Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Limited, Ahem, Connectivity

December 11, '08 Comments [16] Posted in Africa
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imageIt's always a challenge when leaving home to find connectivity. We've got Fiber Optic to the house in the states (20Mbs/20Mbs) and unlimited nu3G tethering via phone while roaming. Even then, there are SO many open WiFi spots in the states, it's easy to get connected when away. Frankly, the only place in the states that has horrific connection speeds are hotels!

Speaking of hotel connectivity, recently in New Zealand was I charged US$25 for 50 megabytes (total transfer!) per day. I wasn't able to even start sync'ing Outlook with that cap.

The last few days here in South Africa I've been trying to figure out how I am/was going to transfer my 100-300 megabyte audio files for the next three weeks of the Hanselminutes podcast.

I went to a local mall and used their internet cafe and while it was reasonably price at 10 Rand (US$1) for 15 minutes, the maximum GET or POST was 2 Megs. I couldn't even download my favorite FTP program, much less upload a few gigs of audio over the next month.

My new friend Mario from the SADeveloper helped me get connected without breaking the bank. We started with a Huawei E220 HSDPA USB Modem. It's a real basic modem, but like most 3G modems, it has the software you need on a flash disk inside the device. You plug it in, it's recognized as a disk. Then you run the setup, and the software handles dialing and connectivity.

But, I've gone too far ahead already. The modem doesn't include a SIM card. It has an empty slot for one on the side. You can get a Vodacom SIM Card for 1 Rand (10 cents US) pretty much anywhere. We got it at a bookstore. Then, we went to a Vodashop and had the guy behind the counter activate the SIM with his phone.

The trick is that you buy minutes then convert the minutes to pay-as-you-go data on a non-contract data plan. You can add minutes two ways. There are some places that can push the minutes into your SIM without a phone which is the situation I'm in. Or, you can use any phone, put your SIM it in and dial *111#. You'll get a menu that will let you purchase data plan megabytes with your minutes. I was able to buy 3 gigabytes of transfer for about US$60. Not cheap, but not oppressively expensive.

I've turned off the Windows Update service as well as images in my browser. I've also switch to mobile versions of some sites like Twitter or CNN, to save bandwidth. Perhaps that's penny-wise, pound-foolish, but that's me.

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 - Diabetic Time Zones

December 11, '08 Comments [8] Posted in Africa | Diabetes
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The toughest thing for me when travelling long distances is crossing more than two or more time zones. I'm a Type 1 Diabetic and I wear both an insulin pump and a CGM (Continuous Glucose Meter) 24 hours a day.

Time Zones and Blood Sugar

The body has a number of times in the day when blood sugar rises and falls naturally. For example, glucose is release into your system before dawn to encourage your body to wake up. For normal folks, this is no big deal, as you've got the insulin to keep things in check. For a diabetic, this means that my blood sugar will rise starting around 5am, and run relatively unchecked until at least 9am. I need to program my pump to deliver a compensating dose of insulin.

Stated differently, my blood sugar has a natural daily, cyclic curve. I need to match that curve (ignoring meals at this point) with insulin, basically using "curve math" to subtract one from the other and end up with smooth blood sugars all day. The first curve is the body's natural intent, or natural direction. The other is the compensating insulin needed. (This is all simplified, but it'll do for this post):

image

However, if I change time zones, like in this case where I moved 10 time zones East, the body doesn't get the message for a week or two. You, Dear Reader, as a non-diabetic usually don't notice this, from a blood sugar perspective. You might have a light night craving as your system knows it's dinner time when it's really 3am, but for the most part, you've got it made. 

For Type 1 Diabetics (who don't produce any of their own insulin) it's a hassle, as we'll have (seemingly) random spikes in blood sugar in the first week or more of a trip, as the body releases glucose into the system attempting to wake me up.

For example, at 4pm here in South Africa, I'll start seeing my blood sugar rise as it'll be 6am on the West Coast of the US. I'll have the Pre-Dawn effect in the middle of the day.

If I'm not careful and program my pump (or take shots) correctly, I can end up like this with everything shifted by many hours:

image

This can make for a roller coaster. It gets worse because the graph shifts an hour or so every day as I get oriented to local time. I can almost feel my "body" floating, moving slowly east over the Atlantic for the first week as I expose myself to as much light as possible in order to reset my circadian rhythms.

If you're a Type 1, possibly on a pump, I'd suggest that changing your pump to local destination time as soon as you get on the plane can help. I'd also try to eat as if you're on local time. For us, it took a little under 2 days to get here, and that time spent in the plane can be orientation time.

Reduced Usage

One other thing to watch for is daily insulin usage. I use about 30-40U (Units) of insulin, total, per day. Some use more, some use less. This a typical number for a reasonably fit guy my size. If I gain weight or lose muscle mass I'll use more insulin to accomplish the same goal of stable blood sugar.

Every time I go overseas my daily need for insulin goes down. So far, while I've been here, I've used daily amounts like 19U, 21U. That's a 33-50% improvement!  And, each time I come here I try to reproduce my results back home. So far I figure it's a (obvious) combination of:

  • Eat less
  • Walk more
  • Be less stress

For the life of me, I have never been able to get numbers in the US like I get in Africa. A friend of my has a theory that it has something to do with allergies. The area in the Northwest of the US that I'm from is legendary for really bad allergies. Some people check the pollen index like others check the weather. HIs theory is that the allergens are so great that they divert the attention of immune system and/or cause systemic stress, causing the body to use insulin less effectively.

I'm not sure what it is, but it'd be interesting to do some more organized experiments. I suspect it's 90% less stress, or at least, different stress than work stress. I'm hoping when I retire I'll have blood sugar like I have out here.

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 - Media Makes Life Better

December 11, '08 Comments [5] Posted in Africa
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It might be a little hard to see in the picture at right, but that's my Zune hooked up to a TV in South Africa using a standard camcorder cable. That's that kind that looks like a 1/8" headphone connector on one end, and a yellow/red/white RCA cable on the other side.

NOTE: With both the Zune and the iPod, in order to maintain compatibility with headphones, they've reversed the Video and Right Audio Channel, so you need to plug Red into Yellow and Yellow into Red. Trial and error will set you straight. Or, you can pay them $50 for a cable that's already switched. I just used a standard $2 one that my brother in law had in a junk drawer.

Most MP3/MP4 players have this kind of awesomeness built in. I greatly prefer ones that use the headphone jack for video, as I don't like carrying docks or special cables around. Most players, the Zune and iPod included, have settings for NTSC and PAL video output. South Africa uses PAL, so I had to go into Settings and tell the Zune to output PAL rather than NTSC.

One difference between the Zune and iPod is that the Zune switches it's output completely to the TV, including menus. It also resizes the menus to a 4:3 ratio (rather than the Zune's vertical 3:4). The iPod I have switches to video output on a video by video basis.

I brought my first generation 30 gig brown Zune, upgraded to the 3.1 firmware with my Zune Pass loaded. I loaded up 20 or so gigs of my relatives favorite genres as well as 15 hours of news video and audio podcasts for myself. I also like to take the video podcast of the daily news when I travel. It 's nice to share our local news with local friends where we're traveling and compare notes about news bias.

NOTE: I haven't confirmed this, but I've heard that if I don't sync the Zune with my home machine in something like 14 days, all my Zune Pass music will stop being playable. This of course, sucks deeply if true. I suspect it is true as it feels DRMy and DRM is Satan. I'm heartened by the fact that more and more I can download for free via podcast many of my favorite news shows. DRM's on the way out, I think. Just another 10 years or so, hopefully. But, that's a DRM rant.

It took just minutes to hook the Zune up to the TV here. The family was thrilled and with DJ'ed late into the night. I'd encourage you to take your media library with you on your next trip. Pick up a camcorder cable from Radio Shack or your local cheapo electronics shop. Most people I know with iPods/Zunes don't realize that they have this functionality built in.

You can not only listen to music, but of course, bring your family photos and videos. You've got a complete media center in your pocket, and I'm sure uGogo (Grandma) will be thrilled to look at your slides. It's definitely improved our trip.

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