Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday morning over the Cascade mountains

It's a flawless morning in the Pacific Northwest.

The plane flew in over the Cascade mountains, a young volcanic range to the east of the city.  It's always a fantastic view with the morning mist and the blue skies.

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I'm driving through them tomorrow morning and will post some ground-level photos as well.

US and Dutch traffic contrasts

The Corporate offices are scattered around a number of campus sites, and even though I cluster the meetings, it still ends up being a lot of driving.  I allow fifteen minutes to get back and forth, the it takes five to get to the car, ten to drive, five to get from the car.  The driving process is, as a result, stressed.

I'm used to Dutch driving now, so I really notice the differences here:

-- The timing of traffic lights obstructs the flow: as I approach a light, it invariably turns red.  I've always appreciated the way Dutch lights sense the car and change it green just ahead of me.  I think it's just a difference in how to manage flow: the US lights force a series of gated stops, where the Dutch force steady progress at the speed limit.DSC09679 Stitch

-- US drivers occupy a lane and stay there.  Where the Dutch tend to (aggressively) pull to the right, US drivers tend to stay left, right, center, regardless of their speed relative to the traffic.  It seems to promote bobbing and weaving either way: the Dutch are constantly jumping out to the left to make a quick pass, while US drivers are forced to weave across lanes to get around traffic.


-- US cars seem bigger and older.  It's not just the SUV's and pickups looming over every smaller car, but there are a lot of dented and rusty vehicles around as well.  European roads are filled with shiny jelly-bean cars, all stylish, but not much variety.  There's a lot of talk here of importing the Euro-style cars to help people cope with the cost of gasoline.


-- The cost of gasoline.  It's around $3.50 a gallon here, still about a third of current prices in Europe.  Even at that level it's causing a lot of pain, not so much because of the price that people pay, but because of the volume that they have to consume to participate in everyday life (like driving between corporate campus sites.  There should be a circulating shuttle bus, or, perhaps a some sort of better use of tele-meetings).

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I'm back at the airport this morning, grabbing a quick bite and connect in the lounge before heading to Seattle.  It was a good visit here; lots to share when time permits in the next few days.  'hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bits and bobs before the sun rises

I'm up early this morning; it's only about 3:30 here in the room outside Minneapolis.  Normally I take a couple of Melatonin tabs a half hour before bed and it helps me to sleep through the first couple of nights.  Unfortunately, I didn't pack it along this time, so I'm going to have to rotate things more slowly this trip. 

Nonetheless, it's quiet outside (the thunderstorms pass through around sunset) and, with hours until the day's interviews, I'll catch up on a few coming-to-America thoughts for mid-week.

image A friend asked if I could bring back a small bottle of Absinthe, the one with the little spoon.  The local Gall & Gall had a cute package with van Gogh on the outside for 11 euro, and I tucked it into a corner of my suitcase without much thought.

I named it on my declaration card, and was rewarded with dripping red scrawl from the inspector and a quick trip to the agricultural desk.  They gave me a copy of the Know Before You Go booklet "The importtion of absinthe and any other liquors that contain artemista absinthium is prohibited" and confiscated the bottle.  We spent a half hour filling out confiscation and surrender of goods forms, the agent reassuring me that I would not face fines or court appearances this time.

'yike, and damn.

I'm noticing that procedures at the US border continue to evolve: TSA and Homeland Security must still be fine-tuning existing procedures and adding new ones.  Yesterday, they announced that they would no longer track people who failed to have proper ID at checkpoints, instead limiting entries to people without ID who then give a false name to screeners.  I've noticed that we have to thread a phalanx of agents along the corridor ahead of passport control now: they seem to stop about 10% of people for a conversation and inspection of documents.  Patrols around baggage claim have also been stepped up, and people texting or talking on cell phones are getting questions.

ESTA (2)

A new declarations program is going into effect: the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).  This system replaces the current paper declaration forms with an on-line pre-declaration, and becomes mandatory at the first of next year.  You can fill in the forms voluntarily now at their web site, and approved registrations are good for two years.  There is no cost: a friend tried to find the site and ended up somewhere else, being asked for payment for processing.

The interviews are going well: I take these as opportunities to understand where I can contribute and to connect across the table, rather than as pitches and challenges.  In that spirit, they've been enjoyable.

After yesterday's round, I went to the local health club to unwind on a bike, and was stuck by how noisy it was in comparison to Dutch clubs.  There is lots more calling across the room and talking between bikes, and a bank of TV monitors, all tuned to different channels, chattering under it all.

This seems to hold more generally: the hotel has background music and the television on all the time; the shopping centers all have ambient music.  Restaurants pipe mood music into the inside and outside (terrace) areas.

Why?  It's not common in Europe: is it done here to promote comfort, to relieve loneliness, to promote sales?

Suburban Minneapolis is a land of enormously broad streets and widely spaced detached businesses.  This makes for vast distances between doorways when I go shopping for the essentials that I can't get in the Netherlands. It's just not possible to walk from store to store: each must be a separate driving destination, increasing the time, cost, and hassle of running errands.

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Like Las Vegas casinos, I suppose that merchants benefit when its hard for shoppers to go from one store to another.  Once it becomes more of a hassle to drive down the road to see more of the same, rather than to settle for what the current store offers, then a sale is made.

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I think that this is what led to the evolution of one-stop centers like WalMart and Target, and their cousins the strip malls: essentially multiple shops gathered into departments under one roof. They become more attractive destinations as they enclose more departments, so Target begets SuperTarget: oversized and out of scale with surrounding homes. It forces retail and residential areas to become clustered and segregated, further increasing dependence on the car and the necessity for roads and parking.  It's a viscous cycle.

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Yesterday's Yngling races (pix from were postponed due to lack of wind and visibility, but will resume Friday.  The standings: The Dutch Yngling women's team is still in second, equally behind the British and ahead of the United States.  '

Finally, a quick refresher on the Olympic boat classes:


Okay, sun's up...back to the street and on to the next interview...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Conversation Prism

I'm on the road for a week: four days in Minneapolis, then four in Seattle - Pullman.  The Minneapolis part is to settle an interim position for the next eight months in Europe and to lay groundwork for options after that, while the Seattle visit is to move my daughter to college.

The Dutch women continue a strong showing in the Olympic keelboat competition: after six races in the Yngling keelboat, they are in second place, three points behind the always-strong British team and 14 points ahead of the third place US and Australian teams, tied.  So far, the Dutch have four medals, three in Judo.  Who would have thought that?

Anyway, to business.

I've written before about the web presence that we are all establishing, mirroring our real-world lives.  We leave a trail behind us as we surf, log into sites, post pictures, send tweets, blog, comment, mail, and surf.  This data is increasingly aggregated and indexed into public and for-profit information services: my google-tail grows ever longer.

2374839848_c3bb1f6a39_oBrian Sortis recently tried to organize his web 2.0 halo.  He's found, like me, that you can group and organize your web presence and, armed with the map, can even make some progress towards making it consistent and manageable.  His social map, left, charts the communities that he's involved in.

I really liked his attempt to map the entire social networking space in what he called the Conversation Prism, below.  He intends that it "chart online conversations between the people that populate communities as well as the networks that connect the Social Web".


I find that I traverse a good fraction of this space on a daily basis: it's amazing how quickly many of these services became a part of my life.  They diminish the barrier of distance and create conversational interactions for me with friends and colleagues across the globe.  They have become a rich source of information and opinion that gives me new perspectives and instant answers.  It is a dynamic and generative medium, with new tools and services bobbing up to challenge the way I think about solutions to work and life problems.

At the same time, the seductive visage hides very real faults.  Too often, consensual truth masquerades as fact: if everyone agrees, then it must be so.  It nourishes the fantasy of extended influence: pages of hits on Google and a busy wall on Facebook prove it.  And it need not have any grounding in the real world: everyone can become whoever they want to be.

The good far outweighs the bad, though, and I think that the Prism has enriched my human contacts more than it has degraded them.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I hate job hunting (part 2)

rejectionI got this gem (and a smile) from a potential employer this morning: It’s the best rejection letter I've ever had (and one of the most final).

I feel both proud and deeply rejected :)

We refer to your job application of August 5th 2008 and thank you for your interest in the above position.

We regret to inform you that we cannot take your application into consideration for this post as your qualifications and broad experience do not match well enough with the requirements. In fact, you are absolutely overskilled for this vacancy and we would not be able to offer you a challenge in line with your management experience.

As we are not able to propose you a suitable alternative, we deleted your application file from our database.

We wish you to find a new challenge through other channels and thank you again for your attention.

Good luck and kind regards

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