My weekend in Johannesburg, South Africa

My work at the Nation News Group of Nairobi, Kenya, wound up mid-afternoon Friday. It was time to get to the airport.

My bags were already packed and waiting for me at the concierge station in the lobby of the Stanley Hotel, where I had stayed the previous 13 nights.

I waited about an hour for my driver… Until I finally got bored enough to venture outside. And found he had been waiting for me there all along.

That’s the second time that same driver had waited patiently for me: He had sat for hours at the airport when I tried to track down my lost luggage.

Once we threw the bags into the car, though, it was my turn to wait. Friday afternoon traffic in Nairobi proved to be just as bad as I had heard. We sat on clogged streets, hoping for some kind of break to the gridlock and entertained only by the occasional witty bumper sticker.

My driver did point out one sight of interest: The Kenyan parliament buildings.

It took the rest of the afternoon, but we eventually arrived at the airport. I checked my bag, picked up my boarding pass and had a quick bite of dinner. During dinner, I enjoyed perhaps the most fabulous sunset I had seen during my time here in Kenya.

Then, I had a little time to wander around the airport. Those Mayans might have developed a wonderful calendar, but do you know what they hated?

That’s right: Paying taxes.

Wow. Confectionery liquor. I can get tanked and go into a diabetic coma at the same time.

President Obama and his folks can talk about “change” all they want. But they’re such amateurs. Here in Kenya, they actually have an entire bureau devoted to change.

How do you say “toilet” in Swahili?

Ah: “Choo.”

After a while, it was time to board my Kenya Airways flight to Johannesburg. I couldn’t help but notice the airline operating the next flight out of this same gate: Precision Airways.

Precision Airways. We’ll get you there. Or, at least, somewhere in the vicinity of your destination. We think.”

We were herded down several long corridors, out onto the tarmac and finally to a widebody jet.

Which ended up being only about half-full. Which gave us plenty of room to spread out. What a welcome change from the uncomfortable squeeze I’ve seen in my last several trips.

The trip took four hours. Because I hadn’t been sleeping so well, I crashed hard. I discovered later they had served food on the flight. I slept right through it.

They also showed a movie: Clash of the Titans. You know: “Release the Kracken.”

I didn’t even bother to plug in my headphones. The movie looked awful.

We arrived in Johannesburg just before midnight — or nearly 1 a.m. Kenya time. Naturally, I had to go through passport control, pick up my luggage and then hit the car rental counter. I was given a huge silver Toyota.

I love the car. The only issues: a) I can’t seem to find FiveFM on the car radio. Which is just as well. This time around, I’m only going to listen to stations that play songs by my good friends the Soap Girls. And b) The damned turn signal switch is on the wrong side of the steering wheel.

Every time I try to signal a turn, I turn on my windshield wipers. As a result, I was a very rude driver in Johannesburg this weekend. But give me some credit: I have the cleanest windshield in town.

My next task was: Drive from the airport to my hotel. In the dead of night. Half-asleep. On the left side of the road. Lucky for me, I’ve made this trip a dozen times, at least. By the time I was checked into my hotel, though, and called Sharon to tell her I was safe, it was after 3 a.m.

So I put out the “Do not disturb” sign and slept as late as I could Saturday.

The place where I’ll be staying for the next several nights is the Garden Court hotel in the Auckland Park region of Johannesburg. I know this place very very well: I stayed here for nearly two solid months back in 2009.

In fact, when I went down for breakfast Saturday morning, the same woman was cooking eggs. She took one look at me and remembered how I like my eggs. Which I found a little scary. I mean, it’s been nearly three years.

The two ladies working the front desk during the day both remember me. In fact, one of them remembered the night I tried to hold the elevator door open for a maintenance man and my hand got slammed. She told me how terrified the entire management was that I might have been be severely injured.

In fact, my hand swelled up and was painful for about two days. I kept ice on it as often as I could. The problem went away soon enough. I had to laugh, though, about that being her first memory of me.

My big, painful memory of this hotel is of all the wifi problems I had. I’m happy to report those problems have been resolved. Getting on here is quick and easy. And the speed is every bit as fast as what I get at home.

I swear they’ve given me the most comfortable room in the building. It’s small but cozy.

Over the three nights I’ve been here, I’ve managed to get caught up on the sleep I missed out on in Kenya. I’m able to breathe so much better. And this hotel isn’t quite as noisy as was the Stanley in Nairobi. So no more being jolted awake at 3 or 4 a.m. by someone messing around in the corridor.

During my previous stays in the Garden Court, I was always given a room facing the Southeast — directly toward a huge, ugly concrete building that I later found was the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce building. This time, I’m facing a nice little apartment complex. With several large universities nearby, I presume many of the residents here are students.

Below is the entryway of the hotel and the car park for the hotel, which occupies the bottom floor of the apartment complex.

I get quite a bit more sunshine here than I did on the other side of the hotel. I even get to see a little of Empire Road and Barry Hertzog Avenue.

Directly across the street from the hotel is this giant glass office building.

I mention it only because when I stayed here three years ago, a giant advertisement supporting the local rugby team, the Lions, was plastered all over the building.


As much as I dislike obtrusive advertising, I think I liked this building better when it had the giant ad.

Here is one of the ugly concrete buildings that occupy the back of the hotel/apartment complex.

Connected to the hotel is a small steakhouse, where I expect to eat a number of times this week. Thee slogan on their sign out front always makes me smile.

I became friendly with a number of the waitresses at MacRib during my time here. When I worked here in Johannesburg in 2010 and 2011, however, I never managed to drive over here for dinner. Sure enough, when I went in last night, I saw the manager and three or four waitresses who remembered me.

And, of course, the hotel has a fabulous little pool area.

It’s a bit cold to swim here, however — remember, we’re in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the dead of winter here. Temperatures in the days have been in the low-to-mid 70s, which I find quite comfortable. At night, though, it gets awfully chilly. And this week, it’s going to be down in the 30s. Yikes!

So no pool time this trip. And no worrying how deep 1.8 meters might be.

In fact, I tried to go out by the pool and blog a little Sunday morning. The temperature was fine — perfect, even — but it was very windy. My notes kept flying away and grit flew into my eyes. So I gave up and found a quiet spot in the lobby.

Which worked well until what appears to be a women’s sports team invaded the lobby.

Netball players, to be specific. Netball is a version of basketball, very much like women’s basketball in the U.S., back in the 1950s and 1960s. All passing and shooting with no dribbling at all and seven players on each team. I had to look it up.

Hey, when I was younger — I worked sports information in college — I loved hanging around female athletes. But now that I’m in my 50s? All that staring and leering just embarrasses me.

Hey, and that’s just my behavior.

Ahem. Let’s move on…

The hotel also has a small TV alcove, just off the main lobby.

Even with the Olympics on wall-to-wall TV here in South Africa, however, this one seems permanently tuned to either rugby or cricket.

If I get too bored here in the hotel, I’ll just walk across the street and watch the virgins work out.

Once I had breakfast and woke myself up, it was time to make a brief grocery run. There’s a nice grocery store across the street near the virgin game preserve. However, I had trouble paying for my stuff: The woman at the counter told me they don’t take American charge cards or check cards.

Wow. That’s the first time I’ve run into that. I fired off a message to Sharon to check with our bank to make sure I don’t have some strange issue with them — I’ve never forgiven them for locking me out of my own account when I was in St. Louis last fall — and then went to a different grocery store: One where I’ve shopped may times before.

They had the same issue with my debit card. But they were much nicer about it. So I simply paid cash.

I bought two [diet] Tab colas, a package of blueberry muffins — for fast carbs when I need them — a stack of sugar-free candy bars and four packages of sugar-free cough drops. I’m breathing better here in Johannesburg than I was in Kenya. But there is still a heck of a rumble in my lungs. Most likely, I’m going to be coughing until I get home and get some antibiotics from my doctor.

I also bought a small glass tumbler — it’s on the left, still wrapped in paper just behind the Strepsils cough drops — so I can pour myself my Tab Cola. This is one of the few African hotels in which I’ve found an ice machine.

I expect to spend much of my free time this week down in MacRib. But this should get me through the weekend, at least.

Oh, and I also bought a NewsNow magazine. My South African pal Waldimar Pelzer was the founding editor of this publication. He recently left to return to the world of newspapers — which reminds me; I need to write about that — but let me tell you folks: This is one amazing magazine. Surely it’s a prototype for all magazines of the future.

Note to self: In addition to writing about Waldimar, I also ought to write something more about NewsNow. In addition to the times I wrote about it here and here.

While I was out running around, I noticed a trend in South African marketing design that I hadn’t seen before: A tendency to fill space by just jamming stuff into it. This wall of thank you messages just seems cluttered.

And that Virgin Active Health Club? They’ve illustrated the lobby and escalators outside with a huge jumble of icons.

I kind of like the icons. But not the thank-yous.

I finished my outing with lunch at my favorite local McDonald’s…

…from where I can get one of the better views of the skyline of Johnnesburg.

The giant Telcom tower on the left — a landmark in Joburg — still had a soccer ball “impaled” on it from the World Cup when I was last here. I see the ball is still there, but painted pink. Apparently, the current advertiser is using a giant pink dot in its marketing campaign.

Because I ordered an extra-large value meal — the equivalent of a large in the U.S. — I was given a commemorative Coca-Cola glass.

I guess I should have gone to McDonald’s before I bought my little glass tumbler, huh?

Saturday night, I went out with my friends from Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa, who were going to see the new Batman movie.

Which I loved. I didn’t get a chance to see it because the movie opened the very day I left the U.S. for Kenya. Now, of course, I know how all the bits I saw being filmed in Pittsburgh last summer fit into the plot.

Afterwards, we went out for dinner. Here is SFFSA’s secretary Gail Jamieson and her husband, meetings/conventions chairman Ian Jamieson.

As we left the restaurant, I spotted this cute little sign offering support for the country’s Olympians competing this week in London.

Sunday, I slept very late, I worked a little on my blog and then I drove over to the nearby suburb of Parkhurst for a very special reception, held here: A fascinatingly eclectic little place called Jacob’s Board Game Cafe.

The occasion: The 11th anniversary of, a web site aimed at all aspects of South African media. My good friend Simone Puterman is the operation’s editor at large. This little celebration was her operation.

The venue is a coffeehouse that specializes in board games of all types, from the classic to the brand-new.

Here, Simone’s guy — Franz Tomasek — shows off one of the Cafe’s collection: One named after me, in fact.

The place is decorated in board games of all types. This is a pictogram… but one that apparently only works in Afrikaans.

In attendance last night were about two dozen members of the South African media: Writers, editors, subeditors, marketing specialists, photographers, artists and online specialists.

Simone urged me to bring my camera. She knew that once I started shooting pictures of everyone, I’d end up talking to them. What a great way for me to make new friends.

And if you got bored, you could simply walk out onto the back patio and watch the employees open the champagne bottles.

I was walking around, taking pictures and introducing myself to various folks when this young lady suddenly jolted up and exclaimed: I just worked out who you are!

Turns out, she follows me on Twitter and reads my blog. She went on to tell me how smart and witty I am. I took a few pictures of her and thought to myself: Sharon is NEVER going to believe this.

Eventually, it came time for the main event of the evening. Simone called the party to order and announced the start of our cheesecake tasting exercise.

We were each given a scorecard. Nine cheesecakes were contributed by various area restaurants.

Simone tells me:

Four of the cakes were bought, five were homemade.

Our task: Evaluate the cheesecakes and rate each one.

Yeah, I know. It’s a tough job. But someone had to do it.

Funny thing, though. Cheesecake turned out to be a lot like beer. After four or five, you just kind of toss up your hands and declare: It’s all good.

Still, I stuck it out. Here were my final scores:

“Base,” by the way, is what we Americans would call “crust.”

I had no trouble picking an overall winner. Cheesecake E scored a perfect “5” in all three categories.

In addition, Simone held a raffle for a special prize: This drawing of what appears to be a purple cow in front of the skyline of Johannesburg.

I loved the art and wondered what kind of special meaning laid behind the composition. I also wondered about the rendering technique.

The medium, it turned out, was lipstick. I kid you not. The artist — the amazing Sarah Britten — is a media strategist and blogger for the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

The winner of the raffle turned out to be a very nice Hungarian man who accidentally crashed the party but make up for it by buying raffle tickets.

Proceeds from the raffle, I’m told, went to Sarah’s favorite charities. Very cool.

There were a number of other prizes as well. Much to my amazement, I also won one.

That’s a  backback with the logo of Philadelphia brand cream cheese on it. Inside is stuffed with all sorts of sweets and munchies. Sharon and Elizabeth are going to love the food. Assuming it makes it home. Heh.

As the reception wound down, a very happy hostess posed with Franz.

It was a terrific evening and a terrific way to kick off my week of work here in South Africa.

After all that cheesecake, I hardly needed dinner. Still, I felt the need to get a little something non-sweet into my stomach. So I finally made it down to MacRib for the evening. Where I ran into the South African under-20 national soccer team.

Wait a minute. Let me get this straight: In this hotel tonight we have both a team of gorgeous young, male soccer players and a team of gorgeous, young female netball players?

Wow. Something tells me there won’t be lot of folks getting sleep this week.

Something also tells me I wish I owned and operated a small pharmacy in the lobby. I think I’d keep it open a little later.

And that was my weekend here in Johannesburg.

This morning, I got up bright and early, went downstairs for breakfast… and ran into a wall of athletes. Hmm. So much for breakfast. The woman at the front door of the restaurant seemed most distressed when I bailed. But I feel a McDonald’s run coming on.

The schedule for today: I need to hit a pharmacy — for yet more cough drops. I’ll meet my good friend Arlene Prinsloo at the Media24 offices at MediaPark and we’ll get to work right away. I’m told we have a lot of work to do this week.

Naturally, I’m looking forward to it.

My blog for this trip, so far…

My final few days in Kenya went by very quickly

My two weeks in Nairobi just flew by.

I worked pretty hard. And I found myself having difficulty breathing and sleeping. Because of the high altitude, perhaps. But also, perhaps, of stuff blooming. I’m not quite sure.

Nairobi sits very near the Equator. July and August are typically the coolest months of the year — and the place doesn’t get all that cool by my standards. I’d find myself dining comfortably at the open-air Thorn Tree Cafe while the guest at the next table over shivered in front of a space heater.

Although most of the two weeks I stayed there was cloudy, I still found the place to have a beauty of its own. I need to go back to Nairobi some day and get a better look around.

This trip, however, I was there to work. And work I did. On Tuesday, we held yet another repeat of one of my most popular sessions: Graphics for Word People.

The point is to show reporters, editors and copy desk staffers — which are often called “subeditors” in these parts — just what infographics can do — and cannot do — for their stories.

Part of my big mission for these sessions: To help folks understand that graphics are not for decoration and not to fill space.

Real infographics tell stories. If it doesn’t tell a story well, then an infographic is just a nice-looking piece of crap.

Illustrations and sketches have their place — in fact, we covered that well the previous Friday. But if that’s all you’re using your artists for, then you’re missing out on the real power of the medium. So, of course, I illustrate my presentation with examples of some of the best visual journalism I can find.

Monday — and again on Thursday — I gave a session on online graphics and presentation. Which, for this audience — which is just now thinking about an online strategy — means filling them in on the trends around the world.

And that means having internet access for my presentation. Which I didn’t have.

So the online editor here was kind enough to loan me a 3G dongle, which proved to be easy to use.

It’s certainly not a high-speed connection — which I found out the hard way when I tried to pull in a number of videos and complex multimedia projects.

But it was probably a fair way to view my talk. Because bandwidth in Kenya is not really very large to begin with. Meaning readers here will have the same problem if the papers here  build complicated online presentations.

Some of the issues I touched upon: Keep everything simple, for now, until bandwith increases. Avoid using Flash. And — because they’re just now starting to build their web infrastructure — switch from HTML 4 to HTML 5 so they can utilize responsive web design.

I can’t get Miranda Mulligan to visit my class and talk about the Boston Globe‘s innovative work with responsive web design. But I can show a YouTube video of her talking about it at the South by Southwest conference back in March.

I wrote last week that I was spending the afternoons critiquing individual portfolios with the designers at the Nation group.

The group’s design director, Kathy Bogan, set me up at this little table in her office, where I was called upon by designers throughout the week.

Kathy, meanwhile, plugged away at her own work, dashed in and out to deal with various matters and to attend news meetings.

By the way, what do you doodle in a news meeting at a Kenyan newspaper? Giraffes, evidently.

Typically, we had anywhere from two to four designers scheduled to come in at 30-minute intervals. They’d bring me a thumb drive with PDFs of their work. And I’d offer comments off the top of my head as to their skills and ideas. I’d show them what I liked about their work as well as point out things that might be better.

This, for example, is Nzisa, who specializes in features pages. We held her critique on Wednesday.

And here I am back on Tuesday with Joy. Who most certainly was a joy — she, too, is a wonderfully talented features designer.

Joy has a wonderful sense of color and she knows how to play a picture big and then not do anything that might get in its way. So I spent much of our time together just gushing over her work.

The paper’s photo director was kind enough to pick up my camera and take these pictures. We chatted briefly about pictures we don’t like to see — like the old “grip and grin” — so, naturally, we had to drop everything and shoot one.

On the wall of the cubicle next door, an editor has posted examples of truly terrible headline writing.

Yep. Even newspapers here in Kenya need copy editors.

Thursday evening, there was some sort of issue with my room that I never quite understood. So I was asked to move to a somewhat larger room on the 6th floor, just for my last night there. I didn’t manage to sleep any better, but I was treated to a nicer view of downtown Nairobi.

In fact, the headquarters building of the Nation News Group — two very strange cylindrical towers and all — was just outside my window.

On my way to my final day of work, I paused and shot a quick picture of this sidewalk news vendor.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s one reason why newspapers just don’t sell as well in the U.S. It helps, I think, to have the personal touch on the sales end.

After our Friday morning slideshow lecture — on politics and election coverage; one of my specialties — Kathy called all the designers together for a roundtable discussion — around our round table — and asked each one what they took away from these two weeks.

Much to my delight, each designer cited things that are among the core issues I try hard to bring to nearly every session I teach. Storytelling. Focus on content. Accuracy. Proactivity on the part of designers and graphic artists.

It was so cool to just sit there for a while and see all my major talking points spit back out, reinterpreted though the lens of these fine folks. They soaked up everything quite nicely.

It was one of those moments when I realize just how much good we can do if we’re able to go out into the world and share our experience with others. What a great feeling.

And what a great feeling to see it proven that my time here was well-spent.

As if that wasn’t enough, at that very moment, Kathy and her newspaper had caterers bring in lunch. So we all got a chance to chat in one last social setting before I had to depart.

Lunch was chicken, lightly-spiced rice with gravy and potatoes.

Very tasty.

Then, it was time to say my goodbyes. One of my biggest joys this trip was meeting Muhammad Tamale, graphics editor of the Daily Monitor, the Nation News Group’s paper in Uganda.

The challenge after things like this is to stay in touch. This has been made easier these days with Facebook and Twitter.

We posed for one giant group shot — photographed by the guy from catering — before we broke up. Please click this for a huge look.

And then it was time to head to the hotel, retrieve my luggage and then begin the trek to the next stop on this little tour is one very familiar with me: Johannesburg.

More about that later…

I spent two weeks consulting and teaching infographics and visual journalism in Nairobi, Kenya.

My trip blog, so far:

  • 9:12 a.m. Aug. 5, 2012
  • Kenya

Here, ‘KFC’ stands for Kenyan Fried Chicken. I think.

Last week, I ate a couple of lunches in a place down the street from the newspaper headquarters that sells wonderful gyro-like wraps. Luckily for me, they were only too happy to serve the wraps to me the way I like them — just meat, lettuce and bread.

This week, I’ve been on my own for lunch. Since I’ve been eager to eat fast and then get back to work, I’ve just been skipping over to the KFC, just down the block from the newspaper building.

I think it’s fair to say: This is the nicest KFC I’ve ever been in.

The downstairs dining room is maybe two or three times the size of an American KFC. And then there is balcony seating upstairs. I’ve not ventured up there yet. At this altitude, walking up stairs is too much like work.

The menu here is totally different from an American KFC. There are no chicken nuggets or other boneless varieties, other than this nice sandwich. Which has been more than adequate.

Perhaps the oddest but most subtle difference: Note the Diet Coke. First of all, soft drinks are in bottles only here. No fountain drinks.

Secondly, that’s a Diet Coke. Typically, you’ll find only Pepsi products at a KFC in the U.S. That’s because from 1986 to 1997, KFC — along with its sister franchises Taco Bell and Pizza Hut — was owned by Pepsico.

As you might know, we’re smack in the middle of Ramadan. There is a fairly large Muslim population here in Kenya. Hence, the Ramadan specials.

Note the tag line: “Available exclusively after sunset.” And the little moon icon at the upper right.

I was also amused by this sign. Apparently, KFC has had to change the style of French fries they serve — at least, temporarily.

The fine print, in case you can’t read it:

Andy’s gone to escape the cold, so Jeff is filling in for a few days. He’s slightly chunkier than Andy and has the same great taste. Your favorite chip will be back shortly.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fast-food franchise give names to their French fries. I can think of several reasons why this might not be a wise marketing choice.

And, of course, I’ve discovered: You can’t whip out your iPhone in a KFC in Kenya without also taking pictures of the crew behind the counter. They just expect to pose for the strange American in the Hawaiian shirt.

Hey, I’m happy to oblige.

So: Eating at a Kenyan KFC. I can now strike that off my “bucket list.”


I’m nearing the end of a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Nairobi, Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

Good day, Sunshine

After eleven consecutive mornings in which I woke up to find a dull, grey cloud enveloping the city, today — finally — I was treated to the Nairobi skyline at its finest.

Not a cloud in the Kenyan sky.

At breakfast, down in the famous Thorn Tree Cafe, sunlight poured through the skylight section of the roof…

…and smiled upon my breakfast and orange juice.

Now that will start your day off right.

The schedule for Wednesday: Sleep in just a little, because there’s a big newsroom staff meeting this morning. There will be no morning slideshow lecture.

I’ll be at work by 11 a.m. — a little more than an hour from now. We’ll have an hour-long brainstorming session, I’ll grab some quick lunch and then we’ve got five slots for individual portfolio reviews this afternoon.

Only two staffers have signed up, so far, for those slots. In my downtime, I’ll work on the graphics template I started building last night.

Thursday, we’ll resume our 9 a.m. starts with a session on mapping and then a repeat of my online visual journalism session from Monday. Portfolio reviews fill out the day.

Friday morning, our topic will be elections and politics.

I depart Kenya Friday evening and head to Johannesburg, South Africa for a week of meetings there. The rumor is that some of my friends there are planning to go see the new Batman movie this weekend.

Hmm. That has possibilities…

This is Day Eleven of a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Nairobi, Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

Life as a traveling infographics instructor and evangelist in Kenya

I’m in Nairobi, Kenya, for a second week of teaching infographics at the daily and weekly newspapers that make up the Nation Media Group.

As I wrote yesterday, I get up every morning and eat breakfast at the Thorn Tree Cafe, located on the first floor of my home away from home, the 110-year old Stanley Hotel.

Although we’re only a couple hours’ drive from the equator, it can be a bit chilly in the wee hours. After all, the equator is north of here, which puts us in the Southern Hemisphere. So technically, this is winter here.

In fact, July and August are the coolest months of the year in Kenya. The highs forecast for this coming week are in the low 70s. The nightly lows are in the high 50s. That’s a huge difference from what we’ve seen this summer in Virginia Beach.

Each morning last week dawned heavy and grey. It takes several hours before the sun can burn off the haze.

Here are the views outside my seventh-floor room, looking East…

…and West.

Note the cars parked a good six floors above street level.

And here’s the view out the back side of the hotel, looking West.

By the time I hit the front door and begin the short walk up Kimathi Street, it’s warm enough outside that I really don’t need the sport coat I brought with me.

Getting to work each day doesn’t take long at all. But it does seem scary at times. First thing I have to do after I leave the hotel is turn left and cross Kenyatta Avenue — a very busy thoroughfare.

There’s a stoplight on the corner and walk/don’t walk signs. What makes crossing this street scary, though: As far as I can tell, no one — not drivers and certainly not pedestrians — obeys the signals. Cars think nothing of plowing through a crowded crosswalk. And folks on foot think nothing of stepping out in front of, say, a bus.

So far, though, I’ve not seen anyone get hit yet. And — better yet — I’ve not been run over myself. Because, y’know, that would sort of suck.

Once I’m across Kenyatta, I then have to turn right and cross the other street at that same crossing, Kimathi Street. Which isn’t nearly as busy and, therefore, not nearly as scary.

From there, it’s an easy half-block walk to the Nation Media Group’s headquarters, in this building with a most unique design.

Those two big “smokestacks” — perhaps I could start the rumor that they’re actually missile silos — are, in fact, giant spiral stairwells and circular meeting rooms. I’ve come to know those concrete cylinders very well in my first week here.

Once I’ve run the security gauntlet, the next hurdle is to wait for an elevator. Which can easily take five or ten minutes.

And it’s not like you can take the stairs. I mean, you’re allowed to walk up five flights. But, given the altitude here in Nairobi, you wouldn’t really want to. Especially if you live at sea level like I do and not accustomed to the thin air here.

And yes, it’d be five flights for me. Because the only conference room available for these two weeks is this one, which is in the bottom third or so of one of those concrete towers.

The meeting room itself is circular with columns painted red. Outside that is a ring that is currently being used as storage for the company’s television division. Note the enormous rows of VHS tapes lining the walls behind me in this next picture.

We’ve kicked off most mornings with a two-hour slideshow lecture on various topics. Monday, I led off with a freshened-up version of my “Graphics for Word People” show. Tuesday, we took on Alternative Story Forms. Wednesday, we addressed projects and making a big impact with content-driven visuals.

Those of you who have ever attended one of my shows knows the drill. A heavy emphasis on the storytelling and content of our graphics and visuals. Because to do it any other way would mean producing a nice-looking piece of crap.

From the expressions here, you might think I’m doing a good job teaching. Might.

The gentleman on the left, there, is Muhammed Tamale, graphics editor of the Daily Monitor, the company’s paper in Uganda. He traveled all the way here, just to sit in on my sessions.

In the center is Kibe Kamunyu, a production editor. On the right is Gennevieve Awino, a designer who primarily does business.

Among the several graphics projects we walked through Wednesday: My old battleship megagraphic from 1995. The context: This project came out pretty well. But it wasn’t the result of an assignment. It grew from a project I had pitched.

Lesson being: If you want to do cool, cool work, you need to become proactive. The world isn’t necessarily going to cut you a lucky break by laying a project in your lap. You need to learn how to make your luck.

For most sessions, we’ve had anywhere between ten and twenty people in the room. Any more than that and we’d have difficulty seating them all.

Thursday, we studied the nuts and bolts of charting: All about bar charts, pie charts, fever graphs and timelines. I felt a little guilty about the nice rant I had planned against the trend of the dreaded bubble charts. But then I was asked to critique a recent assignment here in which the designer had used two — count ’em, two — bubble charts on the same page. And she gotten them both wrong.

I didn’t feel so guilty after that.

To sum up my sermon on bubble charts: If you want to show how clever you are and draw attention to your chart, sure. Go with a bubble chart. But if you want to draw attention to the data, stick with a bar chart.

Go here to read my most recent rant against bubble charts.

One of the recurring problems I have in this line of work is that I’ll suddenly be struck by inspiration and then I’ll sit down and rip up an entire slideshow. Which was probably a perfectly good show to begin with.

What makes this worse: I’m often struck with that inspiration the night before a presentation. And that’s what happened Thursday evening. As if I wasn’t missing enough sleep already. Sigh…

My assigned topic for Friday was illustration. I had already decided to feature the work of a number of my favorite illustrators. But suddenly, it occurred to me: I should present a top-ten list or something.

So I ripped up my slideshow and built a new one from scratch. Which looked pretty good. Until I realized that, somehow, I had left out two of my absolute favorites, both world-class illustrators for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

D’oh! That will never do. So I tossed out even my newest slides and replaced my Top 10 list with a Top 12.

My list, which I wish I had put in alphabetical order, because these are not in any kind of order at all:

  • Sam Hundley, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
  • Andrea Levy, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Rick Tuma, Chicago Tribune
  • Mark Marturello, Des Moines Register
  • Martin Gee, Boston Globe
  • Chris Morris, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Ryan Huddle, Boston Globe
  • Don Tate, Austin (Texas) American-Statesman
  • Tonia Cowan, Toronto Globe and Mail
  • Robert Zavala, Victoria (Texas) Advocate
  • Wesley Watson, Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune
  • Lindi Daywalt Feazel, Fort Myers (Fla.) News Press

The reaction from this presentation was extremely positive. So much so that I’ve decided to share the Powerpoint slideshow with you. Be advised, though, that a) This presentation consists of 415 images and is 103 mb in size. And b) You’re not getting any of my commentary or narrative instruction.

I managed to get through all that material in about an hour and 15 minutes, which is an average of about 10 seconds per slide. That’s fast, even for me. Then, I immediately gave a second presentation on Photoshop and photojournalistic ethics. Which also spurred some great discussion.

It was great to end my first week’s sessions on such a high note.

On the schedule for this week: Two sessions on electronic visual journalism — which will cover what papers around the world are doing for their web sites — a repeat of my “Graphics for Word People” session, a session on mapping and a session on election and political graphics.

This woman — Dorothy Kweyu, a rewrite editor — came to one of my presentations midweek and enjoyed it so much she’s not missed a session since. In particular, I think she’d enjoy the “Graphics for Word People” show.

She’s been very kind with her feedback.

And Muhammed — my new friend from Uganda — continues to surprise me. I wouldn’t have thought a newspaper in Uganda would have top-notch equipment, but I’d be wrong. He brought his titanium MacBook to our sessions one day.

He’s asked for copies all my presentations via a jump drive. I’m looking forward to seeing some of his own work this week.

After a short break, we typically spend an hour in a brainstorming session with various departments and journalists. Graphics and visual journalism is very new to these publications. The idea is to show them how to brainstorm ideas and how to get the ball rolling towards producing spectacular graphics of their own.

Key to all this is the Nation Media Group’s design director, Kathy Bogan. With all the experience and success she’s had over her career, it’s not surprising to find she’s terrific at pulling ideas out of the staffers here and encouraging them to open up.

What makes this fun, from my perspective, is when you can see the light bulbs go on over folks’ heads. The gentleman at right here — John Gachiri, a reporter on the Business Daily newspaper — proved to be a huge fountain of ideas during our biz brainstorming session on Thursday.

Listening closely are Joy Abisagi and Mike Mosota, both designers for the Daily Nation.

On Friday, our brainstorming session with the features department was particularly lively. Nearly everyone left that meeting excited about the possibilities.

From left to right here are: Designer Joy Abisagi again, the editor of the Living section, Carol N’junge, and sub-editor Terry Mwenda.

Those brainstorming sessions are over by 1 p.m. At that point, I get an hour or so to eat lunch and take a break before my afternoon critiques begin.

First, though, we pack up my computer and the projector and head downstairs to the newsroom, two flights down a gorgeous, spiral staircase that appears to run the length of the other large tower.

Navigating these stairs can be a dizzying experience. Especially with the checkerboard pattern of the tiles at the very bottom.

Every time I walk through here, I have to pause to marvel at it all. Doesn’t this look as if it might have been designed by M.C. Eischer?

Throughout the stairs are conceptual art pieces commissioned by the H.R. department in an attempt to reinforce company values. Which is why you find a suggestion box with a shredder embedded at the top.

The idea, I suspect, is to suggest: We don’t need a suggestion box because every minute of every day we’ll strive to make our products and our workplace better. So a box is an outdated concept. Improvement is a continuous process; not something we do once a month when we crack open anonymous suggestions.

Or, at least, that’s the way I’ve seen this sort of thing presented elsewhere. I wouldn’t want to presume to understand everything about this place after just one week.

I feel very much at home in the newsroom itself. I’ve been in a lot of newsrooms in a lot of countries. They each have their own vibe, their own rhythm and their own personality.

Yet, in a way, newsrooms also have a similar feel, regardless of the location and the local culture.

This one is particularly nice. I’m seeing a lot of top-of-the-line equipment. There’s a mix of large Apple Macs, smaller Apple computers and PCs.

The newsroom is on the fourth floor — um, I think. Like many of these former English colonies, they call a building’s first floor as “ground floor” and count the second floor as “first floor.”

Still, here is the view outside the window.

Lined up across the street, there, are taxi cabs. It’s difficult to see in that picture, but there is a man standing out front with a megaphone, addressing the drivers in Swahili. I’m not quite sure what he was so worked up about.

Here, I’m standing near the designers’ area and looking toward the central news desk. Which is surrounded by yellow columns.

This little area — which, in fact, is on a slightly raised platform — is truly the nerve center of the whole place. The gentleman at lower right — Bernard Namunane — is a political write and editor but has duties that sound to me much much more like a dayside news editor might have, back in the U.S.

Twice a day or so, Bernard calls for news meetings in the conference room by ringing this bell.


The key editors then file into the meeting room. Which is the same circular space I’m using, upstairs on the fifth floor, just two floors down.

Note the lettering on the backs of the chairs, to keep anyone from running off with them.

Ten or 12 editors meet to discuss the day’s stories and determine which they’ll pursue for bigger play. They also spend a lot of time looking at the competitors’ newspapers to see what the Daily Nation might have missed or might have covered better.

Like my meeting room, this one also has an outer ring around the main space. Here, Kathy speaks to Mohammed from Uganda in the outer ring.

And just like in my meeting room on five, there are spots here that seem to collect discarded items. Like this tired, old Christmas tree.

I’ve gone to a couple of these news meetings, but it didn’t seem to be time well-spent. Many of the stories they cover here are ongoing stories. If you don’t know the names and the backstory, you’d never figure them out.

Instead, we’ve set up a schedule for portfolio critiques. One-on-one mentoring is one of my specialties. The folks here seem to enjoy having someone point out alternative approaches they might have taken with their pages.

Or, in many cases, simply telling them their work is dynamite. I’ve truly been delighted with the quality of the visual work here. Granted, they don’t do many infographics — which is why I’m here. But, for the most part, the papers are well-designed and gorgeously put together each night.

Two days this week, I worked on actual graphics for the next day’s paper. One day, the big talker was about schoolgirls who disliked the long dresses they’re forced to wear as a uniform. But when they suggested raising the hemlines, they were accused of advocating for miniskirts.

Ludicrus. This tells me that some folks in this country can definitely pull a “Fox News” when it suits them.

So in a brilliant flash of tongue-in-cheekiness, someone at the Daily Nation had the idea of building a little graphic that shows just how these schoolgirl skirts really are, compared to a real miniskirt.

Our model: None other than Beyoncé. A reporter compiled the text, Kathy carved out some space and I did the Photoshop work and assembled the graphic.

The very next day, the lead story on page one was about the ongoing military action in Somalia. The designer built an interesting L-shape with a text box, cutout file photo and a wire service map.

I helped things along by compiling the text for the pullout box and then showed the designer how to adjust the map so it fits in better with the Nation’s usual color palette. The world globe inset was such a mess that we finally just replaced it with one I rebuilt from scratch.

So it’s been something different every day. A couple of days, we took a lunch break at a local place where I get what is essentially a gyro. Other days, we just snack at our desks.

Late in the evening, I head back “home,” enjoying the sight of this gorgeous art-deco-themed pink-colored place…

…which is directly across the street from my hotel, the Stanley.

Seems like a good place to wind up today’s story.

And that was what we did my first week here. We have an ambitious plan for Week Two, of course: More sessions, more brainstorming. And, most importantly: Many more portfolio reviews.

Also, a change has been made to my travel plans. Instead of departing for home Friday as originally scheduled, I’m going to fly from Nairobi directly to Johannesburg, South Africa. My longtime clients there have contracted with me for a week of my time while I’m here on the continent of Africa.

As a result, I won’t return home to Virginia Beach, now, until Sunday, Aug. 12.

This is Day Nine of a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Nairobi, Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

The Exchange Bar here in the Stanley Hotel has a new fan

So, when I first arrived here at the Stanley Hotel in downtown Nairobi, I spent much of my time at the Poolside bar and restaurant.

It’s really nice there in the open air of the fifth floor. And the food was terrific.

After a few days, however — in search of a more varied menu — I got up the nerve to try the Thorn Tree Cafe on the first floor. I was eating breakfast there every day anyway.  When I began eating dinner there, I found myself delighted with the food and service.

In fact, I spent my entire Saturday there. And I blogged about that this morning.

So after some work this morning, a long nap and a brief but disastrous attempt to walk around the block, I decided to drop by the Exchange Bar on the second floor of my hotel. If nothing else, I’d just look around to see what all was here.

The decor and atmosphere up here is very, very high-class. Lots of plush, leather seating and ornate wood trim. I feel rather bad walking through here wearing my Dockers or jeans and Hawaiian-print shirts. That’s why I’m just now checking it out today, halfway through my stay here.

But the folks here put me at ease right away. First thing they did was give me quick tour.

This room was the site of Kenya’s first stock exchange, which opened here in 1954. The walls are decorated with colonial-era prints and actual stock certificates from back in the day.

When the stock exchange finally outgrew this space — in 1991 — the hotel turned this into a gentleman’s club-type bar. You know the kind: Where stuffy old white men sit around, read the financial pages, smoke cigars and enjoy a fine brandy.

There’s even a statue of a naked woman in the middle of the place. This sort of thing would probably have been pretty racy in Victorian-era colonial Kenya.

I’ve only seen places like this in the movies. So I was astounded. I was also astounded that, even as a carefully unrefined, informal American slob, I was warmly welcomed here.

If there’s one thing the folks here at the Stanley Hotel know, though, it’s tourists. So once I was hooked by the architecture and the decor, the guard drew my attention to these funny-looking flap-like things on the ceiling…

…and he flipped a switch. My jaw hit the floor.


I dunno. Perhaps I’m easily amused. But this was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. It strikes me as ab inefficient ceiling fan. But wow, what a talker!

I was forced to pull out the iPhone and shoot a video of the place. Much to the amusement of the staff.

As I continued to look around, I found myself stunned a second time by this vintage old turn-of-the-century print of a castle in the northeast coast of England.

That’s Lumley Castle, near Durham and Chester-le-Street.

It’s been converted into a hotel. I know, because that’s where I stayed during my very first international infographics teaching mission, 23 years ago.

There’s a coincidence. And then there’s pure, dumb good karma. This just has to be the latter. There was only one thing to do: Cancel my plan to go back downstairs to the Thorn Tree for dinner and stay here for the evening.

And I’m so glad I did. I ordered a small plate of fried shrimp for an appetizer.

It was delicious. As were the fish and chips I had for dinner.

I sat here this evening, did a little blogging — as you can see — and worked on my presentation for tomorrow.

And I watched the fans. I love the flapping fans.

I’m so easily amused.

This is still Day Eight of a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Nairobi, Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

A Saturday spent at the famous Thorn Tree Cafe

Greetings from the famous Thorn Tree Cafe, on the first floor of the Stanley Hotel here in Nairobi, Kenya.

I’ve been taking most of my meals here in the Thorn Tree. I spent nearly all day Saturday, working here on my laptop. And I’m spending a few hours this morning (Sunday) here as well before I venture out into the city.

The cafe is tucked into a corner of the ground floor of the hotel. What you see through these windows here is the street outside.

Above, we’re ringed by an extension of the Exchange Bar on the first floor. Which is really the second floor, but it’s labeled “1” in the elevators. Don’t get me started on how confusing that can be.

That little corridor/bar/walkway area encircles the Thorn Tree, forming a little atrium. Most of it is roofed in glass, but there’s a large hole in the center — think the old Dallas Cowboys stadium, except much smaller — through which an actual thorn tree protrudes.

Also meaning this is essentially an open-air cafe. There are a large number of tables inside as well. But with the weather here as nice as it is, why would you sit inside when you can sit out here, by the tree?

The hotel’s owners planted an acacia tree in the middle of this restaurant back in 1959, with the intent of providing a little shade for the tables here. What happened, though, was travelers would post notes and bulletins on the trunk of the tree itself.

The Thorn Tree became the place to meet travelers, bum rides, trade stories and figure out just how to navigate the wilds of Kenya. Journalist and novelist Ernest Hemingway spent months living in this hotel and, in particular, hanging out in the Thorn Tree Cafe.

At some point, the original acacia tree died and was replaced with the current one. The hotel kept the tradition alive by ringing the tree with a message board…

…and with an online Thorn Tree blog. Seriously. Check it out here.

Among other famous folks who have spent time in this restaurant and in this hotel, which turns 110 years old this year: Elspeth Huxley, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

Back in Kenya’s colonial days, an important rail line was laid through here that stretched from Uganda to the coastal city of Mombasa. The city of Nairobi grew around the depot. And the Stanley — directly across from that depot — became the defacto crossroads of British East Africa. At least, until roads and automobiles made the rail line a museum piece.

This history is celebrated with pictures that hang in the indoors portion of the Thorn Tree Cafe.

This is a poster from around 100 years or so ago. Note the deck: Winter home for Aristocrats.

And I completely missed this until yesterday, because normally, there is a huge breakfast bar in front of it: A mural depicting the Uganda Railway the way it must have appeared in the 1920s or 1930s.

Note the little boy in the extreme lower left, peering at the artist…

…and the giraffes running free in the background.

I examined the mural closely, thinking it was elaborate wallpaper or a decal of some sort. This gave the manager of the hotel a huge laugh.

Nope. It’s real, live paint.

Every morning, they set the breakfast buffet table here in the covered section of the restaurant. Most of the foods on the right are local specialties. And, of course, if I can’t figure out what it is, I won’t touch it.

On the left are English-style foods like sausage and bacon. However, the “bacon” is closer to what you and I might call “country ham.”

What we Americans call “bacon,” Africans seem to call “streaky bacon.” And it’s not all that common.

There is an egg-cooking station where the woman there is prepared to make an omelette to my specifications. Naturally, I ask for three eggs, hard-fried.

It took most of the week for her to figure out how to make them so the yolks weren’t runny. The tendency here is to not overcook. But I dislike runny egg yolks.

Saturday was the first day I didn’t have runny eggs. Today, there was a different woman cooking eggs, so the learning process started again. And sure enough, another hotel guest walked up, saw my eggs in process and complained that the cook was “murdering those eggs.”

A hotel guest complaining about someone else’s meal. That was a first for me. I guess I still have so much to learn about international travel.

This is a typical breakfast for me here at the Thorn Tree: Three eggs, a few pieces of “bacon,” toast with butter, three doughnuts, coffee and orange juice.

I include the doughnuts mostly because I’ve not been eating much for lunch. Which gives me a bit of a carbohydrate deficit in the afternoons, unless I stock up just a bit. Three doughnuts — which aren’t very sweet and have no sugar coating on them — seem to do the trick perfectly well.

Oh, and the coffee here is hot. Very hot. Spill any of this on your lap and you’ll be singing soprano for weeks.

Weekdays, I’ll hit the breakfast buffet and be on my way to work within 20 or 30 minutes. On the weekends, however, I bring my MacBook Pro with me and hang out for a while. The hostesses have learned to ask me whether or not I need a place to plug in. Saturday, I sat in the open-air area near the tree until I ran down my battery.

Also Saturday, I had so much work to do that I planned to hang out here until I was done or the manager got sick of me. When lunchtime rolled around, I decided to have only a salad. The Caesar salad is pretty good, but the best one on the menus is the Ernest Hemingway salad.

As you can see, it sells for 850 Kenyan shillings. Which is about $10.11. Not bad at all.

Here’s what it looks like:

Good stuff.

The first few days I was here, I ate upstairs at the poolside bar and restaurant. I enjoyed the fish and chips very much; the steak not so much. It wasn’t until Wednesday — Day Four here — that I decided to try the Thorn Tree, mostly because of the larger menu.

The place looked so nice from the outside that I felt guilty about coming in here with a laptop. The hostess assured me I’d be fine. Sure enough, once we got inside, I found two folks reading iPads during their dinner.

That first day, I ordered the fillet steak. Which was a bit of a disappointment.

Friday, I tried the giant prawns. Which were a bit spicy. But very, very good.

I enjoyed them so much I had them again last night.

So I came down to the Thorn Tree for breakfast, broke out the laptop, ate a great salad for lunch, worked some more and then stayed for dinner as well. I got a lot of work done and I spent all day in one of Nairobi’s most historic locations. You can’t beat that for a Saturday.

I wrote earlier about how I was drinking the local beer, called Tusker.

I’ve not been drinking quite as much beer this trip as I normally do. I’ve not been sleeping well, which has left me feeling a bit weak at times. So I’ve been drinking more Diet Coke.

Which they deliver chilled in a glass bottle that reminds me of the old eight-ounce size we bought when I was a kid. But this one, in fact, is 10.14 ounces — better known here as 300 ml.

Chilled, but no ice. Ice cubes appear to be an American conceit.

Saturday, however, I did have a couple of these:

That’s a second brand of Kenyan beer called White Cap. It’s very nice, and seems to  go down quite a bit better than the Tusker. So it’s my new favorite.

This nice South African couple sitting at the next table tipped me off about White Cap. They’ve been living here for the past couple of years and like to come down to the Thorn Tree for a nice break every once in a while.

In fact, they’ve invited me to their home this afternoon. I’m looking forward to that.

UPDATE – Alas, I didn’t make it. As lunchtime approached, I began feeling quite poorly. I ended up texting my regrets and taking a lengthy nap instead.

Once I exhausted the battery on my laptop, I moved to this table by the glass window, where I could plug in.

And I worked hard on a couple of blog posts, on my presentations for next week and on the tremendous amount of correspondence that has built up while I’ve been otherwise occupied. I intentionally kept my back to the TV so I wouldn’t be distracted by Day One of the Olympic Games in London. Or, once this vocal crowd showed up, rugby.

Every once and a while, the hotel needed to get in touch with a guest who might — or might not — be relaxing in the Thorn Tree. Instead of making an announcement on the P.A. system, the front desk writes the name of the guest on a portable white board and sends this fellow around the place, ringing a little bell.

I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Around dinnertime, the waiters removed a couple of tables to make room for a three-piece band…

…which became a four-piece band with the addition of a female vocalist. Even though there were fewer than a dozen of us here at the Thorn Tree last night, the band serenaded us with a number of pop tunes including oldies from the 1960s, modern hits and what sounded like variations of African originals.

I applauded loudly after they did a Beatles tune, “Yesterday.” So the band put their heads together right away and sane “Let it Be” and “Imagine.”

And they sounded terrific. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to having my own living jukebox.

Despite how much I enjoyed this, I was dead tired yet again last night. I’ve not been sleeping well at all on this trip, and the strain is beginning to get to me just a bit. So I turned in early and slept very well… until around 4 a.m., when a loud noise outside startled me awake. I wasn’t able to get back to sleep.

So here I am in the Thorn Tree. It’s coming up on 9:30 a.m. here in Nairobi — which is 2:30 a.m. back in Virginia Beach. It’s just a bit chilly here this morning: 16.1 Celsius, or 61 degrees Fahrenheit. I brought a sport coat with me. Today is the first time I’ve considered putting it on. Or, y’know, picking up my lazy butt and moving inside.

I’ll do a little more writing this morning, catch a cab to visit my new friends and try to get back here so I can do a bit more work and then get to bed early again.

I’m looking forward to another busy week at work. Gotta make sure I’m at the top of my game.

This is Day Eight of a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Nairobi, Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

Why manufacturers of customized hotel towels need a copy editor

As I was stepping out of the shower today — at my hotel in downtown Nairobi, Kenya — I spotted this on my bath mat.

Arova Iotels? Not likely. Especially since the hand towels on the wall say:

I’ll alert the management as soon as I learn how to make a standard proofreader’s mark on terrycloth.

Oddly enough, I ran into a similar thing in Abuja, Nigeria, back in March. The word “Abuja” on the complimentary hotel room robe was strangely spelled as two words.

I showed this picture to folks at the newspaper there at the time, wondering if it was some acceptable alternate spelling or something. But no such luck. Everyone just laughed and shook their heads.

I’m starting Day Four of a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

You know who else needs a copy editor?

Local TV news operations. Chicago’s WMAQ-TV in particular. And WLS-TV, also of Chicago. And Harrisburg’s Fox43 TV news. And Local 15 News in Mobile, Ala. And WMAR-TV in Baltimore. And WBAL-TV in Baltimore. And Fox2Now in St. Louis. And KTLA channel 5 in Los Angeles. And KNBC channel 4 in Los Angeles. And Charlotte’s WBTV. And KXAN-TV of Austin. And Huntsville’s WAFF-TV. And Miami’s WSVN channel 7. And KUSA 9 News in Denver, Colo. And KCRG of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And local Fox affiliates. And other local TV news operations. And CBS local media. And CBS/DC in Washington. And the web operation for DC101 radio. And the Huffington Post. And the Huffington Post again. And CNN (and CNN again)(and yet again)(and yet again)(and a huge one here) and CNN Money and CNN mobile and Fox News (and Fox News again)(and Fox News yet again)(and again!)(and again!)(and yet again!)(and yet again) and Fox Business and MSNBC and MSNBC again and ABC News and NBC news and the Weather Channel and the BBC and German news channel N24. And Fairfax media of New Zealand. And Dagsrevyen, the evening news broadcast of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. And Martha Stewart’s TV operation. And the Disney Channel. And AOL. And creators of mobile apps. And Yahoo News. And Yahoo News again. And the fictional TMI! web site on the Newsroom TV show. And Google News’ bots. And baseball jersey manufacturers. And football jersey manufacturers. And sports ticket counterfeiters. And the NCAA. And the Big 12 Conference. And Georgetown University. And Kansas State University. And the University of Iowa. And the University of North Carolina. And the University of Texas. And Nebraska Wesleyan University. And high school diploma printers. And the New York Jets, the Minnesota Vikings, the Minnesota Twins the St. Louis Cardinals, the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals (boy, do they need a copy editor). And the National Hockey League (and the NHL again). And the NHL Network. And ESPN (and ESPN again)(and yet again)(and yet again)(and three more times!)(and yet again)(and yet again) and Fox Sports (and Fox Sports again)(and Fox Sports one more time). And NBC Sports. And CBS Sportsline. And Sports Illustrated (and again). And college athletic department ticket offices. And the NCAA. And Leaf trading card company. And the Virginia general assembly. And college alumni magazines. And pharmacies. And the makers of Sudafed. And Borders bookstore. And the U.S. Postal Service. And government agencies and political candidates. And Tea Party candidates. And the Newt Gingrich campaign. And the Mitt Romney campaign. And the Mitt Romney campaign again. And the White House. And the Vice President. And city and county Boards of Elections. Both the state of Pennsylvania and its department of transportation. And Costa Cruises. And Pittsburgh skywriters. And road paving contractors in Durham, N.C. and in New York City. And the city of Norfolk, Va. And the Ohio Dept. of Transportation. And the Maryland Dept. of Transportation. And the West Palm Beach, Fla., police dept. And Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, Fla. And Sunrise-McMillan Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. And South African traffic cops. And the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico. And gas stations. And billboard companies. And bumper sticker manufacturers. And sign painters. And Home Depot and manufacturers of “hoodies.“ And T-shirt designers. And more T-shirt designers. And Old Navy. And Adidas. And Mazda. And rubber stamp designers. And glass etchers. And hotels. And Starbucks. And Wendy’s. And Applebee‘s. And DaVanni’s Pizza. And restaurants, breakfast joints, Chinese restaurants and cake decorators. And more cake decorators. And drive-in movie theater managers. And auto dealers. And auto body shops. And romance novelists. And Capcom, the makers of Resident Evil video games. And the Ku Klux Klan. And American Idol. And book cover designers. And editorial cartoonists. And business page editors. And South Africa’s New Age and Sunday Independent newspapers. And City Press of Johannesburg. And Dublin’s Sunday Business Post. And the Echo of Gloucestershire, England. And the London Daily Mail. And the National Post of Toronto, Canada. And the South China Morning Post. And the Washington Post (Hey! Another repeat offender!), the Post’s Express tab (Hey! Yet another repeat offender!), the Washington Examiner, the New York Times (Wow! Yet another repeat offender!)(Hey! A third offense!)(Hey! A fourth offense!), the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Wall Street Journal Europe, Newsday, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times (And yet another!), the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat & Chronicle, the Daily Mail of London, the Echo of Liverpool, England, the Seattle Times, the weekly Manila Mail of San Francisco, the Miami Herald (and again!), the Portland Oregonian, the Durham, N.C., Herald-Sun, the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., the Chapel Hill, N.C., News, the Tampa Bay Times, the Missoula, Mont., Missoulian, the Duluth, Minn., News Tribune, the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, the Times-Record of Denton, Md., the News-Herald of Willoughby, Ohio, the Reporter of Lansdale, Pa., the Times-News of Erie, Pa., the Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh, Pa., the Wilmington, Del., News Journal, the Dispatch of Casa Grande, Ariz., the Amarillo (Texas) Globe News, the Laredo Morning Times, the Daily Telegram of Temple, Texas, the Independent of Rayne, La., the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Waynesboro News Virginian, the Virginian-Pilot (and the Virginian-Pilot again), the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, the Coon Rapids (Iowa) Enterprise, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Gannett’s N.Y. Central Media hub, the Greenville (S.C.) News, the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the Olympian of Olympia, Wash., the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, the Carbondale, Ill., Southern Illinoisian, the Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger (Hey! Yet another repeat offender!) and the Canarsie Courier of New York City. And Politico. And the Associated Press. And the Associated Press again. And the Associated Press again. And the Associated Press again. And Mann’s Jeweler’s Accent magazine. And New Scientist magazine. And Investment News magazine. And Time magazine (and Time magazine again). And Editor & Publisher.

And, of course, I need a copy editor myself.

I’ve always needed a copy editor. Which is why you’ll see me fight so hard for them.

A Sunday stroll around downtown Nairobi

With the internet being down in the hotel Sunday, I wasn’t able to check the Newseum or even read the latest developments in the Aurora shooting. As I wrote earlier, I had brunch with the design director who was responsible for inviting me here to Nairobi, Kathy Bogan. She took me for a brief walk around the downtown area.

I find this place very interesting. It’s marked with tropical trees, as you see there. Yet, the altitude here is higher than Denver, so it’s nice and cool. A great break from what I was getting back in Virginia Beach.

The city wasn’t terribly crowded, with it being Sunday and all. Yet, there was just a hint of bustle.

There are a number of shopping centers and restaurants within an easy walk of my hotel. Should I want to venture out alone, that is. I’m told it’s quite safe here, especially during the day.

The roads, perhaps, not so much. Traffic wasn’t nearly as crazy as it was in Nigeria. But it wasn’t structured at all like it is in South Africa. Vehicles don’t feel the need to stay in any particular lane. Nor do they seem to take traffic lights seriously.

And the traffic circles: Wow. In Johannesburg and Cape Town — where I’ve driven quite a bit — I can get around just fine. But I wouldn’t even want to try to drive through this zoo of a roundabout.

And, as I’ve seen throughout Africa: If it’s flat, they can slap an advertisement on it. No matter how tall it might be.

This poor fellow wants to keep someone from posting ads on his wall.

He might not need ad posters. But he needs a copy editor.

This is the home of the Nation Media Group, a large multimedia company here in Nairobi that publishes a number of newspapers, magazines and owns TV, radio and internet outlets.

Interesting architecture, is it not? The main part of the building is up front. The two circular things that look like cooling towers or smokestacks are, in fact, offices. The conference room where I’ll be giving my shows this week is actually in the lower end of one of those stacks.

We spent a couple of hours poking around the office before Kathy took me back to my hotel, the historic Stanley. It was the first chance I’ve had, really, to see it in the daylight.

I’m on the seventh floor, on the far side of the section you see here on the left. The downside is that my room doesn’t face the main streets, so I don’t have much of a view. The upside is that I’m not getting much street noise here in my room.

This is the hallway here on the 7th floor. Note the carved wood trim.

My room is huge and comfy. I can report the bed sleeps very well.

Here’s a reverse view. That’s a minibar and a closet on the left. Not that I’ve had much use yet for the closet.

And this desk will serve as blog central… when the internet is working, that is. It worked for a couple of hours, maybe, late Saturday and early Sunday before it went down. It didn’t work at all Sunday.

I managed to get on well after midnight, which is how I uploaded these pictures. I’m hoping access will be more reliable for the rest of my stay here.

There are all sorts of interesting places here in the Stanley. I’m going to have to shoot pictures of some of them and tell you about them. But a) Folks are very security-conscious, so I’ve been warned about whipping out my Canon. And b) I’m awfully self-conscious about walking around five-star facilities wearing warmup pants and a T-shirt. My suitcase was supposed to arrive late last night. No good news yet.

I did manage to check out the poolside bar and restaurant, up on the fifth floor. The fitness center is up here, too, so there’s not really a dress code here.

The establishment forms a ring around this atrium area.

And, of course, there is a pool. I didn’t bring a swimsuit with me this trip. But even if I had, I wouldn’t have it with me anyway: It would have been in my suitcase.

On Sunday afternoons, I’m told they grill meat for a buffet-style meal up here. I’ll make a mental note to be here for that.

And, yes, there’s a real bar here. With what appear to be regular customers.

I sat down at one of the cute placemats shaped like me…

…and ordered the local Kenyan beer: Tusker.

Very nice and very cold. Has a bit of a punch, in fact. I won’t be drinking more than two at a sitting, that’s for sure.

Dinner was fish and chips. And delicious.

Given how close we are to the equator, I was surprised at how early it gets dark here. In addition, just as dusk was settling in, clouds rolled over the city. We got a few drops but nothing really to write home about.

I spent the afternoon and evening doing what I nearly always do on these trips: Ripping up my slideshows and reconfiguring them.

Kathy will meet me in the lobby this morning at 8:30. And my first presentation is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this: My first video blog report.


UPDATE, even before I got this posted…

My alarm clock was set this morning for 6 a.m. Before the first snooze cycle passed, the front desk called. My bag had arrived. They were sending it up to my room.

It was shrinkwrapped and the zipper is torn off. But nothing appears to be missing.

So is the broken zipper the reason the bag was delayed? Not at all. In fact, the case was still closed. It’s the handle part of the zipper that’s missing. I have no idea how I’ll get it closed when it comes time to pack for the return trip. But I’ll worry about that next week.

Here’s the real reason the bag went missing:

That’s the label the folks in Norfolk put on my bag Friday afternoon. See the little “CDG”? That stands for Charles de Gaulle, the name of the airport in Paris.

The “helpful” lady at the Delta counter in Norfolk checked my bag to Paris, not Nairobi, my actual destination. So while I was flying over the Mediterranean and the Sahara, my bag was going around and around on a baggage carousel in Paris.

So much for being the “star” in the Star Alliance. Thanks for nothing, Delta.

But I have clothes now. And just in time.

Because I’d really hate teaching here in Nairobi naked.

I’m just starting a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

The last leg of my trip to Nairobi

Saturday turned out to be a long day from hell for me and my journey to Kenya.

When I last spoke with you, I was sitting at the gate of the airport in Paris, where our plane was very late leaving for Kenya.

We finally got off about two hours after schedule. We were already scheduled to get to Nairobi fairly late last night. This pushed us back closer to midnight.

Despite the delay, though, I was impressed with Kenya Airways. These folks put a lot of effort into branding and other little personal touches. I was tempted to haul away this little blanket.

I’ve seen bilingual airplane signs before. But the ones on our flight were in English and Swahili.

To keep my aching diabetic feet in good shape during these longs trips, I always take off my shoes and switch to crushable slippers from my carry-on bag. This was part of what made my two long flights — one seven hours and one nine hours — bearable.

I was able to watch some TV and movies on my flight from New York to Paris. No such luck in the Paris-to-Nairobi flight, however. The personal movie screens in our row weren’t working.

Still, our long trip was bearable. Because my seatmate was a very friendly guy, so we chatted a bunch. He even pulled a Swedish newspaper out of his carry-on bag when he found out what I do for a living. Fabulous print reproduction.

And the scenery outside our window was stunning. First, we flew over downtown Paris…

…and then we flew over the crystal-clear Mediterranean. This is the island of Sicily.

Here’s where we finally crossed into Africa: In Libya, just west of Benghazi.

You have that beautiful water and then — Boom! — the Sahara desert. Talk about your hard edge contrast.

And then the sun went down just outside by window. Just gorgeous.

So the visuals out the window were fabulous.

My arrival in Nairobi: Not quite so much. My luggage didn’t quite make it. After a couple of hours, the folks from the airline say my bag was still in Paris. They’re promising me they’ll deliver it to the hotel tonight.

We’ll see. But It’s hard for me not to get panicky about that. I was just writing the other day about how sloppy I dress on airplanes these days.

My computer and camera equipment are all in my carry-ons, of course. So I can still teach Monday. I just might not have any clothes to teach in.

As promised, a driver took me to my hotel. I didn’t get settled in until after midnight. I managed to get online long enough to talk to my wife and daughter, but then the hotel system kicked me off and I couldn’t back online. Nor could I get logged in this morning.

It looks like it’s going to be one of those weeks for the blog. If I miss a few days of posting, you’ll know why.

I slept in this morning and then ate brunch with the design director of the Nation Media Group here in Nairoibi, Kathy Bogan. You may remember her from her years at the late, great Rocky Mountain News.

She’ll be my primary contact person this week. She even set me up with her home wifi for a few minutes so I could get these pictures posted.

Hopefully, we’ll get the hotel back online. And hopefully, I can get some pictures of the hotel posted as well.

Most of all, though, hopefully my clothes will arrive late tonight. I could really use a fresh change of clothes.

Tomorrow, we begin talking infographics. And that’s when the fun stuff starts.

I’m just starting a two-week consulting and teaching trip to Kenya. Read along with my trip here.

Hello from Paris

Greetings from Charles de Gaulle airport on the outskirts of Paris.

As I write this sentence, it’s 10:40 a.m. — nearly time for my flight to Nairobi to depart. But that ain’t happening yet. We’ve been delayed at least an hour and perhaps longer.

This makes three out of three flights this trip that have had delays. At least I’m consistent.

I started out Friday afternoon in Norfolk. The plane that was to take us to New York was delayed getting to Norfolk from New York in the first place. There were weather issues and traffic control issues, we were told. So we sat and waited.

The air conditioning in our part of the terminal was out, so it was pretty steamy in there. I chose to plop down on the floor out in the corridor, where it was much cooler. A man sitting to my right wad groovin’ to his iPod. And farting repeatedly.

So at least I had some entertainment while I waited.

Finally, we were off. It took us only an hour to get to JFK, but then we spent another hour trying to get to our gate. Planes were so backed up that they were blocking the taxiways. What a mess.

Luckily, I had a bit of a layover scheduled. This gave me plenty of cushion. Which I needed: The inside of JFK was an even bigger mess than the outside. In order to get to the international terminal, I had to leave the security area and walk to the next building. Down an uncovered sidewalk. In the rain.

I’ve been through JFK two or three times, but I don’t ever remember having to do that.

I was flying Air France from New York to Paris. Our carriage was a nice, big widebody Airbus.

It’s not raining in that picture because I actually took it this morning in Paris, as opposed to last night in New York.

But we were delayed a good half-hour or so boarding. And then, once we were all ready to go, we backed out of the gate, joined the que to the runway and… sat there. With nothing to do but take pictures of ourselves.

Each seat was equipped with its own screen so you can dial up whatever movies or TV episodes you like. Before takeoff, however, the player is inoperative. All we could do is sit there and watch the tail of the plane in front of us.

By the time we were airborne, we were a good 90 minutes or more behind schedule. Luckily, I had a nice layover scheduled in Paris as well. If this happens on the way back, however, I’ll be toast.

As luck would have it, I was in the very last row. The good news: I had no seatmate, meaning I could fold back the armrest and stretch out a little, horizontally. The bad news: The seat won’t recline at all. And — as is the case these days — I had little or no leg room. My knees were pushed up solid against the seatback in front of me.

This is a real problem for me when I fly coach. And I’m only 6-foot-1. I don’t know how really tall folks deal with it.

My large belly also gives me problems with the seatback tray. I usually can’t get mine fully lowered. Last night, I simply used the one to my right.

And man, was the food great. And the service was great, too. This was only my second time flying AirFrance. Those guys run a top-notch airline. Even if they do put me in the very last row.

I watched an episode of the Simpsons, an episode of Big Bang Theory and the movie Easy Rider, which I had never seen. Mostly, though, I tried to sleep. I did the best I could in my tiny little seat.

Here’s something I’ve not seen in years: An ash tray built into the armrest of my seat.

This was sundown, with the lights of New England trying to burn through the clouds…

…and this was sunrise, just off the coast of Ireland.

And here we are flying over the French countryside, not far from Paris.

We landed a good hour behind schedule. Folks were desperate to get off the plane and run for their connections. This airport is so huge, though, and the security lines were longer than they were in New York. I doubt some of my fellow passengers made their flights.

You know you’re in France when the first thing you run into when you get off the plane is a painting featuring a naked woman.

You also know you’re in France when the second thing you run into is a woman in the men’s bathroom.

I wanted to freshen up and change clothes. I was standing in line inside very crowded men’s room when I spotted a large, handicapped stall. That’s what I needed — something with a private sink and room to open my carry-on bag.

Just then, the door opened and the occupant walked out. A woman.

No one seemed surprised except me. Welcome to France, y’know?

I felt a lot better after I changed clothes, picked up my boarding pass for the last leg of my journey and stood in yet another security line. They served us a tasty but small breakfast on the plane. I wanted something to eat. And I have at least one reader out there in blog land (Hi, Allison!) who taunts me for eating at McDonald’s.

I couldn’t find a McDonald’s here in Terminal F. However, I did find Bert’s, a French sandwich shop.

I ordered a Coke Light, a piece of chocolate cake — because I was so far behind in my carb intake — and, just because I felt like I should — a croissant.

You guys would have been so proud of me. I even managed to speak mostly French to the guy behind the counter. Until my debit card wouldn’t swipe through the machine. At that point, we both had to revert to English.

French might be the international language of food and love. But English remains the international language of credit and debit cards.

I bought myself 90 minutes of internet time and checked my messages. I wasn’t sure I’d have time to do this.

But I did. Mostly because my flight from here to Nairobi has been delayed.

Since I started writing this post, I left Bert’s, walked to my gate and I’m sitting there now, watching the Kenyan Airlines employees mill around with nothing to do.

I’m not quite sure what’s causing our delay. Seems to be the norm this time around. But that’s OK. My schedule allows it. In fact, it’s probably helping to keep me relaxed.

I’m told there will be someone to meet me at the airport in Nairobi tonight and drive me to my hotel. I’ll have Sunday to sleep off my trip get oriented and perhaps post a few more pictures before I need to prepare for a great week of teaching infographics.

Leaving today for my next consulting assignment: Kenya

I leave shortly for my next teaching and consulting assignment: Nairobi, Kenya, where I’ll spend the next two weeks teaching infographics at the Nation media group.

This is my sixth trip to the continent of Africa. I spent two weeks at the Leadership newspaper group in Abuja, Nigeria, in March. And, as you know, I’ve done quite a bit of work for Media24, a large newspaper chain in South Africa.

When you see that map, you probably think: Wow, it’s going to be hot in Nairobi. But you’d be wrong. Because Nairobi is just 90 miles or so South of the Equator, their hottest days are in March and October. In fact, on average, July is the coolest month of the year.

Also, Nairobi is very high up in the mountains: 5,889 feet above sea level. That puts it 138 feet higher than Johannesburg — which I found to be quite nice when I was there for summer in 2010-11 — and 209 feet higher than the highest point in Denver.

So heat won’t be a factor. But I’ll have to remember to avoid strenuous activity. Like, y’know, walking up a flight of stairs.

The forecast for this week is just wonderful. Especially compared to the oppressive heat we’ve seen here in Hampton Roads lately. Here’s the forecast for this week in Nairobi:

I’m even taking a sport coat to wear in the evenings. When, as you see, it can get just a bit chilly.

I’ll be staying at the Stanley Hotel in downtown Nairobi. Here’s a picture from the hotel’s web site:

It’s a famous old hotel. Ernest Hemmingway spent a lot of time here in the 1930s. I’m told I’ll enjoy the historic Thorn Tree Cafe and the Exchange bar, a bar built in the room where Kenya’s first stock exchange operated.

What’s even better: I’m told I’ll be an easy walk from the newspaper office. Just a block or two.

So, once I’m there, I’ll be fine.

Whenever I venture out this far from home, however, the plane rides are just brutal — especially for someone my size. The widths of airline seats are bad enough, but these days, I don’t get enough leg room in front of me, either. The seats are just too close together. So little things like keeping circulation in my feet or even lowering my tray so I can eat can be a hassle.

I enjoy the work. But I don’t enjoy the travel itself.

I’ll leave Norfolk in early afternoon and have brief layovers in New York and Paris. I’ll arrive in Nairobi late Saturday their time.

Nairobi time is seven hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, so I’ve been up to my usual “time-shifting” trick to try to avoid the worst effects of jet lag. Right after the July 4th holiday, I began getting up a half-hour earlier than usual each day and going to bed a half-earlier earlier than usual each night.

Thursday, July 5: Up at 8:30 a.m. – Bed by Midnight

Friday, July 6: Up at 8 a.m. – Bed by 11:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 7: Up at 7:30 a.m. – Bed by 11 p.m.

Sunday, July 8: Up at 7 a.m. – Bed by 10:30 p.m.

Monday, July 9: Up at 6:30 a.m. – Bed by 10 p.m.

Tuesday, July 10: Up at 6 a.m. – Bed by 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 11: Up at 5:30 a.m. – Bed by 9 p.m.

Thursday, July 12: Up at 5 a.m. – Bed by 8:30 p.m.

Friday, July 13: Up at 4:30 a.m. – Bed by 8 p.m.

Saturday, July 14: Up at 4 a.m. – Bed by 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 15: Up at 3:30 a.m. – Bed by 7 p.m.

Monday, July 16: Up at 3 a.m. – Bed by 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 17: Up at 2:30 a.m. – Bed by 6 p.m.

Wednesday, July 18: Up at 2 a.m. – Bed by 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, July 19: Up at 1:30 a.m. – Bed by 5 p.m.

Friday, July 20: Up at 1 a.m.

I’ve been burned badly in the past by jet lag, so I’ve refined this system over the past few years. And it works pretty well. What I did differently this time: Half-hour increments instead of full hour changes. Which meant the process took longer but was less painful.

Time-shifting wasn’t really a problem until this week. I’ve not had problems getting up in the mornings. But getting to sleep on time was difficult.

There are other little tricks: Avoid caffeine, for example. And don’t go out in the sun in the afternoons. Likewise, I’ll want to get up Sunday morning in Nairobi and get out into the sun as quickly as possible. Sunlight triggers a chemical in your skin called melatonin that helps reset your body clock.

Right now, I’m a little tired. But I’ll have plenty of time to sleep on the plane.

Working at the breakfast table at 4:30 a.m. today.

I’ve kept busy during the wee hours of the mornings by refining my slide shows for next week, by knocking out a bunch of other commitments — some freelance work and judging a college design contest, for example.

And getting ahead on birthday posts for my blog. I don’t want to have to take a time out to write up birthday posts while I’m on the road. As of this week, they’re all written through Aug. 18, as a matter of fact.

Normally, I rely on my wife, Sharon, to help me pack and to take care of a bunch of little details. This time, however, she was out of town — in Richmond for a teaching conference. So I’ve had to be extra-careful when making my schedule and packing checklist for yesterday and today.

I didn’t pack — Sharon’s much better than I am at reducing wrinkles and such — so I laid out stuff for her to pack this morning. Which she did. I’m all set to go now.

One fairly large — but hopefully weighing under 50 lbs. — checked bag, one carry-on and my computer bag. That’s about as light as I can travel on an extended trip like this.

I’ve learned long ago that no one cares what you look like on an airplane — especially when you’ll be flying for nearly 24 hours. So these days I wear the most comfortable clothes I can find. Today, that’s a T-shirt — with a breast pocket for my iPod — warmup pants and my usual sneakers.

In my carry-on bag, I have an extra T-shirt, socks and underwear so I can change on the plane or in Paris.

I’ll soon be on my way. Naturally, I’ll keep you posted.