Roland Dürre
Saturday November 28th, 2015

PM Camp Dornbirn – Between Pretension and Reality?

pmcamp-logo-dornbirnIn retrospective, the Dornbirn PM Camp was rather a success. Most (well, basically all) of the participants felt great and drove home with a feeling of satisfaction. In my opinion, this is great.

Also, many participants filled in our feedback forms. This is how we (the organizational team) received many constructive comments. I am currently working my way through those, along with the twitter “timeline” of our anti-conference. You can read the timeline under the hashtag #PMCampDOR. Incidentally, it is a lot of fun: a retrospective view with many useful links.

Statistically spoken, the feedback was just as positive as the individual comments. This gave the organizational team a boost. Barcamps are something special. They are based on freedom, eyelevel, participation, equal rights. You can also see those factors as “weaknesses”. But then, they are weaknesses I personally find rather attractive. A barcamp lives from the moment. You cannot control them, the sessions rise from the context of what you have just experienced. And that is a good thing!

In other words:
Freedom and diversity can also polarize. You might get focal points and conclusions that not everybody will always like. Well, you have to cope with this, just like freedom is not always something you can easily cope with. It takes tolerance.

Democracy, too, has its problematic side. Even the question how to best organize democracy can be a problem. Just remember the passionate discussion about “direct versus parliamentary democracy” – one of which is considered the solution (for instance in Switzerland) while being considered extremely dangerous (for instance here in Germany, because we believe the people are stupid). On the other hand, many are no longer at all happy with our “parliamentary democracy”.
Anti-conferences are democratic. Their dynamics depend very much on the persons attending. As opposed to conferences, you meet in a rather free room with only little formatting. This might trigger group dynamics that not everybody will welcome. But then, every participant can feel free to counteract.

PM Camps are very pluralistic meetings. Males and females meet, old and young persons, starters and almost-pensioners, successful and not-so-successful persons, persons who studied at university and persons who learned their trade in apprenticeships, no-nonsense types and laughing types, “not so wealthy ones” and “rich ones”, etc. Maybe these barcamps can manage to bridge the gap between ME and WE and thus reduce the tension between “individual” and “collective” needs.
And what is true for projects is also true here: technology and tools are no longer the problem. The existing methods, too, are mostly more or less suitable. Yet most of the projects fail because of the “human factor”. This is also a danger with barcamps. You can never please everybody. Consequently, both the tweets and the feedback forms showed us that some details were highly praised by some, yet criticized by others.

Besides the positive feedback, there was criticism and recommendations for improvement. Wherever the recommendations for improvements do not counteract the barcamp principles, we will take them very seriously. Just as we will take the criticism to heart. But then, you could also say:
If someone criticizes something about a barcamp, he is also criticizing his own behaviour.

Here is a list of feedback with my comment:

Positive Feedback:

The positive feedback is by far the majority. Even though I would enjoy citing all of them, I will restrict myself to a few:

If the PM Camp would not exist, one would have to invent it!!

I will be back!

I was able to learn a lot, make experiences and meet very interesting persons!
Continue in this way, no regulations!

There was a very homely and cosy atmosphere, the discussions were all at eye-level!

I could continue I this way – and very often, there was a
Huge Thanks!
and 100 % of the participants replied to the question:
“Would you recommend the PM Camp to a colleague?“
With a Yes .

Of course, reading this made us truly happy. We in the organizational team will process all the positive feedback with care and diligence. After all, what is true for persons when it comes to “personality development” (often also called management or leadership training) is also true for communities: first and foremost, you should promote your strengths, instead of always trying to work on the weaknesses. Because the latter will never be a success anyway and the former is so much more promising. Consequently, we want to make those things better that are already quite positive.
But I also have examples for

Negative Feedback:

The WLAN on the Camp was a catastrophe …

Yes, that is true. But I know how Stefan, in particular, took pains, both before and during the event, to improve the situation at the university. On the evening before, I also had a dialogue with one of the experts who had explained the problem to me. The specialists at the university, too, tried their best, but again, they did not manage it. Due to highly complicated security aspects, the systems are programmed in such a way that the technicians cannot do it. Naturally, we will try to do better in this respect next year. Yet we should also appreciate how much the Dornbirn Fachhochschule as a sponsor of the event is doing for us. Maybe we can be a little lenient in return.

There was no information about parking!
Yes – we forgot our dear car drivers.

More precise information on the event (start, end) on the website, please. 
Yes, that is certainly something we can improve.

Pictures of those who organize a session would help with the orientation.
Unfortunately, “Aebby“ (Eberhard Huber) had to cancel on short notice – consequently, his polaroid camera, too remained in Stuttgart.

Criticism and recommendations on
Ice-Breaking, Moderation and an introduction round,
very diverse. Some wanted a round of introductions, others not. Some wanted more moderation and/or ice-breaking, others less. I would say it was about equally distributed.

Many ideas and recommendations for improvements in the feedback forms were about

“Newbies“ and “class meetings of old PM Camp attendants and how one could, maybe, improve the quality of sessions, for instance by coaching, mentoring or moderation.

A narrow majority wanted an explicit support for Newbies. The others thought it worked quite well automatically. To me, it also seems that this is easier with small PM Camps – such as Barcelona – than with big ones such as Dornbirn. So this was almost indirectly a criticism that Dornbirn is getting too big.

There was also some criticism on individual sessions and how they were offered.

Too much IT in the sessions.

I missed the games.

It would be better if the sessions of the second day were better based on those of the first day.

The principle and variants of sessions should be better explained beforehand, especially for the newbies.

I support whatever improves the session concept. Yet I believe that the organizational team should not meddle with the content of the sessions. They belong to the “part-takers”. The organizational team has the chance to motivate those who are interested in the messages or want a controversial discussion about them by formulating the mottoes and selecting the impulse given before the event. That should be enough.

But there are some challenges for the future. I particularly liked one of them:

It will be THE ONE challenge of the future to maintain the high standards.

That is exactly how I feel!


Incidentally, there is a lot of praise and some criticism of the Dornbirn PM Camp on the official GPM Blog. Reinhard Wagner reported on the Dornbirn PM Camp in a post, actually writing a few rather negative things in his last paragraph (…PM Camp only partially managed to deliver what it had promised. …).

Since I see a number of misunderstandings in this article and also because my name appears in it, I will now discuss Reinhard’s theses “dialectically” and also try to explain a few things.

This is where I start with the text of the last paragraph written by Reinhard in the GPM blog. The sum of all the cursive text elements is the complete last paragraph, copied from his post 1 one 1 (RW). Whenever I use “normal” font directly afterwards, then those are my comments (RMD).

(RW) … The motto of this year’s Dornbirn PM Camp was “breaking with patterns” (What patterns should we break and how can we do it?). This is something the PM Camp managed to deliver only to some extent. As I see it, that is also the dilemma of the entire “PM Camp” movement.

(RMD) Not only PM Camp, but the entire human society has the dilemma that it cannot manage change to a reasonable or at least desired extent. Current history alone is a good proof of this (wars, terrorism, the destruction of the planet…)    .
The problem I have with what Reinhard writes is that, for me, the only thing a PM Camp is supposed to deliver is a) to be a good host and b) to find the right participants. That is also what the organization team for “our” Dornbirn PM Camp aimed at. And as I see it, the same is true for the entire “PM Camp Movement”.
Each year, we meet at the PM Forum (our strategic organ for all PM Camps) amd discuss how to best do this. Here, the representatives of the regional organizational teams (the operative event managers who organize the Camps) and the core teams (the normative founders) meet. During this meeting, we exchange ideas on what could be improved in order to make it even easier for you – our guests and visitors – to exchange knowledge, find consensus and gain insights.
The basic role of an organizational team for a PM Camp is that of host. It looks for sponsors and, finances the event where it costs more than the participants’ fees have brought. In addition, we, as a group, try to come up with mental concepts (for instance a motto like the metaphor of “breaking with patterns” before the event) and to promote the success of the entire affair through impulse presentations during the Camp (what?) and ideas about the methods of presentation (how?), without ever jeopardizing the core ideas of a barcamp.
We are very careful about not clandestinely turning our “anti-conference” into a conference or congress.
Please remember:
A PM Camp is nothing other than a barcamp directed towards project managers, entrepreneurs, leaders – basically all those persons who are prepared to take responsibility for our future. It provides them with a platform for the exchange of opinions and ideas and thus supports their networks.

(RW) The “young wild ones” (sorry Roland Dürre) try with all their might to distance themselves from the established big ones in the field, primarily from the GPM, the PMI and the PRINCE2-Community.

(RMD) As to the “young wild ones”: personally, I must say that I do not see myself qualifying for “young”. I meant quite a few young start-ups with this metaphor. They approach things totally differently from what I am used to with the “established enterprises”. And whenever a start-up is a success, then it is definitely not because it thinks in terms of projects.
But back to the text. The very phrase “established big ones in the field” shows how problematically Reinhard is positioned. Personally, I do not see the PM Camp movement as competition of any “established big ones”. Because we are not an association. If anything, we might be an alternative to it, meeting in a free area and exchanging knowledge and experience. During a PM Camp, what you do is motivate each other to start thinking. The “ME”s will meet as part of the “WE”s. That has nothing in common with an association or similar structures. This is also one of the reasons why the organizational team must not and will not give proactive recommendations.
Incidentally, the PM Camp Movement also always coordinates whatever they do with openPM, the open portal that provides a platform for the free exchange for all  project managers. openPM is a non-profit-making club that, as I see it, is no competition for the “established big ones” either. Consequently, openPM has nothing to do with those clubs/associations.
My personal reason for shunning clubs and associations is that, to me, they all seem to think they alone possess the “truth”, then they mould their truth into rules and laws and earn their (horrendous sums of) money with it. That is something I do not want to be part of. But I am not trying it with all my might. I am just clearly stating the fact.

(RW) The pattern “agile” versus “traditional” is used far too often. In almost all the discussions, you get the comparison between “industrial age is old and evil” versus “information age is young and good”, the same is true for “waterfall” versus “Scrum”.

(RMD) Here, Reinhard probably misunderstood something. It is quite possible that, years ago, there were such frontiers. In order to stop this nonsense, however, we started a PM Camp in Dornbirn in 2011. Its motto was “building bridges“.
Consequently, I hardly noticed any conflicts between “agile” and “traditional” during the Dornbirn PM Camp. On the contrary: all the persons I heard – including the impulse presenters – made it quite clear that anything can be justified. All you have to do is consider what you want to use when for which purpose.
Incidentally, I believe that all you need to know about “agile” has been written down in the “agile manifesto“. What you find there is a recommendation to use “common sense” in an “honest” way. And I cannot see where this is supposed to be a method. Basically, it should be something that goes without saying. Just like it goes without saying that you can make many mistakes in projects.

(RW) One presenter spoke against all rules and “patterns”, before, a few pages into the presentation slides, saying that you should actually not do any projects (#noprojects).
(RMD) If this is referring to the impulse by Robert Weisgräber, then I have to say that his was one of the best presentations I have watched in a long time. This can also be seen from the feedback statistics. But perhaps the metaphor #noprojects  is not all that easily understandable. Yet I did not really hear that you should not do any projects. What I heard is that you should think twice before deciding what to do.

(RW) In a workshop on “organizations as living organisms”, they tried to show how such an organization works. When I asked if we could perhaps exemplify this with the – unfortunately very successful – organization “Islamic State”, my request was rudely denied with the (killer) argument that this is not really the time to discuss that general topic.
(RMD) Naturally, what someone says in a session cannot meet the total approval of all participants. It has something to do with democracy. On the other hand, I would also not think it goal-oriented to discuss the IS as an example. Not just because, to me, the IS looks like a criminal, fascist organization (The Third Reich, too, was fascist. And still the “GröFaZ“ generated fear for all the established generals with agile warfare).
To be sure, Reinhard Wagner could have organized a separate session on the IS, or perhaps, more precisely, a session about “modern guerrilla war of fascist organizations as a successful method for fighting against technologically superior armies”. But I would not have attended such a session (or if, then just to tell everybody that I find it absurd).

(RW) Then, one participant tried to discuss the Cynefin framework. This discussion ended with the categorization of engineers and business economists on the right side (simple or complicated systems) and software developers, those creative wild ones, on the left side of the framework. Well, this does not really help anybody, does it?
(RMD) Again, this is about the content of a session. It has nothing to do with the Dornbirn PM Camp. Personally, however, I see it like Reinhard Wagner, considering the entire discussion about complicated/complex, left/right, blue/red more or less esoteric nonsense. However, I am sure that you can actually conclude right things from wrong assumptions  …

(RW) Instead of breaking patterns, they dress old clichés in new clothes.
(RMD) I do not really understand this sentence. But I find it rather over the top to say something like this about the entire Dornbirn PM Camp. To me, this sounds a little like culture pessimism. But I admit that our entire society suffers from us constantly, again and again, using the same patterns. And that fantasy and creativity are things we tend to push away. Perhaps Reinhard and I actually lament the same state of affairs.

(RW) Finally, I have to ask the question what, in practice, the PM Camps actually want to achieve.
(RMD) Once again: PM Camps offer the general framework for meeting, communicating in an atmosphere of trust, sharing knowledge, gaining insights through honest discourse. There is no promise from the side of the Camp. If there is any goal, then it is that the persons who attend make each other look bigger – instead of smaller, as we have known it from many teaching systems. However, I believe it is amore valuable or practical application to “share knowledge” and to learn from the “other party” than to earn certificates or, what is worse, from the “certification of the world”.

(RW) To be sure, my own workshop impulse for “project management for social purposes” instigated a lot of discussion and enthusiastic comments,…
(RMD) Question: “What is an enthusiastic comment?“! 🙂

(RW) … but then my question what we could actually do was rather quickly cut short because everybody disappeared (wanting to have lunch).
(RMD) Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? This is something the second day – with its actual sessions – could have been used for.

(RW) To be sure, it was also rather hard to make the participants actually put into practice what we had been talking about at the GPM.
(RMD) I cannot imagine why it would be easier at the GPM than in real life.

(RW) Yet this is where they could have been proved that they can do more than “give nice Sunday speeches” , letting “beautiful words” be followed by “actual behaviour”.
(RMD) Even Seneca said: “philosophy is not about talking, it is about acting”. And we can all see that we all talk a lot yet do nothing from the climate change caused by the burning of fossil raw materials. But again, I discovered that I have something in common with Reinhard.

(RW) That is what I would wish for, but perhaps it will just remain wishful thinking at Christmas Time.
(RMD) My hope (I do not know if it is wishful thinking), not only at Christmas Time, is that humans become a little wiser.


Even though there were many objections to what I had done in his article, I would like to explicitly thank Reinhard for writing it. And perhaps this is the beginning of an enthusiastic and wonderful discussion about:

How badly do we really need all those associations and clubs?
Because to me, it seems that many of them are totally unnecessary and I would certainly expect more from grass root movements.

RMD

(Translated by EG)
P.S.
The heading of this post is not my wording. It was directly taken from Reinhard.

Gastautor(en)
Tuesday October 6th, 2015

My Friend, the Software Cheat …

Yesterday, I received mail from Hans Bonfigt. Hans is much appreciated by me for being an excellent software and IT man. He is quite famous for his stubbornness and drastic language. This morning, he wrote to me:

Dear Roland, I hope you are fine!

A short time ago, I wanted to reply to your recent forum comment on the VW affair and your assumption that it is probably a novelty for software being used to manipulate. During a longish train trip, I took down a few – unstructured, brainstorm-like – observances on my blackberry. The final result gave even me pause.

Even if I probably do some damage to myself and although it is still a little early for a life confession at 55: here is a guest article for your IF blog.

Yours,

Hans Bonfigt

I, the Software Cheat.

betrugThe relevant part of my life can easily be summarized in one sentence: quite often, I successfully combined basic insights from scientists like Newton, Gauß, Boltzmann, Steiner, Euler and Shannon with the technological knowledge of my customers in order to generate programs that were supposed to help the experts towards working more efficiently.

This is how, with exactly said paradigm as a mental concept, I started developing software in 1980 – for calculating electronic motors, parable springs or lifting ranks, or for controlling temperature, passage, pressure and location.

As far as I was concerned, things might have continued endlessly in that way…

As early as in the 1970ies, my old man had made fun of the “academic proletariat” by pointing towards an FAZ cartoon: loser type wearing doctoral cap is holding the door open for decadent opera goers and the title is, “Dr. rer. pol. Rolf Wüllweber, dissertational thesis supervised by professor Steiner, ‘The socio-cultural meaning of the Loden coat with special focus on the late Weimar Republic seen in the light of modern insights on socio anistrophy and abstraction analysis‘. Maybe he should have listened to his professor Steiner when he said: “Wüllweber, all you can do with this dissertational thesis is become a doorman.“.

All of a sudden, everybody studied something and nobody had any use for those affected pseudo theorists. Those empty nuts could not be used for doing a good day’s work, consequently they made their clandestine ways through the companies in the departments documentation, “communication”, internal regulations (note by the lector: product planning) …

At Siemens, this species allegedly even invented a “greeting order”, telling people who had to greet whom first where, when and following which protocol determined by rank (next note by lector: I definitely knew the regulation about which rank was entitled to having curtains in their office …).

But then, something happened that was called “QM”: Quality Management.

Nobody wanted it and all enterprises I know willingly conclude that the quality of their products definitely got worse after they introduced quality management. Well. There are at least two ways for dealing with this kind of news:

For instance the Russians and Italians simply took their DIN/ISO badges and glued them onto their products – and that was it. The same happened to the UL and CE badges. In Germany, this is something you cannot do. Hundreds of thousands of morons who had never worked in their lives, were “trained” to become ‘quality managers‘. During the time that followed, they came up with the most abstruse of regulations, none of which had anything at all to do with what the final product was actually supposed to do. Yet all these regulations made the production more and more expensive, thus driving another nail into the coffin of the already existing location disadvantage Germany was suffering from.

No enterprise can suffer a technocrat without fantasy for more than five years (let us leave VW and Carl H. Hahn out of the equation for the time being). Consequently, the hot air merchants, following the principle ‘promoveatur ut amoveatur‘, moved on to become managing directors and – even worse – to sit in all sorts of norming committees as lobby-affine lackeys. This is how works like the “DIN EN 1570″ were generated. I personally had to spend quite some time professionally with this regulation. It is a lot too specific when it comes to details and far too wishy-washy when it comes to important criteria.

And this is where my personal sin originated:

Since the norm annoyed me enormously, I started to misinterpret it intentionally and make use of all the many gaps therein. Because both the European and world-wide competition could not have cared less about this great new Euro norm – yet the products of my customer were controlled following it. Before that time, I had been proud to have produced algorithms that actually were a model of reality – now I manipulated the model by using definition gaps.

And as I am writing this, it suddenly dawns on me that, in fact, creating a wishful image, rather than modelling reality, was something I started a lot earlier than I thought.

For instance, there was the carrier who was notoriously victimized by the police and the authorities: they kept sending control brigades who took a really close look at the trip recorder discs that had to follow strict archiving regulations. Any violation was detrimental both for the carrier firm and the driver – and the grapevine said: “if you want to keep your driver’s licence, you do not want to work for W.”.

Well, what can I say? My connections to KIENZLE were quite good, so I got myself a tachograph, modified it in such a way that it got a V.24 interface and designed a computer program that expected the time, driven kilometres, starting and destination points and then “faked” a disc that was in accordance with the StVO regulations.

We also developed other devices that significantly increased transport safety for the same industry: I am sure you, too, know someone who, at least once, almost or actually hit the car in front when the driver of said car abruptly hit the brakes on seeing a radar trap? Using our active RadarJammer, you could continue driving at the same speed as before, because it interfered with the then used “Multanova 6F“ and “Traffipax“ through phase interference.

When all those impossible “intrastate” messages became compulsory for many enterprises, we were the ones who wrote a module for the then used analysis software “CBS/IRIS“. It provided the statistics experts with pure random numbers. We were especially proud to have managed printing with laser printers on forms that had to be ordered – if I remember correctly – from Saarlouis. It had been desired to concentrate on following product groups, but that was not a must. Consequently, many of our customers sent us entire boxes full of forms addressed to the statistics authorities. However, no OCR system in the world would have been able to read all these different fonts and – naturally – the dark-grid background.

We also offer solutions for the “Elektronischer Gelangensnachweis“ and for the “reverse charging“ – turnover tax procedure, but since these are currently still used, I cannot write about them. So now, having reached the last third of my professional career, I have to accept to my own horror that one third of my “work” was directed at evading bureaucracy – to say it politely.

Of course, I have a motivation for all this cheating: for instance, if the UE finance ministers go on about those “criminal turnover tax carousels”, then why don’t you abolish the entire turnover tax? You could considerably reduce the burden of the enterprises and put taxation on those who in actual fact are exclusively the ones paying it: the famous “men on the street”. So what happens instead? The already complicated and complex turnover tax regulations, incidentally without legal foundation, are added to by more harassment, which again has a detrimental effect on the competitiveness of German enterprises.

This is where civil disobedience becomes our first duty as citizens!

But there is also an opposite side of the coin. I want to illustrate it with a real-life example: it is next to impossible to build a certain type of spring with a tolerance of less than 15% – the inner friction is too high and even as you assemble it, the radius and thereby the springing rate will change. I cannot give you the type of spring I mean, because knowing it you would be able to conclude who it has been built for. Everybody knows that the norm is idiotic, the required precision is unnecessary and the assumed weight is totally unrealistic. Consequently, the quality control person of the customer will visit regularly for acceptance tests, criticise the part of the springs that are beyond the tolerance scope, take the bribe and disappear.

As I see it, the worst about it is that the bribe is ridiculously low, since it typically consists of one crate of the least expensive spirits available. I saw the crate myself but refrained from trying. Because: this acceptance lackey will also betray himself and his job for truly safety-relevant car components the characteristics of which really should be within the tolerance range in order to avoid serious accidents.

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur — there is really no other way to explain the VW “scandal”. Well, VW always cheated, and I mean in a very blunt way. I never dirtied my hands by doing anything for their products, because VW actually is an insult to the intelligence of all mature persons.

Let us remember the mid 1980ies. While BMW and Mercedes used reasonable exhaust gas treatment systems for their vehicles, for instance an air-mass controlled BOSCH Motronik with lambda regulation that produced a stoichiometric mixture in all active states, VW kept using the mechanic primitive injection with pressure plate and flow divider. The concern proudly announced: “We drive without a catalytic converter because that is what we believe in”. And for those customers who were obstinate enough to still want one, they had a full load enrichment switch everybody could see clearly on the control slot guide of the throttle valve.

As soon as the driver really asked his “Power-Through-Joy-Car” to show what it can do, the gas/air mixture was overly lubricated through full-load enrichment in order to prevent the primitive proletarian vehicles cost-optimized at the lowest possible embarrassment borderline from collapse due to overheating. Now, unburned fuel would end up in the catalytic converter, which has the effective surface of a soccer field. Now, as soon as the VW driver goes back to part-load, the oxygen can flow back to the catalytic converter which is now full of fuel. Due to its small specific heat, the ceramic substrate was not capable of discharging the energy of the strongly exothermic reaction, which means that the platinum layer evaporated.

After a few thousand kilometres, the VW catalytic converter was totally damaged – and everybody knew it! But that is only half of the story. Through targeted lobbying, not just by VW, they managed to abolish exhaust examinations for cars with catalytic converters – un unimaginable farce, but nobody noticed.

I could not believe my eyes when, in 1988, I saw a Volkswagen with a decent fuel-injection system in California. When I asked one of the VW employees, he told me: “Yes, of course, we know that our fuel injection is crap. Consequently, we reduce the power of our US models and take an injection system that actually works. Because in California, the cars have to undergo regular checks and if a catalytic converter is defunct, we have to replace it at our own cost “.

And now do not tell me you could not have known any of this, because almost everything I have been writing here was published in the daily newspapers. At the time, Lutz “Luigi“ Colani got carried away and was heard with the bonmot: “VW is a dungheap on top of which [Carl H.] Hahn is sitting“. Any intelligent person who wanted to know it knew: VW is the automobile pendant of Microsoft. For people without culture, brains, taste and the capacity to judge.

Basically, compared to the cheating I just wrote about, the current affair is ridiculous, isn’t it? They come up with a regulation that is far from practical and VW complies by doing something that is far from practical in their tests. That means they passed the tests, didn’t they? So what?

You can see the sad state of affairs when remembering that, nowadays, Audi is building “sound design” into their cars near the exhaust pipe. Besides taking up space and weighing something, they have no use whatsoever except to create a “full sound”. Because the typical AUD-iot will be satisfied with dummies.

Cheating on such idiots – well, I would have no scruples — mundus vult decipi. Secretly, I am still hoping that my manipulation would not have been discovered.

This article has been published verbatim for and in the name of Hans Bonfigt. And many thanks to Hans! – RMD

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Sunday May 3rd, 2015

Numbers & Taxes & Calculations.

On April, 23rd, 2015, the Federal Ministry of Finances (Bundesfinanzministerium) published information on its website about the entire tax revenue (total tax revenue of the country and states without those of the communities per month) having increased by 4.7 % over the same month of last year in March 2015 to now 57.970 billion Euros. Wow. Doesn’t that sound nice! After a balanced federal budget. Because the economy booms. Consequently, we have a high turnover and increased tax revenue. What a brave new world.

However, it is not as easy as it sounds. There is one adjective missing: “nominally”. Because this would clarify that the number is not such a great number, after all.

Here are a few ideas of mine.

In “West Germany”, the retirement money will be increased by 2.1 per cent in 2015, in “East Germany” by 2.5 per cent. The Federal Government decided late in April that this is going to happen on July, 1st, 2015.

The annual increase of retirement money basically takes the development of the total income into account, separately for western and eastern counties. Let me cite fromRenten-Recht.org:

The data relevant for the increase in retirement money have been processed in the spring of 2015. Now we can give the precise number for the retirement money increase. Due to a statistical once-only effect, however, the retirement money increase of 2015 will be one per cent lower than without this effect. We are talking EU regulations requiring a revision of the workforce statistics. For instance, certain groups of low-income employees have to be included in the statistics, which has a negative influence on the central incomes the retirement money increase rate is based on.

Now that, too, is a topic – just because of a new EU regulation, the retirees get less than they would actually be entitled to. But this is not what this article is about. I conclude that the extra tax revenues result from higher incomes (around 3%) and the additional cold progression.

I also read:

Consequently, the increase in retirement money in 2015 is higher than has been predicted by the German Retirement Money Insurance Association. Neither is there an inflation influence, since the last inflation rate was minus 0.1 per cent.

This is also something that makes me thoughtful. Does that mean that the poor predictions actually make the incorrect increase more legitimate? And how is it possible that persons who have to rely on their retirement money are worse and worse off, regardless of life getting cheaper and cheaper and retirement money increasing? No. In fact, it is not correct. In my own environment, I regularly perceive considerable price increases. For good food on the market, at the (real) bakery and butchery, having to pay craftsmen and doctors, for public transportation, for everyday products such as good bikes. Or for real estate and rent. Everything gets more expensive. Beer, ice-cream and pizza. The increase is actually surprisingly high. And with those (not just) felt inflation rates, those 4.7 % more tax revenues are basically no longer such a great thing.

Only junk gets less expensive. But then, every child knows that cheap junk will eventually cost you more. And fuel (temporarily) got cheaper. But then, who needs fuel if they have no money, anyway? Only the well-to-do (I count myself among them) burn a few hundred litres of fuel each month with their luxury limousines (which is not something I do). The savings might then be spent on a luxury item. For instance a beautiful scarf – which today might well be 370.- Euros at Loden-Frey. I saw it last week. And since even the cheap scarves were all around 200,- Euros, as well, I exited the shop empty-handed. Because the prices for luxurious items actually explode – as a side-effect of which again more tax revenues are earned by the Federal Office. Except that if more luxurious items are sold, this is not an indicator that people in the country are generally better off.

For instance the increase in tax revenues for added value tax and other taxes such as real estate transfer tax benefit from an actually happening inflation, even if it is not statistically visible. The shopping cart developed for statistical reasons is a lie.

Regardless, one should rejoice at hearing that the revenues have increased. Except that you should not forget the opposite side: the money spent. And that basically increases to a far higher extent than the aforementioned 4.7 per cent. Just think of the major components of the Federal Budget such as Social Welfare, for instance pensions for former public servants. Or the almost normal cost increases when it comes to public infra-structure projects. For instance when we consider the construction (Bau) of the Ismaning motorway junction (see also my IF Blog article).

And after reading an article on this where a District Administrator said that “a general increase by 15 per cent for these kinds of projects is rather normal”, I think this is realistic.

Consequently, I am afraid the story they tell us about the balanced federal budget, too, is just a lie. Because we are lucky to have these low interest rates. You know, matters might change quite quickly. No reserves are kept for actually threatening losses. Everybody seems to accept securities that lie in the future for loans, knowing full well that there will be a time when you have to pay them back. It will probably happen quite soon that massive cost increases can only be met by strict economizing, which many parties concerned will have to pay for. Those proudly proclaimed 4.7 per cent will not be any help and presumably the low-wage earners will again be the ones who have to pay the price. Their savings are already being downgraded by the zero-interest policy, anyway.

But let me return to taxes and added value tax. Why don’t you try a hilarious experiment and ask (not just) young persons in this country how high the added value tax rate is? You will be surprised to hear the answers. “I have no idea” is among the harmless ones. Here are the currently important numbers on taxes (from Wikipedia): 
Since January, 1st, 2007, the normal rate is 19 per cent and the reduced rate of 7 per cent has been active since July, 1st, 1983.[2]

And if you wish to be even more surprised, then ask all those people – after having informed them about the correct rate – how much of the 370 Euros you would have to pay for the scarf are added value tax. Many will not know. Consequently, you will get quite humorous replies, but not very often the right answer (that you have to divide the 370 Euros by 119 and then multiply the result with 19). And then people look at their mini calculators and see the result with an air of amazement.

Incidentally, I am quite surprised that they did not make 20% the normal added value rate. The calculation would be so easy: you take 1/6 of the total price and add 1/5 to the net price. But then, who knows the difference between “net”, “gross” and “tax weight” today? And who knows in-hundred, of-hundred, or on-hundred calculation?

To make up for the one extra per cent, one might have lowered the income tax a little. Or at least, they might have coordinated the progression intervals with the inflation rate.

And if you want to further annoy your partner, you can ask him about duty on spirits, duty on energy, real estate transfer tax, coffee tax, tobacco tax, (… Branntweinsteuer, Energiesteuer, Grunderwerbssteuer, Kaffeesteuer, Tabaksteuer …) …

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Sunday July 7th, 2013

(Deutsch) Industrie 4.0

Roland Dürre
Friday December 7th, 2012

Associations and Unions

Whenever I have to deal with associations, I get this funny feeling. Mostly, it turns out that said strange feeling was justified. Except – feeling weak in the stomach will not help, will it? Consequently, I will try and put the strangeness of my feelings into words.

In my personal opinion, most of the associations and unions we have in Germany are no longer useful. As a general rule, they no longer serve their original purpose. As time went by, they got more and more remote from their members. The remaining members are just staying because they hope to benefit personally through the membership, or else they are afraid cancelling their membership might have a detrimental effect or be a risk of some sort.

A strange “Super-Ego” keeps the remaining members from cancelling their subscriptions. Or else, they are just too lazy to actively do the cancelling. You get used to it, you know. The fee seems a small affair, and, after all, it seems that membership gives you a few small privileges.

But are all these associations and unions still goal-oriented today? New circles are created and develop. You no longer have to organize your membership, it just happens. It is possible to impose political pressure on someone without using an association. And there is another advantage to “communities“, as well: as soon as the circle is no longer needed, it will dissolve by itself. What a blessing.

But then, what exactly is my problem with the associations and unions? I think associations cannot help becoming systems. And systems are something that easily and quickly acquire lives of their own.

Initially, a system will mostly still work for the “honourable goals” as formulated by the founders. But in no time, this will change. It will get more and more important for the system to preserve itself. And as soon as a few years have gone by, said self-preservation will be given top priority by the system. Sooner or later, self-preservation will become the one and only purpose of the system. And in the worst case, the system will emancipate itself from everything personal and start dominating its environment – or at least massively try to influence it for its own benefit.

Apart from the systems created by humans, there are also “super systems”. Some way or other, they developed by themselves and suddenly dominate the world (financial business, international tourism, …). But they do not really belong here, because they are not the associations this article is about.

If the associations I am talking about reach a certain measure of systemic power, we often automatically get some kind of “function feudalism”. Well, it is quite logical, isn’t it? After all, the “system inside the association“ wants to survive. Consequently, it gives the system agents, the functionaries, a reward. We are talking benefits such as nice working conditions, a good income, convenient regulations, many facilities to spend their leisure time at, a sympathetic attitude for those who are incompetent or refuse to work hard, a high social status, nice business trips, lavish old-age pensions and much more.

Of course, the functionaries rather like it. And it goes without saying that preserving the system will automatically become the driving force behind their activities. For them, too much would be lost if the system were to disappear. And here we are in the middle of the spiral turning – perhaps even unconsciously, but perhaps consciously – which causes a new sort of feudalism.

So here is my plea: please do not come up with new clubs, associations, interest groups, etc. Cancel your membership of those that already exist. Instead, create free communities. They can be created and grow, but they can just as easily disappear again as soon as the time to do so has come.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
Here are some of the associations I am talking about:
ADAC, ADFC, BDI, BdU, BdV, employers, employees, IHK, RK, VdA, VDI, VDE, VDK ….
I am sure there are dozens, if not hundreds more.

Roland Dürre
Sunday November 11th, 2012

VDE, VDI, GI, GChACM, GPM, GfWM, BITKOM …

The Dornbirn PM Camp made me thoughtful in various ways. For instance, I remembered something I experienced early in November.

Felix Köbler, a young and highly motivated computer scientist who is also doing research but will probably soon “take the plunge and become an entrepreneur“, gave a presentation for the VDE (Electrical Engineering Association) on “Crowd Sourcing”. It was a well-advertised contribution on an exciting future-oriented topic.

The presentation was held at TUM. I was interested in watching the presentation for various reasons and consequently rode my bike to the old and dignified TU building at Arcisstrasse 21 on the evening of November, 5th.

It was a truly great presentation. He gave a very nice description of the diverse and substantial potential for change by future tools, applications, as well as interface and user strategies. Consequences on the social level were described using an example, before the potential for the use of modern technologies offered by Web 2.0 was outlined. And he also told the audience all the things you can do with “Apps” and “Gamification” using “Mobility and Cloud Applications”.

So here is the bad news: there was hardly an audience! I knew most of them personally and therefore could safely assume that they mostly came because they wanted to hear the speaker. Those few among the audience who had come on the instigation of the VDE university section were few and far between. Moreover, this (small) group of visitors were rather over the top in terms of demographic development.

Mind you, this is Munich. We are not precisely talking the smallest German city, are we? Besides, Munich very much wants to be High-Tech oriented. Considering this, the attendance was rather a disappointment.

In Munich, you can also find many great things. Young engineers and entrepreneurs of the IT sector actually like coming to Munich. For instance, a short time ago there was a Barcamp for “Games”. Allegedly, it went quite well and a surprisingly high number of (happy) visitors were there.

Which means that the lack of enthusiasm for the presentation was not due to the fact that our “global” Munich has now suddenly turned bourgeois and saturated. The real reason is that the associations that at one time were so great and strong get less and less accepted in the age of the web.

Yesterday, at our Dornbirn PM Camp 2012, I met a “true” engineer. He told me he still held a membership at the VDI (Association of German Engineers). A short time ago, they sent him a letter offering the badge of honour for his 25 years of membership. So he decided it was about time to attend one of the VDI events. He returned with the feeling “never again – this is not what I can identify with”.

To be sure, associations like the VDE and VDI have attractive websites. They look quite nice. Nevertheless, these associations are on a downward spiral. One indicator is the high average age. The events have a low attendance and the publications are rather dry. The members are usually passive and only remain members because they are so used to it or because they are sentimental about it – after all, the “good old times” want to be remembered.

But then, this is something we (older) computer scientists know quite well from our associations: GI and GChACM. Those, too, can make as many efforts as they want. They are on the downward spiral. And whenever I ask my young students, they either do not even know what the GI is, or else raise their eyebrows. Neither does anybody read the GI Informatik Spektrum. Even if they try to artificially improve it by using strange posters that show persons like Steve Jobs.

Apparently, Steve is a great German computer scientist.

Basically, all that remains to be asked is which way the new associations will go, since they are dealing with current topics such as knowledge or project management. The GfWM (Society for Knowledge Management) or the GPM (German Association for Project Management), for instance, are absolutely “in” at this time. The GPM even managed to install itself as a “standardising and normative institution for project management”. Thanks to its certifying power, it seems to have an almost market-dominating position.

Incidentally, I believe that this, too, will not last long. They will get the funny stuff for a few more years, and then the downfall will come, along with the slow process of misery. Just like the other associations have already experienced it.

I only hope those associations the only purpose of which is lobbyism will meet the same destiny.

For us computer scientists, there is, for example the BITKOM (Federal Association for Information Business, Tele-Communications and New Media, e.V.). Just look at the term “Information Business”. Nomen est Omen. BITKOM is “our” lobbyist. Above all, they want to promote the IKT (Information and Communication Technology). In other words, they want to convince the politicians to spend a lot of money on IT infra-structure. However, to me it seems that BITKOM is not particularly successful. Just compare it with the nuclear and airplane industry in former times.

Even though Bitkom calls itself “The One And Only Hightech Association“, we do not really need them.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
If you are among those who are looking for alternatives, here is some advice.

P.S.
The first is a Barcamp, Open Space or some such. Having the right kinds of seminar rooms is a necessary requirement. One of my next articles will be about seminar rooms and rooms in general.