Saturday, December 8, 2012

Where does time go?

I really laid into work this week, home most days and just digging through the most important things.  A gratifying pile o things were accomplished, but at the end of each day I’d open my notebook and check things off the lists.  Sadly, they didn’t seem to get much shorter.

I think there may be three things at fault.

1- Things always take longer than I think.

Less a matter of underestimating a task than of underestimating the complexity of a task.

Book US travel over Christmas.  Straightforward: open the calendar, bring up the Delta / Orbitz websites, specify “My Travel is Flexible” and see what comes up.  Choose ad pay.

But I have a UK visa meeting on the 19th at 8:45 in Croydon.  The last flight to the US is at 2 pm, no way to be at Heathrow by noon if things get sticky.  The earliest flight back on the 20th leaves via Amsterdam, so cut cost and risk and take the train over the night before.

Make a Eurostar booking, then the new Fyra train (only 20 gbp!) to Schiphol.  Overnight hotel at Schiphol.  Delta website breaks down: call Delta and sort through travel options and price alternatives.  Call family to confirm itinerary.  Call Delta to confirm and pay for itinerary. Print all travel documents (buy black print cartridge).

It’s complicated.

2- eMail and Phone calls are sticky.

When I send a message, I get a reply.  That, in turn, must be answered, and leads to a conversation.

Arrange to start the clinical trial paperwork.  I contacted the Joint Research Center for London’s Hospitals with my Physician / Investigator a month ago and established a file.  Now we need to activate it and start filling it in.

The director writes that the process has been changed: there is now a new office across town.  The new contact is copied in.  My case officer offers a new clinical contact at a different site, copied in.  My current physician bristles and asks for clarification.  The Center asks for a protocol.  I ask for a template.  My CFO asks if the cost estimates are changing.  The cc: list grows and grows.

In the end, we’re trying to identify who is key and try to get them all into a conference call, while asking everyone to limit replies, trim the cc’s, and stay on focus.

3- Stuff happens.

Sometimes an opportunity, sometimes a problem, but no 12-hour day actually ends up with twelve productive hours.

In the end, I think I have to be satisfied that I have done well the things that I can do, I’ve done the most important things, that I’ve finished the tasks I‘ve started, and that I’ve avoided too much stress or wasted motion.

Some day I’ll get back to the ABC’s: realizing Ambitions, keeping Balance, and nurturing Connections.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Views from the Windows

Maastricht winter 

Morning in Maastricht and in Cambridge – snow / rain: Winter.

I furiously catching up with the business and administrative backlog, humming away in my garret and firing off calls Rieu Xmasand emails (and the occasional Andre Rieu eCard when I need a break: he’s like Martha Stewart on steroids).

I’m still getting Win8 set up in spare moments, and am trying to embrace the App Tiles and the Store as an alternative to the Desktop and Applications. 

It’s not easy to love:  ‘two main complaints.

First, the store is very poorly organized, making it difficult to find what I want.  The main screen is a clutter of featured apps and a couple of unhelpful search options (New, Free).  The detail is simply a listing of tiles in no particular order and with few filter or sorting options.


Second, the apps themselves are simple and immature, even the native ones from Microsoft.  Take the Weather tile: there are no options for showing Celsius or multiple locations. Settings brings up a long list of disclaimers and legal paper, not actual settings: the Options consist of, well, one pointless one.


Better to ‘look out the real window, get work done on my ‘real’ Win7 laptop, and think of ‘real evenings’ with Andre.

<sigh> ‘just the gluhwein talking on that last one…

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Calendars

December is starting ugly, too many things to do, too little time to catch up fully.  It turns into a twisty maze of tasks, interconnected on different levels, that remind me of the interiors at the Judge Business School (left).

The outcomes matter more than the process, for many of 2013’s decisions hang on the answers revealed each day of the next few weeks.  In that way, life is coming to resemble an Advent Calendar.  Each day, on only on that day, a door is opened and an answer I revealed.  I may win a prize, I may get a lump of coal, but it’ become a matter of planning, waiting, responding.

The week began with Board Meeting and our company Christmas event.  We had a good office-warming for the new digs at St. John’s and a nice dinner for the working team both in-house and from the Judge.  Everyone is holding their advent calendarbreath to see what happens with the next round of laboratory experiments: with success we’re on to our clinical trial.  An issue sets back the schedule a few months and impacts fundraising.  We saved a bottle for when that door gets opened mid-month.

My visa hearing is coming up fast as well, bringing forward my Tier One for another year and indicating whether I may be granted Indefinite Leave in order to continue running the business.  5 years of success and good behavior are generally required across Europe, including the Netherlands and UK, but with anti-immigrant feelings running high,renewal is no longer a benign.  That door opens on the 19th.

The cold weather finally gave way to snow this morning, a light dusting across the fields and roads.  I’m curled into my home office, catching up after a lot of travel and meetings, so it’s a good excuse not to slide into the office.  The floor is covered with a white dusting of paper, blowing into drifts against walls and furniture.

Rieu2And the computer is winking with an invitation from Andre Rieu to enter his Advent Calendar for 2012.  CD, Tickets, recipes and concert videos lurk behind the links, set in his Maastricht home.

Rieu1 I’m fascinated by the lush look and sounds of it all.  His mansion lies just outside of town along a walking trail and I’ve seen the exterior many times.  I can’t imagine anyone really decorating to this level, but I’ll probably walk by to see.  I’ll arrive back in the US around the 20th, so it’s going to be a scramble to put up Christmas together in the days remaining.

That door opens on the 24th.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Visa quest (ctd, ctd, ctd…)

UK T1I work in the UK under a Tier 1 General visa, granted in January, 2010.  It’s a points-based, 3-year program that lead to full immigration into Britain or granting of Indefinite Leave to Remain.  The rules for getting a visa have tightened up considerably since I got mine, as the Conservative government tries to restrict the flow of workers into the country, while promoting integration and lessening dependence among those who do come.

The Tier 1 allows two one-year renewals, and my advisors told me that it was similar to the Dutch system: stay on good behavior, keep working, maintain a minimum bank balance, pay your taxes.  When the time comes, fill out the forms, go to the Border Agency offices, and pay your fee (1800 gbp for the renewal).  No worries.

But, as I’ve learned through long experience when it comes to these matters, Do Worry.

As presented to me, renewal is looking more and more like applying for the first application, with strict rules on points-based proof, original documentation, and prolonged loss of passport during processing.  I’m now remembering, three years ago, that I made application through the Chicago embassy to get 24-hour turnaround.

I need 95 point to get the visa renewed, based on these qualities:


It’s a funny system.  In a land where youth unemployment is a big issue, extra points are given for expats in their 20s, no points over 34.  Qualifications are degree-based; English Competency may require an exam (shuddering flashback to the Dutch tests I recently took).  The others are economic, if you make over 30K gbp/year, then you’re good.

It seems like it addresses the questions of whether people can integrate and take care of their own needs.  An obvious hole is the level of assets being built and debt being carried,  how has life progressed over the three years.

But, worse, the economic side is blank.  I have started a business, hired local workers, imported cash, exported product, mentored and taught others doing the same.  Zero points, but that is exactly what they want to have people doing to build economic growth, preferable to austerity.

Whatever, the country belongs to the government and they re entitled to set their own rules  I can get to 75 pretty easily, but the remainder requires me to prove that I make over 30,000 gbp per year.  It shouldn’t be difficult: Payroll records and bank statements, an annual report from my company. 

But there are two complications.

First: Dutch-based company.   I work as a UK-based expat for Stone Bridge Biomedical BV.  With operations in three countries, Stone Bridge pays my salary and expenses from several locations.  Consolidating them to show one payroll check, one corresponding bank statement that exactly matches the payroll check, is impossible.

Cash Flows

Second: Taxes.  I work for my Dutch company, so I pay Dutch business, payroll, and personal taxes.  I report the business and personal income to the UK and the US, who all interpret it in different ways.  All recognize and credit the Dutch taxes paid.  But the British may raise IR-35 questions (Are you truly a Dutch expat or actually a UK worker) and questions about the local bank account (Is it a business account or a personal account).

It all gets very, very complicated, expensive, and time consuming.  My case worker is already rolling his eyes and asking for more money to cover the work of prosecuting my application. 

I understand the need for secure borders, limited inflows of people, and domestic employment growth.  But it is becoming, everywhere, progressively harder to follow a process that simply allows me to keep living locally and building my startups.