Tagged : history

D-Day Normandy

Heroes

Exactly seventy years ago more than 150.000 Allied troops, about half of them Americans, invaded Western Europe. They started on the beaches of Normandy and liberated the entire continent within 12 months. Six years ago I visited the beaches of Normandy myself. It had (and still has) a huge impact on me. Just think of it, hundreds of thousands of soldiers risked their lives invading a continent they didn’t know, to liberate people they didn’t know, all because of a single word… Freedom.

Today, especially today, I try to think of the alternative. What if the Americans decided not to help us? After all, it’s not their continent and it’s not them who neglected their armies for way too long (allowing the Germans to easily conquer the entire continent). But the Americans did help us, the rest is history.

I wish we’d think of this more often…

Mac OSX desktops

This is what my desktop looks like

No, I won’t show you the apps I’m running nor am I willing to show the (sometimes) many icons that clutter my Macbook’s desktop. Instead I’d like to share the wallpapers I get to see every day.

Let me explain.

A friend and I both have a Macbook Pro. And we both use three desktops (I honestly don’t know if Windows has a similar feature). Like everyone else we pimped our desktops using a nice wallpaper (three actually, one for each desktop). I always use three of my own photos and update them about once a year. This friend uses a more sophisticated system. He too uses three different wallpapers but instead updates them every week (!). Every week he picks a theme -this week it’s Hawaii- and searches the Internet for beautiful imagery.

Last week I copied him. I too picked a theme and browsed for three matching photos. The only difference being I used three of my own photos. The theme I used? Walls. Yep, I know, it doesn’t sound inspiring, but it actually is. Check out my wallpapers below.
The Royal Palace of Naples

This is the wall (and ceiling) of the Naples Royal Palace’s Grand Staircase in Italy. This hall roughly dates back to 1768 and shows the full glory of the Bourbon Kings. It’s truly massive.

Pompeii

The wall on this photo is much older… about 1800 years older. I took this photo in Pompeii, the famous city destroyed in 79AD when a nearby volcano erupted. They were so sophisticated at that time, they even painted their walls. Like we still do today.

Bath Pompeii

This also is a Pompeiian wall. It appears to be much simpler compared to the wall on the previous photo but it’s not. Look at the top left of the photo. The painted wall and ceiling are separated from the concrete ceiling. This is done because this wall can be heated. Hot steam would fill the area between the outer and inner wall, effectively heating the walls and ceiling. A similar system was used for the floor. It’s an ancient equivalent of our modern-day underfloor heating.

Remember, we’re talking about 2000 years ago. Fascinating, isn’t it?

This is where history could’ve been made

Less than two weeks ago Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to talk about the Ukraine crisis. At that time, Crimea still belonged to Ukraine and Kerry tried to prevent an annexation (yes, he failed). Somehow I’m always interested in where such (potentially historic) meetings take place. I knew they met in London and discovered this great photograph on Twitter. It’s a beautiful location for such an important meeting and even more so when you realise this building is located within the city limits of London. Quickly I learned the location they used is Winfield House, the official residence of the US ambassador to the United Kingdom.

This week I got the chance to visit the Dutch version of Winfield House. Or, to be more precise, be at the location used by Secretary John Kerry and Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia for their next round of talks. They used a (much smaller) mansion in The Hague and I was just a few blocks away. Finally I get the opportunity to see where a historic meeting like this takes place!

Below are some of my photos.

Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov

Surprisingly, security wasn’t that tight. Sidewalks on both (!) sides of the street could still be used. There are no roadblocks, no barricades and almost no police.

Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov 2

This cameraman is employed by news agency Reuters. All he needed was a shot of Foreign Minister Lavrov exiting the building and entering the car, which is what he told me. He waited for hours…

Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov 3

Finally Lavrov exits the building, which enabled the Reuters-guy to make his much-desired shot (and I snapped this photo).

Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov 4

Suddenly the street is crowded with cars and security guys. It took Lavrov seconds to enter his car and leave.

As it turns out, these talks were unsuccessful as well. I guess this isn’t such an historic meeting after all…

The end of organised sports

The end of organised sports

What sport did you do when you were a kid? Played football? Basketball? Tennis perhaps? I bet you quit doing this by the age of 18 (probably even earlier). Whatever the reason, you’re not alone. In the Netherlands 80 percent of all kids quit organised sports by the time they turn 18. In the United States the situation is even worse. A staggering 70 percent of all kids quit by the time they turn 13 (!). Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF wanted to know why and what they can do about it. We helped them and turned our idea into a company along the way.

logos netflix cnn facebook twitterAs it turns out the answer to the first question (why do we quit organised sports) is fairly simple. And no, it’s not because we don’t like to sport anymore. Instead, the world changed, we changed. Because of the Internet our world slowly changes in an individualistic and on demand centric society. Want to buy music? Visit iTunes. Watch a movie? Launch Netflix. Interact with people? Use Facebook. Check out the news? Visit Twitter or CNN.com. These modern technologies change the way we live, the way we communicate and even change the way our brains work. We’re so accustomed to buying and doing things whenever and wherever we want that we can’t imagine ourselves to schedule anything weeks in advance anymore. Hence, we even start to treat our jobs like this. Many of us are allowed to do our job whenever and wherever we want, as long as our results are good. As it turns out this is exactly how we think about sports as well. We don’t care how we sport, as long as we get the result we want.

So, what results do we want? To meet other people? Sure, this used to be a primary reason, but it’s not our goal anymore. We see other people 24/7 on Facebook, hang out with friends and love to meet new people. For this, we don’t need sports anymore. Instead, most people use sports to stay in shape, lose weight, gain muscles, feel healthy or simply to show off (yep, those people exist too). The fact of the matter is we can achieve these goals without organised sports. Of course, playing football in a team is lots of fun, but it needs to fit my schedule. I want to practice it whenever and wherever I want, I only care about the results.

You must think I’m exaggerating. Do we really think like this? Well, yes. What are the most popular sports for students and (young) professionals? Jogging, running, cycling, swimming or the gym. Yep, these are all individualistic sports which can be practiced wherever and whenever you want. This is exactly why starchitect Rem Koolhaas loves to swim. He travels the world and has a schedule which doesn’t allow  fixed moments to sport. But he can swim whenever and wherever he wants (every city has a swimming pool). Another example is Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of The Next Web. Every once in a while a tweet comes by where @Boris proudly presents us with his running time (“2,15 km at a 5’11″/km pace”). As is the case with Koolhaas, Boris sports wherever and whenever he wants and reaches his goal while doing it.

Most of us travel a lot less, but the idea stays the same. I for example love to bike. On quiet days I sometimes bike for hours, on busy days I don’t bike at all. So, why always sport on the exact same time and location every week? The world doesn’t work like that anymore. Heck, my brain doesn’t work like that anymore, which obviously is bad news for all traditional sports clubs like tennis, football and basketball.

After we discovered the problem we came up with a solution. Together with Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF we created a website which offers organised sports on demand. As you know, we branded it kiozk.com and tested the idea in Groningen. Amsterdam is next. Kiozk essentially is a long list with sport activities based on the users current time and location. Think of activities like ‘play tennis for an hour’, ‘join our basketball team for training’ or ‘try Taekwondo’. Users browse the list of activities and there’s always a sport which can be practiced.

Sounds great? Well, not so fast. To our surprise most organised sports clubs couldn’t be persuaded to join Kiozk, not even with the help of Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF. The most important reason not to join? Most clubs were unhappy about the idea to offer sports on demand. As someone put it, “we’re in the business of memberships, we’re not interested in someone who joins our club just one time.” This forced us to let go our sport-centric model and approach other organizers of activities, not related to sports, as well. With huge success. We now have museums, lot’s of nightlife, lectures, tours and big events in Kiozk. Suddenly some commercial sport clubs saw the potential and also joined. Even FC Groningen, one of the most well known professional football clubs, is now part of Kiozk. Ironically we now have everything but the traditional sport clubs. It seems they continue to deny what’s happening.

Desktop en mobiele Kiozk

Let’s hope the organised sports soon realise their way of doing business needs to be adjusted to again excite students and (young) professionals to join. We still love organised sports… Their system just doesn’t fit in our world anymore.

Stupid strategy

It’s stupid strategy and doesn’t make any sense. Or… does it? Fast rewind to the beginning: I watched the movie Glory the other day. It’s about the first all-black volunteer company fighting in the US Civil War. The movie includes some great battle scenes which are fought using Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous military strategy.

American Civil War musket close formations

Napoleon’s strategy involves so called ‘muskets close order formations’. Put simply: Formations from both sides walk onto the battlefield until they see each other. Then something strange happens. First hundreds of soldiers from one side shoot at other side, effectively killing and injuring many enemy soldiers (who don’t even try to evade the bullets). Subsequently the enemy soldiers are allowed to shoot on the friendlies, with basically the same lethal result.

It’s not the first time I watched such a battle scene, but every time I do I think it’s strange, no stupid, to fight like this. If I’d been a general I’d never allow anyone to get a clear shot at my soldiers. Why didn’t the Civil War generals use a different strategy. Were they stupid, or…?

Napoleon’s strategy

When the French Emperor used ‘muskets close order formations’, muskets were very inaccurate weapons. Napoleon figured if hundreds of soldiers shoot their rifles at exactly the same moment, at least some bullets must hit the enemy. The French essentially created the world’s first machine-gun, an inaccurate but highly effective weapon on the battle field.

Slag bij Wagram 7 juli 1809

So, what went wrong in the Civil War

Well… muskets improved a lot. They were far more accurate. The fact that the Civil War soldiers could now hit what they aimed at made all the soldiers at the other side ‘sitting ducks’. For the first time soldiers didn’t randomly shoot their rifles in the hopes of hitting something. This time they actually managed to hit the enemy.

I wonder… Why didn’t the generals change strategy after a few of these battles?

The answer is simple, but shocking: They didn’t know better.

Many of the officers on both sides of the war received their military training at West Point. At West Point all cadets studied tactics under the same professor, who turned out to be fascinated by Napoleonic Warfare. In other words, both sides knew and thought alike. They were so focussed on Napoleontic Warfare that no imaginable alternative to this strategy existed. The only thing they could do… continue the war, minimise the loss wherever possible and hope for the best.

1861 – 2013

Back in 1861 Americans studied and copied Napoleon, who’s army became the world’s model of a fighting machine. Americans wanted to copy this success thus recreate the “Grande Armee” in America, which turned out to be a disaster. Technology improved but strategy didn’t. Today, the same is happening, but this time it’s the Europeans who make the mistake. The United States have the worlds most advanced army and won a string of victories in the past decades. So, it’s no surprise that European countries modeled their armies after their American counterpart, much like the Americans copied Europe 150 years ago. The problem is… the European armies and strategies never evolved after that. They’re still very much the same compared to 30-40 years ago, although we now have new technologies like drones, highly advanced missiles and the threat of cyberwar.

predator drone USA Civil War

What I’m saying is… we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes America made in 1861. Technology, weaponry and wars evolved during the past decades… it’s time to adjust our strategy (and expectations of war) likewise.

Note: I didn’t intent to write about strategy or the military. I simply couldn’t help myself after finding out the reason behind the ‘stupid strategy’ of the US Civil War. Suddenly I realised we still make (some of) the same mistakes today. Sometimes history does repeat itself