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.

Receptions

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.

Wrong!

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!

Being Howard Hughes for a Day, Sans the Toenails

I passed up on a city tour today due to the driving rain. Instead, a late breakfast hit the spot. I thought I'd stick around the lobby and, using WiFi, get some work done from there. The noise level eventually drove me out though. Then I holed up in the room and worked on my reports and email all day.

Okay, I admit I took a break and watched Spiderman and Fantastic Four cartoons for an hour. As far as "interesting", all I can say is that absolutely nothing "interesting" happened today. I even tried to get another massage but they didn't have a free appointment time.

Going to dinner now then back here to wrap up packing. This is my last night in India as I leave for Uganda in the morning.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Quiet Sunday

Finally got a decent night's sleep and did something kind of special; I had breakfast served at the poolside patio. The sun was out and the humidity was only 90%. It was really nice moment.

Afterwards, reality intervened as I looked at my task list and saw that I needed to get started on all the things I had to do. Within moments, the sun was covered by clouds and the rain started. Oh, well. I get the hint and it was good while it lasted.

Despite having been out of my room for several hours and hanging the "Please Clean Room" sign on the door, they hadn't. I'll live as I don't really mess it up that much anyway.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Massage My Cares Away

After wrapping up some work and grabbing lunch, I decided to wander the hotel grounds. The pool was nice and I had a drink at the bar. Then I noticed an outside entrance to the Spa and got a bit curious so I wandered in.

After reviewing their offerings, I decided to treat myself to a massage. Specifically, to a deep tissue back massage. I made an appointment and returned on time. I had also decided to add a shoulder massage.

Boy, was that a g-o-o-o-d idea! I think I'm going back tomorrow.

Oh...the two massages and tip came to a whopping $22.

Friday, July 8, 2005

I Know it Wasn't a Dream

First thing after getting up I put on the news and grabbed the paper from my door. Nothing was mentioned anywhere about the incident early in the morning. Not a word. Perhaps the paper is published too early, but you'd think it would have been on the news.

Arriving downstairs for breakfast, I asked at the front desk and they said that the news sometimes doesn't report such things because they don't want to encourage others. Hmm. Well, you know there are no American journalists involved in that decision as they wouldn't hesitate to report anything at all.

Bang-bang

Its now 2:30 am and a loud series of noises has woken me from my light sleep. I see light flashes out the window and various series of "pop-pop, bang-bang-bang" noises assaults me ears. I start by assuming it is some sort of strange storm or perhaps a transformer has blown (since electric service here is not that great anyway). Its coming from in front of the hotel. I take a quick look and there are two cars, one on its side, in the road across from the hotel with people hiding behind them. I see sparks come off of roof of the car. Dressing quickly, I leave my room for a window in the hallway that affords a better view.

There is a black van with POLICE on it and several officers using it for cover. They are holding up some type of rifle or pistol and aiming at the other two cars. This is a shootout!

I get back to the room and call the front desk but get no answer. I grab a few things and put on shoes, ready to evacuate if necessary. Earlier in the week, there was a "terrorist" attack on a government facility in another Indian city that resulted in several deaths. I wasn't sure if they were related but I wasn't going to wait. Not after London.

I tried the front desk one more time and someone answered. They explained that the police were dealing with some people who robbed a bank up the street and I should stay in my room away from the windows. Well, that's batter than terrorists anyway. I occasionally glanced out the window and eventually saw one of the people by the cars (robbers?) fall and the others bolted for the park. Within several minutes it was all over and now, less than an hour later, you wouldn't even have known it happened.

Friday Brings the Weekend

Well, we finalized our work by signing a contract with one of the vendors. We then went back to the office site to update the people we are working with as well as the Director there. They were quite pleased with the developments.

Now, the new work begins. We have to finish designing the network interface to the Internet, procure other equipment, and I have to write up reports and the paperwork to accompany the contract and expenditures. Now, something happened to really peeve me a bit and bring me off of my high about the vendor we selected.

At 4:45 we met in the hotel lobby to finalize the contract. Several times during the week I emphasized that they needed to provide me with any and all paperwork that needed completion so I could prepare the staff back in the US to assist with anything, including legal review, that may come up. All the vendors had given me various piles of papers, including this one. But at the meeting, he gives me NEW papers to complete and, by the way, we need startup payment now. I looked at him with a completely blank stare, composed myself, then asked him why he had not done all this earlier. I told him that I had previously explained why I needed ALL of it earlier in the week and that this particular week is a very popular vacation time in the US and some of the staff I needed to assist on this were not in the office. In addition, people are not just sitting around waiting for me to send things for them to review or process, they have other work to do. And here it was at 5:00 on Friday when I leave in a few days! I was quite taken aback, as was my Indian colleague.

After some talking and "negotiation", accompanied by a few calls from him to his office, we got it all worked out to both party's satisfaction. Although, I now have much more work in front of me for Saturday. Phew, I am going to be busy.

After it was all said and done, I thought it best to take a little break. I got a bite to eat in The Cafe, then adjourned to the "Polo Lounge" for a cold beer. That helped put a cap on the day.

By 7:00, I figured it was time to go back to work so I ambled to the room, cracked open the notebooks and got to writing. A lot of email flew around as I was making arrangements for the payments, orders, and writing the supporting paperwork for the contracts. It was a very long day.

A Little Drive Around Town

I did manage to take a few hours with our guy in Delhi (who, by the way, is a terrific individual I am proud to have met) and drive around a bit between meetings. We went to the old British Colonial shopping area where there is major construction going on for the new Metro subway system (see photo). We got out and walked around the shopping district for a while. Interesting area, with stores grouped by type. Restaurants are together, travel agencies together, bookstores, etc.

We then drove around a bit more, past the diplomatic area again. We also visited the Indian Cottage Industries Center for a bit. Its a government store, about 6 stories high, that has goods from all over India, including rugs, carvings, precious jewelry, silk, and many other items at reasonable prices.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed the provincial stores. These are retail stores operated by the various Indian states and provinces to hawk wares that their region specializes in. Its an effort by the Indian government to be sure that all of India is presented for visitors to the capitol city.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Not another Z

Well, couldn't sleep so got back online. Still trying to see if I can get ecto to do Blogger photos.

My wife e-mailed me to say that our son's iPod had come back from repair but it was the wrong one. Not a big deal except his was custom engraved with his name and the message "Do not leave in pockets!". The one he received says "CHASER GO GATORS!". Efforts to get Apple on the phone have failed as the wait times have been horrendous.

I have everything lined up for the day so I guess I'll go get breakfast.

More of the Same

Thursday morning. I didn't sleep a wink so was up an online really early. Today's forecast is 85 and rain. Even breakfast was the same as the last few days, with good food and good service, until you need the check.

Meetings in the hotel with vendors went until 3:00. One of them was the fellow from ICM (see earlier post) and they had dropped their price another 28%. But, get this. He says they use another company to provide local connectivity (last mile) and that company doesn't have fiber optic where we need it so they propose a copper cable solution instead. The odd thing is that the company they partner with is one of the vendors we have been talking to and they proposed fiber optic because it is already there and only needs to be run to the building from the street! Obviously these folks don't talk.

I did my usual window watching and it looks like bad news for the cows. A large Indian military truck was stopped in the street and several uniformed guys were trying to lift a cow into the back. The cow looked dead or stunned. Next to the truck, on the side of the road, was a small Suzuki with a really large dent in the front right that pushed up the hood. I am assuming the driver hit the cow and now the cow was going to be steak, burgers, and sausage for the military.

I had a headache and took an Advil. Then I made the mistake of lying down for a moment and, you guessed it, woke up six hours later.

I made my calls, wrapped up email, and completed reports and a prelim status report for the client.

As they say in Hollywood, "that's a wrap!"

My sympathies to all Londoners

The news of the bombings shook New Delhi hard as it lays fairly exposed as well. As a former British colony, there are still very close ties between the UK and India.

I can't imagine the horror and chaos that Britons at the scenes had to experience. I can only offer my condolences and personal sympathies to those effected by this terrible act.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Hump Day in New Delhi

More meetings today starting at 9:00. The forecast is 85 and rain.

Had my standard breakfast and met folks in the lobby. Then we had to go to the office location again, thus another interesting taxi ride. Afterwards, we went to a local Indian Restaurant called Lázeez Áffaire. The food was excellent. Funny thing though; they served Corona beer! I thought that a little peculiar to find in India at an Indian restaurant.

We drove around Delhi for a bit afterwards. We went past the Parliament, the President's Residence, the India Gate, the Bloody Gate (see photo on left), the old shopping district, and several other landmarks. We had to get back to the office site for a late meeting with some vendors. On the way back, we passed by the Police Memorial and the diplomatic area where most of the embassies are located; similar to Massachusettes Avenue in Washington DC.

We got there a little early and we had drinks in the cafeteria. I had a Pepsi and it set me back a whole $0.11. Not bad compared to the $3 at the hotel. I tried to buy a few extra to take but there are issues involved in the recycling of the bottles and such.

The meetings went well. On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver stopped on the roadside. He got out, crossed the busy street to a vendor. He came back and handed me a bag that had a 2-litre bottle of Pepsi in it. My colleague had told him about the cafeteria. Extra tip for this guy!

I was back in my room at 6:00. I had calls to make later in the evening but decided to lie down and watch a little TV to unwind. I juped up to a knock on my door. It was housekeeping and they had mistaken my DO NOT DISTURB sign for PLEASE CLEAN MY ROOM. They apologized and I went back in to change TV channels. It seemed a bit dark in the room but the rains make it that way. I hit the lights and went to CNN for the latest when I saw the time was 11:20! Holy cow, I must have been more tired than I thought as I didn't even realize I had really fallen asleep!

I made my calls and its now 1:05. I'm turning in.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

The Peter Principle

Many of you might recall a management book from the 1970's (and updated since) called "The Peter Principle" by Lawrence J. Peter. The essence of it was that people are often promoted based on their past performance, not necessarily for their future potential or qualifications. Promotions were handled as rewards, not as strategic hiring decisions. As a result, an employee would eventually be promoted to a job that they could not do, nor would they be promoted out of it. I once heard it phrased like this; "A person will rise to the level of their incompetency". Unfortunately, this is still a very common occurrence, especially in technology positions.

So, how do we solve this? Well, it requires more time and effort in mentoring, timely and thorough performance evaluations, and most importantly, good position descriptions. It also requires good communication to the employees as to how promotions are carried out and how they can determine if they are qualified. Another factor, smaller but important, is that promotions in the company should not be touted as rewards but as important management decisions.

A position description must be written that describes the current job, along with all of its responsibilities and how the person holding the job will be evaluated. All too often in technology, we see this as an afterthought when it really should be the very first thing we consider. It is also imperative that these position descriptions be kept current. I can't tell you how many I have seen that indicate that some skill is needed for a product that doesn't exist any longer or is not in use in the organization.

So, how is this principle dangerous to our own companies? Well, the biggest threat may be to our own employees. When a good producer is promoted to a job they can't do, they'll rarely accept a lower job out of fear of appearing to be a failure. In frustration, most will likely leave the company. Then there is the issue of the other employees that can see the person is incapable of successfully doing their job. Morale problems begin to creep in as they see the other person not performing while they are working hard. When it gets to this point, it is almost a no-win situation.

Large companies weather this better than small companies. They are big enough to support internal transfers and have other ways of shoring up the poor performer, either with support or by providing a face-saving action. Smaller companies don't usually have this option and the atmosphere is more like a small town, where everybody knows everybody. Thus, the small company often loses the employee.

Windows provide interesting views of the world

Now some missives on my day.

At various points in the day I had glanced out my room window and noticed that there were cattle in the street. In general, I wasn't too surprised, but this is the Ring Road so it is quite a busy thoroughfare. Drivers just stopped or went around the cows if they wandered too far into the road.

Also, there are some tents (made from poly taps) across from the hotel that people obviously live in. Given the location and local "flavor" I was a little surprised at this.

Driving too and from the location where the office will be located, there were many times that local males were observed urinating in the street and sidewalks. Even when we pulled into the office complex, one of the security guards at the street entrance was doing his business next to the guard shack. Not behind it or on the far, less observable side, but between it and the street.

Rocks. Everywhere we went there were piles of rocks beside the road. At first I thought they were from construction or part of some type of erosion control during monsoon season. But, when I asked, nobody seemed to know why they were there -- just that they were.

Driving in New Delhi is just like driving in any crowded metropolis. As Americans, we are more used to order by driving in lanes, stopping at red lights, using turn signals (well, maybe we don't do that as much as we should). In these other parts of the world, I have noticed that these things are primarily ignored unless there are police around. A two-lane road will frequently be supporting three or four lines of cars. Traffic at stop lights all crowds together to fit as many cars as possible into as small a space as possible. And, everyone uses their horn all the time. ALL THE TIME! It seems to be almost constantly on. I couldn't wait to get back to the relative silence of my room to give my aural senses a break.

No photos yet

Well, I still haven't figured it out. I picked up a program called ecto after reading about it in one of my Mac magazines. It seems to have quite a following and a lot of power. But I just can't figure out how to add photos to a BLOGGER site.

I'll eventually get there, even if I have to use a browser and do it manually.

Monday, July 4, 2005

When it rains, it pours

Especially during monsoon season in India. Up until a week or so ago, temperatures here in New Delhi were well over 110 degrees F. Now that the rains have come, today's temperature is around 85 F or so, but humidity is 100%. That's what several inches of rain will do to a city.

Breakfast. The most important meal of the day. There is an eatery called "The Cafe" (original, no?) in the hotel that has great ambience. There is a two-story waterfall and a lot of marble. They have a great little American-style breakfast for 225 rupees (about $5.25). Service was pretty quick too. In fact, it took less time to be seated, order, get my food and eat it, than it did to get my check.

At 10:30 I met our man in New Delhi for the first series of meetings. They went very well and I believe I navigated the political waters well enough that everyone was happy. All the people I met were extremely pleasant.

A quick trip back to the hotel to meet some vendors. The hotel lobby is very conducive to business meetings and there is even a hostess to provide refreshments (at a cost). Generally, the vendor meetings seemed to go well. There is one ISP that I have been dealing with (lets use a fictional name for them of ICM) by e-mail for a few months who sent a local sales engineer to meet with me. I so preferred the engineer as he seemed more service oriented and sincere.

The two vendors did follow-up on their commitments to get me pricing at the end of the day. I was surprised, and a little miffed as well, that ICM was now giving me a substantially lower price. Why did I have to fly 8000 miles to get a lower price? The other company offered a very fair price.

I'll have to mull these over and consider the ramifications of each.

Over the rivers and over the woods, to India I go


I waited in the lounge having orange juice and muffins for several hours since it was a 6-hour layover. I took off for my gate about an hour early as my last experience was that they forgot to announce my flight in the lounge. The gate area was packed with what appeared to be many families heading to New Delhi. I waited a little while and was amongst the first to board. I got settled in quickly and had my champagne to start off. We took off about 10 minutes late and I was on my way to India.

I'm not sure exactly why, but I managed to doze off almost right after I put my seat back. I awoke for dinner then nodded off again for a few hours. All in all, I think I managed about 4 hours sleep; a record for me on an airplane.

The movie choices were the same except I did watch Miss Congeniality 2 this time. Not a waste of time since I was a captive on the plane anyway, but if I had watched it at home I think I'd been a bit upset at wasting 100 minutes of my life. Oh, poor Sandra! How far we have fallen.

The flight was very uneventful, which is kind of good. We landed about 30 minutes late. Navigating the New Delhi airport proved to be pretty easy, but they could benefit by a few more instructional signs. Some things weren't all that obvious and people were headed in all different directions.

My bag came up with the first batch and I cleared immigration and customs pretty quickly. There were so many people in the arrival area that it took me quite some time to locate the driver holding my name up. He took me to his little diesel powered car and loaded my stuff. I noticed he was blocked in and was about to get a little frustrated at having to wait when he just started pushing one of the cars; it was in neutral! He then pushed the other car and had a clear path, though he did leave them in the middle of the parking lane after having pushed them.

Weather? Well, it was 11 at night and it was 92 degrees F and at least 100% humidity.

It took about 30 minutes to get to the hotel and I was pleasantly surprised and had decent expectations of my room. The hotel lobby is gorgeous and spaceous, with several restaurants and service areas all well appointed. When I got to my room, I thought they had mistakenly put me in a closet. The whole room can't be bigger than 10x12 feet, with a short corridor and a cramped bathroom. And they call this a "King room". I'd surely hate to see the "Prince room".

I took the time to unpack and get settled, and I noticed that the bed looks comfortable and inviting. Very inviting. It is comfortable so I am signing off to doze off.

Holland, Here I Come

Other than the trials and tribulations mentioned in my last entry, the rest of the flight was fine. KLM has a good business class service, albeit a bit dated. The lack of power plugs frustrates me to no end. My seatmate slept, but tossed and turned with his limbs and elbows flying everywhere.

Something must have distracted the crew as our breakfast came out only 35 minutes from arrival. This made everything rushed and hurried as we tried to eat fast and they tried to serve and clean-up quickly. The food was okay, but nothing outstanding.

We arrived in Amsterdam near our scheduled time and touched down about 10 minutes early. Then we taxied for almost 30 minutes to get to the terminal. If I didn't know better, I'd think we landed in Rotterdam and drove to Schipol!

It was an interesting trek though. I noticed that several major roads go under taxiways or runways at the airport and, although the airport seems smaller than Dulles, the actual acreage seems significantly vaster. As for Amsterdam itself, it was chilly, about 50 degrees F, and raining. I almost thought we had landed in London by mistake.

Despite being 6:15 in the morning, the airport was pretty busy. I was surprised how many children were around. I would estimate that at least 1/3 of the people were under the age of 16. The casino was pretty busy too, as were the duty free stores. My connecting flight was 5 hours away and had not yet been assigned a gate. So, I located the most central KLM lounge and headed for it. My route took me past several of the "resting" or "sleeping" lounges which were packed full and most of the people seemed to be Asian. I assume flights from there arrive late at night and they have to await morning connections.

The lounge wasn't too busy with about 40 people already there. It was a big lounge though. There were a few families with kids sprawled out on the soft chairs and sofas. I checked in with the staff. This is about my 10th time in Amsterdam KLM lounges and I have to say that they have the least warmth and personality of any lounge or KLM employee I have ever met. They give you the impression that you are a bother and their life would be better if you had never shown up. And, god forbid you have a question! I asked about my connecting flight, which I thought was reasonable since it wasn't on any of the monitors. You'd have thought I asked the woman about her underwear or something else equally insulting. I keep meaning to write to KLM about that but I always forget by the end of my travel.

The snacks and drinks in the lounge are okay and kept me awake and alert. Within two hours, the lounge was packed with businessmen (yes, men as there were very few women not already there). These were rude self-important people determined to do whatever they needed without regard to anyone else present. And yes, this included many Americans as well. The constant electronic noise from phones ringing and the incessant yelling into their phones got on my nerves pretty quickly. I noticed one girl around 12 years old start crying because the guy who had sat next to her was literally yelling into his phone.

My next post will cover the flight from Amsterdam.