I have been here in Las Vegas a little over 24 hours. So far I have been asked by a cop if I have been arrested before, and been blatantly short-changed in Starbucks; I have been to one tourist attraction where the weather was so fine that we could not reach it for the crowds and then immediately to another where the weather was so vile we could see nothing. Oh, and my laptop, my mobile office equipped for every eventuality, has died on me and I have a webinar to do on Tuesday. Things can only get better.
I am here for CEIC, the Computer and Enterprise Investigations Conference, for a meeting of Guidance Software’s Strategic Advisory Board and for a conference which has added an excellent e-Discovery layer to its primary forensic purpose. Last year it was in Orlando, preceding the London IQPC Summit by just enough time to allow me to get to IQPC from Gatwick. This year it comes just after IQPC, giving me two days to do the turnaround. One of the things which I found time to do was to set up Gmail properly and to copy all my contacts to it – providential, as it turned out, for reasons which will appear.
Did you know that BA upgrades using Air Miles have to be done 72 hours in advance? Nor did I, which is how I came to do the 11 hour flight in steerage. I was interested to see that the middle-aged French couple next to me both assuaged their nerves on take-off by squeezing her thigh. How does he cope when he travels alone, I wondered. And someone brought a baby along to keep us awake. I spent part of the journey reorganising my laptop – largely a waste of time, as it turned out.
The car waiting for me at Las Vegas, a very eye-catching Mercedes, unfortunately caught the eye of a traffic cop, who banged on my window. I struggled out of my seat-belt just as the driver lowered the window. “Not strapped in?” asked the policeman as he took my passport. “Have you ever been arrested?”. All you need, really, after 11 hours in Economy, but fortunately he let us go.
This place is not really an hotel but a casino with bedrooms and a conference centre attached. Downstairs are acres of tables and machines at which the hopeless hopeful sit whilst lightly-dressed young ladies bring drinks. Neither age nor gender are barriers here – I saw a middle-aged woman, too old, I thought, for this sort of thing, until I realised that her wheelchair-bound companion was obviously her mother. I imply no moral disapproval here – with New Labour still warm in its grave, it feels liberating to be somewhere where you can smoke indoors, gamble and eye up under-dressed totty, even if only one of those fits my own vice profile. It is not a place for subtlety or for English notions of good taste. The English, I decided, must have “sucker” stamped on their forehead – if I operated a till which showed the change due at the customer’s eye height, I don’t think I would try short-changing said customer; the Starbucks girl was unabashed when I pointed out the $5 shortfall. Like everyone else here, she was probably gambling on the customers being slow on the uptake.
In contrast to the public spaces, the bedrooms are extremely tasteful. I could happily spend a week in here – I might have cracked all the electronic gadgetry by then, and used all the beds and basins. I am not brave enough for all the functionality offered by the lavatory – I can cope with the lid which rises automatically as you approach, with the warmed seat, and with the flush which works as you step away from it, but I can’t quite bring myself to recite, let alone try, the more advanced functionality. The potential for something to go wrong does not bear thinking about.
The potential for something to go wrong with my laptop did not cross my mind – it has just worked since the day I bought it and has everything needed for working away from my office – so much so that I recklessly agreed to do a webinar with Recommind whilst in Las Vegas. I was worried, I will admit, about some aspects of doing this, particularly after staying in a Central London hotel last week whose Internet connection was too feeble to use. What I did not bank on was my much-loved Toshiba packing up on me. It took me longer than it should have done to deduce that the 100% CPU usage, the frequent unexpected reboots and the roaring fan were symptoms of a cooling failure. Normally, I would just abandon it and rely on my BlackBerry, but you cannot take part in a webinar with slides on a BlackBerry. “No problem”, said Browning Marean, who appeared just as I had diagnosed the problem, ” just buy another one”.
He drove me to a vast warehouse selling every kind of electronic equipment. An Acer Aspire One cost $299. A couple of weeks ago, my mother had lighted on the same one when I took her round PC World in Leeds, but had not actually bought it. If I bought one here, I reasoned, it would see me through the week and I could give it to her – for one whose first laptop cost £2,500, the idea of laptop-as-commodity takes some adjustment. A couple of hours downloading and installing got it equipped to do everything I need except dictating into it (so this is being typed painfully by hand, a habit I have more or less abandoned).The only app which I have had to buy is Kaspersky Internet Security. Microsoft Office has a 60-day trial and my mother will need that anyway. It has Acrobat Reader. Skype and Picasa are freely downloadable, and Picasa now handles RAW files so I can get at my photographs (I will do them properly when I get back to my proper editing tools but the ones here will do for now). I got my laptop running for just long enough to copy the files off it (so all that reorganizing on the plane was worth it after all, because everything was to hand). Web mail works fine and, as I have said, Gmail has fortuitously got all my contacts in it. Whether my mother will actually get this extremely neat little box from me remains to be seen.
Browning and I had identified two things to see, the Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon. The day was still pleasant when we set off for the Hoover Dam, and it was perhaps not surprising that the rest of Nevada had had the same idea. We abandoned the queue and contented ourselves with a view of the reservoir, whose levels are well down – you can see the shortfall from the whitened rim many feet above the waterline. The horizon is miles away, and we realised long before we got there that Red Rock Canyon was under heavy cloud. We went anyway, but I cannot truly say that I have seen it.
Nineteen floors below me the conference will be set up by now. Master Whitaker is here, as is US Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck, for a judicial panel which I will report on in due course. There will be other sessions worth going to, and plenty of people to catch up with.
The laptop debacle has shown me where the holes are in my ability to keep working wherever I am, and it will cost little to be just that little better prepared next time. I have just had a three-way video conference call with Browning Marean and George Socha on Skype’s new beta which adds that facility; we will be planning November’s Thomson Reuters London conference on a shared spreadsheet on Google Docs. Woolly talk about The Cloud suddenly comes to mean something – the biggest challenge will be to make sure that I can keep track of data generated and received by all these different communications tools.