A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Joining SkySQL Ab, back in the startup business

I swear, my intention was to go for a break. A year taking pictures, sharing them over the web, writing texts, running, kayaking, just being social. Honestly, ask my family and friends!

But this was not to be, in spite of what I said when I announced my resignation just days ago. Instead, I am joining SkySQL Ab, the startup that aims to become a new centre for the MySQL universe. My role will span Marketing and Engineering, and is like the title "EVP Products" inspired by Zack Urlocker's role at MySQL AB.

I would have preferred the company to have been called KajSQL, but have come to terms with the company having an extra phonetic "s" in the beginning. Quite a while ago, having eaten my favourite fish "Börjes fisk" in my country house in Nagu, Finland, my now-former colleague Giuseppe Maxia jokingly even suggested a logotype for KajSQL, then labelled "The database for community lovers".

Why this change of minds? For five reasons:

Reason 1: The team. Behind SkySQL Ab is a set of top people: founders, executives, and experts who all were colleagues during MySQL AB times. Our Chairman is MySQL AB angel investor Ralf Wahlsten, who found MySQL AB's first Chairman, and defined the MySQL Core Values with MySQL AB founders Michael "Monty" Widenius and David Axmark. Monty and David are investors and stakeholders, but have no operational or management roles. Our CEO is Ulf Sandberg, formerly SVP Services at MySQL AB. The co-founders include Mick Carney, formerly European Field Sales Manager for MySQL at Sun Microsystems, Patrik Backman, who worked with me on the SAP partnership and continued as Director of Engineering, and Max Mether, who set up training at MySQL AB with me, and already prior to that at Polycon Ab. Early colleagues include MySQL AB time stars such as Boel Larsen in HR, as well as Dean Ellis and Alexander "Salle" Keremidarski in Support.

Reason 2: The timing. SkySQL Ab is happening now, not when I've got my pictures sorted out. I want to support the team, and keep colleagues together, who work well together. I would hate to see an exodus of talent from the MySQL ecosystem.

Reason 3: The role. I can be back, making a difference, making decisions again. It isn't as if I wouldn't have given it a try at Oracle. I promised myself to make an attempt at influencing Oracle from the inside, explaining what the MySQL Community is, how the MySQL ecosystem works, and how it can be adapted to Oracle. Sure, like Oracle, SkySQL strives for profit, but the Oracle focus on the bottom line seemed to me to overshadow everything else, perhaps not respecting Open Source and community dynamics to the degree I would consider adequate. As listening to a Vice President from Munich wasn't high on the list in Redwood Shores, I clearly prefer having real influence in a startup than a mere title but no influence at Oracle.

Reason 4: The credibility. Like I said in the previous reason, I tried to exert influence from inside Oracle but felt I failed. What I cannot live with is conveying information I don't fully believe in myself, lending my ten years of MySQL presence to give Oracle credibility I feel it may not deserve. At SkySQL, I expect to be able to stand behind my statements for a tad longer than what happened with the ones I made in April. Referring to my resignation blog entry, The Register hints at my statements during the April 2010 keynote at the O'Reilly MySQL Conference:
The loss of another MySQL veteran in Arnö on the back of other Sun exits will counter attempts by Oracle to try and reassure users that their open-source database's future is safe on the corporate mothership.

Last year [I do think this means April 2010; my own note] Arnö had tried to convince MySQLers that nothing would change for the worse under Oracle, that their database was safe, and that concerns over the database were unfounded.

Among the facts he highlighted was a "huge talent pool" of MySQL experts inside Oracle — a talent pool that's now one member smaller. He also said that Oracle planned to be proactive in its dealings with the community and would emphasize maturing the database.

Reason 5: The opportunity. MySQL as a database hasn't seen it's apex yet, and SkySQL can contribute to the well-being of the MySQL ecosystem. The initial SkySQL Ab team collectively has over one hundred years of experience working for MySQL AB. I think this team has an excellent chance of grabbing the opportunity to build a profitable, sustainable commercial business providing MySQL related offerings, while preserving open source values.

In summary, to do the right thing, I felt I didn't have much of a choice! I continue to feel responsibility for the MySQL ecosystem and I don't want to let anyone important down.

So yes, I'll still pursue my private goals. But on top of that, I plan to have lots of fun working at SkySQL Ab, and do my best to make the company a success comparable to MySQL AB!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Thank you, everyone behind MySQL AB!

For more than nine years, I worked for MySQL AB and its successors, Sun Microsystems and Oracle. I handed in my resignation late June, two days before Sun's German legal entity ceased to exist. Germany isn't a country where you quit HP one day and join Oracle the next, so I had a long summer with plenty of so-called Garden Leave. Last Thursday was my last day, and I'm now outside MySQL AB, outside Sun Microsystems, outside Oracle.

Like all the many former colleagues who resigned before me, I did so with mixed feelings. Leaving the colleagues, finding freedom, I think you follow. The topmost feeling I have, the one I want to highlight right now, is gratitude. I'm very grateful for what MySQL AB has meant for my career, my personal development, my life experiences, my social life. Let me mention a small subset of the people that made my life at MySQL AB, and later Sun Microsystems, a truly memorable and enjoyable one.

Back in early 2000, when MySQL AB founders Michael "Monty" Widenius and David Axmark were just beginning to see the traction for MySQL, I got a proposal from Ralf Wahlsten, an old friend of Monty's and mine: Since you've done training and consulting, and Monty hasn't, why don't you create a training program for MySQL? I'm sure Monty will help you and promote it. I followed the advice. So, in my company Polycon Ab where I was an entrepreneur for fourteen years, I started working with MySQL a good ten years ago. Ralf connected the dots! And extracted the MySQL Core Values from Monty and David, and found our first Chairman John Wattin, and became an Angel Investor in MySQL AB.

In February 2001, after a good half year of working with MySQL, it became obvious that I was experiencing something which was going to be big. My last doubts were removed when, at the outset of a boys' trip to Rio de Janeiro, I understood Mårten Mickos (whom I had known since the early 1980s and respected for his leadership and judgement) had signed on as CEO. I asked Monty (whom I had known since the late 1970s) whether he was interested in me selling out the MySQL training operations of Polycon and formally joining MySQL AB. He was. Monty was kind enough to have me, and welcomed me with open arms. And created MySQL the product and the MySQL community.

In May 2001, I formally joined MySQL AB, together with my Polycon colleagues Bertrand Matthelié, Max Mether, and Sylvia Arte, soon to be joined by Olivier Beutels. There was a good dozen of employees before us. My initial title was VP Training, and Mårten invited me to join the management team, together with Monty, David and others. In the years to come, I was to get a number of other roles, VP Consulting, VP Services, VP Engineering and CIO, before becoming VP Community Relations in 2005. Mårten gave me all these opportunities, trusted me, and supported me as his reportee until he left Sun. And made MySQL AB into a company, grew it from a dozen people to 500 people, created a success story, and was a role model for how to do business with Open Source.

During the many years until the Sun acquisition, I had the privilege to work with some members of the MySQL AB Board of Directors. I learned a lot from you. John Wattin, our first Chairman, successfully guided us through financing rounds and growth pain. I fondly remember John referring to me as a "fireman", given that I swapped roles so many times through the ride. I also had the pleasure to work with Fredrik Oweson of Scope Capital, Kevin Harvey of Benchmark (our second and final Chairman), Danny Rimer of Index Ventures, Bernard Liautaud (then of Business Objects), and Tim O'Reilly. Later on, at Sun, the board connections were replaced by contacts with Sun executives, where I most of all appreciated working with David DouglasRich Green and Alain Andreoli, and where all of us MySQLers got some unforgettable help from Rich Lang and Julie Ross.

MySQL AB opened the doors for learning to know many brilliant minds. Co-chairing a GPLv3 Committee with HP senior counsel Scott K. Peterson, I experienced Software Freedom Law Center's Eben Moglen first-hand. Through a combination of intelligence and diplomacy, he tamed a conference-call-ful of the seniormost US corporate counsels, who all bought into Eben's plans for the next generation of free software licenses. In 2005, I supported Florian Müller's successful efforts to (at least for a while) save the EU from the software patents. I think Eben, Florian and I all agree swpats are obsolete legal tools, used to protect incumbent players against having to innovate. Sadly, Eben and Florian have since had some disagreements. Speaking of brilliant minds, the SAP negotiations in 2002 and 2003, and MySQL AB's subsequent relationship with SAP AG, introduced us to people like Shai Agassi and Rudi Munz. Other memorable events was introducing MySQL Conference guest speakers, such as Guy Kawasaki and Mark Shuttleworth. I left the stage for Mark and his Ubuntu presentation on a MySQL conference by cheering him with "Поехали!" (Poyechale, Off we go!), a retired cosmonaut as he is.

Perhaps most rewarding was learning to know and appreciate the colleagues from nearly 30 countries. Yuri Gagarin's exclamation when he left into space was something I learned to know from Alexander Barkov and other Russian and Ukrainian colleagues, whom I've had the pleasure to work with since 2002. I learned so much about sales and customer relations from Larry Stefonic, Kerry Ancheta, Joe Pen, Mark Rubin, Mark Burton, Mick Carney, Magnus Stenberg, Richard Mason, Philip Antoniades and Ivan Zoratti. I learned about Services and Support from Ulf Sandberg, Dean Ellis, Tom Basil, Alexander "Salle" Keremidarski, and Sinisa Milivojevic. I had the privilege to work with top engineers like Serg Golubchik, Kostja Osipov, Jan Kneschke, Igor Babaev, Georg Richter, Georgi "Joro" Kodinov, Heikki Tuuri, Kent Boortz and Brian Aker. I enjoyed working with my Community Team members, such as Lenz Grimmer, Jay Pipes, Duleepa Dups Wijayawardhana, and Colin Charles, and with management team colleagues, such as Zack Urlocker, Dennis Wolf, Clint Smith, Jeff Wiss, Tomas Ulin, Hans von Bell, Maurizio Gianola, Jeffrey Pugh, and Boel Larsen. And my sanity was saved through being excellently supported by some of my longest-time reportees, Patrik Backman and Giuseppe Maxia. And now having gone out on a limb by mentioning names and thereby most certainly having omitted at least a dozen people absolutely worth mentioning, I would like to thankfully highlight Edwin Desouza for labeling me as diplomatic, although this blog post is bound to fail on that account.

What next? As I resigned from having worked for and with MySQL for nearly ten years, I decided to give myself some time to spend on matters not directly related to IT. First, I enjoy expressing myself in writing, mostly in Swedish, German, and English. Second, I appreciate the beautiful things in life, and for me, aesthetics go hand in hand with photography. Third, I think there are opportunities to combine these into some experiments in the social web. Let's see how long the break will take, before I return to more conventional duties, such as developing a startup, evangelising technology or devoting myself to Venture Capital.

What I want to do today, though, is simply to express my gratitude. Thank you, everyone behind MySQL AB!

Friday, 23 April 2010

An English language timeline of my volcanic adventure

From Sunday 11.4.2010 to Thursday 22.4.2010, I used my Twitter account @kajarno to send

  • 26 Swedish tweets

  • 41 German tweets

  • 69 English tweets

(not counting direct replies) of which a clear majority (but not all) were of a volcanic nature.

Most Swedish readers can follow German and English too, and most German readers also follow English. Hence the large number of English tweets and the larger number of German tweets.

Here's a subset of the English tweets. The dates and times are local (California 9 h different from Munich; Chicago 7 h different).

Thursday 15.4.2010

  • 13:12 Kaj Arnö wonders whether LH459 will leave at all MUC-SFO tonight 21:00, and if so, which route #iceland #volcao #ash

  • 20:18 Damn, flight was cancelled. #lh #iceland #volcano SFO-MUC LH459

  • 21:06 Even though it isn't a #Lufthansa owned #volcano they provided me with a free hotel. Danke! :) #Island

Friday 16.4.2010

  • 07:56 John Cleese took the taxi from Oslo to Brussels. I doubt taxi is an option from San Francisco to Munich. Stranded in Oslo, Cleese takes taxi to Brussels

  • 14:56 Whoever put the soap in the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, don't add it to Katla #ashtag - http://is.gd/bw7fz great funny 2min video

Saturday 17.4.2010

  • 7:34 If many MySQLers meet, disruption happens. 2008: Sun buys MySQL. 2009: ORCL buys Sun. 2010: Eyjafjall erupts #ashtag #mysqlconf (via JWiss)

  • 10:51 Kaj Arnö wonders if a competent lawyer could send a cease and desist letter to @Eyjafjall #ashtag

  • 11:15 Under Icelandic influence, Europe has turned to the most xenophobic continent of them all #ashtag @Eyjafjall

  • 15:42 No LH459 SFO-MUC tonight either. Later meeting with fellow stranded MySQLers for dinner in Redwood Shores. #ashtag #mysqlconf

Sunday 18.4.2010

  • 10:48 Sorry Twitter followers and FB friends for erupting so many msgs but being stuck on the wrong continent is no fun #ashtag #getmehome

  • 11:38 Kaj Arnö just extended his involuntary stay at Sofitel until Wed, like his fellow LH passengers (good hotel, wrong continent) #ashtag #getmehome #SFO

  • 11:41 Kaj Arnö sees that today's LH459 is cancelled, too -- tomorrow (for which I was rescheduled) is still on schedule, though #getmehome #ashtag #SFO

  • 13:25 Lava all, nerve all? RT @Eyjafjalla: To my 1125 followers: I lava you all! #ashtag

  • 14:40 Progress rpt: Now @Lufthansa_DE follows me and @Eyjafjalla laughs at my jokes. If only I could connect the two. #ashtag #getmehome

Monday 19.4.2010

  • 00:42 Sun's travel agency found me a flight Monday morning 9:40-15:45 SFO-ORD (=Chicago) +16:40-07:40+1 ORD-MAD. If it flies. I'll try Madrid!

  • 00:44 Issues: Little time in Chicago. And perhaps ORD-MAD will be cancelled. But worth a try!

  • 06:25 *If* I get home to Europe over Madrid, here are my trains: 16-18:38 M-Barcelona 19:38-5:45 B-Geneve 6:14-8:56 G-Zürich 9:16-13:28 Z-München

  • 17:33 Boarded! Madrid, here we come! And there I will stay, my wife predicted. Trains and buses told to be full until Monday. #ashtag #getmehome

  • 17:57 Iberia Airbus A340/600 is moving, due East! Bueno, señorita stewardess, I'll turn off the phone. To be continued. #ashtag

Tuesday 20.4.201

  • 08:18 Kaj Arnö greets Europe and thinks about his fellow European #mysqlconf attendees still captured in the US #ashtag

  • 12:32 There's an ocean of difference between waiting in Madrid and waiting in the US. #relief #ashtag

  • 12:53 Done: SFO-ORD 2956 km. Done: ORD-MAD 6763 km. Todo: MAD-MUC 1481 km. That's a mere 13% or < 1/7 #ashtag http://is.gd/bAuXU

  • 19:24 Kaj Arnö is on his 8th day of handluggage only business travel and still finds a spare pair of unused socks #happy #frugal #greedy #ashtag

Wednesday 21.4.2010

  • 08:27 Kaj Arnö will make an attempt at the MAD airport to go to MUC #ashtag 8:55-11:20 IB3534 http://bit.ly/b9Wv4a

  • 09:22 Sign of air travel normalisation: frustration over MAD "security" process temporarily won over joy of returning home #ashtag

  • 09:37 A jetful of passengers are still queuing for boarding. Hope or desperation? 8:55 IB3534 Madrid-München #ashtag

  • 11:43 Landed in Munich! Although I am now a released Eyjafjalla hostage, most #mysqlconf Europeans still aren't. #hashtag

Thursday 22.4.2010

  • 08:46 Fun science! RT @stewartsmith: Best giggle for today: #boobquake - also, a world of awesome.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Twelve conclusions by a released volcano hostage

Five days of uncertainty, trapped far away from home by an Icelandic volcano, provide plenty of time to think. Here is my attempt at drawing conclusions the day after returning home: partly on a personal level, partly on a general human level, partly on a societal level.

To recap what has happened: Ten minutes before the intended boarding time of LH459 from San Francisco home to Munich, I got an SMS about the flight being cancelled. This was Thursday 15.4.2010 at 20:20. Thereafter I lived in uncertainty in airport hotels, most of the time 40 km south of San Francisco, to finally arrive home five days later than plan on Wednesday 21.4.2010 at 13:00..

Personal conclusion

Conclusion 1: Uncertainty and losing freedom are hard to cope with. In retrospect, I never was in any real trouble. No physical suffering, no bodily harm, hardly any material loss. Still, the experience was amongst the strongest ones in my life. If that's the case, what do I really have to complain about? Losing freedom for an indefinite period of time. Unmet expectations.

Conclusion 2: Europe is my home continent. Emotionally, it was terrible to be stuck on the wrong continent, 9474 km away from home (SFO to MUC). Last time Eyjafjalla erupted (1821-23), it took one and a half years, and knowing this instilled a feeling of potentially being a hostage for countless weeks, away from family and friends. How could anyone know for how long intercontinental air traffic would remain closed? Sure, the relief when returning home was enormous, but the real euphoria happened when I saw Europe again in Madrid. I was rescued! Sure, I was still 1481 km from home, but that distance I can make by train, bus, car or even bike. Fellow sufferers amongst MySQLers have shared my feeling that although it's fantastic to be home, the real pressure was off already upon "merely" returning to Europe.

Conclusion 3: Humour is a strong weapon. From the start, we who got stuck kept a good mood through joking. Some of the humour was black enough not to merit being captured in print. "Send cash not ash" was the first successful joke on the web, but the self-made jokes provided more solace. Most jokes were somehow language dependent and I shared them with the two biggest language groups amongst the stranded colleagues and friends: the Swedish speakers and the German speakers. Language jokes seldom translate but the illustration on the right is 1:1 transferrable between Swedish and German. The word for "surprised" in both languages is literally translatable to "overrashed", so leaving out one "r" means we were "overashed". One particularly fun web link is to the three-minute Icelandic terrorist video, where Icelanders keen on keeping their Icesave money threaten to put soap into Eyjafjalla's big sister Katla, so we won't have a summer for years (a Katla eruption in 1783 caused hunger and poverty across Europe, believed by some to have been a key trigger for the French revolution six years later).

Conclusion 4: Language creates closeness and strengthens a sense of kinship. This one may be impossible for monolinguals to understand, though. Basically, sharing raw information about my situation would have been technically doable in English, making Twitter and Facebook texts understandable for (nearly) all. Yet, the whole point with the social media communication for me was to shorten the emotional distance and increase the mental well-being of those at home, of fellow sufferers and of myself. For this to happen, there needs to be a en emotional closeness to the language itself. I need to communicate in the same language as I would use in person. Hence, I used mostly Swedish and quite a bit of German, with English only as a third choice. It wouldn't have felt right to use English only.

General conclusions

Conclusion 5: Humans are social creatures, and social media give true consolation in times of hardship. Facebook and Twitter became lifelines for us volcano hostages. I got more Facebook events than ever. On my way from Chicago to Madrid I had 51 events, and from Madrid to Munich 48 events. It felt great for me to know that someone cared. And to judge from the content of the comments, people really did care: "I hardly get time to work - having to follow the exciting serial story about 'will-Kaj-get-home-or-not-and-when-and-where-and-how". Reply: "That's how I feel, too! Is this Reality Entertainment? (Sorry Kaj - perhaps not from your perspective...)" whereas a third fellow hostage pointed out that "this is a bad reality show, as no matter how hard I try, nobody votes me home...".

Conclusion 6: Individual characteristics, good and bad, are underlined by the exceptional situation. Stoic peace could be seen amongst those who stay calm under normal circumstances. Systematic work and concentration amongst those not easily distracted. That I found consolation in humour, in writing and communicating with others was no coincidence. Sadly, I regressed into an old bad habit of being too keen on following superficial web news, instead of just carrying on as if nothing had erupted.

Conclusion 7: The possibility and ability to make the best of a bad situation varies according to attitude, character and luck. Myself, I had set my mind to returning home quickly. I have visited to California quite often and (picky as I am) have problems in the US to find food I enjoy, particularly for breakfast. I dislike driving cars; lazy as I am, I prefer public transport. I was in no mood to spend time somehow getting the 40 km to the city centre of San Francisco, which I have visited many times. For others stuck, the situation was quite the opposite, and they were happy that San Francisco was the place fate had chosen, if they had to get stuck. For me, the good part was that I had my running gear, books and notes, as well as car-borne colleagues with whom I could have a run and share dinner.

Conclusion 8: Wishful thinking is more common than panic reactions. "How may hours will you be delayed?" was a typical question in the beginning. As hours grew to days due to closed airspace, the questions became "Have you got closer to home?" or "Do you know when you'll be home?", although nobody had a clue when air traffic would be allowed again.

Societal conclusions

Conclusion 9: Flying, especially for tourists, will become less frequent. Both rational and irrational reasons speak for travelling less. Personally, I will evaluate the need for travel outside Europe more stringently than before. And I believe many will even avoid intra-European travel.

Conclusion 10: The value of insurance will be questioned. The idea with insurance is to minimise exposure to risk if something unexpected happens. Financial Times Deutschland points out that insurers exclude many unexpected events from the list of what you're protected against. Consequently, customers may see less value in being insured in the first place.

Conclusion 11: Social media grow ever more in importance. Although Lufthansa were bad at communicating during the Eyjafjalla eruption, it turns out KLM already has done what I have nagged for Lufthansa to start doing. KLM actively communicates in Twitter, has a good Facebook page (I became the 38704th one to like it), and an impressive YouTube video with their CEO. And the sense of belonging created amongst private users during times of crisis won't fade off as quickly as the ash cloud.

Conclusion 12: Risk assessments may become more rational. BBC's question whether it's more dangerous to drive a car than flying through ash clouds stresses the unethical aspect in the populist politician statement of "security above all", since we irrational human beings readily accept highly dangerous activities such as high speed limits for cars, smoking, alcohol and unhealthy food, all of which cost considerably more lives than air traffic. And even airport "security" control (de facto a form of state sanctioned systematic mobbing) will over time get easier to question, as we travelers use our newly gained vulcanic experiences and contemplations to become less gullible.

Communication Lessons from a Volcano

Today, I'm amongst the lucky ashmob hostages returning back home. And five days later than planned, spent at airport hotels in San Francisco and Madrid, gave me time to think and jot down a few recommendations for service companies to improve their communication policies.

Note: I've already stressed it isn't Lufthansa's volcano, nor their politicians, and that I am in general a happy Lufthansa customer. I'm also happy that American Express Travel Bureau got me home as quickly as they did. Nonetheless, I claim the communication policies of both Lufthansa and AmEx can be substantially improved. That said, though, they're probably not any worse off than most other companies, as a majority seems to be quite lousy at efficient customer interaction.

My suggested lessons boil down to common sense: Respect the time of your customers. Set expectations properly. Underpromise, overdeliver. Communicate with personalised information. During a crisis, be more communicative than normally, not less. None of these suggestions are specific to the travel industry nor to volcanoes, but the Eyjafjalla eruption provided ample opportunity to illustrate how companies execute badly on these simple, common-sense guidelines.

So, here are my suggestions:

  • First: Communicate at all. From the standpoint of a stranded passenger abroad, Lufthansa was near-silent. One SMS about the cancellation of the flight was all proactive communication I got during five days as an Eyjafjalla hostage.
    My suggestion: Speak up, don't leave me in the dark. Send me SMS:es! Send me email! You send plenty enough of promotional email at "peace time" when I'm not so interested in it. Now I was craving for news, any news, and got none.

  • Second: Bad news is better than no news. No news means uncertainty. No news means I'm worried, and that you put the burden of finding out answers on me.
    My suggestion: If things look bad, tell me. Bad news don't disappear by themselves, you can't defuse them through silence. Instead, tell me in advance.

  • Third: Use asynchronous channels that scale for both you and me. Pushing out bureaucratic semi-information on your own web site may seem to offload you work, but it doesn't answer my questions and causes me to approach you using methods that don't scale for you. I want to know with what likelihood my flight leaves, and if you give me this information only in person, it requires me to wait. And remember, I'm stranded far away from home and have other things to do, such as stand in another queue, slowly crawl through airport "security", check in to my hotel, talk to worried family members at home, calm down my own customers or just too tired to listening to your overly cheerful recorded messages.
    My suggestion: Send me personalised information by email and by SMS. This scales, as I don't have to wait (and pay the phone bill for listening to your information-free recorded messages) while you reply to me. And my questions should be easy enough for you to anticipate: Do you think my flight will leave as planned? What costs will you cover? Your communication should also be simplified, not made more complex, by the fact that I can live with understandable uncertainty ("LH459 will probably be cancelled tomorrow. We will decide by 14:00 PST, but may give you further information earlier.")

  • Fourth: Make your recorded messages accurate. If you make your communication scale, fewer of us need to use the phone hotline in the first place. But if we do, I can tell you it's frustrating to hear once a minute in a joyful, happy tone that "You will be served by the next available person" for all of 45 minutes as I did on the Senator hotline, when my simple need was for a credible LH judgement of whether LH459 would leave Monday 19.4.2010. I had to give up and catch my alternate escape route. It now turns out I would have been able to take LH459 for a direct Business Class flight home, and instead took an alternate route over the Atlantic in Economy with another airline, for a total cost that including the extra hotel night in Madrid cost much more than the ticket I left unused.
    Suggestion: Indicate my position in the queue. Hearing "There are 15 persons still to be served before you" being replaced by "There are 14 persons ..." about five minutes into the call will make me give up in time, understanding it makes no sense to queue on the phone. That means less frustration for me, not more. And don't interrupt the music for an identical, nagging text too frequently -- I do have other things to do while waiting on phone, than getting my train of thought interrupted. Worse still, AmEx: Don't say "The next available person will serve you shortly, we ask for your patience" on the recorded message, when what you de facto mean is "This phone number is closed now, as it operates only outside German business hours. Please used +49-xxxx instead." In fact, I missed an urgent and important call by an AmEx customer representative, just after midnight Californian time, while in queue for catching that person over a phone number that wasn't operational at that point.

  • Fifth: Increase communication capacity during a crisis. Airlines should have plenty of idle pilots and stewardesses during volcano eruptions.
    Suggestion: Let the cabin crew communicate. Give them a crash course. Let them talk to customers at extra check in desks, over email, phone, SMS, Twitter, everywhere. You'll calm down passengers quickly, serve them better, and have your cabin crew learn a thing or two about your customers. It seems a Danish airline called  Cimber Sterling was smart enough to do so.

  • Sixth: Make it easy for the customer to contact you. Filling out web forms is difficult to impossible if you've only got a mobile device for input. Having to navigate through complicated low-usability web pages is a nightmare under stress.
    Suggestion: Allow scalable input such as SMS and email. Promote SMS input numbers and email addresses clearly and prominently. Fixing spam must be a solvable issue for you; putting the burden on the customer is simply inacceptable. Also, make it dead easy for me to identify which phone number to use. And, dear AmEx, it's very frustrating to try to call your German +49-xxx phone number from abroad and get an American phone error message saying the number is invalid.

  • Seventh: Don't be afraid of social media. Facebook and Twitter aren't mere channels for press releases. @Lufthansa_DE did start subscribing to me after a while into the Eyjafjalla crisis, but replied only with one private note despite me addressing @Lufthansa_DE with several comments, most of which were quite pro-LH.
    Suggestion: Use Facebook and Twitter for semi-informal communication. Reply to people who mention your @handle (or even just your company name) in tweets. Don't expect to please the always-complaining, unsatisfiable 5%. Do expect to calm down the rest of us; we constitute 95%. Expect us to talk good about you if you communicate well. We know it's not your volcano.

I do value the warm touch of individual human interaction face-to-face at a check-in counter or voice-based on a phone. But those are scarce and expensive resources for you, and involve long queues for me (as measured both in metres and in minutes), representing huge frustration. So please, do spend the time until Katla erupts by improving your communication processes!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

There IS a way to fly, Lufthansa!

Redwood Shores 18.4.2010

Dear Lufthansa,

My Day Three of being stranded on the wrong continent is starting. I want home!

As I wrote to you earlier, it's not your volcano. And now, I have to add, it's not your politicians nor your scientists either. So you have my full support in questioning the sensibility of a complete flight ban.

We may witness a Security Theatre ("security  countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security") in a more dramatic implementation than ever before in aviation history.

Hence, I have two requests for you, especially related to long-distance flights:

  1. Convince the scientists that you should be allowed to start flying at all.

  2. Convince the politicians that you should be allowed to choose routing more flexibly.

The prevalent conclusion of the volcanic eruption seems to be "faced with the forces of nature, passengers have to be flexible and expect delays". I can tell you, we do.

The missing conclusion is "faced with the forces of nature, airlines, politicians and regulatory bodies have to be flexible when working off the backlog". I can tell you, that flexibility doesn't seem to be happening.

The equation is complicated enough without the added constraints of processes tuned to business-as-usual. Lufthansa has an unchanged amount of airplanes and airplane seats. The backlog of stranded passengers is piling up. How does anyone expect the situation to normalise if available airplanes are not being used to fly stranded passengers closer to home, relieving the constraints of the existing flight slots and landing permits handed out on mere commercial grounds tuned for "peace time"?

Moreover, last time the thing erupted 1821-23, it took one and a half years. This eruption may not be a matter of days, either. I may be flexible, but I'm not happy to wait on a geological time scale.

So let me tell you how far my flexibility extends. Usually, flying SFO to MUC with LH459 meets my needs perfectly as I live in MUC and I couldn't imagine any better way of flying than in your Business Class (sure, "flattery can take you anywhere", but I honestly cannot think of much that would make the SFO-MUC flight more endurable and more enjoyable than it already is in LH459, starting 21:00 and arriving 17:15+1). But now, I just want home. I can downgrade. I can travel at a different time of day. I can travel a different route. In fact, I'm happy to just get home to my own dear ash-infested continent, in time to attend my daughter's confirmation next Sunday in Munich. I am willing to take the train from anywhere in continental Europe to Munich. My only constraint is that I don't have a valid Russian visa, so I cannot travel through Russia. Lisbon is fine, so is Madrid, Rome, Barcelona, Toulouse, anything North, East, South, West (but not really Reykjavik). And the fellow stranded passengers I've talked to share my, how shall I put it, certain degree of flexibility.

So start flying! You've got airplanes, you've got passengers, and there are ash-free parts of the skies. Use them! Don't expect to fix issues caused by extreme situations using normal means.

Kaj Arnö

Lufthansa Senator member
EU citizen (of Finland)
German resident (in Munich)

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Winter Bathing in the Baltic

The Baltic Sea is frozen by several tens of centimetres of ice. But in the guest harbour of Nagu, there is a pump that keeps the water flowing in order to create a "vak", Swedish for a hole in the ice. The purpose of this particular "vak" is to allow the Nagu inhabitants to go swimming. This happens mostly during two sauna events in the week, Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. I had the good fortune of being in Nagu now this Saturday morning, so I decided to go for my first winter bath of this season.

In basking sunlight and without any wind, the conditions were near perfect. It's not far from the Sauna to the ice hole, so one didn't even get noticeably cooled down on the way to the hole.

I don't recommend to spend too much time on second thoughts before going into the hole.

Afterwards, the only really cold body parts are the feet.

My diving shoes are, as one can expect, filled with water. The water is cold and wet; I prefer to empty the shoes of the water, rather than warming it up with my feet.

Having got rid of the water, I can devote myself to the endorphine high.

There was no need to consciously change my facial expression. The smile was automatic.

This is how it feels like after winter bathing!

When I came, there only two other bathers on the men's side. The pictures were taken during the first round. The second and third round, I went in alone. The fourth time, I went with Larry Lindroos, the gentleman who introduced me to the concept of winter bathing a few years ago.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

New Year's Resolutions 2009 and 2010: Ten originals and four attachments

A year ago, I wrote a blog entry with the title "Kaj’s Ten New Year Resolutions: On the Irrationality of the Human Mind". Resolutions that aren't evaluated don't amount to much, so here's my commentary to how things turned out:

Kaj’s Ten New Year Resolutions

1. The power of habit is immense: Regularly start a new good habit! Consciously define a desirable new habit. Figure out how you best can convince yourself of going through the pains of starting the habit. Can't claim I would have established any truly new habits 2009. Needs attention 2010. Verdict: Miss.

2. Self confidence breeds self confidence: Behave with full confidence! But dare make potential mistakes. You don’t learn without taking risks. Well, I started to proclaim a new World Religion, which does need self confidence but also is a minefield of potential mistakes. Verdict: Hit.

3. Identify and live out your personal priorities! How important are friends? Marriage? Children? Family? Relatives? Health? Work? Money? Give consequent priority to the more important over the less important, when it comes to using time, attention and money. Here I made clear progress. Will be continued this year. Verdict: Hit.

4. Draw the consequences of your priorities: Set quarterly goals also in private life! A quarter is long enough to make long term goals achievable, and short enough for wishful thinking to surface quickly. Yes, I set private quarterly goals. Yes, it feels right. Verdict: Hit.

5. Focus consciously: Create rituals for rough follow-up of personal quarterly goals each week, and thorough follow-up at the start of next quarter! Yes, I did follow up the goals on several levels. Verdict: Hit.

6. Make the boring or uncomfortable work bearable or even fun! Make the work into something social (and share the burden). Reward yourself for completed hard phases. Concentrate the most uncomfortable work to one “brave” hour of the day. Too few steps forward, too slowly. Verdict: Miss.

7. Ask experts for help! Already the phrasing of the wish gets you started. And incoming answers keep the wheels in motion. Oh yes! I just need to continue. Verdict: Hit.

8. Make important matters appear urgent! Create impulses that make you focus on the important: Help delivered by others, promises of partial delivery, meetings, scheduled discussion topics. This one, I didn't pursue with enough persistence. Verdict: Miss.

9. Aesthetic values are appealing: Surround yourself with beauty, simplicity and order! Disorder, unnecessary items and gadgets (whether old or newly bought) are burdens for the soul. Order your belongings! Throw away! If you buy, then only if it’s functional, useful and beautiful. Absolutely, did do. Of course, the thought can still be purified. Verdict: Hit.

10. Manage your own mood: Don’t let petty details take over your agenda! Consciously break negative thought patters, through raised blood sugar, breaks, fresh air. Running helps. Breathing deeply, too. Verdict: Hit.

Seven hits and three misses. Whatever that indicates.

For 2010, I will continue on the same path. Here are some halfway new ideas for this year, related to the items 134578:

  • Written annual activity plans for important areas of life (at least my country house Furuvik and for Runnism). This simplifies setting quarterly goals (which become free of many goals I won't reach within the quarter anyway), and enables asking for help from those In The Know.

  • Support groups, well defined semi-teams of people In The Know, with whom I discuss frequently in real life and over the web. For the same important areas of life.

  • Systematic use of Social Media, meaning Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Xing. It's fun to interact on them, to help and to be helped. But like with email, the distraction needs to be minimised.

  • Establishing and keeping order in the house, in the laptop, in life in general. Order is not just a matter of aesthetics, but about resting the soul, saving time and avoiding waste.

Let's see how the year develops!

Photo: Julian Cash