On the internet, nobody knows you're a curator

Over the last few years, I've been assembling a set of links on a very irregular basis, loosely around the theme of "numbers and charts." My friend Martin Weigert invited me to do this for The Scope, a startup which at that time focused on having individual experts curate differently-themed boxes. Since I have a penchant for digging up graphs and studies to support my point of view in any discussion, he thought I'd be good at putting together at least a few useful-to-know links.

While I never really found a good rhythm for sharing those links, it was fun mental exercise and made me pay closer attention to the different kinds of information that flow past any denizen of the internet on a given day. I described the Numbers & Charts box as "A variety of insightful, surprising, and enlightening numbers, statistics, and data visualizations." From charts to graphs to maps to random statistics, sometimes my links were interesting and shed light on a particular issue, sometimes they were more like cocktail chatter.

The Art of Asking Questions

I haven't been writing much lately because I've been doing a lot of writing in other places, over at test IO and for Democrats Abroad. After spending the weekend moderating (and facilitating workshops that I designed) the annual general meeting of Democrats Abroad, I've been thinking a lot what it means to ask good questions.

Some questions are so insightful and present a special perspective on the issue. It's immediately clear that the question-asker has thought deeply and engaged with the subject. Sometimes questions are an attempt to seem smart in front of a group. Sometimes questions aren't even questions, but long-winded statements that end with "I'd like to know what you think about that."

Lately, I've been interviewing people inside companies in order to put together some case studies on how they're using a product. One of my predecessors put together a long list of questions that they would send to the contacts. Many of these were pretty banal, like "how many people are on your team?"

I don't think it's wrong to ask these questions. Sometimes you need to lay some groundwork before you can get to the really interesting topics. But my goal is to get a sense of the company on a high level and then go into more detail on the parts of their work process that I'm interested in, so a few easy questions to start off with help warm the interviewee up.

What I did notice though, is that a lot of the questions are too easy. It felt more like the checklist in a doctor's office (Where does it hurt? How long? What medications are you taking?) than an invitation to have a conversation and for the respondent to share. By asking questions that show you're engaging and thinking about what someone has told you, you're showing them that you're really listening and that you care about what they have to say.

Usually people talk about how we get in trouble if we are content with easy answers. In this case, it's the easy questions that we shouldn't settle for.

Art Auction in Berlin for ACLU on Sunday

The last few weeks have been a political whirlwind of astonishing news coming out of the U.S., followed by outrage, disbelief, but also amazing displays of protests & solidarity by people not only in the U.S. but around the world. Still, it's been hard to know what to do, to figure out what is actually effective and make an impact.

That's why I think my friend Rachel's decision to hold a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union is amazing. She's gotten together over 20 artists in Berlin to donate works which will be up for auction this Sunday at Decad, and pulled together a few people to help make it happen (me included).

If you've wanted to take a stand against the gross violations of civil rights that have been happening in the U.S., this is a way you can do it -- and get some art to decorate your apartment. I know mine could use some! Even if you don't think you can bid, come and get some coffee and cake (I'll be baking) or wine & beer, those small donations help too.

Details:

Silent Art Auction for ACLU (More details on Facebook, please share!)
Sunday, February 26th, 2017 3-6pm
Decad, Gneisenaustraße 52, 10961 Berlin (U7 Südstern)

UPDATE (March 1, 2017):

There are still a few works available. If you couldn't make it and regrets not bidding on the art, you can still make a donation (50 euro or higher) and receive a work on paper. There are images of the available works via Dropbox here. Some excerpted below for your perusal! Leave a comment below with contact info or DM me on Twitter.


Weekend in Sofia

It's hard to remember all the nice parts of a trip when it's bookended by Ryanair flights and extremely backed up German border crossings, but setting that aside, I had a wonderful time in Sofia this weekend. After months of incompatible schedules, my friend Owen (yes, really) and I finally found somewhere we could meet, with him coming from Düsseldorf and me from Berlin.

I did not know a lot, or really anything about Sofia. I still don't. I remember from elementary school that the capital of Bulgaria had a nice and easy-to-remember name. I've met some Bulgarians at different points in my life, but I would be hard-pressed to recall anything about country or people. Are there any famous fictional Bulgarians? In fact, a new friend in Berlin is Bulgarian but I didn't realize it until I ran into him at a party a week before the trip. So suffice it to say, I went in pretty blind.

The City

I don't think Sofia sticks out as having particularly beautiful or interesting architecture or urban design. There do seem to be large number of parks and public spaces, though in winter everything's covered in snow and ice anyway. Buildings tend to look (to my untrained eye) basically socialist blocks or 70s concrete. What's actually the difference? There are two subway lines, one which goes to the airport, so points for convenience, especially compared to Berlin. There are lots of buses and trams, but I couldn't figure out how to use them and we mostly walked places anyway. Someone should make an app with a trip planner for Sofia!

Food

This was one area where Sofia really surprised me. We got a few tips for restaurants to check out and even went on a free food tour. Almost everything we ate was really good! It was interesting, experimental, well-cooked. I didn't expect there to be a forward-thinking food scene, but there was and we were lucky enough to experience a bit of it!

History

My final thoughts on Sofia and Bulgaria are that I'd like to understand their history better. While on the walking tours, our guides tended to gloss over the thousands of years of history, explaining that there were Thracians, then Slavs and proto-Bulgarians who came to occupy the land that is now Bulgaria. I'm sure it was bloodier and messier, and a country that has 3 kingdoms and was conquered by the Ottoman empire surely has a complex history. But I always feel this way after I go on trips, so please recommend any good (interesting) histories of Bulgaria that you might have! Even fairytales would be an interesting place to start.

When you go to a concert and belatedly realize you've seen the band before

Sunday night I went with my friends Thomas, Kristian, and Jens to see a German singer-songwriter called clickclickdecker. There were actually 3 people on stage, does that make it a band?

Despite listening to their albums a lot on Spotify the past week, it wasn't until I was standing in Lido (the venue), when I had a vague feeling that I might have seen clickclickdecker play before. What's the best way to find out? Since I can't trust my memory, I turned to my external brain archive, Gmail, and turned up this blog post from January 2009. Mystery solved! I have seen clickclickdecker before, almost exactly 8 years ago and in Hamburg.

Warning: shaky phone video clip but having walked down nostalgia lane already for this post, I'm preserving it here for posterity... in 2025 when Kamala Harris is sworn in for her second term as president of the United States and I go to another clickclickdecker concert 

Also, the whole night I had this sensation of people I should know being behind me. Turned out it was a poster for my friends Laura & Andreya's band Gurr. They're playing there on Feb 20, everyone should go see them!

Searching for signs of extraterrestrials in Brandenburg

A little over a week ago, I made a new friend who was very excited about going to take a look at some crop circles nearby. I don't think about outer space aliens very much, but I love seeing new things, and I've been meaning to get out of Berlin more often. What better way to start than to take the regional rail (S-Bahn) almost to the very end of the line?

Our motley crew assembled at S-Bahn Lichtenrade, which is not quite the southern end of the S2 line.

We took a bus (I can't figure out the exact number, which is a testament to Berlin's suburban transit system) and then started walking along the side of road, passing by "Zum Ponyhof" which I hoped we would be able to stop by on the way back for a nice, cold beer. But alas, das Leben ist kein Ponyhof and we never saw it again. Instead, we neared our first crop circle.

Did I mention it was an incredibly beautiful day to be out in the Brandenburg farmland? The sky was blue and full of fluffy white clouds, there was a gentle breeze to cool our (my) sweaty urban brows.

We wandered around the first circle. I thought it was pretty amazing how evenly the wheat was pressed down, sometimes in quite pretty patterns.

Whatever you think of crop circles and the mystery surrounding them, I realized I liked them most because they're in the middle of a wheat field. There's something about being confronted by a huge swath of golden grain as high as my shoulder, and walking down a tiny little path that leads to a beautiful pattern of flattened wheat.

The second one was much smaller, but we stuck around and had a little picnic before walking back to civilization. Human civilization, that is.