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.

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.

IKEA Hackers

I found this cool post on IKEA Hackers that I’d like to re-post here for the record. I think it’s quite ingenious what people come up with out of necessity, either because they don’t have a lot of money or because they simply can’t find the furniture they really want.

ikeahackers-desk_small

A small cheap desk made from IKEA shelves.

This simple desk requires two Expedit shelves, which currently go for 12,99 EUR for the small Expedit and 29,90 EUR for the big Expedit. So you could build a desk like this for EUR 42,89 (which is about $55).

Read more at IKEA Hackers. While you’re there, you might also want to check out the bedroom dress boys.

PlayStation 3 – Waaaait for it!

[PS3 Super Slim]

The PS3 Super Slim. 12 GB aren’t as useful as they used to be.

The E3 is over and I have decided that the next generation of consoles is overrated – apart from the WiiU of course, which is cool – and so I’ve decided to recklessly spend my hard-earned money on a PlayStation 3, Sony’s current console. The PS3 already came out in late 2006, so it’s meanwhile almost 7 years old, and still its graphics are seen as top notch. The price for the “super slim” model with 12 GB has dropped and there are some exclusive games for it that I can’t play on PC or Xbox360, most recently The Last Of Us, which everyone is raving about.

The PS3 still impresses with its graphics.

The PS3 still impresses with its graphics.

I’ve often said that I don’t see why anyone would ever buy a console just to play one or two exclusive games, and I still feel that way. However, what eventually did sell me on the PS3 is the PlayStation Network Plus. For about 45 EUR a year – about the price of Microsoft’s Gold Live membership – Sony gives you several free games every month that you can download and play for as long as you have a PSN+ membership. Even if you only bought two or three games a year in the shops, you’d already be over that amount!

When I received the PS3, I had also ordered a 500GB extra hard disk for it, which I highly recommend. The hard disk came a day later, so once I had set up the PS3, installed the latest update and downloaded one of the free games with my 30-day free trial membership of PSN+, the PS3 already gave me an error that the disk was full.

Without an extra HD, the PS3 Super Slim is pretty useless.

Without an extra HD, the PS3 Super Slim is pretty useless.

When the hard disk arrived the next day and I had installed it – the easiest thing in the world, really, even if you’re not tech savvy – I again stumbled through the confusing menus to get to my free games and set them all to download. It is an impressive list – currently Kingdoms of Amalur, Catherine, Ico & Shadow of the Colossus, Little Big Planet Karting, Xcom: Enemy Unknown and some PS Vita games. I set the PS3 to download overnight and switch off once the last download was done, and wouldn’t you know it, the download of the first game got stuck after about 80% and the PS3 ran all night.

The next day, I moved the PS3 so I could attach it to an Ethernet cable, but the download speed was still very slow. But patience is a virtue, so I waited… and waited…

Eventually, the wait was over and Ico was finally ready on my console, so I eagerly tried to start it and – oh, wait, it needs to be installed first?! Installing takes forever, too. More waiting. When that was done, I tried again to play it but – oh, look, an update is available! So I told the PS3 to download and install the update, which it never did, because it asked me again on my next try if I wanted to get the update. I ignored it and after quite a while of waiting for the game to load, I could FINALLY play Ico.

Anyway, this blog entry is going on forever, just like the load times of a PS3. So I’ll stop here and say that, yes, the PS3 is nice so far because of the free games, the graphics, the fact that I can also watch BluRays with it – but that, geez, after 6 years, you’d think they’d have patched the system enough to reduce the waiting times!

Japanese classes #2

I had another Japanese lesson this week and found out that Japanese people have the same word for leg and foot (ashi). They also mix the colors green and blue. A lot of Asian children are also born with a Mongolian Spot, which I had never heard of before.

We also learned more hiragana and things like “Mr. Smith’s home phone number is (030)-1234567.” Useful stuff.

Yesterday I spotted the Muji in Frankfurt, a Japanese store that sells useful things like Japanese notebooks and pens and such, so I decided I needed a proper Japanese notebook and pen to aid my studies further. It’s good to be prepared. 🙂

Japanese classes

I have decided to invest some money in my education and have signed up for a beginner’s course of Japanese. I’ve already had two lessons (of ten) and it’s been very interesting so far.

It’s interesting to learn a language that is so far removed from the languages I’m familiar with. It seems when I had my first Spanish class, they gave us a text to read, gave us a few pointers on how to pronounce things, and then had us pick the text apart and explain what it was about. This is easy for a language where continent (German: der Kontinent) is el continente or where to compare is comparar.

In Japanese, everything’s different, beginning with the fact that they start reading from the back to the front, top to bottom, right to left. They have hiragana, katakana, kanji, which at the beginning all look like weird squiggles. While in German, you can be friends with someone for years and barely ever say their name, apparently you have to use a person’s name constantly in Japanese. They have two words for four, but don’t use one of it because it sounds like their word for death.

We have so far had learned some random things by heart (how to introduce ourselves, the numbers, how to say please and thank you and “This is a pen.”) and I’m now eagerly waiting to find out some of the rules of the language (like, what’s up with all the -asen and -asu).

I’m happy to report that I’m motivated and still enjoy studying a lot, and I’ve found several tools to help me, which I’d like to recommend to any Japanese learners out there:

Pre-filled wine glasses

I was in a Sainsbury’s in London not long ago and completely amazed by this:

A glass of wine sold by itself.

A glass of wine for around £2.49. Chilled.

In a way, it’s ingenious because it’s for those who want a glass of wine instead of opening a whole bottle. On the other hand, for £2.49 you might already be able to buy a whole bottle. I wonder if you can keep the plastic glasses afterwards. Or is that tacky?

At any rate, this is apparently a “packaging revolution” and will finally put an end to wine being consumed out of a tumbler. Amazing, right?

Cheap living

I recently thought about how when my parents were my age, they hadn’t been paying rent for years. I’ve not only been paying rent ever since I’ve had a job, but I’ve also spent most of my savings when I went to Australia for a year. Now I pay rent again and it bothers me, because even if I lived in the same place for 20 years, I’d basically have spent over 100.000 EUR on rent without getting anything in return. Or well, what you get in return is a place to live, but the money basically just goes out the window.

At any rate, I’ve looked for cheap ways of living now, and one i particularly like is living in a cheap concrete tube, like this one (via Freshome.com):

Concrete Tube with a bed in it

Concrete Tubes as hotel rooms in the TuboHotel.

A concrete tube is probably no more than 200 EUR, so if I had three of them (bedroom, kitchen, study) we’re looking at, say, no more than 1000 EUR including delivery. (I’m making all of this up. It’s an estimation.) I’d need a place to put them, so I’d have to rent a little garden somewhere for maybe 30 EUR/month which should have water from a garden hose and hopefully a community toilet. Of course, it might be semi-illegal to live in a little garden you rent. Plus, without insulation, I’d freeze to death in winter (and in summer, with the summer we’ve been having…)

Next option would be to get a tree house. One with electricity and a shower and all sorts of stuff, like this one (as seen on baumraum.de):

Baumhaus

They write on their website that they’ve built tree houses for 12.000 EUR to 150.000 EUR and I don’t want to think about what price range this one has if it even has a bathroom and electricity. But if it were only 12.000 EUR, it could quickly be paid off and then of course all the money you earn is yours alone. And if you get tired of living in a tree house, you can sell it to someone else, along with the land, and spend all the money you made on something bigger later.

Ideally, of course, you’d live somewhere without having any expenses, that means usually your parents’ house, but of course then you have to answer to them (“as long as you have your feet under our table” etc.) and you get asked to put on your slippers and make your bed.

Oh well, the things I think about on a Sunday afternoon. 🙂

Here’s some YouTube links about houses and tree houses and all sorts of stuff:

Peter Bahout interview (this has a great tree house)
Tree House Living for adults
Garbage Warrior
(about Earthship houses)
Permaculture – True Way of Life

Rambling: Apartment Hunt

I’m currently looking for an apartment, and let me tell you, it’s not fun. Don’t do it! (Heh.)

Seriously, it’s very frustrating to look for an apartment, especially in Frankfurt, as there is a lot of demand. I could of course pay a real estate agent to find me an apartment, but they usually want 2,38 times the rent for their services. So basically you’re supposed to give them about 1000 EUR so they unlock the door for you, let you look at the apartment and then give you a paper to fill in with all your personal details (like how much you earn). Crazy.

I looked at a place last week that I actually quite liked – especially the beautiful dark wooden floors. Not that they match any of my furniture, but that’s beside the point. The apartment is above a restaurant, so of course noise becomes a concern. Plus, I do recall the staircase up to the apartment being strange and narrow. So I told people that it was strange and narrow. And meanwhile I don’t even recall how strange and narrow it was, so it’s become warped and twisted in my mind, a staircase out of an Escher painting, even though it probably wasn’t even that bad. I’m probably overthinking it.

Another highlight of the apartment hunt happened today, when I spent almost 15 EUR on public transportation to and from an apartment in a suburb. When I got there, the guy who was supposed to show it to me didn’t show up, and the cell phone number I had written down didn’t work. So I stood around in the cold (and it was really cold) for about 40 minutes and eventually left. It didn’t help my general mood.

What did help my mood, howver, was Felicia Day. I recently downloaded the first three seasons of The Guild for my iPod. They’re short episodes, maybe 5 minutes long each, and they’re about this quirky guild of World of Warcraft players. I’m at season two, and the episode made me laugh. They get better and better. I will buy the show on DVD once I have an apartment.

Well then, let’s hope next week will bring me a lovely apartment with moderate rent, where the toilet is actually inside of the bathroom (as opposed to in a separate room), where the bathroom doesn’t have any pink tiles, where it’s quiet and the subway station is really close by.