The first interior pictures of the house

Ruth's favourite occupation of the last few days
In the last few days we have assembled quite a few IKEA cupboards and shelves. The worst part of the process is that IKEA sticks an IKEA label onto almost every piece of the kits. The most difficult to remove was the safety warning that children can strangle themselves on the cord for IKEA roller blinds. This one (above) took over an hour to remove (we tried label remover, olive oil and alcohol to get them off – nothing worked effectively) – they really don’t want their warnings removed!

However we now have several of the rooms more or less sorted out. So I have uploaded the first photos of the inside of the house after we have moved in. More will follow in a few days time.

A depressing shade of grey

The German and Greek views of each other have become increasingly polarised over the last few months. The Greeks are “lazy spendthrifts who retire at 50 (women) or 55 (men) and make a national sport of not paying their taxes”, according to many Germans; the Germans are “not following the solidarity spirit of the EU and are putting their national and domestic interests first” if you ask the Greeks.

Stephen King, Group Chief Economist of HSBC Bank Plc, has a different take on the problems in Europe and the western world. Namely, that irrespective of the financial crisis, we would have a problem, due to the inversion of the population pyramid. And that the future is neither bright nor orange but, instead, a depressing shade of grey. The financial crisis may have thrown the problem into focus, but it would have been exposed at some point anyway:

While it’s convenient to blame the financial crisis, we need to dig a little deeper. As Western populations age, we end up with an inverted population pyramid: the boomers head off into retirement while the population of those who are working age shrinks.

But if the boomers’ savings are made up of pieces of paper – claims on future economic activity – and the working-age population is shrinking as a share of the total population, it’s hardly surprising that, collectively, these pieces of paper may turn out to be worth less than they originally appeared to be. If future output is lower than the claims made upon it, those claims will have to be reduced.

And that, sadly, is what we’re seeing today. In the eurozone, we’re witnessing a struggle between those who own pieces of paper – most obviously German creditors – and those who issued pieces of paper – Greek debtors. The Germans legally have a claim on future Greek tax revenues. The Greeks, meanwhile, are discovering their economy isn’t quite as strong as it once was and they’d rather use their – limited – tax revenues for domestic purposes rather than repaying the Germans.

Additionally, he argues that the western nations are collectively suffering from too much debt and that the current low interest rates won’t be enough to help their economies to recover the rates of growth that we have historically seen in the West. He could be right; Japan’s economy has not yet recovered from the property boom and subsequent bust in 1990 despite having had negative interest rates for periods since the bust, and it looks increasingly as if the path the western world is following is similar to that of Japan.

King foresees that the the emerging nations – Brazil, India and China – will increasingly be trading with each other in the future, leaving the sclerotic West more and more isolated.

My guess is that the economic pressures on the western nations will force their governments to pursue national interests more vigorously as they weigh up where to invest the limited resources at their disposal, which could lead to a lot more friction between those nations. Not an encouraging thought if you live in the West.

47 years old

Main-Taunus-Zenrum - opened in 2nd May 1964

Its hard to believe that the Main-Taunus-Zentrum is 47 years old this week. It was the first shopping mall in Germany, and the biggest in Europe when it opened. In 1964 it offered 40000 square meters of shops, over the years it has been expanded to provide 79000 sq. m. of shops and by the end of this year it will been increased again to offer 91000 sq. m. and 170 shops.

Addressing post

It is interesting that every country seems to have its own quirks about how they like letters to be addressed.

We have to send some post to Canada this week and wanted to check the two-letter province / territory code to write in front of the post code. The Canadian postal service has a comprehensive guide on how to address post, and we were surprised to see that you can (but don’t have to) address post bilingually:

How to bilingually address post to Canada
Make sure to separate the two address fields with a black line at least 0.7mm thick!

Apart from that, the only other (for us) unusual guidelines were that the address should be written in block capitals, and the territory code should be separated from the post code by two spaces.

Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous?

The British government wants to offer the chance to all school children to learn Mandarin and Arabic:

The schools secretary, Ed Balls, said UK plc increasingly needed children to learn the languages of countries where Britain had “very important business contacts”.

All secondary schools should offer lessons in Mandarin, he said, citing a poll in which bosses rated the language the most useful for their employees to speak after French and German.

The government also wants Mandarin and Arabic lessons made available to primary school pupils.

That sounds fine until you realise that today British children can’t even choose between German, French and Spanish. The school our nephew and nieces went to didn’t give them a choice about which language they would learn – there weren’t enough teachers with language skills to allow all foreign languages to be taught in each school year. So the one had to learn German, the next Spanish and the youngest French. No choice allowed.

So where are the teachers for Mandarin and Arabic?

How observant are you?

Watch the video first. Just one viewing, please. Hit pause when the question appears, before you watch the rest. You will be asked how many changes you noticed, so pay attention!

What was your score? Mine was 2, which is pretty unobservant, I think :-(

Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation

The Copenhagen Climate Summit starts tommorow. One editorial, with a stark message, will appear in 56 newspapers in 45 countries tomorrow:

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone…

Read the full text here.

German price controls

The following probably seems quite normal to any German reading this, after all we had price controls on practically everything here until July 2001 (Shops couldn’t offer products more than 3% under list price without breaking the law.). Even today there are still price controls for books, maps, and sheet music in Germany.

Quite frankly if you are not German, forcing companies to increase their prices in the middle of a financial crisis seems strange:

The German government has forced Dubai’s Emirates airline to charge more for business class tickets on flights out of Germany to destinations in Asia and South Africa.

Emirates said the “imminent threat of significant fines” had forced it to raise the price of business fares on routes including Frankfurt to Johannesburg, and Hamburg to Singapore by as much as 20 per cent.

Emirates have said the “anti-consumer” and “commercially nonsensical” policy is unfair and they plan to raise the matter with the European Commission. Good luck to them!

Will the DVD go the same way as the floppy?

Seth Weintraub pitches an interesting idea in Computer World:

… I think the SD card is going to replace the DVD drive on most of Apple’s laptops going forward. If you really need a DVD, you’ll be able to buy an external USB Superdrive – but that option will mostly be a safety net.

Remember when Apple killed the floppy with the iMac? This will be the same thing. You could buy external floppy but how many of you really did?

Think about it. What would you rather have on your laptop? An easily rewritable 32GB SD card the size of a postage stamp that can hold about the same amount of data as 8 DVDs or a big spinning disk that can scratch easily and takes up about 1/4th of the internal usable area in your laptop?…

Right now the cost per GB storage is in favour of the DVD (SD cards are about 20 – 30 times more expensive per GB), but SDXC cards were announced earlier this year, which will offer up to 2 TB of storage on a single card. The price per GB will certainly drop as larger cards arrive on the market. Apart from the obvious advantages for laptop manufacturers (more space for other peripherals or a larger battery), it would enable people with large collections of data – movies and music – to save a huge amount of shelf space, and allow use of storage which is smaller and more robust than external hard disks.

I think Seth is right: Apple has often moved ahead of the pack when new technology has become available, and this idea is very attractive both for Apple and their users.