Saturday, January 31, 2015

Time for second look - about 9/11 false flag terrorism

People who have not believed in the official 9/11 narrative do not have to feel as marginalized and as disparaged as in the early years after 9/11.

The blogster just found this presentation on YouTube: Time for second look - about 9/11 false flag terrorism, which indicates that the much maligned "truthers" are in good company these days. Many of the smartest people on the planet have come to accept that the official 911 Commission and the NIST reports do not reflect reality.

According to the video, you even find Fox News journalists who call the official version a lie.

As a "non" truther, accepting facts and evidence that point to this conclusion is not easy. The tools for understanding are not universally shared, although an advanced placement course in physics plus a good teacher can help with the science of the World Trade Center 7 demolition, the wider battle is the battle over experts.

And, in the more self critical of us, it involves the willingness to confront previously comforting beliefs about the world.

The blogster might not recommend watching this video or reading up on evidence of 9/11 as a conspiracy, were it not for immense consequences of the event on the world.

The video was put up on YouTube in 2010, almost five years ago. This makes for even more fascinating viewing because of world events in those five years.
Whether the full truth about 9/11 is relevant in the long run depends on how you define long run, which the blogster sets at "several hundred years".

For those of you who tend to see someone as an unpatriotic wing nut, you might want to watch the video, then come back to the post.

If you do not want to do this, let's part with a reference to the Twitter profile, which says "Six countries, nine lives". The reference would be a smiling: See life number 4, which involved access to information, "the unauthorized disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security".

Driving cars too cheap & the 10 000 Euro/year parking spot

With the same regularity as the annual appearance of the Easter bunny, and with the same credibility, Germans churn out reports stating that driving a car is too cheap.

The link takes you to an interview in German weekly Die Zeit (online), but you really don't need to go there.

The reader comments to the piece demolish it by comment number 5.

Comment 5 takes up the claim that every public parking space costs the public 10 000 Euros per year, which would take the total cost to around 400 billion Euros a year, just under 10% of German GDP.

Don't get the blogster wrong: a world without cars might in fact be a much nicer place, but  any claim that driving in Europe is too cheap does not stand up to scrutiny.

Basic logic calls for clarification of the conceptual framework, i.e. "too cheap compared to what"?

True, when comparing a car ride to a train ride, we tend to compare the train ticket to the gas price and call it a decision. That's a problem, but it becomes even more of a problem when a "mobility expert" does just that, really evading the question how to get to work, how to do your shopping and how to have a social life.

As an American, with the nearest grocery store 30 miles away, or out the far reaches of East LA or Riverside, you understand this.

But hey, gas in Germany and other Western European countries is so cheap in early January 2015, a mere 6 dollars a gallon. Public parking in cities, if you can find it, comes with airport parking prices minus the airport.

The standard recommendation of the current expert: take the train more often. Which is cool because he is not only a professor of sociology but also a department head at DB Rent, the German railroad company's "modern mobility" firm.

Of the many issues with taking the train in Germany, one is that the country has dug up lots of railroad lines since the 1980s and that the overall trend to more workplace flexibility (where and when you work) completely flies in the face of riding the train or taking the bus.

Since mobility experts are so fond of including "external" costs, why do they usually ignore the extra time it takes to use public transport outside of the biggest cities?

Read a book!

Right, when walking, sure.

Listen to music or the radio!

Do you have an internet connection? Check the news for pedestrians splattered all over because they were doing just that.

If you are a non-German reader, you should also know that this professor is regarded as a moderate car critic because he advocates car sharing and e-mobility.
It is true, other famous German auto critics come with the sort of zeal you have last heard of in connection with some religious fanatics.

Rest assured, the study will be used by the government to jack up the cost of driving. Getting more poor people off the road has at least one advantage besides helping the environment: it makes room for the drivers of expensive fast German cars to get to work and play quicker and safer. Once there, they will have more time to figure out how to reduce vehicle traffic.

Maybe we'll ride the bicycle to work one day and will finally meet the person who left the bicycle tire tracks in the snow.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cold War Fun: From Russia with Love

Once upon a time, there was a Cold War (look up the term on Wikipedia). The world was reassuringly bi-polar, kept calm by nuclear pacifiers, television came in color, newspapers came on refined wood pulp. "The enemy" spoke a reasonably easy to learn language and did not pretend to be religious.

All this gloom, however, had moments of sublime hilarity.

We told you about a few, for example, the German officer on his way to Berlin by car being sent off with "have a good trip, Colonel Meyer"** by the East German freeway border guard. Assuming a mistake, our German major was somewhat surprised to learn of his promotion to Colonel upon return from Berlin.
Or how someone took old WW II Wehrmacht flags out of a museum for a ceremony without paying attention to the small black swastikas on the metal tips. A number of NATO grandees saluted a bunch of 2 inch by 2 inch swastikas, and you have never heard about it***.

Here is a new one.

Early morning at a NATO base in southern Germany, some time after the 6 AM shift change but before the daytime crowd arrives.

The telephone of the duty officer rings. The guard commander is on the line.

Sir, I would like to report two Russian trucks at the main gate, says the sergeant, his voice calm with just a hint of incredulity.

The duty officer, a rotund colonel with a BMI a tad too high for a modern professional fighting force - as well as for the tastes of his wife - is trying to find a way to express leadership in a crisis: Soviet trucks, you mean, sergeant? What about them?

Sorry, sir, yes, Soviets. Two civilian flatbeds loaded with wood. The drivers say this is a delivery for the base firing range.

Tell them to wait, I'll be right over.

The colonel was mildly apprehensive. Civilian trucks out of the Eastern bloc countries, and especially out of the Soviet Union, were widely regarded as a mere extension of the mighty Soviets, an impression quite understandable when most drivers looked like special forces personnel on vacation.

The encounter with the drivers went from cautiously professional to rather cordial when they showed the papers. The listed original shipping company was an Italian outfit that had won a NATO wide bid, which had been sub contracted out, to eventually end at a Soviet lumber plant. For the foreseeable future, the firing range of this NATO base was going to use Russian, pardon, Soviet, wood for target practice panels and supports. Every now and then, some of the troops rotating through would see a "Made in USSR" stamp on a panel and wonder for a second.

A couple of the guards were dispatched to accompany the trucks to the range, as much out of residual caution as to avoid surprises for the Soviets at the firing range. After all, there always were lots of guys with live ammunition at the firing range.

It remains unknown whether the Soviet drivers took a few pictures on the way out, and, frankly, nobody involved cared. The guard log had an entry, but it is unlikely that an incident report was ever filed.

** Name changed, incident true.
*** Except here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Can you stop a tiger by blinking your eyes?

Warning: Do not try this at home. Do not try it in the wild either. Do  not get close to a tiger, period.

Of course, if you have a fully grown tiger at home, you may be crazy beyond hope anyway.

The question originally was can you stop a tiger by closing your eyes? This version was discarded because of a lack of scientific rigor. What if you do close your eyes a few yards from a tiger? Do you just stand there with the eyes closed and wait? In that case, how long should you wait?

Can you stop a tiger by blinking your eyes, however, is neat, easy and has an answer.

The answer is: it works most of the time.

The question why the f*** would I do this, is also answered in the course of this post.

In theory, you could try it next time you go to a zoo. Stand safely behind thick glass or behind the wire fence. Do not gesticulate or make any movement to attract the attention of an animal - ever.
Look at a tiger, then slowly blink with one eye. If a big cat sees you do this, and if the big cat is not busy doing something more important that dealing with you, there is an excellent chance the tiger will stop for a moment.
Regarding a tiger in a zoo, we generally refrain from doing a slow blink. Leave them be with their group.  An exception is an unhappy solitary tiger prancing back and forth in a small enclosure. Stopping a prancing animal in its tracks for a couple of seconds it not a power trip, by the way. It is a friendly you are not alone blinky-postit-note of sorts.
And you may catch a glimpse in the eye of the tiger: did I really see this human doing that?

In practice, get yourself a house cat to observe the phenomenon. If you don't have one, ask a neighbor if he or she has noticed the behavior, or if you can practice on his or her cat.

The experiment is a lot safer with a house cat. Genetically around 95% tiger, the majority of house cats still understand this old big cat body language.

Cats, as big as tigers or lions, as small as a house cat, do not blink involuntarily, except in extremely rare instances.

Instead, they have turned the act of blinking into a friendly gesture. It may or may not say, look, I'm comfortable enough around you to close my eyes, I don't think you'll pounce on me and try to eat me if I close my eyes.

Cats are not stupid, house cats will not interpret the involuntary frequent human brief blinks as an attempt to communicate. They will, however, interpret a slow, long blink as one.

As a cat owner, you may actually be doing this already, without giving it much or any thought. Make a deliberate attempt.

Did it work? Did you get a response in the form of a slow blink with one or both eyes?

If not, try again. Cats are cats, after all, and will be darned if they always do what you want them to. When you get a blink response from your pocket tiger, pause, does it make you feel good? It should.

Which answers the question why you should do it. And no, it will not work with dogs.

Warning: Again, do not try this at home. Do not try it in the wild either. Do  not get close to a tiger, period.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fully electronic vehicle license plates, anyone?

While you were fretting about the size and shape of an obscure button on the Apple iPhone user interface or hotly debated whether airbrushing a sweat stain on your favorite politician is yet more proof of the mainstream media going loco, we were plotting....nothing.

Since doing nothing is rapidly becoming the worst of anti-social behaviors in the eyes of the hyper productive relentless world of today, we do claim that doing nothing is our contribution to saving the world by minimizing our carbon footprint.

The guilty pleasure of the blogster is, however, reading. This can cause long suppressed ideas to find their way into a blog post.

Like that of the fully electronic license plate. No more wasting of scarce resources, minimal administration.

Just a small screen saving society time and money. As in trips to the DMV. With the right tech and a credit card, your vehicle gets registered, the tax deducted, a license "plate" created at the press of the ignition button.

You didn't really expect "ignition key", did you?

Add a remove engine kill switch to that, and soon the concept of a high speed car chase will be the hilarious sight of a 1960s VW beetle crawling along the roads inches ahead of a Crown Vic whose shock absorbers were replaced with suspenders some time in the 1980s.

Having shaped the future of motor vehicles** in three sentences, let's talk about a side project: license plate projectors.

Various governments around the world are using real time vehicle traffic databases so government employees and contractors enjoy the benefit of being able to check where their spouses, their kids, their ex-es, and their drugs are at all times. Their drugs refers to the ex-es, just to be clear.

In movies and cop shows, you see good guys or bad guys slap on different license plates to disguise their vehicles.

Don't Holly-, Bolly-, and Hong Kong Wood have these new small projectors mounted above or below an existing plate to project a "new" license plate onto the vehicle as needed?

It is no big technical challenge and much safer than having to interrupt a car chase to change plates. The old Wurlitzer style plate changer of Jimmy Bond may appeal to viewers whose mobile phone buttons must be at least  half an inch square.

But why has nobody noticed that even the Transformers can not do it? They can go from car or truck to walking and - unfortunately - talking robots, but they are unable to take care of modern license plates?

So, go and make that license plate projector in HD, but do not use it on the street.

** Don't tell anybody that we will not need plates any longer soon, cars will have 24/7 electronic connection. But we need vanity plates!

It's the little things: electronic medical cards

Since 1 January 2015, Germans must show up at surgeries and hospitals with a "Health Card", a smart card, in order to receive treatment.

Like any other large project, this one has been in the works for a few years. The document by the Smart Card Alliance here is from 2006 and announces introduction of the card for 2009.

Right now, the card contains an "ID" set of data, but expansion to an "electronic medical record" is in progress, with patient participation fully voluntary.

Fully voluntary is, of course, a legal concept, meaning the first set of data that went from fully voluntary to fully mandatory is prescription information.
Obviously, this does not change the fact that patient participation is fully voluntary.

Security of data and patient doctor confidentiality were a primary design consideration of the system, bringing us such grand statements as "the system is far more secure than online banking".

Are you smiling yet?

We are willing to bet on creative use of the system by others than the Germans. Any such use will certainly be for the benefit of patients.

Wouldn't you appreciate it if you showed up at a Chinese airport one day to be greeted with "Mr. Meyer, welcome. The government would like to inform you that we are currently out of <name of HIV drug> but here is a complimentary bottle of drug <XYZ> for the duration of your stay."

Much closer to home, if you show up at your doctor without the card to get a script renewed, they will send you away unless it is a life and death emergency.

This behavior is illegal, explained the friendly specialist at the health insurance provider. Without losing the smile: But there is nothing you can do about it.

This statement is true for average people like us, but there is a way out: If not taking medication for a chronic condition won't send you to the ER in an ambulance, there is one way left to get the renewal. Tell the receptionist you would like to go private.

You will receive the script in no time, you'll have to pay the full price at the pharmacy.
Come to think about it, maybe Germans should start saving money for private medical treatment in the future.

Or learn Chinese, so you can thank the immigration officer in Chinese for the superb treatment of visitors.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's the little laws, stupid: bureaucratic punishment German style

Imagine a world in which you are flooded with irrelevant news.

See, easy.

Now imagine, you are somewhere in Germany and you lose your driver's license.

Of course, it won't happen to you personally, just imagine it happens to your worst enemy. If you don't have one, pick one just for this exercise.

In the U.S., this event may give rise to a bout of DMV phobia.

For readers who have never stood in line at an American Department of Motor Vehicles office, a reasonably close description would be this: Your blood pressure doubles, adrenaline flows freely, and you catch yourself hoping that the asteroid announced as a fly by spectacle this week would ever so slightly veer off course and put you out of your misery.

In Germany, with its efficient public administration, it is different.

You check the county web site for required documents, go to the office, wait a mere hour, and you are done.
The list of items to bring is short: one recent biometric passport photo and a valid photo ID.
The cost of a replacement driver's license is 35 Euros if reported stolen to the police, 70 Euros if lost. **

Wait, what? 35 Euros if reported stolen to the police, 70 Euros if lost.

Your blood pressure doubles, adrenaline flows freely, and you catch yourself hoping that the asteroid announced as a fly by spectacle this week would ever so slightly veer off course and put you out of your misery. 

See, this is the perfect example of the "little laws" we mentioned in the post's title.

Because it really doesn't matter if a country has ratified the UN declaration of human rights.

Everybody ratifies that. The true colors of any administration are shown in the routine interactions and rules.

In 2015 Germany, you get punished, pure and simple, if you lose your driver's license.

We'd love to see German statistics of stolen and lost driver's licenses. The best statistics would be from before institution of this form of semi judicial punishment and after.

No, we did not lose a license, we did read a few county web sites.

** Rounded for convenience.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

2nd floor emergency exit - a window but no fire escape

We were sitting in the waiting room of the small town physical therapy and gym, chatting with the receptionist to pass the five or six minutes before the therapist was ready.

The physical therapy practice is situated in a former industrial building. The company produced measuring devices, and the complex has 1950s written all over. It has square, stout, grey buildings, their only color accent, dark blue, provided by the new looking double pane windows. The weeds trying to push the concrete slabs of the parking area out of the way and the flaking paint on the weather side indicate that industrial use of the site was discontinued probably between five and ten years ago.

A wheelchair ramp, arguably a necessity for a physical therapy practice and obviously not part of original building, leads up to reception. The reception counter must be part of the former setup, built out of 4x4s with a counter plate so thick and bolts so sturdy that it would have been an effective protection against a battle tank in case the Soviets had ever made it into these western German hills.

The counter top is so high off the ground that we instinctively looked around for a step stool, you know, for height challenged clients.

The waiting area is located behind the reception counter and the seats are of identical rugged construction with a formerly bordeaux dark red 1950s vinyl cover that will outlive us as well as a couple of generations to come.

Under the wide window with a view to the slope leading up to the road some 30 yards away is a table with magazines and refreshments. When they moved to this place, they splurged on a new coffee maker, one of these individual cup Nespresso deals, cute and wasteful.

Right above the window is a green plastic sign showing a pictogram man running towards a pictogram door and. for good measure, the German word "Notausgang", emergency exit.

In the old days, we used to joke about the "Not", a cheap shot, adolescent at best, as in "it is not a regular exit".

Wait, we saw the window on this side of the building as we came in. It is at least 8 feet off the ground, and there is no fire escape there.

Did we not see the fire escape on the outside of the building? Maybe it was the perfect matching grey of the facade, we overlooked it? We leaned over the table to the window. There was nothing but a slope, no paved surface under the window for a fire engine ladder, just the steep slope.

As the receptionist came back from a brief smoke break, we ventured: Do you get lots of comments about the emergency exist sign?

Some, but even more about the signs up on the second and third floors, she smiled. The building inspectors made us put them up. Then a small pause, no, there is no fire escape out there. They only wanted the signs.

Ah, German efficiency.

"Double Strand" text security available in "CuttleFish"

Want to earn 1 Dollar? Read on.

Project CuttleFish now has an implementation of the "Double Strand" or Scrabble Bag algorithm described in [Updated 1/24] Defeat n-gram snoopers with a Scrabble Bag.

If you don't feel like reading up on either, here is how "Double Strand" is implemented.

Short version: Shaken, not stirred.

Long version:
1. Some pseudorandom text is appended to an original text message.
2. Every character in the combined text is assigned the number of its position in the text.
3. The "map" is sorted in alphabetical order, changing the sequence of position numbers in the process.
4. Using the best free random number generator we could find,  AESCounterRNG, without bothering to look for the unicorn Fortuna PRNG, the characters and their matching positions are grabbed "sort of randomly" and saved into two separate files. One contains only the random characters, the other only has the numbers. Think of it as a zipper which you split it its two strands...
5. To reconstitute the original message, a user needs open the <message>.txt file. CuttleFish expects the corresponding numbers file in the same folder as <message>_numbers.txt and will open it at the same time.

To send a message secured with "Double Strand" to a recipient, you need to send both files. Send them separately, maybe even packed in an additional CuttleFish "envelope", and your unfriendly neighborhood hacker or your friendly neighborhood government will spend valuable CPU cycles trying to read your message.

So, for the fun of it, reconstitute the "Double Strand" message below and earn 1 (one) US dollar if you are the first to succeed. Shipping and handing of the dollar is on us. The message is not encrypted at all, only encoded as BASE64 for easy transport.
Of course, you are not being given the file with the character positions.


[update] Yeah, you can offer me a job if you manage to break this. Otherwise, please keep the brain teasers to yourself.
[end update]

Friday, January 23, 2015

Countering the economic damage by male private parts

A German court case once again illuminates the under reported economic damage male private parts inflict on the wider economy every day.

This specific example is about a legal dispute between a landlord and a former renter. The landlord withheld the deposit after termination of the contract for damages to the apartment.

The largest item in dispute of just over 2000 dollars was the bathroom floor. The landlord replaced the marble, yes, it says marble, bathroom floor because the renter's urine had dulled the area around the commode.

The issue was, of course, the habit to pee in the standing position.

If you are a male in Germany or planning to visit in the near future, don't worry. The judge denied the landlord's claim, saying the males around here are allowed to pee standing despite signs of an "increasing domestication" of males.

While this is good news for males, the issue of urine splatter does not go away. The economic damage won't disappear any time soon.

Who pays?

The next renter.

Imagine for a second a single mother moves in after that renter. It is she who will bear the cost of the man's manly gross behavior through a higher monthly rent.

What can be done?

German politicians refuse to address this subject in public, some point to the necessity of an EU wide ruling to avoid a proliferation of local penile legislation.

Just think of the potential for international conflict, explained one. If I stand in France and pee across the border into Germany, what law should apply? The physics of a liquid trajectory are not codified in EU law, so would you want to face a crisis, and by crisis I do not mean the size or shape of the member, he stressed, between France and Germany over a few ounces of yellow liquid? In light of the last hundred years of history, no one can want that.

We need better guidelines and more training, said a consultant who normally specializes in making stupid uses of deadly force go away

A substantial component of the issue is the fact that military draft was eliminated, he added. Military historians are complicit with politicians and the media in never mentioning this. You see, during military service, young German males lived in an environment free of women, where they could train their aiming and shaking skills without being criticized minutes after leaving the bathroom. They would also spend a lot of time outdoors, where trees and shrubs provided a safe and fun training environment.

Yes, it is more complicated than it appears, agreed the politician. We cannot ban the practice and criminalize young males. They already suffer enough from the ban on doing it in public. It is not their fault that God gave them greater flexibility than women. 

In addition to better guidelines and training, men should be made to have a medical check up every six months in the interest of public health as well as for insurance purposes. 
It is not too much to ask to demonstrate appropriate aiming and shaking skills twice a year, claim advocates of Splatter Free Privy, a charity specializing on male needs.
Confirmation of the check-up could be used by insurance companies as an incentive in homeowners insurance. Enforcing a "no check-up, no standing" policy is probably less of a problem than you would expect. In our experience, volunteers could cover much of the enforcement. There are plenty of men hanging out around public bathrooms, so there is a potential of putting them to good use in the name of public health.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The State of the Upheaval (SOTU) in cryptoland

Let's try to give a brief overview of the State of the Upheaval (SOTU) in the media regarding the storm over David Cameron's encryption offensive.

The Guardian quotes him as follows:
“In extremis, it has been possible to read someone’s letter, to listen to someone’s call, to listen in on mobile communications,” he said. “The question remains: are we going to allow a means of communications where it simply is not possible to do that? My answer to that question is: no, we must not.”

The ensuing arguments centered on the predictable issues of terrorism and "other" crime, on the technical sense and nonsense, on privacy expectations and on the so-called cryptowars of the 1990s.

We have cyberlibertarians on one side and concerned government leaders on the other, so why even talk about it when the lines are clear and the winners already established?

What winners?

The "no one should be above the law", of course. They may not get all they want, such as making use of TOR or other anonymization tools outright illegal.
But that's not the point for the moment. The point is to get at the various service providers' encryption keys.

It is sad to see how a non-issue becomes such a hotly debated subject.

Yes, a non-issue.

Because government officials can get pretty much any data they want. They may be stumped by some encrypted emails, by some OTR chats, or by and encrypted hard drive.
But it does not fundamentally change their ability.

What they really want is to extend their options and make collection easier, as cheaply as possible, with as few legal challenges as possible.

Look at the original statement again: read someone’s letter, to listen to someone’s call, to listen in on mobile communications.

None of these communications are older than about 200 years for the overwhelming majority of citizens. Up until about 200 years ago - give or take a century - the majority of citizens were illiterate - no letters for the government to read. Then came the telephone and "mobile phones".
Big difference: None of these technologies allowed to build a full picture of the user's life.

The statement "a means of communications" tells us all we need to know.

The quaint human activities of "reading a letter" or "listen to someone's call" are not what the initiative is about, it is about basically everything you do.
The encryption genie is out of the bottle, so, the logical industrial scale approach is to get at the keys.

Many call for "a discussion" but shy away from something truly comprehensive. Mr. Cameron's statement is so heavily loaded from the outset that the part "the question remains" is merely a rhetorical facade.

If "we should have a debate", why not start with some trust building measures for starters.

Say, the government sends an email or text notification to every citizen whenever private data of a citizen is collected or accessed.

If the little online shop selling pet food or vibrators can do it, why not the governments we elect and pay for?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

German 4 Dummies: Volksverhetzung

Our plan to bring you the long word Volksverhetzung has been made easier by a new development in the German Pegida debate. A German prosecutor is investigating allegations of Volksverhetzung against one of the Pegida organizers .

Pegida, the "anti-Islamization movement", has been garnering international media attention for a few months, with the latest twist having been the cancellation of last Monday's march (or "stroll", as the marchers call it) because of possible attack plans by radical muslims out of the Middle East.

A mere day after this, the news of the investigation into one of the leaders made the rounds. At issue: screenshots from an alleged social media account of the man where he calls refugees and asylum seekers things like "cattle", "dirty rabble", or "garbage".

Hurtful, hateful, xenophobic, are all terms you can use to label such utterances, but we are looking at the legal term Volksverhetzung. It is composed of Volk (people, masses) and a noun derived from Hetze (incitement, hunt, bait, hustle).

The current legal definition (§ 130 StGB) comprises hate speech, incitement to violence directed against groups or individuals as infringing on the human rights of others through slander, defamation, or insulting activity. Wikipedia says "For any hate speech to be punishable as Volksverhetzung, the law requires that said speech be "qualified for disturbing public peace" either by inciting "hatred against parts of the populace" or calling for "acts of violence or despotism against them", or by attacking "the human dignity of others by reviling, maliciously making contemptible or slandering parts of the populace".

In German law, Volksverhetzung has a storied, at times creepy, history. Staring in its early days in the early 1800s,  the law was used to prosecute people who advocated democratic reform. The Nazis used it widely to suppress opponents. The law was extended to include denial of genocide. The law is used mostly in cases that go beyond "simple" contempt or slander.
A virtually unknown fact about this law is that its application is not geographically limited to Germany.

On top of this, a person who violates this law from inside a foreign country, for example, by vociferously denying the Holocaust, can be prosecuted in Germany under § 130 StGB even if he or she is not a German citizen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The bicycle tire track in the snow

Some time between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, out on the road in the falling snow, the car headlights illuminate the tracks of a bicycle.

The thin, waving line is fresh, maybe fifteen minutes old, tops. There are no footsteps next to the track, so the person rode the bicycle in the softly falling snow.

Several miles down the road, the tracks are still there.

The rider negotiated two steep inclines, went downhill, then tackled the next rise.

Monday through Friday.

Someone in these hills is riding their bicycle to work in the middle of winter.

There must be a story there.

Chances are, it is not a very happy one.

New beta module "Hieroglyphs" as a CuttleFish text "envelope"

What is CuttleFish?
CuttleFish is a simple program that makes text messages unreadable to humans. CuttleFish does not use encryption. All it does is turn your messages into what looks like gibberish. It then puts this gibberish into a common file format, which serves as an "envelope" if you will. If a human opens such a file in a standard program, he or she will see "garbage".

New Beta module "Hieroglyphs"
This paragraph is from the readme (help xml) of the distribution jar at
[BETA] "hieroglyphs .png": turns a message into an image file with hieroglyphs. You need the font "Gardiner.ttf" (free download from Limitations of the BETA module: Only a couple of hundred of characters (need to add page handling). FONT DEPENDENCY: This module may fail if the graphics capabilities on the machines of sender and recipient are too different. Please TELL us about issues!

What the output looks like:

The hieroglyphics module produces a .png image file. This means, extracting the original message text requires optical character recognition.

CuttleFish does this without any dependency on other code. The module was written from scratch and requires several parameters to match in order to say it found a match. In the test environments, 100% accuracy was achieved. As stated in the help file, this strict matching requirement may well be too strict for message exchange between computers with different graphics capabilities.

Relaxing the matching may be needed for real world use, any failure of the module under a specific operating system version with a potentially different version of the Gardiner font should be reported to mailhead [at]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The World Leaders Photo in Paris fracas & what was not learned

Did you catch the fracas, French for ruckus, about the photo op of world leaders at the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march?

Here is a quick description: the media showed a number of world leaders arm in arm leading the massive solidarity rally in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Then another other photo of the world leaders came out, taken from higher up: arm in arm in an otherwise empty looking street.

Ah, just a photo op, decried some.

Others did not mention anything for a week. Then they published a version of the photo from an ultra-conservative Jewish newspaper together with the two versions described above. Surprise, the ultra-conservative paper has no Page 3 Girl. Nor a page 1 lady, nor a Page Any Lady.

Interesting but not as much as the reaction of a German public broadcasting executive. He slammed the "empty street" photo first as misleading, then added that they did lead the march, just way ahead of the crowds because of normal security measures.

Sadly, the discussion stopped there.

What's our point?

Our point is that a picture says more than a thousand words. Anyone who has followed life knows that security is important, no question.

Our beef is with showing or nor showing the "whole" picture, and for two reasons.

One, the photogenic close-ups of leaders and celebrities are too close to PR and commercials shots for comfort. Using images in this manner is so ingrained that you run the risk of being called a wingnut or being accused of having no understanding of art if you bring it up as a concern.

Sure, Copenhagen's Little Mermaid, for example, is a cutie from close up. But she is sitting in the middle of a harbor, so you need to make an effort to get as close as the photographer.
The great pyramids in Egypt with their majestic desert isolation look a bit different on the outskirts of Cairo, a swarming metropolis.
And if you want to sell a magazine with a big report on back pain, yes, that size 0 twenty year old lady looks more of a sell than the worn out 40 year old male who is the primary sufferer.

So, reason one was the false sense of closeness, reason two is from the other perspective.

Does it change you, your view of the world, if you spend most of your waking hours in a cocoon of security under the perpetual impression of danger to your life?

It does for most people, yet it is not easy to understand unless you yourself have lived it.The answer to the question on this is yes. *

Combined, these two facts can be very powerful, so it is a pity to miss out on an opportunity to talk about them.

Which may just make the cynics happy with their it's all a show anyway.

 [Update 3/10/2016] A few days ago, German president Gauck arrived for a state visit in Belgium with his plane accompanied by two (Belgian, that's important) fighter jets. Protocol allows to request such an escort - but what does it say about the requester?

Friday, January 16, 2015

More surveillance & harsher blasphemy law: Saudi Arabia or Gaudi Bavaria?

Saudi Arabia, a country where every blogger gets a flogger - and not in the fun sense of the Folsom Street Fair.
Having been an arm's length, well, an arm and a half for you 'cause my extremity is a bit ape like - away from the ruler, let me assure you, the ruler is not a bad guy.


Yet, they are slowly killing a blogger with 1000 lashes.

But the more surveillance & harsher blasphemy law part is not about the Saudis, it is about Germany's very own Gaudi Bavaria. Gaudi is their dialect term for "fun". So, subsequent use of the word Gaudis is only meant to mean "fun loving Bavarian politicians", not a cheap pun on Saudi.

The Gaudis want harsher surveillance laws in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. They have really wanted more surveillance for as long as they exist, but the Paris murders are put forward as reason that Germany very much needs it.

The Gaudis also want a wider definition and harsher sentences for blasphemy.

Yes, there is a blasphemy felony law (3 years max.) in Germany. If you had read our post about why TV show South Park could not have been produced in Germany, you'd know that.

The thing about the German blasphemy law is those who love it and want to up penalties only use the term in quotation marks and will claim with a straight face that it is not a blasphemy law because it does not criminalize insulting God. It criminalizes insulting a religion or world view and disturbing the peace in doing so.

While the hard ass** atheist author of this post understands that criminalizing insulting a guy who is known under at least three aliases has fallen out of fashion, said author feels insulted by the fact that the history of the German law is brushed aside. Because it did start out as an "insult of God" paragraph in the late1800s and was expanded to include religion plus world view and then again expanded during the great student revolts of the late 1960s to include "and disturbing the peace". The latter was meant to limit application of the law.

If you feel like slamming the Jesus or his followers while not disturbing the peace, you are welcome to give it a try. But make sure to send us the address of your German prison so we can send you a bible once you are sentenced and duly locked up.

Because the problem with the softened law is that the notion of disturbing the peace is infinitely stretchable.

According to this newspaper article, "Maria, if you had had an abortion, we'd have been spared this Pope" was worthy of a felony conviction in Germany in the 1970s. Ditto for calling the church a "criminal organization" in the 1980s.
In 2012, calling the Catholic church a "sect of child f****s" did not result in a conviction.

Those who claim that doing away with the blasphemy law is a good and reasonable thing to undertake are also told their cause is becoming a non-issue. We are told the number of cases under the law in 2013 was down to a mere 60, with only "a few" resulting in a conviction.

No matter how few convictions, that's still a lot higher than the number of convictions in 2013 for terrorism charges in Germany.

Interestingly enough, the big Christian churches in Germany do not want to see a harsher law, they are happy with the status quo.

Calls for harsher sentences and for removing the obstacle "disturbing the peace" come from the conservative parties CDU and CSU (the latter being the Bavarians). To make the initiative more acceptable, they emphasize that the protection of this law applies to all religions, not just Christians.

** If you wanna cop a feel, that can be arranged. Under certain conditions.

[Update] Typos

Thursday, January 15, 2015

German 4 Dummies: Stilles Örtchen

It can happen to any tourist or Ausländer (a foreigner, or, in some parts of Germany, colloquial for anybody from a different village or town).

Imagine you are traveling the backroads of Germany. That is a great idea because there is so much to see, and it will be an even better idea once the country wide freeway toll is implemented.

You roll through hills and valleys, you stop at a guest house called Schwarzer Adler for some German sustenance, in short, you are having a great time.

Just as you leave a particularly quaint little town, you decide to show off your recently acquired German and go: was für ein schönes stilles Örtchen.

Upon which the driver bursts out laughing, banging on the steering wheel with both hands for added effect and thus creating a real driving hazard because both hands are off the wheel as a hairpin curve approaches.

We owe you an explanation. Still: quiet, calm. Örtchen: diminuitive of Ort (place, location). The potential problem with the term stilles Örtchen is that it is a common euphemism for the bathroom.
Presumably, using still was meant to reflect both the quiet and the sometimes meditative quality of said location.

It is only the adjective still that has unintended comic results, any other adjective works without this ambiguity. Schönes Örtchen (pretty, beautiful), romantisches Örtchen (romantic), and whatever else you can find the the dictionary to describe the pretty scenery, will not endanger your life when uttered in a moving vehicle somewhere in rural Germany.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

[Updated 1/24/2015] Defeat n-gram snoopers with a Scrabble Bag

Now that the onslaught on end-to-end encryption is sooo on, let's have a bit of Scrabble fun.

Because, as you will see, if any government bans my ability to communicate in private via the internet, they'd better ban Scrabble, too.

The somewhat abstract "strong" encryption is not something this writer uses all the time. The reasons are manifold and well regurgitated everywhere.

It is that I love to have a choice, and the choice is really more a matter of dignity than anything else. And the fact that there are lots of countries that are even less free than the flagship democracies.

Okay, sneaking in the little qualifier less is not nice but allow me to be a bit grumpy today. It's the weather, a winter that does not deserve its name, too hot, too rainy, you know.

Let's assume the great defeat of reliable encryption becomes a reality, does it mean you are defenseless?

There is one huge problem with the great encryption tools and algorithms we rely on: they are incredibly hard to design and just as hard to turn into reliable software. Even the pros get it wrong in astonishing ways, as the heartbleed bug in SSL showed recently.

Given that the number of geniuses I could call on to whip up some great encryption for me, if some government bans the good stuff, is limited and given these folks are very busy solving the world's bigger problems, like, for example, optimizing the NetFilx queueing system, what can an average Joe or Jane do?

First, make some text message envelopes which totally abuse common file formats to hide text. Kind of simple stuff such as putting a message into an xml file that - to humans and computers looks like it contains only a copyright free version of Huckleberry Finn. Or a little video with snowflakes or something that looks like Pacman.


Incidentally, if you send encrypted messages as attachments, you still want an envelope so that the highway robber computers along the way cannot simply look for "GPG v. 2.0" and save your message for later decryption.

The next step is to see if old encryption methods can be used. That's Hide-a-KeyText on that same website.

A running text or Beale cipher is pretty cool but has a problem called statistics. In simple terms, a language contains a limited number of characters which need to be combined into  words.
The permissible combinations are not a free for all as you know if you have played Scrabble and felt the desire for a few extra points.

The guys who want to break these ciphers know this and use n-grams to get there.
The "n" is just a placeholder for a number. So, you can say 2-gram, 3-gram, 4-gram, and it means simply a sequence of that many characters, for example:

This is an example.

Breaking it into 3-grams gives you

Spaces are generally removed but it is not important to the concept.

But, and this is the beauty for average coders like meeself, you can mess with n-grams with little programming.

Assign a position to each letter:
This is

Then sort the characters of "This is" alphabetically while taking the numbers along for the ride [it is called a two dimensional array or a map, but you do not need this jargon]:

In a simple world, you can now separate the numbers and the letters. Send the numbers to your buddy (753461). Wait a couple of hours, send the letters ( iihssT).

Okay, this very short example can be easily resolved by just looking at it. But if you have a longish message (remember to add a chunk of a Daily Mail or Guardian article at the end for more letters), you will get sequences like "aaaaaaaaabbbbbccccddfffffffgggghhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiii"

That's your very own Scrabble Bag. Just letters, no words, no n-grams.

In a not so simple world, you could do much more, for example, do some mathematical operation on the letters. Add or subtract the position number, XOR something, lift them out of the expected alphabet, whatever you fancy.

If you do a running cipher encryption on "aaaaaaaaabbbbbccccddfffffffgggghhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiii", the n-gram snoopers will hate you. Which is what you want.
You will also want to do a running cipher on the numbers, for which they will hate you even more.

While you are  at it, don't start the position count with 1. If you have a text of 20 000 characters, that gives you a spread of 4 digits. Start high at 100 000 or so. With a text of 20 000 characters, you begin with a 6 digit position number and and end with a 6 digit position number, hence there is no "meta" information to be gleaned from the size of the numbers.

So, yes, communicating with a good degree of privacy for message content will be a lot harder if the anti encryption camp wins but hey, we are not in China, so Scrabble will survive and with it will the Scrabble Bag.

[Update 1/19]
A fancier term for this approach would be Double Strand encryption.  The row of sorted letters and the row of position numbers form two strands, as opposed to the original text (or other data, by the way). The original data is a single strand in which the letters and their positions form a unit. The "T" in our example is implicitly at position [0]. Creating two strands allows us to first explicitly associate a position to each letter and, as a second step, to pry them apart into one strand of letters and one strand of positions.

If they are long enough, unlike in our example, the strands are safe.

This is true even without encryption.

According to this website, your standard English Scrabble Bag has 100 letters (tiles). A text message of several thousand alphabetically ordered letters becomes very hard to reconstitute. Do the math if you like really big numbers.

As mentioned above, you can make things even harder by adding superfluous text, something not common but done in obfuscation in order to introduce data to mask the size and the content of a data set.
The best fluff to add would be from a different alphabet or script, very much like dumping two Scrabble Bags into a new unmarked bag, say English and Czech, or Hebrew.

Fun with different length strands
Until now we have implied that your letter and number strand are of equal length, right?
But there is no compelling reason for it. So, instead of adding some extra text, you could just append more, preferably random, numbers to the end of the numbers strand once you separate it from the text strand.
When they are combined by the recipient, the dangling extra numbers are ignored.
You can do the same to the letters strand, but make sure the extras are themselves alphabetically ordered.

Public transmission
Given that the double strand creates to separate carriers of information (content is in one, position in the other), you could even transmit one of them via a public means in a pinch.
As long as no unauthorized person gets hold of the other strand.

Why has nobody thought of this before?
Actually, we don't know that. Maybe someone has but was too shy to ruin their reputation. Maybe somebody has and the technique is currently being used - to save the world, or the end it, who knows.
But two simple reasons come to mind. The first one is efficiency. Short messages, securely encrypted were what was needed. Who would want to decrypt half of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn to get at the real message that says "meet me at the bar at 5"?
Only with a computer, you can do it.
The other reason is versatility and overhead. You don't want internet infrastructure to run on Huck Finn.

[End update 1/19]

[Update 1/24]
Simply sorting a text alphabetically will remove all position information from the collection of letters, but the sequence of numbers is still to some extent vulnerable to the old statistics hack. Say, you have the number 7429615 and the bad guys know there is an alphabet "underneath"? They would go and guess a language, say English, assume that many normal English words contain an "a" and try to set 7 = a. That's a pretty good guess, and with enough time, they could solve the Double Strand from the number strand.

For a good real life solution, you would want to "shake, not sort", which means introducing random draw from the Scrabble Bag.

[End update 1/24]

[Update] Fixed spelling, grammar, made a couple of sentences for readable.

More nostalgia for the digitally challenged society

There are OpEds so easy to poke fun at that the activity is not fun.

It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it, so this piece in Frankfurter Allgemeine entitlled "Our daily disinformation" needs some poking.

With a stylish lead-in complimenting The Matrix, we get the all the world's knowledge at your fingertips overview.

Off to the net is in danger of turning from a medium of information into a vehicle of disinformation (Our xlation of Das Netz droht von einem Medium der Information zu einem Vehikel der Desinformation zu werden.)

The choice of words in the German sentence setting up the bad, bad net is noteworthy. Medium of information is positive, the German "medium" is a bit more upscale, linguistically speaking, than the English "medium".  And the German "Vehikel" is downright pejorative, it denotes not just a vehicle but is much closer in meaning to "contraption" or, for the modern reader, to a "monster truck" than a classy, comfy ride.

A list of the best of the best conspiracy theories and whack jobs on the net follows this intro. Can you guess whether the moon landing is mentioned?
The K-Landnews TheEditor felt a bit slighted, not being mentioned in the list of whack jobs.

This is still bearable, fun, but then we get to the loss of influence by the old fountains of information that had a "sender" (a known named source), like the market square, the newspaper, radio, TV, a web site, or a blogger.

You can take it from here, friends. Use the terms Facebook, intermediary, chain mail, alleged facts, search engines, conspiracy, ignorance, to reconstitute what the OpEd says. You will not go wrong, no matter in which order you use the list of terms.

Anything else we would like to add?

Yes, the OpEd was penned by the digital products chief at the paper.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Parents stressed out? Blame the parents!

From the German newsroom of bunk headlines, we bring you -- drum roll -- come on, a bit more -- better -- today's national news headline is:

Study: Parents create their own stress

Spoiler alert! The study isn't much of a study, it looks and feels like a survey. Like an employee satisfaction survey, only for parents.

One good news is that the study was actually performed on German families. Don't think for one second that this is the rule for studies touted as relevant to parenting in Germany. More often than  not, you get a rehashed American study. Which always contains issues of different nature or weight.

The bad news: the academics who performed the study do blame parents for being too stressed about raising children.

Of course, if you have been around for a decade or two, you have seen parental freakouts, not just around the big holidays but in everyday situations. But does it justify laying the blame on parental stress squarely on the parents?

Hell no.

If we look at the data points in the article, we see all the usual things: parents would love to be able to relax a bit more, they would love more financial support from the government.

One figure, though is important in the context of the policy debates in Germany about work life balance, or rather work parenting balance. Politicians of all colors have stressed the importance of balancing work with raising children. The study says that only 22% of parents feel their stress is caused by work pressure.

70% of parents report that they frequently or on occasion fail to meet their own expectations.

This is why the study blames parents for being stressed about raising their kids. Pressures related to the myriad of social norms, schooling, or legal liability considerations are not mentioned in the article.

The clincher showing the overall direction of the study, however, is this:  it blames the fact that the roles of men and women are no longer clearly distributed for an increase in parental stress.

Read this again and weep.


The fact that mom wants to work and dad wants to have a say about raising the kids is bad for the parents because it means they discuss everything.

Can we please have a minute of silence for the trees that were sacrificed for this crap?

Yes, we do know that parents with fewer children tend to stress more about parenting. But that's been known since we looked at China's one child policy, and blaming the parents as individuals isn't quite appropriate there either.

Give modern parents some credit, they have done better than the last generation and worlds better than the one before. In case you haven't noticed: leather belts today are primarily worn on pants to contain the extra pounds of modern day life.

The dedicated belt on the coat hangar in the hallway, or the closet for the more face saving bourgeois, are over. Canes and walking sticks are used for walking, yeah!

[update] added "survey" vs."study", which is really the crucial point of the debate.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Innovation 2015: Toilet Spy

A few days ago at the super market. Strolling along the weekly specials isle, a jumble of blister packs next to cheap shower heads comes into view.

The package says: Toilet Spy (in anglo speak, yes).
Inside is a photo of a toilet seat in the UP position with a 2 inch plastic thingy the shape and color of the black spy from Mad Magazine stuck on the underside.
A speech bubble emanating from the dark shape says: Seat down, or I'll shoot. This one in German, Sitz runter, oder ich schieße.


When it comes to German potty humor, the word schieße is a great candidate for swapping the letters i and e. Enough said, check a dictionary if you are puzzled.

So, yours truly is not the most innovative person around and will fess up to having worked on a book greeted by one student magazine with the question "who needs this?"

Which means, asking the question re the Toilet Spy may or may not be a good move.

Seriously, who in their right mind would design such a product, and who would buy it?

Have desperate cleaning folks petitioned the designers of crap? Have the designers of crap convened focus groups to verify appeal and usability of the product?

How many barrels of crude oil went into this crude device?

The only glimmer of hope about this thing is that carnival season is in full swing around here. And the combination of feudal uniforms and wooden guns plus booze and otherwise induced merriment just might be the reason for the Toilet Spy to appear at this point in time.

Booze does take away what little focus some males have.

Which leaves one existential question.

Assuming these peeps did a focus group, did male participants have to liquor up for added realism?

And one more question: which perv out there will be the first to stick a tiny wireless camera into it?

German 4 Dummies: Stundenlohn

An important compound to know if you work for money in Germany is Stundenlohn, made up of Stunde (hour) and Lohn (reward, wage, salary).

It is the famed hourly wage of the English speaking world. We will not go into the legal differences between Lohn and Gehalt (wage and salary) and other finer points of selling yourself for money.

Stundenlohn is the traditional basic unit of time based compensation, and even if you are a salaried worker, you will do a quick math to see what you make per hour in order to figure out if a job is worth doing and if your overachiever co-worker is worth his or her money, right?

The other traditional method of compensation is piece work, where you get paid based on discrete units of labor. These units can be everything quantifiable, from the number of words in a blog post or newspaper article to the pounds of strawberries picked and crated, from the number of chicken eviscerated to the number of drinking straws sold or the number of bricks laid.

Paying an hourly wage used to be a way to compensate people for performing work that was hard to break down into a volume per hour and that consisted of different activities. Take the job of receptionist for example. You took phone calls and forwarded them, sometimes after a lengthy conversation who the desired contact was, or after looking up a directory, or you established a telephone conference. You also attended to visitors and made badges (from simply writing down names on stickers to operating a camera and fancy software). You could be the point of contact for delivery people and the one who made sure there was an uninterrupted supply of hot coffee. And  so forth.

The flexibility of hourly wage jobs had a drawback to the number crunchers. In the times of cigarette smoking employees, in case you are old enough to have lived through them, you will have seen the receptionist sneaking out for a cigarette on company time.

Enforcement of work time for receptionists was largely based on asshole visitors who bitched about the receptionist not stubbing out the cig within a second of Mr. Important walking in through glass doors worth ten years or more of the receptionist's wages.
Or based on the unpredictable schedule of the boss.

Even in the days of pen and paper, specialists would try to figure out how much work an hourly employee could perform in one hour. While reasonable for planning and costing, it was imprecise enough to leave a bit of breathing room, unless you worked in a sweatshop.

Ever increasing calls for efficiency and productivity, combined with better technology for capturing and measuring work have changed the nature of hourly work in many sectors.

While lawyers, for instance, are asked to document their billable hours, we have yet to see a task sheet for lawyers that says "Look up statute xx: 5 minutes 45 seconds".

On the other hand, such a task sheet is common across industries where the official mode of compensation is "hourly".

So, if you arrive in Germany and are offered a job that pays Stundenlohn, figure out what that really means.

Around here, Stundenlohn has often mutated into a "target wage" unrelated to the actual time worked.

For example, a friend works as a cleaner in a nearby factory for a Stundenlohn of 9.45 Euros. The catch: work is set up in such a way that it always takes longer than the 3.5 daily hours she gets paid.  Fifteen minutes to half an hour more each day is the rule - without extra pay because 3.5 hours is the time calculated for the job.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mindestlohndebatte: Stundenlohn für Zeitungszusteller

Seit Januar 2015 werden Zeitungszusteller nach Stundenlohn bezahlt.

Wie wurde die Zeitvorgabe ermittelt?
Anscheinend nach dem durchschnittlichen Abo-Volumen in 2014 auf Grundlage von 1 Minute pro Zeitung. Die effiktiven Zeiten der Zusteller wurden nicht erfasst.

Die Aussage 1 Minute pro Exemplar wurde aus Angaben einer Gruppe von aktuell Beschäftigten abgeleitet. Dabei wurde ermittelt, dass die tatsächlich benötigte Zeit in den untersuchten 10 Fällen durchgehend weit höher ist als die nun veranschlagte. Die benötigte Zeit lag dabei im günstigsten Fall um 30 % höher, im ungünstigsten um fast 100%.

Dies bestätigt unsere fühere Vermutung, dass Zeitungszusteller bislang oft nicht mehr als 2 Euro pro Stunde verdienten.
Abweichungen ergeben sich für die räumliche Verteilung und Größe der Zustellbezirke, d.h. kleinräumige städtische mit höherem Verdienst/Stunde, dagegen weitläufige ländliche mit niedrigerem.

Die nachfolgenden Zahlen stammen aus einem tatsächlichen Zustellbezirk. Nicht eingerechnet sind variable Nebenleistungen (Fahrtkostenzuschuß, Nachtarbeitszuschlag).

Bis 31.12.2014
Anzahl  Zeitungen:  30
Stücklohn:               2,50 Euro/Zeitung pro Monat (bei 26 Tagen)
Entgelt:                    75 Euro

Ab 1.1.2015
Anzahl  Zeitungen:  30
Stundenlohn:           6,40 Euro
Zeitvorgabe:            31 Minuten (30 m = 3,20 E)
Entgelt:                    83,2 Euro, mit 30 m

Mehrverdienst:       + 8,20 Euro
Abzüglich (konservativ) im Schnitt 2 Euro pro Monat  durch Wegfall von Werbeprospekten
De facto Mehrverdienst  ca. + 6,20 Euro

Realistische Schwankungen in der Bezieherzahl?
Im Beispielzustellbezirk bleibt bei + 2 Exemplaren ein Mehrverdienst von 1,2 E/Monat
Bei Minderung um 2 Exemplare steigt der Mehrverdienst auf ca. 11 E.

Abopreise erhöht zum 1. Januar um  1,9 Euro, ergibt für 30 Examplare 57 Euro.

[Update 15 Feb. 2015] Eine Zustellerin in unserem Einzugsbereich hat es tatsächlich geschafft und weniger verdient. Im Januar lag ihr Entgelt um 20 Euro unter dem Vergleichsmonat des Jahres vorher.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The value of a tragedy?

Tragedies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are a tragedy to individuals, some to small groups, some to countries, some to the world.

To limit the scope of this post, we'll define tragedy as an event that stuns you in its scope or brutality and leave out natural disasters and events commonly called accidents. This still leaves a ton of events, out of which we picked two: 911 and the CharlieHebdo attack of this week.

We picked them because they seem to be two events on which the overwhelming majority of folks on this planet might agree when we use the word tragedy.

So, what value can a tragedy have, especially one of such caliber that we will always hear it called "a senseless tragedy"?  For one, sense and value are not the same.

The one value we at the K-Landnews see in tragedy is probably known since at least the Greeks who invented the concept as currently used. We have not checked this claim, feel free to google it, or - if you live in the EU to bing it to show you independence from Google even if the results are dodgy.

The value of tragedy is: it gives us an opportunity to reflect on who we are.
Needless to say, many waste this opportunity. See Dick Cheney if you doubt this.

The tremendous value in what you see in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy lies, to us, in the almost automatic nature of many responses [including this post]. No matter how well rehearsed, no matter how measured things will be after a week or so. The initial few days speak volumes.

About 911, a few things still pop up in our minds every once in a while. The eerie silence on the train around the time the first plane hit is one. Another illuminating point was how quickly, within a day or two, Indian and Pakistani co-workers put American flag stickers on their cars.
Those who mentioned this to me did not cite patriotism or solidarity, they cited the fear that came with dark skin and, for some, with a turban.
Within a day or two after the attacks, the building I worked at was draped in a huge American flag, one of those 30 or 40 feet deals you only see in movies.
Within the first week, the company had rebranded a suite of products to "Homeland Security Suite". Someone saw the money early.

With the CharlieHebo shootings, the German Interior Secretary called for the removal of videos of the event from YouTube, according to German weekly Der Spiegel. A day later, after international media showed a clip, the demand became more muted to maybe not everything should stay on YouTube.

The Russian offer of assistance in fighting terrorism? Shot down immediately by some German commentators as an effort to get back into the good graces of the West.

Condolences and condemnation of the attack in Arab media? Accepted by conservative commentators, but only after pointing out that they did not call for freedom of the press. 

On Jan. 8, Frankfurter Allgemeine lamented that the country of freedom of speech had censored itself. The article said that no American media had shown Muhammad cartoons, that British media had pixelated some, that the German press received praise for publishing some.
The overall picture is more nuanced than this: a number of popular American online news sites, did publish cartoons, and some large German papers did not.

While the French Front National called for a referendum on the death penalty, the major German parties took their time on policy questions. The Bavarian conservative CSU then called for stricter laws and the introduction of online data retention, despite an EU court decision against the policy.

The largest German police union and some politicians asked for more money and personnel to be able to handle an increased threat.

The aspect of satire and religion beyond CharlieHebo was picked up by Der Spiegel, saying that blasphemy is part of satire and asking this question: why is blasphemy still a felony in Germany?
Indeed, you could ask, why would German politicians who defend the right of CharlieHebo to do Muhammad cartoons oppose abolishing the German blasphemy statute?

If this post has not been worth reading, don't worry. The next tragedy will happen, and maybe someone will have something valuable to say.

Year-end news from the good guys

An American tradition from the days when it was difficult to stay in touch over thousands of miles is still going strong: the end of the year newsletter to family and close friends.

The letter, sent by post, usually contains a photo or two, showing how you aged or stayed miraculously unchanged thanks to Photoshop, and a tightly spaced overview of the major events of the past year.

It is, obviously, grossly unfair to rate these letters, because not every cousin can be Shakespeare or H.L. Mencken.

It is, obviously, also natural to look forward to letters from some people a wee bit more than from others.

One particular friend's news are especially welcome, because the letters are funny, written with the precision of a lawyer - a very good one - and they show year after year that you do not have to become an asshole as you grow up. Growing up these days means you pass the 30 year mark.

The letter shows you can keep a humane, socially conscious self alive through law school, but, yes, you may end law school with a different view of almost all your peers (they have come such assholes now).
You can come out of law school as a great vegetarian cook who can strip the inside of a Victorian house and rebuild it while not destroying its character.

You can establish a publications list to rival that of many full time academics and remain unknown. That's what pseudonyms are for.

The list of accomplishments is actually longer, but just as we do not want to feel we have not accomplished much by comparison, we want to spare you, our readers from the feeling.

Realism paired with an unwavering commitment to social justice and fairness can persist in a human being.

It is a choice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

German multinational Daimler to screen employees against "sanction" or "terror" lists?

According to a report first published in German weekly Der Spiegel, German multinational Daimler will screen all employees against US and European "sanction lists".

On its Forum, Der Spiegel uses the term "terror lists". The company union spokesperson allegedly calls the measure a "beacon of freedom".
According to the report, employees whose names are found on "the lists" will be suspended and not be paid.
Does this mean they will not be paid for hours worked but not paid yet?

The company claims this measure is implemented in order to fulfill requirements of both the EU and the US. There is no mention of other lists, which leaves the question: are the EU lists established at the level of the EU, or are some from individual EU countries?   

As reported until now, the whole issue is simply weird because no information is provided on what lists exactly will be used.

It seems, not even Der Spiegel differentiates between "sanction lists" and "terror lists". The sheer number of lists made by different organizations for different purposes is not mentioned once.

Even lists from a single country carry different actions and have different objectives.

The Swiss banking system has a worthwhile compilation of lists and the consequences of being named on them. For instance, being one one list may require all assets to be frozen immediately, while being on a different one may call for more scrutiny with triggering an asset freeze.

It is odd that a worker who puts wheels on the car for a living at Daimler should end up on one of the lists in the first place.

And the feeling here at the K-Landnews is that this view is shared by the union and management at Daimler. So, it looks like an easy win for all. Look, we are proactive and take standing up for our freedoms very seriously. We can't say it, but we bet, we will never have a hit anyway, so let's just do it and continue to worry about the important things.

Of course, mischievous as we are, any auto maker checking names against sanction and/or terror lists should be advised to check if customers are on it.
You are more likely, at least in Germany, to encounter a customer and no employee on the list.

If you have additional information, contact us. Encrypt with our public key.

Muscle cars - eye to eye with the d*** of a dachshound

TheEditor suggested Eye to Eye with the Wiener of a Wiener but gave in when it* was reminded of a political affair in the US, in which Twitter became sort of a digital Wiener mobile.

One of the many all time favorite subjects of the German media are American car modifications, from Coal Rollers to DeLoreans mounted on a chassis so high that a cherry picker is a good way to get into the vehicle, from gussied up Mercedes Benzes to fiery Porsches.

Germans talk a lot about cars. They make quite a few, too. And they brought the world the diesel engine, that indispensable workhorse of industrial power. 

Talking about cars, however, fulfills a role beyond male phantasies of wealth and velocity.
Car talk in the K-Lands is very much one of the few neutral social areas for, mostly, males, where they can meet across boundaries of work hierarchy and fill the silence that is so hard for average human males to accept.

In the category of vehicle modification, the more practical ones are generally those involving elevating the vehicle. German "sports" packages for everyday rides go the other way: the lower, the better.
Hugging the road, I believe, they call it.

Yet, every time one of those mods comes to within an eighth of an inch of our rear bumper on the autobahn, we pull over calmly and break into a huge smile. A smile, not a grin.

If the low rider driver sees the smile, he will consider it a friendly smile. 

What he does not know is the indelible memory of a ride in an original Porsche 911 through the land and through the towns.

When the driver pulled into a parking space at the curb, a dachshound was just lifting a hind leg at the parking meter, a yard or so away.

The height of the curb combined with the road hugging of the car was an in our face experience of  the joys of German sports cars.

Eye to eye with the wiener of a wiener.

That's where the smile comes from that we extend to every road hugger.

It is also the reason why later models of Porsche and other famous low riders have been elevated a couple of inches from the ground clearance of the liberated 1960s and 1970.

*  TheEditor insists on robust gender neutral forms of address, hence the it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Sausage Fest

Germany's Agriculture Secretary kicked off an avalanche a few days ago when he mentioned in passing that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) draft did not contain any protection of regional food labels.

In a Jan. 4 tweet we predicted:
may nuke protection of German sausage, Dutch cheese etc. Expect cheesy & emotional sausage fest.

And so it happened. Two days later, and the German papers are busy discussing the fate of Nuremberg Brats, Black Forest Ham, and Frankfurt Handkäse (which is "hand cheese" and may cause very dirty minds to ask if it has anything to do with masturbation, but hey...).

Will Handkäse be made in Houston, asks Frankfurter Allgemeine.

They probably looked for a city name starting with H to alliterate for their literate librarian readers, because there is no logic to the question at all.

Have they ever been to Houston?

Most def not.

While everybody is emotional and the cooler minds point out that the upset is a sideshow that obscures more pressing, real issues, we want to weigh in on what protection of regional foods really is.

Tradition, culture, money? All of them, true, but in a more general sense putting up legal protection of food names like the EU Database of Origin and Registration does is above all one thing:

A legal reaction to the elimination of resource constraints and to the spread of production know how and technology.

Take French fish soup specialty Bouillabaisse or the northern German coast dish Labskaus. For the longest time, seafood specialty dishes were protected not by law by by technology, or the lack thereof.
Reliable refrigeration changed the game for seafood. Nowadays, you can cook up your own 1000 miles inland or buy it ready made in the frozen food section.

Meat products saw a similar development, but refrigeration is only one aspect there. Species of animals were much more regional until only decades ago, raw materials for certain recipes were not readily available.

Just ask older Australians about Mexican cuisine without cilantro.

Making champagne is a good example of production know how and technology in the liquid foods arena. Once learned, you can produce champagne in California's Napa Valley. You can do it in Germany, too, but unlike the more relaxed Americans, the Germans cannot call their bubbly champagne. If you do in the K-land, you get fined, you can even go to prison for it.

We can bemoan the loss of traditional food for as long we want to, but there really is no reason to keep the price of "regional food" inflated because we refuse to accept that progress exists.

I don't care if my sausage is called Nuremberg Brat, but I do want to know what's in it. Which means, no unlabelled GMO food please.

So, the discussion comes full circle: both the traditional food proponents and the GMO folks are concerned with labels only.

A German road, 35% of David Cameron, and trash reporting

Der Spiegel gotcha, my British friends.

2015 is Groundhog Year, nearly indistinguishable from the one before, which was, I think, 2014.

German weekly Der Spiegel kicked off the groundhog impression by running an article on how a campaign poster of the Tories uses a German country road. The article lead in starts with "embarrassing gaffe", but the body switches to, well, you don't notice it at first glance, then lays out the case for the appropriation of a German landscape by British ad designers.

They even cite a number, maybe in a nod to the frequent criticism by us at the K-Landnews about German media being number-shy. According to the photographer, about 35% of the photo matches his original.

That's it.

Bad reporting.

Really bad.

The real questions raised by the invasive use of the photo remain unanswered. Actually, they are not even asked!

What happened to the other 75% of the original?

Why is the road surface in the original so bad? The UK version has fresh tarmac!

Why was the image photoshopped? Do images of German road fall short of the taste of the British electorate?

Where does the road lead? To Rome, to Perdiction, to Nowhere?

Who decided to use only 35% of David Cameron in the Reuters photo?

Are the visible 35% of the PM photoshopped, too?

Did the intern who wrote the caption for the Spiegel rendition know what he was doing when writing "Ähnlich, aber anders" (Similar but different)?

Similar but different encapsulates the Germano-British relationship since the days of Chaucer.

And nobody noticed the profound insight!

And don't mention the war, will ya.

This is a snapshot of Der Spiegel's road to nowhere:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Getting a share of the neighbor's wind farm profits

Now, that's what I call "the sharing economy". Unlike all the crap PR out of the Valley of the Silicon Kings and Silicone Queens, being given a share of the income from a neighboring wind farm is true sharing at its best, don't you think?

To free marketeers around the world, such a policy may sound like a socialist nightmare come true.

So, if such a policy exists, its must surely be Venezuela, or Cuba, right? Or maybe little landlocked Bolivia, where increased license revenues from extraction of natural resources have actually been making a difference to the lives of the indigenous poor?

Surprise, it is Germany.

Yes, the European industrial powerhouse which only instituted a loophole-riddled minimum wage four (4) days ago, is quietly doling out money from wind turbines to people whose only qualification is that they live in the vicinity of the wheelies.

Before you sell off your German holdings and take them to Saudi Arabia - not the name sake of the famous Arrabbiata sauce despite religious policies that would deserve the name - or to Singapore, the world's nicest democratic non-democracy, let's look at the facts.

It turns out that the Money For Nothing scheme is limited mostly to communities in diire straits. You 're welcome.

County or state zoning of inland wind farms caused some towns to be excluded from the windfalls due to their location in or adjacent to protected areas. In out neck of the woods, this affects small towns along a national park. Their immediate neighbors to the north of the freeway that represents the line of demarcation can build as many turbines as they want. For the sake of neighborly relations and as a token of political understanding, the disadvantaged towns get a small percentage of the revenue.

See, this is not so bad. It's not as if the entrepreneurial individual builds something and it then forced to give the lazy bum individual neighbor some of the income.

Late last year, though, there was a headline that sounded differently regrading the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The headlines mostly said something along the line Neighbors to be given share of wind farms or Neighbors to profit from wind park revenues.

Always alert to anything that smacks of Money for Nothing, we checked.  As it turned out, companies planning wind farms in the state may be required to offer up to 20% of shares in the farm to neighbor investors. So, the neighbors still have to put in money, and if the company and the neighbors agree on a voluntary arrangement, the voluntary arrangement has precedence over the legal stipulations even if the total share percentage is under 20%.

Both of these measures sound more like common sense to us than like socialists raping  entrepreneurs. 

In our roaming in that urbanized landscape that Germans still sweetly call nature, we have seen some small villages with wind farms only a few hundred yards from the nearest homes, and we can tell you these big machines, higher than most cathedrals, do make a lot of noise. The people living close to them don't get any money, despite living next to the rural equivalent to an inner city freeway.

We hope the folks of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern get their opt in law, and we are sure the noise is made more bearable by the monthly bank statement.