Stuff & Things

Way too many photos from Venice

It’s cold as shit, so I figured I might as well sight, edit and upload my vacation photos from Venice, several months ago. There’s far too much to reshare here, but you can see them on my Flickr. Highlights include:

  • Animals!

Go fish!

  • Shipping!

Please stand clear of the doors!

  • A Weird Funicular!

People Mover: Suspicious Switch

  • A Tramway But Done Wrong!


  • Culture!

Atlas Shrugged


How to tell your Customer Service sucks

Today, I got a phishing e-mail.

I hope you have never been subject to such a shocking event for yourself, and apologize if the horror of my tale gave you a heart attack.

Well, this one looked a bit more legit than most of them, and it was certainly audacious: A mail claiming to be from Yahoo and sent by a Yahoo user. It somehow passed my spam filter, so I decided I might as well tell Yahoo about it, so they might unleash their mighty rage upon the morally bankrupt offender. For sure, there would be an “abuse” e-mail account, to which I could forward the mail with an appropriate one-liner.

In case you have never been to the Internet before, or you work in Customer Service for a big company, I feel the need to explain something to you: There is this thing we call “E-Mail”. You use it to send other people messages via the Internet.

Because, somehow, the existence of this awesome tool of communication seems to have been completely forgotten by every customer service department ever created ever. Instead, we now have customer support websites, which try to dazzle the angry customer with colorful icons, complicated forms and buttons with labels like “Contact Customer Support” that somehow lead you to the Tourist Information of Sorrento, Italy instead of a direct way to contact the customer support.

So I went to Facebook and located Yahoo’s page there. The page contained a link to another page operated by Yahoo’s customer service.

I have seen excellent customer service happening on Facebook. There is one company that gets it right: Deutsche Bahn (German Railways). They allow users to write on their page, and have a dedicated team that will respond to questions within minutes, that will try to answer them instead of just sending the customer to another department, and they try to keep the page alive with quizzes, news and things like that.

Yahoo’s facebook pages (as far as I could tell, both of them are identical) are simply a way for Yahoo of telling everybody how awesome they are. Communication is completely one-sided. There’s no way of contacting them besides of commenting on completely unrelated posts – in which case you will simply be ignored forever, but at least have managed to make Yahoo look incompetent. By the way, the same thing happens over at Twitter. No communication with customers there. At all.

Social Networks are a powerful way of directly communicating with your customers. If you are unwilling to use that, please do not have a social network page. Facebook’s servers have feelings, too, and I can see them crying when they have to put up with stuff like this.

Then I vented my frustration into IRC, and got presented a link to a page hidden deep within the bellies of Yahoo’s website where I could just copy-paste the infringing e-mail, enter a captcha and report it as spam without any further steps, without entering my Yahoo ID, real name, birth date, insurance ID, blood type and favourite food of my grandmother’s best friend’s third-oldest cat and then filing my report in exactly the right cabinet within two hectars of virtual storage buildings.

Turns out this page was really, really easy to find. All my friend had to do was to google for it. He then followed a dead link, continued to search a bit on the Yahoo page, googled again, then found a post on a forum leading to a page that linked to the reporting page. And probably, that last link was hidden in a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.

That’s not the first time I found it surprisingly hard to even reach customer service. It’s just an especially clear example with what’s going wrong with customer support on the web these days. I’ve had cases where I quickly received competent help (Amazon) and I’ve had cases of mediocre-to-bad support ( and Conrad Electronics, looking at you), but usually I at least managed to reach customer support without help from other people.

In case anybody from Yahoo reads this (yeah, that’s likely): You failed. You failed really hard. Reporting misuse of online systems should be really simple – that’s why the abuse@… e-mail address was invented. If you insist on making me use your fancy web interface instead of sending you a simple e-mail (which would save me a lot of time), at least give me a button that leads me to the relevant page quickly, don’t make me search through a three-tiered category system and don’t make me fill out a form that makes me feel like I got teleported to the planet Vogsphere. I’m just trying to help you in the War against Phishing. Don’t make it so hard.

And by the way – I’m not bitching about this because I hate Yahoo. I have about five other e-mail providers these days, thanks to Microsoft’s and Google’s policy of giving everybody one, no matter if he wants it or not. I’m bitching about this because pretty much every company these days tries making contacting them as hard as possible for the customer. Don’t do that. Thank you very much.



Now I’ve created this blog, I might as well talk a bit about why I did it and why you should care. Short version: I like ASL, and if you stumbled upon my blog, you probably do so as well.

Long version: About a year ago, probably a bit longer, I searched for a replacement of BattleTech because I got kind of bored of our weekly gatherings here at Dresden, Germany. At that point, I had been playing BT for about two years, and I liked the feeling of having a game that’s so complex you can play it for such a long time and still be interesting and at times surprising. But the way we played it, it slowly started to get monotonous for me, as we always played Tech-Level One, and always with ‘Mechs only. In ASL terms, think playing “The Guards Counterattack” over and over again.

Parallel to that, I played a lot of World of Tanks, a great tank-based MMO video game set in an alternative universe where WWII makes even less sense than it did in real life. By a mixture of casual research and in-game osmosis, I assembled a bit of geek knowledge about armored vehicles of WWII. I’m studying to be an engineer, so the technology of these vehicles is really fascinating to me.

So, when I finally thought I might as well search a replacement for BattleTech – a game with more different facets, I instantly knew I wanted a game set in WWII and with tanks in it, and I also knew I did not want to argue with anybody if I can use my T-34/76 miniatures to represent a T-34/85. Besides, I looked for a game that’s not too obscure inside the already quite narrow field of Wargaming in Germany (for obvious reasons, everything war-related is frowned upon over here).

Also, I wanted a game that’s rather lightweight. I got ASL instead. How did that happen? Well, at first it was because ASL was the only game that somehow fit all my criteria above.  My first impression of ASL was so bad I temporarily just gave up my search. But then I decided to at least give the Starter Kit a try, and it completely changed my opinion.

In contrast to most other complex games I played so far (mostly in the role-playing game genre), the ASL rules don’t just make stuff complicated, but they actually offer depth and immersion in a way I did not expect. I am still stuck with the Starter Kit, though I hope I’ll finally make the jump to Full ASL in the next couple of weeks. And I think my journey down the rabbit hole will continue.

I love the asymmetrical, scenario-based game play. I love the plethora of ways both my opponent and bad luck can foil my best-laid plans and I love how scenarios always turn out in a way that you wouldn’t have thought was possible beforehand. I also love the amount of different topics a scenario can cover, from simple infantry grinds in a small block of houses to pure tank combat to great three-board combined operations where four things and a lizard are always happening simultaneously, to cavalry surprise attacks to guerilla combat, a frontal assault on a fortified roadblock  and so on. I don’t think this game will let me get bored, ever. Surprisingly, I even like the long playtime where even smaller scenarios tend to take six or more hours, because the game actually manages to stay interesting for all that time.

So, what will I be writing about? Mostly AARs of what I’ll be playing, but maybe also some tangential topics like me ranting about how the PzKpfw IV looks better than the M4 Sherman (and yes, I know, it’s not supposed to look good, but I don’t care) or some game design-related stuff or interesting tidbits of information related to WWII I happen to come across.

By the way, I have another blog (in German) about role-playing games which you can find at in case you are interested.