Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hmmm....

I started this blog about biking, and here I am writing about buying a car. OK- I love my cars too. What can I say? Car buying is more of an emotional experience for me than a practical one. We both really like this car and the price was right. Funny thing is, I didn't really do much homework until later, when I discovered it was rear wheel drive and a 6-cylinder- not that it matters. I had no idea rear wheel drive cars were still made. At least I think it is rear wheel drive. That shows you how much I am into these sorts of things. Its seats are more comfortable than any chairs we own. Best of all, it has a manual transmission. I doubt we could find a stick on one of these in the US. We purchased an Auto-Pass transmitter at a gas station so we don't need to stop at toll booths. We had no idea they were available at gas stations. We will be billed later. Speaking of which, the dealership sort of operated on the honor system as well. We picked up the car, drove around in the fog, then SWIFTed the money to the shop. Checks simply don't exist here. I doubt they would even know what to do with one. Oh, this thing has a huge gas tank. I put maybe $70 worth of gas in it when I thought that was enough. When we took off, the tank was just over half full. I think I will keep busing to work.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Quiet Lately

I have been rather quiet lately. Work is dominating my life, but I really can't/shouldn't go into much detail. There are many deals and projects under development, and you never know who reads these sorts of things. I don't want to make my job sound like it is particularly important, but I really need to respect the principle of things here. I can comment on the peripheral issues, like spending hours in meeting where everyone speaks only Norwegian, or that fact that having a cell phone as my office phone poses interesting issues. I was at the gym last week when an important work call came in. I had to wing it without my notes, but apparently they liked what they heard and want to do business with us. Friday I received a call from the US well into the evening, since there is quite a time difference. Other than that, I think I am very suited to the job. Everyone is so nice at work, and there seems to be no strange office politics.

I haven't been biking since New Year's Day. I need to fix my cog. Last week was too icy. I did make it to the gym. I was very sore- definitely am out of form for a gym workout. I need to get back there.

The other issue we have been struggling with is the car situation. We are probably picking up a used 5-series BMW early this week. It was imported from Germany, so it has a bit more muscle than most Norwegian cars. In many repects, it seems quite extravagent. But it cost about the same or less as a comparable Ford Mondeo or Toyota Avensis or VW Passat. We really want a station wagon. We had a Matrix back in Minneapolis, and found it to be very versatile. We wanted something a little larger than a Corolla- the Matrix counterpart in Norway. We are sort of planning ahead, and think we will need more car for a variety of reasons. We were already prepared for sticker shock in Norway, and for whatever reasons, a BMW has less mark-up than other cars. This thing is quite loaded- even has a sunroof, parking sensors, leather, pretty much everything we wanted- and was a manual. Most larger cars are now selling with automatics, something neither of us wants.

On one hand, we are a little concerned about what other people will think. We really are not buying this to make a statement. Rather the price was right for the type of vehicle we need. German cars are plentiful here. Actually, most cars are European, with a Japanese cars filling in the rest of the brands. Even the Fords here are made in Germany. There are all sorts of Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, VWs, and Opels. For a representation of the brand distribution, check out finn.no. Mercedes are the number two used cars on the market. French cars are also well represented with Peugeots, Citreons, and Renaults. Of course there are Volvos and a few Saabs. There are cheap Russian Skodas that are a little scary. All the Japanese badges are represented, although they usually have different model names, and are more likely to have a 1.4L engine rather than a 1.8L displacement. Many cars are so tiny they just don't feel safe to drive, and they don't seem to handle well at speed. The BMW felt very solid. It didn't occur to me until after we signed the paperwork that it is a rear-wheel drive vehicle- I think. It does come with an extra set of snow tires already mounted, and a set of summer tires on BMW rims in storage. It has traction control, so I don't think it should be a problem having rear wheel drive. Besides, it almost never snows here. Still, we have a huge hill to climb to make it home.

The other issue is that we will only have one car. Our car expenses will be considerably less than in the US, where we had two cars. Insurance is very cheap here, and interest rates are almost non-existent- even for used cars. People here tend to treat vehicles as investments. They are better cared for and most people own them longer. It isn't strange to see cars over ten years old that are still in like-new condition. If we are going to own a car for a long time, we might as well buy something nice, as well as practical. I guess with all these words, I am trying to say we really aren't BMW people. It just seemed like a good deal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Buying a Car

I won't go into too many details at this point, but we are breaking down and buying a car. The one we are borrowing just isn't reliable enough for even simple trips across town. I'd prefer to tough it out, but the stress of a bum car is getting to us. We need something, even though I easily take the bus to work. Eventually I will bike, but I am concerned about the laptop. Besides, work is a little too close to home to really commute. There is a very cool American-style health club just up the hill from work. We joined yesterday, receiving a nice discount from the office park where I work. Maybe tomorrow I will work out. While waiting for the bus today, a girl rode by on a horse, talking on her cell phone. It struck me as funny, for some reason.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Heading to Germany

I have a ton of details to take care of before heading to CeBIT in Hannover in six weeks. It is a huge computer expo that attracts 800,000 visitors. So... I will be in Germany with a bunch of Norwegians- for just over a week. They dub TV and Hasselhoff is something of a national institution in Germany. Deep thoughts, huh?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Weekends

It is very icy outside. It snowed much of Friday, and the temperature has hovered around freezing. Much too icy to bike- and too icy to even take a walk in this hilly neighborhood. I have actually appreciated taking the bus the past two days. The car we borrowed has terrible tires. Lise's brother needed to car to leave town for a ski trip. He has a work truck, but he can't use it for personal business that far away.

We are contemplating our car options. Car culture really sucks here. Most vehicles cost twice as much as in the US. For even "only" 100,000 kr, we would probably manage to only afford a ten-year old sub-compact. Since neither of us really need a car for work, we could get by with something older. I am leaning toward something used, since we don't have a garage. The owner of the company where I work drives an ancient Volvo- and he prides himself on not driving a flashy car. I found out the old marketing department were suit and tie/BMW driving types- and they were not well liked. I don't need a status vehicle for this job. When I arrived at the bus stop Friday, I noticed one of the other managers waiting for a bus. I hear that I would even be reimbursed for taking a taxi to and from the airport for business trips. By the way, I will be reimbursed almost $.50 per kilometer for my mileage the other day- that is the law.

I really like my weekends here. Back home, I worked every other weekend for the County. I did it so long that it felt normal. I cannot imagine working a second job now.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Imagine

Imagine traveling with almost-strangers, in a foreign country, then attending a day of seminars in a foreign language, going to a business dinner with a bunch of clients you just met, then spend the next day going to a series of business meetings (just the owner and I) where the meetings are were in Norwegian.

Imagine a budget airline where there are no assigned seats- like a bus (but unlike a Norwegian movie theater). Imagine your return flight is cancelled because there were not enough passengers- and waiting two hours for the next flight.

Imagine sleeping in a hotel where they have one twin bed.

I had a great trip, actually. It was nice to get away, but it was non-stop work.

We no longer have a car, so I bused to work. I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier- it is practically door-to-door service with no transfers.

It snowed like crazy last night. It snowed in Oslo, and I was thinking how nice it looked. Unfortunately it followed me home.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Travel

Today I decided to be more proactive about the language, so I started emailing my boss in Norwegian. It is good practice, and these are easy messages. More importantly it shows my commitment to learn the language, so I feel less pressure from him and others. I made it through the management meeting- the four of us- the entire meeting all in Norwegian. I was lost during a big chunk of the meeting. Then it occured to me: this was all techno-mumbo-jumbo. I wouldn't understand if it were in English. And- it was my first meeting of the sort. Of course I should be a little lost.

I sent the contract that I wrote up to a business advisor that we will retain. He isn't a partner, but it is a start. He accepted the contract within an hour of my sending it. Another good sign. It is a result, albeit small.

Tomorrow I head to Oslo. This should be interesting. Initially I was leaving on a later flight than the others, and had to follow an elaborate set of directions to arrive at our destination. But a coworker changed plans, so I will not be alone. I will be out of touch until Wednesday.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Skiing, Skiing, and Skiing

About all that is on TV on weekends is skiing- downhill, jumping, cross-country, and biathlon. Skiing is on three broadcast networks. Of course, a small, northern country like Norway takes their winter sports very seriously- and they should. Compared to such giants as the US and Germany, Norway takes more than their share of Olympic medals:

2002 Winter Olympics medal count Olympic-rings.png
Pos Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Flag of Norway Norway 13* 5 7 25
2 Flag of Germany Germany 12 16 8 36
3 Flag of United States United States 10 13 11 34
4 Flag of Canada Canada 7 3 7 17
5 Flag of Russia Russia 5 4 4 13
6 Flag of France France 4 5 2 11
7 Flag of Italy Italy 4 4 5 13
8 Flag of Finland Finland 4 2 1 7
9 Flag of Netherlands Netherlands 3 5 0 8
10 Flag of Austria Austria 3 4 10 17

There is some biathlon from Germany on at the moment. It is interesting watching the spectators. Whenever a German shoots, they are silent, followed by a single punctuated cheer after each of the five targets is hit. After the final shot, they erupt with a blizzard of noisemakers- all while everyone else is still shooting.

These cross-country ski events look particularly brutal from a cardio perspective. It is very different than the athletic values inherent in American football, which is presumably dominating the airwaves back home. What is interesting is the people here seem to be built more like skiers than football players, so perhaps they are on to something here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Daily Update

Washington and Seatle are playing. I think it is live, but I am afraid to check online, lest I spoil it.

The weather was miserable today- a cold misty rain. I contemplated a ride, but I still feel run down. I still need a cassette (or a new rain bike). I guess it isn't the end of the world skipping two weeks of riding. I made it out to Kvadrat, the largest mall in Norway to buy a new pair of shoes. I needed something between my casual shoes and my suit shoes. I picked up a cool pair for half price- only 299 kr. I thought back to how meticulously my father maintained his shoes- even had them resoled or half-soled by a rather odd shoe repairman in my hometown. Today shoes are basically disposable. I am sure shoe repairmen will be extinct in a few short years. These shoes look more European, which is odd considering the pair they replaced were made in Italy.

After shopping, I picked Lise up from work. I was struck by how dry and nice the weather was, and I lamented not riding. By the time we made it home, it was wet and windy again. We ate a quick dinner and went to see the Narnia Chronicals at the downtown Stavanger theater. It was a multiplex, but the screen we watched it on had velvet seats, a balcony, and if I'm not mistaken, a stage. It looked like an old-school theater from the US that had its roots in vaudeville. The weather was dry and warm as we drove home, until we hit our hill. It was rainy again. Then it hit me. Maybe there is some weather effect with this big bump we live on. It doesn't seem like that much of a hill, and we don't live at the top, but when I bike up it, it isn't unusual for my heart rate to hit 180. Of course I am not in prime shape at the moment, but my point is, it does take a little effort- and I'm not talking about attacking it- just making it up. Then again, I can't shift. Which brings me right back where I started in this post.

Taxman Cometh

In Norway, payday is on the 15th for almost everyone- except that it falls on a Sunday this month. Friday was payday. Since I am salaried, I received a full month's pay- after working only two weeks. I don't think that would happen in the US, but I may be wrong. I feels like I received an advance. The way most payroll cycles lag, I'm sure I could work six weeks before getting paid in the US (depending on how the start date and pay cycles interact). For me, this means that I was without income for only two months, which is truly amazing. The trouble is, my tax card didn't arrive in time, so I was taxed at a rate of 50%! This is normal for these situations and it will be sorted out next month.

Payday here also involves direct deposit through what is called a SWIFT transfer. In most of Europe, checks are not used for anything. All of our business uses these transfers as well. We can send money back and forth to Lise's relatives the same way. It confounds me how far behind the times the US is in personal banking. Sure, most people have direct deposit and online billpay, but there is no uniform set of standards that govern these. I cannot send a friend some money unless I use paypal, or a worse service.

Lost In Translation

Things are starting to make more sense at work. I just found out on Thursday that I am part of the management team- which I believe consists of the owner and one or two others. This helps explain things. Additionally, I discovered this morning that the name of the office complex literally translates to "knowledge park," which is a cool concept. Yesterday I found out the reason the food is so reasonably priced is because it is subsidized by the employers in the building. At the point of sale, we pay using our ID/security card. It has a smartchip that we load with money using a bank card in a machine outside the "kantina." It took me forever to figure out how to use it, since the instructions were wrong (this time it was not my lack of understanding of the language). Next week I travel of Oslo for two days. The rest of my time is being spent preparing for a tradeshow in Germany.

I really, really like the work atmosphere- everyone is very helpful and friendly. I have heard no negative words from employees. Most of the people are computer people who keep their noses in their work and out of other people's business. It is a small company without an overdeveloped management structure, so there are no turf battles, no office politics, no one undermining anyone's efforts. This was something of a minefield that I needed to carefully negotiate at my last jobs- since both seemed to have plenty of cloak and dagger office drama. I don't miss that at all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Obligatory Cute Pet Pic

The quality is a bit low. It was taken with the camera phone on a low resolution setting, then sent via blue tooth to the computer. Anyway, this cat always finds the strangest places to hang out.

Trading Places

Sorry I missed posting last night, but the owner, a five-star management consultant, and I were out at a late, four hour business dinner, eating a four-course meal of lobster and veal. I feel like Eddy Murphy in trading places. Better this than feeling like Dan Aykroyd. In a week we fly to Oslo for more meetings. I just started, and I have become the owner's right hand man. There is no down time to this job.

The owner is a genius with a background in finance. I am fascinated watching him work. He has a deliberate, slow, methodical manner of conducting business that belies that fact that he probably had two hours of sleep, drank three gallons of coffee, has twitchy feet and it biting his nails. In other words, he is completely amped up, just beneath the calm surface. The juxtaposition is stark, but he is brilliant. His methods are in polar opposition to the CEO of my previous job- an east-coast lawyer with a very quick, in-your-face approach, who made snap decisions and was guided by gut as much as anything.

I am learning an amazing amount each day. This job lies on the periphery of the management consulting business- a high buck industry filled with snake-oil salesmen at every turn. I assure you, we are the good guys, though. Purists. This is quite an adventure on its own merits- nevermind the fact that is happening in a foreign country! There are times where I really feel like I've been plucked from a different universe and dropped into a completely different reality.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Now for something completely different

The other night I was watching Seinfeld. It is on nightly at 9pm. I wasn't overly enamored with the syndicated run when it was in the US, but for some reason, I am really getting into it now. The other night the Handicapped Spot episode was on, and a different actor was playing George's father. I was shocked at this trivial detail, so I looked into it online. I discovered on wikipedia that there was a different actor, John Randolf, that played Frank Costanza, but that the episodes were later reshot with Jerry Stiller. However, the original episodes are still shown in international syndication. In the process of reading about these trivial details, I read that Elaine originally called Kramer a "hipster doofus," which shows the shortcomings of wikipedia. I had just seen that episode, and it was a handicapped woman who uttered the comment. With wiki, I was able to correct the article, and it still stands. As an additional footnote, I discovered a site that contains the scripts to all the episodes (supporting that the handicapped woman indeed coined the phrase). I am convinced some nutty fan manually transcribed all of these. Of course, in tonight's episode, Elaine called Kramer a hipster doofus after she was convinced she had rabies in The Glasses episode.

Norwegian Meeting

Before we arrive at the Mr. C. story, I forgot to mention that I was scheduled to attend a business development meeting with a government organization that promotes Norwegian business growth abroad. The upside was that their offices are located in our office park. The downside was that all correspondence was written in Norwegian. My boss has said he would be running a little late for the meeting.

I managed to find the meeting location. We were a small group, maybe ten men. This is notable in that it was all men- except a woman who served in a secretarial manner and was affiliated with the organisation that sponsored the event. Maybe I had worked in human services too long, or maybe the US better represents women- I don't know. Maybe it is the industry itself (tech related). Even in the cafeteria, there are far more men than women.

Back to the meeting. Much to my shock, we all had to introduce ourselves and explain why we were there. I spoke in English. I thought it only made sense, since the meeting was geared toward English-speaking markets. Fortunately, the man across from me was from the UK and spoke English as well in his introduction. Our presence seemed to throw the presenters for a loop, and he offered to present in English. I could sense the Norwegians freaking out, so I offered that I understood well enough for them to present in Norwegian. Thankfully, all the powerpoint material was written only in English. By this point, my boss arrived. I wouldn't exactly trust my understanding to be adequate for mission-critical details, but I managed to get by. Of course I didn't really participate either. At least I managed to get through this anxiety-creating situation. I was later told that it was possible that the presenters wanted to present in English. The leader sounded like he had an Oslo dialect. I was told that they sometimes have difficulty understanding west-coasters. For some reason, I found that amusing.

Work flew by. I met Mr. C., who lives in London, and speaks no Norwegian, but we really didn't have much time to dig into any details. Our work day was interrupted when the power in the building went out. Thankfully they had a backup system to operate all the door locks. Every lock in the building is electronic. I need my passcard to get everywhere, and I have to activate a switch to open any door. It was already too dark for any outdoor light to be helpful. It seemed to be a good time to wrap up the day's work.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Verdens sterkeste gutt

What could be more disturbing than a documentary about an 11-year old body builder (Richard Sandrak, for those brave enough to do a GIS)? World's Strongest Boy- I guess it is imported TV from the US, although the kid emmigrated from the Ukraine. It is like watching a car wreck.

On Z we have
Britney Spears og Kevin. Suddenly the chick flick Jerry Maguire is looking alright. Men's volleyball just won't do it, and I avoid all Swedish television. Blackpool is showing, a Britisk gangstermusikal i kasinomiljΓΈ. It is even worse in English: " Written by accomplished writer Peter Bowker, Blackpool is a drama, a thriller and a musical all in one." Swedish television is always scary. Even their test signal when they are off the air is a fright.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Exhausted

Yesterday they finished setting up my laptop. I spent all day in front of a PC- and had no desire to touch one when I arrived home. My epic blogging days are over. I am bringing a mouse to work so I can be a bit more efficient on the laptop- a hate alternative pointing devices.

Working at this office park is working in the lap of luxury. The building is actually owned by Halliburton. I feel somewhat conflicted.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I Think I'm In Love

I know it is only my second day, but I am feeling like this job is an excellent fit for me. It has many of the same elements of my last job. The work culture is also similar. It turns out we will all just be using cell phones in the office, which is something a little different. Today I had some tasks to actually do, which isn't bad for the second day. Everyone has been very cool about the language issue. Coworkers often begin conversations in Norwegian, then switch to English before I am overwhelmed. If things go as planned, I may have two trips back to the US before the end of the year.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Dude, I Got a Dell

First day at work. I don't know where to begin. I received a Nokia N70 cell phone- which looks to cost more than $500 in the US. It is a bit extravagent for a "work phone", but who am I to complain. It does everything imaginable. I also have a new Dell laptop. The office building is great- it has a workout room and shower room in the basement- so maybe I'll really dress the part when I start biking to work.

My boss, the owner, started training me in Norwegian, saying he was afraid he would always speak English if he started off that way, but it quickly returned to English. While everyone knows English, the workplace is really in Norwegian, so I will have my work cut out for me. I am so thankful and yet amazed that he hired me.

It was a great day. I'm back to work. I wish I could write more, but I am exhausted- mentally. Besides, yet again, I will have a job where no one else really knows what exactly I do.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Getting a Life

Last night we spent New Year's Eve with three other couples and their kids. It was the third New Year's that we have spent with this group. It has become an annual tradition. The menu has also become a tradition- turkey, gravy, potatoes, caramel pudding, (and I'll ignore the brussels sprouts and the Waldorf salad, since I won't touch either). The food was incredible, as usual. In the past, I have felt like we were a third wheel, since we are really friends with one of the couples. Last night was different, it seemed. I felt the others more actively included both of us. Perhaps because we moved here. Or, perhaps because my perceptions are now different. We aren't flying out of here in a few days, and maybe I am more open to a friendship of some sort developing. It was a great evening.

For those unfamiliar with Norwegian New Year's Eve festivities, as in much of Europe, people shoot off fireworks. The last two days of the year, fireworks are legal to sell and use. Some of these are rather substantial, and some families spend thousands on their displays. These aren't quite as grand as the professional fireworks in the US, but these are head and shoulders above what are legal for the general citizenry. There is something surreal about being surrounded by fireworks. They are literally everywhere. Of course the day after, the papers fill with stories of missing fingers, fires, and other accidents.

In an example of what a small world we live in, a member of bikeforums.net contacted me while we were still living in the US. If I recall, he caught wind of the fact that we were moving to Stavanger. We emailed each other a few times, and he was very helpful in giving me information about the biking scene around here. As it turned out, we moved just up the hill from him- like a block or two away. Today we finally met and went on a two and a half hour bike ride. He was kind enough to loan me his cross bike, which fit like a glove without a single adjustment. I even had shoes that used the same pedal system. His basement reminded me of our home in Minneapolis- bike parts everywhere. We took a "flat ride"- his words, not mine. It reminds me how flat the midwest actually is. We only had 1400 feet of elevation gain during the ride. The temperature was right around freezing, but the roads were clear and there was little traffic. It is always a little strange being along for the ride, not knowing exactly where I am going, how far we are going, or even where we are. About halfway through the ride, we picked up on a route I had taken before. Anyway, it is nice to know there is a great guy and such a strong rider that lives so nearby. It was not nice to know what a diesel engine I've become- riding my one gear that works. Or maybe it was just the holidays, but I was feeling out of shape. Anyway, thanks again for the ride.

Tomorrow I start work. I would be lying if I said I have no anxiety. For the most part, I have had very little interactions with anyone without Lise being around. We didn't exactly plan it that way, but that is what happens when I don't have a job and we just moved here. I think it is great to be developing independence, but still, it is a little strange. My boss knows my language situation. It is my coworkers that concern me. I don't want to be unable to participate in the social aspects of work because of language issues- or to be judged by others. If anyone has any doubt about my willingness to learn the language, all they need to do is consider the realities involved with NOT speaking Norwegian. I don't want to just be here, I want to live here. I need more than English to get by with that. Then again, at the party last night, I pretty much knew what everyone was talking about. I maybe missed some of the details, but at least I was sort of with it- and it didn't seem to require too much effort on my part. Again, I just need to be patient.

That Whacky Facial Recognition Software

I uploaded a photo into a facial recognition website that compares results with celebs. It returned the dubious results in this order:

Laurence Olivier
H.P. Lovecraft
Carl Jung
Charlie Chaplin
Brian Jones
Roy Keane
Linus Pauling
Alec Baldwin
T. E. Lawrence
Sachin Tendulkar

I would say this technology has a long way to go.

Lise made out much better than me.

Bette Davis
Ninet Tayeb
Christina Ricci
Angelina Jolie
Katie Holmes
Sophie Marceau
Audrey Tautou
Elisha Cuthbert
Neve Campbell