Thursday, June 29, 2006

My decision to attend Cisco Networkers 2006 was a good one.  My decision to ever put a dollar into a Vegas slot machine, not a good one.  Now that I've been in Las Vegas for just shy of two weeks, I can honestly say that I'd live here if a lucrative opportunity presented itself.  Travel to and from here is cheap enough.  The cost of living off the strip is not too steep.  The climate actually makes me feel good.  I can breathe nasally 100% of the time.  Not so many allergens in the air.

The training I received in the few days at Networkers alone was worth the time and money.  It was enlightening to meet other network engineers of the same personality type who have been in the industry a lot longer than me.  And Cisco sure knows how to throw a party!  Great music and fireworks and open bar and free ice cream and all you can eat sushi. 

The timing of this trip is also a bonus.  I've seen a room with over 200 poker tables at the World Series of Poker 2006.  I got poker lessons from Phil Gordon.  I got blackjack card counting tips from Andy Bloch of the famed MIT Blackjack team.  I've watched fighter jets take off at Nellis AFB.  I've seen bodies embalmed with plastic polymer and dissected for display to the public.  I have physically handled an actual human heart.  I've stayed in hotels for absolutely free (because of my slot play. . . so, not really free.)  I've eaten many free meals.  I've collected an entire bag of free t-shirts, free decks of cards, and various hotel soap and shampoo products.  :-)   I got to see some really great UFC fights at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.  Josh Koscheck gave me his autograph and Michael Bisping posed for a pic.  

Because of some free promotions, I even checked out some topless bars.  Seamless is a nice loungy place with a large stage and very cool decor.  Sapphire Club is over the top.  Marble floors and velvet furniture and the women were postively gorgeous.  The rest of the clubs were disappointing.  And I never got to use a VIP pass to Scores, so I'm giving it to the highest bidder.  It doesn't expire.  I accumulated two more free passes for Sapphire Club, and one very questionable coupon for a "massage".  More than one cabby has offered to take me to a "house".  One purportedly has Japanese and Korean women who bathe and "massage" you and "everything" for $300.  I've been accosted by prostitutes in the casino in the Hilton.  One wanted $200 plus cab fare.  One only wanted $150 and she was hotter and very young.  This town is overrun by whores, I'd say.  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. . . and cash is what happens.  Lots of cash.  There are no less than 5 cranes operating near The Strip building new condos and hotels.  Plus, the Stardust is being prepared for demolition next month.  It really is incredible.  I was told that on their busiest nights, MGM Grand does 12 million an hour in revenue and their operating costs are 6 million an hour.  Another thing I noticed about Vegas, it's the poker capital of the world.  Poker rooms are popping up in every casino.  Some of them have the tables right by the street where the slots once were.  They take a 10% rake from every pot, up to $4 a hand.  If they can deal 100 hands an hour, I dare say they're making as much as they might make from a row of penny slot machines and none of the house money is ever at risk, since the players are playing against each other and not against the house.  

I tried to get by for a while spending as little as possible and made it through two days on only $40.  During that adventure, which revealed a completely sobering view of this city, I met a recovering crack addict named Chad at the bus stop who told me, "There is every opportunity in this town to be successful, but there's every possible trap for someone to fall into."  Just about that time one of those billboard trucks rolled by with an ad for "Hot Babes!  Direct to you!" and a phone number.  He said, "See?"  Then he told me that he's now a Christian and prays every day.  His problem is that other Christians make it hard on him, because they don't understand his situation and try to put rules on him that he finds impossible to abide by.  He works day shift security at one of the wedding chapels downtown near the marriage license bureau.  I'd say the man is working out his own salvation.  He and his friend Billy got off the bus at their rehab center just before their curfew.

My other CAT bus (read: crack bus) adventure involved getting on the wrong bus and ending up at Nellis AFB instead of my Cisco class.  I realized my mistake about 20 minutes too late to make my class, so I just decided on sightseeing.  I got to see another side of this town out there.  It's a strange mix of folks who live on the north side, and I'll leave it at that.  Apartments and trailer parks for miles.  Housekeeping staff, crackheads carrying in one hand a trashbag containing all their belongings except for a pillow which is in their other hand, and non-poser emo kids replete with chopped up hair which covers most of their face and arm scars.  I soaked in some air conditioning in Wal-Mart Supercenter, ate some Del Taco, and took the bus route back downtown.

Saturday was my favorite day.  A poker class by Phil Gordon!  I took notes and learned a lot about the game.  "Seeing the flop cheaply is usually not a good strategy."  I know that's the philosophy here.  I stopped limping and started making money.  "Play tight in a loose game, play loose in a tight game."  I made back the price of the seminar in the very next session at a loose limit game at the Stratosphere.  I played no more than two hands per orbit, if that many.  I never called.  I always raised.  I won almost every hand I was involved in.  It felt great.

The plastination exhibit called "Bodies" at the Tropicana made me kind of emotional at first.  I was looking at dead people.  The preserved fetuses were supremely interesting.  You can see bones and toes at four weeks.  They showed some plastinated specimens with common birth defects and listed the causes.  Kinda sad to see dead babies who had no chance, but I'm enlightened to have seen it.  They have body parts plastinated and placed under glass.  I got to see what a smoker's lung looks like compared to a non-smoker.  I will never smoke.  Never.  If your skin discolored the way your lung does when you smoke, nobody would.  I got to see a slice of a liver where someone's cancer had metasticized and you can see the flawed liver tissue.  They had people walking around in lab coats answering anatomy questions and displaying the plastinated body parts.  They had a complete circulatory system plastinated and suspended in a liquid.  Iand another fellow were trying to figure out how they got the bones out.  I suppose since they had filled the veins with plastic, they just used enzymes to eat the bones and tissue away.  What was left was postively beautiful.  The vessels in a jejunum when displayed is bright blue plastic, if you didn't know what you were looking at, look like a decorative pattern.  The way everything trees out from the heart, lungs, and liver and supplies every part is fantastic to view.  You had a 1 in 9000 chance to have your innards inverse of everyone else, with no adverse effect.  That means your heart would be on the right and stomach on the left.  Three lobes of lung on the left and two on the right.  I was boggled by that bit of unique trivia.  The nervous system is just as fantastic.  The even spacing of the nerves that branch off through your muscles and fascia to supply every centimeter of your skin with a sense of touch. . . hot, cold, pleasure, and pain. . . positively amazing to actually view.  Getting to see a diaphragm muscle in a relaxed (exhale) state and a flexed (inhale) state is also cool.  It' makes a little dome when it's relaxed and when it flexes, it goes flat and pulls air into your lungs.  I got to handle a liver, which is a surprisingly large and heavy organ.  And an actual human heart.  I peeked inside the valves and checked out the chambers.  I was surprised how small, delicate, and light it is.  It's the size of a fist, but hollow.  Dark meat.  The heart muscles look much different than skeletel muscle.  Enough about that.  I can't do it justice in words.  Suffice it to say that our bodies are amazing machines and getting to see the layers peeled or sliced or dissolved away so you could lay eyes on them was worth every penny of $24.  I'll never forget it.

I spent time by the pool, which I rarely get to do on a Vegas vacation, because there's usually not enough time to see everything and have time for that.  But it's been consistently over 100 degrees.  Pool time was necessary this trip.  I got a skin treatment and hot stone massage and a haircut at the salon/spa in the Flamingo.  Money well spent.  It melted away all the stress.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Network Nerd Invasion

Too late with the slot machine advice, bro.  I've sworn off of them for a long time after yesterday's burn.  I held my own in poker, but my full house met four of a kind, and betting top two pair didn't matter when some guy with more money than sense rivered a set, and nobody cares about your preflop raise in a 2/4 limit game at the Golden Nugget, but now I don't have the bankroll for much more.  Not sure I want to do much more gambling, really.  I can do that at home.  I need to learn the no-limit game.  BADLY!  There's a tournament starting every few hours downtown.  I want to enter the 1am tourney this weekend, maybe. My ticket for Ultimate Fight Night at the Hard Rock Cafe on Sunday afternoon is secured.  I'm THERE!! 
My biggest win was at the vendors event at this conference.  Free sushi buffet!  Free shirts and schwag.  Way cool.  At one booth, I won a Deal or No Deal thingy and got $10 cash and a flashlight keychain with a corporate logo on it for picking the right briefcase and listening to the speel.  Not bad considering it was free.
Networkers is the most amazing concentration of overpaid walking genetic mistakes per square centimeter.  That said, there's more talent in this one building right now than should be allowed to exist in one building.  Revenge of the nerds, indeed.  Most of these dudes didn't get the girl, but they are paid and have it made in the shade.  I would love to know the average IQ in here.  If not for the food service staff and the spokesmodels at these booths who have little product knowledge, it would exceed 120, and that's a conservative estimate.
The training classes go at a pace which keeps me alert, and that's saying a lot.  The top rated Global Knowledge trainers are leading the labs.  I even got to do some BGP tricks I had never tried before.  And after doing MPLS VPNs all afternoon, I'm a stud at that, too.  Well, back to socializing.  I've met some of the commercial customers I supported when I was employed.  It's interesting to hear good things about your work from the customer's perspective.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

I thought I had all the trash from the newly vacant rent house out to the curb. Some scavengers even took off with some of it. There was a fairly decent looking acoustic guitar and an old tape deck. I thought I had it all cleaned up without the need for a dumpster. . . and then I opened the storage shed! Car bumpers, broken pottery, an ugly pink chest of drawers, a broken washer and dryer, and I counted three broken lawnmowers! After walking around the outside of the house, I discovered a broken storm window and a broken window window. She stiffed me on the last month of rent, under the assumption that the deposit would cover it. Au contraire. I'm going to be calling her to collect on an invoice for this damage, I predict.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Memorial Day

"The weekends don't mean so much when you're unemployed. . . except you get to hang out with your working friends."  -Les Claypool

I haven't updated in a while, because I've been really busy doing things I didn't have time to do because of work.  And I've been applying for some select jobs online.  My interviewing skills are getting better after a few phone interviews.

Firstly, I had a great Memorial Day weekend hosting the folks.  I spent most of Sunday in Topeka with dad.  We went to the NHRA drag races at Heartland Park.  Incredible!  I must say, I've never heard a more ungodly noise than a pair of top fuel dragsters leaving the starting line.  Your ears literally hurt if you don't cover them.  I got an adrenaline rush every time.  Just the sound of a tire burn is pretty ominous, but when that tree turns green, it's like a bomb goes off. . . and keeps going off for 5 seconds.  The experience of watching drag races on TV is in no way comparable to being there.  To actually witness two cars going from standing still nearby to over 300 miles per hour a quarter mile away in just over 4 seconds is mind bending to see, hear, and feel for a newbie like me.  This was the last race of the day: Finals - Top Fuel - Doug Kalitta, 4.675 seconds, 310.98 mph., def. Brandon Bernstein, 4.691, 307.09.  I highly recommend the time and expense of actually feeling a pair of cars go by.  And Courtney and Ashley Force are kinda hot.  I didn't expect to see them filming a reality series for A&E, but these sisters raced twice on Sunday.  I saw a "these are the only curves in this sport" drag racing shirt with a female silouette.  The adrenaline/testosterone combo brings out a certain crowd, for sure.  Another interesting thing I saw was a new class of V6 turbo cars.  When the tree turns yellow the turbos spin up making a crackling and popping noise, and when the cars go, there's just a deep harmonic hum. . . and they take off like a streak.

We got back to KC in time to grill steaks and take the neice and nephew to see the Kansas City Symphony perform patriotic music, including the 1812 Overture replete with actual cannon fire, followed by one of the best choreographed fireworks displays overthe Liberty Memorial.  Hearing 35,000 people sing Yankee Doodle under their breath with a symphony orchestra in the background is a rare thing.

The old Jetta engine is out.  After a lot of trial and error with the hoist and the manipulation of jack stands on Monday, the deed is done.  I realized too late that a number system for labeling the electrical connections as I disconnected them would have been helpful.  Now I have to figure out how to wire the engine and transmission of an 1.8T Mk4.  But not after having to order some special parts and tools and moving the transmission from the old engine onto the new one. 

So much for the sabbatical.  I have a vacancy again at one of my houses.  Therefore, I have an extra mortgage payment that won't be covered by rental income.  I'm strongly considering getting a realtor's license and listing the house myself and selling it for a profit.  If I can't get the price I need, I'll just keep renting it.