i'm johan. i do things with computers. i'm from berlin

The blog refreshed

Some days ago, I’ve switched this blog under from Wordpress to Jekyll. The move had several reasons:

  • A new design I want simplicity. Content is king. Also it had to be readable well on mobile.
  • Write posts in Markdown The expressiveness of HTML is not needed for most of my content. Speed of editing is important. And I don’t like WYSIWYG.
  • No Spam Everyone who’s been running a Wordpress installation over some time will have experienced hacking attempts and spam. By serving a static website, this became practically irrelevant. This also means, that I don’t have to spend time updating my wordpress installation and its plugins anymore.
  • No traffic/scaling concerns Hard to believe, but I had a hosting package at a german hosting company which basically didn’t bring any change in the 10 years of contract. 10 years! This included an cap on traffic. Also, their machines were rather weak. On the other hand, they did the job, so it took me a long time to change things. Well, until now. I’ve switched to hosting on Github Pages.

I considered moving to a blogging platform, but I see as my home address, which should not be subject to the product schedule of a venture-backed company [1]. If I’d have chosen a blog platform in 2004, it would have probably been and that has changed quite a lot since then …

So I’ve been blogging since 2004. In these 10 years, I published nearly 800 posts. In most of them, I was trying out the medium, writing in German. During the move, I only carried over around 70 posts. Like the first one. My excitement for the first Music Hack Day Berlin in 2009. Working in South Africa. Life events like finishing my Bachelor’s thesis, starting and quitting at SoundCloud. Being on StartupBus and organizing Art Hack Day Berlin.

So what was in the 700 posts that vanished? Mostly boring, maybe embarassing notes of my past self. As a person, I think I’ve moved far in these years. And many things, that I’ve published back then do not contribute to my present me. Obviously, I want to convey an image of myself here (like: sophisticated tech literate). Party pictures from 9 years ago, if seen in the present context, would not contribute well.

Which brings me back to the fact that its nice to be able to rewrite my own history, on own terms. For that I will be able to reflect on this in 10 years again.

P.S. A shout out goes to robb for helping me with the move. Thanks man!

[1] To be fair, I’m hosting on Github now, which is venture-backed, but this is hosting only and will hopefully never interfer with the hosted content. And even if so, moving to a new hoster could be done within an hour.

Bringing Art Hack Day to Berlin


So it looks like every year I need my “organizing a hackathon” fix. After MHD Berlin and MHD Reykajvík, this year it is Art Hack Day Berlin.

The gist: 50 international artists from visual over digital to sound and performance, 48 hours to create a public exhibition, hacking starts on evening of Thursday September 26th, exhibit is on evening of Saturday September 28th, space is LEAP at alexanderplatz, theme is “going dark”, event is not-for-profit run by volunteers and financed by some sponsors, in collaboration with transmediale 2014

During past events in SF, NYC, Boston and Stockholm great works were created, as this and this video testify. For the Berlin edition, I’m very excited for the theme of “Going Dark”, playing on the general notion of growing data collection and how we react to it. I’m hoping for a political creative exhibition, questioning the individual, society, organizations and governments.

So why am I organizing this hack day? In the past years I was very active in the Music Hack Day scene. But after 15 attended events, I feel creative fatigue. Hacks repeat over and over. The running gag is the infamous “put-tracks/gigs on a map” hack being done at every event (yes, i’ve done that hack myself in the past). MHDs are still great for networking and learning, but don’t stimulate me creatively anymore. For me they somehow became more legitimate work and less innocent fun. I was dreaming of a Music Creation Hack Day that would not involve platform-mashup-promo hacks. Sadly, I did not make that happen (yet).

Then Kriesse introduced me to Olof, the founder of Art Hack Day. We started plotting AHB Berlin in May and in two weeks from now it’s finally happening. I love working with an amazing team and this time is a jackpot again (LEAP are great, Olof is fully committed, more helping hands all around). And now the fun phase actually starts, seeing the artists discussing ideas on the mailing list, seeing PR picking up, growing excitement for the hack day to finally start.

So, come to the exhibition! It will be amazing, no doubt.

Saturday September 28th 19:00 - 00:00 at LEAP near Alexanderplatz. Free admission. Performances, Installations, Visual Art. Plenty to watch, also something to drink. Event Link

How I learned to English

From time to time people comment on my English skills being surprisingly good for somebody who never lived in an English-speaking country. So I thought I should write down a bit about my learning path. Please excuse if most of it appears rather trivial.

If I remember correctly I started learning English in school when I was in 5th grade, just being shy of 11 years. A year later, we got internet access at home. And as I quickly discovered, understanding English was highly beneficial there. This sparked my interest in learning English a lot. On a side note: I can still remember how I once stumbled over a French website, was amazed that I understood a bit and hoped this would spark my interest in the language. Turns out the French internet is small and I barely passed my French class. But back to English: The amazement when I had my first online chats in English about Punk music on Napster. The first time I followed an English tutorial on programming and succeeded. All the video games that finally made sense once I understood the instructions and story. And of course music and lyrics.

Classes ran through to the 13th grade and me being 19 years old. During the 8 years of weekly education we went on to read full books, watch movies, listen to music lyrics and write essays and stories in English. So you could say, after 8 years of school, internet and media education I had a decent vocabulary, enough grammar and a basic cultural understanding. What I lacked was pronunciation, confidence and subtext. Not to speak of idioms, puns and humor. Or spending time with actual English-speaking people.

I spent some time abroad in Poland, where English became the third means of communication after Polish and German. Next I went studying Computer Science in Berlin, where a lot of reading and writing was in English but classes mostly stayed German. But the real kicker then was joining the SoundCloud gang. Diverse background and the only common ground for communication being English. Being thrown in, having to adapt and level up. Additionally I made some good English-only friends at that time and ended up having weeks in which my German speaking was reduced to a minimum, despite still living in Berlin/Germany. Obviously this is a huge problem for people coming to Berlin hoping to learn German, but that’s another story. Pro tip: Even though I never had a foreign-language partner, friends of mine took that route as a language bootcamp. Turned out quite well for them.

Anyways, my life shifted to English leading to me often writing notes to myself in English. And even my thoughts aren’t necessarily in my mother tongue anymore.

But back to how I learned: Movies and TV Series were a big thing. Germany has a terrible culture of dubbing German audio tracks onto everything. Luckily the advent of DVDs and the internet helped us out there. Today I cringe on dubbing and put in extra effort to see orignal versions, preferably with English subtitles. Like The Wire.

Obviously I’m an internet person and my day-to-day work is in English. Still I stumble over unknown words constantly, so I made a habit of looking up everything instantly. Mac OS X’s (in combination with Alfred) as well as the Google search spell checker (seriously) are my go-to tools here.

And the last thing is book that influenced the way I write a lot: “Revising Prose” by Richard Lanham. It gives a magnificent view on how to write concise and clear. Sadly the latest edition is overpriced, but I do recommend it strongly.

Roundup #37

  • "Always code as if the person who ends up maintaining your code is a violent psychopath who knows where you live." via Coding Horror
  • How Readmill are doing their team retrospectives with the timeline technique
  • The ideas behind the Go software language design by Google
  • If you want to donate clothes in Berlin, consider the Stadtmission at S Zoologischer Garten or get more information at FairWertung
  • Spaceteam is THE iOS multiplayer game
  • Machete Order: a different way to watch the Star Wars Saga

Roundup #36

  • I hacked at Music Hack Day Reykjavik 2012 and made a coat hanger play Daft Punk. Wiki Page. video.
  • I was at You Are In Control Conference 2012 in Reykajvik and spoke about Music Hack Day. Post. Slides.
  • I was at Deezer BeMyApp Hackday Berlin 2012 and worked on Latefy, an iOS app that fingerprints the music playing around you and adds it to a Deezer playlist. Video. Code. Sadly can't bring it to the app store, because we can't get a license for the fingerprinter :(
  • I was at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon 2012 in San Francisco. Got a post on TechCrunch for the hack I did with the KeyRocket guys.

A month with Readmill

In August I spent a month working with the people at Readmill and I thought I’d share some insights.

First: If you have an iPad, go download the app now and read epubs in it. If you don’t have any, a great selection of classics can be found at Feedbooks and Project Gutenberg.

With my work I helped to improve Readmill’s book meta data. More books now have covers, descriptions and download links.

The month with the team was great. They just moved into a new nice under-the-roof office in Kulturbrauerei (shared with Loopcam), are on a hiring spree and already assembled a killer core team. There is a certain atmosphere perceivable in the office for all the amazing things to happen in the near future. Prepare to track and sync all your readings through Readmill.

Roundup #35

Well, quite a lot happened in the last two months …

  • Annoyed by YouTube Geoblocking?
  • Million Short is an alternative search engine filtering out the 1 million most popular websites
  • Berlin co-working space co.up needs your donations for their new floor to host more amazing user groups.
  • Asking people "So what's your life story" likely yields in awesomeness
  • OK is a little man tipped sideways
  • How to remember in which direction to turn the screwdriver: lefty loosy righty tighty
  • I talked at Future Music Camp at Popakademie Mannheim about Hackers. Slides here.
  • I talked at Hack'n'Tell at HPI about Hackathons. Slides here
  • I talked at Nerd Nite Berlin about Hackathons. Slides here

Introducing: Downloud

downloadYesterday I coded a small project called Downloud, it’s basically a simpler Fatdrop. The code is on Github here and a demo is here.

The Background

Two friends of mine are running the label Odd Socks Records. They release house music on vinyl and digital. Each release is 2-4 tracks. They send the releases for high quality download to their DJ and music industry friends, so they can play the tracks themselves. Famous people playing and mentioning your tracks is the great promotion for a label. But apart from that the label also wants to know what people think about the tracks. Thus the download can only be done after people left a comment. These comments in turn are used to promote the record and artists again (like seen here).

So there are some tools available for this already, most famously Fatdrop, but my friends wanted to have their own styled version.

The Development

I sat down with both of them, they showed me examples, no big requirement analysis or design phase. Just a small list of features, a design sketch and their logo. The whole creation process took about 6 hours. Another hour for putting this on Github afterwards (mostly writing Readme).

The stack is simple: Sinatra, SendGrid (via Pony gem), deployed on Heroku

One of the core decisions to limit scope was to have no own storage. The audio is streamed from SoundCloud, the actual download is hosted elsewhere (e.g. Dropbox’ public sharing), the feedback is sent via email and the configuration is in a yml file that is deployed with the code.

The Future

The obvious thing to do is turning this into a customizable platform where ‘everyone’ can sign-up. From my experience with turning TakesQuestions into a platform as well as watching Lee developing EmailUnlock, there is quite some work to be done, like account handling, settings and customization storage or security. Maybe I’ll do that one day.

SendGrid has a pretty rigid limit of 200 mails/day. To bypass this, gmail could be used, mostly because email is only sent to some exclusive recipients anyhow, so stats and sender score aren’t relevant.

Also the feedback should be stored in a database to protect against lost emails and to run statistics.

If you think stuff should be different, please fork away

Roundup #34

Roundup #33