Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sketch guide to Human world and Cat world [image]

The K-Landnews contribution to the Guardian's sketch campaign.

How many cat world sketches can you do?

Orson Welles killed my French Press

From our Butterfly's Wings series.

Today, 31 October 2013, Orson Welles killed the French Press coffee maker at the K-Landnews. Being the open-minded, smart reader of the K-Landnews, you know full well that Mr. Welles passed away in 1985.

How did Mr. Welles kill the French Press almost three decades after his demise?

We do cop to some benign superstitions in our lives, but ghosts acting from beyond the grave is not one of them.

The incident of the French Press crashing and shattering into fragments on the kitchen floor tiles has to do with Halloween, specifically with the habit of American radio stations to run scary stories all day on October 31st.

With TuneIn radio being the K-Landnews audio background all day, some sort of mishap might have been foreseeable, but the War of the Worlds caught the Duty Coffee Master by surprise, initiating a small but fateful muscle jerk in the upper arm muscle group of the Duty Coffee Master. That small reaction was enough to move the French Press about 10 inches towards the center of the kitchen.

The first nine inches were on the kitchen counter top (not granite), the final one inch turned out to be in the air.

At that point, gravity took over, and a split second later, the French Press shattered, distributing coffee grounds and glass shards  over a substantial area of the kitchen.

So, thanks to Orson Welles, we just traded a French Press for an allegory.

Which is kind of nice, really.

Economic Halloween skeletons in the glass house

Germany's record exports are being criticized in the latest US "Report to Congress on International Economic and Exchange Rate Policies".

The statement "Germany still continues to rely on positive net exports, which continues to delay the euro area's external adjustment process" is the most interesting statement a quick read by the K-Landnews Random Research team has singled out.

Other than the fact that it is an opinion and not completely correct, the statement reflects a deeper conceptual issue everybody, not just the U.S., faces when they talk about the euro zone economy.

Where do you draw the conceptual boundary between the member states as individual states and the euro zone as an economic unit?

If you take the euro area as an economic unit, there is no problem or, if you must see problems, a slightly different problem.

Don't believe it?

Try this sentence: "California still continues to rely on positive net exports, which continues to delay the dollar area's external adjustment process".

If you still do not understand the point we are trying to make, well, let's agree to disagree.

We'll go back into the glass house to carve pumpkins for Halloween.

Grass-cicles for the cats

The geese and the cranes heading South were right yet again.

The outside temperature at 7 AM this morning clocked in at -4 C (25 F). Inside the house, we had 20 C. Heaters are off.

Brownie points for having finished the outside insulation of the house this summer?

Most certainly.

Time for an open letter, or an open sentence to the 'Dear Fossil Fuel Producers'? Sure, up your's, your drill rig, that is.

The cats got their first grass-ciles this morning, a neologism made up of 'grass' and 'icicles'. How that?

We used to grow kitty grass from the pet store for the cats until we went, wait, what are we doing? This is consumerism at its best! We have many square meters of grass outside the garden door and still buy expensive grass seeds at the pet store, gosh.

From then on, potted grass gets grown in the deep winter months when the snow is too thick.

The rest of the year, you'd catch a slightly odd sight of someone out in the garden with a plate and a pair of scissors, cutting a handful of grass each morning, heading back into the house to be greeted by the herd of cats.

They love their grassy breakfast. If the humans deviate from the routine by, say making coffee first, their will take turns demanding the treat.

In the spring, after the winter diet of potted goodness, a couple of them tend to gorge on the outside grass for a week or so, eventually leaving slimy grass vomit on the kitchen floor, proving the value of paper towels. After the first week or so, they lose this overstuffing.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

German Pirates loaning money to government

Ah, the German "Pirate Party", at times taken seriously, more often ridiculed, not elected into the national parliament in the 2014 general election - but always good for a piece of news. They are in several state parliaments, and that's the source of the news.

This one comes out of Germany's Far North, with the understanding that "far" is very much relative in this small country the size of Montana.

The Pirate members of the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein have been vocal critics of what they see as overly generous compensation of the legislature.

And now, they are giving the state a 200 00 Euro loan at zero percent interest out of the compensation they have received as legislators.

What they are saying: We want to help out the state because is has huge debts. And this money, we don't need it right now.

The terms of the loan include a provision that they can ask to get the money back at any time.

The reaction of the public, assuming that reader comments on internet news sites represent the public?

Some favorable comments but a large number of scornful ones, accusing the legislators of a publicity stunt.

We checked the compensation of the legislature and can say, its is pretty well remunerated, not 'lavish' although they get all sorts of strange extra pay, like a fat bonus for being the speaker or for being the head of a caucus.

The next couple of days will show whether we have found a German politics version of the old "no good deed goes unpunished".

Halloween: Haunted House w/ Black Cat [image]

So, I don't need Halloween to see zombies, says our resident cynic, I can see them any day of the week over in the city.

What a grinch. We dug deep into our photo folders and found a cute seasonal one. Grandma's Haunted House with our very own black cat.  The flash turns our gentle, if demanding, small cat into an appropriate monster.

(c) 2013 under

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Notability on Wikipedia

Our favorite encyclopedia, Wikipedia, turned into the proverbial Rabbit Hole for the K-Landnews Random Research team (RR, pronounced Arr Arr).

As so often, it began with an innocent search, the query of which has now been utterly forgotten, buried under the pages that are the Wikipedia Notability Guidelines (English) and Wikipedia Relevanzkriterien (German).

The RR team collectively remembers that it started out with a German page marked for deletion because of a lack of relevance. The comment by the reviewer was unecpectedly bitchy.

The Weissbier queen, her handle, was not as nice in her statement as the "beer" username might indicate. She probably needed one.

Clicking on her link brought us to a feisty, heated debate about several pages marked for deletion, and from there down the Rabbit Hole.

Of course, there are cultural differences!

Don't expect to find Cricket in the German list of notable sports -- quite yet.

Other differences, however, made us laugh out loud.

The German "commercial products" section has a specific set of criteria for breweries, a minimum age of 100 years or a minimum annual output.
So, if you are looking for microbreweries, you are somewhat out of luck on the German site.

To be fair to wine drinkers, we checked the criteria for inclusion of wineries, and found, once again, very specific ones for the German Wikipedia, i.e. membership in one of two trade organizations. Nothing of the sort in the English version.

Now, the single notable item in the list of criteria for either language that got you this blog post is one criteria for the inclusion of living persons.

German humor must be responsible for the inclusion on the Wikipedia page of a photo of a rabbit jumping a hurdle to illustrate that  99% of people will never be notable enough as a living person to be eligible for their own Wikipedia entry. They added a statement to that effect - a lapse in the sense of humor, where less is more!

The truly vexing criterion, though, is this: you are eligible for an entry in the German version if you "have been named in several publications by the German domestic intelligence agencies" [our translation of "in mehreren Publikationen der Verfassungsschutzbehörden namentlich hervorgehoben worden].

That should be pretty darn easy these days.

P.S.: We are grateful to all the hard working Wikipedia volunteers everywhere! The world would be a much less intelligent place without your effort.

Dog on a beach [image]

Graffiti on a beach somewhere in the U.S.
(c) 2013 under

Monday, October 28, 2013

The virtues of software virtualization

Our resident geek (RG), a designation we'll keep for as long as geek is a benign term, likes things and beings that do not really exist.

Ghosts at Halloween, invisible friends as a child, invisible friends as a grown up (commonly called gods), it's all par for the course to this reclusive person.

No wonder that RG's greatest geek pride and joy is having written a text processing program in C under Microsoft DOS running on an Apple Macintosh.

25 years ago.

Today, this is called "virtualization", and it has become big business indeed over the past years. Virtualization means fewer computers (hardware) running more "computers" (operating system plus applications). It is at the very heart of the whole "cloud computing" thing. If you want to look like you are up to date on current computing, use three buzzwords in a sentence like this: The three big fields in computing are: mobile, Big Data, and virtualization.

Just don't talk about hardware.

Or, if you do want a bit of hardware cred, use the car image: modern cars are nothing but computers on wheels that can incidentally transport people and goods. Make sure to slip "Internet of Things" into your discourse.

Okay, you have one or two computers at home and enough problems or "glitches" with those and with the internet connection, why would you add a "virtual machine" (the technical term for virtual computer) to the array of problems?

You will also learn that the machine may be virtual but any issues with it are as real as they can be.

The best reason to get yourself some "virtual PC software" is less hassle when you buy a new computer. Just copy the whole thing to your new box like any old file.

If you search the blog, you can find a description of VMWare and using it with the Ubuntu Linux operating system.

Today, we'll point you to an unexpected software freebie. Unexpected because it is branded 'Oracle'. In case you click this link today, you'll get to see some more Oracle bashing SAP, fun for a few minutes and very boring afterwards.

Today's freebie is not Oracle's Java (tm) programming language software. Though free, Oracle would charge you money for Java if they could, believe me.

No, the freebie here is your ticket to a virtual computer. It is a software package that will make a new operating system believe that is is running on its own computer.

Download your free virtual box, install it, then dig out that original Microsoft Windows DVD, or - much better - get a cute Linux operating system version and install it from withing the running virtual box.

Get or make an ".iso" image and tell the Virtual Box it is a DVD (under "Settings", "Storage", click the plus sign next to the little CD icon).

For no fuss, no hassle, try Ubuntu. It just works.

For a more challenging install, you can try openSuse. For that one, you need a powerful PC, and you should be prepared to run its installer, Yast, again in order to get a network/internet connection.

If you feel really nerdy and want to brag in a job interview, you might want to try RedHat.  Now, RedHat went all Enterprise on us years ago, and you know what they say: Once you go Enterprise, you...

After all the geeky problem solving, anybody up for some satire?

Since Oracle likes to bash German based SAP, despite the fact that SAP is a big reseller of Oracle database products, why don't we give you a simple description of Oracle?

Oracle is like a combination of Walmart plus Ikea*, which means your software, 'designed by Oracle' is produced 'god knows where', and comes in the IT equivalent of a flat pack, and you are left with a bunch of components unless you get expensive suits to assemble everything for you.**

Their current slogan, "Hardware and Software, Engineered to Work Together",*** follows the time honored principle of construction developers naming new neighborhoods after what they paved over. The "Peach Tree Orchards" neighborhood won't have any peach trees, it's where peach trees used to be.

* Crucially, unlike Ikea, Oracle does not have a lifetime no-questions-asked return policy.
** Making their integrated software work correctly turned out to be such a headache that they do offer virtual machines with pre-installed suites and preconfigured boxes.
*** [Update 21 Aug 2015] Today, the web site is all about the Cloud, once again with the qualifier Integrated. This is a great slogan because a non-integrated cloud is nothing but invisible vapor, as any meteorologist will confirm.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Czech Ass - Bad Grandpa!

I swear to God, that's how it sounds!

Get your mind out of the gutter, it's not about some Czech adult flick with cuties from Prague and a creepy old guy. 

It's the commercial on Comedy Central in German announcing the new Jackass movie sequel.

The TV and film dubbing industry is one quirky business to us outsiders. For one, it is a rather difficult and expensive job if you want to get it right. Second, many of the folks who do it don't seem to get it right.

How in the world can you justify, for example, giving Homer Simpson a Spanish voice so low that it is just barely above the inaudible frequency ranges near 0 Hertz?

Homer is a big guy, and we can debate the comedic effect of voice types as long we want, says our resident speech analyst, but gimme a break, when all vocalization is a series of low rumbling sounds, there is no fun any more.

We suspect that the pool of dubbing actors in most countries is quite small and jealously guarded. Is subtitling the answer?

At least, if you only have translated text at the bottom of the screen, the cast keep their original voices.

When I'm tired, getting a rumbling Homie or a subtitled Homie makes no difference in my effort to follow the story, explained our resident analyst. The dubbing biz is a microcosm of language politics in general.

The analyst has a point.

The other way, we saw a movie with Japanese subtitles. Half the screen, half of the generous 14 inches, was taken up by subtitles.

What does Jackass sound like in Japanese, by the way?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

America - nation of storytellers

The rain coming down hard outside the storied house and the backdrop of an NPR show on The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles make a potent incentive for another shallow philosophical post.

It's not new.

If you have been curious and patient enough to read more than a couple of posts on this blog, not an easy task, really, then you have encountered some that talked about narrative, about shaping reality through presentation.

Even a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation can do it, but this post makes a more sweeping statement.

What makes America, the United States, what it is today is....drum roll...storytelling.

The U.S. is the nation of storytelling. Storytelling in this country is so pervasive, so everywhere, like the air we breathe, equally taken for granted and - if you feel a bit cynic - equally polluted. 

The blogster does not know why and how the U.S. became the nation of storytelling and does not feel the urge to go and ask the Internet. The obvious national story that is the frequently quoted and discussed "American Dream" seems to be just one of many stories that "make up" these United States.

There is a bewildering multitude of stories, often conflicting, difficult to understand and describe for someone not trained in the art of philosophy, in the art of talking for hours without saying anything, as a friend will describe it.

The blogster is also unable to fully reconcile dismissal of the concept of "American exceptionalism" with using the implicitly exceptionalist "the" nation of storytellers. It is a matter of degree, not of absolutes. Other nations tell stories, too. 

Maybe the choice of 'nation' as the group of reference is inadequate, modern nations are young beasts in human history. The oldest, great stories after all are the religions, from different corners of the planet. They also tell us what happens when an individual pierces a heretofore powerful generally accepted story line.

Should we attempt to argue that there is something unique about American storytelling?

What would it be? Emotional depth, richer detail, less judgemental, more diverse? 

You can find stories that support these criteria, but just as easily others that disprove them. Just ask American minorities, or look at Russian writers for the emotional depth.

After a full two minutes of pondering, the blogster decided that the following aspect is the one thing that makes American storytelling different from that of the usual suspects (i.e. the few other countries we think we know enough about): Americans as a whole have been aware that they were engaged in storytelling. Next time you watch the six o'clock news, count how many times you hear the word story.

The rain has stopped, the sun is out again, time to wrap it up.

Extrapolating this, the blogster claims that nations or groups tend to do worse if they don't spell out that they are telling a story or if they collectively forget or suppress the fact.

As long as we can acknowledge that we are always telling a story, we leave the door open to other points of view. And to peace, and to progress.

Is it really that simple?

How was this post as a story?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Worries about German opposition rights

One news headline out of Germany this week will probably never make it into any English language news report, so we decided to provide a summary.

The likely "grand" coalition of CDU and SPD is worried about the rights of the parliamentary opposition.

Read this line again, especially if you hail from the United States.

What these worries are about: If and when CDU and SPD get together this time around, they will enjoy a combined 80% of the votes in the national parliament.

Which leaves some 20% to the opposition parties, the green party and "Die Linke".

This figure of 20% is so small that the opposition will be excluded from several important parliamentary tools. For instance, the number of votes needed to set up an investigative committee or hearing stands at 25%.

Another tool limited this way is calling for a review of the constitutionality of a law by Germany's equivalent to the Supreme Court.

Apparently, other hurdles apply, but we only cite these two, since they figured most prominently in the news reports.

The fact that the two big parties are not only talking about the issue but are willing to find ways to not deprive the opposition of its most powerful tools is noteworthy and outright strange to folks who have seen a "winner takes all" system from the inside.

Don't dismiss this as the German equivalent of our famous, if hollow, reach out to the other side of the aisle. Keeping the congressional filibuster so you can use it later if you don't win a majority has nothing on the Germans here.

It is very unlikely that you or I will live to see the CDU or even the SPD in a position in which they would need, want, or be offered anything like we are seeing right now.

Time will tell if the worries expressed so vocally will lead to meaningful action, after all politics in Germany can be as ruthless and partisan as elsewhere.

Grapefruit Ed live at the Sweetwater, April 2013

Another perfect example of the benefits of Random Research: Grapefruit Ed, the band that could, is back after a hiatus of several years.

Many of their shows can be downloaded for free for non-commercial use at the Internet Archive, the original internet archive!

Grapefruit Ed Live at The Sweetwater Music Hall on 2013-04-14 

If you happen to go to the San Francisco Bay Area and have a bit of time on your hands, the new venue of the Sweetwater since 2012 is the old Masonic Hall in Mill Valley, just to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can go to the Sweetwater for the food and stay for the music - or the other way round. 

This scan is from a Grapefruit Ed postcard. This Grapefruit is definitely good for you!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The GOOD German Huffington Post

A long time in the making, criticized by journalist organizations for not paying for contributions, the German version of The Huffington Post is live!

It sports a byline "in cooperation with Focus", where Focus is a slightly right leaning German weekly, nothing you really need to spend money on.

The one thing that struck us when we went to Le Huff Post in German is the menu bar.

It has all the expected sections, Politics, Economy (both using the German translations, nice), but then there is the section labeled GOOD.

Whiskey Foxtrot Tango?

We thought it might be either the "lifestyle" or the "entertainment" sections of the English speaking version.

But no, both of these have survived and have retained their English labels, yes, the German translation of lifestyle is lifestyle, and entertainment is called entertainment in German.

We are flabbergasted by the GOOD section.

Is it merely a filler item because there are fewer main sections in the German edition?

Is it the section where all the GOOD stuff goes?

Please, someone tell us what the GOOD section is.

The strangeness of secrets

After the #merkelphone Twitter storm, we picked up our obviously unsecured phone and called Old Mustached German (OMG), an acquaintance or friend, for a chat.

Are you surprised?

Not anymore.

OMG did not want to talk current politics but instead pointed out some personal observations on what it means to be a keeper of official secrets. [Our translation]

At best, it is akin to being a priest, a physician, or a lawyer. At worst, you get too much self importance out of it, like the colonel who bid goodbye at the entrance to the inner sanctum of a base. He had been working in the inner sanctum until the day before. Now, he stood there and loudly thanked the private who was checking IDs for taking his job seriously and not letting him, the colonel, enter.

OMG explained that becoming a keeper of secrets took some getting used to. I am not saying everybody experiences this the same way, but it had a certain movie-like quality to it, at least for the first few months. When a stern looking contingent of four military police march along a dim hallway right to your office and pull a document from a locked briefcase, it feels funny. Or when a six foot plus, crew cut driver in an unmarked car pulls into the underground garage to chauffeur you and that manila envelope across town, you may be forgiven if you feel important. Most people get used to it after a while, at least, I think I did, OMG added. In part because it is just work, in part because much of what you read in these different color jacketed documents does not seem to be worth the fuss, and you learn that it is not that difficult to leave out bits and pieces of the day when you talk about work at the dinner table at home.

He continued: I am not sure about the psychological aspects of all of this, but I am, or rather was, sometimes worried that politicians may be more affected, or for longer, by the power trappings, and I'm worried that shutting up becomes a habit so deeply ingrained that you just keep shutting up even when you shouldn't.

As we bid farewell, we asked: have you watched any spy movies lately?

No, just your average TV fare, but I will go and watch Enemy of the State again, followed by the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale, he chuckled.

Dignity in packaging

Packaging is both an art and a science.

In Japan.

Where every small item you buy tends to get the full origami treatment.

In most other countries - outside of luxury shops - a dumbed down version of the science aspect dominates,  with Styrofoam peanuts, bio-degradable peanuts, or plastic bubble wrap in the cheapest possible box.

The thought of "dignity" in packaging first came to mind when we found ourselves making funeral arrangements for a friend. We'll skip the casket stuff and all that to go straight to the final package.

A plastic bag inside a grey plastic container inside a satin drawstring bag.

The satin drawstring bag made all the difference.

Our next encounter with dignity in packaging occurred when we started to put our household into boxes for shipping across the oceans. A large private shipment like ours would probably be inspected by customs. Jumbled, mixed boxes must be attractive to customs, we thought.

And easy because they can check them at their leisure. Household goods are not time critical like a heart transplant that you can put on a few pounds of diamonds like in one of the older James Bond movies.

We tried to be nice and put like and like together. And we washed our clothes, not out of consideration for inspectors but because the thought of dirty underwear and, more so, dirty socks in a tightly sealed box for two months seemed awful.

None of this, however, sparked a blog post.

What did, was when some of the ladies here commented on the packaging of an adult toy one of them had bought a while ago. The cardboard box was light grey instead of generic brown, the loose filler material looked like small cardboard boats -- their similarity to simple origami started this post. An inner paper bag with a sticker modeled after an old wax seal and a handwritten card congratulating on the purchase completed the "dignity in packaging" aspect.

If you move your household across borders and have some very private items to ship, how about going the extra mile and adding some dignity in packaging?

Ms. Merkel's mobile phone

From the BBC to NPR, everyone reports the personal mobile telephone of German Chancellor Ms. Merkel was allegedly tapped by the U.S. three letter agency that has been a source of entertainment, anguish, shock, staunch defense and shenanigans in general.

Der Spiegel broke the news.  The White House said the U.S. "is not monitoring" and "will not monitor" but, as everybody pointed out, declined to comment on the past.

Of course, like others out of East Germany, Ms. Merkel was once a member of the socialist youth organization there in her younger days. But that was a long time ago and she has shown no signs of ever believing in that system.

You could also ask, what in "collect everything" do people not understand?

On the part of those Germans vocal about surveillance overreach in the past several months, you can find a little bit of Schadenfreude because the German government and the main parties did not seem to take the stories seriously.

There is also widespread resignation about the "Amis" doing whatever they can get away with, and those not friendly towards the U.S. will see their views reinforced.

The K-Landnews team would really love to know where the information about the Chancellor's mobile phone being surveilled came from and how the Germans verified the allegations.

A competing news item today is the announcement of a new Asterix comic!

By the time we hit publish for this post, it is very probable that someone on Twitter will have cracked a joke linking the NSA, the Romans and Asterix.

Let us know if you find a funny one.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Spaghetti Bolognese for more poor Germans?

Today's print edition of German tabloid Bild Zeitung re-iterates a headline that has made the round for a few days through all major publications in the country.

Germany is seeing a rise in the number of poor people who need additional social security support because their fixed income is not enough to put food on the table and pay rent.

The Bild online edition has progressed to the next news cycle on the "Bling Bishop", a prince named George and other crap news.

A story we found in material written by a friend of  friend may be worth re-telling in this context.

A journalist friend of said friend was having a birthday bash with co-workers. She served spaghetti bolognese and a cheap local wine.

After dinner and a couple more glasses of wine, she asked everybody to accompany her into the kitchen and held up the cans of cat food that had been the main ingredient of her sauce a la Bolognese.

We don't know what she said, and we don't know if it is true that the editor in chief bolted for the bathroom.

She certainly had made her point, which was that cat food with extra spices can work.

We do have some doubt about the veracity of the anecdote after checking the cat food prices at the local grocery store.

The meat industry in Europe puts out products for humans that are cheaper than established cat food brands, another trend out of the U.S. that has taken hold in an ageing Europe.

So, we'll wait to see if Bild Zeitung and similar tabloids will run "food or rent" or "food or heating" stories in the future.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween week TV specials

What's your favorite TV week? American TV week to be precise, since we don't do German TV.

Hands down the week of Halloween for us.

Shark week is too predictable, and so are most of the Christmas specials, and Valentine's Day is yucks.

The well oiled entertainment machine in the U.S. does not even require customers to ask for Halloween-themed episodes of all your favorite shows, from Community to Bones to the Mythbusters, they are so aware of the culture and the calendar that you will always get a dose of the favorite holiday of the average American adult in the week before the night of whitches, monsters, cat  women, super heroes, and super villains (including politicians).

In the UK, the costume selection this year will be a bit less dense, what with super market chains Tesco and others having pulled their various 'mental ward' or 'loony' costumes after public outrage at the stereotyping.

There are more than enough other themes beyond those already named.

Of all dress-up events, Halloween costumes lend themselves best to getting creative and making your own from scratch. The only caveat it to avoid wardrobe malfunctions, at least when out in public. Well, make that at least when not in San Francisco, CA.

You cannot cut cloth in a straight line?

A disaster for carnival, perfect for Halloween.

Your color coordination sucks, and stitches look like done by a very drunk Frankenstein's monster?

Doesn't get any better for the scary holiday.

Your lipstick lines always end somewhere near or in the ear?


Which one was your favorite this year? Let us know after Halloween, or earlier if you are sure of your pick.

[Update] Just heard a fittingly scary news item on NPR: Spider webs can set off an air bag on some Toyota cars. They recalled the cars to fix them, so you should be safe for Halloween.

The last honey bee

The other day, the blogster spent a couple of minutes intently watching a lone honey bee in her quest to extract a few nutrients from the last flowers in the yard.

It was both sad and comforting to see the little critter go about her business, undeterred by the looming human. Never ashamed to go corny, the blogster quickly brought up the image of the low wage working mom laboring under adverse conditions while the magpies were chattering in the trees above.

Just days later, on a visit to a lower lying small town, there were groups of bees buzzing around large clusters of fall flowers as if this was the middle of summer.

A few hundred meters in elevation make a big difference in our hill country.  The snow line runs along the historical marker on the freeway. Below the non-destracting brown and white marker, you will see greenish brown grass most of the winter, just a yard or two above the sign, you will see snow on the ground.

Still, it is a far cry from Christmas Day in Southern California, where you can do the whole white Christmas deal in waist high snow in the morning on Big Bear mountain and then join the bikini and swimsuit crowd on the beach in Santa Monica or Santa Barbara in the afternoon.

These past days, the nights were noisy from the incessant calls of the geese going south. During the day, huge wedge formations of geese were heading due south, and as the sun set, large numbers, thousands and thousands landed on the fields and near the ponds for a night of rest.

Unlike in earlier decades when farm labor was still largely manual work and farm life a precarious, non-subsidized existence, today's farmers don't spend much time  worrying about the geese eating the sprouting seedlings of the winter crops.

The old folks still tell stories of whole families going out at night with pitch forks and old pots to patrol fields and chase off flocks of migrating geese.

Once the geese have left, modern farmers will simply start up their fully climate controlled monster trucks, fill the rotary seed dispenser, set the GPS and be done re-seeding a field in less than half an hour. Half a century ago, this was a full day's work at best.

The lone honey bee was not seen again.

And once the geese are through, you have no more than about two weeks before winter comes.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A birthday card gone Schopenhauer

You have heard of German philosophers? In popular lore, the most widely known ones tend to be regarded as hopeless romantics, or convoluted thinkers, or outright whack jobs.

Which is a little exaggerated, and since much of the great thinking in Western culture had already been done some 2000 years ago or earlier, we should be lenient towards our French, German, British, Danish etc. thinkers of a few hundred years ago.

Saying something cool when you are going up against Socrates, for example, is hard.

But here is a tip to German government officials trying to be nice to little old ladies on their 90th birthday.

Do not, repeat, do not send a birthday card with a Schopenauer quote.

If you must quote from Schopenhauer, don't use this famous one:

Each day is a little life: 
every waking and rising a little birth, 
every fresh morning a little youth, 
every going to rest and sleep a little death. 

It just feels a wee bit off, reminding a 90 year old constituent about the 'little death', please avoid it.

We know, we know, the mayor or his aide did a google search and, being very busy people, did not read the quotation beyond the first line "Each day is a little life".
We can all agree on that first observation, and a British writer might have left it at that. A Frenchman might have added a scientific definition of "life" for the sake of enlightenment.

Trust a German writer to do some serious explaining and to end up in a place that's fine for your average 30 or 40 year old mayor but a little delicate when addressed to a 90 year old great grandmother.

She has seen the big death so often in her lifetime that any mention, little, big or whatever sized is not as uplifting as family and friends want that birthday to be.

Antique merry-go-round [image]

If you enjoyed our zoo merry-go-round photo, here is a truly antique merry-go-round out of South America. Note the Spanish themed painted top.

(c) 2013 under

Do not apply for jobs

Life as the proverbial productive member of a modern industrial, post-industrial, knowledge society means applying for a job.

We won't even talk about the many other applications you and, more so, your parents undergo in the United States. From kindergarten to a good urban high school, to the great college of you or your parents' dreams, these are preludes to applying for a job.

Around here, in the Wirtschaftswonderland of the K-Landers, youngsters start sending out job applications at least one year before they finish school. Teachers generally assist their wards by looking over those initial, insecure, first steps into adulthood.

A positive response will create joy and see a teen go to that first interview or, for a prized government job, an aptitude test. The latter really being an independent verification of what your grade report says the school taught you.

The blogster is not fond of the routine and ritualized system and basically refuses to apply for a job posted and filled by those rules.

The blogster's dirty little secrect is that It (gender neutral form of blogster) did in fact apply for college and indeed for the first "real" job after graduation.

So, the system does work, and the blogster is a silly hypocrite!

Well, life is complicated.

Other than that initial job, not a single worthwhile position held by the blogster since was the result of the typical job application. Typical as is: see job listing in paper or on web site, prepare standard application, get interview, get job.

Well before that first successful application, the blogster worked during the summer break, and all these jobs came by word of mouth. Company A is hiring for summer jobs, I know Person B there, give him a call and say I sent you.

Plum jobs, jobs for the highly talented, even lesser but cushy jobs, generally come to you via the old Oxbridge buddy, the class mate from this or that Ecole Sup, the co-worker who thinks highly of you or who owes you.

There are significant national labor market differences, we cannot discuss them in detail in a blog post. Suffice it to say that the recruiting industry in the US represents a more active pursuit of the "Best of the Best" than the more sedate German Arbeitsagentur which makes you wait for your career profile posting for two weeks until the PIN for your job center account arrives in the mail.

During boom times in certain industries, any warm body will do -- and they do call them warm bodies.

Assuming that a job posting is valid, unlike many in the US where IT companies must post before giving the job to a foreign worker, the two most basic facts can be summarized as follows.

The job may be in a bad company where no sane person wants to work
Around here in Germany, we recently heard some sad stories about a  delivery service company that screws over its workforce.

The company expects most of the respondents to not be a good match
The deck is stacked against you, even if you are a good match, there may be too many just like you. Hence all these tips that are like bad urban myths: how to make your resume stand out.

The fact of the matter is, the good, comfortably paid jobs that we are all conditioned to aim for, they will find you more often than the other way round.

At the end of the day, though, many among us may not have much - or any - choice as to a job.

Like those German delivery service workers.

And the latest government policies of making you go to the job center almost every day? 

Hollow exercises in futility.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A stiff upper case SMS

If the British Tories did not exist, someone would have to invent the party. They are a riot, in a fun sense.

Sending text messages out to presumed illegals with the concise request to get out of the UK, as reported by The Guardian, is priceless. Well, not in money terms, and not to the Labour Party, but who cares.

The sweet explanation by outsourcing firm Capita, saying they use databases provided by the government and they stop contact with people who turn out to be in the database incorrectly, ah, this perfect.

The blogster almost felt a little bit of regret of the fact that it (gender neutral form) has never had any interest in stalking. Some small modification of the outsourced arguments, and voila presto, "oh, the name of my ex girlfriend, yes, it was in the database of girlfriends, and the telephone number, yes, it is from that time, no,  I don't update my database of ex girlfriends very often, but now that she confirmed to the police, 'cause I wasn't quite sure you know, that she is not my girlfriend any more, of course, there won't be any more contact by me."

Despite of what you might construe as criticism in this post, there is no doubt that the use of technology by the British public sector is creative, so Keep Calm and Carry On Texting.

And maybe tell the folks incorrectly swept up in the text campaign that you are sorry and give them some warm hard cash for emotional distress.

10K per head should do.

Take it out of the Capitcha budget.

Or, even better, out of the badger cull budget. We are nice to badgers and citizens - nah, that sounded better in me head than read out loud.

Just be nice.

Whiskey Foxtrot Tango

Triggered by watching another silly TV show, Whiskey Foxtrot Tango has a good chance of becoming the buzz work of the week around the K-Landnews team's small office space.

As a meme, Whiskey Foxtrot Tango has the aspect of delayed understanding which makes it quite suitable for comedic effect.

It is also a neat example of how difficult even basic spoken human communication can be. People felt compelled to come up with an extended pronunciation scheme to eliminate the back and forth of "what", "can you repeat this", "no, with an  h, not an f", "I said h, h, damn it".

The requisite Wikipedia entry is a detailed account of how the 26 letters of the English alphabet should be pronounced but, Whiskey Foxtrot Tango, nobody ever pronounces Victor as 'vik-tah', except the guys from Monty Python.

This extended spelling, beloved by the pros, a staple of US TV show militia talk, good for comedy, has also crept into everyday life.

At least for those among us who have ever had to activate a Microsoft product key over the phone.

The experience is daunting at best and may induce CTSD (computer traumatic stress disorder) in the less resilient computer user. 

Even the pros of the K-Landnews were only saved by the military alphabet from throwing the computer against the wall and going out for a night of binge drinking and violent vomiting with the hill folks.

"Hotel Oscar".

"I see, sir, Hotel Oscar".

It remains a mystery why the writers of call center scripts feel the compulsive need to have the damn "sir" or "ma'm" in the text flow. Well, mybe not a mystery but a source of irritation. It is clear that someone out there believes they should at least be hyper courteous if they can not help you, hence liberal use of sir and ma'm.

Well, Whiskey Foxtrot Tango.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Expensive power to the people

Wouldn't it be nice if you could buy your electricity at the electricity exchange?
1 MWh (1 Megawatt hour) for the peak usage time between 7 and 8 PM only sets you back about 64 Euros on the EPEX Spot market.

Which is about what my utility company charges for 200 KWh every month.

For 64 Euros, I could light up the whole county and have enough power left over for a gorgeous Christmas display.

Electricity prices for residential customers in Germany can drive you to tears.

Note: dry off those tears with a cloth towel but do not put the wet towel in a dryer. Air dry only to avoid even more tears from the dryer's power usage.

Big industry can buy their juice at the electricity exchange, the same as our utility company.
The prices they pay are, according to the good google, as low as last seen in 2005, while residential prices have gone up by about 30% since 2008.

The folks who make a living complaining about Germany's push to renewables have their culprit in the form of the fee every small customer pays with the monthly bill to subsidize wind and solar.

Even though this fee is not paid by the really heavy consumers, because the government wants to keep German industry competitive, they cry wolf every October when the next hike of the fee is announced.

The egregiously low prices at the electricity exchange?


The fact that from next year, folks like us will be at 30 Euro cents for each kilowatt hour?

Business as usual.

At least you can now understand why they keep The light bulbs in the safe for special offer week at out local super market.

Too much "code", not enough "org"

I feel bad about becoming yet another critic of what is a laudable idea. Code literacy, computer science for everybody, you can be sure to have the support of this blogster for the idea.

Yet, yet.

As someone who started out programming in that most ridiculed of programming languages Basic, then progressed to my very own text processing program in C, I subscribe to "everybody can".

But that's not really it.

There is much greater variety in computer science these days. While an individual can write an app or two, even make money doing so, much of the software we are using is the result of groups, small or large.

The software industry is a place where testosterone begins to condense on the cubicle walls at around lunchtime, where good guys talk way too fast, where someone can think in code and someone else needs to figure out how to explain to the rest of the company what that means.

It still is the prototypical industry where saying "I don't know, I'll find out and get back to you" is likely to stop any career.

Don't get me wrong.

I like the idea of, it is good, it is probably necessary.

Just don't sell it as a job training measure.

I know so many people who have left computer science for something else because the relentless pressure of the egomaniacal chiefs big and small was ridiculous to see and seriously demeaning.

And just not worth it any more at some point.

If you need coders, there are more out there than you can employ, but you'd need to treat them like people, not like ninjas or code monkeys.

Between herding cats and ol' Henry Ford's assembly line implemented in enterprise software companies, there is the need for social interaction that is often lacking and often ignored.

And don't quote Steve Jobs on coding, please. He was a lot of things, but a coder he was not.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Energy efficient authoring of documentation

According to this article in the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the European Union Energy Commissioner removed figures about subsidies to fossil and nuclear industries from the new energy subsidy report out of his office.

The K-Landnews Random Research team had on numerous occasions brought up other reports about seemingly incoherent subsidy figures. For instance, this Greenpeace press release from two months ago said that subsidies for nuclear and coal were more than twice as high as for renewables.

A superficial search of the web on the positions and proclamations of the EU energy commissioner shows a man on a mission, lamenting exorbitantly high subsidies to the green energy sector on every occasion.

The commissioner, Mr. Oettinger, seems to be a very colorful man. He appears to be one of the breed of German career politicians who have all the energy, mostly of the fossil kind, ever needed to bulldoze on.

When Greenpeace or a newspaper points out that out of a total of 130 billion Euros in subsidies per year only 30 billion go into green energy, they miss the low key, behind the scene efforts of Mr. Oettinger to help save energy.

Take the upcoming EU report as put onto Google by the newspaper.

Removing all the text in red means savings, real, tangible savings! EU reports get printed on high gloss, heavy paper in more languages than you can shake a stick at, then they get shipped out to all four or however many corners of the European Union.

Shortening a report by ten percent means less energy used in authoring, less energy used in production and shipping, and less energy used in reading the report.

So, give the man some carbon credit.

Catching a nap [image]

This young man was soundly asleep during the set break of a live music show. To the person who took the photo, it remains a mystery how he managed to do this.

(c) 2013 under

Sunday, October 13, 2013

After sunset at the train station [image]

Image of an unnamed train station just after sunset. It is chock full of man made things, from the buildings to the railroad lines and their markers. No one is waiting for a train. An image quite appropriate to life outside the big city in Germany.

(c) 2012 under

One dear bishop

German bishop Tebartz-van Elst did get some attention by the K-Landnews but we merely saw him as an example of what a well-fed state supported church looks like.

Then the new pope happened, and the hardened crew at the K-Landnews desk had to credit the new pope for doing and saying Christian things.

The contrast of the frugal, old French car driving Pope and the splendid, flamboyant, new beemer driving Bisphop became too much for the German weekly Der Spiegel hailing from the Protestant heartlands of northern Germany.

The big spender dis-graces the new print edition of Der Spiegel. "The Lord's Dear Bishop" (our translation) is the title, but the nice use of the German "teurer" (dear, as in British dear) is not what got our attention.

The eerie color match of the biggest paper Euro note of 500 Euros and the bishopy purple got us.

Now, the Euro banknotes have traditionally, if we can use the term for its short life, been a lot more colorful than the US dollar or the German D Mark, but today would be the day we'd love to see the designer comments for the 500 Euro note.

Was the master minter of the European Central Bank a Catholic?  A former Catholic protesting the close fiscal ties between the Catholic Church and the German state?

The likely explanation, of course, is that any serendipity is a figment of the imagination. Der Spiegel would have found another way to obtain the imprimatur for the dear Bishop.

Our annual quota of posts about an organization that behaves just like you would expect from any that consists solely of a bunch of guys with no useful purpose in life is filled, so don't expect anything else on the subject before 2014.

Except a few Santa Clause posts.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Genes make the man, not clothes - says Oxfordian

The genetically challenged K-Landnews team had long been a believer in the power of clothes, suits to be exact. Clothes make the man was their guiding principle, causing them to throw out any suits and pants suits and wear jeans everywhere. In the spirit of contrarianism.

Today saw the team flustered when they came across the disturbing statement of a Mr. Cummings, special advisor to another Mr., the UK Education Secretary.

Genes are it, says the advisor, citing "scientific evidence" in his drive to shake up and slim down British education.

The above link to the Guardian newspaper has a photo of the duo, with Mr. Cummings looking a bit like a deer in the headlights. We have done the reading for you and have this picture of Mr. Cummings.

Some say he is a genius, some are afraid of his volcanic outbursts.

British education in science and math is woeful.

Ah, come on, says the K-Landnews TheEditor. That makes Asians geniuses because of their science reputation? And the East Germans, too, they are still outclassing the old West in science and math?

Decent education for almost everybody has not been around in the West for very long, trying to measure achievements is a laudable goal, but why the f*** is the dismantling of the education system such a great cause?

Because an ancient and modern history major is best qualified to dismiss the good things education has brought to intellectual backwaters and the genetically challenged.

Of course, good science would say we still do not understand genes and epigenetic phenomena well enough to make sweeping changes in education.

Can the history major please comment on: "not understanding" has generally not  been enough to stop humans mess up a good thing.

A junior member of the K-Landnews Random Research team (RR) suggested to contrast the intellectual acumen of a specific Oxford trained history major to the capabilities of the team member's house cat.

TheEditor nixed the comparison: We cannot do this, you should know. It's not a fair fight, it would be an insult to the cat's intelligence.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

News and long nights

Regular TV or radio news programming does not change much. The 24 hour TV news channel was invented a generation ago, other than that not much has happened to the format.

So, the first time a friend of the K-Landnews realized the reporting, and writing, for that matter, started to bother the friend, the fact was ignored and filed under "strange".

It happened again a year later. And a year later.

That's sad.


S - A - D, when the seasonal changes in fall get at you.

Isn't this just a convenient name for a collection of little thing?

News that's not uplifting during the rest of the year takes on more weight, it can feel, as the days get shorter and the nights get longer.

The price of cat food just went up.

Some people in different parts of the world continue to hate each other.

The claim "I will never forget" is not as clear cut as it appears.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fiction is reality

That well worn phrase, reality is stranger than fiction, isn't really true. Which does not prevent us at the K-Landnews from using it.

Hey, it's there, so why not not use it.

In private, we'll admit that both are frequently indistinguishable, or that one manifests itself earlier than the other in a cosmic dance of concepts, or, more banal or prosaic, in the enterprise of linguistic labeling, the creation of reality through words, we humans excel at.

The point?

A while back, we were issued a "Fiktionsbescheinigung" by the German immigration folks, attesting to the fact that we were legally here while they were working on the extension of our stay.

The term Fiktionsbescheinigung tickled us, of course. It's a compound, sure, and we still get the odd thrill or two out of German compounds, but this one has the word "Fiktion", fiction, in it.  The second word "Bescheinigung" is certification, or attestation.

The physical manifestation of the intriguing sounding paper is somewhat of a letdown,  it is a plain white, letter size sheet of paper, stating you filed for an extension of stay in the country. Basically telling other government agencies your status is legal and not to worry about the expiration of your passport stamp or the plastic card.

The term they use to say this, however, can feel a little weird if words matter to you. Did we somehow become fictional, are we in a state of suspended reality, how did the German authorities come up with this term?

Despite the slightly odd ring to it, the term does not qualify as a euphemism. At worst, its meaning is neutral. At best, it is positive: you filed the papers correctly and you  maintain legal status.

The twists and turns in immigration law of the Western countries we can claim to know a little bit are interesting and very confusing.

For the group of people who are neither fully legal nor fully illegal residents, they seem to have managed to come up with a legal codification that oddly resembles the old Catholic state of "limbo".

It is nice to see that the German government has not turned immigration paperwork into a for profit business, at least as far as our filing fees as individuals not recruited or sponsored by a company go. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

My other Porsche is a tractor

The other day, a conversation overheard at the hospital got us back to our favorite search engine where we looked up Porsche tractors.

A doctor, flirting with a nurse, cooed: "My other Porsche is a tractor".

Porsche, world famous for sleek, flashy, fast and very expensive sports cars, at one time produced farm tractors!

Trust Wikipedia to have a full page (in German) dedicated to Mr. Porsche's foray into the production of slow, diesel powered, but sleek, tractors for post World War II German family farms.

They came in a single color, bright red.

The red Porsche tractors came with ample power between 11 hp and 36 hp, and have long since attained the low tax status of a classic vehicle.

This ultimate open air vehicle, non convertible because it had no roof, no cabin, can be seen in the hills around here every once in a while, if you know where to look and know the Porsche spotting season.

The modern German family farmer, of course, does not go anywhere near the Porsche tractor. It is not powerful enough, not air conditioned, has no GPS autopilot and, above all, it is not manly enough with its seriously rounded snub nose.

The huge John Deere rides we see in hill country here seem a little out of place to the naive former city dweller. While these vehicles could participate in monster truck shows without any prior modification may be quite useful in the steep terrain and soggy forests, no one can doubt that there is an element of "mine is bigger than yours" to owning one. 

Farms around here are simply not that big compared to the U.S.

Next time you hear the US government complain about European farm subsides, you should be grateful to the Eurocrats for the American jobs created by doling out cash to European farmers. John Deere and the other US farm equipment manufacturers benefit big time from the European farm subsides.

Porsche tractor spotting season around here is over for the year, the fleet is sitting in well enclosed barns and sheds until next spring, when in the resurgent green and bloom, you may just be lucky and see a small, slow red dot chugging through the forest and over the fields.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dream cam needed

There are times when a dream camcorder would be the perfect device to have. A camcorder to record and play back the stories you experience in your sleep, not another standard video recorder hyped as "a dream" in PR or in a paid for internet review.

Full HD would be appreciated, but, hey, give the engineers and mad scientists some extra years for that.

How often do you wake up and remember fragments of a dream, or not even bits and pieces, just that you had an interesting dream?

A few days ago, the author of this post woke up from loud laughter. The source of the laughter? The author.

The last ripples of the laugh made it past the cautious, disoriented blinking of the eye lids, then stopped.

What a bummer. There is no inkling of what happened in the dream, who or what caused a laugh deep enough and big enough to wake a person.

What is left of the night is best described as a residual glow, a small kernel of happiness, or a morsel of contentment. It has been quite stable for several days, and now the author is trying to determine whether it is trailing off. This kind of introspection does not come easy to our writer and may be tainted by the quantum effect - if you look at something, you change it.

In the absence of a dream cam,  the writer decided to let go of the experience.

The grandmother test

From our Really Late Book Review series.

When debates are in danger of becoming overheated, or when minutiae and distractions creep up, a friend of the K-Landnews likes to do the "grandmother test".

Scientists call this a thought experiment, we normal folks call a "what if" scenario. The grandmother test consists of asking the question "how much of this would my grandmother understand", or "how would this look from granny's point of view".

It is meant to bring some serenity and focus to highly emotional discourse, and, surprisingly, we have seen it work.

We were reminded of the grandmother test as we continued rummaging through our unexpected library and came across the book " Fair of speech", edited by D.J. Enright, published by Oxford University Press in 1985. Subtitled with "Euphemisms, Sex, Death, politics, the media, the law, medicine, and many others", it looked intriguing.

Very soon, the patterns on the paper were transmitted by photons bouncing off of the page, picked up by dual biological sensors, transformed into electric impulses, filtered, and passed on to a neural processing unit for analysis.

Grandma would be been puzzled by this sentence, and she would have asked politely for clarification.

What, specifically, triggered the reference to the grandmother test?

The "Politics" section of the book, with its enumeration of diplomatic phrases as seen and heard in the media and the translation of their meaning into everyday understanding.

We'll quote a few before we talk about the grandma implications.

'Cordial talks' are not positively acrimonious, 'wide ranging talks' cover several topics, of which many are irrelevant to the problems in hand. 'Full and frank discussion' or a 'full and frank exchange of views' imply some degree of ill-feeling. 'Both positions were stated clearly' means there was no agreement; 'some progress towards agreement' means that miniscule concessions were made on either side.

Incidentally, this paragraph is all you ever need in order to correctly understand diplomatic negotiations.

Now, the author, Simon Hoggart, says that professionals (diplomats, politicians, journalists) are not fooled by the cited 'expressions in single quotes'.

But grandmother likely would be as perplexed as the naive blogster.

It may be several centuries too late to ask newspapers to add a short translation for ordinary people but what about TV, can we get them to do more explaining? Grandmother did not have a TV, but in a few decades you may be that grandmother or grandfather, so, think about it.

Where would grandma go for an explanation? In Europe, neither British nor German public television are much help. It may not be very important to grandma to understand international diplomacy speak, but the same language use abounds in domestic politics and affects grandma's meager social security benefits as well as all other areas of her life.

You did notice how we slipped in the emotional qualifier "meager", right? Just to make a point.

We will probably spend much of the rest of Sunday trying to figure out if and how we could steer grandma to one of the two remaining useful news shows we know of, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

The moral and ethical implications of steering grandma to become an unwitting test subject do pose some concern to us, so we will start gently by having cordial talks with granny.

[Update 7/29/15] The Colbert Report is no longer, sadly.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

J. B. Rule in 1983 on "a regime willing to ignore statutory limitations"

From our Gone Fishing 4 Books series.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have seen a couple of posts about boxes full of books, books that are now seeing the light of day for the first time in decades.

We kind of neglected to mention that there are enough books to fill a small library.  As it turns out, it has all sorts of treasures.

"What frightens us is its [1984's] view of a coalescence of unholy social and political elements, many of which we can already see all around us. [...] Less terrifying but alarming enough is the vision of the penetration of state monitoring, and hence state power, into every recess of private life."

"There would certainly be no technological barrier to direct state monitoring of the choices of each user."

"A regime willing to ignore statutory limitations, could, for example, scan communications in which a particular name appears, or all those to a particular address, or even all those with a particular theme."  

We can learn several lessons from the quotes above.

One lesson is that the people being credited with the great push in the last decade to keep us safe and secure?
Many "experts" have either re-invented the wheel or quietly paid attention to what researchers like J. B. Rule, the author of the lines, above had said a full twenty years earlier.

Another lesson is that academic scholars are cool minds.

The language on this blog is known for generally not being very precise, so we would like to point out that "academic scholars" are the cool ones, not "academics" or "scholars" by themselves.

The quotes above are from the book "1984 Revisited", a collection of essays edited by Irving Howe, published by Harper & Rowe, New York, 1983.

The unfounded fear of BitCoin and its cousins

Disclaimer: The author of this post really likes paying with cash.  Debit cards and credit cards have their place but that does not mean liking them. Cash is it. I know how much money I have, how much I spend, and nobody can tack on some hidden fees or devalue rewards points by a factor of one hundred. Or, evil of evils, grab the card info and go shopping in my name. Buying a watery coffee in O'Neill, Nebraska, with cash and getting a five dollar silver certificate as change is so much more meaningful than signing yet another thermal paper slip.

Having retained some curiosity about life despite having crossed the, spoiler alert, not really magic age threshold of 30 years,  the K-Landnews Random Research team spent some time looking into the "virtual currency" BitCoin.

To us, this was an expression of simple curiosity - no different than writing a text processing program in C in a virtual MS DOS environment on a Macintosh computer for the thrill of it before everybody started talking about virtual machines. No different than using an "in memory database" before the software whales realized what it was and, in a display of what they call innovation, bought up the viable ones to flog them to their customers.

So, it was only a matter of time before we checked out virtual currencies, and then BitCoin became famous.

What happened?

Hype and fear, that potent combination of crap thinking so familiar in public discourse began causing all sorts of problems.

On the hype side, digital currency was thrown around as a means to stick it to the man, to become independent of banks and government. There are even some lunatics who claim that BitCoin could bring down the dollar.

On the fear side, the control freaks and fear mongers pointed at use of digital currencies for illegal purposes.

Can you name the two most important digital currencies in the world?

They are the U.S. Dollar and the Euro.

Most of either currency exists only in digital form, not as paper or coins. What's worse, the popular statement that governments are just "printing more money" is as outdated as it is wrong. Unless you are okay with deforesting the Amazon, you won't be able to turn every single dollar, euro, yen et al into paper money. 

Both, the friends and the enemies of the "digital" currencies are fond of this statement: Digital currencies are not controlled by any central authority.

Not true as an absolute statement, read the Wikipedia entry about digital currency, and you will find that some are centralized, just not under a government agency. But the U.S. Federal Reserve is a public-private agency, not a pure government agency.

Historically, the true extent of control over currencies has been somewhat sketchy. How well did, for instance, German control of their currency work for them after World War I?  What about the Italian Lira, with its candies as change episodes?

These questions point to the issue "size matters". How dare you compare a tiny "token" currency like BitCoin to the multi trillion dollar, euro, peso or whatever currencies!

Right, the hype and the fear. And it may have to do with the ease with which people - or computers - just some days ago confused a bankrupt US retailer with Twitter.

Realistically, measured by their size, the "new currencies" are more like the small regional currencies that have to be called coupons for legal reasons. Means of exchange which can co-exist with the "official" currencies.

Another myth by friends and foes is: They are anonymous and cannot be controlled.

How would you feel if you buy a loaf of bread and the baker says, oh, isn't this the bill Ms. Jones gave you last week?
So, without making it too simple, the "new currencies" are not necessarily untraceable. They are somewhere between paper money and "digital dollars" or "digital euros".

And people go back and forth between the old currencies and the new ones. Unless you are a serious nerd, you go and buy BitCoins from someone.

The more value currencies like BitCoins gain, the easier it gets to trace the exchanges. 
At a rate of 1 dollar equals 1 BitCoin, you can hand over a 20 dollar bill and get 20 Bitcoins, but at a rate of 100 dollars for 1 BitCoin, getting 20 BitCoins makes it almost inevitable to use some form of non-cash exchange to do this.

So, the combination of some inherent traceability and higher exchange rates should make the whole thing less frightening.

Of course, the word "should" generally has little impact when ulterior motives are in play.

The only somewhat realistic loss of control could be experienced in a "closed" "digital currency" eco system, where whole communities perform all transactions in the new, decentralized digitals without interaction with traditional currencies. Which is unlikely on planet Earth any time soon.

This being said, we will go back to doing some web programming with jQuery for a German friend who has a small side business selling motorcycle parts.

He only accepts Euros.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The tomato that keeps on giving

This is a sweet story passed on to us by a friend.

We had almost forgotten but a couple of very chilly nights hit our tomato plants and the discussion about salvaging many pounds of green tomatoes brought the story back.

Here is how the friend told it, we hope we are reconstructing it faithfully. The punch line is certainly correct, you can't forget that one easily.

I was at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, to see a Furthur show, and we had just arrived in the parking lot of Google. You may not know this, but the nerd company lets the Amphitheater use many of its parking lots for event parking. You can try and find out for yourselves if that was a condition of the city of Mountain View for expansion of the Plex or if Google does this out of the goodness of their hearts.

Our clown car was still emptying out when I noticed a couple a few cars over with two big trays of small tomato plants, a few inches high. We saw them walk from car to car giving away free tomato plants. Some people took five or more of the rolled up newspaper containers lovingly made for each individual plant. 

We watched for maybe ten minutes. They gave the last plant to a young man, late teens or early twenties. He was wearing a hippie "regulation tie-dye", had a beard, sandals, the works.

We heard him say he did not have a ticket to the show but he'd be just fine, maybe someone would trade the plant for a ticket.

It was still two hours before the show, an hour before the gates, we spent the time strolling around the smaller parking lot set aside for Shakedown Street, like in the old days, where the hippies were selling all sorts of crafts, art, and trinkets as well as food.

When we followed the crowd to the gate after the walk around Shakedown Street and the stroll down memory lane, there was the young man from the lot, walking slower than the others, holding the tomato plant in front of his chest, smiling.

Hey, you're doing fine with your tomato?

Oh, yes, she's cute, isn't she?

Hope you manage to get a ticket.

I had my miracle, he stopped, breaking into a big smile. I traded the plant for a ticket.

You traded the plant for a ticket? I asked, staring at the plant he was holding in front of his chest.

Yes, and then they said thank you and gave me the plant and asked me to give it a home.

Ah, hippies, so any of our readers have a good recipe for green tomatoes?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Being right ain't fun

From our Local Cynics files.

Being right can be essential in your work, or in private life. Being right is valued in Western culture, so highly in fact that many debates which start out with facts quickly degenerate into an argument about who's right and who's wrong.

One member of the K-Landnews team engaged in an email exchange with a friendly German journalist in late June 2013, when the German media were reeling under the steady leaks by a certain young former American contractor.

So, on June 25, our valiant scribe ventured the following predictions: real time surveillance, "steaming open" of encryption, squeezing the TOR anonymity network and  maybe a swing at the virtual currency BitCoin.

Last weekend, TheEditor asked the scribe how he felt about the June predictions.

Not good. I'm not an expert, so, if I can get as close to reality as that, what does this say about the state of society?


I don't know, but being right ain't fun.

We sent our pessimistic scribe away and began cutting up three large buckets of plums for our first homemade plum wine.

The apple trees in town have remained fairly bare this year, but the plum trees are aching under their heavy loads of fruit. This seems to be a regular pattern in the local micro climate. When apples abound, like last year, there are few plums and vice versa.

If all goes well, we'll have two or three gallons of plum wine in a few weeks, if not, well, plum vinegar is supposed to be good, too.

The plum wine venture illustrates the view of TheEditor re. being right: being right is less important than getting it right, and getting it right sometimes means being wrong.

Lazy summer afternoon

We were too lazy to write about the lazy summer afternoons, and by now they are over, gone for the year.

The To Do list for fall has been getting longer instead of shorter, and the team felt inadequate until, that is, we found this article in  Der Spiegel (in German) about the state of Germany's internet infrastructure. Under the heading 'narrow band Germany', the article has lots of comparison charts, and Germany does not look good on them. They illustrate our experience when we first set out to get onto the net in this country.

Strangely, the K-Landnews is among the 8.8% of German costumers who enjoy an internet connection faster than 10 Mbit/s. 

TheEditor said: "Well, we are an important publication, are we not?", then smiled and continued "how sad is that". 

Further study of the charts brought the explanation for the sorry state of the net around here: laziness, the laziness of Deutsche Telekom. The giant former monopoly owner of all German telecommunications infrastructure is investing less into the infrastructure than the much smaller competitors.

We are well aware that one man's "laziness" is another man's "reward for all the effort made over years and decades".

Pick one.

We are too lazy to delve into details.