Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kotas Reviews Magic Wok

Today I lunched at a little local place in Oak Ridge called Magic Wok. This may very well be the epitome of "local hole in the wall" dining, at least in this area. It's about 10 minutes from my house, or 30 minutes from work, located in what must have been some sort of diner or cafe in the long ago before times. If I had describe the place in a single word, that word would be "dilapidated".

You go inside, and it's pretty cramped. There's a bar that divides the place into 1/3rd and 2/3rds respectively, with the kitchen area behind it. The menu has been there since the Carter Administration and may have changed slightly since then. There are exactly 8 items on the menu: Fried Wonton, Egg Roll, Dish with Rice, Fortune Cookie ($0.10), Coke, Tea, and some other beverage that escapes me now. The 4 booths and row of bar stools provide the only seating available at this place, and the booths look like they were acquired from a closed down Mexican restaurant. Oddly, the plants on the table were fairly nice.

Upon entering you will be greeted with a hearty "Hello! Spicy Chicken?" which is less of a question and more of a statement from the sassy old woman who is the sole chef of the establishment. This is Spicy Cashew Chicken, though you can request the cashews be left off. I have seen people order Beef & Broccoli, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Not Spicy Chicken, and Extra Spicy Chicken, but it's all cooked in the same 3 pans with a heaping helping of MSG for deliciousness. In fact, sometimes you get extra broccoli in your Spicy Chicken if the person ahead of you ordered a broccoli dish. Now that is service, let me tell you. The water comes from the sink's tap, and the soda comes from a bottle or a can. I've never seen anyone order the tea, so I have no idea what kind it is.

The food is, simply put, amazing. The Spicy Chicken (why would I get anything else?) is probably the best damn generic spicy chicken I've ever had in my life. The Fried Wonton is full of some sort of yummy meat paste. The Egg Rolls are very large and tasty. The rice you get with your Dish with Rice is the same generic fried rice you've had a thousand times at other little Chinese Restaurants, but it does its job of filling out the meal and absorbing that yummy sauce.

The price is, shall we say, right. For $10, Charlotte and I were both stuffed full of delicious food, and for a buck more we could have also had 3 Wontons or an Egg Roll. You know, if we wanted to be truly decedent. We tipped the couple who runs the place a couple of bucks, but I was told later not to do it as it might seem "rude" or something. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I'll keep it in mind.

All in all, I'd give the place 2 smiley faces on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces. It ain't fine dining, but if you like Chinese food and are willing to put up with the limitations of the menu, I'd advise you to check it out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kotas Reviews the Asus Transformer Prime

So, I purchased a new tablet a couple of weeks ago, and finally received the package last Monday. To give the tablet a fair review. I decided to use it for a week and see what my use patterns would be, as well as get a feeling for day to day usability. That week has now passed. The model tablet I chose to purchase is an Asus Transformer Prime (TF201 model number) with 32GB of storage. I purchased the optional keyboard dock, which adds a keyboard, some additional ports (SD card reader, full USB, etc.) and acts as an additional battery for the tablet. It also can fold down into a netbook-esque profile for carrying.

TL;DR version: I really like the Prime, and while it had a couple of minor issues, it is fantastic and I love it. Now, onto the much more lengthy review…

First Impressions

The box this thing came in was pretty minimalist, containing the tablet, the power cord and wall adapter, the warranty card, and the “manual”. I put it in quotes because the instructions are “here are the ports, this is the power button, here’s how to hook up the charger, good luck!” Still, this is the current trend with modern electronics so I’ll give it a pass. The tablet itself is very cool looking. The metal backing looks really nice and sleek, and the whole product screams “well made”. It feels good in the hand, and can be held with one hand pretty easily, though depending on how you hold it, it might be tiring.

The keyboard comes in a similar, if a bit smaller, box. It also feels pretty solid. One thing they do not tell you about is the tabs that come on the tablet to cover up the connection ports. The one over the “recharging/data connection” plug is pretty obvious, but the two rubber ones that cover the stabilizing tab slots require a pen to remove. I saved them for extended use without the keyboard. Once the plugs are removed, attaching the tablet to the keyboard is easy, and removal is easy too. There are warnings to only pick up the combined device by supporting the keyboard portion, and NOT to pick it up just by the tablet part, so some care must be taken. With the keyboard attached, it looks like a netbook when folded shut (which puts the tablet into a Sleep state).

Initial Setup

When you power on the tablet, it kicks off a little vibrate notification, which surprised me. What also surprised me was the boot time. While it is considerably shorter than my desktop and previous netbook, it’s still about 30 seconds to fully start up from “Off”, which seemed a little long. Waking from sleep is, of course, instantaneous. Upon startup, it sends you right into the Setup Wizard to get everything going. The Wizard will let you skip steps if you want to, but I recommend just following it. It walks you through setting up the wireless connectivity, logging into (or creating) a Google account which is not required, but does ease the setting up of a number of the installed apps, and a few “sharing” settings for the camera, you are all ready to go. Setup was pretty easy, and since I have a Google Account I’d say 90% of everything “just worked” after this. That first night was mostly “charging up the unit to max”.


The tablet came installed with Android Ice Cream Sandwich (latest version), which was a pleasant surprise, as it was initially supposed to come with Honeycomb and get an update. Asus has received high marks for supporting its Transformer tablets, with frequent updates and so forth. There are 5 “desktops” , and 3 of them come with links to the pre-installed apps. There’s a weather widget (shows the weather at your current location), Date and Time, and several media consumption apps (Browser, G+, Gmail, Kindle, Google Play Store, a Music player, etc) on the first home screen. Other screens have productivity apps (Polaris Office, MyNet, File Manager, etc) and the Tegra Games app all by its lonesome. One screen also had a “Task Manager” widget, which seemed out of place.

The screen seems pretty responsive and desktop transitions were crisp and precise. It is at least as responsive as the IPad 2 (which I’ve played around with), and as sensitive as well. In my usage, I did occasionally get a “mistouch” or two, but I expect any tablet you purchase will have a couple of those due to “user inconsistency in touch”. It took me a little while to figure out what all the “standard Android Buttons” mean, as well as how to do things in ICS, but it was pretty easy to figure out and now I’m navigating the interface like the pros.


The initial software load out is pretty impressive, and I saw little to no “crapware” preinstalled. The browser is the standard ICS browser, and it works. It is nothing fancy, but it is pretty easy to figure out. It comes with most of the Google apps you’d expect: Gmail, G+, Talk and Messenger (though I don’t know anyone who USES Messenger for anything) and some widgets for these. The camera can be set up to automatically upload pictures taken with the camera to your G+/Picasa picture library, though they will not be shared automatically. You can also share various things from these apps. The G+ app got an update recently, and while I like most of the changes, the way it handles “inline” pictures is highly annoying as it stretches them out or cuts them off short. The Gmail app is solid, as is the Talk app. If you want to use any social media outside the Google domain, you’ll need to get the apps from the Store.

The ASUS keyboard is the standard software keyboard and I prefer it over the regular Android one, if only because the keys are slightly bigger and easier to hit. I’ve had an app called “Thumb Keyboard” recommended to me but I have not purchased it.

It comes with two productivity software packages: SuperNote and Polaris Office. I fiddled around with SuperNote (short review: Meh), and it seems usable enough. The handwriting “option” was sort of silly to me, but it probably works better with a stylus than with my fingers. I opened Polaris Office, and it does three things: documents (read: Word), spreadsheets (read: Excel) and presentations (read: Powerpoint). I haven’t really used this app, but it was nice that it was included. EZpdf was recommended to me, but I just pulled the free Adobe app to read PDFs and it works fine.

Of course, you’ll want to use the App Store. Google Play is the app store on Android, and it is…well, it’s okay. The App Store app itself is pretty responsive, and searches do not take a long time. This is good, because you will NEED the search function. You can browse by category, or look at the various “Top” lists: Top Paid, Top Free, Top Grossing, etc. The Category browsing is…minimalist. Just one big category, apps listed in some order other than an obvious one. That’s it! I think you can filter by “user rating”, but it was underwhelming. There’s also a “Staff Picks for Tablet” section, which is nice, but I’d really rather there was a separate “tablet” tab to separate all the apps that are really just for phones out from the ones specially designed for tablets. In fact, I downloaded an app (Tablified Marketplace Lite) to do the sorting for me (it’s free, but a lot slower than the Google Play store, but it links to the Play store for downloading/purchasing). Payment is made through a Google Wallet account…and ONLY a Google Wallet account, though it does allow for the placing of a PIN or Password to prevent unauthorized purchases. I did discover that if the Google Play App Store thinks an app is “incompatible” with your mobile device, that app will not appear in searches nor when browsing.

The App Store keeps track of what you’ve downloaded, and you can even set apps to auto-update if you so desire. I downloaded several apps from the store that were free: TED (for watching TED Talks), ICS+ Browser (a bit snappier than the standard browser), Google Drive, Flixster, and some updates to other apps (G+, Maps). I have so far paid for exactly one app: Angry Birds Space HD. Once payment is set up, it is easy to purchase things. It also sends you an email receipt for paid purchases, which is good. Angry Birds Space HD cost me $2.99 and was worth the purchase price, as it is a great example of a sequel done correctly. There is a free ad-supported version too.

I had some trouble downloading the Amazon App Store app, eventually resorting to direct link from the Amazon website (this does not surprise me, since it is a competitor with the Google Play store). To install this app (and anything purchased from it) you have to enable “allow installs from unknown source” in the settings. Amazon gives a nice walkthrough of how to do this if you can’t figure it out yourself. In order to download things from this store though (even if they are free), you also need to set up 1-Click Mobile on your Amazon account. I haven’t bought anything here, but I did download Amazon Mobile, which was listed as “incompatible” with my device on Google Play. It worked fine, though I didn’t like it and removed it shortly thereafter.


There have been a lot of reports about weak/poor Wireless and GPS connectivity with this tablet. Initially, the wireless connectivity seemed a little weak, but I remembered a trick I read about on some Android tablet forum: Squeeze gently along the top of the tablet at the level of the camera all the way across. It seems the wireless antenna is attached by a couple of clips that can be shaken loose in transport, but a gentle squeeze can snap them back in. A little squeeze later and the connection jumps from “okay” to “good” in my kitchen. Of course, if I was in the room with my router, it was always “excellent”. Walking around my apartment, the wireless connectivity did drop the farther I was from my router, but that’s expected given it has to go through several walls. At no point did it drop to “poor”, even in the room farthest from the router, though I have a small apartment. Connectivity in other places was also pretty good. I’ve not really tested the GPS functionality, so I cannot report on that performance.

Early on, my device had a couple of lockups, and would not unlock unless I rebooted the tablet. After some consultation I blamed the Task Manager widget and removed it from the desktop it was on. Since then, I have not had a single lock up. I thought it was an odd choice to include on the desktop, and while I liked having that sort of granular control over my tablet, I don’t really think it’s needed and I’ve gotten on just fine without it.

Battery life is excellent. I have not done any formal testing, but just “charge it fully, use until it’s out” I got 32 hours out of it (most of that in sleep mode, of course) before I had to recharge it. How do I know? It has a handy graph. The Wireless eats up a good portion of the battery life. When I was at the car shop getting work done, I spent 4 hours with the wireless constantly on, in the “Balanced” battery mode. This dropped the tablet to about 15% battery remaining, down from 98%. Of course, I had the keyboard attached, and it is possible that affects the battery meter display.

The camera is pretty good. It takes reasonably fine pictures, and the camera app is pretty easy to use. The secondary camera is also good for self-portraits or video chat, and works flawlessly with the G+ Hangout feature. Pictures are stored locally, but finding them in the File Manager can take a little poking around, as they are under “Camera” and not “Photos”. I did not use the “capture video” function. This is not a device you will be using for “random snapshots”, but if you want to take a picture of something and share it while you have your tablet out, this will fit the bill.

The tablet has a lone speaker on the right side, but at max volume can be pretty loud. You won’t fill a crowded hall, but it’s enough to allow for family members in the same room to hear the audio from a YouTube video. Speaking of video, video playback is done solely via direct apps or the web. The TED videos were stutter free, as were the YouTube videos, though both of these apps lacked a good solid “Browse” feature outside of “New” and “Featured”. The search worked well though. Browser playback was less than ideal. At least with the ICS+ Browser, some video playback will cause the app to lock (and Android gives you a helpful pop up to let you know and let you kill it or wait), particularly anything using Other video playback was fine, though you lose the “in player” controls and ability to click close certain popup ads, which is annoying. Being unable to pause videos was painful, since I was watching it between PvP queues while playing Star Wars.

Basic web browsing with the stock browser or ICS+ was fine. Flash heavy sites could slow down the browser enough to be noticeable (I’m looking at you, but for the most part it was an enjoyable experience. My bookmarks from home (I use Chrome there) sync’ed up nicely so no import needed. I use the “regular” setup, but you can turn on a “pop-out control” panel option if you want to maximize screen usage.

Speaking of the screen, it is listed as a “SuperIPS+” display or some such marketing speak. It has a toggle for “IPS+”, and you don’t need that turned on indoors. The screen is bright, clear, and even with the brightness at half is very bright. The only time I turned on the IPS+ mode was when I was outside in the sunlight. It made the screen much more readable and I am very pleased.

The Transformer Prime comes with no games, but it does have a link to the “game/tech demo” of Glowball, which is free to download. Glowball is visually impressive, but it is not a very fun game for me. Granted, some of this may be because I have no idea how to play. It uses the accelerometer to move the ball as you tilt the screen, and the ball is a bright glowy thing designed to show off shadows and other eye candy. Looks great, plays awful for me. The aforementioned Angry Birds Space HD is a blast. Everything you loved about Angry Birds, but with new twists involving gravity and lack thereof. Runs smooth, looks great, and is a ton of fun. There are some more graphically impressive games for this tablet, which you can browse through with the “Tegra Games” app, but I did not try any of them.

The keyboard attachment is great. It’s a chicklet-style keyboard like those you see on some Macs, and while the right Shift key is a little small for my liking, it does the job. While waiting to get the brake pads on my car replaced, I sat and chatted with folks via Talk, along with web browsing and email. Using the attached keyboard was a lot faster than using the software one. I could actually do real work on that keyboard if I had to, even if that “real work” was just an overly long G+ entry. The extra battery means “constant all day use” if I want it, adding to the already impressive battery life. The bonus ports are just gravy. I highly recommend this attachment if you are going to buy this tablet. It’s expensive, but it’s awesome when you want to do a long bout of typing on it, or just want a lot more battery life.


I love this tablet. I’ve never had a tablet before, but I’ve messed around with them when given an opportunity, and I’m really enjoying mine. I find I most use it for browsing quickly while doing something else, such as playing a video game and waiting for an event (such as a queue pop). It is also extremely portable, and I see that this will be a great thing to take on trips, or even just over to a friend’s house. Being able to check my email in the kitchen or from the living room is just awesome, as is the ability to look up things w/o having to boot up a computer. At my in-laws this weekend during dinner, I was able to find and pass around information about the pawpaw tree when it came up in conversation. When I was feeling under the weather, being able to web browse from the couch was very convenient. It was not perfect however, as it had a couple of lockups and some “if I didn’t know this, I’d be more upset” things concerning wireless performance early on. If you are in the market for a high end tablet, but do not want to pay Apple prices, or you just prefer Android to iOS, this is THE tablet to get. I give this tablet 4 smiley faces on a scale 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces.


So, the Transformer Prime is soon to become the “mid-range” tablet of the Transformer line. Right now there is a “low end” model (the TF300 Transformer Pad) and the “high end” model (the Prime). Asus will soon (Q2 or Q3, depending on who you talk to) release an “updated” version of the Prime, the T700 Transformer Infinity Prime (or some other name like that), which will become the new “latest and greatest” model. For some, it might be worth waiting to see what that model is like before purchasing this one, since it will clearly be an “upgrade” to this model. I am content with what I bought, and it is available NOW rather than “soon”.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kotas Reviews Angry Birds for Chrome

So, due to my frustration with not being able to get my tablet on Friday, I downloaded Angry Birds for Chrome. It was free, though with ads. I guess? I never saw any ads during the whole time I played, but it was labeled "Beta", so maybe that's why.

I won't go into the mechanics too much (because everyone should know them by now): It's a lot like Worms, actually. Which is awesome, because I loved Worms back in the day. You have a slingshot launcher, and different ammunition, trying to hit stationary targets located around/behind/under various obstacles. You have standard birds (just arc and hit), tiny birds (expand into three shots, not much power), triangle birds (have a charge forward fast ability), bomb birds (explode, natch), and egg laying birds (the eggs are also explosive). Your targets are little round pig spheres that grunt.

The graphics are simplistic and cartoony and very, very cute. The birds are colorful and distinct. The pigs are delightfully round, and come in a variety of sizes and armor (read: pots on their heads). You get points for smashing obstacles, squashing pigs, and not using up your allotted birds. To beat a level, you must squash all the pigs. You are ranked from 1 to 3 stars on each level, with the star rankings given for a certain number of points that varies based on the level. On some levels I only got one star for roughly 50k points, but got 2 or 3 stars for the same amount on other boards.

There are a TON of levels in the base game, and lots of add-on levels from Angry Birds Seasons, which has seasonal themed levels. There are little tiny animated cut-scenes that tell the story (what there is of one): Pigs stole your eggs, and the birds are mad about it. You can retry any level an unlimited number of times. Or you can use the Eagle.

The Eagle is part of their monetizing scheme. The base game w/ ads is free. To see more than the first level or so, you need to log in with your Google Account. You can pay to suppress ads for a week ($0.99), or forever ($3.99). You can also buy the Mighty Eagle ($1.99) to help you bypass tough levels. They give you a free use of it in the first "batch" of levels, so I used it on one level that I found hard. I then went back and beat that level legit, so I don't know how useful this is.

This is a pretty awesome little puzzle game, perfect for the casual crowd. I can see why it is almost a phenomena. Given the monetizing scheme (really? $3.99 for the no ads version? On the phone/tablet it's $0.99!) is inconsistent, I'm not thrilled with how they do that, but hey, I can play it for free at home, and I don't find I need any of the add-ons. I will probably buy the Angry Birds Space sequel for my tablet, because I do enjoy the game.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kotas Reviews Dark Shadows

I took my parents to see Dark Shadows for their anniversary, because that is what they wanted. Bear in mind, I originally suggested we go see the Avengers, but they apparently "already done that".

So, what can I say about this film? A FUCKING LOT it turns out. First off, I did not hate it. No, really! I thought that some of the scenes were actually very well done, and there were even parts where I laughed. I can safely say that while I somewhat regret spending actual money on this film, I was at least entertained occasionally. Is it a GOOD movie? Hell no.

I won't go into the back story, because you either already know it, or you don't care. Suffice it to say, there were lots of nods to the original series and affectionate pokes at the culture of 1972. My parents really enjoyed a lot of the cultural dressing, because that was "their time". I think if I grew up in the era when this show was on, I would have gotten a lot more out of it. Anyway, the short, short setup is: Vampire Soap Opera Before It Was A Thing, from the 1970s.

Johnny Depp gives a remarkably entertaining performance as Barnabas Collins. The dialog he is given to work with ranges from awesomely retro to tiresomely predictable, but he always gives it the old college try and I did not feel like he phoned this in. Bella Heathcote as the Romantic Interest is sort of bland, but only because her character arc is utterly unnecessary to the plot of the story, but she tries her best.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green, as the Strong Female Semi-Protagonist and the Main Antagonist respectively, give decent performances. Nothing stood out as spectacular, but Eva seemed to be enjoying chewing the scenery with Depp in their lover's spats, and she can rock a red sequined dress with the best of them. The same cannot be said for the other Tim Burton Alumni Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Doctor Only In This To Set Up A Possible Sequel. No, I didn't ruin anything by saying that, but her performance was really, really weak in my opinion, and her side story added very little to the film, other than as setup to a few jokes that weren't that funny.

The other characters served only as one to two dimensional foils for a scene or two, and otherwise were nothing but walking pratfalls, sight gags, or exposition. The best of the lot is the cameo by Christopher Lee as a Grizzled Sea Captain, who is on screen for 5 minutes and delivers his silly, silly lines with gravitas that says "I was fucking Sauruman, and a better Dracula than YOU pretty boy!". Musical guest star Alice Cooper puts on a good show as well (though again, it has little to do with the plot and seems to only be there for the shit of it). The Hippie Brigade was also sort of fun, if only for one very special scene. Spoiler: They Smoke Weed.

Let's talk about the story. It's a soap opera that doesn't seem to know if it wants to play it straight or play it silly, or try to mix the two. The tone of the film is not very consistent, with many scenes that start off fairly lighthearted but take either a very DARK turn, or just go nowhere. The first time it happened was actually sort of interesting, as I thought it might mean the film was done screwing around and was gonna get really Gothic. Yeah, not so much. The main plot is pretty much as simple as it gets, but I just don't give a damn. Never at any point in the film am I concerned about the success or failure of any of the characters, good, bad, or indifferent. It's little more than a string of excuses for semi-supernatural hi-jinks or "oh, he's from the past, LOL" bullcrap. The "climax" of the film has some nice moments, but there's a LOT of odd things that get revealed and just come completely out of left field, presumably because it was based on a soap opera and that shit happens all the time in those. I had to ask myself WHY? Why was all this extra stuff shoved awkwardly in at the end? Was it for a very unfunny joke that was delivered? The payoff for something that was set up the whole film but ultimately lame as shit? Just for the hell of it? It's almost as if they left out a good 15 to 20 minutes of story, just so they could wrap the damn movie up. The ending is a non-ending, since you never actually find out what happens to any of the characters except Barnabas and the Love Interest, and the retarded sequel tie in (which is SO not gonna happen, ever).

Ultimately, I would say "watch this if you don't have to pay much money for it". It gets one smiley face on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces, if only because I DID actually laugh a few times (very few times), I enjoyed a lot of the sets and costumes, and I've always liked Johnny Depp As Gothic Weirdo (See, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Kotas Reviews The Avengers

That is all. 

Kotas Reviews Dollywood

So, yesterday I went to Dollywood which I have never been to in all my time of living in East Tennessee. To get there, we drove through Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is a Tourist Trap to end all Tourist Traps, with an aesthetic that vacillates between "tacky" and "really, really tacky". The "redneck stereotype" is also embraced as a source of comedy and/or pride way more than I thought was possible on this Earth. It's like if the Blue Collar Comedy Tour decided to open a series of Outlet Malls.

There were a number of interesting shops and buildings I saw. So interesting/amazing/what-the-fuckery that I nearly drifted out of the lane I was driving in in amazement. The first thing was the World's Largest Knife Emporium. It had a billboard that just said "GET A KNIFE!" Like it was ordering you to get one, and only WLKE would do! Then there was a series of shops with "Kewl" misspellings  the most egregious of which was "Sexy Stuf". Not. A. Typo. Next up where the dinner theater places. Dinner Theater is surprisingly common in Pigeon Forge. Think "Medieval Times, with rednecks". Of note: Hatfield & McCoy Feuding Dinner & Show, Feuding Lumberjack Show, and Dixie Stampede. Special hat tip to the Hatfield and McCoy building which looked like two co-joined houses imported from ToonTown. There were lots of places to buy antiques (read: Garbage foisted off on folks), though surprisingly few liquor stores that noticed.

There's a lot of restaurants that advertise "Old Fashioned Southern Cooking". To those who don't know this essentially means "Fried Food with some Vegatable-esque sides rendered unhealthy in a variety of butter-based methods, in large portions." We ate at one of the more subdued places called the Apple Barn, which is near a Winery. The food was actually quite good, though the salad came from the finest of plastic bags and the soup was essentially thrown together. The apple fritters we got instead of the "before dinner bread" were fucking divine, and the country fried steak was excellent. I enjoyed the turnip greens because they were boiled with a very tasty piece of ham, just the way God intended. We could have also supped at a v. small chain of pancake houses called "Flapjacks", but no one else would go with me.

You eventually pass by the "Wilderness at the Smokies Water Resort", which I first mistook for a candy factory, given the number of brightly colored swirling tubes that emerge from it. This is essentially a giant hotel that his half indoor water park. Water parks have become very popular in East Tennessee, including Dollywood Splash Country (or Spalsh Country as our GPS told us). I did not visit here, but someday I'm sure I will. Several other hotels had water themes, with a small water slide or two. One place just had a "many fountains" kind of splash park area.

Ripley's Believe It or Not...uh, company I guess? is a big player in this area with several attractions like a Haunted Museum, Aquarium, and Odditorium (not a typo). These are some of the classier establishments too. Miniature Golf is Very Popular as well, with Ripley's in on that action. But there's Hillbilly Golf, Adventure Golf, some "Indiana Jones-esque" Golf, and so on. There were no less than three "motor sport-ish" areas, the most prominent of which was NASCAR themed. MagiQuest (read: Highly Monetized Kiddie LARP-ish Experience) had a building, along with several places offering a variety of Lazer Tag arenas. I was in fact surprised that I did not see a Paintball place or an AirSoft place, but it is possible I just missed them in all the chaos.

Dollywood may as well be the "Least Diverse Place on Earth". I think I saw 20 non-white people all day. On the other hand, I saw two women in long burka-esque attire and no one blinked or stared or even acknowledged anything was different, so that was neat. Dollywood is a very well laid out amusement park, or at least the parts I saw were. All the large avenues are shaded and where there isn't shade, there are usually fans and/or misters to help keep cool. There are plenty of benches and whatnot to sit on, and shops and snack stands are plentiful. I did have a hard time finding a restroom once or twice, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.

We rode 3 rides and did one "interactive thing" while we were there: 2 full on roller coasters, one indoor coaster attraction, and the Adventure Mountain, which I'll get into later. The first coaster we rode was the new one for 2012: The Wild Eagle. Its claim to fame is that the coaster seats are on the sides of the rail car, rather than on top of the rail (a Wing Coaster, if you will). The line wasn't too long (mostly waiting so they could put a second rail car in circulation), and the coaster itself was pretty dang cool. The initial drop was steeper than I expected, and I came off my seat for a little bit, though of course the safety harness thing wasn't letting me go anywhere. This was also the ride that made me think "I probably shouldn't have worn my glasses" as I was afraid they would fly off a few times.

The second coaster was the "Tennessee Tornado". This is a pretty standard metal coaster, but it has some nice twists and turns and is longer than I expected. One of the drops is pretty impressive, and they take a picture of how stupid you look when you pass by. My picture looked like my face was stuck on "Grimace". I did not buy it, of course. Because it was a weekday, none of the lines were impossibly long or even all that annoying, so that was a positive thing.

The third thing we did was called Adventure Mountain, or as I like to call it, Mass Market Ropes Course. This is an impressive structure that is 3-4 stories high, and has people crawling all over it. The "wait vs. time riding" ratio is very good on this one, though you have to wait and get settled into your harness. My sister-in-law's husband kept trying to put on his harness himself (and he could, as he uses these things every day), but they kept redoing it, presumably for insurance purposes. Once beharnessed, you are attached to your safety line thing, which is then snapped into the "rail system", which allows you nigh on free movement amongst the various courses via a giant metal grid system that ensures you are always attached to the frame at all times, no matter what. There are also guides along the way in case there are any issues whatsoever. There are three different paths to take, but they are all about the same: You get to a platform, and there are 3 to 4 options to get to the next platform, with varying degrees of difficulty ranging from "walk across a bridge" (essentially skipping this section of the ropes course) to "why the hell am I doing this" (single rope, one v. tiny guide rope, and your safety line". As far as ropes courses go it's pretty subdued, with nothing terribly unexpected or amazingly difficult. Highlights include a balance beam over basically nothing but "park patrons", the "rope of unfriendly to short people", and my personal nemesis, the "you are going to get sprayed with water because we fucking hate dry people" area. One section goes over a little fake waterfall, with geysers that look timed. I studied the pattern, and figured I had it down. Once I stepped out onto the rope (which was slippery from the water), the devilish thing sprayed me down but good. I really enjoyed this attraction and highly recommend it to anyone who visits Dollywood.

We decided to get some food. The food at Dollywood is exactly what you'd expect: Greasy, expensive, and requiring a long line to wait in. We elected to have some barbeque, and while it was decent, it was not worth what we paid for it. This is not to say there isn't food worth eating there. Exactly one place, some sort of Mill or something, has what is called Cinnamon Bread. It is a small loaf (think half a loaf of bread, maybe a touch smaller) coated in cinnamon and sugar. It cost $6 and I thought at first it was kind of a ripoff. THen I ate some. Holy Crap this stuff is awesome. I could eat loaves and loaves of it and be super fat all the time and die happy. Well worth the price, which is not something I say lightly. Charlotte and I split a loaf and it was gone in record time. So. Good.

We then stopped to watch the one show of the day that we actually saw: The Bird Show. Dollywood has a bird sanctuary where they take in birds that can't be released into the wild for one reason or another, usually injury or "they were raised by humans". The birds are all trained to do various tricks and take well to flash photography. We saw owls, and a kestrel, and a golden falcon, and of course, a Bald Eagle named America. It was a fun show, and the birds were gorgeous to look at. I recommend seeing this show if you are there.

There is a strong patriotic theme that runs through the whole park, as well as a slightly Christian overtone which should come as no surprise given we're in East TN. There's a chapel (with a Sunday Service), and lots of the gift shops have Christian themed knick-knacks. There are a few shops that pay lip service to "hand-crafted" things and some have demonstrations of iron work and candle making and so forth. None of it was bad per se, but none of it stood out as particularly interesting. Suffice it to say, it was there.

The last ride we rode, and my personal favorite, was the Blazing Fury, which has been at the park since 1978, when the park was known as Silver Dollar City. This makes this ride as old as I am, at 34 years old, which is kind of awesome. It is a full indoor coaster, kind of like a low rent Space Mountain, but fairly slow paced, as befits the area. As you go through the ride, you pass a number of animatronic scenes that were probably state of the art in 1958, and are laughably dated, yet they have a certain rustic charm. Eventually you reach the more impressive areas, which actually have some surprisingly (given this is indoors and dark) long drops and some "decent" (for certain values of decent) special effects. I found this ride to be very, very clever for what it is, and it was probably my favorite ride.

We did not see the vast majority of the park, due to long food lines and just being kind of tired by the end of the day. I really liked it, for what it is, and had a great time. If you are in the area, and you love campy things, Pigeon Forge and Dollywood are right up your alley. I will probably go back at some point.

It receives 3 smiley faces on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces. Not perfect, but I enjoyed it.