Whither the theater?

Talking to two young theater makers yesterday, I remarked that the majority of the Dutch plays I see don’t deliver the relevant and socially engaged experiences I would want them to. To which they asked why I still bothered going to the theater, a question I hear regularly from those in the more modern performing arts. They themselves hardly ever go and they make participatory theater, not the stage dramas that first come to mind. That is a response I get more often: that theater is boring, irrelevant and really ‘Why would anybody want to go?’

I often think the same on my obligatory trips to the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam and other venues. What I need in theater is a visceral quality, acute social relevance and deep street savvy. One of those is hard enough to find most of the time, let alone all three. I went to 33 plays last year and only a handful of them delivered. The few that did, redeemed the boring, too long, too simple plays I’ve been to, but I think that there are irresolvable obstacles preventing the quality of theater from increasing.

On most of my visits I’m struck by how narrow a demographic (by age and social-economic status) frequents most theaters. This cannot but influence the performances to cater to the audience. The audience’s wishes notwithstanding, artistic autonomy would require boundaries to be pushed, but that too doesn’t happen all too often (see also ‘De studio uit, de wereld in’).

Having said that, the theater makers I would go to blindly in the Netherlands are:

  • Theu Boermans
  • Thibaud Delpeut
  • Eric de Vroedt
  • Ivo van Hove

Now having just moved to Berlin, I’ve seen a bunch of plays at die Schaubühne but nothing very titillating yet. That may be in part because I am yet to see something by Thomas Ostermeier, but it does beg the question why a theater would stage such wildly varying material and why the room still is full most of the nights. Answers to those questions are forthcoming after a more thorough sampling.

Regain your privacy through bureaucracy

Going over the list of services that the municipality of Amsterdam offers this week, I couldn’t help but notice this:

the option to change your date of birth (without a foreign certificate)

Services the city of Amsterdam offers among which the option to change your date of birth

This is a very interesting option. I am not aware of the reasons one could assert to change their date of birth, but the fact that the option is listed, says something. In any case, it shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a reason that fulfills official requirements.

Why would you want to do this?

I am reasonably sure that most statistical inference methods on databases are pinned fairly rigidly on the fact that somebody’s date of birth never changes. The various parts of your name can be mismatched, but if you do not have an id for somebody (like a social security number), the date of birth is your best bet to reduce the number of possible matches.

If you manage to change your date of birth if only by a day and re-register with that everywhere, you will have shed your privacy tail and can start anew. That by itself, struck me as a hopeful thought. Now just to have somebody try it out.

Post scriptum: I talked about this with Rejo and he suggested I FOIA the number of times this occurs and the reasons why it happens. I put that on my list, for some time in the future.

Week 249

In the beginning of the week I spotted an interesting dataset on Sargasso, requested to play with it and got the following visual published the next day (our write-up).

Then it was off to Berlin to finalize things with the appartment and prepare the move.

My review of “Where is my Heart?” was also published in the nrc.next that week (tweet):

Finally my proposal to present on the Apps for Amsterdam project on the Social Cities of Tomorrow conference was aspected and I will be attending and presenting at that conference in Amsterdam. Data commons are a topic that is very near to our practice and I look forward to exchanging ideas with those attending.

Cameratoezicht conclusie

Ik zou nog schrijven wat de conclusie was van het cameratoezicht op mijn gestolen fiets uit het vorige bericht. Daar stond al hoe je voor dit soort zaken van het kastje naar de muur gestuurd wordt. Ik had nagelaten dit op te schrijven door drukte en frustratie met hoe het gaat in de stad, maar gelukkig herinnerde Rejo Zenger van Bits of Freedom me eraan.

Bijkomend voordeel is dat ik met behulp van ThinkUp mijn tweets van toen kon terugvinden en het verhaal weer aan elkaar kon puzzelen.

Ik had het een beetje opgegeven. Ik moest mijn aangifte afmelden bij een hulpzame agent van het lokale bureau. Toen ik hem vertelde dat er een camera op het plaats delict stond stuurde hij even een patrouille langs die ‘eyes on the scene’ deden en navroegen bij Stadgenoot.

Kort daarna wist hij me te vertellen dat de camera wél van Stadgenoot is ondanks dat Stadgenoot dat ontkende. Alleen volgens Stadgenoot was de camera niet aangesloten en hadden ze dus ook geen beelden van de diefstal.

Daardoor konden we niet anders dan mijn aangifte onverrichter zake sluiten. Als je ergens een fixie ziet met een doorgeroeste Paddy Wagon wielset en eventueel twee spoke cards van de Pariah alley cat, dan is die van mij.

Vragen die blijven naar aanleiding van dit incident:

  • Waarom vertelt Stadgenoot in eerste instantie onwaarheid over hun camera (tweet)? Is dat omdat ze niet beter weten? Hebben ze geen zin in gedoe? Of is het kwade opzet?
  • Kan iedereen een camera plaatsen die gericht is op de openbare weg en dan erbij zeggen dat deze niet functioneert? Wie controleert dat de camera echt niet aangesloten is en blijft (tweet)?

Wat blijft:

Er is geen register van camera’s in de openbare weg en wie ze beheert. Dit maakt het makkelijk voor instanties om je van het kastje naar de muur te sturen zoals Stadgenoot deed.

Elke camera die op de openbare weg gericht is zou een vergunning en registratie moeten hebben of deze nu werkt of niet. Aangezien de functionaliteit van een niet door het normale publiek te controleren is.

Week 247

Another week and another change at the office. One thing that does define the Open Coop is that everything is in a constant state of flux adding jitter so none of us remain stuck in a local optimum. The global optimum we are shooting for in and around our location in North is rather ridiculous but best not shared in public.
Yet another new desk

I flew into Amsterdam on Monday morning (takeoff Schönefeld at 07:20) to a rather broken working day. My locative transgressions leaving at least Peter Robinett confused enough to do something about it. He built me a personal glanceable: Where’s Alper? (write up). That is the best reason to build software: because you need it.

Attended to it by my speaking agent Tessa, I submitted a talk brief to NEXT12 about Love in Time of Gamification. And I registered at Hybrid Plattform in Berlin, looking to see what kind of collaborations come from that.

Waveform (beautiful overpass, no signage)

The rest of Monday and Tuesday were spent preparing a workshop for the Dutch broadcasting corporation the NOS on the topic of data visualization using off the shelf tools. The course was mainly focused on Google’s tools such as Motion Charts, other charts APIs and Fusion Tables but we also managed to touch on some theoretical and ethical questions during the workshop.

Gerrit Hiemstra preparing to tape the weather (sorta amazing to see)

For me it was great to see how far Google’s Fusion Tables offering has come since last I looked at it, becoming a proper tool for big data analysis and visualization for those with the right skills and inclination. Though the data import/export as well as the ties to Google are problematic for corporate customers. It is also very promising how a web savvy group of people as those at the NOS can use the data they have at their disposal to create public facing interactive products. That is the aim and I am very curious what comes out of the NOS during the next year when it comes to data.

After the course I got the obligatory television studio tour and despite having foresworn television some years ago, I could not help but be awed by the studios, the proceedings and the massive disconnect between what happens in physical space in Hilversum and how it is experienced throughout the country. The process of media power at play is an impressive thing to behold.

Amber Case starting off with a literal #50cyborgs lecture

I met with Erik Kroesto talk about the intersection of photography and the internet. And then I went to a lecture in the Facing Forward series by Amber Case and Manuel DeLanda. I had read this piece about Case before and the talk contained not much new and DeLanda who I had got pointed to by Matt Jones very recently took his time to introduce us to genetic algorithms as form finding functions. A laypersons introduction to genetic algorithms for me does not contain anything novel either, but DeLanda delivered it with intelligence and wit, which made it still immensely bearable.

Most surprised I was still at the relative novelty the audience experienced for material that has been old hat in my social sphere for the last couple of years. Tellingly in a room of hundreds there were only a handful of people who had even mentioned the event on Twitter let alone who participated in any kind of discursive backchannel.

Manuel Delanda talking about simulation

I was and still am more interested in DeLanda’s book on simulation. The next day I participated in a workshop in W139 where DeLanda gave me and a bunch of art students an introduction into Realist philosophy as opposed to the other branches.

After work beers in the bus

We ended the week with talking about the communications plan and the merger for Open State (the future foundation into which all of Hack de Overheid and het Nieuwe Stemmen are to be combined).

Hack de Overheid board meeting

This was accompanied with a bunch of festivities among which a Coop party on Thursday, constitutionary drinks on Friday and then off to Utrecht for the Hubbub studio warming. Kars Alfrink has crafted himself an ultra fine place of work and I count myself lucky to be allowed to work there from time to time.

Total chaos playing The Resistance

Code Camping Amsterdam Imminent

I’m incredibly proud of the team and events coming together in our organization of the biggest Hack de Overheid feature yet. Looking back on the past year, it has been an incredible ride with the various Apps for… competitions and no small amount of personal and professional changes.

At the end of this month, on Saturday the 26th, we’ll be holding a Hack de Overheid event like you’re used to with some notable additions that are going to blow everybody’s mind. The event is called Code Camping Amsterdam, it is part of the Apps voor Nederland program in collaboration with Waag Society and you can register on the bottom of the page.

We’ll be having three internationally renowned speakers whose work alone speaks for itself, let alone their presence on our event. Marietje Schaake is our most favourable representation in the European Parliament but as far as I know a politician of her stature has never before spoke in front of an audience of Makers in the Netherlands before. Marius Watz‘s visual art inspires awe and wonder and I have used his software on several occasions in my work for Monster Swell. Matt Biddulph‘s work and shipped products have been used by most of the people I know and inspired me and I think many more programmers to build more and better.

The location in the derelict Toren Overhoeks is a culmination both of convenience and inconvenience. Just across the central train station, but without any facilities left in the building it exemplifies a once and future state of our cities. Remnants of an age gone by where hackers gather with makeshift facilities to create something better.

After the event there is going to be a party by the Eddie the Eagle Museum a formation famous in their own right for holding the most out there awesome parties in the city. It is a privilege working together with people this competent when it comes to fun and so creative when it comes to convention. See their party description:

The future has found us! And its leader is a code. Our digitally hypnotised desire has led to a world without mistakes, governed by spyware and malware. Humanity is an experiment proved inferior. Let’s crack the code to correct it. Enter the Hackathon and exuberantly celebrate a world without errors! With high, low and no-tech, we are the new Trojan Horses marching in, ritually erasing the failings of the past. Let’s roughly and frantic lose our last human bit with a codefest in the Tower of the Shell.

Finally as I have hinted before, the currency for application contests is diminishing along with the consolidation of the open data platforms and the publication of more and more datasets. If after Apps voor Nederland is over, you follow-up with another cookie-cutter competition, that would be missing the point. That also means that this competition is the best moment to get your datasets out and get attention for them in the ecosystem as it is right now. What will be next? We have some ideas, but we don’t know anything for sure yet. The only thing that is certain: you’d better be there next Saturday!

Geeks of @ouroffice

This summer I shot a roll of color film I had lying around using my trusty Yashica D medium-format camera. The subjects were passers-by in our Amsterdam office. The results were better than expected.

Ties shines on this classic laptop shot (the stickers do add a nice touch):
Ties Alfrink

Martijn in a similar stance has a razor sharp glance (and curls):
Martijn Pannevis

James’s essence is captured quite nicely in this picture: James Burke

Peter came out a bit under-exposed but turned out nicely with some brushing up (and burning):
Peter Robinett

The tallest of former coworkers Tim comes out nicely too:
Tim van den Dool

All in all, that is five usable frames from twelve shot which is a more than decent score. It looks like I should shoot more portraits. Any volunteers?

Michael LaFond – Berlin Co-Housing

I was at an event organized by ARCAM tonight concerning co-operative housing projects which are already very popular in Berlin but are rapidly expanding to other cities. Amsterdam is busy launching its own initiative and Michael LaFond from Berlin presented their experiences with this way of building.

It was an interesting evening to attend. The slides were poorly visible from the back, but I managed to jot down a large part of the Q&A where most of the action was. It is interesting to see how eager for knowledge the Amsterdam crowd is. It strikes me as odd that building a house yourself would be novel, but given the market as it is, it is. Also: the Dutch with their capacity for trade and organization should be pretty good at this thing. If that will be so, remains to be seen.

Notes first quoted:

Muni of Amsterdam is going to emit a bunch of self building plots

There’s going to be an event this weekend in Houthaven for the first batch of plots.

Michael LaFond, American Architect living and working in Berlin
id22, Institute for Creative Sustainability

started Wohnportal-Berlin

focus on co-housing, community organized housing projects

daz – köpenickerstraße

local innovation, community
baugemeinschaften, hausvereine

emphasizes participation in cooperative and community oriented designs
organize Wohnportal, platform for architects and housing activists to get their project out there

last year: started working with people in other European cities

organizing a tour of the creative sustainability projects around the city

An increased demand even in participation.

Berlin:
1.9M housing units / 3.5M residents
1.82 person/unit
70m2/unit
40m2/person
Weak presence of corporations on the market though everybody leases.

Since 2009 Berlin offers land to Baugemeinschaften at fixed prices.
The best concept and not the highest bidder wins.
Criteria:
1. Neighborhood and community orientation
2. Architecture and urban design
3. Sustainability and ecology
4. Financing

Change in economy and demography forces Berlin like Amsterdam to look at the concept of building houses yourself.

Baugemeinschaften started in Tübingen and Freiburg

List of examples among which:
* Möckernkiez, public access
* Spreefeld Berlin, secured a road to the land and got the land cheap from the Federal Government, some of the best architects in Berlin
* AH+, outside of the city center, buildings will produce more energy than they consume

Baugemeinschäfte are growing larger to the 100 and more houses per project

Co Housing Cultures book due to be out

blok0.nl
amsterdam.nl/zelfbouw

Manifestation this weekend with the release of 300 plots.

Initiator of the Vrijburg Project, landscape architect also present.
Vrijburg has failed in collaborating with Nuon to create sustainable energy projects.

Now the questions as much as I could transcribe them:

Q: How do you manage people who want to rent? Or people with unequal incomes.
LaFond: 3 of the projects are affordable housing, some in re-adapting existing buildings. People pay €5-6/m2. There are examples of non-profit cooperations. People that really don’t have any money, can’t live there.

Q: The real-estate market in Amsterdam is rather transparent. Transactions are being done between housing corporations, developers and the city. Can co-housing create more transparency in the housing market? So that fairer pricing of land becomes a possibility?
LaFond: By making the scale of projects smaller that becomes easier. For democracy, the equal distribution of land is very important.

Q: The self-build aspect? Who carries the risk if the plan fails?
LaFond: You can have affordable houses from non-self-organized projects and vice versa. People that do have money: a core group forms and they look for a piece of land with or without an architect, or they apply to a city land auction, with a group facilitator. They identify the concept and organize a Baugemeinschaft. People bring their own money and they need to go to the bank themselves for credit. The ones without money need to get support from a foundation or other organization. The main reason that projects don’t succeed is because they can’t find any affordable land.

Q: How important is the role of the architect?
LaFond: If you want to emphasize the group or community, the focus should be with them. There’s always the combination of the future inhabitants, the architect and the moderator. The most important thing in Berlin is that people adhere more strictly to the division of roles and don’t try to play multiple parts.

Q: Do the architects design the energy systems?
LaFond: Almost always there will somebody extra working on that.

Q: How do people find it?
LaFond: There’s the website. The events where people come together and word of mouth about the project. Some architecture firms have their own waiting lists for people who want to be on the next project.

Q: What’s the role of the moderators?
LaFond: There’s no investor/developer for these projects, that’s why they are more affordable. Btu that’s also why it demands more intensive participation. They need to understand people and organize them. Manage relations. Sometimes have to protect participants from the architects. There are not that many people who can do this and want to do this. Most architects can’t or don’t want to do this. (There seem to be companies specialized in this.)

Bob van der Zande (stad Amsterdam, Zelfbouw) also present.

Q: Is the municipality thinking about social housing in the next 10 years?
Van der Zande: We are hoping that there are so many different houses being planned that the option of social housing will materialize.

LaFond: Some of the co-operative projects will give people the money they invested back but they cannot sell or speculate on the house themselves. This changes the house from a property on the market into something that is there to use. More projects like that are needed to guarantee affordable housing in a city on the long term. If people can make money on their property and there’s nothing to prevent it, it is not odd that they will do so.

Q: How is the other obstacle (that of financing) being tackled?
LaFond: Constructions take some time to develop. Umweltbank and GLS bank are very important for these projects. They make less money from the interest and they have a greater desire to support ecological and social projects. It happens that people can collectively apply for money to get credit so not everybody needs to have the same amout of money. GLS is the best example in Germany. They offer different kinds of Burgschaften, you need to have a combination of money, income, property, or a relative who has money. Now also Kleinburgschaften: 25 people can all risk €3000 to join together and cover the risk. Das Miethäusersyndicat (started in Freiburg) exists to help housing groups to buy their buildings and renovate them. Because they have so many buildings now they can get credit to do more buildings. These structures took 20 some years to develop.
Stiftung Trias and Edith Marien Stiftung don’t like private ownership much. They work to take land away from the market. Community land trusts.

Vrijburg architect: In Amsterdam one bank is interested in these projects: the Rabobank. All the other banks are running away.

Cameratoezicht op mijn fiets

Onlangs zijn de wielen van mijn racefiets gestript toen deze over het weekend geparkeerd stond op de Korte ‘s-Gravezandestraat in Amsterdam.

Left my bike out for two days and my wheel set got stolen. Double lock, kids!

 

Ik heb aangifte gedaan van de diefstal en er staat een camera op het terrein van Stadgenoot gericht op de openbare weg waar mijn fiets staat. Ik probeer te achterhalen van wie die camera is om te zorgen dat die beelden bewaard worden en beschikbaar zijn voor het politie-onderzoek.

In principe ben ik tegen camera’s in de openbare ruimte maar als ze er hangen ben ik wel voor transparante en heldere informatie over van wie ze zijn en wanneer je bij de beelden mag. Dat het hier slecht gesteld is met die informatie bewijst de volgende rondgang:

Stadgenoot ontkent dat de camera van hen is en zegt dat bewoners niet zomaar camera’s aan hun huis mogen bevestigen. Ze zeggen dat deze waarschijnlijk van de politie is.

Het politiebureau dat erover gaat zegt ook niks te weten van deze camera en verwijst door naar de gemeente.

De gemeente weet na herhaaldelijk bellen en talloze malen doorverbonden te worden uiteindelijk te achterhalen om welk stadsdeel dit precies gaat en dat team handhaving van stadsdeel Centrum zou moeten weten van wie die camera is. Dit team is ‘s ochtends tussen 9 en 10 op kantoor waarna ze de straat op gaan. Dus morgenochtend wordt dit vervolgd.

Stop Kicking the Creative Class

I was at a meeting this weekend by the Pop-up City and the documentary displayed about urban development fits into a wider recent trend where people kick the creative class and blame them for society’s ills. Usually the dreaded specter of gentrification is pulled out to show how apathetic and different and outright bad the Creative Class are.

The documentary shown last weekend “Creativity and the Capitalist City” by Tino Buchholz actually showed an interesting and nuanced picture of urban development. Unfortunately this was marred by the rabid and insubstantial left-wing outings of the movie maker afterwards. That discussion did oust a lot of resentment that I think needs to be addressed more openly and more honestly than it currently is.

As was remarked in die Zeit recently about the same issue in Berlin: the only thing worse than gentrification is no gentrification. The debate is a lot more heated over there because of the massive influx of hipsters and their friends from all over the world into an impoverished city. A trust fund takes you a lot further in Neukölln than it does in Bushwick, but it also sparks xenofobic pamflets and immolation of vehicles.

I am a part of that same creative class —if you want to use a blanket term— and probably also a cause of gentrification. But I am sick of apologizing for our success. We picked a profession, we worked hard, we created value (we are not bankers) and now we are winning. Well I can tell you: it feels good to be winning.

It is perverse to rest the blame of society’s ills on those people actually doing something with their lives. I have had this problem before. If you’re a successful migrant in the messed up social debate in the Netherlands, you were nearly forced to apologize for your own success to the rest who were not. I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that. The only solution is to ignore the naysayers. It always is of course.

I can do what I am doing because of a lot of hard work and perseverance. The field of study I got a Masters in is definitely not one of the easier ones at my university but it does guarantee you a job in a wide number of techno-creative fields. For some strange reason people still are not lining up to go to technical universities, and most that do go do not finish it. Complaining to somebody else must be easier than actually working to secure your own future.

It is hard enough already in the attention starved world to stay up to date with your close ones without having to take into account every other person. Even more so if your outlook is international and you want to participate and compete on a trans-national level. A rare enough thing as it is. Should we do stuff for our neighborhood? Sure, but who should bear the onus? Shouldn’t the people who want to do stuff, maybe start something themselves and see where it goes?

Working in a creative profession is subject to taste but it is in many ways also highly meritocratic. Those with affluent parents and large networks will divide a larger piece of pie among themselves. But if you work hard and put in the effort with just a spark of vision, it will most certainly amount to something in the long run. If it doesn’t, change yourself and try something else. Keep trying until you find something that works. Is that difficult? Maybe, but it is also the only way.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” —Thomas Edison

There are a ton of jobs in technology right now. Amsterdam cannot find itself enough interaction designers, interface designers, front-end engineers and programmers to fill current jobs. The shortage is large enough that a lot of growth opportunities are being hampered by it. Literally all comers will be able to get a job. So get at it. Teach yourself something, find a course and persevere for a couple of years. You may strike gold.

“You can tell yourself anything is too difficult, or you can just do it.
You just need to be hungry.” — http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/i-went-back-to-the-land-to-feed-my-family.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

We, the employed, already pay taxes. As a base that should be enough. If anybody out there is failing to keep up their end of the bargain, it’s the government we are paying the taxes to. They are bailing out the rich and keeping the poor ignorant with well meant institutional schemes that rarely amount to anything (just look at the Wire). Government should change and if the recent occupy movements serve as a wake-up call to do that, all for the better. Though experience does not make me very optimistic on that front.

If there is anything we shouldn’t do in the Netherlands, it is to pretend that things here are as bad as in the US or anywhere in Europe. We have the lowest unemployment in the Eurozone. We have an egalitarian society, cheap education, social security and mobility. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous and self-serving. You can do pretty much everything you want in this country and I say that not being white, not being privileged. I sincerely believe all it takes is for you to get out and make something. So do it.