Lessons in eco-friendliness. From grade school.

The Howe Dell Primary School

Copenhagen 2009 was an unmitigated disaster. The leaders of our free world proved once again that they’d much rather run around in circles, sulk a lot and make a mess of things – like school children out on a fucking picnic.

Elsewhere on the planet, another bunch of school children could actually teach them a thing or two about the environment.

The Howe Dell Primary School in Hatfield, England (you can check out their awfully designed, but well-meaning, website here), is a study in sustainability. Many of the materials used in its construction come from recycled sources (the desks are made of drainpipes). Solar heating panels warm up water. Skylights fill the classrooms and corridors with rich daylight. Thick exterior walls and window glasses reduce heat loss. Photovoltaic panels within the structure – and wind turbines nearby – supply electricity. The school’s green philosophy extends to the curriculum as well, with students being taught (among other things) to develop personal responsibility for the environment.

The playground outside is an integral part of the school in more ways than one: It’s the world’s first Inter-seasonal Heat Transfer (or IHT) system.

The tarmac of the playground conceals an ingenious solar panel, which captures energy through an asphalt solar collector and stores it away in a computer-controlled thermal storage facility underneath. Why is that so cool? Because, ordinarily, energy collected would either have to be exhausted immediately or stored, with considerable loss, in the form of electricity. The IHT system effectively stores heat (for warming the building during winters) and cold too, to be released during the summers. The system is intuitive, so it adjusts to changes in weather patterns and stores the energy accordingly.

Technological acronyms and trivia aside, the results of this project are nothing short of spectacular. The heat transfer system saves over 50% of carbon emissions compared to using a gas boiler for heating – and over 80% of carbon emissions compared to using standard air-conditioning for cooling.

Increasingly these days, ordinary citizens, civic bodies and organisations are environmentally-aware. They are more receptive/collaborative towards ideas of sustainability than some others who should be. Wish that our world leaders would take the hint and grow up.

P.S. The Howe Dell School is part of a series of ongoing, experimental (why don’t I like the sound of that?) projects supported by the Carbon Trust, a non-profit organisation set up by the UK government. So at least one nation seems to have its go-green agenda in the right place 🙂

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Commerce for a cause (with a little help from technology).

The Footprints Network

I am what you might label a tech buff or tech geek (or that ghastly one, tech-freak). Yet, oddly enough, I don’t believe technology has always made our lives better. Thankfully, Australian-based NGO Footprints has a more optimistic outlook on the subject. It pushes technology to fund community development projects around the world – using a mechanism to collect micro-donations at partner e-commerce sites.

It’s simple, really. Imagine you are at the checkout page of an online store that’s partnered with Footprints. There’s a small box below asking you if you’d like to make a small donation towards a charitable cause. It’s similar to those plastic receptacles you see at real-life stores where you can show your support for CRY or Helpage. Except that all this is happening online. And you don’t have to fish in your pockets for small change – just click on the checkbox.

At a time when Corporate Social Responsibility is such a big deal, Footprints provides a tangible solution. While shielding customers from the complex behind-the-scenes tech. Partner companies can easily incorporate the downloadable Footprints API into their websites. After some requisite back-end integration, there you have it: your very own ready-to-roll CSR initiative!

In all fairness, it’s for a good cause. And it’s heartening to see companies like Footprints use (or at least attempt to use) technology for that unquestionably noble intention i.e. to heal the world.

P.S. The Footprints API is completely free and customisable. So if you have a client (or if you are one), you can easily tailor-code it to suit the product category or charity of your preference.

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So you wanna watch a TV spot? – Part 1

Levi’s 501 – Procession
There was a time when you used to look out for the next Levi’s 501 spot. Here’s a blast from the past that is all about THE MOOD, baby. Shot on location at one of my favourite places in the whole wide world: New Orleans.

Agency: BBH
Director: Michael Haussman

Polaroid – Resignation
Superb visual storytelling from one of my favourite ad- and feature-film directors. Fantastic editing, music…and did I mention that the spot was in Japanese? Not that it matters 🙂

Agency:  BBH
Director: Michel Gondry

Lexus ES – Cards
What do a world-record beating cardstacker and a luxury car have in common? More than you think. Meticulously orchestrated and flawlessly executed, this spot for the Lexus ES is a class-act. Although, I don’t much care for the old geezer who did the voice-over!

Agency: Team One
Director: Dante Ariola

British Airways – Musical Chairs
Usually I hate seeing cute, cuddly kids being used in ads. Unless it’s for something like the one below, for British Airways. A great piece of work from the good ol’ days with possibly the best casting I’ve ever seen in a TV spot.

Agency: M&C Saatchi
Director: Stuart Douglas

Nike Football – Leave Nothing
Somewhere between filming his stylish urban noirs Heat, Collateral and the more recent Public Enemies, director Michael Mann took a break to craft this jaw-droppingly awesome tour de force for the NFL’s opening season. The coolest thing about it? Oh the music’s fab, but the editing is classic.

Agency: Wieden+Kennedy
Director: Michael Mann

Agency: Team One, LA
Director: Dante Ariola

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Saving your souls, one TV commercial at a time.

Lonely TV Set

Now that you’ve watched those accursed Vodafone ZooZoo commercials for the zillionth time and unwittingly participated in the most turgid viral sensation in recent years 😉 let’s move on. I’ve been collecting some cool (in my opinion) TV spots over the years – on to my CDs, DVDs and hard disks. Not the grainy, pixelated junk that ends up on YouTube. I’m talking hi-quality videos.

Starting today, I’ll be posting some here every week – sharing the goodness with the world, so to speak. Not all of them have won awards (although some of them are way up there). Not all of them are well-known (some were created for specific markets). But each and every one of them is imaginative, engaging and intelligent. So sit back. Relax. And enjoy the show.

P.S. Oh and folks? Do feel free to comment.

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Hey, how you doin’?

OK, I confess. After the first 2 posts I sort of disappeared from the scene. Poof! Vanished. Hell no, it wasn’t a bad case of Writer’s Block (that maybe later!). I’ve been doing some behind-the-scenes work actually. Sprucing up the blog. Fine-tuning the layout. Looking for bugs. Adding video functionality, testing the player…you know, geeky stuff. Something tells me most of you will dig the next post 🙂

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Bollywood is back (for now).

3 Idiots Poster

The new movie 3 Idiots (2009), directed by Rajkumar Hirani, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and based on an extremely lame-ass novel by wannabe wordsmith Chetan Bhagat, is a monster hit. Yours truly watched the flick on the second first day of release, popcorn in hand.

Now if you knew me, that’s crazy as hell. Because I haven’t watched a Bollywood film in a theatre for, like, fucking ages. More on that later.

As expected, the movie has all of the director’s now-trademark flourishes i.e. sharp characterisations, snappy dialogue, zero profanity, less screen time for female leads, lots of male bonding, pan-India pathos (which in this case is quite a feat considering the movie predominantly takes place within an elite city college in Delhi) and, sure enough, a central catch phrase (remember ‘Jadoo Ki Jhappi’ and ‘Gandhigiri’ from his earlier efforts?) which now takes the rather distinctly un-Hindi form of ‘All Is Well’.

Of course, all this may sound like I don’t like the film. But you know what? It fucking works. And it works really well.

The last few years have seen some of the worst-ever products churned out by the Bollywood film factory. Blame Karan Johar, Yash Chopra and son, Akshay Kumar’s merry band of directors (too many to name) and the once-promising/now-embarrassing Ram Gopal Varma. But with movies like Munnabhai MBBS (2003) and its sequel Lage Raho Munnabhai  (2006), Rajkumar Hirani and his producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra have taken the very same spare parts and re-reassembled the Bollywood dream machine. They make unapologetically mass-market Bollywood movies that are fun, frothy – and surprisingly smart.

If you prefer meaningful cinema, stick with the Europeans, Chinese and (more recently) the Koreans. But if Bollywood is what rocks your world, keep your eyes on Hirani – the man sure knows his masala.

P.S. Watch out (or better, don’t) for remakes of ‘3 Idiots’ in almost all regional languages.

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Early morning, somewhere in the blogosphere:

Morning Hangover

Something odd happened today.

Instead of regaining consciousness on the wrong side of the bed (or floor), trying to negotiate my way through yet another fucked-up party-induced hangover, I woke up stone sober. And did something totally unexpected – I started writing this blog.

It’s perfectly bad timing. The folks who’ll be interested in reading what I have to say are probably still swimming in their alcoholic oceans of choice. And they’ll only browse through my golden internet-compatible prose by tonight or tomorrow. So I did think about delaying this long-delayed project – until my inner voice butted in with a harsh “What the fuck dude, you’ve got to start sometime!’’

I planned a nasty response to THE VOICE. But the image of me sticking my middle finger at myself didn’t seem too pretty 🙂

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