Searching for a windmill in Google Streetview

Mid­-February this year, I joined the startup Vandebron as a copywriter, two months before its launch. The small team was working at full speed to meet the deadline for launching the world’s first online peer­2­peer energy marketplace. In joining I had little time to learn, so I figured out the things I didn’t fully understand about the energy market as I wrote them.

Upon launching, we were looking for new suppliers to sell their energy via our site.

A foodstore in Amsterdam seemed like a good partner for us, since their target audience matched ours. I
set out to find a farmer that supplied groceries to them, and could potentially supply electricity via us. I took the list from their website and googled all their farmers. Most of the time, it was very difficult to find the addresses, but going through various sites, such as the Chamber of Commerce, I found the location for each of them. Then, in Google Streetview, I virtually walked around the neighbourhood to see if one of them had a roof full of solar panels or a windmill on their land.

This way, I visited some fifty suppliers of food. All of them had big farms, one of them had a windmill too.

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I could just see the windmill’s tip above the trees.

Via the Yellow Pages I found their phonenumber and gave them a call. Last month, I finally got to visit them, and now they’ve been added to our website, and they’re selling energy straight to consumers.

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Gerard & Monique on Vandebron

Gerard & Monique on Vandebron

Changing the world via Google Streetview
To me, this case is exemplary for working at a startup. Every day forces me to inventive. Nobody before, in the whole world, had to write about an online peer­2­peer energy marketplace and all its assets. There are no standardisations here: strategies and plannings are volatile and my job description is only a hint of what I actually do.

Copywriter aside, I’ve been a graphic designer, social media manager, journalist, photographer, relationship manager and accountant. I’ve folded invitations, lifted crates and decorated the pressroom. The whole team worked outside of their responsibilities in favour of the overal result. We’re not some huge corporate company where for every task, there is an employee.

The thing is, I don’t per se like folding invitations, yet it becomes very rewarding in the context of a startup, especially one where you’re working for a greater good.

Can saving the world please be fun?

Last Sunday I was at the People’s Climate March, in Amsterdam. I really enjoyed the songs, the insights, the jokes, and it was fantastic to see so many people committed for a better climate. I’m committed as well, although I don’t bring banners.

Saving the world should be fun, otherwise it’s not going to happen. Calling what’s wrong isn’t fun: ‘fossil fuels are bad’, ‘sea levels are rising’, ‘the poles are melting’, ‘millions around the world have no clean drinking water’. Sustainable options are more than just alternative to this.

Can’t we look at great things and admire them for what they are? That’s where I get my energy from. I don’t go to work every day, thinking about polluted oceans, rather clean air, clean oceans, more jobs, healthy people and biodiversity. Showing people we can get energy from the sun and the wind, will hopefully leave the other – fossil – energy in the ground.

When a friend, relative or complete stranger asks me about Vandebron, I’m not going to mention the amount of particles CO2 in our atmosphere, neither do I communicate through a megaphone. I’d rather talk about how awesome our farmers are, how I met some of them in person, how I visited their lands, how I went home with potatoes from their land, how I visited their windmill, how I had their homemade cake. How much fun is that?

Improving the world and eating cake, that’s good enough for me.

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On the absurdity of being a vegetarian

I’m not religious. I don’t go to clubs. I don’t like patriotism and I don’t like people who are lazy or inconsiderate. I don’t smoke and I think watching television is a waste of time. Yet of all things, most often I need to explain why I don’t eat meat.

There’s a stigma on vegetarianism, as if – like a trojan horse riding into society – it brings a fundamental human right into violation. And so my apparition is often met with peers who feel compelled to tell me of reasons why humans should eat meat, or essentially, why should eat meat. (On the contrary, eating fastfood is perfectly fine and widely accepted, as in popular culture, bacon is idolised and vegetarians are easily mocked.)

Traditionally the product of hunting, meat symbolises masculinity: it was a man’s job to bring the meat home. And there are reasons plentiful to eat it. Our digestive system, teeth to end, is omnivorous. Humans have always eaten meat. There’s plenty of nutrients in meat, and there’s the argument that it simply tastes very good. Since eating meat is part of culture – at least mine – not eating meat is inconvenient. Friends who prepped a meal including meat – not knowing I’m a vegetarian – have to be politely refused of serving their dish, and not all restaurants serve proper vegetarian dishes, if any at all. Another argument is that, although few practise this, you can also be a conscious eater of meat, buying only from ethical and sustainable sources.

With all this, being a vegetarian seems rather absurd.

However, for everything we do there’s a reason not to. You shouldn’t drink milk – or alcohol. You shouldn’t smoke, you shouldn’t spend that much time on Facebook. You shouldn’t check your phone just before you go to bed and you probably shouldn’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, or watch its trailer. Yet we do it anyway.

Many things we do make no sense to others. Yet the larger point I’m trying to make is that, all by itself, life is an oxymoron.

By omitting meat from my diet, I started appreciating all kinds of other foods, such as sprouts, rhubarb and millet. I didn’t know fungus was so good. I didn’t know having no meat can be freeing: I feel satisfied after a meal, not guilty, and I feel healthier than ever before.

In short: it made my life better.
Absurd, right?

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On the importance of strategic lawn mowing

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If not for the essential difference that it is a lot smarter, strategic lawn would be a lot like normal lawn mowing.

With strategic lawn moving, instead of mindlessly mowing the closest patch of grass available, you would pause for a moment to look over the about-to-be-cut lawn to analyse your battlefield. Think about the path you’re about to follow. Make a plan. See if you can avoid doing some parts twice.
You’ll also want to prevent yourself from trampling the unmowed grass with your feet before you even get to the cutting part, as such a thing can never be strategic, and firmly belongs to normal lawn mowing.

Strategic lawn mowing isn’t a practise known to the public. Unjustified, I insist. Strategic lawn mowing is iconic to the vortex called life.

Many things – lawn mowing included – are found boring by the many people. Yet, would we surrender to our serendipitious whims and vagaries, we would accept the notion of boringness.
I for one, do not.

Life isn’t just about the result. Your lawn will look much the same whether mowed strategically or stupid. But – as often – how and why are more important than what.

Challenge yourself and everything around you, including the lawn.
And while you’re at it; enjoy the chase.

Financial vandalism: Human measure in the age of social media

Microsoft bought Nokia for $7.2 billion and Skype for $8.5 billion. Google spent on $3.2 billion on Nest and $12.5 billion on Motorola. Facebook splashed $1 billion on Instagram, $2 billion on Oculus and $19 billion on Whatsapp. 

Brands like Starbucks, Red Bull and Oreo have well beyond 35 million followers on Facebook each, a platform we tend to call social media. Each year, brands spend $450 billion on advertising, while Mark Woerde rightfully mentions that only $6 billion would bring malaria under control.

Cities built 40-story buildings whether their citizens like the view or not, and the world’s richest 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion.

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Brazilian favelas showing the shrill contrast between wealth and poverty.

 

Bayern Munich’s president Uli Hoeneß evaded $40 million in taxes. Gareth Bale was sold to Real Madrid for $100 million, while the top Formula 1 drivers earn near $30 million each year.

Meanwhile, fans of F1 are flown in by cattle-class to get a glimpse of the cars from the distance called General Admission. As one reader on Autosport.com mentions:
“You’ve got to be in the aristocracy class to buy an actual seat.”

Arsenal fans

Arsenal fans protesting against the $1650 dollar price for a seasonal ticket, by far the highest in the English Premier League.

 

Sport’s key players have become commodities fit for television, detached from the fans. If there ever was a glue, it’s now gone.

The theme here is the lack – or complete absence – of human measure, in the age of social media.

We need to ask ourselves whether we like this financial vandalism.
I know I don’t. We’re all poorer because of it, even if it makes men like Ivan Gazidis richer.

The second weekend of March in the Netherlands

Yesterday was the warmest 8th March ever in the Netherlands, and today the temperature rose even further.

Fluctuation happens every year, but thirteen of the fourteen warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century, and we’re only fourteen years in.

If you want to show your ignorance, there’s no better way to express your love to global warming in a tweet.
So for a livestream of stupidity, click here (Dutch tweets).

Does anyone else in their 30/40s still have the hope of becoming a big shot in the future?

Originally posted on Quora, in an answer to Does anyone else in their 30/40s still have the hope of becoming a big shot in the future?

Dreams come without an expiry date, and you should never accept the notion that you can’t do what you’d like to do.

Here are some examples of people who didn’t.

Sylvester Stallone was 30 years old and broke. Then his script for Rocky sold.
Leonard Cohen released his first album at 30.
J.K. Rowling was 32 years old when she published the first Harry Potter book.
Andrea Bocelli began singing opera seriously after the age of 34.
Harrison Ford was a carpenter, until he became Han Solo, at the age of 35.
Ian Fleming wrote the first James Bond book at 43.
Alan Rickman got his first movie role at 46.
Susan Boyle made her first appearance on television, aged 47.
Julia Child was just shy of 50 when she wrote her first book.
Charles Darwin was 50 when he wrote Origin of Species.
Ray Kroc bought and transformed McDonald’s at the age of 59.
Colonel Harland Sanders began franchising his KFC business at the age of 65.
Bhaktivedanta Swami’ started the hare krishna movement at 67.
Peter Roget created the first Thesaurus at 73.

Heck, even Jesus was a carpenter, before he began performing miracles at the age of 30.

Although my favourite example comes from nature:
Some oak trees doesn’t produce acorns until they’re about 50 years old.

The things we write today, will they still be read in 174 years?

Amsterdamsche Courant, January 10, 1840.

Amsterdamsche Courant, January 10, 1840.

Here’s a close-up of the newspaper I found in an antique shop in Leiden. It’s from the Tenth of January, 1840, and printed with movable type, so you can really feel the words pressed into the paper.

A lot of manual labour was put into making this newspaper, without all the eases of publishing we have today. It does make me wonder, whether the things we write today will still be read in 174 years.

The advent of visual

India’s population of more than 1.2 billion people speaks a few hundred different languages. 112 of those languages are spoken by more than 10,000 people, and 30 languages in India have over a million speakers.

Then, just take in consideration that more than a quarter of the population is illiterate.
So, if you’re an advertising agency, you have a problem; how are you going to convey your message?

A creative director from Ogilvy & Mather Mumbai gave me two examples on how they approached the problem. Both times, part of the message was carried visually.

His first example was about a campaign, aimed at people to get vaccinated against leprosy. To get a part of the message across, they placed a billboard on two poles, yet one of them was broken.

Another example was a campaign against child labour. It had a little boy statue, carrying a box on his head. The box was tied to a rope, which was tied to a donation box. Every donation made the donation box heavier, so it lifted the box from the boy’s head. A perfect demonstration on what your money would do.

But even if you’re like me, not in, or from India, there’s still plenty of arguments for visual.

It’s worth noticing that the fastest growing social networks of the last years are all visual: Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. (Yes, some people write on Tumblr, but it’s a minority.)

Meanwhile, Facebook has increased the size of both cover and timeline images, and stats show that posts that include a photo receive over 50% more likes than those that do not. Same thing is happening on Twitter, where tweets with images are 150% more likely to be retweeted. The new MySpace has a lot more focus on images, and recently also Google+ bolstered its size of images. Then there’s Spotify, not much about text either.

Images are fast, but another thing is that – some symbols excepted – visual is a language that goes beyond language barrier. As Renato Beninatto puts it: “One doesn’t have to speak Italian to be captivated by the Mona Lisa.”

Jonathan Mak Long's CokeHands non-copy ad won the 2012 Cannes Lions Grand Prix in the outdoor category.

CokeHands by Jonathan Mak.

It’s the reason why non-copy advertisements win so many awards; the whole jury can understand it. The representative from the United States, the one from Sweden and the one from Japan. The Coca Cola ad that won the 2012 Cannes Lions Grand Prix is a fine example. It uses no words or logo, but its message and sender are understandable for anyone.

Another fine example of visual delivery are memes. Quickly they’ve become a simple way to express ideas and tell short stories, across a multitude of languages. The more a meme is used, the stronger its in-built context becomes.

Visual is also fast. Really fast. Here’s the front and back cover of Time magazine.

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By TBWA\Chiat\Day.

It’s a demonstration of how portable and convenient the iPad mini is, and that you can read Time magazine on it. And it says all of that, using no words. And it says so pretty fast. Imagine you’d have to read all that, while entering the subway. No time for that, really.

 

Of course, the advent of visual hasn’t killed reading. Detailed stories simply don’t work visually. Steve Jobs was only half-right, and book are still being read, in one form or another. Blogging is thriving, and journalism could be in for a huge boost once newspapers understand that their apps should be more than a pdf of their paper edition.

Sure, some people will stop reading entirely, but for those who don’t, it’s a fantastic time. Personalised content is on the way, and accessibility has never been better. People used to read one newspaper in the morning during breakfast, now they read many more on their way to work, and they’re not all newspapers. I used to read my autosport news in one magazine, now I have several sites for that, one for which I pay.

 

Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle

In 1907, Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote a memoir:
“Reading is made too easy nowadays, with cheap paper editions and free libraries. A man does not appreciate at its full worth the thing that comes to him without effort. A book should be your very own, before you can really get the taste of it. And unless you have worked for it, you will never have the true inward pride of possession.”

I wonder what he’d think of the world we live in today.

The perfect lenght

Ideally, a novel is just one idea long.
Which is also the perfect length for movies, dinners, albums, advertising campaigns and blogs. Anything.

And the perfect chapter, scene, dish, song, advertisement or post, is one idea as well.

On a smaller scale; the perfect sentence adds one idea to the paragraph.
In its turn, the paragraph adds one idea to the chapter, which adds one idea to the book, which adds one idea to the trilogy.

Everything should contribute one idea.

If it does more; split.
If it does less; remove.

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