Outsourcing or Hollowing Out?

Thanks to the likes of General Motors, Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 80’s transferring internal or public services to external contractors has been regarded as progressive and above all cost-saving. Anything that does not belong to the core business is regarded as ballast that would be better in the hands of “specialists” who are reputedly cheaper and deliver better quality. It sounds temptingly logical, especially when senior management has a focus on short-term profits.

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Chat GPT

Efficient tool or the end of independent thinking?

You must have been offline and probably off in deepest space not to have noticed all the fuss about Chat GPT lately. The possibilities, limitations, risks and side effects of the chatbot are currently being covered in all media. The interest in the website is now so great that access is not possible for hours. Although we at Harlekin.blog don’t see ourselves as trend followers, we thought it was time to react to all the hype about AI and try out the chatbot ourselves.

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Baking in the tropics

When I was working in Laos as a voluntary teacher with the British Voluntary Service Overseas (similar to the US Peace Corps), I had the bright idea of treating a number of friends to a British Christmas dinner. I lived in a town on the Mekong, miles away from the nearest Sainsbury’s, so I pondered how to source my ingredients. Fortunately, the British Embassy was a mere few hundred miles away where occasional treats like Chivas Regal for next to nothing (duty free) were available.

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My Favourite Piece of Music

As a stereotypical Gemini it is hard to single out any one thing as a favourite. However, one piece of music has stayed with me since I first heard it as a student and never ceases to move me: the Adagietto, 4th Movement of Mahler’s 5th Symphony. The music has, thanks to its use at Kennedy’s funeral and the movie “Death in Venice”, often been associated with mourning. In actual fact it was a love song to Mahler’s future wife. It leaves me breathless at the way Mahler gently weaves through an abstract melody tune with just strings and a harp gliding from minor to major, resolving lines of a melody only after stretching the anticipatory note, instructing the orchestra to switch gently from soft to sonorous, melancholic to passionate. A wonderful expression of Romantic longing.

Watershed moment or do we just carry on regardless like lemmings?

In the current climate (sic) of doom and gloom I have been struck by the special nature of our predicament. I am among the first to groan inwardly if I hear that clichée “The Chinese word for problem is the same as for challenge.” Actually, my research revealed that the Chinese word 问题 “wenti” is usually translated as problem or question. But then I always assumed it was another of those urban myths, like the Inuit having 357 different words for snow. But I digress…

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DNA Detectives (Part 2)

Facebook for the Dead?

For those of you worried about data protection: researchers choose whether to publish their tree or not. Published records do not reveal any information of anyone still living unless you opt to share it with specific persons. Archives do not disclose any information on births less than 110 years ago, marriages less than 80 and deaths less than 30.

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DNA Detectives (Part 1)

Retroactive baby boom

During the Corona pandemic subscriptions to genealogy websites increased to over 10 million and something like 30 million DNA samples have been provided to date for analysis. Spare time at home – and maybe some reflexion about mortality – seems to have fuelled people’s curiosity about their roots. Back in 2019 I wrote in “Big Brother is alive and living in Canada” about my experience discovering I had a half-brother through a DNA match. Since then I have continued delving into my families’ past and by now there are some 6000+ names populating my family tree. I am regularly in touch with people I did not know exist, connected by suspected family links and a passion to find out more about their ancestors and frequently to discover countless skeletons in the family cupboard.

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Digital blues

The experiences of the last few weeks make me think of the popular German phrase: “Why make it simple when you can make it complicated?”

While the rest of the world is busy with going digital, there seem to be some pockets of resistance in Germany. My health insurance company – let’s call it Medisure – likes to present itself as efficient and customer-friendly. I was pleasantly surprised when they introduced an app that allowed you to photograph a multi-page bill and send it to them for processing, instead of filling out an ancient-looking form by hand with information they mostly already had. A year later, they added the feature of an email telling me a message had been received in the app. Which cryptically means the app can also show what reimbursement they just granted. Why the app can’t send me a notification, I don’t know. They will probably tell me it has something to do with data security.

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