Saturday, April 5, 2014

Back through the Netherlands

DSC04600 (1300x1081)I watched the scales anxiously. I’ve traveled Ryanair long enough to know when my bag exceeds 15 kg and this felt light to me. 13 kilo, nodded the agent without looking up,  pounding visa stamps into my boarding card.

‘nice not to have lost my touch.

DSC04591 (1300x965)Stansted Airport has changed a lot in a few months.  Entryways moved to the end of the hall, departure lounges bulging out into where ticketing areas used to be.  It’s still a bustle, never enough chairs or plugs, so I settled into a corner with a beer and a sandwich.

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DSC04544 (1300x975)It had been a nice morning in London: coffee on the steps of  St. Paul’s, Hush breakfast in slippers, a walk along the Thames through the forecourt of the Tate and Globe.  Plenty of time before I had to go to my 3pm flight.

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DSC04553 (955x1300)Then the Central Line closed unexpectedly throwing me into a cab to catch-up with the northbound Express.  But I don’t stress these things (mostly).

My life still fills with Amazing Race moments, from unraveling ever-changing travel connections to living among mismatched pairs of housemates (each with a special bond to the other).

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Eindhoven was warm and green on landing, but the route to Schiphol was anything but.  All of the intercity trains terminated nearby at Boxtel: signage indicated two snelbus interruptions along the route.  DSC04592 (1039x1300)NS plans well, but I still feel like such a refugee dragging bags among masses of people across the parking lots.

The farms of the groene hart were tranquil, glowing in golden Dutch light as I worked my way north: it seemed like the hotel could wait an hour or two so that I could enjoy a proper dinner along the way. ‘hit Utrecht about 7, perfect light for a few pictures, some pasta, and people-watching along the sunken canal that winds through the city center.

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‘a nice Saturday’s journey, leaving me in position and ready for Sunday’s flight to join three generations in Denver for a few days.  But tonight, this would have been nice to share with them all.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Back along the road

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Let me know if you need anything?  It’s always the offer among expats when one heads back to the US.  People miss the little things:  a bottle of sweetener, some snack crackers or cooking spice, a USB hard drive for half price.   Familiar things, scarce in Tesco or Blokker.

Let me know if you need anything?   And on the way over, it’s cheese or chocolates, single malt, gehaakt spice.  Rare things, unfamiliar in World Market or Pier 1.

So, again, one big case of clothes, one small for goods, arriving at the Bournemouth station for the three legs back to the US for a few days.  Business is wholly in Europe, so family events determine trips back across the Atlantic.  DSC04581 (1300x972)Next week it’s my children, my parents, my brother: my birthday.

The cheapest flight to Seattle departed from Amsterdam, so I planned a three legged journey.  Rail to London first, where I scored a club room a block from St Paul’s for half of what a hotel costs.   The trees were all budding, pink scented flowers and shoots of green leaves.  Streets were filled with shoppers: I worked my way from Selfridges foods to sports shops and watch repair, provisioning.

The prior week had filled with experiments, meetings, and fundraising preparations: we’re almost ready to get back out to investors and lots has to be put in order, clearly, to explain where we are and what we plan.  Our clinical and technical partners finished their planning work on time: we handed off across meetings and phone calls and reported status in a flood of emails.  There were a lot of late nights to enable a few days away.

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‘no time for museums this visit, but I spent the evening in light social conversations at an alleyway Italian bistro and a wine bar alongside the lit dome at St. Paul’s.

DSC04512 (974x1300)Do you prefer the journey or the arrival?  The Arrival, but differently.  The British want to settle into a their room with a cup of tea and a talk.  I always want to get outside for a cafe and to sample the ambience, people, pace and tenor of a new place.

Okay, right, I do take pictures for TripAdvisor first…

“I think those old people are talking about us?”  I had been studying a woman’s face on the Tube, thinking about curved lines and charcoal drawing  class. Her hair had a unique wave, framed an oval face with pointedly arched eyebrows.  She met my gaze; I glanced to her traveling companion, a man with a very oval face and pointedly arched eyebrows.  I whispered to a friend, slightly too loudly over the din of the carriage, who  looked and agreed.  I’d have been embarrassed except for the ‘old people’ remark.

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Around St. Paul’s, restaurants close early after dinner on a Friday, brasserie’s open late for breakfast on Saturday. It takes the pressure off of early rising, give a bit of space for catching my breath ahead of the journey.

And for packing and cushioning the provisions headed across with me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

CEOs and social networks

EichBrendan Eich was forced to step down as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation this week after less than two weeks as CEO.  He’s an exceptional technical talent and visionary, but failed to understand the criticism that his personal donation of $1000 to support California’s Proposition 8 initiative in 2008 would attract.  His tone-deaf defense, that business and personal are distinctly separate domains of his life, failed to sway his customers, investors, or Board. 

These days, much like politicians, CEOs are expected to mirror the soft aspirations of their organizations, purpose, values, tolerance, and character, as well as embody the hard business aspects of vision, honesty, competition, and leadership.

I started experimenting with social media ten years ago.  Beginning with a personal web page and an early Facebook account, I went on to start albums on Flickr, a narrative blog to share my expat experiences, and code to push my Pocket saves to Twitter for friends to read.  I talked to my students about the difference in personal and public presence, static and dynamic content, and ways to align their content with the purposes of each combination.

I had discovered the limits occasionally.  When content spilled into the wrong bucket (a creative writing assignment, memorably), I would hear about the leak from colleagues.  I was surprised at parties when a stranger would greet me with details of my travels or activities.

And so I learned to tweak my privacy settings, cull my user lists, and moderate my content.

Once I started creating a business organization, once I became a CEO, I also found that more people, more distant from knowing me, also began drawing inferences from my social media.   An out-of-date Linkedin profile misled people about my continuing involvement with prior consulting.  The tweeted stream of article links raised doubts about my focus; the blog was too candid about some personal issues.

I have to manage my bank accounts so that personal and business money are kept strictly separate.  Cash only flows between them in particular, proscribed ways: invoices and expenses. 

A similar concept needs to be observed for social media.

Omar IshrakOmar Ishrak’s internet presence is an instructive example. The statistic of his life are posted on his Business Week profile, but they are also reflected consistently throughout his social media outlets.   His LinkedIn is professional, a CV (not up-to-date, but professional).  His Twitter stream notes business-related articles and motivates his team: there are no indications of broader or personal interests. 

Everything supports and motivates his corporation and its mission: his online presence is a personal reinforcement of his position representing the corporation.

The contrast between Mr. Eich and Mr. Ishrak is instructive.  A CEO is a public figure representing the company to investors, employees, customers, and communities.  What is said online will be indexed, aggregated, linked, discovered, broadcast, and discussed.  So, even leading a small, young company, keep the management of your personal brand in mind:

  • Separate your personal and professional presences as rigorously as you do your personal and professional finances.
  • Be a resource and curator for your followers; reinforce the messages that you give to them face-to-face.
  • Be honest and interesting, but do not over-share personal details.
  • Keep content up to date and factual; monitor comments.
  • Manage privacy appropriately, distinguishing content seen by family, friends, colleagues, followers, and the general public.
  • Set triggers (Google Alerts) to notify you when content relevant to your sites and name appear.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tech tips: Location tracking


This is a map of my whereabouts for the past 30 days, rendered from my Nexus history.  Lots of north/south business travel in England, a couple of east/west runs to Maastricht and Schiphol. ‘Days spent’ in different locations isn’t well represented; movements are sampled more frequently than stationary periods.

Despite the obvious (and accelerating) pace of my life, it’s also evident that it’s scope has been pretty restricted this spring.

When I first moved overseas on the Corporate expat program, I remember being called into security to discuss emergency procedures.  If there’s trouble, we can find you, they advised in a windowless room. “From my Outlook calendar?”  I was such a naif (naief).  No, as soon as you activate your phone, we’ll track it.  I imagined a room with a map displaying my big red dot, expecting a call if I didn’t move as predicted some days.

Now, in the wake of the Snowden reports, that seems almost quaint.  All of  my calls and texts, border crossings and cash transfers, have likely been gobbled up and stored, analyzed and discarded.  I still attract a moment’s attention from British and US Border agents, questions about the duration and reasons for my absences.  But surveillance is the norm, not the exception.

Why not put it to good use?

Location tagging is built into most devices not, and I leave it on by default.  It helps for my camera to tag my pictures, people appreciate location tags on text messages and Facebook posts, and I’ve been able to use Android Device Manager to locate wayward phones and tablets on a couple of occasions.

Location tracking is built from the history of  location tags: after enabling it, tracks can be viewed in Google Dashboard or with a tool like View Location History, used to make the picture above.

Location sharing goes the further step of pushing my location to others.  I’m experimenting with two apps, Glympse (which sends a series of locations to someone for a specified interval) and Hemisphere, which allows people to query my current location.

So, what would I like to do with all of these capabilities?

Self-monitoring:  Similar to a sleep of fitness app, it would be useful to monitor my ‘travel intensity’ as a way of keeping track of stress and facilitating better lifestyle management.  Eliminating the back and forth, knowing when movements are ramping up unknowingly, monitoring whether I drive too fast or route inefficiently between stops would be interesting.

Business connections: I’d like business associates to have select capability to query my location, progress, and availability.  I manually set my location in Skype and message people about my travel progress, but it would be neat if they could directly query my time zone for a call or my progress towards a meeting.

Safety:  I carry a card with “Who to call” contacts in case of emergency.  There are also a couple of designated people who receive regular texts with my location who would follow-up if they didn’t hear from me.  But I would really like something that tracked me for anomalous movement, that could ping my phone for a response if I wasn’t sending calls or messages, and that would notify designated people of my location if there were a likely emergency.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Springing ahead

DSC04361 (1300x977)Mother’s Day dawned crisp and clear and early over Parkstone.  The clocks finally skipped ahead an hour, two weeks after the US transited, but the shortened day promised to be good. Temperatures were forecast to  approach 15C, the signal for everyone to drop their coats and woolens and head for the piers and caf├ęs.

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Bournemouth was in Bay Run competitive mode, running events ranging from ‘fun run’ through to full marathon.  Up and down the chines (beachfront ridges), things are gearing up for summer – shops and restaurants opening, beach gear and kayaks carried into huts, windscreens and kites rising along the shoreline.

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It was a reflective day: I have a landmark birthday fast approaching, and have finalized plans for celebrating.  My original notion was to fly everyone to an exotic locale for a few days of feast and feest, but that fell hard against economic and work-schedule reality.  So I’m making a circuit of my children and parents, extending the celebration over a few days next week.

I joined a close friend’s celebration a year ago and got inspired by the possibilities, then was further encouraged by the articles describing Gloria Steinem’s passing 80 in style last week.  Decade birthdays should be marked.  But, its also too easy to make too much of things, set myself up for issues.  A bit of coffee and a think, and I got my head around the event at last. We’ll fittingly mark the decade’s arrival (not passing, in my own way, in my own time.

DSC04481 (1300x977)Buried in the article about Ms. Steinem was this gem: She met a young man in her travels and thought, “If I was younger, we’d have had a passionate affair for two years and been great friends the rest of our lives.” 

I’ve had days of discussion and at least one night of vivid dreams mulling this over.

-- What story could be written about the time bordering the transition?  Was the decision to become friends sudden, gradual, tense or gentle?  Who said what to whom, one seaside afternoon, late one night in a wine bar, or early one honest morning over runny eggs?

-- Is this ‘great friendship’ narrative even possible?  I’ve been told that no woman can ever be friends with a man they’ve had an intense, passionate, meaningful relationship with.

-- How does real passion, true love, evolve over the years?   The NYTimes observes that ‘Companionship becomes the reason for seeking love’ as we get older.  I understand that long-term commitment and friendship anneals to instinctive understanding and trusted support for one another.  Still, friendship isn’t the terminus of passion.   I’ve come to expect more, and the arc of the story feels sad and unnatural.

DSC04463 (1300x950)The runners sprinted past to the finish, received their shirt and water bottle, hugged their families.  Life’s a bit of a marathon as well, I reflected.

But it’s ceased to be a race.