Oh, oh, I got hit by an Internet meme. Both Rey and Wladimir demand my participation, and by the laws of teh Internets™ I shall comply.

The rules:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they've been tagged.

Seven things:

  1. I am slightly color blind (my uneducated guess would be "deuteranomaly", or mild green weakness). It's apparently the most common form of colorblindness, affecting about 6% of males, and I have no considerable problems because of it. Except it may make me not the ideal person to ask about the color combination of clothes (which may arguably be a blessing). I've known since the medical exam before elementary school, yet at the military exam, the woman testing my eyes thought she was making a great discovery and shouted out "you are colorbind!!!" -- I yawned.
  2. I learned to read well before attending elementary school while I was still in kindergarten. (Don't know how others do it, but in Germany, at least at that time, it wasn't taught before first grade). I picked it up out of curiosity from my brother who is two years older and went to school already.
  3. I took Latin all the way from 5th through 13th grade. It was one of my two advanced courses for graduation (the other one was Math), and I am unsure how, but I got an A+ for both the written and oral exam. Needless to say it didn't end up being particularly relevant in college, nonetheless it was fun and I'd do it again. And no, I cannot actually speak Latin.
  4. I have been playing the trumpet since I was 14 years old. It's one of my favorite things to do yet I got to do it way too little lately due to writing my master's thesis. I've played in a number of groups: orchestral, big band, and in a trumpet quartet. Some of the most fun but also most exhausting gigs were at the yearly congresses of the Association of Catholic Fraternities in Germany, with hundreds of attendees.
  5. I do not have a particular accent in German: While I have lived in south-western Germany all my life, my parents are not from there, and theirs isn't very strong, so I didn't pick up a particularly distinct accent. Nonetheless up until this day, I still get asked "you are not from here, are you?" at home sometimes, particularly by the elderly. The closest I have to a dialect however is indeed from south-west Germany, which I sometimes notice when I use apparent localisms too freely elsewhere in Germany and earn question marks in return (food items seem to differ the most!).
  6. I have more than only remotely considered studying law. I ended up studying information engineering instead, as it looked like a great middle ground between law and my big hobby, computers (with some business thrown in, for good measure): It's 40 % computer science, 40 % business and 20 % law. And in fact, I loved studying this, and the law classes were my favorites, hands down. What I didn't realize until later is that as opposed to real future lawyers, we got the interesting topics only. Awesome!
  7. I attended three universities: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Oregon State University and Carnegie Mellon University, all to finish this one degree. Curiously, the only one I paid tuition for was/is KIT, luckily also the cheapest.

Seven harassees:

  1. JP, who needs to blog more, for his PageRank to recover
  2. Freya, who I am secretly hoping will actually vlog this meme
  3. Justin, who I always get confused about living in the same time zone with
  4. morgamic, who I already got to work with in two places
  5. clouserw, who we all want to know more about, don't we?
  6. Polvi, for being one of the most creative people I know
  7. Brian King, for being an awesome add-on magician

Read more…

Zimbabwe DollarsAs temperatures in Pittsburgh approach -20 degrees Celsius (or minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), here are some curious news from warmer parts of the planet:

Zimbabwe is introducing a 100 trillion (!) Zimbabwe dollar note, currently worth about US$30. That's a one with 14 zeroes. This is the latest in a series of releases of new bank notes as part of Zimbabwe's fight against hyperinflation. (Pictured on the right: Its "little brother", the 100 billion dollar note).

Germany once suffered under hyperinflation as well, back in 1923. Wikipedia writes:

In 1922, the highest denomination was 50,000 Mark. By 1923, the highest denomination was 100,000,000,000,000 Mark. In December 1923 the exchange rate was 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to 1 US dollar. In 1923, the rate of inflation hit 3.25 × 106 percent per month (prices double every two days). Beginning on November 20, 1923, 1,000,000,000,000 old Marks were exchanged for 1 Rentenmark so that 4.2 Rentenmarks were worth 1 US dollar, exactly the same rate the Mark had in 1914.

Luckily, all of this is history. What remains are (now) funny pictures of people using money in unusual ways, such as wallpaper:

Tapezieren mit Geldscheinen

That reminds me, I think at some point, my family had a few high-denomination notes from the time (that are sadly still "worthless") -- I may scan and publish them if we can still find them.

For Zimbabwe, we can only hope that one day, they can look back at their old pictures and find them amusing too. For now, their political and economical situation is not enviable.

(Pictures: 100 billion Zimbabwe dollars. CC attribution licensed by smath. on flickr. Banknotes as wallpaper. CC by-sa licensed by the German Federal Archives on Wikipedia.)

Read more…

[caption id="attachment_1931" align="alignright" width="240" caption="\"Pollution\", CC by-nc-sa licensed by Gilbert R. on flickr"]"Pollution", CC by-nc-sa licensed by Gilbert R. on flickr[/caption]Here's an "award" the city of Pittsburgh would probably prefer not to have "won". According to the 2008 American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, Pittsburgh is the number one U.S. city most polluted by short-term particle pollution.

  1. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  2. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
  3. Fresno/Madera, Calif.
  4. Bakersfield, Calif.
  5. Birmingham, Ala.
  6. Logan, Utah
  7. Salt Lake City, Utah
  8. Sacramento, Calif.
  9. Detroit, Mich.
  10. Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia.

The US Environmental Protection Agency's flyer "Particle Pollution and your Health" says about short-term pollution:

Short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias. Healthy children and adults have not been reported to suffer serious effects from short-term exposures, although they may experience temporary minor irritation when particle levels are elevated.

On the year-round pollution scale, the city ranks almost equally as bad: Trading spots with the "short term" number 2, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh was the second most polluted city in the country, year-round.

  1. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
  2. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  3. Bakersfield, Calif.
  4. Birmingham, Ala.
  5. Visalia/Porterville, Calif.
  6. Atlanta, Ga.
  7. Cincinnati, Ohio
  8. Fresno/Madera, Calif.
  9. Hanford/Corcoran, Calif.
  10. Detroit, Mich.

Only in the third discipline, Ozone pollution, Pittsburgh doesn't rank among the top 10.

Link to the condensed lists, or look at the stateoftheair website for nice Google Maps overlays, and to find out how your city is doing.

(Thanks, Tara, for the link!) -- (Photo "Pollution", CC by-nc-sa licensed by Gilbert R. on flickr)

Read more…

Searching for "Karlsruhe" on Amazon.com, I found a few sellers that reprint old photochrom (sic) photographs from the collection of the Library of Congress. Among them, these three beautiful old photos of my university city Karlsruhe (Baden), dated somewhere around the turn of the last century:

Karlsruhe: General View First, the "General View of Karlsruhe" as seen from the residence castle, facing south.

Karlsruhe: Stadtgartensee This one, "Lake in Public Garden" shows the Stadtgartensee, which is now inside the Karlsruhe Zoo.

Karlsruhe: Vierordtbad At last, the Vierordtbad -- a public, in-door pool, that's been built in the 1870s. Completely renovated in the early aughts, it has now as "young" a look as ever. (Side note: The picture title is, incorrectly, "Vierortsbad" = "four city bath", but it was actually called after a gentleman named "Vierordt" who donated some 40 % of the original building costs back in the day).

Very nice photos! But, while this makes the city look "old", Karlsruhe is actually quite the kid, compared to other German cities. It was not founded until 1715, when the Margrave of Baden-Durlach decided to build a new residence -- and a nice little city to go with it.

Read more…

Der "Stern" berichtet auf seiner Webseite von den vielfachen Dienstfahrten der Ministerin von der Leyen, die so gar nicht in das Bild der bahnfahrenden Bilderbuchfamilienfrau passen. Ganz bemerkenswert finde ich an dem Artikel allerdings vor allem folgenden Absatz:

Ein langjähriger Cheffahrer, der früher Parlamentarische Staatssekretäre chauffierte, hat das Familienministerium verklagt. Er sei unterbeschäftigt, beschwerte er sich vor dem Arbeitsgericht. Obwohl "hochbezahlt", habe er kaum mehr zu tun, als einen Abteilungsleiter morgens vor der Haustür abzuholen und abends heim zu bringen. (...) Das Ministerium sagt, man sei "sehr bemüht, auch diesen Fahrer noch optimaler" in den Dienstplan "einzugliedern". Leider aber kämen sämtliche Berliner Chauffeure des Ministeriums wegen eines fehlenden "Vertrauensverhältnisses und aus anderen individuellen persönlichen Gründen" nicht als Chauffeur für von der Leyen in Frage.

Auch auf die Gefahr hin, ein bisschen nach Stammtischparole zu klingen: Chauffeur im Familienministerium müsste man sein!

Klar ist es wohl nicht unbedingt aufregend, den ganzen Tag auf Kundschaft zu warten -- davon können die bildzeitungslesenden Taxifahrer allerorten ein Liedchen singen. Eins möchte ich aber vermuten: Dass Klagen wegen gutbezahlter Langeweile -- nicht erst seit der Wirtschaftskrise -- rar geworden sind.

Read more…

This week, I went to the exhibition "life on mars" in the Carnegie International Gallery. All in all a fun collection, and one of the most curious exhibits was this:

Cat: I'm dead

David Shrigley, 2007: "I'm dead". The gallery guide writes about this:

With a deliberately naïve style and an intellectually dark sense of humor verging on the absurd, David Shrigley makes drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs that collectively illustrate a scathing commentary on the various artistic, social, and political states of humanity. Almost without exception, his works are hilarious, cynical, and sharply intelligent, covering topics that range from music, art, politics, and health care to religion, sexuality, and life and death. Beneath the flamboyant irony and self-deprecating humor lies an undercurrent of vulnerability that lends many of Shrigley's illustrations and objects a bracing poignancy and reveals intimate notions of individual and collective identities. (...) In I'm Dead (2007) a taxidermied kitten stands sentry with a wooden sign indicating his deceased status—an absurdly ironic yet tender work bordering on the grotesque.

I can tell you, I laughed out loud. Quite literally, even, not in the laughing-quietly-on-the-inside-LOL-instant-message sense. Who would've thought museum visits can be so much fun?

("Cat: I'm dead" photo CC attribution licensed by daveynin on flickr)

Read more…

2009 ist angebrochen und so ist es mal wieder Zeit für eines meiner Lieblingswörter der englischen Sprache.

Ich erinnere mich noch, als wäre es gestern gewesen, an eine Englischstunde in der achten oder neunten Klasse. Unsere unter den Schülern nur durchschnittlich beliebte Englischlehrerin hatte es sich zur Angewohnheit gemacht, unangekündigt Vokabeln abzufragen (und damit war sie, das sei am Rande erwähnt, gleichzeitig für meinen soliden englischen Wortschatz als auch für die einzigen Sechser verantwortlich, die ich in meiner Schulkarriere je bekommen habe).

Sie fragte also einen Klassenkameraden nach den jüngsten Vokabeln ab: "atmen?" -- er hatte, das war offensichtlich, sich die Wörter nicht angesehen und war lediglich um Schadensbegrenzung bemüht. So stammelte er... "to... to... to atem?". Die Lehrerin schmunzelte, und erkannte zwar seinen "guten Versuch" an, gab ihm aber trotzdem keine bessere Note.

Zu seinem Leidwesen war "to breathe" kein deutsches Lehnwort. Mit einem anderen Wort, über das ich gerade heute gestolpert bin, hätte er da schon mehr Glück gehabt:

to meld

... kommt, fast hättet ihr es geahnt, vom deutschen melden und bedeutet, eine Hand beim Kartenspiel erklären. Obwohl Stephen Fry in seinem letzten Podcast (Audio, Text) bemerkt, dass das Wort nunmehr vornehmlich im Sinne von "vermischen" (ein Mittelding zwischen "melt"=schmelzen und "weld"=schweißen) verwendet wird. Ein ziemlich interessantes Wort, scheint mir!

Zugegeben habe ich das noch niemanden in einer Unterhaltung sagen hören. Aber was nicht ist, kann ja noch werden.

Update: Ursprünglich hatte ich behauptet, "to meld" bedeute ganz generell "to announce", nicht nur beim Kartenspiel. Und überhaupt verschwieg ich, dass die Nebenbedeutung "verschmelzen" offenbar nun häufiger verwendet wird als seine Ursprungsbedeutung. Danke, Martin, für den Hinweis!

Read more…

Family PortraitDie "Fragen und Antworten" zum "IsarCard" Abonnement der Münchner Verkehrsbetriebe haben einen interessanten Passus:

4) Kann ich jemanden mitnehmen? Mit der IsarCard und der IsarCard9Uhr im Abo dürfen Kinder von 6 bis 14 Jahren montags bis freitags an Werktagen ab 9 Uhr, sonst rund um die Uhr kostenlos mitfahren. Nachweislich eigene Kinder und Enkelkinder in beliebiger Anzahl, ansonsten maximal drei.

Da fragt man sich natürlich, wie weise ich nach, dass meine Kinder meine Kinder sind? Reicht es, wenn sie mich Papa nennen? Oder doch besser ein Vaterschaftstest im U-Bahn-Wagen, nur um sicher zu gehen?

Das ist doch schon reichlich seltsam, zumal Kinder in der Regel keinen Ausweis haben, geschweige denn ihn mit sich herumtragen. Und eine Geburtsurkunde hätte ich als Vater dann nun auch nicht unbedingt ständig zur Hand. Auch auf das Übereinstimmen des Nachnamens kann man sich in unserer "modernen Gesellschaft" wahrlich nicht verlassen -- und überhaupt, macht "Müller" oder "Schmidt" ein Kind zum "nachweislich" eigenen eines Herrn Müller oder Schmidt? Eher nicht.

Es ist erschreckend, wie gerne Unternehmen mit Worthülsen um sich werfen, die sie hoffen, nach Gutdünken ausfüllen zu können (in diesem Fall offenbar mit dem Ziel, vermeintlichen Schwarzfahrern die Last aufzuerlegen, die Verwandschaft mit den mitfahrenden Kindern zweifelsfrei "nachzuweisen"). Streuen von FUD kennt man aus anderen AGB zu genüge -- und es scheint, der öffentliche Nahverkehr bildet dort keine Ausnahme.

Oh, wie ich mich freue, bald wieder in Deutschland Bus und Bahn zu fahren ;)

(Familienfoto CC by-nc-nd lizensiert von dhammza auf flickr).

Read more…

I just read a press statement from the German federal statistical office, pointing out the most significant price changes in November 2008, as compared to the same month a year earlier:

Destatis.de - Most striking price changes

Good news for us geeks: Personal computers are, still, one of the products whose prices drop the most drastically these days. Of course, why the cucumber prices also dropped or the ones of butter (reminds me of the constant over-production of butter in the EU since the 1970s, satirically dubbed "Butterberg" = "butter mountain"), I don't know. It is also not particularly pleasant that the prices of vegetable oil and "pulses" (which, as my dictionary told me, are legumes) are on the rise, at least until Apple reveals the new edible iPod, or course.

So much for the day from the department of things you never wanted to know ;)

Read more…

Remember when everybody and their brother made a little website with lots of "under construction" signs and excessive use of the <blink> tag? No? Lucky you.

Of course, these times are long over, now everybody has their own blog, and facebook, and myspace, and, uhm yeah, twitter. Of course, woe is yours when you realize nobody wants to read what you had for lunch. Or dinner. Or that you went to the store and bought toilet paper (gasp! on sale!)...

But thankfully, if you have a few bucks to spare, you can always count on Google Adsense to spread the word of your oh-so-boring personal updates across the globe. Like this gentleman, who decided to show ads on people's Gmail accounts, in order to get more readers to his twitter account:

Google and Twitter

Now considering he is deeming himself an "online media" expert -- couldn't he have guessed that this kind of self-promotion is a huge cyber-turnoff?

Dear slowing economy, could you free the Internet from this and similar "SEO" annoyances in 2009, please? Probably as likely as the hell freezing over or the spammers running out of money, but one can always hope.

Read more…