Week 279: Paris, Numerical Revolutions, Helsinki, Dutch eCulture Days

Oh La La Gare du Nord


During my stay in Ghent there was so much rain, I managed to do some work on kohi in the hotel room. This being a self-commissioned project, it can hardly be named work in any of the regular meanings of the word.


Tuesday I travelled onwards to my AirBnB in Paris in the area of Porte de Saint Ouen. A neighborhood far away enough from the city center to be cheap and colorful (a bit like Delfshaven), but just inside the Péripherique boundary so not too threatening.

Joust off!

On Wednesday in Paris I went to La Gaîté Lyrique where a Joust tournament was due to take place. We had a lot of fun playing for an hour or so with all comers. I was going to visit la Gaîté anyway to see the games by Eric Zimmerman and Babycastles and as a nice addition I got to play Fez on one of the consoles they had on display.


La Gaîté Lyrique has as their tagline: ‘Révolutions Numérique’ which translates to Numerical Revolutions and nicely symbolizes the time we are living in right now. The venue hosts a number of events based in art, games, music and net culture that seem to be perfectly in tune with the Zeitgeist but also have the production values to appeal to a large audience. I wish a reboot of the Dutch electronic culture venues may approach this level.

Parisian Bicycle Tour

On Thursday I did some preparations for my presentation in Helsinki at the end of the week in some beautiful but horribly expensive Paris cafés like Les Arts et Metiers and in the evening I met Peter Robinett and his sister at the University of Chicago’s Paris Center. There we listened to a lecture on Baudelaire and the bourgeois experience of the city in the 19th century.

Electricity comes from other planets

When in Paris… go to a lecture on Baudelaire

I will also be giving a small workshop on Civic Hacking at the Campus Party where I will be sharing all the tricks we used with Hack de Overheid in the Netherlands and which we hope to deploy across Europe to make government more accessible and accountable using the internet.

Presenting on app competitions in a bit

Friday I flew to Helsinki for my first time over there. Helsinki is a lovely city though a bit empty in July and the Pavilion for the World Design Capital is a beautiful venue.

@kaeru enjoying the Finnish sun together with all the Finnish people

Also the video report of our last hackathon in the Smart Project Space in Amsterdam was posted:

Saturday we attended the presentations on Transmedia storytelling with again a great report by Jasper Koning on VPRO’s Netherlands From Above project and on Sunday we presented for the social cities program.

Bye World Design Capital

Final tally of theater after Avignon

I am repeating regularly these days that I am through with theater. I thought I’d see a couple of plays here at the Festival d’Avignon and then decide for myself whether this position is justified. Avignon has the reputation for programming the best theater of Europe. A reputation that turns out to be mostly unfounded.

I’ve seen four pieces here of which three turned out to be very poor. Yesterday I walked out of both plays that I had for that day, of which the first was boring as fuck and the second piss poor (see the Guardian about La Mouette) and without English surtitles. This from a festival that deems itself an international theater festival, where international means the rest of the world is allowed to cater to a French audience.

I think I am allowed to judge theater because I have seen a ton of theater (most of which poor) and critically I am rather close to one of the Netherlands’ leading theater critics. Added to that my media consumption is not that of the geriatric theater audience. My current point of view increasingly is that things that are not interactive are more or less broken.

The discipline of theater is changing, but not quickly enough. The current European funding cuts will be good in so far as they expedite change. There are some things things that still work in plays:

  • Large scale plays by some well-known European auteur-directors (Luk Perceval, Kornél Mundruczó, Johan Simons, Theu Boermans, Gisèle Vienne) who break new ground and stage interesting treatments of old and new plays and draw large audiences. Figuring out who these are at any point in time is the difficult part. I have been pleased with what I’ve seen and heard of the names above.
  • Performances such as musical theater, opera, dance or regular theater with music integrated add a much needed liveliness and reduce boredom for audiences that are used to sophisticated media mixes. Most music will have an effect, but here too you see famous electronic musicians combine with the directors above: Sun O))) with Gisèle Vienne, Ben Frost with Falk Richter, Junkie XL with Ivo van Hove.
  • Mixed media is underused in almost all plays, but when done well it achieves dramatic parity with the actors. Projections are only one form and much more work needs to be done still in this area. Traditional directors are however very squeamish when it comes to time-based media and computerization of stagecraft.

I will be far more reticent in visiting theater from now on. I have enough to do not to spend my money to rid myself of free time.

Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns by Nicolas Stemann & Thalia

Ever since the recent re-enactment of Hamlet by Luk Perceval, I have wanted to see something by the Hamburg Thalia theater. Last year I saw Luk Perceval stage Disgrace at TA which was a good display by itself, but still the Thalia remained elusive.

Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns (Thalia)

Yesterday night then finally, I saw Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns at the Festival d’Avignon in the courtyard of a French Lycée. A play treating the world financial crisis based on a recent text by Elfride Jelinek. This is a topic whose absurdity and scale are still baffling and which has not seemed to reach a reasonable conclusion, even though everybody thought things would change (read this interview of an employee of a ratings agency by Joris Luyendijk).

Instead of a headlong approach that bored us to death (like Ten Billion), yesterday’s ensemble was very well aware of the challenges brought forth by such a complex theme and a vague but terse text by Jelinek. We were encouraged by Nicolas Stemann to step in and out during the play to get a drink at the bar in the garden. That made the entire ordeal of three and a half hours rather bearable.

The play progressed through all the stages we have gone through with the financial system. The naiveté, the promises made, the excuses, the horror at capital evaporating, the shamelessness and reach-arounds, the hope of a united Europe, the anger, so much anger.

Die Kontrakte des Kaufmanns

The actors perform pornographic routines, confidence tricks, laments and lullabies. They tell us that we didn’t have a lot of money but that it did make them so happy when it burned. That our insecurity is their security. That they don’t know what to make from the flesh of our children. Shall they turn it into sausages? That the money may come back but that it will be too small to recognize. That it may come back to somebody else. That the most important part of making money is believing. That we need to keep the faith. We have to believe. That that is what is important about money.

We, the audience, have to sing that we are all so very individual. We sing that the rest of us is the bank. There is more music. Post-rock instrumental soundscapes combine with chorals lyricizing about the state of our finances. Gainsbourg’s song turned into: J’achète. Non, je n’achète rien. Heal the banks, make them a better place, for you and for me and the entire European race. That may be the best summary of the play: it is an elongated Ne me quitte pas for the capital that has forsaken us.

At the beginning along with introductions we are given a countdown very similar to the progress indicators in ebooks. It starts at 99 and shows the number of pages left in the script. This was a very useful aid to pace visits to the bar with. At the end of it those who have sticked around —with some pride for having accomplished that— have witnessed a tour de force that makes twisted sense of the capitalist experience.

The Coming Storm by Tim Etchells

I just went to see “The Coming Storm” at the Festival d’Avignon. In an interesting open setup, bits and pieces of stories are performed by the ensemble who continually interrupt each other. While one actor is telling a story the others perform variety like diversions using props, music and each other.

The stories initially do carry some novelty and absurdity and are performed adequately. After a while unfortunately they become repetitious and there isn’t a lot funny about them (though the easily excitable French audience seemed to disagree). Half an hour before the end I concluded that this was the tritest thing I’d seen on stage in years without any hope for salvation. That was €22 and an hour of free time wasted.

Ten Billion by Katie Mitchell and Stephen Emmott

In the performance “Ten Billion” at La Chartreuse de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon Stephen Emmott, a scientist, performed a soliloquy about the state of the world and the environment. He took a message we already have known since the Club of Rome and rehashed that in front of a theater audience over the course of ninety minutes.


Standing in a reproduction of a contemporary scientist’s office, Emmott did a reasonable Al Gore impersonation. He monotoned a large barrage of numbers supplemented by custom projections with moving graphics and graphs. The entire thing was put together to a high standard but that did not prevent it from devolving into a standard university lecture. Emmott stood there saying mostly: “Look at me. Aren’t my numbers big!?”

The performer started by disclaiming that he is not an actor but a scientist. That needn’t be a big problem. For this kind of non-fiction presentation having actual knowledge about the topic is much more valuable than any kind of acting skills you could bring to the table. The piece then only came alive in those moments where Emmott made some off the cuff remarks or recounted a personal experience. Techniques from page zero of Presentation Zen that weren’t used (intentionally?).

Targeting this kind of broad audience, it turns out it is altogether too easy to fall into the trap of patronization. ‘We may not have heard’ some things, discounting that we may have and simply reached different conclusions about them. I’m not detracting from the truth or importance of the message presented. In the Q&A afterwards some people influenced by Russian propaganda in fact disagreed. This is a message that bears repeating, but for those that already know it, this play does not offer anything new. Scaremongering does not seem the best way to get people to act where earlier scaremongering has failed.

I have been thinking about the possibilities of collapse and thrivability myself recently and I came upon this model by Venkatesh Rao that I think very effectively captures many of the things we are trying to do with society. Faced with uncertainty, the most rational outcome is to create social/economic structures that feed on that uncertainty to become more resilient. I agree with Emmott that many of the global systems currently are too fragile, but that is a solvable problem.

Emmott himself discussed the two solutions in the top quadrants: behaviour change (the Spore narrative) and technological progress (the Hydra narrative). He dismissed both rather summarily. So the play consists of presenting an audience somewhat convincingly with a well-known fact and then not giving them an actionable solution. All this in the hope that people will be so disconcerted that they will become wholesale activists when they get home.

This seems something of a leap of faith to me stemming from a partial understanding of the underlying problems. Emmott said that he did not know why people faced with these insurmountable truths do nothing. Current thinking on cognitive theory, communications and behavioural economics quite competently explains this behaviour. If you ignore that, you may well throw up your hands into the air and reach the conclusion Emmott reaches (the Dark Euphoria narrative): that anything we attempt right now will either not work or be too late.

I’m an optimist myself out of necessity, but not a ‘rational optimist’ as described by Emmott. I count on the pools of irrational illegibility both in the world’s systems and future developments to work together cushioned by social measures and capitalist balancing of supply and demand. When talking about Hydras we are not talking about purely technological solutions (that are indeed easy to dismiss), but about a complex set of systems in media, politics, science, technology and the arts that work together in blind concert to deal with system problems. It may not be pleasant, but it is too early for despair.

Week 278: talking, finishing and traveling

A busy week after a quiet weekend. Monday evening I attended a preliminary meeting with fellow coaches for the Berlin Python classes. After that I attended the Iron Blogger regular meetup to have beer with my fellow Berlin bloggers. Later that week I also attended the regular Campus Party drinks.

Python coaches meetup

Also it was announced that we will be presenting in Helsinki on the Dutch E-Culture Days (here’s a summary).

Tuesday afternoon we met up with some fellow digital urbanites at the HIIG to discuss research avenues for data in the city. As practitioners we all do not have much time to busy ourselves with formal research, but it is good to update those that do with some of our actual concerns from the field.

The authority of the HIIG may be a useful instrument in reconstructing our governance models in the light of digitization. They are failing on almost every level because of the inherent complexities of network technology. We need to educate scholars, policy makers and pretty much everybody.

Also my NEXT Berlin talk recording was published. A fun event where I tried together love and games by frantically pointing at things while stepping just shy of innuendo.

Friday I put the final touches on Beestenbende (see these weeknotes over at Hubbub) and visited some sessions at the Guggenheim Lab about real estate politics.

Discussing city politics

Then the last day of last week it was time to pack up everything and embark on a somewhat long trip. First stop: Ghent.

OH HAI Anvers!

Neutralizing your politically aware subjectivity

A rather interesting capitalist reflection on Facebook by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry and why online activism never changes anything.

Thus, according to Read, a fundamental problem for capitalism is how to maintain a supply of workers who are (a) flexible, creative, and motivated at the same time they are (b) manageable, controllable, and predictable. That seems to explain social media’s underlying ideological function. Not only do social media provide a basis for neoliberal subjectivity, affording us hands-on experience of neoliberal prerogatives and pleasures: branding ourselves, proving our flexibility, maneuvering ourselves into less precarious places in always-reconfiguring networks, and so on; they also serve to contain that subjectivity and neutralize it.

Week 277: remaindered connections

The Willem de Kooning Academy published an ebook that contains the lecture I gave there about digital design and the new aesthetic. I’m quite pleased that little piece of conceptual remix is getting so much airtime.

This week I put in quite some work on kohi doing full stack development both on the iPhone client and on the backend.

On Tuesday I had lunch at Gidsy. Any visit to the Makers Loft is fun but I go up there infrequently enough that every time I visit, the company has grown leaps and bounds. I also had a good time meeting up with Rainer Kohlberger, a good Berlin friend.

I did some final work on Beestenbende and made arrangements to visit Helsinki next week to present on an event organized by Virtueel Platform for its World Design Capital program.

At last we also are doing internal work at Open State / Hack de Overheid both on the design front and on strategy to prepare us for a next phase that will entail considerable growth as well as maturation for the foundation.

And not something that we did, but still nice to hear that KiesBeter.nl has started publishing data. Ton Zijlstra and I gave a workshop there last year to show them the potential of open data and after the required time to process these things internally, it has happened.

And that Friday it was off to Wartin with a whole bunch of awesome Berlin people on a weekend organized by the kind people of Third Wave. We had our fill of good conversations, nature and late night werewolf.
Late night werewolf sessions #BerlinFTW

Week 276: back from holidays

It took a bit to get going again back from Greece.

More work on Beestenbende which had a push to finish everything on the deck. I had talks with Netzpolitik and Invisible Playground.

Cityjerk on gentrification

I briefly visited an event by Platoon about the interplays between gentrification and graffiti which was about as absurd as it sounds.

Folded myself a billfold

I published my notes on the Greek situation.

Are you ready to join The Resistance?

I received my copy of Chouinard’s new book ‘The Responsible Company’:
Patagonia outlining (among many other things) how to prevent an anti-gentrification backlash

Very much looking forward to reading that and applying it here.

Sunday I did a bunch of work on the kohi prototype.
kohi prototype

Computational Literacy in the European Commission

A couple of days ago I got an answer on behalf of Ms. Neelie Kroes with regards to my inquiry about computational literacy (which I asked during her visit to Berlin during re:publica):
Letter to Mr Cugun

OCR’d it says:

Dear Mr. Çugun,

I would like to thank you for your message to Mrs. Kroes. She has asked me to respond to you on her behalf.

I fully share your views that educating our children to become computationally literate is an important topic which should be taken into account in our educational systems. We are indeed aware of the recent debate in the UK, and the studies and discourse papers published on suggesting reforms so as to give a higher prominence to information and communication technology (ICT) in the school curriculum, including programming skills.

As part of the Digital Agenda for Europe, we have been promoting the vision of Every European Digital and the mainstreaming of ICT int he national education systems as a catalyst of innovation and modernisation of education. There are good examples in Europe in this regard, but still much needs to be done before we would see our children widely taught and working wit the new technologies in every course. This would in itself provide a good level of ICT skills to our pupils.

For the future, ICT and learning are high on te Digital Agenda, and we are committed to contributing to educating our European youngsters with the ICT skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Yours sincerely,
Khalil Rouhana

We have a long way to go, but we need to push this in every way possible.

Also if you haven’t read it yet, Maurits Martijn has written a very good interview (in Dutch) with Neelie Kroes in a recent Vrij Nederland.