The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

They couldn't put us up at Motel 6?

I've had only one difficulty with the Duke CCMBA (aside from the material—talk to me Sunday night after I hand in my accounting final, for example): travel optimization. Our next residency starts October 30th in Dubai. Getting from Chicago to Dubai has inherent difficulties, particular with the (self-imposed) constraint of flying only oneworld carriers.

I initially tried to go through Amman, and take a couple of days after the residency to visit Jordan and Israel. That fell through when Royal Jordanian dropped the only flight from Chicago that made the trip work, forcing me either to connect through Detroit or New York either two or three days early.

Plan B. British Airways has the largest network after my home carrier, American, so the logical routing takes me through London. And to avoid 16 hours in coach, I decided to stay overnight there on my way back.

Only, it turns out I made a slight error in planning the return. As the CCMBA program office mentioned to me when I posted my travel arrangements, my flight plans have me leaving Dubai the day after the residency ends. But this shouldn't be a big deal. I'll just stay in Dubai one extra night, right?

Well, that would mean one extra night at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, not Motel 6. Imagine the shock and horror when I called them and discovered that would cost AED 1,740 (US$474).

Result? After paying a £100 ($144) change fee to the airline, and booking an additional £96 ($138) night at the little hotel in Kensington where I'll be staying, I'm going to have my extra post-residency night in London instead of Dubai, and save $200.

All of this is completely boring, of course, and doesn't really add anything to modern American literature or journalism. But it is my last gasp of work avoidance before diving into 8 hours of financial accounting and 2 hours of management essentials today.

Full of sound and fury signifying...what, exactly?

A number of confusing changes occurred to the world while I slept:

  • President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. I love the man; I voted for him; I gave lots of money[1] to two of his campaigns. I'm still confused. It might offend some of my fellow progressives to say, but possibly the prize means nothing more than "thank you for not being like the last guy, and keep up the good work." The President is, in fact, the second person who is not George W. Bush to win the Prize in the last four years.
  • For reasons which passeth all understanding[2], we crashed a rocket into the moon. We want to find out if the moon has enough water to make long-term habitation possible. Otherwise, we'll have to build a pipeline from the Great Lakes, which poses certain engineering challenges.
  • Both of these stories came to me during WBEZ-Chicago's pledge week, which started yesterday. Please, I beg all my readers in Chicago, please make a donation so they'll stop begging. The only glimmer of good news in the timing of the Fall pledge drive comes in the form of an exquisite torture perpetrated upon me and my 118 classmates by Fuqua. I won't be able to listen to much NPR this weekend because:
  • I have two final exams due this weekend, both take-home, one 90 minutes long and the other with 24 hours to complete. (The clock starts when we download the exams from the school's web portal.) The professor for exam #1 says it's relatively straightforward, everyone will pass, don't worry. The professor for exam #2, who served six years on the Financial Accounting Standards Board and who drafted important regulations of the accounting profession itself, says "someone who is reasonably prepared and who doesn't need to use notes should be able to complete it in 4 or 5 hours." So, a former FASB member who's taught accounting for 30 years will find it "challenging." One hundred eighteen people started crying. (One dude in our class is an accountant who got 117 out of 120 on the midterm.)
  • The U.S. dollar continues to slide slowly into uncomfortable depths. I got an alert while writing this entry that the Canadian dollar has risen against our currency from a low of 76c in March to 95c today. We're also slipping against the Euro and the Yen, but not, I'm happy to say, against Sterling or the Emirati Dirham, the two currencies I'm concerned about in the next few weeks.[3]
  • Finally, a dear friend from North Carolina sent a delightful finals-weekend care package to Parker and me, including doggie fortune cookies and human chocolate-chip cookies. And now Parker has the whole world in his paws (see below).

[1] Lots for me, anyway; NPR wouldn't have given me a mug for the amount I gave.

[2] Aaron Sorkin's favorite phrase, from Phillippans 4:7. Yes, athiests quote Bible verses sometimes.

[3] I'm concerned because I'm about to go to Dubai, via London, for school. The Dirham hasn't changed because it's pegged to the dollar...for now.

Another round-up post, full of links and signifying nothing

Duke will release our financial accounting exam on the 8th, and we'll have 24 hours from the time we download it to finish and hand it in. Our professor, when asked this morning for general guidance about the exam, seemed confident that someone who didn't need to look anything up (e.g., an accounting professor) could finish it in "four to five hours."

In other words, until October 8th, I will likely post link lists, like this one. Sorry.

  • The Economist's Gulliver blog highlighted the differences between Virgin America and the "legacy" carriers. Now, as a lifetime elite member of American Airlines' frequent-flyer program, I might be treated better than non-elite passengers. It still sounds like Virgin America might be on to something. (I'm still going to fly American, because I live in Chicago, which they dominate.)
  • Mark Morford outdoes himself this week tackling the problem of how to talk to a complete idiot. He explains: "The absolute best way to speak to complete idiots is, of course, not to speak to them at all. That is, you work around them, ignore them completely, disregard the rants and the spittle and the misspelled protest signs and the fervent prayers for apocalypse on Fox News. Complete refusal to take the fringe nutballs even the slightest bit seriously is the only way to make true progress."
  • The Cook County Sheriff this week broke up a dogfighting ring at a day care. The descriptions of the dogs they found turned my stomach. (The current story on the Tribune's website omits the descriptions.) That this went on in a building where 10 children spent their days added to the horror. People who inflict cruelty for sport deserve nothing less than the same inflicted on them, I think.

More later. Now, back to financial accounting....

Overconfidence in management

Continuing from Saturday, here are the actual values of the items in the post. How did you do? Did you get 9 of 10, indicating you have a good handle on your ability to estimate?

Fact Units Actual
GE total revenues (2003) $ bn $134 bn
Michael Eisner's salary (2003) $ $1m
Microsoft employees worldwide (2004) thousands 57k
Starbuck's stores worldwide (2004) stores 6228
McKinsey Group annual revenue per consultant (2001) $ $500k
United Auto Workers total membership, non retired (2004) thousands 710k
Blockbuster share of U.S. video rentals (2003) % 40%
Canadian citizens per donut shop (2001) people 9,000
Ameritrade total daily trades by members (2004) thousands 135k
Berkshire-Hathaway cumulative returns (1999-2004) % 26%

I really wanted to give them my money, too

My plan seemed so simple: Book my flights from Chicago to Dubai and, on the way back, spend a couple of days in Jordan and Israel, two countries I'm not likely to see for a long time. Royal Jordanian airlines, however, made this sufficiently difficult to encourage me to look elsewhere.

The parameters were simple:

  • Fly only Oneworld carriers, because this trip bumps me to the next elite level.
  • Arrive in Dubai in time for the October 31st start of classes having had enough rest to make it through the day without passing out.
  • Take a side-trip after the residency ends on November 8th.
  • Get home by November 11th, because I need to actually earn a living and pat my dog.

Last week, I called the Royal Jordanian reservation line, a New York phone number, with the simple request to book flights from Chicago to Dubai through Amman. The reservation agent—who happened to be in Amman—dutifully took my information, quoted the fare, and told me no problem, I'm leaving Chicago on October 28th, leaving Dubai on November 8th, and leaving Amman on November 11th. Perfect. And, because it's a 12-hour overnight trans-Atlantic flight, I booked that segment in discounted business class. He ended by telling me to expect an email with an attached form that I needed to fax to the local ticket office with my credit card information.

So far, so good. Except...why do I need to fax my credit card again?

OK, forget faxing, I had to go out to O'Hare anyway, so I stopped by the ticket office in person. This was just about 4pm on Friday. They were closed, with no hours or phone number posted anywhere. Back home, digging through the Royal Jordanian website also failed to produce their phone number or hours. Curious.

Flash forward to today. I still hadn't received a confirmation email from them (despite calling their reservations line again), nor did I have a phone number for the Chicago office, so I went out there. No traffic, got there in 20 minutes. Great. Talked to an actual person, in person. Great.

We discovered, in short order, a number of problems. First, there are no flights from the U.S. to Jordan on October 28th this year. My reservation had magically shifted forward to October 30th, arriving at 1am on November 1st. The previous flight from Chicago to Amman would leave on October 26th, giving me three extra days in either Amman or Dubai, right in the middle of the pre-reading period that is absolutely critical for the residency. Not to mention, if I want to take a day trip from Amman to, say, its neighbor to the west, I probably need to do that after visiting the United Arab Emirates.

Other options: Fly from Detroit or New York on the 29th, arriving in Dubai at 1:00am on the 31st. Or American to London, thence Amman and Dubai.

Then we got into some discussion about fares. If I'm showing up just a few hours before classes start, I'm flying business class, at least for the trans-Atlantic eastbound segment. The fares she found made me and the baby Jeebus both cry.

I went home to think about it. This thought process involved: an hour comparing fares on, British Airways, and (why not?) Emirates, which isn't a Oneworld carrier but does fly to Dubai, since they're based there.

I did consider going on Royal Jordanian through JFK, but then I thought about having to find a fax machine, send a copy of the credit card and my drivers license along with it, and then have to call my credit card company anyway because they always get twitchy when anything looks out-of-pattern. Bother.

After that exercise, it came down to: (a) booking a British Airways round-trip through; (b) realizing to my horror that the discount fare on the connection from Chicago had vanished while I was doing that; and finally (c) giving up and calling American directly.

In fifteen minutes, the American Airlines ticket agent had booked me through Boston to London on a deeply-discounted business fare, with a return non-stop from London back to Chicago, for about $2,000 less than the website suggested and $500 less than Royal Jordanian, all told.

So, I'll get to Dubai in reasonable shape before midnight on the 30th, and I'll get a night on the way back in the land of some of my ancestors. (This time I picked a hotel near the Earl's Court tube stop, because that one has elevators.)

And in the end (London residency day 12)

Three hours from the financial accounting mid-term, with images of balance sheets dancing in our heads, we're just about done with the first CCMBA residency. The last 12 days seem like 12 months. Many of us haven't left the hotel since Tuesday, except for dinner or a run near St. Katharine's Docks.

Six hours from now, we'll be done with the residency, and thinking about next week. Right now—back to the books.

Securely stupid (London residency day 11)

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: when you lock your computer to your hotel room desk, and you put the cable-lock key in your pocket, you have to remove the key from your pocket before sending the slacks down to the laundry.

This realization crept up on me over a very quiet 90-second period that started when I looked in my room safe for the key and didn't find it there.

I won't keep you in suspense: housekeeping found and returned the key this morning. This is good, because I had no idea how I was going to fit the desk in the overhead compartment on my flight home.

The results are in (London residency day 9, part 1)

We got our official team MBTI profile back this morning. It turns out, I was wrong on one person's Sensing-iNtuitive axis; we're really ESTJ ESTJ ESTJ ESTP ENTP INTP. The balance of Ps and Js is good; the unanimity of Ts is not; and we're acutely aware of the issues surrounding the 5:1 E:I ratio.

But that's all for tonight, when we work out our "team charter," the list of expectations and guidelines for how we'll work together from now until April, when Duke recomposes all the teams. Now, half of the class are taking a cruise up the Thames while the other half go on corporate tours. Photos to follow this evening.

The tide is high (London residency day 8)

We go in and out of classrooms all day, every day, and along the way have watched the Thames' noticable tides. We're just a couple days past the New Moon, meaning it's spring tide. Today the BBC weather centre predicted a 7-meter (22-foot) spread at London Bridge, just upriver from our hotel.

Here's low tide, around 10 this morning, from the hotel:

Now high tide, about 4 this afternoon:

Here are side-by-side comparisons of Butler's Wharf:

This happens because this far downriver the Thames is actually an estuary all the way to Teddington Lock, well past London.

One notices these things when one has a break in a 4-hour financial accounting class.