Friday, May 13, 2011

Cats and Jazz (a Liege)

DSC04016I flipped through the heavily marked Articles, listening the to technical arguments wash back and forth on the telephone.  The answer is never clear when the sides are isolated on morally justified high ground.  We only want protection in worst-case conditions,  justifying veto rights over asset transfers and IP licensing.  We should be able to run the company without constant arguments, pointing to review clauses for contracts and remuneration.  I remember another investor who commented that strong rights and protections are necessary because he was the only one contributing something that could be lost.  I bit my tongue – time, opportunity, reputation, and wages could be lost by any of us, no less real.

It’s a complex negotiation, resolution shimmering just beyond the thicket of legal language.  And the way through is always to listen, be patient, look for common ground, and always to simplify.

Then a friend called to ask if I’d like to join him and his wife for a Bar-B-Q and jazz.  I almost said no: I couldn’t see how to get my head out of four hours of calls and back into some sociable form for the evening.  But it turned out to be just what I needed – two ways.

DSC04035First, they are having an explosion of kittens at his home, and it’s charmingly simple to just watch them tumble through the late afternoon.  Then there’s something about stroking a purring feline that makes troubles seem very distant.

DSC04042Then off to Jazz a Liege, an annual festival where bands, soloists, and combo groups fill the convention center until 1 am.  There’ something to sitting back and enjoying talented improvisational music in many forms for many hours, relaxing into complexity rather than wrestling with it.  Excellent music by the Igor Gehenot trio, the Belgium Jazz Big Band,  Thorbjorn Risager (I do love that name).  Sample music and links are all over the festival web site: I’ve attached some photos and a video of the Big Band and their lead sax player, below, to give some flavor of the event.

DSC04051 DSC04049


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Loose links

DSC04033Blogger is suffering a prolonged outage, so I’ll take the opportunity to simply push up a few links and stray facts entered into my notebook. rather than a full thought that may vanish in the swirl of database corruption:

  • Does European culture divide between “pub folks” and “cafĂ© folks”?
  • Following on the BBC coverage of their royal wedding, their From Our Own Correspondent podcast takes a peek at Dutch royalty: ‘times are changing in the Netherlands where they now like their royal family to be rather more regal than in the recent past. (5 mins).
    • Also, the Feb 26 broadcast has an excellent overview of the linguistic roots the social and political issues in Belgium.
  • Why don’t the inventors on Dragon’s Den negotiate rather than beg when the investors offer nothing for their company (I’ll give you 40,000 for 50% of your company, effectively valuing a 500K idea at 80K). The response is not Please, offer more?, it’s Would you take royalties in exchange for a smaller percentage?
    • Or, better yet, know your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA): someone in TV-Land will offer you more than the Dragon does.
    • I would just start cutting deals and partnerships...maybe it’s cultural that they don’t?
  • The bromfietsen on the fietspad are getting out of control.
  • “In 2009 America’s hospitals soaked up one-third of all national health-care spending, or $759 billion, roughly equal to the entire GDP of the Netherlands.”  The Economist, April 28, 2011.
  • “If our best effort (at US deficit reduction) means that we go into debt by an amount equal to the GDP of the Netherlands each year, then who can continue to have long term confidence in the dollar?” The Economist, April 15 2011.
    • I think that the news magazine has settled on their standard meter-stick for all things economic.
    • Although others use the reference too: Both the US African-American market and its Hispanic market are larger than the GDP of the Netherlands. Maybe it’s just a convenient number, but what are the hidden associations?
  • I’m having recurring nightmares where I am growing up to become Pierre Richard.  As a test, I may put one of these up as my Facebook photo and see if anyone notices.

2 3

  • Nothing translates worse between cultures than humor.  My two favorite examples:
    • Swiss:  What is the difference between a horse?  One is black.
    • Italian:  Why do bananas grow curved in the mountains?  Because nobody is there to straighten them.

Yet another inburgering intake

I thought I was through to the classroom.

Letters arrived while I was in England, I was summoned to the Dutch Language Institute for a recitation on (the day before I returned to the Netherlands).  A Dutch friend picked it up and made my apologies – we rescheduled for 9:30 am this morning.

The venue turned out to be a college on the upriver-outskirts of Maastricht.  I pedaled over early to get the layout – an active church outside with shrines up and down the street,a cross on the schoolbuilding.  Inside, dim tile halls and wire-windowed rooms: computer labs with students in rows with headsets, classrooms with students in rows making hard ‘g’ noises.  This must be it.

Ingang Boven –> I took the invitation and headed upstairs.  The woman mopping the floor yelled at me for tiptoeing through the edge of a wet spot.  No sign of an intake desk.  The office doesn’t upen until 11:30.  I nosed into the language lab, and an assistant took me to a teacher who handed me off to the gymnasium back on the ground floor.

In it was a vast open hardwood floor, a single desk, a single woman with a single file folder set expectantly in front of her.  9:34.  Not a good start.  I took a seat.

She slipped out a printout of an email from my Dutch friend, confirmed that I had rescheduled.  Yes.

She pulled out another paper, exchanged it for my ID.  I checked the personal data, she made copies.  Check.

Another paper.  Will you complete the course, can we report your progress to the Gemeente, do you consent…  I repeated the Threefold Way to Dutch Language Mastery: I will do my best, I will work hard, I will finish what I started.  I signed yet another contract.

That page is replace by three others, my test results.  You passed the Intelligence Test, she remarked.  I beamed.  You passed almost all of the cultural test: you failed the section on Children.  Ah, yes, the questions about who I would call if I became pregnant and what school I would take my children to (and at what age).  Never mind that these were wholly irrelevant to my age and situation. You will need to learn these.

My language results:  Reading / Writing both A2, Listening / Speaking both A1.  If you work hard, this will not take long, she said, tapping the page.   I started to repeat the Threefold Way, but we were onward too quickly.

Daily classes when you are in town; assignments to complete as you travel.  The teacher will help you with a schedule when you begin June 1 – you will receive a letter. Cool.

You will need to carry a form that will be signed by each person with whom you have a significant Dutch conversation every week: doctor, storekeeper, restaurant, coworker, saying how well you did.  This will make me popular around town – I can see asking the AH Clerk to sign my petition as my goods whiz by at checkout.

You shall need a Dutch Buddy to talk with – do you have any preferences?  I begin to describe my ideal Dutch Buddy; she smiles and says that those are out of stock, but someone can be found who will be suitable.

And that’s it; back on the street and through another intake.  Next time, it’s class time.  Right?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Back in Maastricht

I ran into a police blockade at the Stansted Airport entry yesterday – always the luck when there’s an hour and a half until the plane leaves.  They were matching foreign cars to their owners, taking name and contact information to match the license and registration.  Maybe it’s anti-terrorism, maybe just to make the speed cameras more effective, but there were a lot of guns and uniforms involved.

More like Super Sad True Love Story every day (an overbearing authoritarian state chirping “Together, we’ll surprise the world!”: fortunately, the novel actually turned out better than expected.

Just one more bit of stress ahead of a quick escape back to the Netherlands.

The UK claimed my spring because of teaching, investment meetings, and a failed negotiation for a business acquisition.  But I need too get more geographic balance back into life.  Neither the British nor the Dutch activities can be run remotely for long, and I need to get more efficient at scooting back and forth periodically.

Thumbing through the accumulated mail this evening, I’m finding bank cards that need activation and inburgering appointments that need to be kept; the IND reminding me to get my visa renewed and belastingdienst notices that bookkeeping needs to be updated. I find that too many business and personal relationships start to drift and disperse if I am out of sight for too long, and there are things in the apartment that I need access to.

Although living in bucolic countryside outside of Cambridge, days seem to fill with meetings and appointments that divide every day into half-hour chunks.  This is fine as long as lists are organized and I can drill through a prioritized list of calls and e-mails.  But tasks that take longer to complete or that require sustained thought are difficult to complete.  Ironically, city life in Maastricht is less full, so the book chapter gets written, the project planning gets drawn.

I think that some of the working quiet is also due to the communications gap that opens in Dutch language environments.  Everyday conversations and media are much more engaging in Britain where I (think I) understand everything going on around me.  The hum of Dutch conversations rolls over me without sticking unless I am making an effort to follow and understand.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What makes us happy?

world_happinessThe Social Network (besides being a clever and well scripted film about many unhappy people) really captures many elements of entrepreneurship – I regularly tell my lawyers now that I want to avoid having an “Eduardo moment”, finding I’ve been diluted down to 0.03%.

‘especially after finding that a clause had been inserted into the Articles stipulating that Directors to lose all of their shares if they leave the Board for any reason other than death. I’m not kidding; I now word-search every document for (compulsory OR share OR transfer).  Any combined hits, and I am NOT happy.

Considering it’s origins among allegedly asocial programmers, it’s impressive how viral social networks have become in five years.  I’m consistently surprised at the ‘lost’ friends and colleagues that I can find on LinkedIn or Facebook.  (In fact, it’s becoming a source of concern when someone fails to turn up despite knowing their work history, home town, school…)

It’s also gratifying that most folks seem happy and their lives have largely turned out well.

Among those I’ve found, it’s been nice to see people’s talent mature.  Artists and computer geeks that I knew in high school are still posting works, graceful and insightful respectfully.

But people tend to be reticent about their spouses.  Not their kids or their work, hobbies or location.  Just their spouses.  Strange.

Chris Conley recently gave a TED Talk about how we find happiness in life.  Unfortunately, his marquee example is Gross National Happiness (pioneered in Bhutan of all places), whose components include Economic, Environmental, Physical, Mental, Workplace, Social, and Political Wellness.  This seems displaced from everyday life, and certainly not reflective of what makes my (online) friends happy.

How about “How satisfied are you with how you spent your time yesterday?” This comes from work in “Day Reconstruction Methodology”,  by Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman.   His method analyzes feelings associated with a reconstructed day’s diary; a summary of results is presented here and, more popularly, here

For example, in 2004, 909 employed women in Texas) revealed “most happy” to “least happy” episodes as shown below – the full paper shows how emotions vary throughout the day and with various activities.


This seems to me to get much closer to the root of what makes individuals happy in their lives.  I haven’t found the corresponding result for men yet, nor how it evolves over a lifetime.  But it does seem to correlate well with the sorts of satisfying activities and their daily and seasonal trends that I find on people’s Walls and Status Updates.