Category Archives: germany

The next digital casualty: waiters?

The National Restaurant Association has released its 2012 industry forecast, which is jam-packed with tons of interesting facts for anyone interested in the business of food. While there’s a wealth of data on topics such as economic impact and employment, the tastiest morsels – in my books, anyway – have to do with technology.

You have to be an association member, or a journalist, to get the full report, but fortunately Business News Daily has some of the more pertinent info. The facts that caught my eye were:

Nearly 4 in 10 consumers say they’d be likely to use an electronic ordering system and menus on tablet computers at full-service restaurants. About half said they would use at-table electronic payment options and a restaurant’s smartphone app to view menus and make reservations. (My emphasis added)

That “at-table” part is important for anyone who has been to a restaurant and had their order screwed up and/or waited an interminable time to get their waiter’s attention either to get a drink refill or the bill. That is to say, it’s important to all of us.

Are we, as the report suggests, headed for a future without waiters? Some restauranteurs believe so and are experimenting with such ideas. Check out this restaurant in Germany, which uses a touch-screen ordering system and roller-coaster-like tracks to deliver food to customers:

As the video report pointed out, the restaurant still has human cooks. But such people, too, are an endangered species as robot cooks are on the march around the world.

I’ve long advocated replacing restaurant staff with robots and automation – one side bonus is eliminating nose gold on your pizza – so bring it on!

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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in food, germany, robots


Food technology and entrepreneurial learning

It’s Thursday and I’m in Berlin, where I’m to give one of the opening speeches at the Online Educa conference. The international event, now in its 17th interation, is the biggest conference on technology-supported learning and training in the world. The organizers asked me to come over and talk about how some of the themes explored in Sex, Bombs and Burgers might relate to education and learning.

Not being an expert on education, I’m going to limit my talk to laying the context in which learning is changing today. While I’m sure there are fascinating aspects to how war and even pornography affect education, the most poignant – I think – is food technology, given its role in paving the way for countries to become prosperous. Once a country has solidified its food supply, it can then concentrate on economic growth, jobs and ultimately education.

Food technology is contributing to the unprecedented period of poverty reduction that we’re currently in, where more than half a billion people have escaped the poorest conditions in the past five years alone. The United Nations expects further dramatic reductions in poverty over the next four years, which means the number of people in the world who want an education is going to swell dramatically.

There’s no way we’re going to be able to supply enough teachers to meet this demand, so entepreneurial learning – where people teach themselves – is going to become a reality for many individuals, both in the developed and developing worlds. Much of what will be discussed at Online Educa will focus on this; I have a few thoughts on where things might go that I’ll share, but otherwise I’m hoping to set the table for other speakers and panellists.

Later in the day, I’ll also be taking part in a debate that will seek to answer the following question:

This house expresses its concern about the effect developments in technology are increasingly having on personal liberty and believes this will have serious consequences for learning in the future.

I’ll be arguing in the “against” camp, which is good because I couldn’t imagine that statement being more incorrect. I’m not even really sure how it’s defensible. To my mind, technological developments of the past decade have enabled more liberty than at any other point in history, so I’m very curious what sort of arguments the “for” side will suggest.

I’ll post a report from the conference, as well as some overall thoughts from Berlin, next week. Until tomorrow, Auf Wiedersehen!

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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in education, germany


The coming boom in techno-education

I’m going to be spending the next few months brushing up on my German (I actually did take some classes a few years back) as I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Online Educa conference in Berlin in December.

The event, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, describes itself as the “largest global e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors.” This year’s theme will be “new learning cultures,” with speakers and sessions focusing on whether new teaching methods are going to be required in the future and how technology will figure into all of it.

Fortunately, my speech will be in English, so I’ll only need the German to figure out how to order sausages while there. I’ve been asked to talk about how some of the themes in Sex, Bombs and Burgers relate to education, with how technology affects learning as the broader subject.

I discussed some of my preliminary thoughts on a short Educa podcast, which can be heard here. In a nutshell, while education doesn’t really figure as a central theme in Sex, Bombs and Burgers, the effects of food, war and even porn on worldwide learning are pretty significant.

Food is actually the biggest driver of education supply. When parents have enough food for their children and no longer have to worry about where their next meals are going to come from, getting them to school is usually the next step. In other words, children who are hungry and poor are less likely to be concerned with learning, but when they have enough food, they suddenly and necessarily become students.

Food technology – as well as better water purification, medicine and general economic improvement – has resulted in nearly half a billion people escaping absolute poverty over the past five years. This trajectory is going to continue, which means the number of children joining the global education system over the next few decades is going to skyrocket. That means one of two things: either we’re going to need a lot more teachers, or technology will be needed to make learning more efficient and entrepreneurial.

I read with great interest a story on this subject in a recent issue of Canadian Business magazine. The story detailed the efforts of Sugata Mitra, an Indian professor who teaches in the UK, and his Hole the Wall project. The experiment involved sticking a computer with internet access into one of the poorest schools in Delhi and allowing students to use it freely. Rather than lecturing and instructing the students, Mitra would simply allow them to teach themselves. The results were amazing – students ended up teaching themselves English, among other things.

With a huge influx of new students on the horizon, schools – especially those in heavily populated nations such as India and China – are going to need to think more along these lines.

To get back to the Sex and Bombs, however, both the military and porn industries have also had huge effects on education both directly and indirectly. According to Peter Singer in his book Wired for War, about one-third of all university research funding since the 1950s has come from the military. It’s impossible to overstate how much of an effect all that money has had on the direction and quality of education in the United States.

The sex industry’s effect has been considerably less direct, but still important. As discussed in my book and in The Erotic Engine by Patchen Barss, porn producers have historically supplied much of the early development dollars for all communications technologies, from the simple camera right on up to the internet. Without all that early adoption, those technologies – each of which in turn changed and improved education – might never have seen the light of day.

Nevertheless, it’s the food supply-education demand aspect that fascinates me most. I have a few months yet to put my speech together, but that’s the likeliest direction I’ll be taking. I think it’ll be fun to imagine what learning will look like in 10 years. More people than ever will be taking part in the education system, which means big changes are in store.


Posted by on August 24, 2011 in food, germany


Editing is done, on to Europe

My manuscript is being handed off to Penguin’s copy editors today, which means that the major editing phase is done. Another big milestone down. I’m told the copy editing – which are the simple corrections to spelling, grammar and style – will take about three weeks, and then it’s off to design and proofreading. A cover should be coming down the pipe shortly. I can’t wait to see what they cook up, and to be sure, I’ll be posting it here as soon as I can.

Today is also another important day in that it’s the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. The fair, which runs until Sunday, is a major annual showcase for books for the European market. My agents, Westwood Creative Artists, are taking snippets of Sex, Bombs & Burgers to Frankfurt in the hopes of getting some European publishers interested in it. I hope they have some luck as the only thing cooler than finally seeing my book in print would be to see it in a different language.

Fingers crossed. Hopefully European publishers can see that war, porn and fast-food are indeed universal!

In honour of the fair, I present to you this awesome video of Germany’s favourite son, the one, the only, Mr. David Hasslehoff:

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Posted by on October 14, 2009 in food, germany, penguin, sex, war


Trivia day 7: Right Guard, the choice of Chuck Norris and, possibly, the Third Reich

The other day as I was putting on some deodorant, I started wondering where it came from. I did a little reading and was somewhat surprised at its back story.

Right Guard was originally created as a spray-on deodorant by Gillette back in the early sixties. It eventually morphed into the tube form that most deodorants come in. In 2006, Procter and Gamble acquired Gillette and was forced to sell the Right Guard brand, presumably because the company held too much power in the deodorant market.

The buyer of Right Guard was Dial Corporation, which is a subsidiary of Henkel, a German company based in Dusseldorf. Henkel, like many older German companies, was pressed into Nazi service during the Second World War. The company made use of prison camp labour and after the war had to pay heavy restitution to the people it helped victimize. Given that the company collaborated with the Nazis, that kind of makes the deodorant’s name a little offputting, doesn’t it?

Mind you, it’s hard to have a problem with a product that is endorsed by no less than Chuck Norris himself:

Make no mistake, about it – the typical household is full of this sort of stuff. I’ve got a Panasonic TV and home theater system, for one. Panasonic is the main operating brand of Osaka-based Matsushita, which is a company that was nearly busted up after WWII because of its heavy involvement with the Japanese war effort. It’s ironic how companies on the losing side nearly got taken out while many of those on the winning side immediately went on to become titans of industry.

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Posted by on August 4, 2009 in germany, japan, war, weapons


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