Bye 17, hi 18.

by Dries De Roeck on January 17, 2018

Another year, another time to look back and forward to what was and what is to come. I mentioned last year that I would be revising the format of this post I’ve been using for several years. This will be an attempt at that, applying some learnings throughout the years. The most important change is that I used to set some explicit goals, things which I would like to have done. In many cases, life turns out differently – and I tend to get diverted from that list.

Looking back, I have the feeling a lot of ‘seeding for the future’ has been done in 2017. I think I spent a lot of time figuring out what future options I have, and have focused on putting time and effort in relationships with people and organisations which I value. Over the months I’ve developed a take on life which is to live with different foci, which helped me to better cope with the big blur between “work” and “private” in the things that I do.

Things that stuck with me looking back at 2017

Commitment

During the year, I developed a critical attitude towards the organisation and participation in events. When I had to cancel the thingscon comedy event at the end of last year, I tried to capture some of my frustration in this post. On the other hand, I had a blast at other events, in particular I enjoyed delivering a talk on alchemy at UX Antwerp and launching ideasofthings at thingscon Amsterdam.

People

More than in other years, I realised that getting work done and making things happen very much relies on people that want to get something done. It is not about organisations or company reputation, that just doesn’t go anywhere. In that context I thoroughly enjoyed working with Alex and Elise setting up the GoodHome exhibition in Aalst. The nice thing with that initiative is that no-one really got a ‘benefit’ out of it, but we were all working based on a common belief and shared importance.

Things that worked out differenlty in 2017

Academia

I had high hopes that I’d be able to resume academic publishing in 2017, but I didn’t manage to get anything decently accepted for publication. Nevertheless, I did learn a lot on trying to write academic text within the context of a commercial company. I’ll try my very best in 2018, the plan is there … the action needs to be taken.

Vegetable garden

I very much wanted to reboot our vegetable garden at home, but I really didn’t get round to it. Unsure why, because I still very much like the idea – and we have all the infrastructure in place. I guess my focus was elsewhere, and only put in the minimal effort to keep our strawberries alive. Over summer, we did grow superlarge sunflowers though, that was fun.

Started running

When 2017 kicked off, I had no intention at all to be more active or loose weight. Turns out I picked up running (now running 16km and more and lost over 15kg of weight). I’m unsure why or how I got myself into doing it, but the trigger was Brick and Christophe both indepently convincing me that it’s not all that hard. In 2017 I ran a 5km and a 10km race, and I never felt more proud about those achievements.

Things I want to do in 2018

Sit down and do the work

There’s so much going on, but it really is time to get my PhD over and done with. If it won’t happen this year, it might as well never happen. I’ve comitted to sitting down at least 2 days a week to work on my PhD research. Get the papers written, get the literature framing solid. It’s quite a mental battle with myself to do this, but I just need to get the little nagging “but you need to start writing those papers” voice out of my head.

Do a crowdfunding

I want to run a campaign do make something. There are two ideas brewing right now, one I’m doing on my own and one is a more ambitious project. But both are very feasible! It just feels good to set up a project out of nothing, try to get the funds together and then just push it out. Hopefully I can support local people in the meantime. Anyway, in a few days/weeks things should become more defined.

A neighbourhood IoT event

I’ve been wanting to host a very local internet of things event for a year or two. Bascially it would come down to showing people how they can build a working product that connects to the internet in about 15 minutes. The goal would then be to have conversations about digital privacy, ethics and meaningful design. I think hosting this in my street would be cool, as it would also bring people together around a topic they probably never think about.

Typeform in Mapbox

by Dries De Roeck on December 25, 2017

For a project at Studio Dott, we were looking for ways to integrate a questionnaire (a typeform, ideally) inside of a map environment. This has been something I have been wanting to explore outside of this project context, and I have been longing to dive into mapbox again. I worked with their deprecated TileMill several moons ago, but was very willing to dive into their new tools.

Enter Mapbox-GL-JS. I followed a basic example to set things up, picked a nice styling and got going. My eventual goal was very basic, visualise some clickable points on a map. Each point would be linked to a typeform questionnaire.

I was very happy to find our that Mapbox-GL-JS allowed me to create that pretty much out of the box. I followed this tutorial to get going, with my super basic understanding of javascript I did manage to follow this super easily.

Get the typeform iframe

Once that was done, some magic was needed to add a Typeform form to a popup. Luckily Typeform allows to embed their forms in various ways. One of those is a ‘full page embed’ – the default code looks like this:

<html> <head> <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0, maximum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=0"> <title>Add your Typeform title here</title> <style type="text/css"> html{ margin: 0; height: 100%; overflow: hidden; } iframe{ position: absolute; left:0; right:0; bottom:0; top:0; border:0; } </style> </head> <body> <iframe id="typeform-full" width="100%" height="100%" frameborder="0" src="link_to_form"></iframe> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://embed.typeform.com/embed.js"></script> </body> </html>

I spotted some iframe code in there, which I figured would come in handy to paste into the mapbox code. So out of the typeform embed code, we only need the iframe part:

<iframe id="typeform-full" width="100%" height="100%" frameborder="0" src="link_to_form"></iframe>

So, once we have this – time to paste it in the mabox example.

Add links to geojson

What I did was create an extra property field in the geojson mapbox uses to create the markers on the map. I called it ‘form’ and pasted the iframe code there:

var geojson = {
  type: 'FeatureCollection',
  features: [{
    type: 'Feature',
    geometry: {
      type: 'Point',
      coordinates: [3.7287033, 51.082785]
    },
    properties: {
      title: 'This is point one',
      description: 'Desc point one',
      form:'<iframe id="typeform-full" width="600px" height="400px" frameborder="0" src="link_to_form1"></iframe>'
    }
  },
  {
    type: 'Feature',
    geometry: {
      type: 'Point',
      coordinates: [3.729, 51.084]
    },
    properties: {
      title: 'This is point two',
      description: 'Desc point two',
      form:'<iframe id="typeform-full" width="600px" height="400px" frameborder="0" src="link_to_form2"></iframe>'
    }
  }]
};

This allows me to quickly hack together multiple question forms linked to multiple points on the map.

Fancification

As you can see in the code above, I tweaked some of the variables of the iframe size in order for it to display better in the popups. There are probably other/better ways to do this, but for the Proof Of Concept I was creating, this was good enough.

The final code

For completeness (and my own reference) this is the final proof of concept code. All inline styling & scripting html hackery. I took out style, access token & typeform links for the example’s sake.

Working version of this is online here

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
    <meta charset='utf-8' />
    <title>A test for Ghent</title>
    <meta name='viewport' content='initial-scale=1,maximum-scale=1,user-scalable=no' />
    <script src='https://api.tiles.mapbox.com/mapbox-gl-js/v0.42.2/mapbox-gl.js'></script>
    <link href='https://api.tiles.mapbox.com/mapbox-gl-js/v0.42.2/mapbox-gl.css' rel='stylesheet' />
    <style>
      body { margin:0; padding:0; }
      #map { position:absolute; top:0; bottom:0; width:100%; }

      .marker {
      background-image: url('mapbox-icon.png');
      background-size: cover;
      width: 50px;
      height: 50px;
      border-radius: 50%;
      cursor: pointer;
      }

      .mapboxgl-popup-content {
        text-align: center;
        font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif;
      }
    </style>  
</head>

<body>

<div id='map'>


</div>
<script>

mapboxgl.accessToken = 'token';
var map = new mapboxgl.Map({
    container: 'map', // container id
    style: 'style_link', // stylesheet location
    center: [3.7287033, 51.082785], // starting position [lng, lat]
    pitch: 45,
    bearing: -17.6,
    zoom: 17 // starting zoom
});

map.addControl(new mapboxgl.NavigationControl());

var geojson = {
  type: 'FeatureCollection',
  features: [{
    type: 'Feature',
    geometry: {
      type: 'Point',
      coordinates: [3.7287033, 51.082785]
    },
    properties: {
      title: 'This is point one',
      description: 'Desc point one',
      form:'<iframe id="typeform-full" width="600px" height="400px" frameborder="0" src="form1"></iframe>'
    }
  },
  {
    type: 'Feature',
    geometry: {
      type: 'Point',
      coordinates: [3.729, 51.084]
    },
    properties: {
      title: 'This is point two',
      description: 'Desc point two',
      form:'<iframe id="typeform-full" width="600px" height="400px" frameborder="0" src="form2"></iframe>'
    }
  }]
};

// add markers to map
geojson.features.forEach(function(marker) {

  // create a HTML element for each feature
  var el = document.createElement('div');
  el.className = 'marker';

  // make a marker for each feature and add to the map
  new mapboxgl.Marker(el)
    .setLngLat(marker.geometry.coordinates)
    .setPopup(new mapboxgl.Popup({ offset: 25 }) // add popups
    .setHTML(marker.properties.title + '</h3><p>' + marker.properties.form + '</p>')
  )
    .addTo(map);

    });

    // The 'building' layer in the mapbox-streets vector source contains building-height
    // data from OpenStreetMap.
    map.on('load', function() {
        // Insert the layer beneath any symbol layer.
        var layers = map.getStyle().layers;

        var labelLayerId;
        for (var i = 0; i < layers.length; i++) {
            if (layers[i].type === 'symbol' && layers[i].layout['text-field']) {
                labelLayerId = layers[i].id;
                break;
            }
        }

        map.addLayer({
            'id': '3d-buildings',
            'source': 'composite',
            'source-layer': 'building',
            'filter': ['==', 'extrude', 'true'],
            'type': 'fill-extrusion',
            'minzoom': 10,
            'paint': {
                'fill-extrusion-color': '#aaa',

                // use an 'interpolate' expression to add a smooth transition effect to the
                // buildings as the user zooms in
                'fill-extrusion-height': [
                    "interpolate", ["linear"], ["zoom"],
                    15, 0,
                    15.05, ["get", "height"]
                ],
                'fill-extrusion-base': [
                    "interpolate", ["linear"], ["zoom"],
                    15, 0,
                    15.05, ["get", "min_height"]
                ],
                'fill-extrusion-opacity': .6
            }
        }, labelLayerId);
    });


</script>

</body>
</html>

 

ThingsconAMS Thoughts

by Dries De Roeck on December 2, 2017

When Alex called out at the end of ThingsconAMS that we lost the habbit of blogging and expressing our thoughts in more than 240 480 characters I had two options, nodding and agreeing or spending some time on my trainride back home to jot down some notes in readable sentences. I chose the latter. (note to self: yes, I should have been working on my PhD literature review, but my head couldn’t find peace of mind before getting this out)

People

I’ll start off with my main takeaway, which has not much to do with the internet of things per s√©, but might help in working on internet of things related topics in the long run. I found it reassuring to hear more people expressing concern on how we go about with the work we do. I talked to new and old faces, who were looking for genuine engagement in topics they care about. Begone superficial chatter, time to step knee deep in the mud and take up accountability for the work we don’t seem to be doing.

I had excellent chats with Albrecht, Alexandra, Andrea, Harm, Iohanna, Iskander, Kars, Marcel, Nathalie, Simon, Simone and Thomas. I hope that I’m safe to say that most of these chats will the lead to some form of collaboration. I find it important to mention these people by name, as it is them that take up personal accountability to get work done. For sure, everyone operates within an organisational or company context, but I think we’re too often undervaluing the importance of the people who (want to) care on a personal level. In my experience, people attending ThingsCon events tend to engage on a personal level, in a very critically constructive manner. I appreciate that, more than ever.

ThingsCon loot!

Content

When it comes to thingscon content, there were two talks that stood out for me. Firstly, the talk by Tobias Revell and secondly Iohanna Nicenboim‘s talk.

What I liked about Tobias’ story was his usage of the black box as a methaphor. Over time, we – consumers – have become used to black boxed products. Things seem to work ‘magically’, we are not confronted by the complexity of technology. As time progresses, our black boxes become larger and more opaque. Also, the edges of our black boxes become blurred. I was truly inspired when Tobias mentioned these blurred edges, it gives me an excellent visual methaphor to frame some of my own thinking a lot better.

When Iohanna took the stage, I laughed wholeheartedly when seeing the movies she made together with The Incredible Machine once again. It was a pity not that many people seemed to get the joke, I strongly suggest you watch the movies again in your own time. I love them because of their super critical stance and their high concentration of subtle humour.

Iohanna’s ‘objects that withdraw‘ was probably the project that resonated with me mostly this ThingsCon edition. In this project, generative design is explored from the thing point of view. By adding some parameters to the model of an object, each time that object is produced it will be a little different. By doing so, things ‘hide’ themselves from digital surveillance systems. I like this project, because it totally stretches my frame of reference on mass customisation and digital fabrication. In Iohanna’s work, the goal is to hide from surveillance systems – but I could also imagine that based on a set of variables objects could themselves decide to aesthetically change their appearance in order to better blend in with the location they are used in. For instance, a mug printed in Pune (IN) might look totally different compared to a mug printed in Lyon (FR). However, the foundation of the 3D file needed to print the mug might be the same. (This starts to sound like Bruce Sterling’s spimes on steroids).

IdeasOfThings.eu

Besides all that, it was very nice to unleash www.ideasofthings.eu upon the thingscon horde. This has been a strand of thought in the heads of myself, Ricardo and Simone for many months. Finally I went ahead and put in the time to create a quick bit of online presence. Seems to be have been well received, and we’ll keep on expanding on this in between other things.

We launched ideasofthings as part of our workshop “battle of the IoT cards” in which Simone Mora and myself introduced participants to several IoT ideation tools. The goal of the workshop was to have a critical conversation on the values of each of these tools. I very much enjoyed this, it has been a topic I’ve been working on for years – so taking a reflective stance felt very good.

Snapshot of the tools that were up for battle during the workshop.

Next

Arriving home from a conference like this always gives me mixed feelings. You feel super energised, but as always, the challenge is to keep the vibe alive when going back to business as usual. This time there are some promising plans in the pipeline, one of them related to the ideasofthings.eu initiative – in which we want to get together with a small group of people to dissect the ‘ideation for IoT’ theme better. Secondly, Rob Van Kranenburg introduced a relevant EU funding source. I very much want to get people together and set up collaborative projects.

If I can achieve some steps in making those two elements reality by next year, I’ll be more than happy.

#ThingsConAMS – Marcel Schouwenaar:

“A lot of people involved in developing, applying or teaching about technology experience an unease with the status quo in how we apply technology in practice.

A critical element is that lots of business models, financial and political structures around technology aren’t working in the interest of individual people.

It is, however, nothing about the technology that makes it disadvantageous for society. The problem lies in the way that technology is being applied.”

Things to check after Thingscon, which I didn’t get the chance to check during the conference:

About commitment and accountability

by Dries De Roeck on October 23, 2017

After talking to several people in different industries and after being involved in the organisation of a couple of events in the past year, I figured it was time to jot down some thoughts on what I’ve been noticing in social circles around me with regard to taking up responsibility and commitment.

I think one of the first messages in the social media bubble that got me thinking consciously about this was by Lucy Morris:

In recent months I was involved in setting up a chibelgium.be event and I had the ambition of hosting a thingscon event tomorrow (which I cancelled today…). It was the organisation of these events which taught me a lot about how social ‘standards’ seem to change. With this ranty bit of text, I have the intention to stand up and ‘do my part’.

The poison called “I’m interested”

Call it whatever you want, FOMO, keeping options open, … it seems to be the social default to not commit to anything. What happened to genuine interest? What’s up with the extreme cases of ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude?

It disgusts me to see so-called “successful” meetup events ending up having over 50% of no-shows because people do not treat the RSVP button with respect. I can get evenly agitated by ‘if need be’ meeting polls, they seem to be nice at first – but to me they’re often just ways of brining a “negative” message wrapped in a wrapper of vagueness.

The odd thing is that I often catch myself posing the same kind of behaviour. Our online presences are making it so easy to hide behind ‘read receipts’, ‘I’m interested, keep me informed’ buttons. I try to be very cautious about communicating clearly if I can be at an event, a meeting or whether I’m willing to contribute and what the content of that contribution will be. But it requires conscious attention.

“Not being accountable”

In a WNYC interview with Esther Perel, the roots of the issue I’m trying to touch upon are being talked about in a crystal clear way. Our current ways of communication are making it easy to put on our capes of invisibility, and phase in and out of social interaction when it seems fit, whenever our own personal interests or needs are high enough to interact with others.

When organising something, you openly take up accountability for doing something. What I notice is that the act of doing that is heavily under respected. Our social default is to nag at how everything could have been better or different, but when asked to suggest or commit to improving something … the capes of vagueness get shrouded quickly.

As a sidenote, it should also be mentioned that our online social circles are bound to make interactions very complex too. I do find myself juggling with thoughts such as:

  • “yes that looks super interesting, but I just can’t be away from my family more than one, max two evenings a week” aka ‘real life’ versus ‘online life’
  • “I would really like to participate in this event, but doing so I’ll probably be pushing back work on projects that pay my bills” aka redefining how we should approach growth

Whatever the situation, however, getting a “full yes” or a “clear no” is worth so much more than a vague … maybe / I’m not sure.

It’s not just about events

What I hear from others, and what I experience in my own professional work is that engaging in conscious social interaction – taking into account something that goes beyond the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude seems to be the exception to the rule. (Louisa has some excellent thoughts on ‘growth’ by the way)

I hope that we can somehow start to turn this around, and all together escape from the shallow version of social interaction through likes, retweets and double blue tick marks. At least, I will keep reminding myself to refrain from doing that.

</rant>

 

Videos that shaped my thinking

by Dries De Roeck on October 18, 2017

After some recent talk on the state of technology anno 2017, I started thinking about some key cornerstones that I keep referring to in my head when I’m reflecting on designing with technology. Below are a couple of video’s other great people made, that are permanently baked into my brain. I thought it would be nice to share this small compilation:

Note: I’m probably mission out a lot of stuff, feel free to comment with other things that should be here!

Magnetic Movie (2007) : visualising the invisible. The quality of this video was and is rather remarkable. (https://vimeo.com/1166968)

Nearness (2009)¬†: I don’t know how many times I watched this. There’s so much in this, and yet it seems so simple. Timo Arnall & Matt Jones did quite a bit of work on related topics around the same time which is worth checking out. (https://vimeo.com/6588461)

Aurora (2008) : When it comes to interface design, I think the basal concept of aurora is still spot on. (https://vimeo.com/1347289)

Platform5 (2010) : Visualising data in a way that it is hidden to people, but at the same time making it super relevant for everyone. (https://vimeo.com/173049735)

Clocks for Robots (2011) : I wasn’t sure what to pick from the BERG archive, decided on this one because when re-watching it my head was still triggered. (https://vimeo.com/29326177)

Curious rituals (2012) : One of the few design fiction movies that manages to truly blend in with the mundane everyday life. (https://vimeo.com/92328805)

Uninvited guests (2015) : Extremely relevant design fiction piece, which always reminds me that we should be very aware of people and context when designing digitally connected products. (https://vimeo.com/128873380)

Silence shapes (2010 – 2013) : I could watch this for hours. What I like about it is that most of the landscapes are really ‘default’, being invaded by temporal clouds of something ‘alien’. (https://vimeo.com/53665035)

Hello lamp post (2013) : One of the better examples showing how physical and digital can be mixed together. (https://vimeo.com/67889287)

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 : http://roeckoe.be/nextgenalchemy/

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?

or

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.

 Accepting.

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¬†$‚ā¨¬£¬• 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.

Tl;dr

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 (16,¬†15, 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 Beyond.io 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.