The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Dinner break (Day 7 continued)

I walked across the Thames for dinner tonight—my first time out of the hotel in almost two days—and had a lovely risotto al fresco. On the way back I snapped a photo of the hotel where we've been imprisoned stayed for the past week:

For good measure I also took another gratuitous photo of Tower Bridge:

Because, really, you can't have too many photos of something that cool, right?

InterCultural Edge (London residency day 5 and then some)

It's 1:10 am London time, meaning I will enjoy no more than six hours of sleep tonight (including thirty minutes drooling on the breakfast table). Because I'm running on fumes, and therefore no longer playing with a full deck on the top floor, I have decided to post the assignment that kept me up so late.

(The essay that follows refers to the InterCultural Edge, an experimental tool for evaluating cross-cultural interactions out of Duke's business school. Otherwise I hope it stands on its own. Also, it's important to understand that the assignment was to post the essay in the program's community blog. I inferred from this a license to use a much less formal style than I would ever use in a business essay. I will report the accuracy of this inferrence sometime later.)

Imagine a crowded commuter train at the end of the working day. You’re tired, you’re on your way home, every seat is taken. You find a seat that has, instead of a person in it, a large, heavy, malodorous, aluminum-framed backpack. The kid across from this monstrosity grasps the situation after an uncomfortable moment and stuffs the backpack in the luggage rack overhead. All is well.

You open your newspaper, the train pulls out of the terminal, and you settle in for the hour-long journey home. Ah, good: your football team won, your shares have gone up, and—

—A large, heavy, malodorous, aluminum-framed backpack lands on your head.

On your head.

Heavy. Backpack.

It hurts. It knocks your glasses clear off, tears your newspaper in half, and for good measure falls bounces off four other people, just missing horrified kid who no doubt feels as shocked as you do but doesn’t have your torn newspaper, bent glasses, or bump on the head.

What do you do?

Before answering, some more context: You are going from Victoria Station to your house in West Sussex, a well-to-do semi-rural area of south-west of London. You are British. You were brought up a Certain Way. You don’t Do Certain Things. You have a Stiff Upper Lip. (You also have a Headache and Blurry Vision, but that’s Irrelevant Right Now.)

What you do, therefore, is this: you apologize to the shocked-but-suspiciously-uninjured American kid while he struggles, panicked, to put his backpack somewhere it won’t hurt anyone else.

Yes, you apologize, quietly and politely, to your assailant. For good measure, and despite your throbbing head, clearer vision (another traveler has unobtrusively returned your glasses to you), and anticipation of new challenges reading the Times, you help the kid wrangle the backpack to a different luggage rack, one that is actually wide enough to support it.

Many years later the kid grows up and, after taking the InterCultural Edge Survey, has a tool to describe what happened and why he found it so odd.

(You can stop imagining now.)

The above describes my first trip to the U.K., right after I finished college. I had heard about British stoicism and watched a lot of British TV in the U.S., but until then, I had never seen it in person. Watching my backpack fall on the guy horrified me; his reaction shocked me.

See, I grew up in Chicago and went to school in New York. In either city, had my backpack fallen on someone during rush hour, I could reasonably have expected being cursed out, sued, or beaten up, possibly with my own backpack. In New York the other commuters might even have held me down while he pummeled me. So why had this person apologized for having the temerity to sit under the thing while it fell on him?

ICE doesn’t explain the incident, but it does provide some vocabulary around it. The gentleman and everyone around him wanted to diffuse tension, avoid conflict, avoid disagreement, and avoid letting their feelings guide their behavior. In sum, they showed a preference for the “Reserved” communication style.

Of course, at the time, their reactions made no sense. I spent the four years immediately preceding the trip in a city not particularly associated with avoiding conflict or restraining feelings. New Yorkers typically tell you what they’re thinking, when they’re thinking it, and without caring if it starts a conflict, because to them, conflict means you’re “getting everything on the table;” they tend toward the “Expressive” communication style. Chicagoans, while more reserved than New Yorkers, stay firmly within the “Direct” style. (These are generalizations, of course. People in both cities range from Reserved to Direct to Expressive, sometimes in the space of a single day.)

In England, people seem to prefer the “Reserved” style. This comports with the popular understanding in the U.S. of British people generally, and of English people specifically. People on the Reserved end of things want to keep interpersonal interactions smooth and painless. Where a stereotypical American would argue with the statement “When I disagree with someone, I avoid direct conflict,” a stereotypical English person would nod politely. In the same vein, an English person might say, “I avoid clear-cut expressions of my feelings when I communicate with others,” while a New Yorker might counter, “When a heavy object lands on my head for no apparent reason, I swear like a sailor.”

I never found out what happened to that guy. I got off the train before he did, and he didn’t seem interested in getting my address or calling a lawyer. Possibly this is because he had a severe concussion, but none of the people around him chased me down the platform either. To this day I imagine him returning home with messed-up hair and bent glasses, answering his wife’s “What happened?!” with a quiet, “Oh, nothing, mustn’t grumble.”