Sunday 17 August 2014

LAOTNTOUR 2014 – El Salvador – 13th August

Last leg of the tour for me, sad but I am tired and have taken the opportunity to go diving on my way home, so am ready.

Again Gurcan selected an early flight to give us most of the day in San Salvador, not quite as early a start as the previous leg but still an 0440 pickup from the  airport. Glenn and I treated ourselves to McDonalds for breakfast, I had Bacon, Onion and Cheese (with egg) McMuffin which I had never seen elsewhere and it was lovely and I do have to say the coffee was awesome. It should have been our quickest flight but due to a technical issue on another aircraft it appeared that all of Avianca’s staff needed to go somewhere via El Salvador and we had to wait for them to board with all their luggage, all the things that frustrate me with other passengers.
Never mind we arrived at the airport about 90 minutes late and due to a communication issue we had to then find our way to the hotel on our own but not a big issue and we were there and checked in by 10am. We had arranged a private tour of local attractions - the Mayan Route for 1pm so we had a simple lunch overlooking the hotel pool.

I had another banking issue here, according to my xchange app they uses Colones in El Salvador at a boy 7 to the $, so I asked the ATM for 500, quite a shock when it gave me 50 $10 bills! Apparently they stopped using Colones many years ago albeit unofficially and stuck to the dollar!

Our tour guide Cesar, spoke brilliant English, and later told us he was 70, a testament to his naturalism lifestyle which he told us about throughout the day. He really was very knowledgeable. We started by driving through the city where he pointed out a few places including his favourite restaurants which Glenn and Gurcan later visited.

There are even more volcanoes in El Salvador and so we drove out to the archaeological sites of San Andrés and Joya de Cerén, also known as the Pompeii of America.


Gurcan and Tom debating the database
The conference was held at Universidad Centoramericana "José Simeón Cañas" which was a beautiful campus but a shock. Normally we are in very air conditioned buildings and actually cold, this campus was almost open with roofs and very little walls. There was a gentle breeze but it was hot and very humid and it got worse as the day went on. Then as dusk fell poor Tom Kyte had to raise his voice over what sounded like the entire El Salvadorian bird population, but he managed, the ultimate professional.

There was a mixture of Oracle professionals and students and I think organisers need to have specific tracks for students. They are so important but deep technical sessions are not appropriate for them at this stage in their learning and adapting the sessions for them is not fair on the professionals. A separate track would ensure both communities get the right content.

There was one company Unicomer with several people attending who are looking at their E Business Suite update and have the same questions every user does worldwide. They run shops across the Caribbean and Latin America and the decisions they make are key to that business. It was great to be able to talk at length to their technical lead.

The sponsors of the day took us for dinner in a small restaurant over looking the city, a great way to say goodbye to El Salvador and my LAOTN tour 2014.

LAOTNTOUR 2014 - Guatemala - 11th August

Next stop Guatemala, and did I mention the early starts! We actually flew from Mexico via El Salvador which would be my last stop on the tour. We said goodbye to Brendan in Mexico and it was odd to not have him with us.

Deiby Gomez is the president of GOUG and he met us at the airport and took us to our hotel. We said we wanted to see something of the city and asked for ideas. Not only did he suggest a drive out to Antigua the original capital of Guatemala but he insisted a member of his team take us. 

So after a quick freshen up we were collected by Carlos and his new bride Amy who gave us a wonderful afternoon.

The city is surrounded by volcanoes and I love them. I really would love to study geology perhaps when I finally retire. The city was so colourful, and full of local tourists.

We had a wonderful meal and wondered around for hours.  

The event was held at INTECAP and was well attended. Tom Kyte had joined us for this leg and El Salvador and Pablo was with us again to talk about OTN. I had been to Guatemala before but not had a chance to see anything so was really enjoying this visit.

I also gave my talk on consolidation, to a small audience at the end of the day (well I can't compete against Tom) but we had a good conversation about the benefits.

Plinio had also come to Guatemala and he and Gurcan thought the time had come to do an ACE jump for Yury. Some traditions just have to be upheld. I also need to mention the food! The college has a catering school and they did so well, at both breaks there were healthy looking burgers and the best chocolate cup cakes I have ever had, light and fluffy. Lunch was also awesome. 
Speaking of traditions I also when we were taken to a great dinner that night just had to taste the local rum, but it wasn't my first time, Carol Dacko gave me a bottle of this for my 50th birthday, I am a lucky lady.

Not too much though, up EARLY the next day for my final leg of the tour

I forgot to mention that we were searched for weapons before being allowed entry to the restaurant. Not a normal occurance! 
And finally photos from OTN Latin America 

LAOTNTOUR 2014 - Mexico City - 8th August

We arrived in Mexico City late in the evening and made our way to the hotel, unfortunately when they finally got around to speaking with me there appeared to be a problem with my booking. The logistics of the OTN tour are booked via Oracle travel where possible and I had given them the name of the hotel as agreed by the group, and they assured me they booked the ONLY Radisson in Mexico City. Apparently they didn't, and it took some time to get past the young girl on the desk who simply wanted me to travel an hour in a taxi on my own, and find a manager who could find me a room that night. Brendan and Gurcan had even offered to share a room so I could have a room but she wouldn't have it. Not a good start but I knew it would be a good stop as Francisco was joining the tour.

In fact we were also joined by Noel Portugal from the Oracle UX team who gave the keynote on wearables and then Pablo Ciccarello from OTN gave the community presentation. The event was held at UVM Campus Coyoacán and it was packed. The day was kicked off by Plinio Arbizu an ACE Director and leader of the Mexico User Group.  I loved the day I had users of E Business Suite, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards in my sessions. 

Actually the Oracle UX team have a development office in Mexico and Noel was joined by local Rafael Belloni and had other sessions so we defiantly got the UX message out in Mexico. Noel has since blogged about this

On the way to Latin America I read a blog by Albert Barron explaining cloud using Pizza as an analogy. If you read my blog regularly you know I love analogies and this really helped to explain what SaaS meant in my presentation 'Do Cloud Applications Add Up?' For the event Rene Antunez tried to get me a pizza to share with my audience but we were not allowed it in the university.

That evening Rene hosted us all at his home, I felt sorry for his wife with all these computer nerds descending and then we discovered it was her birthday. What a wonderful couple.

The next day we had planned to visit the pyramids and it seemed we didn't need to think too much about it as we had Francisco and just needed to turn up at the bus station at 0840. That was of course until 0835 arrived and no sign of Francisco or his son Thomas. Gurcan rang him and it seems his alarm didn't go off (had to explain the weekday concept doesn't apply to Saturdays) but they were soon downstairs and we hot footed it along the road. We soon realised the bus stop was further than he remembered and after a quick bribe to a taxi driver to take all 5 of us to the bus stop, we made it, much to the relief of Mark who was waiting there for us.

The first stop on the trip was the Basilica du Gudalupe a phenomenal cathedral that houses the national shrine. The shrine sits above the pulpit and whilst services go on, people travel along a moving walkway underneath to look up at the shrine. Really good crowd control without ruining the religious experience in the main cathedral.

Then it was off to the Piramides Teoihucan to see the pyramids of the Moon and the Sun.

 It was a lovely day and not too hot although most of us got a little sun, Brendan and I never see the sun in Ireland and Glenn keeps well covered up so we looked a great white bunch. I recently hurt my hip and promised my physio I wouldn't walk too much, do you think 257 steps up and back down again count? I am so glad I managed it and have to thank Glenn who helped me for at least 200 of those. Although I looked liked I needed CPR at the top!!

Afterwards we watched a fertility dance where men climbed what looked like an enormous may pole and then danced on top before jumping off with ropes. It was mesmerising and defiantly worth watching. Then we had to try tequila (well we were in Mexico) and then a great lunch. Once we got back to the city I then did on my own a 3hr city tour on an open top bus, they really are the best way to see a city when you are time poor.

Another stop over on the LAOTN tour 2014.

LAOTNTOUR 2014 - Costa Rica - 6th August

I have been to Costa Rica before and it was nice to arrive at a familiar hotel. We had a free morning so were very brave and walked into the city and created our own tour. It started with a little adventure, I went to the ATM to get some local currency and the second I keyed in the last digit of my pin my phone rang, it was my bank checking it was really me, but at the same time the ATM which was in a little booth would not let me out the door, it would not open. I was trapped. To get out I had to pass my ATM card under the door to my fellow travellers who swiped the door for it to open. What would I have done if they had not been there? I couldn’t really give my card to a stranger could I?

We had a local breakfast and then walked around the centre, looking at markets and shops and then we walked back to our hotel for a quiet lunch.

We knew the event was being held in the mountains and that it was a 2-3 hour drive. Our driver, who was from the university arrived but he didn’t speak much English and then we crawled as far as the airport as there were many accidents on the freeway, but then we met Carlos who is Oracle Columbia but had also presented in Panama, we had a translator. We knew the university was near San Carlos, and not too far from a  volcano and we were staying in a spa resort nearby. The next 2 ½ hours was us slowly climbing a very twisty mountain road, often above the clouds and the rain forest but with a beautiful sunset. We stopped for a few minutes in a picturesque village with a lovely church and some amazing if not bizarre topiary and then just after dark and the most amazing sunset above the cloud level we arrived at the hotel.

I know I was tired but sometimes we do such stupid things. The journey seemed to take for ever and at one stage I looked at my watch but couldn't see it in the dark. So I used the torch on my iphone to look at it. Gurcan never stopped laughing at me. I keep telling everyone I am not technical.

We had dinner and then went for a swim in the spa, not as hot as I was expecting or would have liked but it was a great way to relax. 

The event was held at Centro de Transferencia Tecnológica y Educación (CTEC), San Carlos, Alajuela, the most amazing university high in the mountains. It is a public university and it was explained that as Costa Rica has no army since they can spend money on health and education. 

We were joined in Costa Rica by my great friend Alex Gorbachev and it was great to catch up. 

In Costa Rica they have a tradition of allocating each speaker a dedicated student to ensure everything we need is provided. I was aware of this on my last trip but didn't realise how much it meant to the students. My volunteer Dayana Perez Sibaja explained that they had to write an essay on what they expected to get from the opportunity and their English professor selected the successful students. they had done a lot of research on each of us and I felt really touched.

Again I had the opportunity to talk to students but we also had professional people at the event and I got them to share how they use Oracle applications. One disappointment was that due to a personal emerency Ronald Vargas the usergroup leader was unable to join us. I really was looking forward to seeing him again.

We also got a tour of the university which has a phenominal tourism facility , eco tourism is so important to their economy and they do a lot of research as well as teach. I was particularly interested in the mint and citrus plant they have combined to make mohitos! They have an awesome butterfly enclosure and many alligators they manage.

After the event we found out we had travelled up via the tourist road and where promised that going back we could have a fast road. Unfortunately the weather was poor and we got stuck behind a coach and we didn't actually save any time. Mark Sewtz from the Oracle APEX team was with us in the coach and he looked after my go pro taking time lapsed photos of the journey home, something we should have done on the way up, which I really regret, but still next time......

We went back to our first hotel and then the following morning had the opportunity to do a coffee tour. It was so funny the guides were just natural comedians. We actually learnt a lot about engaging your audience which I am sure we can all use in our presentations as well as learning about coffee. 

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Costa Rica and move on to the next country on the tour. 

P.s. Branden reminded me of the earthquake at about 3am the last day, I did wake up but have to admit didn't consciously feel it, although it was 4.8 and close by.

LAOTNTOUR 2014 - Panama 4th August

Having arrived at Miami with 3 hours before my connecting flight I was hoping for a chance to grab some food, but I hadn't factored on the queueing, immigration, baggage, customs, check in and security, arriving at the gate with only 5 minutes to spare. although the flight didn't actually take off for another 2 hours due to an air traffic control technical issue, oh how I would have appreciated that information, but the few announcements there were, were all in Spanish.

This tour was well organised and there was a chance to see Panama the day before the conference but due to having great friends visiting at home I didn't fly in early enough. I did hope I might get the chance between sessions however it appears rain in Panama is worse than Belfast and I gave up on that idea as well.

The user group leader in Panama Edguardo Sanchez works for the Panama Canal Company as well as lecturing at Universidad Latina where the event was held.

All students have to do a Technology module and some of the delegates where business majors . I loved this, I talked to them about the need to be able to speak to technical people and vice versa. Some of the students had been there for 3 years and never even said had hallo. Today in IT, business pays the bills and those in IT who go far are the ones who can identify and articulate the business value. Equally business people need to appreciate what technology can do for them.

One of the students who is doing a business degree in tourism really got it and we had a good discussion about systems in that industry.

But let's go back a little. When I did arrive in Panama my travelling Colleagues made some comment about me giving the keynote and I thought they were joking, until someone else mentioned it in the morning and I realised I was. I had offered to talk about Communities and they had taken me up on the offer. Note to self, look at complete revised agendas in full. But I didn't mind I am very proud of being an ACE Director and was happy to do my bit. 

Apparently in Brazil, there was a video to go with the presentation that I starred in, I haven't seen it but Tom Kyte teased me about it. I don't mind.

The Panama Canal Company uses Oracle everywhere, from the database through to E Business Suite and I had a good conversation with their CIO around the way applications are going in Oracle.

Panama was a great start to the tour.

LAOTNTOUR 2014 - Latin America North Tour 2014

This was my third LAOTNTOUR, my first was in 2011 and then again in 2012. This year I have tried to pick a few countries that I have not visited before and 3 of the 5 are new to me.

Francisco Munoz is amazing, he has co-ordinated many user conferences in the same time period and then populated them with different ACE Directors each with a unique itinerary. Finally he has accepted help from Nelson Calero who I was honoured to meet in 2011 and been friends ever since.

My little bit was Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. Costa Rica and Guatemala being 2nd visits.

The journey to the region was via Miami and I hope this time I have completed the right channels, the first time I flew in via Miami but out via Madrid and it caused problems with immigration on a later visit to the US.

Thanks to Gurcan Orhan and his magic spreadsheet, I can tell you that my journey covered over 14K miles, 45 hours in the air, 11 flights, 8 different hotels (1 twice) and 12 presentations. you can listen to his even more impressive stats on this video he made with Bob Rhubhart OTN Arch Beat. I also need to thank Gurcan because he selected flights that left at rediculously early times on each leg but meant that we got to see a little bit of all the countries we visited. I hated him when my alarm went  off repeatedly at 3.30am but forgave him each time.

My fellow travellers provided company on the apparently endless journeys and made me laugh with their antics. Any of you who have taken part in one of these tours will know just how important that is. For most of my tour I was accompanied by Gurcan Orhan, Glenn Schwartzberg and Brendan Tierney all on their first OTN ACED tours, so I felt the responsibility!

The conferences gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts on Oracle applications and learn about how people use them around the world. I love to talk to exisiting users and future professionals and share just a little of my passion.

I can't thank Francisco, Nelson, the ACE Program at OTN (especially Vikki) and the individual user group leaders enough.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Community Responsibility

Henry Ford said,
" Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

UKOUG is all about community and it is that working together that brings success, and key to that is our volunteers, but everyone needs to play their part. Even if you can't volunteer for whatever reason you need to contribute to the community, we need to know what troubles you and how we can improve both Oracle and UKOUG.

One great way to do this is our annual survey which we just ran and over 450 members took the time to complete the survey and give us their opinions. It will take time to analyse the information but the response means it will be very representative.

The Partner of the Year awards voting is open now and if you have a company you as an end user want to vote for then please do, but vote because you know their work, either through being their customer or from learning from their people, don't just vote for a friend it is more important; these awards are decided by end users and need to keep that integrity.

Finally we have just opened the voting for some key roles in UKOUG, we need a President Elect, someone in training to take over from our current President when his term is over, and the roles within our Nominations Committee are key to ensuring we find, nurture and appoint the right volunteers, with the right skills and time to give UKOUG and to ensure those in office are delivering for UKOUG. So if you have a vote, please use it.