About my blog

I am multithreaded, and sometimes the threads get tangled.


a Studiolab production.


food design course at TUDelft
I blog in Italian
I have a LinkedIn profile
my lab is Studiolab!
I love Jasper van Kuijk's product usability weblog

the wind I am enjoying


De meningen ge-uit door medewerkers en studenten van de TU Delft en de commentaren die zijn gegeven reflecteren niet perse de mening(en) van de TU Delft. De TU Delft is dan ook niet verantwoordelijk voor de inhoud van hetgeen op de TU Delft weblogs zichtbaar is. Wel vindt de TU Delft het belangrijk - en ook waarde toevoegend - dat medewerkers en studenten op deze, door de TU Delft gefaciliteerde, omgeving hun mening kunnen geven.

Posts in category Musings

Three pointers on programming languages, designers, prototypes

Related to the great work that Robert Paauwe is doing, here are three tasty links from Aadjan:



  Super cool video from Bret Victor talking about his approach to programming and to life: http://www.i-programmer.info/news/112-theory/3900-a-better-way-to-program.html (and direct Vimeo link). I would say that he is slightly cheating, because he is demonstrating code that runs, draws a picture and then terminates. It would be harder to do this sort of tricks with code that has complex internal dependencies, carries a lot of state around, has a long runtime and does not produce understandable visual output. Also, he is a boring speaker, but the ideas are great. 

Interview with Jonathan Ive about the value of prototyping ideas.

Why only designers can create new programming languages: http://tagide.com/blog/2012/03/research-in-programming-languages/ – blog post from someone who knows about programming language. Interesting? Irritating?

If you can imagine that, I had to format this with an HTML table. Such are the joys.

Lights in the sky

Being a nerd is all about seeing things in a different light. And about absorbing vast amounts of knowledge about all sorts of things, and being able to apply it (or at least regurgitate it) when it is necessary. Or also when it is not necessary at all, but you just think it is neat. In this spirit, I once read through the Atmospheric Optics site to satisfy my curiosity about some strange colored spot I had seen in the sky.

It turns out that, of course, there are people that do whole PhDs on this type of thing. Without further ado, here is one photograph.


This was taken in Brussels, shooting directly towards the sun with a fisheye lens. I am holding the lens cap in front of the sun in order to reduce light ghosts and flares. If you look in the upper portion of the picture, close to the flue on the left, you can discern something like a rainbow. A bit lower, right above the sun, there is another slight spray of color like a smiling mouth. These are not artifices from the lens: they were visible then and there. To help you see them, I have increased contrast and saturation along a top to bottom gradient.





In the enhanced picture, you can see the upper arc, the lower upturned arc (very weak) and two curious spots of color on either side of the sun. The one on the right appears just behind that irritating tree, the one on the left is barely visible. I have added outlines to the pictures, so you know what I am talking about.



OK, but what are these things? you are asking yourself. They are optical atmospheric phenomena produced by the interaction of sunrays and tiny ice crystals in the high atmosphere – contrast that with the rainbow, that is produced by interaction with tiny drops of water. The ice cristals can take on various shapes and orientation, giving rise to various phenomena. The best place to see them is not Bruxelles, but rather the South Pole. You can find more detailed information at the Atmospheric Optics website.

My best identification is as follows; the lower two twin splotches of light are sundogs also known as parhelia (always at 22 degrees from the sun!), a useful word for casual conversation. The weak one in the center  is an upper tangent arc, and the big one on top looks to me like part of a supralateral arc. From this information, you can deduce many cheerful facts about the state of the high atmosphere over Bruxelles. 


sustainability rant stuff

I am collecting stuff for a rant about sustainability. Since Firefox is creaking under the weight of a bazillion open tabs, here are some of the links. Somebody else may find them interesting or provocative.

When energy efficiency sullies the environment, John Tierney, NYT 7/3/2011

The Sins of Syn Bio, how synthetic biology will bring us cheaper plastics by ruining the poorest nations on Earth, Jim Thomas, Slate, 2/2/2011

Ugandan scientists grow GM banana as disease threatens country’s staple food. Ban on GM crops waived after bacterial disease causes annual banana crop losses of $500m, Xan Rice in Galamba, The Guardian, 9/3/2011

Disease v. culture: Botulism in the Arctic, Maryn McKenna, WIRED, 5/2/2011

Sinistra divisa sui «fagiolini equi» della Coop. Il Prc attacca un progetto che coinvolge la Toscana: danneggia i nostri contadini e quelli del Burkina. La replica: sciocchezze, Sergio Rizzo, Corriere della Sera, 25/3/2007

Birkeland, J. and E. Corporation (2002). Design for sustainability: a sourcebook of integrated, eco-logical solutions, CSIRO.

Sherren, K. (2007). "Is there a sustainability canon?" The Environmentalist 27(3): 341-347.

I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging – the point I would like to make is that sustainability is a bad design driver because it is anti-historical, impossible to verify a posteriori and useless as a heuristic a priori. The much less grand efficiency, on the other hand, is a good design driver. In other words, if you do design for sustainability I really don’t understand what you are doing (or how you can do it).

Apple users are masochists

I have just realized what is so amazing about the iPhone: its users. It is not the interface, or the battery or the OS or even the interaction design. It is the users. The iPhone users are primed to accept anything that comes out of Apple as the greatest thing ever invented. And they are ready to believe that it was invented by Apple. This is an important part of why You Can’t Innovate  Like Apple (and if you want to discuss Apple as a designer in the future you really need to read that article) – your users are not like their users.  Or rather, they may be the very same users but they have a different relationship with you, if you are not Apple.

The best part is that Apple users are happy to pay for everything, or at least to wait for it.

Tethering? You mean, actually using your phone as a modem for a PC? Something I used to do with my stodgy Nokia 5120 rubberphone what, eight years ago? 

but perhaps the best example is the amazing Find My iPhone, an exciting app with the following features (cut and paste from the Apple site)

Find myIphone Alternative
Locate your iPhone or iPad on a map Google Latitude has been out for a while.
Display a message and optionally play a sound for two minutes at full volume (even if your device is set to silent) SMS Flash messages plus making silent mode expire after a few hours (many phones can do this). Flash SMS have been around for ages.
Remotely set a passcode lock on your device, or lock it using your existing passcode Nokia phones do this but in a different way. 
Remotely wipe your device to permanently erase all of your personal data This is probably a bad idea. I am waiting for the first exciting exploit, and the following global wail of despair.

the big news is that now Apple made the software free.  The cognitive peculiarity of the Apple user is that, instead of being irritated at the company for making him pay previously, he is delighted because now it is free!

Other excellent examples would be cut-and-paste and multitasking. What good is a device like the iPhone when it does only one thing at a time – making you choose between e.g. running some IM program OR browsing the web OR running Skype OR checking your calendar? It beats me. But I am not an Apple user. So I cannot join in the delighted cheer for the multitasking in IOS4: I am still too flabbergasted by the absence of multitasking in IOSx, with x<4. Of course, all the update goodness does not distribute evenly across iPhone models: slightly older ones get little or no loving. But the Apple user does not care! Because now he can convince himself that he desperately needs multitasking, the same feature that he had previously rationalized away as Android nuttiness only good for techies: which means that he can make one more happy trip to the Apple store, preferably with a queue that starts at 4AM.

And he can have one more unboxing experience, which, as we know, is an important part of the Apple product experience.

But again, I am not a boxophiliac iPhone user. I have the privilege of knowing many, though. I can see how hugely insincere they are when they complain because the display of their phone broke: actually they are delighted because they can give another lump of money to Apple. And I am ever amazed by their inner strength. This is from gizmodo:

In previous versions of the iPhone OS,
if you are working on email and there’s a link to a web page, clicking
on that link will open Safari and close Mail. Then, once you were done
watching that web page, you close Safari, get back to the main iPhone
menu, click on the Mail icon, and go back to your mail.  (from Gizmodo, How Multitasking Works in the New iPhone OS 4.0 published on 4/4/2010, dowloaded today)

The amount of fortitude required to engage in something like this is, I am afraid, beyond me. I have been spoiled in my youth, and I can’t put up with this amount of crap any more. Of course, I have used computers that do not multitask and don’t even switch tasks, but it was in the Eighties (home computers: Commodore and Sinclair). Then I found out about UNIX, that has been multitasking since 1969 (when it was created to run on computers whose memory was measured in kilobytes). To say the least, you could call multitasking a pretty well established idea in the field. I am too much of a wuss now for single-tasking computers, with the exception of the Arduino.

The condition of the Apple user is similar to somebody who is in thrall to a demanding, expensive, prostitute. You buy her affection with money (or you imagine that you are buying it), and she stingily doles out her favors, turning every little element of life into a theatrical show where you have to pay and pay. She can do everything for you, provided it is what she wants to do. And you pay, you watch the streaming video shows where the Wizard sells you whatever he feels is right and you read the fawning press. And of course, you import the phone from faraway countries where you can get it unlocked (imagine that!), jailbreak it in complex and dangerous ways, terrified that your wife might find out… it is all there inside Venus in Furs. I am indeed going to pay a high compliment to the Apple user, by comparing him to the Baron de Charlus in À la recherche du temps perdu and his passion for being whipped.

In short, his desire to be chained and beaten betrayed, in its ugliness, a dream just as poetic as other men’s desire to go to Venice or to keep a mistress.

Or, as it were, to be Apple users.

Now putting on my assistant-professorial hat (it looks just like a professorial hat, only it is smaller, less furry and the sequins are silver) I will point you to a an enlightening post about the iPad ecosystem and how you would need to create one if you wanted to make very succesful tablets, and to an old post about the chicken-and-egg problem by Joel Spolski, a very sharp software guy. BTW, chicken and egg is another way of saying "you need the whole ecosystem, otherwise you are just a hardware pusher putting lipstick on a sow".Slightly less techy but still on the ball you can read an NYT article, "The power of the platform".

“Surrogates” (2009) – on neophobia and rooting for the bad guys

Surrogates is a 2009 movie featuring Bruce Willis, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames and James Cromwell, one of my favourite actors that specializes in truly evil, creepy bad guys in position of power. Surrogates is set in a slightly science fiction future where robot bodies are common. The robots are actually telerobots controlled by teleoperators from their homes.


Bruce Willis does not like the future, so he is going to mess it up for everybody.


So all these robot bodies, some very beautiful, some very utilitiarian and machine-like, roam the streets and do stuff, like working at a beauty saloon or fighting wars. And their operators meanwhile are in vaguely creepy, red-lit couches with scary devices on their eyes, managing the remote body. Some people work from home, others from giant offices.Our protagonist is a cop, a profession in which the use of a surrogate body is really a good idea. The protagonist being Bruce Willis, you can bet that his surrogate looks exactly like him plus a stupid blond wig.

The movie has a plot, in the way a sea cucumber has a nervous system. It is tiny and underdeveloped, but it is good enough to manage the sea cucumber’s affair in a pretty decent way. Nobody has ever complained, at any rate. I will not hypothetically spoil the tiny plot for you, although you will be able to deduce all of it about 10 minutes into the movie.


At the beginning of the movie we are told that surrogates have dropped the crime rate by 99% and that basically the world has turned into the land of milk and honey. You would say dude, this is great, we have a good economy, no crime, go surrogates go! But no, this would place you in the Bad Guys camp.

Bruce Willis has some sort of growing objection to the whole surrogate idea. It has mostly to do with him feeling estranged from his wife, and she refusing to let him see her "real" body, because she thinks that with time she has become hideous. And you know what? She is quite right. Her surrogate looks like Rosamund Pike in full battle paint. In the first scene where the real woman is visible, she looks like she has been sleeping wrapped in her own hair under a sofa for ten years. If I were in that state, I would not want to meet mr. mature male hotness Bruce Willis.


this is what Madame Willis looks like, every day, all day. Would you have any complaints with it? I mean, seriously. And her friends are all good looking too. 


Bruce Willis (ignore his character’s name in the movie: you will think of him all the time as Bruce Willis anyway) does what he does in every movie, that is he gets hurt in the face, bleeds, sweats and gets smeared with one thousand different kinds of dirt, most of them greasy and black. His surrogate gets destroyed by hairy, Mad Max like people who reject surrogates because they have no souls and are an abomination unto God. The Mad Maxers live in scary reservations made mostly of ripped-up containers and run their parallel economy, based on holding demonstrations and trading tomatoes among themselves. Their personal igene also leaves something to be desired, as does their fashion sense.

I was not able to find anywere in the Bible any prohibition about teleoperated robots, or any claim that teleloperated robots are supposed to have souls.

At any rate, Bruce has a sort of a very subtle conflict there (this movie is all about extreme subtlety, shades of motion, delicately calibrated grays and Bruce Willis blowing shit up with cool gadgets) because as a cop and a surrogate user he is supposed to be against the hairy and scary Mad Max people, but as a guy that hates surrogates because he would like to get sweaty and greasy with the real body of his wife, indeed he is slightly in favor of the Mad Maxers and their weird, hairy prophet (Ving Rhames, but I don’t need to say that to you). So we have a conflicted protagonist, something that already goes beyond a sea cucumber understanding.


The wig is supposed to make the Willis’ body much younger and fresher. Instead it makes him look like an extra in a Swedish tv serial. A low budget one. On the other hand, iceblock tough cop Radha Mitchell wears her surrogate like a Chanel.


The movie ends up with a crazy nutjob trying to destroy all the robots and their operators. This is partially prevented by The Willis, who manages to save the human operators but lets a crazy powerful virus thing spread around the network and permanently fry all the robots. The world comes to a standstill, as all the robots picturesquely flop to the ground, and the real people emerge from thir houses looking like shit (I hope I am allowed to use the word shit in a TUDelft blog post). So here they are, in the street, wearing dressing gowns and slippers, smelling the air and looking at the sky and each other, and probably having great street community parties (but this is only implied).

This leaves a gigantic plothole that manages to make Bruce Willis’ character look much worse than the baddies. If the whole world is mostly operated by surrogates, and all these surrogates suddenly… cease to be, I think that there will be a bit more problems than a few low-speed car crashes. Like ships colliding with each other, airplanes falling out of the sky, power stations and factories blowing up… Flash Forward got this quite right: disasters and devastation with just a few minutes of blackout. So there would be quite a few dead instantly, and then I can predict a few million indirect deaths as the world’s economy first crashes and then slowly picks up again while all the slug people come out of their houses and get, I don’t know, terrible sunburn. 

And all this why? The only reason is that Bruce Willis has a problem with his wife. So he decides to cause quite a lot of disaster and devastation to a world that -clearly- has decided that they actually like using surrogates. But once the Willis has decided, there is no turning back or offering alternate views.

The true cherry on the cake is the Ving Rhames character, the Prophet. The Prophet characterization was not, shall we say, very light handed.


I thought this gesture was reserved for Mafia dons when they say "come to me, my son". No hairspray has been spared to achieve this level of dreadness. Check out the rings too.


A perfect example of the trope called the Magical Negro, Rhames prophetically surrounds himself with large, gun-happy idiotic bodyguards. He dies at some time, but his valiant sacrifice fails to provide the "Wow, dude!" plot reversal moment that the writer was probably hoping for.

The problem with this movie is that we are never really told what drives this whole chain of events, and what exactly is so terrible and inhuman and overall super-unbearably-BAD about using surrogates. It is not like they are planning to take over or develop autonomy. Moreover, the fact that the anti-surrogate point of view is championed by fundamentalist technophobic muddy idiots does not help to make it more respectable or attractive (actual plot line, crazy fully human lady with shotgun: "You are an abomination! KABOOM."). We even get a batty old scientist that fails to make a point about why surrogates are so dehumanizing. They just are.

Basically, it is a neophobic movie where the new is bad because it is bad. Perhaps this is entirely appropriate for our neophobic years, were anything can happen and anything can be done, as long as it is done in a virtual world or online.  This is why when watching this movie I was rooting hard for the bad guys. I also found the scene where all the perfect robod bodies fall to the ground never to rise again unbelievably sad. It’s back to the old meatbag for you all! Bruce Willis has decided for you!


on wondering what you are doing there

This is from Claude Lévi-Strauss "Tristes tropiques", p. 450 of the 1955 Plon edition. The translation and the bold text are mine:

One wonders, more than anything: what did I come here to do? With what hope? To what end? What is, after all, an etnographic research? Is it perhaps the normal activity of a profession like all others, with the one difference that the office or the lab are separated from the home by some thousand kilometers? Or is it the consequence of a more radical choice, implying a questioning of the system in which one was born and grew up? I had left France five years before, I had neglected my university career, whose steps my wiser classmates had been busily climbing; the ones that, like I used to have, had an inclination towards politics had by now been made members of the parlament, and soon probably they would be ministers. I, meanwhile, running around in deserts, pursuing the rubbish of humanity. Who or what, then, had pushed me to scramble the normal flow of my life? Was it a trick, a smart detour that would allow me to re-enter my career with superior, and recognized, abilities and advantages? Or did my decision express a deep incompatibility towards my own social group, a group from which, in any case, I had decided to live more and more apart.

I like this piece of Lévi-Strauss (among many others: it is a great book) because it comes to symbolize for me the moment of deep culture shock that awaits most (all?) visitors to other lands. At first it is all fun and fascinating strangeness, then routine sets in and then, when you think that you had it all tied down, contradiction explodes in your face.


You realize that, no, we cannot all get along, not without cultural compromise. You realise that the Indians (the Dutch, the Koreans, the truck drivers, the cops, the expectant mothers, the Italians…) are not actors in costume, cleverly playing at being part of a strange culture: they are really like that. They really think and act differently from you. And you are not going to change them, certainly not through frontal attack. This is when you have to fall back on your own strength, and when you have to remind yourself of the fondamental fact that you went to visit them, they did not come to visit you. They have a right to be exactly as they want to be, you have the duty to be compatible with them. 

The photograph shown above is from the Malinowski
archives at the London School of
Economics. You can see it

and many more at high resolution there. They also want me to say
that it is (c) London School of Economics and Political Science 2005.


Braun Lectron system

This is of particular interest to the ITD groups working on the Studiolab brief, but everybody might want to take a look at the Braun Lectron system as it will be featured in the Talk to Me exhibition (longer juicy article here). 


(picture grabbed without permission from the Talk to Me site)

Designed by the great Dieter Rams and Jurgen Greubel as an education tool for basic electronics. Every block contains an electronic component, and the blocks connect with magnets. The user was supposed to use the paper patterns as a guide. Of course, all analog electronics. Why don’t we have something like this today? Good looking and effective. 




How to be my graduation student

It is relatively easy. I am more than willing to follow graduation projects (that in normal English would be called final MSc projects or something like that) on topics related to food and interactive prototyping/sketching, and also other topics if they tickle my fancy.




The people in the picture above are all swimming in a sea of white balloons, inside a giant balloon, and they are happy. They were also, at that moment, my students. To make ours a happy six months+ relationship, there are just a few details to take into account, and I will set them down as convenient bullet lists. 


  • Your graduation project is the center of your life for six months. You eat, drink and breathe the project. You are 100% on it.  On the other hand, you are one of n (for n ~= 6) graduation students I follow, in addition to doing various teaching and research activities. I am more or less 2% on your project. This means that you occasionally have to remind me of things.
  • I want to be proud of your work, otherwise I would not be working with you
  • If everything goes well, your graduation project is not the last thing we do together, but rather one of the first ones, and probably not the most important. Think long term, think networking.
  • Some companies are very experienced at hosting graduation projects, others are very green. The experienced companies may become quite stiff in their attitude to students, the unexperienced companies may be clueless and waste your time. Be aware of the risks and remain master of your work.
  • Use me for what I am good at.


  • Read a lot. Cite properly. Use a reference manager like Endnote (we have a site license), and the scholarly part of your life will improve enormously. Endnote, though, is useful only if you use it from the beginning of your writing activities.
  • A good trick for writing is to lay down first all the skeleton of your report: chapters, headings and subheadings. Then start adding flesh.
  • Start writing early. Don’t say I will just do a four week Big Bang writing marathon at the end – those would be four miserable weeks. If you keep delaying writing, it will become a very painful process (this is advice I should follow myself).
  • Set reasonable deadlines for yourself and for myself. For example, if you deliver a chapter for reading one week before a meeting, I will love reading it and you will get meaningful feedback. And finishing a chapter is a more manageable deadline than finishing the whole report.
  • Keep a consistent tone. Make sure you know the meaning of the words you are using. Be afraid of words like to facilitate, to afford, to enable, to imply, to elicit and to inform. They are both fancy (not easily understood by everybody) and slippery words, and the writer should ask himself if he would not be better served e.g by to find out insted of to elicit. I don’t mean that those are "bad" words, only that they should be used when necessary, not out of habit.
  • The verb to sport, despite the opinions of 16 million Netherlanders, does not mean to do sports, neither to train, nor to engage in physical activity. It means something else.
  • In the same vein, the adjective cynical does not mean sarcastic, ironic or dry. If I tell you that your graduation report is the best report I have read today, I am being sarcastic. If I claim that your housemates are nice to you only because they want you to help them with Rhino, I am being cynical. If I tell you that your report is quite good, considering your obvious dyslexia and ADHD, I am being sarcastic; but if you actually have dyslexia and/or ADHD, that means I am being a cynical bastard – quite different.
  • isn’t don’t shouldn’t won’t "a lot" "lots of" "kind of" are all informal English. Your graduation report is a formal text, and these contracted forms do not fit so well. (*)
  • Be aware that healthy and unhealthy are not adverbs in English; they are adjectives. You cannot "eat healthy", but you can "eat healthy food" or "eat in a healthy way" or -even if it sounds funny- "eat healthily". The source of confusion is the word gezond that, in Dutch, works both as an adjective ("een gezonde maaltijd" ) but also as an adverb ("Gezond leven is belangrijk" ).
  • Perfect spelling is mandatory. Run a spell checker. Then run your eyeballs over your text, because the spell checker does not catch everything.
  • Despite being an amazingly stupid piece of software,  the grammar and style checker in Word has its occasional moments of usefulness.
  • Make sure to avoid typical Dutch-into-English language errors like
    • wrong plurals: video’s instead of videos (typical Dutch mistake: see Dunglish)
    • wrong plurals of acronyms. The plural of CD is CDs, not CD’s. Never. I do not care what others say or want, this is the way I like it. (*)
    • joining words that should not be joined: it is "use cue" not usecue. On the other hand, it is "headphones" not head phones.
    • words that the spell checker will not catch, like cleaver and expatiation for cleverand expectation.
    • internet for Internet (if you really mean "the" Internet and not some piddly internet you built in your spare time). (*)
    • if is different from when in English. "If you graduate in ID…" doubts that you will eventually do, "When you graduate in ID…" expresses faith that you will indeed graduate.
    • very long and complex passive constructions that make comprehension of your cherished premises, brilliant conclusions and cogent logic should be avoided, no matter how much you love them in your native tongue, shouldn’t they?
    • But: choppy sequences are not good. They are bad. Bad means unreadable. Unreadable is a consequence of choppyness. Which is bad. Have I already said that? Yes, I have. This sentence is like sucking gravel through a straw. It is bad.
    • beamer, despite all you have heard, is not an English word. It is German and Dutch, but English it ain’t. In English that thing is called a video projector
  • Cite only when necessary, and cite relevant material. Don’t use a marketing studies source to justify your views on visual perception. And don’t cite Tony Buzan to convince me that mindmaps are good. Of course he thinks they are good, as his income depends critically on them.
  • Be aware that sources have different levels of authority. Random websites don’t have any.
  • Wikipedia is a very good jumping off point for background research, but it is not a scholarly source. Quote it only when you have no other source. Hint: some Wikipedia articles do quote their sources of information: what about following those references?
  • When quoting any website (not just Wikipedia) make sure to specify the time and date: web pages change all the time. Quote URLs in full: http is all the rage today, who knows about tomorrow? Be nice to the people and the machines that will read you work.
  • Don’t cut and paste unattributed chunks of text from the WWW or other sources. I will notice and say nasty things. If I don’t notice, someone else may, and your embarassment will know no bounds.
  • Design your report: you are a designer! If you are unable to, imitate somebody else’s layout. I have some fine examples in my archive.
  • If you are not a good graphic designer, keep it simple. Visually boring is better than visually painful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to someone.
  • Margins are good. Space between the lines is also good. Screaming masses of clustered text tightly packed with graphics are not good.
  • You have to choose fonts properly. Read the nice guides at the FontShop.
  • Earnest, non-ironic use of the following fonts will not be tolerated (examples follow):
    • Comic Sans
    • Papyrus
    • Cooper Black
    • Copperplate Gothic (Bold)
    • any other font that I don’t like
  • Fonts that I like: boring fonts with high readability. Helvetica, Caslon, Gill Sans, Akzidenz Grotesk (love it). You may use Bodoni, but only because I am from Parma, and because once Franco Maria Ricci used it to set a whole collection of wonderful little books (chosen by J.L. Borges, no less).
  • You are lost and you don’t understand anything at all about typography, fonts, characters, glyphs, kerning… read The Elements of Typographic Style. It is a beautiful and useful book.
  • Don’t get confused between your subject domain and the design of your report. Your target users may e.g. be children, but your report does not need to look like a children’s book, because children are not going to read it. On the other hand, I am going to read it…
  • Even if you speak English as a first language, try to have your text checked by a native and highly literate speaker of English.
    • Do this even if you think that your report is perfect. Really, give it a shot.
    • For typical Dutch students: remember that you have learnt your English from TV and films, while I have learnt (or learned, both forms are correct) it from books. This means that I write better than I speak, while you typically speak better than you write. 
  • the semicolon and the colon: two different punctuation marks. Perhaps they also mean two different things! (this is sarcasm, not cynicism)
  • I am unable to ignore poor writing in reports. This means that I am practically unable to give you useful higher level feedback on your ideas until your report is at least OK language-wise. Unfortunate, isn’t it?


  • It is sometimes advised to say everything three times: first warn the audience that you are going to say "A", then say "A", then remind the audience you have just said "A" and explore the implications. I don’t agree with this advice, because it tends to produce deadly, boring presentations.
  • In presentations, please avoid the Dutch wet blanket. This is a common presentation trick in Delft, and consists of closing a presentation with the words "…and this was my presentation" or "…and this was my project", in a falling tone and with a distinctive lack of enthusiasm, usually followed by looking at the audience with a confused expression. This kills the presentation and turns anything you showed or said before into nothingness. If you are doing a presentation, you are doing a show. No showman says "…and this was my show" at the end of whatever show he is doing. Not unless he is trying for a pathetic tone. Are you?
  • Since you are a designer, don’t use horrible graphics in your slides. No stock photography with visible watermarks, either.
  • Obvious, but rarely practiced: do a dry run of your presentation, preferably the day before.
  • Make sure that everything you need works. This includes the video projector, whatever way you choose to play audio and hardware and software that you want to demonstrate.
  • This is the most important advice about presentations, so it is in red: if something does not work, SHUT UP. There is nothing worse than someone saying "Oooh, here there would be a really lovely video, but it does not play, strange how it always happens". Did someone ask you for the video? No. Does someone know that you are going to play it? No. So, just SHUT UP and go on with the next thing you have ready. There is a good chance nobody will notice anything.


  • If I tell you that an idea is bad, you don’t need to pursue it any more. If you can smell that a parrot is dead and rotting, you don’t need to take its pulse and check its pressure: it is a dead parrot. Find another one to play with.
  • We are what we eat, even intellectually. What have you been reading recently? 
  • Contextmapping is a set of techniques plus an attitude that aim at fostering your understanding of the user and of its context. It is not an Arts and Crafts revival event, centering on making A5 booklets with timelines and stickers. contextmapping is always written as a single word, because Froukje Sleeswijkvisser writes it like that.
  • Process is important, but it is not a guarantee. If your ideas are bad, VIP will not save you. SWOT analysis will not save you. N. Roozenburg and J. Eekels will not save you, either. You need better ideas.
  • I am not your manager, you are. I am, in part, your consultant. This means that I will not pester you about deadlines and signed documents – not because these things are not important, but because they are your (managerial) problem more than mine. Also, I suck at deadlines and documents.
  • If I am your chair, I guarantee, in front of the faculty, that your graduation project fits the faculty’s standards. This is a responsability I take seriously.
  • Ask me before you sign contracts with the company you are working with. A poorly written contract can limit what future work you can do. Remember that you (or I) cannot commit the TU to anything – you need the Dean to do that.
  • When you have a meeting, you should come with an agenda and an idea of what you want to have at the end of the meeting.
  • Greenlight meetings are held when:
    • your graduation report is 80% complete (which includes layout)
    • DFI: you have a final design, not just a final concept
    • DFI: you have a plan for a final user test or something similar
    • SPD: you have one or more finely crafted and very clear design briefs
    • I am convinced that you can wrap it all up in six weeks

Thanks to PJ Stappers, P Desmet and A Peeters for tips. Purdue University has an extensive and very friendly online guide to writing. It covers everything, from adjectives to plagiarism.

Visual Postfaction

Here are the reasons why you should not use certain fonts

Overused, falsely friendly, just say no. Not even for lettering in comics. Yes, it is that bad.

Very loud and tiresome. Overused in the attempt to be hip and friendly and wide-eyed and wonderful.

It combines corporate boredom and lack of professionalism, like a box of new, dried up blue Bic Crystal pens. Particularly devastating in bold. There is a whole site about it.

Very good if you are designing a church flyer and you have the secret purpose of encouraging atheism. Also good for high school reports on Egypt and menus of vegetarian restaurants. Avoid in all other cases, othewise you will end up in the Papyrus watch blog.


Here is an obsolete picture of my high tech graduation student multimedia management system. More recent students benefit from the presence of a DYMO label printer and an occasional streak of obsessive neatness. Here is a fragment of a poem from one of greatest poets in the English language:

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

(T.S. Eliot, East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets)

 (*) opinions on this point differ, and I will freely admit that what I am writing down here is just the way I like it

emptying the buffer before Christmas

terribly interesting: How to explain UX research to normal people

I have made a Flickr account for myself. The pictures will occasionally be relevant to design or TUDelft activities.

…and I went to the First Nordic Conference on Service Design, where I met many interesting people and did a workshop about SERPE (paper here,in very good company).

I have started obsessing about the coolness of Nodebox2, a programming-for-designers tool made by the cool dudes of the Sint Lucas School of Arts in Antwerp. It looks like a dataflow, boxes-and-arrows language, in reality it is kind of functional. It is immediately useful if you are in 2D graphic, and conceptually very interesting if you like to think about different models of programming.

The Food Design pilot class is over, and in 2010 we (Annemiek van Boeijen and I) will do a full blown elective for 25 lucky students.



We celebrated the end of 2009 with (of course) a Surprise Dinner, where all the dishes had to be surprising. Without going into detail, I can tell you that finding silver Christmas tree balls (decorated with messages) into the salad was surprising indeed. In the photograph, Puck is juggling the message balls with absolute concentration.


The Interactive Architecture Minor is going strong, just today Aadjan and I visited them and we were awed by the massive, scarily mobile structures the kiddies are building. This is the view that greets you when you enter the Minor zone at the Delft Science Center.


Intel Design Expo 2009: 2 ITD projects go to San Francisco


We have taken 2 ITD projects, TATE and KeyPing, to the Intel Design Expo, an event associated with the Intel Developer Forum 2009. The event takes place in San Francisco, but you would not be able to tell, since the Intel Design Expo took place in the bowels of the Marriott Hotel: a vaste expanse of carpet where we, and other design schools, installed our cool stuff. The show was organized and run by Joy Mountford, whose long and fruitful career in designing interfaces and interaction is too long to summarize here.


The event has been covered in the Dutch Cowboys blog. There is an Intel news release.  And an Intel video about the whole event:

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