Now that a year of photos on this blog is over, I can get back to dedicating this place to my public disagreement with people who are wrong on the Internet!

Twitter published yesterday that they are now capable of reactively blocking certain tweets for the users from certain countries only, should they be required to censor certain content in one country but not others. Previously, they were only able to remove tweets globally, whether or not certain content was illegal in all affected countries or not. As an example, they mention tweets promoting Nazism, which is illegal in Germany and France.

Mark Gibbs at smells the opportunity for outrage and paints a grim vision of proactive, automated censorship at Twitter, and he even announces the beginning of the end of Twitter itself. Sadly, the article teems with outrageous yet wrong claims:

For example, Gibbs states that Twitter was considering, let alone be forced, to employ preventive, automated censorship using fuzzy statistical algorithms. This is in no way backed by the original source he's commenting on nor the laws that spawned this in the first place. For instance, while denying the Holocaust is illegal in most of Europe and many other countries across the globe, pre-censorship is usually illegal, in Germany even unconstitutional. Only "post-censorship" (i.e., keeping an existing publication from being distributed after the fact) is, by way of court order, legal -- much like in many other countries including the US.

This and only this way of reacting to illegal content after the fact is what Twitter claims to be able to do in their press release. To be more precise: Twitter was already required to follow the laws in the countries it operates in. I am not aware of a case when this might have previously happened, but if they were required to remove an incendiary tweet previously, they would have to delete it globally due to technical restrictions, not only in the area where a law was being violated -- only now, Twitter will not have to settle for the lowest common denominator anymore. Arguably, that's an improvement.

That said, I am as sensitive to the dangers to freedom of speech as the next guy, and I am a passionate opponent of certain legislation in my home country. Any sort of censorship, whether it may be deemed legitimate or not, is a restriction of free speech and bears the potential for abuse. Consequently, the biggest problem here is not the removal of tweets that directly violate laws protecting the democratic order of certain countries--our biggest worry, instead, should be the Chilling Effect this may cause (Chilling Effect, or "the scissors in the head" as it was termed over a century earlier in the 1840s in Germany, refers to the preemptive self-muting by a person fearing punishment when expressing their opinion). Therefore, I am quite happy that Twitter (along with Google and others) is publishing any block requests it receives on, thus exposing such requests to public scrutiny and political discussion.

Read more…

I am two days late for this year's anniversary, but this is just too impressive: Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

Make sure to click on the picture to see bigger versions.

(via Justin, thanks! Source: US or Canadian National Archives, via Wikipedia. Public Domain.)

Read more…

Just in time for the recent 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,'s Big Picture has a great collection of photos -- both contemporary and recent -- that show what the Wall once looked like, and how it looks now. This is great!

The Big Picture: The Berlin Wall

Read more…

In a New York Times article about the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, they add a schema of a typical section of the German-German border, showing that the "Wall" was not really only a wall, but rather an elaborate combination of measures to keep people from fleeing their own country. Pretty impressive and sad at the same time.

NYTimes: Berlin Wall

Read more…

In response to the birthdays I mentioned in my last post, Google has two topical logos today.

The American site,, honors Sesame Street: Google Sesame Street

... while remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall. Google: Berlin Wall 09

Quite the contrast.

Read more…

This week is a good week: We've got lots of reasons to celebrate, that couldn't be more different in nature. Which ones, you ask?

Samson SesamstraßeLet's start with the oldest one: On November 10, Sesame Street turns 40. The show is still going strong, and I have fond memories of it when I was a child. My favorite characters were always Samson, as well as Ernie and Bert. Only much later I found out to my astonishment that Samson, the big, brown bear, is only present in the German version of the show, and not in its American counterpart. (In turn, Big Bird is missing from the German Sesamstraße). Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

Number two on the list of this weeks "birthdays" is the reunited Federal Republic of Germany. While reunification wasn't completed until late 1990, the 9th of November, 1989, marks perhaps the most important step in the process. After several weeks of civil protests, the East German government announced that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. In a slip of tongue, the announcing politician declared the unprecedented travel permit to be valid "immediately", resulting in an exodus of East Germans to the West.


Witnesses would later describe how the customs officials tried to check passports at first, and after awhile just opened the borders to let people pass, realizing it was futile to try any further checks. Due to this historic significance, the 9th of November was considered for the national holiday of Germany, but it was dropped in favor of the 3rd of October due to its unfortunate coincidence with at least two dark spots in German history. Happy birthday, reunited Germany!

Mozilla FirefoxLast, but certainly not least, Mozilla Firefox turns 5 on the 9th of November as well. Firefox 1.0 was released in 2004, and since then, the Web has been changing faster than ever. It has developed into an exciting platform for innovation and collaboration. That the web browser space is now a competitive environment with a number of excellent players in the market, is something Firefox had an essential influence on and it is something the Mozilla community can be proud of. Make sure to watch the video "The Story of Firefox" on the Five Years of Firefox website. Happy birthday, Firefox!

Photograph of West Germans welcoming East Germans, CC by-sa licensed by Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia.

Read more…

On September 27, 2009, the Federal Republic of Germany will vote for their 17th "Bundestag", i.e., its federal parliament. Due to my absence on the actual election day, I went to the ballot today already for early voting. Here is proof:

German Parliamentary Elections Ballot

The staff were very helpful and interestingly, there were actually a lot of people asking for absentee ballots.

Another observation struck me as odd while reading the ballot: Of all people, the direct candidate of one of the nationalist parties*) is a "Fremdsprachensekretärin", or certified multi-lingual secretary. Yup, a foreign-language secretary by day, moonlighting as a xenophobe. Life's ironic.

*) whom I didn't vote for, just in case that was unobvious.

Read more…

Just recently, my fiancée Tara joined the blogging community with her first own blog called "Domaine de Tara".

Domaine de Tara

She started off with a nice little article on the hunt for American-style brown sugar in Germany. It also includes a yummy recipe for baking Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies which -- in spite of the sugar-related difficulties -- turned out more than delicious.

Her future posts are likely going to be about food (both her passion and profession) and German strangeness she's just bound to stumble across every once in awhile... :)

Feel free to visit her blog, say hello, and maybe even subscribe to the RSS feed. Have fun!

The photo is from a trip we took to Provence, where a winery coincidentally carries my fiancée's name.

Read more…

Ciber Cafe
Creative Commons License photo credit: larskflem
Unter dem Titel "Meine E-Mail-Adresse war zorn@germany" wärmt heute ein Interview aus dem Jahr 2007 wieder auf, wahrscheinlich in der Hoffnung dass sich niemand daran erinnern kann.

Dennoch ist das interessant zu lesen, und es ist natürlich schon irgendwie cool, was sich aus den Anfängen der Internet-Kommunikation so alles entwickelt hat -- freilich wäre es lustig gewesen, wenn die erste E-Mail in Deutschland Spam einer chinesischen Online-"Apotheke" gewesen wäre. Aber die kleinen blauen Pillen gibt es ja erst seit 1998.

Die Karlsruher Informatiker mailen natürlich noch heute -- wenn auch ein bisschen weniger "romantisch": Das Spam- (und Ham-)aufkommen der Karlsruher Informatikfakultät heute kann man sich auch online ansehen.

Read more…

Wahlkampf mit Gesichtern
Creative Commons License photo credit: daklebtwas
Tomorrow, June 7, 2009, the people of Europe elect the next European Parliament. Perhaps less well-known, this date also coincides with the local elections in the state of Baden-Württemberg, so besides the European ballot, I will also get to vote for

  • the local town council
  • the city council of the city my home town belongs to
  • and the district council.

While possibly not the most influential councils of all, the number of elections at once is quite impressive. What makes these elections the most fun of all though, are the concepts of "Kumulieren" and "Panaschieren" that I'll shortly explain to you here.

Let's assume there are three active parties in this election: A light blue one, a pink one, and an orange one. For each of these, you'll receive a ballot containing their designated votees, along with the instructions telling you that you have, for example, 10 votes at your disposal.

Imagine you like the pink party the most. The easiest way to handle this is to take the pink ballot, fold it, and drop it into the ballot box. You'll automatically have given each of the people on the ballot 1 vote. But we are in Germany, and we find "simple" boring, so let's spice that up a bit.

It just happens that you like one guy in the Pink party, Paul Olitician, more than the others. After all, whenever you meet him at the bars, he buys you a beer, and to return the favor, you listen to him explain his political visions in detail. The perfect symbiosis, if you will.

In that case, you can go ahead and "accumulate" up to three votes on Paul, and then spread the remaining seven votes across the other candidates on the ballot. You may end up not having enough votes for each of the party members on there, but that's fine, as one of them is your former high school teacher whom you didn't like very much anyway. The process of giving a person on the ballot more than one vote is called "Kumulieren" in German.

But then, just before and you are done giving away all your votes, you realize there are empty lines left on each of the ballots. Also, you notice your neighbor John is a candidate for the light blue party. You don't want to vote for them as a whole, because you still like the pink party better, but you would like to vote for John. After all, you are still grateful for that one time when he heroically kept you from falling off the ladder when he caught you stealing from his cherry tree.

Luckily, the second concept called "Panaschieren" comes in handy. You manually write John's name onto the pink ballot, allowing you to give your remaining votes to him.

After you're done, you fold the ballot, stuff it into the envelope and drop it into the ballot box. With a strong feeling of accomplishment, you head to the bars. To discuss your successful voting with Paul, and to get rid of that horrific taste the envelope glue left in your mouth. You secretly promise yourself, next time you'll vote for the party to introduce self-adhesive envelopes to the German election system.

Read more…