Saturday, January 3, 2009

Back among the Dutch

DSC04744 I’ve landed back in the Low Countries after a couple of weeks abroad…’finding that I’ve forgotten how to look both ways for bicycles before crossing the road.  Part of it might be simple jet lag: I had a lovely 12-year-old in the seat next to me who was doing her Dutch lessons for much of the flight.  However, she needed to get me up so that she could walk each hour, so it was a wide-awake 9-hour flight.

DSC04752There was heavy frost on the ground and the smaller canals all had a coating of ice.  Maybe this will be the year that the Elfstedentocht returns to the Dutch winter. The 11-city ice skating race hasn’t been held since 1997,  but given all of the peculiarities in the weather, anything’s possible.

Two bits of Dutch technology news to start the weekend:

Dutch Island

  • Earlier this month, the Dutch Parliament asked a commission on coastal development to assess the feasibility of building islands in the North Sea.  Primarily intended as an extension of the sea barrier, they would also serve as new land for housing, farming and nature reserves.
    • Taking a page from Dubai, the proposal includes plans to shape the archipelago as a tulip (concept, right).  It’s certainly an appealing, although expensive, idea.

  • portret-t1verhagen The World Technology Blog recently reported that the Dutch Foreign Minister (Minister van Buitenlandse Zaken) , Maxime Verhagen (left) is one of the world’s most networked politicians.  It goes way beyond having his own e-mail, web page, and blog.  He has an active Twitter feed with over 1500 followers, and is reported to answer questions and engage in dialogs through the medium.  His web page even has a geolocation feature so that you can see where he is all the time, and he posts photos of his travels via Twitpic
    • It’s great to see a politician embrace social media this way: Maybe President Obama can take the example as he tries migrates his followers from the campaign into government.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year’s visions

Out with the old…


…and ready for some ‘new.









Wishing you a 2009 to (happily) remember !

Art by Mark Kostabi

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Triangulating the glass ceiling

Orr - glass ceiling As I talk about my future career alternatives with friends and colleagues, the potential for a “glass ceiling” emerges repeatedly.  Am I aspiring to positions beyond my reach?  Will I be considered for positions where I’m qualified?

I’ve always been a positivist: believing that the ceiling is just the natural upper bound of a career’s trajectory, the limit of advancement defined by talent, time, and circumstance, unaided by fortune or ambition.

But it’s been an interesting conversation.  Some disagree with me, holding that there is an arbitrary limit for anyone that results from simple discrimination trumping hard work and merit.

What form might the glass ceiling take?

Princeton describes it as “an attitudinal or organizational bias that prevents women from advancing to leadership positions”.  To me, this seems archaic: I have worked comfortably with, and for, women throughout my career.  In my experience, people earn respect and advancement based on their competency, skills, and congeniality.  Still, it is very real to women I talk with, and it may be that I’ve missed it by working primarily in research and project teams in my career.

House-MD Others have generalized the term to include “situations where the advancement of a qualified person within the hierarchy of an organization is stopped at a lower level because of any form of discrimination”.  This one hits closer to home, because I can think of any number of highly qualified people who have been shuttled into the career ghettos.  Their ceiling lies at the public boundary: at the top of the hierarchy, leaders are chosen to reinforce the image that the company wants to project to customers, the media, and investors.  The ability to communicate clearly and to inspire confidence may be the only necessary qualities.  “House” need not apply.

Intriguingly, I also found this definition: “The glass ceiling is the seemingly unattainable 1st page ranking in a search engine, particularly for very competitive keywords. Sites and pages remain on the 1st page and are hard to displace because they are given really high rankings and have extremely high link popularity.”  Extrapolated, it suggests that those above the glass ceiling form a self-reinforcing club: those at the top accumulate perceptions and credibility that keep them at the top.  I suspect that there is a lot of truth in this.

All of these definition have the common quality that a person’s potential for advancement may be limited by bias and circumstance, rather than by drive and accomplishment.  It’s not the way I treat others nor how I think about my own opportunities.  But, as I seek my next position, I sometimes find myself wondering whether perceptions of age or disability, personality or nationality, might, in fact, limit my aspirations.

And, more to the point, how to recognize and counter it.

Photo credit: Judith Orr

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The melt is on…


Maybe Mother Nature needed to be appeased, satisfied when Governor Gregoire  declared a snow emergency.  Or maybe the Fates demanded acknowledgement from thoroughly snarled Christmas travel and shopping throughout the Northwest.  Or, perhaps, it was just a last jab from the dismal spirit behind 2008.

Whatever the reason, the temperatures finally began to rise today and skies began to drizzle familiar rain.  The snow softened; cars literally sank into the snowpack covering the roads.  I could drive along the streets hands-free, the wheels steering themselves along the deep ruts. The gullies filled with icy slurry on the hills, and cars began to accumulate along the side streets, unable to climb home.

DSC04724 The plows finally appeared this morning, and the roads have become passable enough that mail (absent for days), package delivery (absent a week), and garbage collection (absent since the 11th) can resume.  Predictions are that life will return towards normal by next weekend, just in time for my departure for the Netherlands.

Despite it all, this has been one of the least stressful holiday periods in recent memory.  The cards got out, the presents were shipped, the decorating and baking got done as always.  But the usual sense of being pressed and rushed was almost entirely absent.

I’m not sure why. It’s the first Christmas where the children haven’t all been here, but I can’t imagine that would have an impact. Maybe everyone got philosophical about only expecting things to be done when, and if, they could be done.  But it’s been a nice change.