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An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.


Wednesday, February 11, 2004day link 

 Work
I suddenly have a bit more work again. I had just started getting busy on getting organized businesswise, putting together stuff I can market, and then, bing, one of my old clients upped my contract this week. I'm sure it is connected, even if not directly. Unfortunately that now means I'm lying flat out getting on top of a lot of servers. That's not by far my favorite work. Different lifestyle. 24/7 having to make sure that a large numbers of servers are doing what they're supposed to be doing. That means always being close to cell phones and pagers and Internet connections, and sometimes having to be woken up to deal with some problem. I haven't exactly missed that. But it means more money, at least for a while, which will allow me to get some basic things in order. And hopefully I can channel the energy towards getting some other things going that are more enjoyable and viable in the long run. And hopefully my blogging won't suffer too much.
[ | 2004-02-11 17:18 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, February 1, 2004day link 

 What I'm reading
picture I recently added a list of books I'm reading to my sidebar. It is not going to be a very fast moving list, though. In part because I don't read all that fast, and in part because I tend to read multiple books at the same time, which I switch around between depending on whether I'm bored and what I'm interested in. But, just to give an idea, this is what I'm currently reading:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I love how he writes. I've read Snowcrash and The Diamond Age previously. This one is about cryptography and hidden treasures and world war II. It is quite a trip on various levels.

The Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. Fascinating historical analysis along the lines of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. About the mysteries surrounding The Knights Templar, various secret societies, the life of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and lots of stuff going on in the particular area where I happen to live, over the last two thousand years. I'm reading it in Danish. It is interesting, but somewhat repetitive, so I can't bear reading it continuously.

Getting Things Done by David Allen. Actually I haven't really read in it for a while, but it is lying here on my desk and it is one of my to-do items. Ironically. It is a great book about organizing your life. Makes more sense than any I've run into, as it is a system that can be fitted to my own preferences. And I really need to be more organized and not just have a zillion post-it notes lying around.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I just started that, but it is fabulous. I haven't really read any self-help or spiritual books for a long time, as it sort of bored me and I've read a lot. But this one inspires me. Very practical and non-dogmatic guidance towards experiencing the present moment much more fully, and getting over the addiction to circular and non-productive thinking that most humans are afflicted with.

The Sexual Life of Catherine M by Catherine Millet. I'm reading that in French. It is rather unusual for an erotic type of book. It is written by a well-established academic art critic, and it has caused somewhat of sensation and is a bestseller in English too. In part because of the contents, wild orgies around Paris, and in part because of the strange detached way it is written. It is not even particularly erotic. She very matter of fact catalogues her sexual life, as if she's describing an art collection while being a fly on the wall. And at the same time it is very personal and intimate.

Aside from that, I'm reading the French dictionary. I'm on my second time through 'A'. That's not quite as dull as it sounds, as it somehow provides some connection between things that one might miss otherwise. Alors, après que j'ai assimilé et appris 'A' et d'ailleurs abouti à une agréable et appréciable apogée, avec aucune amnésie, il s'agit de avaler la section 'B'.

Oh, and comic books of course. French comics have always been my favorite, so now I read them in French, of course, instead of mostly in Danish. Like Moebius or Valerian.
[ | 2004-02-01 19:43 | 15 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, January 22, 2004day link 

 Entrepreneurship
picture I'm struggling with how to start thinking more like an entrepreneur. Like somebody who continuously sees opportunities and acts on them. Somebody who plays with ideas and resources and puts them together in new ways, and sticks with them until viable systems and organizations have been put in place. That could mean being a skilled business person who starts and runs businesses, but it doesn't have to. Has never worked very well for me to focus on money first, for one thing. Seems to be my lot to do good things that need doing and that leaves the world a little better, and then monetary resources and monetary rewards are a side-issue to that. Shouldn't stop me from being an entrepreneur, though. But it would be more in the social entrepreneur direction. Creating things that makes the world work a little better for people. I'm certainly not going to be the MLM type who pushes products I don't care about. Can't do that. But I wouldn't mind becoming comfortably wealthy.

And, now, there are some ways that successful entrepreneurs, business people and social change activists would tend to think differently from your average 9-5 employee/worker person. The employee thinking is that you need to look good and do good work, and improve your skills and image so that you'll be more acceptable, and to always jockey for position so that you will look acceptable for a job higher in the hierarchy. Whereas the successful entrepreneur is more likely to look at what resources could be available and what one might do with them. And he'll have some kind of drive that will get him to keep at it until something works. Which might include changing strategies or environment or positioning or resources along the way, until it works. Whereas the employee person tends towards trying to keep things stable within a set environment.

Many successful business people and self-made millionaires seem surprisingly to be not as smart as one might expect. Their initial idea might be mediocre. Like "sell my homemade cookies in the mall". But somehow they commit themselves to making it work, persuade others to go along with it, solve the problems that come up, adjust some details along the way. And once you're a 100 million dollar company everybody will think it was a brilliant idea. But what made it happen often isn't really the brilliance of the idea. Rather that it is a good idea, and somebody figures out how to make it happen and sticks with it. Often somebody who doesn't know that it isn't a brilliant idea, or who doesn't know it is impossible.

I have done quite a few things that could have been the basis for a viable business or other type of viable organization. And I've been quite successful in several different arenas. And it is not like I haven't started good things that people sometimes were very happy with. But in a weird way I've always tended towards doing it more as a worker than as an entrepreneur. I do have certain leadership qualities, but usually in the sense that I inspire something to happen, and maybe take charge in solving a particular problem, but then I usually expect to sort of disappear and go back to work. Which gets me in trouble once in a while. I'll have to figure out how to apply my own particular style and skills towards successful ventures.

An entrepreneur type of person is of course not just sitting waiting to be discovered, or just trying to do whatever is thrown his way. He'll go out and find opportunities, try to make them work, and if he keeps at it, some of them might actually work. But he's creating something new, bringing together the resources for making it happen, and testing it on the universe.

I'm sort of trying to convince myself. Really, I'd much rather that I could just sit around and do my own thing, and the universe would just support me. And sometimes jobs feel like that. You just show up and the paycheck arrives every two weeks, no matter what you actually accomplish, within certain limits. So, I'm trying to overcome my own inertia and think differently. Trying not to be a perfectionist would probably be a good start.
[ | 2004-01-22 11:11 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, January 19, 2004day link 

 RSS Upgrade
I've upgraded my RSS feed. First of all from version 0.91 to 2.0. And I've added pictures to the feed.

I was considering making several versions, with varying amount of detail, and with or without pictures. But I would guess most people prefer just getting the full post the way it actually looks.

If anything breaks for anybody, or if I'm wrong, and some of you actually prefer not getting any pictures, let me know, and I'll add options.

Anyway, it is still not the full full stories all the time. Some stories potentially have a full text, if the text is particularly long, or there is some reference article attached. And some stories might have a bigger picture in the full story. In those cases there will normally be a "More" link at the bottom of the story that is included in the feed.
[ | 2004-01-19 14:58 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, January 16, 2004day link 

 Budget answers
picture A minor update on my struggle with Budget-rent-a-car previously mentioned here, here and here. They actually, finally answered me. That is, I got a brief e-mail from a person at Cendant Corporation. Very brief, but friendly, apologizing for the late response, saying they would contact their French and German people to try to get a resolution. Now, as I previously mentioned, my bank has already gotten most of it resolved. I.e. they paid some money back. What is remaining is 800 euros. If they get me that back too, I'll be rather satisfied with the whole thing. I'll be back where I started, having rented a car and paid for it. And just wasted a lot of time, and stress. Of course they could decide to be really nice and actually pay me something for my undeserved trouble and extra expenses.

I wonder if they responded because they realized how often my story comes up in the search engines, or if they simply didn't get around to it before, and it actually is standard policy to pleasantly try to help people resolve their problems. I might never know.
[ | 2004-01-16 18:21 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, January 13, 2004day link 

 New Age
picture I have meditated. I've done Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Kung Fu, DahnHak, Pranic Healing, Tensegrity and Access. I've been healed, acupuncturized, massaged, rebirthed, exorcised and hypnotized. I've done the Scientology advanced levels. I'm an NLP master. A Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. I'm an energetic healer. I've seen hundreds of past lives. I have had out-of-body experiences, I've done astral traveling. I've been abducted by little grey aliens. I've talked with dead people. I've met my future selves. I've channeled, done automatic writing and psychic readings. I've seen the beginning of the universe, and the end. I've bent spoons and walked on burning coals. I've watched UFOs over Area 51. I've seen shamans and psychics and channelers. I've gotten all my questions answered. I came from Arcturus and I spent some time in the Orion Empire. I've talked to crystals, gotten aromatherapy, ayurvedics, color therapy. I only use holistic health care: naturopatics, homeopathy, herbs, oriental medicine. My DNA is supposedly evolving to 12 strands and I'm well on my way into the 5th dimension. I've gone to hundreds of rituals and danced, chanted, drummed and prayed. I've gone to sacred sites, feng shuied my house. I've gotten my horoscope analyzed many times, my numerology has been done, my palms read. The tarot has given me valuable insights, and I know what shape my chakras are in. And there's probably a lot more I'm forgetting.

Now, to a New Age person all of that is rather normal. Not even particularly impressive. Most people who've followed some kind of metaphysical, spiritual, new age type of path for a number of years will have done a lot of this, and a lot of other things I didn't happen to run into.

And what is cool is that if I recognize somebody else as what can be loosely identified as a New Age Person, we can talk about any of this, and they will most likely not have any reservation about sharing experiences and insights. I don't have to prove anything, and it won't even be an issue. They will measure the truth by what it feels like.

But yet I'm also a bit tired of the New Age. Oh, I'll happily talk about any of this, and tell you what I think worked or didn't work, and why and how. And I enjoyed all of it. But my perspective has changed somewhat. I'm more focused on ordinary everyday life. I'm more skeptical. I'm more interested in keeping a little bit of a distance to the multiple possible explanations for why things are the way they are. I'm interested in bridging different realities and world views. While I live the life that is in front of me. Which is often quite ordinary, sometimes hard, and usually not particularly fantastic.

The New Age became a little too mainstream at some point. Where before it was a bit of an underground activity, pursuing experiences and wisdom out of the ordinary, where the rest of the world was really rigid, limited and analytical. But somehow it became something more watered-down, commonplace, lacking distinctions. So that New Age for many became synonymous with flakyness and lack of critical thinking. Or it became synomynous with "anything goes" and that any weird idea or practice is equally valid as any other. And it all became a good deal less useful. So, personally, I will continue to stretch the boundaries of my existence, and I will continue to choose the tools in my life that work, even if others think they're strange. But I'll probably evaluate things one at a time, and certainly avoid assuming that I'm part of a group that all shares the same views.

Life is a rather fantastic thing in the first place. Full of experiences and possibilities and insights. They might be small or large, deep or shallow. But you don't really need to invoke any fancy belief system to talk about it. The experiences and what you think and feel about them might be enough. And of course you can notice the patterns that link things together. But part of my different perspective is that I try to avoid having all the answers in advance, and rather keeping my mind open to the newness of things.

Now, as I write here in my blog, my new agey friends, or friends from specific metaphysical traditions, might well be puzzled that I wrap things up more than they would expect me to under other circumstances. I.e. I write a lot more conservatively and tentatively than I might otherwise. Referring sort of distantly to news items and books with interesting but theoretical subjects. Where I could just as well provide the straight dope. It is just that I don't necessarily think the dope is quite so straight as it might have seemed. And I no longer claim to know exactly what it is.

And then my more 'normal' friends might be puzzled that I sometimes write about strange hocus-pocus subjects. Borderland weirdness, unproven pseudo-science, conspiracy theories and general superstition. And I might well lose some of them, if they expect that I should just write about RSS Aggregators and blog programming. But I guess I can live with that.

I write about whatever I feel like. But my compromise is that I try to write so that multiple types of audiences might read it. I do believe it is possible to both be authentic and well-balanced.

So I both attempt to write about things I feel the urge to write about, whether it is likely to be generally accepted or not. But I also try to frame what I say in such a way that it might better be understood by more people, and so that I reasonably well can stand behind what I say.

I guess what I'm trying to explain is why I'm writing less new agey than you'd expect. Or more new agey than you'd expect. Depending on who you are. I believe in what I've experienced, what works for me personally, what makes sense, and what I can defend logically. And I keep an open mind to adopting something new that comes along if it proves to work better, or reject it if it doesn't. For some that will mean I'll believe in some outrageous things. For others that my views are pretty tame.
[ | 2004-01-13 13:34 | 38 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, December 28, 2003day link 

 Budget sucks a bit less
picture So, this is an update on my ongoing experience with Budget Rent-a-Car. See here and here. Quite a few good people helped me out by quoting or linking to my original article about my horrible experiences renting a faulty car that broke down, and then being billed more than $3000 on top of the already-paid full rental and insurance. See in Google here or here. And I sent letters to Budget headquarters, laying out the whole story. And other people sent e-mails. I didn't get any responses from them, so I'm not sure how much difference it made it getting their attention. I would like to think it is what made a difference.

At the same time a lady at Bank of America, my U.S. credit card and checking account, was working on the case. At first they had credited my account with the disputed overcharges, around $3200. But when Budget didn't respond through the normal channels, they had to take them out again from my account, which left it around $3000 overdrawn. And another department of BofA started hassling me about that, threatening to close the account shortly. Which would be a bit disasterous, as I'd have no good way of being paid in the U.S., or of paying bills. At the same time, a third department went to work on it. Specifically I spoke with this lady, Charlotte, who seemed to be a rather tough old broad, not putting up with just anything. And apparently, in the VISA system, there are ways of forcing other parties to respond even if they don't want to. And it took quite a while, but it seems she's getting somewhere. In the past week two credits have gone into my account, totalling around $2400. Which brings my account almost up to zero again. And there's $800 to go of the overcharging, so hopefully she's successful with that too.

Again, I wish I could say it was because we got the attention of Budget's US headquarters, and they decided it just wasn't right to treat people like that. But that doesn't really seem to be it. Merely that there is some sense built into the VISA system, and I'm lucky that my bank has somebody who's job it is to try to right certain kinds of wrongs.
[ | 2003-12-28 07:50 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, December 22, 2003day link 

 Carte de Sejour
So, I've been procrastinating for a while going to the Préfecture to apply for our Carte de Sejours (residency carts). First because I was gathering the proper documents. Fresh copies of birth certificates with proper attestations and translations. Passport photos, financial records, copies of phone bills, etc. But I knew I didn't quite have everything needed, such as proper documentation of health insurance coverage, so I didn't quite know what to do. And my friend who has helped me before with this kind of stuff is out of town. And, traditionally, getting a Carte de Sejour is considered an arduous process, involving hours of waiting, lots of red tape, and having to return a number of times because one doesn't have the papers exactly right. Anyway, today I finally gathered myself together to stuff what I had into a briefcase and go down and see what would happen.

And here's the shock, then. The first thing they tell me is that we no longer need a Carte de Sejour. There's apparently a new law, just 3 weeks old, which says, essentially, that citizens from the European Union no longer are required to get Carte de Sejour. The point being, I suppose, that they in principle have the right to be here and to work here, so IDs from any of the other EU countries are considered equally valid here.

I suppose it is a relief. But that also leaves me a bit puzzled about what to do next. I mean, I kind of had looked forward to some French ID cards. I don't know what then actually indicates that we live here. And from my reading of that law, it also introduces some more stringent penalties for working here without a proper authorization to work, including fines and deportation. So now I'll worry about that instead until I figure out what our status really is.

But I find it interesting that Europe is becoming more open and relaxed about how people move around and the paperwork needed, whereas the U.S. seems to be going the other way. When we moved to the U.S. 18 years ago, anybody could pretty much come in and live and work there without worrying too much about anything. We were illegal aliens, but it didn't matter very much. You could get a social security card and a driver's license right away, and just start working, buying a house, etc. As long as you earned money, the details didn't matter. But now the U.S. is much more of a police state than it was before. And now in Europe I can live and work anywhere, apparently with less and less need for any other paperwork than showing my passport as ID.
[ | 2003-12-22 10:24 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Snow
picture Wow, it's snowing! Or, rather, it snowed for a 1/2 hour or so. Enough for the cars and the trees and the roofs to get white. There was a whole snow storm outside the window. And enough for me to run down and make a couple of snowballs. But it isn't really freezing, so it didn't stay for more than a couple of hours, and shortly after the clouds blew away and the sun came out. It doesn't generally snow much here in general. But quite appropriate for christmas.
[ | 2003-12-22 09:55 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, December 18, 2003day link 

 School
picture What to do with the kids and school has been one of the things worrying me a good deal about being in France. There's the language issue, and the difficulty just figuring out how things work here. I haven't even gathered the guts yet to go and apply for our Carte de Sejour (residency permit) here. And French education is considered hard, of a totally different level than the U.S., so there's a question of how they'll adjust. But, as with many other things, when you actually go and do it, and you incidentally run into the right people, things tend to work out.

Little Nadia has since the last month been in École Maternelle. Preschool. When we finally had located a suitable school close by, and managed to show up at the right time, when there wasn't a holiday, there really was no problem signing her up. And they're super-nice to her. A couple of days of crying a bit at first when we left her behind, but she quickly learned to enjoy it. It is in French, obviously, but that doesn't seem to be any kind of problem. Only hard part is us bringing her and picking her up. They have a two hour lunch break in the middle of the day, and unless both her parents were away at work, which we obviously aren't, we'll have to pick her up and bring her back. So, we're talking 4 bicycle trips a day, the 1.5km to the school. Good exercise, and it isn't raining all that often.

As to Zachery, well, he's 17 and the initial plan was that he would finish his U.S. highschool remotely through a home schooling arrangement where he would e-mail homework and otherwise study on his own. Which hasn't been going overly well. So we decided to explore integrating him into the French system now rather than later. Which is certainly not the perfect time to jump into a totally different system, but it might be the best to struggle through it. We spoke first with the British section of the International Lycée de Toulouse, which is all in English and follows the British school system. They didn't think it was a good idea, and that if he at all spoke any French, it would be better with a regular French lycée (highschool). So, we picked the closest one, just down the street, Lycée des Arènes, a big new modern building by the Metro station. And when we went there yesterday, and I was standing trying to explain our situation to the receptionist, who wasn't overly cooperative, it just turned out that next to us a lady overheard our conversation and decided to assist us. And she was nothing less than the Inspector General of English education for all of France, who incidentally was in town. And, first of all she of course spoke perfect English, which made it a little easier to get started. She gave us the general scenario, and told us this was one of the best schools in Toulouse. And she arranged a meeting for us with the principal and laid it all out for him for us. And today Zachery and I went and met him, and the short and the long of it is that he starts after christmas, and we'll work out the details then. And after a month we'll see how well he survives. There are other foreign students there who speak less French than him, so it is possible. And we suspect that he knows more than he's easily willing to admit. Anyway, we're hopeful it will work.

Marie-Therese is 20 and doesn't entirely know what she wants. But pursuing an education as a French chef has probably the best pull on her here. So we're trying to figure that out. Took a little while to even figure out what kind of schools that goes on in, and what diplomas one would get, etc. Turns out it is a specialization within the hotel and restaurant educations. And it would be pretty hard work. Anyway, we were in an employment agency that had a focus day on that business, and got some more hints, and a guy who saw us there we later ran into in the bus somewhere else in town. Turns out his dream is to move to the U.S., but that he actually attended the closest hotel and restaurant school, which is also walking distance from us. And he'll take Marie-Therese there and show her around and introduce her to the people who run it.

Strange thing how most things here don't quite happen before you coincidentally run into just the right person who'll go out of their way help you out. One can't take it for granted, but it is heartwarming each time it happens.
[ | 2003-12-18 11:32 | 171 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, December 11, 2003day link 

 X-mas
picture It really feels more like pre-christmas here than it ever did in Southern California. Somehow blue sky, palm trees and t-shirts never quite went with getting into a christmas mood, despite plenty of lights and Santa Clauses. Well, it might not get to snow in Toulouse either, but it is cold, and people wear coats. You can walk around on the street, look at elaborate window displays, go into warm stores. Feels sort of nostalgic, like old times when we lived in Denmark. I wonder where one gets christmas trees from here, although it is probably too early.
[ | 2003-12-11 04:14 | 22 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, December 10, 2003day link 

 HelloWorld
picture Mentioned on SmartMobs, the helloworld project, running today through Saturday, during the UN Summit on the Information Society, lets people send in SMS messages that will be projected in a large way for all to see.
Messages will be projected almost instantly by a laser beam on mountains and buildings in Mumbai (Marine Drive), Rio de Janeiro (Ipanema Beach), New York (UN building) and lake Geneva's "Jet d'eau"(water fountain).

Message jockeys (editors based at swissinfo) will view the incoming messages in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Portuguese, and Spanish and pass them on within seconds to the projectors. Commercial, sexist or racist messages, or those containing personal insults will not be projected. A message archive will store all the sent messages.
You can see an archive of the messages so far here. And go and send your own. ... Hm, seems a bit overloaded to project the messages I tried, but they showed on their site at least.
[ | 2003-12-10 14:52 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, November 17, 2003day link 

 London
picture picture I spent a couple of days traveling and meeting people. London and Munich. In London, a couple of very pleasant blogger meetings. Julie took the train in from Glastonbury and we met first with Julian Elvé and Dina Mehta, who was passing through from India. And then with Euan Semple later. Delightful conversations, and good as always to meet people in the flesh that you've only known virtually beforehand. And when it is through blogs, one can usually hit the ground running, as we already know a lot about each other.
[ | 2003-11-17 11:34 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, November 9, 2003day link 

 Budget update
picture Thanks a lot to you other bloggers who quoted or linked to my Budget Rent-a-Car nightmare story. It is very helpful in getting the attention of the Budget corporate office. Well, it is hard to compete with a car-rental company in a search engine on just their name, as lots of travel sites are going to be linking to them. But it appears prominently in various somewhat more obscure searches, such as Budget Sucks, budget rental problems, budget car nightmare, etc.

Anybody else who want to link to the article, the best link is:
http://ming.tv/flemming2.php/__show_article/_a000010-000922/

I sent a letter to the Budget CEO, which he should be getting around now, telling him where to look for my report on the net. And I included all the documentation and paperwork too of course. Hopefully they will respond.

If not, can anybody think of any other ways of getting through to them? Them being:

Cendant Car Rental Group
6 Sylvan Way
Parsippany, NJ 07054

See, Budget is really just a section of some real estate investment company. Phhftp! I really have something against companies that don't even care about what they're doing at the top, because it is just a way of making loads of money in any which way. And who's this Cendant company?
"Cendant is…

one of the foremost providers of travel and real estate services in the world;

the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s largest vacation ownership organization, and one of the world’s largest car rental operators;

the world’s largest real estate brokerage franchisor, one of the largest retail mortgage originators in the U.S., and the world’s largest provider of outsourced corporate employee relocation services;

the franchisor of the second-largest tax preparation service in the U.S. and leading providers of travel information processing services worldwide.
And, gasp, I'm a little disheartened. The fuckers actually own a long string of very well known travel and real estate related brands. Travelodge, Ramada Inn, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, CheapTickets, various vacation timeshare companies, and on and on and on, AND Budget AND Avis. And they are all primarily franchises. I.e. they're selling those brand names to some other people who go and do the work. All of those 'companies' seem to be headquartered in the same place in Parsippany, New Jersey. And here I go around thinking I have a choice of car rental companies and hotels and real estate agents, and then they're all owned by the same company that nobody's heard of. Except for they really aren't, because I'm just dealing with some franchisee who's trying to make money and who's bought the right to use that brand so that I can be made to believe I'm in good hands. What a big scam.

OK, Cendant just bought all those companies. They didn't necessarily invent them. Like, they only bought Budget last year. So I can't necessarily blame them. I'll write about what is wrong with the whole subject of corporations somewhere else.

But, is Cendant, who had $1.7 billion of profits last year, going to care a twit about whether a couple of their franchisees ripped me off of 3000 bucks? Probably not in the least. But they would care if I put a spot on one of their valuable brands. So that will be my plan, unless they respond in some kind of reasonable manner. I'm just a litle worried about whether there's even anybody home to respond, seeing that kind of corporate structure.
[ | 2003-11-09 17:08 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, November 1, 2003day link 

 Sports
picture I'm not particularly into sports, but soccer at least seems like a sport that makes some kind of sense to me. Anyway, France Telecom had given us a set of soccer tickets, to be nice to us because it took a long time to get our DSL line debugged. So, we attended our first real soccer match. Toulouse Football Club against AJ Auxerre. Which was kind of fun and interesting, at least since it was only the players who were out in the rain. 3-0 for the foreign team. As the news says "Auxerre disposes of Toulouse without any problem".

The other day we went on a tour of the old Roman Arena in Toulouse. 1900 years ago, that was the main sports entertainment. The arena had seats for half of Toulouse's population at the time, and gladiators would fight bears and wolves and each other. Not that there's much left of the arena today, but I have a good imagination.
[ | 2003-11-01 18:11 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, October 31, 2003day link 

 Halloween
picture Well, Halloween isn't quite the same in France. But apparently it has been introduced here too in recent years, like it has in other parts of Europe. When you look at the aisles in the supermarket it looks just like in the U.S. So, we did actually put out a couple of lighted pumpkins and skeletons and stuff. And all of 3 brave kids actually showed up dressed-up, trick or treating. Except for that they have a different chant, saying something about wanting bon-bons. Which they got. We weren't sure anybody were going to show up. In part because people don't easily venture in to other people's houses here. Normally you're barricaded behind locked gates and rolled down shutters. To start a little action, little Nadia stood outside by the driveway and offered candy to people who came by. Several kids who happened to walk by with their parents actually refused. I suppose they've been taught not to accept candy from strangers. And one man accepted a piece of chocolate, but insisted on paying for it. So, things are a little different here. Anyway, here on the picture is Marie-Therese and Zachery on their way out to a party.
[ | 2003-10-31 13:02 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, October 29, 2003day link 

 Budget sucks!
picture I had quite a nightmare experience with the car we rented from Budget Rent-a-car 3 months ago when we first came to France. And it is no way finished, as it seems they succeeded in ripping me off of $3300 on top of the full rental and insurance we paid, where really it should have been them who ought to have reimbursed me for our extra trouble and expenses.

In brief, we rented a car for 3 weeks from Budget in the airport in Toulouse, France. I opted for full insurance and paid it all in advance. During those 3 weeks we decided to drive to Denmark. On the way the car broke down on the freeway in Hamburg, Germany in the middle of the night. Budget had it towed away, and we went and received a replacement car in the Budget office of the Hamburg airport in the morning. We continued in that car. 6 days later when we were coming back, they weren't done reparing the French car, so we kept driving the German car and handed it back at the end of our rental period in Toulouse. In the meantime they had decided that it was our fault the car broke down, because Ford wouldn't repair it under warranty. They at first wanted to bill us the full cost of the repair (1400 euros) and the cost of transporting the two cars back to where they belonged (1300 euros). I refused. Instead they charged 800 euros for an accident deductible. There hadn't been any accident, mind you. I thought that was the end of it, but the next day another $2300+ was charged to my account from Budget Germany. I didn't get any explanation for it, but assumed it would be the rental price for the German car, plus a charge for transporting it back. Note that I already had paid for the whole period and didn't get any refunds.

When I found that out, I asked my bank to reverse the charges (around $3300). They did that, pending investigation, and I sent them my story and all the documentation. But Budget never answered their queries. So then, last week the bank re-reversed the charges and deducted the amount from my account again. And, well, the checking/visa account was almost empty already, so the result became that it is now $3000 overdrawn, and I'd be in risk of losing my account, screwing up my credit, and not having any way of paying my U.S. bills.

The full story with details is at the bottom, for anybody who's particularly interested. But let me bring out a few points and pieces of advice that are good to pass on:
  • When you rent a car in a European country from a big car rental company, you might not actually be dealing with that company at all, but with a small local franchise. I realized later that I was dealing with one company in the south of France and another in northern Germany, and not at all with Budget Rent A Car System, Inc, despite that it has big signs and business cards and everything saying BUDGET. Only when you get the final bill do you realize who you've been doing business with.
  • A car rental franchise in one place has very little interest in covering expenses that are incurred with another franchise in another place, even if it is their fault. Even if it has the same BUDGET sign in the same big letters over each of their booths.
  • Europe is not the U.S. You can't count on the existence of a general rule that "the customer is always right". Asking to talk to somebody's supervisor might not get you anywhere.
  • It is common in several European countries that even though you opt for the full insurance, there's a large deductible, which they might well forget to mention to you. The approach of some companies is that if anything at all happens to the car, you pay that deductible. It is often 800 or 1000 euros.
  • A car rental franchise is likely to have the view that if anything breaks down on the car, the warranty of the manufacturer will cover it. And if they don't, it is YOUR fault. Doesn't matter how many other people have driven the car before, or what state it was in when you got it.
  • If your rental car breaks down, there's an emergency number to call. But don't expect that they'll actually deal with anything other than having the car towed away. They might leave you in the night in the rain in a foreign country until their offices will open on the next business day.
  • If you get a replacement car in a different office or a different franchise than the original car, and they make you sign a new contract, it is NOT "just a formality". You're likely to become liable for paying exactly what it says on it. You've better get a written and signed statement from them that says it is a replacement car, and it will be covered by the original contact. Verbal statements mean nothing later on.
  • A car rental company is free to bill you extra charges, damages, etc., without asking you. It is probably hidden in the small print you didn't read, but it doesn't even have to be. Your bank is likely to pay the charges, even if the money isn't in your account.
  • If you don't agree with the charges, your credit card company can not just cancel the charges. They might be nice to temporarily reverse them while they're looking into it. But they've already paid the company, and unless they agree with the wrongness of the charge, and they can persuade them to give the money back, there's nothing much you can do about it. Particularly when the charges happened in a different country than your bank is in, and all the paperwork is in French and German.
  • Neither the car rental franchises nor the bank are going to care much about whether it is fair to have to pay $4600 for renting a small faulty car for three weeks, which broke down and didn't get your where you were going. What matters is what the papers say and what you can prove. Or, what they can get away with.
I have rented a lot of cars, both in the U.S. and various European countries, and I've usually felt really safe and comfortable about the transactions. Minor problems like a broken taillight were usually accepted with a smile and a "Thank you for your business!" But then again, I haven't ever used Budget before. Avis has always been nice to me.
[ | 2003-10-29 16:15 | 85 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, October 2, 2003day link 

 Our stuff arrived
Finally the stuff we shipped from Los Angeles arrived. We had pretty much gotten used to being without it, and we weren't really missing it much. And, besides, we had thrown away or given away large amounts of stuff, so the items being shipped were clothes, books, and computers, and very little else.

So now our otherwise pleasantly empty house is full of boxes, and suddenly seems much smaller. And we didn't even ship furniture. But 8 cubic meters of miscellaneous essentials. Like our blankets, sweaters, my favorite books, household files, etc. And I can now sit and look at a big screen, and I can print.

A few pieces of advice for others who might need to send their things by ship to another country:

- Don't believe any precise estimates of when it ships or when it arrives, or for that matter, where it arrives. I did. The ship leaves every Friday, and it takes 29 days to get to the destination. Yeah, sure. I timed it exactly so it would arrive 3 weeks after us, so we had 2 weeks to find a place, and our boxes would arrive the week after. But it took 3 weeks before they even put it on a ship, because of some kind of problem supposedly outside their control. And then the ship went to somewhere in England, rather than to Marseille, close to us in France. And it took them two weeks to get it through customs. And another two weeks before they managed to get a truck to drive it down here. About 80 days total.

- Don't believe any claim of how one company is in control of the whole journey. I picked the freight forwarding company where they were most friendly, and where they gave me an "all-inclusive" price, door-to-door, and they gave very affirming answers to everything. Their price was higher than several of the other companies, which however left most things up in the air, including the charges at the other end, and were very careless about telling me what exactly would happen. But, as it turned out, my company hadn't told me everything either. They handed our shipment to some other company who arranged the actual ship journey, and which apparently rewrote the travel plans along the way and sent it to England, where they handed our packages to another company, which handled the import and customs, and then gave it to a company that actually delivered it. That makes 4 companies, each with a mind of their own. And, well, our things were indeed finally brought to our door. It wasn't entirely all inclusive, as the import company presented me with a $100 bill for a customs inspection. And when I brought this and the various delays to the attention of the L.A. freight forwarder, that's when they suddenly started presenting me with the full picture of serial uncertainty.
[ | 2003-10-02 15:35 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, September 24, 2003day link 

 Always On
picture Ah, DSL!! Always-on broadband Internet. With my own IP. I can breathe again. Not to mention, work. And staying more up on things.

One can certainly better appreciate that technology after being without it. Until they come up with cheap ubiquitous wireless access there's a considerable class difference between those who can connect and those who can't. And occasional great annoyance for those, like me, who's gotten so used to fast always-on Internet that everything grinds to a stop when it suddenly isn't there.

Now, my adventure in getting the DSL connection was also a good study in how to get things to happen here. In principle I should have been able to just pick up the modem in a store, and the line should have worked within a week. But various things stopped that from happening, like first that I didn't have a bank card, and then that the line came up as being unsuitable for DSL.

There's the approach that Polly Platt in her books calls "Persistent Personal Operating (PPO)". Which is particularly needed in France, but of course also in lots of other places and situations. The point is that you need to keep working your options, and you need to get others to help you, and get creative about getting around obstacles. The answer you get here when dealing with bureaucracies is frequently "No, that's impossible, good bye!" But that really just means that you need to try a different way, say it differently, charm them, or get somebody to help you. Specifically what seems to work very well is to actually lay out your whole problem for somebody who might help you. I.e. don't just expect they'll do what you say or want. They won't. But if you involve them in what is really going on for you, and why you need it, and what is in the way, people will sometimes go greatly out of the way to help you get there.

In this case, my saving angel was the lady at the France Telecom office where I actually signed up for the DSL account. I suppose she then was on vacation or something, as she didn't answer my phone calls and e-mails at first, and I therefore tried other things.

Wanadoo (France Telecom's ISP) had called me, saying that it was impossible to set up the account, and had sent me several letters that the account was now cancelled. I then called up several different departments, and they told me that it was impossible to get DSL. I was just too far from the central, so it was out of the question. Then I did a little research and managed to find the phone numbers of my neighbors, which I checked for DSL eligibility on the Wanadoo site. Hahah, it is available to all of them, and then of course they should be able to see that I can have it too. But, no, they then said that I was connected to a different central, and DSL wasn't possible. But I could maybe call France Telecom and ask them to switch me to a different central. I figured my French was going to be inadequate to do that negotiation, so a French friend offered to help by calling them. But they gave her the runaround too, and it was essentially impossible. One could maybe apply for such a change, but it might not go through, or might take months.

And then I guess my person came back from vacation on the same day. She called and said that she was very sorry, and it wasn't her fault, but the France Telecom bureaucracy. She made some phone calls, which I overheard, talking it over with her supervisor, calling various departments, pleading my case. I'm a nice man, I'm Danish, I don't speak much French, and I've been promised that DSL a month earlier. And she came back and said that it would be turned on the next morning. And she would send me some free soccer tickets, to alleviate a bit of my suffering. But, well, instead the line went down the next day. Which really seemed to be a unrelated coincidence. But another call to her got some new assurances from the technicians of getting all that fixed. And it took a bit longer than expected, but it came through. Because of finding the right somebody who's in a position to make it work, and who will see it through despite obstacles.
[ | 2003-09-24 03:44 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, September 23, 2003day link 

 Organizing thoughts in Fontainebleau
picture Now, since I couldn't be on the net anyway, it was quite convenient that this was the weekend scheduled for going to Fontainebleau outside Paris to work with George Por on a project we're exploring. More on George here.

We're working on some tools to help knowledge workers organize their thoughts and guide them towards constructive innovaton. More on that later, as I can't really say too much right now. But George and I are quite on the same page in many areas, and it has great potential.

Since I was there anyway, I took a few hours to do a little sightseeing too. The Palace of Fontainebleau is quite a place for one thing. Since the 12th century it was a royal hunting lodge, surrounded on all sides by a large forest, and it was later greatly expanded and a long line of kings and queens and emperors have lived there one time or another. On the picture you see Napoleon's globe in the Gallery of Diane, which was later turned into a library.

In Paris I walked around in the Notre Dame cathedral and in the Louvre museum. Which in itself one can easily use days in. I picked the wing with the Mona Lisa, and just walked through a couple of floors. She didn't really look like much, though. Anyway, I ofcourse also walked through the controversial glass pyramid which is the entrance to the Louvre. It actually works quite well there.

I found an open Wi-Fi connection in my first try, on Place de Chatelet, while sitting on the fountain, when I got worried about not having checked my mail for a while.
[ | 2003-09-23 18:05 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >



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