The world after Corona?

“If you go to war, you must plan for peace” is a saying which is often forgotten by aggressors who find themselves in lengthy conflicts afterwards. The Corona-virus is a different aggressor: it attacks and moves on, leaving humans with a broken economy, wrecked healthcare systems and massive debt for years to come. But mankind is always at war with viruses which want to wipe us out!

Already finger-pointing has started by some which is a complete waste of time: there might be a second or third wave, a vaccine might be around the corner or over the horizon, we just don’t know. Others are praying for a return to normality: protecting patents, paying dividends, manipulating share prices, squeezing wages and when it all goes wrong, the states will provide a bail-out. A proven business model for decades.

We are now observing first-hand which are the critical jobs: nurses, doctors, teachers, cleaners, lorry drivers to name a few. Not: investment bankers, hedge fund managers, lawyers, managers, consultants, McKinsey and BCG to name a few on the other side of the argument. And with all my heart I hope and pray that at year ‘1 AC’ (After Corona) society will revalue these jobs, the people, their wages and conditions and give them what they deserve and reflects the importance of what they do for society. Because there will be a new Corona, a SARS, a MERS, Ebola, HIV, Spanish (actually Kansas) flue. And we’d better be ready for it.

After this curve has been flattened there is still the Climate Change curve, which will be of a total different order. Economic slowdown reduces emissions, the air above China is cleaner than ‘ever’, from India & Pakistan they can see the Himalaya again. But the root causes ‘Human activity’ does not go away.

Should we support and bail-out the airlines when there tickets almost for free? Companies which used all their spare cash to push-up share prices, pay dividends and squeeze salaries? Perhaps not all or entirely.

Should we bail-out industries which continues to pollute rivers, air and produce massive CO2-volumes? I would not think so.

Continue to subsidise coal and oil industry as governments have been doing for a century? Bring them through this crisis? We still need oil but less and less every day. And we do not need coal at all! Renewable energy is combination with sunny and windy days is already causing negative energy prices like on Easter Monday recently.

What about Big Pharma? A recent investigation showed they have become financial institutions buying small research companies with their patents. And then jack up the price to the max per country. Don’t let them get their hands on the vaccine please!

Are global supply chains still the right way to go? Where are your supplies when the whole world needs them? Shouldn’t every country be able to look after themselves for essentials? Find the right mix with a long term view?

Being ready for the next Corona-attack means spending money on research, preparation of people, processes and supplies, collaboration between states etc etc. But never going alone like some do now. If only 1% of the billions which are spent now to prop up the economy had been invested every year on research and preparation, a vaccine would have been waiting.

Finally: if a 2 month lock-down causes so much economic damage, so may business models were flawed since no reserves have been built up. An a private citizen I should be able to survive for at least 6 months so I have that buffer in the bank. I would expect a corporation to have at least the same depending on the type of industry. And running out of cash after 1 month!

I intend to address the topics above in next blogs in an attempt to see the big picture and what such a society should look like for a Dutchman living in the EU.

In splendid isolation

Last week the office closed and now I work from home. Not a real problem: colleagues are in Germany and Sweden, I have 250Mbps Internet, a spare room, food and drink, all the modern comforts. The company added VPN-capacity and I can connect directly to my virtual office in office.com, the home of Office365. Microsoft Teams is the new workplace where we meet.

There are benefits: I save 1,5 hours on travelling every day. Do not go to the restaurant for lunch where hot snacks try to seduce me. Drink less coffee. No idle chatting, not being disturbed, interrupted, irritated by the open office noises. Just alone in my home office where my lovely wife brings coffee and joins me for a healthy lunch.

And there are drawbacks. I miss my daily exercise. My walk to the bus stop. My walk around the office. To the restaurant talking the stairs. I miss the chance meetings where I hear what is happening. Home office is a lonely place, as Galadriel could have said: “being a home worker is being alone”.

We may be reinventing office life during these extraordinary times. Not filling every day with back-to-back meetings in a physical meeting room. These are first replaced by back-to-back meetings on Teams in which still people will be late and unprepared. Without arguments about who booked the room because the multiple booking systems do not integrate. And at the end there will be no result, no actions. Quick, to the next meeting!

Hopefully direct contact will increase. On Teams availability shows, press ‘dial’ and make contact. 5 Minutes later it’s all clear because it’s just the two of you. Share the screen, collaborate on the document. Share the result, don’t e-mail copies around.

But we still need that virtual coffee corner. Where we walk to, socialise, interact and gossip. Where we stay in touch, hear about developments, opportunities and sound each other out. Humans are social animals, we need this. It’s not there yet but technically it’s not a problem.

We need our daily exercise, also at the home office. So get up, have a break, take a walk, do push ups, sit ups, squats, go for a run, a cycle ride. Don’t feel guilty to break your day and be seen not working during office hours. We need to stay healthy, strong and resistant. During the coronacrisis and after it.

Work from home, keep fit, stay in touch with eachother. We’ll get through this, our society will. But don’t waste a good crisis, learn from it!

#corona #pandemic #coronavirus #homeoffice

Are social media timewasters?

Recently I stumbled upon an invitation to complete a brief questionnaire about Facebook for a Masters student Communication. It was indeed short but after completing it became apparent to me that we are all puppets on the Facebook-strings. They serve us ads and track everything we are doing. And serve us more, or in Facebook’s opinion, better targeted ads which I still ignore. As I recently read: “if it is for free you are the product” and indeed, that’s what we are!

All of us must have had different reasons to join Facebook. I still remember well: “to see what my extended family and foreign friends are doing, follow my daughter abroad and share some of the things I am doing”. Quite basic actually and over time my requirements have not really changed. Currently I am at 52 friends of which some are barely active and others share a lot of their lives. Some very sweet, some interesting, some funny and some boring. A bit like real life I guess!

I branched out by creating a Genealogy page to show the old family photos to a wider audience and collected 33 followers. This took some effort and a helpful reminder of one of my nieces. Finally I joined 2 groups about places where I lived. Old photos are shared whilst enjoying trips down memory lane.

Coming back to the questionnaire, the first question was “how often do you look at your homepage” and an honest answer made me think “too often for someone with only 52 Facebook-friends and 2 interest groups”. But I get those beeps and being a curious person I look only to find someone is sharing a “funny” photo, video or comment. Some are funny indeed but most are not, some are funny once but get stale quickly. But not often I see interesting stuff about people’s lives or achievements.

But would people share their real lives on Facebook? Probably not, since what I see is mainly positive, great or described by exuberant adjectives which trigger similar responses to be “liked”. It presents a positive public image in which there is little room for negativism. Everybody is happy, successful, achieving and that seems only naturally: it is not common to put your dirty laundry out, that is best kept private.

I looked up the word “friend” in the Oxford Dictionary and found “A contact on a social networking website” had been added to the meanings I knew already. That was a bit of a surprise to me, I had expect it would take longer for the Oxford to recognise a new meaning.

Racefietsonderhoud

P1060415
Bijna geen tanden meer over op dit Campagnolo 34T binnenblad.

Versleten ketting
Het licht schijnt tussen tandwiel en ketting, een teken van vergaande slijtage

Versleten binnenblad
Het binnenblad laat haaientandachtige tanden zien. Niet best!

Onlangs maakte de fiets van één van mijn fietsvrienden nogal wat lawaai. Eerste diagnose was ‘bracketlagers’ die prompt vervangen werden. Helaas, dat hielp niet. In een opwelling zeg ik ‘breng maar langs dan kijk ik wel’ en na proefrit en inspectie was het duidelijk:

  • zadelpen kraakte omdat ie was verdroogd
  • Binnenblad was versleten (tanden nemen haaientandvorm aan)
  • Ketting was versleten (uitgerekt)

Toevallig had een andere fietsvriend laatst last van een overslaande ketting tijdens korte klimmetjes. Ook even gekeken:

  • Binnenblad was versleten
  • Ketting was uitgerekt

Een 100% score voor fietsers die ongeveer 3000m per jaar fietsen op fietsen die tussen de 5-10 jaar oud zijn. Zelf heb ik al een keer de kettingbladen vervangen maar ik zie ook bij mezelf dat het binnenblad harder slijt dan het buitenblad. En sneller dan ik zou denken.

Vroeger reed ik met 5 versnellingen en 6 paste er ook op met dezelfde ketting. Nu met 9 maar 11 is ook al op de markt. De ketting is ondertussen versmald van meer dan 7,8mm naar 6,8mm voor 9-speed tot 5,5mm voor 11-speed. Uiteraard zijn de bladen ook dunner geworden, zo ondertussen fietsen we nu met een zeer smalle ketting die over ‘scheermesjes’ loopt en dat slijt veel sneller.

Tijdens mijn fietstochtjes hoor ik regelmatig krakende, piepende, ratelende fietsen, veel racefietsers hebben geen idee hoe ze hun fiets moeten onderhouden of komen bij incompetente fietsenmakers. Voor mij verpest een lawaaige fiets de fietstocht. Een fiets hoort te snorren als een poesje, de spaken horen te glimmen in het zonlicht en elke schakelbeweging hoort ‘tjak’ raak te zijn. Fietstechniek is simpel en met wat gereedschap en logisch nadenken houdt je de fiets in topconditie en gaat ie een leven mee! Een mogelijke reden van slecht onderhoud: fietsen worden vervangen in plaats van gerepareerd!

Welk onderhoud is nodig voor een fiets waarop je tussen de 3000-6000km fietst:

  • Fiets/ketting elke maand of vaker schoonmaken en heel dun smeren. Overtollig smeermiddel afvegen, overtollige olie houdt vuil vast.
  • Versnellingen controleren en bijstellen. De kabels rekken uit. Zet de versnelling op het kleinste blad en zorg dat de kabel net aan ontspannen staat.
  • Elk jaar nieuwe ketting en cassette monteren.
  • Elke 2 jaar het meestgebruikte kettingblad vervangen, het andere elke 4 jaar
  • Elk jaar zadelpen uithalen, schoonmaken en met montagepasta monteren
  • Elk jaar de banden en remblokjes nakijken, voor als je ook in de bergen fietst. In dat geval vooraf controleren en vervangen.
  • En vergeet je schoenplaatjes niet. Je loopt er meer op dan je denkt, elk jaar vervangen.

De fabrikanten hebben alle onderdelen ontworpen voor optimaal functioneren. Er is geen enkele reden om met krakende, ratelende, piepende onderdelen te rijden. Echt niet!

Over mezelf:

Zelf fiets ik vanaf mijn 17e (ben nu 55) en heb 5 fietsen gehad:

  • een samenraapsel om op te beginnen (te groot frame)
  • een samenraapsel om beter te worden (juiste maat, na een ongeluk op de schroothoop)
  • een samenraapsel om weer te beginnen nadat ik was hersteld
  • een Gazelle Champion Mondial AA met Campagnolo Nuovo Record (1982-2004) en 6-speed
    Deze was niet versleten toen ik de Balk kocht, maar ik wilde stuurschakeling.
  • een aluminium Balk op maat met Shimano 105 9-speed (2004-heden), groep vervangen door Tiagra 4700 in 2017.
    Deze is ook nog lang niet versleten. Ik heb de wielen vervangen door Shimano RS80 en verder netjes onderhouden. Het zadel is vervangen en ik heb één keer met veel moeite de vastgerotte zadelpen losgemaakt. Dat is een apart verhaal!

Met maar 5 fietsen in 38 jaar heb ik geleerd hoe ik het nodige onderhoud kan uitvoeren om lekker te blijven fietsen. Mijn broertje werkte bij een fietsenmaker dus daar heb ik ook eea van geleerd. Het meeste leer je van doen. Shimano heeft alle handleidingen gepubliceerd op techdocs.shimano.com.

Burning billions

Today I read Google has sold Motorola for 2.9bn dollar to these days respectable Chinese company Lenovo. After buying Motorola for 12.5bn it seems Google lost 9.6bn in less than 2 years on this deal. But they took 5.2bn in cash and divestments limiting the loss to ‘only’ 4.4bn dollar. In addition an expected tax-break of 2.5bn reduces the damage even further to 1.9bn dollar. Still a hefty price for 17.000 patents to use as ammunition in the patent war against Apple and Samsung.

Huge writeoffs seem to be the norm after big takeovers. After the toasts the bankers leave with their commissions, the former management cashes in on their options and severance packages but the real work to make the deal happen starts. Which usually fails.

I worked for EDS which was taken over by HP for 11bn. Most of this has been written off as have other HP acquisitions like Palm, 3com, Autonomy and many more. Read the list and weep, HP is still firing staff as a result of write offs of tens of billions. Now I work for Nuon which was taken over by Vattenfall for 10bn euro. Last time I looked 6bn has been written off. ABN Amro was taken over by 3 banks. Santander sold their part quickly at a premium but RBS and Fortis collapsed and were saved by the taxpayer. This raised the debt level of many countries for which most of us will be paying for a long time to come.

So I wonder: why do companies go on spending billions knowing the projected synergies are unlikely to be achieved because the business case was too optimistic? Knowing the integration will not be completed because it will take too long and the market will change? Is it because capital is too cheap? Because bankers chase commissions? Because management know the value of their options 24/7? Because the analysts expect perpetual growth? Or a combination of the above?

I don’t have the one answer and I expect no one really has it. But I do know when I burn myself I’m more careful next time. In the M&A world lessons don’t seem to be learned and billions continue being burned whilst there are so many worthwhile opportunities to invest in delivering real economic growth.

Once regulatory authorities start rejecting these huge takeovers the tide may turn. Once investment banks know they will no longer be saved the bankers will be more careful. Once manipulation results in doing hard time and having bonuses impounded all will think twice before signing a dodgy deal. Until then the bonanza will continue and value keeps being destroyed by M&A activity. And the common people will pay the price. You and me and our children. Until our governments have the courage to stand firm.

Energy developments

Since I work for Nuon (part of Vattenfall), I have gained quite a decent insight in the energy market. I understand the value chain, I see what’s happening in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands and try to put it all together in an EU and global perspective. Let me have a go at putting it together in a few sentences:

USA went for shale-oil & gas, Germany for renewables and France stuck to nuclear. As usual, the Netherlands talked, wrote documents but did nothing. Sweden is happy with a hydro & nuclear mix. In the meantime the global economy collapsed due to the financial crisis. Due to the above a) the price of coal collapsed because USA dropped out of the market b) on a windy and sunny day Germany produces more energy than it needs and c) France goes on like they always do. Funny observation: Germany closes down nuclear power plants, but does not mind importing French power at night.

Crisis means less demand, so as a result wholesale prices dropped sometimes below zero: energy for free and loads of overcapacity due to decisions made 10 years ago. Good for consumers you may think, but the governments need money to pay for the energy transition to renewables and their other hobbies. So I still pay 23 cents per kWh and my German collegues pay 6 cents more. Gas prices went through the roof, I don’t understand why yet, and  as a result the modern Nuon gas-fired powerplants are sitting idle.

Coal emits loads of CO2 but unfortunately the governments gave in to the energy lobby and loaded the CO2 trading system with more CO2 then ever will be produced. So on top of coal being cheap to buy, burning it is also cheap. Until the CO2 price reaches a level again on which it has impact on the market, things will not change. That’s a sad conclusion!

Looking on a global scale: India and China are building coal powered plants at a frightening rate in their growing economies. No CO2 reduction the West achieves can compensate for this. So sooner or later this will take it’s toll and nature will wipe the human species of the face of this earth. I wonder what future visitors to our planet will make of what they find…

Until this happens, I did what half of Germany did: I put 12 PV-panels on my roof and took energy saving measures like replacing old light bulbs, the fridges and freezer. After half a year my electricity use has more than halved! Last week the heater was replaced and all radiators upstairs have been fitted with thermostatic valves. I am fully aware not everyone has a spare 6500 euro to spend on this as I have, but you don’t have to do it all in one go. Also this year the Dutch government will come with some attractive finance plans to reduce the financial burden. In addition by starting this I  noticed I am more aware of the resources I use: less food and water for instance: my wife is a master in cooking lovely meals from the leftovers and we try to keep our stocks low. After all, we have 3 supermarkets on a walking distance!

As individuals we have little impact on global issues. But by making the right choices we can make a change. Look at your personal lifestyle, do what you can and use your vote wisely at the next EU elections.

Step 8: the final words on my new PC

I tried to create a personal account for Sally which is not complicated. But Windows automatically logs on the the ‘last used’ acount. This would just be annoying so I abandoned the idea and the two of us are using one account.

My final challenge was Web Authoring: I tried to install Frontpage 2003 which failed. So I looked for an alternative and found Microsoft Expression Web 4 Free edition. This product has been made available for free since MS focusses on Visual Studio 2012. The latter is a very complete and powerful tool for Web design, but an overkill for my purpose. I installed Expression Web, opened one of my pages and it look all-right. I’ll have to find my way in the user interface, but this should be within my capabilities.

I did a final check on the software. Everything I need has been installed and works properly, my data is safe and is backed-up. Next step is to reorganise the NAS and Skydrive and synchronise the data, but that it for a long winter weekend.

The old PC is quietly sitting in the study. I will do a reinstall for Windows XP and put it up for sale. Personally I would stick to a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, but the learning curve can be steep for this. However I just realised I removed the DVD-drive from that PC so I will have to be creative to load Windows on it again. I’ll ask Matthew, perhaps he knows how to make it boot from USB or a network-image. We’ll sort it out.

Overall it was more work then I hoped but easier then expected. I’ve done it once so I can do it again. I offer commercial rates to private individuals or small businesses who need help.

Step7: Fine-tuning

I checked the list of software and installed the final programs. Less than I expected because a lot of software has become obsolete in Windows 8. Also I adjusted the BIOS to set the various fans in silent mode and disable ‘numlock’.

  • FTP: Windows File explorer can connect an FTP-site as a Network Place so I can just drag and drop.
  • I installed Libreoffice Writer and Calc to handle Office files and store them as .odf files.
  • I did not install Java: it is a very popular hackers target so I am trying to see if I can do without it
  • Pinnacle Studio 12 was installed. This upgrade requires a previous installation of Studio 7-8-9 or the installation CD plus license code. Needless to say I still had those and after keying-in 25-character codes it installed.
  • Photoshop CS2 installed OK but the activation failed: it had not been removed from the previous computer. I’ll try this later, instead I installed GIMP which does the same.

So I’m done, it’s all setup and ready to use. Boot time this morning was 10 seconds compared to 2-3 minutes for XP. Final action is a brief training to Sally about the do’s and dont’s of Windows 8, but she should be fine. And Matthew is also at hand to assist her.

I leave the old computer in working order in case I have overlooked anything. After that I will reinstall Windows XP and see if I can sell it. I did try Ubuntu on it and it’s powerful enough to run that comfortably.

Step6: Learning a lot!

This morning I spent some more time getting the new PC set-up properly. I learned one thing: fitting a NTFS hard disk from a previous computer is a bad idea: NEVER do this, just copy all files to an external USB disk to get them on the new computer. Those files come with security privileges from the old computer which a regular user can’t adjust to the new PC. I am a ‘quite-skilled’ user but a layman in this area. So I copied all files to an USB disk which I formatted xFAT to ensure I lost all NTFS security.

After this I restored the new PC to the previous restore point which was yesterday 1600 before even keying in the license code. I created a new account for myself, had to re-install all software and re-point the libraries to the new location. But a second time it’s always faster!

Looking at the Start screen I realised how it works and just pinned all software we use most to the Start screen: Chrome, Earth, Skype, Calibre and some others. To all those complaining about missing the Windows 7 start button: you have a Start screen staring you in the face!

I missed my purchased tracks in the iTunes music library and needed to re-authorise my PC before I could download them again. The final test was purchasing a new track of “Pink – Give me a reason” which worked instantly.

The new PC is now at a level where everything we use together is back in working order for Sally and I. All data is on it, and I am about to run the initial backup called ‘File History’ to the NAS.

Don’t think I spent all day behind the computer: I also created a floor in the ‘meter cupboard’ which had been a hole for 17 years. Not easy with pipes and cables running through it but I pulled it off!

Step5: New PC has been delivered

On my return from work the new PC had already been unpacked by Matthew who approved the choice of case and commented on the size of the CPU cooler! We decided to set it up first before adding the parts I was going to move from the old PC. Startup was quick, registration and setup painless. I created my account to logon to Microsoft at all time to take advantage of the integrated features.

Then we worked on the hardware. I had forgotten to find out which drive in the old PC contained all data but with the serial number we managed to extract the right disk and also the almost new DVD-combo. Opening the new PC I agreed the cooler was very big, but together we managed to get the DVD-combo and the disk in the right place. Alternate had stuck the SSD on the bottom of the case and the card-reader in a large slot instead in the 3,5″ slot, but we managed the get the cables connected properly.

After the meal it was time to look at the software.

  • No need for Samsung drivers since the screen immediately worked correctly at 1680×1050.
  • I installed the HP driver and connected the printer: no problem, done
  • IE11 was a disappointment: Internet banking did not work, Tomtom’s My drive did not render, so I switched back to Chrome. The bookmarks were imported and it all worked like before.
  • I pointed the Libraries at the harddisk but they kept on disappearing. I changed to location in the properties and now they stick: Documents, Pictures, Video, Downloads and Music. Sometimes the old ways are the best
  • Aldfear (genealogy) installed as expected
  • iTunes installed as well. I created the library, synched the iPod and it all worked. Moving the data after creating the iTunes library is a bad idea since iTunes does not start any more. Looks like aftercare is required
  • No need to install anything of Windows Live at the moment: the only components I might install later is the Live Photo Gallery.
  • Google Earth works like a charm, the HD4600 graphics is coping easily
  • Adobe Flash caused me some work, but that was caused by IE11, no problems in Chrome
  • Adobe Reader is very fast which pleased me: on the old PC is was sluggish
  • Tomtom software installed, connected and updated the device after I converted to Chrome
  • Calibre was installed in English and got confused where the old library was. But I pointed it the right way. It seem to be corrupted and recovery just failed. I will recreated by re-importing the books, I have them all in one folder anyway.

So far so good. It is always more work then I expect with little setbacks, but I expect to have the little issues sorted before breakfast.