Saturday, October 17, 2015

Simple PC repairs (not)

engineersFour engineers are riding in a car when it suddenly sputters and stops.  The electrical engineer suggests that the problem is the battery, the mechanical engineer pokes the valves, the chemical engineer sniffs the gasoline.  The computer engineer insists that everything will be fine if everyone simply gets out of the car and then gets back into it.

windows 10 1Friday I logged into my PC to find that my Start Menu was corrupted.  This would prevent short-cut access to any programs, so I checked on the internet and found lots of people reporting the same error and lots of guidance for fixing it. 

Rebooting, disabling the antivirus, going to Safe Mode didn’t resolve things.

I tried to add a new user, the solution that most advisors advocated, but Windows prevented that.

I hacked into PowerShell and rebuilt the startup tables.  Nothing changed.


Deepak, the Indian IT fellow living up the hall, suggested getting a Mac.

Worse, the problem was spreading.  Search stopped working.  The Associations, which link a program to a data file type so that clicking on a document, for example, starts Word, became corrupted.  Repairing / reinstalling Office failed to fix anything.

Worried, I updated my backups.

The next suggestion was Reset my PC / Reinstall Windows 10 (Your applications will be lost, your data files will remain).

win10 reset pc

It took a few hours for the process to complete, and my data files and account settings came through intact.  Microsoft kindly posted a list of everything that was uninstalled to my Desktop.  All of the problems were, indeed, resolved.

So I’m now in the midst of a two-day recovery to re-install and re-set several dozen applications.  It’s time-consuming, but likely will make the computer run better.

I also took advantage of the transition to migrate from Windows Live Mail to Outlook.  Microsoft hasn’t updated Mail since 2012 and it has been getting increasingly unreliable.

Outlook 2016 is not a happy alternative.  Bloated and slow, it’s been a hassle to set up and connect to my email accounts, and slow to download my existing mail files.  I can’t drag and drop mail between different accounts, and Search will take weeks to finish indexing.

EngineersWe treat our computers, like our cars, as an appliance: focused on using them to get from here to there and  not worrying about how they work.  When they fail, the cause can be difficult to diagnose, and any fix often seems like trial and error.

And when it involves IT, the fix is often counterintuitive and leads to a lot more work.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hepworth and Auerbach

IMG_20151015_163801 (1050x1400)My investor meetings in London wrapped up at early today, and the follow-ups with my group ended by 4 pm.  Even with my embarrassingly snow-white Senior Railcard, I couldn’t use my discount before 7 pm.  No matter, I haven’t used my Tate Pass in months and there are a couple of shows on at the museum that are well worth a visit.


IMG_20151015_161036 (1050x1400)Barbara Hepworth is a modernist British sculptor: her gardens and workshops in St. Ives are a treat to visit if you are in Cornwall.  Sculpture for a Modern World features many of her smaller works, arranged as an evolutionary retrospective.

When I was learning charcoal drawing, I always liked the fluid arcs and contours of Life Drawing as compared to the geometric precision and angles of Still Life.  IMG_20151015_161511 (1400x1087)I’m similarly pulled into Hepworth’s works by their smooth curves and surfaces, the shaped stones made soft and warm.

The earliest works are of people and animals: repeated renderings of the torso (Interestingly, the fronts more detailed than the backs), evolving to abstract flowing blobs representing bodies and limbs.

Geometric forms follow, spheres and torus's,  progressing into encircling ovoid's pierced with fine wire lines.

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The exhibit ends with a movie of her working, determinedly hammering at stone wearing a smock and a smile (and no safety glasses), then a recreation of her 1966 outdoor exhibition at the Kröller-Müller Museum near Arnhem (NL).

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Unfortunately the exhibit ends in another week, but it’s worth an hour to walk around the pieces and to understand her art.

Auerbach Reclining Head IIUpstairs is a second exhibition featuring Frank Auerbach’s thickly layered oil paintings.  The exhibit is new, running until next March, and displays a chronology of his portraits and landscapes.

Seeing a photograph like Reclining Head II (above) is not at all like seeing the work first-hand.  Auerbach layers on the paints, and there are centimeters of relief in the works that creates flat sculptures.

Auerbach Primrose Hill Auerbach Morning Crescent

Similarly, landscapes like Primrose Hill (below) are both abstract and depictive, full of energy and bold strokes of paint. 

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Some of his works are a bit unsettling, in contrast to the calm poise of Hepworth’s sculpture, but all are imaginative and unique.

I took a last stroll through the British Art through the Ages, admiring the journey from an ancient selfie to Hockney’s  portraits. 

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Then the bus and walk to Waterloo, experimenting with my shutter speed before I caught the train south.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Catching up

DSC05897 (1280x1400)‘apologies for my silence the past two weeks.  A break in posts likely doesn’t indicate a health or economic disaster, only that I’m in transit, accumulating air miles and sleep deficits, gathering notes and pictures to post once I get back.

In this case, I’ve been on a long loop from 1444851695868London to the Netherlands, around to Boulder and Chicago, finally back to Maastricht, Reading, and Poole.

The purpose was a mix of business and family: closing out elements of my son’s estate, investor and board meetings, exchanging the old lease car for new.

The flights were generally on-time, DSC05894 (1400x894)the food was good,the weather warm and dry, the visits with family and friends delightful. The changing time zones take a toll, as does too much restaurant food and too little exercise, lots of long flights and hopping among hotel rooms.

Yesterday’s homeward drive back from Maastricht took twice as DSC05899 (1400x932)long as it should have, though.  I arrived at the Dunkerque ferry entry early, just behind  a group of strikers from the Channel Tunnel union.  They joined hands and blocked the road for nearly two hours until the French police arrived.

I missed the boat by minutes; it cost me hours of travel time.  And the stiff northeasterly winds made for a pitching ride all the way across the Channel.

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DSC05909 (1400x933)I’m back now, nursing my desiccated plants and jet-lagged psyche. I’ll backfill a few stories in the coming days and get the forward writings back on track shortly.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The occupational hazards of being expat

DSC05884 (1400x931)‘Winding up the week’s travel here in Maastricht, a day to catch up around town and then a ferry back to the UK.  The autumn leaves are beautiful this year, the rains really make the colours glow.

Traveling, I’ve reading the WSJ Expat, my best source of news and commentary for working American nomads. The blog publishes often, featuring a variety of experienced voices.  All of the articles are free, relevant, and timely, DSC05886 (1400x921)addressing finances and taxes, implications of legal and political decisions, and personal stories from people living all over the world.

Three recent articles dealt with personal questions of expat identity, and how people can be changed by their overseas experiences. Each bears some caution for long-term expats, and resonate deeper than the expat / repat surveys that dominate our literature.

DSC05871 (1400x933)Jessica Scott wrote a thoughtful piece asking whether Living Abroad Changes Your Personality.  Faced with conversations in unfamiliar languages and cross-cultural social / business situations, most expats lie back a bit and watch, learning how things are done before jumping in.  The natural extroversion required of a successful expat gets tempered by a more thoughtful practice of reflecting before acting.  In the long term, which the author suggests that this leads people toward being more introspective.

For me, it’s a mix. I always tended towards being more reflective and analytic, something that I needed to overcome as I became an expat and entrepreneur.  The year at Cambridge definitely helped: we were placed into daily presentation and networking situations where we needed to stand out.  Rehearsal builds skills; Success builds confidence.  I become more assertive and outgoing (hopefully without becoming controlling and arrogant).

But I’ve also made a lot of mistakes, big and small, omission, commission and ‘not my fault along the way.  Hard truths and life lessons change how I approach business and social situations.  It could also be the wisdom of age, or a greater reliance on non-verbal cues in a Dutch environment.  But I know that I am more measured and gentle in my approach; I listen for different views and signals, read intent and motivation more clearly than previously.

On balance, I do think that I have become more introspective as a result of my decade of expat experience.

DSC05868 (1400x929)Expats and Alcohol is explored by Malia Politer: Do we foster an abnormal culture around drinking when overseas?  Certainly there are countries where drinking is a bigger part of social and business life than it is in the (post 50’s) US.  Tight expat communities define themselves by evenings at the bar and parties in resort towns.  Boredom, alienation, stress and loneliness all factor in, coupled with the natural tendencies of the high-performance / risk-taking / adrenaline junkies who frequently become global nomads.

This is one that I’ve certainly noted as a risk in others and have taken conscious steps to avoid for myself.  I think that the UK guidelines are a bit tight, and reject recent recommendations that folks over 55 cut even those in half,.  Nonetheless, I do avoid hard liquor, and I moderate  beer and wine to two well spaced glasses most evenings.  If there is a period of particular stress or sadness, I keep closer contact with positive and constructive people so that I’m not alone with thoughts and temptations.  And I am strict about limiting  if I’m at a business event or will be driving back from a social evening.

DSC05889 (1400x922)Finally, Jessica Scott again on Expat Guilt. Life as a global nomad means accepting a distant and disconnected relationship with family, friends, and colleagues back home.  Skype, email, and ‘home tours’ can keep us somewhat in sync, but we remain largely apart from everyday life in our native country.  When a life event happens, good or bad, it raises questions: Should we stay here, should we go back, how do we participate or give support?  A decision to remain overseas is a guilty choice, giving the appearance of being selfish or indifferent.

This is really a tough one.  Living in Europe is a wonderful opportunity, and I don’t regret decisions to build a business and a life here.  Still, it’s an all-in commitment, one that necessarily becomes more binding even as connections home weaken.  So I don’t get back to see family as often as I like, we don’t arrange the exchanges.  I’m aware of seeing people’s lives in glimpses, as news exchanged over an evening’s conversation a few times a year. 

And when something really happens, as with William’s death, there is guilt, and there are questions about how long it can continue.  Can the next ten years be like the last ten?  No, and I’m making adjustments after this summer’s experiences.  At the same time, this is all so remarkable, and the rewards can be so great, that I can’t imagine backing away.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Swapping the cars

DSC05876 (1400x921)When I first took an overseas assignment with my BigCo, a lease car with a bottomless gasoline card was part of my expat package.  I got a 300-series BMW, the first time that I had a really nice automobile.  Up to that point, I had driven family vans, never really understanding how a car might embrace and anticipate me the way my Beemer did. 

Forever after, one sign, one reward, of my inevitable business success would be to treat myself to another really nice cruiser.

In the first year after my startup, Stone Bridge Biomedical BV, formed, I avoided getting any car: public transport was great, DSC05710 (1400x933)I could bike locally, and going auto-less saved me a lot of money.  I figured that I could rent a car a couple of times a month for less than the cost of a lease payment plus garage space. 

But the convenience and freedom of a personal vehicle, especially for Spa or Carrefour on weekends or for trips into the countryside and across the Channel, finally forced me back into the market.

So I leased a Ford Fiesta.  Lease payments ran about 500€ / mo, a parking space another 70 € / mo.

It was worth it, but I made the promise that if I couldn’t do better than a Fiesta by trade-in, then I was not cut out to be an entrepreneur.

The two year lease ended.  ‘Another Fiesta.

And now, three year’s later, the end of the current lease yields . still.  another.  Fiesta.

I have to admit that these are decked-out versions: back-up sensors, DSC05727 (1400x933)folding mirrors, a slightly larger diesel engine for hill-climbing, cruise control, a good audio package.  I do a lot of driving, 35,000 km each year, and it pays to have a few comforts.

And the cars have been uber-reliable and phenomenally efficient: over 60 mpg highway.  (No Fiesta in the US does that: if car companies can, why don’t they?)  They hold the road well, hold their own in traffic, hold lots of boxes and groceries, and hold all of the people and goods that pass through life’s occasional vacations and everyday errands.

I started negotiating the swap in April, well ahead of the July lease ending.  Still, the dealer took until June to close the deal, wanting hard evidence of my business solvency. DSC05878 (1400x1122) In Europe, every auto sale means waiting months for the factory to deliver a new one, so the replacement car is only arriving now, in October.

This transition was nostalgic and bittersweet: the bright blue bullet and I have been through a lot together the past three years.  I gave it a good cleaning and a fond pat, handed over the keys and insurance papers, clocked the mileage and inventoried the scratches.

DSC05891 (914x1400)The new car is a deeper blue and has a shinier dash.  The gauges are luminous blue instead of sullen red; it accelerates more smoothly and sips fuel a bit more lightly.  It refuses to bond nicely with my UK phones.  The car is comfortable and smooth on the highway, if a bit noisy.  I am training it to speak more English than Dutch.

Still, my businesses have only, and again, earned a Fiesta.

‘Third time charmed, I’m certain.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Autumn in Potawatomi Woods

DSC05849 (1400x933)Everyone remembers their first job.  Maybe it was counter work in a fast-food restaurant or a sleepy retail outlet, a small internship in a big company.  It’s the first time exchanging creativity and labor for hard cash, learning to work with an organization and to please a customer.

For me, it was summer as a counselor at the Wally Y Day Camp, run by the North Suburban YMCA in Northbrook, Illinois.  Four days each week, I supervised groups of 6-11-year-old campers through DSC05827 (1400x933)full days of fun activities in the local forest preserve.  I was paid a princely $35 per week.

The job was actually a delight.  It was great to be working outdoors, spending the summer with my best friend, and socializing evenings and weekends with the rest of the staff.  I was good at songs on the bus and nature awareness exercises, composing skits for Friday assemblies and awarding baby-food meals to kids who forgot their lunches.

DSC05857 (1400x978)So, with an extra hour or two before I had to catch a flight to Europe, I took advantage of a warm autumn afternoon to head back into Potawatomi Woods.


Forty-odd years since that distant summer: DSC05828 (1400x915)little has changed.  The entry road still wound in to the stone picnic shelter, facing the fireplace that we used for a stage.   The open woods spread beyond, the trail to the lake still in place.   The Pit was filled in, where campers used to roll in the dirt when the counselors ran out of activities; the smelly scummy Swamp remained. 

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Beyond the woods, the path  opened onto the Lake and the River, where we taught the kids to fish and skip stones.

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DSC05853 (1400x1275)I took a shortcut through the woods to get back to the car, sure of my ancient reading of the terrain.  Predictably, I got hopelessly lost.  I found my way out the far side of the preserve onto Portwine Road, then humbly took the  long way back around the perimeter to find the entry road again.

It was a beautiful day for looking at leaves and DSC05861 (1400x933)listening to the wind.  Life’s autumn matched the season perfectly.

The visit brought back a lot of memories: these are the sorts of circles that I love to close, bringing back the people and events that still can seem as close as yesterday.