Archive for the 'Research' Category

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 »

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 »

The attraction of foursquare

Everybody knows by now about the attraction Social Media exerts on me. I am “Social Media-curious”, and I love trying new things!

I started blogging back in 2002, hard coding a project website where I was sharing frequent updates. I started Coniecto back in 2004 and I was involved in starting and maintaining at least another dozen of blogs. I got a Twitter account in the winter of 2007, but I didn’t “get it” until I started following Leisa Reichelt, whom I met two months later at reboot 9.0. I must confess that foursquare intrigued me from the beginning and I got an account when my friends started talking about it. But without a smartphone it was kind of impossible to “get it”!

In 2010, I bought my first Android phone and started “playing”. It’s been 2 years now, and I am still struggling “to get” it. I’ve read everything that fell in my Google Reader, I’ve listened to conference presentations (the Local & Mobile  Conference in Raleigh had a whole session dedicated to location-based social networks), I’ve checked in 476 times, but I am not hooked yet. Just curious!

I can’t deny having my moments of delight. I remember going to Dingle back in 2010 for a bicycle tour. I had my sandwich under an annoying drizzle out in the Marina, and checked in. I discovered that Bernie Goldbach was the mayor of the place. Next day, while waiting for the bus back to Limerick, I had the inspiration to check in again. Guess what? I ousted Bernie:) Checking in to Philly Airport on the way to a conference and getting a swarm badge  was fun as well…

Ok, you’re checking in and you discover that a friend is (or was there). Or you get a free coffee after 5 checkins. You tell your friends you’re at a show everybody wanted to go to, but didn’t make it. But is there anything more to it?

When my friends are  sharing their foursquare statuses on Facebook or Twitter – most of the time it makes me dream about how these places look like. Sometimes there’s a photo: foursquare is a very nice vehicle if you want to post a photo on other social networks with one click! Reading status updates from my friends is great most of the times: I know where they are, I know they are well and going about their lives. I know when there’s something exciting happening in their lives and they want to tell the world! There’s that ambient intimacy  Leisa Reichelt was talking about.

Every now and again, I hear about new places in Limerick – like in the case of Canteen. A few others are extremely popular among foursquare users: LaCucina, where the food is to die for, the Absolute Hotel – my favourite place for business meetings in town, the Milk Market that got a new life and sees things happening 3 days a week now…

Last year at Connected Limerick, Luigina Ciolfi presented a few interesting thoughts on foursquare, under the title: Adding Layers to Place, focusing on places in Limerick.

Adoption of Social Media applications, foursquare included, is influenced by a whole series of factors. Practices are shaped by culture, by the availability and reliability of underlying technologies, by the example of peers, and so on.

I really hope to find the time to do a foursquare study  this year!


August 28 2012 | Research | 1 Comment »

Supporting the digital lives of Limerick communities

My poor blog looks really abandoned! I guess I should talk about what’s keeping me so busy these days.

The Connected Limerick initiative started back in 2010 with an event organised as part of the tweak festival. Another event followed last year, and Connected Limerick developed into a real project, focusing on the interplay between the way both locals and visitors are navigating the city and the digital overlay that informs and influences these journeys. And of course, there’s an associated Facebook page.

I’m one of the founding members of miLKlabs, the Limerick hackerspace. I post there and on the miLKlabs Facebook page every now and again.

In November last year, I joined the Limerick Local Heroes initiative group and helped organising the townhall meeting and the Ideas Summit. I set up their first website, later transferred to an own domain. Taking care of the Facebook page and Twitter account together with other people was a very interesting experience. Collaborative work felt a bit like magic: posts simply appeared one after the other without any need for formal coordination. I am still marginally involved in the Community Pillar, which is preparing its Action Summit at the moment.

I was really drawn to Helen O’Donnell’s idea of entering Limerick in the Tidy Towns competition, and I offered to give a hand.

I also joined Transition Limerick last year, a group encouraging reflection on sustainable development.

Together with Miriam Lohan, we started an action group called  “We love Plassey Riverbank”, in order to reach out to people interested in the conservation of the canal and river Shannon banks. We had two successful clean-ups and we are in the process of planning further actions.

I am still running the IxDA local chapter – that’s a group I would really need help with! We had a couple of excellent meet-ups this year, and there’s a Design Jam in the make– the first of its kind in Ireland!

I am also involved in the Limerick OpenCoffee Club, and from time to time I manage to go to the Limerick Open Source Meetup. I don’t manage to write about that, except for the odd picture or tweet every now and again.

And there’s 3Dcamp as well. But that’s a story for another post!


March 15 2012 | Research and Uncategorized | No Comments »

My first week in Siegen

I started looking for an apartment in Siegen right after I found out my grant application was approved by DAAD. The people at the international office of the university there were really nice and helpful. I was looking for a student room, because most of the Irish universities are renting out their student accommodation during the summer. In Germany though, the spring semester is still in full swing in July, and the students are still there. I was offered a small one-bedroom apartment, and I turned it down because it didn’t come with an Internet connection. After looking and looking, and getting assistance from my German colleagues, I realised that I was asking for an impossible thing. Apparently there’s a law preventing people to pass Internet connections to their tenants – the tenants have to apply for these themselves. This showed me once more how blinded we are by assumptions we make, and how we project our own environment on sites we are supposed to visit. I emailed the lady in the international office asking if the little apartment in Siegen-Weidenau was still available – and it was! It proved to be a wonderful solution: the landlords were extremely nice. They picked me up at the train station, brought me to the apartment, showed me around and volunteered to take me out if I ever felt lonely!

I learnt about the bus routes and used Google on my phone for finding the nearest O2 shop. I got there 30 min before closing time and managed to get a mobile internet “surfstick” with a prepaid account for one month. Although in the possession of a shiny HTC Desire (that was supposed to come SIM free, but didn’t!), I kept my old Nokia phone for daily usage. The prepaid surfstick and a 30 days voucher for TMobile hot spots kept me reasonably happy for the whole month I spent in Germany. Still, couldn’t do Skype voice on any of these!

The next morning I took the bus to the university, together with tens of students living in a student residence nearby. My plans to walk to and from the university, or to buy a bike faded away when I saw the steep hills Siegen is located on and the temperature reached 37 degrees Celsius. The bus was the best solution! The aprtment was located on the top of one hill, and the university on the top of another, on the other side of the valley. Three buildings, all very modern, a huge mensa(canteen), a big library, several smaller ones – everything looked quite impressive. The cable internet connection in the office really rocked, while eduroam was poor and only accessible in a few locations.

A colleague took me to administrative headquarters of the university in the city centre, were I got my stipend. I did a quick tour of the shops and returned to the apartment I got to like more and more.

The week was extremely stressful: I had brought unfinished work with me, I was still getting problems to solve from Limerick, while I was struggling to arrange my visits for the following weeks, plan the work I had envisaged to do with my colleagues in Siegen, and the temperature was getting closer and closer to 40 degrees. AC in German trains was failing, with people being taken to hospital after barely surviving locked in trains at 52 degrees Celsius. I knew it was going to be hot, but I didn’t expected it to get that bad.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was invited to a seminar were Stephan Lukosch from TU Delft presented his work in the area of Knowledge Management and Storytelling. It was a great opportunity to met Stephan in person (he had a paper together with Till Schuemmer from Fernuniversitat Hagen in a workshop I organised back in 2007), and to meet some of the other members of the Information Systems and New Media group that was hosting me at the University of Siegen.

On Friday, I discovered the joys of working from home. Sitting on the balcony overlooking the valley, sipping coffee and working away on my laptop while the birds were chirping in the nearby trees was fantastic!

My daughter, who joined me on Wednesday, took a few walks in the neighbourhood and discovered we were 7 minutes away from the woods and the footpaths that connect the whole area. We started taking walks in the evenings, which were one of the delights of being in Siegen.

Today we went to see a young friend of mine who had recently started a job at a hospital in Olpe, not far from Siegen. Sebastian was one of my online students in the e-portfolio course I ran back in 2005. At the time, he was a brilliant undergraduate student in a medical school, looking for an opportunity to continue with postgraduate studies abroad. We had met briefly in Bucharest that year, and we kept in touch the whole time after that. The day was really hot, but a nice boat trip on Biggesee and  a quick dip in the lake made the day much more bearable.

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July 11 2010 | Research and travel and Uncategorized | No Comments »

Packing my bags for a study visit to Germany

For the last 3 years, I’ve been working with Prof. Volker Wulf‘s group at the University of Siegen, Germany on various projects related to Global Software Development.

It all started at the ICGSE’07 conference in Munich, where I met Alexander Boden, one of Volker’s PhD students, and we realised we were sharing a common interest in the social, organisational and cultural aspects of remote collaboration.

Since then, we authored a couple of papers together, organised a workshop co-located with ICGSE’08 in Bangalore, India, and we are putting the finishing touches on a special issue of the Information and Software Technology Journal.

This spring, I found out about a DAAD scheme supporting foreign scientists and academics to spend time working in German institutions. I sent in an application, and two weeks ago I found out that my funding was approved!

Lucky me! I’ll spend the following 4 weeks working with my colleagues in Siegen, refreshing my German and visiting nice places (if I can only find a cheap bike:)!

And here I am, packing my bags and hoping to get my HTC Desire today, so that I can download Leo and brush mein Deutsch;)

July 02 2010 | Life and Research and travel | 3 Comments »

Every day is a great day

I took the pledge initiated by Suw Charman-Anderson to write a blog post about a woman in technology on Ada Lovelace’s day a few months ago. The following day I started thinking about who would be that woman. I know a lot of remarkable women among bloggers, researchers, software engineers, entrepreneurs, freelancers – I could probably fill a good few pages with names only! And then the choice came naturally: I will honour someone who is an authority in my field of research, and at the same time a fellow country woman.

Daniela Damian In June 2005, I had just started my work on a Global Software Development project at the University of Limerick when I heard her name mentioned: Dr. Daniela Damian, at the time Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada was the organiser of an International Workshop on Distributed Software Development collocated with the IEEE Requirements Engineering conference – to take place in Paris in August. Some names have such a specific Romanian resonance that you know with certainty when you hear them… I was so glad to find out that a Romanian, and especially a woman  was working in my new field of research!

A few months after, I wrote to her about the idea of creating a collaboration platform for the Global Software Engineering community.  She accepted my suggestions, but  was already a few steps ahead, and the platform became reality soon after that. We stayed in touch, my group invited her to Limerick, but unfortunately she couldn’t make it- her second baby was on the way. The first time we met face to face was at the second international conference on Global Software Engineering – ICGSE’07 in Munich – but it felt like we knew each other for a long, long time.

The ICGSE series of conferences are the continuation of a series of workshops organised or co-organised by Daniela since 2002 that had the role of bringing together a pretty diverse community of academics, researchers and practitioners interested in the field. We have the honour of hosting it here in Limerick this year, and I’m involved in the organisation.

Daniela studied Computer Science in Romania, where she graduated in 1995. She went on to do a masters, and then a PhD in Computer Science/Software Engineering at the University of Calgary in Canada. She finished both her MSc and PhD in 5 years in total, a very short time (5 years is the usual time for a PhD only). Daniela got her PhD in 2001. After one year spent as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia and working with Unisys,  she returned to Canada and joined the University of Victoria as an Assistant Professor. In 2007, she became an Associate Professor. She is the initiator and the head of the Software Engineering Global interAction Lab – SEGAL at UVic.

This academic year, Daniela is on sabbatical. She spent the first half in Europe and now she’s in Australia. Her husband and two kids are accompanying her. With all her hectic schedule, she was kind enough to answer to a few questions I asked in preparation for this blog post.

I wanted to know what made her choose Computer Science/Software Engineering in the first place, and what attracted her to academia. Here is her answer:

I was very good in math. I was one of the very few young girls competing in national math competitions along with my good male colleagues in middle and high school. A turning point happened in my life when I was discussing with my mom about university… it became clear that I was made to pursue impact in my life, and chose Informatics as a university major because i could apply my strong math skills in the domain of computer science. The specialization in Software Engineering was the result of further inclination for practical application — learning about software development and the challenge of translating customers’ needs into a workable product was just the right for me.Academia also came as a natural choice given my enthusiasm in teaching young minds to be good software engineers themselves. A post-doc in an industrial environment (Unisys) made me be sure that I wished to pursue an academic environment in which to teach students about and how to address the real world software problems, as well as to mentor students become researchers in Software Engineering themselves.

Next thing I wanted to know was if the fact of being a woman working in a technological domain has made any difference:

I think so. Having trained and competed with my boy classmates in math competitions, I always had to convince myself that I could do as well as anybody else. Perhaps that gave me the extra energy to do well. Later on, as a teacher, researcher, supervisor AND a mother in recent years has really been a great challenge but also an opportunity to realize how much women raise to the expectations around them, how well they figure out how to prioritize things in their lives, and how great they are BECAUSE they have this opportunity and experience.

My final question was about something that intrigued me ever since I heard about Daniela:

What is the secret of your fantastic energy? You’re involved in so many things, you have a family and kids at the same time, and you’re following your students very closely. How in the world can one cover all this?

And here is her answer:

I just love what I do :). Or perhaps I just do what I love. I have great mentors, and I listen to them. I surround myself with people that enjoy life and what they do. I take energy from positive people, and I try to empower and inspire others with same positive energy. I have become more humble every year recently, and I try to learn as much as I can from others everyday. As such, every day is a great day because the world around me is what and how I decide to see it. The students I collaborate with are a great source of energy for me themselves, teaching me how to stay sharp so I can help them become who they want to be.

Daniela was very generous sharing “her secret” with every one. We all have our ups and downs. If every one of us could remember that “every day is a great day” and it all depends on what we decide to make of it, this would be a better world!

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March 24 2009 | people and Research and Software engineering and Uncategorized | 2 Comments »