Why Käthe Kollwitz is one of Germany’s most important figurative artists

Today I got a tour of the Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin. I had wanted to visit this museum for a while but this proved the concrete reason to finally go (though the café next door makes some mean pancakes if you find yourself in the area).

I was recently attended to her existence by MacGregor’s series on German history (episode). I now believe that she is one of the most important German artists of the past couple of centuries. If there are any other significant candidates, I would like to hear about them.

What makes her stand out as an artist are:

  • Her mastery of both drawing and sculpture.
  • That she depicts ‘common’ people and social themes prominently. She thought these people were beautiful in their own way and that their plight was one that merited attention. For me this is a stark contrast with how current (artistic) elites try to ignore the ‘common and stupid’ people (like Trump voters).
  • The loss of her son and how that permeates her later work.

Our tour guide didn’t make the connection but I find it more than fitting that on May 1st we would be looking at for instance the Weavers cycle (one of which I have pasted below).


Tweet coverage of the 2016 Bot Summit at the V&A in London

I was at the 2016 Bot Summit in London a couple of weeks ago. I did my best to capture salient points from every talk in a tweet. Here are all of them in order.

Packing List

I used to travel between the Netherlands and Germany at least once a month and pretty quickly I grew tired of forgetting things. That’s why I made a list (in bold, comments added) with the things that I should take or at least consider taking. Whenever I pack my bag, I quickly scan the list and make sure I’ve covered the bases. Maybe it’ll be helpful to you as well.

This and clothes go into a Patagonia MLC bag.

Take knife off keychain

I’ve forgotten to do this more than a couple of times. What makes it weirder still is that TXL/SXF will allow me to fly out with a Swiss army knife but most other airports will not allow me to fly back with one.


These are things that are irreplaceable and without which a trip usually cannot happen.

  • Laptop
    Obvious. Macbook Pro 13″.
  • Power cable
    Without this the laptop is pretty worthless. Replacements if you can find them in a local store are upwards of €100.
  • Passport
    Without this traveling isn’t really possible.
  • Boarding cards / tickets
    You could get these from the airport but I print out everything I can at home.


  • Sunblock
    At some point it becomes silly to buy new sunblock at every sunny destination.
  • Toothbrush, paste
    Sometimes I don’t bother to bring any and buy them at the destination airport but it’s more reliable to pack. Often I also take the head of my electric tooth brush.
  • Lipbalm
    I put this on there after I once needed it and paid €11 for a stick at ZRH.
  • Assorted other toiletries
    This is a pain with only a carry-on. I try to usually depend as much as possible on what is available at my destination.

Getting around

These are particularly essential for the Netherlands where you need to bring a card to be able to prove your identity to the various transit systems around.

  • Foreign SIM
    Often this means just my Dutch T-Mobile SIM. I often have SIMs for destinations outside of Europe but those are so short lived that they aren’t reusable.
  • Foreign money / transit cards
    I have ziploc bags per country with the currency leftovers as well as any transit card (Oyster, Suica) or SIM that may still be usable.
  • Power converters
    The US and the UK account for most of my trips where these are necessary. I put these in the ziploc bags with the currency.
  • Paperclip
    I used to need one of these to do the SIM swap. Now I have an Apple SIM pin in the box with all my SIM cards.
  • Keys
    Keys to my parents place in the Netherlands or any other home/office at the destination.
  • Small backpack
    The MLC isn’t very practical to haul around town. I have a tiny Bach day pack that is super basic but fits everything you could need during a day.
  • Canteen
    I usually don’t bother taking this because of weight and bulk, but it is useful for longer trips.


  • VGA dongle
    Trips usually involve some kind of public speaking and as a speaker you should be self-sufficient. Don’t leave this at the venue where you’re speaking.
  • Pens
    I need to carry some quality pens with me. I usually have a four color box of Staedtler fineliners and a couple of Japanese gel pens.
  • Index cards
    Always useful but don’t bring too many because paper is heavy.
  • Business cards
    Trips are usually for business and people appreciate a nicely designed business card.
  • Headphones with microphone
    The standard Apple ones will do for most calls.
  • Noise cancelling headphones
    You need headphones with some noise cancelling effect for during flights. I used to travel with my Sony MDR-7506. They are bulky but if you fly an easyJet to Berlin with those on your head, everybody thinks you’re a DJ. Now I prefer to take my Sennheiser CX-300 II in-ears.

Special wardrobe

  • Havaianas
    Bring if the destination is hot.
  • Running shoes, pants
    Nice to be able to do some sports while traveling.
  • Swimming trunks
    Always bring these.
  • Sunglasses
    I always take my Moscot Lemtosh with me.
  • Hiking shoes
    Whether to bring my decade old pair of Meindls is heavily dependent on the type of trip and the environment.
  • Climbing shoes
    If there are climbing halls nearby, I’ll take these instead of/in addition to running shoes.

Things to check at home

  • Washing machine faucet shut
  • Gas turned off
  • Lock door
  • Fridge empty, leave door open

Sleep by Max Richter

Kevin posted yesterday that he had an extra ticket for Max Richter’s Sleep at Kraftwerk Berlin yesterday. Without a moment’s hesitation I packed my sleeping bag and cycled there with him.

Kraftwerk Mitte is a disused power plant in the middle (Mitte) of the city that is now a club venue and host to a variety of events. The most striking features of it are large open spaces and lots of exposed concrete everywhere.

Max Richter I didn’t know before but I quickly confirmed that I would agree with his music. It had been one of my desires to attend a classical music concert while lying down being able to doze in and out of sleep as your mind and body dictate. Classical concerts tend to be long and uncomfortable affairs.

I hadn’t imagined I would get the chance to do this during an 8 hour overnight concert.

Preparing to spend the night here listening to music by Max Richter

The music is very smooth to listen to and it is a kind of music that Richter is known for (read this interview). I’m listening to From Sleep now as I write this. I listened to the first couple of hours and then fell into a fitful sleep until I woke up again at 07:30 to catch the end.

Sleeping on stretcher beds at a power station 15 minutes cycling away from home with a couple of hundred other people was a strange experience. It was for one one of the lowest key camping trips I have ever undertaken. Though I’m used to the occasional communal sleeping arrangement, those are totally different situations. Berlin’s club spaces facilitate experiences in between the intimate and transgressive but even then this is an odd one out.

I probably also wasn’t the only person in the room who considered it wry that we would pay €48 to sleep in circumstances similar to thousands of others in Germany right now.

I’m still not sure what to make of the event but it is a memorable experience that will stay with me for a while like a dream but more powerful.

Notes from Interaction16

I’m still waiting for the pictures of Friday to air on the IxDA Flickr and for the video of my talk to be posted, but here are some notes I found around the web about my talk (for my personal notebook).

Eigenlijk veel interessanter om 14:00 is ‘Conversations are the new interfaces‘, van Alper Çuğun (nog een Nederlander!). Als de mensen van Hubbub iets doen rondom experimentele interfaces, dan let ik op. —Vormfout.nl

Today Alper Çuğun will lead a session about ‘Conversations are the new interfaces’ and Marcel Schouwenaar will talk about ‘Trade-offs & Sharing’. —Embassy of the Netherlands in Finland

Alper Çuğun (@alper), who used to co-run a gaming company called Hubbub, talked about conversational interfaces. I’ve been really interested in these lately so I found it very helpful. He showed an example of a conversational UI that they developed and gave a rundown of do’s and dont’s when designing for them. One interesting insight was that they found that kids will read a lot of text if they get it in SMS-sized chunks. He smartly called conversational UIs the “UI for AI” and cautioned that they are not perfect for every use case. —Aaron Ganci

Another fantastic talk was from Alper Çuğun. He gave an overview of conversational user interfaces. It was based on his own experience making mobile games that use conversations and messaging as the main mechanic. He also shared an analysis of the tools out there to make conversational UIs and a prediction of where the scene is heading.

In particular, I was struck by how conversations, like the messaging apps we’re all familiar with on our phones, can lower the barrier to people using technology. It now feels very natural to text back and forth with friends. When machines can text with us, that might give us a sense of accessibility and agency in our interaction with them. — Michelle Thorne

Talk at Interaction16

I just got back from Interaction in Helsinki having given my talk about how Conversations are the New Interfaces.

I have been blown away by the response to and kind words about my talk. I think this is a conversation (!) worth continuing. Stay tuned for details on that.

Here now is a collection of photos I found of my talk (for my personal archive):

Firewatch lowers the narrative bar for games and that is fine

I was really anticipating Firewatch and I was sorely disappointed as was of course bound to happen.

This bit I liked:

The best part about the game

A video posted by Alper Cugun (@alper) on

The art and environment are the stars of the game. The attention to detail and craft that went into creating the world and nature you are walking through are breathtaking. It’s a nice touch that you get to take pictures and keep pictures.

What’s problematic about the game is that even people who don’t like it as a game think that the writing is really good. This is just not the case. The setup is embarrassingly bad, juvenile, and sexist. The cliched story of cheap self-pity and codependence made us want to quit the game then and there. As many people have remarked, the dialogue between the two characters is good and manages to entertain at times and move things forward despite the poor setup. The actual plot and reveal on which the game hinges is awful and inconsequential. The other characters and what happens with them do nothing more than distract from the core of the game: the natural environment & talking with Delilah.

I get that gamers don’t read literature and have historically low expectations when it comes to story. But when so many people think that the writing in Firewatch is good, it lowers the bar for all games. That is something that has been happening for a long time already and it has led us right here.

Lots of people are happy with Firewatch however poor and unsatisfying its story is. But maybe there could also be works with good writing? And maybe those should not be called games with all the expectations and limitations that come with the term?