AWS Re:Invent (Las Vegas 2016)

Las Vegas and Work seem to be incongruous, but somehow last week I found myself in the middle of the Mojave desert in a city that only can be described as something else, at AWS Re:Invent 2016, Amazon’s annual cloud computing conference. Here are my ramblings and photos on the week and maybe a few thoughts.

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I’d never been to anywhere west side of the US before, so this was certainly new ground for me, and flying for 11 hours could have been more comfortable if it wasn’t for the hen party I’d been put with. A man marooned on an island of Prosecco. Window seat. Economy class blanket.

Once we flew into Nevada though, the view was spectacular, stunning mountains and desert, rocky bits. The Hoover Dam just nearby. It was like flying above Mars but then Vegas starts and you realise you’re on another planet entirely.

Needless to say that first day was pretty rough for jet lag, our taxi driver wasn’t subtle with his intolerance for others. Wasn’t a fan of Obama.

Le Accommodation

We were staying at the Paris Hotel, an establishment what aliens might build if they saw a book about France. A popular trend inside seemed to be to prefix everything with le, Lose your money at le casino, go to le restrooms, eat a shrimp at le restaurant, see a man at le desk, buy a thing a le shop.

I shouldn’t complain though, this was Las Vegas, nothing is off the table and they don’t do things by halves. Hotel was absolutely huge, certainly the biggest I’ve ever been in, nearly 3,000 rooms in total. My little corner of Paris was on the 28th floor.

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You used the gladiators thing on the bed as weaponry for the French Revolution LARP held by the pool

Room was nice, good air conditioning, nice bathroom and sound insulation. Coffee machine was next to the sink.

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View from my room, lovely mountains in the background. TRUMP hotel poking through the middle there. He knows.

The weather was fairly cool, but dry. Very dry. Needed a robust lip moisturising routine. Liberal application required.

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I liked this corridor to the elevators. They were express ones too, convenient.

The Strip

Cultural appropriation at its finest, you can be in Venice one minute, Rome the next. Just walking between the hotels, or to give them their proper name resorts, took a good 15 minutes or so, and that’s not including the walk once you get inside. They’re modern day cathedrals to consumerism.

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Taking (your wallet) for a romantic gondola ride

The place looks more interesting at night, a flamboyant and ostentatious display of lights, sound, smell. Fountains. I didn’t take a picture of the fountains at the Bellagio because I couldn’t be bothered to wait and walking takes such a long time. I saw glimpses of them though, if you just look on google you can imagine it:

The strip isn’t very amenable to pedestrians, with a six lane each way road running through the middle. Be prepared for a series of bridges and crossings to navigate your way over, along with running the gauntlet of strip club canvassers thrusting cards into your face asking if you want to see a strip club.

One guy was dressed up as Santa Claus holding a sign saying T’is the Season, For a Strip Club.

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My phone camera is rubbish sorry

On one of the days, I just happened to be walking between the resorts to attend one of the conference sessions and the road suddenly became eerily quiet, a pregnant pause, something was going on. A harsh growl rumbled in the distance, police car lights oscillating, confusion in the crowd, and then suddenly a procession of NASCAR…cars thundered down the road.

The sound was immense, throaty engines tearing up the asphalt. Once passed where I was standing they did burnouts and donuts a bit further up, I tried to capture it on camera but my amateur snapping and sub par phone camera messed it up, but it was enjoyable none the less, a bit of serendipity to enliven the day. I like using the word serendipity, it just happens to be one of my favourites.

Awful sound quality from my phone there
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You can sort of see the NASCARs (is that the right term?)

Cuisine

A lot of the food was provided at the conference, served with military precision for breakfast and lunch which was really nice, but on some of the days I managed to eat at a few of the basic chain establishments that you probably find all over the US, as well as ones being unique to Vegas.

On the first night we ended up staring at Gordon Ramsey’s face to sample the delights of his burger themed restaurant burGR.

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burGR. burger. BURGordonRamsey. Get it?

The burger was fine, moist. Good lettuce arrangement. You ordered beer on an iPad.

Breakfast at Denny’s was fun, filling. Spongy eggs.

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Nothing like splashing out $11 on a burger at Wendy’s either.

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Purified water. No impure water from Caesers. Snacks from Walgreens

Conference

Vegas is supposed to be there for people to unwind, but I was there for Business. Business has no time for gambling, or strip clubs, or shopping at Rolex. I was there to learn. To work. To absorb, To business chat.

The conference was easily the biggest one I’ve ever been to, 32,000 attendees spread across The Venetian, The Mirage and Encore. Huge logistical undertaking I’m sure, but very enjoyable. A lot of interesting talks, and good refreshments. The official conference app helped a lot with the schedule and getting you to where you needed to be.

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Keynote speech, and one of the talks in the Venetian Theatre.

The hall where the keynote speeches were being held was astonishing in its breadth, I’m not sure how many it held but probably northward of 20,000.

Werner Vogels — Amazon CTO before everyone had arrived into the hall

They had Reggie Watts and his band on the night before, preceding a talk about Network Switches and data centre infrastructure. A strange combination when you’re holding a can of beer and eating popcorn.

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Reggie Watts before the Network Switches

I have a tonne of notes on the sessions, and I’m going to need a while to write them up and try and digest them all, but from a general perspective I thought it was a very good if you work with systems that run on AWS. There were around 400 talks I think, given time was short, and to save my legs, I only attended a fraction of those during the week, along with a few private meetings with AWS product teams.

Since returning I haven’t had time to check out all the new services they announced, the catalogue of things they offer now is so big they’re going to need a dictionary.

The talks are all on youtube here if you’re into that sort of thing, and I’m sure over the coming days I’ll catch up with the ones I wanted to go to but had scheduling conflicts, but personally I attended

On the final night the conference ended with a huge party, which was held nearby in two huge mega structures. They had The Number One DJ In The World™ Martin Garrix doing a set, and the production was pretty spectacular. Very impressive and enjoyable evening to round off a great week.

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Intel logos at a technology conference party.
That drop

No conference would be complete without getting some swag, and from the sounds of it Amazon were pretty generous this year, especially with the Echo Dot. Unfortunately it has a US plug and I forgot to pick up an adapter before flying back.

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Echo Dot, hoody, water bottle and baseball cap. A good haul.

Gambling

Real Business People gamble, and party hard. Being in Vegas, I duly inserted a $5 note into a slot machine, probably with the worst odds in the Casino and lost all of it on a matter of 5 spins on the dial. A thoroughly underwhelming experience all round, I promptly left for a Power Snack.

There’s something interesting about Vegas and the Casinos, like when you wake up and walk out after a good nights sleep and see people still playing blackjack and all slot machines at 6:30am. The pull of the lever. The excitement of the win. The free drinks. The feeding of the notes, the machine will take it. It always takes it.

One day I will learn how to play one of the table games and lose all my money, but for this trip, I merely skimmed the a very, very tiny slice of this culture and lost some money in the process. Given more time I might have tried a bit harder and lost more money for the fun of it, but for now I’m happy that I contributed a small amount to a casino empire with an operating revenue of $4.65bn and assets totalling $12bn.

In conclusion

The conference was excellent, a well oiled machine and lots of choice in talks. My biggest gripe was the need to walk so much between sessions, but at least it got you outside a bit, instead of having to navigate through the miles and miles of the resorts. All the staff were friendly and helpful.

As I was on a trip for work, the location was OK, the hospitality industry in the US is very customer centric and they seemed to have that down to a tee in Vegas. I suppose there is only a few places in the world where they have enough hotel rooms to accommodate 32,000+ people at any one time.

As a holiday destination though? I’m not sure, Vegas is almost like a cartoon, a theme park. There were, sadly, a lot of homeless people around, fishing through bins and some who were evidently mentally unwell. Homelessness exists everywhere and it would be hypocritical of me to say this is unique to Vegas, but I suspect it’s particularly acute in some parts of the US, or at least a lot more visible.

Combined with the strip club canvassers, drug peddlers, lone slot machine players and drunks, it just felt a bit seedy to me. If you’re rich you can probably just get carted around in a Bentley and eat at the finest restaurants after your Baccarat sessions without walking the strip, but for everyone else? Be prepared to look past it I guess, but don’t forget it when you insert $30 into your favourite Titanic (1997) themed slot machine.

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video game fan. software engineer @ Cloudflare (opinions own)

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