Frontpage still haunts my mind and why that blocks me.

by Dries De Roeck on April 15, 2021

The idea for this post has been circling around in my head for many years. In fact, I saved the title of this post as draft in 2014 already. Many years later, I keep coming back to the way I struggle with making things for the web – so it felt like the time was ripe to actually write the post.

Remember Frontpage?

I must have been 14 or 15 years old when we had ‘the internet’ at home (1996-ish). At that time I lived in Scotland, and it was the first time I had direct access to a computer in my own room. Together with some friends at school who also had an internet connection at home, we’d make the most random websites using Microsoft’s FrontPage.
It was ‘the geocities’ era, we were doing Play By Email RPG’s and the internet was still young … we were all used to the ehoow sound of an ICQ message blaring through the Creative AWE64 Soundblaster and drooling at the Matrox Millenium graphics card we couldn’t afford.
But, back to Frontpage! This piece of software was a WYSIWYG editor, part of the MS Office suite … or it at least looked like an MS Office style program.

WYSIWYG

Frontpage had everything I needed including a visual overview of how pages are linked together. I even managed to play around with custom javascript stuff to make fancy dropdown menu’s. It also allowed me to change stuff directly in HTML and learn how it all worked under the hood. Ow yes, it had frames! I loved frames.

Then CSS came around

Because I kept using Frontpage, I never really had to bother with CSS … and to be honest I only learned about it very late. I was never really interested in the code or whether the code looked ok … to me the only goal of making something was the result. And Frontpage allowed me to exactly that.

Weaving dreams

After Frontpage, I moved on to building sites in Dreamweaver (image hotspots!) with some basic flash animations I used to make in Swish. Basically, I stuck with the visual editors and only peeked under the HTML/CSS hood to tweak or tune some things. The culmination of this bricolage was probably www.musicpromotions.be) which I created together with some friends. I can’t really recall how it all worked, but I remember it was a pain to maintain this site. I somehow figured out how to populate a database in the end … and had people submit entries.

The rise of the CMS

After doing some Dreamweaver things, I moved directly to building sites using Drupal and WordPress. Again, I kept relying heavily on the visual editor parts of these environments – mashing together adding and plugins to Frankenstein something together in the end. Because of all my web frankensteining, I did learn some basic HTML and CSS … but never really started that from scratch.

Frontpage haunts me

Whenever I picked up a course or a book to learn HTML/CSS properly, I usually didn’t get far in because I totally missed the visual feedback I was used to. I never started creating a website from code, but always from the visual ’end result’. Looking back, I totally regret I never learned to code from scratch and always had to rely on third party scripts, addons and plug-ins. My approach to web design has always pushed me in a seat where I would hack together some html code, and hope it would work. I never really developed the skill to debug things in code or make things look like I actually wanted them myself instead of relying on someone else’s plugin which I would tweak the colours of.

Static site generators

The past few years I started to poke around static site generators. In order to create something using a static site generator like Hugo, there is no other option than to start from code. There is no visual site overview, everything is ‘hidden’ in theme files and defined layouts.
Once again, I can use these things (ie. I recently created langzaam.be using a slightly customised Hugo theme) … but I never get round to really understanding what’s going on and how I can take full control of the thing I’m making.

Control

Looking back, I started making my first small sites in 1996-97 and over the years I developed a need for control and understanding of what I was actually doing. By the time I came to realise that, it felt like it was too late already since my brain’s blueprint of ‘making websites’ had already been defined by the Frontpage approach.
So here I am, wondering if I should just keep doing web bricolage or be more ambitious and force myself to be more fluent in code. I think I’ve been asking myself that question ever since I got my master’s degree in 2007.

Why is it blocking me?

There are several cases in which I have a small idea to make something on the web. I know that all building blocks exist and it should be feasible to create it. But, once that something becomes too ‘custom’ or too much outside of common plugin / addons for different web building frameworks, I just don’t manage to push forward and make it work. I think, in order to change that I need to start from the beginning and take a decent (probably very general) coding course.

For now, I’ll just bricolage on and when things get complex I’ll try to find some funding for people who are apt in writing custom code things.

Hi 21 bye 20

by Dries De Roeck on April 8, 2021

Whoops, almost half into the year again. But, since I always like writing these posts and reading them again after some time I wanted to do one for 2020 before I forgot all about it. This is something I started in 2011, the format changed over time but the idea remains the same : looking back and forward. (archive : 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019)
In general, 2020 won’t be forgotten quickly because of the bomb COVID-19 dropped. At the same time, this bomb allowed me to get work done I wouldn’t have been able to do in the way I did it.

Things that stuck with me looking back at 2020

Canned a PhD

Who would have thought, but it happened! I submitted my PhD during the first week of July 2020, had to make some administrative changes and re-submitted early August 2020. I then defended it on October 21st.
At the end of 2019, my friend Alex convinced me I should just get it over and done with and move on. Up until that conversation, I was about to abandon the whole PhD thing and let it go. Nevertheless, I spent a week with Alex in London early February (pre-covid still!) and assembled and wrote a first draft of the whole PhD manuscript. I submitted this to my commission, and by the time they read it COVID had struck already. The pandemic did allow me to take a break from my commercial project work and focus full time on my PhD. I managed to review, rewrite and can the whole thing in 5 months after yet again some though feedback rounds. But, somehow the stars aligned and a successful submission and evaluation happened! Thanks once more to everyone involved, before and behind the scenes. It has been a bumpy ride, but I’m so happy the ship managed to keep moving forward.

For those who care, the PhD thesis can be found here. In case you want, I’d be happy to have a chat about its contents or the process that led up to it.

Togetherness

To be honest, I experience the first months of the COVID pandemic as months of spending time together with the people I care for the most : my family. Our children were 7 and 9 when the pandemic hit, they did their schoolwork at home whilst I managed to do some time boxed PhD writing. My wife was also working from home during pre-set time blocks, which made it all very workable for us. I actually really enjoyed this lifestyle, and started dreaming of a fully remote job at some point in my life.

Moving back to Africa

It still feels like a miracle, but on November 12th 2020 we landed in Senegal again. Not sure how my wife managed to get all the paperwork done, but once again stars aligned and we managed to board the plane. At the moment I’m writing this, we’re still in Senegal. We’ve been here about 5 months now, and still have half a month to go. We’re moving back to Belgium on May 1st, with mixed feelings … but I’ll keep that story for a separate blogpost.
In a nutshell, our stay here has been challenging but also a once in a lifetime experience. We’re living together with a close Senegalese friend of ours, who has built a house for us (co-financed by us) during the second half of 2020. The house is super basic, but has been more than enough for us. Our children go to school here, my wife helps a European NGO who are active in the village (Mballing) and together we’re running a small scale chicken farm. I’ve also built a precious plastic shredder machine, as a way to reflect on what can be done about the plastic waste problem over here.

Things that worked out differently in 2020

Personal projects

I had the idea to put more time in working on personal projects, but once the opportunity came around to use the pandemic to finish my PhD all focus went to there. So unfortunately I didn’t really manage to work on other things. Meaningful Christmas lights aka Community Lights is still very high on this list, I did manage to pull out colour values out of a mysql database and push them to a Particle device … but did not get round to parsing the data and making the whole thing work.
Other personal projects include some keyboard building ideas, revamping my personal website, making my first PCB and experimenting with digital gardening.

Everything else?

In 2020 we all realised, I think or hope, most things worked out differently. Looking at this from my personal perspective, I was more than happy to be declared temporary unemployed regarding all commercial projects I was involved in. It took quite a change of mindset, but to be honest I really enjoyed it happened.

Things I want to do in 2021

Find funding

I still feel good looking back to the little ‘draw the internet’ project I did back in 2019. Ever since I’ve been looking around for finding some funding to do more little ideas like that one. But I hope to switch gears a little in the coming months and start looking around more actively, small scale fellowships or other ways to engage myself in doing independent research projects which can run besides my day job … or perhaps intertwine with it. Now that “that PhD” is over, I need to create a new play garden where my mind can wander off in all directions. If I can get this funded to cover costs for building things and travelling around, that would be very helpful. Let’s see what we can come up with.

Write a pictorial paper

For some time, I’ve had some ideas to write a pictorial paper for a large conference (CHI or DIS) … I had hoped to get to it during my stay in Senegal but the headspace and mindset wasn’t really there. The paper I have in mind reports on the ‘draw the internet’ experiment I did in 2019 – I’m still looking for the story arch (there are several). But I’ll just start writing and see where I end up.
As the same time, I realise this might be ‘paper procrastination’ as I could also turn another 3 chapters of my PhD into a paper too … in any case, I want to write and submit an academic conference paper to one of the larger venues this year. The reason being I enjoy taking part in the CHI/DIS community, and want to contribute actively … not just lurk in the back.

Prepare decent and inclusive content for Fri3d 2022

Because COVID the family friendly hacker camp Fri3d Camp which I co-organise didn’t take place in summer 2020. We’re now aiming for summer 2022. After giving it some thought, I’ll be leading the content programme again. Learning from previous years, I really hope we can once again bring a super diverse programme. Yet, I want to figure out how we can address a more diverse and inclusive crowd … as sometimes my issue with ‘hipster STEM/STEAM’ initiatives tends to be they always attract the same type of people. Ideally I’d like to see more non-tech savvy people there, who are not your average middle class white ICT worker. No idea how to make this reality, but I’ll try to figure something out along the road.

Reboot EU life

Keeping the most challenging one for last, we’re moving back to Belgium within a few weeks. At that moment, we’ll have spent 5 months and a half in Senegal. At the moment, we’re going back with mixed feelings … but we for sure realise our ‘life’ needs to continue in Europe, not in Africa.
After living in Senegal for 5 months, we realise it’s super hard (perhaps impossible?) to really integrate here. We had high hopes to mingle a lot with the local people, and somehow genuinely participate in everyday life here. This worked out to some extend, but also caused frustration. From a distance, life seems a lot simpler here … but the constant uncertainty about ‘basics’ makes life a lot harder (for me/us). With basics I refer to things such as ‘is the water reservoir still full’, ‘do we still have enough cash money’ or ‘will the schoolbus be on time or not’? For sure, mastering the local language (Wolof) is key to integrating more deeply. We only speak some basic words and sentences and rely on French for the rest. Not being able to speak in a nuanced way has led to several miscommunications with our friends here. Lastly, ’inverse racism’ really is a thing … although not very visible at first – as a European you are regarded as a walking bag of money. This implies that most conversations you have might seem friendly at first, but mostly result in some kind of question about money. Because of this, it’s (for us) very hard to develop trustable relationships with people and truly feel accepted for the persons we are – beyond the money that sits on our bank account.
That might all sound very negative, but I should be clear we really enjoyed spending 5 months in Senegal. It has been a super enriching experience, something which gave us the opportunity to learn more about our values as people and as a family. We all wonder what we’ll take home from this experience and how it will change our lives back home … the obvious risk is that we’ll just resume the life we had before, but I truly hope we’ll at least be critical about the way life happens ‘home’.

Playlist?

I usually do a top 5 tracks playlist at the end of these posts, but because of our stay in Senegal I haven’t been able to put something together yet. Will add it later on.

Bedankt om een mondmasker te dragen!

by Dries De Roeck on July 18, 2020

Bye 19, hi 20.

by Dries De Roeck on May 30, 2020

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me

Feeling Good (Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, 1964)

Although I can fully recall me writing my 2019 in review post last year, another year came and went. As I’ve been writing these yearly reports since 2011, I just needed to get this belated one out … it had been catching dust for way too long. And although the report is not where I would like it to be at, I’ll just push it out anyway.

Looking back, 2019 a lot changed. Not so much on the visible side of things, but more on the internal side – both personally and in my close family. I’ll try to unwrap some aspects of this further down, the short version is that I’ve developed a better sense of taking care of myself and caring less about external factors. It’s all very much in development, and I hope to keep up a healthy consciousness of my personal agency throughout the years to come.

Things that stuck with me looking back at 2019

Senegal

At the beginning of 2019 our family moved to Senegal, Africa, for 3 months. I took 50% parental leave and worked on my PhD writing for the other 50% (as well as some small projects I could follow up from abroad). It was the first time anyone of my household spent time in Africa, and looking back I’m so glad we did it.
Our three months stay allowed us to truly get to know the local culture and develop a little less-than-superficial relationships with people. The worldview of our family has changed rather dramatically afterwards, which has once again taught is that life is all about social contacts with people close to you. All the rest is replaceable and, when put into perspective, extremely irrelevant.
There is so much more to be said about this, our full diary is still up at https://social.roeckoe.be/@HelloSenegal – the visual diary has been taken offline for now, but I’m more than happy to share pictures on request.

Draw the internet

Early last year, I got children aged 6 tot 12 in both Belgium and Senegal to make drawings of the internet. The goal was to have the future generation draw the internet in order to ultimately broaden views on what the future of the internet is or could be. I submitted a proposal to do this project in a rather impulsive way, and was really excited I managed to get some funding for it from NESTA. I very much enjoy the result and perhaps I’ll continue the project in a second iteration or other incarnation of the subject matter. What I liked about it most is that it made me realise people in Senegal relate to digital connectivity in a totally different way. These insights (which I mention in the full report) made me want to explore this topic more at some point in the future.

CCCamp

In August I spent about 5 days in a parallel world. It’s hard to describe what CCCamp actually is, but it includes technology, technology, nerds, science, Rob leds, education, community and broad spectrum exploration. Together with 6000 other people, I stayed on a massive campground north of Berlin with some of the Open Garage Hackerspace / Fri3d Camp crew. I’ve never seen anything like it, I learned a lot and genuinely had a good time amongst people who respect each other. I even got the chance to give a short talk during the lightning talks section, still rather psyched about that little feat.

DIS2019 & academia

During my stay in Senegal, I did manage to successfully submit a work in progress paper to the DIS conference. As an outsider it might not feel like much, but after the often harsh comments I got on my research, getting some confirmation from peers was very heartwarming. The DIS crowd was great, and I somehow hope to be back at a future occasion.

Religion

I never thought I’d be writing something about religion, but it has been something that has keeping me more busy than before. The seed for this was laid in Senegal, where religion is a part of life. Most interesting, Muslims and Christians live together in harmony, they participate in each other’s religious feasts and share burial grounds. When we returned home after three months, our oldest daughter decided for herself she had been learning about Jesus and the Christian bible for a while now. She now wanted to explore Islam.
After some talking and considering, my wife and I decided it only made sense to explore different religions at school. Also, at our school in Belgium, parents are asked to reconfirm which religion their children get taught at school. So, to everyone’s surprise, our daughter switched to Islam at the beginning of the school year. It was, and still is, very controversial when talking to people. Then again, our children are not baptised or ‘linked’ to any religion.
As parents, we hereby made the conscious choice to offer various religions. All this together led to being more involved with and interested in religion all together. Not that much from a personal belief, but more from a cultural and social perspective. For instance, I never knew there were so many similarities between the Bible and the Koran. Exploring these stories from a distance and being able to put them in another perspective is super interesting, it is often a basis for good discussion in our family which I hope to keep doing.

Things that worked out differently in 2019

That PhD

I had initially set out to finish the PhD work in Q4 of 2019. While I really tried to get myself motivated to do so, it turned out to be really hard to do so. To this date, I still don’t know the real reason why I didn’t manage to push myself forward … I have for sure been going through a mental battle with myself when we returned from Senegal. I had planned, and hoped, to do way more writing over there – but I only managed to crunch on one (crucial and difficult) chapter and write one work-in-progress paper. In the final months of 2019 I did manage to put together a very clear overview of what I wanted to write and how all elements would fit together.
But combining that with commercial projects ongoing and refusing to give up on family time did seem to take much longer than I thought/hoped. The relationship with my supervisors didn’t exactly get better either, but I take full responsibility for setting false expectations – something I shouldn’t have done in the first place. Right now I have most text which I want to submit, but the whole process of reviewing and re-reviewing the review is drawing so much mental energy. Every week I have moments that I’d rather just quit everything and go work in my local supermarket where I could at least make myself useful. I think it was on my list as well last year, but the little voice inside my head just needs to go. My mind gets salty very quickly these days, and I suspect the PhD and all aspects surrounding it is the main source of salt. Whatever happens, I will publish whatever text I have in the months to come. If they lead to a PhD it’s for the better, if not, at least I’ll have filled up a GitHub repository with text.

Meaningful xmas lights 2.0

Ah my old friend, meaningful xmas lights! I wanted to make a version in which I’d give out tokens to people living in my street so they could all control their own set of lights through a web interface (eg. chosing colours, animation pattern,…). All pieces of the puzzle were in place to make this happen, I even got some help from someone who lives nearby in setting up a database to store colour values and assign
But, then December came … and no lights were there. My energy level was super low and I didn’t manage to put in the hours I should have been putting in. I could also blame myself for investing too much time in World of Warcraft Classic, which launched in August 2019 – it for sure had a role to play in all this. Still, one day I’ll make these lights, maybe sooner than later!

Things I want to do in 2020

Do meaningful & personal work

I want to start paving a path which focuses more on what I want to do myself, independent from external sources. This is totally triggered by the work I was able to do on the ‘draw the internet’ project, which allowed me to do paid work in an area I find super interesting. And however short, this little project showed me how ‘business’ can be done differently – where personal learning is high and all people involved were constructive and supportive. No need to constantly justify and explain myself and each action I take towards others, which is what really drains me from all kinds of energy.

Care less & care more #degrowth

Very much linked to the above, I want to figure out how I can make the ideas behing degrowth work for me and embed them in what I do. In my current thinking it means I need to figure out how to keep having a steady source of income to pay monthly costs, whilst being able to secure enough time to do explorative work that keeps my mind ticking.
Or maybe I just want to learn more about degrowth, but I do feel it hold so much value which fully aligns with the way my own personal values have been evolving.

Revisit Africa

I really hope we can revisit our friends in Senegal later this year. Our plan is, still, to leave around November and stay for at least four months. Ideally, this will be after I completed, in whatever way, my phd work. I hope I can still find a project to focus on during my time there, I have some ideas brewing … but nothing defined yet. Keywords are learning, unlearning, making, internet connected, computing, decolonisation.

But but covid?

When I initially wrote the draft for this post, the covid pandemic wasn’t on the horizon yet. But since I’m only posting this now, almost 6 months into the year, it makes sense to at least say something about it. There are three tings I currently heavily react to, things which I have a different idea about or strike a nerve. I wrote some other things about covid on this blog, fwiw find them here and here.

There is no normal

Whenever I hear the word “normalisation” I tend to get very nervous. I really wonder why many people around me want to go back to what they were used to before covid. Things will never be the same, it’s time to construct a new frame of reference, no-one knows what there is to come … so craving how things were is just useless. Please stop using the word ’normal’ or ’normalisation’.

Harmony

I’d be lying if I were to say my family had no issues in making the switch to ‘covidlife’. We had some issues finding our balance, but once found I find it super nice to just live in harmony with each other. I must say I was a little sad when I heard my daughters would need to go back to school. I’ve been enjoying working side by side every morning. My daughters doing their schoolwork and myself catching up with smaller work things. Being present and responsible while remaining respectful, it’s a challenge … just like parenting is a challenge or keeping a relationship afloat is.

Uncertainty

Covid pushed everyone into uncertainty. It made me realise I actually like uncertainty … not being able to plan ahead forces you to live from day to day. There are no rules to follow, and everyone is doing the best they can to help out wherever they can. Today I listened to the p/reflections podcast, in which coping with uncertainty was highlighted as one of the main challenges to tackle. I think ever since I became a parent, I started being conscious about uncertainty … raising a child might be the most uncertain thing I’ve ever done. Maybe foster parenting even upped my level of coping with uncertainty whilst trying to remain present at the same time.

#postcoronapost

by Dries De Roeck on May 28, 2020

What is this?

Foresight Ghent launched an initiative to write letters to the future, insipred by what people see around themselves during the 2020 Corona crisis. My contribution below, written in Dutch.

Brief aan de 2040 versie van mezelf.

Kontich, 18 Mei 2020

Dag Dries,

18 mei 2040, je bent nu bijna 57 jaar. Dat is, op drie jaar na, zo oud als je eigen vader tijdens de Corona periode in 2020. Breng je, net als hem, op zondag ook pistolets en koffiekoeken naar je dochters? Doe je nog altijd de afwas met de hand? Plant je nog steeds patatten in je voorhof en kweek je ook nog kuikens in de veranda?

Als je deze brief leeft, wil ik vooral stilstaan bij drie dingen waar je in 2020 voor hoopte. Want als er één ding centraal stond in de coronacrisis voor jou in 2020 dan was dat de onnoemelijk hoge kracht van “hoop”.

Hoop 1/ humane niet technologie-dominante technologie
Wat ik hoop is dat je een manier gevonden hebt om alle technologie dominante ontwikkelingen in vraag te kunnen blijven stellen. De mensen rondom jou noemde de manier waarop je met technologie omging in 2020 ‘potato life’, omdat je weigerde je hardware te updaten en halsstarrig een Raspberry Pi gebaseerde computer voor je dochters wou bouwen. Maar, ik hoop, dat dit de start was van een zoektocht om op een onzichtbare, geïntegreerde, manier samen te werken met technologie!

Hoop 2/ persoonlijke keuze
Het beseffen dat je als persoon altijd een keuze hebt, los van eender welke externe factor is iets wat ik hoop dat je verder hebt kunnen laten rijpen in je hoofd en zich heeft kunnen ontwikkelen in een levensstijl waarin je zelf de touwtjes in handen hebt zonder dat je volledig afhankelijk bent van een een externe organisatie. Het leek alvast dat grote bedrijven zoals google en apple zich anders begonnen te gedragen tijdens de coronacrisis in 2020, de manier waarop de ontwikkeling van de ‘contact tracing app’ gebeurde leek je te mooi om waar te zijn. Ik hoop van harte dat deze tendens zich heeft verdergezet, dat het mogelijk is om data te delen tussen verschillende platformen zonder je eigenheid te verliezen.

Hoop 3/ nieuwe waarde en waarden
Mogelijks het meest utopische wat je in 2020 voor ogen had was dat er een evolutie in gang wordt gezet om anders naar waarde te kijken. ‘Degrowth’ in plaats van een constante focus op groei, het maken van oplossingen die minder efficient zijn dan hun voorgangers … maar misschien beter aanleunen bij de manier waarop mensen ze willen gebruiken. Geld laten circuleren, lokaal met microtransacties om op die manier mensen lokaal tot actie aan te zetten. Het lijkt een mooie toekomst, maar in 2020 was je vooral gefrustreerd dat iedereen zo snel wil teruggrijpen naar wat ze kennen. Toch hoop ik dat de samenleving beseft dat de ‘rat race’ niet de weg is die ons allemaal vooruit brengt.

Samenvattend, veel mooie woorden en hoop voor 2040 dus. Ik hoop vooral dat je niet bij de pakken bent blijven zitten en niet me je voeten hebt laten rammelen.
— Groeten van Dries uit 2020.

PS: mocht alles toch misgelopen zijn – vergeet dan niet dat je nog 2,5 Ether en 1,5 Litecoin hebt staan. Wie weet kan je daar nog een brood voor morgenvroeg mee kopen.

Human After All

by Dries De Roeck on April 19, 2020

Last week, Jürgen asked on LinkedIn (a platform with which I have a serious love hate relationship) what we hope and fear after 4 weeks of Corona. I somehow managed to formulate a reply to this in Dutch, which I have read over and over again and wonder how I managed to consolidate a serious chunk of my thinking of the past 2 years in these paragraphs.

Today I read a piece by Cennydd Bowles, author of ‘Future Ethics’, which touches upon many related items. I realised it would make sense to copy my ramblings off LinkedIn and save them here.

Here goes, my original reply in Dutch first and translated to English after.

(I recently got called out for writing poor English, doing what I can /shrug)

What I hope and fear after corona

Ik hoop dat mensen beter beseffen dat wat hun persoonlijke keuzevrijheid een effectieve impact kan hebben. Dat het aan individuen is om actie te nemen, en niet te blijven wachten op Godot om dingen in gang te steken. Het is in deze periode van ‘gedwongen contemplatie’ dat we quasi verplicht worden om bij onze eigen waarden stil te staan, los van instituten of organisaties.

I hope people will be more concious about their personal agency, that they can as people have genuine impact. It will be up to to individuals to take action, things won’t happen by waiting for Godot to kickstart stuff. In this period of ‘forced contemplation’ we hardly have any other option than to reflect about our own values independent of institutes or organisations.

Ik vrees dat we binnen een paar maanden terugkeren naar een default modus, en vaak gaan horen dat het ‘toch beter is zo’. Dat alle hoopgevende initiatieven die de afgelopen weken zijn opgedoken gaan worden toegedekt met de mantel der liefde en niet naar échte waarde geschat worden. Ik vrees dat we geen stap verder zijn gekomen, desontdanks de luide kreun van de samenleving, om op een andere manier over groei te denken.

I fear we’ll just revert to a default mode within a few months and we’ll hear people all around stating that “things are better like they were”. All hope providing initiatives we see bubbling up right now will be covered up with the cloak of charity and we will fail to recognise their true value. I fear we won’t have made any step forward, despite the loud moan of our society, to think about growth in another way.

Ik hoop dat we allemaal beseffen dat we nu kunnen proeven van een alternatieve toekomst, waar minder conventionele normen en waarden naar voor geschoven worden. Voor sommigen zal die beter bevallen dan voor anderen, afhankelijk van een resem factoren. Het is nu de moment om daar op zijn minst even bij stil te staan als persoon, als organisatie.

I hope we all realise we’re tasting an alternative present right now, where less conventional norms and values are put forward. For some of us these will resonate, for others they won’t – there’s a bunch of factors that influence this. At least, now is the time to take a moment and reflect on this as a person, as an organisation.

Ik hoop, tot slot, dat we post-corona op z’n minst voldoende voorbeelden hebben om aan te tonen dat dingen wél anders kunnen. Dat de bakker om de hoek wél creatief is, dat mijn buurt wél zorgt voor elkaar. Human after all.

To conclude, I hope we’ll have plenty of examples post-corona to illustrate things can be done differently. The bakery around the corner is a creative business owner after all, our neighbourhoods do seem to care for each other after all. Human, after all.

Stay the F home

by Dries De Roeck on March 12, 2020

I posted this as an impuslive post in LinkedIn, just copy pasting it here for future reference. Unsure why I posted it on LinkedIn actually, but I think it was something to do with the hidden slap in the face to capitalism at the end of the message.

An interesting observation. When the Belgian health minister states [translated] ‘stay the fuck home’ it turns into a joke (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Idc2mkS-QLk). However, when a grassroots initiative states ‘stay the fuck home’ the message powerfully resonates in online communities (staythefuckhome.com).

I wonder what mechanisms are at play here, for sure it has to do with who brings the message and what is in each context percieved as ‘acceptable’ language. Online community mechanics versus top down dominance.
Additionally, staythefuckhome.com manages to deliver a well argumented message in a very clear way. The choice of words is used to provoke, but they immediatley show there is reasoning and deeper thinking behind it (basically clickbait, but in a good way?).

All in all, it did get me thinking about how the initial momentum created by the Belgian minister could have been used differently. Unfortunately, the blijfinuwkot [dot] be domain has meanwhile been claimed by capitalist thinkers … which is a shame and a missed opportunity.

My thing with gaming

by Dries De Roeck on December 10, 2019

I’m writing this while being partially ill. Although I’m supposed to be writing up my PhD, I tend to be coughing and blowing my nose more than hitting keys on my keyboard. So I’m briefly writing up some thoughts about games and gaming, which requires a little less mental effort compared to writing academic articles … it seems to be more compatible with my mucus filled sinuses at the moment. </justification>

So, what is the deal with games and gaming? I think this post will be an interlude to a longer piece on the adoption of e-sports which I’ve been crunching on for a while. Recently I’ve been experiencing some odd issues about the perception of gaming in my social circles. There are 3 things I’d like to touch upon:

  1. The word ‘game’
  2. The social aspect of gaming
  3. Games and story

1.

First of all, I love games. I love boardgames, computer games, outdoor games, … anything really. Over the last months, it struck me how culturally loaded the word ‘game’, ‘games’ or ‘gaming’ is in Belgium. Over here, we mostly use the word ‘game’ to talk about a digital game. This can be a PC game or a console game. When we talk about a non-digital game, like an outdoor game or a boardgame, people are more likely to use the Dutch word for game (spel, bordspel). This quickly leads to assumptions that ‘games’ are things for nerds, mindlessly hitting buttons on controllers deep into the night. I always feel like I need to justify for playing computer games, often resulting in very awkward discussions. I’m sure that people like Ian Bogost or Bob De Schutter have plenty of research to back this up. We should stop assuming that games are linked to nerds, everybody games. #homoludens
Example: I recently received an invitation to join an open area VR game with headsets and fake guns. The invitation stated : “you don’t need to be good at gaming”. While the intention is not bad at all, the wording gives me the creeps as it’s indirectly judging ‘gaming’.

2.

A common misconception is computer games being perceived as anti-social because you’re just starting at a screen. In contrast, for example, boardgames are social because you spend time with real people in the same room. Statements like this drive me mad. I have been in super social contexts when playing computer games, either whilst playing the game itself as well as outside of the game. Computer games are super social, just differently social than what we’ve been used to. The popularity of platforms like Twitch is just a confirmation thereof, people enjoy being part of a community … which in this case is virtual. As with everything, it needs to be taken into moderation. We should stop calling out people playing games for being anti-social.
Example: I meet up with friends every monday night in-game. Instead of going to the pub, we talk over discord about the same things you’d talk about in a pub, it’s just the activity that we’re doing is endeavouring in dungeons together. Yet, when I tell this to people who don’t play computer games, I’m regarded as anti-social and weird.

3.

Lastly, something I love to get to when having a discussion on games is all about narrative. When I played Firewatch, I didn’t have the idea I was ‘playing’ a game at all. I was experiencing a story, a progression of events in which I could steer what happens. I wanted to know the ending of the story … I didn’t want to complete the game. I’ve been a long time supporter of initiatives like the, gone but not forgotten, house of indie (screenshake in particular) and AMAZE festival. It are these places which, I believe, show the richness of the gaming medium. Where boardgames get mashed up with open area games and blended with screen based games. We should stop refrain from thinking games are blunt entertainment. People I enjoy following in this domain are JoonSokpopKlondikeDevillé.
Example: Talking about series and movies over lunch is perfectly fine and tends to be socially accepted. Try to do the same about your first time playing through Firewatch or the experience you had when playing No Man’s Sky. Frowns and odd looks guaranteed. Same goes for talking about sports, debating football scores is ok, talking about yesterday’s overwatch game is odd.

Some final points:

  • Refrain from using words like ‘gaming’ and ‘gamer’ just to refer to playing computer games. Be conscious about terminology.
  • Computer games form an enormously rich cultural medium and go beyond being an entertainment thing. Explore like any other form of art.
  • It is not because physical interaction is not happening in the same room, games should be called out to be anti-social. Things are not what they seem.

To close, I don’t want to offend anyone here – I merely want to put forward some points on why I love games and how I would like people to engage with and talk about them. As with everything, there are types of games I like and dislike … whether they involve a computer screen or not. Just like I like or dislike movies, series, paintings, music,…

In a next post on the gaming topic, I want to dive into the tipping point of e-sports and how I’ve experienced this over the years. It starts from the same frustration regarding gaming prejudice as the ranty stuff above, but I want to show that e-sports is the type of thing which is super huge in a very invisible way.

To be continued!

Deprecated car parts

by Dries De Roeck on December 8, 2019

Some weeks ago it struck me that when electric cars were to get widely adopted, a glorious part of language would get deprecated. I live near Antwerp in Belgium, we speak Flemish (Dutch with a twist). While there are Dutch terms for car parts, every local car mechanic tends to use, at least some, French terminology. The nice thing about it is that they are French words, pronounced in a Flemish way. Some words are not French at all, but look French in some way.

Because of this part of language about the fade out, I decided to already start compiling a list. Maybe I’ll use it for something sometime. Thanks to all contributors who replied to my tweet, to be honest – I learned a lot just looking up the terms I didn’t know myself!

  • Vis platinées
  • Joint de culasse
  • Carburateur
  • Catalysateur
  • Chappement
  • Bougie
  • Embraillage
  • Villebrequin
  • Vitessenbak
  • Amortisseur
  • Piston
  • Démarreur
  • Alternateur
  • Bobine
  • Boîte
  • Bielles

Under debate whether they’d actually go away when EV’s get adopted (they probably won’t) but mentioning them anyway:

  • Silentblokken
  • Jantes
  • Intercooler
  • Radiateur

I had this list lying around for a while, but reading Anab Jain’s tweet motivated me to put it online.

I could imagine an exhibit about future mobility where I’d be crying over the loss of local language and heritage … obviously recognising that the combustion engine was never a good idea in the first place.

The handshake and the touch

by Dries De Roeck on November 27, 2019

A little incrowd social media storm was triggered by @aliekens posting an image of the original 1990’s ‘Flanders’ Technology’ artwork. I think it’s safe to say that most people who grew up in Flanders in the 90’s (like myself) have probably seen the artwork somewhere. My personal memory mostly relates to the image being used on cultural information boards near the motorway as well as it being linked (I think) to the ‘house of the future’ project which truly fascinated 12 year old me.

The original 1983 flanders’ technology poster

However nostalgic people might get because of this, it was very interesting to read the reaction from a non-Flemmish person on the image. Marc Steen (NL), who once introduced 10-year younger me to Science and Technology Studies, commented something along the lines of …

“But basically this image has now been redone and can be found on so many stock photo sites.”

A shutterstock search result for human robot handshake

It got me thinking about some specific things about the original image, compared to available stock photo imagery:

  • It’s a handshake, not a touch or intention to shake hands. It signifies technology and humans collaborate. Other images base their visual reference on Michelangelo’s fresco painting ‘the creation of Adam’, in that case it immediately becomes clear who is intended to be superior to the other ie. the human There is an unspoken hierarchy, as it links to the old testament bible story.
  • The human hand is most prominent. The image shows the human hand in the foreground, again highlighting the human role in the relation. There is, however, no dominance in the relationship – there is no actor taking explicit control by giving a power handshake or using a dominant handshake.
  • It’s a manually drawn image. This might seem obvious, but the very specific aesthetic and feeling the image conveys is important. It is more along the ‘vintage’ 1960’s futurism drawings, which makes it rather analogue and rough compared to more recent renditions of the same handshake where the image is digitally produced. Because of this, in my mind, it sparks hope and forward looking positivism instead of a cold, automated and machine focussed world.

So to me, even if the image is as old as I am, it still makes sense anno 2019. It seems like in the ‘80s people greeted computerised systems in order to start getting acquainted with each other. In recent years, I’ve personally been fascinated by how technology has impacted society and how we seem to be trying to ‘reclaim’ technology and make it more human again. In my opinion, the human dominant side of technology is something we need to keep pushing for in order to stay conscious about our own agency as individuals in a data hungry world. This idea is, in my mind, still conveyed in the OG Flanders’ Technology ‘robot handshake’ image.

Or … maybe I’m just trying to justify why Flemish 35+ nostalgic nerds like this image. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reflecting on the image a bit deeper.