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


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

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.


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’). 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.

Dutch Train Times are open

Two years after I harrangued the Dutch national railways on radio about their closed data policy and debunked all their arguments why they would not open up this data.

This month the NS opened up their data via an official API. And one of the first applications is this live train map of the Netherlands which is just wonderful. It simply exposes something that we knew implicitly and displays it very fluently.

This is just one of the many open data dominoes falling this year, but a very nice one and yes it looks like victory is within our grasp.

A more messy city

We spent last weekend having a veritable blast at the Cognitive Cities conference. It was a great spectacle of familiar faces, a nicely curated program and full frontal confrontations with the city of Berlin.

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed Cognitive Cities. It was crammed with beautifully designed views onto the city and a chance to catchup with old friends from all over Europe. The Copenhagen crew were present, Rebooters came back from withdrawal and we could congratulate Your Neighbours and Third Wave with their tremendous success in organizing such a conference.

But in the abstraction a lot of the reality was lost, I’m afraid. We are all of course striving to make our ghost boxes better but design cannot be a sterile, clean handed affair. Kars writes a fuller more balanced recounting of the conference, but my feelings are the same.

Urban computing at its finest

Walking around in the real cognitive city of Berlin and seeing the street kids in Neukölln and the party-goers in Berghain, I feel they are not within the myopic view of our design chique clique nor we in theirs. The street is a very messy and creative affair and it must not be disconnected from our digital cognition of it. At least not if we want to have any relevance and create real meaning for a significant number of people.

Ideas how to do this in quality and at scale are forthcoming, but like everything it should of course start with awareness.

Game Over

Tekst openbaar vervoersgegevens

Stukjes schrijven zonder hyperlinks erin is gek, maar dat komt erbij kijken als het op krantenpapier gedrukt moet worden. In ieder geval is vandaag een stuk van mij gepubliceerd op de opinie-pagina van de “Dat moet toch beter kunnen? — Geef vervoersinformatie vrij.

In dat stuk betoog ik dat de gegevens van het openbaar vervoer vrij beschikbaar moeten zijn voor reizigers. Dit is onderdeel van een langer thema op dit blog en van een recente ontwikkeling voor open data in de breedste zin van het woord.

Hier de integrale tekst zoals ik hem heb opgestuurd (en die waarschijnlijk met kleine wijzigingen geplaatst is) en nu mét links:

Ik wil een mobiele telefoon die me precies vertelt wanneer ik weg moet voor mijn volgende afspraak, waar ik moet instappen, waar ik eruit moet en hoe ik daarna precies moet lopen of fietsen. In Japan bestaan dat soort systemen al terwijl we hier vaak niet eens weten wanneer de volgende tram komt. We kunnen dat hier ook maken als we bij de gegevens mochten. Die zitten alleen vast in één van de informatie-goudmijnen waar Alexander Klöpping het hier over had op 27 juli.

In Nederland hebben de openbaar vervoersbedrijven bedacht dat zij de informatie verzamelen bij 9292 en dat wat zij aanbieden goed genoeg is voor iedereen. Helaas is dat het niet. Op staat een site uit de jaren ’90 waar je zo goed en zo kwaad als het gaat een reis kunt plannen. Tegenwoordig hebben sommige vervoerders ook applicaties voor de iPhone. Die van 9292 is werkbaar en de NS heeft er nu ook eindelijk zelf eentje (maar het is de vraag of die het blijft doen als het gaat sneeuwen).

Maar wat als je dan geen iPhone hebt? Dat is precies het probleem. Doordat de vervoerders op de gegevens zitten en poortwachter spelen ben je overgeleverd aan wat hun platform-du-jour is. Heb je een telefoon die niet hip genoeg is of te alternatief, dan heb je pech gehad. Nu hoeven zij natuurlijk niet voor iedereen een applicatie maken, maar wij mogen dat dus ook niet zelf doen. Ze zeggen dan dat: ‘de gegevens van hen zijn’. Alleen vergeten ze dan dat zij er voor ons zijn en dat wij al twee keer hebben betaald voor die gegevens: via de belastingen en via ons kaartje.

Je mobiele telefoon is maar één plek waar deze gegevens handig zijn. De mogelijkheden zijn eindeloos maar we weten pas wat werkt als iedereen die een idee heeft dat uit kan proberen. Als we moeten wachten op de creativiteit van onze vervoerders, wachten we op een bus die nooit komt.

In Japan zijn ze ver hiermee, maar bijvoorbeeld in de VS zijn deze gegevens ook al open en in Londen heeft Transport for London pas alles vrijgegeven. Wat ze daar zien is dat er een grote groep techneuten zit te springen om ermee aan de slag te gaan. Volwaardige applicaties waar wij jaren op moeten wachten worden daar binnen enkele dagen gelanceerd.

Zoals pas op een Science Hack Day —een dag waar techneuten en wetenschappers samenwerken— in Londen waar door een paar mensen een live metrokaart werd gemaakt met de posities van alle treinen. Verder is daar net een fietsen-leensysteem (de Boris Bikes) gelanceerd met nu al meerdere concurrerende mobiele applicaties waarop je kunt zien waar je fietsen kunt huren. Dit gaat verder dan je telefoon: mensen bouwen horloges met daarop live vertrektijden van haltes in de buurt, gratis SMS- en telefoondiensten en een Augmented Reality-weergave van metrolijnen bestaat ook al. Alleen niet in Nederland…

De vervoerders hoeven dus alleen maar hun gegevens vrij te geven, ontwikkelaars bouwen dan voor geld, prestige of plezier en de reiziger wint, want hij krijgt de keuze uit meer en betere applicaties.

Nu is onze overheid wel traag maar ook niet helemaal achterlijk. Er komt over een paar jaar —riant laat— een Nationaal Datawarehouse Openbaar Vervoer (NDOV) waar alle gegevens in moeten. De aanbesteding start binnenkort maar daar moeten een paar harde eisen bij als we mee willen kunnen met de rest van de wereld.

1. Alle gegevens in het NDOV wat betreft plannen, actuele locaties, vertrektijden en storingen moeten leesbaar zijn voor mensen (via een website) en voor computers (via een API). 2. De gegevens moeten voor iedereen vrij beschikbaar zijn zonder beperkingen. En 3. er moet altijd een basisplanner aangeboden worden die van hoge kwaliteit is, maar daarnaast en daarbovenop moeten anderen kunnen innoveren.

Nederland slibt dicht en de visie op mobiliteit zoals in de troonrede verwoord gaat niet verder dan meer en meer asfalt. Daartegenover staat de hard-core vouwfietsbrigade maar het hoeft niet zo zwart-wit. Met de juiste informatie op het juiste moment kun je de best mogelijke keuze maken, of dat nu het OV is, de fiets, de auto of een combinatie daarvan.

Goede informatie kan ons helpen om één vervoersnet te maken waarbinnen je zorgeloos reist. Denk aan het geweldige gevoel als je de trein en je aansluitingen haalt en wél op tijd bent. Dat kan vaker en makkelijker. Openbaar vervoer wordt misschien nooit een feest, maar het kan wel een stuk minder beroerd —en misschien zelfs leuk!— worden.

Gepubliceerd worden in de krant is natuurlijk fijn, maar ik hoop vooral dat dit stuk iets wordt om dit verhaal mee verder te krijgen en om bij de mensen op de juiste plek het inzicht verder te helpen.

Bedankt in ieder geval Alexander Klöpping voor de aanleiding en Reinier Kist en Antoinette Brummelink voor de feedback.

Hier ook een foto van het stuk.