... in stupidity

This is wrong on so many levels...

12 Jun 2014 | 399 words | healthcare policy stupidity

… that it is difficult to decide where to start. I came across this par of adds in tuesday’s paper (the smaller ad on the left hand was on the front page and the the bigger one on the right was on page 7):

Volkskrant ad for oma app

For those not able to decipher dutch, this is a an add for a crowdfunding project that claims that ‘an app for granny’ is ‘the solution for healthcare austerity’ and encourages readers to donate toward the further development of the the healthcare-phone app. Apparently this app would allow old folks to get in touch with others and healthcare providers with ‘the push of one button’.

Obviously the overall claim that a glorified telephone is the solution for the problems created by healthcare austerity (fewer people will be eligible less care) is dubious at best. What makes it worse is that this add is run by a crowdfunding platform that is operated by a health insurance company. I have no idea what goes on in the heads of executives of this company, but i would suggest that if they are care about providing the best possible healthcare to their customers they may want to find better uses of their money than spending it on a crowdfunding platform that promotes projects like this one.

Also it does not really reflect well on the people who are running this platform that they are spending substantial amounts of money on buying advertisement space to encourage others to spend money on projects (unless this is a scheme to have the health care sector cross subsidize the newspapers in need). Based on our recent ad buys in the same newspaper i am pretty sure that the amount of money they paid for this ad would help the Zorgfoon-app a long way towards it’s €50000 funding target. They currently stand at €3.6500 which means that either newspaper ads are not really effective in driving contributions or that people are rightfully skeptical of the claims made by this project.

Crowdfunding certainly has it merits where it empowers organisations and individuals that do not have ready access to capital to realize projects or where it is used as a tool to organize collective actions. It becomes problematic when it is used simply because it is ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ by organisations that seem to have no clear sense of purpose.

How to not run a high speed train service

12 Jan 2013 | 1098 words | infrastructure travel railways stupidity

Earlier this week i had the ‘pleasure’ of travelling down to Brussels using the new so called ‘Fyra‘ service by NS Hispeed for the first time (the service is operational since 9 december 2012). While the Fyra is making news mainly for the unreliability of the service (said to be somewhere between 55% and 75% on-time performance in the last week, with 5% of the trains ‘never making it to Brussels at all1 both journeys where perfectly on time. Still the entire experience really sucked. Here are a couple of suggestions what not to do when running a high speed rail service:

#1 come up with a crazy ticketing system that requires you to have a reservation when travelling on one sector (Rotterdam -> Antwerp) but not on the other (Amsterdam -> Schiphol). There were at least 2 groups of passengers in my immediate vicinity who were almost thrown of the train, because they had in fact a reservation for another train (2 hours later), neither of them were aware of this transgression. Threatening to throw people, who have paid for a ticket, off a half empty train just because they did not manage to understand the needlessly complex ticketing system is about the most stupid thing you can do to build a loyal customer base.

More generally the entire Fyra ticketing experience sucks. Apparently some idiot in the marketing department decided that it is somehow desirable to try to emulate airline ticketing practices because air travel is such a pleasure these days. Which of course it is not. One of the nicest things of train travel is the fact that you can just buy a ticket and board a train whenever it suits you, something NS hissed seems to be determined to help out of the world.

On both of my journeys there was a lot of completely unnecessary commotion because people were sitting on other people’s reserved seats and had to stand up only to figure out that someone was sitting on their seat and so on…

#2 Runs the trains on a completely useless time-table. Before the Fyra we already had the Thalys high speed service on the same route. Problem with the Thalys was that it did not run really frequently. So what would a sane person responsible for the Fyra time table do? you would expect them to schedule in the Fyra trains in between the Thalys trains so that passengers have more choice in arrival times. Except the Fyra time-table is off course not made by a sane person: Say you need to be in Brussels at 0900/0930h (not an entirely uncommon time for meetings to start) in which case you have the choice between trains arriving at 0742, 0808 and 0942:

Fyra timetable

#3 Have long scheduled stops along the way. One would assume that the advantage of a high speed train over other trains is that they get you to your destination faster. One thing that certainly does not contribute to getting from Amsterdam to Bruxelles as quickly as possible is making scheduled stops of 5 minutes in Rotterdam (2 minutes would be plenty to let people get on and off the train).

Now spending 3 unnecessary minutes on the train would not be so bad if the trains where not so goddam awful. It is not only that they are extremely ugly from the outside but rather that they are feeling extremely cheap;

#4 Make sure that 1/3 of the window seats face a cheap plastic wall panel instead of the window. The entire 2nd class interior of the trains is made out of cheap plastic, which gives the trains a super cheap feeling. It this is the worst if you are assigned (though the stupid reservation requirement mentioned above) a window seat which actually turns out to be a cheap plastic wall seat. Guess that is what you get when you take a train with relatively small windows and cram it full with seats.

Fyra window seat

#5 Have no power sockets and no wifi on board. I mean seriously NS hispeed, how is this even possible2? this is 2013 and you think that power plugs are something that only needs to be installed in 1st class? This is the dumbest attempt at an up-sell i have encountered in a long time. Hell, this is probably bad for our national competitiveness: While the Dutch arrive in Brussels with half empty batteries, the French, the British and the Germans arrive with their devices fully charged.

Also no wifi is a pretty stupid move, although fortunately you can organise your own connectivity, which is not really an option for power (one might consider bringing an extension cord to tap power from the toilets which do have power outlets for electric shavers, something i can’t imagine anyone using but apparently NS hispeed things that shaving yourself on the train is more important than charging your laptop).

The only hopeful thing is that the trains seem to be of such shitty quality that they will most likely not last very long (both cars i was travelling in had roof panels that made creaking noises every time we entered or exited a tunnel). If i was NS hispeed i would order new trains today. In the meanwhile i will be taking the Thalys

Update 1 June 2013: Turns out that the roof panels did come off. Yesterdays presentation by the Belgian railways company about the reasons why they are cancelling their Fyra order contains this image:

Fyra roof panel coming off

While the Belgians have cancelled their Fyras and are promising us more frequent Thalys services, NS has still not realised that they will need to order new trains.

  1. Which of course makes you wonder where it is they are ending up then. Some black hole in Brabant? Or do they simply disappear as the Buenos Aires subway train in ‘Moebius’↩︎

  2. And no, the fact that the trains were tendered is not an excuse for this as the train manger on the way to brussels suggested. In a tender you get what you write into a tender specification and apparently some idiot at the NS thought that having power plugs in first class only would be just fine. Guess the people writing tender specifications didn’t spend significant amounts of time on board of trains back then. Every half intelligent person could have figured that laptops and phones would become a big thing and that one of the great competitive advantages of trains is that you can work on your devices while charging them. ↩︎

Publishers are stupid

06 May 2010 | 629 words | books copyright ebooks publishing stupidity

So imagine this scenario: you are on an isolated tropical island that does not have a bookstore, you are out of books, but you happen to have an electronic reading device with you that is wirelessly connected to the internet and that is tied to you credit card account (which is not maxed out). This should constitute one of the most ideal business cases for selling books to this particular individual, but for some reason the publishing industry does not seem to be willing to cater to this scenario.

Two months ago while on vacation i found myself in this very scenario (aggravated by the fact that i had left my copy of Salinger’s ‘the Catcher in the Rye‘ with 30 unread pages to go on the ferry boat that took us to the island). Unfortunately for me (and the rights-holders) you cannot buy an electronic copy of ‘the Catcher in the Rye’ from the international kindle store run by amazon. instead you can get about 13 different books that deal with the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in some form or another (reading helps, studies of the book etc) but the original text is notably absent from the international kindle bookstore. The most likely reason is that some publisher has decided that it is somehow not in his/her interest to to sell the book to people like me1.

So instead of reading the final chapters of ‘the Catcher in the Rye’ i was forced to read the the New York Times (which is available via the kindle no matter where you are) for 7 days and once we were back on an island with a second hand bookstore i purchased a 2nd hand copy of the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and finished the book. Of course all of the money i spend on that second hand copy (which was more than the price of the original paperback that i had left on the ferry) is going to the owner of the bookstore and none of it is is ending up in the pockets of the publishers or the author (who is dead so in this case the stupidity of the publishers does not harm the author).

Obviously there real danger to authors is not that people who are unable to obtain ebooks because of rights-issues will turn to second-hand bookstores. Instead it is more likely that they will turn to file-sharing networks and other sources for unauthorized copies instead. Already there are more unauthorized ebook editions than there are books on the international kindle book store and the only reason why this has not yet become a real problem is that only a few people own specialized reading devices. This of course will rapidly change over the next couple of years.

If the publishing industry does not get its act together and makes sure that we can purchase all books on whatever platform we like right after they have been published regardless where we happen to be, it will find itself in exactly the same position as the music industry is finding itself for the last 10 years. Of course they are free to do so should they really want to end up there, but since they have been warned it would be nice if they could refrain from the disgraceful whining that we have had to endure from the music industry for the past decade. The choice is theirs…

  1. Ok, there is an even more likely explanation: the book is probably not available because the rights to do so rest with a bunch of different publishers for different territories and so there is no-one who can make it available an online bookstore that covers multiple territories. as far as i am concerned this still counts as being stupid. ↩︎

Apparently the Dutch do not understand the internet...

02 Dec 2009 | 257 words | netherlands social media stupidity

So there is this theory that while technology progresses to produce ever more intelligent technology most of humankind are actually loosing intellectual and cognitive capacities as a result of their dependence on these technologies. The obvious example of this is the proliferation of GPS navigation devices that has resulted in most people loosing even the most basic navigation skills (like finding the way to the next coffee-shop).

The 2009 end of the year zeitgeist that has just been published by Google contains even more proof for the inverse relation between technology and cognitive capabilities. Lets take a look at the 10 most popular search terms for the Netherlands:

Eight of these are the names of websites without their respective top level domain endings. Guess this means that the majority of the Dutch internet population is either too stupid to remember TLDs or to lazy to type them into the browser bar. Both explanations do not necessarily shine a good light on the cognitive capacity of those using google.nl.

Even more worrisome is the fifth most popular search term (‘google‘). Not sure how to interpret this (extremely bad short term memory? boredom that results in the urge to get lost in endless feedback loops? …?). The third most popular search term (‘online’) seems to fall in almost the same category. Apparently people are not realizing that they are online when they have access to google. And in case you are done finding you favorite website whose URL you cannot remember you can always talk about the weather (#6).

The end is VERY near...

07 Jul 2009 | 36 words | books technology stupidity

This is by far the most repulsive patent application i have ever seen. Apparentlyamazon.com has filed for a patent for showing contextual ads in the margins (also called white space for a good reason!) of e-books…

Swine flue / Flying slums

One of the biggest idiots of our times, ryan air’s Michael O’Leary who has an opinion on just about everything is quoted by the german news website Spiegel online to have claimed that the swine flue ‘only affects people living in slums in Mexico and Asia’ and that ‘people flying short haul in Europe this summer will fortunately not die of the Swine flue’. Funny thing is that Ryanair flights can best be characterized as flying slums, which would make O’Leary a slum lord in addition to be a general nuisance and an idiot.

Peeing in private...

30 Aug 2008 | 142 words | technology maps censorship stupidity amsterdam

Had to take a leak yesterday as we were on the way back from the opening reception of the uitmarkt on java island. conveniently we were cycling past the navy terrain in central amsterdam and the outside wall of this super secret military installation is about the only place in all of central amsterdam where you can actually take a leak a little bit off the road. turns out that it is not only a very convenient place but probably also the most private place to take a leak as you are protected from a satellite picture of yourself showing up on google earth/maps:

Of course you are probably still being filmed by all kinds of CCTV installations and if you are really unlucky you will get caught by one of the google street view cars that are currently roaming the streets.

No wonder...

05 Aug 2008 | 28 words | airtravel stupidity signs united states

… that South Americans and Canadians consider the gringos to be arrogant:

Window display of the Continental Airlines agency on Meiji-dori between Ebisu and Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan.

Lenslok: crazy optical DRM device from the 80's

17 Jun 2008 | 199 words | copyright business technology stupidity piracy

Torrentfreak.com has an excellent post describing what must be one of the first DRM devices evar: the Lenslok is a foldable optical lens that was required to decipher scrambled unlock codes in early 1980’s video games:

The first game to use the Lenslok DRM was the ZX Spectrum version of the hugely successful wireframe-3D shoot ’em up, ‘Elite’. But of course, we’re talking about DRM here so yes, you guessed it, it caused lots of problems for the legitimate users. As each version of the Lenslok device was unique to the game it sought to protect, sending out the incorrect Lenslok device to around 500 buyers of ‘Elite’ wasn’t the best move made by the publisher, ‘Firebird’. None of these people could play the game, but probably had an interesting experience for a few hours trying to work out how to use the prism. With no Internet forums to voice their anger, there were many complaints in the computer magazines of the day.

The final nail in the Lenslok coffin was its inability to work with anything other than a tiny portable TV, as the on-screen input window would otherwise be bigger than the device itself, rendering it useless.

The kids are alright

01 Mar 2008 | 190 words | stupidity amsterdam netherlands advertisement

So since two weeks or so the counties’ biggest super market chain (Albert Hein) is having some stupid action where you get a plastic smurf every time you spend more than €15 on groceries. Plus the stores are full of smurf themed advertisements and they play stupid smurf music in the background and there is poster advertisements with smurfs on them all over the city. No idea why anyone would think that this is a good thing.

As far as i am concerned i can hardly think of anything more insulting and stupid than being asked by some 16 year old girl at the cash register if i would like to have a smurf with my groceries. but then there seem to be lots of people who are in fact happy with this infantilization of society….

Yesterday on my way to the albert hein we encountered a group of teenagers burning plastic smurfs on the pavement in front of the shop entrance, which gave me back a tiny little bit of hope: at least the kids (or some of them) are still alright!

Photo of burnt smurf by Sara Kolster

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: