Week 240

This was a short week. Work on Apps voor Nederland and then off to Playful.

Nice to see that Peter Robinett is running AMStransit in his office on a spare screen:
The office now has a glanceable transit screen thanks to @alper's AMSTransit http://amstransit.monsterswell.com/

Hack de Overheid announced Code Camping Amsterdam which is going to be our biggest event yet in a derelict office across the IJ in Amsterdam. Everything is in full effect to organize that.

Playful was great and it’s always nice to be in London for a short stretch. It was a while that I was last in Conway Hall but it was nice to be back. Niels and Kars have written detailed accounts about the day on Hubbub and Bashers.

Great to be back here.

Then in the same weekend (flying into Schiphol in the morning, directly in the car to Germany) it was off to the Ruhrgebiet in Germany to visit among others the Jahrhunderthallen and the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord.

Jahrhundert water tower

Geeks of @ouroffice

This summer I shot a roll of color film I had lying around using my trusty Yashica D medium-format camera. The subjects were passers-by in our Amsterdam office. The results were better than expected.

Ties shines on this classic laptop shot (the stickers do add a nice touch):
Ties Alfrink

Martijn in a similar stance has a razor sharp glance (and curls):
Martijn Pannevis

James’s essence is captured quite nicely in this picture: James Burke

Peter came out a bit under-exposed but turned out nicely with some brushing up (and burning):
Peter Robinett

The tallest of former coworkers Tim comes out nicely too:
Tim van den Dool

All in all, that is five usable frames from twelve shot which is a more than decent score. It looks like I should shoot more portraits. Any volunteers?

Week 239

Running dreadfully behind with these weeknotes so this would have to be a short one.

I lost my fixie which was something of a blow. Feeling a bit hurt and crippled from this loss. Going to look for a new ride come spring.

Left my bike out for two days and my wheel set got stolen. Double lock, kids!

I had lunch with Alexander Zeh and Peter Robinett of Mio Giro.

Today's Office

There is some space shortage at the Open Cooperatie but spirits at Hack de Overheid were high:
Lex is gepubliceerd

I participated in a knowledge gathering session organized by Info.nl about the future of the tax system in a fully networked society. There were some very interesting people present but always, talking with people who don’t make anything is a waste of time.

Also conceived of a special event for the playful people of the Netherlands. Stay tuned for updates on that.

Sargasso is very kind to us and says that Hack de Overheid approach is the new way of changing the world. We are very humbled (but would tend to agree).

I was a bit annoyed by voices against the ‘Creative Class’ and wrote a retort: “Stop Kicking the Creative Class”

I put the very modest advice work I did on the new Vrij Nederland site on my portfolio. I am glad I got the right people together, could help out some friends and that the result is so excellent.

I wrote a review of the Binding of Isaac for nrc.next due to be published soon. It is a deceptively deep and addictive game.

Suavely working at Brainsley

I had coffee with our good friend Toine Donk who is doing very interesting things with books. And I worked the rest of the afternoon at the offices of Brainsley. Besides good friends, they are my hope for innovation in Dutch publishing.

Ianus Keller and other friends were at Design by Fire (which seems to have been very good) and they give me hope with the following tweet:

There’s hope for @alper we need people to interpret big data @ Geertekerk http://t.co/GI8egdhO
Oct 14 via InstagramFavoriteRetweetReply

Brainsley had their office warming party on Saturday which was a fantastic convention of internet, fashion and assorted other people:
Boy band looking for a cause

Michael LaFond – Berlin Co-Housing

I was at an event organized by ARCAM tonight concerning co-operative housing projects which are already very popular in Berlin but are rapidly expanding to other cities. Amsterdam is busy launching its own initiative and Michael LaFond from Berlin presented their experiences with this way of building.

It was an interesting evening to attend. The slides were poorly visible from the back, but I managed to jot down a large part of the Q&A where most of the action was. It is interesting to see how eager for knowledge the Amsterdam crowd is. It strikes me as odd that building a house yourself would be novel, but given the market as it is, it is. Also: the Dutch with their capacity for trade and organization should be pretty good at this thing. If that will be so, remains to be seen.

Notes first quoted:

Muni of Amsterdam is going to emit a bunch of self building plots

There’s going to be an event this weekend in Houthaven for the first batch of plots.

Michael LaFond, American Architect living and working in Berlin
id22, Institute for Creative Sustainability

started Wohnportal-Berlin

focus on co-housing, community organized housing projects

daz – köpenickerstraße

local innovation, community
baugemeinschaften, hausvereine

emphasizes participation in cooperative and community oriented designs
organize Wohnportal, platform for architects and housing activists to get their project out there

last year: started working with people in other European cities

organizing a tour of the creative sustainability projects around the city

An increased demand even in participation.

1.9M housing units / 3.5M residents
1.82 person/unit
Weak presence of corporations on the market though everybody leases.

Since 2009 Berlin offers land to Baugemeinschaften at fixed prices.
The best concept and not the highest bidder wins.
1. Neighborhood and community orientation
2. Architecture and urban design
3. Sustainability and ecology
4. Financing

Change in economy and demography forces Berlin like Amsterdam to look at the concept of building houses yourself.

Baugemeinschaften started in Tübingen and Freiburg

List of examples among which:
* Möckernkiez, public access
* Spreefeld Berlin, secured a road to the land and got the land cheap from the Federal Government, some of the best architects in Berlin
* AH+, outside of the city center, buildings will produce more energy than they consume

Baugemeinschäfte are growing larger to the 100 and more houses per project

Co Housing Cultures book due to be out


Manifestation this weekend with the release of 300 plots.

Initiator of the Vrijburg Project, landscape architect also present.
Vrijburg has failed in collaborating with Nuon to create sustainable energy projects.

Now the questions as much as I could transcribe them:

Q: How do you manage people who want to rent? Or people with unequal incomes.
LaFond: 3 of the projects are affordable housing, some in re-adapting existing buildings. People pay €5-6/m2. There are examples of non-profit cooperations. People that really don’t have any money, can’t live there.

Q: The real-estate market in Amsterdam is rather transparent. Transactions are being done between housing corporations, developers and the city. Can co-housing create more transparency in the housing market? So that fairer pricing of land becomes a possibility?
LaFond: By making the scale of projects smaller that becomes easier. For democracy, the equal distribution of land is very important.

Q: The self-build aspect? Who carries the risk if the plan fails?
LaFond: You can have affordable houses from non-self-organized projects and vice versa. People that do have money: a core group forms and they look for a piece of land with or without an architect, or they apply to a city land auction, with a group facilitator. They identify the concept and organize a Baugemeinschaft. People bring their own money and they need to go to the bank themselves for credit. The ones without money need to get support from a foundation or other organization. The main reason that projects don’t succeed is because they can’t find any affordable land.

Q: How important is the role of the architect?
LaFond: If you want to emphasize the group or community, the focus should be with them. There’s always the combination of the future inhabitants, the architect and the moderator. The most important thing in Berlin is that people adhere more strictly to the division of roles and don’t try to play multiple parts.

Q: Do the architects design the energy systems?
LaFond: Almost always there will somebody extra working on that.

Q: How do people find it?
LaFond: There’s the website. The events where people come together and word of mouth about the project. Some architecture firms have their own waiting lists for people who want to be on the next project.

Q: What’s the role of the moderators?
LaFond: There’s no investor/developer for these projects, that’s why they are more affordable. Btu that’s also why it demands more intensive participation. They need to understand people and organize them. Manage relations. Sometimes have to protect participants from the architects. There are not that many people who can do this and want to do this. Most architects can’t or don’t want to do this. (There seem to be companies specialized in this.)

Bob van der Zande (stad Amsterdam, Zelfbouw) also present.

Q: Is the municipality thinking about social housing in the next 10 years?
Van der Zande: We are hoping that there are so many different houses being planned that the option of social housing will materialize.

LaFond: Some of the co-operative projects will give people the money they invested back but they cannot sell or speculate on the house themselves. This changes the house from a property on the market into something that is there to use. More projects like that are needed to guarantee affordable housing in a city on the long term. If people can make money on their property and there’s nothing to prevent it, it is not odd that they will do so.

Q: How is the other obstacle (that of financing) being tackled?
LaFond: Constructions take some time to develop. Umweltbank and GLS bank are very important for these projects. They make less money from the interest and they have a greater desire to support ecological and social projects. It happens that people can collectively apply for money to get credit so not everybody needs to have the same amout of money. GLS is the best example in Germany. They offer different kinds of Burgschaften, you need to have a combination of money, income, property, or a relative who has money. Now also Kleinburgschaften: 25 people can all risk €3000 to join together and cover the risk. Das Miethäusersyndicat (started in Freiburg) exists to help housing groups to buy their buildings and renovate them. Because they have so many buildings now they can get credit to do more buildings. These structures took 20 some years to develop.
Stiftung Trias and Edith Marien Stiftung don’t like private ownership much. They work to take land away from the market. Community land trusts.

Vrijburg architect: In Amsterdam one bank is interested in these projects: the Rabobank. All the other banks are running away.

Week 238

Blit Alper

Another piece on an interesting game published in nrc.next. This week a critical review of the selective enforcement of the App Store guidelines in the case of Phone Story a game that is itself a critique of the iPhones it runs on. An indictment of Apple makes for an easy piece to write.

Geodata hero, Simeon Nedkov at the Open Data Bazaar with a very appropriate t-shirt:
Innovate or die - Hack de overheid

Tuesday saw the Hack de Overheid event called the Open Data Bazaar. It was a massive success with well over a hundred people from all over the Netherlands. Lots of students were present and lots of hacking went on throughout the day. There was also a brimful workshop program where birds of a feather discussed the current state of open data in the Netherlands.

Hacked together a display of transit information with @dvbosch and data from @openov

During the bazaar I worked together with Dirk van Oosterbosch to make an Arduino driven matrix display that shows the departure time of the next bus from the venue. It doesn’t get more situated than that and I’m glad we can whip something like that up in a couple of hours. It shows that we have come quite a way since first we started with this stuff.

Megapolis Underground - Research institute for the built environment

Wednesday I visited OTB at Delft, University of Technology. OTB is the research institute for the built environment, the theoretical backing for the faculty of Engineering, Policy and Management (at which I got a minor in Management of Technology during my studies). I will be consulting with geodata experts in the Netherlands on developer relations so the data and standards they are working on are such that they will be easy to develop with.

I also visited my old faculty which has been taken over by architecture students after their building burnt down. I must say I have never seen our buildings in better order.

I hardly recognize my old faculty.

In the afternoon we paid a site visit to what is to be the location of the next Hack de Overheid event “Code Camping Amsterdam”. Some of you may already have surmised where it is going to be. Announcements are due next week but suffice it to say that it is going to be massive. We are going to be coinciding with a massive Eddie the Eagle Museum party on the same venue after our event. Something of a departure from previous years but one which should prove to be very fun.

Auditorium from above

Thursday I spent all day at Bits of Freedom to help them with the #doyourbit fundraiser. Being an independent organization BoF are more dependent on private donations. We love them to death and Hack de Overheid is more than a bit complementary so I try to help them out whenever I can. That Thursday I spent all day at their offices and tweeted like wildfire with a bunch of other volunteers to reach the Dutch internet and get them to donate.

Spending the day helping Bits of Freedom fight for an open and free internet.

That same night there was an event about games in the Stedelijk Museum. It was somewhat problematic testified to by these pieces written by Arjen and Niels. Arjen’s piece quite precisely mirrors my qualms about the evening (see also my comment).

Hoogerbrugge going into awkward pervert mode

Friday was something of a write-off due to the volume of activities that had happened during the week. Fortunately the symposium of the STT. The day was a nice get-together with most people in the Netherlands active in the field of gaming.

The thickest section is about serious games for the elderly.

Gamification interlude

What was disappointing though not very surprising was the fact that all of the critical reflection on the day’s topic —opportunities in serious games and gamification— came from philosopher-hero Jos de Mul. Which solid as it was, coming from a philosopher, may be too easy to dismiss. The rest was profiteering. The Dutch remain a merchant nation at heart and anything that generates income will be applauded however morally dubious it may be.

The issues that we have with both of these concepts are real and they need a considered and nuanced approach. In our practice we make serious games and we seem to be doing quite ok if I may say so myself. When it comes to gamification, I am one of the principal instigators of Foursquare in the Netherlands so I am intimately aware with both the methods and their shortcomings.

Given that, I would urge people and organizations who want to do something in this field to seek professional help. That means get in touch with us or with other organizations that employ bona fide game designers. We are not exactly shy for more things to do but there is a clear need for guidance in this field. In any case make sure to work with people who have a track record in designing playful experiences that cater both to the wishes of the humans playing them and to the goals of the businesses commissioning them.

Agencies are currently including gamification as a slide in their strategy deck, paying lip service to the concept to make a quick buck. If you want to enable them doing that, you are free to do so. But if you want to create real value, why take the long way round?

Interlude over. That Saturday I went to the movie night at Filmhuis Cavia organized by the guys from Popup City. I wrote about that on this blog at: Stop Kicking the Creative Class.

And I also procured a Huawei X5 to play around with. This seems to be the first Chinese manufacturer that has found a low price point for a device that is still highly capable. The Kenyan market has been flooded with the €99 little brother of this phone, the X3.

Stop Kicking the Creative Class

I was at a meeting this weekend by the Pop-up City and the documentary displayed about urban development fits into a wider recent trend where people kick the creative class and blame them for society’s ills. Usually the dreaded specter of gentrification is pulled out to show how apathetic and different and outright bad the Creative Class are.

The documentary shown last weekend “Creativity and the Capitalist City” by Tino Buchholz actually showed an interesting and nuanced picture of urban development. Unfortunately this was marred by the rabid and insubstantial left-wing outings of the movie maker afterwards. That discussion did oust a lot of resentment that I think needs to be addressed more openly and more honestly than it currently is.

As was remarked in die Zeit recently about the same issue in Berlin: the only thing worse than gentrification is no gentrification. The debate is a lot more heated over there because of the massive influx of hipsters and their friends from all over the world into an impoverished city. A trust fund takes you a lot further in Neukölln than it does in Bushwick, but it also sparks xenofobic pamflets and immolation of vehicles.

I am a part of that same creative class —if you want to use a blanket term— and probably also a cause of gentrification. But I am sick of apologizing for our success. We picked a profession, we worked hard, we created value (we are not bankers) and now we are winning. Well I can tell you: it feels good to be winning.

It is perverse to rest the blame of society’s ills on those people actually doing something with their lives. I have had this problem before. If you’re a successful migrant in the messed up social debate in the Netherlands, you were nearly forced to apologize for your own success to the rest who were not. I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that. The only solution is to ignore the naysayers. It always is of course.

I can do what I am doing because of a lot of hard work and perseverance. The field of study I got a Masters in is definitely not one of the easier ones at my university but it does guarantee you a job in a wide number of techno-creative fields. For some strange reason people still are not lining up to go to technical universities, and most that do go do not finish it. Complaining to somebody else must be easier than actually working to secure your own future.

It is hard enough already in the attention starved world to stay up to date with your close ones without having to take into account every other person. Even more so if your outlook is international and you want to participate and compete on a trans-national level. A rare enough thing as it is. Should we do stuff for our neighborhood? Sure, but who should bear the onus? Shouldn’t the people who want to do stuff, maybe start something themselves and see where it goes?

Working in a creative profession is subject to taste but it is in many ways also highly meritocratic. Those with affluent parents and large networks will divide a larger piece of pie among themselves. But if you work hard and put in the effort with just a spark of vision, it will most certainly amount to something in the long run. If it doesn’t, change yourself and try something else. Keep trying until you find something that works. Is that difficult? Maybe, but it is also the only way.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” —Thomas Edison

There are a ton of jobs in technology right now. Amsterdam cannot find itself enough interaction designers, interface designers, front-end engineers and programmers to fill current jobs. The shortage is large enough that a lot of growth opportunities are being hampered by it. Literally all comers will be able to get a job. So get at it. Teach yourself something, find a course and persevere for a couple of years. You may strike gold.

“You can tell yourself anything is too difficult, or you can just do it.
You just need to be hungry.” — http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/i-went-back-to-the-land-to-feed-my-family.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

We, the employed, already pay taxes. As a base that should be enough. If anybody out there is failing to keep up their end of the bargain, it’s the government we are paying the taxes to. They are bailing out the rich and keeping the poor ignorant with well meant institutional schemes that rarely amount to anything (just look at the Wire). Government should change and if the recent occupy movements serve as a wake-up call to do that, all for the better. Though experience does not make me very optimistic on that front.

If there is anything we shouldn’t do in the Netherlands, it is to pretend that things here are as bad as in the US or anywhere in Europe. We have the lowest unemployment in the Eurozone. We have an egalitarian society, cheap education, social security and mobility. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous and self-serving. You can do pretty much everything you want in this country and I say that not being white, not being privileged. I sincerely believe all it takes is for you to get out and make something. So do it.

Week 237

Fim do trabalho

Last week’s weeknotes were still due. I built a small public transportation exploration called: AMStransit which is a dynamic glanceable display for nearby public transit in Amsterdam: example.

Work on Apps voor Nederland and culiacan continues apace.

Gamelab: David - Sequel schmequel

Visited Gamelab to see contributions by all-stars Karel Millenaar, Niels ‘t Hooft and David Nieborg.

Also an interview I gave about Hack de Overheid was published under the great title “How to Make the Skunk Work With Open Data” (tweet).

Sexist Gender Markers

Finally I went to /dev/haag to present about the current state of Hack de Overheid (which is really pretty good).

Victims of Extremistan

I thought this piece: “Amazon and the reintermediation of the spectacle” my Michael Smethurst was well worth reading. Here are some choice excerpts, but these are mainly for me. You should read the entire thing.

Software is what we write to extract information from data. The worse your data model is, the more software you have to write.

The fact that we will not enter a Golden Age of Reading because of corporate control, may be the greatest loss (in opportunity cost) the digitization of books will bring us.

I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to hack with that kind of data. What could you build around community reading groups, formal education, adult literacy? At the very least it would save me the chore of ticking homework diaries. But I doubt we’ll get that chance.

The following is one of the reasons that privacy is not going to be salvagable in the future.

The most important issue for user experience people to grapple with is informed consent. More and more web services are dependent on user contributed content and data. Every time you make a contribution (explicit or implicit) you’re trading convenience for privacy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s something we do everyday in real life from mobile phones to loyalty cards. But as the web moves out of the browser and into smart objects, the trade-offs we’re making need to be made explicit so people can make informed choices about when to get involved and when to back away.

Because Amazon are light years ahead of the game we think we’re playing.

With the digitization of everything and the scale required, we are becoming the victims of Extremistan or rather of its overlords: Apple, Google and Amazon.

Week 236


@polledemaagt An account manager is the clearest sign that you are paying too much. —@alper

Thinking of stuff to do while in Berlin and underemployed (in the beginning maybe).

Last week’s Pirate Party victory in Berlin where they got 10% of the vote should serve as a wake-up call to left-ish political parties that are paying lip service to the internet. There is a massive untapped populace who are completely disillusioned with the out of touch politics of today. GroenLinks and D’66’s only luck right now is that the Dutch Pirate Party is so incompetent for now.

And it seems that time travel maps are still popular while we still don’t have access to the data. Here’s a project being executed by my office mate Arjan Scherpenisse:

Skimmed this book by the Council for Social Development (RMO) about the public debate in the age of the internet:
As chief ideologue of Hack de Overheid I need to check these kind of publications for sanity.


Our friends at Two for Joy Coffee Roasters have opened their second store in Amsterdam. It’s a new favorite place to work and meet:
New Two for Joy next to my house

Kars put the slides for his dconstruct talk on the Transformers online. Well worth a read for a realistic view on the city and games.

Work on Apps voor Nederland and culiacan working at pace. I’m very proud of the community that is coming together.


I dropped by Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Ward Wijndelts who are settling in their new offices for their startup:
Project Human Filter Revolution Ping Pong

I concluded the day by chairing the jury deliberations for Apps for Noord-Holland. The day was concluded with the award ceremony and festivities.


Finished reading The City & The City by China Miéville. A poignant book. The science-fiction book for this year. I read it on Readmill which is a pleasant enough reading experience but I don’t know yet if it will be the home of my future library.

Dropped by the great design team at Buro Pony in Rotterdam to discuss the future of the specialty design store: Dufarge.

Met with Christian Friedrich at Rotterdam’s new espresso bar Hopper.
Trying out the coffee of Rotterdam's finest

Caught up a bit on the Fyra back with Yuri van Geest. A pleasure as always.


Say what you will, the hipster life is a good one.

Friday was concluded in Utrecht with more writing and working at the Hubbub studio.

We had a great time playing The Resistance a mashup between Mastermind and Werewolf.

Playing The Resistance, there are spies among us!

Yes, that is the best we have found thusfar for a Microsoft Surface Table.

Catching up on the news of the week in die Zeit, here a profile of all the elected Pirates:
Almost all the newly elected pirates make software or studied sciences (i.e. politicians who can do mats)

Most of them have either studied sciences or work in IT (or both). Politicians who can do maths. That may be an actual solution to the economic crisis we are in.

And an editorial about the lack of responsibility in society both on the macro as in the microscale:
“nun sollen die anderen auch meine Schuld übernehmen.”