Saturday, March 31, 2012

An evening with Hockney’s works

The Royal Academy of Arts in London is exhibiting a retrospective of David Hockney’s Yorkshire landscapes through April 9.  Hockney has appeared on BBC talking about his return to Yorkshire and his experiments using the iPad as a sketchbook: the two most recent, The Art of Seeing and Alan Yentob’s Imagine, give good background for the exhibits.

It’s fascinating to watch him work, he effortlessly moves color and line onto his canvas amidst the fields and woods that he loves.  I know it’s drive, talent and practice, but, at 70, he’s also inspirational.


His show has been difficult to get into: tickets sell out early and mine were for 10:30 in the evening.  It turned out not to be crowded and tickets were still being sold at the door, so it may be possible to walk in.


And worth it.  The paintings are all bold, strong landscapes, somewhat impressionistic but both abstract and filled with movement.  Some, like the Grand Canyon paintings (below), are hyper-real: the familiar oranges have been heightened and the perspectives flattened to intensify the impact.

Others, tracing changes through the seasons, use marks and colors to capture the way light falls through the trees and slants across fields. The differences in spring and summer are both in the size of the strokes and the depth of the greens, the way the branches fall and the shadows rise.


I liked the small gems as well.  There are wonderful charcoal drawings that combine smudges and strokes, dark and faded, to show a dense copse of trees or to capture receding rows of birch trunks.  There is a small room with sketch books and iPad originals showing ideas and works in progress.

The paintings are generally quite large, made up of many individual panels or arrays of themed watercolors and oils.  Paintings that seem cartoonish at arms length develop a lot of depth and realism when viewed  from 20 feet away.  The energy is grasses and leaves is amazing: skies are often pushed towards the margins (despite accompanying text comparing his works to Constable).  I don’t quite see how he got the level of detail drawn on an iPad that these works have: he used a stylus, but even so there are very delicate lines and erasures that seem very difficult.

There’s a wonderful accompanying catalog (for 30 gbp!) but it doesn’t do justice to the strength and depth of the paintings hung in the galleries.  Hockney shows have been moving around Europe’s museums over the past few years – if you have a chance to see one it’s really worthwhile.

Friday, March 30, 2012

End of the week observations

DSC09060I keep notes as the week goes by, jotting thoughts to share and ideas to ponder.  None quite rise to the level of stand-alone essays, so I'll take today to do a Tumblr-dump of some ongoing events.

I was pleased to present to the CETC (Cambridge Enterprise and Technology Club on Thursday night: it’s a good group of technical folks and lots stayed for conversations afterward.  Although the evening was billed as Medical Robotics, the moderator told us to present any topic of interest.  I passed along some ideas for creating next-generation products for remote patient monitoring: I’m convinced that there are good technical and business models that will lead to significant advances in healthcare outcomes and cost containment.

TED-Why we age and how to avoid it.
    Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Foundation then presented ideas on how human lifespan could be doubled.  He’s an engaging speaker and it was fun to exchange some questions with him.  An interesting evening juxtaposing lifesaving technology with the notion of eliminating death.


The Slate Culture Gabfest made the intriguing observation that TED Talks are really just pitch competitions for ideas rather than businesses.  Is it a suitable substitute bridging the university seminar and the review article?  Or is it the only way that weighty ideas can get heard by a mass audience?  I agree that they seem to end just as they are getting interesting, and that the format encourages presenters to be glib rather than insightful. 


DSC09073I was listening to a podcast that explored what the worst knock was to someone’s self-confidence and motivation.  They concluded that was absolutely soul destroying to want something really badly, get it, and then find out that you didn’t have the ability to succeed in it.  I can think of several folks who have disintegrated as executives and expats for exactly that reason: they retreated to much smaller lives afterwards, afraid to venture out again.  Sobering scenario.


Fundraising absolutely stops Operations. It is not only wholly time consuming for both officers and the Board, but it’s impossible to make commitments without money in the bank.  As a result, we effectively have to pause and restart each time we go out to raise money.  On the positive side, we closed this round with a 20% oversubscription in three months of intensive work.    Great job!


On the other company, one of our fundraisers met with a New York investor, who said that a) we were worth $20 million, b) he would be willing to advise us for 10% of the company, and c) he wanted to recommend a CEO to start immediately.  It rubbed me wrong for at least five reasons, a) he didn’t take the time to meet (or respect) us before offering advice, b) he wanted $2 million to advise us, c) it violates basic ideas of fairness, of sharing equally in the work, risks and rewards, d) potential for loss of control, and e) I don’t need an outside advisor or CEO  telling me what to do.  Of course, I need to get over it and examine the proposition. It’s a Shawn Fanning moment: would I give up $2 million equity to make my company worth $100 million rather than $10 million.  It also points up my tangled relationship with authority, where I’m both deferential and dismissive, unwilling to take a stupid order just to show loyalty.  Not yet…


I think that I’m getting to the point where the answer to a business coach’s question, “What’s stopping you from being better than you are?” is “The Laws of Physics”.  I need to be in two places at once and add four hours to the day.  Hiring an intern won’t help.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The new face of Kings Cross

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve transited Kings Cross / St. Pancras stations in London.  It’s the major crossing point between London and Cambridge trains, a Eurostar hub, and my go-to spot for free WiFi as I dash between meetings on the Tube.  It’s also dim, crowded, a bit run-down and occasionally depressing if it’s late and the da has been difficult.  I can pluck a platform off of the orange reader-board announcing train departures whilst on the run,and know exactly where to grab a sandwich slice or coffee along the way.


St. Pancras opened a major renovation a couple of years ago, and the updates have been underway for the Kings Cross station.  The new departures area opened this week, and it’s a pretty nice change.  They’ve opened up the area adjacent to the old building with new ticket areas and restaurants, more space, better lighting and higher ceilings.


On the downside, the Evoluon-Eindhoven style of the building doesn’t fit the station well, and the ceiling lattice, similar to the British Museum, is more of a fa├žade than an integral part of the building.  The train announcements have been expanded into a long runner board that will take more time to read than the concise stack of departures, so I’ll need to adapt my style. 

But it’s closer to my 9-10 departure platforms and a welcome change from the previous waiting area.  I expect my 10pm moods to improve each time I dash through.


Monday, March 26, 2012

And on the language learning…

My Dutch administrator send me a note to tell me that the results of two of my three tests were in – she hadn’t received the third yet but remain at the same level for Listening and Reading.  There’s no indication of my scores or whether I’m moving within a series of tests within a level, just a reminder that my 18-month  limit is not far off and I should keep improving.

The tests were easy: unless I got careless picking from the multiple-choice boxes, I should have done fine.  I followed up to ask about the scores and thresholds but was told that I’m being handed off to a new administrator.

Similarly, when I visited the Gemeente, I found that my new administrator (January) had handed me off to another new administrator (March).  This fellow apologized for not answering calls: he spontaneously took a few days off because the weather was nice.  “I like not working,” he smiled.  Wouldn’t we all.

I find it all very frustrating.

The Daily Dutch commitment was yielding solid progress in Reading (I read the FD and Volkskrant daily) and Writing (I know most of the words I need).  When I ride the train, I read the Metro, de Pers, or the Spits: there was a charming story that I really enjoyed today without having to refer to a dictionary.  Listening and speaking are lagging, but I’m increasing my diet of radio, television, podcasts, and time with neighbors.

I’m increasingly  concerned that there is a gap between these activities and the content of the test.  The college is heavily oriented towards learning social norms and finding a job; the  test questions all dealt with getting along with neighbors and getting job interviews.  My daily interactions are with doing software design and discussing politics.  It’s different vocabulary and audience, and maybe they don’t overlap.

My Dutch neighbor tells me not to fight the system.  Stop reading the newspapers and start learning the classroom primers.  Stop having conversations with businessmen and start having dialogs with shopkeepers. Do more practice tests; focus on the portfolios.

I’ll try. It does make it hard to stay motivated, though.