Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Travelling Long Distances with Kids and Babies

December 10, '08 Comments [15] Posted in Africa
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Our first trip to Africa with a baby was to Arusha, Tanzania when the older boy was just one. Because we were planning to go into the bush we got our shots, and had our pediatrician suggest the correct shots for the baby given his age and where we were going. Our town also has a dedicated Travel Clinic that is a great resource if you're heading anywhere off the beaten path (anywhere without an airport nearby, for example).

This trip, the older boy is 3 and the new baby just turned one. The flights on the way here were a short one hour hop to Seattle, followed by a 10 hour flight to Amsterdam, then an 11 hour flight to Johannesburg. There were layovers between them, as well. Total wheels-up, wheels-down flight time was about 22 hours, but door to door time was about 30 hours total. Here's a few of the techniques that we've used/developed to make it possible.

  • Adult Sleep - Make sure the parents (that's you) get enough sleep the week before. More than usual even. We tried to get an extra 2 hours a night for the week prior to the trip. This not only cuts down on parents sniping at each other, but it goes a long way towards general sanity. Your kids will be tired. They will be tired beyond reason. If you are also, it'll suck for everyone.
  • Packing - We've done more than a dozen international trips now, so we pack at least a week in advance now and we do it at a very leisurely pace. You'd be surprised how much stress can be avoided by being packed days before your trip. If you pack the night before you will forget something. My wife makes a list of the necessities, and we go back and forth over the list. I tend to pack very light (I did Malaysia for two weeks once with only one carry on), while Mo tends to push the limit by weighing her bags and trying to take the full 100 lbs. I lean more towards Tim Ferriss' style and I'd encourage you to. Depending on where you are going, chances are that they have the same stuff there that they do where you live. You can always buy toothpaste. You can buy diapers. Carry the stuff that your destination doesn't have. Carry special toys, books and blankets. Carry media and medical stuff. You can buy shampoo.
  • Entertainment - Before each trip, we go to the Dollar Store (or Goodwill) and get a bunch of cheap toys and books that the boys haven't seen before. We don't unveil the toys until we are on the plane. We ration them as slowly as possible so there's still toys to be discovered on the flight back. We also picked up a portable Sony DVP-FX820 DVD player. We're not big on TV as it tends to hypnotize little minds, but when you're in hour 13 of a 30 hour  journey, your ideals go out the window. I'd encourage you to embrace this fact and make it work for you. We brought Thomas the Train, the Electric Company DVDs, and School House Rock. They were good enough for me in the 70s and they're good enough for my kids today.
  • Food/Snacks - Don't count on crappy airline food to pacify your kids. We avoid bribing the kids with treats, except on long flights. At this time, all bets are off. If a box of raisins will buy me 20 minutes of peace, bam, here's some raisins. Take lots of fun, but nutritious snacks and full your kids full of them. Full bellies usually mean longer naps. We brought tiny raisin boxes, organic fruit rollups, granola bars, basically anything that doesn't have corn syrup and doesn't need to be refrigerated. We also try to move the kids to the destination time zone sooner than later, so we'll feed them dinner or breakfast based on the time zone of where we're going, even while we're still on plane.
    One other random food-related point, we encourage our kids to eat whatever's out there. As long as you make sure fruits are washed, and avoid ice at restaurants, we let the kids eat everything. Makes for strong stomachs. We do carry a doctor-prescribed dose of Cipro just in case something intestinal comes up, and we also travel with medical-trip insurance to cover all bases.
  • Baby Jet-Lag - The difference between a 1-year old and a 3-year old when it comes to jet-lag is extreme. The 3-year old can be psychologically manipulated, the 1-year old not so much. Our three year old bounds into our room each morning announcing "the sun is up, it's time to wake up!" This was a problem for us, as we prefer to NOT get up at 5am, so we covered his window with a blanket and now he sleeps until 8am, when the sun is bright enough to shine through. We used the lights and the windows on the plane, as well as saying things like "it's soooo late!" to encourage him to sleep. He slept for 7 hours on one of the 10 hour flights, as did the little one (from exhaustion). When we arrived, however, the light tricks and encouragement have worked on the 3 year old, who, on this the third day, is back to sleeping 8pm to 8am. The infant however, is a mess, waking up at 3am (the time he'd usually wake up from his afternoon nap back in our time zone. So, we are taking a tip from science and getting him out in the sunshine early each day, making sure he gets exposed to it early and often, then removing the light in the evenings and trying to set a tone of "sleepy time." So far, he's starting to be up less each night and I suspect he'll be 90% local time by day 5. Most travelers say that it takes one day per time zone crossed to get your body truly oriented. I personally believe, baby or adult, that light exposure can cut that time in half.
  • Routine and Resilience - Everyone wants a baby who can "roll with it" but babies love routine. In fact, if you do something twice, you may think nothing of it, but your baby may now consider it a routine. You can use this to your advantage. We mix routine with new stuff to make baby travel easier. For example, we may not be able to control the sleeping arrangements, but we can control if the baby sleeps on his favorite blanket. There may be a different bathtub each night, but the favorite rubber duck or bath toys can be there. We do the exact same bath time/bed time routine no matter where we are. Bath, Books, Bed. Same motions, same conversations. This routine assures the child that even though things have changed, nothing has changed.
  • Airlines and the Baby Bulkhead - If you're going internationally, your plane has a "baby bulkhead" row. There's a queue in the airline's roster for family's flying. On many big planes it's row 10, but you can check out SeatGuru to find out which row for which plane. However, as I understand it, the gate reserves the right to assign these seats at the last minute, depending on who gets to the gate first. We always call the airline directly (if you've got a lap child/infant) and request to be put in the queue for this row. Then we show up really early and talk to the gate agents to get confirmed. You can only use this row if your baby is under 20 lbs, but if you can manage to get it anyway, most airlines have a small cardboard box you can request to put the baby in at your feet. The only trick is that you'll need to pick the baby up if the Fasten Seat Belts light turns on. We got Row 10 on the flight to Amsterdam, which was cool, but the luck of the draw was not with us on the flight to Joburg, and we ended up in row 45. Yes, that's right, the ass of the plane. Last row, next to the Flight Attendant's area. We initially thought this would suck, but it positioned us near the toilet, near the snacks, near a half-dozen flight attendants who were happy to make smiles at the babies, and we could recline our seats really far as there was no one behind us. It wasn't ideal, but if you can't get the bulkhead, the last row is actually not too bad for babies.

All this added up to a difficult, but not nightmarish or oppressive flight. Both boys did famously and are having a blast so far. I'd encourage you do try these tips (tweaking for your kids' personalities, of course) and get your kids of their home country and show them the world.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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South Africa 2008 - Being The White (or Black) Guy in the Family

December 10, '08 Comments [19] Posted in Africa
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CIMG8290 Every non-White or Mixed family has the "White Uncle." Someone's daughter or cousin or sister married Scott or Jeff or Gary and he's the White Guy at family reunions. That's me. My wife's family has been very open about it and haven't given me any trouble other than friendly teasing about excessive whiteness. Surprisingly though, I'm the only one who can dance in this family, but that's another post altogether.

(This works the opposite way also, where every White family has the Black Guy, or Gay Cousin, or Little Person, or whatever. This is about being "The Other One," in the family...color doesn't really matter. I also happen to be the "diabetic one" as well as the "computer guy" so you get the idea.)

Being the White Guy usually gives you an extra hit point or two and a +1 bonus against faux pas. Everyone will cut you some slack if you say something clueless.

"What's this?"

"It's goat liver."

"How does he not eat goat liver for breakfast?"

"Who knows, he's White!"

This also works the other way, when you, as the Other One, have some mysterious knowledge or powers. If you're the Black Girl in a White Family, people will freak out when you get braids and suddenly you've gained a foot of length overnight. Or, they'll give you a hard time for not going swimming after coming from the salon. Ashy knees are a mystery to White People as is Pink hair oil, Yakky, Ambi, and Braid Sheen.

I've just received a nasty sunburn (my fault for not putting sunscreen on) after walking 3 klicks to the mall yesterday. This is the talk of the house as it's not something you see everyday around this family.

"It's going to peel off? Gross! You guys are fragile!"

"Thanks for declaring that amaKiwa (White People) are fragile because we burn slightly under the oppressive heat of your thousand African suns!"

This is a typical back and forth with the family here. I heard something in the news last week the scientists have finally proven that, from a DNA perspective, all of us are something like 99.9% identical, regardless of race. That may be true, but after 8 years of marriage and many trips home, we learn new random crazy stuff about each other every time.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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South Africa 2008 - Fence Culture

December 10, '08 Comments [15] Posted in Africa
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As an American, one of the things that stands out to me each time I visit South Africa is that everything is fenced. And not just fenced, but tall-concertina-wire-electric-angry-fenced. No country I've ever visited has fences this dramatic. 

People live in named communities (I can't help but to internally think of them as burbclaves) that are a collection of houses surrounded by a fence. These are similar to the named neighborhoods (developments) in the states, except for the posted guard and gate with a keypad. Once you're inside the community, each house still has their own fence, gates, and bars on the windows.

The South Africans I talked to don't think anything of it. One said "Good neighbors start with good fences." When I expressed my surprise at the fence culture, folks said things like "[Americans] are the ones that totally changed your  airport security system after 9/11. You're as much a culture of fear, or more so, than [South Africans] are."

This was an interesting observation, but of course, as an ethnocentric American, I didn't quite see it that way. ;) From the outside looking in, I see fence culture everywhere. I was flipping through an advertising insert in the local newspaper and it was filled with security options for your home. Many were focused on being very secure without looking overtly like security. There were steel blinds that could "withstand an attack from a 2kg hammer" while still looking stylish in your home. There's monitoring services and guard services.

Some South Africans I talked to about this said that fence culture has always been. First when the Whites in power separated themselves from the Blacks, and now when the "folks with stuff" separate themselves from the folks without stuff. The burbclaves I've seen are fairly mixed, with some leaning one way or the other, but generally, it seems, if you have the money to live somewhere, you can live there. For example, my brother-in-law's family stays in a community of 30 or so houses that has every color under the sun. The common thread is that they all live in this gated community. They all have satellite TV, washing machines, hot water, etc. Suburbs are suburbs in my experience, no matter where you are in the world. This might as well be Kansas, from an amenities point of view.

It seems to me that the distance between the haves and the have nots here in South Africa is fairly marked. This has been my experience in other African countries as well. Hiring a full-time maid is a fairly inexpensive prospect here, as is day labor or construction work.

Where things come into stark contrast is when you leave your community and venture out. So far I've been the only White guy walking anywhere. At the mall today, I was lost and I asked someone how to exit the mall. She asked where I parked, and when I said, I walked, she was visibly shocked. Not regular bemused, but taken aback. Apparently going somewhere without a car is an odd thing. I looked like a have, but was doing a have-not activity. Silly Americans I suppose.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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South Africa 2008 – My Passport is Full

December 9, '08 Comments [81] Posted in Africa
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My passport is nearly out of pages, and that nearly kept me from entering South Africa this weekend. South Africa has a strict rule that your passport not only expire more than 3 months in the future (which is common) but also that it have at least TWO full blank pages left.

The Situation

I knew this, but didn't worry about it because I have exactly two pages (23 and 24) left. However, when we arrived in Johannesburg Airport and started going through passport control, the young lady at the desk announced:

"Your Passport is full."

"Ah, well, it has two free pages at the back."

"NO. It's full. Those pages are for amendments, not Visas."

"Really? I didn't realize that. I'm not sure I know what an amendment is. Can we just use those and I'll promise to get more pages when I get back home?"

"No."

"Well, what can be done? Is there someone I can talk to?"

"What are you saying exactly?"

"I'm wondering if there's someone who might be able to help out with this problem."

"Are you implying I don't know how to do my job?"

"Um, no, not at all, I'm just trying to understand what the next steps are."

At this point, I'm literally stunned. The anger and negative vibe I'm getting here is really greater than ANYTHING I've ever felt before. We've had stones thrown at us by hooligans and had years of stares and negativity, but I'm really sensing that this lady HATES me, and I'm only a few sentences into our interaction here.

Then a older white guy comes over (the angry passport person was a very young Black lady) and asks what's up. It's clear that he's a peer from a job perspective. NOT a boss. In fact, there doesn't appear to be a boss anywhere to be seen. I'm used to some kind of passport overseer around.

Anyway, this guys says, "No, no, there's a new rule - there was a memo - that it's now OK to use the Amendments page on American Passports." This new rule is apparently a few months old.

I've been silent since my last sentence...but now the older guy and the young lady are starting to get into it, in front of me. He's saying that he'll take the responsibility/fall and sign whatever to get me my visa. She's saying no way. Then he snatches my passport from her and walks away sharper, declaring "...and now I have to do YOUR job."

The young lady is now mumbling under her breath in isiZulu about what an asshole both this guy and I am. But she's continuing to process the family's passport. A VERY long ten minutes pass and Older Guy comes over all apologies and light, saying he's sorry for the confusion and the trouble. He leaves.

The Young Lady gives us our passports and I say "Siyabonga sibili sisi..." She starts a little, but there's still steam coming out of her ears. But, we're through.

The Analysis

My wife is pretty steamed at this point, but not with Young Lady, instead with me. She feels I handled a very African situation in a very American way. Rather than being instantly and extremely submissive to the Person in Power, I was logical, and implied that perhaps a supervisor could break the impasse.

My brother in law feels that Americans in a service capacity (like a Passport Control Officer) typically don't want responsibility, preferring instead to defer to a supervisor who would ultimately take any heat from a decision. Africans, on the other hand, will assert any and all power that they have, almost a societal game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. A bus driver may be a "societal nobody" but he's still King of the Bus and he can kick Hobos and Presidents alike off the bus. This woman, for whatever reason, was asserting her Power, and when I didn't back down and say something like "Oh, my, I'm so sorry, I had no idea...can you help me?" I had already lost.

This interaction put a REALLY bad taste in my mouth, as it was an interaction that totally didn't go the way my mental script had laid it out.

As much as people are the same, cultures are VERY different. Now I realize that this Young Lady might have just broken up with her boyfriend or been oppressed by Whites her whole life. Or, maybe she just had a bad day and I got caught in the middle. I'll never know, but I do know that I was a biscuit away from being turned around (or calling the US Embassy) and came dangerously close to a ruined trip.

What's the moral of the story? I've travelled all over, and I think I'm pretty thoughtful, knowledgeable and even charming. This usually works great for me (has for 35 years) in interaction with folks. However, even after more than a half-dozen trips to various African countries, I'm reminded that I don't know much at all. I'm not quite sure what I could have done to make this interaction more successful, short of living in South Africa for more than a month at a time.

What do YOU think, Dear Reader? How do things work in your country between People with Power and People without? This might be as simple as an interaction between a customer and a waiter, or a loan officer, or a customs agent.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Hanselminutes Podcast 141 - Coding4Fun with Dan Fernandez and Brian Peek - Wiimotes and YouTube

December 5, '08 Comments [1] Posted in Coding4Fun | Podcast
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My one-hundred-and-forty-first podcast is up. I talk with Dan and Brian as they turn the successful Coding4Fun blog into a book. Brian shares how to interface with the Nintendo Wii's Wiimote, and Dan tells us how to download and convert YouTube videos in one click.

Subscribe: Subscribe to Hanselminutes Subscribe to my Podcast in iTunes

Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

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Building quality software is never easy. It requires skills and imagination. We cannot promise to improve your skills, but when it comes to User Interface, we can provide the building blocks to take your application a step closer to your imagination. Explore the leading UI suites for ASP.NET and Windows Forms. Enjoy the versatility of our new-generation Reporting Tool. Dive into our online community. Visit www.telerik.com.

As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.