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Monthnotes for April 2017

April 29, 2017 | By | No Comments

A bird’s-eye view of Shenzhen’s HuaqiangBei market road

Sitrep: I’m in Madrid, fighting jetlag with strong Americanos in a lovely little neighborhood café. When I got up from the last real bed I had been in Shenzhen. In the 30 or so hours since then, I rode cabs, ferries, metros and planes; I strolled through Hong Kong and tried not to fall asleep in Abu Dhabi. But now I’m here, and using the temporary downtime of a rainy post-lunch Saturday Madrid afternoon to write up these #monthnotes while everything’s still fresh on my mind.

April just flew by. A deep dive in not one but two writing projects followed by the above-mentioned trip to Shenzhen meant it was a month full of intense input and output—lots and lots of both.

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31 Mar


Monthnotes for March 2017

March 31, 2017 | By |

As spring time breathes fresh life into Berlin, month was a productive month of heads-down writing time. Also, in March the company turned 3!

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28 Mar


The Waving Cat GmbH turns 3

March 28, 2017 | By |

The company just turned 3. Happy birthday!

As every founder knows, the early years of a company can be intense and the outcomes are often unclear at the outset. Yet, I’m happy to report it’s been three pretty darn great years. And productive, too!

Anniversaries are always a great opportunity to take a look back, like on the company’s first and second anniversary. And an even better opportunity to look ahead. So let’s do both, shall we? Read More

05 Mar


Monthnotes for Feb 2017

March 5, 2017 | By |

February came and went quickly, with lots of conversations about robots & algorithms as well as upcoming projects. Also, plenty of planning, writing, admin. Let’s jump right in…

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13 Feb


Top Projects of 2016

February 13, 2017 | By |

2016 was a tremendously productive year. It’s particularly great to see the range of projects The Waving Cat was involved in. Here are projects that I’d like to highlight.

ThingsCon global

For ThingsCon it was a big year. When I co-founded ThingsCon none of us had any idea about how big this project might grow within just years. From a single conference in Berlin, ThingsCon has grown into a global community (and dare-I-say, a movement?) of practitioners with the mission to foster the creation of a responsible & human-centric Internet of Things. It’s also spread to 20 or so events around the globe, from small meetups to full-blown multi-day conferences. Going forward we’re working on expanding beyond events and into knowledge sharing (our LABS program), advocacy (figuring out how to work with policy makers and consumer protection organizations) and lean into other opportunities as they present themselves. And the global event footprint keeps growing, too! On top of local meetups we’ll see ThingsCon conferences in Amsterdam, London and Shenzhen. <3

Smart Cities & the German federal government

One of the most fascinating client engagement of the last few years was to provide research and policy recommendations to the Federal German Government on how to think about smart cities from a perspective of citizen-empowerment. So Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber and I co-authored a report as part of a big government publication on urbanization in the 21st century. (Details and an executive summary in this blog post.)

Understanding the Connected Home

Understanding the Connected Home

Together with Michelle Thorne, head of Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio (and full disclosure, my wife) I co-wrote a second, fully revised edition of our ebook Understanding the Connected Home—Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home.

The Good Home

Teaming up with long-time collaborator and good friend Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino of Designswarm and Good Night Lamp we explored ideas for 21st century home living in The Good Home project in a series of workshops and exhibitions. I was very happy (and more than a little proud) that we got to exhibit as part of Fuori Salone in Milan, London Design Festival & the V&A, as well as Mozfest. Alongside the many collaborator projects we featured, I was personally most closely involved in one piece I helped put together: The Privacy Machines Project.

Google IoT Policy

Fascinating work for both the content and the scale of its potential impact: I helped Google HQ draft a global policy around IoT. Like much of the work here at TWC, details are confidential as the work is of an internal nature. Suffice it to say I’m quite proud of the final results and am looking forward to see the results roll out globally.

Co-chaired Interaction16 conference

Interaction, IxDA’s annual interaction design conference, is maybe the most relevant event in that space. I was honored (and very, very happy) to be invited to co-chair it along with Sami Niemelä, and run it together with the fantastic whole gang of the Helsinki chapter of IxDA. (For details see this blog post.)

View Source: Shenzhen

The majority of electronics and connected products (IoT!) are made in Shenzhen, China. So we wondered if it’s possible to leverage Shenzhen’s hardware ecosystem for ThingsCon’s mission—to foster the creation of a responsible & human-centric IoT. A fact-finding and relationship-building expedition was in order! So we got together a merry group of allies from that space: Our long-time collaborators and friends of the Dutch Just Things Foundation and Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio and went to visit Shenzhen. Thanks to our local contact (and now also host of ThingsCon Shenzhen) David Li of the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) we had the opportunity to see and learn a lot, and get a great first-hand experience of how stuff gets done (and made) in Shenzhen.

View Source: Things in Shenzhen (beta) from The Incredible Machine on Vimeo.

This short video shares some of our impressions. More importantly, we’ll be back in April to also show around a delegation of another 20 or so European IoT practitioners, participate in the ThingsCon Shenzhen conference, and document at much greater depth what we learn there in order to keep building relations between the European and Shenzhen IoT scenes and promote a responsible IoT.


The company’s first official spin-off, travel and souvenir magazine Dearsouvenir is a joint venture between The Waving Cat, Netzpiloten, and Carry-On Publishing.

Zephyr Berlin

A bit of an outlier project at first glance, Zephyr Berlin is also a deep dive into learning about manufacturing and distribution of physical products. In a (very part-time) team effort, between three friends we designed, crowdfunded, manufactured, and delivered a small batch production of premium pants that are versatile, highly functional and stylish, and travel extremely well. If this was a one-off or if there’s more to come isn’t decided yet, but it was the best first-hand lesson about physical manufacturing we could have wished for.

And to top it all off, I was…

Listed as Top 100 Influencer in IoT

Postscapes included me in their list of Top 100 Influencers in IoT. (Thank you!)

There was plenty more going on, including roles on juries or as a reviewer; some smaller events I helped put together; and other, more low-key collaborations. But the projects above were real highlights for both the company and me personally. I’m incredibly grateful and happy for the opportunity to work on such a wide range of projects and with so many smart, dedicated, interesting people on things that matter.

If you think my perspective can help your organization, ping me. 2017 is shaping up to be a great and interesting year, and I will continue to promote the ideas of a responsible IoT as well as the notion that good ethics and good business go hand in hand.

03 Feb


What connects the Golem, the Royal Society, and ThingsCon?

February 3, 2017 | By |

The Golem Legend

A golem is an assistant or helper on a specific mission—often that mission was protection—brought to life by magic. Creating a golem was a way for medieval Jewish mystics to come closer to god. It quickly also became a metaphor for creating an artificial helper outside of Jewish culture and religion.

In the legends, there is a catch: The golem usually ends up getting out of control, it runs amok. It becomes a danger to its creator. The golem was artificial, soulless, and it wasn’t understood how it worked.

Rabi Loew and Golem, 1899, by Mikoláš Aleš. Source Wikipedia (PD)HAL9000Senora REEM, source Jewish Museum Berlin Rabi Loew creating the Golem (1899 by Mikoláš Aleš, source Wikipedia). HAL9000. Senora REEM (source Jewish Museum Berlin).

Similar narratives play out across different cultures under different names, right up to science fiction and contemporary scientific and philosophic debate. Just think of HAL9000, the Singularity, etc.

As a footnote, historically most golems are thought of as genderless but commonly referred to as male. For example, the maybe most famous of golems, created by Rabbi Loew in Prague in the 1600s was called Josef. Today’s robots and AIs tend to get female personas and voices—playing horribly into gender stereotypes of assistant-type jobs. Gender and bots is tricky business. We should—and can—do better!

The Royal Society

This is Isaac Newton. He’s one of the most influential scientists of all time. Among other things he laid the foundations of classical mechanics. This was groundbreaking, important, fancy new stuff in the 17th century.

Isaac Newton. Source: WikipediaRoyal Society coat of arms. Source: Wikipedia Isaac Newton and the coat of arms of the Royal Society. Source: Wikipedia (Public Domain).

Newton was also one of the first fellows of the Royal Society, a ragtag group of curious tinkerers and knowledge seekers across basements, labs and the “maker spaces” of the time. They were promotors of a shared, enlightened cause: Natural science and the scientific method. Their motto was (and still is) “nullius in verba”: Take nobody’s word for it.

This was in many ways a ragtag group of people (within a very privileged class of course) working on topics no one else was yet investigating. Yet, they essentially laid the foundation for science itself. Their impact on the world is immeasurable. Today, the Royal Society is one of the world’s leading promotors of science.


The ThingsCon community is also a ragtag group of curious tinkerers and knowledge seekers across basements, labs, and maker spaces. We also promote a shared, enlightened cause: The creation of a responsible & human-centric Internet of Things.

ThingsCon communityMembers of the ThingsCon community adopting our mission statement

Today it’s not mystics summoning golems, it’s the tech industry. We see assistants and helpers for every thinkable purpose: To regulate the temperatures in our houses, make ordering groceries easier, measure our steps or let us remotely check who’s at our doorstep. Yet, how these golem-systems work, and especially how they work together and change our lives over the longer term, isn’t well understood. It’s not magic, of course, but as science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke famously stated: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I believe that, collectively, we can do better than that. We can learn from past mistakes and build a better future—one where our innovations take into account their impact on people, the environment, and society. One that’s focused on improving people’s lives, on inclusivity and diversity, and on empowering communities.

Today, the ThingsCon community—and our ever growing network of allies—is one of the top promoters of a responsible & human-centric IoT. Just imagine what we can do together tomorrow.

30 Jan


Essential writing from 2016

January 30, 2017 | By |

As 2017 is picking up steam and (especially under the ThingsCon banner) we’re working to make it a pivotal year for the creation of a responsible & human-centric internet of things (IoT), it’s worth having a look back at some of last year’s writing output.

Specifically I wrote, or helped write, a number of pieces on a range of topics that I hope will be relevant for a while to come.

Understanding the Connected Home: Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home
Co-authored with Michelle Thorne. Second edition, July 2016.
The second edition of our ebook, fully revised and updated. It’s about designing connected homes in a way that’s great to live in, about the opportunities and challenges inherent in data-driven homes, and about the deeper questions we should ask ourselves when connecting our homes. Available at, in a somewhat shortened, serialized version on Medium (starting here), and on the Kindle Store in a Kindle-optimized version.

Smart cities in the 21st century: Humanity on the move: The transformative power of cities
Co-authored with Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber. April 2016.
Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber and I were kindly asked to contribute some research and policy recommendations for a larger report for the German federal government around the role of cities and urbanization in the 21st century. The report is called “Humanity on the move: The transformative power of cities” (Der Umzug der Menschheit: Die transformative Kraft der Städte) and published through WBGU, the German Advisory Council for Global Change. You can find an English-language executive summary, some background, and all the links to the full documents (DE) are in this blog post.

Shenzhen: View Source
November 2016.
As part of a fact-finding and research trip we gathered a small alliance around open and responsible IoT (I was wearing my ThingsCon hat) and visited Shenzhen, China, where the majority of connected products are made for the rest of the world. It was a remarkable whirlwind experience. Here’s a series of blog posts of write-up. We’ll be back in Shenzhen for a larger ThingsCon event in April 2017.

Also, a shout-out to a report that Michelle Thorne, head of Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio (and full disclosure, my wife) co-wrote: We all live in the computer now. A NetGain paper on society, philanthropy and the Internet of Things (PDF). I was not involved in this report in any way, but it does touch on a few of the core themes we also tackle with ThingsCon and is full of great examples of the good and bad of IoT.

You can find a list of interviews, articles, and other publications at