Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What’s wrong with this picture? v3

I promise this will be the last post with this title. But the past week or so has been nothing but scenarios of this type at work—inefficiency, stupidity, misinformation, poor communication, laziness and just plain indifference. I'm so tired of it all, of having to deal with customer service reps at scientific supply companies who don’t want to deal with customers, of talking to salespeople who haven’t the faintest notion of when their products will be delivered but who lie anyway and give you a delivery date so that you spend several hours running around trying to find out to whom it was delivered. I’m tired of leadership that doesn’t have the faintest idea what employees want or if they do know, how to give it to them. I’m tired of hearing ‘we’re going to be the best in the world’ when the IT infrastructure is crumbling around us. You don’t get to the top with an IT infrastructure that is from the Stone Age. I’m tired of hearing the same conversations about the same problems that we’ve been talking about for years. There were no solutions to them four years ago and there are no solutions to them now. There are no solutions because there is no money, or if there is money, it has been misappropriated and used on things that were not necessary. We need an IT budget to revamp the IT infrastructure. We need to be discussing the future of IT in our department, how to arrange it, how to pay for it, etc. We don’t need to be discussing Christmas parties, overnight seminars or other social events for which we have no budget.

I’m tired of so many thing in the workplace. I cannot wait to retire, so that I can do other things that get me outdoors, away from the four walls of a sterile office, away from the claustrophobic interiors and indoor climates of modern buildings where you can hardly open a window. I want to breathe fresh air, be surrounded by trees, plants, greenery. I want to let go of all that is unhealthy—the stress of useless discussions and problems that will never be solved. I want to be free of arrogant leaders, leaders whose egos are like black holes that destroy everyone in their vicinity. I’m tired of leaders who permit convicted criminals to remain in their jobs. I want to be free of the rhetoric, the bullshit, and the lies when it comes to ‘being great’. I’ll settle for being good enough. I don’t want any more competition for funding, for promotions, or for publishing. I don’t care about impact factors, H-factors, titles, prestige or anything related to inflated egos. I am so tired of academia and academics. I never thought I’d say it, but it’s the truth. I can’t wait to retire to my garden. That’s where you’ll find me.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

What's wrong with this picture? v2

And then there’s my bank. Another exercise in stupidity and misinformation. Really, you couldn’t write these scenarios if you tried. Truth is really stranger than fiction.

I received my new MasterCard in the mail from my bank at the end of August. I’ve had a MasterCard account with them for over twenty years now, and there’s never been a problem with my name being misspelled, etc. This year, for the first time, they had spelled my last name wrong. So I called the bank and spoke to a customer service rep who assured me that the problem would be taken care and that he would correct the misspelling and send out a new card. He spent all of about a minute telling me that, and the next few minutes trying to convince me to invest my money in one of the bank’s stock market accounts. When he realized I wasn’t going to bite, he switched over to trying to get me to buy insurance. I politely told him that I was considering many options concerning how to invest my money, but that the only reason I had called was to get a new MasterCard. He backed off. I received my new card about a week later, and the new card had the same misspelled last name as the first card. So I called again, and another customer service rep registered my complaint and the problem, and assured me that the mistake would be corrected and a new card (#3) would be sent out to me. He said he had even tested the computer system and that it ‘took’ my last name with no problems. A week later I received the new card, and wouldn’t you know, my last name was misspelled exactly as on the first two cards. So I called the bank again, and this time I spoke to a female customer service rep who informed me that the correct last name was registered in the system, but that there was a computer error in the system such that they could not send out a new card. She also suggested that I just use the cards with my misspelled last name. When I informed her that this was not right and that I would not be allowed to use these cards by any of the companies I buy from online, she backed off. I asked why the other two reps had not been aware of the problem that had existed for a least a few weeks already according to her. Her reply was that they might not have been aware of it. But how was that possible? This is just one bank with many customer service reps. Don’t the employees communicate among themselves? Don’t the leaders inform their employees of a major glitch in a computer system? Am I the only person to whom they've sent a new MasterCard? Surely the IT department had informed the customer service reps of this problem so that they in turn could inform the bank’s customers of the same? But no. Apparently with all the means of communication available to them, they had not communicated to the service reps that this was a problem. Folks, this is 2017. What is the problem with these IT departments? Don’t they know how to communicate?


The end result of all my phone calls was that I now have three MasterCards with a misspelled last name that are completely unusable. I have no idea when I will receive a new card with a correctly-spelled last name because the female rep I spoke to had no idea when the problem would be solved. At least she was honest; I’ll give her that. But I did lodge a complaint, and it was this—that the bank could have informed its customers that the computer program responsible for creating new MasterCards was not functioning properly and that issuance of new cards would be delayed. What is so difficult about doing this? With all the means of communication at our disposal, there is no communication at all. Either people don’t care anymore, or they are too wrapped up in their smartphone apps to realize that customer service and real communication have gone down the drain. I don’t want to invest in any of this bank’s stock accounts, nor do I want to purchase any kind of insurance. I want my new MasterCard, and that is all. 


What's wrong with this picture?

I thought I was pretty much finished with writing posts about the stupidity that goes on generally in the workplace and more specifically in my workplace. I was wrong. I doubt I’ll ever be finished, because my workplace continually gives me something to write about.

Believe it or not, the researcher network that is available to scientists (non-MDs) at my hospital is so outdated that it is still using Windows XP to run the computers that were provided to us well over eight or nine years ago. Ditto for the screen, but at least it provides good resolution for the most part. Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft for starters; this is the message that Microsoft has posted on their website: “After 12 years, support for Windows XP ended April 8, 2014. Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for the Windows XP operating system. It is very important that customers and partners migrate to a modern operating system such as Windows 10”.

It’s got to be at least three years ago that the IT department at my hospital informed us that hospital network users (mostly MDs and a few researchers, myself included) would be getting new computers with the Windows 7 operating system. When I asked at that time what the IT department was planning to do concerning the researcher network that is used by research staff (mostly non-MDs) employed by external grant organizations and not the hospital, the answer was that they were working on a solution but were not there yet. They’re still not there. Most hospital network users received their new computers three years ago; I was not one of them. This past spring, I finally got a hospital computer, but I can understand why most researchers do not want one. The restrictions on what programs can be used/downloaded are major, even if one is only going to use PubMed to search for medical research articles. Permission from the IT department is needed for any software that they have not pre-approved for download. This makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to install any kind of demo software or to upgrade instrument software via the internet (the latter is an annual occurrence for most laboratory instruments). This means that each time we need upgraded software, an applications specialist has to come from whatever company sold us the instrumentation, and that person will charge for the time to travel as well as the time spent in our laboratory to install and test the upgrade. Is this saving the hospital money? The hospital IT department does not want the hospital network users to access the internet in ways that the department cannot control. While I can understand this approach to some degree, it makes it impossible to do extensive literature searches or to download upgrades to existing instrument software, etc.

Sadly, the researcher network hobbles along, but there will come a day (very soon) when it will all come crashing down around us. I am still running the CS2 version of Adobe Acrobat software (it reached version C6 and then Adobe moved to another platform). The CS2 version still works, but my hospital’s researcher network has ceased to provide the latest upgrades/licenses for Adobe software and other software packages highly-discounted/free to its employees as it did ten years ago. So those of us without research funding don’t have the possibility to upgrade any software. The researcher network was a good idea while it lasted; it provided the most useful software free to researchers, or sometimes for a nominal fee. I hardly remember those days; they’re gone forever. What we could count on were the network printers; they functioned well for the most part. Today we were informed that the network printers that most of our Windows XP computers use were moved to a new server. That meant that we lost the printer connections on the old server, where at least the connections worked (we were able to print articles, etc.). The move to the new server has crippled the researcher network since most of the computers are still running Windows XP and cannot seem to ‘see’ the connections to the new server. Translated that means that we cannot print articles, our manuscripts, work plans, etc. I ask you—why are we at work? At home, I have a relatively cheap Acer laptop that is running Windows 10 and all new Microsoft Office programs. It functions very well. I have a printer at home that I can connect to my laptop if I need to print anything. In short, I have a well-functioning home office. Is it any wonder that I prefer working at home?


What irritates me is the following: we hear all the time that the department/hospital doesn’t have the money to do this or that or that the priority is to save money at all costs. In my book, providing a well-functioning infrastructure to your employees is a no-brainer. It should be priority number one on the priority list. In 2017, computers and printers should work, not hang or freeze, and operating systems/software should be up-to-date. If the hospital doesn’t want to support the researcher network anymore, they should just say so and be done with it. This gradual wasting away/starvation project isn’t fooling anyone. But meanwhile, the leaders are still meeting at cushy hotels for two-day meetings/seminars that drain the existing meager budget even further. Apparently these meetings are very important, important enough that the leaders have to travel quite a distance in order to meet up. Bus transportation, hotel room costs, three-course dinners, etc.—my, my, there’s always money for those kinds of things. My question is: why can’t these meetings be held at the hospital for a total of one to two hours, where pressing issues are discussed and dealt with. Save the money it costs to house and feed a group of leaders for more important events such as increasing the salaries of the research staff or bettering the IT infrastructure of the research staff. Drop the annual department seminar for the same reason, and use the money to improve the IT infrastructure in the department. This is an obvious solution but it never seems to be chosen by the department leaders. I have to ask, why not?


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Honeybee on sunflower

My sunflower plants have grown quite tall during the summer, and the bees have discovered them. Recently I managed to snap this photo of a honeybee on a sunflower with my iPhone. It amazes me that the quality of photos from the iPhone are so good. This was a lucky shot; many of my close-up photos are often slightly out of focus.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sunset at sea

Also taken from the ferry on our trip back to Oslo from Copenhagen......I love the path the sun makes on the water. Ever since I was a child, I have always wished I could walk on those paths toward the sun. Those thoughts have formed the basis of several poems that I have written over the years.


Rain shaft seen at sea

A rain shaft is one type of precipitation shaft; other types are hail or snow shafts. They appear as dark vertical shafts emanating from the clouds. We recently saw one such rain shaft at around 9 pm on our overnight ferry trip back to Oslo from Copenhagen. This shaft was not very wide but was a bit fuzzy. Although it was not raining at our location, it was clearly raining in a very localized spot over land to the left of the ferry (northeast Denmark). A strange weather phenomenon! I managed to get a few photos of it. The other interesting thing was that the clouds in the sky all seemed to level out at the same lower position, something I've never seen before. The natural world never ceases to amaze me.












Monday, September 4, 2017

Some words of wisdom from Piet Hein

Piet Hein was a Danish mathematician, inventor, designer, and poet who was born in Copenhagen in 1905. He died at the age of 90. We were recently at a flow cytometry conference in Copenhagen, and written on one of the walls of our hotel room was one of Hein's short poems, entitled:

Det må vi efterligne (Kulturkritisk)

Kultur er evnen
til at leve livet,
så ny og ægte
livsform leves frem.
Den evne var
de store gamle givet
av hvilken grund
vi efterligner dem.


My translation from Danish into English; I hope that I have gotten the gist of the poem:

We must imitate (culture critical)

Culture is the ability
to live life,
so that new and genuine
life forms are created.
That ability was
the gift of the great old ones
and is the reason
we imitate them.
----------------------------------------------

Monday, August 28, 2017

Some wonderful quotes about gardens

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation.
--Phyllis Theroux

The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.
--Gertrude Jekyll

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
--Marcus Tullius Cicero

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.
--William Blake

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.
--Alfred Austin

A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
--Liberty Hyde Bailey

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.
--A. A. Milne

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

A weed is but an unloved flower.
--Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.
--Georges Bernanos

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.
--Gertrude Jekyll

Use plants to bring life.
--Douglas Wilson

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.
--Alfred Austin

The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.
--George Bernard Shaw

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.
--Thomas Jefferson

A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.
--Luis Barragan

When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited.
--Ramakrishna

There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder.
--Alfred Austin

Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.
--William Cowper

Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.
--Marcelene Cox






Sunday, August 27, 2017

A truth about love

"Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding"
Norman Maclean, from A River Runs Through It and Other Stories


Monday, August 21, 2017

Back to the grind

And so it’s back to the grind after five weeks of summer vacation. Back to work after the wonderful freedom of not working. When I was a child in grammar school, I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to be over so that I could go back to school. It’s not that I didn’t like having the time off, it’s just that at some point it felt good to think about preparing for school again. When we were children, our job was to go to school and that was fine with me. I never experienced school as prison, like many of my fellow students. I felt pretty much the same way about high school and college; I enjoyed school and learning and felt privileged to be able to go to school. By the time I got to graduate school however, I was tired of rote education and felt the need to get out and work, to apply what I’d learned. I’ve been in the workforce for nearly forty years now, and most of those years have been interesting, motivating and productive. Motivation has dwindled however in the last five years or so, not because I lost interest in my research work, but because the research system changed into something I no longer recognized, with its emphasis on selling yourself, hyping your ideas, hiring and promoting extroverts, and networking ad nauseam. Since I am not an extrovert, and since I don’t feel comfortable around braggarts or bragging about my own work, I’ve pulled back and become an observer of what goes on around me. It’s been interesting to observe the rise and fall of the show-boaters. I suppose the pendulum will eventually swing back toward the middle, where it will be ok again to do your research work quietly, efficiently and well. I long for those days to return, but I doubt that they will before I retire. And that’s quite ok too. I’ve had a good run and it’s time for the younger scientists to take over. I have accepted this, but it’s actually interesting and somewhat humorous to see that others haven’t accepted this—I am still mentoring students, still running into the lab to answer questions, find something in the refrigerator, check out a lab procedure, and so forth. I no longer have funding for lab consumables, so I make do by utilizing antibodies and tissue sections that were bought and prepared several years ago. Who knew that I would be able to see into the future then and prepare for the drought? I was smart enough to prepare and it has paid off somewhat in the sense that I am not completely bereft of lab consumables. I just cannot purchase new ones, and the likelihood of getting funded at this point in time is slim. But as people say to me, ‘never say never’, even though deep down I hold out little hope of further funding.


So I look forward to retiring and only wish I could do so now instead of having to wait another three years. Three more years of grant application rejections, three more years of research article rejections, three more years of remaining patient in the face of a stupid uncaring system. Three more years of futile salary discussions in a system that has no budget to give its employees a lift (because most of the money is being used to pay the exorbitant salaries of the leaders who abound about us like rabbits). They multiply three-fold each year. We’re up to six levels of leadership now and I don’t have a clue as to what any of them do each day. Three more years of braggarts, of researchers with huge amounts of funding who don’t have a clue as to how the other half lives. I tell people the truth—I have no funding, zero, zip, nada. That’s how it goes, and I’m fine with it. I only wish I could exit stage left now.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

New York summer

I recently spent some time in the States visiting family and friends, traveling in Pennsylvania (right over the NY State border) and in New York. It occurred to me as I was writing this post that I used nearly all forms of transportation on this trip--plane, bus, train and car, just not a boat. I spent the first part of my trip in the Milford area in Pennsylvania (took a bus from the Port Authority bus station in Manhattan to Milford) visiting my sister and her husband. Milford PA is a lovely town with about a thousand residents--small town Americana--and is definitely worth visiting. It is not far from the Delaware River and the NY State border. I stayed at the Hotel Fauchere (http://hotelfauchere.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyLSX-8bl1QIVF5SyCh0uQwOCEAAYASAAEgK4JPD_BwE) and can highly recommend it. My sister and I spent a day driving around the Milford area and through the small towns of Barryville, Narrowsburg, Kauneonga Lake, Bethel, and Middletown in New York--a lovely area in southwest NY State near the Delaware River bordering Pennsylvania. I then took a train from Port Jervis NY (about a fifteen-minute car ride from Milford) back to Manhattan. The Port Jervis train line passed through some lovely towns in NY State (Tuxedo comes to mind). Port Jervis is also a nice small town on the Delaware River, itself a very picturesque river. The train pulled into Secaucus NJ, where we disembarked, and then got on another train that took us to Manhattan's Penn Station. I met my cousin Karen for a very pleasant evening in Manhattan, which was extremely crowded with tourists the night we were there (I'm sure the lovely weather helped). We ate at a Korean barbecue restaurant in the Korean section of the city, stayed overnight, then the following day I took the train from Grand Central Station to North White Plains where I picked up a rental car and drove to the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown. While in Tarrytown, I got together with some high school friends for dinner at Sunset Cove restaurant on the Hudson River, spent one day pleasantly wandering around Tarrytown and down memory lane with my friend Stef from childhood, and then spent another day with my friend Laura from high school wandering around the Lyndhurst estate. I then drove to Saratoga Springs to meet my friends Jean and Maria; Jean's family had rented the Haywood House in Saratoga Springs overlooking Lake Saratoga, and we enjoyed a couple of days there, before returning to Jean's house for the remainder of my visit, which is where I always love to be at the end of my visits to NY. I also visited a friend who is sick with a debilitating illness, and it was good to see her as it always is. Even though she is handicapped now, her sense of humor persists, as does her beauty. As always, my trip flew by too fast, but I have the wonderful memories to keep me going until next year's visit. I hope to be able to spend more time in New York in a few years when I retire. I am looking forward to that.

restaurant in the town of Kauneonga Lake

Lake Kauneonga 

my sister's garden

the lovely Delaware River photographed from the Port Jervis NY side

the lovely Hudson River photographed from Rockwood Hall State Park 

an annual cicada at Rockwood

the almost-completed new Tappan Zee Bridge photographed from Sunset Cove restaurant

the lovely rose garden at the Lyndhurst estate

a view of Lake Saratoga

Lake Saratoga at dusk

the historic Haywood House in Saratoga Springs

the Hudson River photographed from the Boscobel estate in Garrison NY (you can see West Point academy top right) 

the always lovely Tarrytown Lakes--we used to ice-skate here in winter when we were children 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A good song for summer 2017

Haven't posted in a while because I've been away on vacation.....Heard this song for the first time tonight. Catchy song, good rhythm, one you can sing along and dance to. What more do you need from a good song? Calvin Harris does it again--the man with the Midas touch. The song is called 'Feels' and features Calvin Harris, Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Remembering my father on his birthday

Today, July 25th, is my father's birthday, as well as the birthday of my cousin and my good friend from childhood. Had my father still been alive, he would have been one hundred years old next year. But generally, I never think of people just in terms of their age. My father is not a centenarian in my memory, he is my ageless father--a kind man, a smart man, a civilized man, a WWII veteran, a good father and husband. He kept his faith alive throughout his entire life and nurtured it by reading spiritual literature. He was loyal to his birth family and loyal to his wife and children. He did what it took to keep us clothed and fed and safe. That was what men did in my father's generation. They took care of their wives and children. They took that responsibility seriously, and my father was no exception. He was about as far from a narcissist as you could get. I cannot for the life of me picture him running around with a smart phone in his hand, checking his email or Facebook every hour or so, or posting selfies. I can just picture his pithy comments about modern society's cell phone addiction. He would never have gone down that road. He would rather have picked up a good book and devoted his hard-earned free time to reading. His comments always made me think, and still do. I often wonder what my father (and mother) would have done in certain situations that I face. My mother always said 'pick your battles'. My father might have said 'why battle at all'. He preferred the peaceful approach if it could be had. I admire him for that. After all, he saw what war could do to people and I'm sure he saw things he would rather not have seen. His heart and soul remained intact, as did his gentle spirit. I miss him today and every day, as I miss my mother. They are forever a part of me.


Update on our garden--July 2017

It hardly seems possible that we've nearly reached August. It feels like gardening season has just begun. We put up the greenhouse in late April, and spent some time organizing and arranging it as documented in an earlier post (https://paulamdeangelis.blogspot.no/2017/04/this-years-garden-project-greenhouse.html). May, June, and July seem to have flown by. There are now six pots with tomato plants in the greenhouse that are doing well and starting to produce tomatoes. The tomatoes are still small and green, but I have high hopes that in a month or so we'll be able to try eating one. The two cucumber plants are flowering but have not yet produced cucumbers, whereas the chili pepper plant is producing a lot of small peppers.

In the garden itself, the corn plants are growing tall and straight and appear to be quite healthy; ditto for the three different types of pumpkins I planted this year--two French varieties and a Jack-o-Lantern variety. The pumpkins now have vines that are spreading happily in every direction, just like last year. Some of them have produced very small pumpkins already. It remains to be seen how fast the pumpkins will grow and mature. Last year at this time the pumpkins were a bit further along. I also planted three different kinds of string beans--standard green beans, asparagus beans, and dwarf beans. If you ask me, they're all variations on a theme; the type that stands out is the one with a mottled appearance, but otherwise they all taste pretty much the same--good. The snap peas are also doing very well, and have produced a lot of edible pods, also good.

The sunflower plants have grown tall and straight and I hope they'll stay that way as the summer progresses. One never knows, especially if a very windy storm comes along. My flower garden looks lovely--a combination of lavender plants, a butterfly bush, pink and purple Salvia, marigolds, hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, among others--and under the dead cherry tree that is covered in wild ivy, I've planted Heuchera plants (lovely perennials in gold, green and red colors) as well as daisies.

I love watching the garden grow a little bit more for each day that passes. Generally I just love being in the garden. There is always something to do--weeding, transplanting, cutting the grass, pruning, fertilizing, watering, or just puttering. The greenhouse has all the tools and accessories needed for doing all these things. Here are some recent photos from one of the wonderfully sunny days we've had:

corn and string bean plants in background, pumpkin plants in foreground

pumpkin plants

Heuchera plants and daisies

view of the vegetable part of the garden

view from the garden entrance

flower garden--lavender, hollyhocks, Salvia--among others

another view of the garden with hydrangea plant in the background

 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Photos from our Oslo-Fjærland-Ålesund-Molde-Bygdin-Oslo trip

on the road to Fjærland



Fjærland and its fjord

Fjærland fjord

Fjærland Fjordstue Hotel

Supphellebreen glacier arm

Supphellebreen glacier

Ålesund

Molde

Molde

View from Trollstigen area

the mountain road to Geiranger

View of Geiranger from Utsikten Hotel

the winding mountain road leaving Geiranger

Bygdin Fjellstue Hotel

Monday, July 17, 2017

Oslo-Fjærland-Ålesund-Molde-Bygdin-Oslo


It has become a pattern with us that we vacation every other year in Norway. Two years ago we drove to Rjukan and stayed there for a few days before ending up in Notodden for the blues festival. This year we decided to drive to Ålesund and Molde, as I have always wanted to see these cities. I have heard a lot about Ålesund and how I had to visit it. Molde is known as the city of roses and jazz. It is internationally famous for its annual jazz festival; this year, Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock were among the invited performers. We arrived in Molde a week prior to the festival’s start, a smart idea given that most hotels are fully-booked during the festival week and we would not have gotten a room anywhere.

We left Oslo early on a Monday morning (July 10th) with the aim of making it to Fjærland the first day. We drove via Kongsberg and Geilo; the drive on the Fjærland Road took us through some lovely areas. Fjærland itself is a small town, but an incredibly lovely one on the Fjærland Fjord. We stayed at the Fjærland Fjordstue Hotel, run by Bård and Linda Huseby. We really enjoyed our short stay here, and can recommend this hotel. It is truly picturesque, situated right on the fjord, with a lovely terrace overlooking the water where one can sit outdoors and drink coffee or have a beer. The dining room also overlooks the water. We spent one night at the hotel, enjoyed a walk around town before dinner, and then a very good dinner afterward. I took some lovely photos of the fjord and the surrounding mountains on the morning of our departure.

On the advice of the hotel owner, we decided to check out the Supphellebreen glacier arm, which is not far from the hotel. We drove out to the edge of the arm and walked to the body of water that lies beneath the glacier arm. It is amazing to see something like this in person; I have never seen a glacier up close before, and was surprised to observe that the ice in the glacier had a bluish tinge. I took some photos, and then we drove on. At my urging, we decided to check out the Haugabreen glacier as well, but that turned out to be a rather nightmarish drive up a gravel-covered dirt road with a 20% incline in order to reach it. My husband is a good driver and his Porsche managed the trip up and down again, but I would not want to repeat the experience any time soon. I don’t have the nerves for steep narrow roads with no protective railings. I kept wondering if we would end up going over the edge. As it turned out, we made it to the top, but found out that we would have to walk a bit in order to reach the glacier, so we decided against doing that since we had a long drive ahead of us to Ålesund. On our descent, we met a large dump truck carrying gravel coming up the hill. There was no way we could pass it, and we could not back up as it would have meant backing up the hill from which we had descended, so the truck had to back down, and it did. I was impressed by the truck driver who took it all in stride. I would have been a nervous wreck.

We made it to Ålesund by late Tuesday afternoon and checked into the Brosundet Hotel, also right on the water. This hotel was also quite nice; I liked the fact that both breakfast and dinner were included in the price, also that the kitchen staff provided cake and coffee during the late afternoon before dinner. The dinners were standard fare—turkey wings the first evening and lamb stew the second evening—but it beat having to find an open restaurant (many restaurants close in July in Norway—right during the height of tourist season, which makes no sense to me at all). Those that were open were quite expensive; main courses were in the forty to fifty dollar price range. Overpriced, in my opinion. Ålesund is a quaint city, with many old stone buildings (a big fire in 1904 destroyed most of its wooden buildings), but there were a fair number of buildings in need of repair and renovation. It did not strike me as a wealthy city, but I could be wrong. While we were there, the annual boat festival got underway, and we enjoyed a flyboarding exhibition that was just about the coolest thing I have ever seen (see video in the next post). Otherwise, we walked around the entire city and out to the Aquarium, which is also known as the Atlantic Sea-Park (Atlanterhavsparken). The aquarium is well-worth visiting; it is right on the ocean, and has large outdoor open pools for seals, otters, and penguins. The large indoor open pool holds a variety of fish, manta rays, lobsters, starfish, and anemones.

We left Ålesund for Molde on Thursday morning, and arrived in Molde around lunchtime. The weather was very nice, so after we checked into our hotel (Molde Fjordstuer Hotel) we took a long walk around the city, ate lunch and then hung out at the hotel until dinnertime. This hotel was modern and quite stylish and I enjoyed staying here. It would be nice to visit the city again at some future point during the jazz festival.

We left Molde for Bygdin on Friday morning, with planned drives up Trollstigen and through Geiranger. I’ll let Wikipedia’s description of Trollstigen suffice—a serpentine mountain road,  narrow with many sharp bends, and although several bends were widened during 2005 to 2012, vehicles over 41 feet long are prohibited from driving the road. I’m very glad my husband is a good (and confident) driver and that his Porsche could make it up Trollstigen and then down and up the road to Geiranger, which was equally serpentine and a bit nerve-wracking in my opinion. We stopped to have coffee at the Hotel Utsikten (literally the View Hotel), which had breathtaking views of the Geiranger Fjord. After that, we drove on to Bygdin through mountain country, and arrived at the Bygdin Fjellstue Hotel in late afternoon. The nice weather was conducive for walking, so we took a good walk before dinner. We stayed at this hotel for one night (we stayed here before in 2002, my first trip to the mountains in Norway), and managed a walk along Bygdin Lake on Saturday morning before we left for home.


We were quite lucky with the weather; most of the time it was sunny and fairly warm. There was only one evening/morning in Ålesund when it rained heavily. Although there was a lot of driving on this trip, it was endurable because we drove along many scenic routes (my husband’s plan) rather than standard (often mind-numbing) highways. It’s no wonder that Norway is considered to be a beautiful country; this trip merely confirmed that fact. 

(I'll post photos in my next post, as well as videos of the flyboarding performance in Ålesund).

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summers and the ice-cream man

I suppose everyone has their own memories of the ice-cream man when they were growing up. For those of us who grew up in Tarrytown and who loved the long summer days playing outdoors, it meant a daily visit from Eddie the ice-cream man in his white truck; he worked for the Good Humor Company. He would drive into Tappan Landing Road, make a U-turn at Henrik Lane and park in front of the 26 Tappan Landing Road apartment building. There would be a line of children waiting to buy ice cream cones, popsicles and sandwiches from him. It was always exciting to watch him reach into the truck’s freezer to retrieve what you had asked for. In my case, it was a toasted almond dessert bar; they were heavenly (http://www.goodhumor.com/product/detail/114453/toasted-almond-dessert-bar-good-humor). More favorites were the strawberry shortcake dessert bar (http://www.goodhumor.com/product/detail/114303/strawberry-shortcake-dessert-bar-good-humor) and the standard ice-cream sandwich (http://www.goodhumor.com/product/detail/114441/giant-vanilla-sandwich-good-humor) (not a giant version but just the regular-sized one). I think Eddie enjoyed handing out his ice-cream products as much as we enjoyed receiving them. Of course nothing was for free; but I don’t remember that we paid more than about 50 cents for what we wanted. Nowadays we’d pay much more.


Here in Oslo, I am reminded of Eddie the ice-cream man each time I hear the ice-cream truck play its familiar song. The Oslo ice-cream truck tune is just the opening riff from the theme music to Norge Rundt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WadPQ9XIF4M) but it is so characteristic. You can hear it a mile away and recognize it instantly, knowing that the ice-cream truck is in the vicinity. I purchased some ice cream from the ice-cream vendor recently--ice cream sandwiches and Lollipop popsicles (http://isbjornis.no/?page_id=172 --also called saftis med sjokoladetrekk), both of which are very good. Even though it is many years ago since we were children, it is nice to have those memories of summer, and nice to know that ice cream trucks are not a thing of the past. 

    

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wish we could fly like this for real

Love the song, but love the video even more. I'm waiting for the day when science makes it possible for us to fly like this.....how incredible that would be!

Gobbledygook or Newspeak in Modern Workplaces

From time to time I write about the modern workplace; the well will never run dry when it comes to finding ideas to write about when it comes to such workplaces. I am especially interested in public sector workplaces, since they seem to embody (or aim to embody by design) the worst business philosophies and ideas that crawl out from under the slimy rocks where they’ve sprouted. Modern workplaces in Norway and elsewhere often adopt such philosophies and ideas uncritically and put them into operation without much discussion or rational consideration. I’ve written about them before, e.g. New Public Management, which is (fortunately for us) on its way out after its decade of tyranny. Ask most employees if they’ve been comfortable in their workplaces that uncritically adopted this philosophy, and their answers will be a chorus of No’s. 

The uncritical adoption of bad business philosophies into modern public sector workplaces goes hand in hand with the language of gobbledygook to support and defend them. If company leaders don’t want their employees to know what it is they are being subjected to, then gobbledygook is the language they use. Let’s call it Newspeak for modern workplaces (with apologies to George Orwell). It can be defined as a language that makes no sense whatsoever, either to its users or to its unfortunate listeners. Its aim is to create a smokescreen so that employees become confused or left in the dark about what is really going on. If you have ever been the recipient of emails that make no sense whatsoever, if you’ve asked a question and gotten a ‘non-answer’ that passes for an answer, then you have experienced gobbledygook. If you attempt to make sense of the enormous bureaucratic system around you, e.g. how to deal with the billing department, you will be met with a wall of people, all of whom are cc-ing each other in the myriad of emails sent back and forth to answer one tiny question—how do I bill so-and-so for the service performed for them. One tiny question is ‘non-answered’ by at least six or more people, none of whom can or will take responsibility for providing a substantive answer. This is cowardice by design, inbuilt into a system that is itself designed to dilute out responsibility so that no one can be taken for any wrongdoing that could arise down the road. How would anyone be able to track the countless email paths, conversations, etc. that are attached to one miniscule billing situation?

In this vein, it was interesting to read the remarks of a Norwegian leader (of a public sector workplace that deals out money to researchers) concerning his organization’s philosophy, translated here from Norwegian:

When the sectoral principle so strongly influences Norwegian research funding, it is all the more important that XXX has a real opportunity to create synergies of funds given with different logics, then we can create win-win situations where we can deliver both on goal A and Goal B for the same money.


For God’s sake, what does this mean? And it’s not the translation; it was just as difficult to understand the meaning in Norwegian. This is how we are ‘talked to’ on a daily basis, from leader’s commentaries to emails that makes no sense or that provide no answers whatsoever. This is what we face at every turn. Meaningless pronouncements with bloated language that create a world of nonsense. Nonsense—literally, non-sense. Lewis Carroll would be proud (the author of Alice in Wonderland for those of you who wonder, whose Alice fell down the rabbit hole into a world that made no sense). It would be alarming if it wasn’t comical. It is no longer comical in my opinion. This is how many public sector workplaces operate on a daily basis. I pity those employees who prize speaking clearly and getting the job done as their goals. It is nearly impossible to cut through the jungle of gobbledygook on the way toward those goals. 


Monday, June 26, 2017

White roses

Roses add beauty to any garden. We have a lovely pink rose bush in our allotment garden that was there already when we took over the garden, and last year I planted two climbing white rose bushes, one on each side of the garden arch at the entrance to the garden. Last year, they settled in and started climbing, but did not bloom. This year, they have climbed a lot and have bloomed incredibly. Lovely beautiful white flowers.....