Missing number sense at the b.z.

On September 21st 2015, the Berlin local newspaper b.z. published an article on a so-called
"gebetomat" (pray-o-mat).

It is a small booth where you can listen to prayers and chants of the religion of your choice. Sounds like an interesting art project, I really want to have a look when I am near it.

However, the author exhibits a missing number sense when he begins his article with "Berlin's smallest house of prayers has only 83 square centimeters." He erred on an order of magnitude.


So what can you do with data?

A long while ago, I took notes from an interesting presentation or blog entry or podcast. I am unable to find the source. Here I digitalize the notes: What are the main businesses you can do with data? You can…

  • Tell Stories: This is what marketers and journalists do. It is about visualisation and pervasive analytics.
  • Find Insights: This is what business analysts do. They spot interesting phenomen. I like this kind of data business most.
  • Create Products From Data: This is what product managers do. They care about rights to privacy (or how to circumvent it), unique selling points, pricing and so on.
  • Collect, Clean, Merge, Mine Data: This is what field researchers and DBAs do. Semantic structures like ontologies and vocabularies become more and more important, especially when it comes to integration from different data sources.

I like this classification. Of course there are overlaps. And of course it is wrong and incomplete. Yet it is simple and thought-provoking.

As a closing sidenote, I also liked Kim Stedman's 5min talk on what data science is.


Smart Data Kick-off Conference

On April, 22nd, a kick-off conference for the German innovation program “Smart data” took place. I took part, here is what I learned.

Prescriptive Models

One speaker differenciated between explanatory models, predictive models, and prescriptive models. The last class of models makes very much sense to me. We are going to build more sophisticated controls in our devices, and this are prescriptive models.

Data as Business Case

Regarding the data source, the common ground is to use inhouse data. Smarter projects use data from similar sources outside the firm, and/or integrate data from various sources.

Conforming to law, that is, respecting privacy and copyright, is one challenge. Another one is the automatic integration of heterogenous data source. In some pilot projects presented at the conference use semantic models for integration.

Pilot Projects

From the programs that got funded by the BMWi, there were three programs that got my attention. SmartEnergyHub analyses energy use at the airport Stuttgart and introduces load management. SmartRegionalStrategy offers strategic analysis of local urban mass data. KDI (clinical data intelligence) develops a business model for its research database / study management system.

Nightcrawler Movie

If Baudelaire would stroll through the cities today, and look into the faces of the people he passes, what would he write down? Motivational mantras repeated by “self-optimizing” persons? A mouth of which you can not tell if it smiles or is tortured? The slight fear combined with the feeling of safety when you watch crime news in your neighbourhood? Would he make fun of the prevalence of market value theory, applied even on human life and relationships? Would he celebrate if the adrenaline sensation when your own creation goes public, or when you cross the line of the law?

If Hopper wanted to paint a urban scene today, depicting what the society is making of us, what would that painting show? Empty billboards? Dancing air men in front of a shopping market? News men in front of cardboard mache? Would he discover the aesthetics of blood and fear as, for instance, Yang Shaobin does?

I believe Baudelaire and Hopper would be in the film business today and would do a film like Dan Gilroy's “Nightcrawler”. The movie has striking representations of loneliness, both as beautiful still images as well as fine gestures of the main characters, especially Louis Bloom.

The music is not in the foreground, at one point it produced a sacral moment. Some of the music is on youtube: City of angels (Feat. C Plus), Patrona de los reclusos, Doubt me, La marcha de zacatecas, and Estrellita.

Highlights of Re:publica 15

Few weeks ago, the re:publica 2015 internet culture conference took place here in Berlin. Almost 200 of the talks are available on youtube. I watched several hours of this, here is what I learned from it.

Surveillance Everywhere

Former UK intelligence officer and whistleblower Annie Machon held a eye-opening talk on past and current activities and strategies of the intelligence agencies in several countries. Some intelligence agencies do kill people without giving them the chance to go to court. This is a big threat to the democratic state of law. See also Noam Chomsky's analysis (who was not at the re:publica).

M. C. McGrath from the Transparency Toolkit gave a great talk on what we can find out about secret surveillance programs in our country using open data and free software. He mentions that his organisation has about 27.000 profiles which may likely be connected with surveillance.

Addie Wagenknecht and Jillian York presents some artistic approaches to the surveillance topic in the post-Snowden age.


Consultant Gemma Galdon Clavell gave several interesting examples how projects can fail if possible privacy issues are not adressed earlier and properly. For instance, the netherlands had to implement an opt-out option for energy smart-metering because a story like Anne Frank hidden in a house would not be possible in a smart-metered world.

Wolfie Christl showed in his talk that it may well be possible to predict Big 5 character traits from smartphone metadata or from facebook likes. His talk led me to a browser plugin Disconnect, which allows me to control ad-tracking and social media requests online.

In order to effectively protect privacy, Frank Rieger argues that it is better to regulate how data is used than to regulate how data is collected.

Frederike Kaltheuner and Kave Salamatian point out that Asimov's fictional science called “Psychohistory” lays ground under what circumstances predictions from social media data can work. I added his “Foundation” series to my mental reading list.


My favorite talk was Stephan Porombka's on cuteness (in German). “Cute” in his analysis means something small with no obligations but at the same time heartily. He refers to Adorno's lectures and Walser's letters. I like his talk because his point of view is outside the ubiquitous technical-economical rational perspectives usually applied to explain what goes on in our digital age.

Thomas Andrae from 3M highlights upcoming applications of wearables. He points out that Google glasses – providing context to machines to maintenance teams for example – are a big success in industrial area. Andrae also mentions that sleep tracking software was minutes faster than other methods in predicting earthquakes.

Mostly not directly related to internet culture, Holm Friebe and Mads Pankow present interesting background stories and examples for the behavioural psychology technique called “nudging”.

For what it is worth, I made a simple collection of number of videos vs views. It seems that in 2013, the organization team decided to expand the number of presentations, doubling from about 75 to 150. The views per video hence the interest seem somewhat stable. Would be interesting to look for popular outliers in the videos.


How to make money?

A friend and I were having a talk on how to make money. We came up with these categories:

  • work as employee
  • work as freelancer / entrepreneur
  • apply for unemployment benefits
  • gamble
  • do something illegal

Did we miss anything?


Highlights of Re:publica 14

From May 6th to 8th 2014, Berlin was the host for the re:publica 14. It is a conference on internet culture. As the years before, I did not attend it, but I watched some talks online. Half a year late, here are my highlights (mostly in German, though):

Robot Journalism

An area of data analysis that is moving in focus: automated text generation. At the re:publica the term robot journalism was coined. In this setting, data analysis is used to identify and interpret information worth mentioning (some kind of outlier detection?). This information is then automatically redacted into output text or output multimedia, using grammatical rules, orthographical rules, and phrase databases.

Some actors in the field mentioned in the talk are NarrativeScience, automated insights, AX Semantic Technologies, and texton.

Hypertopical News

Lara Setrakian talked about her News site Syria Deeply. She sees a positive future for single subject news sites (“xx watch”, “xx bureau”), on global issues. The content of her sites is licensed as creative commons and she plans “Teach Syria Deeply”.

When it comes to financing, she recommends not to monetize traffic/content such as ad revenue or paywalls/subscriptions, but to monetize engagements/community such as live events, conference calls, merchandizing, crowd funding, markets and job boards.

In case of Syria Deeply, financing was provided through think tanks, institutions and universities who “loved the design” and paid for technology consulting. Setrakian states: “People who know it best, often don't have a platform”.


Quite a few talks circled around bullshit. Torsten Kleinz talked on bullshit as business model. Martin Giesler and Jannis Kucharz proposed 15 journalistic startup ideas based on clickbaiting.

Christiane Frohmann from Katersalon proclaims nonsense as means for performative enlightenment.


There was a talk about the Internet Archive, where I learned that you can proactively enforce the archiving process via the “Save Page now” feature. You go to the Internet Archive's site and capture a web page for use as a trusted citation in the future. The link will not die then.

What are the baby seals, what is the police dog attacking uninvolved afro-americans, in the area of internet policy, is asked in this somewhat funny talk by Felix Schwenzel. Other theses were: Intelligence service hide their work because they do not want expose their dilettantism. Surveillance is inherent in the system, given by the technology, such as road kills are a consequence of the automobile technology.


Berlinale 2015 -- the inexhaustible variety of film

Most of the movies which are screened at the Berlinale are not available afterwards in Germany*. Therefore I like to go to the Berlin International Film Festival: It brings new impressions and perceptions from all regions of the world I would otherwise hardly get.

Nearly 400 films premiere every year at the Berlinale, with nearly 100 short films. There is no overarching motto; due to this large number of films, every visitor selects his or her own Berlinale. With 15 films over one week, my Berlinale 2015 had several topics. Here is my roundup.

I watched some biographical films on special women: Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Yvonne Rainer, Gertrude Bell. The movie “Je suis Annemarie Schwarzenbach” was interesting to me, not only because of her shimmering personality, but also because of the concept of the movie. The film shows a casting for a (fictional? discarded?) movie on Schwarzenbach. Thus we see several actors each exposing a special perspective on that character. Fascinating.

Two documentaries, “Flotel Europa” and “Hotline” draw attention to the situation of refugees. I subsequently read about the Dublin Regulation, according to which a person seeking asylum needs to apply for it in the EU country where he/she arrived. Thus Malta is burdened with very many asylum applications and Italy tolerates that new arrivals travel unidentified to France and apply for asylum there. I also read about the so-called Anti Infiltration Law in Israel, which in its 2012 version violated UN human rights. Asylum policy is a new topic to me, and an inconvenient one. The German wikipedia article I have started on the Hotline film) was in its early stage listed for deletion, because it is a “niche film” and not “relevant” for the encyclopedia. I hope it will not remain a “niche film”.

Two movies dive into the world of the super-rich: “The Last Summer of the Rich” shows how unrestrained power may lead to loneliness and arbitrariness. And “The Money Complex” was one of my favorite movies this year. It is inspired by Franziska von Reventlow's epistolary novel. I felt relaxed after watching it, I liked the adoration of idleness, and the music in the movie. Here are some youtube links to the songs played, partly different versions though: Ya se que tienes novio, Schubert's Allegretto in D Minor, Schnberg's 6 kleine Klavierstcke Op 19, Zampullin y Somormujo by Jorge Arribas and Diego Galaz, Los Cuatro Muleros by Josephine Foster and the Victor Herrero, and La Golondrina by Ricardo Delgado & Daniel Madero .

Most movies I selected this year had a religious topic: “Story of Judas” (where Judas never betrayed Jesus), “Superworld” (where a joyless monotone life of a check-out clerk undergoes an unexpected turn when she starts hearing god) and “The Voice of Water” (where the front woman of a dubious sect turns from being manipulative into being faithful), All these movies were great, yet “Superworld” with its great panoramas and its touching plot is my favorite out of them.

The secret winner of this Berlinale according to the blogosphere is “Victoria”. It is a movie about love and crime and Berlin, and without a single cut. It was filmed in one shot. I hope it will find a distributor so I get a chance to see it later.

(* This is actually a conjecture. If time permits, I will look for evidence.)