the world.  Now that expansion is mostly done.

Yes, they are charging what the market will bear.  More power to them.  However, I would suggest that they have taken what was a high-volume, low-margin business and turned it into the opposite, making the parks seem more like a playground for the rich and bored.  If they went back to the old model, they could conceivably make more money.  But there is a problem that needs to be addressed first.

I was last at Disney World last May, just before the summer rush, and the parks felt oddly crowded.  Wait times were long, even though there did not seem to be that many people overall.  I think I might know what the problem is: in a word, Fastpass.

Used to be, during the busy season, Disney had ways of dramatically increasing the throughput of their major rides.  Mostly, this was done with a second queue leading to a second loading area.  A few more cast members to load the extra guests and away they went.  So, for an example, Thunder Mountain would run trains at closer intervals, because they were loading on both sides of the platform as quickly as they could.  It also used to be that, if the lines for a particular ride were long, you had two choices: stay on the line or come back to it at another time.  I usually opted for Judo,  coming back later, and it usually worked out.  If not before, most of the major rides started to clear towards the end of the night.

They can’t really do that anymore.  The second queues have been converted, in most cases, to Fastpass return lines.  This has been going on for some ten years now, since 1999.  Want to ride a major ride and the line is long?  Queue up in a smaller line, get a Fastpass, which will have a time window some hours in the future, then go off and play somewhere else.  When the time window arrives, go back to the ride, get on the return line, and you are whisked to the front of the line.  Sort of.  You will often still wait ten or fifteen minutes, though not forty minutes or two hours.  There are pluses to this and there are ways to game the system, but I am not overly enamored with the thing.  Can’t we all be smart enough to realize that long lines are bad and not stand in them?

But Disney has other plans.  Word reaches us that they have started enforcing the time windows rigorously, where they used to let you come back late.  This is supposedly a precursor to a vastly expanded reservation system, where you will not only reserve your hotels and meal reservations, but also reserve ride times, weeks or months ahead of time.  Probably, the Disney computer will plan out your whole day for you, routing you efficiently, I hope, and keeping all the guests from tripping over each other.  Still, it is something of a letdown for those of us who liked to use Judo – “I will bend like a reed in the wind” – and delighted in being able to out-think the crowds and have a full day without waiting in long lines, all on our own.

The real problem I have with all this, however, is that it will further cement the Disney parks into being upper-class playgrounds, where only the connected – electronically, in this case – will be completely comfortable or welcome in such an environment.  With still higher prices and a larger degree of internet savvy required to visit, the working-class breadwinner is going to have an even harder time trying to give his family a good time, even if he stays in the cheaper places out on Hwy 192.  Walt Disney wanted a place where families could come and do things together.  Now, fewer will be able to afford to.

Disney does have some structural problems to overcome.  They now have large numbers of employees whose tenure is counted in decades and, therefore, their payroll is much higher than it used to be.  They did grow extremely fast in the late eighties and nineties and they may still be paying that off.  The Disney World bus system seems to be at a breaking point and I wonder out loud if a major expansion of the monorail system or some other similar system is not overdue.  Still, I think the resources of the company are there should they decide to lower prices and increase guests.

Meanwhile, like many others, I am sure I will be back, though maybe not as often as I would if prices were lower.  Amaze me, guys!


Categories: Pet Peeves

Another Shrug

Somehow it had gotten past me till today, but there is a sequel to last year’s Atlas Shrugged coming out.  They are looking for an October release date, so it can come out at the height of the presidential campaign.  No, this is not another production rumor of a movie that might or might not get made, it is already in the can; filming ended a month ago.

First big change: pretty much 100% recast.  Giving it a quick look, the only repeat name I found from the first movie is the producer.  It looks like, again at first glance, that they recast older actors most everywhere, about ten years older.  Perhaps the idea is to suggest the passage of some years since the last movie, but they also seem to be trading up.  The always-dependable Samantha Mathis is taking over the lead and, while she does not have the model-like looks of her predecessor, she may be a little more believable as a senior executive of a major railroad.

Second, far more recognizable names in the cast.  In addition to Mathis, Esai Morales, D.B. Sweeney, Robert Picardo, and Ray Wise are amongst the cast.  Ray Wise?  If you don’t know the name, just look at his picture on the internet and I promise you will recognize him; sort of looks like Robert Wagner’s evil twin.  Oh, and Diedrich Bader is in there too, which is probably fine, but I can never look at him without thinking of Jethro Bodine.  No, they are not superstars by any standards, mostly television actors, but familiar faces can often make a film more inviting and enjoyable, one of the reasons that independent films often do not find an audience.

Naturally, I am of two minds: 1) glad to see that Part Two is being made when it had been pretty much given up for dead a year ago and 2) please, please, please don’t screw this up.  The first movie remained mostly true to the source material, but never got much of an audience and the film critics were never going to like it no matter what they did.  There were After-School Specials that had bigger budgets.  There were script changes that could have made the film more inviting to the uninitiated that would not have upset the purists too much and still stayed true to Rand’s vision – hey, Peter Jackson didn’t change Lord of the Rings all that much.

Atlas Shrugged Part II, Either-Or is the official title.  No trailer for it yet.  The poster art is two Roman columns, denoting the “two,” and something behind it that both looks like an “S” – such that the “S” and the columns look like a dollar sign – or maybe it is a man-slave looking for a way to break out through the columns.

Well, here is hoping that they manage to pull it off well enough that Part III can be made.  It would be nice to have the full set of DVDs on the shelf, even if DVDs are approaching end of life.  I don’t see where I will find the time to reread the frickin’ huge, often ponderous novel any time real soon, so having the videos would be nice.

No, Ayn, great novel.  Huge novel!  Important novel.  You go, girl!  But I really think you left your sense of humor behind in the gulag.


Categories: Oddities


Ray Bradbury has died.

In the pantheon of Science Fiction, there was always Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, though some might have a different order.  Bradbury was always number four, but a very close four.  Had many good reads from him.

The TV mini series made of the Martian Chronicles back in the seventies was pretty weird.  While the book was a little strange – the result of cobbling a bunch of free-standing short stories into one novel – I would blame the bizarreness of the  TV version on Hollywood, the book is much better.

Ninety-one years old.  Not too bad.  May the wind be at his back.


Categories: Reading