Monday, May 25, 2009


I probably shouldn't be sharing this...
but, today I repaired a sprinkler pipe that was broken under a root-probably one of the most difficult repairs I've made. Anyway, there were a number of mosquitos, and during the process, one actually managed to...bite me right in the testicle. Through my shorts and underwear, it bit me. It was really unpleasant; muddy hands don't do well for scratching somewhere that must remain clothed.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vegas! Railsconf 2009

I spent this past week in Las Vegas at Railsconf. It was a pretty great experience - there's so many gems (har har) and apis and potential I just have to get started using some of them. Vegas was really nice, also - it's a city that definitely grew on me. Some might say the glitz and glamor is tacky, but I really enjoyed the city. Part of it was probably that I spent most of the day in an interesting conference, bringing down expenses and keeping me from getting bored of the city. It's kind of astounding to me how much extravagance there is in the city. There's a lot to be said for Railsconf, but that's mostly intellectual, and I figured the vacation part would be the interesting part to talk about.

One of the really nice (and amusing) things about Vegas is the monorail system. For whatever reason, I just am not fond of bus systems - it may be that Toledo and Atlanta's bus systems aren't the nicest, and they're hard to work with (exact change, late arrivals, etc.) Whatever the reason, I much prefer subways, trains, and monorails. The monorail system had spiels that were full of bad jokes - we recorded many of them and hope to put them on a website soon.

We spent a lot of the first night taking the monorail around and just walking the strip, and we soon discovered that neither of us was decisive enough to make picking a restaurant easy. We ended up at Margaritaville, which became very un-Margarita-ville-like. It was basically a night club, although a cover band later changed the atmosphere away from hip-hop and more toward at least classic rock. We also discovered that in Vegas, they charge a *lot* for drinks (even soda), which would lead us to drink mostly water the rest of the week.

One weird thing at the conference is that there wasn't a vending machine, but rather a person stocking a vending area...and pop cost 1.75 more (3.75 vs $2) there.

I think the second night we spent in the middle of the strip, seeing things like the Bellagio fountains, and I think we ate at the MGM's cheaper Sushi place (Grand Wok). The second night we had to be in earlier, because the monorail closed early; we found out the hard way about the two days of early closings the first night, and we had to take a cab. The fountains are just as awesome as I remembered, and Cesar's palace and the Bellagio area are very posh.

The third night we spent on the far end (from the Hilton) of the strip. Exploring the strip was very interesting; even though we saw many of the casinos over the course of our explorations, there were still tons (and many parts of the ones we did visit) that we didn't get to see. It's just such an extensive downtown with *so many* large hotels.

The MGM in particular was one of my (and probably everyone's) favorites, because it's just so nice and extensive. That, and lions are just cool :D. We spent one night exploring mainly on that end of the strip, near many of the more famous hotels - the Excalibur, the Luxor, etc. We also rode the New York, New York roller coaster, "Roller Coaster" (better known as Manhattan Express). You can see more about that in my CF post. We also explored through the luxor, which I hadn't realized is actually internally connected to Mandalay Bay and the Excalibur. We were lucky enough to sneak on the elevator with some hotel guests - or should I say inclinator! The Luxor, being a pyramid, actually has elevators that go at an angle - it's a very strange sensation. Once you're up top, the views are really cool - you're basically looking down into the main lobby of the place. It's a very cool experience- highly recommended if you can catch people going on them, tailgate them, and act discrete (you need a room key to get on the elevator).

We headed back toward Mandalay Bay, and unfortunately missed the Burger Bar (it closed at 11), which was one my friend had highly recommended. We then had a similar problem to one we'd experienced at the hotel the first night - that Vegas's food closes way before the city does. Come 11PM, you're going to be hard pressed to find food that's open. Even the bars stop serving food early (we checked with a few that said they weren't serving food anymore). Also, the shark reef is unbelievably far back into Mandalay - we walked almost all the way there, and I jogged that last bit so Kevin wouldn't have to walk anymore. Along the way, we checked every restaurant, and found out about a weird policy - the restaurants make the hostesses wait until everyone is gone to leave. So, many restaurants appear open that aren't, because the hostess must wait around. We ended up getting food at Nathan's Famous (a fast food place that serves things like Cheesesteaks), which wasn't the most fancy food in Vegas. It was tasty, and reasonably cheap, though (and also open after midnight!).

The forth night we ended up staying in because of the keynotes, lightning sessions, and "Birds of a feather" talks. Fortunately, the hotel had a Hibachi place (Benihana's). That was definitely tasty, and we had good company, too - a couple of guys who worked with a firm that matches up companies with quality rebranders so they can put the value of their brand to use and be sure that they aren't damaging it with poor quality products. Really nice guys; they were in town for the national hardware conference (and they joked about there being hardware/software conferences in town at the same time). Apparently they travel a lot; they said they had more than 2 million frequent flier miles...but apparently when you have that many, you don't feel like using them! Also, they said that the insides of conference rooms really look the same anywhere. That night, we managed to find our way out to the pool and private balcony areas. They provided a cool view of Vegas, and were also weirdly silent at like midnight. You could see some hotels far from the strip that were still lit up; we later found out that this part of Vegas was the old downtown (we visited it the next day).

The last day of the conference (the fifth night), we went out and rode Speed and the rides at the Stratosphere tower (again, see CF post for more details) (important lesson: bring contacts or a glasses strap. I normally wear contacts, but I accidentally left them in GA). The view on the Stratosphere is truly gives a great overview of Vegas, and it also shows the old downtown. It's really very weird how much smaller things are in the old downtown. Then, we tried to get a steak dinner, where we learned another important lesson - you need to make reservations for good steak in Vegas. We tried to go to Circus Circus, but they were booked until late, and the same was true of the steak places in MGM. We ended up getting Shibuya (Sushi) at MGM.
That night, we went to see Ka (Cirque du Soleil), since they had a student discount. We had really good seats (6th row), and the performance was *awesome*. They took the spinning drummer idea of the newsboys and took it at least 5 steps farther - basically the entire stage was mobile and movable in 3 dimensions, and they could also project on to it. At one point the stage basically became a rotating climbing wall, which was really cool. It was a very cool experience. Also, they had a very extensive build-out on either side of the auditorium; the kinds of platforms you would expect to see in a video game. You can kind of tell in the pictures...when we got there, we were worried that most of the action would take place there, but it turns out that was only used a few times...but it was *still* huge and extravagant.

That night, we took a taxi down to the "Fremont Street Experience," which you can see in the photos and video. Vegas basically took their old downtown and made an LED-covered canopy over it. I'd love to know how they do their editing. Anyway, it's very fitting, as that was from the days when Vegas was know for all their flashing lights, neon, etc. It's very cool that they preserved some of the old area. Of course, one only needs to look at the Desert Inn to see that Vegas can still be as cold-hearted to their landmarks as many American cities, but at least they preserved many of them. It was very cool to me to see Binion's, as I had done a report that mentioned their million dollar display (the report was on Salmon P Chase). It's also odd to think how a sketchy, slightly criminal town could go so high-class. Also, apparently the carpet in Binion's is from the extra when they originally carpeted it, which is pretty awesome. Oh, and it's also really weird how much smaller things used to be! The old casinos are so much smaller than the new makes you wonder how they fit so many games in there (they probably didn't).
Oh, and the cab driver was very cool as well...he apparently had been in Vegas since the time when there wasn't much to do. His dad owned an RV shop and had worked on the bus for I think Mohammad Ali...who he thought was going to kill his dad when he called Ali's driver an n-word. Very cool stuff; he got to see Vegas in all its stages of growth. Oh, and apparently he said that the police and cabbies there have kind of a standing bad relationship, which I was kind of surprised about. Anyway, getting to see that old part of Vegas was definitely very cool, and I'm glad they preserved it.

I guess maybe part of good vacationing skills are that you don't get everything in, so that you don't get bored and still want to go back? Seems logical :D.

We summed up the experience as adventure and walking :D. I got a ton of walking done, and learned a new framework (that I'm starting to get excited about), and Kevin tried Sushi and Hibachi. It was a great time, and I'd definitely like to go back sometime.