Photo Marathon Berlin 2011

Yesterday I participated at the Berlin photo marathon 2011. It’s an yearly event for photo aficionados, where you have to shoot a series of 24 photos over a period of 12 hours. The photos need to match 24 themes that are given out throughout the day and at different meeting points and that overall fit to a super arching motto. You are only allowed to hand in the exact 24 photos without any editing and shot in exactly the right order. This years motto was “Music is in the air” and the individual themes were made up by song titles.  After seeing a couple of other blog posts, I thought it might actually be interesting to also document my series.

This was my first photo marathon, so I wasn’t exactly sure what approach to use. I was unclear about whether the individual photo themes or the overall series motto is more important. The documentation on the homepage and the booklet given out at the starting point state that the photos should be perceivable as a complete series. After some thought, I decided to really stick to the music idea and try to build my set around that. This made it extremely difficult to shoot some photos, because I basically walked around looking for visualization of music and then tried to figure out how to shoot it in a way that adhered to the individual topic (if possible at all). That meant that I had to get pretty creative in some regards and interpret the individual themes pretty loosely sometimes. In my opinion there is most definitively a decision to be made at the beginning of what you want to focus on.

For example there were a lot of shots that I made that fitted the individual topic better, but that I decided to re-shoot with something maybe more loosely fitting the individual topic, but on the upside touching on the music theme somehow. I had a lot of fun with these strong restrictions.

But without further adieu, my shots:

1. I am me / Ich bin ich (Rosenstolz)

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The first photo had to show your starting number somehow. I had already known this and brought some dice with me to form my starting number, which would have looked nice, but like I described before I decided to fully focus on the music topic instead, so I ditched that idea. Walking over the Oberbaum bridge I discovered a wine bottle and glass near the Watergate club. I liked the idea of a person just relaxing alone at the bridge and enjoying dawning sun, while listening to the faint music booming out of the club. I added my iPod ear plugs, which in my opinion thanks to Apple marketing have become synonym with music on the go.

2. Big city plant / Die Großstadtpflanze (Claire Waldorff)

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My first thought was shooting a small plant coming out of a crack in a pavement, but I didn’t know how to relate this to music. While passing the Magnet club I noticed these posters with burning flowers. So I shot that poster along with the ‘M’ logo that stands for ‘Magnet’, but that also could be interpreted as standing for ‘Music’ in the context of the series. I hung up my iPod ear plugs in the background for added continuity.

3. Weekend and Sunshine / Wochenend und Sonnenschein (Comedian Harmonists)

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I decided to shoot the entrance of the Comet club, which resides in a tunnel entrance in a way that the door would be in the foreground and the overblown sunlight in the background. I tried to interpret that moment when somebody leaves a club after a weekend night of dancing and is welcomed by the blinding morning light. Again I added my ear plugs for continuity.

4. There’s repairs everywhere / Überall wird instandbesetzt (Chaotencombo)

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I stumbled over this event ‘Bikes and beats’ in a backyard, where a DJ had set up his high-tech equipment on some old house/park structure.

5. No beauty without danger /Keine Schönheit ohne Gefahr (Einstürzende Neubauten)

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I found this funny sign admist a clutter of  concert announcement.

6. The tower has ears / Der Fernsehturm hat Ohren (Lexy & K-Paul)

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This was the only shot where I immediately knew how I would shoot it. At the same it was the one that took me the most amount of tries. It was pretty difficult to hold the ear plugs in my left hand and to shoot with my right hand because the zoom was fully extended and the camera leaned heavily to the front.

7. Sweet life, bitter life / Süßes Leben – Saures Leben (Wolf Biermann)

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My first thought was finding some “Mozart-Kugel”, but I couldn’t find any in the time constraints so I bought some Morzart sticks instead.

8. We met in a garden / Wir trafen uns in einem Garten (2Raumwohnung)

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I did a couple of these shots. Some of them had a better focus on my face or my glasses, but I decided it would be more interesting to have ear plugs and the photo theme in focus instead.

9. I want to have fun / Ich will Spas (Markus)

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Spotted these guys enjoying playing music near Brandenburger Tor. They were also really good, by the way.

10. Chaos / Chaos (Herbert Grönemeyer)

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I shot a photo containing some cars, bikes, horses and segways at the same time, but decided to delete it again since it didn’t fit nicely to the series. Instead I shot this contrast between the picture of the classical pianist in the foreground and the ugly chaotic building site in the background. Additionally the building in the background is “Die komische Oper”, an opera building. Ear plugs added to the fence.

11. Unsichtbar / Invisible (Farin Urlaub)

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I shot an ad in front of the “Die komische Oper” again. My idea about it was the barely visible reflection of myself in the glass. Not sure how I feel about this picture now. I was definitely under time pressure when I did it.

12. Monotonie / Monotony (Ideal)

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The city is currently plastered all over with these “Lady Gaga” ads. I kind of wanted to shoot the contrast between an artist that is known and adored for his crazy antics, and the dulness of a highly efficient metro, transporting bored and day dreaming people.

13. Change of scenery / Tapetenwechsel (Hildegard Knef)

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I discovered a group of people playing some orchestra music at the Gendarmen Markt and decided that I liked the out-of-place seeming instrument the best as motive for this topic.

14. Unknown creature / Unbekanntes Wesen (Linie 1)

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Shot of an exotic and outer worldly show girl on a bus ad admits rain and traffic.

15. Punk wedding / Punkhochzeit (Nina Hagen)

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I really struggled with this one. I was planning to look for punky looking people and to ask them for a shot, but it was raining like crazy shortly before and there were barely people walking around. So I kinda added my ear plugs to a thrown away bear can. Not very happy with this one.

16. I am never there where you are / Immer da wo du bist bin ich nie (Element of crime)

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My idea was to shoot a loud-speaker near a police station or other public institution that would not be used to blast music but some kind of alarm or public announcement. I found something that looked like this at the “Preussischer Landtag”

17. The Ballad of Gracious Living / Die Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (Brecht/Weill)

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People enjoying their evening at a bar. Some concert announcement at the right end of the shot.

18. Illusions / Illusionen (Marlene Dietrich)

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Drawings on the closed shutter door of a music store in Oranien str.

19. Thing / Ding (Seeed)

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I decided to literally shoot a thing. I liked the stickers on it, especially the “dB” sticker on the right.

20. Black to blue / Schwarz zu blau (Peter Fox)

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My initial idea was to shoot something near the water for this, but I then discovered this ‘Hip Hop’ graffiti, which nicely fitted in my overall series about all kinds of music influences that you can find in Berlin. I tried to respect the picture theme by shooting it from an angle where you could see some blue tag on a black background. I guess this only fits the photo theme very loosely.

21. Somehow, somewhere, sometime / Irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann (Peter Fox)

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I shot this wall full of  announcements for concerts that would happen somewhere at some time.

22. A Midsummer night’s dream / Ein Sommernachtstraum (Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy)

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Shot at Minky’s beer garden, a place where they actually play music. I walked around the beer garden looking for a loud-speaker that I could shoot with the chairs in the background, but could not find any. So instead I opted for the simple shot with the ear plugs.

23. Magic land / Zauberland (Rio Reiser)

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Shot of the “club of visionaries”. Alas, it was pretty empty due to the still early time and rainy weather. I could not think of anything better in my reach though.

24. 25 hours a day / 25 Stunden am Tag (Die Ärzte)

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I wanted to do a shot of a club as my last picture, since I basically had also started the series this way and settled for the Lido. Ironically enough it was closed due to some cancelled concert. At least this gave me the opportunity for this calm door shot. Ear plugs added to the door handles.

And that was it. I have to say the event was extremely challenging  for me, but also very inspiring. I was definitely very happy and proud when I finally handed in my shots at the final meeting point. Thanks to the very capable and friendly organizers for setting up this awesome event.

jMemorize broken lesson file bug

There is a bug in jMemorize that can break the lesson file and make it impossible to access your flashcards. When you try to open the file, jMemorize will display an error dialog which when extended says something like “java.io.IOException: Character reference “&#11″ is an invalid XML character.”

The problem appears to be caused by faulty Java XML parser implementation, which has problems with certain characters that can’t be entered inside of jMemorize – but can be copy’n’pasted from other programs into jMemorize, most often from Adobe Acrobat Reader.

There is a simple way to fix the lesson file. When compression is enabled, lesson are basically zip-files. Uncompress the file and inside you will find a ‘lesson.xml’ file. Open that file in a text editor and remove all appearances of the problematic character sequence with an added semicolon. For the example error message given above, this would be “”. Save the xml file and put it back into the zipped file.

On my Windows system I usually do this: I add the file suffix “.zip” to the lesson and then double-click on it to open my WinRar software. I then drag’n’drop the lesson.xml onto a folder. Then I edit the lesson.xml in a text editor and drag’n’drop the file back onto the opened WinRar window, so that the lesson.xml in the zip file gets updated. I close WinRar and remove the suffix and I have a fixed lesson file.

jMemorize will only put the lesson into a zipped file, when compression is enabled in the preferences dialog. If compression is disabled, the .jml file is just the plain text file already, so you can open the .jml directly in your text editor and fix the file without having to handle any zip software.

If you need more help, please open a bug on the jMemorize bug tracker, upload your faulty lesson file and I will take a look myself. Considering over 170,000 downloads this bug doesn’t seem to occur very often. It’s pretty annoying none the less though and I’m sorry for any inconveniences it is causing.

Planet Wars AI Contest

The University of Waterloo Computer Science Club held a google sponsored game AI contest. The goal was to develop an AI for Planet Wars – a variation of  Galcon, which is basically the feeling of an RTS distilled down to the most basic rules possible.

I challenged a couple of co-workers to join on the contest and at some point we had over 12 people in our internal message group. To up the ante I also ordered a small cup with the intriguing engraving “Most admirable genius – Yager AI Contest 2010”. Alas, I didn’t win it since I got a little lazy after leading for a couple of weeks, but nonetheless the little project was pretty interesting.

Early during the contest I had written a pretty cool build script in Python (the bot itself was written in Java, just out of curiosity of working with the latest Eclipse version). Basically it allowed me to play with any combination of bots on any combination of maps and just see the summarized outcome of all games.

My in-game debugging capabilities were severely lacking though. It was simply no fun debugging the games and finding out what was going wrong.  Although I had a cool build environment, I failed in making the fine tuning fun. And like any human being I like fun and the absence of it in this spare time project made me not spent more time than necessary testing different properties, resulting in less iterations, resulting in worse rankings, resulting in not winning our internal competition. This is especially true for this contest, where I feel that overall the better bots most probably did not win by using some super advanced AI algorithms, but actually by just some really good tuning of fairly basic rules.