Weeks 313-4

Two week notes in one because last week seems to have been too busy to write any.

Rushing through the snow towards Amsterdam

Week 313 was spent in the Netherlands with a somewhat hectic visit. I spent a lot of time at the Hubbub studio and at the Open Coop.

Today's office

And of course the inevitable five (!) visits to the Village who were serving only Coffee Collective coffees when I was there:

Four Coffee Collective filters, too much choice to go around. Nothing in Berlin can touch this.

Today's office

And that Friday was Free Bassel Day in remembrance of our friend who is still imprisoned in a Syrian prison:
#freebassel ing my friend's workplaces

And then it was an ICE back to Berlin already:
Got the sweet upgrade because NS messed up the direct connection

I did manage to get some good writing in those two weeks. First one piece about why levying a tax on data is not a bad idea at all: Taxing data is not crazy. And the week after that about Jaron Lanier who is a crazy person with some interesting ideas: Who owns the future?

TORREON should be about finished by now. And last Friday we also forcibly launched the German incarnation of Politwoops now with an accompanying Twitter account because the SPD chancellor candidate posted something he shouldn’t have.

Also I’m doing another bout of programming education for non-programmers in Amsterdam next week with a course and a meetup. More on that in a bit.

And I finished my Recess! post.

Week 304

I got things back running again. Did a bunch of work on TORREON. Most Hubbub stuff is in a weeknote over there now that I am writing now alternating with Kars Alfrink.

I updated my Thinkup which proved to be something of a mixed bag now forcing me to upgrade my hosting package.

Wednesday I had my first class of my language course at the Goethe Institute which proved to be a bit too easy for my taste (which is probably always the case if you already know a bunch of languages). The practice will be good for me in any case and I hope to apply the practical parts more and more in German professional life.

Having started everything in Berlin —to my chagrin— on Thursday I went to Amsterdam for the Open State board dinner and some other odds and ends that needed seeing to. That day I also fasted for my friend Bassel who is jailed in Syria just for being a free software activist.

Damages done (too busy to take pictures in between)

The board dinner that night at the new restaurant my brother runs Fa. Speijkervet was a lot of fun. There are a lot of changes coming up and almost all of them are for the better.

Today's office #wander

Friday I hung out at Koko in Amsterdam. A nice new coffee place run by two girls who are totally into coffee and fashion. A big recommendation if you want to escape the hectic Amsterdam city center. After I did our meeting at De Gids (again see the Hubbub weeknote), we did a run of the town with Kars and Alexander Zeh.

Chilling out with der Franz on a Friday afternoon #wander

Saturday I learned about the suicide of Aaron Swartz an immensely respected figure in freedom and/of information. He was one of the rare people both whose software I used and whose thoughts resonated with me. He got so much done in that short time he was here that  his passing places a big burden on the rest of us to continue that work.

I then ended my theater going life by seeing the final Mightysociety show in Frascati. More on that when there is time.

Waiting for the queue to open to get last tickets

Sunday was another Hubbub workday —yes we have a lot to do— with ample visits to the Village which is really an even funner place then than it is during the week.

Those small Utrecht rituals #wander

Week 301: a flurry of appointments in Amsterdam

Last Monday was the last day in Berlin before the holidays so something of a push here and there to get things to go through. That night we had a vvvv workshop at the studio hosted by Joreg to teach somewhere around eight people the basics of node based graphical environments (the only other one I had used extensively before was Open DX and of course there’s Quartz Composer and Impure Quadrigram).

VVVV workshop. I'm psyched!

I messed around a bit with it and managed to produce this bit of media art. It is very interesting to have the power of DirectX9 under your fingers without having to program at all, though the whole fact of non-programming feels a bit strange to me.

Also there was this bit about the journalistic climate in the Netherlands:

I would recommend anybody interfacing with journalists to be wholly guarded and keep clearly in mind what’s in it for them in the interaction. The way it is played by most actors, it hasn’t been about the uncovering of the truth for a long time.

Tuesday was my travel day to Amsterdam where I wrote a bunch of stuff in the train and had an Open State board meeting that evening.

I spent most of Wednesday in Utrecht at the Hubbub studio. That night I had dinner with Tim de Gier, Loeki Westerveld and Justus Bruns partially by plan, partially by coincidence.

Thursday was also spent at Hubbub discussing business and getting work done. That night I had drinks with Kars and Lieke in a smashing new Utrecht establishment.

On Friday I met Edo van Royen at Studyflow, had lunch with Peter Robinett, coffee with Justus Bruns, dropped by at my accountant, had a beer with Thijs Niks and then drinks at the Open Coop with Lex and Alexander. Having said that: these visits to the Netherlands always tend to devolve into a flurry of errands that barely leave any time to think. That is going to change for the next one.

Carrying four RFIDs with me (down from five) because consolidating their contents is too much work.

Week 270: Amsterdam encounters, data visualization, foundational work

Last week was a week for some work in the Netherlands and some much deserved catchup with friends and colleagues over there.

On monday the protocol of the meeting we had in the Berlin parliament about open transit data was published. It contains all the proceedings and slides.

On Tuesday I went to Hilversum to give a workshop on journalistic data visualization over there. It’s always fun to give these and it’s going to be even more fun to see the results coming out of it.

Full house

After that I bounced over to Utrecht to relax a bit in the Village. It had been too long ago and it’s still the best coffee store in the Netherlands. After that I went to Hubbub headquarters for some future planning with Kars Alfrink.

On Wednesday we had a lot of stuff to do with the (Open State) foundation (more on which later). That same evening we had a board meeting.

Pavement anti-aliasing

On Thursday I had a nice lunch with Tim de Gier and finished my next game review for the paper.

Today's office

This is the view from the Amsterdam office. Pure luxury for that city.

Bought paper

Also I had to buy the new book “Koorddansen in de Kaukasus” by Olaf Koens about his adventures in the Caucasus. It is a fast paced collection of stories in this very bizarre part of the world.

Approaching the saucer

I also managed to visit the newly opened EYE movie institute on the IJ shore. A beautiful building with a stunning view, heralding in a new era for this part of Amsterdam.

Today's office

Next it was the train back to Berlin and prototypes for some new applications.

Week 264: playable prototypes and Open State

Last week was crazy hectic, notwithstanding the fact that I was ill at the same time. Sickness and deadlines are not fun, but thankfully both were survived.

Today's office

What had to be done was the prototype iPhone app for the first playtest of saba. Which was finished in the nick of time with programming sprints that ended later and later into the night.

Today's office

Then it was a train on Friday to Amsterdam for the Open State board meeting followed by the more general strategy day on Saturday. A lot of fun was had and important things were discussed during the weekend (see this write-up by Natasja Trifkovic), which makes it all worthwhile, but some downtime would be welcome at this point.

Open State Foundation Strategy

Amsterdam Culinary Desert

I just read the double interview in Amsterdam Weekly with Johannes van Dam and Undercover Glutton. It is a lovely interview and their combined knowledge of food is certainly impressive. What I am a bit less impressed with is their knowledge of metropolitan cuisine. At one point in the interview van Dam extolls the culinary variety in Amsterdam and there I must take offense. I have traversed the city far and wide and I have come up empty more often than not for many a dish. Eventually I gave up and moved to warmer culinary climes.

Unfindable Treats

The problem in Amsterdam first and foremost is that many dishes and types of food lack proper representation. There are even entire cuisines missing. It is a long list, but below follows an attempt to distill my years of disappointment:

Breakfast
Try to find a place in Amsterdam to have a decent meal at 08:00 and you’ll come up empty. This is tied mainly with the departure of blue collar work from the city and the city getting a more languid touristy character. There’s the mad commute around 08:00, but nobody goes in for breakfast except a take-away coffee and croissant.

Brunch of any type
Tied to the previous, there is hardly a brunch offering to speak of. This is a ridiculous poverty compared to San Francisco or even Copenhagen. Most Sunday’s are highly improved by this type of food, though it can also very quickly degenerate into a fad.

Full English breakfast and the British kitchen
There are a couple of touristy places offering something like the Full English and there’s one lunch place that does a meagre version, but the city all in all lacks greasy spoons. The British have elevated eating disgusting things to an art and we should take notice. With the breakfast already unattainable, don’t even look for more specialty offerings such as the Scottish Egg or Welsh Rarebit. Relatedly I have not been able to find a reliable and affordable source of Eggs Benedict in the city in my years.

BBQ
London has recently been treated to the best BBQ this side of the pond with the opening of Pitt Cue but Amsterdam doesn’t even sport an attempt at this discipline. The festival of the Rolling Kitchens had some attempts in this direction, but the quantities were not enough for the appetite of the audience and an availability of one week a year does not amount to much.

East-European or Russian cuisine
In the Netherlands we pretend that Eastern Europe does not exist, except for Polish people who we use for scapegoating or when our pipes are clogged. The Slavic treats of Borsht, Perogi and the likes, are impossible to find and in the whole of Amsterdam there is not even one Russian or similar restaurant.

Ramen
There is currently one location in Amsterdam that does Tonkotsu Ramen and does it excellently but it only serves them a handful hours every week. You do not need to be a nippophile to be hit by a sudden ramen craving, but you will be coming up empty.

Burrito
There is also now only one place in Amsterdam that does an acceptable burrito and it is swamped on Sunday evenings. It isn’t Californian, but that is a minor detail.

Proper Coffee
Coffee in Amsterdam has been improving and there are some players that have upped the city’s game reliably. That success has however prompted a lot of douche places that look nice, but where the coffee is undrinkable. Add to that, some places (outside of the center) ask €2,50 for a mediocre cappuccino. Kees Kraakman is about to open up North any day now which will give that area a much needed caffeine boost but overall it is not enough.

Pasteis de Nata
Here in Berlin you are nearly smothered in this treat at an affordable price (the same in London). In Amsterdam, they are near unfindable and expensive when you do. The general pastry situation is laughably poor compared to either Lisbon or Paris.

Taco adds the following:

@alpercugun Add to lacks: really good tapas, more than one korean restaurant, authentic schezuan, good southern US style BBQ —Taco Ekkel

I treated the BBQ above. I can agree about the Korean offerings which are few and too expensive. I rarely ate tapas because most taperias are ballententen. And I have never had Schezuan, so I can’t comment on that.

Problems in the Fabric of Eating

The shortcomings above may be fixed in the future, but progress will be slow and incomplete because the Amsterdam culinary scene is broken on a deeper level. I can best explain that using two factors:

No 24 hour availability
Peter reminded me of this one, which is pretty important. I have long bemoaned the lack of a 24h diner in Amsterdam. I would take any diner by now, but for a city pretending to be international, the lack of food options for a traveller touching down on Schiphol between 02:00 and 07:00 is rather dismaying. Amsterdam is not ‘the city that never sleeps’, so much is clear, but allowing the people that don’t sleep to cater for themselves, would be tolerant for a start.

This is a symptom of the Dutch mentality to create rules for everything, even the things that would otherwise sort themselves out. Dutch regelzucht nips a lot of otherwise nice things in the bud. This has effects on the opening times of restaurants, but also on the (im)possibility of food carts and other displays of eating and drinking outdoors, but probably also on the ways you can prepare food and who you can hire to do that. I’m not advocating total abandon of rules here, but I am quite sure the Dutch implementation errs too far on the side of caution.

Absurdly poor price/quality ratio
The rampant inflation of housing in the city also has had an effect on culinary offerings. People paying upwards of €1200/month in rent, don’t quaff at a single sit-down dinner costing around €20 for the simplest of meals.

Many of those people are new entrants to Amsterdam which is the biggest city they have experienced thusfar. These people are really nice and they mean well, but they are still hicks who are easily impressed by the trappings of the big city village that Amsterdam is. Their newfound abundance in cash and lack of taste spoils the market and makes good options for the discerning eater, harder to find.

Conclusion

The fact that Johannes would not mention these issues and he gives Turkish charcoal grill after charcoal grill 9 marks every week, testifies to his age and his local knowledge. Most of the people I know consume food with a global or at least an European perspective and given the best there is on offer there, Amsterdam cannot compete.

I know the scene is improving and ever in flux, so some of the things I have mentioned above may no longer be true, but I haven’t even been gone two months yet. Additions and discoveries are of course welcome here or via more private channels.

Early 2012 Events

The year has started nicely and the event line-up is already brimful.

Thursday a week ago saw the iBestuur Congress in the Netherlands where the winners of the Apps voor Nederland competition were announced. I’m happy to see this last app competition to a succesful end and I look forward to what more we can bring. See a write-up of them over at the Hack de Overheid site.

Last weekend I was joined here by fellow game makers from the Netherlands to participate in the Berlin Global Game Jam. We fought hard and managed to crank out the unparalleled Nakatomi Rider. Niels wrote it up for the papers (available over at Bashers).

This week in Berlin the Transmediale takes place to which I hope to go in the following days. I have a difficult relationship with art, especially when it is in the domain of media, but watching the Graham Harman lecture tonight and the introduction to it, it was clear to me that Transmediale is as on top of current developments and artistic relevance as they can be.

Upcoming

There will be a night in Pakhuis de Zwijger to celebrate the Nederland van Boven television series that the VPRO produced in the Netherlands. I will be joining the esteemed panel there as a board member of Hack de Overheid to talk about issues of democracy, participation and truth in cartography.

With Martijn de Waal happily having gotten his PhD, it’s now full steam ahead for the conference he is organizing together with Michiel de Lange called “Social Cities of Tomorrow”. I will be speaking in a brief time slot about Apps for Amsterdam and how data commons happen.

I will probably be attending LIFT to see a certain person speak.

Finally in the near future there is also an undisclosed Berlin event for which I will be speaking which will be my first abroad since I left the Netherlands.

Whither the theater?

Talking to two young theater makers yesterday, I remarked that the majority of the Dutch plays I see don’t deliver the relevant and socially engaged experiences I would want them to. To which they asked why I still bothered going to the theater, a question I hear regularly from those in the more modern performing arts. They themselves hardly ever go and they make participatory theater, not the stage dramas that first come to mind. That is a response I get more often: that theater is boring, irrelevant and really ‘Why would anybody want to go?’

I often think the same on my obligatory trips to the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam and other venues. What I need in theater is a visceral quality, acute social relevance and deep street savvy. One of those is hard enough to find most of the time, let alone all three. I went to 33 plays last year and only a handful of them delivered. The few that did, redeemed the boring, too long, too simple plays I’ve been to, but I think that there are irresolvable obstacles preventing the quality of theater from increasing.

On most of my visits I’m struck by how narrow a demographic (by age and social-economic status) frequents most theaters. This cannot but influence the performances to cater to the audience. The audience’s wishes notwithstanding, artistic autonomy would require boundaries to be pushed, but that too doesn’t happen all too often (see also ‘De studio uit, de wereld in’).

Having said that, the theater makers I would go to blindly in the Netherlands are:

  • Theu Boermans
  • Thibaud Delpeut
  • Eric de Vroedt
  • Ivo van Hove

Now having just moved to Berlin, I’ve seen a bunch of plays at die Schaubühne but nothing very titillating yet. That may be in part because I am yet to see something by Thomas Ostermeier, but it does beg the question why a theater would stage such wildly varying material and why the room still is full most of the nights. Answers to those questions are forthcoming after a more thorough sampling.

Regain your privacy through bureaucracy

Going over the list of services that the municipality of Amsterdam offers this week, I couldn’t help but notice this:

the option to change your date of birth (without a foreign certificate)

Services the city of Amsterdam offers among which the option to change your date of birth

This is a very interesting option. I am not aware of the reasons one could assert to change their date of birth, but the fact that the option is listed, says something. In any case, it shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a reason that fulfills official requirements.

Why would you want to do this?

I am reasonably sure that most statistical inference methods on databases are pinned fairly rigidly on the fact that somebody’s date of birth never changes. The various parts of your name can be mismatched, but if you do not have an id for somebody (like a social security number), the date of birth is your best bet to reduce the number of possible matches.

If you manage to change your date of birth if only by a day and re-register with that everywhere, you will have shed your privacy tail and can start anew. That by itself, struck me as a hopeful thought. Now just to have somebody try it out.

Post scriptum: I talked about this with Rejo and he suggested I FOIA the number of times this occurs and the reasons why it happens. I put that on my list, for some time in the future.

Week 249

In the beginning of the week I spotted an interesting dataset on Sargasso, requested to play with it and got the following visual published the next day (our write-up).

Then it was off to Berlin to finalize things with the appartment and prepare the move.

My review of “Where is my Heart?” was also published in the nrc.next that week (tweet):

Finally my proposal to present on the Apps for Amsterdam project on the Social Cities of Tomorrow conference was aspected and I will be attending and presenting at that conference in Amsterdam. Data commons are a topic that is very near to our practice and I look forward to exchanging ideas with those attending.