Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Electrogadgets!

Here are those pics I promised last week:



Shot of my workbench. A store at the mall by our
place got rid of it and I am putting it to good use.



Fully functioning Stutterbox!



Shot of an APC in the works.
Common yes, but I'm learning.

Red Lights!

Yesterday I went to a biergarten with some friends after school. Everything was fine till some bug decided to get to work inside me and make me rather ill. I puked 7 times yesterday! So naturally I am taking a sick day today to regain my strength.

Of course, news of being sick is boring, so here is the real story: Mandie and I took a trip to Amsterdam, the capital and largest city in the Netherlands. It was lots of fun, and a nice little vacation from work and school for the both of us. Amsterdam is city full of canals and crooked buildings. All of the buildings in the city are built on wooden piles on reclaimed land and over time they have shifted about. There are also bikes everywhere. Bicycles are one of the top forms of transportation in Amsterdam, and there are bike roads and bike lanes complete with their own signals. There are many bridges in the city to allow easy crossing of all the canals. Some of the main canals have drawbridges so that larger boats can pass. The one in the picture is historically significant, because during the second world war when the Germans occupied the city, this bridge was opened so that the Jews could not leave this particular area. Around 103-105 thousand Jews were taken from Amsterdam during the war.

We went early one morning (so as to beat all the other tourists) to the Anne Frank house. Mandie, being a teacher and having assigned Anne Frank's diary as reading to her classes, was particularly interested in going to see where Anne and her family went into hiding from the Nazis occupying the city. It was very moving being in the secret annex and imagining how difficult it must have been to always be as quiet as possible as a matter of life and death. Of course the family was betrayed and they were sent to various labor and concentration camps. Otto Frank was the only person to survive the ordeal and seeing pictures of him standing in the secret annex reflecting on all that had happened, including the death of his entire family, was paticularly emotional.

Being a former dominant power in the world and being heavily involved in the colonization of the East Indies, Holland has excellent Indonesian food. We had an Indonesian lunch and it was delicious! Also one morning we went to a chocolate bar to have breakfast. This mostly consisted of gourmet chocolate milkshakes, truffles, and chocolate cake which is a wonderful way to start off a day! We ate at other places including an Italian place for pizza, a vegetarian sandwich shop, an Asian noodle/wok place, and a Dutch pancake house. Of course, there were a few coffee shops, cafés, and bakeries mixed into our Amsterdam dining experiences as well. Once, while having some tea and coffee, we saw an old-style horse-drawn carriage hauling barrels of Heineken. It turned out that we were right around the corner from the Heineken stables. I did have a Heineken just for the novelty of it all. I also drank a beer from Brouwerij‘t IJ, a local brewery in Amsterdam, which was actually quite tasty!


The Rijksmuseum had many paintings and decorative art from the Dutch golden age. Rembrandt was a famous dutch painter, and many of his works along with works of his contemporaries are displayed in the Rijksmuseum. Here there were also historical examples of delftware on display, which was a Dutch attempt of reproducing Chinese works of porcelain. the dutch soon became famous for their delftware and there are still shops that sell expensive delftware around Amsterdam. In the Rijksmuseum there were also large doll houses from the 17th century, model ships, and works of silver and gold.

One evening, while we were standing next to a statue of Spinoza, a lady came up to us and exclaimed, "The heavens are dark!" She told us that she had never noticed the statue of Spinoza and that it might be new. This actually was the case with the monument to Spinoza being erected last November. The heavens were dark and it began to rain, so we went with our new friend, Elsa, to get some tea in a nearby café. Elsa told us all sorts of stories in German and her experiences living in Amsterdam for the past 15 years. She had been in an accident that had left her using crutches to walk since her hips were no longer able to function properly. She mentioned that she enjoyed window shopping for jewelery. After exchanging addresses so that we could write to each other, we parted and went on our separate ways.

Mandie's good friend Stephanie was on a cruise with her mom and some family friends. They met us in Amsterdam and we walked about the city sharing stories about things we had seen and learned. Later on in the day her mom and friends went back to their hotel and the three of us went out exploring the city. We ate some chocolaty space cakes and wandered about Rembrandt Square and the red light district. All the girls were in their tiny apartments dancing in the illuminated windows hoping to allure customers. We stopped and got some juice at a store and some fries at a shop. After quite a bit of exploring we took Steph back to her hotel. Mandie and I wandered about and discovered that the metro was closed. We got on a bus which luckily landed us not too far from our hotel. We of course by this point were soaking wet from walking around in the rain all night. We draped all of our clothes over chairs in our room and went to sleep.

We noticed that everyone we ran into spoke immaculate English. It even got to the point where we stopped asking people if they spoke English and just went on with our questions. This is not the case here in Germany and I think one major factor in this may be that Germany dubs their movies and television and in Holland, they do not.

Before heading out we stopped by a giant book fair in Dam Square. Along the way we came across an outdoor service/fair at a Protestant church with lots of singing. There was a brief rain shower that we escaped from via some drinks in a pub. The flight back to Berlin was fun, because after the attendants passed out the standard in-flight snack and drink, they started passing out extra drinks! Bottles of wine and beer were passed out freely as they exclaimed that it was Sunday and that we should have a party.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Glitch Rock

So I'm headed out to Amsterdam this evening. I figured I would write a quick post to cover a few things before i come back with new stories.

I have been fiendishly working away with small electronics projects. I am awful at soldering, but I think with time I will improve. I worked up the nerve to break apart a CRT Monitor to salvage some components. It was a good source of caps, resistors, small push button switches, transistors, and even a few trimmers and relays. CRTs, in case you do not know, are very dangerous to work with and can maintain charges of hundreds of volts withing some of the capacitors for a very long time even after they have been disconnected. I DO NOT recommend working with them unless you know what you are doing. I certainly am not going to make a habit out of taking them apart.

I have put together a stutter box. It is simply a box which allows you to switch between a bypass and stutter effect. The stutter effect is such so that when you press the button it allows sound (mono) to pass through until the button is released. It also has little indicator light. I have hooked it up to various things such as my synth and mp3 player, and it has proven to be lots of fun! I am currently working on my first IC project in hopes to come out with some sort of oscillator. The other night I was playing around and somehow wired up a circuit that made sound whenever you got within about three inches from the jumble of wires. I have no idea how I did it or how it worked, but it is a promising sign.

I have seen two bands recently. The first was a group called Holy Fuck. They are an electro rock outfit who use a lot of lofi electronic gadgets along with drums and bass. They used a 35mm film syncronizer to make some sounds, a very unorthodox and fascinating effect. Lots of fun! It looks like after they finish up in England they are headed to the states for a tour.

Last week I went to see 65 Days of Static, an instrumental post rock group with a heavy electronic element. I have been wanting to see them for a long time and finally got the chance. I would reccomend both Holy Fuck and 65 Days of Static to anyone. I used to listen to 65 a lot in my car, so whenever I hear their music it reminds me of late-night drives or aimless trips with the wind rushing in through the windows.

I ate a pizza the other day that had noodles on top! Whoever had the idea to use noodles as a topping was brilliant! The next time you make a pizza, give it a shot!

Ok, I was going to put up some pictures, but it appears that the camera is packed up. I'll post pics next week relating to this post and of Amsterdam. Until then!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mayday

I went to possibly the most interesting party last night that I have ever experienced. Myfest is a music festival in here in Berlin which involves stages strewn across Kreuzberg and over 160 bands. No matter where you go all day and night there is music of some sort playing. What makes it so different? It takes place on Mayday and is a gathering spot for leftist and anti-capitalism activist to protest. Naturally this gets violent and in an effort to keep it under control, Berlin deployed 5000 Police officers in full riot gear. So you can probably imagine where this led.

Tension rose as the police flexed their muscles, demonstrating their presence by marching about the area on foot in patrol groups of about 50 or so. Their presence was definitely noticed. There were three types of uniforms that the police wore and I'm not exactly clear on the differences that they may have indicated. There were officers in all drab olive green, in all black, and then green with white helmets. There were also fire fighters and medics throughout the area. Right before dusk, a massive crowd marched to the Kotbusser Tor bahn station. Riots broke out as people began attacking the police with bricks, bottles, fireworks, and other projectiles. It was a back and forth scenario of people charging the police and the police charging the people. At one moment as I was running from the charging riot officers a punked-out girl gave me a stick. I quickly got rid of it because I did not exactly want to have a weapon in the event that I was confronted by a unit of officers in full riot gear. It was not my goal to get doused with pepper spray or beaten with clubs. From this initial outbreak, the feeling of us vs. them sank into the crowds mindset and the riots continued this way until around three in the morning.

Despite the riots, the music never stopped. You could be in a street that was converted into an outdoor dance party all dancing, and then a riot squad would come through and either disperse the crowd, or find the crowd was not dispersable and retreat. You either stayed put or went on to the next point. People were digging up the cobblestones and hurling them at officers. Fires were breaking out everywhere. It was so bizarre to have, say, riot police running around in the midst of a crowd listening to a ska-punk band. Such an extreme juxtaposition of authoritarianism and fuck-the-police attitude. All the while despite the violence, people were having fun, kids were dancing, food and drinks were being enjoyed, and everyone seemed mostly unafraid. As long as you payed attention and did not get yourself into a situation where you were trapped, then everything was fine.

At one point a very large fire broke out in an intersection and a very large number of police forced their way in and barricaded the intersection. I stood on a window ledge for a better view until the line of police began pushing into the crowd. I could see a large trash bin that had been set ablaze. The police were organizing into lines to hold back the crowds at the mouth of each street going into the intersection, and then a large group of officers came in and filled the entire intersection moving into the area with the fire. Bottles and rocks were sailing from everywhere into the authority filled intersection. Smoke was rising up between the buildings over the streets and all the lights cut through adding to the chaotic look of the area.

Before Mayday, comes Walpurgis Nacht. On April 30th, there is celebration which involves having bonfires in order to ward off any evil spirits, and to celebrate the coming of May and Spring. I spent most of the evening with friends at a cocktail party. After many stark mojitos, a few of us set our for Mauer Park to catch some of the closing parties. There were signs of chaos: broken glass, melted piles of portable toilets that had been set ablaze, and random debris everywhere. We gathered around one of the last bonfires and listened to the people playing guitars and singing.

In Köpenick, neo-nazi demonstrations organized by the NPD took place. Needless to say I stayed away from Köpenick and stuck to Kreuzberg. Apparently there was lots of violence there as well. The police ended up shutting down the Köpenick bahn station sometime around midday.

Mayday is of course a national holiday here in Germany, as well as various other countries. Everyone has the day off from school and work to celebrate. Three-day weekend! When I go back to school, I will be starting a higher level of language courses. I'm a bit nervous, but I think with some extra practice, and If I can ever get myself to memorize a few certain things, it will be fine.

Check out some of the following links for some exciting photos videos and articles detailing some of events over the past two days. Enjoy!

Articles:
Arrest and parties mark start of May 1
Police battle Mayday protesters
Walpurgis Nacht on Wikipedia

Pictures:
Excellent Pics from Kreuzberg
Pics from the Kreuzberg riots
More Berlin riot pics

Video:
Action shots before and after dark, 3 short interviews
More scrambling groups of people

Update: I was on the train this evening and saw on the little bahn info screens that there were 289 arrests and 273 injured politzei yesterday.