MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

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.

B/W Devil’s Mountain

Went to the old american field station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin and took some black/white analogue photos.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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.

 
 

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.

 
 
 
 

Experimenting with black/white film

 
 
 
 

Going Analog

 

I got myself a little present: a nearly forty year old analog film camera — the Olympus OM-2n with a 50mm f/1.8 lense. I have quite some fun with it and since two weeks I photograph solely with this camera. I don’t even take a digital camera with me anymore.

The photos in this post have all been shot with the OM-2n. It is noteworthy that I haven’t post-processed them further — no color grading or other effects — these are the photos as I got them straight from film development.

 
 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 8)

 

Right now we are back in Germany and look back on a wonderful time. There were also negative events during our holidays — we nearly got something stolen three or four times, strange remarks on World War 2 directed to us, tourist agencies overly stirring the fear of criminality for marketing purposes, or nasty ways of trying to get money from us — but I barely mentioned them here. I feel that the good parts of such a journey should — and do — stand out more. There were also a lot of small incidents when I had to chuckle. I remember one particular time when we were getting breakfast in a peruvian upperclass hotel (i.e. not really “upperclass” and quite cheap) and I noticed that the forks, knifes, etc. were a wild mixture of pieces from different airlines imprinted with labels such as “LAN Airlines” and little plane logos :).

Back in Germany I am amazed by how much the landscape and culture here differs from Peru. I am currently in the south of Germany and the summer, the dense forests, and the wide fields amaze me. Today I had a longer train ride through this rural landscape, mostly along the Danube river. This amazed me a lot and I spent most of the time just looking out of the window. There is so much beautiful countryside here! I would love to show some foreigner from e.g. Peru around. I would probably take them on a walk in the nature along the Danube, which is so full of green and sprouting vegetation at the moment. I would go on a hike to an alp hut with them and eat a cheese platter there. I would take them to an original German brewery restaurant with thick and tasty beer and rich food. And I would take a long train ride in a rural area with them and visit some old town district. There are so many details when living here which are different to the cities which we visited. On the first day back in Germany I saw a kindergarten group doing a leisure trip on a nice summer day. On a secluded train station in the middle of nowhere they were waiting for their next train. Each kid held hands with another kid and they were lined up in pairs. Two very enthusiastic ladies were looking after the whole group. To me this feels like something very characteristic to this country and it was quite nice to have this kind of “welcome” here.

Nevertheless, it needs time to get accustomed to being back here. On our trip we tried desperately not to get into contact with other Germans, but here they are just around everywhere! Furthermore I can now safely keep my mouth open when showering, I can now actually use zebra crossings again and in cars I need to remember that there are safety belts. Pleasantly, the noise level in cities here is very low, especially compared to large cities like Sucre or Lima. Lima is actually so disturbingly loud that there are “horns forbidden” street signs. Besides the constant horns triggered by vehicles there are many other factors which increase the noise level. For example, the streets in many areas are so bad that passing buses trigger the theft alarms of cars which are parked on the street.

Another thing which for me is the overall conclusion of all my travels that gets affirmed more and more with each country which I visit, is how similar people are everywhere. It really is quite strange, that a peruvian man of my age who had a totally different upbringing, education, and lives in a very different cultural background, has the very same longings and goals in life. It is indeed very easy to relate to somebody in this different culture and I think that the western media and news reporting oftentimes yields a different impression of the world.

I shot the photos in this post with the same throwaway camera that I had with me on a couple of journeys before (they can be found in older posts tagged with throwaway camera). They are all analogue and I quite like the grainy, unsharp, somehow washed out look of them.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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!

 
 
 

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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