Excellent Summary of Greece’s Debt Burden in The New Yorker

I normally steer clear of politics on this blog, but I couldn’t not share this excellent article in The New Yorker about the Greece’s debt burden. It’s rather brief, but makes a few points that I think are very important:

  1. Tür der KämmereiGreece’s debt dynamics are unsustainable.
  2. Dragging out the negotiations hasn’t helped this, but to suggest that Syriza is to blame for Greece’s debt load being unsustainable is silly.
  3. The bailout was more about protecting German banks, but especially the French banks, from debt write-offs than helping the Greek people.
  4. European leaders were concerned that writing off some of Greece’s debts would set a precedent for other heavily indebted countries. This is true, but it’s probably too late now.
  5. Germany has benefited from debt relief after World War II, so it might be time to return the favor.

This is the kind of harsh realities I would like to hear from my government and other European leaders.

Smart Herb Garden

One of the most fun projects I backed on Kickstarter has been Smart Herb Garden from Click & Grow.

I don’t cook a lot; in fact I barely spend any time in my kitchen. But still, I’ve been very excited about watching this thing grow. The first batch of seeds I’ve “planted” was Basil, Mini Tomatoes and Salad Rocket.

Below are a couple of pictures documenting my garden grow. I’ll update this page as time goes on and harvest approaches.

18 April 2014: Unpacking

Smart Herb Garden

13 May 2014: Seeds planted

Smart Herb Garden

21 May 2014: First Green

First Green

25 May 2014

Smart Herb Garden

29 May 2014

Smart Herb Garden (1)

Miscellaneous

At night, the light casts a very interesting pattern onto the ceiling of my kitchen.

Lichteffekte

Random Names

Sometimes I hear or think of a phrase and think to myself, “wow, that would be a really cool name for X”. Well, here’s a brief list of those names and the things I think they would be perfect for.

The Faulty Stove

This would be a cool name for a restaurant and/or bar. Its logo would feature one of those old-timey cast-iron stoves (such as a potbelly stove) with black smoke coming out at the side. The restaurant itself, though, would not actually contain such a stove. I believe that would be a health code violation.

Tears of Joy

I’m not quite sure why, but I think this would make a great name for my debut album. Note: I do not plan to release an album. Ever.

Sierra Hotel

If The Faulty Stove went well, and I decided to expand in the hospitality business by opening a hotel, it would be called Sierra Hotel. There’s isn’t actually anything about the various meanings of Sierra that I particularly like. However, if you spell out my initials using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, you would get Sierra Hotel and I think that would be cool.

Osmium and Wolfram

In the book The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle the Mossbachers have twin dogs named Osbert and Sacheverell. I’m not sure why, but that made me think of the elements Osmium and Wolfram (another name for Tungsten). These are two the elements making up filaments in incandescent light bulbs that gave the lighting manufacturer Osram its name. This is why I think they would make great names for twin dogs. Note: I don’t like dogs and will probably never have one, let alone two.

Conclusion

I really enjoy thinking up names for things. It’s one of my favorite perks at work, as the person in charge of a new development project is also the one picking a name for it. I actually have a long list of possible names that I add to whenever I hear something cool. Too bad that there a lot more cool names than I have time to do new projects.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever have a need to name a restaurant, album, hotel or twin dogs. So feel free to use those names for your own restaurant/album/hotel/twin dogs. But if you do, send me a picture. And a share of the profits. Actually, you can keep the picture.

I don’t Get the Music Industry

The other day I came across this great lip dub of Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta by the folks at Connected Ventures. Here is an article from the Washington Post about the lip dub phenomenon.

It seemed like a fun song, so I wanted to buy it from Amazon. As it turns out, amazon.de did not have the song as an MP3 download, amazon.co.uk did, however. I’m not sure why they don’t offer it in Germany. Since the marginal cost of putting these things in their online shop should be close to zero, it should be in Amazon’s and the music industry’s best interest to make all of their content available for purchase online, even if there is little demand for the individual items (cf. long tail).

Anyway, since it’s a download, I figured I might just as well buy the songs from Amazon’s UK website. Except they did not want to sell it to me because of “geographic restrictions”. I suppose their arrangement with the music industry for offering downloads doesn’t allow them to sell in Germany.

The funny thing, though, is that they were perfectly happy to sell me the physical CD containing the same music they couldn’t sell me as a download. Somebody please explain the logic behind that to me, because I don’t get it.

At the Joseph Beuys exhibit

I’ll admit, this is a bit unusual for me, but today I went to see the Joseph Beuys exhibit “Parallel Processes” in Düsseldorf. Despite the fact that Beuys had a lasting impact not just on the Düsseldorf art scene but way beyond, I have been blatantly ignorant about him and his work. So when my employer organized free tours of the exhibit I figured this would be good way to get to know more about a kind of art that until then I had found very hard to approach, let alone enjoy.

Has that changed after seeing the exhibit? A bit. Sure, some things are still just plain weird, such as a music stand with bits of sauerkraut hung over it (see this picture). But having a guide explain the story behind the different pieces was very helpful in getting the most out of them. It was also interesting to see his fascination with certain materials such as copper, felt and fat that played a recurring role in his work and seem to give it a theme. While none of his works are beautiful in a classic sense, some do have a certain appeal to them, and some of his drawings I could even imagine having hanging on my wall (if I had an decent place to hang them).

The tour was only ninety minutes so it didn’t cover the majority of the exhibit, but I think I might be going again before it ends 16 Jan 2011. It’s definitely worth a visit even if you’re like me and not normally into art.

Merry Christmas

Last night we got some six inches or so of snow, so today for the first time in many, many years it’s a white Christmas.

White Christmas 2010

Unfortunately, many have been completely unprepared for this amount of snow, including the company operating public transportation in the city. They seem to have completely capitulated now, and shut down all but two subway lines for the next 24 hours.

Hence I had the pleasure of walking the 4.5 km distance to the butcher this morning in order to pick up the main ingredient for tonight’s dinner. All while it kept snowing, of course. Sure, I could have taken a cab (if I would have found one, apparently they are in high demand today), but trying to lower my environmental impact, that was out of the question. And since I missed running practice yesterday, at least I got some exercise that way.

Moderate Impact Man

I just finished reading Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man and loved it. It’s a very inspiring account of his and his family’s attempts to drastically reduce their environmental impact and at the same time live a better, more fulfilling life.

I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist per se, however, I think there are many ways one can reach the same kind of conclusions about needing to protect the environment and living more sustainably. As a Christian, for instance, you could look at it as conserving God’s creation that man has been appointed the steward of, not its exploiter. As an economist, you would want markets to function properly, meaning that there shouldn’t be any externalities and prices should reflect the true cost of things to society (something I am certain they don’t right now in the case of air-travel, gasoline and hamburgers, for instance). As a technologist it should be a nice challenge to improve the energy efficiency of one’s products an generally do more with less. As a business man or researcher, there are plenty of opportunities to make money out of developing green technologies to be developed and capitalized on once we arrive at a market and regulatory system where environmental impact is properly included in the prices of goods and services. Or if you’re a family man, you would want children and grand-children to enjoy this planet and its beauties they same way you have enjoyed.

What I already do and still need to be doing

Anyway, there are a lot of good reasons to think about one’s impact on the environment and also why we want the things we want. I’ve written before, about how I have been looking into ways to reduce the clutter and overall amount of stuff in my live, and what I am doing to live more eco-friendly. To summarize, I am already:

  • Using public transportation or trains for almost all my transportation needs (In the past three years I have taken a cab only twice to get to the train station at 4:00am when no other public transportation was available);
  • Getting my electricity from 100% renewable sources from Naturstrom and encouraging the people around me to do the same;
  • In a couple of days, having at least 20% of my natural gas made up of biogas, also from Naturstrom;
  • Buying carbon offsets from Atmosfair to offset air travel that I can’t avoid;
  • Using mostly compact fluorescent light bulbs, except in the bathroom where it’s extremely impractical that these bulbs take so long to reach their full brightness, though I’m looking into installing energy efficient LEDs there to replace my old halogen lamps;
  • Trying not to be wasteful  by turning off devices I don’t use, in the winter heating only the one room I’m in, having only one light on at a time and not buying more groceries than I know I will eat over the coming days;
  • Brining my own bag or back-pack when I go grocery shopping to avoid using plastic bags and when I do need to use plastic bags for certain items, reusing them as garbage bags;
  • Separating paper, glass, plastic and other trash so that as much of it as possible can be recycled;
  • Taking the stairs to walk up to my office on the third floor instead of riding the elevator (it’s not only a nice bit of exercise every day, but especially around lunchtime it’s even the faster mode of transport);
  • Using virtual goods such as MP3 and movie downloads instead of physical products that need to be manufactured and are hard to recycle such as CDs;
  • Having no TV and trying to steer clear of many forms of advertising that want to convince me to buy more stuff.

Regardless of what one is already doing, this book has shown me that there is so much more that could be done. I could, for instance, be more conscious about what kind of food I’m buying, seeing from how far it has been shipped and making sure I don’t buy things that were grown in energy-intensive greenhouses. At the moment, I just buy whatever food I feel like eating, as I have no idea what vegetables are currently in season. Obviously, doing some research to find this out could go a long way to make more responsible purchasing decisions.

Also, there are so many things we buy each day that produce a ridiculous amount of trash because of their packaging. Like the candy bars I like to pick up in the afternoon to get me through the rest of a long day of work. Or Mini Babybel cheese, which I love, but does each one of them have to be wrapped in plastic individually. I mean, of course, I put the plastic in the recycle bin, but wouldn’t it be much better if this type of waste could be avoided in the first place?

What I can’t see myself doing

However, there are a couple of things in the book that I can’t see myself doing. Such as giving up my dish-washer, washing machine, electric light or heating. Or making my own bread. I don’t even find the time to make myself a cup of tea in the morning, let alone bake.

Time is a good point, because from reading the book, I get the feeling that one would need a lot of it to do what the author did as No Impact Man. For instance, without a fridge, one can only store fresh food for so long, so he needed to go to grocery shopping several times a week, while I can pick up all I need once a week and then keep it refrigerated for the next seven days. This is something I would not want to miss.

It’s not about pure asceticism

But letting go of all conveniences of modern life is not what this book is about. While the author was certain testing the limits of how “low one can go” in terms of environmental impact, I think the most interesting part is in the epilogue where her discusses what aspects of the no impact lifestyle he kept after the end of the project. Thus living a life that has less (though more than none) environmental impact by giving up certain things or rather freeing himself of these things thereby making his life more fulfilling at the same time.

I mean, for me and some other people I know, part of the fun of getting rid of stuff was the idea of just being different from the rest of this consumer culture we live in, denying oneself certain things for the sake of it, in a way challenging ourselves to make do without certain things even though we could afford them. I can see, though, how this isn’t for anybody, which is why I think the point about asceticism Beavan is making is an important one, noting when used right it is a tool that “might just educate some of us well in regard to what is and what is not necessary, needed, or even truly desired” (p. 149).

Conclusion

I think the “key learning” here is that everyone who isn’t living in poverty (an important exception discussed in the book as well), but has more than he or she needs for their subsistence,  needs to take a good look at their lives and the stuff in it. Trying to figure out which makes us really happy and which is just dead weight, or actively getting on the way of making us happy. I firmly believe that we can be as happy or even more happy if we just chose to live differently in certain ways, for instance by buying groceries that are currently in season instead of buying raspberries in the winter (as I admit to having done a couple of weeks ago). I myself will seek to improve on the things I am already doing and do some research into how I can become a more conscious shopper.

There are a number of other important things mentioned in the book that I probably forgot, so why not go get a copy. It has a great collection of resources in the appendix, if you want to know what you can do yourself to make a difference. Or if you are not into reading, there is even a No Impact Man movie.