Month: April 2005

More Vegas Fun

When last I left the story, it was the end of Saturday evening and we had seen UFC, and had finally found somewhere to eat (a theme for the weekend as most places seem to close around midnight in Vegas…odd for a city which promotes gambling, drinking, and one would assume the good friend of drinking…eating). We now continue with Sunday morning.

We got up early on Sunday morning and knew we had a lot to complete in the last few hours. Our plane left at 11:50pm, so we would need to be at the airport by around 9:30 in order to make it through ticketing and security.

Our first trip was the Bellagio, where we enjoyed the best breakfast buffet I've ever experienced. Not only was there a variety of fish, a pancake station, fresh waffles, fresh whipped cream, tons of fruits, various sauces for the pancakes etc, fresh squeezed orange juice, really good coffee, amazing desserts, and an incredible variety of hot and cold foods (including herb roasted beef…simply amazing stuff), it was all piping hot and incredible tasting. Even though it cost $21.00 each, it was the best buffet I've ever had.

We went back to the hotel and packed up before going over to the MGM Grand to pick up our winnings from the night before. Our next stop was back to the Bellagio again. Both Ryan and I had about $100.00 to our names, and we decided that we would gamble it all at the Bellagio. If we lost, we'd be able to say “Hey, we played $25.00 craps at the Bellagio.”, if we won…well wouldn't that be wonderful? We had a soft rule that we would gamble until we had either a lot of money (over $1500.00) or none. On the way over I presented a scenario “You're up $400.00, what do you do?”, Ryan said he didn't know.

We got to the $25.00 tables and put down our $100.00 each. The pit boss looked at the three of us, decked out as we were in dirty three day old shorts, wrinkled shirts, and running shoes, and said “You gentlemen realize this table has a $25.00 minimum correct?” I replied with “Yep, we've always wanted to play craps at the Bellagio, and this is the table we want.” He smiled and proceeded to take our money.

The first roll came up craps, and we lost our $25.00. The next couple of rolls were 11's and 7's, which got us back in the game. We then proceeded to go on a nice little winning streak with our chips growing and growing. Andy, our dealer, kept giving us suggestions which kept on winning us money. Our palms were sweaty and our hearts were pounding, and finally I couldn't take it anymore, I walked away from the table after cashing my green chips in for 4 blacks and 3 greens. I had turned $100 into $475. Not bad for half an hour's work.

We were both totally high on adreneline, so we decided we'd go to Ceaser's palace and play one roll of $100.00 craps. Ryan would put down the inital roll, I'd put in the odds. If it came in, we'd split it 50/50. We looked for a $100.00 table, but couldn't find one. So we asked a pit boss where we could find a $100.00 minimum craps table. He looked at us wide eyed and asked why we wanted a $100.00 table, just put $100.00 down on a $25 table. I said that it was a dream of ours to play on a $100.00 table, so he asked his supervisor if he could change the table limit, and he let him.

Ryan put down his $100.00, and immediately rolled craps, which eliminated him. I then said “Screw it” and stepped up with my $125. I put it down on the table, and rolled an 11. I then played a little while longer and after a few rolls had about $300.00 in my stack. I cashed out up another $175, and left Ceaser's. At that point I was at $650 on the day.

Our next stop on our whirlwind Sunday was to hit The Gun Store on Tropicana. Ryan and I wanted to shoot guns, so we picked our weapons (Glock for me and a Barretta for Ryan). All you need in Nevada is ID, and pictures of dead American heroes…which we had in spades. We picked out our targets, and proceeded to the shooting range where we learned to load and fire our weapons.

First off, guns are loud. Second, guns are scary, third, the the friggin' M-16 next to Ryan was terrifying…it lets out a 3' fireball with each round of bullets! HOLY SPIT! Years of video games has made me a pretty decent shooter. I got a little distracted at first, but my second set of shots were right in my target's head. Ryan's first shot hit his target right above the eyebrow! his next three or four were clustered right around the same area. After getting our shoot on, it was time for pictures, and then time to get out of dodge.

We then decided we'd hit the outlet mall for one last stop for Ryan, where we all grabbed some little things, and then headed to New York New York to the ESPN Zone for some dinner. After dinner Ryan and I got into our dressier clothes (dress shirts and khaki's), and headed back to the Bellagio. At the Bellagio we both put down $200.00 on the $25.00 table. The pit boss didn't say a word to us about not being able to afford the table, and our good friend from earlier Andy didn't seem to recognize us until some of the table chatter started. We had a run of bad luck which brought me down to $100.00. Not even my hot hadn was making me any money. However, our good dealer friend Andy wasn't giving up on us, and when the dice passed to a guy named Adam, our luck turned around. Adam rolled a seven a couple of times, made the point a couple of times, and finally, when we had a ton of money on the line, and had all placed bets for the dealers on the pass line, Adam rolled a hard ten, prompted by some table chat we had made which included “I don't think you want a high five do you Adam? You don't roll a ten, you don't get a high five!” That hard ten brought me a tidy $115.00. Shortly after he rolled a seven and was out, but I was up again. By this point I was up to over $850.

As we left the Bellagio, we walked to the front of the hotel and watched the water show (although since we did the Ocean's 11 slow walk away earlier in the day, we didn't repeat it here).

We went back to Ceaser's Palace one more time to just try it out on the $25.00 table. Unfortunately nothing came in, and we both lost our $125 stake, but we were up overall.

We did one last shopping trip through the Alladdin, where I picked up a couple more gifts for Char as well as a set of real Vegas dice, and headed out to the airport.

We got to the airport around 9:40, got in a huge line for America West, then got in an even bigger line for security…the line was absolutely insane, and took about 40 minutes to clear. I shoved everything metal into my bag, and cleared security quickly…what a waste of time that is.

Our plane arrived ontime, and we boarded…but someone needed to go on this flight and it was overbooked, so they asked someone to leave the plane. Since it was an international flight, that guy's bags had to get taken off the flight…which then meant that we had to wait around until his bags could be found…for about 45 minutes. Then as we were taxing down the runway, a woman had a panic attack, and had to leave the plane (with her bags)…another 45 minutes. We finally took off about 2 hours late.

I fell asleep in the air and had a sudden panic attack, my heart went nuts and I panicked. Luckily a walk to the washroom was all I needed, and I was okay. We finally arrived in Toronto at 8:30 in the morning.

I came back with a bunch of souveniers, a ton of great memories, and seven little Benjamins, who pretty much paid for all of the fun we had for the weekend. While the trip was so packed full of things, even still there are things we didn't do. We didn't go to the Star Trek experience. We didn't ride one of the roller coasters, and we didn't visit the Monte Carlo (which is the only Casino we've never been to), and we've still never been to Sam's for breakfast. I'm pretty sure I had a good time…I'm just still a little overwhelmed. Four days since I've gotten back and I'm just NOW starting to feel like I've caught up on sleep and am coming down from the adreneline overload we were on.

UFC 52: An Amazing Show

It’s a sport that combines the tradition and respect of martial arts with the strategy and explosive excitement of boxing. It’s a sport, which has taken its cues from professional wrestling and created stars out of its fighters. Most importantly, it’s a sport on the cusp of mainstream acceptance. It is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and it’s a show like none I’ve ever experienced before.

Up until a few months ago, when you mentioned mixed martial arts, or MMA to most people they would frown and talk about how brutal the sport is, how violent and dangerous it is, and how it was banned. There was a large, and very loyal following of fans of the sport, but mainstream acceptance, that intangible by which every sport lives or dies, was never there.

The Ultimate Fighter on SpikeTV helped to change that and the announcement of a season two and three will certainly help to give added spotlight to the sport. A terrific card on free TV also helped, as did the phenomenal battle between finalists Stephen Bonnar and Forrest Griffin. Many have called the evenly matched contest the greatest UFC match in the sport’s history, and even last weekend it was the buzz of the building.

My friends and I had fallen off the UFC bandwagon, having lost interest somewhere around #20, we paid a little attention from time to time, checked out the odd DVD, but it wasn’t until the Ultimate Fighter TV show that the UFC grabbed our attention again. Gone were many of the names that we had known, Frye, Severn, Coleman (although Ken Shamrock has made a return to the octagon), and in their place were a new guard including Liddell, Couture, and Hughes.

We managed to purchase three tickets to the already sold out MGM Grand Garden Arena, and headed down to the arena to see the weigh in. The first thing that struck me was the size of the athletes. The legendary Dan “the Beast” Severn, who was there to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, and while he’s massive, Bonnar and Griffin, who looked small on TV, were pretty big in person.

Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian were both up on stage signing autographs, as was Rich Franklin who faced Ken Shamrock the week before. Despite the pounding that Bonnar and Griffin had dealt to each other, they both looked pretty good. Bonnar had a couple of black eyes, and Griffin had some stitches in his nose, but neither man looked like they had been put through the meat grinder that they went through just seven days earlier. Diego Sanchez and Rich Franklin didn’t appear to have suffered any bruising from their fights.

Many of the other participants of the Ultimate Fighter TV series were seen walking around the area, with Alex Schoenauer, Sam Hoger and Josh Koscheck all attracting fans asking for autographs and pictures.

The fans were a great mix of young and middle aged good-looking people, a group that you’d expect to run into at one of Las Vegas’ many lounges, with at least a quarter of the crowd comprising women.

The night of the fight itself, there was a buzz in the air as we crossed the skyway bridge between New York New York and the MGM Grand, as we stood in line at the sports book to place our bets, and as we walked through the casino to grab a quick bite to eat. Pretty much all of the conversations we overheard had something to do with Liddell/Couture, Hughes/Triggs, or last weekend’s Bonnar/Griffin fight.

When we arrived at our seats, and were blown away by the size of the arena. Patterned after New York’s famous Madison Square Garden, the MGM Grand Arena is huge. 17,000 seats huge. On this particular night the arena was filled to its UFC capacity of 14,562 seats. The audience impressed us with everyone around us talking to each other about fights and styles, while during the fights themselves, people commented on what was happening, and cheered on their favourite guys. On a couple of occasions I had a question about something, and guys were only too willing to impart their knowledge over the roar of the crowd.

Canadians were well represented in the under card, with four Canadians battling in the octagon. Patrick Cote, of Rimouski, and Joe Doerksen, of New Bothwell, put on a great battle, with Doerksen forcing Cote to tap out at 2:35 of round 3. Canadian Georges St. Pierre, of Montreal, faced off against the “unconventional” (to say the least) Jason Miller, who refused to give up even when locked into an arm bar on two occasions. When knocked down at one point, Miller attempted a “kip up”, which only really succeeded in making the crowd laugh. While St. Pierre wasn’t able to finish Miller off, he won the decision unanimously. Ivan Salaverry, from Toronto, finished off Joe Riggs with an impressive triangle choke at 2:42 of the first round.

Several times during the night various contenders from “The Ultimate Fighter” were shown on the big screens, and a chorus of cheers (for most guys) or boos (for Josh and Sam in particular) erupted from the crowd.

The Welterweight championship saw Matt Hughes defeat Frank Trigg at 4:05 of the first round via submission. Trigg held his own early in the match, and almost had Hughes defeated with a rear naked choke. When Hughes escaped from the hold, the entire packed arena leapt to their feet cheering. Less than a minute later Trigg gave up his back to Hughes, who sunk in a rear naked choke of his own to finish the fight.

The main event of Chuck Liddell vs champion Randy Couture had been hyped well in advance. Both Liddell and Couture were trainers on the Ultimate Fighter series, and each man spoke of tradition and respect during the series. Couture and Liddell put on an amazing fight, with Couture attempting some strikes at Liddell in the early going. Couture’s grappling however was no match for Liddell’s striking, and the Iceman landed a punch to Couture’s chin, which buckled the champion’s legs. Liddell pounced on his prone opponent and delivered two more punches before referee “Big” John McCartney jumped in, threw Liddell off Couture, and covered the downed man to prevent any injury.

The sound of the crowd erupting during the Hughes fight was nothing to the deafening roar of the crowd after Liddell’s victory.

UFC has turned Las Vegas into the home base of the promotion, while the company has had a few forays outside of Vegas, it has built a reputation and a loyal fan base in and around Las Vegas, however the next card, UFC 52, will be taking place in Atlantic City on June 2nd.

This sport is gaining momentum, and a groundswell of support is happening. There’s talk of a weekly TV series, and there are two more season of The Ultimate Fighter already locked up. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if within the next 12 months UFC crosses the corner from fringe sport to mainstream success.

Vegas baby, VEGAS!

Vegas baby, VEGAS!Vegas baby, VEGAS!

So having gotten back from Vegas on Monday Morning, you’d expect that I would have written something here…but I haven’t. Why? Mostly because I’ve been overwhelmed. Vegas baby. Vegas.

On Thursday night we left Toronto around 9pm, with me flying Danny Ocean style (sports jacket, and arrived in Las Vegas at about 11:10pm. We went and got our rental car, where we met a guy named Randy who said he could get us tickets to the UFC. I gave him my cell number, and hoped he’d come through. Ryan John and I then checked in at our hotel (the Excalibur). We then headed over to the Ghost bar at the Palms because we’d heard it was a cool place to hang out…it wasn’t, we suddenly realized that a bar in Las Vegas is still a bar…crappy. We then drove around looking for somewhere to eat, but as we’d soon find out, there is nowhere to eat in Las Vegas after about midnight. We tried our hand at a couple of craps tables, but everything was cold, so we decided to call it a night. At this point it was about three in the morning Vegas time, or about six am Eastern…ouch.

The next morning we woke up around 9 and headed over to Terribles for breakfast. By the time we got there though it was about 10:20, and breakfast was over, and they were preparing for lunch…so we had some time to kill. We played craps, but I sucked hard that morning, so I went over to the blackjack tables where I made a modest winning. By then it was time for breakfast, so we hit the buffet. Good, cheap food was had, and we headed off for the day. First on our stop was the outlet mall where I picked up a new watch, some gifts for Char, and a couple of cool things from the Nike store. On a lark, we decided to check out the MGM Grand to see if they had any tickets for the UFC. Along the way, John had to hit the washroom…something that would play into our favour. We got to the ticket booth, and overheard someone say that the MGM Grand had JUST opened up a block of tickets. If we had come ten minutes earlier, or ten minutes later, we would have missed the tickets. Instead, we picked up three duckets in a pretty good spot. We went and checked out the weigh in, and saw a bunch of the fighters milling around. We decided to leave the MGM Grand and head back to our hotel, which gave us some time to change before heading down to the Golden Nugget to see Bob Newhart. We decided to take a cab to the Hilton for a couple of early Warp Core breach’s first, and then proceeded to the Golden Nugget.

At the Nugget, we had the buffet, and Ryan almost keeled over from some weird illness that he was fighting. After he recovered somehow, we headed over to Binions to get our lower case “g” gamble on. We hit the craps table, and after a few minutes the dice came to me. I then went on a personal record 50 minute rolling streak with the dice. By the end of the rolls, I was up about $100.00, and we had to hustle to catch Newhart. Unfortunately Bob wasn’t as exciting as the craps, and Ryan had another unfortunate case of the sickness, and almost got knocked out AGAIN! Once again he came back though, and we got our gamble on again, although Gamblor (the god of gambling) wasn’t as good to us this time. I ended up down overall on the night, and we all decided that we should head back to the hotel a little early so we could get a head start on our day Saturday.

Saturday we went to Terribles for the breakfast buffet, and got a little gamble on at the craps table where I lost even more money. After that, Ryan needed a visit from Naplor (the god of naps), while John and I went off to get our shop on. We hit the Fry’s Electronics which turned out to be a bust, before hitting the Outlet Mall agan, where we picked up some more goods. Heading back to the hotel (or Roomlor…the god of rooms), we picked up Ryan, who decided he wanted to hit the mall for a couple of minutes. We headed back there and then got in character for the evening’s festivities.

Over at the MGM Grand, we bet on a couple of fights (I put $20 on Liddell to win, while Ryan put $20 on Liddell, and $20 on Triggs, both underdogs), grabbed something to eat, and then watched the fight. My full report on the fight can be seen on TSN.ca’s website: UFC 52 an amazing show…but suffice it to say that it was an incredible experience, and both Ryan and I won $30.00. We then went back to Binions, where Gamblor wasn’t with us, and I tapped myself out. With that we headed back to the Excalibur, and headed over to the Luxor for some food (because everywhere else we had tried to eat was either closed or unappealing to us)…we got on the wrong tram though and ended up at the Mandalay Bay. At Mandalay we searched for food, and found nothing, until we stumbled on this little burger place that sold overpriced, but delicious hamburgers and $5.00 shakes (which was one of the things on Ryan’s list of things he wanted to do in Vegas). We then headed back to our hotel, and while on the tram saw Georges St. Pierre who had faced a nutcase named Jason Miller earlier in the evening. That was kind of cool. It was about 2 am when we got to bed, and we had another huge day ahead of us…little did we know it would be the best day yet.

Falling for it

This weekend Charlene and I went to Niagra Falls for a weekend away. We stayed at the lovely Fallsview Mariot hotel, which is just a short hop away from the Fallsview casino (the site of some spectacular losses by yours truly this time).

We went over to Buffalo for some Olive Garden deliciousness, and a little shopping at Le Target, where I picked up City of Heroes for $10.00! We also snagged a bunch of American snacks at the Topps Friendly Market…yummy!

The hotel in Niagra Falls was pretty great, with a spectacular view of the falls. We had a gorgeous few days too with absolutely perfect weather.

Char and I fared not too well in the casino. The craps limits were only $15.00, and we eventually found a $10.00 table, but I blew through a hundred bucks in very short time with my numbers only coming in rarely. Char lost her stake on slots just as quickly as I did, luck just wasn't on our side I guess.

The only odd thing was that everything in Niagra Falls has become spectacularly overpriced. Room service is $20.00 for cereal (we chose not to partake), a coke is $3.00, and food at any of the area restaurants is available in either US or Canadian prices, with the US prices being what you'd pay on average in the rest of the province in Canadian dollars, and the Canadian price being about 35% higher. It's strange to feel like a visitor in your own country.

Film, filming, and filmed

This weekend was jammed full of goodness. I saw an amazing movie, I made a fun movie, and then I watched one of the best wrestling matches of my life when Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels faced off at WrestleMania.

On Friday night I went and saw Sin City with Charlene. It was pretty amazing, not the best superhero movie (that honour still goes to Spider-Man 2), but it's up there in the top 10. The look of the movie was amazing, and it managed to capture the feel of a comic book better than any film before it. I was worried that it would be like Dick Tracy, full of flash and flare, but no substance, but there was nothing to worry about. The performances were awesome, with all of the actors obviously respecting the source material. Particular standouts were Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. The techniques of using minimal colour, and the black and white work were phenomenal, and would inspire me later in the weekend.

My only complaint is that there could have been a bridging story which would have made the movie complete. I kind of felt they should have gone either the whole way and not referenced each segment, or did something to reference all of the segments…plus Dwight's story was just weak.

Saturday morning we began the 24 Hour Toronto Film Challenge as Team Lemon. We got our challenge pack, which consisted of the following items:

Genre: Arthouse comedy
Topic: A Blustery April Fool
Line: “You gotta be kidding me”
Prop: Yellow smiley face can

We then had 24 hours to write, shoot, and edit the film.

I had blocked out a brief schedule, with us brainstorming for 2 hours, writing for another 2, shooting for 7 hours, and editing for the remaining 12, giving us a 1 hour pad.

The first thing was about 2 hours of brainstorming, where we came up with the concept of a dinner party with two couples, a boss and his wife, and an employee trying to get a promotion with his wife. Hilarity ensues when the yellow can starts talking to the employee, and he eventually snaps and screams at the table. Liam and Lindsay would play the employee and wife, while Dave and Laura played the boss and his wife.

We then went to the set, and took about an hour to set up (we really should have had half the crew do set-up while the other half wrote in another location).

While the writing crew wrote the screenplay, Peter and I went out and grabbed some cover shots…which would ultimately prove useless.

It was this part that started to get off the rails, the writing process took until 6 (my budget had us ending it at 2), and we didn't bother to create a master shot-list.

When it came time to shoot, we had some issues with not knowing what to do in terms of shot-listing, and specific roles, but once we got comfortable in our positions, things started to come together.

Angelo was our lighting and sound guy, and I took care of camera for the first time in forever. Jeff played the role of director and second unit photographer, while Peter did some shot-listing, and some direction. Unfortunately it took us a long time to shoot our first set ups, and we suffered for that, with shooting not getting done until a little after midnight.

Back at Liam's, we started digitizing (which took longer than thought, and we didn't have all the software on all the computers). I started just grabbing shots I thought we could use, which took less time, but 4 hours of tape still takes 4 hours to digitize.

We then had some problems with the editng software, but Jeff eventually stepped in and took over on Vegas Video. Liam worked on the titles, while I played around with After Effects looking for just the right “feel” for the movie.

I toyed with some blasted out black and white, which used a stylized “hot” look. I then played with a blue tinted black and white look. Fooled around with a colourized look. Tried out a 24 frames per second film look. Added grain and digital noise to a test., and generally hit wall after wall.

What we really wanted to do was make the movie black and white (art house style), and add yellow to only the yellow can.

As I was cleaning up I found my Computer Arts magazine on digital desktop editing and started thumbing through for some ideas. While playing with the saturation on the video I suddenly had an idea, what if I cranked the master saturation way down, and put the yellow channel's saturation way up?

That was the look we were searching for, and my usefulness had ended. I took the long ride home and crashed out shortly afterwards

Liam, Jeff, Angelo and Laura kept on working away, and although we missed the deadline, we handed the movie in finally late yesterday.

All in all it was a fun experience, and we learned a lot for the next time.

Back and better than ever!

Chronicology is now officially using the HeadsDown Content Managment system. I just finished tweaking the Cloudshine style sheet, and I hope to add the Comic and BasicBlues style sheets soon. Then I'll move on to adding all of the archival stuff here, and finally start adding some unique content to the site. Photo Galleries, maybe the odd special feature, a F.A.Q, and more goodness awaits, as well as much better comments before which are now moderated by yours truly before they appear on the site.

For now archives and all older content is offline. I still have it, it's just not available right now.

This is really good news as it means I'll start to actually understand what goes into making sites using our tool, and maybe I'll finally start really working on improving it. Of course all of that will have to wait until after April ends.

This weekend Team Lemon will be working on our movie. I've got three Mini-DV cameras, my laptop, and my still camera all charged up and ready to go. I'm going to recharge my digital 8mm too which I'll use for “behind the scenes” stuff which will eventually go on a DVD release.

I'm going to be working on storyboarding, compositing and special effects stuff primarily, as well as troubleshooting any technical problems we have, and adding any artistic touches I can.

I can't wait for this little shoot, it's going to be a lot of fun.

Down…but not out

April is shaping up to be one of my busier months in quite some time. Let's take a quick peek at it shall we?

HeadsDown work:
First up is The Shuster Awards website. I did up three designs the other night, and I hope to have the site coding done this week (pending approval of course).

I'm also going to be working on another website over the next couple of weeks.

Ryan and I are finishing up templates and such for HockeyUpdater. I'll then start moving on to finally coding all of the Writer's Quill templates.

This site is moving over to the HeadsDown tools this week (maybe even this weekend), so if you see some hinky-ness, that's what's going on. When I move the site over, I'm going to implement one of my new layouts, and maybe add the ability to incorporate different style sheets.

TSN.ca work:
We plan on relaunching the home page with an all new CSS based design before the middle of April.

The Toronto Film Challenge 24 hour film project is April 2nd from 9:30am-9:30am Sunday.

Of course Sunday night is WrestleMania.

The following Friday night, April 8th, Charlene and I head off to Niagra Falls for a little “us time” for a couple of days.

The weekend of April 16th, Ryan, John and I are going to Las Vegas from Thursday night, and getting back around 6:00am Monday morning.

The next weekend I'm free (so far), but the last weekend in April is the Toronto Comicon. I plan on going on the Saturday with Liam and the Large Father, and I'm going to help a friend on Sunday.

Toss in my 9-5, our first ultrasound, an appointment with the colour decorator, and that's a full month!

Of course all of this will prepare me for May, which has the highlight of 24 hour comic day! On May 24th, I plan on spending 24 hours writing and drawing 24 pages of comic art, which I will then start posting once a week on Chronicology. Hopefully it will be the kickstart I need to start doing a weekly strip.