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Sunday, 09th October 2011; 14:22


Die Mensa-Mafia

Erst kürzlich bot sich mir die Gelegenheit, eine italienische Mensa-Dame – solche, die das Essen portionieren – kennenzulernen. Ich wusste schon von sagen hören nicht nur, dass viele Beschäftigte der Mensa Italienerinnen seien, sondern auch, welche Vorteile deren Bekanntschaft hätten: Von einem damaligen (italienischem) Erasmus-Studenten hatte ich gehört, der immer riesige Portionen bekam, wenn (bzw. weil) er die entsprechende Dame immer herzlich auf italienisch begrüßte. Dabei wurde einfach weitergeschaufelt, bis der Teller fast über den Rand gefüllt war!

Jedenfalls stand ich mit einem Kumpel an der Linie für die "Chinesische Nudelpfanne" (welche zugegebenermaßen ästhetisch gesehen nicht besonders ansprechend aussah), als eine weitere (es war spät, sie hatte vermutlich schon keine Aufgaben mehr zu bewältigen), blonde, ältere Dame (aber im Ernst, sind nicht alle Mensa-Damen etwas älter?) zur Ausgabe dazustoß. Und die Nase rümpfte. Das passte mir ja gar nicht – schließlich wollte ich das Essen ja bestellen, es hatte also gefälligst lecker zu sein!

Ich erkundigte mich also, ob und warum es nicht lecker sei. Sie meinte nur, sie sei Italienerin; und diese komische "Nudelpfanne" sei nicht dem Anspruch eines Nudelgerichtes gewachsen. Da meinte ich zu ihr ich sei auch Italiener und würde es dennoch bestellen: Und da ging es los.

Ob ich das erste Mal da sei (nein, schon seit zehn Jahren gehe ich in die Mensa); Wie es denn sein könne, dass ich mich noch nie vorgestellt habe (hat sich halt nie ergeben); Wie ich denn heiße (Nicola)… Ja, es war spät (für Mensaverhältnisse) und entsprechend wenig los, aber dennoch begann sich eine Schlange zu bilden. Das war ihr aber herzlich egal, wir hatten jetzt eben etwas zu bereden und alle Anderen müssten dran glauben. Sie hieße Maria, seit 20 Jahren in Karlsruhe und seit 18 in der Mensa. Und ich solle mich doch bemerkbar machen! Ja, sicher! Ich solle, wenn ich das nächste Mal in der Mensa sei, Hallo sagen, erwähnen dass ich Italiener bin – dann würde sie mir sicher auch eine größere Portion, mit mehr Käse und zusätzlicher Beilage geben! Was ich nicht schon alles verpasst habe! Und dann müsse ich, hoffentlich, auch nicht mehr diese komische "Nudel"-Pfanne essen…

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Monday, 03rd October 2011; 19:36


Look at the stars…

It's been a couple of weeks now that every now and then I just sort of start humming one particular song, ever since I read its first verses in a hipster tumblelog. It's Coldplay's "Yellow".

I'm not particularly fond of the band, though I do enjoy listening to them every now and then. It comes to no surprise to me that their style is often described as "white people's music"; and all those elements that lead to draw that conclusion ("Coldplay's stigmata", as I like to call it), is exactly what is missing for me to like them more.

Anyway, the song starts out with: Look at the stars,/Look how they shine for you,/And everything you do,/Yeah they were all yellow. These few words have been following, almost haunting me with an ever-recurring Ohrwurm (a word which, as argued more than once, should be included in the english language as so many other german words have been).

And it's not like these words are particularly beautiful or create some sort of lyricism for which I am a sucker for. They're not. The words don't even really make all that sense to me. But, trying to exorcise this song from my mind, I remembered another pop tune I (somewhere) already made a case for. This time, it's the other way around: I don't really like the band or the song (at all; at least not musically), but I acknowledge beautiful lyrics when I happen to stumble upon them. I'm talking about Snow Patrol's "Crack the Shutters". In a sadistic twist (for my enjoyment, anyway), the very first phrase of the song is completely different and nearly disconnected from the rest of the song. Minimally accompanied by music, the not rhymed, almost spoken words go like this:

You cool your bed-warm hands down
On the broken radiator,
And when you lay them freezing on me,
I mumble "Can you wake me later?"
But I don't really want you to stop,
And you know it so it doesn't stop you.
And you run your hands from my neck to my chest.

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Saturday, 01st October 2011; 13:00


My favourite concept album

Since I'm aware of the fact that The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is a concept album, I know this is going to be a tough sell. But let me have a go at it.

"A Grand Don't Come for Free" is Mike Skinner's (alias The Streets) second album. His first album was quite a success, making The Streets a fan favourite in the UK Garage scene. What's UK Garage, you ask? First off, it's apparently got nothing to do with "Garage" (but don't ask me what that is); I'd tell you it's dubstep combined with elements of hip-hop/melodic rap. Scare you off already? Don't worry, because only a couple of the eleven tracks on "A Grand Don't Come for Free" are actually in the general direction of what I just described. The majority of the tracks are much more difficult to describe; just like the themes and the moods therein described, their range is quite varied, combining elements of a broad scope of genres.

So, what's it all about? The main common denominator I'd mention is "daily life". To be more exact, the album describes the life and tribulations of Mike, the protagonist and first-person "narrator", over a short period of time. Even though it's a short timespan (I'd say about a week), it's nonetheless filled to the brim with action and even more so of emotions.

Let's meet the characters: There's Mike, the protagonist; his love interest Simone; Scott, Mike's friend and Simone's coworker; and Scott, the antagonist.

As mentioned, the topic of the songs are pretty diverse. Let's go through them one by one.

The album starts with a song about general sidetracking ("It Was Supposed to Be so Easy"), where—among other things—a 1000-pound note is lost. This loss, hinted at in the album's title, defines the framework (of theme and time) for the story about to unfold. The next song is about a first date Mike has with Simone, in which he reckons he could "Well Be In". The story moves ahead with a song about gambling ("Not Addicted"), followed by one about drug-induced paranoia ("Blinded by the Lights"), in which Mike is waiting for Simone and Dan to show up at the club. The next song is about Mike chilling and hanging out at Simone's place ("Wouldn't Have it Any Other Way"), which turns into a fight (partly sung by the female character) when she gets there ("Get Out of My House"). In "Fit But You Know It", we are presented to Mike's reaction to the fight, which is to go out with his friends and come up to random girls; actions that are quickly regretted in "Such a Twat", which is actually a phone call (though we hear only Mike's side). So now drama is through the roof, and strange things start to happen. In particular, Mike's jacket, which he had given to Simone, appears the next day at his place, where Scott is hanging out. Is Scott sabotaging Mike's life, by first stealing his money and now trying to get his girlfriend? Scott caves under the pressure of their friendship in "What Is He Thinking?", a song about love-induced paranoia, in which we hear the first person perspective of both protagonists and concludes with Scott admitting that it was Dan who brought the jacket around. Well, the love is over (or, more accurately, is not requited anymore), and Mike learns this the hard way in "Dry Your Eyes". So now there's just one more song: "Empty Cans". How is everything going to end? Will life just suck and go on as it always does? Or is there a happy ending in sight? This last track is actually two song in one—with both outcomes presented to the listener. It's the main character's own decision how to handle and what to believe that ultimately make the difference.

I love the album because of the variety in themes and tones and genres. It's really a great and enjoyable mix. And because of the irony-filled story-telling. While arguing with his girl (the fight having already reached a stale-mate), Mike states (and I love this quote for exquisitely demonstrating the absurdity that lovers' arguments can reach) "It's hard enough to remember my opinions without having to remember my reasons for them." Another example for the down-to-earth jokes interspersed within the lyrics is in the phone conversation "Such a Twat", where an surprising amount of emphasis is put on describing the troubles Mike is having with his cellphone connection. (So much that Mike, out of desperation, at one point even cries out "Fucking phones, man!")

Oh, and one more thing I almost forgot to mention I love about this particular album: That british accent.

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Friday, 30th September 2011; 20:00


Music in the city

Yes, I do believe to have discovered more new music because of living in a smaller city. Living in Karlsruhe instead of, say, Berlin or Munich or Köln, forced me to observe much more carfully who was coming when to my city. (NB: Not that living in a metropolis gives any guarantees that the "big stars" will be coming around; having lived in Rome I can assure you of that.)

I remeber, when I was visiting Madrid a couple of years ago, how I got real mad at how many bands I loved were about to come play there and I wouldn't be able to see (and experience) them. On the other hand, it was politely pointed out to me, I probably wouldn't have had neither the time nor quite possibly the money to attend each and every concert I would have liked.

In Karlsruhe, it's much easier: In principle, your favourite band isn't coming. If—emphasis of if—they are, you will now. And you wouldn't want to miss it for anything in the world. Forget time and money constraints; you will find a way.

But what if you long, what if you literally live for music? Will you miss out on the experience only a live performance has to offer? No, not at all.

I try to keep myself informed by regularly browsing through the local event magazines (they aren't that time-consuming to leaf through…). Usually a name or even a picture just sort of catches my eye. Yes, you do have to put some effort into it, but it's usually worth your while. For one thing, there's the excitement of having discovered them yourself. With a different sort of curiosity than someone you already know way too well, your expectations are usually easily surpassed. And even when that's not the case, no worries: You probably haven't even spent too much; consider your contribution some sort of "cultural fee"—the band's most probably not even signed, so you know you'll be supporting a budding artist, even if it's not your cup of tea.

Of course, then there's also the locally known bands as well as those not yet (or anymore) too famous ones that somehow end up in Karlsruhe; but it's not those I want to concentrate upon here. (Though, to be honest, they shouldn't be tossed aside either: I've had the honour of seeing Ash, OK Go, Katzenjammer, Brad Mehldau, and Kate Nash, just to hint at the scope.) The way more interesting finds are those who—as the meme goes—you've probably never heard of before. Of course, it's a pity; still, not having had their breakthrough yet, the artists are usually way more accessible (wouldn't you give anything to have attended a Beatles concert at the Cavern Club?). And so they grow on you.

I have plenty of those kinds of bands. A lot of them weren't even the main act, just supporting someone not necessarily more well-known than themselves. Probably my favourite among those discovered is Kat Frankie, an australian singer-songwriter now living in Berlin. But there are so many more: Bromheads Jacket, Rita Hey, Das Pack, Misteur Valaire, Miss Emily Brown, Rita Hey, or Gysbert zu Knyphausen, to name but a few. Oh, and Janina—let's not forget her.

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Saturday, 26th March 2011; 15:40


The crux of syncing with iTunes: Data minimization & changing settings

A post to the Apple Discussions board. (Apple.com > Support > Discussions > Using iPhone > Syncing

Hello everybody,

I have a couple of questions regarding the syncing of "stuff" between my Mac and my iPhone.

I used to own an iPod (3rd generation, quite a while ago), and I always had my own system of storing music. The thing is, I have my music on CDs: I understand that, in order to get them on an iPod/iPhone, I need to convert them to a different format. So OK, I rip my music and move it to my device -- but why would I want to keep a copy on my computer? I already have two (CD & iPod), why would I need a third?
It doesn't seem to be exactly what iTunes is about, but I did manage (at the time with my iPod and now with my iPhone) to make it understand that I wanted it so. I rip my CDs, move them to my device, and then delete them from my computer.
Of course, nowadays there's the iTunes Store. Since I don't have a physical media for music bought on it, it's OK for that (and only that) music to be stored on the computer -- it's my second copy in case something happens.

When I got my iPhone, it took me a couple of tries to set iTunes up like I wanted to; during those tries, I erroneously deleted and had to re-transfer my music to the iPhone. The "Sync Music" checkbox is, apparently, extremely powerful.

A couple of months later, I find myself in a similar pickle over the apps. With the apps, I believe it to be even more understandable: Unlike with the music, I can't even use the apps on my computer -- so why would I want them there? Some apps, particularly games, have an enormous (storage) footprint! I could save many a gigabyte by not having an (unnecessary) copy on my computer. I have them on my device, and the Store knows which ones I purchased -- couldn't I simply re-download them should the need ever arise (i.e., unrecoverable hardware failure)?
Like with "CD & device" for music, I'd have "AppStore & device" for apps. Everything's backed up. And my hard disk wouldn't be so stuffed.

My iPhone is my primary device for the apps, since it's the only way for me to use them after all. So I download, update, and occasionally delete apps -- all through my iPhone.
The thing is, when I connect and sync it with iTunes, things go "wrong". Apps previously synced and later deleted (on the phone) remain on my computer. I never needed them there, now I don't even use them anymore -- and still there's a copy occupying space on my computer. Worse, those apps want to be updated. Apps that I don't have thus don't use want to be updated. How silly is that? The term "Sync" for iTunes appears to be a one-way process: *from* iTunes *to* the iPhone. (At least for most intents and purposes; contacts and calendars seem to work just fine in both directions.) But why? I buy all my apps and all my music on the iPhone. Once connected, iTunes warns me that there is "bought content" on my phone, which isn't on my computer (and it's not as trivial as it should be to transfer it back); but it doesn't know what has been removed.

As I mentioned earlier, the unchecking of the "Sync Music" checkbox solved (most) of my iTunes troubles regarding music.
But I had no idea I'd have to go to the same trouble for apps. (I believe it has to do with the fact that it seemed so absurd needing/wanting to have a copy of an app on the computer where you can't even use it.)

So now I came to realize I probably (I'm not even sure myself) want to do the same thing with the apps as with my music: uncheck the "Sync Apps" checkbox for my iPhone.
But would I have the opportunity to re-download my apps, as I speculated above, should I ever need to? (In other words: Does the AppStore work as a "backup"?)
And, more to the point: How do I uncheck "Sync Apps" without having my iPhone "wiped"?

Toying around with that checkbox is what caused me to have to re-transfer my music to the phone a couple of times. And in fact iTunes states, when I try to uncheck the "Sync Apps" checkbox: "All existing apps and their data on the iPhone will be removed." I don't want that at all!
What is right now: My computer is an incremental storage pool of what was and is on my iPhone, in order to change that setting, the iPhone needs to be wiped of all and any apps.
What I want: My iPhone is my primary app source, I don't want any app on my computer.
What I could live with: My iPhone is my primary app source, I want my computer to be a mirror image of my iPhone.

Ultimately, I have my own system for music and don't need backed up apps on my computer. I use iTunes merely as a tool to transfer data between computer and phone (primarily), as a phone-settings backup system (secondarily), and to manage my iTunes account (really seldom).
I don't need iTunes for anything else. I have my "music machine" (to which I regularly connect my phone, since it contains a lot of music) somewhere else; surely my laptop with iTunes on it isn't the better option.

Does anybody have an answer for one of my many questions? Do you have any ideas or suggestions for me on how to deal with the (quite intrusive and obnoxious) iTunes? They would be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards,
Nicola

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