Zero History excerpts

Some Bigend-centric excerpts from Zero History:

There were cameras literally everywhere […] they were a symptom of autoimmune disease, the state’s protective mechanisms ‘roiding up into something actively destructive, chronic; watchful eyes, eroding the healthy function of that which they ostensibly protected.

He was a creature of screens, of bare expanses of desk or table, empty shelves. He owned as far as she knew, no art. In some way, she suspected, he regarded it as competition, noise to his signal

“Bram,” said Hollis, “the singer from the Stokers.”

Milgrim brought out his Faraday pouch, then his passport.

“That’s our Festo air penguin,” Bigend said after a pause. “We’re experimenting with it as an urban video surveillance platform.”

“He says it’s like walking through walls. Nobody can, but if you could, he says, it would feel like that. He says the wall is inside, though, and you do have to walk through it.”

Hires people who’ll go off the reservation, lead him somewhere new.

“He believes that stasis is the real enemy,” Milgrim said, […] “Stability’s the beginning of the end. We only walk by continually beginning to fall forward. He told me.”

Whatever he was, she found she trusted him. He seemed peeled somehow, transparent, strangely free of underlying motive. Seemed used to it as well.

He’d grown up with the unquestioned assumption that America was the home of heroic infrastructure, but was it now? He didn’t think so.

When Bigend talked about London, it felt to Milgrim that he was describing some intricate antique toy he’d bought at auction.

“I thought he was in Toronto.” “He’s in a post-geographical position,” said Bigend.

When you want to know how things really work, study them when they’re coming apart.

“Some sort of seething Swiftian rage,” he said, “that he can only express through pervers, fiendishly complex exploits, resembling Surrealist gestes.”

She remembered him telling her how terrorism was almost exclusively about branding, but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries […]

“He’s curating suits that do retinal damage, these days.”

“Sufficiently perverse and titanic arseholes,” he said, “can become religious objects. Negative saints. People who dislike them, with sufficient purity and fervor, well, they do that. Spend their lives lighting candles. I don’t recommend it.”

“He already believes that that’s how the world is. Show him a wave, he’ll try to surf it.”

“The potential, for one grand exploit, is fabulous.”

Week 197

Got some reinforcements at the office:
Reinforcements have arrived

My business cards for Monster Swell have also arrived, more about those in a separate post: Information Compression on Paper
Checking out Alper's hella sweet Monsterswell cards designed by BUROPONY

Started writing a document describing the end of life of TipiT for our investors. Nothing new there but still interesting to reflect.

Took in Dutchstats and starting planning that in earnest. Subsequently spent most of the day in Numbers. The phrase: “Project management is hard, let’s go shopping.” did come to mind…

I had been increasingly frustrated with Dutch media’s treatment of the Wikileaks affaire but also was somewhat too busy to write anything better. Inbetween business Jaap and I posted a ‘drive-by essay’ on a week old blog post.

Wednesday was a kickoff on prototyping for Maguro which needs to leave the ephemeral stage sometime quick. That night there also was a very well curated Ignite at Mediamatic about games. Fifteen presentations is a bit on the long side, but none were really boring or bad due to the Utrecht gaming scene having come out in force.

The rest of the week was filled with more of the same and tying up loose ends for the end of the year.

Our office also said farewell to one of its members, typographic hero Gustavo:
Gustavo under the new Sutro filter
A new addition is already eager to get started in the new year.

Week 196

Last week was mired by the flu which made it a bad week for production (and only slightly less bad for meetings).

Some notable stuff did happen, however.

We kicked off project Maguro which is going to cause our all star team a lot of work —and a lot of fun— in the new year (see Kars’s Week 182).


Tuesday night we had the fourth UX Book Club Amsterdam discussing the book Game Design Workshop. eBuddy hosted us and it was a lot of fun both talking about game design, how it pertains to interaction design and reminiscing about old games.

Wednesday Urbanode was launched officially, my write-up: Urbanode: first steps in environmental control

Friday I met as part of a delegation by Hack de Overheid with people from the city of Amsterdam and the Waag. Lots of stuff going to happen with regards to open data and apps in Amsterdam in 2011.

Urbanode: first steps in environmental control

Urbanode running from an Android Phone from VURB on Vimeo. The movie shows an Android phone controlling the stagelights at the Melkweg using a colour picker on a webpage.

I’m quite proud to have been part of the local systems integration crew of Urbanode with the steps we made on controlling environments using web technology. The movie above shows my laptop connected to a lighting panel in the Melkweg running an OLAD (Open Lighting Architecture) server talking ARTNET/DMX to talk with the panel and the urbsville NodeJS application that exposes the available lights as an interface on a webpage for the Android phone.

So the flow is as follows:

  • Android phone (or other), goes to a webpage on the local network
  • The webpage is served by urbsville using NodeJS which means everything is live and can be kept consistent across clients
  • Any device setting is mirrored using an internal mapping by updating the DMX values of the corresponding device on the ARTNET output
  • OLAD sends its current state to the lighting panel
  • The lighting panel updates (merges) the values into its universe and when they are hooked up the lights change their behaviour —or colour in this case— accordingly.

So starting with colours and intensities of lights, the next step is being able to hookup arbitrary properties of any kind of device and making it all work solidly so application developers, lighting specialists and game designers can get ahold of this technology.

A lot of this is still quite abstract and the technology setup is pretty cutting edge but this is an essential building block for moving forward. Being able to control physical devices using Javascript has already been possible as has service discovery in spaces (tons of demos by Philips, Sun and the likes). Urbanode breaks out of the local application cul-de-sac and exposes everything straight to the web using the web’s most native control language: Javascript. This is a big step in totally commoditizing device control and normalizing and expanding the scale of operation.

This has been blogged about already by the Urbanode team “Prototypes for discoverable services in public space”, “Alpha Release: Urbanode” and picked up by Bruce Sterling on Wired. I would encourage you to go to github and clone the code and tell us what you think.

Something fishy about this profile

I saw the movie Catfish which seems to have garnered a significant amount of attention and is in many ways the *real* Facebook movie because it actually takes place on facebook and addresses real issues we have all dealt with instead of the dealings of ultra-rich privileged kids at elite-universities.

The setting is an internet relationship as we have seen described many times before and probably have experienced ourselves. Who hasn’t met up with somebody they met on the internet? The premise is given a twist because it adds in elements of a standard internet hoax.

Some thoughts about the movie.

Because it features the web and real elements from that web (instead of a fictionalized computer network as seen in many other movies), it gains a level of authenticity and also is a great example of what James Bridle coined ‘network realism’. This movie could not be made without the (social) network it portrays and a large part of the story take place on it.

Jon Taplin reported that according to Fincher & Sorkin The Social Network is a movie about class in modern day America. The class differences in that movie are relatively minute compared to those in Catfish. On the one hand there’s the young, handsome, rich, metropolitan Nev who is employed in a creative profession and who can pretty much do whatever he wants. On the other hand there’s a poor, rural family who are ill and relatively older and not very attractive.

That part of America is mostly unseen but very real. A vast rural expanse filled with the shattered dreams of the American working class (see also Bubble and this piece on food and class in America).

Another theme is how people with enough time and/or knowledge can turn around Facebook’s mechanisms to regain a feeling of privacy. Kids deactivate their profiles when they are not using the site, others falsify their names so as not to be findable and in the movie somebody constructs an elaborate false identity and backstory for herself.

Privacy is not so much the right to hold secrets about your most private things, it is much more an issue of control and being able to both control and shape the information about yourself that you disseminate. Real and false signals that we send out and the flexibility with which we navigate the waters of sociality are what makes us human, not the strictly defined checkboxes of Facebook’s arcane privacy system.

It is not Assange who has ever said he wants to make everything public, Zuckerberg however has (that would not be a good idea says Dalrymple).

Angela employs the means given to her to live the life she wants to even though it is not real. The way that it falls apart and resolves into a better mutual understanding between her and Nev is a valid outcome, but in a different world, they perhaps would not have needed to find out the truth about each other at all and that would have been an equally valid outcome.

In any case in the end I am more touched by the plight of Angela who’s life as portrayed is a harrowing ordeal of bleakness, whereas for Nev besides some juvenile embarrassment the consequences do not seem at all as serious and maybe even net positive.

Whether the movie is a real documentary or parts of it are fictionalized or whether the whole movie itself is an elaborate hoax (though then exceptionally well meta-written and acted) in the end does not really matter to me. I would like to believe that the events transpiring in the movie and what they say about us and about facebook are true —at least to some extent.

Week 195

A somewhat more downpaced week with a bit of a cold in the middle, but:

One big ticket was finishing and launching the Bandjesland addition to PLAY Pilots.

Hung this poster on the studio:
A Poster A Day
Unfortunately lost the other half on the subway (don’t ask…).

Some more nice additions to the office:
I got an iPad thanks to Peerz a new professional rating and recommendation startup.

Had a bunch of meetings with people: Utrechts UIT Bureau, Vrij Nederland and de Groene Amsterdammer.

Friday Bandjesland was launched and I worked a bit on the new Hack de Overheid site and went into a wonderful work-free weekend.

Weeknotes 194

Strategic Plan


Work on PLAY Pilots and preparations for Urbanode (actually all week long). Some development on aguascalientes.


Meeting with Amsterdams UITbureau. They are doing some very cool things to promote the city.

Got the business card comps by Bureau Pony which are going to be utterly smashing.

Did a big Urbanode test with James and Peter. Got everything back up and running and talking with each other. Also got the mobile version to work with something of a workaround.

Then worked deep into the night for a release of querétaro.


Did a demo of Urbanode for Kennisland at Melkweg with everything working at base level. An incredible refutation of Murhpy’s Law.

Then went out to a strategic dinner with Hubbub after congratulating Sjoerd Wennekes with his MBA (!).

Lit Menu

I could use some interns for Monster Swell. There’s more than enough work to be done in programming, cartography, journalism, writing, design and assorted. If you think you qualify for an internship send me a sample of your solid work and have your people contact my people.


Coffee with Johnny Wonder. A bunch more work on PLAY Pilots: Bandjesland and preparations for presenting at Open Innovation Festival.


Gave my presentation for Open Innovation Festival at the plenary meeting room in City Hall. That was fun.

Nice venue to present at

Had lunch with front-end superstar Kilian Valkhof with some more than decent coffee.

Syphon Coffee

End of the afternoon I gave a brown bag presentation at Adaptive Path Amsterdam. It was a more informal and updated version of my Civic Duty in a Hyper-Connected World.


Saturday we had Open Data Day at @ouroffice. Turnout was not that large due to a snow storm and Sinterklaas, but we did an in-depth analysis of a soon to be opened dataset.

Open Data Day

The rest of the weekend I played around with installing OpenCV but could not manage to get the python bindings to install on my OS X so I gave up on that, the Java Processing library also flaked out.

Spook Country

I wanted to read Zero History and found out I hadn’t read Spook Country yet, so I did. Unfortunately Stanza does not allow a batch export of annotations, but fortunately I did not make that many.

“Secrets,” said the Bigend beside her, “are the very root of cool.”

Because that is exactly, specifically, his goal, his only goal: to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law. That’s why they call him ‘terrorist.’ He uses terrifying threats to induce you to degrade your own society.”

“Angelina says he’s utterly amoral in the service of his own curiosity.”

Open Bookmarks is a good idea. And off into atemporal London I go.