Field trip in the Burren

As part of an agreement with Clare Local Development Company, I have worked with a number of communities in co. Clare. My role was to put in place the technology and support its appropriation depending on each community’s needs and aspirations.

One of the groups I’ve been working with is Clare Pilgrim Way, an initiative group that aims to create pilgrimage routes connecting sacred places in co. Clare. As the group is taking control of their own website, Facebook page and Twitter account, they also need a way to track and share their routes. I’ve recommended EveryTrail, and a few attempts have been made.

I decided to join them for the second of their three days Stage Two of the Clare Pilgrim Way, and I have looked at the Burren from a completely new perspective. The day started in Carron, with a visit to the old school where Michael Cusack once taught. At Burren Life, Brendan Dunford (the project manager) gave us a brief but passionate presentation on the objectives and achievements of this organisation.

The walk started with a visit to Cronan‘s Well , then to Chronan’s Church. We met a lot of tourists on our way.

We passed several penitentiary stations and arrived to Fachnan’s Well. The final target was St.Colman MacDuagh‘s hermitage at Eagle Rock.

Here’s the trip as recorded on EveryTrail:

I had a great time out in the Burren, talking to people from all paths of life. And within that day, I have gained an understanding of this particular group of mobile technology users that I couldn’t have got in any other way!

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August 23 2013 | Communities and Technology | No Comments »

Digital Cities 8

This year, the Digital Cities workshop (co-located with the Communities & Technologies conference) took place in Munich and I finally managed to make it.

Digital Cities 6 happened in 2009 at Penn State University, and Digital Cities 7 was in Brisbane, co-located with Communities&Technologies 2011. Too far, too expensive!

Throughout its existence, the event followed the intertwined development of cities and digital technologies. My interest in urban informatics/Urban Interaction Design has continued to grow in the last 3-4 years. Back in 2009, I came up with the idea of a Connected Limerick project, that went through different incarnations- from workshops and curated talks through to active involvement and support for local communities.

In September last year, I started to work with a team of three students on a Connected Limerick-related project meant to explore opportunities for supporting citizen and visitors in adding digital information to the physical layer – in other words, annotating the city.

The three students who joined me were Laura Festl, a visiting master student  from the University of Siegen, John Slattery, a Music, Media and Performance Technology final year student, and Alan Ryan, a Digital Media Design student  doing an internship with us at the Interaction Design Centre at the time.

John continued his work in the new year and produced an excellent proof-of-concept for the application we had in mind  as his final year project.

From February on, we were joined by an Erasmus student from the Military Technical Academy in Bucharest, Cristina Dobrisan, who continued the work, producing a working prototype.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to present our work in Munich. The paper is available on Academia.edu and will probably be developed into a longer article for a future Digital Cities 8 volume.

I enjoyed the workshop a lot – some very interesting attendees and papers. Martin Brynskov did an excellent job as workshop organiser and facilitator. I was delighted to meet Eleni Christopoulou, who joined our morning session. She had a paper in the main conference on Collective City Memory together with Dimitrios Ringas. I was aware of their project – CLIO, and indeed there were a lot of commonalities.

DC8 Munich  Martin Tomitsch spoke about an app  that aggregates real time data on the public buses’ locations contributed by the citizen. It made me a bit nostalgic – my son had the same idea for Bucharest during his PhD and he was told it wouldn’t work… Well, it worked in Sydney!

Ingrid Mulder spoke about Creating 010, an initiative based in Rotterdam meant to enable citizens to be involved as co-creators in the development of public services. Fiorella de Cindio spoke about participatory budgeting -a fascinating subject I’ve read more about since, and  Henrik Korsgaard  presented City Bug Report, an installation meant to explore transparency and Open Data readiness in Aarhus, Denmark. Alexander Wiethoff introduced his work and his efforts towards developing a method for the evaluation of media facades. Katharine Willis‘ paper looked at how online interaction could facilitate inclusion and support a sense of place.

We were also joined by Martijn de Waal (The Public Matters) whose insightful questions and comments brought a valuable contribution to our discussion.

It was a fantastic day and it opened new horizons for my future work in this field!

 

July 03 2013 | Events | No Comments »

Celebrating St.Patrick’s Day at home in Limerick

I must confess I have no Irish roots. Before coming to Ireland 8 years ago, I knew very little about Ireland. But now I feel a bit Irish. Irishness grew on me. I know I’ll always be a blow-in, but I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. This is my home, and I have no plans to move anytime soon.

I remember landing into Shannon in February 2005, having left Luxembourg at 5am with -14 degrees C. It was +14 degrees C in Shannon and there were blooming daffodils everywhere.  I needed a work permit and a visa to move here, and that meant that I had to spend 3 months eating into my little savings between when I was offered the job in February and the moment when I could actually fly back in.

This morning I realised this was one of the few times I got to spend St.Patrick’s Day at home in Limerick.

    • In 2006 I met my daughter in Vienna for a brief holiday. We dressed in green and we went to Carl Corcoran’s RTE Lyric Breakfast that was broadcasted from ORF Kultur Cafe Vienna on that day.
    • In 2007 I attended a workshop in Val d’Isere and couldn’t get a flight back from Geneva the day when the workshop ended. So together with my colleague we went to a chocolate festival in Versois. Here’s a photo with me dressed in green and eating sheets of chocolate.

A bit of paddywhackery, isn’t it?!

  • In 2008 I was out on O’Connel St. in Limerick watching the parade – it was freezing cold, but I enjoyed immensely to be part of it all.
  • In 2009 I had to fly to Romania to renew my ID card.
  • In 2010  I was in Brussels for a Marie Curie ITN evaluation session. I brought Butlers chocolates with me and shared them with all my colleagues there.
  • In 2011 we organised an IDC outing at Lough Gur – about 10 of us having a picnic by the lake and freezing to the bone.
  • In 2012 I attended the Local & Mobile conference in Raleigh, NC. They had 22 degrees C, everybody was dressed in green and the students from the area were partying hard.

So I enjoyed very much being out on the streets of Limerick again watching the parade. I brought two Erasmus students into town to see the parade as well. It’s amazing to see how many nationalities are living here, and how they all want to be part of the celebrations. On my left, I had a Mongolian family, while on my right, a couple of African origin were waving at their daughter, who was part of the parade. Fond memories came back to mind from my early childhood, when both my parents had to be in the parade and there was nowhere they could leave me, so I got up very early and passed in front the tribunes once on my father’s shoulders with his mates from the factory, and then later on I was passed to my mother who had a tiny white coat for me so that I could mingle seamlessly with the other nurses and doctors from the hospital she was working for, while passing in front of the tribune a second time. Anyhow, enough about the past!

Here is a snippet of video, to give you an idea of the atmosphere. My photos are here.

I was a bit puzzled to see that some companies chose to take part in the parade driving a company van only. It didn’t make much sense to me, and it wasn’t entertaining. At least the Limerick Cupcakes people were giving away free cupcakes! And then there was a group protesting against the household charge! Is this part of the celebration?!

It was surprising to see groups advertising shows and festivals – an innovative use of the parade. I found out that one of my former students will sing in Oklahoma, and that we will have a Sarsfield Day in August. But this was interesting at least!

Oh, and my favourite contraption was a giant insect brought in by Macnas, a performance group from Galway!

 

March 17 2013 | blogging and Limerick | No Comments »

On gardens and gardening

As a child, I grew up in an apartment block. But my father had green fingers and he got an allotment somewhere on the edge of the city, about 1 km from the end of the bus line. As a child, I enjoyed having my own tiny garden that I was completely in charge of.

Since then, I had balcony gardens, indoors tiny herb gardens and at a point in my life, a big garden (too much work involved for the little time I had!).

When I moved to Ireland almost 8 years ago, I chose an apartment with a balcony. I had herbs, beans and morning glories growing on my balcony, but I longed for more. At some point, I remember having a plan to sow climbing beans in the bushes by the canal and riverbank, where I was cycling every day on the way to and back from the university. I wouldn’t have minded if my harvest would have been eaten by the birds – just the pleasure of seeing stuff grow and doing things with my own hands is enough for me.

In the summer of 2011 I finally found a house with a garden for rental. I had visited many places before that – most of them had a great garden, but the house wasn’t exactly a good place to live. I had to come to grips with the idea that the garden was a hobby and I actually needed a place to live in.

Since we moved in, I put in two vegetable beds, a tiny pond, a greenhouse, a rose bush, a lilac tree, several soft tree bushes ( blackcurrant, red currant, raspberry).

I have great plans for this year. We planted a Kilkenny Pearmain apple tree bought from the Irish Seedsavers two weeks ago and cleaned some of the overgrow. And today was all about gardening – farm manure got added to the vegetable boxes, the front garden got a make-up and everything is now smiling in the sun. I’m happy, but wrecked! I love working with my hands – gardening, knitting, giving massage – I feel like I’m filling up with energy instead of getting tired! I guess this is what Csikszentmihalyi was referring to!

These are a few snapshots from last year:

 

March 16 2013 | blogging and Life and Limerick | No Comments »

Cultural heritage and tweasure hunting

At the beginning of last year, I started working on the idea of a Limerick Tweasure Hunt – a treasure hunt using Twitter. The initial idea was to send the participants out for a walk in the city and help them discover things they ignored during their daily rush through the streets. Their tweets were going to expose those places to all their Twitter contacts and generate awareness.  I also intended to draw attention to the Open Plaques project – a fantastic initiative to build a crowdsourced database of historical plaques from all around the world.

It was part of my ongoing “Connected Limerick” pet project – trying to connect the digital and the physical layers of the city in a playful way. You can read more about the background of this idea here and get the gist about what went on by watching this video.

Together with Sharon and Tara, we ran the event for the first time on the 1st of April, as part of the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival. We included an April Fools joke – unfortunately the first team who got there bagged the fake plaque as a trophy and that was that. The date coincided with the launch of the Limerick City centre Tidy Town initiative – so one of the missions that participants had was to meet the volunteers, talk to them and take a picture.

Following the invitation of the Limerick Local Heroes, we ran a second Tweasure Hunt as part of the 4th of July celebrations in Limerick. By using the same hashtag for all the activities going on on that Sunday (#4thJulyLimerick) we managed to get the public attention by trending in Ireland that morning.

And in October, in collaboration with The Hunt Museum, The Frank McCourt Museum and the Limerick City Gallery of Art, we ran a Halloween Tweasure Hunt.

The next one is planned for Sunday the 24th of March 2013. Sharon and myself went for an exploratory walk today, to check historical plaques, odd corners and timing. We were accompanied by Laura Maye, my PhD student working on the meSch project. She is looking into possible technologies that could support museum and cultural heritage curators to make use of digital artifacts in the actual locations.

As usual here, within an hour we had all four seasons: it rained, it got cold and windy, and then the sun came out and it got really warm. And the story was repeated a couple of times. After a nice cup of tea, we continued with a walk in English Town together with one of my final year students, John Slattery, who is at the moment testing a mobile app. But more about this in another post!

 

 

March 15 2013 | blogging and Events and Limerick and Research | No Comments »

On Social Learning

Teaching is not an easy job, but it comes with huge satisfactions (and, of course, frustrations).

Every year, a new cohort of  graduates that I get to know well leave the university. Actually two cohorts: the undergrads, who spend four years with us taking Digital Media Design and finishing with a BSc, and the master students in Interactive Media Design, who spend only 12 months with us, who graduate with an MA or an MSc, depending on their final project contribution.

Working with master students can be challenging – they have a thirst for learning new things and perfecting skills in the 12 months they spend with us! But it is also a wonderful opportunity for learning: they are learning from each other, as everyone comes in with a different background and skills, and I get to learn from them! One of the components of my module “Principles of Interactive Media Design” is a group seminar prepared and run by groups of students. They get full responsibility for those two hours, that include presentations, debates and class activities on a topic of their group’s choice.

Most of the times, I take part in the suggested class activities as well. As an observer at first (I get to grade these activities after all!), but sometimes I get fully immersed and almost forget I’m not there to play.

Here are two samples from this semester. The first one is from a seminar on lifelogging, where after building a collective class timeline by sharing events from our lives, the organisers suggested that we actively get involved in creating a memory for the future by creating an outfit using newspapers with visible headlines.

The second one is today’s attempt to draw a tree with my lips. We were looking at the role of the body in interacting with computers and at various modalities of interaction. What if we weren’t able to use our hands at all?!

March 14 2013 | blogging and teaching | No Comments »

Reviewing academic papers

One of the joys of academic life is that we get (a lot of) requests to review papers sent to journals and conferences.

Internally, my university recognises this type of activity as “research service”, and it is accounted for when we fill out our “academic workload model/sheet” every year. What I found out in the last two years by filling out this document was that I spend way too much time reviewing other people’s work compared to writing up and publishing my own work.

As an academic, you send your own work to conferences and journals that organise the peer-review process. So, of course, you have to oblige when asked to do the same thing for others.

Reviewing papers in your field of expertise can be a rewarding activity: you get to see new theories being developed, to read about interesting field work and the design of new services and products before anyone else. But it is a time consuming and difficult exercise. It’s a bit like gardening: after pulling out the weeds, you start working with the papers that have a chance to make it in. For some conferences, a 2 phase review process led to a lot of candidate papers blooming after a first round of reviews. And it is really rewarding to see how your advice helped improve a paper!

Having worked in various research areas over the years (from IT Evaluation, Knowledge Management and Software Engineering to Learning Technologies, Social Media and ICT for Communities), I get a lot of requests to review papers for all kind of venues. After having spent days and nights in agony reviewing papers that I couldn’t resonate with, I learnt to be more selective and actually decline to do reviews.

But the last period was particularly busy from this point of view. I accumulated 13 reviews (for CHASE, ICWSM and ECSCW)  to do over a 3 weeks period. Which, on top of all my other commitments, is a lot. Especially because I also attended a 4-days very intense project  meeting in Sheffield during this period – it was the kickoff of the meSch project.

I went to sleep finishing a paper review and I got up early in the morning starting another one. It is interesting and challenging, but also exhausting. And I’m here writing this blog post because I reached a block – I have to finish the last reviews by tomorrow, and then go back to working on my own submissions,  due  one in two days and one in seven days.

Among my favourite blogs talking about academic life, I count FemaleScienceProfessor. She has an excellent older post on doing manuscript reviews that goes into more detail on the whys and the hows here.

 

 

 

March 13 2013 | blogging and Research | No Comments »

Why I got involved in the Lifelong Learning Festival

Limerick has an annual Lifelong Learning Festival. I remember the first time I came across this information, it was in relation to a gardening demonstration and it was back in 2011. I read the whole program and I realised how many interesting events I had missed because I was unaware of the festival’s existence.

I have the strange reputation of reading any notice, poster or flyer that falls under my eyes. To me, everything is interesting. I’d like to try everything and go everywhere. A friend called me a “culture vulture” one evening when I was leaving early from an exhibition opening to attend a dance performance in a close by location.

 

 

So last year  I decided that miLKlabs, the Limerick hackerspace, had to get involved in this Lifelong Learning Festival, and somehow I managed to convince the others. We had three events over a week, and everybody -organisers and attendees – seemed to enjoy them. For the first time, we attracted people who weren’t on any mailing lists or subscribed to Facebook pages – people who read about us in the Festival brochure or heard about the events on the radio.

This year we’re having an Open Evening on Tuesday, 19 March, and we are running an Arduino workshop led by Mikael Fernstrom on Saturday, 23 March at the University of Limerick.

I’m also running an Urban Gardening event, showcasing our UL Community Roof Garden on Saturday. And together with Sharon Slater from Limerick’s Life, we’re running a Tweasure Hunt in the city on Sunday, 24 March 2013.

Our former outstanding IMedia student, Paul Campbell is running a Geocaching event on campus on Saturday as well.

I’ve persuaded Lou Dennehy, the organiser of our Stitch’n Bitch Sunday meet-ups, to get involved as well – so we’re having a day of learning and sharing on Sunday 24 March as well, starting with 2pm. And following a tweet exchange, Hilary from Make and Do is running a Game Design workshop at the Hunt Museum on Thursday afternoon.

Looking at the Festival brochure, I’m really upset that there are so many great events I will have to miss, because they’re running in parallel with the ones I’m involved in. The Festival is a celebration of the really impressive amount of skills people of Limerick have and are willing to share. I know “there’s  a recession on the radio” (Irish joke, don’t be upset if you don’t get it!), but this shows clearly how rich we are, and the kind of things we can do together!

Now please excuse me, I have to put on my various other hats and blog about these events on their own websites;)

March 12 2013 | blogging and Events and Limerick and Research | No Comments »

Back to blogging

I have been planning to return to blogging since the beginning of this year, if not earlier. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my friend Elmine Wijnia, who committed to a 66 days blogging “diet” back in 2009. She told us it was tough, but I still wanted to try!

But I put it off day after day. I am too busy to afford doing anything for myself.

Until today, when Stephanie Booth put out this “back to blogging” challenge again. It’s only for 10 days, so I hope I can keep it up.

It is one of the busiest periods until now this year: I have tons of reviews pending, paper deadlines, project work, exam papers to grade and so on – all on top of my teaching. But it’s now or never! I’ll have something to look forward to every day:) Or not.

I love blogging. I think about myself as a blogger. I got most of my current and many of the past students to at least try blogging. Many surpassed their master, and made me very proud. Their blogs, combining portfolio pieces with learning diaries, brought them outstanding jobs all over the world. Just like this blog mattered maybe more than the job interview when I got my first job in Limerick almost 8 years ago.

And I actually never stopped blogging: I just neglected my own blog.

I initiated a project we titled Connected Limerick, looking at the interplay between the physical city and its digital replica. And not only looking, but also engaging in it.

Last year I had the privilege to work with the Limerick Local Heroes to kickstart their online presence.

Then last summer I participated in an exciting project that was part of the Interactivos? workshop during the Hack the City exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin. And guess what? I volunteered to be the project’s voice.

This year the Limerick Tidy Town initiative decided we should get a more permanent online presence than the Facebook page we started with. And then we did the same for a project very close to my heart, Limerick Riverpath Volunteers.

A student helped me turn the Meetup presence of IxDA Limerick into a proper web presence – still working on this!

Every now and again I contribute to the IDC blog. And since February , I am also part of a large EU project dedicated to cultural heritage. Just got my user name and password for that blog as well!

Do I still enjoy blogging? Yes! But I wish every day would have more hours in it…

And to be honest, academia is making me think of blogging as a sort of guilty pleasure. Blogging, when I should spend every precious moment of my life producing the highly desired ISI publications?!

Well, I’m only human.

 

March 11 2013 | blogging | 1 Comment »

IxDA Limerick – the first meetup this autumn

Back in the autumn of 2009, together with Marc McLoughlin (then PhD student and research assistant at the Interaction Design Centre), we started the Limerick chapter of the Interaction Design Organisation.

After three years of activity,  meetup.com displays 103 members, 22 meetups and 10 reviews for IxDA Limerick.
We had an impressive number of invited speakers, networking events and workshops. Two of our members organised the first Design Jam in Ireland this spring. Together with milklabs, the Limerick hackerspace, we organised the first series of  Ignite talks in Limerick.

At the moment, we are in the process of collating all the information we have on meetup.com on an independent website.
Alan Ryan, who is doing an internship at the Interaction Design Centre at the moment,  joined me as event co-organiser for this first event.

I would like to renew my invitation for the members who would like to get involved in the organisation of this local chapter of the IxDA to step forward. We’re looking for new ideas, new activities, new people to run theLimerick chapter of IxDA. We’re looking for more practitioners to join our ranks and lead the conversation.

The meetup on Wednesday opened this year’s series and was scheduled as part of the Design Week.

As the speaker we had in mind couldn’t make it for Design Week, we decided to take the opportunity to present our own work in progress:

Urban Social Technologies are information and communication technologies applied in an urban setting and with a social purpose (Pedersen and Vallgarda, 2004). Emerging at the intersection of Social Media with Ubiquitous Computing and enabled by the wide scale adoption of smartphones, Urban Social Technologies are increasingly pervading our lives. The effects are multifold and invite to reflection. A presentation by a team of researchers and students from the Interaction Design Centre at the University of Limerick will provide the material meant to trigger a conversation on the participants’ practices and opinions related to location-based practices, with a special focus on the Limerick urban space.

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IxDA Limerick Nov meetup, a set on Flickr.

We couldn’t have wished for a better group of attendees on the night! We had a very interesting mix of people from various backgrounds, although current and former IMedia students formed the majority. The big map of Limerick we borrowed from Limerick Smarter Travel  was excellent for triggering memories related to places and supporting the conversation.

November 12 2012 | Events and IxDA and SmarterTravel | No Comments »

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