Highlights for The Idiot

Were Germans supposed to be particularly ordered and machinelike? Was it possible that Germans really were ordered and machinelike?
There was no way to go through life, in Turkish or any other language, making only factual statements about direct observations. You were forced to use -miş, just by the human condition—just by existing in relation to other people.
I liked Spanish—I liked how the donkey had a place in the national literature
How would I get anywhere in life? How could anyone ever be interested in me?
But I couldn’t stop thinking about á and à—about Europe, where even the alphabet emitted exuberant sparks—about Ivan’s mother’s Mazda, and how you were always sad when you left Rome.
“You really like this boy,” she said, sounding so sad and affectionate that tears came to my eyes.
“I feel like a kid.” “Like a little girl, huh? It must be really terrible for you.” “I learned Turkish when I was three, so I don’t know enough words. I can’t talk about anything,” I said.
“Of course he will. Womanizers always call back. That’s their best quality.”
“Stuff like that can really bring out the sadist in you,” he said. “I’m standing there thinking of all the different ways I’ll rip out this guy’s guts.”
And still no waking moment went by that I didn’t think of him—he was in the background of everything I thought. My own perceptions were no longer enough to constitute the physical world for me. Every sound, every syllable that reached me, I wanted to filter through his consciousness. At a word from him I would have followed him anywhere, right off the so-called Prudential Center.
“In Turkey? You wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown. You’d give them a nervous breakdown.” I forgave him for a lot when he said that. I forgave him for almost everything.
A less beautiful girl wouldn’t have said that, I thought. Beautiful people lived in a different world, had different relations with people. From the beginning they were raised for love.

Parklets Bergmannstraße

I got around to visiting the Parklets in the Bergmannstraße. That is a plural because there are two of them during this pilot and that’s it.

Parklet Bergmannstrasse

As far as quality and usage goes I don’t think there is anything to complain about. The benches look and feel nice and they are being used by the tons of people passing through this street. It is nice to have some extra seating here that is non-commercial.

Parklet Bergmannstrasse

The only issue is that the rest of the street (especially the traffic situation on the thoroughfare) is still terrible. After having seen the botched project in the Maaßenstraße local government is afraid to do much of anything, let alone give this street and neighborhood the overhaul they so desperately need.

Maybe they are right to not do anything. Public works in Berlin have the tendency to not work out. If you already know that you are going to screw it up, you might as well keep your hands off it. But there are lots of new people in Berlin who demand better and in many cases are also willing and able to do it themselves. Let’s see how long the government can resist that pressure.

Begegnungszone Nein Danke

UIKonf Unconference: Gradual Coordinators

I dropped by the UIKonf unconference yesterday and gave a quick code/architecture talk. Normally I do mostly design/strategy type talks which are a lot more handwavy, so this felt a bit out of my water.

Besides actual code I threw in some talk about impostor syndrome, the value of cleaning and maintenance, gradualism as defined by parkour and Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language”.

I think there is a lot of value in getting more different perspectives into the standard programming talk. I have seen enough engineering talks by now and many of them suffer from a lack of diversity.

XiR – Angela Merkel

Turkish MC XiR has a new trap song out with the noteworthy title Angela Merkel. There is even somebody with a Merkel mask in the video.

The video has a quick and dirty German subtitle bundled with it which you can turn on and read.

In the spirit of international relations, I will translate to English the hook of the song (lyrics on Genius). The rest of the song is either not that interesting or I’m missing out on a lot of inside baseball. Either way, I won’t try it.

Angela Merkel
Schengen yok
Karaköy’e sen gel

Bozulur dengen
Yol aldı yengen
Karaköy’e sen gel
Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel
There is no Schengen
You come down to Karaköy

You’ll lose your senses
Your woman’s gone
You come down to Karaköy
Angela Merkel

I can’t make much more of it other than that the mythologization of Angela Merkel continues. I’m curious what the German foreign office thinks about that.

Talk at Emerce Tech Live in Amsterdam

Last Tuesday I gave a talk at EMERCE Tech Live on the main stage of the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. It was a lovely event and it was fun being back in Amsterdam however briefly.

It was a business focussed practical riff on my ‘Designing Conversational Interfaces’ talk that may have blown some people’s minds. So it goes!

Tech Live! 22

Tech Live! 24

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Now on stage @alper on conv interfaces. The good and bad. The power of simplicity #tel17

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A possible agenda for a tech workers solidarity movement

The USA example of resistance against Trump in the form of Tech Solidarity quickly gained a following in the Netherlands with TechSolidarity.nl and here in Berlin with some Tech-Solidarity-Berlin. I’ve had a small role in both of those groups’ creation but I’m currently not an active participant.

Tech Solidarity’s success is of course unique to the local environment and Pinboard’s prior activism in tech. That said there are a lot of similarities that make similar movements over here possible and necessary. The Netherlands and Germany have elections this year and are faced with similar populist disruptions. The technology industries here are also very heavily dependent on expat workers who have specific issues and interests. The time seems ripe for people in technology to organize themselves.

The idea of the Berlin organization is not to duplicate efforts. There are already lots of initiatives in Berlin that address most parts of this agenda. What tech solidarity should do here is 1. posit an encompassing vision of what we want to achieve and that it is possible to achieve that together 2. function as a switching board to match people who want to do things with things that need people.

I’m associated with the Berlin meetup but I haven’t attended any of the American events so we had to piece together what we thought would be an agenda for our local context. I suggested these five points that I personally think are relevant and critical right now.

  1. Maintain the freedom of movement and other liberal values that make Berlin and Europe an amazing place to live and work.
    Europe is an unique place in the world—increasingly so, though not as unique as we might like to think. The high standard of living and freedom enjoyed here attract people from all over the world.
    Those positive qualities and the new people they attract are not seen as positive by all Europeans alike. Populist movements want to close borders, go back in time and tear down the institutions of our liberal open societies. These measures will affect foreign workers and immigrants much more than they will local residents.
    What can we do to maintain and strengthen our local social democracies, the institutions that make up Europe and how can we scale out these values?
  2. Make it so that foreigners in Berlin can and do participate in local civil society.
    This is not just a problem for foreigners but they suffer from much higher hurdles when it comes to this. Foreigners are often here temporarily, usually do not speak German and do not get to vote. It is harmful to both residents and to society as a whole for people to be disenfranchised.
    What can be done right now to circumvent those limitations and what needs to be done in the future to create a more vibrant and inclusive civil society?
  3. Support diversity initiatives of all kinds in the workplace.
    In most tech companies in Berlin diversity is neither valued or practiced. Diversity has proven benefits to everybody involved. Also by not starting to practice this now the industry is putting themselves on the back foot when it comes to the future.
    What can we do to increase the awareness and practice of diversity?
  4. Use our skills and resources to help local immigrants and refugees.
    People working in technology have access to an immense amount of economic and social opportunities. People who are new to Berlin or who have already lived here for a while should have access to the same opportunities and be able to contribute their efforts and perspectives.
    How can we educate and include people without traditional paths into technology and make the sector as a whole more open and inclusive?
  5. Formulate actionable positions on professional ethics (data retention, car exhausts etc.).
    We need to formulate ethical standards for people working in technology and back them up when they need to abide by them. The potential to do things that are unethical and harmful is increasing just as quickly as technology’s influence but not everything that is possible should be economically determined. Laws are not a sufficient protection since they can be weakened or removed due to changing political circumstances.
    What are ethical red lines that we can agree upon and what is practical support we can offer people?

ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016 Talk

Welt am Draht

I strolled through the massive exhibition ‘Welt am Draht’ at Leipziger Strasse this weekend. This is a selection of video art from the massive Julia Stoschek Collection exhibited in the former Czech Cultural center.

Like everybody says the quality of video art in general is extremely inconsistent. That is true in this exhibit as well. There are a bunch of works where it is not at all obvious why somebody finished it, somebody approved it and somebody paid money for it.

The works that were most interesting in this exhibition consistently were not the video ones but those created with a game engine. That may be my own novelty bias at work, but a fully digital workflow like that allows: 1. more and faster iteration 2. fully dynamic products, the combination of which leads to totally new kinds of things that can be produced.

Some examples:

I forget what this was, but despite the concept being more or less ridiculous it has a compelling internal consistency.

RMB City by Cao Fei is a rich and spectacular playground of randomness.

I can’t really argue with any of Ed Atkins’s work which stands out for the pure skill of the renderings combined with spoken word that is not trite (so rare).

Ian Cheng’s Emissary Forks at Perfection is an ongoing collage of elements in a dynamic simulation that looks like an edgy version of the large scale installations Theo Watson makes.