Saturday, November 21, 2009

Progress towards a UK work visa

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‘fully engaged with the process of getting a UK Tier 1 work permit now, supplemental to my Dutch DAFT application.  The requirements are straightforward but the execution is miserable.

Tier 1 of the Points Based System is designed for “knowledge workers” to immigrate to the UK.  It requires no sponsors and is based on achieving a 75 point threshold.

For me, this is a combination of degree, stable bank resources, salary above threshold, and a few minor factors.  So far, so good.  I engaged a consultant on contingency who is assuring that my packet is acceptable and complete, and the process of assembling the original documents is slowly converging.

The graduate degree, for example, needed to be the actual degree that I was handed when I walked across the stage.  Okay, I picked it up when I was in Seattle.

The bank resources had to be documented by actual mailed bank statements, with the closing date no more than 30 days prior to the application submission.  Barclays is generating it, for 10 pounds, plus one pound per page, plus a 10-working day shipping to the Netherlands.  My fingers are crossed.

Salary has to be verified by original pay slips totaling more than 26,000 GBP gross pay.  Further, there must be an original bank statement showing a corresponding deposit to the net pay on each payslip.  This is a real challenge for two reasons.  The expat contract divided my pay between two banks so that my family and I both had money during my assignment.  Worse, the payslips are euro-denominated while the bank deposits are in dollars.

I’m not giving up, but this is all a real challenge.  And it all keeps me from the real work of planning the project and organizing the resources that the grant is funding.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Touchstones

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On the radio last week, my daughter and I debated the nature and instantiation of touchstones.

A touchstone is a point of reference, a standard for judging other, unknown substances and circumstances.  Classically it was a slate tablet that could be scratched by unknown materials, leaving a characteristic, identifying line. In our usage, it was a referential experience.

For people who grew up in the 60’s, music has a powerful resonance.  Songs from that era can induce both feeling and purpose, it reminds people of the anthems that colored a cause and of the stirrings of first love.

In the 70’s, I think that the focus moved to movies (it was the age of disco, after all).  There are films that still draw me in when I see them on TV or in the video store.  back to the late-night conversations they inspired or the stolen kisses that they masked.

What cultural artifacts associate with that feeling today?

When a child of the ‘00s (and how strange that seems even to write it) grows up, what replayed medium will trigger their memory?  A video game? A rediscovered friend page?  A mass-market action picture?

My daughter wasn’t helpful: maybe you don’t know your treasures until you dig them up years later.

It also makes me wonder about the universality of generational touchstones;: do they hold across cultures as well?  A question, over beer, for my Dutch friends some time soon…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Directions

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It’s been a week for soul searching, back in Maastricht after a hectic road trip, then tired and sleepless getting readjusted. Dead plants and live problems to sort out, flopping around a bit in the quiet apartment.  The days have gotten very short, and workdays are getting increasingly stressed.

It’s all becoming lonely, and I have to reflect on why, what preference, led here. I know that I have not been a good partner in years, too often absent or distracted, sometimes preoccupied or volatile.  I think that the good times far outweigh the bad, but still, it’s come to this and it’s hard.

Over morning coffee, a friend suggested that I go back to basics of what I expect of a relationship.  I hold to archetypes that caught my fancy when I was very young, role models I hoped to grow up to be.  Do we give up when they don’t come true?

Another suggested that I look to myself, and I thought of 72 qualities that could make me occasionally difficult.  Good for self-improvement but not much of a comfort.

Another suggested reading insightful literature, but when I visited the bookstore, all of the books were Dutch. I’m not quite to that level.

And, I think, needing to move is surfacing thoughts about not only where, but how, I want to live.

All in all, it’s defining but not evolving the issues.

Relationships are wonderful / relationships are hard.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It’s beginning to look a lot like Kerstmis…

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At sunset last night, the first arc of scaffolding appeared above the rooftops.  Despite a fierce wind, the circle slowly completed under arc lights late into the night.

By morning, the ride was complete and the cars were on. I rode by the Vrijthof to see the result and found that Oliebollen stands have returned as well.

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And, this evening, the lights were on.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Airplane reading and thinking

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‘back in Maastricht after the long trip back: arrived to steady rain and darkness that fit my mood re-opening the silent apartment.  A pile of mail was waiting; a couple of plants dried out over the week.  Airplane time is always good for a bit of reading: so this might be a good time to catch up on a few articles and observations.

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Intelligent Life featured an article about modafinil, an analeptic (brain stimulant) used in treating sleep disorders.  Students are taking it as an aid to concentration and students are using it to help them study.  The author reports that it made him feel more alert and focused, but didn’t improve the quality or volume of his work.  So, on balance, is this drug enhancement a good thing?

My thoughts, feelings, and personality are the things that make me who I am as an individual, unique and meaningful.  Chemically altering those qualities touches something fundamental. The claim is that modafinil simply enhances the qualities already there, a better sort of caffine.  My concern is that enhanced cognition carries side effects that change perceptions and actions, and that the drug will keep you from realizing that there have been changes.  I don’t think that a more focused, less feeling version of myself is a more human version of myself.

Aside:

This person record requires harvesting.  iTunes greeted me with this message when I tried to log in, somewhere between a database error and Soylant Green.  A bit of searching and I found that they were trying to tell me that my account information was incomplete: please go to Apple and fix it.

Another IL article concerned Polymaths, people who can reach expert levels of performance in two or more unrelated disciplines.  The author distinguishes it from Genius, reaching extraordinary performance in one domain, or Multitalented, dabbling in several domains and perhaps becoming expert in one.  Their signature example from previous times is Leonardo daVinci, from our own time is Nathan Myhrvold.

Myhrvold is a problematic choice to me: his second career as an author is expository, and the third as a cook is an enhanced hobby.  I would have chosen Pauling or Russell, people who went on to do distinguished work in unrelated social fields after great achievement in scientific ones.  I lead a more T-shaped life: deep in one area, knowledgeable in many, aware of most.  I’m happy dabbling in art and writing, challenging myself in technical, business, and clinical areas. The article notes that the expanding volume of knowledge and the resistance of professionals to outsiders makes it ever more difficult to become a true polymath.  That seems to beg the question of definition more than whether people have innate talent and motivation to become a polymath.  I do know a number of people who perform at that level: they are both delightful and rare.

Aside:

As I work to acquire proficiency in Dutch, a friend raised the question of how quickly it can be lost.  He recounted several instances where expats moved out of the country, then had lost all fluency within a year.  They could reacquire proficiency more quickly, but it seems unfortunate and surprising that the skill is easily lost without constant practice.  It argues for doing reading or listening when out of the country to keep the skill active.

The Wall Street Journal published a column discussing the proposed acquisition of Cadbury by Kraft foods: The Boundaries Facing Global Firms.  The article reviewed the impact of  globalization (good), noting that takeovers carry their own motivations for improving efficiency and competitiveness when established firms are acquired. Protectionism (bad) only perpetuates the status quo, preserving local jobs (temporarily) at the expense of local consumers (permanently).

Yet, the article concedes that companies tend to invest closer to home, reducing foreign subsidiaries to component suppliers and distribution conduits rather than using them for market analysis or as development centers.  And, for me, this crystallized a fundamental flaw in the argument for globalization: acquisition does not promote competition.

If a company creates a new division locally to compete with established firms, then the investment creates jobs, knowledge, and economic benefit.  True competition depends on creating better products and services, on finding a better business model, and on mentoring local talent.  An acquisition, by contrast, is about synergy and economies of scale: can the same job be done better by one owner than by another.

It makes me think that the true good in globalization can best be realized by making markets more open, while simultaneously making acquisition more difficult.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Swimming back towards Europe

I turned the corner on the trip yesterday, starting back towards Europe on a two-day hop through Orlando. It’s been a good trip, wonderful to have been able to attend the Dad’s weekend, productive in getting through the “while in the US: to-do list and catching up with people.

I did manage to get a ticket blazing back across Washington State late last night.  I missed the turnoff for County Road 26, north to the interstate, and found myself on 26-west, winding through the dry, dark hills at 45 mph.  When the road opened onto the inner basin, an oval desert at the heart of eastern Washington, the road straightened and the speed limit went up to 65.  It was long, flat, straight, empty, dark….well, I got clocked at 14 over the limit.  To my credit, I was wearing a seatbelt and wasn’t chatting on a cell phone.  It was a $144 hit to the Ritzville Justice center, though (and some good fun with the Wa State Patrol trying to explain my Dutch drivers license).

‘Long flight to Orlando on Sunday for the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, arriving at 10 pm, first meetings at 7:30 am in true American business style.  I can do this heroism for a day, but it almost insures that I’ll be sleeping the whole way back…

…through Atlanta, London, Amsterdam, the train…  It’s almost as hard as the homeward journey of Seattle’s wild salmon.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The view from my (car) window

Early winter snows frosting the Polouse hills in eastern Washington state.