• New german law criticized as start into surveillance state

    In an official statement, the german "Gesellschaft für Informatik" (GI), Germany's biggest association of IT experts, states that the new "BSI law" probably is a progress from the draft of 2008, but still has deeply rooted flaws. (BSI is short for "Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationtechnik", the federal office for information technology security.)

    What troubles the IT experts most is the fact that each and every communication with federal authorities will be completely monitored, which they regard as the first step to a surveillance state. "GI demands free and uncontrolled communication of all citizens with federal authorities as warranted by the constitution", the paper announces. Personal information won't be sufficiently secured by the proposed law, so effective restrictions must be put in place, GI concludes.

    By criticising the "BSI law", GI joins other voices that fear an increase in stately surveillance and in the risk of unauthorized access to personal data, for example Peter Schaar, the german federal data privacy commissioner.

    I regard it as highly necessary that all parts of german society raise their voices against those attempts at collecting more personal data with neither valid reason nor the technical and legal means of protecting them. Join the protest!

    (via Heise Newsticker)

  • 4 weeks in Peru

    We're back in good old, good cold Germany. The temperate difference to our vacation place in Arequipa is about 30 degrees Celsius, but that's not the biggest difference to our home country.

    Those four weeks weren't exactly a pleasure cruise. We didn't have a swimming pool, so we drove two hours in an old bus to get to the Pacific beach once (we had a great time). We didn't have a washing machine, so I spent hours outside washing clothes by hand. We didn't have a king size bed, so I had to sleep with one shoulder touching the cold wall. Most sanitary installations are prone to clogging, so we had to get used throw toilet paper not into the toilet but into a waste bin next to the bowl (you'll notice it quickly when it's time to empty it). Despite those shortcomings, I'm happy that we went to Peru, because I learned much about the country, its people and what's important.

    The four weeks of vacations met my expectations regarding getting some rest and having the opportunity to recharge my batteries. What I didn't expect was the amount of poverty, though.

    As I found out yesterday, in Peru, 30% of the population earn less than $2 USD a day, 10% are even below $1 USD. From what I saw, the most popular job in the bigger cities seems to be cab driver, more than half of the cars on the streets of Lima and Arequipa are tiny taxis. And many of them are in a state so that the German TÜV wouldn't even consider a checkup but immediately send the car to the scrap yard on first sight.

    Car exhausts aren't limited or at least the limits get ignored. That's why walking along one of the bigger streets in Lima feels like breathing directly through the exhaust pipe of a starting lorry. As with traffic rules, there's obviously noone capable or willing to create them, make existing ones more rigid or at least consequently enforce them. It may be a typical german analysis, but this lack of clear and strong guidelines seems to me to be one reason for many of Peru's problems. And where the state tries to enforce some rules, corruption often prevents a change. A friend of ours witnessed how a bribe of a few hundred Peruvian Sol saved a guy from losing his driving license forever for transporting a group of people while being completely drunk on New Year's day.

    Looking at prices, we noticed that everyday necessities like gas and fruit are cheap. I've never had more vitamins for breakfast as in those four weeks. Products imported from abroad, especially the USA, are of course more expensive or even luxury articles that only tourists can afford.

    Another cause that's keeping Peru from developing is, from my perspective, a mental one. Peruvians, other than their southern neighbors in Chile, seem to me very reluctant to change their ways of living and thinking. For example, it'll be a long way to change those nutrition habits. And really not only because healthy food is more expensive: One day, we had another late breakfast when guests arrived (visitors are always welcome in Peru although they most of the times arrive with neither invitation nor announcement). Carolin had prepared herself some warm vegetables with oatmeal. When she told me not to offer it to the guests, it wasn't out of a lack of hospitality but because Peruvians consider oatmeal as farm animal food. They'll rather further the rampant child obesity by giving them Sugar Frosted Chocolate Bombs and Coke rather than oatmeal with yogurt for breakfast. Hopefully, they'll learn soon that imitating the rich role model USA isn't always a good idea.

    There are also wealthy people in Peru, though. Before departing from Lima, we went for a walk to the district of Miraflores and found big houses with walled driveways, security guards and high-voltage fences. We passed BMWs, Mercedes as well as an Audi R8. Once again, it's rich living next to poor.

    I hope that today's youth will bring a change to a more open-minded, productive and sustainable society in Peru. One of the kids living at our place, a bright and witty girl named Martha, has finished school with very good grades and now would like to attend secretary school. I'll take care that the school fee of $100 USD per month won't stand in the way of that ambitious girl.

    Yes, it was a learning trip, not a pool side vacation. I knew beforehand that I'm rich in comparison to many people. During those days, I've seen how rich I really am. And, thanks to the things and especially the people I learned to know, I'm now even richer afterwards. For this experience I'm really thankful.

  • PowerPoint kills people

    Marcus Brown had, like me, enough opportunity to ask himself a question that he's now asking his blog readers:

    How many times have you wasted an hour of your life in a rubbish presentation? It’s horrible isn’t it? You sit there, glued to your chair whilst some suit stands in front of you droning on about something.

    And Marcus thinks that it's time to do something about it. So he made a set of rules that will, if not improve a presentation, at least make it more entertaining:

    1. When the presenter says “this is interactive, please ask questions if you have any” I’m going to stand up and ask him/her why he’s/she’s here. In fact I intend to question everything.
    2. If he/she starts using words that I have banned or don’t understand I’m going to stand up and ask what the word means. I will do this because I am convinced that they do not know what the word means.
    3. If the presenter is boring me I intend to tell them (not show them), and I intend to tell them why.
    4. If the presenter reads the bullet points word for word then I will join them. I will read their bullet points word for word too. In fact I may sing along.
    5. If the terms “ducks in a row”, “pushing the envelope” or any other bullshit terms are used in the presentation I will stand up and turn my back to the presenter and wait for an apology.
    6. If the presentation reaches slide 32 I will leave the room.
    7. If the presenter has slides with more than twenty words I will stand up and demand pictures and a hand book.
    8. If the presenter shows me a list of clients, or worse a slide full of client logos I will stand up, take out my wallet walk to the presenter and show him pictures of my children.
    9. If the presenter hasn’t managed to make me laugh within the first 2 minutes I will start laughing.
    10. If the presentation is a corporate template I will leave the room before the presentation starts.

    Isn't it a great new year's resolution to put those rules into use when Death By PowerPoint is imminent? I do think so.

    (via PlanetSab)

  • Landed in Peru

    On friday the 11th of december, our neighbor and friend Nadine drove us to the train station where we took the last ICE that would arrive in time at Frankfurt airport before our flight. That's how our journey started.

    The first part of the Iberia flight was to Madrid and it was terrible. The plane was crowded and with seats that narrow, you don't need a big guy like the one next to me to feel like in a sardine can. "Chicken class", another passenger noted, quite to the point.

    Although four or five times as long, the flight from Madrid to Lima really was enjoyable. I don't know why, but we first got seats in two separate aisles and no place to put the baby. We had arranged otherwise with the travel agency. But the stewardess immediately promised to get us two seats in the front aisle where a baby basket could be fixed, after all passengers were on board. So she did and we spent the flight quite comfortably near the toilets where we could change Amalias's diapers.

    All in all, the baby took the flights quite well. Most of the time, she lay quietly in her basket. Carolin breastfed her at take-offs and landings to support pressure compensation, no problems here either.

    Carolin and I are members of YCW (Young Christian Workers), a catholic youth organization whose Freiburg chapter has a longstanding partnership with Peru. When we arrived at Lima, our friends from JOC (Juventud Obriera Christiana) were already waiting for us and arranged the taxi drive through Lima to Barranco where the JOC has kind of an apartment where we would live for the first days.

    Lima is an enormous, crowded, rotting, stinking place. At least that's the impression I got from driving and walking through the Peruvian metropole. I immediately had an allergic reaction from the dust and smog polluted air and had to look for a pharmacy for medication. With one Cetericin pill a day, I got the sneezing under control, though. The traffic there is deadly. And I'm not only talking about the terrible exhaust from the cars, mostly taxis, filling Lima's streets. There are almost no traffic lights and everyone compensates by using the horn. We witnessed right in front of us how a driver had come to a halt a bit too far into the lane and instantly lost one of his front lights. If you don't cross the street fast enough, you're dead meat. After all, Lima didn't seem a place to be.

    I'm sure that my perpective is incomplete. When we get back to Lima, I'd like to see the districts of Miraflores and San Isidro where the more wealthy people live, to get another view on Peru's capital.

    What a difference that is to Arequipa, where we flew after a few days to spend the main part of our vacation with friends Carolin made at her four month internship in 2003/2004 in the small Peruvian village of Pichigua. Arequipa is the second biggest city of Peru, also crowded but much less polluted. Maybe its altitude of 2300m over sea level plays a role here. Since Jacqui and Yimi live on the outskirts, neither the traffic nor the pollution are a problem here. But it's also a 20-minute bus ride to go shopping at the bigger supermarkets.

    The couple has a house here with their baby daughter Chiara and some children that would have to live under very poor conditions back at their families in Pichigua. In other words, they have a kind of private children's shelter. All of the kids are really nice. Especially the smallest boy, Angelito, is happy to have a strong man visiting that can throw him into the air. Which is not that hard since he's such a little guy.

    The weather here is like on the Canary Islands -- warm (about 20°C) and windy. Especially at this altitude, you have to put on sunscreen. That's what my red arms tell me, anyway. Amalia also enjoys the warmth, we take every opportunity to have her lie around naked so the sore behind she brought from Germany gets better day by day.

    I wasn't sure if I really should spend four weeks of my vacation days at a place that has neither a pool nor a big buffet with waiters. But it feels like I'll gladly trade the comfort of a hotel for the things I've been experiencing from the minute we arrived here: peace, hospitality and friendship.

  • Simon's sister's dog

    You know Simon's Cat from the first two animations I published on my blog. Now it's time to introduce you to Simon's sister's dog!

    Recently, I got an email that, at first, looked like spam, but was clever PR for the RSPCA’s campaign to tackle pet obesity:

    I noticed that you have blogged about Simon’s Cat in the past, so I thought you would be really interested to hear that Simon Tofield, the maker of Simon’s cat, has finally released a new animation. The video, featuring Simon’s sister’s dog has been made especially for the RSPCA, and can be watched at www.giveanimalsavoice.org.uk.

    I'm amazed at this social media approach to get the RSPCA's message spread and more than glad to help the cause. Here's the clip: