René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for August, 2007

Miss Teen USA 2007 – South Carolina answers a question

Check this out, that’s hilarilous – LOL

The Unflat World: The Corps Consulaire

Although the world thanks to inexpensive, fast travel as well as online communication has indeed shrunk into a small, flat place. Such that governments and corporations no longer dominate geopolitics alone, and where instead the free individual can step onto the global scene. I like to quote Tim Farrell who calls this phenomenon “geo-arbitration”.

But there is still the “old world”, and it’s not about to go soon, and that’s perfectly ok as it does its service. Like the diplomatic corps. It comes along dignified, and its inertia of movement can provide almost a scent of nostalgia. Have a look what e-mail I received (in German only) titled “Schreiben des Generalkonsuls der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Chennai (Bang6)”. Yes, they (the service) and HIM (the consul general) do use e-mail already ;-) And that’s what it says, the new Consul General Roland Herrmann introducing himself to his fellow countrymen.

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Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, liebe Landsleute,

als neuer Generalkonsul der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Chennai grüße ich Sie alle herzlich, auch im Namen meiner Frau Anika und unserer Töchter. Soweit wir noch nicht Gelegenheit zum Gespräch hatten, hier in Kürze ein paar Informationen über uns:

Wir sind im Juli aus Bahrain, wo ich 3 Jahre Botschafter war, nach Chennai gekommen. Indien ist uns nicht gänzlich unbekannt, vor einem Vierteljahrhundert bin ich nach Bombay als ersten Auslandsposten versetzt worden, unsere älteste Tochter kam dort zur Welt. Weitere berufliche Stationen waren außer Bonn London, Tel Aviv, Jeddah und Singapur.

Vieles hat sich seit damals in Indien verändert, die Faszination dieses Landes ist geblieben. Wir freuen uns auf die vor uns liegende Zeit.

Bitte lesen Sie auch die anliegende Information des Auswärtigen Amts. Falls Ihr Paß innerhalb der nächsten zwölf Monate ablaufen sollte, ist schnelles Handeln angezeigt.

Mit besten Grüßen
Roland Herrmann

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Isn’t that dignified? On Sunday when I landed in Bangalore from Singapore, I actually saw his car and driver waiting for him in front of the airport terminal. A BMW X5, colour white, with the mandatory plate CC for “Corps Consulaire” and “The General Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany”. Very, very dignified … :-)

In Defense: The Case for Singapore

I believe that particularly Westerners tend to attach quickly labels like „democracy“ (=good) and anything which does not run (useless) elections every 4 years „a totalitarian regime“ (=bad). Having lived in Germany, certainly a democracy, for more than 30 years of my life and almost 4 years in India, acclaimed as “the biggest democracy in the world”, I have gotten a bit disillusioned by that easily proclaimed equation “democracy = good”; “rest = bad”.

Let’s ask ourselves the question what a democracy should entail and let’s examine India: Yes, people are able to vote, but what is it worth? Effectively, the vote is a selection between a rock and a hard stone where after 2 to 3 years of the rock, the hard stone will take power and vice versa. Corruption of the political system is beyond imagination and it really doesn’t matter at which party to look at. Where effectively every public project works at the speed of a snail with the biggest portion of funds end up in corrupt pockets instead as concrete on the roads. Let’s inspect the rule of law and equality in front of justice. This in particular is a joke in India where every month a few hundred women go up in flames in their kitchens because their families did not pay up the dowry. Although everybody knows what’s happening, do you think anybody cares? Subsequently, out of entirely mutual distrust between citizens and the government, India entirely lacks any civic sense. Just take a walk in any Indian city and you will see what I mean. Do you think the farmer who is about to swallow poison because he is not able to repay the loan loaded with daylight robbery interest rates really cares if he has this magic vote he can cast every few years? Or those women who go up in flames? Or those who queue days and nights in front of government offices without any civil servant paying any attention them for something which is important for them to survive? I could continue the list endlessly. My point that I am trying to make is not blunt India-bashing, it’s rather putting that much celebrated label of “biggest democracy in the world” into right proportion.

Let’s move on to Germany. A lot of the points above certainly don’t hold true for Germany. Yet, just because it is a democracy, it does not mean that things are in good shape. Take the town of Mügeln in Saxony where eight Indians got hunted down and beaten up by Neo-Nazis last week. It is too simplistic to retort that these are singular cases and justice will be done. In the latter I do believe, but if some Indian friend asked me if Germany was safe to travel, I would affirm for the former west, but express my reservations for certain parts in the east. Why can’t a society cope effectively with such antisocial elements? Let’s look at the massive overregulation and superfluous interference of the state in terms of a hugely inflated tax regime (for me the harsh word “regime” truly deserves it connotation in this context) and ease of doing business. Or useless, inflated and redundant semi-state organizations like the “Kassenärztliche Vereinigung” (For my non-German readers. You better don’t want to know. It’s some apparatus that is in charge for allegedly creating equality by distributing funds for the public health system in Germany). Not just that this bureaucratic monster, as an example of galore of others, is hugely inefficient in the allocation of resources, but it also grows and absorbs resources for itself like a cancerous abscess. And I wonder that Germans have become so complacent not to call these obvious defects “totalitarian” and treat them as massive derogations of essential civil liberties. Finally let’s take the abysmal chancellery of Gerhard Schröder who got elected once as replacing 16 years of Helmut Kohl, and after a miserable 4-year track-record he got re-elected based on his undisputed talents as the biggest con-man in Germany after World War II. Let’s conclude this chapter with the country having let abuse itself in the last two decades by getting flooded with the wrong people from abroad who don’t contribute neither to society nor economy and moreover don’t possess the least affinity to the existing culture. This again is labeled, and it’s called “asylum”.

To summarize my criticism about these alleged “perfections” of a “democracy”: In case such a “democratic” system has been too long intact, not disrupted by major overthrow or such, it tends to become highly self-serving. It will create an agony among the people and disconnect the act of election from true choices for a difference. And this agony will lead to something which Germans call “Politikverdrossenheit” (=sullenness for politics) as it either makes people feel suffocated from the governmental strangulations. Or, even worse case, there won’t even be the pain of realizing is.

After this long fore-play, let’s turn to my affirmative case for Singapore. To be very clear: There is no paradise on earth and the grass always tends to be greener on the other side, which, after grazing on it for some time will begin to tarnish. However, all that criticism on Singapore is in my opinion entirely exaggerated. Guys, I believe that Singapore with that type of criticism has a large luxury problem – at worst. Historically, in 1965 Singapore got expelled from Malaysia and this unfertile piece of swamp could have just decayed to just another country like Bangladesh where both governance and its people are pitifully poor. But maybe, at the same time, carrying the phenomenal label of being a “democracy”. Instead, what followed is one of the most amazing success stories in latest history. If there is any label which hits the point, then it is “Singapore Inc.”, suggesting that the city-state is being run rather like a corporation.

In the nutshell, Singapore is an example how the concept of a “benign ruler” has successfully materialized. Taking up all my points of above from India and Germany, and they will epitomize exactly at the opposite in Singapore: No crime, no corruption, law & order, civic servants treating citizens like customers, low taxes, cleanliness, free commercial environment leading to a GDP per capita on a level of a developed country. And the best: All this embedded in constant feedback-loops where the system is self-healing, self-improving instead of self-serving. And the other side of the equation, and I second that entirely, Singapore knows exactly what it does not want: drugs (you get hanged), vandalism or anti-social behavior (you get caned) and undifferentiated immigration. Overall, I believe that the overall mix of initiatives and punishment is in the right equilibrium. Especially, after seeing it with my own eyes that there is nothing like a constant “big brother is watching you” with a minor infringement getting immediately prosecuted. Singapore Inc. does not waste precious resources on such stupidities. It would simply be inefficient.

Sure, there are no elections like we know them in those loudly heralded “democracies”. Correct, freedom of press according to our understanding does not really exist. Do I find that good? No. But looking at the overall picture and giving up here and there something to gain much more in other parts is for my taste a viable compromise. The worst mistake, by the way, which is made most often in the west consists of the assumption that “those poor Singaporeans must feel awfully suppressed and subjugated by a totalitarian regime and have no deeper longing than that for freedom and democracy”. Or in the more subtle form: “They have never tasted the sweet fruit of democracy, so they can’t even know on what they are missing out.” Get a life, frankly: Nobody in Singapore gives a shit. By contrast, they are rightly proud of what they have achieved in just 42 years through hard work within a favorably installed governmental framework.

Admittedly, I don’t feel able to answer the most daunting question: How can you make the “benign ruler”-model happen in other countries without having them drift away into real totalitarism? Does it “scale” beyond 4.5 mn people? I don’t know. But still, if I had a choice between my home country Germany being run in such a shitty way like nowadays or being governed like Singapore, I don’t have to think twice. In that respect I feel safe to say that “Singapore is a blueprint how a country should be run”.

Singapore rocks

I love this country, returned after 5 amazing days to Bangalore and this city-state has definitely taken me in. IMHO Singapore is a blueprint how a country should be run. Admittedly it is a special situation to run a sovereign state with just 4.5 mn inhabitants on an area of 45 km in length and 25 km in width. But you can equally screw it up what Singapore managed to do right, very right. Not just one time, but consistently re-inventing itself by looking from the outside in instead just to its own navel. Just one figure: This little tiny state is able to attract per year more foreign visitors than whole India! I guess Singapore is doing something awfully right.

Especially, as I somehow had expected a rigid police state which is omnipresent to subjugate or discipline its citizens – and nothing is further from the truth. People do “jaywalk”, they do cross the street when it’s red. And it’s a great place to hand out and party the whole night. But on the other hand, the country knows exactly what it wants, and especially what it doesn’t want: crime, drugs and illegal immigration. In respect of the latter, Germany for instance could learn a lot which people to let in and which rather keep away.

Here a few pics, the entire set is here.

SINGAPORE PARLIAMENT
Singapore_108

BUGIS STREET JUICE STAND

Singapore_101

WHITE TIGERS IN SINGAPORE ZOO
Singapore_077

Lazy Vacation continued …

Since yesterday, back to Bangalore. And in a healthy lethargic mood, if on the computer at all, then reading some blogs, writing to some old friends whilst the superb Last FM. Great product which I did not get entirely in the beginning, especially from the intuitive usability I don’t find it a hit. Yet after some time and adoption, it’s a great way to discover new music which is highly probable for some likening.

I a few hours I’ll fly to Singapore, will just stay there and wander around in this impressive city state which has managed to consistently re-invent itself. Particularly I love the “law & order”-part which includes e.g. caning for a variety of offenses and such. Seriously, the over-emphasize of individual rights over an intact social framework has led to an array of aberrations in the west. If it takes a bit of tough love here and there to keep a very successful system running, why not.

I will try to behave to my best and come back without bruises and scars on my butt ;-)

Holidays continued: Croatia, Germany, India, Singapore, Malaysia

These days in Rovinj, I experimented a bit with my new camera. Tried out some individual ISO-settings, variations in lighting, aperture and shutter speed. In addition I played around with the software for post-production that’s why e.g. in a few pictures the colour and saturation look white heavy. Here’s the entire set on Flickr, and a few straight away on my blog.

Sun-Dial
Sun-Dial

Sunset with sleeping Cat

Sunset with Cat

Boats in Bay

Rovinj in August 2007_06

ART
ART

Just arrived in Munich after quite some trouble today: I had taken a rental car from Triest airport to Rovinj on Monday and was supposed to be back for my return flight at 2.30 pm latest today afternoon. I departed with sufficient buffer, as I presumed, shortly after 11 am for the 145 km trip which usually takes 1.45 to 2.00 hours. Yes, where I got stuck was the mother of all traffic jams, something I have never seen in my whole life. 145 km in, guess how much, almost 6 hours! Needless to mention that I missed my flight, but was luckily able rebook on the plane at 7.20 pm. In the nutshell I wish that Croatia was from Germany as far as Greece or Turkey, because then people would have to fly. For inexplicable reasons, Croatia basically gets exclusively visitors coming by car.

On the flipside: There is simply no offering to get to Northern Coastal Croatia by plane from e.g. Munich. This sadly makes it totally prohibitive for a weekend trip like to Mallorca or Capri. So frankly, for me it is a way bigger pain in the ass to travel from Munich to Rovinj than from Munich to Bangalore. I hate driving a car longer than two hours. However, today’s waste of time and life is the best indication that the combination of plane to a rather distant, yet still closest, airport plus rental car is not a solution either.

Tomorrow morning I will continue to Bangalore where I’ll find plenty of time to relax from today’s 6 hour-shock. Tuesday evening then on to Singapore where I had been for the first and last time 15 years ago with my good dentist-comrade “Gentleman”. All together 5 days which would be quite a lot just for the city-state of Singapore, hence I guess I’ll do some breakouts to the beach in Southern Malaysia. Let’s see which winds will be favourable for the spontaneous journey. Will do some posting here after that trip here.

Captain’s Dinner in Rovinj

That’s one of these beautiful travel stories I believe deserve to be told. Two days back I went for dinner to my favorite restaurant “Veli Jože” in Rovinj, nicely decorated with a lot of love for the detail and an excellent, yet very grounded cuisine with Germany-trained Chef “Vesna”. Waiting at the bar with a glass of red wait I got acquainted with a couple from London. They were seated first at a table, I was placed shortly after them in the middle of the same table where on the other side a couple in their, say, late 50s were already sitting. As I got to sit down right beside the lady, her husband joked in a deep low voice “This is your blind date.” – “That is the best which happened to me this week”, I retorted.

From there an interesting conversation spun with the elder couple to my left being from Australia, me in the middle from Germany-Croatia-India and the younger couple from the U.K. to the right. The gentleman with the deep voice had an accurately trimmed grey beard and explained that he was posted for a few weeks in Venice at a ship’s wharf: “The Italians build by far the best and nicest passenger ships in the world. A new one is going to be finished soon, the most remarkable the world has ever seen, a worthy follower of Queen Mary II.” It struck me from the beginning that the nature of his talk was very present, competent and charming. He added that his wife and him had taken a week off to come to Rovinj for vacation.

I asked him if he was an engineer who had to do some quality control on the ship before it would be delivered to the cruise-company? “No, I am actually in operations.” Pause. “I am driving ships.” Ok, I thought and wow that’s indeed cool. So I continued asking him persistently and I had literally to pull it out of his nose: He’s in fact the Captain. So he is doing the same what the first test-pilot of the Airbus A 380 is supposed to do when lifting the newly built plane into the air – with the new ship chartering the waters. Manoeuvring, navigating and testing, testing, testing. His background: Captain. Number One on huge cruise-liners like the before mentioned “Queen Mary II” on the Seven Seas. How cool is that.

Speaking about the new ship he is going to take for the test-ride, he was totally enthusiastic: “I saw her already and she is absolutely stunning!” The vigilant ear and eye immediately catch the notion that a ship from the Captain’s standpoint is female. We carried on speaking about the means of nautical navigation where the Captain had some concerns about the monopoly of the U.S. basically owning the system, his call for an additional European one and the necessity for young cadets not becoming complacent and still learning how to navigate by the stars. And yes, he laughed about my question, during these cruises there is still the “Captain’s Dinner”. So I had mine with him – on solid Croatian ground …

Rovinj by Night

Having a great time in Croatia for a few days, I do some good reading, just very little work and decided to make some progress in photography with my Canon EOS 400D. Recently, I had read a useful book to really understand how to work from a imaginative result (=picture) backward to taking the shot and to the settings of the camera. It’s quite exciting to self-perceive a kind of shift in thought how to see objects, the right angle to them, lens and lighting. Indeed, before one even takes the camera out of the bag, a very clear idea of the result should be formed. Here is the entire set which I took so far of Rovinj and these three I’d llke to share here.

Ancient City of Rovinj
Ancient City of Rovinj (Crotia)

Cocktail Bar “Valentino”
Valentino Café in Rovinj

Rock with Sundeck

Rock in Rovinj

From the EO University in Berlin to Rovinj (Croatia)

It’s been pretty speedy in the last days, yet extremely inspiring. From Wednesday to Sunday I went to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) University in Berlin, the same format I had gone to in Tokyo in April this year. The term “University” is still insufficient to express the impact of the event which is set on two major foundations: networking with peers and attending learning events, the latter with a strong tangible take-away value. A few of the highlights, with the picture set being here.

– The Ambassador of the United States of America to Germany, William R. Timken Jr., held a keynote speech on Wednesday. Contrary to possible assumptions, he has not been a diplomatic or political animal in his life, but a seasonedbusinessman and Chairman of Timken Company, a Fortune 500 firm.

Justus Frantz, a famous German conductor heading the Philharmonia of the Nations presented a palpable account on the parallels between conducing an orchestra and running a company. As the end he demonstrated what he meant with his love and passion for music on the piano.
EO-University_Berlin2007_018

– One of my favorite sessions was the German head of McKinsey, Prof. Jürgen Kluge who spoke about qualitative pre-schooling education being a national priority and its implementation an obligation for the society as a whole. EO-University_Berlin2007_085

Frans Johansson spoke, among others, about what goat milk, spiders and fishing lines have in common. Quite a lot, when looking through the lens how innovation is created. He is the author of the book “The Medici Effect” as well as founder and MD of a hedge fund, a software- and a medical device company.
EO-University_Berlin2007_064

As a once in a lifetime experience proved to be the closing dinner on the magnificent Olympic Stadium of Berlin, where the Olympic Games we played in 1936 as well as the final of the World Football Championship last year. Thanks to the sponsor Deutsche Bank, the stadium had been opened for us EO-guys who were marching in as national teams with the flags and the national anthem being played as we entered the brightly lit arena. Here is a picture of mine together with Lilian on Bill Liao’s photopage.

A lot of inspiration to digest for future plans, and no place could be better to do so than Rovinj in Croatia. Having a few relaxed days here, before it’s going back to India on Sunday.

Sri Lankan Air – Last Chapter / Cool last Weekend

Sri Lankan last chapter, the last one, I want to close it. The customer service replied, see below as promised also on my blog. The answer in my eyes does not really answer the very specific points I have addressed, but be it so. And no, I am not interested in the 10,00 skyward miles, as much as I refused the $40 “voucher” at the airport in Colokbo. Apology accepted, no more poisonous anger, but I won’t fly with SriLankan Airlines again. Chapter closed.

Let’s turn to more pleasant things: I am enjoying the summer in Germany and on Friday a good friend of mine, Schnulli, invited me to a BBQ-Party to his friends in Freising. Carina, the girl friend of his comrade Robin, where both are playing in the Madrid orchestra, is a world class piano concert player and gave us an “unplugged” session for more than an hour. Similar to this credit card advertisement this experience was “invaluable”, nothing that money can buy. All 8 of us in the audience were absolutely stunned and mesmerized to watch her passion and precision.

Carina Playing

Given the good weather the last days, I decided to improve my flying skills and went to fly on Thursday, yesterday, today. Yesterday, I took Bernhard, a comrade of mine, for a ride from Augsburg to Leutkirch-Unterzeil, to Füssen (“Neuschwanstein Castle”) and back to Augsburg. Here a view straight out on the Castle, better to view on the maximum resolution here. The entire small picture set of this weekend is here.

Fliegen_Bernhard_13

Tomorrow, in case the weather is good, I have already scheduled another flight.

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Dear Mr. Seifert,

Greetings from SriLankan Customer Affairs.

We write further to our interim response to you dated 26th July 2007 It is with concern that we noted the points highlighted in your complaint and called in for reports from the relevant department.

Please let me explain the reason for the flight being full despite you reporting on time for the flight. It has become a necessity to overbook certain flights as a result of the significant number of booked customers who fail to show up for their flights. It allows airlines to accommodate the greatest number of customers who want to fly, while solving the costly problem of operating flights with lost seats, also allows airlines to maintain affordable fares. SriLankan, like most airlines, oversells certain flights. The overbooking is carefully calculated based on historical booking data of a given flight, time of the year, market, etc. On those rare occasions when there are too many customers for a flight, we will attempt to solve the problem by soliciting volunteers willing to relinquish their seat and fly later in exchange for compensation. Rarely is a customer obligated to give up a seat on an involuntary basis. However, in either case, compensation is offered and customers are accommodated on the next flight with available seats. On this particular day, our staff had requested for volunteers to relinquish their seats on the said flight. However in the absence of volunteers, we had to regretfully deny boarding some of our valued passengers.

We are extremely sorry if this situation was not handled in a more professional manner. Let us assure that we certainly do not condone any service that fall short of our valued customer expectations and will be taking this issue up with our Airport Services management. Giving due consideration to the inconvenience experienced by you, we are agreeable to offer you 10,000 skywards miles (presuming you are a member of SriLankan, Emirates Airlines frequent flyer program) purely as a gesture of our goodwill. You may redeem the said miles for a return ticket from South India to Colombo. If you aren’t currently a skyward member, you may visit www.skyward.com and join skyward with 3 easy steps that will take about 5 minutes. Please advise us your skywards membership number in order that we may regularize the offer

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any further clarifications. Thank you for writing to us and giving us an opportunity to explain. In conclusion, let me say that I am indeed sorry that we were unable to provide you with a level of service that our customers have come to expect from SriLankan. I am confident that given the opportunity we will be able to redress that the next time you fly SriLankan.

Yours sincerely
Mrs Champika Abeysirigoonawardena
Manager Customer Affairs

SriLankan Airlines
Tel: +94(0)1973 31315
Fax: +94 (0)1973 35145
E-Mail: ckperera [at] srilankan [dot] aero

Web: http://www.srilankan.aero