Saturday, April 19, 2008

But, at least it's not snowing...

'Rolling on into the weekend: I've shaken off some of the gloom from Thursday night. The problems are still there, and still real, but I feel a bit more centered and ready to deal with them today.

I got news from Seattle that spring is also late in coming there: the picture at the left was taken yesterday. They got 7 inches of snow in some of the suburbs around the city, more expected through the weekend. It's the latest snow in 35 years, and about to set records.

It's strange weather, and people will cite it as evidence against global warming. But I believe that the biggest consequences of climate change will come from ocean, rather than atmospheric, warming. As temperature and salinity change, the forces that drive global currents will rebalance. There is real potential to tip the Conveyor, which, would drop temperatures in northern Europe dramatically.

Right now, though, we seem to be simply in the grip of a late winter, more like the seasons rotated rather than deepened. The flashes of sunshine are reason enough to be happy to be here, a little past the snow. I drove through Leiden yesterday, and the tulip fields are almost coming into bloom. One red one was painted, and there were sprinkles of yellow and white in adjacent rows. I really want to reach the Keukenhof this year to see it all in full bloom.

The girls have posted tagged pictures of their exploits on Facebook: their narrative (and the comments they've collected from friends) is pretty funny. It's been good to see the familiar sights through fresh eyes, and to tap into some of the enthusiasm that they have. Unfortunately, it sounds like the bottle of oude jenever that I sent back got confiscated at the border. The customs people stamped her passport to say that she is a minor who attempts to smuggle alcohol across the border: that will, unfortunately, make for exciting crossings in the future.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gathering Clouds

DSC02773My Dutch residence / work visa renewal came through today: I'm good to go for another year and a half, through November 2009. That's cause for celebration: it's a chance to continue a wonderful independent life here, with opportunities to learn a language, to sample cultures, travel the region, and do some exciting work with good people. I still need to achieve a better Dutch-style work/life balance, taking adequate time for friendships, and for indulging passions apart from the research and management that annoyingly seems to always spill over into the evenings.

Still, the situation stimulates uncertainty and insecurities.

My project is going well, but we're approaching a crucial phase where we are preparing for our first human implant, and where we need to make a compelling case for how to build a business. These steps of proving technical and business feasibility are tested in June when we present a project summary to a committee of peers to secure funding to start the hospital study. No matter how many simulations, analyses, animal experiments, and market surveys are done, there's a "left or right" decision, as the Dutch say, coming in the next month. Missing the mark could mean a recall.

Similarly in my personal life, there are hard conversations coming. It's been three years since I moved to Europe and the family stayed in Seattle; I think I've been back only a month or two a year since. We supported the kids as they finished school, but that's ending as Will enters the service and Laura goes to college later this summer. We've reached the time to set new paths forward.

I've been moving to a new apartment, a new job, a new country, every year. I've lived in a series of hotel rooms, dormitories, and apartments, each time making new friends, each time saying good-bye to old colleagues. Sometimes it feels like the only constants are the small set of possessions that trail along with me, and the daily rhythms of work, exercise, keeping up with distant friends by e-mail, and travel. It worries me when I look to shopkeepers for friendly interactions: it's getting time to nest again.

I've begun to dream of a cottage with a studio, overlooking a green field with a few pictures of my own on the walls. I wake at 4:30 am, with the summer birds greeting the dawn to come, but the worries crowd in until I give up and make some coffee. I watch the street life pass below my window, gather papers and thoughts, and head out the door. Winter seems to have lingered this year: I always pull the coat a bit closer as I hit the morning air, and I still see my breath condensing in the sunlight. For all the good news at the moment, I'm afraid that the omens don't feel promising at the moment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One picture; two thoughts

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Trafalgar Square

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We spent the day with our medical advisors today, pitching our ideas and getting their feedback for the best way to use our shiny new device. One of them cautioned against the moral hazard of medical innovations: if we take responsibility for patients, they will cease to take care of themselves. The specific topic concerned whether monitoring for disease progression would create a false sense of safety that enabled people to continue bad habits ("I can go on smoking if the monitor says I'm okay!").

I've known it myself with regard to cholesterol: diet and exercise didn't budge it, so I was put on Lipitor. Now, I admit, I'm less likely to quibble about having the occasional South Beach unsafe meal it the little pill keeps my TotChol at 130 regardless.

And now I'm sitting here wondering what the corresponding moral hazard is for Viagra...

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Over dinner, our mixed Dutch - American group got into a discussion about the US election, and a Dutch physician asked a colleague how she voted in the primary. She told him, but commented that Americans would never ask one another about how they voted. The Dutch were amazed: apparently that isn't a taboo topic in the Netherlands.

It launched a conversation about "What can't you ask?" The Americans have a long list, from salary to politics, religion to sex. The Dutch, apparently, only keep salaries secret from one another?

But even that has exceptions. I was trying to sort out salaries for my group, and consulted HR to get the employee COMPA ratios. These are numbers that tell what an employee makes relative to their market value: people are generally paid between 90 and 105% of COMPA. Along the way, I discovered that every employee here knows their COMPA, where this is a very deep secret in the US (leading to "Why do I only get 95% of market value?").

Similarly, when handing out a raise, I get an envelope from HR, which I hand out with a handshake, a smile, and a compliment. It turned out to be a serious breach here: we should have opened the envelope together, discussed the amount, and agreed on it's appropriateness (followed by a handshake, a smile, and a compliment).

'moral is, money matters are tough everywhere...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Artifacts

I really need to get back to reflective philosophy again: work and children do take their toll.

But they are a *lot* of fun.

The visit is over; the girls flew through passport control this morning and are somewhere over Greenland now. We had to compile CDs with all of the collected trip photos: 976. Cheez...but, 10 days, three people, I suppose it's reasonable.

Anyway, a photo day today, philosophy by week's end.

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DSC05847The premier chocolate shop in Paris was reputed to be across from our hotel in St. Germain: Pierre Herme. Unaware that he had been named "The Picasso of Pastry" by Vogue, we discovered it by joining a line of people in front of the doorway to see where they were going. (Yes, that's a general rule for discovering good stuff in Europe.)

Once inside, left, we found a wonderful array of pastries DSC05850and frantic buying at 10 euro minimums. We bought a treat to sample, but noted the locked cabinet, behind us. It must have the good stuff: 100 euro a pop. It really begs the question of how something like that is valued, or why someone would buy it.

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Yes, it's a red light district snow globe. My daughter brought it home, coffeehouse on one side, little tiny ladies on the other. I *never* find stuff this good.

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The Ark along the Arnhem waterfront has now been replaced by a fortress. Very cool if it were a bouncy castle, but I think they just parked it there to mess with the minds of the drug rehab boat a few berths up.

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And, finally, a few adventures in merchandising...Arnhem on the left, the Paris marathon on the right.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

'Not a bad day in London

Wrapping up in London with the girls last night; we do Cambridge today, then back to the Netherlands and they're out from Schiphol at mid-day. The college has no public Internet, so I'm doing things the old way: camped out in the spring sunshine behind the rooms, borrowing some bandwidth from a neighbor over the fence. I remember when we all used to do a lot more sharing before becoming so security obsessed.

IMG_1727 We went to see "Lord of the Rings" at the Drury Lane theater in London last night. It's a wonderful performance: the story flows well, the songs and dancing (except for a long soliloquy in the third act) are inoffensive, the audio was crystal clear, the orchestra was solid, and the special effects and staging are awesome. The hike through the dwarf mines leading up to the intermission, the Black Riders, the Orcs searching for Frodo, the magnificant spider, and Golum were all really well done.

Tickets were 32 gbp for excellent 1st mezzanine seats at the TKTS half-price office at Leicester Square (40 at the "real" half price windows off the square: always go to the real thing!). Note: the production closes on July 19, this summer.

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The statue of Alison Lapper, the limbless, pregnant woman in Trafalgar Square, is gone. I have to admit that I struggled with the statue as public art when I first saw it, mainly for it's jarring contrast to the setting amidst men on horseback, huge bronze lions, and Lord Nelson. Over the years I've become fond of it though, so it was a surprise to find it had been replaced by stacks of colored plastic rectangles. I really don't like the new work: it's just faceless corporate art. But maybe the contrast is supposed to make me think.

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I did visit the new rail station at St. Pancras: the arching blue ironwork is great, but the whole terminal reminded the girls much more of an airport than a historic rail station. I do agree that a lot of character was lost in the makeover: contrast the spotless acres of tiled floors and walls with the Victorian brickwork of Kings Cross (not to mention the ever-popular Track 9 3/4 off to one side)

And, of course, the usual foolishness at Cambridge :)

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The girls want to know if there is a "Studs of the Cam" boatsman's calendar of the guys doing the escorted punting tours..