Nov 292007

I grew up in a theater family. My grandfather was famous throughout Northern California for playing Tevia in Fiddler On The Roof, my uncle still makes his living as a stage actor, and I was in my first play at the age of 6. Obviously, we attended the theater frequently, but I was mostly just a bored kid. Until, that is, I saw the road production of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street in the early 1980s. Now this was a play I could get into… based on the true story of a barber who killed his clients and sold their bodies to an accomplice who used their meat to make pies, this show had the things I was looking for in entertainment: blood and gore, death and dismemberment.

Now, thanks to Dreamworks and Warner Bros., not only can you visit Sweeney Todd on MySpace, but you can actually voice your confessions to him as well, thanks to Buzznet. We all know that barbers and hairdressers hear all the real dirt anyway, so now you can share the tale of your darkest revenge fantasies with a barber who may actually fulfill them for you. Why all this interest in a serial killer who plyed his trade around the turn of the 19th Century? Well, because Johnny Depp, fresh from his three-film stint with Disney, will be reprising the role of this horrific hair-cutter starting December 21st. Christmas may not have a history of great horror releases, but Sweeney Todd seems poised to be the exception to the rule. Don’t believe me? Well then, visit the official Sweeney Todd movie site and judge for yourself.

Nov 292007

Sunday, 5:15am – beep, Beep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP WHACK!

5:24am – beep, Beep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP WHACK!

5:33am – beep, Beep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP WHACK!

5:42am – beep, Beep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP groan, click

I finally crawled out of bed, splashed some water on my face, and headed off for my solo day at Six Flags Magic Mountain. I had to get up early because it’s a fairly long drive from Morgan Hill (just South of San Francisco) to Valencia (just North of Los Angeles), but it was going to be worth it as this was going to be my only chance to ever ride the prototype 4th Dimension roller coaster, X. My traditional coaster companion, Z couldn’t be with me, so I was going to be a single rider at the greatest location for roller coaster’s on the West Coast.

Magic Mountain is home to 16 roller coasters, 11 of which I’ve ridden before, leaving 5 “new” coasters to me, including X which was scheduled to close in one week. in fact, there were only three operating days left for this unique Arrow Dynamics coaster. As of December 3 it was scheduled to be closed for a $10,000,000 renovation that would be so extreme that they were even renaming the coaster to X2. The primary difference will be changing the seats to a lighter, smoother system that is used on the world’s second 4th Dimension coaster, Eejanaika in Fuji, Japan. While changing the cars is not typically considered a major overhaul, in this case it’s the seats that make both X and Eejanaika unique. described the X experience far better than I could, so I’m just gonna quote them…

X is literally like no other. From the sidelines it may not appear as impressive as some of the other rides out there, but believe it or not X packs a powerful punch. It is just one of those rides you’re going to have to experience for yourself to completely understand.

The first thing riders will notice about X are the monster-sized trains inside the station. The 20-foot wide, 70-foot long wing shaped vehicle seats 28 passengers, two abreast in fourteen individual cars, seven positioned on each side of the train.

The state-of-the art restraint system adjusts to each rider’s size and safely secures the individual for the duration of the ride.

Leaving the station facing backwards, the train rounds a turn and begins its ascent up 190 feet, before reaching the crest of the lift hill. Traveling backwards riders get an impressive, sweeping view of Six Flags Magic Mountain, and are not afforded the comfort of seeing what’s to come.

Reaching the apex your heart begins to skip beats as the train disengages from the lift and finally your off. A short drop into a dip is quickly followed by a maneuver that few will forget.

Before plunging off the near vertical first drop, the seats you’re strapped in suddenly flip forward placing the rider in a position few will be comfortable with. Chills run up your spine, as you realize there is nothing between you and the ground below, as you hang into the restraint disoriented by this sudden surprise. Try not to loose focus now, as the train is about to fall off a steel cliff and drop like a brick.

The first drop is insane, descending 215 feet at a near vertical 88.5-degree angle, to reach a blazing speed of 76 mph. But get this, just as you reach full velocity, your seat completes that forward flip that you began 200 feet above!

Before you’ve got any clue about what just happened you’re back in the upright position, soaring into the first, massive 185-foot Raven Turn. Fly birdie… FLY as the train gains altitude and soars through the turn placing the riders into flying position. Look down from eighteen stories, spread those arms out and fly… uh, maybe you should scream… SCREAM!

Descending out of the Raven Turn the seats rotate backwards as they descend into a valley in the track, but don’t relax as the next surprise awaits. As the train rockets into a bunny hop, the seats do a complete back flip that is filled with beautiful airtime. This flip is a perfect floater, graceful and smooth.

So now you realize this ride filled with surprises… and you’d better believe it. The intensity never lets off as the train rounds a sweeping turn high above the station and dives into one of the best elements of the entire ride.

Try combing a half-twist, with a forward flip, while traveling at a furious pace and you get one radical maneuver. And as unbelievable as it seems X pulls off this feisty element in style, leaving you so disoriented that you literally cannot comprehend the second Raven Turn that almost immediately follows.

And guess what the ride is not over! With speed to burn the train soars through the second Raven Turn, this time on the outside of the track and ascends into the final maneuver, a back flip that concludes by sliding into the brake run.

If after your first ride you’ve got that all down, then there’s got to be a metal waiting for you somewhere.

Now don’t fret if your eyes well up with tears of joy, as your heart pumps adrenaline, no worries, your not alone. There’s likely twenty-seven others right then sharing the same moment.

As the train stops and restraints pop free, you’ll likely follow the thrill seeker instinct and run. Of course run back in line that is for a second ride.

I know that’s a really long quote, but X is just that different. Having read that description and others, having watched dozens of YouTube videos of people on the ride, I still spent most of the four and a half hour ride down to Valencia pondering what, exactly the ride would feel like. And despite all the information I gathered I was still totally unprepared.

I arrived at the park at 10:45, shelled out my outrageous $15 parking fee, and started taking photos as I headed straight to X. Had one small slow down at the main gate. I made it through the metal detectors just fine, but when I handed the gate guy my 2008 season pass from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (my home park in Vallejo) he just glanced at it and gave me a blank look. I had to explain what the pass was and encourage him to simply try scanning the bar code. He finally did only to discover it worked fine and I was off to seek my adventure for the day.
I’ve mentioned the recurring pain I’ve had in my teeth a few times in this blog and they were acting up most of the way down to LA, so I wasn’t exactly in the best of spirits as I found my way through the park, but once I entered the station I was 100% excitement and anticipation. The station itself is huge, and the cars are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Once you get seated the harnesses pull down over your head, but they’re not like traditional steel bars. Rather, it’s more like a rigid vest that would actually be a great home care device for autistic kids. It felt not only comfortable, but snug and secure. When the locks release and you swing down to find your natural center of gravity the only thing feeling odd is the fact that you start traveling backwards. Hanging in my seat while climbing the first hill was pretty much the last sensation I actually recall. Since this is about half of the ride time , I suppose it’s not a total washout for me, though 😕 Yep, that’s right, I’m not a fan of X. The ride itself was simply pure chaos I had no sense of anticipation or excitement while on the ride itself. I have no idea how many inverts I went through and only have a vague idea of the path I traveled from looking at the track from the sideline. It was just pure motion and, while not painful (or even uncomfortable in any way) it simply wasn’t exciting. I love coasters because of the rush of speed, the feeling I’m defying the laws of physics, and the anticipation of what’s coming next. I felt none of this on X. Still, I’m glad I had a chance to give it a shot and look forward to giving it another when it’s been redesigned into X2.

After disembarking I continued taking photos of both X and its next door neighbor, Viper, which was still closed for repainting. Then I really began to feel sick. My teeth were still killing me, causing a headache as well, and it suddenly felt like I was coming down with a really bad cold or flu. My stomach was bothering me and I simply felt fatigued. This could be explained away by my lack of sleep and food, but I think it was something more. This was the first coaster I’d ridden without Z since reentering her life and I think I was feeling a hole in my soul. Nevertheless, I had driven more than four hours, so I soldiered on, heading for the next nearest coaster – Tatsu.

Tatsu had me nearly as excited as X. In fact, the only reason it wasn’t my number one reason for going was that it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Tatsu is a suspended coaster that essentially has the riders laying down in a rubber vest-style harness with absolutely nothing below them. It’s as close to flying as a person can come without jumping out of an airplane or off an exceedingly tall building. This coaster is truly a dream. I was lucky enough to not only walk onto the ride itself, but to walk onto the front row thanks to my single rider status. An additional, though entirely unpredictable, benefit was that the people alongside me and in the first couple of rows behind me went through the ride in absolute silence. Normally, I scream a lot on coasters, but Tatsu runs pretty silently itself and the silence just added to feeling of genuine flight. This ride is also amazingly smooth. In fact, I think Magic Mountain has the smoothest overall coasters of any park I’ve ever been to. In fact, even hanging there while waiting for the car in front of us to exit the station so we could disembark I was perfectly comfortable in the safety harness. It felt a lot more like I imagine hang gliding would feel then any hang gliding simulator I’ve ever ridden. I refuse to ride the one at the Boardwalk, for example, because it wreaks havoc with my neck. As amazing as the ride was, I was feeling even worse afterwards, so I found a quiet bench and laid down for about a 15 minute nap. I was planning a half hour, but then a visitor came along with whom I had to get my picture taken.

Feeling slightly better I headed off for another ride and soon discovered one of my old time favorites, Ninja. This is kind of a suspended bobsled ride through pretty heavy foliage and I remember it being pretty jerky. But Ninja was living up to its name that day as it was smooth sailing though all the foliage. The first ride I actually had to wait for I actually had a pretty good opportunity to get some decent pics of the station and cars. I made four young girls very excited when I informed them their pic was going onto my blog with more than 100 readers per day 😎

After Ninja I felt like I’d been run over by a car. none of the pains were a result of the rides, my body just didn’t want to be there anymore. To weak to even continue taking photos I headed out in search of food and actually found a decently priced burrito at a Mexican food place in the County Fair section, right in front of Riddler’s Revenge. While eating I approached a very nice woman at a nearby table to ask if she had any Tylenol or aspirin in her purse as my teeth hurt so much I could hardly eat. While it’s never a good idea to ask strangers for medication I was in pretty desperate straights. All she had was prescription acetaminophen which I accepted gratefully after taking a look at the label. The food and medication combined to give me enough energy to take plenty of pictures of and then ride on my favorite stand up coaster: Riddler’s Revenge. The combination of walking on to the front row with a group of very excited tourists and the amazing ride that is the Riddler made the whole trip worthwhile even though it wasn’t enough to defeat the sickness signals my body was continuing to pass.

Determined to take more pictures and refusing to leave without riding Colossus I tried resting again on a bench, but after about 20 minutes simply felt worse. So I neglected my woodie coaster lovin’ soul and headed out to the car where I took another useless nap. Feeling exhausted I decided to head home at 2:30 in the afternoon. Yes, I spent more time on the freeway getting there then I did in the park itself and only rode four total rides. But my body simply wasn’t cooperating. My belief that the problem was primarily the lack of vitamin Z 😉 was solidified when I began to feel better almost immediately.

With holiday traffic frequently turning I-5 into a parking lot it took me just over six hours to return home, barely making it in time to start my 10pm overnight shift. By then I was feeling fine, if a little tired from all that driving. Despite the illness and short park time I’m still glad I made the trip. X wasn’t all it was cracked up to be in my experience, but I’m glad I took the opportunity to experience it while I could. This way I won’t be left wondering. And my 2008 season pass has just began its usefulness period, so I know I’ll be making another trek down (with Z this time) pretty soon. And there’s always X2 to look forward to next summer.

Nov 282007

Always on the lookout for new, unique and interesting experiences to share with Z, I stumbled across one on the web today that hadn’t actually crossed my mind before. I’m pretty much anti-professional sports as my regular readers know, but have found baseball the most intriguing for most of my life. I have fond memories of my dad taking me to Candlestick park in San Francisco to see the San Francisco Giants play even if I usually found the games boring. So when I stumbled across a site offering Boston Red Sox Spring Training tickets I simply had to check it out. We could easily combine a unique spring training experience with a trip to Orlando for some serious coaster action as well. Now I just need to feel out Z on the idea of attending a baseball game and find out if she’s ever done so in the past.

Nov 282007

As you probably know, America isn’t the only country with an immigration “problem”. Apparently France has been struggling with an overload of immigrants for many years and I just learned of a rather strange solution they’ve come up with. By way of Spiegel Online

New immigration minister, Brice Hortefeux, confirmed on Wednesday that the government is planning to offer incentives to more immigrants to return home voluntarily. “We must increase this measure to help voluntary return. I am very clearly committed to doing that,” Hortefeux said in an interview with RFI radio.

Under the scheme, Paris will provide each family with a nest egg of €6,000 ($8,000) for when they go back to their country of origin. A similar scheme, which was introduced in 2005 and 2006, was taken up by around 3,000 families.

Hortefeux, who heads up the new “super-ministery” of immigration, integration, national identity and co-development, said he wants to pursue a “firm but humane” immigration policy.

Maybe it’s just me, but what, exactly, is the point of allowing people to immigrate only to turn around and pay them to emigrate once again? If immigrants aren’t contributing to your economy, then why let them in to begin with? And if they are contributing to your economy, then sending local currency home with them doesn’t seem like the wisest of ideas.

In an anarchist society there would be no such thing as an immigration policy. People would be free to come and go as they pleased. You might even say they have the freedom to travel as they desire. If they were contributing to the society they would be welcome, and if they were somehow a drain on their community then they would soon be so ostracized that they would leave of their own accord without need of any additional financial encouragement.

Nov 272007

A mere 21 months after signing up for Google’s Adsense program I’ve finally seen some money from them! WooHoo! They deposited $106.42 into my bank account today. That’s the result of serving 332,013 impressions, on a dozen websites (including several PR2 sites), and receiving 696 clicks for an average CPM of $0.32. Can’t say I’m too impressed. My most profitable day in that entire time was $4.12. Considering I can earn $5.00 just by placing a link like Michigan bed and breakfast in a random blog post, I’m not sure Adsense even qualifies as “monetizing” a blog at this point.