Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Customer service in Eireann pt. 2

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 22:51

Since we’re already on the topic …

I am looking for a new lens for my digital SLR to replace the kit lens.

I looked around a couple of local shops, some told me that they didn’t carry Pentax lenses at all, while those that did quoted a price between 600€ and 650€. Just one of them had this lens for 490€. And since I am not one to pass up a 150€ price difference, I told them to order the lens for me. They took my order and told me that the lens would be there in seven days.

That was 7 weeks ago.

For the first four weeks, they steadfastly told me that the lens would be there “in two days". During this time, I was twice promised a call back to confirm this estimate. From the store manager. Personally. This time, for sure. I never got a call.

When I called them after four weeks, they told me that they had to order the lens, and that it would take nother two weeks to arrive. Those two weeks passed. I checked back into the store, and was again promised a call back.

This time, the call back actually happened. To inform me that this lens was actually a special order from Japan, and that they would only order it if I paid it in full, upfront.

No thanks. After keeping me on hold for seven weeks, I am certainly not going to give you any money. I’ll take my business elsewhere, preferably out of this country.

Sunday, 08 July 2007

Customer service in Eireann

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 18:30

I love my bicycle shop. I really do.

My employer has a 200EUR bicycle subsidy for new hires – which makes sense in a city where the only viable way of getting around is on bike: public transport is practically non-existent, the distances are too far for walking, and the whole city is gridlocked all day anyway. The problem is that the subsidy is only valid at one particular cycle shop.

The first problem with my new bike was after about two months, when the pedals broke. My new (400EUR) bike was fitted with plastic pedals, which promptly broke off. I took the bike in to the shop and was sent to the workshop. At the workshop, I told them that I wanted metal pedals now, because I’d wreck another pair of plastic pedals in the same amount of time. They reluctantly agreed, but told me that they didn’t have any in stock until a week from then, and that I couldn’t leave the bike there because there wasn’t any space. Bummer.

What did I do? I went back up to the shop, left the bike outside, and browsed their selection of pedals. Sure enough, they had plenty of metal pedals in stock, ranging from 13EUR to about 40EUR. I opted for a pair of toe-clip pedals at 17EUR. A friendly shop assistant offered to mount them for me, which he did in about 2 minutes. It was only after that that I told him I wasn’t going to pay for them. But a brief chat with the manager cleared that up as well – I left with a shiny new pair of pedals and without paying for anything.

Today (about two months after this episode) I went back to the bike shop again, to get yet another pair of (non toe-clip, metal) pedals. (The problem? Toe-clips aren’t really suitable for inner city traffic, and Dublin traffic is dangerous enough without having to deal with getting in and out of toe-clips.) I got a pair of solid metal mountain bike pedals this time (at about 20EUR). Asked them whether they could mount them for me, and was told “No, you’ll have to come for the workshop for that, but that’s not open on Sundays. It would be against company policy to do that.” Bummer.

But I had learned from my previous experience: Ask different people, and you get different answers. So I went to another, more senior shop assistant and asked him very nicely to mount the pedals for me. He looked at one of the young boys, “Can you mount these pedals?", got a yes, and I had my pedals mounted in another two minutes.

The boy got a 5EUR tip from me as well. Not so much because I think his work was worth 5EUR. More to show the other guy that if he had tried a little harder, those 5EUR would have been his.

The lesson? If you want to get something done in Ireland, you’ll never get it in the first try. Ask as many different people as you have to until you get what you want.

Tuesday, 03 April 2007

A nerkle, a nerd, and a seersucker too!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:26

I recently bought a new lens for my Pentax K100D: a used Pentax 80-320mm f/4.5-5.6 FA. Since my camera has a APS-C sized sensor, this is approximately equivalent to a 130-500mm zoom – which allows you to get up nice and close to things. The lens got moderately good reviews on the net, it was in pretty good shape, so that was €200 well spent.

Last Sunday was one of the first nice and sunny days this year (at least since I came back from California – oh, how I miss thy warmth and sunshine!) I used the opportunity to visit Dublin zoo and get up and close to some animals with my new lens. Dublin zoo was founded in 1830, which makes it the fourth-oldest zoo in the world. It occupies a large area of Phoenix Park, about 10 minutes bike ride from my apartment.

So, without further ado, here’s my Dublin zoo gallery.

Friday, 07 April 2006

Bürokratisches Vakuum

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 14:52

Wie die meisten vielleicht wissen, bin ich nicht gläubig. Ich gehöre keiner Religionsgemeinschaft an, wurde nie getauft, und habe keine Konfession. Ich bin ein Gottloser, ein Ungläubiger, ein Heide. Am ehesten könnte man mich als Agnostiker mit Hang zum Atheismus bezeichnen – jedwede Form von Gnosis blieb mir bis jetzt verwehrt.

Leider sieht das Einwohnermeldeamt das anders. Das Einwohnermeldeamt ist der Meinung, ich wäre evangelisch.

Dieser Fehler ist mir in den letzten Jahren nie wirklich bewusst gewesen – die zwei Buchstaben “ev” auf der Lohnsteuerkarte habe ich geflissentlich ignoriert. Wenn ich danach gefragt wurde, habe ich wahrheitsgemäß geantwortet, dass ich konfessionslos sei. Bis zu dem Zeitpunkt, als zum ersten Mal das Wort “Kirchensteuer” auf meiner Lohnabrechnung auftauchte und ich mich gezwungen sah, etwas gegen diesen Meldefehler zu unternehmen. Und damit nahm die Sache ihren Lauf…

Ich habe mich natürlich erst im Internet informiert, wer denn für Kirchenaustritte überhaupt zuständig ist. Ein Kirchenaustritt muss in Deutschland gerichtlich bestätigt werden; in Bonn ist das das Amtsgericht. Normalerweise ist das eine Sache von ein paar Minuten und ist (bislang noch) kostenlos. Leider konnte ich der Dame auf dem Amtsgericht auf die Frage nach dem Taufort keine befriedigende Antwort geben – ich bin nie getauft worden, kann also auch keinen Taufort angeben. Folglich kann ich auch nicht aus der Kirche austreten: Wer nie in der Kirche war, kann auch nicht austreten. Sie schickte mich also auf das Einwohnermeldeamt, da das ja wohl ein Meldefehler sei.

Ein erster Termin auf dem Einwohnermeldeamt bestätigte mir, dass ich dort als evangelisch gemeldet bin. Diese Angaben wurden allerdings bei meinem Umzug nach Bonn von der alten Gemeinde übernommen, deshalb seien sie in Bonn nicht zu ändern. Ich müsste deshalb den Meldefehler bei meiner alten Gemeinde korrigieren lassen.

Dieser Schritt war erstaunlich einfach zu erledigen – ich komme aus einer sehr kleinen Gemeinde, wo eigentlich jeder jeden kennt. Deshalb genügte ein Anruf beim dortigen Einwohnermeldeamt, und ein paar Tage später hielt ich eine Meldebestätigung in der Hand, dass ich als konfessionslos gemeldet sei. (Mit Nebenwohnsitz, den ich dort immer noch habe.)

Mit diesem Dokument bin ich wieder in Bonn zum Einwohnermeldeamt. Nun wurde es interessant.

Ich hatte mich in Bonn nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen als konfessionslos angemeldet. Nun hatte das Einwohnermeldeamt Bonn bei einem Datenabgleich zwischen den Gemeinden von meiner alten Gemeinde die Mitteilung bekommen, dass ich dort als evangelisch gemeldet sei – und diese Angaben prompt (und ohne Nachricht an mich) übernommen. Jetzt sah sich das Amt in Bonn nicht in der Lage, diesen Meldefehler zu korrigieren: Die alte Gemeinde hatte mich ja einmal als evangelisch gemeldet und einmal als konfessionslos, das konnte also so nicht richtig sein.

Ich bräuchte also einen Nachweis, dass ich nicht evangelisch bin. So etwas nennt man auch einen Negativbeweis. Die Schwierigkeit von Negativbeweisen ist hinlänglich bekannt.

Diesen Nachweis müsste (zumindest nach Aussage des Einwohnermeldeamtes) die evangelische Kirche erbringen. Ein Telefonat mit dem evangelischen Kirchengemeindeverband Bonn brachte jedoch zutage, dass die evangelische Kirche sich weigert, derartige Nachweise zu erbringen: Da es anscheinend kein zentrales Taufregister gibt, sondern nur lokale Taufbücher, sieht sich er Gemeindeverband nicht in der Lage, zu bestätigen, dass ich nicht Mitglied der evangelischen Kirche bin. Schliesslich könnte ich ja irgendwo anders getauft worden sein. Die Daten wiederum bekommt die Kirchengemeinde über das Einwohnermeldeamt.

Ich befinde mich also in einer Art bürokratischem Vakuum.

Über das Amtsgericht kann ich nicht austreten, da ich nie in die Kirche eingetreten bin. Das Einwohnermeldeamt lässt mich nicht austreten, da ich nicht dort eingetreten bin. Das Einwohnermeldeamt akzeptiert allerdings auch nicht die Bestätigung meiner alten Gemeinde, dass ein Meldefehler vorlag. Und die evangelische Kirche weigert sich, zu bestätigen, dass ich nicht Mitglied der Kirche bin.

Man könnte sich jetzt auf den Standpunkt stellen, dass die evangelische Kirche den Nachweis erbringen muss, dass ich Kirchenmitglied bin. Schliesslich fordert sie Kirchensteuer von mir ein, müsste also den Nachweis erbringen, dass diese Forderungen rechtens sind. Alles andere wäre im Grunde genommen eine Beweislastumkehr. Und die ist nur in Ausnahmefällen zulässig.

Leider sind Bürokraten für derartige Argumente nicht empfänglich. Ein Bürokrat handelt nicht logisch oder verstandesgemäß, sondern nach Anweisung und Dienstvorschriften. Und nun ist ein Zustand eingetreten, in dem sich die einzelnen Dienstvorschriften in einer Art bürokratischen Deadlock ineinander verhakt haben. Keiner kann etwas tun, ohne dass vorher einer der anderen etwas getan hat.

Was also tun?

Vielleicht wäre es am Einfachsten, mich taufen zu lassen und direkt wieder auszutreten. Vorausgesetzt, man verlangt von mir dann nicht den Nachweis, dass ich nicht schon getauft bin…

Saturday, 25 February 2006

Bücher abzugeben

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:02

In meinem Bücherregal wird’s momentan wieder mal sehr eng, und deshalb habe ich aktuell einen ganzen Stapel Bücher abzugeben. Die komplette Liste findet sich hier. Wer davon welche will (und mich zumindest semi-regelmäßig trifft), der möge mir eine Liste mit den gewünschten Titeln per Email schicken.

Über einen kleinen Obulus würde ich mich insbesondere bei den großen Bänden freuen; bei den Taschenbüchern muss das nicht unbedingt sein.

Warum ich das über den Blog mache? Weil es man solche Bücher bei Antiquariaten praktisch nicht los bekommt, eBay sich vom Aufwand her nicht lohnt, und ich sie auch nicht wegschmeissen will. Das sitzt bei mir vielleicht zu tief drin – Bücher sind etwas wertvolles, bewahrenswertes, was man nicht einfach wegwirft.

Und deshalb gebe ich euch nochmal die Chance, ein paar davon abzugreifen, bevor sie im öffentlichen Bücherschrank auf der Poppelsdorfer Allee landen.

Saturday, 04 February 2006

Free music!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 14:02

No, I’m not talking about eMule, Kazaa or BitTorrent. There is also free music on the web that won’t get you in the crosshairs of the Recording Ass. of A or the IFPI – the only problem is to find out what’s worthwhile.

Unfortunately, I’m not one to browse endlessly through collections, wading through thousands of entries and sifting for good stuff. Therefore, I mostly rely on recommendations from friends, or the odd pointer I come across on the web. One such recommendation came from Monika yesterday:

Two Zombies later, a two CD collection of electronica, easy listening and lounge music. I’m listening to it right now, and it can definitely hold its own against other such collections. If you like this genre, you should definitely check it out – it’s just a mouse click away, and it’s free!

The album is hosted on one of the most-overlooked resources on the internet: the Internet Archive. Most people will (if they know it at all) only know about their web archive, which allows you to look at past versions of web pages – an essential service where web pages change quickly and without notice (and sometimes quite an embarrassment when you see how blandly your web page looked some years ago.)

But the Internet Archive also hosts tens of thousands of videos, almost 100.000 audio recordings, and tens of thousands of texts – all downloadable free of change (and definitely legal, in difference to the services mentioned above.) They have collections of old TV series and silent movies, a huge number bootleg Grateful Dead recordings, and lost and lots of other stuff.

So … I’ve told you about some stuff I’ve come across on the archive. How about you tell me about some stuff you have found?

Thursday, 26 January 2006

US and Iran uniting agains the common threat

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 02:13

In case you wondered what it would take to get the US and Iran to agree with each other, which enemy they consider dire enough to unite them against the common threat, which enemy would make the US back Iran (a nation Dubya called the “world’s primary state sponsor of terrorism") – now we know.

It’s gays and lesbians.

On monday, the US backed an Iranian initiative to dismiss the application of two gay and lesbian groups for observer status with the UN. The International Lesbian and Gay Association and the Danish Landsforeningen for Bøsser og Lesbiske applied for this status in 2005, which would allow them to participate in discussions at the UN Economic and Social council. An Iranian motion to dismiss this application without even a hearing of the applicants was backed among others by the US, Sudan and Cuba.

I think the message is clear: Iran may be in the axis of evil, it may be a sponsor of terrorism, it may be the biggest nuclear threat in the world – but as long as it’s against gays and lesbians, the US are with Iran all the way.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Hot Club de Frank at Café Kobalt

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 00:55

I recently spent a few days in wonderful Amsterdam. On Sunday evening, me and some friends went to Café Kobalt on Singel, in the vicinity of central station. It’s a rather large café (at least for Amsterdam standards) with a decent variety of beers (I recommend the Westmalle Dubbel, a very dark and malty trappist beer) and a large menu, which unfortunately we weren’t able to sample.

When we arrived at about five in the evening, the place was packed to the last seat, with people standing in the free spaces, small children running around, and dogs sitting between the feet of their owners, and moisture condensing on the window panes. As evidenced from the birthday cake and a table with presents, someone must have celebrated his birthday that evening – or rather her birthday? The “Sex and the City” boxed dvd set lends credence to that theory, but we never found out.

The Kobalt also hosts concerts every Sunday, and to my delight, a band called “Hot Club de Frank” was playing. They play swing, gypsy jazz and klezmer, with a lineup consisting of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, double bass, saxophone and violin. The name itself is a giveaway as regards their repertoire, of course.

I must have made rather boring company that evening: I liked the music so much that I spent most of the time listening, even though people were chatting away around me. It’s something I like to call “handmade music” – plain good music, with musicians who quite clearly enjoy themselves, and with a minimum of amplification.

I bought two of their CDs after the show. When I came home, I found out that one of them was badly scratched. This must have happened during manufacturing, as I hadn’t even taken it out of its plastic wrapping yet. But a quick email to the band solved this problem: Frank (as in “Hot Club de Frank", of course) immediately offered to send me a replacement CD. Great service!

Saturday, 24 December 2005

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 18:43

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy hanukkah, happy kwanzaa, happy yule! Whatever you’re celebrating, have a great time!

Friday, 09 September 2005

One year of blogging!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:05

Even I have to meta-blog every once in a while: The first article on this blog was published on 20th Aug. 2004, which means that I have been blogging for over a year.

I have written 131 articles during this time, statistically speaking a little more than one every three days. This is roughly the posting frequency I intended when I started this blog. The longest article was 7202 characters long, the shortest 93 characters, with an average length of about 1600 characters.

However, things look a little different when one looks at the distribution of articles in regard to the month:

month # articles
8/2004 2
9/2004 3
12/2004 26
1/2005 31
2/2005 24
3/2005 16
4/2005 10
5/2005 8
6/2005 9
7/2005 4
8/2005 5

What’s that? Has my blogging hype peaked in the first months of this year? Or is this a completely normal development? Have I run out of topics to post about?

Or may it simply be due to the fact that I started preparing my diploma thesis in March? And that a) not very much has been happening for me since then, because I’ve been busy working on my thesis, and b) when I come home in the evening, I usually think of other things than of writing even more?

I guess we’ll find out when I hand in my thesis. Which is in another two months. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Holidays in Slovenia

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:43

Since my thesis is progressing well (at least, both my advisor and me think so), I took a week off for some holidays, to clear out my head and get some change of scenery.

Same as last year, I went to Slovenia, to the town of Bovec, near the Triglav National Park in the north-west of Slovenia.

I booked a one-week whitewater kayaking course on the river Soča. The Soča is famous as one of the most beautiful rivers for whitewater kayaking in Europe. It is situated in the Julian Alps, a limestone mountain range. Over thousands of years, the river has carved itself into the soft rock and formed numerous ravines.

Whitewater kayaking is tremendous fun. We had a very good teacher (kudos to Dany) who made me feel safe at all times, and who always seemed to know when I needed a word of encouragement or approval. During those five days, we paddled everything from after the 3rd gorge to Česzoča, and from Žaga to the end of the graveyard section, just before the slalom course starts. This last section (the “graveyard section", called that way because there’s a graveyard at the end of it) in particular made me think, “I wish I was better at this, so I could enjoy this stretch more.” I’m definitely going to look for a kayak club when I’ve finished my diploma and found a job, and take up kayaking in earnest.

I booked the course via Sport Radermacher, and can wholeheartedly recommend them.

Sunday, 24 July 2005

German police collects data on homosexuals

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 01:17

Following up an earlier post, I find that the present is rapidly catching up with fiction.

It has now become known that the software used by German police departments has a category for tagging people or places as “homosexual". This software collects data on suspects, victims and witnesses and allows one to connect this data with the place of the recorded incident. This place can in turn be tagged as a “homosexual venue", thereby allowing one to quickly retrieve all data on persons associated with homosexuality. A companion program even allows the police officer to label a perpetrator as “homosexual” – even though homosexuality as a crime as not been persecuted in Germany since 1968. Interestingly, there exists no corresponding category for crime victims: apparently, the designers of the software were only thinking of prosecuting homosexuals, and not of victims of hate crimes against homosexuals. I think this makes the intent obvious: Not efficient police work, but discrimination and prejudice against homosexuals. The software in question, called “IGVP” and “PVP", is in use in Bavaria, Northrhine-Westphalia and Thuringia.

The association of lesbian and gay police officers VeLSPol first breached this news in a press release, and followed it up with an open letter to the states using the software, lobbying for an immediate deletion of the offending categories. The story was also reported in Spiegel Online, online branch of the renowned German news magazine Der Spiegel, and Heise Newsticker, online branch of computer magazine c’t. Another longer article is on Indymedia.

Homosexuality was a crime in Germany until 1969, and the corresponding part of the criminal code (§175 StGB) was not abolished until 1994. In comparison, homosexuality was decriminalized in Switzerland in 1942.

Monday, 13 June 2005

Christian Coalition wants to put “warning labels” on gays

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 18:50

According to several sources, the executive director of the “New York Christian Coalition", Bill Banuchi, yesterday compared homosexuality to lifespan-reducing drugs like cigarettes – implying that homosexuals, like cigarettes, need a “warning label".

May we suggest a pink triangle?

Please come to Germany, Mr. Banuchi, and let us show you how to do it. How we did it. And where we went from there. Trust us, we have experience in that regard.

This is the reason why we may never forget. Because where ignorance rules, fascism is just waiting to regain its strength.

Monday, 06 June 2005

Comments closed

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:25

The comments are closed for now.

This blog is being flooded by spam. I’m deleting a hundred comments or more every couple of days. And even despite the CAPTCHA, some comments are still making it through; I don’t know how they do it.

I’ve therefore closed down the comments for now. In view of the spam-to-real-comments ratio, it seems like the most sensible thing to do. If you want to to comment on a post, please send me an email to webmaster@moebius.inka.de.

If I find the time to implement additional countermeasures to comment spam, I may open up comments again, but for the time being, it’s better to leave them closed down.

Sunday, 05 June 2005

I fold under pressure.

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 16:36

I am now four weeks into my diploma thesis, and what do I do? I am taking up paperfolding again. After years of not folding anything, I am slowly starting to rediscover my interest. I am not as good as I used to be, but it is still fun. It will take some practice to attain my previous level again; after all, paperfolding was once my principal hobby, some six or seven years ago.

As a starter, I designed a model about which people asked me many years ago. About nine years ago, I created an origami rendition of a 3D puzzle called the Soma Cube, folded from long, thin strips of paper (I used ticker tape or punch tape.) Using the same technique, it should be possible to recreate other 3D puzzles formed from an assembly of cubes. In particular, I was asked about pentominos from paper tape. I never actually bothered to try them – until now: Pentominos from paper tape. All pieces of the puzzle were created on the first try, and all are reasonably sturdy and elegant in their execution. I am quite pleased with the results.

The bad, bad pun in the title is not mine, by the way; it is one of the aphorisms that circulate in the origami community (another one is “Interest in paper is in creasing", ha-ha), and I do not know who invented it. There is also a t-shirt with it from Origami USA.

Wednesday, 20 April 2005

Hitchhiker’s Guide: Quandary and Quintessential Phase

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:52

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio play is reaching its quandary phase, after the tertiary phase was broadcast on BBC in september/october 2004. The first episode will be broadcast on May 3rd, and I hope it will be available as a webcast, like the episodes of the tertiary phase were.

If you want to record the webcast (which was available in RealAudio format the last time), you can use mplayer; it can decode RealAudio and dump streams as WAV files. (I use Audacity for postprocessing the stream, and Lame for encoding it to MP3.) A howto for ripping streams with mplayer can be found here; basically, you use the “PCM” audio device (-ao pcm) and tell it to dump the data to a file (-aofile h2g2.wav).

Monday, 11 April 2005

Infobesity

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:59

I learned a new word today: “infobesity” (information + obesity). There is also “infogluttony". Both can be caused by excessive googleization.

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

Blob architecture: Peek und Cloppenburg, Köln

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:04

Following up Christian’s mention of the new Peek&Cloppenburg building in Cologne, I went there today and took a couple of photos:

[pic 1] [pic 2] [pic 3]

The building is not open to the public yet. It looks rather impressive, but doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the architecture – but I guess that is one of the points of blob architecture: Designing a building that does not fit in, but provides a welcome relief from the usual straight-angled city architecture.

Tuesday, 08 March 2005

Robert Crumb series on Guardian Unlimited

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 00:11

The Guardian, my favourite british newspaper, is hosting a series of articles on Robert Crumb in its online edition. They started off today with an interview by Simon Hattenstone and a short article by Steve Bell, who is himself a long-time Guardian cartoonist.

(In fact, I used to enjoy Steve Bell’s cartoons immensely when I first started reading the Guardian, some ten years ago. I didn’t understand all of them, but I always enjoyed their warped sense of humour. I have not read the print edition for quite a while; the new “Guardian Europe” is just not the same. Last I remember, his cartoons on the page before last were dropped. They did keep Doonesbury though; there’s one comic strip I never, ever understood.)

I’ve been a Crumb fan for a long time (proportionally … half my life.) I went to the exhibition at Museum Ludwig in Cologne last year, and I still want to see American Splendour.

In my case, Crumb’s particular brand of offensiveness, cynicism and self-loathing gradually lost its appeal after adolescence. But Crumb is still a great artist, and there’s more to discover about him than his obsession with stocky girls.

Saturday, 26 February 2005

Spiegel Online: Stöhnende Werbung

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:27

Werbebanner auf Webseiten sind ja wahrlich nichts Neues mehr; genau wie bei Werbung in Zeitschriften haben die meisten Surfer inzwischen selektive Wahrnehmung entwickelt und bemerken sie gar nicht mehr.

Genau das scheint den Werbeitreibenden inzwischen auch aufgefallen zu sein. Und während die Möglichkeiten bei Printmedien begrenzt sind, die Aufmerksamkeit des Lesers auf sich zu ziehen, bietet das Internet da viel mehr Möglichkeiten: Durch blinkende Bildchen, grelle Farben, Töne und Musik ist es dort möglich, ein mentales Ausblenden der Werbung praktisch komplett zu verhindern.

Genau das ist mir kürzlich auch auf Spiegel Online aufgefallen, der Online-Ausgabe des Magazins “Der Spiegel". Dort war ein Banner im Flash-Format in der Zirkulation, der auf www.coole-bank.de hinwies – eine Kampagne der Hypovereinsbank, die wohl besonders junge Kunden anziehen soll. Das Banner war in grellen, blinkenden Neonfarben gehalten und spielte zudem noch Töne ab, die an einen billigen Spielautomaten in einer Bahnhofskneipe erinnerten.

Gerade bei einem seriösen Nachrichtenmagazin wie dem Spiegel hatte ich mit einem solchen Angriff auf den guten Geschmack und auf die Nerven der Leserschaft nicht gerechnet; vielmehr hatte der Spiegel Online bis jetzt etwas mehr darauf geachtet, dass die Werbung sich in das sonstige Erscheinungsbild der Seite einfügt. Besonders die Musik fand ich extrem störend: Bei einem halben Dutzend bis einem Dutzend offener Fenster dauert es eine Weile, bis man dasjenige gefunden hat, das die nervigen Töne abspielt.

Also schrieb ich einen Leserbrief an Spiegel Online, in dem ich mich in gebührendem Ton über diese Belästigung beschwerte, meinen Unmut ausdrückte, und die Hoffnung anlkingen liess, Spiegel Online möge doch in Zukunft bei der Auswahl der Werbepartner etwas mehr Sorgfalt walten lassen. So weit, so gut.

Als Antwort kam folgende Email – mit sämtlichen Rechtschreibfehlern so abgedruckt, wie ich sie erhalten habe:

Lieber Herr Kirsch,

Sie habe natürlich Recht, manchmal sind Werbebanner sicher etwas stöhnend - aber sie sind auch unsere Einzige Einnahmequelle. Daher ist es gut, dass sie zunehmend auftauchen!

Sie können uns glauben, dass wir bei der Buchung von Werbebannern sehr wohl auf unser Layout achten, können unseren Werbekunden jedoch nicht alles untersagen. Sie würden sicher von dieser Werbemöglichkeit wieder abstand nehmen. Dies wiederum können wir uns nicht leisten, da wir unseren Lesern weiterhin ein kostenloses Newsmagazin bieten möchten.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen

Ihre SPIEGEL ONLINE Redaktion
Ein Unternehmen der SPIEGEL-Gruppe

Nun ja, ein stöhnender Werbebanner ist mir beim Spiegel noch nicht untergekommen, auch wenn das auf anderen Webseiten natürlich Gang und Gäbe ist. Aber vielleicht ist das ja ein Ausblick darauf, was uns beim Spiegel Online noch erwartet – wird es bald auch Porno-Werbung in der Zirkulation geben? Man kann nie wissen …

Man muss natürlich froh darüber sein, nicht mit einem Standardbrief abgefertigt zu werden; etwas bessere Kenntnisse der deutschen Sprache und Rechtschreibung würde ich jedoch auch in der Leserbrief-Abteilung des Spiegel Online erwarten.

Und auf inhaltlicher Seite? Dass Werbebanner massgeblich zur Finanzierung eines solchen Angebots beitragen, ist mir natürlich auch klar. Aber genauso, wie sich die Werbung bei der Print-Ausgabe an das Niveau der Zeitschrift anpasst, sollte auch bei der Online-Ausgabe darauf geachtet werden, die Leser nicht mit unpassenden und störenden Werbebannern vor den Kopf zu stossen. Sonst stimmen sie womöglich mit den Füssen ab, und das animiert Werbetreibende sicher auch nicht zum Schalten von Anzeigen.

Und ich? Ich habe dieser Email nichts mehr zu entgegnen. Ich habe mich entschlossen, auf meiner Seite entsprechende Massnahmen zu ergreifen. Da solche Werbung nur im Flash-Format ausgeliefert, hab ich mir ein Zusatzprogramm namens flashblock für meinen Internet-Browser Firefox installiert. So werden Inhalte im Flash-Format von vornherein abgeblockt und durch ein Symbol ersetzt. Durch Klicken auf dieses Symbol kann man im Nachhinein die Flash-Animation starten – sollte man sich doch einmal auf einer Seite befinden, die Flash zu sinnvollen Zwecken und nicht nur zur Störung ihrer Leserschaft einsetzt.

Lieber Spiegel Online, ich verstehe die Situation, ein kostenloses Angebot durch Werbung zu finanzieren. Ich habe deshalb bis jetzt darauf verzichtet, Werbebanner mit technischen Mitteln abzublocken. Mit den Bannern der HVB war meine Schmerzgrenze jedoch erreicht – ab jetzt werde ich auf der Spiegel Online-Seite gar keine Werbung mehr sehen. Ich überlasse es Ihnen, diese Tatsache Ihren Werbetreibenden verständlich zu machen.

Monday, 21 February 2005

Hunter S. Thompson kills himself

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:58

The author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson was found dead last night (Reuters story). A news overview is on Google Groups.

Thompson is best known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which he describes a booze- and drug-filled journey to Las Vegas, undertaken by Thompson’s alter ego Raoul Duke, and his attorney Dr. Gonzo. It was made into a major feature film, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke.

A fitting end for a great writer.

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

New HHGTTG trailer

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:50

There’s a new trailer (in Flash format) on the amazon.com front page at the moment for the upcoming Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie. It’s looking very good, I’m definitely looking forward to it. The only irritating thing for me is going to be the large number of American accents in the movie; I’m so used to the radio play, which has exclusively British accents. Still …

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Cat owners beware

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 17:07

If you play with your cat using a laser pointer, you may be violating patent no. 5443036, granted in 1995 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And we thought that software was the only subject prone to patents on trivial “inventions".

Saturday, 12 February 2005

Gerhard Richter exhibition in Düsseldorf

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 14:05

A Gerhard Richter exhibition opens today in Düsseldorf at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. The exhibition is open till May 16th.

Friday, 04 February 2005

Following

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 11:01

I went to the cinema yesterday evening, to the sneak preview, and they were showing Following. It’s a film noir by Memento’s Christopher Nolan. A rather unusual movie, but the clues (70 minutes, thriller, rated R) made the choice clear; it had also been shown in Bremen (according to sneak.de) a few weeks ago. A friend tipped me off (thanks, Mira!), and so I won a t-shirt, because I was one of three people who correctly guessed the title.

And what about the movie itself? It was short, it was black and white, it was in English with German subtitles – better suited to my tastes than I’d expected. The storytelling was reminiscent of 21 Grams in that it was highly non-linear: The very first scene is set at the very end of the storyline, and the movie wraps up with the continuation of the first scene. In-between, the movie follows two different timelines with heavily interleaved scenes, and in the end one realizes that the one picked up where the other ends. The viewer is left to piece together the scenes and predict the course of the story from the hints.

Overall, it is a good movie. Shorter and more minimalistic than 21 Grams, but definitely worth seeing.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

RSS Feed

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 09:35

I activated the rss feed for this blog. Have a look at the right-hand column, under “meta", or at the <meta> tags.

Providing rss feeds and permalinks requires some trickery with mod_voodoo (aka. mod_rewrite), and I didn’t get around to doing that until now. Sorry!

Sunday, 16 January 2005

Jeff Dean’s behind-the-scenes look on Google

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:18

In this 1-hour lecture (available as a Windows Media or Real Video format streaming video), Jeff Dean talks about Google’s architecture, why they do things the way they do it, and the frameworks they developed for their applications. He also gives a few examples of Google’s current and future projects.

Google is usually pretty secretive about the inner workings of their products; apart from the original papers on PageRank, some engineering papers about the Google File System, little is known about their software. On the other hand, the number of successful projects that came out of google in the last few years is astonishing: Groups, Pictures, Gmail, Blogger, Froogle, Desktop Search, localized search, Scholar, etc. pp.

Furthermore, these are difficult things to do. Research Index has been trying to do for years what Google Scholar is doing now: An exhaustive search aid for scientific papers, finding every single place where a certain paper is published, extracting authors, dates, references etc. Research Index always struggled because of lack of funding and computing power. For Google, it seems to work quite well. (I find myself using Google Scholar more often that Research Index, because it’s more reliable.)

So what is the secret behind Google’s success? I haven’t been able to work that out. They hire top-notch people (the list of papers by Google employees is very impressive), they have enormous amounts of computing resources (though Google never published any numbers, estimates range from 70.000–100.000 CPUs), access to huge datasets (their whole web index, basically), and the employees are encouraged to actually use those resources for their research projects: Every employee gets to devote 20% of his time to research, and apparently it’s not unheard of to requisition a cluster of a couple of thousand CPUs for a research project.

Do I want to work there? Hell yes.

Saturday, 15 January 2005

Sleep

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 19:53

I just allowed myself the great pleasure of dozing and dreaming for a full two hours. I don’t know what I dreamt, but I’m convinced that it was something very interesting.

As a friend of mine likes to point out: The simple pleasures of life – like sleeping, or eating – are grossly undervalued.

Friday, 14 January 2005

Personal Chemistry and the Healthy Body

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 23:57

Personal Chemistry and the Healthy Body, written by Gerald Weinberg about 20 years ago, advocated personal happiness through attention to your bodily needs. Work regular hours, eat well, sleep well, exercise, and you will be successful and make a positive impression on others – that’s the gist of it.

Apart from the quaint language (he speaks of “data processing managers), the message is simple, but still very appropriate. I have the impression that after the IT boom of the 90s, more people are cutting back from working long hours and are taking their time to enjoy life properly.

Cutting back is something I try to do as well, but rarely achieve. Being a student, my working hours vary wildly, with classes starting sometimes at nine o’clock in the morning, sometimes after lunch, and work often extending into the small hours of the morning. Regular eating times I don’t have, and my only exercise at the moment are the couple of kilometres I walk from, to and between classes every day.

I think that the worst problem at the moment is eating; I do not really plan my meals and snacks in advance. If I have a long day, I will often eat out or get a snack from a bakery between classes or work, often when I’m already starved – instead of packing some fruit or a snack and eating when I feel like it. I usually don’t plan my meals till shortly before I go to the supermarket – when I’m already hungry. Drinking is also a problem; I drink enough when I’m at work (usually 1.5 liters during a 8 hour day), but when I sprint from one class to another, I usually forget to drink enough.

Exercise is another field where I’m lacking; but I feel that I should try and get the basics (food and drink) in order before exercise would do me any good.

Thursday, 13 January 2005

The Yes Men

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 11:38

This web site is absolutely hilarious. These guys are on BBC world, impersonating a spokesman for Dow Chemicals, and declare that they’re going to liquidate Union Carbide and shell out 12 billion $ to compensate the victims of the Bhopal disaster. And nobody suspects a thing.

They impersonate a WTO spokesman at the international trade law conference in Salzburg, and advocate things like the selling of votes, that violence in the banana market is OK as long as the prices stay low, and that long siestas and lunches in Italy and Spain should be outlawed in the interest of standardized business hours. Nobody gives a damn. Oh, the italians are a little miffed because they see it as an insult to their customs.

And so on, and so on … read through the whole site, it’s great.

There’s a movie out which is supposed to be in the cinemas right now (I wonder whether it will ever make it to Germany), there’s DVD out next month (but it’s region 1, so I can’t watch it until I buy a region-free DVD player), and a book is already available (at last, something that I can safely buy. I wonder when DRM on books will be introduced so I cannot read books that I order from the US. Come to think of it … perhaps one should go to a bookseller’s conference, impersonating a spokesman of the VG Wort and advocate exactly that.)

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Nerd Quotient

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:23

I am nerdier than 92% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Hm …

Tuesday, 04 January 2005

PowerPoint Is Evil

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 23:58

Something for my mom, who is an elementary school teacher and who is learning PowerPoint at the moment:

This Wired article by one Edward Tufte details why PowerPoint (and related presentation software, but mostly PowerPoint, through its ubiquity) makes us stupid. Why it degrades the quality of communication and makes every well thought-out argument into a piece of mindless marketing drivel.

Tufte also wrote a monograph on the subject of PowerPoint abuse, called The cognitive style of PowerPoint; sample pages from the monograph are on his web site on a page about the Columbia accident.

Tufte is an artist and graphics designer who has written several books about the visual display of information. (A department in which I am sorely lacking, so perhaps I should treat myself to one of his books eventually.)

So, please, mom, think of the children: Don’t let them use PowerPoint!

Happy new year!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 16:01

Happy new year, everyone!

I just came back from a wonderful holiday in Zürich – celebrating new year’s eve at the lake, watching the fireworks, visiting the Monet exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich, fine vegetarian food at Restaurant Hiltl (which has over 100 years of experience in vegetarian cuisine), fine asian food at Tiffins, fine fast food at New Point (try the shish kebab, not the döner kebab), and a very nice evening at the Jules Verne panoramic bar (in the old observatory, overlooking the city.)

The downside: Zürich is as expensive as ever.

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

How about a War on Tsunamis?

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:31

Just a thought: What if all the money spent on the so-called “war on terrorism” was spent on a tsunami early warning system? The current death count of the recent tsunami in the indian ocean is 24.000, with 35.000-45.000 expected; more if diseases break out. Compare this with a death toll of 3000 for 9/11.

There already is such a warning system for the pacific basin (the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center PTWC); it was founded in 1948 after a tsunami hit Hawaii and killed 159 people. The Alaskan tsunami warning center was established after a tsunami in 1964 killed 131 people.

Why do we allow a tsunami in the Indian Ocean to take 24.000 deaths, many of which could have been prevented with an early warning system?

Monday, 27 December 2004

Happy little bushes, happy little trees

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 02:45

I occasionally watch Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting", which airs late at night (1am or 2am) on German educational TV station BR-alpha. It is a TV show that demonstrates how to paint in Ross’ special “wet-on-wet” technique; in half an hour, he paints a wildlife scene, or a mountain, or a seaside idyll. You can order special Bob Ross painting kits and “create” paintings just as kitschy as Ross’ own.

I am not especially interested in learning how to create fictional landscapes in oils. I just watch it because Ross patters on for the whole half hour in this very low and hypnotic voice – about “happy little bushes” and “happy little trees", about how “it doesn’t matter where you put it", “it’s your painting, you decide where too put it", referring to trees and bushes as “little rascals". It is so soothing, it is a piece of an ideal world on canvas.

My brother watches home shopping to relax and go to sleep, I watch Bob Ross.

“Happy painting, and God bless my friend.”

Sunday, 26 December 2004

Two Brothers; or: DVDs are snake oil after all

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:54

Why do I find the best christmas presents only right after christmas? The movie Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud would have been perfect, but I did not read about it (consciously, at least) until this morning’s issue of Die Zeit.

On the other hand, it is not available yet in Germany anyway. And because of DVD region coding, I cannot even buy the American DVD via Amazon and play it in my DVD player.

I guess I need to be reminded every once in a while that DVDs are evil.

Normally, I am quite supportive of buying DVDs. I think it is a good format for content delivery, the price is OK (DVDs usually retail for less in Germany than audio CDs), the quality is excellent, and there is usually lots of bonus material. I like buying DVD. I’m a consumer, one of the best kind: I’m not a penny-pincher, I like to spend money for a little convenience. The media companies should humour me. When I am confronted with an artificial limitation of my favourite medium, I tend to get annoyed.

I think that with everyone clamoring for globalization and global commerce, artificial barriers between markets like region coding are simply laughable. The DVD is out. It is on Amazon, I can simply tap in my credit card number and order it. And you are telling me that I cannot watch it? It is just a fricking movie on DVD. I paid for it, why should I not be able to watch it?

I know that there are hacks which will render my DVD player region-free. But in the end, that is not a solution – the next DRM system will be more inconvenient to disable, and there is already legislation in place in the US (the DMCA) and Europe (similar, name escapes me at the moment) that makes disabling DRM systems illegal.

Saturday, 25 December 2004

Happy Christmas!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:06

I celebrated with my family yesterday, on Christmas Eve, with the traditional exchange of gifts, a four-course meal, and some fine champagne. No singing of christmas carols; we stopped doing that when I was twelve, despite my mother’s insistence.

For supper, we had

  • a clear vegetable soup
  • salad with parmesan and pistachios
  • monkfish in lemon-grass sauce, with green asparagus and oyster mushrooms
  • chocolate-almond soufflé with a tangerine sauce

As regards presents, they were wonderfully utilitarian this time. My parents are going to pay for the hotel during my christmas holiday as a present, plus they gave me a blanket. I got a new wallet (very stylish) from my brother and a Tommy Hilfiger sweater from my aunt, and that was it.

Thursday, 23 December 2004

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 11:00

I didn’t know that the Google Calculator is so powerful: It can calculate the answer to life the universe and everything in a fraction of a second, whereas it took Deep Thought seven and a half million years to do that. Funny, I’ve only used it for converting pounds into kilograms and inches into centimeters.

Monday, 20 December 2004

American Psycho

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 20:53

I got “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis from the public bookcase on Poppelsdorfer Allee today – without bookcrossing.com label. (More people need to use bookcrossing.com! Hey, have a look at bookcrossing.com!) Supposedly, it’s much better than the movie, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

American’s guide to speaking British

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:44

British English is a wonderful language, with loads of brilliantly lurid and descriptive words. A compendium can be found at The Best of British. Being a fan of Douglas Adams and Stephen Fry, the joy of reading this dictionary is akin to the german dialect tests I discovered recently. Local dialects provide a richness and texture for our language that is otherwise in danger of being lost in the wake of global media and communications.

Sunday, 19 December 2004

Lost another day …

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:00

This morning, I woke up completely convinced that it was monday, and that I had to leave for university soon. Then I noticed that the sunday editions of all the webcomics I read were online, looked at the calendar and realized that it’s sunday. So did I lose a day, gain a day, or is it a net result of zero?

Saturday, 18 December 2004

Alle mal malen, Part II

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 03:56

War heute abend im Billabonn mit Christian, Lars, David, Nils und Volker. Christian musste noch fahren, trank deshalb nur Cola. Trotzdem meinte der Barkeeper irgendwann (als er uns den x-ten Pitcher brachte und Christian die x-te Cola) zu Christian: “Tust Du da irgendwie Schnaps reinkippen oder so?” … “Warum?” … “Na, weil Du so redest!” D’oh.

“Alle mal malen” war auch da, aber wir haben es erfolgreich vermieden, uns von ihm anquatschen zu lassen. Wieder ein potentielles Bild weniger für die Galerie …

Danach noch kurz im Netzladen, u.A. auf eine Nudelsuppe.

Damit geht eine Woche zu Ende, in der ich jeden Abend irgendwo weg war. Montag MacHackers, Dienstag mit Tüte essen, Mittwoch Köln, Donnerstag LUUSA, heute im Billabonn, und morgen früh noch Frühstück mit Saskia, und danach Lampen aufhängen. Es gibt Wochen, in denen ich jeden Abend zu Hause sitze; dafür bin ich in anderen Wochen nur unterwegs. Ein weiteres Indiz, dass Clustering und Aggregation der natürliche Zustand der Welt ist …

Friday, 17 December 2004

Alle mal malen?

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:18

Everyone who has been out in Bonn probably knows him: An old man with a satchel who arrives on his bicycle, enters the bar and walks up to all the guests, having a short conversation with them. When he comes to your table, he will begin his spiel as well: “Want me to draw you? Soll ich euch alle mal malen? I’m an artist. It’s cheap, just 10EUR for all of you. That’s just 5EUR per person. In Paris, you’d be paying thrice as much.” and so on …

If you are staunch, he will leave you and go to the next table; if you let him persuade you, you will end up with a picture like the ones showcased in this gallery.

The artistic merit of the works is dubitable at best, but it has been said that you are not part of the nightlife of Bonn unless you have been drawn by him.

I also have a picture by him, from an evening with Joe Sandor from Kansas some years ago in the Pille on Breite Strasse. (Which has since closed and was replaced by a more trendy place called “Lichtblick".) I will try to find again and send it in for the gallery.

Unfortunately, I lost track of Joe afterwards, and as far as I know, he has since gone back to the US of A. On the off-chance that he or someone he knows reads this, I would very much like to hear from him again.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Open Source Math Software For Education?

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 02:07

A Slashdot thread on Open Source Math Software; I’m looking forward to seeing the comments roll in, as this is a question I’d love having an answer to.

For my (limited) needs, I’ve used a number of math packages, namely bc, octave and numerical python for calculations, Yacas for symbolic computations, Gnuplot, Metapost and recently visual python for graphs, and GMM++ for matrix and vector calculations in C++. None of these tools is entirely satisfactory, but combined, they usually got the job done. It’s just annoying that each and every one of them uses its own language which you have to learn before you can use it. (Not counting the python and C++ libraries, of course.)

Other people use R, the swiss army chainsaw of mathematics, for everything. So far, it has been too intimidating for me to learn.

One suggestion from the Slashdot thread that I will have to check out is Maxima: It’s a symbolic computation package derived from an MIT project from the 70s called Macsyma. I don’t know whether it will be of much use, since apparently it hasn’t been under active development (just maintenance) since 1982.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Röhrentechnik

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 17:11

Man konnte früher unter Föhren
und Kiefern Hirsche röhren hören.
Doch Röhrentechnik ging verloren,
längst haben Hirsche Transistoren.
(Robert Gernhardt)

Sunday, 12 December 2004

Mundartquiz

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 18:52

Der Spiegel hat momentan ein Mundartquiz, aufgeteilt in die Regionen Nord (Münster, Hamburg und Ostfriesland), Mitte (Hessen, Sachsen, Köln) und Süd (Pfalz, Schwaben, Bayern). Zu jedem Dialekt gibt es sechs Mundartbegriffe mit Hörbeispielen, deren Bedeutung man angeben soll, also jeweils 18 Fragen pro Region.

Ich komme ursprünglich aus dem Pfälzer Wald, habe aber trotzdem bei den Sparten “Mitte” und “Süd” nur 12 von 18 Punkten erreicht. Das könnte damit zusammenhängen, dass ich selbst keinen Dialekt sprechen kann … aber was bitte ist ein “Labbeduddel"? Den Begriff habe ich in der Pfalz noch nie gehört. (Dafür haben wir noch andere wunderschöne Wörter wie “Schabellsche", “Trottwa” oder “Hawe".)

Leider gibt es keine Auflösung, um rauszukriegen, welches Wort denn jetzt was bedeutet. So kann man den Test nur so lange wiederholen, bis man alle Antworten richtig hat …

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Caring for your introvert

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 23:50

An online guide to the care and feeding of introverts. I guess I can’t deny being one myself.

Back to vinyl

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:10

Two days ago, I got completely fed up with the contents of my iTunes playlist.

It had been playing on shuffle for a couple of days. I guess 1000 songs don’t last that long in the end – yes, I have that many CDs. At the last count, I have about 170 original CDs, not counting the ones that I (legally, fair use, Privatkopie) copied from friends. I haven’t ripped them all yet.

Since then, I’ve been playing my vinyl records exclusively.

I don’t do that very often, since iTunes or CDs are more convenient: longer playtime (practically infinite with iTunes), no need to clean them, no need to turn the record over, and you can operate a CD player or iTunes with one hand if you’re busy.

I rediscovered so many treasures in my vinyl collection, so many records that I don’t have on CD, or that never came out on CD. I started with a virtual sweep through the collection:

  • Pavlov’s Dog: Pampered Menial
    An experimental rock group from the 70s, formed around the frontman David Surkamp. It’s best known for the frontman’s strange voice that sounds “like a choirboy on speed". They split up after only four albums.
  • Sonny Rollins: Nucleus
    The first track, “Lucille", is one perfect piece of music. I could listen to Rollins’ sax play on this track over and over again.
  • U2: Under a Blood Red Sky
    An album that makes me want to see U2 live. The band members seem to have enormous fun playing before a live audience.
  • Thelonious Monk: Monk Alone in San Francisco
    I’m not a big fan of Monk, but this solo album is one I can enjoy.
  • Jamiroquai: Synkronized
    One of two Jamiroquai albums I have on vinyl. For me, JK rates as one of the best male voices in pop music.
  • Frank Zappa: Sheik Yerbouti
    I like Zappa’s cynicism-laden lyrics, like “Flakes", “Broken Hearts are for Assholes", “Jewish Princess", and the eternal “Bobby Brown". In this instance however it proved to hectic for me; I changed the record after the first of four sides.
  • Pink Floyd: Relics
    A compilation of the oldest Pink Floyd recordings, dating back to the time of their first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn".
  • Pink Floyd: Delicate Sound of Thunder
    A live recording, made just after Roger Waters left the band.
  • Lou Reed: Berlin
    A wonderfully laconic record, less “glitzy” than the classic “Transformer". Lou Reed later became the frontman of Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground.
  • Kula Shaker: Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts
    Second Album by the band of 1996s surprise hit “Tattva". Inspired by 70s rock and Indian instruments, they were heralded as the successors to the Beatles, but with ironic touches – one track is called “Jerry was there/Grateful when you’re dead", for instance. They split up after the second album.

It’s a cleansing experience, ridding your system of the accumulated debris and artefacts of digital music and going back to the comforting hiss and crackle of analog recordings ;)

I also went through an online Pink Floyd discography on this occasion, in order to match up with my own collection. I have 9 of the thirteen Pink Floyd releases on vinyl. (Not counting compilations, and the ones after Roger Waters left don’t count either, in my opinion. Pink Floyd was not Pink Floyd afterwards.)

It was an interesting journey through the history of the band, from the slightly anarchist rock group of the late 60s to the giants of psychodelic rock that we know them as. I learned a lot of trivia about the band (for example, the first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was recorded at Abbey Road Studios at the same time as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", and Paul, George and Ringo used to drop by Pink Floyd.)

My reading also broadened my understanding for the evolution of the band. I’d always been intrigued by the b-sides on “Meddle” and “Atom Heart Mother” – whereas the a-side of each record was an elaborately crafted rock “symphony", the b-sides always contained shorter, more conventional songs. It turns out that Pink Floyd were never happy with the b-sides either, but couldn’t finish anything more elaborate between tours.

Another interesting study is a comparison between the very first Pink Floyd tracks ("Astronomy Domine", “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", “A Saucerful of Secrets", etc.) as they are performed on the first albums, and on “Ummagumma", after the departure of Syd Barrett.

I don’t know how long my abstinence from digital music will last; at the moment, I’m quite happy to explore my vinyl collection. But I guess that Jobim, Nascimento, Suba and UFO will lure me back sooner or later.


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