Saturday, June 28, 2014

The German internet: a huge desert with a handful of oases?

Indication 1: This post comes in English. Okay, just kidding on this one, the rest of the post is serious.

The Language
Of all the aspects we sometimes see as frustrating on the German internet (to be exact, the German part of the web), there is a single natural one, intrinsic, and really quite helpful to users: it is in German! A substantial part is bi-lingual, with English the main language besides German.
That's nice.
What is not so nice is the conspicuous absence of the language of Germany's largest minority, Turkish.
Learn German!
Not that easy a language, and we are not saying every government site should come in Turkish. In fact, the time when sites in Turkish would have helped most is in the past, the children and grandchildren are doing whatever translation work is needed for the family.
Immigrants help each other out, a fact some Germans find creepy and suspicious. Earlier this year, a government minister [!] said something along the lines "they do not speak German but show up at government offices with forms filled out in flawless German, this is strange".
Helping others can make both the helper and the helpee appear very suspect. 
Which makes eGovernment perfect: the officials at the other end won't know what you look like and how wonderful your German is. Well, at least until you get there in person.

A sometimes painful or disastrous aspect of German-on-German webbing is that older, or less educated natives get bamboozled and ripped off on the web by fellow natives. Plus the Nigerian spammers, too, as does the rest of the world.

Searching the web in German
A language in which Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe is not the longest word you can find, presents web search challenges. Other languages come with their own, they are not the subject here. 
German government web sites may give the impression that the authors are paid by the length of the words and/or that of the sentences.

Entering German into a web form
The worst days are behind us on this one. The Umlauts (like ä, ü) are mostly fine, the funny s (ß) kind of, too. However, when I talk to people and they praise German efficiency, I dig out the funny s just in case. If they still wax after a half hour, I'll say something like, sure, can we change the subject, please, maybe they can ditch the funny s, and then we talk some more about efficiency.
Today, the main problem is that the input fields are too small and do not accommodate the necessary number of letters.

Legal Landmines
Our single most effective bullshit detector for clueless politicians is their use of phrases such as "the internet is lawless", "the law does not reach the web".

Even before you connect to the web for the first time, the allegedly powerless law has made you part with money. Money to be given to royalty enforcers.

The smart phone, the latop, the tablet, the printer, the copier, the usb stick, the memory card, the blank DVDs etc., all come with a "content" royalty fee in Germany.

Since 2013, Germans have the privilege of paying a "license fee" for public broadcasting even if they do not own a single device capable of receiving these "services". The sad excuse of "internet offerings" of German public broadcasters makes it so that any computer was considered a "novel broadcast device" before 2013, automatically making you liable for a monthly fee of about 5 Euros. 
The stranglehold of the content enforcers is also responsible for the odd fact that broadcasters are forced to delete their own internet streaming or podcast offerings after a few weeks. There are discussions about extending this ridiculously short period of time...

Liability for an internet connection
It comes over a phone line, so treat it like a telephone. This condensed version of legal scholarship has proven to be a bitch for German users. Anything anybody does over your connection was your liability, fault or no fault, device or no device.

Yes, no device. An old lady was sentenced for copyright violation despite not having had a working connection, she merely paid for one, and she could prove to the court that there was no way she could have done it. A higher court overturned the decision not because they had to but probably because even the land of Kafka's language has its limits.

Recently, courts have started to give parents a bit of slack for the misdeeds of their kids or the friends of the kids. Still, you can be had.

Cease and desist letters
It is a huge business in Germany. You can receive a letter at any time claiming copyright infringement and demanding a cease and desist statement plus a fee for the item and cost of the lawyer. This got so out of hand that even the conservative German government of the time felt a need to cap the amount rights holders could ask for simple infringements.
Yet, it is a great model, as demonstrated in recent months in the "redtube" porn scandal. A court in the city of Cologne ordered Deutsche Telekom to give a plaintiff the addresses of thousands of customers who then received a claim.
The court was left red faced when it turned out that the claimants did not own the rights, that the software allegedly used to discover violations did not do the job, and so on.
Customers who paid the money are left high and dry, and while the courts said sorry, they are not liable for damages.

Another favorite target of the cease and desist trolls is the German equivalent to the "about us" section not only of professional web sites but also of simple pages "of a professional nature". Contact information is required and specified in fairly great detail.
Minor mistake or oversight: trolls at our mail box.

The crappiest single required disclaimer on a German site is the link warning. You must tell the world that links to other sites to not represent an endorsement. If you fail to do this, you can get into more trouble than you might expect.

If you publish anything on the net as an individual
Traps beside the above await you if you write for a blog, if you give any kind of advice or product review, or if you vent anger.
A few examples which made headlines in recent months:

Santander Bank went after a blogger for damage to reputation because the man was upset that his kid was to wear a Santander logo T-shirt as part of a charity deal with the son's school.

A customer who bought a self-assemble fly screen on Amazon put up a review saying that the assembly instructions were not right. He also said the processing was prompt and fast, the price reasonable. The company sued for the instructions bit.

If you give advice to a specific question, for instance, "when will this claim expire?", an answer as innocent as "this claim will not be legally enforceable after July 1st" you may be pursued for illegally providing legal assistance.

These examples are just German reactions. With your tweets and posts visible to several billion people, you may be fine at home but find yourself turned away by immigration at your vacation destination.

Let's talk website content
This section does not discuss online shopping sites but "information only" sites. There are plenty of great German online shopping sites but they are not very relevant to the "desert oasis" issue.

We do not have figures about the percentage of "ad farm" sites in German. The feeling that there is a disproportionate number of them may be wrong - or spot on.
Maybe they are simply better at search engine optimization?
We have the impression that much of the German web is a corporate driven "me too" web.
Many price comparison portals fall under this category. Then there are the gussied up yellow page sites with boilerplate text and contact phone numbers but no original content.

Video content on YouTube seems to be an exception, with lots of original content. But the royalty collectors of GEMA have their sights on YouTube, which means you will frequently look at a black screen.

GEMA wants YouTube to pay royalties. The argument brought forward in a new lawsuit filed by Austrian rights holders is that YouTube enables copyright infringement.

A more disingenuous argument is hard to find.

Why is nobody suing auto manufacturers for enabling deadly speeding? Or gun manufacturers for enabling campus shootings?

Or manufacturers of the humble shirt button for child endangerment? Go to the Mütter Museum, see their deadly buttons and weep.

And now rights holders VG Media and publishers go after Google. Even the German justice minister has signaled support for the VG folks and the quest for making Google pay for minute text snippets.

The VGs argue Google has a market share of 85% in the German search market.
A monopoly, they cry and ignore that there are several other search engines to choose from.

Say you want to license content produced by artist X, and X is a member of a VG. You have exactly 1 choice, the VG.
Which looks like a 100% market share.

But we cannot refuse service the VGs state proudly. True, if you pay a fee which only they and they alone set. You do not pay, you get zilch.

Google does not ask for a fee to present your stuff in the search index, and you get new customers.

One standout example of "what are they thinking" is the government job site Arbeitsagentur. You can go there look for a job, often apply to the employer by email but what if you want to register with the agency as a job seeker?
A friend of the K-Landnews did it a couple of years back. When he was done registering, the site said he'd get a password by mail before he would be visible to prospective employers.
We do not know if they still do this but it helps to make the desert feeling more tangible.

Where are the oases?
Nowhere near any site controlled by an established "intellectual property" publisher. Don't misunderstand us on this. The reasonable established sites like Spiegel, Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Welt, Süddeutsche etc. are fine providers.
But the internet only sites are the oases. Some, like have broken serious news stories and fended off corporate henchmen trying to silence them. Others, like the German Onion-esque Der Postillion are great fun.

Unfortunately, the oases are often hard to find, and if the German royalty associations get their way, the German internet desert will continue to expand.

The business model of "let somebody else do all the innovation, take all the risks and then take as much money from them as we can get" is, I am afraid, alive and well in some sectors of the digital economy.

To write merrily about the misfortunes of individual netizens getting hammered by cease and desist trolls, of people who had one tweet to many, to get inspiration from blogs and tweets without crediting any or paying - and then turn around and try to make Google, Microsoft, Telekom pay for text snippets requires a view of life we refuse to share.

We will stop making this claim once they successfully sue auto makers for enabling deadly speeding.

Yes, it is a compromise offer. We do not want to set them up for failure by sending them after the gun makers.

Disclaimer: We do not own Google shares, have no Google friends, and make no more than a few bucks a month from ads. Which you do not have to click!

[update] removed "expert" disclaimer

Friday, June 27, 2014

Time Travel by German National Parliament on 25 June?

We reported only weeks ago on an incident in Germany proving that time travel is real.

Now this from Twitter:
 ·  Jun 25
Bundestagspräsident teilt gerade das Ergebnis einer Abstimmung mit, die erst um 18 Uhr stattfindet. in Zeiten der ;-) [....]

What the tweet says: German parliament Speaker announces the result of a vote that will take place only later, at 6PM.

What we think really happened: German parliament went into the future to vote at 6 PM, then came back, and Mr. Speaker announced the result hours "before" the event.

The person reporting this event is a green party MP in that very same parliament. So, no matter what we may think about their politics, we can trust her powers of observation.

Engineers have yet to find an explanation for the processes and forms of energy which made this event possible.

One of the many puzzling issues with this, says Professor of Engineering Heinz Nummer, is that only some of the esteemed members of parliament realized what was happening. Most were quite oblivious when our ad hoc investigative team conducted interviews with them.

Added his number two, Heiko Zwei: Several claimed this occurred before, although they could not provide specific dates. It is all speculation at this point. Science may have failed by not taking seriously reports of politicians being all over the place at any given moment. We found an unlikely indicator of time travel in the published compensation records of some top politicians. For example, one member of parliament made almost twice the MP income in his other, concurrent, job as chief of the party. Given that being an MP is a full time job, as MPs as well as the media tell us, how can this person run the party in addition to the MP role? Time travel is the most logical explanation - so we are looking into this avenue, too.

The incident might contribute to understanding the phenomenon we often call "lying". When a politician states he is absolutely against a law one day only to vote for it the next, we might be seeing another time related event, not simple "future and back" travel, of course, but an as yet unidentified string theory manifestation.

Can German politicians travel to the past?

An interesting question on so many levels. We simply do not know. Some do sound as if they stepped straight out of the 19th century, and their numbers have been increasing in the last decade or so - but that's all we can state with any certainty.

Tit-for-Tat? The other other cheek?

When you hear of an exchange between people described as "tit for tat", do you pause and brace for a a bad turn of events?

If so, you are just like us. We tend to associate it with less than happy outcomes. But experts see it quite differently. This quote is from the 1984 issue of Reason:

Nice strategies, Axelrod found, are in general much more successful than mean ones. And Tit-for-Tat tends to be most successful because of its capacity to establish stable cooperative relationships. While it punishes defection, it holds no grudges.

An aside: see, reason never goes out of fashion.

"No grudges" is of tremendous importance in this reasoning. Because this not very common. Open any newspaper or go to any news site and you see immediately: grudges are everywhere. And the criminal justice system of just about every nation is codified grudges. But we do not want to spend time on this aspect.

The aspect of cooperating with other individuals and organizations is our interest here.

The discussion started when, last winter, TheEditor of the K-Landnews put on another of its* victory dances, as we have come to call them. This is rather close to my approach to life, it said.
Patiently, we got the information out of the joyous TheEditor. This scientist on NPR explained various versions of tit for tat, you see. Let's say, two people first meet. One is nice to the other, and the other responds in a not nice manner. How would you continue as the one who started out nice? Should you go "not nice" because this is how you were treated in response? I'll be nice even in the face of hostility, it quipped. And if the other side continues to be hostile, I'll be nice again. If it does not stop, I will switch to tat.

That was all? Oh well.

* TheEditor insists on full gender neutrality.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

[Update] German VG Media going after Google

According to this web site, German publishers have filed a complaint against Google with the German competition watchdog agency Bundeskartellamt.

The intellectual property rights association VG Media is one of the plaintiffs.

VG Media is an addition to the roster of German intellectual property rights associations, in this case the rights of private tv and radio companies plus 12 print publishers, among them some of the biggest names in German print media.

Last year, Germany passed a law that entitles print companies to some compensation when search engines link to their sites and make money off of these links. The prominent example was Google News.

The law has an exception for small pieces of text (we'd call them snippets) without defining them. This, as anybody understands, opens the door to legal hell.

Google offered companies to opt out of the aggregation service, and Google does not display ads in the Google News section.

Still, German publishers are unhappy and are trying to force Google to pay up.

In Germany, the royalty business is big and lawyered up indeed, as not only Google but other companies know.
Multiple fees are paid by consumers when they buy electronic devices, from usb sticks to printers and others if the device can be used to store copies of copyrighted content.

To our nitpicking TheEditor this poses a question. Say, some money from the fees you pay goes to Media Empire A, then a friend sends you a song by a band under contract to A. A can go after you for quite a bit of money for infringement even though they are happy to collect cash from a device fee.
The legal details of this edge case are not important. It just shows a business model.

If. on the other hand, VG Media ties one of their fee schedules explictly to a GEMA fee, who cares?
VG Media specifies that clients pay "20% of the respective GEMA schedule" for radio broadcasts.

And then there is the Bund der Gemazahler e.V., a helping hand for license users, offering 20% discounts on GEMA and VG Media fees.

Screenshots available on request.

As to the inclusion into or exclusion from a search engine index, TheEditor has no sympathy with companies that do not know how to use a "robots.txt".

Ironically, companies in Germany are going to court to get included in the Google search index.

The German part of the web is a rather boring place anyhow, with all sorts of legal traps, from a missing disclaimer saying links are not an endorsement to a simple statement like "this nastygram will expire on 1.1.2020" potentially getting you a law suit for illegal legal advice.

Can you imagine the outcry if, for example, Google and Microsoft entered into a contract to set fees for German publishers?

[Update Preisgestaltung]

[Update 22 August 2014] German competition watchdog Bundeskartellamt says no to the publishers' complaint, and in no uncertain terms (the article behind the link is in German).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Some of the Sevso treasure goes home

Only a few months ago, The Guardian reported the repatriation of some pieces of the Sevso Treasure to Hungary.

With the Germans having recently managed to recover a looted treasure before it disappeared and with the looting of Iraqi museums after the invasion of Iraq still on our minds, we decided to spend a few minutes of research into the Sevso story.

As late as 2012, a museumsstudies paper author appears to have been overwhelmed by its complexity.

An case study on  deals with the treasure, but the best information really is a surprising video on YouTube: Time Team Special 39 (2008) - The Mystery of the Roman Treasure.

Time Team was a well thought out British Channel 4 archeology show with a 3 day dig format for the regular shows and a cast of professionals from various archeological specialties.
Having had ample time to enjoy the thoroughness of the regular Time Team series, the The Mystery of the Roman Treasure makes a very solid case for Hungary as the home of the Sevso treasure.
While the piece in The Guardian is a carefully crafted article, the Time Team Special is an eye opening look at some of the shortcomings of official investigations and introduces evidence previously not well covered by the bigger media.

The last paragraph of the Guardian news quotes the lawyer of the British aristocrat as saying the "best pieces" are with the marquess. A sentence worth reading more than once.

Who knows, these days, it might be interesting to look on the web, on professional networking sites for some of the surviving actors in the Sevso saga. If anyone would like to share their personal knowledge of events and timelines, we will listen.

Of course, we'll probably never know if the Romans themselves looted the silver used to craft the treasure or if they acquired it fair and square by the standards of their days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Well? Yo!

Oh, no.

How long until fan apps?

Simpsons: D'oh

Rammstein: Hei no
You need to know some German to get this one. Make some search traffic to find out.

Or local lingo apps?

Southern German: Heidenei!
Translation on Also, it may look like a compound of "Heide" (heathen) plus "Ei" (egg, coll. balls), so, if you feel like it, you can use it as an insult so subtle that nobody can prove it. In its home region in the German deep south, this may well be the only expression useable in the face of superior opposition - bullies, parents, guys with guns - that will not add to your troubles.

Southwest by Southwest German: Alla
Meaning: "How are you?", "Let's go", "Well?"
A spelling variant with an extra "h" at the end of "Alla" used to be common but is not recommended these days. Seriously not recommended. Seriously.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Neue Deutsche Geld-Welle: das Fifty-Fifty-Modell

So wie die Berliner grosse Koalition derzeit versucht unangenehme Vorhaben hinter der WM-Fassade zu verstecken, so wollen wir unsere neueste ökonomische Erkenntnis hinter dem Spiel mit dem runden Ball hiden (neudeutsch "verstecken", von Eng. "to hide").

Das Ergebnis vorab, Sie haben ja ein Spiel anzuschauen.

50-50 bzw. Fifty-Fifty! 

Die Hälfte des eingenommenen Geldes für den eigentlichen Zweck, die andere Hälfte für das Gegenteil oder für sonstige absolut notwendige Kosten.

Wir sind selbstverständlich keine Ökonomen, deshalb kann die schöne Theorie komplett falsch sein. Wobei wir uns allerdings immer noch im Rahmen des Koalitionsvertrags bewegen, der ja nur unbeteiligte Dritte (die Bevölkerung) zu binden scheint.

Wie Steuergelder ausgegeben werden ist nicht Gegenstand des Posts, es geht hier nur um sogenannte Umlagen und Beiträge.

Steuererhöhungen sind sooo Vergangenheit, sooo vor 2010. Umlagen und Beiträge dagegen sind die neue wunderbare Einkommensquelle.

Zum einen sind sie ja keine Steuern. Zum anderen kann man jede noch so fiktive ungewollte Leistung damit verkaufen.

Aufmerksam wurden wir auf das Modell durch den sogenannten Rundfunkbeitrag. Eine Abgabe für eine Leistung, die von vielen Menschen weder gewollt noch genutzt wird!

Mehr Geld als der Mehrzahl der Bundesministerien zur Verfügung steht. Diese Macht konnten wir uns nur mit einer Anlehnung an den berühmten deutschen Freiherren von Clausewitz erklären: Der Rundfunkbeitrag ist die Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln.

Wir griffen also zum guten alten Gedankenexperiment. Wie würde die Qualität aussehen, wenn man 50% des Beitrags streicht?

Mit Blick auf die Einnahmen und Ausgaben des Referenzrundfunks "öffentlicher Rundfunk in den USA" lautet das Gedankenergebnis: die Qualität braucht nicht zu leiden, sie würde eher besser.

Doch es blieb beim frustrierenden Gedankenexperiment ohne den nötigen belastbaren Durchbruch mit harten Zahlen.

Die Sonne brachte schließlich die unerwartete Erleuchtung. Die geplante Reform des EEG-Gesetzes führte dazu, dass wir uns Einnahmen versus Ausgaben anschauten.

Siehe da, der Anteil der Förderungskosten beträgt nur 49%. Das Fifty-Fifty-Modell hat sich als zutreffend erwiesen.

Der Name des Gesetzes lautet übrigens
für den Vorrang Erneuerbarer Energien
(Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz – EEG)

Gesetzeszweck 2000

Ziel dieses Gesetzes ist es, im Interesse des Klima- und
Umweltschutzes eine nachhaltige Entwicklung der Ener-
gieversorgung zu ermöglichen und den Beitrag Erneuer-
barer Energien an der Stromversorgung deutlich zu er-
höhen, um entsprechend den Zielen der Europäischen
Union und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland den Anteil
erneuerbarer Energien am gesamten Energieverbrauch
bis zum Jahr 2010 mindestens zu verdoppeln

Gesetzeszweck 2012

Zweck dieses Gesetzes ist es, insbesondere im Interesse des Klima- und Umweltschutzes eine
nachhaltige Entwicklung der Energieversorgung zu ermöglichen, die volkswirtschaftlichen Kosten der
Energieversorgung auch durch die Einbeziehung langfristiger externer Effekte zu verringern, fossile
Energieressourcen zu schonen und die Weiterentwicklung von Technologien zur Erzeugung von
Strom aus Erneuerbaren Energien zu fördern.

Vice out of Canada

Up the mainstream without a paddle is another one of the flippant comments by TheEditor when a major news outlet falls for an obvious propaganda piece.

The K-Landnews' quest for less genuflecting and sloppy news has brought us to VICE, among others. Those of us who did not pay much attention to the changing news landscape may have missed the rise of Vice, so check out the Wikipedia page for a brief history.

We have yet to write a post discussing a story on Vice for a couple of reasons, mainly because clicking through the main free news sites to see if there is something worthy of our comment is work.

And we have an ethics problem, if you will. Unlike some sites we have called out here, we do link to articles that inspired a post or that we criticize.

So, VICE and others serve a different purpose. We go there to keep curiosity alive, to protect the logic circuits against the corrosive and numbing same old same, old of the old purveyors of world views.

Where the Huffington Post is the thinking person's Buzzfeed, VICE is more robust and unafraid.

For how long?

Who knows. If the web gets too boring, we use Randomwebsite and get a couple of links into the great unknown.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

German 4 Dummies:"SatAn", with a capital A

Apologies for not having a photo to prove it. We'll get one if we see another instance.

Germans looove their compound nouns, and Satellitenempfangsanlage (satellite plus receiver plus device) is one such beauty. It is a satellite dish for TV.

In popular parlance, they also call them "Satellitenschüssel" (satellite plus bowl) which is the the equivalent to the satellite dish.

We will never know why one company decided to abbreviate their device to "SatAn" *. The capital A in the middle will not stop any hardcore conspiracy nut, nor will it stop a comedian.

Maybe the person in charge of shortening the name so it fit on a dish and was nicely readable from four or five floors down had a bad day.

Maybe the man's child went daddy, I have an idea, and it happened to be Father's Day and dad felt guilt about working too much and not being there more often for the kids.

Maybe the abbreviation was done by a computer.

It does not matter.

We get a post out it, and that's all we care about.

* Satan is indeed the same person or entity in German as in English.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

When PMS & GYN medication heal men

Warning: Do not try this at home, always consult a medical professional!

Another post in our Labels-are-Crap series.

A male friend with a bad headache and back pain was handed a pink and white pill by a female friend: this will help.

He took the pill and felt better soon afterwards.

When he asked was this a PMS pill, she responded with a confirming smile.

Another male friend had a fungal infection and a woman friend gave him a cream with a big label "GYN vaginal fungicide".

The infection was gone after a few days.

Before you assume some rare gender disorders or incorrect use of the terms "male" and "female", we would like to reassure you that no such issues existed. The men were standard XY-males, the women regular XX chromosome gals.

Other than the gender mix, these episodes have more in common.

In both cases, the men needed help, and the women solved the problem with admirable efficiency.

In both cases, the men were gracious enough to accept help. The male who overcame the "GYN vaginal fungicide" label must have been either quite desperate or not your average male. We do not know which.

The ladies looked beyond the packaging, focusing on the ingredients of the medication instead.

Down here, we have a maid and a cook - up there, we are the maid and the cook

In this globalized world, some people from rich countries move to not so rich countries on retirement to make their money last.

A fixed income which allows you to live just above poverty level in the UK or Germany, for instance, can put you into the top 5 percent of earners in another country just a few airplane hours away.

Travel magazines, web sites, books galore describe life in foreign lands under the sun. Whether the sun is Tuscan or over the French Dordogne, both too expensive these days for the average retiree, you can even make good money writing a book about the new life.

A fond eye on the locals and their culture, a tiny dose of stereotypes you can refute, one or two tugs on the heart strings, and voila, Hollywood will come a-knocking.

Those who do not get the life on easy street do not get much press or movie coverage it seems.

Yet, there are many thousands of them. The cases we know personally are richer stories than the smooth summer escape readings on the bestseller lists.

They have everything from bad luck to the inability to manage money which suddenly seems to go so much further than back home.

For those who go beyond the shores of southern Europe or the Caribbean, there is the legacy of colonialism. Do we bring old attitudes to, say, Africa? If local domestic employees appear not unhappy when some white owned beach houses burn down in a brush fire, do we see a racial divide or do we see an economic status divide?

Down here, we have a maid and a cook - up there, we are the maid and the cook

If this sentence describes your situation closely enough to make you reflect on your expat life, or if you know someone who fits the bill, tell us the story. 

Tell us if we can write about it. Don't worry, if Hollywood comes knocking, the rights are yours.

Friday, June 20, 2014

[Update] Trademarking a color? How stupid do they think we are?

Not enough time to read the post?  Go straight to the screen shots at the end.

Today, our local print newspaper has a full page on the colorful dispute of the German banking group Sparkasse and Santander Bank

On the web, several articles deal with the dispute between the S Banks and the dispute between German Langenscheidt and Anglo Rosetta Stone about the color yellow.

If you invent a process to make a color, you can patent it, no issues. If you take an existing color and claim it is sooooooo characteristic that people basically associate the color with your company without any niceties like a logo or a certain shape of the representation of the color, you can go and trademark it.

This article in FAZ online has a nifty little gadget to test if you recognize the supposedly obvious association of color and company.

The companies named above that filed a cease and desist plus damages suit are Langenscheidt and Santander.

Langenscheid claims a certain shade of yellow. Which one?
We do not know, and we intend to show that the specific wavelength and frequency of light (that's was a color "is") may not matter as much as they claim it does.

First off, if you claim yellow in Germany, there is the postal service yellow to contend with. To a German, the primary association of yellow to a company is likely to be Deutsche Post and its DHL freight biz.

Santander has not been doing business in Germany for very long. Sparkasse has been using its red since the early 1970s all over West Germany and later the re-unified country.

To the blogster and most regular folks, identification of a company consists of a logo. Which in turn is a color or several colors plus some text or graphic.

This makes Langenscheidt and Rosetta Stone quite unique. And Santander and Sparkasse both use a graphics piece.

While the "my color" argument puts consumers into the not very nice category of Pavlov's dogs, we do like the little art piece in front of the name Santander.

TheEditor of the K-Landnews is one lazy bastard, so it (always gender neutral, remember) went to the webby web sites of the companies and took a few screenshots.

Look at the yellows and reds in the "inspect this element" corner of Firefox and compare the values of the yellows and reds.

The numbers - and hence the colors - are different. Maybe legally they will be deemed the same?
Not withstanding this, TheEditor will not buy anything from either Langenscheidt (you missed the language learning boat) or Santander (as long as cash is still legal).

Santander screenshot & Sparkasse:

Langenscheidt & Rosetta Stone:

[Update]  The choice of colors for our house was supposed to be red - white - blue. The ultimate choice was different. All the better -- what if someone had mistaken the house for a bank and either broken in (bad) or put a bag of cash into the mailbox (not quite as bad)?

As to the meaning of the name Santander, the blogster will always treat it first and foremost as the name of a city in northern Spain. In said city, there existed a Banco (de) Santander. Taking the banco out of Santander does not seem to quite promote clarity about the purpose of an entity. But that's just me.
Santander Germany does have "bank" in the website url, very much appreciated.

Primary colors should simply be off limits to trademarking or copyrighting or whatever the legal instrument is.

Is it weird to say I like the magenta of Deutsche Telekom because it is so rainbow flag?

Have you recently been grocery shopping?
Looking at the aisles, the number of products you could accuse of wanting to look like famous brand name items is staggering. Yet, I never fail to grab the look-similar off brand cookies for 79 cents instead of the branded version for 2.50.
So, please forgive me for feeling insulted by the color fights. My view is: unless I have been living under a rock, the grocery producers trust me to establish the difference between 79 cents and 2.50 but service companies think I cannot figure out where to park ten grand for no interest?

Science 4 Dummies: The Bible

Warning: This post contains some atheist concepts and some convoluted thinking. If either disturb you, please move on to a more entertaining web site, for example, Disney or Donald Trump.

Using Christian time off - a national holiday based on Christian belief - to blog about some things Bible?

This post is really the aftermath of a recent Catholic funeral. Catholic funerals can get at you, especially the traditional line "let's pray for the person in our midst who's next", when you see the old man a pew over flinch.

An emotionally lighter memorial type deal is so much better for the living.

This tweet tipped the balance:
* atheist logic: "I cannot see god with my eyes, therefore god doesn't exist" Blind person: "Colors don't exist"

Because colors do not exist, strictly speaking. And, even if we accept they exist, some colors do not "exist" in some cultures.

If the bible were written today, it would fail standard plagiarism tests, for instance, the flood part from the epic of Gilgamesh. TheEditor has thought long and not hard about a way to sneak the Bible into the German collaborative plagiarism platform VroniPlag.

Being as big a book as it is, having been debated for a few thousand years, and TheEditor being a semi-educated moron, there is no way a blog post can do the book justice.

TheEditor likes to look at the bible as a work of standard fiction with some nice scientific content. For example, the food rules have been shown to be good health standards for a hot climate without refrigeration.
We do not know why God might have waited so long to have people invent the fridge and air-conditioning in the first place. That's for theologians to find out.

The above tweet took us to the web site Godless Mom, and a post with things the mom does not believe in. We'll ignore most of the horror story parts of the bible. The Good Book has a number of intriguing parts that read like science explained to people who will need another tow or three thousand years to invent kindergarten.

Talking bushes
TheEditor personally witnessed a talking bush. Not a flaming one, only taking, and no, no gutter think, please. A shrub, greenery, that talked. Because a fancy pants official did not want a carefully crafted scene spoiled by the presence of an interpreter with a bull horn.
So the man with the horn was put behind the bush. His protest was ignored, and when the show got rolling, the bush talked.

Virgin births
Medieval witchcraft explanations and adolescent embarrassment aside, in vitro fertilization works fine as an explanation. Christian mythology makes the angel all white, which works just fine in most modern hospitals around the world.

Almost 1000 year old men in a whale
Come on, isn't this an apt image for space travel? At least since 2001 A Space Odyssey?

All species of animals in a boat
Walk-in is a stretch, for sure. But nicely deep frozen, or DNA plus other bits and pieces makes the bible into a first rate science manual. Plus, you can fit the plants in, too.

Crucifixion and resurrection
The question how a real life series of events like this could be "faked" is not as outlandish as your Sunday school teacher might think. Within the context of an occupation by a foreign power and a classic insurgency, a certain lady on good terms with a Roman soldier makes quite a bit of sense.

Immortal soul
The photons emitted by your body, as well as the body of your cat, dog, cow etc., can be considered as close to immortal as it gets. The natural recycling of the bod is a bit less appetizing but makes a point. And the fact that the heavy elements in the human typing these lines are several billion years old works for me, too.

No, we do not want to talk about the let there be light thing again. Creationists have been going through more hoops than camels ever can to hijack this one.

No God needed, but thanks for all the holidays.

* More about colors tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Simpsons (tm) -- fully tapped out

The resident gamer at the K-Landnews uninstalled Angry Birds (tm)!

The official primary reason was the NSA spying on players, as reported by news outlets around the globe. To the surprise of TheEditor, no other significant reason could be established in the subsequent banter about possible games to replace the birds.

The house, the office, the garden, all became very quiet for a couple of weeks until the voice of Homer Simpson chirped throughout the building. Sorry for using "chirp", it is hard to let go of bird lingo after extensive immersion.

Our gamer did not respond to "where are you, what 'you doing" but Homer's voice led the search party to the most remote room of the house.

What are you playing?

The Simpsons - Tapped out.

You like it?

It's great, but they are very high pressure in trying to get your credit card an make you buy in-game stuff like doughnuts.


They make things go faster, like buying buildings, or speeding up tasks.

Virtual doughnuts?


Are you saying they want real money for the only non-fattening doughnuts in existence that also double as virtual speed?


You should put the game down and play outside.

In a minute, first I need to give everybody something to do for the next few hours.

You give the characters something to do?

Yes, I can have Flanders clean the brown house for four hours, for example, or tell Homer to hang out by the pool for six hours.

Needless to say, the whole conversation happened without eye contact and was punctuated by the gamer stabbing at the touch screen. The absence of eye contact allowed TheEditor to inch surrepetitiously closer to the gamer until a screen half filled with rows and rows of identical brown houses appeared. Only a single narrow street was visible in the gamer's version of Springfield.

That does not look like Springfield.

Oh, these, I bought these from the taxes I get from the characters. For every house, I collect more.

Why are there no streets between the houses?

Oh, they don't bring in any taxes, just take up space I need for more houses.

You realize you are being the worst slum lord ever?


A shaken TheEditor left the room for a safer place in the house, thinking maybe I should hide in the basement.

We do not know if countermeasures against the instant slumlord are required. The credit cards are locked up.

We'll let the game run its course.

It might help if someone could publish an article about how the NSA is spying on The Simpsons.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Buttons, Baboons, and World Peace

Curious as to how we can swing this one beyond an enumeration?

National Public Radio via the often maligned internet, my friends. 

Button up, and follow me.

While the K-Landnews TheEditor tries to never stray too far from the NPR based tip for healthy living that says "don't believe everything you think", TheEditor does fail occasionally.

One such failure took place one recent early morning as TheEditor reached into the armoire for a fresh shirt. As the clothes hanger came out, TheEditor stared at the top of the hanger, where the hook meets the arms.

The top button was closed. 

Now watch how the failure occurred. The very first thought which sprang up was: there will never be world peace.

The elaboration followed swiftly: If this household cannot accommodate the different preferences re leaving the top button of a shirt open or closing it as the laundry is put away, how for Pete's sake can we expect peace between the nations?

Old debates flooded the waking areas of the brain like an incoming tide (the detergent is spelled with uppercase T).

The shirts slip off the hanger if you don't close the top button!

No, they don't.

Closing one button is the way it is done. Some people button up two, even three.

But it's work having to unbutton it for no reason.

The reason is it's closed.


If you cannot agree on how to hang a shirt, how can nations of millions of people agree on who owns a patch of dirt or resources under desert, or next to a mountain? They'll just continue to shoot up and blow up each other's peoples until one caves in only to restart the fight a generation or two later.

Enter National Public Radio with a report on a troop of baboons. A troop of baboons lived behind a hotel, high on the hog and the drumsticks that the hotel put in a garbage dump not far from the resort.

They behaved as ordinary baboons do: fighting, bitching, making more baboons, more fighting and so on.
One day, the males caught TB, atrociously deadly for these critters, and died.
The researcher saw his study of baboons on the dump die with the males and left, frustrated.

Some time later, he himself met a fellow primate and they went on a trip down memory lane to the hotel where he had studied the baboons.

What he found was peaceful baboons. The aggressive, hazing, fighting males having died off, the females started a peaceful troop and made all the new males that eventually wandered into the good life behave peacefully.

This lifted TheEditor out of the darkness of the buttons. Despite efforts to the contrary, the world has become more peaceful, and once the resource fights are over, maybe there is a chance future generations can be as peaceful as this troop of baboons.

Just as it did for that troop, it may take an epic disaster with near annihilation of males to get there.

Food without balls? Vegan veggie diet the only option?

Can grocery store shelves get any worse than during the Christmas season?

They can during a Soccer World Cup season.

For two reasons:
1) The round, black and white traditional soccer ball image gets slapped onto everything short of fresh veggies and fruit.
2) There are no presents for you or me, only a big shiny object for a team. And they have to work really hard for it.

Even egg cartons, a form of packaging which seems to defy all the rules of marketing by resisting any and all attempts to modify it, have a German flag print.

Egg cartons!

Booze and Balls go together, obviously, so the soccer balls and the flag print on beer are a non topic. Similarly for barbeque sauces during a summer event.

Familiarization of the youngest in society with their future favorite pastime seems to start ever earlier. The soccer industrial complex makes cereal producers crunch their numbers and add a ball. On the package, not inside - we think - because even hard core soccer moms will launch into a lawsuit with the ferocity of their favorite soccer star if kiddo swallows plastic instead of cereal.

Brand name produce tends to have the full on FIFA licensed  World Cup 2014 logo, off brand items go with the generic ball & flag.

What if we wanted to eat only food without soccer trappings? We decided to find out.

The cookies, chocolate and cereal aisle is almost off limits. There is an "old ladies" brand of chocolate without soccer decoration. But the taste....

The hard liquor shelf continues to display mostly unmodified labels on the bottles, though there are a few hand-written World Cup Special offer price tags. Do they count? We let that go, no hard liquor for us anyway.

Soft drinks are covered in logos, only the off brand mineral water is unchanged, maybe because it is so cheap that one extra ink change would double the product price.

Pet food is refreshingly soccer ball and FIFA logo free.

Possibly for the last time in human soccer history. Hey, marketeers, you, hint!

Yoghurt, oh balls.

Chicken wings and drumsticks? Ballsy.

And invariably, a weird image of headless chicken bumping into an old, forgotten soccer ball comes to mind and is banished with some effort.

The fresh fruit and veggies corner is a balls-free zone. Let us hope no genetic engineers are laboring in their labs to add stripes of national flags to peaches and apples or black splotches to tomatoes. Right, the latter can be added at home using any old hammer.

The packaged cheese aisle next. Damn it, do they have their little flags year round? Why do we educated consumers not recall if the French and Italian cheeses always come with the flags?

Canned and glass jar foods, no balls, rejoice!  Wait, there are more barbeque sauces with the soccer emblem. Could it be that the cans and jars without the Cup logo are simply several years old, past their Best Before date? 

Just as we approach the open space which funnels us towards the beeps of the cash registers, there she is.

The lady with the World Cup 2014 sausage. Yes, yes, we know, sausage fest and all, but this one is real.

A World Cup 2014 Special Sausage. The German national colors do not lend themselves very well to tasty food creations, being "Black, Red, and Gold". Gold, by the way, is generally rendered as yellow on prints.

The World Cup 2014 Special Sausage, in our case, turns out to be an apple & cheese & pork body parts creation.

Not all that special.

And thus a wonderful if unintended reflection on the World Cup itself.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jolly Jumper takes the Ferry

Roy Rogers  would have loved the comics horse named Jolly Jumper. For all we know, Morris, creator of the Belgian comic series Lucky Luke might have been inspired by Trigger, Roger's smart Hollywood Western horse that debued several years before the first Lucky Luke comic appeared.

Read just one Lucky Luke volume and you'll see why we point out a possible link between Trigger and Jolly Jumper. On the other hand, smart animals have featured in human stories for much longer.

We introduced Jolly Jumper because Lucky Luke and his faithful companion are not as widely known in the U.S. as in Europe and other countries and the rest of this post requires you to know the name.

Germany may not strike you as a country with lots of ferries but there are a number of vehicle and passenger river ferries around here, saving foot passengers or vehicles an hour or two of travel time versus taking a detour to find a bridge.

By seafaring standards, the ferries are miniscule in size, roll-on-roll-off, low draft catamaran type deals capable of carrying maybe 30 passenger cars or a few buses. The ramps down to the vessel are wide enough enough for one bus at a time.

Locals in the riverside communities love and hate the ferries, with the feeling of hate reaching its annual peak when the ferries shut down during floods.

The other day, we arrived at the waiting area/marshaling area for a ferry after a long day out in mid tourist season. While we stopped at the fat white line labelled "stop here", two other vehicles were beyond the line. One vehicle was part way down the ramp despite the fact that the ferry was on the other side of the river, letting out passengers.

The distance is a few hundred yards, right across, so you have to be impatient or a bit dumb to take your vehicle down a ramp with nothing but water waiting for you there.

Workers of the ferry company were talking to the wayward cars and then walked along the short line of other waiting vehicles, basically us and one other car behind us.

Our worker was in a happy mood, congratulating us on actually following instructions. The car part way down the ramp backed up as the worker was talking and with obvious upset, noticable even in the dark of the night, lumbered up the exit ramp to go to one one the bridges some 30 minutes away.

This was an impatient non local driver, the worker explained. But the locals, too, have their moments, she smiled. Not long ago, a teacher from the high school was rushing to catch the ferry after school, and she arrived just as the vessel cast off. Judging the gap between herself and the ferry small enough, well, she jumped, and promptly landed in the water. She climbed out, headed back to the school to dry off and returned later for another try, successful of course. The real problem for the teacher was the fact that a large number of students from the school were on the ferry and witnessed her mishap. The students nicknamed her Jolly Jumper.

During the short conversation, the ferry had made its way back and we were being motioned to start up and roll down the ramp.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Internet changes your brain! And so does everything you do...

The initial press reports in the Great January Internet Scare of January 2012 had all the makings of a good spooky story.

Internet addiction changes your brain, yelled not only the tabloids but the serious media, too.

A week or two later,  the fear monsters (commonly called current events editors or duty editors) were still sleeping off the night shift hangover, and calmer voices could be heard.

It is not a new magic change to your brain, said stories such as this one on the BBC.

Thoughts longer than 140 characters and without a single hashtag are still feasible!

Well, yes, quipped TheEditor, but you do realize there are people out there who have never come close to thoughts of any length?

Why would we write about the topic of webby brain changes when the scare was subsequently rectified?

Do a web search for "brain changes" internet or similar, and you will find the sensational first cut news dominate the results pages. In terms of public discourse, this fact is more dangerous than the changes the internet makes to your brain, we would argue.

Taxi driving, watching lots of porn, playing competitive ping pong changes, watching the Google 2014 Soccer World Cup animations, all change the wiring up there -- doing anything with abandon makes your neurons giggle and jiggle.

So, unfortunately, the great brain change scare is alive and well two years after it hit the screens. In the Morgan Freeman guided series Through the Wormhole, the episode "How to Collapse a Superpower" cites this phenomenon based on the sensationalism angle.

For those readers familiar with cabbies in New York, New York, or London, England, there can be no doubt that the changes caused by driving a cab might deserve a shout-out in a collapse my superpower bank account episode.
Being in a taxi is as close to going through a wormhole as us ordinary mortals will ever get.

Ahm, you do realize that reading satire causes changes to your brain, right?

Just saying.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hillbillies R us! A recent study proves it!

Loyal readers have enjoyed the Hillbillies R us posts we sneaked in with the polished well conceived missives on Life, the Universe, and Everything.

A recent study proves we are spot on!

Had we researched better in previous years, we could have told you in the very first Hillbillies R us post.

But research is not a skill hillbillies excel at - so, the very essence of being a hillbilly prevented us from proving we are hillbillies.

We apologize.

This website says about hillbillies in the U.S.:
People who self-identify as hillbillies are almost always residents of a rural area. Most of the time, they bear little resemblance to the stereotypes about hillbillies, but often have an appreciation for what they see as the ethos of hillbilly life. They may consider themselves particularly appreciative of the simple things in life, or they may take special pride in their rural community, for example.

This is exactly how people in our German hills see themselves.

The site talks about the derogatory stereotypes of American hillbillies:
uneducated, simple, and ignorant. Having a large family that cannot be supported on one's wages, making moonshine, and sitting on a front porch with a gun are all common stereotyped hillbilly activities.
Missing or yellowed teeth are a common feature of hillbilly caricatures, as are bushy beards for men.

Sadly, our German brethren had been falling short on many of the stereotypes. Good, free education was available for decades, wages were high enough to support a sizable family with a single earner. Socialized healthcare made missing and seriously yellowed teeth so rare that - rumors have it - dentists used American hillbilly dental photographs for their ads.

However, recent German governments, both conservative and a little more conservative, have undertaken measures to revive these stereotypes. Less education, more ignorance, peanuts level wages and healthcare cutbacks have eliminated the "endangered species" status of many quintessential German hillbilly traits. We can report first hand that making moonshine is alive and well, and that porches front or back are fashionable. 
Bushy beards may come back soon since a major German barber chain announced huge price hikes as a result of the introduction of a national minimum wage.

While the German study that pegs our hill country folks as hillbillies does not use the term, of course, and is silent about guns, we did report in an earlier post that people around here have many more guns than in other regions.
The Germans here speak a southern German dialect, would you have figured that out! A dialect often seen by others as quaint or somewhat funny.

We tried to faithfully translate the key findings of the German study: Our hills are populated by people who are content, have a streak of self-sufficiency, are standoff-ish toward outsiders and prefer keeping to themselves. They have very little interest in politics or wider social topics.

The native local music around here sounds very much like Mexican or TexMex mariachi, heavy on the wind instruments. The fancier folks may relapse to Bach or Beethoven every now and then.

Other German hillbilly features:
Foozball -- yep
Pickups -- yes, even one in blue that said "NYPD" on the side
God -- oh yes, still with a capital G

Friday, June 13, 2014

[Update 6/26] Sun Tax: Germany to tax solar power used for own home

Cynics predicted it, they must have known: the German government is gearing up to exploit the 2014 Soccer World Cup distraction for a slew of laws.

In full accord with the old saying "no good deed goes unpunished", the proud, sometimes just a little smug, owners of photovoltaics installations on their roofs will have to pay a tax on the power they use for their own home or business.

Before we get rapped for calling it a tax, please note that it is called a levy or a surcharge. That's really for lawyers to figure out. In our simple minds, if the government makes you pay anything other than a fee for a specific service, we call it a tax.

Now, Germany's photovoltaics boom was supported by government subsidies. That largesse came in the form of said surcharge on electricity, which was then used to pay photovoltaics owners a great price for the juice they fed into the grid.

The incentive worked so well that the government slashed the compensation for grid feed-in and mandated owners to consume some power themselves.

Industry got themselves generous exemptions from the surcharge, individuals and small businesses were thus hit with, as some people around here call is, a "Doppelfuck". According to cynics, a Doublefuck is a compound where "double" is an hommage to Orwell, and the other component an hommage to government in general.

Pre 2014 Soccer World Cup, the government wanted to exempt tiny producers from the added levy on power used for their own needs.

As soon as the  World Cup started, they added the approximately one fifth of small scale producers to the Pay Me list.

We will keep you posted on whether our photovoltaic pond pump is included in the levy. We will also publish information on which agency will enforce the changes, or as the cynics call them Solar Cops.

TheEditor is grateful to the German government for ongoing non-soccer entertainment during these weeks that are so exceedingly difficult for mammals which do not like to play ball.

[Update, hot June 13 afternoon]
For the more adventurous readers, here  are a couple of easy ways to mess with the new system.

1) Buy lots of rechargeable batteries and lots of LED lights that run on batteries. Now, buy a solar battery charger, and you are good. If you have a normal size house and are not into over priced designer lights, you can run all lights like this.

2) If the government passes the changes and you receive an invoice for x amount of "self used" electricity, write a letter saying you are running your photovoltaics installation only in the dark.

Item 2 seems to be a result of 90+ F outside temperatures. We'll check to see if we maintain the recommendation once it gets cooler.

[End of update]

[Update 26 June]
The levy on small installations under 10 kwp (peak kilowatt performance) was abandoned - again - in the newest and greatest version of the bill. We'd say "stay tuned for more updates", but if we did, well, in 2014 #groko Germany somebody might accuse us of running a clandestine radio station. Come back often to check here.
[End of update]

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How Bambi's demise increases the GDP

Driving through the forests around here, you may occasionally get a glimpse of a small brown furry body on the shoulder of the road.

Chances are someone ran over Bambi on their way to work, on their way from work, or coming home after a night out.

Like the 50 000 dollar pint of beer we wrote about in an earlier post, Bambi's decision to cross that road eventually adds to the gross domestic product. Gross.

Medical costs to repair humans injured in a collision with Bambi, towing, vehicle repair, maybe legal proceedings if the vehicle was speeding or if it was a commercial passenger vehicle.

Maybe someone invents the deer whistle (which does not work), or the seat belt (which works), or another safety device.

Which brings us back to the "real cost" of everything.

We don't know it, but it is safe to say it is always a lot higher than we want to believe it is.

But hey, a free newspaper for the soccer world cup is cool, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The real forces behind Snowden? Big Tin Can industry!

We have learned a great deal about insecure communication. Insecurity has many faces, like the red hued face of  an official talking insecurely about security before a parliamentary committee.

Wikipedia can help you understand this aspect of insecurity.

Another aspect of insecure communication has to do with cookies.

In an ironic twist of fate, the cookies we eat and the cookies web sites pour over our online existence have met.

The latest low-tech defense against high-tech mobile phone surveillance is the cookie can fashioned out of rolled steel.

Meetings in some German workplaces feature cookie tins as storage containers for the participants' gadgets.

This is the clearest indication so far of the real forces behind the Snowden revelations!

There are those who claim experience shows the Russians are behind it. Unless there is hard proof, they are wrong.
Don't misunderstand this as dismissing experience. I value experience.

My experience, for instance, shows I'd make a great astronaut: I can fly without any gizmos or propulsion. In my dreams, kind of like the guys dreaming up a Russian conspiracy without proof.

Big Tin Can, the obscure manufacturers of cans for cookies are the true winners of the past year. For decades, they have been virtually powerless to stop the advance of plastic packaging. If you are old enough to remember the losing battle of the grocery store shelves, where a single metal box store brand cookie remained after Big Oil had its way with packaging, you may have noticed a recent uptick in larger size metal cookie boxes.

This realization, of course, opens a whole new can of cookies. Chinese manufacturers have a huge share of the market.

Government officials and terrorists all over the world do not realize that a cookie can in itself creates new security risks, says an unnamed expert. First of all, the physical integrity of the can is important. We know of cans that lost their tight seal against electromagnetic interference because of over enthusiastic eaters. So, you should remove all cookies as soon as you buy the can and then store the can securely, if possible use a bigger cookie can as storage. Cans may also be tampered with by intelligence agencies intercepting a shipment. So, do not buy empty cookie cans online. Buy them at a local store with their original content. This ensures that the bad guys cannot be certain: are you buying just for the cookies or for security? The folded edges along the top and the bottom create hollow spaces which can be used to hide spy equipment. Unrolling and then refolding the edges is tedious and error prone, so we suggest you fry any electronics hidden in the can.
Your security experts should hook the empty can up to a car battery before the first use as a security box. In some jurisdictions, security people have lots of spare car batteries, in others they are easily available at an auto parts store.

And lastly, never keep the box with the cell phones inside the meeting room. The common way of having the box next to the entrance for easy drop off and pick up is not recommended. Office personnel or cleaners might wander off with the box thinking they are liberating cookies. Putting a sticker on the box, on the other hand, is tantamount to telling an insider threat "take me".

An office fridge is the best place to store the tin once all attendees have put in their phones. Experience tells us that the office fridge it the single most closely guarded item in any office even before the coffee maker.

Good luck!

Our next office security post will be about turning a Nespresso capsule into a listening device.

German 4 Dummies: Wellcome

Germans are getting creative with the English language.

TheEditor rubbed its* eyes when they first perceived the pattern of light created by the word "Wellcome".

An article in the newspaper described the local version of a project called "Wellcome". The writer was nice enough to explain in the second paragraph that Wellcome was a combination of the two words "Wellness" and "Welcome".

If these look English to you, that's because they are. They have become German to the extent that the author of the newspaper article did not feel obliged to provide a translation of each individual term.

What is project Wellcome about?

It is a support project for pregnant women, wellness for the ladies, welcome for the newborn.

* TheEditor insists on gender neutrality, it is more efficient, too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A sociologist, a psychologist, and an economic model walk into a bar

You know it is a joke.

Conscience is explained for everyday people by Wikipedia right here. That's generally enough to go by, but what if a a sociologist, a psychologist, and an economic model walk into a bar?

In this case, you may get a book on the evolution of conscience like this one (in German).
Conscience then is a means for parents to control children, a point disliked by a reviewer in the German daily FAZ as well as by yours truly.

If conscience is a parental control mechanism, some parents who don't seem to have any fail: they produce offspring with a big fat conscience. If conscience is a means of control, why does it go so spectacularly against control? A cynic might claim that such spectacular manifestations of conscience are something else altogether. Sounds familiar?

Taking economic models to the evolution of conscience makes as much sense to TheEditor as taking an economic model to the bar and showing it around after a few drinks. Beer goggles make many a model look wonderful, and even an awful one looks decidedly better.

Take biology and evolution to economics for a change, there is something to be learned there.

Reducing conscience to a deterministic entity does not sit well even with the much friendlier, to the authors, reviewer at SciLogs either. The latter makes an effort to laud how Darwin's texts as well as Shakespeare and Kafka are tied into the book.

Such a strange tome leaves a bad taste of backwardness, a concept well adapted to western society one hundred years ago.

For economists with a conscience, check out Amartya Sen, for instance.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

50 ways they grab your money

For mental health reasons, we had to abort the enumeration after ten entries. 

The good news is, we had no problem whatsoever to come up with all listed items in about 0.9 seconds.

The bad news is, we had no problem whatsoever to come up with all listed items in about 0.9 seconds.

At around .4 seconds, we noticed the first tell tale signs of agitation and irritation in our test subject, a medium size, medium age, medium educated, mostly white, male.

At .8 seconds, the supervisor gave the abort sign.

Here is the result up to and including .9 seconds:
1) Early termination fee of 150 dollars, when work to terminate is worth about 1 dollar
2) 15 to 30 percent interest on money the bank gets at 0 %.
3) Minus .1 percent interest, yes, minus. In Europe
4) Going cashless and then charging an arm and a leg on transactions
5) Anything sold by Apple (says a long time Apple user)
6) ????????????
8) Tax breaks for filthy rich companies
9) Taking student loan payments out of social security benefits
10) Being directed to the MSN home page on logout from No, not free -- time is money.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer festivals: show me your trash -- I'll tell you what music you like

A recurring theme in German media is covering trash during the summer outdoor festival season. Der Spiegel ran one such article on the bane of trash at the Wacken festival in northern Germany.

The reader comments showed the required upset at other people leaving garbage behind and has the requisite calls for the authorities to clamp down on wayward festival goers and lax organizers.

But, here is the rub: whether you can shoot gross pictures of post festival trash in today's Germany depends mostly on the kind of festival.

Leave aside the weather. If you have Woodstock style downpours, controlling trash becomes really hard. Although the folks of the Rainbow Family are amazingly efficient under such circumstances, too.

Back to your standard weather German summer festival.

The more heavy metal and techno-ish the music, the more trash you'll find left behind.

At the other end of the trash spectrum, you will find the folks, roots, world music festivals, where people collect their trash better than any city public works department does.

The music is not the real culprit, okay. The amount of booze and illicit substances plays at least as big a role as the aggressiveness of the music. Mental processes and fine motor skills tend to suffer under some influences and hangovers.

You can make pretty detailed predictions on what the clean up crews will face, depending on food consumed, swag handed out, capacity and spacing of garbage containers and so on - just ask people from Munich, Germany, who flee their homes during the annual Oktoberfest. 

If you think we are making a sweeping generalization in this post, attend some festivals along the musical spectrum and see for yourself.

You'll get out, broaden your outlook on life, and you'll see whether we are right or just talking trash.

Blink, blink, blink - Minister Morse?

Is trust really rarer today than in the past?

Can you build trust?


Why not?

TheEditor had a goldfish moment the other day. New insight!
Which is unfair to goldfish and scientifically proven to be false, but we'll use the term until we find a better one.

There was minister, a secretary, on the screen telling the audience the government had found proof that some bad guy was planning a bad thing, bad even in terms of general bad guy things.

TheEditor heard the statement, saw the face and yet saw only one detail: blinking eyelids.

It felt as if the minister was using the TV interview to practice morse code with the eyelids.

Short bat, long bat, short, short, short, long, fade.

A lot of people at the time thought the government was making up the whole threat scenario.

The eyelids actually gave it away.

We know for sure now, over 100 000 or so dead humans later, we are certain.

The minister is no longer in government but has a much less lid batting prone career.

So, can you trust people?

Yes, you can trust everybody to be exactly who they are.

A memorial for deserters, for real

German media coverage of the start of World War I turned out to be rather interesting.

In our regional paper, we noticed significant emphasis on apprehension and reluctance of soldiers called up, of worries by their families.

Is this an effort to show balance or purposeful ignorance of the enthusiasm many Germans displayed at the beginning of the war? The trains full of happy soldiers, the marching bands, the patriotic fervor before the eventual hangover, illustrated, or example, on this web site?

We eventually ended up on web sites discussing those who did not want to fight and were court-martialed and executed.

The objectors from World Wars I and II did not have the benefit of popular support and TV cameras and remained largely forgotten.

In the UK, those "Shot at Dawn" now do have a memorial, and in Germany, there are several, with the Bonner memorial being among the most significant ones.

In the emotional debate about the subject, this article in the Daily Beast on a book about the topic is well worth a read.

As D-Day becomes an event of history with the passage of time, we have seen a more inclusive remembrance, the most obvious one being the regular invitation of the German chancellor, another the remembrance not just of soldiers. This year, French President Hollande added German victims of the Nazis in his speech.

We can no longer get the opinion of a local German D-Day veteran who made the trip to Normandy in June for many years. One year, a couple of gentlemen approached him as he was taking pictures of a group of allied veterans. They addressed me by name, he said, sounding incredulous even after years, and then they asked me not to take any more pictures. They knew. You don't forget some things, ever.

In Hollywood terms: It appears that collective memory is moving from The Longest Day to Saving Private Ryan.

Friday, June 6, 2014

42 million copies of the daily BILD Zeitung - one for every two Germans

The tsunami of forced happiness and soccer world cup frenzy is here again.

Our best indicator in our time in Germany has proven to be the free special edition of tabloid Bild. The overpriced World Cup merchandise in every store has been on offer for weeks, it is not a good indicator for the start of the events. The merchandise only tells you when the world cup is over because prices will plummet at that point.

Finally here! World Cup fever! screams the headline. 

After a supremely chilly night of 0.5 C (yep, 33 F) up in our hills, isn't it heart warming to find an unwanted copy of BILD in your letter box?

The only heart warming aspect of the rag with its scantily clad young women and not very dressed young men is this:
We look forward to putting it into the recycling bin in the hope it'll end up as recycled TP in the supermarket.

Which is a far less direct process as older Germans we know chose: they simply tore it up into TP sheet size squares and applied it directly as needed.

There are no good estimates of the amount of BILD Zeitung ink in the sediment of German septic tanks, but we are talking many tons if we can believe accounts of old customs. Based on the stunning amount of septic tank ink, arachnid archeologists may one day conclude that every German farm had its own printing press for at least half a century.

Bread and Circuses is alive and well thousands of years after some Roman empire party pooper decried the practice.

One more thing: If you live in a country prone to world cup fever, watch your government very very carefully for the next weeks. Some of the worst legislation ever is routinely passed while nobody watches the government -- we kid you not.

One more one more thing: If German environmental protection officials, in hazmat suits and clutching a mass spec, raid your septic tank based on our estimates of old BILD sedimentary ink, please accept our apologies.

The TV series Moone Boy - fun Irish entertainment

Moone Boy is a funny and sweet Irish themed TV series about growing up. The first two seasons are available on DVD for the no TV crowd like us.

The character who is the Boy in Moone Boy is Martin, the only son of a sign painter and housewife couple in a small Irish town. Martin's older sisters round out the family with their own issues and antics.

Not the sort of child prodigy often found in movies and other series, Martin is a normal boy and his real life problems with school bullies, the trappings of power as a member of the altar boy mafia as well as the onset of puberty are at times hilarious.

His imaginary friend Sean is a blast, down to the smallest details of Martin's imagination. Which include a few seconds of both wondering why Sean all of a sudden sports bright red high heels.  

Set in the late 1980s and the 1990s, you also get to enjoy TV clips from the era on the Moone family TV.

Including such gems as The Hoff (David Hasselhoff) doing his song "Freedom" at the crumbling Berlin Wall.

The short animation sequences in the show are enticingly hilarious.

Another great feature of the series: NO LAUGH TRACK.

For someone easily discombobulated [our big word of the day] by laugh tracks like TheEditor, this is a tremendous bonus. The number of British made shows not watched by TheEditor beyond the first 15 minutes due to the dumbest invention in TV history is astounding.

If CPR on a dead bird is your cuppa, watch Moone Boy if you get a chance.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The weirdest German Kaiser conspiracy theory ever

This post is a good soccer World Cup post - it has nothing to do with soccer but posting it while nobody is paying attention is probably best.

Just as you think life cannot get any weirder, something else comes along to top it. You know the feeling if you live past age 30.

So, not long ago we were out and about, meeting Germans, having coffee, chattering merrily.

Then one asked: Do you think there could be a secret society waiting in the wings to take over government?

What do you mean, there's always somebody ready to take power if a government fails.

No, I want to say, would you believe it if somebody told you there is a sort of shadow government in place since the last German emperor abdicated and went into exile?

Just a few years shy of one century? That sounds far fetched...

Isn't it! The problem is that's what this guy I know told me, and he had it from a retired official. The official told him there was a well-networked large group of folks who meet on a regular basis to discuss details of the new old government, prepare plans, hammer out contingency plans.

Exceedingly difficult to believe, mildly put. If I didn't know you, I'd say you are pulling my leg.

The conversation went on for another few minutes during which we were told that the original source who had blabbed to his acquaintance had ended the brief revelation with the obligatory "I shouldn't have told you this and cannot say another word."

It is a charming and weird story, conjuring up old guys named "von" wearing top hats and smoking cigars in dimly lit studies of mansions and old castles.

Maybe the official is gullible or nuts, maybe his interlocutor is, maybe both are.

Or there might be a kernel of truth to in in that formerly powerful people everywhere sit around reminiscing about the old times and wishing the old glory back.

Unless TheEditor of the K-Landnews turns up dead, smothered with a top hat or impaled by a spiked helmet, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.

Actually, there shouldn't be any reason to worry whatsoever if remember in an emergency to invoke those of our ancestors who served in the German Kaiser's Guards.

We have been wondering if life in the hills might be fertile ground for strange beliefs -- remember one of our early posts about the cat abduction urban myth as it swept through our hills once again?