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!

Week 297: getting back into the groove

At the start of the week I managed to upload a batch of trip pictures (the China section) but after things went quickly downhill.

I spent the first three days of the week wrapped up mostly in visa procedures because I’ll be participating in the Moscow Urban Forum next week. I did manage to have some good chats in between, but attention was too scattered to get anything solid done (also this being the first week back from a reasonably long trip). Lunch with Fabian Mürmann, a board meeting for Open State.

Really awesome wall

I did discover a very nice coffee place around the corner and went there for just about every day since (I think this is love).

Hidden coffee place. Looks proper. #wander

Add to that two visits to the dentist as well on subsequent days and I was more or less done.

Friday was the first day where I could finally catchup with most things. I dropped by Gidsy and had lunch with Matt Patterson and then lunch again with my office mates. And the evening I prepped a session for the students from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences to tell them more or less everything I could about data visualization in 90 slides.


And on Sunday I finished my first book by James C. Scott which was fantastic (more on which later) and managed to finally get a secret little project underway that had been lying for far too long.

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 290: projects finished, visa, JSconf

For every office its proximity to food (here 20 steps)

Brief weeknotes for last week: closed off Pig Chase with the prototype test in the stables. I got to start building a playable prototype for sake, more on that later.

Hunting for sun in the mornings #wander

A large part of the rest of the week I spent in various states of bureaucracy trying to get everything in order to be able to request a visa for China. I think I’ve spent about as much time getting the requested papers as I will be in Beijing proper.

Drizzly Berlin

During the off hours of this week I started a small project to check the Dutch laws into github over at Staten Generaal (write-up).

Some nice responses to that:

But the real work has only just begun and we need to figure where the project should actually go to.

Printed out a go board

The Beestenbende project page went online, an iPhone game I coded: http://whatsthehubbub.nl/projects/beestenbende/

And I got added to the Praxis Berlin website which is the web presence of my current studio.

And I spent quite a bit of the weekend at the JSConf parties. It was fun to meet lots of people I hadn’t seen in quite a while and the conference was quite excellently organized.

Always nice if part of the tribe touched down in your hometown for a bit. #wander

Week 289: moving out, moving on and some small events

Last week I built a new version of the Pig Chase client for the final test in the stables (more on which later).

Spent some time writing proposals. Setup my own personal tent at: https://alper.tent.is/ for whatever good that may be.

I also managed to catch the last day of PIVOT at leap and wrote something brief about it.

Let's try this again. Nice and cozy.

Also because it was the end of the month I finally moved all of my stuff out at the old office. Friday night there was another digital salon at the HIIG offices. I don’t think people like us are the target audience of these events. The discussion focused mostly on the incredibly mundane aspects of digital technology.

Outside in

Friday night was also the opening of work by Casey Reas at [DAM] Berlin. And after that a birthday party at Panke which for me felt like a more accessible/steampunk version of cbase. Anyway.

Circuit boards

I started doing some game design of myself. And built an election game using Game-o-Matic: The Emile Game.

Week 288: settling in and Munich

Coffee station if anybody fancies a cup

Monday I was given a Clever coffee maker and a Hario grinder to be able to make slow coffees at the office. Thanks Kars and Lea for being so attentive. I also made a start moving my books over but more and more having a professional physical library is feeling like a huge dead weight.

I would like to have these books in digital form but I’m sure as hell not going to pay for them all again at ebook markups. No way in hell. Bittorrent seems like a better option.

We’re very proud of Beestende being a game that actually does what it promises and we submitted it to the Dutch Game Awards.

A trailer for a reality show that I participated in about a year ago was released under the title Heetsel. Doing anything for tv or tv-like media feels intensely surreal and judging from the final edit that surreality is conveyed quite well by the delivered product.

I published the video and brief write-up of my NEXT Berlin talk about love and gamification over at Hubbub.

From the 14th floor the Alps are visible

On Wednesday I did random administrative stuff and prepped my visit to Munich the next day.

Munich is relaxed

On Friday I had coffee with Chris Eidhof at the new Barn which is a stunning large venue with a roaster and a very large coffee desk. The coffee is the same quality we’re used to but it’s policies are a bit more restrictive. I won’t talk about the online tumult caused by this, but I hope they can sort it out quickly and then focus again on what they do best: brewing awesome coffee.

Nice place but it could use a touch of warmth

And finally I had a cup with Mustafa at the Five Elephant. Mustafa is an all-star programmer who has recently moved to Berlin to build a startup. Another too little publicized —soon to be— success story in the local scene.

OMG it's full of kites!

Week 286: Amsterdam visit, programming lessons and hacking parliament from within

A massively eventful week that for me took place mostly in Amsterdam where I had tons of catching up to do after a holiday absence of I believe over two months. In between moving offices and traveling, work on kohi moved on apace. We may have something usable by a slightly wider audience somewhere in the next week.

Step into my office baby!

On Tuesday I took the train to Amsterdam and landed at our Amsterdam offices to catchup with Lex Slaghuis and friends about the current state of Open State and upcoming events.

Tuesday was also my sixth twitterversary:

Wednesday I had planned to give a programming lesson. I dropped by at Johan Schaap‘s offices to prepare some stuff and also managed to finally make it to the Stadsbranderij Noord (in our office building) where Kees Kraakman has been brewing the finest coffees of Amsterdam for the past couple of months.

Finally made it to Kees's epic coffee

I pulled something together based on my presentation at the last Hack de Overheid and the tutoring I’ve been doing in Berlin at Open Tech School. The event I made on Gidsy for that sold out pretty quickly and Peer Reach (thanks Zlatan!) offered to let me use their offices, so that came together rather rapidly. On a side note: big data and semantics related startups seem to be statistically overrepresented in Amsterdam right now.

Today's (fourth) office

The evening itself went by in a flurry of code and learning. I decided to use Javascript because that runs in everybody’s browsers and there is a readily available graphical environment to work with: Processing.js. There were quite some snags, but everybody managed to work through the exercises and claimed to have learned a lot.

I really enjoyed giving the class and I mostly wanted to know how much interest there would be for something like that in Amsterdam. Seeing as it sold out rather quickly and that everybody I mention this to says that they too would like to participate, it seems that interest is about as high as in other European countries, but that nobody is doing something yet. I’m strongly considering pursuing this further and create something more sustainable. If that is something you would be interested in, get in touch with me.

‘Black as Death’ the way coffee should be drunk

Thursday was spent in Utrecht where the awesome people of the Village smothered me with great coffee and merchandise. Always a pleasure to hang out in their store and see their enterprise maturing. Kars and I spent the day discussing strategies past and future for Hubbub and we managed to get the entire team together to celebrate the delivery of Beestenbende with a glass of champagne.

That same night I had the pleasure to catchup with most of the rest of Amsterdam’s hackers at the Hackers and Founders meetup.

On Friday I caught up with my agent Tessa Sterkenburg of the Next Speaker about digital things and where the current attention of the market is focused. It seems that our thinking is —as always— a bit ahead of the curve which may make it somewhat difficult to market, but we would not want to be anywhere else.

I quickly visited the Humans next door who are working on their own very nice health tracking app. Then it was another visit to the Open Coop, a visit to my accountant, some work at my old office and then off to the Hague to celebrate the graduation of up and coming GIS engineer Simeon Nedkov.

Then on Saturday we were in the Hague to do a hackathon in Dutch parliament. More on that in a separate post. And Sunday it was back in the train to Berlin.

Week 285: dots connected, games demoed, book proposals written, programming taught, apps prototyped

I’ll include here Hubbub’s two reasons for celebration which were also reasons for me to celebrate and I’ll add a third in a bit. These really are the weeks when a lot of stuff is happening, being built and delivered. Not that much time for idle talk and reflection, though that too will return.

I also booked my ticket to Australia for the end of October. I’m flying in on Melbourne via Beijing and flying out of Sydney some three weeks later. I always thought I had to see the economic miracle of China for myself, so I’ll be stopping over there for a couple of days before going on serious surfing/hiking/diving in Oz.

Bike parking norms

I also launched an activity on Gidsy to teach programming to absolute beginners which —I am glad to say— has been fully booked by now. Strangely enough this is a topic that is massively underrepresented in the Netherlands while in other countries there are groups popping up left and right. I hope to play some part in spreading knowledge of programming, but I cannot do this by myself and it should spread out to be a wider movement.

Thursday afternoon I spent two and a half hours outputting two and a half thousand words for the book I’m planning to write on the future of client based creative work. I believe this is a topic that does not get enough attention or love from the people who are active in this conversation. There are still a lot of people who have not made the transition from client work into product work and that kind of work will probably always exist. I think it is time to redeem working for clients and show a way to do it that maintains both dignity and fun.

That same night I went to the iOS meetup in Berlin and presented a sneak peek of Beestenbende to my colleagues iOS programmers. I was glad to see that our app was well received by those present.

And Friday finally we had a full on integration of the Pig Chase game running remotely from the Berlin studio to Utrecht. That was a pretty difficult nut to crack and very nice to finally have working. You don’t see a lot of games doing stuff with real-time video and remote real-time action because it’s pretty damn difficult. Fortunately that is our recipe for broad succes: pick difficult problems and solve them properly.

Moving a dot remotely, real-time video, real-time controls

Then I dropped by at my friends over at HIIG where they were taping yet another radio show about the internet:
Tame and lame discussion about the internet as the Germans are wont to do

And finally I rode with the Berlin Critical Mass on Friday night. Quite the experience and I’ll be looking to repeat that soon again.
Seeing this again but now with a hundred Critical Mass cyclists

I spent most of Saturday afternoon tutoring Python as part of the Open Tech School workshop to get people into programming. That was very fun and utterly draining.

Teaching python to the multitudes

Then after spending the day teaching people to program with a dangerously low blood sugar level I moved over most of my stuff from Adalbertstraße to Oranienstraße proper. Notifications of address changes and invitations for office warming drinks are forthcoming.

Then for the rest of the weekend I did a lot of nothing during the day and lots of programming during the night which resulted in the first private release of kohi. Get in touch with me if you want to be a part of the initial group of users and I’ll include you as soon as we have something more substantial to share.