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19 Apr

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Milan during Fuori Salone

April 19, 2016 | By |

So, Milan, eh? Turns out I had never been to Milan. To be honest it had never really occured to me, actively, that I hadn’t been: It’s such a household name of a city when you live in Europe that surely I must have been there, right? In all those years, throughout the many trips I’ve taken to Italy both as an adult and as a kid with my family?

After all, I grew up in south Germany, from where Italy is just a long drive across the Alps. When I was a kid, before the Euro was introduced, traveling in Europe meant stopping at border stops with little border control guard houses where you stopped and then bought gas and maybe a vignette, the road tax disc for countries like Austria. While you stopped you also changed money, deutschmark for lira, as a kid that was super exciting: Look at these different bills. In Italy they had so many 000s: 1.000 Lira was the smallest bill. I don’t remember if coins were even used then. But drive to Italy we did – not super often, but every few years: to Florence, Rome, the Lago Maggiore. It was great.

But yeah, turns out Milan had been a white spot on my personal travel map all these years. So boy was it time to change that.

Glorious view of the Alps
The Alps looked gorgeous from the plane.

And what a better occasion than to bring one of our projects there: The Good Home was to exhibit at Fuori Salone, the city-wide satellite program of the Milan Design Week. This occasion also had a second advantage – our tour guide would be good friend and former Milan resident Alex DS, so we knew we’d be in great hands.

So M and I set out with our exhibits in tow and over-sized checked bags (when exhibiting something it’s silly to travel too light: there’s always hardware to shuttle back and forth) and headed on south via Schönefeld (SXF). Air travel to and from Berlin these days is impossible without constantly pondering airports: Which one is it going to be today (please let it be Tegel!), and why isn’t the under-construction BER anywhere near finished after all these years? But alas, Easyjet means Schönefeld, so off we went into the special hell that is SXF where budget air travel truly feels like a cheap experience.

Arrivi
Arrivi!

Berlin of course isn’t the only multi-airport city: Milan also boasts two functional airports, Linate and Malpensa. Once we arrived in cute little ruggedy Malpensa (MXP) and found our way into the city we set up shop in our local Airbnb. The hotel and rental situation was in line with the universal rule of expo cities during the main annual convention: Everything’s booked out, demand is huge, so whoever can do so will rent out their homes temporarily and make a killing doing it. During those couple of weeks a year you can easily make a few months’ worth of rent. It was all pleasant enough, though, so why complain!

And so we made sure to adjust ourselves by quickly popping into a neighborhood pizza place before the kitchen would close (sharp!) at 2:30pm.

Hello there Milan
Welcome pizza.

A local friend further hooked us up with local prosecco and this Sartorelli cake from Verese, which turned out to be delicious and a bit of a life saver when you come home late at night and haven’t had a chance to eat.
Local noms
Lovely baked specialties from Verese, apparently invented in the 1960s as a marketing ploy. And oh boy what a delicious marketing ploy.

But of course Milan isn’t just quick sugar hits and delicious pizza.

It’s also the home of the grand tradition of the aperitivo. Every late afternoon, usually around 5pm, many bars will offer aperitivo: Drinks, slightly more expensive than usual, and a buffet of snacks. The idea is that between end-of-work around 5 and dinner around 8 or 9 there are a few hours in which to socialize and hang out, and to eat a little. You can guess that for students this is brilliant. But it’s also a lovely tradition in its own right, especially now that the weather allows for beautiful sunset aperitivos.

Alas, the air quality in Milan is notoriously bad, with near-ridiculous standards of pollution (for European standards). And while there are a number of gorgeous parks, overall the city isn’t very green. The canals that bring fresh water into and out of the system, once designed by no lesser than Leanardi da Vinci, have long since been built over to they’re invisible and won’t bring any refreshment to the dry, dusty air…

On the other hand, there is of course the duomo, the big cathedral that dominates the central square in all its glamour. And boy is Milan a glamorous city, especially during the design week: The world’s design and fashion scene invade the city and fill it with sharp suits and designer specs, with hyper trendy handbags and rad haircuts. It’s not for the easily intimidated to be in a city full of Italian style at its strongest.

We were there exactly for this design fair, and whenever we weren’t hosting at our own exhibition we went out to explore what else was on display. Now Italy is of course well known for its long and deep tradition of interior design: Kitchens, furniture, you name it. But, boy oh boy, did I underestimate just how much so. I saw so many chairs, and sofas, and room setups, and high-end sinks that I lost track. Everything at the Milan Design Week seemed ot be framed from the perspective of interior design. Even the connected things we were primarily in town for: Look it’s a kitchen with connectivity, but mostly it’s gorgeous. Everything’s built to be gorgeous bordering on decadent, and clearly it’s not a minimalist form follows function world there.

Milanese breakfast
Milanese breakfast at its best

There’s certainly enough to see, though, and if you ever get tired of looking at chairs, it’s an amazing place for people watching. Grab a coffee and a croissant at a street café and you won’t be bored. Promise.

Navigli
The Navigli neighborhood of Milan

So if the pollution and the over-the-top glamour don’t faze you, though, you can have the loveliest of times, though. Take an aperitivo with friends, then head down to the Navigli, the part of town where the old canals are open and where all of Milan and seemingly half the universe gather for a stroll, a lengthy dinner, and a cone of gelato artigianale (hand-crafted gelato). The streets and sidewalks are packed to the rim, laughter and intense conversations echo across town, and it’s a delight to be alive and in this place.

15 Mar

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Destination Helsinki

March 15, 2016 | By |

Until 2014, I had never set foot in Finland. Since then it’s become a constant companion in my life.

This first visit was during a summer roadtrip. M and I decided to fly to Stockholm and drive north through Sweden, into the Arctic Circle and through Lapland, and then back south in Finland all the way to Helsinki.

Map of Nordic countries Finland isn’t part of Scandinavia but of the Nordic countries. This is, roughly, the roadtrip we undertook in 2014. There was a lot of driving involved.

It was an epic road trip, a couple of weeks of driving, cycling, hiking. There was at least one whole day hike during which we encountered exactly one family and not another person besides: In the Arctic Circle you can find serious tranquility and isolation. At the same time, we saw reindeers. A lot of reindeers.

Reindeer

Once we were back south in Helsinki, of course, we were right back in the bustle of a modern city with tons going on despite it being rather mid-sized (some 600K population), and an especially lively food, coffee & craft beer scene.

Just after this trip, good friend Sami kindly invited me to join him as co-chair for a conference (Interaction16), so from then on out I had the good fortune to get to know a great group of Fins and expats in Finland during lots of calls and visits, and of course most recently during the conference itself.

Interaction16 team at afterparty The Interaction16 team. What a fantastic group of people. As a side note, I’d love to reference this pic but honestly can’t figure out anymore who took it, or on whose phone.

There’s something that’s always struck me as slightly different in Helsinki, or maybe unexpected is the better word. All too easily Finland gets tossed in with the Scandinavian countries and all associations that go with it, like cute and gorgeous traditional northern European medieval-ish city layouts featuring palaces and parks and the works.

But Finland isn’t really Scandinavia. (It’s part of the Nordics instead. Confused? Here’s a great short video primer.) It also never had a monarchy and is a relatively young country if you count from their independence, so no palaces. It’s also very far east with close historic ties to Russia (relationship status: it’s complicated), and there’s a strong lingering flavor of distinctly old-school socialist architecture on display throughout Helsinki.

So we’ve established that Helsinki doesn’t look like Stockholm or Copenhagen. But oh boy do Helsinkians serve good craft beer and burgers.

In related news, I encountered a mystery dish apparently called Försmack Vorsmack (thanks for the correction, Ville!), which supposedly is a traditional local dish based on lots of different types of meat, potatoes, and heavy use of a blender. But I couldn’t confirm this 100%.

Vorsmack (?)
Vorsmack. You’re supposed to mix it all up, but let’s stick to the photo of the dish pre-mixing, because reasons.

What’s more, everything in Helsinki just works. Let me give you an example: Airport shuttle train. Two years ago during our first visit, there was none. Now there is one. It was planned and completed on time and (I’d assume) on budget, even though the station under the airport is cut/blown out of solid rock. It’s affordable: €5.50 for a single ride into town, which is about half-way between an espresso and a pint of beer. It’s reasonably fast, with about 30-40 minutes from the airport to Helsinki main station smack in the middle of the city. What’s more, it’s impossible to get lost: The moment you leave the plane, signage and floor markers guide you to the platform smoothly, you pick up a ticket along the way, and once you get to the station all the trains go to downtown Helsinki – as far as I can tell it’s impossible to get on the wrong train.

Interaction16
Helsinki Airport shuttle train. Cheap, fast, easy. As it should be.

You might think that’s unremarkable; for me it’s anything but. After all, please consider I live in Berlin, a city that has three airports: Tegel (TXL), which works well despite running well beyond its passenger limit, but doesn’t have any type of rail connection. The forever-under-construction international airport BER which seems to have a decent train connection but isn’t operational at all yet (and won’t be for at least another couple of years as it’s years behind schedule). And Schönefeld (SXF), which is a shitty airport with an even shittier train connection. (For completeness’ sake let’s also mention the former airport Tempelhof, which now is a giant inner-city park, smack in the city, with great subway connections.)

Berlin Airports Berlin’s various airports. A story of facepalms. Except Tempelhofer Feld on the site of former Tempelhof Airport, which is great.

So go stay in Kallio for a nice lively city experience, or if you prefer a more formal setting I’d recommend the Radisson Blu Plaza. As location goes it doesn’t get more central than that, and the hotel will always have a spot close to my heart: When one night I entered just before midnight to check in after a long day of work and a dinner with the team, the lobby was empty except for an older night concierge. After establishing that I wasn’t Finnish, he kindly introduced me to the Finnish tradition of the morning sauna (open at 7:30am): A round of sauna just before breakfast. It’s supposed to energize and clean the body, and most certainly is the best way to start the day.

You’ll find plenty of excellent coffee shops (Good Life is an all-time favorite of mine), more craft beer than you can drink, and some damn fine Nordic cuisine.

If you have a chance, any chance at all, to visit Helsinki, don’t think twice about it: Just go!

14 Mar

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Prototype Pants #1

March 14, 2016 | By |

Over the last few months I’ve been on a bit of a performance wear kick. The reason is simple: I travel a lot. Michelle travels even more. The thing that most improves the travel experience (for me) is packing light. And the key to light packing is a set of clothes that gracefully handles all kinds of situations (more on that below) and still looks good, giving you peace of mind no matter what.

Getting this right is a bit of a holy grail – if done right it means that you need to pack a lot less – a pair or two of trousers max, no matter if you’re on the road for a couple of days or a month. A real life saver.

Luckily there is by now a selection of great, versatile fabrics that do fit that description: Light weight, non-wrinkle, quick-drying, breathable, wicking, comfortable. There’s also a very small, but growing group of companies that have started using those fabrics to produce clothes that look great.

Not so luckily, they’re almost all in the US which makes buying their stuff in Europe really hard and expensive; and almost none of them produce anything for women at all.

So on a whim M & I got ourselves a big roll of fabric from an outdoor company in Switzerland and worked with fantastic fashion designer (and friend) Cecilia Palmer (founder of sustainability/upcycling label Pamoyo) to create a pair of Prototype Pants for women. (A note to our British friends: We’re not talking about underwear. You might prefer to think of them as Test Trousers.)

Sample materials
Fabric samples

Prototype Pants Women #1
Prototype Pants #1 Women

Once we started the whole process, I got excited and a little jealous, so we also added a pair for men.

I’ve been beta-testing this first kinda-sorta-production ready pair of prototype pants for a few weeks now, and boy am I in love with them.

To give you an idea: They’re incredibly comfy to wear. They travel really well, meaning you can pull them out of your bag and wear them right away, no wrinkles or anything. They’ve got a little stretch, so if you cycle it’s really convenient. Also, for good measure they are water repellent, so if you get caught in the drizzle on the way, or if you spontaneously go on a day hike or so, no worries at all. Magic pants!

Prototype Pants

Prototype PantsPrototype Pants

I’m especially happy that I got to test them under exactly the kind of circumstances and contexts we intended them for: Traveling, with some professional use and some action thrown in. And because testing behind closed doors and under controlled conditions is boring, I took them out for a spin in public. In fact, very much in public: Onstage while chairing Interaction16, a design conference with over 1000 people at lovely Finlandia Hall, Helsinki.

Untitled
Onstage at Interaction16

Prototype Pants
Onstage at Interaction16

Prototype PantsPrototype Pants
Taking them out for a spin on the augmented climbing wall at Interaction16.

Now they’re prototypes, but it feels like one more iteration is all it takes before we can think about next steps. Frankly, I could keep wearing them 24/7. Another few weeks of testing and another iteration and we might just start making a larger batch. It’s super exciting to see this come together.

22 Apr

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A family of Good Night Lamps

April 22, 2015 | By |

Yesterday I received a box I had been very much looking forward to: My family of Good Night Lamps (GNLamp for short).

If you’re not familiar with GNLamp, it’s a family of connected lamps – if you switch on the big one, the little one(s) light up, no matter where in the world they are. It’s social lighting, and it’s lovely.

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06 Jan

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Notes on PADI digital services

January 6, 2015 | By |

For just about 10 years now, I’ve been a certified scuba diver. The certification is from the kindasorta industry standard certification organization PADI, who certified me as a so-called Open Water Diver.

In practice this means dive centers are allowed to rent me out diving equipment and services, and I’m allowed to go on dives by myself (or with a buddy) up to depths of 18 meters. It’s what most scuba divers start with. Then later on, you can build on that basis and add on modules – and hence certifications – for things like diving at night or in caves, or go on to become a trainer.

The badge model

For those of us in the web & tech world, this is a familiar model. It’s basically badges: Certain activities earn you a badge, a certain combination of badges level you up. It’s no coincidence this might sound familiar – the Mozilla Open Badges project has drawn inspiration from this model, and Joi Ito has very explicitly and extensively written about how his scuba diving experiences influence his thinking on badges and certification, starting here. (Alas, I can’t quite share his enthusiasm about the tools, but as I said, they didn’t age well. Add to that the bandwidth restrictions we are operating under on this trip, and it explains the different experience.)

It’s a good model. It works. But not all’s well in PADI Land.

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02 Jan

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Splitting off my personal blog

January 2, 2015 | By |

As of today, I’ll be separating company-related blog posts from personal ones a bit more. For the last eight, nine years or so, this domain (thewavingcat.com) has been my main blog, and as such main outlet. For the most part, a sort of personal one, but it also covered lots of work-related topics and thoughts. Over the years, this has related to some jobs, several companies, lots of events, and a whole range of emerging tech topics like social media, digitization, cognitive cities, IoT, 3D printing and many more.

In 2014, I founded my new company, named (and subsequently renamed, because reasons) it, and settled for the name The Waving Cat GmbH. This meant, of course, that the domain thewavingcat.com would also become the company site.

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18 Dec

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Thanks & Happy Holidays: That was 2014

December 18, 2014 | By |

This is end-of-year post #7 (all prior ones here). Slowly I’m getting into the habit.

What happened in 2014? A lot. Let’s dive in!

The theme for 2014

In hindsight, I’d describe 2014 as a year of building foundations. Much more than ever before did I focus on creating a stable basis for future things rather than pushing ahead first. This goes both for personal and professional life, like the way I set up my new company as an umbrella for all new projects and signing a long term office lease.

That, and strong presence of both Japan and Finland (in the form of trips, client work and collaborations) which I very much welcome.

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