Google Calendar has a new feature that many international Mozillians may like: It can now display more than one time zone at a time. In my case, lining up the Central European and Pacific time zones next to each other comes in quite handy:

Google Calendar: Time Zones

Of course, when entering a new event, it does not seem to allow selecting the time zone this refers to quite yet, let's hope that'll be fixed in a future iteration.

Read more…

Twitter mini sticker
Creative Commons License photo credit: digitalbear
In the light of Sunday's free SMS frenzy at German phone company T-Mobile, I tried to set up Twitter so it sends messages to my cell phone -- considering receiving SMS is free in Germany in general, that looked like a good idea. Here is what Twitter told me after I sent the confirmation code by SMS:

Twitter: No SMS

Of course, they couldn't have figured out that they don't like my cell phone number before I had to send a for-pay message to their German message service.

The same thing happened to me with Twitter in the US already as well. I am a "pre-paid" customer there, and I was similarly told that I am unable to use Twitter on the phone in the US.

I seriously wonder what I've done wrong to be excluded from Twitter's phone service in two countries. What's going on?

Read more…

Wired magazine
Creative Commons License photo credit: cubicgarden
In an interesting NY Times article (via Kottke) one can read how US magazines like The Economist are raising prices, counter-intuitively leading to higher sales and much higher revenue:

The Economist is leading the charge on expensive subscriptions, and its success is one reason publishers are rethinking their approaches. It is a news magazine with an extraordinarily high cover price -- raised to $6.99 late last year -- and subscription price, about $100 a year on average.

Wait a minute, 100 dollars for a yearly magazine subscription are expensive? Clearly, the US has different standards as far as that is concerned.

In comparison, German magazine subscriptions are almost ridiculously expensive. The weekly, renowned news magazine Der Spiegel weighs in at a whopping 182 Euros (that is, over 240 dollars) for a yearly subscription, followed by its biggest, more conservative "rival" Focus with 153,40 EUR (just over 200 Dollars). Similarly well-known magazine "Stern" is slightly cheaper at 145,60 EUR (193 USD), a year's worth of the (monthly) German Cosmopolitan is comparatively cheap at 29 Euros (about 38 USD), compared to 15 dollars in the US. Playboy, in turn, costs 58,80 EUR (78 USD) a year in Germany, while in the US it's available for just 12 dollars.

For each of the examples, comparative magazines are multiple times as expensive in Germany than in the US. Sadly, that results in the fact, that not too many people I know subscribe to magazines: You have to be a particular fan of a specific topic and a determined reader to spend several hundred dollars a year on a magazine subscription. Instead, if I lived in the US, I would surely subscribe to a handful of magazines to read whenever I feel like it, and not feel bad if I don't read every page every week.

It's clearly a question of value: I don't think that a magazine for under a dollar per issue is priced right. However, when I sometimes buy a German magazine for close to 5 Euros and I notice that -- just like US magazines -- easily half the pages contain ads, I wonder why the European ones have to be so much more expensive. Likewise, when I read that I can get an "amazing" 20 Eurocents or so off when I subscribe for a year, it's not much of an incentive for me to actually do so. Even if I regularly read this magazine, I'd be saving that money when I refrain from buying the one or two times that I don't have time or do not feel like reading.

In short, I feel like the solution should be somewhere in the middle: At a price that appropriately values the amount of work put into creating a magazine, while keeping magazines what they should be: a commodity, not a luxury.

Read more…

I hereby admit publicly: I love espresso. I firmly believe, all a young coffee bean hopes for as a child is to end up as a delicious little Italian coffee. Needless to say, one of the hardest decisions for me to make when thinking about our kitchen setup was, what espresso maker to get.

Now we recently went to Italy on vacation and as usual I admired the baristas and their fabulous espresso makers, and so we ended up asking one of them where to go to buy a good espresso maker. And a decent tamper, and -- for my parents -- a good coffee mill. Like most Italians he and his fellow bar owner felt honored and delighted to give advice and gave us the address of their commercial coffee maker vendor, along with this note card:

Pistoia Note Card

It reads: "From Luca and Fabio. Treat them well." Very nice!

There, I bought one of the most beautiful espresso makers evaar:

La Pavoni Europiccola

The "La Pavoni Europiccola" does not have an electric pump and thus works mainly with the pressure generated by the steaming water as well as the force from the operator's arm pressing the handle down. On the one hand, it is hard to generate a constant quality this way and, due to temperature variations, it is quite hard to make the first coffee in a batch "just right". On the other hand, with this machine, drinking espresso is celebrated rather than rushed, and each coffee becomes its own little "piece of art".

While I am still figuring out the "tricks", so far I really dig it. And one thing's for sure: This is one damn cool kitchen accessory.

Read more…

US president Obama came to Europe this week for a number of "summits". The German part of the NATO 60-year anniversary was held in Baden-Baden in South West Germany.

Incidentally, my father works right across the street from where Obama's helicopter ("Marine One") landed, so he took a few photos of the helicopter arriving. Enjoy.

Update: Here is the gallery with the rest of the pictures, along with some pictures of an "Obama/NATO cake", one of the many products made in Baden-Baden for the occasion.

Read more…


In this German video, Susi Neunmalklug (Susie Smartypants) explains the evolution to Mr. Hempelmann (who apparently is her religion teacher).

It is a promotional video for a new German children's book about the evolution.

(thanks for the link, Zach!)

Read more…

Fellow German blogger ix got married in Las Vegas recently (congratulations) and faced the problem to have the marriage accepted by his local civil registry office in Hamburg---because only then they would be able to get all the rights and duties that marriage entails in Germany.

The Tower of Babel

So far, so good: Along with a certified copy of the marriage certificate, he also needed to bring an "Apostille"---a standardized transcription of a legal document (in this case: the marriage certificate) to be accepted by another country (in this case: Germany). Of course, one cannot expect the government officials to be able to read the English language, not even when a marriage certificate consists of a quite simple set of information that does not differ significantly between the two countries. So he had to obtain an official translation of both documents from a certified translator, before they finally accepted his marriage as valid.

That the German government is very strict about "our official language is German" is no news to me: Once before I had to provide US documents to an agency and in spite of the relevant passages being very tiny, they demanded to have the whole document translated. Eventually, I managed to have them accept my (and therefore an uncertified) translation, which probably saved me what would have felt like a million dollars in translator fees.

Though all in all, it seems to be a quite tedious process, I now hope to know quite well what needs to be done to have a US marriage accepted in Germany. My fiancée and I will face the same process soon and this way we know what to expect. I'll make sure to blog about it again when it's time.

(pictured: "The Tower of Babel" by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563))

Read more…

By the way: After some vacation in Florida (warm!) and Oregon (cold!) I am finally back in Germany. I got one of the last decent flights from Charlotte, NC before an ugly snow storm hit the American Northeast, so I guess I am lucky.

All the things I brought from the US made my suitcases a little heavy but it also came in handy that it is now legal to import 430 Euros worth of stuff to Germany without paying customs, which I didn't even come close to.

Now I am busy unpacking, and also finishing up my master's thesis which will be due to be handed in by the end of the month. And afterwards... but that's another post entirely :)

Read more…

The Oscars are over again and a movie named "slumdog millionaire" won a whopping 8 of them. Now, I've never heard of this movie before. Seems to me like it was buried in the ridiculous amount of advertisement for "mall cop" -- a painfully cheesy flick that I did not want to see in the first place and whose overdone ads everywhere made me want to watch it even less.

Also, "Slumdog Millionaire" is going to premiere in Germany mid-March only, well after its release date in the US, and obviously after the Oscars as well. I thought the times when movies are released in Germany later than the US were finally over? Guess not.

Read more…

Is it time to leave? Again? Yup. The final days of my stay in Pittsburgh have come: My master's thesis is more or less complete (by the way, it has the nice name "Transaction Management Challenges for Cross-Organizational, Workflow-Based SOA Applications" and spans 104 pages total), so it is time for me to take it back to Germany and finally wrap up that "Diplom" of mine.

Pittsburgh Skyline

It was a fun time in the "Steel City", I've learned a lot both professionally as well as personally and I have met great people who I will really miss. Thanks for making my time in Pittsburgh great, you know who you are!

But I am not quite flying home yet: Before diving back into the "frozen tundra" of Germany, I shall visit warmer parts of this country. I promise I'll feel a little bad for you, snowed-in readers, while I sit by the pool sipping margaritas!

(Pittsburgh skyline photo CC by-sa licensed by Ronald C. Yochum, Jr. on Wikimedia Commons.)

Read more…