Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentacost again: time for a vintage column of May 15, 2005

If I had continued my studies for the priesthood, I would have looked like this by now. And still I am convinced that theology is the best training for online. 

My e-mail signature contains a lot of personal information. Just have a look and you will discover that my degree sounds Divine. More cryptic for some people is the slogan: Theology is the best training for online.

As it is Pentacost today, I can make a link between my study and my present life. From my eleventh till my twenty fifth year I studied to be a priest. I ended up in New Orleans, Sin City USA, where I studied theology at Notre Dame Seminary from 1966 till 1970. It is here where I got my BA and my Master of Divinity, which is a kind of license to work as a priest. In the end I did not go through for ordination or as we say ambiguously in The Netherlands: I left the church before singing. And I did not leave the church, because of a woman, as people usually like to think. I met my wife years later. So I have a background in philosophy and theology.

Often I get the question, how I got into new media. Well there is a red thread in this story. During my study in New Orleans I had to work for my living. I had a scholarship which covered the basic needs of tuition and subsistence. But that was not enough to buy books and go to the movie sometimes. So I started to translate theology books from Dutch into English and I got even grades for it. When I left the seminary, I went back to The Netherlands and started as an editor for reference works, more precise for a general encyclopedia. I became the editor humanities and had to cover religion, theology, philosophy, ethics, superstition and other items. As it was a new project, a minicomputer brand PDP of Digital, was used for editorial task. So in 1970 the editors received piles of paper output for correction. We never saw the machine. Yet we saw that it was handy for setting up a thesaurus. So in this way we avoided bad links, but it became also clear that much of the knowledge of the world could be stored in those machines. In fact you could make a mental picture of period, of a country or of a person. Of course the computer was also used for more traditional tasks such as the administration of authors’ fee and for typesetting. Eventually I got involved in managing the content of general encyclopedias for another publishing house. These days you would have the title content manger in your job description, but for a lack of a better word we called it text manager at that time.

So from the Book, the Holy Bible, I got into publishing and in fact in electronic publishing. And my study came in handy after all. In the contact with the programmers I could practice all my lessons of exegesis. I learned how to interpret the messages the programmers sent. They were usually cryptic and often meant that they did not know how to solve problems: it is technically impossible…., was a common expression.

When in the eighties the PCs became en vogue, I learned fast that there were different groups of believers: MS-Dos/Windows, Apple and later Open Source. The division between these groups is not as divisive as in religious life, but people can be as fanatic about it as religious people. Especially those Apple fans, my goodness; yet I guess that those fans made a right choice for the Apple creed.

When the Internet hype was on the rise, I thought that the end of the world would be near. The eschatological belief in the future and the green grass of the new economy was so unbelievably strong. Helped by the stock exchange many got seduced to run and leave the valley of tears as fast as they could get. Most of them never made it to the eschatological green fields and are still in hell, paying off their debts. 

But the best part came with the introduction of the mobile telephone. I practiced praying in church for a long time as a mode of wireless communication. You had to be silent and the communication went straight up to heaven without a need for masts. Besides the protocol was different as you never got a spoken answer in return, except the lucky ladies in Lourdes and Fatima. So when the wireless telephone came around it gave all people a chance to communicate with each other anywhere, at anytime. Granted, you need masts, even on church steeples, but at least everyone gets an answer.

As you can see the slogan “Theology is the best training for online” is not that bad, after all. It reflects part of my life.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

BPN 1739: 25 years of consumer internet in the Netherlands

"On 1 May 1993, something remarkable happened. On that day, XS4ALL opened its server to the consumer. The management's objective was to acquire 500 customers in half a year. But at 7 o'clock in the evening, the 500th customer had already signed up. This success can largely be explained by the publication of the article "A continent that belongs to no one yet" by Francisco van Jole "(@2525) in the Volkskrant of the same day".

Besides (old) illustrations on the site of XS4ALL, there is also an old sound found. It is about the sound the handshake of a modem to the server of the IP. After the ringtone of DDS now also one of XS4ALL plus a happy birthday tune. 

 Text fragment: Toen digitale media nog nieuw waren - Pre-internet in de polder (1967-1997) - 

The following article is a translation of an article published by 

25 years of the internet for Dutch consumers

On 1 May I congratulated my grandsons. They looked up from their phone and asked what. Of course, the congratulations were not for Labour Day, because they are still at school. I congratulated them on 25 years of the internet for Dutch consumers. They shrugged their shoulders and continued with their smartphones. For me, it is still a matter of guessing whether they know what consumers are.
They know the term internet, but why celebrate an anniversary of something you use every day? Yes, they were still unborn when Dutch consumers were introduced to the phenomenon of the Internet (certainly, with a capital letter, because it was a new phenomenon at the time).

Illustration 1: The Volkskrant article of 1 May 1993

On May 1, 1993, I opened the Volkskrant and found an article with the headline 'A continent that belongs to no one yet' by Francisco van Jole. It was about the phenomenon of the Internet. According to language researcher Perry Feenstra, that word was only used 22 times in the national newspapers in that year.

Open to consumers
On the same day, the Internet organisation XS4ALL opened its service to consumers. It was anticipated that it would take between six months and a year for 500 subscribers to come forward. But the target was achieved that same evening. The article in de Volkskrant will undoubtedly have contributed to this. This made XS4ALL the first real internet organization to serve consumers as well as business customers.

The years prior to the launch of XS4ALL were confusing. In the Netherlands there was an online multi-flow country: there were ASCII, video and electronic messaging services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In academia, something as vague as the Internet played a role and, since 1990, the Web. New companies were formed around this new movement, which mainly focused on business customers or associations such as the Hobby Computer Club. In 1992, 292 companies were customers of an Internet service provider. NLnet gave consumers - mostly former students - access, but did not believe that there was a consumer market.

Illustration 2: A map of the Netherlands with internet services, academic and business (1992/1993)

XS4ALL did not do the same thing. There the founders believed in a consumer market. The founders knew each other from the magazine Hac-Tic, which dealt with hacking, free calls, operating systems and services such as Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). The founders of XS4ALL also made use of NEABBS (Dutch First General Bulletin Board System), a BBS based in Amsterdam.

In 1993, XS4ALL was founded by Rop Gonggrijp, Paul Jongsma, Felipe Rodriquez and Cor Bosman. In a short space of time, they were able to develop their internet service into a company. In early 1994, for example, XS4ALL worked with De Digitale Stad (The Digital City). In that year the company also worked together with VPRO, which became the first broadcaster to work with the internet; in view of their visual material, they needed fast telephone lines and found them at the telecom service of the Dutch Railways. In 1994, the service was incorporated into a foundation and, since 1996, into a private limited company.

Illustration 3: Advertising of XS4ALL

XS4ALL was also the first to face lawsuits. For example, in 1995, the Church of Scientology filed a lawsuit against the publisher Karin Spaink Karin, the Internet service XS4ALL, and a number of other service providers. Spaink is said to have published on the internet texts of Scientology on which the Church's copyright would rest; according to Spaink, they were merely extracts. XS4ALL successfully argued that it only passed on the material, not published it.


The great surprise was when the Dutch telecom operator KPN took over XS4ALL twenty years ago. It soon became clear that XS4ALL would remain an independent company and would not be integrated with Planet Internet, which had just survived an integration battle at the beginning of 1997 with the videotex service Videotex Netherlands, the Internet service WorldAccess and the messaging service Memocom. However, after the sale to KPN, activism remained a feature of XS4ALL. For example, XS4ALL has conducted a trial with Ziggo against the collecting society BREIN for blocking access to the Pirate Bay download site.

Meanwhile, XS4ALL is one of the better but more expensive internet providers in the Netherlands and the service is used by KPN as a vehicle to sell multiple service packages with fibre optic, landline, television and mobile.

Illustrations are part of the Collection Jak Boumans.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BPN 1738: Escher interactive again

The Dutch public broadcasting company NTR is building a series of interactive gems. In 2016 it launched Jheronimus Bosch's interactive documentary The Garden of Earthly Delights on the occasion of the major Bosch exhibition in 's Hertogenbosch. Now the broadcaster has launched a new documentary entitled The Metamorphosis of Escher. Never before has Escher's work been viewed in such detail online; however, Escher's work has been interactively available on CD-ROM since 1996.

Web documentary 
The interactive documentary The metamorphosis of Escher, in which Metamorphosis II is central, enables website visitors to discover and experience Escher's work and follow his life from closely. The online visitor can make an art-historical tour through the documentary, listen to personal stories, and study the technique of Escher. Not only Metamorphosis II, but also ten other works such as Relativity, Reptiles and Verbum can be experienced in this way.

The interactive documentary was made in collaboration with the M.C. Escher Foundation, and has been launched in the same period as the start of the Escher exhibition in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden as part of Leeuwarden Cultural Capital festival. Visitors to the exhibition can also experience the interactive documentary via a digital table. The specially composed music of Paul M. van Brugge gives the interactive documentary an extra compelling atmosphere.

Visitors can also work on the site with their own piece of metamorphosis. Techniques that Escher has developed over the years have now been incorporated into the so-called 'Metamorphosis Machine'. You can rotate, mirror, shift, and then morphe to a second image. You then add your created work to the digital 'Gesamtkunstwerk' with other web visitors into an infinite online metamorphosis. You can also download, print and share your own work with others. 

CD-ROM documentary 
It is not the first time that an interactive documentary about Escher has been launched. In 1996 the silver disc Escher Interactive was released, discovering the art of the infinite presented in Dutch and English. The producer of the disc was Michael M. Chanowski , a TV producer turned creative ICT.

The CD-ROM program was available on a Multimedia MPC 2 with a minimum specification of Windows 3.1, 25MHz 4865X, 8MB RAM, 640 x 480 monitor x 256 colours (64K colours recommended) and 16bit audio. 

The CD-ROM received nice international reviews, although Harold Goldberg from the New York Times Book Review wondered: “Ultimately, this is a disk that doesn't quite know if it wants to be a game or a reference tool”. 

I myself wrote a column on the disc for the Dutch trade journal De Ingenieur (no. 15 - 25 September 1996): 
The CD-ROM Escher Interactive, discover the art of the infinite is an interesting interactive exploration through the legacy of Escher. The disk also provides much more information than any other book about Escher. The module about his life alone consists of photos, images, sound and video fragments. This module has become a document humaine, in which a person starts to get alive and in which it becomes clear what interests a person. The same applies to the module with the Gallery. The graphical works are presented here one by one, with or without biographical information or expert comments. Although these parts are interesting and have been done with a touch of style, a kind of tradition has developed in art CD-ROMs. The other modules make the disc outstanding: Plane distribution, Concave and Sphere, Animations, Concaves mirrors, Morphing, Magical images and Impossible puzzles. These modules make use of the computer's computing power. For example, you can create your own Escher-like drawings with an advanced drawing program in the plane distribution module. Interesting is the game Concave and Sphere, in which optical illusion is exploited as an element of play. The computer's computing power is also used for the animations. In this way one can see the Moebius strip, over which ants continue to run into infinity. In the concave mirrors module, you can view images as if you had a large drop of water on the screen and could move it with your mouse. The effect is alienating between the detail and the two-dimensional image. The Morphing module shows how figures of griffons gradually change into frogs. In addition, a user can enter his own design, made in the Plane distribution module, and have it changed into a real Escher figure. The Magic Images module is for lovers of three-dimensional images; it is not given to everyone to explore these depths. The Impossible Puzzles module is a real brain breaker. The note in the accompanying booklet, that all puzzles are soluble, indicates that one must have the necessary perseverance. 
The disc has style, is not a translation from print to electronic, but a truly interactive product. In short, superlatives for the product. That does not mean, however, that there are no minor beauty flaws and missed opportunities. At a maximum setting - translated as an acceptable speed - the CD-ROM requires 9Mb of disk space of external memory. The sound on the commentary disc is screeching. There is a missed opportunity in the Gallery module, where a loop could have been built in; if you do not touch the keyboard for some minutes, all images will be played back in historical order, with or without comments. Nevertheless, the disc remains a rare beautiful CD-ROM product. 

CD-ROM: Escher Interactive: Exploring the Art of the Infinite (Windows Edition) Multimedia CD, published by Simon & Schuster Interactive (1999); ISBN 978-1572600096 (Dutch version is part of the Collection Jak Boumans)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

BPN 1737: The one-button mobile

Both pictures © Ton Mooy/ 

An angel flew into my study recently. It looks like a regular angel with wings, but it is not. It is sporting a one button telephone and computer satchel and is fashionably dressed in a pantsuit. The angel is a miniature  of a statue standing on a 15 meter high pillar outside the gothic Saint John’s Cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands), built between the 14th and 16th century. The angel is overlooking a marketplace at the Southside of the Cathedral. The statue is one of a series of 14 angles carved during the restauration of  the gothic Saint John’s Cathedral. The modern angel was especially designed show that the prolonged restauration has been completed in modern times.

When the statue was unveiled in 2011, a tourists’ circus broke loose. Despite the one button for calls to heaven on the mobile, paid telephone numbers were published (see anecdote below). But also fridge magnets, pendants, mineral carved amulets and coarse miniatures were sold online and promoted on Twitter. However this wave passed by and artist Ton Mooy, who chiselled the statue of the mobile angel (auf Deutsch: handy Engel), has produced a miniature, resembling the statue.

To me the mobile angel embodies two eschatologies, two doctrines about the green grass on the other side. In the Christian religions angels are part of the end times, particularly of heaven. In ICT eschatology is the metaphor for the absolute best in devices and apps.

To the Christian eschatology I have been exposed for a quarter of my life. In fact, there was also a link with the Saint John’s Cathedral.  When I went to the minor seminary, a boarding school for boys who want to become Roman Catholic priests, we had one annual trip to the Cathedral. On the early morning  of the first Sunday in May, we went for a 30 kilometres walk from the neighbouring city of Tilburg to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. We attended mass and went back to the seminary by train. The pilgrimage was all part of the training, which included the church teachings about escatology such as heaven, angels, hell and devils as well as limbo and purgatory.

As life went on, I got a job in publishing, particularly in what first was called new media and as internet got introduced, has been coined digital media. We started out from mainframes to mini-computers, from desktop to notebooks, from personal digital assistants to smartphones and tablets. They all have a tax deductible cycle of three to five years, before the next, best thing has to acquired. So is the iPhone 10 the latest device to have as it is the next closest thing to heaven?

An angel sporting a one-button mobile and a computer satchel, may incorporate a glimpse of heaven for believers. For digital-media tifosi, it has not been heaven yet as no mobile manufacturer been able to disrupt  the industry with a one-button mobile. May be the speech assistants Siri and Alexa are showing the way? 

BTW. In a NYT article of  March 5, 2012 it is noted that “when Steve Jobs died, the phone rang endlessly. The angel told the callers: “Steve Jobs will soon arrive upstairs — perhaps I’ll get a new model!” 

For more information on Ton Mooy and the miniature, see: and The information is in the Dutch language, but the sites contain also visual information.

Monday, January 08, 2018


Monday, November 20, 2017

BPN 1736: Manifesto FREEZE! Save and preserve digital heritage

The project group The Digital City Revived consisting of of the Amsterdam Museum, Waag Society, University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision has presented its final results of: FREEZE! Save and preserve our digital heritage. The Digital City as a case study for web archaeology.
The final results of FREEZE! contain three parts:
• Do It Yourself Manual for Web Archaeology (Dutch language);
• Feasibility Study Presentation (Dutch language);
• FREEZE! A manifesto for safeguarding and preserving born-digital heritage.

Version 1 – November 2017

Finding ways to preserve born-digital heritage has become a matter of urgency and growing concern. Websites, games and interactive documentaries each bring specific challenges that need to be addressed. It takes three to tango: Ensuring that our digital lives and digital creativity are not lost to future generations requires a joint effort by the principal players: creators, heritage professionals and policy makers. This manifesto lays out the actions they need to take today to safeguard born-digital heritage.

Digital products are at risk of being lost from the moment they are created. Creators are therefore part of the preservation process - whether by writing code, editing digital content or by creating some other form of digital expression. We encourage creators as follows:
• Invest time to describe your work carefully, whatever platform you use to store and manage your work. Provide at least a minimal set of metadata (who, what, where, when). Always include versioning data and information about the rights status of the work.
• Document your work as copiously as possible. Documentation enables future users
to understand and reuse your work more easily. Describe the technical specifications of your work, for example the hardware and software used to create the work.
• If possible, assign open licenses (such as Creative Commons) to your work. This enables content to be reused. Reuse will help to ensure the longevity of your work.
• Where possible, use open-source software and open-source hardware. Your work will withstand the test of time better, since open means: independent of proprietary technology and vendor lock-in, and transparent availability of the source code and building blocks of your work.

Heritage Professionals.
Digital material presents several challenges for heritage professionals. For instance, the sheer amount of material created, dispersed among diverse platforms, hardware and domains makes selection a daunting task. There is little standardization of file formats and environments that supports these. Norms for describing and managing this complexity are inadequately developed. The tasks involved in collecting, preserving and making digital materials accessible fall into three categories. We encourage heritage professionals as follows:

• Identify vulnerable digital heritage in your area of activity and find out which forms of digital heritage your organisation develops, manages or intends to manage (in line with collection policy plans). Create a convergent digital landscape by harmonising collection policies with other institutions. To ensure success, avoid overlaps and gaps in the combined collections.
• Develop policies for acquiring and keeping born-digital material accessible sustainably. Use existing models, as described in the ‘DIY Handbook of Web Archaeology’.
• Obtain legal advice regarding storage and reuse. Act responsibly when using, managing and making personal data or information accessible.

• Where possible, cooperate with (fellow) institutions and industrial partners to find collective solutions. Choose robust –preferably open - technical infrastructures and operating systems.
• Assume that your current technology will need to be updated regularly. So prepare your exit strategy: can you move data from system A to system B easily?
• Use well-documented, open standards, e.g. for storage formats and exchange protocols. Non-dependence on suppliers ensures your archive material remains interchangeable in the future.
• Agree clear guidelines for delivery of acquired and transferred born-digital material: when, why and under what terms. Outline the rights and obligations before and after material is transferred. If accessibility is an objective, organise this when the acquisition is realised: lay down terms for accessing the collections.
• Ensure copious metadata records are kept of digital objects so that the context in which these were created is clear for future users. E.g. record the hardware and software environment in which objects function. Document data in the form of descriptions, photos, screenshots, screencasts, videos etc, and establish conservation procedures.
• Ensure collections can be used and reused, that digital objects can be found, accessed, interoperated, reused and stored in a sustainable manner. Use and reuse by a large group of users increases awareness of the importance and need for preservation.

Knowledge sharing
• Exploit the power of the community. Introduce your team to the original creators, inventors and users. Organise meetings to share expertise.
• Keep track of developments in amateur communities involved with digital works. Much can be learned from bottom-up initiatives by amateurs who keep older digital cultures alive.
• Invest in your co-workers’ increasing expertise and keep track of developments by following blogs, seminars and participating in domestic and international expert communities, such as NDE (Digital Heritage Network Netherlands) or iPRES.
• New born-digital products require new instruments and new research queries. To keep pace with rapid changes in technology, be prepared for new ways of working and new ways of cooperating.

Policy makers
You hold the key to creating a sustainable policy that ensures sustainable digital heritage. We encourage policy makers to do the following:
• Stimulate cross-domain collaboration and use of collaborative instruments. Value hands-on expertise. Encourage the experts who love tracking down bit rot, annotating ancient code and building emulators. Put them in a position to share their knowledge and obtain recognition for their contribution.
• Bring the need to develop sustainability policy and preservation policy to the attention of institutions.
• Stimulate the emergence and use of open and collective services to ensure that as many heritage institutions in the Netherlands as possible will be able to guarantee long-term access to the digital collections they manage. Encourage collaboration within the Digital Heritage Network, based on the National Strategy for Digital Heritage.
• Encourage copyright reform to facilitate the preservation, availability and reuse of born-digital heritage.

There are many ways to advance the aims outlined here. We are the steering committee of the DDS project, realised in 2016 and 2017 with support from Mondriaan Fund, National Coalition Digital Preservation, Digital Heritage Network, Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, Creative Industries Fund NL. We welcome your feedback regarding this version of our manifesto and are keen to learn about other activities designed to pursue these goals. We encourage others to join us to help further the overarching objective of preserving born-digital heritage.

Judikje Kiers Amsterdam Museum
Julia Noordegraaf University of Amsterdam
Johan Oomen Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Marleen Stikker Waag Society

More information:

This material is licensed under Creative-Commons-Licence BY 4.0 International: http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by/4.0/