Bijna twintig jaar geleden, op de dag na mijn verjaardag, vond de vuurwerkramp in Enschede plaats. Het is een reden dat we veel langer in Enschede zijn blijven wonen dan we zelf gedacht hadden. Danny de Vries maakte de videobeelden van de ontploffing die de wereld overgingen en overleefde. Een collega van hem, Marcel van Nieuwenhoven, kwam op dezelfde locatie om, omdat hij net iets dichter op het vuur stond.

Danny schreef kort na de vuurwerkramp al zijn herinneringen en emoties op. En keek er twintig jaar niet naar. Nu wel, omdat de huidige pandemie associaties oproept met toen. Hij maakte er een boek van, als brief aan zijn omgekomen collega en vriend Marcel.

Danny en ik kennen elkaar goed uit onze studietijd in Enschede. We zaten samen in het sociƫteitsbestuur van onze studentenvereniging eind jaren negentig, zijn beiden lid van hetzelfde verticale verband binnen die vereniging, en waren allebei lid van het bestuur van de lokale oranjevereniging omdat we het oranjefeest in de stad een impuls wilden geven (dat lukte). Danny is bevlogen en warm, en altijd actief op veel verschillende fronten.

De dag van de vuurwerkramp belde ik hem omdat ik rook zag ten noorden van ons huis, vanuit het keukenraam toen ik de gebaksschoteltjes van mijn verjaardag aan het opruimen was. Hij was al onderweg zei hij, en had toevallig een camera bij zich omdat hij eerder elders een item had opgenomen voor de regionale omroep. Kort daarna hoorde ik hem op de radio zeggen dat hij op locatie was. Toen kwam die gigantische klap. Urenlang wisten we niet hoe het met Danny was en drentelde ik onrustig heen en weer, tot hij een paar uur later weer te horen was. Toen ik hem een paar dagen later in de achtertuin van zijn studentenhuis weer ontmoette en omhelsde was dat emotioneel. Het moment waarop ik weer voelde hoe weinig het scheelde of ik had een vriend verloren. Ik heb hem nooit meer gebeld met een nieuwstip. Mij te gevaarlijk.

We spraken in de bizarre dagen na de vuurwerkramp over hoe schrijven een manier is om gebeurtenissen te verwerken, en op enig moment daarna bracht ik hem in contact met een uitgever die ik kende. Dat was te vroeg. Twintig jaar later is ook prima op tijd.

Ik heb het boek Brief aan Marcel besteld en hoop het dit weekend te lezen.

Het monument van de vuurwerkramp, met de namen van de omgekomen stadsgenoten, waaronder Marcel van Nieuwenhoven. Foto Cyril Wermers, 13 mei 2005 tijdens de jaarlijkse herdenking, licentie CC BY NC

A poem by Willem Brakman on the university’s steps: philosophy makes sense, science explains. But art shows, shows what it can’t say.

I facilitated two unconferences this week, on Monday and Thursday. The Industrial Design professorate at the Saxion University for Applied Sciences in Enschede celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Karin van Beurden who has been leading the professorate from the start wanted to have a celebratory event. Not to look back, but to look forward to the next 15 years. She also wanted to do it in a slightly unconventional way. Karin participated in one of our birthday unconferences, and asked me to help her shape the event. In the past 2 months, Karin, her colleague Nienke and I collaborated on this. It was unconventional in the eyes of the university’s board, as well as for the network Karin invited. So we had some explaining and managing of expectations to do in the run-up to the event.

When the professorate started, the theme of Karin’s inaugural speech was how “oysters turn their irritants into pearls”. Now after 15 years it was time to not just look at the pearls created during that period, but mostly at what the pearls of the future would be and thus the issues of today. Under this broad theme some 50 people participated in the unconference, and it was a pleasure to facilitate the process.

After opening up the space, making everyone feel at ease and explaining the process, we created a program for the afternoon in BarCamp style, listing 15 sessions across four spaces, in a 2 hour program.

What followed (the way I experienced it) was a carroussel of amazing stories, ranging from financing challenges for research projects, enabling alternative energy provision discussion, the psychological impact of turning breast prostheses from a medically framed issue into a fashion issue, and the use of 3d printing to reduce time needed in operation rooms. Afterwards we had a pleasant bbq and further conversations nearby, and during the train ride back I had further good conversation with one of the participants. It was a pleasant day to be back in Enschede.

One of the sessions, in the FabLab space
A session in the FabLab Enschede space

Using pluggable hexagons to discuss energy grid issues

3d printed elements for bone reconstruction

What stood out for me was how various participants encountering the format for the first time, immediately realised its potential for their own work. The university’s chair mentioned how she would like to do this with her board to more freely explore issues and options for the university. A professor remarked how it might be a good way to have better, more varied project evaluation sessions with students in his courses. Also, judging by the conversations I had, we succeeded apparently in creating a space and set-up that felt safe for a range of very personal stories and details to be shared.

As I had a few minutes before my train left, I got to visit our favourite ice cream parlor in Enschede, our home town until 2 years ago. We haven’t found a comparably good ice cream vendor in Amersfoort.

(At CaL earlier this month in Canada, someone asked me if I did unconference facilitation as work. I said no, but then realised I had two events lined up this week putting the lie to that ‘no’. This week E suggested we might start offering training on how to host and facilitate an unconference.)

Good conversation with Robert and Lilia (company, Lilia’s blog) today over lunch in Enschede. Explored shared challenges concerning doing business, also as a couple, seeing the household as an economically active unit, finding your way back into a field, or extending into new fields and more. It was good to catch up, and take the time to do so. Definitely need to continue that soon for several directions the conversation took us in today. Also Enschede hasn’t changed much since we left, and the problems with trains being delayed and cancelled proved part of the reason we moved still stands :).

Last Thursday the first TTN Enschede Meet-up was held. The Things Network (TTN) is an open infrastructure, using LoRaWan, which lets Internet of Things (IoT) devices communicate data to the cloud, from which it can be approached over regular internet connections.

What fascinates me in this, is that one can implement a city or region wide infrastructure for very little money, where normally the infrastructure is the expensive part. Especially after the TTN Amsterdam initiators ran a kickstarter campaign offering the gateways for just 200 Euro, last October. With several volunteers here in Enschede, we can quickly achieve city wide coverage, and open it up to all comers. And that is what is indeed happening, as it looks like at least 6 gateways will become available in the city soon. One gateway, which Timothy at Innovalor placed on top of the highrise of the University of Applied Sciences Saxion in the city center, is already operational, since last week. The rest will follow in June.

The meeting last Thursday of fifteen TTN and IoT interested people in Enschede was a good first encounter. Besides getting to know eachother, it was good to exchange ideas, experiences, and talk about what we could actually do once the infrastructure is in place.

As it turns out, thinking about use cases is not easy, and that will definitely need more thought and discussion.

Meanwhile one of the participants, JP, showed his LoRaWan device that measures signal strength of the mentioned gateway. On his mobile phone he combines those measurements with his phone’s GPS location. This way he built a signal strength map of the Saxion gateway while cycling around town over the course of his normal activities. The LoRaWan receiver and the map are shown below. As it turns out more people are currently doing this type of wardriving, trying to crowdsource a coverage map of the Netherlands.

Earlier this year a group of Internet of Things enthusiasts in a month or so launched an open communication infrastructure across the entire city of Amsterdam, enabling anyone to let their IoT devices communicate. Without the need for 4G, Wifi or BT connections, it uses LoRaWan, which allows low bandwith but long range traffic, at low energy usage levels. They call it The Things Network.

Currently The Things Network is running a Kickstarter campaign to bring LoRaWan devices into the hands of more people, and thus create IoT infrastructure in more cities. The gateways on offer cost about 20% of what similar devices cost, and this is a great opportunity to implement a solid city wide infrastructure at very low cost. With an old fraternity friend, Ian Kennedy, we are now looking to create such an infrastructure for my hometown Enschede.

The Things Network from Soda Content on Vimeo.

Enschede is a town of about 160.000 people, and covering the city will require 3 or 4 gateways, to which nodes and devices can connect to communicate. Both Ian and I ordered a gateway through the Kickstarter campaign, and are now looking to connect to more people locally with an interest in IoT. Ideally one or two others will also fund a gateway, ensuring city wide coverage. The coverage between the two of us is shown in the image at the top, and as you can see especially the southern suburbs still need coverage. We will likely also reach out to companies and the city government to see who else is interested in experimenting with this new infrastructure. As delivery of the devices is scheduled for late spring next year, still a long time away, we have plenty of time to get the ball rolling before that.

Interested in making Enschede IoT ready? Join the newly created mailing list Things Enschede (running on my own mail server), and/or help create the infrastructure by adding hardware through the TheThingsNetwork Kickstarter campaign. We will aim to organize a meet-up in November to get local conversations going.

If there are a few others willing to join us, we will certainly add Enschede to the growing list of cities in the The Things Network community. UPDATE: Others are indeed also active, and have been arranging gateways too. That ensures we will have enough hardware to get city wide coverage up and running. Meanwhile a local Enschede community page has been opened, but not yet filled.

At the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw on 20 and 21 October I hosted a workshop on ‘making open government data work for local government’.

If open government data is here to stay then only because it has become an instrument to government bodies themselves, and not because government are releasing data only because of compliance with transparency and re-use demands from others (central government or citizens).

This workshop started from the premise that there is opportunity in local governments treating open data as a policy instrument to find new solutions to the issues local communities face, amongst others in coming up with new ways of working in light of budget cuts.

Contributions were made by the local open government data initiatives of the cities of Berlin, Munich (Germany), Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Enschede (Netherlands), Linz and Vienna (Austria), who all shortly presented the current status of their initiatives. It was great to be able to have seven cities take the stage after each other to explain their work in and with local government on open data, and it shows how much things have changed in the past year alone.

Slides of the introductory presentation I gave are available, and are embedded below.

After the introductions, the workshop participants worked in little groups on identifying local issues where open government data could be used towards new approaches by local government and citizens.

This was done in three steps:

  • Identify issues that are currently relevant to your local community.
  • Try to define which datasets might be connected to these issues.
  • Discuss what new steps are possible, using the datasets mentioned.

The collective output of the workshop has been made available as a document I wrote for the (download PDF), and is embedded below.

Making Local Open Data Work