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27 Dec

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Thanks & Happy Holidays: That was 2013

December 27, 2013 | By |

This is my sixth end-of-year post (all prior ones here). Stunned!

So what happened?

Friends & Family

 

In the spring, I married M, and couldn’t possibly be happier. This alone would have made my year perfect.

I’m very happy that more friends married, and that some had babies, and that my goddaughter is growing up nicely, and that my family is healthy & happy & overall very well. So that part’s all good.

That alone would make for a (very happy, but also) really boring post, so here goes.

Travel

Once more, I feel very lucky in that I got to travel a lot. Destinations include (in alphabetical order) Bad Herrenalb, Bad Kreuznach, Belgrade, Brighton, Buenos Aires, Hamburg, India, Karlsruhe, Kassel, London, Portugal, Rijeka and Scotland and Wales, spread out over about 15 trips and about 102 days total. Among other things, I got to spend about a month each in Buenos Aires and India, and got to hike in Scotland, Wales and England.

In this order: India, England, Buenos Aires.

A year of experimentation & learning

Even more than in many previous years I got to experiment and learn a lot. I got to dig into a whole slew of tech & business ideas, work with old and new collaborators, and generally just opened up the possibility space really wide before slowly starting to narrow it down again. Maybe the biggest change for me in terms of business thinking was to slowly adjust away from the mental model of client work (which is all about billable days) and into product/dev work (which is all about progress first and cashflow/billable time second). If, like me, you’ve worked almost always for clients (ie. sold services) this is a big change, and one that takes some getting used to. It does feel great, though, to invest time into building something new.

Along the way, I started and subsequently pulled the plug on one company and one service, started two conferences that are going strong (UIKonf, ThingsCon), and am in the early stages of launching another thing with a much-esteemed partner. Long-time collaborator and office mate Matt and I also built several prototypes of digital-to-physical print things, one of which hasn’t made it past the “print-out-a-test-dummy” phase, one of which is about to go into production. All of these also serve as an example for my previous point – it’s a mental shift from billing hours to investing into product development.

ThingsCon & UIKonf & Ignite Berlin & NEXT Berlin

If anything, chairing or programming (and sometimes initiating) conferences has taken on a whole new quality for me this year.

There’s NEXT Berlin of course, where like the last years I’m a curator and program director along with the fantastic Monique van Dusseldorp. (Disclosure: SinnerSchrader/NEXT Berlin are clients of mine.)

Then there’s Ignite Berlin, which has now been going strong since 2010 I believe – we just had #4 a few months ago.

UIKonf was such a resounding success that Chris, Matt and I aren’t just continuing it into 2014, but also incorporated to make it easier to run sustainably.

And then of course there’s Things, which started out with a harmless conversation with Max & Simon and then took on such a life of its own – my mind’s blown. We’re just getting started, and already we’ve been getting so much fantastic feedback on all the backchannels that I can’t wait for the day.

Wrote some stuff

I got to write a few things, and give some talks (actually, mostly panels this year).

Wrote the cover story for this issue on T3N.

Didn’t actually write for this second issue of The Alpine Review, but did manage to contribute at least some content, interviews & contacts. Here, the copy doubles as backdrop for a planning call for UIKonf.

Oh yeah, over at KANT, we also expermimented with a topic sprint, aka five people in a room for a day cranking out a report that will be published come night-time, no matter what. Super interested time constraints to work with. Curious to refine this process some more.

Firsts & some things I learned along the way

Along the way, I learned some things and did some things for the first time.

I take enough steps every day. I should sleep a little more. Standing desks are great, but improvised standing desks are only so-so. Getting funding for a product is both harder and easier than expected. Kindles break easily if you twist their display. Built a lamp, and poured something out of concrete. Well-made shoes are awesome. It’s worth locking the door all the way. Travel is good and productive. Went to Argentina, Croatia, India, Serbia, Wales for the first time.

Some things I’ll try to do (read: resolutions!)

Policy input. For quite a while I’ve been wondering how to best make a contribution to how we can get Berlin/Germany/Europe ready for the 21st century on a policy level, namely what a digital agenda for Europe should look like. It’s a super relevant issue (rather, a whole slew of issues) that I feel a certain obligation to contribute my part in. How? Not sure yet.

Learn more languages. In terms of actual languages, I was lucky to attend a school that gave me a very solid prep. And even though I lost most of my fluency due to inactivity in French and Latin and stuck mostly to English (and my native German of course), it gave me a broad base to build on. So, no more excuses not to learn Spanish. I’ve been training a bit via Duolingo, and want to intensify it. But also I feel like brushing up on my meager coding skills. Codecademy & Co to the rescue!

Figure out how to best consolidate all the roles and hats I wear professionally depending on context. Most likely, I’ll just roll them all into one company to make it easier for others to understand, and to minimize administration.

More family visits. Been getting better about this over the last year or two, and I’ll try to make a point of seeing both my parents and my sister more often. Neither of us is getting any younger, so there’s really no good reason not to make the effort.

So what’s next?

I’m typing this on my way to a brief holiday trip to my family and later to see some friends. Back in Berlin, I’m looking forward to a pretty intense 2014. Between three conferences more or less back-to-back in May that will need quite some preparation in the first months of the year, a talk in January in Amsterdam, client work, a new venture and quite a few upcoming work-related trips, I won’t be bored anytime soon.

Happy Holidays

On that note, I got nothing more to say than Happy Holidays. I hope you’ll have a great start in 2014. See you on the other side.

29 May

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So this happened…

May 29, 2013 | By |

wedding ceremony

 

…over the weekend. So happy. Thanks, M!

07 Feb

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Announcing Makers Make

February 7, 2013 | By |

Makers Make

As my time in Buenos Aires comes to a close, it’s time to shine a little light on a thing I’ve been working on with the brilliant Natasha Carolan:

We just started a company called Makers Make. The idea is simple: We believe that making should be easier.

How we work towards that goal is explained – at least in rough strokes – over on the new website, makersmake.net.

Feel free to poke around the (still pretty scarce) site and let me know if you find any loose ends (there are many).

Suffice to say for now that it’s an incredibly exciting space as we get to the point where there’s enough production capacity around to open up industrial 3D printers to external designers – or so we think. This, in turn, means that a whole new league of designers will emerge that takes advantage of new production capacities. We don’t just want to 3D-print tchotchkes, but take it to the next level by allowing specifically for hybrid designs. Think 3D print plus X.

A few personal notes, after all this is my personal blog:

Natasha and I approach this as a project to grow organically, starting off doing this as a side-project. This also means that of course I’ll keep working on all my client projects, as well the major side projects – namely The Alpine Review and UIKonf – as well as a couple that are still in various stages of prototyping. The company is registered in London – we shift stuff (including ourselves and our attention) between London and Berlin as we need it, and if things work out as we hope we’ll take it to other places as well.

For now, we’re at a very early stage and things are still pretty fluid, the way I like it until more formal structures emerge.

Also, a big, big thank you – not just to Natasha, but also to Alexandra, Alice, Ronen and all the others who’ve shared their insights and encouragement.

Exciting times!

09 Jan

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Out with the old, in with the new

January 9, 2013 | By |

Over the last few weeks I’ve traveled from Berlin to Boston (via London), up the coast to Ipswich, back down to Boston (a couple of times), then Berlin (via Madrid), down south to the Black Forest to clear our out old family house, back to Berlin, to Hamburg and back, and now I’m about to head to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires with M. By the time we’re back I’ll have close to 40.000 km (as the crow flies) under my belt in less than eight weeks.

Phew. I’m not sure how I feel about that, even though the trips themselves are all pretty much fantastic.

Out with the old

One of these trips led me back to where I was born, a lovely little backwater town called Bad Herrenalb. It’s a town of a few thousand inhabitants (7.5K, including the “suburbs”), grown out of a monestary, so it was founded some 860 years ago (Wikipedia), and has some strange claims to fame. For one, it was awarded city status (despite its miniature size) early on, in 1887, by the (regional) king, and as the mayor once mentioned when I was at the city hall as part of a city-engages-with-the-youth initiative along with the other citizens that had turned 18, Bad Herrenalb featured at the time the highest quota of residents aged 65+ in the state. That, needless to say, doesn’t even begin to tell the average age in town at any given time: Herrenalb is a spa town favored primarily by the elderly. We sometimes joked that Herrenalb was like the setting for an inverted Soylent Green – there, those under 30 would be fed upon, not the other way round.

Bad jokes aside, as a kid it was a fantastic place to grow up. To go into the Black Forest – the actual Black Forest – it was a 5 minute walk. Less, if I sneaked through our neighbors’ garden, as there was only one row of houses between ours and the forest. The tap water wasn’t just potable, but of absolutely top-notch quality as it more or less came straight from the source, in a region where water from these sources is exported and sold at a premium. As kids, at night we could sneak into the open pool of the local thermal spring, where year-round the water would come out of the mountain source at a solid 35 degrees celsius. I remember a night where we were maybe 16, 17 years old, and in mid-winter we sneaked into said pool, cold beer in hand despite maybe 20 cm of snow all around, and sat there in the hot spa in the middle of the night. Not a sound to be heard, until someone else surprised us: a researcher from New Zealand, just arrived that day, who was on a research project to learn about the trees of the Black Forest, and on his way back home had stumbled unto the same pool. We shared beers and stories, and I’m pretty certain at that age I hadn’t met anyone from that far away. (Come to think of it, I probably still haven’t met people from further away – New Zealand is pretty much at the opposite end of the globe.)

Of course, that was back in the days ™ when security wasn’t big on the agenda. In fact, there wasn’t even a real fence at the time, just a line of bushes we had to wade through. By now, I’m sure, there must be motion sensors and whatnot; but this is a very, very small town we’re talking of, and at that time security wasn’t really much of an issue there.

Long story short, I went back there on a family errand. In one long day, I jumped on a train down there from Berlin (takes about 6.5 hours door to door), and cleared out the things I still wanted to keep as the house I grew up in gets new inhabitants. It’s something I had always put off, just taking bits and pieces along with me over the years, leaving much behind as I’ve been moving around a lot since I left that home. It’s a bit of an odd feeling, going through the stuff that defined signified so much of who I was at the time – and looking at it now, so much of who I am no more, how much has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my youth a great deal (within the framework of the usual caveats), and I greatly enjoy my life today. Still, this ritual of clearing out boxes from when you were five, twelve, seventeen years old triggers melancholy and introspection.

I was glad I was on a strict schedule – about three hours was all I had before jumping on the train back, and my sister was there as well, going through the same ritual. In the end, the things we settled for kind of surprised me despite making the choices myself. Some photos; a stamp collection (What can one do with a stamp collection? It’s not even a great one, yet I couldn’t throw it out?); a few bits and pieces that once belonged to my grandfather I never consciously met, or my mom, or my dad, and that would otherwise be thrown out, or small presents I had received from people I love. (Among them, a few pieces of the Berlin Wall, chiseled out by my late aunt herself, in an act I’m sure I would have found quite touristy at the time, had I thought in those terms then, but now I really appreciate.)

So many things couldn’t make the cut, as my life is too mobile, too little based anywhere with the capacity to store things, so it was mostly taking pictures of things, in the hope that digital photos might be easier to keep and store and maintain, than atoms.

So with a suitcase of past I headed back to Berlin, with a few days left to prepare our trip to Argentina, and wrap up a whole slew of meetings, as you do before leaving town for awhile.

In with the new

So instead of banking on old memory clutches, I will instead try and focus to make new experiences, new memories. That’s why M and I are headed for Buenos Aires. We’ll live and work there for about a month. Because we can: We’re priviliged in that peculiar way of the tech nomad, we can work from wherever we wish as long as there’s a decent connection. I’m (somewhat painfully) aware that it’s a thing that’s far from granted even in this decade, and it might not last. So whenever the opportunity arises, in the gaps between big events that require physical presence onsite, and obligations like more traditional employment (if that kind of thing really still exists) or family or whatnot, we decided to make the most of it and go with the flow. So we’ll spend part of the winter in the south in a place neither of us has been, but that supposedly is interesting and gorgeous and well-connected (in terms of the web). A place, in other words, that allows us to do our jobs, and do them well, and meet interesting new folks while we’re at it.

It’s been a while since I last did a trip like this one – in 2009 or 2010 I believe, when I spent a month living in New York. So far, I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing a lot, and I have every reason to believe that I won’t grow bored of it anytime soon.

So here’s to a month of new experiences.