Look at the cool thing I did in the bathroom

Before (no place to store my toiletries... they keep sliding off of the sink)

Yes, I know, I just left myself wide open… it was even worse last night when I said that at the Hilton Piano Bar where our team ended up after work.  Visiting the Hilton provided evidence that there are hotels which are a little more like what we are accustomed to when we are on our normal business travels. I believe they chose to place us in the particular hotel we are at so that we are not so insulated from “Nigeria” behind big huge walls and lush gardens and polished chrome and marble as we would have been at the Hilton.  But anyway, back to my latest innovations…

The bathroom at the hotel did not really have any place to place my toiletries, as you can see in this picture.   Since I am a true geek and always have a few tie-wraps on hand, (plus I used to get my hair cut in the MacGyver style… which really helps in situations such as this)… I decided to organize my sink and shower area so that my stuff would stop falling on the floor.

 

After (everything neatly in its place)
The showerhead would not stay in one position... so I anchored it to the gas pipe with a tie wrap

Home Improvement Project #1: I ended up with what you see in the next picture…  as you can see, I used the existing towel bar, some handy tie wraps (cable ties) and the bottom halves of several water bottles.  As a bonus, while I was still rife with exhilaration due to my success,  I anchored the shower head to the gas pipe located above the shower.

 

 

See Home Improvement Project #2 in the picture to the right:

I also forgot to provide an update on my cold shower the other day, unless you were following along on Facebook…

 

 

 

There is a switch outside the bathroom…. see exhibit A below:

Water heater switch - no hot water unless you turn this on - Doh!

This switch provides power to the hot water heater which provides 220VAC to the cable shown in the next picture (which is approximately shoulder level in the shower…. yes, that means 220 VAC six inches from my barefoot, wet body, standing in an iron bathtub). I know what you are thinking… “Sexy”, right?  Thankfully the wires are insulated………………………….

 

 

Shower exposed wiring (no bare copper, but gauge 12 insulated wires exposed)

 

And that’s all I have to say about that… #ibmcsc nigeria

Day 2 in Nigeria…

Day two allowed us to experience several examples of “African time”.  The swimming pool at the hotel seems to be under repair and completely drained, however I could be wrong, since the management assures us that “it has been repaired and is full of water”. This is okay though, because we are not here to swim!

After several hours of meetings with our Nigerian IBM and CDC team getting our blood pressure checked, health and security briefings, and more team building, we were scheduled to meet with our client at 1 PM on Monday.

Immunization posters from Nigeria

We are fortunate that our office at the NPHCDA, is walking distance from our hotel, so we called up our contact to let him know we were coming as scheduled. He asked us to wait until 2pm.  We arrived at 2pm, and were asked to wait in a conference room for our counterpart.  At around 3pm, our counterpart arrived but did not have a key to our office.  It was decided that we should go to the executive offices (probably a US mile away) and meet the executive director.  During the transit, we met several other NPHCDA staff and directors, who we could possibly be working with over the next month.  We ended up in the waiting room of the executive director and waited for about 3 hours.  This man is an extremely busy and important person in Nigeria, as he is over the entire healthcare strategy for the entire country… and as Nigeria is still working to eradicate some of the basic diseases that we have overcome in our own countries, it is of the utmost importance to immunize the entire population against such things as Polio, Typhoid, etc.

At some point while waiting to meet the director, both Asha and I needed the wash room… and were allowed to use one in the Executive Director’s assistant’s office, where there were several upbeat Nigerians, both male and female working.   There didn’t appear to be a toilet seat, which I was able to overcome easily… Asha, I fear, was not so lucky!  Finally, we were told that although the director was still on his way… that it might be best to come back tomorrow.  As we had been warned of this cultural difference several times, we simply took it in stride and left the director’s office at around 6:15pm.  Upon returning to the hotel, the internet was out and is still out Tuesday morning as I write this.  For supper, we tried to hire a van from the hotel, and some of the team inquired as to the cost.  After much debate, where no price was given, the hotel manager asked us to name our price.  We decided lowballing was the safest option so 2000 Naira (about $13 US) was presented.  He responded back that it would take at least 10,000 Naira ($66 US) for the van and driver to take us to a restaurant and back.

We ended up walking to another hotel down the street to try out their restaurant, as we didn’t want to end up spending all of our per diem on transportation.  I first ordered a Margarita Pizza… and was told that they were out of that menu item.  I then ordered sweet and sour chicken… and was told that they were out of that as well.  I asked the waitress to point out something on the menu that was available, and the spaghetti was recommended.  Out of the 11 of us eating dinner, I think over half of us ended up with spaghetti. After an hour or so, our food was served for half of the table.  in another 30 minutes, after the first group had finished eating, the rest of the food arrived.  Most of us found the food to our liking and will probably end up eating there again… #ibmcsc nigeria

Day 1 in Nigeria…

I awoke refreshed this morning after sleeping very well last night on an extraordinarily firm mattress, but it could be due to the fact that the previous night I only had a few hours sleep sitting up on the airplane. The trip was uneventful  (other than a young Muslim man spreading his prayer rug out and performing his afternoon prayer ritual next to the departure gate at the Houston airport). Upon arriving in Abuja, we breezed through customs and immigration with all of our gear.  While waiting for our ride from the airport to Abuja, the entire airport lost power for a few minutes, which was our first experience with Nigerian power.  The driver, Mohammad, who works for the National Primary Health Care Agency, was quick to point out several notable buildings such as the National Mosque and several government ministries (as in some other countries, they use the word ministry instead of agency, and it does not have a religious connotation as it does in the United States) as we entered Abuja, and also a large gateway welcoming us into the city.  At one point along the way, there were throngs of people spread out along the road… it appears that a highway which is under construction is cutting through the middle of their village and they have to run across the highway and the existing road to get back and forth between the two different sides of the town.  There seem to be many roads and buildings in various stages of construction in the area.

So far I’ve met most of my IBM team and am looking forward to seeing what we can do!  Everyone seems very friendly and eager to get started, although I believe we are all enjoying the day off after traveling.  We are expecting to meet our clients for a formal dinner this evening, but at this point we don’t have a way to iron our clothes.  One of the team members asked for an iron and she was told that she did not need one because the hotel has a laundry service.  We will see how that works out!

The hotel is… interesting!  The staff is friendly and the hotel seems very clean.  The walls in my room seem to be solid concrete with some faux painting made to look like wallpaper. There is WIFI throughout the hotel but it does not seem very speedy and sometimes the signal drops to nothing.  I’m wondering if my bathroom used to be a bank vault because it is another concrete room with a metal door… and WIFI doesn’t work in there unless you leave the door open (don’t ask me how I acquired such a random tidbit of information).  There is one electrical outlet in the room which has a television, a computer, a monitor, a refrigerator, my laptop, my alarm clock, and all of my chargers hooked in precariously…  After discussion with other members of the team, it was discovered that we all have a tea kettle that has an Australian power plug… which is kind of puzzling since Nigeria uses the British electrical outlets and not the Australian ones.  I have a lamp beside my bed… which is unplugged, only because there doesn’t happen to be an electrical outlet anywhere near that side of the room.  In the bathroom, I have half a roll of toilet paper… hopefully they give you more when you use up your half of a roll!  Another interesting factoid about the bathroom… the toilet seat doesn’t seem to be connected to the toilet.  I’m really expecting that to keep me on my toes!  The local support staff were kind enough to give us each a large supply of bottled water.

There are banana trees and mango trees in the courtyard of the hotel, and today there seems to be a church service out by the pool (It is Sunday…)  There are chickens wandering around in the street and I even saw several baby chicks wandering around behind their mother.  There are some really large lizards, probably at least a foot long with bright yellow heads.  I’ll have to find out what they are called.  I’ve seen several interesting looking birds as well, but not enough to describe them yet. #ibmcsc nigeria

IBM Corporate Service Corps update…

It appears I will be posting my updates directly to my blog due to to the impending launch of the #ibmcsc social media aggregator.  I have it set up to monitor my Twitter (You can follow g1ng3rbr3adman if you want to get my twitter feed directly) and WordPress feeds and it will be viewable automatically from IBM’s official CSC web page.  We are all ready to go, and most of the team (14 of us in total from around the world) leave on June 10th and meet in person for the first time in Abuja, Nigeria  on June 11th, 2011.

Our team has been broken up into six smaller projects.  My project (along with Asha Lakshman from India) is to work with Nigeria’s National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) to help them develop a data management system.  They have over 5000 healthcare offices spread around the country and need a better way of reporting monthly statistics (live birth rates, etc.) back to the capital in Abuja.  The project is becoming very real and we leave next Friday!

IBM Corporate Service Corps

Well, I just have to share something positive!  I applied for the IBM Corporate Service Corps program almost a year ago, and was accepted into the waiting list for 2010.  I was expecting to have to apply again for the year 2011, but instead, I find that I have already been assigned a team!  I will be on Nigeria Team 5, which basically means that this is the 5th IBM team that has been to Nigeria since the program started in July 2008.  I will be spending 4 weeks in Nigeria beginning sometime in June of this year.  I’m hoping that being involved in this important charity work will re-invigorate me regarding my regular day-to-day job when I return .  If you would like to know more about the IBM Corporate Service Corps, please go here:

https://www-146.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/

I’ve pasted a brief excerpt of what the program is for those too lazy to click on a link:

How does a company develop leaders who have the skills needed for a globally integrated, smarter planet?  

IBM’s answer: the Corporate Service Corps. The Corporate Service Corps (CSC) exposes high performance IBM employees to the 21st century context for doing business — emerging markets, global teaming, diverse cultures, working outside the traditional office, and increased societal expectations for more responsible and sustainable business practices. CSC participants perform community-driven economic development projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, working at the intersection of business, technology and society.

Once the project gets underway, we will have a team blog as well as personal blogs on the IBM website listed above so you can keep up with our progress! (testing existing uncategorized post to see if it is picked up by the #ibmcsc social media aggregator)

Relaunching the personal website…

For the longest time, I’ve simply redirected our personal site to Angela’s business site, OrganizationalBliss.com.  With the improvements to WordPress which allow you to upgrade to the latest version on the fly, etc. I’ve decided to start it back up again. There seems to be several ways to integrate a WordPress site with Facebook, so I’ll be playing around with those in the near future.  This post is simply to let all of the teeming masses know that we are here to guide you again (just send 10% of your income monthly to our Paypal account and we’ll be happy to provide you with un-educated, un-researched advice which is sure to either help your situation, make it worse, or possibly have it remain the same.)

Brad’s thoughts on the iPad

This is an amazing little device, and I thought it might be beneficial to share my experience with my friends. After my mother-in-law bought one, Angela and I finally had the chance to play around with it and realize that it actually could be useful, both for entertainment as well as business purposes.  My biggest fear was that it would be an expensive toy that we would only use for a couple of months, and then it would sit on its charger unless we wanted to play Solitaire or something.  So far we have been able to integrate it so completely with our lives that I now want one for myself!

I have found a few things to complain about (not in any particular order), but please do not let this detract from the usefulness of the product!:

  • Inability to install extra fonts – at first I thought I just didn’t know how to do it yet, as the IOS interface is not yet intuitive to me.  To my shock, there simply is not a way to install additional fonts on the device, at least not without hacking into it (assuming this is possible).
  • No flash support (This may be coming in the soon to be released IOS 4.2 update.  Again, I make no claims to be an expert with the IOS platform (iPOD, iPhone, iTouch, etc.)
  • Still awaiting the long-anticipated (at least for those people who have had their iPads for a while) upgrade to IOS 4.  This is supposed to come out this month for the iPad, even though IOS 4 has been available for a while now for the iPhone, iTouch, etc.  This is supposed to give you multi-tasking and have many other improvements, I’ll have to revisit this post once I know for certain whether it resolves any of the bulleted items or not.
  • The apps can be very expensive (iWorks is misleading, it appears to be included, based on the commercials and videos but costs an extra $30 – $10.00 for each of the three iWorks applications)
  • Mail (even when using Mobileme) doesn’t truly sync unless you are using IMAP.  The Mobileme service at first glance syncs e-mail, but in reality it only syncs your e-mail configuration information from Outlook and not the actual messages.
  • No true multi-tasking (although most people probably wouldn’t notice this)… should be resolved in the upcoming software upgrade.
  • No hardware GPS – although the cellular solution seems extremely accurate so far…  the Zillow app is very useful while driving (assuming you are just a passenger, of course) to judge the approximate home value of the houses you are driving past… in real time.
  • No ability to repeat a slideshow in Keynote.  We had to hack together a solution using exported powerpoint slides to JPG and then use the Picture slideshow so that Angela could use this at her booth at a recent business event.  This missing feature seems so basic, I am baffled that it wasn’t included originally.
  • CUMBERSOME 5 step process to transfer documents (Keynote, etc.) using iTunes (1.  open iTunes on the computer, 2.  attach document in iTunes on the computer, 3.  sync iPad, 4.  open Keynote on the iPad, 5.  Import document from iTunes – plus a clunky document conversion each time to get it back and forth between Keynote and Powerpoint.  Maybe this works better for people who have a MAC?
  • No easy way to sort photos in “Photos” app without manually manipulating picture data.  To get the previously mentioned slideshow to work, we actually had to alter the dates of the pictures in the slideshow so that they would appear in the correct order.
  • You really need to charge it from a wall outlet due to the extra power requirements compared to an iPod, iPhone, iTouch, the computer cable is strictly for synching (however it does trickle charge VERY slowly) while connected to the computer, but it would take at least 24 hours to charge from what I have seen.

With that said, please keep in mind that my “real” job is to find the flaws in solutions and determine work-arounds or fixes for them, so my emphasis on the negative should in no way detract from the usefulness of the product.  Also, I do believe these devices are overpriced, supposedly due to the advanced technology in the screen itself, but as long as it ends up actually being used as the tool it was meant to be, and not some toy sitting on a shelf, the cost can be justified.  Please do not waste your time looking for a bargain, or fall for any scam e-mails on the internet.  The price is the same everywhere you go, however, depending on where you work, you might be eligible for a corporate discount (check with your employer and/or the Apple store).

The data plan is surprisingly simple… if you get your WiFi set up properly at home, most people can get away with the $15.00 a month, 200 Meg plan, rather than the $25.00, 2 Gig plan (the plans mirror the regular AT&T data plans for smart phones).  The beauty of the plan is that it does NOT tie to your cell phone bill, it is independent and requires no contract.  In addition, when you use up your alloted minutes, it just shuts off so that you don’t go over, and you have the option to purchase another $15.00 plan at that time, or wait until your monthly cycle rolls around and it will recharge itself automatically, and you do not have to sign up for a data plan right away, you can activate it at any time (assuming you bought one of the 3G versions, of course).

For entertainment value, I’ve included the Visio diagram of how I have this configured for Angela’s business, which I created a few weeks ago sort of as a joke… however the information in the diagram is accurate.

If you do decide to purchase an iPad, enjoy it, and I hope that it increases your productivity, giving you more time to focus on the most important things in life, which of course is your family and friends and making memories together!

Opting in or Opting out…

I recently returned from a wonderful, relaxing vacation with my wife, Angela. While on vacation we had a lot of time to reflect on things, since we were not so caught up in day to day activities that we could step back and see the big picture. I’m not sure, but I think this is what vacations are actually supposed to accomplish! This little essay is simply to get my thoughts down “on paper”.

In this crazy world that we live in, especially in the States, life can easily become a treadmill or “rat race” where you move quickly from one task to the next, all to keep up with your peers… even if you already have Dolby Digital 5.1, you are behind the curve if you don’t have at least Dolby Digital 7.1 and a shiny new Blue Ray disc player…

and then you realize that your A/V receiver which was perfectly acceptable a moment ago doesn’t have any HDMI ports on the back….

or you realize that your two-year old car does not have a bluetooth interface or an integrated GPS, so you go further into debt to acquire a new car that is practically identical to the one you already own, with the exception of these new added features.

Previous generations did not live like this! They would use the same tools for decades, not buy a new set because an engineer decided to improve the handle.

At some point, you have to take time to reflect and decide if it is really worth it to keep upgrading everything you own ad nauseum, causing you to work more and more hours, which at some point begins to squander the precious moments you have to live and spend with your families and friends…. or even worse, resort to credit card debt to keep up with the latest gadgets and trends, promising yourself that at some point you will buckle down and start whittling away at the debt you owe others… not realizing that the mountain of debt can become almost impossible to repay.

So many people seem to live to work, rather than work to live. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past and struggle with it even now. There is a simplicity to life that we are missing out on. There is even pleasure to be enjoyed in work, if it benefits yourself, your family or your friends, and not some nameless corporate entity which can only reimburse you monetarily for the time you commit to them… there are things more precious than that monetary compensation. I’m talking about mowing your own lawn, trimming your own hedges, helping your neighbor build a deck, etc. Some of my best memories of my grandparents are of helping them in the yard or watching my grandmother working in the kitchen or her garden or flowerbeds. You can’t buy those moments working alongside your grandfather, each of you exhausted and sweating.

We were having a discussion with someone recently while on vacation, each of us comparing notes and expressing our concern with the way people are living their lives today… young couples, rather than start small and pay for things as they go, immediately go into debt to have the nicest cars, a house full of furniture and gadgets, appearing at first glance to have surpassed those older people who have the same things, yet it took the older couple 20 years (or more) to acquire, through hard work and sacrifice. This isn’t a jealousy thing, it is a general concern with the way society is progressing.

The scary thing is that our economy has actually become dependent on people being in debt, and the government literally encourages consumers to go into debt to help the economy! So now when they go to the store and buy that big-screen television on credit, they consider themselves patriots.

If I understand it correctly, credit was something that used to be used by farmers, etc. so that they could survive until their crops were harvested. It was used for essentials that you needed to survive, and was considered a temporary loan that you repayed at the first opportunity. Over the years it has turned into an entire industry of pirates and swindlers, who try to suck you in as soon as you turn 18, even if you don’t have a job. They figure once they have you hooked on credit, and living “in the negative”… you are theirs for life, and most people seem to fall into this hole and are never able to climb out. Why would you want to owe money to companies that can change the terms pretty much on a whim?

At some point, you have to make a decision… are you going to opt in or opt out? We’ve decided to opt out… and have been reducing our debt over the past five years of our marriage, rather than continuing to accumulate it, by opting in and “keeping up with the Joneses’. Life should be about accumulating memories and friends and not about accumulating “stuff”.

Please, consider opting out. It’s nice out here!

Who Moved My Cheese…

When I first read the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, I thought that I understood that you have to continually reinvent yourself to find a productive/self-sustaining niche in society, and when that opportunity fizzled, you just looked for something new again, as a never-ending cycle…

Due to the nature of my job, I can’t go into too much detail here, but there are two things bothering me on this particular issue:

1. I always envisioned myself “looking for my cheese” in the US economy,and assumed that the American workforce would always be something that you could find an opportunity within. We used to be capitalists who were still patriotic and would keep jobs in the US. It now seems to be not only a trend but the popular/accepted thing to do to think globally (which is really just code for “outsourcing”, which is moving any job overseas that can be moved.) Should we now stop looking for our “cheese” within the American job sector and abandon our patriotism and loyalty in favor of a global view regarding personal job security? At what point does capitalism begin to directly conflict with the sovereignty of our nation?

2. I went into Circuit City last week… I normally don’t ever go there, but was drawn in by the 80% off signs stating that there were 2 days left to their going out of business sale… while I was in there, I noticed the mostly empty shelves and the employees who were still selling the few items that were left, even though they would most likely be out of a job in a few days. They were also dismantling and selling the shelving units, audio/video cables, display racks, etc. What really struck me here, is that it seemed like such a representation of America as a whole… are we selling everything, right down to the internal hardware and infrastructure to foreign interests (or even foreign components of “global” companies) with just a certain level of US management benefiting financially from the sale? Will we wake up one day and realize that there is nothing left but an empty shell, with no services or goods to offer once everything has been outsourced?

On a related note… why was it such a BAD thing when Nike was caught using child labor in foreign countries… is it because they were doing it directly? Many US and EMEA countries do the same thing indirectly by sending jobs to foreign countries… the US companies aren’t hiring child labor, but the government (who they seem to have contracts with) do hire child labor… I’ve personally been in India and seen barefoot women and children digging telecommunications trenches with sticks and living in tent cities next to the jobsites… I guess it’s okay though since we didn’t do it directly. I do recognize that child labor is a relatively new offense in the West, that hasn’t really caught on in other countries where a 12 year old is more than willing to work to help support their family… coming from a poor family myself, I get that, I really do… it is just interesting to see where things are going and what we choose to be offended by.