Pat a Mat is a Czech stop motion animation series from the late 70s. Two neighbours with the unfailing ability to botch every DIY project they take on, work themselves clumsily into a mess in each episode. Every time they think they’ve fixed things they loudly say “A je to!”, That’s it! in Czech. The Dutch spoken version has not translated that key phrase. Y finds the series very funny. After making the wooden puzzle below, Y said “now let’s do it Pat a Mat style!” with the result below. When she was done she shouted “A je to!” and erupted into laughter.

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It’s the end of December. This means it is time for my annual year in review posting, the ‘Tadaa!’ list.

Ten years ago I started writing end-of-year blogposts listing the things that happened that year that gave me a feeling of accomplishment, that make me say ‘Tadaa!’, so this is the eleventh edition (See the 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 editions). I tend to move on immediately to the next thing as soon as something is finished, and that often means I forget to celebrate or even acknowledge things during the year. Sometimes I forget things completely (a few years ago I completely forgot I organised a national level conference at the end of a project). My sense of awareness has improved in the past few years, especially since I posted week notes for the past few years. This year was different as well as the pandemic and resulting lock-downs meant a more introspective year than usual. Still it remains a good way to reflect on the past 12 months and list the things that gave me a sense of accomplishment. So, here’s this year’s Tadaa!-list, in no particular order:

  • We started the year, as per our tradition, celebrating New Year with dear friends that live in Switzerland. Of course this year we can’t travel to Switzerland, and miss seeing our friends. I’m glad we did go last year. We quarantined ourselves from before Christmas, so we can visit E’s parents around NYE. We haven’t seen them since late August.
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    Jamming into the new year 2020 in the Swiss Alps

  • Around the start of the first pandemic wave in March I spent a considerable amount of time pushing for still pending signatures on projects and for prompt payments on outstanding invoices. It meant my company entered the lockdown with some confidence. No projects were postponed by clients, no invoices went unpaid. It provided the team with reassurance. We did not need to apply for any economic support measures, leaving them for companies in more need.
  • I’ve been working remotely for 16 years, and all of us were accustomed to working in a distributed way, but we had just opened our own office last year in Utrecht. The office served as a safe working spot for one or two people living nearby really needing to get out of the house. We distributed some office chairs to the homes of our team members early on, as we didn’t want them to sit on kitchen table chairs for week, months, a year on end. In the end, due to the many video calls, we saw more of each other and more of us at the same time, not less this year.
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    In a distanced line at the bakery, when it was still novel. Showing new cycling skills to grandma on video.

  • Our team became much more of an actual team this year, caused by being more visible to each other. We built and depended much more on each other. Each of us struggled mentally at times, working from within the same four walls each day, but the support of the others was there to get through it. In March we let go of our just previously set company goals for 2020, and made team stability our major aim.
  • Acknowledging the new reality, as well as our mental response, the team’s reflex was to step on it. With great results. Simply getting on with it resulted in our best year yet, with an 18% increase in turnover compared to 2019, despite having a policy of not setting financial goals, and also letting go of the original 2020 goals we set. There’s a lesson in that. Because we did well, we could extend E’s contract with a year in June, newly hired P in September after the completion of her internship and Master thesis with us, and offered S a fixed contract in October. We brought our colleague J on board as a shareholder and fellow entrepreneur (making him the only one we fired from the company, in January)
  • Ethics,not as an abstraction, but as a practice, became a much more central element in our work concerning data, data governance, and responsible data use. I helped facilitate a great workshop with colleagues in the Amsterdam Arena early in the year, we injected ethical discussions in most of our ongoing projects, and created a data-ethics card game as a end-of-year present to clients.
  • I don’t ski, E’ does only a little, but we decided to join a group of friends for their skiing trip in the French Alps in February. Enjoying the snow, simply hanging out with friends, playing with Y building snowmen, under a sunny sky was great. It also turned out to be the only trip we made this year, so the memories of that fun week have served us well.
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    In the snow in the French Alps, in the Ajax Amsterdam Arena for data ethics

  • In May, in the midst of the first lock-down, I turned 50. E had arranged a week of spread out activities, centered around the theme ‘play’. Part of it was an evening of playing Trivial Pursuit with dear friends online, including a question card deck about my own past 50 years. Another part was a treasure hunt with another dear friend through the neighbourhood. All fun yet within social distancing and other guidelines.
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    Video conference Trivial Pursuit. We had the board, every participant their own card deck to ask questions from.

  • When the pandemic hit, the NGO I chair was in a much different place than my company: various projects got postponed indefinitely, others never materialised. On top of that the director decided to leave and take up a position long on her wishlist, and a key project manager left as well. It left us scrambling during the summer to ensure the organisation’s future, financial stability, find a new director and replace key people all at once. The NGO’s team and the board pulled it off together. Our board is normally very hands-off, but now we jumped into the day-to-day operations. I’m really glad our joint efforts had an impact. We found a new director and two new project leads within weeks, and all could start almost immediately. The renewed team then pulled hard on ensuring stability. This month we approved the 2021 budget, and the NGO is once more financially ok, the team is actually larger than 6 months ago, and we’re on the look-out for one more staff member. The economic support measures were essential to get through the first few months, but the organisation now no longer needs them.
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    At the Kröller-Müller museum

  • E and I have known for years we can travel very well together. Now we know we can be very well at home together too. Both of us miss not having much or any time for ourselves, especially when Y is at home during school closures, both of us miss being able to go places for inspiration. Both of us struggled at times. We’re tired and didn’t have any real off-time for 9 months. Nevertheless we managed and complemented eachother well I think. We went for walks and visited a museum or two when conditions allowed, we took care of our home and garden to help ensure our wellbeing.
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    Enjoying our downstairs terrace at the water. Many walks through our neighbourhood.

  • I finally dumped Facebook completely, including Whatsapp. I had left Facebook three years ago, and then created a new more low-profile account. During the first months of the pandemic I realised that both the rationalisation I had for still being on FB (some connections I had only there), and the increasing level of pandemic-inspired conspiracy-stories (don’t ever call them theories!) and related toxicity made my ongoing presence there unbearable. So I left. Because FB as a company isn’t doing anything meaningful to fix the mess of their own creation, I decided I don’t want anything to do with the company as a whole either. So WhatsApp got uninstalled as well. I don’t miss the never ending doomscrolling on manipulated timelines. I sought out more distributed conversations instead (see further down).
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    Desinfection is the new sexy. Socially distanced cycling traffic light waiting zone

  • Renovated my personal knowledge management (PKM) system. Making notes differently means a very different pace of learning. I wrote some 800 notions, conceptual notes representing the core of my internalised concepts of 20+ years of work. That can now serve as the base of further learning. Addtionally 100 notes geared to more fact-oriented things, which will grow from being connected to my feed reading inputs, and now that my first focus on establishing the main body of concepts is over. And several hundred immediate work related notes, helping me to get things done. Kept a day log since late April, which was helpful to see the work I did also on days the fragmentation of tasks would otherwise obscure it. All in all, my PKM didn’t change fundamentally, but I reduced the friction of sustaining it a lot. It has already paid off in various ways, and I’ll get better at wielding it in the coming months to help me create, write and work better.
  • I had two periods where I struggled this year. Towards the summer, when I was struggling in getting the narrative for a report together, and in the volume of fragmented and overly diverse material I had couldn’t find my way out. And a worse period last month, where for a few weeks I felt increasingly awful. From the relentless efforts without time off, the endless video calls, and no longer being able to easily go outside as the days got greyer and wetter. In both instances I am glad I reached out to others about it, and that act alone already improved much. For the coming months I will try and keep my calendar relatively empty.
  • I started my days at 6am in the spring, and kept it up after the summer until now. That first hour of the day, before Y wakes up, I use to read and write a bit. A small sliver of my own time.
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    A long September weekend hiking in the hills of Limburg, southern Netherlands

  • Took a very deep dive into meteorological data and earth observation / environmental data in the EU, as part of the work to write upcoming European legislation on mandatory open data releases in areas of high socio-economic value. It was a long, and at times hard, process, but I’m pleased with the results in both the thematic areas I was responsible for. If even the low end recommendations are adopted it will mean progress unheard of in about 2 decades of discussion in the meteorological field. If it moves above that low end, it will also mean a very logical but still the biggest open data step for the entire INSPIRE program.
  • Enjoyed our home a lot, appreciating it even more than before. So glad we’re in the house we’re in. Allowing us to have different in- and outside spaces to use, to avoid feeling caged in. Growing and picking berries, seeing apples grow. Having our own office space to withdraw in. Y having space to leave her toys around, without it getting in the way. Little details help too, like the smooth feeling door handles we bought when we moved in. Now that I’ve grabbed many more door handles at home this year, I’m oddly thankful for them each time.
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    A visit to the Amersfoort Kade Museum, and to the Frisian Museum in Leeuwarden

  • Still happy I treated myself to a Nova2 e-ink reader, allowing me to read more non-fiction in a way that fits my routines, and have a seamless way of processing the notes I take from that reading.
  • Enjoyed the distributed conversations and connections through my blog, now 18 yrs old. Conversations that cross over different topics, through different modes of communication, and different aspects of life. Thank you all who frequented my inboxes this year.
  • Finally, it feels good that professionally there is enough lined up already for the better part of next year. It gives quiet confidence, and creates space to deal with the logistical and mental challenges the ongoing pandemic will still pose.

Internet retail turned from a convenience to a necessity this year. For groceries, and for DIY material, games, pencils etc to entertain Y. I bought several pieces of art as Christmas gifts, and they arrived within days from across the EU. I could support independent stores I like from behind my desk.

I’ve worked 1646 hours this year according to my timekeeping spreadsheet, which was 100 less than last year. For the first time it is on average near to my nominal 4-day work week, when counted over 52 weeks. However, in reality it was significantly more, definitely. This as when you’re at home you tend to only count the hours you’re ‘really’ working. Normally if you’re at the office or with a client, you count from arrival to departure as work time. I’ve told our team they should allow for that difference by using a multiplication factor of 1,3-1,5, but I did not really take that advice myself.

It was a year in which our lives took place in a much smaller space. Being connected, having the world at our digital disposal was good and needed. We’re healthy, doing ok, and professionally secure. That’s a lot already to be thankful about. Onwards to 2021!

first train trip in 3 months
Take care, stay well, reach out. Happy 2021!

A question I have is whether the pandemic will mean a slow-down or pause in tech-innovation?
Innovation in part is based on serendipity, on the pseudo-random meeting and interaction of people, ideas, skills, capital etc. Those meetings take place in cities for instance, as they are serendipity hubs.
Yet this year I noticed how online interaction tends to stick just to the topic and agenda at hand, and there’s much less place for riffing off eachother’s ideas and suggestions for instance.

Apart from innovation driven by necessity (e.g. vaccin development), would a slow-down be visible in tech start-up founding, start-up funding (maybe not yet, as funding emerges some time after founding so it might be a delayed effect)?

Would there be a discernable impact on a city level?

Are there compensating effects? I’ve noticed that the pandemic in our company and for me personnaly led to more introspection, and meant more focus on developing things, also because there was less activity around us. A reduction of movement, a reduction of social dynamics, but the stillness enabling more action as a consequence.

How would one go about trying to see such effects, and in which data?

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Today the queen of the ball was the 24th and last item of Y’s Playmobil ‘Christmas ball in the crystal ballroom’ advent calendar
So immediately after breakfast the queen and her daughter danced. First with just the violinist playing, but soon E suggested the 2Cello’s playing AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Which led to the ‘old queen’, as my queen figurine from 40yrs ago is known in Y’s playmobil household, joining the party, ditching her mantel on the side, and showing some 1980’s breakdance moves. A multi layered time and cultural remix for Christmas.

There are well known North-American photographers who through city scenes, road trips and street photography documented eras, whose images capture what we think of as iconic. Do you know European photographers who did the same across Europe, as opposed to just nationally? Is there a European collective like a ‘Magnum’ equivalent, for instance?
I’ve started exploring the federation of European photographers.

Replied to Adult Hobbies – Tracy Durnell (tracydurnell.com)
I have dabbled in hobbies over the years and have a hard time divorcing myself from a productivity mindset. Even if I enjoy an activity it’s hard to make myself do it.

As a kid I already hated the word ‘hobby’. Parents/adults always seemed to imply some put-down with that word. Also sentences like ‘why not pick a hobby’ seemed to me to flip means and goal, turning ‘having a hobby’ into a goal and having, finding, or worse coming up, with an interest into a means. I avoid the word hobby (like I avoid the notion of being ‘a fan’ of something for similar reasons). I have interests, some are more dormant currently, others lead to activity at the moment, and it shifts with time. I also found over the years that some of those interests will migrate from an activity in my own time towards paid work, and some to even being the center of work for an extended time. So I’ve come to see interests and activities as a pool from which future work may well spring. At the same time it does not need to be clear how that might happen, better not even, as having the interest is its own reward. Vice versa I am ok with treating any activity I care about as a professional activity (in terms of the tools and practices I bring to it), and that blurs the line between ‘private’ and ‘work’ even more than being self-employed already ensures. Basically it means that when I am not working it mostly looks the same as when I am working. There’s only no administrative follow-up like sending an invoice. It’s a bit like how Henriette and I worded it in a conversation a long time ago: I get up in the morning and go to sleep in the evening, and in between I do stuff.