Category Archives: Up close and personal

Call on me – by cancer patients

It’s been a secret for quite a while, but now I can share it: Jenny, our youngest daughter, lymph cancer survivor, has been to London to record a dance video with “Aktiv against cancer”. Here is the resulting video:

And here is a longer video with a bit of background and interviews with some of the participants, including Jenny:

Jenny has been a dancer all her life, and getting back to dancing through this video and the dancing classes she takes at her high school has been very important to her – a source of inspiration, as I think is evident.

Car-ried away a bit

I really should not be writing this – I have numerous other demands on my time, sitting in my home office and writing outlines for a couple of new courses, doing my taxes and preparing for a class in Shanghai next week. But I just read this column by Bob Cringely and, well, last Friday I picked up this beauty:

2014-03-14 12.41.36 

Now, this is a $100,000 car and you might be asking yourself why on earth a not too well paid academic should go out and purchase something like that. The answer is complicated and very Norwegian. We needed to update the Andersen car fleet (have a 1996 Mercedes C class and a 2002 Toyota Previa, both due for an upgrade). The kids are moving out, eventually, so we no longer need the minivan, and we were thinking about an SUV or perhaps a Volvo station wagon, about 5 years old. The problem is that a car like that costs $40-50,000 in Norway, due to the 200% taxes levied on almost all cars when they arrive in the country (more, if it is sportier.)

Anyway, for electric cars, there is no tax. Moreover, if you take it as a company car (I have my own consulting company), the assessed benefit is only half of what it would be for a regular car (or even a hybrid.) Moreover, you can park for free in Oslo, drive in bus lanes, get a free E-Z-Pass (i.e., the Oslo equivalent), there are free charging stations around and there is no annual road tax. Electric energy is clean and plentiful in Norway. The upshot is that this great GT car will cost me just a little bit more per year than our 12 year old Toyota. In short, a no-brainer. The Tesla S is a very cheap car in Norway, and consequently, Norway is the second largest market in the world for it. The dealer told me they were taking delivery of almost one thousand of them only in March.

It drives wonderfully, as Cringely says. After having driven it for a few days I have a permanent grin on my face. The effect is similar to driving my veteran Mercedes 6.9 – smooth and effortless power and comfort – but without the $2/mile fuel cost. In fact, driving the Tesla 100 km (60 miles) costs around $2.30 in electricity if I charge it at home, which is quite manageable, thank you very much. Now I make up excuses to drive somewhere, and constantly have to watch the speedometer, since there is no motor noise to help you estimate the speed.

iPhone Screenshot 1Right now, of course, I am not driving the car, since I am slaving away at my keyboard. But there is an app that allows me to see where it is – and currently my wife and youngest daughter have driven it to Sweden to do some shopping. With the app, I can see where the car is, how much juice it is consuming, and its speed. Great for constructing annoying messages to my wife commenting on her driving…

There has been an interesting debate in the Norwegian media the last few months about the subsidies for electric cars. The first electric cars were really not very practical – range and speed limited to 50 miles and 50 mph, respectively – and so the tax incentives where set up. Then the Tesla comes along with technology blowing everything else out of the water, and now you can be environmental and have fun at the same time. This constitutes an almost existential crisis for a number of people, who write angry articles about these monster cars that, well, don’t pollute (at least not in the use phase) and, well, should not be that good. We are, apparently, meant to suffer for the environment in order to save it, not enjoy our cake and eat it, too. (I am, of course, a technology researcher and can make the excuse that I should be familiar with new technology – in fact, perhaps I should charge the thing to my research budget…)

But I am not suffering at all at the moment. Instead, I am looking forward to tomorrow when my wife, perhaps, will not need the car and I’ll get to drive it.

If you need a Toyota and a Mercedes or two, just send me an email….

Still here?

No blog post since May 4… Well, my excuse is that a) I got sick for a couple weeks, which has slowed things down, and b) I then embarked on a 3-week teaching/speaking/travelling marathon that consumed all time, was very interesting and will earn me an SAS Gold card as soon as the points get processed.

Over the last three weeks, I have taught a four-day executive EMBA class at BI, two full-day PCL sessions for Harvard Business Publishing (at ESSEC in Paris and ESADE in Barcelona, both very enjoyable), participated in two oral exams, given presentations and facilitated sessions in a few companies that shall remain nameless, and held a session on technology tools for teaching for my colleagues. One more whole-day session to go, and then summer can begin.

For various reasons I have been working from home almost the whole semester, acquiring the odd hours and sloppy clothing habits of a hermit scribe (except when videoconferencing, where a hastily added shirt and some clever camera positioning is required). You can get very addicted to your cluttered home office and the view from the front window – and find that tutoring students over Skype is, if anything, more efficient than being in the office. It only takes me 30-45 minutes to get to work (car, bus or bicycle) but I have begun to see the 1.5 hours wasted as an unbearable intrusion on my productivity.

But you do find that there are wide discrepancies in people’s attitude to video- and teleconferencing. Consultants, engineers and some academics barely bat an eyebrow when I suggest Skype. Others – including some foreign clients – absolutely insist that I have to be there in person, even for fairly routine matters. Some official meeting don’t do teleconferencing, for some reason. And don’t get me started on the bureaucratic hassles of various exam-, medical and visa-related matters, which apparently were designed for parchment, quill pens and post diligences.

SAS appThere is progress. After some hiccups my SAS app worked beautifully, meaning that paper boarding passes and check-in lines (even at machines) is a thing of the past. I relearned where the lounge is at Arlanda airport. I rediscovered my system for where to store things so I don’t forget them, and started feeling like a flying consultant again.

And for three weeks, it was rather fun. Now I am happy to go back to the reclusive hermit style. Ahhhh…where was that white wine again?

Boston Marathon Bombing

This hits home – it is very bad. Boston is our family’s second home town, where our youngest was born and the other two had formative years (as did we all.) Boylston street certainly is familiar and so is every Boston reference and place name now being repeated on CNN.

I am impressed by the police and various spectators and marathon officials – they immediately run to help the wounded, acting very sensibly, quickly coordinating to gain access to the bomb site and get to the wounded.

Let’s hope the aftermath of this event is characterized by the same calmness, relevance and restraint. The bombings in Oslo and shootings at Utøya two years ago gave rise to very solemn reactions and a surprisingly thorough and measured debate about immigration, extremism and the role of religion in Norway – as well as a thorough examination of security routines and the response of the police (which, unfortunately, was not as quick and coordinated as in Boston.

Let’s hope this can be an event to learn from, whoever the perpetrators may be. The Boston Marathon is very much an outdoor celebration – people happily cheering the runners along the route and everyone having a great time. It would just be too sad to have it changed and locked down by the insanities of people who think violence will gain them anything at all.

Finding Nemo, unsurprisingly, again

(Intially posted as a comment to Dave Weinberger’s blog, but expanded/edited into a bona fide rant here. Update, Feb. 13: Dave continues the discussion in his column at CNN.com.)

New England has just had a snowstorm, predicted to be of historic proportions, but eventually ending up, as always, as nothing much, except a staggeringly incompetent number of people (400,000 or so in Massachusetts alone) losing power. As a Norwegian currently in Oslo (but with nine winters in Boston (Arlington and Brookline)): New England snowstorms, despite their ferocity, are not aberrations of nature but a failure to prepare a systemic level.

It is just snow. Not a lot (well, a lot, but for a short time, as illustrated by the photo.) It shows up fast, and leaves again equally fast. It doesn’t stay the whole winter, from November until March, as it does here in the south (get it – south!) of Norway.

The fact that New England panics every time there is a flurry is due to lack of preparedness at the infrastructure level. In most of Norway power and telephone lines are underground, it is illegal not to have snow tires on your car after December 1st or thereabouts (if you drive in the snow with regular tires and go in the ditch, you are fined quite severely) and during my own and my children’s school days we have never had a snow day or any other interruption due to the weather (and we have plenty of weather). In Norway you cannot get a driver’s license without passing a driving-on-slick-surface course. The Oslo subway (or buses – what kind of drivers to you have?) has never been closed due to snow. I have never been to the store to stock up on batteries and water. (I have been to the gas station to buy gas for the snow blower ahead of a storm, though.) Our airport does not close down for snow, though there can be delays. In New England, there are public service announcements (from Thomas Menino’s office) saying “When clearing motor vehicles, remove snow around the muffler/exhaust system before starting the car”. How stupid can you get?

I just can’t get used to the New England oh-my-God-here-it-comes-again-flip-to-channel-5 attitude. I attribute this to lack of far-sightedness in planning – rather than taking the cost of modernizing the power grid and change the telephone lines to fiber all around, incrementalism wins. (Then again, I have found myself being the only driver (in a VW Vanagon with worn tires) on the 128, and the only person coming in  to work (in a Chevy Caprice).) Instead of driving responsibly you salt the roads until they are white and dogs can’t go out due to the pain the salt inflicts on their paws. Instead of having a public works division outfitted to fix things with proper equipment you resort to an army of contractors with F-250s barging out to power-plow 2 inches of wet snow that will disappear at 9am the next day anyway, just to get paid.

imageI drove (with wife and three kids) from Florida to MA during the blizzard of 96, which closed down NY and NJ. In Georgia, we saw 200 cars in the ditch, including an 18-wheeler cab-up in a tree. It looked like an 8-year old had emptied out his toy car crate. On an Interstate in North Carolina I saw a police cruiser (who had tried to cross from one direction to the other via those little police-only paths) nosed into and completely buried a six-foot pile, the blue lights forlornly spinning through the snow. Driving around Richmond, I saw people pass me doing 75 in their Cherokees on the highway, only to see them buried in a drift two miles later. In Washington (Metro population 5.6m, number of snowplows: 1) I drove around (in a Dodge Caravan with a not very advanced AWD system) a Chevy Suburban spinning on all four wheels as the owner moronically pumped the gas pedal. (Incidentally, the only institution open was the Norwegian embassy, whose employees arrived on cross-country skis.) When we got to the NJ border, we were stopped, as the turnpike was closed. I stupidly tried to argue with the cop that I was Norwegian, had 4WD, and was a former instructor in 4WD driving in the Norwegian army, that driving in the snow was easy if you went slowly and gently. He was, needless to say, not swayed. We spent the night in a motel.

Why doesn’t New England harden the grid and communications systems, put winter tires on school buses, mandate winter tires in snowy conditions, and just get rid of this stupid idea of snow days? It is winter, it happens almost every year. It is just something to get used to, minimize the consequences of and then get on with a productive life.

On the other hand, most Americans work way too much, so perhaps it is just nature’s way of giving you a much-needed break. In the meantime, you are providing quite the entertainment at Norwegian TV, for which I suppose I should be thankful.

(Images from TriStateWeather)

Update Feb. 13: Somewhat related, here is an infographic (from Curtis Whaley via Boingboing) on how to walk on ice. Put on your tailcoats and waddle away…:

Four is a little, four is a LOT!

imageMy friend Cheska Komissar is quite a character. Not only does she make a peanut sauce that restores my faith in humanity, she is also the bubbliest person alive and, as of a few months ago, a children’s book author. Her delightful Four is a little, four is a lot is just the thing to get someone turning four – and wondering, as children do: Is four a lot or just a little?

The book has four illustrators (of course), but you would be hard pressed to see the difference in styles – though the collaboration has been remote, the drawings are remarkably close in coloring and style and the underscores the text excellently.

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So, count up the number of three-year-olds you know, surf you way over to the Four Dollar Books website and get the requisite number of books (at four dollars each, of course.) They also have birthday cards featuring illustrations from the book – and the combination will be both four-midable and four-tunate…

Highly recommended!