Man landing on Mars or Toll-Collect delivering a working Maut system for German Autobahns? - I laughed out loud when I heard this on the radio this morning (while standing in the traffic jam caused by two centimeters of snow).

The truck Maut system was supposed to start in November 2003 but failed for various technical reasons, both hardware and software problems. The new plan of the contractor promises a stripped-down version of the system for January 2005 and the full system for January 2006. We'll see.

Currently the contract between the German government and Toll-Collect makes Toll-Collect pay 7.5 million Euro per month as long as the system isn't in place - IIRC this will go up to 15 million in April. Contrast this with the expected 180 million Euro the Maut was supposed to deliver per month.

The biggest mistake of Toll-Collect has been that they didn't admit their technical problems in time IMHO. It wasn't until September or October 2003 that they admitted that the system wouldn't be ready by November.

As Nicolai Josuttis pointed out during last week's OOP 2004, Toll-Collect is hiring people for the legal department, they probably know why. To be fair, they are also looking for some developers, engineers or project managers.

path: /en/Germany/maut | #

I talk about sweets and Sankt Martin tradition in Germany and completely forget the most important part of it - no, not the fire, Weckmännchen.

Weckmännchen - that's what they are called in my part of Germany, they may have different names in other parts, I've heard Stutenmann at least once - are men (well gender has to be guessed) made of bread and may be covered by sugar or almonds. Very tasty, in particular with a nice thick layer of chocolate cream on top of it.

Here is a recipe and a nice picture for one. The pipe is definitively not optional.

path: /en/Germany/culture | #

St. Martin has been a Roman soldier who - according to the legend - shared half his coat with a beggar who would have died because of the cold otherwise. At the beginning of November we have lantern parades in Germany in memory of this legend.

Children create their own lanterns - usually out of paper - in school or kindergarten and at dusk they are lead through the streets of town by a man dressed up as a Roman soldier sitting on a horse singing lantern songs (the kids are supposed to be singing, not the horse) - with the help of brass bands.

After the parade, the kids will get bags of sweets and as that usually is not enough they'll go from house to house and sing to gain more sweets. Unlike Halloween they won't threaten people who don't want to give anything, although I remember songs like "Hier wohnt ein reicher Mann, der uns noch viel geben kann" - so it is better to open the door and donate 8-)

This year I'll have to attend three of such parades, the first one was last Saturday. Sarah was sick so I went with Florian and the lantern he has made in kindergarten last year. I'm looking forward to next Wednesday when Sarah will be with us, it's hard to top the light in the eyes a two year old when she sees all those colorful lanterns. It will also be the debut for Florian's new lantern.

I hope I'll get through this without catching a bad cold.

path: /en/Germany/culture | #

Germany is one of the few European countries where you don't have to pay (directly) if you want to drive on a highway. At least for trucks this was supposed to change at the beginning of September.

Being the high-tech country that Germany is, we've chosen to show the world how to charge the money the right way. No stopping before you drive onto the highway, no, things have to work automatically.

A consortium named Toll-Collect has been charged with implementing the system. Basically you have three choices, register via internet, register at one of the Toll-Collect stations in gas stations and other places or - and this is the really advanced part - use an on-board unit OBU.

This OBU is a little box inside your truck that counts the miles (errm, kilometers) you drive on a highway. It contains a cell-phone and knows your geographical position as well as where the highways are. Everything is automatic. Great!

Well, not so great. There have been massive technical and software-side problems with these boxes. They charge even if you are not on a highway but only close by. They count backwards if your side of the highway is under construction and traffic is redirected via the other side. Incompatibilities between systems. Random communication errors ...

Because of these problems the start has been delayed until November and it seems as if it will have to be delayed again.

It looks like a simple case of one of the many software projects that run out of schedule (and out of budget, I bet). Toll-Collect has been funded by some of Germany's heavyweights of the software and electronic industry (Daimler-Chrysler and Deutsche Telekom) or those heavyweights are working on the hardware (Siemens and Grundig build the OBUs). This shows that big companies have the same problem, even if they are able to throw more people into the project - this may be new to some.

Strangely the requirements have been rather clear from the start and haven't changed. This usually is the reason for failing projects, but not this time.

The downside for German citizens is that a separate contract between the government and Toll-Collect seems to say that those failures will not make Toll-Collect pay back anything of the lost money for the first few months and puts a cap on the damages to pay for a full year.

path: /en/Germany/maut | #