Do-it-yourself punch cards and other amazing feats: DIT’s Paper Programming booth at Dublin Maker 2018

img_5842With the annual Dublin Maker fair on July 21st, DIT’s RoboSlam group of volunteer staff and students headed to Marrion Square for an action-packed Saturday. After four years of teaching visitors to Dublin Maker about build robots, we shifted focus to activities that could engage even more people at a time.

My clever colleagues in DIT’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering designed a booth on the theme of “Paper Programming” to teach the history and theory of using paper to program computerized gadgets that date back to the industrial loom for weaving fabric and the computer punch card.

img_5850The set of photo galleries below shows my weekend activities helping run this booth at Dublin Maker 2018. You’ll learn about and see photos of:

  • Getting to the fair
  • Setting up our booth
  • History of Paper Programming
  • Visiting other exhibits
  • Our activities
    • Fraktalismus
    • Scan2 Tweet
    • isitpop.art
    • Music Box
  • Time enough left for a relaxing Sunday!

Getting to the fair

My trip from London to the fair included a trip to London City Airport via the Docklands Light Rail on Friday. Exploring the city center of Dublin, I discovered a number of welcome changes. Namely, a second bike rental scheme has entered the city! This scheme requires locking the rental bike to a bike rack but doesn’t require using a docking stating like Dublin Bikes (of which I’m a member and enjoyed using twice this weekend). I also observed a slight increase in the use of the electric-car-charging stations. As I didn’t want to disturb my flat-mates, I dined out at Porto while reviewing calls for conference papers, and then took in a film about Oscar Wilde at the IFI. The next morning I woke early for my cycle ride to Marrion Square.

Setting up our booth

The team arrived an hour an a half before the official opening of the event, to get everything up and running. As every single activity we offered was brand new and designed for this event, we had some tweaking to do! The two main developers–Ted Burke and Frank Duignan–did an amazing job, and that enabled the rest of the crew to set up the activities. We learned a lot and had many successes at this event, and we will expand and continue to develop these activities for use in the future.

History of Paper Programming

Damon Berry and I served as the welcoming committee, of sorts–greeting people and providing introduction and background. Damon discussed the history of programming with paper, as described in the poster pictured below.

Visiting other exhibits

Before things got rolling, and on the way to pick up a lunch box, I got to visit other booths, check out the incredibly wide range of learning events, and make a few things myself.

Fraktalismus

For Fraktalismus, each participant drew one or two small sketches. Then a group of recent DIT graduates would capture the sketched image(s) and import them into a laptop.

The laptop was running a program developed by Dr. Ted Burke that applied a mathematical equation that would repeat the image in a fractal pattern. The participant could then use our computer mouse to adjust the “z” value in the equation–to flip through various iterations of the equation. The equation is included in an image below.

After selecting one fractal as the favorite pattern, the participant would then select a favored color combination. The DIT folks would print the image on glossy cardstock and provide the participant with it and an envelope to take home.

The results were artistic and consistently stunning! People of all ages got involved. I loved making my own greeting card using fractal geometry along with my hand-made sketch of a beloved fragment of London’s skyline.

Scan2 Tweet

in Scan2 Tweet, the participant used a barcode sheet with a hand scanner. Each barcode corresponded to one letter or keyboard character (space, delete, enter, for example). By scanning barcodes from this sheet, the participant could compose a short message and “Tweet” it from our group’s Twitter account. DIT’s Shane Ormonde ran this activity.

isitpop.art

Ted managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute, getting his design-it-yourself video game programme up and running that he calls “isitpop.art”. Participants could input their own drawing to use as an icon in the game, and control the background to be an image of their choice (such as their own photo, or a video clip from the internet).

Music Box

In the Music Box activity, designed by Frank Duignan, participants received a sheet of paper with a grid for plotting musical tones in sequence. They were given a quick briefing on how the technology worked—they would color one square per row with a black marker. When this colored square passed its corresponding color sensor, a note would play. Thus, participants with knowledge of music theory were able to predict or orchestrate the sequence of notes to play a tune.

The piece of paper was attached to a drum (in this case a large drink bottle) and spun on its axis. This allowed the grided paper to pass across the set of color sensors, one row after another. A tennis ball was used to hold the bottom of the bottle in the correct place (effectively weighing it down).

We tried to use a similar system to run four small motors to operate a small robotic arm and its claw, and I suspect we will see this up and running in subsequent later events. Watching the teamwork on this activity gave a sense of what it’s like to work as an engineer, working to troubleshoot and address problems that arise with the parts.

I really enjoyed this activity and enjoyed hearing the short tunes that participants created.

Time enough left for a relaxing Sunday!

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I hailed a cab for Dublin Airport. Landing at Gatwick, I grabbed breakfast to go and headed to the train platform. When the next train to Brighton pulled into the station, Aongus popped out to welcome me aboard for the half hour trip to the southern coast of Britain.

We spent the day on Brighton Beach, with lunch in the town and a visit to Brighton Pier before enjoying a peaceful 1.75-hour trip back by train to our place in Mile End.

 

Excursions from London: Weekend trip to Rye

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Window shopping in Rye.

During May, we celebrated our third “bank holiday weekend” of the year in the quaint medieval town of Rye. Enamored with England’s southeastern coast from the two prior weekends, we boarded the Southern high-speed train service headed to Kent for a new adventure there.

Arriving in Rye, we found ourselves in an amazingly tranquil and sunny, exquisitely preserved town not far from the beach.

Top memories from our three-day weekend are identified below and also shown in a gallery of photos. I hope that if you’re planning an outing to Rye, this info will inspire you and help you plan.

Day One

  • Arrive at the pretty little train station and check in at the Regent “Motel” where it’s possible to park a car
  • Find the bike rental shop and make arrangements for the next morning
  • Walk around scenic Mermaid Street and its surrounding cobbled streets
  • Eat, drink, and be merry at Mermaid Hotel, Pub, and Restaurant
  • Attempt to see Lamb House (which was temporarily closed, unfortunately)
  • Stroll through Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church
  • Visit Ypres Tower/Castle, its courtyard and Woman’s prison tower, and its panoramic terrace with historic cannons
  • Grab a second lunch at Fletchers House or next door to it, at Simon the Pieman (my guy gets very hungry)
  • Tour St. Mary’s Church, its annual flower festival
  • Climb St. Mary’s bell tower to reach the spectacular panoramic view—this is a climb suited only to brave and well-coordinated folks (the passageways and stairs are extremely narrow and I tripped any number of times on the roof)
  • Shop in the boutiques around town and visit the Kino to check show times to see if any suit
  • Wander around town, visit the fun fair, and drive like a maniac at bumper cars
  • Dinner at The Devil in Rye, in the bright, sunny indoor courtyard area in the back
  • Enjoy a scenic night stroll through the town
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Blown away by Rye!

Day Two

On our second day, we set out for a leisurely bicycle trip toward Rye Harbour and Winchelsea town.

  • Enjoy breakfast at Whitehouse Rye, then rent bikes at Rye Hire, Ltd.
  • Pack a picnic lunch, and make a cycling tour, heading in the direction of Rye Harbour taking time out along the way for whatever pops up, such as an RV open house at JC Leisure
  • Relax I the courtyard and cemetery of the Church of the Holy Spirit and the nearby playground
  • Stop off at William the Conqueror, and attend special bank holiday events, such as traditional musicians and traditional folk dancers (Morris dancing) performing I. The streets in both Rye Harbour and Winchelsea town
  • Explore the WWII bunkers along the coast, the seawall at the mouth of River Rother, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, and many protective structures along the coast and at Winchelsea Beach
  • Experience sunset rays piercing through slit windows at the spectacular St. Thomas the Martyr church in Winchelsea, and search for famous names in the cemetery surrounding g the church
  • Enjoy a refreshment at The New Inn, in the lovely, floral Biergarten, a walled secret garden
  • Head home via rugged footpaths, as long as you’ve got an off-road bike–but next time, I’ll go for the electric bike rather than rent a push bike, so I can cover more distance
  • Dine again at The Mermaid Inn in Rye, “The Mermaid’s doors had been opened 150 years when Elizabeth I visited Rye in 1573” since it serves food late into the evening
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Cycling from Winchelsea back to Rye.

Day Three

On the final day, we checked out of the hotel, the. We de died to:

  • Enjoy breakfast in Rye, and jump on the Wave 101 bus to Camber Sands Beach (21-minute trip)
  • Sit on the beach, play in the shallow water, and walk along the beach and seawall until time to head back
  • Return to Rye, pick up bags at the hotel and enjoy a quick cookout meal at the pub in the old Water Works building, constructed 1869
  • Head to the Historic train station for the small two-carriage train back to Ashford International Train Station and on to London

Note that evening trains are extremely crowded on bank holiday Mondays.

Visiting Professors in London

West End fun with Drs. Eddy and Pape

I’ve been visiting with Professors from the States the past few weeks here in London, and morphing into even more of a Visiting Professor myself!

Two weeks ago, Prof. Pam Eddy and her husband Dave arrived for a week-long visit. Pam was my PhD advisor at William and Mary and she has been an inspiration, role model, and source of advice as I’ve moved across from teaching architectural into researching engineering education. Pam had a Fulbright fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) in 2009. Because I’d set that very same goal—winning a Fulbright grant to work at DIT—in 2003, Pam’s advice on the matter proved indispensable. She shared valuable insight into how Fulbright and DIT operate and she helped me connect with others in-the-know. On my first working trip to Dublin, I got to interview more than half a dozen academics about how DIT works, and this gave me the context I needed to make the most of my subsequent time here. Pam and I even met local scholars together, over another spring break, also before my Fulbright, when we both found ourselves Dublin.

Pam is truly one of the most generous, energetic, and positive people I’ve ever met. I’m beyond lucky to know her and I value her advice—even if I don’t always understand the funny policy-wonk words she uses! 😜

After the excellent musical “Kinky Boots.”

Pam has featured prominently on this blog before, as she’s visited me often in Dublin and we have met up in cities all around the world: Rome, Paris, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. Now we’ve added London to that list. Her professor-husband Dave is usually in tow, and always adding interesting insight, since he’s a former engineering dean.

I’m proud to say this was Pam and Dave’s first trip to the City of London and they really seemed to enjoy the place. I think they will be back!

While here, Pam and I got to work on the journal article we are crafting along with two of my colleagues from the Irish public service. We’ve had our proposal accepted for Policy Reviews in Higher Education, and now we need to pull the parts together and synch them effectively.

Following the departure of Pam and Dave, I had the chance to catch up with another favorite professor, Ron Daniel, and his spouse, Cheryl.

With Prof. Ron and Cheryl Daniel

Ron Daniel was my professor for spring semester of my second year of architecture school. We worked closely together, along with some other amazingly dedicated students and teachers, to create a multimedia extravaganza to celebrate Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ 25th anniversary in 1989. We had nine screens running simultaneously with performance artists dancing throughout the hour-long show. In preparation for that bash, we also silkscreened posters and designed and poured concrete banner stands with welded steel bases—yes, I learned to weld at Virginia Tech!

For the Anniversary show, I was most closely involved with making several of the 16mm films running on three of the nine screens. And I was one of nine diligent students running the projection booth. What a techie I was!

The following year, Ron invited me to teach film workshops to younger students, and that got me into leading activities and events for my peers. Over the next three years, I taught many workshops and also organized trips, including excursions to Charlottesville, Columbus, and New York City to hear visiting lecturers—world renowned architects visiting UVA, Ohio State, and Columbia University.

When I was nearing graduation from VT’s Bachelor of Architecture program, I went to Ron, expressing interest in the teaching role I’d seen older students doing in the past. I hadn’t realized they were actually designated as lecturers. This was a full-time faculty role, and Ron thought I fit the bill. I was soon awarded this one-year stipend position, and looking back, it seems that may have been my first fellowship.

The year lecturing at VT was a success so I continued on to earn a post-professional Masters in Architecture that would allow me to teach in the future at the university level in architecture. Ron was one of my three advisors for that Masters, and the thesis document was good enough to snag a job working as an intern architect in Switzerland for a year, at Studio Martin Wagner. I also helped teach film that year, for the SCI-Arc center Martin directed.

For the past two years, Ron has been working in London. We finally got a chance to catch up in the neighborhood in Barnes where he and Cheryl have lived for the past year. Aongus and I throughly enjoyed visiting in their home, dining out with them, and attending a jazz performance together. Photos of the Cadillac Kings are included in the photo gallery below. What a hoot!

The instrumental roles professors have had in my life is clear. I’m glad I’ve stayed connected with many who have helped grow my abilities.

Prof. Brad Grant

In the past week, for instance, I’ve communivated with Prof. Brad Grant and Prof. David Leslie, who I learned from at Hampton University and William and Mary, respectively. I always enjoy hearing from them! Their kids—Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Asa Wynn-Grant, and Prof. Tom Leslie are true inspirations as well, and are always raising the bar higher.

And I’m doing my bit to reach out and support others in return. I hope someday the students I’ve worked with will have similar things to say about me. I cherish the ongoing relationships I have with my former students, many enabled by Facebook. Just this week, another one earned his license to practice architecture in the USA. Monteil Crawley joined his wife, Kristina Crawley, with this status. Monteil worked on the design of the Smithsonian’s new museum of African-American History. They both took my second-year architecture studio and Architectural Ecology class. I was Krissy’s Bachelors thesis advisor. Krissy went in to get a Masters from UVA. They have two bright and beautiful children.

Profs. David and Thomas Leslie

Today, I make a point to extend the kind and gracious support to the students I meet, as my professors extended me.

Kendall Brantley and Aongus and me at the Vaudeville Theater

For instance, a colleague of mine from Hampton has a niece, Kendall Brantley, who has been studying at NYU here in London. We’ve met a few times, and I took her for dinner and a play last week, before her trip home.

A PhD supervision meeting with Thomas Empson

I hope the relationship I’m developing with my new PhD advisee, Thomas Empson, will extend far into the future as well. Thomas is a doc student at London South Bank University, and I’ve just been appointed Visiting Professor there to aid in my work with him. Our working sessions over the past few months have been quite successful and I have the highest of hopes for him. He’s a bright student, well organized, and an extremely hard worker.

One of my current supervisors, Prof. John Mitchell, helped me connect to LSBU as a way to meet one of my training objectives. You see, my current fellowships aims to equip and position me to secure funding for larger grants. This is so that, someday, I can lead an independent research team. I’m gradually gaining skills in supervising and in publishing. And I’m connecting the people I know from the USA with scholars I meet here in Europe and those I’m working with globally, through networks like REEN and SEFI.

With London superstars Emanuela Tilley and Folashade Akinmolayan

I’m receiving this training as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at University College London, where I’m also officially classified as a Visiting Professor (which will help me continue collaborating with scholars here even after my two-year fellowship is done, for an additional three years or more). I’ve been learning so much from my new colleagues, like professors-in-the-making Folashade Akinmolayan and Emanuela Tilley.

Building a professional research network, connecting scholars across the ocean, and learning to supervise doc students are all important in building my skills as a researcher. And, they are a lot of fun as well!

 

 

 

Learning London: Four-Day Family Extravaganza

My cousin Kaitlin has been teaching English in Spain this past year. So we (my partner Aongus and I) decided to add a second stamp to her passport and we invited her up to London for an extended weekend

Aongus meet her at the Tube station and guided her home from the airport, with a stop for dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Indigo at Richmix. Meanwhile, I sped back via train from my conference in Newcastle and arrived home minutes before them.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning for the start of a whirlwind tour that lasted four days.

On day one, we included:

  • Kaitlin’s first double-decker bus trip, on Bus 8, so as to see St. Paul’s and other prominent sites from the top deck, front row–best seats on the bus!
  • Sir John Soane’s House Museum, full of Roman antiquities and memorable painting and flooded with daylight in every corner.
  • The British Museum, stopping for coffee in the courtyard and visiting the South American and Egyptian sections.
  • Dashing into the Building Centre in Store Street to view the enormous model of London.
  • A relaxing couple of hours in Bloomsbury, for lunch with my UCL colleagues Emanuela and Folashade–our farewell sendoff to Queen Mary University of London for Folashade.
  • A walk to Picadilly Circus and the courtyard of the Royal Academy, with rose petal macaroons at Laudre in the Burlington Arcade, then onward to Green Park, the gates of Buckingham Palace, and a stroll across St. James’s Park.
  • Arriving at Westminster Abbey in perfect time to attend the choral Evensong.
  • A walk to Trafalgar Square and up Strsnd Street to fetch tickets at the box office of The Savoy.
  • A quick but tasty dinner at Itsu, where Aongus joined us after his work day.
  • A delightful evening at the West End musical “Dreamgirls”
  • Wrapping up the day with a walk through Covent Garden, stopping at Gelaterino before our bus ride home

Day two was filled with more adventures. This was Saturday and we headed by Tube to the Bourough of South Kensington and Chelsea for:

  • The Saatchi Gallery (modern art)
  • Kale salad and chestnut/almond waffles at a favorite cafe on Sloane Avenue
  • The Natural History Museum, where we focused on the dinasoaur and mammal exhibitions
  • Drinks and tagines at the Comptoir Libanas restaurant on Exhibition Road where we snagged an outdoor table under the awnings and heat lamps to avoid the evening rainstorm
  • Art-till-you-drop and cultural-encounters-of-all-kinds at the Victoria and Albert Museum (we saw several new wings due to Kaitlin’s interest in world religions)
  • Visits to high-end furniture shops and luxury department stores (John Lewis top to bottom, Herrod’s food courts, and Harvey Nichols tour of floors)
  • Pints at the Wilton Arms to again wait out the rain, and chat with some lively Brits
  • Dinner nearby at the Alfred Tennyson to round out the day and a stroll through high-end alleyways en route back to the tube–admiring the pricy vehicles.

Kaitlin spent day three with a friend she graduated university alongside. I’m so impressed with Kaitlin and all she has learned and done. She graduated first in her university class last year and then came to teach in Spain fresh out of college. She has taught both in a school and also private lessons and she even played soccer competitively, on a team in Spain.

Since it was Sunday and she was otherwise occupied, Aongus and I made the most of the day with:

  • A visit to the Imperial War Museum and the Tibetian Peace Garden, located on its grounds
  • A walk over to Trafalgar Square with a delightful Sunday roast at The Clarence
  • Fancy desserts at the sushi place in Kingly Court
  • Bus ride back to Shoreditch to catch up with Kaitlin at a South American restaurant near our home

On day four, Kaitlin and I had specific plans. We headed to:

  • The Churchill War Rooms, also viewing the exhibition on Churchill’s life
  • The London Eye, for a half-hour trip around this impressive Ferris wheel with its sweeping views of London
  • A quick visit to the National Gallery
  • Our second lunch in Bloomsbury at Dim T, since we enjoyed the one wit Folashade and Emanuela so much
  • A walking tour across University College London’s city campus

We gathered our bags from my office at UCL and boarded the tube for Heathrow, where we bid each other farewell–me heading to Dublin for a week’s work and Kait back to Spain to wrap up her teaching.

It was a truly delightful four days, though I admit I was completely exhausted the day after we parted. It was a treat to get to know this first-cousin-once-removed a bit better and to learn how very much alike we are despite having drastically different parental upbringing. I’m so very impressed with the person she’s become and how intelligent and thoughtful and hardworking and courteous she is. I’m glad I’d worked ahead and could take comp days while she was here so I could really get to know her. It was a rare treat to tour the city with her, and one I hope to have someday again.

Sharing research at EERN

The Engineering Education Research Network (EERN) for the UK and Ireland met today at Newcastle University. Since one third of the presentations at this colloquium were delivered by DIT’s research group called CREATE (for Contributions to Research in Engineeing and Applied Technology Education), I got to catch up with my beloved colleagues from Dublin.

Yesterday, Emma Whitney, a colleague at UCL asked me to Tweet the events since three of us from UCL were attending. She gave me a few pointers for Tweeting, and I gave it a go.

@shannonchance7 has never had much success with Twitter. But with Emma’s tips I was able to do a respectable job (although I can’t get Twitter working now, on the train back to London, so perhaps I downed the platform!?).

It was great hearing about the #engineeringeducation #educationresearch folks are doing across Ireland and the UK.

This was the first EERN event with specific discussions to help support and guide PhD students and early-career/newer researchers. I actually feel that we’re all new to this! It’s an emerging field of research and were working hard to establish the methods, publications, conferences, and knowledge-sharing networks.

I’m delighted to be part of such a vibrant community, dedicated to improving the student experience and the quality of learning. I’ve uploaded photos of the conference and also of my morning exploration in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It’s a lovely little city and I’ll hope to return again some day.

Able Nyamapfene from UCL.

The DIT CREATE contingent. DIT’s Una Beagon. Rebecca Broadbent from Astin University. DIT’s Darren McCarthy. DIT’s Gavin Duffy. EERN colloquium organizers, Jane Andrews and Roger Penlimgton. Shannon, Darren, Rachel, Robert, Una, Brian (with Gavin MIA for the selfie)

Learning London’s Lengthy Flat-hunt

IMG_7541 2As I peered over my Asian-style crispy chicken burger–the healthiest lunch I could find in the time ticking down to my afternoon workshop on supervising PhD students–I was reminded by my view of my extensive London-flat hunt.  I was enjoying the moment as well as the view and the new-found flavors. It’s not uncommon for burgers in London to include kimchi and I was developing fondness to the new taste. Like these Korean-infused breaded-chicken-fillet sandwiches, London flats have distinctive qualities all their own, I realized.

Flats in zone one and two seem darker, on average, than flats in other cities.

Hunting for a place to live in this massive and densely-occupied city has its own unique joys and challenges. I think it’s helpful to share pointers–I reviewed multiple YouTube videos during my three-month search. This blog explains some of what I learned and experienced during my search to help other roving scholars looking to settle here.

IMG_7544 2As I munched, I observed one of the apartment buildings I visited, across the leafy green Tavistock Square, over in the very far corner. The place was lovely. At the top of the building with a sweeping view to the north, it was served by multiple stairs, elevators, and even a porter. But it had just one room. One very expensive room, at that.

All the places I visited were expensive. Most cost above £1500 a month (that’s $2800), PLUS utilities and council tax. Such was the case for either a room in a shared flat or a studio apartment. In a shared-flat where you live with roommates, there’s a surcharge for having two people in one room. That seems fair enough, but the surcharge goes on top of the publish rate, often catching me by surprise. It can run £300, plus increased council tax (a per-head charge based on the estimated value of the property), and a larger (per-person) share of utilities.

IMG_7552Most surprising to me: (1) many flats had no living room since it had been converted to sleeping space in order to bring in more rent money, and (2) even very expensive flats had no views out. Sometimes the entire flat received no direct sunlight.

One room that had light and views came with five energetic dogs of all sizes but similar make and model. *Five.* Imagine five dogs in a small townhouse… and that townhouse had six sleeping rooms, so who knows how many roommates you’d end up tolerating in addition to the dogs?

I couldn’t imagine. I wouldn’t.

I had searched for months online and I visited London multiple times during my search. I found a number of online search platforms helpful:

UCL’s accommodation site is intended to help incoming staff, and accessing it requires a staff identification number. It was a good place to start, although I found its listings to be outdated. A majority were not available at the time I was searching. (They seem to be listed in perpetuity?) I believe this resource was developed before there were so many other options available for searching online. Nevertheless, I was grateful to have the resource as a point of comparison of what a traveling scholar could expect.

Sabbatical Homes is a great resource–especially for scholars needing short-term lets, long lead-times, and tailored dates. But the listings are very, very costly! We did view one Sabbatical Home that was in our price range, but it was underground. The hosts were super interesting and fun to talk with–an academic set–but the main window faced north (toward the garden wall) and was covered with a decorative iron grate. All the other windows were too small to crawl through. Plus, the furniture was depressingly old-fashioned. I just couldn’t get past that. I could have handled crawling out the end of the bed, since the mattress filled most of the room, because at least the mattress was not in the living room. Overall, we decided we had to find some light. Sun-filled homes on this site would cost at least twice what we would eventually pay.

I found Gun Tree to be too confusing–it’s not designed specifically for property searches and leaves many unknowns. The map locations are not precise and any transaction appeared to have a high level of risk involved. An AirBnB host of mine, who had used it to locate his own place, provided words of caution. If I need to move again when I’m more familiar with the city, Gum Tree might be more help.

I eventually viewed a number of flats in person. The ones I visited had been located using: (1) UCL’s staff accommodation website, (2) Sabbatical Homes, and (3) Spare Room.

I ultimately found our new place via Spare Room.

After uploading a profile about my partner and myself on Spare Room, offers actually flooded in. It appears many people want mates who they can count on to be courteous and pay the rent! Many are looking for older, established professionals with dual income. I’d had trouble early-on since I’d locate a possible flat and later realize the residents were all 20 and wanted young flatmates. You can input your age and other parameters into Spare Room to help with matching.

Spare Room’s matching may have entered the realm of creepy, however. I just today received this email message:

Hi Shannon,

Looking for the perfect flatshare? We’ve got the answer for you: science.

Yep, that’s right. We’ve dusted off our lab goggles, found a few test tubes and even got ourselves some lab coats – all to ensure you find flatmates you really click with.

According to Swiss science boffins at Karmagenes, your DNA influences as much as 60% of your personality traits. So we’re joining forces to create a DNA Flatmate Matchmaking Service – giving you the chance to reveal key insights into you personality that will tell you which characters you’d blend well with in a flatshare.

In other words: your DNA + saliva swab = new BFF.

Sound interesting? We’re giving kits away on Facebook – just head to the page and follow the instructions for your chance to win.

Find out more »

Good luck!

The SpareRoom Team
news@spareroom.co.uk
0161 768 1162

My trouble hasn’t been with roommates, thankfully! I read on-line, though, that various spots such as the nearby Shoreditch Library offer ideal get-aways from troublesome flat mates.

What was hard for me was being able to get a feel for any given advertised flat from its online profile. The actual spaces weren’t at all like the ads seemed.

But leasehold can also be stressful and complex. There’s high turn-over in residence in the London flat market. Young and/or single people seem to apartment-hop (move residence) quite often around London. It’s common for a person, for example my osteopath, to describe living 4-5 different places in as many year.

The market churns. Buildings get sold to the highest bidder, and apparently these situations — of sharing with many, many roommates and renting from the leasehold — are fraught with complications. Adam Smith’s invisible hand lands people out of home and, sometimes, on the street. There’s more non-drug-related homelessness evident here than in Dublin. Overall, though the social support system seems more caring here than in many other places. Doctor’s visits are free (though I had to pay an entry tax to the health system) and the mail gets delivered to my door–up four flights of stairs. Residents of public/social housing are far more diverse than in the States and much less deprecated. Taxes are higher but provide a greater range of housing possibilities, with varying levels of support.

Incidentally, when traveling to London to view apartments, I used AirBnB and Hotels.com. Of these, Hotels.com provided the best value for money. That surprised me as I am a lover of AirBnB. Aongus and I used AirBnB to get a feel for a variety of neighborhoods, which was good in many ways.

However, I have found that quality control related to AirBnB in London is not high enough. we ended up in a very bad situation one night, when I’d needed to re-book due to the host’s change of plans. I selected a cheap place that lacked ratings from past guests. Of the 60 or so places I’ve stayed on AirBnB, this was truly the worst. Apparently, the superintendent of a campus of council flats was renting rooms out between formal rentals. Most likely he was pocketing the money himself.

Come to think of it, the manager of an international student house I’d used with AirBnB, also here in London, was doing something quite similar, by forcing people to book through his personal friend in the Mediterranean rather than through the house directly.

In both cases, I should have known better. The room was cheaper than market rate. To avoid such problems, read the AirBnB reviews carefully and heed the ratings posted by prior users! Do not cut corners when reviewing rooms prior to booking. I only go with hosts who have earned four or more stars from at least ten people.

In searching for flatmates, one perspective host had us over for a night so we could gauge what the experience of living at his place would actually be like. That was great! The host was amazing–such a great connector and a get-it-done, can-do kind of guy who mentors dozens of young musicians and performers. But the room was also very, very expensive (ringing in at £1770/€2000/$2500 per month, youch!). The estimated commute for Aongus from that flat was over an hour. Moreover, the owner’s ex-wife was to conduct workshops from the flat rendering it off- limits several days a month, and the sound system on the TV was extremely loud. And so we continued our search.

IMG_7594Subsequently, we visited a beautiful red brick building at Old Street Station, but the flat received no direct light whatsoever. And we’d have had to be more tidy than we could imagine in order to suit our very refined 23 year-old lawyer host.

In retrospect, the north-facing studio at Tavistock Square presented the most viable alternative to what we found, despite charging NYC rates for a single room. The membership fee for the homeowners association was unknown and the association was in the process of setting new rules. But the place was very clean and provided multiple routes out, in case of fire. What a luxury!

Sitting here, eating my pickled-cabbage fillet-on-a-bun, I felt a sense of fondness for the studio at Tavistock.

Aongus and I did succeed in finding a comfortable and happy home. It has plenty of space to work and read and learn and cook. Nice light, with beautiful views day and night. Friendly hosts who come and go, but travel a lot. It’s a half hour commute for me using the tube–longer than most other places I visited but still far less than the average Londoner’s commute. We’re grateful for our hosts who let us flat-sit here and for the search features provided by Spare Room that helped us connect with them. We found a cozy place to call home.

Seems like filming crews are forever setting up to shoot in the surrounding area. The neighborhood’s timeless charm holds great appeal. In two months here, I’ve observed three multi-day shoots in just four-block leading from our place to the tube. I only learned the name of one of these, to become a BBC TV series here in the UK. Perhaps buying a TV is in order, to view their results?