Naval Innovation Environments

One of the things that can be very helpful for innovation is clustering companies that are in the same sector but are not direct competitors.

In the naval sector this is no different, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the recreational harbor or Bruinisse last weekend. This large harbor (1.400 places) has a very good mix of companies. For example, they have a store for supplies, but also a boat sales company for both new and second-hand boats and two large halls were boats can be serviced indoors in a sheltered environment.

All together this creates a very fertile environment for innovation, where the companies can create new products and services together which they can immediately try on their customers which lay in the port.

It all looks quite new, and so at the moment I can’t find any news about innovations coming from there, but the environment has been shaped. And so it’s an interesting place to keep an eye out for any future boating related innovations.

And as a bonus, the parking lot has some very special stripes 🙂

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Strategy Redefinition of a Transportation Company

Over the past few years the Dutch train operator Nationale Spoorwegen (NS) was not performing as was expected from them.

For example, they ordered high-speed trains which fell apart during a snow storm, they have a shortage in trains (and seats) that led them to some ‘creative‘ solutions as they like to call them and they played an unfair game for a tender in the south of the Netherlands.

All together this led to part of the top management leaving the company and the need for a revised strategy. This week they presented this revised strategy and there are some interesting things (and some open doors) in it.

The revised strategy builds on three parts:

  • Better performance on the main lines (open door, there is still room for improvement and there will probably always be so they should always be striving for optimal performance)
  • Taking care of the stations (interesting, they want to improve the total journey by making the stations more attractive)
  • Contribute to a better door-to-door journey (interesting since they are cutting away almost all of the transport that is not related to the main lines)

This is quite a shift from the previous strategy, where it was mainly about being the biggest and being in control everywhere, either through their main name NS or through one of their subsidiaries such as Qbuzz or Abellio.

With the new strategy they adopt a more open strategy, focussing on co-operating with the other partners such as the network operator and the competitors instead of trying to do everything themselves.

Quite a bold move, since it also means that they are saying goodbye to certain parts of the company and so a large part of the staff. Not very surprising that not everybody is happy with this, including the work council.

Still, I think that it is a wise decision to step back and focus only on what they can do best and leaving other parts of public transport to other companies. Only by leaving it all to them the trust between them can grow, since it can be hard to work together and trust a party which is also bidding on a tender you’re involved in in another part of the country. The added trust can then be used to create the better door-to-door journey

So all together I think it is a wise move.

One final thing which is out of their zone of influence and which I believe is a bit weird is that their shareholder demands that 7% of the profit is paid to them each year as dividend. This is not so special for normal companies and maybe a bit low, but it’s different when you consider that the only shareholder is the Dutch State (in the form of the Ministry of Finance) and that they also see that the NS has a social function (so making sure that the Netherlands has an affordable public transportation system).

My personal opinion on this point is that I believe that the largest part of the profit could better be used by NS to reinvest in their company, for example by buying more trains or by not raising fares, instead of money flowing to the state which can them maybe invest it in the railroads. Or maybe not. Depends on where the money is needed according to the State.

I am specifically not saying here that there should be absolutely no dividend payments, but I personally think that a little less could also be fine, and that the NS should use most of their profits to improve their company.

Nevertheless I still think that the strategy is a wise move and I’m curious about what the future will bring for them, as
 the first changes are already happening.

Testing the Elinchrom Ringflash Eco

Although I had this one for over a month, I still didn’t have the time to test drive until last week (at least not for it’s intended purpose, as third off-camera light it had already been used).

The Elinchrom Ringflash Eco can be seen as an integral part of the Elinchrom Quadra/ELB system. It’s small, but still quite powerful at a relatively low weight (that is, for a ring flash, overall I still had to put it down every once in a while to rest my arms, but also my girlfriend was able to take shots with it without complaining about the weight).

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And the results are what one might expect from it: The classical ring-light touch. I topped it off by putting two regular Quadra heads behind me for some kicker lights, and voila, it worked very well.

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Just one small note. The quite large 24-120mm from Nikon can sometimes be a little bit too small for the ringflash. On the other hand, the effect of backfiring light created some very nice haze points due to some dirt on the lens, which is a nice artistic touch.

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So far so good. I will not give a full in-depth review about the details. I’d just like to conclude by saying that it is a very competitive product at a reasonable price when you’re looking for a real ringflash (so not an extension of your on-camera flash).

First Large Scale Urban Smart Grid in the Netherlands

Decentral power producers such as solar panels & wind power have a positive impact on the environment. On the electricity grid, however, there impact is much less positive.

Since these sources are under the constant influence of the weather it is very hard to predict exactly how much they will produce at a certain moment in time. However, for a stable electricity grid you want to have the production and use in balance which is very hard this way.

One simple way to overcome this problem is by adding temporary storage facilities in the grid which can take up the power when there’s an excess and release it during periods of shortage.

At some points dedicated systems are built for this, but with the rise of Electric Vehicles an enormous amount of batteries are available for a large amount of time during the day (a car is used on average for 46 minutes per day according to this study). The only point is that you don’t want to have full batteries when you want to drive from home to work or vice versa, but for the rest of the day the car can be used for storage.

A couple of years ago a small pilot started in the city of Utrecht to test this concept. In the past year the first field trials were held with this concept of car batteries used for storage and now it has been decided to enlarge the project to the entire region where thousands of chargers will be transformed so they can be used for this concept.

Really cool to see that this new concept is now growing to a larger scale. Now if they would only switch to DC it would make it even better, but there should be something left to do in the coming years.

What To Do With Empty Department Stores?

For over a 100 years the V&D was a big brand in the Dutch store landscape. But last week it was officially euthanized after not making a profit for over 20 years and so the Dutch inner cities have a lot of extra empty space.

In total about 360.000 m2 of space was occupied by in total 62 different stores for which now a new use has to be found.

One of the options is that a new company starts its own department store. This was tried by Cool Investments, but they didn’t get the business case complete so this didn’t work out. Rumors are that Hudson’s Bay is trying to take over part of the stores to start some of their own formulas, but they will also only fill part of the stores and I think it is clear that a lot needs to be changed in order for a department store to be viable.

Luckily there are also some more creative people in this world. They see an empty building, and lots of options. A few of these:

  • In Deventer a group of people want the building to be remodeled into a large discotheque. Currently 1152 people like this idea on Facebook, but the potential is higher for Den Haag, were 3764 people like this same idea for the building in the Hague.
  • In the east of the country the people are hoping for a food market. Where Rotterdam has the Markthal, people in Zwolle, Hengelo and Enschede have some feelings for their own food market in the empty buildings.
  • Or restructure the entire building. Convert the top floor(s) to apartments and put a large series of small shops in the rest of the building. Not chosen as a option yet, but potentially attractive to counter the rise in empty shops in the smaller cities.
  • Some cities are even considering putting the public library in the empty building, such as the city of Oss.
  • There are even people suggesting to turn it into entertainment halls including casinos, cinema’s and even go-kart places, or to use it for temporary housing for refugees.

Creative ideas, but the most creative I’ve found must come out of my birth place.

Already at the beginning of the year the website iDordt presented the idea of taxi driver Herman. For this you have to know that the Dutch marihuana system is a bit weird, where you aren’t allow to grow more than 5 plants, but as a coffeeshop you may have 500g in store. But how they get is a very dark area, so this taxi driver had a plan to change it all.

The entire store in Dordrecht should be converted into a giant coffeeshop, where weed is grown on the top floor. For this, youngsters which have trouble finding a job could do some on-job training, and the problem of knowing where to get the stuff is also solved.

The rest of the building (the other 2 floors) should then be converted to large relax areas, and maybe so room to sell home grow kits.

You can think of it whatever you want, but the award for the most creative solution definitely goes to this idea.

 

Some Thoughts on the Elinchrom ELB-400

A few years ago I became the proud owner of an Elinchrom Quadra set. A remarkable piece of flash technology that combines the power of a studio flash with the size of a large strobist system.

Moving a few years forward in time, Elinchrom presented the Elinchrom ELB-400, an evolution of the Quadra. The idea and form are the same, but at some points it has seen some big improvements. And so I now added one of these boys to my system.

I will not go into full depth here and write a review highlighting all the differences between the new and the old system since plenty of these can be found online. I just want to share what I like about it. Cause I do like it, a lot.

The most obvious upgrade compared to the Quadra comes from the redesigned top panel, which allows you to easily adjust all your settings without having to go through all kinds of numbers in the menu. Right now it is just a very simple system where you can go up and down and click on what you like. So you can for example choose easily between one of the twelve different ready beeps. Maybe not the first thing that you’d like to change, but you will do it at some point because it is just so easy.

Furthermore it has a lot of internal upgrades which you won’t use often, and I’m also still finding out a lot of the system, but so far it has been wonderful to use.

And maybe the most important reason to buy a second system, you won’t have to run extra long cables to the second flash head with all risks associated, you can just put the second system there.

The only shoot so far in which I have put the system to a real test has been the gymnastics shoot, but I’ll try to shoot some more in the coming weeks to show here.

The header was shot using the combined system, but due to a failing skyport only the front set triggered. Still, the visual slave function does work very well on the system as I learned that day.

Cropped Facades

In my neighborhood a lot of new buildings are erected, and most of them are quite high. Since they all have a maximum height (depending on the ground quality here), there isn’t much competition on how high they can become.

On the other hand, the facades are the point to compete on, considering the wide variety that can be found there.

I’ve made it into a small project to capture these facades, thereby focussing only on the facades and cutting of all other things around it, such as the sky. These are just a few of these shots from this series.

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Data Visualization: A True Stakeholder Map

During my internship at Grontmij I had so extra time during the summer during which I was waiting for feedback on my thesis. This was’t really what I hoped for, but on the other hand I was presented with a wonderful other assignment which I otherwise wouldn’t have had time for.

As a large engineering company Grontmij gets most of its large assignment through tenders. For this they always have to go through multiple rounds and present and write multiple reports, which means that it is always necessary to keep in some creativity to try out new things to keep both the teams and the clients awake.

During the summer a tender was held for all engineering design for the refurbishing of a several km long road that has to become the most sustainable road that is possible. One of the most important scoring points for this tender was showing that you (as a company) were not looking inward but that you had a stakeholder network in the area, and another large scoring point was sustainability in any way possible. This has led the team to talk to a variety of stakeholders and to ask them to think with them about how they could help make the road (and nearby area) as sustainable as possible.

After these talks they compiled a nice table of the stakeholders including what they could do for the project. The information in it was fine, but in this way absolutely useless for a tender document. Luckily there are many creatives in this world, and so one (not me) came up with the idea of putting all the stakeholders on a map from which it could somehow become clear what they were offering.

At this point I came in. I was handed the list, a Google maps screenshot on which the location of most stakeholders was shown and the assignment to figure something out to make it work visually.

I somehow figured that it would be nice to use a hexagon (since hexagons are often used in nature, think for example of a bee-hive) around which the different types of help from the stakeholder could be placed. This led to six different types of help, each with their own symbol, with right in the middle the number that was given to that stakeholder. On the map only the types of help provided by the stakeholder would be shown, all other types of help are left out. In the figure below the legend of this can be found.

Tekening N470 step2

The next step was creating an actual underlay for the stakeholders, so first of all the main characteristics of the landscape were formed in a land-use sketch (often used in architecture to create a quick overview of a landscape or building) to which the main roads, railroads and waterways were added. Also the names of the cities were placed on the respective places in the form a sign that is also normally used in the Netherlands for this. Later on the exact borders of the cities were added to clarify it at certain points. This led to the map below.

Tekening N470 step1

The final step in creating the map was putting all the stakeholders on their respective spots and adding their types of help. In one area a specifically high concentration of stakeholders was found which meant that a loupe was added to magnify this piece (idea stolen from this). That led to the following completed map (without the names of the stakeholders).

Tekening N470 step3-02

In order to incorporate the map into the plan of action two pages had to be used, which meant two pages less text. As a workaround it was decided to make it into a cover for the plan. This meant adding a gutter in the middle, adding some extra text and refining the lay-out. In the end this was used as the cover (with the logos of the stakeholders on the right-hand side).

Voorpagina N470 PvA Final

Unfortunately the tender was lost to a competitor, but I’m sure that it wasn’t due to the work that we did in those weeks and the creation of this awesome stakeholder map.

Caught Mid-Air

I’ve got one shoot which is returning every year, just because everybody just really likes it. Each year around Christmas I meet up with the ladies selection gymnasts of DVO Dordrecht for a shoot where I freeze them at special points in time.

The business idea is always simply the same, I offer them the shots for their PR, and I can sell them to the gymnasts. Very simple, but most of all we just have fun doing this.

Hope you enjoy these shots!

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The Idea Behind The Graphic Design of My Thesis

As with everything, it all starts with a good content, and can be finished of with good looks. A thesis is not much different in that, and so I did put some time in coming up with a good design for mine.

I’ll take you through some of the ideas behind the design of the entire document, from title to logo to layout.

Title

First of all, the title. While doing my research I was literally mapping all the different policy instruments that are available for direct current and sustainable energy in general.

When the map has been created, the next step was looking for any gaps in the instruments that need to be filled for the development of DC. Hence, the title became: “A gap in the map?”

The logo

ACDC Kleuren Logo-01

Next, the logo. For the design I took the idea of a map and of four different islands under which the different instruments could be classified (this later changed in the final version, but for the logo this was better).

Another relevant discussion is the one between Alternating Current (AC), the current standard, and Direct Current (DC), the new technique. The technicalities don’t matter for the design, but the difference between AC and DC could be easily shown as four ‘islands’, namely A, C, D & C. Put together in a square you automatically see them, while also seeing the difference.

Then the coloring of the logo. For this I looked at the colors of the logos of the companies the research was done for. Using Google I found these color cards for Grontmij and ABN AMRO. From these cards I took the main color and first accent colour of Grontmij and ABN AMRO to fill the blocks. For the letters AC the main colors were used to emphasize the dominant position of AC, whereas the first accent colors were used for DC to show that it is less well known than AC.

As a final touch I added a photo of an office building as background effect to emphasize that the research took place in an office building.

Lay-out, images and tables

Page10MScThesis

Moving on to the further lay-out of the document, I used a two column layout with white borders with widths as determined by the University. The titles of the chapters, as well as the introductory paragraph span two columns, whereas all the main text is placed into one column. Images are either one or two columns wide, depending on the amount of information in the image.

For the text a combination of fonts was used. While searching online I found this website on which a series of nice font combinations is presented. I opted for the combination of Helvetica Bold and Garamond. This combination works very well. with the sans serif Helvetica (bold) for all the titles and headings and with serif Garamond to make reading easy.

For the chapter titles the colour blue of Grontmij was used, whereas for the (subheadings) gray and black have been used. All main text was also in black. One notable exception are the numbering of the tables and images. For this the words Image/Table and the number were shown in green (for the images) and blue (for the tables).

Page2425MScThesis

As a final design aspect I chose to (re)draw any images in the green color of the ABN AMRO logo, and all tables used the blue of the Grontmij logo for accents.

When adding all these elements together it created a very professional look which has supported the contents of the report. And probably had a positive impact on my grade as well, but that can only be guessed.

Fotografie en Innovatie – Net even anders