Archive for the 'technology' Category


The ipod mini that got run over by a car

One day last winter, I watched in horror as my beloved and ever-so-faithful iPod mini got run over by a car.

It happened as I was leaving the Hamburg’s Abaton cinema after wife K and I were through watching Untouchable, one of the best films we’d seen in ages.

It was dark and rainy, and I’d been fiddling with various zippers and clasps getting everything just right before mounting the bike and heading home.

But just as I was heading out onto the street, I hit a bump.  Pothole maybe, perhaps it was just the fall from the curb.  But then I heard a clacking sound as another cyclist who was coming in the opposite direction shouted that something had fallen out of my bag.

I turned around in time for the light to catch the silver outline of the iPod just as the left front tire of a passing car ran right over it.  I saw it bounce up and clack back down again on the wet pavement.   By the time I realised what was happening, the back tire caught it as well.

I swore, propped my bike up against a lamp-post, ran out into the street, scooped up the iPod, swore some more, thrust the iPod into the jacket pocket I should have stashed it into in the first place, and headed home, all the while contemplating what kind of iPod I should start looking for on eBay. Perhaps a used iPod touch?  Or maybe one of the new nanos?  Because the way that thing bounced off the road, there was no way it was going to be good for anything more than a paperweight.

But after I got home and told my tale, I took it out of my pocket, touched the click wheel, and I couldn’t believe it.  It still worked perfectly.  OK, it’s a little scratched up now.  The metal casing’s got a nick or two it didn’t have before, and in places it looks like someone hacked away at it with an ice pick, but by some miracle the screen stayed clear and the click wheel – the Mini’s most sensitive part and one most prone to breakage – is still intact.

It’s a good thing it wasn’t an iPhone or iPod Touch.  Those things are all screen on one side, and I’m sure they’d never have survived such abuse.

It’s also a good thing it was only a car, and not a cement truck passing by.


Area man sorts through his sock drawer

Realising that he was 15 minutes late to work the other day because he couldn’t find a matching sock despite a collection of more than 60 pair, area man Bob Frapples, 52, is sorting through his sock drawer.   Frapples, a research scientist with the Institute of Applied Institutional Applications in Hamburg, Germany, says the task he faces is an immense one.

“Look, maybe I’m going fucking colour-blind in my old age, but I just can’t tell them apart anymore,” he laments.  “I mean, look at these things.  One’s blue, the other’s dark blue, that one’s black… you know, I’ve got better things to do that piss around on my day off sorting through socks.”

Frapples is not alone. In a recent poll, 65% of German men said they gave up finding a matching pair the other day and actually put on their Birkenstocks without socks, a major male fashion faux pas in a country that leads the developed world in awkward ways to dress.

Another survey found 35% of men would rather spend money on new socks rather than spend the time sorting through their old ones.

Specialists in the field of household psychology pin the problem on the pervasiveness of technology in modern life.

“People just figure they’ll be able to download some app for this sort of thing one day like they do for everything else, so they let their socks just sit there in the drawer, forever unsorted and ultimately unused,” said Bill Melater, Ph.D.  “Then they find they’re neglecting other household tasks, like getting around to doing the laundry or finally fixing that damned handle on the bathroom door that never seems to close properly.”

Economists have also picked up on the trend and say the growing under-utilisation of sockage in the market might be countered by external forces that will determine whether socks in the future get sorted.

“You might actually begin to entertain the idea,” said Gudeggs Getlaid of the London School of Economics, “that it is starting to look like the initial stages of a budding appearance of a growing societal trend wherein market demand for a strategic fit in the realm of sock drawer logistics is determined not by whether one ends up with two socks that actually match, but…oh…  Oh shit.   I’m terribly sorry. Where was I?”

iPhone developers have picked up on the trend.  One group is now working on an app that could revolutionise the world of sock drawers and free up untold millions of hours now wasted on sorting.

“Alls ya godda do is point the iPhone at your sock drawer, and the app’ll do the rest, OK?” said an excited app man at some Starbucks somewhere. “The app will analyse the colours and sizes, then suggest paired matches on your screen.”

Frapples says he couldn’t be arsed with the iPhone or experts for that matter as he spreads his drawer out over half his living room.  An organised man, his socks are now neatly ordered one beside the other according to length, not colour.

“That breaks it down a bit,” he said on a break for lunch three hours in.   “I figure with my system in place, I’ll be done before it’s time to head to work tomorrow morning.  I’ve already warned my wife that the living room’s a construction zone ’til the job’s over.”

Frapples has brought in extra lighting from neighbouring rooms to help out in the task.  “That helps to tell the difference between dark blue and dark-blue-but-not-that-dark-blue-could-be-black-for-all-I-know,” he said.

So far his method has resulted in about 20 matches.


I’m so ashamed of the BlackBerry I don’t own

I love reading articles about tech gear I don’t have and probably won’t be in the market for any time soon.

There’s this howler right now in the New York Times / International Herald Tribune about how BlackBerry owners are so embarrassed and ashamed of their devices because of the many things they can’t do in comparison to an iPhone or other Android device.

BlackBerry outcasts say that they increasingly endure shame and public humiliation as they watch their counterparts use social networking apps that are not available to them, take higher-resolution photos, and effortlessly navigate streets – and the Internet – with better GPS and faster browsing.

In the next sentence we discover how these luckless BlackBerry-owning wretches are forced to do things that most everyone did about five years ago:

This means that they have to request assistance to get directions, book travel, make restaurant reservations or look up sports scores.

God, what a horrible life they must lead.

Imagine having to contact another human being to find out a piece of information, even if it is only to ask another human being with a better device to gather said information from the Internet.

And what about that shame?  Unless you’re psychopathic, shame happens to us all.  We feel shame and even public humiliation when we realise that everyone knows we’ve done something most consider to be wrong.   So should I feel ashamed because I freely admit to my readers that I do not own a BlackBerry, or an iPhone, or an Androgizmoid?  That all I need is a Nokia cellphone and that no, I don’t have an app for whatever it is you’re looking for?  Is it humiliating to do as I’ve always done and look up the sports scores in a newspaper?

And what about holders of older iPhones?  Will they start having to hide them under a book or buy camouflage because their version doesn’t have the fastest connection technology?  Where is this obsession with tech taking us when our measure of our place in society is how many bazillagigabytes of information we can stream while eating ice cream and crossing the street?

I don’t know, maybe living in Germany for 15 years has atrophied my sense of irony, but the tone of the article was pretty straight-forward.  And its message is simple, updated for today: keep up with the Joneses, or feel the shame.  It’s been the same since people first started to wear clothing and seek warm shelter.

I do know that smartphones are capable of transforming the way we live our lives, and maybe mine would change for the better if I got one. The fact that most everyone I know has or wants one makes me wonder how it is I keep missing the point.   I’m tempted sometimes, but for now – just for now – no thanks.  I want to hold on to a bit of my old ways a little longer.  Maybe like the vinyl I listened to while writing this, cellphones will one day come back into fashion and I won’t have to feels like such a schmuck all the time.


Almost trampled by fake ugg boots

The red-haired girl needs warm boots for the winter, so we go online for some UGG boots.

“And they’re really a great price,” she says.  “Only 64 euros.”

Completely unaware of the hundreds of sites out there selling fake UGG boots, of which the list at left is merely one page of dozens to scroll through, and also unaware that these boots go for about four times the website’s price in German stores, I go to, register, and order the boots.

I key in my Mastercard details and hit Payment, but get an error message.  Something about the bank fraud scan failing, and that I should try again with another card.

Hah, but what’s this?  The message is written in sing-song English, has a number to call in case of error with a Chinese country code, and hey, why is there Chinese writing up there in the top corner?

Then I go back for a closer look at this dog’s mess of a website over which I’d just spewed my credit card information right down to the three-digit code on the back.

Now, I’m not saying they’re selling fake UGG boots.  Maybe they actually are the real thing and they just fell off the back of a truck, but take a look at that site.  Gawd, what a mess.  The formatting is all over the place.  The home page is in German, but when you register, you hit a button labeled login in English.

Then when you click on an item to buy, up comes another page with the text in English and the buttons in Italian.  So I now know that Aggiungi al carello means put in shopping cart, sucker.

Already having ignored so many red flags I thought I was standing blindfolded on Tiananmen Square, I write an email anyway asking why, when I key in my credit card details, I get an error message from China.

Back comes the answer overnight:

     We have accept  pay with a Mastercard. You can try it again or you can use another card to pay it. Thank you !
Right.  Fully aware my credit card could be in danger of being hit for something I now want nothing to do with, I phone Lufthansa’s Card Control hotline.
Whenever I buy something online, I get a text message right after it goes through saying what was ordered, where, how much it cost, and the time of transaction.  At the bottom of the message is a number to call.
So I called it and got them to temporarily block the card.  I also wrote an email to them detailing the site I’d ordered from, asking them not to process any transaction that might be coming from them.
So the red-haired girl gets a lesson, and I get a reminder: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Like this woman who bought an iPad for 180 quid in a McDonald’s parking lot only to find she’d picked up a great bargain on a block of wood. 

Apples from Deutsche Telekom: the great bait-and-switch

The other day I saw an advertisement for apples.

The ad said for 35 euro I could get 16 apples every month, plus all the cheddar cheese I want to go with it as long as I eat the cheese in Germany.

Because they looked like good apples, and I was currently only getting around 6, I phoned up a friendly lady who asked for my phone number, clicked away at a computer, then said yes, you can indeed get 16 apples a month, and we’ll set it all up for you.

But three weeks later when the first delivery of apples arrived at my door, all I found were 3 apples.

So I phoned up the lady again and asked her why I didn’t get my 16 apples.

“I don’t know,” she says, “you’ll have to talk to our driver.  Maybe some of the apples fell off the truck”

So she puts me onto the driver who tells me that yes indeed, 3 apples is all I’ll get.  “It’s because the road to your place is too long and bumpy.  The apples fall off all the time.”

“Is it also because there’s sometimes a lot of traffic on the road?”

“No,” he said. “It’s because of the road.”

“But why didn’t the lady who sold me the 16 apples tell me that in the first place?” I asked.   “I can’t be the first person at the end of this road ever to have ordered the 16 apples a month.”

“Yes, but…”

“And the price is exactly the same!” I wailed.  “Had I known, I’d never have ordered the apples!”

“I can’t change the way it’s set up,” said the mechanic., ” but you can go to a shop near your place, and maybe they’ll be able to help you out.”

Still hungry for apple pie I went with my sorry tale to the shop, where another friendly lady behind the counter said, “Well, if you’d have come here first for your apples, we’d have told you right away that you could only have 3 apples where you live.”

“So now I’m stuck with a two-year contract for fewer than 20% of the apples I ordered every month?”

She shook her head sadly.  “Yes, it’s too bad.”

“But if you like, I can offer you 50 apples a month.” she says, perking up.   “They’re delivered over a glass-fibre superhighway direct to your door.  It’ll only cost you 10 euro more a month.”

“But I don’t want 50 apples,” I said. “I’ll probably choke on them.”

“Sorry, that’s all you can get.”

And that, dear readers, is how Deutsche Telekom sells its high-speed VDSL Internet service to those looking for a fast – but not too fast – connection.

I would have been happy with only 6 Mb per second, which is what I was getting with another provider before their service went tits up and they refused to help me because the router I use wasn’t a router that they sell.

But when Telekom offered 16 per second I went for it, because it also offers free telephone calls throughout Germany.

Sure, they said, you can have DSL, but what they didn’t tell me was that because our place is too far from the main switch, I can only get a maximum of 3MB per second.  Sure enough, buried way down in the statement they mailed me after I signed up was a line that says 3MB/second.  I failed to notice that.  They certainly didn’t draw attention to it.  The woman I ordered from over the phone was too busy trying to sell me add-ons I didn’t need to concentrate on what I really wanted: a fast ADSL connection.

So, having given in, I’ve ordered their VDSL 50MB deal.  Fast, I know – too fast for what I need, but what the hell.  I still get the cheese, and maybe I can look up great apple pie recipes a little quicker.


2010 blog year in review

After weeks weeks of not posting a thing, I now discover that has taken over this blog.  Or so it seems.  Perhaps it’s their way of reminding me to get my blogging ass back in gear, but some bot over there has seen fit to mail me a ready-made Year in Review post.  Perfect for a bone-lazy blogger like me who’s been wondering when, if ever, that urge to post regularly will ever come back.

Who knows?  Happy New Year anyway.

Snarky comments  in bold are mine.


The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

The Blog Zombie Meter reads: Putrefaction stage

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 5 days for that many people to see it.

I’m sure each would demand his entry fee back.  As for the posts themselves, if you were to print out every post in 10-point and glue each word together, you would have enough to string from the Statue of Liberty’s base up to her armpit.  Aren’t stats meaningful?

In 2010, there were 53 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 374 posts. There were 143 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 30mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

Troll comments deleted: 13.  Spam referral links: countless.  Estimated date WordPress will do something about spam links: whenever.

The busiest day of the year was February 15th with 647 views. The most popular post that day was Are we raising our kids to be wimps?.

Go to freerangekids for the answer.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were, WordPress Dashboard,, and

See how important it is to comment on blogs and leave links back to your own on forums?

Some visitors came searching, mostly for the queen, horses jumping, naked 13 year old girls, swallows, and snake head.

That list is so embarrassing, I almost left it out.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Are we raising our kids to be wimps? August 2009


Europe’s largest-circulation newspaper runs photo of naked 13-year-old June 2008


Queen Elizabeth Foundation email scam reply December 2007


10 things I learned about skating in Holland January 2009


How we nearly tripped over a headless snake that had swallowed a dog whole March 2009

Wow, wasn’t that fun?

WordPress.  The blogging platform that’s so good, it writes your blog for you!


Why we said no to Google Street View

Call it Blurmany if you will, call us uncool and throw eggs at our apartment building if you love Google so much, but I’m very happy to say I live here.

It didn’t take long for us to decide to say no to Street View.  After all, we already have an unlisted telephone number that’s kept our place reasonably quiet since we applied for it about four years ago.  We no longer get crank calls from drunk jerks in the middle of the night – usually students my wife teaches or once taught – bored out of their minds and playing around with their cellphones.  We also never get telemarketing calls.  I remember in Hong Kong we used to have to rip off five or 10 feet of paper every day from all the junk faxes until we made HongKong Telecom change our number.

With Google Street view, the angle was more subtle.  It’s very unlikely you’ll get hassles just because you’re visible online, and even less likely you’ll be burgled, the politician’s scare tactic of choice when this whole thing blew up in the German media a few months ago.  And as for getting caught sunbathing on the balcony – well, that’s obviously an argument put forth by those who don’t know how Street View works.

Sure it’s great for businesses, but what possible benefit could we, as private individuals living in a private household, obtain by letting Google put up a photo of the place where we spend the greater part of our lives for the whole world to see?   What have we to gain by it?

I could understand it if we were the owners of some boutique called snotty and desperate for a little free on-line publicity, we’d even pay for the right to have our store burst onto the screen with arrows, flashing  lights and pop-ups.

But here I am, some duff who was always taught to be wary of those on the sell side.  Since Google is basically a multi-billion dollar advertising company with the world’s most powerful search engine attached, why on earth would I want to help them?  What’s in it for me?

Even if we were to  ignore the accusations of WiFi network data theft and other questionable goals as their octopus-camera cruised the streets, the ONLY benefit to Street View that we could think if – and the only argument I found online in favour of not opting out – was that perhaps friends and relatives living far away could look you up.

Well, whoop-de-fucking-do.  One photo from the ground floor and a blanket email and that’s taken care of.

Google Street View is merely one more brick in the infrastructure for a much wider array of capabilities not even invented yet that could further erode what few avenues of privacy we have left.   Maybe it’s like trying to turn back the tide, but if we can spit back at it a little, maybe some good will come out of it.


Why buy new? How to boost that old ipod mini for under 50 bucks

I hate to give up without a fight.  When something breaks, I do my best to fix it before giving up on it for good.  I also hate losing, especially when losing means having to pay Apple for a new iPod.

So when my beloved ipod mini, constant companion for the past four years and occasional gag post prop, died a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t mourn the loss and start to shop around for a brand new replacement.  I looked at it as an opportunity to tear the thing apart and try to make it work again.  A quick look at a few sites and I learned how I could build myself a new – and much bigger –  ipod mini for under 50 bucks.

I know the mini is old, that a brand new 16GB Nano that has a colour screen and shoots video isn’t expensive, but so what?  I don’t need a colour screen to read text, music videos have always bored me to hell, and you don’t need to shoot video with an iPod.  Who thought that one up, anyway?

Besides, if you’re used to handling the mini, you’ll find the wafer-thin Nano much too light, its feel too flimsy.

Another great thing about the mini – besides its substantial heft, smooth hand feel and functional simplicity – is how easily it can be taken apart.

ipod mini 16GB compact flash new battery replacement

Using only the two screwdrivers – one to pry the ends off and the other to remove two tiny screws holding the guts to the outer frame – I had everything apart within five minutes.

I would go into lavish detail about how to do all that, including why you also need a hair dryer for the job, but that would simply be repeating what is already available on this easy-to-follow how-to video.

I could have replaced the old hard drive with a 32GB card, but since I only need it for music and podcasts, the huge size and extra expense would go to waste.

So I swapped the old 4GB hard drive for a 16GB compact flash, and threw in a new battery at the same time.

After formatting the new flash card and charging the battery, iTunes at first wouldn’t load onto it, but after a bit of iTunes tweaking and reformatting, it finally worked.

Sorry, Apple shareholders.  Your company’s bottom line won’t get much help from me.


An open letter to British Airways

Dear Mr. Airways,

Thank you very much for supplying an airplane with enough fuel to get us from Hamburg to Vancouver and back via your splendid new launchpads at Terminal 5, Heathrow.

I know you have financial difficulties at the moment, but we really hope you will put the small fortune we paid to good use in fixing up your shabby planes, or perhaps leasing a few new ones?

I ask this because before we board, some of us really enjoy the sight of a bird that looks like it can actually fly, instead of some ancient 747 whose tail section looks like a marauding band of vandals attacked it with chains before setting it on fire.

British Airways 747-400 Vancouver London banged-up tail

I would also at this time like to thank you for the excellent care British Airways gave our five pieces of luggage as they sat at Heathrow for one full day on our return journey.   Instead of having to lug home from the airport 115 kg worth of new clothes, cycling gear, off-the-shelf pharmaceuticals, six litres of maple syrup, chocolate chips and other stuff either laughably expensive or impossible to find in Germany, your delivery service saw fit to deliver our bags not only to our front door, but through the walk-in closet to the centre of our bedroom carpet.   Will you please offer this service on a regular basis?  It made journey’s end a most pleasant experience indeed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, would you please better publicise the many improvements in our flying experience offered at your award-winning website,

I ask this only because when we arrived at Hamburg airport to check in, we were informed that, contrary to our wishes to sit together, the entire 747 from London to Vancouver had a grand total of six seats available, all in the middle section, and spaced a good 10 rows apart.

Your employee in charge with getting us all through the automated check-in machines informed us in a somewhat snide tone that BA now offers passengers the opportunity to check in online 24 hours before departure.  Ostrich that I am, this had never occured to me.  Only through the assistance of an actual human being behind the counter were we able to at least sit two of us together.  I was left to squeeze in the middle row between a flatulent Amazon and an obvious candidate for  stomach stapling surgery.

For the return journey ex Vancouver I acquired the assistance of my IT-expert brother, whose GPS gadget is synced with Coordinated Universal Time down to the last millisecond.  At precisely .01 seconds past 2035 the day before departure I hit send to check in.  We received three seats together at the very back of the plane.   Too bad for those who logged in .02 seconds late.   What do you say to your customers who have no net access?  They do exist, you know.     Now I know why people wish for the good-old days when all it took to get a decent seat was arrive at the airport a reasonable time before departure, smile a lot, and if necessary, budge the queue.

Yours most sincerely,

Ian in Hamburg


Finally picked up a new mountain bike

So many good people have had their bikes stolen lately.  Recent victim Yelli in Berlin says she’s hoping I’ll post something on how to keep a bicycle safe.   I plan to do that over the next week, but in the meantime, a bit of fun:

A couple of weeks ago, I finally bought myself a new mountain bike.

Fifteen minutes through the travel category here will show you I have no problem spending money, as long the only thing to lug home are memories.  But toys and gear don’t grab me.

I can’t even stand shopping for stuff that will add to the simple pleasures I get out of life, which is probably why I have a 15-year-old bicycle, 10-year-old skis, a 4-year-old computer and iPod, and why it took until only two years ago to finally pick up a digital camera.

But after convincing myself that getting a new bicycle would give me that extra kick in the butt to get out riding again for the simple joy of being on wheels for its own sake instead of merely a way of commuting, and having given up on Angela Merkel ever getting back to me with my idea about a bike-scrapping rebate, and reminding myself that in less than a year I’ll be turning 50 and officially a crotchety old geezer, so why not give myself an early birthday present to lessen the pain of it,  I went shopping for a new ride.


One stop at one shop was enough to convince me that I didn’t need to look any further to buy a decent bike.  It took a couple of weeks for the frame to arrive from the factory in Italy, but as soon as it did they called me over so I could watch them build it.

If it’s true that you should buy quality and moan only once, I was moaning like hell two hours later at the till, but only half-way through my first spin down the Elbe the sticker shock was far behind.

It felt like flight on wheels.  What a difference from the old one!  It feels so light and fun to ride I was thinking: why didn’t I do this a few years ago?

Actually, I’m glad I waited.  Bike technology has been flying ahead along with everything else, but since I’ve been out of the market for so long and not really paying attention, I’d missed all the new developments.

canada-whistler-mountain-bike-parkThe biggest change is in the brakes.  I’d first discovered the amazing quality of disk brakes while on a raging blast on a rental bike through the Whistler Mountain bike park during my trip to Canada two summers ago.

As long as you keep oil and grease away they grab no matter if you’re going through rain or mud, though they’re so responsive, you stop too abruptly if you apply the same force as with the older rim brakes.

I’ve been told they’re practically maintenance-free: no rubber brake pads any more, no more fiddly adjustments, no constant wear on the rims, which if you leave too long without checking can actually wear through.

And no cables to snap when you least expect it, either.

Instead of a metal wire, the cables are filled with a fluid that looks a lot like motor oil.

Most of my riding is on the city streets, but the mountain bike tires are too slow on pavement, so I also convinced myself to dig a little deeper and pick up an extra set of front and back wheels, onto which I installed some narrow and light road-racing tires bought in Canada on that last trip.  So you might say I bought a bike to fit the tires, instead of the other way around.

The thin tires make it look rather strange.  With the fat, nobby ones it’s just a regular mountain bike.  Slip on the skinnies and it’s as spindly as a spider web:


Fat tires or thin, it’s been a lot of fun so far.

I’ve even had fun junking things we’ll never use again to clear a spot for a safe place to park it overnight.  Yes, we’ve learned our lesson. A thief is going to have to break into our building past three locked doors just to get near it, and then he’s going to have to break through a damn good lock.  More on that later.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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britbeach / at / yahoo dot ca

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