Monday Dec 01, 2008

Off on hols

We're off to Sri Lanka tomorrow to see some friends during the National Day and Eid holidays here.

We'll have good fun, but we were supposed to be going to Thailand. Mrs Saul has been wanting to go there for a long time - everything was booked and paid for, but then the current group of protestors decided to destroy the lifeblood of their economy by occupying the airports.

I know nothing about Thai politics, but I find it odd that a group described by the BBC as a mix of middle class businessmen and monarchists would be the type of people to be doing this kind of thing.

I feel sorry for everyone trapped in Bangkok's airports, but even more sorry for the hundreds of tourist related businesses who'll love millions over the coming months as tourists go to safer destinations.

Tedious expenses admin

I've been ploughing through my expenses this afternoon.

People who create a product should be forced to use it themselves, so that they can understand what they are inflicting on their customers.

The same goes for someone designing apartments in an iconic development, as well as for people writing software that process expenses.

I can only assume that the developers who created our expense tool have never been on a business trip in their lives.

Every item I submit can have a currency associated with it, but the exchange rate for that currency cannot be set in one place for an entire report. What I would like to be able to is to set the exchange rate for, say, Bosnian Marks, once at the beginning of a report. I would then like to add each expense item and simply assign the right currency to it.

I can't. Each and every non UAE Dirham line item has to have the currency applied and then the exchange rate set. This can get quite tedious. 40 expense items from my trip to Vegas recently required the UAE Dirham to Dollar rate to be entered each time. Each time you enter it, the page refreshes. Tedious.

Equally, every meal requires the number of attendees and their names. Fair enough, but I reckon that 90% of these kinds of entries has 'one' for the number of attendees and 'me' for the name. It'd be much more helpful to have a default setting that uses the most common entry rather than having to enter the same info each and every time.

Time to submit a 'request for enhancement'. I expect I will be retiring by the time it's implemented, if I haven't jumped off my balcony in sheer frustration at being asked to confirm the attendees present when I enjoyed a bottle of water from the mini-bar in the Algiers Hilton.

Sunday Nov 16, 2008

Unusual lodgings

I've been put up in the Korston hotel for my three nights in drizzly Moscow.

Unlike the dull and pricey Marriott, where I've been in the past, the Korston has a stunning view of the Moscow skyline. From my room, in what I presume was a block of flats or offices in Soviet times, I can see several new skyscrapers going up, as well as the rooftops of various Moscow institutions. It makes a real change to have something interesting to see out of the window, particularly after last week's derelict building and rubbish tip, courtesy of the Sheraton Casablanca.

Unlike other hotels I usually stay in for Sun, the Korston has a large casino and numerous restaurants, as well as a 'gentlemen's club'. The leaflet in my room tells me that this particular leisure choice is conveniently open every day until 6am. I promise Sun's shareholders that no dodgy handwritten receipts for 'food and beverage' will be submitted after my trip.

Annoyingly, there is no gym. I've been doing quite well in recent weeks, making sure I get regular exercise when at home and when on the road. I will have to do some of the moves I've learnt off my Wii Fit rather than spend my usual 45 minutes of watching American nonsense-TV on my iPod whilst pounding away on the cross trainer or exercise bike.

Off to Moscow

Sun to Weds in Moscow this week, meeting Sun people, partners and customers.

My previous visits to Moscow always happened to find me in the middle of reading a Le Carre novel - it was always strange touching down quite happily at Domededevo and whizzing through immgration, when the characters in the book I'd been reading on the plane, set only twenty or so years earlier, had to take rather more elaborate steps to get in.

This Moscow trip also poses the Dubai traveller's dilemma - squeeze all your warm clothes into your suitcase and risk not being able to take it on as hand luggage, or walk around the terminal wearing them? I've compromised on this trip - warm jumper under my arm, hat, scarf and gloves in my laptop bag, but no overcoat, so I don't look too out of place next to the tourists in shorts and t-shirt. Given the average temperature the AC is set to in Dubai, wearing a hat, coat and scarf might be more comfortable...

Tuesday Nov 11, 2008

More Casa taxi

Today's cab drive in Casablanca was even more exciting than yesterday's. The driver cut up a motorcyclist, who then got off his bike at the next light, started a screaming argument with my driver and punched him in the face. Not knowing what to do, I continued to look blankly out of the window, while the two followed each other at breakneck speed down the road for 200 metres or so.

My driver recovered his humour quite quickly though, happily discussing how Casablanca has lots of bad drivers, whilst he jumped a red light.

Monday Nov 10, 2008

Casa Taxi

If I'd known that the partner I'm visiting this week had a hotel next door, I would have stayed there.

This would have been a better option, not simply due to the fact that I wouldn't have had to put up with the awful service and food at the Sheraton last night, followed by not being able to shave and shower this morning as the water wasn't working.

The main advantage would have been to miss spending 45 minutes driving each way with my life in the hands of 'petit taxi' drivers.

Although I haven't experienced a taxi held together with metal bars and with holes in the floor, as on previous visits, I have experienced driving at high speed down the wrong side of the road, coupled with more near misses than is healthy.

This morning's taxi had working seatbelts at least, although they did leave a dirty stripe down my shirt, which matched my general unwashed and unshaven appearance. We also stopped three times to pick up other passengers who happened to be on my route.

The petit taxis here are not much fun. Smelly, dirty, held together with string, pumping out diesel fumes into the inside of the car via the windows that don't close, racing around like Michael Schumacher.

This evening's taxi conversation was a classic.

'Le Sheraton, s'll vous plait'.


I made it back in one piece, alhamdillulah.

Sunday Nov 09, 2008


I'm in sunny Casablanca this week, coming home on Weds.

Casablanca seem to have sprouted some more modern buildings since I first started coming here, 6 years ago. Lots of newer cars on the road as well, vying for space with the odd donkey cart and the ancient Mercedes and Peugeot taxis. There's quite a stark contrast between new and old.

New airport terminal as well, which gives a much better impression on arriving. It still retains some features of the old terminal though, with no-smoking signs being largely ignored.

Coming out of the airport I saw two of my favourite cars on Moroccan roads. A classic Series III SWB Land Rover and a Police Wrangler Sport.

The Land Rovers are everywhere, used as recovery vehicles. They must be at least thirty years old now. I wonder who sold that deal? They probably retired to a large mansion just outside of Coventry.

The Wranglers always surprise me - I would have thought that they weren't very practical police vehicles. The 6 litre engine would be uneconomical and the 4 litre version a little underpowered for bumpy roads and four people in the car. Maybe Jeep got them a special diesel model? Two doors and no storage space as well - where do you stick your hardened criminals after they've given themselves in, guvnor? If you've seen Babel, with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, the Moroccan police use these Wranglers while tracking down the boy who fired the rifle shot that hits Blanchett's character.

The Land Rovers are a good fit, with various other models to be seen in public and private use. The only Jeeps around are police only. Purchased as part of some kind of US investment package maybe?

Sunday Oct 26, 2008

Travelling amateur

Today's trip made me feel like a complete business travel amateur.

First off, the taxi I'd reserved didn't turn up. I managed to find one near the hotel around the corner from us, which then got stuck in traffic leaving our development and which then took me to the wrong terminal. Dubai now has three terminals. Terminal 1, the 'old' terminal for general travellers, Terminal 2 for cargo and esoteric airlines and the glitzy new Terminal 3.

Somehow my request to go to the 'old' terminal got lost in translation, which meant that the high speed dash Mr Babu subjected me to ended up at Terminal 2. I should have noticed we were going the wrong way, but I was too busy fiddling with my phone. Silly me. Another high speed dash took me to Terminal 1, where I checked in for my Dubai - Vienna Emirates flight and proceeded to the lounge I can get in to with my Amex card. A quick bite to eat and I was off to the gate, only to realise that whilst I had checked into the right terminal, Terminal 1, my flight was actually leaving from a gate in Terminal 3, the new terminal. This involved a speedy walk for what seemed like several miles, getting slightly lost amongst the plethora of cafes and seating areas in Emirates' wondrous new dedicated launching pad.

We arrived slightly early in Vienna, which meant I had the chance to get an earlier flight to Sarajevo and avoid a seven hour layover. When I went to try to change my flight, I was told that I actually didn't have a Sarajevo booking to change - despite double checking with my travel agent on Thursday that everything was fine, all I had in Austrian Airlines' system was an unused ticket to Zagreb. Ouch. I had to pay 950 Euros to buy a new ticket or cancel the whole trip, let everyone down and fly back to Dubai.

Fortunately, I made the earlier flight. I felt like a complete amateur - wrong terminals, misjudged walking time to the gate, no confirmed flights. Thanks goodness my hotel booking was all in order...

What a considerate husband

Whilst my colleagues are all off to Honolulu for a week, I have just arrived in Sarajevo and checked into the rather prison-like Holiday Inn.

I could have been in Hawaii too, for Sun's annual sales 'reward party', but as Mrs Saul couldn't get the time off school and I am away so much anyway, I decided that a short trip to Europe would be a little fairer than 7 days away in the Pacific Ocean. Mrs Saul did grant permission for me to venture to Hawaii alone, but I decided to stock up on brownie points instead.

This is my first trip to Sarajevo. Mrs Saul and I visited Mostar during our honeymoon, so this is my second visit to Bosnia. First impressions are that it looks a bit more Soviet than the other former Yugoslavian cities I've been to - Llubjana and Zagreb, respectively.

One of the things I've enjoyed about this job is the chance to visit places that I only know about from watching the news when I was younger. I'd never have guessed, when listening to Kate Adie in the early nineties, that I'd be coming here a few years later to talk about desktop computing.

I'm really looking forward to the next two days. I now have a guy working with me, based out of Greece, who will be focused on exactly the same product set as me. This means that this part of the world, which is showing real potential for my product set, will get a lot more desktop computing related care and attention. We have partner and customer meetings tomorrow and a sales event on Tuesday. If I'm lucky, I'll get to see a bit of the city. Should be good.

Sunday Oct 19, 2008

New pics up

I have posted my photos from my India trip in August here.

They are not meant to be photographic masterpieces - it's just what I saw when Mr Baiju was whizzing me through the traffic in our Corolla.

Cockroaches with your meal, sir?

I made it back from Algiers three hours late, getting home at about 0430 on Friday morning.

Highlights of the trip were cockroaches crawling around the galley area and the stewardess dropping the cloth she was using to handle the food, picking it up from the floor and carrying on using it. I didn't eat.

When I pointed the cockroaches out, a steward thanked me, squashed them with his foot and left the resulting squished insects on the floor for the remaining three hours of the trip. I will be doing my best to use an alternative carrier in future.

Monday Oct 13, 2008

False travelling economies

Today's trip to Algiers has to be the most miserable journey I've had to undertake when working at Sun.

I had the choice of two carriers and chose the one I thought would be more convenient - nicer arrival time back on Thursday, fewer stopovers, cheaper for Sun, etc.

I got to the airport at midnight, only to be told that the plane would be late. I was given varying information on how late it would be, so decided to stay at the airport, rather than go home to sleep for a bit. In the end, after a nightmare checkin and boarding, we left at 0800, five hours late. Thankfully, the gentleman from the airline managing the checkin process took pity on a poor Englishman and bumped me up to Business Class. This made a world of difference, the principal advantage being that I was able to sleep and I had the use of a toilet on the plane that wasn't awash with water and still had some toilet paper. And a working toilet seat.

On the plus side, the passenger mix was one I'm not used to at all, so I got to see some new faces. A lot of the passengers were en route to Niger and other countries in French speaking Africa. One African chap was wearing what I, in my general ignorance, would describe as a wraparound, Touareg style, headdress. The picture here doesn't really do it justice, but it was this kind of thing. It looked quite cool.

Passport control was rather slow, but I did have a good chat with the immigration officer about which languages people learn at school in Algeria and the UK whilst he tidied up my bad handwriting on the immigration form. Apologies to the people behind me in the queue. I promise to fill the form in more clearly next time if you promise not to smoke and spit phlegm on the floor next to my luggage.

When I arrived at my hotel, there was no booking for me, but I managed to get a room.

I'm going to ask my travel agent if I can be booked on a business class seat when flying back. I generally don't mind slumming it and economy is usually fine for most of the routes I do, but this one was really rather tough. Once everyone's seated things tend to be ok, but getting to that stage can somewhat trying.

I'm hoping that I'll be home to Mrs Saul on time on Friday morning.

If I come back with a successful meeting in the bag and a smiling customer and partner, that'll make it all the more worth it. Let's see.

Saturday Sep 20, 2008

Wii Fit travel side effects

Thanks to doing yoga on the Wii Fit, I now appear to be able to lace a shoe up easily whilst lifting one leg up and standing on the other. I always had to sit down or lean on something before.

Useful for US airport, grunt grunt, hoo ha, mumble mumble in New Yoikese, take your shoes off Sir situations.

Thank you, Nintendo.

Marriott Islambad bombed

The Marriott Islamabad has been hit by a huge bomb - BBC article here.

I stayed here in June with two other Sun execs.

I am guessing there'll be a travel ban to Pakistan for some time now. The other place we stay at, the Serena, is much more secure - cars cannot drive near the hotel itself and the car check point is 100 metres of so away from reception, down a fairly steep incline.

My heart goes out to the guests and staff affected by this pointlessness.

Thursday Sep 18, 2008

Wifely wisdom

After having been feeling odd for the last couple of days here in Las Vegas, I explained my symptoms to Mrs Saul on the phone this morning.

She told me not to be silly - I was probably dehydrated and should try and find a sports drink or mix some sugar and salt up in a glass of water.

I did the former and instantly felt better.

I wonder if this sort of thing is why wives often used to follow armies around, many years ago?

Middle Ages Warrior to wife: Wife, get thee here. I am feeling all weak and feeble and my head hurts. I think I have ye plague and will doubtless shortly meet my maker. Please pray for my soul and get thee to a nunnery after I'm gone.

Sensible Middle Ages wife: Stop being silly. Here have a drink of water with some honey mixed in, as well as a slice of this salted venison I've been hauling around with me ever since we left Agincourt. There, that's better, isn't it?




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