Wednesday Jul 29, 2009

Great Big Walls...

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!


Wednesday Apr 29, 2009

Biggest Business in Shanghai...

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."


Spackle Celebrity...

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...


Thursday Apr 23, 2009

More from Beijing...

A couple more pics from my week in Beijing that might be interesting. Since I mentioned our new, fancy caffeinated beverage machine here in the Solution Center, here is a picture of the beast:

And here is another little item that I found interesting. This is a picture that I took of a sign posted in my flex office space. Apparently if I leave my bicycle in the flex office space, it will be removed, along with any decor that happens to clash with the office themes and decoration. I will have to keep my strange and loud ties out of view! Just to put this in context, the "swanky" flex spaces are about 1.5m of desk space with power and network. Unless you put the bicycle on the desk, I don't see how storing one in the flex space would be possible. Maybe we can put some bike racks hanging from the ceiling?


Monday Apr 20, 2009

It's all about scale...

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.


Good morning Beijing.

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...





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