Transitions

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.

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A splendid idea, as it turned out.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

https://www.instagram.com/p/_45nn3vpuU/

Here is the beauty closed and painted.

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Inside the cabinet leads a thick bundle of network cables that I then patched onto a patch panel.

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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.

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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…

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1. Januar Symbolbild. #cat #sleeping #chill

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I’M A FIRIN MA LAZER! – Science Hack Day Berlin 2015

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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#science #SHDB15

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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.

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The train was designed and printed by Michaela. It even featured a hole for a LED, but we dropped that due to time restrictions.

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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.

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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/

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.

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Mount Doom is actually in Scotland

Our days on the isle of Mull were over. We said goodbye to the tiny coastal town, hopped on a bus to hop on a boat and moved to the port town of Oban. 

To Mull and Beyond! — Scotland 2015

Finally summer. Sitting in the warm sunshine, having cold drinks, swimming in the lukewarm sea while the sun sets over the horizon. What better thing to do than to go to the sunny shores of Scotland. Last year we didn’t do any long trips so I see this trip to Scotland as the continuation of our tour of Northern Ireland in 2013.

When choosing the destination to enter Scotland, easyjet helped with the decision by making Glasgow a lot cheaper than Edinburgh. Upon our arrival we understood why. Glasgow is an ugly assortment of seemingly random convulsion of concrete and more concrete. In the spirit of the middle of last century the city was designed for automotive traffic and not pedestrians and so you end up crossing big and bigger roads constantly while being crammed to a tiny footpath.

We didn’t do Glasgow justice by spending only a short time there. Towards the end of our journey we met a lovely lady in Oban who gave us a list of things to do in Glasgow.

  1. Ride the subway. Edinburgh has none, Glasgow shines with a circular underground line.
  2. Visit the Glasgow school of arts, do a tour there.
  3. Visit the town hall and get a tour there.
  4. Have food at a nice Italian place in the area.

We did none of the above. Partly due to lack of time, partly due to everything being closed by the time we arrived.

What we did instead was this. We arrived at a lovely air bnb (hello Lou!), dropped our stuff and explored the neighbourhood. Not that Glasgow is beautiful, we mainly followed a large road. It led us to the pub 78, a vegan café restaurant pub student hangout place. “Burger and a pint” it said on the menu. “Burger and a pint” I said seconds later to the waitress.

Burger and a pint is what I got.

And what can I say: although vegan, the burger was delicious. The “meat” was some bean and stuff thing, but no tofu, and it felt absolutely right. When in Glasgow, head for the 78!

After this filling dinner we still strolled around Glasgow for a bit to find the train station and sutff. Did I mention how ugly Glasgow is?

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We stayed and watched for a while. It didn’t help with figuring out what they were doing. It was cricket. Apparently this guy was in a hurry.

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Yes. Sometimes the pedestrian walkway just ends in a corner next to a motorway.

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From doro.
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Any flat with a cat is a great flat.

We found what we wanted, returned and had a good night of sleep, eager to jump on the train to head on North.

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I love my betabook.

I spare you the four hundred blurry photos out of the train window. Just know that the ride is very pleasant, shows lovely landscapes and is highly recommended as an alternative to the shaky bus on windy roads. Next to us a group of women in their forties continuously poured pink alcohol in their painted faces. They were fun.

Last stop on the line: Oban!

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Crab sandwiches were had. They were okay, a bit heavy on the mayonnaise. Compared to Berlin standards still a blast.

We didn’t stay long in Oban as the next step lied already in front of us: the ferry to Mull.

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From Doro
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My fancy shoes, before. (From Doro)

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From Doro.
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From Doro.

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And from the ferry we hopped onto a bus to Tobermory, our final destination for the day. A bumpy ride on single lane roads later we arrived in the small harbour town of Tobermory.

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The hostel in Tobermory offered very basic comfort. A very charming staff could not fully make up for the tiny tiny bathrooms, the low pressure showers and the courtyard that had to be crossed before reaching the showers. Still, it served us well as a base to discover the Northern parts of Mull.

So far we spent our days mostly seated, in planes, boats, trains and busses. Time to get into hiking mode.

On the North edge of Tobermory a walkway leads past a number of waterfalls through a small forest. Perfect for beginners, to soften the shoes and harden the calves.

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From Doro.
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I filmed a lot during this trip. Now I just have to find the time to put it together into an amazing travel video. (from Doro)
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From Doro.

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Luckily we had left the horses on our balcony.
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From Doro.

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From Doro.

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From Doro.
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From Doro.

That’s it for today. The next time I will tell the story of how we both got sunburn in Scotland and how we climbed an island full of puffins.

Scotland 2015 – My Favourites

Before I enlighten everyone with a more detailed and more personal blog post about our adventures in Scotland I present you here my favourite photos.

Teaser: We’re back, bitches!

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