Hello! Thanks for stopping by! As I mentioned on my homepage, My name is Maarten. I'm a 27 years old student, and I dabble in a lot of things that I enjoy doing. Some of these things I put on display here, my website, for the world to see!
On this page, I talk a bit about myself, my daily routine, what I do, my view on life, ... It's not all-encompassing, and I've narrowed it down quite a bit to the most important things. I share more about me (and other interesting things) on my blog, so be sure to check that out as well!
What I do most at work and in my spare time is hacking/coding. It's kind of my jam. I've been working and playing with computers since I was a toddler, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that that became a big hobby for me. I'm doing a lot of other things as well, but they're either not really well enough developed to talk about, or too minor to mention.
I don't like rap and pop music. I get annoyed by hearing most of it, so I try to avoid it. Especially recent popular songs can irritate me to no end, almost without exception. Luckily I don't get that much joy out of listening music anyway, so I don't feel like I miss out a lot.
I'm an omnivore, and eat everything that I like to eat. I like a variety of different things, but I heavily dislike pureed food, beans and peas, and complex desserts. I'll seldom turn down things like hamburgers, pizzas, ...
Spaghettis (and other pastas) are extremely satisfying for me to eat, because practically everyone knows how to make it, but almost every time I try someone's version, it's a different taste. I love how many varieties of all the pastas exist!
This is quite the opposite with fries: Only Belgians seem to know how fries are served properly. I've seen (and sadly, tasted) the ways fries are prepared abroad, and it's often an insult against our national pride, so much so that I avoid eating them outside of Belgium.
I enjoy Belgian fries a lot, but I am picky about them. I consider my portion "great" if fresh potatoes are used, they're medium sized, and well baked, topped off with a generous amount of (real) mayonnaise. Eating them with a frikandel makes me feel like a true Belgian.
These days my diet is mostly vegetarian; I make an effort to restrict purchasing meat as much as possible. This definitely helps to reduce my carbon footprint. Even though vegetarian replacements are still incredibly expensive, I will keep buying them for the foreseeable future.
I have banned recreational use of all drugs out of my life for as long as I can remember. This includes nicotine products and alcoholic beverages.
I do this for multiple reasons:
- I don't believe drugs are necessary to have fun. When I'm with friends they may be drinking alcohol, but I enjoy my time just as much with non-alcoholic drinks like sodas.
- Drugs are unhealthy. Most of them cause damage to organs, and can badly affect the body long-term. I have no desire for any of that.
- For social purposes, it's always easy that I am the person that's sober. This can be for multiple reasons; an emergency, being the driver of the evening, ...
- Drugs alter the user's perception of, and actions in reality. I don't have any need to go through that. I enjoy being sober.
Studies & work
I hold an undergraduate Informatics degree from Hasselt University. (coloquially named UHasselt), and a graduate degree of Scientific Engineering Informatics from Ghent University, specialisation Artificial Intelligence.
Currently I'm employed as a doctorate researcher at the University of Antwerp. I chose this because I want to keep learning about informatics as much as possible, and researching it at a university is the best way to do that.
I cycle approximately 13 kilometres per day, because I use my bicycle to commute to work. I also use my bicycle for getting around in general. That way, I can combine my need for transport with my need to sport. This saves me a lot of time, because I don't have to spend it with going to a gym.
PoliticsI keep myself informed about political subjects that interest me. A list of some subjects I follow with hightened attention:
- Law enforcement
- Public transport
- Climate mayhem
- Freedom and privacy
- Human rights
- Digital agenda
- Copyright abuse & reform
- Belgian communautarian debate
- Governmental & corporate accountability
How I do my computing
It's what I do most, so for those interested, I figured I'd talk about how I do the things with computers =3
I have a reliable computer that I built myself, a companion laptop through Hasselt University, and a work laptop from the University of Antwerp. Both run Arch, the best GNU distro out there. I do almost all my stuff in GNU Emacs, like programming, maintaining my diary, working, and system maitenance. I sometimes also use NeoVim. >80% of my work is text related, and terminals are just better at that than a fully fledged desktop environment.
Languages I prefer are C, Python, Clojure, and (my current favourite) Haskell. I'm still learning how to fully use the latter one, which is a very exicting journey. It almost feels like learning to program for the second time!
I run Lineage OS on my phone (In laymen terms: It's basically a cool and slim Android/Linux version with next to no Google interference).
Code repositories are always Git repos, no exceptions. Depending on the project size, I use a simple dependency listing, or a recognized project manager like Leiningen, Stack or Cargo.
My web server runs on Nginxwith an enabled QUIC module. The website itself is built using Django, a Python web framework that's extremely well written. Data is stored in a PostgreSQL database. On that amazing foundation, I've been able to build a very strong and secure website that's 100% mine.
This also means I do my best to respect the privacy of my website's visitors as much as possible. I do not block Tor nodes, proxies, VPNs or any other technique that help users protect their privacy online.
My friends have advised me to use Cloudflare to keep my website in the air when it goes down and to block (D)DoS attacks. I have looked into that and decided to categorically reject Cloudflare entirely because of two major problems:
- When Cloudflare is suspicious of a visitor (i.e. if the IP address is flagged), it will present the user a so-called Captcha. This implies two ethical wrongs:
- Cloudflare actively checks the visitor's location based on per IP address. Tracking people's location is unjust.
- Cloudflare used to require any visitor it deemed suspicious to connect to Google and force that visitor to help Google with annotating its datasets through its reCaptcha system. To add insult to injury, it paid that same visitor with Google surveillance in the process. Since 2020, Cloudflare has moved to hCaptcha, citing privacy concerns with Google. However, this doesn't fix the core problem, as it still requires one to trust another third company with per data. Perhaps hCaptcha is more trustworthy than Google, but we cannot presume that.
- Cloudflare functions by acting as a man-in-the-middle in encrypted (HTTPS) communication between a server and the visitor. This is mandatory, because otherwise, the browser would immediately inform the user that an unknown party (Cloudflare) is injecting its own data in your communication with me (maartenv.be). Note that I don't call this an 'attack' because I don't see this as malicious intent by Cloudflare. However, it does imply that everything you send to my server is technically completely visible to Cloudflare as well. This requires my visitors to put blind trust in Cloudflare and I cannot and will not ask them to do so.
I regularly add new texts to my website, or do general maitenance. I try to extract time where I can, but maintaining a website (and doing it well) is not an easy job. Nevertheless, if I find a free spot somewhere, I might very well be updating my website. It's satisfying work to see my own place grow under my fingertips, albeit slower than I want it to.
Sometimes, it might seem I've not been doing anything on my website for a while. This might indicate real-life obligations, but might also be invisible changes to the source code, which are just as important as anything else I do around here.
I try to make my website available in multiple languages, more specifically in those languages that I feel comfortable enough with to translate myself. To this end, I use a translator program that can translate from and to more than 100 languages. The core of that program is made up of Apertium and the M2M-100 neural translator model. Both of these are free/libre software, and can operate without any internet connection, so I highly recommend both projects for your (digital) translation tasks.
I refuse to use any SaaSS (especially if made by Google), which means I won't use Google Translate (or any other SaaSS), because these services are made to take away digital independence (i.e. freedom) from the people, in the same way that proprietary software tries to embed digital dependence in our society.
While machine translators lack the quality of a human translator, that's no problem for me: I only use my program to do the "bulk translations", which are very tedious and can take up months of my time, time that I simply don't have. After those translations are made, I go over them manually to fix all the remaining mistakes, and add the missing details and contextual nuances (if necessary) that machine translators have a lot of trouble with. That is how I'm able to maintain so many different translations of my website on my own.
I use Esperanto for hyperlinks, because I want my web pages to be navigated in the most language-agnostic way possible, and in those cases, a politically neutral, international language is best.
I do not have/use a social media account on any big platform. Most of these platforms (like Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, ...) vehemently violate their
users' useds' privacy in order to get more profits. I will not create an account on those. I also hope others will follow me in this decision, as being on platforms like Facebook compels others to do the same. An easy way to break their power is to refuse being used, and additionally, this makes it easier for others to act similarly.
I fully condemn the practice of tracking people's (browser) habits for financial gain without proper consent (and no, clicking "I agree" does not imply giving proper consent), and I refuse to tolerate it. That's why I often browse using Tor to conceal my identity. You can do so likewise, even for practical purposes; the network is steadily gaining more speed because of the growing amount of people concerned with their privacy. Some offer Tor nodes that speed the network up and increase the security. If you really want to, you can also help by becoming a non-exit node (because exit nodes may get blocked by some websites, I don't recommend doing that unless you know what you're doing).
I normally would not use an adblocker to browse the web. As much as I resent the use of advertisements, I understand that keeping a website up costs money, and advertising is an easy way to fund that, a practice of which traces can be found back until the Roman empire. Because their existence is not harmful to society either (they're merely annoying), I see no valid ethical objection to an advertisement on a website. I also don't oppose the use of adblockers by others: I think people have a right to decide whether they want to see ads or not.
However, I do use NoScript, which is a script blocker. It helps me stay anonymous on the internet by blocking (mostly client side) scripts that may reveal my identity.
Unfortunately, a lot of websites have started using tracking scripts to trace what I see, what I do, what I surf to on the internet, and use that for advertising, profiling, and identifying me, which is ethically wrong. Because I oppose this practice, I go one step further by using AdNauseam, which goes beyond simply blocking spyware-like advertising, but also randomly clicks on the ads in the background, which causes the advertiser to pay for a worthless advertisement, while at the same time it obfuscates the data obtained by Google, making it decrease in value. This is a zero-effort way for me (and you!) to legally rebel against an unjust system that violates our privacy for profit, and you get an ad-free experience in return! If there's anything I'd want you to remember from this entire page, is that you should install AdNauseam right now. Really, do it now! Do it on Chrome! Do it on Edge! Do it on Firefox! Do it on Opera! Just do it!
I am a very strong supporter of the free/libre software movement and organizations that battle to preserve our computing freedom, which I regard as a human right. I go out of my way to find replacements for any proprietary software, and have a high tolerance for practical ease of use I'm willing to sacrifice.
Very seldom, I use Windows for some programs that I need to run for my university courses, as annoying and terrible I might find that.
I also voluntarily help people move from using proprietary software to free software. I feel responsible for doing so, because I'm an informatician, and not many people understand these subjects well. If you want to try it (on your own), you can find a lot of GNU/Linux distros on the internet that are pretty easy for novice free/libre software users. You can also install them alongside an existing operating system, giving you the chance to make an easy transition to computing freedom (which I admit, is difficult when you're not used to it). For your freedom's sake, I implore you to give it a shot too.
Although I avoid proprietary software, I take a mild approach to proprietary video games. This is because games serve a cultural/entertainment purpose, not a general/functional purpose. They're a form of art, so to speak. That's a fundamental difference from other types of software, and that reflects in how I experience (the lack of) freedom in games. I do draw the line with games that are distributed with malware, most often taking the form of intrusive DRM.
However, I still think that games also ought to be free software, because that would also make them free cultural works. Proprietary games can get lost because of technical changes (ranging from instruction set architecture to a specific high-level library or simply the DRM), making them unplayable as time goes on.