Monday, September 3, 2012

A collection of curiosities

I was up early and headed to Amsterdam this morning to discuss taxes with the accountants.  The walk to the train as foggy – usually a part of early fall when a crisp morning wrings the moisture out of the air.  The day was predicted to be warm and clear, the return of summer to Limburg.

Despite missing the train north by one minute, and so the appointment by 30 minutes, the meeting went well.  There were a few unexpected bits: I have to raise my VAT to 21% starting in October, I owe tax when clients pay me in stock, I owe tax when I receive cash to pay for US health insurance.  But I think that I’ll owe little additional for the business or myself, and the accountants still have a few angles to check

The rest of the day was left to wander the sunny and warm streets and shops in Amsterdam, enjoying the people, the boats, the canal-side café’s, and the shops.  Random wandering, as always, produces a variety of observations and curiosities emerging since my last trip North.

NS has changed its train signage: there’s a scree that tracks progress and the expected arrival times all along the route.  This is the best innovation since estimated arrival times started being displayed at bus stops – it’s especially helpful in knowing whether I’m in the right half of the train to go to Maastricht rather than Heerlen at Sittard.

Douwe Egberts is opening branded coffee shops.  More like the old SBC shops than Starbucks or Costa, they offer the usual array of latte’s, pastries, and merchandise.  The pain au chocolat was overcooked and the coffee unremarkable – they’ll need to find some distinguishing feature to compete  successfully.


Where have the good ‘hooker snowglobes’ gone?  The remaining ones are more explicit and less fanciful: the buildings that used to fill the globes have been moved to larger KLM-style ceramic row-houses, suitable arraying along the mantle (but not at 8 euros each…).

The French have passed a law requiring alcohol test kits in all cars.  This means a 7-euro purchase to ensure that I don’t get spot-checked on the short drive from Calais into Belgium.  It feels like a small shake-down: in the spirit of Poppers “Open Society” I can see trying small experiments to improve road safety, but they should be tested on a small scale and monitored for effectiveness.

Many of the old brick buildings have exterior plaques embedded on the outside about 3 meters up the wall.  I know that historically these told customers what business was located inside: does anyone know what the generic name for this signage is?  I haven’t been able to tease it out of Google or e-architect, and I’d like to know more of the back-story.

My mp3 player began to get flaky during the boat trip, refusing to talk to the computer, then refusing to charge.  I tried resets, and have tried to work down it’s inventory of podcasts marooned inside.  Tonight I took the screwdriver to it.  Undoubtedly I’ll have to replace it, but the stores are reducing stock and I think that personal music players are about to go the way of Discman, sport cassette player, and transistor radio.  The alternatives seem to be a smartphone or 7” tablet with integrated web access: more cost, more size than I want.  I’m feeling  bit retro, though.  It’s probably time to see what Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft come out with this month, and move on into the future.

‘One more thing to keep me awake at night…


Jules: said...

iPod touch. All the upsides of a tablet (minus the easier typing) in an iPhone-sized case.

David Hampton said...

I'd wanted a Touch four years ago, but thought that they evolved away from me into more of a gaming device? Can you read on one, browse on one?

If not, then that drives me towards 7" tablets like the Nexus, Fire, or Galaxy, unless there is a smaller iPad or Surface coming in the near future.

David Hampton said...

Forbes comments that these smaller devices may be the future of newspapers too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

The Dutch word for the plaques you saw would be “gevelsteen”. Their main purpose, together with blade signs (“uithangborden”) would be to provide a means to find your way around town in an age with street names but without house numbers. Their imagery could be connected to the occupation of the house owner, but it needn’t be. It could also be religious, a coat of arms, or just some kind of pun.

For a walk in Maastricht following a trail of gevelstenen:

Probably more than you can chew:


Frank, Leiden

David Hampton said...

Perfect, many thanks for the information and the links! I knew that there had to be a name and a catalog and this is really helpful!