Viva (WebDevCon) Las Vegas

Looking back at some of the articles I've written on this site, I realized that my usual approach of writing when I'm fresh - after a good night's sleep, a healthy breakfast and an intensive half-hour work-out (well, good intention is better than nothing) - doesn't really make much difference. It still seems to end up as a strange mixture of disjointed and incomprehensible ramblings.

Preparing for the ASP.NET JumpStart session So, this time I thought I'd try it while still jet-lagged. Dave and I are just back from 10 days in Las Vegas at Comdex and the Web Developer 2002 Conference. Both were somewhat shrunken affairs compared to previous years (the exhibition and conference, not Dave and I). Though as far as Comdex goes, this assertion is based on hearsay, as it's the first one I've been to. No doubt the current economic climate in the US has a lot to do with this, as I picked up a general impression from many people I spoke to and places I went that "it is getting better, but slowly".

Still, I reckon that the conference was extremely successful. The smaller groups made interaction and audience participation a lot easier, and I hope that we actually gave attendees more than we might have been able to do with larger numbers in each session. In fact I certainly did in one session by starting 15 minutes early and then telling off people who arrived on time for being late - if you were one of these, sorry about that! Dave and I talked about ASP.NET in general, and I did some stuff on System.Xml and distributed data applications as well. The picture here shows Dave and I preparing for the "ASP.NET Jump Start" session. I brought along some heavy-duty car battery cables, but we ended up just using them to link the laptops together instead.

P.S.: The tee-shirts are from ThinkGeek, and say something like "There are only 10 types of people in this world, those that understand binary and those that do not". Well, we liked them anyway...

Talking of laptops (or "notebooks", as they seem to have changed into while I wasn't looking), I treated myself to a new toy a few weeks before we went over to Las Vegas. I got fed up hauling the usual-sized Dell Inspiron halfway round the world, and so I invested in a tiny Sony Vaio SRX. With a low-power P3-850 processor and 30Gb disk, built-in wireless, and plenty of other toys, it is a really nice machine. And it only weighs three-and-a-bit pounds complete with power supply and battery. Plus it's nicely put together (built in Japan) as you can see from this picture.

OK, so taking new and untested kit to a conference is not always a great plan, even if I did give it some hammer before I went away. It gets a bit hot after a few hours use, but even that came in handy for defrosting my fingers in a couple of rooms where the hotel was determined to burn off all the spare electricity it had left over by running the air conditioning at full pelt (or "full-welly" as we English folk say, though that might have other connotations in meaning West of the big pond).

The hotel, seen from the conference center The hotel was OK too. The front (public) bit was really nice, and the service in general not bad. However, maybe it's another sign of the current trading climate that the rooms seemed to have a general air of "broken and a bit forlorn". Especially when the bed was one of the broken things, though they did replace it the next day. But you can't help getting annoyed when your electronic room "key" is set to expire the day before you leave. And charging $8.50 plus the expected tip for some coffee instead of putting a machine in the room is a bit much for us poor English people.

The strip as seen from the Stratosphere tower As for Las Vegas, well what is there to say that hasn't been said before? We did the usual trek around the big hotels along the strip, with only a minor overall loss of cash in the machines. We went to the top of the Stratosphere (see photo here of the strip at night), and I'll leave it to Dave to tell you who got the best view. However, a real highlight was the show at the Luxor by the Blue Man Group. I thought that we were a bit weird, but this is - well - just surreal. If you ever get the chance, go and see it. I'd go back tomorrow and see it all again if I could.

The Hoover Dam from the Arizona side The other "must do", of course, in the Grand Canyon. Tina (my wife and travelling secretary for tax purposes) and I didn't "do" the canyon last time we were in Las Vegas, so we booked a day trip on the bus to see it and the Hoover Dam - or, as Charlie our driver described it, the "Hooo-ooo-ooo-oover Daaa-aa-aam". Great day out at both, with excellent tour guides, movies on the bus, and they even played a comedy CD over the bus music system. Someone I'd never heard of, but I laughed as loud as the Americans on the bus so he must have been good. Plus, they gave us lunch on the way - and I was really surprised that they specially found time to make a stop at the cheapest gift shop in Arizona on the way back. Anyway, here's the dam if you haven't seen it before.

But, of course, it was the big hole in ground that we really went to see. I can't hope to put into words the sense of awe and amazement when I reached the top of the path to the viewpoint and got my first view of the Canyon itself. I've seen it from a 'plane before, but to stand there is just incredible. My pictures can't hope to do it justice, but I've included a couple below in the way of a vain and half-hearted attempt. It was just on freezing point when we got there, but the snow stopped, the clouds cleared, and the sun peeked through. A couple of people next to me were actually crying as they stood there. What more can I say...

The Canyon is 13 miles wide and a mile deep here Mather Point on the South Rim looking up the Canyon The Artist Studio at Bright Angel Lodge

To finish, I guess I should just drop in a quick rant for this month. I can see why they call themselves Continental, and not Inter-Continental. The staff and service at Las Vegas was great, the plane from there to Newark was clean and roomy, and the on-board staff friendly, pleasant and helpful. At Newark, I stood a respectable three feet in front of a gate desk for three or four minutes while two staff talked to each other with brief glances in my direction without them actually managing to stop and give me any help. The 8-position "information desk" had five positions closed and the other three were deserted. During the last ten minutes of a five and a half hour stop-over they decided to "recheck all tickets" because they had oversold the seats and were looking to bump some people.

We finally left for the trans-Atlantic flight three-quarters of an hour late, in a high-capacity, single-aisle, dirty Boeing 757 with only two working toilets. It was even more cramped and uncomfortable than most cheap package-holiday charter jets I've been on, and the on-board staff were certainly less friendly or helpful. And, with the well-known problem of there being too much luggage to fit in the existing overhead bins, why on earth do they pre-fill these with other stuff? I counted 27 people whose seats had no overhead storage at all for bags. Hey, we've given you an inch and a half of leg-room, so you can put your bags in the space where your feet might go.

Yeah, thanks. I stopped using British Airways about five years ago for similar reasons. However, it's only fair to say that this isn't a permanent situation. As soon as I shrink from a shade over six feet tall to around five feet four inches, the size that some airlines design their seats for, I might start using them again. Please come back to Birmingham, American Airways, all is forgiven...

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