By mrbill on Mar 14, 2011
Well, it appears that the old blahgs are to become new blogs. I'll be scribbling again soon enough.
A great trip, amazing weather, decent food, and fun projects. Nothing beats sitting on a beach at 10pm with a nice 20C breeze coming in off of the Mediterranean, eating hummus and a kabob by the light of a candle in a paper bag. In January.
The primary purpose of the trip was to look at some modernization opportunities, mostly older mainframes. It has been many years since I have heard acronyms like ADS/O, IDMS, CICS, and BMS used exclusively for hours of conversation. Fun stuff. The Clerity guys have some amazing tools and software for rehosting, and BluePhoenix makes the data and application conversions relatively pain-free. These guys definitely make my job easier, as I can concentrate on the IT services side of the rehosted system, running natively on Oracle under Solaris, with proper job and resource control, fully integrated into the "Open Systems" side of the customer's IT operations.
On the downside, I had to give a lesson in the three steps of customer service to a flight crew after the AC's air exchanger dripped on me for the first hour of my 12+ hour flight home. Step one, fix my pain (hand me paper towels to dry off my stuff and my shoulder). Step two, make sure it doesn't continue to impact the customer (move me to a new seat). Step three, make sure it doesn't happen again (put the issue on the maintenance log for the aircraft to make sure it gets fixed before the next customer gets rained on). I was amazed that the crew didn't understand these three basic steps to happy customers. Of course, that would probably explain why United flights hopping through Frankfurt are full, while Continental direct flights have plenty of empty seats. Customer service, and customer experience has a direct impact on customer loyalty. (sigh.) And yes, I am 6'5" (192cm) tall, and am not willing to move back to the "no legroom section" of the plane, from my aisle to a middle seat, against a bulkhead which will not recline. Moving a customer because you have inconvenienced them should be a move to an equal or better situation, not a punishment or additional inconvenience. (double sigh.)
But mostly, I'm just waiting for the exciting days ahead. No matter what happens, life will surely be "interesting" to say the least. Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.
Following China, and a quick stop at home for laundry and family time, I ended up back in India. This time it was Bangalore (or Bengaluru to the natives) for some training sessions.
Imagine my surprise when strolling down the sidewalk, jetlagged out of my head, when I glance to my left and see amongst the bushes:
Wake up call... This was actually one of the "outside" displays at the science and technology museum. A very cool place.
While I was in Bangalore, I got to spend time with one of our uber-geeks in India, Neeladri. Neel was recently announced as one of the 30 or so Sun customer facing engineers to join the ranks of "Principal Field Technologist", along with Mitesh from our India GSE contingent. Congrats Neel and Mitesh!
Neel rocks. Work, play, or dancing with the anglos and teaching them "how to dance Hindi style"... Neel rocks.
My compatriot, Dr. Blumenthal and I took a stroll of sorts. We coerced a local taxi driver to take us to the Mu Tian section of the Great Wall. The Badaling section of the wall is more popular with tourists, and closer to central Beijing, but I had heard great things about Mu Tian, so away we went. The taxi for about 6 hours and 180 km ran us about $100 or so. Not a bad deal.
This was the "before" view, looking over toward the non-restored "no trespassing" section to the west. The top of the next hill is the beginning of "no man's land". You can climb the mountain to get to this point, but we decided (and rightly so) to take the gondola to the outlook platform. If you look closely, you can see evidence of the gondola line creeping up the hillside off in the distance.
This is the mid-point of our hike, give or take a kilometer. These outpost buildings are scattered every kilometer or so, with neat features like ramps worn down to steps by 1000 years of footsteps, and little downward sloped holes in the wall to shoot Mongolian hordes through. There is even an "upstairs" section with places to attack the "downstairs" in case the outpost gets overrun. Yes, that is a HUGE uphill section ahead.
Now facing east, and way off in the distance is the ski lift that we were planning on taking down. Yes, there are alot of steps and hills between here and there. At this point, your legs are already burning, and you really need a break. This is a good time to start re-thinking your decision to walk from gondola to ski lift, but either direction involves ALOT of uphill climbing. Notice the canon in the lower left hand side of the picture. Remember that the Chinese invented gunpowder, much to the surprise of the Mongol hordes.
Once we made it to the ski lift (and noticed the very cool luge sled section to get down as well), we discovered that our return ticket was for the gondola only. There is a separate ticket for the ski lift, available at the bottom of the mountain. Yeah, so walk back to the gondola? No way. It turns out that you can purchase a one-way ticket for the lift or the luge at the upper station. Thank goodness. I was not above bribing my way down the hill!! My legs were so tired that I talked Dr. Brad into taking the last trip up the station steps to buy the tickets alone. I just couldn't do another uphill climb!
My wordpress mirror... Still working out the kinks and formatting.
I ended up Q4 in China, on a whirlwind three week tour that included many fun adventures. My wife joined me for the first piece, and Dr. Blumenthal joined me for the conclusion. We visited several cool customers, and talked about cloud computing, realities in deployment, and helped bring in those last couple deals in the fiscal year where we could. My wife learned to eat with chopsticks, how to say "Ni Hao" and "Boo Yao", and shopped in the wild typhoon of bargaining known as the Beijing Pearl Market.
We started off in Beijing, where I had a few meetings to take care of and a couple customers to follow up on. We got to see Tianemen Square at night, and wander around aimlessly to get over the jetlag.
We then grabbed a flight down to Shenzhen, a nice central location for the next piece of my journey. From Shenzhen / Shekou, you can take the ferry to Hong Kong or Macau in about an hour. There is also a high speed train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, where I needed to see a few customers. The ferry costs about $25 or so, and gets you to Hong Kong Central in about 45 minutes. The ferry terminal is quite nice as well.
We didn't starve. While poking around Shenzhen, I switched my wife from the more up-scale, foofy local restaurants to the more down to earth and authentic local restaurants. Most of them don't have english menus or forks. We were quite the celebrities in some of these places, as westerners are still a rarity outside of the big cities, and the more "western" establishments.
Hong Kong, and the visit to the Hong Kong Sun office was quite fun. I got to meet some of our Greater China teams that work out of the HK office in person. I hadn't been through HK in many years, and the changes were quite significant. It appears that the PRC government has done an amazing job of moving some of the shopping and tourism into the mainland, leaving the "western business" pieces in HK. Interesting, given the state of the current western economic outlook! I left about $30 behind in HK for lunch and taxis, and found absolutely no shopping worth spending my hard earned american dollars on. Definitely a change for me in the past 10 years. Also interesting was this sign on a little park in the Central district.
After Shenzhen and Guangzhou, it was back north to Beijing to close out the trip. I got another weekend in Beijing, and made it back to Tianemen square in the daytime. Very cool place, full of history and emotion. There were hundreds of foreign tourists there, and thousands of chinese native tourists there wandering, taking pictures, and soaking in the museums and libraries.
We even wandered throught the forbidden city, and stumbled across this little gem. Since there were no Jaguar dealerships in China in the 1970's, you can presume that this little piece of work was in the service of a government official for most of it's life. It is surprisingly well preserved, and in much better shape than most american (or british) counterparts!
More later, I still have to write a bit about how 3-4 miles on the Great Wall is definitely not the same as 3-4 miles anywhere else on earth. I think there is a rift in the fabric of space-time on that thing!
The Q4 and end of FY whirlwind tours are completed, and I'm taking some time with the family at home. I thought it would also be a good time to catch up on the pile of pictures that are stacking up in my mobile phone, and write some blahg fodder. The first few entries will be home and travelogue, but I hope to get some more techie/geeky stuff up as well and get that off of my plate.
Mr. Cole has decided on two careers. Professional bowler (he is a natural lefty), and race car driver. He insists on wearing a helmet, and "eye protection" when driving his new race car around the driveway. Unfortunately, he drives in circles, so it looks like NASCAR might be the career choice. I'll keep working on the "road courses" and open wheel configurations though:
Cole explains the important aerodynamic features of the rear spoiler.
Cole also found an old telephone in the garage, and was fascinated with the "old school" rotary dial. He spent about an hour "talking to Nanny".
Shelby and I spent some time out shopping while I was home. We got all the goodies for soccer camp, and took a little break on the silly little rides at the mall. While she enjoyed the "NASCAR Experience", it was the simple horse ride that really lit her up. This one cost me a whole dollar, 25 cents at a time.
It was about five days at home, and then back on the road. I have been through China, India, and Mexico since my last blahg entry. Pictures of those excursions coming soon.
I've been in India for about 10 days so far, meeting with customers and partners. Our India crew is strong, with business doing well and some really good projects in flight. Kudos to Neel, Satish, Bhaskar, Suresh, and Bobby for making me feel welcome and keeping me busy with interesting challenges.
I thought that China was busy with construction and dust, but India puts it to shame on "improving infrastructure". There is a ton of building going on, but the really impressive pieces are in supporting infrastructure. There are new metro lines going in, flyovers (bypass to us Americans), and real progress being made to support the new economy of more cars and trucks.
Outside my hotel in Delhi (in the Diplomatic Enclave), I met a few new friends:
And if my new friends and I get into any trouble, I'm pretty sure that we can outrun the local police... on foot... without really breaking a sweat:
Delhi does have some righteous coffee for keeping the jetlag at bay with caffeinated infusion.
I did find a new girlfriend in Chennai. She is kind of quiet, but a very solid woman of good standing:
My favorite way to get around over here is "auto-rik", or auto-rikshaw. Imagine if someone took an old Honda motorcycle, and had a 100 kph accident with a Malay rikshaw. If Rube Goldberg took the pile of leftover bent parts and put it back together into a single vehicle, this is what you would get. Especially fun after a few beers, late at night, racing back to the hotel. Offer the rik driver 100 rupees if he beats your co-workers back to the hotel, and you are sure to have an exciting ride that eclipses the best western roller coasters!
Kingfisher is not only my favorite airline here (truly top notch for domestic travel within India), one of my favorite Formula One sponsors (go Force India!), a strong cricket supporter, but they also make a quite nice refreshing alcoholic beverage. Vijay Mallya has quite a set of quality brands going.
I'll dump more pics and write more when I return home next week. This has been a great trip!
I have discovered something interesting (to me anyway). The biggest industry in Shanghai appears to be building Shanghai. I have to dust my shoes every day after work. In the 3km of sidewalk between my hotel and the Shanghai Sun office, there are 8 places where the sidewalk is blocked off because someone is digging, laying pipe, or pouring concrete. Everywhere you look, there is construction. Outside the Sun office, they have been doing pipe repairs in one direction this week, while they are laying new cables and conduit in the other direction. This makes for one giant ditch and many interesting smells in the morning.
In this picture, you can see the backhoe digging (again) more stuff out of the ditch in front of the office, while in the background, you can see construction cranes putting up new buildings. I don't know what the average lifespan of a building here is, but they are definitely not in a "slow down" due to any economic crisis! Also note the "interesting" methods of cabling and wiring for electricity and cable TV. If you have some spare length leftover, just coil it up and hang it from the pole. I have been bumped on the head several times this trip with low hanging wires while walking down the sidewalk. I am a bit tall for China at 192+ cm, but it does scare the snot out of you on a dark street at night!
They do have some amazing buildings here though, especially in the new northern section of Pudong, across from the old Bund river side district. I didn't get pictures of the new Grand Hyatt or Park Hyatt, or the building that looks like a giant neon sail. Perhaps tonight. They are much more interesting with the lights on. For some reason, Shanghai folks love to put fancy crowns and funky accessories lit up with bright lights and neon on their buildings. Definitely makes it easier to navigate. "Go down Hengshan until you get to the big crown, make a left and continue until you get to the 4 teddy bears hanging from a blue neon beach ball, then go right towards the big neon domino tile with the sparkly lights on top. If you get to the KTV with all the skimpy dressed girls bugging you to come inside for lady-bar or good messadjeh, you went too far."
Tom Waits and Alphavile might be "Big in Japan", but my friends are artwork. Well, maybe they are just spackle to gloss over damage to walls by careless movers, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. First on the Shanghai Sun office wall of fame, we have Principal Field Technologist, and all around super-geek Jim Fiori. Notice that the poster used to cover the wall damage has also been damaged by careless movers.
Next up, we have Nigel Hawkes, world renowned uber-geek of Consolidation, Migration, and all of those other things that save customers money, and reduce idle assets in their datacenters. Also note the damage on the edge of Nigel's poster, more evidence that some movers just don't learn from their mistakes.
Well that's all for today, just a quick update between calls and meetings. Can someone please send the Shanghai Sun office some new posters to cover the old torn posters that are covering the damaged walls? I think I have some old Sun SPARCServer 690 and HyperSPARC posters somewhere in my garage...
In a former life, I had aspirations of being a successful professional bowler. There were these little things that got in the way, like practice, training, conditioning, as well as dedication and the all important luck. I did cash several good tournaments, including the ABC (now USBC) Nationals (several times). In fact, bowling got me my first job in the computer business, and also brought me to Sun. Thanks to Brian Wong, Mark Curran (AKA Dr. Genome), and Bruce Curtis, I made contacts and friends that brought me here.
There, you have the background. While I don't compete these days, and rarely even touch a bowling ball, I do enjoy it much more now that it isn't quite so "important" and I am treating it as a game. Don't get me wrong, the week I turn 50, I will be out there on the PBA Senior's Tour, trying to relive my misspent youth.
So here I am in Shanghai China for some local customer visits, working with the teams to drive Q4 business and beyond. I love Shanghai, it is always full of surprises. I'm staying at a nice 4-star hotel a couple miles from the office. Walking through the lobby on the way to the office yesterday, I see bowling pins across from the concierge desk. What the heck?
I can't pass this one by. I wander over and see a sign for "Happy Hour" bowling at the Shanghai International Tennis Center Club. Whatever that is. Of course, China is famous for combinations. Lunch often consists of a "lunch set", a sampling of several different dishes or courses for a set price. Haircut and massage seems to be everywhere (make sure that the barber pole sign places actually \*have\* barber chairs before you wander in though, or you might find one of those "special massage" places). So why not tennis and bowling? Sure.
OK, so this I must see for myself. I then notice that the address for the "Shanghai International Tennis Center Club" is the same as the hotel. Weird. The next thing I notice is the shiny sign on the wall.
OK, so the Shanghai International Tennis Center Club is apparently in the basement of the hotel. Sure, why not. I have to see this for myself. At the bottom of the stairs is a typical hotel "service sign" in brushed brass.
Through the double doors, and sure enough, I find eight lanes of tenpin bowling, automatic scoring, and a nice lady behind a desk waiting to rent out fungus-laden shoes. Needless to say, shoes that fit my canal boat sized American feet isn't going to happen in a place like this.
Oh well, I guess I'll take a walk. About a block down the street, I come across this nifty giant bowling pin on the sidewalk.
What the heck, I have to go find this one too. First mistake, not taking my time to read signs. Apparently this building not only holds "Orden Bowling", it also contains a club called "Boiling". I blindly followed the signs to "Orden Boiling", and walked into a dimly lit "lady bar". Oops. Not bowling, definitely not bowling. On my way out, I notice the signs for the "BOWLING" on the third floor. Up I went (still blushing a bit from my brush with lady-bar-ness).
This place did have shoes my size, including some nifty Chinese knock-offs of Linds (great shoes). If the pro-shop was open, I would have been tempted to pick up a ball and shoes to leave in the Shanghai office for future visits. The prices on shoes were great, the Linds look-alikes were 300 yuan, or about $43 USD. The balls were a bit pricey, with Storm stuff in the 1800 to 3000 yuan range ($250 - $420 USD). Some of the lower range balls were well under $200 USD though, and I might have ended up buying if the shop was open and I could have had instant gratification. The proprietor was likely off getting a "haircut" though.
More from Shanghai later.
Yeah, that's about the sum total of my Mandarin Chinese. I can say "hello" and "thank you". I'm flying off to Shanghai to meet with a few customers next week, and then back to San Francisco for a conference, and finally back home to DC. I'll get to spend about 5 days at home, then off to San Francisco again for the Emerging Markets Partner CTO Summit, and on to New Delhi and Mumbai for a couple weeks. Long flights, glad hotels do dry cleaning and laundry!
I thought I would upload a couple pictures from Beijing for grins:
My favorite spot in the Beijing office. A coffee maker that actually grinds real coffee and makes a decent caffeinated beverage. There is a new "pod" coffee machine, but that's too much work when this machine rocks.
A picture of my hotel, the JW Marriott in Beijing on a rainy day, from the office window. It rocks being able to walk across the street to the office in the morning.
After a long day of work, nothing beats a massage and a game of pool. Huh? What a strange combination.
In the Solution Center of the Beijing office, there is a timeline of major Sun events. Near the beginning of the timeline is this picture of Scott. If I spoke Mandarin, I would tell you what it says, but apparently it was pretty important, and it never hurts to paint a picture of Scott on the wall. He may be "big in Japan", but in China, he is artwork.
One of the things that amazes me every time I come to China is scale. Being from the US, anything older than 250 years is ancient. Here, 250 years is just a bump on the timeline. The same sense of amazement applies to business scale. China has just over 1.3 billion people. That is a huge addressable market for manufacturers and retailers. People here seem to make their purchasing decisions on a more "functional" basis rather than the western trendy / "in thing" type of choices. For example, in the US, how many people (not counting geeks who really understand) buy iPhones or Blackberries because they see a celebrity or colleague with one? Probably more than you would think on first glance. The brand name or model name is driving alot of sales.
In China, consumers seem attracted to the functionality and utility of a given product. I don't see as many iPhones per capita as I do in the US, but they do tend to buy mobile phones that fit their needs. Browser, IM, social networking utilities, and easy text entry. Of course, glitzy and quirky are still huge in this market as well.
If we look at auto manufacturing in China (since the Shanghai auto show is this week), there are over 100 manufacturers of cars in China. Some are licensed or partnered manufacturers like Volkswagen, Jeep, and Buick, but there are still plenty of opportunities for the "little guys" like Chery and BYD. There are some seriously cool cars here in addition to the Skoda, Jeep, GM, Audi, and Volkswagens that look like home. In the US, we refer to "the big three" automakers, and heaven forbid that the economy knocks one of them out of existence. Here, if one folds because of the economy and lack of sales, there will still be 99+ others waiting to take over the market share. They make some very ugly and utilitarian vehicles here, but they also make some real stunners at incredible prices.
China's largest mobile carrier is China Mobile with over 475 million subscribers. Yes, that is 475 million. More than the population of the United States. Their operating revenue for 2008 was 412 billion RMB, or about $60 billion USD. That is huge. With those numbers, you would think that they are the only game in town. No way, there are other mobile carriers in China as well, doing (what we in the US would consider) big business.
That is just the beginning. If you want to be amazed, read up on PetroChina, Bank of China, Huawei, CCB, SinoPec, Baoshan, Cosco, the University systems here, and poke around some of the english language Chinese newspapers. The changes here over the past 15 years or so are dramatic, but the people are still as friendly and warm as ever. No where else in the world have I walked across the street from Gucci, Prada, and Rolex to eat a phenomenal $10 USD lunch. Best part of working in our Beijing office is that there are a pair of Starbucks within a block of my hotel and office to keep me caffeinated while I adjust to the timezones.
I arrived in Beijing Sunday, just in time to watch the Shanghai F1 Grand Prix on CCTV in Mandarin. Once I saw the weather, I was glad that I didn't fly in early to go to the race. I love attending races, and five F1 races are hosted in my region, but any race that requires "monsoon tires" or "wets" just won't be on my top list of places to be. I'd make an exception for Monaco or Spa Francorchamps, of course. Throw in the likelihood of getting "general admission" tickets rather than seats under some kind of cover, and I was glad to watch from my nice, warm, dry hotel room 1000km away.
This trip is focused on a few existing (and highly valued) customers. It is what I call a "go deeper" trip. I'll be working for 3-5 days with each customer to help talk through some of their pain points and work with them to improve their operations and IT infrastructure. The issues are often "spur of the moment", or based on recent activities and drama, but digging through these as symptoms of underlying systemic issues often uncovers more interesting challenges. For instance, "that system is a piece of junk!" often translates into "No change control or configuration management, and everyone having the root password is probably not a good thing.".
I did get a chance to celebrate yesterday's news with a dinner at the Hard Rock in Beijing. Don't get me wrong, eating native is one of the perks of my job, and I love to explore cuisine in far reaching pieces of the globe (except for eel, or any animal that I would consider... ummm... gross), but once in a while you just have to get a cheeseburger and fries. The Hard Rock in Beijing is great, and the swag in the gift shop is cheaper than any other HRC that I have visited (over 30 and counting). I was bummed that they didn't have any decent hats, but I did find a couple goodies for the family at home.
The highlight of the night was the band. Didn't catch their name, but they were form Singapore and Beijing, definitely a mixed bag of nationalities. They did some nice Cure, Journey, POD, and Green Day covers with three members swapping the lead singer duties. Laugh of the night was provided by the over-animated Chinese lead singer who lost a couple buttons on his '501's during an especially spirited portion of the show. Kudos though, he never missed a note.
More later as the week gets rolling...