I recently had a whistle stop tour of Asia, from Hong Kong to Indonesia, finally to Kuala Lumpur. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was great, 12 hours working solidly, had room, great meal, service the works. Cathay Pacific were kind enough to upgrade me to Hong Kong. Drinking champagne into Hong Kong and what followed over the next three days of Chinese New Year will stay will me for the rest of my life. However, this blog post isn’t about that. It’s about my excruciating 14 hours of torture that Malaysian Airlines passed as “Malaysian Hospitality” from Kuala Lumpur to London.
A few hours after online check-in ‘opened’ I tried to reserve my seat. The online system just wouldn’t take me past a screen. No error message, upon clicking ‘next’ nothing would happen. Reload/relogin and the same thing. This resolved itself at 0645, where the √knack all, was available.
After a very speedy trip from downtown KL to Kuala Lumpur International, the first signs at check-in were dire. Using the business check-in desks (Sapphire status from Oneworld Alliance – consequence of flying BA a lot) I got the boarding card for the flight and apparently checked in my bags. Although as I was leaving, I hadn’t received a baggage tag and the airline assistant hadn’t apparently noticed the 20kg of Samsonite I’d lugged onto the conveyor belt.
I’d requested a seat with leg room or an aisle seat (I’m 6’6″/2 metres tall), however, they told me to speak to ticketing in the terminal. Upon entering security I asked for the same thing. I was informed that it would cost 7500 ringit (about £1500) for a better, business class seat. One of the things I’ve discovered since getting a mortgage, is that paying that sort of money for a seat upgrade isn’t probably not as needed as paying the mortgage. However, I was informed that the gate staff could be able to do something. They passed the buck onto the hosts and hostesses on the plane. Funnily enough they couldn’t do anything either.
The issue with them not being able to do this, was that they were too polite about it. A very nice hostess explained that the seating arrangement and legroom arrangement was designed for ‘asian passengers’. Ok fine. However what about Yao Ming.Potentially people from the Asia may be generally less tall, however Malaysian Airlines, you’re a global airline. Be ready for people over 6 foot to travel with you.
With a seat acquired and legs having slight movement issue, I shrugged them off and went into the normal flight routine; headphones, Economist and music playlists abound. Generally I smile and nod when someone sits next to me, cursory ‘hello’ and try to stay in my ‘zone’. I’d planned to add to the thesis over the flight, so being relaxed was an idea. The plane filled up and the safety announcement started to play. Then the piercing shrieks shattered through my eardrums.
I had two babies either side, two behind, joined a very young infant. As I looked around the mother with baby commented “You’re the unluckiest man on this plane”. Unsure if this was true, but it felt like it. Taking off the bassinets were affixed in front. The legroom became non-existent and it was impossible to move the movie screen. Slightly claustrophobic, it was very hard to move without knocking a baby trying to sleep, or person looking after said baby.
Getting the laptop out to work was difficult, but just possible, with the screen at an oblique angle. I started to tap away. With ‘The Thieves‘ (brilliant film!) on the screen the background noise was about manageable. Towards the end of the film, the sound of gunshots and diamond heist(ing) was broken by a chorus of unhappy baby. One started crying, then the other. Then all of them in succession. This continued for 4 hours. Nothing worked. Rammstein, Beethoven, Top Gear, Shantaram. You name it, I tried it. I asked the attendant if there was anything they could do, apparently there wasn’t. I tried to leave it an hour, fatigue was seriously setting in. Getting four hours sleep doesn’t bode well for a flight. The crying made sleep impossible, watching a film was hard – the noise just stresses, making it near impossible to concentrate.
Impossible to move, impossible to relax, being on your nerves wanting to sleep. It wasn’t a happy place. I requested to see the cabin services director, only to be told that he was resting. I sat on the stairs at the back for 3o minutes. After this shaved and washed, in an attempt to relax. Within 10 minutes of sitting back into the chair, the chorus was back, the situation was untenable. I requested for sleeping tablets, the best they had was Panadol. Was severely feeling let down by Malaysian at this point. Especially when the father of said child had been assigned another seat, from the overheard conversation between him and his partner, at his request, specifically for him to get some rest on the plane. Seriously Malaysian Airways, don’t let this happen again. Don’t inflict other’s spawn on others, inflict it on them.
The Cabin Services Director arrived shortly after. I was informed there was an aisle seat available and I could sit in it, surprisingly it has worse legroom, I didn’t care, it was vaguely quiet. However, this occurred six to seven hours after being on flight. Half way through one of the longest flights in the world. Why did it take so long? Why aren’t families assigned seats together? Why aren’t people with Oneworld status given priority on seats – this raises the question why should I fly with you if you don’t honour your status levels?
These questions have ruminated in my mind since. I hope that Malaysian Airlines can answer them. Otherwise British Airways and Oneworld more generally will need to clarify them. Genuinely I love the experience that BA provides (the reason I’m in Oneworld), code sharing is annoying, fine. However an experience like this has severely shook the sheen that flying with the Oneworld network and the value of the ‘status’ they’ve given me. This based off an earlier experience with American Airlines (another Oneworld partner). I hope they’ll answer them soon. Otherwise, it becomes a toss up between Skyteam and Star Alliance.
Written and submitted from Home.
WhereCampEU this year, rather earlier than normal, was in the Eternal City of Rome, Italy. After the threatening of Snowmeggeddon in the UK, a jaunt to Italy was a welcome respite. An action packed unconference timetable started with a presentation on Taarifa by myself. This was a follow on presentation from W3G but focusing on the characteristics of developing technology; needing to know the users and how they’ll use the ‘solution’. Developing solutions to first world problems then applying in the developing world isn’t useful and is dangerous, however, is the method de jure in some organisations.
A presentation on how the World Food Program uses the OpenDataKit, for collecting information in South Sudan followed. It would have been interesting to have heard more about the rationale and why they were using what they were using. The use-case was a take picture, see what is about, the intelligence that they sought to gather. However, the presenter didn’t stay around, so if anyone in the geo-sphere knows, please get in touch!
CartoDB was given a live demonstration. We’re quickly moving past the desktop for GIS and spatial analysis and into the cloud. I’d like to know how these cloud based GIS services compare with ESRIs and MapBox’s offerings. It’s a brave new world!
Michael Gould‘s 37 things you didn’t know about ESRI was a passionate talk about ESRI from its inception to the present day. A leviathan in the GIS space, the culture is seemingly anything but corporate America. In the examples mentioned the social conscious dominates decisions; from the positing of boulders on the ESRI campus to the acquisition of new companies.
A Taarifa breakout design session occurred with a special guest appearance from a snow-bound London. But more on this in a later blog post.
The day ended with an OSM Q&A by myself and Shaun McDonald turned into a wide ranging discussion about the OSM project and the challenges within. Getting new contributors to keep contributing was one point of discussion as was the need for improved internationalisation and languages.
An evening of Pizza, Dolcé and Grappa followed. The night ended in a spectacular deli/bistro/bar known only to locals and lost where campers. Bottles of Chanti and Prosecco were enjoyed and toasts made.
Standing out the following day was Laurence Penny‘s updated 1-D Maps . It’s never the same things, constantly reinventing itself with from the acquisitions and collection held by Laurence. Going from Doom, the Mille Miglia to Roman Era Road Routing with a detour around the metros and undergrounds. It was 2 hours long. Words fail to describe the brilliance that emanates from the presentation. I really look forward to seeing it in an updated form.
A certain Henk Hoff of the OSM Foundation, brought proceedings to a close on a wide ranging discussion on the foundation, how it functions and operates. The day and conferenced ended over pizza, chianti and sambucca. Just the way things should end!
Written and submitted on the Rome to Milan Eurostar (having just gone through Bologna!)
Barcelona, London, New York then Washington. Instead of flying direct to Dulles International, I wished to fly into Reagan National (DCA) airport (~2-3 miles/10 minutes from central DC, as opposed to 90 minutes for Dulles). This makes getting in and out of central DC a snip, instead of a faff with the metro, buses and taxis. As I’d been travelling for a while I got a first class ticket from NYC to DCA, ¢50 upgrade free. The reason for this was simple; Concorde Lounge. Do not under estimate a shower after travelling for 18 hours.
The flights were ticketed and issued in Barcelona, the luggage was checked through to DCA, tickets were given to me and the One World desk checked me in. Short hop to Heathrow, wait for six hours then NYC to DC. However I left at New York as American cancelled my flight, claiming lack of payment;
Dear Mark Peter Iliffe
Thank you for your recent reservation on American Airlines. We were unable to issue your ticket and would need to speak to you to verify the payment details or if yo could provide us with another form of payment since this is the second decline. Please call American Airlines reservations quoting your booking reference XXXXX.
You will find the contact telephone under the Customer Service link for your country.
Our opening hours are Mon-Fri 07:00 – 16:30,
Please be aware that other airlines flights booked via American Airlines are on a request basis only and fares are not guaranteed until ticketed.
Thank you for your attention to this. American Airlines Reservations
I received that at 2228 on the evening of the 9th. My flight to NYC was at 0800 on the 10th. So no time to ring the UK centre – it wasn’t open. I phoned the US one. After being on hold for 30 minutes (at £0.56 a minute) and told they wouldn’t called me back, I cancelled, taking two days in New York instead.
A few things about trying to fly with American and by extension OneWorld.
- They can’t spell an automated email message. No-one has ever gone ‘Yo’ at me in an email before. Especially a major airline. This really annoyed me.
- First class doesn’t mean first class with them. If there is a payment issue and they can see that the ticket has already been issued, phone and email, don’t just email. For American this doesn’t seem necessary.
- I briefly spoke with the BA desks at Heathrow, they were as apologetic as they could be, however couldn’t really do anything. What is the point of clubbing up and staying in the same program if one of the partners just jogs off?
- If the person on the end of the phone asks if you can call them back do so. Otherwise you’ll loose their custom.
In the end I had two awesome days in NYC and took the train to DC. Passing through the American countryside at sunset was nice. A shower would have been better.
Written and posted from Washington DC (38.8988,-77.0279)
You can judge many a city by the public and private transport. London has its iconic red double decker buses and black cabs, Amsterdam has its trams. Practically all cities rely on a mass transit network (composed of buses, trams, trains, underground etc.) to transport the population across zones. When mapping in environments like Tandale transport of equipment is also key.
Because of the bulkiness of carrying laptops, projectors and briefcases of GPS’ and cameras taxis represent the best form of transport. At this juncture I would like to point out that I have nothing against buses or public transport and my love for public transport has been professed already.
State of the driver
First thing to look for is the appearance and demeanour of the driver. I’ve been stupid a few times and gone with the first available, trust me that being in a plush car where the driver is high on khat is not a fun experience.
State of the taxi
This leads onto the start of the taxi. Because of necessity I’ve travelled in taxis that seemed to be held together by the bodywork, in spite of the chassis. However just because a car looks old on the outside doesn’t mean that the driver isn’t taking care of it inside. This relates back to the state of the driver, if the driver takes pride in himself, he’s likely to take pride in the care.
At this point you’re now in the haggling process with the driver. You’ll find it hard to get the locals price, but is possible at times. Finding an honest driver is one of trial and error. I’ve had drivers that try and increase the fare at the end of the trip (you have much luggage) without mentioning this at the start, to others that will drive a longer route (which you already know is false and point this out to them) and say that the fare is increased. Deal with these guys the best you can. However most are genuinely honest and will treat you fairly.
At this stage you’re now got your taxi driver and car sorted and he/she is picking you up on daily basis. Remember that petrol spikes in less developed countries are common due to supply and demand. In countries that rely on imports (most of them) petrol shortages are common, as such garages hold the advantage and increase prices if demand is high. Keep an eye on the petrol queues and the prices, when your driver tries to renegotiate you’ll already know what is going on.
Lastly and least important is the punctuality of the taxi. This may sound strange, however the transport infrastructure can lead to random jams, queuing for petrol and other reasons why the taxi driver is late in picking you. If he is on time, the chance of you sitting in the jam is likely. If you’re clock watching remember most countries in Africa run on African time ± 2 hours! For your driver if he’s content to sit in the jam while others use paths and verges like additional lanes, keep him, you’ll arrive alive!
To summarise that’s the criteria I use for choosing taxi drivers. If anyone can share how to choose a TukTuk I would like to know. Seemingly half the ones I travel in are a whisker from accidents.
Written and submitted from the City Style Hotel, Sinza, Dar Es Salaam (-6.47319,39.13199)
Recently, while in Kenya, I read this article. It’s main thesis is that British students are inherently xenophobic, therefore do not wish to study abroad with the unwashed masses. I feel this is untrue and gives those students, highlighting especially the ‘white working class’ students as being especially xenophobic.
I agree with the numbers that British students going abroad are bad in comparison to our European neighbours but numbers to the USA seem to be rising. This points to the real issue; Language. I think often of the maelstrom that was my Erasmus year. It was a hodgepodge of language, culture and learning where I made friends for life. I didn’t speak the language before I went out, however within ESIAL there was the expectation that I would be as fluent in French as their students were in English.
Currently learning a foreign language is no longer compulsory in British schools (excluding the private ones of course). When it was compulsory it wasn’t taught from primary school, it was tacked on in secondary school, six years after the rest of Western Europe, as such we struggle with swear words and pleasantries while they grasp the fundamentals of grammar and vocabulary. Within Britain, like the rest of the world our students have the capacity for learning, with global markets being opened, languages like Chinese and Swaihili are rapidly becoming more important, alongside traditional ones like French and Spanish.
At the end of the day, why learn a foreign language? The linga franca of the world is English, especially in business. As our younger students are going out into the world, making the deals that will shape the next 50 years the importance of having another language is useful to build bridges, at least common curiosity.
Wondering around the web while listening to Audioslave’s much maligned album last ‘Revelations’ is a fantastic way to spend a Friday night, especially with a sautéed brain from the previous weeks thinking excess. Dropping into my bookmarks folder I found a link to the Ripple Online and with it two things. One of my articles was listed on the front page as a recent article, secondly that the site itself hasn’t been updated in around 18 months, the article written around May 2009. Anywho, if you’re a student planning on doing Erasmus the coming text are my two pennies worth.
” German beer, Italian passion, Spanish siesta, Swedish furniture, Polish builders, French women and English weather. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that sometimes we English students have a got a bum deal. If only there was a program that looks good on your CV, helps you learn a foreign language, lets you live in such countries for a year and on top of all that gives you a grant of about £1300… Strangely enough, such a program does exist and is one of the best kept secrets of university life. Founded in 1987 by the European Union, the Erasmus Program was named after a journeyman son of a Catholic priest. He lived the life of an Erasmus student exploring Europe: travelling, studying and even finding the time to translate the first Bible into ancient Greek, his crowning achievement.
So why do it? Going to university is a big change, going to another country even more so and in Leicester we are lucky to have a cultural university attracting foreign students from Europe, America and China. So why not do it yourself? It will look excellent on your CV and shows that you take initiative – so many people are leaving university with masters and this is your chance to put yourself ahead of the crowd. When you are over there you can forget exams; they’re important but the school knows that you are an exchange student and will set the bar accordingly. If you are fluent good, if not oh well. It’s an experience and you will be constantly immersed in everything and anything.
To do it, talk to your personal tutor about Erasmus and whether the department has an exchange agreement with a foreign university. It doesn’t even matter if the course hasn’t been run before as these allowances can be made – it is not unheard of the department creating the course for you and giving you your own UCAS course code. With that you would graduate top of the class no matter what!
Funnily, the language barrier is always thought to be an issue for Erasmus students but support is always there for you. The university offers free language training to all Erasmus students and a £500 grant for a foreign language course before the course starts. Also, as you will be on reduced hours you can take language training concurrent to your studies. Money isn’t a problem either: living in halls in France last year cost me €900 (about £700) and there are no tuition fees to worry about.
On the social side, look around. Erasmus students have the biggest parties, an even more vibrant social scene as it is just one big melting pot. It is honestly the best way of learning a language, having fun and extending your university experience without needing an ever-expanding wallet! “
In February I was assaulted by a train guard, from Leicester to Melton Mowbray on the train. As the train was overcrowded people were standing throughout the carriages, I was standing in first class with about 16-20 other people.
The train guard came out of his box with an apprentice in tow, informing the unlucky passengers that we had to move down the carriage into the maelstrom of people already on the 1715 to Cambridge. It was a Saturday one train had already derailed having a considerable impact on the capacity of the train station, combined with the numerous drinking football supporters it was the perfect storm.
After swearing and snarling at a young teenager he turned his attention to me. He remonstrated, while I pointed out that there was no room and that we can’t do anything, he made a grab for my bag when I reached for it he stepped into my exposed side, knocking me off my feet.
The Crown Prosecution Service gave the impression that it is a slam dunk case, they have the witness accounts he was charged and offered a caution. Seemingly out of spite he refused it. Going to court the CPS prosecutor didn’t turn up and confidential information was unintentionally leaked to the defence.
Now the case has gone to review, to decide given these issues if a fair trial can be achieved. Not happy.
The past month has been a period of enlightenment. I hate flamingos. Currently am helping sort some code issues/improve www.mapkibera.org – check it out, it’s an awesome project. The past month or so has been spent with some knowledgeable professors and Landcruisers which really need some TLC. And about 1 million flamingos in total.
This seems to be of great amusing to my new friends and at every stage, meeting people who research art to politics it seems that counting flamingos seems to be rather amusing even for work. What’s so funny about it?
There are very few things that I find perfect. It’s a strong word to use, perfect. Yesterday I found two perfect things, one the music of Mogwai, especially ‘I Know You Are, But What Am I?’ and my ‘Annual Travel Report’ from Dopplr.com.
I take perfection as the gold standard, something without fault. This is exemplified by Dopplr.com. It’s simple, you upload where you are going in the world and then tells your friends where you’re going and if they are going to be in the same area at vaguely the same time, you can meet up. They also provide an calendar subscription service to get the results pushed into your calendar of choice.
What makes it though is the annual travel report function. One page of a PDF reminding of how much time you clocked up away from home – for me 78 days – and for the energy conscious the amount of CO2 you’ve contributed to the atmosphere. The cherry on the cake however is the timeline. Clearly showing a selected subset of your past journeys with appropriate pictures to remind you of the experience. It may be sickly sweet but it works and works well.
I hate buses, dirty stinking things. Cars in honesty aren’t much better though variable hatred of buses increases whenever near one or being cut up by one. My hatred of them is especially worse today, a 16 hour monster from London Victoria to Liège Belgium via Calais. In my suitcase was enough clothes and books to last a week, an xbox360 controller to complement my laptop and the Half Life game installed and an ipod. These were the tools I was going to last three weeks in Belgium then an entire year in France. I didn’t feel apprehension or fear, just hatred, hatred of the white, elongated, cramped metal tube that would be my transport to learning French.
I had the ignorance problem, I didn’t know where I was going and what I had signed up for, needing to learn French as I was going to start my third year of university as an Erasmus student at Ècole Supèrieur d’Informatique et Applications Lorriane (ESIAL for short) in Nancy, France. My friend Keeley had provided me both with words of wisdom – “Forget about fire alarms, the French smoke a lot” and her wisdom trying valiantly to acquaint my mind with the intricacies and complexity of the French vernacular. I felt that “Parlez-vous anglais s’il vous plaît” would get me through without incidence or problem.
I got talking to a guy called Anthony while in the waiting area, found out that he had just got back from Nepal, from the Everest base camp, he was a hulking man and I could well believe it. In his early ’60s he was going to Ghent as his son was having a baby, as he hadn’t seen his son’s fiancee or son in a while, he was taking the journey to see how things were going.
We started talking about ourselves and how people’s lives are transformed in different ways. Myself a could-do-better student with his mind too much on playing rugby or climbing, and him in the same sort of mould, having grown up in the north, bought a café, then another, eventually emigrating to America, replicating the same sort of success in cafés that had found him in England. He’d settled down with a family, had kids, had a son destroy the garage and the car, got divorced and top it off found out after September 11th, that his visa would be a lot more difficult to renew. On this deciding that it was time to enjoy life he set off travelling and found himself sitting next to me in the waiting lounge.
Myself I replied that I was a student that was doing a degree (or reading a degree, for those that have ‘elitist without being elitist – Times Education Supplement University Awards 2008 ) – views’) in Computer Science with Business Management and decided in a moment of madness and fear that the gravy train would end, I spoke to the Head of Department José that I wished to do a foreign exchange and would it be possible. In his research he found that I was going where no Computer Science with Management student had ever gone before, as Computer Science with Business Management (European Union) didn’t have a UCAS code – this had led to massive student loan nightmare, needing for the office responsible setting my course as 3rd year Medicine. With a small stipend which went straight to paying my overdraft off getting me upto ￡zero I then found that the University of Liège runs a three week intensive French language course, with my ignorance problem that should sort my language problem out.
Ghent came and went, with my vague slumber being taken by the bus cleaning machine the driver thoughtfully took us through. Three hours later, I stepped off the bus, knackered and thoroughly disorientated, the road signs were no help, whatsoever. Spotting an open pâtisserie i acquainted myself with an eclair and a Quiche Lorraine, temporally refuelled, spotting a sign and a directional arrow for a hotel Ibis I tottered off in search of shelter.