Week 296: Back in Europe/business

After some weeks traveling to Beijing and Australia, last week I was back in Europe, touching down in Amsterdam Tuesday morning early. I had a very nice flight in from Sydney with the only annoyance being that my laptop had broken upon arrival there. This made me spend half a day of the two I had there in the Bondi Apple Store trying to figure out what the problem was.

The Genius there was less than helpful. Determining that it was my hard drive, he tried without avail to erase it and then load up a new version of the OS. I am more or less pleased that he wasn’t successful in doing that. In Amsterdam I tried another couple of things but finally handed it in at Maccare.nl who without touching it said ‘it was probably the cable’ and the very same day had replaced it for me. Since the Genius hadn’t even managed to erase my disk, I could incredulously resume working from where I was a week ago.

Finally getting my cup on at Koko

Not having a laptop I did manage to finish The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoete and a Monocle on the flights from Sydney to Guangzhou to Amsterdam and the layover.

Once more Vondelpark #wander

Niels van Hoorn from Brainsley provided support (as well as many many friends online) in the form of tools and a place to hangout while I tried swapping fresh hard drives in and out. The following day I handed my laptop in and while it was being fixed, I worked the day in Utrecht where using Chrome’s sign-in feature, I could resume most of my old work on an old Hubbub Macbook. It turns out the cloud is not a lie at all.

This morning's office looking out on Hobbemakade

Thursday morning I got my Macbook Pro back and spent most of the day working at Brainsley’s offices which are small but rather cozy. I dropped by the Open Coop to chat with Lex and pick up my Open State business cards. And that night I met up with some old friends who work now mostly as hired guns in the Amsterdam startup scene for cocktails at the famed Door 74.

Cup of coffee before I go #wander

Friday I dropped by the Village (again!) and then got onto the train to Berlin where I am typing this right now.

Back at the studio again (also: fuck it, ship it) #wander

Week 292: Ignite, GSL, pre-trip prep

I’m sitting here at Beijing Airport writing these too late weeknotes on their free WiFi which is an oddly implemented but still excellent service.

Last week was mostly spent with a scattered brain working on my ignite an various proposals. We had a studio meeting at Praxis to discuss recent developments and issues.

Smashing sun on the terrace

Thursday night I gave the Ignite to a packed Supermarkt Berlin. Thanks everybody for attending and listen to me rave about games for five minutes. Also fantastic to meet everybody in Berlin who I hadn’t caught up with for ages.

On Friday I finished off most of my paperwork before the trip. That night we went to see Werner Herzog read with the studio.

Trying out the GOMPlayer - 케이윌 (K.Will) 이러지마 제발 (Please don’t…)

The next morning I got up at seven to see the market build up and watch the GSL Code S final together with Mustafa Işık and a colleague of his. You are either mildly serious about watching this or you are not. I’d already set up and tested the GOM Player before. That’s the bit of KPop you see above.

It was rather exhilarating to see a GSL event streamed live and I’m glad my light season ticket entitled me to view it. I’ve recently gotten into Star Craft because of Frank Lantz’s excellent “Drinking Man’s Guide to Watching Star Craft” and am greatly enjoying it as a highly complex, dense and therefore less boring alternative to most spectator sports.

Life v MVP - GSL final set one

Week 282: back in Berlin, street games at Play Publik

Wood paneled, 1-2 seated, ICE second class makes my TGV experience of a week ago look decidedly shabby

Last Monday was the end of the holiday with a leisurely train ride from Munich to Berlin during which I managed to chew through a lot of e-mails and revise a bunch of maths.

The rest of the week was spent mostly working through e-mails, meetings and social calls. Netzpolitik celebrated their birthday in C-Base with some nice drinks.

And rather quickly Kars Alfrink arrived in Berlin for the Play Publik festival. You’ll notice some similarities between my personal weeknotes and the general Hubbub weeknotes for last week.

Virtueel Platform published the videos of our talks in Helsinki, so there you have me talking about open data:

With our Hubbub strength over at the Berlin studio doubled on Wednesday we finished saba. After that it was straight on working on buta all the while playing games at the festival.

Best panel discussion ever #playpublik

On Friday I had another additional studio guest with Sebastian Deterding. That was also the day that I experienced the beautiful Our Broken Voice at Ostbahnhof.

Gamification (sic!) discussion with @karsalfrink @ericzimmerman @dingstweets

@karsalfrink talking about pigs

The rest of the weekend was spent working on buta and playing games at Play Publik with nary a moment’s rest in between. It was nice to be finally able to play Starry Heavens by Eric Zimmerman. I and a lot of people had a lot of fun with Hit Me.

Kevin Slavin in Berlin!

The final day there was a presentation by Kevin Slavin and we closed off the event with a massive game of Charge of the Rubber Ball Brigade. There are many awesome pictures online over at Facebook (which is a shame).

Gentse Feesten: a fantastic city festival

I spent two days in Ghent a Belgian city that is lovely in its own right, but really shines for a long week every summer when it has its own festival: the Gentse Feesten. I’d been there once before some ten years ago and had a lot of fun there. So Tourism Flanders gave me the chance to revisit.

Long time since I was here. #fiaf12

Gentse Feesten is probably my favorite city festival / large scale celebration around. It manages to string together a wildly varied program in a nice city in a convivial atmosphere. It is nice to see how a festival can offer something for many ages and tastes and be an all round positive experience.

Search & Destroy #fiaf12

This visit was marred a bit by the rainfall plaguing most of Northern Europe this summer which put something of a damper on visitor numbers, but even in the pouring rain, many stages drew crowds and the after hours celebrations on the Vlasmarkt were as special as promised.

Latino Music Experience

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

Oh La La Gare du Nord

Pyramids

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.

Arrived

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.

Interference

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

Week 275: Athens

The week before last I spent in Athens mostly hanging out, going to the beach and getting some work done.

That was also the week that I upgraded my Things client to to the Things Cloud Beta. I think I’m not supposed to say anything about it, but let me just say: ++. I have started moving large parts of my workload to Asana, so it remains to be seen if native apps like these continue to be a good fit for what is an inherently collaborative effort.

In Athens I crashed the local hackers event at the Colab Workspace Athens where the Ruby group were discussing the organization of the next Euroku. And another day I found the O.M.G. event, short for Overclocking, Modding and Gaming where lots of people gathered to play Call of Duty 4.

I wrote up a longer report of my experiences in Greece last week.

Greece, a society undergoing Stockholm syndrome

I spent last week in Athens because Lea was at work at the Athens & Epidaurus festival where the Schaubühne staged two plays. I spent the week relaxing, working and taking in the Athens air.

Rooftop drink watching the Acropolis

Athens Terrace Life

The temperature of 32-36C during the entire week was a good reason to spend all my time outdoors in the shade. Athens, being accustomed to this weather, has ample options to choose from to spend your time, from garden patios, terraces all over the place, drink and food stands and lots and lots of iced cappucini and espressi.

Garden patio

Interestingly almost every restaurant, café and terrace in the city has WiFi. One place near the hotel where we went regularly, Ambrosia, excused themselves for not having it saying ‘they were old.’ Given the proliferation of internet, I hardly saw any laptops in the various cafés neither during the day or night time. I’m guessing the WiFi is being used by smart phone users to supplement their limited data plans.

Nice cafe

Oddly during the so-called economic crisis, almost everything at terraces was still pretty expensive (Amsterdam prices). Iced coffees went for €4 and cocktails from €9 upwards also beers were definitely not cheap. I didn’t see a lack of visitors either. Many of the very upmarket establishment where I was rubbing shoulders with the Athens 1% were bustling. Those that have managed to set aside enough savings (wherever they got the money) look to be casually riding out the current storm. I have no idea how those who are less well off are weathering this.

Athens square life

A lot of real estate around town looked to be for let with “Enoikiazetai” plastered on too many buildings to count. This seems to stem from a similar price locking where property owners will not cut their prices even though the market cannot support it.

The artist at work

Strolling around the city I saw parties and preparations happening everywhere. A party would consist of a DJ, a couple of speakers, electricity tapped from a nearby distributing box and a couple of coolers filled with beer. The best of these was one evening in a derelict construction site where in a gallery space artists were at work and downstairs a rave was taking place. Tons of people were drinking and partying on the street. At least crises are good for parties.

Crazytown

The Theater Festival

I dropped by the theater festival after the opening night to have a drink. This festival like so many others was located on the location of evaporated industry. Where there once were jobs, there now are cultural venues. The Peiraeus 260 complex was a rather successful example of this development. High profile theater festivals such as this one are almost exclusively frequented by a kind of elite who have an old-fashioned and status sensitive cultural taste. I briefly skimmed the program, but I could not find anything I wanted to spend my time on.

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On that opening night, the location served Berlin beer, locally brewed but with a proper bear logo on it. All of the Schaubühne shows at this festival (and at the previous one in Athens a couple of weeks ago) had sold out even on the night that Germany was playing Greece in the EC. Greek people even were boastfully demonstrating their German language skills at anybody they could find. It looked to me as if the ruling class of Athens —fully aware where their money comes from— was cozying up to their new German masters.

This all is a bit surreal if you read reports about Greek ressentiment against Germans. We did not see anything of the sort here. If anything, in parts of Greek society Germany seems to be an aspirational value.

The Engaged

At the port of Peiraeus I saw a banner by SYRIZA claiming that the necessary changes in Greece have been made. I hope they don’t believe it themselves.

“The change in Greece has been done. Europe, are you listening?” —SYRIZA

Then at the local Ruby programmers meetup they were discussing organization of the next Euroku, a rather large event in this scene. And like anywhere in the world programmers are in such short supply that they cannot lift their heads for the amount of work on their plate. This is good for them, but that same short supply means that they will not be able to change a lot.

Hacker event discussing Ruby now

Near the end of my stay I found Exarcheia square which seems to be the focus of the counter-cultural movement. No riots to be found, just a bunch of banners obscuring the square and a collection of nice cafés and restaurants that are a bit less glossy than those in city center. Probably the place where normal Athenians hang out. At night a large group of people gathered on the square. Music from a DJ and banners professing sympathy for Turkish anarchists accompanied the revelers who were mostly occupied trying to deplete the beer supply of the local drink stand.

Street art

Whatever you may think of it, the protestors, the politicians, the programmers are all busy doing things. At least they do not spend their days idling on terraces sipping pricy beverages.

The End

My final impression is that of a country locked in a strange kind of socio-economical stasis, very much resigned to the current situation and deeply divided on many levels. Change looks to be far away either going to require a long time or the breaking of a great many things. However difficult the Greek relationship with Europe may be, it has been the source of a lot of the local prosperity.

I should work in beachside clubs more often.

On my last day there I had my wallet pick-pocketed from me while returning from the beach. This is a common enough occurrence in the tourist centers of the mediterranean. Fortunately I suffered no worse damage than having to replace a stack of plastic, having no money on me to donate to the Greek cause.

Copenhagen Bikes

During my visit to Copenhagen I tried to make use of the Copenhagen City Bike system. Although eventually successful, it turns out bicycle sharing systems without a digital component can lead to frustrations.

Where London’s Boris Bikes provide a digital readout of station occupancy in Copenhagen you need to walk around and see which (if any) station still has a bike in it. Late afternoon this turns up empty most of the time because it seems many tourists get one and then camp on their bike for the rest of the day or their stay.

As in any bicycle heavy city, spots for parking your bike are always scarce and underused bike share parking will be quickly appropriated.

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After seven or eight empty stations (which when empty are rather hard to spot too) I finally found a somewhat functioning bike to take a tour of the city with. The map affixed to the bike shows the region with bikes and where you can take them (within the lakes and Christianshavn roughly). The bike itself is rather nice and can be made to perform adequately.

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Some people also lock the bikes either short term or long term similarly to what happened to the Dutch attempt at White Bicycles for everybody to use pioneered by the Provos. Without accountability enforced by security measures it turns out any such material sharing system quickly falls prey to the tragedy of the commons. I am right now reading Bruce Schneier’s “Liars and Outliers” which treats exactly these kind of dilemma’s between individual benefit and social benefit and how to create systems which create globally optimal outcomes to support our complex societies.

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Racism at the border, or not so Schengen after all

The train just had its stop in Bad Bentheim entering Germany. At that stop we usually get a short break, a new locomotive and the German border police checking the train. Border police? Didn’t the Schengen Agreement abolish checks at the signing countries’ borders?

It did, but these informal spot checks are still being held by some countries. Even worse, they are not random by any degree. The German Bundespolizei deliberately checks those with a dark skin and hardly any others. Normally such an observation could be attributed to me being cynical. Here it unfortunately cannot.

It is a practice being supported up until the administrative court of Koblenz where a case relating to this policy came to trial recently. The judge maintained the obligation of the police to use ‘situational insight’ and ‘relevant border police experience’ (‘entsprechende “Lageerkenntnisse” und “einschlägige grenzpolizeiliche Erfahrung” zugrunde zu legen’). Lawblog.de writes it up with the obvious title “Der Neger ist verdächtig” and the post has over four hundred comments.

I didn’t get checked this time but sometimes they do check my passport. It probably depends on how foreign I happen to look on a specific day or if I have shaven recently. I can shrug it off easily as probably most people can who don’t deal with racism on a day to day basis. But when I see a black family of four traveling and being checked as the only ones in the compartment, I wonder what kind of an impression that gives their children about the justness of the society they are growing up into.