The Container Terminal

The Container Terminal
The Container Terminal

One time, in Austin, Texas I went to a shipping container bar.  Come to think of it, that was probably the closest that I had ever been to a shipping terminal. That probably didn’t change much yesterday. This time, it was my perspective that changed.

It seems only appropriate at this point in the story that I tell you about where the day ended.  Naturally, it gravitated toward beer.  Last night, at the end of a long day followed by some shopping at a multi-story knock-off market we ate dinner at the top of the hotel.  A few of us weren’t really ready to wrap it up, so we decided to make use of the free beer coupon  and retreat to the hotel bar for one last round before bed.

I called your mama ’bout three or four nights ago
I called your mama ’bout three or four nights ago
Well your mother said “Son”
“Don’t call my daughter no more”

“Before you Accuse Me”
-Eric Clapton

After all, there was the promise of live music–and beer.  It was a combo composed of a young woman vocalist and guitarist.  They were the entertainment for the night.  From their group photo posted in the elevator, it was evident that they had a third who was not present. They were really good.  If I think about it for a while I might even recall what they sang.  They alternated between a couple of tracks with just the duet and then would transition over to karaoke, and a number of younger folks would swarm the stage and take their turns singing a tune.  Some in english, some in what I assume to be Cantonese. Had I completely understood how this worked, I may even have volunteered myself.  Perhaps an app or something was controlling the karaoke, I’m not sure. Here we were, a captive audience contained in a bar listening to the miracle of shared song.

The live guitarist would accompany with his electric guitar and some canned background tracks. As an American traveling in China, it was entertaining and enlightening. Entertaining, because they were mostly singing in English and enlightening because in between sets I caught some Eric Clapton, Before you Accuse Me, over the house speakers from the restroom. It made me appreciate even more how far-reaching our culture is. At the end of their set, they sat down at a table in the bar and someone delivered a beautiful chocolate square cake to their table. I was a little jealous for a moment, until I recalled what I had just eaten for dinner. The contents of my stomach were now swimming in a pool of Guinness.

For a moment, I wondered if the band had a birthday. Perhaps they had a cake left over that the hotel decided to give to the performers that night. I can only speculate. I couldn’t tell from what was being spoken. They cut into the square cake devouring slices as I secretly watched from the corner of my eye.

This trip has made my world a much smaller place. The disappointments that once seemed so great in my world are now judged on a different perspective. That is the magic of education. That the world is more available and you see what is in front of you through a different lens. The important becomes less important with perspective. A failure becomes a learning opportunity. A success becomes a foundation on which you build. As your world becomes larger and larger, you are able to understand and appreciate more and more.

We visited a container terminal yesterday. The multi-colored containers dotted the container yard like 8-bit pixels on a screen. There was no real image made from the pixels, just a scattering of color throughout the yard.  Sometimes like containers were placed together, sometimes they were scattered about. I’m sure that they could have painted an image from the operations center. We learned that they know nearly everything about the location of those containers, and that probably includes the color. The movement was controlled by so many cranes that I couldn’t count them. We were told there were 60. At a particular orchestrated moment the veil obscuring their operations center was lifted to expose the employees working in their operations center. Maps of the terminal were on every screen with little colored alerts dotted throughout.

I never paid any attention to the transportation of a container. I mean, I knew they existed, but I didn’t know much about how they were transported. For my IT buddies, imagine packets on a network traveling back and forth in slow motion between switches. It is a little like that. The containers are transferred to trucks and rail. All logged and managed by computer. It is massive. It is growing.

Now, I’ve seen the Made in China label on many of the toys and technology that I have purchased. I imagined it traveling across the ocean. I never imagined the operations center. The same automation that we are working to achieve in the datacenter is happening on a larger scale in the container yard. Just like restricted traffic in the network, there are limits in the container yard. Size, and the number of containers you can stack. The number of containers the yard can hold is always at the forefront. Oh, and also efficiency.

Efficiency is most important. Efficient shipping makes money. Efficient networks perform in a way that drives optimal revenue or business.

 

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