Books read in 2012

All of the books I read are to be found on Goodreads but here is my year’s overview because it is customary to do these things. I count 23 which is not too shabby but should be improved upon (always).

The Sandman: Endless Nights Gaiman, Neil
Getting around to finishing all of the Sandman. Somewhat indulgent but still a very well done multi-mythology.

The Invisibles Omnibus Morrison, Grant
A hugely important graphic novel. Also mind expanding in all the good ways that are necessary for a broad view of the world.

Pump Six and Other Stories Bacigalupi, Paolo
More Bacigalupi. Even more please.

Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity and Meaningful Work and Play Scott, James C.
A short and proper introduction to anarchism, sociology, political science and history by James Scott. One of the most important scholars for our current age of odd and corrupt governance. 

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays Wallace, David Foster
Slowly getting around to reading everything by DFW. I might even finish Infinite Jest this year.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet Mitchell, David
Read during two intercontintental flights. Not the best of literature but still a tour de force by David Mitchell who makes everything look easy.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Thompson, Hunter S.
Another long overdue classic. Mind stretching.

Kill Decision Suarez, Daniel
A light but important technothriller featuring drone warfare.

Sprakeloos Lanoye, Tom
Too indulgent as is to be expected of Lanoye’s novels. We’re better off if he writes theater.

The Little Prince Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de
Another long overdue book. Read in French.

Common Sense Paine, Thomas
Highly readable and very stimulating. They don’t write ’em like that anymore.

1Q84 Murakami, Haruki
Murakami is another of my indulgences however mixed his later books are becoming.

Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive Schneier, Bruce
A highly necessary game theoretical analysis of society’s processes.

Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing Bogost, Ian
The best introduction to OOO you could find anywhere.

Prince of Networks: Bruno LaTour and Metaphysics Harman, Graham
A very good introduction to Latour and the current speculative realistic vein in philosophy.

Koorddansen in de Kaukasus: Reis door Ruslands onbeheersbare achtertuin Koens, Olaf
Spectacular portrait of this inaccessible edge of Europe.

Essays in Love: A Novel Botton, Alain de

To the Lighthouse Woolf, Virginia
Long overdue but a brilliant book.

Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames Bogost, Ian
It turns out that reading How to do things with videogames is the better choice.

The Windup Girl Bacigalupi, Paolo
Highly necessary future climate dystopia. Bacigalupian is definitely going to be a thing. Large parts of the world are already living it.

Beginning Iphone 3 Development: Exploring the Iphone SDK Mark, Dave
The book that got me into iPhone development (and did it quite well).

The Art of Travel Botton, Alain de

Zendegi Egan, Greg
Some interesting ideas, but still not the hard Egan sci-fi one would want.

Week 306

Recovering from flu meant a week of mostly broken days, but still got a lot done and more importantly: got better.

TORREON is more or less finished with the client accepting the work into their own repository now.

Tuesday we had an board meeting with Open State. I added my thoughts to Emma Mulqueeny’s post about social entrepreneurship and the long game. We are struggling with the same issues but optimistic.

I had a meeting over at Netzpolitik for our upcoming joint venture with Open State as well.

I wrote this blog post about real thinkers anywhere on the continent: “Who still thinks in Germany?”

Finally I had a nice coffee with recent Berlin arrival Jurriaan who I think is a great addition to the local tech scene.

On Saturday I dropped by the extra Apps and the City hackday and turned my python hack into a javascript version for better distribution and graphical presentation. The javascript community disappointed me because there wasn’t a graph based A* solver available anywhere, so I was forced to write my own version using the Wikipedia pseudocode and underscore.js. That now lives on Github. It still needs a bunch of work.

Further I also updated my Thinkup installation to the most recent beta and my Dreamhost account to a VPS but still haven’t gotten it to work properly. I’m hoping that outage does not take too long.

Who still thinks in Germany?

German friends some things need to be written but don’t take them personally. If anything, as I write below, this presents a very large opportunity for who will take it.

I had my misgivings about what passes for intellectualism in Germany both in the newspapers and in the public debate. Germans pride themselves on being a country of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers) but traces of both are thin on the ground.

I wondered about this a bit more after the Nexus Conference in Amsterdam last year which staged thinkers such as Alain Badiou, Rory Stewart, Roger Scruton, Evgeny Morozov. My Dutch friends who attended exclaimed: ‘Where are the thinkers of this calibre in the Netherlands?’ Suffice it to say there aren’t any. Nobody really expect Dutch people to be the source of great thoughts, so no loss there.

But when I then asked for contemporary German thinkers, who are read widely abroad, my friends on Twitter came up with this very thin list:

I would say that Grass, Sloterdijk and Jelinek can just barely be called contemporary (the same with Habermas) and Roche hardly an intellectual.

It turns out I wasn’t the only one to notice it. Slavoj Žižek, however repugnant I find the man, mentions in a recent Salon interview:

That said, I quite admire the United States and Canada. In some ways, they are better than Europe now. France and Germany, for instance, are currently in a very low state intellectually — especially Germany. Nothing interesting is happening there. Yet it surprises me how intellectually alive The United States and Canada are. Let me give you an example: Hegelian studies. If Europeans want to understand Hegel, they go to Toronto or Chicago or Pittsburgh.

This may be a bit hard to stomach if you’re German, it isn’t too bad for aspiring thinkers. In a country where the point of everything is drowned out in a sea of pompous verbosity, opportunities abound for those with a fresh perspective and proper delivery.

Week 305

With most of my work focusing at Hubbub these days, the weeknotes over there (the past week) are going to form the meat of my work in the foreseeable future. I may need to use these weeknotes as an excuse for long form writing again and blog more here in general on loose ideas.

I published my piece about the Protocoletariat. I hope to be able to do more stuff in that field and tie in my professional endeavours in games, open government and computer science.

I can very much recommend following both @Dymaxion and @justinpickard for the interesting anarcho-futurist trends their interactions hint at.

I had a more than welcome catchup with Martin Spindler.

Then I started the procedures to finish the administrative year here in Germany and on to the next one.

Week 304

I got things back running again. Did a bunch of work on TORREON. Most Hubbub stuff is in a weeknote over there now that I am writing now alternating with Kars Alfrink.

I updated my Thinkup which proved to be something of a mixed bag now forcing me to upgrade my hosting package.

Wednesday I had my first class of my language course at the Goethe Institute which proved to be a bit too easy for my taste (which is probably always the case if you already know a bunch of languages). The practice will be good for me in any case and I hope to apply the practical parts more and more in German professional life.

Having started everything in Berlin —to my chagrin— on Thursday I went to Amsterdam for the Open State board dinner and some other odds and ends that needed seeing to. That day I also fasted for my friend Bassel who is jailed in Syria just for being a free software activist.

Damages done (too busy to take pictures in between)

The board dinner that night at the new restaurant my brother runs Fa. Speijkervet was a lot of fun. There are a lot of changes coming up and almost all of them are for the better.

Today's office #wander

Friday I hung out at Koko in Amsterdam. A nice new coffee place run by two girls who are totally into coffee and fashion. A big recommendation if you want to escape the hectic Amsterdam city center. After I did our meeting at De Gids (again see the Hubbub weeknote), we did a run of the town with Kars and Alexander Zeh.

Chilling out with der Franz on a Friday afternoon #wander

Saturday I learned about the suicide of Aaron Swartz an immensely respected figure in freedom and/of information. He was one of the rare people both whose software I used and whose thoughts resonated with me. He got so much done in that short time he was here that  his passing places a big burden on the rest of us to continue that work.

I then ended my theater going life by seeing the final Mightysociety show in Frascati. More on that when there is time.

Waiting for the queue to open to get last tickets

Sunday was another Hubbub workday —yes we have a lot to do— with ample visits to the Village which is really an even funner place then than it is during the week.

Those small Utrecht rituals #wander

Recensie The Binding of Isaac

Recensie verschenen in de ergens in oktober 2011:

In ‘The Binding of Isaac’ wil Isaacs godsdienstwaanzinnige moeder hem opofferen zoals in het gelijknamige bijbelverhaal. Jij moet Isaac helpen ontsnappen in een hellegang onder zijn eigen huis. Een apart thema en off-beat humor zoals we eerder ook zagen in Super Meat Boy van dezelfde maker.

Je loopt met Isaac van kamer naar kamer, tranen schietend op duivelse vliegen, bewegend vlees en andere monsters. Zodra alles dood is kun je door met de buit die je verzamelt. Ga je zelf dood, dan begin je opnieuw. Behendig spelen en de juiste keuzes maken zijn zaak om te winnen van Isaacs demonen. De niveau’s zijn elke keer anders en symboliseren de afdaling in Isaacs nachtmerries.

Het is een spel van extreme contrasten. De tekenstijl is kinderlijk maar druipt van het bloed. De verwijzingen naar de bijbel worden afgewisseld met referenties naar games. Dat ligt wat zwaar op de hand voor een spel dat blijft steken bij hele simpele satire. Toch is ‘The Binding of Isaac’ wél erg leuk. Er valt veel te verkennen, de moeilijkheid neemt subtiel toe en de drempel om nog een keer te spelen ligt lekker laag.

29C3: Long live the protocoletariat

I followed the last CCC from a distance reading the Twitter fallout and keeping track of the live streams while getting work done in an empty Berlin. Besides the various controversies playing out, there were some good talks. What I found to be the best of the event was “Long live the protocoletariat” by Eleanor Saitta (@dymaxion) and Smári McCarthy (@smarimc) about a topic that is very near to the things I am thinking about: institutions and networks and all of the opportunities and problems associated with them. The presentation in the first thirty minutes of this video is well worth watching. Pull quotes below are paraphrases.

I have been to CCC once and didn’t feel the need to go again. I have been long disheartened by the odd turn that political consciousness has taken within that particular technological crowd. The combination of information/privacy fundamentalism with a total disdain for normal users is something which is normal in the open source world but not something I can support.

It is refreshing then to hear two people at CCC who pursue an agenda that I think is important in a manner that make sense and is constructive. Briefly the things from the talk that I found noteworthy.

They treat the various levels of obscurity and disfunctionality built into Liquid Feedback but on the whole they do agree that it is a functional system that needs some bug fixing.

Liquid Feedback seems to have been sparked by a blog post some years ago is a good example of the primate of the developer. Because of limitations in development capacity, whoever builds these things builds the definitive version. It remains definitive until somebody builds a better one (or if the problem goes away). We don’t get the option of more consideration, or better design or any of the other things we would want. We get whatever time a volunteer can spare to hack something together that works. This also makes that often we are in local optima because there already is an implementation that is perceived to be ‘good enough’.

People who have the time to solve problems don’t have problems. Those with real problems are too busy coping with their problems to be able to solve them generically. —Smári McCarthy

“Don’t confuse math problems with human problems.” —Eleanor Saitta

An interesting next step is their demand of more thorough thinking from those aspiring to politics. They warn against an information politics that says: ‘We just want our current way of living without the bad things.’ I agree —and many others with me— that idealism needs a clear and functional vision of an alternative world with an implementation plan to get there.

What then follows is a comparison between institutions and networks. I think it is very interesting to think about the importance of these two and why they have such trouble to deal with each other. What we are doing at Hack de Overheid is one attempt at bridging a network with a bunch of Dutch institutions. We should come up with more translator services and adapter structures to make the two work together.

They then treat the protocolization of institutions. How an institution can be decomposed in process and substance. How the symbolic language that an institution accepts can be codified as an automaton and then be translated into a peer to peer communications protocol. One problem of such a protocol is that it lacks institutional memory and tacit knowledge. Networks consist of nodes that adhere to the protocol (by definition) and are in effect interchangeable which means they don’t have to remember over the whole.

Memory and knowledge are essential for the proper functioning of all organizations and that functionality needs to be coded in some way into the networked version. I’m reading James C. Scott right now and he talks at length about the high modernist folly of laying down ‘thin and brittle’ structures that do not work. Such structures have not been tested or used enough and lack the pliability and adaptations that are necessary for proper functioning.

Saitta and McCarthy propose to build institutions that only do long-term memory and let the process execution be handled by the network.

They then identify the open problems that still need work:

  1. Mapping the complexity classes and executive processes of institutions
  2. A language for protocolization of executive processes
  3. A decentralized but collectivized and compellable taxation protocol for an anonymous crypto currency
  4. Better tools for network-instution interactions
  5. A concept of network jurisprudence and mercy

The complexity theoretical treatment of social institutions is something that rather tickles my fancy. On university we never got to solve anything but the most theoretical of problems during those courses. I recently found some complexity theoretical treatments of games (“Classic Nintendo Games are (NP-)Hard”) and I look forward to even broader applications.

To stay in the vein of games, the problems stated in 1. and 2. are things that have a lot in common with what we do when we build games. The design of games consists of many similar information theoretical problems. Games may also be good staging grounds if you want to replace the nation state. The first thing that comes to mind to model these interactions is Joris Dormans’s Machinations, a finite state machine modeling tool.

Anyway it looks like there are tons of important and interesting problems still to be solved to which we as game practitioners might be able to contribute as well.

There are philosophical problems that we need to solve but they need to be directed towards the real world. —Eleanor Saitta

After the talk there follow a series of somewhat odd questions. The replies fortunately more than make up for it:

You need to have a sufficiently complete philosophical understanding of why your ideas make sense and how they are coherent and how they encompass [agriculture]. Otherwise your [privacy] arguments are going to fall flat. —Smári McCarthy

Instead we should build alternate structures. We are going to build this thing over here and it’s a much better way to run things. That can sort of infect into the world and obsolete other things. —Eleanor Saitta

That last one should be the golden test of activism: are you just complaining or are you doing something to actually make things better? If not, why not?

A eulogy for European journalism

A couple of weeks ago I and judging from Twitter almost everybody I knew read Quinn Norton’s Eulogy for #Occupy. Her coverage for Wired and her twitter stream had already broadcast an almost minute to minute beat of events in the movement. That account finally culminated in this retelling of the camps and the evictions crowned with a tally of the movements hopes and achievements. It is one of the journalistic highlights of 2012.

Oddly such a comprehensive account has not been available for Europe. We have had camps near the financial districts too, not to mention a massive amount of political conflict in the Mediterranean countries. All these things are tied up in the monstrous Union we have wrought to hold each other in a technocratic stranglehold. We are interrelated, however difficult it may be to tell from the national coverage alone.

Our working theory was that most European journalists don’t have the stones to endure what Norton has gone through, to really be ‘in, but not of, Occupy’, to cover something beyond the confines of the nine-to-five job. To be sure I checked with her:

This means that not one journalist conversant in English/German/French/Spanish on this continent figured out that there may have been a story here worth pursuing? That not one newsroom freed up the resources necessary for somebody to cover this? If that is the case, then may all our newspapers shrivel up and turn to dust because there is nothing worth saving here.

Update: The Times shows their most popular articles of 2012 and journalism isn’t anywhere to be found.

Week 303: starting everything back up again

Nothing much happened during the Christmas week before, so I decided to skip that note. Most of Berlin shut down into a deep hibernation normally only witnessed in student towns.

Goulash for my sore throat #wander

Everything only got into gear again on by Thursday when I got my copy of Gun Machine (and finished it two days after) and caught up studio flows with Hubbub Utrecht. I did my work on TORREON and had lunch with the vvvv guys.

Fog lit bus #wander

Friday it was more TORREON going on through the weekend and some consulting on KAIGARA.

I also caught up with some talks at the CCC this year (along with all of the other issues the event had this year). Best of show is this one by Eleanor Saitta and Smári McCarthy about the advantages and disadvantages of networks and institutions:

A short week that one too, but more to come.

Recensie Where Is My Heart?

Recensie verschenen in de ergens in december 2011:

“Where is my Heart?” is een platform-puzzelspel van Deense sensatie Die Gute Fabrik. Je bestuurt om beurten één van drie ontheemde monsters die in het bos de weg naar huis proberen te vinden. De monsters zijn charmant geanimeerd, het bos is getekend in wondermooie pixel-art en de soundtrack bestaat uit frisse 8-bit muziek. Dat is allemaal bijzaak. Waar het om gaat is de buitengewoon originele manier van spelen.

Je ziet van elk level alleen een stel kaders zoals een strip, maar deze zijn totaal uit hun verband gerukt. Je hebt geen flauw idee wat je door elk kader van het level ziet en wat de relatie met de rest is. Loop of spring je een kader uit, dan kom je vaak heel ergens anders terecht dan je verwacht. Visueel gedesoriënteerd ben je in elk level op zoek naar de relatie tussen je waarnemingen en de achterliggende werkelijkheid. Die vind je het makkelijkst door al spelend je hersens te dwingen de juiste verbindingen te leggen.

Onderweg gebruik je de speciale vaardigheden van Bat King en Antler Ancestor (onzichtbare dingen zien, dubbel springen) maar Rainbow Spirit steelt de show. Hij kan de kaders van een level herschikken en kiezen in welke hij landt. Dat zet alles op zijn kop en de eerste keer dat ik het deed viel ik bijna van mijn stoel.

“Where is my Heart?” is een zeldzaam moeilijk spel wat daardoor hier en daar eentonig dreigt te worden. De verzorgde uitvoering trekt je daar gelukkig doorheen en uiteindelijk duurt het niet heel lang voor de monsters weer thuis zijn en jij thuis met een voldaan gevoel naar de aftiteling kijkt.