MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

Books in 2017

Books I read in the last years: 2016, 2015, 2014.

2017 was a very book-intense year. It has the all-time high of number of books read since I write these posts. I think the only time that I read more was as a teenager. But at that time these were mostly easygoing works of fiction, so nothing comparable to the stuff which I read now.

One of the reasons for this peak is that I travel by subway to work basically each weekday. My workplace is not far for Berlin (~30 minutes from door to door), but in total that already makes ~30-40 minutes reading time each day for the round trip (with one subway transfer). I have heard from other commuters (at least from Markus) that they experience this reading peak as well. Another reason is that I am no longer occupied with university lectures. At university I always read a lot of papers and science literature as part of my studies. This is gone now and I read more books instead.

Ray Kurzweil — How to Create a Mind
Basically Kurzweil postulates that a lot of research on how the brain works goes into the wrong direction. He makes the case that a lot of elaborate findings (e.g. the relativity theory) were made by people sitting in nature and “just” making logical conclusions. In his opinion a lot of the brain research gets lost in details and fine-grained examinations of biological micro-details, thus missing out on the big picture. Kurzweil makes the case that a large part of the brain basically follows an elaborate pattern matching algorithm. The book was an interesting read.

Robert Macfarlane — Karte der Wildnis
The book is published by the German publisher “Matthes & Seitz Berlin” who has a series of natural science books. I discovered them by chance in a bookshop two or three years ago and wanted to buy one of them ever since. The only problem was that this series consisted only of extensive books on insects, donkeys or e.g. trouts. As much as I loved the high quality and typography of the books, I just didn’t think I would be able to finish an extensive book on donkeys. But then I discovered that they published notes of Robert Macfarlane on his search for wilderness! Thus I immediately bought the book. The optical appearance of the book is immensely good. The typography is done very very well, the paper is of very high quality, the book is thread-binded, all pages printed in two colors, etc.. It really is a joy to just flick through the pages.

This book itself was a kinda strange read for me. It’s really different from other books. It’s not really a story, but a mere collection of descriptions of wild places which the author found. Instead of describing his inner feelings he mostly describes the places themselves and paints them with words. This is also reflected in plain chapter titles like “Moor”, “Forest”, or “Valley”. There is no climax in the book and I think it would go against the overall vibe and intention of the book if there were.

In the beginning I found the book very hard to read and get into. In the end it was easier for me. As Markus put it: maybe this is one of those books which I should read again in ten years time.

There are some really nice descriptions of wilderness which he found, places in deep forest, untouched by humans, with lots of animal caves, wild nature, skeletons, etc..

Kein Ort hätte besser meiner Vorstellung von reiner Wildnis ensprechen können, wie ich sie zu Beginn meiner Reisen hatte. Eine räumliche Logik hatte mich hierhergeführt, der Wunsch, an einem Punkt zu sein, an dem sich physische und geografische Höhe summierten, ein hoher Gipfel auf einem hohen Breitengrad. Jetzt aber wollte ich diesen Ort nur noch verlassen. Mich überfiel ein noch stärkeres Unbehagen, als ich es, ebenso unerwartet, schon auf der Felsnadel von Coruisk verspürt hatte.
—p.145

Douglas Preston — The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
The book is a bit like Jurassic Park in real life and tells the story of an archaeological expedition to locate a rumored city in the jungle of Honduras. The author is a journalist (for National Geographic) who accompanied the scientists. I can definitely recommend the book, it was a very thrilling and interesting read and one of my reading highlights this year. Besides the archaeological highlights it is an interesting account on corruption, grave looting, and the dangers of a jungle.

Brian Jay Jones — George Lucas
This is an unauthorized biography on Lucas. I don’t really like those unauthorized biographies, since they often tell “from hearing”. The same goes for this book. Overall, I think, he is not portrayed as a good filmmaker. To me, it was not really conceivable from the book why he made it as far as he has. I think the book portrays Lucas as a stubborn director who succeeded only because other people helped him decide what’s good and bad. There are often mentions of how he shot a picture or wrote something which was so chaotic (or incoherent) that other people had to help him sort things out.

The book was interesting for the whole history facts, but I was missing emotional insights or glimpses into his characters. But this is just typical for unauthorized biographies which lack access to intimate friends of the subject or, even worse, the subject itself.

Bov Bjerg — Auerhaus
I found this book by chance in a small hostel in Jisr az-Zarca in Israel (there is only one hostel there). It’s a German book and on the first page a “Beatrix” had placed a paper with a note that all of the book had actually happened in a small village near Stuttgart and that she grew up there. This got me interested and I started reading the first pages — three/four hours later I was finished with the entire book, it got me hooked so intensely on those first pages. I didn’t put it down even once and in the end my eyes hurt. But it was definitely worth it.

I really enjoyed the book. It retells a summer in the authors life. One of those summers which will never come again. The book captured me emotionally and I could identify a lot with some of the themes — especially the melancholic mood of looking back on a very happy time of living together with friends. The book captures this spirit very well. Also, it is set in a small village between Ulm and Stuttgart and refers to some places familiar to me.

Christian Rudder — Dataclysm
This is a book by one of the co-founders of OkCupid, he describes statistical insights which he gained whilst building the platform. OkCupid works in a way that you answer questions on all kinds of things…your view on the world, or character traits which you have and which you search for in a partner or friend. The main thing which stuck with me from the book is that even though you can answer thousands of questions on their website they could already predict astoundingly well how likely two people were to get along from these three questions: Are you interested in politics? Do you like horror movies? Have you ever traveled to another country alone?.

Rolf Potts — Vagabonding
Found this one on a flea market (the one in the princess garden in Kreuzberg). It’s a book on the authors experiences and tipps on vagabonding. The topic spoke very much to me, but I found the book bored me and it was a bit hard to finish reading it. I think this was because I am already quite familiar with the topic and most of the stuff from the book I had already heard or talked about a lot of times.

One thing which stuck was a suggestion of how to describe years of work-free vagabonding in a CV: honestly describing where one went and what one took from it — e.g. being able to look after oneself in a remote country, being patient, getting along with all kinds of cultures, etc..

Bov Bjerg — Die Modernisierung meiner Mutter
I was so enthusiastic after having read “Auerhaus” that I was eager to read the one other book by the author. The summary spoke to me: short stories on his childhood in a small, swabian village and on his “exile” in Berlin. However, I was very much disappointed by the book and finished it purely to get it over with.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — The Little Prince
A shame that it took me that long to finally take it up and read it. Very good book. I think despite of the illustration style it’s much more of an adult book then a childrens book.

Ramez Naan — Nexus
It’s hard for me to describe how exceptionally good I found this book. I think it’s an extremely visionary and outstanding book. The author really grasps some of the ideas surrounding transhumanism, their applications, and their influence on society. Some of the recent startups in this field (Neuralink, Kernel, opnwatr, ni2o, …) may very well end up building the described technology.

The book is science-fiction, but of a very near future, not too far away. It is set 15-20 years in the future and makes an, in my mind, very plausible extrapolation. I think the disruptive technologies described in the book are plausible and it is highly likely that this is how our world will look in a couple of decades. Be it two or ten decades, this technology will appear sooner or later. You can really grasp it! It’s a glimpse of a future that might well come to be. It’s not science-fiction of intergalactic space wars — it seems to be not that far away, but totally groundbreaking.

Whilst reading the book I often had to stop myself from consuming it too fast. I wanted to prolong the reading experience :-). Often I made pauses and thought a bit about what I just had read.

I especially liked the scientific base of his book. It is very much apparent that he is a computer scientist, his depictions of this realm are very accurate (the Unix stuff, the algorithms, the peer reviews, academic conferences, etc.). Also I liked that he mentions Vipassana meditation and a couple of places in e.g. Thailand where I had also been to. His depiction of Bangkok is pretty much how I remember it as well. I think some of the other stuff which he describes is also pretty authentic and he knows very well what he is talking about.

The book is written in a very visual way and it’s easy to imagine this being made into a movie at some point. Overall I was surprised that this book is so little known in the cyberpunk and trans-/posthumanism scene. I liked it a lot and it has become one of my favorite books. It re-ignited my interest in this whole topic of neocortex, transhumanism, neural enhancement, and brain computer interfaces. It provided a glimpse of a future that I haven’t seen prior to the book. I think it’s very probable that something like the technology he describes will be invented in the next decades.

Ramez Naam — Crux
Naam actually wrote a triology: Nexus, Crux, Apex. I was so very hooked and enthused by the first book that I immediately went on to the second one. The second book is fantastic as well and I liked it a lot.

Ramez Naam — Apex
The third book was also a nice read, it’s a good book, although as with most trilogies: the first one is the best.

Ramez Naam — More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement
The Nexus trilogy got me so hooked on the whole trans-/posthumanism scene again, that I immediately continued with this non-fiction book by the author. He describes the state of research in terms of genetics, cloning, neural augmentations, and related domains. He makes an elaborate argument for progress and enhancing human nature. He also describes counter-positions and typical arguments of opponents. The book was a very interesting read and in my eyes makes a valid and probable prediction of how the future will evolve. It was also nice to see counter-positions examined, he makes a very positive case of evolving humans and fostering scientific progress.

Helmut Herold — Linux-Unix-Shells
Markus lent me this book a while ago, when I was attending the course “Systemnahe Software” at university. I’m a bit ashamed that it took me quite some time to pick it up and read it. At some point the guilty conscience was too much and I took the opportunity of big-day-off to read through it. Big-day-off is a thing which we have at work each six weeks; I can do whatever I want for two days, as long as it is loosely related to the company — it doesn’t have to yield any business value. I decided to take this time to deepen my shell knowledge. I skipped the chapters on ancient shells. The rest was informative and brought some stuff up from memory again (null operators in bash, why certain commandos have to be built-ins, etc.).

Sam Williams — Free as in Freedom
Another book which Markus gave to me some (unfortunately) years ago. The guilty conscience was too much as well and I finally attacked it. The book is the biography of Richard Stallmann. It gave a bit more insight into his person and I think I now understand a bit better what his motivations are. The book goes into depth on for example the difference between the terms “GNU/Linux” vs “Linux” and “Free Software” vs “Open Source”.

After I read the book I found out that there is a derivative work in which Stallman — who was dissatisfied with some of the authors depictions of him — changed things around and wrote comments indicated with “RMS: ” below anecdotes, quotes, etc.. Hmm. I’m not really sure what to make of this, but I think it’s a bit over the top and only reinforces the impression of Stallmans urge to micro-manage. It’s a bit ironic that the book actually makes a point of describing this urge quite well.

Samin Nosrat — Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
The book is a meta-cookbook. It consists mostly of four large chapters: Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat. Each chapter examines the impact of this ingredient on a dish with the authors main message being that these are the four variables that effect a well-done dish the most.

The books main impact on me was to buy the best salt and olive oil which I could find and to experiment more with varying these variables when cooking. It also reinforced my opinion that the best way to learn cooking is to cook a lot.

Airen — Strobo
The text on the back cover says “the book is experienced in ecstasy and written in ecstasy” and this is totally fitting. I mainly read the book because of my own wanderings in Berlins electronic music clubs.

Airen — I am Airen Man
The book is more mature in literary terms. Its content is the authors time in Mexico and it’s mostly a continuation of “Strobo”. There were some passages which I reflected on for some time.

[…] einer, der sich von so ziemlich jeder Erfahrung ferngehalten hat. (p.59)

[…] wenn all die Küsse und Umarmungen nicht zählten, dieses verschwitzte Lächeln nicht echt wäre, wenn das alles nur eine Dummheit war, ein paar Sünden am Wegesrand, dann sage ich Ja zur Dummheit, Ja zum Leichtsinn, denn nur diese Küsse zählten, nur dieses Lächeln war echt, nur dann und dort habe ich gelebt. (p. 145)

Alexander & Ann Shulgin — Pikhal
The autobiography of Alexander (& Ann) Shulgin. A couple years ago I took interest in his person and read a lot about him. At that time I had also bought the book and now finally took time to read it. The part written by him about himself was interesting to me, but I disliked the part written by his wife (which from my feeling is about five times larger than his part).

Following the death of his mother and griefance of his father:

Finally, I said Enough! Let’s all go on some sort of short get-away, to give ourselves a chance to repair. Where should we go? It didn’t matter, I said; I’ll take care of it.

So my father put a clean pair of socks and a change of underwear into a satchel, and all four of us set out for San Francisco, supposedly headed for San Diego. In actuality, unbeknownst to my father, I had arranged to have the house sealed off for a long absence, and I’d gotten tickets on the P&O ship Chusan for a trip, not just to San Diego, but past it to Panama, then to Trinidad, Barbados, the Canary Islands, England, and on to France, where we would stay for a year. […] The plan worked. My father had to buy a whole new wardrobe; he re-established contacts with Russian-speaking friends whom he hadn’t seen for a quarter of a century; he completely severed himself from his grief-obligations, rediscovered his identity and his energy, and he later remarried, opened a restaurant, and lived another fifteen years.

Hunter S. Thompson — The Rum Diaries
The book is a nice account of Puerto Rico in the 1960s. I liked the whole journalism lifestyle which is depicted in it. It was a nice read and I’d like to read more of his works.

So overall I get to 20 books, seven of them were written in German, the rest in English.

Elf Pavlik & Moneyless Living

About five years ago Elf Pavlik visited me in Ulm for a few days, when I was still studying there. He voluntarily lives without money since 2009 and shared my interest in free software and (at that time) open data. I found his lifestyle very interesting and we spent a few days together and I took this opportunity to ask him an infinite amount of questions. I recorded some of these conversations and had always planned to cut them together and put these recordings online. For various reasons I didn’t do that for five years. My main reason (which seems a bit silly to me now) was that I had owned my camera only for a short period at that time and was unsatisfied with the way how some of the material turned out. But now I finally did cut a short clip from it! You can see the result here:

 

Moneyless Living / Elf Pavlik / Ulm 2012
(the original file can be downloaded under this link as well).
 

It was very interesting for me to see how different worldviews can be and meeting Pavlik definitely had an impact on me. Pavlik told me about his further travel plans; he had planned to first travel to Paris for a few days, then Lyon, then to Italy to visit some people and then further somewhere else. I found this quite remarkable, he wasn’t constrained by finances in any way. Money just didn’t play any role for him when planning where to go next (or his life in general). This is in stark contrast to how many people would e.g. plan a trip to Paris (train tickets for probably 100-200 euros, booking an accomodation there, etc.).

Also, my dorm refrigerator was never this full during the whole time I lived in this apartment as it was during the time when Pavlik visited me (because of dumpster diving). Certain things which he said (often casually, when talking about something different) stuck with me as well. Sentences like “what some people consider borders” and other thoughts which are mentioned in the video as well.

Looking Back on 2016

As in the last years here comes my recap for 2017. Older flashbacks can be found for 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Best Decisions
Taking a couple months off to travel. I am very happy that I managed to write a series of posts whilst travelling. This was the first time that I blogged whilst travelling and it was a different experience; whilst writing the texts the memories were still fresh and the feelings present.

Going Analogue. Haven’t had my digital camera in the hands since I got a professional analogue one. It’s a very nice experience to have this moment when you unwrap the developed photos, already having forgotten half of the motives. I enjoy this a lot.

Stopped reading news sites. I think this is a natural path following from the “I moved away from Twitter, etc.”. I feel that it does me better to not follow daily news. I also stopped reading newspapers a while ago (though “Der Freitag” was an excellent subscription newspaper, which I enjoyed for a long time).

New Interests
Good bakeries are few and sparse in Berlin. This is in stark contrast to the south of Germany where there are typically a couple dozen good bakeries in a small town like Ulm — each with a vast selection of breads and some which still bake bread in-house. I miss this and that’s why I have started baking bread. Overall, I think I must have baked ~20 breads in the last months.

In the past I was reluctant to bake bread at home, due to the worse DIY bread I have been served in the past. This DIY bread was mostly bad because it was made in an oven which wasn’t capable of generating enough heat to have a real, “proper” crust. It is possible though, if you get yourself a dutch oven (which I have). It’s actually quite easy and astonishing how little ingredients are necessary to make a nice bread. You can go a long way with just flour, salt, water and yeast.

 
 

University Life
My university life is finished now. Whilst I had the most amazing time of my life during my B.Sc., I couldn’t follow that up in my M.Sc. and the last semesters were more frustrating than fulfilling. Nevertheless my academic career shed out two further publications this year: My master’s thesis has been properly published, it has a DOI now and is published by the University Ulm (publication page, pdf). Furthermore, another project was published: Circular Selection — I made its code freely available on GitHub (repository).

Job
In the past I did a lot of freelance work besides university (some web development stuff, some software development and some media stuff) and worked in many different roles at university (mostly as a research assistant). This year I got my first proper, professional full day job though. It’s quite a different experience, but I enjoy that I now finally have a time where I can go home and don’t still have to do work. The same goes for weekends, this now really is my free time. At university this was very different and I think for my entire time there I never had any period where I had the feeling that there is nothing I must work on. There was always something to be done, handed in, read about, etc..

Books
I wrote a separate blog post on that topic again.

A short story which really stuck with me was “Trolls Head” by Christopher Fielden, it is sadly not available online though.

Best Photo I shot
I really like the photos I took in India earlier in 2016. I am also very satisfied with some portraits I took of people close to me.

IT & tools
There is no certain “new shiny” tool that I discovered and use now all the time, but lots of small improvements. I am very comfortable with my digital home. I still use Arch Linux and a version of dwm which I modified in some ways which suit me. I still have a heavy focus on the shell and my main tools are tmux, git, vi, ksh, and mmh.

At work I regularly do devops on linux servers and recently out of fun set up my own virtual server to play around a bit. I have kept it and use it for some stuff now.

Article
A theme which has resonated with me throughout this and the last year surrounds Artificial Intelligence, Singularity and the border of human consciousness/machine intelligence. The article “Why Digital Computers Can’t Have Consciousness” postulates an interesting perspective on why conscious machines may not be achievable with current technologies. Though I don’t agree with everything in the article, it provides an interesting perspective. This article provides an opposed point of view.

Outstanding Video/Trailer/Commercial
Valerie showed me Lillies of the Valley and told me about Pina Bausch. The video is really nice and shines some light on the excellence of this choreographer.

I think the Deus Ex — The Mechanical Apartheid trailer is done extremely well and paints an interesting vision of a not so far future. In terms of commercials I enjoyed the visual style and cyberpunkish vibe of the Yamaha – The Dark Side of Japan commercials. This reinforced my interest of visiting Tokyo in the near future.

Movie/Series
I haven’t watched that many movies or series throughout the year. This is something that really changed in the last three years or so. I still occasionally go to art-house cinemas, but quite seldom. In late 2016 I finally got myself to watch the last few episodes of Dexter, a series that I liked a lot in the past. I was very disappointed by the ending though (as a lot of other people were).

Two series which I on the other hand enjoyed a lot just in the last two months were the clever reboot of Westworld and the reality-based Narcos. I also liked the BBC adaption of the War and Peace series (it’s six parts). The score of the series is outstanding.

Valerie got me interested in Woody Allen and I watched some of his movies with her. I like them actually, they don’t take themselves too serious and often show an idealistic world and depict themes surrounding love. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was my favorite so far, I enjoyed that movie a lot.

Music
What stands out this year is White Buffalo, whom I discovered in Buenos Aires, and the electronic music group LORN. Both hit the right vibe at the right time and I listened to much of them.

Technologies I discovered
Stefan deserves credit for getting me hooked on the Aeropress and Chemex. Something I enjoy daily.

Honorable mentions
I discovered (by chance) that a visualization I produced is used for the title picture in a Wikipedia article. That was nice. Also some of my GitHub projects have gathered a number of stars (one even has a couple hundred); that’s also nice to see.

Projects
Finally set up a website/blog for Valerie: http://www.valerie-kast.de.

Got some older projects to work again. Among them is findsgut.de, a platform I created as a hobby project with some friends 2-3 years ago.

Set up a Unix diary: http://micha.elmueller.net/unix-diary. I haven’t announced this here properly, but I added it to the sidebar now.

Looking forward to 2017
What will 2017 hold? I don’t know, but hopefully more satisfaction.

My new year resolutions are:

  1. Buy maximum 5 clothing items.
    I already did that two years ago and found it quite easing to not have the option of buying a lot of stuff.
  2. Cook a new meal each week.
    This is also a repeater with a positive record.
  3. Learn more Spanish and don’t lose all the stuff learned in South America.
  4. Finish up some old, half-finished projects.
  5. Phone more with friends.
  6. Donate more.
  7. Make one publication.
  8. Get rid of more stuff, keep striving for minimalism.

Books in 2016

As in the last years here comes my recap on the books which I have read. The last recaps can be found here: 2015, 2014. This time there is some redundant content with the posts on South America, since I already mentioned some of the books there.

Gayle Laakmann McDowell — Cracking the Coding Interview
I have used this book as a preparation for job interviews. The book does a very good job therefore and is quite extensive. I think it is also a relevant read if you’re not preparing for job interviews, since it attends to many problems relevant in computer science and software development (problem solving, software design, algorithmic design, …). There is a video presentation by the author on youtube which has some of the books content in it. It’s well worth worth watching. The only thing I regret about the book is that I bought the hardcover instead of the ebook (the hardcover is quite heavy).

Becoming Steve Jobs
Why another Steve Jobs biography? I thought the same once I stumbled upon the book, but got quickly interested after reading the foreword. The authors basically describe, that they have the impression that Jobs is often portrayed wrong in media. As longtime friends they felt it was necessary to correct this image. They write, that the war on how history will see Jobs has begun and that they feel they need to contribute their version.

I found the book very good. There is a lot of new information which is not covered in the Walter Isaacson biography, nor in other biographies. If you are interested in the person of Steve Jobs, the book will provide an interesting new angle with a lot of stories and information that are not mentioned elsewhere.

Benjamin Stuckrad-Barre — Panikherz
This is Stuckrad-Barre’s autobiography “Panikherz”, it was an interesting read and I think I have read it at a fitting time in my life. It also urged me to read more about Udo Lindenberg, Harald Schmidt, and Stuckrad-Barre himself. The book is quite long though and I think the overall work would be better if some stuff would have just been left out. On the other hand, Stuckrad-Barre leaves out anything related to women in his life. I see how one can argue for this decision (though he never explains why), but I still feel that the book would have benefited from at least some information or explanations, since this leaves some empty spots and yields unanswered questions.

Ian M. Banks — Consider Phlebas
This is the first book from his Culture Series. Hardcore science-fiction, artificial intelligence, interstellar wars, and space ships. I got interested in reading the books after having read that Elon Musk named various SpaceX facilities after things from the books. I liked the book a lot, though I was a bit disappointed by the ending. But overall it is very well written and thrilling. It reminded me of the Ender Series, though the universe and the characters differ in a lot of ways. I am eager to read more of the Culture Series; from what I hear the first book is sometimes considered the weakest.

Christopher Fielden — How to write a Short Story
Whilst travelling I went through some creative writing material of mine that dates back some years. I was surprised by the quality of it and decided to hand it in to some competitions. Whilst researching, I stumbled upon the aforementioned book and read it. It contains a number of writing tips and insights into the short story/flash fiction scene. This has encouraged me to actually submit two stories to competitions. Besides that there were still things which I couldn’t identify with in the book. My most critical point is that the author suggests to do market research when writing stories and adapt the story material based on that. This is a different approach than I have to writing stories. For me, the trigger to write something is never a competition, it is always a personal experience or an idea that I aim to put into the best story I can write. Doing market research and adapting a story for a certain audiences contradicts my attitude. Nevertheless, the book was a worthwile read. It was quite entertaining and funny, especially since the author includes his own short stories and details the work he put into them and how he adapted them based on the feedback of competition judges.

Rusty Young — Marching Powder
I got to know about this book after skipping through an old “Rough Guide to Peru” which lay around at a place where we stayed. The book mentioned the infamous San Pedro prison tours and after some research online I found this blog post. This was more than enough to get me interested in reading the book. The book tells the autobiographical story of Thomas McFadden who got imprisoned in La Paz (in the San Pedro prison) for international drug trafficking. Read the above mentioned blog post if you are interested in more details about this very unusual and infamous prison. The book is for sure my most favorite book since quite a while. It grabbed my full attention after I had started reading the first page and I am still flashed after having read it. Very thrilling. Reading the book was an experience as I imagine reading “The Beach” whilst staying in Thailand on Koh Phangan must be. I knew all of the cities, had been to most of them by now. Though, opposed to The Beach this book is a biography and not a work of fiction. I could relate to culture specific things he wrote and was totally stunned that all of this had happened here where I was, just a brief time ago.

Eric Clapton — The Autobiography
In my opinion the book could have been a lot better, since he plays his achievements a bit down and often not even mentions them (similar to Stephen King in his autobiography). Nevertheless it is a very honest autobiography and he mentions a lot of incidents which take a lot of courage to admit. After having read the book I started listening back to some of his songs. He describes how they came to be and I could relate to a lot of his creative process and motivations. In my opinion, Wonderful Tonight, My Fathers Eyes, Layla, and Tears in Heaven are songs in a totally different league than an average hit song. This is timeless music which is going to stay. The book also made it clear to me, once more, that at some point in the future I need to look more deeply into The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Grateful Dead.

Bret Easton Ellis — American Psycho
Valerie got me interested in reading this infamous classic, she had it on her reading list since quite some time and read it in South America (I guess the book is even more interesting to psychologists). During that time she always mentioned stuff from the book to me. I had seen the movie some years back and liked it a lot, so this got me interested in reading the book as well. The book was a very tough read though. Some chapters are quite disgusting and very violent and it sometimes was hard for me to read on. But I guess this is the overall literal genius behind the book: creating emotions such as arousal, disgust, and empathy in the same chapter. I am looking forward to rewatch the movie and found it interesting to read up on literary analysis and interpretation after having finished the book.

Philip Ackermann — Professionell entwickeln mit JavaScript
I read the book to get up to date with the latest developments surrounding JavaScript/ECMAScript. The book did a very good job and I worked through it in a short time.

Lutz Geißler — Brot backen in Perfektion
A book with minimalistic bread recipes and an easy technique. I use these guidelines for baking bread. Just a couple days ago I noticed that there is a CRE podcast on bread by the author (in German though).

Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, and Trent Hein — Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook
I took notice of this book after discovering a nice youtube channel (this one) on linux system administration and system tools. The book is really extensive and wide scoped, I have read maybe 60% of it — I see it more as a reference book.

Isaac Asimov — Foundation (Book 1)
Wanted to read something of the Foundation series for a while now. After talking to Oskar about Asimov he lent me his copy. Hmm. I have to admit that I didn’t get really warm with the book. I think this is due to the fact that it was brought to life in the 1940s/1950s and thus is a kind of “historical science fiction”. It seems somehow weird to me to read about a distant future where people still use microfilms and have the idea to create a giant encyclopedia of human knowledge (which due to its enormous size is only available on one planet). I can’t really relate to this kind of — from a today’s perspective — surreal science fiction.

Nizami — Layla and Majnun
I took notice of this book because of Eric Clapton’s autobiography. He explains that besides his love for a certain lady, this book was a heavy inspiration behind the song Layla and the album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”. The book is very much a dreamy fairy tale, it describes for example how two separated, distant lovers communicate via poems which are recited in the population and each of the lovers recognize it as a poem of the other lover once they hear it. It was sometimes a bit too much fairy tale for me, but it contains some nice verses. Overall though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, if it wasn’t for the context of Clapton’s works.

I see her eyes in yours, darker than night;
Yet mere likeness cannot restore her to my sight.
For what I have lost no one can return,
And all that is left are the memories that burn…

Layla and Majnun, Chapter 22

 
To summarize: Throughout the year I read 13 books, three of them in German (because German was the original language in those cases), the rest in English. Overall my most favorite book this year was “Marching Powder”, this one really captured me.

Self Experiment: Double-blind nut allergy test

 

This is an article which I wrote somewhen in 2015 (or 2014, I don’t really remember), but was never sure about how publish-worthy it is. I decided it’s better to publish it now than to leave it lying around.

Valerie reacts allergic to nuts since her early childhood. By chance we found out that she can eat macadamia nuts a couple of months ago. There were other inconsistencies as well: one time she ate a cake and afterwards was told that it contained Milka chocolate — which contains a large amount of hazelnut paste. She didn’t get an allergic reaction from the cake though. But on all other occasions there was a strong allergic reaction when she ate something containing nuts — even if she was unaware of nuts being in the food. This goes so far that when buying ice cream from an ice cream stand, she gets an allergic reaction if the spoon used to take out the ice was in contact with a nutty ice cream.

Then one day a friend told us that she thought she was allergic against peanuts for a very long time, but then found out that she isn’t at all. The background was that her dad reacts allergic on peanuts and when she had an allergic reaction as a child he derived that she had to be too. For years she shared that assumption, until she ate some food unaware of the peanuts inside without any problems whatsoever.

So the small inconsistencies with Valerie’s nut allergy spawned an idea inspired by our university experiences in study methodology and experiment design: why not execute a double-blind self experiment in order to determine if she is really allergic against nuts?

We thus decided to do this. With Leo’s help we baked two types of cookies: one type with chopped almonds and one type with chopped hazelnuts. The idea was for Valerie to eat them and to determine if she had an allergic reaction. We used chopped almonds in order to make the two types of cookies indistinguishable.
In order to further mask the color and taste of the two types we put a large amount of chocolate and cacao into the dough. Right before we baked the cookies we splitted the dough in two parts and added the hazelnuts/almonds. Thus we could exclude a previous nut contamination of the “control group” dough.

A trusted third party (Leo) chose three pieces of each type from the resulting cookies whilst we were in another room. Leo then wrapped each cookie in aluminium foil and wrote a number on the foil. He noted the classification of number+cookie in a sealed letter and put the cookies in a box.

For the next three days we repeated the testing procedure each morning and evening: Valerie would receive a blindfold, I would then pick a random wrapped cookie from the box and feed some pieces to her. Whenever she started to experience an allergic reaction we stopped (and I ate the rest of the cookie). We didn’t want to risk a heavy allergic reaction.

We noted all her guesses and after the three days opened the envelope and checked against the true numbers. As it turns out she really reacts allergic to nuts :/. She guessed all of the probes right, except one were she wasn’t entirely sure, since she had to try it on short notice, stressfully, in between the door after having overslept and being too late for an appointment.

Berlin

 

After South America we travelled around in the south of Germany, visiting various friends in different cities. It was really nice to arrive back in Germany for the summer — everything blooming, amazing weather whilst most friends had their holidays and a lot of free time.

Our plan was to spend one month travelling in Germany, organize some stuff, find jobs, find a flat, and then move to Berlin at the end of August. I see this as an opportunity to start a new chapter in my life here. It already feels like I have left university a long time ago. I think the time in South America has amplified this perception. To me it also feels as if we’ve been travelling for a year or so, even though it was just a couple of months.

Luckily, everything worked out. Since September 1st, we are living in a nice, roomy flat in Berlin-Tempelhof. The area is quite green and there is a subway right around the corner. It is very easy for us to reach different areas of Berlin by subway or by bike. To my astonishment, riding a bike is very comfortable around here and it is very easy to get around. There are just no mountains whatsoever! The numerous bike sideways and bike traffic lights make riding the bike here further comfortable.

Also I have found a nice job here, which started at September 1st as well. I am still a bit flabbergasted that everything indeed really did work out. It’s even still summer here! The weather is amazing each day, a lot of people going out on the streets, eating ice cream, etc..

The company in which I now work since a couple of weeks started out as a typical Berlin IT startup five years ago. But opposed to many startups here, it was more of a business-to-business startup, highly technical, working with high performance computing, big data, machine learning, and real-time web services. They got bought a year ago and are now part of a larger company. The startup mentality (and office) though is still there. I think this is somewhat what I had been searching for: a mixture of big corporation and startup. As a further plus, I am developing software with node.js and git in unix environments utilizing open source software.

We’ll see how things work out, but currently I am excited to start anew here.

 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 7)

 

We have spent some time in Lima now. I was very surprised by how much the Barranco and Miraflores districts have a modern and metropolitan feeling to them. I think these districts could as well be placed somewhere in North America and one wouldn’t be surprised to find them there. Other districts or the city center, on the other hand, are much poorer and do represent more of the Peru which we have seen so far. It was a nice time in Lima and we had a very pleasant last evening there when we met up again with two guys whom we got to know in Iquitos (Tom and Yash).

Besides Lima we have spent some more days in the mountains. Yash had told us about the city of Huaraz and got us interested, thus we took a long distance bus from Lima to Huaraz. This is one of those bus rides where the view is quite nice and it is worth taking a day bus. There is a lot to see during the whole trip, driving along the coast was very interesting as we saw some more of the peruvian deserts and huge sand dunes. This is definitely another side of the country and I was once more surprised by the variety of landscapes which this country has to offer. I feel that it was a wise choice to take a couple of weeks for visiting this country (we have been to Peru now for around six weeks). To me the below excerpt from the book Marching Powder is exemplary for some other travelers which we have met.

Paul, an Australian, interrupted Jay.
“So, where exactly are you from again?”
“It’s hard to say, really”, sighed Jay. “I’ve been travelling for some time now. I don’t feel like I belong to any one place in the world. I’m really from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, if you know what I mean.”
“How long have you actually been on the road?” asked Giles, a longhaired backpacker from the UK.
“Oh, approximately thirty-four days,” replied Jay, nodding his head proudly.
Paul raised his eyebrows.
“A month, you mean?”
“Well, it’s not really a question of chronological time,” said Jay, sounding defensive. “I don’t measure things in that way. I’ve done more than ten countries during that time and it’s impossible to measure any cultural experience in terms of number of days. It’s more of a personal growth thing…” His voice trailed off as though he were allowing the thought to linger for dramatic effect. As an afterthought, he added, “Besides thirty-four days is more than a month, isn’t it?”
“How can you ‘do’ ten countries in thiry-four days?” said Giles, using his fingers to indicate the inverted commas around the word ‘do’.

Rusty Young, Marching Powder
 

In Huaraz we discovered a very nice off-the-beaten-track hostel, in which we stayed for a couple of days. Though technically it is not really in Huaraz since it takes a taxi drive of about one hour into the wild. And then there it is: “The Hof“, an eco-hostel with a focus on sustainability, located in the midst of an amazing view, surrounded by steep, uninhabited mountains and glaciers. There were only a few people in the hostel (or looking after it) and we quickly got to know them. Meals were served family style, whilst sitting around a table together, and in the evenings we would talk until late at night and drink whiskey or play poker. A sweet puppy dog was also around and oftentimes eager to play. I liked this chilled back atmosphere a lot and it was a nice place to calm down after having been to Lima. Also, places like this seem to always attract interesting people. There is no internet connection at the place and electricity is scarce (i.e. only available if the sun shines on the solar panels) — a reason why there is no refrigerator and thus only vegetarian meals. It is also possible to do volunteering at the place; for 4-5 hours work a day one is provided with a place to sleep, bathroom facilities, and food. I can easily imagine how one can get stuck at a place like this whilst travelling. My highlight was the hike to a nearby lagoon and a pizza night, where for the first time in my life I fired a proper pizza oven and made a pizza in it. Mhmm!

 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 6)

 

We have left Cusco in the meantime — after three weeks! I don’t know there the time went, but I enjoyed the time here very much. One thing which impressed me a lot there is the Greenpoint restaurant. After eating in this (vegan) restaurant a couple of times, we got to know the owner and some people in this environment and became friends with them. At first I thought this was just a single restaurant with a couple of people working there. But as it turns out there are around 70 people working in the environment of the restaurant! There was much more going on than I had glimpsed at first. The main reason why there are so many people involved is because they make practically all their ingredients by themselves — vinegar, kombucha, vegan chesse, the bread for burgers and sandwiches and appetizers, sauces, jam, yoghurt, milk, …. A reason is to guarantee high quality and to be sure where stuff is coming from and how it was made. That it is nevertheless possible to operate a very reasonably priced restaurant amazed me a lot. Furthermore, they offer cooking courses where it is possible to learn how to prepare any of the meals from the restaurant. I find this amazing, it is a very transparent way to operate a restaurant for people to be able to see how things are prepared. Also there was no resistance at all to pass on recipes or knowledge. To me this is in stark contrast to “average” restaurants where you can’t dare to ask for the recipe of e.g. a certain sauce.

As a next stop in Peru we have come to the city of Iquitos, which is located deep in the peruvian jungle. Iquitos is the largest city in the world which is accessible only by plane or boat. There are no streets to the city, the airport is very small and the boat takes a couple of days along the amazon to get there. This “endless jungle” makes quite a nice view from the airplane. Since the city is hard to access, a certain culture has established there. For example, there is a lack of cars, since it is much cheaper to get a motorcycle there. A fitting quote from Wikivoyage is: “As a city not accessible by road, motorcycles and mototaxis dominate unlike anywhere else. Imagine if an American style biker-gang had taken over a city.” When on the road you are always in a bulk of motorcycles and mototaxis and sometimes one can’t help but feel like part of a biker-gang when driving around. The vibe and culture here is completely different to the Peru that we have seen so far — which was so far only the mountain region. In fact, when first driving through the city I thought I was back in Thailand: palms everywhere, very hot and tropical, much humidity, a lot happening outside on the streets in the evening, open houses without windows, many many motorcycles and bikes. And insects of course! They usually seem grotesquely oversized and there is a tick too much of them everywhere. Furthermore there are so many fruits available here of which I have never heard before — aguaje, cuma-cuma, cocona, …. So it is possible to get quite unique juices and jam here and it was a joy to try different things.

In the last days we have done an extensive jungle tour here by which I was very impressed. It was very interesting to see this different side of Peru and our visit in this city was quite worth the effort of getting there. First of all, Iquitos is situated right besides the amazon river. I always thought this is “just” a long river, similar to the ones in Europe. But I was quite mistaken and indeed very impressed by its dimensions. I think this is one further thing which one has to experience to really grasp the dimensions (like e.g. Machu Picchu). The amazon river here is about 1.5 km wide and 4-5 meters deep. In Brasil the river gets even wider. When moving in a boat it sometimes feels as if one is on a sea, rather than on a river. From the city we drove up the river for about 2 hours and then into a sidearm for a while. There we reached a small lodge in the jungle where we stayed for three days. Each day we made explorations with our guide — a native of 30 years who got born in the jungle, grew up here, and has lived here all his live. The last time he visited a city was ten years ago. During our excursions we experienced a lot of the jungle environment, went for walks in the jungle, did piranha fishing, swam with wild dolphins, etc.. Our guide even catched a wild alligator from the river. Crocodile Dundee style. The walks in the jungle were extremely interesting, experiencing this kind of fauna and how its conditions are opposed to anything remotely comfortable. There are so many layers of plants in it: the ground which is muddy everywhere, ponds of water, rotting trees, all kinds of plants competing, huge trees, palms, etc.. And all of it is so dense that you need to make a way with a machete. And when turning around you are oftentimes unable to determine where you just came from. Everything just gets back to its previous state so quickly! It is very exhausting to walk around and there are myriads of small (and large) animals that want to bite you. This is such an uncomfortable environment for humans that in my opinion a “jungle walk” is something you do only once. Overall our stay in Iquitos and the jungle was a very unique and enriching experience. The effort of getting there was very well worth the effort. I was very surprised by how much the culture and mentality here differ from the mountains.

I have heard that there are three regions with distinct mentalities and culture in Peru: the mountains, the coast, and the jungle. The coast is the last region which we are missing and the city we head to next is Lima — the peruvian capital which is located at the coast. So I am looking forward to find out how this hypothesis holds up.

In the meantime I have read another book: the infamous classic “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis. Valerie got me interested in reading it, she had it on her reading list since quite some time and read it a couple of weeks ago (I guess the book is even more interesting to psychologists). During that time she always mentioned stuff from the book to me. I had seen the movie some years back and liked it a lot, so this got me interested in reading the book as well. The book was a very tough read though. Some chapters are quite disgusting and very violent and it sometimes was hard for me to read on. But I guess this is the overall literal genius behind the book: creating emotions such as arousal, disgust, and empathy in the same chapter. I am looking forward to rewatch the movie now and found it interesting to read up on literary analysis and interpretation after having finished the book.

 
 
 
 

About Me

I am a 29 year old techno-creative enthusiast who lives and works in Berlin. In a previous life I studied computer science (more specifically Media Informatics) at the Ulm University in Germany.

I care about exploring ideas and developing new things. I like creating great stuff that I am passionate about.

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