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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Living on the Edge

The NASDAQ Q's turned out to be a lame trade. The markets did turn up the next day, but the NASDAQ remained fairly flat. It seems people really are re-assessing their appetite for risk.

As for me, I still seem to have my taste for risk, so when the Russian called me for dinner, I thought "What the heck." Actually it was pretty tame. She told me about her new job and her old and now new boyfriend and how she was getting along in Germany. She reminded me that I promised to take salsa lessons with her, and I reminded her that she also wanted to go skydiving. If we're going to live dangerously, we may as well do it right.

Unlike me, she really is dependent on the one and only job she has. Lose this and there is nothing else in sight, so she toils away pretty long hours doing pretty menial stuff for a pretty demanding and dubious character. Believe what you will from my previous posts about the Russian, but she really is a good kid with decent character.

I admire that, especially when I think about going to my job with a take it or leave it attitude. I'm good at what I do, which is why I get away with walking out the door three days out of five at five o'clock while my colleagues toil away until 8 or 9 o'clock. They (all Germans) live in a constant state of crisis ... almost fear. I'm still trying to figure out why, since my corner of the action seems to only require a good 8 to 9 hours a day at the most.

But I realize that walking out the door early really makes me stand out, and Germans hate that. It does not make it any better that I'm the Auslander ... they must think I take it for granted that I will keep my job as the token foreigner. The ugly secret is that I don't take it for granted ... but I also don't fear for my livelihood. It's just a job, it's not my life. And so I go home with daylight to spare.

But I have convinced at least two colleagues to venture out to lunch for ... gasp! ... a whole lunch hour at an Asia buffet and not just at the cantine. Who knows, I may have started the revolution!

As far as German employers are concerned, I am the mentor from hell.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Like Trying to Catch a Falling Knife

You know you're having a bad day when your chewing gum starts to crunch. Ouch. That was a crown. So you drag yourself to the dentist and he engages you in an existential conversation about the course of action. You know that it will be at least three visits and EUR 2000.00, because there is always something else to be done. But you try to book the three appointments and he won't commit, because he wants to do a proposal first. I'd rather go straight to the drill and be done with it.

Especially since when I left the office the world markets were already on their way down and I wanted to see where the US was going. It was off 1% when I left the office. It was off 3% and rapidly dropping to Dow -500 when I finally got home. These are the days I long for.

Not because I am an investing genius ... hardly the case. Because I worked in a bank, my trading was sharply curtailed and I was forced to have so-called "patient money." I'm a lousy long-term investor ... too much ADD to do the homework. I figured now that I am out of the bank I can day trade, but I got distracted by other things. So I do monthly buys of index funds and go about my life.

After looking for so-called Hi-Alpha stocks in what has been a low Beta market for the past couple of years, I decided to buy index funds once a month and work on my golf game and flying. Wouldn't you know that this month's buy took place at the close on Monday.

So I look at this and I think back to the days when I was a broker ... somewhere in the mid-1990s the small investor in the US realized that down days like Tuesday were buying opportunities. This is why we haven't had a 1987-style meltdown since 1987.

Anyway, my client would call me up and ask, "Is this a good time to buy?" Boy was that a dangerous question to be avoided at all costs, so I would reply something to the tune of "You know,   Name  ,this is like trying to catch a falling knife. Sure, you can do it, but it might be safer to wait 'til it hits the floor and then pick it up." The guys in Compliance loved me.

So I get home and see this and remember that I dumped a couple thousand into an S&P500 index fund at yesterday's price, and I think "Damn, can I make it back?"

The NASDAQ Q's look like the most likely place ... most volatility, ergo most opportunity. The smart money trades after 3 pm, and I figure if the markets are going to come back and it happens then, then that is where I will place my bet. Sure enough, the markets hit bottom somewhere around 3:20 pm Eastern Time (US), which is where I pick up a boat load of Q's.

For a while things trend up and my position is in the green, but somewhere around 3:45 the markets trend down and I start to wonder if the small investors who used to buy on dips might have had a change of heart. Who knows? I finish the day a little in the red and no longer feeling bad about it.

What I do know is that we are going into another down day in Asia and I didn't go flat. And I don't mind, because for the first time in a long time, win or lose, this is actually fun again. Especially when the guy on Bloomberg TV literally says, "This is all the fault of China ... shame on you guys in Shanghai!" What a hoot!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Boys and their Toys

Could you get through life without knowing things like how poor Anna Nicole Smith's estate is going to pass largely to Uncle Sam? I know I can't, especially ... confession time ... since I am the father of her child and will be entering my name along with the thousands of others to ensure our child is well taken care of ... move over Prince Whatever-your-name-is von Anhalt. How else, after all, can I afford my expensive pursuits and toys like these?
This is the Archos 604 media player, the WiFi version, which allows me to keep up with all the latest, including the Fox News Business Block, while I am on the go. I used to work with Brenda "Cute as a Button" Buttner, and she doesn't appear to have changed much in more than a decade ... still cute, even if she isn't the hottest of the Fox Barbie Dolls.

This thing is great for time shifting things like the Business Block and 24 from the weekends, when time is scarce and should be shared with the Partnerin and preparing to move, to mornings and evenings on the train to and from work when I am not studying chinese.

Yes I know, that is one heck of a rationalization, but boys will be boys, and boys must have their toys.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Change of Plans

Frankfurt am Main to Berlin is ambitious on a good day, but I knew I was in trouble when the plane came back from it's morning flight a bit later than expected. By the time I would have it pre-flighted, getting to and from Berlin before sunset, and airport closing time, would have been iffy at best. Berlin will have to wait for another weekend, and if I am smart I will make it a whole weekend and not a day-trip.

Time for Plan-B -- Coburg. I went via Wuerzburg to add both a little more scenery and challenge. Here's a shot as I wend my way along the Main River a bit west of Wuerzburg.

It was hazy startng out, and that meant that the flight would be more work than fun. Here's a shot looking eastbound at the crud I was flying in. The shot above of the Main gives you a better idea of what it looked like all around. In fact, that was some of the better visibility of the trip. That's pretty common around here, and in fact I need to remember the next time I simulate a flight here before actually flying it that I should probably make the visibility something on the order of 5 miles to make it more realistic.

Nevertheless, I found my way to Coburg, which has two airports practically on top of one another. The "larger" one with the asphalt runway is directly next to the Burg (fortress) that gives the town a part of its name. Don't let the camera angle alarm you ... I wasn't looking through the viewfinder, only pointing and clicking, so it only looks like a strange angle.

Coburg, if it sounds vaguely familiar to you, is part of the history of the house of Windsor ... yes, the Royal Family of England. Prince Albert, not of "In a Can" fame, rather the one who married Queen Victoria, hailed from these parts, bringing the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line to the ongoing line of succession to the thrown of England. The family changed its name during the First World War to downplay their roots. Kind of surreal to see an airplane sitting next to a "castle," no?

I took the long way back via Fulda, but it got really hazy there, so no decent shots ... too busy flying the plane. As I said, this turned out to be a working flight; good for instrument proficiency, lousy for sightseeing. Maybe next week.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect

Weather looks OK, airplane is available, and I'm thinking about flying to Berlin tomorrow. New territory for me in a Cessna-172, so I fired up the simulator and gave it a quick run through. Now we just have to see how things look tomorrow morning. If not Berlin, maybe somewhere in between.

My game computer has an Athlon64 3500+ with 2GB of RAM and runs Windows XP Professional 64, which does a great job of handling complex graphics that bog down the "older" 32-bit machines. The only problem is that none of the major internet security software suites (Symantec, McAfee, etc) make anti-virus software for this OS. I wasn't to thrilled to trust the machine to Avast at first, but I warmed to it when I realized it was the only real alternative. I am hoping that the release of Windows Vista will boost the demand for 64-bit security before this machine is obsolete. I built it nearly 18 months ago, and it still has a lot of power under the hood, but it is getting old in computer years.

Oh well, on to Tempelhof (can't wait to pay that landing fee!)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Today I am a Wussy

Over the years I have gladly sacrified my ties to the young ladies of Germany. Yes, today was the day the young ladies come around to cut the neck ties of the boys, and for the first time in ... too many years, actually ... I said "No, thanks, I'm not playing this year." Actually, I wasn't quite that dignified. I pleaded for the safety of my tie.

It's not that it is special, or even that expensive. It is, however, fairly new, having just been bought at Brooks Brothers the first week in January. I just couldn't part with a new tie.

Yes, the Partnerin warned me, but running late for the train, I didn't think about it and grabbed the first tie that went with my shirt instead of the ratty old tie I was going to sacrifice.

I didn't think about it until I heard a bunch of giggling in the hallway, followed by six young ladies showing up at my door and deciding that their young chinese colleague would be the one to take the tie of the Auslander. I realized then and there I was about to lose a good tie, and I lost my nerve. "Please, don't," I begged.

"But it is tradition," she replied.

Now was the moment that 8 months of Chinese lessons were brought to bear for something more than lunch ... "We are both strangers here. These are not our ways." The Germans weren't sure what I said, but they were frowning.

Nice Chinese Girl was not amused, and replied a bit coldly in English, "Are you going to cry if I cut it?"

To finish my humiliation, I muttered, "Yes, most likely." Tie saved, dignity gone.

I did redeem myself somewhat later in the day. We had a company event with a champagne reception afterward. I noticed that the head of the Board of Directors still had his tie, so I looked at my soon-to-be former secretary (she's leaving because she is tired of my boss, not because of me) and, figuring she had nothing to lose, told her "I'll give you 50 euros if you take Dr. X's tie. You're leaving, you've got nothing to lose. Fifty Euros for the tie."

She looked at me, and at a couple of colleagues around us, and said with a little smile, "You are ... what do they say in English? A Bi%^h!"

"Maybe that say that in German," I countered. "In English you would call me a devil."

"Yes, you are a devil. I won't do it for EUR 50. That is too little given the consequences. I will do it for six months of salary."

Without batting an eye, I shot back, "Liebling, for six months of your salary I'll take his tie, and kiss him full on the lips."

Looks of shock all around, a couple of nervous laughs... my dignity still in shreds, but my reputation as a smart-ass still intact.

Sorry, but I have to go now ... I'm exfoliating and the mask needs to come off.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy V-Day

We can be a cute couple sometimes. Today we surprised each other with flowers and candy. I went the more traditional route of roses, a heart-shaped box of pralines, and a sentimental card that I labored over to ensure my handwriting was, at least for once, legible ... a labor of love. Terribly cliche, but I've never disappointed anyone by giving them roses.

The Partnerin buried me in Ritter Sport bars and Jelly Beans. She knows that I love Jelly Bellies, which I got hooked on while in the Air Force because we occasionally accompanied Ron Reagan to California ... If only you knew how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on jelly beans, and I admit I had a hand in the jar that helped stoke the national debt ... ashamed? not!

Exept that I now need to hop on the cross trainer for an hour or so.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Honey, I Found the Christmas Cookie Cutters

The first thing to go was one of three sofas, two of which were sleeper sofas. The Partnerin liked my sleeper sofa, which occupied this space until Saturday morning. I hated it. On the other hand, I liked her sofa. Since we couldn't agree which one to keep we decided to get rid of both.

She was going to call the local Sperrmull number to have them picked up at the curb, but I suggested e-bay. She has tried to sell hers in the past, but she always insisted on getting something for hers, so she put it in with a minimum bid of EUR 50, and unfortunately had no takers. This time around I put mine in with no minimum, since I was happy to have someone else carry the thing down the stairs. She put hers in with a minimum of EUR 10. Mine sold and was carted away. Now we have to figure out what to do with hers, but for now it plugs the new gap in the living room. The third sofa goes to London.

I always suspected I could outfit at least two kitchens with the stuff we both brought to household. Now I know it is a fact. This is the London box ... actually there are at least four London boxes, a sleeper sofa, a table and a few chairs, a wardrobe and dresser, and a few other minor pieces. Turns out we could probably equip a house and two apartments. But I did finally find the Christmas cookie cutters which eluded me a couple months ago ... next to one of two raclettes and toasters in the cellar. Maybe I'll make a few Christmas cookies next weekend to make up for the gaff. In the meantime, we still have lots of crap to throw or give away.

My russian friends always say I am "rich" because I had so much stuff. I only feel poor for having to chuck so much of it away rather than finding a good home for it. We could sell some things, like sleeper sofas, on e-bay, but other things are so minimally priced that it makes more sense to throw them away. You can give household goods to Oxfam, but electronics end up in the trash, and even nice pieces of furniture find no takers unless left on the street. The Russian has taken a few items off my hands, but otherwise the local setup makes difficult to move used goods into willing hands unless you simply leave it on the street.

Now I understand why the Partnerin was ready to simpy throw stuff away. Leave it on the curb; if it is of any value, it disappears in a matter of hours ... do this only if your trash is good or if you can do it totally under cover of the dark, lest the Ordnungsamt cite you for being uncitizenly.

The next big task is to eat down the stock ... the last time we moved, my kitchen had roughly 50 kilos of canned goods which the movers didn't pack and haul, meaning I had to take it across town. Not this time. Ny problem is that I am too much of a shopper, meaning I tend to have 60 or so days of canned food on hand to supplement the weekly shopping. Ok if you are expecting a major crisis or just need stuff for the occasional odd idea, like nachos or chicken satay, or when you feel that odd urge to have a christmas pudding, but ill advised if you are moving. I have been spending roughly EUR 20 a week for the past three weeks and then supplementing it with what we have on hand ... this is roughly what remains with four weeks until we move to the new flat. With any luck we'll work our way through this by then.

If all goes well, we'll be comfortably ensonced in a new flat in the middle of Frankfurt in mid-March, and should I decide to pull the trigger and add London to the mix, I will have everything I need to get a good start there as well.

In the meantime, I have a few cookies to bake.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Little More on Koblenz Airport

To answer J's question to my flying post a couple of days ago, Koblenz has a couple of airports. The one I flew to on Sunday was Koblenz-Winningen, which is at the center of the chart-extract. The airport itself is on a bluff nestled between a couple of bends in the Mosel. The approach is one of those nice "I'm flying into the side of a hill" approaches. I unfortunately didn't get pix of the approach because I was alone and flying into the sun, and I've used up all my luck this year. Next time.

If you are flying "down" the Rhein (to the northwest, that is), you'll pass a TV tower that tops out at roughly 2100 above sea level ... the hills around there are roughly 1400 to 1600 feet, so it stands out. The airport itself hides behind the hill on which the tower sits, down in the hole at only 640 feet elevation ... You can kind of see the tower here, and the airport would be that lighter patch of green behind the hill. As you pass the tower, you will be on a left-base, perpendicular to the runway, and you can turn in to land. Unless you get re-routed to avoid traffic ....

In which case you will find yourself over the heart of the town.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It Takes More Than Good Head
To get ahead in Germany

I wrote last May that I wish Guinness Extra Stout® would be easier to find in Germany. It seems to have happened.

It used to be that you might find it at the odd Getraenkmarkt, and occasionally at Wal Mart®. Since that post, Guinness Extra Stout® has become progressively easier to find in Germany, and is now even carried by Toom, no doubt after seeing the gratuitous plug I gave Wal Mart®.

Time to send a bill to the advertising departments at Guinness PLC (or is it now Diageo ???) and Wal Mart® (or is it now Real ???).

Meanwhile, if you want to move product in Germany, advertise on Der Auslander!

Guinness Extra Stout is a registered trademark of GUINNESS PLC LTD LIAB CO BY CHANGE OF NAME FROM GREAT BRITAIN BODIAM HOUSE TWYFORD ABBEY RD. LONDON ENGLAND, whatever the hell that means. I'm usually good at decoding these trademark searches, but the Guinness marks are really in a knot.

Wal Mart is a registered trademark of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. CORPORATION DELAWARE 702 S.W. 8th Street Bentonville ARKANSAS 72716, the Delaware holding company for the intellectual property (if such a phrase can be used in conjunction with that brand) for this Bentonville AR based behemoth.

Always read the tiny print.

It's Spelled A-V-O-C-A-D-O, Stupid!

It must have been the SuperBowl. Four different people from the four different parts of the US using three search engines (2x Google, 1 MSN, and 1 AOL) to look for "Avacoda" dip recipes.

Yes, you read that right ... A-V-A-C-O-D-A. I could understand Avacado because that is kind of how it sounds. Have you ever heard anyone pronouce it Avacoda?

I didn't think so. But then I wouldn't have had this traffic if I hadn't mis-typed the word in a post I did last May. Duh!

In the meantime, I think I'll trademark Avacoda since there see to be a lot of people looking for it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The (Two) Hundred Euro Spanikopita

I didn't actually eat there since I got to Koblenz too late on Sunday afternoon, but there is a kitschy Greek restaurant "Delphi" in the building housing the tower and local Fixed Base Operator. If you click on the picture you might be able to make out the statues ... lots of them.

So I what I really had was a two hundred euro pack of gummi bears ... the bears were technically free, a gift of the airport operator. Of course, I had to climb up to the tower and fork over a EUR 11.90 landing fee ... plus the cost of the round trip from Frankfurt via Heidelberg.

I took the long way, first down the A-5 to Heidelberg, where snapped this shot up the Neckar. I took a few other shots along the way, one of my office building a bit farther north, which I made my computer wallpaper today.

When my german friends and colleagues learn I am a pilot, they almost to a person ask the same question with almost clockwork german precision ...

"Oh, you are a pilot? How many take offs and landings do you need to make each year to keep your license?" (Answer, no minimums to keep the license, but you do need to get checked out every two years to show you know what you are doing ... in any case practice is always advisable for your own safety, and you are required to do a number of takeoffs and landings every so often to maintain "recency" if you want to legally carry passengers).

Today's questions were tepidly more interesting ...

"Where did you get that picture?" I took it.
"You can do that?" Yes, I can.
"No, I mean, is that allowed?" You mean it isn't?

Not just one person ... six people asked almost exactly the same sequence of questions. I'm amazed at how so many Germans arrive at the same set of questions, almost as if they are given a handbook in school of the thousands of questions they will need to ask with regularity as they go through life, always about matters of such minutiae ... Americans simply say, "Wow, nice photo."

Anyway, I continued to the west for a few minutes to skirt around Mannheim's airspace ... I had transitioned it with their kind permission on my way south because I was low to take photos and wanted to stay away from the hills ... sorry, I think they call the Odenwald mountains ... so I didn't want to bother them any more on the west side.

Anyway, I turned north to intercept the Rhein at St. Goarshausen. This shot is of what I think is the Burg Pfalzgrafenstein near Kaub, a little farther up the river ...

... and I continued "down" the river to Koblenz (that still seems like up the river to me). It's a pretty flight on a nice day ... I'll have to do it again, and to try to get there early enough to try the Greek.

Then I went back down the Rhein over Ruedesheim, and you can see here that the shadows were getting a little long, so I had to put a little more power in to speed things up, because landing too late can cost a lot more.

And when I got home I had to go around the pattern one more time because another guy turned in short and cut me off. The tower said, "Can you extend your base and turn a little west to let him land?" Funny question, since I was now pointed at Frankfurt/Main airport and had no space left either to the west or the north, so I slowed it down some more and carefully turned inbound ... but I couldn't put enough distance between us, so around I went. But it ended well nonetheless. Cheated Death Again.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Meet Dr. Ryutu Kawashima

I've had better days (23), and I've had worse days (54). I tried it once in French (62) and a few times in German (66) and once in Spanish (72).

I gave the Partnerin a Nintendo DS and the Braintraining software for Christmas because it had an electronic version of Sudoku. Yes, I can hear you all out there saying, "Yeah ... sure, you got it for the Partnerin." Really, I did. She loves sudoku.

She stopped using the brain training side when I scored 25 and she scored 55. To her cedit, she was also doing it in English, but I think she hates being competitive with me. In typical male fashion, I usually don't give being competitive with her or anyone else a second thought until it is too late ....

I think the only time I ever avoided being a complete jerk was when we were golfing in Florida on a nice sunny day on a course between the Banana River and the Atlantic Ocean ... the Partnerin was having a horrible round, but stuck in there apologizing for taking so long on the first two holes, so from three on I had the good sense to start flubbing so we could enjoy the day together. I sometimes need to remember I have compassion.

Not with this machine, however. Dr. Kawashima is a hard taskmaster, adding new puzzles and new twists to the old puzzles as you get better. The problem for the Partnerin is that results are shown against the best results of all players on the machine (max of 4), so it is difficult to get up there in the top three if you aren't highly competitive and training every day.

I must admit I do see a difference ... my brain has been getting lazy here in Germany. Then the other day my boss was calculating away on the whiteboard with calculator in hand and he got it wrong. I stopped him and said, "No, that should be 783." And he replied, "But I calculated it with the machine."

"Well, you did it wrong. Do it again."

Jaws dropped around the room. Yep, 783. If I didn't have a nemesis before, I probably have one now, but I have to get him to fire me somehow so I can finally move to London ;)

And the devil in me loves the notoriety.

The ugliest confession of this post: I have actually started to play Sudoku, and I kind of like it.

Oh No!