Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stansted blues

STNI rely pretty heavily on Stansted Airport,northeast of London and about a half-hour drive (or train ride) from Cambridge.  It has direct (albeit7:00 am  Ryanair fights) to Maastricht for 20 gbp each way, and is a nice hub for vacationing.  There aren’t any US flights yet, although they are promised in the near future.

In the meantime, though, the process of flying in and out is becoming increasingly difficult, expensive, and irritating.

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  • Drop-off fees:  The airport has a drive-by lane across the front of the building, which was limited, then closed, early this year.  Motorists are redirected around to the underground entrance, where a ‘kiss and drop’ loop has been set up.  The problem is that they are charging 2 gbp ($3.00) for even a 3-minute traverse of the loop to drop off or pick up a passenger.  Short term parking costs 2.50 gbp: this is an absolutely appalling fee to extract from every motorist.

ryanair

  • Advertising Captchas: Ryanair has long had ‘captchas’ on their site, assuring that their pricing is only available to customers and not to aggregators.  Recently, they’ve begun to use these for advertising, asking customers to type in the ad copy in order to access the site.  I don’t mind verifying that I’m human, but typing in a promotional phrase is really irritating.  (Although the 50-questions “No Ryanair Talk, luggage, insurance, shuttle, etc, etc” is also annoying.  As is their policy of charging for their Android app.)

Holidy Extras

  • Low-price parking guarantee:  It’s not cheap to park at Stansted, but at least the agents at Holiday Extras offer a clean and simple guarantee.  So, when I found a lower price on my parking within 24 hours of booking, I called.  Although I met the conditions, I also met one of their 14 fine print exceptions, which pretty much cover any conditions where I might actually exercise the guarantee.  Customer service said I’d have to write the company, the company replied that they pay hundreds of people each year so, while there really is a guarantee, it doesn’t apply to me.

Thus, I’m excited that Cambridge airport has decided to start Amsterdam flights via Darwin airlines (also to Milan, Paris, and Geneva) on September 2, 2013.  It looks pricy at just over 100 gbp one-way, but I’ll watch how things develop

Friday, June 7, 2013

Vrijdag, reeds

The week has flown by – every day full and lapping over into the evenings.  Lots of good things got done, though. 
For CamStent the samples are off for testing, our contracts came in from the University, we have the possibility of a new partnership, and my lead chemist got off to Sermione for a much-deserved vacation. 
Over at T4, an investor came back with an offer to fund the company (valuation, and therefore control, still TBD) through it’s market entry, a $5 million proposition. 
Stone Bridge had a nice tax windfall; I got some student mentoring sorted at Cambridge, the nascent company who’s Board I joined is successfully closing it’s funding and a first clinical trial.
RachelAnd my niece graduated high school, my daughter in attendance.  She’s headed towards Harvard next fall on a athletic scholarship, a wonderful accomplishment.  Still, I couldn’t resist sending a card from the ‘real’ Cambridge reminding her who’s been around for 800 years and winning 89 Nobel Prizes.
Bigger fishAs Qui-Gon Jinn observed, There’s always a bigger fish.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Midday relaxation

sidewalk-cafe-robert-rohrichI think I’m getting a bit Mediterranean in my fondness for a break in the day, something to allow some reflection and recharge between a busy morning and a busy afternoon.  With summer finally here, the cafĂ©’s are becoming a favored spot.

Maastricht offered city-wide blues and jazz this week, musicians and singers in the squares and in front of the bars.   They attracted small crowds of swaying onlookers, filled the sidewalk tables with smiling groups of friends, evoked smiles from the wait staff and the passers-by.

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For me, a biertje and some bitterballen with the music.

In Cambridge, the draw is the history and the scholarship.  I enjoy listening the the conversations at nearby tables, debating a point of science, a position on literature, a plan for a business.  The scholars are distinguishable from the tourist by their head-down, headlong rush through the streets, lost in thought. 

 

For me, English breakfast and white coffee on King’s Parade.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday snapshots

It’s too nice a day to stay in for long (and koopzondag as well), so this entry will be brief. (Curated and commented, in the evolving language of social media links, although I’m not fond of either characterization.  ‘Observant and analytic’ is more to my taste.)

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The new OCED “Better Life Index” is out, showing the relative quality of life in 37 countries based on eleven themes.  USA Today cries “USA not one of the 10 happiest!” as America drops to 14th: the Netherlands is tied for 5th with Denmark).  The underlying statistics show a lot of similarities, though, and most differences between the NL, UK, and US (below) might not be noticeable to residents.   But, still, some would be major: it’s worth playing with the numbers if you’re that sort.

The Dutch have 0.66% of people working more than 50 hours per week, compared to over 10% for the UK and US.

British and Dutch Homicides are 4x lower than the US (thank you, NRA); but the Dutch Assault Rate is three times higher than either of  the others.

Americans report that their self-assessed health is better than the Dutch or British, although actual measures of health don’t support it.

Air pollution is actually higher in the Netherlands, while household wealth is lower by half.

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Ironically, the Dutch dropped to 14th in the IMD’s World Competitiveness Survey (the Dutch “need to adapt their competitiveness models to a changing environment”).

Still, World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Survey ranks the Netherlands fifth, highlighting “continued strengthening of its innovative capacity… heightened efficiency and stability of its financial markets …highly sophisticated and innovative businesses … rapidly and aggressively harnessing new technologies … excellent educational system … efficient markets … and infrastructure among the best in the world”.

Except for the Fyra, of course.

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A new coffee-table book about Maastricht is out. I saw it advertised in the Ceramique library; it’s a bit pricy at 59 euro, but the pictures look stunning.   I did get the history of the Wyck a few years back, and there have been two wonderful retrospectives of Cambridge for the 800th anniversary.

Coffee-table books generally seem to be doing well despite the overall decline in book sales as print-media moves onto digital tablets.  There’s still something about having a beautifully illustrated book-as-object that assures their place in aspirational homes.

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I never, ever want to become “that expat” with the long, grey hair sitting alone in the corner of the diner.  But every town seems to have a few of them, and the hair looks way too familiar.

 

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…and I leveled up in Ingress, (temporarily) taking over most of Maastricht (the blue dots on the right are mine).  I laid down some fields over the Maas in the shape of a giant cat (best I could do on the moment) that might last a few days before someone destroys it.

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This evening, my portals on the Vrijthof were taken: I attacked one of theirs and waited nearby.   Sure enough, two geeky guys, one tall and thin, one short and round, showed up, poking frantically at their phones.  I did go over and tap them on the shoulder: the expressions were great.  ‘Always a shock when a virtual game suddenly gets real.