Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Are Those Damn Pirates Mumbling About Anyway

In Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland there is a place near the start of the attraction which involves some different voices warning you of something (the accursed treasure, as it turns out). For years I went on that ride but could never quite make out what they were saying what with the rushing water and the screams of the people in front of you not to mention the cheerful yet ominous pirate music that is coming in and out of focus as you move through different areas.

Jwalt Adamczyk, renowned impressario and real-time animation performer, pointed me to the following Youtube soundtrack from the attraction and I finally know what they are saying. I have transcribed it here for other people who have been anxious to know (not that it really makes a difference, the intent of the voices comes through clearly: we are being warned of some terrible danger, and really that is all we have to know).

The soundtrack can be found here.

There are three voices. A Distant Voice which is muddied and always repeats "dead men tell no tales" and two other voices, which I will call the Dark Ominous Voice (DOV) and a crusty less ominous, but still concerned, voice (Voice 3).

Distant Voice:

                          Dead men tell no tales. Dead men tell no tales. Dead men tell no tales.

Then we have an interlude of cheerful music that suddenly becomes ominous in tone. The music changes instrument to be (primarily) harpsichord to help set the time period in which our dark ride takes place.

Dark Ominous Voice (DOV):

                         No fear have ye of evil curses, says you. Ha (chuckle). 
                         Properly warned ye be, says I.
                         Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy beholders 
                         of this bewitched treasure.

Distant Voice:

                         Dead men tell no tales.

Voice 3:

                         Perhaps he knows too much. He has seen the cursed treasure;
                         he knows where it be. Now proceed at your own risk. These be
                         the last friendly words you'll hear.
                         You may not survive to pass this way again.

Distant voice:

                         Dead men tell no tales.

And that is what they say.

I am sure you will sleep better knowing this.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Segue from National Security to Vegetarian Tamales

You may ask what is the relationship between a recipe for vegetarian tamales and national security, not to mention story structure in theme parks.  The answer is clear: there is no relationship whatsoever.  As part of my experiment in poverty, I never eat out (way too expensive) and make all my own food and the result has been a real improvement in my cooking skills.   One thing we noticed is that good vegetarian tamales are a rarity.   The following recipe is the result of about 10 experimental tamale episodes over the last year.   I wrote it down to remember it, and post it here so I can find it again.  I hope you, or someone, finds it useful.  No doubt it will change over time.   

One of the very few advantages of living in southern california is access to inexpensive and fresh ingredients for Mexican cuisine. Authentic and traditional Mexican tamales are not vegetarian as they are made with lard, chicken or other broth, and often pork or other meat for the filling. There may in fact be an authentic vegetarian Mexican cuisine, but it is not one that is well known north of the border. The following is a combination of many recipes found on the Internet and modified to be vegetarian (defined as no meat but some dairy). To make it pure vegan, substitute more corn oil for the butter and use another filling ingredient for the cheese (e.g. steamed potato).

Tamales are made with various types of fillings and this recipe is suitably vague on that topic. It is assumed that when the tamales are assembled that there will be a corn husk, a layer of masa, a layer of green sauce and then a filling which might be: some cheddar cheese and a slice of hot pepper, or some pinto beans, or a slice of pepper and some steamed potato. Many variations are possible.

This recipe makes enough for 10 - 12 tamales.

Time required: about 2 hours to make the ingredients and assemble, about 2 hours to cook.

Equipment required: blender, steamer, string or twine

1. Masa

1-1.5 teaspoon cumin seeds (or powder)
1-1.5 tblspoon ground red pepper
1-1.5 cups of corn oil
1/2 stick of butter or substitute corn oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2 cups masa harina
1 large serrano or jalapeno pepper chopped fine (optional)
1 cube concentrated vegetarian soup stock (optional)

1.1 Combine masa harina, cumin, salt, red pepper and corn oil in a bowl
1.2 Microwave water, butter and soup stock for a minute or two, stir, add to bowl
1.3 Mix thoroughly adding corn oil or water if too dry
1.4 Let sit for at least 30 minutes and add more water or corn oil if too dry
1.5 One possibility is to use some of the green sauce to moisten the masa

Note: I have found that I keep adding more water and corn oil to get the masa moist enough. You will see what I mean.

2. Green sauce

1 lb or so tomatillos with their paper wrapper removed
1 or 2 serrano or other hot pepper
1 medium onion
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch cilantro (optional)
2 or 3 tablespoons corn oil

2.1 Boil tomatillos and hot peppers (whole) for 10 minutes until they change color, dump water
2.2 Roughly chop tomatillos and add to blender
2.3 Clean peppers (chop off end, decide how many seeds, etc you want to keep), add to blender
2.4 Roughly chop onion and garlic and add to blender
2.5 Wash and destem about 1/3 of the bunch of cilantro and add to blender
2.6 Pulse blend, it doesnt have to be too smooth
2.7 Heat corn oil to pretty hot and add the contents of the blender. It should sizzle
2.8 Turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so
2.9 Put aside until assembly

3. Filling

The filling is highly improvisational. It might be cooked pinto beans, or it might just be roasted chiles and some cheese, or potatoes that have been steamed or microwaved and cut into vertical slices. Everything has to fit unobtrusively into a tamale so think about pieces being 1/4 " x 1/4 " by 2 "s for example. During assembly, these will be combined with the green sauce.

4. Corn Husks

These are the large dried corn husks found in mexican supply stores or most s. california markets in the back where they keep the mexican spices.

4.1 Soak in hot water for about 1/2 hour or more.

5. Assembly

1 piece of string about 2-3 feet long for each tamale
1 or 2 corn husks, soaked for each tamale
Green sauce

5.1 Lay out 1 or 2 corn husks on board (overlapping)
5.2 Add with spatula a layer of masa
5.3 On top of that add green sauce and your filling of choice
5.4 Roll up and fold corn husk and secure with string
5.5 Place in steamer
5.6 Repeat for each tamale
5.7 Your first tamales will look weird but taste fine.
5.8 You must practice and develop your technique.

6. Steaming/Microwaving/Etc

6.1 Place some sort of plastic bag over the steamer, or use a pressure cooker
6.2 Steam for several hours, being sure not to let the steamer dry out
6.3 When you get tired of waiting for the steaming to be done, microwave them for a few minutes.

7. Serve with ... 

7.1 If tamales are dry then something went wrong with the masa or the steaming
7.2 Serve with homemade salsa, I use salsa fresca because it is easy and fool proof
7.3 For those who are not vegetarian, sour cream is a also a good addition along with the salsa.
7.4 Depending on how spicy you make these, the sour cream can be used to cool them down.
7.5 Salsa and sour cream are the traditional ways of moistening a tamale that is dry.

8. Other Notes

8.1 You will be amazed at how much moisture the masa will absorb. .
8.2 All ingredients can be prepared in advance but be aware that the green sauce in particular seems to lose spiciness every day it is kept in the icebox.
8.3 My life would be a lot easier if I had a real steamer or a pressure cooker.
8.4 There is a real art to making these things look beautiful.
8.5 Tamales last several days in the icebox and can be frozen for a long time.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lets Put the National Reconnaissance Office in Charge of Film Production

Although Hollywood is awash with so-called 3D films, more properly called stereoscopic, there are many of us who doubt their commitment to the medium. Hard to believe, I know, that Hollywood would not be completely sincere but in fact when people say that Hollywood is run by shallow and greedy scum whose only interest is in maximizing the amount of money they make that day/week/month, they are romanticising the situation.

Whether this lack of artistic intent is true in general in studio executives, it is certainly true in the case of stereoscopic films. This stereo "fad", which has lasted longer than I would have guessed, is based on two motivations: a desperate effort to do something that will bring people into the theatre and as part of a larger play with consumer electronics manufacturers to help them sell new televisions to consumers. Beyond that they don't really care.

In addition, stereo projection was enabled by an artifact of digital projection, so it cost the exhibitors very little to be able to reliably project stereo movies. "Very little" is a lot to exhibitors, generally speaking, so there may have been some cost sharing between studios and exhibitors. In other words, studios could hedge their bets by making a stereo version of the film and not have to outlay a lot of money to do so, and in return are covered if stereo exhibition or television becomes very popular.

Most of the filmmakers share this lack of passion and overt cynicism. A tiny percentage care about stereoscopic and work to explore what it means to filmmaking and the rest just accommodate the requirement as part of the deal they had to make with the studio to get the project financed. Their cynicism combined with the studio's unwillingness to extend shooting days to allow for the complications of stereo during principal photography is why the filmmakers choose to "add" stereo in the post-production process with the "dimensionalization" techniques. What is interesting about these post-production stereographic techniques is not that they work well, but that they work at all.

The dreary prospect about the lack of passion is the danger of the self-fulfilling prophesy: the filmmakers and studios do not care and the films thus produced are lackluster at best in the area of stereo and the audience senses this and gets bored. And one more time, an opportunity to create a vibrant stereo cinema art form is lost as it has been lost before.

What then can the believer in stereoscopic cinema do to avert this mediocre result? Is there a solution? I think that there may be and that the solution is to put someone in charge who believes in stereo, and has a proven track record of standing firm and putting their money where their mouth is. Is there such a person or organization? I know of only one: the National Reconnaissance Office.

Notice that the NRO logo image is in the 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio.  This shows that they are already aware of filmmaking conventions.

The NRO is one of the famous secret three-letter agencies of our country's intelligence community. It was and is the one with contract authority to build and launch the satellites and broker the result to the various other agencies and departments such as the CIA, the Dept of the Air Force, and so forth. For decades it has had the largest budget of any three letter agency because the satellites are so damn expensive. Although cloaked in secrecy, the NRO recently declassified their history, or part of it, in "A History of Satellite Reconnaissance" which can be found on their website here.

I think these NRO mission badges are hilarious.

A careful reading of this document will show that various groups inside the NRO have shown a passionate commitment to stereo in various satellite projects as well as an excellent track record for sponsoring the creation of new cameras for reconnaissance, 70mm, counter-balanced, and with other exotic attributes, as well as new and better high resolution film in collaboration with Kodak. They have a proven track record for managing large complicated projects and yet holding firm to what is important. They have integrity and vision.

A stereo project that was managed by the NRO would not be able to get by with shallow and uninteresting post-filmmaking stereoscopy tacked on at the end. No, they would insist on stereo being designed in from the beginning with principal photography being shot in stereo.

Lets end this mediocre effort by the traditional studios who neither understand nor care and put the NRO in charge of all feature film production in Hollywood and get some decent stereo films for a change.

I call upon all the stereoscopic partisans of the world to rise up and write your congressman or whatever the international equivalent may be and demand that the NRO be given this new assignment.  The stereoscopic cinema has been given another chance, lets not throw it away this time.

Visit the NRO on the Internet at

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Story Structure in Theme Parks and the Mystery of the Self-Illuminated Ears

On March 14th I visited the new Disneyland Resort in Anaheim for the first time since it ceased to be Disneyland and earned its second gate and the "resort" label. For only the second time in my life I was hosted by the Walt Disney Company which surprised me but which was certainly very courteous, not to mention unexpected, of them.

To put this in context, I used to go to Disneyland at least once a year when I lived in Southern California after college depending on the timing of visitors from out of state who often wanted to go there.  I used to give an informal tour of Disneyland called "Transcendental Style in Theme Parks" or how theme parks have become a spiritual experience for our volk, who hold hands around the magic castle as the fireworks go off and the luminous Tinkerbell miraculously appears. Then I moved to New York, the economy collapsed, and a decade went past before I could visit again.

But now I have returned to that happiest place and wish to review for you something amazing that I learned at the new World of Color show at the California Adventure Park. During this show I witnessed the unexpected transformation of a key Disney, and hence American, symbol: the mouse ears. Yes, the mouse ears have changed, wildly and radically, as I will describe.

Even the most dull among us must recognize that Disney represents an aspect of our culture, our time and our "civilization", such as it is. To ignore "Disneyland" is elitism of the most egregious sort for it ignores one of the fundamental phenomena that makes America what it is in the eyes of the world. For better or worse, the Disney company, in all its contradictions and complications, is embedded in our consciousness. Were the Disney parks ever to decline then I think it would signal the decline of American civilization as a whole.

Sure it is easy to dismiss people walking around in Mickey Mouse ear hats, but that is to shallowly ignore the semiotics of identifying with, and indeed emulating, the most famously endearing rodent in all our history. Mice are certainly cute as long as they are in their place and not rummaging around the kitchen while you are trying to sleep and these are not just any mouse ears we wear, these are symbolically Mickey's ears, the ears of our charming ubermouse.

Those ears, those very mouse ears, have been technically updated by Imagineering R&D in a way that is oddly symbolic of our technological present and future, as we discuss below.

The World of Color is the latest in a long tradition of climactic end-of-day shows that have appeared at Disneyland. The first of these was almost certainly the classic fireworks show around the Fantasyland Castle, a choreographed and carefully designed show over the iconic castle which concluded with the miracle of the arrival of Tinkerbell, who will only appear if you believe in her, the divine made flesh as the sky explodes in a crescendo of fire and light. 

This type of end-of-day show has an important place in the structure of a day's visit to the Park, I believe.  And I speculate that the people at Imagineering are very conscious about this when they design not just an attraction, but the park as a whole, and the nature of the experience that a visitor will have at the park.   This end-of-day show is the climax of the visit: an event that visitors make special provisions to be able to see, often with their family, before they slowly and regretfully leave the park, either to drive home in the classic Southern California version or to make their way back to their hotel in the resort version.  In story structure terms,  this show is the climax, the obligatory scene, the required event, after which the slow departure from the park would be the slightly sad denouement: the regret that it ever has to end.  I suspect that the importance of this type of event to the day's experience gives it a priority in park planning and budgeting.   And since things must not stay still or they become embalmed, the show must be recreated in new forms but still serving that same purpose in the structure of the day.

From fireworks, this type of show evolved in many ways at the various gates which are the larger Disneyland entity. Two other examples would be the Electric Parade with its synchronized and abstract design and characters or the IllumiNations show at Epcot which combines fireworks, fountains and music. Both of these two later shows were immense and impressive. World of Color continues that tradition in a pure water, color, projection and music show.

A vast and wonderful Triumph of the Mouse 

To set the stage, the World of Color happens in the lagoon in front of the Ferris Wheel / Rollercoaster at California Adventure. At a later date I will review some of the architectural issues of the new park, and at that time I will be rather puzzled. But the rollercoaster and the ferris wheel are the exceptions: they have a grandeur and presence that architect and Minister of Armaments Albert Speer would have approved of. The great big beaming face of Mickey within the wheel that encompasses our fate shines down on the World of Color and grants His approval. 

The World of Color has many impressive show elements more or less combined into a larger show. Certainly the most striking are the fountains which can shoot a stream of water 200 feet into the air, is illuminated at the base by LEDs, is illuminated in the air by projectors and lasers, and whose direction of spray is controllable on an individual fountain basis. And how many fountains are there? The press release says 1200 and that might be true: if one does a back of the envelope calculation of 50 per row and 20 rows, the numbers add right up.  So its believable. The water is all recycled of course as it falls back into the pond and is reused, but that trivializes the accomplishment of pumping that much water simultaneously at that velocity at once and over a 30 minute show. I would love to know the numbers.

There is a vast infrastructure that we do not see to support such an extravagant expression of water at pressure.

For those who are surprised that the colors can be so vivid or that one could project onto a wall of mist very recognizable images, remember that in a laminar flow fountain we have removed most of the turbulence so the spray and the droplets are for the most part symmetric and reflective. The surface tension of water provides the projection screen, a moving and transforming one, and that works very well.

A lot of effort was put into creating interesting abstractions with color and water as synchronized with audio, and when it was abstract I felt it was always rewarding. But this is Disney after all, and there have been criticisms that the new park was not tied in with Disney characters enough, so the World of Color created a pastiche of elements from many Disney films and used them as projections on the water. I felt this was overdone and that their purpose would be equally served with a few carefully chosen properties. But I admit that I am not in the important demographic here, and perhaps the audience wants to see their favorite characters, or other considerations.  I could remedy the situation in my case by defocusing  my eyes if I cared to and, voila, abstraction returns.

Do these colorful self-illuminated ears contain a secret menace?

But now to the discussion of new technologies at the park and the shocking revelation of networked and distributed mind control of enslaved mouse ears.

Yes you read correctly.

As I was waiting for the World of Color to begin I noticed that many in the audience wore a new type of mouse ears, these had a more robust skull cap and large, well-lit colored ears that would change color and blink happily and at random. Each pair of ears would do its own thing and while they were amusing, I wondered if it might not interfere with the show. The ears were bright, the lights were about to go down, those ears would be a distraction I thought.

I should not have worried.

As the show began I noticed that the ears seemed to turn themselves off all by themselves. Of course I am not looking at the ears I am looking at the show over the water. But as the show continued I realized that something quite odd was happening with the ears. Interspersed through the audience there were several hundred pairs of ears that from time to time would all blink together as if in synchrony with the music.  

And then I realized the truth. These innocent looking hats must have a radio controller in each one, such that they could be slaved to a signal and then controlled from a central source. The individual mouse ears had become unwitting slaves of a master show controller and now mindlessly served the greater good by dedicating their photons to the centrally directed World of Color.

My sources tell me that this project was the brainchild of a mysterious Imagineer and CTO by the name of Scott Watson.  Surely this could not be the same Scott Watson I knew from the early 1990s? He seemed like such a nice guy.   [Note: Mr. Watson has not replied as of yet to my emails.  I suppose he is just too busy hanging out with his real friends].

People are foolishly concerned about the NSA when perhaps they should worry about things closer to home.  What are the privacy and first amendment issues of these new mouse ears?   Are our positions being sent without our knowledge to some mouse server in a vault?  Is this project part of a larger collaborative effort to develop mind control technology with the CIA?   Is Burning Man somehow involved?  These and many other questions flashed through my mind all at once but I have none of the answers.

But this is certainly a topic that needs to be discussed in a public forum and ultimately our loyal public servants need to determine whether or not there should be regulation to protect the freedom and privacy of mouse ears everywhere.  As with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in public skies, this technology has policy implications.  

Oh brave new world to have such mouse ears in it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Second Case Study of Mass Transit in Southern California

We have a second case study here of the mass transit system in Southern California. This time the itinerary was Escondido to Los Angeles, to Culver City, then up to Pasadena and back to Escondido.

As before, the experience was generally quite positive and as before where the system exists all is well. But when you fall off the edge of the different individual systems, when you fail to fit their profile as it were, then you are thrown on the mercies of the normal non-transit transit system of Los Angeles and may God Help You because you are doomed.

It is always important to remember that in Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular, there is a well defined status system in place that is based on the automobile. Those who do not drive are untouchable, unclean, and are the despised dregs of society who deserve nothing more than a quick death.

But when you are on these new, partial, discontinuous transit lines, then things are pretty good. I used five different train lines on this trip: the NCTD Sprinter, Amtrak, and the Los Angeles Metro Red, Expo and Gold lines.

The Sprinter goes to/from Oceanside/Escondido and it is $2.00 each way and runs every 30 minutes. It is such a surprise to see this train, and it is so much better than what Los Angeles had anywhere in its system until recently.

The Gold line goes from Los Angeles to Pasadena and again it is very nice. I am not sure how often it runs, but often I think. The stations took me very close to where I was going and it even had a place by the curb for people to park temporarily to pick up and deposit passengers.

But getting from the Culver City Station to Beverly Hills requires descending to the brutal, traffic infested nightmare that is Los Angeles in the new century. It took an hour and $25.00 to get about 3.5 miles. What a piece of shit. The whole trip from San Diego to LA costs $26.00, so a cab ride for $25.00 for a few miles is not rational. Nor is the traffic rational.

In other words, if you get stuck in LA without a car, you are fucked.

The final problem is an interesting one and it is not clear to me what they should do about it. The way Amtrak works is that you have exactly two trains southbound to San Diego from Los Angeles, the 7:30 PM and the 10:00 PM. That is it until dawn. The later train arrives in Oceanside at least an hour after the last Sprinter has run inland. We live in the country out here and people go to bed early. The point is that if you need to take a taxi from Oceanside to Escondido it will cost you $70.00 and that is in the middle of the night when there is no traffic.

In other words, all is well until you diverge from their system, and then you should expect to pay through the nose to get home.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reply From/To Siggraph About the Visual Effects Disaster

I got a reply from Siggraph about my suggestion to have other points of view on their news article about the layoffs in the visual effects industry.

It is a reasonable reply and suggests that I make use of their Facebook page.  Its a good thought.  Their reply and my reply to their reply will be forthcoming when I return from my little trip.

I find national Siggraph inscrutable.  Do they understand their role in creating the current disaster?   I doubt it.  If they did understand their role, would they change their behavior in the future?  I doubt it but by no means am I certain because, as I have said, I find Siggraph to be inscrutable.

I am still baffled that I was not permitted to run for office at Siggraph.  No one is more qualified than I am to run for office.   I have put in blood, sweat and tears into this field and had an impact and have a point of view.   Better than most, I know where we came from and have an opinion about where we should go.  Having been nominated, it is still up to the general membership to vote for me or not as they please, after all.

It is baffling, but as I say, Siggraph at the national level has always been inscrutable to me.

The Train To Los Angeles

The train from Escondido to Oceanside leaves every half an hour.  That means I need to allow an hour to get to Oceanside.  Then catch Amtrak that runs every two hours or so to LA.   Then take the Expo line that runs every 1/2 hour to Culver City.  A taxi on either side of this adventure so 4 taxi rides.  That will add up to about 10 + 2 + 60 + 5 + 10 + 10 + 2 + 10 = $109 round trip to LA.

Car battery is charging even if I could drive.

Should take all day and be home by midnight.

All this for one half hour appointment.

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 10, 2014

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

We are experiencing temporary technical difficulties.  The car battery is dead, the computer died and the bicycle needs a pump.   We will resume this blog shortly.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When All Roads Lead to Rome

A friend has just finished a chapter of his life and is making a pilgrimage to Rome as a reward of sorts.  My friend has tastes that lean towards the exotic and the esoteric.   He has studied well the ancient mysteries and is a worthy recipient of the ancient knowledge.  He has asked me what he might see when in Rome and I have come up with a tentative first list that does not begin to be exhaustive.   It is also a little terse and will hopefully be somewhat annotated and extended later.

Before you go to Rome, buy the Oxford Archaeological Guide to Rome.

Review the website listed below which is about underground Rome.

When in Rome, do these things:

Remember when you are there that the accursed Christians stole from everyone and desecrated the sacred buildings that were left in their trust.  Whenever you see ancient concrete you are seeing the foundations of a building that has had its stone and marble exterior and other accessories, windows, doors, lamps and so forth,  stolen.

Remember that there have been styles of restoration over the last few millennia and that it can be very hard to tell without guidance how old certain things are, what is a restoration, what is authentic etc.  

Some of the most hated architecture is from the Fascist period of the last century.  But this posed hatred is an affectation and history will probably judge their work better than the art snobs of a few years ago.  Or maybe not, I am just biased against art snobs in principle and haven't really looked that closely.

When the Roman Empire "fell", it did not actually fall and lasted another 1000 years or so in the East, and that nothing architectural really went away.  The population dived from a high of about one million to a number that is quite small, quite possibly a few tens of thousands.

The entire city then was a ruin and a garden.  As time went by, some of the rich families acquired great tracts of Rome and made them their private gardens.  And why not?  No one else was taking care of things.  If only they had not destroyed so many antiquities in the process of making their gardens.  See the Farnese Gardens here at Wikipedia.

Remember that Rome is not open all the time, things have weird hours, sometimes an attendant or guard will let you in if you ask nicely or perhaps provide a tip or honoraium.  Apparently you need to make a reservation in advance to see the Vatican.   Same with the Borghese gallery which comes highly recommended.

Many of the originals of things you see are in museums and what is in situ, on the street as it were, is a restoration.

See the Museum of Roman Civilization which has among other things a recreation of the 2nd century Rome from the Forma Urba..

Count how many words in this post are standard English and yet are also perfectly good Latin.   

Climb the victory tower of Trajan which inside has a spiral staircase to the top. 

See one of the vast caverns inside the hills of Rome left over from quarrying the local tufa before they built their monuments out of marble, an affectation they picked up from the Greeks.   I keep reading about these caverns but I have never heard of anyone who has actually seen them.  Possibly they are closed or just dangerous.

Constantine giving the "finger"

When you see a giant marble head, or hand or foot, recall that Romans often made their cult statues (the image of the God for the temple) in a way that economized on the marble or other stone required. The head, hand, and feet are what was exposed of the statue, the rest might be in a toga and therefore did not have to be carved (not to mention quarried, transported, etc).

See the black stone from the 6th century BC and ponder the meaning of the archaic Latin.

Walk the floor of the original Roman senate (not the one that Augustus built) and stand where Julius stood when he was murdered by his fellow senators in the name of freedom, which really meant to preserve the privileges of their class.

See the aqueduct switching center and distribution system.

Find the recently discovered Orbs of Imperium hidden by Maxentius when he was defeated by the traitor Constantine at the Milvius Bridge.

Horatius at the Bridge.   Find the bridge.

Make contact with those who are attempting to revive the old religion in Rome against the hated Christians and perform some ceremony with them.

Go to the Kings House (the Regia) and ponder what it means about the origins of Rome, the kings of Rome and what is true and what is not.

Go to the bridges of Rome and remember that the leading religious figure was the Pontifex Maximus and that bridges and early Roman religion are somehow connected. (The Pope is still officially the Pontifex Maximus of Rome).

Go to the House of the Vestals and light a fire.

Go to Alba Longa and wonder if the brother-murderer Romulus really came from there.

Trace the route of the Lupercalia. Best to do so naked while wearing a thong made of the sacrificed goats or dog.   The Lupercalia was probably an initiation rite of young men to a brotherhood from the time of the earliest Rome or before.

Trace the route of the Triumph.

Go to where the Sibylline books were kept (in the archives of one of the Temples) and lament the loss of important knowledge in the various fires and tragedies of Rome.

Go underground at one of the Baths and see how the plumbing worked.

Go to Ostia / Portus and see the port of Rome which has much more of an authentic Roman city from the late empire.

Go to Pompeii/Herculaneum before they are destroyed by being exposed to the weather and the light and ask yourself why the roads had those stepping stones.

Go to the tombs and memorials of the murdered Gracchi Brothers and learn about the Social Wars and then think about the future of America.

Find the Milvius Bridge and realize that this is where Western Civilization was destroyed  by Constantine who fell into superstition and began to worship the hateful murdered god/king of the Christians.

See the Parthenon and imagine what it looked like before the wretched Christians got there.  It has stood for 2000 years and we can't make buildings that last for 100.

Tour some of the catacombs and realize that they were not just for Christians and that Christians never really worshipped there in secret.  The catacombs were a response to the lack of space in and around Rome and its expense.  So they dug underground and put their crypts there.    Many of the catacombs have not been explored (or at least we are told that).

Realize that the Romans were not permitted to bury the dead within the sacred boundaries of the city (the Pomeranium) so they built their tombs on roads leading out of the city. Therefore go to the Appian way and outside the formal walls of Rome see some of the tombs.   In a prime spot outside the walls of the city is the tomb of the Scipio Family, the family of the famous Scipio Africanus.

When in Rome keep your eyes open for the family name Colonna.   I am friends with Kerry Colonna who worked with us at deGraf/Wahrman.   The Colonna mansion and private art collection, one of the three most prestigious private art collections in the world, is open for tourists on Saturday morning each week.  Go see it.

See the tomb of Augustus and imagine what it looked like before the Christians plundered it.  (Note: I read that the tomb will have some restoration work done to it after all these years of being essentially ignored. Something to do with the 2000 year anniversary of the death of Augustus).

See the Golden House of Nero underneath one of the Christian Slave Churches.

See the secret library of the Vatican where both truth and lies are told.

Visit the Etruscan tombs.  What were the "mirrors" for?

The Cloaca Maxima was originally above ground and used as drainage for rivers that flooded what would become the Forum.   It was started in the 6th century BC and many workers were killed building it.

See the great sewer of Rome, the Cloaca Maxima, built in the time of the Kings.   A good article on the history of the Cloaca Maxima can be found here.

Remember that the Cult of Mithra was a a late empire cult, mostly in the army. Perseus slaying the Bull probably refers to the secret information involving what the soul must do after death to pass safely among the stars. This Mithra may or may not have anything to do with the religions of the East, although they are certainly an Eastern import.

Ave Imperator, Morituri te Salutant.

Read about the time I first saw a Roman ruin in this post.