Happy Birthday Charles!
Three Weeks. Three Conferences. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
The university is less than a decade old and they are really making a difference in the lives of people in their region. Because the University is so new they have conciously decided to shrug off the stereotypes of what a university campus looks like. The buildings are very high tech but take advantage of simple ideas to minimize the impact to the environment and maximize energy efficiency. When I commented to a woman who works at the university how much I liked the architecture she remarked, "Oh that's nice. We hate it."
To top things off we got our first sight of kangaroos. They were hanging out in a field next to the university. There are three in this photo, can you find them?
Last night was the big conference party on the beach at the lagoon at our hotel. The Bush Band that serenaded us during our meal was pretty loud and awful but to their credit and a large dose of XXXX beer, they got us out on the "dance floor" for some country dancing. It was a strange cross between a cayleigh and square dancing and lots of fun. Of course there was a pre-party and a post-party but I'm not at liberty to share those stories and pictures with you on this blog. You'll have to check the network share drive for pictures next week :)
Tonight the few of our merry band that remain are heading to "The Naked Italian" restaurant on the grounds of the resort for dinner. Tomorrow, a number of us are heading south to Tangalooma Resort. I'll type more when I'm back home on November 2.
Yes, you read that right. Clara and I went on a camel ride. It was a 2 hour bush and
beach walk while on our very own camels. My camel was 10 years old, a male named Gobi. Unfortunately for our two guides (who we nicknamed Bruce1 and Bruce2) we had a lot of questions.
How long to camels live? 45 years. My camel was 10 years old, Bruce1's camel was 9 years old and used to be a racing camel. Where does the trecking company get their camels? Do they breed them? They were imported over 150 years ago from the middle east to help Australians conquer the desert interior. All of the camels in the train were captured in the wild and trained to be ridden by the trecking company. It takes a few months to train a camel to the point where they can put a customer on its back and go for a ride. They prefer to capture and train their own camels themselves rather than buy them from other people because they can't be sure how the camel has been treated otherwise. To capture the camels they set out a water trap in the desert. It is designed so that the camels can get into the corral to get to the water but they can't get out again. Later, the trecking company folks come, inspect the animals, free the ones they don't want and put the rest onto a big truck and take them home.
The trecking company does not breed camels because a female camel can't be ridden while she is pregnant or for a year after having the baby. We never learned what a baby camel is called, but for alpaca and llamas they are called a cria.
How are camels like or not like horses? They are cheaper to feed and they don't require a farrier because you don't shoe them. Camels have two gaits while horses have 4 or 5 depending upon the breed. Camels are faster than horses and have been clocked at 60kph for 2 miles. Camels can't fit into a standard horse trailer, they are too tall, but once home, they can fit in a standard horse stable.
What else did we learn about camels? They sleep lying down. Camels are ruminents which means they are like cows, have 4 stomachs and chew their cud. I must point out that the 25 year old camel that was walking behind me had the worst breath. I think the smell was a combination of the 25 year old teeth and the burping up the cud for the entire walk. Pee-ew! You're probably wondering what it sounded like? Imagine being on a hike with a half-full bottle of water in your backpack. That sloshing sound amplified a notch or two is what a camel burping in your ear sounds like. Now you know!
The ride as a whole was relaxing if not boring at times. It was more like riding western but not as comfortable since I don't think my stirrups were set quite right. To keep ourselves entertained Clara and I asked our guides all the questions we could think of, as well as took a ton of photos.
Yesterday I got up early and took a walk on the beach with Ricardo, one of the team from Mexico City. It was low tide so we found lots of shells, driftwood, and other treasures thrown upon the sand. Locals were out with their dogs. The skies were hazy from the humidity as well as particulates from fires that have plagued this area because of the drought. Nevertheless it was a great walk (6500 steps counted by my pedometer).
Later in the morning the shuttle busses began arriving with more team members. Slowly plans began forming as their jet-lagged brains began to settle down. Karl needed to go sailing in the lagoon, Lee and Craig met up with Matt B. to go golfing. Clara organized a wine tasting field trip for a bunch of us.
Our wine tasting afternoon was led by Georgie, a Sunshine Coast native. She took us to two wineries. At the first we tried 4 wines, only one of them - a Semillion Chardonay blend was worth writing home about - but 'nuff said. Then we went to the Australian Nougat Company. In Australia (and perhaps in France) it is pronounced "Noogah". We learned how they make the fluffy filling generally found in Milky Way bars. Their recipe calls for 30kg of sugar, 17 kg of macadamia nuts, honey and egg whites totalling a batch of 70kg. The good news is that it is practically health food because there is no cholesterol or fat :) The samples we tried were very yummy so a few of us stocked up on treats to take home.
After the Nougat Factory we were off to winery number 2. There we tasted 13 different wines and a white port. It was hard to just taste the wines and not drink them because this winery had a very nice selection. On the whole the wines were young and not as balanced as I generally prefer. My party trick came in handy when the vintner said that he was pouring a new wine that was a light but full-bodied red and I asked if it was 13.5 or 14%. He checked the label and was a bit surprised to discover it was 14% and not the 12.%% he thought it was. The owner was very generous with wines and was able to get quite technical about the fermentation and making of wine which I quite enjoyed but I suspect was boring for those in our group who weren't into how things are made. My favourite wine was a Verdelho - a white wine with a bright, peppery flavour (13.6%).
We poured ourselves into the bus and drove to the Nutworks Macadamia Nut Factory. Where we saw how nuts are processed from hulls to finished product. Yum! All of the mulch around the gardens were the spent Macadamia lnut shells. The Macadamia is a tree native to Australia where over 70% of their annual harvest is exported around the world. Contrary to popular belief, it is not native to Hawaii, but was imported to Hawaii in the mid-1800s.
Along our trip Georgie told us a lot about the region we were in. The sugar cane that we saw growing all along the roads was fed only through rainfall, not irrigation since the water in the area is brackish. Also, it is a perennial crop that you plant once and it comes back for at least 3 years for further harvests. The sugar cane factory that had been in business for 106 years closed last year so the farmers were converting to other crops including beef cattle, bamboo, and truck farms. The factory closed because it was cheaper to import sugar from Brazil and other countries.
The local economy doesn't have any one big employer, rather the region is filled with many small companies. For example, all of the places we visited appeared to be staffed by 10 - 20 employees. The region's latest attempt at diversification and job growth is in the building of a movie production center to support the movie and tv industry. Construction on the entertainment industrial park begins next year.
Last night we went to town for Thai food. It was a fun evening but many folks who had flown in that morning from the States were flagging. I was impressed that they managed to stay up as late as they did.
Remember that song
"Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra laugh Kookaburra
Gay your life must be."
I heard one last night - they really do laugh!
I made it. After 1.5 hours in a shuttle bus from the airport I arrived at Twin Waters Resort. The bad news was that they weren't expecting me until Tuesday. The good news is that they had 2 rooms left in the whole resort and so they were able to fit me in. Phew!
My room is nice and simple. No plaster medallions of gamboling naked people and mirrors wallpapering my room. I've got one double bed (for me to sleep in) and one twin bed (for piling things on). There is a clever mini bar/kitchen tucked into the dividing wall between the bedroom area and the bathroom/dressing area. My favorite feature is the deep soaking tub which I took advantage of immediately upon arrival.
Explorations of the very jungle-y grounds revealed that it is mating season for the turkeys that roam the resort. As a result they're quite visible, loud, and in some cases ornery. I moved into Richard Attenborough mode and thought I'd quietly take a picture of one of them in their native habitat. Here is a male turkey in the brush - note the long, bright yellow wattle.
Australian Money - It is plastic. The bills come in a variety of colors and sizes so that is good from a UI perspective. They have tons of anti-counterfiting type things including microscopic type, multiple watermarks and a clear window of plastic in the bill. If you look closely at the corners of the bills you can see through to them to the white sheet on my bed. Our money looks positively old fashioned, easily copyable and boring compared to Aussie dosh.
The trip to the airport had my geographer's mind engaged. From a terrain and vegetation perspective it most reminded me of a trip I took from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to the Gulf Coast of Florida a few years ago but with much less topography.
I have all sorts of questions to research when I get back home. What is the geologic history of this area? Being near the coast the soil was very sandy as expected, but it must also be high in iron due to the red soils. What do people who live here do for a living? I saw cattle ranching, sugar cane farming, and some pine tree plantations. This is also an area of high tourism so perhaps many of them support the service economy?
We're just entering summer here and the cane was as high as an elephant's eye. What is sugar cane season? How many crops can be grown per year? Do you have to rotate the crops? This part of Australia gets on average 7 hours of sunshine per day - that is a lot of sun but how much rain do they get? I didn't see any signs of irrigation so do they tend to grow crops that don't require it?
Australia has great wines, but does she have any good beers? Or will it be devoid of them much like I discovered Ireland is?
I was dreading the 12 hour flight from SFO to Auckland and imagined being trapped in a middle seat for the duration. I could not believe my luck that on the 90% full flight I had an aisle seat. The Air New Zealand 747-400 was very nice with plenty of leg room. After sitting down and meeting my seatmates (a retired couple travelling in the US for a month from the South Island) I put on my trusty Bose headphones. The next thing I know is that the dinner service is coming around and the movie (Spiderman 2) was starting.
I know I shouldn't have watched the film. I didn't see Spiderman 1 so I was pretty clueless as to who the characters were (yes, I know who Spidy is!), their motivations, etc. Luckily I fell asleep halfway through the film so probably not too much harm done. Unfortunately I did watch all of Delovely the Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd movie about Cole and Linda Porter. Awful. The best part about it was the clothes. Cary Grant was much better as a "straight" Cole in the movie Night and Day compared to Klien as a bi-sexual Cole, even though I'm sure Delovely was much closer to the truth about the Porters' lives.
We landed in Auckland at 6:00 am local time and I felt strangely tipsy from the lack of sleep. My goal was to stay awake long enough to get myself on the flight to Brisbane at 10:30. I had just enough energy to manage the short tour around the duty free shops in the airport. As I was walking through the shops I nearly bought a tea towel out of habit. Charles was saved from it by the fact that I didn't have any NZ currency. I took a few photos in the airport. One was of this 4 foot statue
outside a gift shop. I have no idea what kind of product it is for but I thought it was cute.
While I walked around in my zombie state I managed to avoid being run over by the airport people transport carts because the carts emit a strange sound. It is something between the screetching of a cat and the baa-ing of a sheep. As you can imagine, they really do turn people's heads. Each cart sounds slightly different so part of me wonders if it was really the cart or if I had begun to hallucinate.
Much to my surprise and delight I ran into Bug at the airport. It is thanks to him that I will never travel without eye drops again. What a lifesaver!
The Big Show is over. I was so busy that I never had time to post. Sorry about the lack of communication. Check out the photos.
The experience was good but, as usual, exhausting. The conversations I had with attendees were really good. While I would guess that I met with fewer people than I did last year, the conversations that I had were of a higher quality. Meaning that the conversations were more in-depth, specific to their future plans, technology driving B2, etc.
Watching game 7 of the Sox-Yankees matchup at ESPNZone was fabulous. Seeing so many people so excited about the outcome was very contagious.
Last night David, Juliana and their friend and I had dinner at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant. The evening got off to an exciting start when the waiter upended two full glasses of water on our table. Luckily, it was water and no one got a direct hit. It certainly woke us all up.
It was hard to pick what to have with so many of the dishes sounding good. Here is my strategy:
1) never have anything (no matter how good it sounds) if Charles can make it at home. This leaves out all risotto, and most if not all Italian dishes. This meant I didn't pick the absolutely delicious butternut squash ravioli in sage butter sauce.
2) try to have things native to the area, especially if you're unlikely to get it at home. I was tempted by the trout but it didn't sound delightful. Much of the menu was seafood that I thought would be better in a state actually next to seawater.
3) try to stick to seasonal dishes. Butternut squash was all over the menu and very tempting except for the fact that Charles has made each of the soups and pasta many times!
4) aim for dishes that would be difficult to re-create at home because of special equipment required. there was a section on the menu of wood oven pizzas. Normally this would be a tempting option but I can get this at home at Two Amy's and I'll bet it is better than what Puck can turn out.
5) look for items on the menu that can be reverse-engineered and made at home even better
After I worked my way through the menu I settled on the pork loin and a chop brined in Jim Beam with a cream sauce, and a side of kholrabi. It was pretty good!
The self-proclaimed world's largest knitting store is right here in Denver. I've run out of time to try and visit it but they've got a great website!
Random Observations from Denver:
- only one poncho sighting.
- You can take the tech out of the raised floor room but you can't take the raised floor room out of the tech.
- there are lots of mentally ill people hanging around the 16th Street Mall here in Denver. What do they do when it gets cold out?
- the US Post Office on the 16th Street Mall was one of the most efficient and friendly I've ever been in!
- Muzak and background music in many of the places I've visited here is really good - lots of Everything But the Girl. Unfortunately no Jethro Tull.
Thought you'd enjoy some of the sights of our Sales Team dinner on Thursday evening.
I've updated the Shutterfly site. Due to the high demand for these photos I will be posting them to a share drive for interested parties to download.
The flight back to DC went well, perhaps aided in part by the 22 "fathers-in-training" (complete with clerical garb) who were on our CDG-IAD flight. It was a sea of dog collars. When I struck up a conversation with a few of them I couldn't help notice their absolute devotion to God. Perhaps because they just got back from a week trip to Rome and Assisi they were a little bit "higher" on God than usual, but boy were they annoying.
At one point one of them said that a member of their party actually touched the Holy Father. Not knowing what it was, I asked. In my ignorance I had assumed it was some kind of relic - the big toe of a saint, or the bark of a tree from which the True Cross was made, perhaps a statue carved 500 years ago that is renowned for weeping tears of blood. For all you non-Catholics, it is the Pope. I had no idea you could actually touch him. Do you think the Pope likes being touched? If I were Pope I wouldn't go for that.
I struggled to find a conversation topic that didn't somehow lead them to talk about it through the filter of the scripture. We talked about food, computer science, movies, foreign languages and each and every time they wormed the conversation around to how Jesus says X or God tells us Y. As a result, I was really struck with how un-experienced in life these people were, how they all seemed to be social misfits, and on the whole, generally clueless. One of them asked me if I was Catholic and I said that I was Lutheran. He replied with "That is OK." In retrospect I missed a great teaching opportunity where I should have said (in a nice way of course!) that I didn't need validation from his cult that being a member of my cult was something that required his approval. On a happier note, I did get some cool shots of the terminal we were standing in.
On the flight home I watched 3 movies: two in French, and then Harry Potter #3. The French films were awfully good. At one point I thought I was really getting the hang of understanding people talking in French. There was a scene when I realized I could understand everything I heard with complete clarity. I thought - wow, who knew that my French "ear" was getting so good? Then it dawned on me. The character in the film had just made a phone call to someone in English. If you get the chance, you should definitely rent "Bienvenue Suisse". It is wonderful.
If you're planning to buy cheap leather goods in Morocco, please make sure they are properly tanned. Lordy, the woman sitting next to me for the entire flight was wearing a leather jacket that absolutely reeked!
If you're travelling out of CDG Terminal F be sure to pick up bottled water somewhere before you go through security. You can't buy it once you get past the security to gates 40 - 52. It was dry. There are, however, plenty of boutiques at which you can buy overpriced French goods (scarves, jewelry, liquor, chocolate, cheese, etc.) No water.
Day 1 of the Sales Team meeting has finished - only an hour over schedule. This is a minor miracle considering all of the questions during each presentation and the great discussions we've had today. Aaron does his best to keep us on track. This is my first time at a Sales Team meeting and I was glad for the experience. Carl gave a presentation about how he pitches Academic Suite. It was great to see how our products and B2 are pitched. Melissa A. got great props for her work with the team, especially at a recent pitch. Christian L. and Dennis P. of European Support were called out as awesome members of the EMEA team. I was able to get some time on the agenda and gave a highlevel technical overview of the B2 APIs. I am going to write it up and give it at the APLAC meeting if time permits. The meetings also gave me some insights into what stages our US and European Markets are and how we can position B2 and related resources for the Sales teams.
Tonight is a Sales Team dinner. We're heading into the village for dinner - at 9:00pm. In order to keep my energy levels up, I've been sucking down caffine like crazy. Some of the Sales Team members were really suffering because they stayed up very late - some until 3:30am others didn't even bother going to sleep. The stamina of these people is amazing.
Carl O. came in late last night and met us at the restaurant. We sang "Happy Fatherhood to You" and it was champagne all around. Carl commented that all he'd done for the past 2 weeks was change sh*tty nappies. He seemed to slip back into "Sales Team member" mode very quickly.
Random Observations II
The cleaning agent used at this hotel has a scent that reminds me of what Smarties (the pastel colored sugar candy in the clear wrapper, not chocolate UK version of m&m's) smell like. It is weird to walk into the bathroom and suddenly think "Smarties!"
I think I need a balcony with Mediterranean view of my very own. It really does improve one's outlook. I have really come to enjoy having my own private view of the village and watching the sunset. All that is missing is a nice glass of wine and some mellow music.
Note to team members. One way to tell if your boss is mad at you. He invites your team to dinner but makes you pay for your own drinks.
Andrew's two favorite words seem to be "amazing" and "phenominal." I must remember not to use them.
I think the hotel staff is getting a bit tired of us. We just aren't sinking into the relaxed Spanish routine that they probably prefer. We get up too early for them which means that they've got to turn the lights on in the massive hotel lobby (they're default position is "off" as an energy saving mechanism). We stay up too late in the bar - even though we drink like fish and run up tabs of 4 figures easily. I think they'd rather we go into town to drink so we don't bother the few other guests in the hotel.
Everyone's laptop seem to be suffering from Spanish syndrome. This is when they refuse to boot up at their normal speed, don't mind shutting off for mid-presentation siestas. I think they're on Spanish time and working EU hours -- that is when they're not on stike. I hope my laptop returns to its normal operating US capitalist status when I'm back in the states for our trip to Denver.
Home Again Home Again...
I've enjoyed my stay in Sitges but all good things must come to an end. My flight leaves at 12:55 from BCN. I arrive in CDG at 2:50 and OJ-it across the terminal to catch the Air France leg to IAD at 4:00pm. With any luck I'll be landing in Dulles at 7:50 and home by 9:00pm just in time to panic about doing all of my French homework before class on Saturday morning. Wish me luck and fingers crossed my luggage makes it.