Saturday, November 30, 2013

The dirty side of Black Friday: discounts up, profits the same

National Public Radio (NPR) is giving us the Black Friday low down, and it is not a pretty picture for us average consumers.

First of all, Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, is presented as the day "that retailers traditionally start making a profit" - which is an urban myth. It is pretty firmly entrenched, and it is nothing but PR.

Second, those pesky academic researchers looking at numbers, well, they have findings that make minimalist consumers happy and could well infuriate the rest of us.

Since the Great Recession, those Black Friday retail discounts have been up by 63%, yet retail profits have remained steady, flat.

The explanation is as simple as it is logical:  your friendly retailers will inflate the starting prices and then offer you deep discounts on these.

Finally, we can see what the big MBA tuition fees are really for. And how those student loans get paid back.

To be sure, there are a few real steep discounts, the "loss leaders", which are used to get you in the door and buy all the fake discount stuff.

Researchers have also found that, despite the internet price comparisons, determining "the price" of something is extremely hard. And that's just for the United States. Over here in Europe, the same "sh**"  (short for 'shopping') happens, though largely less publicized.

We are not sure if NPR had any agenda when they laid out the discounted facts to their audience but the timing is perfect.

We are still basking in the afterglow of the turkey dinner, making us less easily upset when confronted by unpleasant facts.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A feast for the birds

Food for the many birds who stay around over the winter months is beginning to get scarce.

The birds don't know that German grocery stores and building/DIY chains start their fall sales of bird seed and greasy balls of winter food in early october, when shipping pallets stacked high with 2 gal. buckets crowd out the chewing gum, chocolate, lighter and what not items at the cash registers.

Judging by the speed with which the bird feed flies off the pallets even here in the rural countryside, German birds will do well until spring.

TheEditor ("I looove birds") at the K-Landnews maintains a tiny amount of bird feed as winter entertainment for the cats. Hang seed balls from a bush or tree with a clear view from a window, and the cats will spend most of the brief daylight hours watching birds.

No, the cats do not hunt birds, in case you wonder. It remains a minor mystery to us why the feral raised cats prefer kibbles, Sauerbraten, pea soup, and yoghurt over hunting.

And the birds don't seem to mind the onlookers either.

Our true contribution to getting a large number of birds through the winter season is much bigger and much more substantial: two tall mountain-ash trees out back represent the all you can eat buffet for our feathered friends. Wikipedia says that around 60 bird species eat the small, sour red fruit, and we can attest to the observation.

Right now, we have at least some 20 birds in the two trees at any given time, mostly blackbirds, chickadees, robins, with some nosy and noisy sparrows.

This year was a great year for mountain ash fruit, the branches were weighed down by the thick red clusters, and there are many pounds left after the late fall storms.

Fun for the whole family (humans watching cats watching birds) is ensured for months to come.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

OECD not optimistic on German retirees

As the leftovers from last night's turkey dinner fill the fridge and the scale in the bathroom is fitted with a new button battery to help keep our food intake in check, we picked up a recent report by the OECD.

According to the OECD report, German retirees have reason to worry about poverty. For private sector employees, the basic retirement income is 55% of wages in Germany, whereas it is quite a bit higher in other European countries.

Add to this the fact that pensions have been stripped of their tax exempt status, and you can understand worries of the elderly.

But the newly formed German government has one good news for older women. For those who had children born before 1992, a "work credit" will be created, giving these women a little bit more money in retirement.

Public sector employees do better but, as is the case with many who are truly protected, their spokespeople claim they are undervalued and underpaid.

If you combine the outlook for the average retiree with a report just days before the OECD report that, even in Germany, poor people die earlier, the fact that there is a turkey shortage in the U.S. this year does not look as serious as the media make it out to be.

The question left open at the end of this post is whether the "economics of spite" the folks of Freakonomics Radio talked about might or might not have something to do with welfare cuts in wealthy countries.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hailing greed as a "valuable spur to economic activity".

The K-Landnews would like to sincerely thank London Mayor Boris Johnson for some very open comments about intelligence and the value of envy.

To illustrate why we are thankful to the mayor, these are the relevant quotes according to the Guardian newspaper.

"Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% …"
"......called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130."

Johnson made the remarks during a speech in honour of Margaret Thatcher, declaring that inequality was essential to foster "the spirit of envy" and hailing greed as a "valuable spur to economic activity".

No liberal weeping and whining can diminish the value of the statements, after all humans are a species, like dogs, and just like dogs, humans get killed in the most brutal fashion every day.

The immense value of these statements lies in the fact that they were made in front of a substantial audience. The true beliefs of modern day men of a certain age and a certain persuasion should be welcomed by the public.

So much of what we read and what we receive in the form of laws is governed by principles like this, yet, we can not call out the bullshit because it is hidden behind the rhetoric of the upstanding men and women who want to do "what is best for the country".

Again, Thank You Mr. Johnson!

We do have one point of criticism, though.

It is kind of serious. We do not feel good about the call  for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. 

Calling for help for the 2% is, in our opinion, inherent discrimination of the 1% of most intelligent people. Sure, helping the one percent below our rarefied level is laudable and shows social conscience, but, let's face it, shouldn't the help go to those first who can make the sort of difference the rest can only marvel at?

Pssst, Boris, more help for the 2% means we are not already running the world? Which, if true, would make us less intelligent than we thought, or just more greedy?

The Pope doesn't like capitalism

Over here in Europe, the latest remarks by the Pope on unfettered capitalism have made waves.

The fault lines of the ensuing public discussion have been so predictable that a sustained yawn was all we could muster at the K-Landnews.

Then we heard a segment on National Public Radio about the elder Romney, the father of Mr. 47 Percent and reckoned, wait, something merits a few notes.

The elder Romney was a capitalist, and he had a heart. As head of HUD (housing and urban development), Mr. Romney would refuse money to states and districts that refused to desegregate.

Where would he be today, at a time when food stamps are cut, when a lot of people are still trying to recover from the loss of their homes?

We can only speculate, and we decline to do so.

It seems that the Pope has hit a nerve or two if we look at the comments to his remarks. Instead of looking to the future, those who feel offended by the pontiff have nothing better to do than drag out the old concepts of middle age feudalism and soviet style economy to show that we live in the best of sytems.

As in other emotionally charged debates, many of the fiercest defenders are clueless as to how hard life on or beneath a "living wage" really is.

It's okay to say "I am doing fine, a lot of people are doing fine, so I don't see any need to talk about improvements" but this sort of plain argument is not very acceptable in discussions about any big system, is it.

Instead of flogging a dead horse, why not turn it into delicious burgers or fertilizer? Make something useful out of it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Management novelty: leading like a cat

German business weekly Wirtschaftswoche is running an article about people management, titled "Leading like a cat".

Summarizing: managers behave more like cats, subordinates more like dogs, and it is important to make the transition, be able to use both approaches in order to be a charismatic leader.

K-Landnews evaluation: complete bullshit.

We do not dismiss the perfectly good uses of images, metaphors, and illustrations in writeups about people management. The worn out cats and dogs imagery, well, if you as a publication are willing to pay money for that, so be it.

The K-Landnews would simply like to remind everybody that we can all write great little people management guidelines by taking an arbitrary example and expounding on it.

Do you remember the former US mobster who wrote a book about what mainstream, presumably law abiding managers could learn from the way the mob does business? If you have missed it, look it up.

The K-Landnews has several ready made management concepts in a drafts folder waiting for the right time to make some money.

Help yourself to this list of cutting edge management concepts:
Manage like a butterfly
Manage like a ferret
Manage like a queen bee
Manage like a solar flare

Please leave these concepts to our editors:
Manage by not managing
Manage like a farmer
Manage like a bonobo

A new seasonal technique we may describe next year around the end of November would be "Manage like a Thanksgiving turkey".

German spelling skills going to hell in a handbasket

Not only is the population of Germany shrinking, those who remain have less and less adequate spelling skills.

Germany's education system looks good from outside the country, but if you believe the nay sayers ("Neinsager") and some conservative educators ("Dummköpfe"), German school children as well as many parents are not as proficient as desired.

Researchers have indeed found certain types of German spelling errors increase drastically over the past 40 odd years.

The causes and remedies are what the nasty fights of experts and politicians are about.

The noisier of the two camps' arguments can be summarized like this:
It's all the fault of those liberal teachers, and parents don't value hard work in school or demand a modicum of discipline from their children, and poor parents on social security assistance are the worst role models for children, and, oh, don't forget the immigrants who refuse to integrate into society.

More level headed observers will point out:
Changed teaching schedules mean children spent less time with a pen and paper, faithfully tracing letters. Modes of written communication have changed with email, texting, and social networks. Auto correction/spell checking makes it so you do not have to carry a full dictionary in your head. Maybe, just maybe, spelling is not exactly as important as believed.

To a foreigner, it sometimes seems funny that the Germans have a pretty strict view of what is correct and what is not while, at the same time, having been unable to figure out what "standard German" really is.

If this sound harsh, I can offer you an illustration. Somewhere in the depths of my library are a couple of books written in what is officially the "local dialect" in our hills. If you do not know any German, I'll send you a few pages of German, the local dialect, and some Dutch, and you'll pick the German text without cheating or googling.

Note: Our translation of "conservative educators" into German may be a bit negligent, we apologize.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Research report, Part 1, Sex and the Germans

The Random Research team exhibited an extraordinary amount of dedication on the subject "Sex and the Germans" and came back with some early results.

Much of the hookup activity is happening on the internet, with a wide variety of sites. Many of these are apparently rather dodgy, some are full of viruses -- the software kind, not the biological kind. Our research won't extend to the latter.

The RR team found one large site which proudly features some key statistics on its home page: over 3.6 million members who exchanged over 600 000 messages in the past 24 hours.

A research account was created and some browsing commenced.

The results in a nutshell:
1)  Whatever your taste within the legal boundaries, there is someone there.
2)  There is a strong correlation between the size of the town and the presence/absence of profile pictures. Small town seekers tend to have no profile photos or anonymized pictures.
3)  There are many more single or "single" males than females.
4)  They do age verification for x rated photos. Verification does not mean clicking a "I'm over 18" button but actual verification by their customer service.
5) To the folks on the site "NSA" still means no strings attached. To the serious researcher, the over 600 K messages a day are a potential national security issue, or - in both the language on the site and that of spooks - a backdoor.

So, our initial question "do the Germans do it", can be answered. Yes, they do, or at least they try hard.

More research results will follow as the RR team delivers.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ritter Spoil-Sport, the battle of the chocolate Squares

German chocolate maker Ritter Sport is famous for its square package, and is now in the process of adding the attribute "square" to the company image.

Never mind the stroke of genius that made the company include the word "sport" (sports, indeed) in the brand name, the premium brand image has been slightly tainted by the German Stiftung Warentest, a consumer protection non-profit testing all sorts of consumer goods. The non-profit slapped a "failing" grade rating on the "chocolate nuts" flavor of Ritter Sport because one stated "natural flavoring" is manufactured by a chemical process.

The company defends the label with "the flavor exists in nature", while the non-profit points to the EU regulations that say you cannot claim "natural" if an ingredient is chemically produced.

For once, EU regulations make perfect sense to us. If "exists in nature" was the deciding aspect of any substance, then we could feed our cows and our children pure crude oil and claim it is a "natural ingredient".

Notwithstanding the fact that only the "nuts" version of the many different flavors was hit with the worst rating, the Ritter Sport squares are not amused and have announced legal action against the testers.

We will refrain from buying squares henceforth, not because of the dubious provenance of the flavoring but because the company feels they need to waste money by taking the testers to court.

Our action will hurt Ritter because we have previously interpreted the "Sport" as "making it a sport to eat as much Ritter chocolate as you can".

That would make the author a Ritter Spoil-Sport, right?

[Update 13 Jan 2013] A court has sided with the chocolate factory. The consumer testers are barred from calling the chocolate label misleading.

The saddest bulk trash days ever

Bulk trash pickup in Germany is depressing.

The craigslist "Free" section beloved by Americans is pretty empty around here unless you happen to live near a U.S. base.

A friend reported the other day that a neighbor had a sofa and two matching seats out and when asked how old the furniture was, got the response: six months, we bought a new set, so this can go.

Then there are old items, for example, a wonderful 1950s chair in perfect condition. Which we schlepped home.

Until a couple of decades ago, we are told, there were regular bulk trash days in Germany, and the recycling conscious, the recent immigrants, or folks with an eye for value would drive around with trucks and vans and help themselves to usable items.

We understand that some scavengers were inconsiderate and sloppy, tearing apart the neatly German stacks of bulk trash, spilling items onto the street, making a mess in this orderly country,

We are told that many German burgers were offended by such nuisances or by the scavengers as people and that in some towns the burgers would even send the police after scavengers to cite them either for traffic violations or theft. Legally, it appears that the moment you put bulk trash out you relinquish ownership to the town or the waste management company, who can then prosecute scavengers.

The current system of bulk trash removal is an on demand system, just like ours back in the U.S. For scavengers this is bad news, you don't have the sidewalks of whole neighborhoods to pick through anymore on a regular schedule.

The local waste management company has recently added an "exchange/for free" section to their website where customers can give away bulk trash items or offer stuff for sale or barter.

They call it progress.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

50 years of Dr. Who

The Dr. is back in a Special that out-blasts and out-guns StarWars, even the clone version. And, you could watch it in 3D.

While the rest of the world was envisioning sleek, modern, huge yet uninspired space ships, the British BBC took the blue police box and ran with it.

The Dr.'s blue police box has survived the iconic London red telephone boxes, of which only a handful are left for the tourists. An imaginery collision with a blue box inspired our Twitter account logo.

Of course, the Dr. has his share of princesses and storm trooper like characters but the Dr. is much more classy about them. The ladies at the Dr.'s side have been varied personalities in their own right, and there must be a number of masters theses out there describing the evolution of the female "sidekicks". Oh, River Song, Madame Vastra, Amy and all.

Where StarTreck eventually had to turn to the device known as HoloDeck to maintain at least some variety and spice, the Dr. merrily saunters from ancient Rome to the far future, grabs currrent fringe trends like steam punk and does Christmas Specials like nobody else.

Irreverent writing has survived in the Dr. Who series from the psychedelic times to the 50 year Special, and the audience has to be alert to catch one-liners like "imagine what the Americans would do with a device that can rewrite history".

Distractors might see the London tourism board behind episodes featuring The Shard or the National Gallery, but, guess what, German TV's crime series "Tatort" supposedly (we don't do German TV) does the same on a less glamorous level.

The Dr. has not failed us even at his most morose and sullen, often when he talks about his home planet of Gallifrey. After one or two bleak, even tear inducing episodes, you can be sure to get a sparkling fun episode for balance.

True to his character, the Dr. may very well outlive us all. If the BBC survives its regular series of scandals and political meddling.

[Update] Don't die in my backyard

Not in my backyard (NIMBY) comes in many versions. It can be the branches of a neighbor's tree hanging over the fence, leaving Upstanding Upset Citizen with leaves or fruit to clean up in fall. It can be the kindergarten Upstanding Upset Citizen supports very much, just - doesn't anybody realize that - the kids come mostly from a few blocks this way and a few blocks that way.

An even more delicate issue is that of hospices, those places that provide care to people in the last weeks of their lives.

Dying with dignity is, of course, a concept everybody agrees to. So, when a charity or health care provider files plans to open a hospice in your neighborhood and you do not want it, what do you do?

Zoning law and building codes are the tools used by the discerning citizens to prevent a couple of ambulances and hearses adding to the shopping mall and pilates traffic in the neighborhood.

While the charities and providers try their utmost to involve the community and address concerns, all it needs is one or two holdouts going to court to scuttle a project.

In an ageing country where dying at home in the care of your family is becoming less of an option for more and more people, converting unused gathering spaces into hospices or turning an old villa into a small care facility, face opposition in a number of cities throughout the country.

The negative impact of visitor traffic on the well being of the neighborhood's residents must be the most worrying aspect of all. Visiting times must be awful for Upstanding Upset Citizens: Just imagine the white haired 90 year old bachelor careening down the street in his Porsche convertible, then skidding to a halt on the hospice lawn, or the old lady on a dirt bike taking up a handicapped parking space.

Death creeps out people as demonstrated, for example, by the traffic cop poised to write up a parking citation freezing in his movements, then turning away without a sound, as a gurney with a tighly wrapped corpse is being wheeled out of the house.

[Update 29 Nov. 2013] TheEditor could not let go of one of the court cases which is about a 12 room hospice in the northern city of Hamburg. Said TheEditor: The charities should go and file a permit for a small boutique hotel, I think this would be a good match as far as traffic, number of employees and such go. Once the boutique hotel is approved, they should change the occupants to hospice patients. Of course, legally that may not be permissible, but I'd bet the test would be interesting.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sex and the Germans

Many hard questions have haunted us in the years of living in Germany. For example, since the German population is decreasing, are they simply not doing "it"?

Or are they doing it in ways that beats the old equation "population = copulation * (effort + opportunity)", in other words, somebody changed the equation? Are Germans getting so tired of themselves that they pretty much stopped making more Germans?

We decided to investigate.

The assembled Random Research team accepted the task with their trademark stoicism.

You have all heard about sex, and we assume you have all done it.

Nods, and one But I did not inhale.

We need to approach the task in a scientific manner. You cannot let your personal beliefs be in the way of knowledge, and above all, you must not enjoy this project. If someone asks, you do it out of a sense of duty, honor, and responsibility, not because you enjoy an intimate look at people's lives, okay.
So, read the German tabloids, find dating sites on the internet, oh, and don't go to the satire mag Titanic's web site -- they don't seem to have worked their way up through the encyclopedia to the entry "sex". Are we all clear on this?

Quick question?


If we go to a casual sex encounters site and find, I don't know, the old couple from next door or a friend with breasts and other bare parts, what do we do?

Keep mum. Remember, science, no supposedly funny email saying, oh, hey, it's you, no remarks at the meat counter in the grocery store, like, oh, Mr. Meyer, I'd buy the package of super sized sausages if I were you.

We'll share the RR team's insights with you as they become available.

Taking away that expensive driver's licence for a loaf of bread?

The negotiations between Germany's two biggest parties bring up the odd topic every few days.

The latest one appears more interesting to us than, say, extending the use of DNA for large scale sweeps in law enforcement.

The one today is about using that most German symbol of personal liberty, the driver's licence, in ways unrelated to driving and personal transportation. The ruling conservatives have tabled a proposal to let courts use suspension or withdrawal of driver's licences as penalty in cases completely unrelated to any traffic issues.

The reason advanced is to give the courts an alternative to fines in cases "where the fine is not much of a punishment because of the suspect's sound financial situation". Are we the only people who find this argument utterly disingenuous?

Other than the fertile theoretical base for inventing all sorts of new punishments? Like take away the internet connection from someone who steals a loaf of bread.

You don't even have a driver's licence, hm, how can we make it harder for you to get around and hold down a job? You are hereby ordered to turn in all shoes and socks and not get within 200 feet of any store that sells shoes or socks for six months. Don't even think about cardboard and duct tape. Get used to the nickname Barefoot Bandit. Oh, you are mad that you will be without shoes in the winter? Time your petty crime better, if you must repeat.
Three strikes, and we'll have your foot.

Egregious enough, the legal proposal comes at a time when Germany has reduced the age for youngsters to start studying for their car licence. The German licence is extremely expensive and, depending on how they suspend or revoke it, you may have to start from scratch if you want one later.

Well, if the proposal is implemented despite criticism from the legal profession, maybe someone will offer a foot.

Medical care is still pretty decent in Germany, which means losing a foot and getting a prosthesis will be way cheaper than having to attend driving school all over.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Qualified truck drivers needed in Germany

There is a shortage of qualified truck drivers in Germany, so if you feel like spending lots of time on the famed German autobahns and get paid for it, start looking for a job.

Being a professional trucker in Europe has some challenges that in part contribute to the shortage of drivers.

For starters, you will undergo a physical every five years and take mandatory training courses. Kind of like for a pilot's licence without the fear of heights part. The other significant aspect is the level of regulation of the industry. You will get a personal chip card that records all times behind the wheel and all breaks for the last four weeks. The card is read out at one of the many check points, which means that the fifteen minutes by which you exceeded your behind the wheel time, say, three weeks ago, will you bite you in the wallet just as you thought you were almost in the clear.

Full GPS tracking in real time from the dispatch office may, in some cases mean your cell phone will go off just as you pulled off into a parking area because the freeway ahead is closed due to a major accident or due to snow.

These are all fairly new technical and procedural considerations. In addition, there are some quaint regulations left over from the pre European Union days. If you cross an international border over here, which is really easy to do in tiny Europe, you can only take a route filed at the start of the trip. A bit like a mandatory flight plan but not as easily deviated from.

On the upside, there are fewer robberies, and the freeway parking areas are being outfitted with digital capacity signs, like inner city parking spaces that tell you how many unoccupied spaces are available ahead.

In case you cannot for the life of you sign up for affordable health care, your employer will do that on your behalf in Europe.

Haul-o-ween, a steampunk murder mystery

Our friends at the Obtainium Works factory have had to deal with the mysterious demise of Major Catastrophe last month.

Luckily, there was a camera around to capture the mayhem. They even had a sound designer on hand, so the internet video is decent.

The Neverwashaul, with its storied history and steampunk fame, makes a great location for mystery. 

Will the mad scientist successfully develop the formula?

What formula -- you'll need to watch the video for this.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pray to Jesus and Play the Lotto

Brandy Clark's Pray to Jesus and Play the Lotto was today's late night NPR surprise. After all, the time difference between here and Washington State is nine hours.

We are now taking bets on how long it will take before someone whisks Brandy Clark off to Europe for a tour. Have a look at her website, checkout a couple more videos on youtube, and make up our own mind.

Of course, you can always play the lotto for a chance to win enough money for a plane ticket to catch her at a show in the U.S.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An elegant yet tough lady [image]

Taking good photos of Tall Ships turned out to be a difficult undertaking, so there is not much to share, except this picture of the elegant yet tough lady boldly facing the elements. For the longest time, she was the sole token woman on board, with all those hardened males hiding behind her in storms and gales.

A bit like modern day corporate boardrooms.

Today, Germany's two major parties negotiating a coalition agreement have confirmed that they want a quota for women on the board of directors of major corporations.

The anti-quota males are howling.

Bali, Indonesia, and back

Sitting in one of the eight or so treatment rooms of the large dental practice, waiting for the doctor, the eyes wander around the room, from the coat hanger towards the window, resting for a few seconds on a map of Bali.

On the ceiling above the chair, this room has a poster sized photo but unlike in the other rooms, where they have penguins, landscapes and vaguely impressionist art, this one is a group photo of the staff.

The doctor comes in, there is the greeting, the inquiry after the reason for the visit - checkup - then she gets busy with the equipment.

Did you do the annual company outing to Bali? 

The question is meant to be smalltalk.

Oh, the map, right. Yes, we went to Bali a few years ago.

You did?

25 people in all, for two weeks, and we had a great time.

After some explaining and a few more questions, the nagging thought that socialized medicine has serious perks for the providers, is dispelled.

The trip to Bali was a very special occasion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the practice. Paid for by the doctors.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

German retailers facing the dark

As online giant Amazon begins Sunday deliveries in some regions of the U.S., retailers in Germany continue to worry about their future.

Walk around the center of any small town in rural Germany, and you will see enough empty store fronts to make you wonder what's happening.
Retail shops in the small towns are closing at a greater rate than you'd expect in the context of slightly declining population numbers.

The plethora of online shops is cutting into their business, that's what many small town shop owners will tell you. You could get on your high horse and tell the bookstore owner that the industry was discussing "ebooks" thirty years ago, but that would be missing the point. You could tell them that, sorry, but you are now feeling the uncertainty most of your blue collar customers have already been hit with in the structural changes and the liberalization of the German labor market. 

While it is perfectly fine for the German national retail association to whine and bitch and to stress the advantages you get at you local store, the personal service, the emphasis on quality instead of on cheap mass produced crap, the national association is a haven of backward thinking.

It's a complex world, but the dirty secret of German rural small town retail was that these folks enjoyed monopoly positions with markups to die for until supermarkets came along. With nationwide store hours limited to 8 to 6:30 Monday through Friday, 14:00 to 16:00 on Saturday, until the end of the 20th century, German shoppers were very much captives, except in the big cities. Then, the canary in the coal mine of online shopping (working conditions in the warehouses do justify the image) was the local book store. Now, lots of other store types are getting hit.

So, what will the town center in an average 10 000 inhabitant small town in rural Germany look like in the near future?

Retailers in one such town not far away decided to give the townsfolk a glimpse. Some 50 store owners blacked out their shop windows with cardboard for a few days to illustrate where, in their opinion, brick and mortar retail is heading. The shops stayed open during the event, pressures being what they are.

The newspaper article did not include lots of whining. It would appear that small town retailers are getting to the acceptance stage in the stages of grief.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Please comment in moderation

Every online publication should have this warning label modeled after the  one on alcohol bottles, even in "dry counties" in the U.S. and in countries where alcohol is banned.

On this blog, we provide room for comments, and we did use "unmoderated" comments to see how we would fare. As expected, some comments had nothing to do with the contents of a post, and some did but failed to address the post's arguments.

Of course, a few wacky comments to this blog won't make any difference to the the internet, but we wanted to be nice to our readers - and show that we read and understand comments. So, the setting was changed to "always moderated".

Now and then, we are reminded of this choice when we encounter some heavily commented article in a major online publication. When interest is huge and emotions run high, their moderators are not to be envied.

Do people at the big online sites keep score of the workload of crappy, non-sensical reader comments? Do the moderators get teased, as in "hey, hit a big one today", "how are you hanging in there"?

A perfect example of the big emotions this week was an article in the German Zeit online about pig heads at the site of a planned mosque in the east German city of Leipzig.

The number of comment postings where the text had been replaced by a note to please stay on topic or a stronger "this comment was removed because it violates our community standards" was way greater than average. This is not surprising to anybody familiar (or unfamiliar for that matter) with the web but there is one question prompted by the large number of removed comments.

What influence do these reader reactions have on the moderators or authors at the publication?  Our guess would be that, while at times considered a drag on resources, the totality of comments is another tool in the tool set of the publication to better gage "what's out there".

So, make yourselves heard but please comment in moderation.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The extinction of dinosaurs was just a glitch

If humans, or the slightly odd subgroup of humans we call computer programmers, had been around when the big, fascinating and frightening dinosaurs went extinct, our reading of dinosaur history would not be called a catastrophe or disaster, it would be called a "glitch".

A glitch in an increasingly human friendly history of the planet.

The consequences of calling the mass extinction a glitch are difficult to imagine. Would the movie Jurassic Park ever have been made? Would all the popular science books have been written? Would the Discovery Channel exist? Would the creationist theme park in Kentucky proudly display dinosaurs next to humans?

The answer to the first three is probably no. The theme park has shown it does not give a hoot about science anyway, so, a yes on this one.

In the avalanche of Obamacare news, have you heard any rumors or confirmed news about suited up Hollywood agents waving fat checks chasing the folks behind the "Obamacare" website for the movie rights to this epic story.

Of course, not, it is just a glitch.

In case you wonder why the "Obamacare" website was such a disaster, you likely have no enterprise software employment history. Throw in a bit of a government specific view of the world, and the explanation is obvious. No congressional committees needed, but they are always fun anyway.

Back to the dinosaurs, not the political ones stomping and chomping their ways across an otherwise wonderfully gentle planet, the real animals.

The irony of calling the extinction of the dinosaurs a glitch in the history of the Earth is that it is true. In terms of cosmic events, a rock hitting a planet and wiping out a bunch of life forms is clearly not newsworthy.

A series of recent scientific discoveries further supports calling the passing on of T. Rex and its siblings and cousins a glitch. They are not really extinct after all, say scientists who have found that birds, from the chattering sparrow to the majestic golden eagle, are descendents of the dinosaurs.

Nature found a way for dinos to survive, and nature will find a way, through humans, to make Obamacare websites survive as less threatening, more domesticated byte creatures.

The whole thing is also a story of taxonomy, but in the creationist theme park world, people would think that taxonomy is an economy run by the tax collectors.

Astrophysics for Dummies

There is an eBook of that name, of course, dummy.

But we wouldn't be who we are if this eBook was the subject of the post. Another Discovery Channel science show on the universe triggered an insight worthy of the university researchers described in one long, megalomanical sentence in one of Douglas Adams' books.

Painstakingly working out the glaringly obvious, the principle according to Adams and according to our own Random Research (RR) team, our team arrived at the definitive conclusion on the creation stories of the great religious texts.

The creation stories in these texts are nothing but the earliest known version of Astrophysics for Dummies. They sound like smart daddy explaining the universe to a toddler. Or the stranded visitor explaining the mystery of the stars to some nice but not very scientifically trained, more or less naked mammals. The big religious books have the Big Bang and the theory of a universe that eventually contracts again and starts over. And lots more.

They may not be totally right, although the Big Bang holds for the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. Since great minds think alike, we happily point to the Wikipedia quote of nuclear bomb maker Robert Oppenheimer about his work and the Gita.

The RR team is driven by a need to make sense of the world, and every time they belatedly find something obvious, there is much song and dance around the office.

It's perfect because you can easily verify our theories for yourself. Look at any recent "what's up with the universe" documentary, and grab the creation stories of the bible and the gita from the internet.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Today's special: Poisoned freedom and winter coats under 100 Euros

"Poisoned freedom" is the headline [our translation] of a guest article in today's German daily FAZ online by Deutsche Telekom chief Mr. Olbermann on the surveillance debate.

His idea of keeping data that don't need to leave Europe in Europe may fuel the "balkanization of the internet debate". Of course, the reader comments on the short article run the gamut from derision to courageous idea, and we suggest you pick whichever makes you feel best.

To us, the admittedly somewhat naive folks at the K-Landnews, the whole surveillance debate has found its resolution with the revelation that someone taps right into the internal cables of Google and Yahoo.

Hilarious, said TheEditor.

With this complex debate finally over, we can focus on what is truly important right now, and according to our favorite Bild Zeitung that is the "Statement Mantel". "Mantel" is German for coat. Statement is German for statement.

Next to the horrific taifun in the Philippines and some white ladies definitely not dressed for a Northern European winter, the paper touts "10 statement coats under 100 Euros", and we followed the link only to find that, for once, a Bild statement is simply correct, not a teaser, not loaded, but a plain statement of fact.

Out of the ten winter coats, all ten are under 100 Euros.

Five of them are 99 Euros.

Clearly, by a wide margin of 99 Euro cents, under 100 Euros.

And the lady shown in the Bild photo wearing a "statement coat" is Olivia Pope, the feisty, hyper smart star of U.S. TV show "Scandal". 

The very Hollywood savvy inhouse TV critic of the K-Landnews, herself a lady,  would not be drawn into a statement about Ms. Pope's fashion statements but did say this about the character: She sure cries a lot for someone in her role.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cooking with Python: homemade alphabet soup

Do something useful! said the teacher in the old days.

A huge number of book titles for books about programming or software include the word "Cookbook". You need a book to learn Microsoft Excel (tm)? Search for Excel Cookbook. A book about Java (tm)? Search for Java Cookbook.

The wide use of Cookbook has two interesting aspects. One, it becomes so much harder to find a good cookbook that deals with preparing food. Two, just like with food cookbooks, you cannot be quite sure that the recipes work. Some programming manuals are like that food cookbook that makes you go out and buy a KitchenAid mixer, steadfastly refusing any other brand or some "deprecated" manual work using knives, spoons, cups and cutting boards.

We try to read a few of the large German online media sites every day and remembered an ancient school project for which we needed to compare the headlines from several newspapers for a week or so and say something intelligent about the differences observed.

Hey, this is the 21st century, why not go and grab headlines without lifting papers. So, we wrote a short Python program that goes and gets us the headlines of Der Spiegel online. Do the same for several others, perform a bit of analysis, and you are golden.

The tools our recipe uses: Python, BeautifulSoup 4.3.2, the requests library by Kenneth R. The Requests library is not an absolute requirement but we wanted to tell the visited website that we are Firefox and prove we like a great external library. BeautifulSoup is kind of necessary because otherwise you'll have to handle "broken" webpages yourself, which is not fun. A "broken webpage" is not to be confused with kaput. In general, it means that some tag or formatting is not good, thus causing an error. A bit like forgetting a full stop at the end of a sentence, it usually does not make a page unreadable but causes more effort to figure things out.

If you have done programming before, you won't be surprised that setting up these components took more time than writing our Spiegel visitor. In our case BeautifulSoup was the tricky one. They are not kidding on the documentation page when they warn you that it was written for Python 2 and there may be some issues.

Now, a few hours later, we run our program against the Spiegel site and get a list of headlines like this:

Öffnung in Richtung Linkspartei: Die Kehrtwende der SPD

Extremwetter-Index 2014: Die Hochrisikozonen der Erde

Sturmkatastrophe auf den Philippinen: Rebellen überfallen Hilfskonvoi

Transplantationen: Zahl der Organspender sinkt dramatisch

Bewertungssystem: Yahoo-Chefin Mayer knöpft sich "Minderleister" vor

....and so on.

Here is the code, and be grateful -- no more paper cuts:
# import the requests library by Kenneth R.,
# see
# import BeautifulSoup v. 4

import requests
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

# just wait a little, make us enter s + ENTER to start
while True:
        print ('To start type s')
        n = input("?: ")
        if n == 's':

# change these two headers to give us a user-agent not
# announced as Python. mask the ip as localhost or use whatever
headers = {'user-agent': 'Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.2; \
           WOW64; rv:25.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/25.0',
           'x-forwarded-for': ''}

# go visit Der Spiegel Online
r = requests.get('', headers=headers)
print (r.status_code)
# print our outgoing request headers to see if  we still like them
print (r.request.headers)
print ("do something useful")

# grab the web page and close the request
soup = BeautifulSoup(r.text)

# get article headlines, they have them as a class 'article-title''h2[class^="article-title"]')

for links in heads:
  # go down in the h2 snippet to get the attributes 'title' and 'href'
    # ignore the href, just get the title
    print (attributes.get('title'))
    print ()

Sloppy IT security at NATO?

A man named Mr. K. is currently on trial in Germany accused of espionage and theft of government property.

He was a long time IT worker at the American air base in Ramstein, Germany, and was arrested earlier this year for taking classified documents.

Only now, during the trial, are we getting a fuller picture worth looking at. Mr. K. did not attempt to sell the documents he removed, he did not make a big effort to hide his tracks.

And, from the news reports, he had a long track record of complaining within the organization about sloppy security in "NATO IT". Details of what he took are sparse, reports mention only a few Excel spreadsheets that "should have been classified".

The defense team told the press that an expert had, in a session closed to the public, criticized IT security as "sloppy".

It is that characterization that made us consider a blog post.

As the great Winston Churchill said: "Behind every small time spy is a big time sloppy organization".

Of course, Sir Winston never said this, but the number of fake and merrily repeated Churchill quotes is so great that one more is fine.

We are, well, just a bit sloppy in the attribution.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Plastic bags per shopper per year [image]

The European Union is debating another proposal to reduce the number of single use plastic shopping bags in the EU. As usual, making consumers pay for the bags is the big suggestion.

Investigating the use of standard plastic bags, we were a bit surprised to find that the EU is not really talking about the common American type plastic bag. The bags you get at convenience stores or when you answer the question "paper or plastic" with "plastic".

These bags are already pretty much extinct in the major EU economies, though we did get quite a few in the UK.
The major class of plastic bags now under discussion is the small in-store veggie and fruit bags you use for the loose fruit and vegetables you get in the fresh produce section.
According to media reports, these small transparent bags often end up in the environment as pollutants.

Not with yours truly, we find them very handy for re-use around the house, and once they are all torn up or dirty, they go into the bin. Not that we would mind paper bags in the produce section. The hold-up on these? Hard to say, but since most stores weigh fresh produce at the checkout, the retailers may well prefer transparent plastic bags because the cashier does not have to open them to check the content.

Even though the U.S. has not been a trailblazer in reducing plastic shopping bags, they have been good at illustrating the issue. We loved the plastic man in the photo below. Yes, there is a fully grown man under these bags.
(c) 2013 under

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Inadvertent hoarders

After several years of the A&E documentary "Hoarders", we won't go into the many reasons and intricacies of this behavior.

Suffice it to say, seeing it is weird. From a front porch in Chicago, Ill., we had the perfect view of the hoarder family across the street. They had one house they and the dog lived in, another house next door that was full of shelves, even in front of the windows. And they had two vans parked on the street in addition to their cars. The vans were full of stuff too, mobile shelf space.

If A&E ever runs out of hoarders, may we suggest an even better subject: inadvertent hoarders.

Inadvertent hoarders are people who donate storage space for a supposedly limited time to friends, family, neighbors, only to find that nobody ever shows up to retrieve their stuff.

You can see the appeal of a series on this. As a producer, you are not limited to at max a small family shoving objects into every nook and cranny of their house or apartment. With the inadvertent hoarders you get a whole other set of protagonists to track down and interview! It can inject a bit of "History Detectives" or "Antiques Roadshow" into a format that some have seen as tired after the first handful of episodes.

Plus, it can be done better internationally. American style full time hoarders are, we claim without too much data, pretty rare in most countries. On the other hand, the kids who move out or the friend who puts some boxes into your attic or basement are something many people can relate to.

Those accepting the gear are in the great majority not plagued by some brain chemistry issues, they are people like you or me, helpful folks.

Time to go an pick up that big orphaned Toshiba laptop from ca. 1989. Will it work?  

The Sopranos go to Lillehammer

A Netflix gem caught our eye.

"Lilyhammer" may never find the worldwide audience of, for example, the boring German TV murder mystery series "Derrick". But then it is also unlikely we will get any bad surprises of the caliber of "Derrick", whose star turned out to have been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS.

So, Netflix peeps, get Lilyhammer out! BBC4 is fine but the rest of the world is waiting.

Isn't Lillehammer, Norway, going to host the Winter Olympics again soon?  What are you waiting for?

The story premise of a mobster from New York going to Lillehammer is witness protection at its finest, and the Norwegian creators and actors prove that judicious sub-titles can go a long way.

Steven van Zandt brings his Soprano sensibility to the country on the northern edge of Europe and - spoiler alert - even does a Sinatra impression in one show of the first season.

Given that it is extremely easy to utterly mess up the "shady stranger arrives in a small town in a foreign country" baseline, Lilyhammer is remarkable. Of course, there are broad brush moments and there is slapstick but there is an understanding between the audience and the makers and actors. The kind of understanding you can feel when a grandmother is telling a story to a bunch of children, all of them sitting in a cabin around a fire on a dark, snowy winter night.

If you still need an incentive to watch Lilyhammer,  there is an early scene showing recent immigrant Giovanni Henriksen and two Norwegian buddies hunting down a wolf that mauled the pet sheep of a boy. Stumbling about the dark forest, gesturing, listening intently, they track down the wolf.

Then the camera shifts downward from the face of one protagonist to reveal the radio tracking device in his hands.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Promises and presents, big and small

It's been going on for weeks, the freelance songwriter of the K-Landnews unflinchingly wanders around the big building humming " 'tis the season to spend money, da da da da daaah".

Last week, for good measure or to annoy us, the artist added " 'tis the season to be folly, hm hm hm hm hmm". 

At least, we have not had to endure a full on Albert Camus version of the Christmas song, as we had feared when the media celebrated the 100th birthday of the chain-smoking French philosopher.

As the season of shopping heats up, National Public Radio (NPR) had a cool show on the psychology of big and small presents. Scientists looked the size and the sequence of presents and found recipients feel better if you give a small gift first and then a larger one. If you get a big present and then a smaller one, you tend to value them less.

The K-Landnews team feels vindicated in its common sense observation of life and emboldened to claim the phenomenon applies to politics and promises as well.

We started to test the "big and small" theory at Halloween. Instead of buying pounds and pounds of bit size treats, we got a case of standard size chocolate bars (100 g, about 3.5 oz).

Correctly accounting for sweets is hard, as any parent knows.  But we figured out that we spent the same amount of money as we did in previous years.

And the trick or treaters were happier with a single big chocolate bar than with the bite size candies.

The kids' eyes were bigger, their thank you more sincere.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Deutsche Mark accepted here, really

Ever since the currency name "Euro" was first coined, people have had their opinions on both the name and the value of the currency. The name was accepted much more easily than the currency itself and what it stood for.

In a nutshell, to some it stood for progress, to others it represented an artificial construct imposed on nations that had, thank you very much, a perfectly good currency. Or, in the case of Germany's Deutsche Mark (DM), a perfectly superior currency, as many will say to these days.

In accounting, the Euro was introduced in 1999, the coins and banknotes were introduced on 1 January 2002.

This meant, there was no more Deutsche Mark, right?


If you work in the financial sector, you will say sure, there are all sorts of contracts and instruments in DM that ran beyond 2002, no big deal.

But that's not it.

The current Wikipedia entry "Euro" (in German) has some more information: you can go to the German Fed today and exchange DM into Euros, and every now and then German retailers will have a "pay using DM" special.

That's a lot closer but still not the whole story.

Some shops have never stopped accepting DM, not for a minute. We encountered one in 2005. The owner had simply added a "DM accepted here" sign next to the "dollars and yens accepted" sign. The "DM accepted here" sign was bigger.

Even the German government has its very official use of DM.

A decade after the Deutsche Mark ceased to exist for most people, certainly for currency traders and international trade, the German government still sends out tax assessments that prominently figure values labeled as "DM".

Property value assessment in, say, 2010 would have lots of line items in DM. This will likely be true in 2020, too, be patient and check.

Only towards the end of the assessment are the DM converted to Euros, removing any doubt as to what currency to make future payments in.

Next time, you or someone else laments the demise of the Deutsche Mark, you can gently remind yourself or them that the DM is not gone quite yet.

Should we update the Wikipedia article now, or should be hedge our bets and our DM?

In 80 minutes around the world

From an insightful report on the ecology of the North Pacific. the walruses and the scientists who study them, on to a news broadcast of Japanese NHK World, with a stop in Mumbai, India, ending with Radio Slovakia out of Bratislava.

Just another day in the living room.

Make the best out of the Internet while you still can.

The spruce tree on the border to the neighbor is down and gone. During the big storms, we'd check the tall tree for any sign of impending doom because it was fairly close to the power line.

We had half expected the landscapers to hand us a multi-page form, densely printed, quizzing us for the reason why we wanted to take down the tree, but nothing happened.

Once cut, we went to check the tree's age. Our guess of twenty five years proved off by five years, according to the tree rings it was twenty years old.

There is room for a fruit tree.

Cherries don't do well at your elevation, said the tree nursery staff.

We could go all climate change on it?

Let's get an old apple tree variety, one of those that the European Union will ban because they don't fit with the one size fits all philosophy of officials who have not grown anything in their lives, except maybe a beard.

Apple it is.

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog. We'll have to write about where we fit into in the vast ocean of words that is blogging. About specialist blogs, personal blogs, and so forth.

Later, we are still coming back from the trip around the world in 80 minutes.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Classic train station interior view [image]

Classic train stations, buildings that have survived since the late 1800s, are outright fascinating.  Unlike the functional concrete shells of the period from the 1950s to today that generally offer no shelter to speak of, the old stations have have lots of space and marvelous decorations. While they are a headache to today's maintenance folks, they have become much cleaner places since the decline of steam engines, though, to be fair,  the thick black smoke of diesel locomotives in some countries do not seem to be better.

But who would not enjoy a coffee under this roof?
(c) 2013 under

German churches empty in 240 years!

The storm in the holy water basin, otherwise known as the scandal of the "Bling Bishop" in the city of Limburg, Germany, has generated another set of headlines in the media.

There is a spike in the number of Germans leaving the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.

The estimated cost of 40 million Euros for the new residence of the bishop does not sit well with many Germans and with the new Pope, but if you look at the numbers of Christians leaving the church, the quoted 50 to 60 percent increase is tiny.

Since 1990, each year an estimated 100 000 protestants (a few more for the Catholics) have been quitting the church. At a current protestant church membership of around 24 million, this rate would mean German protestant churches will be empty in 240 years, right?

We know that the underlying assumption that not a single new church member will grow up in Germany in the next 240 years is a bit optimistic.

So, long story short, yes, a few hundred more people have left the official churches after the bling ring story broke but it takes a lot more to drive large numbers of Germans out of the institutions.

The need of humans to believe in some higher power coupled with the prospect of not being buried by a pastor or reverend if you stop paying the membership fees will keep the church institutions going.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One year of K-Landnews

With just two days left before we mark the first year of the K-Landnews, we do the traditional and the easy thing: provide insights on the ups and downs, the boring and the surprises, followed by an optimistic statement about the future of the blog.

We have shamelessly exploited the cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany, for example, in our second ever post "What Ice Cream Truck". The friend who unwittingly ran into the mishap is no longer among us. If you read the post and smile, dedicate the smile to Jimbo.

Our third post "How to win over airline ticketing folks" became an instant hit, spoiling us by raising our expectations as to the popularity of the blog.

Not to worry, a day or two later, we were back to the slow, very slow, growth in page views. The quirky post "Open left eye, squint - open right" enjoyed substantial popularity, and we can only guess why.

We bitched about Facebook and the "real identity" requirements, made fun of Hewlett Packard and their overpriced printer ink, and more.

Fellow web users were as irked as we were about big companies messing with their customers, but hardly a soul was interested in a post with this, we believed, attention getting title: Free Smoking Paraphernalia for Kids for Christmas

Critics could argue, well, if you knew your audience, you'd do better. An audience of maybe five at the time?

Plus, we are not nosy, we leave you be. We invite you to drop us an email, but it is up to you.

Many people have done so, actually, and almost all were Facebook users desperately looking for help after being ignored or brushed off by the FBook. So, you're welcome Mr. Z.

The future of the K-Landnews?

We will continue to be eclectic, not too predictable. Which tends to be bad for business as measured in ads clicked. And that is fine.

We will continue to write and rant, to laugh and to weep, all the while hoping that a few reasonable and kind readers will warn us if and when we jump the shark.

No reports in English language online media

This has been the most frequent closing line, in German of course, of the Zeit Online media blog about the Munich, Germany, trial of the surviving neo-Nazi group accused of multiple murders in the span of seven years from 2000 to 2007.

We have been following the blog and decided to provide a brief summary of today's blog of day 51 of the trial because it highlights the plight of the victims' families.

Remember, the victims were immigrants, and the press articles quoted in the Zeit blog describe in disturbing detail how the police ignored the families questions about potential neo-Nazi roots of the murders. An author in Spiegel online is quoted as asking "can this be anything other than an unquestioned, all out suspicion of non-Germans" [our translation].

One widow explained at length how the police searched her apartment using drug dogs. No drugs were found but the rumor mill began to swirl. The victim's daughter recounted how people in the street would describe her as the daughter of the man who had sold drugs to teenagers.

Just days ago, an expert witness said that the official statement of the two main suspects in the murder series having committed suicide did not hold up to the facts because of the large number of bullet casings found in the burnt out RV where the two were found.

Big ideas, small rewards?

From our Found Objects series.

This is the final installment about last century's approach to motivation as expressed in posters around the office.

The use of the peanuts motif in this poster could be exploited by cynics, yes, peanuts, that's all you get. The image context does not support the cynical take, especially since the elephant is neither pink nor white.

A common thread in all three posters we have shown in "M-oh-tivation", "Big ideas can hurt", and this post is humor, fun.

It is well established that happy employees share suggestions more easily than their downtrodden counterparts.

Summing it up, motivational posters, be they drawings or photos, should not be "too busy", not cluttered and convey optimism, even if they are tongue in cheek.

An easy example of how not to do it? 

Salvador Dali’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

You now have the basic tools to go and start a career in employee motivation.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Big ideas can hurt

From our Found Objects series.

This is another example of last century's approach to motivation. Take comfort in knowing that your sense of "my head hurts from all the thinking I've been doing" has found a somewhat more plausible expression in this example of a motivational poster.

We do not know if this poster was meant to be placed in an industrial kitchen or if we are seeing a more general target audience. We do know that, while you may not want to be the cook, you really do not want to be the lobster.

Bruce Cockburn, "A small source of comfort"

The other day, the hill country folks of the K-Landnews piled into the clown car and headed down into the valleys, a trip always causing a little bit of claustrophobia because it is quite narrow down there.

The reason for the trip was Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn doing a gig at a small club in the valley. The towns down there are squeezed into small spaces between the rivers and the rocks, spaces so small they are barely larger than, say, your average Texas beach blanket.

Ever grateful for GPS guidance, we knew we were getting close to our destination because, a) the GPS lady with a mellow British accent told us so and b) because every parking space had a sign saying this was no venue parking, cars would be towed.

The club, well, calling it intimate is an understatement, given that it is maybe three times the size of our living room up on the high planes plus an extra restaurant kitchen.

In short, it was the perfect venue.

Soon afterwards, Bruce joined his two guitars on the small stage, a sturdy green one for the measured beats and a twelve string for the really light touch poetic songs.

And off we went with the music, to the mountains of Afghanistan, to the stolen land, to inner city America. After Wondering where the lions are, we found our way back into the small out of the way club as the lights came back on.

We hung around for a while as Bruce Cockburn signed CDs and a couple of guitars people had brought to the show.

Soon, we were heading back up into the mountains, passing long lines of trucks, many of them with the amber flashing lights signaling "extra wide load", like odd fireflies on an invisible string from afar.   

Can fireflies even get angry?

The car's outside temperature display kept inching downward closer to 0 C as we climbed, making our way into the hills where you will always be a stranger, even if you were born an raised some 50 or 100 miles away.

Monday, November 4, 2013

M-oh-tivation [science content]

From our Found Objects series.

There was a time when motivating employees was as easy as putting up a poster and waiting for the results to roll in!

For the younger audience members, 'employees' were people on the payroll of the company or agency. A little like you contractors, but with rights.

Anyways, judging by the motivation strategies, employees were nice folks, not the disbelieving bunch of modern workers who react only to cynical, glossy large posters.

The wholesome employee of like a century ago would see such a poster and talk through his or her improvement ideas at the dinner table with the whole family before submitting them to a caring manager the next day.

Illustrating the arguments of the post is this small scale scan of a poster by the Morton company (c), from some time in the last century.

The 1 billion Euro art chache

The media are buzzing with news about the cache of some 1500 works of art discovered by police in Munich, Germany.

For reports of the story, here are two links, one to The Independent for English, another to Focus for a German account.

Our initial reaction was Whiskey Foxtrot Tango?

Our second reaction was, Munich, no surprise there, given history.

Beyond these, we are having many questions. The find was made in the spring of 2011, so what happened in those more than two years?

If, as everybody claims, time is of the essence in making things right, why do two and a half years pass before we hear of the find?

The reports say an expert is working through the cache. Does this mean one person, a single individual?

How did this big cache stay hidden since the end of World War II? Sure, the man was living under the radar of the authorities, they say. But in a big house in Munich? Someone at least paid property taxes on the building, and - trust us - the German authorities do not joke when it comes to that.

There have been complaints for decades about the glacial pace of returning property to victims of the Nazi era, and the 1500 art works could be said to fit that narrative. On the other hand, when a country comes crashing down the way Germany did, the confusion is probably inconceivable to us post war to millennial babies.

The happy 'better late than never' might mask unease, or it might indicate something less encouraging.

Our simplistic view of the world would call for putting each and every single item up on a web page. Yes, you'd receive a flood of responses. No, you have no right to complain.

Sadly, we are not optimistic and feel that many of the works will end up back in possession of the old man.

[Update  5 Nov.] German media are now starting to ask questions. Well, well.

[Update 12 Nov.] The first 25 artworks are on the web, and there now is a taskforce investigating the provenance. That didn't hurt one bit, now, did it?

Testing a 32-core Hewlett Packard clothing iron

German magazine Spiegel online has a whole page on a purported attack of Chinese made clothing irons that infect WLAN networks with viruses.

It is an interesting piece of journalism because it is a straight faced article despite the fact that the plot would not even be credible in a B movie.

The article inspired the K-Landnews Random Research team to perform a similar yet different test. Can our computing hardware do a good job as a clothing iron?

To anyone who has ever set foot into a server room, the question is painfully obvious. You have these nice, flat irons that get quite warm, even hot, and we go to great lengths to keep them cool.

The first thing you notice when you do a Google image search for blade servers is that the vast majority were not designed with ironing clothes in mind.

They tend to have sharp edges and the top is generally not as uniformly flat as ironing a delicate 200 dollar short demands. The Dell blades we saw have wavy embossed style tops, as if a good looking blade top made any difference in the buying process or once the iron is placed into the rack with a hundred or a thousand identical siblings.

Not surprisingly, IBM produces the most utilitarian blades, all macho edges and a 'shucks, nobody cares about beauty on the inside anyway' design philosophy.

Luckily for us, the Random Research team found a Hewlett Packard blade that passed the basic requirement of 'at least one flat surface'.  The find is an unexpected redemption of HP in our eyes because we have felt cheated by HP's evil 'regional settings' on their ink cartridges. Never buy an HP ink cartridge printer, they make you bleed through the nose in yellow, cyan, and black for the cartridges.

But that was yesterday, today is the day of the 32-core clothing iron proudly made by HP.

For the impatient readers: it works.

Here is how we tested the iron.

We plugged in the ProLiant family iron, fired it up and tested the temperature using the old clothing iron method. Touch the surface very briefly with the tip of a finger.

After about three hours, the iron had reached a comfortable temperature for permanent press fabric.

The ironing board had been set up during the warm up period, and an older shirt that we would not miss if things went wrong was draped on the board.

As we picked up the HP iron we started a timer.

The big difference between a dumb clothing iron, i.e. the kind generations of us are used to, and the smart iron from the server rack is, of course, their difference in size.

Dumb irons can be operated with one hand, while you maneuver the shirt with the other hand. The HP smart iron needs two hands to move in a coordinated fashion.

We used a light ProLiant BL6x iron for the permanent press shirt, although HP also offers heavier irons suitable for heavy industrial fabric.

Once the back, the largest surface of the shirt, was done, we had to set down the iron and rearrange the shirt to get at the arms and the collar. This worked well after a bit of getting used to.

When done, we hit the timer and found that using an HP ProLiant iron is as fast as a regular dumb clothing iron. It's the surface, of course. The ProLiant has a usable surface about three times as big as grandma's dumb iron, which more than makes up for having to set it down and rearrange the shirt.

Our only criticism of the HP design is the absence of a handle that would allow single handed use. It is no big deal because none of their competitors has such a handle either.

So, here is our suggestion to all blade server manufacturers: Think of the other use as a clothing iron, and you might actually create an aftermarket for your gear. Once it gets to slow for computing, it could have a second life in ironing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tomi Ungerer: expect the unexpected

Discovering Tomi Ungerer: expect the unexpected.

After this Village Voice cover, read the biography of Tomi Ungerer for his first 20 years and get a sense of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Then watch the documentary about his life, Far out is not far enough. Make sure to not miss the part where his mother explains to a German officer why speaking French in Nazi occupied Alsace is a good idea. Hint: Mr. Ungerer's mother was one bright courageous lady.

The Village Voice poster that made "expect the unexpected" famous is but a tiny part of his work.

We were surprised to find that Tomi Ungerer was America's most prolific and hugely popular author of children's books in the 1960's. While drawing and writing children's books, he does "The Underground Sketchbook" and introduces the world to a minimalist, funny to gross style you should best explore yourself in your favorite web search engine's image search.

Make sure to turn off the family filter for this.

When his multiple tracks of work became widely known, his career as a children's book author was over, he left New York for Canada.

If your travel takes you to the French city of Strasbourg, a visit to the Tomi Ungerer museum is a good idea.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Are 24% of Germans too fearful?

We have had our share of fun with all the surveillance stories since June 2013, so for a simple, more balanced view, the brief post "Our cozy surveillance state" from April 2013 is better because it is from well before the frenzy of the second half of 2013.

The big story in today's German news is that 76% of Germans do not feel personally threatened by the NSA.

The unanswered question to us is do the remaining 24% feel personally threatened, and if so, why?

While there is anecdotal evidence of travelers having to turn around and fly home or being asked lots of highly private questions on entering a country, it is just that: anecdotal. It can happen when you go the the U.S., it can happen when you go to Europe, and on and on. 

Then there is the question "What if anything you know is wrong?", asked for good reason by J. Schindler. His German, by the way, is probably better than ours.

We'll try to think a bit more about those 24%, and in the meantime, we end this post with the only quote we remember from the TV show Breaking Bad: it's complicated.

How privatized is government?

This is a question certain to get a vivid reaction from anybody you ask. It might cost you a friend or two, either by making you look like a wing nut in their eyes or by unsettling them so much that they prefer to get out of your life for good.

Asking this question in a blog post has been a subject of debate around here at the K-Landnews. Being much more cautious than the wording of many of our posts might suggest, we  put the idea into our "maybe box" while collecting more evidence supporting the claim that really any government is much more privatized than we generally think.

The K-Landnews folks like external validation as much as most people, and this time we took our cue from a piece by famously chain-smoking former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in Zeit Online (in German) on intelligence services, the title is Never trust intelligence services. In his long political career from the 1950s to the 1980s, Schmidt was in charge of a state domestic intelligence service, the German military intelligence service, and as a chancellor ultimately responsible for the foreign intelligence service BND (their mini-NSA).

He says he never read BND reports when he ran the government because, among other aspects, the reports were "highly colored by political allegiance".

This statement is our external validation.

Public discourse widely accepts that the major policy makers have an agenda. They are expected to have one, be they the president of the U.S., the opposition leader, the heads of foreign governments.

Of course, everybody is entitled to an opinion, but government workers are generally not supposed to act on their personal agenda in the course of work. The point is, there is a lot of "privatized governing" going on.

The German cop who stops every single kid on a moped around here to verify the technical condition of the moped has the legal authority to do this but why does he use his authority to the fullest while his precinct fellows do not?

He started this after he lost a teenage daughter in a moped accident.

Or take the mid-level official in a procurement job, who said "as long as I have anything to say around here, Company A will not land any contract with us". The man made good on his vow.

You could very likely add numerous examples from your own interaction with officials.

The hard limits of "privatized government" are generally set around corruption and possibly discrimination. As to the rest, that's what makes life interesting.

Do we have any recommendations? Former Chancellor Schmidt's conclusion might be the most practical one: relax.

Friday, November 1, 2013

New corporate branding opportunities

Do you have the slightest idea what Dysprosium is?

A dystopian professional symposium? Something similarly weird?

Dysprosium is a chemical element you have probably never heard of. No worries, neither had we. According to Wikipedia, the stuff is actually used in laser materials and commercial lighting, go figure.

As blogsters, we are not interested in material things, and in terms of knowledge of chemistry, we are, well, a couple of electrons short of an atom.

Our Random Research team, by the way the best random research team money can buy, was checking out the periodic table of elements, when we noticed Dysprosium  and it hit us.

Just like naming rights to stadiums and venues, corporations should be able to buy naming rights to chemical elements. Why let some scientist decide on a name? All you get are weird ones, like Dysprosium, Praseodymium, or Ununpentium.

Didn't someone try to copyright or trademark the number 0? They can do better.

The corporate world has done such immense good, why not grant them the privilege to buy naming rights, starting with rights to the weirdest elements first, and then slowly progressing to the nicer names, like silver, gold, or oxygen?

Take Ununpentium, a temporary name anyway according to Wikipedia. How about asking chip manufacturer Intel Corp. for a bid? They wouldn't have to be in the least bit creative, they could keep the "pentium" and just add Intel, as in Intelpentium.

Dysprosium might be a tougher sell, why not ask the Walt Disney company if they would want it, although we suspect they'd rather wait until "Gold" or "Silver" come up for sale.

So many business opportunities, so little time.

Incidentally, Dysprosium comes from the Greek word for "hard to get" because it took the researcher umpteenium attempts to isolate the element.

If you want your knowledge to shine at the upcoming company Christmas Party, you know, when you discuss the chances of giving Emma from Accounting a ride at the end of the night, you could wink and say "Dysprosium" to express that Emma is a bit hard to get. Of course, the opposite holds true, too -- a wink and "definitely not Dysprosium" may very well be your ticket to ride.

If any of you corporate branders actually land a chemical element name, some recognition to the blogster in the form of real silver or gold will be very much appreciated.

All Saints Day [image]

(c) 2013 under

All Saints Day at the cemetery

Pagan Halloween is over, the decorations will soon be packed up for next year.

The Christians around here are in remembrance mode, it is a somber affair, and the Catholics will go visit the graves of dead relatives. The graves at the local cemetery have undergone a Fall makeover in the past two weeks, weeds have been removed, fresh flowers have been planted, and small red lights dot the night scene at the cemetery.

These days, the lights are plastic, "faux candle" battery powered, made in China, and last unattended for two weeks - in stark contrast to the old lanterns with small wax candles that had to be replaced daily.

We are told that many people around here still drive from small town to small town in these hills, from cemetery to cemetery to pay their respects.

The weather in these northern regions in late October and early November, often bone chilling fog or drizzle, tends to make this religious holiday even more somber.

So, where are your graves?

One of the K-Landnews folks made an ad-hoc list. It included several states on the U.S. East Coast and in the West, including a couple of national cemeteries. Then there are those in other countries, with Libya standing out as an indication of strange twists of fate.

And that's not even a long list by American standards.

Personally, we prefer to stick with Halloween or some of the more colorful imagery of the Mexian dia de los muertos. We feel, we don't need a specific day of the year to remember those who were here before us.