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Friday, May 30, 2008

Zwerg und Überzwerg by Christian von Aster

Just finished Christian von Aster's Zwerg und Überzwerg and liked it a lot. Since it is only available in German so far I'll also post a German review here.

For hundreds of years the dwarves have led more or less peaceful lives and focused on prospecting and drinking beer. If only the women hadn't all vanished during the last Great War they could even look optimistically into the future. But then dark portents appear: the black sliver spider, the dwarf who doesn't drink any beer and a dwarf with gold teeth. All Omens of a dark prophecy which predicts the end of all dwarves. Has the end really arrived or is it just part of a dark conspiracy?
The book is a pleasure to read. The humorous anecdotes about dwarf history and the enthralling story which progresses at a high pace make this novel a real page turner. I can highly recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy with a humorous touch.

GERMAN:
Die Zwerge führten während hunderten von Jahren ein mehr oder weniger friedliches Leben und beschäftigten sich mit Ihren Lieblingbeschäftigungen: Rauchen, Trinken und Gold zählen. Und wenn im letzten grossen Krieg nicht alle Frauen verschwunden wären, hätten sie sogar optimistisch in die Zukunft blicken können. Doch plötzlich tauchen dunkle Omen auf die als Vorboten der Prophezeiung des Untergangs von Zwerg und Zwergeszwerg gelten: Der Zwerg der nicht trinkt, der Zwerg mit dem goldenen Gebiss und die schwarze Splitterspinne. Ist dies tatsächlich der Anfang des Endes aller Zwerge oder ist dies das Werk einer verschwörerischen Gruppierung die einen Machtwechsel anstrebt?
Christian von Aster schafft es einmal mehr eine fantastische Geschichte abzuliefern die sowohl sehr unterhaltsam als auch spannend bis zur letzten Seite ist. Humorvolle Anekdoten über die Geschichte der Zwerge und eine mitreissende Handlung gehen Hand in Hand und sorgen für ein sehr kurzweiliges Lesevergnügen. Ein absoluter Pflichtkauf für alle Freunde humorvoller Fantasy.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Coldeve & Marylane @ Vorstadt Sounds Week

Vorstadt Sounds Week is a festival in Zurich which features eight consecutive nights with concerts from Swiss up and coming artist.

The location is a common room of a parish which was decorated with a lot of thought and care. The place felt like a cool and modern beach bar (without the sand of course ;) ).

Opening the evening were Marylane, a young band playing a mixture between trip hop and electroaccoustic with ethereal touches. This description may sound a bit clinical and completely misses the point ;). What Marylane does is play wonderful music which leads one on different planes and lets one forget everything that's happening around. And so it happened that an hour passed without my noticing and the concert was over way too soon. After the show I immediately bought one of their limited Demo CDs (the songs can be heard on myspace) and I'm looking forward to hear more from them in the near future :).

Next up were Coldeve, a Zurich based band playing a mixture of Alternative and Indie Rock with electronic influences. Compared to Marylane their sound has more power but lacks the ethereal edge. In this way they complement each other well which results in a perfect line-up. The audience obviously shared these sentiments and appeared in droves ensuring an (almost) sold out house, this stood in stark contrast to Coldeve's last concert in the Culture Club. Thus it was no wonder that they were extremely motivated and started full blast into their set. At first I was the only one dancing but after a while all open space was occupied, unfortunately there were many stools in the way, so the place was quite restricted. Coldeve played a very cool concert and the audience applauded ecstatically and would have been happy to listen longer than the hour that the gig lasted. But all good things have to end sometimes, and by the end of the gig I was very exhausted (it was extremely warm in the club and I was very active throughout ;) ).
Coldeve also sold their brand new CD "Super Himalaya" at the gig and Fatima, the singer, was so nice and gave me a copy in recognition of my enthusiastic cheering at the last concert :).

To sum up: Vorstadt Sounds is a very cool festival with a lot of flair and both Marylane and Coldeve are extremely cool bands which you should definitely check out!

PS: 333 posts and counting :D

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Treacle Mine Road Saga VI

The Treacle Mine Road is a famous thoroughfare in Ankh-Morpork and provided the location for the 6. Discworld-themed LARP in Austria.

I first heard of this LARP during the Middle Earth Festival last June, when one of the musicians saw my Rinecewind costume and asked me to join them. As a long-time Discworld fan I couldn't let this opportunity slip by me and so I undertook the long journey to Austria in the night train.

The LARP lasted from Thursday, 5pm till Saturday, well past midnight and was one of the longest cons I had ever attended.

True to its origins, the play had many confusing plots and offered tons of hilarious scenes, which makes it quite impossible to write a complete and accurate report about what happened, so here are the main plot and the highlights.

The temple of Small Gods was in danger of collapsing and so all priests were relocated to the Treacle Mine district where they busily tried to convert the inhabitants to their religion. Some of the most important Gods present were:
- Almarupp, the God of the holes in the Cheese
- Entah, the God of Spaces (especially in books, the holy bible of Entah only contained Spaces)
- Ricula, the Goddess of clean breath and vanquisher of Keuch, God of coughing
- Kluni, the God of Coffee and staying awake after midnight
- Mogel, the God of Cheat Sheets
- Yikes, the Goddess of crawling critters
- Nasn, the Goddess of curiosity
- Freckln, the Godess of freckls
- and many more
(I haven't listed the name of the priests, because they all contain play on words which only work in German).
All went well until the priests started to die like flies. Most of them died of natural causes, but suspicions heightened, when riddles in the Ankh-Morpork Times revealed clues to the murders. The City Watch then received the task to catch the killer immediately, which put them in front of a lot of problems.

Highlights of the Weekend were the show "Who wants to be an Ankh-Morpork Millionaire", the exorcism of a friendly demon kept prisoner in a girl with tourette syndrome, Ponder Stibbons, the appearance of Rincewind the Wizzard, the Marathon of priests with one participant, the Holy Water Far Spitting contest, the discussion how fish can cough (they make 'blubb'), the pleasant evenings in the Bone and many more.

I played the Priest of Ricula and had great fun distributing holy 'Hustien' (Ricola pastilles) and interacting with the other characters.

It was a fantastic experience and I wouldn't want to have missed it. As usual, I took a ton of (cool) pictures, which I hope to publish soon.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Seleger Moor

Last Weekend I visited the Seleger Moor, a place which is famous for its rhododendrons.

More pictures can be found in my gallery.

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Computer Spring Cleaning

Over the last two days I was trying to clear my Computer from unnecessary data. This cleaning fit was triggered when the computer warned me that only 180 MB storage space remained on the main system partition...

And so I started to go methodically through all folders to hunt for the big space huggers. I was astonished at the amount of temporary files I found! Some of them leftovers from installing programs others from running programs...

During this cleanup I came upon two big annoyances:
1. iTunes: After I dutifully deleted all the folders called TEMP, iTunes wouldn't start anymore. It told me that it was missing the file iTunes.msi which was previously located in a TEMP directory!!! After reinstalling iTunes it worked again, but I'm still wondering who the heck had the idiotic idea to hide a vital file in a TEMP directory?

2. Outlook Express: Seeing that the Sent Messages Folder was over 700 MB in size, I opened Outlook Express and deleted all the files in that folder. Immense was my surprise when I noticed that the folder's size on my disk hadn't decreased by one Bit! I had to delete the file by hand. That worked, but when I deleted only half the files in another folder and it's size didn't decrease, deleting the whole file was out of the question, so I had to copy things around to get rid of the deleted messages. Any pointers how this could be done more efficiently would be greatly appreciated!

Now I'm happy to report that the system partition again has 3.3 GB free space.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Vad Vuc & Modena City Ramblers @ Gaswerk Winterthur

It was pure chance that I heard about this concert. Out of boredom, I was waiting for the server to start up, I visited the homepage of The Vad Vuc and there I saw that they would play a gig in Winterthur on the same day! Since I was in Winterthur anyway to play Squash with a friend, it was clear I just had to extend my stay and visit the concert, after all The Vad Vuc have become one of my favorite bands and I'm constantly listening to their songs :)

The Vad Vuc were the opening act of the evening and this time I was dancing, jumping and singing along right from the start. At first there was enough space, but soon the place started to fill up and so the space to dance became quite limited. This was a nice contrast to the last concert I visited where I was almost alone. The Vad Vuc played a terrific set which featured all my favorite songs and after one hour and an encore I was secretly glad that the concert was over, because I was completely exhausted.

After a short break where I relaxed and gathered my remaining strenght the Modena City Ramblers (MCR), the main act of the evening, took the stage. They come from Italy and play "Italian Combat Folk for the masses", this sounded pretty intriguing and I was curious how I would react to their music. The first thing that became obvious was the size of the band, I counted eight people on stage which was sometimes extended to nine musicians. An other thing that intrigued me were the wide variety of instruments they used in their songs, standard drums and electric guitars were accompanied by tin whistle, mandolin, saxophone and much more. However, even though they had a couple of catchy songs, overall I felt there was something missing. Compared to The Vad Vuc who play very powerful and catchy tunes, most of the songs of MCR were lacking just this power. And whereas it never bothered me that The Vad Vuc sang Italian, I noticed this much more with MCR, where the singers received a much heavier focus. In short the "Combat" from the "Italian Combat Folk" was missing ;)
After one hour I left the concert to catch the last train, after all I had to be fit for today's relay race.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coldeve @ Culture Club

A year after I first heard of Coldeve at the Whit Sunday Rock festival in the abart I finally managed to catch up with them again.

The gig took place in the Culture Club in Schwerzenbach. I found the location without problem, but standing in front of the door I stopped for a moment to study the half-dozen signs which proclaimed it a private club. Yet the door was opened for me and so I stepped inside. Once I saw the stage and the party area the whole place started to ring a bell. After a moment the penny dropped. I had been here before at a Labia concert four or five years ago when the club was still called 2nd Floor.

After a while Coldeve took the stage to play the most exclusive concert I have ever personally witnessed. I'm used to small concerts with few guest, but the four people (including me) that turned up to see this show was definitely a new record. And yet the band took this in their stride and played as if the place was filled to the brim ^^. At first I needed to get used to their new style, I'm used to their old CD which features a Cello but no keyboard or synthesizer. And even though I'm normally quite skeptical to bands which use synthesizers, Coldeve's music was so inspirational that by the second song I was completely lost and had a terrific time dancing to their songs. There was another reason which made this concert special as well: Coldeve played without a song-list and so either one of the band members mentioned a title or he would just start playing and the others would tune in. This worked so well I wouldn't have noticed it, if they hadn't confessed to this experiment after the gig. 50 minutes later everyone was so exhausted, it was quite hot in the club, that the concert just had to end. And so I'm looking forward to their next gig at the Vorstadt Sounds festival.

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Who wants to study at the University of Florida?

This week I finally received an update from the University of Florida. I was not only accepted but also qualified for an Achievement Award for New Engineering Graduate Students thanks to my very good GRE scores. Reading the rest of the email I noticed the reply by date, which was the 21st of March!

The day after I received another e-mail from the University of Florida, this was a bit directer and asked me why I haven't yet responded to the "several e-mails reminding you that you have been accepted". This reminded me of Guido's story, he received first this "reminder" e-mail before he received his note of acceptance.

In a way this was the perfect end to my relationship with the University of Florida, which stood under a bad star from the beginning. First I had trouble with their online application form (e.g. I couldn't enter my international phone number, my letter of motivation was truncated without warning) then I received an email telling me that the application status would be visible online, however the five step process to get to this page could only be completed with the Internet Explorer (Firefox somehow wasn't compatible) and when I finally was on the page there was no mention of the status of my application...

All in all the University of Florida didn't leave the best impression behind and I may even have declined their offer if they were the only ones to accept me... And with an offer from Carnegie Mellon University they had no chance of my attendance at all.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Riedhburg XV

Over this weekend the 15th Riedhburg play took place. It's title was "Mit Schirm, Charme und Kanone"; this is a play on words on the German title of the 60s tv series called The Avengers.

The background for this play was an upcoming market in Flussau with traders coming from all over Riedhburg and even foreign countries. On their way to Flussau some of the travelers stopped at Lord Mayor Schinkenlicht's house.

There were several storylines present and as an NPC (None Player Character) I learned about most of them.

a) Remnants of Kunibolds Gerechte Bande (Kunibolds Righteous Gang) were nearby and trying to find assistance to free their leader.

b) A group of powerful wizards were situated close-by and they tried to blackmail the guests for food and other useful items. (I played on of the wizards)

c) Frederick the Veteran had a canon safely tucked away in the neighborhood and was willing to use it if the country was in danger. To use his canon, however, he first needed to get hold of shooting powder.

d) Traders from Hornstein arrived who were hoping to recruit people to help stop the civil war waging in their home country.

e) A government spy was present trying to discover citizens participating in illegal actions.

f) and much more...

All in all we had a very busy weekend and a lot of fun.

As usual pictures can be found in my gallery.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

LibraryThing's Top 106 Unread Books

As you may have noticed I'm a small bibliophile and thus I was intrigued by the idea of checking how many of the Top 106 Unread Books on Librarything I have already read or plan to read in the near future. "Unread" in Librarything means that these books are on the shelves of members but haven't been read yet.

The way it works: Bold books you've read, italicize books started but unfinished and strikethrough books you've hated. An asterix is for books read multiple times, while underline is for books that are on your "to read" list.

And here's my take on the current list (Numbers in parentheses are the number of users who have tagged this book unread):

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (236)
  2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (211)
  3. One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (183)
  4. Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (176)
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (162)
  6. Catch-22 a novel by Joseph Heller (158)
  7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (155)
  8. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra (152)
  9. The Odyssey by Homer (136)
  10. The brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (136)
  11. Ulysses by James Joyce (135)
  12. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (132)
  13. War and peace by Leo Tolstoy (132)
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (124)
  15. A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens (124)
  16. The name of the rose by Umberto Eco (120)
  17. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (119)
  18. The Iliad by Homer (117)
  19. Emma by Jane Austen (117)
  20. Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (115)
  21. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (114)
  22. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (110)
  23. The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (108)
  24. Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen (108)
  25. The historian : a novel by Elizabeth Kostova (108)
  26. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (106)
  27. The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini (106)
  28. The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger (105)
  29. Life of Pi : a novel by Yann Martel (105)
  30. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (104)
  31. Atlas shrugged by Ayn Rand (102)
  32. Foucault's pendulum by Umberto Eco (101)
  33. Dracula by Bram Stoker (100)
  34. The grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck (99)
  35. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers (97)
  36. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (97)
  37. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (97)
  38. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books by Azar Nafisi (96)
  39. Middlemarch by George Eliot (96)
  40. Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen (96)
  41. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (95)
  42. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (94)
  43. The sound and the fury by William Faulkner (94)
  44. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (93)
  45. Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle I) by Neal Stephenson (92)
  46. American gods : a novel by Neil Gaiman (92)
  47. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (91)
  48. The poisonwood Bible : a novel by Barbara Kingsolver (91)
  49. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West… by Gregory Maguire (90)
  50. A portrait of the artist as a young man by James Joyce (89)
  51. The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (89)
  52. Dune by Frank Herbert (89)
  53. The satanic verses by Salman Rushdie (88)
  54. Gulliver's travels by Jonathan Swift (88)
  55. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (88)
  56. The three musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (87)
  57. The corrections by Jonathan Franzen (84)
  58. The inferno by Dante Alighieri (84)
  59. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (83)
  60. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (83)
  61. To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (83)
  62. A clockwork orange by Anthony Burgess (83)
  63. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (83)
  64. The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel by Michael Chabon (83)
  65. Persuasion by Jane Austen (82)
  66. One flew over the cuckoo's nest by Ken Kesey (82)
  67. The scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (82)
  68. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (82)
  69. Anansi boys : a novel by Neil Gaiman (81)
  70. The once and future king by T. H. White (81)
  71. Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (80)
  72. The god of small things by Arundhati Roy (80)
  73. A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson (79)
  74. Oryx and Crake : a novel by Margaret Atwood (78)
  75. Dubliners by James Joyce (78)
  76. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (78)
  77. Angela's ashes : a memoir by Frank McCourt (77)
  78. Beloved : a novel by Toni Morrison (77)
  79. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed by Jared Diamond (76)
  80. The hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (75)
  81. In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its… by Truman Capote (75)
  82. Lady Chatterley's lover by D.H. Lawrence (73)
  83. A confederacy of dunces by John Kennedy Toole (73)
  84. Les misérables by Victor Hugo (73) *
  85. Watership Down by Richard Adams (72)
  86. The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (72)
  87. The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (72)
  88. Beowulf : a new verse translation by Anonymous (72)
  89. A farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway (71)
  90. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : an inquiry into… by Robert M. Pirsig (71)
  91. The Aeneid by Virgil (71)
  92. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (69)
  93. Sons and lovers by D.H. Lawrence (69)
  94. The personal history of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (69)
  95. The road by Cormac McCarthy (67)
  96. Possession : a romance by A.S. Byatt (67)
  97. The history of Tom Jones, a foundling by Henry Fielding (67)
  98. The book thief by Markus Zusak (67)
  99. Gravity's rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (66)
  100. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (66)
  101. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (66)
  102. Candide, or, Optimism by Voltaire (65)
  103. Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro (65)
  104. The plague by Albert Camus (65)
  105. Jude the obscure by Thomas Hardy (65)
  106. Cold mountain by Charles Frazier (64)

*) I've only read an extremely abridged version in school, thus I cannot count it as read ^^

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