A Project Begins – An Arduino Unboxing

There’s a Maker‘s Space at the DAI in Heidelberg that’s just started up. I’ve been to the DAI a couple times. It has an awesome collection of (English language) books and I want to read them all. It’s an inspiring place by itself and I came away from the maker’s meetup wanting to do more.

The group is new there. They’ve invested in a 3D printer and some 3D pens, and the gaggle of people had a buzz about them too. After looking some 3D dresses and some people messing about with Arduinos the host and I got chatting. They’re planning a launch at the end of April and were looking for people to demonstrate. Without a concrete plan of what to do I volunteered.

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Arduino Starter Kit unboxing

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So I bought the official Arduino Starter Kit. And it comes in a really pretty box. I want to make something that makes some noise, but I’ll need to go through the Hello World stage and I’ll want to mess about with other things too. The project book it comes with looks really well laid out and the components are just what I need to start with.

I’ve set myself up GitHub Repo and will be keeping you updated here.

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Arduino Starter Kit unboxing

A post shared by Mike Ramnarine (@soundornoise) on

 

View this post on Instagram

Arduino Starter Kit unboxing

A post shared by Mike Ramnarine (@soundornoise) on

 

View this post on Instagram

Arduino Starter Kit unboxing

A post shared by Mike Ramnarine (@soundornoise) on

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Thoughts on Hip Hop?

Recently, a friend asked me what I thought about Hip Hop. Big question. I paused and shrugged it off. I probably mentioned a couple of artists. I usually don’t like broad questions, but this one stuck. The question may be superficial, but what do I know and think of hundreds of individual artists? That’s worth exploring.

I don’t have much to say about Hip Hop as a subculture. Being a Brit born in the late eighties the closest I got was reruns of The Fresh Prince. Or through Toejam and Earl (enough to get me excited about making a sequel). But music is something I have an interest in. Some Hip Hop has been unavoidable, and some I have sought out.

My musical coming of age happened in the time of Nu-Metal. By the time I was paying attention to the genre, drop-tuned guitars had become blasé and artists were looking wider for new sounds to pull into the melange. As well as singing and shouting, a lot of the bands were rapping over rock beats and using DJs or other electronics.

In this mix Linkin Park took the world by storm with their debut Hybrid Theory. This was a polished and fully integrated mix of sounds and styles. In The End got the most play and the Hip Hop influence is clear with the sound of the beat and the rapping during the verses. They even followed this up with a Jay-Z collaboration. It works, but it’s more of a mash up than the DUN-DMC/Aerosmith or Anthrax/Public Enemy reworkings that had come before it, which put me off at the time.

Since then my exploration has been tangental and at the fringes. Often only going one leap from an artist I know already. I discovered Saul Williams through his collaborations with Trent Reznor. I’ve gotten into B-Dolan and Sage Francis through their work with Scroobius Pip. (I’ll probably check out the rest of the Strange Famous artists at some point too.)

But I’ve also picked up stuff just by being interested in music. Some exposure was unavoidable, even mostly staying in the rock-centric world of MTV2. Everyone knew how many problems Jay-Z had and the singles off The Marshall Mathers LP were played to death. Even if bits seemed more censored than uncensored. When Scroobius Pip says guns, bitches and bling aren’t part of The Four Elements I get the reference. When Blondie says “Flash is fast, Flash is cool” I get the reference.

But the stuff I’m interested in (or at least seek out) tends to be complex and intelligent. Or really personal. The first time I really listened to Me ‘Em Purr (a hip hop song about unemployment and depression) it almost brought me to tears. More like this, please.

But I do love a good beat, and I do have an appreciation of flow. And not completely agreeing with the material doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it for what it is. The first Kanye West album I’ve given a proper listen to is Yeezus. The talk of it’s harder, more industrial sound pricked my ears up. I quite liked the album (but I’m still not sure about Bound2 or it’s video) and thinking back I’ve enjoyed what I can remember of his previous singles, even if they haven’t made me check out the rest of the album. There are probably many artists that I’ve written off more than I should due to only being exposed to their club hits. Beyonce also come to mind for some reason, but I’m sure the list is way longer.

In a world where pop steals from every genre (and a genre might be defined by how you make your kick and snare sounds) they are becoming ever diluted and irrelevant. There’s rap as a technique and Hip hop is a school, or approach, to making music. Everything is influenced by everything else and I’d like to go deeper.

During my research Spotify helpfully gave me a playlist of songs to explore, YouTube too, but there’s much I’ve missed. What are the seminal classics and why are they important? Who’s pushing the boundaries past and present? Who’s just to damn good to ignore?

Much exploring ahead.

One Month In

Mannheim

Wow! Has it been a month in Germany already? I had meant to do a not-a-new-years post, but I think the window on that was passed. Resolutions aren’t a thing I really believe in. Years a cyclic, but where we place a start and end is arbitrary. I don’t give much weight to calendars, so I don’t see new years as enough of an anchor to use to force a change of direction. This whole trip as been rooted in decisions made last year. Although I didn’t move until the end of January in my mind things have been snowballing since October. And none of this would have happened without the lifetime of choices and actions before it.

A month is a long time. This is something I’d forgotten. Stuck in routine, with work and habits decided long before it’s easy to forget how many hours (days, weeks) we have at our disposal. But being between full time commitments it’s easy to lose track of time for other reasons.

Hitting reset and starting from scratch has been daunting. There were moments filled with vertigo, but these moments of overwhelm at the scale of the change I’m making quickly passed. Mostly, I’ve taken the move with a sense of zen calm. I met some friends for leaving drinks and one of them said that they didn’t think that they could just leave the way I have. I simply replied that a life time of small differences and choices had, 27 years later, put us at different places. Maybe it was perception or a situation of our own creating. Throwing half your things away and putting the rest into boxes does interesting things to your state of mind.

So does spending two weeks without furniture waiting at the other end. There’s nothing like living in an empty space with just a mattress and no outside commitments to make you feel like your life is on pause.

Even with few distractions it’s easy to let environment (the lack of furniture) mask the actual accomplishments. I have worked out how German backing works (shit by UK standards – they often make you pay for basic services and there seems to be a lack of trust), healthcare too and recycling (not too different from the UK, but the Gelber Sack/Green Dot rules seem convoluted and unenforceable). Plus staring from scratch with a foreign language and all the small things that make a house a home. Probably some small things I’ve forgotten too. There’s a familiarity that’s completely taken for granted as a native.

Skyline Coming Soon

I’ve already had the chance to catch up with a German uni friend and been visited by and old housemate. This led me to Frankfurt to the north and Karlsruhe to the south. We did a lot of walking around Frankfurt and I think I can navigate the centre blind. I’ve also kept in touch with other friends and family remotely, and I know that others are just a few clicks away. The wonders of modern technology.

But with all this shit done I want to move on to a more focused use of my time. I’ve enrolled on the German as a Foreign Language course, so I will be able to go from giving one word to one sentence answers. I am definitely up for making mistakes talking to people, but I’m looking forward to having a working vocabulary and being able to understand sentences with more than one clause in them. That said, I’ll probably be relying on translation services for a while yet.

Heidelberg

Now I know where some things are it’s time to go exploring. It looks like there are a few interesting things going on at the DAI, and Heidelberg in general looks like an interesting place. It seems that the university circuit isn’t quite like how it is in the UK and there aren’t as many societies to do with them. I’m told they exist, but it almost sounds like you need to be introduced. Regardless of how and where I’m going to find some things to get involved with.

Robohorse in Heidelberg

The things we keep, throw away and remember

For the past month I’ve been putting things into boxes and sorting them. Moving involves a lot of that. This time I’m moving further than before and shipping has been the only sensible way to get stuff to the other end. This has made me more critical of what I keep and what I toss, making the proces both more cathartic and more stressful.

I’ve said a couple of times that I like moving. There’s the optimism of being in a new place. You know where most of your things are and it’s the tidiest that it’s ever going to be. I moved a lot as a student and I’ve mostly enjoyed the process. But stuff does accumulate and this time we’ve had furniture to deal with. Is this what being an adult is? It was a whole lot more complicated this time. I think I should revise that statement; I like moving in.

But very soon I will be moved in and shortly after that so will my stuff. I’m looking forward to a point in time where I can, again, refer to my position as settled. But even when I have been settled there have always been things that have changed. There were a life time of events that have lead up to this move. Some of these feel timeless and recountable, but others are ephemeral and become difficult to convey once their immediacy has been lost. Especially considering I’m moving to Germany I’d like to capture more of the confusion, the wonder and other moments of simply living as well as some of the bigger picture stuff.

Yesterday I met a friend for lunch and we wondered around Spitalfield’s Market looking at the antique and pseudo-vintage stuff that was there. While we were there we saw a poster for the film Pinocchio In Outer Space, a cross over I hadn’t expected. Silly as it is, the poster feels resonant with me off to a foreign land to become a real boy. This moment might have been lost to the ether if I hadn’t captured it today, even though our conversation has left me musing over some of the things that I might write about later.

I think I got all meta. A blog post about wanting to blog more is a bit self referencial, but that’s what I’m thinking about today. I have been asked to keep people informed of what I’m up to, and that’s a commitment I’d like to keep. So this is what I’ve been up to; packing mostly. Soon I move. Maybe I’ll use the flight to write about some more things I’ve been up to. But more likely, I’ll use it to sleep. I could do with more of that.

Was this post informative, useful, entertaining? Is there anything else you want me to write about? Let me know.

Food for Thought – A week and a half with Joylent

There was a time when it seemed like there was a war for cupboard space. Growing up there seemed to be an endless supply of cereal adverts all vying for their spot on your table. If the adverts were to believed there was no underestimating the importance of breakfast, especially for a child. The ideal of “a balanced and nutritious diet” was evangelised (although never really defined), and this was the life I led. I had cereal for breakfast every day of the week throughout much of my childhood, and I’ve almost never had a bowl since. My autonomy of eating habits wasn’t really explored until I went to uni. And along with mornings, I mostly gave up on breakfast. When your sleeping habits don’t reflect a day the only relevant definition of breakfast was the literal one. To this day eating as soon as I get up seems alien to me. Short of the occasional full-english at the weekend I often went straight to lunch.

[youtube http://youtu.be/MPZlZz6BEQE]

Today I’m reminded of the espoused philosophy that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day”. This is a statement that I never gave too much thought. And surely if my breakfast is lunch I’ve got the bases covered. However, my experiment with Joylent has brought these habits under closer scrutiny. Does consuming something that is “balanced and nutritious” by design make as much of a difference as nineties cereal adverts would have you believe?

To my surprise starting the day with a sizeable number of liquid calories made a very noticeable difference. Actually, I felt fantastic. I had a smile on my face and spring in my step when before I was bleary eyed. I found myself coherent and more alert, despite my best attempts at sleep deprivation.

My eating habits during the experiment went as I expected. I consumed Joylent in the morning. I found having a large amount easier than I expected, but I still preferred to space a meal’s worth out over an hour or two. I had a normal lunch and half the days I had a normal dinner. The only time I felt really hungry was when I stopped consuming Joylent so I had an appetite for solid food. At first I craved solid food as my brain disassociated the liquid in front of me with its nutritional content, but this went away after a couple days.

I took the weekends off and switching between solid and liquid food was simple and easy, until it wasn’t. Just after a week in I felt like it was rejecting what I put in my body. I had a few swigs as usual and I immediately felt like I wanted throw up. This quickly passed and I was fine for the next couple days, but when it happened a second time I decided to cut the experiment early.

I have two theories as to what could have been the cause. Firstly, the consistency and flavour changes quite a bit depending on how concentrated you make the mix. I preferred it thicker, but I also found this dehydrating and needed to drink more water. So it could have been my preparation. The other theory is that it’s a reaction to something in it, probably the whey. As someone who doesn’t have much dairy, consuming large amounts of whey could have flooded my system with more lactose than I know what to do with.

This is a very disappointing end to the trial, but I consider the experiment a success. I now know that there is a lot to be gained by having a better breakfast earlier in the day, whatever form it takes. During the experiment I didn’t have any energy crashes, I felt like I needed less caffeine and I was more productive. I’m compelled to look into my diet more. Mixing soylent with well prepared meals really increased my appreciation of the latter.

I mostly enjoyed having liquid rather than solids. It required little time or attention and it almost completely eradicated distracting levels of hunger. I would like to give it another go with a different recipe. As I said in the first post, I’d give it more attention to detail. Carbs have been getting a bad rep recently with more and more people are coming around to the idea that it’s carbs and sugars that make you fat, not consuming fat itself. Yet, there are upsides too. I think this diet was more carb heavy than what I was eating before and my energy levels were better for it.

As I was making notes for this post I jotted down the phrase “food for thought” as a pun. I have come out of this experiment without many answers but with a better idea of my preferences and a list of things I want to play with. However, food for thought is what I want. Take those words literally. I like my body weight and this has been one of the main things informing my diet. However, I like being awake, alert and in a good mood. How my diet affects this isn’t something I’ve considered directly in the past (outside of alcohol). But with this much room to improve I’m going to have to explore more.

A Life Without Food? Just Add Water

A life without food? It either sounds great or it sounds terrible. Understandably Soylent has got some mixed press. Yet, somehow I missed the hype. It was only through talking with wildfirebird that I came across it. It was there, a curiosity, something that had pros and cons, and was little more than a diversion while travelling. But when I saw couple of blog posts cross my path again I started paying it more attention.

Like much of the adult population I would describe myself as a busy person. Far from unique, but there are many things I’d like to do and only so many hours in the day. Dylan Moran has a bit that describes the extreme of this stating the optimism we may feel over our diet. “If you’re getting very adventurous, tonight we will eat something that has two colours in it “, but the reality is “eating bread from the bag, dipping it in anything runnier than bread”. This month has had me squeezing gig preparation between full time work and a wedding. Bread from the bag is one solution, but instead I’ve had far more fast food than I would normally.

[youtube http://youtu.be/ncZOFI-MUEw]

Soylent is a potential solution to this problem. It isn’t a panacea, some skepticism is warranted, but what I’ve been doing hasn’t been ideal either. Bread from the bag is easy. Take away is easy. Ready meals are easy. Solyent is quick and it is easy, that’s the point, but it’s also intended to be better for you than the other choices. Instant food, whenever I want, just add water. Colour me interested.

Soylent with a capital “S” is a powdered food substitute, but it’s massively backed up. There’s been a strong DIY following (soylent with a small “s”). I’ve spent a few hours looking through their stuff, considering things about my nutrition I never had before. I was thinking of jumping in here and coming up with my own recipe, but then I came across Joylent. Sure, it’s a Soylent clone with a hilarious take on knowing nothing about nutrition, but Occam’s razor suggests that it probably won’t kill me. Although the cost per day is higher, the start up costs are lower so I plan to experiment and see whether a (partially) liquid diet is something I’d like to explore further.

I’m not saying that I intend to give up food, but just knowing that soylent exists has made me far more aware of how annoying and disruptive not being able to have a decent meal whenever I want is. I’m not saying it’s ideal either, the jury’s out on that one, but neither is what I was doing before. I actually really enjoy cooking and I’ve been complimented for the two dishes I make over and over and over. If anything I want to cook more, ideally spending an afternoon experimenting with new and delicious things. Doing less simple rote preparation is fine with me.

So I did it. I picked up a five day supply of vanilla Joylent. I don’t intend to do the full meal replacement thing quite yet. This is just to see whether something really puts me off the idea of delving deeper into the world of DIY soylent. As much as it’s amusing to get a large quantity of miscellaneous off-white powder from a former drug dealer I’d like to have a bit more control over what I consume, if I do this long term. For now I plan on having about two meals’ worth a day, with some uncertainty of what to do over the weekends. I’m travelling and that is one of the times that I find my diet to be the worst, but it’s only a short trip this time and a sociable one, so I may skip it for those days.

Cat not included

It’s the evening of day one and I’m feeling fine. In fact, I’m feeling better than I was this morning. Lethargy had overcome me and a very consistent intake of calories may have helped stabilise me, even if this wasn’t the most productive day of my life. The  container I’m using is too small to divide a day’s worth into three. This suits me fine. Having a small amount over half an hour, say, and then spacing the next small meal out until I start to feel like I need it has suited me well. Trusting my body seems to be working fine.

I’m having pizza with a friend this evening, so I’ve stopped consuming mid-afternoon and for the first time all day I feel hungry. I don’t want to be too full when eating socially, but in hindsight maybe I should have had more earlier.

Either way, day one seems a success. The Joylent is palatable, only very slightly gritty and theoretically more nutritious than what my previous default would have been. I’ll let you know how I’m getting on.

Jolent open box

Frission

Henry Bucklow

A synapse fires, then another. The results cascade. Your pupils dilate. Your hair stands on end. Something has happened, yet you are not in danger. Logically speaking you are safe, yet your senses are heightened and the difference from a moment before is greater than you can rationalise.

This is frission.

This is why I am here. This is why I make music. From the moment I can first remember my mum playing the piano I have been enraptured. This lead me to make sound in my own hands and in time to make them in a sequence of my own creation.

This is why I’m here.

My path has been meandering, life is full of distractions, yet I return. Frission is why I am here and music is my most direct connection. I have written here about gigs I’ve been to and other experiences that have made an impression. I will do more and I want to share it. The other thing I’ve been doing lots of is making and manipulating sound, songwriting and performing. That I will also do more of, but I’ve neglected sharing this side of my interest in sound. I think it’s time that changed.

Hi, I’m Mike and I’m here because I’m into the weird bits of neurochemistry that make us deeply human. I’m a programmer by day and a producer and singer for The Heavenly Creatures as well as interested in lots of creative and challenging things.

I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again; We Exist Now. If I want to share these thoughts, I better get writing!

I’ll leave you with a song on the matter.

It’s time for me to start writing again, but in part this blog post was inspired by a well timed challenge from Live Your Legend. Thanks for the push!