So… it’s been awhile. Blame Twitter; a travelogue feels a bit silly when I can record each event, as it happens. Also, I haven’t been traveling, I’ve been working. Take the day of my last blog post. What was I up to? Probably some really hard computer algorithm or something. Let’s check Twitter:
Hmm, ok so maybe not so much work. But July 25th was a Sunday, so, you know, maybe I should get a break ;)
Well, seeing as I actually do have a bunch of work to do before I head out of Galway on Thursday (and just for those potential robbers – no, that doesn’t mean my house will be empty :P), I’ll pick out some of my favorite tweets over the last few months and try to add some commentary to give a feel for what I’ve been up to…
So, the story behind this one actually starts last winter. I got the following email:
I am looking for the Micah at Washington University who commented on an
article about e-textbooks on the Inside Higher Education website earlier
this year. The comments were passionate and intelligent. I am interested
because I am a journalist writing an article about the Future of Textbooks
for Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education…
Cool, right? Someone actually reads all those angry comments on forums! Anyway, the author, Don Boroughs, and I ended up having a skype conference between Madison, WI and South Africa where we discussed e-ink screens (“high resolution etch-a-sketch’s”) and the future of e-books. While he didn’t end up quoting me, it was nice to have a conversation with another person really excited about the future of technology in education.
Right, moving on…
This post, which I didn’t write (but I did retweet :), is as good as any to pinpoint exactly how I got to be in Ireland in the first place. You see, most of the people I follow on Twitter, I don’t know. As Jason implies, that’s the way it is with most people. I don’t know them, I don’t necessarily like or care about them, but I do seem to be enamored with their thoughts. Yes, I’m one of those people that checks Twitter every morning when I wake up and before I go to sleep. Call me crazy, but this service, this Twitter, has done more for my future career than any career center ever could.
You see, it was almost exactly a year ago when I serendipitously spotted this tweet:
Hmm, interesting perhaps, but life changing? Absolutely. You see, that $100k Semantic Web contest, was actually a week-long workshop with Tim Berners-Lee (yeah, that Tim Berners-Lee) at MIT. I applied, got in, and headed off to Boston in early January.
While there, I did what any self-respecting Twitter user would do, I live-tweeted the presentations. Fortunately, the organizer seemed to think this was cool, which was exciting, but then TimBL was walking around during one of our workshop sessions and we shook hands and he was like “you’re the twitter guy, right?” Coolest. Moment. Ever.
Of course, meeting one of the top three “people that inspire me” wasn’t the only thing that came out of this workshop. I also met a Brazilian named André, who was a Ph.D. student at some institute in Ireland called “DERI”. Well, the rest is history, and all thanks to Dean Whitney, “a guy that should be my friend,” and Twitter.
Plug this one under “relationship starters.” I had just found out about this UseKit company from Switzerland, and for months following this tweet, I was back and forth with their development team on email, talking about new features, user experience, business opportunities, you name it. One of those fun conversations where you get to be a part of something bigger than yourself without worrying about responsibility. It was like being a pro bono contractor with no deadlines. Actually, this reminds me, I need to get back to them (Nicolas, if you’re reading this, expect an email soon… ;)
Ok, so this is another retweet of mine. But I figured it’s another nice story starter. So while that link is hilarious, you may have to be a techie to fully appreciate it. More to the point though, yes, Wikileaks is also on everyone’s mind in Ireland. Especially in the Semantic Web community. After all, we’re about “Linked Open Data”, TimBL even made everyone shout “Raw Data Now!” when he gave his TED Talk. Coincidence? I think not!
Either way, the new field of Web Science (another field that DERI researchers are pioneering) seems poised to finally get at all the aching questions that have lots of commentary but little rigor.
How are concepts such as trust and reliability represented, maintained and repaired on the Web?
To what extent are the service providers going to become the legal gatekeepers for public authorities in terms of delivering their public policy objectives e.g. Web policing for what is judged to be “illegal and harmful content”?
are only going to be more important as time goes on, so it’s cool that there’s a field of study finally attempting to tackle it. Those questions are actually pulled straight from the Web Science Trust’s website, and seem especially prescient considering the introduction of OpenLeaks, an organization like Wikileaks but who won’t verify their sources, and Wikileaks itself which has been struggling to find an internet service provider who will host them.
Truer words were never spoken. That is all.
So, I think “stretched thin” should be an anagram for “broken promises.” Unfortunately, my brother’s mobile website is one of many things I’ve had to neglect over the last 6 months. One of the things I’m least looking forward to when I actually do start my Ph.D. is the inability to do anything else. I mean, these last 6 months have been great, I’ve had the opportunity to give an ignite talk, I’ve met the Jewish community of Dublin, I’ve started work on a book with colleagues from DERI, I’ve found a French piano cafe that gives you free crepes if you play piano… so yes, I haven’t closed myself completely off from the world. But the thing about research, is there’s always some work you should be doing instead of whatever else you’re doing. This blog I’m writing? Yeah, if I was one of those Catholics from the Da Vinci Code, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty. But sometimes you just gotta take time to clear your head.
Again, this is just something I retweeted, but I had to share it here as it was the most affecting and poignant thing I’ve read probably since Tuesdays With Morrie. I cried at the end of both.
So, one of the weirdest parts of living in Ireland is just how easy it has been to make a home here. It feels like any place I’ve lived in my life – Madison, St. Louis… Everyone speaks English. There are lattés, Indian food, and movie theaters. Everything’s within walking distance. Really what’s there to miss? I’ve felt homesick for America, the country, very few times. I’d more be homesick for certain people or places… or sports.
You see, I had the weirdest feeling the other day, I was walking home from bowling with my sustainability team last week (yes, I did do America proud) and I saw two guys throwing a football. Like, an American Football. It was such an odd feeling. I’ve spent 6 months trying to speak in celsius and meters, asking bartenders for pints, making sure I receive my docket at the store, generally embracing the culture around me, taking every chance to learn about someone else or some place else, and it took something as simple as a football to realize I actually did miss that feeling of normalcy. That feeling that everyone around you speaks the same language. Yes, everyone here speaks English. Yes, that is what made it so easy to live here in the first place. But, really? They don’t speak English. Or rather, we Americans don’t speak English. We speak American. Yes, it is a truly different dialect. I recently posted the following to twitter:
I soon found that not only was this English slang, but this was American slang. The Irish don’t use such idioms. (for the Irish reading this, fronting money means covering the cost of something right away, with the understanding you’ll probably get paid back – like “I’ll just front the money for the tickets, and you can pay me back later.”) The list goes on of things I’ve now had to second guess people understanding (like, upon rereading this I just realized that my definition for “front the money” used the word “covering” in such a way that might be American slang as well. Any Irish reading this that can tell me if “covering the cost” translates as “paying”?). I mean, this isn’t something that keeps me awake at night, but it just forces me to be more alert around people I used to think spoke my language.
Oy, so it’s late, and I have work to do. At least I got through one month of tweets (till Aug 23). I’ll finish later.