Tuesday Sep 06, 2011

Travel Tips to Brazzaville, Congo and JCertif Speakers

Here are some travel tips to Brazzaville, Congo based upon my inaugural visit to Africa:

  1. 8 hours ahead of PT during summer, the currency is Central African (XAF), 1 USD = ~460 XAF, the market conversion is ~450 XAF), Altitude is 560 ft.
  2. The prominent language in Brazzaville is French and most of the local people (taxi, restaurant, airport) and even the conference attendees speak (mostly) broken to (very little) no English. So either learn or brush up your French lessons. I heavily used Google Translate for the basic communication or reading menus.
  3. Make sure to carry your yellow fever certificate for the Congo immigration. It does not matter whether you had your passport stamped with the visa, you should still carry it. Based upon other speakers' experience, carry a complete packet that is submitted to the visa office. If you don't carry then you be ready to shell out some extra $$$ for the immigration.
  4. Congolese and French cuisines are the most prominent in Brazzaville. The city has lots of Lebanese immigrants and so you'll find a good variety of middle-eastern cuisine as well. Other than that there is Continental, Chinese, Moroccan, and Pizza places as well. Make sure to try the local chicken sandwich and fried bananas combo. I've been eating snack items my wife packed for me. Anyway my tongue starts craving for Indian food after sometime so the samosas are very handy ;-)
  5. Do not hop in a taxi that has somebody other than the driver.
  6. No credit cards anywhere except hotels, all transactions are in cash otherwise.
  7. The Olympic Palace Hotel is marked as the best hotel in the town and offers free wifi but does not have a fitness center :( The breakfast buffet is pretty minimal but my supplementary food is helping there. Running outside even for 1.2 miles made me feel very dry so did some plyometrics and abs. The hotel front desk can exchange the currency which is super handy.
  8. The only English channel in the hotel is CNN which gets repetitive pretty soon. However audio streaming worked pretty seamless so could listen to some favorite music at least.
  9. There are no malls in Congo, just local shops. If you shop there then bargain heavily. Cut down the quoted price by 60-70% and eventually you might settle for 50% of the quoted.
  10. All the boys have a similar hair style - either short hair or clean shaven. Girls on the other hand have very beautiful and elaborate hair styles. Check out some nice hair dos captured at the conference and else where.
Most importantly, people are very nice and friendly and always willing to help.

Read more about Brazzaville here.

Now some tips specifically for the JCertif conference speakers, mostly in order to have you better prepared ...

  1. The conference started 1 - 2.5 hrs late on each day I attended. And some sessions towards the tail end were cancelled because the agenda was running late.
  2. There may not be Internet access for the hands-on lab so be prepared to run your lab in a complete off-line mode.
  3. The audience is very interactive (using a translator) and ask a bunch of questions. This is always the exciting part.
  4. About 30% are using Java in their daily life and about 10% know/use Maven. So tone down your presentations accordingly. Try to teach the basic concepts first and skip any advanced ones in order to make the attendees feel excited and accomplished. As always, ask your attendees what would make them happy and then be willing to change the course accordingly.
  5. The download speed in the hotel (the best one in the city) was 15-25 Kbps. The typical speed is much lower and so if somebody asks "where can I download xxx software" then your answer "its' on our website" will loose the audience. With that bandwidth, downloading JDK, NetBeans or even GlassFish with a mere size of 32 MB takes lot of time. Come prepared with media (CD or DVD) of all the software pre-loaded and share. I personally copied these bundles for several folks from my laptop.
  6. Text based documents for hands-on lab instructions are better received because of the low bandwidth. Similarly streaming videos (for screencasts) is not a viable option.
  7. Carry a jacket as the rooms could get cold sometimes where as the outside weather is more pleasant.
  8. The typical attendee laptop configuration is Windows XP or Windows 7 with 1 or 2 GB RAM. So make sure you know the requirements of your software and plan accordingly.
  9. The presentation laptops were placed in back of the room so either the speaker could stand on the stage facing the audience and use a presentation remote to change the slides or stay with the laptop facing audiences' back and show demos, or use a combination of the two techniques. This was a particularly a new experience as I've never seen this in any other conference and had to get used to it. In the first case, you are looking back at the main screen to view your slides.
  10. The attendees are always interested in taking pictures with the speakers.
  11. Free goodies, whether they are books, t-shirts, stickers, or USB sticks are always a hit.

I'll be on my way to home by the time this blog goes live. Thank you Africa for hosting and treating me nicely!

Tuesday Feb 17, 2009

Bangalore Traffic

Enjoy a glimpse of Bangalore traffic during peak time!

Technorati: traveltips india bangalore india traffic

Saturday Feb 14, 2009

Dilli Haat - An Exotic Arts & Craft Bazaar

"Haat" is a Hindi word that means a weekly marketplace where the producer sells the product themselves. As a result, the buyer can find out interesting details about the product which are typically not available when sold through retailer. This is equivalent to Farmers Market where the Farmers are replaced by local artisans.

Dilli Haat is one such place set up by Government of India in New Delhi. It has traditional clothes and jewelry, handicrafts, music performances, paintings, foods from different Indian states, and a lot more. It's a great way to spend a weekend!

Explore the location by clicking on the map below:

Here are some pictures:

Here is a performance of snake charmers:

And another local band playing:

And the evolving album at:

Technorati: traveltips india delhi delhihaat

Friday Feb 13, 2009

Little India, Singapore in Pictures

Little India in Singapore
is a great glimpse of Indian culture in Singapore. It has access to everything Indian in a matter of few streets: grocery, clothes, restaurants, music collections, temple, jewelry, and anything else you can think.

Click on the map below to explore the exact location:

I spent my yesterday evening strolling through the streets of Little India and took some pictures:

And the complete album at:

I think it's worth an experience :)

Technorati: traveltips singapore india littleindia

Monday Sep 29, 2008

Embu das Artes - Sao Paulo spectacle

Embu das Artes is a small and spectacular village in Sao Paulo Metropolitan area. If you want to experience Brazil, this is the place! A perfect blend of arts, crafts, food, clothes, furniture, festivities and lot of fun. Check out some pictures:

Check out GlassFish in Embu das Artes:

And some local music:

And the evolving (3 more days) album at:

Thanks Mauricio for yet another wonderful suggestion!

Technorati: embudasartes embu brazil village arts crafts

Sunday Sep 28, 2008

Travel tips for Brazil

  1. Brazilians are very warm people. Men will typically shake hands and pat on your shoulder. Women may kiss one (or both) cheeks upon meeting/departing so be ready to reciprocate.
  2. Brazil is a paradise for meat lovers. Most restaurants do not offer much (sometimes none) vegetarian choices. But they do offer some exotic fruits and vegetables, so you can certainly stay healthy!
  3. Some handy Portugese phrase

    Hello Alo / Oi
    Good morning Bom dia
    Good afternoon Boa tarde
    Good night Boa noite
    Thanks Obrigado for men, Obrigada for women
    No Thanks Nao Obrigado
    Excuse me Com licenca
    Please to meet you prazer
    Goodbye tchau (pronounced as ciao)
    Please por favor

    Check out English-Portugese phrases or a searchable dictionary.
  4. For Brazilians who claim to know some English, speak slowly and clearly with simple words.
  5. People are very friendly and very much willing to help but language may be a barrier.  Carry your hotel address on a paper as local public mostly speak Portugese. And smile is of course the universal human language.
  6. Withdraw money from the bank at airport. The ATM machines in the city are sparse and sometimes may not accept your ATM card.
  7. Don't miss 4 things: eating @ Churrascaria, drinking coffee, Caipirinha and Guarana.
  8. Hotels have free Internet and breakfast, really cool!
  9. If you are visiting a JUG event, make sure to carry freebies.
  10. Restaurants are open late (read very late or early morning) nights, even on weekdays. For example, we walked into a restaurant at 11:30pm for dinner on a Tuesday night and were not rushed.
  11. Most restaurants in food court offer food by weight.
  12. Offices have a 2 hour lunch time (typically 12-2), wow!
  13. TAM (local airlines) is Star Alliance member, so don't forget to get credits for United Miles and use benefits accordingly.
  14. The seasons in Brazil are completely opposite of those in Northern Hemisphere (which consists of 90% human population).

    Norther Hemisphere Brazil
    Summer Winter
    Fall Spring
    Winter Summer
    Spring Fall
  15. VISA is much more popular in Brazil than American Express. And cash works everywhere!
  16. Football (futebol) is not only a national sport, it's a complete passion here. Brazilians have won the FIFA world cup 5 times and very proud of it. So be aware of some of the popular players: Rivaldo, Roberto, Ronaldo, Rinaldinho, Kaka, Cafu.
And a very important aspect of being in Brazil, have fun!

Technorati: traveltips brazil

Thursday Sep 25, 2008

4 things not to miss in Brazil

# 1: Churrascaria (yeah, they serve more than Steak). Had dinner at Porcao and it was fantastico! Check out how steak churrascaria is prepared @ Porcao:

And you can visit kitchen in any Brazilian restuarant, check me and Simon inside Porcao's kitchen:

Wonderful food, great hospitality, a great choice not to be missed during your stay in Brasilia! More pictures here.

# 2: Guarana: a local Soda (kinda like Root Beer)

# 3: Brazilian coffee, Brazilian style

# 4: Brazil's national drink Caipirinha. Learn a crash course (recorded at Porcao):

The list might evolve over next few days :)

Technorati: traveltips brazil caipirinha guarana porcao churrascaria

Wednesday Jul 16, 2008

Blogging from San Jose Airport - Free Wi-Fi

San Jose Airport now has free Wi-Fi. The service has been available since May 30 but this is the first time I'm traveling since then. It is so cool and pretty fast too. "sjcfreewifi" is the network name and sits along with commercial offerings from T-Mobile and Wayport. I wonder what are the additional benefits ;)

Free Wi-Fi by the numbers:

Bandwidth: 15MB
Hardware cost: $90,000
Annual cost for broadband: $41,000
Estimated passengers to use Wi-Fi: 1000

More details here.

A list of airports with free wi-fi can allow you to stay connected!

Ready to board for Salt Lake City.

Technorati: sanjose airport wifi traveltips

Saturday Mar 01, 2008

Hyderabad in Pictures and Traffic

Shahi Qutbi Tomb, Golconda Fort and Charminar. Ate biryani @ Cafe Bahar in Basheer Bagh. This place served real good biryani with a good variety. I went there with a friend who ate at Paradise Biryani earlier in the week and he liked it much better at Cafe Bahar.

And now have a feel of the traffic in the video below:

Technorati: india traveltips hyderabad

Thursday Feb 07, 2008

Arrived in Orlando for acts_as_conference

As mentioned earlier, I arrived in Orlando, Florida earlier today for attending acts_as_conference. Here are some pictures I took on the way:

You can see how weather has changed from chilly weather in Bay Area (first 2 pictures) to balmy one (last 3) in Orlando, it is a good relief! And the last picture is taken from my hotel room (it is the main entrance to Universal Studios, Orlando).

I met Charles Nutter and Robert Dempsey (conference organizer) at dinner. It was funny though cause the waitress asked me for Driver's License before ordering a drink ;-)

Robert told me that the conference is sold out. So looking forward to an exciting time tomorrow.

Technorati: traveltips orlando rubyonrails acts_as

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Arun Gupta is a technology enthusiast, a passionate runner, author, and a community guy who works for Oracle Corp.

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