A Stranger in a Strange Land

Joris Luyendijk is a Dutchman who has been living in Britain for the last six years, writing articles for the Guardian. He is a writer, journalist and anthropologist, specialising in Arab and Islamic countries.

He’s recently written an article in the Prospect magazine, provocatively titled: “How I learnt to loathe England”. It’s a good article (i.e. I mostly agree with his analysis). One thing that at first surprised me was that he supports Brexit (I don’t), but as he says:

…by the time the referendum came, I had become very much in favour of the UK leaving the EU. The worrying conditions that gave rise to the result—the class divide and the class fixation, as well as an unhinged press, combine to produce a national psychology that makes Britain a country you simply don’t want in your club.

And that was a novel perspective; the reaction that the EU might well be better off without Britain: good riddance, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out… There may well be something to be said for that stance.

As I head on into my twilight years, the possibility that I will end up living here alone in the depths of the Dutch countryside becomes real, if I outlive Martin. In such circumstances, I may well end up as a “stranger in a strange land”, but quite honestly, I think I would prefer that to a return to what England seems to be becoming.

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Amsterdam Weeps

Here’s one of the tributes to van der Laan, performed in one of the nightly talkshows on Dutch TV, “The World Keeps on Turning”. I’ve done a (shaky) translation of the text that’s on the page:

The original song is from 1964, written by Kees Manders and sung by Rika Jansen. It was rewritten for us by F. Starik and is sung by Glennis Grace, born in the Jordaan (a district in the centre of Amsterdam), together with a mixed choir consisting of The Swans Choir, The Army of Salvation Amsterdam Staff Songsters, and The Choir of the National Opera.

 Text: Amsterdam cries text F. Starik.

 As a father you stood for the city of Amsterdam
for whomever was rich or poor, every woman, every man
from the Bijlmermeer to me at the corner.

 As a father, you stood up for us all
for the homeless guy, come but outside
then we get up – I have fire in my head

 As a mayor with a heart for the city,
for everyone a clap on the shoulder, a hand on the heart
and sometimes there was a late hour
when you turned the tables on a joker

 Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, now it feels the pain
Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, because the fun has gone

 as a father you stood for the city of Amsterdam
for Nouri, Ajax, for kutmarokkanen and Surinamese and
the angry white man –

 As the friend that you were, Eberhard van der Laan,
for city council, for the junks and the whores
and that it will all go well

 thanks man, for everything, though you go too early
and awkward as it sounds from many pubs, you were there for us
you carried us, you were like a father,
how we will miss you, you who bore us

 Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, now it feels the pain
Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, because the fun is gone.

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Paying Tribute to a Public Servant

Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam, died yesterday. Everyone has been paying tribute to him. This news story says that flags throughout the city were flown at half-mast today. Actually, flags were flown at half-mast throughout the whole country.

He will be missed.

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Public Service

Some officials know what public service means and fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities, serving the public good. And the people react accordingly.

Eberhard van der Laan, you’ve set an example to us all.

Posted in News and politics, Society | 1 Comment

The Saga of Broadband Internet – Part III

I last blogged about the poor state of broadband internet here back in February. At that time things were not looking very good. The company (the Communications Infrastructure Fund – CIF) financing the rollout of fibre optic cables had made a start in two Local Authority areas, and had promised to make a start after the summer in two others. However, it was not yet able to commit to further projects with the remaining seven Local Authority areas (including ours), and this had led to tensions between it and those municipalities.

As a result, the municipalities came up with their own plan to lay empty ducts and hire these out to other parties to put their own network cables in. Personally, I viewed this plan as a long shot for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it would need an investment from our Local Authority of €3.6 million – money which they do not have lying around.

Still, back in February, CIF had said it would be able to announce news on further plans in September. Well, here we are, and there does seem to be some good news for a change.

CIF has now made a start on a further two areas, as promised, for a total of 3,500 Ftth (Fibre to the Home) connections in the Aalten and Oost-Gelre municipalities. Households and companies in the countryside there have until the 23rd October to sign up for a connection. If 50% of them do so, then CIF will go ahead and lay the network.  If the 50% isn’t reached, there will be no network laid. It really is now or never…

CIF has also announced that their investors have given the green light to financing a further 5,000 Ftth (Fibre to the Home) connections this year, which encompass all of the countryside addresses in our municipality (Oude IJsselstreek), plus parts of a further three (Montferland, Doetinchem and Bronckhorst). Once again, at least 50% of the households and companies in the countryside areas have to sign up for a FttH connection before CIF will go ahead and lay the network. Signing-up will be possible during a six week period which will (I hear) start in November.

We’ve been lobbying for FttH connections here in the outlying areas of Oude IJsselstreek for almost three years now, and at last things seem to be on the point of moving forward. During that time, we’ve built up a group of “ambassadors” who can explain to their neighbours why signing up for FttH makes sense. The cost case is usually the most important aspect to the Dutch(!), and it’s actually straightforward: the monthly cost of an “all-in-one” (internet, telephone and TV) subscription, plus the monthly standing charge for the FttH connection is the same as what they are currently paying for their (slow) internet and telephone connection via ADSL, together with their satellite television subscription (satellite TV is the norm here in the countryside). In our presentations to groups, the English language version of this would be:

Cost Scenario

Of course, now the real work begins, leading up to November, when we have to get at least 2,500 subscribers (the 50%). Given that here in Oude IJsselstreek there are only 2,441 potential subscribers (according to data we have from the municipality), we are going to have to ramp up efforts beyond our borders and drum up subscribers in the other municipalities. It’s going to be all hands to the pump over the next few months…

Posted in Computers and Internet | 1 Comment

Falling Short

I watched the live stream of the Microsoft keynote at IFA 2017 today, or at least I tried to. It was supposed to start at 14:00 CET, but for the first 18 minutes, there was no live stream, only music playing, and then, suddenly, we were thrown into the keynote, midway through the presentation by Microsoft’s Terry Myerson.

I know that Mr. Myerson is an important person at Microsoft (being the Executive Vice President Windows and Devices Group Engineering, Microsoft Corporation), but really, someone should tell him that he is not at all good at presenting. It was something of an embarrassment.

Even what he had to say struck me as falling short. He was extolling the virtues of the forthcoming “Windows 10 Fall Creators Update”, but it does irritate me that the claims made so clearly fall short from the reality. For example:

We have reimagined our Photos Application to deliver remixed experiences for telling your stories with photos, videos, music, 3D, and even inking.

Yes, but you can’t organise and search your photos as you could with Microsoft’s earlier photo applications (now dropped by Microsoft in Windows 10). And then there was:

You can save all of your creations in OneDrive Files On-Demand, accessing your cloud files like any of your other files on your PC, without using up your local storage space.

Yes, but you can’t search them, like any of your other files on your PC…

There followed another couple of presentations that did not exactly set the keynote on fire, and the session closed with a pitch from Nick Parker (Corporate Vice President Consumer Device Sales, Microsoft Corporation) which was at least delivered with some conviction and passion. But even he ended with a video (apparently produced by the BBC, despite the Microsoft logo tacked on at the end) that was not related in any way with the mainstream businesses of Microsoft. It had clearly been chosen to tug at the heartstrings (and was effective enough at that), but had no connection at all with the rest of the keynote’s focus and content.

Very disappointing.

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Search in Microsoft’s Photos App – Simply Not Good Enough

Another day, another rant at Microsoft. And once again, my despair is directed towards the team developing the Photos app in Windows 10.

Ever since the Photos app had its debut in Windows 8, back in October 2013, it has been unable to search metadata in photos. This, despite the fact that its predecessors, Windows Photo Gallery (first introduced in Windows Vista back in 2007), Windows Live Photo Gallery (first introduced back in 2009) and Windows Photo Gallery 2012 were all able to do this. Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, has now withdrawn all of these products from the market leaving only the miserably limited Photos app in place.

Over the past four years there have been features added to the Photos app, but for the most part they have been akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Fundamental features present in the withdrawn Windows Photo Gallery 2012 are still not there.

So it was with some interest that I read the other day that Search would at last be introduced to the Photos app. Since I’m a Windows Insider, it meant that I should get a preview of the app with the Search function in it. Well, it’s now arrived (version 2017.350631.13610.0 of the app) on one of my test laptops, and it turns out to be a huge disappointment. 

The reason that I’m disappointed is that the Photos app still does not search photo metadata, instead it uses a Microsoft-built A.I. system that attempts to assign tags to your photos. I say “attempts” because currently it gets things more wrong than right. For example, here are my most recent photos that the Microsoft A.I. system thinks are photos of an umbrella:

Photos 01

Note that “umbrella” is not a word that I have chosen, the term has been assigned by the A.I. system, and popped up as a suggested search term.

I can’t search using my own terms. For example, if I try searching for photos of our dog, Watson, there are zero results:

Photos 02

The OneDrive search engine is certainly indexing my photo metadata, because if I search for “Watson” on OneDrive, it finds all the photos to which I have assigned the tag “Watson”:

Photos 3

At least the A.I. system knows about dogs, because I can search using “dog”. However, while that does return at least some of my pictures of Watson, it also thinks a lamb is a dog:

Photos 04

The A.I. system does recognise the search term “cat”. Unfortunately, it’s even worse at recognising cats than dogs. It returned 45 photos that it claimed were of cats. It only correctly identified three photos of cats – the rest were of dogs (usually Watson), and one was a picture of a hand. Actually, I have 56 photos of cats in my collection.

Photos 05

There is currently no way to correct misidentified photos, so searching, it seems to me, is little better than a hit-and-miss affair at the moment. First, you’ve got to hit on a search term that the A.I. system uses, and then you’ve got to hope that it won’t return any misses in the results.

The A.I. system also indexes the faces of people in your photos. Once again, there is no way to either assign a name to a face, or merge what the system thinks are different people into the one person. Both of these features were available in Windows Photo Gallery 2012, which I remind you was available five years ago, but which Microsoft has now withdrawn.

I really wish that the Photos team would proceed in a more logical manner and provide features that put the Photos app on a par with what we had with Windows Photo Gallery before they introduce half-baked new features that do not advance the usability one jot.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Photography | 9 Comments