July 2010
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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.