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Price discrimination in car hire Belgium-Germany

I want to rent a car in Brussels for 4 days at the end of August, for a trip to Germany for Rhein on Skates. The round trip will be about 900km, with 2 drivers. We need a small car – Polo or Clio or something like that. I have a German address, and the other driver has a Belgian address.

So first question: book using the Belgian or the German versions of the main car hire websites? Avis BE or DE, Hertz BE or DE, and Europcar BE and DE? Each site deals with residence differently – Europcar allows residence to be set regardless of the landing page you use, while Avis and Hertz default to residence in the country of the domain name of the site.

Having worked that out, what are the prices for 4 days of hire, with 2 drivers? Continue Reading

OKFestival Keynotes Day 2

After the success with the improvised stream yesterday, we’re at it again today! The OKFestival 2014 keynotes now broadcasting live.

Here’s how we’re doing it.

Ad-hoc live streaming

I’m currently broadcasting OK Festival here, because the wifi in the room is not working and hence I have needed to improvise. Here is the stream:

So how am I doing it?

I am using the iOS app Bambuser for the live stream, and streaming this over 3G via Congstar‘s network in Berlin. I can then embed the code here, or anywhere else.


The film is from the phone camera on my iPhone 4S. Bambuser drains the battery quite fast, so my phone is connected to my Solarmonkey Adventurer Battery Charger to keep it at 100%, and the phone is mounted on a GripTight GorillaPod.

And that’s about it! :-)

Candidates for the new European Commission – where we stand 15.7.2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 16.56.50So Juncker is now certain. 26-2 in the Council, 422 of 751 in the European Parliament. I have analysed the High Rep and President of the European Council positions at the LSE EUROPP blog here. But who has been nominated by the 27 other countries? (Luxembourg’s Commissioner is Juncker)

Austria – Johannes Hahn (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: OK to be renominated for regional affairs, but would like something more senior. Party: EPP

Belgium – Karel De Gucht(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: to fuck up complete TTIP negotiations in DG Trade. Party: ALDE

Bulgaria – Kristalina Georgieva(?) (f) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Juncker apparently wants her for High Rep. If this is possible Bulgaria could renominate her. If not then renomination not certain. Party: EPP

Croatia – Neven Mimica (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: ? Party: PES

Cyprus - Christos Stylianides(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: unknown. Status of the nomination also currently unclear. Party:

Czech Republic – Věra Jourová (f) or Pavel Mertlík (m) – Wikipedia Jourová, News story. Wants: ? Party: Jourová. [UPDATE: confirmed 21.7.14]

Denmark – not yet known. Hedegaard will not continue as the government has changed since her nomination, but candidate names are not yet known. [UPDATE: 15.7.14, 1900 - Berlingske reports, in Danish, Christine Antorini and Mette Gjerskov are in the frame - thanks @jacobchr on Twitter]

Estonia – Andrus Ansip (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior as he’s an ex-Prime Minister. Party: ALDE

Finland - Jyrki Katainen (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: possibly Digital Agenda? Or something senior as an ex-Prime Minister. Party: EPP

France – Pierre Moscovici (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Economic & Financial Affairs? Something senior as it’s France. Party: PES [UPDATE: confirmed 29.7.14]

Germany – Günther Oettinger (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: probably happy to carry on the energy portfolio. Or something more senior. Party: EPP

Greece - Dimitris Avramopoulos (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: ? Senior figure, has held many foreign affairs connected posts in Greece and has been Mayor of Athens. Party: EPP [UPDATE: this was confirmed 28.7.14]

Hungary – Tibor Navracsics(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Hungary, having not backed Juncker, is not going to be in a position to make major demands. Party: EPP (somehow still)

Ireland – Phil Hogan (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Agriculture. Party: EPP

Italy – Federica Mogherini (f) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: High Rep. Party: PES

Latvia - Valdis Dombrovskis (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior as an ex-PM. Party: EPP

Lithuania - Vytenis Andriukaitis (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: health. Party: PES

Malta - Karmenu Vella (m). Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Malta is not in a strong bargaining position. Party: PES

Netherlands – Jeroen Dijsselbloem(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior and economic. Details sketchy as to if he is indeed a nominee. Name of Timmermans also in the frame for High Rep. Party: PES

Poland – Radek Sikorski(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: High Rep if the EPP gets this position. If this is unavailable a less high profile candidate may be found. Party: EPP

Portugal – no names yet known. Barroso will not continue. EPP member party will nominate.

Romania – Dacian Cioloș (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: agriculture again, but it is unsure if this will happen. Party: EPP

Slovakia – Maroš Sefčovič (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior, and not his current portfolio. Party: EPP

Slovenia – has just held a snap election. No names yet known.

Spain – Miguel Arias Cañete (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: agriculture, or an economic portfolio. Party: EPP

Sweden – with a Swedish general election on 14th September, the Swedish situation remains open. Renomination of Cecilia Malmström (f) (ALDE) is not out of the question.

United Kingdom – Jonathan Hill (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something Single Market. Party: ECR

At the moment there are only 4 female nominees. Kroes’s demand of 10 or more looks some way off! The entire Commission team has to be approved by the European Parliament after hearings, and by the European Council. The team should be agreed by the autumn.

LSE EUROPP | The next President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs: a final look at the candidates

A summary by me for LSE EUROPP of the EU top jobs to be decided at the European Council on 16th July.Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 11.43.00

The evolution of bicycles in Beijing

Beijing is a city known for its bikes. Despite the Chinese obsession with the car, and the city’s smog problem, cycling still seems to work quite well in China’s capital city. Most large streets have cycle paths on the sides, used by regular cyclists and a variety of transport cycles. This blog post documents my impressions of this cycle culture.

The classic
This is the standard Chinese city bicycle. Upright stance, no gears, and a type of hub brake mounted on the opposite side from the chain at the back.


Continue Reading

The Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan


I have just returned from 10 days spent in Beijing. One day the friend there I was staying with and I planned a trip to the Great Wall of China, and decided to make the journey to Shanhaiguan, 300km east of Beijing, where the wall meets the sea for a day trip. The information available online in English about this part of the wall is sketchy at best (this is the best there is), so hence I am writing this blog entry to help out other independent travellers making the trip in future. Data is correct as of June 2014.

Our trip covered First Pass under Heaven, Laolongtou and Jiumenkou, each of which is covered in more depth below. Continue Reading

A life without Google. It’s harder than you think.

2568436053_a9734f5d0d_zSo I am in China for a week. I will write about the wider politics of the place when my time here draws to a close, but for now I will focus on just one aspect: what China’s block on Google tells us… about our use of Google.

China blocked access to Google services before the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen uprising, and it seems that things have not improved since. On my laptop I can access no Google services through my web browser at all. The only thing that works is Gmail via IMAP (web interface is also blocked). Twitter and Facebook are also blocked, but I do not actually need those as urgently, or they are not as central needs. Dropbox not working is a pain, but for a week I can live without it, as I use it mostly for my own files anyway.

So I can live without Google Search, right? Indeed that’s actually the easiest part. I have added DuckDuckGo to my browser and it works fine. Bing.com is just about passable if I need it. The interesting thing here is how I have become so used to browser address bar search – after years of doing just that, going to a website for search felt really odd.

The next challenge was maps. I have used nothing but Google Maps for a good few years, so what’s the best bet for a replacement? Turns out that the search on Bing Maps is rubbish unless you use the Chinese characters. So here Apple Maps (and indeed the Maps app in Mac OS that I’d even forgotten existed) has turned out to be a fair substitute.

Then what about calendars? I use Google Calendars for a bunch of collaborative projects (I don’t use these for my own use), so those I will have to live without for now. Were I to be in China more often I would have to find an alternative, as would businesses doing China – non China collaborations.


Then, to my surprise, there is Google’s Font APIs that are increasingly heavily used, even in open source software – including WordPress that powers this blog. Yes, pages will load without these fonts, but browsers keep on trying to load the APIs, and slow down the loading of pages.

Last but not least, and rather central when in China as I do not speak Mandarin, is Google Translate, which is also built into my browser. Baidu’s translation tool is useless as its interface is just in Mandarin (unless I am missing something), so Pons is basically my only option.

So the conclusion is this: while Google makes the argument that provision of web services is a free market, and that anyone can switch to alternatives, we nevertheless find ourselves so dependent on Google as a matter of habit that those habits are damned hard to break.