Engineering with the Greeks (and Irish, and Finns)

The Prezi presentation I delivered at SEFI.

SEFI attendees 2012 — I’m at the lower left.

The SEFI conference was one of the most fun conferences I’ve ever attended.  They claim to be a family and it certainly felt that way.  This was my first conference with engineers.  I suspect this special feeling of belonging may be specific to the European Society of Engineering Educators (SEFI).  It also helped in making me feel welcome that the whole Irish delegation claimed me as their own!

The Irish group included the Dean of our college at the DIT (Mike Murphy), a recent PhD who teaches at the institute of technology at Tallah (Eileen Goold), a lecturer from Trinity College (Kevin Kelley), and a scholar (Bill Williams) who has been working in Portugal for 18 years but hails from Cork (in Southern Ireland, near where my great grandmother set sail for Ellis Island). Also at the conference were Gavin Duffy and myself.

SEFI 2012 banquet — the Irish table, with friends from Spain.

Part of the reason I had so much fun at SEFI was that I knew a lot of people — or got to know them quickly. That’s because the Irish friendliness is contagious.  I couldn’t be the wall-flower I am at most conferences. Moreover, our Dean is really a great leader.  He knows everyone and he also know show to make people feel welcome.  The last night, after the conference dinner at the Hyatt, we all went for a beer in a quaint part of town.  A contingent of Finnish students came along with us.We sat outside in a gorgeous little plaza. When I say that Mike is a great leader, this evening provides an illustration.  Mike wanted to sing Irish pub songs and he managed to convince us all to sing despite our initial reluctance.

The Finns shared their songs and we found a few tunes everyone knew (What Can You Do With a Drunken Sailor and the ever-popular Bring Me Home Country Roadwhich is of course, about West Virginia, the state one half hour’s drive from my hometown).

Drs. Eileen Goold and Mike Murphy

We sang until the pub closed at 2 PM.  I’m quite sure the neighboring residents were glad to hear The singing stop.  On this particular evening, few of us could carry a tune. This level of zest is something I would never have endorsed in an American group… but when with the Irish, do as the Irish do!

During the conference, Gavin and I both made successful presentations.  I was the sixth presenter in my set, so I had to super-charge my presentation.  The audience was visibly drowsy when I stood up to present so I worked to energize the room. And I achieved a high level of engagement from most everyone.

At SEFI, I met a load (as the Irish would say) of interesting folks.  I even spent an entire lunch hour talking one-on-one with the current president of SEFI, Prof. Dr. Wim Van Petegem.  What an honor!

Perhaps I’ll be able to coordinate visits to universities in Belgium, Portugal, and Spain where I’ve made new connections.  All of them have Fulbright offices that may be able to help.

The plaza with our favorite watering hole… in the short brick building to the right. Much quieter the morning after our raucousness!

Wilde Fun at the Gaiety

Inside of the Gaiety Theater, mentioned in Oscar Wilde’s “Dubliners.”

It’s hard to feel lonely when you have a Facebook community to lean on. Being five hours ahead of the time at home can make me feel a little isolated on Sunday mornings, when the people I love most are still asleep.  But what do you know, another Fulbright living in Ireland jumped right in this morning via FB and offered solidarity.

Scene from Wilde’s story about the characters of Dublin, set in 1848.

I perked up after heading across town to the Gaiety Theater for a Sunday matinee.  Oscar Wilde’s stories were  delightful due to some great choreography and skillful acting.  Perhaps he didn’t mean it to be so comical, but nevertheless, it was a highly entertaining theatrical production. It was delivered entirely in third person to keep true to Wilde’s text (which wasn’t penned for the stage). The stories involve a bunch of off-beat personalities, but most of them are lovable enough. I’m sure the book itself could get depressing, but the play seldom did.

Anyone care to join me?

There was even a singer in the play who reminded me of my Dad’s cousin, Robin Massie.  With her beautiful curly red hair, super-cheery personality, and incredible soprano voice, Robin could definitely find a place on stage here.

Sunday afternoon streets are always full of people — as long as the rain holds off.

The design of the Gaiety Theater is itself a treat.  Inside, it looks a lot like the Olympia (which I posted a picture of previously), except that this theater is bigger.  It’s where Riverdance performs, for instance.

I also finally sought out the Cornucopia restaurant. It specializes in vegetarian, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free options.  And, believe it or not, they also specialize in delicious dishes!  I wonder:  How on earth did it take me so long to find this place? Mark (at the Kildare Street Hotel) told me about it weeks ago.

Shopping for light bulbs, a bell pepper, and ginger root on the way home… along with everyone else!

The play and a warm bowl of soup did wonders for my day.  The rain showers melted into sunshine.  The afternoon streets filled with people.  I even found one of the light bulbs I needed to purchase while I was on the way home (even the light bulbs are different from what we have at home, and so keeping each light fixture aglow offers me new challenges.)

Shopping successful, tummy full, and Shannon happy, I returned home to reflect and transcribe.

PS — My new URL is to save you a few keystrokes.  If you receive my blog posts by email, I recommend you click the title of the piece when they arrive, so you can read the online version.  That way you get a better graphic experience (and sometimes a few less type-os). Now, if only I could figure out how to control this crazy template’s layout.

An urban reflection from today.

Sights and Sounds of Thessaloniki

Reflection in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki was amazing!  I had most of a day to explore the city before the conference started.  I had no trouble getting around and the Greek people were amazingly helpful.

Inside the down of the Agia Sophia church.

I was lucky to be exploring the city on a Sunday because all the churches were open for celebrating mass.  I observed christenings in two different churches–one that has a basilica (Christian cross) plan and another with a Byzantine cross plan (where all the arms have equal length). The basilica plan is typical of Roman planning (of Roman Catholic heritage) and the other (like San Marco in Venice) is typical of Greek Orthodox planning.

This area was under control of the Ottoman Empire for a period of time, after it belonged to the Roman Empire, and the Ottomans worked to convert the Christians to Islam.  There are Roman and Byzantine scattered artifacts throughout Thessaloniki.

I missed the actual baptism and anointing, but after that a team of women dressed the baby head to toe. Here the parents presented the fully-dressed child.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the Greek Agora (which became a Roman Amphitheater during Roman occupation of the area) and the Museum of Byzantine Culture.  I had visited the Museum of Byzantine Culture for just an hour on my own, so I was thrilled when the conference included a dinner plus tour there as well.  I felt like a kid in a candy store!
I’m not one to dwell on negatives, but I will mention a couple of oddities of my stay in Greece. There were two bus loads of riot police parked in front of my hotel the entire time I was there.  One week prior to my arrival, the police had reclaimed the building a few doors down.  It had been held by a group of anarchists for the past five years.  I could see burn marks on the underside of the balconies of the building as I walked by.

All set up outside for the after-baptisim festivities.

In the past, I had heard that the riots I’d witnessed in Rome were organized by anarchists from the Balkins, and not by Italian people.  I’ve been in or near Rome for two, both of which were in response to visits by President Bush the second.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that claim, but it certainly seems possible to me now that I’ve seen the anarchists in action in Greece.

Despite the potential for chaos, I felt quite safe everywhere I went in Thessaloniki, even when I was out by myself.  However, I didn’t get a chance to visit the oldest part of the city where it’s acropolis is located, so I can’t speak to the atmosphere of the whole place. But my hotel was allowing the police to use the facilities from time to time, and things felt stable enough to me.

I love to see depictions of saints holding models of churches. This one appears to have a Byzantine cross plan.

There was also some sort of transit strike on the morning I left. I had to take a cab to the airport instead of city bus, and my flight to Rome was delayed for an hour.  After we finally landed in Rome, the folks at the airport forgot to deliver one buggy of luggage to the baggage claim.  That delayed about 40 of the passengers, including myself, for about another hour.  I helped get that sorted out by alerting the airport personnel to the problem.

Each time they enter the church, they visit each important relic. And kiss each and every one!

Overall, I was amazed at how orderly the others on the flight were in loading the plane and, later, waiting for luggage.  Several of them even waited for my luggage–the very last of the set–to emerge before they set off for the city.  They went out of their way to make sure I was okay!

In the interim, I had helped people make their connections by providing advice on how to have baggage delivered directly to their homes.  It was great to be of assistance!  (It wasn’t the first time I awaited lost luggage in Rome.)

I lit a candle in honor of Dave’s dad.

The flights themselves were great.  I managed to get window seats on three of my four flights. As I write this, we’ve just flown over the Ligurian coast of Italy (where Dave and I spent a week this past summer).  I must admit that the mountains that looked so scary from the passenger seat still look scary!  We blew a tire when we accidentally went off-roading.

On another note:  it feels terrific to know the landmarks of Italy and of Rome well enough to get around without a map.  Yesterday, when the busses of Rome were detoured around the city center, I was able to help many tourists find their way.  I don’t even need a map for getting around Dublin, because I spent so much time apartment shopping on line before I arrived!

Headed to Thessaloniki

I’m learning the ropes of budget flights in Europe because I’m headed to Greece for an engineering education conference. Heather and Dave warned me about baggage limitations in Europe! (No wonder people wear so little on vacation at the beach here! They’re not allowed to bring more than a Speedo with them!)

My bag was 2cm too deep. It fit in the bin, actually, but the wheelbase hung over.

Penalty = 50 Euro for that leg of the flight alone. More than that flight cost! Someone in the customs line gave me a helpful tip: checking the bag online saves a little money. Thus, I bought airport wi-fi service (5 Euro) and paid “just” 31.25 Euro to check it for the second leg. The upside is that now I have wi-fi to commune with you!

Better luck to me next time! And luck I may need….

I just realized that although I brought my Irish Residency permit and passport, I didn’t carry my work permit with me (it’s a full sized page and I don’t normally carry it). I sure hope I can get back into Ireland without it! I’d better go ask the Irish Fulbright Office for advice….

Necessary Evil

I felt pretty good after an hour of transcribing.

The veggies I had for lunch were wearing off. I’d polished off the goat cheese Dave left me in the fridge.

I’d spent two hours transcribing interviews — and that puts a real strain on the back!  All told, I put in about five hours transcribing today. (I have so much more of it ahead of me this year. Manually transferring voice recordings into word files is excruciating — but it’s a necessary evil of qualitative research.)

Feeling wilted, I decided to treat myself to some veggie nut loaf at Mulligan’s Grocer, a restaurant I’ve mentioned before.  Yum!  This is one of Dave’s favorite meals in Dublin.  It perked me right up!

Returning home, I conquered the interview tape by 10:30 PM and found reason to celebrate when I got some good news from Google Alerts.  William and Mary just published a story about the class I taught this summer.  Check it out!

Mixing Soup Under a Fine Dublin Sky

Fulbrighting is in full gear here!

The weather is grand — chilly but sunny.  And, surprisingly, it was a day without rain.  That hardly ever happens.  We usually get at least a few drops every day.  As they say, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes” … it’s certain to change.  They also say Ireland has four seasons in a day.  Dave and I have definitely experienced that.

I’ve learned never to leave the apartment without a small umbrella and a waterproof jacket of some sort.  There’s little humidity in the air here in Dublin.  Gavin joked yesterday that humidity tends to fluctuate between 0% and 100%.  (Scientifically speaking it’s probably more like 30% and 100% since 0% would be unGodly dry, but the idea is right on.  A hundred percent is, of course, when the air can no longer hold the water and it rains or snows.)  I’ll include a few random photos of the Dublin sky, snapped as I walked to various buildings at DIT today (the buildings are spread out all over town).

In the past couple of days, Sima, Gavin, Brian Bowe (their doctoral supervisor), and I have been trading articles on design theory, design process, and qualitative research methods in preparation for our work.  We’re exploring differences and similarities between phenomenology and phenomenography.  Fascinating, eh!?  Well, fortunately, we think so!  (I’m trying to make time to read a stack of articles and chapters while also preparing to give a conference presentation next week and making final reviews of the article that will be published next month by SCUP, the Society of College and University Planners.)

Among other activities today, I met with Gavin to discuss definitions of “design” and their relationship to epistemology (the way individual understand “knowledge” and what it means “to know”).

Computer Science lecturer Damien Gordan walked past and joined the conversation (see photo).  I’m looking forward to talking with him again soon.  So energetic!

Chatting with Damian Gordon from Computer Science, who, like us, also does educational research.

Everyone here is amazingly welcoming.  Gavin’s office-mate, Kevin, gave me a his own personal HP printer (his wife has just purchased a new one).  The librarian at Bolton Street, Brian Gillespie, checked me out a book using his library card, since mine’s in the works. The Head of Mechanical Engineering and Product Design asked me to submit a paper for his upcoming conference.

I could go on… but there’s even more exciting news.

In a few days, Gavin, the Dean of the College, and I will all fly to Thessaloniki, Greece for a conference sponsored by SEFI (the society of European engineering educators).  Gavin will be presenting two papers and I will be presenting two as well.  One of the papers we wrote together, so we’ve got a total of three presentations to deliver between the two of us.  Strangely, all three of these presentations fall in the same time block.  We’ll get to see exactly how many places we can each be at one time!

When the conference ends, Gavin will zip back to Dublin mid-week to teach classes.  I don’t have to be in a specific class next week, and my flight choices all required a lengthy stop-over.   So… I took full advantage of the opportunity.  I chose Rome as my through destination and I scheduled a stop over for three nights on the way back.  I’ll return to Dublin in time to work Saturday and Sunday.

I have a huge amount of homework to complete for the following week (the same week my Mom and her two neighbors are arriving for a visit).  But I can’t fall behind in my work.  Gavin and I must stay on our toes in order to complete our study in time for the January 7 journal deadline.

Oh, yes, Sima phoned today to discuss lecturing schedules and research plans.  She’s been following the blog and she called with a very excited tone.  She’d not noticed the BYOF sandwich board right outside their building, and neither had the other lecturers.  They learned about it from my blog and got a big laugh.

I should have taken a photo in the window of that pub yesterday.  The students were just back and they hadn’t packed lunches either.  So, there were plenty of students in the pub, but few had BTOF (Brought Their Own Food).

On a parting note, I also had to stop for some produce today and I leave you with the following delightful image+thought=idea.  The veggie assortment pictured below was labelled as “soup mix.”  How cool!

‘Course I’m gonna steam my veggie assortment instead… and I think I’ll do that right now!  Apologies for any typographical errors… but I need to go eat… and work on that SEFI presentation… YIKES!

Soup Mix — Irish Style!

B.Y.O.F. (Bring Your Own Food!)

BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) — a novel concept!

People told me things move slowly in Ireland. I’ve never found that to be true. I’ve always seen energy and innovation. Take this pub, for instance. It lies between the architecture and engineering buildings at “Bolton Street.”


My Hungarian lunch — chicken stuffed with prunes.

See how innovative they are!?!! I hadn’t packed a sandwich, so I’m down the street eating lunch at one of my old favs. Perhaps it’s me lacking innovation today (though my chicken stuffed with prunes was a bold new choice).

Turns out my old fav is now owned by Hungarians… so there’s a much different menu but a lot of enthusiastic hospitality.