Category Archives: misc

Netherlands National Disclosure Day

Every 1st Tuesday of the new year is Disclosure Day (Openbaarheidsdag) in the Netherlands, the day when the National Archive opens up material and collections whose access restrictions have expired. It is generally a day approached with a sense of festivity by archivists (openness is their core public service and they’re also eager to show what cool stuff they have on record), and the hashtag #openbaarheidsdag shows a variety of tweets. Next to the National Archive, a range of local and regional archives participate, amongst which is the Frisian regional archive Tresoar. With both institutions I had the pleasure of working together last year (related to openness but unrelated to disclosure day). There is some momentum building to turn it into a nationally observed day by all archives, to celebrate the work and value of archives.

HET NATIONAAL ARCHIEF OP EEN ZONNIGE DAG
Photo of the National Archive building next to The Hague Central Station, by 23Archiefdingen CC BY-SA

In general the material opened up for the general public on a Disclosure Day wasn’t fully secret, but access was restricted to e.g. researchers. Some of it, such as personal correspondence and material from private archives however hasn’t been seen by anyone for multiple decades. Various time limits apply. Government documents are transferred to the National Archive after 20 years and most of it will be publicly accessible then right away (before that transfer the relevant Ministry itself determines openness, and freedom of information regulations apply). Where things like the privacy of living persons or national security are involved access can be restricted for a maximum of 75 years. That limit is set at the start, and per the first January after that limit expires, it becomes public. So for this year, it means that 1997 (20 yrs), 1967 (50 yrs) and 1942 (75 yrs) are the years for which new material is being published (as 50 and 75 years are commonly used time limits on access, and 20 yrs the legal default).

The amount of material published each year is substantial. Just the index of material published this year by the National Archives is over 1200 pages, and only the table of contents of that index of material is already 50 pages.


Lots of manual work involved, such as this tweet by National Archive employee Maartje v.d. Kamp illustrates. She says “green dots mark restricted access, disclosure day means scraping lots of dots from archive boxes”

For this year the collection of newly accessible material contains the minutes of Cabinet meetings of the mid 1990’s (in which the Prime Minister berates his Ministers for leaking and carelessly letting opinions be publicly known), the personal notes of the researcher who on behalf of the government looked into the riots during the 1966 wedding of future Queen Beatrix, as well as personal notes from the same researcher when looking into the war history of a government minister alleged to have served in the SS. These haven’t been opened at all, since then, and the National Archive itself wondered what is in it that made the researcher claim years of secrecy for it. Also the diaries of the first woman Minister in the Netherlands and a prime minister in the late 1940’s became public.

Of special interest this year is the disclosure of the Dutch Trustfund (Nationaal Beheersinstituut) that between 1945 and 1967 managed all the Dutch funds and assets seized from German nationals after the war and from Dutch (suspected) collaborators and profiteers until after their court verdicts, as well as funds and assets of missing persons (such as jewish people deported by the nazis during the war, or in hiding and not yet returned) until their fate was known. The index of all persons for whom assets were managed, or from whom assets were seized, contains some 180.000 names, and is available online. The Dutch Trustfund archive itself hasn’t been digitised yet (as it wasn’t public yet), and stretches 2.5km of shelves.
Out of curiosity I did a quick search to look for my grandparents but none of them show up in the index. So there wasn’t some never shared family secret. 😉

Collaborating E.J. Voûte, mayor of Amsterdam during the years of occupation

E.J. Voute, collaborating mayor of Amsterdam during the nazi occupation on the photo above (source Spaarnestad archive, within the National Archive. Photo taken during his trial, 25 April 1947), and the location in the list of the Dutch Trustfund archives where he’s mentioned.

Enjoying Indie SF

In the past months I have increasingly read books from independent authors that self-publish. It seems there is a growing supply of it, and of increasing quality.

Fellow nerd Peter Kaptein has been cutting his own path into the writing jungle, and I enjoy following his reports on his blog and on Facebook chronicling his musings, struggles and process. Likewise here at home it is exciting to see my wife finally giving in to her lifelong urge and start writing stories, after getting a huge burst of motivation from following a training on methods and tools. It is what allowed her to see writing as artisanship and thus well within her own scope.

Today I read the book Remanence from indie US writer Jennifer Foehner Wells (twitter). Remanence is the sequel to Fluency which I read sometime last year. Remanence was published yesterday, and provided me with a good, exciting and relaxing read this weekend. I was originally attracted to Fluency because it promised a linguist at the heart of a hard scifi story (who else to crack the Universe’s lingua franca?). The follow-up provided techno-collapse to pre-industrial level, ecosystems gone haywire and space faring squids finding out they weren’t as free as they thought.

fluency remanence
Fluency, and its sequel Remanence

Independent writers are learning to embrace the affordances that global connectivity provides, and directly creating their own audience, distribution channels and brands, much like indie musicians before them.

It’s not that regularly published SF isn’t interesting or fun. As long as I’m able to explore or be surprised by what I find in terms of perspectives etc. Such as around new year when I hugely enjoyed the two SF novels from Chinese writer Liu Cixin (his Chinese blog). His Three Body Problem, and the follow-up Dark Forest are both great reads with a first encounter in a game world, a quantum-enabled block on human science development and a solution for the Fermi paradox. Already looking forward to the third installment becoming available in English later this year.

threebodyproblem
darkforest
Three Body Problem, and its sequel Dark Forest

Our family name and open archives

In the 1980’s my dad spent many days searching paper archives to reconstruct his paternal family tree. I am going through some of his archives now that we are dissolving my parents household. What was hard work then, now after digitisation, is often available online.

Regional archives have done a lot of work to digitize records of birth, marriage, and death, and make them searchable online. Through the website allefriezen.nl (all Frisians dot nl) one can search for documents by name. The picture below (archive source) is the registration of our family name on 20 February 1812. This was under Napoleonic rule when France had annexed the Netherlands (1810-1814) and family names became compulsory.

Popke Jacobs the great-grandfather of my grandfather registered our name in the “Municipality Ureterp, Canton Beetsterzwaag, Arondissement Heerenveen, Departement Vriesland” (sic). It is weird to see those French government structures in the document.

aannamezijlstra

The full text reads:

“Before us Maire (mayor) of the Municipality Ureterp, Canton Beetsterzwaag, Arondissement Heerenveen, Departement Vriesland, having appeared Popke Jacobs, living in Ureterp, has himself declared that he adopts the name of Zijlstra as family name and has the following number of sons and daughters, to know, Jakob, old 18 years, living in Grouw. Klaas old ten years, Jan old one in his second year, both living in Ureterp, Geeske old 17 years, living in Drachten, Aukjen old 15 years living on the Groote Gast and Trijntje old 13 years living in Ureterp and has signed this with us 20 February 1812.”

It is interesting to note that my ancestor signed his own name, so he was literate. Others registered in the same document signed with a shaky “X”. His occupation was listed as “worker”, meaning he was a hired hand and day laborer.

A month in Lucca: week 4

We are spending a month in Lucca, with some days before and after in Switzerland.

Fully settled in
By now we have fully settled into a daily rhythm here in Lucca. Coffee in the morning, either at Momus (most days, closer and have great pastries) or Il Bernino. I also have figured out the street pattern and confidently navigate the inner city. What first seemed a medieval maze, is now a pretty clear grid.
Mornings, except for coffee are usually given over for a stroll around town, and to do some shopping, or like I did this week, get a haircut. During the heat of the day we withdraw to the apartment, to come out again towards evening for another stroll and dinner.

The afternoons are perfect for some work and reading. I haven’t read all that much compared to other summers, but amongst the books I did read, I enjoy the new Neal Stephenson, SevenEves. I spent time on editing the Serbian open data readiness assessment report, incorporating the feedback I received from colleagues. I also worked several afternoons on the open data barometer research (ODBM) for the WWW Consortium. But with the not so great internet bandwith available, that is slow going. So I am betting on speeding up once I get back to our 1 gigabit connection back home.

Evenings were for strolls (either through the city streets, or up on the city walls), and with the Lucca Summer Festival taking place we were treated to the performances of Mark Knopfler, Robbie Williams and Lenny Kravitz as we walked around. I thought Knopfler’s rendering of Sultans of Swing had slowed down quite a lot from 35 years ago!

Lucca Lucca
Lucca streets at evening, sipping wine after a walk

Our daily rhythm now feels like something we could easily enjoy another month, or more.

Siena
This week we took a day to visit Siena, about 2 hours away from Lucca. It was nice to stroll through the historical center that is built across several hills. After lunch we wanted to withdraw from the heat and the other tourists. For that we went to the botanical garden where there was plenty shade, and the entrance fee kept everybody else out. We were the only two visitors.

The search for the new(er)
Last week I mentioned that finding the old in Lucca was easy, but finding signs of newer initiatives and activism is harder. There are a few places where a more active and younger scene seems to meet-up. One is a vegetarian place called Soup in Town, where we had lunch a few times. It is owned by the friendly and distinct character Daniele. The other is Ciclo DiVino, which is the focal point of a community of wine drinking cyclists, that hang out on the streets in front of the shop several nights per week. My open calls for local people involved in open data or making went mostly unanswered, but two people did get in touch.

Lucca Lucca
Finding serendipity and hipsters in Lucca

One was Andrea, who lives further south, and whom we met in Pisa on Tuesday early evening. We met in a beer shop / bar, run by a former colleague of Andrea, where a growing range of artisanal Italian beers can be tasted and bought. Andrea has been involved in open geo data and mapping for a long time, and currently is part of a project mapping the ‘loss of the night‘ due to light pollution. He grew up and lived in Milano for a long time, and a few years ago returned to the house and land of his grand parents in rural southern Tuscany. There he is trying to find new ways of making the country side more resilient, finding multiple revenue streams, and break the cycle of debt and investment that tourism has brought while making assets less productive (is it useful to take on debt to build a swimming pool to better attract tourists to your farm yard for 10 weeks per year?). Some other guests in the Birreria told us little bit more about how Lucca is different from the surrounding cities like Pisa. It has alwasy been more affluent, and in the last century much less communist that its surroundings. Which may explain why in Pisa spray painted slogans and protest are much easier to spot than in Lucca.

Lucca Lucca
cycling community sipping wine, bicycle

Sunday evening I met up with Davide, a self employed open source software builder, who has recently embarked on a new venture. His focus is on building an architecture that allows everyone to much better describe knowledge and metadata for data objects, and do this in a less centralized way than e.g. semantic web frameworks seem to assume. We walked, starting at Ciclo Divino, for an hour and a half, through the streets of Lucca while chatting about open data, and the adoption of new tools and other topics that came to mind.

WTF is wrong with my leg?
On Thursday I suddenly noticed what seemed like a pretty nasty rash on my left leg. At first I thought it might be eczema caused by heat. But it hurt more over time and it grew worse as well, with lots of blisters. So the last part of the week I wasn’t very mobile, and kept my rest.

Vincero! Vincero!

Puccini, Torre del Lago

For one thing I did get up though, and that was for us to visit the open air theater at Torre del Lago, for the opening night in this year’s Puccini Festival of Turandot, the last opera by Puccini. It was a beautiful summer evening, and we both enjoyed Turandot a lot. The production started of great, and even though we thought the middle part lacked creativity in its production which the final part could not really make up for, the overall experience was very good. Tenor Rudy Park, in the role of Calaf, we thought, carried most of the show with his quality. His rendering of Nessun Dorma during this premiere got a huge applause interrupting the performance. So much so, that he sang it a second time in its entirety to pick up the show again.

Puccini, Torre del Lago

We are now entering our final week already here in Lucca!

When government wants to store your fingerprints, and it’s ok.

Sometimes it is ok if your government wants to store your fingerprints. Like, when they use them as artwork on city hall.

Last weekend Elmine and I strolled an afternoon through Deventer an old Hanseatic city in the eastern part of the Netherlands. We came across a shop window where a group of people were busy making clay moulds, which had us intrigued.

Deventer Raamwerk

The clay moulds, it turned out, were made from finger prints, to be cast in metal and then used on the facade of the new city hall as window covers/decorations. A project by local artist Loes ten Anscher.

Deventer Raamwerk Deventer Raamwerk

The finger prints are from citizens in Deventer themselves. One in every forty-three, from the city and surrounding villages, from every age, has been asked to provide a finger or toe print, to be cast in metal. The 2.300 prints are cast in metal and used on the newly built city hall. Every metal cast has a number, and the person providing the finger print gets a pendant with that number. They will know where their finger print is on the building, but noone else.

I really love this project, making citizens part of the building where those that provide public service work, and involving them up to the level where they have their fingerprints all over local government. One example where I think government storing my finger prints is actually not so bad!

Looking Back On 2011: Quite A Ride (again…)!

Last year following my client-turned-friend Ernst Phaff’s lead, I posted a list of things that in 2010 gave me a sense of accomplishment, the Tadaa!-list. As I wrote then “As a ‘knowledge worker’ the boundaries of work have become all but invisible, and over the course of a year I work on so many different things that it is easy to forget I what I actually did. The “TaDaa!”-list is a way of resurfacing the things that happened [..]” and listing for myself what was accomplished, what I enjoyed doing.
Doing this, going through my calendar looking at what happened in the past year, already last year struck me as very useful: you simply forget so much along the way, as you respond to new things, and get inundated with new stuff. In 2011 I worked 2372 hours, way too much to my liking, a number that guarantees I loose track of the details of the things I did, obscuring the accomplishments behind a list of still-to-do’s and things to improve.
I decided then to do this again for 2011 and put it on my ‘yearly review’ task list. So, in no particular order, and sticking to professional things mostly……. Here’s my Tadaa!-list for 2011.

  • The Dutch national government data portal I wrote the plans for in 2010 got formally launched in September 2011, after being in beta since January 2011.
  • I helped write an Open Data Motion for my home town, and saw it adopted by the City Council nearly unanimously.
  • I helped bring a FabLab to my home town, and had the honour to speak on behalf of the Dutch FabLab Foundation at its official opening. (I must admit to not having used their facilities yet to make something myself, but Elmine sure has)
  • Spent a week working from and sightseeing in Berlin with Elmine, where I also gave a well received talk at the Cognitive Cities Conference, on Spicing Up Your City With Open Government.. It was an inspiring event bringing many new sparks.

    Ton Zijlstra at Cognitive Cities Conference from Cognitive Cities on Vimeo.

  • Edited and published the second edition of the FabYearBook.
  • Made a living for the fourth year being self-employed, while working in what is basically a new market (open data consultancy). Studiously ignored the sensationalist headlines of impending global economic doom, spending energy instead on helping build the structures, scaffolding and systems creating new and alternative ways forward. Sphere of influence and all that Jazz….
    Flow is to be found in your sphere of influence

  • Started working as Community Steward of the ePSIplatform, creating awareness for open government data around Europe
  • Gave presentations in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, and of course in the Netherlands, on open data mostly
  • Worked a week out of Helsingør and Copenhagen with Elmine, visiting our rockstar-consultant friend Henriette and Thomas, having meetings with various organisations and inspiring people on open data, social media, complexity management, and FabLab
  • Presented at a great Spanish conference on digital citizenship in beautiful Donostia (San Sebastian), where I further explored a train of thought I started at Reboot in 2008 on attitudes and skills in dealing with digital disruption, this time in order for our public institutions to survive, as survive they must albeit changed.
  • Created the OurServices website, showcasing examples of collaborative e-government services, from around Europe
  • Visited our friends Paolo (who turned 40) and Monica in Italy with Elmine, this time without just using their office to write a project proposal like the time before, but simply enjoying hanging out with great people and enjoying the countryside
  • Gave input to a Dutch guide on how to ‘do’ open government data for local governments
  • Did a project together with Elmine for the European Commission, running a video competition for the Digital Agenda Assembly.
  • Enjoyed working for a client in my home town, in the midst of all the travel around Europe. A rare but pleasant treat to be able to cycle to a workshop session, and not taking a plane or train.
  • Did most of the work in putting together the new ePSIplatform portal
  • Took the time to attend Brigitte’s opening of her new osteopathy practice in Switzerland
  • Got to be there for friends in times of need. Thankful they let me be there for them.
  • Sat on the jury of the OpenDataChallenge.org, that saw 430 entries.
  • Mused about speeding up my actions, extending my range, while taking it very slow for three weeks in the French Alps.
  • Enjoyed the heck out of the e-reader Elmine gave me for my birthday. I lost the life long habit of avid reading for a while in 2010, this got me back into it. Thanks dear.
  • Started to work with Paul, Marc, Frank as a network to land Open Data projects together, and immediately saw it result in collaborating on project proposals
  • Spoke at the EU Ministerial Conference on e-Government in Poznan Poland, on ‘making open data work‘ for government itself.
  • Started working in earnest with Harold, Niels, Erwin, Tony and others, on projects around making sense of complexity.
  • Brought together a dozen Dutch city governments to exchange their experiences on opening up government data, and experimenting together in bringing it forward.
  • Did three sessions at the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw, one on how open data is an opportunity for local government to reinvent itself, save money and crack complex issues.
  • Got to work with long-time fellow Reboot-friend and co-shareholder of the Coworking Boat PAN, Peter Rukavina on a project for a client. It’s great to work with people like that.
  • I lost 15kg, bringing me back to a weight I haven’t had in 20 years
  • Elmine and I published an e-book “How to Unconference Your Birthday” and sent out special cards to all that attended my Birthday Unconference the year before. We asked the cool people at BuroPony in Rotterdam to do the design. Find the download link in the book’s Facebook page.

    Creating the book and having it in our hands, giving it to all the awesome people who were there in 2010, was so much fun and rewarding. An Epic Sh*t Multiplier, as we called it on my birthday then, and in the book now.

That’s the list. I got to work on cool projects, travelled to new places before returning home, and above all got to work with the people I want to work with. More importantly, 2011 was a year that reinforced the notion that it’s your relationships that count, and that the journey is its own goal. Whether it’s grieving together, celebrating together, or even both at the same time, those are the moments I find intense beauty in being with friends. Onwards!

Announcing Open Data Event, Enschede (NL)

Together with several civil servants of my home city we’ve been busy getting open government data on the agenda locally. We did a session during last month’s Open Innovation Festival, and are now trying to move it forward with a few other people we met up with because of that.
In September or October this year we will organize a local Open Data event.
On a Saturday we will have an event with two streams. One to present basic insights and experiences with open data, and to discuss issues open data creates for both governments and data re-users. And a second stream to actually create concepts and applications based on local open government data. In the run-up we will make sure that a number of interesting data sets will be available.
The week after that Saturday, groups of students from the local university for applied sciences (Saxion) will work for a week on applications that use open government data, earnig study credits. At the end of that week everything that was made will be presented.
We know from Canadian cities like Vancouver that open government data is a very powerful thing on the local level. It is where data is directly connected to your living environment. With this event we hope to demonstrate the potential of open data, raise the awareness about open data with local government, as well as create value for our city by building working applications.
Open Data Enschede is organized as a private initiative by Patrick Reijnders, Peter Breukers and Lars Fehse (Municipality of Enschede), Heinze Havinga (student in Enschede), and me.
Are you interested in this event in any way? Do let me know!

Public Transport Bicycles

In a regular week I travel quite a bit within the Netherlands. Thanks to the extensive rail network, I do most of that by train (using the car maybe once per 2 months). For some of my destinations I can easily walk from the rail station, but for others less so. There are of course buses, or trams, and taxis, but usually they are relatively time consuming, inflexible or expensive (taxis).

My bicycle today at Zwolle rail station
In the past 6 months or so, I’ve added something to the mix of my modes of transport that greatly enhances flexibility and has reduced cost: the public transport bike. These are sturdy bikes you can pick up at any railway station in the Netherlands. They usually also have battery powered scooters if cycling isn’t your thing, or you need to cover a bit more distance. Over the past 6 months I’ve used them in six or so different cities on various occasions and each time they’ve been comfortable and easy. To me they’re the perfect inner city solution.
Here’s how it works:

  • You register with the railway company and pay a 9 Euro subscription.
  • You either get a subscription card, or (as in my case) the subscription is connected to the barcode on my rail card.
  • At your destination you pick up a bike, have your card and the rfid-enabled key of the bike lock scanned, and you’re on your way. (At unmanned rail stations you use your card to open up a locker that contains the bicycle.)
  • You go where you need to go, and upon leaving by train return your bike. The bike is scanned again.
  • For the first 24 hours the cost of lending the bike is just under 2 Euro.
  • Each month I get an e-mail with an invoice listing where and when I used a bicycle. The amount is then automatically deducted from my bank account.

P1150838
OV = Openbaar Vervoer = Public Transport, fiets = bicycle
All in all it’s extremely easy, and it adds only about 2 euro to the cost of my train trips, while saving me lots of time as well as money and making me more flexible.

My Guest Blogging at EU PSI Platform / EU PSI Events

Guest blogging about Open PSI in the EU
In the past weeks I have been writing a few articles as guest blogger at the EU’s EPSI platform, dedicated to European efforts to open up public service information (PSI) and open government data. The EPSI platform does a good job of tracking relevant developments in the EU member states, and also their efforts on e.g. Twitter have surprised me with the speed at which they react to articles and postings elsewhere.
I wrote 4 articles for the EPSI-Platform guest blog, which I am posting here in summary.
Open Government Data in the Netherlands
Describing the fragmented nature of open data efforts in Dutch government, and the reasons why, even though the law is pretty clear on what must be done.
Being Aware of All Open PSI Stakeholders
Often I find entire groups of stakeholders are ignored or overlooked in the open government data debate. EIther on purpose or because of not being able to escape traditional frameworks and assumptions. The same goes for areas where Open PSI can create value. In this posting I describe the areas of interest I am aware of, and the groups of stakeholders visible in that area.
The Business Case for Open PSI, Part I
About all the reasons why asking for a business case for open data is a trap and an excuse to not do anything at all. And how to escape that trap.
The Business Case for Open PSI, Part II
Giving you 7 ways to make a useful business case for Open PSI in your government institution, and 4 groups of questions you can count on you will need to solve.
EU PSI Events In June
The coming weeks will see several events on Open PSI that I will be attending.
Tomorrow I will facilitate a discussion on a Dutch Open Government Data catalog for the Ministry f.t. Interior at ‘Hack the Government’ in Amsterdam.
In Madrid, June 9th, I will attend a session on ‘Realising the Value of PSI‘, organized by the EPSI Platform and Aporta.es, the Spanish open government data portal.
In Luxembourg, June 23rd, I will be speaking at the annual meeting of the European Commission’s PSI Group. The meeting will focus on both the developments around the re-use of PSI in the EU as well as on the review of the Directive on re-use of PSI. I will be giving my views on open data and PSI reuse from a community perspective.

An Emblem for Open Government and Open Data

Open Government Emblem
A few days ago the American Sunlight Foundation launched a logo for ‘Open Government’. The Sunlight Foundation is working to increase government transparency in the US. In March they will launch a big campaign to get more public government information on-line in real time. The tag-line they are using is ‘public = on-line’.
The emblem, a looping arrow, in which you can see both a G for Government as well as a power button, is intended for much wider use however. All the graphics are therefore available for download, and free re-use and adaptation.
With the emblem the Sunlight Foundation wants to strengthen the notion that Open Government is a movement for all who think the relationship between government and their citizens can be improved with respect to transparency, participation and collaboration. For all of us who think government could and should do a better job on our behalf. So, if you work on Open Government, feel free to use this emblem anywhere it is appropiate.

Open Government Icon

Open Government Emblem

Open Data Emblem
Open Government is not the same as Open Government Data. Open Government is also about transparency of processes and accountability of governance. Open Government Data is more about the free availability and re-usability of any data or information government produces. Open data is an important part of open government, but they are not the same. Open Government is the larger notion, and contains Open Government Data.
Last year James Burke already created an Open Data emblem, as part of our work for the Dutch Ministry for Internal Affairs. It was created so that government departments had an easy way of showing on their website where data can be found and downloaded. This emblem too is available for download and re-use.

Open Data Icon
Open Data Emblem

It’s good to see that both James and the Sunlight Foundation independently came up with emblems that aim for simplicity and ease of recognition, and both use clear symbols in black and white. That way they can be recognized at a glance.
I hope you will be using both emblems widely and often for all your open gov and open gov data projects. I already ordered a sticker booklet at Moo.com so I can go around handing both emblems out.