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Random Observations About Deutschland (R.O.A.D)

Filed under: R.O.A.D. — dave @ 5:38 pm 2015/10/31

New category alert… Ever since we moved to Germany (yeah, I know I haven’t posted about that, yet. I have a post or three pending about how that came about, but if I waited until that was done, I’d never get to the fun stuff!) there have been a number of things I’ve noticed that make living here, um, different than living in the US.

So I thought I’d start a fun thread of things that are different here. And I mean no more or less than that; they’re different, not wrong, not weird (well, there are some things that are just downright weird, but that might just be me. Yeah, mostly me), just different. And there are plenty of things to write about. Puh-lenty.

I’ll start off with shopping carts. Why shopping carts? Because one of the main jobs in this new gig is feeding the 21 high school boys in my charge, and that means food is needed. Lots of it. So I spend way more time pushing shopping carts in grocery stores than I ever dreamed possible.

Shopping carts in the US are pretty standard fare, and I never really gave them much thought; metal or plastic baskets, two swivel wheels on the front, two fixed wheels in the back, a spot for a kidling to sit close to whomever is pushing, etc… One of our neighbors, a retired gentleman, worked part time at a grocery store for a while, and would talk about having to collect shopping carts from the parking lot; that made me think a little more about carts in recent years, and made me a bit more mindful of where I left my carts when I was done with them. It also annoyed me when I saw others leave them standing out in the middle of the parking lots or just shoved together in the corrals with no concern for who is going to have to sort them out. Pity the poor grocery store employee who draws the short straw and has to go out to gather up carts in the cold of winter on an ice & snow covered lot. And if the parking lot is wet, icy, or cold, the chances that the shoppers will leave their carts in weird places increases.

The Europeans have come up with a totally ingenious way to avoid all the hassles of cart wrangling; each cart has a little chain attached to the handle with an end that fits into a lock slot on the handle of another cart. To unlock a cart, you simply stick a coin (50 cent or 1 or 2 Euro) into a slot in the handle. When you return the cart and snap the chain from the next cart into the lock on yours you get your coin back.

The deposit coin is all the incentive that’s needed to get the customer to return the cart. In the US, without that incentive, people just assume that someone will take care of it, so they don’t think twice about leaving it wherever or leaving a mess in the cart corral.

It sounds like some Canadian stores have also started using this system; the US market would be wise to follow suit. A couple of the stores we’ve visited had lock boxes on the carts that looked to be add-ons; a quick Google search led me to Maciver Enterprises, who markets a retrofit “Kartloc” system. I’m sure introducing a new system like that wouldn’t be without a few hiccups on startup, but I think people would adopt it readily, and it would be totally worth it.

One gripe I have about the shopping carts is that they have four swivel wheels, which makes steering them a pain in the neck. And the knees, and the back. In the US, the rear wheels are fixed and the front wheels swivel, which makes it far easier to keep a cart going in one direction. But with swivel wheels on all four… negotiating a turn in the store – especially with a full load in the cart – takes a bit of doing. Get that same cart on an uneven surface, like in the parking lot, and it’s next to impossible to get it to go in a straight line. This guy explains the issue pretty well:

I guess having four swivel wheels makes the carts easier to push around the stores, which are generally smaller than what I’m used to, have narrower aisles, and are more crowded… At least when the cart only has a small number of items in it. But when the cart is heaped with the quantity of stuff we buy on a regular basis, the four swivel wheel thing fails miserably. The one store I’ve visited that had fixed rear wheels was Carrefour in France; that store is a bit larger than most around here, but the aisles are just as crowded and narrow as most others, so I’m not sure what motivated them to deviate from the others.

And yet another thing that makes grocery trips difficult is the way you deal with the groceries after they pass by the checker. In the US, there is typically an area behind the checker that’s as large or larger than the belt in front of the checker where the groceries can be put so that a bagger can pack them up for you. Here though, store employees don’t bag for you (they don’t provide bags either); all the groceries get put in a small spot behind the checker, and you need to put them into something. Usually we put the groceries back into the cart, then push the cart to the parking lot where we have a number of plastic bins to hold the groceries until we get them home. With the volume of groceries we buy, and some of the large quantities, you really need to be on the ball so that your ten cartons of milk don’t end up on top of the bread or vegetables you already put into the cart. That is easily the most stressful time of shopping, except when the cashier rattles off a question in German and you have no clue what she just said or how to respond. Did she ask, “Would you like the promotional points with your purchase?” or “Are you as stupid as you look?” I guess it all works to keep life interesting, and to keep me humble.

Chandeliering Ice

Filed under: Fun!,The World — Tags: , , , — dave @ 10:57 pm 2013/05/02

Here’s a weather-related phenomenon I had never heard of before today; chandeliering ice.

According to the NatureWorldnNws.com site, chandeliering “happens when warming temperatures cause a once solid mass of ice to splinter into fine, glass-like shards.”

That would be something to see. Too bad the video is a bit grainy, and there’s no close-up of what’s going on there. Very cool!

The Truth Can Set You Free

Filed under: Politics,The World — Tags: , , , — dave @ 10:31 pm 2011/07/07

And in the case of MSNBC’s Mark Halperin was set free — indefinitely — for speaking the truth about President Obama’s press conference performance last Wednesday.

Sitting on the set of “Morning Joe,” Mr. Halperin smiled mischievously as he disparaged Mr. Obama’s behavior at a news conference a day earlier. “I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday,” Mr. Halperin said.

He apologized on the show a few minutes later and said he deeply regretted making the comment. Immediately after the show concluded at 9 a.m., a meeting was convened about the incident, and by 10:30 a.m., the channel said Mr. Halperin had been suspended “indefinitely” from his political analyst position.

Yeah; it probably wasn’t exactly appropriate to call the President a dick on national TV, especially on one of the bigger outfits like MSNBC. But if the shoe fits… After hearing bits of what Obama had to say in that speech, I can’t help but agree with Halperin’s assessment; he did sound like a bit of a dick. I’m no political analyst, but the intent of that speech seemed to be less of a “how can we work together to fix these problems” thing than a “who can I blame because I haven’t accomplished diddly” thing. Pure politics.

The strange thing is his ranting about what “Congress can do, right now” to improve the economy; true enough, Congress could be doing something more (I tend to think that especially with this Congress, the less they do, the better off we all are) but does he really think that insulting the people that he needs to work with is going to make them want to cooperate? I don’t. He chides Congress for not being the leaders they are supposed to be (check the mirror lately, Mr. Obama?) and their upcoming summer recess, saying he’s been in DC the whole time getting things done; but what I’ve seen is him spending time on the golf course, having celebrity parties, making television appearances, flying Air Force One all over the country for Democrat fundraisers (and nearly shutting down entire metropolitan areas in the process.) Is it any wonder that shortly after giving Congress that tongue lashing, Mr. Obama was off to yet another DNC fundraiser? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black… Some leadership.

I seriously doubt he had any thought toward solving any of the problems he complained about; his intent was more likely to make himself look better in the eyes of potential voters, and what better way to do that than beat down somebody else so he looks better in comparison. If this guy, with all he’s done to screw things up and all he’s failed to do to fix anything, actually manages to get himself reelected…

Physician, Kill Thyself

Filed under: Just Stuff,The World — Tags: , , — dave @ 8:19 am 2011/06/03

Jack Kevorkian died today at the age of 83, ironically, of natural causes.

It’s The Geeks’ Fault

Filed under: Geek,Just Stuff,The World — Tags: , , — dave @ 3:59 pm 2011/05/27

At least in Italy anyway…

Italian government officials have accused the country’s top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

The seven scientists were placed under investigation almost a year ago, according to a news story on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — the world’s largest general-science society and a leading voice for the interests of scientists worldwide.

Alan Leschner, chief executive of AAAS, said his group wrote a letter to the Italian government last year — clearly, to no avail.

“Whoever made these accusations misunderstands the nature of science, the nature of the discipline and how difficult it is to predict anything with the surety they expect,” Leschner told FoxNews.com.

The case could have a “chilling effect” on scientists, he noted.

“It reflects a lack of understanding about what science can and can’t do,” he said. “And frankly, it will have an effect of intimidating scientists … This just feels like either scapegoating or an attempt to intimidate a community. This really seems inappropriate.”

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake, reported the Italian daily Corriere della Sera

In doing so, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public,” the judge said.

Can these people be serious? Do these government officials be so clueless as to think that the field of seismology is precise enough to predict accurately when major natural events like earthquakes will happen? Seismology, like much of science, is more of an exercise in observation and hypothetical correlation; watching what the earth does and making guesses as to what made it do what it just did. I would think that if the technology existed to predict earthquakes, wouldn’t it have been used in an earthquake-prone place like Japan?

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

A Clear And Present Danger

Filed under: Politics,The World — Tags: , — dave @ 11:48 pm 2011/02/15

In an interview, a San Diego Assistant Port Director Al Hallor confirmed that nasty stuff has been found coming into the country. I guess this really comes as no surprise; the surprise is that we don’t hear about it more. One day we may get complete disclosure on all of the potential disasters that have been put down because of the diligence of people like Al.

One thing about this story that really makes you wonder is why the major networks haven’t picked up on it. I heard about it on a talk radio show tonight, and the host — no fan of President Obama’s — says it has to do with the mainstream media outlets being in the tank for Obama and not wanting him to look bad. I don’t buy that; the successes of Homeland Security (in spite of Janet Napolitano’s denial about the southern border) ought to be feathers in Obama’s cap. If anything, the silence on the issue is being purposely kept quiet to keep people from freaking out. Like Kay said in Men in Black, “A person is smart; people are dumb panicky dangerous animals…”

Celebrating The Soldiers of the Sea

Filed under: Just Stuff,The World — dave @ 8:27 pm 2010/11/10

It was on this date, 235 years ago, that the Second Continental Congress resolved to create two battalions of Continental Marines for the War of Independence from Britain. Then in 1798, President John Adams signed the Act establishing the United States Marine Corps as a permanent military force under the jurisdiction of the Department of Navy. Since then, Marines have participated in all the wars of the United States and in most cases were the first soldiers to fight. In the last 212 years, Marines have executed more than 300 landings on foreign shores.

General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that November 10 of each year would be set aside to honor the Corps’ birthday. Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921, issued by Lejeune, is to be read to every command on the day:

(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

(2) The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

Major General Commandant

Today’s Marine Corps is made up of more than 200,000 active-duty and reserve soldiers. Each of the three divisions has one or more expeditionary units, ready to launch major operations anywhere in the world on two weeks’ notice. The Marines’ expeditionary units are unique in that they have their own tanks, artillery, and air forces; truly the Soldier’s Soldier and the Jack of All Trades when it comes to war.

In my younger days I spent some time in uniform, but with the South Dakota Air National Guard. About a year of my enlistment was spent on active duty, mostly for training. During that time I rubbed elbows with a lot of Marines, and there were times we Airmen would scoff at some of the stuff the Marines would do. Down deep though I think we envied the sense of tradition and camaraderie the Marines showed; at least I know I did.

So to all the Jarheads out there, thank you. Semper Fi, Do Or Die! Yell “OOOHrah” and don’t forget to grrr your lids on Friday.

Caveat Emptor

Filed under: Home Life,Just Stuff,The World — dave @ 11:22 am 2010/10/29

The other day I noticed a couple of light bulbs in the family room light fixtures had burnt out and we were short on replacement 40W bulbs, so yesterday afternoon I stopped by the Menards store to pick some up. I usually just get the Sylvania packs of 4 bulbs; they work fine, give off good light, have a decent lifespan, and they’re relatively cheap. As I walked in the door I spotted a display that had 3 x 4-packs of Sylvania bulbs for $5.96, so I grabbed one. I also needed a couple of bulbs for the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, so I went to the bulb aisle & happened to spot the single 4-pack Sylvania bulbs for 99¢. What the…???

Then I noticed the packages on the shelf right next to the 99¢ 4-packs; a 2 x 4-pack for $3.94 and a 6 x 4-pack for $9.98.

4-pack — 25¢ apiece
8-pack — 49.25¢ apiece
12-pack — 49.67¢ apiece
24-pack — 41.58¢ apiece (but it comes in a really nice corrugated paper box)

Either someone wasn’t thinking when they set the prices, or they were thinking & counting on customers to not think when they pick up light bulbs; counting on people making the false assumption that buying larger quantities automatically is a better deal. Menards is a pretty successful chain of stores, so I doubt they’d make a mistake like that by accident. Thinking about it kinda torques me off, because it’s not the first time I’ve seen that sort of shenanigans at Menards; when I was building a shed at our old house, I needed a 5lb box of nails. While shopping at Menards at the time, a 5lb box was priced at $11.99, while a 1lb box was 99¢.

These two examples are pretty obvious, but it makes me wonder how many other not-so-obvious but similar scams are hiding on the shelves at Menards, and every other big-box store. Yvonne really hates shopping, and is one who doesn’t pay much attention to price tags; if she needs it, she gets it. The problem is that I know some of the Sam’s Club “bulk deals” are only deals for Sam’s Coffers. Buyer beware.

Put Away The Leeches Already!

Filed under: Cars!,Politics,The World — Tags: , — dave @ 9:21 am 2010/09/22

Here’s another good article from American Thinker yesterday…

There are two hypotheses, at least. One is the standard story of the government-as-savior crowd. TARP and other bailouts fixed the financial crisis and Obama’s stimulus stopped the economic recession that resulted. Without either one, things would have been worse, much worse.

Here is another hypothesis. We had a recession, just like the other ten times since World War II. As in every other such case, this recession would have ended in about a year if government had done nothing in particular. But this time, the extra costs and uncertainties caused by government “fixes” in fact prolonged and deepened this recession and threatened a double dip or stalling out of economic activity.

Neither hypothesis can be “proved,” since all we know is what government did and what happened. We do not know what might have happened had we done something else.

But here is my take. The times we let government do the most to “fix” a recession, meaning the Great Depression and our current Great Recession, were the very times the economy did the worst. When government let things more or less alone, the economy recovered fairly quickly and with minimal damage.

We also have the academic studies by, of all people, Christina Romer, Obama’s initial chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, that say fiscal policies (e.g. government spending or “stimuli”) did not get us out of the Great Depression or any of our postwar recessions.

The analogy is bleeding a patient. If the doctors bleed a patient and he gets better, they take credit. If the patient gets worse, the doctors say he was not bled enough.

I think, at this point, we have enough evidence for both bleeding as a medical cure and fiscal stimulus as an economic cure that we can stop killing patients by bleeding them to death.

We have two good pieces of advice in such matters, one from Hippocrates and the other from our space program. Hippocrates said, “First, do no harm.” Our space program’s rule of flight control was “If you don’t know what to, don’t do anything.”

I think we need people in Washington, DC, who follow the advice in that last paragraph. Lots of them.

The Geography Of A Recession

Filed under: The World — dave @ 6:43 pm 2010/09/03

The Decline: The Geography Of A Recession

This is a fascinating look at how the recession has progressed(?) And depressing.


Makes me wonder how much darker that map is going to get before it gets any better.

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