Monday, March 20, 2017

A Trip to the Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom Bradley Windle Knoxville

On a five day journey through the parks of Walt Disney World, I saved the best for last and ventured out on my last day to the Magic Kingdom. It was a Friday and there was a morning Extra Magic Hour, but I had no concern of extra crowding and was glad to make use of the opportunity. I took the bus from the resort an hour before park opening and after the ride and security I hotfooted down Main Street to get to the castle right at the start. I had a strict schedule that required I be there, ready to go, and I was determined to make the magic happen, one choreographed minute at a time.

It’s easy to go the right way at the start of Extra Magic Hour, because that’s the direction you have to go, to Fantasyland or Tomorrowland (unless going left to a character breakfast). Bradley from Knoxville (above), with his somewhat easy to overlook sign, was the official notice that go that way you must. To me, the cast members have always been the best part of Disney World, so in a way Bradley, unwavering and noble, was like a statue of a liberty, tacitly welcoming all to the refuge of fantasy and fun.  

Magic Kingdom greeter Bradley Windle from Knoxville
"Give me your tired..."
Bradley from Knoxville lifts his sign beside the golden door.
Since Peter Pan’s Flight is so popular, I weaved my way around the castle and many single and double strollers to go there first. It’s a trippy ride and a good place to start things off on an early morning. Being there early, the wait time was negligible. However by the time I had finished the ride the line was significantly longer than when I arrived. Minutes count.

Walking back the way I came (Liberty Square was still roped off), I was still buzzing from thinking of the happiest things (it’s the same as having wings) and ready for the next event. Next door is Mickey’s PhilharMagic and I could tell I had time to see the show and still get to Adventureland before its opening at 9am as my schedule dictated. The cast member outside of PhilharMagic was taking off or putting on his socks, so I skipped taking a picture although it would have been a good unusual shot. Inside the theater there were maybe a dozen people in the audience, so it’s not popular with the Extra Magic throng, but I think the show and the 3d quality was worth seeing.

The wait at the entrance to Adventureland
To hit my next mark, I had to go all the way back around the castle and across the hub to get to the entrance to Adventureland. I had FP+ for the Jungle Cruise, but I wanted to get a quick run through Pirates of the Caribbean before that. Right at 9am, the cast members walked us all to the various attractions. I followed right behind a pirate and was able to get into the first boat of the day. It’s a classic ride, except for the inclusion of Jack Sparrow, which you kind of wish that maybe his audio-animatronics just aren’t working right and hopefully the imagineers didn’t really intend them to look like that. 

The Pirates merchandise store, like most of the stores this trip, didn’t have anything I really wanted, although I did like the Mickey dressed as a pirate. I might get that the next time I go back.

Next was Jungle Cruise. Even with the FP+ there was a short wait to get on boat, and the FP+ guests were out in the sun, which I didn’t care for. Once on board it was clear sailing, and though this attraction should feel very tired and old, it's still like a party boat without the alcohol. I get into the spirit of it and ride the wave of the puns. 

Fresh off the boat, I stayed in Adventureland since I don't go for crisscrossing the park to see things in priority order. I want to do one land at a time. With my schedule, I was able to fit in even some minor attractions, so the next nearby stop was Enchanted Tiki Room. This attraction also should seem old and tired, and in this case it is. Even changing it up to having the birds sing the songs from Frozen would be an improvement. 

Being done with Adventureland for the moment, I went toward Main Street for the first live entertainment of the day. The entertainment is at specific times and ephemeral, so it's important to know when and where to go. I wanted to see the 10:10 Main Street Trolley Show, but I wasn't exactly sure where it would be. Fortunately, as I get to the Hub, there's a trolley and there's a cast member with headset on, so I know something is going to happen soon.

I waited by the trolley, but it started traveling with no show yet, so I had to trail it until the performance started. I saw it at its first stop, but I didn't quite get the photos I wanted, so I had to trail it again to its second stop, further up Main Street. You wouldn't think a horse pulling a trolley with people on it could move so fast, but I had to quickstep to catch up with it. I watched it again and got my song and dance fix. I think next time I'll position myself at Town Square to see it there.

Main Street Trolley Show
Main Street Trolley Show

Main Street Trolley Show
The day was bright, the air was sweet
The smell of honeysuckle charmed me off my feet
More live entertainment followed as it was then time for Mickey's Royal Friendship Faire at the Cinderella Castle Forecourt stage. The sun was getting a little warm and I tried to stay as well as I could in the narrow shadow of a streetlamp. I'm not sure why I bothered to watch the show. Shows in front of the castle have always been incomprehensible. Characters appear, music plays, and wondering rather than wonderment ensues.

People waiting for the Friendship Faire to begin


I wandered away from the Faire, but mainly to get to the next live entertainment, which was The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History.  I'm not a Muppets fan, although I do like history. I trust the show was about history, but I couldn't follow along. I don't think it went over my head, but maybe way under it. 
Muppets providing a teachable moment, or something
Across the way was the next use of FP+, at the Haunted Mansion. It was really too fast, as I walked right in without being able to appreciate the exterior sights. The entry rooms also seemed to be over quicker than I remember them being. The ride itself is so-so for me anymore. I'm ready for an overhaul to create something really surprising. Maybe a cast member becoming possessed in a magical moment gone awry. 
Anthony goes out into the light to oversee the queue at Haunted Mansion
Near Haunted Mansion was the lunch stop, Columbia Harbour House. It's got some variety for a quick service (the fried fish plate is relatively worthwhile) and it's got some good views upstairs with a table by a window. 

View from Columbia Harbour House
After lunch, it was on to Fantasyland. The first stop there was Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid. It wasn't there the last time I was at the Magic Kingdom, so I had to walk around a little bit to determine where to enter. Like probably a lot of people, I first walked up to the entrance to Meet Ariel at her Grotto. The cast member told me somewhat disdainfully that this was the entry to meet Ariel, as if I wouldn't be trying to do such a thing. True, I wanted to hang out with Prince Eric in his castle, but I felt for a moment like meeting the sea creature just to prove Miss Assumption wrong. I backed up though and found my way to Under the Sea, which like the Tiki Room was also trippy. The figures of Ariel were rather jarring though as she looked a little odd. In her wedding dress it seemed like the prince would have been better off taking out the hook and throwing her back in.

Prince Eric, big hands
Exploring some more I came to Gaston's Tavern. Friendly Noah from University of Miami welcomed visitors to have a LeFou's Brew and get a $4.49 cinnamon roll. I don't do snacks in the parks at WDW, other than Dole Whip. When I spend money on food, I get a meal. It seemed like an inviting place though.
Noah at Gaston's Tavern
At this point I was kind of done with Fantasyland and was going to head to Frontierland.

Hard working cast member in Fantasyland
One last stop on the way was It's a Small World. It's not small of a world or walkway for an old man on an ECV not to hit me with his vehicle, but outside the attraction I was struck by a hit-and-meander driver. Fortunately I sustained no injury, but I let out an exclamation that would not have been suitable for singing Small World children to hear.

From Small World, I went to Frontierland to stake a claim to a parade watching spot. I had originally thought about watching the Festival of Fantasy Parade from Main Street train station, but settled on looking for a good vantage point in the West. I wanted to a spot where no one would try to move in at the last minute or try to put their kid in front of me. So I found a shaded spot right behind a rope pole and I wrapped myself around it so that you would need to an explosive to dislodge me from there. The ploy was successful and I got the unobstructed view that I wanted.

Brian leads the parade

Pretty costumes
Prince Charming and his +1
Most important part of FofF: The Lost Boys
Keeping the parade running smoothly

At the end of the parade, I jumped behind the rope walkers and trailed the parade with them. It was tempting to wave to the spectators, but that was just a short-term thrill. I veered off to cut through the passage to Adventureland and then made my way to the hub to watch the back half of the parade again. Being in that section of the park, guests are hemmed in until the end of the parade passes the hub, and my next destination was Tomorrowland, so I had to wait no matter what.

With the parade over, I sauntered into Tomorrowland and realized I didn't really have a set schedule at that point. I had about two hours until my dinner reservation, so I looked around for what I could do. The PeopleMover was an obvious choice and I did that first. After that I did Carousel of Progress, where I was subjected to a very non-Magical Moment. Throughout the show, a giant female farm animal sat slumped in the seat next to me and used her brightly lit phone to do non-stop texting. It's difficult to understand how people can be so callous. The modern technology of the family in the final scene didn't seem so great when it was in the hands of the she-beast near me.

Connor stands guard at Carousel of Progress
Done with Tomorrowland for the moment, I traveled back to the Adventureland/Frontierland area to do stuff before dinner at Skipper Canteen. I rode the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, just because I could. Afterward, I looked around the area to see if there was Aladdin merchandise, since after all, he was the title character of the movie. The character merchandise strangely is all Jasmine. The princess-centric nature of Disney character merchandise is just too much. Fortunately, the real thing was at hand, although not baggable as a souvenir.

Aladdin, non-merchandise
Strolling around there, there were a number of cast members to bag and tag, figuratively.

Skipper Canteen for dinner was disappointing. It wasn't much of an experience and the food wasn't that great. I left there in time for a nearby Hoedown Happening.

Alex getting ready to start a Happening

Lucas, unzipped
After that, I killed time, blah-blah-blah, in Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, riding the terrible Speedway and the lofty Dumbo, and getting some laughs at the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. I then parked my behind on the ground in front of the castle and waited for the fireworks. I can enjoy the aerial display, but what I really like is the projection mapping, especially in the Once Upon a Time show. It was nice that by waiting in the park for the final show, it was less crowded exiting the park afterward.

All-in-all, the itinerary was pretty successful. I will probably repeat a lot of it the next time. My wait time was practically non-existent and I packed a lot of things in to see and do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Value of the London 2012 Olympic Medals

Olympic gold medal

If the London 2012 Olympic medals look big, it’s because they are big.  They‘re 20% bigger than the Beijing 2008 medals (in diameter), and 40% bigger than those awarded at Athens in 2004. In fact, they're the largest Summer Olympic medals ever. Perhaps more importantly, they are also the heaviest, as in twice the weight of the Beijing medals. If Michael Phelps had won as many golds in London as he did in Beijing and wore them around his neck all at once, he’d have 7 pounds of metal hanging on his chest.
The weight of the London 2012 medals is 375-400g, and they are 85mm in diameter and 7mm thick. That’s 0.83-0.88 pounds, 3 1/3” in diameter and 1/4“ thick. The largest Summer Olympic medals before London were those from Barcelona, in 1992. They were 70mm across and weighed 231 grams. In the Winter Games, there have been several that had larger and/or heavier medals, with the largest being 107mm (4.2") in Torino in 2006. 

What are the London 2012 Olympic medals made of? By the numbers, gold and silver Olympic medals have almost exactly the same metal composition. Since 1978, the International Olympic Committee requires that both gold and silver medals be 92.5% silver. The gold in the gold medal just needs to have at least 6 grams of gilding. Other materials can be added to the mix as long as they don’t shortchange the gold and silver requirements.  For the London 2012 medals, copper is the extra ingredient added to the gold and silver medals to bring them up to their full weight. 

As for the bronze medal, a lot of people are happy that they won at least one of those, but it really is a big step down from the gold and silver, at least in content. The London 2012 bronze medals are 97% copper, 2.5% zinc and 0.5% percent tin. If U.S. pennies were 100% copper (which they’re not), the bronze medal would be equivalent only to about 144 of them.   

So how much are the London 2012 medals worth? To the athlete they have enormous indeterminable value, but the value of the metal in definitely calculable. As would be expected, the metal in the bronze medal is worth only a small amount, less than $5. The silver medal is worth between $300 and $350. The gold medal is worth about $650. 

Olympic gold medals haven’t been solid gold since 1912, so it’s the norm to make them out of something other than gold with only a gold covering. If they were solid gold, they would be worth a lot more. If the size were kept the same, a London 2012 solid gold medal would be worth about $24,000.

What is the design on the medals?

On the obverse is the goddess of victory, Nike. A lot of media have incorrectly stated that she is shown coming out of the Parthenon. The Parthenon is in the background, but she is actually walking/flying of the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens. The Panathinaiko Stadium was the centerpiece of the 1896 Olympics in Athens, which was the start of the modern Olympic movement. Another thing some major media have gotten wrong is stating that Nike has always been shown on Olympic medals coming out of this stadium. The truth is that between 1928 and 2000, Nike was shown next to the Colosseum. In 2004, Athens as the host city decided to correct this historical inaccuracy and put Nike where she belonged, in Athens, Greece, and not hanging out next to the Colosseum in Rome.

The reverse is an original design by the artist David Watkins. It shows the London 2012 logo on top of a ribbon representing  the River Thames.  According to the LOCOG site, the design also has these symbolic elements:
  • The curved background implies a bowl similar to the design of an amphitheatre.
  • The core emblem is an architectural expression, a metaphor for the modern city, and is deliberately jewel-like.  
  • The grid suggests both a pulling together and a sense of outreach – an image of radiating energy that represents the athletes’ efforts. 
  • The River Thames in the background is a symbol for London and also suggests a fluttering baroque ribbon, adding a sense of celebration. 
  • The square is the final balancing motif of the design, opposing the overall circularity of the design, emphasizing its focus on the center and reinforcing the sense of ‘place’ as in a map inset.


Triva: the majority of the metal in the London 2012 Olympic medals came from the Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah. (Besides copper, the mine also produces gold and silver.) So whenever there's reference to bringing the medals home, it's literally true.

photo: London 2012, LOCOG

Sunday, August 5, 2012

2001 Nike Tag Commercial Is "It"

nike tag Moti Yona

One of the greatest television commercials ever is the Nike “Tag” commercial. In the TV ad, a young man is walking along in a large city with his newspaper and coffee and is “tagged” from behind. Since he is now “it”, he is required to chase all the people around him, who are now fleeing to get away from him, so that he can tag someone else to be “it”. Humor ensues as he finds it difficult to chase and make contact with any of the ordinary city dwellers who have now stopped their normal routines and become intensely active in this massive citywide game.

The Nike “Tag” commercial was one of four TV adverts in a summer 2001 Nike campaign that had the theme of “Play”. The other three commercials in the campaign were “Shaderunner”, “Racing”, and “Tailgating”. The Tag ad premiered on American television on June 25th, 2001, and ran until Labor Day, September 3rd, 2001. It had the unusual length of 90 seconds for its initial version, which ran on television for a week. After that, a 60 second and 30 second version were used instead.

The Tag commercial, from the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), was a huge success in the advertising world, winning the Grand Prix at the 2002 Cannes International Advertising Festival. It was one of the ten most-awarded commercials of 2002, and in 2010 was voted one of the top ten advertisements of the decade by Campaign magazine.

Three of the Nike “Play” commercials, Shaderunner, Racing, and Tag were filmed together in Toronto, Canada. Location scouts spent a month looking for the right spots to film in Toronto, but because of bad weather during the filming period, changes in the scripts, locations, and schedule had to be made. It was decided to film all three commercials simultaneously in a compressed 10 day period, shooting scenes whenever a location was available and the weather was cooperating.

“Shaderunner” required real shade being cast by the city buildings onto where the runner was running, and so the filming of the other two commercials had to work around the availability of sun and shade as the film crew had to move quickly to use it whenever they had it. The filming of Tag then ended up having a lot of “winging it” to get it done in the time available. That flexibility allowed such important ideas like the trashcan hiders to be added while filming was going on.

The film crew used 16mm film and three cameras to shoot each scene. The goal was to do each scene in one take, and the three cameras would allow for different views of the action to be put together. With the short schedule and 400 to 500 extras taking part, it was important to minimize the retakes.

The success and the lasting appeal of the commercial can be attributed in part to the sympathetic protagonist of the piece and the actor who played him. Who is the guy in the Nike Tag commercial, the one who is “it”? It is actor Moti Yona, also known as Moti Yona Rosen, or Moti Rosen. He is a Canadian actor, who among other things appeared as Charley in the 2003 move Twist. Tag was Moti’s first commercial. The story is that he was selected right before filming from the hundreds of extras who answered the call to show up and be part of the commercial. Moti was amazed to be the lead, and with the many extras around him during his first scene (the crane shot showing his realization and exasperation that he had been tagged), it felt to him like being in a feature film.

The commercial was shot in several locations in Toronto, which was evident by the reflection of the CN tower on the glass side of an office building in one of the shots. The initial scene of Moti being tagged was at the intersection of York and Wellington, next to the Canadian Pacific Tower. The famous scene of the line of people hiding behind the trashcan was at Emily and King Streets. An interesting production note is that when the mob of people are running north on Emily to King Street, the film is reversed. When Moti gets to the intersection and looks around, the film is the correct orientation again.

After Moti realizes that people are hiding behind the trashcan and starts to chase them, people run down the stairs into the St. Andrew subway station. When they get to the bottom, they are however at Toronto’s abandoned Lower Bay station, which was only used as an actual subway station for six months after it opened in 1966. It was closed and unused thereafter, but it found a second career as a filming location for many movies, television and commercials.

The music for the Nike Tag commercial was an original piece written by David Wittman, a composer at the music production company Elias Associates. The advertising agency had asked him to create something that didn’t sound like a typical TV advert score, and he was happy to comply. The techno track he composed included drums, a cello baseline, a bongo solo throughout, and some simple techno-type elements. Wittman wanted a fun sound that fit the intriguing and unusual storyline.

The shoes on Moti Yona are the black/grey Nike Air Fantaposite Max. The strangest aspect of the commercial is that everyone, including businessmen in dress shoes, is all able to outrun the guy wearing these Nike shoes. That’s not necessarily a good testament for the shoes’ capabilities.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thousands of Sky Lanterns Light the Night

sky lanterns
Eleven thousand sky lanterns were released into the night sky on June 21, 2011, in Poznan, Poland, to celebrate Midsummer Night. The event was promoted on Facebook as "Poznan's most romantic night". People were invited to come and buy paper lanterns (for about $1.80) and release them into the sky after lighting their fuel and letting the hot air take them up and away.

The event was scheduled to start at 10:30 pm and around 1000 of these Chinese lanterns were released all at once. Within an hour an additional 10,000 were gradually released, creating an impressive image of thousands of lights in the Polish sky.

The number of sky lanterns released at one time was a record for Poland, which was a goal of the event's organizers. It may also be a Guiness World Record, as 11,000 floating lanterns flown simultaneously would beat the previous record of 10,318 lanterns held by Indonesia.

The Midsummer Night occurs on the shortest night of the year, on June 21st or 22nd. It is near to the time of "Ivan Kupala" (or Noc KupaƂy), a feast day for St. John the Baptist, which is also a reason for the celebration.

Sky lanterns are traditional paper lanterns used in parts of Asia. They are usually made from oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, which can easily burn up, but there are also now flame-retardant sky lanterns available made from bio-degradable material. The lanterns float in the air due to a small candle or fuel source secured to the frame creating hot air that lifts the lantern.

Of course there is a downside to having thousands of little fires floating to who knows where, carrying its own paper trash. Beside distributing litter, they can cause crop fires and injure or kill livestock that eat the wire frames.

The large display of sky lanterns is reminiscent of the beautiful floating lanterns seen in the Disney movie Tangled, during the "I See the Light" song.