Monday, December 31, 2012

DNA Rhapsody


C ommon
T herapeutic
T emplate


A ll
C reatures
T rauma


C rystaline
A rbiter
C abaret


T emerarious
G abfest
A tmosphere


Humans as collectibles

Ultimate digital edition. Or digital dumpster diving?

We are now on Facebook as Krautlandnewseditor. An algorithm suggested the upper case K.

Like us there, read us here.

We noted with the requisite smirk that entering a website on the admin page into the "Official Page:" text field gets us, can you guess, a blank text field a second later.

We have put ourselves out there on Facebook to contribute to an undertaking we would call "humans as collectibles, ultimate digital edition".

We are the beanie babies of the digital age.

We come into the world all new and shiny.

A few of us will be worth a fortune.

Others are abused from the get-go, roughed up,
used for target practice, torn to pieces,
put into an oven just to see if we burn.

Or zapped with radiation, or covered in maccaroni and cheese.

We dream of being Buzz Lightyear or Captain America.

And wake up in our box, next to each other, far apart.

We yearn to be out of the box, and are scared.

Once out, some damage is unavoidable.

Happy New Year!

[Update] Well, we got out of Facebook after a few weeks. Nothing useful  there.

Sugarcoat that fart

Oy vey, to end the year with a whimper, we figured we should talk about exploding frogs and - brace yourselves - Jew farts.

The week or so before New Year's Eve is fireworks season in Germany.

This is where we encountered the linguistic equivalent of "one man's gem is another man's  abomination", an old German slang term for the smallest firecrackers.

You know them as a package of a series of connected little crackers, just under an inch high, thinner than a pencil. You light one end, they go pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.

The word is "Judenfurz", literally "Jew fart". That's the bad news. The good news is that folks around here have wised up. We have only heard it in the context of "you know what these used to be called".

The other common name for the small firecracker is "Knallfrosch", which we translate as exploding frog but others go with "bang frog".

While we are doing a linguistic sensitivity post, our black German fellow citizens have noted that the sweets once called Negerküsse (negro kisses) or Mohrenkopf (Moor's head), are now simply Schokokuss (chocolate kiss) or, more boring,  the German equivalent of chocolate marshmallow treat.

Wikipedia also claims that in Austria they are referred to as Schwedenbomben ("Swedish bombs"), which we first mistakenly interpreted as referring to the singers of Swedish pop mega band Abba.

We at the K-landnews are keeping an eye on the Austrian media so as not to miss the news report about a package to the US declared as containing "Swedish bombs" having been intercepted by airport security in a bomb scare.

Living like the 1 Percent - well, almost, or as close as possible

A real life social experiment.

It started out when we talked to a friend about this American custom. Every now and then, an American politician, okay, a Democrat, or a news caster will do a stint of a week or two on a Food Stamps budget.

They will report their experience of living on a few dollars, somewhere in the order of three dollars a day, and they always come to the same conclusion: it is f***ing hard. Of course, they leave out the F****ing on air.

We have not found news reports of a German politician choosing to live on a Hartz IV budget for a week. Although, among the new Pirate Party, some do live on Hartz IV -- they just don't seem to have the PR savvy to use the fact to their advantage.

So, we looked around for an experiment at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. We found one on a tiny German blog. In an interview, the experimenter tells his story.

We do not know of a recent real life experiment but acknowledge literary precedent, for instance Mark Twain's one million pound bank note.

We are giving you the highlights here.

The fundamental conundrum of the experiment is the large amount of money needed to conduct it. The experimenter was well aware of this and stated he did not want to get stuck in a fictional scenario like Twain's character.

The motivation:
What does it feel like to live for a whole year without devoting any thought to money? Without looking at how to make the next rent payment, how to finance the next long trip, or watch over your retirement plan.

The decision:
Difficult. Knowing that all your savings might go into the project, leaving you poor at the end. Without sponsors and without robbing a bank, this was hard.

What happened:
The first month, month and a half, were sort of the warm up, a period of getting used to the lifestyle. The experimenter said: "I imagine this to be similar to what lottery winners experience. For most people, paying some attention to money and spending is such an integral part of life.
Letting go of that is quite difficult."

After this, he said, it is a remarkable feeling.

"Not thinking about money is remarkable. There was no sudden fame, like with lottery winners, there were no friends and relatives coming out of the woodwork to grab a share of the action.
People around you will, of course, notice that you gave up your job, but it ends there.
Once you are accustomed to it, it feels so good. You are well on your way when you stop comparing the prices of toilet paper."

The experimenter: "For example, we did several extended travels, one by car. I would normally have rejected this one because of the gas price alone. We splurged on things like bidding good money on an autographed guitar. Pure luxury to us, and we won it, too."

The interviewer: "That sounds modest, compared to what we know about a luxury lifestyle." 

The experimenter: "I was willing to be broke but not to be in debt for the rest of my days. So, I agree, no diamond watch, no yacht, no fancy car, or any of these trimmings. But it is not easy, believe me,  to spend 100 000 Euros in 12 months if you stay away from these big ticket items."

Interviewer: "Have you thought about the saying 'Money can't buy happiness'?"

Experimenter: "Yes, and that is BS. It can buy you happiness if you don't obsess about making more or loosing what you have. Which, I know from friends, many rich folks do. Those who don't worry, will confirm that having even modest riches gives you serious peace of mind." 

Interviewer: "So, after burning through 100 grand in 12 months, would you do it again?"

Experimenter: "Hell yeah. My only regret is that I did not have a few MRIs done. It would be really interesting to see what your brain looks like on an MRI brain scan at the start, a little into the trial, further into it, and at the end."

TheEditor at the krautlandsnews has this additional nugget: In America, there is a name for your first big chunk of money. Fuck you money. More than a clear indication of peace of mind. It probably originated in the world of Silicon Valley stock option employees who, once they had the dough, would go to their boss "fuck you, I'm out."
Of course, most of those folks started to worry about their wealth pretty quickly and became the rats in the race they are today.

German Cookie Monsters Rise Up

Cookie maker Bahlsen turned on a dime.

This oft-quoted and elusive acrobatic business maneuver, the holy grail of many an American business master, was performed by Bahlsen as a result of a customer revolt.

Mild mannered grandmothers and families concerned about the future of the country's favorite Christmas cookies pushed, and Bahlsen did the spin.

Stateside, you may have seen the cookies at high-end groceries, or, after Christmas, at the discounters. Since they are considered premium cookies in other countries, the plan was to continue to sell them there and just cut off the German cheapskates.

The most popular cookies are the chocolate coated, heart shaped gingerbread cookies with a jelly core. Their chewy yet soft goodness had been an integral part of German Christmas for many decades when Bahlsen, just in time for the 2012 season, anounced they would discontinue sales of said cookies in Germany.

Too expensive to make, "that's the way the cookie crumbles", was the verdict.

We'll show you how the cookie crumbles, Germans hissed, little bits and pieces of dark chocolate and spongy gingerbread bouncing off of their TV sets.

As a consequence, Germans stocked up in a big way, comparable only to the stocking of fallout shelters in the old days in the US.

In our town, the number of Bahlsen gingerbread bags for sale after St. Nick's on December 6 was exactly zero.

Store employees at all three supermarkets were quizzed by customers all the time, and we would not be surprised to see a substantial rise in doctor visits by these employees.
To be treated for the newly named Bahlsen Cookie Syndrome, a condition of serious neck and shoulder pain caused by repetitive shrugging and emphatic nodding.

All is well that ends well, however. The cookies will be available in Germany next year and folks won't have to rely on illicit imports by shady cookie dealers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Date - Last Date

You, your woman, the old friend

The protective old friend
He, making things right
And a grand old movie house
Escaped from the 70s dozers

Taj Mahal and his Band
Taj is on stage, he looks so old
Yet his music feels so young
The art deco of the movie theater
Goes well with your new found love

Five years and ages later
You, your woman, the old friend

You cried when you opened the bag
And saw the discolored kazoo

A mild June night, just so right
Among the black oaks on the ranch
Taj is on stage, looking so young
And his music feels younger still

You are protecting the friend
Who has been silent of late

You, making things right
Bringing him home to the oaks
Carrying him in your arms
Blue velvet hugging him
For eternity

Temporarily on permanent loan

Sounds like a funny line from the art heist movie The Thomas Crown Affair but "Temporäre Dauerleihgabe" is written on the labels at several exhibits in the Villa Stuck museum in Munich, Germany.

The art graced by these labels is, I am sorry to say, less remarkable than the labels.
The pieces are neo-realistic classic mythology, a Sphinx, a fuzzy Pan, not quite as true to the imagined original as Victorian, yet not bold enough to appeal to the modernists of the early 20th century.

But the labels represent one of my favorite items in museums, the small surprises that tell more about the people who made the museum than the glossy brochures or nicely designed web sites.

I tend to find these small things in small museums. The reason for this, I imagine, is their lack of resources and staff. They do not have dozens or hundreds of highly trained specialists who watch over every detail, so the personality of a curator can shine through.

That can throw you off or be outright disturbing.

As in the case of this small military museum where you will find a can, a tobacco or altoid size can with dirt.

From Stalingrad.

The aspect of the museum as a shrine.

Sometimes you think or hope the curator is sending a wink. For example, at the Mütter Museum in Philadephia. One of the less glamorous exhibits is a cabinet with stacked pull-out trays, and on the trays are objects that people swallowed and then died of. Hundreds of objects.

One of these objects, in the top tray, is a bottle cap/button sized round metal item prominently displaying, right on it, a warning: Danger, do not swallow.

Naked Nazi chics on horseback

Over 100 posts without mentioning Nazis, it ends now.

For most people, including us, we mostly think about this period in terms of when they came to power (1933) and the war (1939 - 1945), maybe with some attention to the unleashing of full persecution of Jews in the years prior.

So, what else did your Nazi potentates do in those roughly six years before the war?

We found one small facet of this on a trip to Munich and a visit to the museum Villa Stuck.
There, you can see the statue of an amazon warrier on horseback. The story goes that it was this statue that inspired a festival held every summer from 1936 to 1939 in Munich, the Night of the Amazons festival.

The above link takes you to a youtube clip that survived. Like all film footage from those days, the film speed can skew perception towards the deceptively comedic.

The, we are not asking to pardon the pun, meat of the clip comes toward the end, the night events with dance and more parades and naked women.

Another poignant example of the large scale displays of public nudity during this time in German history.

While German magazine Der Spiegel of 8/1951 mentioned "scantily dressed" women in the "night of the amazons", it took a novel that appeared about 40 years later to bring this to the attention of a younger generation.

The new German killers -- murdering trees

A new breed of law breakers has evolved in Germany without lots of public attention.

Some newspapers will run the odd two liner about them but they have not made it into the huge law and order debate you'd expect.
Not too long ago, German environmental laws have witnessed another tightening of rules regarding cutting trees.

Not those in forests, those in your backyard or frontyard. In most, if not all, German states, you cannot just go and cut any of your own trees. If they are under a certain trunk diameter, you can, but we are talking centimeters here. Centimeters any tree can add in a couple of summers to protect itself against vicious you.

"What else would you expect in a country where every tree has a name", some would say.

But there is a process for cutting down bigger trees. You need an arborist to certify that a tree is dangerous or sick beyond recovery. The arborist will look long and hard, measure, evaluate and write a report. For a fee.

You hand that in with the local government. They look long and hard, and evaluate. For a fee.

They will say no in most cases.

Which, as we have seen in many other areas of life, is the perfect setup to spawn a profitable criminal subculture.

Which, yes, is almost impossible to undo because the criminals are all these ordinary law-abiding citizens.

We at the krautlandnews went undercover into the murky world of suburban gardens and rural backyards to bring you the following.

Common ways to get rid of unwanted trees include, in order of risk:

Measure a little further up the trunk
Honest mistakes help in all walks of life.

Bribe an arborist
Works because the government folks won't come out to check.

Kill the tree
Drill holes, put in some nasty chemical, from kerosene to the very toxic stuff. Then call the arborist.

Cut the tree yourself
The most demanding and most risky approach, and gas powered chainsaws are noisy. But it is known to have worked. Just make sure to artificially age the fresh cut surface of the trunk by rubbing on some dirt. Never use this method if your neighbor hates you.

When you are done with the illegal enterprise, plant low shrubs or non native vines. You will enjoy permit free expression of your plant murdering destructive impluses forthwith.

If you prefer the legal route, you will be stuck with even more trees later because they require you to plant between one and three new ones for every tree you get to remove.

Pay to pee and out-wording the Inuit again

A few more minutiae of long distance driving in Germany. The most annoying thing about freeway service areas?

They make you pay to go pee.

The captive audience take on taking a leak. 50 Euro cents to go to the bathroom.
You get a 50 cents coupon if you pay with 1 Euro, redeemable at the food counter or the convenience store. The coupons are state of the art with more security features than the American 1 Dollar bill.

Buying and maintaining the machines to grant you access to the bathroom and the coupon processing machines at the cash registers ain't cheap.

For a family of four with two really low capacity bladders and digestive tracts it gets expensive to go from A to B and to go in-between.

Take the regular rest areas instead. The bathrooms there are still free.

And you don't have to spend even more money on candy that costs three or four times as much as at the grocery store to redeem those coupons. Or on Iron Cross LED lights.

And the freeways are still toll free for cars. So enjoy while it lasts.

But do stop at one or two service areas to savor the multi ethnic society of the country.
If you hit one of the few remaining German fast food stops, you can treat yourself to sausage with fries, cabbage rolls with mashed potatoes, schnitzel with fries and other old time goodies.

The 1950s neon signs and green and pink interior decorations are gorgeous. So different from the majority of all the Burger King or Mac Donald's joints.

Expect the food counter folks to be a mix of German Germans, Turkish and other Middle Easterners, expect Spanish or Italian cashiers, the odd Indian cook and the Polish or Russian gas station attendant.

Germans not only have as many words for snow as the Inuit as argued in the post "20 shades of snow", they easily out-word any other nation in the number of words for trash.

"Reiseabfälle" in big black type on freeway rest areas is our current fave example. "Travel trash", not just any garbage, not trash you bring from home, not trash resulting from any activity other than traveling?

Now, if you find yourself in front of such a container, clenching the chocolate bar wrapper from that bar you brought from home - how do you proceed without being cited and fined?

Just stick it in there. You can always clarify that the word "only" (German "nur") is missing, so, if they really did not want that wrapper to be placed in the travel trash can, you insist that the label would need to be more specific.

Ghost riders in the sky - ghost drivers on the freeway

Passenger: How fast are we going?
Driver: 110 km.
Passenger: What's the speed limit?
Driver: 130.

At this very moment, a hearse passes in the left lane.

Driver: Don't you dare say that even dead guys go faster than me.

That embodiment of the freeway concept, the German autobahn, is as multifaceted as the country itself.

Getting on the autobahn requires you to observe the Yield sign on  the on ramp. US drivers are used to the folks zooming along in the right lane letting them in -- not so here.

Some drivers will move over or slow down but not many. That Yield sign is enforced by the momentum and the stubborn driving of those already on ye autobahn. You will see many cars at a dead stop at the end of the merge strip.

One day, you will drive one of them.

Once you are on the freeway, you do as the locals, you drive fast, and you pass others.

Weekday driving is a lot more fun to people like me than weekend drives. That is because the hundreds or thousands of trucks in the right lane make it so that even the craziest lead foot does restrain himself a little.

Weekends with just a few trucks can be nerve wrecking. That's when the left lane headlight flashing, bumper hugging crowd is out.

That mix of old guys, stressed families, and adrenaline junkies.

The faster, more sporty or just bigger the car, the more rights come with it. The "in-built right of way" they call it here, just another accessory, yours for a few extra grand.

Be as relaxed as you can. You will find yourself on a three lane stretch passing a truck with the guy behind you flashing headlights: get out of my way!

Instead of him moving over into the empty third lane.

You cannot safely stay in the left lane and drive the equivalent of Dalles to Houston without use of the right lane. It'll get you killed.

There are thousands of blog posts and comments on driving related web sites about how long you are legally allowed to be in the left lane before moving back over.
Even with almost no traffic on a three lane road, don't even think of driving in the center lane all the way.

You really need to be born and raised German, I would say, to applaud stretches of freeway without any speed limit in a country as densely populated and as small as Germany. But heck...

One thing I do like about autobahns is the term the Germans have for people who drive on the wrong side of the freeway: Geisterfahrer -- ghost drivers.

The term "Falschfahrer" (wrong lane driver) is generally used as the more official, more neutral term but I vastly prefer the ghost driver.

It blends the apocalyptic Ghost Riders In The Sky imagery of an American mind with the generic image of the ghost as the restless soul ripped violently out of life. Sometimes I think of the autobahns as corridors of lost souls, my kitschy self loves it.

The English word rubbernecking for the drivers who slow down to get a good look at an accident in the opposite lanes is more vivid than the German "Gaffer" (gawker).

Rubbernecking expresses the cartoonish nature of the activity so nicely, doesn't it?

Before we go, one dig at the band Kraftwerk whose smash Autobahn hit added another layer to the autobahn mystique.

Just like that driver who not only uses the engine power but gets an extra push from knowing the force of the law behind him, Kraftwerk took another artist to court because that artist had been using all of two (2) seconds of music from a Kraftwerk song without permission.

On the autobahn and in the music business, every second counts.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Out to buy quills and artisanal ink

@HPCorp workers to turn to NorCal smoke signals?

The outpouring of support for our New Year's Resolution 2 has been nothing short of astounding.

The EU consumer protectors are the only group that is still MIIA (Missing In InAction) but everybody else has pulled together.

We'll be out stocking up on quills and artisanal ink. Given their near extinction, there will be no postings for two or three days, seriously.

A usually unreliable source has informed us that HP printer ink has become so expensive that even some HP employees cannot afford it anymore.

We feel for you in the HP Way of yore!

Large numbers of current HP workers are planning to return to the great American tradition of communicating with smoke signals, and - the source tells us - Northern California has abundant sustainable resources in this regard. Not sure what that could be, but, hey, whatever works.
Apothekers anybody? And kudos, because HP is all about sustainability.

Despite layoffs, expect lots of happy HP employees on the streets of Northern California.

To those who said: why did it take you ten years to notice the great printer cartridge rip-off? BTW, their words, not ours.

The reply:
HP used to make quality printers for which you could buy quality ink from a number of third-party suppliers.

Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Year's Resolution 2: leave @HPCorp alone

You got an HP printer for Christmas? Ah, print out a copy of this post.

The business geniuses at Hewlett Packard have managed the impossible. They stick microchips on the bottom of their ink cartridges so you cannot use an American cartridge in Europe or vice versa.

Your printer is 100% the same, so are the cartridges (except for the chip), and there is just a little switch in the software (a setting) that makes it so your European cartridge is rejected as "illegal".

They  use the word "illegal" in the message on the screen.

So, if you are in Europe, you are paying more than you should. First, because this is the "HP way", second because no off-brand manufacturer can sell you ink cartridges.

Next step paper? RFID chips in HP paper so the printers won't use no-name paper?
Imagine, you buy a Ford car that has tires with an in-built chip. They do not tell you.
Then you put on a competing tire, and the car won't run.

The relentless profit maximizers at HP have paved the way.

After cars?

Use your imagination: a microchip under your lip and milk with RFID tags. The problem of smelly French cheese in the U.S. -- solved. Put cheese in mouth, start beeping.

Note: we are not affiliated with, supported by, or even read by any ink or printer maker.

New Year's Resolution 1: issue #burnnotice to self

If you wonder what a burn notice is, look up the US TV series of the same name. It is fictional, and the gratuitous but intriguing [from a purely cinematographic point of view] booby and butt shots in every episode prove it. Well, some of the gadget information in there is correct.

The important role of deferred gratification, the ability to wait until you pounce on that piece of candy, has been confirmed in recent studies. NPRs Nova and Nova ScienceNow would be good starting points if you are interested.

The question for the krautlandnews folks over the short existence of the blog has been: when can we do the first spooky spy post?

In the new year.

How can we do it? It should stick to the thin line between truth and fiction in such a manner that no one is any the wiser at the end of the post.

Even better, it should meander, crossing from one realm into the other repeatedly and leave you, dear reader,  tantalized.

It'll be hard. We may fail but, New Year's resolution oblige, we will try.

The #Dead who went #Furthur

On New Year's Eve in San Francisco, CA, the Plaza at City Hall is a spectacle to behold.

On one side, lines for the New Year's Eve show of Furthur, thousands of hippies spilling over onto the lawn.

On the other side, the impeccably dressed, styled, manicured, black tie people who attend the City Hall New Year's Eve event.

They will meet among the trees of the plaza five or six hours later when the exuberant festivities at opposite ends of the plaza let out.

The pageantry and lavishness of the show by The Dead who went Furthur is almost impossible  to top. But when the tie-dyes and the black ties meet again later, there is not that big a difference other than their attire - they are just as happy, just as exhausted, just as drunk. 

The continuity of the event on the City Hall side is pretty much assured. There are more than enough black ties in S.F., politics and networking will be there for the enthusiasts.

The same cannot be said with the same certainty about the other event. To misappropriate the slogan on the back of the spaceship in Mel Brooks Space Cowboys, "Age don't brake for nobody".

Including Bobby.

Their music has become part of modern American culture. It has jumped the generation gap at least twice. Its has, for many people, been a big source of support in re-building shattered lives.

Meanwhile, in small town Germany, we'll be out dodging fire works.

One question on the minds of the fans: what are they going to close with?

"Not Fade Away", please.

Photo of Phil is copyright (c) 2012 email us for details

Photo of Civic Center copyright (c) 2012 email us for details

That phone call on New Year's Eve

A Ripple moment. Reach out your hand if your cup be empty.

The phone rings in the early evening one New Year's eve. A while ago, as the "phone book" reference tells you.

I am on the computer doing nothing, really, so I pick up.

A female voice: Hello, I am SoAndSo, and I was looking for Mr. A.

Me: Oh, hi.

Female voice: Yes, I was wondering if you could help me. He is not in the phone book, you and OtherPerson have the same last name, so... (trailing off).

Me, switching to Mr. A.'s first name C.: Yes, I knew C.

She picks up the past tense right away. This should make it easier.

She: You knew him, is that what you said?

I feel bad for the perceptive stranger, and I am glad and thankful at the same time.
She takes a deep breath, probably bracing for the inevitable.

Me: Yes, he was a cousin (another past tense, pause). He died in a car accident five years ago.

Her breathing tells me she is in pain, she does not start to cry or sob.

Me: You had known him for some time, I guess.

She: We met many years ago, as students, when we were studying to be teachers.

She continues to reminisce, and I get the impression I did okay with some of the worst news you can expect.

We chat for another 45 minutes or so, about lots of things once she had finished what she wanted to tell be about her and my cousin. It had been about 20 years since they had lost contact.

I fill her in about what I know, that he had married, had two kids, teens, how his life had been cut short by this car passing on a narrow country road, slamming head on into his vehicle.

She sounded happier as we ended the conversation. Part of me wondered if she would ever call again. But, of course, that was not to happen.

If I knew the way I would take you home.

Making self #unemployable in DE

A no nonsense guide for #moochers and #slackers.

According to a renowned entrepreneur's (pardon my French) well-publicized video speech during the 2012 U.S. Presidential Campaign, around 47% of the American population are dependent on government handouts. Is this good, is it bad? Is addiction to government treatable like other addictions, and is cold turkey the way?

We do not take sides on this blog. Taking sides limits the number of posts we can do on a subject. And since we don't have that many, well...

We at the krautlandnews have tried, not too hard, to get figures for Europe and Germany in particular.

And came up empty-handed.

As ZEIT columnist Eric Hansen, a fellow ex-pat of sorts, pointed out a while ago, the German government does not do statistics about the homeless very well. The assumption being that you won't be homeless here, really, because all you need to do is ask for help, and help you shall receive from your benevolent government overlords.

But the times are changing. If you find yourself on the most modern incarnation of government aid here, they call it Hartz IV, after the rugged, beautiful Hartz mountains in Northern Germany, you have to be prepared to have the government budget everything for you, from TP to the five Euros the grandma gives your kids for Christmas. Yes, there is a court case for that.

But let's not tarnish what Hartz stands for: the mountain range is a preferred vacation spot.
And that is how many Germans see their fellow citizens who receive Hartz IV -- on permanent government paid vacation.

To get in on the deal, your primary aim is to become permanently unemployable.

That's not as trivial a task as it might appear. Take the example of German trailer trash comedian persona Cindy aus Marzahn. She lived the dream, but she was too funny. Hartz IV one day, the cover of the New York Times the next -- not good.

All of a sudden, she gets plucked out of her Hartz IV cocoon and has to work, pay taxes, have a web site, be hilarious for a living.

You need to avoid that. Here is how.

Participate in a de-qualification program offered by the local adult education school. Knowing too much is dangerous, as movie villans demonstrate all the time. Dumbing down the resume makes you seem more normal, average, in the sweet spot of the market.

A DIY approach is to put that certificate, the project management certificate or the Word processing one, out into the sun for a few days to make it appear ancient. Alternatively, use it as a coaster for you coffee cup.

Do not, ever, train for something new at 50. A good friend is doing it. It is hard. She is tired much of the time.

Do not buy new clothes. That's easy. There are very, very few thrift shops here where you can get new looking outfits for almost no money.

If you have savings: wait some more. That ticket to the government vacation is means-tested.
Don't tell the government you are here quite yet. Not as easy as stateside because you must register at city hall shortly after arrival.

The next thing to to is get busy.

You have to do some work to become unemployable. The best thing we have found is to start a blog. Just like the one you are reading. Although we have published too many posts in the past few days, that's a residual work ethic that needs to go. If you do a blog, do not bother with the spell-checker, and do not worry about good grammar - they work against your goal.

The next best is to become creative. Creativity in the true sense of the word can make you unemployable in no time. But, as Cindy aus Marzahn shows, it is not without danger.
Keep it under the radar.

Sure-fire, but way too extreme ways to get to the finish line: become friendly with your local free range livestock or do some low level stalking. If you can't make it in the vacation world of free people, prison could be the last resort.

Then there is one final way that only requires patience: grow old.

Once you hit 45 or so over here, you are almost a member of the vacation set, no matter how qualified you may have been.

Good luck. See you in the new year.

If you have not given up reading: the social security reform package was named after a Mr. Hartz, not after the mountains. Did the man get his name from the Hartz mountains -- we do not know.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Winnetou, Old Shatterhand and Dr. Who

We don't do television. Subject of future post.

On Christmas Eve, we went and took a few gifts to people around town, starting with the neighbors.

The family on our left had a problem. The older of the daughters, age 9, insisted that Santa and/or the German equivalent Christkind were real.

She was the lone holdout in her class at school. She wanted to leave a card on the table, to be signed by the Christkind, which would then be irrefutable proof of its existence.

So, the parents had a chat with her.

She is quite naive, said the mother to me.

No, optimistic, I said.

The younger one, age 6, is not convinced of the whole Christmas story.

The TV was on at a friend's house. I could not believe what I saw: Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.

Two iconic German Western figures, dreamt up by con man Karl May, who had never sat foot into America. German TV is now doing Karl May marathons every Christmas.

His books were so much a part of German culture for several generations that the early editions are becoming more valuable as I type.

We'll try to catch Dr. Who later on. VPN to the UK, then BBC IPlayer.

Coming soon: PanHandling App for #IPhone and #Android

Coming to an #appstore near you on 1 April 2013.

It was about time somone found a real solution to a real problem.

Panhandling has gone from a mild nuisance to American citizens to a major public order problem. So, we are announcing the first release of "The PanHandling App" for 1 April 2013.

As an American or a tourist, you have encountered panhandlers in all the good spots, be it Times Square in New York or Union Square in San Francisco.

And you know, this is America. Asking once just won't cut it.

Asking once is for quitters, on a date or when you panhandle.

Over here in Germany, it is still a bit different, once is still the norm, except in Berlin, but who cares about Berlin.

Like a clockwork orange, news reports come out every year around Christmas about panhandlers disturbing a polished, peaceful shopping experience.

"The PanHandling App" will solve this once and for all. As soon as a panhandler has panhandled enough money for a second or third hand (aka. stolen) IPhone or Android, he or she will be able to discreetly publish her or his location.

So the donors can find them, instead of all this on the sidewalk in your face stuff.

Whether you are a good-hearted office worker, a wealthy person or that great CEO called out in the earlier post "Christmas and the marginalized", you can just as discreetly summon panhandlers to a quiet alley in Atherton, CA, or Long Island, NY.

You can specify the total dollar amount you want to give and the maximum number of recipients. Panhandlers in turn will get into the virtual line (queue for you Brits), and you, the donor, can broadcast when the number has been reached. The whole location module is supported by Google Maps, otherwise you'd be "veräppelt"

Which means, your quiet alley won't be overrun by a Facebook style flash mob of the great unwashed.

Instead it will be a low key, almost solemn affair, where one person does  good and the others get done.

Merry Christmas Bummer Bill.

Who owns Doppelgaenger data? #dataprotection #DPC

Your account was compromised, someone else out there became you.

Who owns the data created by this impersonator, or doppelgaenger?

The company that runs the social network, or email service, the shopping site, the bank, some government  -- is there any serious discussion around this topic?

I have encountered three known breaches in all my years on the internet, many years.

One breach notice came in the form of a letter from a bank I had never dealt with. They informed me that some data was lost and gave me a free one year credit bureau watch deal.

The second breach notification came as a series of emails from my ISP and Google. Since I could do something about this one, I did, all was well within a couple of hours.

The third was not a breach notification but a "your account was accessed from a different location -- are you good with that" sort of note from Facebook after I had managed to find a real person to contact at the FBook.

You can look through previous posts here or check Twitter for details, but the end of the story is, after four weeks, lots of digital kicking and screaming, I received a note that the account had been compromised and had been deleted by Facebook. Facebook congratulated themselves on having discovered the breach, where they only found something out of the "ordinary". Like my email operator every time I skip a country.
I received no indication of the cause of the breach. Had someone managed to get around my anti-virus? Doubt it, but still possible.

In those four weeks, I went through the junk mail folder to which I had re-routed Facebook emails for some time and had a closer look.
There were numerous "do you know <person name>", there were a few "<person name> has added you as a friend". I knew not a single person named there.

I asked myself, should digital privacy rights include the right to the data created by an impostor?

And I believe, the answer should be a resounding yes.

The Facebook account is gone, and I will likely never know what Other Me said and did. Did Other Me do or try to do something illegal? Will Other Me's actions come back to haunt me?

How? In the form of being pulled off and airplane and asked nasty questions? In the form of a series of calls from a collection agency?

Can someone please introduce legislation that mandates transmission of the doppelgaengers' data trails to the person who was doppelganged. I do not want the yacht, the 10 kilos of Gold, or the magazine subscription Other Me takes out in my name. I want the data.

No, don't even think of saying that this could compromise the privacy of Other Me.

The increasing persistence and interconnectedness of data, combined with advanced ways of re-attaching all sorts of data to a person, are somewhat disconcerting to me.

Give me the data, so that I can at least see who my new friends and business partners were, so that I have something, anything, to show if I run into problems.

So, if you want my name and birthday, you owe me.

One more thing: I never use my real, real name or my real, real birthday on the net for anything but official needs.

And the reason is that out of all the billions of people alive right now, there is just one who has that name. I am not John Miller or Henry Smith, my name is as unique as, say, Lady Gaga.

Random adolescent humor etc.

English major impaled by errant un-dotted i -- twit instead of tweet, will survive.

A taste of German SMS texting culture can be found at "yesterday's text messages" at

If you do not speak German, trust us, there is some funny, far out stuff on there.  The operators do not guarantee that all of these are real messages, we assume some users may make up a few and submit them. But they have millions of texts.

I hear your thought: that's all nice and considerate of you, your little promotion of the host country culture, but WTF, I don't speak German.

Okay, use Google Translator on the messages. But be warned: Going from the funny to the patently absurd may not be for everyone.

Just try.

Still not convinced? Okay, here is one, translation courtesy of our German:

Status update; Tip received when wearing makeup: 10€/ tip without makeup: 0€. F****  GENDER EQUALITY!!!

Thanks for a job well done

But first: yes, that package you noticed on the backscatter machine last time in my underwear, they were my brass balls. Sorry they are so small.

Now, we have generally had mostly positive experiences with our protectors, and this is a good time for a thank you.

In an earlier post, we praised the young man who used good judgement to spare us from having to chase escaped, frightened cats through a busy airport.

He was not the only friendly one.

Here is a tip of the hat to the big, burly Newark officer, who cracked a smile when he overheard the very tired child behind us in the line lament to his parents: Why do we have to get off in America?

And here is another tip of the hat to the screener in Burbank after we had gone through security something like three times, once to retrieve a cell phone from the rental car, once to retrieve some papers, and once more for something already forgotten.

We were resigned to never see the hat again, must have left it at security.

And there he is, coming straight for us as we hand the boarding passes to the gate keeper.

Is this your hat?

So, thank you.

Happy, Safe New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Becoming gay for a day

About the power of perception and becoming friends with the San Francisco Chief of Police.

Here is another anecdote brought to you by the certainty that memories will fade one day.

After years of working my way from really small town to small town to big city, I ended up in San Francisco, California.

Having a good job in a computer company was one thing, missing immersion into bustling life involving people was another.

But there is always craigslist, where you will find so many different volunteer opportunities. There is no excuse for picking up a gaming console over the weekend.

That American openness to volunteering is another thing I miss in old Europe, where you can do it but much is through clubs and organizations.

Anyway, I volunteered to be a safety monitor at the Pride Parade in S.F. Yes, that big annual event with the dykes on bikes, the flashy "targay" t-shirts that so upset a big U.S. retailer, the raunchy, seriously over 18 playground in front of City Hall.

Before the work, there is the training. Crowd control is a concept I instantly take to. Not the flash grenades or batons that make it on TV, but the quiet voice, the art of holding hands, the psychology of sunglasses.

We are at safety HQ early, get bright t-shirts and are assigned posts along the parade route.
There is a shortage of barriers, and we need to fill that gap until city workers arrive with more.

So, I take my place in a loose chain of other bright t-shirts interspersed with the black-shirted happy policemen (they are on overtime).

We talk to the people gathering on the sidewalks of Market Street. Light-hearted small-talk with simple instructions and explanations, it works magic. Our team chief does cartwheels, too, and soon he has a cheering audience.

A shame that riot police don't get trained in doing cartwheels, but I digress.

The crowd is getting thick, but our human barrier holds without any effort. Folks start climbing on the utility boxes and take to sitting on the walls of the BART train stairs.

We remind them that they may want to get off of there, a fall down 10 feet of stairs is not a good thing.  A young family thanks us for doing what we do: "we love you".

We can see a city truck coming up Market with more barriers, and then the funny thing happens.

This guy from work pops up right in front of me. He looks, calls my name, I respond, answering is "oh, what are you doing here", as nice as I am in real life, too.

He disappears in the crowd, we put up the barriers and space out some more, in preparation for the parade.

The dykes are first, the crowd just loves the gals and whatever other genders on the motorcycles. Then the floats, the marching bands, the foot groups, more floats.

And uniforms, marines, airmen, city workers.

One of the uniforms detaches from the group and quickly covers the ten or so yards to my location. I take the stretched out hand and hear the then police chief Heather Fong say: "Thank you for doing this."

I mumble something in return, ever so slightly stumped, and she is off, back to the group. I can see her sneak up on other t-shirts further up Market.

Starting the following Monday, the guy from work gave me a wide berth and was clearly not comfortable when we were the only two people in the room. The gay guys, on the other hand, were more friendly, and I never asked if they had been at the parade or seen me on one of those panorama shots on local TV.

Come back here in a week or a year for news about the Folsom Street Fair.

Christmas and the marginalized

Two prominent groups of marginalized people: CEOs and the homeless.

Christmas is, next to Thanksgiving in the U.S., the big period of consideration for the marginalized in society. We get to hear and see sad and uplifting stories and scenes, and reflect.

And while the needs and backgrounds are starkly different, we decided to put both CEOs and homeless people into the category of "marginalized" for this post. Social workers, public health professionals, good people, and you dear friend who will spend yet another Christmas on the streets of Berkeley, CA, and eat at the Krishnas, hear us out.

We use "marginalized" in the narrow sense of the perception of the world by some, not all, individuals living on the margins of society.

Because that shared feeling of being misunderstood, vilified or denigrated, being prevented from being who they "really are",  prevented from achieving their full potential, that is something many CEOs, too, will acknowledge, some in public, others in private.

Take the example of the leader reaching for the can of Coca Cola saying into the camera at least this one is legal. What else but fear of being pushed further to the margins of society could be the reason for editing out that quip?
You, our leaders, do not have to fear us -- as this episode demonstrated, too. There were maybe 150 people in the room and more listening in via teleconference. Granted, they re-hashed that joke among themselves for a week, chuckling now and then, but not a single one went public.

So, on this Christmas, reach out to those on the margins, reach out to CEOs, the well known and the numerous small corp leaders, and other influential people to help them become who they really are by showing them the joy of sharing with the least fortunate.

Make sure to help the homeless, and say hi to Bill, if you are in Berkeley. Their life is so much harder than that of the comfortably fed, clothed, sheltered piddling away on the computer, sipping that soft drink, twittering like the end of the world never happened.

The touchy feely vibe of this post is intentional, it is Christmas, after all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


A big, scenic, famous cemetery on the West Coast of the United States.

What a downer for Christmas? No, you'll see.

They have been working on clearing poison oak, trees, dense brush from an old area of the cemetery.

We are strolling through a recently cleared section. Outlines of graves are now visible again, and we, who like to think of ourselves as agnostics, tread lightly.

There is one small grave, with a small, white marble headstone. A child's grave, a girl.

We stop and look at the headstone that is lying face up at the top of the small plot.

A big chunk of the left top of the originally square stone is missing.

The inscription on the headstone reads "Forgotten". The chunk with the "Not" went missing at some point in the one hundred years plus after the little human was laid to rest here.

See, there is hope.

Oh, not a Tannenbaum

From our 2010 archive.

Not a Charlie Brown Christmas tree either.

In December of 2010, German police in the city of Koblenz discovered a 7 foot Marijuana plant used as a Christmas tree, with lights and decorations just like the common pine or fir versions.

One newspaper even had a picture, which, alas, we could not find any longer.

According to one publication, the police commented:  "All you need is love - oder: Auch ein Hippie feiert Weihnachten..."

Which not only shows holiday spirit on the part of the police spokesperson but also once more how deeply the lyrics of the Beatles have taken root in German culture.

That brings us to the real subject of the post.

Use the comment feature of the blog to tell us about your favorite non-standard Christmas tree.

Our all time favorite so far is a big tree made out of over one hundred small individual little dark green toy trees, on sale at Long's or Walgreen's one Christmas season years ago, then assembled and re-wired into one big tree. In its dormant state, the tree is not much of a looker, just one big mass of plastic. When you plug in the power chord, it springs to life, with lots of blinking lights and a hundred tiny velvet mouths singing a more or less coordinated song.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa and the Hotline

It was a dark and wintry night.

The elf was sitting in the cubicle in Santa Claus' administration building, watching footage of the security camera as Santa took off with the reindeers.

He could not recall when they had started to call the security camera SantaCam. There surely was an announcement to that effect somewhere in the inbox.

Another cheerful missive from Santa PR explaining why, "going forward", SantaCam was the only term to use. Ending with an equally cheerful "Help us to keep Christmas the wonderful family event it has been for so long."

Any moment now, and he could switch to the NORAD site to watch them track Santa.
He still enjoyed this part of the ritual after all these years. It made him feel like a child again, full of expectations, not for material goods but all that Christmas had meant.

Toiling in the cubicle had left its marks on both body and mind. His waistline had expanded a little, tough not to Santa-esque proportions, and some of the Christmas worry lines never went away anymore like they used to.

He had been a good employee, greeting co-workers with Happy Monday at the beginning of each week as morale took a dive after yet another small workshop had been taken over by Santa Corp., based in the Caymans for tax reasons, but with all operations still at the North Pole.

Global warming had crept into his mind a few times in recent years, but Santa had upgraded the cooling systems to epic proportions. It would be a while before anybody noticed the ice getting thinner.

This was his last Christmas with Santa Corp.

He had put in his resignation several months prior. That was unusual and raised eyebrows at Santa HR and with the ex-Special Forces of Santa Security.
He had patiently explained that he wanted the corp. to have ample time to hire a replacement. No, he had never considered himself irreplaceable, not like his old boss who popped lithium pills like candy -- or so he assumed.

In fact, knowing a little bit how corporate minds worked, he had made doubly sure that his work and his demeanor were impeccable after handing in the resignation. Not that this required much effort, he was proud of his work, proud of the co-workers, proud when another child's problem with this or that toy were resolved and joy returned to the home.

There was only one thing left to do now, one phone call to make.
He needed to know. No, he admonished himself, "need" was not true.

He wanted to know, for himself. That had always been the motivation behind the curiosity which had sustained him in the hectic workplace of Santa Corp.

He looked at NORAD's tracking. Everything was fine, Santa and Christmas were going to have another good year.

He picked up the phone and dialed the hotline mandated by the SEC not too long ago.

A friendly woman from the company to which Santa Corp. had outsourced the ethics and compliance hotline picked up.
They were doing this for many companies, so it took a minute to establish the administrative details.

He explained, I complained about the Elf Superior, and they said they'd fire me if I went ahead with the complaint. Can they do that?

The woman noted everything, gave him a tracking number and said call back in two weeks for an answer.

After one last satisfied look at the tracker, he turned off the lights and went home.

He came back to work after Christmas, and had a very amicable weekly meeting with his supervisor. The supervisor was quite new, and our elf was, once more, proud to have established trust and a good working relationship.

The week after that was followed by another amicable meeting. Maybe I was wrong, he said to himself.

On the requested day, he called the hotline and gave them the tracking code. The answer to the question was: "No, of course, they cannot fire you as retaliation. But you are in an at will employment, they could let you go anytime they see fit."

Within an hour after the call, his supervisor called to tell him that all communication from here on out had to go through him. Except, of course Santa HR matters.

Another hour or so, and the HR Director called. A nice lady, she inquired how he was doing, how the succession was proceeding and if there was anything else she could do for him.

Well, you know I called the anonymous hotline...he paused. What next?

A shriek at the other end: "What are you trying to say!!!"

Bingo, and he replied: "Well sometimes some things are more anonymous than others."

Deflate, he had advised himself, and it worked. The lady was very nice and told him a severance offer was going out the next day.

Over the next few days, he finished up his work, told the co-workers he had resigned. On the last day, his supervisor visited him, very friendly, very relieved because, as would say at the door, he had never witnessed anything quite like that.

Merry Christmas, don't stop believing.

Dearth of qualified employees in Germany

This is the first blog post in which we are getting pushy, as in pushing it out via Twitter.

And since I found a can of vitriol that is a decade past its "use by" date, we open with the ongoing discussion in German media regarding the scarcity of engineers and folks for other technical jobs.

Depending on the publication and the weather, you will find some numbers, some insight and some hot air, hence the weather reference.

We have seen wonderful efforts of companies bringing young people in from Eastern Europe for schooling and training, and we have seen a program imitating the U.S. H1B qualified worker program.

We love popular physics, popular science in general, and readily admit a penchant for gross over simplification.

The debate about the scarcity of qualified employees around here looks to me like a Mandelbrot fractal image. The closer you look, the more you see, the more of the same you get, and you end up somewhere in infinity.

Right or wrong: The German labor market has not been known for its flexibility.


Germany has shown a pretty impressive ability to absorb large numbers of foreigners in the boom times after World War II.
And that was also the time when, how can I say this, many lesser qualified natives had great careers because so many of their older countrymen or their own age had been shot to pieces.

What is different today? A shrinking and aging population? Schools getting worse? Unions still not condemned to irrelevance?

A little bit, probably of all of this.

And then there is the unsettling disregard for foreign qualifications. Engineers driving taxis because they do not have the right paper qualification. Companies holding out for the perfect employee even future genetic engineering will not bring them.

Ageism is quite bad here, it is not simply more out in the open than stateside, it really is worse.

And plain old politics.

The whole debates also pre-dates the time most of you were born. Look at 30 or 40 year old papers. Some of the areas of expertise mentioned there are the same.

Upcoming posts will return to the lighter tone of many previous ones, no worry.

Open left eye, squint -- open right

eye, squint. Yawn, yawn some more.

Okay, right hand, all fingers are go. Left hand, all fingers are go.

Glad not blind on either eye.

Brain test, occipital lobe - ready.

Parietal lobe - ready.

Frontal lobe, engaging, ouch, what was that; dopamine ticking up.

Caffeine docking at adenosine receptors commenced.

Heart rate relaxed steady.

Yawn, yawn some more.

Boot Facebook ridiculing system. Oh, empty. That's fine. Residuals causing bad taste, eau de Javel fixes this.

Dream check: no recollection, no digital jackboots, cool.

What does Google know about us today: Facebook Marketing, Telefonica Instant Server, Linux Training, Photovoltaics, Grain Mills.

Cats tearing up and down the stairs playing. Big smile, can feel endo--whatchamacallthem.

Wish I were Standing on the Moon, or  An Anthropologist on Mars.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The best end of the world ever

Only today are the people behind this blog beginning to fathom the imense pressure of deadlines our professional journalist counterparts are under every day.

The end of the world does not wait. Publishing whatever crap we come up with cannot wait.


Chapeau to our professional friends.

This time, the end of the world is so much more fun than ever. There is some aspect almost everyone can relate to without too much real apprehension or fear.

No need to belong to some abhorrent cult, no fear that your washing machine will disembowel your cat or dog.

No fear that the eggplant will eat Chicago.

No dread of all your social security payment history getting wiped out, you facing starvation as of tomorrow.

It's all good. If we go down, we all go together, as the ultimate human community. Or wait, once again, as in Asterix and Obelix, there is a little village in France...

Ah, well, forget it.

You guys are going to be around tomorrow, right? So, welcome to the new world, welcome to a fresh start.

And "Save", "Preview", and "Publish".

Welcome Home

The online version of Der Spiegel and the end of the world for quality journalism in an article about the happenings at Maya Central in Mexico?

"Hundreds have been living here since the beginning of December in a self-organized Garden of Eden. They pass their time with psychoactive drugs and juggling."

"You have seen their likes at German train stations. Where, at times, they seem out of place - colors too shrill, too rebellious, too hung over. But here, they live their dream of universal love. On 21 December, thousands will dream the dream. And in case they wake up the next day, they'll move on to the next dream..."

We would have loved to quote more and dissect their talking points calmly but they might not like a scientific approach to entertainment.

It's cool, man.

The rainbows have extended their love to the spiegel writer, too.

It is incredibly hard to resist the embrace of a nekid hippie chic, if you are a guy and not used to it.

Maybe none of the old folks who found the rainbow after Vietnam or the umpteenth installment of whatever wars made it to Mexico. Maybe the engineers, lawyers, and doctors did have enough time to grow dreads to blend into the stereotype.

Or, as we say and do here on this blog: Never let a nuance stand in the way of a catchy, well worn stereotype.

Is there a date set for your merger with, or should we announce it for 1 April 2013?

Welcome Home

Only premium phone number + no email => tweet

Sooner or later after your arrival in Germany, you will have to make a phone call to some company or other.

The sad truth is, you cannot expect toll-free numbers. 

Our ISP has one, our garbage collection folks, too.

Most others, including the airline that managed to crush the pet taxi** as well as really all big companies dispense with the nicety and many make you pay a "premium" rate.

The Germans are not alone with this. In Britain, the tax people of HMRC have premium 0845 numbers, making sure you get charged every time you ask about taxes.

For calls to HMRC alone, the figures are staggering: 136 million pounds according to The Independent.

We have not looked hard and have not found hard Euro figures for the Germans, but would bet there is a lot of money going somewhere for calls that are toll-free in the U.S.

One way to rectify this is to use Twitter. If a company feels they need to charge you 30 to 60 cents or more a minute to talk to a rep, ask the question on Twitter.

From here on out, I will use Twitter if a company does not provide an email contact or a toll-free number.
If the cost cutters and profit maximizers cannot see any benefit in letting me get in touch without a rip-off, then their reputation becomes the currency of the communication.

It is a win-win.

Other consumers get a better idea of what is going on, and I will not be upset and angry on the phone because they don't put me through fast enough or leave me stuck in the "For Elise" or "Greensleves" muzak loop.

This should be good for the retention of their call center staff. Less aggro, more smiles.

Thing is, II talk really slow, always have, with this strange habit of weighing my words, and that makes these phone calls more expensive for me than for others I know. Yeah, you can discriminate all you want against slow talkers. Soon we will be the only ones left you can pounce on without fear.

[Update 11/2015] That was Lufthansa. Since bottom of the pet taxi was covered by a triple layer of old towels, as you might expect for a long flight, we noticed the foot long gash in the bottom only after we cleaned out the pet taxi. Lufthansa used the "sorry to hear that" approach, so they haven't had us as passengers since.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Signed out as dead, the new life of a laptop

Signing them out as dead.

That is how some people get more dogs and cats than you'd ever need out of the Pound or the SPCA.

The same goes for laptops.

If you are not a Windows user, ignore this post. You are either a pro or have too much money for gadgets.

I'll trash tablets in one of the upcoming posts without using the words paperweight or fondleslab, promised.

The web still has some reviews from the year 2005 of that Dell Latitude D610 that was signed out as dead at the evil empire. Instead of it going to a poor country to be dismantled by kids and to poison even more of the place, it is now running Ubuntu Desktop 12.10.

The last successful MS Windows install on this baby happend, if I remember correctly, in 2007.
After that came Ubuntu 8, then a long downtime.

Running Linux is so easy these days that you should try it out. Despite the gratuitous bragging and fluffing in the next paragraph.

I may not be the ideal example of the modern Linux user, my first Linux install involved one of these early versions where re-compiling the kernel was an unavoidable step in the installation.
Trying out a new OS on my grandma is not an option either. She would be over 100 years old (do the math if you want).

Fear not. Links and steps are right here:

1) Get a USB stick. The bigger, the better, 16 GB are so cheap nowadays.
2) Go to Ubuntu and download the latest Destop version. It is an "iso image", to you it is just a file whose name ends in ".iso".
3) Go to pendrive and download the easy installer (Universal USB Installer).
4) Run that Universal USB Installer, follow the instructions on the web site. You select 3 items and click "Create".

When it is done, you have a USB stick with Ubuntu. You can run it right off of this stick (restart, hit F12, select Boot from USB)  or install it somewhere.

When you have it shut down for the first time, update your resume or cv, or whatever they call the "paper with the technical specs of a human life" where you live.

U.S. Companies importing fear to Europe

One of the draft posts mentioned in the "our audience" blog was entitled "Man, no class action lawsuits here".

It was waxing lyrically about how one of the few things I miss in Deutschland are class action suits -- as in law suits, not class action lawyer suits.

U.S. companies hate class action suits and the bigger outfits spend mind boggling amounts of money on language to avoid them. They try everything, from mandatory mediation to subtly decoupling things any normal person perceives as closely tied together.

If you are employed with a U.S. company that is big enough to have an employee handbook, go and read.

One of the gems there is the language used and not used to make your performance reviews irrelevant as a way to get a promotion. But not irrelevant as a means to fire you.
Oh, you think that "COMPANY encourages employees to evaluate their performance through continuous individual feedback and an annual performance review" means that a good review gets you a promotion?

Anyhow, that was from the draft of the post. Since I have been having a bit of a tiff with Facebook, I would like to point out how class action lawsuits and FBs real name policy are linked.

Disclaimer: other companies do not insist on real names although they fall under the same laws.

Which I interpret like this: FB can sell much more if they can claim many "real" datasets.
It is not about people, it is about datasets.
Crowd-sourcing of datasets (also known as snitching) is nothing but a quality assurance measure.
But the other aspect is real: the American fear of big fat lawsuits gets imported to Europe and other places. The inordinate amount of space dedicated to protecting children in the Irish Data Commissioner/Facebook collaborative manifesto can only be explained by the fears of American lawyers.

Getting politicians onboard for a real name policy is easily achieved with fear and translates into better quality datasets.

Facebook is but one example of the importing of American fears to Europe, just a really convenient example.

In the course of my little row, I have also come to the conclusion that FB should replace the team responsible for the "real name" online help pages.

The content of the pages shows complete insensitivity towards local proper naming laws and conventions.

I checked English, German, the Frenchies, the Spanishes -- the latter are straight-up translations of the English page.

Factually and culturally insuffient for a company that tries to claim "real names" are for the community and our safety.

Irish Copy and Paste in the Data Commissioner report re Facebook

If you read the report of the Irish Data Commissioner on Facebook, you would be forgiven if you start equating using a pseudonym on Facebook with being a really, really bad person. A child molester in waiting.

If you read the report a little closer, you will find that the compilers have problems differentiating a statement of the commissioner's staff from a quote by Facebook staff.

For example, this one here is NOT marked as quoted text in the report. The nit-picker in me thinks that this is Facebook staff speaking. Why? "Many of our safety and security measures involve..."
This is only one example that makes it clear you should either use quotes or at least change the "royal our".  

--- from the report ---
The safety, security, and integrity of the Facebook Platform would be compromised significantly without such measures. Many of our safety and security measures involve removal of inauthentic accounts -- from spammers and phishers to individuals who are abusing the Platform and do not want to be discovered.
--- from the report ---

What is completely absent from the report is that you can find thousands upon thousands of hacked Facebook logins in certain corners of the internet every week.

Facebook is not "a community", sorry folks. Facebook has 1 billion users, give or take.
That means, Facebook consists of a million communities, give or take a few hundred thousand..

Yes, it is huge, and if you have any decision making power at FB, then you know (I pray) how to spot bullsh***. So, let people be.
So, if you are a Facebook user, take Dr. Who as an example: run!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Steampunk going Mainstream here?

Recently, I saw the first article about steampunk in a mainstream German media outlet.
This is not to say there have not been others before, it only means I noticed it.

Der Spiegel online had  an introductory, friendly article about the phenomenon in Germany on 12.12.2012.

Our American readers may be familiar with "The Haul", but we want to seize the opportunity to tell our readers on this side of the pond about one of our most beloved icons, the "haul that never was".

It is, try to visualize it, a three story Victorian building on wheels.

The Neverwashaul has its own web site and  is one of those projects that Larry the Cable Guy would describe as "only in America".

The two photos from Burning Man 2012 on the web site are gorgeous. Make them your wallpaper on your favorite device, and make sure you donate a few dollars or Euros to the Haul via their web site.

We had the pleasure of getting to know some of the crew quite well, and we know the effort and the number of lost fingertips that went into their work on the Haul and other projects.

If you feel like owning a small steampunk item, have a look at the goggles in their shop on Etsy.

The stupid "real identity" on the net issue

So, I just sent my second ever tweet to facebook's new German policy director, twitting to the world that I consider fb's real identity policy a joke, that they should protect their users' identities first, then reward them like any other (sic) dating site.

Yes, one of facebooks' characteristics is that it is a dating site. People connect, re-connect, marry, get divorced, re-marry, all via facebook.

Companies flirt with their customers or prospects.

And some companies are in bed with each other.

Back to the "real identity" question. One aspect that I have never ever seen in the discussion is, why the f*** we are once again discriminating against individuals while we profess our love for companies and other entities, on fb and elsewhere.

First, a question: when you are out and about, shopping, at the movies, on the beach, anywhere, and someone talks to you, do you go "hold it, I need your real name, and show me an ID, then we talk"?

Yes, we agree the internet is a little different but not that much.

In my humble, easily ridiculed opinion, there is no difference between the pseudonym "Jake Smithy" and the company name "Mr. Smith Inc.".

The "real identity" of Mr. Smith Inc. is not always clear. Maybe they have a website with their CEO's name, maybe not.

Companies are collective pseudonyms, often enough it is hard to get a "real individual" when you contact them.

You think you know, but you don't.

This one company I dealt with was a tiny outfit, basically a one person company. You would never have known -- man, your paycheck came from a different city and had the sender as "The Company Name, Finance Department, POB 12345, City 0000001, CA).

If you, dear reader, see a user name like, say, MrTangerineMan, you know that you do not know.

If you see ACME Inc. you know just as little -- but fb and others don't care.

Now, MrTangerineMan tries to sell you something, eehh, you will be careful, ACME Inc. does the same -- well, you tell me.

Are celebrities names real identities? Do you care about people in less secure countries than the US or Western Europe? Don't you think that apart of a few incurable predators, the whole real identity thing is a greater threat to those who are already vulnerable?
My former boss can buy himself an island if he feels like it, Grandma Smith has no other place to go than her downtown Philly apartment.

Now, any more or less normal person will tell you that the moment you have friends on fb, someone will know who you are, even if you use a pseudonym. Catching active criminals on fb is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Right, and fb tries to get you to snitch on your friends.

Why can't fb go and flag a new user with a big red dot or something until they have a few friends?

At which time the dot changes to green.

Like on any good porn site?

A social network is an ideal place for a web of trust. If you do not have the know-how or the patience for that, don't blame your users.

I am using a pseudonym, and if you need to find out who the real me is, get a warrant and talk to Google. Or send me a really nice email and I'll tell you. My internet use generally does not involve hiding my IP address either. You are welcome.

And one more thing: say you are a software company that makes money, i.e. not poor bring your own chair folks. If you are not donating a couple of MBps of bandwith to the TOR project or the JonDo anonymizers, then I will not believe  any claim of "we protect data, we protect privacy".

Simple, way simple.

Moonshadow, Moonshadow

For those who were not around at the time and who avoid classic rock radio, this is from a Cat Stevens song.

And it is tied to the memory of a good friend, a complex individual, as they say.

The anniversary of his death just passed - again.
And the moonshadow episode popped up - again.

We went on vacation, and he volunteered as a house sitter.

We came back from the vacation, found everything in order, neat and tidy. Then, a short while later, I sat down at the computer to check email for the first time in weeks. Yes, despite blogging my heart out, I could stay away from the machine.

Anyhow, I sat down and saw the note in his handwriting:

I'm being followed by a moonshadow

And then, an inch or so underneath the quote from the song:

man, I must be getting paranoid.

We got many a good laugh out of this in the ensuing years. The note did not make it across the ocean, so this serves as its replacement.

Good bye, Jack. - Facebook Policy Director for Europe

Richard Allan is the Facebook Policy Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The email address in the title of this post is from German public records.

Facebook requires users to use their "real identity", and they claim that the German enforcement effort is a waste of taxpayer money.

Help Facebook understand what users want.

Which is so simple, we should not even have to spell it out:

1) Many, many users will use their real identity (real name)
2) Many, many users will use some sort of fake information in the profile to protect themselves against identity theft, for example, fake birthdays.
3) Many users will use a pseudonym anyway, and if Facebook has a problem with this, we should not use their service.

[UPDATE 5:20 PST] Actually received a nice response re the zombie account.

Most expensive Lucky Charms ever

Logic is a tool best used sparingly.

Would this be a sentence found in the Executive Summary section of a report on what humans do with their fairly large brains?

Expats miss some of the foods from home, that's a given. For Westerners that frequently means sweets.

The Brits used to miss their McVities, their Spotted Dick, their Pringles (not sweet).
The French and the Germans used to crave the heart-stopping gooey goodness of Nutella.

Decades of trade globalization have made it so that the proportion of contraband digestive cookies and Nutella has plummeted. But...

Take our favorite Lucky Charms, the cereal. It has its own Wikipedia page, unlike our blog.
Some online stores over here carry it.

Which makes it harder to justify buying six large boxes on a trip to the States and bringing them back.

Especially, if the Lucky Charms compete for space with aspirin, evil HP printer ink, and some other goodies.

What you need in this situation is an excuse, any excuse, to ship a separate box. For us, grandma's paintings provided this opening. That is grandma's paintings as in painted by grandma, not her collection of Picassos. Very nice American folk art by the way. We built a wood crate for the paintings and used Lucky Charms boxes for padding.

The reaction of German customs to the box was predictably inquisitive. They queried the weight of the shipment (over 70 pounds) and were either unwilling to or incapable of finding out the weight the plywood for the volume required for five paintings.

After several emails back and forth, I told them to just open the box and check. I managed to leave out the "goddamn it" in the greating part of the final email.

We don't know if there will be more Lucky Charms stories.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

[Update: mostly obsolete] Real Facebook Employee Email Address

[Update 15 August 2013] All good things come to an end. We were told by recent readers that mails to these two now bounce.  

My new recommendation is to go and use Twitter, there are several "fb" addresses, and using Twitter is a public forum. Twitter gives average users like you and me a way to shed some light on companies and issues.

For European Users:
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner is responsible for the European Facebook operations, and in the case of your son, daughter or grandma maybe a complaint under this link will help

Their online form is at

A couple of notes:
1) Safety, health or security fears
If your complaint about the FBook or any other company is based on reasonable safety, health or security fears, SAY so at the beginning of the complaint. This gives the recipient a good idea of the urgency and severity.
If someone threatens your life, go straight to the police.

2) Be specific and as clear as possible
You need to give as much clear information, such as user ID, previous contact attempts and the result, and a clear statement of how the problem impacts you, your kid, or another person.

3) Have someone else read the complaint
If possible, ask a family member or friend to read the complaint before you send it. It may be clear to you but not to the stranger who will receive it.

4) Provide feedback once the complaint is "closed"
Don't skip this step. Tell the world via Twitter how the Irish helped, or how FB still does not know the least bit about customer service. Praise when praise is due. In other words, be that boss you have always wanted to have!

The Internet is not a "lawless" arena, no matter what people tell you. It often is exceedingly difficult, though, to find someone willing and able to get an issue resolved. 

What you can do about this: Send an email to a lawmaker, to the EU Commission, to anybody who will listen and ask that any internet company provide a phone number with a human at the other end.

[This is the original post for reference, fun and whatever]
So, my attempt to delete that Facebook account I opened years and years ago, that I never used, and that may have been hijacked (or not), is stalled.

I eventually decided to reset the password and then delete the account.

Facebook sent me a code a couple of days ago with a happy "Click this link and enter the code" message.



Google, google again, again, again.


I am now in possession of a valid contact email address for an actual physical person at the FB. I asked nicely that they remove my account.

Given that I am certainly not the only person who could use a facebook employee email address to be taken seriously for once, I am not quite ready to publish the address.

If you have a good reason for a personal conversation with someone from the FB, email me instead at

Maybe I'll forward your request, maybe I'll consolidate them. We'll figure it out.

In the meantime, you can continue to search for it yourself. It is a matter of public record, handed out by FB itself.

[Update] Since web searches give users this post, here is some help.

There are two facebook employee email addresses in this document:
One is Richard Allan
The other is Eva-Maria Kirchsieper

Monday, December 17, 2012

Raiding the Bank

Last week, some 500 police and prosecutors raided the headquarters of Deutsche Bank in Germany.

The action was prompted by a tax probe involving the sale of carbon-emission certificates. Trading of CO2 certifcates was launched several years in Europe, and you can find details on Wikipedia here.

While the news of a government raid on a bank is interesting, it is the reaction of one of the chiefs of the bank that is the reason for this post.

Mr. Fitschen, co-CEO of the bank, picked up the telephone and called Hessen State Prime Minister Bouffier to complain about the raid.

Notwithstanding the fact that the probe has been going on for two or so years, and ignoring that five employees were arrested, Mr. Fitschen voiced his view that "excessive action" by the government was damaging the reputation of Deutsche Bank.

As if there was much left to be damaged. Deutsche Bank has had a reputation for being the bank of the upper middle class and business. And they behaved as such, with a good measure of arrogance and hype.

Who knows, right now it is all about allegations. Maybe there will not be any conviction.

The point is that any small business owner or any teacher who gets a visit from the tax inspector would be ill-advised to try and call their local state executive to lodge a complaint.

Regarding Deutsche Bank, they could use some advice on the finer points of bitching, couldn't they?

[Update 20 Dec]  The second raid in a week according to Der Spiegel.  Instead of blatant mindless fun on my part, maybe I should ask for a job as a crisis manager there. Whoever they have right now is obviously a, wait, wait, "not a perfect match for the position".

Our blog audience?

The milestone of 100 published blog posts is further down the road, but I can disclose that we have enough drafts to get there comfortably.

We do have an audience, that's a pleasant surprise right there.

What does our audience like:
The category of most popular posts is topped by these subjects: Pets and travel

"How to win over Airline Ticketing Folks" is the most popular entry by far.

Was it the split second of fear on the face of the agent, the real emotion we travelers yearn for?
Or was it the completely unexpected turn of the conversation after the clarification "no, not in the cabin"?

Many airline workers probably live in a continous state of fear of the passenger. Never knowing who may blow up in their face, both literally by igniting a shoe or figuratively after being reminded to turn of all electronic devices.

And they deal with it in the same manner the rest of us deal with death or the devil: don't use the name specified in the manual (the bible for one, the training manuals for the other), the passenger becoming "he who shall not be named."

And then there were the "also rans" of posts: The highfalutin ones.
So, my ever so righteous indignation about Hewlett Packard's printer cartridge rip-off?
No class action lawsuits coming from this post. Just me not buying a new computer from a business whose approach to printer ink is not quite like crack dealing but not far enough removed from that scourge either.

Psst, wanna a free sample of crack or HP ink?

The geographic dispersion of our audience is an expected seventy percent U.S., twenty nine percent European, one percent Asian.

I'll finish today with a word about the contributors.

The typing and editing is done by a single person, but the ideas are often from the household, and yes, the cats contribute too.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stuttgart Space Port and Berlin Airport

The city of Stuttgart in Southern Germany is getting a brand new central train station.

They have had a "terminus" layout for over a century but decided to switch to a station where trains do not have to reverse to continue the journey.
Given the geographic limitations, the whole thing is going to be an underground station.

Just last week, an audit firm projected that the cost of Stuttgart's new train station is now roughly that of an inexpensive spaceport, it just went up another 2.3 billion Euros to 6.8 billion.

And, for a while now, the good people of Stuttgart only call half a train station their own.

The other half of the existing main building has already been demolished.

Together with the new Berlin main airport, another recent big venture marked by bad planning, bad execution and cost overruns, we get the impression that large projects in Germany turn out the same way as large projects anywhere else.

Some are done right from the get-go, and the rest will eventually get done.

A decade of delay, however, still compares favorably to the Cologne Cathedral, started in 1280 and finished in  1880.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

News Flash: no End of World on Dec. 21

At this point in time, a week before yet another end of the world, is there anything remotely sane or meaningful left to say about the subject?

NASA has denied the end is nigh, the former cold war bunkers around Germany are not sold out and offer discounts, so, what is there?

All I could come up with is this: if you want to publish your opinion, here is what you must write.

The end of the world will not happen on 21 December 2012.

Two reasons:
1) If you wake up on Dec. 22 and all is well, you can still go out and find work, find a partner, live a normal life without being branded a wingnut and forever be haunted by the fumble.
2) If the world ends, it will not matter what you wrote.

Any comments should be posted before 21 December.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Smells like a 3D Printer

That reduced carbon footprint proudly presented in the last posting, well, it got a little bigger.

Temporarily, christmassy, so to speak.
As a reward for the big, long term reduction.
To keep the family happy.
Oh, cut it out -- for the fun of it.

So, we loaded up and drove for a good long time to the city of Cologne, Köln for the Germans, Kölle for the folks who live there.

The builders of the Cathedral, started in 1280 and finished in 1880, must have known what a great beacon for horse and carriage and horseless carriages that church would be.

You want to go to Cologne? Just get on a freeway that says Köln, and for the last five or ten miles, point the car at the cathedral - done.

We wanted to go to the Christmas Market at the Cathedral and promptly found ourselves in the middle of a second, different market as we came up the stairs from our parking garage.  The city website listed six concurrent markets in this city of a million people alone. Another website mentioned a "Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market", too.

A brief image of Santa Clauses and Clausettes in fake fur handing out freebies to frozen revellers and selling "mulled wine a la Folsom Street Fair" (good luck googling for that) was pushed aside for the wholesome family affair we had emerged in.

The amount of energy, creativity and sheer German work that are these markets is too much for our middle-aged minds. Go, look for some fotos on the web. You'll understand.

Hours of strolling from booth to booth, from trinkets to antiques, from traditional Christmas ornaments to modern glass art, made right there by a man who must have had the warmest workplace on a chilly day, were only interupted by a food break.

The one stand that captured us because it coalesced the chocolate fiend, the steampunk gal, the DIY mechanic, and the nerd into a single entity was a place that sold tools made out of chocolate.

Did you just think: what's the big deal?

Not the old, cheap and cheesy stuff you can see on this web site.

But the tools and items shown in this PDF file. Once you have opened the file, enlarge the image to 200% or more -- now you see.

Does that not look like the work of a gifted 3D printer to you?

On second thought, a well crafted mold would be just fine and very likely still cheaper.