Whales from Wales...

I was in a pub on Friday night. Had a few....
I noticed two large women by the bar.

They both had strong accents so I asked,  "Hey, are
you two ladies from Scotland?"

One of them chirped:  "It's WALES you friggin' idiot!"

So, I immediately apologized and said...,  "Sorry, are
you two whales from Scotland ?"

That's when the lights went out....

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.

Top 10% viewed Profile on LinkedIn

LinkedIn sent me an Email recently, celebrating over 200 million members of the service.
I was also surprised to be told that my profile on LinkedIn is in the top 10% of most viewed profiles for 2012!

A click on the link gave some more detail, including a simple demographics map of “Where members live”.
On this map, only six countries are listed (membercount in parenthesis in millions):

  • USA (74),
  • Canada (7),
  • UK (11),
  • Brazil (11),
  • India (18) and
  • Australia (3)

That leaves over 76 million members unaccounted for, more than in the largest country by membership, the United States. Sure, those 76 million are likely spread over the rest of the planet, with a majority in the EU, but unfortunately, LinkedIn didn’t share that information.

I’d be very interested to find out, for example, how many members live in Germany.

However, it amuses me to find out that while I live in a country that quite likely has many fewer members than English-speaking Australia, for example, my Profile still ranks in the top 10% in popularity. That makes me wonder just how relevant a service like LinkedIn really is...

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…