The tobacco smoking ban at street-level

On 3 August it was announced that the municipality of Rotterdam has plans to impose a ban on tobacco smoking for several streets. The Erasmus Medical Center, the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Erasmiaans Gymnasium launched this initiative to protect public health. To guarantee that there will be no smoking in front of their entrances, there would effectively be a smoking ban on three streets near their buildings. Apparently other municipalities are also eager to designate non-smoking zones in their Algemene Plaatselijke Verordening (APV, a local ordinance in Dutch law).

Actually I’m surprised that smoking in public is still allowed. I suspect electoral motives are playing a role here. Because there are so many smokers, a ban on smoking could cost votes for the political parties who enact such a ban. Perhaps the fact that smoking is on a slow decline in the Netherlands is the reason that we are seeing more action on this issue today.

It’s strange that smoking is dealt with so weakly in comparison with other drugs. Take cannabis, a drug which poses a health risk roughly equal to or lower than tobacco. Smoking cannabis in public is already banned in most municipalities, who also use the APV for this. Or psilocybin mushrooms, mushrooms with a psychedelic effect. Even though these are not addictive and are barely harmful for public health, they were banned completely in 2008. By comparison tobacco is a mass murderer which faces almost no constraints.

We should distinguish between how damaging a drug can be for public space in theory and in practice. In an ideal situation we aren’t troubled by tobacco smokers who smoke at a good distance from other people. In practice however I see that many smokers on the bus stations and platforms of Utrecht Centraal don’t keep that distance. They smoke close to other groups of people waiting for the train or bus, who still receive second-hand smoke.

Many smokers also throw their cigarette butts on the street because cleaning up is too much work for them. The excuse is probably that they can’t throw a cigarette which isn’t extinguished in the litter bin. When I recently seated myself on a bench in a park in The Hague during my lunch break, I noticed the ground around the bench was littered with cigarette butts. It looked like they had accumulated there over some days or weeks. Apart from that smoking in public always gives a bad example to children.

This ambition to ban smoking in public comes late, but is very welcome. I do hope that we can institute a nationwide ban on smoking in public instead of having to wait for every individual municipality in our country to take action. There is no reason why smoking should be banned in some streets in Rotterdam while it would still be allowed on the Grote Marktstraat in The Hague.

Because a complete smoking ban might play into the hands of illegal production and criminals, I don’t wouldn’t advocate a complete smoking ban. I would treat tobacco roughly equal to cannabis, assuming that cannabis production will probably be legalized in the near future. So only legal sale in coffee shops (so no tobacco sale in super markets and such!) and use banned in public.

How to talk to a colleague about strained collaboration?

A month ago I wrote that I had found a new job in The Hague and had difficulties in collaborating with a specific colleague there. I planned to have a conversation with him about it to solve the problem, but I kept postponing it because I dreaded the idea. This continued until a workday at the end of July, when the colleague in question was giving serious criticism. His complaints he addressed at me about the timely processing of customer support requests where the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. To my own frustration I didn’t have enough time for customer support due to other tasks.

I was about to explode, but remained calm and asked the colleague if he had time for a private conversation about our collaboration in a few hours. Those extra hours proved useful to me to calm down. Because the conversation could easily degrade the relationship further if I handled it poorly, I considered the conversation tactics I would follow.

First the most important one: don’t assume bad intentions. Even though you might experience the interactions of a colleague as structurally negative and disdainful, it doesn’t mean the collegue intended it so. Many people, myself included, often don’t understand what kind of impression they leave with others. This means it’s better to ask a question like “are you dissatisfied with our collaboration?” instead of more closed questions which make assumptions. Such as for example the question “why can’t you work together with me?”, which presupposes that colleague can’t stand you. I was surprised to hear that my colleague didn’t have an issue with me.

With this knowledge you can continue to talk about the impression the communication of your colleague leaves with you. Do this without making any claims, for example don’t say “you are constantly complaining about me” which comes across as accusative. Focus on the fact that it’s about your impression or interpretation and leave out the intent of your colleague. If you say “I get the impression that you are always dissatisfied with my work” it’s easier for the colleague to say that this isn’t correct. The colleague will likely understand that he should tone down his criticism and convey it better.

Try to give examples of recent interactions with the colleague which you considered uncomfortable. This makes the issues easier to understand. On one issue, my colleague’s tendency to micromanage me and others, I couldn’t mention clear and recent examples. We saved it for later discussion if necessary, but because I mentioned it I did get the idea that the message landed.

Some smaller problems are quickly solved. My colleague promised to use my complete first name instead of “Alex” and to avoid the “what do you think yourself?” question if I discussed a problem with him.

To conclude, it is important to remember that not only the colleague should change, but you as well. I promised that I would bundle my questions more so that I would ask him for help only once or twice during the day. I sometimes have the tendency to ask questions too often, which interrupts my colleagues in their work too frequently.  I would perform a more comprehensive investigation before I presented a problem to him. Though he didn’t ask for it, I said I would write more documentation to explain complex procedures. If the documentation is good, the assistance of the colleague is needed less often.

Do we still dare to speak out against anti-social behavior?

In July I enjoyed a weekend of holiday in the Dutch province of Zeeland with my family. At one moment I was riding a bicycle with my brother, his wife, their baby and Stephanie in northern direction over the Oosterscheldekering and we arrived at a sluice called the Roompotsluis. Both bridges over this sluice are not wide enough to allow simultaneous passage of two cars, yet traffic from both directions is allowed. So drivers have to allow other drivers to pass if they arrive at the bridge at the same time.

At the moment we arrived at the eastern bridge over this sluice two drivers wanted to pass over the bridge. From the norther direction came a car with an older couple, around sixty years of age. From the southern half a Mercedes Benz SUV drove on, with a couple approximately fifty years old. Both drivers obviously wanted to pass the bridge first and didn’t want to let the other pass first. Both stopped on the bridge itself, with the noses of their cars facing each other.

While we drove on the bridge the driver of the Mercedes Benz stepped out to do something about the impasse that had arisen. I could have thought of many ways to solve the situation with good deliberation. Throw a coin, be the first to guess a number under ten. Or just simply giving the other driver some room and letting them pass first. But Mercedes man had other ideas. He stepped out, walked over to the other driver’s opened window and said approximately “I was first and if you don’t make way now I’ll do something to you”. I didn’t follow exactly what happened next, but it looked like the other driver didn’t say anything in response. In any case, the Mercedes man walked back to his car and the other driver drove backwards.

While he was walking back to his car we passed him at the center of the bridge. For some reason it always takes some time before these kinds of stressful situations with anti-social behavior register with me. A few seconds later we had passed the bridge and I said we should have told the Mercedes man that his behavior was unacceptable. My brother and his wife responded that they had ignored the event because my brother was vulnerable with their baby in the cargo bicycle. And because the Mercedes man could later use his car to ram us off the road.

I’m ashamed of myself for doing nothing, because I don’t consider my ‘freezing’ to be an excuse. In my rich fantasy the event keeps replaying, with alternative endings based on how I respond. In one version I have such a commanding presence that I convince the Mercedes man to apologize to the other driver for his threat. In another version I seethe with anger as soon as I hear the threat being uttered. I grab the Mercedes man by the collar and shake him up while I, screaming, make him clear how far he has crossed the line. Then the Mercedes man feels for himself what it is like to be on the receiving end of intimidation.

It is reasonable to consider whether intervention in this kind of situation is wise or not. If a group of drunk people passes me at night in a deserted street and exhibits aggressive behavior I would also avoid them and call the police at a safe distance. However, I get the idea that we make to choice against intervention too easily. The Mercedes man wasn’t drunk and was accompanied by his wife in his car. In the unlikely event of a fight I or my brother would have easily gotten the better of him. It didn‘t seem likely that he would damage his expensive car to ram us off the road a moment later. He behaved sufficiently rational to realize that his license plate would have been remembered. If every one of us in our group would have spoken out against his threat he most likely would have been scared off.

All of this is of course reasoning in hindsight, but the question is what kind of society we want to live. A risk averse society in which everyone has to fend for themselves, or a society in which we dare to stand up for strangers? De other driver who was intimidated by the Mercedes man must have seen us abandoning him. We can always think of some reason why we shouldn’t address others if their behavior is out of line. But what if you were that other driver? Would you have had sympathy for a group of cyclists who pass you and act as if they hear no threatening language?

I remember an event from about fifteen years ago quite well. When I was walking through the center of Culemborg a man on a moped was driving aggressively through the traffic. He snapped at a woman on a bicycle that she had to move out of the way. Almost directly he was called out on his behavior by another man on a bike, who told him resolutely that his behavior was detestable. The man on the moped, obviously surprised, drove along calm and quiet. There were more people around, but the man on the bicycle was the only one who intervened. My memory of this event is so clear because I look up to this man. Someone who, given an acceptable risk, stands up for others and reprimands bad behavior without freezing.

Why an apology for slavery should not be made

On 30 June the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, called on the Dutch government to make a formal apology for the Dutch slave trade. De Dutch state had expressed its regret for the slave trade before, but it never came to an apology out of fear for possible legal responsibility. There are several reason why I think a formal apology is not a good idea.

At the very least I think it is ironic that just Aboutaleb with his Berber origin calls for an apology. The Barbary pirates from North Africa undertook slave raids to Europe from the 16th to 19th century to enslave Europeans. Where is his call to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to formally apologize to the European countries for their slave trade? Of course Europeans have traded far more slaves than the Berbers, but that is not the point. It’s just an interesting question, not an appeal to hypocrisy towards Aboutaleb.

Europeans nowadays don’t demand an apology from North African countries for their slave trade from the past. Indigenous Dutch people nowadays don’t demand an apology from Spain because their distant ancestors were killed during the Eighty Years’ War due to the actions of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish Empire never compensated the United Provinces for the damage. Apparently these people do realise that you shouldn’t keep pulling on the distant past.

There are of course other situations possible were an apology is appropriate. The most important criterium should be if the people who demand the apology actually suffered from the acts for which an apology is asked. The killings perpetrated by Dutch soldiers in the Indonesian village Rawagede and in South Sulawesi in 1946 and 1947 are a good example. The widows of the men who were killed at that time were compensated for the damage and received an official apology.

It should be noted that the Dutch politicians who were responsible for the violent suppression of the Indonesian War of Independence are no longer alive. An apology loses value if it is not made by those who were responsible for the misdeeds. In this case the responsibility is more abstract because the apology is made on behalf of the Dutch state as a legal entity. This does not affect the necessity of the apology however.

Compare this with the situation of the slave trade by the Dutch. Among the people who demand an apology from the Dutch state, there is no one who has suffered from slavery and they did not have parents who have been slaves. In which way were they damaged by the slavery? How will an apology make them sleep easier at night? I can’t help but think that these people want an apology so that they can hold the Dutch government responsible in the court of law and then demand financial compensation through lawsuits.

Visited Sardinia in June 2018

For our summer holiday of 2018 we wanted to go to a place with a lot of good beaches. One reason was that we had to go in warm month of June, another was that Stephanie is pregnant. This meant frequent long walks through cities or nature were not an option. The destination also had to be relatively close by, so that we didn’t need to drive more than one day with our car. This made Sardinia an attractive option. The schedule was as follows:

  • Fri 08 Car from The Hague (5:00) to Toulon (18:00), ferry from Toulon (20:00) to Porto Torres.
  • Sat 09 Arrival at Porto Torres (8:00), Alghero, Grotta di Nettuno, Spiaggia di Porto Ferro, Sassari.
  • Sun 10 Sassari, Spiaggia di Platamona.
  • Mon 11 Asinara, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Sassari.
  • Tue 12 Castelsardo, Spiaggia di Rena Bianca, Arzachena.
  • Wed 13 Tempio Pausania, Nuraghe Maiori, Arzachena.
  • Thu 14 Porto Pollo (wind surfing), Arzachena.
  • Fri 15 Palau (boat tour), Arzachena.
  • Sat 16 Olbia, Cala Brandinchi, San Teodoro.
  • Sun 17 Spiaggia La Cinta, Nuoro.
  • Mon 18 Serra Orrios, Grotta di Ispinigoli, Dorgali, Nuoro.
  • Tue 19 Spiaggia di Sos Dorroles, Nuoro.
  • Wed 20 Cala Gonone (boat tour), Nuoro.
  • Thu 21 Nuraghe Santu Antine, Monte d’Accoddi, Porto Torres, Spiaggia della Pelosa, Porto Torres.
  • Fri 22 Ferry from Porto Torres (7:15) to Barcelona (19:00), car to Salou.
  • Wed 27 Car from Salou to The Hague.

We chose to use the car this time because it meant we didn’t need to rent one on Sardinia. Our own car was also nicer to drive because we had bought a good second-hand Toyota Prius in January. It also allowed us to take along more luggage because we didn’t have carry everything with us in a train. The car is a lot cheaper than the train, it cost us around € 110 for petrol and € 65 for road tolls to get from The Hague to Toulon. The train is much faster (7 hours and 41 minutes from Den Haag HS to Gare de Toulon) but would have cost us around € 350 for two people. Boarding the ferry with or without a car makes a difference of about € 20. And then I haven’t considered the costs of car rental yet.

Of course it didn’t feel good to use a car from an environmental perspective, but it was my compromise with Stephanie. But even if we did use the train, we still would have faced the huge black fumes coming from the exhaust pipe of the ferry. In theory we could have used the train and then a sailboat to travel to Sardinia, but the options I’ve seen for sailboats were very expensive.

Sardinia doesn’t offer as much with regards to culture as other regions of Italy. Alghero and Olbia have two good archeological museums (the one in Sassari lacked good presentation). The city centers of Alghero and Sassari are certainly worth visiting, especially Sassari because it is less popular with tourists (don’t visit Sassari on Sunday like us though, because most sights will be closed). Apart from cities, you will find many interesting prehistoric Nuragic sites scattered through the countryside. Some of these sites such as Nuraghe Santu Antine can be quite elaborate. The relatively smaller offer of culture didn’t bother us because we expected this and the abundance of beautiful beaches compensated for that.

Piazza Regina Margherita in Olbia

As for beaches, Sardinia made good on all expectations. I’ve visited great beaches in Puglia and Calabria, but in Sardinia they are more frequent and have a more consistent quality. The photos I’ve uploaded don’t do them justice, in reality they are even more georgeous. I loved swimming in the crystal clear waters, with such beauty I did not see any need to visit the best beaches in the tropics. What I enjoyed most was learning the basics of wind surfing in a day at Porto Pollo, with the company MB Pro Center. It was too bad I had planned just one day for this. I’d like to visit Sardinia again in the future. I intend to reserve more time then for snorkeling, kiteboarding and sailing, for which there was no space in the plan. I’d love to sail in the Maddalena archipelago with more freedom. This holiday we chose one of the motorized boats departing from Palau, but it catered to a large group of tourists and only went down the trodden paths.

Cala Brandinchi

As for other outdoor activities, there is a fair share of interesting caves to visit. We had to skip visits to Tiscali and Gola Su Gorropu, Europe’s ‘Grand Canyon’, due to the long hikes in the hot weather. I hope to visit these in the future. On the other hand I would have scrapped Castelsardo from the schedule. It has a castle on a tall hill, but its interior and the view from the top weren’t very interesting. I thought Tempio Pausania and Dorgali would be worthwhile because they lie in the interior, far away from the tourists, but there wasn’t much worth seeing there. You can buy some good wine though at Cantina Gallura and Cantina Dorgali respectively. In the interior, Nuoro is a larger city with more substantial sights.

Of course you can‘t have it all. For me Sardinia’s main disadvantage was the food. It wasn’t bad, but I consider the food of the other regions of Southern Italy to be clearly superior. The cuisine is rather carnivorous and vegetarian or vegan options are limited. Order a dish with fava beans and there’s a change it might include lard. I haven’t eaten a single satisfying fish dish during my whole holiday. Maybe it was just a matter of bad luck and I had to look better. I do recommend Agriturismo Candela near Arzachena and Agriturismo Li Mori in San Teodoro for offering tasty food for a good price in a nice decor, these places are most memorable for me.

At the end of our stay in Sardinia we took a ferry to Barcelona and then went to a camping in Salou were Stephanie’s parents were staying. The company was good, but I don’t like camping for long. That camping was far too massive for my taste as well. Salou is only good for mass tourism and lacks any authenticity. I would like to see more of other parts of Spain though. I’m not sure were we will go for our holiday next year, but I’m leaning towards Hossegor in southwestern France for some good surfing.

Cala Luna, looking north

The Histories

With my bachelor in History I’ve desired for a long time to read the work of Herodotus, who is often called the father of History. He wasn’t covered in detail during my bachelor’s program, but he is described as the first who used a critical investigative method to write history rather than destiny or the will of the gods. His work covers the expansion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and how it was halted by the Greeks. During my holiday I finally got around to finish reading it (and the extensive footnotes with scientific commentary on his work).

As you read The Histories, you often see passages where Herodotus analyzes different accounts of specific events. If he reports stories which he considers dubious, he argues why these are unlikely to be true or should be be dismissed. If he can’t decide which version is true, he leaves the judgment to the reader.

The Achaemenid Empire and the Greeks are the red thread in the work, but Herodotus often deviates from this red thread. Often because he provides long geographical, ethnographical, historical and zoological descriptions on the regions which make up or are invaded by the Achaemenid Empire. Some of these are rather long-winded and boring.

At several points it becomes clear that Herodotus hasn’t traveled to all those regions himself, such as when he describes the hippopotamus in Egypt. You’ll understand why people call him unreliable as he reports on the bizarre cultural practices of some exotic tribes, Arabian flying snakes and Scythian werewolves. While some of his stories are fantastical, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss all of it. The giant Indian gold-digging ants have actually been identified with marmots, for example.

Herodotus doesn’t just write history, he writes to entertain his audience with a good story as well. This is obvious in his impossibly detailed descriptions of dialogues. Sometimes this entertainment seems to be detrimental to historical accuracy. For example when an ophthalmologist sent by the Egyptian pharaoh to the Persian king is (indirectly) the cause for the Persian invasion of Egypt. Herodotus doesn’t mention anything about the strategic reasons for the invasion. It’s like believing the abduction of Helen was the real or sole reason for the Trojan War. Even so, there is always a core of truth in his work.

In the second half of The Histories the pace is picked up as it focuses more on the war between the Persians and the Greeks. The Persian king Darius and his successor Xerxes have many ambitious and manipulative subordinates who work more to further their own goals instead of what benefits the empire. They do have a fair share of good advisers to which they listen. To the amusement of the reader the kings more often follow the bad advice of their underlings who seek career advancement!

The amusement of Persian bad judgment is varied with Greek fortitude. You become inspired when the Greeks settle their internal conflicts and form a unified front against the Persian threat. You are deeply impressed by the Greek self-sacrifice in their last stand at Thermopylae. You feel glorious when the Greeks win a heroic victory at Salamis in spite of the low odds, as if your favorite just won sports a championship. You rejoice as the Persians are punished for their overconfidence! Like the ancient Greek audience of Herodotus, you will love the hubris and the inevitable punishment it calls for. If you’re from Iran though you’d probably say the Athenians started it when they pillaged Sardis.

The irony of history is that eventually Athens itself would fall victim to hubris, when it started to oppress the other Greek cities through its foundation of the Delian League. Athens got its just deserts with the disaster of its Sicilian Expedition and its defeat in the Peloponnesian War.

Herodotus may be the father of history, but he is also rooted in his own time and culture. He obviously believes that humans have agency and can steer history without divine intervention. But that does not mean the gods play no part. In The Histories divine vengeance or tisis for the sacrilegious acts of some Persians (and occasionally Greeks) is a common theme. An example are the storms which batter the Persian fleet.

Speaking of Greek religion, Herodotus reports extensively on revelations and predictions of the future given by oracles. Like his contemporaries, he believes in the ability of oracles. His report that an oracle was bribed by the Spartan king Cleomenes for a favorable prediction doesn’t damage that belief. However, as modern readers we know that predicting the future isn’t possible and all oracular predictions must have been made up after the predicted events happened. Herodotus isn’t alone in this, as many Greek and Roman historians have used the same literary device. But how did they reconcile their genuine belief in oracles with this reality of ex eventu oracular predictions? Google Scholar doesn’t provide me answers.

Switched from Samsung Galaxy S7 to the iPhone 6

My previous employer FRISS provided me with a mobile phone I could use privately as well. This was needed for their work from home policy and the occassional standby shift. My new employer ID Ware doesn’t do those things, so it was not unreasonable that they didn’t provide me with a phone. Because it was expensive to take over the Samsung Galaxy S7 which I used while working for FRISS, I decided to look for a new phone.

The subscription FRISS had with T-Mobile allowed some choice in different phones. Among the phones with Google Android, the Samsung Galaxy S7 phones stood out as the best choice. The iPhones required an hefty extra payment, so I chose the Galaxy S7.

While the Galaxy S7 was a great phone from a hardware point of view, I didn’t like the software. Apart from the obvious spying on your personal data by Google, the phone came crammed full of bloatware by Samsung. Some of which you couldn’t uninstall. Samsung has a annoying habit of supplying their phones with their own alternative apps for the standard Android software (such as the web browser and calendar) which add nothing. They also have a bad reputation for ending regular security updates for their phones quite soon. There are of course other manufacturers which sell phones which do run stock Android and do receive security updates for a reasonable amount of years after the phone was released. But you haven’t solved the spying problem then.

Installing a custom ROM on your Android phone, like LineageOS, doesn’t solve the problem either. I’m not aware of all the details, but the fact that you will have to deal with lower photo quality of the Galaxy S7 is a deal breaker for me. And you will still need to install Google software which spies on you if you want to use the Android app store. It’s too much uncertainty and work. I wanted something which is (relatively) privacy friendly, bloatware free and easy to use.

My choice was a refurbished iPhone 6 from Forza, included in a Tele2 contract with unlimited calling/SMS’ing and 2 GB of data per month for € 22. Paying € 1.000 for the new iPhone X, even though it has that nice OLED screem (and that silly notch!) is madness. But € 22 a month is barely more than I paid for a SIM-only subscription in the past, which excluded a phone.

A brief remark about Tele2: avoid them. I found my number was published in the phone directory, online and on paper, without my permission. Their helpdesk doesn’t have a clue how this could happen and they didn’t compensate me in any way. I submitted a complaint for this with the Dutch Data Protection Agency.

Not too long ago there was a critical investigation by the Dutch Consumer’s Association which slammed refurbished phones. They found that these phones can be badly repaired with second-rate components and aren necessarily much cheaper than new phones. Forza got a bad review too. In my case I have nothing to complain, my refurbished iPhone 6 works fine.

I expected that I would miss the great OLED screen of the Galaxy S7 on the iPhone 6, but this didn’t happen. In the majority of my use cases the screen doesn’t have to display a lot of black color and it isn’t used in dark environments, so I don’t notice the lack of an OLED screen much. On the software side iOS is much more pleasant than Android, no spying and bloatware. The sporadic app you can’t remove such as Apple Health doesn’t really get in the way or take up a lot of storage. No problem if you want to set DuckDuckGo as the default search provider in the Safari web browser (it’s not possible in Google Chrome on Android).

However, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it wouldn’t combine it’s superior product design with its fair share of dick moves. For example their negligence in keeping their web browser engine WebKit up to date with the latest web standards. Usually this is no issue because you could install a different web browser with a different engine, but Apple is actively blocking anything else from WebKit being used on iOS. This reached the news after the French software company Nexedi sued Apple for this. This was in 2016 and while WebKit is still the only option on iOS, I’m not up to date on the current web standards compliance of WebKit.

Another one is that Apple refuses to implement support for the open and cross-plaform Vulkan graphics API on iOS, in favor of their own closed Metal graphics API. Metal was released in 2014 while Vulkan was not finished yet (it was in 2016), Apple might have legitimately thought that Vulkan was taking too long. But for some time now Vulkan has been accepted as the open standard for graphics and is frequently used on Linux and Android. While it’s not visible to the consumer, Apple is effectively screwing all those developers who have to convert their software from Vulkan to Metal if they want to release it for iOS. If the life of developers is unnecessarily made more difficult the consumer is disadvantaged indirectly.

Then there is the inability to use another app store than the Apple App Store (not the case on Android). Apple says it wants to protect its users, but that doesn’t justify restriction of freedom. They could easily give a warning that there are no safety guarantees once users add other app stores. The real reason is of course that they want a monopoly on paid iOS apps so they can reap more profits. Just like Google they take a share of app store transactions. My solution for this is simply refusing to buy anything from the Apple App Store. I don’t need any paid apps anyway.

I could mention the fact that iOS is not open source, meaning there is no opportunity to create custom ROM’s for iOS. The more complex reality is that while Android is open source, many Android apps are not. They are now close source as part of a deliberate strategy by Google to make the open source Android unattractive. Presented with this choice, I value privacy more than software freedom, hence my choice for Apple. I think I’ve made it clear now that I merely consider Apple the best choice out of two bad choices.

New job in The Hague

Shortly before quitting FRISS I had started three concurrent job application procedures. I ended up signing with an IT-company in The Hague, which sells smart cards, smart card printers and the software to manage them. I started in my new job in March. I will discuss the job applications first and then my new employer.

The first job application was with the Dutch Ministry of Finance for a job as (junior) policy adviser. I passed the job application letter selection. Because I wanted this job so badly I prepared better than usual for the interview. I even practiced it with a career counselor, something I had never done before. I thought the interview went well, but it seems I always have to deal with extremely choosy interviewers. After I was refused I asked for and received detailed feedback, but I was too upset to memorize it well. Except for a remark about inadequate analytical skills, which shows the unwillingness of interviewers to look past first impressions and consider proven accomplishments. Such as an scientific publication for example, which the vast majority of their candidates wouldn’t have had. If that doesn’t vouch for analytical skills, what does?

The refusal felt devastating to me. Why does fate forbid me to get a job which I was trained to do, through my education in Public Administration? My suspicion is that there is a relatively large amount of applicants for jobs like policy adviser, while IT personnel is relatively scarce. Not long after the refusal the cognitive dissonance arrived. I got fed up with soliciting for government jobs, certainly after the realization that my current salary with my new employer matches the minimum salary of a senior (!) policy adviser. I can anticipate what will happen with that salary if I acquire some more experience and certifications like Scrum Master and Lean Six Sigma.

I had two other job applications, after two recruiters had invited me. Of course it felt good to be invited instead of having to take the initiative. One of these companies was Doculayer, which produces an Enterprise Content Management system. I liked the diversity in their team of employees, was impressed by their product and thought they had an attractive office building. I didn’t like their location right next to a big highway and the long bike ride to their office, which necessitated using public transport. The salary was attractive, but  offered more.

The company of my current employer is much smaller with a rather unassuming office in a large residential house. While I worked with colleagues from every continent at FRISS, almost all my current colleagues are white and male. On the other hand, I can reach the office in half an hour with my bike, it’s located in a nice neighborhood with a beautiful park nearby. The good salary offer came after I had told their recruiter that it was difficult to decide between Doculayer and my current employer. As mentioned in the previous post, I gained € 1.000 in gross salary. For the first time ever I feel respected and valued by my employer instead of a replaceable pawn to reap in profit.

Unlike the job interview with the Ministry of Finance, I didn’t do any special preparation for the job interviews at these two companies. I was just myself and asked as lot of questions, roughly equal to the amount I answered. Maybe I didn’t leave a good impression with them either and they were so desperate for new personnel to choose me anyway? Or maybe I held up fine during the interviews while the ministry was searching for unicorns and had a lot of choice? I have no idea.

My job is challenging. Basically I have to learn about the company’s products and software from the ground up again, because it is totally different from the software made by FRISS. The documentation could use improvement. Many processes suffer from administrative overhead and could be optimized. The ERP software which we use intensively, SAGE, is quite terrible and should be replaced. We use a very old on-premises version of SAGE based on Microsoft Access (!) which is very slow and user unfriendly. On the IT Service Management side there is decent incident management, but there is a lot of potential to improve the problem management. The the amount of incoming incidents could be reduced greatly if their root causes would be fixed. We need better monitoring software so that we are immediately informed when business critical systems go down.

Of course I like to be challenged. However, the reality is that I can barely keep up with my regular work. This consists of solving incidents with our software, placing purchase orders and processing incoming and outgoing deliveries. I don’t have enough time, I feel like I’m so busy evacuating water from my boat that I don’t have an opportunity to patch the hull leak. I hope to get more efficient in my daily work in the coming months so that I can free more time for structural improvements.

There is one thing which has been much more troubling though. The collaboration with one of my direct colleagues is very strained. I feel he treats me with disdain, like an inexperienced intern rather than a colleague. He works much longer for the company, is more experienced and has unrealistic expectations of how fast I can get acquainted with my new job. The vast majority of the interactions he has with me are negative because he always complains about me. Even though he is not my manager he frequently micromanages me and orders me around. When I ask him questions on how I should solve more complex incidents, he frequently answers with the question “What do you think yourself?”, as if it were an exam. I experience this as very condescending.

I consider myself easy to get along with and can get along with everyone else at my current employer. I did have one direct colleague at FRISS with whom I collided occasionally, but over time I developed a professional understanding with him which enabled us to get along. I still didn’t like him on a personal level, but in the end I did develop some respect for him as my colleague. With this guy, I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s genuine passive-aggressive behavior or just social ineptitude. So far I’ve started to behave slightly more assertive towards him and I ignore his complaints and more counterproductive advice, but that’s not a road I want to go down further.

I thought I’d endure it for some months and wait to see if our collaboration would improve, but after four months it has not. This matter has been detrimental to the enjoyment of my work. If it continues for longer, I definitely should speak to him about it. The fact that I’ve been postponing that conversation tells me that I consider it difficult and want to avoid it.

Comment 17-12-2018: at the request of my employer I anonymized my employer’s name.

Quit my job with FRISS

February 2018 was my last month at FRISS. After two and half years I found a new job with ID Ware. I will write about my new job in the following post and look back on my job at FRISS in this post.

In the coming paragraphs I will primarily discuss what I didn’t like and didn’t go so well at FRISS, but I want to be clear about the good things. I appreciated the interaction with my colleagues very much, especially those from the group who participated in the lunch break walks and who I got to know quite well. I liked the (international) diversity and how I could discuss the intricacies of Indian food for hours with my Indian colleague, as well as other subjects with co-workers from many other cultures. My manager was a nice guy. The management team held monthly meetings with all employees near the end of a workday to discuss the progress and direction of the company. This was combined with a free dinner after the meeting. This was very transparent way to keep employees informed and involved in the company.

But there were several factors which diminished the enjoyment my job gave me. Most importantly, the salary. Since I joined my current employer ID Ware, I make € 1.000 more before taxes. I did benefit from the experience I gained with FRISS and an ITIL Practitioner certification to get to my current salary, as well as some good negotiation moves. However, I’m still mostly doing essentially the same work as with FRISS. If you consider that, the gap is quite large.

Another very significant detractor was the IT Service Management software I had to use for the job. I felt like a chef who was compelled to work with a blunt chef’s knife all day long. This software, called GAIA and made by a Dutch company called AllSolutions, was a downright nasty piece of software from the Stone Age. It could apparently do everything but did nothing well. The difference with modern IT Service Management software was like night and day. It couldn’t even send e-mails to report the closure of an ticket or automatically record the name of the person writing a comment on a ticket. The finance department used it as well for financial administration. Everyone I spoke to hated it, except for the guy who administered the application because that skill had made him irreplaceble.

I addressed the inadequacies of GAIA in the first weeks after I joined FRISS. I didn’t have the time and persuasion skills to get things moving quickly. Eventually a new CFO did have a sense of urgency and took the lead because GAIA was so unsuitable for the finance department. Shortly before I left I participated in the effort to migrate to a modern ERP system, but I felt FRISS should and could have been looking for something else years earlier. I think I have to partially blame myself for not pushing harder and not being able to convince people of the need to change.

Apart from tools the processes were not optimal either. Even though I had a very good understanding with the Product Owner (Scrum terminology) of the development team, it was my experience that our feedback and suggestions almost had no influence on the work of development. I think this is because the Product Owner’s hands were tied and he had to listen to the CTO and the Product Managers. Of course prioritization is needed, but when it takes ages to address issues which harmed the productivity of Support and even the occasional bug which is harmful to customers, another extreme is reached. I felt that the CTO and Product Managers were pushing development too hard for all kinds of new hyped features while the basics weren’t receiving enough attention.

An example of insufficient basics was the implementation of watchlists for adresses of known fraudsters. This functionality was a filthy hack at best. The feature was so user unfriendly that the customer generally couldn’t upload these watchlists, so they would sent them to us. We would then use some SQL queries to insert the watchlists in the database. Because the customers who used these watchlist were using a deprecated (but still supported) version of our software, development didn’t work on improving the functionality. The idea was that the improved functionality would be implemented in the version which did see active development, but it was never prioritized. That’s why this situation could continue for the full two and half years I worked at FRISS. The customers must not have been pleased, because we would charge them a small fee for the time it took us to process those watchlists for them. I was downright frustrated because nothing was undertaken to improve the situation (I did bring this up more than once) and I was essentially doing something which the customer should have been able to do themselves.

Apart from features not working properly, I became pessimistic due to the lack of progress in making our product scalable. With our product it was possible to have the same functionality implemented differently for every customer. This made it more difficult to diagnose issues and increased the workload for the Support team.

Because I wrote and sent the communication about new software releases to our customers I was well informed of the work done by our development team. This gave me the impression that the development of our software in general progressed slowly compared to the fte’s in the development team. Every new release contained a rather small amount of new features, and most of these were rather trivial. I was not alone in this sentiment, but I can’t explain why it happened. I certainly don’t think our developers were lazy, but it might have to do with the process. New releases came every four weeks at the completion of the sprint (Scrum terminology). Obviously the major new features can’t land every release in such a short time span, but even so I felt that they landed exceptionally sporadic.

Talent management was lacking. I didn’t expect to climb up the ladder quickly because I signed up as a Support Engineer and my aid was essential to manage the workload for the Support team. However, half a year after I started two new people were posted from an external company. They had acedemic master’s degrees unrelated to IT just like me, but respectively no and equal experience in IT compared to me. I was surprised when they soon started working in the Consultancy team while I remained in Support. Ironically, one of them asked me for help on several issues after getting promoted. I also noticed that it was possible for management to offer someone else who was not satisfied with her job another position, even though nothing was done to address my dissatisfaction. I considered all three of these people pleasant colleges, but as you can imagine I felt treated unfairly. Shortly before I announced that I would leave FRISS I was told to expect a transfer to Project Management. While I appreciated this very much, the offer was not as attractive as the one ID Ware had made me.

Finally, the grim environment of the Papendorp business park was another motivator to leave. Especially because I liked to take a walk with colleagues during the break. Papendorp is a desolate collection of grass and pavement, with an asphalt factory and a large highway close by. If FRISS needs to consider a new office due to growth in the future, I sincerely hope it is situated in a more attractive environment which stimulates the senses more positively.

I’ll summarize the morale of this story on how to keep employees motivated, management literature style. Pay your employees a competitive salary to make them feel appreciated and prevent other companies from hyjacking them. Give them good tools to execute their daily work. Support them in their search for better tools if they need them. Take care to listen to the wishes of your Support team next to your Product Management team. Support gets different insights from the users of your software, which Product Management won’t have. Balance development of new features with polishing existing features. Employ sound talent management to make sure there is no misalignment between the skills of your employees and their actual work, in a way no one feels left behind. Provide an attractive working environment, both indoors and outdoors.

Switched to ProtonMail

Since September 2017 I’ve been a rather satisfied user of the ProtonMail email service. I’d like to explain why I switched and why I think you should do so too.

Before ProtonMail I had been using Roundcube. This the open source webmail solution offered by my website’s hosting provider Antagonist. Just like many other webhosts their email service is included in my hosting package. The problem is that Roundcube sees very little development and is archaic now. Its web interface isn’t responsive, so it’s a pain to use on a smartphone. There are no smartphone apps either. Even on a laptop or desktop, it’s interface is old and clunky. It’s not even a contest between Roundcube and modern free webmail solutions like and Gmail.

But you don’t want to switch to or Gmail either. Those are delivered by unscrupulous companies who lust for your data and privacy. You don’t just use their product, you are the product because they will use your personal data for advertising purposes. In practice the advertising they employ is unobtrusive, but in principle this is unacceptable. No one gets to stick their nose in my emails, whether they are strangers or automated advertisement software!

After some time of considering the alternatives such as getting a VPS and installing SOGo on that, or other smaller paid email services, I arrived at ProtonMail. I chose the paid account because it was possible to associate it with my own custom domain. This way all the emails which are adressed to my existing email address simply get routed to my ProtonMail account. So I didn’t need to change my email adress everywhere. Using my own domain required reading some documentation and changing a few things in the email configuration of my host Antagonist and ProtonMail itself, but was relatively easy.

The greatest advantage of ProtonMail is that it focuses on privacy and good encryption. The encryption employed is both zero-access and end-to-end, as explained here. They can’t search through your data and sell it for advertising purposes. They have a good web interface as well as Android and iOS apps. I’d highly recommend everyone to get a free account with them, or a paid one if you want the custom domains feature. These people rather than Microsoft or Google deserve your financial support.

However, it also has some problems. The most important one is that it’s not completely open source. They do give the impression that all their software is open source on their website’s front page, but they are misleading their customers. Actually only the frontend (graphical user interface) is open source and the backend (the inner workings) is not. Neither are the iOS and Android apps.

The developers claim that they don’t publish everything because it would expose their spam filter to circumvention by the spammers. As others have already pointed out, they should not use this excuse because if their software is properly modularized they can maintain a closed source spam filter while the rest is completely open source. As for the iOS and Android apps, they have already been claiming for years now that those would be open sourced once sufficient code quality had been reached. After several years of waiting this is no longer a credible excuse. I’m not going to assume malice where I can assume negligence, but the communication on their open source strategy is very disappointing.

It is important for their software to be published under a free and open source license so that far more people than just their own developers can analyze it and check for security vulnerabilities. Also, it would allow other parties to host ProtonMail. I think this is an important reason why ProtonMail is holding back with open sourcing their software; if everyone can host it they will lose paying subscribers.

Currently I’m paying Antagonist for the web hosting (including their email service which I don’t use anymore) and ProtonMail for the email. It would be more efficient if Antagonist could install the ProtonMail software so I would have everything hosted with one party. I would probably still donate to ProtonMail so they can keep developing their software.

Apart from the open source issue, I would like to see several important features in ProtonMail. First, a calendar feature would be useful so that I don’t need to use separate software for that. Currently I just use an old-fashioned paper agenda. Second, the ability of the phone apps to synchronize with the phone’s contact list. If you get a new Apple iPhone there is no way to tell the ProtonMail iOS app to place all its contacts in the iOS contacts list (it’s the same on Android). Migrating your phone’s contacts is thus more complicated if you don’t want to use Google or Apple cloud services for that. Finally, the fixed American mm/dd/yyyy date format should be adjustable and preferably default to the date format of the user’s location.