10 May 2005
Please note that text in red indicates comments and changes to the original 2005 text that I made in June 2008. Enjoy!
Tuesday marked the day of our first visit to a German company, Fujitsu-Siemens. FS was close enough to Augsburg that we were able to ride the local trolley to and from it. At FS, we were greeted with enthusiasm, I'd say. Our host, a man whose name I neglect to record here because it isn't truly important, was in charge of working on mobile and handheld projects at FS. For those of you who don't know, FS specializes (if that term can truly be applied here) in creating all sorts of electronics: laptops, PDA's, VCR's, Home entertainment systems (the man mentioned "e-home" probably 10 times (I wonder, how did that turn out?)), home computers, corporate computers (including full-blown, Intel-powered servers), touchscreen computers, and cellular phones all are within the scope of FS's many projects. Our host was very knowledgeable and told us many interesting things about FS (it's a child of both Fujitsu and Siemens, and each company has equal shareholdership, for example), and about how FS was unable to penetrate the US market because Fujitsu covers that area. Once I heard this, it explained why I had never seen any of these Fujitsu Siemens products! I asked Claudius about FS, and he said that in his opinion, because FS makes so many products in so many different areas, they are a sort of "jack of all trades" type of outfit, but they are the true masters of none. Later, during the question/answer session put on by FS, I confirmed this by asking our host if FS had ever produced one product that really stood out above the rest as being superior in quality. His response was kind of vague, but it ended up in a "no." (Score! I always was one for hard-hitting questions! :D ) Also, FS is not in competition Apple Computers in any way, really, he said, though he admired Apple and said that if he were not working for FS, he would own Apple products. I'm sure he gets a massive discount (even frees) from FS, though. :)
At FS we also went to tour the factory. A different man, one of those real PR types, showed us around the factory. He was obviously very proud of everything he was showing us. At FS, they produce computers in two ways: 1) when an order comes in for a single computer (i.e., John Doe orders one online or something), it's sent through a line in one room. 2) bulk orders, orders containing at least ~50 units, are made en masse in a different part of the factory. Our gracious host took many opportunities to point out how much better FS was than an asian motherboard maker due to the fact that FS's quality level is much higher all throughout it production, leaving little need to test each component. On the other hand, asian chip makers tend to emphasize testing each component produced for up to 48 hours! Grinning from ear to ear, our host told us that computers sold by these companies are in a way "already used." He said that when you go to buy a new car, there aren't any miles on its odometer--why should this be any different for everyday consumer and business electronics? I personally think that he was feeding a rather big line--I know that my computer has gotten so much use in just the 9 months that I've had it that 48 hours of testing would seem like a drop in the bucket. *shrug* Their products seemed decent enough, though the thought of having 300 identical laptops kind of made me nervous; for me, using my computer is a highly personal thing because it was specifically made just for me, to my specifications. :) Obviously, I am not an enterprise customer.
Lunch at FS was good, thought sort of strange. Germans seem to be fans of little open-faced sandwiches. The basic idea of this sort of food isn't really bad, I don't think, but if you end up with toppings on a sandwich that are difficult to bite through, the end-user (eater) is faced with a dilemma: in America, at least, it's not really polite to touch your food with your fingers, but when things don't go correctly, you've sometimes just got to. I had a salmon sandwich, which was okay. The best thing about it was the fact that the salmon was very easy to chew. I also had a ham-ish sandwich, but it was, at times, very difficult to chew. Yikes. I had some Tiramisu (all one word over here) for dessert (several pieces, actually!), and it was quite good, though the top was much too powdery.
After we left FS, we went back to the Uni and attended another masterful lecture given by the likes of Herr Fock. I'm not sure if I've noted this already, but because the Uni doesn't have an engineering program, the engineers were out-numbered by the business students in this lecture (and, really, in all of our activities) three to one. As a result, about 98% of the focus of pretty much all of our lectures was put on the analysis of the business side of the companies we visited (PEST analysis was a big topic, for example.). Needless to say, these sorts of lectures usually ended up being pretty boring. This particular lecture was designed to help us ask the right questions while we were at our company visits. I kind of felt bad for the FS group--we had a lecture on what to ask only after they had asked all of their questions (with my very much informed help, to be sure). Heh!
After the lecture, I think all of us had a chance to try to start using the computers in the German computer labs at the Uni. Some of us (I guess those of us who were not enlightened or at best, had never thought about this particular eventuality) really had some trouble with these computers because even though they ran the familiar if never-to-be-sufficiently-accursed Windows XP or Widows 2000 operating systems (
which, let me say in case you googled your way to this page, are very much inferior to Apple's Mac OS X operating system
/fanboy), all of the warnings, alerts, menus, and buttons were labeled in German! As a result, computing in Germany became a sort of memory game--imagine that you're using a computer and you can't read anything that it's trying to tell you, but you've seen all of the screens before in English. However, at the times you were reading them in English, you took for granted your ability to read and probably clicked through the alert boxes as quickly as possible. Now that you're in Germany, you're seeing the "same" alert boxes, but this time, you have to remember things like when you're presented with two choices, "Which side was the button on in America?" because you don't want to make an improper choice. Or, if you want to perform a simple option like copying and pasting some text (for an e-mail, let's say), trying to use the "tried-and-true" right-click method or using the "Edit" menu really becomes a chore because in America, we're all efficient (lazy?) and never remember where our choices are--we only remember what the choices were! Needless to say, at every possible instance, I tried to fall back on the keyboard-shortcuts that I had memorized. Luckily, commands like control-c and control-v (copy/paste) worked just fine. Shew! It was quite difficult, let me tell you. Fortunately for me, I had brought my excellent Apple 15-inch PowerBook with me to Germany, so I was mostly able to avoid these headaches. Connecting to the wireless network at the Uni, however, proved to be its own challenge. Let me just say this: I had to download additional software (and of course the instructions were in German) and convince my group member, Claudius, to give me his very private and sensitive university username and password. Luckily, I was able to make all of this work out just fine. :)
This picture has nothing at all to do with my rant about how hard to use the German computers were, but I think that it's still pretty neat (and I don't have another pic for the computers--you've seen the keyboard already! :D ). This is another shot of the manufacturing floor at FS.
Yet another unrelated shot--sorry. I wasn't really planning the text of my journal when I took the pictures (or maybe it was vice versa. Interesting). The idea, "IT with a sense of responsiblilty" was plastered all over the rooms at FS. I guess they do make a line of so-called green computers, but I'm not sure how much that really means.
Later on that night, we had a chance to do what we wanted. I think I stayed back at the Uni for a while, because I remember coming back to Augsburg rather late, hungry and looking for food. One of the only places open by this time (after 10 PM local time) was a pizza place called Pizza 4 You or something like that. However, this place had a really good gimmick: they were selling 28-centimeter cheese pizzas for only 1 Euro each!! I was really excited! Peter graciously went down with me to pick up a couple of these pizzas and a bottle of Fanta to share. We headed back to our hotel room to chow down. Thus ended day 4!
Cheap pizza is a beautiful thing. This place was the "Antoon's" (read: dirt-cheap pizza place in Oakland) of Augsburg, but it was much, much better. Mmmm. . . Antoon's pizza is like garbage-quality cardboard with sauce and crappy-tasting American cheese. Yuck. I still don't regularly order Antoon's pizza, but I did have a really good pizza from there once. I learned that the trick is to order a pizza with toppings around dinner time (as opposed to ordering a cheese pizza at 2:00 AM).
This photograph was used in Austrilia's Next Wave Festival. They even asked permission!
There weren't any extra pictures today--all of them were kind of crappy.