Thursday, July 9, 2009

Great Thai Cuisine at the Modrý zub ("Blue Tooth") in Prague

I haven't written a post before about food in Prague, but the Modrý zub ("Blue Tooth") on Jindřišská 5, Prague 1, just a few meters from the middle of Wenceslas Square, has such delicious Thai food that I thought it was worth mentioning. has a recent, detailed review of this and other Thai restaurants, so I'll just "showcase" my favorite dish, Kai Phad Med Ma - Muang – Him- Paan, or chicken sautéed with cashew nuts, vegetables, fresh chilli and coriander, for just under $10. I took the snapshot with my Nokia N95 8GB, so please excuse the less than professional quality of the photo.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President Barack Obama at the Prague Castle

I woke up early on Sunday, April 5, 2009 in order to see President Barack Obama's public speech at the Prague Castle. Tram 22 from the Malostranská metro station headed up the hill past the castle to the stop Pohořelec was more crowded at 7 a.m. than I have ever seen it during the 16 years I've lived here in Prague, Czech Republic. I waited in line at the security checkpoint just in front of the large square before the castle for almost two hours as thousands who had arrived there earlier slowly trickled past the airport type security checks. Even with such a huge crowd in front of me, once I cleared security I was lucky enough to find myself a spot not more than 50 feet in front of the podium, where an hour later at 10 a.m. I was able to take a nice photo with my mobile phone of the presidential couple together on stage, before Barack Obama began his speech.

I was particularly impressed with Barack Obama's references to Czech history. He even managed to work the statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk beside him, the first president of the newly formed Czechoslovakia in 1918 with ties to Chicago, nicely into his introductory remarks. From the reaction of the Czech people in the audience I would say he truly won them over, even garnering a smattering of applause with his brief mention of the proposed US radar base in the Czech Republic, which is opposed by 70% of the Czech population. President Obama also managed nicely to make his case for a world free from nuclear arms, while at the same time not backing away from commitments to keep the world, and not just the US, safe from terrorists.

I was a staunch supporter of Barack Obama on Twitter throughout his campaign, so it was a real treat for me to see him up close here in Prague and to be able to send updates about the event including photos in real time from my mobile phone to my Twitter account. Barack Obama is definitely the most talented and inspiring public speaker I have ever seen, and I have had the privilege of seeing many famous people in my lifetime. It is easy to understand why he has already won two Grammy awards for his spoken words. It was a fantastic day in Prague and I felt proud once again to be an American.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prague's New OpenCard: Process and People Are The Problem

Prague's new OpenCard project is already in trouble. The card is supposed to make life easier for residents and visitors, enabling access to multiple services provided by the city, but instead, since its introduction on January 1, 2009, it has caused mostly confusion and aggravation.

The concept of OpenCard may be sound, but its execution is reminiscent of the "service with a sneer" mentality that reigned in Prague for several years after the Velvet Revolution. The problem is not necessarily with the technology, but mostly with the process and the people.

To start with, the application forms for OpenCard are only available in Czech, which is not a problem for me since I'm fluent in the language, but unfortunately the form itself is poorly worded and the options unclear, even for Czech people, who were asking each other many questions while waiting in line, and only two of three available windows were functioning on the day I was there to get my card during the first week of January, so there was a long wait. Bear in mind that this was at the main location for obtaining the card. Three windows for a city of over one million people. The electronic system that issues each applicant a ticket with a number and matches these to the next available window is actually worse. In my case I was directed to a window that could not provide the service I needed, issuance of the card on the spot for a slight additional payment. I was sent back to the the ticket machine and asked to press an option that I discovered did not even exist on the list. I selected "Other" and hoped for the best. After another long wait I was served at the second window, where the woman was not only unable to answer simple questions about the application but also refused to take my large banknote, which was slightly more than enough to cover the cost of the card and one year of public transportation, the main reason I was getting the card. I was told that I would have to pay for the public transportation at a different window and she was unable to make change. I had to dash out and buy something at a store next door to get change and returned just in time to be served as the last customer of the day, even though a sign indicated that the place should be open for two more hours.

I did manage to get my new OpenCard, but now I had to go elsewhere to pay for the yearly transportation option. Luckily there was a metro station nearby, and a sign by the window inside indicated it was possible to purchase what I needed, so I got in another long line. Unfortunately, after waiting for half an hour, I was told that they didn't sell what I needed, even though the sign said otherwise, and I was sent to another metro station. At the other station, nothing was clearly marked, but I got in another long line in front of an "Information" window, and asking someone to kindly hold my place, I went closer to the window to make sure I was in the right place. Sure enough, a tiny little sign on a white card just above the window said only in Czech, "Card Charging Here". Nothing else. So after being given the run-around in two different places that were supposed to "make my life easier" and wasting a couple of hours into the bargain, I finally had what I needed, a card with my yearly transportation pass. In past years this took me about ten minutes and no aggravation.

Will the citizens and visitors of Prague benefit by having just one card that lets them ride the public transportation, use the public library, check to see if they have traffic violations online, and pay for parking in the city center? These are the only options available right now. My answer is a resounding "No!", unless immediate and serious improvements are made. A closer look at the processes and people surrounding the introduction of the OpenCard reveal that the system was extremely poorly conceived and implemented. Additionally, the privacy issues surrounding the data (photo, date of birth, etc) that are collected and used with the OpenCard, which is contactless and probably uses RFID or some variant, are so poorly thought out that the city has class-action lawsuits pending as a result. City Hall has already been forced to respond with an anonymous version of the card due to be out soon.

As an IT and process expert, and as someone with direct experience introducing western style customer service successfully into e-commerce in this country where it didn't exist before, I can fix most of the problems with the process and people surrounding OpenCard quite easily. Maybe someone from Prague City Hall will see this and take me up on it. At least that way, dear readers, yours truly here won't start out next year with this unecessary aggravation, and if you live here you won't either!

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Second Crisis of the Czech's EU Presidency Hits Closer to Home

Prague - The Czech Republic assumed the Presidency of the European Union for six months starting on January 1, 2009, amidst a flare up in the Middle East. Unfortunately the message which the Czechs intended to carry with their mission to try and settle the crisis in the Gaza Strip was poorly communicated, leaving the world to think mistakenly that the Czechs (and by proxy the EU) considered Israel's aggression to be "defensive". The poorly worded statement was retracted the next day and amended to call for an immediate cease-fire.

The second crisis of the Czechs' EU Presidency arrived on January 2, when Russia cut off the flow of natural gas to the Ukraine after accusing it of stealing gas from the pipeline, which flows across the Ukraine and continues into Europe, supplying eighteen countries including the Czech Republic. So this second, as of yet unresolved, crisis has hit much closer to home. In fact, if the natural gas supply is not resumed within a few short weeks the Czech Republic's emergency reserves will be depleted, shutting down factories everywhere and even threatening citizens with lack of heat in their homes, and the Czech winter is pretty harsh.

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PragueBob's Prague Blog by Robert Starr Morrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.