Dystopia To Go


In 2014 I did a project which I called “Short Story To Go“. The story, however, was none of my own. Since then I wanted to repeat the project with some of my own material. Last year I wrote a fitting short story and earlier this year repeated the project.

The overall idea, structure, and layout remains the same as with the “Short Story To Go”. Also, I have taken the exact same approach to create copies. First, I printed one proper exemplar of the story on a good, duplex printer. Next, I copied these pages a couple dozen times on a cheap copy machine. I like the washed out, somehow dirty look and it was indeed very cheap. Then I sewed the pages together with a sewing machine (the photo on the left shows the result in more detail). Finally, I did cut off the edges, so that the pages align properly. This approach has proven to work very well. It results in a proper, little booklet and looks quite nice. Furthermore, it is very cheap and easy for me to produce copies this way. I guess one can call this “guerrilla publishing”.

The basic idea of the original project is to lay out copies somewhere for people to find and read. Within the copies I suggest to either keep the copy after the story has been read or leave it somewhere for others to find. As an upgrade to the first “story to go” I added a logbook to the back of the copies. This makes it at least feasible to trace how a copy got somewhere and might provide interesting information. I have distributed the stories randomly to some friends and left copies at some places. Also, I carry some with me in South-America currently and leave them at fitting places from time to time.

I have published the source code (XeLaTeX) and a PDF on GitHub.

Looking back on 2014

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

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.

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:

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.

Books in 2014


This is a quick recap of the books I have read in 2014 (in the order in which I read them).

Hermann Hesse — Steppenwolf
Classic. Finally took the time to read it whilst travelling in early 2014. Wasn’t disappointed at all.

Wie war es möglich? Wie hatte es mit mir dahin kommen können, mit mir, dem beflügelten Jüngling, dem Dichter, dem Freund der Musen, dem Weltwanderer, dem glühenden Idealisten? Wie war das so langsam und schleichend über mich gekommen, diese Lähmung, dieser Haß gegen mich und alle, diese Verstopftheit aller Gefühle, diese tiefe böse Verdrossenheit, diese Dreckhölle der Herzensleere und Verzweiflung?

(p. 83)

Xenocide, Children of the Mind
Finally took time to read through the Ender’s Game sequels. I liked Ender’s Game and Speaker of the Dead a lot. Sadly, I found the other two sequels lacking this quality.

Stefan Zweig — Schachnovelle
Very good (and short) read.

Friedrich Dürrenmatt — Die Physiker
Wanted to read it since a long time. Found it quite funny and entertaining. 80 pages, very short read as well.

Glenn Greenwald — Nothing to Hide
Very interesting read. Greenwald chronicles all events surrounding and concerning the Snowden leaks in detail. As much as I was shocked by the leaks themselves I found it equally shocking to see how the majority of the US press handled the leaks.

John Markoff — What the Doormouse said
Interesting read on the influence of the 60/70s counterculture movement on the development of the computer industry and the Internet. Basically the book is a collection of anecdotes. If you are familiar with the history of the personal computer you will surely recognize a lot of the names (Douglas Engelbart, John McCarthy, …).

Engelbart’s view was that if people were willing to spend three years learning how to speak a language and ten years learning mathematics and years learning how to read, they should be willing to spend six months to learn how to use a computer.

(pp. 244-245)

Stefan Tilkov — Rest und HTTP
A technical read. For a university project I wanted to design a REST API, which was a nice occasion to finally read the book. The book deepened my existing knowledge on web-technologies and served as a helpful counselor.

Tony Buzan — The Mind Map Book
Tony Buzan came up with a lot of ideas on how to improve structuring ideas, learning new things or making notes. In this book he describes his ideas as mind-mapping techniques. The book has over 200 pages and from my point of view a lot of the content could have been shortened.
What I found interesting is how Buzan came up with these techniques: as a young man he wanted to get a manual for his brain. He found that everything came with a manual: videorecorders, cameras, etc.. Only your brain does not come with a manual. So he set out to find such a manual, but couldn’t. That’s why he attempted to write one :-).

Even though the book was too bloated for me, I took some things from it. Mainly to use colors, highlights, icons and different letter sizes in a mind-map. He describes in a comprehensible way how this eases the consumption of the mind-mapped information in your brain and helps you to remember things you wrote down better. After the book I started to use mind-maps a lot more and in a more systematic way (especially for learning on exams). My (school-shaped) somehow negative view of mind-maps as the teachers solution to everything was somehow pushed in a more positive direction.

Christiane Florin — Warum unsere Studenten so angepasst sind
I read a small note on this book in the newspaper “Der Freitag” and it got me interested. The book itself is a short read, with around 80 pages. It is written by an university lecturer on the change in mindset of students after the Bologna reform. The book is based upon her own observations and discusses her personal experiences. I found the book to be painfully true and could relate my own observations to a lot of the stuff she describes.

Es gibt Gymnasien, an denen die Hälfte eines Abiturjahrgangs eine Eins vor dem Komma erreicht. Schülerinnen und Schüler wiederholen lieber eine Klasse in der Oberstufe, als mit einem Durchschnitt von 2,8 abzuschließen.

(p. 28)

“Intellektueller” wird in dieser Atmosphähre zum Schimpfwort.

(p. 20)

Hermann Hesse — Siddharta
Read the book for the second time in 2014. Awesome book. A lot of wisdom in there. I find it remarkable how Hesse achieves so much empathy with the character in so little pages.

Robert Bringhurst — The Elements of Typographic Style
The “typographic bible”. I read the book accompanying the lecture “Digitale Typografie” at Ulm University. Well, the book itself is a typograpic classic. There is a lot I took from it. Less technical stuff, more a conceptual understanding of the way Bringhurst sees typography. I found the book to be a joy to read. This is to some parts not only due to the content, but also due to Bringhurst’s view, that one does not choose the format of a book by chance. Instead one should carefully select (or design) a fitting format for the book. He chose a custom format, which I found very appealing — the haptic, the paper, everything works very nice together. The book itself is a masterpiece example of typography as well.

A book is a flexible mirror of the mind and the body. Its overall size and proportions, the color and texture of the paper, the sound it makes as the pages turn, and the smell of the paper, adhesive and ink, all blend with the size and form and placement of the type to reveal a little about the world in which it was made.

(p. 143)

(…) typography should perform theses services to the reader:

  • invite the reader into the text; reveal the tenor and meaning of the text;
  • clarify the structure and the order of the text;
  • link the text with other existing elements;
  • induce a state of energetic repose, which is the ideal condition for reading.
(p. 24)

F. Scott Fitzgerald — The Great Gatsby
First time I read Fitzgerald. As with Hesse, I find his biography very interesting as well. The book was quite enjoyable as well.

Lewis Dartnell — Handbuch für den Neustart der Welt (How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch)
I stumbled upon this book in a small bookshop in Ravensburg, read the two sentences on the back and immediately bought it :-). I had been looking for such a book in a long time. Dartnell bascially describes how one would go about rebuilding our world. For that purpose he gives a crashcourse through human knowledge.

I found it very interesting to see what obvious ideas had taken thousands of years to be developed: the wheelbarrow for example! Such a simple, yet helpful, invention — it took a couple of centuries from the invention of the wheel and the lever until somebody came up with the idea of combining them. Dartnell makes a point in highlighting some of those very simple ideas or phenomena. He argues that a lot of improvement can already be done by conserving such simple ideas — like the wheelbarrow or the possibilities of conserving food or the base of modern disesase prevention: washing hands with soap whilst not bringing sewage/drinkwater near each other, etc.. This was really interesting to see.

Der eigentliche Ursprung der Wissenschaft ist daher die sorgfältige Planung und Konstruktion von Instrumenten zur Durchführung von Messungen sowie die Festlegung von Maßeinheiten.

(p. 308)

Das Wesen der Wissenschaft besteht demnach darin, immer wieder zuzugeben, dass man sich geirrt hat, und ein neues umfassenderes Modell zu akzeptieren. Im Unterschied zu anderen Glaubenssystemen sorgt die wissenschaftliche Praxis also dafür, dass unsere Geschichten mit der Zeit immer wirklichkeitsgetreuer werden.
So gesehen listet die Wissenschaft nicht auf, was wir wissen; vielmehr bringt sie uns bei, wie wir Wissen erzeugen können. (…) Und aus diesem Grund ist die wissenschaftliche Methode die bedeutendste Erfindung überhaupt.

(p. 317)

Herman Hesse — Narziß und Goldmund
Started reading it for the second time. The first time I just didn’t get into it. This time I got hooked and couldn’t stop reading.

Das Urbild eines guten Kunstwerks ist nicht eine wirkliche, lebende Gestalt, obwohl sie der Anlaß dazu sein kann. Das Urbild ist nicht Fleisch und Blut, es ist geistig. Es ist ein Bild, das in der Seele des Künstlers seine Heimat hat.

(pp. 276-277)

John Green — Looking for Alaska
Liked it a lot. I needed some time to get into the book, but then it got me hooked. Had a heavy day with four flights in a row and read the book on that day during the flights.

I am mainly looking forward to complete reading the Kornshell Manual. Have already started in late 2014, but not yet made it to the end. If I just achieve completing this book I will be happy :-).

Reworking Typography: The Last Question


The “Reworking Typography” series continues:

From time to time I find articles, texts or poems which I really like. But in some of those cases the text is typeset in such a poor way that it makes me sad. For me, typography has the same role as rhetoric—the way in which you say something can have a totally different impact and I think this is equally true for text and typography. Sometimes I take time and make an effort to typeset the text in a better way.

In the midst of 2014 I chose to newly typeset the fabulous short story “The Last Question” by Isaac Assimov. There are a lot of versions out there, but I haven’t been able to find a properly typeset one.

I chose to typset this specific story aſter I had read it and was thrilled by it. But sadly the typesetting of the document was horrible. However, it held a lot of potential: typesetting the computer speech or the different time zones for examples. I also liked the idea of using a grotesque font as a body text font, in order to support the futuristic manner of the story. I experimented with various layouts and fonts and at one point even had different, increasingly futuristic, fonts for the different time chapters. In the end, however, I decided to go for the less obtrusive approach.

I chose for a layout of DIN A5 with a two-column layout. I specifically chose the two-column layout, which I somehow associate with a more technical/scientific kind of text. The text was typeset using the PF Din Text Condensed. The computer output was set using OCR-A , a font which was designed as a mean to ease the transformation of printed text into a digital representation. For the ornaments I used the wonderful PTL Roletta Floral Ornaments font. The initials were typeset using two different fonts: the P22 Arts and Crafts and the Final Frontier font used in Star Trek. The titlepage was set using Gotham — a masculine, nearly monospaced, font designed by Tobias Frere-Jones for the GQ magazine. On the soſtware side this document was typeset using XeLaTeX. The (sadly very messy) sourcecode used to render the document is accessible via https://github.com/cmichi/reworking-typography.

The PDF is available here.

This is by far my favorite story of all those I have written.

After all, I undertook to tell several trillion years of human history in the space of a short story and I leave it to you as to how well I succeeded.

–Isaac Asimov on “The Last Question”

About Me

I am a 32 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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