Tag Archives: Netherlands

An Unlikely Blogger Expelled

Although it’s not good for Sudan, I think it’s good for blogging: CNN reports that 

The government of Sudan on Sunday gave the top U.N. official in the country three days to leave, marking the latest hurdle in international efforts to bring peace to the nation torn apart by civil war.

Sudan expelled Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, who has openly criticized Khartoum as well as rebel groups on his Web log.

Pronk has been running a blog for nearly a year and while it doesn’t look like your average blog (really long posts, no external links, no comments, blogs numbered as if they were official UN documents) it’s an impressively direct account of the Sudanese conflict. His third post started as follows: 

This week the seventh round of the Abuja talks between the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements will start. Will it be the last one, producing a peace agreement before the end of the year? The chances are diminishing.

Not the sort of mealy-mouthed stuff we’re used to from senior UN officials. And it’s probably upset the UN as much as it’s upset the Sudanese government. But if so why had the UN not closed him down earlier? Pronk, according to UPI, did not offer any disclaimers, but the UN has since made clear he was writing in a personal capacity. The UN has “no rules barring blogging specifically, though employees face restrictions when publishing articles and participating in interviews.” It seems Pronk was probably senior enough, and his comments uncontroversial enough, for no one to mind too much. Until last week.

What I like about it is that reporters tend to meet these kind of people in the field, and it’s great to hear them sounding off about the situation, but rarely are their words captured in sufficient quantity for their great background knowledge and high level involvement in such diplomatic processes to be read by a wider audience. I’ve not followed the tragedy in Darfur much beyond what I read in the papers, but Pronk’s year-long posts are a diary of immense and satisfying detail about the process, peppered by great photos, that are worthy of more than the word blog. 

Take this one, for example, from June 28

There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse. The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. On the contrary, on the ground, especially amongst the displaced persons, it meets more and more resistance. In my view it is a good text, an honest compromise between the extreme positions taken by the parties during the negotiations in Abuja. That is why the UN, like all international partners, has endorsed the agreement. However, in politics objective rational calculations will always be confuted by subjective emotional perceptions and aspirations. And those perceptions are that the agreement does not meet the expectations of the people in Darfur, has been forced upon them and, rather than meeting the interests of all parties somewhere halfway, only strengthens the position of the government and a minority tribe, the Zaghawa.

That too me is very clear writing, reflecting his knowledge of the situation on many levels. Not every situation could allow a senior figure involved deeply in the political process to write so frankly and openly, but wouldn’t it be great if they could? This to me is the real potential of blogs and citizen reporting. Someone who really knows what is going on telling us about it.

PS: Jan Pronk has a reputation of sorts in Indonesia, my current abode. He earned the lasting enmity of then president Suharto by

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A Map Full Of News

As you know, I’m a huge fan of newsmaps — efforts to convey news information using more visual approaches — and here’s another excellent idea, from a guy called Jeroen Wijering, who, according to Cool Hunting

is a recent graduate of the Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. One of his most recent projects is a Flash-based news map called What’s Up?. New stories are highlighted on the map, and a balloon appears with a headline; clicking on the balloon sends you to the source of the story.

What Iove about it is the feel that something is happening somewhere in the world every minute. The map is peppered with green and blue dots, the green dots forming a map of the world. Dots continually blink to yellow, orange or red, indicating a breaking story:

Map

Great stuff.

Skype Cuts Some Rates

Skype has lowered rates of its SkypeOut service to some destinations as part of its first anniversary celebrations. Here are the details:

Six major new countries have been added to the SkypeOut Global Rate, a fixed, low-cost rate of 1.7 Euro cents per minute to popular calling destinations. China, Greece, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Poland and Switzerland have joined more than 20 additional destinations in the Global Rate. Skype has also significantly lowered SkypeOut rates for calling numbers in Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Cook Islands, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Korea, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland (mobile), Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

I’m not quite clear from the press release, but it sounds as if this is an average reduction of 15%.

It’s not all good news: Prices for SkypeOut calls to Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, Oman, Lichtenstein and Haiti numbers will increase slightly.

Inke The Inkjet Refiller Goes After The Big Boys

My favourite inkjet refill machine, the Singaporean-made Inke, is going for the big time.

A release from the company says that Inke islaunching versions compatible with 305 different kinds of printers and 12 brands including HP, Lexmark, Samsung, Kodak, Compaq, Sharp, Sony, NewGen Sys, Apple, Pitney Bowes and Apollo. They are as follows:

  • INKE LX-70 to refill the Lexmark 70 (12A1970) and Lexmark 75 (12A1975)
  • INKE LX-50 to refill Lexmark 17G0050 and Sharp AJ0C50B
  • INKE HS-29 to refill HP 29 (51629A), HP 20 (C6614DN) and HP 19 (C6628AN) cartridges.

The devices are beautifully designed, pretty unmessy, and inexpensive: Each unit costs Euro 70 before VAT and include 3 ink tanks. Each additional ink tank costs Euro 10. Inke reckons “a user can save up to Euro 350 in ink costs over a 3 year period”. I don’t think they’re exaggerating.

The old INKE HS-45 is now available in Europe, or at least in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland. Inke says it plans nine models altogether this year. I’ve been using mine for nearly a year and it’s been great.

(Hoax) Assault On A Dutch Blogger

[Note: Thanks to Mike at TechDirt and others for pointing out that this may well have been a hoax. The website GeenStijl now acknowledges that the person in question is alive, well and was not attacked. Here’s shutterclog and BlogHerald on the incident.

Apart from musing on the irresponsibility of whoever it was at GeenStijl who posted the hoax (and the likelihood the website itself will never be taken seriously as a source of information), the incident also raises interesting questions about the credibility of blogs vs traditional media.]

Blogging can be a dangerous business.

Bas Taart, a Dutch blogger, tells me that one of the contributors to the Netherlands’ biggest blog, GeenStijl (No Style), was beaten unconscious late on Monday at his home by three men wearing skimasks and wielding a baseball bat. The GeenStijl website says that the victim, known as ‘Chilean Guy’ had been threatened several times before.

A note on the website said “This event has caused us to stop our blog, effective immediately. We’re broken, stunned and don’t want to go on this way…. Apparently freedom of speech is no longer allowed in this country.”

Bas tells me that GeenStijl has made quite a few enemies, “taking on spammers, pedophyles, criminals and organisations that spend too much government funds”. Last week, according to Digital Media Europe, GeenStijl posted a copy of recording a convicted murderer had posted to his own website and was charging visitors to access.

The recording had the murderer’s former girlfriend informing the police that he was standing outside with a gun, while the sound of gunfire could be heard in the background. DM Europe quoted a spokesman for GeenStijl as saying “It is terrible that a criminal can make money on a murder he committed.”

Update: More On Those Exploding Phones

 Just when you thought it was over…. The Register reports that Test-Aankoop, the Belgian consumer watchdog that reported Nokia batteries as dangerous and then had it corrected, says Nokia still has a problem. The Finnish mobile phone maker cannot guarantee that its batteries are safe, because consumers cannot distinguish between original and non-original batteries, the watch dog says.
 
Nokia yesterday admitted that “tens of thousands counterfeit batteries were seized in recent raids in Holland, the United Kingdom, and other countries in the EU”.
 
Reminds me of the fake Bluetooth story a while back. How do we know what’s kosher and that it won’t blow up in our face, or ear?

Update: Nokia Batteries Safe Shock

 Nokia, hit by a recent spate of reports, from Vietnam to the Netherlands, of its batteries overheating and catching fire or exploding, says a follow-up test by a Belgian consumer watchdog had shown its own-made batteries were safe for use, Reuters reports.
 
Nokia said in a statement a new test by Test-Aankoop, conducted on November 17, showed all Nokia-made batteries were protected against short-circuiting, believed to be the cause of the problems. The Belgian firm said in a separate statement its previous test released earlier this month had accidentally included counterfeit batteries in the sample. But it said Nokia should address the issue of many forged batteries sold under Nokia’s brand.

News: Copy the customer, get a bigger tip

  A report in Nature confirms what we all knew: the waitress (or waiter, presumably) who imitates the customers gets a bigger tip. Huh?
 
 
Turns out, according to some Dutch psychologist Rick van Baaren of the University of Nijmegen, that “Mimicry creates bonds between people – it induces a sense of ‘we-ness.  You know that what you’re doing is ok, and you become more generous.” Van Baaren’s team studied staff in an American-style restaurant in southern Holland: In half of the tests, they primed a waitress to repeat customers’ orders back to them. In the other half, she said something else positive, such as “Coming right up!”
 
When copycatting, the waitresses’ average tip almost doubled, to nearly 3 guilders (US$1.20). 

Under the Wire

Under the Wire

The Latest Software and Hardware Upgrades, Plug-Ins and Add-Ons

from the 29 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Slow Upgrade Uptake

Have you upgraded yet from Windows 98 to XP? If not, you’re not alone. According to a survey by on-line-statistics analyst WebSide Story (http://statmarket.com/), XP has taken three times longer than its predecessor to reach the same portion of the market. Windows XP first reached 33% global usage share in late March 2003, nearly 18 months after its launch in October 2001. Windows 98, on the other hand, reached the same benchmark in January 1999, only six months after its launch. My thoughts: While XP is a lot better than 98, users are showing that they’re not just going to blindly follow upgrades any more: While a third of them now run XP, a quarter don’t. Still, it’s not all rosy on the other side of the fence either: Apple is running into some familiar problems with its music-download service. According to WinInfo newsletter (www.winnetmag.net), people have figured out how to use a software service that Apple built into its music player to illegally download music over the Internet from Macs running iTunes.

My column on MessageTag, a program that allows you to check whether folk have read the e-mail you sent them, elicited some interesting mail [Are You Being Read Or Completely Ignored, May 22, 2003]. One user of a similar, but more limited, feature that comes with Microsoft Outlook points to one pitfall of the process: Knowing more than you really want to know about what happened to your e-mails. Steven A. Gray, from the United States, e-mailed his governor, Mitt Romney, complimenting him on a recent TV appearance, only to receive the following message, triggered by Outlook: “Your message to Goffice (GOV) . . . was deleted without being read on Mon, 24 Mar 2003 12:39:52 -0500.” OK, so MessageTag may not work for politicians. Other concerns were raised: Patrick Machiele, from the Netherlands, reckons the service won’t work well for those who, like him, dial in to grab their e-mail, but read it off-line. The guys from MSGTAG say this is true, but that overall the percentage of such users is very low. While Patrick has definitely pointed to a weakness in the system, I have to agree with MSGTAG: I’ve noticed very few mismatches where an e-mail is read but registered by MSGTAG as unread.

Finally, Nigerian scammers have judged on-line shopping to be a rich seam of inspiration. Here are excerpts from an e-mail from El-Mustapha, who claims to be the ex-personal aide to the Iraqi minister of education and research, Dr. Abd Al-khaliq Gafar (“that died in the war”). Before the war, he says, they travelled to France to negotiate a contract for educational materials and components for the ministry. UN sanctions forced them to pay cash. “In gust [sic] of this he had cleverly diverted this sum ($28.5m) for himself and secured it properly with a security vault in Spain for safekeeping,” he says. He did ask me to keep the whole thing top secret, but I’m still reeling from the last scam I fell for, so anyone interested in helping him recover the loot should e-mail him at mustapha_el@mail2guard.com.