I promised to write an update to the Heist Model a long time ago and never got around to it because of work and other stuff. Then recently conversations with friends moving back into the freelance life prompted this smaller update but it too had been languishing in a draft for far too long.
So now I’m resolving to get this out as a multi blogpost thing over the course of the coming week.
As a disclaimer, we at Hubbub are not working exactly like the model proposed above anymore. This is in part because the focus of our business has shifted towards consulting, but for any serious production work we do still work like that.
We have incorporated and thought up some innovative ways to structure the business within the Dutch/German framework we live in. I’ll come back to that later.
We have also seen too many of our friends change their businesses or suspend their operations to prompt serious reflection on our part. That reflection is ongoing but the way we are organized contributes to our optimistic view of the future.
The Heist Model was meant to be a way for sole proprietors to work together and to think bigger. I think those things are still necessary. During the next days we’ll first treat the standard options that are open to freelancers and why they don’t really fit before we dive into an alternative way of doing things.
We just switched over to Slack and we are quite happy with the tool as a replacement for our previous Hipchat setup. It all feels a bit fresher, it’s easier to integrate with the rest of the web and has more functionality and niceties built in.
I did have this frustrating twitter conversation with them about what I think is an important topic:
The problem is that it is difficult to use these tools if you are part of several organizations. The way people work these days I could be part of a dozen or more companies and non-profits. Slack is a bit more flexible and it allows quick switching between logged in organizations. What it doesn’t give you is an integrated view of your channels across organizations.
The way we use Slack may be different from most others people. We use it both to coordinate intensively around projects in private rooms, but besides that we have a couple dozen friends from all over the world in a couple of open channels who help us create and maintain our company culture. None of these people are ‘part of our organization’ per se but they all belong in our organization.
The hermetically sealed company wall is the anomaly. There are more free agents than ever who work in flexible configurations. This is a trend that does not show any sign of abating. What the twitter exchange above shows is that Slack either does not understand this or they don’t want to understand this. This is fine but also a bit disappointing for a company that wants to be visionary when it comes to new ways of working together.
I criticize because I love Slack. If there is any company that can help us work together in this new world, it is probably them. But for that to happen we need to start having these conversations.
This week was a bit more stationary than the last thankfully. I tried out a competitor to Cuppings called Bean Seeker which is a rather terrible app.
That night I attended the IoT Berlin meetup organized by Martin and had dinner with a rather interesting set of people.
I also started playing DOTA2 this week for which there is a working Mac client available and which is a deep but somewhat too hardcore experience.
Cuppings was featured on Fontanel and we got a mention from London’s Best Coffee. Both of those are from people we respect which makes it mean the world to us. It also made us hit top 3 in the Food and Drink category of the Dutch store, which is nice to see (and altogether too easy).
I met Will Perkins and Nikos Green both highly capable people who I look forward to work with (again).
I read up about SpriteKit which is in the forthcoming iOS7 release and should make 2D game programming very very easy for developers. Looking forward a lot to iOS becoming an even more capable platform than it is.
On Friday we tried to attend the inaugural Biteclub which turned out to be too busy if you actually want to eat something.
That Saturday I started to work on the AJI prototype in earnest which is coming together nicely as we speak.
Odd that I hadn’t gotten around to blogging these notes from Dan Hill’s brilliant book, but here they are then finally:
This is all underscored by an optimistic belief in progressive change, that the current conditions are changeable for the better, that the present can be transformed into multiple positive futures.
the mental agility to generate ideas — to see design as cultural invention — is directly linked to the craft skills of design practice
As stated earlier, design’s core value is in synthesising disparate views and articulating alternative ways of being.
Yet such temporary interventions are often accompanied by claims as to wider significance; that an installation, say, can suggest a new way of doing, of living.
to understand the pixel and the platform.
The problem is in taking clear design intent — the stage where “smart city” concepts are rife — into development, procurement and commissioning, and emerging from the other side with the intent intact, perhaps even improved by the process, such that further strategic outcomes can be realised
zooming back and forth from matter to meta, and using each scale to refine the other, is core to strategic design.
The collapse of knowledge, of authority, of institution can leave a dizzying sensation, a kind of vertiginous drop into an abyss of uncertainty.
design must make clear that its remit is expanded from simply problem-solving to context-setting.
You simply have to solve within the brief you’ve been set; you can’t challenge its premise.
There are either well-known technical solutions, and the real problem may be a lack of commitment, funding, skill, or motivation, or they are at least clearly defined problem spaces, that process improvement, nuanced analysis, elbow grease and the odd bit of luck could easily solve
And if it was designed in one way, it follows that it can be designed in a different way.
prototyping and heuristics in a space of “unknown-unknowns”
Matter matters, in this respect
All these struggles are about the profound social injustice in our societies — whether in Egypt, Syria or the US and Spain.
I’ve been on something of an applied philosophy binge recently and after almost finishing “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” I am now starting to read Aramis which Latour opens with:
I have sought to offer humanists a detailed analysis of a technology sufficiently magnificent and spiritual to convince them that the machines by which they are surrounded are cultural objects worthy of their attention and respect. They’ll find that if they add interpretation of machines to interpretation of texts, their culture will not fall to pieces; instead, it will take on added density. I have sought to show technicians that they cannot even conceive of a technological ohject without taking into account the mass of human beings with all their passions and politics and pitiful calculations, and that by becoming good sociologists and good humanists they can become better engineers and better informed decisionmakers.
I read these texts not only because as Latour promises it will turn me into a better engineer (and designer) but because only works of sufficient conceptual depth and denseness contain the force necessary to alter and improve our thinking. Books should never be tedious but they are allowed to be straining.
With KANT we were still figuring out mostly what it is we are doing and seeing as we are neither a collective or a coworking space it was up in the air a bit. I wrote up our offering in a more straight-forward and streamlined way where you can very easily find what it is you may be looking for. In other news we are discussing next steps for KANT in the future but anything on that order is off for at least 6-12 months.
That week I attended the Cocoaheads meetup on the Luftgarten at Tempelhofer Airport. This week the plans for the city to build at least two thirds of that field have been revealed. The 100% Tempelhofer Feld initiative is already preparing their campaign in September and it looks like it’s going to be a long winter. The reasoning of policy makers is ‘How can Berlin afford not to build on this piece of land?’ which is a staggeringly stupid way to frame something if ever I heard it.
I got my Canon S100 camera which is proving to be a lot of fun and is getting me photographing at volume again. Judging from the pictures and the f/2.0 lens it has about the same performance as my old EOS camera with its kit lens but now in a much smaller package. What is also interesting is how accustomed people have gotten to larger cameras and phones that a small pocket cam hardly registers anymore.
I also did some experiments with video mounting the camera on my bike:
I could not bother installing Lightroom again (and definitely not with the Creative Cloud hell) and setting up any kind of workflow, so my current editing philosophy is NONE. Pictures are nominally straightened in iPhoto and slapped straight to Flickr.
Our Friday Sheperditchi breakfasts are getting more and more fun with random friends dropping in. If you’re reading this, we usually have breakfast with KANT at Simitdchi on Friday mornings at 09:00 to get an early start into the day.
And also with the summer lots of people are blowing through Berlin among which Peter Rukavina:
And just to close off with a whole grilled fish:
Most of the time this week was spent doing heads down work (notes on which elsewhere). Meeting with Igor and Tijmen and hanging out in parks. Summer.
That week I went to the Liepnitzsee for a swim. The key to surviving the summer in Berlin is to get out of the city and usually coincide that wit a trip to one of the many many lakes. Most of these are just bedding of the Havel/Spree/Oder passing through so they are not very deep or cool, but the Liepnitzsee is an exception and may be one of the best distance/quality lakes in the area.
With global warming happening here with a vengeance water temperatures are on the rise as well. Most of the not so deep lakes are approaching 28C already and there’s no telling where stuff will end up next week or in a couple of years. So even though it may be to early, I’m already worrying about the brain eating amoeba.
After that it was off to Betapitch to hangout with friends and to see startups present. What was painfully obvious in most of the presentations was that none of the startups had a serious unfair advantage other than their presumed grit.
Travel is making it hard to keep up writing these notes weekly (or write anything for that matter). So this blog is turning into an expensive affair.
Way back when this happened I was in the Netherlands for an appointment that was cancelled and because of that I had to fly to Munich from Amsterdam for a day of workshopping. The next night I flew back to Amsterdam to spend the rest of the week at Hubbub HQ in the Netherlands.
We did our strategic sessions about which I probably have written elsewhere already but this was as good a time as any to revisit this brilliant interview with Jack Schulze. They don’t make them like that anymore.
No one cares about what you think, unless you do what you think. No one cares what you do, unless you think about what you do. No one ever really cares what you say.
Advice to frame and put above your desk.
The last day I did a coffee tour of Amsterdam, which is in utter bloom at this moment with Third Wave coffee places opening up literally left and right. I paid a duty visit to BrunsNiks which is one of the best up and coming design firms of that city where most stuff is bullshit.
What is also brilliant are the new Hackers and Founders offices of the eponymous meetup group. My old office in the Volkskrantgebouw got evicted because they are turning that into a hotel (like pretty much everything in Amsterdam) so they got together with the neighbors of Bottlenose and some other friends and rented a nice floor smack in Amsterdam city centre. I can’t take any credit for what they did but still I’m half proud of what that turned into.
And that segued nicely into the speaker’s dinner for our Hack de Overheid event (which got a nice press release drop over at Wired thanks to Bruce). The event, the next day in City Hall, was one where all of the founders were present at one and the same location. That already was amazing. After the day was finished I spent the evening talking philosophy with Simeon.
And the next day it was back in the train to Berlin which has added a whole hour because the flooding has damaged a bridge and caused a large stretch of tracks to be dislodged. Deutsche Bahn says that reconstruction will take until December. That may be just in time for next year’s flooding.
This was the week that Kars returned from his honeymoon on Bali. And all for the better as well, because I had worked through most of our stack —we didn’t have any running projects at the time— and I was getting so annoyed by Dopplr’s performance that I was about to write a clean implementation of its trip model to store my upcoming travels in.
That week I also attended a meetup by Autofreies Kreuzberg and wrote that up. One additional note that I want to place is that Oranienstraße is a total traffic clusterfuck and I am amazed that nobody is fixing that. There is a clear political majority in Kreuzberg, the shopkeepers could use more space and removing the cars would improve the quality of life for everybody. Why not just do it then?
I drove to MLOVE that week to present in our Dutch Quantified Self block. The block turned into a party of the sort Dutch people are good at and the Q&A session afterwards was one of the best I’ve either seen or given. The sharpness of the audience also had a lot to do with it. The questions were sharp, fast and on point like you rarely see at events.
I drove back the next day and by some fluke where I lost half an hour in Halle I got stuck behind massive car crash on the highway with three hours of barely moving cars to the next exit towards Dessau. It took the radio at least two hours to figure out that there had been a major car crash on this bit of road which I found stunning. After I finally got out of the traffic jam where there were several more Eastern European trucks simply broken down on the road blocking even more traffic. And finally I got trapped in a major summer storm with heavy thunder and rain. It got to the point several times where I barely could see the marking on the road so I decided to stop two times and wait out the rain instead of trying my luck with the rental car. All in all a trip that should have taken me two and a half hours, took me over ten and this experience of pure time-wasting ruined driving for me altogether.
The fabled German Autobahn proved to be a disappointment as well. It has been a fiction for me anyway. The last time I’ve ever actually driven 180 for a stretch is probably six years ago. The rest of the time there are either too many cars to drive really fast or they are busy doing constructions works. The actual bits where you are allowed to go infinite speed are also being chipped away at bit by bit so at some point this may become a thing of the past.
The odd part of the traffic jam and the rain after was how primitive the German highways are compared to the Dutch ones. In the Netherlands almost all main and provincial roads are sensored so you can get real-time traffic flow information, most major highways have matrix displays above and beside them to actuate traffic and most of the critical sections and exits are surveilled by cctv cameras to see what is actually happening. There also is this thing called ZOAB which works wonders when it is raining.
The primitiveness stems from the fact that in Germany all roads from main roads in the city up to the A level highways are under the authority of the Länder. So if your highway is in the rather backward Sachsen-Anhalt province it means that you can’t really expect anything. This is also the reason that the Green/Red majority in Kreuzberg can’t decide to close down Oranienstraße for traffic because they don’t have that majority in the Land Berlin.
As I said compared to the Netherlands the roads themselves are already rather primitive, but the administrative organization also does not seem to make a lot of sense. In the Netherlands the provinces (analogous to the Länder) control the secundary roads between the cities, the so called ‘Provinciale Wegen’. On the map in that Wikipedia page you can very clearly see the division with the main arteries ‘Rijkswegen’ being maintained by the central government and for instance the roads within Amsterdam being the purvey of the municipality of Amsterdam. This is a method of organization that is clear and never will be implemented in Germany. Putting the main highways under federal control and the city streets under that of the city (though with Berlin that might coincide with the province of Berlin) would take money and power away from the Länder and will therefore be fought tooth and nail like these things always are.
The week after this one was a bit idiotic.
As my work based weeknotes are being catered for rather nicely both at Hubbub and KANT, I’m going to keep writing weeknotes here, but instead of making an overview of the week’s work, I’ll do some more long form reflecting on stuff that happened. A bit more casual and personal than we are used to.
I see I marked a picture of this ridge in the newly opened Park am Gleisdreieck as a cycling nuisance. I find it stunning how poorly designed that particular park is. It is a given that the location and the shape of the various pieces of land and already existing functions do not make for an easy mix, but the result should not have been quite that bad in my opinion. Especially the newly opened North Eastern part is a total jumble of functions and feels oddly cramped for a park of a reasonable size.
One of the biggest problem from my perspective is that a large park in the city is an ideal shortcut for cyclists and will be used as such. Just take a look at the myriads of people cycling through the Vondelpark on any given day. The Gleisdreieckpark has no functional separation to indicate where cyclists should cycle and pedestrians should walk. Not that pedestrians in Berlin will adhere to such indicators, but that is a different issue. The most logical cycle paths are also littered with trash cans and benches, which add to the confusion. The connections to the park from the city are also a massive inconvenience and horrible to get in or out of with no connections to major arteries in the city.
The park is a ‘success’ in so far that it is being used quite enthusiastically by a large number of people. There is also a notable shortage of drug dealers which is a nice change. This only serves to show that parks are vital to Berlin and there are not enough of them already. It is not a testament to the design of this park which is a failure like most of the urban planning happening in Berlin.
We released Cuppings to the app store somewhere this week which has taken some work to get going but we are at a point now that the app sells by itself (modestly) so anything we do on top of that are welcome extras. We are planning a bunch of updates to the guide app and are right now prototyping a game (more about which over at Hubbub). Coffee remains a lasting passion of ours, so working on apps and games about coffee and documenting our habits as a form of marketing cannot really be called work. Fun may be a better word for it.
I also sunk a lot of time preparing a presentation that week. Something that I’m resolved not to do anymore. I’m going to try some other ways of doing presentations that offer different min/max outcomes when it comes to the time spent giving a presentation and the eventual result. More on that later.