Nimble hulks collaborate

It’s good to see not all newspapers are caught in a stupor the Japanese ones seem to actually be seeing their common interest and making something sort of useful to their readers.

First, it’s nice to see newspapers do stuff which is innovative instead of being stuck in the headlights and waiting to die.

Secondly, this adresses a real problem. On any commute I make with my iPhone, I theoretically can read all the news from the world’s best newspapers instead of grabbing a free newspaper from the box on the station. I’ve done so for a while, but lately I don’t bother anymore.
The reason I don’t bother is that it is too much hassle to lead the newspaper’s awful bloated websites over what passes for 3G in this part of the world, then select what I want to read and then read that. There are too many actions involved and the cognitive load is too great.

A simple app which works like a specialized RSS reader where you can triage for a specified set of newspapers and categories the articles you want to read and then get those in rapid succession would be a godsend.

This Happened Again

Monday I’ll be attending This Happened Utrecht #2. This Happened is organized by Ianus, Alex and Kars as part of the This Happened franchise and the best description I’ve heard is that “it’s like Pecha Kucha with actual content.”

The presentations promise to be interesting again, it’ll be nice to catch up with people and I’ll be writing a blog report of the Q&A sessions. So it would be nice if people would ask questions worth blogging and worth talking about after the event. I’m pretty sure comments will be open.


Of the people presenting I’d already heard about MIMOA. I’m pretty interested in architecture and I gave the site a brief test run.

It’s a great open catalogue (or is it a personal architectural guide?). It’s mostly functional and I saw that they also syndicate their content to for instance the Stylos site. Some of the flows and layouts of the site are a bit jarring and could use fixing but they don’t detract from the core usefulness of the site.

The only thing I’m curious about is whether MIMOA could be used as a tool to bridge the gap between architecture professionals and us naieve end users (or should I say victims) of their creations. The current blurbs and comment system do not really invite to such.

Art in the public space

I started the week out nicely with a lunch lecture from Kie Ellens about art in the public space. It took me some time to properly code it, but it is online finally (and mostly in English):

The architectural student association Stylos is celebrating a lustrum this week, so there were lunch lectures every day, but unfortunately I could only attend the one.

Halsoverkop project-des-ontwikkelen

Taplin schreef van de week al dat de economische crisis onrust en onveiligheid op lokaal niveau tot gevolg zou hebben. Blijkt dat Dubai al het ravijn in glijdt en niemand weet hoe erg het daadwerkelijk is.

Nu is het nogal onhandig om in tijden van crisis de boel nog verder aan te halen en geen informatie vrij te geven zodat de paniek alleen maar groter kan worden. Het gerucht gaat al dat de eilanden teruggeclaimed worden door de zee (waarschijnlijk omdat de baggeraars zonder werk in Nederland zitten).

Wie had gedacht dat dunebashen in SUVs en snowboarden in het midden van de woestijn niet houdbaar zouden zijn? Als het Dubai-Disney niet eens marginaal economisch duurzaam is, hoe ecologisch duurzaam had het dan kunnen zijn?

Megalomane projecten waarvan iedereen aan had kunnen zien komen dat ze de noodzakelijke onderbouwing misten. Ook al durfden weinigen dat te zeggen in het aanzicht van het ‘economische wonder’. Nu hebben we gezien waar economische wonderen van analysten, investeerders en bankiers toe leiden.
Blijkt dus dat je geen wereld kunt bouwen in 10 jaar, ook al heb je nog zoveel hijskranen.

Van de week ging ook al het TVCC gebouw in Beijing in vlammen op. Het heeft er niks mee te maken maar een zekere symboliek valt niet te ontkennen.

Guidelines for government data

This weekend I visited the Barcamp UK Govweb (#ukgc09, barcamp) in London to talk with people about government websites, data and see what the state of the art is in the UK on this topic. It was a very interesting meeting and I learned a lot from people who’ve been doing this for far longer than I have been.

Stand around

Government Data

Open Government Data Session Tack-on Free For All

One of the most interesting was the session on government data and the various initiatives and other activities that are being advocated to give us better and easier access to government data to make cooler stuff.

A lot of issues about current initiatives were discussed, about various Click-Use Licenses and about how open data should be financed.


One of the things that I found surprising is that most people present were firmly against a set of guidelines about how to open up your data.

I agree that a set of guidelines like these if done improperly can cause more pain than they solve and maybe they are not necessary in the UK with the OPSI in place. In the Netherlands we would like an open data process where everybody who has data and would like to open it up could go to and get advice what the best strategy is.

I want to prevent situations where when faced with the problem how to open up data, a government body contracts it out and we get a site with a bunch of PDFs in return. Guidelines can’t catch all cases, but we should be able to create something which prevents the worst from happening while simultaneously not tying us down when we try to make usable systems.

Everybody present in the government data session implicitly knows what should be done when opening up data but the problem is that this knowledge is tacit and in that form is useless to any government official interested in opening up their data. If you’re in that position and you’re willing to consider opening up your data in a ‘developer friendly’ format, it would be nice if we had more to offer to you than some vague ideas.

None of the rules in the guidelines should be definitive, they probably should be in the form of a series of questions with explanations so people are forced to consider stuff and by answering those questions come to a better end result.

As far as I am concerned the main rule should be to avoid unnecessary complexity when publishing data and consider stuff such as potential users and their needs, licensing, description, URL/availability and data format. I agree you cannot draft guidelines which guarantee a good outcome but I do know that change is necessary.


During the session a number of initiatives were named, maybe somebody else has a more definitive list:

I think the Hack The Government Day that Rewired State are planning is a very good idea. It’s been something of a year since we had our last govcamp in the Netherlands but I also see the need to combine the currently running initiatives into a more developer related event.

Film en beelden in de stad

Het heruitvinden van de steden is in gevallen zoals Los Angeles iets urgenter dan hier, maar een huizenmarkt die niet op slot is en een leuke publieke ruimte zou ik hier ook op prijs stellen.

Die leuke publieke ruimte is in Rotterdam al heel lang een probleem. Op een paar straten en pleinen na is het een bijzonder onplesante stad. Daar komt nog eens bij dat in de komend paar jaar zowel Lantaren/Venster als Cinerama gaan sluiten en wat ervoor terug komt is nog niet duidelijk.

“Of de opening van de nieuwe vestiging nauw aansluit op de sluiting van Cinerama valt te bezien.”

Een stadscentrum zonder filmhuis is wat mij betreft niet de moeite waard. Wie dat ook vindt kan dan eindelijk ook naar Amsterdam verhuizen.

Wat voor Cinerama in de plaats komt is een woontoren van minimaal 70 meter hoog en een winkelcentrum. Zou er niet genoeg gelegenheid tot winkelen zijn in het centrum van Rotterdam?

Maar nu blijkt dus dat die woontorens aan de Maas het helemaal zijn in Rotterdam. Dan bedachten wij een leuk plan: we bouwen aan de Maas een sluitende haag van woontorens aan weerszijden. Deze woontorens overkoepelen en overbruggen de maas vanaf 70 meter, zodat als je in het midden woont je door je glazen vloer de schepen onder je door kunt zien varen.
In het achterland van die woontorens slopen we alle gebouwen van na de oorlog (geleidelijk) en herstellen de omgeving in de ouwe staat met veel natuur eromheen. Rotterdammers blij, toeristen blij, iedereen blij.

Maar dit soort plannen daargelaten; er is morgen in NAi een lezing “The Big Picture” over beeldschermen in de publieke ruimte. Ik heb geen idee of ze aan het thema ubicomp gaan raken of dat het een navelstaarfeest van architecten en reclamemensen wordt, maar ik zou zeggen ga erheen en take back the city.

Corporate obstacles in the Netherlands

I talked with Max Whitney at 25C3 for a bit to learn about how NYC Resistor came to be. The story seems to go something like this:

They find a loft in New York.
They find 9 people willing to plunk down some cash ($1000 each).
They setup a Limited Liability Company.
The LLC subleases the loft from the current leaser on a year contract.
Membership dues and workshop money (and the occasional party) pays the rent on the space.

This story is a stark contrast with what you would need to do in the Netherlands to setup something similar. I know because I’m in the market to expand our current coworking space both because we will be kicked out in April and because we could use some more space for stuff and projects.

So how is this different and much more difficult to setup in the Netherlands? There are a number of factors which contribute to this difficulty.


Zoning laws prohibit using something like a loft for commercial/office-like purposes. If you’re doing a startup, the boundary of what is your house and what is your place of work may blur, but in the Netherlands an office is an office and a home is not an office.

Municipalities especially will not want livable houses to be extracted from the housing market and occupied by businesses because a lot of them already face a housing shortage.

Personal investment

People just dropping in some cash to get a space started is probably easier in New York too. One factor Max mentioned was that leases are ridiculously expensive anyway so people are used to paying a lot of money.

But a more important factor probably is that there is a bigger culture in the US of personal investment. What is annoying to startups here is that there are so few European angels. There has hardly ever been a significant internet cashout in the Netherlands and neither do we see a lot of reinvestment happening. On both coasts of the US there seem to be more people with money who are willing to invest it into cool stuff. The vast majority of people with money in the Netherlands are more boring than anything.


Limited liability companies in the Netherlands are called a B.V. and they require a seed capital of €18’000 to start. This money does not have to remain there but it is still a sizable hurdle. In comparison a British Ltd. costs €100 to setup.

Setting up a Ltd and using that to enter into a lease agreement in the Netherlands would be frowned upon because Ltds have a historically bad reputation.

Another way around this may be to setup a voluntary association or a foundation but to be able to shoulder liability, these would need statutes which need to be acquired from a notary and require a significant fee.


Subleasing spaces in the Netherlands is usually frowned upon especially when the sublessor makes a profit. This is because a lot of houses in the Netherlands are rent controlled and are rented out at half or less of their market value.

This means that a lot of houses are not being utilized to their full market value and that the supply in houses is far too small (and the supply of officeplexes too big). Rather than having the market clear this mess up, we are stuck with this heavily entrenched real estate system.

Lease agreements

Office leases are usually agreed upon for a period of 5+5 years, which mean you get a five year contract with the option to extend it for another five years. This five year contract is in fact meant to protect the lessee from fickleness on the part of the lessor but it does not take into account the fact that businesses may not want to be tied down.

This would not be so much of a problem if limited liability companies were easier to setup (the company would then take on the lease) but I treated that above.

Critical market

To be able to partially fund a space on workshop and party revenues, it helps if there is a large pool of potentially interested people. With the scale of something such as New York that may be possible, it’s a bit harder for us in Delft. We are at the moment somewhat pressed to find a fourth coworker let alone people who’d be willing to pay money to support us.


None of the things I mention above are insurmountabel but I think they do in large part explain why Dutch business and venture culture is not as dynamic and booming as that in the US.

Our digital senses

In some of Adam Greenfield’s backpages “Whatever happened to serendipity?” he recounts how he used to scrounge for punk rock records and how the difficulty and uncertainty of the experience was part of what made it worthwhile:

But at the risk of sounding like an old man, this ritual – make no mistake, that’s what it was – invested the purchase with meaning and value for me, and I despair at a world that doesn’t at least offer the possibility of similar adventures to its inhabitants.

This resounds simply with the fact that things that are worth doing are oftentimes difficult to do or to learn and things that are worth having are the ones you invested effort in getting.

Just to narrow this down to music, 99% of the music I listen to has no meaning whatsoever to me. This has no bearing on the quality of contemporary music, which I think is actually quite high. Only a couple of albums and artists have managed to strike a chord with me that makes their music merit a repeat listen.

This may be different for others but the real investment of Fl. 45,– or so back then was quite significant, distribution channels were few and the diversity they offered near zero, you got your recommendations either from mass media or from word of mouth. The experience was radically different.

Yes, something has been lost in the transition but the abundance we have gained in return makes it more than worthwhile for me.

But the piece is about the loss of serendipity and shortly after he writes:

Yes, I suppose you could always switch the thing off, leave it behind, deliberately “forget” it. But when you’ve lived your entire life through the intercession of a mobile and benevolent Delphi, is that realistically an option? I suppose we’ll find out.

Having spent two and a half weeks in the United States most of which in and around San Francisco. I can testify that it is indeed not an option.

San Francisco is so well mapped within most online services that the experience you have there using the internet is unparalleled. Most services originate there which results in San Francisco being completely mapped in Google Maps, well covered in Yelp and there are ample Twinkling Twitter users in the proximity.

Unfortunately for a visiting European like myself it is prohibitively expensive to use roaming data, meaning that most of the time my iPhone was a multimedia brick. Being disconnected like this, made me acutely aware of how reliant I have become on the real and virtual compass my iPhone provides. Walking around without a continuous stream of data coming in on the iPhone felt as if a sense was missing.

What is a sense other than a mapping of external information to a part of your brain? The services on my iPhone provide me with a sense of presence and sense of direction within my spheres of contacts. My brain is conditioned to receive regular updates to this sense and withholding those updates used to be called something like “withdrawal from information addiction” but since this is a sense we’re talking about, I think “sensory deprivation” may be better suited. Without this sixth sense so much of your peripheral ‘vision’ is cut off that you feel like you are wandering around half blind.