“People only complain about their availability.”

Alper points to a good overview of the system in English. I’ve mentioned the Dutch public transport bicycle here almost a decade ago, but this is a good reason to revisit that post.

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Two people coming out of The Hague Central Station with a yellow and blue OV Fiets, just now as I walked past

OV Fiets, OV short for Openbaar Vervoer which means public transport, and fiets meaning bicycle, so PT bikes, was started in 2003 by the NS rail company at a handful of large railway stations. With public transport, especially rail, the last part of the trip, getting from the station to your destination is always the tricky part. Where walking is too far or inconvenient, buses or taxis might help but they take up way more time in inner cities, and buses still don’t get you to the door of your destination. Basically anything within 20 minutes by bicycle (meaning 7km or so), the bike easily wins over any other mode of transport. OV Fiets was set-up for those distances, as a way to stimulate more people to take the train. The reasoning is that if there’s less friction to get from the station to your destination more people will choose the train over taking the car. Everyone in the Netherlands already has a bicycle to get to the railway station from home, the need is in the last leg of a trip.

Since 2004 when my work meant much more travel, I use the train as much as possible. On a train I can still work (or blog, I’m writing this on a train that just left The Hague), which isn’t the case in the car . That more than makes up for situations where a car might be faster. I started using OV Fiets early 2010 when their availability was expanded to general availability at railway stations across the country, beyond just the first handful they experimented with and some other bigger cities. Currently all railway stations provide OV Fietsen, large railway stations from multiple locations, and increasingly fully automated.

You pick up a bike when you arrive by train, and return it before taking your train home. Over 20.000 bikes are available across the country.

Wherever I go in the Netherlands I can pick up a bike and be on my way well within 5 minutes from getting off a train. My (free) subscription is connected to my public transport payment card. I swipe the card and get a bike. Each time I pick up a bike I get billed just under 4 Euro’s, which covers 24 hours. Once a month I get e-mailed an itemised bill, which is automatically paid from my bank account. A subscription allows you to pick-up 2 bikes at a time, which also comes in handy when we have guests for a day or two, to provide them with their own bicycles through my and E’s subscription. Tuesday this week I used an OV Fiets with a colleague in Haarlem, where my client’s offices are located a 20-25 minute walk from the station, which can be covered by bike in 5-6 minutes. That’s a typical example.

In 2011 over 1 million bicycle pick-ups in a year were logged for the first time. 3 million in 2017, 4.2 million in 2018. The first 5 months of this year saw 2.2 million bicycle pick-ups already, a 30% increase compared to the 1.7 million pick-ups in the first 5 months of 2018.

When you get to public buildings or event venues it is very common to see a large number of the bright yellow and blue bicycles parked out front. All are numbered, and that number is also on your key, so it’s easy to find your own bike back.

In a decade of use I never had any issue with the public transport bikes. The only complaint is that sometimes, when I arrive shortly after the morning rush hour, large city stations may have run out of bikes. This happened to me a very few times. It is also the only common feedback on the system, as quoted at the top. Because bicycles are picked up and returned at railway stations which all have bike parking facilities, they don’t clutter up sidewalks and don’t require infrastructure on the city streets themselves.

More OV-Fiets
OV Fietsen in a railway station bicycle parking. (Image by Alper, license CC BY)

Hotel keys
Hotel keys, photo by Susanne Nilsson, license CC BY-SA

Everybody hates the keycard, says the NYT, and talks about using your phone instead. There are a few reasons why using your phone as a hotel key is not something I do, or would do.

One reason is provided by the hotels promoting this themselves:

And, since the keys are downloaded electronically through a hotel app, the host has a presence on the guests’ phones, and can offer other exclusive services, like promotions and a chat feature.

Presence on my phone, that sounds rather ominous. Let me count the hotel apps I currently allow on my phone…. 0.

Unless there’s an opt-in for each single additional ‘service’ as part of a hotel’s ‘presence’ on my phone, it is in breach of the GDPR wherever I travel. Do hotel chains really want to expose up to 4% of their annual turnover to liability risks?

The ones I’ve encountered worked through bluetooth. That opens up a wide range of potential vulnerabilities. I never have bluetooth switched on (nor wifi when not in active use, for that matter), and there are very good reasons for that. There might be other bluetooth devices nearby pretending to be my hotel door to get access to my phone, or piggyback on my room door’s communication. A plastic card and a room door never have that issue. NFC based ones have less of these issues, but still bring their own issues.

A vulnerability in a hotel’s mobile app now also becomes a vulnerability for your hotel key as well as for your phone. It also means a phone will contain data traces of any hotel you may have used it as a key. That is a privacy risk in itself, not only to yourself, but potentially as well to people you have encountered. (E.g. investigative journalists would be risking the anonymity and privacy of their sources that way.)

Another reason is, also when I travel alone I have 2 plastic key cards. I keep them in different places, so I have a back-up if one of them gets out of my hands. Having just my phone is a single point of failure risk. Phones get left in hotel bars. Phones slip out of pockets in taxi back seats. Phone batteries die.

That is the third reason, that phone batteries die, especially on intensive work days abroad. Already that is sometimes problematic for mobile boarding passes for e.g. a second leg of a trip after a long haul flight (such as last month on a trip to Canada), or an evening flight home.
When staying in a hotel, after a long day, I sometimes need to leave a phone to charge in my room (sometimes the room safe has a convenient power outlet), while I go have a coffee in the lobby. This month during holidays I left my phone charging during dinner in a hotel in Rouen, as well as in an apartment on the Normandy coast, while we headed out for a walk on the beach.
So when I read in the article “What is also great is that I don’t find myself forgetting my key in the room as I always have my phone with me“, I take that to mean “you can’t leave your room when your phone needs charging” and “you can’t return to your room if your phone battery died”.

Phones and hotel keys all have their vulnerabilities. Putting a key card on your phone doesn’t remove the existing vulnerabilities of existing key card systems, but transfers and adds them to the vulnerabilities of your phone, while also combining and increasing the potential negative consequences of one of those vulnerabilities becoming actualised.

Read Everybody Hates the Key Card. Will Your Phone Replace It? (nytimes.com)

Technology that allows hotel guests to use their phones as room keys is expanding, taking aim at those environmentally unfriendly plastic cards.

Since shortly after we moved in we have a temperature and humidity sensor in our garden.

This week’s heat wave is breaking records across Europe including here in the Netherlands. So I’ve kept an eye on the temperature in our garden. Our sensor is part of a city wide network of sensors, which includes two sensors nearby. Of the three sensors, ours indicates the lowest temperature at 36.8 (at 16:45), the other two hover just under 40 and at 41.8 respectively. Such differences are caused by the surroundings of the sensor. That ours is the lowest is because it’s placed in a very green garden, while the others are out on the street. In our completely paved and bricked up courtyard the temperature is 42.1 in the shade, due to the radiation heat of sun and stones. Goes to show that greenery in a city is key in lowering temperatures.

Three sensors in our neighbourhood, ours is in the middle, showing the lowest temperature. Note that the color scale is relative, for these 3 sensors running from 36.6 to 41.8.

In the past days since our return from France the temperature has been steadily rising, as per the graph below (which currently ends at the peak of 36.8 at 16:45). Staying inside is the best option, although the also increasingly higher lowest temperatures (from 15 to above 20) mean that the nights are slowly becoming more uncomfortable as the outside temperature will stay above the in house temperature during most or all of the night.

UPDATE as of 26/7 June noon, here you can see how the night minimum jumped 5 degrees in 24 hours, bringing it above the in house temperature for the entire night, except a brief moment around 6 am. At noon the maximum for the day before is already nearly reached.

The way to make this graph yourself is

  • Go to meetjestad.net/data, where you can select various data types and time frames. Our sensor is number 51, and I selected a time frame starting at July 19th at midnight. This allows me to download the data as CSV.
  • The data in that download is Tab separated, not comma,when you select a comma to be used as decimal point.
  • The file contains columns for the sensor number and its latitude and longitude, that are not needed as this is data for just one sensor. Likewise, empty columns for measurement values for which my sensor kit doesn’t contain sensors, such as particulate matter, can be removed. Finally the columns for battery level and humidity are also not needed on this occasion.
  • With the remaining columns, time and temperature it is easy to build the graph. In this case I replaced the timestamps with sequential numbers, as I intend to make a sparkline graph with it later.

Serendipitously came across this on a mailinglist (UnCiv), which gives a practical example of using increased diversity of life as a coolant, as described in Novacene. Although this farmer in Portugal fears he might be too late.

Read Putting pigs in the shade: the radical farming system banking on trees | John Vidal (the Guardian)

A farm in Portugal is showing how the ancient art of silvopasture – combining livestock with productive trees – may offer some real answers to the climate crisis

The tree of life is not a tree but shaped like this. Read this article which puts archaeons on the right hand branch, bacteria on the left, and us with all other eukaryotes as a result from a unexpected joining of a bacterium into an archaeon.

Lovelock mentions this in Novacene, where he basically uses this to support his thesis that on the known universe’s timescale there is too little time for alien species to have evolved. We are alone he says.

(found via Jeanie McGeehan)