Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Mice and Groups? The value of good translation!

After staying 5 days in the Blau Punta Reina Resort on Mallorca (see review here), I wanted to figure out where Blau is based (it is the German word for "blue" after all). While perusing the homepage wasn't that successful, I did find this in their menu bar:

2017-05-18 - Blau Resorts

I suppose "Mice & Groups" is better than "Mice in Groups"…

Going by the phone number at the top, I presume the company is based in Spain somewhere - or perhaps even directly on Mallorca. Which goes to show the advantage of having a native speaker go through the translation of your worldwide web presence…

What is the best model for charging stations?

This article on Scientific American made me think: will that be the new Air-BnB for electric car owners? After my experience with the BMW i3 in Hamburg (sorry, German only), I would definitely welcome any system that makes find a charging station as simple as finding a hotel room.

However, I very much doubt that this "people for the people" model will work. For one thing, unless you have a garage or at the very least a dedicated parking space near your residence, you're not going to have simple access to your private grid. So, once again we're out of the city, out in the countryside where people own homes. Ok, say you have a home, you put some PV on top to juice up your e-car on weekends (you have it at work during the week, remember) and you join a network like the one featured in the article to make that power connection available to travelers in need.

Do you really want to deal with the logistics of having someone hooking into your power grid? Where is the car going to be parked? What if your car is parked next to the grid, what if it is plugged into that semi-fast-charging outlet when they call? Can you trust these strangers? What if they are not looking to top off their battery at all, but to find out the best way into your home later that night?

Now, take a step back to the year 2000 with me. Back then, Wifi (can you believe 11 MBits?) was just coming into its own. If you had a Wifi-capable device, you would swarm to any café, restaurant, bar or other facility that offered Wifi, either for free (i.e. "surf while you eat") or for a small charge. I'm willing to bet that Starbucks would be far from their current customer base, had they not realized that Wifi was a major factor for getting - and keeping - customers into the store!

So… take your average supermarket, restaurant, café, bar… many of these (ok, maybe not in cities) will offer parking. Why not offer a number of reserved-for-charging parking spaces?

Juice up your Nissan Leaf while you juice up your stomach? "If your check is more than $20, charging is free, otherwise you pay just 15 cents / kWh". Something along those lines. Why do stores offer parking? Because people go elsewhere to shop if they didn't. Parking spaces are expensive, after all. Now, you have a chance to capitalize on a few of these spaces - either by keeping customers longer ("better charge for an hour, hon - have another milkshake") or by drawing them away from your competition.

Maybe in 20 years, car charging will be absolute standard? This would be a great line to hear: "hey, did you hear about that new restaurant? Food is good, but jeez, no charging!"


"Free" Internet at Brussels Airport

Ok, I've seen quite a number of airports in my life - and nowadays, most of them do offer free internet access via Wifi. Yes, there will be the obligatory "check here to agree to our terms" bit, but usually, you don't have to register with personal data in order to use Wifi.

Not so at Brussels BRU airport! They expect you to create an account, filled with lots of personal information, in order to get access:


That doesn't show what is above these fields - you also need to give them your mobile number so that they can text you a registration code… and yes, ALL of these fields are requirements.
I put in a bunch of crap, of course, but the system balked at the entered birthdate (in 2003) calling it "not valid"… what, a 13-year-old can't use this service?

Oh, lets have a look at the Terms of Use:


Well that is very comprehensive… mind you, it doesn't matter wether you click on "Terms of Use" during registration or any of the links on the login screen:


To put the icing on the cake, once I had everything entered and corrected, the system came back with:


So needless to say, I gave up.
This airport rocks! Just like the city does!
And yes, that IS sarcasm…


Ultrasound Networks for Divers

The Verge reported yesterday on a new type of diving console (the device attached to a hose that goes to your vest and lets you control buoyancy as well as giving you information such as depth, etc.) that hooks into a communications network based on ultrasound.

This network allows divers to communicate amongst each other as well as with the “base station” on the diving boat.

The idea, of course, was prone to pop up. Communication between divers under water is line-of-sight only, since it isn’t possible to speak under water - at least with normal scuba gear, This is why every dive should be done with a “buddy” - i.e. a one-to-one pairing of divers that keep each other in sight.

A lot of responsibility rests on the organizer of a diving trip - usually an instructor - when he or she takes a group of divers (not seldom 10 or more) on a dive. If you have inexperienced divers in the group, the “take care of your buddy” system frequently breaks, because it’s so damn pretty down there...

However, I see two main issues with introduction of this type of technology:

1. The buddy system works well - if both divers apply it properly - for a number of reasons. Often, the buddies are friends in real life (most people go diving with their significant other or friends instead of going on a diving trip alone), which helps in many situations where communication is key - if one of the two runs out of air, for example

I’m quite afraid that introduction of underwater communications will break the buddy system and create groupings of divers, as well as the breaking away of individual divers from the group that prefer to dive alone. Should something bad happen - from something simple as a calf cramp to more serious issues such as a broken respirator or a diver that gets stuck in a crack - panic will likely ensue. Everybody will start hitting buttons to “ping” others resulting in a communications overload of the network and a guaranteed negative outcome to the situation.

2. Ultrasonic communication underwater isn’t new; it’s been around as a military application for many years. It does have environmental issues, however. Ultrasound (defined as any sound frequency above 20kHz) is audible to many fish and other marine animals. If you’ve even been diving at the typical hotspots worldwide, you know how crowded those spots get. I’ve seen spots with 10 diving vessels, each carrying up to 30 divers. Imagine the sound pollution generated by 300 divers in the water at a single location, each hooked into an ultrasound network... I don’t want to think about what that will do to the fauna in the area!

Technology is a good thing - I’ll be the first to tell you that. But some things work just fine without it, better even. Personally, I think the buddy system for divers is one of those.
That such a system used only for emergency beaconing would be a benefit goes without saying, of course.

Web Journalism: Where are the editors?

To get updates on various topics, I’ve subscribed to various Twitter feeds. Many of these are not based on traditional journalism models (i.e. Newspapers) but on small, startup agencies that cover specialized subjects. Unfortunately, the issue that many journalists predicted would happen with Web 2.0 journalism seems to be taking hold: the quality of the writing is, IMHO, below 10th grade level.

this post from Mashable as an example. Simple errors here that are easily prevented with one quick look at Google Maps: 1) Jeddah isn’t “near” the Red Sea. It is ON the Red Sea. And Dubai isn’t a neighbor to Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates are. Abu Dhabi is. But Dubai isn’t. Also, if you look at the linked original article, Mashable has conveniently ignored a very important statement: “The $1.2bn (RM4bn) project has been plagued by setbacks since it was first proposed in 2011...”

Nitpicking? Hm. Maybe.

How about this article on Techcrunch. Skip to the section on the wind turbine “Trinity”. And I quoth from the text: “The micro USB port is used to charge the turbine before it can be uses with a 15,000 mAh battery. “ Ummm... why do I have to charge the turbine before using it? And what sort of grammar is “before it can be uses with a ... battery”??? That sentence doesn’t even make any sense!

This sentence from the same post is even better: “The mini turbine is powered by a 15W generator.” Um. I thought the mini turbine is wind-powered? Try: “A 15W generator is powered by the mini turbine”... ahh! Now I get it.

To be fair to Techcrunch: they merely copied the text 1:1
from the Backerjack site. Maybe that’s the new journalism: surf the internet for possibly interesting material, steal the text on these sites without reading it, paste it to your own website and put your name to it to make people think you wrote this stuff yourself.

On Techcrunch, Mr.
Ross Rubin, who posted the article above, did just that. This gentleman calls himself “principal analyst” at Reticle Research, “which he founded in 2012” (please note the quotes - when I got my degrees, we were still taught that sentences from other sources need to be quoted - something Mr. Rubin apparently didn’t learn). I always thought analysts... well - analyze? If you’d like to know what an industry analyst does, check out this extensive entry in Wikipedia.

I don’t want to only pick on Mr. Rubin here - I’ve noticed this as a general trend, and not just in the US. Apparently, the social media culture generates so much pressure to tweet, post, link and blog that folks would actually be required to sit down for a couple of hours a day to generate output.

Good thing that with WYSIWYG computing, Cmd-C/Cmd-V (that’s Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V for you poor folks out there still using Windows) was part of the “package”. And good thing those two keys are so close to one another, otherwise one would burn even more calories copying other folk’s 5th-grade-level content by having to use two hands to plagiarize.

******** April 22 Update: on the day I published this, Mr. Rubin sent me a tweet: “@hdbaumeister Thanks for pointing out the issues. I’ll address them.” He did and I definitely want to mention that here. Subsequently, you’ll find the linked article above has been edited. Thanks, Mr. Rubin!

Mac Ad from 1984 - With an iPod!

I remember seeing this ad on TV back in 1984; at the time I was using an Atari 1200 computer but had a chance to use Macs at RIT a year later.

Coming across this ad video on YouTube, I noticed something I don’t recall from seeing the ad 30 years ago (yikes, I’m getting old!):


This is the part where the girl just lets go of the hammer that destroys the big screen.

Notice something? She’s wearing an iPod! With clickwheel!

The original iPod came out in 2001, so in 1984, when the ad was broadcast, no-one had probably even thought of putting something like an iPod together.

If you check out
this YouTube video in comparison (which is the original clip), you’ll find that the girl isn’t wearing an iPod.

Here is a screenshot of nearly the same frame from that video:


So the above video has been altered; I would say in a massively professional manner, not something you do with mickey-mouse editing software. They probably had an actress, all dressed in black, emulate the girl’s movements. That way, you can capture the motion and light effects of the iPod and the headphone cord properly and overlay it on the original ad video.

The description of the top YouTube entry clears up the mystery:

Published on Oct 18, 2012
For the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh, Apple re-released the ad with the runner wearing an iPod. Steve Jobs unveiled the ad during Macworld San Francisco.


Teach your daughters? Great!

I came across this as of late on someone’s Facebook page. I certainly hope they posted it out of reasons as sardonic as mine, but you never know…


Nice to see that the “instructor” (mom?) is wearing safety goggles but the little girl isn’t.
Well, I guess the main point here is for her to be able to control the gun, not worry about the safety. If you’re popping bullets into anyone walking by the house that looks at you in a strange way, I suppose it doesn’t really matter that much anyway.

At least they put a silencer on the piece to keep her ears from bleeding.

Great work, guys! Keep it up.

Need for Strangeness

I just came across this extremely interesting TED Talk by Maria Bezaitis, principal engineer at Intel.

In it, she proposes that our society is slipping towards an ever higher level of homogenization - like meets like, like marries like. You can’t be a member unless your like us.

With personal data processing by Google and the like, the variety in (digital) life is diminishing on a daily basis. I can see truth in that: sure, Amazon “knows” you’ve been looking at that portable digital camera, so they present you with a whole range of different models the next time you log in.

Instead of prompting me to buy one, however, I can see how the reverse may actually be true. With non-essential things like purchasing the third digital camera in the household (“one for travel, one for home and, well, one for just-in-case”), getting swamped with digital camera offers may put the consumer off the purchase. After all, things purchased “because we can” tend to go by different market dynamics than things we buy “because we must”, like food.

A camera may actually be more attractive to buy if we’re presented with a “only two left in stock” message than a plethora of choices.

Or, it may become more attractive if - instead of a multitude of nearly identical options - we’re presented with trips to places where a camera might be of good use (not that Amazon sells travel packages, but you get the point).

Take political parties: clearly, a “if you don’t think like us, you don’t belong” type of situation. If you’re a conservative - well, why on earth would you sit down and talk with liberals? That’s tedious enough at dinner parties. Or is it?

I remember hearing an article on one of my favorite podcasts,
Quirks and Quarks (CBC), on a science writer that had spent some time on a research vessel in the arctic ocean. Only through her experiences with another research team from an entirely different branch of science were they able to solve a puzzling phenomenon with algal blooming.

Science doesn’t profit from homogenization - the example above shows clearly, that certain scientific issues and problems cannot be solved unless the scientists go outside their “comfort zone” to chat with “strangers” from another field of research.

Lets not forget: the internet is certainly a good medium to keep in touch with people like you: be that by email, skype, facetime, blogging, facebook, twitter, etc.

It is, however, also an excellent medium to contact complete strangers and get to know - and learn from - them! Maybe this will turn out to be the Web 3.0?

Philosophical Statement of the Day

Hi all,

this is a pinboard at our Augsburg office… I haven’t a clue what the author is trying to say here, and the 5 1/4” Floppy doesn’t make things easier… ideas anyone?

Personally, I’m not sure the author had a plan...



Mindwandering = Unhappiness?

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a big follower of TED talks (TED.com) - lots of extremely interesting stuff to be learned there.

Recently, I came across a talk by Matt Killingsworth. He’s put together an “app” to measure happiness using a smartphone - users get “pinged” several times per day and answer a couple of simple questions to get a quantification of their happiness and also wether they were mind-wandering at the time.

In his talk, he presents a graph which which he demonstrates that “people are substantially less happy” when they are mind-wandering. The visual of this bar graph is quite striking, however - as happens often with graphs - one needs to read “between the bars” to get the whole picture. If you look on the left side, you’ll see the scale, which doesn’t go from 0 to 100% as would be expected, but from 52 to 68%. Why? Only Mr. Killingsworth knows for sure.

It certainly produces an initial “wow, look at the difference” effect visually - and if you don’t look at the scale, that will stick with you. Once you do realize the graph scale, however, the difference between the happiness level of focussed vs. mind-wandering is reduced to 66 vs. 57%… that’s 9% difference, certainly not “substantial” in my book. In fact, as with every set of scientific data, there is certain error factor that needs to be calculated into any experiment. With a subjective answer system like the app used here, an error of 10% seems pretty reasonable - which would indicate that his point that mind-wandering causes unhappiness is completely moot!

Later on, there is another bar graph that shows the correlation between happiness when focussed, and three types of mind-wandering: positive, neutral and negative. According to Mr. Killingsworth, the data seems to implicate that any type of mind-wandering leads to unhappiness - from the data, though, the level of happiness when focussed is identical to the level when doing positive mind-wandering (65%)… I’m wondering wether he has an issue interpreting his own data?

Another thing that bothers the scientific side of me is the selected group: only owners of smartphones with mobile internet access can take part in the study. This limits the selection of participants to a reduced segment of the population. Wether or not someone with a smartphone is more or less happy, or does more or less mind-wandering, is beyond me - but I’m quite certain it affects the outcome.

While the idea behind the experiment is great and certainly the topic is well worth researching, Mr. Killingsworth’s interpretation of that data is, in my opinion, quite lacking.

Amazon - Most unfriendly company 2013

I’ve been on a roller-coaster ride with a company that - up to now - I’ve been highly satisfied with. This is also a company that has one of those “striving to be the most customer-friendly company in the world” type of banners in their email messages.

I’m talking about Amazon.

Here is how this all started:

On January 24, I’d purchased something on the internet, not via Amazon.de (the German subsidiary), but via a different web shop. This web shop offered Amazon Payments as a payment alternative, and since I’ve never had issues before, I decided to use it instead of Paypal. The transaction went smoothly, I received my items a day later. So far, so good.

The payment was set up as a debit from a bank account I use for my consulting business that’s been around since 2001. Since there isn’t much traffic on this account lately (I’m employed full-time by BancTec and don’t have any time left to do work on the side), the balance had slipped my mind. When Amazon Payments tried to debit my account, it wasn’t covered. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, as I had a revolver on my last account that would have compensated the difference. I’d just switched banks a few weeks earlier, however, and a revolver hadn’t been set up.

Subsquently, Amazon wasn’t able to deduct the amount. Oddly enough, I didn’t receive an email from Amazon about this - I noticed it by chance when I checked through my account transactions. So I went to amazon.de and tried to log into my account. No go - it had been locked.

A day later, I received an email from Amazon stating that “as you have read previously” (nope), I should transfer the missing funds and all would be well. Unfortunately, _that_ email had no further information in it, such as what amount I owed, where it should be transferred to, etc.

What followed is an aria that shows just how bad Amazon’s customer service processes are set up. Without being able to log into your account, you can’t get in touch with Amazon Payments. It’s that simple. Once you’re locked out, you stay locked out.

Via the German financial commission BaFin, I was able to get Amazon Payments’ HQ contact data - they are, as is often the case, located in Luxembourg - for tax reasons. They don’t have any personnel in Germany. I wrote them a letter (yep - snail mail!!!) describing the situation. I’ve reproduced it here for your reading pleasure:

Amazon Payments Europe S.C.A.
Customer Service
5 Rue Plaetis
L 2338 Luxemburg

Dear Madam or Sir,
luckily, the German BaFin was able to send me your address, as I have had a severe issue with not being able to communicate with your customer service department responsible for the German Amazon Payments program in several weeks. Now that I have your corporate address, at least I can use “old fashioned” mail to detail my problem.
On January 28, due to an overdraft on my company account, an attempted debit by Amazon Payments of €287,79 was refused by my bank (-). The purchase had been made from my Amazon account “
-”. Please accept my apologies for this inconvenience - my company account isn’t used that frequently, and I hadn’t made certain that it would cover the debit in a timely fashion.
I learned of the overdraft by chance, while looking through my online bank statement two days after the fact. On Feb. 2, I received an email from Amazon Payments, stating that this was a reminder to take care of the outstanding amount which I had been informed of previously. Please rest assured that I had NOT received a previous email, or I would have taken care of the issue immediately.
I tried to log into my account to get any information at all on how to rectify the situation (i.e. a bank connection where I might wire the money to) - unfortunately, my Amazon.de account (see above) was locked, and has been ever since.
Thus, links to the Amazon Payments customer service won’t work, as they require a login in order to contact customer service. I contacted Amazon.de customer service on Feb. 3; they replied almost immediately, but indicated that they had no connection to Amazon Payments and wouldn’t be able to help me with my problem. He did, however, promise to forward my issue to Amazon Payments customer service so that they could respond. Needless to say, I did not receive a reply from you.
On Feb. 6, I decided to take it one step further: I opened a chat with Amazon.de customer service and told the very friendly lady my problem - also, that Amazon Payments customer service had not responded. She told me that she wasn’t able to help me, as there was no connection between Amazon.de and Amazon Payments (as before) but that she had forwarded the issue to you so that you might respond to my problem quickly. I waited - but, as before, I received no signs of life.
On the next day, I decided to try the phone. Amazon has a “call me back” feature, and I used it. The call came almost immediately, unfortunately the result was the same as the two times before: the lady indicated that she couldn’t help me, but would forward my issue to you to get back to me. Again, as before, no response. And yes, I checked my “junk mail” folder daily to make sure any response didn’t get lost.
At this point, I’m extremely frustrated, as you can imagine. I’ve been a loyal Amazon.de customer for many years and have valued Amazon as a reliable vendor with excellent business process management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t ring true at all for the Payments section.
I would thus ask you to get back to me on the issue ASAP, ideally via email (either the account email or via
x@y.com). All I need is for you to supply me with bank account details that I can forward the outstanding sum to.
Also, I would ask you as a one-happy Amazon customer to seriously look over your business processes; locking out an account if this account is the only communications medium a customer can use to get in touch with you is ridiculous.
I’m also appalled that nowhere on any Amazon website is there an address listed where one can get in touch via email, phone or regular mail.


This letter finally resulted in a standard email - likely the one I should have received when the debit issue came up with in the first place - on Feb. 20, 4 weeks after the fact. This one, as I would have expected a month earlier, detailed the amount and account information where to transfer that amount.

I transferred the money on Feb. 21. As of this writing (Feb. 26), my account is still locked out. I used the “call me” function to get in touch with Amazon once again. You could immediately tell that this wasn’t an Irish lady as last time but a German one, the tone was just that touch more annoyed (or should I say “annoying”?).

She stated once again that because Amazon Payments is a separate unit, she wouldn’t be able to help me, but would send me an email with details on how to get in touch with Amazon Payments once I verified some contact details. We nearly got stuck with my “User name”… something I wasn’t aware of even using with Amazon, but as it later turned out, this was just my name… whatever the point of that was, I’ll never know.

The email I received was identical to one I’d received all the way back when I sent my first email. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. You still need to be able to log in to contact Amazon Payments (which I can’t) and using the supplied URL https://payments.amazon.de/contactus leads to the contact site for Amazon.de (not payments), which - you know this already - can’t be of help with Amazon Payments issues.

The issue this throws up is this: I’m now at a point where I am close to terminating my customer relationship with Amazon forever. I’m completely annoyed by being tossed around like a piece of trash, just because this company isn’t able to properly set up its customer service processes. That is, of course, somewhat problematic - I have a small Kindle library accumulated, which would end up in /dev/null if I kiss Amazon goodbye.

If anyone at Amazon reads this: if you need a company that can help you with your processes, get in touch with me or someone at BancTec USA. Whatever you do - change this deadlock process as soon as you can, or I won’t be the only customer that you’ll lose for all eternity.

TED Talk - How movies teach manhood

The TED talk from Colin Stokes

Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood | Video on TED.com

really got me thinking. I very much recommend you watch this if you have kids.


Belgium's "storage Doughnut"

Interesting article here about an idea stemming from Belgium.

The idea is to build an artificial island in form of a doughnut very close to power generating windmills. Power peaks not needed in the onland grid would be put into electric pumps that remove sea water from the center of the doughnut into the ocean, generating potential energy.

When power is once again needed by the grid, water would be let in from the ocean into the evacuated reservoir in the center of the “island”, generating electric power as it moves through turbines.

I haven’t done this type of calculation since college, so I’m just guessing at this point. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to mechanically pump water out of the doughnut and generate electricity with the water turbines? I.e. instead of installing a very costly electric windmill, transfer the torque generated by the propeller (or what do you call that thing rotating on a wind mill?) directly to water pumps to evacuate the island reservoir.

It seems to me that the double loss of efficiency by generating electricity from wind and then converting it to the movement of water via an electric pump would make the mechanical solution more viable…


End of quality Journalism at Scientific American?

Wow, have a look at this article by Scientific American regarding advancement in electric-powered aircraft.

I held SciAm in quite high regard as to their journalistic quality, so I hope this is a one-off.

A couple of comments:

1) The picture in the sidebar doesn’t show an “unmanned aerial vehicle” but rather a two-seater, electric sailplane with both seats filled. These are actually becoming halfway common at airshows in Germany.

2) The article indicates that the term “passenger miles per gallon” means that it is “the fuel efficiency divided by the number of passengers.” Far from it - fuel efficiency is measured in miles per gallon, so passenger miles per gallon would be fuel efficiency multiplied by the number of passengers. Ya don’t even need 12th grade math to understand that…

3) the article furthermore describes the use of electric engines as a possible alternative to using the jets to provide the propulsion for taxiing while on the ground. A comparison is made between a jet airliner using “5 megawatts of energy” as compared to an electric drive system that only uses 2 (yep - TWO!) kilowatts.

Folks, my minivan needs 85kW to accelerate its 3,000+ lbs halfway decently (faster than a tractor)… you’re trying to tell me that a 2 kW motor would be able to move an Airbus 320 at ANY speed down the taxiway? An Airbus A320 weighs in at a peak start weight of 78 metric tons!

Its beside the fact that fitting any sort of drive system to wheels that spend their time either supporting those 78 tons or residing in an unheated compartment at up to -50°C, with occasional blasts of fun while taking massive impact force during landing. Probably not an environment you want to be installing somewhat sensitive drivetrain components in.

Also, to take the same A320 as a reference: it burns 2,700kg of fuel per hour at full blast. The fuel, Jet-A, is nearly identical to Diesel fuel, so we can take that to calculate energy content. Diesel contains about 43 MJ of usable energy per kg. One kW-hour = 3,6 · 106 Joule, so per kg, Diesel would then contain about 12 kW-hours per kg.
The burn rate is then 32.400 kW during full travel speed (probably 80% of full thrust?).

Where on earth did the 5 Megawatts come from? That is the power generated by the first civil-use nuclear power plant in Obinsk (1954) at peak output!

Unfortunately, one has to be a registered member of ScientificAmerican.com to leave a comment (which is probably the reason there are - to date - only two comments, and both completely irrelevant to the article).

Subsequently, I’ve been forced to put this in my blog and tweet it to the world.

Advantages of a Machine Brain

There is a lot of hype right now about Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the machine intelligence and the pending Singularity.
Wether or not humans will begin to implant digital contraptions in their bodies and in their brains is up to the future - at this point, we can only speculate. Though I have to say, the idea of accessing the internet directly from my brain - without having to use a computer or tablet - is a compelling thought.

Personally, I believe the bigger issue at hand - and one we have to seriously consider very soon - is this: Given the ability to interconnect at „will”, and imparted with the objective to achieve a particular goal, machines with partial „thinking” capability will always outdo their human creators. Wether or not they are able to generate higher „thinking-throughput” is probably only secondary - it is their ability to network instantly and widely that will give them the advantage.

Anyone with even average social skills will realize, no later than 35 years of age, that the social / business network is half of the rent. Without knowing „whom to call for what”, even a highly skilled knowledge worker would soon hit uncrossable boundaries.

Give your iPad 15 the verbal command to research a particular subject, and what will it do? It will instantly thread many parallel searches on the Web to retrieve this information. It will also contact all the devices it „knows”, either because you have „paired it” with a particular device (perhaps, because that device belongs to your history professor) or because it has „met” that device in previous searches. This is called „collaboration”, something humans have done since day one, albeit not particularly efficiently.

The „root of all evil” isn’t money, in my humble opinion, it is the complexity of trying to convey your ideas, dreams and wishes in a verbal language that restrains you from communicating efficiently. Add to that the interpretability of language (again, because it is imprecise) and you get? Bad communication.

Not so with digital devices. Sure, at this point they are restricted to protocols that human beings conceived and constructed for them. Communication seems to work pretty well using these „languages” already. Give it a few more years, and you may find protocols that are constructed dynamically through „learning by doing” within the grid.

The only thing that represents a limiting factor - once this state of being has been achieved - is the throughput of the Web in the future. We already have throughput issues in certain places, as much of the traffic on the Internet is already not generated by humans anymore, but by machine2machine communication and data spiders.

And finally, we retain one important function that, at least for now, is completely in our hands: we can always pull the plug if it gets too „hot”.

Glass Sponges

Yesterday evening, I watched a program I had recorded off ARTE a few days ago, about Biomimikry. While the concept of biomimikry isn’t particularly new (i.e. looking at how nature does things to make human engineering better), it is now, apparently, taking off not only in engineering, but also in architecture.

But what amazed me most is a section of the film that talked about glass sponges - creatures living in depths of up to 1.000 meters that produce an endoskeleton made of pure glass. The fascinating thing about this glass is: it seems by far more durable than any glass made my humans.

How on earth do you fabricate glass without a kiln? Well, that is certainly something scientists are now trying to find out. Interestingly, according to the film, about 5% of all CO2 emissions produced by mankind stem from the production of glass and cement. Being able to produce glass without the heat would really make the material that much more „green”.

The film goes on about the special structure, in which the sponge puts his skeleton together. It looks a bit like a hair curler with diagonal strands every four squares or so, along with little „U”-shaped things jutting out that connect some of the crossings. When scientists did stress-testing on constructions made of plastic that increased in complexity from that simple hair curler (basically a tube made of longitudinal strands and regularly crossing rings) to the actual structure of the sponge’s skeleton, they realized a giant increase in resistance to crushing.

The sponge also uses the optical characteristics of the skeletal glass to transmit light. It has some very special glass structures at the base, where luminescent bacteria grow, and distributes this light throughout its body so that it actually glows in the complete blackness of the deep sea.

Dangers of Xing and LinkedIn

Professional networks such as Xing (mostly Germany) or LinkedIn are excellent tools to support the care and feeding of one’s network. No discussion there. I’ve been an active member of these sites for many years, and not only have I found interesting connections to use both professionally and privately, but these sites are - of course - a favorite amongst headhunters as well.

Currently, a notion hit me that I haven’t considered - ever - when adding new connections to my networks. The concept crept into my head recently, when an ex-colleague from a previous employer contacted me to re-connect on Xing. Apparently, he had lost some connections due to a technical issue; in any case, he wanted to re-connect.

This colleague is a key account manager at my previous employment and, as it happens, that company is a direct competitor to my current employer.

One feature of network sites like Xing and LinkedIn is their „network news” broadcasts. You’ll get a weekly email update of what is happening with other people you are linked to. While this may be entertaining and mostly harmless for technical or administrative folks, if you’re very close to sales - like I am - then „person x is now connected to person y” may broadcast much more about your sales activities to your competition than you might like!

Think of it this way: every time you connect to a new potential (or existing) customer, that connection is broadcast to every sales person working for the competition that is linked to you! Not a good idea, really, is it? Alternately, you might just send them an email, telling them what accounts you’re currently working on!

I haven’t found a way to turn that broadcast off, neither on Xing or LinkedIn, so until I do, I certainly won’t be adding any more people to my network whose nose shouldn’t be stuck in my business activities.

What is it about power outlets in airports?

Okay, folks. What is this thing about power outlets at airport gates? Or rather, the lack thereof? I’ve previously blogged about this regarding Schipol airport, but this is the case at most airports I know. This time round, it is Copenhagen.

Occasionally, you’ll find an airport that has retrofitted some unused space to a „business area”, with small stand-up cubicles sporting one or two outlets each. At Frankfurt Airport, you can find „mobile phone charging stations” - but no outlets at the gates.

What are the operating companies afraid of? That power-hungry travelers with starving laptops might double their operating expenses?

Every time I look in vain for an outlet somewhere - anywhere - near a gate, I always wonder how they vacuum the place. Do the cleaning personnel sport rechargeable Dysons? Or have vacuum cleaners also been taken out of the budget; after all, you can usually do a similarly good job with a broom.

Seriously, in my frequent traveling, I’ve plugged into spare outlets behind soda machines as well as received friendly support from bar personnel, by plugging me in at a hidden outlet behind the bar.

There are airports that accommodate travelers with laptops by providing one or two (wow!) outlets per gate. Usually, far enough away from a seat so that the poor bloke has to single him or herself out by sitting on the floor.

My plea to all operators of airports: please give us juice!

Powerless in Schipol

Okay, I travel quite a bit. And like most people, I use a mobile phone. I tend to use it a lot, which leads to frequent charging. Sometimes, it is even necessary to give it a short boost of energy while waiting for a plane.

Let me state an assumption. It is my belief, that a good chunk of bottom-line profit of most airports in Europe comes from business travel. Would you agree? If I look around me while waiting for my delayed flight from Schipol to Frankfurt, I see a lot of laptops and Blackberrys in action.

So you would think that an airport would be interested in catering to their business customers, no?
No. Not at Schipol (and a lengthy list of other airports around the world). While I’ve seen special “laptop and mobile phone charging stations” at airports in the U.S., I don’t recall coming by one of those in Europe.

I spent a good fifteen minutes at Schipol today, frantically looking for an outlet so that I could keep my mobile phone alive. I did pass a guy that had struck gold in an outlet probably made for cleaning machines. Needless to say, he had to sit on the cold floor to charge and use his laptop.

The ultimate non-business-friendly airport is King Khaled Airport Riyadh. I don’t know how they vacuum or polish the floors there - they apparently have no outlets at all - anywhere! Maybe all the cleaning equipment in use there is battery powered, who knows.

Is my sucking of a couple of watthours of current really going to affect Schipol’s bottom line? I highly doubt it. Please folks, get some access to power outlets set up for us poor folks that depend on our electronic communications equipment to ensure that our employer makes enough profit to buy more airline tickts, a healthy portion of which goes towards the airports those planes fly out of and into.

And now, for something completely different...

Experiencing CeBIT Eurasia (Oct. 7-11) at Istanbul’s Bilişim conference center was quite interesting - as well as productive.
We exhibited with our Partner in Turkey, Trios A.S. at the Germany booth.

I’m a seasoned exhibition goer, both as an exhibitor as well as a visitor. I’ve been to many trade fairs in Germany, I’ve been to CES in Las Vegas. Heck, I’ve been doing CeBIT in Germany - with very few exceptions - every year since 1992.

Especially as an exhibitor, you tend to get a detailed view of the trade fair that a visitor never gets: setting up and tearing down. This is always fascinating to me, as you rarely get to see such order generated out of chaos within a very short period of time. Anyone that has been part of the setting-up process at the world’s largest trade fair, CeBIT in Hannover, Germany, knows this.

Unfortunately, trade fairs like CeBIT and DMS are becoming more and more of a “drag” to exhibitors, at least the ones in the ECM market. The reason for this is dwindling numbers of visitors and exhibition concepts so far removed from reality that it hurts.

CeBIT Eurasia in Istanbul was a real eye-opener for me, in that it took me back to the good days of CeBIT: here, many visitors are seeing technologies and solutions “live” for the first time, with the associated buzz. Hallways are packed, booths are swamped.

The whole thing has a touch of “wild west”, but in a good sense: where organisation of most aspects of an event are hugely overdone in Germany (have you ever filled out the forms required to get even a tiny booth at CeBIT?), here things are “self-organising”. Sure, if you need something specific (such as ADSL access), you get the “pass around”.

People seemed to be even more specialized than usual: The cleaning people passing by our booth weren’t able to lend us a cleaning rag for a minute to wipe our table off, as they weren’t instructed to do so...

But in the end, you get what you came for: new contacts and business leads.

Since business in Turkey is much more relationship-based than in Germany, CeBIT Eurasia is a good first step towards building business here in the region!