Day 2+3

I tried to post a day 2 entry from my Treo at Mumbai Airport, but I fumble-fingered the UI and deleted all my typing, so I gave up.

On Monday night I flew from London to Mumbai on Jet Airways. The service was superb: far, far better than on British Airways the night before. Unfortunately the guy sitting next to me was a fidgeter, and my sleep was occasional and fitful. Dawn over Iran was cloudy, but I got a wonderful view (and some pictures) of the bleak landscape in southeast Iran and western Pakistan: brutally bleak, a uniform dusty off-white with only brilliant white salt flats providing relief. And then after we reached the coast we vectored inland, over Karachi, and well to the east before heading south to Mumbai.

I arrived at the rather shabby 1960s-vintage international terminal, endured the bureaucratic tedium of immigration (there always seems to be one more form, or one more signature), rechecked bags for the connecting flight, and took the shuttle bus to the new domestic terminal. Here I made a mistake: I assumed that there would be services (ATM, food, shops) on the far side of the security barrier. Wrong: there was nothing. It was more like a bright airy modern bus station; lots of seats, and TVs, but no services and (apparently) no way back to the rest of the terminal. Without Indian money or liquids, I was stuck for four hours. I dozed, watched TV uncomprehendingly*, and eventually my flight was called.

[Need to speed this up – I have to unplug in 10 minutes.]

The flight to Pune was short and sweet (complimentary fresh lime juice), my bag appeared on cue, and the car to take me and two other passengers to the hotel was there. The journey… well, it was an eye-opener, as in eyeball to eyeball with a cow in the middle of the road. The roads were very bumpy (exacerbated by recent heavy rains), and the traffic was chaotic – but everything kept moving, and we got to the hotel.

At this point I should describe my first dinner in India. Sorry, no – I was falling asleep on my feet, so after a couple of phone calls I just drank a litre of water, fell into bed and slept for 11 hours.

So now I’m at the Pune office of Storability, the company that came to Sun by way of the StorageTek deal. I’ve cleared my email backlog, met a number of the staff, and had a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant. I’m now preparing to head back to the city to check in to a different hotel, which is supposed to have much better connectivity.

*The bilingual aspect of Indian communications is oddly confusing. On the TV, they kept putting up “News Flash” in English, followed by the headline in Hindi. It wasn’t until I reached my hotel room and turned on the BBC World News that I learned that a government minister in Indian-administered Kashmir had been assassinated in his home by an Islamist gunman.

Day 1

Flew BOS-LHR last night on a 100 percent full BA 777. The bad: a middle seat. The good: World Traveller Plus. We reached the Heathrow area 20 min early, the sat in the Ockham hold for 25 minutes because of fog. We were lucky to get in: visibility was around zero.
Eventually I got my bag, picked up a rental car, and drove down to Woking for meetings with StorageTek UK. I felt they went very well. Late in the afternoon I returned to Heathrow and checked in for my Jet Airways flight to Mumbai. I managed to get a window seat, because I want to see dawn over Iran.
And finally I had a hot meal (having missed breakfast, and having had sandwiches for lunch). I’m now waiting to board, composing this on my Treo.

Random preparations

  1. Rather than relying on phones while travelling, I hope to be using iChat AV a fair amount. I picked up an iSight camera for Merry to use with her iBook. Then yesterday and today I spent some time debugging video chat with Merry, Kate, and a colleague of mine who just happened to be in Singapore this weekend. Looks promising.

    (There was only one dumb ease-of-use issue: in order to video chat, it’s necessary to open up five ports in the OS X firewall, and for some reason there’s no preset configuration that you can simply check off. Instead you need to define a new profile associated with TCP ports 5060, 5190, 5297, 5298 and 5678. That didn’t feel very Mac-like.)

  2. On Friday I was talking with Jim Waldo (of Jini fame) and I mentioned an iTunes playlist of mine called Music to blow your speakers out. He dragged me back to his office and introduced me to Tool. I was blown away, in more senses than one: I’ve only known Jim as a jazz enthusiast, and Tool’s Ænima was unexpected, to say the least. But I was intrigued, and this lunchtime, while running to the drug store to pick up a few items, I made a detour to Newbury Comics and picked up a copy of the CD. (Oddly it’s not available through ITMS.) I’ve ripped it into iTunes and added it to my iPod; I’ll listen to more of it over the Atlantic tonight.

  3. Checking in. Well, trying to. I logged on to the British Airways website (after finally realizing which of the four or five ticket numbers and record locators to use), changed my seat on the BOM-LHR leg (no more 53J!), and then tried to check in. And tried. And waited, and tried again. After receiving a number of different error messages, I finally received a vaguely catatonic “Unfortunately our systems are not responding at this time.” Oops.

  4. In spite of my earlier intentions, I decided not to get up to watch the Chinese GP. I didn’t even record it. (No, I don’t have a TiVo.) A pity – it would have been interesting to see Montoya’s car being ripped apart by a manhole cover (or grating, whatever), not to mention the delicious schadenfreude of watching Schumacher making a fool of himself twice in a single race (the first time before the race had even started!).

All set

After yesterday’s high-stress, today is tranquil. (Apart from the constant rain, of course.) I have my tickets, my passport, my visa. There was one moment of concern when I found that I had paper tickets for all six of the Jet Airways flights but only one of the three British Airways segments. A quick phone call from Susan sorted it out: all of the BA flights are e-ticket, so the extra flight coupon was a mistake.

So now I simply have to pack (thanks for the dress code suggestions), watch the Chinese GP, polish my slides one more time, and go. Next stop LHR…. (Which will be a good place to fix 53J, come to think of it.)

New England washout

This has been one of the wettest weeks I’ve known in New England. It’s true that it’s relatively insignificant compared to the hurricanes, mudslides, and earthquakes that have afflicted the world in recent months. However in a region not used to such things, the effect has been dramatic. Here in the metropolitan Boston area we’ve been spared the worst of it, but in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont and New Hampshire the flooding has been dramatic, severe and fatal. See Kimberley’s blog for more (with photo). stormtotal.jpg

The accompanying image makes the point dramatically. (Click for a larger image.) It’s the storm total precipitation from the local National Weather Service office. The data is approximate; it’s estimated from the Doppler radar returns, and tends to understate the local maxima. What’s interesting is the date range: this shows “Precipitation totals since 12:44 AM EDT Fri Oct 7th 2005”. We’re talking about a more or less continuous rain event lasting six-and-a-half days so far… and it’s not supposed to wind down until Saturday afternoon.

Last minute travel stuff

Itinerary seems OK now… all hotel reservations are confirmed… and I remembered to call my credit card issuer to alert them to my travel plans, so that their fraud detection system doesn’t have a conniption. I’ve sent out copies of my slides for various presentations that I’m giving (though I’m not quite finished with one of them). I still haven’t tracked down available WiFi hotspots in BOM, where I have two lengthy layovers. (The map at USAtoday/Jwire is less than helpful…) I’ve booked a ride to BOS on Sunday. All that’s [still] missing is my passport with the visa for India, without which all of this is pointless. Time to nag the visa agents again….

[UPDATE] Hmmm. It seems that the visa process is less deterministic and transparent than I had thought. I sent all my paperwork to the visa agents in California; they then sent the paperwork to the Consulate General in New York (which I could have done), and the CG is supposed to express-mail the documents directly to me. And there’s no obvious way to check on progress. (I have a tracking number, but USPS knows nothing of it.) Had I known all of this, I’d have been tempted to take a day off and scoot down to New York to take care of it in person. As it is, I shall just have to wait. Patiently. And. Hope.

(I’d assumed that this visa agent thing was a bit like buying a new car, when the dealer employs a “runner” to get the paperwork through the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I thought I was paying for someone to drop off the application at the CG in person, and pick up the completed paperwork when it was ready. I guess I’m naive.)

Seeking advice: business casual or blazer and tie?

Web sources on business dress code in India are ambivalent, not to say downright contradictory. I think I’m meeting customers on only one day; the rest is geek-to-geek, or geek-to-executive. Will business casual be OK, or do I need to take some extra dress shirts and ties? (Or shall I pull a JG and just wear Duke and Jini shirts?) I assume T-shirts and cargo pants will be OK for travel days….

Obviously I didn't cross my fingers firmly enough

For some reason known only to the travel agency bozos, my itinerary came unravelled and had has to be re-woven. Naturally while this was happening one of the key flights became full, with awkward knock-on effects. As Susan was patiently fixing things, I noticed that on one flight my seat had changed: I was now in 53J in a British Airways 747-400. I checked in at SeatGuru (an essential resource) and confirmed my fears: this is a window seat in the very last row, right in front of the toilets (i.e. noisy and potentially smelly), and with limited recline. That’s no way to spend nearly 10 hours. Fortunately this flight is in a couple of weeks; I should have time to change it….

Alexander Hamilton on Harriet Miers

Andrew Sullivan has dug up a wonderful passage by Alexander Hamilton from the Federalist Papers (no.76). Hamilton’s subject: the role of the Senate in confirming Presidential appointments:

“To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity.”

Read the whole thing. As Sully points out, “Someone who needs a ‘crash course’ on constitutional law should not be selected to be a Supreme Court Justice”.

From 17th to 1st

I went to bed early to get a few hours sleep before getting up to watch the Japanese Grand Prix in the middle of the night. It was definitely worth it: it was a thrilling race, with an inspired performance by Raikkonen in the McLaren. The TV coverage of the final battle between Fisichella and Raikkonen was great, enhanced by side-by-side telemetry readout of brake and throttle from both drivers at the bottom of the screen.

It was fascinating from a technical point of view. The McLaren is almost perfect, but it has one weakness: the front wing tends to be slightly less effective under asymmetric airflow, so when it’s following another car closely the front end can lose grip. The effect is small, but it shows up quite clearly from the in-car camera. The result was that Raikkonen took a long time getting around Michael Schumacher, and was unable to overtake Mark Webber until the Williams driver pitted. Without those delays, the final dual wouldn’t have been necessary: Raikkonen would have been long gone. (After the last pit stop he was hauling in Fisichella at better than a second a lap!)

(So much for those who think that there’s no passing in Formula One!)