Week 186

A short week returning from Copenhagen on Monday evening.

Bicylces

Visited Booreiland on Tuesday to discuss collaboration on project culiacán.

Did some stuff on Urbanode and got my shots for my trip to Damascus.

Tuesday night the monthly ARCAM lecture was given by Jurriaan van Stigt, write up: Jurriaan van Stigt ARCAM lecture — “Solving these things in a simple and right way is fun. It is our work.”

Jurriaan van Stigt

Wednesday and most of the rest of the week were spent drafting my presentation for the Club of Amsterdam.

Met up with Tim de Gier of Vrij Nederland on Thursday. Good to hear inside opinions on Dutch media and art. Sparked two blog posts on my part which had been due for a while: Ontwerp en complexiteit als journalistieke kansen, How I Twitter.

Sunday Bits of Freedom organized a salon with Eben Moglen, writeup: Eben Moglen — “Will the net empower the center or the ends?”

Eben Moglen — “Will the net empower the center or the ends?”

Bits of Freedom did a terrific job hosting a salon with Eben Moglen this afternoon at The Hub. As Mr. Moglen did, I am going to take the liberty of assuming you already know who he is and I’m going to proceed to write a biased view of the afternoon.

I love Bits of Freedom in its current incarnation to death —all its members are trerific people too— and I support their causes though I’m often vocally critical of certain approaches, ideas and dogmas of the privacy movement.

Everything taken into account though, BoF are our own stalwart bastion in the fight for digital freedom so I suggest you support them.

Anyway, to get going:

Many of the points raised today with regards to control, power and its properties, the interregnum moment we find ourselves in, xenofobia, databases, anonymity are highly pertinent to the current global political environment. Mr. Moglen is a gifted speaker with a broad legal and historical perspective which is awesome.

There are a bunch of issues that I find pertinent that seem not to be touched upon within the current movement and this piece is one way of getting them out into the open and out into the Google.

I managed to get one question in that got misinterpreted and had a lively debate afterwards with Mr. Moglen about the cultural cleft between designers and hackers.

Sticking in the mud

What is often a risk with the hacker/counter-cultural attitude to technology is that any protest you have against the current state of things can be interpreted as a plea to abolish said technology and go back to the prior state.

Mr. Moglen had some part in this with his plea against digital payment methods and contactless transit payment (de OV-chipkaart).

I know he wasn’t for abolishing these things, but the more extreme outliers in the privacy movement either want to or they want to cripple these systems with freedom to such an extent that they become unusable or their utility becomes compromised. Sometimes these point of views are porpagated with such a disconnect to the larger part of society that it borders on Luddism. I think that is a real risk.

What the privacy movement needs to do is to speak out clearly for the benefits of these technologies. I clearly see the value of the OV-chipkaart and any plea for rolling back the system back to the strippenkaart is ludicrous on a variety of levels. Even if the OV-chipkaart is as Mr. Moglen stated: a policeman in every tram.

The benefits and the need for technological and service innovation in society are clear and that is not where this battle should be fought.

The challenge should be: how to create these systems and in the meantime also safeguard our privacy and freedom. What legislation needs to be carried through in mandates and audits in such a way as to not compromise or hamstring the design and yield usable, pleasant and secure systems. That is a big challenge, but it is the only one.

User Experience

The track record of the free software movement when it comes to usability and consumer appeal over the past decades has not been stellar. In netbooks and other devices adoption is increasing but the frontier has been moved on to mobile devices and on to closed (but tempting) app platforms.

Mr. Moglen talked about the freedom box which is going to be a plug which you can put in your complete personal computing surface which will store your media and backups, intermediate your necessary services, talk to your cell phone and federate with suitable social services. This is the vision.

From an experience point of view this is going to be a hell of a nut to crack. We already have best of breed applications that serve most of these ends. These are already crystallized, have tremendously talented people working for them and have massive network effects. Building functional parity services is going to take a lot of time, these are probably not going to be as interesting, usable or seductive as their proprietary counterparts and in the meantime those will have moved the goalposts.

There may be a large opportunity for such a device in the developing world and free culture innovation out of China or Brazil could help improve such a thing massively, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The broader problem is that both designers are not very keen to work on open source projects (though that is changing) and that open source projects are not very keen on design input. Yes, anybody can fork a project and build something ‘better’, but the division of effort is not useful while the division of labour within a project: programmer program, designer design, would be more welcome.

My discussion with Mr. Moglen served as a reminder how immense this cultural divide is and frankly I don’t think it is bridgeable in any traditional way. It gets mired in assumptions on technology use, problems that need solving and a misunderstanding of what people (users) actually want and value in software.

So in short: freedom without usability does not amount to much. I consider myself rather well versed in these issues but I use Apple products and Facebook. If all the knowledge within the movement cannot deter me, then 1. imagine the general public and 2. realize that it is not an education problem we are dealing with.

Public Space

So the free personal webserver is a great vision and a lofty goal, but mind that the goalposts are being moved once again and that before that project is done society may have changed under our feet.

I asked a question about this but that seemed to be so far from out field that it got misunderstood and turned into something about wireless net neutrality.

The issue is this: We have a rich set of rules and affordances governing access to and rights in public space and the built environment. With the wiring and  virtualization of public space, how can we proactively codify similar rules for these new situations to create generally good outcomes?

What I meant by the wiring of public space is the fact that every object from lanterns and traffic lights to every brick and tile can and will have an internet connection (think Everyware). Construction companies and IBM are pitching this stuff on greenfield cities and systems already. We in the old world are somewhat insulated from these developments due to sheer inertia, though we already have near perfect parking camera surveillance.

The virtualization of public space is nearing with the linking of real life and online be it conceptually or in full blown AR. Object and facial recognition, real-time image processing and filtering and differentation/personalization are going to have large scale effects. Imagine coupling this with ad supported carrier provided AR displays and things get really hairy really quickly.

I think this is going to have large scale repercussions and it would be good if the privacy movement had its eye on this ball as well (yes, there are many balls), however nascent it might seem at this moment.

Update: This discussion is exactly one touched upon by Zittrain in his “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It”:

But people do not buy PCs as insurance policies against appliances that limit their freedoms, even though PCs serve exactly this vital function. People buy them to perform certain tasks at the moment of acquisition. (Chapter 3)

How I Twitter

I explained the way I twitter to several people over the last weeks and it seems that it is somewhat different than how most people setup their account, so I thought it might be interesting to share.

I have one main account @alper with a decent number of followers. That is also the account I use for reading and because of that I only follow around 250 people.

I want to keep track of more people but I don’t want that to clutter up my main timeline. The social media douchebag way of handling this would of course be to follow all those people (and also follow back everybody who follows me) and make a list of the select group of people that I actually want to keep up with. I don’t do that, partially because it is the douchebag way but also because it shows a dishonest state of affairs. I wouldn’t actually be following the people I claimed to follow.

I don’t do that. My approach is the exact reverse. There are a ton of people that I have met but whose twittering frequency or content does not agree with me. Or people I have never met and am not interested in following but who I don’t want to ‘forget’ about. I put all these people into a list called follow that I peruse regularly.

When I @reply to people from my follow lists, some of those people are flummoxed that I don’t follow them but that I am talking to them. That’s ok. The follow list is not a ghetto, it’s just a convenience measure for me. Sometimes I move people from the list to real following status or vice versa. Don’t worry too much about it. Twitter is not a competition.

I update rather sparsely on @alper: about one reasonably representative update a day and tons of @replies throughout the day. Recently I felt the need to update more liberally without affecting @alper’s track record as being a rather clean and friendly account you could easily follow.

That is why I started @alpercugun. The original idea was to have it be a private account housing a really offensive literary character who would not balk at frequent profanity, offense and ad hominem attacks. Now it turns out that if you have a twitter account that bears your name and has your likeness in the avatar, you don’t get much literary freedom however much you claim it. People have a hard time differentiating (and rightly so).

So instead of being a really offensive pit of vileness as intended, @alpercugun turned into my narrow-cast channel where I can write pretty much anything I want in both english and dutch, in a higher frequency than at @alper and with a relevance to a potentially smaller amount of people. There would logically only be a handful of people —who know me pretty well— who would potentially be interested in following such an account. Those following both get a fuller picture.

An unforeseen consequence of this setup is that I will sometimes say something as @alpercugun and somebody will reply to that, I will —if the conversation is not sensitive— send my subsequent @replies as @alper. The point of @alpercugun is to get the initial thought out, to be a conversation starter. Any following @replies can be posted from @alper because their visibility is limited and because once the conversation has started it is often fair game.

The point of having a lot of followers is not reach, it is conversation.

The intersection of me and another person with a lot of followers could be a significant set of people. If the both of us talk about something, that entire set of people can see it and will be able to interject in our conversation. That is where the value is created, in publishing otherwise private interchanges and serendipitously triggering a conversation with a larger group of people, exciting ideas and reactions you would not have thought of or even thought of asking for.

Jurriaan van Stigt ARCAM lecture — “Solving these things in a simple and right way is fun. It is our work.”

Yesterday the next ARCAM lecture was held in the Brakke Grond by Jurriaan van Stigt of the firm LEVS.

Jurriaan van Stigt

Here again are my brief notes (quotes are paraphrases at best):

He shows a clip from the Godfather (‘He made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.’) to illustrate the split personality of architect. Partially analytical partially emotional. Also partially doing what is right and partially pandering.

Son of Joop van Stigt, would play at his father’s firm from a young age on

Was greatly disappointed by the architecture school in Delft. All his architecture heroes only were talking about right or wrong. There wasn’t room for dissenting thought. One librarian would still buy all the wrong books (eg. Richard Meier).

His teachers were technology averse because they said that would ruin the creativity.

Marianne, his now wife, graduated on a concept for Amsterdam Damrak to integrate progress within the old city.

He graduated with a plan for the Wibaut-/Weesperstraat similar to a plan that is only now being executed. He called it the most beautiful street in Amsterdam (It is now commonly called the ugliest. -AÇ).

Finally they added Adriaan to add even more 1+1=3 synergy to the office.

They started a firm and they wanted to have done entire projects from front to back including interior, direction and management to have a feel for how it all works.

Overview of the Work

He says they also do technical direction and management. The number of people is fluid, they focus on the projects (Compare what I wrote about modern agencies and Spry Fox recently. -AÇ).

Talks about critical regionalism by Kenneth Frampton, arhitecture should unify with cultural layering and without prejudice and dogma.

‘Al onze gebouwen beginnen met een verhaal dat gelinked is aan een plek en waarom het zinnig is om het daar te doen.’

‘Je moet altijd je rokje optillen als je als architect werkt wilt binnenhalen.’ (illustrated by Zomergasten Helmut Newton clip)

‘Architecten die bij een opdrachtgever een leuk plaatje doen en de dunheid van ons vak laten zien.’

Coins the term voodoo architects: voorlopig ontwerp, definitief ontwerp (preliminary design, definitive design)

Be curious, see it through, be engaged with an assignment, be best not in but for the world.

Don’t work with separate stakeholders but mix them all together and create a chemistry.

Densify

‘We have HAD a very rich tradition in managing our public space.’

It takes a tremendous amount of resourcefulness and asking and talking. You have to make sure the mix is right on all levels to be able to densify.

By waiting for everybody and not deciding you also decide. Proactivity is often necessary.

In the end we have a lot of fun to create a beautiful building.

Bouwfraude

How difficult it is to get rid of a contractor. The lowest one usually stays in the race with the price he quoted. You can’t legally see the quotes the others have made.

They managed to get rid of their contractor and tender it under the table. When they finally were allowed to open the envelopes with the other quotes, it turned out these were stuffed with newspapers.

Concept & Analysis

Craft

It takes a lot of energy to convince people that certain things are doable. It is fun to show them it is doable if you are confident it is.

You can’t have yourself be guided by the specialists who say they know it all.

Shows prototypes they made before constructing the building.

It demands a lot from the building parties. The right builders.

Of course it’s nice to build a cool tower, but we don’t want a cool tower for a cool tower’s sake.

We already have enough architects who create their own problems.

Solving these things in a simple and right way is fun. It is our work.

A great talk though it took some time to get started. Referencing the Godfather clip: Jurriaan van Stigt is pretty gangster. Many of the client issues he named are directly transferrable to for instance the web profession. Many of their practices are indeed the best practices the best web agencies employ. Anything else yields lesser results.

The concept of not working with separate actors and stakeholders but getting them all together to create a chemistry is a must.

The designers who make a quick mockup and don’t follow through, we probably all have seen. The idea of designing and having a different party execute it almost never works either. Being engaged in your work and following through is a must.

Not trusting the specialists with their expertise when they say certain things are doable and others are not is also very wise. Having done every step in a project at least once and still being able to do it when called for is very useful.

Projects being quoted exorbitant amounts (especially when dealing with government) even accounting for organizational inefficiency five times over, that have no foundation in reality, we also have seen. As a designer having a notion how much something costs and being able to scope that is also very useful.

So both an architecturally very interesting talk and also very applicable to any kind of creative client work.

Weeknotes 185

That was bloody quick

Last week was a short one due to a multitude of other engagements and a weekend trip to Malmö-Lund-Copenhagen from which I returned yesterday.

Project mérida which concerns a collaboration with Buro Pony took up some time and we had a meeting on that on Wednesday.

A bunch of updates on PLAY Pilots were also on the roster and my first (and quite succesful) play at the Stereoscoop during the Film Festival.

Epic Win

An opinion piece I’ve been writing for a national daily has been accepted, but the urgency of the topic has been pushed aside a bit by current political developments in the Netherlands. Here’s hoping it gets published sometime soon.

Wednesday was also the office warming for Lev Kaupas new haunts which was a very lively and entertaining event.

Friend Requests

The Heist Model: Not hiring anybody

We’re seeing this more and more among the edgiest of shops. The Netherlands has already had a massive shift towards freelancers (ZZP’ers). It is only natural that they would band together regularly to accomplish company level work but without the ties and inertia normally associated with employment.

Anil’s last point in “Upgrades” triggered me to write this, because this is the way we’ve (i.e. Hubbub or Monster Swell) been working together for a while now (and yes Spry Fox is great!) and trying to figure out what the best way moving forward is.

Trying to recruit people seems to me to be a fool’s game. I always feel a bit sorry if I see good people posting jobs or people posting good jobs, because I know how hard those are to fill. At this stage in my life, I wouldn’t work for a company unless they were ridiculously special and made me an extremely good offer. If I look around I don’t know anybody with skills looking for a job.

In short: I wouldn’t want to work with anybody who would work for me.

This isn’t to say that people who work at companies don’t have skills, but those that do are highly sought after and usually have no trouble shaping their own career paths without help from online job postings or head hunters. Of course there are exceptions and if you are serious about hiring and growing a company that way, you would do well take a look at Netflix’s playbook.

Really Networked

The way we have to do it both practically from an overhead, financial risk and skill mix point of view as from a conceptual stance where project demands and excellence drives organizational structure is a kind of networked agency. But as Spry Fox explains, this is a newfound model compared to the old networked agency. Which used to be mostly agency cores supplemented by more than occasional freelancers.

The way to work with the best of the best: usually fluid usually creative partnerships, open for repeats, trust and transfer of agency. People need to be rewarded both financially but also with work that is worthwhile. Trust means accepting the edges of your collaborators as a tradeof for their ability and trusting that what they do will be the best to all your ability

To be able to do this, some basic structures need to be in place both physically, infrastructurally but also conceptually. Aligning cognitive wave lengths with a suitable group of people and keeping hold of freelancers with meaningful availability is hard enough as it is.

What seem to me to be important ingredients for building these structures are:

  • A strong thematic focus so that everybody participating knows what it is you are doing and why you are doing it. A repeatable but also scalable back story.
  • Buy-in. Ensure that everybody has enough skin in the game for it not to be a 9-to-5 commitment. The success of the project is shared success. They are partners not employees or outsourcing shops.

There are tons of issues which I’m going to leave out for now. I don’t have the time or the ability right now to write the end-all on this subject and we’re inventing most of this as we go along anyway. Your experiences and questions would be helpful.

Update: after a late night conversation, we dubbed this the Heist model of collaborating.

Update: James Governor points to a Business Week article on the same trend “Entrepreneurs: Struggling to Recruit Software Engineers” (without much of a solution though).

Week 184

Last week was mostly busy with getting http://playpilots.nl to talk nicely to the Stereoscoop live game and make stuff work (mostly) properly back and forth. Synchronizing physical installations with websites is always fun.

Monday we also saw the launch of Stweetfightr, a game by the friendly people from Carsonified. The mechanic is mostly the same as PLAY Pilots, with roles, moves and turn taking except that theirs is resolved by a straight roshambo mechanic (one which we considered, but rejected).

Quantified Self Amsterdam

Monday I also attended the first meetup of the Quantified Self Amsterdam chapter co-organized by our office’s Maarten den Braber.

The second half of this week was taken up mostly by PICNIC which was a great event again. Criticism aside, Amsterdam should celebrate a cross-over event such as this that combines various disciplines and gets so many luminaries to coalesce within its borders. The conference was great and even better the catching up with various people from across the world.

Dutch Data Drinks

Friday the Stereoscoop was launched oficially at the Dutch Film Festival. I unfortunately could not attend this because I was organizing the first Dutch Data Drinks for Monster Swell. A resounding succes and the first of many events focused on the coming Big Data trend.

P1050479.JPG.scaled1000.jpg (1000×750)
Uploaded with Skitch!

Friday our friends from the Utrechts Uitburo also launched their integration with Foursquare (the first in the Netherlands), something which has been a long time in the making. Writeup: Foursquare Page for Utrechts Uitburo

PICNIC taking a large bite out of the week’s productivity, the weekend suffered (in a good way).

Urban Lenses

On Saturday I sat on the terrace of Two for Joy catching the last rays of the sun, while sketching out a concept model for an ethnographical study of metropolitan minorities in the Netherlands with regards to digital services and informal economy.
This was partly prompted by the Urban Lenses panel at PICNIC where certain panelists displayed an inexcusable amount of cultural insensitivity and simplistic thinking. This is a tendency among many of our colleagues to see their affluent, technologically able, privileged selfs as the model for which to design. Not to mention to see the disconnect between the nation’s policies and its ethnically diverse periphery high streets.
I propose going into these burbs and talking to these people to see what their lives are really like and how they use technology. Think Jan Chipchase but without the permafuck. A project for fun, but I can’t guarantee we won’t make any profit. Up for it?

Model

You may have noticed the transition of Monster Swell from a static placeholder site to a full WordPress installation of its own. That is the first improvement on that domain for it to become a fully scalable information consuming and producing entity. How that will impact this weblog remains to be seen.

Sunday was occupied by taking the Urbanode integration at the Melkweg to a next step and learning more and more about lighting systems. Also project mérida started with some custom django deployment more on which later.

Hard to be a God

Wednesday I went to a performance by a Hungarian theater group showing “Hard to be a God” by Kornél Mundruczó a famous Hungarian director after the story by the Soviet Russian brothers science-fiction writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

I brought my bike with me to Rotterdam because I figured it was only slightly cheaper to store my bike at central station and get an OV-fiets, while having my orange fixie with me in Rotterdam would be a lot more fun.

It’s always a pleasure to take the Maastunnel to the South part of town:
Wood Escalator

And I seemed to have grossly misjudged the time it would take to bike out to the venue so I had to blast full speed for fifteen minutes to make it in the nick of time. Glad I brought my race bike at that moment.

The venue is the same of the Onderzeebootloods, our new Dutch gallery hall which I’d still planned to visit, but which seems to close its current exhibition tomorrow. Pro-tip: tomorrow is also the yearly testing of the Maeslantkering, so you should be able to see both if you’re headed that way (which I’m not).
Magazijn Marine

The play was great. Hyperrealistic: no. Shocking: only slightly (anybody with a modicum of exposure to the internet has seen much much viler stuff). Touching: yes after a while. Our performance was heckled by some senile old bastard who did seem to think it was shocking. Interesting use of a second stage and video transmission as a way to mediate the action to the audience.

Biking through the port of Rotterdam during night time is a pleasure and I would like to repeat it, further out up to the Maasvlakte would be nice. I’d planned on doing it while I still lived in the area, but never got around to it.

I wrote a quick mini review in Dutch at our great theater site Moose.

Dutch Data Drinks

There’s a lot of stuff happening in the Dutch Data Scene and more communication and consolidation of efforts is in order.

Quoting from the Facebook event (Plancast) I created:

Open drinks for the Dutch Open Data / Dataviz Community next to PICNIC ( http://www.picnicnetwork.org/ ) both for conference attendees and those that want to attend but can’t.

There are more and more people busy with data in the Netherlands, but most of the efforts are widely disparate. PICNIC seems like a good focal point for various efforts to come together.

This is an informal Friday afternoon drink meant to get everybody together and talking about data. Topics include: open data, government information, data visualization, cartography, statistics, data mining, journalism and pretty much anything generating, processing or consuming data.

This will probably be the first of a recurring event. I know a ton of people in various domains very busy with data and it will be to the benefit of us all if we talk to one another. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to this one. There will be more.

Event details:
Friday, September 24 · 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: het Ketelhuis

Pazzanistraat 25-29
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Weeknotes 183

We moved in our new desks and got rid of the old ones. This clears up a lot of space in the studio and we now have a fifth desk open for lease. If you’re design minded and interested in a great place in a creative hub of Amsterdam, get in touch.

New desks!! (Gispen, for you Dutch Design enthousiasts)

Monday I visited the finissage of fashion and architecture at ARCAM and went to the Typekit meetup organized by Adaptive Path.

Dresses

Tuesday we resumed development on PLAY Pilots to integrate the website with the Stereoscoop game being built by Zesbaans. I spent a good part of Friday at their studio working on further integration and communication between our systems.

Design Problem

Today's View

I’m planning an informal data drinks this Friday after PICNIC called the Dutch Data Drinks. A ton of people I know are busy working with data in some fashion or another. It is about time these people got to know each other and work together.

Wednesday there was a small victory. I’m busy as a local operative for the Urbanode project and working on the intermediary layer between the application server and the club lights. After fiddling a bit in the Melkweg, we got some lights to be controlled by a Python script, which was very nice.

Thursday I visited the Boffel by our Dutch digital civil liberties organization Bits of Freedom who were celebrating their first year anniversary. I cosigned a letter by them against web censorship. After that I also visited a Speed Show of net art curated guerilla style in a local internet café.

Art

Saturday went to see the Next Big Thing exhibition by the Sandberg Institute which was pretty much the archetype of a mixed bag.

Mind the Gap Berlin

Also busy writing a piece for NRC, which is progressing slowly.