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December 30 2016

09:30

Twenty Sixteen and Me (and Games)

The year is almost over, meaning that it’s time for my traditional “what I did this year” post1. The year of 2016 is universally hated, in my opinion wrongfully – it’s not the fault of a slightly arbitrary measurement of the earth’s rotation that so many bad things have happened. Many inspirational people have died2, but many more will likely die in the next couple of years. Many bad things have happened around the world, but considering that soon one of the most powerful nations in the world will be led by a group of imbeciles, I don’t even want to think about all the bad things that will still happen.

But this blog is supposed about me, so how was MY year of 2016?! It was a bit odd, I guess. My master’s degree was nearing it’s end in February already, as that’s when I finished the last exams I had to take before my master’s thesis. Most of February and March were then spend agonizing over a topic, before I finally decided to just ask my professor for one. That went rather well, and the next couple of months were spent preparing the experiment I performed for the thesis. My professor turned out to be an excellent supervisor and was very helpful throughout it. After the experiment was finished, I started writing my thesis in September and eventually finished in November, when I handed it in. I’m still awaiting the result.

So even though I’m technically finished with my degree, I’m still biding my time at university, doing another course I don’t really need the credit for, and teaching two tutorials. I’ve been planning for this to be my last semester at university, and I’m hoping to find a job by the time it’s over (so in April). I have no idea if that’ll work out, so there is a lot of uncertainty for me ahead.

adastra_2016

What else was 2016 for me? Looking at my visual representation (generated by dailyfratze), I seem to have had a lot of fun with friends, did a bit of renovating, and went on a few very short trips around Europe3. I also started participating in Postcrossing again, and re-discovered my 20 year old stamp collection.

But I think the biggest thing for me in 2016 was board games. I have been a board gamer for a very long time (first contact was in 2005), but it has taken me this long to actually really, really delve into the world of board games. This is due to the fact that I finally dared to join a Meetup group of board gamers, and finally took all my courage and attended a meeting. I’m always terrified of going somewhere where I know nobody at all, all by myself, but I’m glad I did because I got to meet a lot of awesome people. Ever since I first attended one of those meetings this summer, I’ve been going almost every week to a board game night and I even started organizing some myself. That way, I got to play TONS of awesome new board games. I even started using BG Stats, an app that also connects to Board Game Geek, and thanks to that I have awesome statistics of the board games I played this year:

  • In 2016, I have altogether played games 173 times – a huge increase over the 24 games I played in 2015. Out of those 173 plays, I played 67 unique board games, out of which 34 were completely new to me (in 2015, I played 10 unique games, none of which were new to me). And this year, I played games with no less than 64 different people, at 10 different locations (compared to 7 people at 4 locations in 2015). Wow.
  • The #1 most played game of 2016 for me is Codenames, which I played altogether 37 times, with 22 different players. That’s probably no surprise to anyone familiar with the game – it’s a fun, lightweight party game that usually plays very quickly, so we tend to play multiple rounds when playing it. Most of the games that I’ve played a lot in 2016 are similar – short, lightweight games that are usually played at least twice.
  • As for new games, some of my favorite new discoveries of 2016 are Burgle Bros., which I played 5 times with 12 different people, Adrenaline, which I’ve played 3 times with 9 different people, Clank!, which I’ve played twice, and Lords of Waterdeep and Castles of Mad King Ludwig, both which I’ve played only once so far.

I think 2017 will be an even more exciting year for board games, since I hope I will be able to attend many more meetings and play many more new games.

But other than that, I hope I’ll successfully finish my time at the university (even though it’s scary to leave those familiar surroundings), start a new career, have more fun with friends, and travel to some awesome places, this time hopefully for longer than just a weekend. We’ll see…

October 21 2016

09:15

Stamps and Letters

Well… I’m prepared for my retirement, as I have recently unearthed my stamp collection. Though this is probably the most old-man hobby ever, I actually spend some time in my teens collecting, or rather, organizing stamps. At some point back then, I discovered bags and boxes full of stamps in the attic, which apparently my grandmother had collected. Since apparently I had nothing better to do as a kid, I started putting those stamps into a stamp album… and for a while, I collected stamps of the letters we received. I also got a bag of stamps from some store because they had horses on it, and I was a very horse-obsessed child.

In ended up filling not only one small, but also one very thick stamp album. However, I was apparently not very patient and/or organized, as there wasn’t really much of a system to how I arranged them. I sorted them very roughly by country, but most of it was just a huge mess. Especially the German and American stamps, as that’s what I had by far the most of:

My stamp album spent the last 12-14 years quietly sitting in boxes or on shelves, hardly ever being looked at. Very seldom, when I was going through boxes in the attic, I might have peeked inside. Eventually I moved them from my parents’ attic to my own shelves, just in case. So they were just gathering dust for years… until earlier this year, when one of my Australian friends asked for penpals via Facebook. She had just recently become an avid stamp collector, and was looking for someone to trade stamps & letters with.

I volunteered, as I liked the idea of having her as a penpal. I used to have a few penpals in my childhood & early teens, and I still have an entire box full of letters at my parents’ attic. But somehow, this hobby seems to have fallen out of fashion with the rise of the internet. Also, I guess we all grew up into vastly different people, so our penpalships disappeared into oblivion. But thanks to my Aussie friend, I rediscovered how much I enjoy writing letters. It feels great to write a long, coherent text with my hand, something which I hardly ever do anymore – to do lists and class notes don’t qualify. I discovered that writing a letter is kind of meditative, because it’s such a different experience from writing at a computer screen. There is slightly more time to think, but once something is on the paper, it can’t really be changed much anymore. However, I also discovered that it’s really hard to remember what you wrote in the last letter, because there just is no way of quickly looking that up like in an e-mail. How did people manage before the internet?!1

One of the positive side effects of gaining my Australian friend as a penpal was that I enjoyed having a penpal again so much that I got myself a few more penpals. I have heard back from one of them so far – actually my first “pen only” penpal in 12-14 years, and I’m looking forward to getting to know someone entirely via letters.

And the other positive2 side effect brings me back to this post’s main topic: stamps. Since my Aussie friend and I started also exchanging stamps from our collections, I had to keep looking at those insanely messy stamp albums. So eventually I just couldn’t stand it anymore and acquired a new system to organize my stamps. Those were just plain black sheets with a varying number of rows to hold stamps. They are certainly a huge improvement over the old albums, because they are clear and the stamps can be seen better, and reorganizing is made easy because every individual sheet can be moved just like a piece of paper inside a folder. They have a few disadvantages though; they are kinda thin and tend to bend, and sometimes the stamps move inside their rows. Altogether, it’s a huge improvement though. Just look at this:

Naturally, I re-organized my entire collection. My stamps are now primarily sorted by country, then by prettiness and/or series. I have finished almost all countries, except for the US and Germany, as those are SO MANY. I have started sorting the US, but unfortunately that’s when I ran out of empty sheets, and I’m currently way too broke to afford more of them. I was surprised that what previously looked like such an unseizable mess is actually not as messy as expected.

During the process of sorting them, and also as a result of postcrossing, I discovered some gorgeous stamps of planets… and fell in love with the idea of collecting space-related stamps. That stamp I got via postcrossing actually got me researching, and I actually arranged for someone from the US to get me a whole mint condition sheet of those awesome planet stamps. They are definitely the highlight of my newly re-arranged collection. But I also had a few other space related stamps, which now (next to horses) enjoy their own category in my stamp collection:

Since collecting stamps is such a bottomless pit, I decided to concentrate on planets and space as my area of interest (though I also generally like nature and animals, especially indigenous species). I hope my collection will have many more planets and stars in it by the time I retire and can give my full attention to this hobby! I’m sure my penpals will help somewhat. I’m really glad that just one penpal sparked these two hobbies – I think stamps are a pretty fascinating, as they are tiny little glimpse into the history of a country, while having penpals is just really satisfying in a digital world. And to think that it was once pretty much the only way of long distance communication…

Those are fragments that I found inside the torn off corners of letters, in the bags and boxes of stamps that my grandmother collected. Imagine how many letters she must have written and received… well, my [her] collection gives me a rough idea.

September 12 2016

18:10

A Tall Giant

Majestic mountains misted in silver,
Stand surrounding a spectacular secret
A hill, hidden among them, hedged by streams.
From afar it looks feeble and small,
Dominated by the dwarfing, distant peaks.
As I approach the apex that expands across the plane,
across the vast valley between the valiant summits,
that modest mount mesmerisingly grows.
Through rills and rushing rivulets I walk,
that weave a web, wreathing like earth’s veins,
until at my toes a tall giant stands.
I clamber and climb up the craggy path,
Through sparse grass and greenery that grows on the rocks,
Past cattle that cowers cautiously away.
As I ascend, the sun shines one me softly,
Illuming the landscape in luscious colors.
Finally I finish my flight up the mountain
And before me is far and wide a fantastic sight:
I stand on a summit that seemed so small from afar
Yet is still modest next to the marvelous mountains
That expand prodigously past the vast valley.

August 23 2016

07:15

How to improve your board game box – next level

Last year in October I wrote a blog post about the wooden box I crafted for my copy of the board game Dixit and some of its expansions. Since then, my game collection has grown even more, despite the fact that I still don’t get to play my games as much as I’d like.

Though I didn’t have quite as grave problems storing any of my other games as I did with Dixit, I am always slightly annoyed when I open a game box to a mess like this:

Look at that! Baggies everywhere, and some of the components are held together only with an elastic strap – and in my experience, those straps are broken the next time I open the game box. And for some more component-heavy games, even sorting out the mess in the box will take a long time until you can get a game going. Starting a game should be a smooth and seamless experience, not 5-10 minutes of figuring out what goes where.

So, what to do about that? Well, I spend a lot of time on boardgamegeek.com every once in a while, and during one of my BGG heavier phases, I discovered that there is a whole community of geeks who build their own inserts for board games. While some of them use other materials, by far the most popular material is foam core (aka foam board). It’s basically thick paper (used for crafts) with a core of slightly squishy foam. Yet it is very firm, while also being easy to cut and very lightweight.

To learn a little bit about the basics of foam core, I watched some YouTube videos about using it for creating board game inserts. I then went to my local crafts store around the corner and bought a bunch of foam core sheets (and a cutting mat). I started crafting my first insert right away, a rather simple one for the game Codenames. I thought it turned out rather well, so I moved on to the next couple of inserts. After my second one I had some trouble cutting the foam neatly, and eventually realized that the knife I used wasn’t sharp enough anymore. Here’s some advice if you’re interested in working with foam core: buy a new, very, very sharp box cutter, and have plenty of spare blades. After my 5th and 6th inserts, I’m already down two blades, having snapped them off repeatedly while creating only one insert.

So after these little problems were solved, I attempted my perhaps most complex insert yet; Power Grid. And this time, I even made a timelapse video of my creation process:

Rather than creating a fixed insert (like my previous ones), this one is actually a set of several removable inserts that can be used during gameplay. The bank, for example, always ends up a bit of a mess during a game of Power Grid, so that was what I created first for this insert, and then I build the rest of the insert around it. I added a tray for the resources, which can also be used during gameplay and conveniently separates the resources. Then I created one box per color for the player tokens, which can also be used during gameplay. Finally, the remaining tray holds the power plant cards (and the new cards, which are like an expansion). Here’s the final insert again:

Photo 08-08-16 16 10 10

It’s so neat and orderly! I wish all board games would just come with neat and orderly inserts, as I’m definitely not the only one who is bugged by this. There is a whole industry about this, as there are several online and/or etsy stores which sell custom inserts made from wood or foam core. But a lot of geeks are crafty themselves, and there is a huge GeekList on BoardGameGeek of people’s custom foam core inserts, who obviously all feel the same way about the rather crappy inserts that come with the games. That list a great place for inspiration, and I’ve consulted it for my own inserts and sometimes based mine on some of the ones I found there.

So far, I only made 6 inserts for my messiest game boxes and I’m very happy with how they turned out. Most of my other games are fine the way they are now, but I guess sooner or later I’ll be making new inserts again. If you’re interested, you can view all the inserts I made on my own GeekList of inserts.

During the process of creating these, I noticed how much of a waste of space most board game boxes are. 90% of the board games I have could easily use about 20-30% of the space they currently use. Sometimes even the actual board is a lot smaller than the box, which really makes me wonder why they needed to put the game in such an oversized box. However, even if the width and height of the box is defined by the board, there is usually a lot of vertical space that is massively wasted. The box for Legacy: Gears of Time, for example, would be fine if its depth and breadth was only 40-50% of what it is now. If I apply that to all of the games in my collection, I guess I could easily fit twice as many games on my shelf. But since that’s unlikely to ever happen, I’ll just have to continue saving space by crafting inserts that accommodate expansions, so at least those don’t take up any extra shelf space…

July 03 2016

08:10

Postcards All Around the World

Earlier this year I decided to sign up for postcrossing again, and in this blog post, I’d like to share my experience with this project. It’s a project with a very simple concept – first, you request an address of a random stranger somewhere in the world and send them a postcard. Once you’ve done that, you will receive a postcard in return, but not from the same person – from another random stranger somewhere in the world. In our increasingly digitalized world, this project aims to bring joy to mailboxes that otherwise only see bills and spam these days.

File 01-07-16 21 29 26

I’ve known about postcrossing for a very long time. I have been a member there before – about 10 years or so ago. Back then, I sent out about 5 or so postcards, but was very quickly disillusioned. The postcards I received in return were the crappiest I could ever have imagined; terrible tourist cards with even worse photography and excruciating typography. Sometimes they even were horrible ad cards. That’s definitely not what I hoped for – I hoped for those nice and beautiful cards that I’d seen (and send to my friends) at places I’ve traveled. The prospect of more crappy cards, and my financial situation back then (I was still an apprentice) caused me to quit the project.

Earlier this year, in some odd fit of spring cleaning, I decided to rearrange the postcards on our fridge. Our fridge is where all the postcards go that our friends send us from their vacation. And since the color theme of our kitchen is blue, I always aim to display the bluest postcards most prominently on our fridge. However, that turned out a bit problematic, as we didn’t have enough blue(ish) cards to fill the entire fridge. And an additional problem is that in many cards the colors tend to fade, making them look washed out after a few years.

So this lack of a steady supply of blue postcards to replace non-blue and washed-out ones, is what finally caused me to sign up for postcrossing again. The postcrossing community seems to have come a long way since I was active there last – many people have special requests for postcards they prefer, and many people actually take that to heart when selecting a card for someone. So in my postcrossing profile I ask people to send me the bluest postcards they can find in their collection, preferably ones with nice blue skies and seas. And so far, it worked rather well – out of the 23 postcards I received in the 3 months since signing up, only 2 weren’t really that blue. I like some of my received cards more than others, but so far, 5 of them actually made it onto the fridge.

File 02-07-16 07 35 37 copy

Unfortunately, postcrossing is not a hobby for impatient people (which I sometimes am). I have learned that it takes a ridiculous long time for postcards to arrive in some countries. Same vice versa – the first couple of cards that I received took between 18 and 37 days to arrive in my mailbox. It’s kind of disheartening at the beginning, when you keep thinking “Oh, there must be about 5 postcards arriving soon!” while opening the mailbox, and still nothing. But after about 2 months of sending postcards into the world like a maniac, the supply of postcards to my mailbox has become steadier. By now, I usually have about 1-3 postcards per week in my mailbox.

Another slight disadvantage of postcrossing is the imbalance of countries. There are certain countries that are way more active in sending postcards than others, while other countries have significantly fewer members. This basically means that the majority of postcards you will receive will be from the top eight countries; Germany, Russia, USA, Netherlands, Finland, Belarus, Taiwan and China1. The 23 postcards I have received so far came from only 12 different countries, while the 31 cards I have sent have gone to 16 different countries. This is only a minor disadvantage, as it’s still the thought of random acts of kindness that counts most in this project. But I would hypothesize that the hunter-gatherer in us aims to collect ALL THE COUNTRIES and impatiently awaits a new, unexplored country to send a card to / receive from !

File 01-07-16 21 29 12

My patience regarding the site has actually increased. There are limits to how many cards you can send at the same time, and when I was just starting out, I would immediately write a new postcard once another one I sent arrived. But by now, I’ll just wait until pretty much all the cards I have sent have arrived, and then send out a whole new batch of cards at once. That’s also a bit more economical, as this hobby is not quite cheap. While the website is free to use, you will of course have to buy postcards and stamps. For me, sending one postcard costs on average about 1,50€. A stamp for international postcards is 90 cents in Germany, while the price of postcards varies a lot. I have a whole bunch of free ad cards that I collected over the last 20 years, but many postcrossers don’t like those. So I also bought a bunch of random cards from the internet, and then of course I wandered around Düsseldorf trying to find pretty cards of the city. There’s a place in the Old Town that has nice ones for 1€ per card, and the tourist information offices also has nice ones for 1€. But by accident, I recently found that the EuroShop sells cards that are surprisingly pretty in batches of 3 for 1€. So that’s actually a very good option, as it’s the least expensive way to get very decent Düsseldorf cards. Not all people want tourist cards though, so I always try to find something suitable from my big index of cards when I request a new address on postcrossing.

File 01-07-16 21 28 47

If you play by the rules, respect people’s wishes and send out only cards that you yourself would like, postcrossing is a wonderful hobby for a world which has become almost completely digitalized. Despite occasional disappointments, it brings a tiny bit of joy to people around the world. Postcrossing is truly about getting a glimpse of people’s lives – and there are literally all kinds of people there. From children to 90 year olds, from fashionistas to nerds, from professors to housewives – so many types of people I would never encounter in my life. So far, a lot of the people I sent cards to seem to be housewives or retired, while only one or two seem to be geeks like me. It’s such an interesting hobby, even beyond the postcard aspect. I’ll definitely continue this for while, perhaps even once my fridge is freshly restocked with stunning blue skies.

May 01 2016

14:00

The Magic of The Magicians

“Hogwarts for adults” is how Syfy’s new show The Magicians is popularly described – but it’s SO much more than that. I admit the parallels are pretty obvious; both The Magicians and Harry Potter are about a guy who discovers magic and proceeds to go to magic school. Both stories have a truly terrifying, seemingly omnipotent villain. And in both stories, the school teachers seem surprisingly unhelpful in solving problems. But compared to the complexity of characters in The Magicians, Harry Potter seems terribly flat.

Actually, I would argue that The Magicians is rather the spiritual heir to Buffy the Vampire Slayer1 – fully matured. In BtVS, we got to enjoy the everyday struggle of teenagers in a supernatural high school, who underwent mind-blowing character development in expertly crafted season arcs while at the same time being delightfully quirky, nerdy and/or funny. And that’s exactly what The Magicians channels perfectly. Its nerd factor is already fully fledged, and most of its characters have already undergone dramatic developments. There is certainly a lot of potential for a brilliant series arc, since so far only one season of the show has aired.

Brakebills_Season-1-768x390

So, Harry Potter meets Buffy? Well, perhaps when watching the first one or two episodes you might still be drawing comparisons, especially to Harry Potter. But unlike its younger cousins, The Magicians is set at a university; Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, which offers a three year graduate program in magic to (in this case) Ivy League graduates. And with university come all the things that only grown-ups can handle; sex, addiction, mental illness, abuse, gore, swear words… Finally, a show that doesn’t pander to a specific rating, but rather that just bluntly does what it’s supposed to do with full force! The first season gets darker and darker as it progresses, until it finally unveils the gruesome machinations and consequences of its plot. It’s so good that this is one of the very, very rare shows which I definitely want to watch again at some point (perhaps once we’ve seen all future seasons).

Not only does The Magicians have an intriguing plot, it also has some of the most interesting characters I’ve seen in a while. It centers around the very unusual Quentin – unusual for a “hero”. He is socially awkward, he has trouble making eye contact, he is a complete nerd and full of geeky knowledge, nobody seems to get his references and actually he’s quite a fanboy, – OMG he’s me! You could argue that The Magicians puts its primary target audience in the position of the hero, because I’m pretty sure that many viewers will feel the same way about Quentin. He’s a hero us geeks can totally identify with, because many of us have lived a similar life. But at the same time he is also deeply flawed and struggles with all of life’s obstacles. I’m really curious to find out how his character develops in the future2. He is also part of a great ensemble and each of these characters has found a way into my heart by the end of the season in their own twisted way.

I can highly recommend The Magicians to anyone who is a fan of great storytelling, very nerdy, and/or who enjoyed Buffy and Harry Potter. But perhaps it would be clever to wait a year or two, because the cliffhanger that season one ended on was just brutal. How is anyone supposed to wait almost a year for a resolution to THAT?!

May 23 2015

14:49

The Future is looking Grimm

Or is it? Over its past four seasons, Grimm has established itself as a rather serene show. Despite it dark and gritty outward appearance, its serialized plots always tend towards a happy ending – as one would expect of a show that is largely inspired by fairy tales. The world of Grimm is inhabited by creatures (‘Wesen’) that cannot be seen by the majority of the population. They are sort of creatures that live inside people, but the people themselves are the creatures. They only show this when they want to or when they get emotional (‘Woge’). Some of them are harmless, others are very dangerous. These dangerous Wesen are the ones that the titular Grimm has to tackle. A Grimm is someone who, unlike most people, can see Wesen for what they really are and has superhuman strength to fight them. Nick Burkhardt, a detective in Portland (its setting in Portland makes the show feel very authentic, as it is always shot on location), discovers that he is one such Grimm and is hurled into a whole new world when his Aunt Marie dies and her powers pass on to him. As the name suggests, the Grimms are descendants of the German fairy tale collectors (and linguists), Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. This is definitely also the reason for the heavy use of German in the show, which I’m sad to say it absolutely abysmal. It seems like the writers used a dusty old dictionary to translate one word at a time, resulting in ridiculously wrong names such as “Bauerschwein” or “Leben Sauger”. Google translate does a better job than the Grimm writers, and really, why didn’t they hire a German to proofread? But eventually (as a German speaker) you’ll get used to this weirdness and just accept it as a method to tying the show to the brothers Grimm. According to the lore of the show, they were the first to publicly record stories of Wesen (however, the ‘Grimms’ have existed before the brothers, only under different names). This concept of a parallel world that is kept under control by select chosen ones is very reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you substitute Slayer with Grimm and Demons/Vampires with Wesen. This is not surprising, as Grimm was co-created by Buffy & Angel alumni David Greenwalt.

GRIMM -- Season 4 -- Pictured (L-R): Claire Coffee as Adalind Schade, Sasha Roiz as Capt. Sean Renard, Bree Turner as Rosalee Calvert, Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, David Giuntoli as Nick Burkhardt, Bitsie Tulloch as Juliette Silverton, Russell Hornsby as Hank Griffin, and Reggie Lee as Sgt. Wu-- Photo by Chris Haston/NBC.

The cast of Grimm: Claire Coffee as Adalind Schade, Sasha Roiz as Capt. Sean Renard, Bree Turner as Rosalee Calvert, Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, David Giuntoli as Nick Burkhardt, Bitsie Tulloch as Juliette Silverton, Russell Hornsby as Hank Griffin, and Reggie Lee as Sgt. Wu — Photo by Chris Haston/NBC.

Unlike Buffy, however, Grimm is also a police procedural, and suddenly for Nick, seemingly every murder case seems to be Wesen-related. Grimm is a very typical murder/monster of the week show, in which the monster/murder tends to take up the majority of any given episode, while minor screen time is devoted to season/series wide plots. Now, this MotW pattern has its pros and cons – its most obvious purpose is to attract casual viewers who don’t want to bother with serialized plots. However, I have long been a fan of more serialized shows, as they tend to be much more rewarding. In Grimm, the MotW plots sometimes seem very much out of place, especially towards the end of the season when stuff is getting really exciting. But they also contribute in giving the show a lightness that makes is so digestible, similar to Castle. Also much like Castle, Grimm has established a rather positive attitude towards its own characters. Unlike in other shows, which seem to be drowning in ridiculous amount of drama, the characters of Grimm are not only likeable, but they also all appear to like each other and always radiate that feeling of a fairy-tale style happy ending. For four seasons Grimm has been a relatively lowbrow show with utterly predictable plots and magical deus ex machinae that save the day.

Spoilers Follow (up until episode 4.22)

Until now. After over 80 episodes of positive outcomes, I couldn’t believe the events of the season four finale. I’ve come to expect a solution in which everyone lives happily ever after, but it seems that not only one but two characters are now dead for good. This seems surprising, as characters on the show have died before, but were brought back to life – such as Captain Renard, whose brief experience with the afterlife was a major season-wide plot point that came to a conclusion towards the end of season four. But shortly after his little problem was taken care of, the most gruesome, dramatic plot point so far has unfolded; Nick’s mother, also a Grimm who lives off the grid, came back to town only to walk straight into a trap that led to her decapitation. To make things worse, the antagonists left Nick a nice surprise to discover when he comes home; his mother’s head in a box. And even worse, all of this is a repercussion of Nick’s former lover Juliette having turned into a Hexenbiest after helping him to regain his Grimm powers, which he had previously lost due to Adalind’s (another Hexenbiest) mischievery, which again had numerous causes. This showcases that the series-wide plot is a lot more complicated than you would expect after I have praised this show for its relative simplicity in this blog post… and it seems to be only getting more complex. Not only does Nick have to suffer the shock of losing his mother, but also the loss of Juliette, who, after having turned into a murderous Hexenbiest, was seemingly unstoppable and finally killed by Trubel, another Grimm, when Nick fails to pull the trigger on Juliette (for more on her character development, I recommend the The Mary Sue).

I still can’t quite believe that both these characters are really dead. I still expect the upcoming season to conjure up another deus ex machina or a clever plot twist that reveals Nick’s mother and/or Juliette to be still alive; how could Kelly Burkhardt walk into such a trap? Throughout the episode, I expected her to jump out of the shadows, revealing a cunning plan to fool the antagonists into thinking she’s dead. But when it was revealed that the child that was with her is really Diana, I couldn’t be believe it. She really IS dead?! How is that possible on a show as fluffy and predictable as Grimm? I predicted pretty much every ‘plot twist’ from season one through three, how is it possible that Grimm is now turning into such a gruesomely grim show? I have similar feelings about Juliette’s death; there must be some way that she is not dead at all, considering that even Renard survived three bullets to the chest. Only the Grimm writers know for sure, but one thing is clear: it seems that at the end of season four, Grimm has completely abandoned its comfort zone. This was foreshadowed in the torching of Nick’s trailer, which has been his Grimm-cave for most of the show. It was the place where problems were solved and where most characters realized that there is a whole other world hidden beneath the surface. Grimm seems to finally have found itself. Much like Buffy, it needed a few seasons to get there. I only hope that I can expect some major feels in upcoming seasons (if it’s even possible to top the gruesomeness of season four).

April 17 2015

15:23

March 28 2015

10:12
Play fullscreen
Baustelle Timelapse

January 16 2015

06:56
January so far

December 29 2014

14:37

Twenty fourteen in tv show stats and other geeky stuff

Every year, I create a “what I did this year” blog post on my blog, meticulously organized by month. But this year I don’t feel like it would enrich my blog. The years are accelerating at an incredible rate. It seems only yesterday that I wrote my 2013 post, and I’m starting to get the feeling that soon my blog will only contain these posts, one every year, since I hardly find the time to blog about other things. Seriously, who still reads/writes a blog…?!

2014 and me

The year 2014 was a strange experience. It was the year I arrived at home after half a year abroad feeling like I’ve entered a parallel universe… a strange, grey place that doesn’t seem quite real. It was the year in which I was in a state of limbo, unsure what to do with my newly earned Bachelor’s degree, weighing all options and choosing the most convenient one — was that a wise choice? 2014 was very much a transitional year, from southern to northern hemisphere, from writing to gaming, from bachelor to master, from job seeking to working, from twenty-something to thirty.

The best part of the year happened at its very beginning; traveling around New Zealand. While that was definitely amazing, it had the disadvantage of not financially providing the ability to travel more in 2014. I will definitely have to travel properly again in 2015.

Another highlight was definitely the acquirement of archery skills. It’s something I wanted to do in ages, and it was a very interesting experience. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time and the nerve to do it regularly (for the reason that the location is sooooo freaking far away with public transport and that the other people there were… meh), therefore I will not pursue it further anytime soon. I hope one day I’ll just be able to have a target in my garden.

adastra_2014

Other than that, if I look at my year on dailyfratze, it seems to be a year in which I had lots of good times with friends. I hope 2015 will be the same.

2014 and literature

I have read a total of 27 books in 2014. That’s quite a lot for me, since I’m not particularly great at reading the majority of books I encounter. While I love some, others, particularly those I had to read for university, were a bit of a torture for me. I really hated Peter Ackroyd and Jean Rhys. Jane Eyre, on the other hand, was ok-ish but a bit tedious. On the other hand, I absolutely loved reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I have also read a shitload of secondary literature and science-y books for my bachelor’s thesis, which I finished writing in June. I was utterly happy to have a break from uni reading after that, so I decided to re-read my favorite book of all time, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’ve also been wanting to re-read all the Harry Potter books, but I just didn’t have the time before my master’s degree began. Maybe next semester break…
book2014

2014 and film

As my lovely statistics page tells me, I have seen 76 films in 2014. That’s quite a lot compared to last year, where I’ve watched only 39 films, but still not quite as much as the 100+ films I used to watch within a year back in the 2010s. A significant percentage of the films I’ve seen in 2014 were not new to me; I’ve rewatched a lot of stuff I already knew. Among those where the all the big franchises; I’ve rewatched the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve rewatched all of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, I’ve rewatched all of the The Hunger Games movies, and I’ve rewatched all of the X-Men movies.

But by far the best films I’ve seen this year were not among the above. I was totally blown away by Krugovi (Circles), Snowpiercer, The Grand Budapest Hotel and I somewhat enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow, Lucy and Boy. Quite funny was also What We Do In The Shadows. I admit that Guardians of the Galaxy was also great fun, but this ever increasing uncreativeness of Hollywood is getting a bit dull.
film2014

2014 and TV

Let’s turn to my favorite mode of storytelling: TV series. Even I can’t wrap my head around the amount of shows I watch, which probably explains why I usually forget 70% of the plot after a while. This year, I have watched 761 episodes from 62 different shows, out of which 52 were fiction (the other ten were documentaries or game shows and such). That’s an average of 2.59 episodes per day. That’s a bit less than last year, where I’ve seen 812 episodes from 48 different shows with an average of 2.99 episodes per day.

Being a geek, I have created my own statistics page for my TV watching habits with the help of Google Charts. However, it mostly for myself and is not public. If you’re interested in seeing these stats, leave a comment and I will give you access. For now, I’ll give you a little glimpse of some of the charts I have created there; my favorite is probably the calendar chart, which looks like this:

This chart plots the amount of episodes I have watched into a calendar, resulting in a colorful grid. February was a particularly good month for binge-watching, but as you can see, I don’t actually watch TV every day. This is such a pretty chart, however it’s such a shame that as of the posting of this, there are no options to change the colors or the size of it.

The same data can also be plotted by month into a nice trendline. So far I’ve been too lazy to create a Google Chart for this, but this image shows such a line from January 2013 to December 2014:
trendline

If you watch that amount of shows AND are a statistics nerd like me, you’ll probably start noticing patterns; actors, locations, writers, producers etc. I’m always particularly interested in filming locations, because after I had been to Toronto, I started noticing it as a filming location for many of the shows I watch. A lot of American shows are in fact filmed in Canada, whereas some are even shot in other places all around the world. This chart divides this year’s shows by filming location:

filminglocation

This chart only includes shows with very obvious locations; some shows just can’t be fitted into it because they’re shot all over the world (like Game of Thrones). This chart is another thing I haven’t figured out with Google Charts yet, and Excel is quite messy when it comes to customization, but I guess you’ll get the idea.

Another particularly interesting chart is the division between shows that were new to me and those I already knew but continued watching in 2014. The chart shows that this year about half of the shows I watched were new to me, whereas the other half were not. This seems to be a continuing trend (however, 2008 is not quite accurate since I just don’t have the data for 2007 to figure this out).

December 21 2014

20:20

December 15 2014

20:55

The 2014 Liebster Awards

Scotland-based German blogger Julia of 49suns.de has nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thank you for the nomination! I have never really heard about this award before and had to do some googling to find out more — and I found out that it’s about showing your appreciation of fellow bloggers by answering questions and passing the award on. Apparently it is also quite international, so in order to not exclude any of my potential readers and nominees, I will take the liberty to translate Julia’s questions into English.

The Questions & My Answers:

  1. How did you become a blogger?
    I have had personal websites ever since I became accustomed to the internet. The emergence of the blogs led to the next logical step: getting a blog of my own. I found my little corner in the blogosphere and haven been quite happy here for 10 years.
  2. What would you never write about in your blog?
    My blog used to be extremely (probably way too) personal, and also somewhat boring. I used to write about the typical what-I-did-today stuff. I would never really write like that again. These days, my blog is all about quality instead of quantity, I tend to blog about things that make me think a lot, things that might also interest my (very few) readers. But sometimes I still blog about useless, boring stuff.
  3. Have you had special experiences by means of your blog which would not have happened without your blog?
    Oh yes, I have met some of the blog people in real life and made friends all around the world, which probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
  4. Who do you blog for? (Who is your blog aimed at)?
    Mostly myself. It helps me sort my thoughts on things I think about thoroughly. My readers are very few, and most of them are friends from real life.
  5. What was the most (emotionally) moving thing in 2014 for you?
    I don’t even know where to start. Standing atop Edoras? Graduating with a bachelor’s degree? Learning archery basics? And on the negative side: The wintery depression that follows half a year of sunshine. The feeling of turning 30. Reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
  6. The obligatory island question: If you could take exactly five things to a lonely island (with electricity and media players), what would they be?
    Wow, electricity on a lonely island? Is it solar or wind powered?! Does it have Wi-Fi too? Well, I’d take 1.) my boyfriend, 2.) my laptop, 3.) my other tech stuff that has books & movies on it, 4.) food and 5.) my camera.
  7. If you could decide which book, game or other medium should be adapted for the screen, which would you choose and who would play the lead?
    Ohhh I don’t know, these things are never satisfying anyway. I would probably suggest a new version of Harry Potter, but this time as an unrated BBC/HBO TV series with child actors that can actually act. All the other actors can stay.
  8. What is your (so far) longest/toughest/most impressive achievement in sports?
    I am the most unsporty person ever. I have never even gotten a Urkunde at the Bundesjugendspiele. Even back when I did horseback riding, I only ever got in last at the horse shows. Other than that, I started doing Pilates last year and got mediocre at it, but lately I haven’t had time for it either. It still hurts a lot.
  9. If you were able to meet up and hang out with a fictional or living person, who would you choose?
    As a socially awkward penguin, I tend to freeze during such meetings. Therefore I avoid celebrities altogether. Perhaps I would want to meet a genie to grant me three wishes or something.
  10. Would you consider watching the complete Classic Doctor Who series?
    I have started doing so several years ago. I managed to watch the entire first season in the period of about a year. Sadly, since then I have had neither the time nor the urge to continue, and there always seem to be other TV shows that I feel the need to watch.
  11. Digital or analog: Do you prefer having your movies, music and books in physical form or are you happy with a digital copy on your hard drive?
    Definitely digital. I used to own DVDs, but once I realized what a waste of space they are, I sold them. I’m still divided about books. I prefer to read them digitally, but sometimes a real book is more convenient (which is definitely the case in the context of university).

My nominees:

According to the rules, I am obliged to nominate between 5 and 11 bloggers who have less than 1.000 followers. I have no idea how many followers the blogs I read have, therefore I will just nominate the first couple of people that come to mind.

  • Michael & Tina: I read all of your various blogs and I leave it up to you how, who, and on which blog you would like to respond – if at all :)
  • André: I haven’t seen you blog in a while – how about this?!
  • Lorelei: Same here – here’s an incentive ;)
  • Jem: You are the queen of all the blogs, at least in our shared tiny blogverse! I’ve stalked you for about ten years, which I hope you’ll consider an honor :D
  • Amanda: Your blog is yet another I have stalked for ages and you’re welcome to respond!

That’s all for now. There were a few more people I thought of, but unfortunately their blogs were too specialized on a single topic, haven’t been active in a long time or didn’t contain enough posts to actually qualify as a what I would consider a blog. My secret rule for choosing nominees: bloggers who actually blog about once every 1-2 months and who have blogged for at least 5 years.

My new questions:

All my nominees are welcome to either respond in English or German, therefore my new questions will be conveniently posted in both languages. Also, like Julia, I’m a bit lazy and just changed a few of them, not all.
English:
1. How did you become a blogger?
2. What would you never write about in your blog?
3. Have you had special experiences by means of your blog which would not have happened without your blog?
4. Who do you blog for? (Who is your blog aimed at)?
5. What was the most (emotionally) moving thing in 2014 for you?
6. If you could choose any place in the world to make your home, where would it be?
7. What objects or things in your home could you live without? (This question is stolen from parasight. I would have nominated you if you would actually blog ;))
8. Do you read a lot of books? How and where do you do most of your reading?
9. If you were able to meet up and hang out with a fictional or living person, who would you choose?
10. Would you consider watching the complete Classic Doctor Who (1963) series?
11. Digital or analog: Do you prefer having your movies, music and books in physical form or are you happy with a digital copy on your hard drive?

German:
1. Wie bist du zum Bloggen gekommen?
2. Worüber würdest du nie auf deinem Blog schreiben?
3. Hast du durch dein Blog schon besondere Dinge erlebt, die ohne es vermutlich nie passiert wären?
4. Für wen bloggst du?
5. Was hat dich 2014 am meisten bewegt?
6. Wenn du dir aus allen Orten der Welt einen aussuchen könntest, welchen würdest du zu deinem Zuhause machen?
7. Welche Gegenstände in deinem Haushalt sind überflüssig? Ohne welche Dinge könntest du leben ohne sie zu vermissen?
8. Liest du viele Bücher? An welchen Orten bzw. in welchen Situationen liest du am meisten?
9. Wenn du mit einer fiktiven oder realen, lebenden oder toten Person ein Bier/Kaffee/Tee/sonstwas trinken und gemütlich quatschen könntest, wen würdest du wählen?
10. Würdest du die komplette klassische Doctor Who (1963) Serie schauen?
11. Digital oder analog? Sprich: Hast du deine Filme, Musik, Bücher lieber in physischer Form zum Anfassen oder reicht digital auf der Festplatte?

The Rules of the Award:

☑ Thank the person who nominated you and link them in your article.
☑ Answer the 11 questions posed to you.
☑ Nominate 5-11 bloggers for the Liebster Award who have less than 1.000 followers.
☑ Create a new list of 11 questions for your nominees.
☑ Post these rules in your article.
☐ Inform the nominees about this post.

December 10 2014

18:02

November 11 2014

07:45

I’ve been taking selfies since before it was (un)cool

Eight years, to be precise! On November 11th, 2006, I joined Michael‘s little daily photo community, which since then has flourished into a wonderful community. Some of my best friendships are a result of dailyfratze.de. Participating in this project has become an integral part of my life, one I can no longer imagine living without.

And last year, the English language has even gained a word for what I’ve been doing all these years: selfies. I first became aware of this word in Australia, where I thought not much about it, except, “cool, a word for what I’ve been doing all these years!”. Back in Germany, however, I noticed that this word often has a somewhat negative connotation, such as in “Look, those idiots over there taking selfies…” — how disappointing. It might just be a cultural thing; everything in Germany is negative, stressful and annoying. Skepticism is a German’s natural state (also: lethargy). In Australia, on the other hand, everything is positive, friendly and awesome! This is also how I perceived the usage of the word “selfie” around the world. But maybe that’s entirely subjective.

Now that everyone is taking selfies, I still have the ultimate bragging rights: I’m one of a handful of people who have been doing it continuously for (in my case) exactly eight years! I have never missed a single day. Though a vast majority of my selfies are somewhat unspectacular, I have a wonderful visual diary of my life. When I browse through my archives, I can literally see myself evolve from an introverted hermit into whatever it is that I am now (slightly less introverted?). I have experienced to much in these eight years. I have traveled to so many places. I have found great new friends. I saw old friendships die. I also see things that didn’t happen: I still live in the same old city. Maybe it’s time to change that sooner or later…

Naturally, I will remain loyal to dailyfratze and myself in the future. This project is such a unique personal success. Even if I don’t always look good in my selfies (in fact, most of the time I look terrible), there’s still the success of having taken a self-portrait every single day for eight years. To celebrate, here’s a silly picture of me composed entirely of pictures of me!

IMG_4963_mosamic

November 08 2014

16:51

Ajar

It had been a long day and the sun had already set. A wave of tiredness came over me and I decided it was time to go to bed for the night. I called for Jeannie and she happily followed me.
 I went up the wooden stairs and reached the top floor. The burnt orange tiles were cold under my feet and echoed under Jeannie’s paws. Quickly, I scurried across the small gallery towards the door that separated the hallway from the gallery, and from there to the door that separated my apartment from the hallways and rest of the old house. I opened it and gestured Jeannie inside, who immediately sought out her cushion by the bed for the night. As I entered, she was already settled.
 I felt the familiar, soft carpet of the tiny front room under my feet. The wooden door creaked shut behind me, the darkness of the hallway gazing through its dim window.
 I turned the key in the hole. I tried the door handle—the door was locked. I always tried the door handle, just to be sure that the door was really locked. It was a very big, very old house. It had many locks and many doors, but somehow it always felt safer to lock the door closest to you at night.
 After I brushed my teeth, I entered the large bedroom and settled into the bed. The bed was enclosed by three walls, creating a small cove. Next to it was the door that separated the bedroom from the front room. I made sure to close this door as well.
 I wrapped myself into the sheets and turned off the light. The house seemed still awake, its old scars creaking and crackling every once in a while. Having been used to the sounds of its past, I soon fell fast asleep.

The next morning, I woke frightfully early from the sound of my alarm. The sun had not quite risen yet, its first rays were only just climbing the horizon. Having also awoken, Jeannie jumped from her cushion and looked at me with expectation in her eyes. She was no doubt feeling the need to go outside. Groggily, I peeled myself out of bed and opened the door to the front room. I switched on the light, but it was still dull and murky in the dim morning. As I entered the front room, it took me a few seconds to realise that something was not quite right. A shiver ran through my spine and my heart skipped a beat as my chest constricted in fear. The darkness of the hallway was peering in; the door to it was unlocked and ajar.

September 30 2014

11:28

Ett liv som hund

Min familjen har alltid husdjur. De hade hundar före jag föddes – faktiskt, Purzel, hunden som de hade in året när jag föddes (1984) blev gravid och hade tre liten valpar en månad före jag föddes. Mina föräldrar behålls en av de som hetade Mopsy. Hon var min vän när jag var liten och vi spelade ofta på gårdet.

När vi—Mopsy och jag—var sex år gammal, blev Mopsy gravid. Det var en olycka med grannes hund Terry… Nägra månade sen forsvann Mopsy plötsligt. Samtidigt blev jag sjuk och jag var tvungen att gå till sjukhuset, när läkare tog ut mina halsmandlar. Jag stannade där och åt många is, men de var inte tröst att jag hade missat som fem liten valpar föddes hem.

Under jag var i sjukhuset fann mina föräldrar Mopsy, som hade byggt en bo i halm på höskullen. Där föddes de liten valpar, men några dagar senare tog mina föräldrar valpen in i huset, när de hade det varmt och mysig.

Tre av valpar var ganska brunt som mamma Mopsy, men två av de var brunt-vis som pappa Terry. Fyrå var flicka och en var en pojke. Två av flickarna var väldigt liten – en brun valp och en brun-vis valp. De var så liten att de inte kunne dricka tillräckligt mjölk av mamman, så min mor hjälpe de överleva genom att hon ge de mjölk ut flaskan. De levade och bli större och större.

När valperna blev nästen vuxen, hittate mina föräldrar ett nytt hem för de. Men mina föräldrar behållande en av den liten flickarna – brunt-vis valpen som dem kallade Daisy. Hon var kanske inte de mest intelligenta av de, eftersom det tog lång tid innan hon blev rumsren. Men hon var mycket söt och lojal. Hon blev min hund eftersom hon alltid sov bredvid min säng.

När Daisy var två år gammal hade vi en liten problem med hennes namn. Mina föräldrar köpte två hästar och de hetade Dorte och Daisy. Eftersom hästen Daisy hade pappar och hunden Daisy inte, vi nu kallade hunden Jeannie. Så hon hetade Jeannie för resten av hennes liv.

Flera år var Jeannie och jag bästa vän och vi hade de mycket roligt tillsammans. Men vi blev äldre och när jag var 18 år gammal och Jeannie var 12 år gammal, flyttade jag hemifrån. Fortfarande sa jag henne bara några gånger i året när jag besökte mina föräldrar. Jeannie blev min mor’s hund, men när jag besökte de, hon alltid sov bredvid min säng igen.

Jeannie blev 16 år gammal. När hon var gammal, hon var mycket bräcklig och kunde inte hör och se bra. Min mor hjälpte henne mycket. En dag, när Jeannie var inte vara ganska bra, bar min mor Jeannie ut i trädgården och läggde henne in i solen. Jeannie sovade lycklig och inte vaknade sen. Jag var inte där när hon dog, men jag vet att hon hade ett vackert liv.

August 25 2014

20:28

Masks Behind Water and Ice

Right now, you’re probably rolling your eyes as it dawns on you that this is yet another blog post on the topic of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Me too. But after I finally gave in, I discovered something interesting in these videos.

I was annoyed by the Ice Bucket Challenge before I even watched any of the videos. I thought “What’s this ridiculous, childish crap everyone keeps annoying me with?!”, but then I saw that Joss Whedon did it too. I am a big fan of Joss Whedon, even though not everything he does is as good as it probably could be. From my experience, however, his short videos on YouTube always have an exceptionally hilarious twist, even if they might start out seriously sincere. Thus, when I saw his tweet “What’s peer pressure?” with a link to his video of the challenge, I watched it. And it did make me laugh a lot, silly as it was.

When watching Joss’ video, I finally also learned for the first time that the Ice Bucket Challenge is not actually just a stupid peer pressure thing, but something with some sort of purpose. It came into being as raising awareness for ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle spasticity, weakness and difficulty in speaking, swallowing and breathing. Due to the attention generated by the ice bucket challenge, tons of money have already been donated mostly to an ALS organisation in the US.

However, the due to the ice bucket challenge, a lot of negative attention has also been directed to some organisations, such as alsa.org – which apparently uses unethical methods for testing treatments. An even bigger issue though is the California drought. Many of the celebrities doing the Ice Bucket Challenge live in California and are directly affected by the drought, the severity of which can be seen in these before-after pictures. However, none of those celebrities seem to have any regrets about wasting an entire bucket of water just to shoot a video. Actually, quite a few of them appear to have a pool in their backyard and just jump in there after having been soaked in ice water. What’s a drought if you have lots of money, I guess?

One of my favorite persons, however, did it right: Neil Gaiman. In his exceptional, very long video, he not only explained a lot about ALS, but he also addressed the drought and found a solution to not waste water: he just went to the beach and used sea water.

Though I’m not quite sure if that bucket actually had ice in it… And here’s one of the reasons on which the Ice Bucket Challenge is very revealing: it reveals a lot about the people who are doing it. One of my biggest causes for facepalming when watching Ice Bucket Challenge videos is seeing people use just ice, just water, or water that has had put ice in it like two seconds before the bucket was applied to the person. That’s clearly not a challenge, as Chris Evans also realized:

Now that was a proper pneumonia-inducing Ice Bucket Challenge! While Chris took it like a properly experienced Captain America, one other celebrity makes the coldness of this challenge most obvious so far: Felicia Day. Just look at that poor woman shivering like crazy while her brother is being hilariously cruel to her:

This challenge is really nothing to do during the winter. A hot shower afterwards is definitely a must, as Benedict Cumberbatch so graphically illustrated in my favorite Ice Bucket Challenge video so far:

His video is also one of the more creative ones. One of the forerunners of Ice Bucket Challenge creativeness was Bill Gates, who in his video builds a contraption to release the bucket:

But this video is also revealing: it reveals that Bill Gates likes to use Comic Sans. What does this say about Bill Gates and what the hell should I think of him now?!

By far the most creative video I have seen until now, however, is that of Aussie actor Liam McIntyre (“Spartacus”). He shot a whole little short film, opening with words like “I’m not doing this stupid challenge” and “I resent the peer pressure!”

Videos like Liam’s are a welcoming sight after having seen so many bad, sometimes even horribly embarrassing Ice Bucket Challenge videos by celebrities. Some celebs don’t even bother to mention ALS or who nominated them or who should be next… they just upload a 5 second video of them turning a bucket over themselves. Watching someone doing that – the process of holding a bucket, raising it over their own head and upturning it, is in itself a fascinating concept. It goes against all common sense and just seems unbelievably stupid – like something from an old slapstick film. And no matter how many of these videos I watch, it’s always that moment when I think “This is so ridiculous!”.

But what follows after is the most enthralling revelation of all: seeing people drop their masks. All people who I have watched doing this challenge were professional masks-wearers: actors who earn their money by pretending to be someone else. During the majority of their videos, they act as their usual public persona. However, in the moment they are hit with ice cold water, their body gains control over their mind. Observing these reactions gives an insight into who these people really are underneath – or, considering Benedict Cumberbatch’s excellent video, the extend of their talent as an actor.

Watching videos of the Ice Bucket Challenge is a pot luck: you will never know if you will enjoy or regret watching one of these videos. They either leave you doing a serious facepalm, or they will leave you rolling on the floor laughing. I suppose the best thing to do is just stop watching them altogether, but now that I’ve started, I’m afraid there is no turning back. Damn you, Joss Whedon!

It’s obvious that something quite powerful is happening considering that is has people of fame and fortune making an idiot of themselves. However, I wonder if the cause that sparked this is the right one. I don’t want to say that ALS doesn’t deserve attention – I just wonder why something like this hasn’t happened for even more serious causes. Why wasn’t there a flood of videos raising awareness of the depression after Robin Williams’ death. Or why there isn’t a flood of videos protesting [insert any current war]. Or videos protesting racism and it’s effects? Orlando Jones has the right idea:

What a powerful twist. But I assume people prefer something remote and funny, even if it’s only remotely funny. To bring this little ramble to a less depressing end, I would like to introduce you to the one person who did the Ice Bucket Challenge absolutely right: Sir Patrick Stewart.

August 06 2014

08:52

Bachelorette of Arts

I’m am now (almost) officially “adastra.me, B.A.”. After 3 years of studying English Studies and Linguistics, I have finished all exams and handed in my bachelor’s thesis, therefore I earned the title “Bachelor of Arts”. And now?

Germany has only adopted the Bachelor / Master concept about 10 years ago, and is currently in the process of adapting to this from the previous Diploma / Magister system. However, it appears that having a Bachelor’s degree renders you somewhat worthless to German employers. I have been to many workshops on what to do after finishing your degree, and pretty much all the people there reported that in order to successfully get a good job, you will need a master’s degree. Bachelor students are often seen as dropouts who do not have the nerve to continue studying. So yeah, my “B.A.” is currently worthless unless I continue studying to pursue a “M.A.”.

And I will. But here’s another thing that is incredibly annoying about the bachelor / master system: once you’ve chosen your subject, you won’t get out of it. As a student of English Studies and Linguistics, I can do a master’s degree in either English Studies or Linguistics. I cannot, as some might think, chose a completely different subject, or even a subject that is closely related. I have seriously considered to do my master’s degree in Media Studies, Television Studies or Information Studies. The latter one has a lot of subjects in common with Linguistics, while the first two are somewhat similar to what we learn in English Literature Studies. My friendly e-mails to the people in charge of the master’s degree in those subjects, enquiring whether I could do a qualification test, where all answered with “Sorry, you need 20 credits for this subject, 20 for that, 50 for that, so no, get outta here and stop bothering me.” The same applies to the master’s degree in Adult Education which I was interested in, which compared to English Studies would actually be useful for the future… but no chance. This system is useless if it doesn’t allow for more flexibility. I wonder if it’s just German universities which are so narrow-minded about their master’s degrees.

I have actually considered doing my master’s degree outside of Germany, but that plan failed epically last year, when I was invited for a scholarship interview to study in Canada, but could not attend because I was in Australia. They wouldn’t even do Skype interviews. What a bunch of unaccommodating, selfish assholes these German bureaucrats are… Nope, I’m not bitter at all. My backup plan of studying elsewhere in Europe where there’s no tuition also didn’t work out, because currently there’s no way I can afford that. I’m still financially recovering from Australia, and on top of that I have only just found a new part-time job this week after half a year of job-seeking.

I did however get Bafög so far, which is partially a student loan, partially a government scholarship. I’m not sure if I will still get it throughout my master’s degree but I sure hope so—even though the prospect of having to someday pay back student loans is daunting. The payback is capped at 10.000 EUR, therefore I will never have to pay back more than that, but if I continue to receive Bafög until I finish my master’s degree, I’m pretty sure I’ll hit that cap. Now, students in other countries will probably laugh at that, where 10.000 EUR can’t even get you through one semester… but then again, the quality of studying is so much better there compared to my terrible university.

That’s because my university, like many in Germany, is completely overcrowded. Free education is an incentive for many young people to go to university instead of learning a trade. We also have many international students from other countries who come here for the free education. Over-crowding is in particular a problem if a university, like mine, is literally falling apart. PCB-contamination caused the closure of entire buildings, leaving us with fewer seminar rooms and more construction sites. Really a terrible atmosphere for learning.

Anyway, I’m confident that I will successfully complete my master’s degree two years from now, despite crumbling buildings and daunting student loans. I just wish I would have had more options for choosing a subject, even though I’m very happy with English Studies so far.

July 28 2014

11:16

How to create a usability nightmare: Foursquare and Swarm

When foursquare announced that it would separate its functionalities into two apps, I though “Well, that sucks”. Now that they have gone through with this and forced Swarm on us, I’m seriously annoyed by this usability nightmare. They took something very simple and made it unnecessarily and ridiculously complicated.

I signed up for a foursquare account back when the service came into being. However, back then I did not use my account because I had no smartphone yet, and then I completely forgot about it for a few years. It only came back to my attention shortly before I went to Australia last year, because I figured it would be a great way to keep track of all the places I would visit. And it was: I used it extensively, and thanks to dailyfratze.de I have a brilliant travel map of not only my daily selfies, but also my foursquare check-ins. Just look at the amazing detail on this travel map of southern New Zealand.

Screenshot 2014-07-28 13.03.57

Back home, I continued to use foursquare as I went about my boring old life. I realised that it was a great way to discover new places to eat. I love going to restaurants and getting to know different cuisines, which, if you know me, might surprise you—I’m a very picky eater. Not much later, I had created a great to-do list of all the restaurants I still want to try in my home town.

fsq to do

What I also particularly like is the ability to see if my friends have been to a place and whether they liked it. This information is provided in the foursquare app:

fsq friends

But sadly, not in the Swarm app. The Swarm app is completely useless for this and just wants me to go to foursquare. But when I see this mostly empty screen with a link to foursquare, I think “Why bother…” and just can’t bring myself to tap that button. This app is breaking one of the most basic rules of usability: make information available with as few clicks/taps as possible. Keep it simple. Don’t annoy us.

swarm venuephoto 1

Though Swarm pre-selects venues for check-ins, the check-in process itself feels more complicated than in foursquare. Very often the venue I want to check into is not preselected, so I have to change it. But usually, it’s also not in the list of things that appears, so I have to search for it. Searching is more complicated than on foursquare as well, because I have to tap something before the search area appears. And when I finally typed in the name of a venue, I can’t even check if it’s the correct place, because it is impossible to access information about it from Swarm. I’d have to open foursquare instead, search for the place there, make sure it’s the correct one, and then go back to Swarm to check in. What a gigantic waste of time.

I’m terribly vexed by this new Swarm/Foursquare system because I felt that using foursquare really enriched my life. It was great to have a simple way to keep track of all the restaurants I went to and be able to use past check-ins for future reference. That way, I could just look up the name of the restaurant I couldn’t remember, but knew I had been to in the past. It also made making plans for dinner simpler. Badges and mayorships were a nice incentive, but not particularly important for me—even though I was looking forward to earning the New York City badge someday on my next visit, though I have no idea when that might be.

I really don’t understand the reasoning behind the Swarm/Foursquare split. They say people use foursquare for searching places, but that’s kinda what you have to do when you check-in. They say they want us to use Swarm for meeting up with friends, but I have yet to experience that feature in action. I have a feeling that the programmers at foursquare were just bored and had to come up with a really stupid idea just to keep themselves busy, with no regards to user experience. It’s completely frustrating and annoying. Some of my friends have quit foursquare altogether as a result of this nightmare.

Here’s my solution: merge Swarm into Foursquare. Combine the two interfaces in a decent way and let us access all information in one app, not two. If you must, keep your stupid “plans” feature, though I’m pretty sure nobody uses it anyway.

[Added thought] And what about all the businesses who have a “check in on foursquare” sticker at their front door? There’s another can of worms…

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