MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

Backpacking South America (Part 3)

 

To me, one of the most interesting things when travelling is to discover food. After having been to Thailand, I started to love Tamarind, Thai Tea, and Singha Beer. In Bolivia there have been a couple of similar things so far. The Cherimoya is a fruit which I have tasted occasionally in Germany, but it is very hard to find there. Here, in Bolivia, it is everywhere. And it tastes awesome! We also have a lot of fun buying random things in Supermarkets, which are not available in Germany but seem to be popular here — Fanta with Papaya taste for example (wuah…) or a wide range of sweeties which one cannot possibly have imagined (see photo below).

 
 

A while ago I started reading on the digital nomad scene — travelling around and making money working over the Internet, e.g. as a developer or designer. Within the scene one can find a lot of tips on how to live “on the road”. One repeating tip is a product called Sugru. From the product description: “…mouldable glue that turns into rubber. We invented it to make fixing and making easy and fun.”. Basically you get a couple of small packages in different colors. After you open a package you have time to form the glue. If you have created a desired form, you leave it to itself and after a couple of hours it hardens. If you just type “Sugru” into the image search of your favorite search engine you will find a lot of examples how it can be utilized. My favorite one is “How to make any toy LEGO compatible!“, though there are a lot more examples that have way more practical applications. I have a pack of Sugru with me and have been looking for an opportunity to try it out. Finally, I found one and recently used it to fix a shower in a cheap hostel. Basically the shower head needed to be held in the hand since the wall mount had been broken. Thus the shower head could no longer be attached to the wall. Sugru to the rescue!

 
 

On another note, I have started to occasionally contribute to Wikitravel in the last weeks. Adding some content here and there or fixing mistakes. In the last weeks I have utilized Wikitravel a lot and read many pages. After having actually been to the cities and checked out some of the stuff, some outdated information came up. I find contributing there to be actually quite rewarding. I would like to write a complete article about a village or city which does not exist there yet. It bothers me a bit that in the past I have been to a number of cities which don’t have an article, without having taken this opportunity. But maybe we will find an uncovered village in the next weeks.

I have finished another book in the meantime: Consider Phlebas by Ian M. Banks. 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 (more details). 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.

So, after an awesome stay in Sucre we went to Cochabamba. But we both didn’t feel comfortable in this city. Maybe this was due to two succeeding holiday days. There was very little going on here, many restaurants, markets, shops, etc. were closed. Very few tourists or backpackers. This seemed to bring out even more of the negative kind of people that plague tourists and backpackers. I haven’t yet gotten asked that unfriendly and penetrative to buy e.g. flowers. Neither have I yet been insulted when kindly declining. There were a couple of nasty experiences and interactions and we both were eager to leave Cochabamba. So currently we are heading to La Paz and I won’t switch on my laptop for a while, mechanical hard drives are mostly not laid-out to be operated on +3000m and data corruption can get a real problem (your warranty may even expire if you take your laptop above 3000m). SSDs are not affected. The issue seems to be caused when the thin air in high altitude is unable to further support the read/write heads of the hard drive. Thus they might scratch the delicate disk surface and damage them. So yes: Laptops can get altitude sickness as well.

 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 2)

 

Bolivia is quite nice so far. We have spent some time in a very quiet city called Tupiza in order to get accustomed to the height (altitude sickness should be taken seriously). A further stop was the salt flat “Salar de Uyuni” nearby the city Uyuni. One might recognize the dried out salt sea from typical photos where the size relation to other objects (mountains, trees, etc.) is missing. A lot of tourists utilize this to take “funny” photos which look like photo-shopped (it is easy to find examples online). We were unsure if it would be worth going there, but in hindsight the visit was very well worth the effort. The salt flat is quite impressive.
We participated in a small tour with some other travelers. On such tours it can be gruesome funny to compare the prices which the other travelers on the same tour actually paid (i.e. negotiated). Of course, nobody paid more than the two Swiss doctors. And of course, nobody paid less than the scruffy rastaman backpacker who chose to tag along last minute.

Since a couple of days we are in Sucre now. I like it a lot here. The city is beautiful. Even though it is the Bolivian capital it feels small and one quickly knows the different streets and directions. There are many vegetarian restaurants to discover and so far all of them offer a “meal of the day” as a lunch. This most often includes a soup, a meal, a dessert, and a drink. The price is normally ~3 euros. Also there is decent coffee available here! As in India, Mexico, and Guatemala, I found that Bolivia has the same characteristic: These countries grow a lot of coffee — oftentimes you even see wild coffee growing — but due to poorness they export all the good coffee and in the overall majority of cases you get some kind of black water if you order a coffee. In Sucre, however, it is feasible to find a decent coffee.

In terms of books, I have gotten unsure about the spanish edition of Jurassic Park. Puh! I have tried to read the first pages, but quickly realized that my vocabulary is way too small. So, I couldn’t resist the urge to read Stuckrad-Barre’s recently published autobiography “Panikherz” instead and have finished the book by now. It was a very 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.

A couple of days ago I had an experience which I briefly want to retell. We were taking a long distance bus late at night. After packing our luggage in the bottom of the bus (without any valuables in them), our tickets were controlled and we could enter the bus. We got into our seats and I placed both our small backpacks in the tray right above us — side by side. There was only one other guy in the bus besides us (a couple of seats behind us). Right after we sat down, Val asked me to get something out of her backpack. I got up and wondered why my backpack was no longer side by side with hers, but rather orthogonal. I thought that I must have somehow rotated it or that the ground of the tray may be slippy. After sitting down for a couple of moments I remembered something to take out of my backpack as well. I got up and only barely noticed the other guy passing me with his blanket and leaving the bus. My backpack was no longer in the tray above us. For a moment I wondered and thought that I might be mistaken, but after some quick glances it hit me. Fuck! I immediately went after the guy, out of the bus. But it was too late. He had already disappeared. I looked through the crowd, quickly ran to different streets, looked around the bus, looked into nearby shops. No chance. Away. I got back into the bus. Val had started looking around in the bus and found the backpack 6 or 7 rows behind us, on the ground, behind a seat. What a relief! And nothing was stolen! I double checked everything. I imagine that my getting up again and again might have come as a surprise and so the guy decided to leave everything before being caught. Wow, what an experience. I am still puzzled by how quickly he managed to get to the backpack and move it so many seats without us noticing. The whole thing happened in under a minute! We are usually very careful and protective of our stuff and were the only two people in the bus besides him. The ticket controlling, having the backpack right above me, and the nearly empty bus made me feel secure, but this experience once again reminded me of being more careful. When I found a pair of unknown shoes in my luggage in Thailand (blog post), that was kind of funny, since I had already anticipated that the luggage might get searched. This time it was more scary, since it was a very close call.

Another thing that we have noticed so far: In most of the restaurants it happens that only I (the male) get asked what we want to order or that only I are asked to taste the wine before it is served. It also happens that taxi drivers ask explicitly me (“Señor, …”) where exactly to stop, though Val has been telling him the way before. When we order the bill its always me who gets it handed to. Whatever you might call that — macho, old-fashioned, etc. — it does not feel right and I dislike it.

To me the culture here seems to be very friendly, concerned to look after, but also kind of dopey in a well meant way. There are countless little things at which I have to chuckle. To illustrate a characteristic that seems to be recurring: We visited a park today and a guide described to us how dangerous the following descent will be and how important it is to be concentrated. Once we started descending we noticed that all the railings and things to hold on to had just been painted freshly! And that on a sunday morning :D!

Another thing which I need to quickly retell. Last saturday there was a “Night of the Museums” in Sucre — free entry into many museums. We discarded our plans to attend this event after seeing the huge queues in front of the museums. But the most intriguing thing was who was in the queues. The crowd consisted of basically purely natives, many many of them teenagers or young adults. I think this would be very unusual in Germany. As it turns out, this event had been created to enable the local (poor) population to visit the museums. It seems as if “visiting a museum” is seen somewhat different here, maybe for exactly this reason: it is a privilege.

 
 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 1)

 

Together with Valerie, I am in South America since a couple of weeks. We will be staying here for some more months. This is the first post in a series of posts “on the road”.

We have spent about a week in Buenos Aires. First time I have been here and I like it. Though, one week has been enough for both of us and we are eager to travel on. The city corresponds to the notion I had of it. Everything is colorful, warm, and interesting. Buenos Aires is often mentioned as a comparable city to Berlin in South America. There is much to discover and I see why people get this idea, though Berlin still seems more versatile to me. Still, we had a very nice time in Buenos Aires and discovered a lot of stuff in Palermo, Palermo Viejo, and Palermo Hollywood (those are all different districts). Though, I still don’t get how the crazy crazy city bus system works. I guess this is due to the fact that there is no public bus transport system in place here, but rather an accumulation of independent, private bus companies driving around. There are a number of “How to take the bus in Buenos Aires” blog posts on the internet — most of these “tutorials” have ~10 steps and detail the process closely. The metro is much easier to use, though. Other things which stood out in Buenos Aires are that there is an enormous amount of parks and trees around (at least in the districts which we visited). In practically every street there were a huge number of large trees besides the road and after just every few blocks there was another park around the corner. I liked this greenish vibe a lot. Another interesting experience was the Hippodrome (horse racing).

We took a Lonely Planet with us, though I am not a particular fan of the series. However, the maps, information regarding cities which are worth a visit, and overall information can be really valuable. Especially maps have in the past often turned out to be very valuable. Thus, we took the guidebook with us. But this particular book contains the entire South America (13 countries). Thus it is thick and weighs a lot. After the first day I decided to get rid of the unnecessary parts. So out of one Lonely Planet there emerged three “new” editions :-). Since we plan to “only” visit Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, we got rid of the unnecessary middle parts. I even made a new cover for one of the new editions out of cornflakes cardboard!

 
 

Furthermore, I am about to finish reading the “Becoming Steve Jobs” book. You may ask yourself: 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 he is often portrayed wrong in media. As longtime friends they feel it is 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 am thinking about moving on to the spanish version of Jurassic Park next, I liked the book so much last year and this would be an opportunity to deepen my Spanish skills. On that front it is going bumpy, but improving constantly. We are thinking about joining a spanish school or a homestay — a possibility to live with a spanish speaking family and learn the language at the same time — for a week or so in Bolivia (maybe in Sucre).

 
 
 
 

After the stay in Buenos Aires we participated in a ten day silent meditation retreat (though separated, men and women were separated). This is a serious undertaking and we both took it that way. Two of my friends have done such retreats multiple times in the past in Central America and I was interested in the experience since quite some time. Basically the retreat is a meditation course and happens this way: you are on the area of the meditation center for ten full days (and two more for arriving and leaving). For the ten days you are asked to stay on strict “noble silence”. This means no talking to other participators and no interaction with anybody (including yourself). You do not write (i.e. talk to yourself), read, laugh, make gestures, or even exchange gazes with others. You are there the whole time and keep only to yourself. Totally alone. Even though there are other people around this does not make any difference. There is a short period of time when you arrive to talk to some people, but this is not sufficient to get to know anybody more deeply. The facilities are kept very basic and plain. There is no distraction in any way and attendees are asked not to wear distracting things and to e.g. not use perfumes. There is an outside area to walk, but there are no flowers or anything. Just some vegetation and some wooden blocks to sit on. So basically, you are stuck on a small area for ten days and have only yourself. You are asked to get up at 4:00 in the morning and attend a lot of meditation hours throughout the day. You go to bed between 9 and 10 pm. There is a strict meditation schedule, which you are asked to attend (and looked after if you don’t), but there are also some couple hour slots for free time. Though you are asked not to do more than sit around, walk, or shower. Breakfast and a lunch is prepared by voluntary servers, dinner is just some fruits and tee. You usually do not get to see many of the servers. Most things are indicated through three gongs (lunch is ready, waking up, etc.). You are also asked to not do any work or exercise during your time there — no washing, sport, yoga, etc.. The whole course though still works very well, since students who have attended such a course in the past and do now attend again, clean the bathrooms regularly in a clever, rotatory way. Everybody is there freely and all servers, the teacher, etc. are there freely and without payment. Everything works because of voluntary donations (of time or money). You are only allowed to give voluntary donations after you have completed a course. The course guides you through a specific type of meditation technique, which you will learn over the course of ten days by following spoken instructions by a teacher. All in all there were about 70-80 people participating (half men/half women).

Well, I have just completed this course two days ago (Val as well). Wow…ten days can be a really really long time and you can get quite lonely. Even though there are other people, you do not interact with anyone and are totally for yourself. There is no way to distract you, since you are even held back from cleaning stuff, preparing food, etc.. Since you are there for that long of a time, you do not need to plan anything, there is no “next week I need to …”, etc.. Val framed it best by saying that this allows the mind to wander to stuff about which you do not think in everyday life. So what basically happened for me was that this being lonely and being silent part in combination with so many meditation did a lot to me. I thought about a lot of past experiences and many things came to mind which I haven’t thought about for years. My dreams were very vivid and a lot of things came up during these days. A lot of time to think about stuff since there are no distractions at all. I honestly have to say that I am still not sure if it was an overall more positive or more negative experience for me. I am quite happy that I did it though. It was really hard for me and I had many ups and more downs. I am sure this was because the last eight, nine months were not a particularly happy or fulfilling time for me and indeed very stressful. This and the consequences which it yielded became very clear to me and this gnawed a lot at me. Ten days…much time to lose yourself in should-have-done’s, should-have-not-done’s, could-have-been’s, etc.. It was a very unique experience and I need some more time to let it sink in to be able to really assess it.

After the silence was ended some groups formed and started talking again. I couldn’t directly talk to a whole group of people again, even hearing a group chatting was too much for me. After some time I got more accustomed. It was an overwhelming, incredible experience to directly talk to a fellow meditator and look him in the eyes. One overlooks this in everyday life, since it is such an elementary part of one’s daily interaction. But after ten days looking someone in the eyes is an extraordinary experience. It was an incredible feeling and is very hard to describe. It felt very intimate to me.

The effect of meditating for so long was remarkable as well and amplified the effects I had already gotten in the past through meditation. The technique progressed over the ten days and a large part of it has to do with feeling body sensations. It is remarkable how fast the mind can adapt and how powerful it is. Ten days is definitely enough to feel the effects of meditation.

Although everyone kept to themselves all the time, I found that I still had formed certain impressions of the other attendees, based on behavior, looks, and some stereotypes. After the noble silence was ended it was interesting and amusing to discover how these images of people held up to reality.

The course we took was a Vipassana course, meditation centers of this organization are distributed all over the world and they all follow the same basic principles (free of cost, voluntary donations, structure, technique, etc.). There are shorter courses by other organizations though. But a ten day course, in my opinion, is one of the more serious undertakings. But there are much harder courses as well — a 45 day silent retreat for example, or retreats in Mexico which I heard about, where you also stay in total darkness for the time of a course. However, the course is finished now. We went back to Buenos Aires for one night, celebrated our re-discovered freedom, and are moving on directly to Bolivia now (I am actually writing this on a bumpy long distance bus). Argentina can get quite expensive and we hope for our money to last longer in Bolivia.

Backpacking India

 

I have been backpacking through India since the Christmas days for about three weeks. Together with Eva I flew to Kochin, where we met up with two other friends and traveled in this constellation for the remainder of the journey.

I didn’t have a culture shock or anything of that sort. I think this might be due to my experiences in Guatemala, Mexico, etc. — those countries have similar problems of hygiene and waste. Furthermore, we have only visited two states and have not been to Mumbai. I was quite surprised by how little of my stereotypes held true. India is quite a big country with quite a large population (> 1.2 billion) and 29 states. Over 100 languages are spoken in India and there are a number of different writing systems. It is entirely possible for two Indians to meet and speak English with each other, since it could be their only common language. These statements should give you a rough idea of just how diverse the culture, infrastructure, etc. might be in different parts of India.

We have visited two (neighboring) states: Kerala and Goa. These two states were enough to already see differences in mindset and culture and I have to say that I liked Kerala (the self proclaimed “God’s own Country”) more. From my impression the mindset of the people was directed much less towards “tourist = money”. This might be due to Kerala being one of the “richest” states in India (well, “rich” in Indian terms…). Kerala is also a state which has declared the war on alcohol: starting from 2014 over a period of ten years they plan to ban alcohol. In the last years they have already limited the consumption of alcohol in restaurants by allowing only a very small number of restaurants to serve alcoholic drinks. This has lead to the odd situation that even though no beer is available on the menu you might still succeed in ordering one. Though, you shouldn’t wonder why it will be served in coffee cups! As part of the draining efforts the sale of alcohol has been limited to scarce liquor stores. The one in Varkala is the most shady, prohibition-like place I have ever been to (photo below).

India is the most vegetarian-friendly place I have ever been to, we had exclusively very good (and very cheap) food. Astonishingly this journey was by far my cheapest one yet; with flight, food (three meals a day, always restaurants), accommodations (no dormitories, only private rooms), etc.. I have had total costs of about 1.000 euros, with the flight being the most expensive part (~600 euros). But of course this is at the expense of hot showers and other things. In Kerala we were staying in a place where I heard a suspicious gnawing in our room at night. The next night I spotted a rat climbing the outside wall of our neighboring hut and had a hunch. The next morning “someone” had eaten through the backpack of my roommate — he had forgotten to remove an open bag of peanuts from his backpack.

In Palolem we discovered something nice: if you walk to the very end of the beach (on the right side when facing the ocean) you can walk to a very small island at low tide. There are some huts and we stayed there for a couple of days. The natural foreclosure whilst high tide makes this a quiet and secluded place with very little wild dogs or tourists. Interestingly all huts on the beach are built from scratch each year, since the monsoon is too devastating.

All in all it was a very nice trip and I would like to go to India again. Maybe even this year?

I have attached some photos to this post. As on the other journeys, I had an analogue disposable camera with me (besides the E-M10 Mark ii). I very much like the color faded, blurred look of the analogue photos. Since I got MediaGoblin running again a few days ago, I have uploaded the below photos in a high resolution there as well (under CC-BY, link).

 
 
 
 

Backpacking Thailand

Together with Valerie I have been backpacking Thailand during September. It has been a very nice holiday and it was hard for me to go back to life in Germany after the holiday. This is mainly due to me being dissatisfied with how things have gone throughout this year. This was also the first holiday in which I switched off my smartphone completely. It was a real pleasure to not be reachable and to not use any computerized stuff. During the holiday I became more and more disgusted of using any computers or electronic devices. I also had to drop reading one of the books I brought with me, since it was too technology focused. I just couldn’t bring myself to carry on reading. Out of recent experiences at university, I have developed a mild aversion against technology and computer stuff during August and it grew stronger during the holiday. Once we were back in Germany it took me a couple of days and a real effort to turn the smartphone back on and go back to working with a computer. Even now, a couple of weeks after the holiday, I am still not back on the original track.

Once I tried turning my smartphone back on, I realized it had broken down somewhere in Thailand. This is probably due to the high humidity there and a couple of deep scratches which were in the screen. Probably the moisture crept in and the electronics broke down. I am thinking seriously about not getting any new smartphone at all. I was a heavy user of WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook before, but now it just disgusts me. Besides this it was a very nice holiday and an opportunity to get away from todo’s, deadlines and concerns.

We landed in Bangkok, but — since its Bangkok — left with the next night train to Surat Thani. Our destination was the island of Koh Phangan, where we stayed for ten days or so. Exploring the island, staying in different places, just drifting around. We rented motorbikes several times and spent entire days just driving around and exploring this tropical island with its beautiful landscape of beaches, coconut trees and palms. There were a lot of small adventures during those days and I enjoyed this time very much. At one point we discovered a small festival hidden in a secluded bay: the Floating Man, a small sibling of the Burning Man.

After staying some nights on Koh Phangan we went to the Ang Thong National Marine Park, a foreclosed group of islands, for some days. Few backpackers know that there are some bungalows and tents in the national park and that one can stay there for the night(s). As a consequence we had a nice time and the park mostly to ourselves. During the day, at around 10 am, some boats with tourists would arrive. But before that it was a nice secluded area where we could observe wild (and shy) monkeys strolling through the lonely island in the morning. In the afternoon at around 4 pm the tourist boats would leave again and the island would quiet down again.

Eventually we found a boat which went to Koh Tao and got on board. Koh Tao is an island famous for its diving resorts. Even though we didn’t dive, we took the time to snorkel and stayed there for the remainder of our journey. This was a nice time, accompanied by driving around with motorbikes, snorkeling and Yoga classes.

To quickly recap some other highlights: it should be a commonly known poor-country-travelling fact that the backpack which you store in the luggage facility of a long-distance bus will most certainly get thoroughly searched for valuables. Thus you should keep all the interesting stuff with you. I adhere to this and have never gotten anything stolen. This time though, after leaving the bus and unpacking my backpack in a room later, I found a pair of sneakers (Vans, size 46) buried deep in my backpack. I guess somebody mixed things up whilst unpacking and repacking. I didn’t have anything missing though. Sadly, by the time I discovered the shoes it was too late to return them to its rightful owner. Also sadly, I got size 43.

We had an interesting experience (not worth repeating) when we took a bungalow in a quiet place nearby a jungle. Since it was very hot we opened all windows and went swimming in the ocean nearby. When it got dark we got back to the bungalow. Well…here comes some foreshadowing clue: many places in Thailand (especially on the islands) have power only available for a certain period of the day — when it gets dark. A previous owner of the bungalow must have left the light switched on. We didn’t notice this when we first got to the place, since it was midday and the power was off. But as we returned, the bungalow shined like a christmas tree.
Since this very evening I can’t figure out why there are zoos in Thailand. From my point of view it is sufficient to just take a room and leave the light on.

 
 
 
 

Backpacking México and Guatemala


Acro Yoga. Comic Convergence Festival. Guatemala
 

Over the Christmas / New Years Eve period I have been backpacking through México and Guatemala again (for three weeks). Two friends of mine are on a longer travel period and currently stay in Central America. We catched up with one of them in San Cristobal de las Casas and travelled with her to meet up with the other friend in San Marcos (Guatemala). There we stayed at the Lago de Atitlán for several days. We also joined in for the Cosmic Convergence Festival (where I had also been over the new years eve last year). After the festival we went back to México: first to San Cristobal and from there to Mazunte, where we stayed for the rest of our time.

As last year, I got a lot of impressions. Good ones as well as negative ones. Let’s first get over the negative impressions, before we come to the cool stuff. My main negative impressions are corruption (having to pay “special fees” when aiming to cross the border) as well as the water quality. I think a lot about a story I heard: a teacher who is afraid of stating how disruptive corruption and criminal structures are for any society. Just imagine what goes along with this: a generation of kids growing up without the understanding of how bad these things are for society and with the believe that this is “normal”, since nobody tells them otherwise. Oh my.
Concerning the water quality: this is not just a thing of comfort, it is essential. If you are not able to brush the teeth with tap water or shower with a mouth open because of fear of parasites this affects all parts of your life. E.g. you can’t just cook vegetables or prepare a salad. You need to sterilize these things first by letting them soak in a special solution. You also need to be careful about dishes — have they been properly cleaned? Are they still wet? Not paying attention to these things can lead to complicated problems. I suspect that the bad water quality in some regions (where the sewage system was build to cheap) goes along some path related to corruption.

My most positive impressions are the people. Natives as well as foreigners. There is a huge scene of hippies and dropouts in México and Guatemala and I have the impression that such countries — with fewer regulations than in Europe, and not so enforced restrictions — attract a crowd of interesting, unusual people. Maybe because they don’t fit anywhere else. Or maybe because they have more possibilities there. Or maybe because they find people like themselves in those regions.

I have to mention the extremely fertile vegetation — seeing wild cotton and coffee growing…that’s just beautiful. I also met dropouts who own a 2 hectar permaculture farm. This amazes me a lot. I have the impression that whatever you plant within the vegetation in those regions will just grow. The land makes an incredibly fertile impression. In one hostel in Guatemala I drank coffee which was grown, roasted and grounded within a one mile radius of the hostel.

The two friends I met up with are experienced backpackers, whom I have been to Central America with last year. Whilst I continue studying, they have decided to take time off to travel the world. So far this works very well for them. One of them has been hitchhiking through the USA, México and Guatemala with his tent. Staying here and there. Getting to know interesting people. Before we met up with him he had been helping out teaching at a local school. The other one has joined a yoga community in México and is diving deep into yoga, permaculture and meditation.

Even though I travelled with very good friends I needed to sometimes get some lonely time. If this would have been a longer journey I would have needed to split up. I got two main lessons from this journey: travelling alone often yields more personal freedom and speaking the language of a country is key to the people. I strongly feel as if journeys into such countries expand ones worldview and give one a more appropriate picture of ones own situation.

Now that I am back in Germany I am still a bit off. Quite a hard cut to be in deep México one day and thirty hours later in a totally diverse Germany. Quite hard to go back to the ordinary everyday life. Traveling gives life a different feeling. I want to go back traveling.

 
 
 
 

Looking back on 2014

As I did for 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 here comes my recap for 2014.

Typography
In 2014 I dived further into typography, my main highlights were getting more comfortable with XeLaTeX, reading Robert Bringhurts “The Elements of Typgrahic style” and typesetting more content (especially the Short Story To Go). I also took a lot from hearing the lecture “Digital Typograhy’‘ by Dr. Borchert at Ulm University. Within the lecture I learned PostScript, MetaFont, TeX internals and more typographic knowledge. The lecture was an ideal complement to my interests and already existing knowledge. This was actually the second time I visited the course, the first time (2-3 years ago) it was too advanced for me.

Typography is to literature as musical performance is to composition: an essential act of interpretation.

Robert Bringhurst
 

The font I liked most was Lucas de Groots TheAntiquaB, which is the font used by the magazine “Der Freitag”. De Groot has e.g. also created the font for the “taz” and “Der Spiegel”. Another font I came to like very much is Friedrich Althausens (free) Vollkorn Font.

Best Paper
I finally read the original paper on the vi editor by William Joy and Mark Horton: “An Introduction to Display Editing with Vi”. Even though I work with vi on an everyday base, I still took a lot from the paper. In 2014 I strongly continued my efforts to understand the tools I regularly use, I feel that this paper deppened my understanding of the vi editor.

Best Photo
Well, this of course has to be the monkey selfie (see the Wikipedia if you missed out on that event).

Best Articles
In this article Markus describes his thought process on how to license his own work, discussing different licenses and at last deciding to put everything within the Public Domain (the article is in german).

Autonome Fahrzeuge: Wenn Software über Leben und Tod entscheidet ” is an article on some interesting thought-experiments: what if an autonomous vehicle has to get out of the way and unavoidably will ram either car A or car B — which criteria should be taken to decide which car to ram?

How Wolves Change Rivers” is an interesting article on the vanishing and re-introduction of wolves in a nature reservoir. The article highlights which unforeseen changes thus have happened to the landscape.

I love book covers. This article is full of brilliant ones.

The local press surprised me with an interesting article on underground passages in Ulm: “Zwischen den Bahnhöfen Ulm und Stuttgart”.

Best Blog Posts
I found this post a nice collection of LaTeX/XeTeX features: “Beauty of LaTeX”.

How to Write a Git Commit Message” held some insights and improved my way of writing commit messages.

Riding with the Stars: Passenger Privacy in the NYC Taxicab Dataset” is a post on the de-anonymization of data in a dataset released by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. The author describes his process in detail.

Best Podcast
This is an easy decission: Hoaxilla #107 – ‘Waldorf-Schule’. This was one of those podcasts which totally opened my eyes. I grew up in a region where the so called “Waldorf-School” was a common thing and I never gave it much thought. I knew some people who went there and always somehow associated it with an education with a focus on nature. Little did I know of all the esoteric parts. It got even worse: after further reading on the topic it occured to me that some popular medicine manufacturer is also heavily based on Anthroposophy and some popular agriculture labels as well (German Wikipedia Page). Oh my.

Books
I did a separate post on that topic.

Own photos
I like the two uppermost photos in the “Backpacking México and Guatemala” post a lot. I am also very satisfied with this photo, which I took on the Isle of Seurasaari whilst visiting friends in Helsinki:

Music
The Killers — Romeo and Juliet, Chet Faker’s “Thinking in Textures” album, the Milky Chance “Sadnecessary” album, Tom Odell’s “Another Love”, Kendrick Lamar, Okta Logue.

Technical Stuff
Been using Arch Linux for the most part of 2014, I am very satisfied to finally having made the switch. Stuff I work with each day: tmux, ksh, mmh, nvi, git, dwm, uzbl, firefox, spotify. The tool that improved my workflow most in 2014 is mmh, a mail client in Unix style.

Words which stuck

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

Oliver Wendell Holmes
 

Weil, so schließt er messerscharf,
nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.

Christian Morgenstern (from the poem “Die unmögliche Tatsache”)
 

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present

John Green, Looking for Alaska
 

Each word I write drops a little more of me onto the page. In time, I will be the book, the book will be me, and the story will be told.

 

I found this definition of privacy very striking:

Privacy is the condition of being protected from unwanted access by others.

Sissela Bok
 

Own Projects
Did a lot of stuff in 2014, the most important ones to me were:

The GTFS visualizations
Once I had the idea, I described and sketched it to a guy at university. He told me it was “senseless”. This decreased my motivation enormously. However, I still managed to finish it. The GTFS visualizations have been very nicely received and I am quite proud of this project. Others have done visualizations for other cities with the tool or extended the project. I printed two DIN A1 posters and since early 2014 they are now proudly decorating our living space.

The Short Story 2 Go was a great success. I am very proud on this project.

With the Scratches project I am also very satisfied. Still looking for a way to present the resulting images in an exhibition or something similar.

I had the idea for the reworking typography series in mind for a long time. In 2014 I finally managed to finish two pieces: The Last Question and Hibernation.

The “Kunst oder Kitsch?”-Installation was a “real-world” project and I learned a lot from building an installation that ran for three months and had a couple thousand visitors.

The fragdendienst-project was probably one of the society-relevant projects I did so far. I am proud of the reality-affecting context of the project and the fact that it runs in production.

Also I finally took the time to complete some unfinished projects:
Comic Strip – Why you shouldn’t mail *.doc files
The Principles of Datalove — Audiomashup
Exploring the ZEIT ONLINE API

In 2011 I did a project — Ulm Timelapse. Dirk Maasen has recut the video into a visual accomposition to fit his musical piece Dirk Maassen feat. An imaginal Space – Lichter. The resulting video is amazing and I could not have wished for such a beautiful work building upon stuff which I did.

Good decisions
In early 2014 I switched my newspaper subscription from the taz to Der Freitag. This has proven to be a very good decision. I draw a lot from regularly reading it, mainly improving my general knowledge and staying informed on what happens in the world. I find that reading a newspaper gets me to read articles, which I would normally not have read when glancing through online news sites.

Another good decision was to look after always having fresh plants in the kitchen. I found this to be uplifting.

University Life
Since April 2014 I have been working on the Mobile and Ubiquitous Computing Project at university. This has been a lot of fun for me, I haven’t written anything on this blog since, but I will after the project is finished (probably in April).

As part of my resarch assistant job at the university I have been working with the OptiTrack system. This is an expensive, professional optical tracking system and it was interesting to see how one develops applications for such a system and interacts with the API.

Best movie
A local cinema had a series of older movies running, I was especially keen by the Banksy movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop” on the topic of Street Art. I found the movie to be very inspiring and I was very enthusiastic for the days after watching the movie.

Looking forward to 2015
In 2015 I want to focus on my Master degree. I aim to finish it in the winter semester of 2015 (meaning I would be finished by April 2015). I strongly want to finish this chapter of my life and start towards new things.

Ulm Underground

From my impression the Geocaching scene in Ulm is quite active and there are a lot of caches. These are some photos which I took on two expeditions with friends, whilst searching for some of the underground caches. One cache is e.g. hidden in an old air-raid shelter (“Luftschutzraum”) which can only be accessed through a hole in the wall (the Warmduscher-Cache). The photos have been taken about one and a half years ago, but I didn’t get around to upload them.

 
 

About Me

I am a 28 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.

License

All content is licensed under CC-BY 4.0 International (if not explicitly noted otherwise).
 
I would be happy to hear if my work gets used! Just drop me a mail.
 
The CC license above applies to all content on this site created by me. It does not apply to linked and sourced material.
 
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