A tipping point for bio


Bio hacking lab at Share Conf 2013

It’s both my job and a great pleasure to be looking out for signals that point to something fundamentally new and interesting. Something that might be driven by a technology (or a combination of technologies) that will have a massive impact on the way we live – or at least offers that opportunity.

Over the last ten years, just to name a few, these mega trends (or tectonic shifts) include the whole way we connect more deeply online through what today is called Social Media and a normal part of our everyday lives; the way these connections started following us around more seamlessly through the mobile web; the way manufacturing and “reproduceability” changed through 3D printing and the fabbing movement; how the physical world joined us online in the Internet of Things, turning our physical environment more responsive.

Let’s look at all things bio

But for a couple of years now, there have been more and more signals – weak and odd and quirky at first, but quickly gaining strength – around biology: bio synthesis, DIY bio hacking and the like.

Just like 3D printing before, this all very much happens in the space of atoms – or of the organic – but with the thinking of the web overlaid. A combination of atoms & bits in the most literal way. And much like what later became known as Social Media started out with a myriad of competing terminologies (ubicomp, social computing, web 2.0…), I don’t think that the final terminology has yet emerged, making it somewhat harder to follow the many parallel discussions around bio/organic hacking in a structured way.

This phase of competing ideas and terminologies is usually a good sign that something is interesting enough that stakeholders from different angles are feeling out the same area, trying to figure out what’s going on there and where to take it. It’s when stuff is at Peak Interesting, long before the real impact becomes tangible. And no doubt, this area will have massive, profound impact on society, business, medical, industry. And no doubt this impact will come in many unexpected ways.

Tipping point

We’ve been talking about this for a while, and just a little while back I remember mentioning that the the signals are still just a little bit too scattered for me to fully engage. Not quite there yet, for the way I operate. But just now, this recent brief blog post over on O’Reilly Radar about the BioFabricate Summit kind of put me over the edge. I mentally mark this as a personal tipping point for the signal-to-noise ratio that triggers my dig-deeper impulse.

So I’ll be reading up on bio fabrication, bio hacking, bio synthesis. If I find enough interesting stimulus, the next step for me will be to think about a new conference around the issue: I still find it the best way to dive in and get all the players together.

If you’re aware of interesting stuff happening around this, particularly in Europe, please do share. Thanks!

Crossing technology vectors & emerging humane technology


Where will it lead? This is where it gets interesting.

It’s where emerging technologies – tech vectors, really – cross that truly new stuff happens. It’s also where bits and pieces, building blocks of more or less well-established technologies can be combined into something new that might be bigger than the sum of its parts. Or into something that’s completely and utterly banal, but maybe playful or just nice.

In either case it’s these intersections that I find most interesting to watch.

Enter BERG’s Little Printer:

Little Printer by BERG Image: Little Printer by BERG

The Little Printer is many things: A device to output digital information on paper. The output end of a larger infrastructure, a cloud service that BERG has built, that on the input side extends to a set of smartphone apps. It’s a physical manifestation of a process that BERG has been working on for a long time, namely to also be able to design, produce and deliver physical goods. (The other physical manifestation was the recent comic book project SVK.) And it’s a little printer, of course.

Now what I find personally fascinating here is this.

The Little Printer isn’t really anything groundbreaking, anything truly new. It’s a glorified receipt printer. Many printers have been hooked up to the web, to Twitter, to data streams. (BERG openly acknowledges them, too.) Quite a few folks on Twitter have been poking fun at the LP for that.

Yet, there’s something different about this one, other forces at work, so to speak.

One, some very subtle design tweaks make the Little Printer quite adorable. BERG is very, very good at making things adorable that shouldn’t possibly be adorable. It’s a friggin’ receipt printer, yet I want to hug it. Of course that’s mostly done through the images they used in the announcements, with the little face inside the printer etc. I imagine it’s a few of the shapes and colors, too, but I wouldn’t be able to reliable say. (Designers, got any hints for me?) I’m not sure if making technology cute is the best, or only, way to go, but I have to say: It works for me.

Two, there’s a decent, solid set of initial launch partners that give you the kind of content to print out that makes it easy to imagine how you’d use the product. Weather report, tweets, shopping list, it all makes sense. Again, I’m not sure if you really need explicit launch partners for a printer, but they have them, and it seems to work.

Three, it’s entirely and utterly banal, anti-climactic. It’s an entirely unthreatening bit of networked technology that prints out mostly harmless pieces of paper, when you press a button on your phone. I can totally imagine this thing blending right in – in my kitchen, on my desk, in the living room. Anti-climactic technology is lovely. Shrug tech: Do you mind me putting the printer here? Nah. It’s ubicomp in human shape, or maybe rather in humane shape. It’s brilliant that way.

On a meta-level and big BERG fan, of course I’m also curious to watch go through the learning process of producing physical goods.

But as it stands, I can see myself getting two Little Printers, one for the office and one for my kitchen. I’m not sure what I’d use it for, but I’m pretty sure that I’d use it. In an entirely unthreatening way, to print mostly harmless pieces of paper.

Announcing the Cognitive Cities Conference


Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Update: New date for Cognitive Cities Conference is 26/27 February 2011 (details).

A few friends and I are planning a conference this fall. Please allow me to cross-post from the Cognitive Cities blog:

Our future will be played out in cities. The projections tell us that our planet will resemble some very familiar fictional fantasies: 75% of the global population will be living by 2050 in cities or mega cities. Between slums and mass poverty on one hand and eco-sustainable living on the other hand, there will be both tough problems to solve and exciting visions to realize. We are at a point in time where the paths are set for the future of cities. The Cognitive Cities Conference wants to pick up the vibrant global conversation about the future of cities and bring it to Germany. By bringing bright minds with different perspectives together, it is our ambition to enable not only an in-depth exchange about the current state of affairs, but also to foster new projects. We believe that collaboration and diversity lead to the best results. We see the Cognitive Cities Conference as a platform for exchange and mutual inspiration and invite urban planners, designers, technology geeks, environmental experts, public officials, urban gardening enthusiasts and cultural influencers to be part of the conversation. We can only make our cities more liveable if we work together to improve them. The format of the conference will be a combination of lightning talks and workshop style sessions. Participants will share ideas, thoughts and challenges based on their diverse backgrounds, thus presenting different perspectives and approaches to the challenges we share. We are planning a one track only event, with the option for break-out sessions at any time. Where and when? Cognitive Cities Conference 02./03. October 2010 Coworking Cologne Who is Cognitive Cities for? We believe that diversity is essential for mutual inspiration. Cognitive Cities is aimed at designers, architects, futurists, urban planners, web geeks, activists, urban dwellers, you name it. If you are interested in the future of your city, you are most welcome. Who is behind Cognitive Cities Conference? Axel Quack, Igor Schwarzmann, Johannes Kleske, Markus Reuter, Martin Spindler, Peter Bihr, Welf Kirschner. Powered by Cognitive Cities is organized on a non-profit basis. We will provide more details and a dedicated link soon.

Until we have a site up, please refer to the original post.

For us, the idea behind Cognitive Cities isn’t just focused on urban planning.

That’s very important, as I’d like to stress that we hope to touch on other fields that are just as relevant to living in a city: think smart homes, smart grids, smart meters. Think augmented reality, Spime, sensors, cell phones, geo-tagging. Think open data. Think transportation, car sharing, intelligent trip planning. (Jetpacks, anyone?) Think reclaiming your city bottom-up. Think street art and locative art. Think green living and rooftop gardens and urban gardening. All of these, and many more, will influence our lives in the city. And all of them should be represented at our conference.

Also, I’d like to briefly put this in context: I know this all is, so far, pretty vague. We’ll get more concrete soon. Until then, we’ll be getting in touch with a first batch of potential speakers and sponsors to cover basic costs and, hopefully, some travel grants for speakers or guests who couldn’t come otherwise. We got to this event via atoms&bits, so there’s a connection here too. Props and thanks to Martin Spindler for getting the ball rolling and getting me on board! Also, thanks to Axel for enabling us to use Coworking Cologne as our conference location. As always, having a location for an event always is a huge load off of our shoulders.

So while we’re setting up the basic infrastructure to organize an event, please feel free to get in touch. For the time being, the best way is to either leave a comment on the original post or here, or to drop any of us organizers a line directly. We’re all pretty easy to reach. (In my case, the contact form or Twitter.) Update: Email us at

Thanks for the patience, and for spreading the word. We’re all really looking forward to this.

Update: Official hashtag is #cocities.

Image: Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from yakobusan’s photostream

Thanks & Happy Holidays: 2009 Wrap-Up


Happy Holidays!

It’s almost the end of the year, and that means it’s the time to take a minute to think back to what happened during the year, and remember the good stuff, so to speak.

As is always the nature with this kind of posts, it’s more interesting for the author than the readers, so like I said in last year’s post:

The longer version below will be more interesting for me than you, probably. If you skip this post I won’t be disappointed. I promise ;)

So, here’s my 2009. A year which I’m sure will always remember fondly. For me it was a year full of political campaigning, coworking and events galore.

Work-related, I had the chance to work with many new and old clients and partners, and it’s been great. Thank you all – I really feel privileged to be able to have the kind of live I have and get paid for doing stuff I love to do, and I’ve been having an awesome time working with you guys. Thanks, thanks and thanks!

One project I found particularly interesting, and I spent a good deal of time and energy on it: Together with Thomas Praus & Panorama3000 I helped Jusos (the youth organization of the Social Democratic Party, in short SPD) run their federal election campaign. It was, as far as I know, the first time that the Jusos ran their own campaign independently from the party. Even though the election results were disappointing in the end, we experienced a great community of politically engaged young adults and we all learned a tremendous deal.

What else? According to Dopplr, I went on 25 trips in six countries. One of them was to New York, where I spent the whole month of May, working from the great Brooklyn-based coworking space The Change You Want To See. (My friend Matthias, who designed the waving cat xmas motif above, also spent some time there.) The community at The Change inspired me so much that upon return to Berlin it didn’t take much convincing to be one of the first members of a new coworking space in the making in Berlin-Neukölln: When we were introduced to the location, it was a matter of weeks until Studio70 opened up.

At Studio70, a great crowd ranging from fashion designer to tinkerer to journalist and many more gathered, and it wasn’t long until it became clear that an event needed to be held to celebrate this mix. Atoms&Bits Festival was born, and within just a few months we pulled together the whole thing that in the end had reached out to some 30 locations in several cities. It was a lot of work, but also very rewarding to see all these different scenes and subcultures mix and mingle. Atoms&Bits culminated in a weekend of events the same day as the federal elections in Germany, so the weekend of the 26/27 September 2009 was kind of a big day for me. If I had a paper calendar, this weekend would have been circled in a thick, red circle. (But I don’t, and Google Calendar doesn’t do this kind of stuff, so it became just another weekend ;)

Right after Atoms&Bits and the elections, it was time for a little break, so off to a vacation I went. Luckily, a good friend and former housemate from my university time in Sydney happened to get married just then and I had the honor to be one of the brothers/best men, and even more luckily he lives in Singapore, so the destination of the trip was easily decided. After a blast of a time there and seeing many faces I hadn’t seen in years, I came back to Berlin, just in time to receive a notice from the TED crew, informing me that our request to run a TEDx event was approved. So we putTEDxKreuzberg on the map, to be held at, and more importantly with, Betahaus. Again, great fun, and we’re still processing all the things we heard and saw there. (And the videos, too.) And just like last year, we had a monthly Likemind kaffee klatsch at good ol’ St Oberholz. Thomas and I have been having a great time with this and we’ve both met so many cool folks, we’ll definitively going on doing this, so make sure to drop by (3rd Friday of the month, 9am).

To finish the year off, the most recent turn of events led me to Strasbourg, France, where I’ve been spending the last couple weeks (and until some point in January 2010) at Arte, a German-French public TV station, doing some behind-the-scenes concept work.

So that was my 2009. Definitively not bad. And since 2010 always has been the start of the future, we’re bound to see another cool year in just about a week. Hope to see you there.

Image: The lovely xmas motif was done for me by Matthias Pflügner. (Thanks!)



Just a brief personal note: I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks. The last few months were a blast, and also pretty exhausting, what with the German elections* and atoms&bits Festival (jump to my posts). It was a really interesting few weeks or months, and I learned a lot. But boy, am I looking forward to a bit of downtime. But not before a very brief and very subjective view back.

The election results, frankly, suck. We (Jusos, Panorama3000 and I) put a lot of effort into the campaign and I think we did a good job. But I can understand everyone who’s frustrated with the politics of the last four years, and voters have made it clear that they didn’t want politics to continue the same way for another four years. Both major parties got the worst results in 60 years, the three small parties got record highs: This clearly is a signal of changing times. Where exactly things are going we’ll need to see. I worked with the SPD (the equivalent of the US democrats) in the campaign because I believe that they’re a really important force in our society – and I’m saying that despite my total and utter disagreement with their recent internet politics. So of course I found it somewhat frustrating that the liberal FDP gained so many votes and Germany is going to be governed by a conservative-liberal coalition of CDU and FDP. (And no, I don’t believe it’s good for the economy either.) So now I’m hoping that the SPD will draw the right conclusions and regain both their strength and – in the next elections – also government power.

atoms&bits Festival on the other hand was a total success and I had a great time. We had planned on getting together the communities around coworking, DIY, OpenEverything, participatory politics and art, and it worked out great. We saw a lot of happy faces, inspired (and inspiring) talks, as well as connections being made across these topical boundaries. Also, I had a great time with the Geeks On A Plane, who kindly invited a few of us to join their dinner and in turn joined us at the atoms&bits party at Betahaus.

All that said, some great weeks. But now I’m off for a little while to marry off a friend and go on a little backpacking trip. So if I don’t respond to your calls or emails, you know why. See you in a few weeks!

  • Full disclosure: I was an adviser to the online youth election campaign of SPD/Jusos. That was a paid gig. This post expresses my personal views only.

atoms&bits Festival: Thanks everyone!


So last weekend was the highlight of atoms&bits Festival that we had put together in hardly 10 weeks. While we’re recovering from the weekend and also putting together the documentation (i.e. all the blogposts, photos, videos etc), I’d like to briefly say THANK YOU to everybody involved.

THANKS to the participants, who were super active and fun to have a camp with. THANKS to all the volunteers and helpers, who did a great job and who we can’t thank enough for going out of their way to support the event. THANKS to the sponsors and donors, without whom we couldn’t have realized atoms&bits. And my personal THANKS to the rest of the orga team, you guys rock.

We had planned with slightly more participants, but we all had a great time, and feedback has been excellent. (Now it’s time to catch up on some sleep.)

And while we’re still collecting the photos from all kinds of sources, I’d like to share these two pics which really tell a lot about the do-it-yourself culture of atoms&bits – they show a conference shirt being silkscreened by hand at a little booth by SDW.

printing an atoms&bits shirt Printing an atoms&bits shirt. (Photo by Just/, Creative Commons BY NC SA 3.0)

atoms&bits shirt Printing an atoms&bits shirt. (Photo by Just/, Creative Commons BY NC SA 3.0)

atoms&bits: some highlights


Atoms&bits has officially kicked off on Friday and will be going strong until Sunday, 27 Sept. Whenever I have a look at the event list, more cool stuff pops up. On the last count (Sunday, 8pm) the list showed 55 events in 32 locations in 11 cities in 3 countries. (And I’m seriously thinking a few events just aren’t listed yet.) This really blows my mind, taking into account how small this all started.

Time to sit down and pick some personal highlights to see what I really don’t want to miss out on. This list is, of course, just personal preference.

  • Reading of Cory Doctorow’s MAKERS (TUE 22 Sept, 8pm at Studio70)
    From the teaser: “What happens when hardware hackers get tangled up with microfinancing venture capitalists in the aftermath of the financial crisis? The answer: a fast-paced witty novel whose ending the public doesn’t even know.” Cory Doctorow, sci-fi author deluxe and co-author of BoingBoing, has been publishing bits and pieces of MAKERS first on (in a series called “Themepunks” at the time). It’s a great story, and it gives a bit of a glimpse into where we might be headed, what with MakerBots and RepRaps and the net. Timewise it clashes a bit with the last of our a&b preparation meetings, so I’ll have to see how that works out. But I’ll try my best to see that.
  • Screening of RIP – A Remix Manifesto (THU, 24 Sept, 8pm at Betahaus)
    I love RIP – A Remix Manifesto. Had the chance to meet director Brett Gaylor at a screening in New York, and certainly won’t miss out on that one. It’s a celebration of remix culture and not to be missed, not just because of the great soundtrack featuring plenty of DJ Girl Talk.
  • Pecha Kucha (FRI 25 Sept, doors open at 7:30pm at IMA Design Village)
    At Pecha Kucha (what’s that?) a presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds apiece, for a total time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. It’s a great way to get inspired by the projects presented in a fun and quick way.
  • Rebike Workshop (SAT, 26 Sept, 10am-6pm at Betahaus)
    Chances are I won’t be able to really participate here because I’ll be at a&b Camp next door, but the Rebike is an awesome project, and here some will be built: The Rebike (debut at reboot11) is a bike pimped out with a solar energy source and wireless network, i.e. it’s a totally mobile, largely self-sustaining coworking module: transportation, energy and internet all wrapped up in one.
  • AMY – A Streetart Game (weekend 26/27 Sept, starting at Betahaus)
    I don’t really know anything about this beyond the teaser, but it sure sounds like some cool augmented reality project that’s played all over the city. Won’t be able to participate since I’ll spend my weekend around IMA Design Village for a&b Camp, but this is certainly worth checking out. (Make sure to check in advance if you can participate in English, too.)
  • Washing Machine: Reloaded (weekend 26/27 Sept at Betahaus)
    Sounds like fun and certainly is: A challenge to upcycle your washing machine. Tinkerers, geeks and designers are invited to take an old washing machine and build something cool out of it. I probably won’t be able to participate in this beyond the occasional glimpse, but I’m certainly stoked to see the results.
  • atoms&bits Camp (weekend 26/27 Sept at IMA Design Village
    This barcamp-style conference is where I’ll be spending most of the weekend. As one of the organizers, this is kind of my baby, so of course I’m very excited to see how it’ll work out.
  • Wahlsonntag (SUN 27 Sept, 4pm at Betahaus)
    Right after a&b Camp is finished we’ll quickly clean up and head over to join Wahlsonntag, where Tim Pritlove and Philip Bahnse will be hosting a live show all about the election day and the web: what’s being discussed online, what’s the parties take on the net, what’s relevant in terms of net politics? All that and more will be featured in this show. Perfect way to relax in a nice and interesting atmosphere.

Seriously, sleep dep or not, I can’t wait. And I can always sleep after the weekend, right? ;)

Ps. If you’re still planning sessions or events, drop any of us a line, you’ll find our contact data on the a&b website.