Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sometimes I’m not exactly right…

I certainly missed on my prediction about Germany playing the Dutch in the World Cup finals.  Spain vs. Netherlands on Sunday night: I’m taking the ferry back on Saturday so that I can be in place for the big game (and immerse in the tropical heat  wave washing over Maastricht).

(Interlude: There was a new busker in Cambridge this week (look carefully for the guitar handle to the upper right from the litter can): he was attracting a lot of attention at St. Mary’s Church.)

Some things, though, are going very right.

The demo system arrived on time and in working condition, so I’m ready to present to the cardiology luminaries all week.  The lead investor gave his secretary the honor of being the first European demo subject.

The pitch at Cambridge went well on Monday night.  The parameters were classic ‘elevator pitch’: five minutes, no slides or microphone.  ‘Just stand in front of the group of investors enjoying drinks in the Magdalene College Gardens and have your say (followed by three other companies doing the same).  We got a lot of interest afterwards, hopefully it translates to investment soon.

Back in the ‘I regret what I’ve done’ column is my DeLorean moment.

delorean A US company called and asked if I could buy a piece of competitive equipment for them, 25% commission, easy money.  I contacted a broker and placed the order: payment up front and a top-up for fast delivery.  It arrived  Monday, so I reboxed it and took it to FedEx for two-day shipment to the US.

Then the tracking showed an ominous Clearance Delayed flag as it entered US Customs in Memphis, and all progress stopped.  I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having paid for an (expensive) item that I could not get reimbursed for, for shipping it without (perhaps) the requisite commercial paperwork, or for (maybe) not paying the necessary duty. 

In short, I was likely to be fingered as a smuggler.

The flag finally dropped today and the client acknowledged receipt this afternoon.  Easy money, indeed: I can see I don’t have the stomach for this. I kept wondering whether this was how poor  John DeLorean propped up his car company before he started smuggling cocaine.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday’s garden of quotes

    No clever human being is so interesting that he can’t make himself more interesting still by acting retarded at random intervals.  -Walter Kirn

I’m at the point where all of my chips have been pushed onto the center of the table, betting that life’s hand that I’ve built up during the past year is a winner.

This is the pivotal week when the cards are turned over: a major pitch in Cambridge, diligence visits to demo a system for leading physicians and investors, a series of payments due to arrive to float my depleted bank accounts.

If this fails, I’m literally out of the money, out of alternatives, back to square one.

Minus a bit.

So, I’m distracted, tense, stressed, which makes me stupid.  Little things get overlooked; unimportant things get forgotten.   Fortunately, I have good friends who can see how that makes me human.

   50% of your time should simple be spent thinking-- P. Hiscocks

The Internet has made it really easy to lose yourself in other people’s ideas and facts and never discover any of your own.  Hence the myriad ways that Google is making us stupid (or, at least, in Nicholas Carr’s estimation, different).

My academic advisor at Cambridge recommended that I log off during my thesis research.  He favored long periods by the river, watching clouds and listening to wind, giving one’s mind some quiet time to synthesize.  Slate notes that getting uninterrupted time off to  read, write, or reflect seems to restore the mind’s capacity to think.  It makes an intresting case for Bill Gates’ style of having twice-yearly “Think Weeks”.

   Earlier in the decade, rates of growth for both the numbers of blogs and those visiting them approached the vertical; now traffic is stagnating, while Facebook grew 66% last year and Twitter by 47%…for maintaining an online journal or sharing links or photos with friends, Facebook and Twitter are quicker and simpler.  -- An empire gives way, the Economist.

I mourn the death of the long-form essay: there are a lot of good people practicing it.  How can you say anything meaningful in 140 characters?  A quip, a double-entendre, a pun: not a real thought, insightful juxtaposition, or reasoned argument.

   Oranje is de kleur van gekte.  -- V. van Gogh

‘can’t end without a Dutch quote for football season, especially now that we’re in the finals.  With Germany the likely opponent, it’s worth being aware of the history between these two clubs; hopefully the madness subsides this week.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A sense of space

Gateway ArchI was listening to a BBC 2 program last night, recounting one correspondent’s adventures along Route 66, the famous US highway from Chicago to Los Angeles.  All along the way, he marveled at how huge things seemed compared to England: the tall buildings, the wide parks, the endless roads, all emblemized by the towering Gateway Arch.

At the time, I was motoring around in my little Fiesta (with the Holland Voetbal flag, of course), just back from a visit to my tiny grocery.  I started thinking about the contrast in the supermarket aisles, the houses, the cars: Europe is cozy.  It’s probably always been that way.  But, stopping in Brugge, I wondered if it didn’t apply more widely and deliberately than just as ‘human scale’ development characteristic of long-standing, traditional villages.

Brugge is a lovely city of canals, cafe’s, and medieval brick buildings, all preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It hasn’t developed the density of many European cities, and the streets and plazas have a more open and uncrowded feel, even in summer.

Yet people still cluster in dense little knots.

DSC00875 The tour boats, for example, are packed: the operators delay each departure while they push people together and add a few more on.

Cafe’s push tables together; it’s not unusual to have to pull in elbows a bit while eating to avoid disturbing my neighbor.

And then there’s the herding and pressing that goes with trains, trams, and RyanAir.

DSC00872 On the one hand, it’s the way that merchants make the most of their limited space, maximizing the number of paying customers.  But most Americans wouldn’t patronize places where they didn’t have some sense of space around them, even in public venues (rock concerts excepted).

So do different cultures simply tolerate less space, or do they simply prefer less space?

I was thinking that Europeans prefer less space.  But then I think again of the symbolism of the Gateway Arch, beckoning settlers on to the vast prairies beyond.  And those most drawn to it were these same Europeans?