Week 258: Madrid, RIO

First noms in Madrid

Churros con chocolate

A bit shorter weeknotes compared to last week’s. I spent most of the week in Madrid to do some fact finding and relax in the sun. I hadn’t expected the internet in the hotel and various venues to be as disastrously poor as it was, so I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped to. So the week was spent mostly lounging in the Madrid sun, eating various things.

Madrid RIO

Indicator of weight

The hotel was next to the Madrid RIO park, so I managed to do an intensive investigation of the terrain.

Morning run at -1

Supermercado Rotterdam

My visit was just too short to attend the Madrid Hacks and Hackers chapter but I did meet-up with the organizer Ana Ormaechea. Talking about the Spanish situation with regards to openness and participation it was clear the country is on the cusp of a transition.

Sunny Spanish lunch

I was back home at 01:00 late night on Thursday so the following Friday was a bit broken, but I did manage to catchup a lot of stuff and do the necessary Skype calls.

Derelict Telefonica

Administrative No-ops

Last week Peter Robinett sent me a link to this Times article that would seem a bit far fetched if it wasn’t mostly true. The headline (“a Limp Domestic Economy”) doesn’t really cover the article because it describes how massively things have improved in Germany. If I can believe stories, the situation here used to be far far worse. That however is no excuse.

Rule fucking (the Dutch ‘regelneuken’), protectionism and arcane laws still apply and add up to create:

This economy is overregulated, intended to insulate insiders from competition and deeply resistant to change.

But mostly we’re ok. And there lies the exact problem. If indeed the current positive climate preempts further reforms, that will be institutionally stupid.

I was mostly going to blow this off until last week upon returning from Spain I got a letter from the Finanzamt asking me why exactly I needed a Umsatzsteuer-Identifikationsnummer (USt-IdNr.). I had submitted a form for my personal incorporation here in Germany and checked the box that said ‘I need a USt-IdNr. for doing business within the European Union’.

Then, as if the fact that I checked that box would not be enough reason by itself, as if there is a scarcity of natural numbers (ℕ) in the German administration, as if both the people working at the Finanzamt as myself have nothing better to do than spend time on these minutiae I had to get in touch again to confirm that ‘Yes, I really want and need that number.’

This is shameful and if the German administration manages to complicate even the simplest of interactions, I don’t want to know what they do to the rest.

Week 257: moving office, Kotti, to Amsterdam again, Open Coop kicking it off, Social Cities of Tomorrow and explorations in theory and practice

Writing these notes on a Sunday afternoon wit a mug of steaming coffee within reach as they are meant to be written.

This Monday I finally made it out to the Finanzamt with a fully filled in form for Steuerliche Erfassung (or something). After that I went to the Agora Collective to get my stuff. It is a great place, but I don’t want to be fixed in a coworking space. There are a myriad reasons why that is not a great fit, but being able to shape and own your own workplace is built-in in most offices and is purposefully left out of coworking.

Then I moved into the contur & konsorten office on Adalbertstraße with my stuff. A Burogemeinschaft with 10 people where everybody has their own independent desk, with its own walls and bookshelves, a place to put my professional library and hang my posters. In short: a place to call my own. In a total coincidence I am now a staircase neighbour of my friends at the Maker’s Loft which could lead to more serendipity in the future.

The office is smack on Kotti, the most important urban maelstrom in Berlin. It is a place where many large streams of traffic and people meet with the U-bahn transport hub (connecting U1 and U8) and the roundabout connecting the main thoroughfare of Skalitzer Straße with the Kottbusser Damm. Betahaus, co-up, the Maker’s Loft and many other creative places are within throwing distance and the area sports equal amounts of hipster cafés and Turkish eateries with the addicts holding their own on the main square. They can be a hassle, but their presence is inseparable from the conditions that made that part of Kreuzberg exactly what it is: a free-haven for people looking for cheap housing be they immigrants or artists —or both.

Tuesday was spent at the new office in presentation prep with the evening closed off by meeting with the local Open Knowledge Foundation chapter. It was a fruitful discussion exchanging various ideas on how to boost the openness movement in Berlin.

OKFN meetup

On Wednesday, I took a leisurely train ride to Amsterdam which seems to feel shorter and shorter the more I get in the rhythm. That day the long awaited Code 4 video launched. I’m immensely proud of the work we did and I don’t think there’s anybody who has pulled off a game like that anywhere in the world, so it might be well worth a look:

A more detailed write-up on that project is forthcoming.

Thursday I continued working on my presentation at the Open Coop. I also ripped the video of minister of economic affairs Maxime Verhagen endorsing open data from the NOS site, because their site sucks.

Friday was the big day of Social Cities of Tomorrow where I got the honor to be the first to present our case of ‘Apps for Amsterdam’ to the assembled audience. It was a wonderful event put together by our esteemed friends and colleagues of the Mobile City: Michiel de Lange and Martijn de Waal who have been leaders in this field for the better part of the past ten years. The keynotes by Usman Haque, Natalie Jeremijenko and Dan Hill were superb and they remain a source of inspiration for our creative work.

Getting our aeropress on with a new device that does tenth of a centigrade precise temperature with built-in scales.

I feel like I have to remark on two things that I thought of during the conference:

The entire day was infused with a critical stance against open data and transparency within government. Usman Haque served the opening volley with a criticism of indiscriminate data transparency and an approach to further civic engagement by giving people the tools to collect data themselves. After that Dan Hill also added some criticism against traditional methods of social change.

I agree with their points and criticisms and I would have liked to address them but that was impossible in the time given to me to present our case. I would like to say that if anybody in the Netherlands has been deeply involved on all levels in the government transparency movement and is acutely aware of the problems, issues and realities of data transparency, it is probably us. Besides that we have employed most of the techniques Dan Hill presented during the last couple of years: shaping decision making processes, deploying long lasting interventions and using the sleights of hand required to realign large organizations and work with far too many people.

We have been and will be hard liners for the cause of government transparency out of necessity and conviction. I will always defend that data that has already been collected by government and carries no issues of privacy or national security with it, belongs to the public and should be accessible by the public.

The other issue is that the conference should was probably most valuable to the people in the Netherlands who are not as current on design and technology as I have come to take for granted. The lack of reflection was painfully clear in some of the questions asked by the audience. This is a common issue, but I have seen it often in the past during Mobile Mondays or the lecture Manuel DeLanda gave in Amsterdam.

Dan Hill talked about going from the matter to the meta level and back again and all three keynoters showed that they are very capable of doing that. In the Netherlands I have found that many practitioners struggle a lot with the matter and they don’t have the time or the interest to ascend to the meta level, even though that would feed back positively into their material undertakings.

I have been looking for collaborators in the Netherlands who look beyond their narrow field and manage to recombine multiple theoretical and practical strands back into their work but there are very few. I hosted the UX Book Club Amsterdam a while, but found that most attendees there took their field of design too narrowly and the field of UX too seriously. Similarly the Berlage Institute is doing a postdoctoral course ‘to explore the forces that shape the built environment in the contemporary world’ which is limited to architects. I don’t know anybody who believes that the problems that will plague our cities in the next fifty years will be solved drawing from the monoculture of architecture school.

It is as if most people in the Netherlands are trapped within the operational closure of their own practice.

I don’t know where I would fall, but I struggle every day with striking a balance between theory and practice and I think if you do not feel that struggle you should take a long hard look at what it is you are doing.

After Social Cities of Tomorrow we had a party at our offices in the Open Coop because they officially incorporated as a cooperation and are set to do great things. The party was rather tremendous and good parties are key to getting things done in Amsterdam.

And then there was this band playing in the office. #nofilter

And now it is Sunday while I am typing these notes and because of a lack of gourmet coffee, it is off to the Hubbub studio in Utrecht to be the murder board for Kars’s LIFT presentation.

Week 256: Agora, HIIG, Nederland van Boven and ice-skating


Last week was cut a bit short by a commute to Amsterdam at the end (touching on that in a bit).

Ramen nom nom (for @kaeru)

Monday I settled in at the Agora Collective for the week to work from there. I mentioned before that I really needed a fixed studio space to work from. I wasn’t really aiming for a coworking space, but Agora is a great place to be at.

The building

I spent more of the week in XCode and playing around various iPhone development ins and outs.

The internet is serious

Wednesday I viewed an office at Kottbusser Tor and then made my way to the HIIG for a discussion on how the internet changes democracy (about which I wrote ‘A deeper simulation fever’).

Snowy Berlin Morning (On my way to Amsterdam)

Thursday I had to go to the Netherlands early to attend the closing event for ‘Nederland van Boven’ a VPRO series featuring aerial videography and data visualizations. The production team spent a lot of time getting at data to be able to show it on television. I was invited to debate for the cause of open data alongside Alexander Klöpping against the sceptic positions of Marleen Stikker and Arco Groothedde.

On my visit I briefly dropped by the Open Coop and on Friday morning I skated a bit across the canals of Amsterdam before jumping into the train back to Berlin again.

A deeper simulation fever (at the Berliner Gespräche)

Last Wednesday I was at a gathering by the Institue for Internet and Society here in Berlin in collaboration with Deutschlandfunk called “Berliner Gespräche” about how the internet influences society.

The internet is serious

What struck me mainly was that both a professor from the panel and a commenter from the audience held the position that the internet is in fact nothing new. That it is just another medium/channel for people to communicate through. Citing Clay Shirky, I would say that more and faster information flows are in fact different. More fundamentally the internet is the manifestation of a vast new kind of object that interacts with other objects (such as us) in a myriad ways. That alone makes it something new and very significant.

I was asked by somebody from Deutschlandfunk to comment on the proceedings of the evening and I gave them my superficial outsider’s view about privacy and journalism and how the status quo of both is vastly different in the Netherlands.

On the way home what stuck with me most is that every online entity comprises within itself a subjective view of how reality works and how it wishes to interact with that reality. Facebook has notions about the desirability of privacy that permeate through all of its interactions with its users. This is the same for any websites. They are simulations that run on a subjectively chosen subset of reality just like games do.

The tool that we often employ when talking about games is Ian Bogost’s concept of ‘simulation fever’ that says that subjective simulations cause people to either accept or reject the simulation based on their position. The critical alternation (or altercation if you will) between acceptance and rejection puts the user in a moral frenzy termed simulation fever.

The subjective values that websites impose most clearly on users right now are their views when it comes to privacy but there are a slew of other values that are inherent in any web application which users may or may not accept when using them. If you must generalize —as a populace— the Dutch mostly accept those subjective realities while the Germans mostly reject.

The Dutch use sites as means of communication and self-expression while grosso modo ignoring the consequences of corporate ownership. While Germans forced by social pressures to use sites such as Facebook, try to mitigate their complicitness by employing sabotage and other defensives strategies.

There is in both countries a minority of people who are aware of the issues and use these services critically. For any meaningful discussion about the internet, they the most likely people to turn to.

Amsterdam Culinary Desert

I just read the double interview in Amsterdam Weekly with Johannes van Dam and Undercover Glutton. It is a lovely interview and their combined knowledge of food is certainly impressive. What I am a bit less impressed with is their knowledge of metropolitan cuisine. At one point in the interview van Dam extolls the culinary variety in Amsterdam and there I must take offense. I have traversed the city far and wide and I have come up empty more often than not for many a dish. Eventually I gave up and moved to warmer culinary climes.

Unfindable Treats

The problem in Amsterdam first and foremost is that many dishes and types of food lack proper representation. There are even entire cuisines missing. It is a long list, but below follows an attempt to distill my years of disappointment:

Try to find a place in Amsterdam to have a decent meal at 08:00 and you’ll come up empty. This is tied mainly with the departure of blue collar work from the city and the city getting a more languid touristy character. There’s the mad commute around 08:00, but nobody goes in for breakfast except a take-away coffee and croissant.

Brunch of any type
Tied to the previous, there is hardly a brunch offering to speak of. This is a ridiculous poverty compared to San Francisco or even Copenhagen. Most Sunday’s are highly improved by this type of food, though it can also very quickly degenerate into a fad.

Full English breakfast and the British kitchen
There are a couple of touristy places offering something like the Full English and there’s one lunch place that does a meagre version, but the city all in all lacks greasy spoons. The British have elevated eating disgusting things to an art and we should take notice. With the breakfast already unattainable, don’t even look for more specialty offerings such as the Scottish Egg or Welsh Rarebit. Relatedly I have not been able to find a reliable and affordable source of Eggs Benedict in the city in my years.

London has recently been treated to the best BBQ this side of the pond with the opening of Pitt Cue but Amsterdam doesn’t even sport an attempt at this discipline. The festival of the Rolling Kitchens had some attempts in this direction, but the quantities were not enough for the appetite of the audience and an availability of one week a year does not amount to much.

East-European or Russian cuisine
In the Netherlands we pretend that Eastern Europe does not exist, except for Polish people who we use for scapegoating or when our pipes are clogged. The Slavic treats of Borsht, Perogi and the likes, are impossible to find and in the whole of Amsterdam there is not even one Russian or similar restaurant.

There is currently one location in Amsterdam that does Tonkotsu Ramen and does it excellently but it only serves them a handful hours every week. You do not need to be a nippophile to be hit by a sudden ramen craving, but you will be coming up empty.

There is also now only one place in Amsterdam that does an acceptable burrito and it is swamped on Sunday evenings. It isn’t Californian, but that is a minor detail.

Proper Coffee
Coffee in Amsterdam has been improving and there are some players that have upped the city’s game reliably. That success has however prompted a lot of douche places that look nice, but where the coffee is undrinkable. Add to that, some places (outside of the center) ask €2,50 for a mediocre cappuccino. Kees Kraakman is about to open up North any day now which will give that area a much needed caffeine boost but overall it is not enough.

Pasteis de Nata
Here in Berlin you are nearly smothered in this treat at an affordable price (the same in London). In Amsterdam, they are near unfindable and expensive when you do. The general pastry situation is laughably poor compared to either Lisbon or Paris.

Taco adds the following:

@alpercugun Add to lacks: really good tapas, more than one korean restaurant, authentic schezuan, good southern US style BBQ —Taco Ekkel

I treated the BBQ above. I can agree about the Korean offerings which are few and too expensive. I rarely ate tapas because most taperias are ballententen. And I have never had Schezuan, so I can’t comment on that.

Problems in the Fabric of Eating

The shortcomings above may be fixed in the future, but progress will be slow and incomplete because the Amsterdam culinary scene is broken on a deeper level. I can best explain that using two factors:

No 24 hour availability
Peter reminded me of this one, which is pretty important. I have long bemoaned the lack of a 24h diner in Amsterdam. I would take any diner by now, but for a city pretending to be international, the lack of food options for a traveller touching down on Schiphol between 02:00 and 07:00 is rather dismaying. Amsterdam is not ‘the city that never sleeps’, so much is clear, but allowing the people that don’t sleep to cater for themselves, would be tolerant for a start.

This is a symptom of the Dutch mentality to create rules for everything, even the things that would otherwise sort themselves out. Dutch regelzucht nips a lot of otherwise nice things in the bud. This has effects on the opening times of restaurants, but also on the (im)possibility of food carts and other displays of eating and drinking outdoors, but probably also on the ways you can prepare food and who you can hire to do that. I’m not advocating total abandon of rules here, but I am quite sure the Dutch implementation errs too far on the side of caution.

Absurdly poor price/quality ratio
The rampant inflation of housing in the city also has had an effect on culinary offerings. People paying upwards of €1200/month in rent, don’t quaff at a single sit-down dinner costing around €20 for the simplest of meals.

Many of those people are new entrants to Amsterdam which is the biggest city they have experienced thusfar. These people are really nice and they mean well, but they are still hicks who are easily impressed by the trappings of the big city village that Amsterdam is. Their newfound abundance in cash and lack of taste spoils the market and makes good options for the discerning eater, harder to find.


The fact that Johannes would not mention these issues and he gives Turkish charcoal grill after charcoal grill 9 marks every week, testifies to his age and his local knowledge. Most of the people I know consume food with a global or at least an European perspective and given the best there is on offer there, Amsterdam cannot compete.

I know the scene is improving and ever in flux, so some of the things I have mentioned above may no longer be true, but I haven’t even been gone two months yet. Additions and discoveries are of course welcome here or via more private channels.

Week 255: Games, hacks, art and coworking

Last week featured some taxes, and a write-up of our gamejam efforts in nrc.next post-published on Bashers: The Making of Nakatomi Rider.

On Tuesday I went to c-base for Hack and Tell which featured some rather interesting hacks, a low douchebag count and some nice pizza.
Show & Tell (Long time since I was last here.)

On Wednesday I did the last work on a project from last year. Then I went to see a shared office in Kreuzkölln before going to the Games Culture Circle (sort of similar to Gamelab in Amsterdam).


On Friday I went to see Agora based on a tip by Peter Bihr and I decided to setup shop there for the time being. Having a studio increases my productivity some four times. The rest of the day and weekend was spent getting back into XCode and into the iOS deployment process.

Snow and silence

I also blogged about the 2012 Q1 events schedule both personally and professionally.

Don't sign anything. Probably the best advice for German society ever.

On Saturday I did make it out to the Haus der Kulturen der Welt to get a taste of the Transmediale, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the quantity and unclarity of the program so I didn’t do more than take a look around. I think the entire obscurantist tendency surrounding net art is highly problematic and negates any relevance the field may have. I did catch the Graham Harman keynote on the live stream which would have been worth admission by itself.

Where I will be working for now

Week 254: game designing, data journalism, django, Praxis and game jam

Winter light

Last week started with recuperating from the second massive move we did getting massive wood furniture from Saxony. That was spent with a long overdue first visit to the Barn here.

The next day I peeked in a bit with the game design process at Hubbub.

Then I went to the Django meetup in Berlin organized by Jannis Leidel over at The Maker’s Loft.

I was also pleased with this write-up by Kevin Slavin of the Social Cities of Tomorrow conference over on his Tumblr (which is pure gold by the way).

The event Social Cities of Tomorrow is also intended as an alternative to the increasingly popular idea of ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ cities.

It is good to see our friends from the Mobile City to be so well attuned with the international cutting edge when it comes to smart city rhetoric.

Berlin data journalism meetup

Wednesday I visited the Daten & Journalisten meetup at the taz headquarters here in Berlin and I presented some of the data journalism projects we did both with Hack de Overheid and with Monster Swell.

Got my metagame deck!

On Thursday I dropped by Praxis, the office of Rainer Kohlberger and worked there for a bit. That day also marked the awards ceremony for the Apps voor Nederland contest and the success allowed us to get our minister of economic affairs to side with open data on television.

Trying out this view

On Friday I was off to Friedrichshain to receive my team for the gamejam and that ended the week. Results of the gamejam are in this event write-up.

Still jamming

Early 2012 Events

The year has started nicely and the event line-up is already brimful.

Thursday a week ago saw the iBestuur Congress in the Netherlands where the winners of the Apps voor Nederland competition were announced. I’m happy to see this last app competition to a succesful end and I look forward to what more we can bring. See a write-up of them over at the Hack de Overheid site.

Last weekend I was joined here by fellow game makers from the Netherlands to participate in the Berlin Global Game Jam. We fought hard and managed to crank out the unparalleled Nakatomi Rider. Niels wrote it up for the papers (available over at Bashers).

This week in Berlin the Transmediale takes place to which I hope to go in the following days. I have a difficult relationship with art, especially when it is in the domain of media, but watching the Graham Harman lecture tonight and the introduction to it, it was clear to me that Transmediale is as on top of current developments and artistic relevance as they can be.


There will be a night in Pakhuis de Zwijger to celebrate the Nederland van Boven television series that the VPRO produced in the Netherlands. I will be joining the esteemed panel there as a board member of Hack de Overheid to talk about issues of democracy, participation and truth in cartography.

With Martijn de Waal happily having gotten his PhD, it’s now full steam ahead for the conference he is organizing together with Michiel de Lange called “Social Cities of Tomorrow”. I will be speaking in a brief time slot about Apps for Amsterdam and how data commons happen.

I will probably be attending LIFT to see a certain person speak.

Finally in the near future there is also an undisclosed Berlin event for which I will be speaking which will be my first abroad since I left the Netherlands.