Monday, May 17, 2010

Weeknote #1 (w/e 16/5/10)

In an effort to blog more regularly, I've decided to adopt the Weeknote model of short seven-day updates on what's been going on.

The weekend was dominated by my inability to leave the country; I was due to fly to Madrid to give a series of lectures on molecular and cellular computing to Masters and Doctoral students at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. It was also an opportunity to take a couple of days of much-needed time with my wife and daughter, who'd be travelling with me. As the airspace in Northern Ireland had already been closed, we checked the status of the flight before we set off for Liverpool Airport. Everything was ok, but by the time we got there a couple of hours later, they'd shut down. A maudlin hen party, wearing mandatory pink fluffy stetsons, were told that the next available flight was on Thursday; we just returned home, where I quickly rescheduled the lectures for two weeks time. My host, Alfonso Rodríguez-Patón, was incredibly understanding and helpful, managing to book a new hotel for us, despite the fact that my new schedule coincides with a major festival on the Thursday (making hotel rooms extremely rare).

Another significant event this week was the Future Everything festival, which was (if you read the various reviews and tweets) wildly successful. I contributed to a panel discussion on New Creativity, which also featured Anab Jain, a TED Fellow who talked about her Power of 8 project, Kerenza McClarnan of Buddleia, who's facilitating artist-led enquiry into urban spaces, and Adrian Hon of award-winning games company Six to Start, who talked about the purpose of play. It was a fascinating session, with a lot of dynamic connections made between the panelists (none of whom really knew anything in advance about what the others would say). The session was recorded, so I'll post a link if and when the video is made available.

In mid-week we had our latest brain-storming "away"-day for our Bridging the Gaps: NanoInfoBio (NIB) project. This is a two-year initiative, supported by the EPSRC, to encourage cross-disciplinary research within MMU (with specific focus on the life sciences/engineering/computing/maths/nanotechnology interface(s)). We're almost ten months into the project now, and are beginning to develop a coherent set of themes around which we can coalesce. We're giving out a few project grants of £25K in order to boot-strap small feasibility studies, so we arranged an afternoon at a Manchester hotel to generate some ideas. Experience has shown that it's best to get everyone away from the distractions of email, and the temptation to "just pop back to the office", and I think everyone was happy with how it went. Rather than dividing everyone into groups, as might seem natural, we first performed a general "audit" of possible project ideas (this first pass generated 12), and then "drilled down" as a whole group to examine each idea in turn. Once a page or so of flip-chart paper had been filled for each project, only then did we split up in order to go over the fine details of costings and so on. The group-level discussion led to some surprising contributions, which would have been lost if we'd split up too quickly. I think it worked.

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