I don’t know where I’m gonna go when the volcano blows

Our trip to see the Taal volcano was great fun, exhausting and a great lesson in local horse trading also. The hotel arranged for us to hire a driver with a large van (a very nice van), a tour guide at Taal, lunch and a boat trip to the volcano – which sits in a lake. The price worked out to a little less than $100 USD each – and was a bargain. Or so we thought.

The drive out of Manila was great. The day was beautiful, we drove up into the beautiful resort town of Tagaytay, “Probably the Most Pleasant City in Asia” where the road is lined with permanent souvenir stalls. You can buy pineapple, coconuts, machetes, brooms and any number of handmade items too large to ship home. This goes on for miles and miles.

When we reached the main part of the village about 2 hours after we left Manila, we started our descent down a winding, narrow switchback-laden road down to the lake surrounding the volcano… The drive is quite stunning visually, and for those of us who didn’t grown up in the mountains, a little unsettling. The road is narrow, there are rock/earth slides to dodge, jitneys to dodge and people bathing in the waterfalls coming off the mountain to avoid. Once at the bottom, our driver found the house that held our boat launch and our cabana for our lunch later in the day.

As we ordered a selection of local foods that would be ready when we returned, we doused ourselves with sunscreen, loaded our valuables into waterproof bags and got into the outriggers for the trip across the lake. The boats were seaworthy, but held together with lots of plastic zip ties – but we got across the lake in 20 minutes or so.

When we got out on the beach – where people were bathing and BRUSHING THEIR TEETH in the lake – we were asked how many horses we needed for the hike to the top of the volcano. Only 750 pesos up and down. Being the typical healthy and fit (if doughy) computer nerd type, we all sneered and said ‘none’. The first stop was a cabana where we were told we needed to pay our local guide. Wait, what? Included in the price? No…… so we each threw in 100 pesos and our guide takes us off hiking upward with about $17 more in his pocket than before.

Here’s where it gets clever. It’s hot. It’s steep – we’re walking on ash. About 200 yards up sit 3 or four men with horses to rent for only 500 pesos ($11) – up and back – good horses, good guides, cheap – you ride. Three of us (including me) saw this as a great option – 4 kept going on foot. We climbed aboard the small horses (not typical American work horses) and up we went. The saddles weren’t American western trail saddles – not even a little bit – you couldn’t get ‘up’ in the stirrups when the horse trotted either. So except for having a horn to hang onto, we’re basically riding these critters bareback up a rocky slope. I think I probably feel better today than the men do, but it still smarts.

While we’re walking up, my guide tells me this is a company horse – he only get 50 pesos for running up and down the mountain and he has 2 babies to feed and he has no formula for the babies and FOR PETE’S SAKE HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT?!!!! Ok, 500 pesos per baby. We’re good. (Don’t tell- Sshh! – company horse – not supposed to take tip – secret okay?) The other riders of course reported the same story from their guides. I offer him a bottle of cool water – he declined.

When we do get to the top and get off the horses, we are met by a crew of women who are pulling iced Mountain Dew bottles from coolers and waving them at us. Don’t we want to buy our wonderful guides a cold drink? Look at them? They’re hot – they’re tired, they’re very good guides – they need a cold drink. Oh for crying out loud, how much? 100 pesos each. Fine – have a soda.

The walking crew followed shortly behind. I am impressed because they are alive. It’s steep, its hot. We’re all drenched in sweat and it was hard to tell whether the smells were from the volcano or from us. They had the guide with them. After we rested, I asked the guide to tell me about the volcano… He shrugged and pointed at it. What’s the elevation? (shrug) When did it last erupt? 1987 (all other material says 1977) – Where were you? Evacuation center. What did you do to earn the guide money? (I didn’t ask that last one, but should have).

Oscar found the extended trail out to the edge of the volcano while the guide rested and several of us went out there. We were offered the opportunity to hit a golf ball into the volcano for $100 pesos – no takers….. there were t-shirts and other souvenirs to be had. My fellow travelers helped me collect rocks to take down and after a bit it was time to go back down, across the lake and find lunch. The trip down by horse was about the same as the trip up, but when we reached the pickup point and dismounted, we were urged to tip. THE HORSES. They’re good horses. Strong horses – tip? No, Susan – tip for Angel, your horse? No tip? OH FFS! Give the horse the money and buy a padded saddle.

Now we’re back on the beach and I hear one of the local people walking with our bus driver behind us mention the word “cincuenta” and I told the gang that we were about to be charged 50 pesos for something. For the GANGPLANK to get onto the boat without getting our feet wet – which we used to get OFF the boat. And for the pushback from the beach. Fine – who has a 50?

We arrived back at the cabana for lunch and all of us were too overheated and tired to eat much. The highlight of the meal was that we ordered one noodle dish without meat because one of the crew has an allergy to chicken. We’re looking around at the dishes and the noodles clearly have chicken (or some bird) in them, so we call our host over and ask about the dish with no meat. He points to the noodle dish and says ‘no meat, just chicken’. Awesome! We now know to order food with no meat AND no chicken.

The drive up the winding road was less impressive due to fatigue, and the drive down from Tagaytay to Manila took hours due to people returning to Manila from their mountain getaways. We were exhausted when we got back, but as long as we focus on the spectacular sights and sounds from the top of the volcano, we’ll remember a great time. If we recall the entire adventure, we will remember an adventure.

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Report from Manila

I wish I knew how many days I’ve been in Manila.  I left home on Friday morning and it is Wednesday morning in Manila (Tuesday night back home) and I’ve worked 2 shifts.  The class has been great – with the usual hardware and software glitches – providing lots of opportunities for troubleshooting.  The students are happiest when they get things working, and we’re doing OK with planned and unplanned hands-on troubleshooting.  So far, Spanky has made a dozen or so new Facebook friends – far more than I have….

The food and lodgings are fantastic and since its already 81 degrees with 91% humidity outside at 8:00 AM, sleeping through the day looks like a pretty good option.  We’ve had one monsoon-worthy downpour each day and last night’s drive into work had the car throwing a wake worthy of surfing on. The weather forecast each day is for more of the same.

We’re planning a group tour of the Taal volcano (the smallest active volcano!) this weekend and a trip to the mountain city of Baguio the following weekend.  In between, we’ve planned forays to various local food places – and lots of sleep. 

The switch to night work has been interesting, and everybody is tired, but its a good tired.   Every single person I’ve encountered has been just plain nice.  I mentioned to someone that the Philippines seem to have invented ‘nice’.   

Its getting early, so its time to rest.  More from the other side of the planet soon.

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T Minus 7 days and counting

In 7 days, I will be embarking on an adventure.  I leave for a 1 month work assignment in Manila, The Philippines where I will be part of the second wave of trainers for our service center there.  This trip represents a lot of firsts for me.  This will be the longest I’ve been away from home.  The trip includes the longest flights I’ve ever been on (13 hours) and it will be my first experience working ‘the graveyard shift’ (we’re working American hours – so noon here on the east coast is midnight in Manila).  Big changes, big adventures and hopefully big fun.

Josh and Oscar from Austin have been there for 3 weeks already.  Joe, Gil and I start work on June 10 and Travis joins us later for a couple of weeks.  We’re planning to see the country on the weekends, something Josh and Oscar have been doing already, and I want to learn to speak a little Tagalog and sample the local food at every chance.  I will pass on the Balut, though.  (Google it – I won’t go into details).

Some of you have talked to the Manila team already, and our team, the Wave 2 crew is training some new team members but also doing deep dive training – like I am – in Notes C&S and other specialities.  We all volunteered to take this trip, and a lot of people wonder why.  My answer is:  I get SO many air miles!

But seriously, I take pride in my job and so do our new teammates in Manila.  The US C&S and Client teams have pulled together some great material for me to use in training.  Anything I can do to help my teammates do their jobs better and provide great customer service to IBM customers, I will do.  So for the next week, I will be tying up my PMRs, re-reading the training material and packing for serious summer weather.  I am downloading books, movies and music for the flights and getting my brain ready for that 13 hour flight next Friday.

I will be blogging my experiences right here, I’ll tweet if anything is interesting and will keep Mom updated via Facebook.  Watch this space!

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My Week in Boston

This is the second attempt at a blog about my week in Boston.  I won’t tell you what happened there because you already know.  Here are my details.  I had planned to visit my colleagues in Littleton from Sunday to Tuesday, then speak at the ViewAdmin 2013 in Cambridge from Wednesday until Friday.  That happened.  I was in the lockdown area near the police shootout with the bad guys.  I got home on Friday night after the roughest, most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on – and I’ve been on hundreds of them.  In every way, it was the perfect end to a surreal week, one that will be remembered by everyone directly and indirectly impacted.

Nothing horrible happened TO me.  Things happened around me.  There was no escaping the emotions and the energy of the people around me.  What I’d like to do is simply to thank some people.

Firstly, thank you to WIS (Wellesley Information Services), the organizers of the always incredible ViewAdmin conferences.  You let me speak for you, you kept this conference together, running on time, kept us informed and made us feel safe.  So to Celia, Susie, Mike, Scott, and the rest of the crew – thank you.  And Bennie, thank you for subjecting yourself to whatever body search they put you through to get over to us through the lockdown on Friday just for hugs and a checkin.

Thanks to the incredible Hotel Marlowe.  You have a classy, quirky, almost kinky hotel and it rocks.  You hosted the conference, fed us, you had leopard spot and tiger stripe bathrobes in the room and then you locked the doors and wouldn’t let us leave.  And sent guards to keep any bad guys out.  We never felt afraid even a little bit.  I will come back and will encourage other people I know to come back.  You run a nice (and dog friendly) place.  A few blocks from the early morning shootout.  But I digress.

Thank you to a group of people who have become very close friends over the years.  We’ve had adventures traveling the US and Europe for these conferences and others, and I would have felt far less safe if not for the presence of these very cherished friends:  Gabriella and Tim Davis, Andy Pedisich, Rob Axelrod, Mary Beth Raven, Kathy Brown, Francie Tanner, and Chris Miller.  I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of people to be locked into a hotel with.  I love you all.

Thank you to the conference attendees.  You paid to see a show and we felt obligated to put on a terrific one, especially since your families back home were probably going as crazy as everybody else’s.  We felt like friends talking to friends by Friday.  Come back. I hope you got your money’s worth in education.  You certainly got your money’s worth in adventure.

Thank you Facebook.  As much as I love to hate you, you let me keep Nina, Mom and Dad, my siblings, nieces, nephews, friends around the world, and acquaintances updated easily without dozens of calls on a cell system that was swamped anyway.  And you let me know they were checking up on me.  It felt good.  Most days I don’t like the controversies that show up on Facebook, but as a communications tool for non geeks, it rocks.

And a tip if you’re ever IN something like this:  Turn off the 24 hour TV.  It only makes you jumpy.  We didn’t watch it.  We got our news from the hotel staff, the LOCAL news channels, the security guards, the very loud emergency management alerts from the cell phone carriers (I was sitting in a room when 4 of ours went off at the same time.  We jumped.  High.) And we looked out the windows.  What we didn’t get was wrong news.

Thank you Boston – and Cambridge.  For being normal in the face of horror, for carrying on, for stopping when asked and for getting involved to help catch the bad guys.  You never flinched, you ran toward hurt people and your police force kicks serious butt.  I feel almost privileged to have been there this week.  I surely will never forget it.

My heart goes out to the people who WERE affected.  The injured, the families of the dead, the police and the proud people of Boston.  I wish none of this happened, but am glad I got to experience how you reacted.  You are amazing.

Home never felt so good, though.

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Where I find my Inspiration

There are times when I get down, lose my energy and inspiration.  We all do.  I look around and often find inspiration in unusual places.  This week, I found it in my young grand-nephew Tyson.  He and his family took their first-ever airplane ride to Texas.  He and his brother Eli learned among other things that yes, tumbleweeds are real and  – oh by the way, they have thorns.  I learned something from young Tyson, too.

This first picture is my favorite actually.  He’s aboard the Skylink tram at DFW airport, on the way home, sporting his new cowboy boots and hat and you can SEE him sizing up that pole. That large figure on the left is Dad, who is clearly within range to stop what’s about to happen here.

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But what will happen?  Will Tyson attack the pole?  Will Dad reach out and grab that little shoulder and stop him?

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And, he’s OFF!  His Mom said he got pretty far up, too.  These photos made me smile and reminded me of several things.  First:  Go for it – take a leap. Because why not?  Second:  Live a little.  And Third:  Have some fun. Be a little weird.  So thanks Tyson for reminding your old aunt to enjoy life a little more.  Keep climbing, kiddo! *

And for my  traveling friends and colleagues:  Admit it – we’ve all wanted to do this.

*Disclaimer: Stunt performed by an untrained kid on an open course.  DO try this at home.  Have medics standing by.  No poles or children were harmed in the making of these pictures.  Use only as directed. Your mileage may vary. Pictures by Mom who was clearly laughing her butt off.

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Send the Elevator Back Down

In 2004, Ed Brill took a chance on me.  He approved my friend Kathleen McGivney and me to speak at Lotusphere 2005, doing a Domino Administration Jumpstart.  Kathleen and I both did presentations as part of our Field Support Engineer jobs and we’d spoken at smaller conferences, but let’s face it, Lotusphere is the big stage for the community we’re in.  Kathleen and I work great as a team and we did so well on that session that we not only presented it that year, but at least twice more, and once did a DDM lab, spoke on AdminP on the ‘big stage’ and we did a few others.  So many that I’ve forgotten. I’ve presented at every Lotusphere since that first one.

Since then, I’ve teamed up with other external speakers including Jess Stratton and Francie Tanner as well as other IBMers.  Every year, there are posts after and before the show about how to get selected as a speaker, and they all say pretty much the same things.  I won’t repeat those posts, but…..

I will challenge myself and others to do what OGS speaker Kevin Spacey told us a couple of years ago.  If you spoke at IBM Connect this year, send the elevator back down.  You’ve made it to the big stage, now help other speakers who want to make it also.

At GURUPalooza this year, someone asked for the first time speakers to stand up. There were (I think) 10 or so on stage and there were 12 new speakers total out of ± 40 speakers in the BP track.  Included in the rookies were Russ Maher who is by anybody’s definition a professional teacher and presenter, but never at Lotusphere.  I even had one speaker, Sasja Beerendonk who was a first time attendee AND a first time  Lotusphere/Connect presenter whom I met at UKLUG last year.

So before it all goes hazy in your minds and you forget about IBM Connect until next September, do what Ed did for me.  Start planning to send the elevator down to someone who is wanting to make the leap onto the big stage.  Help with the User groups. Speak with a newbie at a user group.  Offer a seat beside you on stage at Connect 2014. Mentor others.  Help write abstracts.  Give back.  Step off the elevator and press the elevator for the ground floor and see who pops up on the floor when it comes back.

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Thank you to the people who made IBM Connect 2013 a hit

I arrived in Orlando this year after driving the 8 hours by choice.  I arrived a day early to get myself ready for what many in the ‘community’ saw as the end of Lotusphere.  I knew it would be stressful for many, including me.  I’m an insider, so I knew the messages that were on the way and wondered how they’d be received.

On Saturday, I watched the community soccer/flag football party on the beach, greeted the incoming arrivals, collected a thousand or more hugs, then participated in the blogger’s annual dinner/drinks over at the Big River Brewery.  It was there that I met a man who would be dead the next day after a motorcycle accident. Most of the men on the motorcycle ride were speakers and/or friends of mine and were and are profoundly affected by the tragedy.  This started the show with a pall, and especially for the men involved, who chose to soldier on (in spite of being offered the option of not doing so).  You know who you are, and you amaze me.

But we made it through the week, we IBMers and community and customers, and I’d like to thank some of those who made my week remarkable.

First, thanks to Gabriella Davis, who worked through the flu (or lurgi as my UK friends call it), to deliver her sessions without falling over on stage – although is was close…. And for providing the most enjoyable evening of the show again in the form of the Great Geek Challenge.  The sponsors make it possible, but Gab’s vision created it and Abigail Roberts’ marketing skills helped it run smoothly.  Also Gab, thank you for being my friend.

To Tim Clark – thank you for being and for surviving.  And for the hugs.  And for allowing me to meet your lovely wife and children on Friday.

To the remarkable Mr Graham Acres, one of my Best Practices track speakers, thank you for standing in front of a room full of mostly strangers at the Nerd Girl Sparks session and letting us peek into your heart and soul for 6 minutes.  You are an amazing man and you moved us all.  You’re also an incredible technical presenter.

Thank you to Chris Miller.  I had enough trust in you to allow you to submit a total of ONE slide beyond the required ones for a one hour session, and that slide contained only a link.  I believe I threatened you if you didn’t hit it out of the park.  The tweets and verbal reviews show that the ball you hit was somewhere over Cuba by the 4th minute of the hour.  Thank you for making me look good.  To the other speakers and speaker hopefuls, IdoNotes has set the bar.  Reach for it.

To Mat Newman – thank you for the energy and the spark everywhere you went.  For the new slogan “Lead Blue and Bleed Yellow”, and for the hugs of course.  Your presentations wowed the crowd as always and your recovery from a total computer meltdown during a demo-heavy session has made you a legend among your audience as well as your fellow speakers.  Sleep well on the plane home – you didn’t sleep in Florida.

The reason I don’t normally write thank you posts is that I know I will forget somebody.  Plus, to do it justice, the post would be days long, so in short – thank you to Joyce, Colleen, Paul, Bruce, Kristin, Mike, Warren, Kitty, Amy, Francie, Ed, the Bills, Volker, the Julians, Big Tony, Kathy, The Wookie, Marie, Duffbert, the Andys, Carl, Ben, Frank, Nate, Mary Beth, Maureen and all of the attendees who came to learn.  Also everybody else whom I just left off this list.

And its NOT the end of Lotusphere.  Before we were “Social”, we were a community.  We still are.  I love you one and all.

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