June 29, 2013

Dutch postal strike ends after reaching an agreement

Filed under: History by Branko Collin @ 3:10 pm

I write this while waiting for a package to be delivered by PostNL which could take a while because the strike at the package delivery division of the former Dutch state monopolist ended yesterday and the delivery people still have a backlog to contend with.

Since its privatisation PostNL seems to have dealt with a constant flow of bad press by changing its name every five years. The company started out as Koninklijke PTT (‘koninklijke’ means ‘royal’). In 1996 it became TPG Post and in 1998 the telephone and mail divisions split into two companies, the former getting the name KPN, the latter becoming TNT, Wikipedia says. TNT later became PostNL. (There are actually solid reasons for all the name changes, but those solid reasons only highlight the company being adrift.)

Nobody seems to know why the former state rail monopolist Nederlandse Spoorwegen (which is still a monopolist, just no longer legally so) messes up all the time, but at least with PostNL there seems to be a couple of reasons. The rise of the Internet appears to have killed off much of the need for mail and the liberalization of the postal market makes it so that when in the past a house was passed by one postal worker a day, now it’s several. PostNL responded to the rising cost of labour by hiring cheaper workers. They gave it a nice spin by labelling the process “[offering] jobs for people distant from the labour market“.

In 2012 PostNL decided to pay their workers for overtime; before that workers were being paid for a mythical number of hours that they should be working according to some bean counter rather than the number of hours they actually worked. In the same year Dutchnews.nl reported that the “Dutch jewellers and goldsmiths’ federation has advised its members to stop using PostNL to deliver packages because so many disappear en route to their destination”.

This week’s strike is fairly unique. PostNL is responsible for delivering about 70% of the packages, but hands those packages over to smaller one-person delivery companies. The people who strike are not employed and therefore not unionised, which means that they strike on their own dime. The largest Dutch union, FNV, decided to help out with the negotiations nevertheless, Omroep West writes. The union is also labelling the workers as ‘schijnzelfstandigen’, self-employed people that in reality work for just one customer without receiving the many benefits and protections employees have under Dutch law. RTL Nieuws reports that online stores have suffered millions in damages because of the strike.

The agreement between PostNL and its freelancers states a new rate for delivery of packages and the setting up of a grievances committee that the freelancers can use to complain about working conditions, Dutchnews.nl reports.

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December 9, 2012

Apple iPad is not a phone, Dutch judge says

Filed under: Gadgets,Technology by Branko Collin @ 2:09 pm

Why would you want to ask a court whether an Apple iPad is a phone or a general computer? Well, if computers given as a Christmas bonus are considered income and phones are not, you might have an incentive, especially if the back taxes amount to 323,687 euro.

Broadcaster RTL Nederland gave 664 of its employees an iPad in 2010, including a Vodafone 3G subscription. The law says that something supplied by one’s employer does not count as income if this something is intended “to prevent costs, expenses or depreciations needed for a correct execution of one’s employment”, Arnoud Engelfriet reports.

The law also prescribes categories of devices that are applicable, including “phones, Internet and such communication devices, but not computers, nor similar devices or peripherals”.

RTL Nederland sued the Dutch tax office and the question before the court became whether these iPads were mainly computers or mainly communication devices. The court ruled on 30 November that “considering the format of the iPad (the version the claimants provided has a 9.7 inch screen diagonal) verbal communication should not be seen as the central function of the iPad.”

RTL Nederland will appeal the decision. “We are a media company,” a spokesperson told Webwereld. “We work with those iPads, they are part of our daily business.”

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October 22, 2011

Phone companies may not let thugs force teenagers to buy subscriptions

Filed under: General,Technology by Branko Collin @ 4:03 pm

A type of crime that I had not heard of before is that Dutch teenagers are being forced by peers to buy them expensive mobile phone subscriptions. Back in February consumer watchdog show Kassa reported that this sort of thing happens on a large scale.

Stores that sell these subscriptions tend to close their eyes to this problem. Arnoud Engelfriet reported two weeks ago that in a surprising verdict, a judge said that even though they are not a party to the crime, telecom companies can still not hold the victims to these crimes to the contracts they entered into.

An eighteen year old girl from Rotterdam was forced under threat of violence to enter into several contracts with KPN subsidiary Telfort. Dutch law says that if you entered a contract under threat, you can rescind the contract. The court also weighed heavily that forcing teenagers to buy cellphones and mobile subscriptions is a common enough practice that Telfort should have been suspicious, especially now the victim bought five subscriptions at five different stores in a single day, which is uncommon.

(Photo by Macinate, some rights reserved)

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March 5, 2011

Van Deyssel had his staff read out his phone calls

Filed under: Literature,Technology by Branko Collin @ 3:04 pm

Mr Alberdingk Thijm (1864-1952) thought using the newfangled telephone was a little too banal for his taste. When he wanted to talk to someone, he wrote down what he wanted to say, and then let his personnel read out his notes over the phone.

His biographer Harry Prick* kept these notes, and they have now been turned into an audio book by Rubinstein titled Telefoonbriefjes (narrated by Arend Jan Heerma van Voss). Alberdingk Thijm, a novelist publishing under the name Lodewijk van Deyssel, used his technique to great effect:

To mrs. S.C. Mulder (21-12-1940): “At the tea enjoyed at your house today there were: tea, sugar, milk, orange juice, demi and triple sec, liqueurs […], and a deep plate of red porcelain with pralines, candied ginger, and all kinds of candy. Perhaps this tea would be worthy of repetition on December 30.”


To Anton Bosse (39-11-1938): “Mr. Alb. Thijm requires a pipe to be delivered right away, which must be of red lacquerware and of the best quality (i.e. without black in it), and also a 5 metre long red packing tape. If you have no bicyclist to deliver at this moment, hire a cab and add the cab fare to the bill.

Can you tell me the brand name or number of Georgy’s toy railroad?”

(Reply: brand Märklin, width O, number see page 41.)

Van Deyssel belonged to a literary movement called the Tachtigers. His novel Een liefde (A Love) was considered pornographic at the time, and its reception was mixed.

(Link: Holly Moors. Illustration: Bol.com / Van Deyssel.)

*) Yes I know, ha ha. Maybe that is why he always used his initials.

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November 27, 2010

Statue of angel with cell phone for Den Bosch cathedral

Filed under: Art,Religion by Branko Collin @ 12:02 pm

Sculptor Ton Mooy has revealed to Omroep Brabant that he is a working on a statue of an angel with a cell phone. (Photo and video)

The angel is to replace a worn out statue in the cathedral of Den Bosch. The cell phone will have just one button: for a straight line with God.

According to Mooy, he also wanted to give the angel jet engines, and a skirt instead of pants, but those ideas went too far for the church’s art committee, NOS Headlines reports.

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October 9, 2010

iPhone app developer catches iPhone thief using his app

Filed under: Gadgets,Gaming by Branko Collin @ 2:30 pm

A thief stealing an iPhone got caught after logging into the online game Merchant, Bright reports.

The phone belonged to Merchant developer Richard Osinga who kept an eye out for his phone’s IP number, and sure enough the dumb thief decided to try out the game and inadvertently handed himself in that way.

Osinga’s blog does not mention what data he collected to be able to find the thief. It took the police half a year to catch the criminal, but last Thursday they finally could report to the victim that they had got his iPhone back.

(Photo: Merchant.)

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September 18, 2010

John’s Phone, ‘dumbphone’ with modern capabilities

Filed under: Design,Gadgets by Branko Collin @ 10:30 am

A designer ‘dumbphone’ from the Netherlands: ad agency John Doe from Amsterdam came up with this 80 euro marvel called John’s Phone, and as the price tag suggests they actually put it in production!

Dumbphones, mobile phones that stick to telephony and SMS, are nothing new, but so far have generally been aimed at people who did not need all the features a modern phone has to offer, like the elderly. John’s Phone on the other hand seems aimed at “those who are willing to pay extra to have less” as one BoingBoing commenter puts it.

Publishing an article about a mobile phone brings with it the grave responsibility to produce a spec list, so here goes:

  • No simlock
  • Quad band
  • A choice of one ringtone (pre-selected)
  • Always-on address book (paper, with pen)
  • Caller ID
  • 1200 mAh battery (estimated 3 weeks stand-by time)
  • Hands-free mode with included earphone
  • 10-number memory
  • Size: 10.5 x 6 x 1.5 cm
  • Weight: 95 grams

BoingBoing readers (presumably Americans) lamented the lack of compatible service plans, which makes me guess not every country has SIM-only plans, which can be had for as little as 3.50 euro a year. The lack of texting seems a more serious problem: if I see a 06 number (Dutch mobile phone number), I expect to be able to text to it.

(Source photo: John’s Phone. Also check the ad agency’s Flash site for more complete details of the phone.)

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July 5, 2009

Providers not eager to (multi)play

Filed under: Online by Branko Collin @ 1:38 pm

Four years ago I wrote a piece for the Teleread blog called “Consumers won’t (multi)play.” It told about how telecom providers had lined up all these great packages that combined television, internet access, and telephony. No more hassle with double or triple contracts and bills, just one easy, clean, simple package from a single provider. And the consumer wouldn’t have it, for reasons that remained unclear.

Well, it appears that consumers have finally started to make the move towards a single bill, and I have been caught up in the drift. My internet access provider of many years sent me a rather threatening letter, telling me to get with the program or else… The situation there has been rather more convoluted than elsewhere. My provider offered ADSL before the phone company did (former monopolist KPN), and as a result its customers had to have a contract both with the internet provider, and the phone company (which provided the physical lines).

Later the provider somehow acquired the possibility to offer ADSL without forcing the customer to tango with KPN (I don’t know why, I presume this has to do with some sort of liberalisation of the phone lines), and now it understandably wants to move all its customers that couldn’t be arsed to go the single bill route. So this is the sugar with which they are trying to coax us: “If you don’t move, we’ll raise the price of your subscription.” Naturally, I have been checking out the competition.

Oddly enough, the competition doesn’t seem to be too eager to take me on as a new customer.

UPC offers a handy looking tool to select your package with a great promise: they’ll pay for the cheapest of the three services. But you don’t even have to click around to realize that it’s pretty much the price of the internet service you choose that determines the final cost. Still, you have to choose all the premium deluxe services with all the bells and whistles and free champagne and hookers for a year to get at a price that’s substantially higher than what you would pay at the competition. Wait, there’s some dirt on the screen. Hm, I cannot get it off. Would it be …? Yes, it’s the tiny print that informs of all the extra costs that add 50% to your bills for many moons to come.

All this dancing around the do to hide the true costs.

KPN, that good old phone company, also offers triple play, and they also dance around. They’ve got a couple of special offers lined up right now that make their Basic and Premium package look much better than their Lite package. Well, for the first three months that is. Again, what’s with the deception? Why not give everybody the premium service for three months, and the choice to switch back for free after that?

Telegraaf reports (Dutch) that a change in the Telecommunications law last Wednesday no longer allows contracts to be silently renewed without the customer’s explicit consent, and predicts this change is going to cause a price war in the telecom world. Price comparison whizz-kid Ben Woldring tells the paper consumers can save hundreds of euros a year. So far, I have not noticed any participant who seems to take this war seriously.

Illustration: UPC’s two-out-of-three picker always yields pretty much the same price depending on the internet component you choose.

Illustration: If KPN’s premium packages are cheaper than their Lite package, why do they offer the latter at all?

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July 4, 2008

Phone booth to disappear from streets

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 11:02 am

Having gotten permission from the government, KPN, the Dutch phone company, is going to reduce the number of its already less familiar green triangular phone booths, reports Blik op Nieuws (Dutch). Until now the government obliged the former state monopolist to provide one phone booth per 5,000 citizens in towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants.

Use of the KPN phone booths dropped about 76% between 2000 and 2006. A whopping 95% of the people have stopped using the booths altogether, preferring to use one of the 17 million mobile phones instead (out of a population of 16 million), according to the news site.

I remember phone booths being ubiquitous, square and something other than green (bright red or yellow, I forget—this was in the 1970s). To me it never seemed there were many of the newer models to begin with. KPN is apparently going to keep a couple of booths around, for instance where they believe the elderly still need them.

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