So you want to attend a rally in DC

Here’s some tips I learned, or at least things I was able to confirm first-hand, about rallies yesterday while I was in DC doing my part to restore sanity:

  • It’s impossible to arrive too early. I got to The Mall about two and a half hours before the scheduled start time and wandered directly as far to the front as I reasonably could. Although I could see the stage, I couldn’t really see anything going on on it. Good thing there were giant monitors and some pretty good camera-work.
  • Conversely, don’t think you’re going to be able to leave when it’s over. The Metro stations within walking distance were so full afterwards people were crowded outside, not even able to get onto the escalators at the entrances. I went ahead and visited the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial out by the Tidal Basin where the crowds were much sparser. Two hours later, when I started my return trip, congestion on the Metro had dropped down to peak rush hour levels.
  • Use sunscreen. It doesn’t matter if it’s late October. If you’re standing outside for hours on end, you’ll get at least a minor sunburn.
  • Speaking of which, be prepared to stand for several hours.
  • Be careful with water consumption. Too little, and you’ll get dehydrated. Too much, and you’ll have to head to the restrooms, losing the spot you got there early for.
  • Take a camera, or you’ll be stuck wading through other people’s photo galleries to try to find that one awesome sign you saw.

Panflute 0.7.0 released

Panflute 0.7.0 has been released, with lots of improvements. Panflute 0.7.0 adds several new features, such as the ability to control the player’s volume, dealing sensibly with multiple players running simultaneously, better support for pausing and stopping playback, the ability to seek by using the mouse’s scroll wheel on the time display, and the ability to remove ratings from songs. It also adds support for four more players: Clementine, Decibel, Pithos, and Qmmp. And in case that’s not enough, there’s also lots of bug fixes, detailed in the release notes.

Outward

Against my better judgment, I will once again be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. As before, the plan is for me to write one chapter a day for 30 days all throughout November, with a goal of hitting the 50,000-word mark by the end.

This year’s entry is titled Outward. Feel free to speculate on what that title may mean, in case you’re bored.

As before, I’ll be posting one chapter a day here throughout November, which means I’ll actually be updating my blog regularly for a few weeks. Try not to faint. You can also track my official status on my NaNoWriMo user page, although I’ll put a word count meter in the sidebar once those become available.

Las Vegas considered harmful

Never go to Las Vegas. Especially not during the summer.

The problem isn’t the heat. Which isn’t to say the heat isn’t a problem, of course. I mean, it’s a city in the middle of the desert. And yes, I know the definition of a desert is in terms of rainfall and not temperature, and yes, much of Antarctica is a desert despite it being so very cold. That doesn’t matter. The particular desert that Las Vegas is in is your typical scorchingly hot desert.

But hey, heat is a solved problem. Drink plenty of fluids, and stay inside most of the time where it’s air conditioned. You can even find some places outside that will be misting water in the general area, but as anyone who wears glasses can tell you, those kind of suck.

No, you’ll find the real problem with Las Vegas when you do venture outside the air-conditioned confines of the casino — and trust me, when you’re indoors, you are in a casino — is not the heat, but the people. The throngs and throngs of people choking every sidewalk in sight.

Try as you might, there is no escaping them. They are everywhere. And all of them will get in your way, turning your walk to the casino next door into an agonizing twenty minutes of misery. Why? Because they are all tourists. And tourists are incapable of walking like normal people.

The reasons for this are legion, as anyone who has been there can tell you. They’ll have had plenty of time to study the phenomenon whether they wanted to or not, after all. The people take approximately one step every five seconds. This is not counting the times they will randomly stop without warning to point and stare at a building. They will not look first to see if anyone is trying to walk past them before the stretch out their arm. Why would they? None of them, not a single one, even bothers to look where they’re walking in the first place anyway. There is always at least a 45-degree difference between their sight vector and movement vector. And all of these people are packed tightly together on the sidewalk, except for the couples holding hands; they invariably put as much distance between each other as possible while maintaining physical contact, enabling them to take up enough room for three people.

As you try to walk down the sidewalk, you will be tempted to weave your way through the crowd, taking advantage of the fleeting gaps between people in order to move forward at a less glacial pace. This is, of course, folly. Hey DARPA, I have a Grand Challenge idea for you: build a robot that can walk down The Strip at an average pace greater than two miles an hour. That’s much more impressive than a car that can drive itself in traffic.

Just make sure you remember to tell the Strip-walking robot that exterminating the meat-bags in its way isn’t allowed. Cyberdyne forgot to add that, and everyone knows how that turned out.

Am I suggesting that the experience will drive anyone to hate humanity? Yes. Yes I am.

And just to complicate things further, while you struggle to make forward progress down The Strip, you’ll get to avoid all the people passing out ads for the other thing Las Vegas is popularly known for: prostitutes. They’ll stand in a row of three or four along the street, wordlessly passing out cards covered with scantily clad (if that) women and occasionally slapping a stack of them against their hand in what’s apparently the local signal for “want to hire some prostitutes?”

I suppose if one were to collect as many of them as possible, they could be used to play poker.

“I’ve got three-of-a-kind with starred-out nipples.”

“Beats my pair of handbras.”

“Does four pair beat three-of-a-kind?”

“Um, that’s only two pair. You count the girls.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve got you all beat: flush, girl-turned-away-from-camera-so-the-nipple-is-just-out-of-view high.”

“You moron, it has to be their natural hair color to count as a flush.”

Unsurprisingly, the sidewalks are paved with discarded ads for prostitutes. But don’t worry, if for some reason you can’t find anyone handing them out, and are too dignified to pick them off the sidewalk, rest assured that 75% of the newspaper boxes are actually filled with full-size ads for prostitutes.

But in a way, I expected all that. What I didn’t expect was the latest innovation in mechanizing the gambling experience: the electronic blackjack table. Not video blackjack, mind you. This is a blackjack table where the dealer is replaced by a large computer screen displaying a “dealer” avatar, and you play using the touch screen in front of each seat. (And yes, you can select which dealer you want to see, in case you aren’t satisfied with the particular revealing outfit she — obviously it’s always a she — is wearing.)

These machines are an abomination. It’s the dealer’s eyes. How they’re always staring off at some point past the seats during the idle animation. The empty, vapid smile clinches it. Obviously the machines are soulless, but it’s like the designers tried their hardest to evoke that sense through the dealer, and succeeded beyond comprehension. Most arcade games — remember those? — had an attract mode when no one was playing. These machines have a repel mode.

But, as much as it pains me to admit, Las Vegas does have a few good points. Blue Man Group is worth seeing. Their show is… hard to describe. Suppose an alien race landed on Earth and somehow, after all the prerequisite take-me-to-your-leader stuff got taken care of, somehow wound up with a Vegas show. I imagine it would be something like Blue Man Group.

Penn & Teller were also good. Before going to the show, I had the brilliant idea for a souvenir for Renee: get a playing card signed by them, and then present it to her in the course of doing a card trick, a sort of “is this your card?” kind of thing.

I started by going to the Rio’s gift shop to buy a deck of cards before the show. I wound up in the checkout line behind a woman who was evidently buying one of every fragile item they had. I got to watch for several minutes as the cashier individually wrapped each one of them, as I checked my watch and worried I was going to miss the start of the performance.

Fortunately, I did not, finally getting into the theater with a little time to spare. The show itself was good, and for obvious reasons I won’t spoil it other than by saying that one thing Penn & Teller like to do is to do a different trick than the one you think they’re doing. That’s like a whole other level of misdirection.

After the show, for whatever reason only Teller went out into the lobby to sign autographs and whatnot. Undeterred, this was my chance. When I got up to the front of the line, I handed him — what else? — the three of clubs from the deck I had purchased. He signed it “Teller” and handed it back to me. As I began to move away to give someone else a chance, he stopped me and said — yes, said, out loud — “Wait, I can do better.” I handed it back, and he wrote on the top of it “Is THIS Your Card?”

Awesome.

It’s a shame that I’m terrible at doing card tricks, not helped by how Renee saw though the obvious trick and deliberately ruined things for me. That’s what I get for underestimating her.

But yeah, aside from that, Vegas is terrible.