Friday, 21 February 2014

Telegram verses Whatsapp

The Facebook takeover of Whatsapp seems to have caused quite a stir. Lots of people are trying out an alternative chat app called Telegram with no links to big business - unless it happens to be a major Russian competitor to Facebook.

I decided to take it for a run but immediately noticed some strange anomalies. Telegram seems to check your contacts list and informs you when contacts join up. I am quite curious how they do that. The first message I got informed me that Irfan Skiljan had joined. So I decided to send him a message. I then got to see a mobile number (I don't have Irfan's mobile number, only an email address). But the mobile number is in Uzbekistan and I'm pretty sure Irfan is not there.
However this user sent me his screen back and I also note that my own mobile number is included on his screen... whoever this person may be in Uzbekistan. (I just got a message back from Irfan saying it certainly isn't him.)

Then I was informed that "Josine" had joined. I do have one Josine in my contacts, but without a mobile number either. So this could be just any Josine who happens to have joined up. It looks to me like Telegram is very generous providing my information to total strangers - and theirs to me.

Then an acquaintance called Femke joined. My knowledge of her, her unusual name and her social media awareness made me assume it was the same person I knew. That was indeed the case. But again, Telegram immediately showed me her mobile number, which I didn't have and which isn't to be found on Google+.

I decided to do a bit of reading and discovered there do seem to be some doubts also about the security of Telegram. It keeps everything in the cloud, but how well protected is its cloud? And its encryption seems the work of amateurs. Check out this fascinating blog about encryption.

So my conclusion remains that Telegram matches potential contacts only on the basis of a name in the contact list and then blithly passes on the mobile phone number when that may not be a good idea. E.g. in the case of a policeman, doctor etc.

A Techcrunch piece about Telegram.
PCMWeb over Telegram (in Dutch)

Hemlis (when it's ready)

Friday, 14 February 2014

The pumps arrived!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Frisians pump England dry

Since Southern England has been hit by flooding, people have called for Dutch assistance. One company is already active: the giant pumps of Van Heck are trying to give the British dry feet.

From our reporter
Marcel van Lieshout
AMSTERDAM It was raining and stormy again last weekend in the south-west of England and again the call grew for Dutch assistance in fighting the floods. Are our major dredgers and water engineers already active in the soaking county of Somerset, deemed a disaster area by Prime Minister David Cameron?
Bridgwater in Somerset is completely flooded. Pumps from Van Heck are trying to drain the water. (Getty Images)

The Dutch company that is now representing the national reputation in the field of water management is a pumping firm from Friesland. Van Heck from Noordwolde is a worldwide name when it comes to emergency assistance in floods. Since last Wednesday, the company has sent 32 trucks with 20 huge, mobile pumps and accessories to England.
One pump has a capacity of 6000 to 7500 m³ (6 to 7.5 million litres) per hour: it can empty an Olympic swimming pool in about 20 minutes.
This is one of the largest jobs in recent years and provisionally Van Heck will be at work until mid-March in England, according to project manager Ben Foot (39) of the Friesian company. Foot, born in England, is in touch every day with his director Roel van Heck, who is leading the operation in Bridgewater, Somerset. The pumps are expected to start work at full capacity today.
Such a mobile, diesel-powered pump weighs about 17 tons It is 6.5 x 2 meters and 3 meters high. Pumps with a capacity like those of Van Heck can’t be found in England. You won’t find them in many other countries either. In 2012, Germany called in the company’s help when the Elbe flooded its banks and caused a lot of misery.
For a month and a half, the South West of England has been fighting enormous floods. January was the wettest month in more than a century. Streets are permanently underwater and farmland has been flooded throughout part of Somerset. Foot: “These polders were created 300 years ago by the Dutch. Since then, no maintenance has been done on the waterways.”
The River Parrett is almost completely silted up and can’t cope with the water. Even pumping stations are underwater.

Structural solution
The British government Environmental Agency has approached Dutch experts to help think about structural solutions. Foot: “there are plans to dredge the rivers in that area properly.” Plans, but his company is the only one already active.
“Were also specialised in emergency aid,” Foot explains. In a couple of days, 32 trucks were driven onto the ferry at Holland. Van Heck ( staff of 22) has dozens of pumps. Several are now at work in Australia and the Middle East.
Foot confirms that his company is active in a growth market. In many places in the world, the quantity of rain is increasing and becoming more intensive and waterways cannot cope with draining it. That’s also happening in the Netherlands, he says, but of course this country has the reputation of being able to control water. In emergency situations, the Dutch government also involves the company. “In fact six of our pumps are running here at the moment.”
Foot won’t say exactly where. “Somewhere” in the north of the Netherlands a pumping station has broken down. The relevant water board however prefers not to publicise the matter.
(Volkskrant - 11/2/2014)

Sunday, 9 February 2014


"Solidarity"... it might be a dirty word, but it's the basis of the Dutch culture and character. When you reclaim a whole country from the sea, as they did in the Netherlands, it also becomes an essential part of the national character. It's also the basis of Dutch democracy. In fact one of the most important elements in Dutch democracy is a part that has long been abolished elsewhere in the world and is even in danger of being abolished in the Netherlands. Wikipedia calls them in English "Water boards". The Dutch call them "Waterschappen". It's something that is being reinvented in Somerset right now. (See the UvW)

There was little room for feudalism in the Dutch political model. Everyone had to pull together to create the land and then maintain it and protect it. The crisis in England now seems to be provoking the strangest of responses. Some Eurosceptics blame Brussels. "It must be the fault of Brussels. They don't want us to protect our land." This is almost as ridiculous as the claims that chem-trails and cloud seeding have caused the floods.
But in areas that are frequently threatened by water, it's essential that drainage, maintenance and democracy come together. Government and community have to work closely to protect the land. Things do go wrong, as they did in 1953 in eastern England and the southern Netherlands. There were thousands of deaths when a storm surge combined with spring tide flooded vast areas of East Anglia and Zeeland.
Things haven't quite got that far in Somerset, but it's clear that there is an urgent need for changes in the way water management works in England. The problem of flooding is one that will increase if we do not ensure good land management.
There are other examples of this problem. London has faced increasing problems with flash flooding. As we've all read, this has a lot to do with the urge to convert gardens to concrete driveways. Water can't soak into the ground and gets diverted into the drains, which cannot cope. Similarly all major rivers have floodplains as brief stores for rainwater to allow drainage systems to catch up. The Somerset Levels are such a facility and have always been there and have regularly flooded in the past - if only for a few days. But this time things really went wrong. Areas like the Levels are intended to store water briefly, but they should then be drained. This time the drainage system failed. That's something which must never happen again and which needs some kind of democratic local organisation such as a "water board" to ensure that the necessary dredging is done.
So blaming Brussels or chem-trails and cloud seeding for the problem is just abusing this crisis for political ends. It's sad to see such suffering and disaster used as a political pawn in the game by Eurosceptics and quacks.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Report on the Fight against Water in England

The Somerset Levels have had enough of boats
Burrowbridge in the Somerset Levels has been onderwater more than a month 

"Netherlands, help us," is what you hear in the English county of Somerset. The inhabitants have had enough of the water. Politicians say: let nature run its course.


"What? You come from Holland? That's great news. We really need you." In the pouring rain, Heather Stewart-Monteith (fifty-something) points at the sandbags intended to keep the rising water out. Her home is on the Somerset Levels, a picturesque polder area in the West of England that has been largely under water since New Year's Day. Brown water. Inhabitants like Stuart Montes have had as much as they can take. "Our government wants to let nature take its course, but they seem to forget that people live here as well as geese and water voles."
Willem Frederik Hermans typified Great Britain once as a half-flooded mountain range in the North Sea, but during this wettest winter since time immemorial, large areas of the kingdom have disappeared completely underwater, especially in the south. No area is worst hit than the Somerset Levels, where they have been fighting the water since the Middle Ages, when the abbeys of Glastonbury and Athelney were founded.

This battle seemed to have been won four centuries ago after intervention by Dutch engineers, but after two huge floods within 14 months, the water seems to be back on top.
An area of more than 80 km² has been underwater for weeks, including 40 houses. The village of Munchelney with its 195 inhabitants has only been accessible by boat since then. Last week the Minister of Agriculture and the Environment came to take a look, but he seemed more worried about getting mud on his shiny shoes. David Cameron sent the army to the flooded area, but the inhabitants have more need of the navy. The Environment Agency, similar to the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat, decided to install extra pumps after taking time to think about it. Now they pump away a million cubic litres of water a day.
Standing by a pump along the silted up River Parrett, the local MP Ian Riddell Grainger lets fly when the Environment Agency comes up. "I only have good things to say about the staff out in the countryside. They are lions, but they are led by superfluous asses. It's amazing that this pumping station still exists. The former director of the Agency once said that she wanted to blow up all the pumping stations here in order to give the area back to nature."
94% of the farmland is underwater
Riddell Grainger, a descendant of Queen Victoria and number 309 in the line to the British throne, is now hoping for Dutch help. "You are under sea level and have had just as much rain as we have, but without floods. And that's why I have asked Dutch politicians, civil servants and engineers about help with dredging. We even have an offer. Your dredging techniques are superior to and cheaper than what our Agency has in mind. Money is not the problem. The bunny huggers have invested £31 million in a bird reservations. They think that's more exciting than dredging."

The Conservative politician with his Wellington boots and flat cap enjoys widespread support in his constituency, for instance from the Councillor Julian Taylor, who has a sign in his garden with the text "please dredge our river". His farm is called Orchard View, but what he can see from his window now is largely a frighteningly full ditch. The situation is dear to the heart of this retired university professor. He devotedly describes the history of the Somerset Levels and his recent visit to the Cruquius Museum in the Haarlemmermeer. "The pumping engine we saw there turned out to have been built in Cornwall. And now we need your equipment. How ironic.
"Reclaimed land needs maintenance. That's obvious, but try explaining it to our politicians. They are now even cutting the budget on water control. The beds of our rivers are four metres higher now than they were in the 1950s," Taylor explains."Dredging is the answer now, followed by the installation of flood barriers, because with talking about the highest tidal difference in the world bar one." His wife Mary nods in agreement and points at the adverse effects of the present policy to go back to nature. "Last week two deer were walking around here up to their bellies in water looking for a dry spot. Is that really animal friendly?"
In the background, is the lack of understanding between city-dwellers and country folk. The latter often blame city people for regarding the countryside as a nature reserve, with the farmers and other inhabitants as foolish nuisances. An example is the £600,000, half of it from Brussels, spent by the government every year teaching farmers about water management. "That's typical," says Stuart-Monteith, who left London 12 years ago for Somerset. "Most farming families have been here for generations and know exactly what has to happen: dredging. They were even allowed to dredge their own ditches in olden days. Not any more. Because of the water vole."

It's difficult to spell

Dutch water management
The Somerset Levels is one of the areas where Cornelis Vermuyden (1595-1677) left his traces. This hydraulic engineer from Zeeland introduced modern engineering techniques. He drained the Fens, repaired a broken dike along the Thames and reclaimed the gardens of Windsor Castle. King Charles I sent Sir Cornelis, by then a naturalised Englishman, to the Somerset Levels, but the drainage work was delayed by the Civil War. He is buried in Westminster and is commemorated with a window in Ely Cathedral.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Somerset is Drowning

"We need Dutch expertise here"

Water as far as the eye can see. An area of 65 km² in Somerset has drowned. For a whole month, houses have been under water here. Roads are impassable, whole villages are cut off from the outside world. Fury and disappointment can be felt everywhere. "We aren't important to the government in London," says pub owner Jim Winkworth with a sigh.
This weekend, a spring tide is expected so the water will rise even further. A state of emergency has been declared. The Red Cross hands out packages with firewood, volunteers and soldiers drive around in large watertight 4x4's to make sure that children can get to school. The Fire Brigade and police provide a shuttle service by boat for the villages of Muchelney to get out. The village is completely shut off from the outside world.
"We're used to a bit of water," says Charlie Vaughan Johnson. Muchelney is on a hill, between the polders. They serve to trap the water in an emergency. "Normally we have about 10 cm of water once or twice a year but it's gone again within a couple of days."
Now the water is 2 metres deep in some places. Elizabeth Nightingale's house, which last century only got wet in 1928, has been flooded for the last two years. "There's 35 cm of water in the living room. Fortunately we still have electricity and heating," she laughs but unhappily.
The largest source of annoyance is that the rivers have not been dredged for 20 years. As a result they cannot drain the water from the polders which were created in the 17th century by Dutch engineers. The responsible Environment Agency doesn't see the need, as relatively few people live in the area. "If you don't dredge for years, the river silts up. The pumps here are antique. Last year a critical point was reached," says Duncan McGinty, district-council chairman for Sedgemoor. The polders were also flooded last year. Hydraulic engineers suggested this would only happen "at most once in 100 years". But this year the water has reached record heights again. Inhabitants are hoping for the best. This weekend there is a spring tide coming and it's been raining hard for the last few days. "Water comes from all sides. From the sea, from the hills and from the sky. But it has nowhere to go." It'll be another four months before the water level is back to normal.

A tractor and a lifeboat are used to transport the inhabitants of Muchelney along the flooded roads. The village has only been accessible white water for weeks.
Some way off, Neal Craddock is staring at a yellow warehouse. His flooring factory was there. "Of course, we knew the area could flood. That's why we had built a dike a metre high around the factory. But the water just flowed over the top." Last year, the businessman had £1.5 million damages, This year that amount will be even higher. He couldn't insure himself, just like most inhabitants of the area: insurance companies simply refuse cover.
The farmers in the area also face problems. "All our land is under water," worries Heather Venn. We have a sepcial variety of grass that can cope with it. But not for more than two weeks. After that, everything is dead." She has no idea where her cows will have to graze this summer.
"For everyone who lives here, it's clear that the government has been negligent," according to Spencer Dixon, member of the FLAG campaign in which dozens of inhabitants have joined forces. They meet up in the evenings in Jim Winkworth's King Alfred Pub with a view of the sandbags intended to keep the River Parrett in check. Thanks to their unceasing efforts, the responsible minister came to take a look this week and during Prime Minister's question time, David Cameron agreed that dredging should commence as soon as possible. That wouldn't have happened unless the inhabitants had kept hammering on about the consequences of the floods.
"Dredging on its own isn't enough. This area has been neglected for more than 20 years. And in the mid-term, we have to create more facilities to store the water upstream. And in the mouth of the river, a flood barrier is essential to hold back the high tide," says Dixon.
And the inhabitants have no faith whatsoever in the British government. "We need Dutch expertise. You know know how to keep your feet dry," says Daniel Graham, whose land is almost entirely underwater. "It's never been this bad in 40 years."

(De Telegraaf - 1 February 2014 - Arnoud Breitbarth)