Week 310

The week was off to a smashing smart with the irregular Iron Blogger Berlin drinks. For some people it is an expensive drinking club, for me with my iron blogging resolve it is more an expensed drinking club.

Bath tub

Berlin weather has been crazy last week. Also again we did tons of stuff for Hubbub, see it over there on Week 183.

Over at Open State we are still recruiting a managing director to take over operations and lead us up onto the next level of open government and civic innovation. If you are reading this and you are inclined towards getting things done and civic responsibility, do get in touch with us:

Facing this crazy blizzard for the past couple of days.

I was preparing to write a book about the way we’ve come to work for a while now, but as most books go this was not really happening. So I decided to convert it to a format that is easier to get started on and write it as a series of blog posts right here.

However wonderful your life has been, those with more money will take it away from you.

At the end of the week we threw together an impromptu Friday’s at Seven here in the neighborhood to end the week and tap into the scenius that is coalescing. We’ll definitely do that again and try out various other event formats to see which is the most fun in the long run.

Skeuomorph electric lamp (real wax)

And Saturday I finally finished Infinite Jest after having received the hardcopy version of it over four years ago. I was quite happy with that if only because I now have time again to read other things (just started the Quantum Thief).

Week 309

A bunch of stuff I did last week is summarized nicely at the Hubbub weeknotes. This is going to happen more and more often, so these weeknotes may become at risk. We’ll see what happens.

This is how you protect the rights of millionaires in Berlin.

Anyway, I tried to dial into a conference call while there was a massive demonstration happening over at Wienerstraße #Lausitzer8. Having the riot police and the anarchists play tag below your window creates something of a racket:

This corner of Kreuzberg is becoming more and more interesting and I’m running into people randomly in various lunch places. Last week I had the pleasure to meet both Chris Eidhof (who we should see more of in this part of town) and Jannis Leidel.

#aufschrei on the street

Niels posted the second Recess! which was as awesome as I’d expected it to be.

Simon Klose discussing his movie TPB AFK

On Thursday I went to the TPB AFK screening in c-base which was organized by Michelle Thorne after a conversation in a cafe here. I look forward to meeting lots more interesting people around the area and conspiring to do awesome things with them.

I wrote up the watersnake app I wrote over here. Expect to see us meddle more into these kind of systems from a game design point of view.

Cosmic Encounter

And on the weekend I played two new board games (Cosmic Encounter and King of Tokyo) and had dinner with Tim de Gier and the Dekker brothers.

King of Tokyo - awesome game if you're into monsters (and who isn't?)

V. in Ballhaus Ost

I swore to myself never to go to the theater again which took a lot of the pressure off. But yesterday I did go to see V. in Ballhaus Ost. The posters hanging around town piqued my interest that a group in Berlin would stage a text by Thomas Pynchon. And if anyone should break my rules, it should be me.

German reinterpretations of English works are often problematic because of the language and culture ravine that lies between. That’s no different here. I often had the feeling that the people treating it or doing it don’t really understand the text and they’re just doing something. Just reading a text by Pynchon is no mean feat, let alone creating an adaptation to the stage.

The dramatic performances are more convincing than what I’ve seen in the larger venues here in Berlin. There is also a camera that shows us parts of the stage that are occluded. The bar and party area, the living room quarters with the Killroy curtain hanging in front of it. A refreshing addition especially because videography is anathema in traditional German theater.

The piece takes its time. Probably stemming from the misconception that things that have a long duration are profound. This can be true, but three hours is just in between a bearable evening play and the dramatic marathon that imbibes special meaning to the ordeal. It is amazing however that such theatric effort can be bought for €13, a steal whichever way you look at it.

After the first hour of trying to follow what was happening in various parts of the stage I had the realization that made everything fall into place. Instead of trying to follow the story I just thought back to The Invisibles, the legendary psychedelic graphic novel of disparate threads bound together by a crazed vision. After that I could just let the subsequent hours wash over me. Which raises the question: has there been an The Invisibles play yet? King Mob on the stage would kick Molière’s ass.

If you want to see over three hours of risky disjunctive theater, you should definitely go.

Watersnake, a simple voting app

My small project during Swhack was to create a django version of a delegated voting system partially inspired by Liquid Feedback and the manyfold problems that system has. In particular that it is written on such an esoteric stack that it is near impossible to get running without root on a Linux machine and let’s not even discuss the maintenance. What is even worse is that it makes it nearly impossible for outsiders to join the project and contribute to it significantly.

In this interview about Liquid Democracy you can read quite clearly how the technical mandate drives the direction of the project. Something that may not be very desirable if you think of it as a democracy-centric issue and not a technology-centric one.

So to see how hard it would be to write something similar in vanilla django. It’s easy to hate on django but you can find tons of people who can work on this in just about every major city, the framework and the documentation are mature and many parts of the framework can be called excellent.

I thought putting something together that at its core implements a delegated voting engine should be doable in an afternoon and it was. What took the most time was playing around with the settings of the testrunner which I hadn’t really used before. So the watersnake app in this project does majority voting on single proposals with support for delegation.  To see it work you have to run the tests, but building this out into a full fledged (web) app that can be deployed to heroku with a single command is technically trivial (and also time consuming).

This wasn’t a stretch to implement right now because I’m also doing some other projects which border on collaborative writing/decision making/filtering. As always, technology is neither the problem or the solution, but certain technical systems grant different socio-technical affordances than others. I will probably not work on this unless there is a clear demand, but I thought it would be useful to debunk the idea that building such a system needs to be difficult or complex.

Week 308

Besides the immense amount of things we did over at Hubbub last week, I also spent a lot of time doing various other things which sort of amazed me to be honest.

Giving this another go with my improved German skills #digiges

Tuesday I went to the Netzpolitische Abend here in c-base where Janneke Slöetjes of Bits of Freedom was one of the speakers. It was great fun catching up with what they’ve been busy with and the activist’s life.

And on Saturday Jan Lehnardt and I organized the first Swhack Berlin, a commemorative hackathon to do the things that we would normally only talk about. A round-up of the things we did is still forthcoming, but everybody is super-busy of course. It was a lot of fun and I was pleasantly surprised even by the 10+ people who showed up and got busy. We’ll do another one sometime in the near future.

Week 307

Last Monday Uber had drinks here in Berlin and took a complimentary Uber there to chat with their Berlin team. The experience was extremely comfortable but given big city traffic it wasn’t very fast. In cities where the cab market is unreliable and corrupt I can definitely imagine the appeal of Uber. People working on transit apps should take note, this is the way it should work.

Wednesday we got a new person to join us over here at Praxis: the elusive iksi who seems to be rather more connected to my Dutch friends than I had foreseen.

Street life resumes now that one's ass doesn't freeze off anymore.

The rest of the week Kars Alfrink was here in Berlin for copresent sprints on all the running projects and you’ll read more about all that stuff in last week’s Hubbub weeknotes.

I did bang out a Re:publica submission, kick started a hackathon (there’s a separate post on that) and started a neighborhood initiative.


Recess! 1 – Proteus and nature

Recess! is a correspondence series with personal ruminations on games.


Dear Kars and Niels,

I finally bought Proteus yesterday and though I really wanted to like it, I only half succeeded. It truly is a beautiful looking game but I do care a great deal about goals in the games I play (otherwise I probably would have loved Glitch too). Proteus has even fewer goals than Dear Esther. I can chase a few animals but other than that there isn’t much else to do on the island than to look at the spectacular sunsets.

My issue with that is that I think I should go outside and experience real nature instead of a procedurally generated facsimile on my screen, however beautiful it may be. Am I being a stick in the mud? The Kleistpark around the corner here is rather plain but this afternoon I did spot a fat bird between the branches.

Last week I was looking for a quick game to unwind in between work. Luftrausers would fit the bill, but that isn’t available yet on my system. I’m more or less done with Hundreds by now. I am playing Galcon now on the iPhone and sort of enjoying that. So my first Recess stays at the surface and is about that age old: tell me what to play.


Swhack Berlin

So this Saturday Jan Lehnardt and I are having a small hackathon here in Berlin in remembrance of Aaron Swartz and to in one small way continue doing the work that needs to be done on the internet, in government and especially where those two meet.

We have done a lot of what we used to call ‘civic hacking’ in the past, a phrase that has been used so often by now that I’m slightly sickened when using it. But there is still a lot to be done and both resistance against the movement and co-optation are growing. In Germany, where I live now, things are still in a pre-dormant state. The internet is in a rather sorry state here and people are good at complaining but less so at changing things.

Saturday’s hackathon is meant to focus efforts and do random stuff. The stuff you normally never get around to doing because of the day-to-day business. I have some rather unorthodox ideas to change things but I could use some help. So join us!