Days are getting shorter, darker, colder – a perfect opportunity to revisit my summer holiday this year.
Hi. I live in Berlin, I write about food and photography and everything else. I am a plant scientist and I studied biotechnology in Berlin. I am younger than some but older than others.
As it so happens another year passed in the blink of an eye. I moved places, made a house worth living in and got married. And last weekend it was already time for the Science Hack Day Berlin again, which attended last year with great success.
In about a week’s time I’ll be hopefully on the shore of the French atlantic coast in Brittany.
Ten years ago I’ve been already there. We were a group of friends, Henny, Yann, Giannina, Julia, Yannick and me, and just a year short of graduating high school. In August we decided to head out to France, in an adventurous journey of overnight bus and train, to spend a week or so in Yann’s family’s little cottage near the coast. In Erquy we promised to dig out the garden in exchange for room and board. Well, we provided for ourselves, but we were really happy about the house.
Being just around 18, none of us could drive anything but a bike, and so we hiked and biked around the area. We were enough to split up on days, so some of us explored the coast on foot while others just enjoyed the sun on the beach, playing volleyball or go for a swim.
Last week ten years ago it was Yannicks birthday. We celebrated with Haribo and beer and even his parents stopped by for a bit. I don’t recall exactly why they were in the area, but they were very welcome.
I was on antibiotics due to a tick’s bite some days before the holiday. I was extremely light sensitive and alcohol affected me way more than I expected. One night I tried to climb out a window because I didn’t want to stay behind while the others went to the beach. I was way too drunk. Yann and Yannick used their towels to shush me back inside. I fell into bed and slept.
To this day I remember that summer. It was my first time on an adult-free holiday, far away from home, surrounded by friends. I just bought my first DSLR, a Canon EOS 350D, and played so much with it. I grew closer with Giannina, with whom I only had few interactions before. And I had so much fun with all of them.
When it came to fulfil our debt to Yann’s parents, the digging in the garden, Yann, Yannick and I went topless and just by sheer muscle power moved around 2 cubic meters of dirt. We then first posed for some photos and then proceeded to drink and dance to music in the streets. It was glorious.
As with any good time, also this one went past way too fast. And with any good time, this one created plenty of long-lasting memories. The meals we prepared together, the evenings at the beach, the long hikes on the mountainous shores of Brittany, the jokes and the discussions. I miss the days we had.
Today, six years ago, a drunk driver ran his car over Yannick, who was biking down a street in San Francisco. The driver checked what had happened, got back into his car and drove away. Yannick died.
I miss Yannick.
Every good American knows that Europe has three Cities: London, Paris and Venice. It is of utmost importance to visit every single one of them and only them. This is to be educated about the old world and to tell the family back home, how much culture there is.
On this year’s longest day we made the next step into adulting: putting rings on each other, signing papers, saying the big „yes“.
insert something about time has passed yadda yadda
I am doing so many things at the moment but still I feel like I don’t have anything to tell on this blog. Yes, the house is coming along fine, yes, at work I do work that sometimes works, yes, I eat all of the things.
In the last post I counted the weeks between that post on the previous one. Well, I’m not gonna do that now.
We moved. January was hyper-busy, due to a shit landlord of the old flat who overthrew all our plans for a smooth and easy transition. Instead of handing all our unwanted stuff over to the new tenant for a decent compensation, the landlord declared a rent-stop for the flat and we were left with a metric shitload of things to get rid off. We struggled but managed in the end.
The moving day itself went super-well, thanks to the many helpers without whom this achievement would not have been possible. It payed off to have helped all the other moving parties in the past. We hurled tons of boxes and furniture down 4 flights of stairs and up another two. We filled the basement of our new place to the brim and stacked the boxes neatly in the living room. Finally we were done and we finally moved completely into our new home.
Obviously the work wasn’t over then. Since the end of January I spent every weekend either at Ikea, Bauhaus and furniture stores or in the house setting up the furniture. That is the main reason, why I did not post anything: nothing really happened. We got cupboards, a couch, I installed all the network gear necessary and we did minor work in the garden.
At work I jumped between smaller and bigger presentations, my first real results and a workshop about electronic lab books, where I was an invited speaker. An interesting experience, certainly, but it also added to the workload. I developed a lovely little headache that is always with me, and for a couple of weeks now it rises and falls, but never completely leaves me. It’s a clingy little thing.
I did not really take any interesting photos lately, my camera had more pictures of plants and furniture to sell than anything else. I put the few okay ones interspersed in this post. I hope that soon I’ll be back up photographing stuff and people, I really miss the creative work.
Speaking of productiveness: I finished two things that I’m a bit proud of. The first thing is a guest post in Sarah Shailes‘ blog „Plant Scientist“ where I talk about the chloroplast and why it is an interesting organelle. It was a welcome experience to write that post, and thanks to Sarah I believe it turned out pretty decent. And who knows, maybe soon I’ll use that experience for something of my own.
The second thing is way more hands on. I managed to clean out a room in the basement and build a workbench from scratch in there, thanks to my birthday gift: a cordless circular saw. We bought some 20 meters of wood and I cut it to size and constructed a rather sturdy work bench. I’ll soon put a little time lapse of the process, once I can clear out some technical difficulties in the production.
So what’s going to happen now?
I will certainly work a lot, I am in an intense phase of my Phd, but it hopefully will yield some good results in the end. I want to use my newly acquired workshop to build some furniture pieces for our new apartment. I will create more. The last year was determined by the house that needed a ton of attention, and now the workload there will reduce and I hope to have some time to think about different things.
Like the garden. Over Easter Tegan and Iman came over to help with removing some tree stumps and in general clearing up the garden. Iman was not even stopped by the fact that it was his birthday and soon we prepared a decent patch that was shrub-free.
Today we added a bed after we removed 400 tons of roots from the soil. Soon there will be tomatoes. And salads. And what not. Doro has the overview.
Well, until then.
It has been about 10 weeks now since I last wrote here. It was about the great Science Hack Day Weekend Bonanza.
That was back in October. November and December flew past and now it is a whole new year.
This is a quick recap of the past events and a foresight of the near future. Everybody seems to be doing those at the moment, and I just have to go with the flow, which is very unhipster of me. Anyways, the title of hipster king has been snatched away from me recently, so I can finally live free again.
Somewhere in November Doro and I used a much too warm day to head down to the Harz Mountains and have a hike there.
A splendid idea, as it turned out.
Not only was there no one else, we also got one of the clearest days of November and could enjoy the view over storm ridden mountains.
Apart from that little excursion we were mostly busy with house stuff. „House stuff“ encloses all the tiny and big tasks around getting a house renovated and ready to move in. I can’t really tell, what exactly we’ve been doing, but it was one of the following: Buying tiles, transporting tiles, cleaning the house for floor sanding, organizing electric installations, moving in Doro’s mom, putting all the stuff in the basement, moving all the stuff in the basement around, installing cupboards in the basement, sanding of hand rails, …
In the other half of my life, I finally figured out I was running into a metaphorical wall with my project at work, and also figured out a way around, or rather through that wall. All while my incubators kept cooking my algae.
We also had an amazing lab retreat. Lab retreats are social endeavors set up to transform a group of co-workers into some sort of friends, with fun and games and socializing. That’s why our group decided to head all the way South to a castle near Tegernsee to hold a conference. We spent around 12 hours per day inside of a pretty castle’s seminar room, only interrupted by fancy food and coffee breaks.
The mountains were super pretty, though.
I also spent an afternoon with the new hipster king Szymon and my dearly missed office mate Alix in Munich. People in Munich are super rude and inconsiderate, and I say that as a Berliner. Berlin is not exactly known for its heartiness. And I found the poorest attempt ever at cool typographical postcards.
Directly after the great trip down South I explained about a hundred times the benefits of my flat to potential new tenants to take over my contract. About a week was spent cleaning, giving tours, getting documents together, repeat. But we have now a good bunch of candidates and hopefully our landlord will like them as well.
In the much more recent past I spent most of the time, guess what, doing house stuff. More specifically I built a little networking cabinet to hold all the equipment for my gigabit home network.
The cool thing about this thing is, that I built it from scratch, with scrap wood and without any plans apart from my own. And it turned out pretty fine.
Here is the beauty closed and painted.
Inside the cabinet leads a thick bundle of network cables that I then patched onto a patch panel.
The final assembly allows for convenient patching of my network connections to a switch (yet to be installed) and finally into the router for internets. I have more than enough room for more equipment in there and I spent about 20 EUR on a 19“ compatible cabinet that would cost around 200 EUR as a professional solution. I am really happy about the outcome.
So much for the past.
I am usually not the type for new year’s resolutions. An arbitrary date will not make me change my behaviour any more than any other day of the year. But as this year’s end coincides with a rather big change – moving to my own house in a „settling down“ kind of way – I want to keep some thoughts about the future in writing.
Tegan summed it up rather well. She wants to make, think, join and give. I relate to that a lot.
Making will come easy, as it is pretty much required for my upcoming endeavour of moving and more so, settling in. I really enjoyed making that cabinet, and I have a couple of other wood projects in mind, plus some electronics, plus some cooking and baking. This year came a bit short in terms of making anything else but house stuff, and I’m confident that next year will be more fruitful.
Thinking is an equally easy thing to accomplish to a certain extent. My work is half thinking and half filling pipette tips in boxes, so I’m pretty well on that end. But I also want to think a bit, well not outside the box, but outside the box (I had a very funny word of play here with my group leader’s name. I’m keeping it for a special moment). I want to think about the bigger questions, like what am I doing with my life, where do I want to be, is there life after science?
Joining is a tough one. Joining implies interaction with people. But maybe this is exactly what I should head for. I joined a Science Hack Day, and I loved it, not despite but because of the people there. I should explore more niches and find like minded people. Usually my social contacts are only people from my current work. I lose touch very quickly and don’t know anyone outside this close circle. This is something to work on.
Giving. I complain a lot. The weather, the people, the train service, the people, Germans and the people in general. Although I take a lot from society, I don’t give much back apart from the occasional rant all the time on twitter or in person. Recently it came to my mind that I don’t like that anymore. I still enjoy a good rant, pretty much about anything. But I’m tired of having this as my default state of mind. It is utterly boring to first dislike everything. This year I will only nag after I tried it. Or have very solid evidence about the misdemeanors of a thing (this sentence mostly serves as an excuse not to do all the drugs or burn down a refugee home. Some things are shit, even before having tried them). Giving means for me giving back some positivity in general and maybe some other things more specifically. I will elaborate on those.
Next year will be as busy as the last, and I look forward to it. I want it to be more productive in the best sense of the word.
But until then…
Finally I can put this category „hacking“, that I started when setting up this blog, to a good use.
This weekend, from the 23rd to the 25th of October, the Science Hack Day took place in the fab lab in Berlin. I was so lucky to hear about this one ahead of time, not like usual only 4 weeks later. So Doro registered me while I was in a car in Saxony (work, yay!) and some 2 weeks later I sat down on a red plastic chair in the fablab.berlin in Prenzlauer Berg.
#SHDB15 start fo lightning talks + crowd pic.twitter.com/02RC5G2tn3
— qubodup (@qubodup) October 23, 2015
After a few lightning talks that covered private space hacking, light installations and the hacks behind bee keeping it was time for some project pitches. In some weird turn of events I came first on stage and presented my idea: Building a physical interface to display digital data from public transport data sets. Not very sciency, but hey, data and visualization were ticked off the science hack bingo sheet.
The following pitches were more or less sophisticated, weird and interesting. Then we formed groups and much to my surprise a group of 5 or so people were interested to follow my idea and build an interface. We talked and joked and shared ideas before we went home to get some rest to prepare for the upcoming hackathon.
Saturday morning we brainstormed and planned our little project. The goal was to create an object that is once set up and customized to provide exactly one kind of information, much like a watch on the wall. There is no interaction needed to get the information you’re looking for. Of course all information is available on other channels, but always hidden behind several taps or clicks. Much like a clock on the wall, that could be replaced by a smartphone, which can even show time in different places on the world. The physical appearance of a piece of technology like a clock though provides a different feel for the interaction and provides a quicker but specific feedback.
To keep things simple and straightforward we wanted to create an installation, that illustrates the distance of the next train to our station. To start our daily commute to work we could just look at our product to see, how far the next train is from our station and whether we have to run, can casually walk or still have plenty of time. Or even missed the connection. We chose the station on Prenzlauer Allee at fablab as an example. To avoid electronic parts we wanted to build a physical interface based on a moving train cart that physically approaches our station. A circular indicator provides information if we should go or stay and wait.
Our little team, comprised of Canadian Matt, US American Michaela, German Tom, Gil and me started to work on the different parts of the project. The computer geeks started coding, grabbing live train data from the internet. Berlin unfortunately locked its data behind and authentication process, but we could find useful data in London. Matt took care of talking to the Arduino driving the stepper motor while Michaela took care of the mechanical problems involved in the project. I was designated designer and mostly played with the laser cutter. The wheel on the stepper motor to hold the piece of string to pull the train was one of my best designs. I measured, put a vector file together and had it cut to fit so perfectly on the axle that we didn’t even have to glue it. I love laser cutters.
Our first prototype just consisted of a stepper motor hooked to the Arduino and a piece of string with tape to measure movement speed and precision of the stepper motor.
The thing below is from another group. It is science.
The stylized map of the neighborhood was cut into a piece of MDF. I was amazed how well the laser cutter translates the vector files into super sharp marking on the wood.
The train was designed and printed by Michaela. It even featured a hole for a LED, but we dropped that due to time restrictions.
The whole thing is powered by an Arduino Uno and a motor shield, both of which are fed by some clever python code from a PC.
I focused on the physical aspects of the build but it should not be forgotten how important the coding was. Gil, Tom and Matt managed to put some code together that worked really well not only for the demonstration purposes but is also easily adaptable to real application with live data from the public transport providers.
And this is the working train in action.
After the hacking comes the presentation on Sunday. Every team had 4 minutes to show their work. It was impressive what was pulled off in the short time. There was a PCR machine hack, a tunneling electron microscope, a visualization of CO2 production by websites and several health hacks, including a device to detect teeth grinding when sleeping. After these impressive presentations we were quite surprised to hear that we did not only win the best design price but also the audience favorite (shared with the teeth grinding detector). Now we can all look forward to 6 months of free 3D printing at fablab! Wooooooo! \o/
Best design hack from @clastronautin @HPI_DE goes to public transport tangible interface
— Science Hack Day BLN (@SHD_Berlin) October 25, 2015
Here they are! Best design hack pic.twitter.com/cNDJMd2R50
— Science Hack Day BLN (@SHD_Berlin) October 25, 2015
Und den Publikumspreis – WOOHOOOOO! o/ #SHDB15 pic.twitter.com/cTA21DvpSA
— Marco (@AlphonsPho) October 25, 2015
We quickly assembled for a group picture in the absence of Tom, who couldn’t make it on Sunday. And we will use our prize as an excuse to come back together and print things together, in 3D.
Winter is coming.
That’s the best occasion to review one of the best days I had this summer.