Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Euro trains

Could trains be the future?

We are going to have to change our lifestyle and that means adapting to changing sources of energy and different ways of getting around.

Electric cars should become more environmentally friendly. They run on electricity, but at present production is polluting, as are the tyres. It will be a long time before airplanes stop being a threat to the environment. In the meantime, the most durable form of transport is the train.
Brave experiments like the new service to London by Eurostar are showing the way, but have been prohibitively expensive. As planes and buses get cheaper, trains have done little to catch up. There's a promising development as Eurostar is eager to put on trains from Amsterdam to London much more cheaply than at present. Eurostar from Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam to London is just as fast as the plane (centre to centre).

But in general, trains in some parts of Europe are still prohibitively expensive and can be very difficult to book. The UK is in first place when it comes to the costs of train travel. This graph makes for very uncomfortable reading:

Recently three friends who couldn't fly needed to come from Jersey to Amsterdam at short notice, but the journey both ways was hell. Thanks to transport strikes in France, the family spent two days getting here, with an unplanned night in Paris on the way. On the return trip, the planned train costs for three from Amsterdam to Saint-Malo were €1600 (!), but again fate intervened and they had to take a taxi 200 kilometres from Nantes to Saint-Malo at a cost of another €400!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Quicktime Pro alternatives on Windows

If you want a simple - quick and dirty - way to edit a video, there's nothing to surpass Quicktime Pro from Apple. When you just want to chop a bit off a video file or splice a few videos together (assuming they are encoded the same). And I am talking about Windows and specifically with version 7 of QT Pro. It is incredibly easy to use, it's fast and lossless. (That means it doesn't actually convert or re-encode video, so it doesn't lose anything.)

As a video player, it is unnecessary. As Apple says:

However Apple, in its wisdom, decided to retire this gem. It still works now and can be installed. I still have a license and can use it, but there must be some suitable alternatives for when Apple finally closes it down? Or when Windows no longer plays ball.

Suggestions, please?

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Lords amendment on the Brexit Bill.

My letter to a couple of members of the House of Lords...

Brexit shall, I fear, be the greatest disaster to overcome the United Kingdom in centuries. 

Having grown up in Croydon and studied in Manchester, I moved from the UK to the Netherlands in 1973. I am a British emigrant with two children who had a Dutch mother. The children are half English but only have Dutch passports. If Brexit goes ahead they will no longer have the freedom of movement that allowed me to settle in the UK. They would have retained that freedom, had I applied for British passports for them before they were eighteen. But when they turned eighteen (my son Ian in 2015), there was no shadow on the horizon and no apparent need to apply for British passports.  Like all of us, they have benefitted from the shared European heritage that gives them the freedom to move and settle anywhere in the EU, including in England where they spent a considerable time in their childhood. 

Indeed, in the last two years, my son has been able to take advantage of the freedom of movement. As a talented young jazz musician and member of the Dutch National Youth Jazz Orchestra, he has visited the UK to perform in a cooperative venture with the British National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the German one, BuJazzO. The apt name Three Nations under One Groove reminds us of our shared cultural heritage and the benefits for all of a cooperation like this. If Brexit were to go ahead, ventures like this would be a lot more difficult. In addition, the plight of all European artists and musicians in the case of Brexit would be awful. Actors, musicians, filmmakers, artists now have the freedom to move freely and work where they like within the EU. Much as Vincent van Gogh did 140 years ago.

The very close result in an advisory referendum - voted for by only 37% of the restricted electorate (which excluded Brits who had moved abroad, Europeans who had settled in the UK and the 16-17-year-olds who were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum) - cannot possibly justify the devastating constitutional changes now imminent. Even less so since, in the two years following the referendum, there has been absolutely no progress towards a deal in any way comparable to the present extremely advantageous one. 

In addition, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the referendum campaign was riddled with dirty tricks. The result itself has been thrown into doubt and, in the meantime, many British people are changing their minds. I am delighted to see that attempts to curb the freedom of MPs in the House of Commons are not effective in the House of Lords. I'm counting on you to protect the interests of all citizens and inhabitants of the UK. 

Please vote in favour of the "Parliamentary motions on a referendum", Lord Newby's amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

How do you contact Facebook?

No automatic alt text available.I have no idea how or why, but Facebook has been plundering my PayPal account. Having boosted two Facebook posts (for a small non-commercial local community meeting) for the sum of €20 each, most of which was covered by an initial credit of €40, Facebook suddenly started billing me and PayPal paid up a sum now amounting to €300. I've tried to contact Facebook for the last week, but I'm discovering that isn't as easy as it should be. PayPal recognizes I have disputed three payments and has escalated the disputes to claims, but I have not had a single response from Facebook. 
Mind you, I'm not even sure I have actually reached anyone at Facebook because if you try and report a problem, you don't get to actually get to keep what you wrote and it scrolls off the screen, so you can't screensaver it either. Then at the end, you get greeted by a message thanking me for providing feedback. Then you get pointed to the "Advertiser Support Page" where there is also no option to contact Facebook.

At last, I managed to find a page where I could dispute the payments. Namely this one.    
How does one contact Facebook? And have other people had problems with them stealing money? 😡

(NL: Ik heb rond 8 en 25 februari twee keer bij Facebook een bericht "geboost". (Het ging om twee berichten over een buurt vergadering, dus niets commercieel.) Dat zou elke keer voor maximaal €20 zijn. Dat leek goed te gaan. Op 22/2 kreeg ik een rekening voor €0,92 (!) en op 28/2 zag ik dat ik €7 uitgegeven had en dat ik €1 per dag zou uitgeven. 
Op 26/2 kreeg ik een rekening voor €20. Dat was prima. Maar toen ging het mis. Ook op 26/2 zag ik plotseling rekeningen van €40 en van €207! De eerste werd door PayPal betaald, maar de tweede niet. Ik was geschrokken en blij dat die betaling tegengehouden was en heb onmiddellijk contact gezocht met Facebook en aan PayPal laten weten dat ik bezwaar maakte tegen de rekening voor €40. 
Herhaalde pogingen om met Facebook in contact te komen zijn mislukt. Je kan formulieren invullen online, maar krijg als response alleen "bedankt voor de feedback". Van een echte klachtenprocedure of -mogelijkheid lijkt er geen sprake.
Ik was blij dat de betaling van €207 door PayPal was tegengehouden op 26/2, maar gisteren (zondag 4/3) geschrokken dat de betaling toch via PayPal doorging, ondanks mijn maiberichten aan Facebook en beroep bij PayPal. 
Hoe komt men in contact met Facebook? Hoe kunnen ze bedragen van €300 van mijn PayPal nemen terwijl er een limite van €20 op een boost was?)

Thursday, 1 March 2018

CDA Amsterdam - Leasehold for owner-occupiers

What does Honest Leasehold mean for you?
In June 2017, the ruling coalition in Amsterdam of VVD, D66 and SP agreed on a new leasehold arrangement.
The way in which the dues for your leasehold are now calculated is unjust: Amsterdam is claiming part of your home. That has to stop. And it also provides an online calculator to see what the alternative would mean for you. This text provides further information about leasehold in Amsterdam and our alternative. More and more people are realising that the present arrangement is unreasonable and unjust. After the elections, leasehold is sure to be back on the agenda. Our aim is, once and for all, to create a fair system in Amsterdam.

What is wrong with the present leasehold arrangement?
The present arrangement made by the local coalition of D66/VVD/SP comes down to the municipality taking ownership of part of your residence. At its core is the 'Buurtstraatquote' (BSQ), a percentage of the value of your house of which the municipality says: that is basically the value of the land and  belongs to us. This can amount to as much as 49 percent of the WOZ value. However, this method is completely unjust. It ignores the reality of owning a house: you can’t pick up your house and put it down somewhere else; your house and the land it occupies are inseparable. So you have to bear in mind that the ground is already in use and someone already has an existing contract for it. In addition, the municipality has already been paid in full for the value of the land. That is why the CDA wants to base the calculation on the existing contracts.
The present arrangement is unfair and leads to unreasonably high costs for homeowners. In addition, the present arrangement is completely untenable. After 2019, the costs throughout the city will explode even more dramatically.

What does the CDA want and why is that so reasonable?
The CDA wants an honest leasehold based on existing contracts. By far the most leasehold contracts have already been reviewed. So the value of the ground has been determined. Why should the value of the land be recalculated using expensive, controversial, complex and obscure calculations and charged once again? That is not logical or reasonable. The CDA is of the opinion: if you have already paid the value of the ground, you don’t have to pay it again. If it has been bought off, you’re done.  For once and for all. That’s logical.
In addition, it has to be made much more affordable to buy off the leasehold. Scientific research indicates that the value of the ground under dwellings is about ten percent of the WOZ valuation. The CDA adopts that as the maximum.
Does the council need the income? No. If the new municipal council agrees to the CDA proposal, then the council will not lose any money in the short-term. It just means that in decades to come the council has less additional income. But Amsterdam can cope with that just fine. Nearly all the other municipalities in the Netherlands also manage to function without leasehold. The City of Amsterdam has all kinds of other ways of generating income: tourist tax, its share in Schiphol airport, the Harbour and central government funds, for instance. It is unreasonable and unnecessary to ask a relatively small number of homeowners to pay extra.