iPad – the ideal kitchen appliance

I’m on a quest for the iPad killer app. Not the Apple need one, with two million units sold the first two months. It’s more of a personal quest to discover if the iPad has a place in my computing & information universe.

There’s always the cool factor, of course. There’s street cred in having an iPad – although interestingly I’ve had better luck getting in touch with members of the appropriate sex with the Kindle. The iPad evokes “oh, cool” – the Kindle generates genuine interest and conversation. But I digress. I’ve been toying with the iPad, tried Apps, taken it to meetings, on trips, and into the living room. All nice, but not quite convincing.

Taking the iPad into the kitchen, however, has been a runaway success. I like cooking, and I like being in my kitchen. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of recipes, and I have the classical information management problem. I’ve tried folders of clippings, post-it notes in books, binders with printed recipes, neatly typed into a LaTeX and sorted by category and type. And still I’ve found it impractical. I’ve tried recipes typed into a computer and found that I either always had the recipe on the wrong computer or had trouble managing multiple versions of the recipe documents.

Enter Google docs. A while ago I started entering my recipes into Google docs. It’s ideal – I can access it from any computer, I can update from anywhere and access it any time I need it. Just take a laptop – any laptop – into the kitchen when cooking, And this is where the iPad comes in. It’s ideal for this; Google docs works perfectly, browsing files is fast and easy, the device sits neatly next to you on the kitchen tape, you don’t have the screen sticking up so you don’t knock it over, and it’s easy to turn on and off, put aside with one hand, etc. Clearly the iPad will be the way I access my recipes in the future. It lets me do the job without taking focus away from cooking.

This tells us something about what the iPad is. It’s a perfect information appliance – especially for this kind of light use. It’s perfect for accessing information when the information access isn’t your actual task. It’s so easy to grab it, get at the information, and continue the actual job. The iPad does not get in the way or force you to think of information access as a separate process. In that way it’s more like a piece of paper than a computer. In this the iPad is transformative; it’s not just a smaller, sexier, cooler computer, or an overgrown cellphone. It’s a new device that promotes better and more integrated information access. If you’re doing something where information access is an integral part of the job, the iPad might very well be the answer. For me that kind of task is cooking, and the iPad sure fits the bill. If only they would come out with a rugged, water- and flour-proof version.

Enabling Communities

As in previous years, I’m enjoying my time at the TERENA Networking Conference tremendeously. I’m hearing inspiring talks, I’m learning about new technology developments, I’m experiencing new ways people are making progress in our area – and I’m seeing cool applications, made posible by the imagination and creativity of smart users and the technology we are building. There’s all that, and more, the content if you will, that make us come back to conferences like the TNC.

And yet, we all know that’s not really why we come. Impressive and rewarding as the conference program is, it’s the intangibles that make the TNC a fixed item on my calendar. It’s the people here, the chance for coffee conversations, having that quick meeting, progressing that item on the endless todo list that’s just too complicated to get done by email. And – even more intangible – it’s all the unplanned interactions. It’s coming across that inspiring conversation, making a crucial connection of ideas or people that you didn’t see before. Chad Kainz in this morning’s plenary called it “the bar problem” – happening to be in the right bar at the right time to be inspired or come across the solution to a problem. Venues like the TNC are great enablers for solving the bar problem.

But this is not something that just happens. It’s a delicate process. You want the right mix of people in the audience, you want the right buzz of ideas in the halls, you want the shared experiences and the provokinb points, you want an audience that feel engaged and want to participate – not just listen to the talks. And you want the opportunities to socialize and have productive meetings and conversations. We want our conference to enable possibilities, just like our networks enable possibilities for our users.

Over the years the TNC (and the TERENA staff, program committies, etc) has done a great job getting the mix right – a mix that makes the conference a great community enabler, both for the networking community at large and for the many small communities that make this field thrive and make it so interesting. The planning for TNC2011 is already starting, and as I will be part of the team this time, enabling communities will be a big concern for me. I hope we can engage communities large and small, and I hope to hear from you how the conference can best serve your communities.

Green networks

I had a sense of deja vu this morning, listening to Victor Reijs presentation on “green IT” at the TERENA Technical Advisory Council meeting in Vilnius. It was an excellent presentation, making a strong case that the European R&E networks need a forum for focused collaboration, sharing, and new initiatives in sustainability and green IT.

Two years ago – at the TERENA Networking Conference in Bruges – I gave a brief presentation on Green IT and its relevance to the research & education networking community. I suggested then that this is a topic that warrant far more attention from the community, a topic with interesting and important work to be done – and a topic where we in Europe need to do much more to match the excellent work done in North America.

Since then, sustainability has been included in the GN3 project, as a study in Environmental Impact of research network. There is fine and important work being done in this task; the CHG study in a major contribution. In addition, a number of European R&E Networks have made contributions, notably a CHG study in Netherlands by SURFnet and HEAnet joining the GreenStar Network project. However, much remains to be done, and compared to the North America we’re still not doing much.

Victor presented well today on the achievements in the past two years. He also made a strong case for doing more, and doing it together. More than anything, I think the presentation made it clear that we have succeeded in creating a European R&E community, albeit a fledgling one. We have something to build on that allows us to formulate more expansive goals, and to do something concrete and involving together. I think the time for a TERENA taskforce is ripe, if not overdue.

Paper, paper, paper….

I’m getting ready to go to TNC2010 – this years edition of the TERENA Networking Conference. By tradition, the conference, held annually, roams Europe, from north to south, from east to west. This year we go to Lithuania. As always I’m looking forward to meeting my colleagues from around Europe, to catch up with people, projects, and ideas in the community, to get inspired, and hopefully provoked.

As always when I go to these event – and, actually, whenever I travel – the last step in my preparations have been printing. Hotel reservations, airline reservations, google maps, addresses for restaurants, agendas and locations for meetings, etc. I might live the digital life, I might be heading to a conference about advanced technology and community for the digital life, but for my travel essentials I’m still strictly analog. OK, I do also copy all this stuff to dropbox, as PDF’s, for easy access from laptop and iPhone, and I do copy stuff to my kindle. But I’m not relying on that. I’m a seasoned traveller, I’ve had both flight and hotel reservations disappear mysteriously, and when that happens in a far away place, a place I don’t know much about and where I do not speak the local language, I want my papers. I want paper to show at check-in counters and hotels, and I want paper to show to the taxi driver when I arrive four hours laten, and say “take me to my hotel”. And I don’t want to have a flat battery get in my way.

It’s a hassle with all that paper, and environmentally wasteful. Hopefully some day I will trust the digital version. But not yet.

Federating networks – first steps

I had my first travel for more than a month today. I can’t remember when I last went this long between trips abroad, but the volcanic ash situation has cancelled several meetings; I’m particularly sad to have missed the e-IRG meeting in Barcelona (even though it will be done in June i Madrid, so I’m looking forward to that), and the NORDUnet 2011 program committee meeting in Reykjavik. On the positive side, most of the work has been done anyway; the volcano is doing a great job driving the further adoption of video-conferencing.

My trip today was to Stockholm – and into the warm, sunny weather they’ve been having in eastern Scandinavia. That was a welcome change from the rain and cold we’ve been having. Even better, my meeting with CTO’s of the Nordic research & education networks was positive, energized, and productive. We’re getting down to business, finding ways to federate networks & services, extending collaboration to new areas, and sharing experiences. We’re also seeing results of initiatives started in the past year; I’ve been very pleased to see a federated networking proposal evolve quickly and being accepted for implementation. Inter-organization sharing of network ressources to reduce cost for all is a great way to apply the optical network technologies we have been implementing in recent years.

We’re creating change, and we’re having fun doing so. This was one trip definitely worth doing.