High-speed rail in France should be faster

In my previous post I wrote about my holiday in Biarritz, but I would like to reflect on the high-speed train I used to travel there separately.

First I used the tram and metro to travel from The Hague to Rotterdam. In Rotterdam I used the Thalys high-speed train to travel through Antwerp and Brussels to Paris, stopping at Gare du Nord. Not surprisingly, this station lies north of the center of Paris. Then it was necessary to travel with metro line 4 from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse, which lies southwest of the center of Paris. There I used the TGV high-speed train to travel through Bordeaux, Dax and Bayonne before exiting the train at Biarritz.

Travel times are as follows:

  1. The leg between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord took 2:37 hours on the outward journey and 3:05 on the return journey.
  2. The transfer and waiting in Paris required 1:12 hours on the outward journey and 2:14 on the return journey.
  3. The leg between Gare Montparnasse and Biarritz took 4:16 hours on the outward journey and 4:13 on the return journey.

I noticed several things. The journey time between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord varies quite a bit. For some reason Google Maps suggests a trip which combines a different metro line with a bus, rather than just using metro line 4. The transfer with metro line 4 actually requires no more than 20 minutes for the metro itself and 20 minutes to get from the metro to the train stations. Especially on the return journey, a lot of time was wasted on the transfer. Unlike the TGV Euroduplex, the Thalys is not a double-deck train, so boarding is less efficient. Because the train is so long the passengers need more time to walk to their wagon on the platforms.

According to The Train Line, the distance between Rotterdam and Gare du Nord is 370 kilometers and the distance from Gare Montparnasse to Biarritz is 668 kilometers. The maximum speed of the TGV Euroduplex (on normal commercial routes) is 320 kilometers per hour, which the train did actually reach (it’s shown on the monitors in the train) between Paris and Bordeaux. The distance between Paris and Bordeaux is 499 kilometers and it takes the TGV Euroduplex on average 2:20 hours to cross this distance.

So with this information we can do some calculations on the average speed:

  1. Rotterdam to Paris: 141 km/h (assuming 2:37 travel time)
  2. Paris to Bordeaux: 214 km/h
  3. Bordeaux to Biarritz: 90 km/h (assuming 1:53 travel time)

It makes sense that Rotterdam to Paris is slower than Paris to Bordeaux because the former route has stops in Antwerp and Brussels, while the latter has none. But it doesn’t explain the entire difference. On the route, I noticed that the Thalys slows down significantly at certain parts in Belgium, not just the part of the route where it drives through Antwerp and Brussels where it might cause noise disturbance. The part between Bordeaux and Biarritz is pitifully slow, but that’s because the TGV is driving over ordinary rail there, not dedicated high speed rail.

The journey from Paris to Bordeaux is fast, but the entire journey is way too slow. If we want to reach our climate goals and convince the airline passengers to take the train, things have to be improved.

My improvement plan would look like this:

  1. Dump the Thalys and have a TGV Euroduplex (by the time this hypothetical plan is implemented more likely its successor, the Avelia Horizon) drive all the way from Amsterdam to destinations in France and further.
  2. Build a new TGV station for all TGV trains heading to Paris, so that a transfer to a different train station in Paris will no longer be necessary. This is already the case in Madrid, where a tunnel was constructed to connect the Chamartin and Atocha railway stations for high-speed trains. Such a dedicated TGV station should obviously be located on the outskirts of Paris and would necessarily require more time for passengers to transfer to the center of Paris in favor of faster TGV traffic around the city.
  3. Start with building high speed rail track from Bordeaux to the Spanish border sooner. Spain is already much closer to completing their high speed rail track to the French border (2023 compared to 2032). Progress on the the LGV Montpellier–Perpignan is even slower. That is the last gap of 150 kilometers on the Mediterranean side of France’s network to the Spanish border. It will be operational by 2040, which is downright shameful.
  4. Reduce the amount of stops after Bordeaux by removing the stop at Dax, which is just a small village with a population of little more than 20,000. Remove the stop at Biarritz as well, because Bayonne is larger and is very close to Biarritz anyway. These extra stops at small towns slow down the journey too much for little gain.

Let’s assume that all these measures are realized and that it’s possible to maintain an average speed of 200 km/h with the stops included. Assuming the distance between Amsterdam to Madrid on the rail network roughly equals their distance of 1.800 kilometers on the road network, travel by high-speed train could take just nine hours. It will surely be expensive, but it’s a matter of political will. Spain has already shown that it’s feasible because its high-speed rail network is much more extensive. Spain’s network is still being expanded significantly and swiftly, while France is lagging behind. If we want to be serious about excellent high-speed rail in France which can compete with air travel, it’s essential that these improvements are implemented.

Visited Biarritz in September 2021

I used to go surfing at Scheveningen frequently, several days in a month or so. I stopped doing that after our first and second daughter were born, because I didn’t have enough time anymore. Another reason was that Hart Beach, my surf school there, stopped offering the lessons which they planned ad hoc on the day of the week with the best surfing conditions. Instead, they would just offer lessons on a fixed day and time, resorting to skateboarding if surfing conditions were bad. I didn’t like this and stopped with their lessons completely. Efforts to go surfing on my own were further complicated by scarce days with good surfing conditions and my inability to seize the days which did offer good conditions.

I still love surfing though. I was looking forward to go on a surfing holiday to France, Portugal or Spain again, where the waves are typically much better than in Scheveningen. In September 2017 we visited Peniche in Portugal and had good waves. In May 2019 we visited Capbreton in France, which was supposed to have good waves as well. The World Surf League (WSL) organizes world championships in nearby Hossegor after all. Instead we got rather mediocre waves in May. I felt we arrived at the wrong time of the year and it would have been better to go in September or October (during which time the WSL actually organizes their events there).

I asked Stephanie whether she was okay with me going on a surfing trip for six days in September, since she doesn’t like surfing herself. She didn’t like the idea of being alone with our children for so long, but she was so kind to let me go. I’m not sure if this is normal for young parents, but I do know that it was never a problem for my own parents. My mother took care of us while my dad usually went on a winter sports holiday with his friends for a week, every year. Vice versa, he took care of us when my mother went on holiday with friends.

Because the Spanish state railways (Renfe) stopped offering the sleeper train from Irun to Lisbon due to COVID19 my options were more limited this time. I insist on not using aircraft and didn’t want to spend more than two days on the outgoing and return journeys. I decided that I’d go to France again, Biarritz this time. Biarritz is a nicer place to stay than Capbreton or Hossegor because it’s a bigger city with more character than the those two smaller villages.

Before I decided to go in September, I consulted Magic Seaweed for statistics. In September, the Côte des Basques beach on the southern edge of Biarritz is supposed to have 60% of days with surfable waves. Maybe not as good as the 82% for the Cantinho da Baia beach just north of Peniche, but certainly better than the 9% for Scheveningen.

When I arrived at Biarritz I paid for an intensive surf training (two lessons of ninety minutes every day) with the Jo Moraiz Surf School. This was for all four days I stayed in Biarritz. This school, like several others, gives their surf lessons on the northern end of Côte des Basques, where it’s sheltered by a headland extending into the sea and the waves are supposedly better. Even in September (which is not as busy as the summer months) this spot is very busy, with many surf schools concentrating there. I often had to abandon an attempt to grab a wave because there were others in front of me or because I risked ‘dropping in’ on others who had priority for that wave.

This beach is also very limited by the tides, because it disappears at high tide. At high tide you shouldn’t surf there because there is a risk of colliding with the rocks on the shoreline. Due to this limitation the second ninety minute lesson followed directly after the first, without a break, on three days. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but it’s harder to grab waves if you’re too tired to paddle after the first lesson.

What was most important to me was the quality of the waves. Unfortunately these turned out to be rather mediocre. Most of the waves I saw were closeout waves which broke quickly, all at once from end to end. These are not suitable for surfing. In the worst case, these gave me a nasty wipeout, getting dropped from my surfboard and then being submerged and somersaulted by the wave. In the best case I got a boring straight ride to the beach without any opportunity to maneuver on the wave.

Surfable waves are left handers, right handers or a-frames, which break respectively to the left, right or both the left and right from the perspective of the person surfing them. I saw very little of these and noticed that everyone else was struggling as well, it was difficult to ride a good wave. On one day the waves were tall, up to two meters, on another day one meter, but they seemed to behave the same in closing out. On the last day the sea was mostly too flat and messy to catch a rideable wave.

To my disappointment I didn’t get any wave which was better than the one I once got on a stormy day in the autumn at Scheveningen. I managed to catch a nice left hander there relatively far from the beach and was able to ride it for at least five seconds. In that moment, time seemed to stop for me, as I apparently entered a state of flow. I was riding that wave as if I was Poseidon himself, even though that wave was tame by the standards of much better surfing spots. I had hoped to have more experiences like that in Biarritz, but this didn’t happen.

I asked myself, where are those easy waves which are suitable for longboarders, which are slow too break and allow for a very long ride on the wave? The kind of wave you see in this video of Batu Bolong on Bali? After some more searching I found that the 2018 Longboard Pro, organized by the WSL, was held on Côte des Basques from 7 to 10 June in 2018. June, one of the months with the lowest chances of good waves if we are to believe the statistics on Magic Seaweed. But on the highlight video for that event I see some fine waves. I had expected better waves for September, but I guess good waves depend a lot on luck. I see the WSL reserves eight days or more for many of their events, just so they can select the day with the best surfing conditions for their championships. Obviously my four days weren’t enough and I had some bad luck.

I feel that I wasn’t able to improve my skills significantly due to the mediocre surfing conditions in Biarritz. What didn’t help either was that my surf school didn’t match my expectations. The instructors and others from the Jo Moraiz Surf School were nice people, but they didn’t put enough effort in knowing their customers. The instructor I started with on the first day adapted his teaching well to my experience, but when I had two lessons with different instructors I had to explain my level of experience to them again. This could have been avoided with a proper intake and briefing of the instructors. Everyone could speak English, but in some cases there still was some language barrier.

During two lessons there even was no instructor for the group in the green (unbroken) waves where I was, just one for the group with the beginners in the white (already broken) waves. In fact I didn’t get the lessons I paid for at that time, I would have been better off just hiring a wetsuit and surfboard.

Even more problematic was that they didn’t teach anything about surf etiquette and paddling technique. For the latter, it’s as if you’re not telling a child that they should maintain speed to avoid falling when they’re learning to ride a bike. As Kale Brock and Rob Case tell us on YouTube, paddling is an essential skill and doing it efficiently makes a big difference. Most of a surfing session consists of paddling after all.

In their defense, this surf school had a lot of people who got there for one or two incidental lessons, not an entire intensive program of four or five days. I understand that you can’t spend as much time on surf etiquette and paddling technique then, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. If it can be explained in a YouTube video in a few minutes, you surely could cover the subjects for five or ten minutes during your lesson.

While it wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t recommend the Jo Moraiz Surf School. I’m not sure how the other surf schools in Biarritz compare with them, but compared to the instructors at Hart Beach in Scheveningen or my surf camp in Peniche it wasn’t good enough. In that surf camp the instructors tracked the progress of their customers. There was video analysis and adequate theoretical explanation of surfing, even though they didn’t spend much attention to paddling either. Next time I’ll ask more critical questions to a surf school about their curriculum to determine whether they’re worth it. Or maybe I’ll go to a surf camp or just hire a wetsuit and board. I intend to go surfing at Scheveningen more often again so I don’t start my surf holidays out of shape.

This post became rather long, but I want to end it on a positive note. Even though it was not what I expected and I was disappointed, I still enjoyed it. For me, being in the water is always enjoyable to some degree. The best part of this surfing holiday was my company, my father. He didn’t join me for surfing, but to ride his bike around Biarritz. It was very nice to spend so much time with him again. This holiday left me wanting for another surf holiday next year. I want to be able to nose ride a longboard and transition from a longboard to a shortboard. Maybe even get barreled if my luck and skills allow it.

Why we should stop the Chinese lust for territory

China has been busy during the recent years with occupying the land of its neighbors. In May this year there was news that China secretly built three villages in a remote valley in Bhutan. This fits in a pattern, because last year China also made a claim out of nowhere on the Sakteng nature reserve in Bhutan. In the past this land was even shown on a Chinese map from 2014 to belong to Bhutan. Apparently this is all part of China’s plan to obstruct India, which has border disputes with China for a long time already. Bhutan is located between China and India and is an ally of the latter.

But China doesn’t limit itself to that border. The South China Sea isn’t safe for China’s unfounded territorial claims either. China is repeatedly violating the Exclusive Economic Zone (where only the state owner has rights for fishing and other economic activities) of the Philippines. Even though an international court declined the Chinese claims, China continues its behavior. The Filipino president Duterte at first tried to compromise with China and didn’t enforce the court ruling, but he seems to have lost patience with China now. Next to the Philippines, Malaysia complained about Chinese violation of its airspace in the South China Sea. The United States stated that it would come to the aid of the Philippines as its ally in case of Chinese aggression.

More alarming is the threat of war that China made to Taiwan in case it would declare its independence. China considers Taiwan to be part of China, but that’s twisting history. The Chinese Communist Party came to power only after it had driven out the Republic of China to Taiwan. It’s actually China which was part of Taiwan. The USA responded calmly, with a message that tensions over Taiwan do not need to lead to a confrontation.

Even though the USA push back, this still reminds me too much of the ‘appeasement’ of Nazi Germany in the prelude to the Second World War. To appease Nazi Germany it received a part of Czechoslovakia in the Treaty of Munich. This time nothing is given away formally, but in fact we do allow it to happen: China occupies foreign territory and doesn’t go away. It ignores the complaints of its neighbors and continues on its current footing. China already went too far with its genocide of the Uyghur people, but occupying the territory of other states should be a red line. It’s scandalous that Russia could get away with the annexation of the Crimea, but if the even more powerful China is allowed to go on with this we’re doomed.

The only way to deal with is more assertiveness. We want to avoid an armed conflict, but there’s much more we can do with sanctions. Serious sanctions which hurt Chinese exports severely are seemingly the only thing to make China listen. And that will only work if everyone joins: next to the USA also the neighboring countries of China and the EU. If China occupies land, we could target foreign Chinese property for confiscation, like the harbor of Piraeus near Athens for example. On Taiwan the USA, at the request of Taiwan of course, could build a military base. This is no different from what the USA has done in South Korea and Japan in order to protect its allies. The relation with China would drop to a new low, but it would deter China from a possible invasion of Taiwan.

Review of the Samsung A52 5G phone

Several weeks ago I and Stephanie both received our new phone, the Samsung A52 5G. I got the phone for free from my new employer, for Stephanie I purchased a subscription from T-Mobile which included the phone. We chose T-Mobile because they would give us an extra discount and more mobile data because they are also our internet provider (for our glass fiber connection).

I chose a Samsung A52 5G because it’s a relatively new model with good hardware and an affordable price around € 380. While not as good as Apple’s upgrade policy, Samsung promised that this phone will receive three major Android version upgrades. This means it will be updated for three years, with one additional year for security updates. Also, as I’ve mentioned before Samsung doesn’t produce phones in China, that major human rights abuser.

The one thing which is seriously bothering me is all the bloatware which is shipped with the A52 5G and other Samsung phones. Presumably it’s not as bad as it was before, but to me it’s still very irritating. A small part of the bloatware is actually useful, such as the Microsoft apps which I need for work, but most are just Samsung’s own apps which are inferior imitations of their Google counterparts.

So why didn’t I buy a Google Pixel phone then? The Pixel 4a is sold for roughly the same price, the Pixel 5 is sold for € 630. Not only do I think the Pixel 5 is too expensive, when I compare hardware specifications the A52 5G seems to be better than both Google phones. Same goes for the Fairphone, which I also considered and is sold for € 440: hardware is inferior, it’s still on Android 10 and it doesn’t even have an OLED display. And I haven’t checked, but I suspect both the Google phones and the Fairphone are probably manufactured in China.

Fortunately, there are solutions for the bloatware. Because some of the bloatware can’t be removed normally, I had to resolve to ADB to disable them. Just follow some guides such as this one or this one. I used this list here to remove the specific packages from my phone and can confirm my phone is still working fine without all the annoying bloatware.

Next was adjusting some settings to limit Android’s spying. There’s a good guide on which options you can disable. The more severe measures will limit some functionality, like that of Google Assistant, but I chose to follow all the advice and can confirm it works well for me. Another measure mentioned in the guide and which I certainly recommend is using apps which respect your privacy instead of Google’s defaults. Instead of Google Chrome, I use Firefox as my web browser with the Privacy Badger add-on to block trackers and DuckDuckGo as the default search engine. I use Signal for instant messaging, ProtonMail for e-mail, ProtonCalendar for calendars and BitWarden for password storage.

I still use some Google services occasionally though. There isn’t any replacement for public transport route planning in the way it is provided by Google Maps. Sometimes, I need Google, Google Scholar or Google Books to find things I can’t find with DuckDuckGo. Because ProtonCalendar doesn’t provide calendar sharing yet, I have to use Google Agenda to share our collective calendar with my wife. Ideally, an app like maps.me should implement public transport planning, DuckDuckGo should give better search results and have a replacement for Google Books and Google Scholar. Once ProtonCalendar allows sharing calendars I might be able to convince my wife to switch to that.

As for the A52 5G itself, I’m still not sure whether I like the fact that, like almost all modern phones, it’s so much bigger than my iPhone 6. I use the phone together with the silicone back cover accessory sold by Samsung to protect it from falls. This back cover has a rough surface so that it doesn’t slip from your fingers, but another consequence of this is that it pulls my pocket inside out when I grab my phone from my pocket. My final complaint is that the in-screen fingerprint scanner of A52 5G isn’t as accurate as the ordinary fingerprint scanner on my iPhone 6. It happens too often that the A52 5G fails to recognize my finger. As for performance, I don’t have any complaints. I don’t run demanding apps like games and don’t notice any slowness when using my phone. The screen is good. Bottom line is that this phone is a good choice for its combination of price and quality, provided that you get rid of the bloatware.

Too much misinformation in Seaspiracy

Several weeks ago I watched Seaspiracy on Netflix. The documentary manages to engage its viewers well, shocking them with its portrayal of fishing industry. But by the end of the documentary, which concludes that eating fish is unsustainable and advises us to stop doing so, I was already having doubts. What about the mussels we produce in The Netherlands for example? I know mussels are molluscs and not fish, but the documentary also covered shrimp, which are crustaceans. I just want to take care to avoid the word seafood, because that would also include seaweed, which is not under discussion here.

It turns out that mussels feed on plankton already present in seawater, so their production requires no feed and is very sustainable. I went on to read several responses to the film, such as those on the Wageningen University blog, the Sustainable Fisheries website of the University of Washington, Otter Strategies and one published on Inverse. I suggest you read those for yourself because it’s a lot of information to summarize here, but I’ll highlight some of the most important criticisms here.

It turns out that the seas won’t be empty by 2048 and many fisheries are sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) uses third-party assessors to certify fisheries rather than doing so itself. I still think it’s unfortunate that the MSC didn’t have an interview with the makers of the documentary though. Seaspiracy criticizes aquaculture for it’s use of fish meal as feed for the farmed fish. It turns out that the proportion of fish meal in the diet of farmed fish has already been strongly reduced over the years. Also, it can and likely will be replaced entirely by other more sustainable feed sources, such as insects. In some places in Southeast Asia, freshwater fish are already farmed sustainably without fish meal.

Perhaps the most unnerving image of the whole documentary was a salmon slowly being flayed and eaten alive by sea lice. It appears sea lice are indeed a problem, but they also affect wild salmon. Since a sea lice infection makes salmon unmarketable, fish farmers have a clear incentive to prevent that from happening. I felt Seaspiracy was weak at this point, because all it did was shock the viewer. There was no discussion on statistics or scientific studies on sea lice infections at all.

While the responses to Seaspiracy often point out errors in the ratio of discarded plastic fishing nets and plastic straws claimed in the documentary, they seem to ignore the core of the problem. Why is plastic being used in fishing nets in the first place, I wonder? Fishing nets have been made for thousands of years before the invention of plastic. Since it’s impossible for law enforcement to monitor the deliberate discarding or accidental loss of those fishing nets far out at sea, it seems easier to to make legislation for the production of fishing nets. I hope legislation will be made banning the use of any material which is not biodegradable in fishing nets, such as plastics.

Elsewhere on the Sustainable Fisheries website, there is an interesting comparison based on scientific literature which compares greenhouse gas emissions for several different foods. Beef and aquaculture catfish turn out to be the worst offenders, but the Impossible Burger 2.0 and aquaculture salmon create far less emissions. The winners in terms of emissions however, are captured small pelagic fish, captured whitefish and aquaculture mollusks. They also point out that fish are more nutritious than the Impossible Burger, which contains a large amount of saturated fat.

Small pelagic fish are apparently fish such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring, exactly the kind of fish I like to eat. I also use tuna (with MSC certification), primarily on pizza. I only eat a small amount of fish once or twice a week and considering that these fish species can or could be caught or farmed sustainably, I see no reason to change my behavior.

I do think we should all consult the guides on which fish is sustainable, such as the VISwijzer for those in the Netherlands (also available in English). For example, what surprises me is that the capture critically endangered species like the European eel is still allowed. I know governments have taken some preservation for the eel already, but it looks like they’re not doing enough. This shows that not only our government has a responsibility, but that consumers should also educate themselves on what kind of fish they are buying as long as the government doesn’t get this right.

The West should no longer allow itself to be intimidated by Russia

On 22 April Russia announced that it would pull back a large part of its troops near the eastern border of Ukraine. Earlier this year Russia had built up a military force of 100,000 there, apparently with the goal to intimidate Ukraine. The self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are located on the eastern border of Ukraine, which rebelled against Ukraine several years ago. We know that Russia provided military support to these rebels (which Russia continues to deny) and enthusiastically provided the inhabitants there with Russian passports. Now Russia’s argument is that it wants to protect its citizens in these rebellious provinces of Ukraine. Russia threatens Ukraine with war if Ukraine would attempt to bring these provinces back under control or if the West gets involved in the situation.

When Russia provided military support to its ally Syria during the Syrian Civil War in 2015, things were different. The West complained that Russia was aiding an authoritarian regime which was violating human rights on a large scale, but implicitly recognized that Russia had a right to help her ally. The West didn’t issue threats that Russian aid to Syria would lead to war between the West and Russia. And now the West does allow itself to be intimidated by Russia if it wants to aid her ally Ukraine? And it doesn’t respond to Russia’s closure of the Strait of Kerch for foreign navy vessels, so that Ukraine’s navy is denied access to its own territorial waters in the Sea of Azov?

Russia can’t have it both ways. If Russia thought it could help Syria, there should be no problem if the West would send military aid to Ukraine to put down the revolt in Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia closes the Strait of Kerch for ships of foreign navies? Then NATO-member Turkey can close the Bosporus for the Russian navy. The West could have done so sooner, as part of more serious sanctions to force Russia to end its occupation of the Crimea. Let Germany stop with building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, for example. We seem to have forgotten that Russia simply conquered the Crimea from Ukraine and that there was never any strong response with sanctions from the West. The sanctions that were implemented did not impress Russia.

An invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk can be justified because Russia continues to claim that it was not involved with those uprisings, but the Crimea was occupied by Russia itself. Because military action against the Crimea can lead to a large military conflict with Russia it seems better to choose the route of sanctions there. Even if that military conflict would come, Russia would be at a disadvantage against the combined military forces of the EU-member states, if we are to believe Binkov’s Battlegrounds. And that doesn’t even include the USA yet, which would of course come to the aid of the EU in such a conflict. Hopefully such a war would remain a conventional conflict without nuclear weapons, but the bottom line is that the West is the one which should be intimidating Russia rather than the other way around.

The depravity of the Chinese Communist Party

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) never had a good human rights record. But in the last decade, it reached a new and very deep low point. During these years the extent of the suppression of the Muslim Uyghur people in Xinjiang (the most northwestern region of China) was revealed step by step. What was most memorable for me was the publication of leaked Chinese government documents by the New York Times in 2019. These documents revealed that China had started a systematic campaign to crack down on the Uyghur people after an Islamist terrorist attack in Xinjiang in 2014. By 2019, China had already locked up nearly a million Uyghurs in prisons, where they are brainwashed into abandoning their religion. The documents make it clear that China’s head of state, Xi Jinping, had ordered the clampdown. After this more disturbing news trickled in gradually. Even small ‘slights’ such as wearing a veil or a beard are sufficient reason for detainment. Furthermore, there have been reports that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are abused as forced labor on cotton fields, that Uyghur women are forcibly sterilized and that there is systematic torture and rape in the detention camps.

In response to the news about the prosecution of the Uyghurs, the USA (both the Trump and Biden administrations) declared it to be genocide. Soon afterwards Canada became the second country to do so. My own country, The Netherlands, was the third. Just like in Canada however, it was only the parliament which recognized it as genocide, not the government. The Dutch government was more careful because the United Nations or an international court have not declared it to be genocide yet. Until then it prefers to speak of human rights violations. While the bar may be high for genocide, there is a British legal opinion which argues that the case for genocide is strong.

Remember that Muslims worldwide have been angered by relatively minor mistreatment in the past. The publication of Muhammad cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 were sufficient for massive protests in the Islamic world and a boycott. The publication of the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims was widely denounced in the Islamic world and sparked large protests. Another case is Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian women who was accused of blasphemy against Islam and who was ultimately acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018. Again hordes of radical Muslims were foaming in the mouth, called for her death and started rioting. I could give many more examples, of course.

What amazes me perhaps even more than the cruelty of the Uyghur persecution is that China can get away with it. If the West would suppress Muslims like China did, it would face complete outrage of the Islamic world. Fatwas and terror attacks would justifiably rain down on our heads. With China as the perpetrator, the Islamic world stays silent. Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE don’t want to offend China and don’t allow their state media to report on the matter. Pakistan’s government and even its Islamist groups stay silent. Turkey is still seriously considering the ratification of an extradition treaty with China.

It turns out that there is no solidarity in the Islamic world. Muslim-majority states just allow themselves to be seduced by China’s economic power. It’s extreme irony that the West is more invested in standing up for the human rights of the Uyghurs than the Islamic world. Let’s hope that the USA, Canada and the Netherlands gather allies among other democratic states, and eventually Muslim countries as well, to form a front against China. There should be sanctions and we should work on reducing our dependence on Chinese supply chains. We can take action ourselves by avoiding products which are made in China. This is difficult, but for example Samsung doesn’t produce phones anymore in China. Avoiding the Chinese cars which are sold more often in Europe these days is comparatively more simple.

The future is hard to predict. If there will ever rise a more democratic tide in China, I hope those responsible for the prosecution of the Uyghurs won’t be able to escape Lady Justice. Maybe her balance and sword will be unexpectedly strict and sharp for Xi Jinping then. Xi Jinping is a scoundrel who should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court here in The Hague, along with his band of degenerate cronies in the CCP.

Apple’s annoying insistence on Lightning

Three years ago I bought my refurbished iPhone 6 for € 168. I thought that was a great deal for a phone which doesn’t spy on me, unlike Google Android phones. However, when iOS version 13 was released in 2019 the iPhone 6 was no longer supported. This is unfortunate but not unreasonable given that it was released in 2014. I’ve also seen white spots appear on the screen. I still use it daily, but given these factors and advancements in more recent phones I’m considering to buy a new phone.

The iPhone 6 still used a LCD screen rather than an OLED screen, even though OLED screens were already used for years in phones from other manufacturers such as Samsung. Because Apple was so late to adopt OLED screens I wasn’t tempted to buy a newer iPhone. They finally did adopt OLED with the iPhone X, which was released in 2017. A refurbished iPhone X can now be bought for € 300 up to € 400, or at half that price from second hand trading websites. Much more expensive than my iPhone 6, but still acceptable.

What is not acceptable to me is that Apple still hasn’t switched from its proprietary Lightning connector to the open USB-C standard used by pretty much every other Android phone. I’m sick of having to deal with separate cables for USB-C and Lightning. It makes no sense because Apple did switch to USB-C on its Macs, Macbooks and iPads. It seems like they are trying to make more money with selling accessories which are compatible with Lightning.

The latest rumors on the iPhone 13 suggest that the Lightning port will be dropped entirely in favor of a portless phone with wireless charging. Apple would use their MagSafe standard for this, which is already implemented in the iPhone 12. MagSafe is both a terrible name and a terrible idea.

It’s a terrible name because its confusing. After all, MagSafe was also the name for the magnetically attached power connector for MacBook laptops. It was discontinued between 2016 and 2019 in favor of the USB-C port. Because that’s still quite recent many will wonder which of the two products is meant. Ford has also done this with their Mustang Mach-E. When I heard about that car I first thought it was a new generation of their well-known sports car, but it turned out to be an electric crossover SUV. The marketeers at Apple and Ford who came up with these names should be fired for their idiocy.

It’s a terrible idea because wireless charging is both more expensive, slower and more inefficient than corded charging. Testing revealed that wireless charging consumes about 47% more power on average than a cable. If everyone would start charging their phones wirelessly it would require significantly more electricity to be generated. When Apple decided to exclude the charger from the iPhone 12 box is was blathering about how environmentally friendly they were because it reduced e-waste and allowed them to fit more iPhones in a shipping container. However, if they decide to force wireless charging on us it’s actually a big middle finger to sustainability. And for what benefit? A MagSafe charger, which still needs to be connected to an AC power socket with a cable.

Fortunately the European Commission (EC) agrees with me. According to a news article it seems like a draft law will be published later this year to force phone makers to adopt a single charging standard. Hopefully this would effectively mean that Apple would be forced to adopt USB-C. The same article also mentions that the EC is also critical of the low efficiency of wireless charging. I like the activism of the EC in this. Given that they also banned inefficient vacuum cleaners some years ago, I hope they will also ban the silly wireless charging options in phones.

As for my new phone, I’m seriously considering to buy a Samsung Galaxy A51. At € 240 new, it comes with OLED and USB-C. I guess I’ll have to resort to the tricks documented on the Internet to remove all the compulsory bloatware and keep the spying to a minimum.

Review of the Ducky One keyboard

Back in 2014 I posted a review of the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate mechanical keyboard. I really liked this keyboard, but it has two disadvantages for me: it was a full size keyboard with a numpad and had appearance which was aimed at gamers. Because I never use the numpad and preferred a more formal look I decided to sell it and buy the Ducky One DKON1687. It’s mechanical keyboard as well, but it’s tenkeyless (TKL, or 80% of the width of a full size keyboard) so it doesn’t have the numpad.

The Ducky One DKON1687 uses the same Cherry MX brown switches for the keys as the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate. It is said that it depends on personal preference which types of switches are most desirable. Except for the Romer-G switches of the Logitech G613 keyboard I’ve never tried any other switches, so I can’t compare them well with other choices. All I can say is that I like the Cherry MX brown switches more than the Romer-G switches. Both are tactile switches, but I prefer the Cherry MX brown switches because they offer more resistance before they register a key press. I take complaints that the Cherry MX brown switches are relatively noisy for granted.

The fact that the Ducky One DKON1687 is a TKL keyboard is its key advantage for me. With the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate I occasionally bumped into the keyboard with my right hand on the mouse, which is uncomfortable. I don’t have a small desk, but it comes more natural that I don’t have to extend my right arm so far to the right as I used to. The Ducky One DKON1687 doesn’t have backlighting like the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate, but I’m not missing it at all. Backlighting is no more than a gimmick without added value. I can just turn on a light in my computer room or touch type if it’s too dark to distinguish the keys.

Unfortunately the Ducky One DKON1687 still isn’t the ultimate keyboard for me because it’s corded. I like the aesthetic of not having any wires running to the back of my desk. The Logitech G613 keyboard I mentioned is used by Stephanie and is wireless. It uses Logitech’s Lightspeed technology, which is very impressive. It has a delay of just 1 millisecond according to Logitech. This is practically indistinguishable or equivalent to a corded keyboard. Equally impressive is that the G613 can last for eighteen months on two AA batteries according to Logitech. It also uses a small wireless USB receiver, barely larger than the USB port itself, to connect the keyboard to a computer. Its appearance also matches well with the Logitech G603 wireless mouse, which is also used by Stephanie and uses Lightspeed too.

We can’t have it all though. The deal breaker for me is that the Logitech G603 is even larger than a full size keyboard because it contains a column of macro keys on the far left side. And then I haven’t even mentioned its unnecessarily large palm rest. The Logitech G613 is not ideal either because it contains a rough groove near the mouse wheel, which irritates the skin of my finger. The old Logitech G5 corded mouse which I currently use has a nicely finished edge near the mouse wheel which doesn’t do that, so I don’t understand the design choice.

Ducky One DKON1687 versus Logitech G613

More recently Logitech released the G915 TKL mechanical keyboard during the summer of 2020. This keyboard had a lot going for it because it is TKL with Lightspeed, backlighting and low profile switches. But once again I’m disappointed: it contains an internal battery which lasts for forty hours with the backlight at 100%. While we can assume that the battery will last longer if the backlight is disabled, my problem here is that the internal battery. Eventually the battery will degrade as it ages and become unusable. I assume it can’t be replaced, unlike the G603’s AA batteries. But my main gripe is with the price: at least € 220 for the black version with US QWERTY layout and tacticle switches. Total madness, considering that I paid € 90 for the Ducky One DKON1687 and € 100 for the Logitech G603.

I wish Logitech would just produce a TKL version of the G603, without the macro keys on the left and without the palm rest. They should also fix the rough edge near the G613’s mouse wheel as well. Alternatively, I hope Ducky would implement wireless technology in their TKL keyboards which could vie with Logitech’s Lightspeed technology.

As a job seeker I’m fed up with the Dutch government

After I was laid off by Neomax last year in April I was unemployed for some months. After some time I got a new job when the IT secondment company Tergos found me on LinkedIn. Through them I could start in July as an application manager with Viterra. I have much appreciation for how Tergos treated me, because they matched the salary that I earned at ID Ware International and offered an education budget of € 1.500 a year. The only thing which I don’t like is a condition in my contract which states that the contract ends if the customer (Viterra) decides to end my placement there. This condition is supposed to be removed if my contract is renewed in July.

In some way it is frustrating, that I applied for jobs so intensively during those three months without success and was then found by recruiters who could easily land me in a new job. It was no different with my last three jobs.

During those three months of unemployment I still thought that I would prefer a job as a policy advisor with an organization of the national government the most. It was my dream job which I wanted since I had graduated for my master’s degree in Public Administration in 2012. I was also looking for a job as an IT Service Manager, which was my second best option.

Since 2012 I have applied so many times for policy advisor jobs. Since that year I used a spreadsheet to keep track of the job applications I submitted. This was crucial to maintain an overview of the progress and response on my job applications. This spreadsheet contains 192 job applications, of which 70 or up to 90 were probably for policy advisor jobs.

A part of them led to job interviews. Sometimes I had the idea that I was doing well in an interview, but I never got past the first round of interviews. The fact that I had an excellent master’s thesis and a scientific publication on my resume didn’t appear to matter much. I don’t consider my skill in dealing with job interviews to be above average, I’d probably score slightly below average. When I asked the HR-departments of the Dutch government for feedback, one of the most important factors appeared to be that the amount of competition on the vacancies for policy advisors was ridiculous. Often several dozens of job applications for one vacancy.

For a long time I thought I would just continue on with applying for these jobs, if you persevere you win, right? By now I’m fed up with it and I think it was a mistake to study public administration. Because I held open the door to a job as a policy advisor for so long I started to lag behind in my IT career in terms of certifications and career development. Even though I currently earn a salary that is comparable to that of experienced university-educated policy advisors without any technical certifications in IT (just ITIL Practitioner, PRINCE2 Foundation and Professional Scrum Master I) I still consider this deficit to be damaging.

The point is that application managers have application specific knowledge which is not easily reused in other jobs and which adds little to a resume. That’s why I consider it so important to acquire more widely usable knowledge through the well-known technical certifications, such as those of Microsoft. If I put serious effort in getting certified I will become suitable for jobs which are substantively more interesting and which offer an even better salary. That’s why I’ve decided to target a job as Cloud Engineer with a specialization in Microsoft Azure, which is in high demand in the market now. By now I have so much experience in the IT sector on my resume that it would be a waste if I wouldn’t develop it further.

I might never be one of the 9% of Dutch employees who feel engaged with their job. For a long time it was my dream to be able to contribute to the common good, whether it was government policy to fight climate change, promoting the use of open standards or creating a budget. Unfortunately it is not to be for me, with a job in IT. I will probably remain part of the largest group of 80% of employees who function adequately, but who don’t have true passion for their job. This is not a bad thing, I would still be a capable Cloud Engineer even without intrinsic motivation for it.

About twenty years ago my father said that those who don’t have luck in the game, do have luck in love. He said this while he played a board game with us and was losing. Though he meant it more as a joke than being serious, it is true in my case. I have Stephanie as my loving wife and two daughters. All of us are healthy, we have sufficient financial resources, live in a nice house, in a good neighborhood, with a fun allotment garden near a beautiful beach.

I might not be able to get the satisfaction out of my work that I had hoped, but it didn’t stop me from finding other life goals. Like executing a ‘tube ride’ on my surfboard. Learning kiteboarding. Writing a ‘featured article’ for the English Wikipedia. Starting a YouTube channel with cooking video’s on Dutch and Indo cuisine. I have accepted that I’ll probably never get that dream job and have moved on.