MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

Master’s Thesis

In a previous life I have written a Masters thesis. I handed it in at the end of March and have received my degree now. My university accounts have been closed and basically my university life is over now. For a long time I thought I would continue my academic career after the Master, but my experiences at university in recent years have made me rethink this heavily.

It’s somehow bitter that after handing the thesis in, I have traveled South America for a couple of months, moved to Berlin, found a job, worked for a couple of months and only now have received my degree. So in terms of starting a job, all the work I have put into my Master hasn’t been as helpful as I was hoping for.

I have published the thesis under a free license via the universities publication service. It is available there as a proper publication with a proper DOI which can be cited and stuff. The PDF is also hosted there.

 
 

FizzBuzz with Computer Science Undergraduates

During the semester break I was involved in the redesign of a computer science lecture for undergraduates (mostly in their second semester). The lecture is centered around programming topics, such as patterns or object-oriented programming and builds upon the lecture “Introduction to Computer Science”, which teaches basic programming skills in Java (amongst other stuff).

In the week before the semester started the idea of conducting the FizzBuzz test with the undergraduates came along. FizzBuzz seems to be a popular game in schools within the UK and has gained infamous popularity, since some people started to use it during job interviews as a test for developers. The task seems to be quite simple, but more people than you might think do not get it right when asked to write it down on paper without any debugging utilities.

Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”.

Now you might think “Pfffhh! I can do that!”. Well, you might want to try that out before reading on. So we decided to conduct this test with the undergraduates in the mentioned course. The goal was to gather a better understanding of their problems and common mistakes. They were required to program the test in Java. The FizzBuzz test was the second task of the quiz, the first consisted of writing a simple class with a constructor and creating an instance of it. The quizz was not rated, the purpose was just to gather a better understanding of the students previous knowledge and problems.

I quickly want to highlight the most interesting results concerning FizzBuzz: of the 176 participants 28 students (16%) made no mistake at all. Leaving minor errors (syntax, type, assignment, etc.) out, five more students (19%) got the task right. 40 submissions (23%) had so much stuff missing, that they couldn’t be rated. Of the 33 students who got the task right (not taking minor errors into account), 21 reported having some programming experience before starting to study.

21 students (12%) made an off-by-one error similar to this: for (int i = 1; i < 100; i++) { ... }.
81 students (46%) made logical errors, along the lines of composing the if-conditions wrongfully. Wrongful code like this was very common (pseudo-code intended):

if (i % 3 == 0) print("Fizz")
else if (i % 5 == 0) print("Buzz")
else if (i % 3 == 0 && i % 5 == 0) print("FizzBuzz")
else print(i)

Note that the third if-condition will never get invoked. One reason for writing down the if-conditions in this order might be that the exercise text described the cases in this order. It seems to me that the most failure-prone (but also most obvious) approach to the task might be to directly translate the exercise description into code.

The results of this quiz were discussed with the students in the second lecture.

“Any Questions?” Slides

sql questions
The infamous “Questions?” slide in SQL-Syntax
 

A while ago I got bored by the standard “Questions?” slide, which is in almost any presentation nowadays. So I thought about how to create more interesting questions-slides, which could maybe even make the audience smile. These are some of the slides I have come up with and used within presentations. Those presentations were usually directed towards a technical audience and the technical hints should have been clear.

 

JavaScript

C
 

Lambda Calculus

For a Psychologists Audience
 

Shell

Erlang
 

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.

About Me

I am a 30 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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