Archive for the 'Neil Mukerji' category

Rage Against The Machine make it to Christmas #1

It has been an extremely interesting week for not only the British music industry, but also for the internet and social media. The battle for the UK Christmas number one single has been fought on many topics. I won’t hide my point of view here: I thought the X-Factor’s offering was painful at best, and I am delighted to have such an entertaining song at number one from RATM, but I would like to focus on how it happened.

Tracy and Jon Morter, a couple that I’d never heard of before, started a Facebook group originally titled “Rage against the x-factor“. It strived to get members to buy RATM’s “Killing In The Name“, in the hope that it might outsell the X-Factor’s single. Given that the power of traditional broadcast media and interruption marketing has meant that every X-Factor winner from 2005-2008 had been number one, this seemed like quite a task. Yet, although it was close, that campaign succeeded.

As I write, that group has just shy of 1,000,000 members. The initial growth was completely viral. Tracy and Jon invited their friends, who invited their friends, et cetera. This wave swept through my Facebook account. I can’t remember which of my friends appeared in my news feed as having joined the group, but it was enough to convince me, which means my other friends may have also seen it in their news feed, and so on.

Twitter became a vital key, attracting the attention of the likes of Stephen Fry and Bill Bailey. With retweets from celebrities came a massive following, with #ratm4xmas trending, and eventually crunch point: media attention.

Suddenly Jon Morter was being interviewed live by Jo Whiley on Radio One. Rage Against The Machine were interviewed and played live on Radio 5 – predictably ignoring their promise to keep the version clean – which of course attracted yet more attention.

Zach de la Rocha, Rage Against The Machine’s lead singer, was interviewed when their number one success was announced, and said something quite inoffensive that raised my eyebrows. He referred to the “UK kids” having “spoken”.

Here, I think he’s got it all wrong. Facebook’s insights would be able to confirm. If we consider kids to be those under 18, I wonder how many of them changed their usual music buying patterns as a result of this campaign. Aged 30, I am confident that I and my peers changed ours a lot. Prior to this week, I hadn’t bought a music single in over a decade. Why would I? Albums, yes. Yet for everything else there’s the likes of Spotify and Last FM.

Social Media has torn traditional marketing apart. It has reached to all ages. It got people’s attention when it suited them – when they checked Facebook or their Twitter feed. Traditional marketing relies on people observing bus shelter adverts, wanting to listen to radio DJs, wanting to buy a magazine or newspaper to see the adverts. In this case, it also relied, heaven forbid, on people wanting to spend their Saturday evening watching the X-Factor.

Yet Social Media marketing arrives as a message from your friends, when you decide you want to see it. Your friends have already done the research, they’ve shown an interest, and maybe you would like to as well. Simon Cowell and the X-Factor will be back – presumably at number one next week. This campaign has of course been a flash in the pan, but for Social Media, it is perhaps a coming of age. It’s a marketing tool that can be ignored no longer.

Frosty start

I need to take some photos of the cars for my BMW Car Magazine “longtermer” report which is due in today. I haven’t run the M5 for about 20 days now, and I’ve got a lot of decorating to be cracking on with, so I took the photos on the rather unglamourous surroundings of my driveway. I’ve decided to post them up here partially because it’s been a while since I’ve shown either of them, but also because it’s “cold, damn cold” this morning, and I thought Robin might like a little reminder of a classic British morning!

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There are snow showers forecast for later today, and on this firm base it will lay, but those showers are also forecast to turn to rain.

On other matters I didn’t make a great deal of progress with the decorating yesterday, but I did bizarrely get the heating and upstairs toilet fixed. I would like to concentrate more on that task today, but Diane is out so I’ll be entertaining Snoop – an activity which isn’t compatible with a steamer!

Palmer motorsport day

Diane kindly bought me a PalmerSport driving day for my 30th birthday. What’s that then? I’ll let them explain:

In one perfect day you will drive a selection of the world’s greatest track prepared road and racing cars, and you will be encouraged to push yourself – and our machinery – harder than you may have imagined possible, and all in outstanding safety. It’s the experience of a lifetime.

So this Thursday I was up at 5am, ready to pilot the M5 to Bedford Autodrome. An interesting place!

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I arrived to find myself 1 of 30 participants – a mixture of individuals and small corporate groups. While all very informal, it was to be a competition, with awards for each car driven. Some other attendees had their own lid and racing boots – all rather intimidating! A glance around the car park saw the M5 in good company – M coupes, 911s and the odd DB9. Even more intimidating! After a quick cooked breakfast, I was delighted to discover that the track was damp, and my first car was on slicks. Time to jump into a romper suit and pixie boots!

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First car of the day was a Formula Jaguar single seater, billed as “a window into the world of F1”. I can certainly say I’ve never driven a car which requires the steering wheel be removed to get on board before.

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Some stats on this car.  A 3 litre V6 generating 250bhp. The car doesn’t weigh very much, so it does 0-60mph in just 3.1 secs. The brakes are magnificent: no servo assist, but given plenty of beef they offer eyeball squashing deceleration. It has a clutch pedal, but gear changes were all applied through paddles on the steering wheel, and with the exception of setting off in 1st and returning to a standstill, there’s no need to use the clutch pedal. The throttle can be mashed to the floor, and the car manages the upshifts perfectly. Changes are fast, the steering is fast, the car is fast. It’s the perfect go-kart!

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This certainly woke me up! I could tell I was doing well – despite some hairy slides I didn’t spin and I’m pretty sure I was in the minority there – but one or two others were certainly moving quickly. I can’t think that I’ve ever been in a faster car, and given how badly I cope with G force at theme parks, I’m a bit surprised I didn’t notice any issues when nailing the throttle, or on the brakes.

Interestingly – perhaps because we weren’t accompanied – the organisers chose not to rank our performance on best lap times (as they were to on most other cars), but instead on lap data. Needless to say I didn’t win this, but I can’t tell how well I did compared with my competition.

So we moved on. Mainly for a bit of fun to fill some time before the next real car was ready, we indulged in a spot of karting. Single engined, but in good condition, outdoors (wet), with enough room for the odd overtake. I was pleased to hear I obtained the 4th quickest lap time across the day (from that field of 30), just 0.96 seconds behind the quickest man.

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Next I hopped into a Palmer Jaguar JP1 two seater, for my first experience with one of the trained instructors.

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Now the trouble here is that I’ve never really been particularly interested in going fast. I am especially interested in driving fast machinery at least a little bit sideways. So here I had to put that to the back of my mind, and focussed on being smooth, studied my lines, and above all listening to someone who really knew the car and track. I quickly realised I could have driven the single seater considerably faster in places! Another 3 litre V6, but a slightly heavier car – still a 0-60mph time of 3.5 seconds though. Like the single seater, plenty of grip, plenty of power, loads of brakes and that fantastic paddle gearbox.

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Certainly the quality of my competition became painfully apparent: I posted 18th from 30. Again I hadn’t spun, but I soon realised I had to try harder!

The 4th car of the day was one of the two I have been particularly been looking forward to – a Caterham 7. A traditional H-gate gearbox this time, but still a far cry from any car I’ve ever owned. Here’s my kind sponsor Diane modelling with a road prepared Caterham.

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Fast, and grippy to a point, but then – the tail would wag. This led to a strange first lap while I got used to the car and my instructor got used to me. But then, we all clicked together and we were off!

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Once my instructor had the confidence to shout “keep the power, keep the power” while we’re oversteering at goodness knows how many miles an hour, I had a whale of a time. Afterwards my instructor was most enthusiastic, telling me it was a great drive and a decent lap time. I came 14th. Hmm. Interestingly the 13 who were faster than me ran in the other session (we were divided into 2 groups of 15 for the day), so I wonder if there was a subtle change in the course, or perhaps if the track was dry for the other session.

Finally before lunch, we moved to the first normal car of the day: a race prepared Jaguar XKR. A 4.2 supercharged V8 producing 420 bhp, with paddle shift gearbox. So it should have been a lot more fun to drive than the M5, right?

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Wrong. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, I just didn’t gel with my instructor. He was enabling and disabling the car’s traction control system to keep things in shape. I wasn’t trying to power slide everywhere (really, I wasn’t), but when he was bellowing “more power” while effectively engaging and disengaging the throttle like a digital switch it made it rather hard to control.

But significantly more irritating than this was the car’s woeful, awful, and frankly retarded automatic gearbox. That’s right – while it has paddles like the Formula Jaguar cars, this was just a remote control for the pot noodle that appears to sit between the car’s engine and the prop shaft. As such I concluded that the car was rubbish – the M5 was significantly better – at least a league ahead.

All this said, I came 6th, so clearly everyone else had similar issues.

After a sumptuous luncheon we arrived at the moment I’d been looking forward to most of all: the Porsche 911 JP3. This was the first time I’d ever driven a rear engined car. These 911s had the 3.6 litre flat six that delivers 320bhp, gifting a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds. I thought this was going to be great.

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It wasn’t. Same story as the Jag XKR really. An instructor that I didn’t gel with (to be clear, all the instructors were good, but some more on my wavelength than others), and another shonky gearbox. I don’t like changing gear by appointment, especially when the engine is, most unnaturally, behind me.

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A really interesting exercise certainly, but it did quench my thirst for a Porsche. I posted another 18th place. What a shame.

Without pausing for breath, I was straight into the next car: a Renualt Clio cup racer – the only FWD motor of the day. With a 2 litre four-banger and a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds, it should have been fun.

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It was! I got on well with my instructor, and the gearbox, and we scrabbled our way to an 8th place. More interestingly, we ran the Clio on the same course as the 911, and not only was I faster in the Clio, so were most participants.

Moving on, we encountered what transpired to be the best part of the day: a Caterham 7 pursuit challenge. Put simply, we got back in a Caterham, and had to punt it around a tiny circuit in a manner that required sideways action, culminating in a donut into a parking bay. I came 3rd! What luck – it seems that a smooth, calm driving manner escapes me; yet when yanking all the controls like an organist on speed is the order of the day, I excel.

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Finally, an off road challenge. I’ve always fancied a spot of green laning, so I was looking forward to this. The course involved vehicle position tests, loose surfaces, insane gradients and towering ramps. Really good fun, and a 6th place to boot.

Land Rover Defender

Overall, a stunning day. I really hurt for the following 48 hours – chest, back and shoulder pains which reminded me that while I didn’t really notice at the time, I had subjected my ageing frame to considerable forces. I’m very happy that I learned plenty more about driving, and about various vehicles that I would not normally have the chance to sample. I loved the Caterhams, but they’re not something I’m hardcore enough to own. I was disappointed by the 911, hated the XKR, enjoyed the Clio and really would quite fancy a proper 4×4. I can’t express enough thanks to my wonderful wife for not only making this happen, but so diligently documenting proceedings with the camera.

Despite my varied results, I came 6th overall – perhaps a sign that if nothing else, I’m more consistent than most.

The best thing about it though? It reminded me how much I love the M5. With the exception of the off-road challenge and the karting, I could have done all the other events in the M5, and I strongly suspect I would have done better in most. It’s an exceptional car – the super saloon indeed.

Live football stream quality review

So, this arguably important moment in the internet’s history has been and gone. England’s football team, as ever, did the minimum required when it didn’t matter. And lost.

That aside, what was the viewing experience like?

Well, having selected the ‘HD’ stream, I can report that I experienced a reasonably smooth picture, with no buffering issues at all. I wonder how this was for everyone else? I ran some broadband speed checks during the match and found that my normally stable 19mb connection was running at around 6mb. When the match had ended, with the stream still running I had 16mb, and when I disconnected the stream I had 19mb again.

So this suggests that the stream ‘costs’ about 3mb, which is fine, but more importantly it proves that Virgin certainly does suffer from contention issues. Their fibre might be okay, but the switchgear (or something!) clearly isn’t. I’ll come back to this – let me tell you about the picture quality.

Before kick off, we watched the studio in fullscreen:

studio - fullscreen

No one wants to see Sven in particularly high detail, so this was fine. The picture was however obviously low quality as it had been stretched. Switching to normal view yielded a much better picture, but of course it wasn’t really big enough.

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When the match began, it soon became clear that at full screen size, it was completely unwatchable. There’s a 34M clip of fullscreen action here: http://v.mukerji.co.uk/2009/10-10-football/fullscreen.avi

On small screen it all came together a lot more nicely: (19MB) http://v.mukerji.co.uk/2009/10-10-football/fullscreen.avi

The trouble is that football needs to be on a big screen! People watch football together – it just wasn’t possible to get any real atmosphere squinting at a tiny portion of the screen.

In fact, the quality was so poor that it often wasn’t possible to tell who was on the ball. The commentators didn’t help here either. Normally as a team pass the ball around you might hear “Cole, to Gerrard, to Lampard” etc, but there was none of that. Why? Because the commentators weren’t there either. Presumably they had the same miserable picture we did.

I had other issues with this experience. Why was the clock/score bar not tucked further into the top left corner? So often it was squarely in the way. This photo neatly sums up both that problem, and England’s general failure:

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A minor point, but throughout the match the service informed us that “Team line-ups will be updated on match day” (see the white pane on the right of the screen).

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Definitely irritating was that having paid (per view) for a (very low quality) viewing experience, we were subjected to adverts. It seems Perform really can have their cake and eat it.

Overall then, this experience simply wasn’t good enough. Sure, I still believe it’s the future, but things must improve, and fast. The quality of the feed needs to go up considerably. Before that can happen though, UK broadband providers need to fix the contention issues. There were plenty of complaints on Twitter from people who couldn’t watch it properly. My favourite was from @Prezzer:

GOA….. Buffering… 78%… 85%… 97%… LL!!

Perform – You Must Try Harder. If this had been free, I may have passed it for acceptable.

Virgin Media – once higher definition streams are available, I think you might have to try quite a bit harder too.

My name is Snoop

Diane and I have wanted a dog for a long time, and now that we’ve got a larger abode, it seemed like as good a time as any. After plenty of research, and a few visits to a breeder, today is the today we’ve brought home a male golden retriever puppy: Snoop. Here he is in the back of the 330d as we arrived home.

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Surveying the back garden:

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Visiting me:

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Ready to pounce:

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Of course, this huge 15 minutes of effort meant that Snoop passed out pretty quickly!

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Really pleased to have such a happy chappy in the house – we’re looking forward to good times ahead!

Various home updates

It’s been a while, and I’m sorry car fans but next to naff all has occurred with the vehicles. They’ve both been regularly driven, in the usual style, but nothing to report. Well, I had a good trip in the M5 last Saturday: to Brighton to drop off Di, then to Heathrow to collect Robin – all very civilised.

At home we’ve had a bit of progress. We’ve now got 3 of 5 bedrooms usable which is nice. We’re cracking on nicely with Diane’s office. Preparing the walls for decoration takes ages but we’re getting there. This is the final end that needs doing:

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Note the lovely green walls and splendid gold light fittings. The other end of the room, bare, looks rather better!

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Decorating is of course rather an undignified process!

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Outside matters are a bit more pleasant. We had a breakfast of fresh English garden apples (from our tree), and fresh Californian oranges (from Robin’s garden). How often do you manage that! Completely organic, not a pesticide in sight. Here’s Diane munching some cereal under our apple tree:

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Note the minging old BBQ in the background. That’s not a BBQ – THIS is a BBQ!

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I’ll be off out to get some gas for that later. On other matters, Robin has constructed this rather fine spice rack for our kitchen. The final job is to varnish it, but exquisite work from the Willis as usual, finely crafting this Californian Red Oak for our English kitchen.

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Finally, I got Diane a new lens for her camera for her birthday that makes her look like rather a pro!

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House preparation

For those who don’t know, I’m buying my parents’ garage and driveway. Apparently there’s a house in the deal too, but that’s less interesting. I decided that in order to make it (the garage) into a good home for my toys I should clear it out, so I emptied the contents into the garden:

Garage contents

Over a decade of car and disco gear there! It was really strange to see the garage empty for the first time I first moved in as a child. I’d forgotten there was a window at the end!

Empty garage

We’ve even painted the floor a delightful shade of blue:

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There was a lot of crap to take to the dump – two 330d fulls and one M5 full to be precise. I was amused by using the M5 for such a purpose, so took a couple of photos:

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While waiting for the floor to dry I noticed the extension roof was a tad mossy.

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So I decided to do something about it.

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Quite a difference!

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However, I soon realised that in order to reach the top I was going to have to do something rather more extreme than just standing on the bay window.

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And for those hard to reach parts, I enlisted the help of my favourite jack handle:

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Californian wedding

The remainder of the holiday was somewhat of a blur. Around lunchtime we arrived back in California, but didn’t reach our hotel in Pasadena until gone 3pm.

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Once checked in there was no time to rest. We had to collect our suits, wash, rehearse the wedding a few times and then have a meal with other keys members of the wedding party and families. Phew!

The day of the wedding was, er, rather stressful. All turned out lovely in the end though!

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Rather more pomp and ceremony than I’m used to over here – walking in and around on cue, all lined up in a rather questionable pyramid shape but hey, each to their own. In any case, Robin looked rather chuffed and that’s what we all came  to see. :)

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At the reception venue the drink had started to flow. It was time for us Brits to show these cowboys how it’s done. Hmm.

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The next day we had a lovely brunch and Jamie’s parents and wished Robin and Jamie farewell.
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Once that was done, I just crashed. I hadn’t realised how tired I was! I just had to sleep, but the others went out to explore Hollywood, and Di took these photos:

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On Sunday, our final full day in America, we went to Universal Studios.

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It proved to be a great day out – an amazing mix of a theme park and a behind the scenes look at some movie work.

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I got a couple of very bad shots of one of the Lions and one of the Deloreans from Back to the Future.

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I got a really good photo of the crashed 747 that is used in the ‘War of the Worlds’ film featuring Tom Cruise.

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So, the end of a great experience was finally with us. My only regret is that I never got to sample an American curry with Robin while I was there – we missed a great opportunity!

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Arizona & the Grand Canyon

A new bridge is being built just downstream of the Hoover dam – pretty impressive stuff!

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Yet not as impressive as the Hoover dam itself. Over 70 years old – quite something!

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We took a tour of the power plant – about 2,000 Megawatts in total!

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Then we had a good walk along the dam walls.

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Next stop was Williams – a town not too far from the Grand Canyon. About 4 hours from the dam though, so we had plenty of driving to do along historic route 66. We stopped half way at a tiny little store for refreshments.

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Night had fallen by the time we got to Williams. Having driven there pretty much at the speed limit, I failed to slow down enough on the way into town and got busted by a policeman hiding in the trees – 40 in a 25. Apparently – I reckon he was in the 25 but I wasn’t when he gunned me. A nice $138 fine I’ve no idea how to pay, or indeed what the penalties are if I don’t pay it. Really terse too – followed me around with his hand on his gun and torch in my face while I got my paperwork out of the boot. Welcome to America.

Anyhow, we met up with Dave & Jen who had arrived the previous night and had a meal to celebrate my busting.

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The next day we rose early and headed to the station to catch a train to the Canyon.

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Sadly ours was a diesel train, but still I was pleased not to be driving on the roads for fear of more police brutality. Williams is 6,800 ft above sea level. IT WAS COLD THERE!

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We had three and a bit hours to explore the canyon. I’d love to have days there to hike around it, but the first view is amazing, and something that no camera can really capture quite as the eye really sees it. The far side in the photo below is nearly 10 miles away!

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Adding a fat human still doesn’t give it any sense of scale:

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So we tried a more normal human:

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In the Grand Canyon store, I found a hilarious type of deep-heat:

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We had lunch, took a few more photos, and waved goodbye to the Canyon. It certainly matches up to my trip to the Taj Mahal.

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The next morning we were up at a painful 6:30am. The road to LA was long, but we had to get Robin married.

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In Vegas, baby!

So on Saturday morning Ben, Dave, Robin and I all drove towards Vegas in separate cars. On the way there we met up with Andy and George. Sadly Andy & George were sharing a car, a concept that I just couldn’t get on with. A front wheel drive car at that.

The drive to Vegas was relatively dull. I did enjoy this particular piece of truck-moving excellence.

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I15, the highway from Pasadena to Vegas, is quite hilly.

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This further revealed the crapness of my car. At 75mph, with cruise control on, the car’s auto-box would be in fourth gear. That also happens to be its highest ratio. The road would go uphill, and I’d notice the speed drop to just below 70, at which point the car would have to change to 3rd. This is on a freeway, not a steep mountain road! To actually get the thing back up to 75 I needed to floor it, forcing it to drop to 2nd. Awful! Really frustrating for those following me in better cars too – sorry guys!

Once in Vegas we had an excellent boys night out – no photos I’m afraid! Las Vegas at night is awesome!

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We stayed at a fairly minging hotel called Tropicana, and walked to Palms for a night out. Be warned – that’s a 40 minute walk! The next day we rose late and had a hearty breakfast in Hooters. The girls were joining us for the next two nights, so we had booked a rather more swanky hotel for that duration: the MGM grand.

MGM grand

Quick sidenote – the US practise of permitting a right turn at a junction even when the lights are red (UK equivalent turning left) is brilliant. I think it would really improve traffic flow over here. Of course, their inability to cope with the concept of a free-flowing roundabout more than destroys any overall advantage the turn on red might give them.

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, in Las Vegas.

Vegas in my eyes

In Vegas, there are escalators on the street. Wow!

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Our hotel was immense. Walking from the room to reception? 7 minutes, solid walking. To the car in the adjoining car park? Another 7 or so minutes. The casino flow stretched as far as the eye could see, with countless restaurants, bars, shops and facilities. We counted 3 branches of Starbucks within our hotel. There might well be more – there’s no way we explored the whole place – we hadn’t brought hiking gear! Oh I nearly forgot to mention, there was a pride of lions living in our hotel foyer too.

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On the Saturday night the others went out to see a magic show. I was more interested in sleeping – so got 11 much needed quality hours in. Turns out the only thing I really felt I missed was the most hilarious restaurant name:

gaylords!

On Sunday we set about exploring Vegas by day. We nipped across the walkway from our hotel into our neighbouring ‘resort’ – “New York New York”.

New York!

New York was like our hotel in terms of scale. No lions, but instead they had a rollercoaster running throughout the building which popped out onto the roof for a bit too. This next picture was taken inside:

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A veritable indoor city. We set about having breakfast. Ben won my holiday award for best breakfast: he had two huge slices of pizza, a large bottle of Peroni and a massive Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

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We then took the monorail and went for a wonder. I found this great car with the licence plate “LOW MOE”.

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Did Ben & Sarah get married in Vegas? Was Elvis really a witness?

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We went up the Stratosphere tower – 1,000 ft above the strip.

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From right on top, the views were immense!

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strip from strat

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Yes, there’s even a Starbucks up there too! There are a few white knuckle rides up there – including this one for grade A loonies:

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We then nipped to Mirage – another ‘resort’ (hotel). They had a zoo. As you do.

dolphins

cub

We returned to the hotel for a quick rest and a drink, and then set out to explore the city by night.

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We saw the Bellagio fountains do their thing:

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And saw some more great hotel receptions:

MGM reception

Bellagio reception

On the Monday be popped to the Venetian on our way out of Vegas. Unreal! Full on canals, St Mark’s Square, punts, the lot! Yes, the photo below is again, taken indoors.

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Then it was goodbye to Vegas, and we pointed our cars at Arizona.

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