Big themes

We were talking about the big themes, and what bigger theme than Christmas.  John talks of the Word, that pre-exists all, the Logos, the ruliness we seek in random events, the laws of the universe examined in CERN and comet-hugging satellite, the conversation between God and creation, the Word that was singly, irrevocably and powerfully spoken, the Word that says all and is all, the Word that is “Love”.

It was a Word declared through 10 billion years of the dark star-thread universe, a Word sung by incomprehensible angels, a Word of cosmic significance; but it was no abstract Word, no Word of plain intellectual study, but a Word made Flesh.

Wriggling, scrawny, damp-wrinkled flesh, still flecked with the drying blood of Mary torn in childbirth, prefiguring another bloody day, like and unlike every other baby, letting out one unignorable, earth-shaking cry.

the year that was 2014

While 2013 was full of momentous events (Miriam getting married, online HCI course and walking 1000 years around Wales), 2014 seems to have relatively little to report.

A major reason for that is the REF panel and the time taken, inter alia, to read and assess 1000 papers.  I am not at all convinced by the entire research assessment process – however, if it is to happen it is needs to be done as well as possible, hence while still reeling from the walk (indeed asked whilst on the walk) I agreed to be on the panel at a relatively late stage late in 2013.

At the end of the year with the results out I guess the other members of the REF panels and I are either loved hated deepening on how different institutions fared … maybe it is good that I live on an island so far from anyone :-/

I guess I am no more convinced at the end of the process than I was at the beginning.  It was good to read so much over such a wide range of topics, I feel I have an overview of UK computing that I have never had before.  This was often depressing (so many niche areas that clearly will never affect anything else in computer science, let alone the world), but also lifted by the occasional piece of work that was theoretically deep, well reported and practically useful.

Beyond the many many hours of reading for REF, the world has moved on:

  • Fiona has begun to sell more textile art online and at events, including a stall at Fasanta where the Tiree Tapestry was also exhibited.
  • Miriam passed her driving test and has a car.
  • Esther has had a number of performances including a short film (although sadly I’ve not managed to attend any this year :-()

Personally and work-wise (the boundary is always hard to draw):

  • I eventually managed to fill in the remaining day blogs for Alan Walks Wales in time for 1st anniversary!
  • I’m gradually managing to spread the word about the unique data I collected at various talks including at events in Bangelore and Athens.
  • The OnSupply project about awareness of renewable energy production was wonderfully successful with several workshops in Tiree, a best paper nomination at ICT4S and an accepted CHI paper.
  • Work with Rachel on Musicology data, which has been slowly ticking along informally, has now been funded as the InConcert project and we ran an exciting symposium on concert-related data in November.
  • At Talis I am looking at the benefits of learning analytics and published my first journal paper in the area, as well as using it practically in teaching.
  • Tiree Tech Wave has gone from strength to strength with capacity attendance and digital fabrication workshops for the Tiree community in the autumn.
  • … and not least competed in the 35 mile round Tiree Ultra-marathon in September 🙂

… and in 2015

who knows, but I’ve already entered for next year’s ultra – why not join me 🙂


A week in Athens

Last week I visited Athens again to give keynote “Long-Term Engagement” at Usability And Accessibility Days 2014.  The rest of the event was in Greek, so I got excused to wander across to see the exhibition of contemporary icons by Helena Krystalli in the adjoining room.

The talks included vignettes about Walking Wales, Tiree Tech Wave and other technology projects on Tiree, the InConcert musicology data project, and Talis software for learning analytics.  the linking theme was the different time frames for engagement and key properties/heuristics at each level including ‘desire and disaster‘, matching cost–benefit, and ‘Micawber management’.


As well as the talk I got to see old friends in Athens, many of whom I’d not seen for five years since my last visit for the 2009 SIGCHI Greece event when I was talking about ‘Touching Technology‘.  Despite the years it seemed like just yesterday when we’d last talked together.

Although there was some evidence of change (Angela who I stayed with now has two daughters instead of one), much was the same (George’s house is still waiting to get its central, hearing working).

However, when I was in the research office the day after the talk I decided that Athens definitely is in stasis when I am not there.  We were sitting talking and I happened to look up at the board and saw writing there.  It was a little obscure, and intriguing, but as I examined it I realised t was in fact my own handwriting, written there 5 years ago during a discussion in the same office.



To be fair there was some additional evidence of change beside Angela’s child; the new Acropolis Museum has opened, a wonderful building of glass and steel built to display the many treasures found by archaeologists, and most especially the whole of the upper floor laid out to recreate the frieze around the top of the Pantheon.  There are some gaps, but much of the sculpture is either there, or, where the original is elsewhere, in plaster cast.

The plaster cast sections all say where they come from, except the vast majority simply say ‘BM’ … it took a few before this sunk in, the British Museum … the Elgin Marbles – too sore a point even to write the words in full.  Indeed the whole museum is partly a statement to show just how much is in London not Athens, and also that Greece is now quite capable of preserving them.

It is a complex question undoubtedly much more would be missing, eroded or damaged if Elgin had not shipped them to Britain in the 19th century, and clearly not every work originating in a country should be returned … I imagine all the obelisks around Rome being sent back to Egypt!   However, seeing the museum and vast proportion saying ‘BM’ brings home that this is not simply a small amount elsewhere, but a large proportion, and in many ways the ‘best bits’.

There is also something different about the iconic monuments of any nation: it is as if parts of the Tower of Pisa were in Germany or London Bridge in Arizona …

To take our minds off such heady matters Angela and her family took me swimming in a volcano.  Christmas music playing in the background while bathing in water at 22° C.