Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Just one more thought on that subject

Look at it this way ... Wal-Mart® didn't join the Communist Party. The Communist Party joined Wal-Mart®. Game, set, match.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Great Leap Forward

Workers of the world unite. Do you suppose old Sam is turning in his grave to hear that a branch of the Chinese Communist Party has been established at the headquarters of Wal-Mart® China? I doubt it.

Sam's ghost is smiling because yet another domino is dropping along the way to WalMart world domination, as they march forward hand-in-hand with their axis-of-commerce partner Starbucks Coffee®, which is not far behind with plans for 4000 stores on the Mainland ... are there even 4000 street corners in China?

As for Chairman Mao's ghost, he is thanking his lucky [red] stars that the likes of Wal-Mart® are keeping his legacy alive, though you don't see much of the old Chairman these days.

What do Chinese workers have that German workers do not? Pricing Power, due to a tight labor market these days. The average pay raise in China will range from 5% to 12% (versus 2.2% inflation rate) depending which province you are in, while the average raise in Germany will range from 2.5% to 3% (versus 2.6% inflation). Of course the Chinese are coming from behind when it comes to per capita income, nevertheless it really is becoming a worker's market in the Peoples' Republic these days.

Wal-Mart is a registered trademark of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a Delaware Corporation that fronts the intangible assets of this Bentonville, Arkansas juggernaut.

Starbucks Coffee is a registered trademark of Starbucks U.S. Brands LLC, a Nevada Limited Liability Company, which fronts the intangible assets of this Seattle based juggernaut. Did you know that they use the term "Starbucks" alone to refer to their retail line of music?

Der Auslader holds financial interests in both Wal-Mart and Starbucks and wholeheartedly encourages you to support his capitalist tool portfolio by giving them a sizeable chunk of your hard earned money this holiday season.

Inflation data presented herein comes from the International Monetary Fund. Wage data comes from various sources.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fear of Commitment
aka Poor Man's Crackberry

This Christmas gift came a week early. The Partnerin thought it would be nice to replace my Motorola cell phone, which was on death's door, with something like the Blackberry I gave up when I left my last company.

I forgot how addictive these things are. I also had no idea how expensive they could be since the service contract was picked up by my old company, something that is unlikely to happen in the near future with my current company.

Worse still I haven't decided what I want to do or where I want to be in the coming year, so I'm more likely to commit to marriage than I am to a two year contract with T-Mobile or Vodafone. In fact, I've been using call-by-call for over a year precisely because I've been planning/threatening to move for nearly a year now. But I did sign up for the EUR 5 per month flat-rate Vodafone-live portal on top of my call-by-call service.

For the most part, Vodafone-live is worthless. It gives you links to a number of content providers (streaming video, news, etc.), of which the vast majority require paid subscriptions. Want to see CNN mobile, you pay EUR 10 per month on top of the EUR 5. There are other combinations, like EUR 2.50 per month for 2 hours or so. Same deal for all the other channels. There are a couple free ones, but aside from the "free" weather report, it is largely worthless. Except for ...

When you sign up for the unlimited UMTS Live Portal, you get an enhanced e-mail account (you get a basic e-mail account with the Call-ya, if you bother to activate it). The enhanced e-mail gives you quite a bit of capacity as well as the ability to somewhat customize your e-mail address. You also get to send and receive attachments. And you can program it to "scrape" your other e-mail accounts to look for any new mail you have received there.

When you receive an e-mail at the Vodafone address or one of those you have "scraped" to it, it sends you an SMS giving you the ID of the sender and the subject line. With the enhanced service you get up to 50 of these notifications each day at no additional cost. You can then decide whether or not to go online and retrieve any or all of these messages. Not quite push e-mail service, but not a bad workaround for the small cost and the lack of commitment required.

If you use the Live-Portal to access this e-mail, it is included in the EUR 5 per month. Once you get past the very clumsy interface(which I believe is deiberately clumsy to keep people from adopting this is as their own version of Crackberry), it can be quite useful for keeping up on the e-mails you really want to see.

One caution: Your Call-ya access gives you access to pure data connectivity at what seems to be like more than full rates. You can use the web-browser or e-mail client built into your phone, but if you do you might find yourself paying something like EUR 5.00 or more just to download your e-mail headers. Do this a couple times, and you may as well have sprung for a full data connection.

In other words, if you don't have patience for the Live Portal interface, or if you are a power user who wants more flexible access to the web or e-mail, go for the full data service and even the push-mail, but if you are really only worried about timely receipt of a couple or a few e-mails a day and don't want to be on the hook for the full monty, you can make do with this.

Just for the Record

For the record, I don't feel smarter than people who do Sudoku. I am in fact in awe of their patience. Sometimes, like in trying to calculate the local maxima or minima of a production function, calculus is the easiest way to get the answer, and the point was that one of my bad habits is my laziness and the other is the occasional ... no, constant ... need to be a show-off.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bad Habits

One of my 20-something friends was telling me how much she admired my energy. I, of course, wondered who the heck she was talking about, probably because I've been dragging myself around for nearly two months with a sinus infection that won't go away. I finally twisted the arm of my german doctor enough to get some high-powered anti-biotics week before last, and they seem to have helped some, although there is enough lingering congestion to make me wonder what has taken residence inside my head. But that is another story.

I sit here at 12:30 a.m. typing away as I wait for the Daily Show to come on More4. Actually the Brits are not as dogmatic about television schedules as Americans, so a regular 12:30 start time is often 5, 10 or 15 minutes later. Tonight it will start at 12:45, so 15 more minutes get tacked on to the end of a day that started at 06:00 what is now yesterday. And in the meantime I watch the NBC Nightly News on CNBC blather on about Geo. Bush's 34% approval rating ... I would normally skip NBC for the Daily Show, but tonight I get a bit of both and they play well off one another. Synergy ... just love the concept.

Speaking of synergy, I took the train to work today so I could study for Chinese class in the evening. I do the train a couple days a week, and the study time has done wonders for my Chinese, which had been suffering due to a lack of study time when I was driving every day and too tired to bother when I got home. I also started brushing up on my calculus, which I've started applying to some of the thornier parts of my job.

My colleagues have devised a number of linear functions that interact with one another in a complex array that is vaguely reminiscent of the system of spheres within spheres that medieval scholars cooked up to explain the motions of the cosmos around the earth. I look at all of that and wonder if applying a slightly higher order or math might actually make things easier, and indeed it does, so I crack open one of my old text books and remind myself how much I sometimes enjoy being a geek.

I'm really an average guy. I hated school when it was little more than a prison sentence (High School), but I actually started to like it when I had the freedom to stay or go (college) along with the concommitant risk-reward payoff that accompanied my choice on any given day to bother to show up to class.

I've never been a morning person. I hated dragging myself out of bed at 7 a.m. for calculus, chemistry, or fluid dynamics classes. But on most occasions I did. Woody Allen once commented that 90% of success is simply showing up. I think of that on most days when I would rather punch the snooze button for another hour or so.

I wonder how I dragged myself out of bed at 07:00 for school. I wonder now how I drag myself out of bed at 06:00 to travel and hour or so to work. And then I remember dragging my butt out of bed at 05:00 or earlier during my military days and 06:00 doesn't seem so bad any more. And then I remember that when I first moved to New York I would wake up at 05:00 and jump on my Nordic Track while watching the Tokyo Business Report to give me an idea of where my day was going to go in the first few trading hours. What was all that about?

And I wonder where I find this perspective nearly 15 years after what I thought were the last vestiges of my discipline had vanished into a later life in New York where I stayed out until 2 a.m. and came to the office at 10:00. I do miss that life, by the way.

Which is why I am up now watching the Daily Show. I am still programmed to stay out until 2 a.m. I am also still programmed to wake up at 05:00 or 06:00 or so. I don't think of myself as having so much energy, and to be frank, I feel like I am running on empty most days. Which is why it is more important for me to work smarter rather than longer or harder.

And so I crack open a calculus text or a chinese text on the train. Today I did both. What made it funny today was that the woman across the table from me was working a Sudoku puzzle, and noticed that I pulled out a calculus text and started working a few equations and sketching out a few graphs. She frowned a little as I finally put to rest a problem I had been wresting with for a few days between the interruptions of phone calls and meetings. Thank you, Sir Isaac.

But what was really precious was the look on her face when I closed the calculus text and pulled out the chinese text. That, plus comments abuot my energy, are what really keep me going. I'm not one of these superhuman, every-minute-of-the-day-is-planned types, but I would like to think I am living what Steven Covey would call a purposeful existece.

And I wonder at what point I will simply choose to start coasting through life, because that is the start of the end.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sometimes You've Gotta Say "What the ..."

I usually don't follow these trend/meme things, but after seeing this on a couple of other sites (Thanks Ms. Mausi and Claire), I figured I would be Blitzen ... and what do you know.

You Are Blitzen

Always in good spirits, you're the reindeer who loves to party down with Santa.

Why You're Naughty: You're always blitzed on Christmas Eve, while flying!

Why You're Nice: You mix up a mean eggnog martini.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

If You Can't Take the Heat ...

Today seemed like a good day to bake some cookies, so the Partnerin and I ventured into the kitchen and I remembered why we take turns cooking as we stumbled across one another.

We didn't manage to find our Christmas cookie cutters, so we settled for airplanes and animals. I still can't figure out if one of those on the upper right is a lion or a poodle. I did finally excavate the Christmas decorations from the cellar this afternoon, so maybe that is where I will find the cookie cutters.

Oh well, I'm not feeling very Christmas spirited yet, so I'll take an airplane shaped cookie. I almost killed the mood totally when I dared to utter that phrase, "You know, we can't work in the same kitchen!"

To which she blithely replied, "You know, our kitchen is bigger than some people's apartments," a reference to the Russian's new flat which at 15 square meters is only slightly bigger than our kitchen. Here you see the Partnerin threatening me with my own rolling pin for daring to turn the camera on her. Or maybe it was residual hostility for me going to the Russian's housewarming party last night.

The Russian had me and eight other people over last night to show off her new digs. She has reached the end of her Au Pair status here in Germany and is now progressing into the ranks of language student, which is how quite a few eastern europeans find their way into a longer stay in Germany. There were a couple of other russians and a few Germans (including two language teachers), two Kyrgisis, and a morrocan. The Russian was disappointed that the non-russians were hardly eating and not drinking any of the vodka.

I did not disappoint, partaking heartily in food and drink, which made one of her russian friends comment that for an American I was really quite Russian in some ways, to which the Russian replied, "Yes, Mike has a Siberian soul." I think that was supposed to be a compliment.

But I also have a gentle soul and some sense of responsibility, so I excused myself at midnight and found my way home to a Partnerin who, despite having the flu this week, was still up surfing the net looking for Christmas gifts for her mother and father.

So I gently awoke her with breakfast at noon today, after which she said, "Let's make Christmas cookies!"

Why not? I did the dough and the cutting, and she did the decorating. What a little artist the Partnerin can be. Cute, no?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

At least that is how the song goes. But yes, despite teeming throngs and incredible crowds, it seems nonetheless a little friendlier. We went to the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market) today with what seemed like a few hundred thousand others from the Frankfurt area.

It started off innocently enough with the 5 kilometer walk from our home and along the river to the old town. In fact, it was downright warm today (57 or so Fahrenheit, roughly 14 Celsius), and as we walked along the river coats were shed despite the fact that I only had a short sleeve shirt underneath ... I spent a couple winters in Nebraska and a few winter months in Minnesota, so this was relatively summer-like.

It was a rather calm walk most of the way, and when we arrived I understood why ... namely that everyone who would ordinarily be along the river had found their way to the market. This picture really doesn't give a good idea of the crowds. At several points you found yourself sort of moving along, shoulder to shoulder with others, as part of the wave ... that is, when it was moving.

We went to the markt, and the reason we walked to it, was to have what the Partnerin calls the Best Wurst of the Markt. I made the mistake of going with the Bratwurst, which didn't seem to have much taste. The partnerin went with the Rindswurst and was not disappointed. Here you see it all cooking over the open flames. I love these grills. I want one for the back yard. Men and fires ... what can I say? It was also a good day to get one of large Baked Potatoes (not pictured here), smothered with garlic-quark (which is like sour cream with garlic).

Also not pictured here was the Backfischbrotchen (baked fish on bread) that the Partnerin allegedly went off to seek. She is a northern german girl, so she likes her fish from time to time, although it did seem like it would be a lot on top of the Rindswurst. She came back, instead, with fried dough-balls, which have something of the consistency of a doughnut and are covered with powdered surgar. Here is the last of them, which I helped her polish off. This is why I need to walk 10km or so.

And what day would be complete without the Partnerin looking at shiny things. Normally she can't get past a jewelers window, but today, mercifully it was only Christmas ornaments. She doesn't know it yet (but she will when she reads this) that somewhere today she gave me a great idea for a small Nikolausy gift for Tuesday evening.

And then we had a gluhwein and I felt immediately like napping. But it was another 5 km to home, so off we went. All in all a nice afternoon.