(Claude Rains as Captain Renault in "Casablanca", 1942)
After more than 25 hours traveling, the Mandalay Bay Hotel was a welcome sight in November. A warm bar, cold beer, and non-airline food seemed like something I'd never see again. I have to say that, a few years ago, I really enjoyed the thrill of travel to exotic locations like Las Vegas. However, and it's hard to believe I could say this, it's really becoming a bit of a drag just getting there. Especially when I've done this trip four times now, and after the third time you tire a little of walking the strip and visiting Freeman Street to see the lights.
Maybe if my wife had been with me we'd have been a bit more adventurous, but this time the only visit "up the strip" (Mandalay Bay is the last hotel on the strip) was a walk to Bellagio's to partake of their excellent buffet one evening. Mind you, they seem to have knocked a big chunk of the strip down. Next to Bellagio's is a huge hole, with work going on 24 hours a day - no doubt building an even more ostentatious and luxurious hotel.
Still, there was one saving grace. They've opened a Fry's Electronics just down the road from the Mandalay Bay Hotel, a warehouse about the size of two football fields stuffed full of the kinds of goodies that we geeks tend to dream about. And the great thing is that you can buy all those odd "bits" of stuff that seem to be virtually unobtainable here in England, like a spare fan for a power supply or replacement USB sockets. Mind you, the only computer supplier with premises bigger than a garden shed where I live is PC World, and they didn't even have Ethernet connectors last time I went in.
So, due to the weird airline policies which make it cheaper to fly out two days before the conference and pay extra hotel bills (flights are double the price if you don't stay Saturday night), we had a whole day free to get lost in Fry's. Someone remarked that it proved I was a geek if I spent a week in Las Vegas, never gambled, and only went outside the hotel to visit a computer shop...! And, to compound the travesty, all I bought was an old Kinks album on CD (I didn't have a copy of "Waterloo Sunset", which is one of those songs that brings back many happy memories of my youth), and six candle lamp bulbs.
The candle bulb thing is another story. When we were in Seattle some years ago, my wife went shopping with a friend
and came back proudly clutching a beautiful "tulip"-design table lamp. She'd even been wise enough to avoid buying
bulbs for it, despite the salesman's prompts, because she realized that we have more electricity in England than they
do in the US (240 volts compared to 115). Of course, it was only when we got home and I tried to buy bulbs that I
discovered US lamp holders are a different size from UK ones! In the end I had to bring US 115 volt bulbs back on a
subsequent trip to Redmond, and rewire the lamp to put all three in series so they only got about 80 volts each.
Since then, the lamp has worked fine - until one of the bulbs failed a few months ago. And, of course, I couldn't find the spare one I'd bought. No problem, we live in an international society, and so I just ordered six more over the Web - and it only cost $20 to get them delivered. Of course, they hadn't arrived by the time I left for Las Vegas, and I could imagine getting home to find they were either the wrong size, or all broken when they did arrive. So I bought another six from Fry's, joking with Dave that, as I'd now got plenty of spare bulbs, the lamp would probably explode next. Got home, installed the new bulbs. Working fine again, wife happy. Three days later - "phizzz", "phuttt", "bang", all the lights in the house go out... and, yes, a bulb holder in the lamp finally gave up the ghost and fused itself into a mass of metal and plastic. I wonder if I can buy US lamp holders over the Web...?
Meanwhile, however, I suppose I ought to mention why we were actually in Las Vegas. It was, of course, the Fall edition of the DevConnections conference - or, to be more accurate in our case, the ASP.NET Connections conference. It seems to have grown to an amazing size now, with a multitude of [add technology name here] Connections sub-conferences all going on at the same time. It's great to see nearly 5,000 delegates wandering round looking lost (but clever), but then a shock to find there's only actually 20 in your session ... obviously I need to get more practice. But it was probably the best Connections conference I've been privileged to speak at, and I did enjoy the week. Even the half mile walk from the hotel room through the casino to the conference center (without ever going outside).
While we were there, we met up with some publishers we keep promising to write for again. The photo shows Dave and I with Curt
and Karen from Addison-Wesley. We're holding up what is obviously the large print version of our
latest book. We also met up with Jim from Wiley/Wrox, who
published our previous book (see how I'm seamlessly getting
plugs for our books in here?). We even did a book signing session, though it was not quite as busy as I'd have liked. This is the second
time we've tried this, and suffice to say that the thronging queues have always seemed to contain less than three people. In fact, this
time the queue contained less than two people. Probably because they were drawing the raffle for a Harley-Davidson motorbike
in the main exhibition hall at the time.
On the last evening, the conference organizers treated the speakers to a rather tasteful "snacks and drinks" thing in the penthouse of the hotel, which I have to say was quite an eye-opener. The apartment is bigger than my house, 61 floors up, and with the most amazing views across Las Vegas. The aircraft coming into McCarran airport were actually below us. And it had a pool table and a piano in the lounge, though nobody did the "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'" thing. The photo here shows the view out of the window (shame it was dark). Maybe I can book that room next time and see what it looks like in the daytime.
Anyway, before I wander off and do some real work, I'm still trying to figure out why, when in the US, Dave and I have to say we "need a
rest" when we actually want to go for a pee. Why do they call it a "rest room", when it's patently a toilet? In all the visits
I've made to these places, I've yet to see any with a comfy armchair or bunk beds. And, why is it that they can't make towel
dispensers that work properly? It can't be that hard to do the math and figure out what gear ratio you need between the
lever and the roll so that a single action reveals more than two inches of paper towel. OK, so my facilities survey only covered
those designed for male use, and maybe ladies toilets do have armchairs and towel dispensers that give you one towel per lever press
rather that requiring several seconds of furious cranking activity just so you can dry your hands.