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5
Nov

Haunt Review: House of Shock

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The House of Shock is something of a legend in the New Orleans area. It is a haunted attraction that has earned itself a reputation the likes of most haunts can only dream of. If the rumors are true, both the city of New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish have tried repeatedly to shut the haunt down, using every legal trick to do so. Some even think God himself is out to get the haunt, Hurricane Katrina having flooded it (along with most of the city), forcing them to close for the 2005 season. However, they reopened in 2006 and haven’t missed a year since, despite the obstacles, alleged and confirmed.

The HoS is known mostly for two things. First is its elaborate and eyebrow-singing stage show with pyrotechnics, the second is its use of satanic imagery and “shock” value to scare customers.

It too makes repeated appearances in “top ten” lists of U.S. haunts and it has a nation-wide reputation that is known across the country among haunt lovers. But is the notoriety of the haunt deserved? Read on to find out.

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22
Oct

Haunt Review: The 13th Gate

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Whenever you read a top ten list for haunted houses in the U.S., there is approximately a 95% chance that the 13th Gate will be on that list and a better than 50% chance it will be number 1.

It is for a very damn good reason.

The 13th Gate is the quintessential event haunt. It’s the top tier of haunted attractions, a large, expensive production that everyone feels they have to go to at least once. It’s a haunted house known by those who don’t even care about haunted houses and one such people regularly attend. It’s the kind of place that always has a long line out the door and draws people from all over the country, if not the world.

However, this is not an unearned reputation. Midnight Productions, the makers of the 13th Gate, have turned Baton Rouge in the haunt capital of southeast Louisiana, if not the entire country, and it does everything to ensure that it keeps that reputation intact, making it the best haunted attraction possible.

But how good is it? Read on to find out. Read moreRead more

19
Oct

Haunt Review: Terror in the Park (Buhlow Fun Park)

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I feel bad for haunted house lovers in central Louisiana. Southern Louisiana is one of the most blessed regions for haunt fans with the 13th Gate, House of Shock and The Mortuary all within about 90 minutes of each other. However, once you go north of Lafayette, things become rather dead until you make it to Shreveport or Monroe (and even then it seems to be dicey).

Louisiana Nightmares was a solid haunt in Alexandria operated by Midnight Productions, the same people who do the 13th Gate, but they closed it down to focus on the larger Baton Rouge attraction. Sadly, nothing has risen to fill its void, though the Buhlow Fun Park (do NOT click that link, may cause cancer of the eyes) seems to have made a play to capture its customers.

For those who don’t know, which I imagine to be most of the people reading this, the Buhlow Fun Park is a basic fun park on Buhlow lake outside of Alexandria, Louisiana. It has go-carts, an arcade, mini golf and a place to get your picture taken with The Simpsons among other attractions. However, every October it also opens up its “Terror in the Park” haunted house, which the signs assure us it is a “A Real Haunted House”.

I visited the Buhlow Fun Park haunt two years ago and came away with a mixed impression. Though it was short and low-budget, I had to respect their creativity and imagination. They did a lot of great work with what they had. My review, if I had written one, would have been a 5 out of 10 with a tag line “A less-than-average haunt displays some above-average ingenuity to become a mediocre attraction that’s still respectable.”

However, in the two years since something has changed. The creativity is gone and what is left is a disappointing haunt experience that no longer redeems itself in any significant way. Read moreRead more

16
Oct

Haunt Review: Chamber of Horrors (2009)

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Last year I reviewed the Chamber of Horrors and gave it an 8/10. This is the reason I am usually loathe to give numeric scores. Though it was a great haunt in 2008, I’m realizing in 2009 that it wasn’t quite an 8. I was too excited to find that kind of haunt in the New Orleans area again and didn’t grade fairly. It should have been a strong six, maybe a weak seven.

But where the Chamber of Horrors, last year, was a good haunt with some minor flaws, this year it is just a flat out good haunt without any caveats or precautions. Though it is not an event haunt, like House of Shock or 13th Gate, both of which I am reviewing later (I’m doing them in the order I visited them), it is a solid haunt that fills the niche of a smaller, more casual haunted attraction nicely. It is a perfect example of what a good mid-range haunt should be like and it deserves more recognition than what it gets.

This isn’t to say that the CoH is flawless, every haunt has room to grow, but it is a well-rounded attraction that has addressed its weaknesses and emerged stronger and better for it. Read moreRead more

27
Mar

5 Reasons I Don’t Shop at Your Store

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Justin Marty

When it comes to where I take my business, I’m a pretty picky customer. I demand a lot of the places I shop, especially the ones I’m going to get into my car and drive to.

First, there are the obvious criteria for where I shop. The store has to be reasonably close, has to have what I need/want, be friendly and has to have reasonable prices. But then there are the less-obvious reasons, reasons that it appears many shop owners and managers forget in their bustle to keep the ship sailing forward.

So, as a public service to those stores I haven’t seen in a while, here are my top five less-common reasons I don’t visit your business. Read moreRead more

9
Mar

Daylight Savings Scam

DST - Day 67
Creative Commons License photo credit: √oхέƒx™

Even on a blog about inelegant solutions, Daylight Savings Time (DST) has a special place. Not only is it an inelegant solution, but it is a bad means to a solution that doesn’t solve its designated problem. It’s a bad answer to a very stupid question.

The idea is simple, in a bid to save energy, make people happier or whatever the logic is this year, we all, save those of us who don’t live in a DST zone, set our clocks back one hour in the fall and then set them ahead that same hour in the Spring. The idea is that, during the months where DST is in effect, we get more sunlight in the evening.

The problem is three-fold. A) For it to work it requires every county in every state in every nation to agree to go along with it, then requiring every person in those countries to successfully set every clock to the right time. B) It doesn’t do the job its advertised to do and may actually make things worse. C) Even if it DID work, there would be far more efficient ways to achieve the same effect.

So let’s take a moment to stop and think about DST for a bit and marvel at its stupidity. If you think it’s a good thing, give me a second and hear me out, you might like my competing solution better.

After all, the true marvel of DST isn’t that it doesn’t work, but that it’s such a horrible way to get to something that doesn’t work. Read moreRead more

6
Mar

Seeking Better Email

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As I was writing my column yesterday for Blogging Tips, something dawned on me. That as much as I love Gmail, there aren’t many alternatives out there.

I wondered aloud on Twitter why there were no viable competitors for Gmail and got a slew of good responses. One of the best came from user @lance_ who said that “It takes a lot of market clout or money to get past spam filters. There isn’t a huge market for b2b & consumers already got an address.” (fixed quote for tweet-speak).

Others seemed to feel that the market was saturated while others still were quick to remind me about Microsoft Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, neither of which really hold much of a candle to Gmail in terms of features. When you consider that Gmail, for free, offers nearly unlimited space, free IMAP access, threading, powerful search, good spam filtering and more, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail look like weaklings.

Gmail is pretty much the undisputed champion right now, at least in terms of features and power, and, sadly, there is no real competition on the horizon. Yahoo! and Microsoft seem to have rolled over and other companies, like Zenbe, would rather build off of Gmail than create something truly new.

The result is that Gmail has stagnated. What was revolutionary when it was first created has slowed to a crawl. Most of the “Labs” features are either mistakes that should never have been in Gmail, such as Signature Tweaks, Title Tweaks, etc. or outright catchup with other systems, such as Canned Responses.

Gmail, which is still in beta, hasn’t blossomed and though it seems to announce new features regularly, most seem outright trivial. So where’s the competition to keep the fire hot? Where is the upstart company with a bold new vision and a competing ideal? It isn’t there.

It’s time for some competition. Time for an upstart group of rebels to really attack this issue and see what they can do. Will it be easy? No. Is it impossible? Maybe. But the future of email may depend on it. Read moreRead more

4
Mar

Why OmniWeb Failed

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Update: See comments below for a response from Omni Group The OmniWeb Web browser is, for the most part, no more. Though the announcement last week highlighted the fact that it was now available for free, the buried lead is that they are stopping active development on the browser. Though they aren’t ruling out future updates, they aren’t promising any either and they didn’t open source the browser. With the browser wars the way they are, that’s as good as a death sentence.

However, most people that used OmniWeb seemed to like the browser. I tried it several times over the past few years, never quite getting to the point where I was willing to pay for it after the trial ended. Sadly though, the browser couldn’t build any real traction. Many Mac users were unaware it was available and, those that did, seemed to always go back to free browsers.

It was, and still is, a fairly innovative browser and one that works fairly well. Based on Webkit, it’s a fast browser with an intersting “tabs on the side” system that uses thumbnails of pages rather than a traditional tab bar. It also has a slew of built-in features, such as ad-blocking, workspaces and individual site preferences.

Yet, the browser is clearly being put into retirement. Where did it go wrong and how can other “deep in the pack” browsers, such as Flock and Opera, avoid a similar fate? Read moreRead more

2
Mar

7 Beers, 7 Countries: A Review

Drinking in Germany
Creative Commons License photo credit: Jayel Aheram

I’m not a beer drinker. When it comes to my very limited alcohol consumption I’m definitely more of a wine/daiquiri/mixed drink kind of guy. A good bottle of red wine or a jack and coke is more up my alley than pretty much any beer.

However, economic times are tough. We don’t have the income we did a year ago so we’re looking to cut back on our expenses. One of the easiest for us is drinking. Though we love our daiquiris, $20 for two larges (with tip) makes little sense when a six pack of even high-end foreign beer is less than half the price.

So we set out to find a beer that we could enjoy. We had the good fortune to do some overseas traveling in the past year and learned that we liked some foreign beers but the ones we truly enjoyed, such as Duvel beer, were not widely available in the U.S. The goal was to find a beer we could locate easily and enjoy on a whim.

World Market came to our rescue. Their “Make your own six pack” feature let us literally build a six pack of beer from six different countries at an affordable price. So we decided to try and then do a review of it. Here are the results. Read moreRead more

27
Feb

Safari’s New Interface: A Shiny Mess

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Though the Web browser has grown in importance and changed drastically in function since the first version of Netscape Navigator ruled a fledgling Web, its interface has not changed that drastically.

Though tabbed browsing introduced an important new element, most browsers sport forward and back buttons along with stop/reload buttons, an address bar and, more recently, a search box. Most browsers today look enough like Netscape Navigator 0.91 that few would be lost if they traveled back in time.

But lately there has been an attempt to shake that up some. First came Google Chrome, introducing the idea of tabs on top, and now comes the new beta of Safari 4, which adds even more new interface changes.

Though I’m always a fan of innovation, there’s a lot about these interface changes that bug me and not just the new “bug report” button. I’m admittedly no interface designer, but there are a lot of things that I would definitely do differently… Read moreRead more