Digital Mediation, Comics and Open Source Consoles – A. Gueidan

Digital Mediation with Audric Gueidan

Walid : Hello, hello everyone, welcome to this new episode of Projets Libres! Today, we’re going to talk about some pretty fun subjects, you’ll see.

We’re going to talk about books, publications, we’re going to talk about personal data, we’re going to talk about learning, what it’s like to… To become aware of what personal data is and what we should do. We’re going to talk about digital mediation, in short, we’re going to talk about a lot of things.

And I’m with my guest called Audric Gueidan, whom I know through the No-Code community, so not at all at the beginning through free software, even if we talked about it quite quickly. That’s it, I’m very happy to be with him. Hi Audric, are you okay?

Audric : Hi Walid, it’s great, very happy to be on your podcast too, it’s a pleasure.

Walid : So for all those who are interested in the No-Code side, I’ll put in the transcripts of the episode the interview that Audric did not too long ago in a very nice podcast called Les Portraits du No-Code and in which he talks a little about the whole No-Code part. So we’re not necessarily going to talk about him too much here, but we’re going to talk about other things and we’re going to talk about his career and we’re going to talk about the two books he wrote, which I have to admit, I’m very curious to ask him about them.

The first one is called Build and program your open source game console. So it’s still a lot of fun. And the second one is called Datamania. And both are at Dunod editions.

Presentation of Audric

Audric Gueidan (source X)

Walid : That’s it. Audric, I’m going to ask in the traditional way, can you start by introducing yourself, telling us who you are?

Audric : So to introduce myself quickly, in general, I introduce myself as a digital mediator, that’s always the term I use.

So basically, I do digital support for companies and the general public. I wear several hats, so besides that I’m an author, I’m a lecturer and I manage a co-working space in the 49. I mix it up a little bit, but always in connection with digital technology, with support, the transmission of skills and project management.

Walid : What’s your place called?

Audric : It’s called Digital Spinning. It’s a place that is about two and a half years old. And so I take care of all the logistics of the place, how to run a building, how to develop a community, and I mainly take care of the organization of the events on site. So about every week, we have one or two events, so digital workshops with no-code workshops, a little awareness of free software, cybersecurity, there are conferences on many subjects related to digital technology, at the moment we talk a lot about artificial intelligence, there is a whole program like that for entrepreneurs in the territory. The idea is to federate this sector a little bit in Cholet to prevent talent from leaving for Nantes or Angers, and we want to show that we have local skills and I try to make all that phosphorous.

Digital surveillance (source: cholet.fr)

Walid : I was going to say what your passions are, since the first book I talked about was game consoles. I would like you to give us a little bit of your passions. Explain us a little bit?

Audric : It won’t surprise you if I tell you that I’ve been a fan of video games, a retro-gamer, a collector, since I was a little kid. We could talk about the hours of game consoles. But I’m also a fan of tinkering, tinkering, and I went into the world of Fab-Labs, to talk about it later, but there was a moment when I realized that there was a bridge to be made between these two worlds, between video games and the world of digital manufacturing, that there was no book at that time, at least I hadn’t found one, and I discovered a whole ecosystem of open source game consoles, so kit consoles, to build yourself, on which you will be able to code your own games. And I wanted to dig a little deeper into this subject.

Your background before discovering free software

Walid : But then, traditionally, I ask people how they discovered free software. But here, given your background, I’m going to start by asking you what was your background before discovering free software?

Audric: So, before free software, I studied cinema. Then I had an artistic background, even if I was rather bad at drawing in the end. So, I went into cinema, cultural programming and then I did a Master 2, it’s called culture and communication engineering, mediation of scientific knowledge. So it’s how to make understandable things that can be a little abstract, a little complicated. And one thing leading to another, I found myself doing digital workshops. I worked in a leisure center for a while, so I was already doing workshops. We were talking about multimedia workshops at the time, even though I don’t necessarily have a technical background, but I’ve always put my hands in the machines, I’ve never been afraid to tinker.

And I stumbled upon the book a bit by chance. In fact, there were two different approaches. There is my sister who introduced me to Ubuntu. I was finishing high school, it was 2006, so it’s been a while, I don’t know what version of Ubuntu it was, but at that time I didn’t understand what it was, I just saw that it was a different system, I want to test it and then very quickly I said to myself “wow I’m getting nowhere” and then finally I went back to Windows.

But it was a few years later, when I was working in a media library, I was in charge of the digital public space, where I had one of my agents who told me about Framasoft. It was also the period, you 2014, it was after Edward Snowden’s revelations. That’s the period when I also started to ask myself questions about my personal use of digital technology and I started to dig deeper into the subject, to understand what free and open source was. It was also the same time that I entered the world of Fab-labs, so there too open source has a very important role.

So it’s really 2014, so it’s really been 10 years since I discovered free software and I got into it with both feet, maybe too much at some point we’ll be able to talk about it. It was really at that moment that I entered this ecosystem.

Walid : And so before you did Windows, Mac OS? You were in a rather particular environment or all proprietary environments in general, how did it go?

Audric : A little bit of all of them, so I was, like many, I started on Windows and I switched to Mac OS at the time when I was making videos. After my film studies, I started my own business for the first time and then with friends we set up a small structure, we did audiovisual recording so we filmed conferences, shows, concerts, and we did the editing, then the DVD editing, and all that behind that. A lot of people who worked in audiovisual and graphic design were already on Macs, so it made sense at that time for me to go on that platform.

I had been introduced to the world of Apple when I was working in the leisure center, because the director at the time was an Apple fanboy, so we already had old Macintoshes at our disposal. I stayed really full Apple for maybe six years and then I said “come on, I’m changing everything and full Linux, full free software”. And then I went back a little bit, we can talk about it again, but that’s about that time.

The transition to the world of free software

Walid : So in fact there are the Snowden revelations, there you say it’s a bit hot there anyway, they spy on us and everything, and then come on I change everything and suddenly you decide to change everything to go to Linux?

Audric : yes, and it was a bit violent.

Walid : Oh yes?

Audric : It’s as if from one day to the next you say I’ll stop eating meat, I’ll only eat organic, only local. There will be a lot of constraints if you don’t do it gradually. So yes, I did that all at once. The first thing I did was install a distribution, it must have been Ubuntu, on my iMac at the time, because it still works well at that time.

Then afterwards, I wanted to tinker with my phone, so I went through custom ROMs, I tested a lot of things and then I wanted to go further, I got it, I’m even going to change my equipment, I’m going to buy equipment really on which I can run any free OS and gradually I continued to train myself, to join associations, communities to go further, and Develop my technical skills a little bit on the subject.

Walid : How does it feel to arrive in this world of free software in fact when you come from the world of the owner, you are in the Apple world, everything is beautiful, everything is made to stay together etc. But you’re still a bit locked up.

Audric : yes

Walid : What does it mean to happen in the free software world in fact? You say yes here I go to see the associations and everything but like which associations? So how does it actually work?

Audric : So first of all, it’s about connecting people on the internet. I started to go through everything that Framasoft was doing, to take an interest in the associations that offered internet services, so the associative internet service providers, the ISPs, many of whom belong to the FDN federation, that opened other doors for me.

Then there is the ecosystem of CHATONS that has been set up, alternative suppliers, hosts, transparent, open, neutral and supportive. So I went to see all these people a little bit, to find out who they were, what they were proposing, what I could use as a system to replace the systems I was using before.

The KITTENS (source: chatons.org)

Because it’s true that when you start from a world, from a closed ecosystem, when it works very well, Apple works well, but the day you want to get out of it it’s complicated, because they did everything to keep you in this kind of golden prison. The day you get out of there, you find yourself a little, so you’re completely free, literally and figuratively, but you don’t really know which direction to go in because there are so many choices.

I think that’s what scares people when you talk to them about Linux, there’s not one Linux, there are 350 different versions, that’s also the strength of the tool. But when you don’t know which way to take the thing, yes, you can quickly get lost. It’s not enough to search on a search engine for tutorials because you can quickly get into mischief, you can find a little bit of anything and everything on the Internet.

So you have to find the right people. That’s how I found an association, it was when I was near Nantes, I went to see the people from FAImaison, maybe you know? It was one of my first physical meetings with free software players.

Walid: And how does it actually work? You arrive and you meet librists and everything, and the welcome, well in general, after you say I turn, the kittens, etc. When you contact people, it happens, is it more like warm contacts? It’s complicated? Do you know how to talk to them actually?

Audric : So a bit of both. Sometimes it goes very well and sometimes it’s complicated. It depends if you come across the die-hard technician who swears by Linux. And you arrive, you tell him yes I’m from Apple, thingy. There are some they will send you a little crazy. On the contrary, there are some who are very open, very nice and who will take you by the hand, explain the fundamentals, give you tips, offer you tools and support you technically in getting to grips with these new uses.

I had a little bit of both sides of the story, but overall it went well and I also found myself with other people who were in the same process as me, who wanted to change their habits and so together we moved forward, we tested. There’s a lot of trial and error before you find something that really works for you.

I tested a lot of distributions before choosing one. I did a lot of stupid things, I had to reformat my machines a number of times. But overall I managed to get support and then to increase my skills to be a little more autonomous.

Walid : How does it feel to discover this environment? I still remember very well the first time I installed a Linux and I understood. Well you see, it’s a new world that opens up before me. How did you feel when you understood a little bit what you were doing?

Audric : When you start to get your hands dirty and you manage to install your own distribution the first time you say wow! It’s true that you feel like you’ve arrived in a new galaxy where everything is possible.

Walid : Did it seem complicated to you to install your own distribution? I mean because 20 years ago installing Linux was complicated but now you see it’s not very complicated in the end, right?

Audric : yes no no now it’s okay. So sometimes you still have to unlock your machine so you have to go into the BIOS here you have to fiddle a little bit, so someone who is not very comfortable may be afraid to do that, he will tell himself that he will blow the warranty of his machine, that he will break his computer, then then he will not be able to do anything.

There’s this thing that can put a little bit of stress, but once it’s done, it’s actually true that you put your file on a USB key, you install it and it’s gone. But there is a kind of satisfaction in saying to yourself “hey, I’ve installed a machine, I’m more dependent on a company that will impose choices on me, I’ll be able to decide what I do with my machine, what it looks like, what I put in it, what I remove”. I can model my system a little bit in my image. That’s very strong.

Walid : How does it feel to arrive in such an ecosystem with such a proliferation? At first you say “yes you’re a little lost when you arrive etc.” There you talked about Framasoft, you talked about ISP right?

Audric : Yes.

Walid : What are the major associations, the major media or the large organizations that you turn to for information, to understand how it works?

Audric : I joined almost all the free software associations, which were either local or had a slightly broader dimension. In France, I’m thinking of APRIL , for example. So I got into all these ecosystems, I read a lot of documentation, I went to all the forums and all the possible channels of discussion, both to get information, to meet people.

Source: april.org

Walid : Did you give conferences too? Well, I mean, did you go to free conferences?

Audric : I went to conferences and then in turn, after I gave them, once I had chewed and digested the subject a little bit, let’s say, and I could then share it again and spread the good word, let’s say.

yes, the ecosystem is being set up like that gradually. In fact, it’s very rich and finding information can sometimes be complicated, that’s also why Framasoft has done a very good job of both referencing tools, doing interviews on their blog where they will present associations or people who work for the dissemination and promotion of free software. So in general, once you get your hands on it, you can get sucked in very quickly and you just need to have time to peel everything a little bit and dissect everything.

Walid : And so you bought a phone again.

Audric : yes,

Walid : You bought a phone specifically to run a Custom ROM, right?

Audric : That’s right. The computer too, in the end, I had changed everything.

Walid : Oh okay. And so there, on the phone, it’s still different from the computer. It’s in terms of the doc, in terms of installation. You can still brick your phone. You can do things.

Audric : yes, it’s a bit scary. I had already experimented with this type of hack when I was on Iphone because I had Jailbreak the first iPhone, because I had bought it as an import, so before it arrived in France and Europe, you had to do some things like that to be able to run it in France and use the internet on the phone. You had to go through the Surf option of the time, something that didn’t last long, before there was 3G and all that.

So I wasn’t too scared because quickly I found tutorials pretty well done, a lot of documentation and I had specifically bought a phone where I knew that custom roms could run on it. Typically it was the Xiaomi phones, the old models and the OnePlus, if I say no nonsense, that allowed you to run a lot of stuff.

Walid : at the beginning what, you did LineageOS, stuff like that?

Audric : yes yes and then I tested a few others but Lineage pretty good. Then I switched to i before it was called Murena. I went back and forth a little bit. I also did stupid things, sometimes I brick the phone, I have to format everything, I lost all the content. Well, it happens. Make backups, make backups. But practice makes perfect, so I continued to do that and then I accompanied people who wanted to do the same thing.

What is digital mediation

Walid : It kind of transitions me to the next part that I had written down. How would you define digital mediation?

So when I talk about digital mediation, it’s the link between man and machine. Mediation is two humans who don’t get along, there is friction, it casts each other. It’s the same with IT, because IT can be seen as something complicated, anxiety-provoking, disturbing or blocking, and there is a need to make it all more fluid. And we have to support the public, whether it’s the general public or an audience of entrepreneurs. But overall, you have a lot of people, the official figures say that it’s 20% of the population who are in great difficulty, or even totally disconnected from the world of IT. Unofficially, it’s a lot more, because you have people who think they know how to use a computer, except that in fact, they just know how to launch software, launch the Internet and that’s it. And as soon as it doesn’t work, they are completely lost. So, there are a lot of people to support.

And so there is a need for mediators, trainers, facilitators. And for me, digital mediation is about supporting the public both on technical subjects, but also raising their awareness of issues. Especially on freedom, the protection of personal data, sovereignty, lots of themes like that. Because it’s good to know how to use your machine, but it’s also good to understand how it works, what it’s for, what you can do, and that it’s a very nice tool but that can also backfire if you use it badly or if you don’t protect yourself.

Walid : What qualities do you need to be a digital mediator?

Audric : yes, you have to be patient because I think that all the people a little bit, let’s say a little bit the geek of the family often find themselves helping the auntie, the uncle during Christmas meals when it’s supposed to be a moment of relaxation. Well, you have to imagine that it’s a bit like that on a daily basis, with people who can sometimes not understand at all what they are doing with the machine. And your role is to give them the keys so that they can move forward as independently as possible. Because if they are dependent on you, there too, for me, it’s complicated.

So there is a need to support them or redirect them to the right structures, the right interlocutors. There are more and more places that have people dedicated to training and digital support. In France, we have digital advisors who arrived in the country a little over two years ago. So well, it’s a bit precarious, underpaid, they don’t necessarily have permanent positions, but hey, it has the merit of existing. There were already mediators or people who give computer courses in the old cyber centres, cyber bases, EPNs, there are plenty of labels like that or names that we changed, but in fact we’ve been doing the same thing for 25 years, that we’ve been supporting the public in getting to grips with these tools because there is always a need to help them and there are still as many In fact, the world is in difficulty in the face of all this.

We have the impression that even young people, we say yes, they are the hyper-connected generation because they have a phone in their hand, ok they are comfortable on TikTok but you put them in front of a computer in fact, there are many who are struggling.

How Audric raises awareness

Walid : When you do mediation like that, you do mediation, so what is it for people, they bring their computer and you do with the equipment they have or is there a part of mediation where it is, do you put in their hands a computer on a free OS or …?

Audric : Anything is possible. So it depends, I did a little bit of all that, but it depended on the structures in which I worked. When I was in the media library, we had free workstations on Linux and others on Windows, and then we had Macs too, we had a little bit of all the OSes that were available to the public.

So people, they arrive, they settle down, they do their thing, and very often, they ask you questions because they have problems and they have blockages. You have some who come just to print documents, but there are some, there you go, “I need a hand to make a CV, I have to do a search on the Internet, I have a presentation to make on such and such a subject, I don’t know how to go about it”.

You have a lot of administrative procedures online, and then you have people who just want to enjoy it a little bit and understand how it works. So you can just give computer classes, the B.A.B. create a file, record, do word processing, and then you can go further on practices that are a little more fun, do video editing, we’ll take photos, we’ll transfer them, we’ll learn how to use a tablet.

All the tools that seem easy to use on a daily basis, there are people, we have to support them from start to finish on these subjects. And then you have some who are already equipped, who arrive with their machine, either they were a bit fooled by a salesman at FNAC, Darty or other who sold them something with super expensive antivirus but you don’t need it and then they are a little lost, or you have some who have a little time, Retirees often have time, they have patience and they want to learn. So they have machines, they are there, they are in demand. So after that, my job is to support them.

And then what I’m doing right now is more entrepreneurs, people, employees too who work in different companies, who have a little broader digital issues, that’s it, how to be visible on the internet, how to talk on social networks, how to use AI on a daily basis in my work. They are not on the bliss of computer science but they still need to train and keep up to date because the digital world is evolving at a crazy speed, especially at the moment, so there is always a need to support people.

Walid : In this work as a mediator, how do you promote free software in fact? Do you advise people to use free alternatives to other software and everything? How does it work?

Audric : In general, I try to… So a while ago I systematically presented free software and then I avoided talking about others. Now I try to give the choice too, that’s mostly it, it’s the notion of choice that is important. I always explain the differences, and then what are the fundamentals of free and open source. Why do I favor this type of software? So for very specific cases, I don’t know, when I give them a course or a workshop on how to use a password manager, I’ll tell them why I prefer to use the other one’s open source one that is paid.

So the book is in fact systematically present in my workshops or in the themes that I can address. Sometimes it’s just doing evangelism, explaining what this world is, why it’s important to contribute, why they probably already use free software without knowing it and presenting them a little bit of the galaxy of tools that could replace what they use on a daily basis and show them why it could be more interesting. It can be from an economic point of view because when you do mediation you also have people who are simply in trouble so you tell them that with a recovery computer you put a linux it costs nothing you put free it’s free even if it’s good to make donations to developers, But overall you can download the software without asking yourself the financial question, there are people, right away, they are interested.

That’s why there’s a whole network of computer equipment refurbishments, I’m thinking of Emmaus which sells PCs with their Linux distribution (Editor’s note: it’s not Emmaus that created the Emmabuntüs distribution), a PC for 50€, it allows you to start and frankly it can be more than enough for someone who has a slightly average use of computers.

Logo Emmabuntüs

Walid : I think we’ll talk about it again soon in the podcast… Are you also talking about the digital commons? Do you do a bit of digital joint initiation?

Audric : yes, and then the fact that I also worked in a media library, in a library, documentation, contribution, it’s something quite important. So it can be through workshops or a kind of logic that we do each time. There will be a project, each time we will document it, we will take photos, we will share it. When I worked in a big media library, there was the media library’s blog, so we explained all that. People are used to using Wikipedia, for example, without necessarily asking themselves how it works behind it.

If you do a Wikipedia workshop, you explain to them, that they can contribute, that they can update their city’s file, can add information, they say “oh yes ok I have this power, I also maybe have a knowledge that I will be able to share with a larger group, and make them realize the richness of all this” and they will start to get started.

So I’ve done workshops like that, everything that has to do with mapping, OpenStreetmap I’m quite a fan, because you can contribute in a very simple way with small applications, I’m thinking of StreetComplete which is a bit like Pokémon Go, we walk around, we have small missions and then I’m going to add the bakery’s hours, The type of beer there is in this brewery, is this bus shelter accessible to someone in a wheelchair, lots of simple little things. And in fact, it contributes and enriches a doc and everyone will be able to enjoy it afterwards.

Walid : So you see people progressing in their knowledge of IT?

Audric : Yes, in their desire to share too. Once they understand, there are some who will try to specialize a little bit on tools or techniques. They realize the power it has and that they are not just consumers. It’s not like you sit in front of the TV or Netflix and you wait and watch your stuff. There, you can really be an actor, you can really meet people, go and see communities that will either accompany you too, that will be able to exchange knowledge. And you’re okay as an individual, it’s very strong to tell yourself that you’re part of this whole and that your choices, your decisions can also have an impact on others.

Walid : Does the fact that you don’t have a computer scientist profile at the base, that you didn’t study computer science, help precisely to talk to people and to popularize. Maybe, I think, because I try every time to explain it in terms that are easy to understand, to make analogies, to make humor and not to get into the technique because in the end the technique is not always what interests people, sometimes you just want it to work. After the people who want to dig deeper, that’s also good because they will be able to go even further in autonomy and in turn they will also be able to accompany and train other people. That’s also the role of the mediator or even the facilitator, here it’s more that we’re in Fab Lab mode.

You can’t be everywhere and when you have 20 people to manage you are forced to rely on the strengths you have on site. So if you manage to identify that there is a person who is good at something in particular, you will immediately solicit them, put them into action and at the same time it will relieve you of certain tasks and they will increase their skills. It’s very encouraging and enriching for this person in turn to be able to contribute like this.

The community of digital mediators

Walid : You have a large community of digital mediators, how does it work, how do you interact with each other?

Audric : There are several cooperatives that exist, there are federations, there are what we call hubs, these are organizations that will try to centralize. It’s departmental or regional, I don’t know, I have a doubt. But there are structures like this that will support, try to make the link between the different mediators, trainers, and all the people who support people on a daily basis on these issues, both to continue to train them and to increase their skills, but also so that we are aware of who is doing what, that we realize and that we can refer people to the right people.

So yes, there’s a whole ecosystem that has existed for a long time, that continues to develop, that needs money, and that’s still the sinews of war, that needs money and that does a bit as best it can, so there are both state-funded organizations, there are many associations, There are self-employed people, there are plenty of structures, legal forms that exist and that work hand in hand. I have the impression that there is not too much competition in digital mediation because in fact we all have the same objective, which is to support the audiences we receive.

Audric’s daily life

Walid : What is your daily life?

Audric : I have a bit of a busy week since I’m full-time in the place I manage. So on a daily basis, I prepare the rooms because they are reserved by companies or organizations that are going to hold meetings, that are going to do training. I have a whole booking platform to manage, so I have to rent rooms, offices, coworking spaces. At the same time, I’m making progress on my event programming, so there are workshops that I lead myself, so I have to prepare the program, I have to prepare my materials. Then there are other workshops, they will be partners, sometimes it will be some coworkers who will spontaneously offer to lead themes because they each have their own trade.

That’s the strength of spaces, third places and coworking. Because I have developers, designers, people who do marketing strategy, I have salespeople, there are people who recruit, there are language teachers, well that’s very varied.

So I rely a little on all these little people. So I do my event programming as a cultural place. As I work on economic development with my colleagues from Dev éco, we have meetings outside and we also receive project leaders or companies that want to move forward on digital issues. Then after me I’m going to redirect to the right person, whether it’s a company that creates sites, that does SEO, that does cybersecurity, to someone who wants to develop an application or whatever. So here I use my network.

So that’s a bit of my week, the classic week and then at the same time, there are evenings where I will give conferences left and right, I will do workshops in other places for other audiences.

Then when I have a little time, I continue to train on subjects because it’s changing all the time, I do a lot of monitoring. When I have a little time, I also play a little bit in the evening. It’s both very busy and at the same time very stimulating, since a lot of relationships and a lot of time also looking at what’s coming, what’s new, etc. That’s right, but since it’s, let’s say, a passion job, you don’t necessarily look at how long it takes. After that, there is still family time to keep, but it’s true that I find it very enriching and motivating.

to train myself in other subjects. So I have some kind of waves like that on subjects where for a while, a few months or even a few years, I’m really going to be focused on a very specific thing. Then once I feel like I’ve done the trick, I move on to another topic. And then there you go, I do that for a while and so on.

And I pass like that. I do loops on themes and it allows me to always maintain myself one day and to offer new services to my customers each time as well. equally.

Audric’s current digital practice

Walid : We talk a lot about the tools, the free tools etc that you use or that you know and the same thing so that’s also pretty cool to have people with whom, who say “ah you’ve already encountered this, you’ve already seen this thing where you should maybe look at this and everything” that’s really nice.

And the question I was asking myself is, did you discover free software ten years ago and now in fact what is your practice of computer science in fact? Are you still fully free? Do you do a bit of both? What reality do you live in in numerical terms?

Audric : So when I went full free, it was also the period when I completely cut off all my social networks because I had to be logical at some point. So I left Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, I closed everything. I trained myself in my tricks and then I said to myself, well, how do I do it now?

Walid : You’re hot anyway (laughs).

Audric : yes, I’m extreme. yes that’s clear. And I said to myself afterwards, how do I communicate with the public now? How am I going to find people to train if I am more present and if I am more on mainstream platforms. Because I’ve also been on Mastodon for a while, but it’s not there that I’m going to find people to support. People on Mastodon in general are already enlightened, at least on these themes.

So Mastodon for people who don’t know, let’s say that it’s a free micro-blogging software, it’s an equivalent of Twitter, well X now, but it’s federated. That’s it, several small networks will communicate with each other. So gradually, I had to go back to proprietary platforms, also because I had clients who, in quotes, forced me to use tools, especially the Facebook messenger, which I don’t like too much. So I came back to it little by little, to be visible, so just to do, let’s say, free content promotion. Well, it didn’t necessarily have an impact on the networks, but in any case, I could talk to my contacts about it.

I came back like that gradually, and the same, I had to put non-free devices back in my life because I became a dad, so I also had less time to devote to all that. I needed to have tools that worked quickly, right away. So gradually, I came back to the world of Apple, while still keeping my free equipment on the side. So actually, now, I switch from one to the other depending on the needs. In my position here, full time, I’m on Windows. At home, I have my Mac, I also have my Linux. And depending on the workshops, the themes, I take one or the other of the machines. And in terms of software use, I always try to favor free software when I can.

And there are themes where I am no exception to the rule. Everything that has to do with security, privacy, it’s going to be free. Free, open source. You made a little more pragmatic choices according to the constraints you had. Typically, social networks are a good example because you always have a debate of “Well yes but in fact I don’t like these platforms so I don’t go there”.

Walid : But on the other hand, if you’re not on proprietary platforms, you can’t promote your free tools and no one knows you, so basically did you really gain anything in the end? Unsure.

Audric : That’s right, imagine you’re a company, you sell free software, you’re kind of forced to make concessions.

Walid : What’s interesting is that more and more we see alternatives, I’m typically thinking of Matomo as an alternative to Google Analytics for example.

Audric : Yes, because it was also due to a marketing argument, at least that’s also how I sold it. When I talk to customers about free software, I may tell them that it will cost you less, but in any case you have the guarantee of what the software does. You’re going to be able to look into it. If you don’t have this skill, and I’m not a developer either, but in any case I know that I can rely on a community that has the power to check the code, to say ok the software does what it’s supposed to do, it’s not going to recover my data, Maybe in addition it has been eco-designed, so much the better, I can have this guarantee and I don’t have to blindly trust a company that will tell me yes yes it works, go for it.

The genesis of the book Datamania

Walid : That’s good, it makes the transition for the next part which was, I wanted us to talk about your two books and first I wanted us to talk about Datamania, so in fact which is the book that tells the story of your discovery…

Audric : data capture.

Walid : That’s it, data capture. Can you explain to us a little bit how you came up with the idea of writing this book?

Audric : So I had the idea of Datamania before the first book on open source consoles but I didn’t feel like starting by writing a comic book because I had never written anything like that and I didn’t have a publisher either so I didn’t know how to approach.

It was in 2018, something like that, 2018 when I had the idea of making this comic book but I said to myself “well I’ll put it aside for later”. But I had this idea because I realized that there were no comics that talked about it, there were technical books, there are very good books, there are novels too, there are essays, there are a lot of things, but it’s not always very accessible, Sometimes it’s very, very technical and people will be completely lost, but in any case we’re not going to reach the general public.

And I was really the target I wanted, I wanted a 13-year-old kid to be able to read this comic and understand a little bit of the stuff, so is that why he’s going to change his mind and stop using TikTok, I don’t know, but anyway, there you go, maybe he’ll open his mind and realize a little bit how it works and why it works the way it does.

So that’s kind of the desire, it was to talk about it around me. It was also a bit of a challenge to say to myself “hey, I’m going to use another format rather than doing a workshop, rather than giving a conference, rather than making a video, I’m going to do something a little original” and I find that the comic book format allows me to convey a lot of subjects. There are more and more documentary comics, that’s what it’s called, that will talk about more or less serious subjects. It’s still affordable and it’s also a job of simplification.

Walid : In other countries, I used to live in Belgium and it was much easier to get important messages across through comics, they did it much more than in France. I’m typically thinking quite recently of a comic book that sold a lot, that made a lot of noise, it’s called The Endless World, the comic book by Jeancovici and Blain, and which also addresses hyper technical and hyper important subjects through a comic book and which did well precisely because the comic format makes it much more understandable and also potentially a little more fun.

Audric : yes and then in my comic book I also wanted to be able to go into crazy things. Because we follow, we’re going to say that it’s my avatar. There’s a bit of autobiography in the thing, but not completely. We follow my character who goes into space, who goes from planet to planet, and each time he will meet strange entities, aliens, androids. He will meet characters who will each time transmit competence and knowledge to him. So he’s going to go to the planet penguin where he’s going to meet the great Gnu, he’s going to go to the planet Kryptos where he’s going to discover encryption, and each time he’s going to learn new things, which he’s going to bring back to Earth, which he’s then going to share with his family, his colleagues, whom he’s going to take the lead from of course.

It was a bit like the idea of having a kind of intergalactic roadtrip where my little character learns a lot of tricks and then wants to broadcast to his contacts. Ok, you get the idea.

Walid : So what did you do? Did you write the script for the comic?

Audric : I wrote the entire script, I wrote all the texts. I already had the documentation because that’s what I told in workshops and conferences. So there was a work of remixing, let’s say, reformulating what I could tell.

I was also able to transpose tricks to make small scenes to explain concepts. But yes, there was all this writing work, a bit like theater writing, with really who is speaking, at what moment, with sometimes, I really had ideas for staging, in box 1 this happens, in box 2 in the background, and sometimes I had no ideas at all, I just said here is the whole text, And it was the illustrator who had to manage.

Walid : Precisely the illustrator, how do you find an illustrator, how do you present your project to him, where did you find the illustrator?

Audric : So the illustrator is Halfbob, I already knew his work because he had written comics that talked about indie rock and now it’s actually with my publisher, because I already had a publisher since it was…

Halfbob (source comic book)

Walid : Oh that’s right, did you find the publisher before?

Audric : I already had the publisher, since it was Dunod with whom I had worked on the first book, it was easier when I had this idea for a comic book, so it’s with my publisher. He asked me, “here is basically a list of illustrators that you like, with whom you would like to work, with whom you think your universe could well match”. So I had made a small list and Halfbob was at the top of the list and he was contacted and he was available and interested in the project so it started like that. It was the publisher who acted as an intermediary.

Walid : And so what do you meet at afterwards? You work together remotely, on site, how does it work actually?

Audric : It’s only been distance learning because he’s on the Saint-Étienne side, if I don’t say nonsense. We met not too long ago for real at a fair, where we were going to sign the comic book. But yes, everything was done remotely.

In addition, it was during the lockdown, if I’m not talking nonsense, while we were finalizing all this. There was a first, let’s say the first interview, it was do we agree a little on the theme, on how we work. He had to do the first ten plates.

So that was also my first job, it was to write the first ten plates so that he could make drawings. After that, there is a few back and forth with the publisher, and then it goes to a kind of internal selection committee at Dunod, who will say whether or not we go on this project. And then it was validated, so then there was a schedule where I had to hand in the whole script by such and such a date, and then it was up to the illustrator to be able to work in parallel on my text.

Excerpt from Datamania

Walid : How long did it take, the complete project?

Audric : In total, it took a year and a half, six months of writing and a year for the drawings.

Walid : And when did the comic book come out?

Audric : It was released in March 2023, so more than a year ago.

Walid : Did the comic book correspond to your initial idea? I mean, are you super happy with it?

Audric : yes, yes, definitely. I’m very proud of that. These were completely the ideas I had in my head. That’s why it’s a bit far-fetched, by the way, in comics. I think that the style of Halfbob really corresponded to what I had imagined. So, I know that not everyone likes it, but I like this type of drawing, a little naïve, with a lot of colors.

Since I have a universe that was a little delusional, a little sci-fi, I needed something that moved a little bit. So, yes, it’s exactly what I had imagined. And the feedback I’ve had from other mediators or other digital trainers is also very positive and I know that I have some who are now using it as an educational tool. So I’m very happy about that, it’s nice to see that there are people who are relying on this now to also do workshops or at least to raise awareness of this theme.

Walid : My next question was what was the feedback? Have you had any feedback from people in your profession? Did you also get feedback from the public? Did you meet any people? You were talking about signings and everything, did you meet people who told you that it helped them or that it allowed them to open up a little to these themes?

Audric : Yes, and I’ve also met some who have bought the comic book to give to a loved one. Often it’s people who were already a little sensitive to these subjects but who also couldn’t find a way to promote or convince them and they bought this comic to try to convince friends and family to change their minds or change their tools or at least try to open their eyes a little bit to certain realities. So yes, I’ve had feedback on that level and from a specialized press point of view, I’ve also had a lot of positive feedback. I made a small press kit on the site that I ran especially for the release of the comic.

I made a small Low-code site for fun. But yes, there was Linux Magazine that talked about it, a magazine specializing in comics, it was in Okapi.

So there was a little bit of visibility. So there weren’t that many sales. There are 5000 copies that have been printed and about half have been sold. But for a first comic, it’s not bad. But yes, the critical feedback was positive.

The Open Source Console Book

Walid : That’s cool. We talked about the second comic. So actually, if I understand what you’re saying, actually, did you have that idea before writing a book about open source consoles?

Audric : yes.

Walid : But that in the end, it was easier to go to the publisher and present the open source console project than to present the comic book to him, right?

Audric : That’s right, yes yes. I had never written a comic book, but even the first book I wrote was the first. I didn’t really know how to start with that. So the idea of the comic book, I had kept it in the back of my mind and I had first started with my book project on open source consoles.

Walid : And then wait, when you go to a publisher and tell him that you want to make a book about retro open source gaming consoles, how does he look at the publisher? It’s still a niche of the niche, what do you see?

Audric : yes, yes, yes, it’s a very special thing.

Walid : Is there a market for this audience?

Audric : well yes, a little bit, all the gamers and all the people who work in Fab Labs, they like to tinker so they like to make their own little console. But here too, the origin of the thing is also a bit special. In fact, there was a call for projects.

It was a publisher specializing in the history of video games that launched it. It was a writing competition. The theme was game console. So at first, I wanted to talk about a game console. I wanted to talk about the Virtual Boy, but I said to myself, so I’m not a journalist, I’m not a historian, I’m not going to go on a trip to Japan to dig up the news, I’ll never find something.

Walid : which console is it? The Virtual Boy is it?

Audric : Virtual boy yes which is a Nintendo console that didn’t do very well and didn’t even come out in Europe. It’s a bit like the ancestor of virtual reality: you put your head in it and it was in red monochrome.

VirtualBoy (source computinghistory)

Walid : ah yes I remember that ok ah yes it didn’t work at all yes.

Audric : That’s it, and but there was no book at the time that talked about it but I said to myself no, it’s a painful plan, I’m going to go for something else and then I said to myself but yes but I have a lot of small open source consoles in my cupboards, I have a lot of things that I do in the workshop, Nobody talks about it, I’m sure the trade press has never heard of it, so I started writing about it.

I had made a first draft, I had written about ten pages, which I had sent to the competition, and the competition, they told me, no, we don’t like it, we find it a little too complicated, I think they hadn’t understood what open source was.

They even asked themselves the question of legality, they said yes, so it’s to use emulators, ROMs, I said no, it’s not crazy at all, we can but that’s not what I was putting forward. So he told me no, and I said to myself yes it’s a shame, I’ve started working on it, so I’m going to propose it to someone else.

So I sent my manuscript to other publishers specializing in everything related to video games, so there again I didn’t necessarily get positive feedback, and then I continued like this, and I said to myself hey, we’re going to go for publishers who are a little more classic in quotation marks but who are still interested in the technique.

So I contacted Dunod, who was immediately very interested, but who told me “we also want a book with a tutorial part”. Because at the beginning it was only me the story part that interested me. This is really the story of open source consoles. And when they told me we want a tutorial aspect, I said to myself but yes that’s what I’m already doing on the side, that’s what I did in Fab Lab, so I can literally document all that.

So we started with that, I reworked my plan. We came to an agreement and I was able to mix the history of these consoles, interviews with developers, because I was in contact with some of them: because I had participated in fundraising campaigns, because I had done advertising, because I had beta tested certain products.

And at the same time I started to make all my tutorials on all the small consoles I had and then I continued to buy kits that had just been released and then while I was assembling the kit with my soldering iron, I was taking the pictures and I was doing the tutorial in parallel. So in the end there was a complete book on this whole ecosystem, indeed niche niche.

What do you do with Open Source consoles?

Walid : You were saying earlier that the first publishers, well that at the level of the competition, they thought it was to do piracy. Can you explain a little bit what the purpose of these consoles is actually? What’s that? What type of game is it running?

Audric : So there are several consoles, there are several systems and so you can run several styles of games.

The smallest open source consoles and the easiest to make. It’s based on small Arduino boards so it’s really programming boards that don’t cost very much. In addition it’s a bit of a salvage because it’s old Nokia screens that are used, so Nokia 3310 so you have monochrome screens and the games you can run on them, let’s say it’s as powerful as the Snake you ran on a Nokia. So it’s really little retro games that you code yourself in Arduino.

Walid : Are these games that people code? Aren’t you looking to run old games that existed before on another console, are they original games?

Audric : it’s originals or clones of classics, you’ll find the clone of Pac-Man, Tetris and company, but which has been recoded in Arduino. And there again I realized that there was a whole French-speaking community that is quite rich, that codes little games like that, that shares them, and then in turn you can get the source code, modify it, and in the end you make your own game. And then if you want to go further, you can code it of course from A to Z.

Walid : Is it a bit like the DemoMakers?

Audric : a little bit, yes yes, it looks like, it’s pretty close. This community, it has started to densify and to go on other technologies, so you have Arduino on the one hand, then there are some who have released platforms a little more powerful that allow you to run Linux distributions where you can run some emulators, indeed it’s true, with ROMs and old games sometimes licensed.

But hey, there was never a problem. But you can also run stuff that’s coded in Lua, which is another computer language, or Python. People who are used to programming in Scratch.

Scratch is a visual programming software, it’s blocks. You can make small equivalent games that you will be able to run on this type of machine, but overall you stay on machines that are not very very powerful.

What’s also very interesting in this ecosystem is that you have creators, developers who have trained each other, and some had a common base which was Arduino, then there is an improved version that has been released, there is one that will add a color screen, the other one who will put on the sound, and then the first one will say ah well that’s what he did. When he releases a new version of his first console, he will take what was done by his competitor, in quotation marks. And in fact, they will enrich each other, which means that in the end, you have a whole galaxy of consoles with more and more features present on them.

And one of the developers who set up his company, by the way, which is called CircuitMess, since then he has launched a kind of box where you subscribe and you receive gadgets each time to assemble and solder yourself. He even released a kit phone that works. So if you do soldering, it’s YOUR phone. So it’s not a smartphone, it’s not touch-sensitive, it’s a big screen with big keys, but you can call with it. All you have to do is put a SIM card. It’s a very rich ecosystem and it’s really fun to do.

CircuitPet (source Circuitmess.com)

Walid : So you wrote this book on your own?

Audric : yes.

Walid : What was the feedback from the publisher? Is the return of the public? Has he found his audience? Was the publisher, I guess, satisfied since he accepted your second project?

Audric : Yes, for him it was profitable. I didn’t become rich for all that. As an author, especially when you’re just starting out, you don’t earn much. To give you an idea, it’s about 6% of the sale price. So there again, it was a small draw. I don’t know how many copies have been printed, but there are maybe 1,500 that have been sold, something like that.

The people who were a bit tinkering, at least the maker community that discovered the book were quite happy. I had some criticisms because I didn’t only talk about free tools in it, I couldn’t name all the consoles that existed, because there are still some that are being released at the moment, but people have used them to at least start assembling small machines as well.

There are people who thought that it only really helps to learn programming, that wasn’t the goal of the book. It was really more of a presentation, a kind of panorama of this universe that is still unknown to many people, whether they are gamers on the one hand and makers on the other. But I wanted to make this bridge between the two.

Walid : Were you contacted afterwards, after these books, to give conferences? Did it bring you, I don’t know, a certain notoriety, contacts? I don’t realize.

Audric : yes, I’ve done a few accounts on open source game consoles. I was already doing console assembly workshops, so I continued to do them. I also continued to do bartop or arcade machine assembly workshops, so now we’re more in the open source console.

But I’m thinking of Recalbox, which is an open source distribution that allows you to run ROMs, so in the end we’re still in the same world. So yes yes, it gave a little visibility to this part of the history of video games that is still relatively unknown. And it also allowed me to intervene at festivals and in places.

Recalbox (source recalbox.com)

Walid : Where did this passion come from? I mean, I also made consoles to play when I was a kid, but I didn’t fall into consoles, into making my retro console. What made you fall into that actually? Were you a tinkerer from the start?

Audric : I became a tinkerer a bit out of necessity because when you have old machines that are your age, which are sometimes older than you, they break down. And the day your machine breaks down, you have to go on the internet, you look for plans, you look for tutorials to find out how to fix it. And so then you start soldering, testing things, and when you see that it works and that your master system that had completely failed finally comes back to life, you say to yourself “ok there’s something to do”.

So I had started to get into this habit of repairing consoles, I was repairing my Game Boys, then you can really do console tuning, you change the screens, you put self-lit screens, keys that light up, you change all the cases, so I had started to get into it a bit.

And so it made sense for me to keep talking about it, and since it was the period when I was working in a Fab Lab, I said to myself “come on, let’s dig into the subject and make consoles”.

Walid : It’s still a geek thing.

Audric : People don’t necessarily understand, they say wait for open source game consoles, already open source, they don’t always know what game consoles are, well they pretty much see but when you tell them that you can make it yourself, listen to your games, yes there are often some who make big eyes, who say “oh well, I didn’t know it was possible”.

Walid : And you have new projects after writing two books, do you have other projects, two books or other things?

Audric : I wanted to continue making a comic book, a kind of sequel to Datamania where I wanted to talk about the environmental footprint of digital technology, but for the moment I haven’t found a taker among publishers.

At the same time I thought that why not also talk about No-Code and AI in the form of comics, but you have to move quickly because here you are, a year, a year and a half to release a book, if you’re talking about AI now in fact it’s already obsolete when it comes out.

So for the moment no, no other writing projects in this format yet, but I was already writing before because I had a blog so I wrote a lot of stuff in parallel but in any case there is always the idea of transmitting whether in writing, orally or in another format.

Walid : Do you stay close or have you kept in touch with free associations?

Audric : yes yes of course yes I continue to talk about it, I talk about it less than before but I continue to keep up to date and participate in events when I have the opportunity.

Walid : ok cool well listen we went over a lot of things I would have had a lot of questions, other subjects, but which would deserve an episode on free software in libraries, etc. Anyway, I think we can talk about it for a very long time, but we’ll stop there, because otherwise we’ll do two hours.

Audric : I have a little info if you want anyway. When I released the first book that talked about open source game consoles I wanted it to be under a free license, I couldn’t negotiate it with my publisher. There aren’t many publishers who use licenses like that on books. That’s the only regret.

I would have found it logical that a book that talks about open source and sharing could be accessible with this type of license.

Op-Ed

Walid : In terms of conclusion, I would like to leave you the traditional Tribune Libre. I’ll let you speak, Audric.

Audric : I want to tell people not to be afraid to try, to dare to go and meet communities, whether on the internet or in physical places. You have to push the door and enter a Fab Lab, a media library, an EPN, whatever you want, to be accompanied. And even if you think you don’t have skills, very often it’s wrong, you do, and you’ll be able to contribute, even if it’s not technically, you’ll be able to contribute to the community and you’ll enrich yourself with these new experiences.

I encourage you and I really invite you to go around your home. There are plenty of maps that allow you to list places like that, including the mapping of third places, I don’t know what it’s called, it’s third places France, I have a doubt. You will find coworking spaces, Fab Labs, media libraries, social centers that provide digital support. So frankly go and meet them and even if you are hyper technical, hyper sharp on subjects, you also surely have skills to share around you. So don’t keep it to yourself, participate in this digital commons by sharing it with others.

Walid : Before we finish, I had a question. What is the digital and free software environment in Cholet? Is there a Linux user group? What’s on it?

Audric : I don’t think so, I haven’t found one. There are a few of us hidden here and there. But no, there is no assault. No, I don’t think so, there is no association.

Walid : ok, we have to go into the…

Audric : Not very far. In Clisson. When I was in the region, there was one who is very active. And if not, you have to go to Nantes or Angers. In the big cities, it’s easier.

Walid : Well listen, it was great. I hope that you who listen to this podcast have learned things and that it has made you want to buy Audric’s books. Having read them, I found it super funny, Datamania, I had a good laugh and I know that I talked about it with other people from the No-Code community including Alexis and that we were talking about the little hidden references and that we had a good laugh.

So there you go, I invite you to buy them, or at least to leaf through them. And there you have it, for the listeners, see you soon, more great topics to come, so as usual you can send messages on Mastodon to tell me what you thought or for Audric too, Audric who is on Mastodon, I don’t know, do you know your Mastodon nickname by heart or not?

Audric : I don’t know it by heart, it must be Audric, tkpx.

Walid : Anyway I’ll put it in the transcript too, that’s it. So don’t hesitate to send him messages.

Have a good day everyone, thank you for listening to the end, thank you to the people who send messages and I meet at the shows and tell me that they are listening and that it’s cool. It’s very, very nice. See you soon for new adventures!

This episode was recorded on June 11, 2024.

License

This podcast is released under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license or later.

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