Capitals I didn’t visit until 2012

One recap of 2012 which was an odd year what with the international move and all. Still in the second half I managed to get a lot of travel in leaving aside the almost monthly trips to Amsterdam by train. Dopplr unfortunately does not give me a total amount of kilometers travelled for 2012 anymore.

The funny thing is that I visited a lot of capitals of countries that I hadn’t visited before even though I may have visited the country.

To Madrid in February: I had been to Spain often but never visited either Madrid or Barcelona.

To Athens in June: I had not ever been to Greece at all, so this was all new. A lot more fun than Madrid by the way.

To Paris in July: I’d been to France a couple of times but never to Paris yet.

To Helsinki in July: Another new capital and country, a visit which was very enjoyable both because of the company and because of the immense livability of the city.

To Beijing in October: A long overdue visit to China which was even more elucidating than it was enjoyable.

Not to (Canberra) in October: Though I did visit both Melbourne and Sydney which don’t count.

To Moscow in December: A nice combination of business and personal visits and a welcome confrontation with the weirdness of Russia.

Which makes my visited countries map look like this:

Week 301: a flurry of appointments in Amsterdam

Last Monday was the last day in Berlin before the holidays so something of a push here and there to get things to go through. That night we had a vvvv workshop at the studio hosted by Joreg to teach somewhere around eight people the basics of node based graphical environments (the only other one I had used extensively before was Open DX and of course there’s Quartz Composer and Impure Quadrigram).

VVVV workshop. I'm psyched!

I messed around a bit with it and managed to produce this bit of media art. It is very interesting to have the power of DirectX9 under your fingers without having to program at all, though the whole fact of non-programming feels a bit strange to me.

Also there was this bit about the journalistic climate in the Netherlands:

I would recommend anybody interfacing with journalists to be wholly guarded and keep clearly in mind what’s in it for them in the interaction. The way it is played by most actors, it hasn’t been about the uncovering of the truth for a long time.

Tuesday was my travel day to Amsterdam where I wrote a bunch of stuff in the train and had an Open State board meeting that evening.

I spent most of Wednesday in Utrecht at the Hubbub studio. That night I had dinner with Tim de Gier, Loeki Westerveld and Justus Bruns partially by plan, partially by coincidence.

Thursday was also spent at Hubbub discussing business and getting work done. That night I had drinks with Kars and Lieke in a smashing new Utrecht establishment.

On Friday I met Edo van Royen at Studyflow, had lunch with Peter Robinett, coffee with Justus Bruns, dropped by at my accountant, had a beer with Thijs Niks and then drinks at the Open Coop with Lex and Alexander. Having said that: these visits to the Netherlands always tend to devolve into a flurry of errands that barely leave any time to think. That is going to change for the next one.

Carrying four RFIDs with me (down from five) because consolidating their contents is too much work.

Recensiewerk voor de

Ik ben even in de e-mail archieven gedoken om mijn recensie-arbeid voor de te verzamelen. Naast wat er al op het ter-ziele-gegane Bashers staat, zal ik de rest hier posten.

Inside a Star-filled Sky van Jason Rohrer op 13 juli 2011

The Cat and the Coup van Peter Brinson op 19 augustus 2011

Phone Story van Molleindustria op 10 november 2011

Er volgen dan nog de recensies voor the Binding of Isaac, Where Is My Heart? en Botanicula die wel in de krant maar nooit op Bashers zijn verschenen en wat ik daarna nog weet te schrijven.

SZ: Echoes of chatter

I’m sitting in the train and get passed a link to a piece from Süddeutsche Zeitung about the internet and its sharing culture. This being my more-or-less favorite German newspaper, I dig into it expecting it to yield a solid piece of thought that will cause me to reflect on my online behaviour.

The real result is a lot less positive. It ends on this note:

Wir müssen nichts mehr erfinden, denn Google und Facebook lehren uns, dass neue Ideen leicht zu haben sind. Es könnte sogar sein, dass fügsame, gelehrige Kopisten jetzt erfolgreicher sind als diejenigen, die innovativ sind.

Some old dude quotes selectively and writes about a subjective divide between digital and analog like you would find in the eighties. And it quotes an interview with Geert Lovink from 2007 that superficially treats ‘blogging’.

The piece opines that because of connectivity we will not be able to pay attention to what is important or come up with original thoughts ourselves. But it turns out that the Süddeutsche has fallen prey to that disease itself. Here as almost everywhere, German writing about the internet follows a predictable course that fails to illuminate.

Week 300: odds and ends

Last week was a week without travel or deadlines so a lot of stuff that had been lying around for too long got done.

I did some more work on the small secret project. Also going forward with work on TORREON.

Chris Eidhof dropped by briefly at Praxis and told me about his plans to organize an iOS conference in Berlin.

I bit the bullet and got myself a monthly ticket for the U-Bahn along with a ticket for my bike. This has made a huge different in getting around the city. Many trips which would take half an hour by bike are a lot easier now and especially with the snow the combination of transit+bike makes a lot more stuff possible.

I enrolled in a conversational German course at the Goethe Institute to up my German to a professional level. We are going to get a new collaborator over at Praxis. And I went to my first ever CrossFit training session on the recommendation by Mustafa Isik.

I finally bit the bullet and changed my T-Mobile Netherlands plan to something a bit more minimal because I don’t spend much more than a week a month in the Netherlands anyway. On Thursday I sent a new proposal for TORREON. I did more stuff on REYNOSA.

Seems a rather appropriate sticker for Berlin

I got the funny (for Berlin’s reputation, see this Times piece) sticker for the new play Sommergäste by the Schaubühne written by Maxim Gorki. The previous play by that same director, Eugen Onegin, was absurdly boring so hopes for this adaptation of a Russian master should not be too high. Another Schaubühne play we almost went to, The Black Rider ((Really, the massive misguided stones necessary to translate Burroughs into German…)), seems to be by all accounts also really rather terrible.

Theater is a hopeless moribund discipline but Fabian Hinrichs may prove a notable exception in Berlin this week (which I’ll be missing because of travel to Amsterdam).

This week was also the week of the brilliant eulogy for occupy by Quinn Norton. Intentional or not, it confirmed my cynicism about the movement. What little sparks of brilliance and hope were to be found in the USA versions were almost totally absent from the Dutch camps. Around the studio here in Kreuzberg there are still some remnants of the movement active:
Just another demo in front of the office

Friday I started initial work on TORREON and after that I went to the VVVV 10th anniversary event over at Letters are my friends.

#vvvvX Flagship store opening

Twitter announced the general availability of your own tweets for download in archive form. I had done some preliminary work on this when this option was available to Europeans and now ThinkUp is busy building a full-fledged importer.

Sunday morning I finished reading The Invisibles, a brilliant mind bending comic by Grant Morrison. It may not seem like it is relevant to my work, but it very much is in a multitude of strange ways.

Week 299: Moscow and sake release

Moskva river #wander

On Monday morning I flew to Moscow to participate in a panel at the Moscow Urban Forum. A gathering of experts on the subject of the city and policy who would shed some light on the development of a megacity such as Moscow. On the day I flew in, I got an opportunity to stroll a bit through the city.

I was impressed by the incredible amount of traffic that didn’t leave a lot of room for a person on foot. An experience I haven’t had since Beirut. And as underwhelmed as I was by the Red Square itself, the church at the end (Saint Basil’s Cathedral) was jarring in its familiarity. It had made a heavy impression on me when I was a small child and television commentary on the Soviet Union would feature it as a backdrop. An experience to finally see it in real life.

Odd to finally see this in real life. #wander

Surprisingly the one coffee chain in Moscow I visited Кофеин (Caffeine, I’m guessing) served a very smooth coffee and Foursquare is rather positive about the other chain (Кофемания) too.

That night I had a long overdue couple of drinks with Olaf Koens, an old friend who works as a Dutch correspondent in Moscow and writes a smashing travel book as well. A native guide is really recommended to ease acclimatization into Moscow. Without Olaf my impression of the city may have been a different one. As the night progressed we almost naturally wound up at Жан-Жак (Jean Jacques). A pleasant surprise as I had wanted to visit it ever since I read the piece about Russia’s New Decembrists last year.

One more thing we in the Netherlands and Germany especially could learn from Moscow: there is open WiFi almost everywhere. No bullshit passwords to mess with, just open.

My name in Russian

On Tuesday I was in a panel to present our extra-governmental/developer approach to open data which we have built up with Hack de Overheid over the past years. It is a complex story to tell and to translate across the cultural divide to practitioners over there, but I think the things we have achieved speak for themselves. Right now we are slowly figuring what parts of our practice can be exported and what parts are too specific for the Dutch case.

There are the answers to the obvious questions (‘Should you charge for data?’, ‘In what format should you supply data?’ etc.) that we have mostly figured out already but that seem to be difficult to explain and supply as shortcuts. And after that there are the very subtle nuances of what data means, what it says about the world, what it excludes and how you can create a process that guarantees maximal inclusion and all of its benefits. Answering those issues requires a far more in depth look at everything, a look for which there is hardly any market or audience unfortunately.

The next day before flying out I managed to get my first ice skating of the season in at Gorki Park.
Catching my first ice of the season at Gorki Park

And then as a bit of infrastructure enthusiasm I went on a lightning tour of the various Moscow underground stations which are regularly quite stunning. The Russian metro system seems to be mostly at capacity with trains arriving every couple of minutes, covering the full length of the platform and many of which being jam-packed during peak hours. Fortunately if ever the city wants to create a tram/light-rail system to complement its public transportation, there is ample space still at street level.


I got some more work in and then after a two hour drive to the airport I was in a plane back to Berlin. I had gained three hours of time with which I managed to visit the Game Developers meetup in Berlin.

Komsomolskaya #wander

Then it was back full speed on development for SAKE and I visited the new offices of the esteemed Peter Bihr and Matt Patterson, just two doors down the street from where I’m at now. It is brilliant to further increase the concentration of internet nous in the same couple of streets.

Cycling to work today was a bit more hardcore than I bargained for

I took the opportunity to relax a bit on Friday and have lunch with Igor Schwarzmann and then we presented our current release version of SAKE to the Gids. I was telepresent at that meeting which is a fun but also odd way to end a Friday, I must say.

As a side note: if you’re reading this you are probably a good candidate to be in the advice commission for the Dutch subsidy fund (Stimuleringsfonds) for either e-culture or architecture. What these commissions can use more than anything is a solid group of practitioners advising on proposals and people who set the bar high.

Week 298: Berlin odds and ends, hackday

Horribly late but here goes anyway. On Monday I briefly dropped by the Makers Loft and finally managed to see the Third Wave crew again.

Sake started up in earnest and team participation started to ramp up. Just now I piped the git commits into our communal chatroom, something I should have done a lot earlier because it so nicely shows the active heartbeat of a project.

I installed two applications I had been holding out on. I’m trying to backup my files to Amazon Glacier using arq but Berlin bandwidths are not very conducive to sending 192GB to the internet. Also I installed Flux to modulate my screen temperature into something a bit warmer for these cold winter days.

I think this bears sharing regularly:

The rest of the week sake kept up. On Tuesday I picked up my visa from the Russian consulate for the trip to Moscow. I’m on the plane back to Berlin as I’m typing this.

Wednesday I had a coffee with Niels van der Linden, a Dutch national who’s living in Istanbul and is active in the startup scene over there. Lots of interesting parallels and things to learn from each other in that one. We had a nice lunch with Praxis and then I went to the Iron Blogger Berlin meetup.

Picked up a pack of these stickers

A sizable part of the week was spent finalizing paperwork both for my German bookkeeper and for various institutions back in the Netherlands. After making my rounds through the city I dropped by at the ÖPNV hackday Apps and the City at Supermarkt.

Apps and the City hacking around

I couldn’t hack as much as I wanted because I needed to send my slides to Moscow for the following week, but once I finished those I still managed to get two small things in:

Firstly I uploaded the sample file of the various POIs for Berlin’s S-Bahn stations to Google Fusion Tables to be able to get a quick feel for the data. What’s in it, what’s not and how accurate it is.

Sadly, there is a full dataset available with the points for all stations in Berlin, but that is geocoded in some obscure German datum and therefore cannot be readily loaded into Fusion Tables. Ready usability is key for many hackday datasets, even if other participants had more time to do a possible conversion than I did. For a data provider: you show knowledge of the outside world by supplying GPS.

The issue to be solved with this dataset would be: finding your ideal way around a station for a transfer or your ideal exit for your final destination and based on that information to chain back and guide you into the optimal carriage of the underground train.

The first approach, to brute force the problem by tabulating all possible entries and exits, turned out to quickly balloon into something horribly large. After some thinking I thought up a graph representation of a subway station and demonstrated with a proof of concept “Stationsrouter” that you can route through that using the well-known A* algorithm.

This can be easily extended for for instance wheelchair access by using a weighted graph and setting the weights of stairs to infinity for those users. I posted the algorithm and a rough graph coding online, I need to find the time to make the interface more attractive (probably by porting it to Javascript) and to transcode a couple more stations. To figure out where an arriving train lands on a platform and therefore which graph segment that corresponds to wouldn’t be too difficult.

There's a bride dancing in the middle of the street. #xberg

On Friday I was supposed to take an introductory German language course, but the hackday shenanigans made sure I missed that early appointment. Trying to reschedule something for the new year to level up my Deutsch. We did a capacity planning session with Hubbub and I ended the afternoon by watching a bit of TEDxAmsterdam waiting for the new talk by Kevin Slavin.

On Sunday I met with Peter Bihr, Matt Patterson and Daniela Augenstein to talk about open government in Berlin and then the next day it was off to Moscow!