08 November 2012

We are Africa

In October I got to go to South Africa for a quick work trip with a slightly longer fun trip. So more for me than anyone else (but isn't that how all blogging is?), here's a few things not to forget:

  • Rugby with uncontested scrums
  • Hatfield
    • Creme Soda and Cane Rum
    • Straw Rum Shots
  • Drive to Sabi
    • Kept going the wrong way
    • Kept hitting the windshield wipers
    • Giraffes on the side of the road
  • Monday Night
    • Rhino, baby rhino, impala
    • Scorpio Constellation
    • R600 bottle of wine
  • Tuesday Morning
    • Stalking elephants on foot
    • Impala, zebra, wildebeast
    • Leopard with a kill
    • Henry the Hippo
  • Tuesday Night
    • Hyena and kids
    • Buffalo
    • Hippos
    • Elephant and baby
    • Lion mating
    • Elephants drinking at night
    • Leopard in a tree
    • Meteor
  • Wednesday Morning
    • Field of giraffes and zebras
    • Lion chasing
    • Chasing the chase
    • 5 Lions in the road
  • Wednesday Night
    • Stalking rhinos
    • Sundowner from airfield
    • Stargazing on blankets
  • Thursday Morning
    • Sunrise on grass
    • Heat in termite mounds
Photos! (Good suggestion Schwartz)

04 September 2009


I love flying. Not just traveling, I think the act of flying internationally is an amazing thing. You go to this weird building in one world, strap yourself into an aluminum tube with a couple hundred other folks, pop an ambien or two, sleep for a few hours, get a stamp in a funny book and then are in an entirely different world. It is not a drive through a gradually changing landscape or a slow cruise into a harbor, you step onto a plane and in a matter of hours absolutely everything about your surroundings can be different.

IMG_0205And so after two months in India, a last night riding around in an old Ambassador car and ten hours on a British Airways flight, I found myself in London on a beautifully sunny afternoon absolutely blown away by the contrasts. A population that (kinda) speaks English! Taxi drivers who know where they are going! Fauna that are leashed and cared for by their owners! Girls in skirts! Clean and maintained sidewalks, streets and gutters! A three day weekend! Leavened bread! I could go on and on, pretty much around every corner I saw something that was (until the next corner) the most amazing thing ever*. I liked London after two months working in Germany. I loved London after two months working in India.

Spent most of Saturday hanging around, checked out some performances in Trafalgar Square then wandered through covent garden, the strand and the riverbank. Met up with Jeff Colson who was a rugby coach of mine in high school and quickly found myself on Brick Lane which, as those of you from the wrong side of the pond will know, is London's Little India. Mother of god. Luckily we dodged the curry houses, grabbed some greasy burgers, drank some ales and ciders (relieving the ole aussie snakebite), bar hopped a bit and then navigated the tube back to my hotel. Started off Sunday with a traditional English brekkie of sausages, bacon (english bacon = fried ham), fried egg, grilled tomato, baked beans and toast, which was followed shortly thereafter with a traditional English lunch of fish and chips and ale. I also managed to knock around in the Tate Modern (favorite piece: meat joy), check out a cool press photography exhibit in the National Theatre, venture down the south bank and check out some cool street performances including bellydancers and a daytime rave on the edge of the Thames. From there it was back out with Colson to a friend's dinner party (replete with copious amounts of Big Kahuna Red Wine) and then off to shady bar (replete w ith copious amounts of Jaeger Bombs).

IMG_0203 IMG_0221

Monday was a bank holiday which was a good thing considering the night before. Threw some stuff in a backpack and headed up to Oxford to finish up a bit of work. I didn't actually see any of the colleges, but Oxford was a nice little town with lots of old looking churches and pubs set amongst the rolling green English countryside. Finished up there yesterday, made it back to London just in time to have some nice drinks with Rob and Becky of Nairobi fame, caught up with the ADP HQ team and am now procrastinating packing for my flight back home in three hours. I like to end these trips with some numbers, so here's the rundown of this trip:

  • Number of days: 76
  • Number of exclamation points in this post: 8
  • Number of Chicken Tikka Masala's ordered: 0 (!)
  • Number of times I was called Mr. Steve: 56
  • Amount, in pounds, of peanut butter I consumed: 3.75
  • And most importantly, the final score: Steve 13, India 15**

Till next time,
Steve Gore 


*:  Although there were also open air urinals that they put out at night which was hauntingly familiar
**: I'm quite happy with this number, India does in fact always win but I think I put in a good showing

27 August 2009

Jobs? This is my job?

So believe it or not, for the one and a half years I've had this blog I've also been paid to work with a pretty impressive group of NGOs on four different continents. I've been setting up a shared IT help desk for four of the NGOs, starting with the initial analysis in BsAs then the design in Nairobi then the actual development back in Denver and finally the long term support here in India. Working with our outsourcing group, we've identified a group of five people, trained them in what we have created, shown them how to do further development and worked out the processes by which they will support these NGOs. In the last weeks they have started to take over the project which has been pretty personally satisfying but also comes at a great time as a fifth NGO is joining and the existing clients are looking to expand beyond the original design. We also just wrapped up two days of clients visiting us in Bangalore which was a good (if exhausting) chance to show them what we have setup and the huge range of other things we could provide (and get some good dinners / t-shirts in the process).

When I heard I was coming out here, one of the things I was looking forward to was seeing what it is like to work in India. In some ways it is very familiar, there are some very bright people and we all speak the same consultanteese: leverage, methodology, SLA, metrics, engagement, etc. There are the same Cisco IP phones and the same system for reserving conference rooms, but the break rooms have a tomato soup dispenser and the women are wearing saris. There are 10,000 people that work on 7 floors in 3 towers in just one of our 6 locations in Bangalore, the scale of the offices is incredible. Rhere obviously are a lot of qualified people, but there is nowhere near the vast ocean of IT experts I was expecting (probably less than 1% of India's population is involved in IT), generally they don't talk so good English (even at some of the higher levels) and hiring people is still a pain. Perhaps the most surprising difference was the unhelpfulness of support staff and general mentality of following the rules (or "process") rather than actually getting things done. Case in point (after I was chased off the lawn by a whistle totting security guard):

The Lawn

So like everything else in India, work has been an experience. I'm very happy with team we have set up here and think they will be able to do a great job, but man I really wanted to have lunch on that lawn.

-Mr. Steve

22 August 2009

Slaying the Taj Mahal

Arriving in New Delhi last Friday morning was a particularly pleasant experience. Luckily for us, Lord Krishna was celebrating his 5,237th birthday and this combined with India celebrating its 67th birthday kept the streets free of the much feared Delhi traffic. And what streets they were, wide English styled boulevards lined with trees, paved sidewalks and (relatively) free of litter. Things were going quite well until we pulled over to ask directions and a crazy drugged out beggar ran into our car, created a huge commotion that caused about thirty people to gather around the car (with us inside) and wasn't resolved until a cop and a few cool headed cows came by to sort things out.

PICT0025 Delhi has a pretty amazing mix of old Islamic architecture mixed with colonial British buildings and a crush of new construction in preparation for the commonwealth games in 2010. We saw some distinctly British government sites like the India gate and President's House (interesting note: India has a president) and then hit up the Ashkerdam temple. Ashkerdam seems to be dedicated to a person (rather than a god), but people still pray to him, so once again I am completely clueless about hinduism. But it is an impressive, gigantic complex with ornately carved exteriors, marble paths, 200 gold cow head water fountains and some crazy guy from Chicago who gave up all his possessions, moved out here, told us about the history then took us to chant and pour water over a golden statue of a boy. Totally, completely clueless. Following our confusing, but fun, temple experience we hit up the QBA restaurant for what will undoubtedly be my favorite and most authentic meal in India: jumbo Thai shrimp and a Mediterranean mezze (and not a small amount of Kingfisher).

PICT0030 While we really wanted to take an Indian train to the Taj, apparently we were not the only ones with this idea and you cannot reserve them the day before. So we hopped in Tata's finest, cheapest Indica and hit the road for Agra. While parts of the drive were the expected congested and chaotic roads, parts were absolutely beautiful with lush green rice paddies dotted with 20m tall chimneys for firing bricks. After a few hours (and a few monkeys at a toll booth doing tricks), we arrived at the Taj Mahal. It certainly is an amazing place, built in the lets say 1500s by an Islamic emperor (Shah Jahan) for his wife as a symbol of his undying love (ironically , it was his love, and the 14 children that came with it, that actually killed her). The palace houses the tombs of the emperor and his wife and is made out of marble inlaid with stones and the text of the entire Quarn (without being garish like so many things here), surrounded by gardens, symmetrical mosques and a giant red sandstone wall and is really pretty beautiful.

This seemed to be the general feeling amongst the 5,000 other people there that afternoon who stopped shoving each other just long enough to take a silly picture of them pulling the Taj up or ask Ashley to take a picture holding their baby (smartly, they did not ask me to do this). People will say that it is so beautiful you won't mind all the other tourists and I could not disagree more. So the next morning I got up 7:30pm eastern time (you do the math),walked back up as the sun was rising and was the fourth person to see the Taj that Sunday morning. The difference was striking, the entire place was incredibly calm and (for a moment at least) all the craziness of India melted away. Within thirty minutes it was crawling with tourists again but I was happy, grabbed a 10 cent cycle rickshaw back to the hotel for some breakfast and hit the road.

PICT0252 The drive back was a combination of whirlwind sightseeing and funny stories from our awesome driver, Surienda. While I'm not quite sold on his idea that India had monkey soldiers (with guns, grenades and ranks) during one of its wars with Pakistan, I am a strong believe in his three keys to driving in India: a good horn, good brakes and good luck. We hit up the Agra Fort (another Shah Jahan Joint), Akbar's Tomb, the Lotus Temple and then spent some time relaxing on the walls and gardens of Hanuyman's Tomb (still more of a palace) back in Delhi. From there it was a quick ride past the impressive embassy row and then a three hour flight back to home sweet home, Bengaluru.

Steve Gore

17 August 2009

Indians: You Disgust Me

While I normally try to keep this pretty upbeat and fun (and parenthetical), I've decided to give myself one post per trip to get up on a soapbox and post about something that I think is important. This is it for this trip but if you're not inclined to read the whole thing, here is the short version: don't litter.

So it really annoys me back home when I see smokers just toss their cigarette butts on the ground, maybe grind them out (to ya know, not start a fire) and then walk away. What is it about cigarettes that makes this acceptable? These exact same people would never just drop an empty bag of chips or bottle or water. The difference in India is that people absolutely will, and do, throw empty bags of chips, bottles of water and just about anything else they are done using onto the nearest road, sewer or creek. Mounds of stinking trash line almost every road and clog almost every river I've seen in India. The sight and smell is disturbing. Watching yet another Indian throw another piece of garbage onto the street is disgusting in the most literal sense.


So what? Why should people (other than Indians) care if they destroy their own environment? One answer is that India can be a beautiful place, and you might want to come here one day. But the real answer is, of course, there is not a separate Indian environment compared to 'our environment' and the actions taken here have far reaching implications. Lets look at a few:

  • Rivers Flow: All the trash that is being dumped in sewers and blown around the city that ends up in a river doesn't just sit here in Bangalore. The next time that river floods (say with a seasonal monsoon), all that trash gets washed downstream where it will eventually end up in one of the world's oceans. From there it is just a matter of time for that trash to circle the globe on ocean currents, slowly releasing toxins and chemicals that end up in our food and the water that evaporates to form rain and snow (as in, our drinking water).
  • H1N1: Walking past piles of slowly rotting garbage, it is hard to imagine that they are not festering with all kinds of bacteria, viruses and generally nasty stuff. All it takes is one of those things hopping into one person, then another, then a daily non-stop to London or Dubai and we've got ourselves global pandemic. Its probably worth pointing out that the only beneficiaries of the trash are the city cows and pigs (as in, swine).
  • A Mentality: Back in the day when everything was made out of bamboo and coconut leaves, not caring about the environment had pretty minimal effects. Nowadays with plastic everything, not caring about the environment has some fairly serious consequences. In the future, not caring about the environment will have disastrous effects. With a rising middle class and plummeting car prices, India is poised to add millions of cars (and TVs and refrigerators, etc) to the road each year. How can we even start talking about conservation, alternative energy or sustainability when over 1,000,000,000 people cannot fucking throw things away correctly?

What can be done? Unfortunately this doesn't seem like a particularly easy one to solve (and admitted it may not be the most pressing world issue) but there are some things that I think are needed:

  • Role Models: This one is super easy. Don't litter, even cigarette butts. Don't be part of the problem. Talk to those you see that are.
  • Infrastructure: India's government (like all developing governments), needs to remove trash as part of the basic services that it provides to its citizens. This needs to be something more structured than the women pushing carts of trash I see randomly around the city. Given many governments' rather poor record at basic public services, this is not something to hold your breath for. However, a motivated government could easily tax producers or importers of disposable goods to fund the necessary infrastructure. (An interesting point: most developing countries are prodigious recyclers; glass and aluminum are too valuable to throw away)
  • Culture: There is evidently a culture within India that says it is ok to simply throw your trash wherever you see fit. This must change. I think the most effective way to change culture is through education, both formally in schools and informally through the media. This would not be particularly hard, we're not talking about rocket science and even the simple murals Delhi has at street corners seem to be reasonably effective. But to really be effective, this push for change must come from within the existing culture. Despite the soaring readership of this blog, this type of change is not something I can reasonably expect to influence, it must be done by Indians for themselves, and the rest of us.