Monday, September 30, 2013

Wearing different colored socks

The main man of and behind the new movie Don Jon is on the talk show circuit promoting the film. We heard Joseph Gordon-Levitt on NPR and saw him on the Colbert Report, noticing two things.

The first was that some of his statements were word for word matches between the NPR interview and Colbert. A senior K-Landnews member was not happy with this, however, TheEditor only had a laconic: Politicians do it all the time, so what.

The second thing is more interesting: two different colored socks!

Not only did the camera person on Colbert zoom out, which they almost never do after an interview, but they zoomed in such a way as to clearly show the different colored socks.

The K-Landnews TheEditor is a frequent but irregular wearer of two different socks. This has happened so often in the past that the sock procurement strategy of TheEditor changed.

Buy socks of the same color only, and make sure the calf part is plain, no decorative stripes or patterns, not even of the same color.

It may be next to inconceivable that a person would go to such great lengths instead of doing the simple thing: match up your socks when they come out of the dryer.

This concept is logical and useful, even to a repeat wearer of different colored socks. The problem is, we don't seem to be able to do this. As of 2013, unfortunately, nobody has found a gene or an environmental affliction that would exculpate us, give us the cover of "illness" or "genetic condition".

It is perfectly acceptable to make fun of us, and at times we invent blatantly false excuses, such as, I am so tall and my eyesight is really bad. We suffer from the sockism* of others in silence, though we are in good company. A former head of the European Central Bank was the butt of sockism jokes after he was spotted wearing white socks, a matching pair, with a dark suit.

Two participants in a high level meeting which set rules and policies for several hundred million Europeans noticed the starkly white socks and joked about them in a subsequent email exchange, implying, of course, that it was not wise to entrust big decisions to a man who failed to match the color of his socks to his suit.

* Sockism: being made fun of or being bullied for wearing mismatched socks.

The female navy captain

One of these freebie documentaries again, this one was about the old Persians, the folks who set free the Jewish people from captivity in Babylon.

This post is on the short side, sorry about that. It is extremely difficult to focus with a tech entrepreuneur-innovator-venture capitalist droning on in the background. It's supposed to be an interview but the man is relentless in extolling visions.

Modern societies excel at patting temselves on the shoulder for achievements. Everything we manage to get done after years, decades, or centuries of struggle then gets taken and turned into a confirmation of the greatness of our times.

One of these struggles has been opening up careers for women. It's been only a few decades ago that we saw the first woman command a navy battle ship. As important as women's rights have been, still are and will be for some time to come, history has a way of reminding you that we may not be the greatest.

2500 years ago, there was a female naval captain and strategist less well known than other famous women rulers, Artemisia of Halicarnassus. Not very much is known about her but she is said to have commanded a small contingent of ships and fought bravely in the sea battle of Salamis. The Persian fleet suffered a big defeat while she successfully fought her way out.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ignorance is Bliss

Today is the end of Ignorance is Bliss Week.

TheEditor, in customary ignorance, didn't notice how special this week was until it was over. Declaring it ends on Sunday is also rather arbitrary but we had a good laugh about the Spanish Timezone/Calendar issue and will leave it at that.
Gosh, no, hold on. Do you happen to know what the older French generation called Daylight Saving Time when it was introduced on the Continent in the latter decades of the 20th Century?
"L'heure allemande" (German Time), and some of the older generation didn't like it at all.

The IPCC came out with another climate change report, and the reactions were as predictable as they were silly.

Why does it even matter whether humans are responsible? When someone goes into the ocean for a swim and gets carried away by the current, the first thing you do is? You stand on the beach debating who is responsible?

Human abuse of the planet is bad enough, why would you spend your hard earned money on expensive fuel when you can cut your heating bill by 80% and live more comfortably?

In Germany, voters enjoyed a week of bliss after the elections, and now the "we won't raise taxes" party is talking about, yep, raising taxes.

In the UK, a police chief called for an end of the war on drugs. Mere hours later -- Ignorance is indeed Bliss -- some of his peers warned about the wrong message to the youth.

Same country, the former head of GCHQ points out how little protest the surveillance revelations of this summer have stirred up. Which, of course, means people are not worried. The good man has never lived under an authoritarian government, it would seem.

In the U.S., a partial government shutdown is looming, and our friends in Congress passed a bill that ensures the military continues to get paid. Which makes perfect sense, you should always continue to pay the guys who have the guns.

In Italy, the ever entertaining Mr. Berlusconi is on another power trip, while just to the north, in Austria, anti-EU parties took about 30% of the votes in the general election. With Austria nicknamed "little Germany" by the K-Landnews, someone needs to start crossing fingers for the next German elections.

The K-Landnews TheEditor manifested some more ignorance in an effort to research how to officially become a journalist in Germany, with the intention of expanding into covering major trade shows.  Most of the big journalist associations do not accept people like us, bloggers and small time website operators, we'll see if two smaller bodies will.

The upcoming press card application process may yield a couple of fun posts...

When amateur photography met war

TheEditor needed a few days to digest a book.

It is a disturbing, heavy tome of 350 pages of black and white photographs.  In the back, another 15 volumes are listed as published and 20 more as being readied for publication.

The year is 1925, the country is Germany, and it is customary for middle and upper class male government workers to append their rank from the Great War to their job title.

The author of the foreword to "The World War in Pictures" starts out by talking about soldiers bringing small cameras to the frontlines and calls the war the first war of ubiquitous amateur photography.

The author is well aware that some of the photos in the book show "the horrors of war in the most graphic of ways" and then goes on to say that "soft, pacifist, unrealistic, ignorant people will try to exploit these images for their purposes."

He continues to say that "despite human efforts to the contrary, the most significant events of history are written in blood." 

At this point, you won't be surprised that the man ends with the statement that the book should demonstrate to future generations the "unique, ever lasting German heroism of the time."

TheEditor obtained this book for free when an old man died and not a single one of the heirs wanted it.

That is a good sign.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trust us, we're from the press

We like our journalists refreshing, so it should not come as a surprise that we relished Seymour Hersh's comment about firing 90% of editors and promoting those you cannot control.

The shrill and useless productions in what passes for news in the country we like so much look even shriller and utterly pointless from a few thousand miles away.

Rest assured, much of German news looks very similar from a distance, although the Germans still have a little ways to go to achieve that level of wallowing, whiny worship of the irrelevant.

And there is National Public Radio in the US of A, that maligned broadcast gem with pockets of sanity and hope.

So, instead of joining the chorus of pessimists, we will spend Sunday with the NPR shows "This American Life", "Snap Judgement" and a couple of others.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Radio Free Nacho

Our blog description's "The Daily Typpo" is not a misstatement, it is the truth.

Even after spell-checking, typing errors persisted in some posts, and there must be others, in the "known unknown" category of the great strategists we surely belong to.

The recent posts about the German general election were particularly trying to our tired fingers.

Democrat came out as demoncrat a few times, fixed seconds before we clicked on Publish. 

The vast majority of spelling errors do not bother us, they get fixed and no second thought is expended on an error.

The demoncrat was different because of its inadvertent potential.  TheEditor sat there, looked at the demoncrat, smiled, looked at one of the 95% tigers on the easy chair, then went back to look at the demoncrat. 

And took out the extra "n".

Which brings us to the admission of another misspelling, this one of the name of one our favorite radio stations, Radio Free Nachlaot out of Jerusalem. Having mistyped it a few times in TuneIn, we settled on a tex mex version of an internal name by calling it Radio Nacho for a time until we had the spelling right. Sorry about that guys and gals, sorry Loreley.

Back to politics, we still feel we want another minute or two of play time with the demoncrat. So, let's google it, and guess what, it is actually an entry in the Urban Dictionary.

This goes to show, do any research last or not at all!

The merry misfits of Greendale college

The NBC TV series "Community" is coming to Comedy Central.

It might be worth trying to see if the series is shown in Germany and then find a few German viewers to study what the German audience likes and  understands. Duh, more than the average American audience when you present them with a European (non-British) show.

But how much exactly?

Much of the humor in Community would play well with a European audience, though the Wikipedia note saying the show has gained a "cult following" indicates some punches probably get lost in the 5000 miles journey across the Atlantic.

Don't get us wrong, this is very normal and nothing to worry about. It applies to every movie, TV show, video game, song ever made. Sometimes, this is the charm of a series.

The other day, we read about - and promptly forgot the name of - a British series that flopped in its homeland but became a success in Germany. That success was credited to the editors in charge of dubbing the series. They found the original ever so boring and uninspired that they used the opportunity to overlay fresh and funny dialogue, and it worked.

Having caught only the very beginning of "Community" in the U.S., we are all excited to get to see it on Comedy Central soon.

The move from NBC to Comedy Central might, of course, be an indication that the show has jumped the shark, but we settled on a glass half full approach and hope they did that because basic cable allows for a slightly wider choice of subjects and presentation than the old over the air networks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Curfews & Zits

Young people in various Western countries are up in arms about curfews, again.

In the US, young people may have arms, for other countries this is a harmless figure of speech.

Like zits, bell-bottom jeans and curfews  pop up in the public debate as a means to curb some perceived evil related to young people.

Most countries have reasonable limits on young people in places where alcohol is served, we are not talking about these laws and ordinances.

The curfews that keep coming back like zits are the other curfews, those that prohibit gathering in public for one reason only: because we as a society have failed our young.

In Germany, the federal minister for family affairs has just floated a curfew again.

In the United States, the city of Oakland, California, is mulling one.

And the Swiss, in the wisdom engendered by only by narrow alpine gorges, are having a go, too.

The German proposal is meeting fierce opposition, notably by the youth organizations of even the conservative political parties. This makes sense, after all, you should protest if you get to vote in some elections at age 16 and then some fossilized 35 year old proposes to tie you to your parents after 8 PM.

In the US, there are still a few minority youth out there who have not been criminalized, so well-meant curfews are just the ticket.

Such curfews remind us of speed limits and parking regulations. Easy, arbitrary, great for making quotas.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

How grand a coalition?

Germany is debating about a coalition of Ms. Merkel's party and a partner party.

We have no skin in the game of thrones but we do have a language issue.

The option of  Merkel's CDU (christian democrats) hooking up with the other big party SPD (the social democrats) is called "Grosse Koalition" in German, literally a Big or Large Coalition, with a capital G for us dummies, a lower case g might mean we miss the importance of the matter.

In the English language media, they call this a "grand coalition".

Which to our uneducated minds sounds very different. The coalition surely is not going to be grand. As a matter of fact, whenever the two big parties have governed together in the past, nothing grand has come out of it.

Moreover, the term was coined at a time when there were a grand total of three (3) parties in the national parliament. 

So, you'd be forgiven to think a grand coalition might have been one with all three parties forming a government.

But all the grand term means is that the two heavyweights get together.

Would the dear English language media please just say "a coalition of the two largest parties"?

It does not sound grand or grandiose, but it would take a little bit of what the K-Landnews team calls grandstanding out of the reporting.

It's not our fault that the Germans love things Large, remember not long ago there was a Grossdeutschland, that Big one everyone else in Europe feared.

Meanwhile, the German media relishes in the fact that Ms. Merkel called the SPD on Monday at 9 AM and that the chief of the SPD returned the call at 11 AM.

A power poker move!

A snub!

Fuck it, peeps, no wonder the world of politics and/or that of the reporting on politics is crazy.

The SPD chief might have been busy unlocking his iPhone's fingerprint sensor or might have enjoyed a Monday morning conjugal after the stress of the election.

And who the fuck says that Ms. Merkel picked up the phone and called like the Pope does these days?

What is there to say?


Chicken Dance

The political equivalent to the Chicken Dance has started in the German capital Berlin - the official name of the political Chicken Dance is 'negotiating a coalition government'. At the same time, the drinking and singing version is being performed at Oktoberfests across the country and the world.

The renowned German penchant for precision gets drowned in huge steins of beer once a year when they call the fest of fests Oktoberfest, yet start it in September.

Only, well, it is not the Chicken Dance. In Germany, it's the Duck Dance.

When it was first introduced in the U.S., the Americans where shocked to see that the Germans had not brought duck costumes for the dance.

Frantic telephone calls were made for a costume.

When they finally found a costume, it was a chicken costume.

Wikipedia disagrees on how the dance got the name that stuck in English.

We think precisely this disagreement makes Chicken Dance the ideal term for what is going on in Berlin after a heady election night.

That's a big parliament

The German parliament is a big one, they have some 600 representatives for a country of about 80 million people.

Imagine a U.S. Congress of 2000 reps, wouldn't that be fun?

The big news of last night's elections is that the small "business" party, also called "the liberals", which is  more along the lines of the British liberal party, finally got kicked out of the national parliament because they remained under the threshold of 5% nation wide and had not "direct" win either.

The German system is complicated. They have districts, and you vote for a person running in that district. Simple majority, and they are in. 

They also have a second vote for "a party", and that one kicks in when a party gets above the 5%.  The state organizations of the parties draw up a list of candidates, with the open seats in parliament being filled starting at the top. These lists are drawn up by the state party organization, no direct voter input needed or wanted.

The bigger parties thus can pretty much guarantee their top brass a seat in parliament even if they get beaten in a district.

So, while Germans follow the "one man, two votes" philosophy, there are many positions not open to voting. 

All those sheriffs, DAs, school boards, even coroners who get their job through a popular vote in the U.S. -- these are plain old professions here.

Which does not mean that politics plays no role. Civil service careers benefit greatly from being a member of one of the big parties, it generally does not matter all that much which of the big players because they will respect each other's turf to some degree.

With the outcome as close as it is, Ms. Merkel's party just missing a majority of seats, pundits have their work cut out for them for a couple of months.

And the new Euro skeptic party? They remained just under the 5%.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

You look like Ken Kesey

"My mother says so, too".

The brief exchange was recalled as we listened to a one hour NPR show about "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", an iconic novel, later turned into a very different but equally iconic movie.

The story of how the movie came to be made is interesting but the aspect we found most fascinating was how Dr. Brooks of the Oregon State Hospital became Dr. Spivey in the film and what he achieved for the real patients at the actual hospital in Salem, Oregon, where the movie was produced.

Dr. Brooks got hospital patients on the payroll of the production in a variety of roles, not just the background extras but in other support jobs, from makeup to costuming.

Here is a man who is going about his life, with success but not remarkable to the outside world.

Along comes the film crew, and he does "all the right things", his life erupts  - as TheEditor phrased it - into a bouquet of color.

You never know if or when life presents you with an opportunity to be remarkable in the sense of stepping out of everyday life and do something good. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The light bulbs in the safe

Shop til you don't drop the light bulb!

The small grocery store in town offers a range of products far beyond its very limited shelf space.

A wide range of garden tools, an impressive selection of home improvement products, including tools, blinds and paints. Clothing, bedding and speciality foods round out the offerings.

They achieve this by doing specials.

One week of craft tools, one week of camping equipment, a week of winter clothing, you get the idea.

This is also the time to buy speciality foodstuffs like Korean rooster sauce and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter is a speciality food item in Germany.

The prices on the special offers are always substantially lower than in the bigger markets a town or two over. Consequently, they sell out fast.

The specials go on sale every Monday morning.

Strange enough, we noticed that some of the items advertised for two weeks prior to the sale on man-sized posters on the store wall don't show up.

When we really want one of the specials, we go early on Monday morning between 8 and 9 AM, but we are out of luck.

Is that how retailers game their sales in Germany?

That's what we thought until today.

In line at the checkout, the woman in front of us has only a couple of items and is done quickly, and then she pops a question: Can you tell me where the LED bulbs are?

The cashier looks up: "Oh, they are not out yet. The store manager decided to lock them up in the safe until Monday. When we put them out on Saturday, they are gone so fast, people come in first thing on Monday, and we are out."

The customer thanked her, took her two items and left.

There was our explanation. The store puts out the specials of the following week just before closing time the Saturday before. That's when the savvy German shoppers sneak in and help themselves to the goodies.

Resting assured that the new batch of LED bulbs is sitting safely in the store manager's safe, we'll be up early on Monday morning.

The nagging question until then will be: Should we mentally prepare ourselves to fight little old ladies for discount LED light bulbs on Monday morning, or should we give them a half hour's head start?

Questions, questions.

The last minute election poll controversy

For decades, German news media and polling companies had a self-imposed election poll rule: they would not publish any polls within the last ten days before an election.

The high-minded, if condescending reason was to avoid unduly influencing the voters.

As a voluntary rule, there were some publications that pushed the boundaries a bit by inching to seven days, for example the tabloid Bild, but the overall restraint held.

This year, however, the "no poll in the final week" barrier fell, and the Sunday edition of Bild is poised to publish a poll on election day.

The cautious camp has been lamenting the loss of a polling free week and accuses the proponents of edging closer to the "24 hour news cycle". 

Have a little bit of faith in people's ability to make up their own mind and not be swayed by last minute polls.

This view of the last minute polling folks is shared by the K-Landnews team, but, of course, there is still some reservation toward the maturity of the "German electorate". This residual reservation is in part explained by the well known choices of German voters in the last century and also, we are sorry to say this, by a measure of generic distrust towards "the people" on the part of those in power and the "educated classes". 

We predict that the Sunday poll will not be talked about much once the election is over, and we think it is nice that the self-censorship of the polling companies and the news media slowly erodes.

Retro remodel to new building standard

The final touch will be shutters but that's not to be taken lightly. In other words, we cannot make up our minds. Should we go for the modern cheats, the decoration-only shutters common to many remodels, or will we pick fully functioning shutters?

We'll see.

In the 1950s, the house looked like this, unchanged from its early days, except for the antenna, mercifully cut off at the very top.

Then it fell victim to the quick, easy, and ugly functional maintenance and became this cousin of the Amityville horror house:
A crane, sledgehammers, crowbars, many hours of work by the roofers, and months of our work spread out over years, got us to this:
The house is now almost completely up to the latest energy saving code required if you build a new house today. Since the roof structure was re-done, insulation of the attic was required by the permit. All the other insulation work was voluntary. Financially, insulating the "building envelope", i.e. all the outside walls, of a house as old as this one makes sense only if you can do most of the work yourself. The roofers were very happy when we asked them to take all the time they wanted for the project in return for our use of their scaffolding.

Some small, hard to fix areas were done with expensive but much thinner outside insulation. 
One the right side of the lower photo, you can see the wall at the top jut out a couple of inches where we doubled up the insulation while the lower portion of the wall barely encroaches on the stair space. The doubled up top is much more efficient than the 2009 New Building standard, the lower part is a little less efficient but still beats the more lenient 2007 standard.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fom GTA to GTB (Grand Theft Budget) - Game on!

From our Can Someone Please Do This department.

GTA (Grand Theft Auto) has been making the media rounds all over the planet, we would like to talk about GTB (Grand Theft Budget).

GTB is the video game TheEditor would spend money on, but, alas, it is not available on video.

It is being played every year in Washington D.C., with many remote players hooked up from all over the country. The game has a grand total of at least 300 million players, although only 1% are active players, because you need to bring a minimum of a couple of million monopoly dollars to get to provide input into the game and get a good share of returns. The other 99% are extras, who get a non-union stipend for being at the disposal of the active players.

The game The Sims owes some ideas to GTB, but GTB is far more advanced and more social in nature. GTB is the only known game that temporarily suspends the basic laws of science in favor of a faith based approach to life.

The revenues for GTA are peanuts compared to the stakes of GTB, and in GTB you get to punish real people, starve real people to death, rummage through their most private possessions and thoughts. The winners walk away with so much money and prestige that - if you simply gave away the cash - you could make every adult in the United States a millionaire within a couple of decades, but the players decided long ago that this would change the nature of the game to something too rational and peaceful.

The curvy women and the guns are the same in GTA and GTB.

We had eyed former games innovator Zynga as the developer of the online version of GTB, but they are not doing too well after the Mafia invaded Farmville.

But there is still the Daily Show, whose intrepid correspondents might take up the idea of GTB.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Welcome to the Crazytown Express

The main German newspapers have started to run reports on the upcoming US debt ceiling fight and budget battle.

Even when living in the US, the K-Landnews TheEditor had the nickname Crazytown Express for this sort of fight, and it looks a whole lot worse from the outside.

All the bitching of the Graham crackers about loss of leadership, an image of weakness in the Syria debate, is nothing compared to the money quarrels.

US debt ceiling and budget clusterfucks makes all the Greek financial debates look perfectly sane.

The Republican party must be soooo tempted to run a repeat of last time and get cuts across the weegie board, exempting of course everything around the well-being and the traveling needs of congress and national security.

Both of these considerations are logical. You need to give the deciders unfettered access to a disappointed and distressed public so the congress folks can blame everything on "Washington". And you need the national security apparatus in good shape when you go and cut food stamps again.

The wasted lives of the politicians in Washington are a sad sight to behold.

Will John Boehner look back on his career after retirement and say: "I am proud we voted against Obamacare 40 times"? 

His Wikipedia page states he started working in a bar at age 8.

At 8?

That means he already had a late start in life.

By age 8, TheEditor already had two solid years of farm work experience which included outperforming adults.

And now, Johnny Come Lately B. is doing the same job he did at age 8, pushing the big budget broom through the halls of Congress where the air is stale after the latest power binges and the smell of a regurgitated, high sugar political diet can turn your stomach.

Welcome to the Crazytown Express, next stop The Cliff.

The Great Backslash n Escape

From our Black Magic department.

One reason the newly publicized pervasive digital rape will likely continue is that computers and software are, to many people, really the contemporary equivalent of black magic or of the equally baffling magic tricks of Harry Houdini and David Copperfield.

Since some of Houdini's most famous stunts involve escaping from handcuffs and other restraints, we'll tell you a little about "escapes" in software.

As a regular user of non-glamorous computers (aka PCs with Windows OS), we know you have been wondering about that "Escape" key, and there are some jokes on the web if you are curious.

It may come as a surprise that "escapes" or "escape sequences" are f***ing everywhere in software. Wikipedia as a page on "Escape sequences" from the stone age of computing, which ended about 25 human years ago.

In programming, someone once decided that the backslash, the \, being a little used character in written communication would make a great little switch or marker for telling the computer to stop doing what it was doing and start doing something else.

For example:
This is a line. We do not have enough room, so we use the backslash \
in order to display it as a single continuous line to the user.

Which means that if we want to display a backslash to the user, our code has to have two like this: \\

All of a sudden, you can end up having four in your code like this: \\\\


That's one of the two reasons why programmers get paid big bucks. The second reason is that they have to translate perfectly good real world statements and processes into lots of lines with backslashes and other escapes, such as "".  At the same time, if they have, say, two things, they need to tell the computer that thing 1 is thing[0]. Or, in some programming languages, thing 1 is thing(1) to the computer, hard to remember after a night out.

Not getting the escapes right and starting to count from the wrong "base" (0 or 1) are two problems that have cost untold millions of dollars in the short digital age.

On the positive side, you can become a rock star if you pull a Houdini with an escape sequence or two.

A real life example? Sure.

There was a company with a great software that allowed you to manage assets, keep track of all kinds of material in your company and do fancy things.
Complex software requires training. So, some thirty people we sitting in a class room in sunny California, learning from scratch or updating their skills.
The students really liked the software (it was not at Microsoft) but they had a problem with the reporting feature. Reports would be long, many pages listing different stuff and the last line, the total, of each sub group was not offset.

They wanted an empty line, like the one just above this sentence.

But the form on the screen did not allow it. File a request and it might take a year for the new version to have the feature -- or not, if the decider didn't feel like adding it.

During a break, one of the students sat down at a training computer, brought up the report form and added a \n in front of the text that the user could enter to label the last line, the total, of the sub-group, like so:

\nTotal number of Houdini handcuffs in department A

And "Print", and there was the empty line on the printout. Another try, like so:

\n------------\n\nTotal of cuffs:

Which gave an empty line, then a line of -------, another empty line, then "Total of cuffs".

Try it, the student told the others. Minutes later, everyone was chattering and clucking, and the teacher was busy taking notes.

Getting entangled in a "newline" will not kill you, which partly explains why nerds are not a bunch of modern day Houdinis but it can still do lots of damage and send programmers scurry off with the newlines between their legs.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Genghis Khan's Shock and Awe & Mobile Homes

From our The Far Side of the Story department.

The documentary "Mongolia" is fun to watch. The narrator talks way too fast, almost as if the makers needed to compensate for the lost decades under the Soviet sponsored regime that made Mongolia pretty much unreachable for most Westerners for the better part of the 20th century.

But once you take the deep breath the narrator never takes, it is a fun little film, as we said.

The country's most famous son, Genghis Khan, features prominently, of course, next to horses, nature, restored temples, the big capital Ulan Bator, and more nature. Mongolian throat singing, contortionists, camels and a huge open pit copper mine get air time, and the ethnic minorities in some corners of the central Asian nation are portrayed fondly.

Here are two things that made us chuckle, though. As they show a thundering mass of mounted warriors re-enacting the feared Mongolian cavalry of the Khan, the narrator points out that the great Khan invented the military strategy of the "flash war" still used today.

There you go. Genghis Khan invented "Shock and Awe"!

Of course, you may have noticed the similarity of the "flash" and the "Blitz", and yes, in terms of concept and execution, shock and awe is nothing but ye olde blitz reloaded with depleted uranium.

The documentary also has a brief, easily missed, scene of the Mongolian mobile home, a Ger, the Mongolian version of the yurt, sitting on top a flat bed wooden wagon being pulled over the wide open steppe by horses.

Next time someone obnoxious waves a new new thing in our faces, we'll try to remember the mobile home and comment accordingly.

Random September flowers [image]

For a rainy day.

(c) 2012 under

Encounter with Germany's new party AfD

From our personal shopper department.

"Never go shopping on a Saturday morning during the last four weeks before a German election".

We had forgotten our homegrown advice on how to best avoid being cornered at the shopping cart return.

Germans and some other Europeans make you put a one Euro deposit into a shopping cart to unlock a cart. When you are done shopping, you return the cart to its cart corral and get your coin back.

This is the ideal time and location to corner you.

The cart area is closed off on three sides, and unless you jump the rails on either side, you need to figure out how to deal with the volunteers of whatever political party wants your vote.

Being a foreigner does not help if you look like you belong here.

Getting cornered by the brand new party AfD (Alternative fuer Deutschland) was more interesting than expected. This newly formed Euro skeptic party presents itself as "itself as moderate, academic and middle class" and was also incorrectly called "the German Tea Party".

Their flyers look reasonable, their leadership is educated, yet, TheEditor has a terse one liner after hearing the campaign slogans on this sunny Saturday.

Not stupid but a bunch of wingnuts.

"Greece needs to leave the Euro zone".

"We want a Canadian style immigration system."

If you see these statements in writing, there is nothing wrong, they are opinions shared by some of their mainstream competitors.

Hearing them over a PA, spoken by an enthusiastic young German male, was different. Call me a sissy, or recycle the wingnut label and stick it on me.

The voice creeped me out, so I graciously took the flyer from the smiling woman, said Guten Morgen and schlepped the groceries home.

This Alternative is no alternative.

We need to plan for the next election cycle, write down the rule "No shopping on Saturday morning", find some clothes that signal we are a waste of time.

Patched worn out jeans, a Breaking Bad t-shirt or a tie-dye, or how about a bandana (not gay over here, but biker), we'll see - there is no rush once this is over.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Is the heater on?

From our Go F***ing Insulate your House department.

A friend stopped by yesterday said hi, and then made a beeline for the closest radiator in the living room. She put her hand on it and with a surprised expression said: "You don't have the heating on? It's so warm in here."

"No, don't need it yet, the work is finally paying off."

"It was 3 C when I got up at 2 AM for work."

This was the kind of conversation TheEditor had hoped to have after years of working on the old house.

The months spent clinging to the outside walls like an oversized gecko, though much less elegant than the sticky creature, had made a big difference in last winter's heating bill but there was a lot of work left.

With the remaining 60 square meters of facade done, the old house has not needed any heating during the cold spell of the past week.

Unlike the friend's house, less than twenty years old, our building has maintained a pretty toasty 19 to 20 C with several consecutive nights between 5 and 9 C and days under 20 C.

While the joking "I want to be able to heat the whole house with a single candle" is a tad ambitious, we are looking forward to the winter for the first time since we arrived in Germany.

The "before and after" pictures will follow when the finishing touches are done.

The three year old at the cash register

He is on top of a bar stool, balancing, and with grandpa standing behind him to catch him if needed.

His arms are just long enough to reach the packet of Fisherman's Friend on the counter, extra strong sugar free if you must know.

Scan, says grandpa.

With a not very co-ordinated move, the child swings the cough drops toward the small scanner mounted vertically right beside the display of the cash register.

He is too high and has too much momentum. Grandpa stabilises him before he can slip off the stool. As the boy's right hand comes down and swings back towards the counter again, the Fishermen's friend pass in front of the barcode scanner and the machine indicates its success with a beep.

The boy indicates his own success with a sound unmistakably modeled after the scanner's beep and smiles. He continues to hold on to the Fisherman's Friend pack, waving it back and forth above his head.

Grandpa presses the done button, releasing the cover of the register. With the other hand, grandpa takes the pack and puts it onto the counter while the boy reaches for the bank note offered as payment.

Over his happy gurgling, grandpa counts the change aloud.

So, once you have him trained, you can take the overdue vacation?

With a thank you to the child, the customer leaves the gas station.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The end of "Landser" pulp fiction

"What, they still published stuff like that in the 21st century? Achtung Schweinhund!"

This was TheEditor's reaction to recent news that the German World War II themed pulp fiction series "Der Landser" was going to be discontinued by the publisher. This Wikipedia page (in German) provides a great history of this publication and others in the same vein.

The 1950s were the golden decade of "Der Landser" and its siblings, with the re-militarization of Germany and a good deal of whitewashing of the regular military. Criticism accompanied  these series from the beginning, for instance, this "Spiegel" article of 1959 (in German). According to the Wikipedia entry, "Der Landser" went from around 500 000 copies a month to around 60 000 a month in the 1990s.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center praised the decision of the publishing house to drop the series.

One brief look at the Wikipedia list of known authors and the faux, whiny justification of publishing such trash is enough: good riddance.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Magnetron Symphony

From our Marketing Appreciation department.

Magnetron Symphony sounds SiFi, with your choice of author, Philip K. Dick for dark and unsettling, Futurama for fun like Frey's symphony with the Devil.

The Magnetron Symphony is a machine, an MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) machine for body scans. It is such an important diagnostic device that the inventors received a Nobel Prize.

We can easily imagine Siemens PR and marketing managers sequestered in a Munich, Germany, conference room or in their R&D department, scratching heads to come up with a non-threatening, comfortable, medically adequate name for the huge donut shaped machine. The reality of the sound created by an MRI machine is much better described by another term ending in "phony", cacophony. Loud, disjointed, outright deafening. The mickey mouse headphones handed to patients are not a luxury. They attenuate the noise and they deliver music to shorten the time and fight claustrophobia as the slider feeds the patient to the donut.

Seeing a patient laying perfectly still on the other side of the thick, shielded glass window while the technician rotates, slices and dices the image of the person's head on the computer screen is eerie for a minute or two. After that, curiosity takes over.

Several more minutes into the half hour session, being a little spoiled from fancy television shows like CSI and Bones, you may find yourself wanting a color image instead of the black and white image slices of the human.

What ever the diagnostic outcome for the patient, the folks who named the machine Magnetron Symphony deserve a thank you.

In the mine [image]

You know the feeling: where the f*** did I take picture? An old mine turned museum? Not that it matters much, so enjoy.

(c) 2012 under

Google never existed

Alternate reality: Brin & Page looked at cool U Stanford Library and said "it's the nature of society". Last one turns off the lights.

Friday, September 13, 2013

10 000 pageviews: we journalists now?

Yeah, checked the counter this morning, and it had four zeros.

The round number came both sooner and later than expected. Sooner than it would have looked last November/December when this was all new and some days went by with zero views.

Later than expected in April/May, when we had seen steady growth and comfortably hovered between 100 and 200 views a day. The 8 hours of being blocked by Twitter, probably for the "Bollocks to Scrotum ratio" were followed by a dip when we stopped doing Twitter and Facebook for a few weeks in stubborn protest against algorithms. Eventually, we let Facebook go completely during the surveillance shitstorm.

This was precipitated by a German blog post that described how a friend of the post's author had been screened by US immigration and found that the border person could access her detailed Facebook account without so much as a password. An email exchange with the post's author convinced us that we were not dealing with some wingnut who made up crap and stuck it on the web.

Other than ups and downs and some spam comments that we deleted, you, our readers, have been nice folks. We hope to have been able to help a couple of you with the Facebook email addresses on the German data protection commission site and the newly updated pointer to the Irish commissioner.

Above all, we hope some of the posts made you laugh.

Have fun on the web, learn, and be safe.

Thank you. 

The "Michael Jackson Special"

From our List Making Department.

We have not given any credit to the humble list for several weeks, so the byline "From our List Making Department" is another one stone, two birdies strike, reminding you that civilization started with a list, while crediting our list making department for a post they had no hand in.

Even the bible starts with God's ToDo list for the upcoming week, so show some gratitude, or at least fake it convincingly.

The list today is: list your favorite medical specialties.

While everybody who patches up people and other animals deserves praise and recognition, independent from their title and training, TheEditor realized the other day that anesthesiologists are its favorite (TheEditor is brazenly gender neutral).

This was an odd thought.

Why anesthesiologists, of all the specialty fields?

Ophthalmologists have played a hugely important role in TheEditor's life up to and including those colored contact lenses that are even more fun when you use a different color in each eye. Plus, "eye doctor" is a lot easier to spell than anesthesiologist. What about the internal medicine doctor who keeps shit going, the dermatologist who helps the thin skinned and the thick skinned alike without prejudice, or the urologist who prevents you from turning into one giant waste water balloon if the plumbing gets blocked?

Don't believe everything you think!

This joyful reminder of man's foibles by the TV psychiatrist was not sufficient to make the psychs land the top spot. The surgeons are forever labeled as slicers and butchers in the little brain of TheEditor.

Again, why anesthesiologists?

Is it because the anesthesiologist broke into a laugh when, in the middle of a consultation on Propofol, a friend of the K-Landnews blurted out "oh, a Michael Jackson Special"? Though easy to construct into the reason for the fondness of anesthesiologists, this is not it.

It is much more intangible than that, you cannot put a finger on it, poke it with a scalpel, or hear it with a stethoscope. 

Anesthesiologist have, without exception, been extraordinarily good listeners, that's the one observation TheEditor can safely state. 

There likely is more to it, possibly something with the whole dream and death mythology but calling them great listeners will do for now.

Watercooler to go

Around the watercooler is an expression certainly more American than apple pie. So American in fact that the magazine Psychology Today uses the phrase as the title of its blog on the psychology of rumors.

Today, on Friday the 13th of September 2013, I saw my first ever watercooler in Germany.  Not surprisingly, the familiar blue tinted water container had the all upper case warning in English "DO NOT USE FOR OTHER LIQUIDS", the in your face evidence that watercoolers are not native around here.

Since office gossip happens around that watercooler and the Germans really don't have watercoolers, is there no gossip in a German office?

The long days, weeks, months, and years spent in the location of daily psychological torture and humiliation called "the office", in different countries on different continents, allows only one conclusion: the Germans have another place to indulge in and suffer from office gossip.

It is the office kitchen or the office coffee machine!

Speaking of which, good coffee is, and has been for a long time, everywhere around here. Unlike London twenty years ago, when you had to trawl the seedy streets around King's Cross Station and go, psst, is there any decent coffee in this city, I'll pay extra for some premium beans?

In a German city, you are never more than a quarter mile from good coffee, yet you don't find the commercial enthusiasm of big city America where we have personally seen an intersection on which all four corners had a Starbucks coffee shop.

The common American slurping of coffee or the munching of burgers while trundling along the street is not a habit here, but you can get your coffee to go. In a paper cup.

Or, as the shops in even the smallest of towns where nobody speaks much English advertise: "Coffee To Go!" or "Kaffee To Go!"

Gossip around the coffee maker or coffee machine creates and spreads rumors, which we Amis then hear through the grapevine or "as the rumor mill" has it. Incidentally, with a big sorry to all Buddhists and Tibetans, growing up TheEditor first encountered the phrases "rumor mill" and "prayer mill" simultaneously and, with much shame, has to admit that they somehow stuck close together, so that talking or thinking about one would wake up the other phrase. 
Where our rumor mill does some grinding, the Germans cook up their rumors in the "rumor kitchen" (Geruechtekueche), stirring and spicing up the cuisine of everyday language, the daily dish.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

German top politician does middle finger

It's Mr. Steinbrueck's middle finger right there on the front page of the magazine of a large German paper.

The candidate of Germany's second largest political party after Ms. Merkel's CDU made the cover of SZ Magazin with a fully extended middle finger.

The nation is stunned, and the debate is on: has the man landed a coup or is he insulting the voters?

Our personal reaction first: we do not feel insulted, we laughed. The photo with the finger is also in very tasteful black and white, which we feel is very important.

Had it been in color, we might be less forgiving. Who wants to see a large pinkish object on the front page of a mag? Kudos to the photographer!

No matter what your feeling about the image is, the lagging candidate certainly gets publicity out of it, and the Germans get an opportunity to show some emotion in this most boring election campaign ever.

Plus, who are we to complain about cultural cross-fingering?

Yesterday's Daily Show showed a segment of three American politicians on a visit to Egypt, with Michelle Bachmann in the role of the middle finger.

While this blog post may help to popularize Mr. S.'s middle finger, the fact is that German politics continue to be less obnoxious, less in your face, or - given the finger - less up your's than than the stunts some of our very finest pull all the time.

Help us get that middle finger cover on this week's Wait Wait, Don't Tell me on NPR!

Learn a new language in 5 seconds


Well, yes but no.

In this brave new world, where anybody is re-defining the meaning of words, we have re-defined "learn" while retaining the concept of "acquire a new thought or skill".

Instead of interpreting "learn a new language" to mean the holy trinity of reading, writing, understanding at least some basic elements of a language, we simply tell you how to access this skill.

And, trust us, the result will beat at least a year of intensive, gruelling exercises.

Introducing Google Translate (online),  Babylon Translation (download), Free (online, with links to other sites).

There are a million reasons for using these services, all of them described, re-described, and re-hashed in a million web pages.

We have another one for you, inspired by the genteel words of our German friend known to you as Old mustached German (OMG). He phrased it this way: "I did not wear a uniform and spend some of the best time of my life only to have any bureaucrat dimwit of the planet read all my emails."

Our hint "Use strong encryption" was met with "whatever!", so we looked into cheap and easy ways to make life just a miniscule amount more difficult for the friendly spooks.

One of the things they do is run text analysis software beyond the infamous keyword lists. Think of it as kind of the same software that allows to attribute a recently discovered play to Shakespeare of that helps to find yet another cheating German PhD.

While you are not Shakespeare and while the probability of you holding a PhD is low, the inveterate collectors have jobs to defend and will suck up your writing.

You can help them by sending the odd email in a foreign language with the help of Google and Friends above.

If you do not speak the language and the recipient does not either, they will have to "re-translate" it, and the result will contain errors large or small.

Instead, you can do the re-translation before you send the text. Fix the really egregious mistakes but leave the rest untouched. This will help to mix up your style a bit, for example, say you started your mail with "I received your last email", then you had it translated into, say, Greek, then you took the stuff that was all Greek to you and translated it into English. Your first sentence may now read "I obtained your last email".

What's good enough for the goose is good enough for the geeks.

Oh, and if somebody accuses you of tampering with your own writing style, just tell them you used the Microsoft Grammar and Spell-check with auto correct.

If that is not convincing enough, tell them you are performing an internet email art project inspired by Jackson Pollock, only instead of splattering paint vigorously and randomly onto a big canvas, you are doing the same with words.

Another unanswered question is: do the planetary spooks use these free online services if they run grab a document they don't understand and want to get an idea what's in it? How many Chinese, Russian, American tidbits of information find their way into these translation engines? 

Randomness rocks!

The Gutenberg Anonymizer Service

The K-Landndews team loves Project Gutenberg's free eBooks. We have followed if fondly since its inception.

This post, however, is about the namesake of old, Johannes Gutenberg, who gave us the printing press with movable type.

Much has been written about the fate of the paper book, the fate of libraries and the new digital economy. You can read up on all of this, we will not repeat it.

In light of the ongoing crackdown on the internet and other modern communications, we would like to point out another important characteristic of Mr. Gutenberg's invention.

The movable type press was the first anonymizer service

Gutenberg's press made anonymous publishing possible for the first time, allowing criticism to flow, allowing people we call dissidents today to shake up the world.

By design, the printing press also happens to have been the original leaks platform. Those pretty handwritten incriminating letters could be set in movable type and circulated among the literati.

The crackdown on printed matter, started swiftly after a short period of unchecked growth, never really let up. There are still books being banned today.

The basic methods of the crackdown on the internet are 100% identical to the fight against the print men.
On the legal front, the application of old unrelated laws, passing new laws specifically tailored to the threat, ignoring the law altogether.

Where print shops were regulated or shut down, we do the same to service providers and servers.

And the anonymous author flourished, supported by friendly print shop owners, by people who would print anything for money, or by the underground presses of the times, the predecessors to the modern sharing services and anonymization networks.

Snitches, spies, and metadata became part of the great hunt for whatever information displeased the rulers. The upholders of law and order would painstakingly piece together such metadata as types (letters) that we ever so slightly damaged and thus provided proof that different pamphlets (the blogs of the time) were produced on the same press.

The public book burnings have lost most of their appeal, but the blocking of websites by modern governments around the world is a worthy successor. The censors who protect us from ourselves and then go home to jack off over the porn they confiscated at work are still around. And they are being assisted by the nameless masses of censors in China and the sysadmins in the West.

The inquisitors chasing down and torturing the author of a subversive comma not long ago, they - too - have found their successors in the perverts who will watch a torture video in good conscience as long as it says national security on the sleeve.  

Like the spirit duplicators that kept independent thought alive in much of the 20th century, the small "mesh" nets of the internet may well find themselves in this role.

As we said before, history always repeats itself but with minor differences, which provide ample opportunity for talking heads and experts to paint new threat scenarios to make them rich.

If you have a working old movable type press to give away and can take over the shipping cost, let us know.

Digging self into a hole

From our Life is a Catch 22 series.

The past week at the K-Landnews has been centered on holes. Once you start thinking about holes, believe me, there is no telling where you end up. This is true even if you make a deliberate effort to exclude the famous rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland.

Wielding a heavy pickax, our sturdiest associate soon got lost in the regular movements of dig, dig, dig, shovel, shovel, shovel.

Digging away at a rectangular-ish hole in the ground, Sturdy Associate drifted off into musings about Ex-PFC Wintergreen from the novel Catch 22 and the easy all-purpose metaphor which employees around the world find in Ex-PFC Wintergreen digging holes only to fill them in again.

If I dig a rectangular hole, I have to call it a trench, if the same thing opens up all by itself, it is a sink hole. From there, the mental pathways opened to serious pondering on potholes, both the physical dents in road surfaces as well as people.

What a pothole!

If there was a shortage of insults for politicians, pothole would be a good one.

Wouldn't this make a nice invective, yet not as crude as the other ever present hole, that of the letter a?

Meandering on to the blowhole past the black hole and from there - with only a single search on the web - to the c-hole. Sturdy Associate had never heard it but had been certain that there is a hole for almost every letter of the English alphabet, if not every single letter.

If there isn't any for the letter z, just imagine our standby German English speaker informing us about "ze hole" - we are not above contortions to claim we are right.

Copious amounts of sweat soaking the previously white t-shirt in late summer 90 F heat, Sturdy Associate desperately wished to have the portable roll-up hole from countless comics. Just spread it, pour the concrete, done.

The deeper the trench gets, the darker the imagery becomes.

It is not even 2014 yet, but the World War I references are creeping up already. So, next year, we will read a lot about trenches, those holes of imperialist slaughter on which the guys back in the various capital cities got off so gloriously.

The urge to vomit Sturdy Associate experienced right then might have been due to minor heat exhaustion or to the dark visceral imagery, but the trench was done.

Sturdy Associate dedicated the last shovel of concrete to Ex-PFC Wintergreen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


"Is it going to happen tonight?"

"If it doesn't happen tonight, chances are it never will."

What's so special about midnight deadlines? Are they really more frequent than other deadlines?

We'll put the Random Research team (RR team) on it and give them until, hm, midnight to get back to us on this.

Oh, and this conversation did happen.

The event at midnight did too, you have heard about it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Life this way [image]

This signpost is somewhat of  a paradox. When you see it, you won't need it any more.

(c) 2012 under

Bear Creek Mound, Alabama [image]

The Bear Creek Mound is at an ancient village site in modern day Alabama. The Park Service info point says use of the site by hunter gatherers dates back to around 8000 B.C.

(c) 2012 under

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sublime irony: NSA spies on Google

Finally, our friendly spooks are doing right by the little man by spying on Google's internal networks.

Allegedly, of course, only allegedly.

Understandable nonetheless. If you take the time to look at some of Google's source code: terrifying is not too strong a description.

Or, in the words of non IT people: sheer magic. Software engineers are shifty people, they shift bits left or right as they please without any public oversight. At times, they "carry over" a bit, remember the scenes on TV of Google employees ambulating about the Google-Plex? They have their pockets full of bits which they are carrying over to whoever needs them.

But the worst is this well known Google tradition of giving their folks some time to work on whatever project they want!

This outrageous fact has been praised, just do a Google search for the public's reaction and the media accolades. It is an outright anarcho-syndicalist approach to life, okay, without the syndicalist but still.

Imagine the good auto workers at Ford or GM being told, hey guys, take half a day each week and do to cars and trucks whatever you want!

What would happen? The public and the media would freak out.

At best, the product of "whatever you want" in auto manufacturing would look like the Neverwashaul, at worst, well maybe a bicycle with a big GM logo.

We should all be glad that the US government in its infinite wisdom goes into the internal network of Google, allegedly, to keep tabs on the employees because management at Google has abdicated this critical function for what, half a day or a whole day each week?

If Google lets employees spend a whole day on whatever the geeks feel like, that makes 20% of the work week without supervision. Which, by any estimate, would be about the same amount of time the NSA has no clue what its employees are up to.

And the NSA knows first hand what happens then.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Administrative note: public key

The previous post contains our public key. Use this to send us encrypted email or file attachments.

We believe in choice, so we extend this offer to you.

Encryption of cat pictures is our latest specialty, and it allows us to send cat pictures to friends and family without the cats noticing.

For the non-cat people among you, we suggest you read our post on the Cowboy Cat who loves to watch "Dexter". There is no telling what the Cowboy Cat would do if he finds we are leaking his images to other humans, so we go for better safe than sorry.

The less busy members of the K-Landnews team have been discovering the concept of "Entropy" and suggested that encrypting cat photos is a fun way to contribute, in addition to playing "Angry Birds" which is a wonderful entropy enhancing tool.

As a parent, hearing the holler from the living room "the pigs have TNT!" may well be your first encounter with Angry Birds and the entropy they bring to the home.

It'll pass.

K-Landnews Public Key

Version: GnuPG v2.0.20 (MingW32)


Kitten traveling in style [image]

The average, certified pet taxi does not come anywhere near the comfort of this timeless short distance mode of transporting kittens.

(c) 2012 under

Earth Dance masks [image]

Heading into fall on the northern hemisphere, we decided to bring back some mythical creatures.

(c) 2012 under

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Caution: Low flying messages next 3 months

The K-Landnews Random Research (RR) team sounded the alarm: We have detected increased government chatter with lots of messages being sent all over the place.

Luckily, the big brains of RR have made huge breakthroughs in the decryption of government messages. Encoding by the government entities colloquially called spokespeople is extremely hard to crack, said the RR team leader.

Any organization with almost unlimited funds and enough brave nerds can crack open passwords or worm their way into the inner garment of IT companies but government messages do not use these methods.

Most of the time, they use blending in techniques, and more recently we have found linguistic string theory being exploited for high value economic and political messaging.

The website String Theory and Vibrations for Dummies introduces us to the generic concept:
"String theory depicts strings of energy that vibrate, but the strings are so tiny that you never perceive the vibrations directly, only their consequences. To understand these vibrations, you have to understand a classical type of wave called a standing wave — a wave that doesn’t appear to be moving.
In a standing wave, certain points, called nodes, don’t appear to move at all. Other points, called antinodes, have the maximum displacement."

Before we look at examples of linguistic string theory, a historical note needs to be made. As in many other areas, The Hippies intuitively got this one before anybody else. Remember "good vibes", or "the vibes were just not right"?

Linguistic string theory must not be confused with a literal interpretation of the idiom "to string somebody along", although there are numerous practical examples where it is applied to this end.

In linguistic theory, or language for short,  a string consists of one or more words or utterances, and the beauty of the theory is that it unifies what scholars used to call the semantic zoo. The semantic zoo saw the world of languages as a collection of numerous very much separate words, each of which consisted of a number of smaller building blocks. These building blocks were tied together and repelled from each other by several interaction forces. Intuitively, these forces are as easy to understand as electricity but their exact nature and shapes divide experts to this day. The two most important forces were "location" and "meaning", each of which had a variant described as either "positive"/"negative"/"neutral" or as "up"/"down"/"sideways" depending on your school of thought.

Linguistic string theory changed all of this, making the old thinking in easy categories obsolete. One helpful difference of linguistic strings compared to the generic strings is that linguistic strings are mostly visible to the naked eye, with the exception of a sub-category that is really tiny and imperceptible, this is the one colloquially called "the fine print".

Once you accept linguistic string theory, it becomes very easy, even natural, to understand the tenet that you do not "perceive the vibrations directly, only their consequences".

Take, for example, the string "terrorist threat" and imagine it emanates from Downing Street 10, which is itself a tiny place on a, to quote Russian prez Putin, "small island".
The vibrations of this well studied and tracked linguistic string were not being felt miles away at Heathrow Airport, but the consequences were.

This specific string is a great specimen for the discussion of the "energy" that is manifested in a linguistic string. Observations over the past decade or so have shown this string to be possibly the highest energy string currently under scrutiny.

Its energy is so great that we have witnessed many examples where it has reached halfway or more around the world. Impartial observers have noted that a single utterance (concrete manifestation) of the string in Washington D.C. has actually caused humans in, for example, Pakistan to explode, which illustrates the concept of the antinode, the node of maximum displacement. In old war literature, the node of maximum displacement was, of course, not known because linguistic string theory had not been discovered yet, but we do see the use of an equivalent displacement measurement modern scholars have nicknamed "the guts equivalent". The exact conversion is complex but a standard modern day displacement unit is roughly the same as the old "his guts were splattered all over the room".

Before this string, there was another one called "the great Satan" that had similar explosive power with a different physical direction, starting in or around Afghanistan and reaching to the East Coast of the U.S.
Scientifically, the observed effects are undisputed, but the exact nature of the string and the propagation of the energy as well as possible inclusions of local substrings may never be known. While linguistic energy does not get lost, it can dissipate or transform to the point where the wave mentioned above does not move, that point is often called the "moot point".

We hope that this brief introduction to linguistic string theory will help the readers understand the messaging we will probably see in the next three months. To those who will be at the nodes of maximum displacement, we offer our sympathy and a consolation.

Always remember that a cruise missile is just a high energy linguistic string - think Princess Cruises or Mediterranean Vacation - there is no ill intent in science.
Even the string "Tomahawk" brings up a more leisurely time, when men were men and struggle was noble, close up, and necessary.

[Update history] Sep. 8;  Changed last paragraph to add the "cruise" image and the old timey image of the tomahawk.

[Update Sep.8, 15:00 UTC]
If you would like to have a look at traditional descriptions of communication, this is a good overview. It is quite easy to see how the models are very similar to the implementation of electronic communication devices with some added psychology.

The Gloat Machine

A Single Voice guest post.

The Twittersphere is ablaze after the "broken crypto" story of NYT, Guardian, and ProPublica.

The cynics, the mindless, the staunch government defenders, the shocked, the "what's new" crowd hug the bytes while some gentle voices are trying to figure out what it all means.

One small aspect of the messages flying by is the gloating of some people: The general tone is, well, now the cat is out of the bag and you can't do a thang about it!

The K-Landnews Random Research (pronounced Arr Arr) team love their internal nickname "Sneaky Bastards", they regard it as an honorific.

It is the Sneaky Bastards who have coined the term "Gloat Machine", narrowly beating out the old Germanic standby "Schadenfreude". They uncovered a German idiom which would make the perfect new NSA logo: "Ist der Ruf erst ruiniert, lebt sich's voellig ungeniert." It means, once your reputation is in tatters you can just live a carefree life, but we wanted to keep the rhyme, if not the reason, so our translation offer is: "Once your reputation's shot, life is really hot."

More people would understand this than the often strange Latin mottos still creeping around in the world, and if Stanford University can do it, why not the NSA?

The Sneaky Bastards also came up with the catch phrase "Dismissal Engine" for those contemporaries whose first and often only reaction to any new report about agents behaving badly is "what's new" or "everybody knew this already".

The Sneaky Bastards even made a list of the main rev-er-uppers of the Dismissal Engine and were the first to point out that there is a con in the contemporary.

We don't really know what that means, which they take as a tribute to their sneakyness.

Ask Bo the dog

The K-Landnews was proven right once again!

In our post, "More secret than PRISM, Project YAWN", we made a claim which may have looked crazy at the time.

That claim was that even the President of the United States did not know the full extent of NSA spying. The date was June 7.

September 6 brought us the confirmation via Techdirt:
I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I've got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations.

Strengthened by this presidential statement, the K-Landnews team feels that the time has come for the world to go to the dogs.

Someone urgently needs to talk to Bo and Sunny to get to the bottom of  the lost privacy issue. Pertinent questions to Bo, such as is he worried or self conscious when White House staffers see him lick his butt need to be answered.

We can learn from these answers. Of course, not to try to learn to lick your own butt but to try and get deep answers. Do not dismiss this approach with off the cuff remarks like "what can Bo possibly know about the details of the internet?" Supreme Court judges, as reported recently, have only vague ideas of email, it does not prevent them from deciding on metadata.
Once you make the baby step to equate metadata with metaphysics, you are golden.

Talk to Bo! And talk to Sunny, too.  Bo is the top dog and may have gotten used to being the player in chief, may have gotten a little spoiled by the world wide attention and the super chow.

Sunny, on the other hand, may have fewer bones to hide, fewer dogged questions to ponder, and he most likey has at least chewed on a few ethernet cables.

Make "To the Dogs!" your new rallying cry.

Friday, September 6, 2013

No Futurama, no future?

Futurama is over. The final episode is working its way around the world, and that's the end of it.

TheEditor was all chocking up and getting teary eyed as it (gender neutral) set down to compose a measured, eloquent farewell to Frey, Leila, the Professor....

The computer slipped out of its docking station and off the desk.

The thud of it hitting the floor frightened the cats who rushed to their hideout.

It's so sad, no more Futurama!

Gotta love government

They behave exactly like that abusive father no one wants to have.

One moment, it is all smiles and lovey-dovey, the next a violent outburst, followed by justifications, blame, remorse and promises of a better tomorrow.

That tomorrow comes, and it turns out to be the same as today with minimal variations. This time, daddy gets drunk, anywhere between tipsy and dead drunk as in Angela's Ashes, and the punch leaves a big bruise on your chest.

Daddy not just makes the law, daddy is the law when you are a child.

You learn to value the moments he is busy with something else, getting drunk on booze at home or on power somewhere else.

You are terrorized when you see signs of an impending explosion of paternal violence -- that may never come. Or it does come.

The unpredictability of the father figure becomes predictable, and you manage to create your own world. If he takes away your most beloved toy and smashes it into bits and pieces in front of you because you misbehaved, you learn that he expects grief over the toy, and you show appropriate distress.

But just the right amount, not too much and not too little, yet in the knowledge that even the right amount may not be the right amount (that's what unpredictability means).

Whatever he does, he never fails to tell you it is out of love for you and out of a deep sense of responsibility for your well-being.

Of course, not all of the many siblings in the family develop the same coping mechanisms and the same love for daddy. We include the rebel, the clown, the cutie pie, the spoiled one, the clone of daddy's behavior, and you learn that all alliances are fleeting.

Pocket money is rare, and the spoiled one won't share, but that's okay, you find odd jobs early.

You realize at some point in time that daddy may be able to kill you and get away with it by just planting a knife next to you after he did the deed but that he does not have power over who you are.

History Re-runs

From our Bitch While You Can series.

"Bitch While You Can" might create the impression we are writing about the History Channel, rest assured, we are not.

One of the popular shortcuts in Western thinking is that history will repeat itself if you don't learn from it.

After a few decades of life and a few hours on the internet, we suggest that you never use the above phrase again, ever.

With the numbnuts of the world marching toward yet another war because it is a lot easier to do than fix your own crap at home, one warning sounded a few months ago is worth repeating.

Europeans were warned about a possible threat from Western European jihadists returning from Syria. While the thrust of the warnings was nothing but the worn out "be afraid, be afraid" of under-employed and over-protected bureaucrats, there is a kernel of truth to it.

It has happened before. Guys go to war, get traumatized, radicalized or even more radicalized than they already were, and what do you get?

Maybe with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I coming up in 2014, this will be picked up.

The numbers of potential returning jihadists are small, very small, but History tells us that even the smallest numbers can be exploited. 

To put it another way, the EU countries may have achieved a 4 Sigma level (in some countries maybe even 6 Sigma) as far as "real" terrorists go, creating a need for other designated scapegoats.

History is the ultimate patient teacher in the university of life: it repeats the lessons over and over. Like any good teacher, it does not repeat them as empty rote drill but modifies them slightly every time while keeping the overall learning goal.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hero or traitor?

German nationalists, especially in the 18th and 19th but also later, celebrated the man as the great hero who defeated the Roman Empire in Germany.

To the nationalists, he was Hermann, chieftain of a Germanic tribe, who in the year 9 AD lured three Roman legions to their annihilation in the northern German Teutoburg Forest, uniting the German tribes east of the Rhine river, the embodiment of the roots of Germany as a nation.

To newly appointed Roman governor Varus he was Arminius, a Roman commander and trusted advisor who had been taken as a ten year old from his native Cherusci lands, had been educated as a Roman and served the Empire with great valor.

Not all that long ago, the first narrative, minus the most egregious nationalist distortions, was what teachers running out of time on the curriculum would pass on to the children. Scholars, of course, knew that the Roman texts talked about Roman towns east of the Rhine river and regular Roman forays deep into Germania.

It was on the return trip from one of the regular summer camps that Arminius led the tribes in a series of battles which saw three entire legions wiped out, an estimated 18 000 to 22 000 men. Arminius had led his contingent of Roman auxiliary forces with these very legions on the way out to the camp and during the summer, all while plotting with the Germanic tribes and eventually turning his auxiliary forces against the legions.

Hero or traitor?

The word "or" is somewhat overused, isn't it.


The Raiders of the Lost Fart

There are many great joys of not participating in the full on rat race. They will be different in details but to TheEditor tossing around useless or gross ideas is one of them. Many of them begin their short uneventful life as "what if" questions.

The other day, it was "what if I wanted to condense my view of current political punditry into a single tag line"?

Thus, "The Raiders of the Lost Fart" was conceived. It combines two characteristics of - for lack of a better term - TheEditor's style, movie titles and grossness.

It is a simple formula matching TheEditor's math skills where counting up to two is easy but anything beyond that gets very hard very quickly. You can see the pattern at work in many of our blog post titles.

In the United States, The Raiders of the Lost Fart are out in force on Sundays on the talk circuit and during the week when something crucial to America happens in some irrelevant corner of the planet, so pretty much all the time.

Chasing forever the ephemeral outgasing associated with humans, The Raiders of the Lost Fart are tricked out in modern easy care, pin-stripe urban camouflage non-adventure gear that generally includes ties for males and purses for the ladies. We are not saying anything about the purses, that would not be nice.

The ties are dual purpose (note the magic number two again), serving both as a decorative status symbol and as an emergency abseiling aide for rappelling down into the deepest crevices of conjecture or into the darkest sinkholes of the mind. Some tend to see imaginary skeletons everywhere, a well known occupational hazard besides tunnel vision from years of navigating the claustrophobic mazes of TV stations.

One very well known American Raider comes to your TV screen wearing a bow tie which can double as a propeller to lift him out of a Jurassic Park size heap of doo doo, thus reducing the substantial dry cleaning bill which is the main justification for the huge salaries fetched by the more experienced Raiders of the Lost Fart.

Other countries, of course, have their own Raiders, dressed in the same kind of uniform pursuing the same ephemeral smells and never quite nailing it down. The latter, of course, is indispensable to the trade, the tight collusion of those who dealt it with those who smelled it.

They will invest their considerable brain power into discussing the nuances of smell, describing it as the smell of apples or oranges, mustard gas or incense, filling the minutes and the hours with vapid warnings, retreating afterwards into their empty studies to plunge into the far corners of the World Wide Web in preparation for the next instalment.

Like in any good adventure movie, there are good guys and bad guys, and people die around our heroes but they continue their quest of the Lost Fart.

Some will stop at nothing to overcome the bad guys. A current affairs example would be that of a youngish scribe who has entered into a Foustian bargain in the attempt to bring down the popular villain known as the Snowman. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Poker, Porn, and "Gambling John" McCain

They go together, don't they?

The British IT Goofball's Daily, our monicker for the website The Register,  published the good news that the porn blocker software in the UK parliament works as expected and blocked some 309,316 attempts in 12 months to access smut from within the halls of British democracy. Defenders were quick to point out that spam played a big role, ah well, believe it or not.

And then there was Mr. Weiner providing unlimited jokes to The Daily Show in a normally slow news summer. If there were a political category "most widely known political hard-on", Mr. W., aka Carlos Danger, would be the uncontested winner.

And now, there is John McCain, aka. "Gambling John" McCain (we made that up), caught playing poker on his iPhone during the Syria hearing.

While Twitterati thumbed their noses at Gambling John, they missed two truly important parts of the story.

The first one: Gambling John McCain knows at least the basics of iPhone operation.

This should be headline news all by itself.

The second, more important point is the poker game. The US media took the poker game to be a game of man versus machine, Gambling John versus the Apple software genies.

They were soooo wrong!

Gambling John was at that very moment engaged in a massively two-player game with non other than Syrian President Assad.

Gambling John had challenged Assad with the opener: "I win, we bomb you - you win, we bomb you anyway."

"But you did nothing when Saddam Hussein gassed the Iranians and then the Kurds!"

"You want to be invaded if I win?"

No, it's okay, let's play."

What trees are really for

The small town we call home underwent a major street update, maybe about twenty years ago, judging by the size of the trees planted along the space freed up by narrowing the thoroughfare.

Everybody, except people who smash their cars into them, likes trees. Trees symbolize humans caring for the environment, their slow growth in most of the world's climates symbolizes forethought - starkly contrasted to the three months cycle of big business revenue reporting.

Our slightly cynical view of the world, however, was dreaming the cynic's dream: find the true non-altruistic cause of any activity that happens to catch our attention.

The trees along the streets which are only busy during the morning and evening commutes and on weekends seemed immune to our quest for the cynical.

Several years ago, there was a glimpse, we filed it with a follow up rider. 

It happened again, now we are certain.

The real purpose of these trees is to provide space for election campaign posters every four years!

Over night, the handful of campaign posters we took to be the most forceful possible expression of the 2013 German general election campaign had siblings galore.

They are on the trees! There is one on every single tree.

The number of lamp posts along a street is strictly regulated, and lamps are costly and require expensive maintenance. Trees are plentiful, require relatively little work. Cynics claim that the three years and eleven months without smiling politicians on the trees are long enough to make people forget their primary purpose as free campaign poster holders.

A tip of the hat to German town councils.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Clothes make the man

When Mark Twain added "Naked people have little or no influence on society", he could not imagine what the 1960s would bring. But that's a different story.

Old mustached German (OMG) told us another story, more personal than others, but in some ways reminiscent of a night out with some National Guard folks, a young couple holding on tightly to each other to cope with the effects of having been exposed to "the animals".  "They are like animals", explained the young woman, adding that she was talking about the drill instructors at Fort Benning, Georgia, the weight of her statement reinforced by the fact she was clad in U.S. Army fatigues in a sea of like dressed people, enjoying some time off after chow.

After "Dr. Strangelove redux" we were curious and peppered OMG with more questions over non-alcoholic beer. Yep, the beer flowing throughout the previous posts was all non-alcoholic, did we forget to mention that?

"I ran into my own animals, if you will", OMG explained. "One the very first day when I reported for duty", he added with a little smile that made the parched face look surprisingly young for a second. "Right before lunch, they issued us track suits to wear until we got our uniforms and gear. Put them on, assemble outside, we'll march to the mess hall. I put on my track suit pants when I realized the waistband was broken. They had rubber waistbands, not the drawstrings you are used to. I told the squad leader I need to fix it, could I follow after sewing it up? Sure, he went. So, I set about retrieving the band and sewed up the two ends. Yes, I carried a small mending kit with me and knew how to use it."

"Minutes later, I was done, put the suit on and headed to the mess hall at the other end of the compound. I was happily walking all by myself when a platoon of fellow recruits came running by. The sarge stopped them, then turned to me: 'Hey you, do you need a wheelchair?'"

"'If you have one, sure.' Fifty young men behind him burst into laughter. He turned away without another word, barked an order, and they resumed their trot, while I resumed my walk."

"I paid dearly for this", OMG continued. "All the NCOs of the company ganged up on me after the incident. Whatever crap job and whatever insidious shit they could cook up, I was the chosen one. Less than two hours after the ill fated lunch exchange, they were rearing to have a go at me.
My squad leader, reasonable just a short time ago, had closed ranks: 'Company sergeant now!'"
"Okay, I just need to lace up my running shoes."
"Leave 'em. Now, I said, now, run, now!"
Two flights of stairs with the long laces flying: "Sir!"
"You are hereby reprimanded because your boots are not laced up!"
"You heard me! Do that again, and it'll go on your record!"

The smile had given way to an earnest expression, we were trying to find the right words but he continued, "I have only ever told this to a handful of people in the decades that have gone by. Yet, it's still there, almost word for word, how that ended is another tale, an even harsher one."

Clothes make the man.