It’s very simple really, and I’m sure there’s more in Google Voice that I’ll get into once I’m back in the US, but for now it has solved one very painful problem that I’ve struggled with for years. For the last several years, and especially this year, I’ve spent significant time outside the US in Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere. Typically when I go overseas I turn off my AT&T US phone – no roaming charges, thanks – and get a local SIM. The problem there is that getting access to voicemails, if people called my US number, required both a) turning on the AT&T phone and b) an expensive call back to the US to check voicemail.

Google Voice solves that really easily, and doesn’t require me to change my primary US number. Instead, I set up a Google Voice number and entered a code to forward from the AT&T phone to the Google Voice account for all voicemail handling.

Now, if you call my US number and get voicemail you can leave a message and know that I’ll get it. Google Voice sends me an email with the audio attachment and also does an attempted transcription. The transcription isn’t great (yet) but it does usually give enough of the gist of the message that I know immediately whether it’s something I need to deal with now, soon, later, or never.

Simple, works great, and it’s free. Totally sweet.

Now if they only had international call forwarding at reasonable rates…

Last Tuesday was my last day at Grameen Foundation. I’ll have more to say about what comes next for me when I’m a little better rested (hint: it involves Mifos), but I’ve just arrived in Accra, Ghana and am exhausted. It’s my first time in Ghana, and so far Accra seems quite nice – a bit traffic heavy, but nice – with some serious rain coming down tonight. The rain tends to mess with one of my favorite things about being in Africa – SuperSport satellite TV channels, currently playing a Brazil-Netherlands match on S4. The picture breaks up occasionally thanks to the storms.

I had a quick emergency run to the Accra mall today, where thankfully they have an authorized Apple reseller and I was able to buy the sole remaining MBP power supply in Ghana (apparently) for a mere 100% premium to what it would have cost in the US.

3G is here in Ghana, with Galaxy tablets being sold in the random telephone store in the mall. Soon enough, no one will ever be able to be offline, anywhere. Is that good? I mean, it’s all up to us as individuals… we choose whether to go online, or check facebook on our phones, or whatever, and one of the qualities about myself that I find in Africa is that I’m far less compelled to stay completely and utterly in touch. Maybe this is because being online is still not a guaranteed thing, so my heart/mind just accept that and start living.

Seems like a good start…

I’m not a huge fan of Southwest but this is (to be topical, and also dated) dope…

…at Le Meridien in Mumbai past 12 midnight (I arrived at the hotel at about 12:30) means that dinner tonight consists of:

  • 43g Sour Cream & Onion Pringles (240 caories, 150 calories from fat)
  • 28.35g Cashews (160 calories, 111 calories from fat)
  • 2 overpriced bottles of Johnny Walker black from the minibar

See I think this is the different to being in a place you know vs not knowing. In Kigali, I would be having something relatively OK to eat. It might be in a nightclub overriddent with HIV+ prostitutes, but I think the snacks were OK and less expensive than this stuff.

I hear about cheap labor all over the world and just wonder why good 24 room service only shows up in places where there is NOT cheap labor.

hmm?

Both Northwest and Air France use A330-200 planes for their respective Seattle to Europe nonstops. Air France wins.

  • Seats are more roomy and window seats not jammed up against the wall of the plane. Unfortunately the dude next to me repeatedly declined the flight attendant’s offer to move to an empty row, so I finally bailed on the window and went to a bulkhead aisle seat with no one next to me… and then proceeded to not figure out how to recline the seat for over half the flight, meaning that my sum total of sleep for the flight was like an hour.
  • Service is way way better – nice French people vs surly midwesterners
  • Seats have better thigh support
  • Only 15 minute delay at check-in when their computers went down (last time this happened to me with NWA, I stood in the same place for 5 hours straight. Only bonus was that I missed my connection to meetings in Manila and got unplanned quick vacation in Tokyo)
  • Champagne at start of beverage service, Cognac to finish dinner

Northwest does win on one thing, and that’s having 110V power at the seats in the first section of economy… not sure it made a difference this time around but I did find myself rationing my laptop usage since I only had about an hour layover in Paris which meant no time to hit the lounge and recharge.

Update: learned after the flight that on many discount economy fares, I don’t get any f*#&ing miles for the Air France flights, which now means that they completely suck since that cost me around 40,000 miles and 20K miles toward this year’s Platinum status on Delta. Aggravating.

When you’re really jetlagged, simply making the decision about which restaurant to eat at or which dish to order is the real win… it doesn’t matter AT ALL what the result is, other than that you’re no longer wandering aimlessly among all of the choices in the huge megamall in Manila, or staring aimlessly at the menu, your brain not processing anything, in a perfect simulacrum of samadhi, except it’s not enlightening or relaxing or anything.

Bombay to Atlanta, nonstop, on Delta clocks in at 17 hours and 55 minutes. Let’s just go ahead and round that up to 18 hours. Um, ouch. I can handle long flights, and often just pack myself into a window seat for 10 hours at a time, but I’m not sure I could handle that. 18 hours? Maybe in business class… enough time for a full workday plus a lot of sleep.

This is the problem with Delta long-haul flights out of Atlanta… they mostly have to go north to get places, which makes them an hour or two (depending) longer than the long-haul flights out of the NYC area.

I’ve (clearly) been pretty out of the blogging loop for the last several months, largely due to being busy getting married, and being wicked busy with work.

This morning, I’m jetlagged in Manila – and at a weird time, having come to Manila via a 24 hour stopover in Geneva, which has really thrown the circadian rhythms out of whack – and since I can’t seem to get my brain to work, I thought I’d throw down a few random thoughts from the last few days…Geneva seems cool – very small town, but with public transportation to beat the band – and it made me really happy to get some good fondue. Didn’t make my digestive tract so thrilled, but it was tasty. Oh, and btw, Switzerland is wicked expensive… and the Swiss Franc is about 1:1 to the US dollar, so you can’t even pretend you don’t notice the prices.

On the flight from Frankfurt to Geneva – an hour or so – they managed to serve a nice, and free, cheese sandwich. Nothing fancy, but the US airlines could learn a thing there. The chunk of Swiss chocolate didn’t hurt, either – even got one of those on the 30 minute flight from Geneva to Zurich.

Hmm. I thought I had more to say, but the brainfog won’t lift… so I guess that’s it for now. Need to fix the offline blog tool so I can capture things in real time. Go read someone else’s blog if you want to be entertained, informed, or titillated. 

(upate: offline tool was apparently working all along, or at least it is now)

I know, all the airline fees are the new thing to bitch about. I have just one complaint, for now: I arrived at Atlanta from Dubai and cleared immigration and customs pretty quickly. I had booked my connecting flight to allow for slower progress, and it turned out that there was another flight from ATL-SEA an hour earlier than my originally scheduled flight.

Approach service counter. Seat available? Yep. Is it a middle seat? Nope. Great, I’ll take it… except, that’ll be $50. WTF.

To be sure I don’t know the economics of the airline industry, and I know they’re fucked, generally, and it’s about the worst possible business to be in… but something like that makes me cringe. I actually walked away and then went back 30 seconds later, realizing the positive impact of the change on my capacity to solve some hard problems and get things done for the wedding if I took the earlier flight (an hour doesn’t seem like much, but in this case, in the middle of a 10,000 mile trip home, it is), and so I sucked it up and paid the $50.

I would much rather see them bounce the fares up by, say $5 per seat and not just totally thrash us on fees, but that probably has some stupid but perfectly sound economically correct supply and demand impact.

Blah. Annoying. I want a private jet. I still also want to end global poverty, but I would like to have a private jet while doing it. I contain multitudes.

I’ve done some crazy trips, but this one I’m (finally) wrapping up may take the cake. It went like this:

  1. Saturday (6/14): Fly Seattle to Amsterdam (arrive Sunday morning)
  2. Spend Sunday in a fog, have dinner with Ingrid and Michael
  3. Monday: panel discussion at ING Bank seminar on banking for the poor
  4. Tuesday: fly to Tunis from Amsterdam (via Paris); go directly into meetings with MFI customer in Tunis, then a brief 45 minute rest at hotel, then dinner until close to midnight
  5. Wednesday: up early to catch 8:30 AM flight from Tunis to Dubai. Paid a bit extra to upgrade to business class (a most excellent choice, even if I did sleep most of the way rather than trying to work as planned – the consecutive nights of 4 hours of sleep had finally gotten to me). Arrive Dubai
  6. Thursday: meeting in Dubai in the afternoon, then to airport to catch 11:35 PM flight out from Dubai to Atlanta. Sadly, I saw nothing of Dubai; the meeting was in a building adjacent to my hotel, which means that I literally was in the Dubai air strictly while going to and from cars going to and from the airport. Next time
  7. Friday: Land in Atlanta after (nearly) 15 hour non-stop flight from Dubai, which is a long-ass time to sit in a coach seat. Have quick conversation with Beth (in London at the moment) about a business firedrill, then catch earlier than planned flight back to Seattle. Arrive around 10:45 AM PDT.

I did the calculations and didn’t spend more time on planes than on the ground, but I think it’s highly likely I slept more on planes than on the ground. The funny think is – I feel pretty awake and alert at the moment. We’ll see how long that lasts… I think my physical manifestation on this dear planet may be more beat up than I realize.

Another interesting number: at the moment I’m averaging 2780 flight miles per night spent in a hotel for 2008, which seems a bit insane. Hoping to keep travel to a minimum for the next six weeks ahead of the wedding, then settle into those comfy class Lufthansa and South African Airways business class seats we burned the miles on for the honeymoon.

PS. Dubai is really far away. Interesting trivia note, though, is that if one were able to get a nonstop from Dubai to Seattle it would actually be shorter than the nonstop from Dubai to Atlanta… this is irking due to the 5 hour flight I’m now on from Atlanta to Seattle. I suspect the DXB-SEA (or any west coast airport) doesn’t work due to the whole ETOPS thing.

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