When technology gets jealous

I finally caved today and got a PS3. I had been waiting for the price drop, and then I was looking for an excuse. I finally stopped looking, and with Kat’s suggestion, pulled the trigger. I am heading on a small vacation next week and wanted a small digital camera for the event (my digital camera broke a few months ago and I never bothered to replace it) so it was one of those weird “Hey, while we’re at Best Buy, why not finally pick up a PS3” kind of things. Kat’s cool like that. I never did anything to celebrate the new job, so this was a cool way to do that.

I didn’t buy any games; I was more interested in the downloadable stuff (and the store didn’t have Buzz in stock). Unfortunately, the PlayStation Store didn’t like my credit card info — the same card I used to buy the PS3, mind you — so I couldn’t buy anything at all. Seems like other people have had this billing problem and it might be something I can fix later. Or maybe not. So…damn. But Sleeping Beauty on Blu-ray — which I had never seen, despite being a Disney fan — looks very nice at 1080p.

So here’s where the the tinfoil hat kicks in. This evening I turned on my 360 (to make sure the memory unit with my Gamertag on it that accidentally went through the wash was still okay), downloaded a firmware update and…poof. The video just died; it’s like the red ring of death in that heat causes it and many of the same components are involved, but it costs $100 to repair. This was an Elite console, so it wasn’t Jasper, it was Falcon — but it wasn’t a launch unit either. I don’t see the point in repairing it, so I will go back to using my launch console. It has a picky DVD drive (it won’t play Halo 3, Guitar Hero III, or Lips), but it works most of the time. I think an Arcade unit is in my future.

So…the day the PS3 comes into the house, my 360 dies. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Disney gets dark

I love going to Disney parks. I also love hearing what it’s like to work at Disney parks, the sordid tales from within the iron-fisted corporate empire of happiness.

A visitor spammed sent me this link to a blog in response to some of my earlier Disney posts. It’s a well-written tale of life as a photographer peon within the Magic Kingdom, and all the changes that come from moving from the scar-filled world of action-sports to the scrubbed and sparkly Disney Experience, chronicling the drug use and homosexuality that he found along the way.

Is it all true? Probably, yeah. And if it isn’t, hey, the melodrama is genuine — you’ll enjoy rolling your eyes at the thoughts of an adorably anti-establishment guy who once had “fuck you” shaved into his beard but was too naive/dumb to consider that Disney was, you know, strict about things like employee appearances. Even I could tell you that, and I’m just a visitor. That’s basic pattern recognition — just look around the park’s Cast Members and play Spot the Individual. You’ll lose every time.

If you like your Disney with a little dirt (and some NSFW images), click here.

The Disney Diaries #5

I know a lot of people want to go to a character breakfast when they visit Disney, but I’ve never found it much fun to have my meal interrupted by a college student in a fur outfit who wants to interact but is not allowed to speak. For me, the best two dining experiences are both at Disney MGM. The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater features a bunch of booths shaped like 50s cars and dim lighting, so you can watch the giant screen showing classic schlocky film trailers and promotional cartoons urging you to run to the snack bar. The food is all comforting, the staff is sometimes on rollerskates, and the trailers are a riot.

Meanwhile, if you don’t behave in the 50s Prime Time Café, you will suffer the hilarious wrath of the waitress. Mom’s in the kitchen in this homestyle diner, leaving you to watch clips from I Married Joan and The Real McCoys (along with a little Mickey Mouse Club dance number) while your aunt waits on you. Elbows on the table? You’ll be scolded in front of all your “cousins” in the restaurant. If you clean your plate, they draw your name and a smiley face in ketchup on your plate and show everyone else, asking them to be more like you. Some friends ate here years back and got into a mild food fight, blamed it on an innocent in their party, and the waitress made him stand in the corner. Awesome – though Kat pointed out that this place will only be successful as long as people remember table manners in the first place. “Some of the kids that come to this place may have never experienced discipline during a meal before,” she noted. That scared me but she’s right.

The food is great, home-cooked stuff like pot roast and this fantastic fried cheese that made the perfect appetizer. My meatloaf came with green beans, and I’d heard our server Cindy – who I’d been sucking up to with compliments, Eddie Haskell-style, all night – get on the dad at the table next to me for not finishing his. She actually made him eat some by forking some into his mouth while everyone nearby made airplane sounds. I hate green beans so I knew I was doomed. I’d downed a lovely concoction called Dad’s Electric Lemonade, which emboldened my cunning plan: I was going to run to the men’s room, scrape all the beans into the trash, and return with a clean plate. Why not cheat?

In a fit of giggles, I grabbed my plate and headed for the restrooms. Problem was, they were located near the entrance to the kitchen, and who do I run into not five steps from freedom? Cindy, bussing a stack of dirty dishes from another table. She realizes it’s me, backs up, and says “Where do you think you’re going with that, mister?” I exploded in laughter and ran back to my seat – I actually returned with the beans. Everybody around me was stunned; I just kept laughing and repeating “I’m so dead.”

Sure enough, Cindy came back and scolded me rather loudly. I said I was going out back to give my leftovers to Spot. “Don’t give the beans to Spot,” she said, “they give him gas!” A ha, my out! “Well, actually, they give me gas too.” “Well, why didn’t you say something? I wouldn’t have tried to make you eat ’em in the first place.” Success! I was off the hook! Kat looked at me with horror – she could not believe I was going to get away with this travesty of dinner justice, but there it was. I gave her my s’mores to make up for it.

The next group that came in was a group of legitimately bratty kids. We gave Cindy a really good tip.

The Disney Diaries #4

Videogaming is in a sad state at Walt Disney World. When we came on our honeymoon, we started every day with Mickey waffles and a round of Virtua Cop at our resort. We stayed at the same place this time and the arcade was still there, with a wide selection, but through the magic of debit cards, most games cost about $1 to play (even coin-op classics like Class of 81 Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga were 50 cents). Still, at least the games were maintained.

A few years ago Disney launched DisneyQuest and made a big deal about its custom games and interactive rides (Virtual Jungle Cruise! Aladdin’s Flying Carpet Thingie!), but I’m not sure if the place has been upgraded since launch. I had been looking forward to the true VR game based on Aladdin – complete with head-tracking visor and a controllable flying carpet – and it must have been mighty impressive when it was new. It’s not bad now, and good luck finding other VR experiences anywhere else for a reasonable price, but the visuals aren’t on par with what the kids at home are playing with 360 and PS3, and the novel controls are trumped by Wii. Kat tried it and found her controller was broken, so she pulled out and just sat on a nearby bench while I finished up. In fact, a lot of its games were a) not fun, b) broken, or c) outdated, if not all three (The Toy Story-inspired Sid’s Create-a-Toy wins that award). The Retro Zone was a mess: Robotron‘s second joystick didn’t work, Lunar Lander had monitor issues, Donkey Kong‘s screen was fuzzy as hell, and oh yeah, there were no Pac games. WTF?

The whole place struck me as a ghetto arcade, which is ironic, since DQ is one of those “let’s not call it an arcade, let’s call it ‘location-based entertainment'” places built to avoid the negative things associated with the worst elements of arcades: broken equipment, bored staff, sketchy lighting, yelling kids. But if you leave a room full of games to die, you naturally inherit all the worst elements of arcades anyway. Disney doesn’t seem to understand that gaming technology moves much faster than even Space Mountain (which coincidentally had its Tomorrowland arcade cut in size by 2/3rds to make room for another gift shop).

I’m glad I went to DisneyQuest, but even as a big Disney fan and a bigger gamer, I don’t feel the need to return.

The Disney Diaries #3

Waiting for the flight-sim movie/ride “Soarin'” at Epcot, Kat and I were treated to the worst kids in line, ever ever ever. Picture 11 boys, all alpha males between the ages of 12 and 16, all in town for a baseball tournament, plus two adults who don’t care how much the kids bother everybody else in line. They’re jumping on the railings, they’re yelling that it’s taking too long every five minutes (the posted wait time was 40 minutes), they’re hitting each other and running around. God help me, they’re farting, making each other smell it, and laughing at the top of their lungs. And everything is a competition – one kid’s playing Bubblet on a Palm and another snarls “I got NEXT,” with a ferocity suggesting that his chance to play is his god-given right to finally avenge the death of his family. And when the first kid gets a good score on his first game, he proudly goes to tell one of the adults…who boasts that his own best score is way better.

Giant video walls are activated to let the people waiting in line play cooperative games – digital beach balls get tossed around for a while, then each screen shows a flying bird, and the crowd, through video cameras, alters its path by leaning, as a group, in the direction the bird needs to go. “Let’s make it crash!” yells one of the lads. Nobody in the immediate area wants to play with the brats, so nobody really participates, and the bird gets stuck on the wall, just like the kids wanted. One of the boys turns to me and screams “You guys suck.”

I’m not a violent guy but after enduring 30 minutes in line with this brat, I wanted to deck him right then and there. When I accidentally express this desire verbally, the woman in line next to me offers to help, as he’s the kid that grabbed her ass. Then when the line doen’t move fast enough due to the bird game, they start screaming – screaming – en masse at the people ahead of them to move Move MOVE! The adult guardians are too busy talking about baseball with each other to reprimand any of them.

What bothered me most was that these kids were in town for a team sports tournament. They had ostensibly gotten here through athletic success, yet had no concept of even casual teamwork. What kind of teammate turns to his others and says “You suck” when the team doesn’t work well together? How did you get to any sort of championship in anything? I suddenly found myself really angry not about my own discomfort in line but about the unchecked aggression and ego that was apparently being fostered in these kids. These were already hardcore bullies who were being rewarded for the attitude of “if you want it, you deserve to have it, and probably should have been given it already.” But you’ve heard me bitch about a sense of entitlement before.

Ultimately we got on the ride and I enjoyed it, but it was a video-wall motion simulator, and I had one of the end seats, so the view wasn’t quite as good as it would have been in the middle. I would have liked to go on it again, but oh well. One of the baseball kids did get a sweet spot seat smack in the center. His immediate, loud reaction after the ride concluded?

“That sucked!”

The Disney Diaries #2

My unhealthy interest in redheads leads me to seek out merch for three very different Disney characters: Ariel, Kim Possible, and Jessica Rabbit. Ariel’s a Disney Princess so she’s all over the place, and Kim’s got a token character meet-and-greet appearance at the MGM park, which I suppose is to be expected since she’s a TV character, not a movie starlet…but if that’s the criteria, where’s Jessica? Not here, anymore:

Before we got here, I found out they took down the giant Jessica neon sign at Pleasure Island and literally threw it in the trash, and I don’t know if the Roger Rabbit ride is still operating at Disneyland, but it’s not in the Florida park. They used to have a cutout of Jessica at Disney MGM for photo purposes, but even that’s gone. Any memorabilia is hard to come by – a few cloisonné pins (and if you are not into the elaborate, expensive, and slightly baffling pin trading scene at Disney parks, you are not allowed in) and one shirt of Jessica in a hula skirt with the legend “Jessica’s Island Tours – check out the scenery!” (which I didn’t buy). Oh, we found some lovely limited edition paintings for $600 each, but at that price, photos will suffice.

Jessica is caught somewhere between Disney Princess and Disney Villain – as Kat points out, along with Esmerelda from Hunchback and Megara from Hercules, she’s a Disney Harlot, and (perhaps wisely) little girls are not encouraged to dress up like femme fatales, let alone impossibly busty sex goddesses. So not much merch. But still…doesn’t someone realize there is money to be made here, if only on the sheer impossibly-naughty-for-a-Disney-character nature? When has the mouse ever left money on the table? It just doesn’t make sense.

Being a geek I fired up my laptop at the resort and found a great article online that explained everything. Amblin owns half of the Roger Rabbit franchise and Disney owns the other, so nothing can be created without the agreement of both companies, But clearly, they know that adults are the only ones interested in the character. With that in mind, I would be happy to brainstorm on a whole bunch of lewd merch for Jessica. They should be counter-programming all the saccharine sweetness of the princesses with Jessica shirts that say “Yes, someday your prince will come…if you know how to make him.”

Disney, when you are ready to finally embrace the character’s filthy and obvious destiny, you have my contact info. I was in room 3912.

The Disney Diaries #1

After seven years without a vacation, Kat and I finally returned to Walt Disney World. We honeymooned there in 1995, went back in 2000, and intended to go two years ago, but it didn’t happen until now. Everyone was forced to take some vacation at Future before the end of the fiscal year, and I had already chosen a slow period on the current issue to sneak away, so the timing was actually spot-on for once.

I didn’t blog from the resort because I was having too much fun, but I did take notes. I brought my laptop on vacation, because I had some long plane rides and wanted to work on some personal projects, and ultimately things started to leak out of my brain because that’s just the way I’m wired. So I’ll post these random thoughts and anecdotes over the next few days as The Disney Diaries.

  • I am allergic to Florida. I didn’t know this before coming but once I got down here my sinuses went crazy and I’ve been sneezing and leaking for no reason, with no other symptoms. When I left, so did the reactions, though I’m still congested. Not sure what I could be allergic to. Maybe it’s pollen. Maybe it’s cartoon mice. I’m betting it’s children.
  • Speaking of which, people ask, “If you don’t like children, why do you go to Disney World?” Simple: it’s the most entertaining form of birth control I’ve found. You go, you have fun, you have your fun interrupted by other people’s families, and you realize that you’d never be able to handle that shit 24/7. Then you come home, glad to be away from children, and you really appreciate your cats.
  • If you go to Disney World, do it after Labor Day. We usually do (our actual anniversary is September 9) but this year, we had a great chance to do a gig at a local casino, so Kat rescheduled. It’s one of my few regrets, because the volume of people in the park dropped dramatically Tuesday, but there were oodles of visitors through Monday. So if you ever want to see Disney on your terms, do it once school starts. There was literally no wait on most rides Tuesday.
  • If age < 30 and/or kids = not 0, then Blizzard Beach > Typhoon Lagoon. If age > 30 and kids = 0, then Typhoon Lagoon > Blizzard Beach. Blizzard was built after Typhoon, and it seems like a reaction to guests saying Typhoon wasn’t extreeeeeme enough. Blizzard has a lot of slides and speed runs, which means a lot of people waiting in 30-minute lines for literally six-second experiences; Typhoon has a bitchin’ wave pool that was fun for hours and almost made Kat’s sunburn worth it. Teens will opt for the long lines and short thrills, but adults will have more fun with Typhoon’s attractions.
  • I officially threw up after a Disney ride. I did Mission: SPACE on the “more intense” Orange path and holy shit, the G forces fucked me up hard. I ralphed shortly after exiting the cockpit. Glad I did the ride, but glad I will never do it again.
  • No Haunted Mansion! Absolutely one of my favorite attractions, and it’s being refurbished this year. I guess I could have found out ahead of time but it didn’t occur to me that things would be shut down for the whole season. Dammit. And then when we made it to Disney MGM, the Rock & Roller Coaster was shut down. It was working the day before. Kat dodged a bullet, because before the trip she said she was going to ride it, then changed her mind. I was going to goad her into riding but with the ride unexpectedly shut down for “refurbishment,” she didn’t have to endure my torture. They’re really not good at communicating these things.

More later.

Jessica Rabbit…gone?!

My…appreciation (which is the kindest possible word I can find for it) for Jessica Rabbit is well known by my inner circle. (I’m a sucker for redheads…and teh b00bs.) But, in researching some vacation options, I just found out that this no longer exists:

Pleasure Island — the adult nightclub area in Downtown Disney down in Florida — apparently went through some radical changes last year and I just found out about it. The Jessica sign ended up in a dumpster, according to reports from cast members. Sigh.

I think I need to investigate in person. (I’m desperate for a vacation.)