Wednesday, September 3, 2008

'sorry to be scarce....

image I've been catching up with lots of life events the past few days, on the road Monday and Tuesday, locked in a writer's garret all day today.

I've been on a quest to answer some questions about long-term assignments in the Netherlands. It turns out that there is a former ex-pat (5 years, circa 1995, when corporate didn't check so closely about who was where doing what) who is about to retire, 10 years on local contract, living just to the south of me. I had a delightful dinner with him and picked his brain a bit. He's been happy with the local contract and living in Europe: it led to the work opportunities and lifestyle balance that he wanted (and that are the biggest draw for me as well). Pensioning is his biggest worry: he has bits of Dutch, US, company, and personal pensions floating around and he needs to make a coherent whole of it. Taxes were second: he has used Taxpat for years and has built up substantial US tax credits that now need to be unwound. Isolation was a distant third: he feels removed from family and colleagues, but still plans to make a permanent home in France when he retires.

I also met with a physician-entrepreneur near Maastricht to get some idea of Dutch requirements for setting up a business. We walked through the procedures and he assured me that it wasn't as hard as the Chamber of Commerce literature implied. I will need a business plan and some tax advice, but if I collect my ideas together, then he agreed to guide me through the forms later this fall. I still want to explore the potential for going independent as a startup or consultancy, and this is a necessary component. I'll post progress notes along the way: suggestions are always welcome (for example, I had no idea that there was a Dutch - American Friendship Treaty to think about?)

And I interviewed for a position with a French company. It's good rehearsal if nothing else: I always think back on the questions and find places that I could have used a better example or been more concise. The company is looking for someone to lead a technical department of 150 people developing devices for automated laboratory testing, a bit out of my field. My first reaction is to say that I don't know enough about that to do the job well. It's mechanical and electrical, reagents and fluids, and I'm a computers and signals person. At the same time, .the world is full of managers who didn't earn PhD's in the function that they direct. General management is about talent and organization, processes and controls, so if I have a clear remit, competent people, and I'm willing to make the effort to learn, it's something that I can do. So, with a bit of reading about molecular diagnostics, I'll step forward along the process.

And, finally, today was spent hunched over a business plan that I'm creating for applying for UK government funding. The startup has been germinating for a couple of years (with corporate approval), unable to move for lack of money. My partner and I did a quick survey of where things stand, and there is such a clear path to feasibility that it seems like the moment to make the effort. I've written many business plans and, for me, is always a 'death march'. 'Like programming or data analysis, I have to immerse in it for long, uninterrupted periods to get my head immersed in the task. Once in the fugue, I can be really productive, but I have to pound my head into the task without distraction. Unlike most, I don't succumb to a continuous stream of nibbles to sustain the effort. Extreme programmers often are associated with coffee, pizza, soda, and crumbs: I think it's a way of avoiding breaks and not a junk food habit. I avoid it: it helps me to step back from the screen for a short break every few hours to get the big picture again.

'not much else going on...

My daughter called to walk thought her math qualifier for her economics course. 'nice to be needed...

My son called to let me know he passed the first of three tests in his training course. If he fails one, he goes from being an airborne battlefield management trainee to being a cook. 'it's nail biting time all the time...

'had a good post-mortem on the Olympics with a few Dutch folks...they are still trying to understand what happened with the bicycling races and why only the women seemed to win. There's always 2012...

Painting credit: Alex Everitt

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