Oops

Apologies in advance for the technical speak after all the travelogue rambling, but this is what happened in the workshop this week. If you’re in tech support or you’ve ever tried to run a technical workshop, you will find much of this hilarious. For anyone else, just believe me – it’s funny now that it’s over.

The best thing about having a problem occur again is that you can instantly recognize it. Of course, if you didn’t find a decent solution the first time, then you’re stuck again, but at least you know why you’re stuck. You just don’t know how to fix it. Again.

So, we’re in lab in KL this week, getting ready to do some (very) basic exercises with SoftLayer. The students will log in to the portal, update their accounts and then create a virtual computer image in the cloud. All very high tech – all very cool technology, and all pretty simple to do. All the students have temporary accounts that I created in a guest cube or hotel or Admirals Club last week – I’m not really sure when I created them. I just know they were there before I arrived here. All the temporary accounts have the same password, since the way SoftLayer’s Customer Portal works, once you’ve created a user, you can just update the changed fields (like name and userid) and leave everything else the same to create an almost duplicate userid. So, if you’re setting up a workshop with a bunch of test users, it’s really easy to generate dozens of userids in a relatively short time.

Here’s the issue – and it’s a rather considerable issue – SoftLayer has what I think of as rather retarded password rules: a password must contain capital letters, lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. In other words, you have to generate a password you will never remember, and it’s one that will also be brutally difficult to type.

Apparently, when I created the first (of forty) userids last week, I spelled my own demo password wrong – and I spelled it wrong the same way twice because it got accepted. So, we found out today (after I tried to change the password – but I’m getting ahead of myself) that I had managed to put in the exact same wrong password for forty users, since once I created the first user, I never changed the password field again. So, now I had forty userids with an unknown password, so none of them could log in.

This would normally not be a big problem – you would just change the passwords. However, since you can’t change the password without knowing the old password, that gets difficult. So, in order to change the password, you would have to find the wrong original password once, and then change it forty times. Still, this is just an annoyance.

Here’s how we discovered that I had spelled the passwords incorrectly, and it wasn’t just that a couple of students couldn’t type. This is also where the problem that happened once, happened again.

A problem that occurred last week in the Chicago workshop occurred again today. If the SoftLayer Customer Portal detects five incorrect password attempts in a row, it locks your computer (well, your computer’s IP address) out for a half-hour. This is really good security, unless you’re in a workshop experimenting and not doing real work – but good security dictates everyone is treated the same way. There really is no such thing as a “demo” SoftLayer account.

Here’s the fun part.

If you’re on a local area network that uses network address translation, say, I don’t know, in a university computer lab that you’re using to hold a workshop, then all of the computers in the classroom look like they’re the same IP address. So, as soon as the fifth student gets the password wrong (and I had given all of them the wrong password!), the whole classroom is locked out. Boom! goes the dynamite.

So, we had just started the first lab forty-eight seconds ago, and now we all had to sit and wait a half-hour for anyone to try again.

Lunchtime, people!

This is why you should always schedule labs around lunch or breaks – so when something goes south, and it will, you just send everyone for a smoke or a Coke or a pee, and you fix it without them knowing while they’re gone.

Of course, if you tell them “Forget the userids and passwords we gave you this morning – use these instead”, they might suspect something has gone awry. Seeing the support team in the back snickering while the instructor is sweating is another giveaway.

There wasn’t a way to change the passwords, so while the students had lunch, I deleted forty accounts and created new ones, with a simpler password that still met all the requirements. We also tested the first one to make sure it worked before I created the rest. Not that I didn’t trust my typing. Hmm. Why didn’t I think of that the first time?

On the bright side, with the right spin, you can claim that you were just demonstrating SoftLayer’s intrinsic security and how your data must be safe in a system where an entire classroom can get locked out a half-hour at a time because some idiot creating userids while sleep-deprived can’t spell.

My new demo password will have to be “40UsersLockedOut!”. Then, I could remember it. It would still be difficult to type. Mainly, because I would be weeping.

Fish Fries And The Hunger Strike

I’ve had some interesting food in Malaysia. I had noodles with pork for breakfast one day, Japanese pastries stuffed with a hot dog (it looked like a big kolache) for lunch, and an Asian breakfast burrito (I have no idea what the true name is, but it was really tasty.)

All the sausage seems to be chicken, since pork is avoided. The chicken sausage has been very good.

So, I had tried new and exciting foods, but I was on the way home at last. There was breakfast on the flight from KL to Hong Kong, and I was hoping there would be a non-Asian dish available. The flight attendant was asking if people wanted fish fries. I was surprised that they don’t call the fish they were serving fish fingers or fish sticks.

I kept hearing “Fish Fries”, which I thought was a Burger King name for mini-fish sticks. However, they would be good airline food, since they reheat easily.

As the flight attendant got to my row, she was asking if we wanted an omelet or fish fries. I hadn’t heard “omelet” before. Although I decided fish fries would be good, I had the omelet on the way to KL, so I chose the omelet again. It’s breakfast food.

The omelet is very tasty, and it comes with chicken sausage, so it’s a good breakfast, even if you’re not on an airplane. So, even though I haven’t had fish sticks in forever, I had the omelet.

The person next to me chose the fish fries. He received fish and rice. So, I think I need a hearing aid, since FishRice sounded like Fish Fries. For twenty rows.

The omelet was good, as usual.

That was the trip to Hong Kong. The next leg was Hong Kong to San Francisco, which was exciting because it was a tight connection, and we were late getting in from KL.

If this were a stand-alone blog post, it would be called “11 1/2 Hours Of Random Kicks From An Adopted Cleft-Palate Chinese Baby”, but that seemed really long.

When two gate agents meet the plane with your connecting flight on a sign, things are not going to go well.

One of the agents counted heads, got enough of us, and said, “Follow me!” Apparently, her goal was to make the plane, and keeping the group together was up to us. If I could dodge and weave that well, I’d still be playing soccer.

It would be easy to follow a young dark-haired, slim Asian woman in a red dress in the Hong Kong International Airport, except that describes most of the employees of Cathay Pacific.

We made the train to switch terminals, got to security, went through the crew-only line (woo hoo!), then made it up the elevator and down two sections of moving sidewalk to the gate. They were still boarding.

Our bags were searched (for appearance sake) and we got on the plane. I had booked a middle seat in the bulkhead row only because it was the only bulkhead seat left on the plane.

How bad could it be?

So, I have an old guy on one side and a Yuppie-Hippie tattooed Dad with a lap child (the baby in the too-long title) across from his wife (Earth Mother) and three other kids. Kill me now.

At times like this, I prefer to think there is no God, since I had said a quick prayer when I got onboard. Granted, He’s busy fixing people’s brackets this month, but a guy hogging the armrest on one side and a lap baby on the other? How much have I pissed Him off over the years?

Of course, I later found that a younger Italian-looking guy had switched seats so Dad could be parallel to the rest of the family instead of behind them. One row behind them.

I was beginning to think God really hates me.

During the first meal service, a really old Indian gentleman behind me didn’t get his vegetarian meal. The flight attendant tried to explain that you need to confirm special meals, but he refused to talk to her after she said it wasn’t onboard. This is the ultimate cranky old guy – she doesn’t exist anymore. The supervisor came by, offered to make him an alternate vegetarian meal, but he just muttered at her. Finally, he accepted. When she delivered it, he refused it. So, now I have a hunger strike in the row behind me.

This shit never happened in business class.

My little friend just took a dump for the ages. When Third World people get an “I smell stink” look, you know it’s an impressive one. I’m glad she was over by her Mom, not that I was spared much.

Baby comes back to Dad. Every time she rotates in his lap, I catch a whiff. Somebody didn’t bring the wipes, I guess.

A few hundred miles later, and the baby goes on a crying jag. Dad wanders off with her. Some of the poop smell lingers. Maybe the old guy next to me isn’t just belching. (I have never heard someone burp this much, and I used to drink in college.)

The hunger striker just agreed to green tea. I’m beginning to see rum in my future.

Six and a half hours to San Francisco. Oy vey.

The hunger striker was coerced into eating something. I would have thought an average hunger strike would last longer than a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, but Cathay Pacific are taking no chances. I guess if the overhead bins are full, there’s no place to put a body. I wonder if a dish is still vegetarian if someone has spit in it.

I need a nap. I am not going to need white rice for quite a while.

One of the kids had an extended coughing fit. It went past medical into “Somebody notice me.” If that kid can hit a drum with the same rhythmic accuracy she can cough, we have the next Ringo.

Even flights from Hell eventually end. This one ended with my bag being almost literally the last bag delivered, which meant I was late through Customs. That meant I was running through my second airport in 24 hours to make a tight connection. There was another train involved, as well.

One other moment of excitement – Cathay Pacific hadn’t issued a boarding pass for my Dallas flight. The American kiosk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass since it wasn’t an American flight (it’s a code share.) Luckily, the agent printed me one. So much for self-serve.

That got me into the Priority Access security line, where businessmen and random stupid people collide. There should be a quiz for passengers before they are allowed to book travel. If people don’t know by now to take their damn shoes off, when my taxes are paying for a TSA agent whose only job seems to be droning, “Take your shoes off”, I guess that’s why airlines still have to explain how seat belts work.

I had my first window seat in quite some time, so as I watched the ground crew finishing up, I saw a truck come up with late bags, and saw mine going onboard. It’s time to go home.

Here’s when you know you’re back in the States. You can buy a glass of iced tea that has ice, and is more than six ounces. Here’s when you know you’re on a US flight – you get a can of Dr Pepper and a lot of ice. After 14 hours of juice poured into a small cup from a liter box or Coke from a liter bottle, it’s nice to be back to cans. Plus, the flight attendant’s name tag says, “Oh Miss”. Sarcasm, how I missed thee.

This is now officially the trip that will not end. I will explain.

My iPad battery is dying, my phone is dead, and we’re still flying. So, I got my GPS out to see where we were. It got a lock fairly quickly. We were almost to Albuquerque.

Then, the Captain came on the speaker. “We have a medical emergency in the back. The closest airport is Albuquerque.” So, at least the GPS works.

We landed in Albuquerque and taxied near a gate.

Paramedics took a passenger off in a wheelchair. His wife followed behind, with her head down. I don’t know if she was embarrassed or avoiding the hate stares.

Now, we have to top off the tanks, take off, and get a new landing slot at DFW. We were doing 580 knots back to DFW. Somebody at AA corporate must have decided paying for hotel rooms would be a bad idea.

The first estimate was an hour or so late into DFW. I am very glad I am done with connections for the day.

Let’s recap, shall we?

I left the hotel in KL at 5:00pm Thursday, Dallas time.
I crossed into Texas at 7:00pm Friday, Dallas time, per GPS, and yes, I cried a little.
I landed at DFW at 7:40pm Friday, Dallas time.

Of course, our gate was blocked, so we had to wait to get to the gate. The crew asked that people without connections let everybody trying to catch their next flight get off first.

It was like a clown car. I was in row 16, and I never realized there were 367 rows behind me.

Now, to get home.

First, I had go find my suitcase. The sign said carousel A16. The agent said A15. After a handful of bags, he said they were all off on A15. Mine was not there. Of course. So, I waited until the carousel stopped, and went to report my suitcase missing. The same suitcase I had seen go onto the plane in San Francisco.

My assumption was they pulled it for the medical emergency man by mistake.

It was on A16. I’m still wondering how bags from one flight ended up in two carousels.

Home at 9:15pm Friday, Dallas time.

28 hours, 15 minutes. It’s the fifteen minutes that really made it tiring.

America The Exported

One of the interesting parts of international travel is finding new and exciting ideas, foods, drinks and the like. If you wander around a foreign mall, you may find things that make you stare in wonder. You will also find things that just make you wonder.

Here in Malaysia, my hotel is connected by a covered walkway to the 1 Utama Shopping Centre, the fourth largest mall in the world, according to CNN. (It’s on their website with a link to the CNN report.) So, the other night, when I just couldn’t take room service anymore and I really didn’t feel like Asian cuisine in the restaurants, I wandered over there. First, was a Chinese restaurant. No surprise. Just not doing it for me. Next, a deli that looked like a local trying to do his interpretation of a deli. Hmm. Then, Carl’s Jr. Huh?

Now, I expect McDonald’s in all corners of the universe. I was really surprised I had walked over 300 yards and had not seen a Starbucks. But a Carl’s Jr? They can barely keep them open in Dallas, and there’s one in the mall in KL? (It was tasty.) (Don’t judge me.)

I went back to the mall this evening to wander around, since my feet were falling off from standing in class all  day, anyway.  Before I went over, I found their website, and looked at the list of restaurants. Wow. It was quite the list, and a homesick American will feel right at home.

There actually was a McDonald’s, I just hadn’t gone to the right floor yesterday. (This mall is so big, there are multiple food courts – or multiple areas where food shops seem to congregate.) It’s not that I wanted to eat at McDonald’s, I just feel strangely comforted knowing it’s there. (There is a part of me that will go to McDonald’s simply for the irony, but that only works in Paris, when you order coffee at the McCafe on the Champs Elysees.)

There actually was a Starbucks ( think there are two in the mall). (We drove past outposts of both on the way to the class this morning, so I knew they were around.) No surprise. Burger King? Hey, if there was one in Linköping, Sweden, there might as well be one here. KFC? A little strange, maybe, but I did see one selling fish and chips in London. TGI Fridays? I thought those were only allowed in airports, now. Kenny Rogers Roasters? Wait. Didn’t they go out of business?

Please excuse this (rather juvenile) interruption: The Kenny Rogers Roasters logo looked different than I remember. Maybe they’ve given the place a facelift. Bwa-hahahahahahaha! Wait. Shouldn’t Kenny Rogers run a laundry? He knows when to hold ’em and he knows when to fold ’em. I feel better now.

After all that, I ate dinner at O’Briens Irish Sandwich Bar – a place with “Irish” and “Bar”  in the name that doesn’t actually have beer. I saw “Irish” and “bar” and Googled it, and it’s a franchise of a Dublin sandwich shop that sold their Asia franchise rights to a Brit who lives in Singapore. That was so complicated, I felt obligated to try it out. I’m still a bit dubious on how an Irish place sells healthy fruit juices and coffee and not Guinness, but whatever. Maybe it was started in Dublin, Ohio, like Wendy’s. It was a very good sandwich, and the iced coffee rocked. That was actually the second iced coffee I had today. I don’t know why I don’t make it at home.

However, since I didn’t try any of  the local delicacies for dinner, I’m going to take massive heat tomorrow from my local IBM host, so after I finished my sandwich and iced coffee, I wandered around the mall, looking for the Japanese ice cream place I had seen in the list, because I thought they might have green tea ice cream. They did. It was pretty awesome. (Flashback to earlier this week – they also had sweet corn ice cream.)

Naturally, I got lost trying to find my way back out. As I wandered one floor below where I was supposed to be, there was a Hush Puppies store. A pretty big one, actually. I can’t find Hush Puppies in the shoe store at home any more and there’s an entire branded store here? (I loved Hush Puppies when I was growing up – they were slip-ons so I didn’t have to tie ties [yes, I was that lazy, and now I’m that inflexible] and they were close enough to dress shoes to wear to work or school. Plus, I always loved the puppy in the photo. No, Virginia, we are not adopting a Basset Hound.)

I just looked at the list again, and there’s a Kodak store. Really? I may have to go wander the mall tomorrow night, and see what develops. (Heh. Heh. Heh.)

I think sometimes we export stores to other countries, and sometimes we just move all of them, and never realize they’re gone.

So, if you have a craving for rotisserie chicken and a pair of Hush Puppies, I know where you can go. It’s just a bit of a flight to get there.

Almost Acclimated

I’m in Petaling Jaya to attend a seminar that starts tomorrow. I was going to have meetings with the local team today, but as the local team is only one person, and we met yesterday, I’m just working from my hotel room this morning. I know where the coffee is, somebody will bring me food if I call, so why would I walk next door to the office where I don’t have a desk?

I suppose I should be annoyed about traveling here early but I slept until almost 5:30am this morning and I will have to be in the seminar for six hours or so tomorrow, so the extra rest is probably good. I do know I went to Australia once for three days, and was still jet-lagged from Australia when I got home, so the extra time to acclimate is helpful.

I did visit the office yesterday and wandered around the Innovation Center, so that’s another one crossed off the list.

I was probably the only one in the bar last night having a wee pint for St Patrick’s Day. I had to settle twice – first, I went to the Cigar Bar (the Havana Club, which according to a glass by the register is actually a rum brand), and asked for Jamesons, but they didn’t have Irish whisky, so I had to settle for Scotch. Well, they learned it from the Irish, so that’s close.

The Havana Club reminded me of the Ice Bar on the Norwegian Epic – from an employee standpoint, it probably sounds like a really good deal, but then you realize there’s not a lot of traffic (I was pretty much the only customer the whole time I was there last night – my wife and I were alone in the Ice Bar last year), so it’s actually pretty boring. I’m pretty sure in both cases, it’s treated as a promotion – “You’re going to be the bartender at The Havana Club! You will have your own bar!” – but then you get there, and you realize “your own bar” means working alone, and while there are a lot of cigar bars around, there don’t seem to be a lot of cigar smokers. Actually, I was told most people come in, buy some cigars and leave. I felt a little hypocritical having asked for a non-smoking room and then going to the cigar bar, but so it goes. Plus, because I went, I heard the basics of the career aspirations of a cute 28-year old Malaysian woman who doesn’t smoke cigars and is really tired of being alone at work for long stretches.

It just occurred to me that was probably good training for me to be an old, crotchety bartender as my second career. Wait. Wasn’t she supposed to be listening to my problems? It’s a bit awkward to be in a bar when you’re getting hungry, but you feel the need to have one more drink, because the bartender is not finished with her story yet. So it goes.

One interesting note on the Havana Room (for those who don’t follow @xriva on Twitter because I mentioned it there last night, I think), the walk-in humidor has a biometric lock on it. So, the bartender had to lead me into the humidor to choose a cigar after opening the door with her fingerprint. I should have checked if she was packing heat.

This was the second biometric lock I’ve seen in a couple of months – the other was on the SoftLayer Data Center in Dallas. So, I have now have had a cigar that is as secure as the computers running the systems that turn startups into millionaires.

Since I hadn’t had a Guinness for St Pat’s, I stopped in the lobby bar on the way back to my room, but they had Carlsberg on tap, so I settled again. By this time, I was starving, and there was a small tray of sad somethings rotating in a warming oven, so I asked if there was any food available. The waitress brought me a menu, and then brought me another one. The second one was the room service menu. (The first menu seemed to be a subset of the room service menu.)

Another good idea. (Norwegian does something similar on their cruise ships – they will bring you a pizza wherever you are on the ship.)

So, I had a cheeseburger. It was amazingly good. I may have one for lunch, in fact.

Here’s an interesting question – the hotel has a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and an Asian-inspired buffet (where I had lunch yesterday, including sweet corn ice cream), so where does the American food on the room service menu originate? I would actually rather go to the restaurant and have a steak for dinner than try to eat it on the same desk as my computer, but the only place you can get cheeseburgers, sandwiches and mozzarella sticks seems to be from room service, or from room service in the bar.

An interlude – Sweet Corn Ice Cream. Now, when I saw that small tag, I just assumed it was another instance of mis-translation, and it couldn’t possibly be what we call “corn.” I steered clear of it anyway, and took vanilla, which looked very yellow, which means there’s a lot of cream or fat (or something.) 

Back at my table, I took a bite, and it didn’t really taste vanilla. It tasted like … sweet corn. Wow. Now, I’m not saying I would come back here just for the sweet corn ice cream, but once you get over the weirdness, it’s not too bad. It’s just .. weird. 

So, the physical part of acclimation is done – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and almost sleep through the night. (Didn’t I have to learn this as an infant?) Tomorrow, comes the schedule acclimation – starting at 9:30 am (maybe 9:45 am) instead of 8:30 am or 9:00 am at home, eating lunch at 1:00 pm (ouch) and finishing, well, when we finish, I guess.

I’ve learned to ask about schedules ever since I had a workshop in Stuttgart years ago, and about 11:30 am, I hit the end of one of the modules, and said, “Well, let’s break for lunch” and my host said, “We’re going to lunch in about an hour and a half.” Oops. Time to keep talking. So, always ask the locals, because not everybody in the world is on the same lunch clock.

Why doesn’t everyone do this?

One of the best parts of international travel is discovering that all cultures do things slightly differently. This is also one of the worst parts, since you end up asking “Why doesn’t everyone do this?”

First, let’s have a counter-example, since it has now happened to me on two continents in the past week. A lot of the hotels I’ve stayed in lately have beautiful stone or faux marble bathroom floors. While this would make my wife extremely happy, these surfaces are extremely slick when they are wet. I am now beginning to assume the Fall of the Roman Empire was due to marble bathroom floors. The floor here in KL is stone, and I slipped this morning – not much, but enough. The floor of my huge walk-in shower in San Francisco (actually in Burlingame) was faux marble and it was really slick. Why did I have a huge walk-in shower? Because when I checked in, the receptionist put me in a handicap room. Now, think of the irony of dying from a fall in a handicap room. This would not look good on a headstone.

Go back to the cheap floors. The clumsy (and splashy) among us will appreciate it.

Now, the proper examples. The first time (and only time so far) that I went to Taipei, there were two rather unique features in the hotel. One, there were rubber ducks sitting on the tub, which a sign around their neck that said you should adopt them. So, I have two Taiwanese ducks at home somewhere. (They’re not as tasty as Peking duck, but they’ve lasted longer.) From a business standpoint, a more important feature – that every hotel should do – is that when the bellman called a cab for you in the morning, he gave you a business card. On the business card was the hotel’s name and address, in English on one side and Chinese on the other. So, when you finished at work, you could hail any taxi and just hand him the card. Brilliant.

I’m in Kuala Lumpur,  Malaysia (actually, in Petaling Jaya – which is like just telling people you’re the Dallas Cowboys when you’re in Arlington) this week, staying at the One World Hotel and I was very happy to find that I have a minibar in my room. Then, I was distressed to find it was empty. Barren. I had never actually seen an empty minibar. (It looks a lot like a refrigerator.) When one of the maids came to bring more bottled water (free and apparently unlimited bottled water – I’m looking at you, every American chain hotel on the corporate list), I asked her about it. First, I apologized and told her that I assumed it wasn’t her department, but then I asked, anyway. She pointed out the card titled”Why is my minibar empty?” which I had missed. Hey, I’m jetlagged. Plus, it was right next to the order form, so it was easy to miss. So, I read the instructions, after she patiently explained it to me. The system at One World Hotel is simple – they fill the minibar with what you order. That’s what had confused me – usually the order form is your sordid confession of what you drank the last night of your stay, when you’re so stressed you drink all the vodka and finally eat the $7 Toblerone. The One World has figured out there’s no sense in having four cans of Heineken in every minibar in the hotel if only so many people actually drink it. There’s an order form that’s an actual order form – it’s not for what you did consume – it’s  for what you will consume if they just put in the minibar – just fill out the form, order what you think you need for your stay, and drop the form off at reception. They’ll deliver it. Why doesn’t everyone do this?

I also give the One World Hotel credit for having random stuff I’ve seen in other hotels, but not usually all at once. In my room, I have a robe, slippers, an iron and ironing board, a safe, a scale and a flashlight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flashlight before, and as a basic security tool, it’s a pretty good idea. They also have a thermostat that will display in F or C, depending on what you want, which is great since I forgot my portable thermometer again, and I can’t do the math in my head. That’s a pretty good list of stuff for a hotel that I selected solely because it was next door to where I will be working this week.

I’m thankful that most places have just started writing  the WiFi password  on your room key jacket without waiting to be asked. It saves a phone call. I’m surprised more hotels don’t just have open WiFi (thank you, Best Western in Hondo, Texas), but I suppose now that they’ve finally chased all the homeless people out of the parking lot, they don’t want to start chasing out the homeless people stealing WiFi and checking email to get their intersection assignments. I do wish more hotels would just have a WPA key so you could create a profile for the location and it would always log in – the software I use creates a profile anyway, so just storing the password would save time. Having to enter a password on a web page is tedious, especially when you can’t always get the page to load. From last week’s four nights in two different Embassy Suites, I appreciate that Hilton has a partnership with AT&T (and admits it) so I can logon to their WiFi with my home AT&T credentials, since I usually lose my room key jacket with the password eventually. Also, kudos to the One World – my laptop was still connected this morning. At most places, the connection automatically drops after some period of time.

The receptionist at the One World Hotel specifically told me the password provided would work for up to four devices – it’s nice knowing there is a limit, since I always wondered. Since I have my mobile phone (no connection other than WiFi since I can’t find Sprint here), my iPad (WiFi only) and my laptop (WiFi), that’s a good number. It also means I don’t have enough devices.

The receptionist did one other thing that every receptionist in the universe should do – even if it’s bullshit. She asked me “smoking or non-smoking floor?” and when I said “non-smoking, please”, she said, “Let me see if I can get you a better room.” Now, for all I know, I have the smallest, crappiest room in the hotel, but when I first walked into it, I’ was pretty sure it was better than the one I almost got, and I was very impressed with it. Marketing genius.

I miss the rubber ducks.

CX881 LAX -HKG

Wow. This is one long damn flight.

Here’s my new definition of a long damn flight: You get on the plane, climb to cruise, eat dinner, take your nighttime medications, and sleep fitfully for what seems to be a long, long time. When you finally realize you can’t really sleep any more, you turn on the navigation channel. There are five and a half hours left to go.

Five and a half hours. I needed to walk around, but I just couldn’t get motivated. It was like I was glued to my seat. So, since it had been almost ten hours since I took my medications, I found the one thing likely to make me walk. I took my diuretic.

After that, I walked around about every thirty minutes.

My seat wasn’t bad, for coach. I had the aisle seat in the middle section, just behind the galley. So, nobody in front of me, and only one neighbor, an older Chinese gentleman (which is important later in the flight.)

Cathay Pacific actually has premium coach, so there are four classes on the plane. Thank you, Corporate Finance, for managing to bump me even lower down the food chain.

Random Thought: There should be a convention of all corporate finance people in Australia. Those fuckers should all have to fly coach to get there, and they should all have to route through at least two airports. Maybe then they would realize business class is not a luxury when you’re talking about flights over four hours or so. (This may be too soon, but on the way home, we should charter a Malaysian Airlines jet and hope for the best.)

The plane is a mix of Chinese and old Americans. From some of the conversation I overheard during boarding, many of the old Americans are going on a cruise. Considering how lost most of them looked just navigating the two aisles of the 777, they’re going to be really lost on a cruise ship. It was like being an extra in The Night of the Living Dead trying to get to the lavatory.

Food was decent, but my recollections of Cathay Pacific business class food were not met (not surprisingly.) The exciting meal was breakfast, where the choices were a mushroom omelet or chicken congee. I did not know what that was, so I assumed it was the token Chinese dish, as the omelet was the token American dish. The person across from me didn’t know what it was, either. All I heard was a muffled discussion, and then “The omelet, please” in a choked voice. The person one row up and across from me didn’t know what it was, either, he just knew it was the only thing his flight attendant had left on her cart. She said in a bright voice, “Chicken congee. It’s like a chicken porridge.” Now, I understood the choked voice.

My flight attendant had one omelet left, and two passengers. Luckily, the other passenger was the older Chinese gentleman next to me, so he had the chicken. I got the last omelet on the plane. Perhaps, there is such a thing as Divine Intervention.

It was a pretty good omelet.

Random Thought: All Boeing 777s should have a photo booth, so you could get a passport photo that reflects how you actually look after an overnight flight.

It’s Sunday.

Remember how I woke up with five and a half hours to go? That’s about how long my next flight will be.

Actually made my connection with time to spare.

Business Travel

I don’t care what anyone thinks. Business travel sucks. I’m in my third city this week and I’m in the airport, waiting to go to another continent.

Ten years ago, this may have been exciting, but I’m too old and tired to feel that way any more.

I went to Chicago Sunday, back to Dallas on Tuesday, to San Francisco Wednesday, and somebody told me it’s Friday today, so I’m off to Kuala Lumpur.

That’s right. The place CNN won’t shut up about, because a plane is missing from there.

The Spousal Unit is not happy.

CNN is actually on ithe TV in the Admirals’ Club, so you can have a relaxing drink and learn about how a plane can be sabotaged before you get on your plane. Piers Morgan is interviewing someone, so by the time I leave for my gate, at least we’ll know it’s the Tea Party’s fault.

Lovely.

(It’s still better than March Madness.)

I’m flying to Los Angeles, then to Hong Kong, then to Kuala Lumpur. It’s Friday now, I’ll be there Sunday afternoon.

I’m coming home next Friday.

I’m traveling 30 hours or so each way for a two-day class. This does not seem an efficient use of time to me, but I don’t have an MBA. Luckily, since our management has found cutting costs is somewhat easier than making money, I’m flying in coach.

I’m hoping the family with their precious (and cute) family goats are at least a few rows away from me.

The last time I flew to Hong Kong, it was from Europe. So, this is a first. The last time I flew home from Hong Kong is when I crossed a million miles on American.

So, I’m currently waiting in San Francisco (and listening to plane crash theories), so I can fly to LA and wait, so I can fly to Hong Kong, clear customs and wait, and fly to Malaysia.

Then, I can collapse in the hotel.

One partial day of rest (and a couple of meetings), another day of nothing but meetings, two days of workshops (teaching alone, since my co-instructor couldn’t get a visa) and then home. Also known ad another 30 hours in coach and airports.

Funny thing about the workshop: US logic says if the classroom holds 25 people, you stop registrations at 25. Asian logic says when you go over 25, you just find a bigger classroom. So, there were 40 students registered as of yesterday. The largest class I’ve done by myself is probably 20.

How can business travel not be fun?

So, the next person who says, “You’re lucky. I never get to travel!” is getting punched in the head.

Will It Go Round In Circles?

I almost remember the first time I heard the term “FAQ”, and it was a long time ago. It’s a TLA (a three-letter acronym) and it means “Frequently Asked Question”.

After I learned what a FAQ was, I actually had a job where I was supposed to generate them. Technically, I was supposed to generate answers to questions that we had not necessarily received, but we called them FAQs, anyway, because we assumed we would receive them frequently, eventually. Assuming people didn’t read the FAQs first.

I always thought it was strange to predict what questions would be asked frequently and answer them before they were asked. I suppose it’s the one time we could have used a psychic on an IT project, other than predicting completion dates for development projects.

Then, I found Cruise Critic, and I was enlightened. Cruise Critic is designed for people to review cruises they’ve been on, ask questions of other people on cruises, and discuss cruising in general. So, like most hobby bulletin boards (yes, I remember computer-based bulletin boards), you get a mix of newbies and old farts. These groups do not mix well.

Here’s the major issue – there are no FAQs there, other than metadata about using the website. So, while there are many frequently asked questions, there are no answers easily found. So, the same questions come up over and over.

Part of this is that people are ignorant. Not in the pejorative sense, they really don’t know yet. This is why you have a book on cruising called “What Time Is The Midnight Buffet?” You don’t know something because you’ve never done it before. The truly ignorant don’t even know what questions to ask. This group is blissfully silent.

Part of this is that people are lazy. If you do a basic search through the forums, you can find an endless number of previous entries and responses about almost any topic. However, even without search, you can look at the subject lines and find pretty much any of the frequent questions within a couple of pages. They’re that frequent.

Part of this is that people are ignorant (again)  – they don’t understand how bulletin boards and mailing lists actually work. They’re public. You see everything, not just your stuff. (I’ve had people on my digital photography mailing list [5000+ users] complain that they’re getting all sorts of conversation and not just the specific answer to their question.)

So, a lot of the usefulness of these sites are compromised by not only the same questions, but by the same complaints when the question is asked. Repetition scares off the people that know the answer, and then the new people can’t get any replies.

Meet some of people that ask the questions.

First of all, is the clueless newbie:

  • “What time can I get on the ship?”
  • “It depends, but it is probably printed on your cruise documents, the cruise lines’ website or both.”
  • “You’re mean. Can’t you just tell me the exact time?”

This basic conversation will repeat almost daily.

Then, there is the helpful newbie who doesn’t grasp the whole picture:

  • “Since this is the Report The Senior Staff board, I can tell you we had Captain Stubing on our trip.”
  • “WHAT (*(#$*)( SHIP? WHEN?”

Apparently, someone did not know that a cruise line may have more than one ship. I’ve lost count of how many posts are in the current year’s crew discussion board don’t mention the ship or the sailing date.

Some newbies require reassurance:

  • “I just booked a ten-day cruise from Miami and I’m in the corner cabin. My family will be with me. Is this a good idea?”

What are you going to say? If your family is prone to seasickness, no. If you can’t afford it, no. f you can’t get to Miami, this might be a bad idea. How many people are in your family? How many will fit in the cabin?

Then, you have the inadvertent war starters. For example, in the Norwegian Cruise Line section, somebody will ask about removing or changing the automatic tipping (a hot-button subject) every other day, and the same firefight will break out. I know it’s the same firefight, because someone actually said “Here we go again.”

The interesting question becomes – who’s fault is this? The people who don’t do any research and ask the same question somebody else asked three hours earlier, or the people who take the bait over and over?

I’ve actually considered whether some of the “newbies” are actually just old farts laying down flamebait to watch the other old farts rise up in fury. If so, well-played. I’m sure you’re laughing hysterically somewhere.

On the answering side, you also have the usual band of suspects:

Then, we have the Admittedly Ignorant, Yet Opinionated:

  • <any question known to man about <some cruise line>
  • “I don’t know about your question because I’ve never been on <cruise line>, but I think that Carnival’s scones are the best at sea.”

Seriously, if you don’t know, shut up. I know you have an unlimited data plan, but that doesn’t mean you need to post all the time.

Next, are the Search fanatics.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “Haven’t you searched?”

If someone is asking a question, I would like to think that they searched and didn’t find an answer. It’s possible (probable for newcomers) they haven’t. However, answering a question with a question is pointless, and starts the usual ranting for answering a question with a question. (These people should be paired with in Hell are the people who start questions with, “I didn’t have time to search, so …“)

Finally, are the Scolding Moms.

  • <any question known to man>
  • “We discussed this at length LAST WEEK. Scroll back and find it.”

Isn’t it faster to just cut and paste a summary? You might remember it, since you remember when it was discussed. That may actually help the person asking the question.

The problem with this system  is that the newbies are scared away from discussions because the old farts tend to get high blood pressure and yell at them. It’s not really yelling, but it seems like it if it is your first innocent question and you just haven’t realized yet that  it’s everyone’s first innocent question.

I’m an old fart on cruising. I have my seventh and eighth cruises scheduled this year – which is no Captain Stubing, but it’s a lot more than a first-timer. I do my best to be helpful, but it does get old. Quite old.

Hopefully, someday soon, Cruise Critic will learn to post realistic guidelines on the use of the site. Here’s some I considered: 

  • The first source for information on your cruise is your cruise line’s website. If you can find this website, you can probably find theirs.
  • The more definitive the answer, the more likely it is an opinion.
  • If you have a question, you are probably not the first one. Look around first or put on your asbestos underwear.
  • Please remember this is a world-wide site, with differences in experience, culture and language. Think before you hit “send”.
  • Religious wars happen in all hobbies (Carnival vs Norwegian, Ford vs. Chevy, Democrat vs. Republican.) If you have an opinion on a specific question, please join in. If you’re just going to point someone to “your brand”, please don’t bother, it’s not helpful.

If they can have a post that you reminds you that you can’t link to Facebook always show up at the top of the topics  list, you think they could add something like this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell someone what time he can board the ship.