As 2014 was tough and madly busy (teaching, research, City of Culture projects), one of my goals for 2015 was to catch my breath and recharge my batteries. It was the first time in 10 years when I had a two weeks holiday!
But it was, nevertheless, busy. My students made me very proud – I had the chance to work with very good students both at the undergraduate and at master level in 2015!
The meSch project team was involved in several exhibitions at Museon, Allard Pierson Museum, Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra and, closer to home, the Hunt Museum. I worked on the evaluation of the Atlantik Wall exhibition in The Hague in May and June, and it was good to be doing field work myself again. Too often I sit in my office and polish interview questions, help with ethics applications and data analysis, and the students have all the fun! It was very fulfilling to see our work from 2013 on so well received!
I was given the chance to host the Communities and Technologies 2015 conference in UL, and although it was a long struggle, I have the feeling that it went well and people enjoyed coming to Limerick (although our June didn’t look like summer at all!)
Following an application written in a hotel room in Helsinki while attending NordiCHI last year, IxDA Limerick received a grant from the Year of Irish Design and we were delighted to host some brilliant speakers throughout the year.
I got involved in the ATTIRE project and had the chance to witness the brilliant collaboration of fashion designers and dress makers with electronics and 3D printing enthusiasts at FabLab Limerick over a 6 months period.
I have travelled a lot- again!- (Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, France, The Netherlands and Scotland), mainly for work. I must say I enjoy travel less than I used to – teleportation couldn’t come soon enough to rescue me from the airport hassle!
I went to Romania for a week in spring – unfortunately it was as hectic as always, having too little time and too much to do. I wish I could have spent more time with my kids- maybe next year?
We had a great holiday in West Cork this year, and even if the weather wasn’t very kind to us, we managed to visit some fantastic corners of the area. Also, we took a week-long writing course with John Boyne as part of the West Cork Literary Festival. We had some great writers-to-be in our group, and I am much more open to reading books from more diverse genres since. I am still trying to get into a routine that would involve writing – but at the moment it’s still all bits and pieces spread in various notebooks and files.
I spent the morning doing web archaeology work – I updated the Limerick Riverpath Volunteers website by digging content and dates out of its lively Facebook page and of my photo folders. There are still a few posts in draft stage, because I need to confirm names and events, but it’s almost there. We are organising an event dedicated to the Plassey Black Bridge tomorrow, as part of Heritage Week, and people will probably check our website.
Maintaining a digital presence for groups and organisations I am part of is work that I am inclined to take on without thinking about it as “work”. But when I run out of time and my university work obligations become overwhelming, the pressure of having these on my to-do list and the guilt feeling brought by the thought that I am disappointing people are simply too much!
The IxDA Limerick website needs to be brought up-to-date with this autumn’s events, as part of a Year of Irish Design 2015 grant that we received. Maintaining the website is part of our in kind contribution.
I like this kind of work and I am good at it. But I will have to stop one day, because the sheer amount of work is not sustainable. So, who wants to take over?
We tend to upload everything to Facebook and Twitter on the go nowadays, and although this is excellent for immediacy – you read about events as they happen – they are not suitable for keeping a permanent archive of what a group or organisation does. Any of these needs a public facing permanent home on the web for various purposes, easy to find, to access and search. I’m almost thinking about a plugin that would repost stuff from Facebook to WordPress, although I am quite sure that Facebook wouldn’t like this idea!
Everybody around me knows I’m always busy. But today was quite unusual, because it involved two events related to Creative Writing, which interests me a lot, but rarely can afford the time to pursue- there’s simply too much happening!
I woke up a 5:55am, tortured by a thousand questions related to a conference budget. I revised the budget – again!, I sent a couple of emails and updated the event page on Eventbrite (hopefully it will go live tomorrow!)
I got to the university at 8:45am, with my porridge in a jar, as I couldn’t afford the time to make it and eat it.
9:15am. I was in the middle of the first Skype call of the day when my door opened and Prof.Tom Moylan came in with no other than Kim Stanley Robinson! I knew he was around, and I had made time for a joint seminar with the Interactive Media and the Creative Writing master students titled “Interaction Design and Scenario Building”, supposed to start at 10am in our Design Studio. I brought the guests to the studio, rang my colleague, tried to organise coffee (and failed), finished the Skype call, initiated the next one while fighting with the printer to get a presentation printed for a student. Workshop details discussed.
10am. The joint seminar was very interesting- we drew parallels between writing and designing, spoke about the similarities between characters and personas, the importance of narrative for both fields and how scenarios come about. One day I might find time to transcribe my notes!
12pm. I ran downstairs to talk to three of my students whose final year projects I have supervised this year. Alex explored opportunities offered by NFC tags to make the connection between buildings on campus and digital content about those buildings, Niamh studied gesture interaction opportunities in a museum environments and Athiei filmed people telling stories about particular places around Limerick in those very places.
1pm. Two more emails and a phone call, and I ran to the weekly gardening session of the UL Community Roof Garden, to introduce one of my master students to the group and do a bit of manual work in the gorgeous sunshine.
2pm. More firefighting – a student who had to demo her project in the lab came to tell me Flash was out of date and she didn’t have rights to update it. I went looking for the technician, sent him her way.
2:30pm. The afternoon demo session started- I went to see two other of my students – Clodagh who designed an app for DIY skincare enthusiasts and Aoife who created a playful interface for keeping track of the roof garden evolution.
4pm. I ran back to the lab to see a few more final year projects before the end of the day. I’ve sent a few more emails, tweeted about my students and said goodbye to the people getting ready for the reception.
5pm. Drove to the Clare side of the campus for the inaugural lecture of Joseph O’Connor, Frank McCourt Professor of Creative Writing. The reception started at 5:15 and the lecture at6pm.
The lecture was titled: ‘Ghost Light: John Synge and Molly Allgood – A lecture through fiction, letters and music’ and Martin Hayes was invited to play during the lecture.
Ellen McCourt- Frank McCourt’s widow- was in the audience. Facebook brought me this video with her taken the other night in Limerick. Great lady!
I loved Ghost Light very much, and during the Q&A chaired by Prof. Sarah Moore some interesting connections came to light: Joseph O’Connor grew up in Glenageary, and passed by Synge’s house at least twice a day.
8pm. Very hungry. We decided to have dinner in the Pavilion admiring the sunset. Very soon after, Joseph O’Connor and his family, Martin Hayes and the whole group of Creative Writing master students arrived to have dinner in the same place. Dinner was lovely- and none of us had to do the dishes!
9pm. Back home, writing a blog post before reading a proposal and grading more student work.
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!
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.
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!
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 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!
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!
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.
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!
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?!
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.