Las Vegas III

Right, so back to the non-work aspects of the trip. First the gambling report. Total invested: $5. Total return: $3.75. Gambling just doesn’t grab me. Hard to avoid though. The few other casinos I have visited in Europe and Australia/New Zealand have a much more defined boundary between gaming and non-gaming areas. Usually there’s age limits, and restrictions on entering the gaming areas. Las Vegas doesn’t work like that at all. Rather than banning children, they have signs saying “Children are forbidden from loitering in gaming areas.” Note that – forbidden from loitering, not forbidden from entering. It’s the only way though – children wouldn’t be able to move in the city otherwise. As soon as you get off the plane you’re confronted by banks of pokies. You have to walk through gaming areas to get pretty much anywhere, even just to check in to your hotel.

Maybe the second thing you notice after the gambling is the smoking. New Zealand went smoke free in bars a few years ago now, and it’s something you don’t miss anymore – that stale smoke smell everywhere you walk. At least my hotel room wasn’t a smoking room.

In the interests of exploring Las Vegas, I decided to tackle it on foot. Sure, it was 40°, but I checked out the maps, worked out where things were in relation to each other, and set off. Mistake. Turns out that one of the rules of Las Vegas is that you should never, ever trust any of the tourist maps. They showed casinos and other attractions all neatly lined up along the Strip, with various intersecting roads clearly marked. Looks all good. The reality is far removed from this idealistic picture.

It turns out that the buildings might be right next to each other. Or they might not. There might be several bare blocks of desert, or a high fashion mall. You don’t really know. The map I had showed the Town Square Mall just past the Mandalay Bay. All good, maybe I’ll walk down there…except there was several miles of bare desert blocks, multiple roads not shown on the map…I was losing the will to live. But sometimes you get an idea in your head, and even though it turns out to be further than you think, you figure “I’ve come this far – maybe it’s that building off there in the shimmering heat. I’ll just push on” I suspect this is how trampers get lost. Eventually I did make it there, but I had to sit down for a while, to get some respite from the heat. My map showed another place right next to the Town Square mall that I wanted to visit – but this time I wasn’t so silly. It was still a $7 taxi from there. About a $30 taxi to get all the way back up the Strip to my hotel. Yes, I did walk a long way. Ah well, I needed a long walk in the sunshine – strong sunlight helps you adapt to timezone changes.

I did a lot of walking over the time I was there. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Most of the casinos are enormous, and they want to suck you in – they’re not designed for people just walking along the footpath. They want you to come in, and find everything you need – bars, restaurants, high class shopping, live shows, hotel rooms obviously. Some places even have their own roller coaster. Oh and while you’re there, fancy a little flutter? The ones with ceilings painted to look like a partly cloudy sky are quite amusing – “See how you could just stay in here forever?”

(Yeah, I didn’t even get started on how they’ve got Venice indoors).

Several people mentioned something to me about a previous photo showing that many of the other tourists were stereotypical overweight Americans. I would like to be clear that they were not the only stereotypes in evidence. Behold, the Asian tourist stereotype times four:

Firstly, ignore the appalling photography. It was dark, and I was trying to cross a busy road with many other tourists, and I only had a moment to take that shot. I did my best, OK? But let’s start from the left. Notice the raincoat, the backpack full of goodness knows what, and the sunhat. Even though it is obviously well past sunset, and the typical rainfall for June in Las Vegas is 0.08 inches. No sign of that changing this day either. Moving along, we have a great example of the “visor”, colour-co-ordinated with the outfit. Nice. Then we have another raincoat, followed by an American cowgirl gone wrong, followed by another hiker. It’s a bit unclear, but the hand on the far right may be wearing gloves. It wasn’t 40° by the time this photo was taken, but it would have still been at least 25°. So much going on there. Las Vegas is quite the people-spotters paradise.

Further research conducted – you’re unlikely to get rich busking in Las Vegas. You might make enough money to pay rent (~$180/week) and buy a bit of food, but don’t expect to make a lot. You don’t need a permit though, and it seems the taxman is not very aggressive in chasing buskers. You learn odd things when talking to people you meet. Also, being a travel agent, and having to road-test various attractions around Las Vegas, including several top hotels, and day trips to the Grand Canyon by helicopter, is “quite tiring.” Yes, my dear, my heart bleeds for you.

For the last night of the conference, HP put on a private concert at the Mandalay Bay. Originally I thought it was going to be Sheryl Crow, which would have been good enough. But then I found out it was going to be Don Henley too – fantastic! I went to see The Eagles a few years ago at Twickenham, and that was one of the better nights out I’ve had. Last time I had to pay for beer – not so this time. There I was, free food and drink, unlimited beer, and one of the greatest selling artists of all time playing for us. I thought they might have had Sheryl Crow and Don Henley playing together, but instead they each did their own thing. Don Henley came on second, started with a few of his own songs, then played “a few songs from that other band I sometimes play with.” Amazing.

Finally, since I was talking about drinking vessels last time, I feel obliged to carry on in that spirit. Whenever you watch American TV shows, the characters seem to always be drinking from enormous coffee cups. So as a bit of joke with my wife, I ordered this monstrosity:

Obviously it’s a bit hard to see the scale, but this thing was ridiculous. It felt like it was about a foot high. It was pleasant enough to drink it for about the first third or so, but then it just became a drag. How you were supposed to drink it all before it got cold, I do not know. Plus it’s got some odd name – I just asked for a large, and they had to translate that into Starbucks-speak. Mega-frappa-latte, or whatever the hell they call it. Yet people thought nothing of ordering something like that. No-one even blinked at it. No wonder there’s an obesity problem.

I was more impressed by developments in solving the age-old problem, of how to produce a cheap aluminium beer dispenser, that allows you to put the top back on. How to combine a can and a bottle? Well, they’ve done it:


That’s right – effectively it’s an aluminium can with a screw-top lid. Pity the beer itself was nothing special. I was more impressed by the Bud Light bottles that seem to have either a thicker aluminium than usual, which the marketing says keeps the beer colder longer. That makes a lot more sense than the other large cans of beer I was drinking – 710mL cans in 40° heat isn’t the best of ideas.

One final point on drinks – McDonalds serves blue Powerade on tap. Same price as other soft drinks – unlimited refills. As everyone knows, blue Powerade is a key ingredient in the hangover remedies toolkit, along with chocolate milk and meat pies. Heavens knows why it isn’t standard at McDonalds restaurants around the world. I think I shall write to John Key.

Las Vegas Continued

Before talking more about Las Vegas, I really must cover more of why I was there in the first place. HP Discover is HP’s big conference, covering everything HP sells. And it turns out that HP has a lot to sell. Laptops, printers, servers, storage, network, software – and software is a huge portfolio of variably integrated products. Plenty of demos and equipment, but more importantly, highly skilled people to talk to. No mucking around with booth babes – they had solid technical resources on hand. 11,000 attendees, a massive showroom floor, general sessions, hundreds of breakout sessions, there was a lot to cover.

Due to the nature of my role, and my interests, there was a lot I wanted to cover – software and networking related mainly, but then it was remarkably easy to get distracted by things like the 3PAR storage announcement. That’s before you get into long discussions with engineers from HP Labs – this was a really mind expanding conversation, talking about longer term trends in the industry. These guys aren’t worried about next quarter’s numbers, or making the server go 5% faster, or putting in 5% more storage. They’re thinking about the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years. They’ve got products that they’re working on that have the potential to dominate the industry, if they come off. It’s great to see that a company is doing more than just gluing chips on a board, or putting stickers on a tin. Their optical backplane switches, and memristor technology could become products worth billions over decades.

I was a late addition to the Bloggers group at HP Discover. HP had organized special events for independent bloggers, as well as providing a dedicated area with tables, power points, etc. I didn’t make the full use of this though – I was too busy out and about talking to people. The owner of my company says he’d rather send senior people to conferences than on training courses. He’s right too – courses are fine for learning a specific product, but you can’t beat talking to a wide range of people for exchanging ideas on broader industry trends, and trying to work out which direction you need to move in. You can read a manual to find the specific product knowledge. The bigger challenge is trying to work out which products you should be looking at in the first place. Establishing contacts is critical too, not just for right now, but as part of your longer term career.

In addition to the regular attendees, HP had 160 CIOs from various companies in attendance. Not surprisingly, they were being looked after well, directed to all the right places, given the better treatment, etc. How were they identified? They had a wide white lanyard for their conference pass. All the other lanyards were blue. So if you knew what you were looking for, you knew who you should be nice to. Well, somehow I ended up with a CIO pass. I didn’t actually realize what the difference was at first. Initially I didn’t see ANY other white lanyards, and I was wondering what was going on. Then I started getting directed around: “This way sir, there’s some reserved seating at the front of the keynote session.” “Are you looking for the CIO breakfast sir? Right this way sir.” Hmmm. I was also wondering why I was getting extra attention from vendors and product managers. I’m sure they were nice to everyone, but I seemed to get extra attention. It wasn’t until later I found out about the CIO group. Perhaps I should have tried to take more advantage of it. But what could I do? I already got free food and drink. The only thing I regretted not taking advantage of was the priority seating at the Sheryl Crow/Don Henley concert. No matter, I had good seats for that anyway. I think there’s going to have to be a third post covering Las Vegas outside of the conference itself. The closing night concert fits better into that post I think.

Highlights of the conference for me included:
* Bloggers dinner on Monday night – a great chance to meet quite a few of the independent bloggers, from around the world. Far-ranging conversation, only briefly touching on HP-related matters. Accompanied by good food, and wheat beer. Doesn’t get much better.
* Meeting the architect of the current generation of Operations Agents, and getting to tell him what I really thought about them (Hint: not much. How can you screw up simple software that you’ve been working on for over a decade?)
* Spending time with a bunch of intelligent people, talking as technical as we liked. Don’t always get a chance to do that at home!

The scale of the conference organization is worth mentioning too. If you’re used to these big conferences, and you visit Las Vegas 6 times per year, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But when you’re from New Zealand, and you attend conferences like Kiwicon (superb conference by the way), then this is on a completely different scale. All those attendees, all the exhibits, all the breakout sessions means that it covers a huge area, and it needs an army of staff to keep it all ticking over. Thousands of people being fed and watered – and yet I never had to wait for food. Superb range, and you could forget you’re basically in the middle of the desert. Many, many different rooms – yet I never had trouble getting around, staff were always on hand. The only problem was that it was a bloody long walk from the Blogger lounge, across the showroom floor, down the hallway, and up the 3 floors to where all the iMC sessions seemed to be held! So many times I seemed to be saying “This is a fantastic conversation, but I’m really sorry, I have to get going to another session.” Later in the week, I realized I didn’t need to go to the general sessions – too general – so I could carry on those conversations.

All up, it was one of the best events I’ve been to. There’s a heap of technical things I found out about, but I need to do more research on those. When I do write up that stuff, it will probably be elsewhere. Don’t think it’s fair to subject my normal readers to that!

Novelty Drinking Vessels

Every city you go to has some key thing that you remember about it. Something that you notice about that place, and forever after, when you think of the place, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes it’s an obvious touristy thing – e.g. Vienna and its practice of putting up statues in the center of immaculate public squares. Other times it’s something quite different, but it sticks in your head – e.g. when I think about Hong Kong, I think red double decker buses. For super-clean Singapore, it’s bed bugs. For Damascus, I recall a somewhat overweight, rather jolly chocolatier. I hope he’s OK now – I suspect he’s not so jolly these days.

Well, for Las Vegas, the memorable thing for me is the novelty glass. That’s right, it’s not the bizarre monuments to money in the desert, No, the thing I noticed early on, and stuck with me during my visit, was the novelty glass. Available in standard half- and full-yard sizes, as well as a range of custom shapes, these seemed to be the default choice of drinking vessel for those just arrived in Las Vegas. Here’s an example I snapped – note he seems to be saying “Here, you take this boring, everyday plastic cup of beer. I’m keeping my special vessel close to my chest.”

The above shot was taken rather late at night, explaining the slight blurriness on the part of either the photographer or the photographee. But this was actually a little unusual – people seemed to purchase these quite early in the day. You can imagine the scene – just arrived in town, checked into town, decide to take a walk out on “the Strip.” The sun’s hammering down on you, you walk past a bar, you’re in Las Vegas, so…”sure, that yard long Margarita sounds like a fantastic idea! Oh and I get to keep the glass? Wow! And you mean I can just walk around from casino to casino, taking my drink with me? No-one cares? Hey guys, let’s make it a weekend to remember – let’s all order ridiculously large drinks in a novelty glass!”

This all sounds like a Good Idea at 10:00am. After all, you’re here to have a good time in Las Vegas, right? And everyone knows, that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas gets posted on Facebook. So you order your big drink, and if it’s extra long, you’ll also get a tie to go around your neck, to hang the vessel off. “Awesome! – let’s have a big swallow…OK, another swallow. Maybe not so big…OK, I’ve had enough sitting around here, let’s walk down to the next casino…”

Hours later, groups of them are walking around, looking somewhat glassy-eyed, the novelty having worn off. At this point, they’re about two thirds of the way through, and the end just doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. The drink has gotten sickly sweet, they’ve had enough, they’re feeling pretty drunk…and you can see them thinking, in the back of their mind “What the **** am I supposed to do with this yard long plastic vessel? Am I doomed to carry this forever? How the hell am I even going to fit it in my luggage? I suppose it’s going ‘straight to the pool room’ when I do get it home.” A bit later on, it seems to get conveniently forgotten about, and discarded. Common sense finally kicks in, and you realize that lugging a large plastic beaker gets really annoying after 8 hours, especially when you still haven’t been able to finish drinking the damn thing.

There’s a lot more to Las Vegas though, and I really did enjoy my visit. I’ll post more later – perhaps on some of the other highlights, such as the haircuts:

Sin City

As my Constant Readers know, I’ve been to a few different places over the years. Europe, North Africa, The Middle East, Central Asia, South East Asia, Patagonia, etc. But I’ve only been to a couple of places in the USA – San Francisco a couple of times, and New York once.

Today I get to visit another part of the USA, and not just any part, but a whole destination in itself – Las Vegas. The HP Discover conference is taking place at the Venetian in Las Vegas next week, and for some reason they gave me free tickets! Possibly they’re trying to make sure that I write nice things about them in my next post on Packet Pushers. I shall have to be sure to write full disclosures in future. They have not explicitly asked me to speak highly of them, but I’m sure they’re hoping to impress me with their upcoming products.

My company is paying for flights + accommodation. Not cheap flying from Auckland to Las Vegas, but since we’re not paying for the conference itself, it works out to be a similar cost to going to a training course in New Zealand.

The timings work out pretty well, since it’s Queen’s Birthday holiday in New Zealand, meaning the boss only misses out on charging me out for four days, not five. Plus, with the way the timezone shifts work, I get to spend a day in Las Vegas either side of the conference. I’m not a gambling man (I’m not a risk taker), but there’s going to be plenty to see and do while I am there. The only problem is that I can’t take Anna, since she’s just about to get into exams. Everyone tells me that I should buy her presents to make up for it, but she says I don’t need to, it’s not at all necessary. Is it all a feint, and I should buy presents? No, she’s pretty upfront about these sorts of matters. If she tried being subtle when she wanted something, I’d always miss it, and she’d never get what she wanted!

I’ll try and get a couple of blog posts up while I’m there. I’ll also have to try and write some technical blog posts, but I shall spare Northlandboy readers from that. Those will go to Packet Pushers, or maybe my company’s site, depending upon what I decide is worth writing about.