Time flies, and we’re already well in our fourth week in Cambridge, so here’s a quick look what the third week brought.

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Working from Johnnie’s great garden.

The third week started with going into London, where I met Andrew Stott for lunch at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall. The club and society culture of London always amazes me. We discussed Open Data around the globe, and talked about our contribution to the upcoming OKCon in Geneva next month.
Afterwards I hopped from coffee place to coffee place, doing some work and writing, before picking up Elmine who came into London later, at Covent Garden. Together we met up with our old university friend Wouter, over beers and good food (which included a reprise of the great Cardo goat cheese).

The next day (Friday) went by quickly attempting to jump through the administrative hoops for an EU tender, before again heading to London for lunch at Central St. Giles. This time it was Brazilian food with an Icelandic friend, Smari, while discussing FabLabs, Making, open hardware, and his now funded Indiegogo project Mailpile. Mailpile sounds very promising, including bringing network analysis to my inbox. “When the world suddenly decides to give you over a hundred thousand dollars that is amazing but also daunting.”

St Giles / Great Holburn st. London, Fleet Street towards St Paul's
Central St. Giles, and Fleet Street

Later that afternoon, after working from a French cafe in SoHo and browsing some bookstores at Charing Cross road I met up with some other university friends who happened to be in London for the weekend visting the aforementioned Wouter.

Saturday was dedicated to Johnnies birthday preparations and properly celebrating his birthday, with his family coming over for the evening. Too much cake, sugar, and wine, made for a tough Sunday morning, even though as every day it was beautifully clear.

cake! The 80's Segway!
Sugar overload at Johnnie’s birthday, and a 1985 Sinclair electric bike in the wild in Cambridge (the 80’s Segway!)

After the weekend it was three days of solid work with conference calls, working on the mentioned tender, the Triangulation project, finalizing our 2012 tax documents, and a TOP Innosense project, as well as planning work trips to Geneva, Aachen, Frankfurt, Brussels and Ljubljana, all in the coming 8 weeks. That, and planning for Elmines birthday this Friday! (hard, as I am really not good at keeping secrets: usually I arrange for multiple presents in case I can’t keep my mouth shut about one) We also decided to spend the last four days of our month here together in London. Stay tuned for one more week in the UK!

Peter Rukavina alerted me to the existence of Pirate Boxes, as he has been blogging his experiences participating in a workshop in Berlin, and then building his own, and doing his own workshop as ‘hacker in residence’ at the University of PEI.

These boxes are a wifi enabled file server that allows you to create a local exchange hub (to share files, chat etc.), without needing to have an internet connection present. Mobile devices connect to it through wifi directly.

You can build them using a cheap wireless router, or ap Raspberry Pi computer for instance, which makes it an affordable thing to do. I have one of those Raspberry Pi’s at home, and until now did not know what to really do with it. So building a Pirate Box out of it might just be the thing.

Especially as a French group has created a slightly different version dubbed the ‘Coworking box‘ that contains a few tools to facilitate collaborative work.

So I see two possible experiments with Raspberry Pi. One is opening a Pirate Box up in our home street and see if any of the neighbors (or their teen kids) start using it. The other is following the French co-working example and see if I can use it in a group session or during a workshop.

Seems like a nice little experiment to get up and running, probably when I get back home to NL. (Although I have seen Raspberry Pi’s in local stores here)

The 2nd week in Cambridge started with working on the OKFN Open Data Census, for which I’m the lead editor of the country census. Met-up with Mark Wainwright (CKAN team) and a Thursday morning conference call to discuss the Census in general, and the upcoming workshop I’ll facilitate in Geneva next month at the OKCon.

In the afternoon I went for a coffee with Elmine at Hot Numbers, where I brought my blog back online. It had been compromised last June, and abused to send spam. So took it off-line then, but that was shortly before our summer vacation. Now moved it to a new server environment and brought it back.
After that scoped out an internal project for The Green Land (let’s call it Triangulate) that will help us spot Open Data opportunities for our clients.

Friday we went into London, starting with a visit to the Design Museum. They had a floor dedicated to ‘making’ including a full FabLab set-up on which they were training non-techie staff to use the machines. Inspiring to see Making highlighted in a way that was fresh to me, and “holding questions“. After lunch walked down Portobello Road in Notting Hill, having a drink at the Duke of Wellington. For dinner we returned to 32 Great Queen Street, where we had dinner with Ivo last year during the Olympic Games. There I tasted the best goat cheese ever, Cardo.

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“The Future Is/Was Here” at Design Museum (making machines on the left)

The weekend we took it slow. Viv McWaters returned from Norway and joined us in Cambridge. Enjoyed the garden, smoking a cigar, and cleaning up my Things (GTD tool).

Monday was a working day with conference calls and taking a closer look at possible projects in the fall. Also booked an apartment and tickets for upcoming trip to Geneva. For the first time this stay in Cambridge picked up the guitar.

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On Portobello Road, and at King’s Cross Station

As almost every day the day started bright and sunny Tuesday, but this time it stayed that way right until the evening. Did some dreary error-searching in my 2012 books, in preparation for the tax-filings, due September 1st. Then lunch in town, great calamari, and returned to work on my ‘radar’ project (Let’s call it ‘Monopulse’, to keep track of the themes I am interested in, in a more automated fashion)

Towards evening Viv, Elmine and I went to nearby Ely, to attend a reading event with author Neil Gaiman, who recently published “The Ocean at the end of the lane”. To my surprise over 800 people were there for the event. And according to the local land lady of a pub had been queueing since 5pm (2.5 hours before the scheduled start). Luckily it took place in Ely Cathedral (oldest parts from 11th century), which is so massive it probably can take all inhabitants of Ely with room to spare. It did mean we could hardly see the author from the last rows (I had number 774, should have queued earlier to get a better spot!)

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Ely Cathedral, Neil Gaiman

The last day of this 2nd week was spend doing admin in the morning, after which we spent the rest of the day with Meg and her two daughters.
Meg picked us up from Letchworth “Garden City”, a designed city from 1904, by the Arts and Crafts movement. They thought it would inspire creativity, but it doesn’t seem to have succeeded as it has become a very suburban town. It does boast the UK’s first roundabout, from 1909 or so (after which it apparently went viral).

We also visited Bedford, a calm city on the river Ouse. We picked up the girls there, and strolled through the park, wandered through the local museum, had some refreshments at a pub. Pleasant, uneventful, and therefore with plenty of space just to chat and talk. Bedford is also the place of the UK ‘zeppelins’. Their first very large blimp (R101), on its first big voyage to India, crashed in France. Why on earth, like the Germans, they used the highly combustable hydrogen, I cannot imagine. Helium might have worked much better.

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UK’s first roundabout, airship hangars at Bedford

The second week zipped by. And already it seems, with under 2 weeks remaining, as if we’re almost leaving again (at least I start to feel the pressure to cram in some more meetings with people we haven’t succeeded in meeting up with.) At the same it will also be good to work from home again, as we basically have not been in our regular home rhythm for 8 weeks or so. I guess that’s a good sign, that traveling also makes you long for your own place, with your familiar routines.

We spent July camping in France, visiting Southern Brittany, the Atlantic coast mostly, as well as Lyon. One thing that caught my eye was the omnipresence of skulls on fashionable accessories.

I am tempted to see it as an attempt to channel the general discomfort and anxiety that seems to permeate our societies in the face of increased complexity, digital disruption and resulting decline of those structures and systems that previously provided a comforting sense of security. Although I bet Bryan at Infocult, who has been tracking all things gothic in technology already for a long time, has a more articulated view on it.

For what it’s worth, I started calling them Anxiety Accessories: novelty items and fashion items adorned with skulls. A few examples from France in the past month:

Colorful skull adorned shopping bags, at artisanal market on Ile-de-Ré, offered to the many vacationing tourists on the island (in the context of many sailing yachts in the harbor):

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Skull shirt in the local H&M in Lyon, in the racks with easy and cheap summer dresses

Skulls as design element. Sign of anxiety?

Skull watch by Swiss brand Swatch in a jewelry store in Angouleme (Hanging next to last year’s Olympic edition, the games to ‘inspire a generation‘. Also on offer high carate golden skull hangers of course)

Skull as design element. Sign of anxiety?

Skulls used in street art, one example from La Rochelle

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We’re spending a month working from Cambridge. Similar to last year’s month long working visit to Copenhagen. In March we mused where to spend a month this year, and early April we accepted Johnnie Moore’s kind offer to come to Cambridge and stay at his place.

The general approach to this year’s ‘living a month in another city’ was slightly more laid back, compared to last time. Both because of learning last time that having detailed plans, or even general ones, does not make a lot of sense, as well as because of returning from four weeks easy-going camping and vacationing in sunny France right beforehand. We returned from camping, washed our clothes, packed our bags again, grabbed our guitars and enjoyed the high speed rail trip that brought us to London St. Pancras in a handful of hours. There we acquired Network Rail Cards (for cheaper off peak travel), and continued on to Cambridge, 90 km north of London, by commuter train. Johnnie picked us and our gear up at the station.

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Punting on the Cam, and Trumpington Street

Our first full day in Cambridge (CBG), Thursday 8 August, was one of settling in. Johnnie had arranged for bicycles, while we brought some sturdy Dutch bike locks for them, and he took us on a cycling exploration of CBG. The city is mostly well arranged for cyclists, but driving on the left hand side of the road takes a bit of getting used to. A good coffee spot, also to do a bit of work, Hot Numbers, was the first stop, and we have returned a few times already since. The evening was spent BBQ-ing with Tony Quinlan and Meg Odling-Smee who came over. We’ve known them for years and it was a great pleasure to see them again (and to get a taste of the same awesome brownies they also brought to our Unconference Birthday party)

I am aiming for a rhythm where I do work in the morning, and other things in the afternoon. Friday morning saw me doing some Skype calls around speaking gigs later this fall, for which Johnnie’s spacious home provides this nice chaise longue. Otherwise I spent most of the early mornings working in the garden, as it catches the first rays of sun.

The weekend we gave ourselves over to joining the many tourists in town, walking around CBG, seeing the old university colleges as well as the ancient Norman church. At the art and crafts market we visited it became clear laser cutters and other making machines are rapidly becoming mainstream. One artisan felt compelled to put up signs that his intricate wooden puzzles were hand-made and not laser cut.

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Not Laser Cut!

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11th Century Norman church.

Upon my first Foursquare check-in in Cambridge, Richard Hare, part of the Cognitive Edge network, pinged me ‘I live right across the road!’, and we met up for lunch on Monday. Richard chose the very nice sea food restaurant Loch Fyne, and over oysters, shrimp, and lemon sole we talked about technology and making sense of complexity. In the evening, together with Johnnie we soaked up some ‘kulcha’, visiting the open air Shakespeare play Richard III, in the gardens of St. John’s College. A lot of fun, even if the mulled wine was unsuccessful in keeping away the increasing cold later at night.

Shakespeare Festival
A Game of Thrones, 16th century style: Shakespeare’s Richard III, with the audience pick-nicking in front of the stage.

After a morning of work, and an afternoon of further exploring CBG (including seeing a guitar player playing inside a waste bin, although he certainly wasn’t rubbish), we visited the local maker space, MakeSpace on Tuesday. A beautiful (big and light) space, tucked away in the court yard of one of the university buildings, with a good selection of tools. They started this spring and have some 130 members now. We met two Spanish tourists there as well, who were interested in starting a similar effort in Logrono (Rioja). So I connected them to Thomas Diez of the Barcelona FabLabs, to make good use of their experience in doing so.

Untitled MakeSpace

Add another day of phone calls and work, and that made up the first week! Cambridge is a relatively small provincial city, and it’s nice to use its slower pace and rhythm as a back drop for working. We also noticed a need to balance it with the faster paced and more urban environment of nearby London. So in the coming weeks we’ll make sure of that as well.

The thing with maker spaces I think is

that they too easily become nerd-collectives, and fail to attract the non-makers with occasional projects, or even appear unwelcoming and off-putting to them without being aware of that.

Whereas,

the success of maker spaces ultimately does not lie in attracting those that would be makers anyway, now just with cooler machines, but in turning occasional making and creative tinkering into the new normal for a much broader group.

It was apparent to me in visiting the Cambridge MakerSpace this week, as it is apparent in all FabLabs, Hackspaces and other varieties of maker space I have visited across Europe.

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The Cambridge MakeSpace, excellent facilities.

Back in June my webserver got hacked, or at least a very old part of it got compromised, resulting in spam being sent from it. So I took it down.

Now, after the summer holidays (camping in France), I migrated to a new server, and the blog is back on-line.

Currently working from Cambridge (where Elmine and I are spending a month).

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(Obligatory photo of King’s College 😉 )