Electronic Design

What's All This International Business Travel Stuff, Anyhow? (Part II)

As I was saying in my Aug. 4, 1997 column "What's All This International Business Travel Stuff, Anyhow?" I was about to do some international traveling and lecturing. I'd be traveling to South America and Asia, giving a version of the lecture that I had given in more than a dozen places here in the States. And, I wanted to bring an extra set of foils (overhead transparencies) with subtitles translated into the appropriate foreign languages.

The Subtleties of Subtitles? Nobody thought that making up the subtitles was a terribly bad idea. But nobody thought it was a terribly good idea either. Folks had never seen them done before.

Most people said, "If you just talk slowly, that will be OK, when you are talking about technical stuff." Of course, part of the problem is that I also talk about nontechnical stuff. But, often the foil on screen helps explain what I am talking about, with drawings, as well as words in the English language. And those words may or may not be helpful.

The final decision not to bring a set of subtitles was determined by the amount of help I would have needed to make up the subtitles. Also, there was the weight of the foils—the main set weighed over 5 lbs for 400 foils. Carrying two more sets in Spanish and in Portuguese would have overloaded my poor little briefcase. I just had better things to do, more important than making subtitles, and I ran out of time. So much for a good theory.

When I was lecturing in Brazil, I just told Rogerio, "If I talk too fast, take off your shoe and throw it at me, to remind me to slow down." But I guess I never did go too fast. I had a lot of fun in Brazil and Argentina. In retrospect, I feel badly that I never went out of my way to talk too fast, and force Rogerio to throw his shoe at me!

Gotta Think Fast! I put on some very good lectures in Argentina and Brazil. In Sao Paulo, we had well over 100 engineers at our big lecture. They all knew how to laugh in the right places! In Buenos Aires, the number of attendees was smaller because the university students had finals that week. It was not that we picked the wrong day; there was no day that week that would have been very good. But, the high quality of the audience made up for the moderate quantity. I got into a spirited conversation with one student who asked, "Mr. Pease, we students cannot breadboard everything. Yet, you tell us we should not trust Spice. What should we do, in reality?"

Good question! I paused and thought about it, and started to build my reply. "For your first or second round of study, there is no harm in using Spice. I prefer to use pencil and paper, but you can use Spice if you prefer. Then when you have a design that Spice says is OK, that would be a good time to build a breadboard, to confirm if and where Spice is telling you some truth. Suppose you have checked out the performance of the breadboard, and the Spice runs, to get reasonable results or acceptable agreement. Then, when you optimize the final schematic you may be able to easily modify your first breadboard to check out the final version. Does that sound reasonable?"

As we thought about this, I realized I had to tie up loose ends. I suggested, "What if you find a place where Spice does NOT tell the truth? You should document this, as a warning to other students and engineers. Write up a book of such discrepancies." Then I continued to expand these new solutions, "Make up that 'book' on a computer—maybe on intranet at your university—so all students can see it." He agreed this was a pretty good idea.

Maybe all students should keep such a book. Computers are getting pretty cheap these days for storing and disseminating information. That is NOT the same as saying that computers are cost-effective for circuit analysis. I learned a lot from these eager students.

Gotta Have FUN! In that Aug. 1997 column, I mentioned a very good travel book whose name I'd forgotten. The author, Frank Perkins, was kind enough to send me another copy: Travel Adventures on the Company's Nickel, ISBN 0-9648512-0-2. I'll recommend this as good reading, especially for people who travel a lot; it might give you some good ideas. If you mention that you read this in "Pease Porridge," you can order it for $12 from Oak Publishing, Dept. PP, 5225 Crane Rd., Melbourne, FL 32904.

After all, as I mentioned previously, there are times when you might plan to go home as soon as you have finished your overseas work. But if you take a day or two of well-deserved vacation before you come home, you'll be glad you did. I know a couple times I should have, and I regret not doing it. I'll be smarter next time. The cost-benefit ratio is too good not to. I mean, if I am finished with work on a Friday night, should I jump on the first plane home? Or should I spend the weekend in an amazing place, and get on a Sunday night flight? I know the answer to that.

Besides, sometimes staying an extra day or two can save your company a LOT of money on your flight. Ask your travel agent for advice and guidelines. I often stay over a Saturday night to save $300 or $500 or MORE. Air fares are so nonlinear these days!!

Make sure your tax and/or travel experts can tell you about traveling taxes. If you take N days of vacation after N+1 days of work, will you have to pay tax on that, because it's not a business trip? What is your company's policy? More importantly, what is the IRS' policy?

Lecture Time...After I returned home, I had to give a lecture at WESCON. My old friend Jack Leddy had asked me to lecture on a suitable topic about International Business for the IEEE. Of course, I talked about various items we have discussed previously, and much more. I showed them my best check-list for business travel, which is now posted on the web. Go to my web site at: http://www.national.com/rap and look for LISTS. Or you could go directly to: http://www.national.com/rap/List/0,1150,35,00.html.

At this lecture I gave out a BUSHEL of advice on international travel, such as:

Be sure to reconfirm your flight. If you do not call the airline after you arrive in a foreign country, they may pretend they have no space for you to return, because you forgot to tell them you would want to go home.

Be aware of different procedures for stowing your spare batteries, keys, metal, and penknife before you get to the X-ray inspection. In the U.S., putting them in your briefcase is usually OK. But for international travel, put your jack-knife and extra batteries in your checked baggage, otherwise, they may be confiscated. However, make sure you do have some good batteries in your camcorder or computer. Security guards often want you to demonstrate that they WORK.

Inquire about the customer and his problems or complaints before you leave, so you don't walk into a buzzsaw. Insist that you be warned if there are any problems that have been making this customer unhappy. Maybe you can't solve them before you leave, but at least you'll be aware of them.

Know how to reach colleagues in your home plant or office. Keep a good set of phone numbers, in case you have to call at an odd time to leave a message.

Know how to run your e-mail, modem, or voice-mail from overseas. Have at least two phone charge cards.

Also consider using a telex, a TWX (still in use in some parts of the world), or maybe a video-conference. You might even use the snail mail, international air mail, or an outfit such as DHL, FedEx, or UPS. Some of these are quite expensive, but they could STILL save you a lot of grief and money. In some cases, telephone calls make sense.

Plan how to communicate before you leave. Know what your customer's expectations are. Nothing annoys me more than a customer who DEMANDS that we send an engineer to his plant, even before he explains the problem. When we get there, it turns out the problem is something we could have solved better and quicker from home.

Be sure to get good advice on how to make phone calls at reasonable rates. When you are on the road, doing business long distance, you still have to be able to communicate. Maybe by modem. Maybe by telephone. You probably already know that hotels like to tack on surcharges of 50% to 200%. On a $30 phone call, that gets expensive really fast. The pay phone in the lobby is less likely to gouge you.

Eat, Drink, And... What else do you have to do, after you decide to travel? EAT, DRINK, and SURVIVE. (Not a trivial deal.) Find a place to stay. Ride and travel around. Negotiate. Communicate. Travel home. Communicate MORE. All the while, try to avoid making your hosts (or customers) unhappy. And, as I said before, LEARN.

What to drink? In my lecture, I mentioned that, when traveling overseas, you have to drink something, but be careful to not drink too much—unless it's pure water. Drink plenty of water on the plane. Keep well hydrated.

You should also bring iodine tablets or solution, so you can purify the local water. This can work much better than going thirsty, drinking the local water, or buying bottled water. The local water may be legally pure, but the local flora might not agree with your tummy. And, I wouldn't want to be alarmist, but some bottled water has been found to have enough bacteria to make your insides unhappy. Iodine can help avoid such problems.

Avoid ice cubes, unless you can make your own out of pure water. (But you can always brush your teeth using beer.) In Nepal, our hotel provided large urns of boiled water at each floor, so we could fill our canteens with safe water.

One time I went out for a walk with an engineer in a small South-American city. He offered me a treat—some sugar cane juice. The juice vendor fed the big pieces of raw (not TOO dusty) cane through a crusher. The juice ran out of the cane and all over the cane and down through the machine.

I thought about it. Would I dare to insult the customer by refusing to drink this sweet stuff? I decided to risk it, and sipped it down. Not bad. And, I never did get sick. But, if somebody offers you something from conditions that are slightly less than sanitary, you should have a good, polite excuse ready: "Oh, my tummy is feeling very wobbly today. Thanks, but, NO thank you."

What To Eat? While we were trekking in Nepal, we were very careful to eat only foods that were safe, on dishes that had been washed scrupulously clean and rinsed with chlorine water. But after the trip, I ate some of the local dhal-bhat (rice with lentils). Why not? The rice has been boiled and the lentils have been boiled; the only way you could get in trouble is if the dishes were not properly washed. But the lunch was very tasty, and I had no problems. Still, I preferred to drink my beer from the bottle, not from a glass.

I would never do this, and you shouldn't do it, either: Don't brag, "I like my chilis REAL hot!" You might discover that the local restaurants have chilis (or curries) hotter than anything you've ever met in your life! You sure would be embarrassed if you had to be hospitalized.

Remember, curries and chilis are measured, like earthquakes, on an open-ended scale. There is substantially no limit of how hot they may be. Or do you want to find out? Do YOU want to be a calibrator? Several people told me that this happened to one of their friends.

Where To Stay? Perhaps your company's local-office secretary or the customer's secretary can make reservations. Either way, be sure to keep good notes of your reservations and confirmation number. (Not to mention, car rental information.) On more than one occasion, I have moved from hotels that are too fancy and pricey, to digs that are less pretentious. Don't be too surprised if doing that makes you more comfortable—or puts you in a quieter neighborhood. The money saved is probably not as important.

Communicate At Home And Away...In my lecture, I expanded on the ways that even people who do NOT travel, have to be prepared to help and communicate with foreign customers. You never know who will be on the line when your phone rings—could be someone from Ghana, Germany, or Greece. Each business climate has its own customs. No matter if you're traveling or at home, you still have to be able to change gears quickly when that phone rings.

I recommend the great new book: Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Morrison, Conaway, and Borden. It covers many areas such as cultural overviews, behavior styles, negotiating techniques, protocol, and business practices in 60 countries.

This book reminds me about many aspects of travel that make a lot of sense, if you happen to think of them. Here are some examples: Don't assume that customs or words that work in one area, work in another. Don't assume that all Spanish is "Spanish." The phrases that work in Spain are often DIFFERENT in Mexico, and even more different in Argentina, even though they all speak "Spanish." If any book purports to teach you "Spanish," a fair question is, "Yes, but WHOSE Spanish?"

The English language also is quite amazing in its variations between the U.S. and England—not to mention Australia or Scotland. Gestures that are OK in one part of the world are often NOT OK in other places. So if you want to avoid insulting your hosts or customers, a book such as this one is very important.

The book also has sections on how to negotiate in each country. I don't have to tell YOU how to negotiate deals—YOU already know that—but the book reminds us that strategies that work in one country, may be counter-productive in other countries.

The book runs about $20; ISBN 1-55850-444-3, published by Bob Adams.

Other Books...Other travel books that are very useful are those the Lonely Planet series. These can help you travel gracefully in a large number of areas. Any good bookstore can get you the book you want, but in a case like this, I like to look up what is available from Amazon Books at http://www.amazon.com. It may be easier to tell if you want what they have, on the computer, compared to the trouble you would have at a bookstore.

Now, if you are a starving student, you might want to get most of your travel books from a library. But the first time you waste an hour (not to mention a day) going somewhere recommended by an out-of-date travel book, you'll have wasted more than the cost of a new book, several times over. Students would hate to admit that. But if you are traveling on business, there is no excuse for wasting a lot of time because you're using out-of-date information. (Of course, even the newest book becomes obsolete fairly quickly. You must inquire locally to confirm that what you plan to do is really feasible. There might be a road out, or a boat service that's changed.)

Which Bookstore? Recently I wanted to buy a book on motorcycle safety. I went to a good little book store and asked them to search for it. They could not find it. When I got back to my computer, I searched for it at Amazon Books, and it turned up in 10 seconds flat. So, I ordered it from Amazon.

I do like to do business with real, local book stores. But, if a REAL bookstore is bleating because it is losing business to bookstores on the Internet, it has no leg to stand on when it cannot search for a book properly.

More Lectures...The same week as my WESCON lecture, I was flying to Nepal for our trek. Should I give a lecture there, before I came home? Our international marketing people said it would be a waste of time, because nobody in Nepal is buying many semiconductors. Well, I thought, all the more reason to explain what linear ICs are about. Not to mention the explanations of, "How to tell when your (digital) computer is lying—and what to do about it."

So I asked some colleagues at Lotus Energy in Kathmandu (they make rechargeable solar-powered systems of all sizes) to get out the publicity, and I hired a hall. We got 80 people to show up. Some were engineers, some were professors at the university. About one-third of the audience were students. Some were technicians or other professionals who work around electronics.

We had a very pleasant evening, on Dec. 5, the day after I got back from my trek, at the Mountain Hotel in Kathmandu. I remembered to talk slowly. The moderator did not have to throw his shoe at me.

Why didn't I give a lecture in India? The international experts thought we would do our best business there by selling microprocessors, for which "only a few lines of software would be required." So they would obviously not need any advice on analog systems or circuits. They decided there would be no point in my giving any lectures in India. Sigh...

On The Way Home...To be sure, it's good if you can write your trip report while you are on the flight home (or, even better, on the drive back from the customer's location), before you forget the important details. Will a 100-MHz Pentium laptop computer be helpful? Maybe, if you can type at faster than 10 MHz. Personally, I prefer a small, laptop word processor such the Alphasmart Pro, which weighs barely 2 lb, and on which you can type for 60 hours or 128 kbytes, whichever comes first. I bought one for about $290. The only thing wrong with it is that my wife borrowed it, and she really likes it. She hates to give it back. To find out more about the Alphasmart, call the company at (408) 252-9400, or look up http://www.alphasmart.com.

What happened to my old Tandy Model 102? I found that its usable memory of 25 kbytes is just too small to be practical for more than a short weekend trip. So, it's basically retired.

Computer Problems...Make sure that your power-line cords can fit into the foreign adapters. Often, a wide prong will not fit in, and you'll have to grind it off with sandpaper or emery boards. Or a rock. Check that before you leave. (Adapters are available at Radio Shack and many travel stores.)

Make sure you have the correct adapters to run on 220 V. I almost bought a "universal" battery charger, until I read the fine print. It said that it only runs on 115 V! (My Sony battery charger will operate from 115 or 230 V, or anywhere in between.)

Jet Lag? Do you know how to beat jet lag? I like to just take a small nap, when I get tired (which would be the wrong time to go to bed for the night). Next, I need a GOOD LOUD alarm clock to wake me up from my nap. Then, I stay up to my ordinary bed-time, good and late. As a result, I wake up in the morning at a good time. This is like hitting a PLL with a big PULSE to force it into lock with a change of phase.

Travel Around...How are you going to get around? In some places you can rent a car, that you can drive. (Other places I would not want to.) As I mentioned a couple months ago, in Kathmandu, I hired a good car, with a good driver, for about $80 a day. Whereas a month earlier, I rented a car at JFK airport in N.Y., and even though I returned it where I got it, they soaked me $80. Of course, you could always rent a motorcycle... NO, I am NOT serious about that.

How Should I Pay? Know how to use your PLASTIC. I was not able to get cash out of money machines in Buenos Aires, but next year I bet I can get some at the airport. I used to have a four-digit password for my money card. Then, one day, my bank forced everybody to change to a five-digit number. But, in some overseas money machines, only four-digit passwords are accepted. When I complained to my bank about this, they permitted me to change back to a four-digit password. Many restaurants and businesses overseas now accept plastic, but not all. So check before you run up a big bill.

As one of my travel agents likes to point out, "Bring half as much clothing and twice as much money." But I was recently staying in a hotel that charged $11 to launder a shirt. Fortunately, I had enough shirts to last me to my next city, where laundry rates were much more reasonable. (In Kathmandu, the charge to launder a shirt was about $0.47.)

When You Have To GO! What's the difference between a hole in the floor, and a toilet? In some parts of the world, not much. To figure out how to attack this problem, consider Going Abroad—The Bathroom Survival Guide by Eva Newman. ISBN 0943-400929. About $13 from Magellan's, (800) 962-4943.

Highway Robbery? When somebody points out, "Sir, look, OH MY! There is mustard all over your coat!" what should you be thinking? You should be EXTREMELY careful because a gang of thieves is trying to distract you, and make off with your wallet or your camera. It's a well-known scheme. Somebody tried it on me, right across from the Sheraton in Buenos Aires.

They did NOT get my camera nor my camcorder nor my wallet. For more information, you might read Foiling Pickpockets and Bag Snatchers and other Travel-Related Crimes/Scams. Send a check for $3.95 to: Travel Companion Exchange, Pickpocket Reprint, Box 833, Amityville, NY 11701. I sent for this a few days ago, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I wonder if they will include the story of the old Yankee sea captain who kept fish-hooks in his pocket to discomfit pickpockets?

Strange Customs? I'm putting this at the end, but YOU shouldn't do that: Make sure you understand what U.S. Customs says, before you leave. Don't buy something that may be illegal or is liable to be confiscated when you return. I hope these ideas will help you survive any overseas trips—and prosper in your international business, too!

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
[email protected]—or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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