Saturday, April 4, 2020

Day 15: Donating Blood during Corona times

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

I started donating blood as a student. Unluckily I didn't keep up with it after University until last year. Currently I try to be regular donor with my 10th donation coming up in six weeks.

My blood goes to the UKSH in Kiel. The reason for this is pretty simple. They are the only ones I found to be accepting blood on a Saturday. Furthermore they are strategically placed in a large, easy to reach mall. For working people that is a huge advantage. Since last year, they also have a bicycle highway leading directly to their front door. That reduces my time to get there by more than 25% while circumventing all traffic jams toward the mall.

When my time came up in February, Corona was not a huge topic yet. Unluckily I was in no shape to give my blood as I was battling with a cold at that time and was taking antibiotics. Accordingly I emailed the department of transfusion medicine on the time I should wait before the next donation. They gave me timeout of 4 weeks.

Much has happened during that time, but that has already been covered in my blog. With the end of the timeout arriving today, I called yesterday the station to see if the donations would still be ongoing. It was a good thing to call. As I learned you can only donate during pre-arranged slots. Luckily there was a slot today and my sales tongue even manage to expand it to two slots as I try to pull a friend to come with me. The only disadvantage was that my slot was at 8:53 a.m. which is pretty early for me on a Saturday. But I had to smile at the very German precision on the time specified.

One change Corona has brought us is the online questionnaire. Every donor has to complete it on every donation. I had already asked to put it online in the past, but the blood donation center disliked the idea. With the current situation, they now ask every donor to arrive with a completed questionnaire. You still have to print it, but you can complete it on your PC. I am no friend of all those questions asked, they are pretty invasive and include details about your sex live.

The next change becomes obvious when you arrive at the donation center. You no longer get a number and wait for it to be called. Instead (as you have a pre-arranged slot) they just call you up by name. The chairs in the waiting area are spaced further apart than previously and with the slot based system, they avoid crowding the waiting room.

From there on, the process is pretty unchanged. My impression is that they removed some couches to gain space for additional distancing. If not everyone had been wearing masks, it would have been business as usual. I asked the staff if the level of donations has decreased with the ongoing crisis. This was denied. Though the maximum capacity has decreased somewhat, with the slot system they achieve a more even distribution and manage to get the same number of donations.

Something I like at the donation center is the fact that you receive a good breakfast in addition to 20 Euros. I half expected the breakfast to have fallen victim to the current times but it was there as usual.

So overall I can give the good news that Corona does currently not impede the blood supply.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Day 14: Guest posts wanted

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

The 100 Days Offensive is not intended to be a one man show. I sincerely invite my readers (should they exist) to jump in with guest posts.

You will not find me too choosy. Filling the blog with one article a day is work. Though I do not develop a novel per night, I sometimes struggle to find the content for the next day. Furthermore do I want to use the Offensive to connect to people. So please draw your pens, ready your keyboards and sharpen your wit.

The main requirement is that your post will be in English. That may not be your native tongue (nor is it mine), but I am more than willing to help you polish it. Concerning the topic a wide range would be OK: What is your view of the crisis? Are there aspects not covered in sufficient depth? What are things we need to take care of? How will we get through isolation and home office? Do you see methods to counteract the negative impact of social distancing? Do you have a short story that fits the topic?

Is there something I do not want as a guest post? You will find it hard making me accept your favorite conspiracy theory (unless it is funny or you have very compelling and concise arguments) or recriminations against groups of people.

When in doubt, just ask me at guestpost@random-encounter.org.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Day 13: Treasure Hunt 2101 (Short Story)

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

"Are you sure we're right here?" Rob asked as he unpacked the digger, "This looks like normal wasteland that has gotten too much Agent Yellow like everything around here."

"The card clearly says it must be here," Ed repeated for what it seemed to him to be the hundredth time. Rob was too pessimistic for his taste, but this time he had no choice. There were people who would knock out security guards or kill journalists on every street corner. Fences almost begged for orders. But specialists who could take apart hundreds cubic feet of concrete in one night were in short supply. And the next police bunker was only a quarter of a mile away.

No, this time he was depending on someone. But it could be worse. Rob was nervous and scared like a kitten, but the best concrete cracker he knew. It was said that he once flattened a skyscraper in the time it took the opposing lawyer to read the order on the demolition stop. But today there was no more demolition. Every shack was left standing because of the valuable raw materials that were lost with every demolition.

It took only about 30 minutes to erase all doubts, of which contrary to all claims 50% were owned by Ed. Than they came across the first concrete block. After another two hours, they had excavated five of these twentieth-century monuments. Each of the cubes had an edge length of almost two yards.

"Opening our treasure chests is your job," he said to Rob.

"If you have misinformed yourself about the contents of the babies, it will be over faster than you think."

Ed wasn't even annoyed. "You should get a prescription for your pessimism! Do you think I would like to come across a dioxin cocktail? No, my documents prove that this is pure gold in the form of old batteries. At least 500 kilos of the best cadmium, mercury, lead and other treats our industry craves for. "

"And how do you know that they didn't secretly pour in a few remnants in it too? That was common at the time. You should know better than I did."

He used his most soothing voice. "Don't worry. My files come from the archives of an eco-lawyer who sued this landfill. The company had to work under official supervision at the time. They could only use concrete and batteries."

"And why are we the first to make a grab this stuff?"

Ed had seen that one coming from a mile away. "The company went bankrupt shortly after. The owner went to the Bahamas with 20 million and everyone else took cover. In order to make any persecution more difficult, they previously deleted the local data storage. In addition to the company data, the stock brokers were also badly hit. They put a virus on everything affecting this company. It even went so far that a company of the same name in Honkong went belly-up too because it was no longer known by any bank. "

"And where did you get your information from?" Asked Rob as he took out his bacteria.

He smiled. "As I said, from an eco. You know what these people were like. Don't trust anyone over 30 megahertz! He still had an old-fashioned paper archive. When I found the stuff, I actually wanted to sell it. But the guy has used recycled paper so that I was offered only 2 plastic dollars per page. Accordingly I took the time to read it."

Rob was ready. "So it starts! I set the bactis free and we have the most beautiful concrete dust. They are my own breeding. In contrast to other biological crackers they work absolutely noiselessly. But we have to live with some dust in exchange. It might have been better if we would have taken masks with us ...."


"What's the news about the two dead treasure hunters we found yesterday?" Lieutenant Madoc asked.

"Yes, the guys were really deep into bad luck. Their information was good, the blocks were full to the brink with old batteries. Our colleagues from the Ministry of Recycling think that the stuff should be worth about 3 million bucks."

"But you don't die from batteries."

"It was part of the concrete. Instead of gravel, a highly toxic slag was used. They should hardly have felt anything, the poison immediately attacked their nervous system. We would have found the stuff long ago if the whole area wasn't heavily loaded anyway."

"And the company that is responsible for the landfill?"

"No information available, there was probably an accident in the responsible IT department."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Day 12: How will society change?

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

One point I spend a lot of thoughts on: What will be the effect of the Corona virus on the society after it is gone? How and what will change? Only once in my life I felt such a drastic change in my future and that was on September 11th 2001.

There are small changes that are obviously coming. For example I predict that the cinemas will never be the same again. A lot more movies will bypass the cinematic release cycle and head directly for streaming consumption. I do not expect the number of moviegoers to come close to those in 2019 ever again. I may be wrong and there will be a new groundbreaking technology that cannot be replicated at home, but I do not see such a thing coming. But that is something of a very limited impact (except for the cinemas).

Another thing I can safely predict is that every politician will tie his favorite hobbyhorse to combating the pandemic or mitigating the fallout. We could already see politicians opening their poison cabinet and pulling out things like "data retention". After 911 we (to our surprise) learned that "piracy funds terrorism". No bullshit was too stupid to be attached to that topic. And we will see the same kind of nonsense with pandemics. But such changes will still be rather superficial.

Much deeper will the effect of the image that democracies project during the crisis. They have already lost a lot of their appeal with figureheads like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson that could give every backwater warlord a run for their money. Can democracies a) go through the crisis without castrating themselves like in Hungary and b) show to be an efficient form of government and capable of handling the crisis. If either fails, the democracy cannot prove it's own worth. And already the impression of failure can cause in the long term much more drastic and painful changes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Day 11: Do you work efficiently in the home office?

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

Now that we all work from home: How efficient is the home office? Are we more or less productive? What are the main hurdles?

For myself, I am unsure. Some things seem easier and faster here, but with no kids I am in a privileged position concerning the ability to concentrate at a task. Working with texts is significantly improved, Emails and Tickets take less time of my days though the volume has not decreased. On the other side I only save 20 minutes commuting time per day which is less than most colleagues.

Communication is, of course, more difficult. Partially it can be attributed to me and others not being familiar with doing everything through phone calls and video conferences. Though it also speeds up things (especially when you can avoid a long distance travel), it is harder to get points across. To verify that everyone is in agreement is as fast as ever, but the more contentious a debate is, the more difficulties arise due to the form of communication. It is far easier to become angry with a voice or with an image than with a real person.

I found out that I can partially mitigate the negative impact on communication by careful preparation. Making sure that everyone is aware of all points, having your thoughts already structured and perhaps as part of an agenda significantly improves online meetings. Se my remarks on day 3 concerning that. Bur preparation comes at a price in terms of time.

With the home office comes a tool chain. In my case Microsoft Teams. We started using it for six months before the Corona crisis. But we were slacking. It was more of a game. Those of us who had customers with heavy Teams usage saw more of it than others, but overall we could have done better.

Since then, there hasn't been a single day I did not learn anything new about Teams. There are things I really appreciate like the planner. But there are also issues that drive me crazy. There is no proper "push-to-talk", changing the tenant is slow and tedious. But most important: Teams does not like the love it is currently getting from all the users around the world. It has not been the most reliable and stable platform lately.

Though I consider Teams to be an asset for my work, I also have to cringe at the thought how great this tool could be when it would complete the whole nine yards and not stop after 7 and three quarter.

I am not the most social person in the world and do not miss the idle talk. But there are people that will really feel the hit. Getting hold of the colleagues you need to talk to has been easier than expected. Everyone was doing his/her best to be reachable. But the multitude of channels to communicate sometimes also creates confusion. We are still in the early stages of adoption of the distributed workforce.

Overall I can say that I am not as effective as in the office at the moment. I work more time in total to achieve the same output. The extra work time is more than the commuting time saved. But I also see ways to optimize things and improvements when are better adjusted. If the crisis lasts as long as I expect, we will probably become more efficient at home than we have been in the office.

I would welcome feedback on how the home office is working out for you. Please let me know!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Day 10: A house for Flip

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

Though we just yesterday had our first real snow this winter, spring is approaching rapidly. The grass has started sprouting. So countermeasures have to be deployed.

I am a big fan of automation so I delegated lawn-mowing already some years ago to a Husqvarna Automower 305. It was an instant hit with our neighbors. They could stand there for hours and watch it driving around randomly. For them, it had a Zen-like quality...



Probably it was inevitable that the lawn-mower received a name. The neighbors called him "Flip" after the grasshopper from Maya the Bee. Since one name was already assigned, we did not bother to give him another one.


Looking backwards, it was one of the best invests we did. Not only does Flip save us time, but also the quality of the grass has improved significantly due to the mulching.

But the weather in Northern Germany is not the fairest (forgive me the small understatement). Even though it is just a machine, it did not feel nice to expose Flip to the forces of mother nature without any protection. We really cherish the service he provides and want to keep him around.

So we decided to get him a garage. Together with the yearly release onto the open range (all 900 square feet of it) he received a shelter from the elements. Enjoy dear Flip!


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day 9: First round of Pen&Paper RPG online

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

I am part of a group that plays a pen&paper RPG together for 30+ years. We decided to not let small issues like the current Corona epidemic to come between us and our hobby. At the same time we want to keep the social distance. So we called for technology to the rescue.

Luckily it has much improved (a small understatement) since we started playing together in 1988. That not only applies to the rule set (we started with Version 2, Version 5 is current) but also to the tools available to us. But there is a downside as well: we play Midgard, a system that is practically non-existent outside our own country. The total pool of players is rather small. The limited market does not attract many companies or coders to solve our problems.

One hobby project (MOAM) allows us to manage the character sheets online on a shared platform. A D&D player may smile about it, but for our community this tools is unique and a huge improvement. But it only supports the newest (Version 5) rule set. This was the biggest hurdle on the way to an online round. Once you played 20 years with Version 3 as we did, you become hesitant to jump two version ahead at once. In order to soften the blow, we decided not to migrate our current campaign at once but start with new characters in a new campaign. That way we can experiment without breaking things.

Audio and video conferencing was done through Discord. For me as a PC gamer, it was easy. I had all the tools in place. But some of us faced quite a challenge to get Microphone and Camera working. Due to professional experiences with new users, we scheduled several technology checks to prepare the session. It took me a while to remember that Windows 10 has privacy setting that prevent apps from using Camera and Microphone. Also Discord contained some challenges, but this page was a huge help (hint: Legacy Mode). The quality of the technical equipment and Internet connection varies as the virus did not ask for an appointment and supply is currently limited. But we got everyone online and that counts.

One huge deficit is the unavailability of a proper CoIP (Chili over IP) implementation that would allow me to serve food. All players complained about the service downgrade in that regard.

Online sessions require also more discipline while the chaotic talks were always a huge part of the fun. We still have to find the optimal balance here between intelligibility and spontaneity.

Preparing the session is more labor intensive. This is partially due to the deficit of MOAM which does not a proper monster database (though I can user other players characters as NPC) and also does not provide a lot of assets. But I will not complain as it is much better than everything we had before. The more work intensive setup is partially compensated by the fact that we decided to hold small sessions (goal: 2h, max: 3h) at first.

Overall the session was fun and we decided to go on next week. I will report.