Saturday, August 31, 2013

Violence is a choice

Science says this.

On National Public Radio today, the show HUMANKIND talked about conflict and conflict resolution. It is a topic of great interest to TheEditor who had the pleasure, it truly is a pleasure, of training in non-violent crowd control and opportunities to apply it in ways to keep thousands of folks happy and peaceful.

Having sat through the whole show, we felt reassured about conflict resolution without war, and we are very certain that many Western leaders are not regular listeners of the show.

Of course, the show's audience does not include many Middle Eastern leaders either.

A perfect choice of activity for us this weekend was collecting hops from a friend's plants and making hop tea.

Strip the hop flowers from the vines, place in a pot pour in water, bring to a boil or heat to just below boiling, let cool down and see what you have.

Make sure to look at a few web sites for hop recipes and warnings. They all come with the generic "Ask your doctor or pharmacist", so please do that.

If you do not have a friend with a few plants, you can buy hops at shops like The Monterey Spice Company.

Desert cactus flowers [image]

If you get the timing just right, you get to see flowers in the desert Southwest of the U.S. We have a few images for you, starting with this cactus.

(c) 2011 under

Baby deer [image]

Downtown Ashland, Oregon, is where Lithium Park starts and winds its way up into the hillside.

(c) 2013 under

Edgy tower

We abandoned the idea to fill the large surfaces with smurf blue to make it look like the latest innovation in smurf village.

scan (c) 2013 under

All four eyes open

When keeping both eyes open is not enough.

(c) 2013 under

Friday, August 30, 2013

Perfect excuse for stupidity

Have you ever yearned for the perfect excuse after you said or did something stupid?

If you never have, I have a fridge at the South Pole that needs a new owner.

For all the others, science may offer the solution, with one catch: you should be poor and have money worries.

Do a search for the psychological study everybody is talking about, which shows that your measured IQ goes down if you are down and out. Now, we noticed we have lost some of our ability to perform a good internet search, without doubt due to this drop in mental ability.

The effort put into excluding a bunch of other factors seems extremely well conceived, lending more credibility to the study.

Any criticism you would like to level at any of the six hundred plus posts of the blog is thus negated by our money worries.

For current or future authoritarian rulers, this is great news. Keep vast numbers of your people poor and get dual benefits: the riches for you and your cronies and, at the same time, you reduce the intellectual capabilities of the poor, thereby reducing the chance of a well planned successful revolt.

Six degrees of 'flat' separation?

It is one of the tenants of internet beliefs, supported by that most dangerous of human enterprises Science (we gave it a capital S for fun and importance).

At most six degrees, give or take, separate you from any other person. The most widespread early social media, eMail, supports the finding, and later bittersweet applications do so too.

TheEditor looked at its (gender neutral) profile on a major social site and saw that one Barack H. Obama is a mere 3 degrees away among the folks that make up the cloud of acquaintances, connections, friends.

With all the bytes lined up like the ducks of pre-digital days, we forgot about the six degrees.

Then came, yes, you know what, and friends of friends of friends was buzzing around everywhere like flies around a fresh, steaming meadow muffin.

Hold on, a little voice said, there are a couple of glitches here.

1. The pathway may be different
It may be correct that TheEditor has only a few hops to Mr. Obama but the hops are probably not through this social media site. The Mr. Barack H. Obama on the site is almost certainly not the individual running around the White House doing the dishes but some intern or political action peeps in a basement outside the Beltway.

Thus, TheEditor has no clue how far the prez is away in terms of degrees, hopefully more than three because we don't want the email exchange with a friend spending time in Lebanon looking for the gal to marry get in the way of great politics. 'cause, if we understand the media reports about them bad terrorists right, an email out of Lebanon about marriage may just be the thingy of nightmares.

2. The six degrees is a flat measure
Someone must have pointed that out but despite our love of Science we avoid reading it raw, ingesting the byte-size chunks from news sites and aggregators.

What does "flat" mean?  We coined it to express the fact that, yes, someone may be only three degrees away but utterly inaccessible.

A simple example from days of corporate workdom illustrates this. There was the big boss, we all knew him because he'd do speeches ten yards in front of us, uplifting, joking, expounding on big hairy goals, explaining how the bottom five percent should leave the rest of us unencumbered and that these bottom feeders would henceforth be fired every six months.

Unless you ran into him on his motivational walk to the cafeteria, you'd never get any facetime. How we know? Because TheEditor, unbeknownst to it, came too close to the man one day when it wandered to the left instead of to the right in the big, glass-clad main lobby in its quest to see what the pretty plants to the left were.

Out of nowhere, a seven foot NBA-fit man appeared, curious as to where it was going, very gently body blocking the path. Which was fine because the plants of interest were right there, so it had no need or intention to go anywhere else.

Making small talk, the two wandered towards the main exit, and all was well.
So, the distance may be two or three degrees but the "social miles" may be the equivalent of a return trip to the moon. 

Health Warnings for Acronyms

From the [redacted]th part of our The World's Numbnuts series.

In the previous post on the joys of opening boxes that went through a decade of house moves without being opened, we talked about the pleasure of finding a copy of Stedman's Medical Dictionary.

What we did not mention was how Stedman's is dealing with acronyms.

A great many come with a Warning symbol next to them!

The possibility of confusing one acronym with another can cost lives, so the editor put the yellow warning triangle next to dangerous acronyms.

The Stedman's is a clear symbol of the imprecision of language. This sentence should also come with a health warning because it may raise the blood pressure of readers who cling to the notion of "precise language". This temporary increase may shave a second or two off your life expectancy, and we apologise for that.

From the Stedman's, we jumped right to the latest government PR fad of "sending a message". Incidentally, the use of this term seems to follow the pattern of resurgence of bell bottom jeans, but that's not important.

Somehow governments have regressed, it seems. Only months ago, most people would have used email. SMS text, or letters to send a message. Granted, some members of the target audience of said messages may not use cell phones, but then they may not read the New York Times or listen to BBC World Service either.

Sure, the expression 'target audience' is appropriate.

TheEditor of the K-Landnews suffered some collateral understanding from several government messages. The most critical effect of the collateral understanding is that the plan for an Open Letter to the Numbnuts of the World, was shelved.

The realization that TheEditor might not be able to send the right message to the numbnuts of the world was years in the making, which means the decision was accelerated but not prompted by the collateral understanding.

The original draft "Dear Numbnuts of the world, you know who you are, stop fucking killing people" looks quaintly naive at best.

TheEditor then had a great idea: appoint an independent commission to proofread the open letter to make the numbnuts feel more comfortable with it.

The cats intended to serve on the commission flat out refused the assignment, insisting instead on meowing about the general cleanliness of the litterbox and the chosen off-brand of kibbles.

Hence, the numbnuts of the world will be safe, at least for a while, from the withering razor sharp apocalyptic wit of TheEditor.

The Folsom Street Fair

It's been more than nine months ago that we announced a post about the Folsom Street Fair. You were probably not reading the blog back then or have not given it another thought.

Well, here it is.

The next Fair is coming up in September.

There is a .org website of the same name but, out of consideration for Mr. D. Cameron, also known affectionately as The Blushing Premier, we are not providing the link. Feel free to do a web search for the site as an easy test of your country's web filtering system.

You are back already?

Or did you not dare to find the website of the world's largest leather and fetish fair?

A friend of the K-Landnews worked the Fair. We'll add an empty line now to give you ample time to process this revelation.

One of the best things about the U.S. is that you can go on the web and find interesting volunteer work to do. A couple of emails later, you are booked to work, say, security at the Folsom Street Fair in sunny San Francisco, CA.  

With huge numbers of folks wearing very little clothing, security work there is much easier as far as spotting tell tale bulges than at other events. The nature of the bulges is different, too. This work requires a wider range of behavior on your part, including the ability to smile a lot while maintaining a caring yet focused professional attitude.

You are issued a big red badge, a vest and a radio, you may score points with the trainer for knowing how use a radio, you memorize the frequencies and get details on when to switch to the police frequency and when to stay off of that one.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are the friendly greeters and donation collectors at the entrances of the big closed event area, and your job may involve keeping an eye on the sisters, although nobody ever messes with the Sisters.

The nature of the Fair is such that a lot more uniforms are part of the scenery than at other public events because many revellers are dressed up in uniforms. It is very easy to distinguish the costumed public from the real cops: the real officers come in pairs and are fully dressed. 

Getting comfortable with the mingling masses takes just minutes. After the first two or three pairs of exposed boobies and hairy legs in chaps with a hint of black leather thong bridging the gap, all is well.

From then on out, the next eight hours consist of steering people nicely around obstacles or problems, making space for amublances or police cars and figuring out if the crackle and chatter on the radio are relevant to you or your fellow guardians.

And you do need to get used to some of the public looking at you twice while they figure out if your get-up is a costume and how you react to any number of x to triple x rated activities around you.

In the evening, the grounds start to empty out slowly, the friendly greeting "hi" or "welcome" changes to "bye", "have save trip home" or similar. The trash of thousands upon thousands of visitors is no longer hidden under a stream of feet, in the small alley ways where most of the more extreme crowd pleasures occurred only some discarded condoms indicate anything out of the ordinary took place.

The swooshing of street cleaning trucks and the extra wide brooms of the green vested cleanup crews become the dominant sounds, and the first impatient drivers of the city by the bay begin to reclaim their street in a slow slalom between bulging black garbage bags and vendors dismantling the last of the booths and stands.

The pretty young woman, naked from the waist up gives you a big, happy smile as she heads out.

On the train out of town, a couple of people wave at you, they recognize you even though you no longer wear the trappings of authority. Funny, and nice of them.

In two words: reassuringly human.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The meanest common denominator

It has always been like this.

So what is there to comment on? Should anybody comment? Probably not as far as those making the statement are concerned.

On the 50th anniversary of the I have a dream speech, public discourse explicitly set aside the "It has always been like this" generic argument.

To TheEditor, the "it has always been like this" is at times comforting, at times infuriating. The infuriating occasions can be described with a German word which is worth describing: Totschlagargument. "Totschlag" is second degree homicide, involuntary homicide, to kill something, "argument" is what is looks like. So, it is not a killer argument but an argument that kills.

In discourse, it is used generally to kill a debate. The funny thing about it is that this statement is almost never true.

If you do not agree, substitute the "it" with whatever activity or concept is the topic of the conversation and see for yourself.

TheEditor treats this one as an emotional expression except in very narrow scientific uses.

A pretty mean one at that, and TheEditor will pull all stops on it: that's what slave masters said, that's what men said when they refused to accept women as equal.

Unfortunately, even TheEditor finds it useful to divide people into groups for certain purposes and arguments. But TheEditor is still resolutely focused on the individual because that's where all thought and action starts, that's where the ultimate responsibility lies.

On a packed commuter train anywhere in the world, people walk in and sit on the seats reserved for the handicapped. A person who obviously needs a seat comes in. None of the occupants of the reserved seats gets up. After a few minutes, someone else in an adjacent non-reserved seat gets up and the handicapped person can sit down.

Which of the seated passengers looking at the handicapped person would you rather be?

Which of them actually are you every workday on that train?

It has always been like this.

Taming a dragon

[In the interest of transparency: if you are in Europe and find yourself desperately wanting to own one of these cups or sculptures described here, we will sell them to you.]

Big shiny objects can fulfil a wide range of desires and purposes. Small shiny objects, too.

We are very partial to the pewter cups and sculptures made by our friends at Fellowship Foundry and have found recycling friendly Europe to be a a good fit for pewter cups like this one:

 (c) Fellowship Foundry

In Germany, at all public events where beverages are sold, glasses and cups come with a deposit. We bring our own cups and don't have to bother.

Decorative items out of the small California company include the tiny, one inch tall, like this Griffin just hatching from its egg:

 (c) Fellowship Foundry

On the tall size, there is the Wind Dragon, whose crystals will create small rainbows of light.

  (c) Fellowship Foundry

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Definition: Humanitarian mission

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of "humanitarian mission" is outdated.

The old definition should be kept for historical reasons, a second new definition should be added.

Possible new definition:
Any power that tortures people and makes them disappear in legal black holes teams up with a third rate monarchy and a decrepit old empire to bomb the hell out of a corrupt murderous regime that used to do perform rendition work for them. And the rest of the world sends TV crews.

Second suggestion for new definition: Bombs not Food.

Rendition work: same as rendering plant but for higher mammals.

Sunset on the Rio de la Plata [image]

Tired of old black and white photos? Here is a sunset on the Rio de la Plata in South America.

(c) 2013 under

Night on the bridge [image]

scan (c) 2013 under

Big Easy Express - This Train is Bound for Glory

"The train song, the train song", audience members called out when asked by the lead singer of "Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros" what song the band should perform next.

"The train song?" sighed the K-Landnews culture editor. "Oh my, there are so many train songs in American music alone, you could listen to nothing but chouchou songs your whole life and still not be done. What do they mean?"

We, or rather our Random Research team, found the answer last night.

"The train song" is in the music video Big Easy Express of 2012, chronicling a train ride of musicians Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes  from San Francisco to New Orleans a year earlier.

"Hold on a sec", exclaimed the culture editor, "the train song is This Train is Bound For Glory, how could I not get that? I may lean out of the train window a little too far but, yes, if you want to call one song 'The Train Song', this is a great choice".

The traditional song is probably best known as a Woodie Guthrie song and has been played by everybody in folk rock and bluegrass who enjoys train songs, which means everybody.

If you get a chance to watch the feature length Big Easy Express, do so. It is gorgeous and in these times of "another day, another war", its focus on people  on a common journey together is soothing.

Here is the youtube video of the gang playing the train song on their stop in Austin, Texas, during the Big Easy Express ride.

If this one does not make your day, we need to talk.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One more for the basement box

We are having way too much of a good time fiddling with the first commandment of the average citizen: thou shalt not poke fun at the government.

In the unlikely case anybody from government reads this, please imagine the whole K-Landnews team dressed up as clowns as we work on this post, white makeup, red squooshy plastic nose, huge black plastic glasses, rainbow wig, and shoes size 100 or so.

[TheEditor requested this clarification, we grudgingly oblige: the makeup, plastic nose and wig are strictly professional accoutrements as exhibited on the website of the World Clown Association and/or similar associations in other countries. In no way whatsoever are these accoutrements designed to, intended to, or planned to render impossible, interfere with or in any fashion obstruct any legal or illegal attempts or processes related to automated facial recognition executed under any or all pertinent or impertinent provisions of the possibly non-existent but at minimum secret Protect Our Clown Assets (POCAss) Act of 1985.]

As the wise Wavy said, dress up as a Fool at your own peril, chances are they will bludgeon you. Dress up as a clown and you are pretty safe, no police officer wants to be seen on TV beating up a clown.

Hence, for the purpose of this post, clowns we are.

However, we had not reckoned how bloody difficult it would be to walk down the basement stairs in these huge loafers to retrieve the box and get back up safely. As mentioned in several earlier posts, the box is where we put papers that are regrettably outdated and outmoded. If we continue at the current rate, we'll need a bigger box, so our past couple of grocery shopping lists had the entry "take veggie box on way out".

Only minutes ago did the K-Landnews personal shopping consultant point out a legal issue with this list:

Sauce Bolognese
take veggie box on way out

"You could interpret this last line as an intent to commit shoplifting", said the consultant. "Take can be construed to mean take without paying, especially since it is the only item marked in this manner. And you just passed the shopping list around your newsroom, which means everyone here knows the content of the list, in legal terms that can be called a conspiracy. I would advise you to remove the word take and never ever to publish this list on the internet."

"But I have done that before, without any problem."

"Whaaat? You cannot be serious! I resign from my role as shopping consultant effective immediately."

Our store leaves empty boxes at the exit past the register for customers to take for free.

Enough clowning around.

Here is a scan of the letter from the previous century that goes into the box today. It looks kind of scruffy, there were punch holes (metadata!) and all the stamps and signatures to cover.

Infrared thermometer update

Grrrr, the ad men are a creative lot. Just a couple of days after our Infrared Thermometer post we go to the store and they have a special.

Not only cheaper than when we got ours but also with an image showing a car engine check with the device.

We claimed in the first post that "they" did not address this usage scenario. Does only the manufacturer of the supermarket special show a clean cut mechanic pointing it at man's best friend?

No idea, frankly.

Not to be outdone, how can we remain one step ahead of the ad men?

The subject of national security and infrared thermometers was admittedly discussed in the K-Landnews newsroom.

We could not bring ourselves to fabricate an incredibly ludicrous scenario that might lead well meaning folks to call for strict controls on infrared thermometers. In a country where that very car mechanic undergoes rigorous questioning every single time he buys some sulphuric acid at the same store from the same salesperson, this prospect is not an outlandish one.

It would be a weight on our conscience, which surprisingly we still seem to have.

So, we won't take on the ad men.

Measure responsibly!

One big stock image family

The other day we listened to a National Public Radio show about the commercial image industry, the big agencies and brokers like gettyimages.

The absurdity of some editing and use of stock photos and videos was hilarious, for instance, a healthy male saw his edited photo used in a commercial and found he had lost a leg.

Seeing yourself as a one-legged handicapped person on a billboard while you walk down the street on your natural legs can mess with anybody's head.

Today, the German Zeit Online has another very funny example of how stock images work. In campaign spots of the liberal conservative FDP and the far right NPD, the same happy stock video family rides their bicycles down a tree lined road.

What the report does not say: are they even a German family? The stock footage is from gettyimages after all...

The FDP is currently the junior partner in the German federal government, the NPD faces efforts to ban the party for anti-constitutional activities.

In the paraphrased words of the billboard amputee: they really mean it when they say you are transferring all rights to the photo to the agency.

Very much the same inadvertent duplications occur with music in commercials. We vividly recall Vampire Weekend in their happy Raeggae pop incarnation in a Tommy Hilfiger ad back to back with a Honda car commercial.

This begs the question: many Germans believe the main political parties are so similar that it is hardly worth going to the polls -- why not use the same candidate for office?
The candidate could work as a Christian Democrat in the morning and as a Social Democrat in the afternoon. Debates would be much easier, the candidate of one party would never have to guess what his or her counterpart was thinking or planning if elected.

One big family.

Actually, there were the two Vogel brothers back in the 1970s, 1980s or so who came very close to this ideal, one was a high ranking Christian Democrat, the other a high ranking Social Democrat.

[Update 10/21/2015] The current European refugee crisis has seen a spike in the use of old, disparaging images and youtube clips and montages for anti-refugee propaganda. So, remember, images can and will be re-purposed or doctored. At least check timestamps before you retweet or share.

Calling leaders names

A fruit of many hours on Twitter reading political and social threads.

What's up with calling our leaders names?

In some professions or volunteer jobs, being called names is not only par for the course, it would raise eyebrows if the name calling stopped.

Take the average German K league soccer match. A match where no idiot, asshole, or bastard (their German equivalents, of course) is hurled at the ref is not considered a real game, even if all players are on their best behavior.

Shouting matches erupt regularly in and around bars, supplying more of the everybody does it, so why bother argument.

Nonetheless, we thought, insulting national figures is worth looking at. One reason for this is that it used to be a capital offense in many places around the world, and even the French, known for their revolution which did not limit itself to name calling, had a law on the book that criminalized even minor insults of the president until very recently.

A small sign with "bugger off" was worth up to a year in prison. In Thailand, today, say something bad about the king, and the king's men will do a Humpty Dumpty on you.

The K-Landnews consensus is that you should be polite but that swearing like a sailor at your leaders is no big deal and should not be penalized.

Like the soccer ref, leaders should expect it and take it.

Why? Above all because hurling a few insults is vastly preferable to hurling stones, and the real or perceived powerless among us should have a way to express frustration verbally.

You can not realistically expect every citizen to master the finer points of insult, like the stinging and deeply hurtful "Good Day, Sir" with just the right accent to do its damage.

Other than the therapeutic insult, our personal view is simplistic: they do it too, whether they insult a group, for instance, poor people are just lazy, or foreigners just come here to take advantage of us, or whether they pick on an individual, as former British Prime Minister Brown's perfectly functioning microphone transmitted when he insulted a little old lady. Literally.

The official argument for punishing folks who insult one of our fearful leaders is that you are not punished so much for insulting the person but for insulting the office or institution. Nice as the argument sounds, it fails to explain why, say, the guy with the "bugger off" sign puts it up for a single specific person and not for every president who happens to motorcade around the hood.

Upside down or right side up? [image]

The scan of this photo came out of the trusty scanner upside down. We liked it so much that we decided to keep it this way.

scan (c) 2013 under

The eye of shadows and pipes [image]

From the freeway maze to a maze of pipes and shadows. The pipes along the top and the shadows on the concrete floor form a shape very much like an eye.

scan (c) 2013 under

Freeway abstraction [image]

This is one of our favorites, the freeway as an abstract sculpture of bent steel girders and concrete ribbons.

scan (c) 2013 under

Monday, August 26, 2013

Freeway maze image [image]

This is a gorgeous shot from a time when you could stand on a freeway with a camera and live to get the negatives developed and to tell the story. Like the sunset photo, the location of the picture is irrelevant, though we'll tell you if you are a historian.

scan (c) 2013 under

A freeway sunset image

The boxes mentioned in previous posts reveal more treasures. There is a series of old black and white photos which we scanned in. Someone went through a freeway and industrial installations phase and considered fish eye an artistic solution.

We'll start with a freeway sunset.

scan (c) 2013 under

A red barn out West [image]

The American red barn is one of the iconic images of the land. We found one in a winter landscape somewhere in the Western U.S. The scene comes complete with an old power pole.

photo (c) 2010 under

Cool infrared thermometer

From our Go out and Buy Stuff files.

Being frugal does not have to mean being stupid, and there are some occasions where a few dollars well spent make life so much easier.

This pretty much excludes iPhones, thank you Apple, but it does include an infrared thermometer. eBay has tons, and your local ACE Hardware is the recommended place to get one.

They are non-contact devices, so you don't have to stick anything into a substance or machine or onto a surface for measuring the temperature.

Even the cheapest of the devices has an invaluable feature: it displays both Celsius and Fahrenheit at the click of a button! No pocket calculator or sweat inducing pen and paper are needed to confidently tell the German neighbor that 212 F is 100 C.

If you simply want to measure the air temperature outside of your abode, the need to don a thick coat, gloves and sunglasses in minus 20 F chills is gone. At the other end of uncomfortable, you can get the temperature in Death Valley without leaving the car.

The instructions for the device won't mention the ease of measuring the temperature of the hot water for the perfect tea, to within 0.1 degrees.

Neither will they tell you that can you return to your car some time after parking it and get a reading of the engine temperature for the sake of curiosity.

Once you have measured everything in the house that you possibly can, including the body temperature of your cat and your own foot, with and without boots, what can you do next?

Check that you have in fact measured everything in the house. There are innumerable nooks and crannies, which will take another full week of your time. Window sills and other areas where some duct or conduit goes through an outside wall are fun locations to measure in winter.

You may see jaw dropping differentials that explain where your heating money goes.

Now that you are really done, what do you do?

Go outside again and point the thermometer skyward. If there are clouds, you get an approximation of the temperature of the cloud. On a cloudless night with an air temperature of 40 or 50 F, the small screen can easily drop to minus 30 F the moment you point straight upwards.

If you had enough time, the necessary physics, math and meteorology skills, you could sit down and plot a few graphs of the ground level readout of your gadget versus the current atmospheric temperature at several altitudes.

This is not something we would do here because of a glaring lack of said skills and knowledge and also because plotting a graph sounds rather dangerous.

Incidentally, the tea water has reached the perfect temperature now, as verified by the infrared thermometer, so please excuse us while we have a cup.

Social cohesion

The K-Landnews team has some recurring themes in the blog. Granted, they may not be obvious if the first few posts you come across are photos of old cars in Uruguay, snarky puns, or barely coherent rants.

Among all the breathless posts poking fun at the reality show of life, you should find a common thread - if we understand what we are doing - a general theme: that people are people with very similar fundamental needs and desires but hugely different ways to achieve those, some not so smart, some just brutal and vicious, some well meant but ineffective, some not well intentioned but with surprisingly humane outcomes.

Much of what we put into bytes on this blog is colored by the passage of time, that's what you get for not being twenty any more. Or, as we call it "the beginning of history" view of life. History, despite the books, movies and philosophical tomes, starts on a personal level with each of us rediscovering the world as we grow into the fatal, eventually terminal state of adulthood.

We happen to have observed the past decade plus and think that we are seeing a more oppressive environment than before. Which may be utter rubbish to you but seems real enough to us under a number of metrics.

Based on the premise that social pressure has increased and that control has increased, our little blog voice says: people are trying to do the right thing, but....

If you try to solve everything by piling on pressure, you will have to pile it on ever more because people will stop cooperating.

Some will scale back cooperation consciously, like the friend who found "The physical keys to BART transit" on the streets and turned them in to BART instead of going to the media with them.

The result is a weakening of social cohesion. 

Imagine, for example, some software source code from a vital US Department of Defense project leaves the country inadvertently, because people make mistakes. If the person on the receiving end is someone who lives an "okay life", that is to say trusted enough, treated well enough, the likely result of the mistake will be responsible safeguarding of the software.

If, on the other hand, the person on the receiving end is treated badly by his or her manager [weak social cohesion], bad things are more likely to happen.

Corporate security, law enforcement and those whose default mode is "distrust and control" might claim in this example that the threat of punishment for disclosure is an efficient deterrent against the software falling into the wrong hands.

What happened?

Nothing. The source code was kept safe. Social cohesion worked one of its billions of daily miracles.

Of course, the example could be completely made up.

This would make it perfect for infuriating those among us who can not handle the uncertainty of depending on complete strangers in almost everything we do.

Old solutions to new problems

This post had been sitting in the drafts folder for a good week, and we figured, we will wait until there is an appropriate example in the media. A week was all it took: The Guardian has the perfect example of someone applying the old solutions to a new problem paradigm in the article about Lord Blair's call for new laws to stop leaks.

The one thought that has bugged TheEditor for over two months in the context of the surveillance debate is: the NSA and its brethren in other countries are nothing other than applying old solutions to new problems.

But the NSA is extremely innovative, they are at the cutting edge of the trade.

They are, and that is exactly the point.

For all the glitz and glory, they are using ancient, distressingly inadequate reasoning and tactics with the main stalwarts secrecy and lying.

None of the deep thoughts like "terrorists are living among us" are new.

Where talking to us stupid masses fails, intimidation is used.

The perceived difference on the part of TheEditor is that they have become more brazen and unapologetic about outright lies and intimidation.

After months of reading all manner of articles on surveillance, we can confidently say that the few reasonable voices on the subject include the Comedy Central Colbert Report.

It was on a recent episode of the Colbert Report that a book was presented, detailing how today's world is much safer and more secure than it has been through history.

Or you have to go to Bill Moyers' web site to see Bill talk with author and New York Times journalist Mark Leibovich about his latest book, This Town, in which he writes that money rules D.C., and status is determined by who you know and what they can do for you.

If a little blog like ours can make wild guesses on how Murphy's Law works in the surveillance state and see every single one confirmed (including the #loveint, which we had as class reunion int several weeks ago), what does it say about the subject?

You have realized we do not explain what the new problems are. We trust our readers to fill in the blanks for themselves. That's the big difference between you and the old white males clamoring for more of the same.

Maybe we should go without news for a while.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The 2014 calendars are out

The calendars for next year are out at the local stationary cum school supplies cum home decoration cum post office store.

They took their display stand at least a week ago, inviting the more organized citizens to stock up on photo themes of their choice for the next official round of life.

The range of themes is broad, reflecting an abundance of photos and paper, from the impressionist art calendar, that perennial date keeper for teachers and the relaxed middle class, to the alpine themed scenery of southern Germany.

North American images of wide open spaces from various national parks always sell well, as do ocean themed calendars.

Prices right now range from around a buck per month to two bucks.

The frugal folks of the K-Landnews are likely to go for gas station and pharmacy calendars, the smaller poor cousins of the large glossy ones.

There have also been years in which we declined the offer of the gas station attendant or pharmacist, an offer that gains just a little more emphasis during the last couple of weeks in the year.

The computer did all the calendaring in those years.

The bare bones rectangle of a month of the computer has, to TheEditor, the soothing quality of a Japanese rock garden.

Picking out a calendar is one of the highlights of the exciting life in small town Germany, and we will spent at least two or three whole minutes on the intricate process.

For the moment, though, the tomatoes and beans in the back need all our attention.

Marathon season

In Germany, summer time is marathon time, and the K-Landnews team are aficionados of watching other people run without much of a purpose other than fitness and medals. We don't run, except in Dr. Who style emergencies.

This year's season is drawing to a close, so we thought it nice to make room for a post.

Brochures and flyers for sports events around here have a familiar look and feel. Local dignitaries share greeting space with the chiefs of sponsors, businesses large, medium and small tell you they are there to take your money, and a couple of personal interest stories like "how marathon saved my life" entertain the non runners.

The whole brochure is in German.

The whole brochure?

No, one small corner is resisting German!

Since this is not the best allusion to comic hero Asterix, we decided to spell it out.

After years in the K-Land, we still chuckle once in a while at the English words or phrases splash dab in the middle of a German treatise, and the last marathon announcement is a wonderful case in point.

As with all modern marathon events, you can run or walk, and you can choose between several distances. The list in the German brochure reads exactly like this:

Full marathon
Half marathon
Fun walk

Not a German word in sight (although marathon is spelled the same in both languages).

It feels like a Cinco de Mayo menu at a bar in the American South West. Not much Spanish is needed to figure it out.

Who then are the people who would use the German words for the event?

Foreigners who conscientiously attended the mandated German language course and who now insist on using the hard learned language.

The brochure has found a new home in the giant blue paper recycling bin, and we will enjoy a no sports fall and winter.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Great Seal of Disapproval

No sooner had we ended our latest chat with old mustached German (OMG) for the post "The invisible recruiter" than we realized we had not asked the one question which is so important to Americans: what do the seals of German intelligence agencies look like?

So, we called again. 

German military intelligence, known under the acronym MAD, has an emblem like any military outfit, the Wikipedia entry is here. We hate to say that it is not as pretty as the seal of the NSA but the Germans have less money to waste on designing seals, and maybe re-doing them every other generation factors in, too.

"What about the others", we wanted to know.

"Don't have any", came the reply.


"Did you find any on the internet, no, that's because they don't do seals."


"Are you disappointed? If you know anyone who wants to do a parody like the American who made a t-shirt and then got slammed for alleged copyright violation, you can print whatever you want to make fun of the Germans. Go and have one made by a specialized t-shirt printer, not Zazzle, use alphashirt for instance. The trick is to blend in with all the other camo nuts, that's a perfect site for it."

"Thanks, we'll put it in the post as a hint for enterprising Germans, what we would still like to know is what does the letterhead of these guys without seals look like?"

"Plain text, the name of the agency, then underneath the department, go google around some more."

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

"You can ask... what gives?"

"Have you ever been under surveillance?"

"Not sure if you want to call it surveillance, but a bunch of people looked into me over time. The NSA first heard of me when few people here knew them, and I am sure they have zero record of that. The West Germans checked before they gave me a clearance, the East Germans tapped phones, there may still be faded photos of suited up me in some forgotten East German archive, and I can tell you other stories one day. And before you ask, yes, I find the revelations of the last few months very interesting and believe that some of the current crop of intelligence folks and politicians are clueless and some outright dangerous."

"Can we say this in the blog?"

"Be my guest, it's small enough, you'll see who reads it? How'd you say in an earlier post, a coalition of the dumb and the greedy? That sounds about right."

"It was the fearful and the greedy, and we should add the power hungry. Take care, and see you around for a beer."

Translation by the K-Landnews.


"Nobody likes whistleblowers, especially not in organizations like this", says the Police Commissioner in one episode of the Australian mini-series "Underbelly", a docu-drama series that captured our attention.

Wikipedia says it was a critical and ratings success, and we can see why.

Even when the dialogue is at times hard to understand for non-Aussie ears, for instance "some piper" is not about music, bagpipes or rats, it is a request for "paper".

LOL'ed and continued to watch.

After the first two or three seasons, the K-Landnews culture critic made an astute observation: there are a lot of strong women in the series.

A surprising number, once you notice them in all their breadth and depth.

There are cool female detectives, as you might expect, but there are also very strong, loving, upright prostitutes and drug couriers.

Our culture critic highly recommends you check out the Aussie series.

The invisible recruiter

Balmy northern nights without mosquitoes, the summer cicadas chirping in the lush green grass, the beer chilled to 0.1 C of its optimum drinking temperature, this is a setting in which chats pop up during which more secret knowledge than beer gets spilled.

The joyous evening described in this post took place some time ago, not this year. We had mulled a post at the time but let it go.

The happy group that night included an older mustached German guy, OMG for short. At some point during the get together, we were outdoing each other with stories of funny, strange, or creepy events.

OMG was nattering along when he paused, stroked his mustache and said: "Want to hear about my invisible recruiter? It's spooky."

"Let's hear it! Poltergeist recruiters? Didn't realize that Siemens employs ghosts, but that would explain a lot of things."

"This happened a while ago, when I was getting ready to leave my first job after five years. I registered with the job center, as any good German does, hoping to get some offers. One day, a letter arrived from a government agency I had never heard of, it actually looked kind of boring. I ignored it. Only later did I find out who they were: the Bundesnachrichtendienst, our foreign spy service."

"That's not very spooky, man."

"Yeah, come on."

"Wait, the best part is this. Quite a bit later did I run into someone I had been working with earlier and I told him about the boring little agency. You know what he said? He explained that these were the spies and that the letter from the job center was just a cover -- he said, they don't work like this. They got your name from someone who works for them, maybe from your university, you had an invisible recruiter, my friend."

After the great spying fuckup this year, we called up OMG to chat.

"By the way, your mustache, is it real or fake?"

"I can neither confirm nor deny."

You might want to mention in your post that the Germans don't do lie detectors and despite this we have fewer leaks per capita than you guys, he said.

Ah, well.

The Brotherhood of the Burning Pants II

Liar, liar, pants on fire in the best Jim Carrie tradition, the "Brotherhood of the Burning Pants" has been out-doing themselves over the past two weeks.

If they were as good at fixing the world's problems as they are at intimidation and reading other people's email, we would be living in paradise.

We decided to lift our compartmentalization of topics just enough for David Cameron's swim trunks to squeeze through.

The poor British Premier has privacy issues: paparazzi apparently have been taking unflattering pictures, and papers seem to have published them.

We feel for the Premier and his family  because that's exactly how we feel about a bunch of governments following us around.

You have to understand that paparazzi are extremely valuable in modern anti-terrorist efforts because their photos can help identify and find evil-doers lurking around celebrities and politicians. 

There is a good chance that you may find the odd deep tan tax evader on a pap photo, so you get even more bang for buck.

Speaking of which, nobody has come forward to claim that Susan B. Anthony dollar we offered as a prize in previous bets and challenges.

Maybe the pap smear can serve as a starting point for getting rid of the Susan B. - we'll give it to you if you prove that email snooping in the last five years has saved more lives than paparazzi photos.

As a one-time bonus, we will cover the shipping and handling.

Light green shoppers welcome - others, ah...

A German discount market in the north of the country is making national news, for instance in today's Zeit online.

The market has put up a sign in Arabic, Persian and other languages telling prospective shoppers "EU citizens welcome". The newspapers report that two security guards are posted next to the sign.

Security guards at stores are not as ubiquitous in Germany as they are in the U.S., so the presence of security guards in itself makes passers by and onlookers take note.

The store ain't talking to the media, but the officials responsible for a refugee home not far away were saying that the reason for the sign and the security guards given by the store was an alleged increase in shoplifting by residents of the refugee home. The local police report that no such increase had occurred.

The German government Interior Minister has expressed worries regarding a high profile squabble about an asylum home in Berlin that neo-Nazis were tainting Germany's reputation abroad.

The current debate about a large increase in the number of refugees often leaves out the minor fact that this higher number is still just about ten percent of the number of asylum seekers knocking on Germany's doors in the 1990s.

The behavior of the store management is as dumb as it is transparent, so it merits some ridicule.

When we were kids becoming aware of racism, we were telling this joke:  There's this school bus driver explaining to the kids that racism is bad. He says, look, kids, racism will not be tolerated on my bus. I don't see black or white, to me you are all green. Okay, now  the dark green kids to the rear, the light green kids in the front.

If you would like to know where the German town so welcoming to light green shoppers is located, we went to the trouble to look up Wikipedia for you.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The wife on the whiteboard

From our Weird Dreams series.

The other night, TheEditor had a dream: I was married, and the kids were not there, instead my wife was in her twenties, very strange.

She had had an accident, and I could not recall anything about it, not where nor how it happened. She had spent a month at the hospital with a broken arm and a broken leg, and now she was at home and could not walk. I wheeled her around the house, a bungalow with a great lawn and a white picket fence.

I cooked, did the laundry, the dishes, mopping -- something I never do in real life.

We passed the time watching old movies, playing board games, even backgammon, which I never enjoyed and really suck at. In the dream, I did fine.

One day, after going to the hospital for another x-ray, we were joking about the metal plates and screws, three plates, some ten screws. Man, the metal detectors at the airport would go wild!

She was out on the patio in the wheelchair, when I had an idea. We had bought a thirty by fifty inch magnetic whiteboard a few months earlier. It sat in the den in its original package. So I went, unpacked it and took it to the patio.

Honey, I said, she turned and grinned, and before you knew it the board was stuck to her leg.

Right at that moment, Patty pulled into the driveway and we could see her face first grow longer as her jaw dropped, then break into a huge grin.

That's when I woke up.

Information has to do with in formation

It is a catchy phrase, painfully simple, infuriating to some people, and its semantic flow is tied to a handful of languages.

"Information has to do with in formation".

Linguistically, it works great in English and German, less great in French, although with a good accent from "le Midi", who knows?

We saw the phrase for the first time in a presentation of a long since retired professor, in a talk about a book he had just written on the role of trade unions in the now equally long retired Soviet Union.

The book was in another of the boxes mentioned in the previous post "Out of the box". The K-Landnews folks are as good at compartmentalizing information as the rest of us, so the box that had Stedman's Medical Dictionary contained more along those lines while the socio-political book of the scholar emeritus was in a box of heady political stuff.

The odd thing about the book on the place of trade unions in the Soviet power structure is that you could remove a few chapters and change the wording in what remains, and voila, you would have a reasonably well written book on the role of the large for-profit media and the semi-government TV and radio operations in modern Western countries.

Before you become defensive or offended by this train of thought, let us remind you that this is not about the political philosophy or ideology but about the mechanisms and schemes of exercising power in a "strong" state.

No matter the philosophy, the formation of power structures, there are striking similarities across all systems that rely on traditional hierarchical organization and rewards for adhering as well as punishment for dissent.

To make up for this decidedly not funny post, the next one will be titled "The wife on the whiteboard".

Nick Knatterton, PI

From our Unknown Germany files.

Care for a drink at the Alibi Bar?

If the bar were in London, this would be David Cameron's favorite hangout, but our incarnation of the Alibi Bar was in post World War II West Germany with its own cast of colorful characters.

You might make the acquaintance of private investigator Nick Knatterton, offspring of German minor aristocracy and uncannily Sherlock Holmes-y in his looks, including the pipe.

Wikipedia has an English article about the detective. The German entry is, as you would expect, quite a bit longer and lists many of the other figures who populate his world.

The affable detective appeared in the German weekly "Quick", which was published between 1948 and 1992. If you do an image search for the magazine, you will find a collection of scantily clad 1960's Frauleins, an indication the Knatterton strips were sometimes a little risque, if not in themselves, then by virtue of them being set between pages of glossy gals.

The affable PI's adventures were made into a couple of movies, and a number of short TV clips are on Youtube, for instance "The Secrets of the Alibi Bar" (in German)

Earlier this year, Nick's creator Manfred Schmidt's 100th birthday was commemorated with an exhibition of Knatterton and other works at the Wilhem Busch Museum.

The K-Landnews culture editor requested we end the post with a note about the popularity of the name Alibi for watering holes over many decades. The most recent one came as the "Alibi Room" in the U.S. version of the TV show "Shameless".

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Out of the box

We have been proactive and put "outside the box"and "out of the box" into a box of useless phrases.

The only exception permitted at the K-Landnews is when "box" unambiguously means coffin, or casket as modern Americans prefer. Hence, the exasperated boss telling you to think outside the box takes on its true meaning: think!

There have been a number of activities involving boxes at the K-Landnews recently, many having to do with stuffing papers into these handy containers.

Other box activities have uncovered items thought lost, more joyful than putting away remnants of the past.

Hoarders mess with boxes all the time, so we want to make the point that none of us can be put into that box. On the contrary, our most prolific international worker proudly claims a couple of moves with nothing but two airline standard bags.

That was pre-9/11, and today it might land you on one of the many watchlists, so think twice if feel you could rise to the challenge.

Inevitably, though, the more often you move over long distances, some of the boxes packed so carefully will remain unopened at the new home. This can bring out of season Christmas type joy if you decide to break open one of these forgotten boxes.

TheEditor did just that and lifted a heavy green tome, smiling while dusting off a thin layer of dust, "Ah, my Stedman's Medical Dictionary. It saved my shiny metal ass so many times".

The almost 2000 page volume will go onto a shelf.

Nowadays the Stedman is online, available on a subscription basis.

This surprise find has put TheEditor in explorer mode and since there are more unopened boxes, we are looking forward to more big smiles.

Soylent Green

B-movies are wonderful creations, providing slightly disjointed and thus deeper insight into the culture of the times than their polished expensive big budget blockbusters.

Guess what, if you just wait long enough even the glossy fancy movies inevitably start to look like B-movies. Watch ET again to see the phenomenon in action.

The other day, we watched Soylent Green, another dystopian future flick from the 1970s. 

The movie sparked a brief debate about why "dystopian" and "future" go together like "succulent" and "lamb", and there is not much value in writing about the well worn arguments of stereotypes in language use.

The movie is set in New York in the year 2022 and features a governor named Santini, the namesake of a great, gentle Rottweiler of a friend back in the States.
That same friend commented on the portrayal of the NYPD in the movie with a laconic "exactly the same as today, without the uniforms".

In the movie, humans are turned into food, purportedly a seaweed food called Soylent Green, and our hero finds out the horrible truth.

In the final scenes of the film, as the main character is being dragged away, he tries to alert his fellow citizens with the repated cry "Soylent Green is people".

Chillingly, or rather B-movie chillingly, the wink and nod comical sort of expression that is acceptable performance in the category, nobody pays attention to his warning.

In the world of the movie, people will go on eating little processed, cracker sized squares made out of people. Wonder what the Catholic church said about that when the movie first came out.

We are just glad to live in our best of times, worst of times.

Life in a Soylent Green world would be sheer horror, even more so if people knew what the crackers are made out of. If we extrapolate our present day mainstream media obsessions with all things celebrity and irrelevant, that Soylent Green world reporting would very likely feature big controversies such as front page news about a crazy guy who claims his cracker contained bits of Dickson Cheney.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The apology tour cont'd

Yikes, the K-Landnews apology tour that started in the aftermath of the surveillance leaks must continue.

TheEditor has already apologized profusely to friends who pegged the current US president as a right-wing Republican, to friends who claimed years ago that Bin Laden won, to friends who talked about pervasive government surveillance, the list goes on.

With deep regret and deep sincerity, TheEditor apologizes to the friend who sent an email asking "have you heard the latest daft punk tunes"?

"May or Cameron?"

"Gee, man, get your mind out of the internet, daft punk are a french music group, google 'em and check youtube."

Had we googled beforehand, we would have realized you, dear friend, were likely talking about French music group Daft Punk and had no intention whatsoever of insulting a high ranking member of a prestigious, democratically elected Western government.

Let our mistake be a warning to all our readers. Don't accuse anybody of anything unless you google first!

Search results in hand, you can then accuse anybody of virtually anything because you will find some sort of "proof" in the internet.

In memory of Jimbo, who passed away on Monday, 19 August 2013. We will think of your antics at the sound of "What ice cream truck?". Farewell.

EU data protection for non-English speakers

This post has nothing to do with the "NSA" scandal but is about everyday web use by a bunch of non-English speaking foreigners.

The K-Landnews became an unofficial Facebook help desk for the many users who were brushed off or ignored by the FBook.

We wrote about the nonsense of FB's real name policy, we outright support not giving your exact date of birth on FB and other social sites as a defensive measure against identity thieves.

One aspect nobody mentioned in the discussion about the legal situation of data protection in Europe are potential limitations by language.

We know, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner will help users, been there ourselves.

What we do not know is what users do whose English is not adequate. You can argue they can ask someone for help.

Obviously, this may not work.

I guess, we need to ask the commissioner whether they receive non-English requests and what they do about them.

Are folks who cannot request help in English effectively cut off from the European data protection assistance for the big internet companies that channel their business through the Republic of Ireland?

The K-Landnews team finds it hard to believe that we discovered a legal black hole, so, dear readers, if you have experience in this area, let us know.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

[Update June 2015:] New contact email at

[Update 6/17/2015]
You may or may not want to read the post below just for fun.
As of June 2015, please use as the contact email.
We'll probably leave the one at yandex active for a while and subscribe to some adult web sites via that one to give any snoopy bots something to digest.
[End of update]

In one of his last speeches, a well known leader said something about having wanted to do something anyway and simply using the occasion to bring this activity forward.

The K-Landnews TheEditor totally forgot who it was, what that activity might have been, there is just a fuzzy thing about doing the dishes, heck, TheEditor does all the dishes around here, maybe it is a spillover from that.

And the Random Research team is still out stuccoing the facade, it is not big, they are just really, really slow.

Where were we?

Note: TheEditor is not only gender neutral (using "it") but also singular neutral ("it" uses singular or plural indiscriminately for itself).

Where was I again? Right, wanting to do the dishes and bringing this activity forward for added transparency. Transparency of the glassware. Really important.

We have moved the contact email for this blog!

It is now, same username though, and for those of you who have the gmail address nicely stored, you can continue to use it for as long as we see fit.

Why Yandex?

It is in Europe.  So, for our European readers, their email has at least a chance of escaping Le Dregsnet as the English would call it.

The K-Landnews is, typically American, all about equal opportunity.
We pride ourselves on this.
This is who we are, we surmise Stephen Colbert would say if he read this blog.

So, if somebody wants to go fishing in our email, equal opportunity calls for giving the Russians a shot.

Seriously, there is one feature of Yandex that we grok.

The user can see the account log file for seven days.

The account activity is in there, including the IP addresses of the computers used to access the mailbox. Which is sweet because...., well, because.

The Twitter Tower of Power

Blinked, and lost it.

This was a couple of weeks ago, and since our Random Research team is outside stuccoing the house because we told them to do something useful for once, the tweet in question will remain unknown.

One of the many #NSA tweets had an attached photo, which TheEditor clicked.

A message appeared telling it (TheEditor is gender neutral) that "we" (Twitter) cannot show you everything but if you want to display it, click.

This was our first and most hilarious encounter with Twitter's "over 18" photo filter.

You can certainly expect tons of porn in the #nsa thread, given that the vagaries of the saga have shown some truly obscene government behavior. Or so TheEditor thought.

The photo showed a satellite installation.

Satellite porn? Hm.

Then TheEditor realized what was going on and fell, once again in the #nsa thread, off the chair laughing.

The photo showed a tower with a spherical protective top, and -- hold your breath now - there were two white geodesic domes at the bottom of the tower, one partly hidden behind the other.

Got it?

If not, make a drawing and you'll understand.

If you can find the photo send TheEditor a link, please!

Boxing Day came early again

Our second Boxing Day this year, this one brought on by an unknown official at Heathrow Airport. While some Americans and many Europeans associate Boxing Day with people throwing punches, unless you send them to Wikipedia, to us it is packing up stuff that has outlived its times.

2nd Para, or rather the gracious letter from Second Battalion, Parachute Regiment, joined other illustrious documents in the box in the basement today.

Did we mention that there was a choice of attic or basement for the box?

You will understand the significance of the two locations and the consequences of picking the basement.

The attics of my life have been dedicated to cloudy dreams unreal for some time. It has become obvious over the years and unmistakable in recent months that the container we nicknamed "the box" does not belong there.

The coolest thing about slightly cryptic posts like this one is that they are still possible because the world's master index remains incomplete for now.

Vegetable economics

Only a cynic or a Whitehall civil servant would interpret the title to mean the level of understanding of economics by average people. If you don't believe there are people at Whitehall capable of such denigrating thinking and vocalization, read what Guardian editor Rusbridger wrote about the destruction of computer hard disks.

And we will defer a post about California, the land of fruits and nuts, to the time when we open an email account with a Russian provider to allow the Russian state to share our trivial thoughts.

This is about economics 101, where American teachers often use a fruit grower example to show how much sense a rational and logical approach makes.

It goes like this. Farmers A and B both grow pineapples and mangoes. Farmer A grows mangoes at 25 cents a piece while Farmer B has a cost of 30 cents a piece. Farmer B would be better off to buy mangoes from Farmer A and concentrate on growing pineapples, which he produces cheaper than B.

Apart from the disconcerting fact that economics 101 uses an example of 2nd grade math, all is well.

Unless you apply it to the garden of the K-Landnews resident gardener, replacing pineapples and mangoes with tomatoes and potatoes for climate and growing zone reasons.

The cost of homegrown veggies is easily ten to twenty times that of store bought produce by any measure. The cost of labor is tremendous, even if you calculate only at say 1 Euro per hour taking advantage of the absence of a minimum wage in Germany.

Yet our gardener veggies on,  ignoring the most basic of rational economic thinking
- we don't want to make it sound too martial by using soldiers on, although the slugs and ants in the garden might well claim that expression to be more precis.

We can hear you think "taste and satisfaction", but, please. Of course, everybody growing a tomato can beat what passes as such in an Irish grocery in January, but you need to attain a certain level of perfection to really get that old time homey taste, not counting an early frost.

Satisfaction is a good point, but the line between satisfaction and self-punishment is thin, about at thin as the thread of your jeans after a cumulative several days of kneeling on the ground and weeding.

The resident gardener sighed when confronted with these arguments and pointed out that his time possessed no monetary value.


None whatsoever, I'm not on the market, he explained, so any value attributed to my time is utterly fictional, a conjecture, a manufactured consensus like macro-economics as a whole.

Would you like a few tomatoes, they are at their very best right now?

Gold-plated roof tiles

A tale out of 1001 European Nights.

Would you pay 150 Dollars for a roof tile?

Sure, if it is gold-plated, said a friend.

I hate to disappoint you, but it is not gold-plated. It is a standard size, standard color tile, in fact, you won't even see most of it as it will be largely hidden under the solar thermal collector.

Is that so?

You need two openings in the roof surface for the incoming and the outgoing lines, two tiles with a sort of hooded hole of 2.5 inches in diameter.

They charge 150 each?

Yeah, applied capitalism. The assumption is that only people who can really afford it, put up collectors. Plus, there are government incentives for energy saving, remember. The tile maker factors in the cash you claim from the government.

You do know that you could add real gold leaf for a couple of bucks more?


It would be fitting, since you are joining the ranks of the energy producing class, thus elevating your status above the precariat.

Sounds like a plan, I'll grab some gold leaf from eBay.

It will look great on Google Earth.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Armed with a USB stick

If I used "armed with a USB stick" in a conversation with my proverbial grandmother, she would probably be puzzled, maybe a little alarmed until she saw the smile on my face.

Was the old man who compared internet activists to terrorists maybe thinking about this little phrase?

We don't care.

The German tabloid Bild Zeitung opened with a headline warning of Al Kaida plots against German trains.

The Twitter crowd went into overdrive: Germany's railroad traffic is in a pretty chaotic state these days, they tweeted, no way anybody can pull off a bombing.

We don't care.

We do care about the lady who has been trying in vain to get Facebook to delete a fake profile that causes distress and anxiety to her teenage son. Yes, Facebook is still being Facebook. So, the lady sent us an email after finding the December 2012 post about two real facebook employee email addresses.

We updated the post after other readers notified us the addresses were no longer good.

The new recommendation is to go public via Twitter. And if you are in Europe, the Irish Data Protection commissioner has a complaint form.

And last and least, don't travel with a USB stick.

Who's your customer?

Yesterday's post "Incompetence or Rip-off?" about a medical billing incident prompted the K-Landnews to address a wider issue of the service industry.

That issue is how to define the customer of a company that provides a service on behalf of another company.

We went to the homepage of the company from the above post and received the following welcome screen:

You can see a popup in the center, with the homepage dimmed in the background. The popup is addressed to members of the "healing professions" and invites them to inquire about the company's payment processing services.

We could not possibly have asked for a better answer to the question "who is the customer?"

This leads to the next question: technically, the company is an intermediary, can we find the "other customers" on the website?

The answer is "no".

The website is designed exclusively for those who employ the company as their billing provider. The people who pay the invoices, those who actually send the money have no place on the site. Even the slogan under the logo in the upper left hand corner is addressed to the profession, loosely translated it says "our service goes into your account", where account means bank account.

We then went through the menus on the right and found a paragraph describing their basic structure and what they do. It is in German but we will highlight the main points.

Die RZH ist eine Tochtergesellschaft der ARZ Haan AG. Zusammen mit unseren Schwestergesellschaften, der ARZ Service GmbH und der AZH-Abrechnungszentrale für Hebammen GmbH, erbringen wir an insgesamt 6 Standorten in Deutschland für ca. 10.500 Kunden monatliche Abrechnungsdienstleistungen mit Mehrwertleistungen. Nicht zuletzt von dieser gemeinschaftlichen Kompetenz im Gesundheitswesen profitieren unsere Kunden, wenn es um schnelle, kompetente und vertrauensvolle Durchführung aller Abrechnungsprozesse geht.

They says they have around 10 500 customers who entrust their monthly billing and value added services to the company. They also mention their parent company and sister companies. This last statement should give any MBA pause because the staffing numbers found elsewhere (around 290 for RZH) do not necessarily indicate the need for a complex company structure. Given that we are dealing with medical billing and the complexities of a modern health care system, nested small-ish billing companies could be deemed counter productive from the position of the insurance companies. But that's not the main point.

The main point is that RZH is either unaware of their role as an intermediary, having two distinct groups of clients, or someone has decided to leave out the end customer (b2c) and put all their effort on the b2b side of the house.

The company's service is, according to the German blurb above, "fast and competent" and they are "trustworthy".

Not if the invoice provided in "Incompetence or Rip-off?" truly originates from them. We talked to some German friends and found that there are fraudsters who buy medical insurance information and then send fabricated invoices for small co-payment amounts to people in the assumption that people will frequently simply pay and not question or research the validity of an invoice.

From our perspective, companies such as RZH may be partly to blame for the ease with which fraudsters operate because the legitimate service companies offer no online validation to the patients.

Setting up an online verification system would be extremely simple. Shipping companies like FedEx have been doing tracking for at least a decade, and any billing company could easily do the same.
Shipping companies are an intermediary par excellence. They typically work on behalf of a merchant or producer and deliver to an individual or company. No modern shipping company can survive without without offering tracking.

If you let people query an invoice using at least the invoice number and the full name of the recipient, you have a pretty secure system. You could, for good measure, ask the user to enter the name of the company that provided the service or supplies.

Why this is not being done eludes us.

Selecting a payment provider:
1) Remember the main point: you are handing over part of your business.  If your payment provider messes up, your customer may go elsewhere.
2) Look into how the candidate interfaces with your customer. These days, the absence of automated email confirmation should send you running to a human bookkeeper.
3) If they do not offer a tracking or online verification to the recipients of your bills, again, run.
4) If your business is in a country where bank transfers are the preferred mode of payment, does the provider offer preprinted transfer (SEPA) forms? Preprinted, detachable forms reduce the number of errors caused by manual copying of the payment information. If the provider does not offer this feature, run.
5) Does the payment provider have a call center staffed on all days of postal mail delivery? Trust me, you do not want a confusing invoice from a provider the end user does not know delivered on a Saturday without a human available to answer questions.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Incompetence or Rip-off?

[Update Monday, Aug. 19]
A mistake it was.
One of these incidents that make a human bookkeeper in a dark, dusty back office look really good. At the end of the day, the payment provider has not responded, the company that uses their billing service did in a wonderful and friendly way. 

Lessons learned?
Google is your friend.
Swanky company web pages about how good the company is are still not worth the bytes used.
If you send out invoices that look like straight out of con men city, at least make sure they do not arrive on a weekend, otherwise your mistake can end up on the internet in a heartbeat.
[End of update]

A guest post by J.S.

On 17 August 2013, we received an invoice from German medical billing service RZH Rechenzentrum für Heilberufe GmbH. They claim the invoice is sent on behalf of a customer of theirs, a company called ORMED GmbH.

The invoice is for 9.04 Euros as co-payment for "medical supplies".

There are several issues with this invoice:

1) Neither the exact type of the "supplies", nor the date of delivery are anywhere to be found on the two pages the invoice comprises. Both were scanned in and added below. We removed personal information and marked the removed parts with a GREEN comment + type of information removed. Everything else matches the original letter.

2) We have never dealt with a company ORMED GmbH. The letter does not provide any usable information as to where the company might be located.

3) The second page of the invoice shows the word MUSTER in huge capital letters. MUSTER is German for the English term "Sample".

Since they do not specify what the supplies were, or when and how they were delivered, we cannot determine the validity of the invoice at all. The category can really comprise pretty much any medical supplies or material. For instance, compression stockings to combat the danger of thrombosis, a pair of crutches, or a wheelchair, to name only a few.

At best, I would call their invoicing incompetent because they fail to fulfill the minimum legal requirements for invoices in Germany. You can find a copy of requirements from the Frankfurt, Germany, Chamber of Commerce for your perusal (in German).

We sent an email asking for clarification to the folks of RZH and, strangely, they do not even have an automated confirmation of received email.

Not an encouraging sign for any company these days but it becomes outright disturbing when the business of the company is IT services.

After requesting transaction details, we sent another email informing them to have ORMED GmbH invoice us correctly in case they have a claim. Incompetent companies are awful enough, incompetent service providers are the pinnacle of awfulness.

Note by TheEditor: The K-Landnews team convinced J. S. to submit the post a couple of days before initially planned. The simple point of the matter is: if you send a crap invoice on the weekend but you yourself do not feel any need to work on a weekend, tough luck. Try to look up the options or preferences in your software to set outgoing snail mail to Monday through Wednesday AND YOU JUST might avoid messing with people's weekend.

This is an OCRed scan of the cover letter. We removed the name and address of the patient and marked this change by substituting "[edited: patient address removed]"

[Start OCR]

[edited: patient address removed]

                                                                       Wesel, den    13.08.2013

Rechnungsnummer: 002837720-2013080001

Um unseren Mandanten von der Schreibarbeit und Buchhaltung zu entlasten, wird Ihnen diese
Rechnung durch uns zugestelIt. Wir sind beauftragt, Sie zu bitten, den Rechnungsbetrag direkt
an uns zu überweisen. Die Forderung beruht aufabgetretenem Recht. Die schrifiliche
Abtretungserklärung liegt uns vor.

Gesetzlicher Anteil für Hilfsmittel                     9.04E
erbracht durch

Ormed GmbH                                          RZH-Kundennr:41167

Bitte zahlen Sie diese Rechnung sofort ohne jeden Abzug unter der obengenamten Rechnungs
nummer auf unser Konto  bei der Deutschen Apotheker - und Ärztebank in Düsseldorf.

Wichtige Kunden - Information:
Gemäß §33 Abs.8 in Verbindung mit §61  erster Satz des Sozialgesetzbuches V müssen Sie einen Teil
der Kosten für bestimmte Hilfsmittel selber in Form einer Zuzahlung tragen.
Sollten Sie von der Zuzahlung befreit sein, bitten wir um Zusendung einer Kopie Ihrer
Befreiungskarte mit Angabe unserer Rechnungsnummer.

Deutsche Apotheker und Ärztebank in DüsseIdorf
Kontonummer   0305250005
BLZ:          300 606 01

RZH Rechenzentrum
für Heilberufe GmbH
Steuernummer:   5135 / 5703 /0208

[End of OCR]

Gemäß der Webseite  ist eine einwandfreie Rechnung für Kleinleistungen folgendermassen zu erstellen.

Für Rechnungen, deren Gesamtbetrag 150 Euro brutto nicht übersteigt, so genannte Kleinbetragsrechnungen, gelten erleichterte Vorschriften. Hier genügen folgende Angaben:
  • vollständiger Name und vollständige Anschrift des leistenden Unternehmers,
  • das Ausstellungsdatum der Rechnung,
  • Menge und Art der gelieferten Gegenstände oder die Art und den Umfang der sonstigen Leistung
  • Entgelt und Steuerbetrag für die Lieferung oder Leistung in einer Summe,
  • Steuersatz oder
  • im Fall einer Steuerbefreiung ein Hinweis darauf, dass für die Lieferung oder sonstige Leistung eine Steuerbefreiung gilt.


The little yellow book

Certain types of books lose their title when they achieve wide use and notoriety and become known only by the color of the cover.

The probably most famous one does not have much of a title in the first place. We are talking about the "little black book" of course, which may or may not say "Contacts" on the cover. The little black book is iconic, and the 2004 movie of the same name has its own Wikipedia page.
The transition to the world of smart phones, rocky as it may be, has seen at least one app that took the name Little Black Book into the digital age, it is an app for brokers.

Then there is the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao fame. Chances are, you won't know many or even a single one of the man's quotations, but you are almost certain to know the name of the book. Well, make that almost certain if you are over 60.

There are the little yellow book, the little blue book, and many more.

And that's just a handful of English language versions. Drop the qualifier "little", extend your search to other languages, and you could spend a year just reading <name of a color> books.

The German veteran nuclear worker we quoted in the post "Chasing Isotopes" showed us his little yellow book used to record radiation exposure. The K-Landnews Random Research team looked around the interweb for a minute and did not find a picture, so we took one and stick here. Experts among you may notice this is a somewhat dated version.

photo (c) 2013 K-Landnews, under