These are the last #monthnotes for 2016 (duh!), so they are part of a double feature of sorts together with my annual look back (part work, part personal) at the year over on my personal blog: That was 2016.
So what happened in 2016? Let’s have a look back: Part work, part personal. Enjoy.
I’m not going to lie: Globally and politically, 2016 was a messy year: Not cool. Political institutions and alliances have been crumbling, there’s been upheaval around the world, and populists have gained ground. I don’t see any big utopian visions, and any larger narratives with a positive angle. Yet, we need shared visions and utopian models more than ever. Also, this isn’t a time to stay quiet, or passive. We’re all needed to make sense of the world, and to improve it in the ways we can.
That said, for me it was personally a very good, interesting, engaged year. I learned a lot, met plenty of old & new friends, got to see many fantastic and fascinating places. Things were happening, lots of them, continuously. Looking back at it now it was a crazy-productive year. (So much so that I had to go through my monthnotes not to forget anything.)
Last week I had the chance to go to Amsterdam for the best reason: It was ThingsCon Amsterdam time. The Amsterdam event has not just grown to be the biggest localThingsCon event—it’s now the biggest total! It’s mind blowing for me to see how much this all is taking off. And with the Amsterdam team around Monique van Dusseldorp, Iskander Smit & Marcel Schouwenaar, ThingsCon is in the best hands I could possibly imagine. I couldn’t be happier.
Fabulous Monique was the guide through the packed program
But enough of my happy rambling. What actually happened? A lot! In fact, much more than I could have possibly attended or even remembered. With 1.5 days full of talks, workshops and exhibitions there was always something going in inside funky Volkshotel.
Some highlights and shout-outs
So let’s look at some highlights and some documentary to follow up online on what went down. (The event was also live streamed and the videos will be available soon at ThingsCon.nl.)
Marcel & Iskander opened the event wearing freshly printed “Make IoT Great Again” hats—a reference of course to the fact that IoT never has been great, but still is politically charged terrain. (Personally I loved them, but I did hear quite a few “too soon” on Twitter.)
“Make the IoT Great Again”
Talking to an audience that skewed a bit more intensely to the design crowd than other ThingsCon events (we’re in Amsterdam, after all), there were a lot of calls to action for designers throughout the event.
Usman took us on a roller coaster ride from bleak dystopia to a hopeful silver lining
In a gripping closing keynote, Usman Haque explored participatory infrastructure.
Along the way—and tied into the program through workshops and demos—participants could get hands-on with projects in an exhibition. They ranged from artistic explorations to commercial. Here, for example, Vai Kai‘s ready-to-ship final prototypes, which are absolutely gorgeous:
Vai Kai is ready to ship their lovely connected wooden toys
The Amsterdam team kindly invited me to do the opening keynote. I explored where we are today in the world of design and responsible IoT. Here are my slides (the video of this and the other talks should be available online soon, too):
Which also brings us to something we spontaneously launched while in Amsterdam: A new ThingsCon Medium channel that will serve to highlight and amplify great projects and ideas around a human-centric & responsible IoT. It’ll include some write-ups from ThingsCon events around the globe, and also contributions from guest authors and ourselves. Finally, it’ll serve as the content pool from which we’re planning to draw heavily for a publication later in the year.
Monique also infected us with a great idea: How great would it be to have a quick overview of what’s brewing in responsible IoT and empowering tech around the world? (Hint: very cool.) So we’ll try a little experiment: A monthly newsletter with curated recommendations from our extended network.
More ThingsCon in more places
It was so great to see the community gathered in Amsterdam. And that community is growing! We’re also working on making it even easier to run local events by setting up a Github repository and some other supporting structures. We came out of the event with potentially several more local ThingsCon events in new places. As of today, it looks like ThingsCon events in 2017 will be happening (among others!) in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Copenhagen, Darmstadt, London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Milan, Shanghai, Shenzhen and, quite possibly, many other places! As always, thingscon.com/events is the place for up-to-date information.
Many things are still up in the air, but it looks like the heavyweights among these events are most likely going to be Amsterdam (Dec), Shenzhen (April), and London (June).
We know there’s a lot of great work happening around the world that promotes human-centric IoT and responsible, empowering technology. But when we were looking for a good overview we couldn’t find one!
So we decided to try creating that ourselves, in the most simple format we could think of: A monthly newsletter consisting of a list of countries, and the 3 most interesting projects from each countries, curated by a trusted local expert. (All credit for the idea goes to Monique van Dusseldorp. Thanks Monique!)
From time to time, we might be partnering up with other organizations or networks who work along the same lines and co-produce the newsletter—for example GIG, where Max is heavily involved.
Meet “Best of responsible tech around the world”, our new monthly newsletter! (The name is still a bit of a mouthful, so that might still change.)
What exactly is the content going to be, you ask? In terms of format, it’s going to be pretty straight forward: A list of up to three links per country with a 1-sentence explanation for context. In terms of projects featured, we’ll try a you know it when you see it approach und trust our local experts to pick the most interesting. It’s going to be human curation at its best!
We’d do this with a new newsletter list, published under the ThingsCon label, with full credit given to the local experts and published under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA), so everyone can use and share that content non-commercially).
We aim to send this out once a month. It’s an experiment for us: if there’s enough demand, we’ll keep it up, otherwise we’ll retire the list, no harm done!
The super short executive summary:
– We need to build IoT in a responsible & human-centric way, and we founded ThingsCon to promote this goal.
– It’s hard to get right because HARDWARE IS HARD, NETWORKED SYSTEMS INTRODUCE DYNAMICS OF POWER & CONTROL, and WE DON’T HAVE GOOD LANGUAGE TO DISCUSS IoT.
– The ThingsCon community tries to tackle this, and we think it’s both a duty and a privilege to do so. In fact, this is our chance to have a massive positive impact.
First of all, apologies: It seems I skipped the monthnotes for October without even noticing. It certainly wasn’t for lack of stuff to write about. More likely the contrary: It was a crazy busy couple of months. So without further ado, let’s get right to it.
Note: These are the more personal, non-work related notes to complement the blog posts to this work trip to China which you can find using the Viewsource tag.
We’re off to Hong Kong. The border crossing seems a little awkward – you leave the country, sort of, and fill in another immigration card – but then we’re in Hong Kong in less than an hour.
We stay in south Kowloon, near Tsim Sha Tsui station. I picked that neighborhood because I had stayed here once before, about a decade ago. I was a student then, staying at Mirador Mansion, a run-down, somewhat sketchy block of cheap accommodation and sister building to the (then) more (in)famous Chungking Mansion, and was curious to see how it had developed since.
Chungking Mansion (2016) as seen from a Starbucks across the street
These days, this neighborhood seems properly gentrified with tons of high-end brand stores along Nathan Road, and very touristy.
The evening is just for walking around the extended neighborhood and food, plus a final stop at a dessert place.
A long night’s sleep, then off to explore. Swing-by at Mirador Mansion. Not as creepy as I remember it. Maybe it’s been renovated a little, maybe it’s because it’s day time, maybe my take on it just has changed. We discover an absolutely lovely-looking and super popular bakery inside. I still wouldn’t want to stay though, so we head on out to Hong Kong Island.
We take the beautiful old Star Ferry, and head on up the Escalators. It’s a charming, rickety system of escalators that was built to bring commuters from Victoria Peak down into their office and back up. It’s a network of short connected escalator hops, and seems like straight out of a time capsule. It was built in 1993 but looks a lot older. Fun! We jump off a couple of times to have a look around or stop for a coffee.
Going up the escalators
The escalators get commuters up and down the hill from and to Central
We stroll through the Botanical Garden, but when we arrive at the Peak Tram terminus the lines are too long. It’s Sunday, and all of Hong Kong is out and about.
Near Central, we see hundreds of Philippinas socializing in the long network of connected walkways: It’s their day off (see this article about Maid Day), and this is where you go to hang out. Out of cardboard each group has built a tidy little living room and people are laughing, eating, chatting.
Hong Kong has even more elevated walkways than I remember. All of them are protected from rain, you can get from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else without getting wet during rainy season. We’re lucky: It’s super sunny and nice out.
In the afternoon, off to Causeway Bay for some window shopping and a visit to the Cat Café.
Old school Hong Kong neon lights
Evening is for Temple Street night market, which has crappy stalls but decent street food, then on to Butler, an excellent Japanese whiskey bar.
Butler is a beautiful Japanese whiskey bar
The morning is for work at Starbucks, the only place I don’t feel bad about using up sitting space for longer periods of time.
Then off to Central for lunch and some window shopping. Lunch at Kuroko Ramen (so so), followed by espresso at Coco next door (excellent!).
We check out PMQ, a design/artist quarter in a former police quarter. There’s two buildings full of (often locally design, sometimes well-curated international) design to be had: clothes, jewelry, prints, knick-knacks.
The peak tram takes us up to the peak. It’s totally overrun by the masses. Instead of taking it back down, we take a long slow walk down Old Peak Road, which is much more enjoyable.
Old Peak Road
Halfway down Old Peak Road, a view across the skyline opens up
By then, with excellent timing, Alper points out that the most excellent Tokyo-based Omotesando coffee has opened a Hong Kong branch: We head there right away.
Omotesando Tokyo, a few years ago
Omotesando Hong Kong
At so-called “toy street” next door, where there supposedly used to be a lot of old school toy stores from back in the day when Hong Kong did manufacturing, we find only one tiny (!) toy store left, next to a lovely (and equally tiny) barber shop. I can’t resist an early 1980s metal wind-up dinosaur.
Tiny toy store is tiny
A viewing platform is on the way, so we head on up there before hunting some more Szechuan food, then on a whim decide to go for rooftop drinks at Wooloomooloo rooftop bar. Hong Kong does skylines and rooftop bars really well.
Hong Kong does skyline really well
We follow the same morning routine: Work from Starbucks office in the morning, then delicious dumpling lunch.
We buy small gifts, then head on over to the site of the former Kowloon Walled City. Today Kowloon Walled City Park is just a beautiful park. The history of the walled city is super interesting, though, a story about living in interstitial zones, bottom-up organization, and historic anomalies. (There’s a fascinating interactive online project that gives a glimpse into Kowloon Walled City.)
A model of Kowloon Walled City inside the park. Estimates vary wildly, but inside Kowloon Walled City there lived somewhere around 30-50K people. According to the plaque, this model is based on a (Japanese?) research team that went in and did in-depth research about the place just before it was torn down.
On the way back through Kowloon, we pop into a game arcade (m88). As arcades go, this one isn’t in great shape, but we do play a few fun games at about a million decibels.
At Sino Centre we discover a proper nerd mall. Only after we leave Hong Kong do I learn that the NES Classic consoles I saw there were real and that they’re sold out all over the world. Ah well, missed that one.
We look at 1950s Mido Cafe, but opt for bubble tea in the park. Beat from the day, we opt for a massage, dinner, some last minute shopping, then head to the airport with time to spare.
Airport tipp: At terminal 1, “Goods of Desire” is a local design brand that has some cute (and small, hence easy-to-transport) last minute gifts.