Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Recycled civil servants, Germany post 1989

German media are buzzing on the eve of the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A bunch of people have been credited over and over with the momentous events leading up to this and all the great things afterwards, and all of them have their claque, their TV documentaries and their cheerleaders. Our favorite continues to be  Mikhail Sergeyevich G. He had the toughest and most dangerous job of any leader and somehow managed to survive.

One of the funnier sides of integrating two countries was the appearance of the German recycling symbol "Green Dot" on name plates next to government office doors.

The Green Dot symbolized in part self-deprecation, in part self-assertion by East German officials who were taken over into the government structure of the new old country.

For average East German government workers, a process of vetting was meant to keep Stasi informants and/or Russian spies out of the united government workplace.

If they passed, they were green lighted, hence the Green Dot symbol some appropriated in the transition.

We do not know if politicians proudly co-opted the Green Dot, but one scientist and local socialist youth organization official later made it to the most powerful job in German politics, that of Chancellor of Germany. A job she still holds today.

If you feel like movie night, we recommend the drama The Lives of Others and the comedy Good Bye, Lenin!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Banana Peel Hoax revisited for an easy way to get chemicals tested

At the heart of our little organic garden effort is the fact that tens of thousands of chemicals, including pesticides, are out there for sale with no oversight and nobody regulating them.
Makes you wonder if things like the fact that birth rates are going down in many countries might have to do with other things in addition to the much vaunted education bump?
Photos of frogs with two heads, statistics of estrogen levels in way out rural places, cancer, or Parkinson's style "lights out in the brain" - they don't seem to generate a regulation effort.

NPR (National Public Radio) gave us an unexpected, yet simple, hint today. They reported on pranksters and the urban myth that smoking banana peels gets you high.
Singer Country Joe McDonald came up with the hoax, and it appears to have had enough staying power to stick around for decades.

That's when the worrying article about untested pesticides in the Huff Post lost some of its scare.

What if people claimed this or that pesticide gets them high? Wouldn't that get attention and - maybe - some swift testing?

So, pranksters might look for an untested pesticide, get together with a few friends,  make up some imaginary fun drug effects, then publish these?

Would the manufacturer of TheTotallyHarmlessPesticide hand out a press release saying that TheTotallyHarmlessPesticide will not get you high and may damage your health if you inhale, smoke, inject, sniff, eat, or otherwise ingest it?

Warning: Pesticides are always dangerous - after all they are designed to kill living things. Stay away from them. Far away! If you must do something useful, buy the nude farmers calendar.

One more thing: In case the algorithms used to trawl for fishy webby web stuff do barf on this a post, rest assured. It may not be funny, but it is satire.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chin strap for energy cannibalized by cigarette smokers

The chin strap that harvests energy received some serious media coverage earlier this month.

The BBC article had a great close-up of a potential energy source: the traditional chewing gum.

Best thing about the article, grumbled our TheEditor.

It may power a hearing aid in the future!

Oh, I can dig that. If you want to listen, you start chewing, great.

It's for the battery!

I know that.

We don't know if chewing a burger or a gum is going to be the next big thing in tech, but we prefer the reporting Vice Motherboard did on this one: Sure, a Chin Strap That Harvests Energy.

Let's face it: any movement can harvest energy. All motion is energy. Putting a few straps on your hands can turn typing lines like the one you are reading now into a source of energy.

Walking can be exploited, as floor panels prove. Imagine taking a long walk, like in an airport with a mile long concourse, used as an energy source. The annoying trek from gate 1 to gate 245 finally has some purpose.

Closer to home, there is a multitude of free energy sources, too. You could harvest power in your sleep by fitting a mattress with a collector. Every time you roll over in your sleep, you get a few extra joules of juice.

More vigorous activities in the bedroom would generate even more energy.

Not tonight, baby.

The alarm clock battery is low, we need to generate more power.

Generating power might even be a way to redeem the modern social outcasts smokers.

Fit a strap thing to the elbow, and every time the lit stick of death moves toward the mouth, voila, energy!

If grandpa does not move as much as he used?

All we are going to say about that: miniature methane fuel cells.

[Update 9/28] Added the link http://www.physics4kids.com/files/motion_energy.html

Friday, September 26, 2014

No German Soccer club cards for orphaned refugee kids

The news headline was one of the sort that makes you blink and read it again to make sure.

The German soccer association DFB won't allow unaccompanied refugee kids to get a club card and play soccer*. Or football as they say here. Or foozball with real people.

Card applications must be signed by a parent.

This simple rule is apparently being followed to the letter because, rumor has it, somewhere some club or official got in trouble for not adhering to it.

The refugee children in question are unaccompanied minors, not necessarily orphans, just children from crisis stricken places who ended up in Germany without parents.

Government social services officials are the legal guardians of the children, uber parents who watch over any foster families and so on.

Yet, the German soccer association Deutscher Fußballbund (DFB) refuses to allow these children to play in clubs of the organization.

Sure, the kids can get a ball and play on some rec field, but the fun ends there.

While local chapters of the DFB have at least voiced their regrets at the policy, the national organization seems to keep quiet. They know it doesn't look good.

Maybe someone should explain to them that legal guardians are included under the term parent?

Maybe they are just trying to protect the youngsters from concussions - a protection most officials who are former players probably could not enjoy.

* According to recent newspaper reports.

[Update 2/24/2016] After the outcry, steps were taken to fix this. [End update]

Camden Town Market - from bustle to hustle

Camden Market, around 1990

Coming out of the Chalk Farm Road subway station (the Underground), you navigate around panhandlers and buskers, take a right, and the market is right there.
Traffic is dense both ways, the trucks spew diesel fumes which will combine with whatever you breathed in in the subway and your own mucous into a tar like substance.

Past the shops along the side of the road, next to the canal, the maze of stalls begins. This place looks more like an oriental bazaar than anything, it embodies life and makes the Portobello Road Market seem like the perfectly orderly posh movie backdrop it really is.

Camden is gritty, chaotic, you can buy anything here, not just overpriced antiques and leaky gas masks for your dungeon. Near Camden Lock, all small things Asia spill out in front of you - sometimes on the ground, too. Specialized stands sell off the vinyl discs of the past. Second hand clothing abounds. And Doc Martens shoes are cheap.

People haggle and chat, and you have all UK accents plus the former empire and the tourists.

Just outside of the market are old manufacturing buildings converted to music halls. If you enjoy punk or metal, there are venues with all black interiors, a floor easily washed with a hose, bare walls.

In those days, your walk on the wild side might well end with agitated room mates having plastered the area around the phone with notes: call home as soon as you get in, Jenny called - call back, Jenny called again.

All because you had planned to go to the market but then went watching mummies at the British Museum. Hence, you were not anywhere near the market when an IRA bomb exploded.

Camden Market 2010

Coming out of the Chalk Farm Road subway station (the Underground), there are no  panhandlers, and the single busker at the other end is having a chat with a copper (aka a police officer). Take a right, and the market is right there.

Well, it should be. They narrowed the street for vehicle traffic, making more room for pedestrians. The shops along the way still have the old facades but that's about it. They are well lit display cases of two or three classes of goods: Crap and More Crap.

Near the canal and the Lock, the old stalls with their DIY cases, three legged card tables, and raggedy canvas shade and rain protection have been replaced with uniform little wooden huts, small rectangular box stalls with slanted roofs and maddeningly well aligned and straight interiors.
You can almost see the OxBrigde designers of the sanitized tourist trap go:
How can we engineer a, well, I believe you call it rustic, appearance of a market?

Well, McNitwit & Sons make delightfully tacky but stylish huts, all wood, so we can put Green on the brochures, fully wired for electricity.

Wonderful, it should be a clean and safe experience, so that the Queen herself would be comfortable shopping there.

They sell more crap. Brand new container ware, plastic. And steampunk gear all made in China.

On the plus side, the food is better. There is a food alley with pretty good chow from around the world. Better food, though, applies to all of the country. Gone are the days when cardboard recycling meant that PizzaChainOutlet turned the cardboard of discarded boxes into pizza.

The old English or British sales people are no longer there. Of course, those from way back when are retired. But not a single one of the booth attendants and shop clerks can be over 25 years old.

Tops, most are pushing 20. Only the street sweeper is still a black guy in his fifties.

A single vintage shop in the Stables market is a reminder of Camden.

We should have checked the reviews section of Time Out magazine, says Old London Connoisseur.

So, we did. Time Out review: not yet rated, be the first.

Don't bother.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Unhinged - first the door, then self: German marketing use of "terrorists, mercenaries, sympathizers"

The true test of adapting to a foreign culture is not mastering the language - that's overrated, a myth created by people who did not know better. And perpetuated by the German government since around ten or so years ago: must learn German to be allowed into the country if you hail from a developing country. Westerners get in and then need to learn.

In Japan, English became fashionable after the last lost war and when Japanese office workers realized the teachers were very often very cute Americans.

The true test is fixing a broken appliance or other feature in your new home.

We have stopped counting the number of trips to the home improvement/DIY store, but they probably rival the number of trips to the grocery store.

The other day, we hopped a few towns over to our favorite DIY store, the one with only 8% terrorists.

If you missed our tweets on this: German marketing folks have gone bananas.
Here is tweet number 4.
Don't believe they use "", "", "" in ?...

Anyhow, foreign DIY!

The good news is, the store layout is Western Bland International. Easy to find your way around. Much of the stuff is also the same, even inches are used for pipes and things.

Just when you think, oh, a breeze, it tends to get you. Door hinges did it this time around.

A guest room door had become unhinged. Years ago. It was like that when we moved in. After much planning and procrastinating, the blogster was browsing the Hardware, Hinges, Doors section.

The old hinges were weird. The part that goes on the door jamb had two eyes, one at the top, the other at the bottom for a bolt to slide in and hold the door counterpart in place. 

So, yes, you have two separate parts that slide into each other. Regular German doors between rooms have this swanky offset door design which precludes the American one-sies, the good quick Home Depot and ACE hardware hinges.

The American way:
Wedge door in place, put on hinge assembly, screw to jamb, screw to door, done.
Skill level: fresh off the boat.

The German way:
The German two-part or three-part assembly is much trickier to mount. The old style forces you to install the jamb parts and then fit the door pieces because the door pieces block the holes for the screws.

The newer designs at least have two of the screw holes moved onto a sort of tongue that extends beyond the pivot at the top and at the bottom. But the effing assembly is still in two parts, so what to do?
Skill level: the strength of a carpenter combined with the dexterity and the eye of a master jeweler.

The Germans have a good reason for the removable style: you may want to re-paint the door! And exactly when after the next 30 years?

Rest assured, both the door and the blogster are safely re-hinged, and we are looking forward to receiving guests without blushing when we explain the door thing.

The solution:
Duct tape, a small strip to temporarily hold the two pieces together. Then follow the steps under "American way".

Wouldn't it be nice if the manufacturers could hold the two pieces together with a plastic wrap and make a big innovation deal out of it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Where are my millions?

Where are my millions?

This was the best phrase of today's duolingo language learning lesson in the task translate this sentence into German.

If you must know, it is an easy one: Wo sind meine Millionen?

If you have ever learned a foreign language, you may know why we find sentences like this so wonderful. 

As practical as "where is the train station", or "where is the bus stop" or all the other immutable phrases of old are, they are terminally boring.

They are also of no help outside of their single purpose context.

In contrast Where are my millions? has many good uses.

For example, while your hedge fund manager may love to hear you ask for the nearest train station, the question you really want to ask is Where are my millions?

If you bump into a bank robber on entering the discrete private bank in the small country of Banking Heaven, once again, Where are my millions? would be the question you need, wouldn't you agree?

So, if you want to learn a new language, please use duolingo. No, we have no stake in the company, but we do feel that their free courses are more than worth their money.

Unlike, say, the offerings of Langenscheidt. While we find the fact that the company was founded 150 years ago nice, we never spend money on products whose color, in this case some shade of yellow, was defended in court - successfully - because we customers are obviously to dumb to distinguish between different companies and their products.

Langenscheidt does offer some German on German learning, too, with their new course on Cursing and Swearing in Bavarian.

This is a must have for northern, eastern, and western Germans. We do not recommend the book as reading material for new immigrants.

Before you get the impression this post is all about money, it is not.

We can easily think of many other areas in which the question is useful.

First assault cookies in stores for the war on Christmas 2014

You did not read it here first for once: Christmas cookies have re-conquered their annual shelf spaces in German grocery stores, and the media are not pleased.

The offending gingerbread and otherwise spicy and exotic baked goods associated with the Christian holiday of Christmas have been in stores for a good three weeks or more but it took an online opinion poll and a lack of domestic news for the media to take the bait.

The tender gingerbread heart, filled with a dollop of jelly, sealed in dark chocolate, makes great media bait.

According to the reports swirling around in this week's German press, a good 30% of Germans are in favor of a ban of Christmas goodies prior to a certain date.  A grand total of 60% regard the early sale of cookies and co. as a nuisance or find it diminishes their Christmas spirit.

Diminishing that Christmas spirit can only be, let's face it, an insidious manifestation of the war on Christmas.

Yet, not a single one of the writers has the heart to point out that Christmas is in December so the Christians could hijack the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the Northern European festival of lights.

When this year's TV panic about the war on Christmas starts, spend a minute on the Puritans in 17th century England and their efforts to keep the shops open on December 25th.

Will Germans ban the sale of Christmas cookies before a certain date?

Not this year, obviously.

We do not dismiss the possibility, as ridiculous as it seems to us. The demographics of those uneasy about the assault of the cookies unfortunately match the German government voting population to a significant degree.

A cookie sales deadline is also easy to pass, and if you get some healthy eating folks to weigh in*, legislative action becomes more likely. If that fails, go to the EU Commission and make them harmonize European standards.

Since, according to the poll, the younger generation does not care much about the issue.
We suggest a time tested way to fix this and get that Christmas spirit up.

Ban Christmas cookies altogether for people under 45! Old people over 45 should be able to buy them after checking IDs.

When grandma passes a cookie under the table to a grandchild, the existing thrill would be augmented by some actual danger (well, in some countries at least).

With social security benefits getting slimmer, Christmas cookies could augment other existing strategies, for example lottery ticket sales benefits, to feed seniors.

* "weigh in" is an utterly purposeful statement.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Needles in supermarket meat but no warning

How risky is going about your daily life, and when should the public be alerted to a danger?

In the case of potentially explosive train ticket machines, it took the German police about two months before they alerted the public. Nothing happened.

In the case of a customer sticking needles into fresh meat packages in supermarkets in the north of the country, it took many more months before the authorities went public (article in German).

With a grand total of about 20 incidents since late 2013, and one person injured, when should consumers be alerted?

Does it depend on the type of needle?

If the lady had used nice big knitting needles, certainly. Maybe one of the affected stores would have run a buy a pound of chicken, get a free knitting needle special.

The needles were small, helas, so did the police statisticians do some math? Several thousand supermarkets in the region, with two incidents per month for what - a couple of million packages of meat sold every month?

Equals five correct numbers in the lottery, or so.

Except, you don't even know you are playing.

Germany does not have cable news channels willing to dispatch their star reporters to all grocery stores within a hundred miles to fondle meat packages for hours on end, so the argument of a mass panic does not apply. German TV instead broadcasts hours and hours of guys driving fast in circles or days of people gliding down icy slopes.

Letting politicians or the tabloid BILD handle consumer safety alerts won't work either, because that would assure panic.

So, as usual, we have no solution to offer, and it is time to head to the store anyway.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Have a "slightly crazy" friend, or be one

It is okay to be slightly "crazy" every once in a while, and we should cherish our crazy friends. Of course, they need to be harmless. What is considered "slightly crazy" depends a lot on the culture you live in, which makes the examples in this post somewhat limited, we cannot fully shake the Western view of life.

Very much outside our definition of slightly crazy, and thus inexcusable: They beat their children or their wives - unlike an NFL player, they  go on a road rage spree, a drunk window smashing excursion or make life hard or impossible for people of a different skin color or ethnic origin.

Cooking way too much food for friends is fine, being messy is okay, rambling about everything and everybody is okay - though exhausting. Going Halloween or carnival crazy is generally accepted, although we are eagerly awaiting this year's installment of news reports along the lines "<school, church, organization> forbids Halloween costumes".

Other examples are the young woman who spends much of her night in front of a tricked out big screen computer playing World of Warcraft, or the friend who hit his head in an accident and has been afraid of the number 4 ever since.

The number 4, not 3 or 5 or any other, just 4.

As long as the friend realizes that he or she can be a little off or slightly crazy, all is well. The people the blogster distrusts or fears are those who won't admit to themselves that they, too, are a little crazy every not and then.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Silly Saturday: Politicians & anti-ageing potions?

From our Silly Saturdays series.

There cannot be any doubt: while the rest of us are distracted by this or that real or imagined crisis and the daily quest for food, our politicians have managed to get their hands on anti-ageing medication that really works!

We are not talking botox because their faces still move. We are not talking human growth hormone either because the 5 foot shorty remains five feet tall -- we checked that by surreptitiously photobombing one of our locals over the course of five years.

The lower right hand corner ads in the free paper can be discounted, too. Vitamins and health supplements from the GTWhatever chain do not seem to have the effects we have observed. 

Baths of donkey milk or dolphin sperm are the stuff of old tales or adolescent imagination. Please refrain from picturing your favorite leader immersed in either.

A free lance member of the K-Landnews team, with whom we have since severed ties, suggested a less corrosive form of live embalming might be used.

Secret potions could explain it, but this is hard to evaluate because the Harry Potter books are stingy on real world recipes.

The fact of the matter is, we have not come up with a reasonable explanation. So, we put the question to our readers.

The most visible effect of the anti-ageing medication is the reversal of the subject's hair color to its natural tone, the second most visible sign is the smoothing out of wrinkles and the restoration of a healthy facial skin tone.

You can check the existence of the anti-ageing phenomenon for yourself by comparing election posters to minor newspaper photos of our leaders.

The main reason for assuming a secret formula is that it must be pretty rare still and quite expensive*. Lower ranking officials probably cannot afford to use it all the time, hence the difference in appearance on campaign posters and workday photos. Higher ranking officials do not display that stark difference often.

The local and state officials probably have to buy it from the national party org, or they get vouchers like the suit and dress vouchers you can read about in the news.

Again, this is all mere conjecture, which is why we ask you to provide any information you may have.

* Claims that outrageously high pensions for politicians serve in part to secure access to the meds or potion are likely overblown because the pension levels vary between countries.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

20 Euros for a change of address in Germany?

Well, no, but people still fall for it.

The geniuses at the German Postal Service took a single service and split it up. Now, there is a mail forwarding service as well as a change of address service, with a Hold Mail service to complement the offerings.

All of this used to be free. These days, only the change of address is free.

12 months of mail forwarding will set you back 25 Euros*. 6 months cost 20 Euros.
Hold Mail can be had for 3 months for 10.20 Euros.

When mail was sorted by hand, the service forward service was free. Nowadays, when all that is done is create an entry in a database, you pay 25 Euros.

Of course, that was a government run operation, devoid of incentive or willingness to make a profit.

Like other postal and telecommunication services in Europe, the German service was (partly) privatized and has since expanded internationally and into related sectors.
Introduction of what we call SMS pricing was the logical thing to do. After all, this monopoly wouldn't last forever and profit needed to be made. "SMS pricing" is our favorite example of a service that costs virtually nothing sold to the consumer at 100 times the cost.

How well does the mail forwarding service work?

Gee, not nearly as well as we thought when we moved into our place.

The folks who had lived in the house before us had set up mail forwarding, yet, from day one, mail addressed to them continued to land in our mail box. Multiple trips to the post office (privatized, too) and a friendly you know they have an active forwarding request, did not stem the flow.

Oh, and the company is still 20% government owned via a government bank, we found when we researched into the fee structure. It makes a profit, 20% of which go into the state coffers to supplement our taxes.

Sadly, other postal services have embarked on the same paths, and with identity verification in place in the U.S. there is very little chance to see Dick Cheney's mail forwarded to Comedy Central.

Finally, the obvious question: if you move within Germany, should you fork over the money for mail forwarding instead of the free "change of address"?

Probably, yes. Companies around here are pretty ruthless about late fees, and unless you have hours of computer time to spare on explaining and bitching (in that order, please) and putting your experience up on a web site while avoiding claims of damage to reputation -- pay up, and feel proudly assured that the margin benefits the government, too.

* It is 24.90 to be exact.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Full-Spectrum Ignorance

Long before there was Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel or the British series The Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson of the great Time Team, there were the curious and, at times, curiously strange folks who would eventually form the K-Landnews.

From an early age, some of us multiple personalities first tried to follow instructions given by parents, relatives, teachers, or a drunk in the park [who turned out to be a teacher, too].

Go play in the traffic!

Go fly a kite!

Go eat sh***!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

We did them: we scared auto drivers, we made crows in a tree laugh with our 2x4 framed kite, we puked up rotten shell fish, and we drank such vast quantities of lemonade that the absence of type II diabetes is a miracle big enough to prove the existence of a higher power.

Eventually realizing that adult instructions often caused trouble, activities changed to more self-motivated ones, with mixed results. We already proclaimed ignorance to be the one truly inalienable human right in an earlier post, but we had not explored it much.

How does it feel to be ignorant? Can ignorance be measured, and if so, what units are used?

We started out by making a volunteer read German tabloid BILD. After a couple of weeks of reading nothing but BILD, our editorial guinea pig began to exhibit signs of mental sluggishness and asked for all newsroom notes to be written in font size 48 or greater, with all nouns in red.

Then serendipity struck: there is an ignorance test! Not knowing that an ignorance test existed should in itself be a good sign, doesn't it indicate a hidden natural capacity for ignorance?

Surprise, there are many different ignorance tests! There's a General Ignorance Test on dating site OKCupid.

That's not a good one, though, because it has a question about humps.*

We were looking for a scientific approach to ignorance and found it at The Ignorance Project. What a great name and a great disappointment. They want to fight ignorance.**

But there is a test, and our editorial volunteer took it and was found ignorant. The measurement unit was percentage points. This conflicts with the statement of a lady friend who holds that men generally express ignorance in inches or centimeters.

How does it feel to be ignorant?

Explained our volunteer: Life takes on a clarity I never thought existed. There is only one right answer.  To everything. I'm not fully there yet, I still catch myself having doubts, but it is getting better. Anybody got today's Bild Zeitung -- there is work to be done.

We will watch the development to see if our volunteer attains the most comprehensive state of bliss in ignorance: full-spectrum ignorance.

* Call us ignorant, but any question about humps on a dating site....
** By cramming facts down our throats. Seems to be an odd way of doing it.
*** C'mon!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wolf Alley & Peach Orchard Drive - naming landmarks after things lost

A Sunday afternoon walk through a nearby small town became the reminder for a post long planned and equally long forgotten.

Naming of places and streets in recent decades.

A lot can be said about how places get named as well as re-named in the modern Western states. Or not renamed, as one episode of British TV show Time Team demonstrated when they dug up a one thousand year old leper hospital outside of a modern town: the area is named Hospital Field to this day.
We will stay away from commenting on naming streets after persons living or dead, and we won't go into details of the more creative naming, such as Infinite Loop. By the same logic, we will not explain why one or more neighborhoods in German cities have earned the nickname "hangman's neighborhood".

What is left is small town middle of the road naming.

On the stroll, we walked along Maple Drive, Oak Street, and Spruce Lane without thinking about the street names.
Only half way down Hill View did the naming issue creep into the conversation.

Have you noticed how we tend to name places after what we destroyed when we brought in the bulldozers?

Hm, but you do see the hill.

Check again, will you? You can see the hill from the street when you are in this one spot behind us but not from back here.

This was true. And oddly enough, there were no maples on Maple Drive or oaks on Oak Street. Though were were a couple of small oaks on Maple Drive, but hey.

Sure, there is no requirement or need for practical or truthy street names, yet, over here in Europe it is almost inconceivable to apply the super practical American ordinal numbering system to streets.

Even in brand  new cities like the so called garden cities of post World War II England. They just wouldn't go for it.

The one German city with a very different naming system, Mannheim, has a chess board layout and naming of the city center.

Do you know a little bit of chess? How does this sound: Pedestrian from P1 to O5?

Arguing that Europeans use plant names as easy and historically somewhat permanent names does make some sense, but even very odd names (to our ears) can stick around for a very long time.
Honestly, would you expect the surf forecast for Shit Creek to be anything but a parody website?

And Hill View, then?

It certainly beats the much more objectively descriptive names we came up with, such as Freeway Ruckus or the tongue in cheek Red Light Lane [after the red aircraft warning lights on the wind mills at night].

Freedom Fries anybody?

Yeah, we are doing a weather forecast!

As a news site, shouldn't we have a weather forecast? With a nice round yellow sun image, fluffy clouds, and cute super fat rain drops?

We decided to do one, a single one that has to be good enough for the year. The rest of the time, go to wunderground.com, they do a much better job at the weathery thing. And they don't bring down the effing tablet all the time like some of the heavy on user interface, light on content weather sites.

Our local weather experts are: one very old lady and our cats.

Their forecast for this winter: an early but not very harsh winter.

Early because the first swallows left in the middle of August, weeks before their normal departure time.

Not very harsh because the cats' winter fur is on the light side. A note of caution though: we have had apple blossoms in early September!

The humans at the K-Landnews think that this summer's odd weather patterns might have tricked the swallows and/or the cats to some extent. But the forecast above is as good as any, so, let's see what the next two months bring.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wilhelm Busch's comics - the success of failure

This post is a sequel to the previous musings in "Too much education?"

Examples from the past are not always the best approach to discussing issues of the present or the future. We frequently do not know the whole story, or we sanitize and deify. For instance, the idea that the Western world's most favorite empire - the Romans - had conscientious objectors, or that there was a substantial anti-war movement in Southern states of the U.S. in the Civil War.

When it comes to the education of some of the most famous scientists, artists, or leaders in the past two to three hundred years, we are on firmer ground.

And we are happy to say that some of the most outstanding were educational failures or people who would never get a substantial education today. We do not know if we should include Leonardo da Vinci because of his "informal education". You can look up the bios of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the rest of the bunch.

We'll like these three: 

Michael Faraday*

Joseph Fraunhofer*

Wilhelm Busch
Wilhelm Busch dropped out of his mechanical engineering classes at the university of Hanover, Germany, subsequently did a stint at art school in Duesseldorf, only to drop out again. Another attempt in Antwerp, Belgium, ended when he caught typhus.

Rhyming and drawing, Mr. Busch created Germany's most famous mischievous boys Max and Moritz (the link is to the English version of the story) and is widely credited as being the grandfather of the comic strip. How about the ancestor of the poetry slam, or rap, too, minus the music?

The Katzenjammer Kids are said to be inspired by Busch's characters.

Even in today's social media, Busch characters continue to play the modern versions of their old selves, from the stern headteacher correcting German spelling to Max & Moritz shenanigans.

Do not confuse the pyromaniac Max & Moritz characters by Busch with the Max Moritz lab of the University of California, Berkeley, which studies fire regimes.

One more thing:
The boy duo as a theme in German comics lived on in the famous series Fix & Foxi, much less malevolent or gruesome, nonetheless likely inspired  by Max & Moritz.

* The entry barriers in modern science are somewhat higher than in the old days. A few feet of copper wire and a magnet won't make you a new Faraday. A handful of sand and a few vials of other elements won't make you another Joseph Fraunhofer.

Too much education?

It's like when everybody drives a Ferrari, how can you be special, mumbled the pundit.

High pitched squabbles about education are one of our favorite subjects in the media besides Christmas, Easter, assorted terrorists and their complements (assorted law and order freaks), and the kinds of bacteria on a keyboard or smartphone.

For years, much of the mainstream education debate in Germany has centered around the increase of college students and the reorganization of the higher education system. Some of the old barriers to higher education were abolished, allowing, for instance, young people to go to college after a vocational training program.

The persistent fact that your social background continued to determine your chances in life more than in many other Western countries was largely ignored. Opening up academic education to graduates of vocational training programs was not a strategy to change this. It was driven largely by demographics and the appearance of vocational jobs as dead end careers.

German students who wanted to keep their option of college open, would go through the full 13 years of high school, then go into a 2.5  to 3.5 year vocational program and enter the labor market. Too late, in the view of German business. Even worse, many of these young people would then go to college for another four or five years.

The mantra of maintaining the competitive edge of the German economy, combined with the obviously reasonable removal of barriers that had existed since the dawn of the modern education system worked.

The number of college educated citizens continued to rise. Education budgets for colleges continued to fall.

Predictably, the mantra became too many graduates, not enough money!

Predictably, both are overstated: in recent international comparisons, Germany's college education rates are not among the top, and the money question revolves around priorities. If every single pothole must be repaired in places where the population is decreasing, something's got to give.

Sadly, social stratification through education - or rather the absence of it - is not only acknowledged but is being justified in major German papers with the most flimsy or arguments.

In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a recent article was entitled "Social background  becoming determining factor again" [our translation of Die Herkunft wird wieder entscheidend.] The title implies that there was a time when social background was not the main determinant but does not elaborate on this.

The key sentence of the article, to us, is this:
Die Herkunft prägt schließlich immer auch die Motivation und Ambitionen eines jungen Menschen, sie fließt ein in die Berufswahl. 
[Our translation: After all, the social background also shapes the motivation and ambitions of a young person, it influences the choice of career.]

An interesting statement in the overall context of the article*, we decided to use it as a challenge to our readers: We did not check the author's background, but we bet that the author of the newspaper article is, at minimum, from a German educated middle class background. Which we define as at least one parent having a college education and working in a profession (white collar).

Feel free to accept the bet. If you win, we will send you our Susan B. Anthony one dollar coin. Shipping on us because we have not managed to find a taker in almost two years of blogging.
Our grumpy TheEditor has its** own opinion on the article: "shows there is no such thing as too much education".

* Which is based on a Stanford study. Of the U.S. system.
 ** TheEditor insists on gender neutrality.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Please lie to me - well, sometimes

No, not you, and not you either. Do it only if you are messing with my health or with the well-being of the country I happen to live in at that time.

There are days when the blogster hears something and thinks please, let that be a lie.

The reaction applies in a very narrow sense: if and only if the statement in question would otherwise be utterly dumb, supremely vicious, or stupendously denigrating.

The easiest public examples are legion in politics and other areas of public life. The head of state or secretary looking straight into the camera and explaining why the nation is doomed unless  <bullshit> is a favorite.

But the friend who borrowed 50 bucks a year ago and has since found work again with enough to spare to pay back a few dollars a month is just as important. If you need advice on how to deal with someone who has been saying I'll pay you back next month for a year, search the web.

Please let that be a lie is a defense mechanism, albeit a crude one, probably not universal but likely more common than you'd think.

In the case of elected officials, it serves a dual purpose:
1. Nobody wants a country to be led by someone as dumb as a fence post. Yes, engineers are working on "smart fence posts", but don't worry, we will not raise our demands to match the latest smart fence post. We'll stick with the old fashioned long piece of wood imagery.

2. It covers the whole spectrum of humanity: from the elitist disconcerting notion that a lot of citizens might be neither as smart nor as nice as you'd hope all the way to missed education and really bad or censored information.

In the case of a friend, the whole issue becomes very personal, and we all have to come to terms with our perception, the impact of a statement and so forth. As we said, there is plenty of advice out there.

One more thing:
Try to make it entertaining, that Darth Vader look and feel is soooo early 20th century, and we are in the 21st. What? You are so paranoid that you think even your calendar is lying to you?
And, please, do speak your true world views every now and then in the presence of someone with a decent quality smart phone.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Germany sees (re)turn of the parenthesis

This blog (or radio station for the hearing impaired) is one one the heaviest users of pa(ren)thetic expressions we know.

In part, that's because we don't know much else.

We use both the curved marks () and the variants amplification, interlude, and digression as defined by Merriam Webster. To make matters worse, we use brackets [ ] - a special type of curve - as well as the dash symbol.

A request: we are aware of the variants of dashes and have suffered from dashing editors. Please do not dash our hopes for only nice posting comments.

In return for our readers refraining from explaining subtle parenthetical differences, we promise not to explore whether the K-Landnews has been the force behind the return of the parenthesis in German public speech.* 

The return is visible in the media but above all on big billboards by the side of the roads.

An example:
The billboard shows a grey haired woman above the line
50plus (un)willig zu lernen**

The translation would be: 50plus (un)willing to learn
The particle "un" is rendered in grey and has an overlaid red x. The rest of the text is white.

What's wrong with the billboard?
1. The grey hair. Few women over 50 in Germany sport grey hair. Same reasons as everywhere.
2. The "un", despite the overlaid red x. Yes, we can see the good intention, stamping out prejudice. We would simply like a more optimistic version. Psychologically, making the x-ed "un" stand out as on this billboard may not be a great idea.

But the parenthesis around (un) are funny. Yes, funny.

Because the 50plus workers are indeed the parenthetical generation of the workforce.

* Not our fault or idea.
** We could not find an image, and you must not do a web image search with this string "50+ willig anzeige". Don't!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guilt by Association

Disclaimer: Do not try this at home! In some countries, if you do, you may not have a home much longer. We are what you call experts - which makes us prone to dole out ridiculous unwanted, biased missives masquerading as some sort of insight. While, in reality, it is just meant to alleviate boredom. **

The disclaimer really admits our inability to come up with a comprehensive description of a framework which would achieve the goal of having fun and privacy on the internet without governments misunderstanding a desire for privacy or a sense of humor.

A brief look at philosophy and legal treatises on government explains why that is: nowhere in the mountains of documents on which modern states are based will you find the requirement that government must have a sense of humor.

Worse, other than the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we could not find even the simple concept of happiness enshrined in the founding documents of modern states.
Note: If you read the Wikipedia page behind the link, skip the table section "Indictment".

Given the way the world works these days, attracting the attention of your own government often means other governments get to share this, with utterly unpredictable consequences.
We limit our enumeration of items of fatal attraction to ten items, any more could trigger depression in our more sensitive readers.

1) Take flying lessons.
This is 100% guaranteed to work. 

2) Have interesting friends.
Note: Stay away from religious friends, unless you are friends with the pope himself.
"Friends" is a loose term, "contacts" is used in many official documents, but even that is not sufficient. You may never have any contact with a person or organization, it may be enough that they have your email address or your postal address, which they may find on the web or which someone of ill will gives to them. It is called "hops", and it is not friends of friends of friends as the media tries to explain it to us dummies. Because if it were "friends", the blogster would be friends with assorted presidents, princes and some very gross folks.

3) Use strong encryption.

4) Set up a TOR relay.

5) Set up a TOR hidden service.
A "Hello World" page is enough. Just for a couple of weeks or months, no need to publish the address.

6) Try steganography.
Note: The lazy version to avoid the individual items 3 to 6 is to simply visit the TOR website. Depending on your country of residence (as defined by the IP address of your machine), the lazy version may work just fine.

7) Do not use a credit card (provided you live in a country where almost everybody else uses cards) .

8) Have a Twitter account.

9) Have a Facebook account.

10) Publish anything (the quality is irrelevant) about any or all of the above.

On second thought: It may be enough to own a cell phone and make a call near an "interceptor" tower. In the U.S., 19 such towers have been found recently, according to this Venture Beat article. In some countries, using a burner phone is sufficient to attract attention. 
Technology is advancing fast, so the list is getting longer as we write this, and algorithms are getting more complex, allowing individual actions each considered innocuous to be combined into something a computer considers worthwhile to check out (in legal terms "odd").

We have heard rumors about one joker who puts a bogus message at the end of emails, something like:


Version: GNU PGP 2.0.1


Apparently, he does this when he emails environmental organizations or liberal politicians.
To us, this is twisted because it exploits the fact that emails get scooped up as they travel over the wire/the cable/through the air.
So, even if the recipients block the guy, some computer through which the email is routed may think there is something nefarious going on.

Disclaimer repeat: Do not try this at home! In some countries, if you do, you may not have a home much longer. We are what you call experts - which makes us prone to dole out ridiculous unwanted, biased missives masquerading as some sort of insight. While, in reality, it is just meant to alleviate boredom.

** There are many countries where you do not have to do anything. Just talk on the phone, send an SMS, an email. But if we list those the media have already listed for us, where's the fun?

[Fake update] Did we test any of the listed items? Yes, some of them, not on purpose but they work.

[Update] "Adwords-Prinzip" benutzen - aber über Google meckern, nicht cool

Zum Glück bin ich nicht Google. Sonst würde ich mir die Firma Visual Meta wegen des folgenden kleinen Satzesauf deren Webseite vorknöpfen. All die weil Adwords doch immerhin eine Trademark ist.

Bidding im Adwords-Prinzip

Heute in der Rheinzeitung: "Wenn Google sein konkurrierendes Produktvergleichsportal aus den ersten Plätzen herauswirft."  So wird dort Herr Maier von Visual Meta zitiert. Stimmt das Zitat so?

Visual Meta ist kein neutrales Produktvergleichportal, sondern ein Aggregator. Visual Meta präsentiert sich als Eine Suchmaschine mit gleichzeitiger Shopping-Funktion –  ohne eigenen Versand und eigenes Lager. 

Wie das rechtlich haltbar ist, wissen wir nicht. Als wir die Seite zum ersten Mal aufriefen, dachten wir jedenfalls an "Suchmaschine", nicht an per bidding finanziertes Aggregatorportal. Erst beim Vergleich von Suchergebnissen und nachdem wir die Seite mit
Bidding im Adwords-Prinzip gefunden hatten, wurde es klar. Begrenzte Suche gegen Bezahlung.

Alle Shops unter einem Dach – All Shops, one site


Eine Suchmaschine mit gleichzeitiger Shopping-Funktion –  ohne eigenen Versand und eigenes Lager. 

Visual Meta hat sich zum Ziel gesetzt, Shopping im Internet so einfach und komfortabel wie möglich zu machen. Analog zum Claim „Alle Shops unter einem Dach“ möchte das Unternehmen seinen Nutzern die Möglichkeit geben, genau die Produkte zu finden, die sie suchen. Wer braune Stiefel aus Wildleder sucht, soll ebendiese finden – und anschließend im Shop seiner Wahl bestellen. Dafür bietet Visual Meta Such- und Filterfunktionen sowie ein großes Sortiment an Produkten rund um Mode, Möbel und Lifestyle.

Die Shoppingportale von Visual Meta bieten Kunden die Möglichkeit, Produkte ihrer Wahl zu durchstöbern, miteinander zu vergleichen und diese anschließend bei zuverlässigen Partnershops zu bestellen. Zahlreiche Filter erleichtern das Finden des gewünschten Artikels.

Bidding im Adwords-Prinzip 
Mehr möchten wir zu dem Problem Visual Meta nicht sagen. Screenshots der Seiten liegen uns vor -- nur damit keiner auf die Idee kommt, mal schnell ein (tm) bei Adwords einzufügen oder die irreführende "Suchmaschine" herauszunehmen.

Einloggen und Kaufen wie bei Amazon oder dem kleinen Webshop um die Ecke?
Von wegen.
Man wird weitergeleitet zum tatsächlichen Anbieter, beispielsweise Zalando, und muß dort ein Konto eröffnen etc. Es kommt kein Vertrag mit Visual Media zustande.

Zum Vergleich ein Portal, bei dem wir sofort klar erkannten, dass es eine Auswahl aus Shops ist. Danke http://www.stylight.de!

Die beste Auswahl aus über 100 Shops.


Häufig gestellte Fragen (FAQs)

Ist STYLIGHT ein Online-Shop mit eigenen Produkten?

Nein. STYLIGHT ist eine Destination-Seite für Mode. Bei uns findest du Mode, die du liebst aus deinen Lieblingsshops gebündelt auf einer Seite. Wir wählen die coolsten Produkte von Online-Shops und -Boutiquen, sowie angesagten Lables aus und zeigen dir jeden Tag die neuesten Trends. Wenn dir ein Produkt gefällt, klicke es an und du wirst direkt auf die Seite unseres Partner-Shop weitergeleitet, wo du das Produkt kaufen kannst. Dank STYLIGHT kannst du auf nur einer Website jeden Tag die aktuellsten Trends und neuesten Produkte aus all deinen Lieblingsshops online entdecken!

[Update] Here is our standard disclaimer: We make a few bucks a month from Google AdSense (and a few means enough for a fancy coffee), and we do not mince words when we think Google goes over the top. The old "Google vs. Doogle" in South Africa was worth some thoughts, as was the issue of ogooglebar.

[Update 10/12/2015] Visual Meta hat zwischenzeitlich dazugelernt und die Webseite komplett überholt. Es heißt dort jetzt:

Unsere Online-Shoppingportale LadenZeile, ShopAlike, Shoppala und UmSóLugar bieten Besuchern Millionen von Produkten tausender Online-Shops. Eine schnelle und übersichtliche Suche ermöglicht es, die Angebote verschiedener Online-Shops einfach und bequem auf einer Seite zu durchsuchen und das Wunschprodukt dann in einem der angebundenen Shops zu kaufen.

Das mit größter Sicherheit unlautere Darstellung als Eine Suchmaschine mit gleichzeitiger Shopping-Funktion –  ohne eigenen Versand und eigenes Lager ist verschwunden.

Das ändert selbstverständlich nichts daran, dass man als Internetbenutzer doch lieber gleich bei einem Anbieter kaufen sollte, weil die Anbieter nämlich Geld für die Aufnahme in die Visual Meta Portale zahlen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Uber Fights - Taxi Driver 2.0

It took several months before one of the five German daily papers we peruse did a test of the Uber taxistas.

The rideshare company from California had been making headlines in Germany as provider of cheap rides and easy taxi jobs for everyone.

So, today we extend a big kudos to FAZ for a well researched article! We did go and check on some American sites after all.
It is not a simple register and drive operation, in case you need to know. Lots of documents, including registration, insurance, driving record and clean history are par for the course. An inspection of the vehicle by a local Uber-German [so what, we could not resist] finishes off the process.

As of this post, Uber has beein violation of German law for over a week. A court in Frankfurt, Germany, came out against Uber, making it illegal for the company to continue offering its services in Germany.

We found it very interesting to see article after article about the company, the business model, the legal situation, without the nuts and bolts.

Remuneration was one question we had: the article delivers on that. One Euro per kilometer, 25 Cents a minute.

If you are not sitting down right now, please find a safe and comfortable seat before we tell you how much a regular taxi cab costs in Germany.

You're good?



12 km (about 8 miles) set the blogster back 32 Euros (40 bucks or so) on the only occasion on which we resorted to a cab. A recent newspaper report about a taxi company serving a local music festival stated a price of 100 Euros for 25 kilometers.

It is no wonder, then, that Uber and lesser known competitors represent a threat to the taxi cab business model.

While one Euro per kilometer will not make you rich in no time, it is pretty decent compared to many of the other "piece work" jobs available on the web. You have to do quite a bit of work as a mechanical turk to get close to the driving income. Driving is inherently more hazardous than verifying the physical address of a business web site, for instance, but at least you get out of the house and don't spend more time talking to your pet than any psychologist finds healthy.

The legal battles faced by rideshare companies are not limited to Germany and other European countries. This article about Uber and Lyft in Texas has a discussion, and it also addresses the very American "donation" model of compensation.

Yet, to some degree, the Uber fights can be considered another episode of much ado about nothing. With autonomous cars potentially coming to a road near you in the foreseeable future, taxi drivers may find their real worries are only starting. 

Our future does not include a taxi driver as far as we can tell.

Or maybe the 1976 movie for old times sake.

[Update 18 Sep. 2014] The court cancelled its expedited ruling, saying the matter was not urgent, so wait and see. In the meantime, at least one taxista has mounted a sting operation and bagged an Uber driver for operating a transportation service without proper license.

Monday, September 8, 2014

German Sharia Police and Federal Boob Inspectors

We were going to praise German officials for their calm and even keeled handling of an incident this past weekend in the city of Wuppertal.

But it was not to be.

First things first: On Saturday night, a group of muslim young men put on some orange reflective vests, suck "Shariah Police" (not the German word Polizei) on the back, and wandered through the streets of Wuppertal handing out flyers and tried to engage pedestrians in conversations about islamist cultural rules, notably no booze, no drugs, no prostitution, no public dance, and so forth.
They were stopped by police, cited for violating public assembly law and let go.

Police announced increased patrols, officials stated that, of course, no Sharia law rules are recognized in Germany.

Initially, the media took it well, pointing out it was more of a publicity stunt than anything. Some mentioned similar walkabouts in London, which did not make headlines in Germany. 

By Monday morning, German tabloid Bild picked up a statement by the Bavarian interior secretary: ...calls Sharia-Polizei "declaration of war", and BILD made sure you see this declaration by printing it in red.
Not reported anywhere near as brightly were two firebombings of mosques in Germany in the past four weeks.

Note that the Bavarian interior secretary used "Sharia-Polizei", which gives the stunt a much more official sounding quality.  

But shouldn't you use the German term, after all this is Germany?

No, you should not.

German media and the public use the English term "police" in many contexts, for instance, "fashion police". No German, even if they hardly speak English will use "Fashion Polizei".
During carnival, thousands of Germans dress up as cops, in U.S. style costumes, with "Police" and a badge.

To be sure, the only thing reflective about the men were the vests. Even in calmer days, it is not a good idea to put on some bright distinguishing dress and play at muslim fashion police.

At a time when the terrorists of ISIS are getting all the headlines left over by the Ukraine conflict, a stunt like this is just dumb. But the reaction of the interior secretary of one of Germany's biggest states - not the state where the event occurred - appears out of proportion.

Having a gaggle of Jehovah's Witnesses ring the door bell and start their spiel is as much of an inconvenience to the blogster as aggressive panhandlers or muslim fashion police.

And Federal Boob Inspectors, you ask?

No, the boob inspectors are not click bait. They also come as "bust" inspectors or "bra" inspectors, depending on the level of real or supposed frivolity the wearers intended. To the guys wearing these pins at Renaissance Faires across the U.S., the two crucial things about the pin are that the acronym is FBI and that the "B" resolves to any of the words in use for bosom.

So, what reception would a group of Federal Boob Inspectors encounter in a German pedestrian zone on a Saturday night?

It's anybody's guess, and we will certainly not test this one out.

Here is a screenshot of the Bild headline.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Who killed the SASE?

Today's title Who killed the SASE? was born out of feeling a bit contrarian and contrite.

We had an idea for a post in mind, then decided to not write it, and promptly got very upset at self when we recognized self censorship in action. TheEditor, rude as always, exclaimed: Fuck censorship! Oh, and never say Fuck the Censors, because these morons will think they might get laid!

What is a SASE?

In today's attempt to exploit the comedic potential of any random web search results list, we categorically state that SASE has nothing to do with Concrete Grinders (result no. 1) or SASE on eBay (result no. 2).
The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics? Nope.

Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers?

If you look at Western media coverage, wouldn't Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers be just another, longer name for "China"?

For our readers under 80 years of age, SASE is a self-addressed stamped envelope. For many years, this was the only way to get information from organizations like charities,  schools, or from overseas.

You had to go to the Post Office and buy the exact value of stamps or the exact number of international coupons. If it was an international exchange, you needed another resource that allegedly has become scarce today: patience.

Six to eight weeks was considered fast in those days of slow food and slow transportation.

Returning a book you bought this way? You'd find a better use, like propping up an unstable table. Or throwing them at your dog as it was chewing up a slipper in the far corner of the room.

As to who killed the SASE, blame Western Union or the credit card. Is there a niche SASE culture, similar to vinyl records or polaroid photos?

We don't know. If you type SASE into the search box of the Universal Postal Union web site, you get nothing.

So, has the Postal Union, derided by some as Big Letters, killed the SASE? Or was the search futile because the French abbreviation is different?

From slumlord in The Simpsons to destroyer of nerds in Family Guy

Having chronicled the rapid moral descent of a K-Landnews computer game player in the post "The Simpsons - Fully Tapped Out", we have to say there is worse.

In the Simpson's game, our player realized that building continuous blocks of houses without public infrastructure meant cash was rolling in thick and fast -- and became a slum lord.

After much pleading and arguing, The Simpsons was uninstalled, only to be replaced with Family Guy, the quest for stuff.

We vaguely remembered the Family Guy TV show as a bit risque. In the game the remainders of scruples over zingers have been discarded.
The developers and writers obviously had a blast, and so had our resident player.

Less than a week into the new game, the following conversation took place.

Come on, we need to go.

[Head down, not paying attention]  
Go where?

To the county, for the appointment at 11.

[Head down, fingers moving fast enough to warrant buying a high speed camera]
Oh, okay, just a few more minutes, I gotta whack some more nerds to get a bonus.


[Head down, fingers moving fast enough to warrant buying a high speed camera]
Yes, I built a wall around the nerds attending Comic-Con, and I get points for whacking them.

You serious?

[Head down, fingers slower, not blurred]
They are kind of hard to hit, so I built a wall around them, that has only one exit, and I can take them out one by one easily when they try to leave.
[Head up, proud smile, fingers stopped]

Wait a moment, you are killing nerds in Family Guy?

[Head down, methodical tapping]

You went from slumlord in The Simpsons to killer of nerds in, what, four days?

[Head down, methodical tapping, chuckle]
Yes, I get bombs for killing nerds, and I use the bombs to kill Baby Stewie.

We did make the appointment with two seconds to spare.

If any of you readers have solved the problem of moving a slightly game-homicidal human from Family Guy to Candy Crush, please let me know.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

So einfach ist Landespolitik

Man kennt das Bild, man kann es irgendwo in Deutschland an jedem beliebigen Arbeitstag sehen.

Sofern das Wetter nicht schlecht ist. Schlechtes Wetter ist nur dann akzeptabel, wenn man bei einer waschechten Katastophe Einsatz zeigen muß.

Der Fotograf der Lokalpresse braucht ja das Foto.

Szene: Ein Dorf im Hinterland. Auf der leeren Hauptstraße stehen diverse ehrenamtliche Ortsgemeindevetreter, in der Mitte - immer in der Mitte, wenn die Anzahl der Teilnehmer ungerade ist - der Minister bzw. die Ministerin.

Die Straße ist nicht mehr ganz jung, wie die großflächig underschiedlichfarbigen Asphaltflächen zeigen. Schlaglöcher sieht man keine.

Der Ortstermin dreht sich um den Straßenbau.

Die Gemeindevertreter möchten wissen, wann das Land die Straße erneuert.

Der Minister betont, daß man in Zeiten der angespannten Haushaltslage jeden Cent zweimal umdrehen muß.

Der Minister erklärt, der Landesbetrieb für Mobilität (LBM) sei die koordinierende und ausführende Stelle.  Dort würden sorgfältig die Prioritäten für Baumaßnahmen erarbeitet und umgesetzt. Der Minister erklärt, er werde seine Mitarbeiter beauftragen, beim LBM Erkundigungen einzuholen und sich dann umgehend mit den Gemeindevetretern in Verbindung setzen.

So wird das gedruckt, und alles ist klar. Übermorgen der nächste Termin am anderen Ende des Bundeslandes.

Wo die Regionalzeitung eine andere ist.

Und wo das Foto in der Dorfmitte denselben Regeln unterliegt und der Text der Meldung identisch ist.

Niemand fragt den Minister, warum er nicht vor dem lange geplanten Ortstermin kurz nachgefragt hat, hey, LBM, habt ihr etwas zu Unterkuhdorf, und wenn ja, wie sieht der Zeitplan aus.

Es macht Sinn, sich nicht vorab zu informieren, schließlich schreibt die deutsche Presse immer wieder mal von Landesfürsten.

Friday, September 5, 2014

National Irritable Bowel Day

Last week, the Germans celebrated what we decided to call National Irritable Bowel Day.

Well, they didn't really celebrate. Observed might be a better word. And the name is made up by us, we think. If that's not the name, it did look it should have been. A full page and a half in the daily paper dedicated to the bowel and its malfunctions. Unlike the inhabitants of our favorite Isle to the West, Germans don't do all that much potty humor. Erica Jong's observation while traveling in Europe did not concern the humor part.

That morning last week was a bit of a shock, then. The coffee had not kicked in yet, which made reading about the different types of ejection that indicate an irritated bowel more difficult.

Call me squeamish, but reading about projectile sh**ting at breakfast is a bit irritating.

Invoking the aspect of the greater good, of public health in modern society dampened the irritation enough to continue to read.

Mind over matter.

More like mind over fecal matter, growled TheEditor.

Some 14 million (out of about 80) Germans will experience an irritable bowel at some point during the year, the main article said.

Sounds kind of like a large number, but we don't know what it really means. How do the neighboring countries fare? Is the number going up or down, and why?

The good thing, we'd say, is that it happens over the year, not on a single day. The image of such an event is not pretty.

We cannot make fun of a serious effort to help people?

Sure we can.

The all time favorite of the blogster is a piece in the Stars and Stripes of yore. When Suicide Prevention Month was October. It still is?

The author of said article asked "so, does this mean I should wait until November?".

Anyway, we are looking forward to National Pumpkin Appreciation Day in October.

[update] spelling fixed...

The Immigrant's Lament - K.T. Guttenberg

Former German defense secretary and Bavarian CSU hopeful Mr. Guttenberg has penned an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled The Return of Europe's Sleepwalkers.

Praise for his harsh criticism of European and German politics comes mainly from U.S. sources, biblical themed pundits, like theTrumpet, and a sprinkling of very conservative European voices.

His main theme appears to be that the US is obviously overwhelmed but EU leaders don't even worry about not knowing what to do. If this is a correct summary of his view, he has not followed the European discussion in any meaningful way.

But it does not even matter.

Germans still remember him as the man who plagiarized in his PhD thesis so abundantly that even the Bavarian CSU, famous for its tolerance of foibles of the power brokers, had to let him go as a defense secretary. It will take a while before mainstream Germans will listen to his political views again.

For now, Mr. G. is enjoying his second chance in the United States.

His Wall Street Journal article is nothing but a predictable immigrant view. If you are accepted in a new country with open arms and by a network of friends, you can let go of old hurts.

We do not fault Mr. G. for loving the open American people, the freer debate culture beyond the often utterly formulaic and non-sensical German mainstream 'discussions', the flow of ideas, and everything else the U.S. has to offer.

It is easy to get carried away as a new immigrant, whether that be as an immigrant to the U.S., to the U.K., or to Germany.

The new found distance tends to change some of your mental points of reference, which in turn will help you realize that some of the ways of life in the old country were funny, or strange - rituals you can dispense with, rituals you can not only live without, but rituals that held you back, that may hold the whole country back.

Guess what?

Reaction to the WSJ opEd demonstrates to you what the blogster learned some time ago: they are not interested, even if you are right.

Their rituals and routines matter. Just as the ones you discover in the new country.


Don't be frustrated. The U.S. has offered you a lot, enjoy it, do something you love - as long as it is not politics for a few years.

Of course, it would be crazy for me to think you'd ever get to see this piece of gratuitous advice. Even crazier: you'd recognize how being an immigrant may have shaped your views.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Saving a life

Don't forget this: All over the world, many more human lives are being saved every day than are being destroyed.

Media coverage does not reflect this. Honestly, how could they? Put a Lives Saved Today ticker on the website of your favorite hospital or ambulance service? The moment you did that, someone - like us - would  ask why those lost are not mentioned.
So, other than for high-profile cases which make good TV footage or press coverage, forget about it. 

Then there is the complex aspect of causality, cause and effect attached to each other in an understandable, verifiable way.

If someone near you starts to scratch their face, their arms, and red blotches and blisters multiply, you call 911 or take the person to the emergency room. There, a smiling doctor may tell you you have just saved a life.

If a house is on fire and you run in to grab a child, that's even more straightforward.

Charitable giving is one major way to help save lives, but even tiny, everyday events can do it. You may never know if a stroll in a park interrupted a mugging that would have turned deadly.

Or it may take a decade or two to see the positive consequences of an action. But since innumerable events happen in a decade, it would very likely be a mistake to draw a straight line and assign credit.

Although such a line, as straight as the path of a bullet, that's to say straight enough, may exist in rare cases. When a French civil servant introduced himself to a ranking official at the Algerian embassy in Paris, that official emphatically shook the hand of the Frenchman and said, I am so pleased to meet you, I had you in the sights of my rifle many times.
This referred to the war in Algeria, where the Frenchman had served in the French army, but in such a manner that the local insurgents spared his life time and again.

Closer to home, much less dangerous and also very ambiguous, there is a story told by a friend. The friend had talked to a buddy and mentioned the intention to go and buy a new powerful computer. A week later, the buddy showed up, try this. After checking out the computer, the friend asked why there were data and why the machine tried to connect to a certain network. Is that stolen? I'll check. The friend refused the machine but did not contact the police. The next time he saw the buddy, the latter said yes, it fell off a truck. The incident was never mentioned again, and the buddy continued to be a normal, well liked member of the community. I thought hard about it, the friend explained, and then decided ruining someone's life over a couple of thousand dollars of hardware was not what I wanted to live with. In case you disagree with the assessment, the friend added, I returned the favor later, when someone cheated me out of a good amount of money. I went easy on the cheater because he had a family with small children.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rheingold 2014: Sinking 40 Million Euros into a River

You have to hand it to some German politicians, when they call for concrete investments, they mean concrete, as in the building material.

Recently, a bridge over the Moselle river made the predictable headline:  Bridge more expensive than planned. The original costing from 2010 stood at just under 130 million Euros. The latest figure in the press was just over 450 million.

The overrun does not surprise anyone, but what piqued our interest was the comment by the state interior secretary regarding the latest cost hike of 80 million over last year's figure.

The man said the bridge won't cost more because the federal government has agreed to pay the extra 80 million.

The precision of this statement made us want more, there must be more, we figured. And there was. Even better, it has to do with the ferry in our post "Jolly Jumper Takes the Ferry"!

The stretch of the Rhine river described by travel guru Rick Steves as the only part of the river worth a visit is ailing. The tourists are coming in large numbers, but the non-tourism economy has been suffering. Many companies previously stuck in the canyon moved up into the hills on either side of the confined space, where agricultural land was opened up for industry. Young people moved away, old folks remained.

Someone said if only we had a bridge, we'd do much better

Concrete, concrete, the cheers mounted.

Opposition was strong, however, and they had a previously celebrated accomplishment on their side: the stretch of the valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Then came a change in the state government with the Green party getting a government role, and the project of a bridge for the bargain basement price of 40 million Euros was put on hold.

Instead, the devious Greens extended the opening hours of the ferry.  The bridge proponents were on board with this, because increased traffic would certainly benefit their cause.

After the first year of extended ferry hours, traffic was up by around 20 cars a day.

Which brought the world an enlightened comment by the interior secretary and stalwart advocate of a bridge:
The numbers are very much proof that we need a bridge. A bridge would also be maintenance free.

We looked at some finance figures. The ferry is subsidized to the tune of about 100 000 Euros a year (with the extended hours, as far as we can tell). This would give ferry users 10 years of operation for 1 million Euros in subsidies.

Do the math with 40 million, and don't forget that the ferry has four or five employees.

We do not have time for the math, sorry.

You won't believe how difficult it is to unearth the secret of how to build a maintenance free bridge.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mushroom hunting in Germany

Most of the rules for mushroom hunters in Germany are common sense rules, if you think about it.

For personal use only, which they set at a pound per person. No picking in nature reserves, where a fat pictogram at every access road makes this abundantly clear: a big mushroom inside a red circle and a bar across the whole image. Also off limits are new tree plantations.

Of course, you'll run into groups of guys with big buckets, who go through whole sections of the forest, filling up the containers with the best mushrooms, which they then sell.

That's illegal, which creates a choice: do you take a picture of them and their car and report them?

Back to our own quest. In the past, we played it safe, which means bolete, chanterelle, and champagne.

This time around, having mastered some German mushroom guide web sites, or so we thought, it was time for something more exotic. Bright orange and deep purple fungi graced the basket, as well as some that looked like a lemon skin on an all white stem.

After some serious research, the lemon top was discarded, it was edible but barely. The purple is for another day.

The bright orange ones went into the skillet, then into an omlette. Remember, the local emergency number is not 911, then a smile and...

24 hours later, everybody was still in perfect health.

We'll do some more later this week and we'll think of the ancient hunter gatherers who figured out which ones are good and which ones kill you.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Quality journalism fringe benefits: Ueber-Shwag

Note: We spell Ueber with the - correct - extra "e" to avoid confusion with a company name.

Life as a journalist is hard. If you don't believe it, check out Lewis Lapham: Rookie Reporter.
That was 1957, and nothing has changed, except for the internet.

Today, rookies are called interns, and the plum jobs still go to those who lived through the experience.

One specialty in the multi-facetted world of not-writing-books-for-money is the motor journalist, the auto journalist. They report for every sort of media outlet, from the run of the mill tabloid to the glossy car magazine, from the one minute NPR segment to the half hour Your motor and You TV show.

The kind of person who gravitates to writing about motors tends to be outgoing, more self-assured and certainly much louder than, say, the classical music specialist. Motor journalists make the description of a McPherson strut sound sexy and their photographer brethren have the enviable job of presenting not very dressed women on, in, and around shiny cars, bikes, and trucks.

If you are interested in a hierarchy of the motor journo trade, it goes something like this: luxury cars, bikes, all other cars, trucks, agricultural, followed by the rest of the utility movers.

These journalists have real power, and auto makers take good care of them when they invite them to their regular road tests.

One important part of caring for auto journalists are gifts.

While you and I are pleased to find a bonbon, or a piece of candy on the pillow of our Motel California, auto journalists are used to finer things. Standard shwag is a given, and they take that with the sort of cultivated disdain that says I am doing you a favor by taking your pens, your stationary, the mug and what not.

The stars of the motor mags are accustomed to better: TV sets, brand name coats, a smart phone or a tablet computer - that's the level.

And they will claim what's due. There are episodes of the gentlemen (mostly) sprinting out of their hotel rooms half a minute after opening the door for the first time, arriving out of breath at the event organizers (ladies, mostly), puffing up into a majestic posture: where's my flat screen TV/monitor?

Some will boot their laptops only after the Ueber-shwag is settled.

Next time you buy a luxury car:
1. Negotiate the price
2. When asked for your field of work, say journalism, unless you are a lawyer

Enjoy the ride.

[Update 3/16/2016] We found this German study of corruption in German journalism. It has extensive examples from the auto industry but also, unlike our post, details from other industries and is well worth reading (it is in German, though).