Time travelling in early 2018

Last year, i used a similar title for a post on the blog, but on this occasion, i travelled back in time by cleaning up the living room with my parents. In late 2017, our landlord motivated us to do this, because to him it looks dangerous, having mountains of seemingly random things in a place, where normal people watch TV or play board games with friends. But we don’t have much time for that, since we have to pay for food, rent, healthcare, and everything else.

The origin of most stuff in the living room is “life”. I moved twice with my parents, and each time we kept most of our belongings, because everything is precious to us, since we are not smart, or rich. Nevertheless, we are not keeping highly combustible objects around. Back then, in 1992, we run our Restaurant in Ratingen for many years, where my father cooked in the kitchen with heavy “woks” over real fire, without anything bad happening.

But since our neighbours in Bad Godesberg might not be as thoughtful as we are, i do understand the danger of having too many things around. For example, the way they handle garbage bags or how they close doors is a nightmare. This is why we now have a basically normal living room, just in case they start a campfire indoors, or some accident happens. By sorting through all the old stuff, i occasionally get surprised, because things are getting new perspectives to look at. It’s like being in a history museum and wandering around in the past.

For example, i found a lot of “Colleen Colored Pencils” my aunts and uncle sent me from Hong Kong to Germany, over 20 years ago. I was probably anxious to use them, since they are really special to me. This is why i have several packages full of new stationeries waiting to meet a piece of paper. I already doodled a couple of “Stargates”, inspired by the TV series, and uploaded them to YouTube. My mother also found my over 15 years old “Hohner Echo” harmonica again, and i made it a part of some videos.

Six years Prime student member

In April 2012, i signed up for Amazon Prime Student, because officially i was still a Geography Student at the University of Bonn. Back then, there was no video streaming available. But the fast and “free” shipping was already worth the discounted price. Later, in early 2014, they introduced Prime video in Germany including a limited selection of movies and shows, which made me keep being subscribed to it. But in the past months, i basically stopped shopping on Amazon, because of Aliexpress. Things are taking a lot longer to deliver, but the prices are hard to beat.

Now, in February 2018, Amazon sent a Email telling me they will upgrade me to “regular” Prime without discounts, which makes it all even less compelling, since i have already seen many of the contents in their video catalog. And in Mai 2016, i discovered BitTorrent “in the cloud”, which opened a door to new options, next to Prime video. It’s safer than a standard setup, where you run everything local, because the BitTorrent client here is not directly installed on the computer. In December 2015, i got to try Netflix too, which i had for one month as a free trial. FYI, my first order on Amazon was in October 2006, and i bought a Sony ICD-SX56 digital voice recorder for capturing audio at University.

My relation to the United Kingdom

Over five years ago, in 2012, i have read about the “Raspberry Pi” for the first time. Back then, it was barely available, because of its low price for a “real” computer. But it was still quite expensive, if you don’t know what to do with all the potential. Last year, in July 2017, i got my hands on the “Pi Zero W”, with built-in Wifi and Bluetooth, made in the UK. I have built a CCTV camera, and it turned out great. I have let it run in my room for three weeks, while i was with my mother in Hong Kong. It captured all movements, saved photos on the microSD card and uploaded them via FTP to my web server as a backup. Thanks to “motionEyeOS” by Calin Crisan, and the “Camera Module” by the Raspberry Pi Foundation: The whole thing was like putting Lego bricks together.

Now, in January 2018, i got my second Pi Zero W, installed Linux in the flavor of “Raspbian Stretch”, and built the foundation for a private server, exclusively through a CLI, also known as “command-line interface”, without a display and keyboard attached to it, or simply called in “headless mode”. Since i like to code in the Perl programming language, i had to do some digging into a couple of Apache server configuration files, to get my scripts working, as i already know it from my dedicated web server on the public internet. I also have setup “Duck DNS” pointing to my dynamic IP, and installed “Let’s Encrypt” to get a secure connection via HTTPS for external access.

My parents like listening to “BBC Newsweek” in Cantonese, which is run by the British Broadcasting Corporation in London. But their website is not really reliable: Sometimes a new episode pops up and vanishes for no reason, by not being able to download the audio file, or just not showing up in the BBC podcast feed at all. This is why i wrote a Perl script, scheduled in “crontab”, checking every 30 minutes for a new episode, and downloading it automatically from the BBC server, if it becomes available. Now they can take it down later, but we are still having a copy saved on the Pi Zero W. I made a simple “web user interface” for my parents, so they can listen to the episodes on demand, without to depend on the abilities of the BBC.

Back then, in September 2013, i covered the Fashion Week in London as independent photojournalist, and Reno Macri talked to me, after i made photos of him and his team attaching graphics at Somerset House. He offered me to print a photo of my choice on a “Dibond Panel”, if i send him the photos. I didn’t know he was the founder of “Enigma Visual Solutions”, a Office Design & Exhibition Stand Design firm, based in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. But after some research, i sent him everything, and later, he asked me to send him a photo to be printed on a large piece of “Aluminium Composite Sheet”. I never had a photo in “real life” so big before, and i’m happy that i created something from scratch entirely for this purpose: My left hand holding three origami cranes, upcycled from old European maps. Cheers to Reno for being so nice.

FYI, in April 1987, as a British Dependent Territories citizen, born in Germany, i got my first British Passport from the British Consulate General in Düsseldorf. And i’m not sure how i feel about the UK leaving the EU, since i have a German Passport now, just like my parents, who were born in Hong Kong and therefore British Overseas Territories citizens. Whatever happens, the United Kingdom will always have a place in my heart, and not just because of the movie Notting Hill, or the TV show “Doctor Who”. I also have relatives in England, who i visited and enjoyed being with: Thank you to Andrew Cheung and Ringo Tsang.

The good old days are over

In 2004, i tried to run my own dedicated “Root Server”, but i had not enough Linux skills to get it running only via PuTTY and a “command-line interface”, although i already had some experience with SuSE Linux 6.x on the desktop computer through a GUI, also known as “Graphical User Interface”. They even sent me a printed copy of “1&1 Root-Server Benutzerhandbuch”, but i was a student at school, with no time left for studying a user manual, and still doing everything else. In 2005, i got me a “Managed Server” at 1und1, so i could keep up with the high traffic on my websites. On two occasions, i even had 2 servers running at the same time, because i needed to upgrade the server, by moving from one to the other. For example, in 2009, i had to move to another web hosting company, to keep the loading times of my pages low, at a reasonable price.

To give you an idea: In December 2015, i had over 12 million HTTP hits, with over 5 GB traffic, and in December 2017, i had over 13 million HTTP hits, with over 7 GB traffic. Years before, there was even more going on. FYI, i became quite good in optimizing efficiency. But i can’t get it to break even since a while: I’m just not getting enough from advertising to make it all work. Google Adsense and Amazon Associates are not cutting it anymore. After 14 years, in January 2018, i cancelled my dedicated web server, and i’m sharing a random server with other customers again, almost like twenty years ago, in 1998, when i had my first websites hosted for free on “FortuneCity”. But i had a lot of fun, while we grew up together. I hope we stay in touch and think about the good old days, when everything was still possible. Maybe we do something great at a later point. Thank you, Internet.

The Irish band “The Corrs” released a nice song in 1998: “I haven’t slept at all in days, It’s been so long since we’ve talked, And I have been here many times, I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong, What can I do to make you love me, What can I do to make you care, What can I say to make you feel this, What can I do to get you there, There’s only so much I can take, And I just got to let it go, And who knows I might feel better, yeah, If I don’t try and I don’t hope.”

Why i never learned to swim

My father helped me to learn riding a bike. It happened on a empty playground and later on a car park near our restaurant in Ratingen, sometime between 1993 and 1996. In hindsight probably quite late. Because at primary school we were already learning the rules for biking on public streets, but i didn’t even know how to ride a bike. Maybe this is the reason why i never broke a single bone: I’m just not into risking my life. I never smoked either, for obvious reasons. But i passed the test, supervised by the police, and since then, i really loved to move around like that.

I took part in bike rides and was even photographed once for the local newspaper, when i visited the “Schützenfest” in Ratingen on my bike. And i cycled several times from Bad Godesberg to Cologne, along the Rhine river, a distance of about 40 km. But in December 2015, i sold my latest bike on eBay, because there is nothing out there anymore: The human overpopulation is knocking on the door, and i have no skin in the game. It was not the right size for me anyway: My “OCR Zero” by Giant from 2004 became a waste of space. Nevertheless, one year later, i was interested in the “Kwiggle” folding bike, claiming to be “the most compact bicycle”, which is why i backed the Kickstarter campaign, without success for founder Karsten Bettin in early 2017.

I never learned how to swim, and i almost drowned the first time i tried, but friend Luis from school pulled me back to the pool edge, sometime between 1999 and 2002 in Bonn. No one makes it alone, really. Years later, i wanted to learn it, this time with my father. Back then, in 2009, it seemed like a good way to lose weight. But i have decided that i will not pursue it any further, since i found another path to get it down, just by eating healthy. And the only time when swimming skills could have been useful was in May 2006, when schoolmate Oona and i were invited by friend Dani to go sailing for a week in the Netherlands. This was very generous and nice of him. I have never done that before and afterwards, because it’s quite exclusive. There you have it, i’m going to sink with the Titanic.

Why i never got into reading books

Since my parents native language is not German and i didn’t learn to read Chinese, i never got into liking to read books for fun. I was only at school forced to consume a lot of literature, especially in the last three years at the “Oberstufe” from 2003 to 2006. For my “Abitur” at the Gesamtschule in Bad Godesberg, i had to choose “Deutsch” as advanced course, which made me enjoy “The Tin Drum” by writer Günter Grass, who i photographed many times at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009 and 2010. Since 1998, i was already reading and writing a lot through coding on the computer, just by learning and doing it, or the other way around: I developed a variety of messaging and publishing platforms on the web. And since around 2005, i had with “Google Reader” a powerful RSS tool in my hands. At the peak, i was subscribed to over 600 blogs.

After Google discontinued it in 2013, i moved over to the RSS Reader by AOL. I removed dead sources and still had over 500 blogs filling my stream with things relating to life on earth: It’s a lot more personal than only reading posts from large magazines. With the years, i refined the incoming articles and got down to around 400 sources. In December 2017, AOL announced to shut down their Reader, which made me clean up my subscriptions once again, to a total of over 200 blogs. And even with that lower number, every couple of minutes i get a handful of new articles loading into my stream. Instead of giving you all these RSS feeds i curated, which would go beyond the scope of this post, i publish here a complete list of my over 50 podcast subscriptions in iTunes, just to give you an idea:

Accidental Tech Podcast, America’s Test Kitchen Radio, Arts and Ideas, Bookworm, Call Your Girlfriend, Common Sense with Dan Carlin, Cooking Issues, Current Geek, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, DateFails with Kate Quigley, Disruption, Freakonomics Radio, Good Food, Good Life Project, Keith and The Girl comedy talk show, Ladies Who Lunch, Lady Lovin, LadyGang, Let’s Get Real, MacBreak Weekly, Material, Modern Love, No Agenda, Quit, Radiolab, Recode Decode hosted by Kara Swisher, Security Now, Story Grid Podcast, Strangers, Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Book Review, The Complete Guide to Everything, The Critical Path, The Dana Gould Hour, The Girls on Games Podcast, The IGN Movies Show, The Incomparable, The JV Club with Janet Varney, The Naked Scientists Podcast, The Nerdist, The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, The Splendid Table, The Sporkful, The Sword and Laser, The Talk Show With John Gruber, The Writers Panel, This American Life, This Week in Google, This Week in Science, This Week in Tech, Totally Married, Triangulation, Truth & Iliza, WTF with Marc Maron Podcast, Weird Adults With Little Esther, Windows Weekly, You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes.

Why i liked listening to this old guy

When i was really young, i discovered musician Heino while shopping with my parents. Back then, “compact discs” were a new thing, at least for us, because we didn’t have a CD player. This is why i was looking through shelves with “cassette tapes”. I saw this old blonde guy with black sunglasses on the cover art standing out, and i made my parents buy it for me. Since then, i kept looking out for him, because i wasn’t exposed to a lot of music, except for the tapes my parents already had, and i liked to pick things i already know.

I got my first audio CD from our landlord Manfred Camphausen in Ratingen as christmas present. It was a album from Backstreet Boys, 1996. I was around ten years old, and we still didn’t have a CD player at the time, so it took me a couple of months to expose myself to a new world of music. Because i wasn’t listening to radio, or liking any specific songs at all, except for German “Schlager” in form of Heino, also known as Heinz Georg Kramm.

Back then, i was already occupied with Lego bricks and Lego trains, watching TV, taking things apart, collecting things, being outdoors, doing camping in the garden, biking, and discovering new places on my own. My mother was obsessed with Tetris, but after moving to Ratingen, i had the Nintendo “Game Boy” to myself. And i played with RC cars from my uncle, who came from Hong Kong for three years to help in the kitchen of our restaurant, till 1996. Later, in Bonn, i had RC boats and even a RC helicopter, long before quadcopters became a thing. But i learned the hard way that some things are too costly for me to maintain. I never played like the other kids, probably because i saw how exhausting my parents worked, and i didn’t understand why.

Around ten years later, in July 2007, i was visiting his coffee shop in Bad Münstereifel for the first time, together with friends from school, Melanie and Matthias. It was nothing too special, except the owner was Heino, and the decoration was targeting to fans like me. I got a piece of cake and some photos as souvenir. I already lost track of him at that time, and my music taste changed, but it was fun to warm up memories, especially with people i like.

Things i never get tired of: 1937 to 1990

Since a couple of years i’m building a collection of movies and series i liked in the past. A handful of them were published before i was born, but are still good after all this time. Unlike most popular music these days, cinema is constantly reinventing itself through new technologies. Things are getting easier to achieve and are pushing the boundaries even further. This is why i like to make videos myself. There is more than one way to do it, just like in the Perl programming language. But with understanding comes the prediction, and when i get tired of the present or the future, i like to watch these movies from the past:

  • 1937 – Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
  • 1940 – Pinocchio
  • 1942 – Bambi
  • 1953 – Peter Pan
  • 1959 – Sleeping Beauty
  • 1961 – 101 Dalmatians
  • 1964 – Mary Poppins
  • 1967 – The Jungle Book
  • 1971 – Bedknobs and Broomsticks
  • 1974 – Murder on the Orient Express
  • 1977 – Star Wars IV A New Hope
  • 1978 – Death on the Nile
  • 1979 – Die Blechtrommel
  • 1980 – Star Wars V The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1983 – Star Wars VI Return Of The Jedi
  • 1984 – Police Academy 1
  • 1985 – Back to the Future I
  • 1985 – Clue
  • 1985 – Police Academy 2 Their First Assignment
  • 1986 – Police Academy 3 Back In Training
  • 1987 – Police Academy 4 Citizens On Patrol
  • 1988 – Appointment with Death
  • 1988 – Police Academy 5 Assignment Miami Beach
  • 1989 – Back to the Future II
  • 1989 – Police Academy 6 City Under Siege
  • 1990 – Back to the Future III

Things i never get tired of: 1993 to 2016

There are not many movies i want to see again after some time has passed. It needs a lot of care in the storytelling to make me come back. But once it’s in my heart, i hold it tight, to make it a part of me. Some movies i may forget, just to be remembered after a couple of years, when i feel lost. They make me refocus on things i have not valued enough, more than any written text could, because “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and if it’s sort of entertaining, even better. I like seeing lives broken down into moments, and trying to make the connections, the things that explain why they did what they did. I wrote a windows batch script file to get all names automatically sorted like this:

  • 1993 – Jurassic Park 1
  • 1994 – Police Academy 7 Mission To Moscow
  • 1994 – The Lion King
  • 1997 – Jurassic Park 2
  • 1998 – Mulan
  • 1999 – Deep Blue Sea
  • 1999 – Notting Hill
  • 1999 – Star Wars I The Phantom Menace
  • 2001 – Atlantis The Lost Empire
  • 2001 – Jurassic Park 3
  • 2001 – Moulin Rouge
  • 2002 – Star Wars II Attack Of The Clones
  • 2003 – Finding Nemo
  • 2003 – Lost in Time
  • 2004 – The Polar Express
  • 2005 – Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith
  • 2007 – Ratatouille
  • 2008 – WALL-E
  • 2009 – Mary and Max
  • 2009 – Veronika Decides to Die
  • 2010 – Alice In Wonderland
  • 2011 – Hugo
  • 2011 – In Time
  • 2011 – Winnie the Pooh
  • 2013 – The Zero Theorem
  • 2013 – Tracks
  • 2015 – Bridge of Spies
  • 2015 – Jurassic World
  • 2015 – Star Wars VII The Force Awakens
  • 2016 – Alice Through the Looking Glass
  • 2016 – Arrival
  • 2016 – Rogue One A Star Wars Story

A door to another world

I always liked animated shows and movies, because they were a door to another world, where bad things can happen, but no one gets hurt for real. And since i’m an only child with working parents and few friends, this is how i learned many things in the first place, for better or worse, because life is not a cartoon.

I grew up with Alvin and the Chipmunks, Batman, Bugs Bunny, Hey Arnold, Inspector Gadget, Ninja Turtles, Pink Panther, Pinky and the Brain, Rugrats, Scooby-Doo, Scrooge McDuck, Superman, Sylvester and Tweety, TaleSpin, The Flintstones, The Real Ghostbusters, The Smurfs, Tom and Jerry, and, as you already know, The Simpsons and Futurama.

But except for Sailor Moon, Anime never found the way to me, until i stopped watching German TV some years ago, and started to get my shows and movies exclusively through the internet, without all these ads and nonsense. Thanks to the “uBlock Origin” ad-blocking browser extension by Raymond Hill. In the past couple of hours i binge-watched and really enjoyed:

  • Mardock Scramble: The First Compression (2010)
  • Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion (2011)
  • Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust (2012)