Crime DOES Pay – Update

It was reported in today’s press that after an extensive bidding war, Amanda Knox, Americans ultimate Femme-fatale, is set to earned a reported $4 million (€3m) in a book deal inked this week for her unadulterated pulling-on-heart-strings account of her time behind bars during the Meredith Kercher murder trial. Whilst the real killer is yet to be convicted, Knox is merrily making a mint. Crime, it seems, really does pay, and quite nicely too!

Knox was convicted alongside her Italian boyfriend Rafaelle Sollecito, of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. However in a cruel twist of flawed Italian logic and law, she was released by the Italian courts and cleared of the murder, based on a legal technicality. The Italian prosecution, who maintain their adamant stance that Knox slit the throat of Kercher and then stabbed her multiple times in their shared apartment in the town of Perugia, have filed a petition appealing her release from prison last year.

In what was was described as a “heated” bidding war, publishing giant HarperCollins announced that the as-yet untitled memoir would go on sale in the US early next year. Doubtless to say that there may not be many takers on the book this side of the pond when it’s eventually published.

In a statement, Harper Collins said: “Knox will give a full and unflinching account of the events that led to her arrest in Perugia and her struggles with the complexities of the Italian judicial system. Aided by journals she kept during her imprisonment, Knox will talk about her harrowing experience at the hands of the Italian police and later prison guards and inmates.”

HarperCollins refused to confirm how much Knox will be paid for the book, but insiders have suggested it was at least seven figures, and probably close to $4 million (€3m).

Jonathan Burnham of HarperCollins said that Knox had studied creative writing in college, and would be writing the book herself with the help of an unnamed collaborator. No doubt those creative writing classes came in handy when she was being interviewed by the Italian police and prosecutors.

During her captivity, she was largely viewed in her own country an innocent victim of the chaotic Italian judicial system. In both Britian and Italy, however, Knox is seen rather differently, with some suggesting that she got away with murder.

She became notorious during the early investigation into Miss Kercher’s death after it emerged that she had turned a cartwheel in the police station soon after the murder, and was captured on television kissing Sollecito passionately. He is also said to be preparing to sell a book about the crime in Italy.

Miss Kercher’s family had called on Knox not to publish her story – her father called the American’s release from jail “ludicrous”.

So as predicted, Knox is using her notoriety and those despicable events to cash in and set herself up for life. The gravy train has only just left the station, there will no doubt be movie rights and TV appearances on the horizon, all the while, the Kercher family continue to mourn the loss of a beloved daughter and the fact that her real killer is making a mint.

The Universe Is How Big?

I stumbled upon this the other day, and was waiting to share it as the original link was broken and it only came back online yesterday.

What is so cool that’s worth waiting and worth sharing? Well, Cary and Michael Huang are 14 year-old twins from California, who cleverly created a cool tool that lets you see how BIG, or small, the things in the universe and world of quantum physics look when compared to everyday objects.

On both ends of the scale, it becomes increasingly difficult to truly visualise something as you zoom in and out, but done slowly enough, you can really see just how small our Earth is, and how many other things consider us as their own habitable universe.

Click here to have a go yourself…..oh, and I LOVE the music they used….a nice touch 🙂

Eye Candy – Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Greek digital artist Petros Vrellis used openFrameworks to create an interactive template of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. The touch interface which Vrellis created allows the viewer to repaint the piece of art.

As the viewer drags their finger across the painting, the dashed oil lines, Van Gogh’s signature style, react creating a river-like effect over the night sky. With each brush-stroke movement, a soft note of ambient music rings out too.

Vrellis’ technique has allowed an already beautiful piece of art, to take on a new life and creativity for the observer to enjoy and interact with.

Ice Skating – A Truly Dutch Passion

This weekend saw my first ever visit to the lovely Friesland, home of the famous black and white Frisian cows and the world famous ice-skating phenomenon known as the  Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour). Our trip happened to coincide with one of the best winters for ice skating in a long time. For those who are not in the know, the Dutch LOVE their ice skating. Friesland has produced quite a number of world class skating champions.

I could never understand the affinity for ice skating, and I think this was largely due to two things….one, my disdain for the cold, and two, the fact I could not skate. However Herself, a keen skater, decided to take up the task of teaching me how to stay upright on a pair of ice skates during our time in Ukraine. Having mastered the art of not falling down, I started to enjoy it more and more. But given that it has never been cold enough here in Holland to justify owning a pair of skates, we limited it to the winter ice rinks and boot rentals each year. My mastery of the cold was something that came much quicker though. When I lived in Finland for a spell, I was taught by my Finnish friends how to wear lots of thin cotton layers, covered by a thick wind proof layer to help keep me warm.

So suitably donned in long-johns and furs, we headed North for our first trip to Friesland. When we arrived at our little B&B (a gorgeous little place in Kimswerd, just south of Harlingen) we happened upon a huge gathering of skaters. At first I thought it might have been a race or something, there were that many of them. But when we went to explore, we noticed that it was just people out skating for fun. Mums, Dads, kids and babies in prams were all skating along from village to village. It was an amazing sight to behold. I can’t help but admit some pangs of jealousy to those little three year olds who could easily skate rings around me 🙂 In fact it seems that your average Frieslander is taught how to skate pretty much as soon as they’re able to walk….at least that’s what it looked like to us.

At dinner, we spoke with some skaters who stopped in for a hot chocolate on their way through. Some of them were skating 100-200 km’s that day. Armed only with warm clothes and a few snickers bars, they would skate from Leeuwarden, down to Heerenveen, across to Sneek, up to where we were in Harlingen and then back home to Leeuwarden. Having only mastered roller-blading myself, I could not even imagine myself being able to accomplish such a feat. And of course, these lovely Frisians were of the motto to enjoy the ice while it lasts. They are especially passionate about natural ice, getting all poetic and waxing lyrical about how different it is to skate on versus the ice on a skating rink.

Sadly they will have to wait perhaps another year to host the Elfstedentocht as the ice was not quite thick enough apparently. It’s been 15 years since they last held the event. Now that I have a new found respect for what’s involved, I will be cheering them on and hoping that the ice returns next year.

De nich will diken mut wiken”

Dutch Health And Dutch Work Ethic

I’ve known about this little chestnut for quite sometime, however, I was thankfully working for a very large U.S. IT multinational back then whose Amsterdam based team was made up predominantly of expats, who are naturally presupposed to hard work. The few Dutch that were employed, were either working in Sales (motivated purely on money and bonuses) or in Finance.

The Dutch finance staff, whilst not exactly clock watchers per se, weren’t exactly the ones I would have hired or kept on for very long. They always seemed to gripe about pay and working hours and would NEVER think about answering an email or phone call on their mobile after 6pm. Consequently, their griping about receiving less stock options and a smaller bonus when compared to the expats fell on deaf ears with the foreign minded managers. Afterall, reward is directly linked to performance.

An unusual trait of the Dutch staff was that they would share with one another their salary details, as though to kind of make sure that one wasn’t losing out or being left behind. As an Irishman, this openness towards openly telling everyone who you worked with, how much you were on, never sat well with me. I remember distinctly when I bought my house. A colleague asked how much I paid for it. Knowing full well that if I told her how much I paid, she could back calculate (roughly) how much I was on, I refused to tell her. She just laughed and said if she wanted, she could get the information from the Kadaster (land registry). I was completely taken aback that all this PRIVATE information, was laid bare for all and sundry, Mr. Jan Public, to see.

But one item that the Cloggies are NOT open about is their openness to discuss when they are unhappy with their work/manager/role (insert any other hierarchical issue here) and instead choosing guerilla style Employment Law tactics rather than choosing open and frank dialogue.

Where I worked (in Ireland and elsewhere across the globe) I have always proactively discussed issues and grievances with my management and colleagues, with the ultimate objective being to seek reconciliation and the ability to move on and get the job done. In the Netherlands however, they like to pretend that they have an open and communicative society. The reality is that it’s anything but. Sure, they will happily shoot down any idea that you might have, criticise left, right and centre, if something doesn’t meet with their approval and block anything that would ultimately result in more workload for them. What they never do (never is maybe too strong a word), rarely do, is position an alternative and work towards a consensus. And this is the bit that make me laugh.

They have what they call a “polder model”. The origins of this hark back to the days when they all lived in bogs and swamp and had to work together to drain the land and keep each others feet dry. In order to drain the land, and avoid drowning your neighbour, you would consult with them and agree on an action plan. Sounds idyllic, like something that would make sense in any boardroom or business meeting. Except that you’re dealing with Mr. Modern Dutchman, who is more interested in GETTING and less interested in GIVING. He expects his flashy company car (Audi of course), his two holidays per year, his annual bonus (irrespective of personal or company performance) and his 9 to 5 working hours (never working late or on a weekend….EVER). As soon as any idea conflicts with these core values, he downs tools and sulks in the corner. And if aggravated, he reverts to the guerilla tactics I mentioned earlier.

“What are these guerilla tactics?”, I hear you ask. It’s all to do with STRESS. Well, it really  revolves around the concept that the Dutch government does not want to have to pay anyone Social Welfare. If you consider that the rules here are that you are entitled to 70% of your previous salary (capped at €70k per annum) you can kind of understand the governments position. So they enacted all sorts of laws that make it prohibitively expensive and legally difficult to extricate non-performers from the work place. And it’s made all the more difficult since the Dutch adopted laws governing “stress in the workplace”.

Let’s be honest, stress is not something one can measure. Nor is it something that you can easily compare between one peer and another. One persons aptitude for doing a certain task might be significantly greater or less than a peer doing the exact same task. Thus the peer who has the lesser aptitude finds themself swamped with work, or harassed by other peers for “not pulling their weight”. But the Dutch law is simple. Rather than being able to fire and re-hire someone with the same “increased capacities”, the company must reassign the weaker individual somewhere else in the organisation where their skills are more suited. Even if it means that there IS NO SUCH POSITION. Sounds like pure madness to me.

This is effectively penalising companies who were perhaps duped into hiring a person who lied on a CV, bullshitted his way through the interview process (let’s face it, there ARE some idiotic managers out there too) and got himself hired into a position he was never qualified to perform.

So Jan Dutchman decides that come performance review time, he will ask to see the “Arbo Arts” (company doctor) and proceeds to give them some cock and bull sob story about how they’re stressed etc etc. It might not even be stuff going on at the workplace that’s stressing him out. He could be having a domestic with his wife for all we know, but suffice to say, the Arbo Doctor falls for it hook, line and sinker, and the employee leaves the office with a letter stating that he should only work 50% of his time (whilst receiving 100% of his money)!! Does it sound like madness to you now? Thought so!

It is then the companies responsibility to sit down with this same lazy and conniving SOB and work towards a solution whereby he can continue to perform and work within the organisation. Any attempt by the company to try and “manage him out” of the organisation would be viewed with contempt by a Dutch court, assuming it ends up there (and a lot of cases do). So you are now left with a discontented team who are picking up the slack from the slacker, a manager who’s tearing his hair out because he’s having to deal with the bullshit from HR and the Arbo Doctor over some jumped up little wanker, and God only knows what other ramifications you have across the company in terms of customer satisfaction, production, manufacturing etc etc etc.

In most cases, whenever someone goes to a Dutch doctor, they are prescribed paracetamol (or Biotex, depending on the ailment) and a few days bed rest. In this instance, they prescribe the bed rest for the employee, and frustration and stress for everyone else concerned. Wouldn’t it have been a much simpler solution to just fire the fucker and be done with it?


Modern Take On Traditional Matryoshka

Herself would love this. There are so many variations out there of the traditional Matryoshka (“Russian Doll” for the Anglophiles out there) but they all seem to be variations upon a theme….i.e. the dolls tell a story or depict a chapter of an epic Russian novel or life event.

But Taiwan-based studio Pistacchi Design created this clever wooden matryoshka, titled “Little Red,” based on the classic fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The crafted piece comes in three layers– Little Red Riding Hood sits inside the wolf, who is himself clad in  grandma’s cloak.

Beyond the delightfulness of incorporating such a familiar children’s story into the playful shape of the matryoshka, I love how the wolf peers out of pink cloak. A very clever, yet simple design alteration to the more traditional matryoshka – its a smart way of adding dimension to the matryoshka.