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.

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 »

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 »