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Category Archives: education

With the year 2013 now a closed chapter, here’s a short reflection….


The highlight of the year, without any doubt, was the performance of Amhrán na mBeach (Song of the Bees) at Glenstal Abbey. It was the happiest moment. All events leading up to that moment were also very enjoyable, and sometimes scary. It wasn’t until the day before the performance I felt confident that the eminent monks would actually perform the choral part of the score (many thanks to Wolodymyr Smishkewych for making it happen). The rehearsal with the ICO in their studio was pure magic. Something happens when a score is moved from my imagination, through the computers, to the paper, to the musicians, and they play it. The Softday Apiary Ensemble also turned out to be a real buzz, and I hope the friendships that developed over all our workshops will remain and continue to develop in some future project. Jenny Kravis readings filled the space between the sonic elements, like beeswax between cells in a honeycomb – it made all the parts stick together in its final structure. It was also amazing to work with our friends Dave Carugo, Lette and Keith Moloney and Bob Corrigan who formed a professional audio, video and photograph team documenting the performance.


The feeling that washed over me at the end of the performance made me think that THIS I have to remember and THIS is the way I would like to feel more often.


When it eventually got started, the Irish summer was beautiful. I reworked my herbal garden and we had several pleasant evenings with BBQ and watching the sun set in the west.


Then, we went for a holiday break in Sweden to visit friends and relatives, which turned into a medical and emotional frenzy with elderly parents in different hospitals.


Moving the Interaction Design Centre, from Engineering Research Building back to the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. This was not an easy move, as we didn’t want to move.

Engineering Research Building

Engineering Research Building

CSIS building

CSIS building

We lost some high-quality space and we gained some. We’re building a new design lab in the CSIS building. In the CSIS building, the heating is insufficient during winter months. My office gets to a maximum of 15 degrees C with its only radiator turned on. I know, from having spent years in the building before, that in summer it will be too hot. Apart from the lack of climate control, corridors are very narrow and we are more isolated from our research students, not by distance but by the structure of the space.


The recession continues. From my perspective the cost of living in Ireland is increasingly expensive while net salaries continue to fall. The politicians and their mates are getting top-up payments, while the rest of us are getting cuts. The only way to survive the political Fine Gael + Labour propaganda is through positive disengagement.

protest(from Softday‘s Silent Protest)

Now in the second year, we’re building the design@UL exhibition in Limerick City with a selection of our students’ design work. It’s quite an interesting experience when faculty from computer science, architecture, civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, etc., come together and talk about how to design and exhibition. You would imagine that we’re all singing form the same hymn sheet, but as design can be so many different things, the creative cacophony can be almost overwhelming at times. I think it’s an excellent interdisciplinary exercise and as we learn to work together, new ideas emerge and are negotiated.
This year, the exhibition opens on Tuesday evening, the 28th of May at 18:00 and runs until Saturday the 1st of June. Admission is free, so please call in and have a look, talk to the students and enjoy the creativity.


When I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning by experimenting with all kinds of things. I also learnt a lot from various educational science kits that sympathetic parents bought, probably trying to facilitate my interests (or hoping to contain the interests on the safe side of science and technology). There were all kinds of exciting kits, ranging from The Little Electrician, to the Chemistry kit, to the Nuclear Energy exploration kit….

In addition to this, it was really fun to combine the kits with Lego, Meccano and bits and pieces from broken things found in the basement.
Back in the 1960s, it was also possible, as a kid, to walk in to the local pharmacy and buy all kinds of interesting stuff (e.g. HCL, HNO3, H2SO4, NH3, more or less the whole chemical alphabet….). You could also get a good variety of electronic components in all radio shops.

Later in life, I have always tried to choose stuff with open-ended educational value when buying (or making!) birthday gifts to young people. Sadly, the possibility to send anything interesting abroad by post has recently been made almost impossible.

The Irish postal service An Post now demand that you fill out an Aviation Security Declaration when sending a larger letter or small parcel. As far as I have googled this, it’s a fairly recent thing (February 2012?). Perhaps it’s the UK that have forced Ireland into this, as most of the stuff posted in Ireland with destinations in Europe pass through the UK, and with the Olympics and other silly antics around the corner, they are really paranoid about everything.

This leaves me with the only option, to post the most dangerous of all things: books. Books may contain ideas that may change the world.

In the current world economic crisis, it seems quite obvious that countries that make original things, from idea to final product, are the countries with the least problems.

In making, we also need to include food.

a morph between an image of Planet Earth and a typical pizza.

Consider what you have eaten today. From where in the world did the food come from? It would be interesting to consider if every packet with a “frozen dinner” in supermarkets had a map of where all it’s components originated and how it travelled to get to you. Perhaps there should also be a number, how many kilometres it travelled to get to you.

Have you ever considered how much land it takes to produce the food to sustain you for one year? Some say that in Ireland in the 19th century, 0.5 acres (0.2 hectares) would be sufficient to grow potatoes for 8 people, assuming that they also had some chickens, perhaps a pig, and a cow grazing on common land. With a modern, more balanced, diet, you probably need about 1 acre per person, or, 8 acres (3.2 hectares) for 8 people.

And, if you grow and make your own food, you have to do all the work. No need for any gym.

This afternoon, I finally handed over the Course Directorship for UL‘s Masters in Interactive Media to my colleague Cristiano Storni. It’s been 12 long and exciting years with between 10 and 17 graduates per year. We now have graduates in many different countries around the world, at work ranging from teaching to new start-up companies to the usual multinationals.

It’s also about 14 years ago we started to discuss the need for a postgraduate course like this. It’s amazing how quickly time is passing, as well as how technology has evolved.

Friday evening, we went to see the Old Irish Radio Show at The Loft @ The Locke. It was an interesting and entertaining take on how radio used to be in Ireland. Great venue!

Saturday started with 3Dcamp at UL with a number of interesting talks and demos.

I had to leave during the afternoon for a while as the Limerick School of Art and Design opened their end-of-year show.

I only had time to see about half of the exhibition and will have to get back there again during the coming week.

After this, back to UL for Prof. William O’Connor‘s highly stimulating talk about “Is the Internet changing your brain?”.

In the mid-1960’s, I first heard the sound of a synthesizer. When Wendy Carlos‘ album Switched on Bach was released in 1968 I was totally convinced that electronic instruments was the future. As I couldn’t afford to buy a real Moog, I spent a few years studying electronic engineering and telecoms to enable me to build my own, that I eventually used in my final year project in 1975. I think I’ve only one or two of the home-etched circuit boards left in some drawer. I had to disassemble the synth when I finished the final year project, as some parts were borrowed from physics labs, other parts designed and built by me (only recordings remain).

I was delighted today to find the Moog Foundation on the web. I fully agree with their vision that music, and in particular by using electronic instruments like the Moog-range, is an excellent way to get young people interested in art, science and technology. It is a very intuitive way to learn as you can start by exploring a few simple buttons and tweaking a few knobs – and immediately hear the result. The magic of this directness can then easily lead to a feeling of wonder about how it works. When you get onto that path of discovery, you can learn a lot about music, physics, electronics, maths, and a number of other things such as the importance of designing things so that they are suitable for human use. This is probably one of the most important aspects of Bob Moog‘s work. He worked together with musicians. While it is simple to get a knob to change the resonance frequency of a filter, the control curve (the mapping) has to feel natural to the musician (while it may sometimes be a difficult engineering problem to get the right non-linearity, especially when working with analog electronics).
So, here’s to Bob Moog, Wendy Carlos, and many others whose work and art I’ve enjoyed so much over the years, and still do. Let’s keep on designing, building, exploring and making.


The “real” web pages for UL‘s Masters in Interactive Media course have finally been updated. Now, it should be easily accessed both from desktops, laptops and mobile computers. With the new design, I’ll add creative content from the last few years student works over the next few weeks.
The course is now in its 10th year and this years cohort of students have turned out to be one of the most creative groups of young people we have worked with.