Monday, October 29, 2012

High times on the beach – Recovering lost photos succeeds - protracted times for union-forming – exciting developments for a union (StarTrek adventure)– Visiting ‘The Sticks’, AKA Viqueque

Blog week ending Wed 24th Oct 2012

The week backwards begins with arrival back in Dili, late on Wednesday night, in pouring rain. Had the rainy season come early? Not really, as the showers stopped after about 40 minutes, but they were so heavy , you got soaked within 30 seconds.
Six of us* had visited Viqueque to attend to PC and printer maintenance on the Tuesday, stayed overnight and then come back next day. The journey takes about 5-6 hours over bumpy roads that have been progressively breaking up over the past 10-12 years. Kind of like visiting India and seeing those old palaces failing to bits, except there few aesthetics nor nostalgia involved with experiencing the roads here. From Viqueque to Baucau, we averaged 28kmph and our driver was not afraid to lean on the horn as we passed through villages and towns (people sat on or walked along the edge of the road, thus they needed to vacate the space so we could cruise on through). Not behaviour I feel comfortable with, but apparently normal here.  
*I was introducing all the MIS staff to the branch office and they were also getting the accommodation perk and then staying with friends, family or on the office floor. My ‘motel’ room was on the second floor of a building opposite a large pillar erected by the Indonesians in a park. The Garuda bird, with wings widely spread, is positioned on top while the base has been modified with Christmas-themed pictures. The location, according to my GPS, before the batteries went flat, is: 
S 08.86660 & E 126.36492
On the way back to Dili, we carried two chickens as well. They were a gift from one of the staff, for a friend in Dili. If chickens get travel sickness, then their journey would not have been a pleasant one.

The Thursday before, a friend and I went for a morning run along the beach and past the airport as usual, but there had been an extraordinary high tide. It had come up over the breakwater walls and the giant concrete boulders shaped like caltrops and even to the airport security fence. The approach down to the beach had been washed away as well. Anyone want to get alarmed and call it global warming? Maybe it is payback for the wood fires that get lit here; including the casual burning of hillsides everywhere (nice green growth when the rains arrive Nov-Feb)

The work staff formed their fledgling Union and then decided to vote on getting rid of the CEO. Over the next couple of days, it was explained to them that they did not have the authority to do this. I was getting worried that this appeared to be veering down a path similar to an at reasoning with a two-year old whom has learnt to say ‘no’ . The decision was modified and they agreed to reconvene on the next Saturday and vote on whether they would go on strike or resign on masse. Thus the ‘Yo-yo’ dips down again. It must stop soon, as this sort of thing may become a really big problem, rather than the annoying one it is now. Why the Star Trek comment? Well, this union is going where no Union has gone before – it’ll be interesting when they find out that that the finances for running the union will have to come from a levee on each worker, rather than be funded by the organisation ;-)

A friend had lost all his photos on a 4GB SD camera ‘memory stick’. I tried using a new software product, but only got back 75 photos and they weren’t the ones he needed. After cycling for an hour or so and thinking it over, I decided to try the previous software version of ‘Recover my files’ and let it run; which it did for 36 hours. The process finished at 06:30 on the Monday morning and I had a selection of over 150 photos and 3 instances of virus infections. Maybe that was how the photos got lost in the first place? I only restored the photos all and burnt them onto a DVD for return to the very happy owner. He later told me that not only had I got back the recent shots of construction work in Dili but also some lost wedding photos of two years ago.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dearly departed axle and road works, Yacht knocking, Recovering hard drive data isn’t fun after seven days, Slippery rocks, Fixing email + printer = liqueur, We’re getting a union, Spicy chicken house warming

Week ending Wed 17th Oct

  The Saturday morning bike ride up to Dare and back was normal until I diverted to do some shopping at Kamanek. When I came back out and tried to pedal away with some shopping my pedals were freely turning in both directions; weird, huh? Fortunately my next appointment was a breakfast at the City CafĂ© at 09:00, so a two minute walk got me there fine. Naveen was leaving us to return home to India after about two months of writing processes, that hopefully will be read and used, and this occasion was a last meal before he flew out that afternoon. We walked back through town and along the waterfront where a yacht had just started knocking itself silly against the concrete breakwater after slipping a mooring about 20 minutes earlier. The owners were there and said someone was coming soon with a boat to tow the yacht back to deeper water. We walked on to work and got onto my most recent ‘favourite’ pastime of attempting to recover 20GB+ of data from a failed hard drive. After spending US$200 on specialist software there still hasn’t been a complete recovery and the folder structure disappeared, so I had over 1,000 Excel files, each helpfully named ‘0000001.xls……..’0001022.xls’ in one folder called ‘Lost files’. Many hours of fun. I stayed there until late at night and then went home.

Sunday I wheeled the bike to the bike shop. Prognosis was a broken axle, so I paid my $40 + $10 labour to rebuild the wheel and collected the bike later. I did get the old axle back, but it turned normally again. "Why does this appear to still be OK?", I asked. 'Well, sometimes it doesn't lock properly'. So now when I sit on the back porch and 'aint whittlin some', I twiddle the axle like some people play with one of those  executive puzzles. The unit only has two parts; the axle itself and the spline that the gear cluster slides onto. To date they remain a steadfast, single unit....

Sunday afternoon I visited the Turkish cafe and bakery near 'Food L Do' I sipped a Turkish coffee and chatted to the owner. Kemal used to be involved with road building and the Comoro road was being resurfaced in front of us. The equipment (tar squirter, hot mix layer + steel roller) was impressive and laying down a good surface. The workers were careful not to exert themselves too much, yet still managed to do a good job. I also continued my reading of a book by Jill Jollife called 'Looking for Santana'. This was a time in 1994, when she secretly visited TL, when the country was still under Indonesian occupation, to visit and interview the rebel leader, Santana. I know a few of the places Jill describes. 

Tuesday morning was the regular 06:00 beach run from Ocean View; along the side and top of the airport security fence(!) to the Pope building and back again. The tide was very low and at the turn around point I went down the beach to investigate by walking on some rarely exposed rocks. ‘If these were green, they’d be slipp.. oh s**t’. One bruised forearm later I began the jog back.

An old aquaintence asked me to help out with a new laptop setup and I did so, with interest, as I couldn’t migrate the email account (the password had been setup on the old laptop so long ago, that it wasn’t known anymore) Kind of critical and the only way to reset it would be for the owner to ring their Australian Internet service Provider (ISP) – rather protracted and expensive from Timor Leste. My thanks was a couple of bottles of chocolate liqueur that despite careful sipping, still gave me a headache the next morning.

The work staff are very keen to have a union of their own and after encouragement from the Board of directors, the organisation will be formed within a week. My counterpart was suddenly very busy designing attendee’s badges for the big event – the influence this development for worker representation, on productivity, is impressive. Now how do we get everyone to generate the same enthusiasm for work?

Two more volunteers have arrived in Dili and we had a fish + other-things-on-a-stick, on the beach near 'Excelsior' as a 'Welcome' evening meal. The chicken things turned out to be only skin, done to a delightfully chewy consistency. The actual chicken (meat) bits were a separate order that cost a bit more.
A couple of days later I visited the new arrivals at their home and brought along a spicy chicken from my favourite roadside vendor, straight off the rotisserie. We ate the purchase along with some rice and a curry.

Some weeks ago I lost my cell phone. It was turned off and I’m sure I lost it on the road somewhere, BUT some mornings at 05:20 (when the alarm was set) I can hear the faint ‘beep-beep-beep’ but cannot locate the darned thing anywhere. Progressively, I’ve been emptying rooms out, but it hasn’t helped me get any closer and that time of the day is, unfortunately, when all the local roosters compete. Maybe this is the first case of someone being electronically haunted?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friend leaves after sampling alleged best coffee – Scooter moves on to other roads in Timor Leste (I just don’t know which) - Computer storage not co-operating – Local way of doing things – A+ books re-emerge after six years in a cupboard

Week ending Wednesday 10th Oct

Hmmm, I’m five days late this week, so why? Well, life has been interesting; mainly work and a bit of local flavour as well, although I don’t know whom to thank for the latter.

My old buddy from 2006-07 left town after a seven day visit, but I managed to get him to visit the Timor Plaza building and to partake of a reasonably good cafe there (there is a lot of competition here for the title of 'Best Coffee'). “Rather like New York”, he said. Worth a visit by many local families on a Sunday anyway and a good way to gauge prices. Usual story of mall shops being the most expensive and so just about anywhere else in town will be cheaper. I was fortunate to receive a parting gift of a 256GB memory stick/thumb drive that I can only get to format to 128GB, but that is still mighty impressive, considering my other two are 16GB and 4GB respectively. Hard to appreciate how technology moves on: in 2003 I paid US$100 for a 128mb model in Almaty (look that up on a world map)

Sunday morning I took my bike to the local repair shop for some mudguards and a chain clean. It took three visits before we established that a (quote) casual clean (unquote), i.e. spraying oil over the chain and giving it back, after charging me $2, was not the result I was looking for. If I had been less focused on that wee episode then I just might have noticed that my scooter had departed from its parking spot in front of the house. At 3pm I walked outside waving my key and ready to go scootering, but, like a Jeremy Beadle setup, the grass parking spot was bare. The landlord’s family live right next to me and no one had seen what happened. Next day, the children made enquiries around the neighbours, but still nothing. Maybe I upset someone, but no real clues. Back to the bicycle for transport. 

On Monday, next day, I took a couple of staff with me to the Police Station to log a report on the theft. This took about an hour and had to be written in Tetun (fair enough). I had to supply the names of my parents as well, so maybe they will be asked to account for their where-abouts on Sunday afternoon? A UN Policeman from Jamaica joined in and scribbled notes independently; must have been a quiet day. On Thursday we went back to collect the report, but had to visit investigations. They were upstairs in another building. I got there at 2pm, as requested, but found that the lunch break was from 12 until 2:30. Fortunately had my the logging number from the first report, as there was no other way to locate the case – i.e. no number, then no case. We asked for the print out, but even when this was printed out, we couldn’t actually take it away because the commander had to sign it first and he wasn’t back from…where ever he was at. Queue: 'come back another day'.

On Wednesday six of us visited Manatuto, east of Dili by about 65km. It is a regional branch and was meant to be a PR and learning trip. We did deliver a ‘surprise’ new PC, but I confirmed that a secret cannot be kept, when one of my staff told the local manager, who then immediately asked me for confirmation.  The only person who didn’t know it was an open secret was the head guy, my boss. So we had the farce of everyone knowing, but not the person who wanted it kept a secret, so everyone had to pretend they didn’t know and and…. So I told him too because it was getting a bit ridiculous and in the end we just grabbed it out of the car and set it up.
One of the other Manatuto PCs was converted to Windows 7 and I backed up the data onto a portable hard drive which then decide to fail – about 25GB worth of data; ahhh, the horror, the horror. One of my old recovery programs was started and I ran it over the errant drive all the way back to Dili except the rate of recovery was such that it would take 110 hours to produce a result and then another ‘period of time’ to actually do the recovery :-( So much for the good PR bit. Work proceeds on alternatives.

Work is 'interesting'  (Chinese meaning) due to our CEO not being on board for the past few weeks. Like a ship without the captain, we are increasingly in need of someone at the helm again. The Board of Directors are discussing their options in a few days and we should know what the future will be by the end of the week. There is a lot more to say, but it will have to wait until the dust settles.

After visiting the Police the second time I snuck over the road to the Ministerio de Saude; a place I knew from my last visit in 06-07. My counterpart (local Timorese) from that time was still there and the department had grown from the one wee room we had then, to three rooms and about six people now. I was keen to borrow some of the IT books and A+ training material I’d donated and there they were; in a cupboard, untouched – even the CDs hadn’t been removed from their original packaging. No problem on taking them away and re-loaning them to my current counterpart – he’s REALLY keen to learn, so we have a good match.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Carrier finally on bike and first cycling trials + new iron + a load of cash + circuit classes + an old friend visits town + first training course for staff

Week ending 3rd October 2012

It’s finally finished! Chris and I attached the three metal blocks to the bike frame after using a tap to re-thread two of the four holes in the frame. A bit difficult to explain, but very smart and robust in the result, as now I can use one or both clip-on Ortlieb pannier bags.
The Saturday morning cycle up to Dare was done 5 minutes faster than usual and the Hera loop run, next day was also faster by about 10minutes. Partially because I didn’t lug a back pack, but used the pannier and also because I raised the seat a bit, to get full leg use and put the ball of each foot on the pedal, rather than my old habit of using the instep.   

My existing iron is a travelling one that is really too light. A solution was found at the new Timor Plaza, in the Kamanek store. It was a nice chunky unit made in China and weighing a couple of kilos. Good value for only $14. Testing proved interesting; it only works when the lever is held over at maximum, so this weekend I shall return it for another one that hopefully works properly. Mind you, it is a nice beige colour.

On Monday night I was working late, about 6:30pm when two staff from the finance area appeared at my door with a bag of cash, over $2,000(!) and asked me to sign for it. Turns out that a late arrival of money from a district had missed getting into the safe, so I was deemed next best for safe-keeping (that’s nice, I think) I signed, adding an extra bit that ‘I hadn’t counted it all’ and hid it in the office before leaving. Next morning I visited the finance area and left them to do a count-up and lockup.

After hearing about the circuit classes, run every Tuesday from 6-7pm, I decided to go. We did shuttle runs, sit ups, abdominal crunches and boxing routines for 90 second ‘bursts’. After over 18 months of not doing that sort of thing, I faded rather quickly and two days later, my muscles are really suffering. Maybe next week will be easier?

An old friend from my last trip here has been visiting Dili and we had dinner at ‘Wasabi’ and then lunch today at the ‘Discovery’ with a couple more friends from that era. After Dili he may be off to Zimbabwe, but the big rule about these international roles is that nothing is certain until the papers are finally signed, so we’ll how it goes.

Today I and the Transformation manager setup and ran a course on what MIS will do to migrate the mix of spreadsheets and hand-written documents into ‘Abacus’. After being given the ‘Go’ yesterday I managed to find an old switch (turns one LAN connection into many), order & receive five Ethernet cables and then setup and get everything going, including projector, in 50 minutes this morning. Hmmm, self-pat on the back. The good news was how Mina, Americo, Tomas and Awad took onboard what needed to be done. I have been encouraging them to discuss and contribute ideas and ask questions, as this project will not work with people waiting to be told what to do. The result was much looking, asking and discussion between them on what should/could be done. A two hour session became a successful four hour one.