2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™

It’s less than a week until World Cup 2010 kicks off.  I found this cool widget from Gigya on GreenwichMeanTime.com that tracks the progress of the US MNT in the tournament.  Enjoy!

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BA Notes: Renting a Car

Renting a car in Argentina is not like in the US.  It’s strange to me the agency we chose, Europcar (which is a major international agency), didn’t provide any instructions in my reservation on how the process works.  Unlike in the US, the agencies don’t have cars at the airport and I don’t believe they have shuttle buses.  Instead, they bring the car to you.  Had I understood this, we would have taken a very different approach than we did: rather than using a car service to get to our destination and going out later for the car, I would have instead coordinated a car pick-up immediately at arrival and would have saved several hours (literally).  But I didn’t know any of this until after I got there.

Before we left for BA, I had done some investigating and scoped out the address for the rental company offices.  I didn’t take long to figure out that the address was nowhere near the airport (it was actually some 20km away), so we decided we’d use a car service to get to the home of the friends we were staying with, Doug & Kelly Parker.  I figured everyone would be tired and nobody would be up for a long shuttle ride.  After we’d gotten to our destination and settled in a little, one of our hosts could run me to the car place.  With this simple plan made, I actually changed the reservation to rent from an office with an address near Aeroparque Jorge Newbery which was closer to where we were staying than the address for the office associated with Ezeiza International Airport.  BA has an international airport (Ezeiza) and a domestic / regional airport (Newbery).

After I got my family settled in, Doug and I hopped in the car and headed out to Newbery.  We arrived to discover Europcar didn’t have a service counter there.  I looked at my reservation info and we determined the address was about 10min away in the CBD.  We later found the office, but it was closed despite being about 2:00pm in the afternoon and clearly within the office hours on my confirmation.  I was eventually rescued by Mercedes, a local woman who works in Doug’s office.  She made some calls the next day and determined the office was closed because the person was shuttling a car to someone else.  Mercedes told me that everything was sorted out and I need to go to a location altogether different than the pair I knew about.  She sent a car service to retrieve us, I gave the driver the address (he knew zero English) and 20min later we arrived at the Buquebus building downtown.

Buquebus is the dominant company operating ferry services to Uruguay and other destinations around the River Plate Delta.  It turns out Europcar had a counter at the ferry terminal.  We walked into the terminal and I immediately saw signs for Europcar.  Hooray!  We followed the signs to a very nice office area with a waiting room and a bunch of cubes filled with people in matching uniforms meeting with others.  Apparently, Buquebus also has a travel agency business.  We waited our turn and then we were re-directed back out into the main hall of the terminal to a unmarked service counter.  We had walked right past the Europcar guy.  I strode up to the counter and announced who I was.  He spoke very little English, but he figured out that I was the guy that had been looking all over town for a car (Mercedes is apparently a very effective communicator and networker).  He had paperwork with my name and had the rate correct, so things flowed pretty well from there.

The only oddity was when we talked about insurance, he showed me a figure on the rental documents that was in US$ for about 4x what our rate was.  It made no sense and the language barrier was in our path.  He put me on the phone with an English speaking co-worker who explained they don’t do insurance there.  Instead, they pre-authorize a deposit on your credit card.  You wreck the car, you lose the deposit and that’s it.  Nothing else to worry about.  You don’t wreck the car, no loss of deposit.  This sounded odd to me and I couldn’t see how that amount of money would cover: a) a serious wreck or b) injuries, but it was difficult to communicate, so we went with it.  I later inquired with Mercedes about this deposit business and she too found it odd.

After all the paperwork was done, we settled on a rendezvous point for dropping off the car at the end of the week.  In the prior 24hrs, I had begun to get a picture for how things worked and we settled on dropping off the car at the United Airlines ticket counter at Ezeiza the evening of our return to the US.  We went to the car, inspected it (a late model Renault Mégane with a 5 speed manual transmission), signed the paperwork and off we went.  The car was fine all week with no complaints.  I did have to get gas part of the way through and this too was a little different than the US.  Argentine gas stations make use of the service model we had in place in the US back in the ‘50s: an employee of the station fills your car.  Simple enough provided you know how to indicate the amount of fuel you’d like (I did it the easy way and ask for “completo”… fill ‘er up) and that you remember to give the person a tip.  AR$2 or AR$3 is usually enough.

At the end of the week, we managed to return the car, but not without a little drama.  I had set a time that was a couple hours before our flight.  We checked in with the airline, got rid of our bags, then hung out in the United Airlines ticketing area.  15min after the appointed time, still no guy from Europcar.  I wandered all over looking for someone who might be looking for me (with about 5,000 other people also looking for someone) and finally walked over to the area where most of the rental car agencies had counters.  I was getting a little desperate to rid myself of the car as we had been told the security lines were at least an hour long.   I found an English speaking employee of another car company who actually knew the person from Europcar that shuttled the cars back n’ forth to the airport.  What were the odds of that?

He called the guy on his mobile and he soon arrived in front of me.  We walked to short term parking to inspect the car and sign the paperwork again.  I also gave him my ticket for the parking lot.  One disconnect was the final receipt he wanted to give me showed a much larger US$ than it should have.  I thought to myself: “Is this the deposit coming back to bite me like some sort of super insurance surcharge?”.  The Europcar guy spoke no English, but he quickly figured out  my concern and indicated it was a mistake.  He said they would mail me the receipt.  Nearly a month later, still no receipt at my home, but the credit card charges match my reservation, so I guess it all worked out.

Looking back on this, there appear to be two different scenarios.  One, agencies that have a presence at the airport.  Usually a small service counter or kiosk.  The other scenario is agencies that have no formal presence.  For both, the process is best started with making a reservation on-line.  I would NOT recommend trying to rent a car on the spur of the moment as I expect it takes a LONG time to handle such a transaction.

Scenario 1: With a Presence

When you arrive at the airport, check in at the kiosk for the agency you have selected.  The agency will work out the paperwork with you (credit card info, passport info, etc).  Ahead of time, they should have shuttled your car to the airport.  The agency staff will go out into the short term parking area to inspect the car with you.  Sign the paperwork and away you go.  It is not a fast process, but it works.  I did notice that at Ezeiza International Airport a couple of the big car companies had a few cars sitting in short term parking.   There were signs for Alamo, Hertz and Avis sitting in front of 3-4 parking spots.  So these companies at least have reserved parking spots for their cars, but that’s not the same as having a whole parking lot of cars waiting for you.  If you haven’t made a reservation in advance, I suspect you’ll be waiting a very long time for the agency to call the compound where their cars are stored, find a driver and have the vehicle shuttled over to the airport.

Scenario 2: Without a Presence

If the agency does NOT have a kiosk (e.g. Europcar), then I believe their people will meet you in the arrivals lounge at the airport with a printed placard showing your last name, much like a car service would.  The agency staff will go out into the short term parking area to inspect the car with you, work out the paperwork, etc.

Returning your car under each scenario would follow similar processes, but in reverse.  All in all, it was slow and confusing, but it will obviously be much easier the next time.  If you absolutely must rent a car in Argentina, just be prepared for what I’ve described and it should work out.  While I haven’t been to other countries in the region, I’d bet the process is similar in many places.  Just inquire ahead of time.  Good luck!

Tips

  • Be patient.
  • When filling up your car with gas, go “completo”.  Unless you actually know Spanish.  Don’t forget to tip.
  • Allow extra time to pick-up and drop-off your vehicle.  And do it at the airport.
  • Don’t lose the airport parking lot ticket.
  • Find out about insurance and deposits before you go.
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Buenos Aires Notes

Well.  Where to start?  Despite having quite a bit of international travel under my belt, most of it has been for business which means I really haven’t spent a lot time getting to know the places I’ve been.  Last month I, my family and I traveled to South America and spent a week banging around Buenos Aires.  It was both frustrating and thrilling.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a trip like ours to others, but be patient and enjoy the experience: the good, the bad and everything in between.

I have a lot of content to share, so I thought I’d spread it around between this blog and my family blog:

  • Over on RockyMtnFuller.com, there are daily accounts of what we did and saw.
  • Here on OpenKimono, I am going to post a few things about language, culture and more “technical” posts talking about the challenges and tricks of traveling not only in a country where we didn’t know the language, but also within a massive city with nearly 13M residents in the metropolitan area.

Now, without further ado…

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Wordle & TagCrowd

Put in some words, hit create. Goof with the jumble.

Here’s a pretty cool tool: Wordle.  It’s a Java applet created by an employee of IBM Research (on company time… nice!) who has shared it with the world.  You can use it to create really nifty text graphics.

To the left is one I did that may become the header for my family blog over at RockyMtnFuller.com.   The tool will automatically change the size of text based on how often a word is used (more usage, bigger text) and you can also customize the color palette, fonts and text orientation.

Another on-line tool I like is: TagCrowd.  This little app takes a bunch of words and creates a cloud similar to the “CATEGORY CLOUD” over on the right side of this blog.  It too is simple to use and sizes text base on word usage, but it doesn’t have as many customization knobs to twiddle.  Still, it’s also useful.

I can imagine using these websites to make some interesting graphics for slide decks.  Now, where’d I put my copy of slide:ology… ?

Categories: Geekery | Leave a comment

The Art of Wining & Dining Evolved

There was a time in my business career when I regularly dined out with vendors or suppliers of various goods and services.  Invariably, the destination for such evenings out was the classic, high end steak house.  I’ll refrain from naming names, but you know the format: à la carte menu, mostly beef, lobster or crab add-ons, creamed veggies, decent wine list, an armada of servers with those little crumb brush gadgets.  Typically, the check will come out to ~$100 a head.  For chain restaurant food.  I’ve eaten at that kind of place across America and even in western Europe.  If it’s expensive, it must be good.  Right?

Tonight I ate at one of those places (on someone else’s dime) and left wholly unsatisfied.  Stuffed, but unsatisfied.  The food was boring.  The service regimented.  The ambiance stuffy.  It was like eating at a dinner theater staged in a funeral parlor.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think the Art of Wining & Dining as a business activity has taken a left turn.  It’s no longer just about the hunk of meat and price tag.  It’s about style, about fun, about thoughtfulness.

If I were a potential customer agreeing to take time from my schedule, either while at home or on the road, I would be looking for something a little more creative:

  • What’s good?
  • What’s new?
  • What’s interesting?
  • What’s local?
  • Most importantly: what’s memorable?

Particularly when you are talking about trying to build a relationship, I think American business needs to move beyond “impressing” someone to something more meaningful.  Did your customer enjoy themselves?  Did you make a unique, differentiated impression upon them that made them think: “That was worth my time.  I would like to see these people again and learn more about why I should be in business with them.”?  To me, this is what you’re aiming for and this is how you judge the ROI on the receipt you turn in with the rest of your expenses.

Maybe that’s the longtime employee-owner talking.  Or maybe after a couple years on my own and a couple working within a very thoughtful, client-focused organization, perhaps my perspective has been influenced.  Either way, I calls it likes I sees it.  So next time you’re taking out a prospective or current client, be bold.   Take a chance and do something interesting.  Even if the food turns out to be a bust, there’s a conversation starter to be found in the shared experience of doing something different.  The End.

Categories: Bidness, Food | Leave a comment

2009: A Brief Year in Review

Well.  Here we are once again. Another year come and gone. For some reason this year I feel like I didn’t really accomplish as many things as I’d hoped to.  I really threw myself into working with my Point B friends / colleagues to help our clients and our firm weather the storm, which took its toll on my personal time especially since my work assignments have been at client locations 30 to 45 miles from home, sapping away precious time driving on the days I need to be in the office.  I also gave up quite a few evenings for work-related outings plus business trips to Frankfurt (once), Hartford (several) and Seattle (once).  I believe it was worth it, but hoping to take a small step back in 2010.

Still, I did manage a few other things.  Made personal trips to Kīhei, Bismarck and North Platte.  Sold off my ’88 Jeep Wrangler and acquired an ’03 Flagstaff 208 pop-up camper.  Spent 300+ hours on soccer from coaching practices and games to coaching education and even playing.  Plus at least 100 more hours doing work with / for our soccer club’s board.  Soccer has become my number 1 hobby, dominating weeknights and weekends alike.  Made a batch of beer.  Built new friendships in the neighborhood where I live, which is something sort of new to me as I tend to hang out with work colleagues.  Thanks to John, Tinna, Mark and Cee Cee for the good times this year!  And thanks to Julie for getting me out of my office to socialize.  Helped out Erin with her school’s Flat Stanley Project.  Hosted Thanksgiving for 11 including my first fried turkey (much to learn about that process).  Sitting at 591 LinkedIn connections and 259 Facebook connections.  Posted to this blog a dozen times and 8 times on RockyMtnFuller.com.  I say it every year, but I need to write more!  Supported Bal Swan Children’s Center and Hope House of Colorado.

Now for some New Years’ resolutions.  I need to run, ride and swim more.  My mileage (e.g. only 358 run miles in 2009) was pushed down to the bare minimum and that has to change.  More beer making.  I need to work with Grace on posting to the family blog.  She’s become a wonderful, imaginative writer and should be leveraging the outlet.  A bit less soccer (although I’m not sure how I will make that happen yet).  Put the new camper to use and accrue a lot of outdoors time this coming summer.  I live in Colorado.  Time to get back to why we live here.

And I leave you with this: JibJab’s usual irreverent compilation of recent events encapsulated in their short film entitled Never a Year Like ’09.

Categories: Bidness, Food, Geekery, Parenting, Random, Sports, Travel | Leave a comment

DIA In & Out Parking Policy Needs Work

$2! I want my $2!

It’s snowing and very cold in Denver today. Perfect day for air travel. So, I arrive a bit early and start scouting for spots in the parking ramp. After a good bit of searching, I throw in the towel and head outside to the economy lot.

Naturally, I have to go through the pay booths so I can exit the covered parking and circle around to go into economy. I roll up to the booth, hand the cashier my ticket and she says: “$2, please.”. Ahem. What? $2 to look? How long have I been in there? “11 minutes.” And how long am I allowed? “!0 minutes.” You must be kidding. I pay the toll to the troll (the only other option being to drive through the gate Duke Boys-style) and exit.

Now, I understand why you’d have a 10 minute policy, but on a day like today when the ramp will be packed and there will be a lot of travelers searching with no success, you’d think DIA would flex a little.  Good gravy.  It’s only $2, but still.

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Yammer: Hanging Out at the ol’ iWater Cooler

For about a year now my company has been using a social networking tool called Yammer.  Yammer describes the service as “enterprise microblogging”, but it’s basically a secure, private Twitter that an organization can use internally.  Yammer’s home page currently claims 40,000 companies use the service.  Like Twitter, each user can build a short profile about themselves, then shoot out little messages to everyone in their network (e.g. your company) regarding what they are doing or thinking including the ability to attach a file to the message.  There’s a way to subdivide the Yammer network into smaller groups (e.g. a group for office A and another for office B) so folks with common interests can communicate without everyone getting potentially unwelcome information.  Messages can be generated and viewed using an Adobe AIR-based client, a Blackberry or iPhone app or through a web browser.  There are other features, but these are the big ticket items.  In generally, it’s a well designed service.

I use Twitter in my personal network and mostly I get random messages from friends about their children’s strange behavior, plans for the coming weekend, current weather and so forth.  My own messages almost always fall within this same garden variety.  If you look at typical Twitter traffic, it’s essentially electronic chit chat.  How is Yammer traffic different?  By and large it isn’t and that’s precisely its value.  In today’s modern business place where employees often work remotely, by choice or due to travel, the proverbial water cooler conversation has largely disappeared.  For some businesses in particular (such as consulting) or in segments of businesses (such as sales), employees can be especially isolated from one another.  Tools like Yammer provides a way of maintaining a personal connection between far flung team members.  And that connection isn’t always idle conversation or gossip.  Often times, great ideas are generated or big problems solved by the casual hallway meeting that is increasingly uncommon.  An unlike regular instant messaging, many people can listen in and join the conversation, just like that hallway meeting.

My experience with Yammer has also shown that it’s a useful tool for:

  • disseminating information about what’s going on in the organization (“Hey! Didja hear we just won this deal with such and such new client?”),
  • quickly reaching out with a question to many colleagues via a channel that’s not as busy as e-mail (and which is logged away for future reference by everyone in the company) and
  • for simply sharing person tidbits.

It’s an impersonal way of making personal connections, if that makes sense.  There are people I only know on Yammer because they live in Seattle or some other city, but their personalities and interests show through across the Internet based on the comments they make and the way they make them.  It’s a little weird, but wonderful at the same time, because I’d not know them at all if it weren’t for my use of Yammer.

So, I like Yammer, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer that much of the basic functionality (if not all) could be recreated using direct competitor Present.ly, DIY social networking offerings such as Ning (which is more than messaging), the ageless Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or even Twitter (one can have a private account, you know).  You can even make your own with open source package StatusNet.  There are many options.  So it’s not so much the tool I like, but the idea.  I’m enamored with this type of communication capability, regardless of how you achieve it.  If you work in an organization where face-time is ever decreasing, you might want to strongly consider rolling-out a capability like this.

Want more?  Here’s a nice compilation of similar services from Mike Brevoort.

Categories: Business, Web Sites & Services | Leave a comment

Jason Mraz @ Red Rocks

On the evening of Saturday 19.Sep.09, Julie and I made our first trip to Red Rocks Amphitheater to take in the Jason Mraz show.  We’ve lived in Colorado for 11 years, yet we’d never been to this world renowned venue.  Shame on us… it’s truly one of the coolest, most spectacular gathering places in the world.  More on that later.

Julie had bought the tickets off Craiglist for this sold-out show as a wedding anniversary gift for the pair of us.  At the time, I wondered: what the hell is she thinking?  They were expensive and my perception of Mraz was one of teenie bopper, highly produced, pop schlock (i.e. not really my thing).  The guy owns the record for most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 for the single “I’m Yours“.  If that isn’t an indictment, what is?  I began to wonder if I knew what I was talking about when I offered a Facebook update about my concert plans the morning of the show and promptly received some very positive responses from a number of unexpected sources.

Turns out, I was indeed wrong.  Mraz is a true talent.  I really enjoyed the show from the introductions by MC Billy “Bushwalla” Galewood through Somali / Canadian opening act K’Naan and on into the main event.  Mraz had a horn section, keyboards and a couple different percussionists in addition to a three man guitar section which includes himself.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the set that evening was pretty heavy in tunes from his current CD (I had listened to “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” only once before going to the show).  But he mixed in some other stuff including a cool version of the Seals & Croft song “Summer Breeze” (I say cool because the original was pretty… umm… uncool).  Mraz kept the chit-chat with the crowd to a minimum and instead he and the band focused on cranking out great music.  I was thoroughly impressed and so was Julie.  It is supremely unusual for us to like the same sort of music. After all these years together, could it be we’re starting to rub-off on one another to create some sort of bilateral, mutually moderating influence?  Or something like that.

Julie sucking down a Starbucks & me grinning painfully

Julie sucking down a Starbucks & me grinning painfully

Maybe some of it was the location.  Red Rocks is really a special place.  From the natural surroundings to the great acoustics and the amazing views looking up at about 9,000 people from our great seats in the 20th row. All of it was memorable and worth the expense and hassle of a live concert.  For years, I had been to very few shows and those I had attended were for smaller acts in smaller venues.  I’d grown tired of the traffic, the drunk kids and poor sound quality.  If I wanted the sound of live music, I’d buy a live recorded CD and skip the rest.  Getting old, I suppose, but I feel much the same way about live sports.  However, I will absolutely go to another show at Red Rocks and it certainly won’t take a decade for it to happen.

But, as tempting as it may seem, I would not take a kid to Red Rocks for their first (or even 10th) live concert.  Not that they wouldn’t enjoy it.  No, I’d avoid it because the kid would be ruined for life when it comes to venues.  I’d grown up catching shows in sterile, boring places like the Bismarck Civic Center, the Bison Sports Arena on NDSU’s campus and the long departed Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, MN.  Red Rocks is spectacular and nothing short of a classic, mega arena (i.e. pro football stadium) could ever eclipse a show at Red Rocks.  And even then it might not beat Red Rocks.

Categories: Music & Arts | Leave a comment

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