Saturday, June 6, 2009

Abraham, Alps, and a Ukulele

‘Idling through the weekend with stray thoughts and observations whilst chilling in Suffolk

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* I’ve talked about the huge, inflatable babies that appear outside of houses with a newborn: lately, I’ve seen a few labeled “Sarah” or “Abraham” that are clearly not for the youngest amongst us.

It turns out that the Dutch celebrate their 50th birthdays with special gusto, named after the biblical characters and marked with similar inflatables.  There are special cards in stores that mark the milestone, once you know the significance, you see it everywhere.

* Last weekend, I went driving in the “Dutch Alps”, an area of South Limburg known for it’s hills and farmlands.  The most Swiss part of it all may have been the many cows rather than the landscape, but  it’s a pretty part of the country.

Along one country road, I found a ton of cars and motorcycles parked along the roadside, and long lines stretching out from a nearby farmhouse.  It tuned out to be a popular creamery, selling handmade ice cream for about a euro a scoop.  Whether for the bargain or the quality, it always pays to stop where the Dutch are queuing up…

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* The ukulele, of all things, seems to be making a comeback.  A friend pulled one out and strummed credibly over the weekend; it evokes memories of Arthur Godfrey and Tiny Tim, but has a tinkly, happy quality if done right.

One group doing it right is the is the Ukulele Orchestra of the UK, appearing at the Cambridge Music festival last year and widely available on YouTube.  Their renditions of “Shaft” and “The Bad, the Bad, and the Ugly” are worth a viewing: I wonder how long before this trend makes it back to the ‘States?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Camped in a corner at Nero’s

‘been a busy week; I’m currently in the UK, enjoying the beer, the rain, the easy English communication.

  • What’s the best way to get to England?

  I took the Norfolk Line Dunkirk to Dover ferry over: it turns out to be a really good alternative to Easyjet.  Round trip is 54 euros for a car and up to four people. The ferry terminal is an easy hour’s drive west of Brussels and drops off an hour southeast of London.  The crossing takes two hours and the boats are surprisingly clean and modern. 

  I may never take the cheap flights again.  Highly recommended.

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  • What lies behind Dutch houses?

Dutch streets are lined with picturesque row houses, but  what lies beyond?  Generally, row houses are narrow and deep, ringing an open inner courtyard. The open space is divided into gardens, terraces, and balconies; it’s a comfortable jumble that’s usually busy with everyday activity, wonderfully ordinary to watch.

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  • A couple of Dutch shopping thoughts.

My least favorite Dutch pricing:

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I was a big fan of Cherry Garcia frozen yoghurt, but it’s absolutely unaffordable in the Netherlands; nearly 5 euro per pint.

  • … and my favorite Dutch t-shirt slogan for the week:

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…you learn not to assume anything; but you also learn not to take any aspect of everyday life for granted.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A few resolutions

DSC07955   Reading back through the writings of the past week, I’m uncomfortably aware that it’s been a bumpy transition.  At the same time, it was never the purpose of these essays to dwell on the difficulties.  And, as the local storefronts say, right, the economy is nobody’s friend just now.

  So I resolve:

  • No more whinging about lost corporate perks.
  • No more laments for the expat contract.
  • No more sunset pictures.

  Actually, the week progressively improved after Monday.  I traveled up to a technical university in Germany to talk with students about careers in biomedical engineering.

  It’s always renewing to talk about how I chose this profession, about the projects we’ve done, to take apart  a few of the products and answer questions about the way they work.  It reminds me of how much fun the creative and customer aspects are, and of how many great projects remain to be done.

DSC00568   On Wednesday, I went up to Nieuwegein to the 6e Nationale Reanimatie Congres to give a talk.  I expected a small regional gathering, but it turned out to be 1000 medical professionals interested in cardiac arrest.  It was completely in Dutch, and gratifying to see how much I was able to follow by reading the slides and listening carefully to the speakers.

  When my turn came, I did the first few sentences in Dutch, then asked their indulgence to let me finish the half-hour in English.  I may be ready in a year, but not this week.  The talk went really well and a bunch of friends were attending.  I also came away with a couple of new business leads, local projects that could be interesting gateways to new collaborations.

    Driving cross-country near Roermond on the way back, I was charmed by one display after another of Netherlands flags.  They were advertising roadside fruit and vegetable stands, usually offering kersen, asperges, and aardbeien.

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  I was reminded of my recent comments regarding the implied ‘with us or not’ message in huge national flags elsewhere. I don’t have that feeling here, maybe it’s the smaller size of the flags, but I certainly feel the inconsistency in my own double standard.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Off to a wobbly Monday; better Tuesday

DSC00550 Stitch The last day on the prior job was Friday, the first day beyond was was Monday.  It was not a good beginning…

I have thought a lot about how my work life ought to change.  I would hope to take on more projects that were interesting, work with creative and insightful people, and focus on executing great product concepts.  I want to get more balance into my personal life, making time for social pursuits, sailing, writing, travel, teaching, study, drawing and watercolors, exercise, reading, learning Dutch.

‘never at a loss for ambition….but it’s also a measure of how unbalanced things have again drifted.

Instead, the day was filled with setting up the books and paying the bills for the new business, pasting the receipts, and doing the filing.  There were two presentations to research and to create, new phones to be set up, and tax numbers to arrange.  It filled the day.

Working from the apartment is not an easy routine yet: it is a bit too much of a not-work place.  It may be time to register with the library to get a bit more focused environment until I decide about getting an office.

I was also bedeviled by the ruthless efficiency of the corporation in cutting things off: calling my landlady to terminate the lease, sending a reminder of property to turn in as I leave (including any business cards and company stationary), scissoring my Amex card in front of me, and cutting off my e-mail and literature access in the middle of preparation for an outside lecture that they asked me to give.

I understand, it’s business, but it forced me to stay up until 1 am scrambling to find material from other sources, and to send new contact information to the support people that I rely on to wrap up the expatriate contract here.  Pointless stress.

In the end, I realize that I have to do better, and did. 

The lectures went well today, I DSC00536 Stitch2handed the business records off to the bookkeeper, and I resolved to let the corporate parent cut the cords one by one without complaint. A couple of contacts interested in working together came in, and the insurance company is progressing in their dance with the surgical hospital in Switzerland.

  And, at the end of this day, there was time for Pimms, friends, and watching the sunset.

This will all work out…

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Looking to the future

Summer Twilight over Maas I have a couple of months remaining on the expatriate contract to sort life out and move on to it’s next phase.

There are a number of living arrangements that have to be settled as I move out from under the umbrella: taking over housing contracts, establishing new telephone and credit card arrangements, sorting transportation, finding health insurance.  So far, those seem to be going smoothly and as anticipated.

Beyond that, What‘s Next?

  • It’s a time for winding things down with the corporation.  I need to finish disengaging from tasks while staying engaged with colleagues.  This includes sending change of address notices, updating contact information on social networks, and suspending e-mail accounts gracefully.  I got a couple of calls from senior folks at the corporation on Friday, reviewing choices and discussing options.  Its unlikely that there will be any 11th hour changes, but I appreciate the conversations.
  • It’s also a time for the foot surgery that I’ve deferred during the job-search process.  The surgeon, insurance company, and I are doing a slow dance to pick dates and to assure reimbursement, and I hope to sort something out for June.  There’s a six week recovery period involved, so I want to try to get this all done as soon as possible so that I can get back to hiking and sailing (and my mother’s milestone birthday celebration late this summer).
  • Finally, I have succeeded in establishing a Dutch corporation (Besloten Vennootschap or BV)!  DSC00507 The papers for the BVio (preliminary incorporation as a BV) arrived on Friday, along with s “Welcome Package” (right) has arrived from the local Chamber of Commerce.(The Kamer van Koophandel or KvK). 

My company is now listed in the Handelsregister, the book of Dutch corporations.  It’s very cool to see it there :)  The KvK has sent along more warnings than welcome in their packet, but it’s a big step forward. 

And I can always hope that they might send over the welcome woman in person with the champagne and streamers?

The registration enables me to set up a business bank account and to fund the business at the required 18,000 euros to complete the registration as a full BV.  The BV, in turn, allows me to create a product, to work from the Netherlands, to take advantage of favorable Dutch corporate tax policies, and to preserve my 30% tax ruling (a sole proprietorship would not).  The next steps in the process will be to submit a business plan and application under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty to allow me to stay in the country as a resident worker.

It wouldn’t all swing into place before August, but the discipline of creating a business plan has opened up some very interesting opportunities that would be fun to pursue full-time.  The product seems to fill a unique and valuable niche, but needs a bit more research on the customer’s economics.  The technical aspects are all Web 2.0, and I’ve had interest from groups in the US and Asia for connecting components together.  A local business incubator may provide office space and resources on favorable terms; I’ve got contacts through business colleagues to seed fund angels.

The extended convalescence will be a great opportunity to put structure and substance to the vision, to make sure that the product concept has legs, and to see whether a great team is interested.

Thanks again to everyone who has helped, supported,  reviewed, and encouraged me over the past few months.  It’s been invaluable in gathering the information and the confidence to take these steps.