ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016 Talk

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 324

Bicycle madness

Two weeks ago I headed towards Amsterdam where I’ll be the week after next again. I did a massive sprint on Cuppings and prepared my presentation for Sign of Times in Pakhuis de Zwijger.

I worked on a bunch of projects over at Hubbub on Tuesday and on Wednesday I was there again but then to prepare my presentation. That talk went really well despite the torrential rains of the day and I had a great time catching up with the people who had showed up.

I caught up with Daphne on Thursday and wandered around the city a bit looking for good coffe which I found at the newly opened Head First.

Well executed artisanal coffee/roaster play

I finally ended up at the presentations of the Liquid Journalism masterclass and got to talk with Alexander and Laura.

On Friday Kars got married which was the other main reason I was in the Netherlands for.

Week 318

Unbelievable how many weeks behind I am on these. That’s not wholly intended, but the last couple of weeks have been a bit busier than usual. This was the week of April 15th which I spent mostly in Amsterdam.

I spent a full day with the team on Tuesday working on KAIGARA:
Today's office

I drank very awesome coffee that Angelo had brought back from his road trip along the west coast of the USA:
Angelo got that fresh package from the states

We celebrated shipping some projects that night with Kars and Simon and the next day I was back at Hubbub for another day of work. That night it was off to the Open State offices in Amsterdam for a bit of envisioning with our new managing director. A very solid and constructive session, well catered by our in-house team of Bite Me:
Nicely catered strategy session

My work setup at the brilliant Koko:
Today's office

The Thursday I spent working at the Open Coop and preparing my Python programming course I gave on the now defunct Gidsy.

Friday I took the train back to Berlin and it was confirmed to me again that train companies are stupid. If I take a different train to Berlin I need to pay the difference in distance even if I start and end in the same place:
Had to buy an extra ticket because train people are crazy.

And Saturday I also managed squeeze out a long overdue Recess!.

So lots of stuff and more to follow.

Weeks 313-4

Two week notes in one because last week seems to have been too busy to write any.

Rushing through the snow towards Amsterdam

Week 313 was spent in the Netherlands with a somewhat hectic visit. I spent a lot of time at the Hubbub studio and at the Open Coop.

Today's office

And of course the inevitable five (!) visits to the Village who were serving only Coffee Collective coffees when I was there:

Four Coffee Collective filters, too much choice to go around. Nothing in Berlin can touch this.

Today's office

And that Friday was Free Bassel Day in remembrance of our friend who is still imprisoned in a Syrian prison:
#freebassel ing my friend's workplaces

And then it was an ICE back to Berlin already:
Got the sweet upgrade because NS messed up the direct connection

I did manage to get some good writing in those two weeks. First one piece about why levying a tax on data is not a bad idea at all: Taxing data is not crazy. And the week after that about Jaron Lanier who is a crazy person with some interesting ideas: Who owns the future?

TORREON should be about finished by now. And last Friday we also forcibly launched the German incarnation of Politwoops now with an accompanying Twitter account because the SPD chancellor candidate posted something he shouldn’t have.

Also I’m doing another bout of programming education for non-programmers in Amsterdam next week with a course and a meetup. More on that in a bit.

And I finished my Recess! post.

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

Week 301: a flurry of appointments in Amsterdam

Last Monday was the last day in Berlin before the holidays so something of a push here and there to get things to go through. That night we had a vvvv workshop at the studio hosted by Joreg to teach somewhere around eight people the basics of node based graphical environments (the only other one I had used extensively before was Open DX and of course there’s Quartz Composer and Impure Quadrigram).

VVVV workshop. I'm psyched!

I messed around a bit with it and managed to produce this bit of media art. It is very interesting to have the power of DirectX9 under your fingers without having to program at all, though the whole fact of non-programming feels a bit strange to me.

Also there was this bit about the journalistic climate in the Netherlands:

I would recommend anybody interfacing with journalists to be wholly guarded and keep clearly in mind what’s in it for them in the interaction. The way it is played by most actors, it hasn’t been about the uncovering of the truth for a long time.

Tuesday was my travel day to Amsterdam where I wrote a bunch of stuff in the train and had an Open State board meeting that evening.

I spent most of Wednesday in Utrecht at the Hubbub studio. That night I had dinner with Tim de Gier, Loeki Westerveld and Justus Bruns partially by plan, partially by coincidence.

Thursday was also spent at Hubbub discussing business and getting work done. That night I had drinks with Kars and Lieke in a smashing new Utrecht establishment.

On Friday I met Edo van Royen at Studyflow, had lunch with Peter Robinett, coffee with Justus Bruns, dropped by at my accountant, had a beer with Thijs Niks and then drinks at the Open Coop with Lex and Alexander. Having said that: these visits to the Netherlands always tend to devolve into a flurry of errands that barely leave any time to think. That is going to change for the next one.

Carrying four RFIDs with me (down from five) because consolidating their contents is too much work.

Week 270: Amsterdam encounters, data visualization, foundational work

Last week was a week for some work in the Netherlands and some much deserved catchup with friends and colleagues over there.

On monday the protocol of the meeting we had in the Berlin parliament about open transit data was published. It contains all the proceedings and slides.

On Tuesday I went to Hilversum to give a workshop on journalistic data visualization over there. It’s always fun to give these and it’s going to be even more fun to see the results coming out of it.

Full house

After that I bounced over to Utrecht to relax a bit in the Village. It had been too long ago and it’s still the best coffee store in the Netherlands. After that I went to Hubbub headquarters for some future planning with Kars Alfrink.

On Wednesday we had a lot of stuff to do with the (Open State) foundation (more on which later). That same evening we had a board meeting.

Pavement anti-aliasing

On Thursday I had a nice lunch with Tim de Gier and finished my next game review for the paper.

Today's office

This is the view from the Amsterdam office. Pure luxury for that city.

Bought paper

Also I had to buy the new book “Koorddansen in de Kaukasus” by Olaf Koens about his adventures in the Caucasus. It is a fast paced collection of stories in this very bizarre part of the world.

Approaching the saucer

I also managed to visit the newly opened EYE movie institute on the IJ shore. A beautiful building with a stunning view, heralding in a new era for this part of Amsterdam.

Today's office

Next it was the train back to Berlin and prototypes for some new applications.

Week 264: playable prototypes and Open State

Last week was crazy hectic, notwithstanding the fact that I was ill at the same time. Sickness and deadlines are not fun, but thankfully both were survived.

Today's office

What had to be done was the prototype iPhone app for the first playtest of saba. Which was finished in the nick of time with programming sprints that ended later and later into the night.

Today's office

Then it was a train on Friday to Amsterdam for the Open State board meeting followed by the more general strategy day on Saturday. A lot of fun was had and important things were discussed during the weekend (see this write-up by Natasja Trifkovic), which makes it all worthwhile, but some downtime would be welcome at this point.

Open State Foundation Strategy

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:

Breakfast
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.

BBQ
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.

Ramen
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.

Burrito
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.

Conclusion

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.