Dark Matter & Trojan Horses Highlights

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.

Apply your philosophy

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.

Week 331

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.

New gadget. I had no idea they made cameras this small these days.

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:
Steadycam bicycle rig

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.

Torstraße

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.

Selbstbedienung

And also with the summer lots of people are blowing through Berlin among which Peter Rukavina:
Peter Rukavina

And just to close off with a whole grilled fish:
Fish

Week 329

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.

Dessert

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.

Fashion week on my way to work

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.

At the taquero

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.

Betapitchees

Week 328

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.

Today's office. Off to Munich in a bit.

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.

Dutch life

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.

Got it explained: gay cover band of Black Flag

Today's office

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.

Today's office

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.

It is the birth right of every Amsterdammer to cycle underneath the Rijks and that's what I just did.

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.

Probably my favorite new addition to the Amsterdam coffee scene. #nofilter

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.

App demoes

Week 327: car-freeness, banging Q&A, the fabled Autobahn and the administrative organization of infrastructure

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.

Autofreies Kreuzberg über die Manteuffelstrasse

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?

MLOVE DAY 2

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.

MLOVE

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.

View

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.

Week 326

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.

This ridge intentionally placed to fuck with cyclists.

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.

Park am Gleisdreieck Westpark

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.

Week 325

I’m running frightfully behind with these and debating whether to continue writing weeknotes if it means this work is being featured in a total of three places. That seems a bit too much.

Way back then I pushed Cuppings to the App Store.

I gave an interview about Politwoops:
Politwoops in SZ

I built a preliminary Foursquare paper map creating tool.

I was featured in WDR Funkhaus Europa with a small item about Politwoops:

And also a tweet I posted was featured on the New York Times website:
Tweet featured on the NYT

And finally I dropped by the office warming of IXDS who have a brilliant space two streets down from us on the waterside.

And finally that Saturday I had a beer with @pinboard at the Berlin Pinboard meetup.

Week 323

This week started with Pentecost. Trying to get stuff done in Germany during the bank holiday flurry that is May is always a challenge. I spent more time working on Cuppings. In all likelihood this app will never make any serious money, but there are other advantages to building apps which may become apparent in the future.

This week I gave an interview to Süddeutsche Zeitung about our project Politwoops which turned out pretty well:

Politwoops in SZ

Just before German class I was interviewed in German about altogether different matters:

KANT is slowly shaping up:

KANT in action

I received this device to be able to live digitally in the outdoors:

A cloudy start for my Wakawaka Power

And end of that week I spent some time writing and especially my piece on data was picked up nicely and got a record amount of views:

And the next day Peter and Michelle got married which was a tremendous amount of fun:

Vorstellungsronde

Week 322

So it turns out I’ve fallen immensely behind with the weeknotes over here, but we did start writing them at the new office now, which should make up for something. Those live at http://kantberlin.tumblr.com/ currently.

What happened that week was a bunch of work and getting a desk from IKEA to work on at the new place:
Upgraded to a small-ish roller desk

The Möbeltaxi driver took us on an interesting shortcut through the old service tunnels of Tempelhof —I am amazed that Moves tracked it as well as it did— which might be fun to do some urban exploring in at some point:
Secret route through the service tunnels of the old airport. Useful when there is traffic which is more or less always.

Back then we were still drinking some horrible leftover coffee brewed in a two step process:
The morning press and filter

And I had a talk for at Bits of Freedom that I sketched out on our brilliant new whiteboard:
I gave the new whiteboard a proper exercising for an upcoming talk

I promised the people future shock and I think I delivered that to some extent.