Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Reflecting Diamond

The old university library (1978-2008) was regarded as not-refurbishable
due to the energy consumption of its air conditioning (©Wikipedia/Klaus Graf) 
The other day Red Baron took part in a guided tour of Freiburg's new Universitätsbibliothek (university library) that should open in spring 2015. The tour was limited to 25 persons and organized by the Badische Zeitung.

The new glass and stainless steel diamond in November 2013  (©Wikipedia/jörgens.mi) 
Many a person in Freiburg considers the new library building made of glass and steel atrocious. Red Baron, however, likes those technical things as my neighbor once commented when I had placed a satellite antenna with a diameter of 1.5 meters on the balcony of my house to capture German television in Geneva. Concerning the new library, I even go a step further and regard the building as an enrichment of Freiburg's architectural heritage.

Not to mention the innovations built into the new library. The latest developments for electronic reading and internet have been incorporated. Although the building has triple glazing, it is not zero energy. Solar panels on the roof will support the heating system in winter while cold water from deep wells will assure that the interior temperature in summer will not exceed 22 degrees centigrade. Red Baron was impressed and is looking forward to visiting the public café inside the library overlooking the Platz der Alten Synagoge (Square of the old synagogue) as part of the university campus.

Reflecting the late April sun (©Badische Zeitung)
Already in spring of this year with the sun shining at a low angle, drivers approaching the building from Rempartstraße were dazzled by the light reflected from the glass surface. This came as a surprise to the architect, builder, and public. The university officials promised to span a sail over the glass surface so that the driving public would no longer be perturbed. With fall approaching a black cover went up for the first time yesterday. This "sail" does not look so great. However, the university officials plan to make a virtue of necessity by using the veiled surface as a banner. In the future people passing by will probably see announcements of special lectures or of other university events.

The "sail" in position waiting for the rising sun

Monday, August 25, 2014

Deposit Rings for Freiburg?

Since 2003 Germany recycles containers for liquids. The system distinguishes between Einweg (one way) like plastic bottles and cans and Mehrweg (multiple use) mostly glass bottles. While an Einweg container will add a deposit of 25 euro cents to your bill when you buy your bottled drink, the deposit for Mehrweg varies between 8 and 15 eurocents per container.

It needed quite a investment in machinery for accepting all those empty cans and bottles customers carry back to retail stores and super markets in return for vouchers. The receiving machines had to be made foolproof and will now reject any bottles from neighboring France or Switzerland not being charged with a deposit. There is one positive effect of Germany's sophisticated deposit system. Our environment is kept quite clean from empty bottles and cans.

However, for some people especially tourists it is too cumbersome to carry their empty bottles to a collecting machine, receive their voucher, and claim their deposit of 8 to 25 euro cents waiting in the checkout line of a nearby super market. They simply throw their empty bottles into public waste bins. This behavior opens a market for mostly penniless collectors. Equipped with their bare hands or specially made hooks they pick the empty bottles out of the bins. The pan-German collecting of bottles is so impressive that Sebastian Moser at the University of Freiburg even wrote a thesis about this phenomenon.

A bottle collector searching a waste bin (©ap)
Considering rummaging the waste as humiliating a student of design, Paul Ketz, developed a Pfandring (deposit ring) while on a university course titled Für ein sauberes Köln (For a clean Cologne). The deposit rings are placed around public waste bins and take all empty bottles and cans. Paul got the Federal Prize Ecodesign and several newspapers wrote about his idea but its implementation leaves something to be desired.

A Pfandring in Bamberg (©dpa)
This is why two city councilors of the Social Democrats sent a letter to Mayor Salomon asking him whether
- the city and the municipal waste management had already thought about the installation of Pfandringe in Freiburg,
- they regard the installation as useful considering ecological, social, and ordnungsrechtspolitische (what a terrible word that I translated into regulatory and political) aspects,
- he, Salomon, could imagine a testing phase for deposit rings in the inner city.

Only the city of Bamberg has so far introduced Pfandringe on a trial basis. The experience is positive as the rings are sometimes full but suddenly empty again. Such a system will allow bottle collectors to recuperate most of the plastic bottles which are subsequently recycled and not burned with the other waste.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Crocodile, Done For?

Most visitors to our city know the crocodile made from Diorite that embellishes Freiburg's industrial canal. Wait a minute, there is no industry on the clear stream flowing through a charming part of town. Well, there used to be in the Middle Ages and up to the 19th century. Lapidaries, dyers, and tanners - the street running along is still called Gerberau (Tanners Lane) - were making use of the waterpower and cleaning properties of the canal that takes - like Freiburg's Bächle ( brooklets) - its fresh waters from the river Dreisam upstream at a place called Sandfang (catching sand).

Today the area around the Industriekanal is a tourist attraction. Red Baron took the photo below in April showing a pair of ducks misusing the crocodile's head as their landing and sleeping site. Around this place there are a couple of restaurants, a chestnut shadowed beer garden, and a coffee shop called Stehcafé am Krokodil.

On August 22, the Badische Zeitung ran a story about the head of the crocodile turned by nearly 180 degrees. Already the evening before Red Baron had seen the shocking photo on the Internet. Yesterday I went to see the turned head myself. Is the crocodile done for?

I read that Ole Meinecke's masterpiece will be turned back to its original orientation but only in October during the time of the Bachabschlag (closing of the industrial canal for cleaning).

It is a mystery how the sculpture of 400 kg could be turned. Red Baron discovered another mystery reading the following text somebody had written in white chalk on the pavement along the canal: Des canards imaginaires, le dernier obstacle à franchir (Fantabulous ducks, the final obstacle to overcome). In turning the sculpture, did the mystery person want to make it more difficult for ducks to land on the crocodile's head?

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Whenever I read about innovations I immediately think about South Korea, Singapore, or even the US but never consider Germany. My country may be good in technology and refining what others have invented but new ideas from scratch?

It came as a surprise to me when the other day the Badische Zeitung published an article about a new idea put into practice just two blocks away from my apartment. The innovation of Der Wortautomat (the word vending machine) may not be comparable to the iPad but is a new idea to reuse old cigarette vending machines that do no longer fulfill the modern standards of youth protection.

Since last week two ladies from Freiburg are selling words in such an old machine where you may select from various categories. Red Baron is too old for words für Verliebte (for young lovers) and choose the more fitting category "Nostalgiker" for a price of 5 euros (roughly 7 U$).

Here is what I got:

A printed box.
When I opened the box it contained the word Badeanstalt (public swimming baths) in laser-cut wooden letters and correctly painted in blue.

Nowadays everybody in Germany uses Schwimmbad (public swimming pool) and no longer Badeanstalt. One day the word will be lost for it lacks all appeal. It contains the word Anstalt (establishment) better used in words like Erziehungsanstalt (borstal) or Irrenanstalt (nuthouse). A popular German political cabaret on TV even bears the title: Neues aus der Anstalt.

Without a shower in my student digs in Göttingen in my early days Red Baron frequently went to the Städtische Badeanstalt where indeed it was more for cleaning than for swimming. We students spent hours under the hot shower with a strong jet hitting our bodies, not just the trickle of modern showers. Energy was cheap in those days.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Little Rose

Ursula in a jeans suit seeing off Germany's first relief flight to Iran
in support of the people suffering the IS invasion (©AP)
When I saw the photo above in yesterday's press, I decided to write a blog about Röschen (little rose) not to be confused with Goethe's Röslein, that Little Rose on the Heath. Röschen is the nickname of our Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen

She measures only 161 cm (5' 3'') ist klein aber oho (is small but what a performance)! Ursula is the daughter of Ernst Albrecht, former governor of the state of Lower-Saxony. She was raised in a family of seven siblings in Brussels and Lehrte near Hannover, and she decided not to opt for less. She is a mother of seven children too. 

From the grand stand in the Bundestag (House of Parliament):
Seven children and a husband observing Ursula taking oath of office as Minister of Defense (©dpa)
She became a medical doctor and spent four years at Stanford University where her husband, a physician too, was faculty member from 1992 to 1996. No wonder she speaks English and French fluently in addition to German.

She only joined the Christian Democrats (CDU) in 1990 and in 2003 became Minister of Social Affairs, Women, Family, and Health in the state of Lower-Saxony.

In 2005 Chancellor Angela Merkel made Ursula Federal Minister of Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Elected into the Bundestag (Federal Parliament) in 2009 she became Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. Following Ursula's re-election in 2013 Merkel made her Minister of Defense. What a career!

Ursula on a visit to the German ISAF troops in Afghanistan.
Feeling well among her boys and sometimes girls (©Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)
When Ursula took over her new function, many a soldier feared that he/she had to style his/her hair as the boss, vokuhila (vorne kurz, hinten lang = short in front, long in the back). In the meantime she made a good job.Today rumors have it that some soldiers even pinned up Ursula's photo.

©Found on Twitter
Is she interested to become Angela's successor? Here is a quick comparison:

Angela Merkel
Ursula von der Leyen
Doctor in Physics
Doctor in Medicine
 Family Status
Divorced and remarried
Professor of Physics Professor of Medicine
German, Russian, English German, French, English

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The First Georgians

Entrance to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace
Before serious work started at Wikimania 2014 I visited two special exhibitions in London. One at the Queen's Gallery was titled:

commemorating the 300th anniversary of the accession of George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, to the English throne establishing the House of Hanover. What made the situation politically delicate was George's position as Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. When in 1692 Emperor Leopold I attributed a ninth elector's dignity to the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg it comprised the honorary title of Archbannerbearer of the Holy Roman Empire. Imagine, the English King voted for the German Kaiser.

The exhibition had nice pictures but was somewhat short on historic facts. Here are some details:

Queen Ann
When Queen Ann died in 1714 her more direct heir to the throne was the Catholic James Stuart. Already on his father's death in 1701, James had declared himself King, as King James III of England and VIII of Scotland and had been recognized as such by France, Spain, the Papal States and Modena*.
*Texts in italic from Wikipedia

Sophia of Hanover, presumptive heiress to the English crown
In the same year the English Parliament fed up with the Catholics laid down rules of succession in the Act of Settlement: No Catholic should access the English throne. The crowns were to settle upon the nearest relation of Queen Ann "the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover" and "the heirs of her body, being Protestant".

George I
James deprived of his titles tried to invade the British Isles in 1708 but the admiral of the French fleet fearing a battle with the British refused to let James go ashore. The fight between the Stuarts and the Hanoverians continued when in 1710, Sophia's son George announced that he would succeed in Britain by hereditary right, as the right had only been removed from the Catholic Stuarts, and he retained it in 1714 when both Queen Ann and his mother Sophia died in the same year.

Two major Jacobite Risings launched in 1715 and 1745 failed to remove the House of Hanover from the British throne. Therefore the next room showed boring sketches and drawings of the battles the Georges fought against the Scots.

George II as Prince of Wales
Other Georges followed the first with the result that Parliament acquired more rights throughout the 18th century moving England to become the motherland of democracy.

Showing the Georgean Dynasty:
 This Plate is Dedicated to all true Britons, Lovers of Liberty, and the present Succession.
Another room was devoted to engravings by William Hogarth, the 18th century English moralist. My favorite physics colleague Georg Christoph Lichtenberg traveling frequently from Göttingen (Kingdom of Hanover) to London and being devoted to his one king, George III, admired the cosmopolitan English way of life. As an Anglophile he also admired Hogarth's genius and described his engravings to his German compatriots not only detailed and in his aphoristic spirit, but, as my former boss used to say, he rubbed the message in.

Here are two of Hogarth's engravings describing the virtue of beer and the devastating effects of gin (The engravings are found in Wikipedia):

Beer Street

Beer, happy Produce of our Isle
Can sinewy Strength impart,
And wearied with Fatigue and Toil
Can cheer each manly Heart.

Labour and Art upheld by Thee
Successfully advance,
We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee
And Water leave to France.

Genius of Health, thy grateful Taste
Rivals the Cup of Jove,
And warms each English generous Breast
With Liberty and Love!

Gin Lane

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steals our Life away.

Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What a Wonderful Crowd

Announcing Jimmy Wales, the man who started it all (©Wikipedia)
As I had already announced in March, last week Red Baron attended Wikimania 2014, the 10th world meeting of the Wikipedia Community in London. My readers know that I am an active author and editor in Wikipedia Deutschland although the number of my "edits" has decreased with time. The main reason is our rather active local scene - we meet monthly for a Stammtisch - so that over the last years many missing articles about Freiburg's people, buildings and history have been written and thoroughly edited by my peers and me.

The phenomenon of a decreasing number of active contributors to Wikipedia is felt all over the world. Therefore the Wikipedia Foundation is making great efforts to "recruit" new authors. Before I will dig into this topic further let me briefly mention other subjects that were discussed in London.

Free Access to Information

Jimmy presenting the state of the Wiki (©Wikipedia)
In his opening speech Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales congratulated the Community, i.e., us the contributors, for building the greatest encyclopedia the world has ever seen. Everybody should have free access to all knowledge everywhere.

More than 2000 cramped in the Barbicon Auditorium.
Red Baron knows where he sits (A hint: Look for large leg room) (©Wikipedia)
Thus in providing considerably human and financial resources the Wikipedia Foundation is helping developing countries with the writing of their on-line encyclopediae. Here Wikipedia's idea to make all information available to all people is seen under the particular aspect of education.

Education yes, but not like this (©Wikipedia)
In South Africa pupils and students using their cell phones (they all seem to own one) now have free access to Wikipedia's Internet site. The project is called Wikipedia Zero and shall be extended to other developing countries.


Wikipedia's call for open access to all information is a permanent call. One of the biggest problems is Copyright, e.g., on pictures.

As an "illustration" the by now famous selfie of an ape was the running gag at the conference. A curious female macaque had snatched the camera of a wildlife photographer. The camera found later was loaded with a number of weird photos the ape had shot. One of the pictures was a selfie that a Wikipedia author later used to illustrate an article with the result that the photographer requested royalties for "his" picture. Even the Badische Zeitung ran a column about the story.


A big topic discussed at the conference was Wikidata. The present system of storing and particularly of finding pictures in Wikipedia is cumbersome. The photos are stored in a database called Commons in categories (or sometimes not) from where they can be drawn to illustrate articles. When I need a picture my way of working is to upload a photo that I took myself into Commons (hopefully into a correct category) and then place it into my article. There are Community members who prefer to shoot perfect photos rather than to write articles. However, to find those sometimes excellent photos in Commons is difficult for me and others in particular if they are labeled only in a language like Danish or Greek or are uploaded with no description at all.

Here Wikidata should help where the focus is on structured data called items that could be abstract concepts like love, hate or real objects like a kitchen or a broom. Each item has an identifier that is unique in all Wikipedias and a page in which all data of the item are collected.

For a demonstration of Wikidata you go to: https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Wikidata:Main_Page
Search for the item Edison in typing the name into the search field. A list will open. There you chose Thomas Alva Edison with the identifier Q8743 and his page of collected data will open. When you scroll to the end of the page and you will see all Wikipedias in which the inventor has an article.

You may be disappointed. Wikidata is a database not an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. The work of extracting data from existing sources is mostly done by bots. These robots are small computer programs searching for specific information on items in various sources. Although they will not err in searching, the information they find may be inconsistent, wrong, or incomplete. Here is where human intelligence must come in. The Community is asked to correct and to complete the data. You see fields in the page for doing this and you may be tempted to do so. But didn't you not read somewhere that Thomas Alva Edison was a Freemason?

Red Baron in a red polo-shirt (what else?) in the back trying to keep his mouth shut
 in a discussion on Commons and Wikidata (©Sebastian)
As one speaker said: Wikidata is only at its beginning, it is fascinating and unpredictable, and full of unexplored potential.

New Authors

You will encounter a couple of hurdles when you like to join the Community and add a contribution to the open encyclopedia. Creating or working on articles in Wikipedia is not straightforward. Presently you will compose your article in Wikitext, a typing platform that contains elements of html. As a beginner you make your experience sometimes the hard way but you hopefully will learn by doing as Red Baron.

One way to overcome the entrance hurdle is the introduction of a Wikipedia Visual Editor. Although this looks promising its implementation is difficult because people work on different platforms. Some experienced writers in Wikipedia use Wikitext only, others even hate the Visual Editor as in their opinion it will compromise the fine tuning of articles.

Another way to attract new people into the Community is to address their gaming instinct. Newbies should consider creating articles as a game and editing as fun. As with time they encounter experienced colleagues, they will receive medals for their participation in Wikipedia.

Give 'em medals (©Wikipedia)
For me the most promising approach to gain new authors is the automatic creation of stub articles containing a minimum of information with the help of bots. Let me explain: a bot will go through lists of all villages including the smallest hamlet and will place formatted stub articles in Wikipedia for those places not covered. Peopl being frustrated by the fact that their place of living does not have an article in Wikipedia yet may now sit down and just type the missing information into the existing stub article.


In closing Wikimania 2014 Jim Wales honored a couple of people especially the organizers for a job well done.

Wikipedian of the year is Ihor Kostenko, a Ukrainian student, who was shot in the head at Maindan Square in Kiev. He had written 280 articles in the Ukrainian Wikipedia.

Red Baron swimming in a sea of Wiki freaks learned fascinating new things at Wikimania 2014. I had a good life in London with the Community. What a wonderful crowd!

... and a morning delight

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saltz's Donut Philosophy

Two weeks ago Jerry Saltz, art critic from New York, posted his donut philosophy on facebook. By chance I came across the photo of his whiteboard:

©Jerry Saltz
Once he had published the photo on facebook a storm of comments and new definitions broke loose. Here is a non-complete list of the additional definitions in the order as they came in. I only did minor editing to shape the contributions into the same form.

Generally I do not like to write blogs using the work of others exclusively however most of the attributions are just too hilarious not to be shared. Nevertheless two of them I contributed myself. Enjoy!

Martin Heidegger: The donut leaves crumbs.

Martin Heidegger: Future donuts cannot maintain their utility in our minds and are therefore the sum of their holes.

Erwin Schrödinger: Until the box is opened, the donuts inside are simultaneously glazed and plain.

Karl Marx: The donut is a device to extract labor out of workers (value) for the possibility of extracting profit for the owner (class)

Basho (Zen philosopher) topped his :A flute with no holes, is not a flute with: A donut with no hole, is a Danish.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy: Ich bin ein Berliner not a donut.

René Magritte: This is not a donut.

Adam Smith: The market decides what the donut is.

Hamlet: To eat the donut, or not eat — that is the question.

Andy Warhol: I'm afraid that if you look at a donut long enough, it loses all of its meaning.

Immanuel Kant: Kant eat a donut. (missing comma?)

Richard III: My kingdom for a donut!!!

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Plein glazed is natural.

René Descartes: I think, therefore I am...eating donuts!

Macchiavelli: Donuts justify coffee.

Lao Tzu: The hole makes the donut.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Donuts are superfood for the overman.

Bill Clinton: I did not eat that donut.

Jesus: Forgive these donuts, they donut know what they are doing.

Stephen Hawkin: A donut with a black hole will eat itself.

Socrates: The unexamined donut is not worth eating.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Whereof one donut speak, one must be silent.

Marie Antoinette: Ils veulent du pain? Qu'ils mangent des donuts.

Plutarch: Which came first, the donut or the hole?

Karl Marx: On the Jewish Donut/Bagel Question.

Ferdinand Lassalle criticising the Gotha Program: Donuts from each according to their ability; donuts to each according to their need.

Samuel Beckett: I must eat the donut... I can't eat the donut... (pause) I'll eat the donut.

William Shakespeare: The quality of donuts is not strained.

Seneca: I don't need donuts.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The world-donut is gradually becoming aware of itself.

Martin Heidegger: The donuting donut.

Michel Foucault: The donut is a source of power.

Sigmund Freud: You will never fill the hole.

Carl Gustav Jung: Every body is born understanding donuts.

Milton Friedman: Without trust, it's worth donut.

Levi-Strauss: The donut brings fatness to the community.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Germanization of the US?

The guy is named E.T., sorry Eric T. Hansen, and writes for the German weekly Die Zeit. According to Eric the T. stands for Terrific and this is how he feels and writes. You find an article about the Terrific Eric in the German but not in the English Wikipedia. There you learn that he has studied in Germany and written several books in German. Both books and articles are based on solid research but characterized by satire and absurdities. He is particularly provocative when he holds up the mirror to the Germans.

The European Union and the States are presently working on a trade agreement called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There is lots of fear in Germany that we will become Americanized eating chicken imported from the States treated with chlorine instead of European bio (organic) poultry full of salmonella.

Eric however fears that TTIP will result in just the opposite: he advocates the Germanization of the States when he writes in German: We Americans buy any shit of European origin whereas Germany is the hardest market in the world for foreign products. Let me ask here how Eric would call the goods the Americans import from China. Even a baseball cap I bought in the States the other day was labeled Made in China.

Eric keeps on moaning that there are less than 2000 hamburger restaurants in Germany (McDonalds and Burger Kings combined) but there are 3500 China restaurants and 12,000 döner places. KFC only has 120 chain stores. Wendy's, following massive investments in the 1980ies, even withdrew from the German market*.

In Freiburg the downtown Burger King restaurant threw the towel on November 30, 2013. Will the Döner invade the States?
No Whoppers anymore but lots of döner shops
 in Freiburg's Bermuda Triangle near the university(©BZ)
Well, fast food may not be the best parameter to use when describing the mutual commercial interactions. Eric notes with some bitterness that America's biggest publisher Radom House now belongs to the Bertelsmann Group. Is this so terrible considering that the German Gutenberg invented movable type printing? Does Eric not remember the 1970ies when the Japanese bought real estate and firms in the States with their accumulated dollars? And why does he not criticize the Chinese who use their surplus dollars investing them in the States rather than selling all their greenbacks on the money market thus devaluating the anchor currency?

At the end of his article Eric states that America rather is a domestic market with only ten percent of its national output based on export whereas Germany with a small domestic market necessarily is an exporting country where the relevant figure is thirty percent.

*I just read an article that ice sandwiches made in Berlin according to an old US recipe are the latest hit in our capital:

©Die Zeit