Saturday, February 1, 2014

Travel Social Network Log - Final Posting 40 Days in 40 Seconds!

Well I'm now home and signing off from my little 'Slogging' Experiment. For those that have followed us from day 1.... I hope you enjoyed it. For those that have just joined now here is a 40 days in 40 seconds highlight real:

I couldn't sign off without a final Sidebar comment:

Final Side-Bar – Travel and Social Networking Closing Perspectives

I created this Social Networking Travel Log (SLOG) to bring a sightly different perspective to the traditional travel blogs by placing people and social connections above places in my reporting. For the most part this has worked, though the “the Organised Tour” parts of the trip did provide less opportunity for new social connections, which I guess is an observation in itself. I also wanted to link the experiences of the past 40 days of travel to a business context, in this case the “social business” context. I will aim to do this in this final posting.

I should start with why I had wanted to write a blog like this in the first place. Some of you may be thinking “what has holiday travel got to do with business?” My response is that the words “Social” and “Business” were previously unconnected, but what about today with all the social media/networking tools? The line separating work and pleasure is getting muddier all the time.

I am an avid traveller and have been fortunate to be able to travel for both work and pleasure, I do however have some friends and relatives that don’t really share this interest (they are in the minority). They appear to have a comfort zone that they are unwilling to move beyond. Even when they do travel, they do not return with the same delight from the experiences as those of us that love to travel. In the workplace we see many people like this. They have found their comfort zone, where they can perform competently, if not necessarily with distinction. They tend not to change jobs or roles too much. In some way we could see them as the “keepers of the status quo”; the signposts of the culture and “how we do things here”. As I said these people tend to be a minority. I have many friends who in their early lives had not been able to afford to travel extensively, but once they start, they just can’t get enough. These are people who may initially appear like the ‘stay at home’ types but once given the opportunity, their minds are broadened and it can change their whole perspective on life.

I was fortunate in by early career to have a Research Director who came to us after a distinguished academic career across Europe and the USA.  He immediately identified how insular we were in Australia (largely due to distance and this was pre-Internet days); and he went about changing this by facilitating greater overseas travel amongst his research staff, even if this meant foregoing the standard business class for overseas travel for economy class travel. We weren’t complaining! In essence this Research Director became the broker for new work experiences and perspectives for a generation of researchers, and I for one am eternally grateful. My Research Director was a ‘Catalyst’ for change. In many business situations staff may find themselves drawn into the status quo. It’s convenient and comfortable. Sometimes it takes a broker, in the form of a catalyst, to awaken the explorer in us. Others seek out these experiences, without the need for such a catalyst. In a travelling context I’ve always admired those that were able to travel the world on a shoestring. They will no doubt be taking risks that many of us are not comfortable with. But their reward is the life experiences that many of us will never have. Of course not all experiences are positive, but even the bad ones are memorable and ones we can learn from.

I believe that the majority of people are open to broadening their minds and moving out of their comfort zones to take on new experiences. Sometimes it just takes that catalyst to make it happen. I’m also convinced that those that travel bring a greater appreciation for cultural differences when they return to the workplace. All workplaces create the opportunity for conflict. We strive for conformity and consensus through building strong bonds but as the saying goes “It's often the ties that bind us that also blind us".  As network scientists we will often preach the need for balancing cohesion and diversity. I think from this trip, particularly the middle eastern part, I have learnt a better way of expressing this…and that is “tolerance”. By this I mean that we need to respect that there will be strong communities that we will not always share a common view with. We can waste a lot of time trying to achieve a common view, a consensus if you like. The challenge of the “social business” will be to thrive without the discipline of top down control. From what I have experienced in the middle East, the vast majority of the people we met were looking for an amiable co-existence, not a domination of one over the other (which the media would have us believe). It is even too much to expect that such disparate groups will ever trust each other. But what they can do is develop a level of tolerance for their neighbours that at least mean that they can still live a productive life.  For the social business there will also be inevitable differences that will need to be addressed through peer level negotiation and not destructive conflicts.

Effie our Israeli guide mentioned it several times. While we could see where his allegiances lay we could also see he was trying hard not to be overly judgemental on the other faiths. Effie also made the early comment (in jest) that the problems in the Middle East could be resolved by getting rid of CNN and similar press agencies that like reporting on only the extremist positions, that inevitably result in a drop in the Tourist trade (which is happening now).  It certainly was our experience that the general public are much more tolerant in their views than what we would have believed before we came here. This is where I believe that social media has a part to play in balancing the views of the traditional reporting agencies. The Internet facilities we have seen in Israel and Jordan are as good, if not better than we would see in Australia. Lets just hope that tolerance for freedom of speech could be the same or better. We can translate this situation to a business context as well. How many of you have experienced work cultures that reward “towing the party line and labelling the outspoken as dangerous?” I have met many mid level and senior executives that have felt politically constrained in speaking their own minds, in the name of conformity and consensus. Tolerance is about making your views known but being able to live with opposing views if the situation calls for it.

From a generational perspective I see the Gen Xs and Gen Ys as much more avid travellers than my own baby boomer generation, largely driven by the greater opportunities and affordability that now exists. In the Middle East, the cultural traditions are being challenged in the same way that previous generations have done, but perhaps at a faster pace? I reflect on Riad’s comments about his own children. He is about the same age as me. His marriage was arranged and he is looking to have at least a strong say in his children’s marriages, but he sees that he will be fighting an uphill battle, which I think he grudgingly accepts. Armed with more open, global experiences; and with it broader minds and cultural tolerances, I look forward to this generation driving the Socialisation of Business practices into the future.

It may sound like I’m suggesting that the Middle Eastern cultures are starting to modernise along the lines that we are familiar in the Western world; and that this is a good thing. With respect to women in the workplace I think this is true. Riad had mentioned that he was not supportive of the more extreme Muslim treatment of women in the workplace. I recall when teaching a knowledge management course to students who were mainly from the Middle East and being informed by some of the women in the class that they were not even permitted to be in the same meetings as men, let alone share knowledge with them! On the other hand I think we can learn a lot from those cultures that value trust relationships as I wrote about in the Side bar “Selling Networks”. Riad joked that one of the main products from small villages in Jordan are children. He has seven of his own and comes from a family of twelve, so he has many cousins. I too come from such a culture and have a large extended family. Family networks start as trusted networks by default and of course some will degrade to different degrees. In the Middle East, as in China and other parts of Asia business is still conducted through such networks. It can move surprisingly quickly, as I have indicated earlier. Western world business practices, in the absence of such networks, have tried to substitute with formal legal mechanisms. While these mechanisms are a necessary evil when it comes to scaling up an enterprise, we should always be mindful that “trust will trump contract” any day.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

26th January – Return to Amman and then Homeward Bound

Today we leave Aqaba for a 4 hour drive back to Amman. Its also Australia Day ... so I bring out the patriotic thongs.
Aussie Day in Jordan

Driving through the Wealthy parts of Amman

Fruit Art... a fitting way to conclude our tour in Jordan

Jordan is 80% Desert and that is pretty much reflected in this drive. Its not until we get close to Amman that we start to see any real greenery. The 15 minute toilet stop turns into a 40 minute one as the toilets seem to be attached to large gift shops here. The girls walk out with some more Dead Sea product. On the way we see a few phosphate and potash mines but its still difficult to see how the economy can thrive with so little obvious industry. Amman dominates as the commercial centre, and perhaps banking and finance may benefit from the relative neutrality of Jordan compared to its neighbours. Riad takes us for a tour of the wealthy areas, which only emphasises the gap between the haves and the have nots.

On the bus Riad tells us a little about the changing customs in Jordan. Marriages are still often arranged, including his own, despite having worked and studied in Germany in his youth. He has also rejected a prospective wife of one of his seven sons. He has only one daughter …. They are expensive to marry off. Dowry expectations are in the several thousands of dollars (2 – 3 camels worth). Riad in his youth also worked on the reception at the Regency hotel in the early 1980s. He tells us about a terrible experience while working there. He befriended an American woman while at the hotel. After a few drinks as they were sitting outside the hotel, he gave her a light kiss. Before he knew it the police pulled up … he had been reported. Without any hearing he was thrown in gaol into a small cell with 40 common criminals for 3 days! Thankfully things have progressed quite a lot since then … but that was only 30 years ago!

We ended out tour today with a traditional Arabian meal in Amman. We liked the communal round serving dishes and the food of course. As I said earlier, we tend to prefer organised tours when we have some doubts about how easy it would be to travel independently. The Middle East for us fits this bill. Having been here now I think that it wouldn’t be as difficult as some of the lesser developed Asian countries. We all loved Riad, his sense of humour and his openness to all points of views. That said, when on an organised tour the tour leader does become “your eyes” into the culture of the country, rather than necessarily experiencing first hand. Its easy to see how many tourists could be ferried from one tourist site to the next without ever getting a real feel for a place. This is something I miss when compared to travelling independently. But there are pluses and minuses for both, with the big plus being time efficiency.

25th January – Aqaba the southern port city and a winter swim in the Red Sea

Its hard to believe that one night you could be freezing in the desert and a couple of hours later snorkelling with coral and tropical fish. Given that it is winter time now we didn’t expect to be doing as much swimming as we have. Gary, Geoff and I take the opportunity to do some snorkelling in the Red Sea when we arrive in Aqaba. Gary initially thought about staying with the girls and helping them with their shopping. He was quickly encouraged to do otherwise. Geoff suggests we update the waiting time predictor formula to introduce a reduction if the males actually go in the shop with the girls while they are shopping.

Anyway the snorkelling was fine … up there with some of our better snorkelling experiences, with interesting coral formations and a multitude of fish species. Aqaba is strategically placed between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia with only a few kilometres separating them. The joke is that you need to take your passport with you when you go for a swim, just in case you get lost and end up in the wrong country!

The girls follow the lonely planet advice and find the bead shop …. more tax free ‘savings’…..can’t believe how much we’ve saved this trip! Aqaba has a real ‘Gold Coast” feel to it. The coast line of probably only a few kilometres is all the beachfront that Jordan has. The water is 22-25 deg C all year round, so its popular as a winter break for northern Europeans as well as the Jordanians themselves. We walk along the beachfront to the fort that Lawrence of Arabia stormed from the Desert. It was closed for renovations.  We are pleased to see that the warmer temperatures brought out the gelato vendors … can’t believe its winter here … so barmy.
Red Sea Diving

Stormed by Lawrence of Arabia

Sunset at Aqaba

Side Bar  Shopping wait time predictor update

Wt = S*(N*T1/F)*ST - M

Where Wt = Predicted Wait Time
N = number of women in group
T = mean time for a single one woman visit
F = Fudge Factor for Group Trust
S = 1, if shop open; S = 0.5, if shop closed
ST = Shop Type Weighting; Jewellery/Clothes = 1.5; else 1.
M = 10 mins if Males go inside the shop with women; else 0 (10 mins = average time before told to leave)

24th January – The Desert and Wasi Rum and Lawrence of Arabia

Brilliant morning in the Desert….hard to take a bad photo today. Camels are out today and we are on the back of two jeeps. We stop at a number of scenic spots on the way back to the base camp. Wall art dating back to the first centuries AD
Gary tries to get a closer shot
are mixed with some more modern art like “Mohad was here, 2003”…in modern Arabic of course. We are surprised that the art is so accessible. Another memorable spot is where Lawrence of Arabia had set up his camp with the Bedouins.  It was wedged inside a canyon designed to be invisible from surveillance planes. Today it has a henna dyed cat and the compulsory souvenir shop. We buy some black bands for our head gear and olive oil soap.


Couple of 'locals'


Dersert Rats

Lawrence of Arabia camp
On to the base camp that is reputed to have solar heated hot water … a welcome luxury after a cold night in the desert camp. While we had that camp to ourselves, the base camp has a group of some 30 US students on a field trip. We walk out to see the sunset from a rocky vantage point and return to see a Bedouin 7 aside soccer match in progress on the dirt soccer field, along with a spectator crowd from the camp. We do our Aussie,Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi chant for our adopted side. Bedouins have great temperaments and the game was played in great spirit.

The evening we have surprise, surprise…a buffet!...but this time with meat cooked Hangi style under the ground (called a zarb)…..delicious. We are entertained by camp staff dancing. Noelene strikes up a conversation with the Tourist Policeman travelling with the US group. He and Riad are enjoying the “Hubbly Bubbly” water pipe …. Apparently it doesn’t count as smoking … we see them everywhere. Anyway it turns out the young tourist policeman (Jordan has a lot of these) has a university degree and is looking to do a Masters degree in Australia. When he hears that Noelene has an unmarried daughter about his age he is ready to propose marriage sight unseen. Noelene suggests he doesn’t know what he would be getting himself into…. We suggest three camels should do the trick….but perhaps we should ask Jo what she thinks first ...

Man in about it Jo?

Sidebar – I find a personal connection with Yolie and Larry

 In casual conversation I find out that Yolie managed the development of the NRMAs initial Expert system in the 1980s. Larry was also involved. I started the Expert Systems initiative in BHP in the mid 1980s so we would have attended the same Expert Systems conferences at UTS in Sydney. Our common connection was Professor Ross Quinlan, who was at UTS at the time and the convenor of those early conferences on Expert Systems. So from two people I had never met before it only took a few days to identify a common connection (without the help of Facebook or Linkedin!).

Social Network Update

We connect with "Lawrence of Arabia"

23rd January – Wadi Musa then off to the Desert and Wasi Rum

We spend the morning exploring Wadi Musa, the town built around the Petra tourism magnet. It’s a mix of rapid opportunistic expansion with an interesting centre that gives us some idea about how Jordanians in this area live day to day. The butcher meat is demonstrably fresh, with a Donkey heads being hung out to attract clientele
… if we had been in Sicily I would have expected horse heads… as apparently there is a market for these (Godfather J). Woolies the fresh food people might advertise their fresh barbecued chickens, but here you get to pick your chicken live before its barbecued on the rotisserie … beat that Woolies! We spring Riad at a local cafĂ© in Wadi Musa smoking the hubbly bubbly.
The girls have been giving him a hard time about his smoking and adding salt to his food….telling him he’s a walking heart attack candidate.

On the way to the desert we decide we need to be appropriately attired in Lawrence of Arabia gear so we stop at the top of the mountain at this huge tourist shop, with us as the only customers (low season). The owner gladly fits us out. His laugh was worth the visit on its own…have a look at this….

In the Itinerary there is a mention of a camel ride. Geoff was expecting something like he had done before, just a quick whip around the car park and then into the Limo for our ride to our Bedouin camp experience. Not so, we are to ride these camels for an hour to our camp. Geoff and camels don’t mix well. His first one bucked around until he they had to get a replacement. The replacement had to catch up with us and also complained fiercely when Geoff approached …. I suggested it might be his camel leather shoes…but anyway have a look at my sunglass videocam (ignore date stamp...its wrong).

We were hoping for a 5 star camp like we had in India, which had a slate floor ensuite bathroom and decked out in plush decorations and deck chairs….. not quite there… but it did have a tiled shared bathroom…so not so bad.

We did have a wonderful meal prepared on the open fire….it was freezing cold though so we were in bed by 8:30pm….

Saturday, January 25, 2014

22nd January – Petra

Today is a Petra day. We decided we wanted to see the whole site and not just the famed Treasury building. There is so much to see … we walked abuot 15klms and then went back for the night show. Its been a slow season for tourists even in Petra. Riad tells us that we are particularly lucky to get unseasonably warm weather (19deg max) and no rain in the middle of winter. Riad tells of a sad event when one of his fellow guides, a friend, was killed in a flash flood of the valley with 15 French tourists in the 1990s, so it can be very dangerous if it does rain here.

ok...the most photographed structure on the planet...but how's this for a selfie!

These carved structures are all over Petra ... we tend to only see pictures of the Treasury
The hawkers are desperate with some finely tuned pitches, apparently in multiple languages. Just some examples…

“Just 1 Dinar ….. make my day”
“You’re back, I’ve been waiting for you ….”  (was only one way in and out)
“Half way stop, half price….” (on way up to the Monastery…900 steps)
“A nice present for your wife?”….”no thanks” ; “A nice present for your mistress then?”
“We have happy hour now for you … special prices” (apparently doubled)
“Hello, Money” (a youngster obviously still learning the trade)
“Taxi…its air conditioned…” (Donkey ride spruiker)

We meet the son of Marguerite van Geldermalsen--a New Zealand-born nurse- who became the wife of Mohammad Abdallah Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller of the Manaja tribe, and lived with him and their children in a community of 100 families in the ancient caves here. She wrote a book called “Married to a Bedouin”. 
Following in his father's footsteps
He was educated in Sydney but came back to Jordan and this Petra market stall. He and his mother are living in the Bedouin village developed for them by the government when the government wanted them moved out of the Petra caves in the 1980s. He tells us the new apartments have all the mod cons, including wireless Internet. They are very close to the caves. His stall sells crafts and jewellery hand made from a factory they run with 16 girls working there. He differentiated himself with “up market” offerings “No Happy Hour”; prices are fixed. We can tell that the girls are impressed and we promise to come back after lunch. Riad shows us the cave that Marguerite and Mohammad occupied.
I think Marguerite's cave is the penthouse on the left
It was in  a prime position … that is if you like living in a cave … but we’ll have to read the book to find out about that.

After a nice picnic style lunch (no buffet…yeah…), Gary, Geoff and myself decide to tackle the 900 steps to the Monastery. The others don’t feel up to it, and we know they are heading back to the stall to peruse the jewellery in earnest. We get offered for the 3rd time a donkey ride to the top for 10 Dinahs. We decline, preferring  “shanks pony” we tell them. The walk is not too bad and the scenery on the way up is spectacular. Of course there are souvenir stalls all the way up on each bend. The donkey ride price drops to 5 Dinars (we later find that is exclusive of the expected tip). The Monastery is likewise stunning, only slightly less so than the better known Treasury. I decide to walk the extra 10 minutes to see the spectacular view of the adjoining valley when I see a sign pointing upward with “Best views here”. Once I start up I see two more signs pointing to different locations. I go for the site which has the sign “Better than Best views here…” . The views are of course stunning….but also of course there is a stall at the top, obviously owned by the inventive sign makers, but empty today

On the way to the Monastery

The Monastery

I had to follow this....

This is what I found....
I also saw this ... decided not to test the safety rail!
The girls predictably return to the Jewellery stall with Riad, Larry and Yolie.  We forgot to pass on our “Waiting time predictor” to Riad and Larry. Larry tells us later that in the end Yolie wasn’t as interested so they split off themselves and took a carriage ride back to the bus (about 2.5 klms). The Girls say that Riad was ‘Very Patient”…. I think I’m going to have to upgrade the formula to put a loading for Jewellery stores!”.

We somehow miss a rendezvous with the girls and Riad at the Treasury and walk back to the bus. The girls take the “free” horse ride with the 3 Dinah tip … but well worth while. Back to the hotel … the girls go for the Turkish massage … we settle for the pool and spa. We return to the Treasury for the “night show” of Bedouin music and sweet tea. It’s a big walk in and out again, guided by 1500 candles…which did a pretty poor job of lighting the path. I’m glad I brought the torch. The music was pleasant but it would have been a better experience if the Treasury could have been lit up just a little…to justify the walk in and out.

Can you see the treasury building in the background?

Side Bar 1 – Selling Networks

The stall holders, donkey and horse taxi riders we saw are typical of what you see in any country or areas where people are struggling to earn a decent living. We see this in a lot of Asian, Middle Eastern and South American countries and even in the suburbs of well-developed cities. Beyond the clever pitches I am always stunned by how effective the “hidden network” is when you express just the slightest interest in something. It happened to me first in Bali over 30 years ago. I expressed an interest in a carved fisherman… which was not that common. However everywhere I went the vendors would see me coming and rustle around in their stock to pull out the ‘Fisherman”…their intelligence network was absolutely stunning. I also recall visiting a computer market many years ago, intent on building my own PC from parts. I had my list of “best of breed” parts, which no single stall holder had. However one entrepreneurial stall holder quickly ran around to the other stalls and picked up my parts (no formal transactions…they would settle up after) and then built my custom PC on the spot for me!

When I think about how “big business” goes about its work with expensive customer relationship management systems (CRMs); formal partnerships and agencies; sophisticated analytics; expensive advertising campaigns; you would have to think that there is something to be learnt from these small business networks, built on trust; but highly effective. I would love to map one of these networks but I suspect that their power is in the invisibility of it all. Our guide Riad comes from a large family and seems to be greeted by people everywhere he goes. I joke that he has many cousins. Marguerite’s Son told us that he himself has over 80 cousins just on the Jordanian side … what a start great start to a network!

Side Bar 2 – Shopping wait time predictor update

Wt = S*(N*T1/F)*ST

Where Wt = Predicted Wait Time
N = number of women in group
T = mean time for a single one woman visit
F = Fudge Factor for Group Trust
S = 1, if shop open; S = 0.5, if shop closed
ST = Shop Type Weighting; Jewellery/Clothes = 1.5; else 1.

Social Network Update

Today's new connections

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

21st January – We head to Petra via Moses’ last stand; Famous Mosaic Map; Old Village and a Crusader Fort

Today we head south to Petra. On the way we visit Madaba, the supposed resting place for the prophet Moses after 120yrs of wandering up from Egypt. th Century.  As well as being artistic it was also informative for researchers, as it was drawn from the Roman’s street directory, which apparently was not all that extensive in those days and other maps of the time that were pieced together to for the mosaic.
Madaba... where Moses viewed the holy lands
While there have been some interesting mosaics uncovered, still no evidence of Moses! At Mt. Nebo we see an interesting map of the holy lands done as a Mosaic in the 6th Century.

We have a buffet lunch, which seems to be quite popular in Jordan as we’ve had one every day so far … and the food seems to be the same as well! As usually souvenir shops surround the restaurant. Riad has many cousins I suspect, so I expect we have a huge network of vendors mapping our every move J ….an occupational hazard when you go on an organised tour.  Julie identified some mosaic covered chairs that she liked. From experience I know it will be the most expensive item in the shop …. She has good but expensive taste. Chairs were only $20,000….but that was with free delivery! (We declined the offer).

After lunch it’s a long drive through the Desert to the small 400+ year old village of Dana up in the hills. Riad used ot come here in his youth. It is a village of stone huts, not unlike where he came from. We see a Camel with a frisky baby camel less than 2 weeks old. 

Have a look at this amusing video clip of the 2 week old camel. The views are spectacular. The village is being ‘renovated’ by hotels that see Dana as a potential mountain retreat. 

We leave Dana to visit a Crusader fort called Shobak Castle. The landscape is barren. The Castle is extensive but no Masata.  

Last stop is our Petra hotel and free Internet…yeah! Dinner is a buffet (what else!). Gearing up for a big day tomorrow.