... in future

New Horizons (leaving Kennisland)

27 Sep 2018 | 731 words | work kennisland copyright future

For the last eleven and a half years Kennisland has been my professional home and base of operations (first high above the the Keizersgracht and since 2015 as part of Spring House). Today we have announced that it is time for me to leave to make place for the next generation to take over the helm at Kennisland. The past decade has been an amazing ride during which I have learned and grown a lot. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with lots of amazing people both at KL and all over the world1 on making the world a little bit of a better place.

Most of my contributions in doing so have focussed on fairly nerdy and technocratic issues. The most impactful - and hopefully lasting - change that we have managed to achieve is that we have convinced large parts of the cultural heritage sector to embrace digitisation as a chance for radical openness instead of seeing it as a threat (or, even worse, as a business opportunity). We have changed many organisations internal policies from closed by default to open by default and at this moment it feels that there is enough momentum in the direction of open access to collections and other data for it to sustain itself.

But changing internal policies of public institutions is not enough if they operate in a legal environment that is stacked against them (and against individual users and creators). This is why, over the last six years or so I have spend an ever increasing amount of my energy to fight for better copyright legislation in Europe. As I am preparing to leave Kennisland this fight is nearing its logical conclusion, and the jury is still out to determine in how far our attempts to change things for the better will be successful. Right now it is not looking particularly good, but as the saying goes, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

I will focus my remaining time at Kennisland on continuing this fight and I am optimistic that we still have the chance to move the needle in the right direction. Even if the end result of this round turns out to be disappointing the struggle for a legal environment that prioritises the interests of individual creators and the general public over the interests of profit driven intermediaries (both legacy entertainment industry and our new platform capitalist overlords) will continue for the foreseeable future.

It is somewhere in this space that I see my post-Kennisland future to unfold but at this point in time it is too early to say what I will be doing next2.

Reflecting about my time at Kennisland also means to look at the darker moments: During my tenure at Kennisland, the Netherlands has become a more selfish and closed society that has shed lots of traits that once made it an attractive environment to operate in. Over the years we have seen a decimation of a support system for a vibrant, experimental and optimistic cultural sector. The feeling of embracing the future and shaping it through experimentation that was still very much present when I started at Kennisland is largely gone, displaced by a sheepish admiration for disruptive innovation that cherishes individual responsibility above collective imagination and solidarity.

But the darkest moment of my time at Kennisland was the fact that no matter how hard we put up signs, organised campaigns and tried to ignore the inevitable logic of the destructive carnage in Syria, we lost Bassel (R.I.P). Thinking about Bassel and the never-ending carnage in Syria puts whatever I managed to achieve during my time at Kennisland into the perspective of the world around us ever so slowly getting more unhinged.

  1. This is not the moment for thanking everyone who needs to be thanked but among all the people who have influenced me over these years two absolutely stand out: Chris & Jill. Without either of them and the strange magic of complementary characters between us i would not be where I am right now. Thanks! ↩︎

  2. While I have no definitive plan for what I am going to do next I have lots of ideas for future endeavours and I am still open for suggestions. If you have any ideas or plans that you want me to be part of, please feel free to get in touch↩︎

A new era

09 Nov 2016 | 737 words | elections politics trump united states future

When I went to sleep yesterday night I was expecting my daughters Yuki and Mika to wake up in a world where three of the most powerful persons are women. Instead, we woke up to a world in which a misogynistic, ignorant, racist, fear-monger was elected to be the next president of the United States of America. That makes it pretty likely that they will grow up in a world that is considerably worse than the one I grew up in.

Breakfast with vodka shot

2nd breakfast of the morning: double espresso + vodka shot

But this is not about my daughter’s role models (we will find others), this is about the end of an era. Most directly Trump’s victory will affect the US. While this can play out in many ways, it is hard to imagine a way in which this will not cause a lot of hurt to the most vulnerable people in society: (undocumented) immigrants, minorities and generally all those who can’t or don’t want to come up for their own interests at the expense of others.

Trump, and more importantly the extremist right wing networks and strategists who have enabled success, will have the full political apparatus (both houses of congress, the presidency and the supreme court) aligned to turn back progress that has been made over the last decades. America will become a worse place to live for lots of people, and that fills me with dread.

Even worse, Trump will inherit the targeted assassination machine built and employed mercilessly by President Obama1. From the perspective of those killed and maimed by drone strikes and other assassination methods it does not really matter if the strike was authorised by Obama or Trump, but it does not take a lot of imagination to fear that President Trump will be even more indiscriminate in unleashing the hellfires.

An uncertain future for Europe

Closer to home, Trump has questioned the traditional security alignments between the US and Europe. At the same time he has shown remarkable affinity with the Russian President Putin. If this leads to a strategic new alignment between Russia and the US this may very well have far-reaching consequences for peace and stability in Europe. Much of the uncomfortable but peaceful co-existence between the European neighbours of Russia and Russia itself is based on military hegemony of the US that is backing us up. We may soon find ourselves in a drastically different environment characterised by a degree of instability and danger that is unknown to most of the European people of my generation (with the exception of those who witnessed the self-destruction of Yugoslavia from close by).

It also looks pretty certain that the era of free trade fundamentalism will come to an end. TTIP & TTP are effectively dead as of this morning 08:29 CET and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it makes me wonder whether the system that put free trade ahead of pretty much all other considerations will be replaced by something better. I have been somewhat hypocritical in enjoying the perks of being in a privileged position of the ever more interconnected world produced by this system, and I can’t really imagine being thrown back in a world that is much more focussed on nation states, but this seems to be where we are heading.

Standing up against populism at home

Closest to home, the most worrying thing about this morning were the triumphant tweets of Geert Wilders (the racist and nationalistic populist who fancies himself the equivalent of Trump over here) in which he predicts to “win back the Netherlands“. If we have learned one lesson this year it is that we have to treat a Wilders’ victory during next year’s election as a very real possibility.

While most of the developments I have described are out of my realm of influence, this morning made something crystal clear for me: If we do not start doing everything we can to prevent a Wilders’ victory from happening, we have only ourselves to blame and then we will be in even deeper shit when we wake up on 16 March 2017.

  1. If Trump really wants to install a special prosecutor to go after a member of the Obama administration, this prosecutor should not go after Clinton (who has misplaced a couple of thousands of emails), but after President Obama (who has assassinated hundreds of people). ↩︎

29 Sep 2014 | 419 words | drones technology future autonomous robots

A while ago i used this space to express my skepticism with regards to delivery drones becoming a major thing in the developed world anytime soon (and also hedged that by pointing to the fact that they may be much more useful and economically viable in developing countries). A couple of days ago i came across an excellent essay (Build cargo drones, get rich) by J.M. Ledgard in which he makes the most convincing case for cargo drones i have come across yet.

While his scenario is entirely focussed on the use of drones (which he calles donkeys) in Africa it is interesting to note that the first step in the scenario that het is working on is exactly the same as an experiment just announced by German logistics company DHL. Here are the opening words from Legards essay:

My goal is to help set up the world’s first commercial cargo drone route in Africa by 2016. It will be about 80 kilometres long and will connect several towns and villages. The first cargo drones will carry small payloads of blood to keep alive children who would otherwise perish.

and here is the relevant passage from DHL’s press release announcing their experiment:

For the first time worldwide, medications and other urgently needed goods will be delivered to the island at certain times of the day by DHL parcelcopter. This research project represents the first and only time in Europe that a flight by an unmanned aircraft will be operated outside of the pilot’s field of vision in a real-life mission.

Aside from the fact that it seems that Ledgard has lost its bid for running the world’s first commercial cargo drone route it is interesting to note that the business case is the same here: Emergency deliveries of life-saving, small things by drone.

This is indeed where commercial cargo drones seem make some sense in their current state. What is happening here should be seen in the light of another recent innovation that started as an expensive solution for a first world problem but dramatically changed the lives of millions of Africans once it became technological mature enough to be commoditized: The mobile telephone. So while he may have lost his bet to be the first, DHL is most likely doing a bit of extra R&D work for Ledgard’s scheme to get rich with cargo cones.

p.s. also notice how both implementation are targeted at rural, non-urban environments. the point i made in my earlier post clearly still holds.

Imaginary suburban futures

31 Aug 2014 | 380 words | drones future google urbanism

Friday morning when we left the cab that had brought us and our newborn from the hospital the mail carriers on their bicycles where swarming out around us (we live 3 houses down from a postnl distribution location where the mail for the neighborhood is transferred from delivery vans to bikes). Having spend some of the waiting time in hospital reading Alex Madrigal’s Atlantic feature on Google’s delivery drone programme this made me briefly contemplate if our daughter would grow up to see a world filled with mail carriers or one filled with flying delivery drones.

In spite of the hype caused by said article which seems to have made otherwise reasonable people abandon their analytic rigor, i am pretty certain that delivery drones will not play a significant role in my or my daughters life anytime soon1.

Primarily because i can’t really see the economics making sense (certainly not for the silly examples of flying spare batteries or electric drills around) but more importantly because these things have clearly sprung from a suburban mindset that assumes that people have exclusive control over the vertical space belonging to a swath of land. For the majority of people in cities this is simply not the case and as a result they don’t have a place where the delivery drones could land (or lower their eggs).

The answer for the desire to have relatively quick access to things is living in a city. Cities provide quick access to shops and via mail carriers on bikes. If any part of the delivery process will be replaces by autonomous vehicles i would bet on the trucks serving the trunk routes and maybe the those serving neighborhood distribution centers. Autonomous flying delivery drones, may sound like the future, but they almost certainly aren’t, unless we envisage the future to be a version of suburbia that has been perfected so that there is no need to venture out into the world and interact with anyone anymore.

I would certainly hope that the future will look a whole lot more urban.

The future of copyright will most likely not be determined by a cost benefit analysis

29 Jul 2012 | 238 words | copyright economics economy future review war books

So i finally managed to start reading the ‘Future of Copyright‘ anthology that contains the winning essays from a contest organised by the Modern Poland Foundation. So far (i have not read them all) my favourite essay is ‘Give‘ by Togi, which i read as powerful argument that systemic change (and not just reform) is not only much needed but also possible. While his overall line of argument is pretty convincing (to me), i have a bit of trouble following one of his (her?) central arguments (Mike Linksvayer makes a very similar point in his review of the anthology):

At the point where government profit from copyright/IP is negated by the cost of its enforcement (both in monetary terms and in terms of public goodwill), free culture will be permitted.

While this would be the logical thing for governments to do, there is ample evidence that governments don’t work like this. This seems to be especially true in conflicts that are rhetorically packaged as ‘wars’. The ‘war on drugs’ is the best example of this (if this does not make sense to you listen to the last point bought forward in this episode of the planet money podcast), but it is also true for the ‘war on terror’. Given this i think it is rather naive to expect (as Togi does) governments to succumb to rational economic thinking when it comes to the war on piracy sharing.

Time travel is here

04 Jun 2012 | 128 words | future public transport

So apparently time travel has finally arrived. Walked by the bus shelter opposite of Berlin Hauptbahnhof this morning and was greeted with a ‘Willkommen in der Zukunft’ (‘Welcome to the future’) message scrolling across the LED display.

Have not entirely figured out how the future is different from the present nor how i can get back to the present but apparently in the future bus shelters have LED displays that are powered by solar panels integrated into the same bus-shelters. Now the people in the future only have figure out what they want to do with them.

Wilkommen in der zukunft

LED display with ‘Willkommen in der Zukunft’ message. Turns out that present day cameras do not work well with the LED scrolling display technology of the future.

A Bridge Between Europe and Africa

18 Jul 2011 | 39 words | europe africa future

Brilliant BLDGBLOG post on the possibility of a bridge across the Strait of Gibraltar and it’s implications (i very much like the idea an underwater bridge):

1000 AFRO front

1000 AFRO backside

Bonus points for introducing a new currency.

Money & Speed - show me the data...

Two weeks ago the 50 minute documentary ‘Money & Speed‘ by Marije Meerman aired in the tegenlicht (backlight) series of the VPRO (a dutch public broadcaster). ‘Money & Speed’ casts a light into the world of high frequency (or rather algorithmic) trading, a subject that i have been fascinated with for a while. The documentary attempts to explain the event’s behind the 6 may 2010 ‘flash crash‘ and does so by interviewing a number of experts that are more or less involved in the (aftermath of) the crash.

money & speed title screen

While ‘Money & Speed’ stops short of pointing out who (or what) was responsible for the events on may 6th 2010 (there are conflicting theories and tegenlicht’s prime source Eric Hundsader of Nanex clearly has been advised not to mention on camera whoever he thinks caused the events) it is quite a remarkable documentary that gives an fascinating insight into a world that is most likely completely unknown to more the 95% of the television audience.

I also really like how Meerman has woven George Dyson and his theories about differences in time perception between humans and computers into the narrative of the documentary. That guy certainly makes more sense than Kevin Kelly.

What makes ‘Money & Speed’ even more interesting is that next to the broadcast version the VPRO (together with catalogtree) has released an iPad version of the documentary in the form of a free iPad app1 that contains the entire film in high quality as well as a number of supporting assets such as infographics, short bio’s and a glossary of terms used in in the documentary.

At the first glance (and certainly for a first attempt) the app version of ‘Money & Speed’ seems to be crafted really well. The app is really responsive which makes pulling up extra information while watching a pleasure. You simply click on one of the thumbnails in the top right corner and the video stops instantly and resumes instantly after you are finished reading the text-box.

money & speed

The absence of noticeable delay makes this process work very well (it does not feel as an interruption of the flow at all even though the video itself stops). In the case of a couple of the bigger infographics there is an annoying delay before the infographics appear, but the transition back to the video is almost instantaneous.

Unfortunately those big info graphics (tick for tick visualizations of three different stocks, a visualization of the fall of the dow jones index, a map showing possible locations for financial data processing centers in the vicinity of New York City, and a delayed real-time stock market data map) are not really connected to the storyline of the documentary.

These are clearly the most labor intensive parts of the ipad app, but they do not add to the understanding of the events described: The delayed real-time stock market data map is a complete waste of resources (although it has a vey nice darkish background noise that i am listening to right now) and the map of the data centers, while visually striking does not even show the locations of the data-centers that are depicted in the documentary. The tick for tick visualizations (visible on the ipad in the screenshot above) while impressive simply fail to convey much information (Alpher suggests that this is because ‘the information density is low’).

Given these shortcomings one might come to the conclusion that adding extra visualizations to a documentary like Money & Speed provides little extra value to the viewer. I am pretty sure that this is the wrong conclusion and that the real problem at hand is that the creators of ‘Money & Speed’ have simply selected the wrong data to visualize2:

money & speed

Towards the end of ‘Money & Speed’ Meerman juxtaposes two different views on what happened on the the 6th of May. That of the official SEC & CFTC report and that of independent data analysis done a by the Chicago based financial data services firm Nanex. Both identify different triggers for the flash crash and their disagreement seems to come from the granularity of time applied to their analysis. While the SEC & CFTC report works with seconds Nanex claims to be able to identify events on the nanosecond level that are averaged out (an thus invisible in the SEC & CFTC report) when looking at the events with less granularity. During this part of the movie Eric Hundsader is shown pointing at this data on one of his computer screens and if you ask me it is this crucial data-set that should have been included in the iPad app instead of the tick for tick visualizations:

money & speed

Still the ‘Money & Speed’ iPad app (the VPRO calls this format a ‘touchdoc’) shows a lot of promise. i can imagine that once the technology for integrating linear video content with additional assets like data visualizations becomes more common, attention will shift towards editorial concepts that better integrates the extra assets with the main narration. In an ideal case scenario that would mean that the underlying research assets of the creators are available to consumers both as extra information but also in order to independently verify claims made by the documentary makers. Given this ‘Money & Speed’ tastes like one possible future of investigative documentary film making.

  1. At the time of writing the app is only available in dutch and only in the dutch app store. the VPRO is working on an english language version that will be available in other app-stores for a fee. It is free in the Netherlands because for regulatory reasons the VPRO cannot charge the public for content it has produced with public broadcasting money. This is not the case outside of the Netherlands and it will be very interesting to see how much income ‘Money & Speed’ will generate outside of the Netherlands. I could very well imagine that a documentary-app (is that an existing category?) of this quality could easily generate income that exceeds the production costs (of the app, not the entire project). ↩︎

  2. Of course this might not have been entirely voluntary. It is possible that this is the only data that they were authorized to include or that they had to make choices which data to visualize really early in the project and as a result could not react anymore once the more interesting datasets appeared. ↩︎

All this trouble from this matchbox

29 Jan 2011 | 478 words | egypt future media revolution

When i visited Al-Jazeera back in november last year, Moeed showed me around the campus starting at the brand new Al-Jazeera English newsroom (depicted in the photo above) and ending the tour in the original Al-Jazeera newsroom that now seems to serve as a rather unorganized tape archive (this is the newsroom that features so prominently in the 2004 documentary ‘control room‘). While showing me around Moeed mentioned that Hosni Mubarak when he visited Al-Jazeera was heard to remark “All this trouble from a matchbox like this”. The guardian also mentions this remark in a 2003 piece on Al-Jazeera:

Al-Jazeera’s headquarters is pretty small. The squat, blue-roofed building in Doha is dwarfed by surrounding palm trees, satellite dishes and transmission masts. “All this trouble from a matchbox like this,” the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, once exclaimed when he arrived to take a look.

These days AL-Jazeera’s operation has certainly outgrown the shoebox that it started in and it is clearly causing Hosni Mubarak even more trouble. In fact it is probably contributing to the end of his regime while i am writing this.

As a matter of fact Al-Jazeera (English – but i assume that this is the case for their arabic channel as well) is doing an impressive job at covering the events unfolding in Egypt. This is not only true for the journalistic quality of their coverage, which as far as i can judge is really good (and if you do not want to depend on my judgement, you might have noticed that even the New York Times, which often describes Al-Jazeera as biased seems to think so as well).

I am equally (if not even more) impressed by the delivery of Al-Jazeera English. No need to have a television anymore to follow events like the ones unfolding in right now Egypt. I started following the events yesterday afternoon at the office via a mirror of the Al Jazeera English stream (the official player crashes the flash plugin in chrome for me):

al jazeera english via justin tv

Now this is not that spectacular anymore (guess it would have been 2 years ago) but being able to leave the office and continue watching the same stream on my iPhone is something that still manages to impress me (especially if you consider that they manage to keep the stream stable even though there must be enormous demand).

al jazeera english on the iphone

In fact i managed to continue watching the stream for a good part of the train journey to Eindhoven. Ironically – but not surprisingly to dutch people – the railway company failed to provide sufficient seating capacity so i ended up standing while following the events on my phone. Guess that means that we have really arrived in the 21st century where you ubiquitous access to video streams is more reliable than railway services…

Beyond City Limits

Kimon pointed me to this impressive article by Parag Khanna in which he argues that (mega)cities are slowly emerging as the dominant international actors replacing nation states along the way. His article titled ‘Beyond City Limits’ is well worth a read and a refreshing take on the subject of urban growth.

Ever since the publication of Mike Davis’ ‘Planet of Slums‘ in 2006 contributions to the discussion about this subject seem to have deteriorated to become a constant stream of repetitions of the observation that since very recently ‘more than half of the worlds population is living in cities’. In his essay Khanna examines what this development means on the level of international relations and politics. One of his most interesting observations focusses on the relationship between urban centers and international borders:

Instead, [Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo] seem to be headed toward division, with the new borders following and surrounding the main cities that are their gravity points, like Juba in South Sudan and Kinshasa in Congo. Or perhaps borders don’t need to change at all, but rather melt away, so long as locals have access to the nearest big city no matter what “country” it is in. This is, after all, how things really work on the ground, even if our maps don’t always reflect this reality.

One other passage that caught my eye (given today’s news it seems very appropriate to examine relocation options) is Khanna’s praise for Doha (a place that i will have the opportunity to visit next month):

Already the result in the Persian Gulf is something truly new, as a once-barren cultural zone features increasingly global melting pots like the Qatari capital of Doha, where residents hail from more than 150 countries and far outnumber the locals. If these new five-star hubs play it right, they could convince Westerners to give up their citizenship for permanent homes in a friendlier, tax-free environment.

go read the full article here.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: