Learning As I Go

I see I’ve forgotten to do hotel reviews, updates, and other things I learned on my recent trip. Mea Culpa! I blame my economics class.

Patro/Matro-nymics as a Dating Tool

Probably the most fun thing I learned on this recent trip is that Icelanders have dating down to a science. I am not kidding.

In Iceland, the child traditionally takes the father’s first name plus the word ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ (dottir) as their surname. This came up recently about the girl named Blaer, and you can read all about that and link off all you want here, but it got me thinking: you could totally tell if a girl has Daddy Issues if she choses her mother’s name for her surname, and/or if a boy has Mommy Issues likewise. It’s like a window into their childhood and you don’t even have to “wink” at them on Match.com.

Also, one of the best people I’ve got on my London job has the surname Thorisson. We did ask if his dad was named Thor, and it’s pretty close — the name means “worshipper of Thor”, and hey, who isn’t?

It is Possible to Over-Assume as to What Wi-Fi Means

This being my fourth trip to Rome (wow, that sounds really pretentious, trust me when I say as much as I love my Rome team and the fabulous food it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) I was told emphatically that I would not be staying at “that sad little hotel next door”. No, this time I got myself a fancy hotel in the old city, the Valadier, and it was very lovely. They serve a nice espresso. They have wi-fi in the room!

That crashed every. fifteen. minutes. I am not exaggerating. And since my midterm exam was available only for 24 hours, of which 8 I hoped to be sleeping, 4 I had to reserve for dinner (European dinners are breathtaking both in quality and stamina), 9 for work, I really needed my wi-fi to work in my room. A panicked conversation with the front desk man assured me that HIS reception on HIS phone was great, therefore don’t worry.

Thanks to the immense resourcefulness of a lovely gal in the Rome office, I had a quiet conference room and busted out my midterm in 90 minutes right before we left for dinner. Not ideal, but, as the company is/was paying for the class I assume they’ll understand. And yes, I got an “A”.

The Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry. Just Plan For It. 

My flight into Rome was late. My flight into London was late. My flight out of London was really, really late. Jet lag hit harder than any other trip I’ve been on. I broke one of the coffee machines. I lost a meeting room. I totally meant to spend time with someone and didn’t realize I hadn’t until I was almost to Seattle. My plan to have extra room in my bag was thwarted by the fact that it’s winter and all of my clothes were heavy sweaters. Pret changed their menu.

This last trip was a constant reminder that whatever you’re counting on, make sure you’re not counting on it. Or something.

The Best Things Happen When You Take Chances

I went for a run on the Friday, my only morning in London where I’d actually be staying in London that night. Following a map saved to my phone (which got no reception, so it wasn’t a moving map but a pic), I ran about 2.5km up a road and around a park, and then trotted back… or so I thought.

I was about a mile in before I realized *nothing* looked familiar. Not a blessed thing. No buildings, no shops, etc. As most of Islington looks charmingly alike this did not engender much confidence, so I walked into the nearest gas station and asked directions to the Angel Building in Islington. No dice. Walked across the street to a shop, same question, same result.

Hm.

Now, I had no service on my phone, so I couldn’t call up Google Maps. I did not think to bring anything with me but my hotel key, so I had no cash or card to grab a cab back to the hotel. I had run a mile in the *wrong* direction, but which *wrong* was debatable. And so…

I ran back from whence I came, back to the park, and then leveraged every tube station map and bus station map I could find around that park to figure out where I had to go. And got back to my room eventually, ridiculously pleased I didn’t have to give up and get a cab with the promise of “and then wait outside the hotel whilst I go get my wallet”.

Other successful chances included: trying a new place to eat (Meat People. It’s very yum), using my static Starbucks iPhone app to purchase a latte while I had no connectivity (totally forgot Sbux has wi-fi even in London!), and, for the first time in more than 3 years, checking my bag on an international flight. Contents arrived safely both ways.

I therefore declare this trip a success not only for the original needs met, but for the additional learning items. My next trip will be much more local but no less adventurous — please send me your ideas for Portland and the Oregon Coast, with a 10-year-old. 🙂

The Economics of (a Minor) Failure

First, let me point out I’m safe. I am sitting in Heathrow, for the 2nd time today, waiting to get on my flight. For the 2nd time today.

Twenty minutes into flight I realized we hadn’t gone above 10,000 feet. Another minute later all cabin crew were called to the cockpit — over the PA system — and this, if you pay attention at all, and you haven’t had anything to drink and/or have a deep-seated fear of flying you totally forgot about until just the moment you hear this, will make you quietly fret. Then if you pull up the travel map on-screen and discover for the last ten minutes you’ve flown in circles, well… you’re pretty not happy.

We couldn’t pressurize. They tried everything ground crew suggested, none of it worked; so they confessed (our Captain was extraordinarily calming), and flew over the water to dump fuel (fun fact: dangerous to land a fully fueled plane, because the wings are so full of fuel). We spent 20 minutes dumping fuel that vaporized as it exited from the wings, it was both spectacular and appalling (to those of you on the east side of the English channel you may have an odd taste in the air…). Imagine a fire hose strapped to the wing of a plane (on the underside) and then turn it all…the…way…on. For twenty minutes.

After that completed we went back inland and landed.

We were handed 10GBP vouchers. For information, this purchased one tomato-and-mozarella sandwich, one bottle of water, and one glass  of wine. The flight was full (no space), and so this got me thinking about the economics of this little enterprise.

We flew a 747-400, which has a fuel capacity of 57,285 gallons and a passenger load of roughly 416 people (1) (for 3-class version, which is what I was in) but British airways uses 345 for their figure. The plane consumes 5 gallons of fuel per mile (2), at 250 knots per hour and we were up for 45 minutes. The delta between maximum takeoff weight and maximum landing weight is 240,000 pounds, which for fuel means 6.8 pounds per gallon of jet fuel, and therefore 35,294 gallons of jet fuel we had to dump. Currently, jet fuel goes to about $3.30 US as of today (3).

Including flight crew time (time starts when the door closes, for 8 crew members and 2 pilots they probably ran $800, maybe $1000 fully-loaded). I’m not going to include the passenger opportunity cost (e.g., I could’ve done something else for the hour or so this ate up), and they’re going to stick me on another flight that I do not also have to pay for, so they don’t get “credit” for the income of the ticket against the first flight. The rest of this we’ll assume is a dead weight loss.

  • Cost of the meal vouchers for passengers: 10GBP x (345-154) passengers (first class passengers were invited to the lounge for private dinner)=1,910 GBP, at today’s exchange rate is 1.55 USD to GBP, so $2960.50.
  • Cost of fuel burnt (45 flight minutes, which is 3/4 of an hour, at blended speed of 250kph (would actually be a little less, let’s call it 225)is roughly 845 gallons of fuel burnt, at $3.30/gal is $2785 in lost fuel.
  • Cost of fuel expelled: assuming they planned on their burn, they still needed to dump 35,294-845 gallons, which is 35,450 gallons (roughly) at current price is $117,000 roughly.

Total cost: $122,750 (very roughly). This sounds huge to an individual (it is) but in terms of overall expense I’d think it were a rounding error in terms of the bank of overall flights leaving Heathrow for British Airways.

There are other things here that should be flagged but are hard to quantify: costs incurred by passengers beyond their 10GBP purchase (which would be a plus to Heathrow but not British Airways), and the aforementioned opportunity costs. There’s also the plus/minus on the experience in terms of word-of-mouth — interestingly most people were jovial getting off the plane. The general feeling was one of “hey, we’re alive, and they let us know what was going on”. It’s interesting to watch people purchase items they didn’t really want to take full advantage of their free 10 quid, by the way. They’d come to the register having purchased their beer and sandwich, ask for change, realize they won’t get it, and then ask what they could get for 1.5GBP or what have you. The apostrophe here in Heathrow is doing a fair trade in bananas and nuts.

Here We Go Again…

Greetings from South Satellite at SeaTac! Yes, I’m actually writing BEFORE I get on the plane, which has no WiFi. More awesome is my pre-planning on this, so I am the smug owner of both the most recent issue of Discovery and the most recent issue of the Economist. That plus hopefully some decent sleep will aid in the 9 hour flight to Heathrow, and the 2 hours down to Rome.

The verdict on the back/neck was essentially I’ve got degeneration in a joint and in a disc — so, um, I’m old. And apparently we fight age with muscle relaxants (which suck, because if I take one, I have to plan on not doing anything for 12 hours), anti-inflammatories (which suck less but the digestive tract does not like), and lots of Physical Therapy (which sucks because it means the nice PT dude pokes all the owie spots and makes them more owie).

I know I promised more on the Legal Fun, but since it turns out getting a Summer Schedule in place ran a tab of about $850, I think it’s safe to say I’m still in it, and won’t be out of it for a while, so maybe those blog posts can come in October or November. Hey, just in time to scare people for Halloween!

At the rate time is flying, though, that’s not long. The major milestones of the summer are flying by, Kevin and Margaret got married, STP has come and gone, our Leadership Summit has passed (short: YAY US! And… there’s a lot more to do); there’s this trip and then the next trip (fun trip!) and then camp and back to school and PTA and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Net-net (and I say that because it makes the Editor cringe, and that looks almost like a smile on his face, so it’s nearly the same thing) this has brought me to the Big Decision to… Not get chickens. I just added on a running routine (to replace the cycling one), a knitting class, I still have a quilt, and I keep having to remember that in about a month I’ll be back in school, too. I think chickens may drive me nuts, as fun as they sound. In a way this feels like giving up, or maybe it’s just streamlining. The male person is not secretly relieved.

So. If you’re in Seattle and you’ve got chickens, I’d like to come help out once in a while, and buy some eggs off of you. The same way I like to occasionally go to the dog park to pet the pups but do not foresee another puppy for some time (Bulimikitty, I’m looking at you).

With that I sign off… as the long metal tube of the jetway beckons to the OTHER long metal tube that will take me to Olympic-land, and then to the land of caprese and carbonara. I can’t complain, try as I might :).

I Find This Lack of Internets Disturbing

[Editor’s note: written in Word while on the last leg of 3 legs to London. I was a bit ranty…]

Well, United Airlines (now with Continental!) is spending slightly over one half of one billion (yes, B, not M) dollars on improving its airline interiors, including seat upgrades and satellite Wi-Fi.

This really can’t happen soon enough.

For the business traveler, especially one going from Seattle to Europe, a transatlantic flight represents a minimum of 9 hours where if you SLEEP you’re SCREWED when it comes to jet lag; the best thing to do is tough it out and slog through it. Except if there’s no Wi-Fi, there’s only so much you can do.

For example, I just “kicked off” seven emails. These emails will sit, rotting in my outbox, until I get into my room, acquire Wi-Fi, and they get sent out. By then they will be about 7 hours old. Instead of receiving 7 hours worth of action on them (oh, who am I kidding, but call it 7 MINUTES, fine) I will have zippo on them in the ensuing time. The brain is full of ideas but they have no external avenue!

Likewise I can’t do non-work things that I have in place to keep me non-work busy. Planning the training rides for the STP? Already done for me, but I can’t send emails to discuss/’negotiate” the rides because no internets. I can’t get quotes for balloons for the science fair because no internets.  I can’t get the STOCK MARKET quotes because of no internets, and this is a sad thing.

Am I addicted? Possibly. Have I built a life around me that requires this tethering? I’ll buy that. But the technology exists, it’s not even that EXPENSIVE, we just don’t seem to have it in the places we really need it.

Silver Linings

The last 24 hours have unquestionably been a series of Silver Linings.  (Note: I’m on a plane – leg 3 of a 3 leg sojourn to Heathrow – so I finally get to blog).

My day started on Monday, March 5th at about 4:30am. That’s when the eyeballs snapped open and steadfastly refused to close. Not being able to sleep is, I think we can all agree, a bad thing; but if it happens on a Monday morning you can at least attend to the deluge of email that Europe’s and Asia’s Monday morning delivered. Silver lining number one, then: clean(ish) email inbox before I hit the office.

I got the boy to school to discover he was the recipient of a C-slip on Friday afternoon but due to the last-minute nature of it the C-slip would not be sent home until Monday (a C-slip is a “Communication slip” – if you have inferred the communication is rarely positive you are correct. Typically C-slips are to indicate behaviors the school would like to stop, now, please. For example: chasing one’s classmate with a pencil). I spent the day agonizing that I had let the boy child have TV on Sunday night because I didn’t know of the infraction, only to discover (when I finally had a chance to talk to him) that he had already ‘fessed up at his father’s house and punishment had been delivered. Silver lining number two: he didn’t attempt to hide it and instead demonstrated true remorse and honesty.

At the point I entered the office I was 3 conference calls in, with no coffee; I stepped into the office of a colleague to discover she was leaving the company (she is a wonderful asset to the company and she’s been around for years and years). She is doing this to spend more time with her family – not because of any real dissatisfaction. Fair enough: silver lining number three – she made the right choice for herself and there is no argument with Family First.

The workday was about on-par for a Monday (which is saying both a lot and very little),  and I went to retrieve the boy child so we could go hang up Science Fair posters at the school. I thought this would take a long time, but it turns out the opportunity to spend time with him NOT doing homework or study or projects was incredibly welcome, and he took great pride in his taping skills. Plus, we finished early (and hello Silver lining number four).

We got to karate where he has steadfastly opined that he dislikes all Sempais and only wishes to train with the Sensei. Sensei is travelling back home so we had a Sempai: Silver lining number five was that my son has now declared that “THAT Sempai is okay. I like him.”

Dinner cooked mercifully in short time, I actually got to spend time with my son before I left (technically after his bed time). I rolled into SeaTac feeling especially reticent to fly and discovered that my flight was delayed 3 hours, meaning I would MISS my connecting flight at Dulles. I was rebooked to a flight that left at the same time for O’Hare, which would then meet up with a second flight for Dulles, to catch my third to Heathrow. At this point, all restaurants (even the Starbucks and the bars) at the airports are closed, and I have just enough time to get through security (where I got the complete feel-up even though I went through the perv machine) and catch my new flight.

I know what you’re thinking…. Where’s the silver lining there?

It’s here: my flight to Chicago was practically empty and I didn’t share a seat with anyone; I could stretch out and sleep.

My flight to Dulles was also practically empty and I could stretch out (across 3 seats!) and sleep.

And I type this now from my flight to Heathrow. Incidentally it’s the same flight the Seattle folks were trying to make and wouldn’t have; as a result I have changed my window seat for a middle/middle… with no one on either side of me. I have three seats to sleep in, work at, eat at, and I can watch 3 different TV programs if I was so inclined (I am not, however).

There are a lot of things of late that have me deliberately looking for silver linings: continued adventures in civil court, an overactive volunteering gland resulting in a very intricate Outlook calendar, the increasing realization that time moves much more quickly than it did when I was younger and there’s a definite crest to this hill.  I am very glad, then, that I can still find them.

London in “Two Hours”

As I was in London for work recently and had a couple of hours to spare, I took a very quick tour (it was supposed to be two hours, but just like Gilligan’s Island it took longer. I think it had something to do with the exchange rate or something, but the two hour tour was 3 hours and 45 minutes), and absolutely worth it.

Highlights included riding at the top of a double-decker bus (note: bus drivers in London are usually aggressive, and so half the time you would absolutely swear they were going to a. run someone over or b. crash into a car. The fact that this didn’t happen while I was there does not mean it doesn’t happen), walking across two bridges (one which had fantastic views to one side of “Old” London, including Big Ben, and one which had fantastic views of “New” London, including, well, the new stuff), and stopping at Buckingham palace to watch the front door guard sleep whilst standing, and the front gate guard ponder at the two women pointing and waving at him. (Yes. One was me.)

I went to a real live pub (well, a couple…), discovered that if you order wine you must order it in “large” or “small” (my kind of country), had a tasting of beer (warm beer?), ordered fish and chips (plaice), and was introduced to a butty. This would be a sandwich of butter and French fries. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s in the country and you should absolutely try it.

Oh, and then there was the lunch run to Marks and Spencer’s, where apparently nice girls buy underwear and/or sandwiches to go; the walk past Harrods and Fortnum and Masons, where one gets a hamper at disgustingly large prices, the attempt to get into the Ritz for a drink to be told that jeans, even fancy ones, are not allowed.

I had a translator for most of this, whom I shall herein dub The Honourable Lynne, and I am doing so because it allows me to bestow a title I don’t get in a spelling I don’t normally use. While they theoretically speak English in North America (note: in England, you have to distinguish between “North America” and “South America” – because they (accurately) recognize there are more than one), they do not speak the same English in England. You don’t walk on the sidewalk, you walk on the pavement. The road is not made with asphalt, it’s made with tarmac. You ride a lift, you take out the dustbin, you use a brollie if it’s raining and when walking on the pavement next to the road be sure to look both ways lest you get hit by a passing lorry. If you nearly do you may visit the loo (or washroom, but no one rests there), and you may need to wait in the queue for it.  Mashed potatoes are called “mash”, French fries are “chips”, chips are “crisps”, cookies are “biscuits”. There is something called a “digestive biscuit” which purportedly aids in ones digestion and can be eaten plain or with butter and cheese. You have to love a civilization where they acknowledge the improvement of things with butter and cheese.

It was fascinating to be the person with the accent. Me. I had the accent. In an office building of hundreds of people (or in the M&S, where it felt like there were hundreds of people), I was the odd (wo)man out. Let the record state that I did not pull a Madonna and start affecting an accent.

Everyone I talked to was sweet, polite, and assured me that if I loved London (did/do), I would love Devon/Bath/Cornwall/etc.; that will have to wait for another trip.

For this trip, I was working. And despite my four or five hours off-sides, I spent 90% of it working to two time zones (at least the jet lag helped), meeting a double dozen people, and marveling at how, though I live in the land of Starbucks, the coffee makers in London were ever so much better than those back home. In the space of four days I eradicated six years’ worth of decaf-only coffee drinking, much to the dismay (I’m sure) of those I work with. There’s a metric ton of exciting things about at work this next year – naturally, can’t talk about it, except to say that you the consumer will undoubtedly benefit – and the last thing anyone needs is an over-revved Bobbie engineering things. To those who work with me I apologize in advance for the emails, meetings, and over-engineering. The good news is I’m back to only working 1.5 time zones, and it may help if you switch up my coffee.