Saturday, March 26, 2016

Big Rock Dude Ranch

Once upon a time, I was pretty damn good at riding horses. I used to ride them a few times a year while going to summer camp. That is, until I had a bad experience. When I was about 10, I had gotten on a horse that was in a temperamental mood. He tried to throw me, and, failing that, tried to roll over on top of me. Still not content to have me on his back, he galloped off the trail and into the forest which smacked my head against several tree branches. I came out of it with some bruises, a few cuts and the feeling that every horse in the world now wanted to bite my face off.

Thirty years later, when the family wanted to go to Big Rock Dude Ranch in Pigeon Forge, TN to ride horses, I was more than a little apprehensive. But, since the family was pretty well set on doing this, I agreed to give it a go. And I'm glad I did. Thanks to the folks at Big Rock Dude Ranch, I've conquered my fear of horses. There really wasn't anything to be worried about. The horses are calm, are responsive to commands and know the trail so well that they could walk it in their sleep. It was just what a nervous rider like myself needed in order to feel at ease.

There's a lot of other stuff to do at Big Rock Dude Ranch besides riding horses. They offer ATV riding, gem mining, fishing (catch and release) and a few other odds and ends. I can't really comment on their other offerings since we didn't participate, but it looks like you won't be bored if you decide to spend part of the day there.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ober Gatlinburg

Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park and ski area, located in the Smoky Mountains overlooking Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It offers a mall, ice skating rink, a snack bar, a lounge, a video arcade, a full service restaurant and various gift and clothing stores. Outside, you'll find a number of cool amusements like an Alpine Slide, ski slopes, a black bear habitat, a mountain coaster and tubing slides. In order to get to Ober Gatlinburg, you've got to drive through the downtown Gatlinburg strip and take their aerial tram up the mountain. The tram ride itself is a bit unnerving for a guy like me who is afraid of heights. It's especially unnerving when the tram passes by another tram going the opposite way and they both shake a bit. But, it's all in my head, as aerial trams are incredibly safe. Once we got up the mountain, we poked around the mall area and checked out the things to do inside. I was actually impressed that the snacks and drinks (especially beer) were reasonably priced for an amusement area. Their Reuben is actually pretty tasty.

We eventually went outside and got on the chair lift that brings you to the top of Mount Harrison. Again, being afraid of heights, this was a particularly nervous trip for me at the beginning, but I calmed down pretty quickly. Halfway up the mountain is the drop-off for the Alpine Slide where you can get on a handbrake-enabled cart and slide down the mountain. If you elect to keep going up the mountain, you'll reach the top in about 15 min from that point. At some point, you'll have your picture taken by an automatic camera. There wasn't much of a view when we went up due to the weather rolling in. But, it's still nice up there. Heading down via the chair lift was a lot less nerve wracking than heading up. The ride put me at ease enough to head back up again, this time to stop mid-way and dart down the mountain via the Alpine Slide. Those things can really get moving, especially around the corners.

The rest of the family went on the famous Ober Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster while I stayed behind to watch the little one. There was a pretty long wait for them to go, but I'm told that they thought it was worth it. I could tell by the look on their faces in the pictures that the auto-camera took of them. Which brings me to another point: The folks at Ober Gatlinburg are pretty snap happy. You get your picture taken coming off the aero-tram, going up the chair lift, riding the mountain coaster and sliding down the tubing hill. At about 10 bucks a pop multiplied by several family members each, it got to be pretty pricey. The folks at Ober Gatlinburg call it "memory insurance". Your wallet may have another word for it.

Not Much To See Here. Riding The Chair Lift Down Mount Harrison

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Foxfire Mountain

We're motoring around the great Smoky Mountains this week for a family vacation. Our first stop today was Foxfire Mountain, located in Sevierville, Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountain has had its share of brushes with history. It had been home to an iron mine, a Confederate military camp and a private farm. Now, it's the home of Foxfire Mountain Adventures and offers a number of fun activities such as Zip Lining, Four wheeling, hiking and bear crawler tours. Foxfire Mountain Adventures boasts the highest rock climbing wall in Tennessee, the second highest zip line course int he country and the longest swinging bridge in the United States. We didn't do any zip lining because our youngest wasn't old enough to do it. We did, however, hike over the bridge to the waterfall. The entire area is peaceful and quite scenic. The prices for zip lining seem pretty reasonable, and the hike over the bridge will cost you around $20, but it's worth it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pinball Arcade

Back when I was in college, my friends and I would spend far too much time and money in the lobby of our residence hall playing pinball. There were two games that we were particularly fond of: Addam's Family and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Manufactured by Bally/Midway in 1992, Addams Family is the best selling pinball machine of all time. Bram Stoker's Dracula was released in 1993 and was especially noteworthy for it's "Mist Multi-Ball" where a magnet was used to drag a ball across the board and the player was required to knock it loose from the magnet's grasp in order to start the multi-ball.

Last year, a digital version of Addam's Family was released for use with The Pinball Arcade, a game by FarSight Studios. I downloaded the game and both the Addams Family and Bram Stoker's Dracula pinball boards this week. They're almost as fun as the real thing. Better yet, you don't have to keep shelling out quarters in order to play. The only drawback I can see is that the controls are a bit laggy on Dualshock controllers, which makes it especially hard to make skillshots. But, if you're just using a keyboard, you'll be fine.

All told, my stills with both the Addam's Family and Bram Stoker's Dracula pinball games are quite rusty. I haven't been able to hit the jackpot in either game yet, but I have managed to hit the multi-ball. It's especially satisfying to hear Raul Julia's voice excitedly exclaim "SHOWTIME" upon triggering it in Addam's Family.

I've got a few playthrough videos up already. They'll give you a good idea of how well these games replicate the experience of actually playing the Addams Family and Bram Stoker's Dracula pinball games.

Addams Family Pinball

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Monday, March 7, 2016

Classmates.com sucks

There was a time when Classmates.com was a useful site. I think it was sometime in the late 1990's. Back before the corruption of Myspace and the rise of Facebook, Classmates.com was about the only way you could keep up with your former high school and college friends. I first signed up back when talk of a 10 year high school reunion was circulating among the few people I kept in contact with from my high school. It never came to pass, and, by the time my 20 year reunion came around, I had just let my Classmates.com account languish in the back of my mind.

From its inception, Classmates.com has engaged in what many people would call shady business practices. In order to maintain the integrity of their closed system, Classmates.com automatically filtered their internal messaging system in order to scrub out email addresses, phone numbers and street addresses, which would have allowed users to communicate outside of Classmates.com, thus negating the need for a membership. Even worse, Classmates.com had sent a significant number of emails that told recipients that their old friends from school wished to reconnect with them. The recipients then would need to buy a Classmates.com memberships in order to read their old friends' contact information. Classmates.com got hit with a class action lawsuit and ended up settling for $9.5 Million. There are many more examples, but, I'm sure you get the picture. Classmates.com is the Internet equivalent of some letch pulling up in a windowless van telling you to get inside because your mother is in the hospital and you need to get to her ASAP.

Normally, I just ignore SPAM from Classmates.com. I normally get stuff with the following subject lines:


  • Is this one of your buddies?
  • Start bragging, you made the list!
  • Is this someone you've been expecting?
  • You have 1 profile visit waiting to be revealed!
Those sort of messages are obvious SPAM bait on a par with "Sexy, local ladies are waiting to meet you" ads and are easily ignored. However, the other day, Classmates.com sent me something a little different. The subject line was We've left a message in your inbox that might interest you. With my 25 year reunion coming up, I thought that this perhaps was from someone in my graduating class sending out an event invite. Here's what greeted me when I logged in: 


So,  Classmates.com essentially spammed my Classmates.com inbox with some drivel so that they could later have an excuse to spam my regular inbox. Pretty sneaky, Classmates.com. This sort of chicanery was enough motivation for me to go through the process of deleting my Classmates.com account. 

How To Delete Your Classmates.com Account


They sure don't make it easy, do they? You'd think that, in order to delete your Classmates.com account, you could just go to your account settings and do it. But, you can't. Instead, you either have to navigate through their FAQ or contact a Classmates.com representative who will then try to guilt you into sticking around. Or, you could follow the steps below:

  1. Log-in  to your Classmates.com account
  2. Navigate to https://secure.classmates.com/auth/removemember
  3. Select a reason why you want to remove your registration (you must choose one)
  4. Click the "Remove Registration" button.
  5. A tiny pop-up will appear and ask you if you are sure. Click "Yes". Interestingly enough, the pop-up did not appear when I tried to do this in Internet Explorer 11. It worked in Chrome, though. 
So, that's it. Hopefully, after deleting the account, you won't get any more deceptive SPAM from Classmates.com.