RE: Next Generation Alchemy

by Dries De Roeck on September 20, 2017

In the meantime it has been a few weeks since I gave this talk at UX Antwerp. To be honest it has been one of the more fun talks to put together, and deliver. The talk continues on previous musings related to ‘next generation alchemy’, I particularly attempted to include some examples to illustrate how creative practice is transforming.

Check it out here :

Are we there yet?

by Dries De Roeck on July 28, 2017

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were preparing for our yearly drive to the Austrian mountains. I have been going to Austria since I was 9 years old, and have kept going back (to the same place) ever since. Arriving over there feels like arriving home, and usually results in a big family reunion. We sometimes go in winter for skiing, and sometimes we go in summer for sun, water and walks.

Since our oldest daughter was born, about 6 years ago, we have been making the most out of the 900+ km drive there and back. This usually comes down to a big stack of CD’s with (mostly) parent-friendly children’s stories and music (this year’s favourites were Kapitein Winokio, Kabouter Korsakov, Ketnet Unidamu and Jelle Cleymans). We refrain from having screens in the car, and since both of our children get car sick quite easily there’s not a lot of difficulty in doing that.

Apart from our approach to car entertainment, a question which keeps coming back is:

are we there yet?


how long until we get there?

or one of the 1000’s of other variations, which shouldn’t be too surprising if you have ever driven more than 15 minutes with children in the car.

When we were planning this year’s drive, we were looking for ways to engage our children more, find a way for them to understand better that we really had to sit in the car for a whole day, and that Austria was a little further away than a neighbouring town.

In the past, we tried showing them a paper map or making a list of all major cities we had to pass, which we would tick off when we passed them. This was interesting for us, as grown ups, but made little sense in our children’s brain. Perhaps our oldest daughter would start to understand what maps are about, but our youngest (4 y/o) has no clue at all.

So this year, we landed on a new concept – an idea that sparked in my wife’s mind and was developed further. The fundamental idea is really simple, but since we figured it has so much potential and possibilities to be interpreted in other ways – it makes sense to elaborate a bit.

Are we there yet? (AWTY)

The general idea is to visualise your car’s position on a ‘timeline’ indicating distance. So one end of the line is ‘home’ and the other end is ‘arrival’. This visualisation should be present at all times in the car, and updated frequently (ideally by the person in the passenger seat).

Starting position, as seen from the back seat. Indicator is at the left hand side (0km). Each marker represents 100km in this example.


As the journey progresses, the indicator moves. Everyone in the car can see which distance has been covered and which distance is still to go.


As you get closer to your destination, it is visually clear to everyone in the car that you are indeed getting closer, but that there is still some distance to go. You can use visual markers to indicate each section (eg. every 100km), or place a marker at the halfway point etc.

Let’s try this.

This seemed like a good idea. Obviously, I was thinking about making a device that could be connected to the satnav system and show the car’s position on an RGB led strip. Enter my wife, who decided to go low fidelity first – and put up a piece of string in our car. The indicator we used to try this out was a clothes peg.

We added little pieces of coloured tape as a way to indicate every 100km. My wife would move the clothes peg every so many kilometers, based on the ‘distance to destination’ on our car’s satnav system.

Our test results

Overall, it was great! We didn’t really know whether our 4 year old would ‘get it’ – but being able to tell her that there’s still this much ‘string’ to cover and that we already covered this other amount seemed to ease her mind during the drive.

We did notice that when you get closer to the destination, it would make more sense to have a more fine grained way to illustrate the distance to go. Perhaps it would make the distance scale used logarithmic instead of linear. In that case, the clothes peg could move more clearly in the last 100 – 200 kilometers.

Couldn’t you just make an app, like on long distance flights?

What was important for us was to have a ‘glanceable’ interface, which made sense for everyone in the car. Although that this could probably be achieved with some kind of screen based device, using a smartphone or tablet app, our goal was to have something that would be present at all times, would not cry for attention and would be easy enough to understand for ages 4 and up.

Also, when making this prototype, we figured this needed to be a ‘social’ thing – something that could be experienced with the family together and not an individual something. Having this in the car as a ‘manual analogue’ device really helps in achieving this, as it is a physically tangible thing. Something you can point to and pull at.

Other possibilities

When making this, and experiencing it during a longer drive opened up a lot of opportunities. Here’s some of the current thinking (supposing that this would or could turn out to be a digitally connected device)

Waze integration: get a feel for traffic or other events on your route Driving with friends: see you friends on the same route Pre-planned events: based on POI data the route could be ‘gamified’ – eg: find a big tower at this location.


On our way back home, we tested one of these ideas. My parents were driving home too on the same day, but set out to leave later. We added a second indicator (a hair clip this time) to our piece of string and asked my parents to update their distance-to-arrival every so often. This turned out to be fun, just to have a feel for where they were. At one point they were in heavy traffic, they were not really advancing in any way. This got us to look up alternative routes for them, as we ‘felt’ a lot closer to what they were experiencing.

View from the back seat, at the start of our trip home. Our car is the clothes peg, my parent’s car is represented by the yellow hair pin.


Will this ever become a product, I don’t know. We could probably make a digital prototype out of this at some point – the question we’re asking ourselves if it’s really worth it to do so … the manual analogue version didn’t work too shabby either to be honest ^^

It would be nice to know if this idea resonates with anyone reading this. Feel free to think along!

Creative Commons License
Are we there yet? by Are we there yet concept is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Why I put a rainbow flag out today.

by Dries De Roeck on May 17, 2017

Today (May 17th) is #IDAHOT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and I put out a rainbow flag. I rarely put out flags or publicly show signs of what I believe or relate to (ie. political parties, national celebrations etc…). But today is different.

Why this flag?

Over the past year, maybe two years, my sensitivity for overall ‘respect’ in our society has skyrocketed. Maybe this is because I’m watching my children grow up, maybe it is because my social circles have changed somewhat over the past years – unsure. But I seem to be confronted with inequality of varying kinds, not just related to gender issues – but between people in general. I believe there is a need for people to respect each other, listen with empathy, and have an attitude of ‘accepting’ in life.


Quite a few years ago, I was totally triggered by a statement made by Yoko Ono:

I admire most creative people and most creative efforts because I like the idea that they’re doing something. Even if it’s crap, I like the idea that they’re doing something.

Several people I talked to radically disagree with this statement. I still don’t. The reason I find this statement so powerful is that it reminds me that people put effort and belief/soul in the things they do. I believe we should not be judging any of that upfront. For example, when I stroll along amateur arts stalls on a local arts and crafts market, I might not feel particularly triggered by the art on sale – but the fact that people spend time being there should be respected. I believe this is often undervalued, people are judged at first sight, things are judged without actually looking at them.

This also holds up in a work related context. Diverse companies occupy a segment of the market, in the ‘traditional’ capitalistic way of thinking these companies ‘compete’. But in the end, it are people that make up these artificial groupings we call companies. Why does it need to be so difficult to ‘talk’ to each other, and figure out how collaboration can make sense in a world where we’re still talking $€£¥ when it comes to ‘growth’. (on that matter, check out Lousia Heinrich’s talk at Picnic Brazil )

Don’t judge upfront.

This morning, I put out my rainbow flag to stress that we should not be judging. Don’t take me wrong, we can and should have opinions. We should debate, talk and converse on and offline. But I would prefer to ‘bail out’ of any conversation that is anchored in assumptions, prejudice or any form of ‘keeping up appearances’.

I would like to focus my time and energy on constructive conversation and collaborative work in an unconditional way.

Dear supermarket, part 2.

by Dries De Roeck on February 1, 2017

Remember that time I requested my personal data collected by my supermarket? I think I owe society an update, since the whole story ended rather positively compared to what the previous post might suggest.


After sending a registered letter to my supermarket, stating clearly that I was requesting my data as a natural person, I got sent a pile of paper with all my purchases since 2006. Check out a sample here.

Where were we?

Let’s recap the goal first. I thought it would be a nice experiment to see how easy it would be to request a copy of my personal data kept by the supermarket I frequent most.

The previous part to this story ended in the more philosophical explanation why I wanted to go through all the hassle, being an attempt to build my personal API. In the same post, I concluded rather negatively. I went through quite a bit of communication with my supermarket’s customer service, which initially resulted in some miscommunication from my end related to requesting info as a natural person.

The registered letter

As the communication through email was rather sluggish, I decided to spark the fire by sending a registered letter. In this letter, I very clearly stated my request, focussing on:

  • I was requesting this information as a natural person
  • I was mostly interested in my historical purchase data
  • I included a separate (new) request for a copy of my personal data and included a copy of my (Belgian) passport.

In this letter, I also referred to the European legislation on data privacy. I was somewhat lucky that at the time of sending the letter, the legislation just went through a significant update – making it more clear how personal data should be treated from a European point of view. For completeness, a copy of the letters I sent can be found here.

The reply!

Not that long after I sent the registered letter, I received a large brown enveloppe through the mail, containing all my purchase data at my supermarket from 2011 onwards. This data included a full detail of all my purchases, item names, prices, where I shopped, how much I spent in total, etc.

Check out a sample of the data here.

In the end, I was really happy with how this turned out. Looking back, this has been an extremely educative journey. I got to understand privacy law a little better, learned that this piece of legislation mostly applies to natural persons and developed a better sense for data privacy overall.

And now?

I received the data at the start of the summer holidays, and haven’t done anything with it since. This is mostly because my initial attempts at OCR-ing the scanned data turned out to be harder than I thought. Initially, I wanted to contact my supermarket again to request a digital copy – but figured that they were probably sending me the data on paper for some purpose.

At the moment, I’m regarding the OCR process as a next challenge. Once that is done, I hope to build some kind of ‘Feltron report inspired’ dashboard of my supermarket purchase behaviour. But since the whole data processing and visualising is all very new to me, it is taking me some time to understand what I’m doing. Watch this space.

Some closing thoughts

Looking back this process started by reading the privacy charter of Colruyt group. Since they make explicit mention of data privacy, I would have expected my request to be handled a lot faster. @Colruytgroup some suggestions :

  • Be more clear in communication. I had the feeling the customer service person was being treated as someone who had to clean up the dirty work. One email I got included a copy paste out of another (internal) email, which was not friendly at all. My current understanding of the situation is that the online customer service does not really know how to handle requests like this, which slows down communication terribly.
  • Don’t send me paper. In the pile of paper I received, there were a couple of pages of screenshots out of internal Colruyt software. This forces me to believe that the internal software is unable to export data to a more universal format. Also, I wonder why I received all data printed on paper in the first place. I didn’t explicitly request a digital copy, for sure, but knowing that Colruyt greatly values the environment, it surprised me to receive a pile of processed trees.
  • Transparency. What I love about Colruyt is the transparency towards customers. Prices in shops are constantly updated, comparisons are made with other supermarkets in the area, etc. Suppose that the organisation could push this level of transparency through to a personal level, by ideally giving everyone access to a personal data portal or similar, would set a clear example for others on a national and international scale. Although this might be a utopia, it would clearly show that you, as a supermarket, deeply respect your customers.

Bye 16, hi 17.

by Dries De Roeck on January 6, 2017

Another year, time for the sixth (!) instalment of the Bye Hi post (1615, 14, 13, 12). After re-reading last year’s post, I came to realise that the sensation of finding more focus in my work has probably been a catalyst for starting to think and dream about future ‘escape routes’. Professionally, I feel that I created a lot of ‘invisible content’ last year which will keep me busy to chew on and make sense of in the coming months. There’s quite some PhD work in the pipeline, which I really want to focus on before diving into other things.

When it comes to my personal life, 2016 was mostly about re-rooting. I only realise this, because I have spent the last two weeks at home. Moments like these make me even more aware of how disposable the concept of ‘work’ is. Spending time at home brings peace to my mind, and allow me to rediscover what makes my brain tick. Family wise, after a very intense foster parenting adventure at the beginning of the year, we decided to take a break from foster parenting between February and August. This period of time allowed us to recohere, before we dove into a new foster parenting chapter in October.

Over the past months, my wife finally managed to imprint the sentence “take responsibility for your own feelings” in my brain. This has helped to put everything into perspective better.

2016, the year in which I thought I would:

Work more focussed. Set up partnerships with people I enjoy working with.

Yes! I got a lot out of the Thingscon and Fri3d Camp network the past year. Altough that the inevitable question always is ‘where do we find a budget’, I’m happy to find quite a pile of potential collaboration plans on the table. I know that only a fraction of these will ever make it, perhaps not even with a clear relation to my ‘work’ – but I’m starting to discover where I want to head towards in a few years from now. As usual, I need to be wary to actually finish the ongoing work first – before moving to something else.

Close my facebook account

Aw yes, this has been interesting. For starters, there is no way that I’m ever going back. I find myself spending so much more time discovering other things (probably a lot of useless things too) instead of reflecting too much on how yesterday looked like.

Revive my Little Printer

Not so successful. I really liked what my good friends at put together to make this process go smoother. I never actually managed to look into it too deeply, mostly because I read quite some stories about hardware getting bricked – which is not what I was after. I’m currently quite happy with opening my cupboard and finding little printer there smiling at me … forever.

Co-organise Fri3d Camp

This happened, for real. I invested quite a lot of spare time in this, which I do not regret at all. Working towards a weekend of hacking and making with 300 people turned out to be very rewarding. But, I need to be honest here, in the last few weeks organising the camp was taking a lot from me – it was absolutely worth it, but I very much underestimated the ‘regular’ project work kickback afterwards. A next camp is planned in 2018, since this is the year that I should be finishing my PhD work – I think I will need to throttle down my involvement in the organisation. For great justice.

Organise a new humans & things event

Yes, but not as I intended/wanted to. I did co-organise two thingscon satellite events, one as part of the IoT Ghent meetup on Blockchain and humans and another as part of DareFest where privacy and ethics were in the spotlight. Both events were linked to trying out the ‘question the obvious’ initiative by Rob Van Kranenburg, Tom Collins and myself. While I think we’re still on to something there, it needs more crystallisation. Luckily we covered up for our own experiments with two excellent speakers on both events. I was very happy to have Jef Cavens (Blockchain hero) and Rob Heyman (IoT privacy hero) on stage.

Run PhD related workshops in London and Rotterdam

This was my greatest achievement of 2016 I think. I traded Rotterdam for Amsterdam, and added Berlin to the list. These sessions allowed me to gather 15 design processes linked to IoT products, which are starting to form the core data behind my ongoing PhD research. Together with Koen Van Turnhout, I’m currently in the process of writing a first academic publication based on this data, which I currently regard as one of the fundamental pilars which whill eventually lead up to finishing my PhD.

Go skiing with my daughters

Yes! A major succes. However, we collectively decided to skip skiing this year. We’ll still head to the mountains, but will do so in summer. I am, nevertheless, looking forward to our next skiing trip, which will most likely happen in 2018.

Finish a project that has been catching too much dust

Yes! Although I only managed to get going on looking at this backlog from October onwards. I would have liked to work more on the next version of my meaningful Christmas deco, but that again didn’t work out. I did take some serious steps in finishing my Vertex build, finally put together a mechanical keyboard and assembled some other hardware kits. I still find myself struggling with the code part of things, I seem to have been able to lay some kind of foundation-of-coding for myself, but it is very hard to keep improving based on the way I’m teaching myself now. This tends to lead up to frustration before even starting a code-based project.

2017, the year in which I will:

  • Get back to academic publishing, and showing that I’m still in the PhD game.
  • Set up at least one new research project at work.
  • Host and run more experimental events (thingscon comedy, jams,..)
  • Finish and open source the schematics for CNC millable chicken pen.
  • Clean up and organise my DiY attic.
  • Have some kind of digitally controllable front door.
  • Reboot our vegetable garden.
  • Make more physical family picture books.
  • Question the format of this hi, bye post.


Dear supermarket, part 1.

by Dries De Roeck on June 29, 2016

In a previous post, I talked about my endeavours through the ehealth data portal of the Belgian government. Somewhat related is another journey I recently started, during which my end goal is to consult the data my favourite supermarket collects about me.


This post is a first one in a series describing my experiences regarding a request to consult the data gathered by the Belgian supermarket Colruyt about me as a natural person. After making a first ‘official’ request via email (signed letter + copy of my passport to prove my identity). I got a snail mail reply stating that they only have data about me as a legal entity, I called BS and re-requested my data specifically stating that I want to get insight into my purchase data they use to send me personalised advertisement. (aka my purchase history linked to my loyalty/bonus card) Current status : waiting for a new reply (4 weeks and counting).

Why bother?

People have been asking me why I go through all this hassle, to set that clear once and for all – I want to actively contribute in generating awareness of where and how data is collected. I took on this active stance after hearing Estelle Massé (Access Now) and Prof. Preneel (K.U. Leuven) talking about the lack of understanding of data privacy & ethics and the emerging cry for cryptopolicy. The flurry of thought that emerged in my head was a willingness to understand this better – and what can be a better way to learn than to actually figure it out while doing it?

Towards the personal API

Regarding privacy, ethical data policies and related ‘whatevers’ I’m an utter n00b, n44b, newbie. The more that I think about this though, the more I feel the need for governments, companies and organisations to actively think about a data policy and the protection thereof. The increasing interest of Blockchain technology is just one indication that having access to (personal) data will become a very important part of how the economical systems of tomorrow will work. Actually being able to access that data, and act upon it, seems to still be the missing link.

Regarding public data (weather, traffic, pollution, demographics,…) I have the feeling we will eventually get to some kind of addressable ‘API’. The worldwide open data initiatives are a good example of this, and some cities are taking a forerunner role in this already (London, Ghent, Helsinki amongst others).

When it comes to personal data, I’m still very much in doubt how we will or can evolve to a ‘personal API’. In my previous post on ehealth, I had some doubts regarding the accessibility of my own health data. I clearly could not access everything, which is (still) very confusing to me. I know that governments are doing a lot of efforts to demystify the data available, when I’m speaking for Belgium I’m always surprised (and happy) to see the correctness of the prefilled fields on my tax application. However, at the same time I realise that the process to actually ‘find’ this data is so cumbersome very few people actually make the effort to consult it.

That being said, I didn’t mention anything about all data available that is scattered throughout a variety of privately owned services. Social media profiles, online photo archives, webshops, data linked to loyalty cards at small or large stores, etc. For the moment, I assume that the governmentally controlled data will become available in a usable format at some point. It will probably still take a couple of legislations, but we’ll get there.

Why the supermarket?

When it comes down to privately owned companies who hold on to a significant amount of data about me as a natural person, I believe that supermarkets probably top the ranks. In the case of Colruyt, I actually do not have any substantial comments about the usage of my data. I enjoy receiving targeted advertisement from them, as it gives me extra discounts on groceries I would buy anyway. Since Colruyt even has a section on data privacy in their privacy charter, I figured it wouldn’t be a real problem to request a copy of my data from them. So that is what I set out to do …

Contact customer service!

The first things I did (on March 29, 2016) was email the customer service of Colruyt, refer to the article in their privacy charter and request a copy of my data. I got a very swift reply asking me to send a copy of my passport to prove my identity and send a more formal, signed, letter. I followed all advice, got a confirmation that everything was going to be processed and that I would receive a printed copy of my data anytime soon. Although that I found it a little odd that they were going to send me the data on paper, I was actually really happy at that point. A smooth transaction, sound and clear.

Their reply letter …

A couple of weeks later, I find a (printed) letter in my mailbox from Colruyt. After reading it, I was flabbergasted and furious at the same time. The letter stated that they could not share the data because they only have data about me as a legal entity. At that point, I really wondered why I sent a copy of my passport and a signed letter in my own name. I never mentioned any legal entity, let alone that I ever bought any groceries on my company name.

After showing the letter to a couple of friends, we all concluded that this very much felt like they were trying to find reasons not to share the data. After receiving that letter, and regaining a sane state, I sent a friendly reply mentioning that I never made any mention of a legal entity and always had the intention to request my own purchase data (as a natural person).


Since then, I was in contact with Colruyt customer support about two times – requesting a status update. Each time, they replied in a very friendly way that they were working on it and would get back to me shortly. Since the last communication dates from June 1st, I figured that after four weeks it was time to take a next step.

Future plans

Short term, I’m very much looking forward to the new response from Colruyt. I’m starting to get a little worried whether a new reply will follow at all, it would be very unfortunate having to take more formal steps in this request.
I have sent out a registered letter to their customer service today, referring to all previous communication as well as a clear request to receive all stored data about my purchases. (ie. the data they use to create targeted advertisement). In that letter I made reference to some articles of the EU privacy law, as well as to their own privacy charter. I find it a pity to take this step, but I’m not going to let go right now.

The longer term plans originate from a talk over lunch with @nielshendriks @karinslegers and @liesbit about 5 years ago. The idea brought to the table then was to create a website that would automate the data requesting process for a selected amount of companies. That would mean that after entering all required data, letters would be generated and sent out to the companies automatically. This ‘service’ would ideally take out the hassle of carrying out a person’s right to access personal data and could be an intermediary step towards the personal API.

Through the #begov ehealth portal!

by Dries De Roeck on April 30, 2016

Last Friday I had a regular health checkup, nothing too spectacular. It was the first time my doctor mentioned that I had to decide whether I was ok with giving other health related entities access to my medical file. I asked him whether I could access this information myself, my doctor replied : “yeah, probably if you google it you will find something”.

Indeed, there seemed to be a Belgian governmental e-health site. This all seemed very regular and boring, but once I started to look for my actual medical file I was totally blown away that they put something like this online. The most excellent example of making something that is not accessible by anyone, but is supposed to serve many. Since the whole ‘experience’ was rather shocking, I want to take the time to go through (part) of the process using screenshots, in a mere 18 easy steps (not).


In order to access my shared medical file, I had to install java, a middleware application, a cardreader driver, a firefox extension, go through three websites, one pdf document, install an application from an unregistered developer and enter the pincode of my e-id card. If you are not a computer person, you’ll never get to see your medical file.

During the process I would expect a constant feeling of security, yet the design of this ‘flow’ could be optimised in so many ways. I’m very much an advocate of ‘don’t complain, suggest what’s better’ – but this time … I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.


Before logging in, I needed to make sure I could log in to governmental services. In Belgium this is done using an e-id. In order to do so, you need some middleware software, a cardreader and the correct drivers for that cardreader. Ow yes, you also need a recent version of java, and preferably you’d be using Firefox with the e-id firefox extension installed. Suppose that you’d get through all that, you’re good to go!

Step 1: My eHealth


After logging in on the ehealth portal, this is where you end up. A rather unstructured site, with seemingly unrelated content.

Step 2: My eHealth – my details

When looking for my medical file, I’d figure I could find some pointers via my personal information. Turns out the personal info section links to a site with a totally different design where I can only update my email address. Weird.

Step 3: Online services

Going back to the homepage, I end up here. An overview of 'services', described in a very cryptic way. I'm still not sure what the difference between eHealthConsent and patientConsent is.

Going back to the homepage, I end up here. An overview of ‘services’, described in a very cryptic way. I’m still not sure what the difference between eHealthConsent and patientConsent is.

Step 4: Vitalink


After more cryptic text, this Vitalink thing seemed to be hinting towards what I was looking for : my shared online medical file. Yay! Almost there .. I figured.

Step 5: Vitalink?

Hello Vitalink. Ow, looks like there is no link between the ehealth portal and this site. I thought I said before that I was a citizen, not a caretaker (?)

Hello Vitalink. Ow, looks like there is no link between the ehealth portal and this site. I thought I said before that I was a citizen, not a caretaker (?)

Step 6: Vitalink, perhaps.

Okay, the vitalink homepage. This seems to be a place to figure out where to get info on my vaccinations and such - that sounds like my medical file!

Okay, the vitalink homepage. This seems to be a place to figure out where to get info on my vaccinations and such – that sounds like my medical file!

Step 7: Let’s do this!

After spotting the 'aan de slag' (to work) button - I thought I was really getting close.

After spotting the ‘aan de slag’ (to work) button – I thought I was really getting close. There was even a ‘consult your data’ button (the one with the magnifying glass), exactly what I needed.

Step 8: Software

Aha, looks like I need to get some software to access my medical file. Okay, and I can't download it from this site - but I need to get it from my health insurer. Okay...

Aha, looks like I need to get some software to access my medical file. Okay, and I can’t download it from this site – but I need to get it from my health insurer. Okay…

Step 9: hello health insurer

At this point, I'm very confused. This is the third organisation I have to go through in order to access my governmentally owned health record. Or, is it not owned by the government after all?

At this point, I’m very confused. This is the third organisation I have to go through in order to access my governmentally owned health record. Or, is it not owned by the government after all? Nevertheless, I’m pushing on – I find a link to install the software on my the website of my health insurer.

Step 10: What!? A .pdf?

I get presented with a PDF. A manual in a way, or perhaps a procedure ... I'm not sure. I start reading through it. It is an instructional manual of the 'HealthViewer' application, which is the thing I need to access my medical file. I scroll down to the installation instructions.

I get presented with a PDF. A manual in a way, or perhaps a procedure … I’m not sure. I start reading through it. It is an instructional manual of the ‘HealthViewer’ application, which is the thing I need to access my medical file. I scroll down to the installation instructions.

Step 11: Back to yet another website

Another link, to an organisation called intermut. Whatever. I laugh at the comment 'this URL is case sensitive'.

Another link, to an organisation called intermut. Whatever. I laugh at the comment ‘this URL is case sensitive’.

Step 12: Sure this isn’t spam?

After clicking the link in the .pdf document, I end up here. This looks very dodgy, almost like one of those odd illegal filesharing popups. Nevertheless, I click and download the big green button. A .dmg file starts downloading.

After clicking the link in the .pdf document, I end up here. This looks very dodgy, almost like one of those odd illegal filesharing popups. Nevertheless, I click the big green button. A .dmg file starts downloading.

Step 13: .dmg mounted!

Okay, nearing completion of this quest! Yes, I want to install the software - don't really like installers on OSX, but not giving up now!

Okay, nearing completion of this quest! Yes, I want to install the software – don’t really like installers on OSX, but not giving up now!

Step 14: Unidentified developer

My-o-my, unidentified developer. Seriously, if I'd be a less savvy OSX user - this would have been the end. In this case, I right click the installer and manage to get past this screen.

My-o-my, unidentified developer. Seriously, if I’d be a less savvy OSX user – this would have been the end. In this case, I right click the installer and manage to get past this screen.

Step 15: An installer! (the 90’s called)

Yes, we're finally good to go. Although that I haven't seen this installer screen in a very long time - did I just timetravel to 1999?

Yes, we’re finally good to go. Although that I haven’t seen this installer screen in a very long time – did I just timetravel to 1999?

Step 16: HealthViewer


Despite all previous steps, the software opens. It is very lowres on this retina screen. But at least I can finally log in. I make sure my eID middleware software is running and that my eID card is inserted in the cardreader … because you never know.

Step 17: Pincode

I get promted with a textbox asking my for a pincode. What pincode? The pincode of this software? Or that of my medical file? Does that even have a pincode? ... I figured it might just be asking the pincode of my eID card.

I get promted with a textbox asking my for a pincode. What pincode? The pincode of this software? Or that of my medical file? Does that even have a pincode? … I figured it might just be asking the pincode of my eID card.

Step 18 : Done!

Behold my medical file. Nice and empty. I know there should be 2 entries there somewhere, but somewhere else I found out that as a patient I can't access my Sumehr (Summarized Electronic Health Record). Strange, again.

Behold my medical file. Nice and empty. I know there should be 2 entries there somewhere, but somewhere else I found out that as a patient I can’t access my Sumehr (Summarized Electronic Health Record). Strange, again.


Why do I blog this?

I totally see the advantage of an online ehealth system. I can imagine the Belgian government worked hard to get this online, and integrate various governmental agencies, databases and other entities. But experience wise, there’s so much wrong in this flow. Nothing is clear, nor are there attempts other than long pieces of text to explain what is needed at what time. A seriously missed opportunity, but on the other hand … a very interesting evolution. I’m sure we’ll get there, some day, in a galaxy far far away.

To (nextgen) engineer is human

by Dries De Roeck on April 17, 2016

During a brief trip to Milan, I managed to read through a book that has been on my bookshelf for a long time : “To Engineer is human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design“. This little book was first published in 1985, and went through some edits along the way (I read the 1992 edition). The book basically gives several examples of how learning by doing has been an integral part of the way that we design and create the world around us.

Besides elaborating on some well known ‘engineering failures’ (Hyat Regency  & Tacoma Narrows) the book gives a higher level overview of why things sometimes don’t work out as we designed or thought about them. And it is mostly this last bit that I found most interesting about this book.

What I found most insightful was the reference to Sr. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem ‘The Deacon’s Masterpiece‘. This poem talks about the construction of a horse carriage (a one-horse shay) which is made with the best materials around. Yet, at the end of the poem it is made clear that even the best piece of engineering eventually fails and falls apart. The book then goes on about foreseeing failure during the design process, which is something I’ve been questioning myself in relationship to internet of things products – for example: the sunsetting of the Revolv smart hub and the fading of Bergcloud and their Little Printer.

It got me wondering that when we’re designing connected products, we shouldn’t only think about mechanical failing of devices (buttons, moving parts, lights,…) but also the digital parts of the device (server connection, network uptime, technology deprecation,…). These novel aspects seem to be a lot more uncertain to predict, but they might feel a lot more easy to change, ie. shutting down a server happens by pushing some virtual buttons – the effect of that action is much less visible.

There’s probably a lot of work done on this already, I can imagine that the same questions have surfaced in the home automation market. But I wonder if someone is actually doing anything about it, as the support for ‘legacy internet of things devices’ seems something we should seriously consider.

Why do I blog this?

What intrigued me is that the book dates back more than 3 decades, but very much pins down what is still happening with novel products. Henry Petroski (the author) never mentions computerised systems as an example, but I think that his reasoning is applicable to a lot of the design and development of internet of things systems being created at this moment. All that put aside, the content of the book itself can be somewhat repetitive and the writing style is questionable. So probably not a recommended piece of reading, but it does trigger some thinking.


by Dries De Roeck on February 22, 2016

The past two days I spent quite some hours at Screenshake, the indie game gathering in Antwerp – organised by The House of Indie. Last year’s Screenshake was good already, but looking back at the 2016 edition – the organisation stepped up their game quite a bit.

Generally speaking, the reason that I like this event is that it is so crossover in every way. Disregarding the content, the indie game community is so very very nice to hang around. No one expects anything, if you want to engage you can – if you don’t no one will question that either. Less façades, more heart.

I very much appreciate diving into a community I have a lot of respect for, that I do not really know in depth, but somehow feel related to. It also feels nice to not meet the same people at screenshake that I already meet at other events. New faces, fresh views.

What I will remember and re-use in my own work

My key insight of Screenshake16 was without any doubt Lana Polansky‘s statement:

This totally resonates with me, and it frames the move away from games of studios like Tale of Tales rather well. The statement goes a lot deeper too, and does not limit itself to games vs. art. I might as well replace this with ‘The scientific research vs. art discussion is a sham’ – which very much relates to my own work. Lana’s talk was packed with references and insights I still need to process, this talk felt like a goldmine of inspiration … I just need to start building my shaft.

Besides Lana’s talk, I got totally inspired by Paolo Pedercini. His deconstruction of SimCity and links made to systems thinking and ‘smart’ cities allowed me to look at my own work from a totally different perspective. I very much liked Paolo’s way of providing answers or strands of thought on how capitalism based algorithms (such as Sim City’s) can be approached in different ways. Game-like experiences as explorations of thought.

The one speaker I was looking forward to since he was announced was Ste Curran. He totally captivated me at Screenshake15, so my expectations where high. Ste brings a talk in an extremely interesting format, being something in between a story, a theater play and a regular talk. This ‘package’ is delivered with such honesty and authenticity that it is plainly beautiful. What stuck with me from Ste’s talk is being more conscious about the relation between the heart and the face, which very much links back to ‘dropping all facades’ I mentioned before.

More highlights & insights


by Dries De Roeck on January 16, 2016

I like to hold on to a lot of physical stuff. Postcards, birthday cards, the drawings my daughters make, magazines, etc.

I take notes in a paper notebook. I love to write with a fountain pen.

One major downside of all this non-digital stuff is archiving. After a birthday in my family, I always wonder what to do with the birthday cards. Do I just throw them out, do I keep some of them, if I keep them – where do I put them? I probably won’t look at them anyway … but still …

The above has been the origin of Archivatr. Inspired by the way Nick and Alex communicate conceptual ideas – I thought I’d try something similar.

Introducing Archivatr.


The holiday season is over. Time to get rid of the christmas cards … I’m having a hard time just throwing them out.



The Archivatr service sends me pre stamped envelopes, which I can use whenever I have non-digitals artefacts I want to archive.



This envelope is mailed off, and Archivatr does the rest. I do not need to care about formats, recto-verso, glossy/matte paper, 2D or 3D creations…



Depending on the complexity of the artefacts. I receive a digitally indexed folder & files containing high quality scans. I can choose to leave these on the Archivatr servers or download them to my personal storage.

Wait, this isn’t new at all.

This probably isn’t. I could imagine that most copy centers might actually do this when requested. Also, there are quite a few related services that do something like this;

  • MOD Notebooks (buy blank notebook, use it – mail it back to them – get it digitally)
  • Evernote Scannable (I currently use this to scan all ‘artworks’ my children make at school – thanks, Brick! – but it takes time and the resolution is not always optimal)
  • Desktop scanners like Doxie or Neat (works fine for standard sizes, but greeting cards or drawings are often non-standard)
  • Picplum (not around anymore, but this was the reverse service – select digital pictures, send printed versions to your loved ones in weekly batches)

Currently, I have no idea about the viability of this service idea. Perhaps it has been done and failed, perhaps it exists but I don’t know about it. Or maybe I should go ahead and explore this further in more detail.

Why do I blog this?

I’ve been toying around with this idea for a long time now. It was time to get it out. If you have any pointers, feedback or comments – I’d love to hear them!