island life – three weeks in

It was three weeks yesterday when we moved here to Tiree and slowly getting into the pace of island life.  Steve, our first visitor, left on Thursday, on the ‘big’ plane (about 30 seats).  Had a great time working with Steve on the Physicality book that we are writing as an outcome of the DEPtH project.  We managed the odd walk on the beach together, albeit rather windy, and Steve, brave soul, cycled several times from his hotel in Scarinish to our house, not far and flat all the way, but with a 30 knot wind in your face!

Otherwise have had our first fuel shortage when we needed petrol for the car and found there was none on the island for several days (incidentally the garage must have one of the best views in the country), had our first takeaway (fish and chip van 100 yards from the house … we are well positioned), lit our first fires (ah the smell of coal smoke reminds me of my childhood), registered at the doctors to get vaccinations ready for India (not in regimented 10 minute slots!), and of course lots of paddling in the sea … but think I might be developing my first every chilblains … well I know my own fault, but how can I resist when there is sea and foaming waves to dip my toes in.

It still feels like a holiday …  of course holiday for me tends to mean working with a nice view … so not sitting around the whole day watching the wind blow foam back in clouds from the breaking wave crests and the patterns of dark and light constantly shift with the moving clouds.  Getting lots done, for once clearing the to-do list faster than it grows (although it does still grow, some things don’t change), but for the first time for years free of that ever present feeling of heavy heavy weight on my shoulders.

… and on Monday I’ll be experiencing the flight to Glasgow myself as travelling to Dublin to give the SIGCHI Ireland inaugural lecture.  Managed to work out flights without needing a stay-over in Glasgow, but I have a feeling I will get to know the Holiday Inn Express at Glasgow airport quite well over the coming year.

Coast to coast: St Andrews to Tiree

A week ago I was in St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland delivering three lectures on “Human Computer Interaction: as it was, as it is and as it may be” as part of their distinguished lecture series and now I am in Tiree in the wild western ocean off the west coast.

I had a great time in St Andrews and was well looked after by some I knew already Ian, Gordan, John and Russell, and also met many new people. Ate good food and stayed in a lovely hotel overlooking the sea (and golf course) and full of pictures of golfers (well what do you expect in St Andrews).

For the lectures, I was told the general pattern was one lecture about the general academic area, one ‘state of the art’ and one about my own stuff … hence the three parts of the title!  Ever for cutesy titles I then called the individual lectures “Whose Computer Is It Anyway”, “The Great Escape” and “Connected, but Under Control, Big, but Brainy?”.

The first lecture was about the fact that computers are always ultimately for people (surprise surprise!) and I used Ian’s slight car accident on the evening before the lecture as a running example (sorry Ian).

The second lecture was about the way computers have escaped the office desktop and found their way into the physical world of ubiquitous computing, the digital world of the web ad into our everyday lives in out homes and increasingly the hub of our social lives too.  Matt Oppenheim did some great cartoons for this and I’m going to use them again in a few weeks when I visit Dublin to do the inaugural lecture for SIGCHI Ireland.

for 20 years the computer is chained to the office desktop (image © Matt Oppenheim)

(© Matt Oppenheim)

... now escapes: out into the world, spreading across the net, in the home, in our social lives (image © Matt Oppenheim)

(© Matt Oppenheim)

The last lecture was about intelligent internet stuff, similar to the lecture I gave at Aveiro a couple of weeks back … mentioning again the fact that the web now has the same information storage and processing capacity as a human brain1 … always makes people think … well at least it always makes ME think about what it means to be human.

… and now … in Tiree … sun, wild wind, horizontal hail, and paddling in the (rather chilly) sea at dawn

  1. see the brain and the web[back]

toes in the mediterranean

I am in Tirrenia, one of the resorts on the Mediterranean outside Pisa. February is not the normal tourist month and the palm trees are all wrapped in sacking or plastic to protect them from the rain.

It was overcast when I arrived and yesterday was bleak with heavy rain, but this morning the sky was open from edge to edge, the unfettered wind blowing the waves clear from the coasts of Spain.

Dabbling my toes in the waters edge, or wading deeper having to run as the larger waves threatened to wash me clear to my waist. Icy feeling, but I’m sure still just the chill of cool water, air thrown through the night, no Arctic currents penetrate here.

To my back are the shuttered beach buildings, and tall rectangular pillars of plywood I assume enclosing the summer showers. Also sprinklers along the beach edges. I’d wondered at these when I’d walked at dusk when I’d first arrived, but not realised they were along every beach side – presumably to dampen the sand and keep it from blowing and burying the resort.

The sand slopes steeply towards the sea, and on the water’s edge a huge driftwood log, like a seat deliberately placed to watch the sea, but now periodically half covered then left stranded by the flow of waves.

On the map it is an contained sea, the Mediterranean, but here I see open sea – if there are boundaries they are far away and the waves long enough to build and be as terrible and awesome as those that had crossed the whole atlantic a few months ago when I was in Brazil. These waves though are less uniform, not the slowly growing and breaking of surf beaches, but more a tumbling boiling ferment.

To the north the jagged edges of snow flecked mountains mirror the wave crests, sharp edged against the clear morning sky. Further north they will become the marble-shot mountains of Carrera from which the best stone in the world is quarried. Marble not unlike the frozen surface of these surf flecked seas.

The sun just breaks over the land. It must be a marvelous place for sunsets over the sea. Slowly as the orange edge rises over the beach buildings the first rays touch the white wave crests, shining above the grey troughs between, then gradually the grey surface turns slate green.

I retrieve my sandals from under the pile of flotsam where I’d left them earlier, then reluctantly turn my back to the sea.