Category : analysis

Crazy weather records

The Dutch are experiencing the coldest spring since 1984. In fact, this years spring might be one of the coldest since 1901. This weather fact is reported as hard news by De Telegraaf, the largest newspaper of the Netherlands. Although this news fact might be true, it’s not news. At least, not to me.

It’s not the coldest spring ever. It’s just the coldest since 1984, which feels like a random number to me. It’s not 1983 nor 1985. Nope, it’s exactly 1984? What if temperatures would be a bit higher, would this change the headline to “coldest spring since 1985”?

Who cares?!

Okay, why bother, you might think. Who cares?! Well, I don’t actually. But I think it shows the craziness of our 24-hour news cycle. News organizations seem to do anything to fill their websites with nice big headlines and since we like to talk about the weather…

Back in March, I started to collect some of these crazy weather records. Most of them were served as big news, including large images and big headlines on the homepage.

March 5: “Hottest March 5th ever”

Temperatures in De Bilt (a Dutch town) rose to 15,9 degrees Celsius, which make it the hottest March 5th ever. My question is simple… what makes March 5 so significant? Why not talk about March 4? Or February 23? Or January 12? Is this just a random day and random record which allows De Telegraaf to make a nice headline?

Luckily the Netherlands has De Volkskrant, arguably thé best Dutch newspaper. They brought us the following record…

March 10: “Incessant rain in De Bilt allows for new weather record”

First of all, this is not a national weather record. After all, it’s De Bilt, the same town which also experienced the hottest March 5 ever. So, why are the Dutch so focussed on De Bilt? Well, it’s not just any town. It’s a small town (10.500 people) which happens to house the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, which makes it important for weather facts. But… why should we be interested in their rain-record? And why read about it in a Dutch quality newspaper?

March 12: “It’s the coldest March 11 since 1928”

Nice, another random day and year. Why March 11? Why ‘1928’? But this random fact allows De Telegraaf to give this ‘news article’ the biggest headline and most prominent spot on their website for almost a full day.

Let’s see what happens the day after. This time, we’ll check Dutch news organization NOS.

March 13: “It’s never been so cold in this period of March”

In March 2005, temperatures were down to -14,5 degrees Celsius. This March, temperatures ‘only’ dropped to -13,3. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make it a weather record. But journalists at NOS are creative. The record in 2005 happened in early March. So, forget 2005… it’s never been so cold in this period of March, which means -13,3 degrees counts as a record as well. It’s a job well done.

March 21: “Coldest March in 25 years”

Again, NOS knows no weather records are broken. Still, they wrote quite a big news article about the extreme cold temperatures. “This weekend promises to be one of the coldest weekends in this time of the year”, according to NOS. This ain’t news. “This weekend promises to be…”? Come on, this is more like a weather preview, similar to how pundits talk about major sports events or politics.

Luckily, there’s De Telegraaf. Their headline reads “Coldest March in 25 years”. Great! They obviously found some hard facts, something the NOS article lacked. Let’s read on. “This month will probably be one of the coldest months of the past 25 years…”. Wait! Probably? … One of the? … This doesn’t match with their headline at all!

This wakes up AD, another newspaper. They finally realize news doesn’t have to be news these days. Instead, just bring it big, use quotation marks in combination with the words “possibly” and “one of the” and you’re done.

March 24: “Sunday possibly coldest March 24 ever”

Ah, AD used both quotation marks and the word “possibly” for the article above. Need I say more? However, it makes me wonder… is it true? Did we in fact experience the coldest March 24 ever? Let’s check Dutch weather website Weeronline.

March 24: “A tenth of a degree too warm for a cold record”

Yep, AD was wrong. On March 24 1916, temperatures dropped to 2,9 degrees. This year, we briefly tipped 3,0 degrees which is not enough to justify a new weather record. But who cares. AD smartly filled their newspaper and many people, including me, had something to talk about.

Oh, before I forget, Weeronline did point out it’s the coldest March 24 since 1916. Let’s just assume 1916 is a very significant year for Dutch weather…

March 29: “Coldest Easter since 1964”

Ah, again a random year. This time it’s used by NOS. Why 1964? And more importantly, Easter is still two days away (March 31). So, how do they know it’s the coldest Easter since 1964? As it turns out, the answer lies in the first paragraph. “Probably, it’s…”, do I need to say more? But is it true? AD was wrong about March 24, so how did NOS do?

March 31: “Coldest Easter since 1964”

Yep, it’s true. On Easter morning, NOS proudly reports their predictions were correct… For which they used another big headline… smart…

This all happened in the past. Let’s focus on what matters most… which seems to be the future nowadays (why live in the present when you can also predict the future?).

May 28: “Coldest summer in 200 years”

According to De Telegraaf, this summer could be the coldest in 200 years. Could be? … 200 years? … Yep, we’ve seen this before. This ain’t news, instead it’s speculation. Something to fill the newspaper with. According to the article, June and July won’t be that sunny. And August… well, prepare for some heavy storms. Hmmm, I guess this is thé moment to book a summer holiday to Spain, Italy or somewhere else sunny. Or… no, wait. The second paragraph mentions the cold summer applies to southern European countries only. Which means…

… I wasted another minute of my life by reading speculation about the weather, which was presented as hard news, but instead doesn’t even apply to my own country… Poor me.

Juan Enriquez - Ted lecture - Genomics

Mr. Gene: Juan Enriquez

What happens when we’re capable of copying nature and create life ourselves? Or what if we can fix everything that’s wrong with us, thus create the perfect human being? And what if all food we eat would be perfect? These questions, and some more, popped into my mind after yesterday’s lecture by Harvard fellow Juan Enriquez, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

Juan Enriquez is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences (yep, that’s a mouthful). In short, he knows a lot about economy and genes. And he’s quite famous. I mean, this guy teaches at Harvard and spoke at TED four times, his talks have been watched by millions of people… Nonetheless, I didn’t know this guy at all. Until today.

Animals, tomatoes, car fuel

Juan Enriquez spoke about how bio-science begins to affect the way we live, work and do business. As an example, I already knew scientists are able to clone animals and genetically enhance food like tomatoes. But did you know scientists are already capable of growing their own liquid car fuel by using gene-technology?

In short, you’d buy a single bag of liquid gen-enhanced fuel. Then, this liquid multiplies and multiplies again, which goes on and on for ever. There’s no need to buy fuel anymore. Anyone can grow their own unlimited supply of fuel, which will dramatically change the entire oil industry (thus the world economic and political stability) in a single day. Do we still need the Persian Gulf? What happens to Russia’s economy? What are the (positive?) impacts for the environment? What happens when millions of oil-related jobs disappear?

This example makes it obvious that gene-technology could have a huge impact on our lives.

Grow your own teeth

Something unrelated to car fuel, but still a game changer; Juan Enriquez told us about growing teeth. We’re not born with teeth (which our mothers should be grateful to). Instead, while being a child, somehow teeth grow. Then, they fall out and grow again. But why can our teeth only grow two times? What if, by using gene-technology, we can grow our teeth a third and perhaps even fourth time? No more false teeth, but instead we all have the ‘real’ deal. This will change the entire dental industry for sure.

Juan told us another interesting development. As it turns out, scientists found a way to store digital data in living cells. I really don’t know how this works. But it’s fascinating for sure.

Should we try to copy nature?

After Juan Enriquez’ lecture, I wonder… Should we try to copy nature? Should we cure every incurable disease we know? Do we really need perfect teeth? Is the gen-perfected tomato that much better compared to an old fashioned tomato? And, what if everything else we eat would be perfect as well? Would that really increase our happiness and improve our way of life? Or is this just a way to make things more perfect, which enables us to control even more aspects of our own lives? After all, humans love to be in full control (and I’m no exception). On the other hand, no more diseases and an unlimited supply of car fuel. How cool is that?!

Truth to be told, I don’t know what to think of this gene-development. For now, let’s just say I had a fascinating lecture and lots to think about.

A new capital for Australia, part 1

A while ago, a friend and I participated in an international architecture competition. The task: Design a new capital for Australia. Unfortunately, we didn’t win (oh well, it was a longshot anyway). Nonetheless, I’d like to share our thoughts about this new capital with you.

Why does Canberra look the way it does?

It’s not that hard to figure out which factors influenced the 1912 design of Canberra. Old design documents mention the capital should “suggest grandeur” and “effectively symbolize a national capital”. Which makes sense. After all, back in 1912 Australia was a new country with little to no history (apart from the Aboriginals). They were in need of something that would unify them. A capital possibly?

The leaders of Australia hoped their new country would be a perfect democracy, a perfect country. They tried to reflect this on the nations capital, because this city could be the symbol for their new nation. This is exactly why Canberra is a perfect master planned city with plenty of parks and lots of public services. Ironically, because of its master planned characteristics, many Australians view their capital as a city unlike the rest of Australia. This is something which could be fixed with a new capital.

Does Australia need a new capital?

Tthe not-so-good feeling many Aussies have about Canberra doesn’t justify a new capital. Instead, there’re more compelling reasons, like the rise of the Internet, global warming, terrorist attacks and a global economic crisis. These are factors which influence our daily lives in a big way and couldn’t be more different than a hundred years ago (when Canberra was founded). This new reality brings new challenges and prompts questions like:

– Can Canberra be transparant and terror-proof at the same time?

– What does the rise of the Internet mean for government?

– Government grows bigger, while individualism is on the rise. How can a capital bridge this ever growing gap between individuals and the (mega) government?

In a way, the current Australian capital represents the old (check out the Canberra mega parliament building below). But times have changed. This all leads to a single question: Is a conventional capital like Canberra even capable of fulfilling her duties in this modern age? One could argue that a new capital is needed to represent the new and modern Australia.

What is a capital

OK, so we might need a new capital (without the need for a new capital, there wouldn’t be an architecture competition anyway). But what’s a capital exactly? In my view, a capital is just a city… a place where a lot of people live, work, study and relax. But there’s one major difference between a capital and any other city. The capital is a symbol. A symbol of power and, for western countries, democracy. It’s the symbol for what a country is or wants to be. For western countries, this symbol is embodied by a parliament building, a home for democracy. Since Australia is a democracy, a parliament building should be the centerpiece of this new capital as well.

But this home for democracy can be more than ‘just a building’. It’s much more powerful when it embodies the era in which it’s built. Which is true for buildings like the US Capitol and the German Reichstag.

US Capitol (1811)

This parliament building embodies the era of democracy, which started just after the US became independent from Britain. Democracy is the reason why the US Capitol is built on a hill in the exact center of the city, thus visible throughout Washington DC. It shows everyone that the people are in power. Which is also why the US Capitol is much bigger than the White House, residence of its head of state (bigger = more power). Until then, this was something unheard of in other western countries. It’s not surprising why people regard the US Capitol to be a symbol of democracy.

Reichstag (1999)

The historic Reichstag with its new glass dome symbolizes the era of unity, and not just for Germany. Instead, it symbolizes the unity of the entire western world. Inside, graffiti from both Nazi and Communist soldiers is preserved, thus reminding everyone Germany won’t forget its history. The glass dome, which tops the Reichstag symbolizes the long wished for transparency of government. And, not coincidentally, it was designed by a British (!) architect, Sir Norman Foster.

These two examples illustrate the era’s in which these parliament buildings were built. Currently, we live in the era of the Internet, which changed everything we know, including politics. Which prompts the question: Why not create a parliament building which symbolizes this era?

Where should the capital be located?

Well, that leaves us with one final important issue. Where to locate this new capital? That’s a tough nut to crack, since the size of Australia’s land surface is incredible. Still, the country is one of the most urbanized in the entire world. An incredible half of the population lives in just four (!) cities. Let me repeat that: Half the population lives in four cities! For the new capital, this could be an ideal situation. Why not situate the capital near these four cities, which allows the city to serve at least half of the countries population. And it’s easily doable, since there’s only 4000 kilometers separating some of these cities… hold on… did you say 4000 kilometers?

I guess that’s not gonna work.

Another option is to locate the capital in the exact middle of the country (near Alice Springs). However, this results in a natural barrier of thousands of kilometers for almost the entire population. That’s no good as well.

Let’s go unconventional

Apart from the everything mentioned above, constructing a new capital involves more than just erecting a parliament building. For a new, conventional, capital, an entire ecosystem of houses, offices, stores, entertainment and public services is needed. It takes some time to build, but ultimately this new city won’t be that different than Canberra. No problems will be solved, but a lot of money is wasted.

This is why we believe a conventional capital is not an option. Let’s go unconventional.

End of part one.

Johnny Depp

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part four; “Johnny Depp”.

During our stay in Los Angeles, we saw many of the great studios like Universal, Paramount and Disney. Also, we toured Warner Brothers Studios, which was a great experience. During the Warner tour, we realized how many things were fake. The houses… fake. Lines on the road… removable. The streetlights… fake as well.  Even the cladding of the buildings can be removed and replaced by other styles.

After seeing all these fake things, it was great to learn about something very real… which is Johnny Depp, the Hollywood actor.

The Disney Guy

We met a very friendly employee at Disney Studios. He’s a Mickey Mouse Company veteran, which prompted us to ask if he ever met a celebrity like… wel… ehm… Steven Spielberg? Unfortunately, he did not. But he did meet Johnny Depp several times. Which makes sense, since he plays the character of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, a major Disney production.

He told us there’s no Johnny Depp when a Pirate movie is in production at Disney Studios. Depp’s ID tag (including the photo) refers to him as Captain Jack Sparrow. Also, it’s contractually agreed that all Disney employees should refer to him as either Jack, mr Sparrow or Captain Jack Sparrow. This allows Johnny Depp to stay in character during the entire shoot, both on and off camera. Which is exactly why Jack Sparrow feels so real… because there’s no Johnny Depp when there’s Captain Jack Sparrow.

Fake turns real

I love this story, because it shows how serious this Hollywood actor is about his performance. And it shows how fake he has to be in real life (he even orders coffee while being a pirate) in order to become a real character on the big screen. Which is also true for a studio like Warner Brothers. It’s the most fake environment you’ll ever see (check out the red arrows below), but on the big screen… it’s real.

My next stop: Sequoia National Park

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!

Why a superprovince isn’t the solution

I’m concerned about something for quite some time now. Currently, there’s a discussion in the Netherlands about the so called ‘superprovince’. The Dutch government is planning to merge three provinces into a single big one. This so called superprovince includes the city of Amsterdam and houses over 4 million people.

It’s not the actual merger I’m concerned about. No, it’s the reason why. Doing this based on a vision is great. But the Dutch government appears to have none… unless you count ‘money’ as being a vision. Politicians argue it’s more efficient to centralize the government, which means less managers and more efficiency, thus more decisiveness and a better competitiveness. This results in more jobs and even more money.

But… if a merger of three provinces makes governing more efficient… why not merge five provinces? Or seven? Or why not all twelve?

“We have to do this”

That’s where the “we have to do this” argument comes in. I love this argument, since it’s one of the most commonly used arguments. The beauty is, you can use it for anything. Think, let’s say, of the airline merger which was announced last week. American and US Airways want to merge because the competition merged a couple of years ago. If the argument can be used by commercial airlines, it most surely can be used by the Dutch government as well.

So, why does the Dutch government “have to do this”? Well, competition from other countries and cities is growing stronger. Think of Paris and London, who try to attract the same Fortune 500 companies as we do. If we make Amsterdam and our main metropolitan area stronger (the superprovince), we’ll stay ‘in the game’.

Well, that makes sense. Maybe the superprovince isn’t such a bad idea after all. One question: What happens when our competitors respond by growing bigger as well?

San Francisco Bay Area merger

Recently I found an example which illustrates what happens then. It turns out the San Francisco Bay Area, which is the 13th largest economy of the world, wants to merge for almost identical reasons (but on a larger scale). This merger of the Bay area, which includes the city of San Francisco and Silicon Valley (home to companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and eBay) would result in a superprovince which houses 6,9 million people and gives them a lead over cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and London.

Wait, hold on a second. London? Are the British going to be affected by this on-other-side-of-the-world-merger? If so, London has to act in order to stay in the game. And if London acts… we have to do something too. Maybe we can merge our superprovince with another one or two provinces… That’ll give us a change. Right?!

Why follow the others?

This is exactly why I’m concerned by the current situation. Ultimately, we’re forced to follow the others’ lead, grow when they grow and increase efficiency when they do the same. And this cycle repeats itself over and over again. Instead, I believe the Netherlands should focus on its own strengths. Doing so, it’s good to realize we have a major advantage. We’re a (densely populated) country with about 17 million people, which should make us competitive with about any western city or region in the world. Hence, let’s only merge things that make sense.

Why not establish a true national police force, a nationwide fire-response system, a few highly specialized hospitals at strategic locations, a nationwide public transit system which encompasses the entire country and a single national park service.

This leaves us with municipalities. They’re ideal to take care of services which require to be close to the people. Like social services, education and basic health care services. This makes it absolutely clear what a municipality is… it’s the local government.

A local and central government

I believe we don’t need another superprovince. Instead, let’s emphasize and strengthen the areas in which the local an central government excel at. Local government is close to the people while the central government is all about big plans and the big picture. Isn’t that all we need for a small country like the Netherlands?