Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nora Ephron

Screenwriter Nora Ephron died two days ago. Her films included
  • Silkwood
  • When Harry met Sally
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Michael
  • You've got mail
  • Julie and Julia
"Nora was an era. We pictured ourselves inside her dreams and they became ours. All wisdom, wit and sparkle lights, what a treat she was, what a blessing. I marvel again and again, what a life... To have created simple happiness in people, to have added to the sum of delight in the world." , Meg Ryan. 

More tributes can be found here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Čilipi (Dubrovnik log 9)

Yesterday we went to the village of Čilipi which is about 20 minutes south of Dubrovnik (it's close to Cavtat and the airport). Every Sunday, since 1967, folklore dancing sessions are held in the village square, and these sessions act like a magnet, drawing tourists from all over the Dubrovnik area.

Those that wish can attend the mass held in the church of St Nicholas, which faces the town square, and those that don't can wander around and look at the many stalls offering traditional Croatian embroidery.

The mass lasts for just over an hour and the dancing begins promptly at 11:15am. It's a well oiled presentation with a few overly repetitive dances danced by seven couples, accompanied with a bunch of local musicians playing well known string instruments such as the guitar, mandolin and double bass along with Croatian variations (one musician told me that the strange guitar that he was playing was a traditional Croatian instrument whose name I now forget, which has five strings and is tuned differently to a guitar).

One dance was accompanied by the traditional Croatian Lord of the Dance playing a lijerica; ears accompanied to Western sounds and harmonies are likely to go mad after about fifteen minutes of this, but we were treated to only about five minutes.

The dancing lasts one hour, which seems to be long enough for both the audience and the dancers themselves; then everyone is bused back to their hotels.

After our now traditional rest (in order to avoid the extreme lunchtime heat), we prepared to go down to the old city for our farewell dinner. By a neat coincidence, yesterday was also our 31st wedding anniversary. We chose a restaurant just outside the Pile Gate which was doing a roaring trade; we were lucky to get a table for two by the water's edge. For a change, we decided to eat pizza, which might have been easy on the wallet but wasn't too easy on our stomachs. I can't remember when I last ate pizza and after not managing to finish my tuna pizza, I could understand why I haven't bothered in recent years to eat this dish.

For desert, we ordered a banana split; when my wife was powdering her nose, I asked the waiter to put in a candle on the desert in honour of our anniversary. A different waiter brought the dish and placed it on our table; after a moment he apologised and said that he had brought the wrong dish (there was no candle, to my disappointment); a minute later he returned with the same dish, this time adorned with a lit candle. My wife confessed that she had spoken to the maitre d' before we had entered the restaurant; I confessed that I had spoken to our waiter!

At the end of the meal, the waiter gave us a 10% discount, again in honour of our anniversary!

I am writing these words in Vienna airport, where the plane from Dubrovnik has deposited us. We now have to wait a few hours before a connecting flight takes us home to Ben Gurion airport. 

Here endeth the Dubrovnik holiday log.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Korčula (Dubrovnik log 8)

On Thursday, we went on a day trip which started off with a stop at the small town of Ston whose main claim to fame is being another old town with a stone wall. There was, in fact, a wall which enclosed Ston and a neighbouring village, Mali Ston; the wall itself goes over a hill and was originally about 5km in length but now only 3.5 km wall exists. On our first trip, our guide explained that Ston was one of the first defensive posts which guarded Dubrovnik. 

Ston itself is at the southern end of the Pelješac peninsula. This is like a finger of land which sticks out from the Croatian mainland. As I wrote earlier, the coastline north of Dubrovnik is interrupted by a short 20km stretch centred on the town of Neum which belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina; when Croatia enters the EU next year, passing the two border crossings will become more complicated than it is now. Thus plans exists to build a bridge from the Pelješac peninsula to the Croatian mainland north of Neum; such a bridge would be about 2.5km in length. Although preparations have been made, the project has stalled for lack of money.

The vegetation on the peninsula is lush, comprising mainly vineyards and olive trees. This is a wine making region, famed for its red wines. 

We drove about 65km from Ston, arriving just after the town of Orebic at the strait of Pelješac; we then disembarked from our tour bus and alighted onto a water taxi which took us across the strait and onto the island of Korčula. The island itself is composed of four towns of which the largest is also named Korčula; this is yet another walled town. Some people have called it a mini-Dubrovnik as it too has its walls, its churches and the same street plan consisting of criss-crossing alleyways most of which have many steps (the middle of the town is higher than the edges of the town).

Korčula is known as the birth place of Marco Polo so many of the souvenirs bear his name instead of the island's name. He was born while the island was under Venetian rule (as opposed to Dubrovnik, which was a major enemy to the Venetian monopoly of the Adriatic sea).  It is a very pretty little town; whilst still very hot, we were favoured with a stiff breeze which helped cool us down; the humidity was also lower. We had for lunch grilled fish (as usual); this time we had some Croatian fish whose name I didn't catch. The fish itself looked something like carp, although the head was bigger and the torso smaller. Whatever, it was delicious.

Korčula too is covered with vines but here the defining wine is white. 

After our free time in the town ended, we met by the jetty in order to take a water taxi back to the peninsula. After a short drive, we arrived at a winery which is open to the public ('we' actually comprised two groups of about 35 people.  Just as we arrived, a 50 seater tourist bus arrived, and another two buses arrived as we were leaving, so it was rather cramped inside the winery. We were given five different wines to taste (I don't drink wine and so declined but the others were all too pleased to knock back what they were given): a simple red (12% alcohol), a more complex red (14%), a sweet desert wine (15%), a cherry brandy (35%) and grappa (40%). Quite a few people bought bottles of wine at the small store - the prices were about 35% cheaper than those in Dubrovnik, not really surprising as buying at source cuts out the middle men.

From the winery it was a simple hour and a half drive back to Dubrovnik. Most of the people nodded off, although I am not sure whether this was due to the heat or the wine (or maybe both).

Yesterday (Saturday) we had a day off: we had no trip planned and simply stayed in our flat until about 5:30pm when we went down to the old city once again. Once again, we visited areas which we had not visited previously including the Buza Cafe which I had read about but the linked site claims is not that well known.

This is a cafe which one enters via a door set in the old city wall; steps lead down to a terrace which is situated outside of the wall on rocks which separate the wall from the sea. The cafe has a gorgeous view of Lokrum. We had seen the cafe twice: once from the boat ride which we took around Lokrum and once when we were on the city walls. We didn't stay in the cafe for we were looking for something to eat and the cafe only offered cold drinks.

There is no shortage of restaurants in Dubrovnik - indeed, I wonder how some of them survive as there are a few restaurants which appear empty. We ate in a terraced restaurant, eating filleted grilled fish. It surprises me slightly that filleted fish costs about 60% of whole grilled fish, yet one doesn't have to struggle with cutting the fish open and extracting all the bones. As far as I can see, this is a win-win situation. Presumably, the filleted fish is of lower quality than whole fish but I'm not complaining.

After dinner we bought some more chocolate, admired a trio (guitar/violin/flute) playing by the Pile Gate and took our regular number 8 bus back home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dubrovnik log 7

Today was spent entirely in the old city, albeit in two sessions. In the morning, we arrived as early as possible in order to beat the hordes arriving from the tour ships. The first thing which we did was find a parasol for my wife - but for this we had to wait until the shops opened, which was just before 9am. Once equipped, we then returned to the Pile Gate and took the steep staircase to the city walls.

It took us over two hours to walk around the city wall, including a sorely needed cup of tea at one point. At times, the walking was easy, and at times hard (mainly going up and down narrow staircases); at times, the path was wide, and at times narrow. At one point, I was behind a group with a French tour guide; whilst it was interesting to listen to her commentary (and understand most of it), she did cause the convoy to slow down and at one point we got totally stuck. An American woman behind me kept calling "Keep moving", as if they heard, understood and cared; her husband quite rightly asked "Where are they going to move to?", as the blockage occurred at an intersection (new people were coming up to the walls and the French group were letting them in).

After this marathon was finished, we rested for a while before collecting ourselves and finding a spot to eat lunch. We then dragged ourselves back to the Pile Gate and onto a bus to take us home.

In the evening we returned: our first port of call was the synagogue just off the Stadun, which is one of the oldest Sephardic synagogues in the world. We arrived just before closing time (8 pm) but the caretaker/ticket man kindly let us stay until we were finished. We then went in search of Dubrovnik chocolates; we had been told to try at the Dubrovnik House, a quaint shop off the beaten track selling individually made items, but this wasn't what we were looking for. I had found that the local prized chocolate was called Bajadera and was to be found in a shop called Kraš; we stumbled onto the modest shop which we had passed several times a day without noticing it. We tasted some bajadera but didn't like it; we did, however, buy some almond biscuits and two boxes of chocolates with cherry liqueur filling.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Elaphiti Island cruise (Dubrovnik log 6)

The Elaphiti islands consist of several islands to the north of Dubrovnik; one of the popular excursions is a cruise which visits three of these islands, in the following order
  • Koločep – It is the closest island to Dubrovnik, located 5 km from the Dubrovnik harbour at Gruž. It used to be an important shipbuilding site in the Republic of Ragusa period. It is one of the most indented and the southernmost permanently inhabited Croatian island with a population of 294 inhabitants. It has seven pre-Romanesque churches dating back to the times of the Croatian kings, from the 9th to the 11th century.
  • Šipan – The farthest and largest island in terms of area (15.8 km2) and population of 436 inhabitants. It also has two settlements, Šipanska Luka and Suđurađ, both served by Jadrolinija ferry lines.
  • Lopud – Second in size and best known for its sandy beaches, it is located between Šipan and Koločep islands. It's well developed in terms of tourism infrastructure, including the Lafodia hotel in the town of Lopud.
As opposed to our previous excursions, these cruises don't have a guide explaining anything about the islands which is a shame.  As such, today came across as a perfunctory cruise to one island, where we disembarked for half an hour, during which we ate an ice cream; a short cruise to the next island where we had lunch on the boat, followed by another forty minutes of desultory wandering around during baking heat; another short cruise to the final island where we had three hours to spend. I imagine that most people spent that time in the water; I sat in the shade and read books on my Kindle. Finally an hour of sailing back to Dubrovnik.

I wonder whether I would have found today more enjoyable had the temperature been somewhat lower than the incredible 35 degrees centigrade. I think that I would have been as bored as I was today, although of course a lower temperature would have allowed me the opportunity to wander around more.

One wonders on what the economy of these islands is based; conceivably it could be solely tourism - so what do the residents do during the months October - May?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking things easy (Dubrovnik log 5)

This morning we had a leisurely breakfast then sauntered down to the entrance to the old city in order to catch a bus to the village of Trsteno, which is where the arboretum is located. It turns

out that the bus to Trsteno leaves from the main bus station which is in Gruz, so first we had to take a bus there. Fortunately, the bus which we needed arrived a few minutes after we got to the station so we were on our way quickly. 

The bus stops on the main road, where there is a 500 year old oak tree with a huge circumference. The arboretum itself is located about 200 yards away down a gravel track. The entrance fee was only 35 kn (less than 5 euro), although of course one has to get there (bus fare there and back was another 32 kn). Supposedly this is one of the best arboretums in the world with a wide variety of plants from different climes, but my gardener wife wasn't too impressed.

Unfortunately we didn't have the same luck regarding a bus when returning - we had to wait close on an hour. If one is going there, it's worth checking the times of buses before entering the gardens so that one knows when to leave.

I had noticed on our way north that we passed very close to where we live, so on the return journey we were able to get off the bus near our lodgings instead of going to the main bus station and catching a bus back. 

One thing which no one seems to mention is that Dubrovnik is both hot and humid; after returning home from the arboretum, we closed the windows, turned on the air conditioner and chilled out for a few hours.

In the evening, we walked back to the old city - we counted about 300 steps from our doorway to the Pile Gate; Dubrovnik is not kind on the knees! We discovered that neither of us was hungry so we skipped dinner and compensated ourselves with a small cone of ice cream from Gossip on the Stadun. We came home on the number 8 bus which again went out to the main bus station before returning past our stop. We're learning the routes.

ERP beats Excel at CRM/2

I interrupt the blogs from the holiday channel to write a little more about ERP and CRM. When I started work on improving our implementation, I discovered that the ERP program was more sophisticated than I had appreciated; I also discovered that almost no one (including myself) had been using the program correctly.

What is one of the basic tenets of ERP? Every datum should be recorded only once. But due to lack of knowledge, people had been entering the same data time after time. I refer to data about contacts; an architect might be a contact person for twenty different customers - our users had created twenty different records for the same architect, all with slightly differing details.

I swiftly discovered that there are, in fact, two kinds of contact: internal contacts (a one to one relationship with a customer) and external contacts (a one to many relationship with customers). Although the contacts are maintained in the same database table, the way that they are linked to the customers is different. Almost no one knew this. 

So my first job - which took almost a week - was to find all these duplicate records and correct them. This was a very time consuming job, as not only had I to identify which would be the 'main' record for the architect (and ultimately, the only record), I also had to correct all the records (opportunities, price quotes, orders, projects, delivery notes) which used the duplicate records. When I understood the problems facing me, I wrote a few tools which would help me correct the data - these saved a great deal of time. But still I had to wade through reams of incorrect data.

After finishing the above, I then gave a training session to all involved about how to work in the new style. I also check all new contacts which are created on a daily basis.

The contact information is, of course, the great advantage of ERP over Excel; while Excel might be able to maintain the specific data of each contact, there is no way that Excel could know with which entities the contact person is involved.

Down to Montenegro (Dubrovnik log 4)

Our schedule is one day trip, one day local sights; Monday was trip day, and the designated trip was a run down the Adriatic coast to the neighbouring country of Montenegro. We met the tour bus in exactly the right place and to our surprise and joy had the same guide (Ivanka). After driving up and down Dubrovnik in order to pick up fellow travelers, we hit the south road towards Montenegro. First stop was the seaside town of Cavtat, which I had been considering visiting - although I don't think that we'll bother now - in order to pick up a few more travelers. This road passes the airport so it was interesting to compare what we saw when arriving a few days ago to what our more experienced eyes see now.

Although there is only a single border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro, there are in fact two border stations: one on the Croatian side, where they are very particular and stamp one's passport, and one of the Montenegrin side where they don't seem too bothered about who arrives. The coastal road was very attractive with mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Our guide tells us that the Boka bay is one of the top 25 bays in the world and I can well believe this. 

After driving around the coast and learning about Montenegro, we stopped at the town of Kotor which has an exquisite walled old city, which I am not surprised to learn is under UNESCO protection. We had a local guide who showed us part of the old city and then we had some free time to wander around by ourselves. The only problem with such free time is either that's it's not enough or it's too much. Here, it was not enough. Unfortunately, one gentleman in the tour misheard the time by which we had to be back on the bus and took for himself more free time than was allocated. As a result, we had to leave Kotor without him, and frantic phone calls enlisted a few guides to look for him (he was eventually found and placed in a taxi which would meet us at our next port of call).

After Kotor, we continued around the bay until we came to the resort town of Budva. This, we are told, is the centre of Montenegrin tourist trade and is known for its sandy beaches, diverse nightlife, and beautiful examples of Mediterranean architecture. One of the hotels was used as a location for the Daniel Craig version of the James Bond film "Casino Royale", which allows the hotel to raise its prices without offering any extra amenities. We had a lovely lunch (fillets of sea bass supposedly grilled, but I think that they were fried) but apart from that, I wasn't too thrilled about Budva.

Coming back was almost the same way as arriving, but instead of driving all the way around the bay, we took a ferry which travels across the bay at its narrowest point: five minutes of sea travel instead of forty minutes of driving. Then back on to the main road and up to Dubrovnik, passing the border crossings again and earning a further stamp.

I much preferred this trip to our previous trip to Mostar and can heartily recommend it to everyone. The scenery is breath-taking.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dubrovnik log 3

Yesterday was a 'stay at home' day. As it was Sunday, many places outside of the old city were shut or were open for only a few hours. As there was a huge ship 'parked' near the old city (3,500 passengers), this would have been an ideal day to travel to the botanical gardens, but I wasn't sure whether they were even open, and an irregular bus service there and back could have meant a totally wasted day.

Instead, we moseyed down to the old city using a different route which required no steps (thus easier on the knees) and as a result we entered the city via the Ploce gate. According to the headstone, this was built in 1908 which makes it almost modern (although it seems that only the headstone dates from this age; the gate was built in 1450).  I found a way to get down to the Stadun which required going down some steps but not too many. Once there, we had some ice cream then got out as the place was already full.

We retraced our steps to the Ploce gate and thence to the cable car whose station is nearby. We had to wait for a while as the station was already full of tourists, but after about ten minutes our chance came and we took the all too brief (3 minutes) ride to the station on a hill overlooking Dubrovnik (500 metres). The view was superb! As well as being able to see the same view that we have of the city from our window, we were also able to see for the first time other areas such as the Lapad peninsula.

I was able to see where our little house stands by using a nearby car-pack as a gross landmark and a building without the traditional red tile roof as a fine landmark. Looking out of our window now, I see that the above house has now been tiled in red, thus losing its function as a landmark. 

At first, the cable car station was crowded but after spending some time in the gift shop (and of course, spending some money), the place emptied out and we were able to spend some quality time there. We were first in the queue to return so I was able to claim the prize position in the cable car in order to film our descent.

Once back in the old city, we headed for the aquarium, which is near the harbour. On the way, we walked down a quiet alley which of course featured three or four restaurants. As this was very quiet, we decided to eat here and had a lovely sea bass. The aquarium was mildly interesting but also cool (thus giving respite from the heat); worthwhile at only 40 kuna entrance (a bit less than 5 euro) but not worth going out of one's way to find. 

After resting for a while on a bench in the harbour, we then set out for familiar ground: a supermarket by the Pile gate. We stocked up then made our way back to the flat. Unfortunately there was no bus, and as walking up a few hundred steps didn't appeal, we walked via the roads. This required us to walk back to the Ploce gate which in retrospect was a mistake as this was much further than I had thought. 

When we arrived back at the house, we were both physically worn out and weren't able to do very much after showering. I 'kindled'; having a wireless connection enabled me to connect the Kindle to the internet for the first time and register the device. I purchased (and downloaded within a minute) Dan Ariely's new book about honesty of which I read a little. Some of the material seems familiar. There will also be a new Peter Robinson book available in August but no word of a kindle edition.

I also discovered how to define and build collections. I started doing this on the Kindle but it was very hard going, so I wondered whether there was a PC program which could do this when connected - indeed there is. After downloading the program, I started assigning books to collections; eventually I hope that every book will be in a collection which will make locating books much easier. The only minor problem is that the program does not update the Kindle online; the results are passed back en bloc and then one has to reset the Kindle. This resulted in a few minutes of tension on my part before order was resumed, along with the newly defined collections.

Today we are going to Montenegro.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mostar (Dubrovnik log 2)

Yesterday evening we wandered back down to the old city; the cheap mobile phone which we had bought in the morning wasn't working. After about half an hour of testing, the people in the shop decided that I had a faulty SIM card; when they put in a new card (hence a new number), the phone started working. Later on in the evening, I accessed the phone's manual via the Internet and figured out how to change the display language from Croatian to English, a change which helped me set up the phone somewhat better than it was. It still doesn't ring very loud.....

After a very tasty Sea Bream in one of the many restaurants in the old city, we took an evening cruise around Lokrum, pleasant but not world beating. It was dark by the time we came back to the harbour and as we were both tired, we knew that it was time to come home. We had previously determined that we were not going to walk back from the old city to our lodgings; instead we took the number 8 bus which I had been assured would bring us home. First, though, the bus had to go due north to the new harbour of Gruz, where the cruise ships dock. This was, of course, somewhat disheartening as we were nowhere near where we needed to be. Fortunately, the bus turned around a roundabout and headed back to Dubrovnik. We were still completely lost until I suddenly recognised a landmark, just by our stop. The driver let us out right by our road.

This morning we went to Mostar on an organised trip. As I had feared, we had a slight misunderstanding regarding our pickup point - we were maybe 100 metres from where we should have been. This is why I bought the cheap mobile phone: I was able to call the tour company's office who then got in contact with the minibus - we were picked up a few minutes later.

The road to Mostar starts from the north of Dubrovnik - I recognised Gruz harbour in the daylight before we crossed the Franjo Tudman bridge. I think that one day we'll take the number 8 bus again to the harbour and spend some time there before coming back. From there, we went past the botanical gardens at Trsteno, another local place which looks like it will receive a longer visit from us.

Such are the vagaries of the Balkan agreements that we had to cross the border from Croatia to Bosnia and then back again from Bosnia to Croatia. In the middle was the only part of Bosnia which touches the Adriatic - the small town of Neum. Here we stopped for a tea and toilet break. Later we crossed the border again into Bosnia and Herzegovina; this crossing was more serious and took about fifteen minutes. From here we drove to Mostar, passing a little village whose name escapes me; this stop was totally unnecessary.

By the time we got to Mostar, at about noon, the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was about 35 degrees, which is hot! We had a local guide who showed us around the town which had been badly damaged in the civil war. The area both before and after the famous bridge comprises a market with a noticeable Turkish flavour. The lane was narrow, full of stores selling dubious souvenirs and very crowded. As it was also very hot, I was desperately seeking shade at every opportunity but rarely succeeding.

Although there was one diver on the bridge when we got there, I never saw him dive (no one was prepared to pay the required sum). After taking photographs of the bridge from every conceivable angle (and I think that the view from the Eastern side - the right hand side in the above picture - is better than from the Western side), the tour continued through more packed lanes until we came to what had probably been a mosque as the grounds were very clean and cool. 

We then had about two hours of free time; my wife had to perform her compulsory market shopping which was quite problematic regarding currency: the stall holders were as prepared to accept Euros and Bosnian marks (of which we had neither) as they were Croatian kuna (of which we had some but possibly not enough). A judiciously positioned ATM allowed me to withdraw sufficient Bosnian marks to satisfy her shopping needs.

Then we had lunch in a restaurant near the bridge - maybe not the cleanest or most salubrious of restaurants, but the food was good and cheap. I paid with what was almost the last of my Croatian money and then we returned to the meeting place. 

The journey back was a repeat of the outward journey, although this time there was no learned commentary by our guide. There was a stop at Neum but no one was very enthusiastic about it. I used the toilets again and bought a bottle of water for the same price as I had paid in our local minimarket in the morning. The drive continued in reverse past the border, past the bridge, past Gruz and into Dubrovnik. All too soon a familiar landmark appeared and we were off the bus.

Had the day been not so hot then I think that it would have been more enjoyable. The drive to Mostar was very interesting, seeing the agriculture and different geography - Dubrovnik is hilly, but past Neum there is a river which expands to a delta and there are many cultured fields there. I doubt that I will ever get my head around the politics of the Balkan area, which make my local conflict seem simple. Mostar itself was not so hot - or maybe too hot, depending on one's point of view.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hvala vam što ste mi pomoći (Dubrovnik log 1)

("Thank you for helping me" in Croatian)
Yesterday, as expected, was an exercise in patience. We left Israel at 6:30 am and arrived in Vienna at 9:30 (I think that's Israel time, 8:30 local time). We then had to wait until 12:50 for our connecting flight to Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, there was very little for us to do whilst waiting in the airport; I had a few euros left over from a previous trip which we spent on tea ("Hugh spends his last mark on coffee and cheese" - Peter Hammill, "German overalls"). Eventually our flight began boarding and after an hour we were in Dubrovnik.

We were met by a driver, as arranged, who whisked us off from the airport to the city, a drive of about 17 km. We stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere; it transpires that our flat is situated on a pedestrian only lane. We were met by our landlord, who took one of our suitcases down the steps to the house. Oh, I forgot to mention that the old city of Dubrovnik is both pedestrian and surrounded by hills; our flat is in those hills. 

Whilst the flat is not exactly what we expected, it was not far from our expectations and is, in fact, both compact and comfortable. Both our landlord and landlady were extremely helpful - he even went into town to purchase an electrical adapter so that our three pin plugs could connect to the electricity sockets (two pin plugs, for the mobile phone chargers and my CPAP machine connect without problem). 

By this time, we were beginning to feel very tired - it was also very hot - so while my wife unpacked, I dragged myself to what was described as the local supermarket (but what I would call a minimarket) in order to buy food for the flat. Some of my purchases were guesswork but everything seems to be ok (even the mexican styled tuna which we have just eaten for lunch).

After a simple dinner of chicken nuggets and broccoli, the landlady came in with the adapter, so I could start recharging the computer's battery. I then discovered that our internet connection is dependent on their ADSL router which was password protected - but they had gone out for the evening and we were too tired to bother. So no internet connection yet.

We went to bed early but I was disturbed a little during the night by what seemed to be gunfire (probably fire crackers) - I assume that Croatia beat Italy at football.

I woke up this morning  at 5:30am. This is, in fact, my normal waking time so I wasn't too perturbed. Not only that, but I wanted to wake early so that we could get into the old city of Dubrovnik before all the crowds from the tour ships. We weren't the first to arrive, but the old city was fairly empty when we walked through it. Most of the shops hadn't opened yet and the restaurants were starting on setting up their tables.

My wife is keen on markets so I had enquired previously about them; I had been told that there was a daily market held behind the Pile Gate, which we found quite quickly. Apart from fresh fruit and vegetables, the only other stalls (at this time) were selling dried fruits, jam, grappa and what seemed to be smelling salts. Later on, more stalls had been added which were selling handicrafts, but all in all it wasn't a very illustrious market, certainly not selling the kind of bric'n'brac which she embraces.

The picture on the right shows the harbour; boats leave from the jetty on the right. The Pile Gate would be at the top right hand corner of the picture but I think it's actually just outside the boundaries of the picture.

We continued walking around, found the harbour - we'll probably go on a round Dubrovnik trip this evening - then walked back to the Pile Gate. We went up to the Post Office in order to buy stamps and a Croatian SIM card for our spare mobile, then bought another cheap mobile with SIM (so that my wife can call me and I can call her, should we get separated). We bought some more supplies in a bigger supermarket which we saw near the market and then walked 'home'.

Big mistake. It was very hot and there were lots of steps to climb. Next time we shall take the bus!

Our landlady came in as we were unpacking from our trip; she helped us with the mobile phones and with the router password (hence the blog's title). We've just eaten and now we're going to rest for a few hours.

In the late afternoon, we'll return to the old city. Hopefully the crowds will have thinned by then, and of course it won't be so hot. We'll take the 50 minute cruise around the city then have a fish dinner in one of the many restaurants. Maybe we'll walk home or maybe we'll take the bus....

Incidentally, I discovered that someone had read yesterday's blog entry - I had a comment awaiting me, informing me of Dubrovnik tours. Thank you very much, but we've already booked all the tours that we want.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dubrovnik log (0)

I'm writing this in one of the departure lounges of Ben Gurion airport, awaiting a flight that will take me to Vienna, and from there a connecting flight to Dubrovnik. It's been go go go for the last few hours - waking up at 2am after maybe five hours sleep, packing the last items in our luggage, being driven to the airport, checking in, duty free shopping (very crowded) and breakfast in the VIP lounge. Now there's nothing left to do but wait another twenty minutes and then we start boarding.

At Vienna there is a three hour wait; the most important thing to do will be to find from where the connecting flight leaves.

When we arrive in Dubrovnik, there will be a driver waiting to take us to our flat (one indulgence which I allow us). There we are to meet the flat's owner, who will show us the facilities. I'll make a quick supermarket trip and try to figure out the lay of the land.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Post mortem on 'Strategic Planning' exam

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper
(T.S. Eliot, 'The Hollow Men')

Such were my feelings at the end of the exam, for this marks the unofficial end of my MBA studies (the official end will presumably be when I get the results for this exam, or even at the ceremony next year in Edinburgh). The entire affair was anti-climatic. It was hard to revise for the exam because there wasn't exactly a set of facts which had to be learnt; true, there was a format (with about fifteen items) to be memorised, and one had to remember the advantages and disadvantages of the process model, but that was about it. Like the final exam of my first degree, the subject matter was, in a sense, everything that we had been taught in the preceding courses. 

The exam consists of three questions: the first is a numerical exercise which requires a strategic evaluation (or recommendation); the second is a non-numerical real world case study which also requires a strategic evaluation, and the third is an essay question. Those with whom I spoke before the exam weren't too worried about the first question and only slightly worried about the second. Most of us were worried by the vagueness of the third question which could be about anything under the sun and phrased in inscrutable language which only hints at what is needed.

And so - the first question was, as usual, about the Acme company. Unlike most examples of this question which we have seen, this question had three current products as opposed to two current products and two in development. This made the question slightly easier although required more writing as all three products had to be covered. Two of the products have PLC (product life cycle) of maturity approaching slow death whereas one was in the growth phase. This means that all the strategic discussion was completely different for the third product. As a teaser, we also had to discuss the financial manager's suggestion that resources (work hours, marketing and development budgets) be shared equally between the three products. Obviously he was unaware of the different requirements due to different PLC stages. The question wasn't hard but it required an hour of concentrated writing.

We had been advised to start with question one, then continue to question three and finish with question two. So, dutifully, I read question three, which read something like this: The senior managers of the company were each specialists in their own field. Their CEO gathered them together for a meeting with a strategic analyst named Stanley. All the managers were dubious about the meeting but after two days with Stanley, their opinion changed completely and they were very happy to have taken part. What did Stanley tell them?

Assuming that one ignores facetious answers like the winning numbers in next week's lottery or that Stanley took the managers for a 48 hour orgy, one assumes that Stanley revealed the strategic planning/process model. Each manager has his own goals (most of which are short term) without being aware of the other managers' goals. Of course, some of the goals are diametrically opposed, especially those of the production manager and the sales manager. My answer noted the above, then gave examples of what those managers' goals might be. Then I explained about the process model (see, memorising the advantages and disadvantages paid off!), noting that the fourth advantage ('identifies areas of disagreement') was most pertinent. Looking at the material now, I slightly mangled the second disadvantage although I think that I explained it well enough. After a bit of expansion, I had filled one and a half pages, which might not be enough according to our lecturer, but contained the main points and showed understanding.

Then I turned to the second question. One of the practice questions which we had looked at was about HP and the factors which lead to the appointment of Ms Carla Fiorina; this question was also about HP and Ms Fiorina. At first I thought that it was the same question but it quickly became apparent that whereas the first question was about the start of Ms Fiorina, this question was about the end of her period. Basically, the question asked: was it fair for the Board of Directors to sack their CEO? Of course, there was a great deal of information which had to be analysed according to the model of strategic planning but a certain weight was placed on the student's recommendation (and of course, the reasoning behind said recommendation). I might well have presented the data in a rather more unstructured format than I should have, but I think that I was perfectly clear about my recommendation (I think that HP should have devolved into smaller companies, keeping Fiorina as CEO).

So how well did I do? From the grading guides which I have seen, it is very difficult to achieve an outstanding mark in this exam. It is also quite difficult to fail - as long as one uses the analysis format (which has been drummed into our heads) and one mentions the process method enough times. So it's clear that I passed although I have no idea what the final mark will be.

Results at the end of July.