Category Archives: Personal

Estonian E-Residency Granted

Ten days after I applied for e-residency in Estonia, I tonight received a message from the Estonian police and border guard that my e-residency has been granted. That is much quicker than I had expected. So now I will be waiting to hear when my Estonian ID card has arrived at the embassy in The Hague, so I can pick it up!

eidok
The e-mail saying e-residency has been granted

See my earlier posting “I applied for Estonian e-residency” for more info on why it is important, what it is, and how it works.

I Applied For Estonian E-Residency

E-government in Estonia
Estonia has build advanced electronic services for their citizens, and basically moved their entire administration into the cloud (which also makes it territory independent, along the lines of running your national administration as an operating system bootable from a USB stick.) Most of the services you need as a citizen are electronic now. At the core of this e-government service package is you electronic ID. This is what allows you to use those services, and also shows who else has been accessing data about you. Now that everything is digital, it also becomes possible to offer those services to non-citizens. This is what Estonia calls e-residency: an electronic resident having access to Estonian e-services.

You can be an E-resident in Estonia too!
Estonia is the first country in the world to offer ‘e-residency’, meaning you get an Estonian electronic ID card. This does not make you a citizen of Estonia, but it does allow you to use their advanced e-government services. Providing non-citizens e-residency is a bold new step. Now you and I can use Estonian e-services, if those are more convenient to us. This is amazing really, especially if, like Peter Bihr notes, your own government is not up to that level of service at all. Like Ben Hammersley puts it Estonia as “a nation is now competing with its neighbours on the basis of the quality of its user interface“.

Since the fall of 2014 anyone can apply for Estonian e-residency. Until April 2015 you had to visit the Estonian border police in Estonia itself to do that (and 1200 or so did!), but since then you can arrange everything through an Estonian Embassy or Consulate near you. Originally you had to visit twice. Once to apply, and once (after background checks) to pick up your ID card and login credentials. Since May it only takes 1 visit, the rest you do online!

I have applied to be an e-resident
I have been on a mailing list of the Estonian government since last fall to alert me to new developments. They already promised then that online application and 1 visit to embassy would be possible by December 2015 and “likely sooner”. As it was unlikely I would be visiting Estonia (although I enjoyed my 2013 visit to speak at TedXTallinn very much) in the meantime, I planned to wait for that online application. When the alert arrived in May I was busy traveling, and basically have been traveling until last weekend when we returned from a month in Italy.

But now, finally, last Monday, I went to the e-Estonia website to apply. I uploaded a scan of my passport, and a scan of a recent passport photo, and filled out some information (basically the info that is in the passport), I selected the Estonian Embassy in The Hague as where I want to pick up my ID, and I paid the 50,99 Euro processing fee through secure online credit card payment.
Currently they have a bit of a waiting list they said, because of lots of interest, so it may take a month to get processed. [UPDATE]: I received a message my application has been granted 10 days after submitting it. [UPDATE 2]: I received confirmation that my e-ID is ready for pick-up 3 weeks after submitting the request. Will pick it up in 2 weeks, when I visit The Hague.

Schermafbeelding 2015-08-03 om 12.46.49
Confirmation e-mail of e-residency application

So now what?
What can you do with Estonian e-residency? Four services are currently available to e-residents that aren’t citizens. Register a business, do secure online banking, administer a business, and digitally sign documents and contracts. If, unlike me, you’re not an European Union citizen, this also means e-residency allows you to easily enter the European common market. For me all four of those services are of interest.

You access all those services through Ervinal, the Estonian e-government dashboard. You can see below how that looks. If you are a citizen, or reside in Estonia, such a dashboard will show you all kinds of other things as well concerning education, pension, your car, healthcare etc.

Ervinal screenshot
Screenshot (mocked-up with my pic) of the Ervinal e-service dashboard

The X-bus as architecture
I’m professionally involved with the creation of National Data Infrastructures in various European countries. Several countries are creating such things, but they may have different starting points. In Denmark and the Netherlands internal efficiency and a layer of open data is the core, with geodata, businesses and persons being the key data sets. In the UK (which does not have a person register), the entire system is more focussed on semantics, and interfacing between government branches.

The Estonian system is e-government service and citizen oriented and that makes persons and electronic ID the very core of the entire set-up. They have an exchange bus called X-Road, where any other service (including private entities such as banks and telecom operators, or you if you are developing a web-app) can share data based on a person and electronic ID as key. Estonia established X-road in 2002, and there is a European project to make that available and interoperable in other EU countries as well. In 2013, X-Road processed 287 million queries in Estonia, or about 220 queries per Estonian citizen.

All data is decentralized, and the person concerned can see how the data is being shared and with whom (including a redress mechanism if you don’t agree). This is very different from e.g. the Netherlands, where my role as the citizen being described by the data is not defined at all, and the entire system is set up around internal processes about me, but not with me.

Xroad
X-Road schematics, image taken from X-road.eu

Hack your e-residency!
The Estonian government is inviting you to co-develop the services that are available as an e-resident. In September a Garage 48 idea and hack session will take place, to “think outside borders” and put e-residency on the global map.

A month in Lucca: week 5

This week was a bit shorter and different than planned. Originally we were supposed to leave Lucca on Friday and then spend the weekend until Tuesday in Switzerland with friends. However we left Lucca a day earlier than that, and drove home after just one night in CH.

Part of the reason for that decision was that my leg was increasingly painful over the weekend until Wednesday. Another part that my mother isn’t doing well and phone calls with my sister and dad conveyed some urgency. Monday morning I phoned a local doctor about my leg, as during the weekend further internet research pointed to resurfacing chicken pox (herpes zoster), and not heat eczema. By then I had blisters from my knee all the way up my left leg to my middle. So I kept a low profile the first days, resting and reading, but not without heading out for coffee and lunch of course. The visit to the doctor on Monday evening confirmed our suspicion and I returned home with several prescriptions. The pharmacy did not have everything in store, so I went back Tuesday morning to collect the rest. It did mean changing my diet, by replacing the beautiful local wines of the past weeks for a daily fistful of pills.

So given that, we decided on Tuesday to leave Thursday, and skip a planned weekend with friends in Switzerland. Instead we decided to spend one night in Switzerland and drive home on Friday from there.

Having made the decision, my leg of course started improving somewhat the next day. While I was still resting and reading, Elmine started packing up our operation here in Lucca. Our last evening in Lucca we spent on the city wall talking, under the trees, looking out over the hills to the north. A beautiful summer evening.

Lucca, up on the walls
Up on the city walls

Thursday morning we took it easy, as we weren’t expected at our friends in Switzerland until the evening. We had a last coffee at Momus, and did some final packing. We had a pleasant lunch in the city and then packed the last bits into the car. I felt better than the past days and drove. Driving up to Switzerland went without problem, but there was a traffic jam in front of the Gotthard tunnel, so I opted to drive over the St. Gotthard pass (2106m), a major north-south axis to cross the Alps since the early 13th century and the watershed between Rhine and Po rivers. Driving up from the south is a smooth road, with beautiful views. Sadly just before reaching the pass itself we entered clouds that were crossing between the peaks. So we did not stop at the highest point but continued on down on the northern side, towards our destination near Zurich.

Seengen
On the shore of Halwyler See

After spending a pleasant evening with our friends, we left Seengen around 09:30. As it turned out the German highways were quickly filling up, and while we avoided a first traffic jam near Basel by choosing another border crossing, we soon found ourselves in slow traffic. A look on Google maps promised more of the same for the next 300-400kms, so we opted to cross over to Strassbourg in France, and from there drove up through the Vosges towards Luxembourg, briefly switching back into Germany to avoid traffic on the French-Luxembourg border. From Luxembourg we drove through Belgium to Maastricht in the Netherlands. There we had dinner in the inner city, before driving the final 2 hours home. A very European trip, through Strassbourg (seat of European parliament), Schengen (on the Luxembourg border, where the treaty was signed that made crossing 6 borders, CH-D-F-D-L-B-NL, on this day hassle free), and Maastricht (where the 1992 treaty was signed turning the EC into the EU).

Torno Subito
Right back! Sign on shop door in Lucca

After 5 weeks we are now back, and already plotting when we could spend more time in Lucca. Or some place else. It certainly seems to have stirred Elmine much more strongly towards creating/finding more location independent work. After Cambridge, Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki and now Lucca, in each of which we have spent longer periods to live, work and relax, I find this trip has shifted our thinking again on how to select a new place to live. We still plan on leaving Enschede somewhere in the coming few years, but we may want to rethink how to choose where to move to.

A month in Lucca: week 4

We are spending a month in Lucca, with some days before and after in Switzerland.

Fully settled in
By now we have fully settled into a daily rhythm here in Lucca. Coffee in the morning, either at Momus (most days, closer and have great pastries) or Il Bernino. I also have figured out the street pattern and confidently navigate the inner city. What first seemed a medieval maze, is now a pretty clear grid.
Mornings, except for coffee are usually given over for a stroll around town, and to do some shopping, or like I did this week, get a haircut. During the heat of the day we withdraw to the apartment, to come out again towards evening for another stroll and dinner.

The afternoons are perfect for some work and reading. I haven’t read all that much compared to other summers, but amongst the books I did read, I enjoy the new Neal Stephenson, SevenEves. I spent time on editing the Serbian open data readiness assessment report, incorporating the feedback I received from colleagues. I also worked several afternoons on the open data barometer research (ODBM) for the WWW Consortium. But with the not so great internet bandwith available, that is slow going. So I am betting on speeding up once I get back to our 1 gigabit connection back home.

Evenings were for strolls (either through the city streets, or up on the city walls), and with the Lucca Summer Festival taking place we were treated to the performances of Mark Knopfler, Robbie Williams and Lenny Kravitz as we walked around. I thought Knopfler’s rendering of Sultans of Swing had slowed down quite a lot from 35 years ago!

Lucca Lucca
Lucca streets at evening, sipping wine after a walk

Our daily rhythm now feels like something we could easily enjoy another month, or more.

Siena
This week we took a day to visit Siena, about 2 hours away from Lucca. It was nice to stroll through the historical center that is built across several hills. After lunch we wanted to withdraw from the heat and the other tourists. For that we went to the botanical garden where there was plenty shade, and the entrance fee kept everybody else out. We were the only two visitors.

The search for the new(er)
Last week I mentioned that finding the old in Lucca was easy, but finding signs of newer initiatives and activism is harder. There are a few places where a more active and younger scene seems to meet-up. One is a vegetarian place called Soup in Town, where we had lunch a few times. It is owned by the friendly and distinct character Daniele. The other is Ciclo DiVino, which is the focal point of a community of wine drinking cyclists, that hang out on the streets in front of the shop several nights per week. My open calls for local people involved in open data or making went mostly unanswered, but two people did get in touch.

Lucca Lucca
Finding serendipity and hipsters in Lucca

One was Andrea, who lives further south, and whom we met in Pisa on Tuesday early evening. We met in a beer shop / bar, run by a former colleague of Andrea, where a growing range of artisanal Italian beers can be tasted and bought. Andrea has been involved in open geo data and mapping for a long time, and currently is part of a project mapping the ‘loss of the night‘ due to light pollution. He grew up and lived in Milano for a long time, and a few years ago returned to the house and land of his grand parents in rural southern Tuscany. There he is trying to find new ways of making the country side more resilient, finding multiple revenue streams, and break the cycle of debt and investment that tourism has brought while making assets less productive (is it useful to take on debt to build a swimming pool to better attract tourists to your farm yard for 10 weeks per year?). Some other guests in the Birreria told us little bit more about how Lucca is different from the surrounding cities like Pisa. It has alwasy been more affluent, and in the last century much less communist that its surroundings. Which may explain why in Pisa spray painted slogans and protest are much easier to spot than in Lucca.

Lucca Lucca
cycling community sipping wine, bicycle

Sunday evening I met up with Davide, a self employed open source software builder, who has recently embarked on a new venture. His focus is on building an architecture that allows everyone to much better describe knowledge and metadata for data objects, and do this in a less centralized way than e.g. semantic web frameworks seem to assume. We walked, starting at Ciclo Divino, for an hour and a half, through the streets of Lucca while chatting about open data, and the adoption of new tools and other topics that came to mind.

WTF is wrong with my leg?
On Thursday I suddenly noticed what seemed like a pretty nasty rash on my left leg. At first I thought it might be eczema caused by heat. But it hurt more over time and it grew worse as well, with lots of blisters. So the last part of the week I wasn’t very mobile, and kept my rest.

Vincero! Vincero!

Puccini, Torre del Lago

For one thing I did get up though, and that was for us to visit the open air theater at Torre del Lago, for the opening night in this year’s Puccini Festival of Turandot, the last opera by Puccini. It was a beautiful summer evening, and we both enjoyed Turandot a lot. The production started of great, and even though we thought the middle part lacked creativity in its production which the final part could not really make up for, the overall experience was very good. Tenor Rudy Park, in the role of Calaf, we thought, carried most of the show with his quality. His rendering of Nessun Dorma during this premiere got a huge applause interrupting the performance. So much so, that he sang it a second time in its entirety to pick up the show again.

Puccini, Torre del Lago

We are now entering our final week already here in Lucca!

A month in Lucca: week 3

The second full week in Lucca, where we are staying the month of July, with a week before it, and some days after in Switzerland.

Turismo
This week contained a few regular tourist outings. One right at the start to the city of Pisa and its leaning tower. Even on a relatively early Monday morning it was already pretty crowded. But as soon as you walk away from the ‘piazza dei miracoli‘ into the streets of Pisa, you quickly lose most of the other visitors. Then you get to see a few glimpses of regular life in this old university town. Like students celebrating their graduation, such as the group next to us on the terrace where we had lunch. Or the anarchist writings on the walls across town and a coffee place that did not look like it had been there for ages.

Pisa Pisa
Tourists holding up the tower of Pisa, and a student coffee shop

Pisa Pisa
Pisa street art, and anarchistic posters

As we are near the Mediterranean coast we of course also had to take in a sunset on the beach. So one evening we drove to Viareggio, a to me rather unappealing seaside town, driving past the endless row of privatized beaches, to the public beach right at the edges. The cloudless sky gave us plenty of time to enjoy the sun sinking into the sea.

Viareggio Viareggio
Sunset over the Mediterranean

The end of the week we took a train to Firenze. The 80 minute train trip turned out to be surprisingly cheap, compared to home, at 7 Euro one way. We arrived at the 1930’s Firenze Santa Maria Novella station, an example of Italian modernism. Starting from the notion that form should reflect functionality, it is a spacious thing with great filtered daylight, serving some 60 million passengers annually. The architects sought to balance the station with its urban surroundings and the church Santa Maria Novella opposite. Many of the internal details (from the turnstiles, to the benches, and the markers at the beginning of the platforms) were additionally designed by a state architect and more reflective of Italian fascism / realism.

Firenze Firenze
The Firenze cathedral, and inside the Uffizi

Stepping away from the station you are immediately transported from the 1930’s to the 1400’s when De’ Medici’s put their remarkable stamp on the city. We explored the cathedral, with a great archeological exhibit in the cellars about the pre-existing paleo-Christian church, and visited the Ponte Vecchio of course. We ended the day with a visit to the office. De’ Medici’s uffizi from 1580, not a newfangled coworking space of course, and walked through the endless halls of the ancient family’s enormous collection of art housed there. Even taking in as little as we did from Firenze, we still walked 20 kilometers just that one day.

Finding the old, finding the new
Within the city walls of Lucca you can still see the original street pattern from when the Romans turned this place into a colony in 180BCE. From the Forum where the San Michele church now stands, where the two main perpendicular Roman roads still cross (Fillungo/Cenami and Roma/Santa Croce), to the square built on top of the Roman amphitheater, and the Medieval streets that still largely follow the Roman grid pattern. In other words Lucca is old. Tradition is also a highly visible factor in the shops, and the food on offer. The compactness of the inner city, with its beautiful walls, basically invite this and it is very attractive for tourists. So the old is easy to spot and delivered in large quantities.

Lucca Lucca
Traditional shop front in Lucca, and a retro interior of a hipper shop

Yet I also want to seek out the new, the ‘scene’ in Lucca, if it exists. But it turns out to be harder to find traces of that.

Lucca "Wearing my mask" on a wall in Lucca
Lucca street art

Within the city there are few traces of e.g. street art, although there are wall communiqués from political movements. There is a weekly artisanal market, but most of that is very classic (honey, soap, bijouterie) and not by younger people. Some clothing shops seem to cater to a hipper clientele, and vegetarianism/veganism is apparently a flourishing niche market. But again those traces are few. In general I don’t see many younger people on the streets, nor outside the inner city.

Lucca Lucca
Parked bike, political pamphlet, in Lucca

Searching online for traces of open data or maker communities didn’t yield anything. There are nearby FabLabs in Pisa, Cascina, Firenze and Contea, but noone responded yet to a question about contacts in Lucca, although they did organize a FabLab information evening here in March.

Likewise there is an open data project for the Province of Lucca, but the contact person has not responded to my mail. A posting to the Italian open data mailing list did get a response from someone some 200km away, and one other who lives closer. I will try and talk to them both soon.

Cycling is big in Lucca and I spotted fixies as well, the latter a sign of at least some urban scene existing. A few doors down from our apartment is Ciclo DiVino, a bike shop combined with a wine bar. Their expressed mission is to bring together and build a local community around cycling. That seems to work, not only because of the fixies, but because multiple evenings per week the street in front of their shop is filled with 20-somethings sipping drinks and enjoying eachothers conversations.

So maybe we should start hanging out there for our aperitivo’s the coming days, to hear more about what is going on here locally.

Firenze Firenze
Firenze street art

A month in Lucca: Week 2

This was our first full week in Lucca, where we are staying the month of July, with a week before it, and some days after in Switzerland.

As ever when you arrive in a new city the week started with finding our bearings.

Setting up camp
An early breakfast run on Monday morning to a neighbourhood supermarket for some fruit was the first exploration into this dense maze that is Lucca within the still fully standing city walls. The inner city is mostly a pedestrian / reduced traffic zone (inhabitants have special permits for their cars), and the streets are narrow and still follow the medieval and even Roman patterns. So we walk a lot to explore the city, 7 to 15km per day. The Lucchesi themselves cycle a lot as well, even to get married.

Lucca streets Lucca streets
On the narrow streets of Lucca

Lucca cycling Lucca cycling

Cycling in Lucca, for neighbourhood conversations or getting married

Necessities: internet
The internet connectivity in our apartment was not up to dealing with the bandwith demands of both of us, so Elmine arranged a 20GB data sim on 4G valid for a month, for her mifi, through a special tourist package by Tre Italia. Providing us with another channel at home, and for the road as well. At 40 Euro that is 0,2 cents per MB. It is a one time package to get tourists on to the pay as you go data plan of Tre Italia, so it cannot be extended against the same rate if we run out. If we do, I’ll get a separate one for my mifi as well. Internet is still spotty though, as it seems the mobile network has trouble coping with all the people visiting the inner city, and we see clear peak-hours in which connectivity slumps to an extremely slow crawl (where it can take minutes to load a webpage).

Parking in the inner city
To avoid daily parking fees, and preferring to have the car in a parking garage out of the sun, I searched online for how to best arrange that. It turns out, unlike in Copenhagen, it is possible to buy a prepaid one month subscription to the parking house nearest to us. So we went to the Metro offices, the municipal service in charge of parking, to arrange that. For 50 Euro we now park a full month, much better than the 13 Euro/day normal rate.

Food
While the city is full of pasticceria, restoranti, trattoria and osteria to find food any time of day we also have a fully equipped kitchen, which has us cooking most of the days and meals. With a great little delicatessen next to our front door and a supermarket in walking distance just outside the city walls, we can eat as Italian as we like by ourselves as well.

Panforte Osteria
Panforte, and one of the countless eating places in Lucca

Over the course of this first week we found our favourite coffee places (one, with the better pastries, conveniently located near our front door), sampled some wine bars for an early evening aperitivo (still undecided as to which we prefer), and tasted local specialties such as Buccellato (sweetbread with raisins and aniseed) and Panforte (sweetbread with lots of nuts & fruits).

Rhythm
We are trying to settle in a daily rhythm of getting up on time, doing something outside in the morning, and then sit out the heat of the day in our apartment (with thick insulating walls and airconditioning to back those up), before another round of activity in the (early) evening.

Giacomo Puccini / Tore del Lago Turandot
Ciao Giacomo! Going to see Turandot later this month

One of the mornings we went out to Tore del Lago, where the villa stands where Puccini lived. Next to it, at the shores of a lake, Puccini’s operas are performed every summer. We bought tickets to his last opera, Turandot, for the end of July, before visiting his old house, which is a small museum frozen in time from the moment of his death. On other mornings we succeed much less at getting up early, as we apparantly feel the need to sleep a lot. Next to seeing the local sights, like the Duomo, we also found a great modern art museum is hiding within the city walls, the L.U.C.C.A. Lucca Center for Contemporary Art. They currently have a great exhibit of the work of Magnum photographer Elliot Erwitt, as well as interesting works called ‘Life Codes’ by Rudi Pulcinelli. The subtle irony in Erwitt’s photo’s was a lot of fun. Another good find was the Gio Art Gallery, who have a fine collection of Picasso’s, Liechtenstein’s, and Warhol’s on display as well as beautiful sculptures by Gianmaria Potenza. Do we dare ask for their price list?

L.U.C.C.A. Gia Art Gallery, Lucca
Lucca’s contemporary art museum, and Gia Art Gallery

During the heat of the day, most of the afternoon, staying inside allows some time to work, read or write. I worked on completing a first full draft of the open data readiness assessment report for Serbia, based on the findings during our week long mission there in June, and started the research for the Open Data Barometer 2015, on both Austria and Switzerland. While not difficult, as I know how to get the information, in this first attempt coming to grips with the precise and sometimes contradictory details of the method was rather time consuming.

The evenings are for strolls around town mostly. The top of the city walls have been turned into a park (in the past they also used it for car racing!). You can walk around the entire inner city that way in under an hour, something many people of all ages do at night. Mosquitos, but more fun to see, many bats hunting them, will accompany you as well. This evening stroll over the walls or through the shopping streets, il passeggiata, seems the favourite pastime of the locals as well, exchanging gossip and news along the way.

Rooftops Lucca, from the city walls Duomo Lucca
Lucca rooftops, and the Duomo

We heard music the first evening, which turned out was a show by John Legend, as part of the 18th Lucca summer-festival that has several other big names on the program. So on our other strolls we’ve been treated to the sounds of Elton John, Billy Idol and others.

Balestra
At the end of the week, walking to a wine bar on Saturday, we came across a marching group of drummers, which turned out to be part of one of the four balestra teams in the city. These are cross bow shooting groups, performing yearly shooting matches on 12 July, called the Palio di San Paolino. The teams are organized around neighbourhoods (contrade), and as there are three main ones they are called terziere. The fourth team is a sub-neighbourhood of one of the terziere it seemed.

Crossbowmen Crossbow tournament
Crossbowmen getting ready to compete

The tradition originally started in the 12th century and adheres to the oldest shooting competition rules in Europe, that were formalized in 1443. The current event orginates from the early 1970’s, but connects to the old tradition. The drumming parties (there were several) added to the general atmosphere, although it must have been confusing for Elton John and his band to hear them marching past where they were performing. Sunday afternoon canons were fired from the city walls and in the evening we followed the groups of drummers to the square in front of the Duomo. We watched the first few rounds of bolts being fired, and then returned home. Later I learned that at this 41st tournament in the new period, for the first time a female participant won over 40 or so others, from the San Paolino terziere (playing in red). The San Salvatore terziere (in green) provided the 3 next runner-ups, in 2nd to 4th place.

That rounded up the first full week in Lucca. On to the next one!

A Month In Lucca (and CH along the way): Week 1

We’ve packed up the household for a month in Lucca, Tuscany this July with a week in Switzerland before it, and a short stay in Switzerland after it.

More relaxation and sabbatical than working in a different environment this time, so in that sense different from previous month long moves to Copenhagen and Cambridge or other extended working stays in Berlin, Helsinki and Switzerland.

A lot has happened, and is happening, to us and our close relatives on both sides of the family, making it a challenging year. So some extended time to be together with the two of us is something I was looking forward to a lot. At the same time I hope to be able to do some reflection, research and writing as well, in the hours where it’s too hot to venture out anyway. Before heading out to explore and enjoy Tuscany more, as I’ve never visited this area.

Half-way stop: Switzerland
The first week we spent halfway to Lucca, in Switzerland. Staying with dear friends in their home on Lake Zug, Elmine took it easy, while I spent most of my time working.

Walchwil breakfast view. Bbq in Walchwil
View on Lake Zug, and welcoming bbq

Swiss open data conference
Monday was spent on creating two presentations, one on open data as an instrument for policy implementation, one on the economic and organizational rationale for a national data infrastructure of ‘core registers’ such as the Netherlands and Denmark have, and others are currently exploring. Tuesday afternoon I took a train to the Swiss capital Bern for an early bird and speaker’s dinner with the organizers of the Opendata.CH conference. A lovely dinner at the bank of the river Aare. We were just underneath the Swiss parliament building perched on the edge of the higher lying old inner city, in a bend of the river. People were swimming in the river, letting the stream transport them before walking back upriver to jump in again.

Swimming in Aare river (Bern) Bern Opendata.ch
People swimming in the Aare, Opendata.ch banner

The Opendata.ch conference took place for the 4th time this year (I spoke there in 2012 as well), at the University of Bern. Over 200 people ignored the sweltering summer heat and sat in stuffy lecturing halls to discuss opening Swiss government data together. In the morning I gave a keynote where I asked how come we are still meeting like this, to encourage and convince? Why is the visibility of impact so fragmented? After which I proceeded with how starting from a (policy) goal, mobilizing stakeholders with open data leads to more easily visible impact. At the same time also creating intrinsic government motivation to keep publishing open data, as it becomes a valuable policy instrument. It seems the presentation went over well, getting a mention in the press.

The afternoon was given over to workshops. Together with my Swiss colleague André Golliez and with Alessia Neroni (Bern Univ for Applied Sciences) we hosted a workshop on building a national data infrastructure around core registers. I presented the experiences we made in Denmark (research done by colleague Marc) and Netherlands, as well as touching upon France (link to a opinion piece I wrote) and other countries. The Swiss current situation was very well described by Alain Buogo (Deputy director at Swisstopo) and Bertrand Loison (board member of the Swiss statistical office). This was the first such discussion in Switzerland and one I hope to continue.

After the conference I returned to Walchwil by train, joining three board members of the Swiss open data community until Zurich.

C360_2015-07-02-15-41-07-643_org Zürich Hardbrücke
Street art and shipping container shops in Hardbrücke

The next day I traveled to Zurich again to talk more with André Golliez, meeting at the Impact Hub, an international oriented co-working space in one of the spans of a railway viaduct, in the hipster dominated Hardbrücke area. We planned some next steps for our collaboration, which likely will see me return late next month for more meetings. Then we moved next door to pub and music podium Bogen F (viaduct span F), for the 60th birthday party of André, as well as the launch of his new open data consultancy. It was a good opportunity to meet some of his family, friends and professional peers. The relaxed bbq, and some wheat beers, made my German slip into a stronger Austrian accent (where I learned it as a kid), to the amusement of the Swiss.

Zürich Hardbrücke Zürich Hardbrücke
At Kultur Viadukt Bogen F

Open Data Barometer
Friday was spent mostly in conference calls while gazing out over Lake Zug. In the morning working with Aleksandar in Belgrade on the Serbian open data readiness assessment (see recent posting), and in the afternoon taking a deep dive into the methodology behind the W3C Open Data Barometer. The research for the 2015 edition is starting now, and me and my colleague Frank are doing the research for six countries (Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium and Netherlands). In the evening we had a leisurely dinner at the lakeside, in restaurant Engel.

Off to Lucca, but first…
We had originally planned to drive to Lucca on Saturday but traffic and weather predictions suggested to do otherwise. So instead we met up with our dear friends Hans and Mirjam, who moved to Switzerland 18 months ago, for a nice summer bbq. Much better to spend time in conversation than standing in a traffic jam in tropical temperatures. Sunday we then left relatively early at 8:30, cutting through the Gotthard Tunnel with ease and cruising along mostly empty Italian motorways (except for near Milano), to our destination Lucca, arriving early afternoon.

Here in Lucca, originally an Etruscan city, we were met by our kind host Enrico, who guided us to our apartment located right within the old city walls and gave us some useful tips to help us find our way around. In a renovated former nunnery we now enjoy a quiet home looking out over a garden towards the city wall, with the busiest shopping street Via Fillungo (dating from Roman times), with coffee, wine, shoes, and Italian food right in front of our doorstep. A nice basic meal at Gigi, after unpacking, finished up this first week.

Our gate in Lucca
The gate on Via Fillungo to the inner courtyard leading to our apartment

Midsummer A Year Ago: Make Stuff That Matters Unconference and BBQ

Today is midsummer. The heating system came on this morning, and it has been raining since then. Quite a contrast with last year, when over 40 of you came to brighten our home for the Make Stuff That Matters unconference birthday party, and double that for the BBQ the day after it.

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#MSTM14 crowd during my opening remarks, by Paolo

To me it is still a great source of energy to think back to the atmosphere and spirit of MSTM14, and the joy of seeing so many of our colleagues, peers, friends, family and clients interact, having travelled from all over the country, from all over Europe, and even from Canada and spanning 6 decades of age differences. As a bit of sunlight on this day that feels like autumn, some impressions from last year.

We used an introduction game and process, designed with Peter Troxler, to get everyone involved in making something.

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Designing together

We had the Frysklab mobile FabLab parked in front of our home for two days, staffed by Jeroen, Aan, Marleen and Jappie of the incredible Frysklab team. Next to their equipment (multiple 3d-printers, a laser cutter, a CNC mill), we had our own 3D printer and four more on loan through the kind collaboration of Ultimaker. This allowed everyone to get their hands on the machines, guided by the Frysklab team and Elmine.

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Frysklab, and the line-up in our living room

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Klaas ‘borrowing’ our printer 😉 & at work in the Frysklab truck

People started out creating objects with Doodle3d, and then after encountering its limitations, by themselves moved on to more capable but also more complicated software tools. Guiding each other, searching for tips & tricks online, and through trial and error. The 3D-printers kept going for over 2 days, until the last guests left for the airport! Seeing how well everything went, and how our process delivered above our own expectations, made Elmine’s “Maker Moment“. I remember standing in the Frysklab truck towards the end of the first day, with everyone around me excitedly talking, working and making, and I just felt happy seeing the energy all round me. We set out to show ‘making’ as a communal process, and seeing it succeed is joyous.

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Peter and Oliver explaining 3d printing from Minecraft, Tjores proudly writing his name in 3D

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Amarens printed a 3d-hug, after a scan of herself. A castle made in Minecraft printed by Floris

The second day was all about the bbq, bringing about double the number of people together compared to the unconference day. And people kept on making, neighbourhood kids got busy in the Frysklab truck, and unconference participants showed newcomers how the machines worked. Fine food, fine wines, and many helping hands, such as Ray’s, in the kitchen, kept everyone around for conversations, making and fun.

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Ray and Harold making food, Martin and Paolo making music

And even after the event, the ripples kept spreading outward. New connections were made, with friends opening their own home for other participants to stay in during the summer for instance. Elmine and I used a visit to Copenhagen to bring the MSTM experience to our friends Henriette and Thomas, and their sparkling daughter Penny, where we shared what we ourselves had learned from Peter and his son Oliver. My colleague Frank took that same lesson from Peter and Oliver to a whole new level, involving dozens of neighbourhood kids in a 3D-printing event where he lives.

Now a year later, the energy is still palpable to me. On this rainy day a year later I am grateful for the inspiration and friendship of last year. And although it will be hard to top, I am slowly starting to think about what we could do in 2016 for a new edition.
If you are entertaining the thought of doing something similar yourself, do read the e-book we wrote after a previous edition (download the PDF), where we describe the basic steps of hosting your very own birthday unconference and bbq. If you do and we’re invited, I promise Elmine and I will try our best to make it possible for us to attend.

10 Years Ago: Reboot 7

Reboot 7 in 2005 was a turning point for me and many others. How a large part of my professional as well as personal network looks today, that digital disruption now fully underpins most of my work, and that I took the freedom to operate on my own, all have Reboot 7 (and the editions after it) at its core.

10 years ago this week, Elmine and I were at our first Reboot conference in Copenhagen. It was the 7th such conference, and the first one that was more internationally oriented (the previous ones focussed more on the Nordic countries AFAIK). It was organized by Thomas Madsen-Mygdal with a team of volunteers including Nikolaj Nyholm. From the fact that you will see more ’10 years after Reboot’ postings you can gather it was inspiring, and fun, and that we have much to thank Thomas and his team for.

I went to Reboot as sort of the end point of a process. I started blogging about knowledge management and social media in 2002, and as a result of it my international professional network had exploded. I felt the growing need to meet some of them. So when BlogTalk was organized in 2003 in Vienna, I and many other bloggers used it as an opportunity to meet face to face for the first time. The next year, 2004, I returned, this time with Elmine, for the 2nd BlogTalk. I came away with two key things. One, I met a wide range of inspiring people, like Lee Bryant, Paolo Valdemarin, whom I definitely wanted to stay in touch with. Two, I felt the need for much stronger actual conversations and experience sharing.

In response to the first item, Elmine and I started looking for a conference to go to together in 2005 (as there would be no BlogTalk that year) where we could meet those people.
In response to the second thing, I wanted to organize something where the conversation was the actual program, cutting away the powerpoints. These were the BlogWalks, organized with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler, originally thought to be in support of the BlogTalk conferences. There we used Open Space formats just before unconferences became more visible through the BarCamps.

Reboot promised to combine the two: a conference where I could meet inspiring people, that I already partly knew, and where the participants were the same people as on stage.

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The iconic Doug Engelbart demo and video conversation at Reboot 7

I came away from Reboot feeling having turned a corner, and from now in 2015 it looks more like a starting point.
Reboot delivered upon my expectations, and so much more. It was a heady mix of inspiring people I knew, and many new faces and inspiring minds. It was in a venue (Kedelhallen) that made space for plenty informal interaction, where you could be human (people started bringing their kids!), and everyone on stage was also a participant. The program was fixed upfront but curated by the people who wanted to come. Good food and drinks. All that created an atmosphere where you were allowed to ask the awkward questions, dream the big ideas, build prototypes, and have them met with curious and critical questions and exchanges. Many times we saw someone suggest something, or try something at Reboot, that later turned into a book, an application, a start-up or a Google buy-out. And there was lots of fun. It was also a very European conference, where you could see that Europe, the idea, works beautifully.

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Reboot’s iconic lawn chairs. We brought some home.

I think that meeting all those great people (e.g. how I met Peter Rukavina using the Foursquare precursor Plazes) at Reboot allowed me to incorporate a number of things, that normally made me feel like the village idiot, into my work and everyday routine. Asking the big questions, while doing the small things to bring it forward. To be a fish that works to notice the water, and to question the water. To bring a more entrepreneurial attitude to everything I do. To be ok with that I don’t really have a job description, but do the things I think are worth doing. To more purposefully enable others to do the same. The type of spirit Reboot conveyed, is something I and many others have been seeking to turn into our normal mode of operation.

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Doing a session with Danish government in the locker room of Kedelhallen

We kept returning to Reboot every year, until the last one in 2009, creating many memories. By that last one I was working on my own, and had had a very good year. I became one of the main sponsors of that last Reboot conference, which I saw as a good way of making something possible that had been a source of so much learning for me. A tuition fee for what was my greatest source of learning for a number of years. Being a sponsor allowed me to bring a few others to the conference as well, providing free tickets. So I brought students who would not otherwise be able to afford to go.

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Elmine and I did a workshop on ‘owning your learning path’ at one Reboot, and took it outside because of the beautiful weather

One of them I met last year, and he explained one of the large negative side effects of Reboot.
I met him at a different conference in Berlin, and he was sitting in the central space of the venue, sipping coffee and not going to any session. He looked a bit bored. So I asked him if he enjoyed the conference. “Not really” he said. Why not, I asked. “You spoilt me when you brought me to Reboot in 2009 as a student, now I cannot stand other conferences anymore.”
The same is true for me too. I can’t really stomach the blandness and pace of most other events.

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Bring your kids to conferences! Reboot had a kindergarten

And we keep searching for and visiting events that try to bring the same spirit: SHiFT, Lift, SOTN, ThingsCon and others. Or try to organize events ourselves, like our Birthday Unconferences, Data Drinks and other. And every now and then my colleagues and I succeed in taking groups of clients through an event where everybody leaves on a similar natural high as Reboot created for me.
The lasting value of Reboot is of course in how it changed my attitude and showed me new pathways. And how it created a lasting network of relationships that are my core professional peer network, and in fact many of whom have become dear friends. If you ever wondered about the weirdly distributed social life Elmine and I have, I blame Reboot.

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Lee proposing a new mythology (underneath the banner listing me as sponsor)

Will there ever be another Reboot? Not likely, at least not in this shape. Lee Bryant called for a new mythology at the last Reboot, a new narrative for meeting the global challenges. By now Reboot is part of that mythology, and a new conference might just spoil that. The Reboot spirit however very much deserves more channels of distribution. If Thomas ever plans to do something along those lines, I’d be happy to help. Because everyone deserves a regular reboot.

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A key piece of advice and unofficial Reboot slogan

Using Lime Survey Locally for Self Reflection

I have installed the open source survey tool Lime Survey on my laptop’s local web server, to use it for self reflection.

Through the years I have often journaled and measured various parts of my life, and I track certain aspects of my daily routines for habit forming. Not in the sense of Quantified Self (which is more about measuring things with sensors, like number of steps taken), but along the lines of things I do (did I blog 2 times this week, did I initiate new business contacts). Journaling I’ve done on and off, mostly when I didn’t feel ok, but it takes quite a bit of time to write, and more importantly, the journaling can’t be used to e.g. detect patterns and correlations. So I was looking for a way to combine my normal tracking and measuring with the things I experienced. This can be done by combining capturing personal experiences with asking questions about those experiences and other tracking questions. Using the questions as context and metadata for the experiences, you can then look at patterns across experiences. What you end up with however is not a journal (which you can use a locally hosted blog or physical journal for), nor a list of measurements (which you can use a spreadsheet for), but more a survey with a need to do some statistical analysis on the output. So I needed a survey tool, and given the personal nature of the data, I don’t want to use a service or server where the data is outside my own control.

This is the set-up I now use:

  • MAMP (a package of Apache, MySQL and PHP for Mac), which I already was running for various others things such as a locally hosted blog, test environments and php scripts I regularly use)
  • Lime Survey installed on MAMP. Limesurvey is an open source survey tool, which allows you to define surveys with a wide variety of questions types (and you can play around with building your own as well).

The survey I created, and will be testdriving in the coming weeks, has three distinct question blocks. A block asking questions about what happened during the day and stood out, and why it stood out for me. A block with more mindfulness oriented questions on how I felt in the here and now. A block about my current outlook. All in all a mix of qualitative and quantitative elements. Self administered participatory narrative inquiry of sorts, so I’ve dubbed it self-pni. Let’s see if it provides some insights in the coming three months.

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Looking at the man in the mirror with Lime Survey