One way I can estimate how stressed I am is looking at how much I read, and how I read it. Stress means much less to no reading overall, with sudden bursts of reading several books back-to-back as escapism. So I keep track of how much fiction I read throughout the year. The first half year looks good and stable when judged by my reading. I’ve read 32 books in the first 26 weeks, an average of 1.25 per week. My aim is to at least average one per week, but sometimes a bigger book slows me down, or an easier read speeds things up. Reading more I see as better, but only if it’s at a steady pace. Bursts are a sign of something being off, or of summer holiday, when I usually voraciously read books.

The pace of reading was stable at 1 per week until late May (21 books in 20 weeks), and a bit higher at almost 2 per week with 11 books in the final 6 weeks of this first half of 2018. This I don’t regard as ‘bursty’ reading just more books in the same steady pace, as it included several shorter reads.

The best reads this half year I think were, these Science Fiction books:

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow (which felt like a literary version of what I call Networked Agency)
Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

And these general fiction books:

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, this year’s Pulitzer price for fiction winner.
The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, by Gordana Kuic, sketching 20th century Yugoslavian history through the eyes of one family
Perfume River, by Robert Olen Butler, of trauma and faulty communications through the generations
Ellbogen, by Fatma Aydemir, the raw story of a Turkish-German girl between Berlin and Istanbul.
After Dark, by Haruki Murakami, who takes you on a surreal night trip through Tokyo.

In a case of synchronicity I’ve read Cory Doctorow’s novel Walkaway when I was ill recently, just as Bryan Alexander scheduled it for his near future science fiction reading group. I loved reading the book, and in contrast to some other works of Doctorow the storyline kept working for me until the end.

Bryan amazingly has managed to get Doctorow to participate in a webcast as part of the Future Trends in learning series Bryan hosts. The session is planned for May 16th, and I marked my calendar for it.

In the comments Vanessa Vaile shares two worthwile links. One is an interesting recording from May last year at the New York public library in which Doctorow and Edward Snowden discuss some of the elements and underlying topics and dynamics of the Walkaway novel.

The other is a review in TOR.com, that resonates a lot with me. The reviewer writes how, in contrast with lots of other science fiction that takes one large idea or large change and extrapolates on that, Doctorow takes a number of smaller ideas and smaller changes, and then works out how those might interplay and weave new complexities, where the impact on “manufacturing, politics, the economy, wealth disparity, diversity, privilege, partying, music, sex, beer, drugs, information security, tech bubbles, law, and law enforcement” is all presented in one go.

It seems futuristic, until you realize that all of these things exist today.
….. most of it could start right now, if it’s the world we choose to create.

By not having any one idea jump too far from reality, Walkaway demonstrates how close we are, right now, to enormous promise and imminent peril.

That is precisely the effect reading Walkaway had on me, leading me to think how I could contribute to bringing some of the described effects about. And how some of those things I was/am already trying to create as part of my own work flow and information processes.

The dreams of Google’s artificial intelligence

I read lots of science fiction, because it allows exploring the impact of science and technology on our society, and the impact of our societies on technology development in ways and forms that philosophy of technology usually doesn’t. Or rather SF (when the SF is not just the backdrop for some other story) is a more entertaining and accessible form of hermeneutic exercise, that weaves rich tapestries that include emotions, psychology and social complexity. Reading SF wasn’t always more than entertainment like that for me, but at some point I caught up with SF, or it caught up with me, when SF started to be about technologies I have some working knowledge of.

Bryan Alexander, a long time online peer and friend for well over a decade, likewise sees SF, especially near future SF, as a good way to explore emerging future that already seem almost possible. He writes “In a recent talk at the New Media Consortium’s 2016 conference, I recommended that education and technology professionals pay strong attention to science fiction, and folks got excited, wanting recommendations. So I’ve assembled some (below)“. His list contains a group sourced overview of recent near future SF books, with some 25 titles.

I know and read half of the books on the list, and last night loaded up my e-reader with the other half.

If you want to discuss those books keep an eye on Bryan’s blog, as you’re sure to get some good conversations around these books there.


The dreams of Google’s artificial intelligence

(photos made during the 2015 Gogbot Festival, the yearly mash up of art, music and technology into a cyberpunk festival in my home town Enschede.)

Related: Enjoying Indie SF, March 2016

In a conference call this morning with an Eastern European client we discussed the need for more and better connections and relations, and moving towards increasing trust over time between those participating in these connections. This reminded me of the little primer I wrote a number of years back, on creating or strengthening communities more purposefully. By paying attention to a range of specific aspects that we would normally not consider as part of your management toolkit. Things like rhythm, spaces, and levels of engagement, or balancing safety and excitement, variety of perspectives, and being welcoming.

It is based on the great work of Etienne Wenger concerning communities of practice, which has been a key ingredient in my consulting practices in the past 15 years or so, ever since his 2002 book Cultivating Communities of Practice.

The primer, embedded below, describes the aspects I pay attention to when hoping to strengthen community, some stemming from Wenger, some from my direct experience, and provides examples of what type of action results from it. You can also download the PDF from my slide deck collection, if you like. Do let me know if it is of use for you.

I can also recommend the book by Etienne.

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!

Pedro's Play Session
Last year, when I turned 40, Elmine and I organized an unconference to celebrate (of course we also had a bbq party!), and we invited people from our various circles. The topic was ‘Working on Stuff that Matters‘, ‘WSTM’. Some 40 people participated in the unconference, some 20 workshops were held, and it was an event that is still giving us energy almost 18 months later.

We always wanted to create something tangible as an outcome of the event, to create an ‘Epic Sh*t Multiplier’ as we called it on the day. We created an e-book, explaining ‘how to unconference your birthday’. The text was written during the summer of 2010. A professional designer (BUROPONY in Rotterdam, hire them, they’re great!) created the book itself in May/June this year. In the past days we sent out cards to all participants of the unconference to allow them to download the book. We’ll publish the e-book itself on-line later. Right now it’s a gift for those who attended [UPDATE Pdf available for download]. A small token of our appreciation for the big gift they gave us by attending the unconference, and the energy and inspiration that is still generating for us. Thank you.

Below are some pictures giving you a sneak preview.

During the design process
Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book

First edition
e-Book printing e-Book printing e-Book printing

Sending out cards to participants
E-book shipping