Right Back After The Break

Back again. I had a busy week and a lot of work. On top of that the 9 hour time shift between Switzerland and Vancouver doesn’t really help for a lot of recovery. Finally, I had to get over the loss of the German hockey team against the Canadians – 8:2, what the hell happened?

Here is what happened, or so I have been told, since I didn’t watch the game myself at 1:30 in the morning.

The stunning defeat started to take shape when apparently the GPS in the German team bus failed, which caused my poor team to not make it to the game on time. These being Olympic games, the rules state clearly that there is no forfeiting an event or a game. Thus Team Canada had the ice for themselves for the first 2 1/2 periods of the game. When the German team finally arrived on the ice, there were 10 minutes left to be played in the third period, by which time the Canadian hockey team had scored a whopping 8 goals without the opponent being present. Still Team Canada was able to rack up in incredible 88 penalty minutes and miss one penalty shot in these first 50 minutes. Due to the penalty minute count, Team Canada had to pull the goalie twice, since there were only two players on the ice left.  Once the German team was on the ice with those short 10 minutes left in the game, they quickly started scoring their two goals for the final standing of 8:2. A painful but indisputable loss, so Congratulations Canada!

Now if we go through the purely academic exercise of extrapolating the two goals the German team scored in only 10 minutes, we can easily determine, that had the game been played with both teams on the ice at game time, the German team would have scored 12 goals for a final of 12:8. Of course this assumes, that Canada would have scored 8 goal against an opponent that was actually on the ice – highly unlikely, don’t you think?. I am asking all Team Canada fans to please consider this little factoid objectively as they stumble on through more victories towards  a podium place. Also why can’t the podium be higher so the first eleven teams can get a medal….may be the eleventh team could get a cookie medal and an At-A-Boy from the administrative assistant of the Zamboni driver, instead of the president of the IIHF, just a thought.

In other news, I have started  a career in speech writing for public figures such as anybody having to explain defeat, philandering celebrities caught cheating, CEOs that have to explain their compensation packages while they managed to achieve more than 43% of all corporate goals, and of course politicians having to explain any question that goes beyond a simple, yet inquisitive “How are you?”. If you  are interested or simply in desperate need  in these services, please do not hesitate to leave a comment with your contact information. I will get back to you asap.

More soon.

Yours Markus \m/

A Good Day At Last.

Today was a good day. The sun was what started the day, not the usual grey. I got work done and met with my crew from the states. Meeting with the guys from Philly was so good. Not because I have a special relation with Philly, Pennsylvania or the East cost in general, no it was that free-flowing exchange of ideas that Americans are so great at – unlike most Germans and Swiss and probably most Europeans, when you have an exchange with Americans they switch into Brainstorm mode and people build on each others ideas. That way one can progress quickly and cover a lot of ground. Then you start scrubbing ideas and start to judge them. I may have mentioned in a former posting, that if you throw out a new original idea to a European group of engineer and the same idea to an American group of engineers you will get two opposite responses.

The Europeans will have a long list of concerns and justifications why it can’t be done. The Americans on the other hand will provide a list of how it can be done and will have expanded considerably on the idea. I love that irrefutable belief that if you can dream it, it can be done. That is also American’s single greatest strength over any other nation I have ever been to or worked with.

Anyway, over lunch I went for a run in the sun and enjoyed watching the mountains that have eluded us for so long here.

View from my office today. The Säntis is in the center, which reminds me a little bit of Mount Doom with the clouds above it.

After my run I have been listening at work to the latest Mötley Crüe album – Saints Of Los Angeles, very conducive to creative work. It’s got the  and dirty feeling that their early albums had – straight forward and hard, makes you tap your foot to the rhythm.

And finally on such a beautiful day, I also want to show an image of the tree in the sun with the Säntis in the background.

Take care all of you out there.

Yours Markus \m/

P.S.: Tomorrow I am dropping my car off to get my engine cleaned for Wednesday’s big car examination event – I’ve always wanted to have a ménage à trois my transmission housing and the clutch bell. Well now I can even “French kiss” them, it’ll be so great……

The Invaluable Meaning Of Friends

Under normal circumstances I would have been destined for a lousy weekend, because it started really bad. I took a big gulp of Swiss bureaucracy on Friday. What happened? In Europe way more things are regulated and limited and channeled. In short there is more red tape than any sane person would ever do. So I had to bring my foreign car to a supervisory institution. They will examine cars that are being brought into the country whether they meet all safety and emission standards…and apparently also cleanliness standards. I got my car rejected because – and please brace yourself – I did not have my engine cleaned from the underside. Before I showed up at the place, I had the car thoroughly cleaned for about 30 bucks and the inspector told me that  we are very close to certification, but that I needed to make a change to my lights and that I needed to get my engine cleaned. This weird requirement has created a whole new industry in Switzerland. For a thorough cleaning, the car is lifted about 6ft off the ground. The under engine air flow directors are removed and then the engine underside is cleaned with a high pressure steam jet. This will set me back a comfortable 80 bucks, yeah, I love this country more and more. So I am having the car taken care of by Tuesday and then I will show up on Wednesday for inspection again.

Alright,but despite the bad start into the well deserved weekend, I had a great weekend. My friend Ralph came with his wife and kid to visit. I have known Ralph since elementary school, so he knows me, I now him and we always have a great time. We can go without seeing each other for 2 years and then continue like we had never been apart.

Here is us in the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen.

We had dinner on Friday and had a great conversation updating each other on what has been happening in our respective lives. Ralph is currently running his own business importing and wholesaling coffee and chocolates from Italy – and yes him and his wife hooked me up good, real good.

On Saturday, we took the catamaran ferry from Konstanz across Lake Constance to Friedrichshafen. Friedrichshafen is the former home of the Zeppelin company. A few years ago the city built a great museum to showcase the Zeppelin history. Among engines, fuselage parts and tons of models they even built the passenger decks at full-scale for visitors to walk through. Who ever developed the concept and did the realization of the museum did an outstanding job.

After about 2 hours through the museum, we had a late lunch and then headed back to the harbour to catch the catamaran back to Konstanz. Konstanz has a nice harbour area to walk around and just look at boats, the lake and people – very calming and soothing. In the harbor there is a 40 ft high statue, that rotates vertically. The statue depicts a skimpily dressed woman holding what appear to be two gnomes wearing mitras (papal hats). Back in the day, around the turn of the 14th century, Konstanz was the location for the showdown between two rivaling popes. Showdown may be the wrong expression, because the whole thing took 36 years to resolve.  The lady, apparently a whore (Food For Thought: Have you ever noticed that women who play an important role in Christian history are usually referred to as whores? What’s up with that? Are these women possibly labeled whores because they were enlightened, thinking women, which was frowned on back in the day?) somehow helped to resolve the gridlock between the two guys. Anyway, evidently present-day people value her contribution enough to justify the creation and erection of a statue for her.

When we arrived at my place we had coffee and Berliners (donuts without the hole in the middle, but with raspberry jam on the inside) and chatted some more about business and the challenges Ralph and Petra encounter and of course about how all of this fits into life.

We talked some more over Dinner and then just went to bed. Friday and Saturday night were the first two nights where I actually had a good night sleep and felt good and comfortable. This is what I was referring to in the blog title. Later today, when Ralph and Petra left, I skyped with a few friends from Minneapolis. It was great, we haven’t spoken much since I left (busy lives and 7h time shift), but we have stayed in contact and then we spend about an hour talking over Skype. It’s weird, that it requires a person to live under extraordinary circumstances to fully and truly appreciate the friendships one has. Not that I have taken my friendships for granted, but we are getting close to having to make a decision and getting a friend’s time, counsel and simply having someone to talk to is such a gift, well at least for me.

On that note, I will go sleep now, because I have a management and engineering crew from the states show up at work tomorrow for the whole week.

Take care and thanks for being there – you guys know who you are.

Markus \m/

P.S.: Keep your finger crossed, that I get my car through inspection on Wednesday.

The Tree 2.0

The title gives it away, even to the most casual observer. This entry is about the tree I see from my office. You may think to yourself:”Markus, I have seen the damned tree. The tree is starting to make cameo appearances in my dreams. Not again, not that sad skeleton of dead wood,  please.”

I understand where these objections re coming from. That is why I have decided to revamp the tree, since the weather here doesn’t want to do that for me. Although the sun came by very briefly today. I guess she was on her way to France or Portugal or Madeira or some other place outside of Switzerland. She was moving west. If you see her say hello for me and tell her I miss her.

So without further ado and for your exclusive viewing pleasure:

the Tree 2.0

taken on Thursday, Feb. 18th 2010 at 1:30PM

Have a good rest of the day. I am going swimming now.

Yours Markus \m/


Incentives vs Dangers

The other day as I was standing in line at the cash register, just as I was entering the final waiting channel about to put my items on the conveyor, I saw  the cigarette rack. I don’t smoke so this is usually not my area, but something caught my eye.

Taken at a German supermarket register. These are all the cigarette packages I could fit in my field of view. All packages have warning labels on them, however they provide different warnings.

All packages now – apparently by law – have to have these black and white stickers visibly attached to them. They look like obituaries in the newspaper: White back ground with a black frame and bold black letters. These stickers spell out the dangers or better the disadvantages of smoking. They make statements like: “Smoking may be fatal”, “Smoking may lead to circulation problems”, “Smoking causes you and your fellow man significant damage”, “Smokers die earlier”.

I m not even sure, whether statements like these are also written on cigarettes in the States. But there are two things  find very interesting.

1.) Why is there such a range in how statements can be written. There are those that simply state matter of fact, if you smoke, this WILL happen. And then there are those written much more softly where smoking MAY cause some unattractive consequences. Then there is also leeway in the severity of the consequences. To me at first sight circulation problems seem far less severe than to die earlier. Why aren’t the labels standardized. I the consumer supposed to believe, that brand A may only cause circulation problems, while brand B will let the smoker die earlier. I think it is confusing, because it is a half-hearted attempt to point out the dangers of smoking to the consumer one last time before the purchase is made…. or is it?

This brings me to my second observation.

2.) When consumers read the warning labels, why do they still make the purchase (not that they should steal them) and more importantly, why do they continue to smoke?

I think it is an incentive problem. We do many things where there may be harsh consequences, but they have usually happened to someone else some time ago. We usually don’t know the person who has suffered the consequences and thus the potential negative outcome becomes rather abstract. However, if we had a live smoker in the final stages of lung cancer right next to the cigarette rack or am amputee who lost limbs to smoking (due to the circulation problems) we may actually provide enough of a disincentive for smokers to reconsider their choices. Now the really interesting question becomes: What would be incentives and disincentives for other areas of life look like if we wanted to successfully influence behaviors. For example what would the tobacco companies have to do to double their sales by volume – what’s the incentive for people to smoke more or to start smoking in the first place?

I find the notion of looking at behavior through incentives or the lack thereof very interesting. The two Freakonomics books by Dubner and Levitt pick his topic up again and again in various contexts.

Alright, I have got to go to work now, so see you later.

Yours Markus \m/

Good Bye Again and Thoughts Spinning

Tuesday was our last day before Barbara leaves for the US again on Wednesday. I left work early to go to the Strassenverkehrsamt (STVA)in order to get an appointment to get the TT inspected. To make it short, the days of the RENAUTO are over. I will never ever get a ticket for “executive” parking from the Parking Lot Security officer Dave Q…no those days are over.

Now I will get a bland license plat that will consist of the letters TG followed by 6 digits. E.g.: TG 500017, whoop-dee-doo, I’d pay money for that one. Actually, the STVA has quite the income generating scheme going. There are indeed people who want to have specific number combination. They apply for them and then the license plates get published and auctioned off to the higher bidder. They sell into the hundreds and thousands of Franks – unbelievable.

The STVA will examine whether the car meets emission, noise and safety standards – automobile liberty in Switzerland, just like  in most European countries is actually curbed, unlike in the States.

Anyway, when I got home we drove to the border and walked int Constance, where the last day of Carneval was in full swing. Below, you can see two people in traditional “Allemanic Fasnet” costumes.

As I mentioned in our region , Carneval is serious business. And just like in sports we start our carnevalistic youth early as you can see in the image below. These guys are a dressed in for the region traditional marching band costumes. Although, their repertoire was pretty cool. There is something to be said when a marching band plays Greenday’s “Paranoid” or Ozzy Osbourne’s “Shot In The Dark”.

Over a farewell dinner we discussed the next steps as in “Should we stay or should we go?”. Unlike when we came to America, we don’t feel welcome here in the Switzerland. The level of exclusion is still subtle with a few exceptions, but it is definitely there.

There is a right wing party (Swiss Peoples Party) that is going pretty strong against foreigners of all backgrounds and globalization in general. The party’s platform is that lowly educated foreigners take away blue collar jobs from the Swiss, while highly educated foreigners take away high paying jobs from the Swiss as well. The fact that Switzerland is currently getting the shaft from the world community because their banks shelter so much money from taxes elsewhere doesn’t really help either. Intolerance has thus far been only an abstract construct for us, but now we get to experience it and it may become the deciding factor in whether we stay here or not. The canton we live in votes about 50% for this populist right wing party, so you get the picture. They rant against foreigners “Switzerland to the Swiss” and against Globalization, yet they gladly take the world’s money and help shelter or launder it making a good living that way . The party caters to the  incorrigibles who believe that Switzerland can have its cake and eat it, too – in a time when most countries are scrambling like mad to pay the bills and to get an edge economically over the global competition. Wake up and smell the coffee, it’s a global market place.

Weatherwise, no news. It is so humid here and just around freezing, that the fog makes ice ornaments on leaves and stings. Instead of the usual tree, I have been showing you to communicate the lackluster conditions here, I am posted a picture of an apple orchard. The canton of Thurgau is very rich with fruit agriculture such as wine, pears, apples, apricots and peaches.

Dormant apple orchard very close to work at noon on Feb. 16th 2010

The last picture shows the micro patters that frost and humidity causes here. As you have sen a few weeks ago, the area can be so beautiful, but right now, it’s primarily foggy and grey as you have seen since January.

Frosty edges on leaves, Feb. 16th 2010, noon.

Alright that’s it for today. I think I will have to expand on the situation here in Switzerland, since the image Switzerland has in the world as a welcoming tourist destination is not in line with what we are experiencing here right now.

Take care and you only have a few more cent to go to get to 20 bucks a share – you can do it.

Yours Markus \m/

P.S.: I found this article on BBC News.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8519246.stm

It relates to a blog post of mine from a few weeks ago, where I talked about how Germany had introduced so many often unnecessary anglicisms into the daily life.

Celebrate, Good Time, Good Time (Cool & The Gang)

Yesterday afternoon we had ourselves a party to celebrate the fact that our company had received its first order to the brand new line of machines. Now there may be nay-sayers among the readers who might say an order does not equal revenue or break-even or profit. And you are correct, but here it is enough to celebrate a little. I have been working tirelessly for six weeks on the machine and so it felt especially good to just enjoy and relax for a little with all my co-workers who have been working on this product line for years !-)

At four o’clock sharp, (the Swiss are very good with time, time keeping and the measurement of time)  we had two chefs operating two barbeques, a third chef behind the salad bar, while the drink bar was self-serve. As you can clearly see, the ratio of alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverages was skewed to say the least. But it turned out that there was enough apple schorle (apple juice with sparking water mix) left, so I didn’t have to explore behavioral new land by switching to wine or beer. On the barby we had two Swiss specialities: Veal Brats and Cervelat. The first one I can’t even begin to describe them, but I think Top Shelf is appropriate. Cervelat, yeah…in Germany we eat them with Curry Ketchup, nothing to write home about, although Andreas and Nina may strongly disagree. But the Veal Brat, lemme tell ya’. By now Rick is rolling his eyes, so here are two images that give you an idea of yesterday’s event.

On the left are the veal brats, the right the cervelat.

From the right is apple schorle and Coke, then beer, red and white wine. The beers even came in 0.75l bottles with flip caps and the traditional 0.5l bottles.

Good times have been had by all.

Other than that, Barbara went to see her parents yesterday, she too encountered a 45 minute delay with Germany pride on rails the ICE. Fortunately she was able to switch trans and take a different route without arriving late. But it’s still a shame that there are so many issues with this train, that frustrate the German Railway passengers.

Finally, we seem to be stuck in a French art movie from the sixties – no sun, all is grey, absolutely no use to waste color film on taking pictures. This is really bringing me down. I have a co-worker who lives in Berg – 5 miles south of K’lingen. Regardless what the weather is anywhere else, they live in perma-fog, you can barely see 30 ft where he lives and the company is located. I am amazed that they don’t have a sky-high suicide rate. And with that I give you the tree picture of February 15th 2010 taken at noon.

Let me remind you, in a normal world – not perfect – we should see the Swiss Alps in all their beauty behind that damned tree.

Take care and please get that stock above 20 by the 3rd fiscal quarter, it may come in very handy for us.

Yours Markus \m/