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:

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

Cameratoezicht conclusie

Ik zou nog schrijven wat de conclusie was van het cameratoezicht op mijn gestolen fiets uit het vorige bericht. Daar stond al hoe je voor dit soort zaken van het kastje naar de muur gestuurd wordt. Ik had nagelaten dit op te schrijven door drukte en frustratie met hoe het gaat in de stad, maar gelukkig herinnerde Rejo Zenger van Bits of Freedom me eraan.

Bijkomend voordeel is dat ik met behulp van ThinkUp mijn tweets van toen kon terugvinden en het verhaal weer aan elkaar kon puzzelen.

Ik had het een beetje opgegeven. Ik moest mijn aangifte afmelden bij een hulpzame agent van het lokale bureau. Toen ik hem vertelde dat er een camera op het plaats delict stond stuurde hij even een patrouille langs die ‘eyes on the scene’ deden en navroegen bij Stadgenoot.

Kort daarna wist hij me te vertellen dat de camera wél van Stadgenoot is ondanks dat Stadgenoot dat ontkende. Alleen volgens Stadgenoot was de camera niet aangesloten en hadden ze dus ook geen beelden van de diefstal.

Daardoor konden we niet anders dan mijn aangifte onverrichter zake sluiten. Als je ergens een fixie ziet met een doorgeroeste Paddy Wagon wielset en eventueel twee spoke cards van de Pariah alley cat, dan is die van mij.

Vragen die blijven naar aanleiding van dit incident:

  • Waarom vertelt Stadgenoot in eerste instantie onwaarheid over hun camera (tweet)? Is dat omdat ze niet beter weten? Hebben ze geen zin in gedoe? Of is het kwade opzet?
  • Kan iedereen een camera plaatsen die gericht is op de openbare weg en dan erbij zeggen dat deze niet functioneert? Wie controleert dat de camera echt niet aangesloten is en blijft (tweet)?

Wat blijft:

Er is geen register van camera’s in de openbare weg en wie ze beheert. Dit maakt het makkelijk voor instanties om je van het kastje naar de muur te sturen zoals Stadgenoot deed.

Elke camera die op de openbare weg gericht is zou een vergunning en registratie moeten hebben of deze nu werkt of niet. Aangezien de functionaliteit van een niet door het normale publiek te controleren is.

Week 247

Another week and another change at the office. One thing that does define the Open Coop is that everything is in a constant state of flux adding jitter so none of us remain stuck in a local optimum. The global optimum we are shooting for in and around our location in North is rather ridiculous but best not shared in public.
Yet another new desk

I flew into Amsterdam on Monday morning (takeoff Schönefeld at 07:20) to a rather broken working day. My locative transgressions leaving at least Peter Robinett confused enough to do something about it. He built me a personal glanceable: Where’s Alper? (write up). That is the best reason to build software: because you need it.

Attended to it by my speaking agent Tessa, I submitted a talk brief to NEXT12 about Love in Time of Gamification. And I registered at Hybrid Plattform in Berlin, looking to see what kind of collaborations come from that.

Waveform (beautiful overpass, no signage)

The rest of Monday and Tuesday were spent preparing a workshop for the Dutch broadcasting corporation the NOS on the topic of data visualization using off the shelf tools. The course was mainly focused on Google’s tools such as Motion Charts, other charts APIs and Fusion Tables but we also managed to touch on some theoretical and ethical questions during the workshop.

Gerrit Hiemstra preparing to tape the weather (sorta amazing to see)

For me it was great to see how far Google’s Fusion Tables offering has come since last I looked at it, becoming a proper tool for big data analysis and visualization for those with the right skills and inclination. Though the data import/export as well as the ties to Google are problematic for corporate customers. It is also very promising how a web savvy group of people as those at the NOS can use the data they have at their disposal to create public facing interactive products. That is the aim and I am very curious what comes out of the NOS during the next year when it comes to data.

After the course I got the obligatory television studio tour and despite having foresworn television some years ago, I could not help but be awed by the studios, the proceedings and the massive disconnect between what happens in physical space in Hilversum and how it is experienced throughout the country. The process of media power at play is an impressive thing to behold.

Amber Case starting off with a literal #50cyborgs lecture

I met with Erik Kroesto talk about the intersection of photography and the internet. And then I went to a lecture in the Facing Forward series by Amber Case and Manuel DeLanda. I had read this piece about Case before and the talk contained not much new and DeLanda who I had got pointed to by Matt Jones very recently took his time to introduce us to genetic algorithms as form finding functions. A laypersons introduction to genetic algorithms for me does not contain anything novel either, but DeLanda delivered it with intelligence and wit, which made it still immensely bearable.

Most surprised I was still at the relative novelty the audience experienced for material that has been old hat in my social sphere for the last couple of years. Tellingly in a room of hundreds there were only a handful of people who had even mentioned the event on Twitter let alone who participated in any kind of discursive backchannel.

Manuel Delanda talking about simulation

I was and still am more interested in DeLanda’s book on simulation. The next day I participated in a workshop in W139 where DeLanda gave me and a bunch of art students an introduction into Realist philosophy as opposed to the other branches.

After work beers in the bus

We ended the week with talking about the communications plan and the merger for Open State (the future foundation into which all of Hack de Overheid and het Nieuwe Stemmen are to be combined).

Hack de Overheid board meeting

This was accompanied with a bunch of festivities among which a Coop party on Thursday, constitutionary drinks on Friday and then off to Utrecht for the Hubbub studio warming. Kars Alfrink has crafted himself an ultra fine place of work and I count myself lucky to be allowed to work there from time to time.

Total chaos playing The Resistance