Week 186

A short week returning from Copenhagen on Monday evening.

Bicylces

Visited Booreiland on Tuesday to discuss collaboration on project culiacán.

Did some stuff on Urbanode and got my shots for my trip to Damascus.

Tuesday night the monthly ARCAM lecture was given by Jurriaan van Stigt, write up: Jurriaan van Stigt ARCAM lecture — “Solving these things in a simple and right way is fun. It is our work.”

Jurriaan van Stigt

Wednesday and most of the rest of the week were spent drafting my presentation for the Club of Amsterdam.

Met up with Tim de Gier of Vrij Nederland on Thursday. Good to hear inside opinions on Dutch media and art. Sparked two blog posts on my part which had been due for a while: Ontwerp en complexiteit als journalistieke kansen, How I Twitter.

Sunday Bits of Freedom organized a salon with Eben Moglen, writeup: Eben Moglen — “Will the net empower the center or the ends?”

Eben Moglen — “Will the net empower the center or the ends?”

Bits of Freedom did a terrific job hosting a salon with Eben Moglen this afternoon at The Hub. As Mr. Moglen did, I am going to take the liberty of assuming you already know who he is and I’m going to proceed to write a biased view of the afternoon.

I love Bits of Freedom in its current incarnation to death —all its members are trerific people too— and I support their causes though I’m often vocally critical of certain approaches, ideas and dogmas of the privacy movement.

Everything taken into account though, BoF are our own stalwart bastion in the fight for digital freedom so I suggest you support them.

Anyway, to get going:

Many of the points raised today with regards to control, power and its properties, the interregnum moment we find ourselves in, xenofobia, databases, anonymity are highly pertinent to the current global political environment. Mr. Moglen is a gifted speaker with a broad legal and historical perspective which is awesome.

There are a bunch of issues that I find pertinent that seem not to be touched upon within the current movement and this piece is one way of getting them out into the open and out into the Google.

I managed to get one question in that got misinterpreted and had a lively debate afterwards with Mr. Moglen about the cultural cleft between designers and hackers.

Sticking in the mud

What is often a risk with the hacker/counter-cultural attitude to technology is that any protest you have against the current state of things can be interpreted as a plea to abolish said technology and go back to the prior state.

Mr. Moglen had some part in this with his plea against digital payment methods and contactless transit payment (de OV-chipkaart).

I know he wasn’t for abolishing these things, but the more extreme outliers in the privacy movement either want to or they want to cripple these systems with freedom to such an extent that they become unusable or their utility becomes compromised. Sometimes these point of views are porpagated with such a disconnect to the larger part of society that it borders on Luddism. I think that is a real risk.

What the privacy movement needs to do is to speak out clearly for the benefits of these technologies. I clearly see the value of the OV-chipkaart and any plea for rolling back the system back to the strippenkaart is ludicrous on a variety of levels. Even if the OV-chipkaart is as Mr. Moglen stated: a policeman in every tram.

The benefits and the need for technological and service innovation in society are clear and that is not where this battle should be fought.

The challenge should be: how to create these systems and in the meantime also safeguard our privacy and freedom. What legislation needs to be carried through in mandates and audits in such a way as to not compromise or hamstring the design and yield usable, pleasant and secure systems. That is a big challenge, but it is the only one.

User Experience

The track record of the free software movement when it comes to usability and consumer appeal over the past decades has not been stellar. In netbooks and other devices adoption is increasing but the frontier has been moved on to mobile devices and on to closed (but tempting) app platforms.

Mr. Moglen talked about the freedom box which is going to be a plug which you can put in your complete personal computing surface which will store your media and backups, intermediate your necessary services, talk to your cell phone and federate with suitable social services. This is the vision.

From an experience point of view this is going to be a hell of a nut to crack. We already have best of breed applications that serve most of these ends. These are already crystallized, have tremendously talented people working for them and have massive network effects. Building functional parity services is going to take a lot of time, these are probably not going to be as interesting, usable or seductive as their proprietary counterparts and in the meantime those will have moved the goalposts.

There may be a large opportunity for such a device in the developing world and free culture innovation out of China or Brazil could help improve such a thing massively, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The broader problem is that both designers are not very keen to work on open source projects (though that is changing) and that open source projects are not very keen on design input. Yes, anybody can fork a project and build something ‘better’, but the division of effort is not useful while the division of labour within a project: programmer program, designer design, would be more welcome.

My discussion with Mr. Moglen served as a reminder how immense this cultural divide is and frankly I don’t think it is bridgeable in any traditional way. It gets mired in assumptions on technology use, problems that need solving and a misunderstanding of what people (users) actually want and value in software.

So in short: freedom without usability does not amount to much. I consider myself rather well versed in these issues but I use Apple products and Facebook. If all the knowledge within the movement cannot deter me, then 1. imagine the general public and 2. realize that it is not an education problem we are dealing with.

Public Space

So the free personal webserver is a great vision and a lofty goal, but mind that the goalposts are being moved once again and that before that project is done society may have changed under our feet.

I asked a question about this but that seemed to be so far from out field that it got misunderstood and turned into something about wireless net neutrality.

The issue is this: We have a rich set of rules and affordances governing access to and rights in public space and the built environment. With the wiring and  virtualization of public space, how can we proactively codify similar rules for these new situations to create generally good outcomes?

What I meant by the wiring of public space is the fact that every object from lanterns and traffic lights to every brick and tile can and will have an internet connection (think Everyware). Construction companies and IBM are pitching this stuff on greenfield cities and systems already. We in the old world are somewhat insulated from these developments due to sheer inertia, though we already have near perfect parking camera surveillance.

The virtualization of public space is nearing with the linking of real life and online be it conceptually or in full blown AR. Object and facial recognition, real-time image processing and filtering and differentation/personalization are going to have large scale effects. Imagine coupling this with ad supported carrier provided AR displays and things get really hairy really quickly.

I think this is going to have large scale repercussions and it would be good if the privacy movement had its eye on this ball as well (yes, there are many balls), however nascent it might seem at this moment.

Update: This discussion is exactly one touched upon by Zittrain in his “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It”:

But people do not buy PCs as insurance policies against appliances that limit their freedoms, even though PCs serve exactly this vital function. People buy them to perform certain tasks at the moment of acquisition. (Chapter 3)

Ontwerp en complexiteit als journalistieke kansen

De laatste dagen staan een beetje in het teken van gelekte e-mailtjes van, naar en door invloedrijke mensen in Nederland. Een van de recentere is die van de nieuwe hoofdredacteur van het NRC, Peter Vandermeersch, naar zijn redactie, hieronder (via):

Klik voor groter. Vandermeersch benoemt een serie dingen die de krant zou kunnen en moeten verbeteren om ‘het centrum van het politieke en intellectuele debat’ in Nederland te worden. Ik denk dat weinig mensen echt problemen zouden hebben met deze punten, veel ervan zijn nogal voor de hand liggend: sneller, beter, harder nieuws, geen primeurs laten afpakken, geen dingen laten liggen.

Wat ik vanuit Monster Swell wel interessant vond was zijn herhaaldelijke roep om twee dingen die in ons straatje liggen.

Helderder maken van ingewikkelde cijfers en kwesties

We zijn niet goed in cijfers

Hij geeft aan hoe het problematisch is om cijfers die in de krant staan voor de lezer te duiden op een manier dat het interessant is en dat mensen snappen wat het betekent. Journalisten die statistiek leuk vinden zijn er niet zo veel.

Hetzelfde met het punt over het pensioendebat:

We hebben het niet of heel weinig over de vraag hoe groot ons pensioen is, wat we nu moeten doen als dertigjarige, veertigjarige of vijftigjarige om straks een goed pensioen te hebben

Dit is een kwestie die bij meer mensen speelt die ik ken, maar daarnaast juist bij dit soort grote vormeloze maatschappelijke problemen zou een krant de verdieping en verduidelijking moeten brengen die iedereen mist. Dit kan visueel, of met een dossier of door een online supplement met interactieve rekentools en tie-ins met andere bedrijven.

Journalistiek is teveel een bastion van de alpha/gamma geweest maar in een complexer wordende wereld zijn er mensen nodig die wiskunde en statistiek kunnen gebruiken om complexe thema’s te identificeren, te analyseren en dat dan om kunnen zetten in een verhaal waarin ze dat alles uitleggen. Deze mensen moeten dan juist niet weggestopt worden in de wetenschapsbijlage. Wetenschap, techniek en ontwerp raken tegenwoordig elk facet van ons leven.

Datajournalistiek is daar één onderdeel van. Deze thema’s blijven terugkomen. Gegevens moeten verzameld worden en ontsloten als journalistiek gereedschap, soms voor een plaatje of kaartje in de krant, soms voor een online tool en soms misschien alleen als achtergrond bij een stuk tekst.

Daar heb je mensen nodig die een beetje van alles kunnen en een paar specialisten. Is dit een wensdroom? Valt dit te integreren in de dagelijkse praktijk van een krant of uit te voeren in tijdelijk dienstverband? Wij denken van wel en we willen graag uitzoeken hoe en wat.

Beter visueel ontwerp

We zijn niet creatief genoeg in onze aanpak en presentatie.

De roep om interessantere formats en betere en visuele presentatie van de concepten die in de krant komen. Met kaartjes, foto’s en over het geheel: beter ontwerp.

We creëren te weinig ingangen in onze stukken.

Het verhaal over die lichtbalk blijft een beetje vaag maar dit is ook weer een roep om een interessantere opmaak en formattering van stukken.

Niet precies in ons straatje, want Monster Swell doet zelf geen visueel ontwerp, maar we hebben een redelijk sterke mening over wat wel en wat niet goed/mooi is en we zoeken naar de beste grafische ontwerpers om mee samen te werken (in Nederland moet dat vooralsnog met een klein lampje).

Goed grafisch ontwerp begint met een sterk concept en een goede ordening van wat belangrijk is en wat niet (informatie-ontwerp). Dat doen we dan weer wel. Wat de rest betreft, stel ik voor dat ze @iA inhuren en de NRC deze eeuw in katapulteren.

How I Twitter

I explained the way I twitter to several people over the last weeks and it seems that it is somewhat different than how most people setup their account, so I thought it might be interesting to share.

I have one main account @alper with a decent number of followers. That is also the account I use for reading and because of that I only follow around 250 people.

I want to keep track of more people but I don’t want that to clutter up my main timeline. The social media douchebag way of handling this would of course be to follow all those people (and also follow back everybody who follows me) and make a list of the select group of people that I actually want to keep up with. I don’t do that, partially because it is the douchebag way but also because it shows a dishonest state of affairs. I wouldn’t actually be following the people I claimed to follow.

I don’t do that. My approach is the exact reverse. There are a ton of people that I have met but whose twittering frequency or content does not agree with me. Or people I have never met and am not interested in following but who I don’t want to ‘forget’ about. I put all these people into a list called follow that I peruse regularly.

When I @reply to people from my follow lists, some of those people are flummoxed that I don’t follow them but that I am talking to them. That’s ok. The follow list is not a ghetto, it’s just a convenience measure for me. Sometimes I move people from the list to real following status or vice versa. Don’t worry too much about it. Twitter is not a competition.

I update rather sparsely on @alper: about one reasonably representative update a day and tons of @replies throughout the day. Recently I felt the need to update more liberally without affecting @alper’s track record as being a rather clean and friendly account you could easily follow.

That is why I started @alpercugun. The original idea was to have it be a private account housing a really offensive literary character who would not balk at frequent profanity, offense and ad hominem attacks. Now it turns out that if you have a twitter account that bears your name and has your likeness in the avatar, you don’t get much literary freedom however much you claim it. People have a hard time differentiating (and rightly so).

So instead of being a really offensive pit of vileness as intended, @alpercugun turned into my narrow-cast channel where I can write pretty much anything I want in both english and dutch, in a higher frequency than at @alper and with a relevance to a potentially smaller amount of people. There would logically only be a handful of people —who know me pretty well— who would potentially be interested in following such an account. Those following both get a fuller picture.

An unforeseen consequence of this setup is that I will sometimes say something as @alpercugun and somebody will reply to that, I will —if the conversation is not sensitive— send my subsequent @replies as @alper. The point of @alpercugun is to get the initial thought out, to be a conversation starter. Any following @replies can be posted from @alper because their visibility is limited and because once the conversation has started it is often fair game.

The point of having a lot of followers is not reach, it is conversation.

The intersection of me and another person with a lot of followers could be a significant set of people. If the both of us talk about something, that entire set of people can see it and will be able to interject in our conversation. That is where the value is created, in publishing otherwise private interchanges and serendipitously triggering a conversation with a larger group of people, exciting ideas and reactions you would not have thought of or even thought of asking for.

Jurriaan van Stigt ARCAM lecture — “Solving these things in a simple and right way is fun. It is our work.”

Yesterday the next ARCAM lecture was held in the Brakke Grond by Jurriaan van Stigt of the firm LEVS.

Jurriaan van Stigt

Here again are my brief notes (quotes are paraphrases at best):

He shows a clip from the Godfather (‘He made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.’) to illustrate the split personality of architect. Partially analytical partially emotional. Also partially doing what is right and partially pandering.

Son of Joop van Stigt, would play at his father’s firm from a young age on

Was greatly disappointed by the architecture school in Delft. All his architecture heroes only were talking about right or wrong. There wasn’t room for dissenting thought. One librarian would still buy all the wrong books (eg. Richard Meier).

His teachers were technology averse because they said that would ruin the creativity.

Marianne, his now wife, graduated on a concept for Amsterdam Damrak to integrate progress within the old city.

He graduated with a plan for the Wibaut-/Weesperstraat similar to a plan that is only now being executed. He called it the most beautiful street in Amsterdam (It is now commonly called the ugliest. -AÇ).

Finally they added Adriaan to add even more 1+1=3 synergy to the office.

They started a firm and they wanted to have done entire projects from front to back including interior, direction and management to have a feel for how it all works.

Overview of the Work

He says they also do technical direction and management. The number of people is fluid, they focus on the projects (Compare what I wrote about modern agencies and Spry Fox recently. -AÇ).

Talks about critical regionalism by Kenneth Frampton, arhitecture should unify with cultural layering and without prejudice and dogma.

‘Al onze gebouwen beginnen met een verhaal dat gelinked is aan een plek en waarom het zinnig is om het daar te doen.’

‘Je moet altijd je rokje optillen als je als architect werkt wilt binnenhalen.’ (illustrated by Zomergasten Helmut Newton clip)

‘Architecten die bij een opdrachtgever een leuk plaatje doen en de dunheid van ons vak laten zien.’

Coins the term voodoo architects: voorlopig ontwerp, definitief ontwerp (preliminary design, definitive design)

Be curious, see it through, be engaged with an assignment, be best not in but for the world.

Don’t work with separate stakeholders but mix them all together and create a chemistry.

Densify

‘We have HAD a very rich tradition in managing our public space.’

It takes a tremendous amount of resourcefulness and asking and talking. You have to make sure the mix is right on all levels to be able to densify.

By waiting for everybody and not deciding you also decide. Proactivity is often necessary.

In the end we have a lot of fun to create a beautiful building.

Bouwfraude

How difficult it is to get rid of a contractor. The lowest one usually stays in the race with the price he quoted. You can’t legally see the quotes the others have made.

They managed to get rid of their contractor and tender it under the table. When they finally were allowed to open the envelopes with the other quotes, it turned out these were stuffed with newspapers.

Concept & Analysis

Craft

It takes a lot of energy to convince people that certain things are doable. It is fun to show them it is doable if you are confident it is.

You can’t have yourself be guided by the specialists who say they know it all.

Shows prototypes they made before constructing the building.

It demands a lot from the building parties. The right builders.

Of course it’s nice to build a cool tower, but we don’t want a cool tower for a cool tower’s sake.

We already have enough architects who create their own problems.

Solving these things in a simple and right way is fun. It is our work.

A great talk though it took some time to get started. Referencing the Godfather clip: Jurriaan van Stigt is pretty gangster. Many of the client issues he named are directly transferrable to for instance the web profession. Many of their practices are indeed the best practices the best web agencies employ. Anything else yields lesser results.

The concept of not working with separate actors and stakeholders but getting them all together to create a chemistry is a must.

The designers who make a quick mockup and don’t follow through, we probably all have seen. The idea of designing and having a different party execute it almost never works either. Being engaged in your work and following through is a must.

Not trusting the specialists with their expertise when they say certain things are doable and others are not is also very wise. Having done every step in a project at least once and still being able to do it when called for is very useful.

Projects being quoted exorbitant amounts (especially when dealing with government) even accounting for organizational inefficiency five times over, that have no foundation in reality, we also have seen. As a designer having a notion how much something costs and being able to scope that is also very useful.

So both an architecturally very interesting talk and also very applicable to any kind of creative client work.

Innovatie door innovators

Dit fijne dubbelinterview met Kevin Kelly en Steven Berlin Johnson is nog wel het aardigst omdat het uitlegt waarom we Engels moeten praten.

Johnson: If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect. (Wired)

Omgevingen bouwen waar ideeën zich kunnen verbinden zorgt voor innovatie in de gehele omgeving. Naast nabijheid en toegang is taal een hele belangrijke factor voor de verbinding van ideeën.

Ik zeg altijd dat als je geen Engels op niveau spreekt je in onze business gewoon niet mee doet. Mensen die niet kunnen presenteren in het Engels, niet kunnen werken en brainstormen in het Engels, niet kunnen meekomen zetten de rem op de hele groep.

Nu is het in verreweg de meeste gevallen niet erg. Nederlandse klanten lopen vaak toch een paar jaar achter en zijn ook niet extreem veeleisend. Hun operatiegebied is vaak toch ook beperkt tot Nederland. Voor de kenniswerker die binnen Nederland wil blijven en dat als de grenzen van het niveau wil accepteren is het ook best.

Helemaal leuk is het als je af en toe wel in het buitenland buurt en wat daar staat dan vertaalt en herverpakt voor je klanten in Nederland. Dan lijk je heel wat en je klanten weten toch niet waar je de mosterd vandaan haalt. (Je collega’s daarentegen…)

Maar als je internationale ambitie hebt en écht goede dingen wilt maken is dit alles niet goed genoeg en is vloeiend Engels de allersimpelste basisvereiste.

Weeknotes 185

That was bloody quick

Last week was a short one due to a multitude of other engagements and a weekend trip to Malmö-Lund-Copenhagen from which I returned yesterday.

Project mérida which concerns a collaboration with Buro Pony took up some time and we had a meeting on that on Wednesday.

A bunch of updates on PLAY Pilots were also on the roster and my first (and quite succesful) play at the Stereoscoop during the Film Festival.

Epic Win

An opinion piece I’ve been writing for a national daily has been accepted, but the urgency of the topic has been pushed aside a bit by current political developments in the Netherlands. Here’s hoping it gets published sometime soon.

Wednesday was also the office warming for Lev Kaupas new haunts which was a very lively and entertaining event.

Friend Requests

ANWB stapt uit overleg ov-chipkaart

Dit is interessant nieuws: “ANWB stapt uit overleg ov-chipkaart”.

Het duurt volgens de ANWB te lang voordat reizigers verbeteringen merken, terwijl de uitrol van de OV-chipkaart volop doorgaat en de strippenkaart in steeds meer regio’s wordt afgeschaft.

[…]

ANWB-directeur Guido van Woerkom vindt bovendien dat door alle andere partijen in het overleg “heel slecht wordt geluisterd naar de reiziger”.

Dit zijn dingen die we al wisten en waar ik hier ook al een tijdje over schrijf. Goed om te lezen dat de ANWB bij de goeden hoort in het lopende verhaal van de ov-chipkaart.

Ontwerp

Ik hou al een tijdje vol dat de ov-chipkaart erg onder-ontworpen is. Ik vraag me af of er bij de aanloop enig serieus ontwerp en/of gebruikersonderzoek gedaan is. Het is een wonder nog dat het zo goed werkt als het doet, maar de hoeveelheid gemiste kansen en klant-vijandigheid is verbijsterend.

Tot mijn verbazing hoorde ik op PICNIC meermalen buitenlandse bewondering voor het ov-chipkaart systeem.

Één iemand was blij verbaasd over het feit dat we hier wegwerp RFID-kaartjes hadden. Deze:

1 Hour OV Chipcard

Een ander voerde de ov-chipkaart aan als een voorbeeld van de poldercultuur toegepast op ontwerp. Iets wat ofwel pertinent onwaar is ofwel compleet onwenselijk als we kijken naar het eindresultaat.

Dat toont maar aan dat de ov-chipkaart net zoals wel meer grote concepten een handige olifant is. Iedereen kan het gebruiken om aan te tonen wat hij wil.