De science-fiction van nu

Ik probeer mijn literaire vrienden aan het verstand te brengen dat door de technologisering van de samenleving science-fiction een niet meer te negeren onderdeel van de cultuur aan het worden is.

Boeken zoals ‘Super Sad True Love Story’ van Shteyngart en ‘De kaart en het gebied’ van Houellebecq zijn feitelijk al science-fiction. Aan de andere kant is er science-fiction die de rand van het nu mogelijke bewandelt en ons laat zien hoe de nabije toekomst eruit zou kunnen zien.

Die ‘edge’ science-fiction is de leukste en elk jaar is er wel een boek te vinden dat precies het nu vangt. Vorig jaar was dat Zero History (mijn recensie op de Republiek, fragmenten) en dit jaar is het dankzij de Londense rellen The City & the City van China Miéville.

Kars heeft er voor zijn praatje op dConstruct ook stevig uit geput. Ik moest het toen nog lezen maar heb hem vorige week in anderhalve dag (3 uur en 35 minuten volgens Readmill) doorgeknald.

Het boek gaat over twee steden Besźel en Ul Qoma die gescheiden worden niet door fysieke barrières maar door conventie. Beide steden liggen op dezelfde plek waar sommige delen grond bij de Besźel horen, en andere bij Ul Qoma.

Waar het ingewikkeld wordt is dat er delen grond zijn die gearceerd zijn, die bij allebei horen. In Miéville’s boek negeren mensen die zich op zulke gebieden bevinden de inwoners van de andere stad. Dit is geen keuze, maar een sociale conventie die diep geworteld is van kinds af aan en ook bekrachtigd wordt door een speciale politie-eenheid genaamd ‘Breach’.

Mensen zien de inwoners van de andere stad lang genoeg om niet met ze te botsen maar ontzien ze dan direct (letterlijk). Bewust zijn van wat er in de andere stad gebeurt is een strafbaar sociaal taboe. Beide steden zijn uit elkaar te houden door hun eigen kleuren, architectuur en lichaamstaal die je wel mag zien maar toch ook weer niet.

Wat dat betreft is het een dankbare achtergrond waar allerhande allegorieën zich opdringen. Maar we hoeven niet terug te grijpen op Berlijn of Baarle. We leven effectief al in de meeste grote steden op de manier zoals beschreven door Miéville. The City & the City is een amusante detective-roman met samenzweringen à la de Illuminati en het verlies van één man. Maar belangrijker nog zet het zoals goede science-fiction hoort te doen aan tot denken over de wereld waarin we leven.

Nu aan het lezen Rule 34 van Stross (naar het meme) en daarna Reamde van Stephenson.

Week 236


@polledemaagt An account manager is the clearest sign that you are paying too much. —@alper

Thinking of stuff to do while in Berlin and underemployed (in the beginning maybe).

Last week’s Pirate Party victory in Berlin where they got 10% of the vote should serve as a wake-up call to left-ish political parties that are paying lip service to the internet. There is a massive untapped populace who are completely disillusioned with the out of touch politics of today. GroenLinks and D’66’s only luck right now is that the Dutch Pirate Party is so incompetent for now.

And it seems that time travel maps are still popular while we still don’t have access to the data. Here’s a project being executed by my office mate Arjan Scherpenisse:

Skimmed this book by the Council for Social Development (RMO) about the public debate in the age of the internet:
As chief ideologue of Hack de Overheid I need to check these kind of publications for sanity.


Our friends at Two for Joy Coffee Roasters have opened their second store in Amsterdam. It’s a new favorite place to work and meet:
New Two for Joy next to my house

Kars put the slides for his dconstruct talk on the Transformers online. Well worth a read for a realistic view on the city and games.

Work on Apps voor Nederland and culiacan working at pace. I’m very proud of the community that is coming together.


I dropped by Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Ward Wijndelts who are settling in their new offices for their startup:
Project Human Filter Revolution Ping Pong

I concluded the day by chairing the jury deliberations for Apps for Noord-Holland. The day was concluded with the award ceremony and festivities.


Finished reading The City & The City by China Miéville. A poignant book. The science-fiction book for this year. I read it on Readmill which is a pleasant enough reading experience but I don’t know yet if it will be the home of my future library.

Dropped by the great design team at Buro Pony in Rotterdam to discuss the future of the specialty design store: Dufarge.

Met with Christian Friedrich at Rotterdam’s new espresso bar Hopper.
Trying out the coffee of Rotterdam's finest

Caught up a bit on the Fyra back with Yuri van Geest. A pleasure as always.


Say what you will, the hipster life is a good one.

Friday was concluded in Utrecht with more writing and working at the Hubbub studio.

We had a great time playing The Resistance a mashup between Mastermind and Werewolf.

Playing The Resistance, there are spies among us!

Yes, that is the best we have found thusfar for a Microsoft Surface Table.

Catching up on the news of the week in die Zeit, here a profile of all the elected Pirates:
Almost all the newly elected pirates make software or studied sciences (i.e. politicians who can do mats)

Most of them have either studied sciences or work in IT (or both). Politicians who can do maths. That may be an actual solution to the economic crisis we are in.

And an editorial about the lack of responsibility in society both on the macro as in the microscale:
“nun sollen die anderen auch meine Schuld übernehmen.”

Apps voor Nederland

So this was announced: A Netherlands wide apps competition called Apps voor Nederland was announced by several ministries today at PICNIC. Minister for the interior Donner delivered a video message as well.

The organization I’m involved with, Hack de Overheid will be organizing two events end of this year with the first one being an open hacking event on October 4th and the second being a Code Camp in Amsterdam end of November.

The message I am promoting is that this is the time to get on board and get your data out and start building civic apps. This is the last moment in the cycle that any of this is going to be at all special, innovative or unboundedly fun. After we’re done with this event most of the ground will be covered, hearts will be won and anybody talking about open data will be hailed with a ‘Been there, done that!’

Of course there will still be a dozen years of hard work for a great many people to change our institutions, build businesses on top of usable humane applications and educate a populace. There may even be fun to be had here and there, but you would be a fool not to get on board right here right now and help us kick this off.

See you October 4th.

Week 234

On Monday I let go a bunch of stalling side projects which were not going anywhere.

Blogged about the Foursquare screen we made with a video which finally wrapped up that project (try to find a slot between 12:00 and 17:00 to make it to Leidseplein on a workday).

Interesting bit of news that TfL is implementing systems to prevent Oyster overcharging. This is where the transit card in the Netherlands is used as a way to surreptitiously draw money from unsuspecting travelers.

Found this random shirt design site:

Wrote a small review in Dutch of the theater experience De Club we went to last week. It aims to be an engine for social change instead of a traditional play, but in that respect it is somewhat lacking still. We are somewhat interested because this —creating systems that yield interesting experiences— is our work.

Tuesday I finally got to see this video from our visit to the fortress:

We are quite busy planning the next events for Hack de Overheid.

Wednesday was spent working in Utrecht and I got featured in an interview where I called out gamification for the bullshit it is at Virtueel Platform: “De keerzijde van gamification”

Thursday my profile got featured on The Next Speaker where you can now hire me to present at your event.

Amsterdam is also increasingly getting more machine readable:
Machine readable Amsterdam

We are also very glad with the funding of Venus Patrol a publication that we hope can shed a new light on the relation of games and culture.

I was present at the launch of a new Dutch Literature Magazine: Das Magazin (yes, German name…).

Toine launching das Magazin by talking about slurred hubris

Friday after breakfast with Dirk van Oosterbosch en Alexander Zeh, I helped out with painting the Open Cooperatie.


Week 233

Another long form weeknote, history recapping brought by the fantastic Memolane service which aggregates my various media chronologically so I can quickly write this overview.

On Monday busy finishing a bunch of stuff and exercising my bureaucracy muscle by writing different varieties of administrativa.

Got started using Amen which is a ridiculous amount of fun. Any such service that relies on human input will need to be fun to start with to garner any amount of critical mass. I have some invites left for those that want them.

Also saw this zombie themed ARG running in Amsterdam throughout the week:

Tuesday saw the happy celebration of the Eid al Fitr (in our language called the şeker bayramı) along with work on culiacan.

This video regarding the internet and physical shutdowns of the SF BART is not to be missed:

Note the concept of a common carrier which is something we should have in Europe as well.

Also found this fab produced bike fender the “Fendor Bendor” (by Wit Industries) at the other office sitting in a rack:
Fab Fender

Wednesday saw a day in Utrecht preparing for the trip to dConstruct to see Kars Alfrink speak about the Transformers.

Regarding the discussion that came back again: I do think that designers should code, but that answer should be a bit obvious seeing as I am a creative technologist. It does deserve a blogpost of its own.

Thursday saw travel to the UK with a direct transfer to the Moo party taking place in Shoreditch. The expected group of hipsters and old friends had congregated on a parking lot (which was more fun than I make it sound right now). Met some interesting people doing similar things in the UK as we are over here (such as the organizer of the Mozilla festival).

Moo Summer Party

Also read the shocking announcement that the prices for Google App Engine are going to increase some 30 times when the service goes out of preview (they call it a ‘new pricing model’). It was a formidable place for quickly developed applications that need to run solidly with little attention. I even gave a presentation how it is *better* than Django for a certain class of developer needs. Now I do feel forced to cancel any subscription I have running there and to stop investing in that particular platform because running any serious application would be unsustainable at current pricing.

Bashers launched a linklog Beat for everything game related, which is worth browsing through on occasion.

On recommendations from highly regarded friends I bought The Information by James Gleick though I already get the feeling that I am not going to read a lot of new things in there (seeing as our history of informatics, science philosophy and information theory classes in university were pretty thorough):
Airplane reading - €10

Upon entering the UK I was hit by some encounters still reminiscent of the social problems that just recently plagued London. That and the general grittiness of the parts of London we went through gave me a lot of misgivings about the city. I am pretty sure I’m not going to go to London ‘for fun’ anytime soon and I found myself very glad to be living in Amsterdam.

dConstruct contained some gems and some platitudinous talks as was expected. Me and my friends appreciate a different talk than the agency based web people that also attend which must put conference organizers in something of a bind when programming.

It was a lot of fun to hang around with my crew of Iskander Smit, Taco Ekkel and Kars Alfrink (who gave a terrific and hard hitting presentation) and to meet people such as Ben Bashford, Sjors Timmer, Marrije Schaake, Albert de Klein and many others I forget to name.

Kars Alfrink

Saturday was spent recuperating from the trip and on Sunday more of the same. I celebrated my fifth Twitterversary and both of the offices I keep in Amsterdam (the Volkskrantgebouw and the Open Coop) were featured in the Parool magazine:
Both my Amsterdam offices are featured in PS about imperfect architecture

Ik ben bereid

Je gaat een verlaten loods in waar je verwelkomd wordt. Je mag de ontmoeting met de ander aangaan voor een persoonlijke ervaring en voor een hoger doel. De bedoeling wordt gaandeweg duidelijk en het uiteindelijke aanbod is lidmaatschap van een club, van dé Club.

Veel mensen worstelen door het wegvallen van traditionele structuren met vragen over zingeving en hoe we de samenleving moeten inrichten. Met de crisissen waar we de laatste tijd door geplaagd worden zijn die vragen urgenter dan ooit. Elke moeilijke tijd heeft mensen nodig die nieuwe dingen verzinnen en uitvinden hoe het verder moet. De Club is een mengvorm van kunsten, mensen en thema’s die hen zoekt en verbindt.

Elke avond is anders. Iedere deelnemer haalt eruit wat ze erin stopt, op de avond zelf en daarna. Wat het wordt, dat weet niemand maar de uitnodiging staat open en de noodzaak is duidelijk. Het enige wat er te verliezen (en te winnen) valt is een alternatief.

De Club speelt zich nog tot 25 september af in Roest Amsterdam en daarna in Eindhoven en Gent.

Week 232 – extended

A new experiment, extended weeknotes combined with assorted reading and outtakes. I think this may be more fun for me to write and more fun for you to read.

Had a meeting for tlaquepaque to finalize the starting details of what is going to be an exciting roller coaster for Hack de Overheid. Also did some sketching on tlalnepantla.

The increased activity on Hack de Overheid also means that we will be working together more tightly and on location more often. The fact that we have a brilliant office space in the Open Coop in beautiful Amsterdam Noord does help.

Seating arrangement

Culiacan is moving forward steadily.

Met with Tessa from the Next Speaker and whipped my /about and /speaking pages into shape to be a bit more representative.

People talking about social change in the Netherlands. All that's missing are the tents.

We had Hack de Overheid drinks near the office for people that have made an app in one of our contests before and after that was dinner with Chris Taggart.

Hack de Overheid dinner and shelter from the rain

The friendly people from DUS architects that we are sharing an office with won the most important Amsterdam art award and held a party to celebrate:
DUS just made a killing party

And then finally on Saturday we celebrated Apps for Noord Holland or we could better say: ‘Apps on a Fortress’. It was a great event on a superb location with a full roster of people present. Solid progress was made on hacking civic applications and we are curious to see what the final entries in the contest will be.

New ideas need old buildings. —Jane Jacobs #apps4nh

I made two small sketches for Monster Swell visualizing some of the released data sets and chaired the demos of the days hacks.

A visualization of vacant office spaces in and around Amsterdam:
NDW measurements files we got (this is a very obtuse goldmine):
NDW Location Sketch

Elsewhere on the internet:

Talking about app contests, I came upon this old piece by Andy Oram about the sustainability of app contests: “App outreach and sustainability” to which I wrote a reply “Hackathons as gateways to more and better open data” without knowing that it had already been replied to at Radar by Alex Howard: “Everybody jumped on the app contest bandwagon. Now what?”

The same issue was touched upon here in Londen as well. People are wondering what sustainable results have ever resulted from a hackday/unconference other than some incidental learning. The learning itself may already be a good thing, but the expectations that are raised are somewhat higher. There are at least movements going to merge several initiatives to try to get at least some programmers working together with designers and product manager type people to create a viable offering. On the other hand we are working with Hack de Overheid to persuade government to be more open to adopting these initiatives.

The issues of gentrification and how a city’s development can work to stifle itself was touched upon in several pieces last week. The Times article “Revelers See a Dimming in a Capital’s Night Life” tells how the nightlife of Paris is being banished by its new affluent class of complainers. A similar movement is going on in Amsterdam now again under the moniker ‘Jordaanoproer’ where people who have bought dearly into one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods expect some peace and quiet at night (to little avail). And there’s a story in Taz “Das Leben ist kein Ponyschlecken!” that counterbalances the current gentrification panic by calling the people writing those stories ‘hormone guided journalist moms and dads who want to raise their children in a Bullerby idyll.’ A large city will inevitable have some rough edges that should not be exaggerated (and Berlin is producing some nice stuff).

Adam Greenfield wrote the great: ‘Perilous asymmetries: Playing with trust in the “smart city”’ which is well worth reading:

Our wager with Farevalue is that a relatively minuscule informational intervention — amounting to a single line of copy, presented in the right voice, in the right place and time — has disproportionate power to transform our encounters with the pervasive networked infrastructure that now undergirds so much of urban life.

I saw the new movie by Nuri Bilge Ceylan: “Once upon a time in Anatolia” and wrote a small review about it.

Ian Bogost writes an interesting reflection on the digital humanities: Beyond the Elbow-patched Playground part 1: The Humanities in Public:

Humanist intellectuals like to think of themselves as secular saviors working tirelessly in the shadows. But too often, they’re just vampires who can’t remember the warmth of daylight.

And part 2: The Digital Humanities:

The digital humanities must decide if they are potting their digital plants in order to prettify the office, or to nurture saplings for later transfer into the great outdoors. Out there, in the messy, humid world of people and machines, it’s better to cast off elbow patches for shirt-sleeves.

Bogost’s thinking is I think also highly applicable to the Dutch culture scenes and recent protests against the cutbacks. As with the humanists all too often you get a sense that they bear active disdain for their audiences or the general public and that they are far too little oriented towards the public and active participation in the world:

The humanities should orient toward the world at large, toward things of all kinds and at all scales. The subject matter for the humanities is not just the letters and arts themselves, but every other worldly practice as well. Any humanistic discipline can orient itself toward the world fruitfully, but most choose to orient inward instead, toward themselves only.

Just like Bogost says that humanists should be private educators and public spies, the arts should be critics of the human condition both in the small and in the large. To do that, they need to be a bit more relevant and inclusive than they have been thusfar. Both pieces are well worth reading and its staggering how far the analogy keeps.

The article about plastic surgery in Brazil is not to be missed: “A ‘Necessary Vanity’”:

This notion of a right points to a potential problem with rights during a period when consumers are becoming a more powerful political force.  When a good life is defined through the ability to buy goods then rights may be reinterpreted to mean not equality before the law, but equality in the market.

It’s interesting to see how in the run-up to hurricane Irene the NYC government’s site buckled but the office had enough web savvy to switch to proven scalable websites such as Dropbox and Facebook to be able to continue spreading disaster information to the general public. Government should have its information services in order but being able to switch flexibly in the face of adversity is definitely a bonus.

This API to the displays on Times Square is hugely exciting from an interactive displays point of view. If you want to learn how to program for such a thing, you could do worse than start off at the courses from

De Club (we do not talk about the club) is doing a run of performances these weeks in Amsterdam. I don’t know what it is about yet, but still I think you should go if you’re into gripping theatrical experiences.