Blog It Forward – Matt Fraser – The Sequel
Here we go again!
I was tagged by Florian Henninger in his own “sequel” BiF post, and I want to thank him for that. Also, apologies, Florian, for taking a few weeks to get around to it, but as you’ll note in a little while, within a couple days of your tag I was jumping on a plane to go overseas, so I was just a wee bit busy!
Also thanks to Sue Keohan for reigniting this initiative! I really enjoyed it the first time around, and I’m enjoying it again now.
Yes, that’s right, I posted a BiF six years ago, which you can read here, so I won’t go over old territory and bore you to death with the same old stories. I’ll focus on what’s new — and in some cases still the same — since late 2014.
What Has Changed in Six Years
Well, I’m no longer 49 years old as I was then. I’ll let you do the math. I’m still married to the same wonderful woman. My daughter is now an adult in her own right, and no longer lives just up the road. She has moved to Texas and is expanding her horizons, which I think is a great thing, although I do miss our movie dates.
I still live in Seattle, and it’s still a beautiful city.
I’m still sailing Abeona, my 1982 Cal 39.
I’m still an active hiker and backpacker, but I’m not climbing anymore. Actually, I already wasn’t climbing six years ago, too, but back then it was something worth mentioning. A little too much creaky knee syndrome! Also, more to the point, there just isn’t enough time in any given day, month, or year, to commit to a busy professional life, writing, and sailing, and still keep climbing in the mix. Climbing is one of those things for which you must actively keep at training, not only for safety, but also so you can enjoy it rather than just endure it. I do miss those grand summit vistas, however some great views are still to be had from the trails.
I’m still writing, but I also still haven’t published anything. Well, not in the traditional sense of there being a book you can go buy on Amazon, but I do publish my work-in-progress on my own website, so you can go read my first draft, scene by scene, as I write it. I post a new scene every two to four weeks — usually — so you will have to be patient as I tend to leave you with cliffhangers!
What do I write? Science fiction. I try to focus on what’s sometimes called “hard” science fiction, but all that means is that I keep things mostly grounded in actual physics, with just a small amount of handwavium to keep the story moving along. The current work is a “first contact” story, in which a small group of astronauts travel to another star to investigate the source of a thousand-year-old radio transmission. However, when they arrive, they don’t find what they’re expecting. And no, it’s not a predatory alien with acid for blood and a double-jaw…
If you’re interested, have a peek at https://mattfraserbooks.com, click on the Works in Progress tab, and check out The Silence of Ancient Light. And leave a comment! I invite feedback, good or bad. Actually, it’s all good, because like any writer, I can always improve, and you can help me with that.
I was then and still now remain an avid and active traveler. When I wrote my first BiF, six years ago, I had reached five of the seven continents, including Antarctica (which I discussed in detail in that post), and I had put my foot into three of the five oceans. What has changed about that status in the ensuing years?
Six years ago, I was just about to embark on a trip, along with my brother and his wife, to revisit the land of my birth, and also to see some of my uncles and aunts before it became too late. Our timing was good, as just a matter of months later it would indeed have been too late. Nevertheless, it was great to reconnect with extended family and see some of the old haunts. My brother had not been back since he was 10 years old, so it was quite different from his memories! For me, it had not been quite so long, but still it had been about fifteen years, give or take. The country remains as beautiful as I remembered, and yes, just as beautiful as you’ve imagined.
In 2008, a good friend of mine, Dale, was in the midst of spending a couple years backpacking and exploring around South America when he developed the totally random idea of participating in a river raft race. With home-made log rafts, that is. On the infamous Amazon. For three days of paddling. Dale wrote about his experience at the time in his blog, The Accidental Explorer,and you can read about it at The Great Amazon River Raft Race. He tells of dodging caimans, piranhas, and malaria-infested mosquitoes, not to mention crazy expats trying to find themselves in the jungle, and along the way winning the race in a most improbable fashion.
Fast-forward ten years, and Dale was now an independent documentary filmmaker, in his spare time, and he had arranged to return to the Amazon in order to film a documentary about the annual race. This was to be a fairly significant undertaking, but at the last minute the fellow filmmaker he had recruited as his production assistant was forced to drop out. It just so happened that I was looking for a photographer in order to produce a professional headshot of myself, and when I called Dale about it,
Dale: “I’ll do it if you can do me a favor. What would you say to coming to Peru with me to help me make a film about the Amazon raft race?”
Me: “Sounds great! When is the trip?”
Dale: “In a week.”
A week! I had to get vaccinations, including the now-hard-to-find-in-the-US yellow fever shot. I had to arrange for time off from work at the last minute. And of course, I had to check in with my wife.
Amazingly, it all came together, and a week later I winged my way to Lima, from where I connected online to participate as a panelist on an SAP Community Call before catching the next flight to Iquitos. Soon Dale and I were boating around the river, chasing flimsy log rafts that often seemed in danger of sinking at any moment, and doing our best Jack Colton impersonations. We followed up our four days on the river with four days deeper in the jungle, chasing not-so-elusive monkeys. You can read my own write-ups about Iquitos at Iquitos and the Amazon and Changes in Latitude. I apologize that I haven’t gotten around to finishing write-ups for the rest of that story, but hopefully soon!
And, with that, I had one more continent toward my goal.
No sooner was I home from Peru than I was almost immediately catching another plane, this time to return to Europe, though for my first trip to Spain, in order to attend the SAP TechEd conference in Barcelona.
I had attended TechEd in Las Vegas twice before (it is “just down the road” from me, after all), and been to SAPPHIRE in Orlando once, but during that second Vegas trip it occurred to me that a great many SAP Mentors (and now Champions) and other experts and professionals would regularly come to the United States for conferences from Europe and Asia, not to mention South America, but how often did North Americans show up at the European or Indian conferences? Some do, of course, but not to the numbers we see coming to America. I resolved to help balance that disparity out and show some support for our European and Indian colleagues by traveling to TechEd in their homes.
I started with Barcelona. I won’t go into details about the conference, as many others have written about their TechEd experiences in these pages, and it would just be repetitive. I will say, however, that I found the city beautiful and inspiring, the food delicious, and our Spanish and other European colleagues welcoming. Overall, I enjoyed both the venue and the conference itself far better than Vegas (which gets a bit old hat if you’re not a gambler), and I highly recommend stretching your own horizons by doing the same. Yes, it’s a bit more hassle and expense, but the dividends more than make up for it. Plus, the coffee is so much better, hands down, and as we all know, coffee is required at these conferences.
Next TechEd goal: Bangalore!
The Canadian Arctic and Alaska
There’s a famous road that starts near Dawson City, Canada, winds its way through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, crosses the Arctic Circle, utilizes ferries (or ice crossings in winter) over the Peel and Mackenzie rivers, and finishes at the Inuvialuit town of Inuvik, 68° north latitude. From there, there’s a further extension, previously only open as an ice road in winter, but now available on permafrost all year, that will bring you to the much smaller village of Tuktoyaktuk (69° N), right on the Arctic Ocean itself.
This is the Dempster Highway, and it is not for the faint of heart. 460 miles of dirt road, potholed, subject to sudden and radical changes of weather, far from civilization, with one small outpost of a fuel stop at the halfway point. The landscape is both bleak and beautiful. It’s home to caribou and grizzly bears. If you come here, you will see mountains and plains and rivers that few ever lay eyes upon, but if you come here, you also must be prepared to be completely self-sufficient.
It takes 36 hours of driving from Seattle just to get to the start of this highway. During the summer of 2019, my friend and former boss Jim and I did the route in his rugged Jeep, deep into the land of the midnight Sun where in summer it is always daylight, right to the edge of the northernmost ocean itself. At the ocean’s edge, I took off my shoe and stepped in.
On our return trip, we took a detour south into Alaska to pass through Denali National Park and have a look at the highest mountain in North America, and then caught a ferry from Whittier (near Anchorage) for the four-and-a-half day journey across the Gulf of Alaska and through the islands of British Columbia back to Bellingham in Washington State.
And, with that, I had one more ocean toward my other goal.
Munich and Salzburg
A few months after the Arctic trip, I headed back to Europe. This time it was another business trip, for meetings with the SAP Community team in the beautiful city of Munich. Although I had been to Europe a number of times before, including just the previous year for TechEd, this was my first visit to Germany. The meetings took just two days, but of course I had to extend my visit for the remainder of the week.
Four days is clearly not enough time to experience Bavaria properly, but I did my best! From the surfers (did you know there’s surfing in Munich?), to the Dachau memorial site, to the castle of Neuschwanstein that inspired Disney’s fairytale icon, to the nearby ancient city of Salzburg, just across the border in Austria…
Ok, I definitely intend to return to Salzburg and Austria.
The Munich trip was over all too soon, but there would be only another few months at home before my wife and I boarded a plane again, this time to visit the country of Rwanda in East Africa.
Why Rwanda, you might ask? Well, why not? Rwanda has amazing things to offer the tourist, whether local or international. But, the decision for us was heavily influenced by family connections.
My wife’s stepmother is from Rwanda. She lives today in France, but she returns to Kigali every year at Christmas to see her family, and she has regularly invited us to join her on one of those trips. This year we took her up on that offer.
Kigali is a bustling and busy city built atop eleven hills. As a result, very few streets run in a straight line, as mostly they follow the curves of hills. At first, navigating a vehicle from one neighborhood to another seems bewilderingly complex, but eventually you get a hang for the landmarks and geography and it starts to seem natural. Besides the twisting roads, the other feature of the city which stands out is how green it is. Many of the streets are tree-lined, and there are open green spaces throughout the city, many of which have tiny farming or gardening plots in them.
Outside the city is a rolling landscape that gives rise to Rwanda’s other name, Le Pays des Mille Collines, or Land of a Thousand Hills. As you work your way to the north and west, you gain in elevation almost imperceptibly, until you arrive at the Virunga Massif and Volcanoes National Park. This elevation keeps the temperature quite equitable, in the 80s for us Fahrenheit types, despite being only 1.4° south of the equator.
In the park, on the slopes of one of the five big volcanoes that mark the border between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, deep in the high-elevation rainforest, you just might encounter the famous Mountain Gorillas. After all, this is where Dian Fossey had her institute, and the institute is still there.
Meanwhile, along the country’s western border with Tanzania, you will find the massive Akagera National Park, a rolling landscape of savannah and lakes that is home to the classic “big five” animals: elephants, rhinoceros, buffalo, lions, and leopards. No, we didn’t see any rhinoceros or leopards, but we did see elephants, buffalo, and one lion, along with plenty of zebras, giraffes, hyenas, impalas, and hippopotamus.
The people of Rwanda are among the most polite and welcoming I’ve met in my travels. Their story is one of remarkable turnaround in the past quarter-century.
And with that, I had made it to my final continent. Lifelong goal achieved!
For more pictures of Rwanda, have a look at Land of a Thousand Hills.
A return to France later this year, to visit Lyon, where my wife studied at university, and the Dordogne, an area rife with Medieval history.
Possibly a trip to the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Canada, in which possibly my friend Dale’s documentary about the Great Amazon River Raft Race will have its worldwide debut.
Possibly a trip to TechEd in Bangalore (if the dates don’t interfere with Banff), to round out my global TechEd experience, and also give me my first real visit to India (passing through the Delhi airport on my way home from Nepal eleven years ago doesn’t count). If this happens, I’ll see if it’s reasonable to tack on an extra week for tourism, and perhaps this will give me the opportunity to visit the Indian Ocean. The Maldives, maybe? I’ve already swum in or at least set a foot into the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, and Southern Oceans, so this would be another goal achieved.
Probably another trip to New Zealand, this time with my wife for her first visit, in about two years.
After that? Only time can tell. I can say that Patagonia is calling my name for some backpacking, but I have no idea when that might occur. I’d also like to see some other parts of Asia. Vietnam, maybe? Or the Buddhist temples of Kyoto?
And of course, there remains my retirement plan, discussed in my previous BiF: sailing across the Pacific Ocean… and perhaps further?
When I wrote my first BiF in 2014, I had been a member of what was then called SCN, and previously SDN, for ten years, but had at that point only recently become active in publishing blogs to the community, though I had been both asking and answering Basis-related questions for some time. A couple of those blogs, technically-oriented towards managing large-scale SAPGUI installations or BSI TaxFactory implementations, had started to garner some modest interest, though only slowly. There followed a period when I was relatively prolific with technical blogs, and although none of them ever went viral, they did bring me to the attention of a few folks.
Member of the Month
In January 2015 I was selected as Member of the Month, an ongoing feature in which each month a relatively new (or previously obscure) but rapidly up-and-coming member is highlighted and interviewed by the SAP Community management team. At the time, Caroleigh Deneen conducted the interviews, although today Jerry Janda is carrying on that tradition. This was a great and unexpected honor, and Caroleigh was most gracious in the way she handled one very nervous interviewee who stumbled over his words quite a bit.
You can read the transcript of our interview, with links to the video recording, at Matt Fraser – SCN Member of the Month January 2015. During the interview, Caroleigh asked me to sing — yes, sing! — a humorous piece I had written the month before called The ABAPer’s Holiday Carol. She also posted a shorter clip from the interview of just that bit of me singing, which is also linked within the transcript. If you don’t mind having your ears ruined for life, you can follow the link and hear me sing (quietly, because it was early in the morning and my wife was attempting to sleep in the next room) in front of a webcam. Or, you can just go read the lyrics here.
I guess the song must have destroyed the analytical reasoning capacity of some key folks, because just a couple months later, at SAPPHIRE 2015 in Orlando, I was selected for and inducted into the ranks of the SAP Mentors. Most of you are probably somewhat familiar with this program, which has been around since the relatively early days of SDN, though it has gone through some transformations in the ensuing years, including just since I joined their ranks not quite five years ago.
At the time, there was just one SAP Mentor program, encompassing SAP customers (like myself), SAP partners and consultants, and also a handful of SAP employees. Recently, however, the program has split three ways: SAP employees now have their own dedicated program, the SAP Technology Ambassadors; whereas the rest of us have split into SAP Champions (mostly outward-focused toward the Community, actively blogging, organizing events, and otherwise driving Community engagement) or remained as traditional SAP Mentors (now more inward-focused, providing honest even-if-it-hurts feedback to SAP product managers and executives). So, the role for those who stayed as Mentors has narrowed in focus, and you probably don’t see us quite so visibly in the Community as you once did, but trust me, this group is still very actively engaged in making the SAP ecosystem better for all. The Champions also have a more narrowed focus from before, albeit one that always existed within the previous Mentor program, which allows them the freedom to do what they do best, blogging, answering questions, speaking at events, and generally pumping up the relevance of this Community.
Aligning with the ranks of the Mentors, Champions, and Technology Ambassadors has afforded me an opportunity like no other, but it’s also perhaps my greatest source of impostor syndrome. I constantly wonder if I’m truly worthy, because I have to say, many of the others within this program are far more talented and dedicated, and contribute far more, than I. Eventually they’ll figure me out as the fraud that I am, I suppose. Until then, I remain in awe of the incredible diversity of talent and interests surrounding me, from whom I learn something on a near-daily basis, and I try to keep up.
Not very long after becoming a Mentor, I was asked to help out with moderating a handful of the Basis topic areas within the Community. I admit, I wasn’t really very interested in becoming a moderator, as I really didn’t want to be the one holding that kind of authority over other people’s content; it was all I could do with keeping up with my own content. But, at the time, the Basis topic areas had very few moderators, and those who were working on it were overwhelmed. I could not say not to an impassioned plea for help, so I agreed.
The situation has improved today, for a variety of reasons, and so it is not quite so onerous a task as it once was. For a while, I felt so busy with moderation tasks, coupled with a steep ramp-up in how busy my own work had become, that my pace of publishing my own blog posts dropped off steeply. The moderation workload has… ahem… moderated since then, but my paid workload remains quite heavy, so sadly I still have not gotten back to the prolific pace of a few years ago.
Serving as a moderator, however, has given me a glimpse into the workings behind the scene required to keep the Community running. For one thing, it is simply incredible how hard spammers keep working to invade our site. The onslaught is relentless, and sometimes they get through all the screens we have put in place to keep them out. Keep hitting that Alert Moderator button when you see something like that! We depend upon you to crowdsource finding these things.
Community Advisory Board
There have been a few iterations of external advisory committees to help SAP keep the Community going strong and getting stronger, and I’ve had the honor of serving on a couple of them. Sometimes they’ve been large groups, and sometimes they’ve had contentious discussions, as there are folks out there who are passionate about making this a better place for all, and not all of them agree on what that looks like.
Today, the SAP Community Advisory Board is a small group comprised of a handful of outsiders (like me) and a handful of insiders who work together very closely to consider what a healthy and successful community should look like and how we can get ever closer to that ideal. It’s an iterative process, and although we’ve really only just begun this current effort, it holds great promise for the future of this experiment that is near and dear to all of us who work with SAP products and technologies on a daily basis.
Right, enough pontificating. Florian asked me a few questions, so let’s see what I can do about answering them!
What’s your favorite show (no matter if on TV / Musical / or something else)?
Hmm, a favorite show? I don’t think I can name just one. I don’t watch a great deal of TV, but I do like watching movies, whether out at the cinema or home on BluRay/DVD (or, very recently, streaming). There are a handful of shows that I have considered truly bingeworthy, however, with those at the top probably being Game of Thrones, The Expanse, and most recently Altered Carbon.
Hanging around the community, how much time do you spend with SAP community? No matter if on- or offline.
Is this a trick question? 😉
Ok, I’m not online here nearly as much as some others, because, you know, paying job comes first? But it is part of my daily routine to check my inbox and activity feed, and also to look through what’s in the moderation queue. Then I check out the Basis Technology topic area to see what’s new, if there’s a question I can answer (generally quickly these days, due to lack of time; in the past I would dive into researching interesting questions and generally learned a lot by doing so), or an insightful new blog that might be helpful to my own work. In addition to the Community, I also check out a handful of forums on SAP JAM, around ACA reporting and for Moderators, as well as a Slack channel for Mentors.
Offline, I try to make it to a conference every other year, if possible. I can’t pull it off every year. My last was TechEd Barcelona 2018, and I’m hopeful to make it to TechEd Bangalore 2020.
And because I’m doing it at the moment, what do you think about IKEA-manuals?
It has been a long time since I’ve assembled a piece of IKEA furniture! However, like many of you, I’ve done my fair share, and I’ve always been impressed with the cleverness of making modular furniture that can be assembled by anyone without much in the way of specialist tools. Sometimes I wish there might be actual written English instructions in the manuals, but I recognize they’re trying to make them as intuitively-understandable as possible to an international audience who may have zero prior experience with construction techniques. With that in mind, I think they’re generally brilliant.
And now time to pass the baton to the next unwitting victims! Because I have such great respect for them as people and as professionals, and because I really want to hear from them, I nominate:
Gregor has written some fine blogs, but as far as I can tell, he has not written a BiF before, either this time around nor in the original incarnation. Come on, Gregor, we want to hear from you!
Abesh did write a BiF in the first go-round, eight years ago now! You can read it here. But now it’s time to hear from him again! I know for a fact he’s been doing some interesting stuff recently.
I’ve only fairly recently come to know Dot, but she has been deep into the SAP world for quite a while now, and her current expertise spans both technical (HANA) and organizational (Community) arenas. Let’s hear from her!
Questions for the Nominees
- What is the most interesting experience with the SAP Community, or with SAP, that you’ve had, good or bad? Something that you regularly think back on and can’t get out of your head.
- What impact, positive or negative, does your participation in the SAP Community have on your career?
- Post retirement (if that day ever comes for some of us), do you see yourself continuing to be active in the Community?