The most beautiful road of the world

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 six; “The most beautiful road of the world”.

Highway nr. 1 in California is a beautiful road… In fact, it’s a very beautiful road. But it’s not the most beautiful road. Based on my ‘experience’, that honor goes to a road which runs through Death Valley“Which road exactly?”, you might ask? Well, pick any small road which runs from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as long as you avoid taking the highway, the I-15.

The next question probably will be: “Benjamin, why is this road so beautiful?” I’m glad you ask. I guess it has something to do with the expectations game. I didn’t know what to expect (how beautiful is a desert?), which made it easy to meet and even exceed this expectation. In addition, the scenery was incredible and completely different from anything I’ve ever seen before. The views were simply breathtaking.

“So, what about the road itself? After all, it’s the most beautiful road of the world.” Well, that’s easy to answer. The roads are the best I ever drove on. This is something car companies figured out a long time ago. They use the exact same road for car tests. I know this because we saw some super-secret-test-cars ourselves.

“And… what about the X-factor?” Ah, I see where you’re going. Everything that’s ‘the most’, has something special. An X-factor. This is also true for Death Valley. Besides incredible scenery, breathtaking views, magnificent rock formations, awesome roads and even a ghost town (see photo below), Death Valley has something else. It’s the hottest place on earth. Several times, we left our car to experience the heat ourselves. One time, it was 49 degrees celsius (120 degrees fahrenheit)… that’s what I call an X-factor.

But even without an X-factor, Death Valley is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen.

My next stop: Las Vegas

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest

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.

Big, bigger, biggest

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 five; “Big, bigger, biggest”.

Think of America and it’s easy to think of everything being big. We all know the cliché, every American has a big car, eats XXL fastfood meals, lives in a big house located in a big generic neighborhood, which is connected to a megacity via a multi-lane highway. Although this is true for some Americans, it most surely isn’t for most. Besides, this is not the kind of ‘big’ I want to talk about.

Sequoia

Instead, I want to talk about trees. Big trees. America is home to the biggest and tallest trees of the world. They’re known as Sequoia trees and can only be found in California. So we had to check ’em out as well.

These trees truly are massive! And believe me, they’re much bigger in real life.

Meet General Sherman (the tree, not the soldier). With a height of 83,8 meters, a diameter of 7.7 meter and an estimated age of 2.300-2.700 years, it’s among the tallest, widest and longest-lived of all trees on this planet. In fact, measured by volume it’s the largest tree on earth. Did you notice the people in the bottom left corner of the photo?

This isn’t General Sherman. Still, it’s an enormous sequoia tree.

During our stay in Sequoia National Park, I hoped to see a black bear. Unfortunately, I didn’t. But to see this mule deer doing a photo op was great as well. This also concluded our visit to Sequoia National Park. Death Valley will be next.

My next stop: Death Valley

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp

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!