Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Buddy, pass me the puffer fish & the benefits of xenophobia

Back already?

As we said way back when: ditching a platform of self-righteousness is not easy.

We will try, but we decided to end the year with dolphins getting high on puffer fish answering the question we have had for a year now: what were the people on who wrote the newest German law on the TV and radio license?

Having been bombarded with mail by the folks who process TV licenses in Germany, we mastered the courage to look into it.

Low income residents can get a waiver, and since our tax return shows income below the threshold, we thought, let's save the 200 Euros a year and apply.

You need to go to one of the social security services and submit their statement.
You may have to move some funds into an account which you cannot access under any circumstance before retirement, but once you do this, you are good.

That's where it gets interesting.

If you are a German citizen, you proceed, and you can decide to waive any money from social security, or you take it henceforth and live high on the hog. Just kidding with that latter part of the sentence.

If you are a foreigner, though, you cannot do this as easily. Say you have some work income below the social security cut-off and supplement this with income from investment. 

You would have to move the investment into your retirement age.  All 101% of it (100% principal plus the 1% interest). Which leaves a gap, which means you automatically violate the "sufficient income" provision of the German law that governs the conditions you need to comply with as a foreigner in this country. Thou shalt not collect social security benefits is one of the generic provisions, less so for EU nationals, more so for non-EU citizens.
While the "Auslaenderamt" does not have to kick you out of the country when you fall on hard times, they can try, and they are known to do so.

It is a nifty unintentional Catch 22 situation for foreigners who are not wealthy enough to simply buy themselves EU citizenship.

The benefit: the law can be said to discriminate against foreigners by preventing them from applying for a fee waiver in the same way as the Germans.

What to do?

Bitch and petition is what we did, the results will be in next year. 

For those of you middle class or lower middle class folks thinking of moving to the European Union, you need to set up a Trust Fund beforehand.

Have the Trust Fund wire you exactly the amount of money you are required by law to have, not a cent more or a cent less. You won't be poor enough to be sent packing, or as the case may be herded off without being able to pack, and at the same time you won't be "rich enough" to make folks want some of the riches you do not really have.

We simply hope that we will be wealthy trust fund kids in our next life so we can pay for services we do not want, do not use and cannot really afford.

Alternatively, though a much harder life, why not be a dolphin next time around?

Do not be worried about our well being. While many German web sites call the previous incarnation of the license fee body some really nasty names, we have been told that they are just people, no jack boots, no five in the morning license collection swat teams.

Oh, wait, we are out working at five in the morning. 

As they back home: Happy Fuckin' New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Is this a good time to move on?

Will anybody miss our daily missives?

As they said in some already forgotten episode of the U.S. TV series Scandal, "some guy in his underpants blogging from his mom's basement".

No, not in underpants, as amusing as the thought may be. Not from mom's basement either.
Oh, and it was not a quote from Scandal.

The blog will remain up, as will the other pieces we put on the web for a very dear friend. The ads remain up, too. A handful of cents a month won't pay the outrageous German tv license fees  -- which we have to cough up despite not using their services at all.

Who knows, maybe we'll be back to rant about something, or to chronicle a few more stories of the "hillbillies" around here. We have grown fond of the many Germans who get by month to month, their money running out around the 20th of each month, their fridge empty by the 25th, in short those not working hard to bring you more Beemers or VWs, those not in warm and safe government jobs.  

What about the Random Research Team, you ask?

They will be fine, the blog has been a minor side show for them, their day jobs, whatever they may be, we never asked, will support them.

Does your decision have anything to do with the surveillance thing?

Swell, imagine the non-headline "Unknown English-language blog out of Germany shuts down in protest of widespread government surveillance!"

It ain't so. Sure, we prefer Widespread Panic to Widespread Surveillance, which sane human being wouldn't? Unchecked surveillance is dangerous, as we found out first hand: Those news caused TheEditor to shake its (gender neutral) head hard enough to suffer a minor concussion. From which it has fully recovered.

As a wise man once said, as you hit 30, your experience widens but your options narrow. To which a wise woman responded....

Will there be updates on your New Year's Resolutions?

Not after this post. They are all done already!

1) Nobody on the planet needs Hewlett Packard. 2) We have opened a few new email accounts and subscribed to wonderful news out of the corporate world -- thus becoming hidden, unsung job creators, thank you. 3) And we got a TOR hidden service prototype up and running, just to prove to ourselves that we could set up such a thing. No, it won't be there for you or anybody else to play with. Setting up such a service is not trivial. Learning how to prevent ssh root logins, how to prevent a proxy or a web server from advertising its name and version number, forcing the mime type of documents, disabling directory traversal, restricting php, making sure that firewall is set up correctly, it is work. It is like that wise man said when asked "why in the world would you learn Russian?"

Because I want to figure things out by myself, not rely on some "expert".

This leaves us with the timeless question "Cui Bono?"

If you don't know the answer to this, how about Chaz Bono.

Have a happy and safe 2014.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sex and the Germans, Part 3; The Horny Professor

Part 3 of the efforts of the K-Landnews Random Research Team may sound as salacious as the vampire fan fiction turned overrated novel, yes, the one with all the shades of grey.  Nothing could be further from it.

The professor did, indeed, profess his strong desire for female companionship, however, in an altogether different context.

He uttered "I really need a woman now" when the nurse first stopped by in the early hours of the morning. Then he promptly forgot about it.  Although the staff could not be certain of this and thus mentioned the episode during the shift change briefing at the old folks home.

Should we make a call to get the requested company? the head nurse asked.

As funny as it may sound, the care of old people seems to have progressed beyond the simple routine of "keep them clean, make sure they take their meds and verify the TV is working".

Smokers are allowed to have a cigarette. If friends or family provide the cigs, and if the resident can go or roll out onto the porch -- the building is strictly non-smoking inside.

Though, again, the nature of the condition (Alzheimer's, dementia, the toll of old age) also means that many a smoker simply forgets that he or she has been smoking.

But if they remember for long enough, they do get their smoke break.

And those who used to drink, they do get a beer or a glass of wine with their evening meal.

And the more carnal desires as expressed by the professor that morning? While there is, on occasion, romance in the old folks home, that's not what we are talking about.

We do provide for these desires on occasion, explains the head nurse. If we conclude that the patient, or resident, benefits from it, we'll make a call to a provider of such services. We are there to make the last years or months of a person comfortable, pleasant, we are not in the business of dictating how people who are losing their hold on reality need to feel. Of course, some institutions are more open to folks like the professor.

If you need to know, just in case you are planning ahead: private, non-religious facilities are your best bet for comprehensive care. In Germany, that is. We do not know how the professors fare in a care facility in the U.S. -- do you know?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Deadbeat dads in Germany

From a modern day legal standpoint, one could call God a typical deadbeat dad.

He gets a young woman pregnant, does not tell her (instead he sends a buddy to break the news), he vanishes into thin air, leaving Joseph to bring up His son.  No child support payments, not a single post card - not even on Christmas.

Then, later on the son gets killed, and dad goes all sentimental "oh, my son, he will be forever at my side"!

Before you call this blasphemy or anti-religious, please try to understand that this is a legal view only.  There are more than enough examples of similar legal thinking in today's societies, right?

In modern day Germany, deadbeat dads have a surprisingly easy life compared to the United States. Sure, they can and do garnish wages around here if you do not pay up but getting to that point seems to take much longer.

And the Germans are not into making your life as a deadbeat dad utterly miserable beyond this.

Stateside, a nifty system of going after deadbeats has developed. It basically includes extending punishment into any and all areas of your deadbeat life.

Suspending a driver's license as a means to enforce child support is legal in many if not all U.S. states. Seeing how dependent many U.S. residents are on a car, the measure kind of equals an "if you don't pay, you don't eat" approach.

There are mumblings in Germany nowadays to go after the driver's licence of individuals for infringements that have nothing to do with cars and driving. Yes, globalization can be a bitch, my friend.

But, as far as we can tell, the serial deadbeat German dad who inspired the post will wiggle out of another few thousand Euros of child support long before the measure becomes law.

Dr. Who and the war on Christmas

This year's Dr. Who Christmas Special featured a war on Christmas!

Once again, science fiction met British humor, and we got all the fireworks we could want. Granted, this happened on the planet Trenzalore, its only Earth born visitor to date being Carla, the impossible girl, so the "my space suit is bigger than yours" buffs are not interested. The Daleks, as cunning and as numerous as they may be, seem to be on their way to becoming nothing but an army of cosmic Roombas with guns. Could this be how the Daleks evolved, did they start out as Roombas on planet Earth, eventually becoming a shelter for the little guys inside?

As to the credibility of the plot, we found it much more credible than the plot lines in the Fox News War on Christmas.

The Fox News War on Christmas correspondents either failed to notice it, or - less likely but in the realm of cosmic probability - got the hint and shut up.

Looking at the bigger picture, after all Christmas is The Big Picture Event, Dr. Who once again managed to redeem the United Kingdom from some of the political craziness we have seen play out on the isles this year. 

Even the cybermen, easily the greatest villains, not just in the current Dr. Who series, were represented by a nice, if slightly damaged travel companion aboard the Tardis.

Is 2014 going to be the year of "you will be upgraded"? 

If someone, no matter how human they look, offers you a free upgrade, think twice before you accept.

Other than that, Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The pain of the expert

A recurring theme in the open space of the web is the death of expert authority, a dislike of expert opinion in a world awash with social media.

It can be painful to see how a highly educated expert grapples with the subject, trying to make a case for listening to and heeding what experts tell us.

The most painful aspect comes to light when we get to see genuine doubt by experts, when mistakes made by experts are acknowledged in a serious way. No, egregious mistakes and errors of judgement are not being acknowledged in a statement like "when experts make mistakes they fail spectacularly" because we believe that spectacular failure is the wrong term, and disaster is generally more accurate.

It does not help the case if the Dunning-Kruger effect is invoked in defense of experts in a slightly incorrect way. "The dumb are those most convinced they are right" is a little off, unless - maybe - you include smart people in the "dumb" group.

The latter is what we are doing frequently on this blog, but it does not seem to be how the defense of experts interprets it. The common examples of the benefits of expertise are the doctor and the car mechanic. Easily understood, doctors generally beat faith healers, and car mechanics fix that most precious object of modern life, the motor vehicle.

Yet, both examples can be used to show why we, including the writer of this post, often fail "to value expertise".

How so?

Because just a few generations ago, almost all medical doctors in the Western world were no better than faith healers today. Arab doctors in Spain were, as far as we can tell, light years ahead of their faith driven Christian colleagues. Sure, we should give 21st century medicine more credit than earlier doctors. At the same time, incompetent doctors exist today, too.

And the engineering PhD at your local university has arguably better credentials than car mechanics, yet you are not likely to take your car to the engineering department for an oil change.

Complaints about disrespect towards experts at times also obscure that older experts have a low opinion of young people who are not bona fide child prodigies.
An indicator of distrust of young people is that many modern experts use a reversal of the don't trust anybody over 30 slogan from the 1960s: don't trust anybody under thirty.

On social media, many a credentialed expert is rightly upset about aggressive or plain wrong tweets aimed at them. This is another dilemma of every human: you expect to be treated in accordance with your self-view or the views of your peers. On Twitter or Facebook, a full list of academic titles or chairmanships tend to express these expectations.

But they don't protect you against yourself.

At the end of the day, communication becomes a matter of the frame of reference we emphasize so frequently on these pages.

To the expert in national security, it may be perfectly fine to call Edward Snowden's Channel 4 UK Christmas address "Ed's bumptiously self-important" while letting HM The Queen's address go without comment.

To be sure, we liked the Queen's address, we liked Mr. Snowden's too. Each from its own frame of reference.

As to disrespect shown to experts, does it really matter all that much? You make good money, right? People pay you well for speaking for half an hour or so. Which means, like the blogster here, you are complaining from a comfortable position.

We do feel your pain, though. Getting old and irrelevant happens automatically, but that does not make it any easier.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Go home to your own country

We have written several posts about thinly veiled or total in your face xenophobia in Western Europe. The United Kingdom, as the canary in the coal mine, and Austria as "little Germany" have been the butts of our jokes.

But there is more.

You can get an unfriendly "go home to your own country" in other places. The old German expat couple, having been robbed three times in as many years, the man hospitalized after being stabbed in the last robbery, were given a brash "go home to your own country" by an African official.

However, we made the choice to hang on to the belief that for every such dumb ass official, many more do their job correctly, maybe not with big, welcoming smiles all the time, but at least without aggression.

Waiting at the arrival gate of the airport, seeing almost exclusively white folks come through the opaque sliding glass doors while, at the same time, noting that the small crowd waiting for passengers was about half white and half black, the thought "does this mean anything" crept up.

Two planes out of Africa had landed about five minutes apart, and the stream of white people, with a handful or so of blacks mixed in, was getting almost eerie about 45 minutes after arrival.

Our passenger arrived, and we headed out. On the way to the parking lot, the passenger explained: German immigration comes on board before they let any passenger disembark. This time, officials had hardly put their feet on the plane when they took two blacks off. The officials then continued to methodically check the papers of all black passengers as the whites get off.

Christmas, cats and make-believe

For Western children, Christmas is the single most important time of "make-believe", for American adults there are two dates, Independence Day and Halloween, but that's another story.

Do other mammals do make-believe?

Some do. Our cats do.

They know that the mice we bring home from the pet store are not real. Which does not prevent them from enjoying the fake mice. Same with the laser pointer. Once they saw that the laser dot on the floor was controlled by a human, they stopped reacting to the dot. Any further attempt by the human to tease them with a laser pointer only elicited a response that, in human terms, is clearly a "dirty look".

Last night, they were tearing around the house. The Cowboy Cat took to the black winter coat hanging on the door. For a few minutes, the coat became some sort of monster or something interesting to be taken down, to be hunted.

Interest soon waned, and they rushed off to other pursuits.

Like exhausted children, but without the sugar rush, they soon found chairs, rolled up, and went to sleep, one on them talking in her dreams.

Merry Make-Believe.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

News from the hamster ball

The "Third Rock from the Sun" is a cute misnomer, sorry it took us so long to realize it.

It is a giant, mostly wet (as in: a swimming pool into which everybody pees wet), partly rocky hamster ball hurtling through space.

This realization was the unlikely outcome of an image from a youngish journalist attacking some utterly ficticius "Cult of Snowden" and a Politico article "Take this town and shove it" taking us to the web site "The Exiled".

Having grocked, or as they should say in late 2013 Germany "GroKo-ed", the reality of the hamster ball has had a calming effect on the folks here at the K-Landnews.

More so, it has given us the courage to predict some of the major trends of the upcoming year.

In a nutshell, 2014 will be like 2013, only the labels will change.

Most people on the hamster ball will be as busy putting food on the table in 2014 as they were in 2013. The same old faces, just a little older, will tell us what to buy, what to think, how to vote. There will be a few new faces hailed as saviors or super villains or both. People will die in various corners of the hamster ball in acts of "senseless violence", and we won't blink twice at this senseless adjective or at all the others just like it.

As to the K-Landnews, we'll continue to write about non-issues, continue to offer real or fake upset about everything and everybody.

Except about the cats and other non-human mammals.

So, Happy Holidays to y'all.

P.S.: "Happy Holidays" does not mean we ignore Christmas. Happy Holidays is simply, get this, a greeting that covers both Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Expressed in the universal language of mathematics: Happy Holidays = Merry Christmas + Happy New Year. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Old Man and the Tree

As Christmas time approached and the search for a tree morphed from abstract concept to practical undertaking, we became aware of a curious fact.

We know, first hand or second hand, several funny stories about Christmas trees, most involving trees which temporarily moved from their original location to the home of someone else.

One or two of the stories even made the newspaper, with an intrepid reporter describing a faint trail of bits of tinsel and shards of broken ornaments between the tree's original location and its improvised home.

A German variant recounted by an old lady adds some local Christmas cheer.

My father would work in the forest for much of the winter, and he would bring a Christmas tree a few days before Christmas. One year, he did not come home before dark. An hour passed, then another. Mother went and fed the cows and the pigs, we had dinner ready, but dad did not show up.
As the clock in the kitchen inched towards 9 pm, we began to get worried. It was not uncommon for people to get hurt while logging, and mom's voice betrayed increasing worry.

Towards 9:30 or so, we heard the front door open, heard a muffled curse, then the kitchen door flew open, a Christmas tree appeared, followed by dad. He was not hurt.

Over dinner, he recounted how he had cut the tree on a neighbor's property and then walked home along the main road. At the time, few people here had cars, and whenever he heard a vehicle he'd drop the tree and just walk on. Once the vehicle had passed, he'd turn around, pick up the tree and continue.

There was so much traffic, he smiled, I kept dumping the tree, then I had to backtrack, pick it up, walk a couple hundred yards, dump it, pick it up again. He ended his tale with a sigh: Of course, if anybody had asked, I could have told them the tree is from our property. Nobody would have crawled around the forest in the dark to check where one measly tree came from.

Starting the following year, we'd buy our Christmas tree at the town hall auction like everybody else. Trees were cheap back then, the town didn't make a profit on Christmas trees back then.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Come si dice "numbnut" in italiano?

An Italian army reservist is being prosecuted for saving a cat's life in Kosovo, reports the British Guardian newspaper.

Read the whole story in the Guardian.

We wanted to send an email in Italian in support of the doctor but it is probably safer to send one in English in order to avoid any inadvertent insults. 

There is a positive side to this mind bending story, though: No country has a monopoly on insensitive people.

In the trenches of the war on Christmas

It has become a Christmas tradition of its own, at least to some folks at Fox News and a few radio stations.

The "war on Christmas" gets plenty of air time every year back home in the U.S.

Every single change to the name of a parade is lambasted as yet more proof that an unholy coalition of democrats, atheists, and some unnamed dark forces are set to destroy Christmas. Every sizable public non-Tannenbaum display is scrutinized for compliance with the pagan-christian mix of  traditions known today as Christmas.
And every sizable public non-Tannenbaum fails the test.

The writers of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report can go on autopilot and paste together a few clips making fun of the Fox people.

We took you down this path of interpretation, now it is time to take another turn, thanks to the flexibility of the English language. 

The other reading of the title "In the trenches of the war on Christmas" moves the emphasis of the sentence from"war on Christmas" to "the trenches of the war" at Christmas time.

Treated as an urban myth for a long time and for obvious reasons, the incredibly brutal trenches of the First World War saw a Christmas break, during which Germans and opposing soldiers came out of their trenches, talked, sang, had meals together.

They broke the vicious cycle of the tit for tat of "you shoot at me, I shoot at you" and brought the killing machine to a stop, for up to a week in some places on the Western front.

This pissed off the generals - on both sides. Eventually, the chain of command won, strangling the insurgent peace.

As it turns out, for peace to take hold in the trenches of World War I, the opposing sides needed to be in close proximity, so they could cautiously evaluate the effect of ceasing fire and building trust.

Next time you see some folks on TV talking themselves into a faux rage at Christmas time, press the mute button and reflect for a second. Maybe, just maybe, enemies celebrating Christmas together less than 100 years ago saved the life of your great grandfather.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Christmas moment on Grafton Street

Grafton Street is the main drag of the City of Dublin, Ireland. According to Wikipedia, it is one of two main shopping streets, but let's be honest, the pubs right off Grafton make the difference.

Grafton Street is decked out for Christmas like any big shopping street, and we found this website with photos of the Lighting Ceremony of 2013. At one end of Grafton Street, you find Ireland's Favorite Coffee and Tea Company, Bewley's, and Grafton goes out from there towards St. Stephen's.

Shoppers and revellers are out in force in the evenings and on the weekends.

One night before Christmas, a friend of the K-Landnews recounted a brief episode witnessed on Grafton.

I was standing next to M&S, taking in the bustle of the street before heading home. A group of young women heading north caught my eye, they were five or six, twenties, maybe early thirties, all wearing Santa hats, laughing, holding each others hands or hooked under. They took up much of the width of the street, and oncomers ducked and weaved to get out of their way. All of a sudden, one of the women broke free of the group and, picking up pace, headed for a solitary young man who was heading south on the other side of the street. She made a beeline for him. He stopped, she said something, and he nodded, lowering his head a little. She pecked him on the cheek, and they hugged.
Right about then, the rest of the group had caught up with her, and the woman closed to her reached out and pulled her back. She was obviously reluctant to let go. There was lots of giggling in the group as I heard her say: I had to, he looked so Christmassy.

This has become one of our essential Christmas stories,  because of this moment of closeness among strangers. We'll never know if the young woman or the young man have held on to that moment. But we do.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The eternal sunshine of the expat life

There are many reasons to become an expatriate; the expat life has its advantages and pitfalls, but there is one group of expats who may be more vulnerable than others.

We are talking of Western retirees with very limited funds, those lower middle class folks whose pensions make them poor in their home country but are high enough to maintain their lifestyle in some other countries.

Those other countries tend to be on the poorer side, and this sets the stage for some harrowing experiences, as a recent story about a German couple in Kenya illustrates.

When the couple retired, they looked at their pension and found they'd live a frugal life thereafter unless they moved to another country. They eventually settled on Kenya, where their German pension would be enough to maintain their current lifestyle, with lots of sunshine as an added bonus.

They arrived in their new country as late 50s, early 60s, spry folks and made themselves at home within the larger expat community.  Then, a few years later, their life took a turn to the worse, a turn which is ending with the old lady leaving the country with the clothes on her back and a suitcase. The husband will follow soon as he fights of corrupt police and officials. Right now, he has to pay some 300 Euros a month in bribes to stay out of jail.

How did he manage to face being put in jail?

He went to buy the ticket home for his wife, and the travel agent called the police, saying that his German issued passport looked like a fake. 

In a somewhat orderly country, they would check the passport, find it genuine and be done with it.

Not so, apparently, in Kenya.

How much of this is part of why Kenya has such an abysmal corruption record is not clear.

The couple's age may have something to do with it. Did they contact the German embassy in Nairobi?  Would the embassy be willing and able to help, or would they refer them to a local lawyer.

If you think about finding a place in the sun, and we are not talking of Arizona or Florida here, do extensive research. 

Starting retirement as an expat and ending that time as a refugee is not a good prospect.

GroKo this!

The word of the year 2013 in Germany is GroKo, short for Grosse Koalition, the temporary political marriage of the two big parties, the elephants in parliament.

Pompously translated as "grand coalition", this frequent constellation of government at the federal level stands for business as usual, a likely quiet four years ahead.

Since the junior partner SPD (the social democrats) had, a first in Germany, a vote by the party rank and file on the coalition agreement, it is fair to say that the wrangling and backroom dealing has more democratic support than in previous years. And, most importantly, there are more female ministers than before.

The choice of GroKo as the word of the year by the self-styled guardians of the German language has drawn some criticism and ridicule.

But, in our opinion, it reflects the business as usual atmosphere much more than even the selection panel may realize.

Take two well established components, join them together using the rule that both have to give up something, add a little bit of spice - more women in the government version, an ever so slightly capitalized letter K in the word of the year -  and all is well.

Since the proof is in the pudding, only the coming years will tell how it all works out.

Do the Germans know how lucky they are that they don't have Christmas pudding?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Define Work

The recent American uproar about unpaid internships has its German, more muted, equivalent.

And guess what?

The German federal government is having numerous unpaid internship positions. The most sought after departments, like foreign affairs, pay zero Euros, which comes out to zero dollars, to their interns for 40 hours of work a week.

Despite recent changes to the law, they can do this because of a not very subtle but effective differentiation of the kinds of internships offered.

There are two, voluntary and mandatory internships.

A voluntary internship is the kind where a youngster wakes up in the morning and says to himself or herself, hey, I want to do an internship at the German treasury, let's apply. If you get this kind of internship, you get paid the awesome amount of 300 Euros per month. Which may or may not be enough to have a daily warm meal.

Then there is the mandatory internship. The kind your college makes you do in order to get credits, the kind someone makes you do for whatever reasons.
You do not get paid for these.

The ingenious difference lies in the definition of "work". Mandatory internships are legally not "work". Schlepping boxes, writing speeches, organizing events as part of a mandatory internship do not count as work. The law does not say as what these activities count. We assume they count as "fun". And the German government - still - does not like paying people to have fun. A point sometimes overlooked but felt accutely by those citizens on the basic social welfare program Hartz-IV. There is no fun allowance in this program either.

By offering only "mandatory" internship positions to the couple of thousand people who land one each year, the German government saves what must be huge amounts of taxpayer money (300 x 12 x 2000 Euros per year).

It is not known what the savings are used for, but there is a new airport in Berlin that is set to gobble up a few hundred years worth of savings on internships.

The concept of defining work as needed might have other applications, if you find the courage to think outside of the box. Retiree benefits, for instance, are tied to the number of years in "work". Creative redefinition of work could save the government massive amounts of money. All they need to do is codify the view out on the street that government employees don't really work, and bingo, the majority of government debt would be wiped out.

The great American Krampus Kraze of 2013

It's official, the beastly St. Nick/Santa sidekick Krampus is focusing on the United States in 2013.

We have seen Krampus themed episodes of Grimm, American Dad, and other TV shows and we were wondering if it was just an expression of our view from Europe or a different phenomenon. Krampus watchers are vigilant, as befits the dangers posed by the creature, and have already updated the Wikipedia page with the latest TV sightings of the horned critter.

Confirmation from friends in the U.S. just arrived: Krampus is performing highly public shenanigans in the U.S. this year!

In Los Angeles alone, there was a Krampus Fest with 20+ Krampus clones, leaving us to further wonder what the correct plural of Krampus is? Such numbers are usually reserved to hordes of jolly Santas!

Krampuses? Krampi?

The scary monster, out to flog naughty children, or even put them into a big burlap sack, must have good reasons to haunt the U.S. this year. Is it, as American Dad claims, the naughty sense of entitlement of our children? Or is it the eternal story of the dark and the light, as Grimm appears to suggest?

Could it be that Krampus has been emboldened by perceived headway made by the human forces of darkness in recent years? Is the resurgence of coal related to the Krampus phenomenon? Does the rise of metal music have anything to do with the Krampus revival?

We need the BBC to investigate this, unless the government has issued a Krampus D-notice, of course. Maybe the softball BBC Hardtalk could tackle the Krampus question to give us confused onlookers some real value for money for once.   

The writers of Grimm know a lot more about Krampus than they let on. What does Krampus do during the rest of the year? Is he a small time photographer from Salt Lake City, or is he changing his incarnations? One year, he may take over the persona of a prime minister going after naught adults, the next, he becomes a bulky mayor showing the world that you too can smoke crack and be a mayor.

Look around, find the Krampus during the 330 odd days when he is not out as his horned self.

And let us know.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Year's Resolution 3: Make a TOR Hidden Service prototype

Three resolutions are enough, don't you agree?

In order of ascending difficulty, this one is it. Why this geeky project, why not something inherently useful?  The answer fits into a single word: curiosity.

Configuring a TOR hidden service is described on the TOR website, and in the scoping of the effort, we found that the focus will actually be on hardening the operating system, installing a web server, and on populating the web server with something useful.

We will set up a simple file upload service, without using javascript.

If you were to set up such a service on a USB stick installation of Linux, you would have a mobile, protected web server -- a personal "cloud".

There is an unlimited number of what we in the biz call use cases for such a simple hidden service:

If you are a group of artists working on a project together, you could share the various iterations of the work before you publish Van Gogh 2.0 or Miles Davis 3.5.

If you have a friend in China who just took the cutest baby panda photo ever, the friend can upload it for you to stick it on YouTube.

If you manage to successfully enrol in a healthcare plan on the "Obamacare" web site, you can take a screenshot of the success message and forward it to you wife and children (they need their own USB sticks). This way,you won't inadvertently CC a "Success" email to other, less successful family members, potentially causing a family rift over Christmas.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mangled, twisted, expiring bits

In 2013, bits and their aggregates, the bytes, words and DWords (that would be compounds for you Germans) have suffered more than in the previous years.

Twisted and mangled beyond recognition, they litter the worldwide web. Innumerable bits which looked sound, healthy at the beginning of the year, met an early demise in the second half of 2013.

Concepts and statements carefully crafted by highly educated and well regarded people imploded or blew up in our faces. The remains of once strong and shiny metaphors dot the mental landscapes, abandoned like unwanted toddler toys. But there are no adults doing the cleanup.

The old days of carefree surfing in the sunshine of the internet are over. We have been conditioned to watch out for the sharks, who would appear out of the deep dark, we had been warned of pollution, had looked on as government officials closed off "dangerous" stretches of beaches based on unscientific criteria.

Newbies who carefully dipped their motherboards in the shallow waters on the warm beach were afraid of sharks and stinging creatures, afraid of the bullies one sand castle over.

We believed the happy, smiling life guards in their white towers were scouring the open water to keep us safe. Of course, we knew that some of the life guards would use their binoculars to check out some T & A, but it was harmless fun.

Most of us had no idea that the bulldozers and armed guards had assembled behind the dunes, that most of "dangerous" beaches were not dangerous but wonderful locations for gated communities, with the plans for condos having been filed and quietly approved a long time ago.

Time to be the adults our parents only pretended to be.

Bits, the God particles of social media cohesion, may be less attractive to you if you happened to cross the magic Western age threshold from 29 years to 30 this year. But it is going to be fine.

We want you back, said the title of an email not long ago.

Who has never craved to receive an email that says we want you back, or I want you back?

The visceral, emotional appeal of "we want you back" works as intended. You open the email despite seeing that the sender is the healthcare provider you had in a long forgotten other life. Health insurance starting at 495 dollars. Yeah, you jokers.

We won't ask the healthcare provider to stop emailing us. In fact, this is what gave us the idea to be a bit more open minded and create some email accounts to collect more invaluable reminders and updates from other sites.

It is also healthier to not fret and stress about unwanted email.

Or about the lifeguards in their white towers -- they will be fat, disillusioned middle aged men sooner than they realize.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Year's Resolution 2: Subscribe to email from lots of web sites

To some, this comes naturally, to others it is a complete change in online behavior.

As someone who used to get a bit ticked off when "unsubscribe" functions on a web site would trigger a message saying this will take 2 weeks, the plan to subscribe to more useless notifications, product news and other crap may be unusual.

But after a re-evaluation, the situation is different: it is a win-win.

All those companies. institutions, and non-profits with or without products but always with "news" or "important notifications" use the number of subscribers for many purposes. One of them being the decision to provide the resources needed to produce a newsletter or email blitz in the first place.

By signing up for tons, we imagine that we provide unpaid internships or give low paid writers something to do.

And we help those who want to save everything we do online by making their jobs more valued, we help their procurement people, we help software makers around the globe.

Realizing the power of inertia, the extent of this venture may not become an all out information grab on our part but a handful of new accounts with several assigned happy producers of product emails, event notifications and adult services spammers will be a start.

Old mustached German (OMG), familiar to some of our readers, broke into a grin so wide we feared for his jaw muscles. I like it, he said, you are turning a fuck me site into a fuck you site!

This old German bluntness is still refreshing to our ears after all these years.

Our intention is more nuanced, we have the Random Research (RR) team ready for the online sex dating sites. The RR team will try to find out how many gorgeous 25 year old women are really interested in hooking up with a balding, slightly overweight 40 year old male.

Other notifications are meant to enlarge our online presence, showing us to be voracious, sophisticated citizens.

And who cares if the newsletter from protein folding web site Folding@Home goes into the same inbox as an update from, say "college rules"? 

[Update] New Year's Resolution 1: Continue to not buy Hewlett-Packard

It's that time of the year again, the bitter sweet process of making resolutions.

These resolutions typically are about change that is difficult, but we decided to start with an easy one.  The obvious advantage is that you won't feel like a failure when you don't do the more difficult ones.

Continue not to buy Hewlett-Packard products is such an easy, success guaranteed resolution.

For new readers, we invite you to go back a year and see how we bitched about HP chips on printer cartridges as a game of evil monopoly. Sure, we can understand the rationale for doing things the new HP way: money.

But as in other areas of life, not everything you can do is advisable in a social context. On the bright side, there is enough choice in home printers, so the resolution is not a burden. The same turned out to be true for the new computer that replaced the ancient Dell earlier this year, walking past the HP computers in the store was no effort at all.

Of course, we won't go as far as investigating if any device is using some OEM version of something HP, has licenced a patent from them and so forth.

For our limited version of "no HP", we go by the box. If the box doesn't say Hewlett-Packard, we are satisfied.

[Update] Looks like we are not the only ones. HP is laying off more people than planned - or previously copped on to - in order to please the shareholders. Well done.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ah, German service industry: the shoeshine man returns

Not long ago, the western business community was abuzz with the brave new world of the knowledge society, where manual labor and making things were no longer relevant to our wealth.

Personally, I found the term knowledge society nice but at the same time condescending because it seemed to neglect the knowledge of previous generations. The example of the farmer comes in handy: you cannot do farming without a pretty comprehensive set of knowledge and skills.

Right on the heels of the knowledge society came the service economy, much of the same, just less knowledge and even fewer people who make things.

In light of everything, is it surprising that a few shoeshine men have set up shop again in Germany?

In Big City USA, of course, the shoeshine man never went away completely. The job appeals too much to the American understanding of a man down on his luck putting in an honest day's of work to get back on his feet.

The current German version is a part time shoe shiner, driven more by nostalgia, a liking of good shoes and fun. Where does the modern German shoeshine man get his training?
It is a valid question given the job went extinct over here.

The answer is predictable. The Google Shoeshine Boys, like Dr. Google and others, have put out all the information you need to start shining shoes without destroying a few hundred pairs as part of your learning curve.

If  we see a modern German shoeshine man in person in our upcoming tour of Christmas markets, we'll post a photo.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The new old European prostitution debate

German tabloid Bild Zeitung is running an article about a woman supplementing the infamous bare bones Hartz-IV social security payment by working in a bordello a few days a month.

This is but one of the many recent articles throughout the German media on a bitterly fought debate about changes to the prostitution laws in this country. While prostitution was made legal some ten years ago, a new debate has been started by various legal changes in other European countries where a reversal of policies has taken place. In Sweden, buying sex has been made illegal (offering it has not), and a similar statute change is under way in France.

So, Bild is, of course, using the opportunity to shed light on the normally under reported plight of folks on Hartz-IV by adding a photo of a not fully dressed lady.

To Bild's credit, they do not claim that the benefits are so inadequate that you cannot afford a full set of clothing.

As in France and Sweden, very real issues like human trafficking, rape, and violence are being mixed with plain moral views [all men are animals - which is technically correct] and legal arguments.

Even those politicians who want to (re-)criminalize prostitution do not plan to criminalize prostitutes, which shows that decades of research have made some impact. The people to be criminalized are the customers, which many German readers find offensive, "why punish one party and not the other" they complain.

Arguments for and against the business are so repetitive and well known that we won't bother with details.

We will instead focus on the inevitable rise of the snuggle industry in Europe (usually three to five years after a trend blooms in the U.S.), which means we have another two years to prepare for that debate. Right now, Europe is being introduced to the snuggle for cash concept through reports like this one about the Snuggle House in Madison, WI.

[Update 10/29/2015] BILD Zeitung seems to be doing a steady stream of stories on ladies who supplement basic means tested benefits with nudie work. We see frequent blips on Twitter.
The current German government has pushed a new law for the "protection of sex workers" with registration requirements that negate the "protection" aspect.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Research report, part 2, Sex and the Germans

The K-Landnews Random Research team disappeared for several days after delivery of the first part of its research into the fascinating subject "Sex and the Germans".

The RR team ceased all communication. Voice calls went straight to voicemail, emails were never answered, chat requests fell flat.

TheEditor, not easily worried, began rummaging through the cabinets for stationary, mumbling "a letter by mail", then settled for a sheet of paper from the printer tray.

Gee, this place does not even have any standard letter envelopes any more.

Right then the doorbell rang, if you can call the intermittent croaking, tinny sound a "ring".

It was the leader of the RR team. Redfaced as if he had just done a half marathon, he went: Sorry, really sorry. I think that the NSA might have my penis length and girth in their database now. 


Well, you read the report about the NSA collecting porn data of people, right? I'm sure that the profile data on the German web site you made us investigate is a lot more interesting to them than which free porn clips you watch!

What's with the profile data?

This website has a tremendously detailed profile, not just the height and weight stuff, but detailed physical data, like the cup size for women and the penis length for men. There are fields for "do you wear glasses", which parts are shaved or not, whether you smoke. Then they have a twenty or so item list of sexual preferences.

You did not fill out a profile, or did you?

Well, you said we should research, and research means correct data.

Oh, my god.

So, I panicked, I'm sorry. I spent endless hours trying to get someone from customer service and ask them to erase my profile. That failed, so I changed my profile. I am now a 200 pound midget with a 1 inch member. 

THAT makes you feel safer?

Eventually, I found that I can simply deactivate my profile. Here is the second part of our report, the team leader said, holding out a USB stick.

The report itself did not have anything that we consider worth writing about, so we settled for the meta story in the form of the exchange quoted above.

When Germans do customer service: BillSafe

Remember the old days of shopping?

Select item, hand over money, done?

These days, much of shopping has gone the way of the internet, and so has the payment. There are many payment options, one of them is BillSafe, a provider service owned by PayPal.

We are now in round three or four of a messy payment using BillSafe and will share the experience.

Round 1:
Buy something on the internet and get an order confirmation. Here is the order confirmation. It is in two parts because we took screenshots. Part 1 is fine, is has the order number, sales tax, and price.

Part 2 is the interesting section. Note the absence of payment information, specifically, there is no bank account to send money to, the routing number is "0", and there is no due date.

So, we wait for an invoice.

Round 2:
After around four weeks without an invoice, we start to wonder and think, well, give them another couple of weeks and we'll ask where the invoice is.
As week 5 ends, a letter arrives from BillSafe. It is labeled "past due notice" and tells us to pay the original amount plus a 7.65 Euro late fee.

They give a new format SEPA account to send the money to (note we changed the numbers a bit for privacy)

Empfänger: PayPal
IBAN: DE88025427
Bank: Deutsche Bank
Verwendungszweck: BT26009

The small problem: my bank does not do SEPA yet, but there is help from BillSafe. They do have the rare toll free number!

I call and explain that I have not received any invoice, and that the only email (the screenshots above) had no payment information. The helpful agent gives me a standard account number and routing number, so I can pay. What to do about the  "past due notice"?

The answer is contact the seller to tell them I did not get an invoice. The seller can then get BillSafe to cancel the late fee.

Round 3:
I contact the seller and explain the past due letter, telling them that nothing like an invoice ever came and that the only correspondence had no payment information and no due date.
By the time I contacted the seller, I had transferred the original amount. I had not sent the late fee and told them so.
The seller gave the impression that the matter was now settled. My last Email saying "I hope there won't be any further issues" received a friendly "I hope so, too" response.

Round 4:
An Email nastygram from a PayPal rep in Luxembourg tells me they have received the original amount but not the late fee. It says they cannot undo the late fee without confirmation by the seller. And it says that I must expect more fees if there is no confirmation that I did not get an invoice in the first place.

An Email response goes to PayPal and to the seller asking to please take care of the matter.

[Update] Round 5:
It is Sunday, so imagine my surprise when - a minute after hitting Publish on Blogger - an Email arrives saying that BillSafe is removing the late fee. They remind me to please make sure future payments are done on time.

Lessons learned: if no valid invoice from an internet retailer shows up after a couple of weeks, send a one-liner to customer service.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Black Screen of Death repair 101: remove the battery

In the swanky world of MS Windows 8.0, a world of screen tiles and no start button, there is a single thing you should not do with your new notebook.

Do not take it to the vendor service counter if the cool machine won't start up one day.

We had the not so rare opportunity to dive into the world of MS Windows 8.0 and learn all about the Black Screen of Death.

If you are one of the many millions of users who have come to accept the Blue Screen of Death, the folks of Redmond, WA., have a new one for you, the Black Screen of Death.

Windows 8.0 will show a black screen with a cursor when your boot fails.

No error message, none of the old cool reminders to press F2 for the BIOS or F8 for Safe Mode. Gone in the name of faster startup and slickness.

And in the name of security, there is the new UEFI feature which prevents installation of viruses and, incidentally, Linux.

So, if you are like most users, you will experience the mixture of rage and guilt that overcomes normal people when their computer won't start up.

You will direct that rage at Microsoft. Note that we do not support rage, it is a bad evolutionary leftover. But we cannot ignore it either.

Because the boogie man is Microsoft.

You will feel a little better and be able to ignore your guilt. The guilt of not having saved your crucial data on an external drive, the guilt of not having taken the 20 or thirty minutes it takes to make a recovery CD or USB drive.

But much of the rage is misplaced.

Because Microsoft has made lots of invisible improvements over the years. Windows 8.0 can recover from situations the older versions could not.

You should direct some of the rage towards the hardware maker.

Here is why: The instructional videos on troubleshooting on the computer maker websites lie. They do not lie on purpose but out of the omission that comes with knowing your stuff too well.

For example, not a single one of those websites we reviewed starts with the simplest of simple instructions: remove the battery and leave it out.

Instead, a friendly if not very camera experienced technician will show you how to get into the BIOS by pressing F2. It works beautifully, just not on your machine.


Because the battery keeps some, let's call it stuff, alive on your machine, preventing it to shut down "all the way". Windows won't tell you, the computer won't tell you.

If you ever get a black screen with a visible cursor and your computer is a notebook or a netbook, take out the battery.

Leave it out.

Hook up the wall socket power supply. Have a cup of coffee, then press the on button.

In a lot of cases, the computer will start. Make that backup of data and that recovery disc. Shut it down. Then put the battery back in.

If this does not work, maybe your hard drive is corrupted or dead, too bad. You need expert help, but don't go to the big box store customer service quite yet. Find the local repair guy who will try to save your data first.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Scary dreams

TheEditor has a hard time understanding parents when they wonder why their children have scary dreams since "they have nothing to be scared about".

Children practice life, says TheEditor.

This night time entertainment can have some physical consequences, as teenagers and the parents doing the laundry know. As an adult, if you are lucky, you can get hours of royalty free entertainment and insights out of dreams. If you are unlucky, of course, dreams can haunt and even cripple you.

One of the K-landnews folks had such an entertaining dream, consisting of geese that turned out to be drones performing all sorts of mischief.

Very funny, was the unanimous verdict.

The long winter nights must be good for something. Entertaining dreams are a great antidote to the hourly news which can depress the less resilient among us.

We'll skip the news today to pay attention to the cats' dreams after their scratching rug underwent deep cleaning and they have been playing on it like it was the best thing ever.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Penalties as incentives for smart meters?

The new German government of the two biggest parties, the "grand" coalition that has historically not managed to achieve anything grand for the country, is almost inevitable now.

The junior partner SPD will have a vote of the party base on the coalition agreement. A vote that theoretically could nix the coalition but for all intents and purposes the docile SPD members will give the leadership a nod, and then nod off for four years until the next general election.

From the looks of it, this government will cost the citizens a lot of money. The small improvements to retirement benefits for non-working mothers and a proposal for retirement at age 63 if you had 45 years of social security contributions will eat up the pension coffers surplus. A minimum wage is coming, too. Starting in 2015, rising incrementally for some jobs to "full" minimum wage 2017, just before the next election, great timing.

A proposal for a general freeway toll for foreigners will be attacked by other EU countries as inequitable (German drivers are supposed to see a reduction in vehicle tax to compensate for the toll), thus giving the new government a perfect excuse for making Germans pay up, too. The statement a few years down the road will probably be like this: "Well, the EU won't let us charge only foreigners, and we really need the money, so, sorry folks".

The great push towards newable energy, already slowed down and hollowed out like Swiss cheese, is throttled a bit more. The latest version of the quintessential German incentive called "penalty" apparently is coming for smart meters.

While the K-Landnews folks love the idea of smart meters,  we have lived through some of the nastiness around smart meters back in the U.S. and the German news elicited a nervous laugh on our part.

In addition to further energy price increases, we'll get a "you do not have a smart meter, so you pay a penalty" letter soon, as if nobody in that grandiose coalition had ever heard of incentives.

Clawing back incentives is not easy, as the U.S. debate about hybrid cars shows, so why not introduce a road tax on bicycles? They use roads too.

And while you are at it, don't for forget the steep rise in Zimmer frame sales of that ageing population. Zimmer frames almost double the footprint of the little old lady and the formerly burly male, putting an extra burden on sidewalk maintenance.

We'd be happy to devise more revenue schemes for the new government but no one asked. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

News on our "Arrogant and Lazy" German

In April, we reported on the experiences of a young German with the Arbeitsagentur (job center, EDD). He was on a four week break from a one year "Meister" course and had to report to the job center. "Meister" (master) is advanced schooling after a three year vocational training plus subsequent years of work experience.

You can brush up on how it came that the sweet, competent employment specialist called the young man "Arrogant and Lazy". This earlier post also gives some insight into the meaning of temp work in Germany -- in short, it is not temp work as we know it in the English speaking world.

Having heard the story of the young man in April and having evaluated his chances of passing the Meister course, TheEditor of the K-Landnews sent a tweet to one of the national job center heads, pointing out that job center employees should not call kids like him as "arrogant and lazy".

We ran into the arrogant and lazy young man a couple of days ago and asked how the education project was coming along. Oh, I just graduated, he explained.

He graduated with an overall rating of "good" and sheepishly added that the accounting teacher had given him some additional advice. You passed book keeping, but if you want the company you are going to found to turn a consistent profit, get a professional accountant.

We could go on and on about a job center employee who had a bad day and wax lyrically about government agencies treating their "customers" like shit, but we decided to take a cue from the young man and take the high road.

So: The advanced vocational education system in Germany is obviously superb. The system manages to turn this arrogant and lazy kid into a productive, highly qualified professional and budding entrepreneur.