Mostly about my amusement

Year: 2006 (page 3 of 6)

India Travel: back to work

Back to Work

I didn’t even realize until the middle of the day that it was September 11. Originally I was supposed to fly out on this day, my VP and manager all said it sounded good. So I passed on the date to the travel person, and she responds via, “Are you SURE you want to travel on this day?” I call her up asking what the issue was, and she said, “you know, September 11?! We all shared an idiot moment, and I realized I was thinking about work too much.

The day passed pretty smoothly, with a lot of work getting done, everyone more comfortable with work styles and starting to be able to joke around with each other. Some important observations came up though and a critical question: why is it that the only areas in the building that are not air conditioned are the elevators packed with people and the bathrooms. You’d think that these areas would need them the most! The office is manned with a staff of people that all they do is clean the areas regularly.

There’s often two guys in the bathroom performing various cleaning chores such as wiping the mirrors of splashed water. One stall had a sign that said, “Work in Progress.” I kept thinking that it was a euphemism. Another odd trait in the bathroom area are that there is a spray nozzle hanging on the side of the wall. The only thing I can think of is that it’s sort of a quickie bidet. So here’s the common behavior when a guy walks in: he steps in front of the mirror and checks his hair, smoothing out an imagined curl that is not visible to the Westerner, then he does a quick rinse of his hands and drinks water from the tap, does a quick shake off and proceeds to the urinal, does his business and then may or may not wash his hands afterwards. This doesn’t make any sense to me to skip washing afterward, but do it before. Maybe I’m just missing something.

One of the big companies in India is called TATA. There was a Mr. Tata about a hundred years ago, and he was big in steel. I spoke with my driver Sameer about Tata, because I also saw that name on trucks and cars. Turns out they’re also big in satellite TV, broadband internet, tea and salt. There are a few other industries, but it just seems strange. I could kind of see going from steel to trucks, but what guy walked into the boardroom and said, “I’ve got the heavy manufacturing down pat, let’s try tea and salt now.” The other big company in the area is Reliance. They do consumer electronics and life insurance. Makes as much sense as the other one.


The cultural differences are becoming more apparent as I work longer with the people here. I’ve worked with Indian nationals in the past, and I’ve had trouble where you explain a project and they would nod their head, giving me the impression that they got it. More often than not, they’d miss the point. So I emphasized with my team that they ask questions, lots of them. They’ve done this, often too much. One of the big reasons I’m here is so that we can work together closely enough that there’s common understanding of styles. The one little thing that was hard for me to get is that I would ask them if they understood something and they would either shake their head (meaning No in western cultures) or do this strange kind of movement that was half shaking the head and half nodding with an occasional diagonal to throw me completely off. A crude friend refers to it as the bobble-head acknowledgement. I’ve asked them to include verbal cues to help me along.

The projects are looking better, but I also emphasized that we have only one more week before I fly out. Since I arrived at 1am in Mumbai, it seems only appropriate that I depart at 3am. This is all part of some wicked endurance test. Add to that that there’s been some mild stomach discomfort, and its shaping up to be a memorable trip.

India travel: work and tourism

Tourist for the weekend

I had the Saturday free and wanted to tour around. The guys from the office offered to be my guide, but it’s not my style. It takes away from the spontaneity of it all. Anyway, my driver spoke pretty limited English. For the past two days he understood that he was to take me from and to the office from my hotel, and he could understand numbers enough for telling time.

I was worried about this a little when I wanted to be driven around to see the sights of the city, but I figured what the hell. Anyway, it quickly became apparent that I had it wrong, in that we were going to the office. I said over and over again, “Not the office; I want to see the Hanging Gardens.” As we pull up to the security gate, I ask him to call the office and I’d like to talk to someone there. I do get someone and they promise to send a driver with whom I can better hold a conversation. Along comes Sameer, who speaks better than many Americans I know, and he quickly dissuades me from the Hanging Gardens. Old people are the only ones that still go there, and ignorant tourists. It’s an hour’s drive away and I am almost guaranteed to be disappointed. I give him a rough outline of what I want to do (not so many tourists, slightly unusual things) and he decides on the city laundry.

It is awesome! They’ve got blocks and blocks of lower caste Indians working in these really dirty pools of laundry washing uniforms and sheets from various shops around the city. Its an incredible sight and my description doesn’t do it justice. From there, he took me to the Gandhi Museum, where I did see the most tourists all day, but it was good to go. I didn’t know that Gandhi put the spinning wheel on the national flag to indicate simplicity, purity and connection to the poor. They changed it to a Dharma Chakra symbol a year before his death.

After that it was Victoria Station, a huge railroad station built by the British, with really impressive architecture, tons of people and lots of advertisements for the Indian version of Dancing with the Stars, now on Wednesdays AND Thursday nights. There was a ton of traffic, and I discovered from Sameer that there are about 50,000 taxi cabs in Mumbai and an unknown number of the automated Rickshaws. I next went in to the Crawford Market, an indoor hall of many different micro vendors that sell melons, pineapples, birds, fish (aquarium and the not so mobile), rabbits, miniature puppies, perfume, fruits and vegetables and chocolate. There were also chickens like you might see in the market, except the feet were still attached and they had been in the really bad air for who knows how long. It’s all like a supermarket, but made up of many small stalls lumped together. You can get everything, although I decided I didn’t want any of it that wasn’t wrapped in plastic. One of the funniest things I saw there was a box of McDonald’s French fries that said very explicitly that it should be kept frozen, but was very clearly out there all day long in the very stifling heat. Maybe it’s a language thing.

By the way, most billboards are in English. I asked Sameer about that and he said that the marketing is targeted towards the educated which almost all speak English. When I stepped into the car, I was drenched and my clothes stuck to me. So taking that longer step was probably a bad idea, since it split my pants. I didn’t mention it, but asked Sameer if we could stop at the Big Bazaar market that we had passed on the way out today.

There was a huge waiting line for parking toward the Big Bazaar so Sameer suggested I step out and call him when I’m done. I got lost twice which let me see more of Mumbai and also pointed out how awkward it is if you’re the only white guy in a densely populated area and you’re about a foot taller than everyone else. It makes it harder to blend in. I found the Big Bazaar but also discovered that pants only come by waist measurements, and then you’d tailor it back to the length you need. Works fine if you’re not 6’6”, so I left the Bazaar empty handed. By that point it was 7pm, I was beat and wanted a shower and good meal badly, so that’s how I ended by first day as a tourist.

More Tourism

I woke up pretty early to make it to Elephant Island. They named it in 1534, when the Portuguese found this giant stone elephant. In keeping with the total lack of originality, the previous name was Gharapuri (Gharis were the priests of the temple on the island, and Puri means town). I’m sure Captain Obvious has his secret lair on the island. The caves themselves are pretty amazing after you climb 120 steep stone steps lined on either side by small stalls selling the exact same goods all the way up. When its really hot outside and the humidity is somewhere around steam room, hearing a barker’s pitch is less than appealing.

The island is famous for three large caves, which are filled with carved images of various Hindu gods, most commonly Ganesha, the elephant headed god, Vishnu the destroyer and Shiva the creator, but also sometimes destroyer, depending on the circumstances. The stone figures are about 10 to 20 feet high and there is apparently some requirement that at least one limb have fallen off. Sometimes the entire lower torso is missing. The most revered statue is not a statue at all but of Shiva Linga, or literally Shiva’s phallus. It’s supposed to help in fertility and the like, and it’s the only sculpture completely intact. It’s just a wide cylinder with a curved top. Insert lewd reference here.

The entrance to the caves has two levels of pricing: 10 Rs for Indians and 250 for tourist chumps. This dual level pricing is not that unusual it turns out. In response, I think the US should levee a higher tax rate on foreign nationals working here, just to keep things even.

They sell tour books for anywhere between 50 – 250 Rs (approx $1-5), but they’re supposed to be cheaper than the 2500 Rs that guides would charge. Generally, I’ve passed on both and just latched on to the most likeable good sized tour crowd and get what I need. Turns out the best option is a small museum near the entrance where all the guides seem to get their speeches.

I head on back down, buy some postcards and figurines. The figurines that they have in the stalls are pretty ordinary except for the namesake ones. They have hand carved elephants that have a mesh patterned body and inside the body is another elephant. The more elaborate ones have a third elephant carved inside the second. The way back is pretty uneventful. I was soaked in sweat and all I wanted (once again) was a shower and air conditioning.

My driver, Sameer, tells me that we’ll be passing the main street where name-brand shirts are sold. I figure they’ve got to be cheaper in the country so I get some lunch first and then head on down for a little shopping. Turns out that they’re more expensive than the US, so I skip out of that after trying five different stores of the same thing.

I head back to my room for that long awaited clean up and feel that I’m finally getting used to the time change. I realize I’m getting older because its taken me almost five days to feel tired at a reasonable hour.

More travel log to India

Mumbai airport

Its hot and humid. It hits like an ocean wave and instantly my clothes stick to me. I’ve traveled a lot in the past, so I move through the airport like I know what I’m doing. I didn’t really sleep on the plane and I hadn’t slept well the night before so I figure I got about four hours over the past two days. There’s a bounce in my step because I remember what it’s like to travel and I’m liking it already. The air smells like old diesel fuel and spices. There’s tons of people getting off the plane and other planes like it. The guy sitting next to me tells me that planes come 24/7. That they can’t land them quickly enough. I believe him. I make it through customs pretty well and walk towards the Exit sign. There’s a mob of people waiting at the exit, many of them holding up signs in all kinds of languages and alphabets. I find my name quickly and he takes my bags to a compact Ford. Swarms of assistants/beggars descend upon us, helping to put my bag into the car, asking for some change. Actually, they start asking for five Euros, which is a huge amount of money here. I hadn’t exchanged any money and all I had were $20’s and change. So I gave one some coins and he walked off, surrounded by a group of others.

The car took me to this huge wrought iron gate about 10 minutes away, where security guards had my driver, Fahim, pop the trunk while they checked the undercarriage for bombs. This became a common theme, also in the office parks where one would stand in front of the car, another would scan underneath with a mirror attached to a stick and the third would search the insides. Don’t know whether to feel safe, or unsafe. Maybe both.

The hotel is a five star, one of a handful here among the metal shacks, blue tarps and trash everywhere. Much of the city looks like it’s been part of a war zone, with pock-marked streets and easily condemned “buildings.” My room is awfully nice with a bay window looking out on a slum. I drop my things and take a shower, using the hotel’s shampoo suffused with tea essence. That’s one of the more disturbing things: when your head smells like Darjeeling.

First Morning

I didn’t get much sleep, but the room service breakfast was awesome. My driver is waiting for me downstairs and I soak in the sights while he scoots past the three wheeled taxi mopeds that are all over the place. It’s a 45 minute drive to the office, and I think I see a total of four traffic signals. They barely slow down at intersections, but the confidence of everyone driving is pretty reassuring for some reason. There continue to be these businesses along the roadside, all about 150 square feet with these corrugated metal walls that must come from ship storage container walls. There’s blue tarp everywhere. But people are pretty casual and go about their businesses and destinations without a care in the world. There’s a great sense of at-peace quality to it all. The fact that a guy is removing the rim of a flat tire right in the middle of a shop that has a sign for Tandoori chicken and fried fish somehow doesn’t seem strange to them. I decide however not to eat there.

The office building is very modern and very humid. There’s no sign for Merrill Lynch at all, and no one seems to know anything except that I should sign in. I look in the book for sign-in destinations that match my own and find one pretty fast. As I get off the elevator, I quickly realize that the last person didn’t know where he was going either.

I did finally find the right floor, and security continued to be tight. You couldn’t go anywhere with a badge, but someone came out with flowers for me, escorted me to an office, and a shy white gloved guy brought me some really good coffee. The team came out to meet me and I said some meaningless drivel.

I got logged on to my e-mail, deleted a bunch of junk and met everyone. I got a temporary pass and scanned it about every 15 steps. They’re a good group and we all went out to lunch at the mall. It’s very modern, filled with glass and marble and security check points and metal detectors. They have Subways, Ruby Tuesdays, and a handful of Indian fast food places near the United Colors of Benetton.

The rest of the day went pretty quickly with meetings and presentations. I got out of work at 9pm and will probably do the same for the rest of my stay, considering I got in around 11:30. That’s what they do there so that they can talk to the Americans. Everyone just works a later shift.

9/6 10am Frankfurt, Germany

(Note from Jan: my friend Andre is traveling and sends out these updates about his experience. He gave me permission to post these because they are just good reading. I have not edited them just copied the content verbatim.)

Champagne and Socks

Flying business class on a non-American airline can be summed up in a couple of ways: socks, champagne and a Barcalounger that can be adjusted 16 different ways, excluding the massage feature that was kind of creepy. The seats are a lot more roomy, with 12 seats taking up as much space as 32 seats in economy would. They’re sort of half egg shaped with a remote control on one of the arm rests that control a private Video on Demand screen as well as the space shuttle chair. The chair can go into almost full recline, theoretically allowing sleep if it were not for the crying baby nearby.

I confess to having trouble with the remote for the first part of the flight, having no six year old nearby to explain it to me, but once I got the hang of it, I used it like a pro. As soon as we were seated, the champagne came out in plastic cups and didn’t seem to stop for the entire nine hour flight. After two, the novelty completely went away, and I stayed with tomato juice. About two-thirds of the way through, I discovered the thank-you-for-paying-way-too-much-for-this-flight package. Towards the back of the armrest was a little travel package that contained a good toothbrush, a toothpaste tube that was small enough to hold only one serving and socks! I suppose the socks are for when you sleep in your fully reclined chair, but I’m saving them for the novelty.

I’m in the airport lounge now. An additional perk is that there are specific lounges depending on how much you’ve overpaid. There’s the Senator Lounge, which has amenities I can only dream of, but the Lufthansa Business Lounge has a mini buffet, fancy coffee machine, snacks galore, but most important: showers! Not only that, but due to my ignorance, I jumped ahead of a bunch of Indian business men that the attendant didn’t think that much of. She gave me a knowing look and scooted me in when no one was looking. This was one of the hidden perks of looking and sounding German. There’s still a healthy dislike of foreigners that kept me from smelling bad for long.

I arrive in Mumbai (Bombay) at 1 am and am hoping that there will be a driver waiting for me at the airport. I’ve been told that arrangements have been made, but I also heard that Mumbai is a strong competitor for the worst airport in the world. I will keep you posted.

On the flight to Mumbai

In economy class, the young children get a little toy of some kind to play with to help keep them passive. In Business Class, they get an entire lunchbox of various activities that would keep adults, as well as children, busy for hours.

It’s an older plane, so instead of being space shuttle high tech, it’s merely luxurious. Curious how quickly we adapt and make it the norm. Much of the Business class falls into two categories: Indian nationals and balding nerdy white guys in their 30’s and 40’s. I finally fit in!

Swapped out the system board

Earlier this week I received the replacement system board from Dell for my XPS 700.

The old system board was not always starting up. Sometimes it would take 4 false starts to get it to boot up; it it was more than 3 I usually just gave up and went to bed.

The new board came in an anti-static bag with one cleaning pad and conductive paste.

XPS replacement system board

The system board is attached to a plate that is held in by two screws. Once you get the cables put aside it’s straight forward to remove or install the system. Alek used the cleaning pad to make the top of the CPU spotless. The heat sink shined.


After the system was plugged in and running the fun began. The system would start and stop all without a hitch. That problem was completely solved. But the BIOS was not keeping the raid configuration, so the system could not boot.

I called the direct number I was given last week. I put in the extension and found out that my contacts voice mail was full. I could not even leave a message so I tried the general support line. While waiting I noticed that the BIOS was version 0.1.2 dated 5/5/06.

That did not fill me with confidence since the old system board was 1.1.3. After going around in circles, I unplugged the power, looked in the case at the connectors, and poof it started booting. I flashed the BIOS with the support person on the phone and all seems well now.

I’m going to call up the shipper and have the old system board picked up. In the meanwhile I’ll be pounding on the XPS 700 to make sure that it’s all good.

Labor Day scare

The plan for Labor Day was to invite family over, have a BBQ, and get ready for the boy’s first day of school.

Instead we ended up spending late Monday afternoon in the emergency room. My son ran up the stairs and fell hard on his chin. This opened up a 1 inch gash under his chin! It stopped bleeding almost immediately but he needed stitches to close the gap. So we took him to the emergency room.

The emergency room was okay and we only waited about an hour or so. He was not hurting and kept insisting that the bandaid was all he needed.

He really only did not like the pain killer shot they gave him to numb up his chin. Once that took effect, we all talked about toy trains while the nurse put stitches in his chin. Today it looks fine and Saturday we are going to have the stitches removed.

Dell still can’t get it’s act together (updated)

Update: 12:30PM 9/2/2006

After calling their 800 number, I got a gentleman who really knew what he was doing. It’s the system board. They are sending me a replacement system board.

The support technician actually restored my faith in Humanity!

That may be overstating it, but he really did his job well. I’ll see how long my replacement part takes to get here and if that solves the issue. Ought to; the error we were getting was the same each time.

Original blog entry here:

Sigh. Don’t buy computers from Dell. Give some other company a chance to screw up like Dell does.

I am really beginning to think that Dell’s only concern is to take orders and move boxes only. Their once really good support model is not really working.

Dell shipped me my XPS 700 and it works well. I am playing F.E.A.R. at 1920×1200 with all the options turned onto the max. I average about 112 FPS at that resolution.

It’s a great system. When it powers on that is.

Last night around midnight I tried to show Lily my new kick butt workstation. After 10 minutes of trying, the system would not turn on. The fans would switch on to max rpm and stay there. No BIOS messages on the screen, no sound from typing on the keyboard, nothing.

That’s bad on a new machine but that is not why I am complaining. When you buy something you expect it to work. But us “grown ups” know that sometimes this happens.

What really ticks me off is that Dell’s support system does not know my machine exists. I cannot get support because the service tag for my workstation is not recognized by their support system. I tried to call the support line and got the “Approximate wait time is 10 minutes” message. Having done that before, I figured I would try the online chat system.

The support rep I chatted with yesterday basically said “try back later”. 18 hours later the support system still does not know about my workstation. I tried the support chat again but since I did not have a valid service tag, the system would not even start a chat with the right person.

Instead I chatted with someone else who sent me to the correct queue. Which of course did not even start because I had did not have a valid tag number. One good thing about chat, as opposed to actually speaking with someone, is that I get a transcript of the chat, with me saying “it won’t work”. Doesn’t help me but I feel like I can at least track this nonsense.

I resorted to using the web page mailer to send a I’m-mad-as-hell message. I have no expectation that this will actually accomplish anything.

Sigh. Wonder if HP has decent workstations?

Dell XPS-700 arrived

The PC I ordered from Dell June 18th arrived today. No complaints about the time it took, I knew that was going to be the case for a long time now. And the projected arrival was October 17th, so August 31st really is not bad.

It’s a monster. The UPS sticker says the box weighs over 70 pounds and they weren’t kidding. I spent most of the evening installing GAMES CPU and graphic intensive applications.

The only potential problem is that sometimes when I power it up it does not get past turning on the fans. It gets stuck and I need to push the power button down till it goes off. Also standby does not work for me. Not too surprised since it usually only works for me on laptops. But I eventually got it working for my old PC so I’ll likely need to keep tweaking till it works.

Videotags this easy ought to be illegal

I frequent the WordPress support page to a) see if I can help someone and b) see if anything new is going on that might interest me.

Viper’s Video Quicktags is beyond interesting. It makes it ridiculously easy to add video to your post as so:

[ youtube width=”425″ height=”350″]wMwoexR1evo[ /youtube]


[ googlevideo width=”425″ height=”350″]4437565772125007816[ /googlevideo]

A space was added right after each [ so the plugin would ignore it. Without the spaces, this cheerfully produces


All into the posting. You can use the WYSIWYG editor that WordPress provides since Viper007Bond supplies you with easy buttons to produce a dialog box for inserting the codes.

This particular posting was made using BlogJet and not the built in editor. I used YouTube and Google Video but the plugin supports many more.

It’s well written, simple to use and works. Get it at Viper’s web page here.

Dirty window

FM RadioWe came back from Washington DC Sunday. It was an 8 hour painful, excruciating, nonstop lousy traffic, family trip up I-95. That’s not bad since Friday it took 10 hours to drive down there. Most of that was actually in New Jersey.

Around reaching NJ I turned on the radio. My 4½ year old boy suddenly says “that’s my favorite word! Open up the dirty window!” We asked him the usual “what? what did you say??” and he repeated himself.

The radio was playing Natasha Bedingfield’s song Unwritten. He pays more attention to the words than I do! We had to wait till the chorus repeated just to hear it.

Washington DC was fun and the GPS unit we got worked like a charm. The time driving was death and my son learned a new trick called “Car Sickness”.