a dime short and a day late

‘Twas a bright autumn day, when Olli craved for a cold and caffeinated beverage. He grabbed two 50c coins from his wallet and cheerfully started his trek towards his friend the drink vending machine downstairs. Waddling down the stairs he played with the coins in his palms. Passing his coworkers enjoying a cup of coffee at the bottom of the stairs our intrepid hero waved them a friendly hello.

Before entering the hallway guarding the common room and kitchen that was home to the vending machine, he stopped dead in his tracks.

Turning about he meekly asked his coworkers: „Does anyone have 10c? I forgot it got more expensive.“

His gentle and beautiful coworker from the marketing department was glad to help out, while everyone grinned at our hero’s oversight.

„With my luck the machine will be empty“, he quipped and walked towards the glass door separating him from the machine offering bottled soft drinks in exchange for currency. A column of red lights glared at him malevolently, indicating the barren waste of the soulless machine’s empty hold.

Cursing the machine and it’s makers and his fate and everything in his way he went back to the smirking coworkers, returned the shiny coin he just had obtained and sullenly trundled back up to his desk.

“Only Fanta left”, he mumbled. “I don’t like Fanta.”


True story.

Olli’s Saturday School – Happy German Halloween?

Kids these days probably wouldn’t believe it, but actually Germany does not have a Halloween tradition like the United States do.

All Saints’ Day or All Hallows is called Allerheiligen in Germany and one of the highest Catholic holidays. It’s also a public holiday here. No work. You’re welcome, protestants. ;-)

In some of our states or Bundesländer it is a socalled “silent holiday”. This means public parties, dances and events that do not conform to the serious character of this day are illegal on that day. When Halloween became popular in Germany, some of those rules where bent, in 2008 that was explicitly forbidden again.

My oldest memory of anything Halloween-related must have been in the early nineties when we got satellite TV at home and I started watching that animated Ghostbusters show. I vaguely remember an episode with the Jack-O’Lantern headed ghost Sam Hain.

The 90s is when sort of a German Halloween tradition started. That is we started copying what we saw in US tv shows and movies, I guess. US sitcoms like the Bill Cosby Show and Friends became popular in Germany and us kids obviously picked up a lot of US subcultural things. Like Halloween. German businesses were obviously keen to exploit that, started selling Halloween-themed candy, decorations and whatever else you could think of to commercialize a custom that was practically unknown up to now.

In the following two decades it became more and more prevalent, people started having Halloween-themed parties. Hey, lets put on ghost and witch costumes so we can get drunk in a room decorated with bats and skulls! Or let’s just get drunk and call it a Halloween party. Who cares?

The fun custom of carving stuff into pumpkins and crafting Halloween-themed decorations is something that’s occasionally done here now, but we don’t actually have a fancy name like Jack O’Lantern here. I’d have to check, but we probably call them Kürbislaterne (pumpkin lantern) if there’s an actual light in it, or maybe Kürbiskopf (pumpkin head). Or whatever description fits depending on what is carved into it. If anything.

According to common public sources, trick-or-treating on Halloween appeared in several European (and African) countries in 2010. I’d never noticed it up until last year when I saw kids walking around my neighborhood, costumed and lugging empty bags around.
I personally find that rather weird. Imagine someone oblivious of US customs opening their door to costumed kids screaming “Süßes sonst gibt’s Saures!

That is how “Trick or treat!” has been translated in movies, books, cartoons etc.

And it’s a near-literal translation. Süßes is our word for treats (literally something sweet)

Sauer means sour and Saures geben is a term meaning to give someone hell.

While Halloween as in decorations and costumes still is rather new and quite rare to encounter in most German streets, I assume the TV programme is pretty much the same as in the US or every country where US popculture has become a part of the media landscape.
There’s reruns of horror movies, marathons of the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episodes, Halloween specials of popular sitcoms, the usual stuff.

The corporate scene has embraced it for a while now, and there’s been Halloween themed candy in stores for weeks now, cafés offering pumpkin spice flavored hot drinks, so it’s probably pretty much the same as in North America, except maybe not quite as … present.

And that’s pretty much it. Hope you have a happy Halloween next week, whatever that entails for you!


Hiking and taking pictures

The title says it all I suppose. I did both things last weekends. AT THE SAME TIME!



Sorry, got a little carried away here.

There’s this socalled Eifelsteig hiking trail here which has – I think – 14 stages, the last one practically passing through my back yard. I’ve walked, climbed, scrambled and huffed my way through it twice this year1 and taken pictures along the way. Once in February and once in October, taking two different cameras with me. Because well…I had to get a new one recently.

The full stage is about fourteen miles, the part from the train station to where I live about ten, so that’s where I stopped. The last few miles are boring anyway.

The elevation change is about a mile, half of it going up, the other half down, thankfully not all of it on one go. You pass through forests, past boulders/cliffsides, a castle, a creek valley with bridges and stuff, it’s actually really pretty and kinda challenging, too. Footing can be tough sometimes, especially when it’s slippery or full of leaves, so take care.

And here’s the pictures! Woo!

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hike 012

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Trier_Hike 080




  1. yeah, I should be more active []

Olli’s Saturday School – Let the music play

How about some neat words about the instrument I play?
It’s this one:
A tuba. Or Tuba in German.1
It’s a brass wind, or what we a Blechblasinstrument.
Due to its size friends of me called it Mülleimer = trashcan occasionally.
Or Musikalischer Auspuff. That’s German for musical exhaust pipe.
They were just teasing me. In fact you can do a lot of funny things with it, just as with every other instrument. It’s rather heavy though, sometimes I wish I’d learned the trombone or Posaune instead.
The tuba is situated somewhere in the back, among the group we call tiefes Blech or low brass. Although the word Blech actually means sheet metal, often in a condescending or demeaning way. Blech reden – to talk metal is an expression that means to say something that’s nonsense or dumb or inappropriate.
The actual word for the material brass is Messing.
Really, I’m not messing around here. I WAS messing around on twitter earlier, look!
  1. Ha! []

Olli’s Saturday School – I didn’t go to Burger King

The most important thing first:

A Whopper(TM) is the same thing in Burger Kings in Germany. And if it wasn’t for Pulp Fiction, most Germans in the 90s probably wouldn’t have known that quarterpounder is a word for a certain-size hamburger.

The German word for pound is Pfund, which actually is an obsolete German unit to measure the mass of things.
Today we use Pfund as a colloquial term for “half a kilogram” especially when talking about food like butter, flour, sugar etc.
Half a kilogram, for those entirely foreign to the metric system and SI-units, is about 1.1lbs
However using the word Pfund in any official businss is a bad idea since it is not officially defined anywhere and may actually not be used in commercial or official transactions.

There used to be a customs’ pound and a pharmaceutical pound into the mid 19th century.
Historically, a Pfund had been used for anything between 373,24grams1 and 560grams in Bavaria and Austria. That’s about 0.4lbs in difference.

That said, Pfund also used to be a unit to measure area near Vienna and a grouping of either 8 or 240 in a number of German cities.

Back in the times there used to be hollow weights of 25 pounds that you could add pieces of lead to adjust for regional differences.

Don’t get me started on pints or gallons.

Instead, let’s go to inches and feet!

The English word inch comes from the Latin uncia, meaning a twelth part of something.
Makes sense, since it’s the 12th of a foot, right?
Before the metric system inches and feet were used in Germany as well, although we also used Ellen. The Elle is the ulna which is kinda practical, because you could easily measure lengths of rope or fabric with that. Also your forearm from elbow to wrist is the same lenght as your foot.2

The German word for inch is Zoll. That word derives from an old German word for a piece of cut wood that was used to measure lenght.
Even today we use something colloquially called a Zollstock = inch-stick. People occasionally frown upon the term, because it’s not actually a stick, and a lot of them don’t have markings for inches on them.
The official term for it is Gliedermaßstab which could be translated to link-ruler.
Yup. It’s a folding rule.

Back to the inches. The French word for inch is pouce wich translates to thumb. Makes sense, right? Because thumb might be about an inch long?

And here you are, wondering why we went to SI-units that have definitions, are easily converted and generally make sense.

Maybe we should redefine some things and follow the idea of Randall Munroe, redefining a foot as a light-nano-second3.

By the way, there is one thing we actually do use inches for: Measuring the size of LCD screens.
But since sometimes a 24″ screen is actually 23.6 and everybody got confused, some European law was made that we have to give a centimeter value as well. Which we’d abandoned for TVs after flatscreens became the common thing.
So we went from cm to inches for TVs, while inches had always been used for computer screens. And now we have to give a cm value for computer screens even though noone actually uses it when looking for screens.

  1. Troy-Pound in England []
  2. cue everyone throwing out discs while trying to verify []
  3. ~11.8 inches []

I’m no van Gogh – starry night photography

I’m really not. I can’t paint or draw myself out of a paper bag to save my life.

I do like taking pictures and I’m decent at both the technical aspects as well as at least instinctively getting composition and lighting stuff right. Mostly.

A few days ago I managed to try something I’ve been wanting to do for ages but somehow never did.
I wanted to take pictures of a starry night sky. Trouble is, where I live1 light pollution doesn’t make it easy. I don’t have New York City levels of light around, but I’m also not exactly in the middle of the Outback.

Being close to the 6W/50N intersection, a little to the south east of it in a red clump, mostly when we look up and see ANY stars we see maybe a dozen or so.

I’m looking forward to get a few chances in my 2015 vaction, but I couldn’t wait this long. So I did some research, grabbed my tripod, went out and took a bunch of pictures, which I tried to enhance a little afterwards. Not all of them, though. Turns out, it’s near pointless depending on the source material.

Check list for taking pretty pictures of a starry night
– go to NYC, Museum of Modern Arts.  ((Kidding. That’s where the painting is))
– tripod. A small one will do, just make sure it’s something that allows pointing the camera upwards
– flashlight (possibly a hands free one you can wear on your head)
– camera, preferably a DSLR with a wide angle lens with a good lens speed
– cable/remote trigger for minimal vibrations

– make sure there are no clouds in the sky. early fall or most of winter is often pretty good for that, except coooold
– try to find out when the astronomical sunset for your current location and time is. it might be quite a while after sunset and means the sun is far enough below the horizon to avoid interference
– moonless nights work best. Obviously. Maybe just go after moonset?

For me, last weekend astronomical sunset was at around 9PM. Moon didn’t set until about 2AM though, so I had to work around that by ways of location

If  you want nothing but stars, just find a space where you can point your camera upwards
If you want to experiment with scenery, try the coast of a sea or lake. Or maybe an elevated position so you can look into a valley.
Most important: If you can’t go out after moonset, try to find a place that allows you to point your camera AWAY from the moon. In the opposite direction, prerefably. Otherwise moonlight will bleed into your picture, even if it’s not in the frame. I was pretty surprised how much that affected my shots.

Camera settings
You’ll have to play a little with those depending on the desired effect, but to avoid noise try a relatively low ISO setting first. But do experiment.
I had the best results with:
– ISO-1000 to 1600
– exposure time between 15 and 30 seconds
– aperture value as low as possible (wide open)

I currently don’t have a remote trigger for my camera so I made sure to set it to a time delayed release of 2 seconds. If you use a DSLR, using mirrow lockup will also help to reduce vibrations a lot.

And that’s pretty much it. Fire away, share your results. Here are some of mine!

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The full set is available here!


  1. Germany. Central Europe []

Olli’s Saturday School – Happy Birthday Edition

For no particular reason I thought it might be fun to tell you things about birthdays in Germany. Neat, huh?

Starting with basic vocabulary the German word for birthday is Geburtstag.
Geburt = birth
Tag = day

Sometimes otherwise completely sane adults1 people insist on saying Purzeltag trying to be adorable.

It’s supposedly phonetically close enough to the actual word, and purzeln is a verb best translated as to tumble. Maybe it’s due to the circumstances of their birth and maybe they fell on the head in the process. No idea. Happy tumbleday, I guess!

Another word sometimes used in the same fashion is Schlüpftag from the verb schlüpfen.
It’s what we call the process of young reptiles, amphibians, birds and platypus breaking out of their eggs. So, happy hatching day?

Anyway, the German expression ein Ei legen (to lay an egg) can also be a slang expression for dropping some timber. Uh, dropping the kids off at the pool. Dammit, to poop! So I wonder what the people wishing Alles Gute zum Schlüpftag are hinting at.

Congratulations! In Germany, the usual thing to tell someone is one of the following three:

Herzlichen Glückwunsch – Congratulations
Alles Gute – All the good/Good things/all the best
Alles Liebe – 
there’s no good literal translation, it’s (in that context) a general expression of fondness and the wish only nice things happen to someone

followed by zum Geburtstag! – for your birthday!

Everybody knowing the song and the expression, you wont be crucified if you just tell a German Happy birthday! But as you probably know it’s the little things that count, and going the extra mile and being able to say something nice to someone in their native language will only raise you in their estimation.

As for a congratulary serenade, on most birthdays in Germany people will sing Happy birthday in English.
The song also has German lyrics, though. And French!

Happy birthday to you! turns into
Zum Geburtstag viel Glück! meaning For your birthday much joy.*
The French version hammers one of those two to the melody:
Joyeux anniversaire (joyful anniversary/birthday
or in Canada
Bonne fête à toi (Good party/celebration/festivities to you)

*Glück can mean a number of things: luck, fortune, happiness, serendipity, bliss…

There are a number of older German birthday songs, but Happy birthday to you has pretty much displaced those for most purposes.

German birthday traditions are pretty much the same as in most of the western hemisphere, I guess.
There’s often a party, there’s usually a cake, gifts and especially for kids there’s a number of candles on the cake. The number of candles equals the age of the birthdayee2 and they’ll have to blow them out in one go so they can make a wish on it. No telling!
In school or office environment it’s often a tradition that whoever has a birthday brings cake or maybe some other snacks for the rest of the department or team. It’s just something nice to lighten up they daily routine. Or you might go to a bar with a couple of people and buy the first round, whatever you feel like.

Now for a few pecularities of German birthday traditions. While we often have our birthday parties on the eve of the day itself, if it’s on a weekend or in my case on a public holiday3, it is considered bad luck to wish a German a happy birthday before the day itself.

In Northern Germany there’s a special custom for 30th birthdays of singles.
Male singles are expected to sweep the stairs in front of the town hall.
Female singles are expected to polish doorknobs.  The German term for the latter is Klinken putzen is also a colloquial term for cold calling potential customers or going from door to door begging, selling insurances, etc.

In both cases, because friends are mean, sometimes they will make a spectacle of it. They’ll dump a ton of confetti on the stairs. They’ll give you a toothbrush to polish the doorknobs covered in filth and condiments. You’ll be dressed up comically. With any luck it won’t be a public event but doorknobs mounted on a board at your party. Or the stairs at home, not at city hall.
The traditionally only way to get out of this is to be freed by a member of the opposite sex. With a kiss.

I hope you enjoyed my little birthday lesson. I’ll take the opportunity at the end to thank my British friend Emilee who shanghaied a couple of of other UK-based friends into signing this lovely birthday card for me. Can you spot the one who spent a few years in Germany?

Dan, Sky, Adam, Morgan4, Triv, Chris, Emilee, Jack and Shannon, love you all! Glad I was able to meet you5!


  1. citation needed []
  2. I just invented that word. Neat, huh? []
  3. oops. October 3rd. No, not Mean Girls. German Unity Day []
  4. even though I’ve only met your sister so far []
  5. minus one so far []

This blog post is in 2D for your convenience

I like going to the movies. I like the experience of meeting with friends, going into the theater and watching a new movie on the big screen. Okay, I do get annoyed at the occasional inconsiderate people playing around on cellphones, sometimes even taking calls1 having conversations during the movie, etc…

What kind of annoys me is the compulsion every producer seems to have with 3D. To the point where I get annoyed when I see movie posters or trailers that proudly display



How is it that this feature is so important, that it has to dominate so much of the advertisment? Sure, it’s an impressive technological feat, but in the end, it’s a gimmick. Especially the way it’s used in movies, as I’m told.
It doesn’t make a bad movie good, it doesn’t make a good movie better, it doesn’t further plot, characters or anything else but everyone is onto the Dimension-Train.

Sure, with action movies and that stuff it can be more immersive, more overwhelming, but does anyone actually need that?

When 3D started to go mainstream with James Cameron’s Avatar2 I was still hoping it was a gimmick, a short-lived fad. But every movie theater and their moms started to upgrade their equipment, and it was rather popular. From what I heard, up to today Avatar is still the one movie that did 3D best.

So, good job, everyone else who made 3D movies since 2009. Way to make the best of 5 years.

I saw Avatar in good old regular 2D. Liked it well enough and didn’t miss ANYTHING.

But hey, people want to produce and watch movies in 3D? Guess what, that’s actually fine by me. I’ll just go watch the 2D version with my friends.

Let me just check the schedule of the local cinema. Oh. OH. Aw. Big surprise, all showings of the new movie out this week are in 3D. On three different screens of the 7-screen cinema. Maybe next week? No. Maybe in two weeks? Maybe.

My real issue with the whole 3D crap is that I don’t get to choose. I have to either watch in in 3D or make it a pain in the ass for my friends to schedule actually seeing a movie with me. Or wait for the bluray and watch it on my tv.

Jeez, man! You might think. Cram a sock in it, and go watch the movie in 3D if you want to see it this bad.

Ok. I’ll do it, and I’ll even stop complaining, if you promise me to go watch the next movie you see the way watching a 3D movie feels for me. No complaining allowed.

  1. I have to wear glasses. So you put on glasses, too. Even if you don’t actually have to. Even if you wear contact lenses, because those aren’t an option for me. I
  2. If the movie is 3D, you’re good. Get your 3D glasses. If not, wear a slightly bigger set of glasses over your first pair. There has to be something in it, empty frames don’t count.
  3. Now the fun part. Tape one of your eyes shut. Or wear an eyepatch3. Due to my eyesight, most of the time I have slight depth perception troubles that are even multiplied when trying to see a 3D movie. It currently doesn’t work at all on me.4
  4. Watch the movie. Hope you enjoy it. Do not take the glasses off, even if it is a full lenght triple feature of all the Lord of the Rings special editions.
  5. On the way out, open your wallet. Grab at least half of what you paid for the movie and throw it in the nearest trash can.

And THAT is why I’m so pissed off that it’s nigh impossible to even find a 2D showing of a new action movie in the first three weeks.


So…any good movies out recently? ;-)

  1. seriously, you just paid 20 bucks for the movie, dump the phone! []
  2. Thanks for nothing, James. []
  3. I feel ashamed to admit, that I typed ipatch the firet time []
  4. Used to be better with a different set of glasses, but those were so thick and heavy it wasn’t worth the bother []