Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The great benefit of a fake middle initial

This is one of these old American ways of looking after yourself in a world where your address information is being sold to god knows who.

Five or six credit card offers a week, all kinds of other junk mail clogging up the mailbox, made a friend mad and kindled a desire to get even.

Which company sold my address? was the starting question.

The friend, whom we will call Jim Jones for this post, decided on a middle initial scheme. The next time he mailed in a postcard for a free catalog, he used the first letter of the company name as his own middle initial.

The catalog from Best Tire Iron Acme was as cool as expected and addressed to Mr. Jim B. Jones.

The catalog photos served as components of several collages, the old fashioned cut and glue paper artwork so hard to find today.

Lo and behold, several months later, Jim B. Jones received a special offer for Penthouse Magazine. Get a one year subscription for the price of only six months. Act now!

Best Tire Iron Acme (BTIA) or the company that did the mailing campaigns for BTIA had found a way to recoup some of the costs of the campaign by selling Jim's address.

Our friend was pleased at the result of his first new middle initial test and made it a habit. After the first year, he knew, for example, that a now defunct consumer electronics chain sold his address to The Blurry Image and to A DIY store.

Jim Jones even started to draw a network map and updated it every time a piece of mail with one of the fake middle initials showed up.

He never published his network map and refused to give us a copy.

We do not know if he does the same on the webby web these days, but if he has a Facebook profile, it will certainly be one of those profiles where only the last name is real and all the rest of the data are bogus.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paint me a house & a cosmos [images]

 Santa Cruz, CA.

 Images (c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

German Autobahns: Fecal Freeways / PTSD (Post Turd Stress Syndrome)

If you just ate, come back to the post in an hour or so.

Traveling German freeways, autobahns, has been a source of bewilderment and wonder to us.
First and foremost, there is nothing mythical about them. Ribbons of asphalt and concrete used to move people and goods are nothing to rave about.

We still feel exploited by the "pay 2 pee" system they set up here. In neighboring countries, too, but that's a different fecal matter.

With some in this nation screaming at the top of their voices for more road building money, this is as good a time as it gets to revisit the shit that happens at service stations and rest stops.

Some small rest areas happen to have free bathrooms but it seems most of them are shut down, so don't let your bowels relax as you approach a rest stop with the WC sign.

The wonderfully privatized service stations will let you into the stalls for 1 Euro. You get a coupon worth 50 cents, redeemable at the ludicrously overpriced cafe or convenience store. Bad deal.

The hushed up problem with pay 2 pee is, of course, that not everybody is willing to pay. Instead, people seek accommodation in the bushes and shrubs lining every self-respecting freeway rest or service area.

Hey, what's the fuss about a turd or two, I have some sit in office cubes nearby? you might say.

To which we, trying to go for a walk after doing the pay 2 pee thing will quip: Turd Alley, my friend, Turd Alley!

Posts have been composed about the terrifying old style German toilets, but articles about pay 2 pee skirt around the collateral damage just as we skirted around brown mounds topped by crumpled up toilet paper on the way to the nearby fields to get that walk before embarking on a couple of hundred extra little miles or kraut miles (km).

No, it is not the dogs doing them turds. The paper and the characteristics of the human turd producing population prove it. It takes a certain attitude to count turds, and we performed the investigative task with detached efficiency.

Only to stop counting when we reached 100 in an area of about 20 meters square.

Stopping at that point was important to prevent the possible formation of PTSD (Post Turd Stress Syndrome). Even so, for a day or two after exposure, one of our travel companions experienced turd flashbacks and some turd hallucinations.


We do not have time to delve into turd politics. Germany is a transit country for Dutch, British, Danish etc. motorists, and we know for sure that there would be an uproar in politics if foreigners and locals could shit 4 free. They don't pay a cent to use our roads, and now they want to shit for free!

In the words of a friend "it is hard to get a handle on turds", but we want to say that we do not regard any society that makes long distance travelers pay 2 pee as civilized. Period.

Rest stops without attached service stations (gas/restaurant) still seem to be mostly free.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Solving Germany's HARTZ IV problem: Nationwide traffic speed checks

This post is in English to prevent it from being taken seriously.


This past weekend we re-assembled our famed Random Research (RR) team to test the validity of the latest hot button issue in the home country of the Mercedes, the diesel engine, and the 20 km/h tractors of Mr. Porsche.

Mr. Porsche's tractors came in bright red to increase their apparent speed, and folksy rumors have it they really looked like they were going 23 km/h instead of a mere 20.

The media frenzy last week was about "Germany's crumbling infrastructure", supported by the indisputable fact that the country spends less on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP than other Euro nations.

In most of the press, the term infrastructure was soon replaced by "roads" without much ado. So, a casual alien could reasonably think that infrastructure equals roads around here.

They are in such a bad state of repair, complained politicians who want higher tolls or a blanket dedicated tax for everybody!

Which sent our team on the roads, the highways, the byways, the freeways.

700 miles later, the verdict is in: there are a few rumble roads but the attribute "crumbling" is either a bit exaggerated or an all out lie.

We do believe the true reasons for classifying West German roads as crumbling are:

1) The East Germans have wide, smoooth new freeways and highways. Those guys had 40 years of Socialism, and what do they have to show for it? Some of the best autobahns in human history.

2) Without at least three freeway lanes in each direction, the makers and shakers, thinkers and doers of the old lame West cannot go much faster than 65 or 70 miles during the week and get stuck in huge vacation jams on the north south axes. It is less about repair than expand.

3) Autobahn envy!
The modern man's equivalent to the old Freudian penis envy is freeway envy, or autobahn envy as it will soon be called around the world.
It is less about length, more about width these days, but yes, unless you have seen the gorgeous wide open freeways of Poland or southern Italy, you won't understand.

In the process of evaluating road quality, the RR team also resolved Germany's problem of employ for the long-term jobless.

Since about 80  to 90 percent of cars on the freeway ignore posted speed limits, hand out radar guns to the long term jobless and let the cash roll in.

There would also be a mental health benefit for the depressed downtrodden. Pointing the radar gun at a 100 000 Euro plus Porsche, Beamer or whatever would improve morale and government coffers.

Nailing the boss for speeding, the bastard who fired you, what could be more satisfying?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Autobahnen glatt wie ein Kinderpopo

Ein Feld-Test im zahmen Westen.

Deutschlands Infrastruktur ist marode, jammern die Medien. Und es gibt sogar Zahlen, die zeigen, dass andere Länder prozentual mehr Geld dafür ausgeben als Deutschland.

Die Lösung, je nach Grad des Ansinnens: mehr Maut, Maut für alle, Straßen-Soli.

Kein einziger Autor merkt an, dass man plötzlich von Infrastruktur auf Straßen verengt hat.

Vielleicht ist im Gottlieb Daimler Land ja Infrastruktur = Straßen?

Wir bei den K-Landnews wollten es wissen und packten unser Random Research Team ins Auto. Auftrag: ein Wochenende auf den Autobahnen West der Republik.

Ost ist ja eh wunderbar was Infrastruktur, pardon Straßen, angeht. Soll einer mal sagen Sozialismus ist Sch...!

Von wegen, man hatte dort 40 jahre Sozialismus und jetzt? Die besten Autobahnen weit und breit.

Das Resultat des Fahrtests kurz und knapp: die Sache mit den maroden Autobahnen ist gelogen.
Klar, es gibt Stücke, die ein wenig rattern, das ist jedoch Kinderkram verglichen mit den super ausgebauten Strecken und den Baustellen. Das Bayernspiel mit der Privatbahn lassen wir mal weg, gebaut wird dort trotzem wunderbar.

Hapern tut es viel auf Kreisstraßen, so what? Wenn man die einmal begradigen würde, wäre die Hälfte davon weg und mehr Platz im Land.

Was bleibt von den maroden Bahnen? Neid auf Polen, Neid auf Kalabrien, der Wunsch des BRD-West-Fahrers nicht mehr nur 100 unter der Woche fahren zu können (wg. LKWs und Bruttosozialprodukt).

Autobahnneid, die moderne Form des Penisneids, halt flach aber immer noch wegen der Länge und so.

Man hat ja wohl ein Recht auf Straßen glatt wie ein Kinderpopo!

Friday, April 25, 2014

German 4 Dummies: "Stammtischniveau"

"To be on the level of a public  saloon bar debate" is pretty much all you get when you look up the German "Stammtischniveau".

Let's take the compound apart:
"Stammtisch" is a table at a bar or pub where regulars sit to drink and talk. "Niveau" is "the level".
This makes it easy to understand the image of the Stammtischniveau: a loud, confused, drink-fueled debate. In the days of public smoking of cigs and pipes, the image included a thick cloud of not nice smelling smoke plus other odors.

In many small town or neighborhood bars, you can still find a table clearly marked with a sign, anything from handwritten plain cardboard to fancy brass. As a non-regular, you should not sit at that table unless you ask the bartender, even if the table is empty.

In public discourse, the media and elsewhere, labeling a debate as having "Stammtischniveau" is a slap in the face of the advocates of whatever you disagree with. The label is the big hammer, or if you like a more bloody image, the machete of disapproval in discourse.

To those who apply the label, the Stammtisch is the best example of stupid and vapid, cheap and disrespectful talk in a group of like-minded folks.

Is there an opposite, an antonym?

Nothing as vivid comes to mind. A well-founded or a comprehensive or balanced debate doesn't have the emotional umph. The only debates in public places with a classier image seem to be the cafe house debates of yore, where intellectuals and caffeine-addled revolutionaries plotted.

Which adds the education angle to the Stammtisch. Workers after a shift at the factory, farmers before and after tending to fauna and flora, unemployed people with too much time on their hands, that's the old assumed Stammtisch audience. The Stammtisch is also classic male territory, unlike at least some old cafes.

However, Stammtisch has also been used for meetings best described as "round table" meetings, often with emphasis on an informal exchange of ideas. The connotation of "community" is present in this use of the term.

So, how do you know which Stammtisch people are talking about?

If the term is used with "Niveau", the author it not talking about a community building round table. Look for "wie" (like, as), as in "wie am Stammtisch", same thing.

If a report shows a bunch of suited up business people or smiling politicians, there is a good chance you have encountered a positive use of Stammtisch.

We did not suggest a better translation?
If you want to keep it vivid, the soapbox might be appropriate, trash talk can also do, humbug might be a candidate.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Have an hour of spare time? Test this TaaS (Terminology as a service) platform!

We do not normally ask our readers to do things.

Because your life is busy enough. Because everybody and their uncle, their cat, their dog, their politician, wants you to do things.

Today is an exception.

If words are still important to you and you still think being able to communicate with other cultures, give this web site a spin: TaaS platform at

It is free, really free, not "we will sell your data free".

Terminology as a service is just what it means, sort of a translation support platform.

Type in a word or two, search what it means in all those Euro languages. Paste a piece of text into the box lower on the page, see what happens.

You do not have to create an account and sign in, but you should because that's where you can really have fun.

Here is what our friends from TaaS say:
As a matter of fact, the system is stable now. There are sometimes problems when the developers update it but as a rule it doesn't take long. Anyway, I'm in contact with the developers - people can ask... The developers can also be directly connected: or (but Tatiana sometimes has little time :-(

My tip: If something doesn't work it doesn’t mean it doesn't work at all :-D Sometimes it helps to logout and login again... They should just ask!!!

We are having fun with the system and got a good chuckle out of some of the search results.

Doing a search on wood production, we had one result that displayed "Thomas Aquinas"  under "related results".

Which proves terminology does not have to be boring.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sparen mit Spaß: Weinrebe

Rebknorren, also die alten, verdrehten, meist schwarzen Rebenstücke finden auch heute noch Verwendung für Korkenzieher, Figuren und Stöcke.

Fast unbekannt ist heute die Verwendung der abgeschnittenen verholzten Zweige als Brennholz.  Reben werden im Spätwinter zurückgeschnitten, so daß die allermeisten verholzten Zweige vom Vorjahr als "Abfall" anfallen. Wenn man Trauben möchte, lässt man einen einjährigen Zweig stehen, wenn man nur eine Zierrebe will, kann man fast beliebig schneiden.

Was passiert mit dem Abfall? Oft wird er an Ort und Stelle gehäckselt und dient als Mulch.

Früher wurden in den deutschen Weingebieten alle geschnittenen Reben gesammelt, gebündelt und auf dem Winzerhof verwendet.
Oft wurden Rebenbündel zum Aufheizen der Öfen in Backhäusern benutzt. Tockene Rebe brennt recht heiß und sauber, was in den massiven gemeinschaftlichen Backhäusern vorteilhaft war.

Und für Kleingärnter mit einer oder zwei Reben?

Rebenstücke bis zu etwa 25 cm Länge sind eine hervorragende Anzündhilfe für Holzherde und Kaminöfen.

Wenn Sie griechische Dolmas mögen, ist die eigene Weinrebe die beste Quelle für Weinblätter.

Blätter aus dem Laden sind meist groß und deswegen zu hart, trotz Einlegen. Verwenden Sie kleinere Blätter ihres Weinstrauchs. Sie sind zarter und können überlappend gelegt werden und ergeben Dolmas, für die alle Sie loben werden.

Are you married to an IED?

Not the IED from various armed conflicts around the world but the IED who most likely has the gene variant commonly known as "the warrior gene"?

Once again, we have to thank American public broadcasting organization PBS for bringing it to our attention. You can find a great short article on NPR here or listen to the broadcast. An hour long documentary with David Pogue is on NOVA.

We laughed out loud when we heard that the collection of symptoms and behaviors of volatile people in this context is abbreviated as "IED".

This alone is worth a post.

We do need to caution you to think twice about watching the documentary with a love interest you have not been dating for very long.

What should you do if you are married to an IED?

If you are lucky, our IED is self-aware, maybe uttering an "oh, that's me" if you can get him or her to watch NOVA with you.

If you are not so lucky, stay calm, try to figure out the wiring and the triggers. Take cover as needed.

On a more somber side, there are implications of genetics with respect to the law. This web site reports about two trails in which the "warrior gene" played a prominent role.

Digital Phantom Device Syndrome

Catchy phrase for the permanent or temporary loss of a digital device.

The feeling the device is really not dead, if you shake it just one more time, hold the on-off button just a second longer, and all will be well.  The feeling that another search on the web, just one more Google search, will provide the incredibly simple miracle cure? Waking up in the middle of the night because you heard its power-on beep?
The feeling it is still there, the email notifications are coming in as before, the update prompts look & feel exactly like they did before?

Since the dawn of the digital age, stories about inordinate dependence on computers and, later, handheld devices have been told. Many articles and tales use the addiction image, putting people into the netherworld associated with substance addiction.

The world of "it is your own fault", "you are weak", "blame my dad", "blame society", "this is a danger to you and the people you love", and so forth.

TheEditor does not like the addiction image, despite being aware that many a psychologist will rightly point out similar symptoms and behaviors.

When a pet dies, society generally does not slap the "addiction" label on your grief or even slightly weird comportment, right?

So, please give people whose favorite digital device unexpectedly dies the same benefit.

If you cannot do this or believe you should not, try the catchy "Digital Phantom Device Syndrome". It allows you to hold on to some sort of medical metaphor and might even make you smile.

Remember that very first smile after the loss of a pet when you were a child?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sparen mit Spaß: Holzasche als Reinigungsmittel

Mit der Rückkehr von Holz als Brennstoff in der Küche oder für die Heizung gibt es wieder Holzasche, die sich für alle möglichen Reinigungszwecke eignet.

Wir verwenden nur Asche aus unbehandeltem Holz. Behandeltes Holz gehört nicht den heimischen Ofen, und Asche von Stein- bzw. Braunkohle ist regelrechtes Teufelszeug.
Viele Glasflächen kann man mit einem feuchten alten Schwamm oder feuchtem Zeitungspapier und ein wenig Asche hervorragend reinigen. Mit Wasser nachspülen.

Wer keinen Geschirrspüler besitzt und keine 80 Cent für Spülmittel ausgeben kann oder möchte, kann sämtliches Geschirr mit Holzasche und Wasser reinigen. Asche und Wasser verbinden sich mit Kochhfettrückständen zu Seife. Man kann mit altem, keinesfalls ranzigem, Fett und Lauge (Wasser durch Asche tröpfeln lassen ergibt eine recht starke Lauge) eine Seife fürs "Grobe" kochen. Rezepte gibt es viele im Internet. Ein altes Rezept zum Beispiel hier: Seifenherstellung. Die Seite heißt zwar Survival Wiki, wer aber mal eben ein Holzfaß und Bohrer herumliegen hat, überlebt wohl auf gehobenem Niveau, na ja, sagen wir Urban Survival...

Man kann die Lauge auch ohne Weiterverarbeitung zum Waschen von robusten Kleidungsstücken und zum Putzen verwenden.

Lauge aus Holzasche ist zwar wesentlich ungefährlicher als z.B. Ätznatron, trotzdem leben wir ja in einer empfindlichen und durchregulierten Gesellschaft:
Gummihandschuhe und Schutzbrille sollten Sie immer beim Umgang mit Lauge benutzen, alte Klamotten sind empfehlenswert. Kinder und Haustiere weit entfernt halten!

Wenn Sie für ein Gesundheitsamt arbeiten, schauen Sie jetzt lieber weg.

Man kann auch 1000 Mahlzeiten oder mehr am Tag ohne Probleme zubereiten und nur Holzasche und Wasser als Reinigungsmittel verwenden. Machen Sie es aber nie ohne vorherige fachgerechte Einweisung.

German 4 Dummies: "Multikulti"

"Multikulti" used to come in a longer form, "multikulturell" (multicultural) or, as a noun "Multikulturalismus" but it is the short form which is used in a mostly pejorative way these days.

The most vocal opponents tend to spell it Multi-Kulti. We are not sure exactly why, but in doing so you do get a neat little allusion to "Kult" (the German word for a cult).

We accept the Wikipedia history and explanation of the term "Multikulturalismus" (multiculturalism) although the page says that more edits appear to be needed.  The basic philosophy seems to be that societies can function well with different groups living together while maintaining their own cultures without any pressure to assimilate.

While this may work very well if you visit the Multi Kulti Cafe, it is pretty obvious that history is full of examples to the contrary. No wonder that the concept has been hotly debated and eventually declared "failed" by such European leaders as Mr. Cameron and Ms. Merkel.

These two leaders embody two countries where multicultural does not necessarily mean the same thing. It is all but inconceivable that a German train station would have a sign in German and Turkish, similar to Southall's sign in English and Punjabi.

And in the U.S.?

Maybe multiculturalism is used in academia, but the term that would be familiar to the rest of us is diversity.
As is turns out, the "melting pot" is our favorite example of diversity in real life. China Town in San Francisco, CA, for Chinese, Dearborn, MI, or New York City are vibrant examples of everyday diversity.

Has anybody ever put a "safe distance" in miles or kilometers on the concept of diversity?

We always smile when we see an ardent opponent of anything that smacks of multicultural rave about his visit to SF's China Town.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

German Easter eggs [image]

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

The Good Book, the Bad Book, the Ugly Book

This Easter weekend is the weekend of the Good Book.

Hundreds and hundreds of millions of Christians commemorate and celebrate across the world.

In Germany, this weekend is also tied to the Bad Book for a small minority of people. We would have missed this had our local paper not asked the question "Can we make fun of Hitler?" and mentioned that his birthday was coming up.
The Bad Book is, of course, his convoluted and dumb tome, still not legally available in Germany. Which, on one hand, makes sense, on the other shows how little faith German leadership has had to this day in the younger generations. And maybe no faith in its education system either?
The answer to the question should be a resounding yes. Charlie Chaplin did it, and we love him for it.

The Ugly Book would be any of those written by Mr. Sarrazin or recently Mr. Pirincci. A recent opinion page article in Der Spiegel magazine calls them hate books. We are of two minds about them but lean toward the freedom of speech side, because views can be debated once they are clearly stated. If authors like them only engage in mealy mouthed discourse, what can you do?

Once it's out in the open, as ugly as it is, you can debate them, disprove them, and you can try to engage "at risk" segments of the public and work towards peace.

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Of mice and men - and depression

From our More Brain Science series.

We saw an article about a study of depression in mice in Der Spiegel and went to the source. They talk of an astonishing new approach. We found the use of astonishing astonishing.

Science magazine says in its abstract: increasing the hyperactivity of VTA DA neurons in susceptible mice completely reversed depression-related behaviors, an antidepressant effect.

For normal folks: depression seems to be characterized by a higher then normal activity of neurons (leading to a lower level of neuro transmitters) and damping this activity through meds (thus increasing the transmitters) is standard treatment. The researchers went the opposite way in mice and over-stimulated the neurons. The effect, a bit of a paradox, was that the majority of mice became less depressive.

This is great, but....

The mice we've met in our lives do not seem to get suicidal. Humans do, and they tend to act on it in the most, well, depressing and fatal ways. 

Over-stimulation has been around for a while, with old electroshock therapy the most prominent form.

The Adderall approach to treatment of ADD or ADHD looks to us like chemical over-stimulation.

We'll see if it works, and we know what too much over-stimulation does. So keep dangerous objects out of reach of the mice, and good luck.

German 4 Dummies: "Deutungshoheit" on Easter and beyond

This is a good one and extremely applicable to Easter, as we hope to demonstrate.

We found "Deutungshoheit" in so many German press articles, with the exception of the tabloid Bild Zeitung, of course, that we felt we could no longer ignore a close look.

"Deutungshoheit" is used to describe a divergent set of statements brought forth in interpreting the nature and significance of events, policies, etc.

Very often, you'll find in a context like this: 'we are seeing a struggle over the Deutungshoheit of such and such', most recently over the conflict in Ukraine. In a simpler expression, you could write 'who has it right'.

As usual, the German is a compound, this one made of "Deutung" (interpretation) and "Hoheit" (sovereignty, authority).

On the web, thank you once again Sir Tim, we find these translations:
a) interpretational sovereignty
b) prerogative of interpretation

The link for b) indicates our preference. Interpretational sovereignty is such a strange term, we venture it can only live in some EU or UN document.

"Prerogative of interpretation" sucks less and reveals that this has to do with the power, with the authority to claim the true meaning of an event.

Our best suggestion for understanding this word is: who gets to impose their view.
Of course, for anything scholarly or obscure, you may still prefer the dictionary translations.They do give you more interpretational clout than "he says, she says".

You understand the reference to Easter all by yourself, we trust.

Happy Easter.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday and a religious fit

Back in the U.S., the time around Easter was something of an "almost holiday" for those of us who worked in an internationally active business.

Much of Europe would go on vacation because schools in many European countries were taking a break and because nationwide holidays from around the day before Good Friday to the Tuesday after Easter meant most of our contacts were out.

While the Easter spill-over has lessened in the past twenty years or so, it has not disappeared. So, with the Europeans painting their Easter bunnies and chasing their Easter eggs, doing Easter things, we'd have a breather before the money making machine revved up for summer.

Over here in the more Catholic parts of the old countries, we are seeing people coast leisurely to an almost complete standstill on Good Friday.

The predominant religious belief at the K-Landnews has been described as an odd mix of bits and pieces, an Ikea kit spirituality, if you will, without assembly instructions and plenty of leftover parts.

It comes as no surprise that we ended up with PBS's NOVA Secrets of the Mind. Neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran does a wonderful job explaining how neural pathways work, kicking some Freudian behind while at the same time proving that there is a subconscious world in our brains.

Goodbye Oedipus Complex, hello neural pathways!

And hello religious fits.

One phenomenon in religion has been puzzling our own little minds for many years: there seemed to be an awful lot of saints and prophets with conditions like epilepsy, super migraines and so forth. And visions and revelations tied to fits or episodes of these conditions. From the Leatherstocking Tales to Lourdes and many others, the idea of a religious fit intrigued us, and V.S. Ramachandran seems to have found pathways in the brain and matching firing neurons which are if not a full explanation then at least a great start of an explanation.

As Christians commemorate Jesus going through the criminal justice system of a bygone empire with the usual trappings of the snitch, the very public enhanced interrogation and the suffering, we hope that some of the lessons learned will have a positive effect in the weeks and months to come.

Have a very good Easter holiday.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fachkräftemangel im Zeitungszustelldienst!

Unser Freund aus der Zustellerbranche (siehe Vom Zeitungszusteller zum Astronauten) schaute vorbei, um sich nach Reaktionen auf den Post zu erkundigen.

Nichts besonderes, sagten wir.

Ah, war klar, seufzte er.

Er erzählte ein wenig mehr, als müsse er sein Herz ausschütten, und wir hörten zu. Stress gäbe es zur Zeit, es fehlen Zusteller.

Es fehlen Zusteller? Muß am Fachkräftemangel in der Branche liegen, witzelte TheEditor.

Er lächelte ein wenig und fuhr ernst fort: Wir haben drei Routen offen, für die wir keine Leute finden, also macht der eine oder andere Vertretung.

Ist doch nicht schlecht mehr Geld zu bekommen.

Für die Hartzer (gemeint sind Hartz-IV Bezieher) lohnt sich das nicht, die haben 100 Euro frei und von allem darüber nimmt der Staat ihnen 80 oder so ab. Und man kann nicht sagen, okay, ich gehe nachts von 12 bis  morgens um 6 arbeiten. Selbst wenn man will, die Zeitungen sind noch nicht angeliefert.

Es verschlug uns glatt die Sprache. Sollte der Arbeitsmarkt ausgerechnet im Zeitungszustellerbereich funktionieren, so mit Angebot und Nachfrage? Wenn man keinen findet, muß man mehr Entlohnung anbieten?

Wer hätte das gedacht.

Unser Freund konnte leider nicht bleiben. Er wolle sich ausschlafen, zwei freie Tage hintereinander sind rar und wollen genutzt werden.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who's afraid of Google? Turns out, lots of people.

A long open letter to Google chief Eric Schmidt by the CEO of German publishing house Axel Springer in today's Frankfurter Allgemeine is one of many articles dealing with the Power of Google, present and future.

TheEditor of the K-Landnews read the article, thought about it for a minute and cobbled together this post.

Just because.

There is one point in Mr. Doepfner's open letter that we agree with. That of privacy and the snappy crappy "if you have nothing to hide" and the "if you don't want people to know" comments by Mrss. Schmidt and Zuckerberg. It is the aspect of privacy for me, absolutely -- for you, no, but it is not limited to these two gentlemen.

As TheEditor gathered pace, this sentence took shape:
Personally, I would certainly not want to run a traditional publishing house.

Wait, that sentence is just standard boilerplate comment baloney. TheEditor was about to write a stupid ass statement! I would love to be at the head of Axel Springer, compensation is certainly high enough for me to run the outfit for two years, then retire and do something different. Responsibility for the well being of the companies and the employees and for good press coverage, the desire for a fair shake?

Do you have to be an utter cynic or read too much Bild Zeitung to take these with a grain of salt?

Criticizing the "fiction of free stuff" in the year 2014 comes about 20 years too late.

I have been around long enough to remember and to instantly say "bunk" when the mainstream media discovered the internet (or the web) and believe to recall lots of articles claiming that almost everything will be free in the future.

As a youngster with almost no money, I thought, how cool would that be!
As a youngster with few illusions, I thought, no, it won't!

As a middle-aged human with almost no money, I think, well, I know Google et al feed off of my data and those of millions of others. But that's all I've got, so leave me be.

As long as there is no law forcing me to buy Google Stuff, I'm fine.

If and when the Google Cars are everywhere, shucks, I hope I am still fit enough to walk the last mile. In the dark if need be to evade Google Drones.

Those of us who don't have great jobs and fancy homes to lose, we only have to fear our politicians, what they do to us, and what Google is willing to do for them by way of cozying up.

So, stop whining, elect yourself a government that works for the people.

If that fails, spend the last of your cash on a Google Margarita and enjoy the 3 D ads projected into the drink.

[Update] We have Google ads on this blog, generating a few cents a week, not enough to buy our consideration or friendship. We do not have Google shares, yes, darn.

Holy crap, or holy Schlager?

Another holy week special.

Stateside the only widely known "schlager" is Goldschlager, the schnapps with gold flakes and an 'ä' in the name.

Yes, by George, the correct name is Goldschläger, but what is Schlager all by itself?

If your German is as good as ours, meaning just good enough to be either dangerous or provide hours of fun to our German surroundings, you may know that the verb "schlagen" is "to beat, beat up, defeat, whip", making the corresponding noun a Schlager, right?

Okay, we won't go down that Schlagloch and make it more complicated than needed.

Schlager is the German word for a hit, as in music, or sales, or music sales.

Before the encroachment of yet another English word, Schlager was used for any hit in any genre. That changed somewhere around the 1950s, Schlager beat a retreat and became a synonym of cheesy German language songs, no matter if they were hits or duds. Mostly duds, with some very notable great exceptions. 

Check out the English language Wikipedia page of Geier Sturzflug, for instance. Or Felix Meyer of recent fame.

What is holy about Schlager you may ask. Well for one, a sizable segment of the population is as devoted to their Schlager as to spiritual entities.

Secondly, Schlager has become a symbol of and a potential weapon in the culture clashes that flare up every few years.

Conservative politicians, language lovers*, starving artists, and folks who want a piece of the pie despite a glaring lack of talent hit the media to ask for more German language music on the radio. Followed a few days later by calls for more German movies, German kids, and German cars.

They point at the French legally mandated quotas for original French language content and claim it has created a boom in the French music industry.

Some of the proponents of such a quota for Germany seem to be aware that they can not call for a law mandating this quota while they oppose a law on the number of women in executive jobs. So, the more cautious folks call for an "industry pledge" and leave the call for a law to their brasher brethren.
The numbers are in their favor: according to widely accepted statistics, around 90% of the songs played on German pop radio are in English.

There are Germans who opine that teaching English at an all too early age makes youngsters more susceptible to English language music later. While this may play a role, though not a big one, just look at Japan, we at the K-Landnews have a different take on this.

The acknowledged economic dominance of "English centric" record labels is a big factor.

Another is, K-Landnews insight drum roll, that English language songs can get away with being more edgy, more provocative in Germany than a German original composition.
Black listing an English language song that is played in all of the rest of Europe does not make for good "freedom of <whatever>" PR. 

Just look outside of the Schlager uber genre and you can find heated debates about the German language songs of bands like Böhse Onkelz or Frei.Wild. To us, they illustrate what we called the "South Park phenomenon" in the TV show arena.
At least up until now, South Park could simply not have been made in Germany -- the creators would have been sued into oblivion, or into prison, preferably both.

* [This definition was written by a native German] Loving the German language may not be easy but can be worthwhile. Only on a bad day, when someone tells me I have no right to do or say x, I think ugly pets deserve a loving home, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Windows 8.x

Are there any holes in MS Windows 8?

A while ago, a friend was staring at the screen of the only Windows box in the house, daydreaming, really, when IT appeared.

Through no fault of said friend, a blue Windows Activation screen popped up, and in huge white, or so he recalled the color later, letters "Activate" could be seen.

Then the screen disappeared.

Gone in two or so blinks of a lazy eye.

Did Microsoft not tell the world about changes to the activation? A search on behalf of the friend came up with interesting pages about the "rearm" command but nothing on the mystery screen.

Was the friend imagining things, seeing an activation screen that kind of looked like the one from XP because this image had been seared into his mind in a decade of XP activation on multiple physical and virtual machines?

After some questioning, it turned out that his Windows 8 box had just had its first anniversary.

Did the programmers at MS put in an Easter Egg?

Our guess is, the man was not daydreaming but fast asleep.

If you have another explanation, please share.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Der Uniformierte und der Bauarbeiter

Deutsche Fassung eines älteren englischen Posts über die Freuden der Baugenehmigung.
[German version of an earlier English post about construction permits in the K-Land.]

Es sind einige Jahre ins Land gegangen, was dem Humor immer dienlich ist.

Unsere Baugenehmigung wurde damals zügig und mit wenig Kosten erteilt, wunderbar.
Kurz darauf war wieder Schornsteinfegetermin. Der Schornsteinfeger war noch nicht ganz im Haus als er fragte: Und wann fängt der Bau an?

Sie wissen davon?

Ich bekomme automatisch eine Kopie der Baugenehmigung. 

Das war Lektion 1. Lektion 2 kam eine Woche später. Ein Schreiben der Berufsgenossenschaft mit vielen Seiten Formular. Man verlangte eine detaillierte Aufstellung aller Bauarbeiten, Namen der Ausführenden, Anteil des Bauherren an der Arbeit, Angaben zu Helfern aus dem Familien- oder Bekanntenkreis. Veranschlagte Arbeitsstunden und Lohn inklusive, damit die BG eventuelle Versicherungsprämien berechnen könne.

Das war doch einfach. die Fassadendämmung würde ich selbst machen, alles andere die beauftragte Firma. Die voraussichtlichen Kosten seitens der Firma waren Teil das Bauantrags.

Muß ich das Ding ausfüllen fragte ich einen Bekannten? Wenn du Helfer hast, ja, aber wenn du einen Teil machst und den Rest eine Firma, spar dir das.
Also ins Altpapier.

Gleiches Prozedere mit der zweiten Aufforderung einen Monat später.

Lektion 3 kam später, sechs oder acht Monate später. Fast Forward zum Bauende. Ich war fast mit dem Verputzen der Fassade fertig, ein einzelner Bauarbeiter der ausführenden Firma machte sich an den Regenfallrohren zu schaffen, als Bekannte anhielten auf ein Schwätzchen.

Ich stand bei ihnen auf der Straße als hinter mir jemand vorüberging. Erst als ich die Stimme des Bauarbeiters hörte, drehte ich mich um.

Ein Polizist. Zu Fuß und alleine, kein Auto weit und breit.

Mich ignorierte er, also wandte ich mich wieder den Bekannten zu. Nach fünf oder zehn Minuten kam der Beamte wieder ins Gesichtsfeld. Er überquerte die Straße und ging gemütlich in die andere Richtung zur Kreuzung hin. Er bog um die Ecke, und Sekunden später fuhr ein Polizeiauto über die Kreuzung auf der Hauptstrasse Richtung Ortsausgang.

Nachdem die Bekannten weitergefahren waren, kletterte ich wieder aufs Gerüst zum Bauarbeiter. Ich hatte bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt in Deutschland außer am Flughafen noch nie einen Polizisten zu Fuß gesehen, alleine schon gar nicht.

Schwarzarbeitskontrolle, sagte der Arbeiter und drückte den Startknopf der Bohrmschine für den letzten Dübel.

Das fehlende Guten Tag bleibt mit dem letzten Dübel assoziert.

Cool inventions: superglue

The other day, superglue came to the rescue once again: a panel of the fridge door had come unstuck.

After applying superglue, it holds better than before.

A short, random list of other things we've made whole with superglue:

car door strips
car brake light covers
finger nails
cups, cups, more cups

The car door strips still held when a church attendee backed into the door after Sunday service.

And someone in pre-Obamacare USA fixed a deep gash on his hand with supergluel

Maybe we'll find time for a Holy Week special "the coolest inventions".

Share your favorite inventions and win (if we really like what you write) our Susan B. dollar coin (minus shipping).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Does it take a moonshiner to catch a moonshiner?

The man opens a large briefcase size case and, with a smile, brings out an unlabeled bottle which he puts on the table.

The case also contains several shot glasses, and he picks up three with a practiced swoop.

Are you ready to try it?, he asks.

Homemade schnaps is his pride. He is also a German customs officer, whose job is chasing moonshiners. We were a little surprised to hear that illicit production of 80 plus proof spirits seems to be rather common in this country. This website states that about one quarter of alcohol consumed in Europe is in the "informal sector", with poisonous brews having made headlines and caused several deaths in the Czech Republic last year.

According to the customs officer, German citizens should not buy "large" stills on the internet. A visit by customs officials is guaranteed after such an acquisition, he said.

Our source present at the small tasting event did not ask what "large" means, and besides this chance encounter with a bright young man, we know of no other stories that support the old saying "it takes on to catch one".

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The 1% are nothing without the 10%

From our Another Over-simplified View of the World series.

Statements with "10 percent of this, 10 percent of that" have been following us around, creeping up on us in different contexts until TheEditor decided to give in and call it a theory.

The one statement with "10 percent" that pushed TheEditor into oversimplification land was that  left-handed folks tend to make up around ten percent of the human population.
Given the way human perception works, once you pay attention to something, it is kind of everywhere, isn't it?
So, TheEditor began to see ten percent everywhere, ending up at the big social picture for those westernized or quasi-westernized societies of the past couple hundred years or so:
The 1 percent own our lives, sure, but they need some help, and that's where the 10 percent come in.

Check the numbers, and you shall see...

You know the K-Landnews cannot be bothered to do serious fact checking, which as it turns out seems to be the way a lot of mainstream journalism is heading, so we'll throw around some numbers and leave it at that. You can do that too, for example, at the next party try something like "only ten percent of politicians are honest".

Don't some brands of religion have a "ten percent" requirement, giving the tenth?

Allegedly, you only need somewhere around 15 percent of a population to get a serious revolution going. At least that was the number in nerd circles back in the U.S.

Looking at how many people are needed to govern a country, around ten percent makes a decent number, too:
   a) Anything way above that makes for a brutal and eventually brutally inefficient dictatorship.
   b) Anything way under that makes for a sweet society eventually crushed by a).

Since you cannot talk about governing a country without running into the whole personality cult question of the recent past, take a step back.
Of course, there have been figure heads like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and many people still use them for easy explanations of big events, yet, without the ten percent (and eventually many more than ten) these guys were nothing.

If you have read the post thus far, may we ask for another minute of your time?

TheEditor claims that the top ten percent are the ones who have their cake and eat it, too. But what about the bottom ten percent?

In society at large, they don't count for very much. And scientists, statisticians, and nerds like their 95% so much that we end up talking about the bottom five percent so much more than the ten.

Remember that perfect example of corporate performance euthanasia where Yahoo made headlines for their plan to eliminate the "bottom five percent" of performers?

Small anecdote: another company did that, too. They had two performance reviews of the kind per year. 5 plus 5 equals?

Finally, our standard reality check question: does this matter, followed by the standard answer: only if you had fun reading this.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dew on tulip [image]

This was too cute to pass up, so another tulip photo, droplets on the spider web.
(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The little red bush nicknamed lawyer's bush [image]

This is a photo of the little red bush out front. When asked why there were no consecutive "a flower a day" posts last week, TheEditor pointed the camera at the bush and chirped: done!
The shrub is now nicknamed lawyer's bush.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dandelion flower [image] - enough of the tulips

Enough with the tulips already, said TheEditor, so here is a quintessential northern European native, the dandelion.
Tormenting those people who want a spotless lawn, dandelion leaves are a great, health salad ingredient and work as spinach substitute in many dishes.
For best results, forgo the leaves once the plant flowers.
 (c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Feeling adventurous today? Count the petals and we might send you that Susan B. dollar coin, yes, the one we don't seem to be able to spend.
Or we might not -- life is unpredictable.

White deer; almost like out of Harry Potter [image]

Hey, look, a white deer! Our enthusiasm knew no bounds as we were strolling along and saw this cutie just across the water. We didn't recall the spell from Harry Potter, and there were no soul-sucking black ghostly figures around - the government is in Berlin, quipped an anonymous German, slipping away into the woods - so, there was no need for an immediate protective incantation.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

German 4 Dummies: "Vorratsdatenspeicherung"

Another day, another German compound. Luckily, there is a very official translation of this string made out of "Vorrat" (inventory, stock, reserve), "Daten" (data) and "Speicherung" (storage, retention).

The Court of European Justice has been dealing with the EU Data Retention Directive for years, and the official German translation of it is right here.

Now, having established that "Vorratsdatenspeicherung" is German for "Data Retention", let's marvel for a minute at the German term and what you could call a doubling up or reinforcement of the "retention" part. We have "stock, storage" plus "retention" in German as opposed to the English.

Why is this important?

For one, data retention is a requirement in many areas of business and government. Companies must retain data for certain periods of time, individuals must retain invoices and bank statements for years in case the tax man cometh to check.

For this aspect of data retention, Datenspeicherung is a commonly used German term.

"Vorrat" comes in when they talk of retaining telecommunications and internet metadata (thanks to media reports on the last 12 months, we don't have to explain this term any more).

"Vorrat" is a widely used word for something largely positive. Overwhelmingly, "Vorrat" is good or neutral, good in the sense of the squirrel making a "Vorrat" of nuts for the winter, a company having a reserve of spare tires or ingredients for whatever goods they manufacture.

TheEditor of the K-Landnews also maintains a large "Vorrat" of invectives and slang terms for use in posts.

In short, "Vorrat" indicates a reserve for later use.

When the German media and public talk about "Vorratsdatenspeicherung" the aspect of later use is always right there, unlike - TheEditor claims - in the English version.

We have no idea how the Germans came to call data retention in the surveillance sense "Vorratsdatenspeicherung". Maybe they wanted to be very specific and did not fully appreciate the dark side of "Vorrat", maybe they even thought the positive generic connotation of "Vorrat" would make it more palatable to the more distrustful segments of the public.

The coiners of the term could have opted for the bland Datenretention, for instance. "Retention" is one of the many "foreign words" or rather "learned words" available to Germans. Used in medicine, commerce and law, it would have kept the dimension of "keeping this for later when we need it or have time to go through" out of the vacuuming up of your most private communications connections.

Whatever they thought of their term, the debate ain't over.

Who airbrushed my tulip? [image]

The photo below shows a "who dunnit" from the plant world. How did the gorgeous red stripes get onto the petals of this yellow tulip?
Now that the Colbert Report aired proof of the Holy Grail having been found in Spain, we can only conclude the stripes on the petals are equally irrefutable proof of intelligent design!
As manifested through the intelligence of Dutch tulip breeders. Is breeders the correct term? The search engines seem to think so, but it sounds so cattle and dog. Tulip stylists, tulip genome engineers, or tulipists all would be better choices to us, but so what.
(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A red tulip flower [image]

Posting here slowed down a bit in the last week, and here is a perfect reason why.
A red tulip in full bloom is one of the rewards for all the digging, weeding and fussing around. If we feel like it, we'll head north west to tulip land to see what's on offer this year. Don't worry, we only get cheap tulips on extra sale, ten bucks for fifty bulbs is our limit, after all we read about the tulip mania of the 1600s.

This is a small size photo. If you would like a 4000 x 3000 pixel version, email us.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Über Brüssel lästern - mit abgeschriebenem EU-Presseartikeltext

Reiner Zufall führte uns zur Webseite Deutsche Mittelstandsnachrichten über die schlimme Bedrohung des deutschen Meisterbriefs durch die EU.

In Deutschland bestehen Beschränkungen für den Zugang zu bestimmten Berufen und deren Ausübung. Zum Beispiel sind das Berufe, deren Ausübung an den Besitz besonderer Qualifikationen geknüpft ist oder bei denen die Berufsbezeichnung (z. B. Architekt oder Apotheker) geschützt ist. Ein derartiger Schutz ist allein aus Verbraucherschutzgründen gerechtfertigt.

Auch in Deutschland bestehen weiterhin Beschränkungen für den Zugang zu bestimmten Berufen und deren Ausübung. Reglementierte Berufe sind Berufe, deren Ausübung an den Besitz besonderer Qualifikationen geknüpft ist oder bei denen die Berufsbezeichnung (z. B. Architekt oder Apotheker) geschützt ist. Ein derartiger Schutz kann beispielsweise aus Gründen der Qualitätssicherung und des Verbraucherschutzes oder zur Sicherung eines hohen Ausbildungsniveaus sehr gut begründbar und damit gerechtfertigt sein.

Allerdings könnten – der EU zufolge – übermäßig restriktive Bedingungen für den Zugang zu bestimmten Berufen auf junge Menschen eine abschreckende Wirkung haben und ihren Eintritt in den Arbeitsmarkt sogar verhindern. Aufgrund unterschiedlicher rechtlicher Bestimmungen ist es für qualifizierte Fachkräfte häufig schwierig, sich um Arbeitsplätze in anderen Mitgliedstaaten zu bewerben.

Allerdings können übermäßig restriktive Bedingungen für den Zugang zu bestimmten Berufen auf junge Menschen eine abschreckende Wirkung haben und ihren Eintritt in den Arbeitsmarkt sogar verhindern. Aufgrund unterschiedlicher rechtlicher Bestimmungen ist es für qualifizierte Fachkräfte häufig schwierig, sich um Arbeitsplätze in anderen Mitgliedstaaten zu bewerben.

Verbesserungen bei den Bedingungen für den Berufszugang, insbesondere in Form eines angemesseneren und transparenteren Rechtsrahmens in den Mitgliedstaaten, würden die Arbeitsplatzmobilität qualifizierter Fachkräfte im Binnenmarkt und die grenzübergreifende Erbringung von Dienstleistungen der freien Berufe erleichtern.

Verbesserungen bei den Bedingungen für den Berufszugang, insbesondere in Form eines angemesseneren und transparenteren Rechtsrahmens in den Mitgliedstaaten, würden die Arbeitsplatzmobilität qualifizierter Fachkräfte im Binnenmarkt und die grenzübergreifende Erbringung von Dienstleistungen der freien Berufe erleichtern.

Warum sollten die Mittelstandsnachrichten nicht aus einer EU-Pressemitteilung zitieren dürfen? Die werden ja aus unseren Steuergeldern bezahlt!

Äh, einige Zitate sind schön als Zitat gekennzeichnet, so mit "Anführungszeichen" und Einrücken.

Die Textstellen oben sind eben nicht gekennzeichnet.
Das beste an den "Nachrichten"? Powered by Quadriga, einige der Herren dort sind als "Dr." aufgeführt.

P.S.: Wir haben uns erlaubt Screenshots der Mittelstandsnachrichten-Seite anzufertigen, falls jemand die fehlende Zitatkennzeichnung nachbessert wollen wir nicht als Deppen dastehen.

Noch ein P.S. für Paranoide: Sie dürfen gerne behaupten, die EU-Pressestelle hätte aus dem Mittelstandsnachrichtenartikel abgeschrieben und nicht umgekehrt.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The new cold frame "TARdis" - a home for tomato and lettuce starts

Fifty year old Windows, 2 x 2s from the 1930s, boards, screws, nails -- instead of throwing them away during our remodeling surge, they were stacked in the backyard under a tarp, waiting for a new life as something useful.

Before making plans and drawings, we needed - in the best tradition of modern marketeers - a name for the project and came up with TARdis (short for Total Access Remodeling dis).


A nod to the local German-English tradition.

This weekend, the tomato plants, the lettuce and several cuttings from a doomed red grape vine that lives a few towns over moved into the TARdis and promptly doubled in volume in two days. The sides and the back of the cold frame are made of old boards and beams, the top consists of two windows side by side. In meters, its surface is around 1.5 by 1.2, large enough for starting veggies before moving the youngsters into the regular outside beds.

Many of our garden veggies need extra protection from occasional hard freezes until about the end of May, until after the "frosty saints". It is hard to imagine 32 F/0 C temperatures in late May after a week of daytime highs in the low 70s, but saints and the farmers almanac do not lie!

The second major benefit of a cold frame in addition to cozy temperatures is keeping the rugged German snails out. German snails are very pretty, with multi-colored thick shells and an attraction to both veggies and beer.
Since TheEditor doesn't do beer, the snails go after the vegetables and the cold frame is what keeps the starts safe from them.

Soon the cold frame will get a coat of primer and a top coat of blue paint, the tint of our favorite television "blue police box".

The K-Landnews nuisance theory of optimal company size

We have toyed with inventing a theory named after the krautlandnews and call it branding.

After no research whatsoever, we found the subject "what is the optimal size of a company you want to deal with as an individual consumer from a point of minimizing nuisance when a service or hardware are no good"?

Have you thought about it beyond "big is bad, and small is beautiful"?
Since we have a no-cost, no-research philosophy, we can give you the result right now.

The lower limit of optimal company size is about 10, the upper is around 5000 employees.

How do we arrive at this?

Since we deal with B2C (business to consumer) only, for example, mining companies are out, medical suppliers to clinics and hospitals are out of scope.
Free services or goods are not considered either. They can be very important but we do not have an adequate conceptual framework for them - not enough intellectual horsepower. So, we accept the free operating system for our PC or all the free apps without spending time on the best way of making them or on recourse when they fail to work properly.

The next set of variables is the kind of product or service offered.

Think difference between getting a haircut or a gallon of milk and buying a 20 000 dollar central heating system or putting a complete new roof on your house.

The value of a service or product is not necessarily the main concern. You can buy 100 K worth of stock or a light bulb on the internet with the same ease. The deal is done. If the bulb arrives broken, you return it, end of story. If you don't like the stock, two or three clicks on a web page get rid of it.

But that 30 dollar monthly internet subscription requires at least some follow-on service capability for a few years.

How do skills play into this? For example, you can be a highly skilled doctor and still practice on your own, or you can be a highly skilled football player and -- rules are rules -- need a team. Rules are as important than skills.

What role does technology play? TV repairmen have become rare because of it, and some previously solitary professionals have joined forces because some new tech is too expensive for individuals.

Another difficult to assess variable is cultural. How big should a small business be so the consumer is not to be left stranded, is there a measurable difference between a small plumbing business in the US and Germany based only on the notion that flexibility and customer focus are perceived as greater in the US?

For some services, such as barber and physician, the lowest practical number of "company size" continues to be 1 although changes are afield for medical service in rural areas. For any service or product that needs a group of people or that is generally offered by a "company" of professionals, we peg it at 10.

We arrived at "10" by looking at problems when something goes wrong.  That new faucet is leaking and the father and son plumbing shop simply fails to return your calls?
If you deal with a very small company, there tend to be fewer options of remedy, making total frustration or full on legal escalation more likely.

You ask: What if these 10 are the family patriarch and his seven sons and two grandsons? That's an edge case, we ignore it because we would call this a mafia family or a political dynasty. In some regions both at the same time.

The upper limit is somewhat flexible, but we would say it is reached once a company makes so much money it can afford to out-lawyer every individual customer.

Reading this post again convinced us that it has the hallmarks of a cute theory.  When it gets specific, we immediately set forth a few additional conditions and caveats, opening up a way out of arguments that could pin it down.

Another sign of cuteness is that we provide some numbers in the theory, but they are small, easy.

The conclusion is [imagine Irish budget airline Ryan Air on-time-cheesy-fanfare-sound-here] that "big may not be all bad, and small can be evil".

Friday, April 4, 2014

Vom Zeitungszusteller zum Astronauten

Unser Random Research team (RR team), das wohl nur die englischsprachigen Leser kennen, entschloß sich vor einigen Monaten einer besser bezahlten Beschäftigung nachzugehen. Der Lohn von 0,0 Euro pro Stunde von den K-Landnews reichte nicht zum Leben.

Im Zug der Mindestlohndebatte in der Republik nahmen wir wieder Kontakt zu den Ehemaligen auf und baten um einen persönlichen Kommentar. Zeitungszusteller sollten nach Arbeitgeberwunsch ausgeschlossen werden von den geplanten 8,50 Euro pro Stunde.

Unser Freund, dem wir einen Blog-Post zu Hausnummern in Deutschland verdanken, gab uns einen Einblick in das kurze, harte Leben eines Zustellers.

Hier die nur leicht editierten Worte eines echten Zustellers:

Morgens um 2:30 klingelt der Wecker, der Kaffee ist einige Minuten später fertig und das einzige Mittel, das einen aus dem Haus bringt.

Die Zeitungsbündel liegen an der Bushaltestelle unseres Ortes. Manchmal fehlt ein Teil, manchmal kommt der ebenfalls minijobende Fahrer zu spät.
Ein- bis zweimal die Woche gibt es zusätzliche Werbezettel, mehr dazu später.

Die erste Woche einer neuen Route ist schwer. Trotz Liste, trotz guter Taschenlampe, man macht Fehler.
Wenn der Chef nett ist, bringt er dem Kunden die fehlende Zeitung, wenn nicht, muß der Zusteller es machen.
Die Arbeitszeit sollte nach Angaben des Chefs etwa eine Stunde am Tag betragen. Das stimmt so nicht -- bis man im Dunklen alle Adressen so gut gelernt hat, dass man nur eine Stunde braucht, dauert es eine bis zwei Wochen.
Die Bezahlung ist Stücklohn, 2,5 Euro pro Examplar pro Monat, macht einen Stundenlohn von etwa 6 Euro, wenn man alles in einer Stunde schafft.
Realistisch ist: die ersten zwei Wochen sind es höchstens 3 Euro pro Stunde. Wenn das Wetter schlecht ist, sieht es ähnlich aus.

Was ich zustelle: die regionale Tageszeitung, dazu überregionale Tages- oder Wochenzeitungen (Die Welt, FAZ, Die Zeit, Paulinus, und so fort).

Ich habe im Schnitt 80 Exemplare pro Tag zu verteilen, macht etwa 200 Euro pro Monat.

Zustellende ist 6 Uhr früh. Die Kunden wissen das.

Am allerersten Tag stand ich um zehn Minuten nach 6 vor einem Briefkasten als die Tür aufging: "Ich bezahle über 30 Euro im Monat für meine Zeitung, und jetzt kommt sie zu spät".
Kein guten Morgen, nichts.
"Es tut mir leid, ich bin neu, es ist mein erster Tag."
Gemurmel, ein "ah", er nimmt die Zeitung und die Tür geht zu.

Es ist Winter. Mein Stammbezirk ist hügelig. Nebenstrassen werden nicht mehr gestreut, Hauseigentümer sind mal aufmerksam, mal Deutschland eher schlampig heutzutage.
Eine Arbeit, die umwerfend ist, na ja, im Winter schon.

Wenn es zu schlimm ist, kann man die Route später machen, muß aber der Zentrale Bescheid sagen, damit die nervöse oder genervte Kunden vertrösten kann.

Meine alten Schuhe sind nach einem Monat kaputt, ein halbes Monatsgehalt geht für neue Schuhe drauf.
Jacken gibt es von der Firma, aber nur geliehen. Alles andere zahlt man selbst. Mehr Kaffee, mehr Essen, und bei den Rauchern mehr Geld für Zigaretten.

Wegegeld wird gerne von den Arbeitgebern hervorgehoben. Stimmt, es gibt ein paar Cent mehr als den normalen Finanzamtsatz.

Das lohnt sich für Leute mit Fahrrad. Zusteller, die mit dem Auto fahren müssen, stehen oft schlecht da. Die meisten von uns haben kein schönes, sparsames, neues Auto sondern einen alten Schlucker, der auch öfter in die Werkstatt muß.

Wer Glück hatte, hat über die Abwrackprämie einiges gutgemacht. Aber diese Autos werden auch langsam alt.

Und dann sind da Beschwerden an die Firma, viel weit tragender als morgens persönlich angeraunzt zu werden.

Ein Autohändler hat seinen Hof aufgrissen und altes Asphalt durch neue Pflaster ersetzt. Die Baustelle war unbeleuchtet, jeden Tag waren neue Löcher da, neue Fallen. Und dann waren da rostige Stahlstäbe, alles ungekennzeichnet.
Nach einer Woche Hindernislauf, endlich neuer Schotter, wenigstens keine Gefahr mehr.
Und dann beschwert er sich bei der Firma, ich hätte seinen Schotter zerstört und er müsse leider eine teure Rechnung an die Firma senden.
Schrecklich. Nach einer Woche in pechschwarzer Nacht nur mit einer Taschenlampe.
Wie als Hohn ist das Haus nun nachts beleuchtet. Hat er sich geschämt, den Nachbarn nachts beleuchteten Schotter zuzumuten?

Zum Glück gibt es andere Menschen. Eine Frau kommt an die Tür, begrüßt mich und die Kollegin.

Der  unterbrochene Schlaf setzt fast jedem Zusteller zu. Man möchte ja nicht jeden Tag um 18 Uhr im Bett sein, wenigstens ein wenig sozialen Umgang haben.
Also schläft man morgens eine zweite Runde.

Sechs Tage pro Woche, Montags bis Samstags morgens , das ist der zweite Knackpunkt. Wer außer Ärzten arbeitet heute noch sechs Tage die Woche?
Nur ein einziger Tag zur Erholung, allein das wäre schon 8,5 Euro wert.

Die zusätzllichen Werbezettel sind für mich nichts anderes als papiergewordene Dummheit. In ihrer Hochglanz-Glitschigkeit müssen sie an jeden Haushalt zugestellt werden. Einen halben Kilometer außerhalb der Zeitungsroute? Ja.

Schrott, der dem Zusteller 0,02 Euro pro Exemplar bringt. 2 Cent, die wahrscheinlich gerade den Schuhverschleiß, die Verkürzung der Taschenlampen-Akku-Lebensdauer und die extra Kalorien für den Weg abdecken.

Möbel aus Press-Span mit Plastikfurnier, Kunst für den Vorgarten -- Gartenzwerge sind out, Blechvögel sind in. Italienische Namen für überteuerte Billigklamotten Made in Bangladesh.
Und für Leute, die sich vor dem Einmaligen Sonderangebot TV für 79 Euro zuviele Pfunde angegessen haben ("Schweinesteak jetzt radikal billiger" für 2,59 statt 2,79 Euro), für die gibt es ein Einführungsangebot des örtlichen Fitness-Clubs.

Selbst Schuld? Daran, dass mir die Leute leid tun, die nichts als Arbeit plus ein paar Wochen Urlaub haben für Lohn irgendwo an der Mindestlohngrenze? Daran, dass man als Armutsmigrant gilt weil die Berufsausbildung hier nicht anerkannt ist? Daran, dass man als Bäcker für eine Betriebskantine jeden Morgen für 1000 Personen frische Backwaren auf den Tisch brachte und hier nicht Bäcker ist?

Ich habe schon gewitzelt, nächstes Jahr als Beruf "Astronaut i.R." auf der Steuererklärung anzugeben. Astronaut ist nicht geschützt, und im Ruhrstand ist man ja in dem Job schon mit 30 Jahren oder so.

Aber das Finanzamt würde sich wahrscheinlich veräppelt fühlen, und das mögen deutsche Beamte nur im Karneval.

Also Beruf "Keiner".

Oder Zeitungszusteller?

Ist kein Beruf, daher keine 8,50 Euro.

Man braucht dafür keine Ausbildung!

Zum Politiker übrigens auch nicht.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The lost honesty of the Germans

From our People are People series.

I'm shocked at how dishonest this country has become.

The person who made this strong statement is German American, and we met at the grocery store.

We were in line, chatting, when the lady in front of us turned her attention from the checkout woman: "I have to ask now, are you American?"
After our affirmation, she finished paying with a few nice words in flawless German for the cashier, then waited until we were done.

We talked, first next to the spring time special hedge clippers for 5.99, then out in the parking lot. It turned out she lived some 150 miles from where we last lived in the States, and we actually had a number of common acquaintances.

This whole "global village" thing has become true, this was more proof.

We met up a few days later at their house a couple of miles away. The house was the reason for her visit. Rather problems with the house.

Born and raised for several years in communist East Germany, the lady had been taken to the West by her mother, fleeing a country that had imprisoned her grandfather in notorious Bautzen penitentiary and done other bad things to her family.

Married with children and living in the U.S. the family had kept their German "anchor house" through the decades, renting it out rather cheaply.

They had been hit by "rent nomads" who not only stopped paying rent after a year, making the owner go through a German eviction process (at best a 12 month affair) but caused flood damage and, to top it off, took the few valuable items left in the house.

The homeowner's insurance paid for the water damage, then cancelled the policy. The repair cost of 60 000 euros, or around 90 to 100 K dollars, was a sweetheart deal between the claims adjuster and local builders - that's the only possible way this payment came about. Who knows, maybe they shared some with the renters, too.

Tiling the floors of two rooms, putting in cheap wood paneling and replacing a couple of yards of burst water pipes near the gas furnace for 60 K is plain fraud.

That price should get you gold plated pipes.

These events were but one contribution to the statement at the beginning of the post. We'll save others for later.

She still loves Germany, is not as the fancy term of modern day assertive Germans is "anti-German".

It's an everybody fights for himself world, stingy, money grabbing without the American "easy come, easy go" or philanthropy, is how we summarize our conversations. Or, in her words, everyday pervasive dishonesty, unlike in her old Germany.

We don't know life in German cities well, but out here in the country, belonging to the tribe has historically been important. Which means, your family has been around for two centuries. Yet, there appears to be a regression to tribalism after the days of greater openness, so dismissing her impression would not quite do it justice.