OK, so we didn't actually see any flying fishes playing. Maybe they have some in the aquarium underneath the hotel, though I don't remember seeing any the last time we went there. But it's always good to go back to Las Vegas - I never cease to be amazed at the scale, weirdness, and general opulence of the place. We even got a ride from the hotel in a themed bus this year, advertising the Blue Man Group who are appearing at the Luxor. If you haven't seen them yet (they are on in many locations around the world) you need to go ... fantastic.
But, before I do the usual "wandering off topic" thing, why were we in Las Vegas? Well, this year the Fall ASP.NET Connections conference was there, and I was proud to have a chance to present a tutorial and some general sessions. As you probably guessed by now, the conference was at the magnificent Mandalay Bay hotel, some pictures of which are shown here. Not only is the hotel amazing - very up-market, refined, and huge - but it was also much quieter than other casino hotels. Don't know how, but they seem to have managed to tone down the continual clatter and tuneless noises produced by a hall full of one-armed bandits to an acceptable background noise. I suppose they're all electronic anyway, and come with a volume control. Shame a few of the guests who decided to go to bed in neighboring rooms in the middle of the night didn't.
Alongside a huge aquarium (previously mentioned) Mandalay Bay is famous for its pool. A real sandy beach, and waves large enough to body-surf on breaking regularly across it! Close your eyes and you could be, as we say in England, "at the seaside". Well, perhaps it's a bit more refined than our more regular haunts like Skegness, but they didn't manage to arrange any better weather. I know that Dave and I have a reputation for bringing disasters to the US cities we visit (like the elephant in Denver, the fires in Los Angeles, and the storms in Seattle - see past shed entries for details), but two whole days continuous rain in the middle of the desert? Could we get a job as rain-makers?
The photos here also show the conference center, which sits behind the pool and lets jaded conference attendees look longingly out at the rest of the guests enjoying themselves. In reality it's about the only place that you do get to see outside - the first day it rained I knew nothing about it until I got back to the room late afternoon and found Tina trying to dry out here shopping bag (she prefers shopping to gambling, though I'm not sure which is more expensive).
Inside, the conference center is much like any other - except they managed to put it further away than anywhere else, and made everything inside it further away from everything else than anywhere else (if you see what I mean). It took me 20 minutes to walk from the room to the location of the first session on Sunday morning. That's longer than it takes to get to work when I'm at home. But the facilities were excellent, and even the sessions seemed to go well. As usual I got really excited about XQuery and XML in general, probably putting several people off. "Hey, this XML programming stuff is far too exciting - maybe I'll become an accountant" (OK, so I made that up, but I'm worried in case it's maybe a bit true...). A photo here shows me puzzling over why the demo always runs slower than when I practised before the session. As usual I blamed the lack of volts in the US - my little laptops are used to a healthy 250 of them.
This year the Fall Connections conference attracted more attendees than ever, the last numbers I heard were over 1500, and it was probably more. A large number were there to see SQL Connections (no doubt because of the SQL Server 2005 "Yukon" public Beta release), but we had a good turnout - especially for the session on the new ASP.NET Data Source Controls. It's hard not to get excited about these.
The only other memorable features of the trip were a bus ride to Freeman Street to see the "old" Las Vegas, and indulge in probably the best of the buffets around at the old station casino and diner. Freeman Street's famous night-time entertainment, including street artists, musicians, and the overhead lights-and-music experience, are always worth seeing. Even if it took an hour on a completely "packed solid" public bus to get there. Still, all in all it was a great week, and my thanks to the organisers and others who helped to make it so. Even if they were just buying us beer...