The sharing economy: The new disconnected precariat?

Many say that the sharing economy creates many opportunities for everybody. Everybody can make a lot of money, and it can be earned on the side. An Uber driver can earn more money than a taxi driver. So I was told by a taxi driver in Berlin who was very angry that he cannot driver for Uber in Germany.

Not sure if it’s true. My Columbian friend told a slightly different story. Translating his thoughts sounded more like he has to drive a few of hours every day to get into positive numbers. There’s gas, loan payments for the car, insurance – well, not sure if he actually pays insurance or if he cheats? Some sources indicate that Uber isn’t really that diligent on checking if their drivers are all insured. Actually – it’s not their drivers anyway. They do not enjoy employment status by any means from what I understand. So if my young Columbian buddy gets sick, he’s definitely not covered by Uber.

Tom Slee’s (see below) book gives us some insight into the financial conditions under which drivers operate. Even if there’s some drivers that earn average middle-class incomes, most of them appear to earn less than the employed taxi drivers after deducting all the cost. And the insurance and social security situation looks rather grim.

I had a lot more questions. Being used to a system where taxi drivers have to pass a test (how shabby this test might actually be) I was wondering if Uber drivers need anything like that. But it appears that those regulatory tests are not needed, according to this blog.

Some links:


The sharing economy: Taking a ride

A few weeks ago I was visiting Washington on business (attending our EclipseCon North America)  when I took my first ride with the Uber service. Actually – when my colleague used the Uber up to get us the driving service of a young Colombian kid that picked us up close to the White House and drove us for 12 miles to our dinner place.

We were a little surprised when the driver advised us that we have to pick up another guest, drive her home and continue our trip from there. Explanation was simply that Uber had just started that service. During the ride, we started chatting a little with the driver. He’d bought the car and was full-time driving for Uber. And he said that he has to drive a lot, because he needs to pay off the car and make some money. We didn’t get into details, and I didn’t ask questions about insurance and so on. What struck me though was his driving style. It was clear that he didn’t know where he was going, and he was closely following the little iPhone navigation app from Uber. He appeared to be quite distracted by it and didn’t pay the attention to traffic that I would have hoped for.  Anyway, we made it to our destination.

Thinking about it later, a lot of questions remained. First of all, I was wondering about the driver’s qualification. He clearly had no local knowledge, and he clearly wasn’t an experienced driver. At least not to the extend that I’m used to from a German taxi driver. His car was new, but my colleague told me that’s not always the case. How can Uber control the status of the cars? And really – I had expected a person that does some driving on the side. But clearly the guy was more or less full-time.

So I started investigating a little, which led me to some interesting sources and insights into the sharing economies. More in the next post.


Global Warming – Local Skiing

Well, I do understand that many people worldwide still don’t believe in global warming. And who knows, they may or may not be right. While most scientists think all the research is pointing towards it, there are still sceptic people who don’t believe. But I leave it to John Oliver to discuss this.

What is becoming clear even to the biggest sceptic in Germany is that having a decent winter ski vacation is becoming more and more difficult. I spent last week in beautiful Bad Tölz with the hope for powder. The idea was to take a bus or the train to a nice ski region close by. Now, turns out that I went hiking along the Isar instead, with the temperature around 10°C. For good skiing, I’d have to travel far and go high up. Way more expensive than I had budgeted for.

Ok. This could be an exception. And next year will be just fine. On the other hand, I’m tracking ski-lift operation in Rhön now since a couple of years on my website. And guess what: Last year was a wash for the operators, and this year looks even worse.

Just when I drove back from Bad Tölz a statement from the German government became public. According to them only one out of ten ski regions in central Europe will be snow-safe in the coming years, and about two thirds of all the ski regions won’t survive, even with artificial snow.

Good that I didn’t buy new skies.

Playing with Data

In the last couple of month I’ve started to experiment with data. Won’t call it big data, because my datasets are rather small. Like visitors in our holiday apartments or feedback from EclipseCon Europe attendees. But like a real guy I didn’t want to do with MySQL, I wanted to play with the the new toys. So I installed MongoDB.

Anyway, it turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Cleaning up the data and getting them in (the same) shape turned out to be harder than I though. But help was just around the corner – coming from Udacity: A course on Data Wrangling, just what I needed. Turns out it was just the right course at the right time. And forgive me, if I don’t bore you with all the details that I had to clean up.

I’m certainly not a big data expert yet. But I start to understand how to approach my problems and what I can do with my information. And visualizing that information is even more fun. Now you can guess what that heatmap shows 🙂

Heatmap Example (based on Google Maps)



So today Greece stopped paying back its debts to the IWF. After a couple of month with the new Greek government the European leaders are fed up with these ‘unprofessional’ people. Everybody, including Junker and almost all of the German political establishment claim that they are annoyed by the behavior of Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varoufakis and other greek politicians.

The German press makes the right sounds to support these feelings, and a Spiegel poll claims that about 70% of the Germans are ready to dump Greece. Because they didn’t obey and cut down more services, lower pensions and whatever we think might ‘help’ them to become better people.

What makes me wonder about something. In all the discussions and proposals about cutting down one area was never really discussed (at least in public). Greece has even in 2012, while the country was already suffering badly, been buying weapons like crazy. According to Zeit they still wanted Eurofighters, tanks, frigate and other goods for warfare and defense. And you know what? This topic never came up in public discussions.

So cutting down on public health is a good idea. But the military-industrial complex continues to sell to an almost bankrupt country. And the politicians don’t seem to be bothered.

Kind of weird, I thought. Then I though again. Kind of normal.

Busy Sunday with LinkedIn

So some guy sent me an invitation earlier today. He wanted to add me to his professional network. I actually know him (if I recall it right, so sure thing I agreed! I need friends anyway, or at least professionals connected to me. Not sure which one is better though.

Then for reasons that I cannot explain I continued futzing around with LinkedIn, and after pressing a button here and a button there the system suggested that I should connect to these 190 people (that LinkedIn believes I know or should know). Again, sure thing, I pressed the button.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-03-01 um 14.17.53About 2 minutes later my iPhone started humming. And it continues humming ever since. About every minute once. And Michael and David and Suzanne and Peter and … they all seem to be online and agree to be me new buddies! Now isn’t this a wonderful result for a rainy Sunday afternoon?

Oh – and just now Christian has agreed to connect with me as well. I’m almost ready to cry!

A Ninja is Dead

I’ve been one of these folks who bought a Ninja Block pretty early after they appeared. This was in the time before I knew much about Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. My block turned out to be fun to play with: I could read humidity and temperature and stream my webcam. Through its nice little REST interface I had a chance to link all this into my small web universe.

Anyway, I liked it so much that I wanted to buy another one for another location, again with all the sensors you need. Turned out that everything is sold out, and the Ninja folks say that they are planning the next big thing – the Ninja Sphere. And even small things like a temp sensors continue to be sold out 🙁

I don’t know when the announcement for the Sphere started, but by now it feels like a year or two. Nothing has happened since then, at least nothing that I can see. No release dates, just a link to a weird release plan in one of their blog posts.

Too bad. I really liked to type in the ninja URL.

Do we need another Tiger?

I love to play golf, and I love to watch golf on TV or even visiting a tournament. This year’s major tournaments were especially exciting, with Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and now Rory McIllroy winning. So we see a nice variety of players winning the tournaments in the US and in Europe. Looks like there’s a whole bunch of players that can win.

But the golf commentators and the golf press continue to ask with every major win if the winner is the next Tiger. Personally, I think this is a really stupid and boring discussion. It is great to have this variety show, where a lot of young and old players are head-to-head and you never know what’s going to happen. It is just fun to watch new player like Victor Dubuisson show up and play in a wonderful way. Long ago seems the time where players were scared of the dominance of Tiger Woods and were just bending over and surrendering when Tiger played in a tournament.

While it might be important for the marketing dudes and the industry to have one superstar, the idea of a broad field of really good players and fearless competitors is a lot more appealing to me as a spectator. Gone are the times where a muscle-packed Tiger could just out-power everybody else, hit it somewhere into the deep rough and just hit it back onto the green. I love to watch these fearless and smart young player a lot more.

So I hope that neither of them will turn out to be as dominant as Tiger was. Sorry, dear golf industry.

Screen Scraping

After my last post I was actually contacted by 2 people asking for more current information on the website that I had built. In particular, they were interested in the conditions of the winter sports facilities that we have in the region (ski-lifts, cross-country trails).

I looked around, and the only information available was on the web sites of the facility operators. No central place where all the data was collected and made available. Since I had never done screen scraping before, I wasn’t really sure what to do.

Reading up on Stackoverflow and other resources I learned that I had to read an HTML site, turn it into a DOM object and find the right places with the right information for the facilities (closed, open, good conditions, red.gif, green.gif). Looking around I found a nice helper library that served me very well with my first version: For every webpage to get data from I wrote a little PHP script to capture the data.

This worked well for the first facility, where the website was quite responsive. The second one was making more trouble with regard to response times. Now I had a 6 sec wait before my page was displaying. That wasn’t really acceptable, because I have still 2 more places to scrape.


So I took the Saturday afternoon to make it work asynchronously. It turned out to be quite easy: I continued to use my PHP scripts, but converted them into functions that could be called with AJAX calls, returning JSON data. From there it took only a couple more minutes, and I was finished. Displaying the site itself is really fast again, and since the scraped information doesn’t show up in the visible part of the browser things can take a little longer. But even scrolling down right away is fun: I enjoy watching the data show up!


For quite some time I was toying with the idea to create a little information page for the town of Gersfeld. The home page of the town is pretty bad, and I was thinking it should be easy to provide a more interesting design, good information and some cool content.

After having moved my Ninja Block gear up to Gersfeld, having gathered some experience in location data and map display through the development of the new Eclipse events page and some experimentation with the Bootstrap framework I had most of the pieces together.  I just had to add the webcam stream that we use in our holiday apartment website, and off I went.

The site is now online since a couple of weeks, and I’m trying to add more and more information about local businesses and points of interest to the site. The number of visitors (other than myself) is still below 10 per day, but there are actually a few now that come and have a look every day.

Now I wonder what else I can do with the site. Any ideas?