July 2010
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Day 5: One-armed bandit

I didn’t think there were many new things left for me to try in Las Vegas, but I managed to find one.  I’ve now experienced the American healthcare system!

I’ve broken my arm.  Actually, it’s a fractured shoulder but the result is basically the same.  I’ll be functioning at a severely reduced capacity for the rest of the trip.

As I consider this a somewhat more significant event than not winning a pair of frog slippers, you may notice that I’ve bumped Day 5 ahead of Day 4.

Don’t worry, there’ll still be pictures of slippers.  Although sadly not on my feet.

Looking at this as an achievement, it’s my first ever sporting injury!  If you can call Geocaching a sport.  Apparently people do, but that’s a bit of a stretch for an activity that is basically walking or driving, interrupted by a hunt for plastic boxes.

For those that care, this happened round about GC26E6N.  The tiny cache was hidden in a hollow stick, tied to a tree.

Then I saw tracks leading up to the nearby mound of dirt and wanted to explore.  The Jeep was probably too large – although I was tempted to give it a go – so I decided to go up on foot.

About half way up, I did start to wonder how on earth I’d get down again but I really wanted to see the view.  Then when I finally got there, I realised that I was now the tallest thing for miles around, and as I’d just been taking photos of the surrounding storms a few minutes before, that this was quite a bad idea.

Even so, there’s a chance that if I’d made it down in one piece, I’d have gone back up there with my camera.

I tried to find the least steep route back down, which turned out to be still fairly steep and quite soft under foot, and a walk quickly turned into an involuntary run which ended up with me hitting the level ground leaning forward with too much momentum to get my balance and and slow down.  So I ended up diving forwards into the dirt.

I just couldn’t work out if I had done any real damage.  It hurt pretty bad but I’d sunk into the gravelly ground which suggested it was a (relatively) soft landing.  Plus I could still wiggle all my fingers, and eventually I managed to put enough pressure on my arm to stand up.

On the other hand, I could tell I’d ripped my knees to shit but couldn’t really feel anything apart from the pain in my arm.  As it was no better when we got back into town, I thought that getting it looked at was probably a good plan.

CSI fans will no doubt be disappointed to learn that “Desert Palm” hospital, mentioned at least once in just about every show as the place that every victim who doesn’t already have a toe tag goes to, doesn’t actually exist.  If it did, obviously I’d have made sure that’s where I ended up.  I actually went to Spring Valley Hospital, conveniently less than a block away from the house we’re renting.

It took 4 x-rays to find something, in between which I got mopped up, had a tetanus shot, handed over a credit card for a $1000 deposit and continued to hold on to the hope that it was just quite badly bruised, but eventually the doctor wheeled round his computer trolley and zoomed in on a picture of my bones to show something a little bit darker than it should be.  Apparently that means a fracture, and so I’ve got to keep my arm in a sling for about 6 weeks.

I’m not yet sure how the travel insurance is going to work for this.  By the letter of the policy, I was supposed to call them before turning up at the hospital so they could authorise the treatment.  But I wasn’t exactly in great shape to do that, and would not have been able to call overseas from my cellphone anyway.  As the cover is for emergency treatment, I’m not sure when it would ever be appropriate to call ahead.

The hospital said they’d deal with it, but took no more information from me than the name of the insurer, and when I called to make sure they knew what had happened there was no sign of any claim by the hospital yet.

You don’t expect to be ripped off by a hospital, but if the $1000 I already paid actually covers the cost of the x-rays, a jab, a painkiller, a few bandages and a sling, and about twenty minutes of combined time with medical staff why would they bother following it up for me?  Am I way underestimating how much money they’d want?

Anyway, this little accident changes the trip quite a bit.  Many of the things I like to do in Vegas require two arms.  Well, obviously, most things are easier with two.

I may get the hang of playing poker one-handed (it has to be worth a try – if the guy I met at Christmas with a metal claw for fingers can play, so can I) and video poker should still be possible, but a little slower.

But I can’t drive; I won’t be able to hold my camera without a tripod (and won’t be able to set up the tripod myself); can’t eat steak without skewering it and eating it like a lollipop; can’t go on any coasters; will even struggle to blog (I’ve found a two-handed typing position, but it’s not comfortable for any length of time).

On the bright side, I somehow didn’t land head first, and it’s my left arm that’s out of action.  It’s the one I’d pick if I had to.

And if all else fails, I can catch up on some of the shows I’ve never seen.  Or even try to figure out what the hell baseball is all about.

Day 3: When cacti attack

Wild desert cacti are vicious buggers.  And apparently they don’t like me.

I got stuck several times while geocaching off-road near Primm, NV.  Desert geocaching is surprisingly fun, even though the routine is pretty much: drive 0.2 miles, look for pile of rocks, sign log, rinse, repeat.

Even though we’re really not meant to take the rental car off road, the four-wheel drive Jeep Patriot was much better suited than the little Toyota we had last time.

My natural reaction to a hostile cactus attack was to take pictures first, remove the sharp things that had sunk into my skin later.

Thankfully I didn’t meet any snakes.  I don’t think this strategy would have been good enough.

Day 2: Casino playlists

As the day was full of jet lag and little excitement, it’s the perfect opportunity to begin a possible new regular series.

What music do they play in different casinos while I’m playing video poker?  I’m sure the world is dying to know.  And thanks to the Shazam app on my iPhone, I’m going to tell you, whether you’re interested or not.

I might even start doing this in real time if anyone feigns the slightest bit of interest.  Live blogging baby!  I’m more mobile than ever before, and can you think of a better use of technology than to transmit not only the name of a song you’ve been forced to listen to, but also a little album art picture, all the way around the world?

Live photo blogging is, well, just a bit too obvious.  However if I can pick up an iPad camera connection kit I will be able to take photos with my DSLR, crop them with my fingers and put them online immediately.  It’s significantly less portable than a camera phone, but that’s not really the point.  It’s.. because it’s possible.

It’s actually really impressive that Shazam can pick out the music behind all the casino noise.  Sometimes it struggles if someone nearby is on a big win and it dings for the whole time it’s trying to listen, but generally the typical “sound of winning” background noise doesn’t seem to stop it being able to identify a track.

So here’s what was playing at the Four Queens while I struggled to stay awake playing enough video poker to justify all the free food we have been enjoying last night.

The missing words are “all the cow”.

Day 1: Turning left

I flew first class again. Row 1 baby. Any further forward and I’d have been driving the thing. It was – predictably – sweet.

Believe it or not, it was actually a little bit better than the last time. I did this same route in this same class last December. It was still awesome, but you could tell things were a little old. The dead giveaway was the help-yourself selection of movies on mini-VHS tape.

This time, they’ve switched out everything, including adding a new video-on-demand entertainment system with a really nice screen. I’d guess at about 15 inches using other things in the photo for reference.

I wasn’t expecting it, and neither were some of the crew by the sound of it. While I was settling in and busy taking pictures of my feet, the pilot came forward to have a nose around, commenting that he’d never seen this configuration before.

Everything I’d seen on United’s web site suggested that the 747 fleet had been upgraded, but they hadn’t started on the 777s yet. I’m no plane geek but I can tell the difference. 747s have an upstairs. 777s have “777” printed in the corner of the safety card.

The seats were all shiny and new, with lots of storage space and two huge fixed shelves, as well as a large collapsible dining table. Plenty of room to sprawl.

And as an added bonus, there an actual power outlet, not the silly emPower thing that I was expecting, and have never managed to get the right adapter for. Hence coming prepared with an array of batteries, and – between us – a PSP, five iPods, two laptops and an iPad.

It’s better to have an iPod and not need one, than to need an iPod and not have one.

I was particularly intrigued by what the connectors under the headphone socket were for. Clearly, it’s USB and ethernet. But why? The entertainment system boasted an iPod input, but that used the other one, that looked like S-Video. But who has an iPod to S-Video cable? (The on-board duty free store, of course, that’s who).

Surely you can just use a dock cable into the USB, I thought. Alas no. Not that it matters when I’m all reclined and have taken my glasses off – it’s far easier to watch a 3 inch screen from 2 inches away, than a 15 inch screen from 6 feet away.

“It appears that my iPod is not properly connected”.

In fact, it didn’t even give enough power to keep my iPhone charged, so I have no idea what it’s for – or the network socket. Surely there’s no chance of internet flying transatlantic any time soon. Do they expect teams of Counterstrike players to come on board and have a LAN party?

The other thing I noticed was a peculiar change to the seat configuration. These things are so large you can only fit four of them across the plane (bizarrely, our middle seats were 1C and 1H!) and they’re set at a diagonal.

However, instead of being arranged \ /\ / like on the old layout, they’re now / \/ \. In other words, all the seats face towards an aisle, not away from it.

The practical difference is if you’re sitting in the middle two seats, you now end up with your heads being closer together than your feet. Which is great if you’re travelling with someone and want to talk – you don’t have to shout across a four-foot void.

But as a result the whole cabin felt a lot more exposed than last time. It’s not a big deal to me – I’m just happy to have a flat bed and edible food – but I imagine the kind of flyer who pays for first class as a matter of course would be expecting a little more privacy than they’d get with this layout.

Not that we’d use it, but I couldn’t find a partition between the middle seats – so you have a perfect view of your neighbour’s screen (in theory, you’d be able to see exactly what’s on their iPod). Or with them angled away from you, you have a great view of what they’re doing on a laptop. Also my natural position was to face directly across at the window seat, which was also facing towards me. It was certainly less of a head-turn to look at the stranger opposite than Claire. I just thought it was a bit odd to have changed things this way.

The food was great. I ate swordfish, and quite enjoyed it.

Followed by filet mignon, with a so-good-they-baked-it-twice potato.

Finished off with cheese and biscuits. “I’d offer you port Mr Newman, but you don’t drink do you?”.

Sure, it’s five o’clock somewhere, but nowhere this plane is going, or even passes over, when we fly west from the UK at 2pm.  So I just said no to a drink before takeoff and as I pretty much don’t do wine, declined anything to go with my steak.

But cheese and port is a different matter… come back here!!

This blog's last hurrah

This is likely to be the beginning of the end of this blog.

Certainly if either of my readers have been paying attention, they’ll have noticed a distinct lack of noise coming from this direction recently.  In fact, until I posted this one, there was still an entry visible on the front page from my last Las Vegas trip – which was over three months ago!

That’s just not good enough.  I always told myself if I can’t be bothered to update it at least once a week it’s not worth carrying on with.  I already censured myself once.  And then dismissed another a month’s silence like it really wasn’t a big deal.

I could claim that I have less to write about because I haven’t played online poker at all this year (yes, that’s actually true!).  But as I’ve said before, I lost interest in play-by-play poker reporting quite some time ago.  In any case, those online encounters don’t tend to be punctuated by anything valuely worth remembering.

Go all in. Lose a 60/40. Type “nh” sarcastically. Who wants to know?

So I really wanted to make it through to this summer’s trip report.  And I’ve got there, in a fashion.  I’d started writing this earlier in the week but finally finished it on the plane.

Considering the lack of hype for a change, it might be surprising to hear that I’m on the way to Las Vegas. Right now.

I’d been planning to write something every day, just like I have the past three years, and I probably still will. But I did also think I’d also be posting a little bit of pre-trip excitement now and then.

Here’s the thing: even yesterday, T-1, just one ace left on the wall, packing looming, an excited Claire and an even more excited Vegas virgin friend (who doesn’t join us for another two weeks), I was considerably more meh than I would have expected at this late stage.

OK, to be fair, an email I had today from Terrible’s which told me I could earn a “floppy hat” got me a little bit excited, but nowhere near the usual levels.

Consider this: I can’t remember the last time I went between two trips without needing to watch Ocean’s 11 at least once.  It’s just not normal.

Now I know this will change. It’s Vegas, right? And it’s me in Vegas for fuck’s sake. I’m coming back for the 25th time, and it’s yet to disappoint.

But right up until the minute I got on the plane – while I was still trying to cram in some last minute tweaks for a customer – I’ve had my work head on almost 24/7 and barely been able to justify the time to look forward to it.

This is surely a good thing. Well, the 16 hour days and terrible sleep pattern isn’t great, but I’m working on that. And the fact I’m eating roughly half what I used to (without even trying to cut down, I’ve just stopped being able to finish meals) is probably a mixed blessing. I expect it’s nothing a good all-you-can-eat buffet won’t sort out. Especially if the casino is paying for it.

But I have a level of motivation I’ve not known for some time, I’m driven to create awesome things like never before and – despite what it’s pretentiously said on my business card for more than ten years – it feels like the first time I’ve actually been doing a little bit of managing, and a little bit of directing.

Business, of course, is a gamble – and so I’d like to think that now it seems to have become my game of choice, I’ll apply myself to it with the same dedication and commitment I’ve given to learning how to eek out an edge at video poker, or finding online casino bonus that are so good it’s worth borrowing my mum’s credit card so I can play them twice.

It’s not that I’ve completely dossed away the past ten years of working for myself. But there’s been a certain amount of plodding along, doing the same tired stuff, no focus, no growth. Not to mention the delusion that online poker could actually be a sustainable source of income, or the pipedream of writing about gambling for a living.

Understanding what it takes to be an advantage player I can relate many of the same concepts that are involved in winning in a casino to winning in business.

Do I have the best of it?  How do I maximise my edge?  How do I reduce variance?  Can I actually handle the swings?  What happens if I run bad?

Was that really a free lunch?

Right now, I am finding this more exciting than I ever imagined.

So where does taking a month off to go and gamble fit into my business plan?

This is a very good question. It really doesn’t. But I’ve always taken these extended summer trips on the basis that I’ll have a base in a house away from the action, set up an office and be able to stay in touch, and to work as much as I need to.

While that sounds great in theory, it’s not proven that effective in the past. I’ve probably spent more time in my makeshift office blogging than working the past few years. Which is why I’m just not sure how things will pan out this time, when I know I won’t be able to detach myself completely (boy did I have a panic when I thought I’d lost the US sim card for my iPhone yesterday) and I’m still struggling with the idea of taking a small step back to have some fun for a while.

There’s a balance to be found between spending a month in fantasy land and keeping my real life ticking over the way I want to. It might take a few days, but I’m going to find it!

I really hope I’ll be able to keep on blogging too. After all, it’s the only way I’ll ever remember the stuff that – well, the stuff I choose to remember 🙂

And so, for anyone that made it this far, the trip report finally begins. Expect somewhere between 1 and 28 more entries, and then I’m probably done.

Heads up

I have to admit I’ve been really slack about capitalising on betting offers for this year’s World Cup.  It’s one of the best promotional times for bookmakers and I just haven’t been scouting for them, or pretending to be various members of my family, as I rightfully should.

In fact, I even received a similar offer to the one I’m playing this weekend before now and completely let it pass me by.  I’m a disgrace to the profession of bonus whoring right now.

Sporting Index miss me so much that they’ve given me 25 quid to bet with, and this time I’m going to use it.  I still have a bit of a balance left with them from previous offers, and although they said this is promotional money for a free bet, it’s actually been all lumped together into one balance.

Such is the fun of spread betting that you can think you’re gambling with £25 of someone else’s money and end up owing them much more of your own if things don’t go your way.  With a stop-loss limit of five goals, a £25 per goal bet on the winner of the World Cup Final – which is what it seems like they’re offering at first – is far from a risk-free opportunity with this offer.  You could lose the free £25 and have to cough up another £100 out of your own pocket.

It would appear that it’s similar to their previous promotions that give you a refund on losses, except instead of give you the money back when you lose, this time they give it to you first to bet with, then take it away at the end if you win.

However, with no interest in or knowledge of the football whatsoever this year, I clearly didn’t want any more exposure than the free £25 this weekend.

Which was quite a challenge, if you want to place a no-risk bet that actually has the chance of a significant upside.  Obviously, I do.

My selection process involved looking down the list of markets for small numbers.  Assuming that I could buy low and hope for some kind of miracle that would result in at least a two-figure payoff.

Buy total goals a@ 2.3?  To limit the risk to £25, that’s £10.87 per goal.  A three-goal match wins £7.61, four goals £18.48, five goals £29.35.  That doesn’t sound so great.

Multi-corners, buy @ 27.  This used to be a regular favourite of mine when I wanted to bet on a match and didn’t care who was playing.  Spending 90 minutes cheering for nothing but corners makes for quite an interesting game, and as the result is based on number of first-half corners multiplied by number of second-half corners, if things got busy early on it made things really exciting.  But this time, I’d have to buy at less than £1 per point, and we’re looking for a result of at least 50 to make things worthwhile.  That’s more than 7 corners needed in each half before things get interesting.

The winner, though, came in the form of one of the most ridiculous bets I’ve done yet.  Headed Goal Minutes.  The result is the sum of the minutes on the clock for all the goals scored by headers.

I don’t remember ever seeing this market before, so I don’t know if it’s fairly new and available all the time, or just wheeled out for big games.  If I can actually be bothered to watch the game, this bet will bring a whole new energy to my support for both teams.  Buying @ 22 means I can put more than a quid per point on it, and all I need for a decent win is one headed goal in the second half.

Two or more headers in the back of the net, and I’m totally laughing.

Easy money, right?