A place where stories, thoughts and ideas come together

Sunday, April 29, 2007

My trip to a riverless Breda...

OK, winning a trip is a wonderful thing... The details might be a bit less pleasant, but you can't have everything!

I received the trip details by post the day before, because the envelope was returned to the post office, where they couldn't locate it when I asked for it first. Why not email?!

A RyanAir ticket, no luggage, no insurance...sounded a bit cheap. I almost thought we're going to be accommodated in a tent... My friend and I got to Shannon airport at 10am, just to find out the flight was going to be delayed with approximately one hour. While waiting, we witnessed a strange thing happening. The loudspeakers kept on making announcements for a flight to Chicago, and there were probably about 100 people waiting to board that plane. Suddenly, I heard applauses and looked around to see what was going on. Some of the passengers waiting for the Chicago flight were clapping their hands enthusiastically at the view of a group of American soldiers entering the departures waiting lounge. And again...and again... every 3-5 soldiers coming in to grab a beer or a sandwich were saluted with the same enthusiasm. The soldiers didn't look impressed or grateful. I tried to identify the supporters: a bunch of old ladies, followed with less enthusiasm by other passengers. It gave me goose bumps: applauding soldiers is not exactly my thing...

Finally, we took off. The plane was packed, and when we finally landed in Charleroi, it took probably 45 min to get our luggage. We were thirsty, hungry and already tired. When we finally exited, we found a driver waiting to take us to Breda. A limo! now this sounded good... There were 192km to go on the highway... a beautiful day outside, but dark windows and air conditioning kept us "cool"...and then the dreadful traffic around Brussels on a Friday took us 4 hours to get there...I was more dead than alive when we finally got there!

The hotel was nice. The city was charming. We had an excellent dinner in a lovely restaurant on Grote Markt. Came back to life. Located the Irish pub (brown door in the back, behind the cathedral) . Went to bed at 9.

On Saturday morning, we met the other happy winners in the hotel lobby (following the competition , each city involved sent two people in every one of the other 5 partner cities): a friendly couple from s'Hertogenbosch(NL), a trio from Mechelen(BE) (grandmother, mother and daughter?), and another couple from Gent(BE). The people from Chester never showed up, despite of checking in the night before.

Our hosts took us to the old City Hall in Grote Markt, and we were given a presentation on the history of Breda, followed by explanations on the current project: De Nieuwe Mark. Basically, the purpose is to bring the water back in the city (in the 60's, the old harbour was dried off and the first underground parking in Holland was built in its place). Disappointed that there was no water to walk by yet, I was though deeply impressed by the passion and energy our hosts were putting in this huge project.

We spent the rest of the morning walking around the city, guided by Amanda from Breda Promotions. Because it became tedious to give the explanations both in Dutch and in English (the guests from Belgium were all speaking Dutch), Amanda switched to English, having the agreement of the whole group. She took us to beautiful hidden corners and told us stories about things that happened there during the long history of Breda... I was listening to her and thinking that no technology ever will be able to replace her, with her funny English expressions, her passion for storytelling and her humour... answering to questions, caring for everyone and smiling all the time... On the way to Nieuwe Mark, we stopped at the Begijnhof(only in Dutch, sorry!), visited the Tine Merkx Collection of miniatures (amazing doll houses!).

We passed by William of Orange's statue and by the Castle (nowadays hosting the Royal Dutch Military Academy), and got to the old harbour, where a new "High Bridge" was built, a new pedestrian path created by the river, and the old Fish Market is being rebuilt.

On the left -what we really saw. On the right - how the river is supposed to look like in a few months. The beautiful weather and the company of the group made the walk very pleasant and helped me forget my frustration that there was no boat tour included...and no water to be seen...

Among the nice stories heard from Amanda, one about beer: because the drinking water wasn't safe to drink, the amount of beer consumed on average was of 450l/year per person(including kids!); there was a special type of beer made, reserved for funerals, and the recipe included some magic mushrooms... probably for getting in touch with the spirit of the deceased...

We visited a shop attached to a small chocolate factory, the Tourist Information Office, where Amanda showed us all kind of artefacts discovered during the works in the old river bed, and in the end we had a good-bye beer in a famous place: Brouwerij de Beyerd!

We tried shopping at De Barones (shopping center with an impressive architecture), but it was simply too crowded, and we found refuge on the hotel's terrace, enjoying the sun and a nice cup of coffee ! In the evening, we took a walk and discovered the Singel (the canal), compared the old and the beautiful with the new architecture, and had a glimpse of the round roof of Breda's Panopticon Prison.

Sunday morning was too nice to do anything else than sit on a bench in the Valkenberg Park, admire the blooming trees and bushes, and observe people, bicycles, carriages and wedding cars passing by... The trip back was much shorter (2h on the highway instead of 4!), but as much as I loved the trip, I wished teleportation would have been possible ...

Back home, I was anxious to find out who were the Beguines... amazing, the place in Breda was a paradise, and I remember visiting the Begijnhof in Amsterdam as well.
And then the beers, and the history of Breda, the many things I would have ignored if I wouldn't have had the chance to go there...even for such a short time...

I was reflecting on my habits: I usually do a bit of reading before every trip around the people I have to meet, the event I'm attending, the places, their history. Once back, I'm tempted to find out more, to place things in context... No matter how "prepared" I am, I always find something that's very different from the mental model I tend to build beforehand -this time was the missing river, other times it's about people or the course of events... All that matters is to be flexible and enjoy the real thing:-)

One thing I was jealous about was that our two colleagues from Limerick who went to s'Hertogenbosch got not only a boat tour, but also got to visit the Jhieronimus Bosch Art Centre.
They don't seem to have any originals, but they do have reproductions of all Bosch's paintings and drawings. I've seen a few in Munich, a few in Vienna, and one in Luxembourg - but what a feast to get to see all of them together...

More pictures on Flickr.

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|| Gabriela 2:22:00 PM
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Friday, April 20, 2007

Flying to the Netherlands tomorrow!

...actually, it is already tomorrow!

Back in September, following to a radio announcement, I found out about a competition organised by the WIHCC European project. I went online, completed the questionnaire, and a few weeks after, I got an email from Shannon Development - actually an e-card!

I won a trip to Breda, in the Netherlands, for a week-end! Lucky me! I can't remember winning anything before in my life, so this was quite a big event!!! 3 days in a beautiful Dutch town...with a water passing through it! What can I ask for more?!

I'm looking forward to it, as it's 1:20am, and I just "finished" work for today:-( Not exactly finished, there would be another 20,000 things to do, but I decided I'm human and I deserve a few hours sleep! But I'm glad I finished a workshop proposal on "Challenges for collaborative work in Global Software Development", and sent it over to the workshops chair of ECSCW'07, Mark Rouncefield. I even got a confirmation - at 00:12!
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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SFI CSET Roadshow @ University of Limerick

Yesterday afternoon I went to the CSET roadshow.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin, was the special guest, and there was a launching ceremony at Lero (the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre) before the roadshow. Somehow I missed it - miscommunication...

It's always useful to know more about the context of the research you're involved in. Both in Germany and in Luxembourg, I tried to keep up-to-date with what was going on around my particular slice of work. Waste of time? Procrastination? I don't think so! I always pick up ideas from this kind of meetings...

I had the chance to see John O'Connor, the Acting President of UL opening the session (the first time in almost two years!) , followed by the Minister himself, who spoke about the plans of his government for research, Science Foundation Ireland and the new Stokes Programme. Finally I found out who George Gabriel Stokes was;-)

The name had some bad connotations for me - probably because of our colleagues from the Stokes Institute upstairs - last year they kept on either flooding our office, or making the whole building vibrate with their machines, as a helicopter would had prepared to take off...

But Sir George Gabriel Stokes can't be blamed for any of these, so finally I got rid of those bad connotations and started honoring the man as he deserves!

There were three CSET presentations (CSET=Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology) made by the centres' directors:
- Kevin Ryan - Lero
- Sally Cudmore - APC
- Donal O'Mahony - CTVR

and two speakers from the industry:
- Joe Gibbs - Snap-on
- Suresh Goyal - Bell Labs

The speeches were followed by a Panel Session : ‘Working with a CSET’. There was an interesting idea formulated by Joe Gibbs: "Ireland has an established reputation for its research in the food and pharma domains, as well as for research in telecommunications. But who would look at Ireland when it comes to software development for the automotive industry?" And he's probably right - not many companies around involved in this field right now. In order to establish a reputation, Lero needs not only notable research results, but also to encourage the set up of spin-offs that would commercialise the results of research... and a lot of networking... which made me think of a possible new project!

No, definitely it wasn't a waste of time!

Chris Horn has blogged the first of the CSET roadshows back in February.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Choconancy about communities and online facilitation

At Diva Marketing Blog, an interview with Nancy White, titled "Building Community with Online Communities":

"The Diva of Community has to be Nancy White. Nancy knows more about online communities than anyone I've ever met. She graciously agreed to share her insights. But what Nancy gives us, in this mini interview, goes beyond a few ideas. She provides a primer on community best practices. "

Last year, I participated in Nancy's Facilitating Online Interaction workshop, and it was a fantastic experience! This year, I'm returning as a mentor, and I'm really looking forward to it!

It's starting on May 7, and it will have a slightly different format. Anyone interested?!

There's a huge need for both online and F2F facilitation in distributed teams, and people have only started to become aware of it! It becomes more and more obvious that just building state-of-the-art collaboration tools is not enough!


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Saturday, April 14, 2007

My spectacular come back:-)

I'm dreaming about blogging day and night. Then why I'm not doing it?!

I'm a Virgo, you know, and we Virgos have the tendency to excessively analyse everything...
It took me quite a long time to analyse the reasons for my erratic blogging: mad workload (self-imposed!), lack of work-life balance and... a fair amount of good old procrastination...

I'm writing things in so many places that it's difficult to keep track anymore... I'm kind of lost in the jungle of web 2.0 tools, and I realise more and more that, despite of being somehow "permanent", most of the content I generate is ephemeral. My blog was a sort of central point where I used to be able to retrieve everything I needed from my past... Actually, this is what it was meant to be:
"A place where stories, thoughts and ideas come together"
Now this map of my past three years has a lot of blank zones... a lot of stubs, unpublished drafts... but I lost hope of ever getting back to them, and I decided to focus on the future...

I'm feeling much better now - got rid of my anxieties, accumulated some experience in my research domain and I'm more positive about finding ways to invest more time in this violon d'Ingres of mine which is social networks... playing my Connector role;-)

March was hectic, but great! The Webcamp on Social Networks in Galway, the Global Sourcing workshop in Val d'Isere, and BocSe (the Bosch Software Engineering conference) in Ludwigsburg, where Ita Richardson and myself were invited to give a tutorial on Global Software Development. I must confess I was a bit wary about calling it "tutorial", because I doubted we could teach the Bosch software engineers anything new, but formally, there was no other way of doing it... It went amazingly well, and we enjoyed it as much as the participants...

April looks a bit less hectic - more time for producing stuff...

But May and June... oh, my! What's on my list right now:
Exciting...and scary on the same time:-P
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