Sunday, January 17, 2010


Can't even sleep. Who knew it was such a rare commodity? And I think some girl has me in her sights....or am just being paranoid again.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Of customer service and being blown off

I've often stood in queues, watching some baba ranting about something or other to do with the service we were all in line for. Or some mama. It tends to be older folk. The guy will complain loudly, while looking at you [but not addressing you directly]. These guys this and these guys that.

I tend to be more sympathetic. Especially because a lot of these problems are because of "systems". I've come to accept that problems happen. Knowing that, there's no reason to get all worked up if I can't get some service in microwave time. Besides, I've been the guy on the other side. The guy doing battle with the "system", and getting the blame and the heat. So I'm sympathetic.

I was in a situation recently though which tested my sympathy somewhat. Quite a familiar story. You have a problem. You tell someone. They go to great lengths to explain to you how things work [so you can't possibly be experiencing the problem that you are]. You look back at them in silence, wondering what else you should tell them. And whether the effort of speaking all those words is worth it. It's not. So you hang your head in resignation and saunter off.

Like I said, problems happen. My qualms are not about that. My problem is that these guys know that there's nothing I can do. I know it too. I have no options. Get the service from somewhere else? Maybe. Chances are the other guys aren't much better. Or worse. There's no other guy. So. Tough. Me and my problems? I'll just have to deal with it. Suck it up and get on with life. This seems to be the situation that many companies put their customers through. And since I don't really like blaming the chic at the enquiries desk, or the guy on the other end of the phone, I feel the buck must stop somewhere higher up. It's one of the reasons those guys earn the big bucks isn't it.

I don't expect there to be no problems. I don't expect problems to be solved ASAP. I don't even expect problems never to recur. All I want is to feel like someone cares.

IT managers and networking

I've been looking at the back pages of the papers more frequently recently. And there's one theme that has me stumped.

Virtually all advertisements for IT manager positions require the applicant to be able to set up a LAN. Or WAN. Or have certifications like MCSE, cisco and N+? I wrote it off initially as the kind of thing small companies would do. You know, those companies we read about where the IT function reports to the Finance manager. It would be [somewhat] understandable for such guys. But to my astonishment, even large[er] enterprises list this as a requirement.

Maybe it's just me. But what business would an "IT manager" have setting up a network. The presumption being that there is no network at all. And if the company isn't a startup, why would his knowledge of routers be so significant as to appear in the bulleted points. Given, it's useful to have a guy who has heard of TCP/IP at the helm, rather than a coffee farmer, but that's about it. You might as well list a whole host of other things if you are going to have as a key requirement that a guy be able to distinguish between RJ-45 and RJ-11 connectors. As a start, software powers the world. So there'd be a few points in that direction [which you never see]. And skills like project management will certainly be more useful than having the top guy knowing how to configure users in Active Directory.

When I see such ads, it tells me one thing. These guys don't know what they are doing. Or at a minimum, they don't know what they want. It's the same way ads for programmers some time back would require a guy to know a list of technologies so long that you could make up some acronym and stick it in there and it wouldn't look out of place. It's good to see that such things have reduced. What you still see are guys looking for a programmer, who will also be required to repair PCs. Again, for the county councils of this part of the world, that's expected if not excusable.

You can't blame the HR guys. They probably get the requirements from other guys. Or can you. Do they add in this one requirement specifically. And I suspect this might not be so farfetched. After all, if all other companies require it for their IT managers, it must mean that it's a really important thing and we also must have it. I'm starting to think that's how a lot of things are done. Everyone else does it that way, so must we.

There's also the Masters requirement. Absolutely ubiquitous this one. The first thing listed. Another one that gets my head shaking. If I have a deep understanding of Association Rule Mining algorithms, does that really help you. Really. Plausible but unlikely. Spurious. If the masters required is in office politics, that would be a different story. But guys with a masters in computer science are better off in universities or R&D labs. The only way to rationalise this requirement [for these particular guys at least] is that they want guys above a certain age. Then you remember that they can simply say that. Or would they get age discrimination complaints. What else. Nothing comes to mind. What comes to mind is the number of not-so-old people who've built a bunch of tech companies. So even age for the sake of age is a bit shaky as a requirement. Perhaps they want to reduce the number of applications they receive, and subsequently have to go through. This one makes the most sense. But then again if you look at it critically, flaws start to appear all over the place. If you are willing [by choice or by default] to spend resources processing possibly thousands of applications for lower level jobs, surely the place to look to cut costs shouldn't be for the more senior guys.

I'm starting to believe that I think in very skewed ways.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

aJamaa goes a walking day 4

We woke up to some really nice blue skies and the peak seemed even closer. The weather had been good to us so far and we hoped that we would be equally lucky in the night when we attempted the dawn asent that had brought us all the way here.

Since we would start our summit at 11pm in the night, we only hiked 3 hours in the morning. I was delighted to find a banda at our next camp. At least we would not have to spend a night in the tent especially now that we were at an altitude of 4ooom and it was getting really cold. Our bodies were starting to get a real bitting from the altitude. People were complaining of headaches, loss of appetite and bad stomachs. I was lucky, I was getting a little light headed but nothing too serious. We were advised to take a nap after lunch since we would not be sleeping in the night.

We were woken up at 6 for dinner. The cook had made chapos and beef stew. After dinner we got our last briefing. The guides were very firm about the fact that if they decided that anyone of us was in no state to proceed then such a perso must turn back. They also reminded us that our bodies would feel worse as we got nearer to the top and we had to vumilia if we were to get to the top and so should not chicken out just because of a little vomiting, dizziness or difficulty in breathing.

We got back into our sleeping bags and woke up at 11 for a quick cup of tea. I was now wearing all my warm stuff. A t-shirt, sweat shirt, fleece and heavy jacket to keep my torso warm, a pair of heavy cotton track suit pants, cotton pants and water proof pants to keep the legs warm and most importantly two pairs of heavy stockings on my feet. We set out into the dark in a single file. Again the weather was on our side. The sky was clear and there was a full moon making torches unnecessary.

Although I did not have my rucksack, the hike was really hard. I hard to walk very slowly and even then I found myself getting out of breath every few steps. After walking for like 15 minutes, I started getting really hot under all the clothes I was wearing. I overcame the temptation to take anything off and just unzipped my jacket.

I knew the night would be long, the hike hard and my body would suffer. With this kind of situation, I needed motivation and I turned to my i-Pod. I called on the best of Zone out. The mixes that saw me through StanChart marathon - Ego, Hypnotize and Zone out. Kamikaze, you are a hero. I also kept my eyes on the ground to spare my self the depression that would obviously come from looking up and seeing how far we still had to go. As we went a long the group started breaking up. It would start with vomiting then a reduced pace and before you know it one or two members of the group would fall behind never to be seen again. At some point even one of the guides said enough was enough and turned back. With the benefit of hindsight maybe he did that to give people who were really suffering a respectable way out. Kama guide ameshindwa nani mimi?

It was really cold but I suffered most from the headache that seemed to get worse with every step. By some miracle we got to the second highest peak just before 6.30. Out of the 13 that started only five of us remained. After a little celebration, we started our 1.5 hour walk to point Uhuru - 5895m, highest point in Africa. To get to Uhuru we had to walk along the crater and when the sun started rising it was the most amazing site ever. We were so high up that their was a film of clouds spread out as far as the eye could see. The sun came up a horizon of clouds and showered us with its warm rays. With the sunlight, we could also enjoy the snow that must have fallen the night before and the majestic glaciers that will apparently fall victim to global warming in a few years.

I got to Point Uhuru at around 7.30.

Done Kili, attempted Ruwenzori now have Mt Kenya to go.

aJamaa goes a walking - Day 3

We were woken up at around 6.30. It was to be a long day with an 8 hour hike. I realised how high we already were when I noticed that I could no longer see the forest we had walked through the previous day, since it was under some clouds and we were now over the clouds.

We started our morning hike just after 8. We were walking through the heath and moorland belt. It was a nice sunny day and the peak was very clear. The scenery was composed of thick shrubs the kind that makes one think that some animal is going to jump out of and fagia you from the path to the bush in the other side of of the path. If you have watched 2000 BC you might be able to imagine what I am talking about. I would hav appreciated the scenery more if I was not weighed down by my rucksack. Although I really suffered carrying it the previous day, I convinced myself that my body would get used to it and from the second day things would be better.

We stopped for lunch at some caves. I was getting very impressed with the cook. The man could rustle up a simple but tasty meal in a very short time in the middle of the bush. Very many other people stopped for lunch at the same place. There must have been at least 6 different groups and considering each group had a minimum of 30 support guys the area around the cave was soon looking like a market.
We started our afternoon hike shortly after 1. By now my body was really starting to feel the effects of hiking up a gentle incline weighed down by a 14kg rucksack. One of the guys in my group told me about how in his younger days he would go mountain climbing without guides and porters and so everyone in their group had to carry either food, utensils or jiko and as such each of them would carry between 20 and 25kgs. After dragging myself up a never ending incline for four hours I got to the campsite. Tensions were getting higher the peak was really close now, it was getting colder and the thought that we would be summiting the following night was at the top of everyones mind.
I hardly slept that night. A strong wind was blowing outside, my feet were really cold, despite me wearing 2 fresh pairs of woollen socks. To add insult on to injury there was a guy in a nearby tent who was snoring really loudly.

aJamaa goes a walking - Day 3

We met our guides after breakfirst. There were 3 of them. The lead guide was 50 plus and he claimed to have been up the mountain 123 times before. That was pretty comforting. We were taken through the do's and the dont's of the mountain. The most interesting was that couples were instructed not to have sex and as a deterrent there would be no two man tents. We were also advised not to carry rucksacks that were more than 30% of one's body weight, mine was only 14Kgs. At the time that seemed ok but after dragging that damn thing on my back for 3 days, I was regretting not getting a porter to help me with it.

We sneaked into Tz at around 10 am and got into the park. The walk through the rain forest was amazing the trees were very relaxing and I got my first taste of fresh mountain river water. At the end of the day we set up camp at the edge of the forest. I was informed I would be sharing a tent with couple still in the honey moon period of their marriege - got married in August. That was a bit disconcerting.

aJamaa goes a walking - Day 2

The Chinese brought in a caterpillar that cleared bushes from the side of the road to allow cars to get through the mud pool that was formerly the road. We did not get too far before we ran into a section of road that was too narrow for two cars pass alongside each other and unfortunately there was an oncoming mat and truch. The mat guy convinced us to reverse a little to let him and the truck through. Since we were in a Nissan Urvan the mat would be able to pull us out if we got stuck while reversing. The dere is a nice guy, he decided to be the bigger man and give them way. Since nice guys always finish last, we got stuck, the mat guys tried to push us out, in the process the car battery got messed and so the car could not start and the mat guys took off leaving us to our own devices.

After a long wait and several attempts at pushing a 1.5 tonne mat whose engine could not come on, a good samaritan lent us his battery and another helped pull us out of the mud. We got to Loitoktok in the afternoon and proceeded to the base camp we would start our hike from.

aJamaa goes a walking - Day 1

We left Nairobi at around 9am. There were 13 of us. I did not know anyone in the group and was trying not to get into a panic about the fact that I would be spending the next six days with a group of strangers. I carried a book and an iPod just in case I could not find anything in common with the rest of the group.

The drive from Nairobi to Emali was nothing to write home about. The drive from Emali to Loitoktok was a different story all together. The Chinese have been working on the road so the first 50 or 60kms were really good and the fact there were no other cars on the road made the trip even better.

The fun and games started when we got to a little shopping centre called Kinama. There were many vehicles parked by the roadside and when we got close a guy by the roadside warned us that the road ahead was flooded. We stopped. A few minutes later water started coming down the road. It was a strange site especially since it was not raining. Less than five minutes later the road had turned into a river. I have now experienced flash floods.

Later the water reduced and we set off again. We did not get too far. The Chinese had dug out the road further down and after the rain, the road had become unpassable. Even Land cruisers and Range rovers could not get through. We went back to the small town and spent the night in a lodging that did not have self contained rooms. My room was so filthy the only thing I took off to get into bed was my shoes.