indie conf handbook

The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook

Peter Bihr and Max Krüger have written a 43 page handbook on how to organize your own independent conference: The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook.

You can download it for free as PDF, or an e-reader friendly version for a small fee.

It’s great Peter and Max wrote down their experiences. This May when I visited their ThingsCon conference, and later that week Re:Publica, both in Berlin, I realised how long it had been that I went to a conference where I was a mere participant (which I was at these 2 events), and not somehow involved in organizing it or speaking at it. I also realized how long it has been since I visited a ‘proper’ conference.

Independent events have been the mainstay of my curriculum of professional learning. Visiting Reboot conferences in Copenhagen, SHiFT in Lisbon, the BlogTalk conferences in Vienna, a range of community initiated open data conferences across Europe (over 50 in 2011 and 2012 alone), more BarCamps than I can list, Cognitive Cities and ThingsCon by a.o. the aforementioned Peter Bihr, State of the Net in Trieste, all had one thing in common: there was no real difference between my speaking and my participating and there was no difference between the organizers and the community present.

Usually this happens,in Peter’s words, “for a simple reason: each time we were looking for an event — a focal point where we could meet like-minded people or those with shared interests — we could not find one“. Because quite often the right setting simply isn’t there, or the organizers actually don’t have your learning or interaction as a goal. Because you’re interested in emergent themes around which there isn’t enough going on yet for established conference organizers to see an opportunity. The last ‘proper’ conferences I went to on my own accord were in 2004 and 2005, when I and others proferred it is “cheaper to host your own event than visit one“. Conference and event organizing turned into just one of those things you do in your community, and for me now really requires of the organizers to have a role and be part of that community. I haven’t looked back, and all the events I visit voluntarily are indie events.


During my opening remarks at Make Stuff That Matters, birthday unconference 2014 in our home, by Paolo Valdemarin

Over the years, with others I have organized a lot of indie events as well. Examples are many workshops, the first open data barcamps in the Netherlands (which over time became the Open State Foundation), Data Drinks (now bringing together some 250 people in Copenhagen), international conferences for some 350 people in Rotterdam and Warsaw (because doing it in a city or country where you don’t reside and have no contacts gives it that little extra edge ;) ), the global FabLab Conference in 2009 (where as additional obstacle course we opted to spread the event over 4 Dutch cities with buses transporting participants and on-board workshops), the BlogWalk series of 2004-2008 in 11 cities on 3 continents, and of course the three Birthday Unconferences Elmine and I organized right in our own home (2008, 2010, 2014).

Elmine and I were so energized from doing those birthday unconferences we created an e-book (download PDF) on how to do it. Mostly to find an outlet for that energy we felt, and as a gift to all who had been there. Even then we saw it was a welcome document although focussing on a very specific type of indie event.


How to Unconference Your Birthday e-book, properly printed and bound

And now Peter and Max have written down their experiences in the Indie Conference Organizer Handbook. This is a great gift to all of us out there visiting, participating and trying our hand at our own events. Let’s make good use of it!

Making Makers, Danish Edition

Our friends Henriette and Thomas who live in Denmark, could not make it to MSTM14. So when we decided to head up to Copenhagen for a few days, we resolved to bring Make Stuff That Matters to their home. We added our 3D-printer to our luggage and set out to Denmark.

Last Friday we spent the afternoon and evening with Henriette, Thomas and their 10yr old daughter Penny. Coffee and home made (by Penny) chocolate cupcakes on their sunny deck, hanging out in the harbour / beach of Elsinore, and eating pizza and calamares was mixed with some fun 3D-printing.

We started with the Doodle3D.com add-on to the printer, as it is a fast way to quickly get a feeling for what you can do. Doodle3d.com provides a drawing tool in your browser, and hitting the print button makes it send your drawing to the 3d-printer directly. That way doodles, and word-art are immediately turned into tangible objects. A name tag for the door to your room for instance:

Having demonstrated the basics, it was time to print some more. Penny already had an orange Ultimaker-robot, from when Henriette us and Siert (Ultimaker’s founder) met-up at SHiFT Relays in Dusseldorf last fall. Her favourite color is blue, and we brought some, so logically a blue robot needed to be printed. And then later a red one. Hitting the select and print button on the printer was a bit scary at first, but every new printed plastic layer was greeted with a widening smile and fascination.

We showed some pictures from the event, and talked about Peter and Oliver Rukavina’s work in using Printcraft to 3d-print designs that were built in Minecraft. Showing Peter’s blog post with the Minecraft screenshot and the resulting 3d printed castle (that my colleague Frank’s son made after being shown Printcraft by Oliver and Peter) drew a direct response from Penny “Wow!”. Immediately the laptop and a mouse were brought out, and Thomas pointed her machine to the Minecraft server run by Printcraft. Penny constructed a pyramid that we then downloaded to our printer. Layer by layer her creation materialized in front of us.

The design was shared by Penny at the Printcraft site immediately.
As Peter said when we posted some pics to Facebook from Henriette’s living room it is beautiful to see the knowledge and inspiration spread. From Oliver, to our living room, to Frank’s son Floris, to Elmine and me, to a Danish living room, to Penny, and being turned into a pyramid.

Making Makers – The Process

We look back on a great event, our ‘Make Stuff that Matters’ unconference and bbq. Bringing together some 45 people from around our various networks to our home for a day of making. Most never had done anything like it before, most had never met each other before. So how do you guide a group like that through the day, in a way that they actually have made something together by the end? How do you make makers out of all of us? Here’s a quick run-down of the process we designed.

Turning introductions into an overview of skills and experience
We started with a quick intro-game. Each participant was given a blank card with the instructions to:

  1. write their name on the card
  2. find a stranger in the room
  3. introduce yourself, your skills and experiences
  4. let the other person draw on your card what she thinks stands out
  5. then have the other take their turn for the same
  6. stick the resulting cards on the wall to serve as reference for the day

L1020788 IMG_7015
Introductions and making the cards / Inspecting the skill cards on the wall

Aan Klaas
Examples of cards

Printing new humans as a way to decide what to make
After these introductions it was time to start the real process. We created groups of 5 or 6. Then the group members created a series of drawings of humans. The first, invisible to their neighbour, drew a head, the second a body, the third legs. Doing that in a circle created 5 or 6 drawings per round. After a first round to warm up, the second round we asked to add more character, expression or indications of background or profession.

From the resulting drawings, the group then discussed and selected their favourite one and constructed a story around them. The story would explain character, backgrounds, origins, and things like age and their name. Stories were mailed to Elmine who printed them out.

The resulting figures and their stories were put on a big flipover sheet and then stuck to the walls.

IMG_6973 I am MERLIN
Drawing humans in groups, and a resulting drawing

Individually all participants then added post-its to the ‘new humans’ with items these people might use, want, need or care about. Then individually people picked one or more of these items to make during the rest of the day, and helped eachother to do that.

IMG_6995 IMG_7001
Drawn humans on the wall with their story, adding post-its with ideas for things to make for them

Rationale behind the process
We wanted to make sure that all had the same starting point. Otherwise someone who had more experience or an idea up front might dominate a group simply because others had less well formed ideas, even though the others might not really be interested in realizing that idea. We wanted to make sure that everyone could pick something that was of interest to themselves, which triggered enough intrinsic motivation to see it through. By putting all through creating a ‘new human’ and specify their material needs, we created both a specific and neutral context in which an object was to be used, as well as enough diversity in ideas for all to choose from.

Origins of the process
Given our rationale of wanting to pick people up where they were, and offer enough ideas neutrally, we needed to come up with a process. Originally the ‘drawing people’ idea was suggested by Peter Troxler as an introduction game, but discussing it we realized it could be the starting point of the making process. We then thought some more about how to introduce people and repurposed a similar intro-game from last time (there one person wrote on a card how the other person was connected to us, which we turned into a network map), refocusing it on skills and experiences. Drawing was added to get people’s creative juices flowing. Elmine then put it all together in a instruction manual for all to use, embedding the process in a story that made the steps follow each other logically.

Financial Transparency in the Netherlands, an overview

Recently I participated in a session of the Dutch permanent parliamentary commission on national spending, discussing open financial data. A good reason to give a quick update on open government spending data in the Netherlands.

Current status of open spending
Let’s give you a general overview of open spending in the Netherlands first. As you can see in the Open Data Census, open spending data is the single biggest missing chunk of data in the Netherlands. The national budget is available as open data, since 2012, thanks to the work of the Dutch national audit office, but only on an aggregated level. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is publishing transaction level data on international aid since 2012 as part of IATI, and is the only Dutch public sector body doing this. On a local level some aggregated spending data is available through the Open State Foundation‘s project openspending.nl. In the past months I have gathered local spending data from 25 local councils, and provided it to this project to make comparisons across local governments possible. In a current project with the Province of North-Holland, we are, in collaboration with 10 local governments, aiming to open up the spending data of 50+ local councils. There is no requirement, unlike in the UK, for government bodies to publish open spending data.

Old Parliament
The session took place in the old plenary meeting room of the Parliament

National Audit Authority: Forwards with open spending!
President of the National Audit Authority Saskia Stuiveling had the clearest message during the parliamentary committee meeting, in terms of general outlook as well as leading by example. Even for the audit authority it is often hard to get the right data to properly audit government spending. Opening up spending data by default will help them to concentrate on those parts of public policy where it matters most, e.g. health care spending. To lead by example the audit authority has opened up their own spending data this spring. They also published a ‘Trend Report Open Data‘ tracking the open data efforts of all Ministries, and urging them to do more. Opening up data is becoming a standard advice given in all their audit reports. In other words they are building up pressure for Ministries to do more. (disclosure: I worked with the audit authority on the trend report open data)

Foreign Affairs: Open spending is useful instrument
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs presented itself as a proponent of more financial transparency. Having started publishing open spending data on international development in 2012, they will be launching a (Tableau) based viewer for that data on June 11th, which includes the possibility to drill down to project level information and can link to external sources such as project descriptions published by NGO’s. A viewer like this serves as a replacement for yearly paper based reporting, makes a step towards visualizing impact and not just spending, as well as is a means to motivate more NGO’s towards bigger spending transparency.

Finance Ministry: following Audit Authority’s lead
The Finance Ministry until now has done little towards open spending, but during the session in the Parliament they showed how the work done by the audit authority mentioned above has prodded them into action as well. Triggered by the open data trend report last March, they have now opened up aggregated spending for the first time (update from Rense Posthumus in the comments: data is located at opendata.rijksbegroting.nl). Also the Finance Ministry announced that subsidies data and basic financial data of independent government agencies is available in a viewer in sneak preview, though no URL was given yet. It wasn’t indicated when this would be made publicly available. (UPDATE: see comment by Rense Posthumus) The plan to publish departmental spending for all ministries by 2016 was announced, but made dependent on ‘creating a standard reporting method’ first. That met with resistance in the audience: if the data is good enough for the Finance Ministry to work with, why isn’t it good enough to publish? That argument did seem to resonate with the Ministry director present.

Interior Affairs: very disappointing
A very disappointing contribution was made by the Ministry for the Interior’s deputy director-general. This Ministry is nominally responsible for the open government and open data efforts of the government, as well as in the lead to reform the Freedom of Information Act in light of the new EU Directive on the re-use of public sector information, but in this session showed a shocking lack of vision and no will to act. In 20 minutes nothing was said about open government at all, leaving the attending Members of Parliament confused. Even the actions the Ministry hás taken, such as the launch of the national data portal in 2011, and joining the Open Government Partnership (albeit with an Action Plan that adroitly avoids formulating action), weren’t mentioned. From this presentation one can only conclude that nothing much can be expected from this Ministry in the near future. This means other public sector bodies are left largely to their own devices, which is a shame as it means lots of time will be lost clearing up confusion and raising the general level of knowledge on how to do open government data well. The Ministry for the Interior, being in charge of the open government dossier, is the only one inside government who could claim a much needed role of ‘lighthouse’ and beacon for established good practice, but they’re not on the ball, nor seem to aim to be.

MidSummer UnConference MSTM in 4 Weeks!

In just 4 weeks our MidSummer Unconference and BBQ “Make Stuff that Matters” will take place in our home. We’re hugely looking forward to it!

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This third unconference in our home will bring some 40 people together on Friday 20 June, and double that on Saturday 21 June for the BBQ. Haven’t rsvp’d yet for either or both days? Please do so by 6 June!

What will we be up to at the unconference?
We’ll make things together!

We have more opportunity than ever to act and make things ourselves, while connected to and embedded in globally connected networks and globally accessible knowledge. Our world is however a closed system with restraints in terms of resources, with only our creativity in true abundance. So we better learn how to act, prototype, design and make well. Whether it is a product, a system, a structure or a new routine. So we better make stuff that really solves something for you or others, that makes something important possible. So we better Make Stuff That Matters.

With all participants we will explore making. To do that we are not just bringing great people together from many countries and backgrounds, but also a number of cool machines:

  • I am working to get my open source laser cutter working in time for the event
  • We have arranged to have the very cool mobile FabLab Frysklab, operated by the Provincial Library of Fryslan, parked in front of our home for 2 days.
  • Ultimaker, the great 3D printer company from right here in the Netherlands, is lending us a number of their 3D printers. (Together with our own printer, and the mobile FabLab, we will have 7 3D printers for the two days)

  • bus1 klein
    The Frysklab truck will be at our event

    Next to that we have brought together a wide range of cool guides, and electronics (Sparkcore, Arduino, Rapsberry Pi) to add to the mix. Our visits to ThingsCon in Berlin and 3D Camp in Limerick have added quite a few things to our arsenal of material.

    ultlimaker2
    Ultimaker is lending us some of their great 3D printers

    Laos open source laser cutter
    I am busy getting my open source laser cutter to work

    Elmine and I have designed a process, with the help of others such as Peter Troxler, and we have a program set out for the day.

    During the Unconference we will work in teams on making things that are meaningful to us. In between we will have up to 6 speakers giving presentations on stories they want to share.

    Two sessions we already have planned:

  • Keith Andrews, a professor at Graz University of Technology, will speak about data visualization (and we’ll have various great books by Edward Tufte to get inspired by as well).
  • Oliver Rukavina (13), the son of Canadian friends of ours, will do a session about 3D printing straight from Minecraft. (Minecraft is a kind of virtual Lego world, and e.g. the whole of Denmark has been recreated in it using open data)
  • I may want to do a session myself as well, but need to think about it. If you are participating on Friday and have a story you really want to share, do let us know and we will aim to fit you in the program.

    Saturday, the day after the conference, all machines and all output of the conference will still be available to work with. We will open up the mobile FabLab to the neighbourhood as well that day. And of course all other BBQ guests will get to play with the 3D printers as well!

    Join the MSTM Facebook group to already meet the rest of the guests, or blog / tweet / share things yourself by using the #mstm14 tag! Do get in touch if you have questions, or like to rsvp.

    Looking back on 3D Camp

    We had two beautiful sunny days in Ireland this week. One spent touring the country side and the coast with our kind hosts Gabriela and Ray, and Adrian McEwan (one of the other speakers, active in IoT and running a makerspace in Liverpool). And one spent at the event we were here for: 3D Camp.

    It was the 7th edition, and it’s not a full barcamp, in the sense that the program is set beforehand, although all sessions are still volunteered by participants.

    As I was speaking right after the opening key-note, I had the rest of the day to listen, learn and have conversations. Some random take-aways from the day:

    CoderDojo
    A great concept where children get to play by coding up stuff is CoderDojo. A room full of kids with one or both parents working together: the CoderDojo Limerick was in session. Groups are active in over 20 countries. These types of things can be life changing. I still remember getting my hands on my first computer when I was 12, and learning to code BASIC on it. I was immediately fascinated by the technology. Still am. What if my teacher hadn’t gone through the trouble of arranging a few machines for us to experiment with? I would probably have encountered my first computer only upon entering university. A very different stage in life to have your eyes opened to a range of new possibilities.

    3Dcamp 2014
    CoderDojo Limerick at work

    Cortechs
    Aine Behan of Cortechs shared with us some of the current things going on in measuring brainwaves and using it to control things, like games. Very interesting to hear about games that reward and give feedback on the amount of focus and calmness your brainwaves convey. It is being used to e.g. condition ADHD children towards better focus skills. Reminded me of the brain wave controlled helicopter I encountered at TEDxTallinn last year.

    Makey Makey
    Definitely the most funky stuff present at the event. Build upon Arduino you use Makey Makey to turn everything into a key. Like bananas to play music on. Intended for kids, but fun for anyone really.

    PiPhone
    Heaps of Rapsberry Pi goodness was the demo of the PiPhone by David Hunt. A phone built from Raspberry Pi and other components. A bit clunky, but it works. And while the question whether this is something that will take on the major mobile phone companies isn’t of much relevance, it does mean you can build your own without them, without needing an engineering degree. Another case in point of disruptive tech creating new affordances for individuals.

    Oculus Rift
    James Corbett, with Gabriela the organizer of 3D Camp, demoed the Oculus Rift. It’s a somewhat disorienting experience to wear it. As what your eyes perceive is different from what all other senses, including your entire body, are telling you. Although the visual quality isn’t all that good (pixelated), the sense of being in a 3d environment is complete and convincing. When I was standing on a balcony, I automatically tried to grab the railing to better look over the edge. My hands were surprised to not find anything where my eyes were telling me the railing was. Luckily there was a table edge I could grab, which then reinforced the reality of being in an experience with just one of my senses, but otherwise still in the event venue, as it was thinner than the railing. Looking down you are surprised to not see your feet (I didn’t have an avatar in the demo). Because of that disconnect between your various senses, it is a very different experience from e.g. being in a VR cave. In a cave you are more fully immersed, with both sound and sight, and you have your body with you. On the other hand, in a VR cave I never forgot that I was in a room with projections around me. With a VR headset like Oculus Rift I was more convinced to be someplace else, as my eyes were telling me only that, but you’re not completely there at the same time. Adding a ‚cochlear rift’ with surround sound will likely make the experience even stronger/stranger.

    FabLab Cloughjordan
    Anthony Kelly of the Cloughjordan sustainable village project talked about the FabLab called WeCreate they have started there. He talked a little bit about how to make it financially feasible to operate a lab. The FabLab is part of the village co-working space and business center, which makes a lot of sense. Adrian McEwan of the Liverpool Maker Space told me they’re doing the same thing. The co-working space is a main source of income, and at the same time it is a good pool of people from which new makers emerge. A stand alone makerspace will more easily end up with a fixed group of users, where the point of course is to expose more people to the possibilities of digital making. WeCreate has an interesting event lined up for September, OpenEverything (no link yet)

    3Dcamp 2014 3Dcamp 2014

    I had pleasant conversations throughout the day, on open data, internet of things, fablabs,
    talking to the Coder Dojo dads, etc. Elmine rounded off the day with sharing the ‘How to Unconference Your Birthday’ story, and the upcoming ‘Make Stuff that Matters‘ event (Facebook group). She called upon all to actively spread making literacy, and that an event like ours may help. At least two people seemed to have caught the bug.

    Thanks to Gabriela for inviting us over, and to her and Ray for being such great hosts to us. We’ve seen quite a lot in just two days in Limerick!

    3D Camp Limerick: Mixing Open Data and Making

    Earlier today I gave a short talk at 3D Camp in Limerick, Ireland. I explored how open data can inform digital making, and how digital making can help create data. So that we can get around to making things that matter, that solve something for us or the communities we’re part of. Away from making as an individual act, creating a single object. We’re not living up to the potential of social media, open data, internet of things and digital making. In part because we’re still learning, in part because these four things form silos, with not much cross-over. So I discussed how to build a bridge between open data and making. So we can best make use of the new affordances these new tools give us. That goes beyond acquiring skills (like being able to operate a laser cutter) to becoming making literate where you are able to detect what is needed for your living environment to work/be better, then conceptualize, and make a solution, that creates impact through application.

    Slides below.

    Tactical Tech Mac Security Workshop

    At Re:Publica 14, Elmine and I both attended a workshop on making your Mac more secure.

    The session was given by the Tactical Technology Collective, a group who’s work and website I can only recommend. Previously this week I wrote a blogpost about them already.

    Here’s a quick checklist of basic things to make your Mac more secure:

    • Upgrade to OSX Mavericks as it contains additional safety measures
    • Use a password for your laptop
    • Use a password manager so you can have unique passwords for various things. Clean up the password list of those you no longer use.
    • Switch on Firewall
    • Switch on FileVault (because otherwise your HD can still be copied, without your password, through the firewire port e.g.) Do store your reactivation code away from your laptop, and don’t share it with Apple.
    • Use ‘empty trash securely’ instead of ‘empty trash’, so deleted files are not retrievable from your HD
    • Name your machine something innocuous, other than your own name (your machine name is being broadcast by your Mac on local networks)
    • Use an innocuous user name, not your own name, for the same reasons
    • Regularly remove items from the list of remembered wifi networks (your Mac broadcasts that list when searching for wifi, which is basically a list of places where you have been to), especially before and after traveling
    • Name your home / work wifi networks something innocuous
    • Switch of wifi and Bluetooth when not in use
    • Use a VPN service (this is helpful both for making surfing on open wifi more secure against listening in, to mask your true location, or mask your surfing patterns

    From that list, Elmine and I already do some, but not all.

    VPN was already in use by Elmine (to watch Dutch tv while traveling), and since the session I have also started using VPN from PrivateVPN.com, a Swedish service that seems widely recommended. It gives me a wide range of data centers to use as location, and allows me to connect up to 4 devices, and costs 66 Euro/yr. I also installed Viscosity (at $9) although you can do without. Viscosity gives me the option to switch between the various VPN locations available to me.

    Filevault I didn’t use yet, as I did not know my HD could be copied without a password by connecting to one of the ports on the laptop. After returning home from Berlin, and doing a back-up, I’ve now switched it on. It means that when I am not logged in, all files on the laptop are encrypted.

    I wasn’t aware of securely emptying trash before.

    Cleaning up the list of wifi networks you’ve used I did every now and then already. But I wasn’t aware that my Mac actually broadcasts that list when trying to find a wifi network. The Tactical Tech people had a sniffer that showed us what info our machines were sending out. It was quite surprising to see info rolling across the screen I wasn’t aware of sharing.

    All this stuff is of course not enough if you’re paranoid, but the things mentioned form a good list of basic common sense things to do, that help keep your machine safer and make it harder for others to violate your privacy.

    Re Publica 2014 Berlin
    Reclaim the Net, the area where, and motto of, the sessions took place

    What the Internet of Things Is (Not)

    Another element I want to highlight from the ThingsCon opening keynote by Alex Deschamps-Sonsino (Designswarm), is her discussion of what the internet of things (IoT) is and is not.

    Of course the internet of things, just like any other technology is only a novel and separate subject by itself as long as it is the exception and not mainstream. Right now we are simply somewhere on the continuum between early human computer interaction and normal regular life. At the singularity point, or perhaps better, the vanishing point, an everyday object will ‚simply’ be smart, and we’ll just get on with it.

    the continuum to normal life
    slide from the keynote

    This autonomy and smartness in everyday objects where it is relevant, does not equate automation, nor only smartness. It also means playing well with others (objects / interfaces / people, through APIs), and it means being connected to the internet as the underlying substrate, so it can become a grid or platform of objects and can be built upon.

    One of the slides is shown below as a handy comparison chart.

    Smart vs Connected