Shakingtree Award

Today I attended the presentation of this year’s Shaking Tree Award. This annual award started in 2016, and is named after my friend Niels who received the first award during his ‘last lecture‘. Niels died a year ago. The Ministry of Healthcare has pledged to keep going with the award, in the spirit of Niels’ efforts: shake up the system, fighting unneeded and kafkaesque bureaucracy, have hands-on experience with the system at ‘the receiving end’ so you know what you’re talking about, have a sense of humor to go with it, and be able to ‘dance with the system’.

The meeting was attended by a diverse range of people, from the healthcare domain, Niels’ family, and of course a smattering of Niels’ friends.

Before presenting this year’s nominees and the award, time was given to remembering Niels and the reason for this award. This was followed by two conversations between a previous winner and nominee and a representative of an institution they struggled with. First were Annette Stekelenburg and Ria Dijkstra, manager operations at a health care insurer. Annette has a son that needs tube feeding to survive. This situation will not change. Yet every year they need to apply for approval to continue receiving the materials needed. Annette and Ria had a frank conversation about what happened when Annette publicly announced she was fed up with this yearly bureaucracy that should be unneeded. Dijkstra explained how they thought that they had already changed the rules, making the renewal once every 5 years, but that the suppliers never knew, and that forms are being sent out in the insurers name that don’t actually exist anymore.

The second conversation was between Kathi Künnen, a previous nominee, and Betsie Gerrits, department head at UWV, the government agency in charge of employee insurance. Kathi is 29 and has incurable cancer. Because of that she has been determined to be 100% incapable of working, yet there are lots of phases where she actually does want to work. 25% of young professionals with cancer have an incurable form, and most want to remain active as long as possible. Yet the system tells them their ‘earning capacity is 0’ and with a stamp like that there’s no way to find paid activity. Here too, the conversation first of all made the two parties at the table see each other as individual human beings. And from it energy and potential solutions follow. Kathi said she needs reassurance that there can be administrative certainty (other than being tossed out as worthless), as her own life is fluid enough as it is and changing all the time.

I thought both conversations were impressive, and the type of thing we need much more of. Once you get past the frustration, anger and disbelief that often plays a role too, you can see the actual human being at the other side of the table. Dancing with the system is, in part, being able to have these conversations.

The award was presented by the previous winner, Tim Kroesbergen, and the secretary general of the Ministry Erik Gerritsen was host to the event, with Maarten den Braber as MC. The jury, consisting of Sanne (Niels’ wife) and the previous two winners, Annette Stekelenburg and Tim Kroesbergen, made their choice known from amongst the three nominees: Eva Westerhoff, Elianne Speksnijder and Geert-Jan den Hengst. All three nominees were presented by a video, as well as a conversation about their experiences.

Eva Westerhoff is a disability rights advocate & accessibility consultant who happens to be deaf. Next to her job at a bank, she does lots of volunteer work on diversity, inclusion & accessibility in information, communication & tech. She’s been knocking on doors in the Healthcare Ministry for over 20 years. Today she said that because of the political cycle, it seems you need to do everything again every four years or so, to keep awareness high enough.

Elianne Speksnijder is a professional fashion model, photographer and story teller. Lyme disease and epilepsy caused her to land in a wheelchair when she was 15. As she said today, an age which brings enough difficulties as it is. It took her a decade to accept that her wheels were a permanent part of her life. She’s 28 now, a woman with ambitions ‘on wheels’. When she was a teenager she sorely missed a role model (or rolling model, as the Dutch word ‘rolmodel’ can mean both). Now she is setting out to be that role model herself. She hopes for much more inclusivity in media, and challenges companies about it.

Geert-Jan den Hengst, is a 48 year old father of two adult children. He has MS and has been living the last decade or so in an environment that provides 24/7 care. His laptop is his core conduit to the rest of the world. Writing is a need for him. He blogs on his own blog, and writes for the local football team’s website, various media in his hometown and more. At the heart of his writing are everyday observations. He says he is “not a political animal, so I need to stay close to my everyday life in what I do”. Often those observations are examples of how life can be made impractical for someone in his position. He mentioned an early example that got him started: for the local football stadium all types of tickets could be bought online, except for …. tickets for wheel chair access. People with wheel chairs needed to come buy the tickets in person. The group least likely to be able to do that easily.

From all three nominees, I think the main takeaway is taking the time to share and listen to the actual stories of people. Especially when things get complicated or complex. Not news, there’s a reason I’ve been active in participatory narrative inquiry and sense making for a long time, but it bears repeating. Stories are our main way of ‘measurement’ in complex situations, to catch what’s going on for real, to spot the actual (not just the intended) consequences of our actions, structures and regulations, to see the edge cases, and to find the knobs to turn towards getting better results (and know what better actually is).

Jury chairman Tim Kroesbergen after reading the jury motivations for all three nominees, announced Eva Westerhoff as the new Shaking Tree Award winner.

'Last Lecture' Deluxe @shakingtree #fakkeldragers
The Shaking Tree Award statuette (photo by Henk-Jan Winkeldermaat, CC by-nc-sa)

Inside the Ministry a poem by Merel Morre is painted on the wall, that she wrote in honor of Niels ‘Shakingtree’.
A rough translation reads (anything unpoetic is all my doing)

outside

shake goals awake
jump past rules
dance joints wider
dream chances free

out of bounds
outside limitation
it grows
as it grows

tree high
dream high
where it lighter
but never stops

In the ministy’s central hall all the pillars show a face of someone with the words “I care”. That and the poem are promising signs of commitment to the actual stories of people. The Ministry still has 24 statuettes in stock for the Shaking Tree Award, so there’s a likelihood they will keep the annual award up as well. But as this year’s winner Eva Westhoff warned, every 4 years the politics changes, so it’s better to make sure.

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The faces in the Ministry with the text ‘I care’

Sorry to hear some sad news today. Just by coincidence, checking out an Austrian blog Heinz Wittenbrink pointed me to, I found out that Robert Basic died Friday last week of heart failure. Robert Basic is of my age, and was one of the most visible bloggers in Germany in the ’00s, writing a tech blog, basicthinking.de. I never actually met him in person, but our blog networks and therefore blog conversations strongly overlapped. One of those bloggers in the middle distance for me, I’d always encounter him in the comments of other bloggers I read, and we read each others blog, but never directly engaging much otherwise. Not someone close, nor a stranger, but a familiar face in the neighbourhood to chat with, mutually acknowledging you’re part of the fabric of that neighbourhood.

I distinctly remember two moments from Robert’s blogging. The first one was when ‘we’, as in a bunch of other bloggers in his network, found out that Robert automated the actual moment of publishing a posting. To better spread out his writing over a week, so he could write a number of things, but not post them all at the same time. The ‘smoking gun’ was some other bloggers being in a meeting with him talking, and seeing how posts would go up on his site at that moment. We discussed it as inauthentic behaviour. A true blogger would write in the moment and immediately post. Since then being able to preset the precise moment of a blogpost has become standard functionality, and I use it regularly.

The second moment was when, after six years of blogging, he no longer wanted to continue his very successful blog and started again on a new blog. He put basicthinking.de up for sale on eBay in 2009. It brought in 46.902 Euro. The site still exists, with his 12k articles still in the archive, and having changed hands again in 2015. I was shocked, I remember, by that step, and maybe even more puzzled by what the buyer thought they were buying. Wasn’t it the author that drives the traffic to the blog, taking it with him when he leaves?

Since then we mostly followed each other on Facebook, and when I deleted my old Facebook account I lost track of his writing, mostly about the automotive industry. Until today, when on a random Austrian blog I found the news of his untimely death. It’s odd. I feel like I’m currently in a resurgence of blogging, and part of that is reconnecting to the history of the web we lost. A history now long enough to lose people who are part of it.

dat wars, that’s it, was the title of the last posting on his old blog in January 2009.

dat wars.

Justin Jackson is a fucking Webmaster. I’ve been using Movable Type and WordPress for 16 years, but I always write everything in text adding most HTML to a posting by hand. I created an entire intranet for a research company in a text editor. I hosted my own website for the better part of a decade from a machine under my desk at home before I started late 2002. On that site I had the mail address webmaster@zylstra.demon.nl on every page, so yeah, I most def recognise the sentiment.

Just realised something rather obvious. This is my site, I can use whatever language I want to post in.

In the past I tried keeping a separate Dutch and German language blog, but that always felt contrived, as most my blog conversations are in English by default. Today I responded to a posting by Heinz in German, and it felt contrived to respond in English. Yet I also wanted to post it here, and not just in his blog’s comments. Added categories for Dutch and German now, and will figure out later if I want to provide separate menu options and feeds for it. Or not.

As a kid I was very into Playmobil. As a six-year-old I got my first one, a blue construction worker with an orange helmet and a grey broom, in 1976, about a year after they became available on the Dutch market. Over the years in primary school I gathered a mountain of that stuff, to a significant extent self-financed from collecting old paper around the village, and selling it for recycling.

Playmobil is manufactured in Nürnberg, or rather Zirndorf on the outskirts of it. We spent our summer holidays in Bavaria in 1976-1979, and on the way to our destination I once got my parents to drive to the factory. I had high hopes there would we some sort of shop or exhibition at the factory. There wasn’t. I remember standing disappointed in front of a grey building with closed gates, in the rain.

Nürnberg is also the birthplace of Albrecht Dürer, a key Renaissance figure. In 1493 he created the oldest known painted self-portrait.

The tourist office of Nürnberg had a Playmobil figure made of the painter in action, the city’s most famous son. On the easel is not his first painted self portrait, but one from 5 years later, 1498 when he was 26. By the looks of it because it shows the man in an outfit that lends itself better for use on a toy figure.

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The 1498 self-portrait of Dürer, as it currently hangs in the Prado

During check-out in the hotel lobby after IndieWeb Camp in Nürnberg, I spotted the Playmobil Dürer in a vitrine. How could I resist?

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We visited the Escher’s Journey exhibit in the Frisian Museum in Leeuwarden today, as part of a very nice day with the three of us. Leeuwarden is Europe’s cultural capital this year, and Escher was born in Leeuwarden. They brought a large collection of works together in a beautifully made exhibition that we really enjoyed. Part of it was a replica of Escher’s studio in Italy where he made the famous self portrait of his reflection in a ball. Visitors could sit at a desk and hold a similar reflective ball with a camera in it, for a portrait that was then pasted into Escher’s drawing and sent to you via e-mail. The bookcase in the back, the chair to the side, all similar to the original.


our portrait and original next to each other, deliberately at low quality

Today is national apple picking day. We had a tree full of apples this year. We ate a few apples during summer, but the drought, wasps and birds took most of them. So despite the many apples the tree carried early in the summer, the harvest in the end was smaller than last year.

The apples are very tasty though. Just the right mix of sweet and tangy. And Y was rather impressed one day sitting at the table in the garden, when she asked for an apple, and I simply reached above me and picked one.

I spent more time pruning the tree, then picking the few remaining unspoilt apples today.

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Pruning the tree

20180915_152947The very limited remaining harvest

I got elected as treasurer of the newly founded Creative Commons Chapter Netherlands. Could not make the founding meeting this afternoon but thankful for the trust of the participants in the meeting. Looking forward to working with the other newly elected board members Maarten Zeinstra (chair), Hessel van Oorschot (secretary), Sebastiaan ter Burg (general board member), and Lisette Kalshoven (representative in the CC Global Network Council). The newly formed Chapter is the result of the changing structure of Creative Commons globally.

Elmine says this about the difficulty to describe her feelings about having almost 70 guests, friends, family, clients, peers, neighbours, spend two days in our home. Where the youngest was 8 weeks, the oldest 80 years. Where the shortest trip made was from right next door, and the furthest from Canada and Indonesia, and the rest from somewhere in between:

I try to find words to describe what happened the past few days, but everything I write down feels incomplete and abstract. How do you put into words how much it means to you that friends travel across the world to attend your birthday party? That you can celebrate a new year in life with friends you haven’t been able to meet for four years (or longer)? Who’s lives have changed so drastically in those years, including my own, but still pick up where you left the conversation all those years before? How can I describe how much it means to me to be able to connect all those people Ton and I collected in our lives, bring them together in the same space and for all of them to hit it off? That they all openly exchanged life stories, inspired each other, geeked out together, built robots together?

It was an experience beyond words. It was, yet again, an epic birthday party.

It also extends to the interaction we had with those who could not attend, because the invitation and response also trigger conversations about how other people are doing and what is going on in their lives.

I completely share Elmine’s sense of awe.

Do You Have Any Diodes? ….. …. Is probably the most unlikely question I got ever asked out of the blue at a birthday party. However the answer turned out to be yes, I did have two diodes. I didn’t think I did, but taking a look in the one box I suspected might have some electronic components in them, proved me wrong.

The diodes were needed to increase the strength of the scary noises an evil robot was emitting. This evil robot was being created just outside our front door where the enormous Frysklab truck, containing a mobile FabLab, was completely filling the courtyard. Representing everything that is wrong and evil about some of the devices that are marketed as necessary for a ‘smart home’, the evil robot then got ritually smashed into pieces by Elmine, wielding a gigantic hammer, named ‘The Unmaker’ that a colleague brought with him. That was the official closing act of our unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters“.

Around all this our 40 or so guests, friends, family members, clients, colleagues, peers, were weaving a rich tapestry of conversations and deepening connections. Something that our friend Peter put into words extremely well. Elmine and I are in awe of the effort and time all who joined us have put into coming to our home and participate in our slightly peculiar way of celebrating birthdays. Birthday parties where evil robots, a hyperloop to send messages from the courtyard to the garden, mythical German bbq-sausages, friendship, philosophy, web technology, new encounters and yes diodes, are all key ingredients to help create a heady mix of fun, inspiration, connection, and lasting memories.

Thank you all so much for making it so.

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August 31st Elmine and I host the 4th Birthday Unconference and BBQ-Party in our home in Amersfoort. The unconference is titled “Smart Stuff that Matters”.

So what is Smart, and what Matters?

A year ago we moved to Amersfoort. A different house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. The city where our daughter will grow up.

A new environment means lots of exploration. What makes a house a home? How can you smartly adapt your house to your needs? Who lives in the neighbourhood, how do you settle in it? What makes a city your city? Which existing initiatives appeal to you, and in what ways can you contribute to them?
Whether it’s a new habit, a new device in your home, your contacts and networks, or your approach: what are smart ways to act and contribute to your residence and environment so it supports you and the others in it? In the context of much wider developments and global issues, that is. Both social and technological, at home, in your neighbourhood, your city. It’s important to approach things in ways that create meaning, enable the important things, both for you and others. Smart Stuff That Matters therefore.

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Our house, in the middle of our street

A full day long we’ll explore ‘smart’ in all its facets.
Smart homes (and around the home), smart neighbourhoods, smart cities.
Socially, how do we learn, communicate, organise and share? How do we act, how do we contribute? How do we find the power of collaborative agency.
And also technologically, which technologies help us, which only pretend to do so, and are these technologies sufficiently ours?
We will have the Frysklab Team joining us again with their mobile FabLab, and have plenty of space to experiment with technology that way. Such as sensors, internet of things and programming. Or to build non-digital hacks for around the home.

Frysklab in da house!
Frysklab’s truck parked at our old home in Enschede during the previous unconference

Together we’ll explore what smart means to you and us.
Bring your small and big experiences and skills, but above all bring your curiosity, and let yourself be surprised with what the others bring.
Do you have ideas about what you’d like to show, discuss, present or do?
Have ideas about what you would like to hear from others about? Let us know! We’ll build the program together!

You’ll find all relevant information about the unconference on this site. You’re also welcome to join our Facebook group for the event.