Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

The Cleveland Marriot Downtown at Key Center

This review is the final installment of the Cleveland Trifecta

A programming note: Being that one of the goals of this site is to avoid becoming a “rant blog,” I’ll apologize for my three most recent reviews. (Those two links are only coincidentally related to computer topics — they’re on the first page of google results for “rant blog.” You guys strike me as the type that check your ‘external page links’ section of your log analyzer, so that’s why you’re getting some hits from this crazy, random site) Upon deciding to review a collection of three Cleveland-related things, I didn’t realize that even though I was planning on negative reviews, my opinions weren’t creatively negative. There’s nothing wrong with negativity, but unfortunately, the way that the Cleveland items were bad was more in the “disappointed” way than the “this sucks more than anything has ever sucked before” way. So, with that in mind, on to the last Cleveland-related review.

The Cleveland Marriot at...
The Cleveland Marriot at…

With a ridiculous name like “The Cleveland Marriot Downtown at Key Center,” I should’ve known something was up. I have exceedingly low expectations when it comes to hotels. I’m even less of a snob about hotels/motels than I am about restaurants, and the fact that I consider hotels and motels to be in the same category should let everyone know how I go about choosing lodging. Just like the ChopHouse & Brewery, prices were high and because of that, so were my expectations. There was a special group discount rate due to the eye show, but due to the fact that it was very much in the middle of “metropolitan” Cleveland, and was (at least superficially) rather fancy, I had high expectations, as I’m sure that the Marriot expects that of their customers.

Even though work paid for the stay, I’m still hesistant to even spend someone else’s money for a hotel over $75/night, much less the Marriot’s $160. Much of that price is due to the fact that, again, it’s in the middle of downtown, but still, it’s Cleveland. In all fairness to the hotel, I’m not really the target market; I travel on “business,” but I’m still rather cheap thrifty, so I’m not the type to rave about the quality of the food brought by room service, if only for the fact that I could never justify spending that sort of money to eat-in (or out, for that matter). Regardless, whether or not I’m part of the “target market,” I was staying at (deep breath) The Cleveland Marriot Downtown at Key Center.

The Key Center is one of the modern-looking skyscrapers that I talked about in my review of Cleveland, and the “Marriot Downtown” is, obviously, a hotel that occupies a fair amount of space of this skyscraper (It’s a Cleveland-sized skyscraper, so 57 floors, not anything really big but still tall enough to make you dizzy when looking up at it from the ground.

The hotel itself had doormen, a concierge, and all of that fancy stuff, so again, even though I wasn’t really planning on using those services, I can’t hold it against the hotel for offering them. My room was on the 15th floor, facing the lake (and Browns Stadium), so the view was nice, but being that I was there for work, it’s not like I really spent that much time in the room, anyway (again, not the hotel’s fault). The bed had about 10 pillows of pretty much every shape and size (apparently, an obscene amount of pillows is par for the course in “fancier” hotels these days), and the bed was comfortable, but not Tempurapedic comfortable, but no hotels have beds that nice, anyway.

At this point, I guess I’m really just reviewing this hotel based on how much better $160/night is compared to ~$70/night. Having stayed at a hotel in that latter price point a couple weeks earlier, I was expecting more and better, beyond the convenience of not having to commute to/from the hotel to the convention center. I guess it’s been said that the more expensive hotels are, the more you have to pay for conveniences. The $70 hotel offered both wired and wireless internet access for free, while The Cleveland Marriot Downtown at Key Center offered a free “demo” of TV-based internet, and of course, the “demo” simply said “It’s the Internet — On Your TV!!! Only $9.95 per day!!!” Wired and wireless access were also $9.95 per day. I guess it’s a matter of the “businessmen” that need an internet connection will pay for it, even if it’s $19.95 per day, but it strikes me as cheap. Is that the only complaint I have about the hotel, no free internet access? Well, I didn’t end up buying it any of the days, but it definitely would have made my job simpler, as some doctors had questions about content on the website and so on.

***

The Cleveland Marriot Downtown at Key Center receives three stars due to the fact that even though it was rather pricey, they skimped on the fact that if they consider themselves to be the “business traveller’s destination” (my words, their insinuation), most all business travellers have some sort of need for an internet connection, and charging for it on top of a rather high daily rate only serves to make the hotel look cheap, not accomodating. Also, perhaps even more damningly, that insufferable dropping of the “the” in The Cleveland Marriot Downtown at (where’s the “THE?!”) Key Center” and the fact that they always include “The” at the beginning really grinds my gears.

The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery

This review is the second leg of the Cleveland Trifecta

There’s nothing worse than not getting what you pay for. I’m no “fine diner;” I don’t consult dining guides (Zagat’s, Mobil, or the new-as-of-today Michelin guide for New York). Some have called me a picky eater, but this isn’t “picky” due to anything other than the fact that there’s a reasonable amount of food I simply don’t like. I’m not talking about, “my god, I could never eat a cheeseburger from McDonald’s!” but a more straightforward dislike of particular foods (fish, onions, and so on). That makes me a picky eater but not a selective eater. In no way shape or form am I too good for a restaurant; I’ll eat anywhere, but though this doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed certain expectations of a particular restaurant. Especially expensive ones.

Not the best picture in the world.
The best picture I could find.

Choosing price as the index, restaurants can be broken up into five categories: fast food/convenience food (McDonald’s, Wawa), family dining (Friendly’s, Perkin’s), theme dining (Outback, Olive Garden), upscale dining (there aren’t really national examples of this… though P.F. Chang’s would count while The Cheescake Factory straddles the line between theme and upscale), and fine dining (the restaurants found in the Michelin guides). Very few people have the money to visit these “fine dining” establishments and many areas don’t even have any of these restaurants within reasonable distance. All this is to say that at each price point there are particular expectations. Every now and then a fast food restaurant offers something better than an entree at a Perkin’s-type restaurant, but that’s not expected. These positive “category jumps” are rare, and it’s found much more frequently that a restaurant in a higher category only manages to deliver the quality expected at a lower price point. The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery is one of these restaurants.

Looking for a nice-ish place to eat after a full-day of conventioning, I took a walk toward the “warehouse district” of downtown Cleveland (the rough geography has been previously discussed) around 9:00pm (yes, late but not a problem as most places closed at 11). Most every restaurant was in that “upscale dining” category, so wherever I’d choose, a not insignificant amount of money would be spent. Simply, The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery was the most eye-catching of the options.

The intentionally sparesely decorated space was dimly lit and moderately full, with a combination of the sounds of jazz music from the speakers and conversations throughout the space. I’m not picky about interiors or decor, so even though it was perfectly comfortable, it didn’t strike me as anything special, but the three (+?) shiny vats (hence the “brewery” part of the name) were eye-catching in their glassed-in section of the main room. A better than neutral experience so far, but the unfriendliness of the hostess was the beginning of the end of any meaningful positive experiences to be had. I don’t need to be pampered or coddled to, but you’d think that in the usually limited interaction (“Non-smoking please” “ok”) there wouldn’t even be room for someone to be unfriendly, but apparently I said the wrong thing. The table was perfectly fine and happened to face a TV. Water service began right away, but that was it for about 15 minutes. No servers stopped by to take a drink order for those 15 minutes until one stopped by after seeing how long I was sitting. Naturally between that order was taken and its arriving, the actual server came by to take my drink order again. Having worked at a restaurant, I know how much servers hate when customers at a table they’re not serving need to get something from the proper server, so I didn’t say anything. When the proper server came by, she was very apologetic about how long I had to wait, but in that “I’m apologizing even though it’s not my fault” sort of way, like when the food is under/over-cooked. Except, in this case, it is usually the server’s fault (more restaurant experience talking here). Oh well.

Bread service began (a small pie pan’s worth of fresh corn bread with honey butter…. rather good), but my now twice-ordered drink was still MIA. Of course once I had enough of the bread, the drink showed up. It was some sort of “Irish Stout” made in the brewery section of the facility, and I’m not beer connisseur, but it was fine, sort of like Guinness without as much of the cigarette butt taste.

At a new-to-me restaurant, no matter how expensive, I have a simple strategy for deciding what to order: pick three things from the menu, ask the server what they like, and pick one that was common with my list. This happened to be Shrimp Scampi. **A note on this selection. Some have said, “Why would you get shrimp at a steak house. You should get beef.” Well, it’s not like seafood is any cheaper at these restaurants, and they claim to specialize in “steaks, chops, and seafood.” Naturally, it took a particularly long time to get to my table, but it (and the mashed potatoes it came with) were “just finished” hot, so at least it hadn’t been sitting in a heat lamp or equivalent (restaurant experience tells you when it’s “just finished” hot or “heat amp” hot). The whole “steak house” thing usually implies slow (“relaxed” might be a better word?) service, but without making a stupid joke about them pulling the shrimp out of the lake, it took forever.

The actual entree was ok. For $26.95 I’m not looking for ok. There’s nothing bad to say about it, but nothing good to say either. It was shrimp scampi, just that simple. No particularly interesting flavors, just plain old shrimp scampi. Some say that the “atmosphere” is included in those prices, but as discussed above, it wasn’t anything special either.

*½

The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery receives one-and-a-half stars due to its not meeting expectations set by attempting to establish itself as an “upscale” restaurant. This is decidedly different than confusing hype and product, as restaurants create their own hype/expectations simply by deciding which price point to which they intend to cater. These expectations are as much a part of a dining experience as the food itself, especially for pricier restaurants. If a restaurant in a lower price category receive higher star ratings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “better.” They are simply better for the price point. Soon there will be a higher level discussion of star ratings to attempt to establish “rules.” Go Rules!

Cleveland, Ohio

This review is the first leg of The Cleveland Trifecta

Cleveland is a very weird city. The stereotypes surrounding it are…um, everything that goes with the “Cleveland Rocks” intro of The Drew Carey Show and people who look like Drew Carey and like the Browns. That’s not really much upon which to base my good-intentioned prejudicing.

Wishful Thinking
Wishful Thinking

I’ve actually been to Cleveland three times in the era of my life I can remember. The first visit was high school trip, and the only “feel” of the city I got was from the 50 or so feet between where the bus dropoff point and the entrance to an attraction (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Hard Rock Cafe), so that first trip doesn’t count. In the last two years, to attend the East West Eye Conference, I’ve made the trip twice. Unfortunately, I’m sort of an expert on downtown Cleveland. Maybe some Cleveland fans can inform me that where I stayed/visited is depressing and/but there’s another “downtown” not so business-oriented that is unspecifically better.

Anyway, on to business:
The Chicago Loop (a section of “downtown” Chicago) is dead after 5 or so each weekday and all weekend because there’s no more work to be done, and there are lots (and lots) of other bustling areas still “downtown” to do things. To be in the “loop” after hours is a bit unsettling, skyscrapers that go way up, traffic lights doing their thing, but very little traffic and even fewer people. Downtown Cleveland is just like this, but all the time. Except instead of no people, Cleveland some of the most aggressive panhandlers/homeless people that I’ve ever come across. So it also has that goin’ for it, which is nice.

To better paint a picture, one can cross any street downtown during business hours (or any hours, really) without looking in either direction and not get hit by a car. This isn’t because the drivers are friendly and slow down to avoid hitting pedestrians; it’s because there aren’t many drivers. Likewise, I found no McDonald’s in downtown Cleveland. McDonald’s isn’t a sign of class, just a universal symbol of people being busy and needing a fast, cheap place to eat. The only other “quick” food I could find was a run-down Subway and some hole-in-the-wall reuben deli/eating area (I think the reuben is Cleveland’s official sandwich). All of this weirdness is compounded by the fact that the downtown is clean and exhibits lots of new/newish buildings. Unless there’s some other downtown area, it’s like the people go to these buildings at 8 or 9 in the morning then zip out of the general area around 5.

There’s a hip/trendy (read: expensive) part of downtown called “The Warehouse District,” where if you want to spend $30 for yourself on dinner and wait interminably to get it, it’s a great chance. But even here, especially at what should be busy times (weekend nights), it’s oddly quiet. Something doesn’t feel right when you and your “work buddies” are part of the ten people in a bar at midnight-thirty on a Saturday night. These businesses (restaurants, bars, etc.) stay in business, so the rent must be shockingly low for such metropolitan locations. The football stadium is part of the “downtown,” so it (the whole area) must get busier on football Sundays, but that’s only 8 Sundays each year unless the Browns happen to make it into the playoffs (good luck with that).

**

Cleveland, Ohio receives two stars due to its general “deadness” and obliviousness regarding that “deadness.” (Songs talking about how much it “rocks” paint an ignorantly optimistical picture.) Its positive points are earned from its aesthetic appeal (minus the fact that there’s no challenge when playing “I Spy a smelly bum”) and the 45 minutes of walking around before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gets old.