First day of cats

We picked the kittens up from their owner, a co-worker who ended up with five kittens because he hadn’t had his cat spayed. His cat had had two tortoiseshell kittens, an orange one and two black ones. We were kind of hoping to get two different cats to tell them apart better, but as we were the last to “pick”, only the black ones were left. He told us they were females, so I came up with Furiosa and Ripley as their names, but when we picked them up at his house it was quite obvious that they were boys.

They were easy to put into their carrier (at 9 and a half weeks old, they both fit easily) and they were very well-behaved in the car. It was only a 10-15 minute drive, but they only meowed briefly in between and then settled down again.

We put their carrier onto the sofa in the room we had cleared for them and almost immediately, their little heads poked out inquisitively. Not much later, they found the way off the couch and explored everything on ground level. They particularly enjoyed running around in the storage box under the sofa. Eventually, though, they started climbing on stuff and honing their jumping skills.

We were looking for ways to differentiate the two, and luckily, one seems to have a dark brown patch on the left side. The other one has little tufts of hair on his ears. So for a while, we called them Brown and Tufty, until we decided to settle on the “proper” names Wrex and Garrus. Garrus is a pretty good climber and the first to get on the back of the couch and the desk, but as soon as he’s figured out how to do it, Wrex copies him and does it, too. On the other hand, Wrex is better at hunting. He catches his prey (a sort of fishing pole toy), then holds on to it and doesn’t let it go, whereas Garrus will get his, but then just kind of put a paw on it and wait for it to be pulled away again. Also, Wrex figured out very quickly how to get a little ball out of a box, whereas Garrus needed a bit longer to figure it out. Wrex also understood how the puzzle feeder works (it’s a little ball with a hole and some dry food in), whereas Garrus has yet to grasp the concept of “I need to push this ball in order to get the food out”. He realizes that food sometimes magically appears, but not how it’s related to the ball. You’ll get there, Garrus, I’m sure of it!

[Sleeping cats]

There was even a sweet moment when the two cats decided to go to sleep on the warm thing. Awww.

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Cat preparations

I’ve never been much of a cat person – or so I thought, until we had the two cats of a co-worker over last year. They were very cute and easy to be around. They didn’t destroy anything, used their cat litter properly, and provided a lot of cuddles and warmth. Ever since then, I’ve been more open to the idea of cats, and  we’ve talked about it enough that it was clear we’d get cats one day.

While the plan was to get two shelter cats eventually, we were swayed by a co-worker whose cat had kittens. I feel somewhat guilty about depriving a shelter cat of a new home and going for the cute little kittens, but I suppose the truth of the matter is that we wouldn’t have cats yet if it hadn’t been for the kittens. They were there, they needed to be adopted by a certain date, and we had to make our mind up.

But be that as it may, if you want to get cats, you have to be prepared. I prepared by reading a book called Think Like A Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. She’s basically what Cesar Millan is to dogs, and the book is excellent. It’s got everything in it from how and what to feed them, how to make them use a scratch post rather than the couch, litter training, how to play with them, how to cat-proof your house, explanations on clicker training and whatnot. Tons of well-written information and certainly a good start for a cat n00b like me!

Next was getting the house ready. Since they are kittens, we decided to start off by confining them to one room – the empty guest room. (I call it the music room, but I have since removed all the guitars, as I don’t want them scratched by energetic furry imps!) So we took the curtains down, removed anything breakable and covered the couch and Ikea chair with cheap blankets. Then we got a cat litter tray, a carrier, a toy on a string, tons of cat food and bowls to eat and drink out of. The kittens even got a little cardboard box house!

[Cat house]

It was very difficult to wait the few extra days till we got them! I’ll tell you more about the experience of taking them home in the next entry though.

Podcast recommendations for your impeccable taste

I previously called this entry “Podcast is podcast and Minecraft is Minecraft” and mentioned how I had been listening to podcasts while playing Minecraft recently. It needs just little enough of my brainpower so I can still listen to the story being told, so I initially thought the two were a good match. But then I decided podcasting while minecrafting was a bad idea, because two hours later you’ll still not really have accomplished anything but another cubic house. Maybe I should try listening to podcasts while cross-stitching or something like that?

At any rate, here’s a list of some podcasts I like:
Criminal – A podcast about crime. I really don’t like their website design and having to navigate through those episode pictures, but they’ve got some good stuff. Like the one about counterfeiting money (The Buck Stops Here) or the one about lie detectors (Pants On Fire).
Snap Judgement – This one has interesting stories, although I’m not such a big fan of the sound effects they use. The “Unforgiven” episode stood out, especially the second part.Death, Sex & Money – I’ve come to really like this and the interview style of the lady behind it, Anna Sale.
This American Life – Certainly a classic, and I guess lots of other podcasts were inspired by this one!
Omega Tau – A podcast about science, with some really interesting episodes, like the one about the Concorde. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but they do cover things exhaustively and have some English and some German episodes.
WTF with Marc Maron – Some very interesting interviews, although you have to get through about 20 minutes of him ranting about his life every time. The one with Melanie Lynskey was great. (Get it while it’s free!) You can listen to his last 40 or so podcasts for free, if you want to listen to the older ones, you need to get a premium account.
NPR’s Planet Money – Short podcasts with very interesting topics, like the one about the blue palettes!
PRI’s The World in Words – This one’s about language, highly recommended.

This list illustrates again why it’s so difficult to find time to listen to them. There are just so many good ones out there! Maybe I should start going running after all?

Books and TV – What I’ve been reading and watching this year

I’m trying again, as I usually do, to read 24 books this year. I don’t think I’ve ever quite made it, but this year so far I’ve already read Watching The English by Kate Fox, Die 101 wichtigsten Fragen: Japan, The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Japanese and The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Spanish. I’ve also started a book called Making Sense of Japanese which has been interesting and entertaining so far. So I’m still behind, but it’s going quite well. The Xenophobe’s Guide is cheating, of course, because those books are rather short, but they certainly keep me motivated by raising the book count!

As for TV, we’ve been making our way through about two seasons and a half of United States Of Tara, which I quite liked for Toni Colette’s acting ability. However, after season 1 it became a little less good and most of the characters aren’t really very likeable. I’m looking forward to the end of season 3, which is the end of the show as well, to hopefully get to a conclusion of the show and make time for something new.
I’ve also been watching the first season and a bit of Breaking Bad, which I’m also enjoying. I don’t particularly like the weird mix of a serious show with very silly scenes (the scene with the talking pillow, or really anything that has the DEA agent in it), but I do like the main character for the most part or am at least interested in his journey.
I’ve watched the first episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new show written and produced by Tina Fey, and while I thought 30 Rock was pretty hilarious, that one was a bit lame. Of course I’ve gone against my own rule, “Never judge a show by its pilot”, but with so much stuff out there to be watched, I just can’t be bothered to give that show another chance.

I also watched Clear and Present Danger for the first time last week – a 1994 movie with Harrison Ford and Willem Dafoe – and thought it was quite hilarious how they had state-of-the-art technology, such as personal computers with monochrome green screens, fax machines, satellite telephones. Their computers did hilarious unlikely things and their computer specialist hacked into someone’s account by figuring out the password was someone’s date of birth. I wonder if today’s youth would even understand this film today, considering they don’t even know how to send text messages with rotary telephones.

Video games played in 2014

Since the number of books I’ve read in 2014 is so low, I figure I should list the video games I’ve played, just so I can have a higher number to show! This is my blog, so I’m allowed.

Gone Home
I bought this in October 2013, but my notes say I played it in 2014. Who knows! What I do know, however, is that this little game is sweet, short and entertaining. Some people call it a walking simulator, but it’s really more of an exploration game. You come home to your family’s house, and nobody’s there. So you walk around, trying to find clues as to where everyone went. Oh, and it’s 1995. It’s not particularly scary, although the setting may be slightly eerie, and it’s nice to dive back into the 90ies when the riot grrrl movement was in full swing. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I knew the kind of music that was played and could relate to the story. At any rate, I recommend the game, but would advise to pick it up when it’s on sale rather than pay the full 20 EUR for it, as it only offers about 3 hours of playtime.

Don’t Starve
I’ve obsessed way to much over this game, in which your goal is, as the title says, not to starve. And well, not to be killed by angry frogs, killer bees, deerclops, insanity… The list goes on. My steam account says I’ve played 170 hours of this, plus 54 hours of Don’t Starve Together, which is the multiplayer mode currently in its beta version. If you get Don’t Starve before the multiplayer comes out, you’ll get it free once it’s released, so what are you waiting for? I do adore the art style and overall humor of this game, and having played and enjoyed Mark Of The Ninja before (on Xbox 360), I’m now going to watch closely whatever Klei Entertainment come up with. I wholeheartedly recommend this game! At least if you feel like wasting 200 hours of your life on video games…

Bioshock Infinite
I enjoyed the gameplay of this and the use of music, but the story had some serious flaws. Well, that’s putting it a bit mildly. There are lots of – spoilerific! – articles on the racism in this game:
Bioshock: Infinitely Trampling Over Minorities In The Valley Of The Real at designislaw.tumblr.com
Booker DeWitt and the Case of the Young White Lady Feels via archive.org
Bioshock: Infinite – 10 features you should read and why they exist via theguardian.com
Also, they got so much credit for the amazing female character they created, but she’s just some naive lady whose main job it is to throw you ammunition every once in a while.

Remember Me
This came “free” with my Playstation Network Plus account (as did Bioshock, actually) and I lost interest at first before giving it another shot. In the end, I did enjoy it a lot, especially once I understood the fighting system. The story’s alright, although it didn’t really draw me in all that much, but still a good game to pass a few evenings with.

Pikmin 3
If you have a Wii U (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you should definitely play this game. It looks really pretty and it’s very enjoyable to command your little cute Pikmin around to gather fruit and… um, dead animals? This also made me appreciate the option of playing Wii U games on the GamePad only, without using the TV. This way I could play it while lying comfortably on the couch. Yes, there is no end to my lazyness! Hehe.

Max Payne 3
I bought this for 5,- EUR off someone at work and then proceeded to play it over quite a long time. Or maybe it just felt long. Some parts were enjoyable – probably the running around and shooting at things part – but the story was rather dull and I didn’t care for the alcoholic anti-hero or really anyone else who appears in this game. Wouldn’t recommend it.

State of Decay
I got this a while ago but just restarted and finished it in the holidays now. It was rather short, but really refreshingly so, and it’s surprisingly enjoyable to trash car after car by driving over zombie hordes. I did experience a ton of bugs with this: crashes, zombies stuck in floors, graphic issues, etc. Also, I feel they didn’t really explain a lot of things very well (like, how to expand your base or level up properly). But I still enjoyed it a lot.

Other games I’ve played but haven’t finished:
Cook, Serve, Delicious – I became interested in this after reading the developer’s article How much do indie PC devs make anyways. Simple mechanics, but very entertaining.
The Swapper – I started this and enjoyed it, but got stuck at some point. Maybe I’ll pick it up again eventually.
Democracy 3 – Also nice and very engaging when you try to balance out everyone’s interests!
Papers, Please – Hard! But good.

Well, let’s see what 2015 will bring in terms of games! Happy new year.

Books read in 2014

As the year is almost over, it’s time to list the books I’ve read. I always aim for 24 a year, which I never reach, but this year has been particularly pitiful. This is mostly due to the fact that I don’t have ~40 minutes a day on public transport anymore, and I haven’t put these 40 minutes anywhere else. Oh well, something to strife for next year.

The books I’ve read:
SuperFreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Just like in Freakonomics before, they’re showing surprising facts about all sorts of things, like the health effects to the baby caused by their mothers observing Ramadan,  or ways of tracking terrorists through their banking patterns. Entertaining. If you’re interested in this, you might also want to check out their podcast at freakonomics.com.

The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss
I suppose I mostly read this because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about and I had a free copy of the book. I find Tim Ferriss very annoying. He can’t be bad at anything is the gist of this book – anything he does, he masters. Or so he says. He’s certainly a great self-promoter and the book does have entertaining bits, but also caused me lots of eye-rolling. He claims to also have learned German in next to no time, but I couldn’t really find a demonstration of that. (There is a video he recorded for the German Amazon.de website, but the way he pronounces things and puts his pauses indicates to me that he didn’t really know that well what he ways saying.) In short, I don’t recommend this book. (This review is actually pretty spot-on.)

In addition to these books, I’ve also started Die 101 wichtigsten Fragen: Japan by Coulmas/Stalpers and Watching the English by Kate Fox. They’re both very good and interesting so far and I’ll most likely finish them… eventually.

So yes, rather pathetic that in 365 days I managed to read all of two books. I intend to do better in 2015!

New Music by Little Brutes and First Aid Kit

The year is drawing to a close, and while I fully intend to write another blog post about the ridiculously small number of books I’ve read (and the general lack of any achievements, really), I think I should first post some music.

Little Brutes is a band consisting of Rachael Cantu and Harlan Silverman. Rachael Cantu originally came to my attention by having Tegan Quin (of Tegan and Sara fame) contribute backing vocals to her song Saturday. I’ve since bought at least one of her albums, which she kindly signed when I ordered through bandcamp. Her music has featured in a number of TV shows by now and I suppose her career must be going well. Her work with Little Brutes is certainly a different sound now, or at least this little preview song, “Carefully”, is missing the guitar and substituting it with some synth-y goodness. Yes, I admit, I don’t really know how to write about music, so let me just quote the Stereogum review:

L.A. duo Little Brutes have an EP called Desire coming in January, and if all the songs are on par with “Carefully,” it’s going to kill. This song boasts sleek, understated ’80s-inspired production and one of the best hooks of the year. It reminds me of a more crystalline Jessie Ware, which is a serious endorsement coming from me. I heartily advise you to listen.

Listen to Carefully by Little Brutes here.

Obviously this is a perfect opportunity to also mention the lovely song “Wildest Moments” by Jessie Ware (thanks, Stereogum!). Best listened to very loudly. Be sure to check out the very simple video that comes with it.

Last but not least, do yourself a favor and also check out “My Silver Lining” by First Aid Kit. Their music was first recommended to me by a tour guide in Australia. I didn’t realize they were Swedish! And two sisters at that. At any rate, My Silver Lining is quite far from You’re Not Coming Home Tonight, so when I caught it on the radio last night, I first thought it was a Lana Del Rey song or something. (You know, the slightly annoying pouty lady who sang Video Games.) The song is beautiful, with some moody strings in the background and fast-paced percussion, and really, you owe it to yourself.

There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on
And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on
Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road
Can’t worry ’bout what’s behind you or what’s coming for you further up the road
I try not to hold on to what is gone, I try to do right what is wrong
I try to keep on keeping on

Also enjoy their strange but pretty music video that comes with it, which does all sorts of fun stuff with double exposure. Neat!

Alternative links:
Little Brutes – Carefully [YouTube]
Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments [YouTube]
First Aid Kit – My Silver Lining [YouTube]
First Aid Kit – You’re Not Coming Home Tonight [YouTube]
Lana Del Rey – Video Games [YouTube]

Behind the scenes of Gravity

For those who have watched Gravity, I recommend this YouTube video that explains the technology behind making the movie. I thought Gravity was entertaining although it did have a lot of Hollywood clichés. I still would have recommended it for the effects despite a certain crucial scene in the film that defied the laws of physics. But actually seeing HOW they did it gives me even more appreciation for it. I’m simply amazed by what things people are capable of. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to avoid the video because of the big spoiler at the very end.)

See for yourself here:
Gravity screenshotAlternate link: YouTube search “From Script to Screen”.

 

Food #010: Meat Us [sic!]

A few weeks ago, when the Christmas market was still on and we’d had way too much Glühwein, we couldn’t get home because some child had let its balloon fly right into the cables of the subway, thereby causing a massive disruption to the train service. So we decided to go to Meat Us, which is conveniently located between Hauptwache and Konstablerwache.

Meat Us makes a good first impression and on this Thursday night it was quite packed so we were lucky to get a table. As the name suggests, they mostly offer meat – burgers, steak, chicken wings and roast beef sandwiches – but they also have vegetarian options like a hummus plate with pita bread, corn on the cob, a falafel sandwich, a veggie burger or – for pescetarians – a fish burger.

Meat Us Menu

Meat Us at home. Because I live in a cheeseburger.

I chose the Meat Us At Home, a simple cheeseburger with cheddar. I was going to say for 6.50 EUR it’s not the cheapest burger you can buy in Frankfurt, considering you don’t get chips with it (Americans read: fries), but on second thought, Die Kuh die lacht currently charges you 7.50 EUR for a cheeseburger without chips, or if you want it with chips it’s 8.90 EUR at Eschenheimer Turm, 9.60 EUR at Yours, and Chicago Meatpackers even asks for 9.90 EUR. (Admittedly, patty sizes vary.) So I suppose it’s a competitive price, especially considering it’s usually hard to finish the chips anyway and one nice burger can fill the average person up nicely!

Burger

Some assembly required.

Our food was delivered promptly and it turned out to be delicious. The burgers came with a little bowl of coleslaw, the cheese was nice and fragrant and the meat was well done (aren’t burgers always?). I ate it up in no time and was quite satiated and happy.

Burger.

Another burger. Cheesy.

In closing I can say that the food was good and I’d recommend Meat Us – in fact, I’ll definitely go there again sometime!

PS: Der Kultimbiss might have the cheapest cheeseburger yet at 3.40 EUR, and it’s certainly delicious, too, but it’s in Niederrad and it’s essentially fast food, so it doesn’t count.

Food #009: MoschMosch

[MoschMosch]

The MoschMosch menu.

The other day we went to MoschMosch, a Japanese restaurant at Goetheplatz in Frankfurt. The restaurant stretches over two floors, and one of the peculiar things about it is that it doesn’t have individual tables, but rather it has long benches that you have to share with other people. I quite like having space to myself, so we decided to sit at the bar instead. We ordered Kirin and wine and then browsed their menu. MoschMosch doesn’t really cater to real Japanese people, judging by the fact that their menu is in German only, and their dishes have names like Morgensonne (morning sun), Frühlingserwachen (spring awakening) and such.

I decided to go for a Höhenflug – the Ramen with salmon and spinach, carrots, spring onions and other vegetables. The food arrived surprisingly quickly and service was friendly.

[MoschMosch dish]

Höhenflug, i.e. Ramen with salmon and spinach.

My companion had the Katsu Kare Don, which is a bowl of rice with a tonkatsu (Schnitzel), red curry and vegetables, also very yummy. Dishes are between 8,- EUR and 13,- EUR, so for two people with beer/wine it works out to about 25,- EUR.

Katsu Kar&0275; Don

Katsu Kare Don

All in all, it was a nice evening out. Like I said, I’m not a fan of the seating arrangements, but the food was decent and plenty and the service fast.