Black Hole Detected on Edge of Milky Way. The Dutch Postal System. #NederlandsePost #PostNL #DHLNL #PTT #Brief

My first experience with the cross-border mail delivery capabilities of the Dutch postal system date back thirty years. I had just moved to Germany, and Dutch friends sent me a gift. The box arrived, but the contents had been removed through a gaping hole in the side. This observation of the damage had been written on the package by a German postal worker at a delivery center on the border. I filed a complaint, with no effect. This was my first encounter with the consistently malfunctioning Dutch postal system, a country that is generally perceived as modern and well-functioning on many other fronts.

Years went by, during which family, friends and I continued to attempt to exchange holiday and birthday gifts across the German / Dutch border. Occasionally my parents sent money hidden in Christmas cards. Although sending money by post within Germany or from Germany to any other country is tricky business (thieves seem to have “magical machines” to detect money hidden in envelopes), no envelope with money ever managed to arrive if sent from the Netherlands. Surprisingly, Christmas cards without money sent at the same time did arrive, although always late. In fact, any letter or package consistently arrived with surprising delays, but also damaged… or not at all.

Not surprisingly, expat friends and I became very weary of the Dutch postal service. Years went by, during which I refused to send any package to and from the Netherlands. In contrast, delivery within Germany or to other countries remained as reliable as ever.

Ultimately, complacency would overcome my concerns, so after a while I would again try to send an occasional birthday present to a Dutch acquaintance. I started to notice an additional worrying phenomenon. Whereas in Germany, the addressee of a package is also the owner of its contents, in the Netherlands it may happen that the initial recipient gains full ownership. So, if the mail delivery service leaves the package with a neighbor (e.g. because the addressee isn’t home), this neighbor may well store this package with disinterest under a pile of coats in the hallway. Then after many weeks, somebody (a child, or a pet) will open the package and eat the edible contents. This lackluster treatment of other people’s belongings, combined with a below par delivery service, has caused much frustration and disappointment over the years.

Since a few years, we rely on a mix of traditional postal services and DHL.NL. There is no distinguishable difference in quality.

Now, some of you will say that I exaggerate, or have no hard evidence. Aha! Since two years, my two sons have moved from Germany; one to Belgium, the other to the Netherlands. Six months ago, I received election-related documents for them, which I sent on the same day to son 1&2. My sons had to sign a document, and return it to Germany. Then, from Germany the voting document was sent to each son, after which both could vote and return the ballot sheet. A complex procedure, that could not be done by email.

Now, a letter to and from Belgium takes about four days for delivery, and this son was able to vote well in time. My son in the Netherlands had no such luck. After all, a letter to and from the Netherlands takes 7, 9 or even 12 days. He missed the deadline miserably  and was unable to make use of his right to vote.

After this experience I swore that this was my very final interaction with the Dutch postal system. But my wife was still optimistic. In November, she packed two identical boxes with Christmas presents for both sons. My son in Belgium received the package after 7 days, around December 1st. Christmas came and went, and my son in the Netherlands was still waiting. The package could be traced up to the Dutch border, after which it entered the black hole of the Dutch postal systems.

Arrival pending.

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The Best Books Ever! The Ultimate List of Adventure Stories.

The very first book I ever read was an illustrated children’s story about a small duck. I must have been six, I still remember how I struggled with the first page for weeks, until one Sunday morning I suddenly could read it in one go. I was so happy that I woke up my parents. Even after all these years I still have that book, torn and frayed at the edges.
I haven’t stopped reading since. I recall the books of my youth, such as the ones by Jules Verne and Karl May. I read Lord of the Rings when I was 13, and then moved on to science fiction: Asimov and Jack Vance. Many books I have read multiple times: some even 5 or 10 times. Good books never get boring.
I started writing myself, and in 2010 I published an adventure novel… about the  dreadful effect of a corona pandemic. As an author, I have less time for reading, but I still do manage to read some exiting novels. Luckily enough my wife prereads a lot of new releases and passes the most thrilling ones to me.

Here‘s my personal list of the Best Books Ever! It is in alphabetical order, but you can easily browse or re-order to your liking. Currently it contains 50 titles, but I will add more over time. And yes, my own pandemia books are also in the list, as they have also greatly impacted my life. I hope the list inspires you to pick up some great (classic) fiction and non-fiction.
Is any particular favorite of yours missing?

Woman reading Clemens P. Suter's CELETERRA

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Tokyo, Japan. Backdrop for TWO JOURNEYS, the Corona Pandemic novel.

Arguably, Tokyo is the most populated city in the world, with 36 million inhabitants during the day and 22 million at night. It is impressive how this city runs so smoothly with that many inhabitants. What would happen if it would come to a sudden standstill? The opening chapters of TWO JOURNEYS (my 2011 CORONA PANDEMIC novel) describe just that.
Below some pictures that I took in Tokyo during past visits and that inspired me to place my post apocalyptic work in this mega city.

Highrises in Tokyo. The sheer bulk of these buildings is overwhelming.

Alan, the hero of Two Journeys visits Tokyo around Christmas time.

Should an epidemic of the proportions described in Two Journeys strike, the lights (above) would extinguish rapidly, the trains such as the one below (famously overfilled) would halt.

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  • Two Journeys – The 2010 novel that predicted the Corona Pandemic.
  • Fields of Fire. The roller-coaster sequel to Two Journeys
  • Celeterra. Breathtaking, bare-knuckled sleuth mystery set in Heaven.
  • Short Stories. A collection by the master storyteller: horror, mystery, SciFi and romance.

These adventure novels never fail to entertain, great fiction that can’t be put down. Great books for a rainy day or to pack in your (virtual) vacation suitcase.

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Old Glory- the Star Springled Banner Salute to the Flag of the United States of America

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Dull Doha. Qatar – three days immersed in the Middle East.

I reported before on intriguing capital. Below the lobby of the hotel where I was staying. The room was freezing cold, air ongoing full blast, but the hotel was pleasant enough. Although: the breakfast buffet had a price tag of $30 – but how much can a man eat for breakfast? I discovered that Qatari cheese is very salty and rubbery, it is regarded as a delicacy but it takes getting used to.
I learned a lot from my colleagues how the state of Qatar ticks and functions. It is intriguing how this society differs so much from ours, with strict Islam rule implemented. This in intriguing and interesting for the first few days, but stay longer than that and it will become challenging.

Below: the skyline of Doha. Skyscrapers are being built at rocket speed (like all over the world, the new pastime) but the country itself is mainly desert. With 300,000 Qataris and 2.5 million expats, the demographics are exceptional. There are a few additional cities, but they are in the desert, close to the natural gas fields and intended for the laborers. Here’s a tourist secret: Doha is the most mind-numbing boring city that I have visited (and I have visited a few). My impression is that the Qataris hide and party with their families behind the walls of their country estates; the migrants forlornly wander the boring streets trying not to think about alcohol: there isn’t any. I neither drink nor miss alcohol, but even for me Doha offered a new perspective on boredom.

Below: to defy the Saudi boycott, which was omnipresent, the Qataris have put up portraits of their Emir to show their solidarity. The Arabs had hoped that the Qataris would topple their Emir, but that turned into a “no way, Jose.”

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Is Doha the Amazingly Deadliest Boring Capital in the World? A Journey to Qatar. Dull, drab, disappointing, Doha.

During my many stays in the Middle East, I also visited Doha, capital of Qatar.

Some background: Qatar is tremendously rich from the abundance of natural gas. As a result, it’s capital Doha has developed into a business and conferencing hub. It is a very strict islamic state, leaving little space for fun and games. To everybody’s surprise they will host the 2022 World Cup (I always wonder about the things money can buy). Soccer fans best bring a book.

The movie below I made on my way from the airport to the hotel. The links direct to photos I took and more details about country and capital.

Doha has been hailed as one of the most boring towns in the world, and there is considerable truth to this rumor.  The town has very little history left, it is new and fully focused on business. There is no extensive historic center. The town is very car-centric (many, many SUVs) and as a pedestrian you quickly feel very lonely on the broad boulevards; you do not meet many other people on foot, and windowshopping is severely hampered by the absence of, yes, shopwindows (there are many malls, if you go for that sort of thing). The Souk is a tiny market, completely new and unwelcoming, with stores that sell tortured exotic animals and mini-dogs. The climate is hot and humid: a stroll is only possible after sunset. As an Islamic country, there is no (or little) alcohol for sale – but even I as a teetotaler can only say that the town is absolutely underwhelming; I can’t blame the absence of alcohol for that deep feeling of loneliness and despair. I was visiting on business with a calendar full of appointments and I was preoccupied enough, yet during my quick tours through the city I was, well: disappointed. Perhaps some of you readers have different experiences to share. Perhaps an interesting museum or cinema that I missed? Pole dancing? A hidden bar? Table tennis tournaments?

The boycott by Saudi Arabia was in full swing, but it didn’t seem to have affected the Qatari much. They even imported 4000 Friesian cows from Australia and put them in an air-conditioned hall, to make sure enough milk could be produced, which they got from Arabia up to that point.

Women stay mostly at home (probably playing with the mini dogs), and the men tend to take their SUVs out for a spin at night; driving endless circles through the town. I got bored just watching them occupied with this non-activity.

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Citizens (men only) giving the four wheels a lackluster spin. At least the weather is in their favor.

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Prometheum Wastes Chopshop – Apocalyptic Landscapes made from Recycled Household Plastics

A few days ago I stumbled over an intriguing site: Prometheum Wastes Chopshop, which describes the story (as the creators put it) of a “dry and dirty landscape and the challenges that you are going to have to face to be able to survive here”.

As the author of TWO JOURNEYS, the 2010 adventure novel that predicted the Corona Pandemic ten years ahead of time, apocalyptic and SciFi landscapes continue to intrigue me.

However, what makes Prometheum Wastes Chopshop particularly interesting is the “sustainable creativity in the new normal”. In these times it is hard for all of us to come together, and with a looming economic crisis, money to spend may be running scarce too. But challenging times lead to innovation, as demonstrated here. In this project, young individuals from different parts of the world came together virtually. They share a passion for painting gaming miniatures (such as Warhammer and Dungeon & Dragons), but realized their means were significantly reduced to buy pre-fab miniatures from the stores. So, they created a community that jointly developed the story of a waste planet somewhere in an apocalyptic future. In addition, they ran challenges where actual waste materials (plastics, such as empty and discarded deodorant containers) are used to create the elements of the story – which include for instance the vehicles, transporters, buildings, and landscape. At the links below you can see how this is done, as well as the end result.

This crowd-initiative reminds me of the concept of the circular economy, which is currently being discussed at all levels of society and industry, with the objective to build a more restorative and sustainable society. The core team of this group consists of students and young professionals. For now, the team may well be mostly focused on growing a community of like-minded folk, being creative and inventing a story together – with no direct monetary intentions. But rest assured, such a virtual, high-quality effort will get noticed and may well kindle the interest of either film or game industry. Why am I impressed? These professionals demonstrate what the new normal in pandemic times could look like: 1.digital, 2.global, 3.sustainable, 4.creative, and 5.delivering value.

Key links:

The Art of Prometheum Wastes Chopshop (Photo Courtesy and Copyright of Ruben Crazzolara).