doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Baggage – But in a Good Way

At times, being a teacher can be embarrassing to my family.  One of the things that we do is judge and so things like finding public spelling mistakes can immediately grab my attention.  I realized last night that I have this other interest that carries its own baggage.  Computer related, of course.

My wife and I went to Caesars Windsor last night to see the Leann Rimes concert.  Of course, in a casino setting, you’re going to go there a little early to enjoy a little gaming in advance.  My wife enjoys playing the slot machines and I enjoy people watching.  It’s a great place for that combination.

Now, throughout the day, my friends from Muskegon had been Twittering weather reports.  Particularly with this past winter, we’ve determined that Southwest Ontario weather is pretty much predictable by what happens there.  It takes anywhere from 3-4 hours for weather systems to traverse Michigan and affect us.  All day, they had been reporting severe weather.

As we entered, there was a great deal of warmth and humidity but that’s about that.  Now, inside the casino there are all kinds of noises and certainly no windows.  You’re in this multi-sensory chamber for the duration.  My wife’s playing a slot machine and I’m guarding her back so that we can safely take home our millions.  (Hah!)  Over the din of the floor, I hear a rumble.  That’s particularly odd.  I hear a rumble again and then the lights go out.

Teacher mode kicks in.  I hope that everyone’s OK and that the emergency lighting comes on.  My mind immediately starts thinking about the emergency handbook that’s in my desk at work.  Lest I think too deeply, the lights come back on.  People start cheering.  Then, the realization that the slot machines had also lost power kicks in as they all start to power up.  Now, I think, that this could get interesting if everyone has lost their money.  I’ve never been in a riot before!

Slot machines in the Trump Taj Mahal
Image via Wikipedia

My mind starts to spin back a few years and to a discussion that I’d had with a local computer vendor who had won the contract for computing cabling the original casino.  “Each of the machines is a node on a token ring network.”  I distinctly recalled the conversation.  It makes sense.  If you’ve ever watched the television show “Las Vegas”, the management monitors everything.

When the power comes back on, there is a little wait and then the machines click right back to where they were before the power went off.  I was very impressed.  Then, a couple of minutes later another crack of thunder and the power goes off again.  Another big groan goes through the hall.  This time, the power was off for a little longer.  When it returns my secondary baggage of computer programmer kicks in.

I notice on the LED on my wife’s machine that it’s providing feedback on a memory check.  I look off to the right to a game that is obviously pure computer.  Players get their results on a video display.  I head over and watch and there’s a complete boot process happening right before my eyes.

You could see the machine bootstrapping right in front of me.  I realize that I’m witnessing something very unique.  In a casino that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you never get to see this sort of thing.  You just walk in and see the machines in action.  I wish I had my movie camera there to record the moment.  While the patrons were groaning and complaining, this computer geek was fascinated by the whole process.  I may never get the opportunity to witness this again.

The driving force behinds a slot machine is random number generation.  There are all kinds of opportunities to talk about random numbers in mathematics and algorithm development for that is an interesting Computer Science activity.  Algorithms like this are typically seeded to get started.  I’m wondering if all these machines are going to be reseeded after the power outage.  Maybe this is indeed the night for the millions to come through.  Afraid not!

To top it off, with the electricity problems over, the concert went as planned.  I can’t speak highly enough of the talents of Ms. Rimes.  What an incredible range and powerful entertainer she is.  Between her enormous abilities and the computer connection, it was a night to be remembered for sure.

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