Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - For Goodness' Sake, Go to the Airport Early

December 27, '08 Comments [8] Posted in Africa
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CIMG8726This trip to Africa was a reunion of sorts. My wife is the 4th of 7 kids, ranging in age from 38 to 18. This is the first time in over a decade that all seven kids have been in the same place at the same time. Folks are spread all over the world, so it's a challenge.

Our flight today was from Jo'burg to Paris, then to Amsterdam, and then on the lovely direct flight to Portland from Amsterdam. The Jo'burg flight left at 8:30pm. I really really like to not miss flights, plus I know that Murphy's Law always comes true. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

I suggested we leave for the airport at 3pm, which was heresy to the family, truly. Five hours early, are you insane?

I'm not sure what it was, but something felt wrong and I tried to find a balance between getting to the airport with some buffer and spending as much time with the family as possible. Certainly one doesn't want to break up a reunion by stressing about time.

We ended up getting to the airport at 5pm, which was nothing short of a miracle. It took about an hour to drive to the airport, plus the Jo'burg airport has a fairly complex parking structure, and there's some construction. It took another 20 minutes to load the bags and get to International Departures. 

CIMG8297 We were flying Air France this time (KLM before) and we knew that bags need to weigh less than 23kg/50lbs leaving the US, and 32kg/70lbs on the way back into the US. When we arrived at the Air France counter there was large sign that said just that - 32kg. Turns out that this weight limit changed in January, it's 20kg/44lbs for economy. Only Business Class gets 32kg. Everyone was having a problem with this today, and the guy in front of us was going insane. Like "I'll never fly Air France again" insane.

Weight is always a tough thing when travelling, and my wife and I always go back and forth about it. I tend to travel obscenely light. She wants to get her money's worth and bring everything and more, pushing to exactly whatever the limit is. However, airlines aren't giving folks any quarter these days, and I so people a few kgs over getting nailed with $50 per bag fees. We try to find a balance as a team.

CIMG8501 We usually weigh our bags with a scale, and I highly recommend you to also, and give yourself 5 pounds of wiggle room. The Jo'burg airport is interesting because it has a scale before you check in and they are strict. We had no trouble this time because we were prepared, but it was close.

The real trouble happened when we tried to check in. On the way to South Africa we had had a little problem with my infant son. He has my last name while my wife kept her name. However, apparently most airlines put a "lap child" record under the mother's ticket record. Suffice to say, someone got confused, and confused people usually mean confused computer records. They ended up putting in two infants. One with my last name and one with my wife's. When they asked if six folks were travelling, I said, no, five "souls" in four seats. (They say "souls" in the airline industry.)

CIMG8685 The first guy deleted the baby doppelganger and we travelled fine. This was over three weeks ago. Fast forward to today and when we go to the airport, the baby is gone. They'd deleted his record and ticket completely. But, he was still in there, floating around Tron-style in the system. The guy was doing his best, it was clear, but some foreign-key relationship was definitely not working. He spend literally 90 minutes working on this, going back and forth to ticketing, management, and IT. He ended up deleting our entire ticket completely and starting over issuing new tickets to get us boarding passes.

For me, in these situations, I seem to have infinite patience. For the most part these folks are doing their jobs, and announcing "I'll never fly Air France again" does zero good. I just kept thanking him for his patience, and for sticking with me. In the end, he fixed us, but also ensured us the baby bulkhead row as well. Thank goodness we showed up 3+ hour early or we would have been screwed, and the guy said as much.

The family was getting worried and stressed out, but we just keep reminding ourselves that this is all part of the fun. Everything is fun on vacation, and that is what we tell the kids. Sure we waited for and hour and a half at the Air France counter, but we did it together.

CIMG8735 We had a final meal as a group at Nando's outside security then headed in to Passport Control. This was tricky also because after waiting for a useless 90 minutes, folks figured that any urgency had passed. However, outbound Passport Control at Jo'burg is always busy and there's usually very few agents working.  I knew we could spend, easily, another hour waiting for our outbound stamp. The flight boarded at 7:55pm, and I was only able to get folks to say their good byes and start walking at 7:15pm. I didn't even bother mentioning that it was a full 2 kilometers between Passport Control and gate A17.

We played our trump card. We had a 3 year old and a 1 year old, so we went to the assisted passenger lane at Passport Control. This allowed us to avoid a line of over 300 people. However, we got stuck behind some UN guy whose papers weren't in order. Remember what I said about Murphy's Law? It gets better.

CIMG8322 After another 20 minutes as the next folks in line at Passport Control we moved up to talk to the agent. I remembered my trouble from before with my Passport at the Jo'burg airport and I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. Whatever trouble was coming, I was ready to be submissive and beg for assistance.

The agent started processing our passports. This consists of typing in the Trip Numbers from our South African Visas to show we departed. She typed with one finger like a slow tempo metronome. My passport was fourth and when she hit it, she couldn't make out the numbers because the original guy who got me out of the incoming trouble signed his name over the Trip Number. The agent went looking for help, and wouldn't you know it, she went and found the same guy from before. This is the guy who argued with the young girl about whether or not we were allowed to put Visas on the amendments pages of American Passports. He totally remembered us and said that he'd doubled checked after the unfortunate trouble before, and that yes, you can put Visas on the amendments page via a special memo from the US Embassy.

CIMG8372 Anyway, at this point, it's 7:45pm and we're really pushing it. We take off speed walking with the 4 bags, and two kids, which isn't really speed walking at all. It was easily 2km to the gate, and they were boarding when we got there.

It's always amazing to me when I'm walking onto a plane literally within minutes of missing it that things work out at all. I mean, we started packing at 9am, we left the house (late, I thought) at 4pm, for an 8:30 flight and we needed every minute.

Any additional hiccup, any bathroom break or trouble over this day-long process would have caused us to miss the plane. I am sad that we've left South Africa this year, but I am glad that we didn't miss our flight. I believe we didn't because we went to the airport early. I will always show up for international flights at least three hours early and now I've got a fun story.

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 - Make Your Own Dual 1/8" Airplane Headphone Adapter

December 27, '08 Comments [15] Posted in Musings | Tools
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CIMG8756We are heading back home after our holiday in South Africa. A couple things didn't go as planned, and I was only able to get two podcasts done as two other interview subjects had scheduling issues. I think I'll interview my Wife and get her take on it.

Anyway, I was sitting here on the plane using my favorite Etymotics Research ER-6i headphones (LOVE these. Seriously, been all over the world with them) to watch Wall-E on the tiny TV they've got here on Air France. I was lamenting the fact the I was only able to listen to one channel of sound. I was only hearing sound of the left ear, since these silly planes often have that dual 1/8" headphone thing. I assume it was either just stupidity on the part of the airlines, or it was to support them charging us $5 back in the day for their crappy headphones.

CIMG8755You can buy dual 1/8" to single 1/8" headphone adapters, and in fact, my older pair of Bose Headphones came with this adapter. However, it was lost a year or so ago, so bummer for me.

Air France gave use these crappy headphones with the dual headphone jack at the end. I used my teeth to cut it and strip the wires about 6" back from the end. Then I asked the flight attendant for some kind of tape or stickers. He gave me some white Avery labels they use for some paperwork.

Remember that a regular headphone has three wires, two that hold sound and a neutral/ground (I think...need to look this up). Basically, there's two colored wires and a white one. The wires inside the dual headphones had two white and two colored.

image

The male end of my headphones has three bands. Using trial and error via my ears, I wrapped the stripped wires around the bands until I heard stereo sound. Then I covered the whole thing in the stickers,

Fortunately the flight attendant was cool and didn't mind be rewiring the plane, but your mileage may vary. I could envision a scenario where this activity would freak out a "lesser" flight attendant.

Or, just buy an adapter. You tend to look for things to do when you've got 26 hours of flying ahead of you.

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 - African Math and Just Now

December 24, '08 Comments [42] Posted in Africa
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I've decided the one thing I just will never get used to is the (relative) inaccuracy used in numbers around here. This is likely because I'm an American, but more likely that I'm a programmer. Could be a little of both.

There's the lateness thing, first. The level of relaxation, nay, apathy, around being somewhere on time is driving me batsh*t crazy. Seriously. If someone says to be out the door at 10am, and 2:30pm finds you getting into your car, you've got a problem. How hard is it to stand up, pick up your keys, get in your car and drive away.

I can get up from a dead sleep, shower and be in the car in 15 minutes. I'm lucky if this house is out the door by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I was up at 8am this morning. These people didn't get in the car until 3:15pm to do the day's errands. Really.

At first I thought it was just basic lateness as many folks around here talk about African Time. Actually, most non-Western, even non-American groups, I have found to be really chill about time. But around here, it's out of control.

And not just time. All numbers. Here's some actual examples just from today.

How far is it?

Maybe 15 minutes. Like 7k.

Actual Time/Distance: 65 minutes and 50k.

How long will it take?

Really, 2 hours tops.

Actual Time: 4.5 hours.

When will he be waiting?

11 sharp.

Actual Time: 1:30pm

How many people are coming?

Like, maybe 20.

Actual Count: 55 and uncounted children.

How much petrol (gas) do we have?

We're totally cool. Piles. Really.

Actual Gas: Turns out "E" doesn't mean enough.

When do they close?

They're always open. Maybe they close at 8 or 9. It varies, they are flexible.

Actual Closing Time: 6pm sharp. Doors close, and metal walls slam shut hiding the building.

It's so bad it's comical. I can't write this stuff. It'll be a sweet wondrous miracle if we don't miss our plane home. The scary part is that I had to lie and say it's an hour earlier than it is, and that still might not be enough. I may need to say it's another day.

(Yes, I realize I'm in another country, Yes, I realize I'm time obsessed, Yes, I know I need to be tolerate, yada yada yada. Still, I reserve the right to ridicule the culture I've married into and I reserve the right to tell my wife things like "and this is why your continent is screwed up." It's all in good fun, so poop on you. ;P )

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 - Christmas Eve Eve Lightning Storm

December 23, '08 Comments [13] Posted in Africa
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In Oregon where I am from, the weather tends to be very mild. It's basically meh and 60F/15C most of the year. It's NOT a place of extreme anything. Except maybe hayfever/allergies.

Down here in Africa, it's extreme. It's as if God himself is showing off. It was very hot today, but tonight it's rained and thundered and lightening like someone was pissed. Here's a few shots with a super slow super cheap Casio Exilim Z750 out the window:

CIMG8576 CIMG8543 CIMG8566

I took 150 shots of blackness, one after the other, before I got these. I still don't feel like I nailed it, but the first one is pretty sweet.

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 - Johannesburg Zoo

December 23, '08 Comments [8] Posted in Africa
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We drove to the Joburg Zoo today. I had VERY low expectations for a couple of reasons, most of which were not rational in retrospect. My mom was a zookeeper at the Washington Park Zoo for years, working with elephants and birds of prey. We are members to the zoo and we go all the time. We also visit zoos when we go to other cities.

We've also been to Chipangali in Zimbabwe and it was really run down. One of the mistakes I've made on this trip is assuming that things in Zim relate in any way to things in South Africa. Zim as I know it is gone, and South Africa is more developed every time I visit. I won't underestimate this country again.

This is a REALLY cool zoo. I'd say even the best zoo I've ever visited, including the San Diego zoo. It's massive beyond reason for a city zoo. You can even rent a little cart and drive around as walking will take all day. We spent 5 hours there and didn't scratch the surface. The size of the fences are really small, which is a treat as you can get REALLY close to the animals. We were all of ten feet from a giraffe.

CIMG8491 CIMG8478 

CIMG8482 CIMG8488

 

CIMG8480

I'd really recommend you not miss it if you are in Joburg.

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.