Sinterklaas is the only real one!

Let it be known, that I am of the firm opinion that the only real celebration of the mind expanding properties of psychedelic mushrooms saint that rewards the good and punishes the bad, is the Dutch Sinterklaas, not this imposter Santa Clause.

As one of my math professors convincingly argued in a time I was still quite impressionable:

  1. 17+ Million clear headed Dutchies can not be wrong. All those cola-advertising-indoctrinated ones can.
  2. Sinterklaas is on December 5th, Santa Clause is December 25th. Clearly the first is the first.
  3. If that is not convincing, Sinterklaas existed before the American culture that promotes Santa Clause existed. Again, the first is clearly the first, is clearly the correct one
  4. The elder Sinterklaas spends his off-time in a warm climate (Spain). The elder Santa Clause goes and hides on the North pole icecap. If you could fly anywhere anytime at several times faster than the speed of sound (to deliver all the packages), without breaking the sound barrier, and you were an older gentleman, where would you go?

QED

Categories: Fun

Coffee Exorcisms

Oh yes:

I do like this company’s consciously over the top branding. I’ve heard from a reliable source that they are on purpose stereotyping themselves. Love it, some nice conscious spiral dynamics blue “we vets!” to have orange financial result, for once not pampering to the childish version of green that is going around now.

Tongue tricks

Doing a meditation, I had a random idea to make a post on tongue tricks I know of. Without further ado, here it is.

  • When running, keep your tongue inside your teeth, even if you are panting: as pointed out to me by a Krav Maga trainer, you don’t want your tongue caught between your teeth if you can fall or be hit on your jaw. This took a small bit of attention to practice and soon it became my default.
  • When you have an urge to sneeze and don’t want to sneeze, rub your tongue against the palate of your mouth (i.e. the ribbed part on the upper part of your mouth). For some reason this suppresses the sneezing impuls (conflicting sensations in the same nerve bundle?). Interestingly, it does not work the other way around: rubbing the palate of your mouth does not have you sneeze.
  • When you have muscle tension in your jaw, relax the muscles and use your tongue to slightly open your mouth. Much more relaxing!
  • When you are playing with energy, especially micro-cosmic orbit, place the tip of your tongue gently on the palate of your mouth (I rest it against my front teeth). Supposedly this helps guide the energy down again. All I know is that it helps prevent headaches I got doing energy play without this.

My practical (air)travel trips

I travel quite a bit for work and pleasure, and have for a few decades. Here are some practical tips I have for you.

Preparation (weeks-days before travel)

  • Invest in the best active noise cancelling earphones you can afford and that fit you best. I love my Bose 20i. I prefer in-ear earplugs, but the over-ear Bose 35i and Sony WH1000XM3 work really well too (they are a bit hot to wear, and the Sony one’s Bluetooth handling is less elegant as it will not easily switch between two users. The reduction of the onslaught on your ears and the resulting stress on your system is worth more than any class upgrade if you are in a bind. I can’t emphasis this enough: invest in a good noise cancelling headphone.
  • Consider buying passive earplugs for sleeping: if you cover the microphones of the active noise cancellers they will typically give you a high screeching tone. Plus I don’t like having wires around my throat when I’m sleeping: I prefer not to garrotte myself. I like 3M’s 1100 Orange rounded earplugs or more recently my custom made earplugs from Alpine.nl.
  • Go into the travel with enough sleep. Going in with a sleep-debt will make the effects of jetlag much worse, and it will take longer to recover from it. Plus with low sleep you’ll be more tempted to eat crap food.

Preparation (just before the trip)

I have a check-in/carry-on suitcase (currently Samsonite B-Light 3 with 2 wheels) ready for travel nearly all the time. The week before a trip I have it open in my bedroom and fill it with the specific items I need for an upcoming trip as I bump into them (Getting Things Done style inbox filing ;-)).

I also have my daily-carry/designated carry-on backpack (currently North Face Kaban (older model)) which is always ready for day to day meetings and for air travel (fluids only in an external pouch, no sharps, etc).

That carry-on backpack also contains a change of clothes, just in case my check-in goes missing for a few days (rare) or I get caught in rain/manage to dirty my clothes (less rare). I’ve packed, in waterproof ziplock bags, wrinkle-free business casual clothes:

  • 1 Mizzen and Main shirt (doesn’t wrinkle, looks professional, does not sweat, does however love to absorb coloured liquids spectacularly).
  • 1 Nike Golf pants (looks like formal pants, stretches and dries like sport clothes, hard to get dirty and easy to clean)
  • 2 changes of underwear
  • 2 pairs of socks (with my Vibram 5fingers I get wet feet easily)
  • 1 waterproof trenchcoat from Patagonia (if I’m not wearing it)
  • Take a biggish (1 or 3 liter) ziplock bag, and put the items you need available at your seat in there. This allows you to quickly and without fuss settle into your seat. If you practice putting your stuff back in after using, you also won’t lose items as you leave again. As an added bonus, that bag probably is also exactly the electronics that you have to pull out at the security screening anyway, making that process much less stressful (and more efficient for other travellers like me too ;-)).
  • Consider packing:
    • Apple travel Adapter Kit (or equivalent), with the plugs of all your stops on the way. Consider to add the UK one too: I’ve found that the power plugs often don’t hold power supplies with US prongs at all, and poorly with the European ones. This is the one place where I really like the massive UK power prongs: they keep the power supply nice and snug even in turbulence.
    • Short USB charge cables for your phone, tablet and noise cancelling headset.
    • A good eye mask.
    • A small pen, and if you like that, a note pad.
  • Pack any item that is a liquid/gel in a good ziplock back of max 1l. Not only will that allow you to efficiently pull it out if it is in your carry-on luggage, but it will also save you much grief should it accidentally open/leak in your check-in luggage.

During the trip

  • Drink plenty of water: Simply accept every offer of water.
  • Stay away from alcohol: Alcohol dehydrates you, and degrades the sleep quality significantly. You might feel a bit better dulling yourself from the travel stress with the alcohol, but you are paying a heavy price for this after the flight. I advise meditation and binaural beats as an alternative for handling the stress of the travel.

Professional-paranoid tips

  • Consider putting a 3M privacy shield on your laptop. It severely reduces how much your neighbours can see and how much they are disturbed by your laptop’s light. (Disadvantage: it is glossy, especially the gold side, so it makes the screen a bit less clear. A privacy shield also interferes with a blue-filtering screen. Do install F.lux.)
  • Consider the environment and prefer seats with no people behind you. People do look on your screen. I know I can’t help but notice that presentation or business plan…
  • As usual, always lock your computer when you are away from it. Don’t leave it unattended in waiting rooms and such of course.
  • Put some TSA approved locks on the zippers of your backpack, and connect them together.

Flying business class: decadent waste of money or cost-efficient use of time?

I’m writing this half-way between Europe and the US. Decadently in business class.
I used to consider this was an extravagant decadence, a waste of money. Money was scarce, not mine to spend, or both. A typical ticket from Europe to the US costs about €400-600 per leg. The upgrade costs to business class is typically €300-600 per leg extra. That is a lot of money to spend on more personal space for ±8-10 hours.

And now that money isn’t scarce, but my time is, I’ve come to the conclusion that business class is actually cheaper for me financially. This surprised me (pleasantly ;-)). Below is my reasoning.

Yes: Getting work done

Flying in business class gives me room to put my laptop in an ergonomically ok distance (display is still too low, but there is not much to do about that), without fights for my elbow space or visibility on my screen.
As a result, I typically get a solid 4-6 hours of work done (no distractions), which pays for the upgrade costs. So this is money-cost neutral from just the work I can do on the plane.

Yes: less travel stress, more availability

Meanwhile, I travel much more comfortably, resulting in much less stress on my body and mind. I also get a good 2-3 hours of nap/meditation. The result is that I arrive in a much better physical state, with much less recovery time and energy costs. This saves me a good 1-2 days of crappy recovery from jetlag at the destination.
The improvement in my quality of life is totally worth it as a person, and me being immediately fully functional for work alone pays for the business class ticket in the 1-1.5 days of productivity that comes from that. Let alone the much deeper impact I can make from being resourced.

Conclusion: Heck yes!

So, now I decadently enjoy both the time saving and money making travel in business class.

Jet-setting and working hard,
Wouter

P.S. Regardless of the travel class, I have some tips that make travel much easier.

99Designs experience: tragedy of the commons

To make this blog ready for wider distribution, I ran a 99Designs campaign to design a new logo for Wouter.org.
I didn’t have a good experience with 99Designs, even though it came well recommended by Tim Ferriss. This is what I suspect is happening:

The game’s rules and impacts

I have the impression that game theory is well at work here, and the results I’m seeing are because 99Designs set up the rules of the game in a specific way.

The beginning is a delicate time

As the campaign starts, the client (me) is instructed by 99Designs to give the designers low marks. I suppose the intent is to prevent you giving the highest marks immediately, and then there is no way to exceed them, but this way early submissions get penalized just for being early, even if they are great. I frequently went back to earlier designs to check if I should not actually increase their rating.

Mono-culture is not a good thing

Apparently designers can see each other’s designs and my ratings of those designs. The designers follow a strategy of going for the path of least risk of offending me (and not the path of the greatest difference).

As a result the earlier designers have the cost of finding a style that gets high scores from the client, and other artists then copy or expand only on that. The result is a lot of the same designs, and earlier designers risk being ripped off.

Then again, the earlier designs do get more attention from the client and more chances to adapt the designs.

I’ve had several “designers” that blatantly submitted replicas of earlier submissions. Part of this is of course, natural evolution, part of this does seem… opportunistic to me.

Series 1 of the convergence

OriginalLogo copies - 3Logo copies - 2Logo copies - 4Logo copies - 6Logos 2 - 5

Series 2

Original round logo by redboy_s https://en.99designs.nl/profiles/2135575 Copy cat logoCopy cat logoCopy cat logo

I think the only real way to counter this a bit as the client, is to give comments to designs, but no ratings. This might work because the comments are not visible to the others, but the changed designs will be.

Vying for attention

Near the end of the first phase, there was a clear “ballot stuffing” moment, where artists put up a series of very similar designs or even the same logo in various angles, in an apparent attempt to crowd out the others.

Another attempt to garner more attention, was sending standard or effectively empty messages. Apparently “.”  is the smallest message allowed to be sent, as it brings up the design also on the messages.

(The messaging system of 99Designs has a mediocre user interface. It was completely unclear to me what messages were new and unread. It also accepted new designs after the deadline and sent me emails about it, but were not actually shown on the website.)

Voting for your own

This didn’t surprise me to see: designers did of course vote for their own design in the poll (again, apparently the polls are also not hidden to the designers).

Redboy voting for his own design
Redboy voting for his own design

But of course, this is now also “crowd sourced”: clear ballot stuffing by cohorts of the designers was also visible:

Peer "support"
Peer “support”
Peer "support"
Peer “support”

Steering this game?

So, I was wondering just how I could turn this blatantly opportunistic behaviour to my advantage as a client.

It is not the brief

I don’t think you can use the brief (the initial instructions to the designer) effectively: only a few of the artists read the brief (it explicitly told the designers to not mimic handwriting if it was not mine, which a lot did not follow). Only one explicitly referred to the brief’s content, and included an appreciation of this (he is also the original artist using my own writing and the red “.org“, and did not end up updating his design so did not make it to the finals).

Some spectacularly did not read the brief, including misspelling my name:
Logos 2 - 4

There is no feedback mechanism

I could not find a “ban this designer” or “mark this designer as …” mechanism for feedback. I have no idea how feedback works in this domain.

All in all I got a good logo out of this exercise, helped significantly by help by the readers.
However, if you know a good graphics designer, or know someone who knows one, I’d advise going that route. This isn’t particularly cheap and in the end the whole group behaved as a single designer anyway.

With kind regards,
Wouter

99Designs logo design experience

As you early readers of my blog know, I had a design “contest” using 99Designs for a new logo. I’ll have another post on how the economics of 99Designs lead to some less desirable results.

This post however, is about how selection of the logo happened.

Setting context: The brief I gave

Title: “Create a clearly personal, yet elegant logo and FB header” by Wouter.org.

The tone I want to convey is me (Wouter, my first name, masculine) talking to you (the reader), one on one, person to person, not with a lot of attention on me but also not shrinking that it is me you are talking to. I’d love the logo to be very similar to my own handwritten Wouter, or quite different but inspired. The total domain name “Wouter.org” has to be quickly understandable, with .org clearly part of it.
I’ve also attached some pictures of me for possible inspiration on the header files. All are mine in terms of copyright and can be used for this.

Lessons learned

Cross cultural experiences

An important practical detail for me was that the total domain name “Wouter.org” would be immediately clear. This brought up interesting multi-cultural perspectives. As the logo was based on my (arguably not so readable) handwriting, I found out that the t is crossed differently in the US for example. I did not know that cursive writing varied that much!

Voting isn’t that distinctive

I set out a poll with friends to ask for feedback.
It turned out that the actual voting itself wasn’t as useful to me as I expected, as the voting results were pretty close to each other:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.23Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.38Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.56Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.50.13Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.50.30Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.50.48

Interestingly there was quite a bit of “love or hate”, i.e. designs having lots of votes in both the “1: hate it” and the “5: love it”. My conclusion: this design does stir things with the viewer. 😉

Text remarks are most actionable

Getting specific comments from people turned out to be the most useful. I could spot common themes in what worked and did not work for people, and those who had experience in graphic design gave detailed feedback.

However, quite often that feedback was completely contradicting the previous feedback in impressively new ways. The first feedback would say some aspect of the logo was very unclear, the other immediately saw me and my name in it, the third said it wasn’t me and the ‘t’ should be different.

In the end I, Wouter, make the decision

So, with conflicting signals, ultimately this was my decision to make and hold. Not much different from my technical work and other leadership positions 😉

So I decided for the one that felt the most authentically me.

Wouter.org logo
Wouter.org logo

It looks really good on shirts and a business card!

With gratitude (and a new logo),
Wouter