Week 306

Recovering from flu meant a week of mostly broken days, but still got a lot done and more importantly: got better.

TORREON is more or less finished with the client accepting the work into their own repository now.

Tuesday we had an board meeting with Open State. I added my thoughts to Emma Mulqueeny’s post about social entrepreneurship and the long game. We are struggling with the same issues but optimistic.

I had a meeting over at Netzpolitik for our upcoming joint venture with Open State as well.

I wrote this blog post about real thinkers anywhere on the continent1: “Who still thinks in Germany?”

Finally I had a nice coffee with recent Berlin arrival Jurriaan who I think is a great addition to the local tech scene.

On Saturday I dropped by the extra Apps and the City hackday and turned my python hack into a javascript version for better distribution and graphical presentation. The javascript community disappointed me because there wasn’t a graph based A* solver available anywhere, so I was forced to write my own version using the Wikipedia pseudocode and underscore.js. That now lives on Github. It still needs a bunch of work.

Further I also updated my Thinkup installation to the most recent beta and my Dreamhost account to a VPS but still haven’t gotten it to work properly. I’m hoping that outage does not take too long.

  1. Which may have been slightly more inflammatory than necessary, but then again, who hates a nice controversy.

Week 305

With most of my work focusing at Hubbub these days, the weeknotes over there (the past week) are going to form the meat of my work in the foreseeable future1. I may need to use these weeknotes as an excuse for long form writing again and blog more here in general on loose ideas.

I published my piece about the Protocoletariat. I hope to be able to do more stuff in that field and tie in my professional endeavours in games, open government and computer science.

I can very much recommend following both @Dymaxion and @justinpickard for the interesting anarcho-futurist trends their interactions hint at.

I had a more than welcome catchup with Martin Spindler.

Then I started the procedures to finish the administrative year here in Germany and on to the next one.

  1. These weeknumbers also don’t make any sense anymore since my sole proprietorship in the Netherlands has lapsed with my emigration.

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 300: odds and ends

Last week was a week without travel or deadlines so a lot of stuff that had been lying around for too long got done.

I did some more work on the small secret project1. Also going forward with work on TORREON.

Chris Eidhof dropped by briefly at Praxis and told me about his plans to organize an iOS conference in Berlin.

I bit the bullet and got myself a monthly ticket for the U-Bahn along with a ticket for my bike. This has made a huge different in getting around the city. Many trips which would take half an hour by bike are a lot easier now and especially with the snow the combination of transit+bike makes a lot more stuff possible.

I enrolled in a conversational German course at the Goethe Institute to up my German to a professional level. We are going to get a new collaborator over at Praxis. And I went to my first ever CrossFit training session on the recommendation by Mustafa Isik.

I finally bit the bullet and changed my T-Mobile Netherlands plan to something a bit more minimal because I don’t spend much more than a week a month in the Netherlands anyway. On Thursday I sent a new proposal for TORREON. I did more stuff on REYNOSA.

Seems a rather appropriate sticker for Berlin

I got the funny (for Berlin’s reputation, see this Times piece) sticker for the new play Sommergäste by the Schaubühne written by Maxim Gorki. The previous play by that same director, Eugen Onegin, was absurdly boring so hopes for this adaptation of a Russian master should not be too high. Another Schaubühne play we almost went to, The Black Rider ((Really, the massive misguided stones necessary to translate Burroughs into German…)), seems to be by all accounts also really rather terrible.

Theater is a hopeless moribund discipline but Fabian Hinrichs may prove a notable exception in Berlin this week (which I’ll be missing because of travel to Amsterdam).

This week was also the week of the brilliant eulogy for occupy by Quinn Norton. Intentional or not, it confirmed my cynicism about the movement. What little sparks of brilliance and hope were to be found in the USA versions were almost totally absent from the Dutch camps. Around the studio here in Kreuzberg there are still some remnants of the movement active:
Just another demo in front of the office

Friday I started initial work on TORREON and after that I went to the VVVV 10th anniversary event over at Letters are my friends.

#vvvvX Flagship store opening

Twitter announced the general availability of your own tweets for download in archive form. I had done some preliminary work on this when this option was available to Europeans and now ThinkUp is busy building a full-fledged importer.

Sunday morning I finished reading The Invisibles, a brilliant mind bending comic by Grant Morrison. It may not seem like it is relevant to my work, but it very much is in a multitude of strange ways.

  1. I regret not picking a codename for it now. Henceforth it shall be known as REYNOSA.

Week 299: Moscow and sake release

Moskva river #wander

On Monday morning I flew to Moscow to participate in a panel at the Moscow Urban Forum. A gathering of experts on the subject of the city and policy who would shed some light on the development of a megacity such as Moscow. On the day I flew in, I got an opportunity to stroll a bit through the city.

I was impressed by the incredible amount of traffic that didn’t leave a lot of room for a person on foot. An experience I haven’t had since Beirut. And as underwhelmed as I was by the Red Square itself, the church at the end (Saint Basil’s Cathedral) was jarring in its familiarity. It had made a heavy impression on me when I was a small child and television commentary on the Soviet Union would feature it as a backdrop. An experience to finally see it in real life.

Odd to finally see this in real life. #wander

Surprisingly the one coffee chain in Moscow I visited Кофеин (Caffeine, I’m guessing) served a very smooth coffee and Foursquare is rather positive about the other chain (Кофемания) too.

That night I had a long overdue couple of drinks with Olaf Koens, an old friend who works as a Dutch correspondent in Moscow and writes a smashing travel book as well. A native guide is really recommended to ease acclimatization into Moscow. Without Olaf my impression of the city may have been a different one. As the night progressed we almost naturally wound up at Жан-Жак (Jean Jacques). A pleasant surprise as I had wanted to visit it ever since I read the piece about Russia’s New Decembrists last year.

One more thing we in the Netherlands and Germany especially could learn from Moscow: there is open WiFi almost everywhere. No bullshit passwords to mess with, just open.

My name in Russian

On Tuesday I was in a panel to present our extra-governmental/developer approach to open data which we have built up with Hack de Overheid over the past years. It is a complex story to tell and to translate across the cultural divide to practitioners over there, but I think the things we have achieved speak for themselves. Right now we are slowly figuring what parts of our practice can be exported and what parts are too specific for the Dutch case.

There are the answers to the obvious questions (‘Should you charge for data?’, ‘In what format should you supply data?’ etc.) that we have mostly figured out already but that seem to be difficult to explain and supply as shortcuts. And after that there are the very subtle nuances of what data means, what it says about the world, what it excludes and how you can create a process that guarantees maximal inclusion and all of its benefits. Answering those issues requires a far more in depth look at everything, a look for which there is hardly any market or audience unfortunately.

The next day before flying out I managed to get my first ice skating of the season in at Gorki Park.
Catching my first ice of the season at Gorki Park

And then as a bit of infrastructure enthusiasm I went on a lightning tour of the various Moscow underground stations which are regularly quite stunning. The Russian metro system seems to be mostly at capacity with trains arriving every couple of minutes, covering the full length of the platform and many of which being jam-packed during peak hours. Fortunately if ever the city wants to create a tram/light-rail system to complement its public transportation, there is ample space still at street level.


I got some more work in and then after a two hour drive to the airport I was in a plane back to Berlin. I had gained three hours of time with which I managed to visit the Game Developers meetup in Berlin.

Komsomolskaya #wander

Then it was back full speed on development for SAKE and I visited the new offices of the esteemed Peter Bihr and Matt Patterson, just two doors down the street from where I’m at now. It is brilliant to further increase the concentration of internet nous in the same couple of streets.

Cycling to work today was a bit more hardcore than I bargained for

I took the opportunity to relax a bit on Friday and have lunch with Igor Schwarzmann and then we presented our current release version of SAKE to the Gids. I was telepresent at that meeting which is a fun but also odd way to end a Friday, I must say.

As a side note: if you’re reading this you are probably a good candidate to be in the advice commission for the Dutch subsidy fund (Stimuleringsfonds) for either e-culture or architecture. What these commissions can use more than anything is a solid group of practitioners advising on proposals and people who set the bar high.

Week 298: Berlin odds and ends, hackday

Horribly late but here goes anyway. On Monday I briefly dropped by the Makers Loft and finally managed to see the Third Wave crew again.

Sake started up in earnest and team participation started to ramp up. Just now I piped the git commits into our communal chatroom, something I should have done a lot earlier because it so nicely shows the active heartbeat of a project.

I installed two applications I had been holding out on. I’m trying to backup my files to Amazon Glacier using arq but Berlin bandwidths are not very conducive to sending 192GB to the internet. Also I installed Flux to modulate my screen temperature into something a bit warmer for these cold winter days.

I think this bears sharing regularly:

The rest of the week sake kept up. On Tuesday I picked up my visa from the Russian consulate for the trip to Moscow. I’m on the plane back to Berlin as I’m typing this.

Wednesday I had a coffee with Niels van der Linden, a Dutch national who’s living in Istanbul and is active in the startup scene over there. Lots of interesting parallels and things to learn from each other in that one. We had a nice lunch with Praxis and then I went to the Iron Blogger Berlin meetup.

Picked up a pack of these stickers

A sizable part of the week was spent finalizing paperwork both for my German bookkeeper and for various institutions back in the Netherlands. After making my rounds through the city I dropped by at the ÖPNV hackday Apps and the City at Supermarkt.

Apps and the City hacking around

I couldn’t hack as much as I wanted because I needed to send my slides to Moscow for the following week, but once I finished those I still managed to get two small things in:

Firstly I uploaded the sample file of the various POIs for Berlin’s S-Bahn stations to Google Fusion Tables to be able to get a quick feel for the data. What’s in it, what’s not and how accurate it is.

Sadly, there is a full dataset available with the points for all stations in Berlin, but that is geocoded in some obscure German datum and therefore cannot be readily loaded into Fusion Tables. Ready usability is key for many hackday datasets, even if other participants had more time to do a possible conversion than I did. For a data provider: you show knowledge of the outside world by supplying GPS.

The issue to be solved with this dataset would be: finding your ideal way around a station for a transfer or your ideal exit for your final destination and based on that information to chain back and guide you into the optimal carriage of the underground train.

The first approach, to brute force the problem by tabulating all possible entries and exits, turned out to quickly balloon into something horribly large. After some thinking I thought up a graph representation of a subway station and demonstrated with a proof of concept “Stationsrouter” that you can route through that using the well-known A* algorithm.1

This can be easily extended for for instance wheelchair access by using a weighted graph and setting the weights of stairs to infinity for those users. I posted the algorithm and a rough graph coding online, I need to find the time to make the interface more attractive (probably by porting it to Javascript) and to transcode a couple more stations. To figure out where an arriving train lands on a platform and therefore which graph segment that corresponds to wouldn’t be too difficult.

There's a bride dancing in the middle of the street. #xberg

On Friday I was supposed to take an introductory German language course, but the hackday shenanigans made sure I missed that early appointment. Trying to reschedule something for the new year to level up my Deutsch. We did a capacity planning session with Hubbub and I ended the afternoon by watching a bit of TEDxAmsterdam waiting for the new talk by Kevin Slavin.

On Sunday I met with Peter Bihr, Matt Patterson and Daniela Augenstein to talk about open government in Berlin and then the next day it was off to Moscow!

  1. Web developers many of which are self-taught and who are not regularly faced with problems that are not solvable using procedural programming and databases often have no idea how more difficult problems in the domain of computer science can be solved. Corollary: game development contains many many of these more difficult problems.

Week 297: getting back into the groove

At the start of the week I managed to upload a batch of trip pictures (the China section) but after things went quickly downhill.

I spent the first three days of the week wrapped up mostly in visa procedures because I’ll be participating in the Moscow Urban Forum next week. I did manage to have some good chats in between, but attention was too scattered to get anything solid done (also this being the first week back from a reasonably long trip). Lunch with Fabian Mürmann, a board meeting for Open State.

Really awesome wall

I did discover a very nice coffee place around the corner and went there for just about every day since (I think this is love).

Hidden coffee place. Looks proper. #wander

Add to that two visits to the dentist as well on subsequent days and I was more or less done.

Friday was the first day where I could finally catchup with most things. I dropped by Gidsy and had lunch with Matt Patterson and then lunch again with my office mates. And the evening I prepped a session for the students from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences to tell them more or less everything I could about data visualization in 90 slides.


And on Sunday I finished my first book by James C. Scott which was fantastic (more on which later) and managed to finally get a secret little project underway that had been lying for far too long.

Week 296: Back in Europe/business

After some weeks traveling to Beijing and Australia, last week I was back in Europe, touching down in Amsterdam Tuesday morning early. I had a very nice flight in from Sydney with the only annoyance being that my laptop had broken upon arrival there. This made me spend half a day of the two I had there in the Bondi Apple Store trying to figure out what the problem was.

The Genius there was less than helpful. Determining that it was my hard drive, he tried without avail to erase it and then load up a new version of the OS. I am more or less pleased that he wasn’t successful in doing that. In Amsterdam I tried another couple of things but finally handed it in at Maccare.nl who without touching it said ‘it was probably the cable’ and the very same day had replaced it for me. Since the Genius hadn’t even managed to erase my disk, I could incredulously resume working from where I was a week ago.

Finally getting my cup on at Koko

Not having a laptop I did manage to finish The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoete and a Monocle on the flights from Sydney to Guangzhou to Amsterdam and the layover.

Once more Vondelpark #wander

Niels van Hoorn from Brainsley provided support (as well as many many friends online) in the form of tools and a place to hangout while I tried swapping fresh hard drives in and out. The following day I handed my laptop in and while it was being fixed, I worked the day in Utrecht where using Chrome’s sign-in feature, I could resume most of my old work on an old Hubbub Macbook. It turns out the cloud is not a lie at all.

This morning's office looking out on Hobbemakade

Thursday morning I got my Macbook Pro back and spent most of the day working at Brainsley’s offices which are small but rather cozy. I dropped by the Open Coop to chat with Lex and pick up my Open State business cards. And that night I met up with some old friends who work now mostly as hired guns in the Amsterdam startup scene for cocktails at the famed Door 74.

Cup of coffee before I go #wander

Friday I dropped by the Village (again!) and then got onto the train to Berlin where I am typing this right now.

Back at the studio again (also: fuck it, ship it) #wander

Week 292: Ignite, GSL, pre-trip prep

I’m sitting here at Beijing Airport writing these too late weeknotes on their free WiFi1 which is an oddly implemented but still excellent service.

Last week was mostly spent with a scattered brain working on my ignite an various proposals. We had a studio meeting at Praxis to discuss recent developments and issues.

Smashing sun on the terrace

Thursday night I gave the Ignite to a packed Supermarkt Berlin. Thanks everybody for attending and listen to me rave about games for five minutes. Also fantastic to meet everybody in Berlin who I hadn’t caught up with for ages.

On Friday I finished off most of my paperwork before the trip. That night we went to see Werner Herzog read with the studio.

Trying out the GOMPlayer - 케이윌 (K.Will) 이러지마 제발 (Please don’t…)

The next morning I got up at seven to see the market build up and watch the GSL Code S final together with Mustafa Işık and a colleague of his. You are either mildly serious about watching this or you are not. I’d already set up and tested the GOM Player before. That’s the bit of KPop you see above.

It was rather exhilarating to see a GSL event streamed live and I’m glad my light season ticket entitled me to view it. I’ve recently gotten into Star Craft because of Frank Lantz’s excellent “Drinking Man’s Guide to Watching Star Craft” and am greatly enjoying it as a highly complex, dense and therefore less boring alternative to most spectator sports.

Life v MVP - GSL final set one

  1. Also: it is nice to still have a blog in a country where most social services are effectively a SPOF.