Drink from the garden: holunder syrup

Elderflower in the garden

Elderflower in the garden

In a corner of the garden of my childhood home, almost like it was hiding, we had an elder tree. When it was in bloom, it would have wonderful parachutes full of flowers. I really liked it. But, just as with the rhubarb we had in our garden, I did not really care for the taste of it. My mother often made elderflower syrup, and its distinct taste was something I didn’t really get used to in the beginning. Contrary to the rhubarb, though, eventually this was a taste that I acquired.

On irregular intervals, the elder tree would come back into my life. Like that period I lived in a street named after it. Or now, in Germany, where during bloom season you not just see the Holunder – as Germans call it – everywhere, but during the whole year you can taste it everywhere. Mostly in drinks. From syrups to beer derivatives (sorry, but I’m not sure yet what else to call Fassbrau). And of course in the summer cocktail from Austria, the Hugo.
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Weekend Reads week 24


The productivity is yet to come
There has been an explosion of innovation and new technologies in the last few years, with an enormous potential to make us more productive. However, that hasn’t really happened. Yet. In this post, Jeff Bussgang explains why.

“Jobs will be lost and taxpayers money, too!”
Two very familiar excuses from politicians who lack the courage and smarts to back an increase of renewable energy use. Two articles from this week showed that they are simply not true. Or at least: not completely.
Let’s start with jobs. It seems to me that replacing one energy source with another would maybe lead to job losses in the production of the replaced source, but production of the ‘new’ source will see jobs created. According to this article in the Guardian, to the tune of tens of thousands in the UK for wind energy alone. So, yes, jobs will be lost, but others will be created. Would be interesting to learn what the balance is.

Then secondly: renewable energy costs taxpayers money. Well, maybe it does. Producing 1 KW of energy from coal is cheaper than producing it from any of the renewable sources. To make ‘green’ energy more attractive for consumers, there are subsidies. For example Feed in Tariffs. And then comes this report from research done by the university of Stuttgart, commissioned by Greenpeace. In short, you could say that producing energy from coal:
1. kills people (22000 in Europe in 2010, in Poland more than road accidents);
2. costs taxpayers money when people sick due to pollution appear in the healthcare system;
3. costs businesses money in lost production: 5 million workdays lost in 2010.

So, next time someone tries to convince you that renewable energy costs jobs and taxpayers money, think again.

Are you asking the right questions to innovate?
In a new series with The Huffington Post, OpenIDEO co-founder Tom Hulme presents tips for innovation. His first tip: take time to frame the question. In the experience of Tom with OpenIDEO and more, the question is guiding all the efforts that come after that in the innovation process. So, not taking the time to frame the question, could lead to unwanted result.

A celebration of craftsmanship: Festival des Métiers by Hermès

The maker movement is one of the disrupting forces of the new collaborative economy. It brings a strong focus on producing items yourself with personal specifications, made in an artisanal way. Quite some luxury brands have a similar focus: bespoke items and craftsmanship. One such brand is Hermès, and they show this off in the touring Festival des Métiers. You can see Hermès artisans at work, and ask them all about it. They put up their show in Düsseldorf these days, in the Areal Böhler. Below an impression.

Saddle up
The saddle maker composing a saddle

Double stitching leather
The stitches on leather bags are double, and all done by hand.

Two ties are printed on each piece. They are cut out and sown together by hand.

Decorating ceramics

Ceramics are painted layer by layer, each layer needs to be baked for several hours.

Velvet maker
This lady cuts the silk threads by hand, to create the velvet. It takes days to finish a piece.

Stitching clothes together
I really love this sowing machine, which is used to assemble the several pieces that make up a clothing item.

A rack with paints for printing the designs on the famous Hermès scarves.

Next stop of the Festival des Métiers is Paris. I’m not sure where they go after that, but believe it’s Canada. If you get a chance to visit it, you should definitely go. It’s impressive and inspiring to see these artisans at work.

Weekend reads week 23


How human are you?
When you are responsible for a brand, you must protect it from evil. And everything other than what you plan for the brand, must be seen as evil. At least, that is how some companies still think. And they’re learning the hard way that this stance doesn’t work. There are fans of your brand out there, who use your logo to show how much they care; and through all those wonderful channels we have in this digital age: share that. Do you really want to send them cease-and-desist letters? Or are you going to embrace them?

How much meetings will you not have next week?
Meetings can seriously damage productivity in your company. And it’s pretty sure that you are having too many. They may have once been the best available way to complete certain tasks in your organisation (sharing information, status reports, keeping in touch), but for many of these tasks that is no longer true. In this intriguing post, Rick Mans shares some great tips to boost productivity by killing (or drastically shortening) meetings.

Steal impact
Maybe this weekend, don’t read anything. Just look around and see how you can have positive impact on your community. UnLtd posted these 6 ideas for doing that, ‘stolen’ from OpenIDEO. Now, OpenIDEO has a huge collection of concepts for creating positive impact, that are yours to take and make real.

Stop competing on price to save your store
It has been said before, but I think it is an important message: brick-and-mortar retailers (big and small) are not being killed by e-commerce. They simply don’t know how to adjust to a new reality, other than to desperately try to keep customers by slashing prices. But that’s a battle they’re going to lose. If you want to keep your store in High street alive, you need to find a way to bring more value to consumers, and let them pay for that. Or you could, as this article argues, prove that you have added value for your suppliers. And there are more strategies suggested.

Another 6 ideas to steal from OpenIDEO

Prototype for international matching of bone marrow donors

Prototype for international matching of bone marrow donors

Last week, UnLtd posted 6 ideas to steal from OpenIDEO. And that’s a wonderful thing to do. As you know, I’m a big OpenIDEO fan, and in the almost three years of its existence, it has grown out to an enormous repository of great ideas to tackle social issues. All these ideas are in the public domain, free for you to implement. And improve your community. So, following the lead of UnLtd, here are my six ideas to steal from OpenIDEO.
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Park your car in Düsseldorf, pay with your mobile. Or not.

Get your parkschein here, or pay by SMS

Get your parkschein here, or pay by SMS

Every initiative that aims to reduce the need for me to carry coins around, scores points with me immediately. Especially if it’s about paying for a parking ticket in cities. When I lived in Amsterdam a few years ago (is it really more than five already?), I used Parkline, a service that allows you to pay for parking via SMS. When you are a registered user, you get a card to display behind your windscreen, which is linked to your mobile number and your license plate. If you park your car in an area where you have to pay, you simply send a text to switch paying on, and when you leave you send an SMS to switch it off. You pay per minute, for as long as you have parked. No more worries about being back in time, or finding a fine on your car because you are ten minutes late. Or: finding you only have a Euro coin with you, while all you need is to pay 50 cents, because you only have a short errand to run. Surely, the Parkline service costs a bit in membership (10 Euro registration, and 2,50 per month), but that’s a low fee, and easy to earn back.

Anyway, when I heard that Oberbürgemeister Elbers had launched a pilot for paying for parking via SMS in Düsseldorf last week, I was happy. This sounds like something great, and I had to see and test it for myself. The system is super simple to use: you find a spot to park your car, check at the pay-machine which number you have to use, and send an SMS with your license plate to that number. If you don’t add anything else to the message, you will be registered (and charged) for 1 hour. You can influence that by adding a dot and a number after your license plate. For example ‘.30’ for 30 minutes. You can pay in increments of 15 minutes, with a maximum of the limit of the allowed parking time. In Düsseldorf, as in many cities, you can only park for a limited amount of time in certain areas. The ease of use is almost phenomenal. On top of that, you can also download the app, which works nicely. The amounts get charged to your mobile phone subscription, so I reckon that tourists from other countries won’t be able to use the service.
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Littering Germans, and how the Litterati can help

A candy wrapper, one of my first Litterati finds

A candy wrapper, one of my first Litterati finds

As a dog owner, you get to walk quite a lot. And these dog walks are great for getting to know a new place of living: you get a feel of what’s around you, get to know other dog owners (well, okay, their dogs mostly), but you also get some impressions of the local peculiarities. One thing I noticed quickly while doing the regular walks with B in our new country, is that Germans like to litter. A lot. I was very surprised to find, in a country where every household has four containers for waste disposal, so much trash in the streets and forests. It’s appalling.

Now, I was thinking of how I could do something about it. I mean, just noticing all sorts of trash in all sorts of places is one thing, but noticing doesn’t change anything. I remembered the Liela Talka, or ‘Big Cleanup’ that is so popular in Latvia: one day on which the whole country goes out and cleans up. Now, there is an event like that in Germany. Actually: there are several. Düsseldorf has one, and Ratingen another. Both on different dates. Unfortunately, on the date the big cleanup in Ratingen took place, we were not at home. Then I realised it’s not about focusing the attention on one day. It’s about changing attitudes in every day life. So it’s about focussing on the everyday.

A mobile app would be a good idea, I thought. One in which people could take a picture with their mobile phone, add a geo-tag, and maybe some comments. With some aggregated data, you could go and talk to cities and municipalities to see what can be done about the littering: extra trash collection, more surveillance, education, more trashcans. All sorts of things. I even learned how to code Ruby for this end. I was hoping to be able to create that app then.

So, when I came across Litterati today, it was one of those things that the internet has enabled us to do for so long already: I connected with like-minded people from a completely different geographical location. And fortunately one who had taken a similar idea, and made an even better implementation of it. In a mashup of Instagram and Google Maps, he has created a digital landfill, and a map to show the impact of littering. But he has gone even further: he created a movement. Members of the Litterati movement not only take pictures of discarded items they see to share them on instagram (which reminded me of the Dutch Trashlog project from way back), they also pick it up and dispose of it properly. On the digital home of the movement, you can see all these photos (as long as they’re tagged in Instagram with the #Litterati hashtag), but also a map and other statistics. Great data to start a conversation with local governments and brands.

Needless to say, I’ve joined the movement.