Goodbye, 2014, and Thanks for All the Fish

Departement of Obscure References

On this final day of 2014, it's time once again for me to yell, "You kids get off my lawn!" and publish the list of words, phrases, ideas and people that I'm done with.  And it turns out I'm not the only one publishing these kinds of lists.  Here's one example I heard about this morning.

But since this blog is All About Me, let's get to my favorites to hate on:

  • Onboarding
  • Selfie
  • The use of "hashtag", in word or symbolic form, anywhere outside of Twitter
  • And then the most amazing thing happened/you won't believe what happened next/this made me…
  • Share if you agree
  • Internet trolls
  • Event meaning sales event
  • Violence against women
  • Energy as a euphemism for oil
  • Institutional racism
  • Combining mental illness with easy access to guns
  • "Who's got it better than us?" (Turns out, lots of other football teams)
  • Enhanced interrogation techniques
  • Any Kardashian (a perennial entry)

Seems like a short list.  Maybe it's because fewer and fewer things bother me these days.

Happy New Year to one and all!


2014 Holiday News

So I tried something new this year.  Yes, it's a Holiday Newsletter (you either love them or hate them; kind of like fruitcake). But I created it using Office Mix, a new mashup of PowerPoint and audio dubbing.  I would have done more "inking" (free-form drawing) but I lost the stylus to my Surface tablet for a while.

Hope you enjoy it.  It's not the worst way to spend 2 minutes and 9 seconds.

Click and enjoy.


Sales Managers on the Road, Haiku Edition

I took a day trip to Southern California this week, to meet with a potential customer.  We were selected as one of the finalists to conduct an IT assessment, and we headed down to meet with the President and a few other executives.

Normally, my posts like this are more in the style of "and then I did this" but that seemed boring, so (for no reason) I decided to catalog the day's events in haiku format.  Hope you like it!

Which route to San Jose?

85 often beats 101

But Google map's red

 

I will use CLEAR card

Even though the lines are short

Keep your shoes on, sir

 

Soon call with Ghana

Hope I'm through security

The travel sales life

 

Three excited girls

Disney taping in LA

What to ask the star?

 

Bob Hope or Burbank?

Small airport by any name

Like SJC's past

 

Lunch with customer

Head says salad heart says beef

But no micro-brew

 

Please increase your quote

Surely a buying signal

Too early to cheer

 

Cruising Victory

Back to Burbank end of day

Porque no freeway?

 

TSA Pre-yeah!

But metal in my shoes-dang!

Barefoot after all

 

Computer pass fail

Board only with paper

Now low tech is best

 

Scotch on the rocks-nice

Peanuts make me think of Sean

Always brought him nuts

 

Town car takes me home

Another successful trip

Now rinse and repeat


A Week at Sea

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Cruises: love them, hate them.  They're certainly perfect for those "intersection of the life stories of ten people" movies.  Our good friend and budding travel agent Malcolm arranged for us to join him and some of his college buddies on a cruise through the Western Caribbean.  Crystal and I are not huge cruise people, but we love traveling with Pam and Malcolm and the decision to join in was made after a few glasses of wine, so there you go.  Plus, the itinerary included diving at Grand Cayman--a bucket list-worthy activity.  So, in early April we found ourselves meeting up with our BFF's for the week at the San Jose Airport, as we headed to Houston and then Galveston to start the cruise.  What follows are my notes, for your enjoyment and amusement. 

The cast of characters:

  • Connie and Bob, from Malcolm's Cal Poly San Luis Obispo days
  • Greg and Leona, also from Malcolm's Cal Poly days
  • Pam and Malcolm, our partners in crime
  • Crystal and Dan, your humble narrators

Day One:  San Jose/Houston/Galveston

Our plane to Houston is two hours late taking off, since the crew hasn't shown up. It has to with United/Continental flying different planes and not being able to swap crews.  Malcolm's head is going to explode.  Connie tells the gate agent: "You WILL be taking care of this… either get us there on time or fly us to Jamaica and put us up in a hotel until the ship arrives." Malcolm happens to be approaching, with all papers at the ready.  Connie sends him away.  Perfect good cop/bad cop routine.

Houston. Magically, our bags are the first off the plane.  Our driver gets us to Galveston with minutes to spare.  He is a Texas gentleman all the way, but pushes the limits of what Texas State Troopers will allow with respect to speed.

The nice thing about arriving so late: no lines at check-in.  Could this be the new trend?

My first thought on arrival in Galveston: the smell of hydrocarbons. It takes me back to high school and visiting an oil refinery as part of our Chemistry class.  I'm pretty sure breathing this stuff isn't healthy.

On board the cruise ship.  First up:  mandatory safety drill.  Due to intercom problems, it sounds like a Peanuts cartoon: "wah wah wah.. Wah wah, wah wah wah wah.  I get the essentials about how to put on the life jacket.  I'm looking around for Rose and Jack.

On to our room, then to the Two Poets bar to meet up with our other traveling companions, Greg and Leona.  Despite having purchased the cruise line's all-you-can-drink pass, I stop at two Manhattans.  A man's got to know his limits.  Our traveling companions carry on, until our dinner at 9.  I'm definitely not going to be able to keep up with these people.  A tough thing for an Irishman to admit.

Dinner at the resident steak house.  Lots of fantastic wine.  Stuck my finger on the wrong Italian wine description when ordering wine, cost me an extra $40.  You only live once--if you're lucky.

Great dinner, much conviviality.  But eating meat late at night--not such a good idea. In to bed for a full nine hours of sleep.  Considering I never went to bed before we left for the cruise, I'm improving my average quickly.

Day Two:  At Sea

Coffee on the mini-deck, watching the ocean go by.  No worries here.

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Into the gym for some self-imposed penance.  That felt good.  FitBit was happy.  Plus, now it's lunch time.  Out on the pool deck (in the shade, let's be sensible) and on to sample the drink of the day.  It's got blue Curacao in it, and you know what I think about what blue in nature means--pain.

Don't tell anyone… but it turns out they do have Wi-Fi on the ship (at exorbitant rates, of course). I'm going to pretend I didn't know that.

Day 3:  At Sea

Best sighting of the day: a T-shirt reading "Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles." This addresses a favorite pet peeve of mine regarding that other baseball team based in Southern California.

As this is our second day at sea, today definitely qualifies as an "OMG, I wish I didn't get sunburned yesterday!" kind of day.

Day 4:  Falmouth, Jamaica

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Finally, land!  I can't wait to get off the ship.  Malcolm has arranged for a tour of the Appleton Estate rum distillery.  Since it's in the interior of the island and we have limited time, he has arranged for a driver and tour guide.  This leads to an immediate immersion in the language and culture of Jamaica.  For instance, our tour guide says "ting" instead of "thing", "hear" instead of "year" and "Otre Rios" instead of "Ocho Rios."

Our first stop, by the side of the highway, is to point out the high school where Usain Bolt graduated.  Our tour guide is clearly proud of what Bolt has done for the country.  She points out that he purchased a school bus for the high school.  I marvel at the fact that the track is just dirt covered with a little bit of grass.  No wonder these guys are fast, if these are the training conditions!

We're on a two-lane road up and over the mountain to a high mountain valley where the Appleton distillery is located.  With one lane each way, Orville, our drivers, is doing a lot of passing and then jamming back into our lane to avoid head-on collisions.  I did not realize a thrill ride was included in the tour!  Could this be the origin of the reggae song, "we be jammin'?"

Going through the countryside, we see lots of small shacks, with wood or cinder block construction.  Other houses are simply shipping containers with cutouts for windows and doors.  It seems like every town has its bar and jerk take out place.  At the distillery we learn that Appleton makes an over-proof rum, called Jamaica's Best.  Most of it never leaves the island, and given all the bars advertising it along the way, I can see why that would be the case.

Back in the van, as we have to hoof it to our next stop for my request: jerk barbeque.  After asking several Jamaicans for a recommendation, we settle on the most popular choice--Scotchies.  This is exactly what I was looking for in a jerk place.  It's flimsy, made from concrete blocks, corrugated metal and palm fronds.  It's sooty from all the barbeque, with great aromas.  There are guys cooking chicken and pork on top of pimiento logs placed over the wood coals, with pieces of corrugated tin roof used to hold the smoke in.  The food is fantastic--jerk chicken with a side of grilled breadfruit.  And the heat means that the Red Stripe beer goes down easily.

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We learned at the Appleton estate that the Pimiento tree provides the berries that we call allspice, which provides jerk's unique flavor.  Our tour guide says they crush the berries and use them for jerk seasoning, and use the leaves to flavor other dishes, including something called bammy.

After getting our jerk, we head over to a gift shop that is primed for our arrival.  We're whisked away by sales clerks offering us all sorts of stuff.  Most of our group opt for the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.  I go for the package of jerk spice.  Greg, waiting outside the shop, is offered ganga by one of the locals.  Greg gives him his, "you do realize I used to be a prison guard, yes?" look and respectfully declines the offer.

Day 5:  George Town, Grand Cayman

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Crystal can't dive today, due to a sinus blockage; that's a shame.  So she's off with some of our group to go see sting rays and dolphins.  That turned out to be super fun.  Our dive group is walking around George Town, killing time before our dive boat leaves.  There are lots of backyard chickens.  Since George Town is a cruise ship port of call, we start noticing that it seems like every port has a Margaritaville, KFC, Burger King and Domino's Pizza.  And there is always lots of shopping for jewelry and cheap T-shirts.

Our first dive is a wall dive, across from the Great House.   The water is beautiful and clear, with at least 60-80 feet visibility.  I'm a little more "buoyant" (ahem) than I used to be and have some trouble getting down to the bottom.  We're at 80 feet, and the wall drops off to… nothing. We learn that it's 3,500 feet to the bottom.  Between my struggles getting down and swimming against a strong current, I'm using air like crazy.  In no time at all I'm back on the anchor line of the dive boat, slowly ascending.  Even so, I saw lots of beautiful corals and sponges, in all kinds of colors.  I also saw a turtle munching on something.

Our second dive is on the wreck of the Oro Verde.  There are many stories about how the ship met its demise.  I like the story of the captain who tried to smuggle marijuana along with the bananas and got tossed overboard when he wouldn't share with the crew.  The dive book says something else entirely--that the ship was sunk on purpose--but where's the fun in that story?

Either way the ship is all broken up, scattered across the sea floor.  There are a couple of bikes down there for good measure, which many of the divers attempt to ride.  We see more wildlife on this dive:  lobster, a nurse shark, an arrowhead crab, and lots of corals and sponges.  I do a much better job managing my air consumption.

Day 6:  Cozumel, Mexico

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Today's agenda includes a trip to the Tulum archeological site and Mayan ruins.  Tulum is actually located in Playa del Carmen, about 20 miles south of Cozumel.  But there's a reef that runs along Playa del Carmen that protects the coastline from hurricanes.  So we have to dock in Cozumel and take a tender (think big, smelly water taxi) down the coast, then disembark and take a bus to Tulum.

We heard the story of one city that carved a break in the reef to allow cruise ships to enter and dock.  The city was later wiped out by Hurricane Gilbert.  That will teach you to mess with Mother Nature!

Armando and Julian are our tour guides.  They're both Mayan, and clearly proud of their heritage.  They claim that Mayans are probably descended from the Chinese, owing to similar body types.  The physical anthropologist in me objects.  It's also clear they're still ticked off at the Spanish for that whole Conquistador thing.  Armando and Julian tell us that the temple is aligned to capture sunlight from the summer solstice.  The engineering is pretty amazing.

There are iguanas all over the grounds--lots of iguanas.   Armando says they're "like backyard chickens."  I am not pleased.

In suggesting explanations for the disappearance of the Mayan civilization, our tour guides point to poor resource management.  They say there were more than 5,000 cities, and it took 20,000 trees to build each temple and city.  The Mayans stripped the land of its resources and died out as a consequence.  Another morality tale!

Despite being on the Gulf coast, it's very hot when the wind stops blowing.  Cold beer never tasted so good.

We're back on the tender for the trip to Cozumel.  They're selling blankets and other trinkets. Talk about a captive audience!

Day 7:  At Sea

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I fall asleep on our stateroom couch last night.  I guess I just like sleeping on couches.  I slept in--until 8:30 AM.  After that, I put in a nice long workout in the gym.  Those Margaritas won't go away by themselves.

Later that evening, it's NCAA Final Four time!  Both games were very exciting.  It was fun to be in the bar with the Florida Gator fans, who were whooping it up early on, but ended up skulking away once their team fell behind to UConn.

We had a great dinner at Sabor, an upscale Mexican restaurant on board.  There were very arts-fartsy margaritas (that were nonetheless very good) as well as guacamole made table-side.

Day 8:  Galveston

Hurry up and wait is the order of the day.  Our bags were packed and left outside the door the night before.  Now it's up for one more breakfast on the ship.  We have to come to grips with the fact that tomorrow we'll be clearing our own dishes and making up our bed--and not every day.

After breakfast it's down to the assembly areas to wait for our turn to disembark.  Things drag  a bit owing to the time needed to get through customs and immigration.

Off the ship and back in Houston, we drop Greg and Leona off and have some time to kill.  We decide to go to the Johnston Space Center.   It was a very cool experience, especially if 1) you're a technology geek and 2) you lived through the era.  Seeing the Saturn V rocket up close (Connie estimated it at 510 feet long) as well as some of the capsules really brought the times to life.  The Mercury capsule looked a lot like a garbage can mounted on top of a rocket.  And as Malcolm said, just remember you're strapped to a rocket provided by the lowest bidder.

Next we're off to the airport for a reasonably relaxed time through baggage check and ticketing.  One or two more beers and we're on our way back home.  It will be nice to get back home and the 542 messages I no doubt have waiting for me.

Would We Do It Again?

Our travel style is a little more toward the hang-with-the-locals approach, and we generally would rather stay longer in one place than see several places for just a few hours at a time.  That said, we couldn't beat the company on this cruise, and have made some new friends that we're already meeting with on other adventures.  So while we generally opt for other vacation formats than "cruising," it certainly works if you go with the right people.

Random Thoughts

  • Flotsam and Jetsam--where'd that term come from?
  • A boat is still a boat.  I don't care how big the cruise ship is, when it's in the ocean it feels like a boat.
  • It's interesting to see how people get all competitive at the start of a cruise.  Parents are rushing to get in line for towels, deck chairs, a spot by the window… Fortunately, after a bit people start to relax and realize there's enough of everything to go around.
  • Stairs are a life saver for staying in shape on the ship.  Walk up and down several flights of stairs each day and you'll get a workout without noticing.
  • The "port of call" culture is interesting.  It seems like every stop featured the same chain restaurants, along with a jewelry store, maybe an art store and some place where you can buy an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.
  • With all the bad press about people getting Norovirus on cruises, it was interesting to see what the cruise line had done.  Purel hand sanitizer stands were everywhere, and you were encouraged to clean your hands before and after every meal.

 

Been on a cruise lately? Let me know what you think!


Memorial Day Thanks

Thank you, Norman Callahan, and rest in peace.

Thank you, and thanks from a grateful nation, Nathan Sandersen, and rest in peace.

Thank you, and thanks from a grateful nation, my namesake Daniel, and rest in peace.

Thank you, Oscar Procell

Thank you, Joe and Jim McGuire

Thank you, Tony Procell

Thank you, Josh Booker, and rest in peace.

Thank you, Nicholas Booker

Thank you, Michael Booker

Thank you, George Turk

Thank you, Dan Cruz

Thank you, Paul

Thank you, Jimmy Kelliher's brother, and rest in peace

Thank you, and thanks from a grateful nation, Callahan brothers, and rest in peace

This Memorial Day I thought it was worth thanking those vets that I've personally known, for all they've done for me and our country.  We can all be thankful for the idea of those who've sacraficed for us.  But sometimes it's worth personalizing it.


2013: It's a Wrap

2013 words, phrases, ideas and people that can just go away 

  • Use of "hashtag" outside of Twitter
  • "Disrupt ___"
  • Selfie
  • Cancer
  • Mind blown
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Periods between every word in a phrase (a carryover from last year)
  • CNN news articles with spelling and grammatical errors
  • Like us on facebook
  • "Ninja" or "rockstar", used as an adjective to describe a desired software developer
  • Dysfunctional Congress
  • Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, crowdanything
  • Yoga pants outside of yoga class
  • Affluenza
  • Big data
  • Warantless wiretapping
  • Skeumorphism
  • Hipster hats
  • Pajamas in public
  • Any Taylor Swift song about being wronged or having her heart broken

It's a Wonderful Life

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The angels came, and saved my son. 

That's all I need to say about 2013.  Sure, lots of other things happened.  There were trips to new places, improving financials, a new (leased) car; even a vacation.  None of these things can compare to the miracle that happened. 

Sean went to the hospital in (when? It's all a blur) February or March, not long after returning from his honeymoon with Danielle.  He was in a lot of pain, and didn't know why.  After being misdiagnosed and ultimately released from the hospital, his employers swept in.  In no time at all Sean was in front of the leading doctors at Stanford, who immediately diagnosed him with testicular cancer.  What followed was nine weeks of intensive treatment.  Happily, Sean has cleared all of his checkup's since being treated and has returned to the work he loves on the ranch.

These angels did what I could not do, did not know how to do.  They brought the medical attention he needed to catch this cancer at a stage where treatment and a cure was highly likely.  They battled the medical/health insurance system for Sean.  They made sure he had the best chance to focus on his treatment and recovery.  They brought his ranch buddies down to visit him.  They arranged a welcome-home party.

They held our hands when we were scared.  They hugged us when we cried. 

Why did they do all this? Because they could. Because they're wired to help others.  They could have stopped at many points along the way, saying, "OK, we've helped enough."  But they didn't.  They helped until there was nothing more that needed to be done. 

And although we thanked them profusely, it's clear they didn't help for the grateful praise.  In fact, they refused every offer of thanks that would have put them in the spotlight. 

Yes, they had more resources to help than others might.  But it didn't start with resources.  It started with an orientation to help, to see through to a person's true nature and to respond with love. 

I call that miraculous. 

Remember how George Bailey, in It's a Wonderful Life, gets a chance to see what kind of difference he's made in the world?  That's kind of how I feel this Christmas season.  I hope I can pay that kindness forward next year, and every year after that. 

Merry Christmas.


One Fine Day in San Francisco

My wife and I went on a shopping trip to San Francisco last weekend, the second-annual edition of an event put on by her employer.  We took a bus up to The City (as they say) and spent the day doing a little bit of shopping, some lunching, and a lot of walking.

All of these things happened during our visit.  To quote the great Dave Barry, folks, we are not making this up.

  • Santa-Con (highlights included Elvis Santa)
  • Some tourists found out that when the N-line trolley honks at you, you'd best get out of the way
  • I had to haggle with a Buddhist monk over the size of my donation
  • Kids (and adults) played in the artificial snow falling inside the Hyatt Regency
  • A Crate and Barrel employee had a bell-ringing competition with a Salvation Army Volunteer
  • The folks at Yak Sing will stop coming by with dim sum when they want to turn over your lunch table
  • It can take 90 minutes to get a bus out of downtown San Francisco on a Saturday evening
  • Double-parking is alive and well, and that includes Muni buses
  • Three Santas walked into a bar...

San Francisco at Christmastime, you have to love it.


Product Managers on the Road, Islamabad Edition

Off to Islamabad, Pakistan, to lead an implementation of Office 365 for the country office of one of our NGO customers. Herewith, some random notes, observations and musings.

  • Got properly adjusted to Islamabad time by having three meetings and one fitness workout in the 12 hours before my flight. I'm at the airport feeling like I've been up all night because I have been up all night. That's one way to adjust to the 12 hour time zone difference.
  • Ready to use the "Clear" card I've received so I can skip past the security line, but the TSA agent tells me that line isn't operating. I'm pretty sure she just doesn't know how it works. At any rate, TSA Pre means I get to go right through security. Pretty sweet.
  • Lunch at Cat Cora restaurant. Who is this executive chef imposter?

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  • I can tell that everyone in my family is nervous about me going to Pakistan. It probably didn't help to watch an entire season of Homeland before I left.  As Pakistan goes, Islamabad is about the safest place I could be going. Most of the violence is in the southern part of Pakistan, in Karachi and Balochistan. Even so, I understand the difference between "relatively safe" and safe.
  • Brian calls. He's greased things for me with the State Department in Islamabad. Nice to have powerful friends.
  • Prepared for my trip by reading CIA Factbook on Pakistan. Main issue is low GDP growth. Also poverty and illiteracy.
  • My American Airlines flight to Chicago is delayed for an hour, then for six hours. There goes my connection… Now I'm f*d. Because I have checked bags (and people get hinky when bags fly without their owners these days) the best choice American can offer involves arriving one day late, after spending 20 hours window shopping in Doha airport.
  • Thankfully, my virtual travel agent and airline expert Brian calls to tell me there's an Emirates flight leaving in an hour if I can get on it. I call the travel agent and, after a bit of work, get re-booked. Now, to find my luggage.
  • In the Emirates line. I think this is what the American Airlines baggage agents were referring to when they talked about "lunch hour": the group in front of me is a family with about ten bags each.
  • Emirates has this rule that your carry-on can't weigh more than 15 pounds. And they make a big deal about saying they'll gate-check your bag if it's overweight. From what I could see, that rule is not being enforced.
  • 15 hours in a middle seat. Thank God there are free drinks on this flight. The hardest part about this flight? Sitting still. My iPhone is out of battery power (after all those phone calls rearranging travel) and I've put my laptop in the overhead bin, so I can at least stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me.
  • Pre-flight announcements in Arabic—that's a first.
  • Fake starry skies on the cabin ceiling--nice touch Emirates (or Boeing).
  • Surprising, and refreshingly helpful, reaction to the woman behind me feeling ill. They arranged for a medical person to see her when we landed.
  • The Dubai airport is like a Las Vegas hotel or a shopping mall. Marble floors, bright lights, indoor garden, boutique shops and food courts. And prayer rooms. Don't think they have those in Vegas.

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Yes, those are real trees... inside the airport terminal

  • Watching as people board flights for Riyadh, Bangalore, Delhi, Dhaka, Doha, Tehran… definitely at a crossroads point for the Middle East and Asia.
  • I wish I could have taken a picture of that woman in the burka walking through the terminal with her carry-on bag on her head.
  • My introduction to Pakistani culture starts with the flight to Islamabad--a Boeing 777 that's full. I expected that on the flight to Dubai, but not to Islamabad. The gate agent announces that the gate is open for boarding, and everyone--everyone--rushes to the gate. The agent keeps saying "business only" (which sounds like "B-C only" or "bees knees only") but it has no effect on the crowd. Eventually some security guard shows up and restores a bit of order to the line. I am going to have to get used to having people crowd around me. There's a very different sense of "personal space" here, meaning "there's no personal space here."
  • The culture lesson continues as we board the aircraft. People are trying to sit in whatever seat seems most desirable, slowing down the whole process. The flight attendants are constantly telling people to go sit in their assigned seat. At least they're stricter about enforcing the 15-pound overhead luggage rule.
  • Arrival in Islamabad. At once strange and wonderful, as I had expected. Islamabad has a layer of… what? Can't tell if it's smog, fog or a combination. The result is that the sunlight is filtered, which adds to the feeling that everything is a kind of tan-white color.

 

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Islamabad, from the Capital Monument. They say that's "fog."  I have my doubts

 

  • We exit the aircraft in Islamabad, using the older style portable stairways that put you onto the tarmac. They load us onto buses; another opportunity to experience crowding. The sign for Benazir Bhutto Airport—block letters that look like they're perched on a wall—and the age of the terminal reminds me of a typical '60's James Bond film.
  • Once in the terminal I have to pull out my laptop so I can look up the street address of the office I'm visiting. I need this to fill out the immigration forms. As a result, I'm literally the last person in line for immigration. There are several immigration queues (my favorite: "ladies and children") with the Pakistani's again ignoring the signs and jumping to whatever queue seems the smallest. I'm sticking with the (sole) queue for "foreigners and diplomats," wanting to avoid any incident, when the guard waves me over to one of the shorter lines. God takes care of fools.
  • Next up is baggage claim. Now each of those passengers that were ahead of me going through immigration is crowded around the baggage belt, with the baggage carts three-deep behind them. It takes me about 10 yards from when I spot my bags until I'm able to dive into the line to grab them. And customs/baggage check? No more than a glance by some official as I walk past.
  • It's the ride from the airport to the guest house that really tells me I'm not in Kansas anymore. Some of the scenes:
    • Women riding side-saddle on the back of Honda motorcycles (the basic form of taxi here)
    • Beggars at the window when we stop for a red light
    • Horns honking the instant the light turns green
    • The trucks and passenger vans decorated in all sorts of bright colors and jewels
    • Five guys riding on the roof of a passenger van
    • The police security checkpoints designed to reduce the flow of cars to one car per lane, so police can decide if anyone needs to be detained for further questioning
    • People playing cricket in a dirt field
    • As in India, drivers using their horns to say "I'm here" to anyone ahead of them changing lanes
    • Armed soldiers in front of sensitive locations
    • Barbed wire, and lots of it
  • It turns out that I have just enough time to get from the airport to the guest house, unpack and take a shower before I'm headed to the customer's office for meetings with local staff. Feels like my Nortel trips to Paris and London, where we'd go from the airport straight to an all-day meeting. I'm OK with not doing that anymore.
  • Apparently there's no extra charge for the next-door rooster that wakes me every morning.

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I'm pretty sure this tells you where to face when you're praying in the direction of Mecca

  • I'm beginning to wonder why I so enthusiastically said, "I love spicy food!" at lunch, when I eat something that freezes my vocal chords for about 20 seconds.
  • Hearing the call to prayers for the first time as it broadcasts from the local mosque and echoes across the city is an experience. And I have to admire the devotion of Muslims as they take the time for prayers. I have enough trouble getting to church on time once a week, much less multiple times daily.
  • First text message on my local mobile phone? An announcement about the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader, by a US drone the day before scheduled peace talks with the Pakistan government. Yeah, that should complicate things.
  • A visit Saturday to the Capital museum. Interesting spin on history: the exhibits basically say, "India was decaying, but then we took over and now it's flowering". Plus lots of stuff about benefits of Islam. Still, it's interesting to realize that Pakistan has only existed as a country since 1947.

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Capital Monument, Islamabad. Kind of a lotus flower design

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Detail of bas-relief on one of the lotus petals, highlighting people and events in Pakistan's history

 

  • It seems that all the police checkpoints have an advertising deal with Wazir Fabrics. Way to monetize, police force!
  • At Daman-e-Koh Park. High enough to be above the "fog". The sight of women in burkas is surprisingly normal. Yes, there are men with monkeys on a leash. And yes, that was a monkey I saw running across the parking lot.

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View of Islamabad from Daman-e-Koh park

  • Lunch at Jahangir Balti and BBQ. Slightly awkward moment when we suggest to our guide that we invite the driver to have lunch with us. They're fascinated that I know and like some many kinds of Indian food. Our guide excuses himself for afternoon prayers.
  • Actually posted on the lunch menu: "Smoking, photography, pets, arms, ammunition and eatables from outside are not allowed."
  • Shopping trip cut short by request from customer's Chief of Security to return to our hotel and stay inside, as a result of the Taliban killing and fears of a reprisal.
  • Let's see. There's cricket, soccer, and a tennis match. Oh, and 10-year old World Wrestling Federation.
  • My wake up text message: "is it advised to avoid Centaurus (a large mall) and Kohsar Market. It is also advised to be extra vigilant while visiting markets, parks and public places." You don't have to tell me twice.
  • And just to hit the trifecta, there's going to be a solar eclipse today. I'm sure the population will take that in stride. Or not.
  • Hierarchy is a big deal here.
  • My kingdom for a vegetable.
  • As we sit working in the customer's basement conference room I'm invited to share lunch by one of the employees. Lunch consists of oranges, persimmons ("chaponese [Japanese] fruit") and pomegranate seeds. We compare notes on farmer's markets, local food and family vs. factory farming.
  • Migration team "thank you" dinner at Saidpur Village. A reconstruction of a village from times past, set up as a tourist attraction. I can tell it's a tourist spot because the guy I saw Saturday at Daman-e-Koh with the balloon target shooting game is here. Favorite dinner menu item among the team? Hamburgers.
  • New culinary experiences:
    • Mix tea, made by boiling tea in milk (apparently condensed milk)
    • Pakistani food for breakfast every morning. One day there were labels to indicate what the food was, but most days you just lifted the lid on the warming tray and took your chances.
    • Mutton karahi, a spicy stew made from hacked-up pieces of mutton. You could also get a chicken version. I couldn't help but think the mutton had a slightly slimy feel to it. Still, it was quite good.
    • Lahore fish, fish fillets fried in a spiced flour coating.
  • So the Taliban have selected another hard-line radical as their new leader, someone nicknamed "Mullah Radio." And, naturally, they swear off any peace talks with the Pakistan government. This should end well.
  • Headed to the airport for our 3:30 AM flight to Dubai. The place is chaos. Driver tells us that everyone is returning from the Haj, which means there are 5,000 relatives waiting outside the terminal to pick up someone. I get a few I-hate-Americans looks.
  • My traveling companion, David, and I stand gawking in the terminal, trying to figure out which way to the departure area. Two Emirates baggage handlers show up, grab our bags, and instruct us to follow them. They proceed to plow through the crowd, cut to the front of the baggage screening line, throw the existing bags off of the conveyer belt and insert our bags. Next, they push their way to the ticket counter and get us checked into our flight. I tip the guy $10, figuring it's money well-spent. His reply? "What about for my partner?" I'm tempted to suggest he share the $10 but decide this is not the time to cheap out. Best $10—no, make that $20—I've ever spent.
  • Another tip: for $10 each we get to stay in a sort of "Red Carpet Club" and wait for our flight. For the price of admission we get all the water, tea and juice we can drink. Oh, and free Wi-Fi. In keeping with the Wi-Fi network security practices we observed all week, the Wi-Fi password—naturally—is 123456789.
  • David, former Marine, spots the defense contractors in the VIP Lounge.  Two of them can stay, but the one that looks like he carries the weapons is asked to leave. Ohhh-K!

Back in Dubai, headed to SFO. Welcome to the middle seat. 15 hours of opera, old Disney movies, Dubai tourist videos, and Bruce Springsteen's entire music collection. None of that matters—I'm on my way home.

   


Product Managers on the Road, “DC Dysfunction” Edition

For your viewing pleasure, here are some notes from my visit to Washington, DC during the last days of the US Government shutdown. I was out to meet with one of our larger customers, a group of sixteen agricultural research centers, to talk about a plan to migrate their messaging and other services to Office 365. As has become my custom, I took the opportunity to line up some informal visits with a couple of other customers. And, as luck would have it, I was asked by another customer if there was any way I could pay them a visit in Boston (Watertown, to be exact; across the street from my first MIT residence.) Since I was going to be in Washington, I arranged to leave one day early and head to Boston for a visit.  Herewith, the details...

Monday

I wake up at 3:00 AM, after falling asleep in the chair watching TV. Since the car will be picking me up for the drive to the airport at a little after 5:00 AM, and since I haven't packed, I decide to pack before I go to bed. Good call—efficient and focused.

Hit the Town Car, asleep almost immediately. Next thing I know, we're exiting the freeway for SFO.

During the flight to Washington I have a brief panic attack. Did I actually pack my suitcase? Or did I just pull it out of the closet and load it into the Town Car, empty?

Landing in Dulles.  Since I'm wearing a backpack for my carry-on, I nearly walk out of terminal without my suitcase. I have that groggy feeling you get when you take a midnight flight somewhere—except I didn't.

Brian and I meet for beers at the Black Rooster. The weather is quite nice, so we sit outside and catch up. Brian wants to take me to his latest find, a small Thai restaurant near his house. After taking some time to get there, we realize why they never answered the phone when he called to make a reservation: they're closed Mondays. Oh well.

Instead, we go to dinner at his new favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Zenebech Injera. The food is good and surprisingly cheap for Washington. We splurge and order a bottle of their best Yellow Tail wine.

I'm always surprised at how many homeless people I see on the streets.

Tuesday

Today is meeting day. I've got customer meetings about every two hours. With meeting over-run's and factoring in transportation between visits, the result is a series of meetings from 11 AM to 6 PM, without a break.

Brian and I catch up for dinner again, and I get to see his (new) office. From there, we walk past the White House. In the (officially closed) federal park across street, Brian points out the lady that's been protesting for the last 15+ years. Apparently if she doesn't abandon her post, the park police (when they're working) leave her alone.

IMG_0202

DC Shutdown Humor: Someone put "Sorry, We're Closed" stickers over the monument icons on this Metro subway map

We have drinks at Old Ebbitt Grill (near the White house), very cool and historic. I loved the duck decoys. The bartenders are all white-haired, and you get the feeling they have the goods on every politician who's worked in DC over the past forty years. We decide to stay for dinner. The menu is very good and the prices are not too expensive, considering the tourist-trap location. Plus, we get fresh oysters!

Wednesday

Today is an all-day session on how to roll out Office 365 to all the agricultural research centers. I arrive at the meeting location a few minutes early, only to discover I'm at the wrong building. Nothing like a four-block run in the morning to get the blood flowing.

Lunch is at a local American/Vietnamese restaurant. I notice that the Pho isn't served with Jalapenos, although Sriracha sauce is available. We have to remind one of the diners that it's hot sauce, not ketchup, in the red bottle on the table.

After the meeting I head over to the Charles Tyrwhitt store to buy a shirt. I discovered the company while in London a while back, and love their shirts. Now that the Great Recession is thawing for me, I have an opportunity to buy a new shirt. After extensive shopping, deciding, and optimizing on my purchase, I go to pay and realize I don't have my credit card. You know, the one I got JUST FOR THIS TRIP? Holy sh$t, where could it be? I head back to my hotel and spend equal amounts of time ripping apart my room looking for the card, and calculating how I'm going to pay for my hotel in Washington, fly to Boston, and fly back to San Francisco with just the cash I have on hand (which is never very much).

Fortunately, I call the Old Ebbitt Grill and they have my card. Phew!  The rest of the night is spent retrieving the card and tracking down Brian to see if he wants to meet up with my sister Mary (who's now flown into town) and me. Turns out Brian needs a night for laundry and what not (since he spent part of the weekend at an event in New York), so I have the rest of the night to myself.

I have a final beer at Mackey's Public House, a pub next to the hotel. It turns out that the hotel bar next door, Recessions, gets Brian's vote for DC's best dive bar--go figure.

Unsurprisingly, Congress passes the debt ceiling bill just in time. The glum mood that has existed in DC for past 16 days starts to ease.

Thursday

Another early wake up and off to the airport. At least I'm flying out of Reagan National (or whatever it's called) so it doesn't take too long to get to the airport. I get a view of the Pentagon 9/11 memorial "contrails" as we head to the airport.

Hello Boston; good to see you again! As I take the "T" into downtown Boston, I realize I'm part of the morning commute, which wouldn't be bad except I have a large bag I'm dragging around. Soon enough, I make my connection, from Blue to Green to Red Line, and the next thing I know I'm in Harvard Square. It's refreshing to see the same impossible-to-understand accents on Red Line. I finally find the bus stop for the 71 to Watertown Square. Oh, I pay when I get off the bus? OK, so some things have changed since I was going to school here…

Several of our favorite haunts are still there: theTown Diner, Mt. Auburn Steakhouse (now the Mt. Auburn Grill, New Yorker Diner, Demo's.

Thursday is another full day of meetings. It's a little like the old Johnny Carson "stump the band" routine, as people cycle through to ask me about their respective area of technology interest. Lunch is brought in from Theo's—the restaurant may not be from my time but the style is the same; no horseradish, you'll have to have mustard, bub.

After a full day, my customer gives me a ride back to the airport. My first chance to ride through The Big Dig since they finished it. On to the UA lounge, where I get to grab a glass of wine and get the user accounts set up for another customer migration to Office 365 that's starting the next day. Soon enough, I'm on my way home. Miles to go before I sleep.