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Day 7: Be prepared

I’m a little disappointed this picture didn’t turn out clearer.  You may just have to take my word for it.

Back to school – be prepared.  With this excellent range of alarm clocks, pepper sprays and stun guns.  For those wishing to be discreet in their classroom defence activities, there’s even a “stun pen”.

This is perfectly normal?

Day 6: Steve Wynn is watching you

The Wynn proudly announced a new iPhone app today and I was keen to see if they’d managed to make a better job of it than Harrah’s or MGM.

Oddly, for a casino that went to such great lengths to create the world’s most unusable and slow-to-load web site, they’ve plumped for an off-the-shelf app by Mobile Roadie, crowbarring a platform designed for musicians to just about fit rather than creating their own monstrosity from scratch.

It’s nothing special, but I imagine the priority with creating this was to give iPhone users a way to actually get information about the property without needing to create a non-flash web site, and in that respect it’s a success.

Now they just need to give web users a similarly straightforward way to find what they’re looking for.  In fact, I’d much rather use the app to find information about the Wynn than have to put up with Steve Wynn’s narration while trying to catch the section I’m looking for as it flies past my mouse pointer.

Here’s what bothers me though.  A bit later in the day I noticed that the location services indicator was stuck on on my phone.  It took me a while to figure out why, and I killed every app I could find that looked like it might still be running, and even rebooted the phone.  Still something was watching my every movement.

Eventually I found it from the location settings.  Wynn must have asked if it could check my location, but I generally don’t care about that to start with and say yes to everything, as it’s easier to switch it off than give permission later if an app does happen to do something awesome that uses your location.

Having now played with the app and realised that it actually uses location for nothing except, presumably, tracking who is using the app, I turned it off.

And then, magically, the location services indicator in the title bar just disappeared.

The location indicator in the title bar is a new feature in the latest iPhone operating system.  Notably, the Wynn app hides the whole title bar when it’s running – so you can’t tell it’s watching you.

It’s one thing checking where users are when they launch an app to track distribution.  Some might find it a little invasive, but really it does no harm.

However if you keep polling the user’s location for no good reason, even when the app isn’t active, and without any function in the app needing that information, it’s nothing short of stalking.

Is this the next generation of casino surveillance? Who’s to say they’re not also secretly taking your picture using the iPhone 4′s front-facing camera and hooking it into the casino’s facial recognition system?

Probably not possible on the Mobile Roadie platform, but maybe that’s just a front after all.

I’ll get my tin foil hat eh?

Would you like sushi with your boobies?

Don’t ask me why I’m getting texts from a titty bar.  This was actually on Claire’s phone anyway.  Rather random.

Day 4: Slippery

Look at this magnificent array of novelty slippers, which were on display in the prize cabinet at the Four Queens as part of their July promotion.

I was almost certain one of these would always be the bottom tier prize and so I felt the chances of walking away with froggies on my feet were pretty high.

Usually when we stay there, they give us three free nights, all the food we can handle and $200 in free play for showing up.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.

Sometimes, when there’s a slot promotion running at the same time, the free play isn’t included; instead the promo usually works out about the same value based on the action needed to keep this offer coming, you just get paid at the end rather than up front.

This time the promotion awarded a paltry $20 in free play, and to make matters worse we got stiffed on the slippers too.

It’s a novelty wall clock.

The James Dean theme of the clock still confuses me.  I don’t get it at all.  Especially when the way you pick your prizes is by selecting from a number of tins.  And those tins all have pictures of Elvis on.

If there’s some six degrees of Kevin Bacon connection between Las Vegas and James Dean (or even Elvis and James Dean) that I haven’t figured out, could you fill me in?

The clock is huge, too.  Maybe 15 inches across.  I’m not one to throw away casino tat, but I’d have to really like this to make it worth packing to take home.  And, as you may have gathered, I’m not a fan.

So if anyone actually loves this, or desperately wants a new clock, you’ll have to ask me really really nicely :)

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.