Alexander van Loon

Abolish the ‘snorfiets’

Alderman Sharon Dijksma of the municipality of Amsterdam is one of my new favorite politicians. She is responsible for legislation which forbids drivers of snorfietsen, a category of light motorcycle in Dutch law, from using most bicycle lanes in Amsterdam since 28 April.

This was made possible by an Algemene Maatregel van Bestuur (AMvB) issued by the government on 21 June 2018. An AMvB is delegated legislation. The Wegenverkeerswet 1994 (Road Traffic Act) contains the general rules and leaves the details to be defined in AMvB’s, which can be changed by the government without approval from the States General. The AMvB in question enables the municipality as road administrator to decide through its traffic order where snorfietsen can drive.

In the explanation given in the AMvB it becomes clear that it was written especially at the request of the municipality of Amsterdam. Amsterdam had a problem with the accessibility of its center because of the increasing numbers of bicycles and snorfietsen. Because snorfietsen often caused dangerous situations on bicycle lanes due to their wide size and speed difference with bicycles the municipality asked for the law to be changed. The House of Representatives supported that request and asked the government to change the rules.

To understand this policy I will first explain the Dutch legislation regarding snorfietsen. In the Netherlands we have three legal categories for motorized vehicles on two wheels (excluding ordinary electric bicycles):

  1. The snorfiets is a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 25 km/h. Requires an AM driver’s license and has a blue license plate. Must drive on bicycle lanes doesn’t require a helmet.
  2. The bromfiets is a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 45 km/h. Requires an AM driver’s license and has a yellow license plate. Must generally drive on the road in built-up area and on bicycle lanes outside built-up area. The reason for this is that it isn’t allowed to drive on roads and highways with higher speed limits. Requires a helmet.
  3. The ‘normal’ motorcycle with the same speed limit as a car. Requires an A driver’s license and has a yellow license plate. Never drives on bicycle lanes, just like a car. Requires a helmet.

In the new traffic order of the municipality of Amsterdam which bans the snorfiets from the bicycle lanes it is obvious that a lot of effort went into justifying the change. According to national legislation which made the change possible the special reasons for banning snorfietsen must relate to ‘great hustle’. What that entails is not defined and up to the interpretation of the municipality, but it is clear that it has employed much research and calculations methods to define it.

If you ask me this is a waste of time because snorfietsen are by definition an unnecessary danger to bicyclists on the bicycle lane, even if it’s not busy. The speed difference, format and weight of a snorfiets mean that a bicyclist will always draw the shortest straw in case of a collision. Another issue not addressed by this legislation is the foul stench and pollution created on bicycle lanes by snorfietsen running on gasoline. An investigation by the GGD Gelderland Midden from 2017 shows that snorfietsen contribute significantly to ultrafine particle emissions on bicycle lanes. This is a health risk to bicyclists. The GGD Midden Gelderland advises to phase out non-electric snorfietsen on the long term and to ban them from the bicycle lane on the short term.

Since I’ve been riding my bicycle to work in The Hague to the center in half an hour I’m confronted daily with fast driving snorfietsen (many are illegally modified to exceed 25 km/h) and their filthy exhaust gases. But what truly worries me is that my daughter Rosalinde will be riding a bicycle in a few years and would have to share the bicycle lane with snorfietsen which are easily able to flatten her. Fortunately, salvation is on the horizon if it is up to our alderman Robert van Asten. He expects to follow Amsterdam in 2020 with a ban of the snorfiets on the bicycle lane. I encourage him to interpret ‘great hustle’ very broadly.

The end goal has to be the complete abolition of the snorfiets as a category, however. De facto that might happen with the upcoming general helmet requirement for snorfietsen. It is expected that a legal change will be introduced for that at the end of this year or next year. If one of the advantages of the snorfiets is taken away it might persuade their users to switch to electric bicycles, bromfietsen or motorcycles. In addition the proposed Klimaatakkoord (the Climate Act) would prohibit the sale of snorfietsen and bromfietsen on gasoline starting in respectively 2025 and 2030. If accepted this will solve the pollution problem on bicycle lanes. But the official maximum speed of 25 km/h for snorfietsen remains a problem then. On the road they will slow down cars which are allowed to drive 50 km/h. That is why abolishing the entire category is the best solution. It is unnecessarily convoluted, complicated and inconsistent if every municipality has to make their own choice in their traffic order.

Then there is also the matter of support for such a policy with snorfiets owners themselves. They can modify their snorfiets towards a bromfiets, but then they would also have to change their registration with the RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority). This requires an inspection by the RDW which costs several hundred euro’s and which can only be performed in Lelystad (!). If we make this inspection easier and cheaper I think the policy would meet less resistance. Give all motorcycle businesses which are licensed to test vehicles for road safety the authority to perform this inspection and instate that sales ban on snorfietsen and bromfietsen on gasoline, then we would have a nice compromise.

What is wrong with the Forum for Democracy

On 20 March this year the elections for the States-Provincial were held in the Netherlands. A new party, the Forum for Democracy (abbreviated FvD in Dutch), participated for the first time and won the most seats in this election. In the Senate the FvD won twelve seats and became the largest party, together with the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) which acquired the same number of seats. I thought it would be wise to investigate what plans this party has for my province and country.

The website of their local chapter in Zuid-Holland province, where they became the largest party, does not reveal much. The older parties like GroenLinks or the VVD tell us their plans for policies in a detailed party program of several pages. The FvD Zuid-Holland limits itself to several lines of text spread over different policy subjects. With some ideas I agree, such as an elected King’s Commissioner and municipal fusions only after approval of the inhabitants. With other ideas I completely disagree, like abandoning the transition to sustainable energy. Other ideas are simply vague, like their position that the province should only execute core tasks. Which core tasks then?

It’s not true that people are not interested in a detailed political program. I think there are enough voters in Zuid-Holland who would want to know a party’s position on the construction of the Duinpolderweg highway or the growth of Rotterdam-The Hague airport. The issues which are visible and clearly affect our daily lives, on which FvD Zuid-Holland remains silent.

Let’s consider the national party of the FvD then, which has gained much more influence thanks to their victory in the Senate elections (remember that the States-Provincial elect the Senate in the Netherlands). Again their website mentions some policy positions which I approve, like the elected mayor and binding referenda. But here the details in their ideas are missing.

What caught my eye in particular is their plan for taxation. Apparently discussing income taxes, they want a tax-free bracket of € 20.000 for everyone and just two tax brackets, with a rate of 20% and 35%. The range of these tax brackets isn’t mentioned, but the current tax rebates (what the FvD would mean with a tax-free bracket) are significantly lower and the rates for the four current brackets are significantly higher.

The FvD writes that this tax plan will lead to much lower execution costs and that less taxation leads to a smaller government. As if a smaller public sector is a goal in itself for this party, regardless of the useful services like security, health care and education it delivers. What the prognosis for those execution costs is and how much smaller the government would become is not explained either.

The lack of details in the financial plans of the FvD makes it impossible to give an accurate calculation of the consequences it would have, but with some assumptions the publication De Correspondent arrived at a deficit of € 66.7 (!) billion. This would bankrupt our country. FvD supporters would probably consider De Correspondent to belong to the lying leftist media, but if they can point me to a financial basis for the plans I would be very interested in reading that. To my amazement their economic policy is never a subject in the debates in which FvD leader Thierry Baudet participates.

With the inability of the FvD to present a solid financial basis for its plans it’s no surprise that it didn’t let the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB in Dutch) calculate the effects of its political program. Our country is unique in the tradition that the CPB, an independent governmental organization, calculates the economic effects of political programs before the elections. Political parties participate on a voluntary basis and fortunately most do so. This means that they can’t make all kinds of promises without the financial backing to make good on those promises. Instead of working on a better financial basis the FvD resorts to cowardly excuses, like calling the CPB the greatest source of fake news and claiming that the CPB’s models are outdated. Of course they don’t explain why these are outdated, let alone that they make an effort to present an alternative ‘correct’ calculation of their economic plans.

What strikes me as well is that the FvD would like a return to normal relations with Russia. In their position on geostrategy they write that our geopolitics is still based too much on the goals of the Cold War and that we have an interest in good relations with Russia for economic reasons. Apparently they forgot what happened after the Cold War, like the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008, the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the support to dictators in Syria and Venezuela. Closer to home Russia is suspected of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom in 2018. In the Netherlands a Russian cyberattack on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was foiled in 2018. But above all, Russia is responsible for shooting down flight MH17 above Ukraine in 2014.

It is incredible that the FvD is burying its head in the sand for a country which is so obviously hostile towards our country and a large part of the rest of the world. Even worse, Baudet signed a letter to Trump in 2016 to ask for a new investigation of the shooting down of MH17 because he didn’t trust the investigation of the Joint Investigations Team (JIT) led by the the Netherlands. In 2018 he did vote in favor of holding Russia responsible for the attack. However, in a TV debate last month he repeated that he doubts the independence of the JIT inquiry and that he still considers Ukraine as one of the possible perpetrators of the attack. Baudet invests so much effort into discrediting the JIT investigation that it raises the question if the FvD is bankrolled from Moscow.

I could go on about the human-caused climate change denial by Baudet and the dubious claim that climate policy will cost us € 1,000 billion. But I will finish with a discussion of the political style employed by the FvD and the character of Baudet. I thought the political party DENK had already reached a low point in decency with all their personal attacks and the claim that doctors stop the treatment of sick elderly with immigrant backgrounds sooner than those of sick elderly of Dutch ancestry. It appears that the FvD and Baudet can sink even deeper.

Baudet has weird ideas about women. His question to prime minister Rutte at the end of a debate last month, asking when he had cried for the last time, was insolent. He published his own nude photo, which I consider strange behavior for a people’s representative. He holds his political opponents responsible for rape committed by immigrants. The arguments presented by the FvD for setting up a contact point to investigate leftist indoctrination in education read like a bad joke and are scandalous. The FvD is often covered in the news for internal fighting. I could go on with this, but for me it’s clear that this party and Baudet himself are completely unsuitable for participating in government.

To the voters and members of the FvD I have to say the following. I understand that you’ve had enough of the traditional political parties. But is a party which makes empty promises without financial backing, which doesn’t stand behind the MH17 victims, which is rife with infighting and which is committed to fact-free politics really what you want? Fortunately the members of the FvD have the possibility to file motions and approve the political program at their party’s meetings. I don’t expect you to send Baudet home any time soon. But I do hope that you at least make sure the political position on Russia is corrected to be in favor of sanctions towards that country.

Review of English cookbooks on Apulian cuisine

For my Wikipedia article on Apulian cuisine I consulted quite a few English cookbooks about this cuisine. I will review them briefly so that other who are interested in Apulian cuisine can benefit from my experience. The books I read are:

  • Arno, Anna Maria Chirone (2011). Salento Flavors: The Taste of Tradition.
  • Lorusso, Luca; Polak, Vivienne (2015). Sharing Puglia.
  • Russo, William dello (2016). Puglia in Cucina: The Flavours of Apulia.
  • Sbisà, Nicola (2009). Savour Apulia: Traditional Recipes.
  • Todorovska, Viktorija (2011) The Puglian Cookbook.

“Salento Flavors: The Taste of Tradition” turned out to be the most disappointing cookbook. It’s a very thin and flimsy paperback with a small number of recipes and unappealing food photography. The layout is strange, with all its solid color rectangles. It’s mostly a collection of recipes and doesn’t give much context to understand the history of the cuisine and its dishes. While this one is supposed to focus on the Salento, the ‘heel’ of Apulia, I haven’t encountered much or any recipes which aren’t covered in the other books. Don’t buy this one.

“Sharing Puglia” is a sturdy hardcover with a lot of recipes and good food photography. The authors of this book understood that if you use photos, you have to do it well or not do it at all. Photos have to seduce you to prepare the dishes, if they look bad they will turn you off instead. This book gives the most detailed explanation of making fresh pasta compared to the other cookbooks reviewed here, even though it could have been more elaborate. It also gives us plenty of context to understand the cuisine and its dishes, instead of it being just a collection of recipes. I highly recommend this one.

“Puglia in Cucina: The Flavours of Apulia” is also a hardcover and shares the amount of recipes and good photo quality with the previous book. It’s written both in English and Italian and is part of a series about all the regional cuisines of Italy. It falls short on providing context though and it doesn’t explain how to make fresh pasta at all. Still, I could still give this a reasonable recommendation.

“Savour Apulia: Traditional Recipes” was most useful as a source of the Wikipedia article, together with “Sharing Puglia”. It’s a cheap and thin paperback, but still contains a lot of recipes and quite some history on the cuisine and its dishes. Despite the length, it still manages to briefly explain how to make fresh pasta. It doesn’t have photos at all, but I don’t mind as long as the rest is good. Highly recommended.

“The Puglian Cookbook” suffers from some bad food photography, think badly lit and blurred close-ups of food. Definitely very unattractive. This book is also short on context. It gives a recipe for making fresh cavatelli, but advises using equal amounts of semolina and all-purpose flour. It’s frustrating that it doesn’t explain why, because it’s suspicious. “Savour Apulia” gives a recipe which uses only semolina and “Sharing Puglia” advises a large amount of semolina with a small amount 00 flour. But the most grave sin is that it only mentions English names for the dishes. How are you supposed to identify the dishes you ate in Apulia then? If a cookbook on French cuisine with a recipe for coq au vin would only describe it as “rooster with wine” it would probably be considered unacceptable; this case is no different. I can’t recommend this one.

There also is “Puglia” by the Silver Spoon from 2015, but I haven’t read it because it’s expensive.

It’s a pity that only “Salento Flavors” briefly mentions the puccia and that “Puglia in Cucina” is the only one which describes savoury taralli in a few sentences. Both are common dishes in Apulia, so I had expected recipes for these in my two highly recommended cookbooks. Unfortunately, those two cookbooks still don’t explain sufficiently how fresh pasta is made either. I would have expected an elaborate instruction with a lot of photos so that novice cooks can learn it with confidence. None of the cookbooks have a recipe for the traditional sourdough durum wheat breads. Even though “Sharing Puglia” mentions that cauliflower and broccoli are also eaten, I haven’t seen any recipes with those vegetables. While black chickpeas and grass peas are much rarer, it would have been nice if they had been mentioned too, even if they are hard to get outside Apulia. I look forward to someone writing a huge cookbook which covers the complete Apulian cuisine.

My Wikipedia article on Apulian cuisine

As I’m waiting for our holiday to start in May, nostalgia made me think of holidays from past. I specifically remembered my holiday of 2013 in Southern Italy. Back then I hadn’t met Stephanie yet, so I was traveling alone and hanging out with CouchSurfing hosts. My best memories are from my time with Michele in Apulia. Because we shared our interest in historical and archeological sites we had a great time together.

One thing which struck me when I was in Apulia was the quality of its regional cuisine and how it differed from other Italian regions. I was eating all kinds of dishes in restaurants that I had never seen in Italian restaurants in the Netherlands. To learn more about this regional cuisine, my first resort was Wikipedia. To my disappointment the English Wikipedia had no article on Apulian cuisine. Even the one on the Italian Wikipedia is very limited. Disgrace! I couldn’t stand it that such a fine cuisine had no Wikipedia article, so I resolved to write one myself.

In the years after my holiday I gathered some English cookbooks on Apulian cuisine to eventually write this article, but due to a lack of time I never got around to it. Until a week ago, when my combination of nostalgia and free time finally moved me to action. I was so driven that I was working for hours continuously on this article, almost losing sense of time. On 6 April I finished the article on Apulian cuisine, after probably more than fifteen hours of work. I consider this article and my article on Sybaris as the best articles I’ve written so far.

I’m always a bit wary of other Wikipedia editors who might change articles I started in negative ways. For example by adding content without citing sources. Or even worse, those who vandalize articles. Since most of the articles I work on are not very popular, they barely see undesirable or vandalistic edits. In fact, most other editors I see working on articles I’ve started or edited are intelligent and reasonable people who improve them. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the article.

During the research for this article in all the cookbooks I discovered many more Apulian dishes which I haven’t tasted yet. This gives me even more desire to visit Apulia again and meet with Michele (the last time we met was in 2016). I don’t see this happening next year though. The train voyage would be unpractical with my daughter, who is just six months old now.

In the future I would also like to write or improve the articles on the other regional cuisines of Italy. More specifically, I want to write articles for Calabria and Liguria and vastly improve the article for Sicily. I already have a boatload of cookbooks lying around for those cuisines. As for the cookbooks I used to write the article on Apulian cuisine, read my next post for recommendations.

The elected mayor has come one step closer

In november 2018 it was finally accomplished: the appointment of the mayor was ‘deconstitutionalized’, a long word for the removal from the Dutch constitution. Thirteen years after the Easter crisis the political party D66 made a step towards realizing one of its important goals, the introduction of the elected mayor.

Changing the constitution is complicated and takes a lot of time, because the House of Representatives and the Senate have to approve the change twice. The House can only give its second approval after a new election. In both the House and the Senate a majority of two thirds of votes (instead of half plus one) is required for the second approval. Of course, this created an extra barrier for changing the appointment procedure for the mayor.

It is important to know how mayors are appointed currently to understand the discussion. According to the Municipalities Act the municipal council writes a profile for the mayor and candidates can apply for the job with the King’s Commissioner (Dutch: Commissaris van de Koning, CvdK in short). The CvdK informs the nomination committee of the council about who applied and whom he/she considers suitable for nomination. The comittee can decide to include candidates deemed unfit by the CvdK in its procedure. The comittee informs the CvdK and the council of its findings. The council then recommends two candidates to the minister for the appointment. In principle the minister follows the recommendation and the order in which the candidates are listed. The minister can ignore the recommendation, but only for grave concerns and with motivation.

The Municipalities Act isn’t clear on the “order in which the candidates are listed”, but if I understand correctly it is meant that the minister appoints the candidate who is listed first. At least that is what is written on the website of the ministry of Internal Affairs. This website differs on details with the Municipalities Act. For example, it states that the council doesn’t send the recommendation to the minister directly, but to the CvdK who then forwards it to the minister with his/her advice.

It should now be clear that the appointment of the mayor is a very shady and nontransparent process. The council can in theory choose the candidate it wants, but the CvdK has a lot of influence on the process. In the Provinces Act we can read that the CvdK is appointed in a similar manner as a mayor, after a recommendation by the States-Provincial, the legislative assembly of the Dutch provinces. Why does the CvdK have to interfere with the appointment of mayors? The appointment of ministers is also done by the political parties which form the government after House elections, without external interference. Besides, the political signature of the CvdK can be very different from the political signature of the municipal council. Imagine a council in the province of Zeeland, part of the bible belt and filled with Christian parties. They have to deal with a CvdK, Han Polman, of the very progressive party D66. Maybe this man is very objective, but I can imagine that the political differences can lead to a very manipulative interference with appointment procedures for mayors.

There also is a huge difference between the political parties which occupy municipal councils and the party membership of appointed mayors. In the results of the last municipal elections, the local parties won in most municipalities. Yet, 83 percent of al mayors are members of respectively the VVD (30%), the PvdA (27%) and the CDA (27%). In Amsterdam, GroenLinks is the largest party and Femke Halsema of the same party was appointed as the mayor, but in Utrecht Jan van Zanen of the VVD is mayor while the council’s ruling coalition consists of GroenLinks (largest party), D66 and ChristenUnie. There is a huge gap between the political signature of the council and the mayor. The appointment of the mayor for six years and that appointment not being synchronous with the council elections makes the gap even larger.

Then there is the important question, why would would you want to elect the mayor? The most important responsibilities of the job lie in public order and security. Some, especially the mayors themselves, consider this a technocratic affair devoid of politics. The cliche that mayors stand “above the parties” is used often. But is that the case? Femke Halsema (mayor in Amsterdam and left-wing GroenLinks member) doesn’t prioritize enforcement of the burqa ban. Pauline Krikke (mayor in The Hague and member of the right-wing VVD) scorns demonstration rights. It seems logical to me that for example the enthusiasm for the legalization of marijuana and a fireworks ban run along similar lines in the left- and right-wing political scale, even though I can’t find evidence for that. This illustrates that public order and security do have a political signature.

Apart from that the voters could punish or reward a mayor by refusing or granting them a new term. I think many inhabitants of The Hague’s Scheveningen district would want to do away with Pauline Krikke after her blunder with the bonfires during the last New Year’s Eve. Without the means to do so, I can see it happen that Krikke gets another term or a job as mayor elsewhere.

The Dutch Association of Mayors had written a letter to the Senate before the vote to, surprise, convince them to vote against the change of the constitution. They may be right that you can’t consider the function of the mayor in isolation from the other bodies in the municipality. But their statement that a problem analysis and vision of the future for the position of the mayor should be made first doesn’t hold. The appointment of the mayor was only moved from the constitution to the Municipalities Act, nothing has changed de facto yet. Now we can have the discussion on the problem analysis and the vision for the future. If we had waited for that first, the process would take much longer due to the complicated change to the constitution. There would have been a complete lack of progress. Again they boast of the “independent position, above the parties and between the inhabitants” of the mayor. I think I’ve made it sufficiently clear such a claim is very dubious. The letter breathes demophobia, the fear that they can no longer get their appointments for mayor positions through the ‘party cartel’ (to use the words of the populist right-wing Forum for Democracy party).

How should it be done? Outside the Netherlands there is plenty of experience with elected mayors. I imagine the job can be shaped in analogy to the prime minister at the municipal level. That would make the mayor the political leader of the college of mayor and aldermen. Just like the House of Representatives, the coalition of governing parties in the municipal council can decide amongst themselves who becomes the mayor and the term for the mayor matches that of the council. Direct election by the inhabitants could work, but then there might be a risk of the mayor not being able to collaborate with the coalition if the mayor’s job takes on a more political character. Now the question is if and when D66 and other parties can finish the job and compose legislation to actually change the appointment procedure.

Measuring our electricity consumption

In 2016, the year we moved to The Hague, I wanted to know the power consumption of specific devices in our new house. With that knowledge I could devise a plan to lower my electricity bill. Not that it was high, but saving money is always a good thing.

At that moment it was hard to investigate. I only possessed a cheap power consumption meter with a plug, which can be placed between the device to be measured and the wall socket. It didn’t work optimally because it would still report wattage when no device was connected, which made measurements inaccurate. Also, I couldn’t use it for devices where I had difficult or no access to the plug, like my built-in refrigerator.

Wat I also did was note the number on the electricity meter at the first day of the month and collect the data in a LibreOffice Calc file to compare total consumption per month throughout the year. This didn’t go well because I forgot to do it once in a while and because we weren’t home at the first of the month during the summer holiday.

However, this year the smart electricity meter was installed in our home, as part of the national project to do so in every home. Because it automatically sends the daily data on total power consumption to the power company it was no longer necessary to this myself. Now I can easily see the data in the smartphone app of my power company Qurrent.

This way I could see that July, August and September had electricity consumption figures which were quite normal for our situation, until our daughter Rosalinde was born in October. Because Stephanie was at home much more often due to her leave from work, electricity consumption shot up to one and a half times the usual level. Now that her leave is over, she still works four instead of five days a week and her mother takes care of our daughter for two days at our home. So the electricity consumption will remain structurally higher.

Fortunately the smart electricity meter also has a setting which shows the total consumption right now. What I would do then is the following: note current consumption on the meter, switch off refrigerator and note consumption again. Of course you have to turn off as much other devices as possible to prevent interference with the measurement.

The problem is of course that a refrigator has different consumption when it is on standby and when it has to cool actively. There is a specification of the producer for the yearly consumption conforming to the EU standards, but you will have variation because your refrigerator can have less or more ice in it. This means measuring is always difficult. And some of our devices were purchased before the EU made energy labels compulsory.

To conclude I used a combination of measurements with the power consumption meter, the smart electricity meter and the official specifications to get consumption figures for all my devices. I then noted these in this LibreOffice Calc document. In the baseline measurement (tab “Before”) I had several electricity guzzling halogen lamps; since then I have replaced them all with LED lamps. Those and other measures I had taken where then noted in the second measurement (tab “After”). All of this was measured before our daughter was born and electricity consumption increased sharply.

What caught the eye was the high consumption of my ventilation system, which is integrated in my air heating unit. At some distance come the refrigerator and the dishwasher. I don’t think the 280 washing cycles of the official consumption figures are accurate for us, so true consumption will probably be lower. The clothes dryer doesn’t have an energy label, but does have consumption figures for specific settings. We dry laundry as much as possible without the clothes dryer, outside in the summer and inside on clothing racks in the attic during the winter. Only if the racks are full or if there are towels (Stephanie likes to have them softer from the dryer) the dryer is turned on. Finally the aquarium and the router are relatively demanding users.

To be honest I haven’t asked for quotes yet, but I suspect the replacement of my ventilation system and air heating unit will be very expensive. Especially if I want to do it completely right and want to stop using natural gas. I think I’d prefer to wait for the plans of the municipality of The Hague. In 2021 municipalities have to make a plan for the heating of the built environment. It would be a pity if the municipality would be able to connect my whole neighborhood to geothermal heating while I would have already invested money in an air-source heat pump.

Other options to replace electricity guzzling devices by more economical ones aren’t profitable either. If I take a look at my calculations (tab “Alternatives”) I see the break-even point, where the savings on electricity compensate the purchase price of the device, is reached far too late. So replacement only makes sense when the current device breaks down. And Stephanie wants to keep her aquarium. Measures such as replacing the powerline adapters with WiFi and turning off the router at night seem more attainable. To reduce my natural gas consumption I put a kitchen timer in my bathroom, so I don’t take showers for more than five minutes.

Daylight savings time and the time zone in the Netherlands

After recent nieuws about the plan of the European Commission to abolish daylight savings time, I decided to investigate the subject. The summary: winter time is our ‘normal’ time, Daylight Savings Time (DST) advances the clock one hour so that we have can enjoy the sunlight longer during summer evenings. The advantage of longer daylight in the summer is clear. I also like having longer sunlight on a summer evening when I’m relaxing in my garden with guests. The Dutch Olympic Committee*Dutch Sports Federation thinks that the extra sunlight in the evening is important for sports participation. I understand that because I also like to go surfing or swimming in the sea after my work. They also mention running, but that is also possible in the dark.

However, the longer daylight for leisure after the workday is the only substantial advantage of daylight savings time. In the different news items and the expansive Wikipedia article about DST I read that the other alleged advantage, lower electricity consumption, is doubted. On the other hand the evidence for negative effects, such as disruption of our circadian rhythm and sleep pattern, is convincing. While I personally don’t experience sleep problems during the beginning and end of DST, it is apparently disruptive to many other people. En the complexity of the clock change is also an argument against DST. Telephones and computers change automatically, but my oven and mechanical clock don’t. There is extra confusion when you have to make a an international phone call because you have to take DST into account when you convert your local time to other time zones.

The first news item also point out that the Netherlands should actually use Western European Time because of it’s geographic location, just like the United Kingdom. In other words, the our clock is actually one hour (two when we use DST) ahead of the solar time. If the solar time would be followed exactly, the sun would reach it highest point at 12:00 hours. A look at the Wikipedia article on time zones tells us that it is even more extreme elsewhere in the world. Russia has a very strange application of time zones, China has one time zone for the whole country (!) and the western tip of Spain deviates strongly. The time zones in the United States do make sense and match the solar time.

Because it interested me to see how the time zone in the Netherlands compares with others, I compared the time of dusk and dawn in The Hague with two other cities. The Hague lies at the 52th parallel north, which is a line of about 111 kilometers wide running over the earth in east-west orientation. Other places on this parallel receive roughly the same amount of daylight, no matter their distance from The Hague. To compare I have chosen Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Lipetsk in Russia.

In the tables below you can see the results. The data was taken from the website Time and Date and applies to 2018. I compare the shortest and longest day for the three cities. Cambridge is located in the geographical center of the WET zone and matches the solar time very closely. Lipetsk is one of the few larger cities in Russia which has a geographically fitting time zone and is relevant because Russia doesn’t use DST.

Current situation
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Cambridge 21 Jun 04:38–21:24 13:01 16:46
Den Haag 21 Jun 05:22–22:06 13:44 16:44
Lipetsk 21 Jun 03:57–20:48 12:23 16:51
Cambridge 21 Dec 08:06–15:48 11:57 07:42
Den Haag 21 Dec 08:48–16:32 12:40 07:43
Lipetsk 21 Dec 08:30–16:08 12:19 07:38

In the first news item I mentioned it is written that the chairman of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a personal preference for permanent DST if we would indeed abolish the current DST. As the first news item explained this is quite an extreme change, because the time in the winter will then have the same large deviation from the solar time as it does during the summer. The consequence is that the sun will rise as late as 9:48 on 21 December in The Hague. I consider this very undesirable and it will certainly not help our cyrcadian rhythms. Effectively it means that we will have to rise even earlier during the night in the winter.

Permanent DST
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Den Haag 21 Jun 05:22–22:06 13:44 16:44
Den Haag 21 Dec 09:48–17:32 13:40 07:43

Abolishing DST seems the most logical choice to me, a good compromise. And what if we were to look at the problem in a different way? After we abolish DST we could decide start the workday earlier, at 8:00 hours instead of 8:30 hours for example, to win back some sunlight in the evening

Abolishing DST
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Den Haag 21 Jun 04:22–21:06 12:44 16:44
Den Haag 21 Dec 08:48–16:32 12:40 07:43

If we wanted to be entirely correct we shouldn’t just abolish DST but also start to use WET. This takes it too far for my taste because we loose even more light during the summer evenings then. Because the Netherlands lies in the eastern half of the WET zone, the clock is slightly ahead of solar time.

Abolishing DST and switching to WET
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Den Haag 21 Jun 03:22–20:06 11:44 16:44
Den Haag 21 Dec 07:48–15:32 11:40 07:43

Finally, there was news that the EU member states postponed a decision on DST. The Netherlands apparently wants to use the same time zone as Germany. And the European Commission wants to avoid a patchwork of different time zones in the EU because it would be bad for the economy. I don’t follow this line of reasoning because the United States, the largest economy in the world, use four time zones without a clear disadvantage to its economy. So I don’t see any issue if the EU abolishes DST en the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Spain switch to WET while the rest of the EU uses Central European Time or Eastern European Time.

Calculating stock return with LibreOffice Calc

Earlier this year BinckBank, the bank I used to invest in stocks for years, introduced new subscriptions. These now require payment of a service fee which is dependent on the size of the portfolio. For my portfolio of slightly more than € 5,000 I pay a bit more than € 10 per quarter. This comes on top of the transaction costs which were already relatively high with BinckBank.

BinckBank has good customer service, accessible information on investing, a good website and app, but that doesn’t justify the price difference with DeGiro, another bank. There I don’t pay a service fee and the transaction costs are much lower as well. As a consequence I’ve decided to cancel my BinckBank subscription and pursue all my stock investments through DeGiro. Apparently BinckBank wants to lose its smaller and less active customers, that’s the only explanation I can think of.

Initially I wanted to transfer my entire portfolio from BinckBank to DeGiro. I had a vague memory about a phone call with a DeGiro employee earlier this year. I reckon being told then that costs would be high for this. For that reason I decided to simply sell my stocks with BinckBank and then rebuy them with DeGiro.

I’ve come to regret this because the stock price of the sole stock I possessed, the Dutch construction company BAM, had risen notably since I sold my stock. When I investigated what transferring a portfolio would cost me, I saw that BinckBank charges € 25 per fund for a portfolio transfer and that DeGiro charges nothing because the portfolio is bigger than € 3,000. Had I known this I would have chosen for the portfolio transfer, certainly because it just contained one fund. Obviously this is another lesson in how assumptions are the mother of all fuckups. And yes, I know a portofolio consisting of € 5,000 in just one fund is not good risk-spreading.

But now the core of this post. I have the issue that I purchased and sold stock of BAM through both banks. Because DeGiro won’t pick up the historical purchase price of the stock I bought through BinckBank, I wanted to use LibreOffice Calc to calculate the costs and potential return of my transactions. You could do this by simply entering the numbers, but if you are like me you want to do this in a pretty way with a formula. Because it took my half an hour to figure out the solution I thought others would be grateful to me if I’d share it here.

My document can be downloaded here. The kind of transaction (purchase or sale), amount of stock, stock price and commission are entered manually. It’s all about the following formula which calculates the total result of a transaction:

=IF(B3="Purchase";((D3*E3)+F3)*-1;IF(B3="Sale";(D3*E3)-F3))

The IF function is nested in another IF function here. First IF evaluates if cell B3 contains the text ‘Purchase’. If yes, it multiplies amount and price and adds the commission. The result is then multiplied by -1 to make it negative (because a purchases order gives negative return). If cell B3 doesn’t contained the text ‘Purchase’, it will execute the next IF function. There IF evaluated if cell B3 contains the text ‘Sale’. If yes, then amount and price are multiplied here as well, but the commission is substracted instead.

More explanation is given on this page of Microsoft Office Support. The syntax of Excel is slightly different because it uses comma’s instead of semicolons, but the IFS function mentioned at the bottom of the document is also useable in Calc. The more simple notation of the IFS function doesn’t require a nested formula and is equivalent to the formula with the IF function above if written as follows:

=IFS(B3="Purchase";((D3*E3)+F3)*-1;B3="Sale";(D3*E3)-F3)

These formulas aren’t a necessity for such simple things as calculating return on stocks, but I thought it was useful to learn more about Calc and Excel this way.

The Sony A7 III as successor to the Fujifilm X100S

I have written about my experiences with my Fujifilm X100S before. I have developed a hate-love relationship with it during the years I’ve used it. It’s a camera which combines compact size with the good image quality of a relatively large APS-C sensor. The sensor works together with an integrated and capable 23mm lens (approximately equal to the angle of view of a 35mm lens on a full frame sensor). The way in which the camera is designed, such as the omission of a mode dial, makes the camera enjoyable to use. However, the camera’s behavior to structurally underexpose scenes was quite annoying. In theory you can fix this by using the exposure compensation, but in practice it’s often a gamble to determine how much compensation is needed. Because of this issue I couldn’t rely on the JPEG files and had to edit RAW files far too often.

Because this problem was so frustrating I was looking for a new camera. As a replacement I had the Sony A7 III with full frame sensor in mind. My beloved Stephanie knew this, led me blindfolded to an electronics store and gifted me this camera for my birthday. The idea is that this camera will replace both her Nikon D5100 and my X100S. That’s why we chose the standard kit SEL 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6 zoom lens and the Samyang 35mm F/2.8 lens. The zoom lens is for Stephanie, de 35mm lens is for me. Much has been written about why 35mm lenses are a good choice, but for me it boils down to the perspective of these lenses, which resemble so closely what I see with my eyes. If we are too lazy to change lenses often while we are on holiday the zoom lens will probably be used more often for its flexibility. But the Samyang has a slightly larger aperture. And according to reviews the optical performance is also better; more sharpness and less distortion that the zoom lens.

The 35mm lens transforms the A7 III into a more potent version of the X100S. As you can see on the photo both camera’s don’t fit into a pocket anyway, so the small difference in size isn’t very relevant. Because the A7 III is slightly larger and also features a grip for the right hand, it handles better than the X100S for me. The 35mm lens weighs much less than the body, so the camera balances nicely if you hang it around your neck.

Sony A7 III versus Fujifilm X100S

For € 315 the Samyang lens is the cheapest 35mm lens for Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. There are also some other 35mm lenses:

  1. Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA for € 671
  2. Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art for € 800
  3. Sony Distagon T* Zeiss FE 35mm F/1.4 ZA for € 1.367

The Sonnar is barely better than the Samyang but is much more expensive. The Sigma and the Distagon are much better, have a larger aperture and are sharper. But they are also much bigger and heavier. Besides that, I don’t want to spend so much money on a lens with a fixed focal length. The important thing is that the larger aperture of these lenses doesn’t offer me added value. For my purposes (and probably for most people who use 35mm lenses) a large aperture doesn’t benefit me because it results in smaller depth of field. I want large depth of field. The Samyang is cheap and compact, that’s why it’s most suitable for me. Do beware that the supplied lens hood and cap don’t work in combination with a filter.

Finally some words about the A7 III itself. The reason why I chose this camera is simple: the reviews seem to be unanimous in their judgment that this camera steamrolls the competition of Canon and Nikon at the € 2.300 price point (the price for the body without the lens). The video capabilities are good, the X100S was unfit for video. Still the A7 III misses some of the user friendliness that the X100S does have. The X100S has dedicated dials for aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. The A7 III misses these, just like most other DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras. I keep thinking that I had preferred a successor to the X100S without the underexposure issue. At the same time I know that I will certainly enjoy using the A7 III. The only thing which I’m missing in the A7 III is the option to record 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video with 60 frames per second. The A7 III doesn’t go further than 30 frames per second at that resolution. The Panasonic GH5 can do that and is a lot cheaper at € 1.500.

Now that I have the right camera I can work on my greatest challenge: be at the right place and time to take interesting photos and videos. Because of my limited time I used the X100S primarily on holiday, because I didn’t see much interesting things in the Netherlands which were worth photographing. They are there of course, but you have to go looking for them. Otherwise those thousands of euros spent on the camera and lenses will be catching dust when you’re not on holiday.

The dividend tax stays

On 5 October Unilever announced that it would not move its headquarters from London to Rotterdam because its stockholders opposed the move. Later that day the Dutch government, the Rutte III cabinet, stated that it would reconsider the abolition of the dividend tax. According to prime minister Mark Rutte it did not mean the dividend tax would be preserved definitively. He stated the plan to abolish it wasn’t launched for a single company, but that Unilever’s decision was relevant in the reassessment of the plan.

The words of Rutte don’t connect with reality. The announcement to reconsider the plan came directly after Unilever’s announcement. And the action of just Unilever, one company, was the motivation for the reassessment after all. The statement of Rutte doesn’t have any credibility. Once again it’s a smoke screen, because I think Rutte had been searching for an exit of the despised plan to abolish the tax. Unilever’s action is right up his alley because it enables him to cancel the abolition without much loss of face. That the reappraisal wouldn’t directly lead to preservation of the tax is unbelievable, because otherwise they wouldn’t be sowing doubt with such an announcement. I know for sure now that the dividend tax will stay.

Also consider that Unilever’s plan to abandon the move is a pitifully bad excuse for the reconsideration. The move of the headquarters to Rotterdam would have brought several dozen jobs to the Netherlands. Even if you add some indirect employment, such a small number is meaningless. Are we supposed to believe that this meager amount of jobs is influencing a decision on € 1,9 billion of potentially lost tax revenue? That is the amount lost if the dividend tax would be abolished.

In other news, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands thinks the dividend tax is legally sustainable and doesn’t discriminate against foreign investors. The news isn’t very clear about the arguments of the Supreme Court, but it does give a link to the detailed ruling. I don’t have knowledge about tax law, but after reading the summary I think I understand. Denmark was discriminating because it didn’t offer foreign investment funds the choice to be taxed on the exit instead of the entrance, just like Danish investment funds.

The tax on the entrance is apparently the tax which is paid to the state where the investment fund is located. The tax on the exit is paid to the state where the recipient of the dividend is located, as far as I understand. In practice the choice doesn’t offer any advantage, because exemption from the tax at the entrance is only granted if the tax is paid at the exit. The latter requires so much complex administration that in practice not a single investment fund would want this. If the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration would allow foreign investment funds to choose to pay tax on the exit and then offer them exemption on the tax at the entrance, they’ve got nothing on the Dutch state.

The summary is reasonably readable in this case which is so complex for laypeople. Yet, the unnecessary use of English directly caught my eye in the language used by advocate general P. J. Wattel. For example “zowel de lokale, if any, als de Deense bronbelasting” and “zal het niet-ingezeten fonds moeten tracen welke ontvangen dividenden hij dooruitdeelt”. Naar correct Nederlands vertaald “indien van toepassing” en “traceren”. These words were not English legal jargon without Dutch counterparts. Dutch people have a hand in polluting their own language with unnecessary English. It’s a pity to see that even the Supreme Court is affected by this disease.