It’s my last week in the Netherlands, and for a long time I’ve been meaning to do a little mini-series here about some of the things I think the Dutch do well. Thus I bring you: Dutch innovation week.
By now everyone knows the advantages of wireless internet access. For companies like Verizon, wireless is a new market and a new opportunity to make some money. For companies like McDonalds, wireless is a way to get some press attention and appear to be “cutting edge”. (Perhaps McDonalds should abandon its wireless initiative and adopt a technology that might actually be useful to their customers. See yesterday’s innovation: the Chipknip.)
Wireless internet, besides being convenient and (lets admit it) really cool, also has another huge advantage over wires: it’s cheap. The affordability of wireless internet enables access to spread to areas where it was otherwise financially prohibited. Imagine a non-profit organization seeking to harness wireless technology to connect an entire city to the internet at little or no cost to the users. That would be something like Wireless Leiden.
I was never able to get a signal while living in Leiden, but I love the idea and I wish them success.
Remember the marketing campaign for the “high-tech” American Express Blue credit card? The problem was that you really can’t improve much on a credit card, and making it clear and adding a useless microchip didn’t do much to impress. Perhaps though, American Express really was ahead of its time. They have that microchip in the Netherlands, but it actually has a use. Dutch innovation week continues with: the Chipknip.
The Chipnikp is a way to build a debt card into a bank card, but with wider acceptability. Next to the ATM there is a Chipknip machine where you can transfer funds into your Chipknip account. Then your bank card works just like cash.
The Chipknip is better than a US debit card in two important ways. First, it really does work like cash. It’s extremely fast and there are no receipts to sign. If you don’t have a bank account you can buy a pre-paid card to use, so the technology is accessible to even those with bad credit (or people like me who are just passing through and don’t want to open a bank account). Second, the Chipknip can be used for all kinds of little day to day purchases. You can get a Coke from the Coke machine, pay a parking meter, and buy groceries with one simple card.
Recycling is a good idea, but grinding down glass and re-forming it into new bottles every time someone drinks a beer is far from an efficient system. In the Netherlands, bottles are cleaned out, re-labeled, and re-filled. This is similar to U.S. domestic system of washing a glass instead of breaking it and building a new one every time someone wants a drink of water. As an added bonus, a lot of beer here comes in handy plastic carrying cases that also get reused. This reduces waste because there is no cardboard to throw out or recycle. Maybe this is why the beer here is so cheap.
Marketers use the term “direct mail” to refer to marketing with physical mail (commonly known as “junk mail” to the recipients). In the US at least, the term “opt-out” is gaining ground as a recognized affirmative request not to receive marketing emails (commonly known as “spam”). Why not combine the two concepts and provide a way for people to opt-out of direct mail?
It’s already possible to request removal from marketers’ mailing lists, but the Dutch have created a standard system for opting out of all types of post box advertising. Each mailbox clearly announces the type of advertising that is acceptable. A “Nee – Nee” sticker means the resident does not want any advertisements and a “Nee – Ja” sticker indicates that only local newspapers are acceptable, but not flyers. I’ve never seen a “Ja – Ja” sticker, but I suppose that’s assumed when there is no sticker.
The stickers show the power of standardization. There is never any confusion over what types of advertisements are acceptable in a particular mailbox. Even a discretion-less machine would be able to apply the residents’ requests. Imagine the same system applied to email: an inbound message would have a machine-readable content indication. You could adjust which ads you receive by changing the preferences of your email client (no need for creative filtering based on content – and thus no more pen1s emails trying to game the filter). In practice, of course, such a system has yet to materialize.
Bicycling is one of the most efficient means of transportation, but the bicycles can only truly be effective when a society builds the infrastructure to support them. While the US struggles to fit bicycles into a transportation system built for the ridiculously inefficient automobile, the Netherlands has created a system where both cars and bikes can peacefully coexist.
The density of Dutch cities allows people to travel shorter distances, thus encouraging biking over driving. Cars are not given many concessions. They’re not permitted on many narrow city streets and gasoline and parking are very expensive. Bike riders, on the other hand, enjoy ample free parking, access to nearly any road, and a dedicated lane on any car-shared road. In addition, the popularity of bicycles allows for cheap parts and widespread availability of maintenance shops. Biking in the Netherlands is for everyone. Businessmen commute on bikes and homemakers travel to the grocery store on bikes. Whereas bike riders in the US tend to be young, active people, the accessibility of bikes to all age groups and lifestyles in the Netherlands ensures that the standard means of transportation is an efficient one.
I remember seeing this poster when I was a kid standing in line at a movie theatre. I was amused by the contrast between the happy kids with movie-viewing giraffe for the Rated G movie and the dodgy looking unaccompanied man with sunglasses (well I guess I imagined the glasses) at the Rated NC-17 movie.
I happy to say that, over a decade later, movie rating explanations are still amusing. Behold: the Dutch system.
There are six possible evils in any given film in the Netherlands. Here are the logos they use – and my interpretation of each logo’s meaning:
This logo means there is liable to a rootin-tootin smack down in the film. This is also known as “violence”.
This “sex symbol” means that the movie will contain sex – and that the participants will not be wearing shoes.
The movie will contain giant blood-thirsty spiders. Arachnophobes beware.
Shots. This movie will have sharp syringes.
People feeling isolated / alienated. It will be like junior high – or is a movie about people in junior high.
This movie contains scenes of food poisoning or other ailments that induce the vomiting of large zig-zaggy worms.
It turns out I was wrong about most of the symbols – even when I was actually trying to think of what they’re supposed to represent. It wasn’t until I figured out how to spell “kijkwijzer” that I actually got the true meanings of these logos. (Language note: “ij” sound like “eye” in Dutch. Thus the Nile river is spelled “Nijl” here.) Anyway, kijkwijzer.nl explains what they actually mean.
Interestingly, the Dutch system allows even non-industry people to see the exact test for determining which warnings to display. For example, question 3.3.6 (used to determine whether the “fear” warning need apply) reads:
Are there extreme horror effects caused by the actions of recognizable living beings such as people, animals or insects?
. . . the term extreme horror effects includes . . . the man with the axe in The Shining
I spent yesterday afternoon checking out the Delta Project in the Zeeland province of the Netherlands. A large portion Zeeland (as in “sea land”) lies below sea level and is thus susceptible to flooding. In the 1950s, a large storm flooded much of the area and killed nearly 2000 people. In response, the Dutch undertook a huge project to build new dams to protect the area. The gem of the project is a massive sea barrier that does not normally interfere with the sea (and sea life) but that can be closed in the rare case of dangerously high water.
Here’s a picture of a portion of the barrier:
Check out the “BeerTender” that’s being heavily marketed here in the Netherlands (and is apparently available in Switzerland (in English) as well). It’s a little keg-like dispensing machine that apparently keeps the beer cold and fresh. It’s the kegarator for people with “sophisticated demands“. The Dutch version is sold by Krups, which almost gives the impression that it does something besides dispense beer.
As far as I can tell, only special Heineken mini-keg-things are compatible. This means you better like Heineken if you’re going to drop the € 249 for one of these things. Perhaps the buyer can find variety in the way the beer is poured.
Today was clearly the unofficial start of the spring season here in Leiden. Bar owners started setting up their outdoor seating and I even saw some kids taking a boat out on the canal. It was all due to the bright sun and warm (but not too warm) air.
Meanwhile, I got an email from BU informing me of a special number I could call to find out about snow cancellations and delays. It seems they’re having a bit of a storm back home.
Here’s the scene today outside a local bar in late afternoon: