Thursday, November 17, 2005

Staff Retention and Morale

I know of an IT organization of around 25 people. This group, a unit within a larger company, claims to have morale issues and staff who just are not happy in the workplace. They groan and grumble, moan and complain. The group's managers spend a significant amount of time and attention on the matter but little seems to have a positive effect.

You would think that such a group would be exhibiting a high turnover rate. But, in this case the 2-year voluntary turnover rate is 0%. That's right, nobody has left voluntarily. That isn't to say that there were absolutely no exits. There were three; an internal transfer to another unit and position, one whose family relocated to another state, and one that lost his battle with cancer.

So here is the question; if things are sooo bad, then why do people stay?

Its a given that some stay for the good benefits, as they are good. But they aren't heads above everyone else. Is it the opportunities? Perhaps, but that isn't obvious. Maybe its the people and co-workers then? Well, given that they complain as much about each other as they do about their work I can't put much on that being the answer either.

I'd like to invite my readers to respond. Share your own similar stories and anecdotes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Visitor behavior

Through all of my visits to Walt Disney World, I have seen both the best and worst of behaviors. But I have to say that the last two days takes the cake. Of course the Food & Wine Festival produces its fair share of inebriated visitors. I've been known to do that once or twice myself. But the actions I saw yesterday made me stop to rethink if it was worth it.

I am not die-hard anti-smoker, but I believe that Disney has generally done things right. They have discouraged it, yet setup a fair number of locations where those in need could satisfy their cravings without interfering with the enjoyment of non-smokers. All of those rules seemed to be out the window at EPCOT lately. There were people smoking all over the park and they were providing the best possible reasons for a smoking ban. Smoking around the eating areas drove off a lot of folks who were looking for somewhere to consume their food from the small huts and pavilions. The ground all around the World Showcase was littered with butts. Janitorial castmembers were doing their best to sweep up but I even saw one group of five, all with cigarettes, walk by and throw their lit butts down in front of the castmember.

When I was in line to buy food in the temporary Australia area, a woman a little ways behind me in line was burned on her leg by another guy standing in line with a lit cigarette at his side.

I was very curious as to why there seemed to be zero enforcement of the rules. I had the opportunity to ask a castmember in France about it and she said that they were instructed to not approach smokers during the Food & Wine Festival so as to avoid an altercation with someone who may be under the influence. I completely understand the safety issue, but there is something inherently wrong with this. I can't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps its that there isn't a larger Security presence in a park full of kids where the alcohol is flowing so freely and often. I don't know.

Feel free to add your own opinion in the comments.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Podcasts - not just for iPods

I had a colleague approach me about my last post. He didn't have an iPod and wasn't particularily interested in getting one. I told him he didn't have to. To make the experience easy and user-friendly, all you need is the iTunes software on your Mac or Windows PC and access to the Internet. The podcasts are free and you can subscribe, manage, and listen to them all through iTunes.

This led to a lot more questions but in the end, he went away informed and happy. It seemed he was hung up on the fact they were called PODcasts and never really understood that they were simply recorded audio files playable on almost any computer. I also took time to explain that they were not like audiobooks that went for hours, but most were short shows; with a few being under 5 minutes.

Don't let yourself get stuck on this idea either. In fact, if you have a CD-R or CD-RW drive, you can even dump the podcasts to CD for easy listening in the car as you drive to and from work.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

A New Source of Education: Podcasts

I have had an iPod for years, but the exercise of updating it and carrying it around wasn't always the most convenient for me. The unit, an original 10GB, was a little too heavy for my shirt pockets and a little too large to comfortably carry in coat pockets. Then, my headphone cords didn't quite make it if I tried to carry it in my pants pocket. A belt-clip was possible, but I already had a phone there. So, it was relegated to recreational use a few times each month.

Recently, I passed the iPod on to one of the kids and treated myself to an iPod Nano. Now I had a truly portable unit that fit my lifestyle. This also caused me to spend a little more time on iTunes that I had been spending with the old iPod. When Apple updated the software to iTunes 5, Podcasts started to get my attention. Yes, they were there before but I just really didn't pay attention.

After finding several of the more popular ones to my liking, such as:
  • This Week in Tech with Leo LaPorte, John Dvorak, and Patrick Norton, and
  • Diggnation with Kevin Rose, I went exploring for others that would be of interest. By the way, you might have noted that most of these are from the original The Screen Savers TV show that used to be on TechTV before Comcast ruined it.
On my journeys, I managed to find a few targeted at managers and executives. I subscribed via iTunes and found them worthy of taking up the valuable space on my 4GB Nano. Here is a short list of the podcasts I listen to. Besides these business related podcasts, you can find some that will teach you to speak a foreign language, offer tips and tricks with technology tools and toys, and many special interest items. Most major news sources are now releasing podcasts of their news offerings too, so it might be a more convenient method of keeping up-todate on such matters.
I am still going through the myriad of podcasts currently out there, and there are new ones added all the time. As I find some I feel to be of use, I'll share them here.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween is the best Disney bargain

I had the opportunity to do the Halloween event at the Magic Kingdom during my recent trip. Last night to be exact. The ticket price was about $35 and it was a bargain from my point of view. Not only were there all sorts of special touches just for this event, but the crowds were non-existant. We were able to walk right on most rides.

Overall, in the 5 hours we spent at the park (7 pm to midnight), we were able to do everything that usually takes us a day or two, without the rushing, standing in line, and crowds normally associated with the park. Add to that the "trick-or-treating", Halloween parade, HalloWishes fireworks, the plethora of costumed castmembers, and extra touches and it can't be beat. One of my favorites was the special attention the Haunted Mansion got for the event.

Again, I have to give it to Disney on their attention to detail and their incredible ability to mobilize people and get an enormous amount of work done in a short period of time; and, keep it invisible from the visiting public.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Around the world

The EPCOT Food & Wine Festival is a really nice event. This year, there were so many booths with ethnic foods from other countries that I had to pass on some because I was simply too full!

There is a lot of good beer and wine too. At the American pavilion, Sam Adams was sponsoring a beer education session that included tasting four of their brews; Oktoberfest, Light, Boston Lager, and 10th Anniversary Special (brewed for the Festival). They were all pretty good. Other Sam Adams beers were available in one of the kiosks as well, and another kiosk was selling Red Hook ESB.

We had apple struedel, creme brulee, Tokyo sushi, pork springrolls, beef caserole, beef tenderloin on the barbie, and a whole host of other terrific edible gems.

At the end of the day, our feet were tired, rain was coming, and we were completely full.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wilma on the brain

Well, it has been several days and still Wilma is a "pending event" for Florida. I have little doubt it will find a way to interfere with this trip in some way or another. As for those in its direct path as a category 5 hurricane, I hope they fare well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Magical Night in the Kingdom

The private event at the Magic Kingdom was pretty cool, especially for a devout Disney fan. It started with a trip by chartered bus from the resort to the Magic Kingdom. Not to the regular bus stop mind you, but to a special entrance behind Frontierland in the area where the parade floats, the water pageant floats, and other props are stored. We got the red carpet treatment too!

Throughout the evening, there were characters all over the park, food in several restaurants with their full menus, and rides just for us. They had two stagings of the light parade and a wonderful display of Wishes fireworks just for us. Oh, did I mention that there were bars about every 150 feet throughout the park?

I caught up with one of the editors from CIO Decisions magazine who was also attending the conference. We had a pretty good time and managed to get on quite a few rides including Thunder Mountain RR, Splash mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain. I am not sure I really want to know how much the sponsors paid for the private event, but I am sure it was a hefty amount.

Magical Disney Night

The private event at the Magic Kingdom was pretty cool, especially for a devout Disney fan. It started with a trip by chartered bus from the resort to the Magic Kingdom. Not to the bus stop mind you, but to a special entrance behind Frontierland in the area where the parade floats, the water pageant floats, and other props are stored. We got the red carpet treatment too!

Throughout the evening, there were characters all over the park, food in several restaurants with their full menus, and rides just for us. They had two stagings of the light parade and a wonderful display of Wishes fireworks just for us. Oh, did I mention that there were bars about every 150 feet throughout the park?

I caught up with one of the editors from CIO Decisions magazine who was also attending the conference. We had a pretty good time and managed to get on quite a few rides including Thunder Mountain RR, Splash mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain. I am not sure I really want to know how much the sponsors paid for the private event, but I am sure it was a hefty amount.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Beer in the Magic Kingdom?

I am fortunate enough to be included in a private party at the Magic Kingdom this evening after closing that will include food and drinks. Drinks meaning alcohol. After all these years of having a dry view of the Magic Kingdom, I think it'll be interesting to have this new this new view of the park. While not too uncommon, I think that the percentage of visitors that can say they had a beer in the park (excluding those brought in illicitly) is probably very, very small.

Despite being dark during the event, I'll try and grab a few photos and write about it here tomorrow.

A Dry Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is the only "dry" park of the four here. That is, there is no alcohol sold in the park. However, I find myself fortunate enough to be included in a special event at the park tonight. The conference has rented the entire park for a private event from 8:00 until 11:00 and I am told there will be food and open bars throughout the park.

Sounds like fun! Its a shame it'll be dark then and make it difficult to grab photos, but I'll try anyway. Watch my blog here for a recap.


Sunny Orlando. The weather has been great with 80+ days and nights around 70. The sky has been clear and blue and the humidity under control. Of course, I have been inside most of the time with only the travels between venues to enjoy the sunshine. The conference is essentially over for me Thursday afternoon.

For those who haven't been keeping up with the weather or news, Tropical Storm Wilma, soon to be Hurricane Wilma, was projected this morning to pass right over central Florida some Thursday night or Friday, leaving rains in its path for a few more days. Talk about a spoiler!

I wonder if Disney will host a Hurricane Party?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Its a small, small world

After visiting the registration area to get the rest of my materials, my phone beeped to alert me to a voice mail. I retrieved it; it was from a dear old friend who said "Are you in Florida? I could swear I saw someone who looks just like you in the lobby of the Dolphin Hotel."

I called him back and it turns out he is here as a vendor for the same conference. We had a quick drink as he had another obligation and promised to get together again before he leaves on Tuesday.

It really is a small, small world.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

78 and sunny

According to the news here, Orlando has entered the "dry season". Fine by me. I have to say I wasn't expecting the 5:30 wake-up call my neighbors gave me. Between the screaming kids, yelling parents, and TV turned up so loud I could tell exactly what they were watching I had zero chance at going back to sleep.

I called the front desk and after a few minutes the castmember asked if I could turn down my TV as they couldn't hear me. I commented that it wasn't my TV, which is why I was calling. Unfortunately, the noise didn't abate even by the time I left the room at 8:00.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Food & Wine Festival

The Walt Disney World Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT is one of my favorite events. Food and wine (and beer); what more does it need to be great?

I got here late but did have time to make a lap of the World Showcase and do a few taste tests. The park was crowded and the lines at each booth/tent were long. I didn't have much patience for waiting so passed on a lot of attractive sounding opportunities.

I did get Scandavian meatballs, pork spring rolls, beef tenderloin on a stick, and some Tokyo Sushi rolls. Washed all of this down with some Carlsburg, Tiger, Fosters, and some Kira. All of it was top notch grub and brew! Not bad for an hour walk around the lake.

There is so much to try that I really need to have a more organized approach in the few hours I'll have this week. I think I'll do something else tomorrow night as I suspect it'll be just as busy on Sunday. Perhaps the weeknights will be better.

Just imagine

Imagine for a moment that you are on an airplane headed to a destination that you have looked forward to for a while. Its been an incredibly tough few days and you almost can't believe that you're just about there. You have a window seat on this flight. The sky is clear, the trip smooth, and the weather is looking pretty good. The pilot announces that the plane is now on final approach to the airport. You watch out the window for recognizable landmarks as you near the airport.

The plane gets lower and lower and sways slightly as the pilot makes his adjustments. Then, just a few hundred feet above the ground the engines whine up and the plan banks sharply to the right as it begins ascending. It makes a wide sweep to the right, eventually making it a full 360-degrees. The events of just five minutes before slowly repeat. You stop watching and think about it -- did I imagine it?

A few hundred feet to go and you can tell that the plane is near the end of the runway. Again, the engines roar and whine louder as the plane again banks to the right and ascends. This can't be really happening, can it? Wasn't is Sisyphys who was sentenced to eternity in Hades, cursed with a thirst but the water would recede each time he bent to take a drink?

Without going into details, all I can say is that the entire week was full of this kind of teasing and disappointment. We would take one step forward and then get pushed back two steps. It was only our combined efforts that allowed us to persevere. After all, even at one step forward and two back you can sometimes still reach the finish line.

And so did the plane. The third landing attempt went perfectly and was one of the smoothest touchdowns I have ever experienced. I finally made it to Orlando. I wasn't sure I would.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

On to Florida

Well, I'll be heading to Florida for a conference in about 10 days. I'm adding on a few persoanl leave days so I should have a lot to write about. As the old ads used to say, "watch this space".

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Where in the world is Chuck?

Well, actually I'm at home. Not much travel at this time. Hurricane Katrina caused me to cancel a trip this month, and the heavy workload I have forced me to back out of a few days in Jacksonville. I do have a few days in Orlando lined up for October, coupled with time in Durham and maybe New York City. There is a pretty strong possibility of another trip to India as well.

We'll see how the next few weeks unfold, so keep checking back here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Last Day in Nashville

It was a bit sad realizing that today was the last day here. We tried the breakfast buffet in the hotel, which was okay but nothing special. The wait staff all seemed like the customers were a bother and that they had better things to do than to be there. After checking out, we left our bags with the desk and walked across the green to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

We opted for the audio tour and it was interesting. I personally thought that there wasn't enough material on the last 10-20 years of the industry. They might get more visitors if there were because there sure weren't many people there. We saw Elvis' gold Cadillac and other memorabilia. There were a lot of Nudie suits throughout the tour. By the time we were done, it took a few hours, a pretty bad thunderstorm had moved in and it was coming down cats and dogs. We waited it out and spent some money in the gift shop. After 15 minutes or so it had calmed down enough to make a run back to the hotel.

We decided to risk the rain and walk Broadway again, stopping for some gifts along the way. The tourist shops seem to all have the same merchandise so it started to look alike from one to the next. We found ourselves back at The Stage on Broadway with cold beer in hand. The solo artist from Friday was back but now he had a band. Next, we went into Tootsies to get a t-shirt then on to Legends. There was a band and blonde female singer that was just not impressive in any way at all. Not terrible, but just not all that good either. Even another cold beer didn't help make it any better.

Given the time and the weather, we left to head back and get to the airport early. We did get a little wet on the way. Then, to our surprise, we had the same cab driver we had on Saturday going to Opryland!

Moving through the airport was easy and I am actually writing this from the Stadium Club in Terminal C!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Grand Ole Opry

The Hilton has upgraded its mattresses and linens. I would guess that they are at least 600-count. The beds are the new "comfort" beds and, all-in-all, it was tough to wake up in the morning. It had nothing to do with the beers from the night before. It was too late for breakfast, but Eddies Sports Bar in the hotel had a nacho offering that had to be at least 5 pounds of chips, lettuce, cheese, and chile. As much of a nacho fiend as I am, I could bare make it halfway through the plate. They also had a beer sampler that gave me three terrific brews.

We decided to get a jump on things and go to Opryland early. The cab driver was a hoot. Heavy accent and good-ole-boy stories about Nashville. We got our tickets at will call and decided to take a gander at Opry Mills, the mall behind the hotel. It was pretty crowded, probably back-to-shool shoppers I figured.

We walked all over Opryland, paused for gelato in the conservatory, and killed some time in Rusty's Sports Bar and Grill. It hasn't changed since my trip here 5 years ago.

The Opry was okay. We got there and I hit the concession. Had a great hot dog for only $2.50! Our seats were pretty good and were only about 20 feet from the stage, so we had a decent view. The only problem at all was that, just before the show started, a bunch of flying bugs found their way to our part of the audience. I kept fending them off for about an hour.

The entertainers were pretty good and, even though not a big country fan, I enjoyed it. I have to say that the GooGoo commercials were really getting to me. I wasn't the only one either. The people behind us had too much as well. I think the final straw was when they had one commercial break that said, "on a Saturday night, there's nothing that satisifies me like a GooGoo".

Back to the hotel to rest up for Sunday.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Broadway in Nashville is the real party street. With several "honky tonk" bars with no cover and usually decent acts, the fair beer prices make it even better. We grabbed dinner at Jacks BarBQ. After that, we started around 8:00 at Roberts Western Wear where a pretty good band was working. They played classics and current pieces and the crowd was really into them, complete with dancing. After an hour or so, we were on to The Second Fiddle where there was a very young band from California. They were okay and we did enjoy their more up-to-date music. They had trouble drawing a crowd though. I think it had a lot to do with their dress. People here are looking for country, while these guys had on Metallica shirts, leather pants, and looked more like a rock band. Despite being a Friday night, there were barely 20 people in the joint.

After a few beverages (ahem) we went on to Tootsies. This was a great and very busy place. We managed to score a table on the first floor pretty quickly and there are music venues on both levels. We hit them during the switch in acts so there was about 15 minutes or so with no music going on and, while busy, it wasn't too bad. At 10:00 it suddenly got so crowded that you couldn't even move and then stayed that way the rest of the time we were there. I did discover that any single guy looking to meet women should be on the stool I was sitting on. Its located near the stairs and everyone has to pass it going between levels. And, since the restrooms were on the 1st level, that created even more traffic.

So many women passed by and pressed against me, several being very obvious about it, that I completely lost track. One that had obviously been there a while was a lot more brazen and direct. Another one, shortly afterwards, had her hands everywhere as she squeezed by. I thought it was nothing -- a mistake -- until she passed again on her way back upstairs and did it again. I won't repeat the several things whispered in my ear throughout the hour or so -- and all of this while I am sitting there with my wife! Pretty cool I thought!

It may be normal in clubs today, but I sure am not used to it and it took me a little by surprise. Why me? Actually, I think that any guy sitting there would have gotten the same treatment.

The band, and lead singer in particular, was great and we only left out of frustration with the very dense crowd and the inability to get drinks. But I highly recommend this place for anyone visiting Nashville. It is a classic place.

Music City, USA

Nashville. Home to a virtual plethora of country music stars, bars, and terrific entertainment options.

Most things went smoothly, with a very quick trip through the new Southwest Terminal at BWI airport; they've done a very nice job and the shopping mall is pretty decent. Security took but a few moments, or at least should have. My number came up for the more thorough search. I have to say that the TSA person was very courteous and respectful. The flight was on time and also went pretty well.

That is, until I waited at baggage claim for our one suitcase. The Southwest representative said that a security scanner back in Baltimore had problems and some bags didn't make it. Oh, well. The hotel, the Hilton Downtown Nashville, was about 20 minutes from the airport and it was a flat $22 taxi fair, which actually made it cheaper than the shuttle bus! We were pretty early so there was no room at the inn (been waiting to say that). Left our bags with the bell desk and hit the streets. The Hilton is next to the Gaylord Center and in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and only a block from the entertainment district of Broadway, so it has a great central location.

Most food places were just opening up and activity downtown was pretty minimal. We wandered Broadway towards the river, then up 2nd Ave next to the Hard Rock and past the Wild Horse Saloon, stopping into Willie Nelson's museum shop on the way. Charlie Daniels also has a museum and shop just a few doors down. We found ourselves in front of the San Antonio Grill. An interesting place with pretty good Tex-Mex grub. Washing down my hot wings and taco with a cold Corona definitely put me in the vacation mood.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in Gruhns Guitars and then into the Stage on Broadway. Another real cold beer while taking in the lone entertainer on the stage felt perfect. A few shops later we were back at the Hilton and our room, I mean suite, was ready. Time for a nap.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Well, garsh darn! I'm goin' to hee-haw country

Look forward to more posts folks because I'm a-goin' to Nashville, TN. The capital of country music and home to the Grand Ol' Opry. A last minute trip, we're staying in the Hilton downtown for a great rate, and within walking distance of Music Row and most of the city attractions. We also have tickets to the Opry on Saturday, so keep an eye out here for the details.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Coming soon!

I'm currently putting the final touches on another round of travel. There'll be Florida, most likely India again, perhaps back to Africa, and another destination for a quick trip that I haven't decided yet. Keep watching for my posts and photos.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Travel on pause

Well, my travels are on pause. That is, except for my short travels to the hospital where my father is at. I am sure there will be more adventures shortly and there will certainly be more musings on the travel experience. So, hang in there!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

How much is it?

One funny thing about this trip is that I constantly had trouble getting correct pricing information throughout the whole week. Golf lessons were listed in my materials as $120/hour but were really $150/hour. Club rentals were to be $70 but ended up being $75. Cable cars were listed on the transit maps as $2 each way but were $3 when you boarded. Water on Alcatraz was supposed to be $3.50 but was really $1.50. It went on and on like this all week.

Why is it so hard to get correct prices in California?

Water, water, everywhere

We had tickets for the Alcatraz Tour at 11:45 so decided to head to Pier 39 for breakfast. We found Chic's offering a decent menu and ate overlooking the water and sea lions. We then killed a little time in the tourist traps where I bought some postcards for us to mail.

The ferry ride was pretty smooth considering the chop on the bay waters and we were soon on Alcatraz. It was an interesting time on the island. Let me warn everyone about one small thing though. Once you board the boat, they bombard you with the fact that there is no food or drink for sale on the island so you can buy stuff at their on board snack bar. Then, just before docking they announce that there is bottled water for sale on the island and that the only place you can eat food or drink is at the dock. Later, you find out you can drink bottled water throughout the island.

The audio tour takes about 30 minutes. You get to see where Al Capone was kept, and all sorts of other facts. The tour is very light on the history of the island prior to being a federal prison and only briefly mentioned the Native American occupation.

On returning to San Francisco we walked the waterfront and had lunch at Nick's on Fisherman's Wharf. Then a brisk and uphill walk back to the Fairmont. I didn't have much trouble with the hills but my wife had a real problem with them. The few times we tried to grab a cable car, they were all full. We did stop along the way and picked up some tourist fodder like t-shirts and few little things for gifts.

After a few hour rest we hit the streets of San Francisco (been wanting to say that) and headed for Chinatown. We wandered Grant Ave and browsed some shops, bought a few things that we probably could have found at stores back home for less, but this is Chinatown after all! After seeing all of Grant Ave, we visited some of the side streets until we found a cute little restaurant for dinner. The pork fried rice and sweet and sour chicken was delicious. The Tsingtao beer was cold and went down well. The prices weren't too bad, but more expensive than restaurants at home. A short walk back to California Street was in order and I had promised we wouldn't walk the hill this time. We waited for a cable car. It took about 10 minutes before one came along at this time of night, but it did have room. Despite the poster and costs posted inside the bus shelter, the ride was not $2 per person, but $3 per person. Good thing I had the extra dollar bills. After a short ride up the hill to Mason Street, we hopped out at the hotel wrapped up the day.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Conference Day 2

The second day started as the first did, with a breakfast and keynote. The rest of the sessions were well put together and done in a way to keep your attention as well. I did cut out for a little bit to check out of the hotel though.

We wrapped up around noon with a closing session by the CTIO of PBS (public broadcasting system) that was a pretty cool glimpse into what can be accomplished in a no-holds-barred atmosphere. Then a nice luncheon where awards for best Technology ROI were presented. They certainly seemed to be well earned and I think I'll nominate some of our projects next year for consideration.

We reluctantly left Pebble Beach, taking the long way out through Pacific Grove then stopping in Monteray to walk through Cannery Row. We stopped into a place for a beer and a view, but found the staff to be distant and not very warm. Otherwise, we would have probably stayed longer. We didn't have time to do the aquarium there, but it was highly recommended.

The highway back, first 68 then 1, was tightly congested until we got well past Santa Cruz. The scenery was as good as on the way down and we took time to stop at the Pigeon Point Light Station. There is a hostel there that is almost 100 years old and is still operating. The Pacific views were tremendous and you could see whales off in the distance.

As we passed through Half Moon Bay we started looking for somewhere to eat. I glimpsed a sign that said Miramar Restaurant and turned. It sounded like one of those great places you find off the beaten path. Well, it is a waterfront establishment that evidently started life as a brothel and speakeasy in the early 20th century. It's now a very nice and popular seafood restaurant. We didn't have reservations and almost couldn't get a table but they had a cancellation and were able to seat us. I had also mentioned that we had come 3000 miles which might have helped a little. They gave is a little table right at the front window overlooking the beach and the waterfront with a spectacular view of the coastline. The food was great; I had a seafood linguini while my wife had fresh Halibut.

It was getting dark and the rest of the ride was pretty smooth. We did manage to find our way back to the Fairmont Hotel. We got checked in and our bags brought up, then I had to go return the rental car. Finding the return was easy as it was on the same street (Mason), but at the bottom of the hill. That meant walking up the hill against a 15-20 mph breeze. I have to admit I was winded when I got to the top.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Opening Day

The conference opened today with a breakfast, followed by the keynote. Both were very worthwhile and if the remainder of the conference goes as well, I will consider it a success. I sat in the front, near a pair of colleagues and the conference hostess. This allowed me better access to the speakers as well as the chance to trade comments with others that I knew.

When Thornton May got the stage, he gave us a group exercise that led to a spirited discussion amongst those in our group. I may be getting a reputation amongst some regulars as I had the answers to some obscure questions (having nothing to do with technology). One colleague, Greg, commented that, "You're sick! You just know way too much about way too many things."

Lunch was terrific and everyone was looking forward to the special dinner. The dinner was held at the Beach Club at Pebble Beach that overlooks the 17th hole and the water. What a wonderful place! Being on the first bus there, we managed to get a very nice table with a great view. The food was excellent, as was the wine which was from a local vineyard. After dinner, the music started and people took to the dance floor; how refreshing to see at a conference full of technical people. I managed to coerce the conference hostess, Maryfran, out onto the dance floor for at least one round. It was a very nice evening.


There was a very nice reception held for the CIO Decisions Advisory Board members and the staff. It was a nice time and I had the opportunity to finally meet some of the people I had only known by e-mail. They were every bit as nice as they seemed through their messages.

Afterwards, there was a larger reception for the conference attendees. I managed to catch up with people I had met at other CIO or technical events. And unlike many other times, there was the chance to meet their spouses. This created a true networking opportunity for everyone, not only to establish business contacts, but to forge new friendships.

I was able to introduce my wife to several people I had met and considered friends and colleagues, so she could see that they were real and genuine people, and not just technical conference geeks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

19 Balls and counting

Tee time came faster than I expected. I barely had time to warm up at the Spanish Bay clubhouse. The clubs I rented were very nice Calloways and included a club for everything. I took an immediate like to the Heavenwood.

I was joined by two colleagues from the conference, Lee and Bruce, with our fourth missing. It was a bit odd as there was no registration or anything else; we simply had a tee time. We got our carts and started a few moments early. Having not played for a while and finding out my playing partners do play, I was a bit nervous teeing off on the first hole, but needn't have been. I managed to drive the ball right down the middle of the fairway about 200 yards. I was quite pleased. The remainder of the hole went okay, and did #2. On #3 I lost a ball off the tee, but wasn't too concerned as I had brought a dozen Slazengers just in case.

Well, but #13 I was down to just 2 balls left. I bought a sleeve off of the drink cart but by #16 I was down to a single ball. For those not familiar with Spanish Bay, there are a lot of environmentally sensitive areas and amateurs will find them as many are right along thin fairways or are actually obstacles for you to hit around or over. I sure found them.

The drink cart driver sold me another sleeve and I went off to finish my round. You know, its amazing how conservative you can get when you are down to your last few balls. I was pleased with my play though, given I haven't been out for a while. I shot 118 and my ball total was 19. How did I lose 19 when I only bought 18? Well, I managed to find a few abandoned balls along the way, and lost them as well. I actually finished without opening the last sleeve I bought, so I'll keep it as a momento.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Down the Coast

Breakfast. It's amazing how hungry you can feel in the morning. The concierge recommended a place called Dottie's and said lines form by 7:30 because its do popular. So we trekked off to taste this legendary treat. It was a decent walk as it was all downhill. Well, it seems it doesn't even open until 7:30 and it was 6:45 when we got there. We killed some time walking around but soon decided to duck into another joint instead. The food was good and we were done pretty quickly. Now for the trek back up the hill.

At the hotel, we gathered our stuff and checked out, then got the rental car. I was astounded at what seemed a high proce for a few days, then even more surprised that it was a Kia. I mean after all, for a little more I could have bought the Kia! We started out of town towards Carmel.

The road trip was nice and lasted about 3 hours as we took our time. There was some really nice scenery and I wished I could have paid more attention. Once we got to Carmel and on the 17-mile road, the view got even better. Nice homes, great views of the coast, and legendary golf courses.

The Inn at Spanish Bay is terrific. It has a breathtaking vista of the coastline and opulent rooms and service. Our room has an ocean view, fireplace, and is very comfortable. We settled in and took a drive over to the Links at Pebble Beach for lunch. Then, off to Spyglass for my golf lesson with the Pebble Beach Manager of Instruction.

During the lesson, there were a lot of deer on the driving range. I asked if they created a problem. He simply said that they hit hot on occasion and merely look up as though saying, "Is that all you got?"

We went back to Spanish Bay and walked the property, including the oceanfront. Then, as my camera battery died, I realized I didn't bring the charger. After thinking about my options, we headed to the local electronics superstore to see if I could find a charger. Well, no charger was even close so I ended up buying a new camera for the remainder of the trip. Since I had a 10:30 tee time in the morning, I didn't want to take to the course without being able to capture the moment.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

San Francisco First Impressions

The arrival at the airport went smoothly and after a short time, we were in a taxi on our way to the Fairmont Hotel. The driver was pretty typical for an airport taxi, doing at least 75 on the freeway and dodging around cars. There were two sections of the road, no doubt known to locals, where you feel as though you are on a boat or roller coaster do to the up-n-down motions.

The Fairmont is a nice hotel, one of the best in San Francisco, and this one is the flagship of the company. We were lucky enough for them to have a room ready even though it was still well before 11:00 am. We dumped our bags, did a quick change, then went off exploring. It was a wondrous day, with clear blue skies and around 70 degrees.

We went down Cathedral Street towards Chinatown, then made a side trip down Grant. This appears to be the main street in Chinatown. We only went a few blocks, browsed a few shops, then stopped in at the Floating Sushi Bar Restaurant for lunch. The food was good and we had the Teriyaki lunch specials, me the beef and she the chicken. I had a Sapporo draft beer to wash mine down with. This is a small place whose uniqueness is related to an island bar area where little boats go around the island loaded with Sushi. The cook/preparer works in the middle. It reminded me of the carnival game where you pick up a floating yellow duck to win a prize.

We continued our trek through downtown San Francisco, taking in the buildings and architecture and watching the cable cars pass, loaded down with tourists. It was a bit unusual for me to see so many really tall buildings since Washington DC doesn't allow them to go higher than the Washington Monument. Eventually, we found ourselves at the Ferry building, a nice area converted in a marketplace where you can catch the bay ferry across to Sausalito. It is right next to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was also packed with people enjoying the beautiful day near the water.

We walked N-NE along the waterfront piers for about an hour until we came to Pier 39, an area chock full of shops and restaurants targeting the visitors to the city. There's a Bubba Gump Shrimp there, as well as a Hard Rock Cafe, about a dozen candy or coffee shops, and other places familiar from hundreds of similar tourist attractions. We walked the pier, browsed, watched the sea lions sunbathing, and got the view of Alcatraz from the end of the pier. On the way back, we made pit stops. I thought it a little odd that there was a long line for the men's room but not the women's room. I hadn't waited in a line like that since my college clubbing days, and very much the reverse from my normal experiences.

We decided to duck into Wipe Out for a beer at the bar. I tried the Wipe Out Ale in a large glass (which you get to keep). There was a guy next to us, Pete the peat salesman. He had obviously been there for a little while and seemed quite happy. Both bartenders were very friendly and entertaining. It was a nice time. After a trip though the gift shop (yes, I bought a t-shirt) to get our glasses to take home, we hopped a cab back to the hotel.

Now, it was around 5:00 local time, and my wife was still on Eastern so it seemed like 8:00 or so to her. Meanwhile, I am still running in Ugandan time so it was more like 3:00 in the morning to me. Add to that having less then 5 hours sleep since Thursday morning, I was beat. I decided to take a short nap to recharge my batteries before we headed out for dinner.

US Air First Class? I don't think so!

The wife and I were on a flight to San Francisco, via Pittsburgh, via US Air. It was First Class on this trip courtesy of frequent flier miles. My wife has never flown first class and was really looking forward to it, and I was also looking forward to her seeing how this worked. Unfortunately, it was US Air.

The plane from BWI had to be amongst the oldest in the fleet. The seats and area were so bad that even the economy class on Kenya Air looked better. It was only a 40 minute flight so it wasn't a big deal. After take-off we did get a drink service, just as they do in economy on other airlines. Well, it was over and I was sure that the longer flight to San Francisco would be better. We got in on time but it was a tight connection and we got to the next gate just as it started boarding.

The condition of the first class cabin was better, but compared to what I had been experiencing, it was clearly 2nd or even 3rd class. The meal was in a box. The earphones barely worked for us or the folks across the aisle, the wine cam in plastic water cups. To top it off, I am writing this while the seat in front of me is crushing my tray table and computer because we are packed so tightly. At least its only a 5+ hour flight. I feel sorry for the folks in economy, but at least they aren't full so they can spread out.

I am looking forward to a decent movie and a bit of time to start reading the new Harry Potter book. Unfortunately, the movie is "Miss Congeniality 2". If you read my other post concerning this movie, it isn't worth the time. But, US Air doesn't give you all the classy options that the other airlines have. I guess we were lucky (or maybe not given the movie) to even be able to see any of the small drop-down screens.

Boy, I didn't realize how spoiled KLM and British Air can make you feel!

Home for a day

Well, I got in late and didn't get to sleep until well after 1:00 in the morning. Despite having very little sleep over the last few days, I found myself awake at a bit after 7:00 am. In Uganda, it's after 2:00 in the afternoon. It wasn't that bad though as I had a lot to accomplish in one day and the most important part was spending some quality time with my son.

I took a few hours to take care of things; unpacking, laundry, 3 weeks of mail, bills, and getting stuff together for the next trip. Got the kid up around 10 and gave him a few things to do before we went out. I got back to working on my things and he on his. A little after 1:00 I had made a lot of progress and he was essentially done. Getting ready to go I noticed a set of keys missing. I called the wife and it turns out she had them and she was at work. Oh, well, a new plan is called for -- lunch somewhere.

After wrapping all that up, finishing the bills (how did there get to be so many?), and a quick trip to Oliver's, my local watering hole, I was ready to start packing. As an old pro, I was done pretty quickly. By the time I got the remaining items done I hit the sack about midnight. Then, the burger from lunch reminded me it was still there. I took measures to show it who was boss and finally nodded off around 12:30.

There's nothing like a good 3 hours sleep to really refresh you. Now here it was a bit after 5:00 am and I was on my way to yet another airport.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Finally home again, thank goodness

The flight was pretty good. There was little turbulence, the cabin was quiet, and the food was decent. I have always managed to get along well with cabin crews and sometimes that creates other benefits. On this flight, I had some lively conversation with a few of the attendants in the cabin and even shared some jokes. At meal time, I ordered the beef filet off of the menu (in Club class on British Airways, you select you meal off of menus). He came back after a short while later and asked if I would mind waiting an extra ten minutes and they could prepare something special. Of course, I said I could. Jo, another attendant, came by a little later with a tray that include a large filet mignon and an incredible array of vegetables. I was surprised and thanked her and she winked in response. Another attendant came by later and told be they convinced the First Class crew to give it up for me in exchange for making them feel appreciated. Now, that's service!

We arrived just about on time and I immediately called my wife to see that all was going on schedule and she was almost there to pick me up. I was one of the first off the plane. At Dulles, you board a shuttle form the plan which then takes you to Immigration. I was one of the first to clear, my bag was the first one on the baggage return and was already there, and I went through Customs quickly. I checked my phone to call my wife and realized that only 18 minutes had elapsed between the time I called her and my exiting the terminal to be picked up. I think that's a record for any of my trips and this one involved Immigration and Customs!

My wife mentioned she had been caught in a backup due to an accident on the Interstate. On the return trip, we noticed that ther e was a new accident that had the opposite side of the Interstate completely shut down. The resulting backup seemed to be about 8 miles long. And then, after a short clear area, there was another backup due to road construction that was at least 10 miles long. It was probably more as it continued past the exit we use to get home. It was a good think my flight wasn't a later flight or she would have been in both of those horrendous traffic jams.

Accidents you can't predict, but who in their right mind would give approval to shut down lanes of one of the busiest interstate highways on a Friday night during peak vacation season?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Hip-hip, cheerio

The remainder of the trip from Entebbe to London was long, and made to seem even longer by crying and screaming children. I didn't necessarily blame the woman as she seemed to be trying hard to keep them calm and quiet. It just wasn't working.I wasn't able to even get close to grabbing some shuteye, and the rest of the cabin had the same problem. We landed at London/Heathrow about 15 minutes early at Terminal 4. The walk to the connecting area is just ridiculously long and I think you even double back once. I would estimate it at 1/4 mile or better with only a few moving sidewalks to help.

I took time to browse the duty-free shops and picked up some chocolates, some 15-year old Glenlivet and a bottle of Sambuco, and a bottle of perfume for the wife. From my perspective, given the competitive prices in my home area, these shops offer little incentive except for some local items and liquor. The perfume was actually more expensive than my nearby department store (even considering sales tax at home) and there were few, if any real "bargains" to be had. But the liquor can save a pretty penny in many cases.

Then, off to the British Airways lounge. They do a very nice job of making you comfortable and have plush seating, a fully stocked bar, decent snacks, and tasty sandwiches. I took advantage of all of that -- especially the bar. This was not the cheap stuff either, it was all top-shelf labels. The only problem was that the premier lounge had no power outlets for notebooks. So, after I had my fill there, I went downstairs to the standard lounge so I could plug in, charge up, and connect to the Internet.

Well, I couldn't get my Apple connected using the iPass account, so I had to use only the Tablet PC. That was okay as I still could check my office email and take care of some tasks, but couldn't post my blog entries or easily check my personal email accounts. Time went by quickly though and before long it was time to board.

The plane was a newer Boeing 777 with a separate First Class and Club area. The Club area was quite large and was full. I found myself sitting next to two young girls, around 6 or 7 years old, and their mother. Boy, I hope they're quiet. Hopefully, they've been traveling like I have and started very early this morning and in a different time zone. Maybe I'll get some sleep.

A Terrible Farewell to Uganda

Robert was right on schedule with the care and after checking out at 6:00 we were on our way to the airport at Entebbe.Kampala looks different when dark and deserted as it is this time of morning. I noticed the full moon in the sky and hoped that it didn't mean that strange things would happen all day. The trip was quiet and uneventful, UNTIL we arrived at the airport. At the first security checkpoint, the 3 well-armed men approached the car and the leader told the driver to step out. He then opened the back door and asked me if I knew that Uganda had very strict laws about seatbelt use. I showed him that my seatbelt was on. He said it was on "incorrectly" and ordered me to step out of the car. Shakedown time.

I exited and took in my surroundings. No other cars, no buildings, no people, and we were not in view of the terminal. I asked him what the usual fine was and he said that the passenger was fined 20,000 shillings (about $12) and the driver 100,000 shillings (about $60) which, since I hired him, I would have to pay. I told him all I had was 23,000 shillings and asked him if it was enough. He said something to the other guard and then said it would indeed be sufficient. So I gave him the money and we were sent on our way to the terminal.

Pulling up to the departure area, Robert got out and just kept saying "thank you sir, thank you sir" over and over again. I looked for a security booth or airport management office to report the incident but didn't see anything.

I went through the whole check-in process at the airport where I ran into another small glitch. I presented my passport and original ticket receipt in order to gain entry to the counter area. They wouldn't let me pass because my receipt indicated my flight was on 7/18, my original departure date. I explained the change but they wanted to see something on paper. I said it was an electronic ticket anyway so the paper was not the important thing. I had to ask them to get a British Airways person to clear it up. After all, how do they address electronic ticketing here?

An official with British Air came over and quickly cleared up the situation, allowing me in. When she saw that I was flying Business Class, she offered to escort me. On the way to the counter, I told her of the shakedown at the security checkpoint on the airport road and asked her if there was someone I should report this to. She chuckled and said that this was Africa and there was little to be done about such things. The news accounts, travel reports and guide books all speak of this sort of thing occurring in many African countries, but I had no reason to expect it in Uganda. Well, it was a bad experience but at least they settled for the shillings and didn't search me or my bags. After check-in, I made a beeline for the lounge and had a bourbon and coke, then a second one a few minutes later. It helped some.

The boarding call for my British Air 9:10 flight came at 8:30, so I went to the gate and past the checkpoint. There, we all waited until they actually began boarding, which didn't start until 9:30. So, we took off about 45 minutes late. The pilot said we would make up the time and then some, arriving early at Heathrow.

The plane was recently refitted and had the new lounging/sleeper seats in Club class. These are great, with complete reclining and personal video setups. This shouldn't be a bad flight at all.


A woman was traveling with 2 very small children who took turns crying for almost the entire 8 hours. Everyone in Club class was going nuts over it. Folks couldn't sleep and others, including me, couldn't even hear the video with our headphones on, I wonder what the rest of the day has in store?

Last Day in Uganda

Well, today's my last day here and I am in a rush to get everything done. I had Robert, the driver, stop off at the craft market in Kampala on the way to the office. The market is located behind the national theater and consists of about 20 small shack-like booths. For the most part, they all sell the same stuff, and the majority of it comes from Kenya. You can find some unique local items and that's one of the challenges. The other is haggling over the final price. I bought a few masks, a pair of bottle-openers as gifts at the office, and some canvas art I think I'm going to frame. Not much really.

At the office, things were slow but I still had a fair amount to do. Amongst other things, I have to document and report on all the work done, and what remains to be done. I also had to organize all of the equipment and pieces. I also wanted to be sure I left my work areas as clean and neat, or better, than I found them.

The electrician adding capacity for our new equipment arrived at the office around 4:00 to start work and someone has to stay with him. I told him that I'd give him an hour, then I had to leave. I called the driver and after waited. Forty minutes later, I caught a lift from one of our staff as they left.

A final dinner at Emin Pasha was in order and the restaurant was a bit busy. I had their wonderful Beef Fillet that comes with a mound of mashed potatoes and mashed yams in a layered mound. Delicious. The restaurant staff and bar manager all bade me farewell. As I passed through the office on the way back to the room, the desk staff also took the time to talk to me and offer their goodbyes. No sooner was I in my room and beginning to pack when Shenny, from housekeeping stopped by for turn down service. She said she had waited until I got back so she could say goodbye as well. We talked for a few minutes and I wished her good luck with her studies and upcoming examinations.

Packing took less time than I thought and I was done in 20 minutes. One last check of email and off to sleep.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sabrina's for Jazz

Last night, the Ugandan staff took me out to a local nite spot called Sabrina's. It was Jazz night and the music was pretty good, even if it wasn't really Jazz. It was a nice night under the stars with good beer, good company, and fair music.

Since I have developed a preference for and wanted a Club Beer, a Ugandan ale, we had to sit outside the central area. It seems that Tusker Lager was sponsoring the Jazz night and you could only order Tusker in that area.

Unfortunately, a problem at the office back home forced me to abandon the group for almost 45 minutes at one point as I received a series of calls from my staff as well as other concerned Executives about the problem. All was under control though, but I guess they wanted my reassurance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Roller Coaster Day

It was a roller coaster day when it comes to hope and despair. First it looked up as we solved a major problem, just to drop down again when another problem surfaced. This time, it seemed the equipment we had ordered was missing a critical component and I couldn't proceed without it. The vendor was perplexed as their supplier said they had installed them. To convince them, I had to take a digital photo of each piece and email it.

Near the end of the day I had resigned myself to not getting enough done this trip. I mentioned I may even take Thursday off to go see "something". The ladies in the office then said they wanted to take me out for drinks after work tomorrow so I agreed. Then, about 5:30, the vendor shows up with the components. I didn't know whether to be relieved or ticked off. I still don't.

I'll go in early tomorrow and see how far I can get. I have the company presentation to make at lunch too, so there's an hour or more gone from the day.

One of my colleagues that happens to also be here is going to Jinja tomorrow to see the "Source of the Nile" and such. I'll see what she thought of the trip and maybe, just maybe, do that on Thursday.

Tuesday is looking better

Despite starting out heavily overcast, this morning developments make me think this will be a better day. I got word late last night (actually early this morning) that there won't be any service or warranty issues with the equipment. Then, the local vendor arrived at the office at shortly past 9 with some additional items, then returned about an hour later with my power cords! Hurray! I can start!

Today is also the first time I have had to use lights in the office, other than at night. It is so overcast here and a slight scent of rain in the air, but nothing so far. The farmers here need it so badly. Our project manager here in Kampala has a coffee farm and he said his crop is not doing well and is requiring a lot of irrigation.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ugandan Burgers

Burgers are easy to find here in Uganda, and perhaps you recall Mr. Tastee from my previous post about them. However, burgers here are more like meat loaf patties than hamburgers. There are a lot of filler and flavorings that go into it. So, should you ever order one, just be prepared.

I had one this evening from room service as I was too tired to go to the restaurant. Service was great, but it was piled high with onions. I had specifically said no onions. I called the restaurant and they said "that's the way we make it, otherwise it's not a burger". Well, it wasn't anything a little scraping and a lot of ketchup couldn't fix.

This Trip Could be B-U-S-T

I finally got my software near 6 pm today, losing yet another whole day. But in the process, I discovered a label that led me to finding out that our local Kampala computer vendor had ordered our equipment from another computer dealer in California. There are several problems with this.

First, our goal was to support local companies and the African product pipeline. If we had wanted equipment that originated in the US, we could have bought it wholesale ourselves, configured everything there, and then shipped it over here! And saved some money in the process.

Second, the equipment was meant for use in the US, which means it has a US warranty. Most manufacturers are real sticklers about this.

Third, but not least, is whether there is a warranty at all since a dealer resold it to another dealer. This is called "grey market" business and generally voids all warranties.

I am having my staff check on this for me. I hope there is good news, but I am expecting that it isn't. Bad news, that there is no service contract or warranty, means I will send all of it back to the vendor and start over. This will cause me a significant delay. But I can't take the risk with $36,000 worth of equipment on a critical project.

So, that's also three days wasted. Granted the weather has been good compared to back home (where I hear it is sweltering hot), but if I had known I wouldn't get anything done I'd have scheduled a side trip, visited the Kasubi Tombs (where Ugandan royalty is buried), or something.

No Sunshine

This morning is the first time I have been in Kamapala that it was overcast. No sun whatsoever. Of course, the breeze was nice and the temps were down in the 60's, but it just wasn't the same without sun.

No vendor deliveries yet and almost 1/2 the day is gone. I'll have to get them back on the phone.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Getting Around in Kampala

On my prior trip I had picked up some good experience dealing with drivers for hire. One things Americans must do is to check their assumptions at the door. It is easy to think that Ush 20,000 (appx. $11.50) is a good fare from one point to another, but it is probably double what a Ugandan would pay — maybe even triple.

I liked the service I got from the driver, Robert, who picked me up at the airport. Given that he was hired by Emin Pasha Hotel gave me some confidence as well. I negotiated a deal with him to be my regular “call” when I needed a taxi and, in exchange, he gave me a very good rate. He has also been on time every single time, and quick to respond for unplanned trips.

There are other ways to move around the city and country as well. A step down from a private hire is a “special” car. These are white cars with black stripes and a big “S” on them.

This reminds me of a joke I heard in the movie “Trading Places” (Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd).

A snail won the lottery and immediately went to the closest Cadillac dealer. He ordered a deVille and told them he wanted a big “S” painted on the hood and both rear doors. When the dealer asked him what he said that when he went town the street, he wanted to hear people say ‘Look at that S-car go!”.

Back to the story…

A recent addition to the Ugandan capitol are Yellow Taxis. These will be more familiar to most westerners as they are painted yellow, usually have TAXI lights, and are equipped with meters.

There are also Commuter Taxis. These are passenger vans, painted white with blue stripes or dash-like lines. They operate from the city’s main taxi stands and the road system is packed with them during the week as they are the main means of transport in Kampala. My opinion is they are also the single largest contributors to traffic problems as drivers jockey all of the roads in an effort to nab another fare.

There are also the boda-boda. These are motorcycles, scooters, and even bicycles that take passengers for somewhat short trips for very small sums. They are popular for quick trips around communities and also for going into the areas where automobiles may find it difficult to traverse. Some boda-boda are even hired to carry cargo, such as banana stalks, lumber, and other supplies.

Going Global Can Create New Challenges for Existing IT Staffs

When a business decides to expand its operations outside the U.S. borders, it takes on a whole new complexity. I believe this has been an assumption of business managers for quite some time, and it is definitely true. But in the information technology field, I am not sure that people are focusing on all the new issues that will confront them.

In the simplest of scenarios, an office setup to provide a local presence in a foreign country will require the support staff to completely rethink their processes and delve into areas that they have been able to ignore in the past. Simple desktop or notebook computers now beg the question of language, character sets, fonts, keyboard layouts, date and time formats, time zones, dictionaries, and most updates and patches are first released in English. That homogenous environment that the company once had is now gone. These remote systems cannot be managed using the same practices and processes that are used for a strictly U.S. operation. Are your staff members ready for those challenges?

How will these foreign systems, with different configurations and character sets interact with those systems in the U.S. If everything is written to standard APIs and data interchange standards, things should generally be alright. But how many times do you think shortcuts were taken to meet deadlines or cost constraints? Or perhaps you have a new developer who has not quite bought in to the process because it seems so much more work than just sitting down and coding it? It would be prudent to allocate testing time to ensure that there are no surprises when deployed to the off shore users. Date formats alone could create all kinds of problems with accounting and personnel systems if not handled properly. For example, there's a big difference between expressing June 12, 2005 as 6/12/2005 and 12/06/2005.

Then, there is the topic of localization of custom developed software. One cannot always assume that foreign staff will be able to operate in an all-English environment. How will your developers or contractors handle such issues and will they be able to do is successfully? And lets not forget that this will increase both the time and cost from development to deployment of such systems. Are these issues factored into their budgets and timelines?

And we cannot forget the simple issue of time and distance. Foreign offices will be covering different hours so technical support needs to be available to them during their office hours. Staff will also need to be in the habit of allowing sufficient time for delivery of packages as overnight shipping is frequently not an option, or not a cost efficient option at any rate, for many locations. Even some large cities may still take express carriers several days to make deliveries.

Telecommunications can also be a whole new area to deal with in many parts of the world. The billing schedules are quite different, with base charges and per minute charges that can vary significantly depending on when and where the call is made. Internet service options can be even more complicated, with a mix of transmission facilities being available; satellite, wireless up to 4Gb, leased line, and cable. Then there is the bandwidth issue and whether your line is dedicated or shared. Don’t assume anything about the configuration.

VAT, or value added tax, is roughly the equivalent of sales tax and can be found in nearly every other country outside of North America and the rates can be as high as 40% on some types of items or services. It is quite common for the VAT to be different depending on what is being purchased. Considering the costs, it is worth investing in buying some time from a consultant or specialist to determine if, as a foreign company, you can be refunded the VAT and under what conditions. Even if you cannot get the VAT fees back for office purchases, there is a good chance that VAT paid by staff that you send to the office can be refunded. There are companies that will handle these refund processes for you in exchange for a percentage of the refund.

These are but some of the challenges that you may face. Now, how do you actually address them? A short list of pointers should help.
  1. Identify and establish a relationship with local vendors.
  2. Research other companies that are working in the same area. Its likely that they’ll be willing to share their experiences with you.
  3. In the beginning, use one of your own staff to establish the office and its systems.
  4. Review your training materials.
  5. Ensure that your accounting staff can handle quick payments in the local currency.
  6. Have someone research local banking customs. It is not unusual to have banks take a fee from the recipient of a wire transfer and that needs to be calculated into your payment amount.
  7. Find the best source of the exchange rate for the local currency. Not all banks use the same sources.
  8. Be sure to inquire with your suppliers about discounts and/or surcharges based on which currency is used. Its possible that payment in US dollars will receive a discount in some parts of the world.
  9. Meet with your sales representative from the shipping company you use most. These companies, like UPS and Federal Express, can often cut the effort involved in sending equipment abroad. Investigate other companies and UPS and FedEx are not always the best options in foreign lands.
Before you get too far down the road, you need to ask yourself "Are we ready?”

Friday, July 15, 2005

Disney Golf

I am not really into golf, but do find it an interesting diversion. I have sometimes thought that if I played more of it, I'd get more interested. Time is the problem. Disney tries to solve that for its guests and has a really good deal going on right now if you happen to be in the Disney Vacation Club. For a small annual fee, you can get discounted tee times, free transport from your resort to the links (and back again), discounted club rental, and several other perks. This sounds great!

Well, it is great as long as you can still make the time to take advantage of it. They have five championship courses all just begging to have you tee off on them. I look longingly at them each time I've passed by on a bus. But I also enjoy the parks and the resorts. What to do...what to do.

Well, I am determined to make it out for at least 18 Disney holes this year; 36 if I'm lucky. Watch this blog to see if it really happens.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why People Have to Pay Attention: A Story of a Customer Service Nightmare

I want to relate an experience that I had yesterday with very poor customer service from a large multi-national credit card company and the lessons any business can learn from it. I am currently in Uganda on business and I received a voice mail at my office to contact my credit card company's security office "by 11:00 pm". Well, the message didn't say what was going to happen at 11:00 and didn't indicate which time zone they were referring to. The gentleman left me an 800 number to call but no other information. I had always thought that such calls could be the telephone equivalent of phishing and would probably work well. Since I had dealt with this type of call before, I had the number in my organizer and confirmed that it was indeed from the credit card company.
I used my mobile phone and called the 800 number which, thankfully, seemed to be working but I was warned that the call was not toll-free from my location. It wouldn't connect. I tried twice more with no success. I had to use a landline and eventually make a series of calls to get through to their 800 number at a cost to me of about $5.80 per minute by the time it was all tallied up. I was greeted by a message telling me they were closed and that their hours were from 8:00 am until 11:00 pm Eastern time. Why couldn't the caller have said that in his message?
I waited and tried again when it was a little after 9:00 am EDT. The call was answered and I was asked to give the card number I was calling about. I replied that I had three cards with the company. She said we would have to go through them one-by-one as she had no other way to look up the reason for the call. I shared with her that I was calling from Uganda in Africa and it was costing me almost $6.00 per minute. I then gave her the first card number and was asked for some confirming information. That wasn't the card. I gave her the second number and was asked for the exact same confirming information. No dice here either and I reminded her I was calling from Uganda, in east Africa. As Murphy's Law would have it, it was the third card and I gave her the number and the same confirming information again.
Now, for the meat of the story. It seems there was a $3,000 charge from Japan on my card and their security scans caught it. That makes me feel pretty good about them being vigilant. She marked it as a bad charge and gave me the speech about checking my statement and such. Then she told me she had cancelled my card number and I would receive a new one in 2-4 weeks.

I responded, "I'm in Africa now. What am I supposed to do without my business credit card?".
Her response was, "Oh, you're in Africa?".
I took a deep breath and replied, "Yes, I mentioned that more than once. In addition, there are a few services I use that are automatically charged directly to that card each month and I'll be unable to address them while on travel in Africa. What will happen to those charges? Can I give you an approved list?"
"No, we don't do that here. Hold on sir and I'll transfer you to our card replacement department."
Another deep breath. Why do I pay so much to have this card then? "Will this be long, I am calling long distance at almost $6.00 a minute."
"Oh, I didn't realize that sir. It will just be a moment".
Well, about five minutes later she came back on the line and told me that it would just be a few more minutes. I will say that the connection was good and we could both hear each other very well. Ten more minutes went by and finally returned and said "I have them on the line sir, thank you for calling XXXX".
I said "Hello" and waited.
About 15 seconds later I heard, "Good morning sir, this is the XXXX card replacement line. How can I help you?"
I explained, in short, what I needed and was greeted by a long silence.
Finally, I heard "Hello? Hello? Sir, are you there?".
We played a few more minutes with this delay issue. I have to assume they had VoIP going and the latency was horrible. I hadn't experienced this since the first alternative long distance companies came to market in the early 1980's. Finally, I said I couldn't deal with this poor connection as I was in Africa and paying almost $6.00 per minute for the call, and can I have a direct number to call them back since I was in Uganda and toll free numbers don't work. She gave me an 800 number. I told her, again, that 800 numbers aren't much good in Africa and she finally gave me a direct dial number.
I haven't called back yet as I was too frustrated to deal with it. But there are several lessons here that any business can learn.
  1. The bogus charge was in Japan and my voice mail announcement specifically says that I am traveling out of the country on business. Why would the caller not leave an alternative direct dial number along with the 800 number? Not to mention the 11:00 issue; what happens at 11:00 and based on which time zone?
  2. The woman I first spoke with was reading from a script, and obviously mentally discarding any information not relative to her script. I told her multiple times that I was calling from Africa and it was expensive, but she did not pay any attention to that information. Now this was a $3,000 charge, but if this were a $100 charge I would have spent as much, if not more, on the phone call!
  3. A service oriented company would have found a way to work with me on the recurring charges from some of my service vendors. At least through the current billing period since I am traveling and unable to adequately address it from the road.
  4. The quality of their telecomm system involved in the transfer was atrocious. I would be ashamed and embarrassed to put any of my own clients through that. When it was obvious that there was a problem with the voice connection after the transfer, the customer service person in the card replacement department should have offered to call me back. Not only because of the connection problem, but the amount of time I had already spent, at some expense, with them on the phone. I specifically asked the card replacement person for a direct dial number because toll free numbers were useless to me in Uganda, and she procedded to give me an 800 number anyway.
  5. Now, except for the technical issue that arose after I was transferred, most of the problems were simply related to LISTENING. The original caller didn't listen to my message nor did it occur to him that, if it was a legitimate charge, that I might be in Japan at the time and not able to use an 800 number to reach them. The other telephone representatives were even worse as they were given information multiple times and just plain ignored it.
  6. Last, there is the bigger issue of servicing the good paying customer who puts many thousands of dollars in charges each month on their credit card. A good loyal customer with three credit cards from them. They left me hanging in the breeze. I am in Uganda without my main business credit card, I have several vendors that will try and charge services to my card and they won't be able to, which means I will probably get hit with fees for each and every one.

Well, thankfully I have a personal card from "another issuer" that I can use for my travel here. When I return home, I think I am going to look into taking my business to a company that can do better - if such a company really exists.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I Surrender on Posting Photos For Now

Well, I am going to give up on the photos for now. If I can swing the time, I'll upload them to a photo sharing service and reference them here. In the meantime, I'll wait for Ecto and Blogger to come to a meeting of the minds. And, yes I know I can do it manually via the browser interface but bandwidth is scarce here in Uganda and that is simply too slow.

An Absolutely Beautiful Day

Sunny and about 78 degrees here in Kampala. Sleeping wasn't that great as I am just not used to sleeping under a net. No matter what I did, I knew it was there. The morning came well, with a slight breeze and it felt great. Of course, I was awakened by a call from the front desk saying that my driver was waiting. I guess he forgot I told him 9:00 every day except today. No matter as I was ready quickly and met him at the front desk. I asked them to change my room for me to one that had air conditioning so I wouldn't worry about the netting anymore.

It was great being at the Kampala office again. Its a nice building in a quiet part of town. The staff there are great and really spoil me. I use an office on the ground floor where I can open the windows (no screens) and let nature in. Despite being somewhat tropical and in Africa, nature does not include nuisance insects as it might in the US. Its just like working outside on a Spring day!

The day went by quickly. I got a taxi for a quick trip to Game (a store like Target) to pick up some screwdrivers I was going to need for the servers. I made a side trip into the Shoprite grocery for a few things to sustain me (Coca Cola for the office and water for the hotel).

Called it a day around 6:30 and decided to stay in at the hotel. They had moved me to a room with air conditioning, but I had to give up my veranda and outside table. I was okay with that. A young lady from housekeeping came by for my turn-down service. Her name was Shenna (sp?) and was a university student working nights at the hotel. We had a good conversation about Uganda, India, and the future of East Africa in general. Her biggest concern is that the universities are pouring out graduates, but there are few jobs and the corruption and nepotism keeps qualified people unemployed. I wished her luck as she went on to the next room and I got back to work. Gonna make it a short night though.

Back in Uganda

I have to say that I like being in Uganda. It isn't home, but the people I work with are wonderful and the weather is great.

My flight arrived a little late and my bag was one of the last off of the plane. So much for the "Emirates First Class Priority" tags all over it. Since I had to wait for the baggage services folks to get the secure stuff it wasn't any great burden. Except for the moment when a woman came over and stood next to me to get her bags. She had also come from Dubai and had on a warm-up suit. It was 102-degrees in Dubai. She also had a baby in her arms that badly needed changing. Between the baby and "aromas" coming from her, I almost got sick right then and there.

I waited until the very last bag came out and went to baggage services to get my power adaptor, but they had nothing for me. They wanted to know if I would like to fill out a claim. Considering I was concerned about missing my ride, and considered the task futile anyway, I declined and left.

I looked all over the arrival lobby and outside for a driver with a sign for me, but to no avail. There were many other hotels there for pickups but not mine. After most passengers were gone, I contacted the office to call the hotel and found that the hotel had mistaken 20:30 for 10:30 and not 8:30 so the driver wasn't there. The good news was we were a bit late anyway and the driver was already on his way so I had to wait another 20 minutes. The weather was nice so I didn't mind. But the taxi drivers at Entebbe airport are extremely aggressive and one even tried to take my bags to put in his car. Security was on the ball though and stepped in to assist.

Robert, the driver, eventually arrived and the drive to Kampala was nice and uneventful. I took the opportunity to call the office. I also asked Robert if he could pick me up at 9am each weekday to take me to the office and negotiated a fare with him for the service. I told him I would sleep in a little later tomorrow though so I would have the hotel call him when I was ready.

The hotel, the Emin Pasha, is a relatively new hotel in Kampala that we had scoped out on our previous visit. A few surprises I got when I arrived were that they no longer accepted American Express and whomever had made my reservation forgot to emphasize that I needed a room with air conditioning.

The room (#10) was a patio room and very nice, complete with mosquito netting. When I walked in I immediately thought of the Expedia commercial with the lady looking at exotic hotels with mosquito netting. This was my tip-off that there was no A/C. I decided to try it for a night though. My stomach was acting up and the pepto wasn't working all that well and I was tired.

I turned on the fan and opened the windows and then immediately hopped into bed after ensuring the netting was done right. I fell asleep pretty quickly. But, the fan started making a loud clicking noise and kept waking me up. I finally got up, identified the problem, and fixed it and went back to sleep.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Dubai - every bit as good as they say

Dubai airport is a wonder. It's clean, modern, and full of wonderful shops with great varieties of merchandise. It is also set for a major expansion. The construction going on here appears to be destined to build terminals and hangars bigger than what is already in place. I guess it is becoming the hub of the Arab world.

My only complaint, and its a small one, is that the maps given to us on the plane don't match the gate numbering in the terminal. To add to that, the gate number I was given for my flight was incorrect. Then, we were unloaded on the tarmac and bussed to the terminal. The instructions on the bus were being read in English, but the volume was so low I couldn't understand. I got off at the first stop anyway under the assumption they would drop off connecting passengers first. I turned out to be correct. Then I had to go through another very thorough security checkpoint and the detectors sensitivity must have been set very high. They guy in front of me had a single coin, about the size of a penny, and it was setting them off. Until he realized it, I thought they were going to make him strip bare!

It even looks cool from the air. As you approach the airport, you fly in low over desert lands. They look just like in the movies except for the sprinkling of greenery. And, every mile or so there is a large plot that is all green. They have certainly done wonders with this land!

The airport lounge is also opulent. The business class area for Emirates passengers has a complete and full buffet as well as a fully stocked bar. Nice. If I wasn't fed so well on the flight I just disembarked from, I would dig in.

Parting thoughts on India

India is, despite some appearances, a warm and inviting place. The people are friendly and always willing to help. They have a tradition of respect and some formalities that is refreshing in today's world. Like many countries that are still struggling to come to grips with the financial woes of their populace, India has places where citizens live in abject poverty. They don't make an effort to hide it either. But, from my short time in the country, I believe that India has the capacity and potential to overcome much of this problem in the coming decades; it will not be an overnight event.

India reminds me of the US in ways. In modern times, they got their Independence from Britain, they are a mix of diverse cultures under a single umbrella -- a melting pot if you will. There are some ethnic tensions but most people I met seems to ignore them and accept others as they are. India is made up states with a central federal government and there seems to be the same kind of politicking between these two groups as there is in the US.

I also believe India to be on the edge of a technological renaissance. Fast Internet bandwidth is coming to many places and will soon be affordable to most middle income families, mobile phones are everywhere and the main communications tool. As the mobile phone market evolves with information gathering and sharing features, we'll see even more social change.

Despite such a large population, India moved early to get control over the matter of air quality. In Delhi, almost all public transport, including taxis and three-wheelers, run off of compressed natural gas (CNG) instead of gas or diesel. I noted a fair number of private autos appear to be running on CNG as well. It seems to me that the knowledge of how to bring this about and properly manage it would be an excellent export for India. My experiences in many other major cities (including many in the US) seem to indicate that it would be warranted and welcome.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Putting India Behind Me

Today I leave India. Its misty and raining so perhaps India is sad too. I have to admit that I am going to miss it at least a little. The ride to the airport was quick and the driver took me through some very rundown areas. I thought it interesting in one case when we were on a small street with storefronts that clearly looked like they had seen better days; about 10 of the shops were "sweet" shops. Indians sure do like their sweets!

The airport in Delhi is not the easiest to navigate. It has wide open spaces, but it isn't clear where to go or what to do. First, you have to have the baggage you are checking scanned. They put a closed band around your luggage and then you go to your airline check-in. By the way, there aren't any signs labeling the check-in counters. After check-in, there is immigration, which is marked well, and then customs.

All of this gets you into another lobby area with a few duty-free stores and the airline lounges. You are still not at the boarding gates. You have to pass through a security screening to get to the gates.

The Clipper Lounge, the area for Emirate Air (and others) business and first class passengers, is nice, quaint, and small. There is no wireless Internet access at the airport but there is a "pay terminal" in the lounge. Simple sandwiches and cookies are the staple food. The smoking portion (yes, they have a smoking area) and the non-smoking area are separated only by a two-foot high decorative railing. I ask myself, "why bother?".

I have yet to be in a Business Class lounge that didn't mess up my boarding call. So I decided to head for the gate when I thought it was about the right time. A good thing that I did that too! I was held up at the only staffed security point for almost 20 minutes. First there was a fellow in front of me that was waiting for a colleague, and he wouldn't take his 15 bags off of the X-ray belt, keeping the security staff from scanning any more; but they weren't pressing him to remove them either. I passed through the body scanner okay but they decided to wand me anyway. Then, it seemed that the fellow in front of me needed to have a bag searched, and one of mine was "tagged" for search as well. Despite having six people at this checkpoint, only one was looking at bags while the others discussed a recent cricket match.

When the security guard opened this guy's bag and removed a wooden box, there was an 8-place silverware set inside complete with steak knives! This ensued a 10-minute debate between the guard the passenger on why he couldn't carry it on the plane. This guy just did not understand why he couldn't take his knives and forks on the flight! Where has he been hiding? Eventually, after several other people, including a military officer, joined in, they led the man away along with his 14 other bags of stuff.

The guard went through my bag THOROUGHLY and questioned me on every bit of electronics I had. They were the usual power cords, adaptors, and a few different cables. Eventually, they wouldn't let me take my AC/DC power adaptor on the plane and they "confiscated" the DC power plug from the kit because it looked suspicious to them. I am not sure whether all of this makes me feel safer or not. My flight was now on final boarding so I gave it up and figured I'd buy a new one in Kampala or maybe even Dubai. They put the adaptor in a big envelope and told me it would be in baggage claim in Entebbe and I could pick it up with a claim check they handed me. (Follow-up note: it never arrived in Entebbe. Shocking!)

Boarding was a different experience. Emirates boards women and children first -- always. Then boards the usual first, business, and frequent flier passengers. I boarded and got seated. I was pleased to find out they had upgraded me to First Class and I was one of only three people in the cabin. This meant there was a 1:1 ratio of attendants to passengers in First Class. The pilot then announced we would have to delay departure for 20 minutes because the tower had cleared too many inbound flights for landing. When we eventually headed for the runway, I saw at least 40 other planes stacked up to leave Delhi. It almost looked like an airlift.

Flying first class on Emirates will spoil you and you'll never be able to fly Southwest again (no disprespect intended). Instead of one or two choices of food you are presented with an entire menu and a complete wine list. Full meals are at least 3 courses, with dinner being 4. And all of the food was terrific! The seats are comfortable with loads of leg room (see photo) and move into all sorts or positions. There is no underseat storage though. In fact, storage seemed to be a little tight in this cabin as the center seats also had no overhead compartments. Each seat has a video station where you can watch what is on the plane's systems (some TV shows, a few movies), play interactive games like Tetris, or get a tape of a current movie from the flight crew to watch.

Between the champagne, wine, and appertif I was feeling pretty good by time we were on final descent into Dubai!