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!

Status update: 10 days to ThingsCon



Cross-posting this from the ThingsCon blog.


It’s 10 days to ThingsCon. Time to take stock of where we stand!

Speakers & program

As far as we can tell, there will be 35 speakers. This may be hard to believe, but it’s actually kind of tricky to figure out the exact number as there’s lot of fluctuation and last minute tweaking. Including all workshops it’s even more.

The program is two days packed with goodness ranging from open source medical hardware to building a Rube Goldberg Machine, from maker 101 to robotics, from startup pitch to designing for large-scale manufacturing, from design to business models, from personal founders stories to ethics & sustainability. It’s going to be wild.


We don’t have easily accessible stats to the geographic distribution of all ThingsCon participants. From a quick scan, we know a few things, though: You are from all over Europe, plus quite a few from the US (including a solid contingent of West Coast folks).

We’re excited that through the Global Innovation Gathering program a group of over 40 entrepreneurs, makers and innovators from Africa, Latin America and Asia will join in. On top of that, it’s great that a large group of students will join, too.

As for professional backgrounds, that’s harder to tell without digging deeply into the company websites (which we did very superficially a while ago to show which organizations will be represented at the conference). We know of individual tinkerers, engineers and designers, entrepreneurs, startups, agencies, academics, researchers, software and hardware people, students, hackspace operators, investors and many, many more. It’s a great and very diverse group.

Supporters, partners & sponsors

With TinkerSoup, Github, Spark, Electric Imp, Postscapes, IotPedia, Capscovil, gestalten and Highway1 we have a great network of supporters across the board. A special shout out to our advisors, too: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Bethany Koby, Brady Forrest & Reto Wettach. Thank you all!


There’s plenty of stuff happening on the fringes of ThingsCon, and we expect lots more to pop up spontanteously. (Follow the #thingscon hashtag on Twitter!)

At this point, we’d like to mentioned particularly the pitch we’re setting up with Betahaus, Betapitch|Hardware. For the 40 fastest ticket holders to sign up, attending the pitch is free (please ping us if you haven’t received a ticket code), everyone else needs to register here. During and after the pitch, we’ll kick off the ThingsCon party at Betahaus, too.


You haven’t signed up yet? Whaaaat? Do it. Do it now. You know you want it, too:

DIY pipe shelf


When I saw the really nice pipe shelf over at the Brick House, I had an itch to also build a pipe shelf to replace our coat and shoe racks.

So after some quick doodling, off to the hardware store to stock up on pipe and shelves. This was the game plan:

Which translated into this stash. Roughly at least – turns out I forgot a few pieces, and had to adapt the plan a few times throughout.

Some red spray, cause it’s good fun and turns dull steel pipes into awesome red steel pipes.

First, I sprayed all pieces individually for grounding. Pro tipp: Don’t use newspaper but plastic as underground.

Then, later, once more assembled to get all surface covered equally and turn the red nice and vibrant.

Holes to fit the pipes through. Make sure to measure where the holes need to be after a test-assembly. Turns out pipes aren’t produced as smoothly as I expected, so this isn’t an exact science and you don’t want to re-drill these holes.

A long evening of wood staining and waxing later, assembly is relatively quick. Et voilà!

Still missing in this photo is the actual coat rack. Missed a few screws for that.

The shelf is drilled into the wall just at the top end, and rests on its own weight below. Between that and the shelves that provide horizontal stabilty, it seems very solid.

How much effort? Well, first of all if I can do it then you can too. It’s not complicated, just fuzzy. Planned it throughout the course of a week, then the actual procurement of parts, spray painting, wood staining, etc., took up the better part of one and a half days including drying time. (Allow for a bit more if possible, ahem.) The assembly itself was pretty quick.

All parts were easily available at a local hardware store, the wood cut to spec there, but based on available planks.

The full shopping list:

All pipes are 1/2″ (turns out pipes are measured in inch even in Germany, who knew!)

  • 12x pipe 40cm
  • 23x pipe 20cm
  • 3x pipe 15cm
  • 3x pipe 8cm
  • 3x simple pipe connectors (one in, one out)
  • 6x base flange (as feet and wall connection)
  • 18x t-intersection pipe connections
  • 17x 90° angle pipes
  • 2x shelf 128,5 x 30cm
  • 2x shelf 88,5 x 30cm
  • 2x shelf 48,5 x 30cm
  • 3x red metal spray color
  • 2x wood staining dark nut
  • 1x wood wax

Edit: This list doesn’t include the actual coat racks, consisting of another 2 base flanges, 1 80cm pipe, and 8 90° angle pipes each.

A few of the measures are slightly odd to exactly fit our needs, but that’s all pretty easy to customize.

The whole thing is about 2,40m high and 1,30m wide.

Thanks, Morgan, for posting the great tutorial that inspired this!

ThingsCon Update: We have a program



Good news! I’m excited to say that we more or less have a program for ThingsCon. I’m mostly copying & pasting this from the current program page, so keep an eye on the actual program page.


Also, now is the perfect time to get one of the very few available discounted early bird tickets!


So here goes!

Day 1

Day 1 is dedicated to in-depth workshops (either 2h or 4h long) and hands-on sessions. Dive deep into topics you want to learn more about and get some actuall hands-on experience.In parallel, Hardware Day Berlin takes place across town, so you can choose between a wide range of meetups, pitches, lunches, and other satellite events outside the conference, too.

We’re still building the workshop day program. Give us another few days.

Day 2

Day 2 features a wide range of talks, presentations and conversations and will take place at the conference venue from about 9:30 until 18:00, followed by a party. Please note that this is a draft: Some slots are likely to still change, and we’ll add details as soon as we have them.

We’ll have two stages full of program running in parallel.

9:30 – 11:00 Opening (Stage 1 exclusive)

Stage 1: Kickoff session

  • Opening keynote: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Good Night Lamp)
  • Brady Forrest (Highway1)

Coffee break

11:30 – 13:00

Stage 1: Founders Stories

Building a company is a personal journey – we’ll invite experienced hardware entrepreneurs to take a look back at the path they’ve come and share their individual insights and learnings – and discuss the challenges they faced along the way. These sessions are both very personal and highly interactive, giving you the chance to discuss the pressing issues that kept you awake all night. Chance are, they’ve been there.

  • Gavin Dapper (Phonebloks)
  • Olivier Mével (23 de Enero)
  • Matt Biddulph (Product Club)

Stage 2: Funding your business

Today, there are more ways to fund a company than ever before: from bootstrapping to accelerating to venture capital, all the way to crowd funding (or crowd investing even): We’ll take a deep dive into what it takes to fund a hardware business. Talk about when running a Kickstarter makes sense and when it doesn’t. We’ll explore various strategies and shed some light on interesting ways of funding.

  • Beth Koby (Technology Will Save Us)
  • TBA
  • Panel discussion: Beth Koby, Brady Forrest, TBA

Lunch break

14:30 – 16:00pm

Stage 1: Design

There are many ways to describe the conception of building a hardware product: Product design, open design, or service design, are just some of them. In this session, we’ll explore the challenges and opportunities of design against the backdrop of connected devices and hardware in general – we’ll and take a look at unconventional takes on designing a delightful experience around your hardware or connected devices.

  • Louisa Heinrich
  • Alasdair Allen
  • Rachel Rayns (Raspberry Pi)

Stage 2: Ethics & Sustainability

We all love our gadgets, and many of us are in the business of designing and producing them, too. Together with some of the pioneers in the field, let’s have a look at how sustainability and ethical considerations affect production. What’s possible today, what are the challenges and pitfalls to avoid? And how can we work towards more ethical and sustainable production while producing competitive, delightful products?

  • Miquel Ballester(Fairphone)
  • Jessi Baker (Provenance)
  • Panel discussion: Gawin Dapper, Jessi Baker, Miquel Ballester

Coffee break

16:30 – 17:30

Stage 1: Founders Stories

Building a company is a personal journey – we’ll invite experienced hardware entrepreneurs to take a look back at the path they’ve come and share their individual insights and learnings – and discuss the challenges they faced along the way. These sessions are both very personal and highly interactive, giving you the chance to discuss the pressing issues that kept you awake all night. Chance are, they’ve been there.

  • Matt Webb (BERGCloud)
  • Emily Brooke (Blaze)
  • Panel/Interviews: TBA

Stage 2: Open source hardware

Many of technologies that we use today have their roots in open source tech communities. This especially holds true for a new generation of hardware systems and tools. We’ll discuss the potential of Open Source Hardware, how to build your company around it, how to integrate open design principles into your own product, and show you promising new open source business models.

  • Siert Wijnia (Ultimaker)
  • Reto Wettach (Fritzing/IxDS)
  • Peter Troxler

17:30 – 18:00 Closing (Stage 1 exclusive)

  • Closing remarks
  • Closing keynote: Usman Haque

A discreet hotline for politicians to get tech advice. Worth doing?


We keep seeing politicians making decisions about technology and the web that seem odd and ill-informed.

In some cases, this might be due to lobbying, and that would be annoying. In other cases, it might be pure ignorance, and those I would chalk up as lost cases.

What would be the worst, though, is if a politian who is motivated and willing and just lacking the time to develop a deeper understanding makes a bad call, because of that’s preventable.

Politicians and their staffers work under immense time pressure. What’s more, they need to be informed about a huge number of topics, and the intricate, often complex details of how (for example) certain elements of the web work simply can’t get the amount of attention to grok it.

If a politician is high enough up in the proverbial foodchain, they might be able to muster the resources to have that research done. But not everybody can do that.

In the past I’ve often been the friend called by journalist and politics friends who needed a bit of trusted tech advice, and I’m always happy to give it. But not everybody is in a position to call a friend who knows this stuff.

Given the harsh, often ridiculing treatment politicians get when mentioning anything about the web online and getting even a tiny detail or reference wrong, I can almost understand why they don’t dare openly asking for advice. (Almost. But still. Nobody should be ridiculed for trying.)

So how about a hotline of sorts where politicians and their staffers can call for a quick briefing. Discreetly: Nobody but the two people on the line need to know. So they can ask away and need not risk being publicly mocked. In short time, they’d have a better understanding of how stuff works, and could make better informed decisions. A safe space to learn, in brief bursts of briefings.

Bonus: I think lobbyists would hate it, at least the one thriving on knowledge gaps on the politicians’ side. (Copyright lobby, I’m looking at you!)

Personally I wouldn’t mind setting aside an hour or two a week to have a few chats that way. And I’m sure we could find another half dozen of people, experts in their fields, trustworthy not to spill the details of these conversations.

Worth doing? [Y/N]

Thinking out loud: Your friendly neighborhood incubator(-ish) thingy


The last few days, I’ve been working from Nova Iskra, a space in Belgrade. It’s a fantastic, gorgeous, buzzing place that’s kind of office, coworking, design incubator and education space all wrapped into one. And it’s great.

Nova Iskra, Belgrade Workshop in an aquarium, kitchen in the background. Office space on all other sides.

Nova Iskra, Belgrade Phone booth.

When Matt and I expanded from our two-person office to five people and re-labeled as @kantberlin, a similar vector emerged to some degree: To go beyond desk sharing and into heavy (or lightweight? What’s the appropriate metaphor here? Anyway!) collaboration.

But the time spent at Nova Iskra and the chats with the team there were inspiring and triggered all kinds of thoughts. And like so often, thoughts are shaped better, collaborators found more easily when they are shared publicly.

So let me just think out loud, keeping in mind that this is nowhere a solid idea, or even set of ideas. It’s really just a brainstorm of sorts, pretty much unfiltered.

Building on what I’ve seen at Nova Iskra, what if we set up a thing that has (all of? some of?) these elements:

  • A core team/company (one/some of us) runs the space. Given what we’ve been working on at KANT, this would be where we (the core) work on product prototypes that might eventually be spun out.
  • A space, a shared office. Maybe with a focus on tech/design/creative tech/iot/social impact projects. A few coworking desks to be a bit more flexible, too.
  • A support team that takes care of a lot of the logistics and of careful scaling: An office manager, but also coders, designers and project managers that can help out with projects. I imagine a kind of partner structure where the members or privileged partners, in exchange for being part of this thing, commit to spending a fixed amount of time on internal projects for free or a symbolic price, and in exchange are part of a network that is sure to attract market price client work on top of what everybody is working on.
  • A sort of incubator-like program (see below) for the teams on the ground, including access to a fantastic network, mentoring, peer teaching and external experts, business advice: This can all be custom tailored more or less based on demand.
  • To ease things along, I’d throw in a legal framework of sorts that can be used to initiate, grow and potentially spin off projects and products. I’m thinking contract templates and the occasional lawyer open hour.
  • Consulting business. Tapping into that network, client work (consulting on strategy/product design as well as curation services like I/we are doing now) should work nicely in this context. This would help me/us support this whole thing financially. At the same time, the same skills and methods can also be applied to help the teams in the space as well.
  • Management support. What might be helpful to more inexperience teams is support in basic management tasks. This is something that gets a lot easier with experience, so it’s something that could be arranged here, too, in an interim CEO or advisory role, depending on a team’s need.

So what would that look like?

Imagine a large industrial space. In a corner, an admin office. 2-3 meeting areas, some open, some closed. A small maker workshop with laser cutter and 3D printer/scanner as well as photo booth or green wall for product and promotion photos. Desks for another 5-10 people, to get access to full production capacities (webdesign, dev, etc., which always comes in handy, particularly if there’s client work, too). Kitchen area. Space to showcase stuff being built. Workspace isles for 3-4 teams at a time to build their stuff. Public facing coffee shop for meeting and to get some walk-ins, and for the occasional yummy pick-me-up. Throw in a small event space (up to 30-50 people) and we’re golden.

Update/note: This would be different from coworking spaces insofar as the business model isn’t renting out desk space. Desk space would be available based only on a skill and chemistry match — on likely contribution to the people in the room — rather than on a who-wants-to-pay basis. This is important as it means that desks don’t need to be filled just for cash flow, and thus allows a much stronger focus on the community.

Your friendly neighborhood incubator(-ish) thingy

The incubator-like part of this might be particularly interesting. And before we get into a semantic discussion on what exactly constitutes an incubator or if we need another one, let me quickly clarify what I mean when I say — for lack of a better word — incubator: A mix of mentoring and advice, access to a network, support with finding financing and investments. A general support structure for getting the ball rolling. Come to think of it, maybe non-incubator might be the better word. Anyway, think of it as your friendly neighborhood version of just that.

Thinking off the top of my head, I wouldn’t go with traditional startups (these seem to be taken care of nicely already) as much as more sustainable or more hard-to-fund projects. There are quite a few out there with tremendous potential and ambition, but that don’t fit the more established funding structures. As a small, agile player, this could be worked around more flexibly it seems.

While I don’t think we could fund projects directly, I think we could help hustle up angel or seed funding for the teams. (Maybe down the road, we could even set up a proper fund, but it’s not top priority.) As for the things I think this thing could provide, the network including peer and professional support, attention by investors and media, coaching of all sorts, and access to top notch developers and designers on top of everything else — I think there’s tremendous value in this beyond the merely financial. It would probably be less of a strict incubator, and more of a (buzzword alert!) incubator-innovation-tech-hub-cluster thingy, or in other words, the cool place to be if you and your team want to work side by side with some of the best people out there.

It’s just gut feeling, but I have a hunch that partnerships with tech and media companies should be doable; the good kind, where useful and needed stuff (ranging from financial support to access to tech infrastructure or media attention) is provided.

All in all, and at first glance, this seems to be a lot of work (funding, finding a space, getting everything off the ground, etc. etc.) — and very exciting.

Makes sense?

Given the right circumstances, support and potential partners, I might be willing to own up and take the lead in building something like this – to some degree, it ties right into many threads I’ve been working on over the last few years anyway.

For now, it’s just a bunch of unfiltered ideas. Could be implemented, or simply dropped. Maybe some elements mentioned here could be worked out independently, too.

Would this whole thing scratch an itch? Would it be as valuable to the community as I think it might be? What do you think?

Thoughts about the MIT Media Lab Class Learning Creative Learning


Neighborhood Mario

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been following Mitchel Resnick’s Learning Creative Learning class at the MIT Media Lab online.

It’s a big experiment, trying to get the in-class experience online – and for free, too – and supplementing it with an online component that consists of groups in email lists, Google+ and any channels the groups might want to use additionally.

I’ve found the course to be a quite interesting experience. On one side, I found some aspects a bit frustrating, and on the other hand I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. Let me try to articulate the pros and cons so you can judge for yourself if this is for you.

The content and focus is great, and there are brilliant and fascinating guests. The in-class format consists mostly of a conversation between two people, a sort of dialog-slash-interview situation, which works fine. There are, of course, the tech problems you’d expect, like the occasional freeze or lag – once between the speakers and the class room (if contributing remotely, which seems the norm), and once between classroom and the remote attendee (ie. me or you). These tech problems, while a bit annoying at times, aren’t too bad. If you’ve survived conference calls on Skype before, you’re mentally equipped to follow a class on Google Hangout. So the “provided” content, while often on a meta level (after all, it’s a class on learning), is top notch.

Then there’s the interactive elements, and here’s where it gets more tricky. It’s a big online audience – I think I remember hearing the number 30K, or was it 40K? That’s a lot of people. They’re broken down into small groups, either self-organized if you put down a group name (I tried to get into “webmakers”), otherwise you’re assigned based on time zones. From what I can tell, groups seem to consist about maybe 15 people.

The mechanism to hook you up with the group is a mailing list – from then on in it’s up to the participants to coordinate. The “recommended” thing to do is start a Google+ community to complement the global G+ community (which has several thousand members).

Every week, there’s a bit of recommended reading/watching, and an exercise to share with your group. Which can be great, or it can become a bit of a problem. Because it’s clearly a course which you get much more out of the more you put in. Not a surprise really, and actually every class is like this, but since it’s designed around learning groups this is particularly true here. Now, for the oldest and lamest of reasons (little time & somewhat incompatible scheduling on my end) I’ve not really contributed much, and instead I’ve been pretty much lurking. Which isn’t a good thing and makes it entirely my fault I haven’t been getting as much out as I liked.

So I’ve been wondering: What could be a good, simple mechanism to help me and others in similar situations to get the group dynamic going?

Maybe a weekly shared watching experience in one room could help to connect, followed by a group discussion? This would at least cluster the time investment, making it easier to set aside a chunk for it. This would mean not watching the discussion live, but not being on the backchannel during the discussion doesn’t seem too much of a sacrifice compared to gaining a discussion group and the video recordings are perfectly fine.

Just thinking out loud – is this something that many folks in Berlin would be interested in? Let’s level up together.