Makers gonna make! #teamscheire

by Dries De Roeck on November 19, 2018

This post was written as a draft, to eject some thoughts. It is prone to have plenty of language errors, unclear sentences or very ‘dutch’ type of english sentences.

Recently the public broadcaster in Belgium launched a new show, #teamscheire. For those that haven’t been able to make the time to watch an episode, it is about a group of ‘makers’ who solve specific problems or issues for everyday people.
Watching the show has made me think, a lot, about maker culture and its relation to engineering and design. About our society driven by the glorification of the capitalistic belief. About personalisation and the influence of data driven systems. About emotions. About skills in local communities.

In this brief post I want to touch on a couple of these topics, which is mostly part of my ever ongoing journey and interest in being involved in maker culture in general.
Before diving it, let’s be clear about one thing, I love this show. This is not written as a critique on the TV show itself, but more about some elements this show triggered in my brain. Some of the discussions I had with people about the show triggered quite a lot, I will do my very best to write this as constructive as possible. Don’t complain, suggest what’s better. Or as the romans would have said Noli Queri, Suade Melius.

Issue one: market value

When I watch #teamscheire, I do so primarily becuase I love to create things. Sometimes these things have no use at all, but the act of creating is something that I like to do. I keep coming back to an old Yoko Ono quote, all the time:
“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.”
Over the past weeks, I had several chats with people who talk about the work and projects part of #teamscheire as ‘hobbyist creations’ (‘knutselaars’ in Dutch). What vigourously agites me when people use that wording is the implicit assumption that ‘maker’ projects are inferior to ‘industrially produced’ projects. A typical element that pops up in dicussions which focus around this is the hunt for the greater goal. ‘WHY’ would you even spend time on making this, ‘WHAT’ do you get out of it and ‘HOW’ big is the market for this? Typically my point of view in this kind of discussions is that I don’t care about how much revenue such a project might bring – I think it is important to show a larger slice of society that we _are_ able to solve problems ourselves without the need for venture capital, stock markets or dollar signs. Just enthousiastic people willing to help out for the greater good.

Issue two: it has been done

Another quite common type of discussion is the ‘but it has been done’ type of discussion. Probably all projects shown on the #teamscheire show have been done, explored or tried out by others somewhere. A friend of mine, Lieven De Couvreur, has been running design classes since 2009 about creating and documenting personalised ‘solutions’ to very specific problems. This is the perfect example to show how important deep personalisation is, and that perhaps something can look like it has been done – whereas we might miss a small change which makes it a totally different product for a particular person.
So when someone says it has been done, I think that should be regarded as a compliment and it should trigger collaboration, not triggering to notoriously build walled gardens to “protect” intellectual property. That being said, I find it a pity #teamscheire seems exclusively linked to the University of Antwerp and imec when it comes to the involvement of educational and academic institutions.

Issue three: communities

Core to a lot of thoughts this tv show has evoked is showing what local communities can mean for each other. We ‘the people’ can solve so many of our own problems, which we somehow expect organisations or companies to solve through commercial services or products. And if you look around, you often don’t have to look too far. A farmer living nearby who turns out to be a master in welding or a neighbour across the street who is a hero in repairing clothes, a friend who can write software. For sure, the solutions made or ‘crafted’ by our local networks will never work instantly ‘out of the box’. As the #teamscheire show shows very well, iteration and testing are critical to making things. Additionally, this assumes there is a local community or network, which is in many cases does not extend beyond our front doors.

What I actually want to say:

  • I want to see more projects led by enthousiasm instead of money
  • I don’t think every solution should be generalised in order for it to be marketed or marketable
  • I do think creating solutions that can be personalised or adjusted are interesting
  • I believe we should all keep attempting to create resilient local communities, although I have no clue how to actually do that
  • It feels good to watch #teamscheire and be part of, what sometimes feels like, a hippie anno 2018 movement

#IOTMARK London

by Dries De Roeck on July 17, 2018

For some reason I forgot to actually copy this post from my writing notes to the blog. Woops, but still relevant I think.

I’m writing this on the train back home after a day of chatting, reflecting and working on the #IOTMARK initiative. For those not familiar, IOTMARK emerged out of the open IoT definition which was initiated in 2012 by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque.

Exactly one year ago, the open IoT definition was revisited with the goal to explore the interest and format to create a certification mark or trustmark for IoT product from the bottom up.

Today, June 13th 2018

Alex put in a lot of energy in hosting today’s IOTMARK event. And although I came in rather unprepared, I did take the time to review the last version of the 33 principles that were defined based on previous meetings online and offline with a very diverse range of people. After revisiting the topics and statements and meeting some new and old friends, old and new conversations were revisited and held around the topics.
I believe that right after lunch, Alex dropped ‘the bomb’ – to me this was today’s slap in the face many of us needed.
Paraphrasing Alex :

“IOTMARK is not another manifesto but _must_ go further. Crystallising assessment criteria is essential and critical.”

At least, it made me think about IOTMARK in a different – more profound – way. Most of us, including myself, are very good at ranting about how things should be and what ought to be done. In the final hours of today’s event, we collectively focussed on defining actionable assessment criteria to tackle each of the IOTMARK principles. Because there were quite a few of us there that have been involved in the IOTMARK process for some time now, it was possible to land on some assessment criteria – also for the though points.

Are we there yet?

No, not at all. I’m not even sure if we’ll ever get ‘there’. All I can say is that it was nice to experience how hazy thoughts did start to crystallise into actionable components. Over the next few months, I very much believe today’s event laid a good foundation to further construct the format and structure of the trust/certification mark.

But Dries, aren’t other people or organisations doing this?

Quite a few to be honest. What is nice within the IOTMARK working group is that almost everyone involved has a link to ‘doing IoT’ in the field. Therefore it is a very bottom up activity, which actively reaches out to other related activities.

An important one of such activities is Peter Bihr’s work with Mozilla on a trustmark for IoT, alongside other projects around the world.
So let it be clear that a lot is moving in this space, but I can safely say that the space is by no means competitive (yet?). Everyone involved is looking for complementarity, coming in from diverse angles.

But Dries, it is not resulting in anything.

When I talk to people around me, the above is a common thought that surfaces. From my point of view, however, it results in a lot of things. Investing my time in gatherings like this are investments in the process.

And although there may never be an actual, enforceable, IoT mark, it is about contributing, being present and showing up. The topic of responsible IoT is close to my heart, and however cheesy that may sound, I’m willing to push back other work because of it. #sorrynotsorry

Today was another reminder to believe in process, and hold back on trying to identify outcomes or results upfront. I’m sure they will emerge and right now I want to contribute where I can.

I believe you should too, if you personally and truly care about how internet connected products are impacting our society.

About doing research in a design context…

by Dries De Roeck on July 17, 2018

Disclaimer: I never thought I would write the post you’re about to read. I still don’t feel confident to engage in this debate or discussion. Nevertheless it has been on my mind for way too long, so I might as well give it a go …

This is a reply/follow up post to a somewhat aged twitter conversation earlier this year. I guess I’m now finally taking or finding the time to write down some reflections of mine around the topic of ‘design research’ and the relevancy of ‘focus groups’.

This all started with two (linked) medium posts by Mule Design studio:

I recall that I was very triggered, and perhaps a little offended, by the way @bosmet shared the article initially. It was nice to see @davidgeerts join the conversation, adding some comments from his perspective too. Do note, I ever experienced these comments as a problem in any way, Bo and David are just very good at asking critical questions that have seriously forced me to adjust my own thinking before.

The spark – summarised

First of all, the posts that sparked these conversations are not new at all, they date back to 2014 and 2016 respectively. The points made are, however, discussion topics that surface every so often in design projects – both between colleagues and between clients.

Core to the posts by Mule Design is stressing to conduct user or stakeholder research activities in context. By putting people together in an office meeting room and having them talk to each other about a topic won’t get you anywhere. In the periphery, some critisism is expressed towards doing research in a design setting. We should be wary of not doing research for the sake of research, but always have the larger picture in mind. The point is made that, in fact, we shouldn’t be questioning the ‘relevancy’ of doing research in a design context – as it should in fact be an integral part of it by default.

Some thoughts

Before ranting on, let’s be clear about one thing. I very much believe people in design and development should be talking and immersing themselves in the context of their users or related stakeholders as much as possible. And I would argue that any kind of contact with stakeholders, whether it is on the street or in a sterile meeting room is better compared to no contact at all.

What probably troubles me mostly about the article that sparked the converstation on twitter and this little ranty post, is that it is easy to talk crap about a ‘method’ like focus groups, to talk crap about research and to glorify the greatness of the all inclusive design profession. I get very agitated when people tell me stories about talking to users and they didn’t get anything out of it. In my opinion, if your plan was to get anything out of it in the first place – you’re doing it wrong. The reason you’re engaging with stakeholders is to find inspiration, to look at something from another point of view or maybe just to have a good chat with someone you would otherwise never talk to. From that respect, a stakeholder involvement activity always results in something (thanks @jurgentanghe for this reflection).

Another something that troubles me is the obsession with labelling ‘activities’. When naming something ‘focus group’ the social scientist in the room might have a very different idea about compared to the engineer in the room. (imagine, a social scientist and an engineer in the same room – ohnoes </sarcasm>). To me, I (relatively) do not care if what you do is a focus group, a diary study, a cultural probe, a creative session, a questionnaire, an empathy building excersise, an interview, a structured interview, a prototype test, a usability test, a user experience test, a collaborative design session, or whatever label you like to use. Obviously it makes sense to have these labels in textbooks and stick to them in education and be able to link to them when writing up – for instance – an academic paper. People in design practice, however, should imo be able to bend and stretch these labels in order to fit a project context better.

The crux in all of this is when doing ‘research’ activities, people in design practice should primarily be concerned with knowing what they want to understand better, where the unknown issues lie, and then figure out in which way that knowledge can be uncovered. I think it is part of the design profession to be able to make that translation, to be creative in combining textbook examples of stakeholder involvement methods and by doing so moving towards a more informed design process.

I realise that I might have mixed up ‘research’ with ‘stakeholder involvement’ above. Obviously stakeholder invovlement is just one type of research in a design process. Nevertheless, I think in general the same points apply to any kind of research activity which takes place as part of the design process.

“Stakeholder involvement never got me anywhere, it’s time I could have spent on actually making stuff.”

If you expect user involvement activities to direct or guide the outcomes of your design process, I can accept and follow the above statement. I also believe that exactly that point is where a lot of issues are to be discussed. Involving stakeholders is about understanding contexts of use (as Frouke Sleeswijk Visser wrote about so many years ago), approach and view a situation from a different point of view and developing a different relation with the target audience(s) being addressed.

So, and this has been said by many others before as well, conciously thinking about research in a design process is something you either go all in on or don’t do it at all. If you keep questioning the value of doing a stakeholder involvement activity, or if the focus remains on what you might or might not get out of it, it might be better to just stop debating about it. Increasingly often, when this topic emerges in conversation, I choose to stop justifying. I increasingly think it’s a total waste of energy to try to convice people to conciously do research activities in a design process. Some years ago, I reworked the ‘believe in process‘ poster – which I think still covers the message to be told quite fully.

When not (conciously) doing user invovlement activities as part of the design process, chances are very real you’ll get to the same end result as if you would have done it. Chances are evenly real that, in the end, you did involve stakeholders and you did do research activities – you just didn’t experience them as a separate activity.

It’s all been said before, Dries. This has become a boring conversation. You’re just repeating and preaching to the choir.

Yes, that’s a large part of my frustration. The conversation on whether a focus group is valid or not is probably not the conversation we should be having anymore, but it does seem to come back every so often – so I guess it can be a good cornerstone to keep alive. In the May-June edition of interactions magazine, Jon Kolko wrote an article on that other elephant in the room ‘design thinking’. One of the better statements from that article that somewhat summarises my above ramblings:

To work this way, designers need humility. In a participatory, inclusive, and democratic environment, a designer can’t be construed as the “person with the answer.” Instead, they are a guide or facilitator, one helping apply a foreign creative process.

What I like about that quote, are the first four words of it. ‘To work this way’ tells me that this is not the only way to work. I think we should not expect people in design to work in a participatory way by default, we should not expect designers to be the ones with the lego bricks and the sticky notes, we should not expect designers to be the ones critisising line width or font choice.

Linking this back to the starting point of this post, I could conclude stating:

“When prejudices about what the expected outcome of a stakeholder involvement research acitivity are ditched – only then the research inclusive design process can start to shine.”

The one pixel display

by Dries De Roeck on July 14, 2018

This post is about one of those ideas that my mind keeps coming back to from time to time. Never took the time to try to make this real, but needed to jot it down – perhaps just for my own future reference.

The basic idea

This one pixel display is something super simple. As its name suggests, it’s a square pixel which can either be on or off. It does have an RGB led inside, so it can display different colours. Functionality wise, it has a lot in common with the thingm blink(1) device – which has been around for quite a while.The one pixel display can display notifications, but it focusses on information close to people. For instance, it can tap in to publicly available (open) data streams to show things like train delays, traffic congestion and weather forecast info. Also, a one pixel display can be used to monitor sensor data generated by other devices in the home environment. For example, doorbell pushes, open/closed state of doors and windows, garbage bins, presence of people, sound level, etc …

The design

The one pixel display is designed in such a way that its aesthetic is on par with a higher end media art piece. This means it is created to be placed in highly visible spaces in the house, such as a living room wall, fridge door or radiator front. It can be placed by itself, but also in clusters with other one pixel displays.

A one pixel display can only be linked to one data stream. Pixel displays are not intended to be linked together, although they could be technically designed to form a mesh network. Ideally, a one pixel display communicates data over a mobile network using a simcard and and an nb-iot connection. Inspired by the Particle mesh devices, there could be one pixel which acts as an uplink for any connected one pixel displays.

Meaning

Key to the one pixel display is the way in which people assign meaning to the device. Typically, the owner or people close to a one pixel display will be aware of what it signifies or indicates. For example, when the pixel on the fridge door turns blue it means we’ll be getting rain today. When the pixel next to it turns green, it means the rubbish bins are full and need to be taken out. A pixel on the living room wall could move through the colour spectrum based on the outdoor temperature.

Assigning meaning in this way is inspired by the type of interaction a product like the GoodNight lamp offers. There are no set rules for interaction or engagement nor is there are preset function or ‘best’ way to use the product. A very nice consequence of this is that a visitor or a person not familiar with the ruleset has no idea what is going on or what is being communicated. Ideally a visitor to the house would think the once pixed displays are a digital artpiece or interior design accessory.

What really triggers my brain when thinking about the one pixel display is exactly the shifting levels of meaning it offers. Playing with the boundary between knowledge or meaning in ‘close social circles’ versus ‘distant relations’ seems very interesting. It becomes a way of encyrpting messages or data socially without the involvement of a technological solution.

Issues

There are two main issues (or hurdles) that currently keep me from taking this project further. Firstly, energy provisioning seems very cumbersome. Having mesh network connected illuminating cubes will require some sort of ‘always on’ component which is most likely more battery hungry than expected. Allowing the pixel display to be charged could be one solution, but then again … does the product even make sense to charge? (I came to fully understand why blink(1) chose to go USB-power only)

Secondly, the whole system would need some kind of authoring environment or setup phase. Probably this would be a web based backend system of sorts, where all owned cubes could be managed. Again, this feels very complex to create compared to the potential benefit the envisioned product might deliver. Another option is to preload the one pixel displays with a certain functionality, but that would be totally against the idea of people assigning their own meaning to the device.

So, what’s the plan?

There is no plan, I sometime think this could be a nice crowdfunding project – but to be honest I’m very hesitant about having to provide a centralised digital service over time. Maybe a service like glitch could be interesting here, as I could see people hosting their own little server somewhere … then again, it makes the whole thing a lot more complex for the lay user of this. In case I ever get the time and opportunity to spend a couple of days coding side by side with a more experienced backend person – we could probably come up with a nice prototype.

BUT – In case anyone is triggered, feel free to reach out and explore this little idea further.

Related products

  • Domestic widgets: to some extend, this product does the same using motion instead of light. Using a phyiscal chance in the enviornment is even less attention seeking, which could imply that people not aware of it won’t even notice a thing.
  • GoodNightLamp: I’ve been a long time goodnightlamp fanboy, but in relation to the one pixel display, goodnightlamp already covers a fair bit the ‘meaning’ stuff I mentioned. There is no convention of how the product should be used, a lot of it is based on socially constructed ‘rules’. Turning a lamp on or off does not necessarily need to match 1:1 to a status of being present or away.
  • Siftables / Sifteo: Cubes with a display, they have been around for a while and offer the same possiblity. Seems like the company folded in 2014, which kind of highlights the inevitable ‘temporality’ of such devices.
  • Minut/Point: a home security system using audio as the prime sensor – it’s an interesting device because in a home environment is looks rather ambiguous. As a home owner you know the function of the device, but visitors probably have no clue.
  • Cube world: A set of cubes that can be connected together to form a digital ‘ecosystem’ of stick people living together. These are designed to communicate to each other, and become more interactive the more cubes are connected to each other.
  • Blink(1): Mentioned before, it’s interesting that they choose USB as a default – doing so the device overcomes some technological hurdles. At the same time it becomes ‘tied’ to a computer and is much harder to imagine in an actual home environment.
  • Busylight: Although I’m not entirely sure what I think about this product, functionality wise, it is an excellent example of an existing one pixel display. It’s a little odd that the product was created as a reaction to a social change (the open plan office).

Hey public broadcaster, internet should not be the default.

by Dries De Roeck on May 21, 2018

Over the weekend I heard that VRT, the belgian public broadcaster, is cancelling its DVB-t offering. That means it won’t be possible to receive free over the air television in Belgium. Although that I can understand the reasoning behind this, there are quite some issues that raise serious questions in my head.

Before moving on, the argument that VRT gives is that their online offering though VRT.NU is the way forward and replaces the DVB-t offering. The core issue I have with this relates to the prerequisite of “the internet” compared to being able to tune in to a free DVB-t signal.

Some thoughts …

  1. In the governmental agreement between the Flemish government and the public broadcaster (VRT) it is stated as one of the core values that that “VRT is for everyone”. By removing DVB-t I believe VRT makes their offering not necessarily more inclusive or ‘for everyone’. They now require people to have internet, make an account on their platform and have a device to access the internet.
  2. A counter argument to the above could be that public spaces like libraries offer free internet and computers for everyone to access. That for sure is true, but I believe there is a big difference between having access to the internet and having the internet available at the space you call home. My children watch quite some of the VRT children’s content, no way that such media can be consumed in a public space.
  3. No, it is not just seniors that don’t have internet access. I have been a crisis foster parent for over 3 years now, and I can very surely say that there are many ‘facades of wealth’ put up by people that hide extremely poignant stories and situations. In most of these situations, however, a TV screen is present – the internet … not necessarily. I could probably get some numbers on internet access in Belgium from somewhere, but I think it’s better to share my own story.
  4. Another something I considered is that everyone, across all slices of society has a smartphone or tablet. What they don’t have, and I see this around me all the time, is unlimited access to data. The smartphone might act as a status symbol, but I very much doubt that everyone has an unlimited data bundle. Large telco and broadband players are rolling out wifi solutions allover the country, 4G coverage is probably excellent in most places – but still, when my children stream a youtube video over 4G … my data bundle drains quickly.

My request or call to action to our public broadcaster is to help people in understanding that there is a freely accessible DVB-t offering instead of blaming it on the decreasing number of viewers for that platform. There is no way you can expect people to have permanent access to the internet anno 2018 to consume your content. TV screens are still omnipresent, legacy support is still essential. In the meantime, invest more in digital literacy to move people to other forms of media consumption. Do not rely on other television solution providers (broadband providers, telco’s or other related private companies).

Elon the day after.

by Dries De Roeck on February 7, 2018

Yesterday SpaceX launched their coveted falcon heavy rocket. I watched the show in my local hackerspace, totally nerding out with other nerds. It was fun, it was unbelievable – everyone was going crazy for science. The sight of the two side boosters landing simultaneously remains very surreal, and the idea of shooting a car to mars ‘just because’ is totally insane.

Today, the day after the launch, I’ve been reading and thinking about this a lot. Yesterday’s launch makes me euphoric AND troubled at the same time. For various reasons. I’m writing this post to explore this a little further and to question my own thinking in all of this.

Since I’ve seen a few people deleting some of their initial (euphoric) reactions on the launch – I guess there are more people out there who have started to question the whole thing.

//edit: In this post I intend to question things (mostly to myself), I do by no means aim to take a stance or make claims. I realise that I’m putting some things bluntly and cutting many corners. I do not intend to offend or point at anyone or anything.

//edit2: I initially called SpaceX a large organisation, but thanks to some comments received online and offline I realised that the point I want to make is that it is a privately owned company. So I changed that my stream of ‘questions to self’ below.

Reasons to be euphoric

Elon Musk makes us dream again.

The quote above forms the core of my reasoning there. If we let go of all critical thoughts or aversions agains flamethrowers and the like, all I could say when seeing that launch yesterday was “Holy F*ck”. It felt like I was watching a blue sky sci-fi show, we’re going to mars! Don’t panic and undust your hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy!

I’m not the first one to say our society has somewhat lost an ideal to strive for, together. Our society is so focussed on individualistion, closing front doors and curtains, switching on netflix and getting lost in the world of kudo’s and likes. Not that long ago I wrote a bit on accountability, which is something my mind keeps getting back to as well.

So I think the least we should value in the SpaceX launch is that it got people to dream. As I read somewhere else today:

What we witnessed yesterday was the internet generation’s equivalent of the moon landing, and that Roadster might well remain the totemic symbol of the achievement.

Reasons to be critical

To contrast the euphoria, the inevitable comments surfaced really quickly. Mostly along the lines of whether we shouldn’t care about our own planet first, focus on solving issues we have regarding climate change, famine, healthcare, human rights. At first I neglected those comments, but the more I came accross these types of reactions – it did get me thinking.

A very triggering something was that I found myself reading about ‘the future is now‘ – an exploration by The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to explore what the future of humanitarian aid can or should look like. Reading through the most excellent work, I realised that the whole ‘space race 2.0’ might get people to dream – but does it get them to dream in perspective to ‘humanity’ and the societal context we live in? I came to understand this is history allover again, we can send cars to mars – but we fail to chat to our nextdoor neighbour. We’re incapable of creating humane political structures, or acting responsibly related to environmental issues. I came to understand that, perhaps, SpaceX is operating in an old fashioned view on science and innovation where privately owned institues are required to thrive change. Perhaps ‘real’ change is to be found in a more grassroots oriented take on society, where we first focus on getting the basics of our socio-economic context right before we think about fleeing to another planet.

Dreaming

So while the idea of ‘making people dream again’ is something I value a lot, I have been wondering for the past hours how “the mainstream” can be involved in dreaming about issues that don’t get pushed to us.

In a world where everyone’s status is “maybe” or “interested” but fails to take actual commitment to do something without a direct monetary reward (cutting many corners here #sorrynotsorry) – I think I’ll keep on exploring the idea of getting people to dream in a better framed societal context. Whatever that might mean.

“At least we’re not complaining, there’s already plenty of salt in the sea.” — A.T.

“Don’t Complain…” is on Kickstarter /Make100!

by Dries De Roeck on January 23, 2018

After pondering on this for some time (months? years?) I’m so so happy to push out my very first crowdfunding thingy! I’m doing a second printrun of the “don’t complain, suggest what’s better” sticker. They will be available in a limited ‘gold’ edition, as well as the classic ‘black & white’ version. Additionally, there will be artist re-interpretations of the quote which will be high quality printed and made available as wallpapers.

All info and backing via: http://kck.st/2DZUreE


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 sé, 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: