How did I come to invite a travel writer to talk about riding a folding bicycle around Cuba in the Department of Computer Science seminar series at the Australian National University?
A few months ago an acquaintance of mine had their garden destroyed in the Canberra brushfires. I visited, partly to see if there was anything I could do to help, but mostly just to see. A few days later my eyes swelled up. I went to the doctor, who said this was a reaction to the ash and nothing to worry about. But I was six years overdue for a check-up, overweight with high blood pressure. I was prescribed some excise, perhaps a bicycle?
So I bought a folding bicycle, my first bicycle in 30 years. I thought I would ride it once a week, for exercise, but found it convenient form of transport. I wrote travel reports on on trips in Canberra and Brisbane to IT meetings.
My colleagues at ANU humoured my new found enthusiasm for the bicycle. One sent me an announcement of a new book by a crazy woman who cycled around Cuba on a folding bicycle. I thought the author would be in a suite in a luxury hotel in New York, but sent her an invitation to drop in if ever in Canberra. I got a reply a few minutes later to say she happened to be an ANU Computer Science graduate and would be delighted to visit.
So I booked N101, the location for our Computer Science seminars at ANU. It was then a matter of convincing Lynette it was safe to talk to academics and the academics this was a serious talk.
It happens the speaker and I have a few things in common: a folding bicycles, computing at the ANU, being travel writers, having stood outside Windsor Castle and having escaped from corporate conformity. But the similarity is slight. Lynette Chiang has shown courage in escaping far beyond the confines of the office and to write about it in an open and refreshing style.
Having invited Lynette to speak I was then worried as to what I had done. But my worries were overcome as soon as I started reading the book. There is a trace of the computer nerd in the appendices detailing exactly what equipment she took, but the text shows an interest in people. The book is very readable, a little like a hard copy of the now popularised Internet blog.
But this should be no surprise, as information technology professionals are people after all. They own bicycles, they travel, they read and they write. The computer systems they build have a human dimension.
As IT professionals we have made the mistake that our job was to build the computer systems and others would know better how to use them. This room, N101, is ANU's GrangeNet node number one and as such is part of the next revolution in information technology, the next Internet, the Grid. It was conceived for big science and big business applications, but can also be used for cultural applications. This room will be linked to the Australian Creative Resources Archives which is under construction in Queensland. Film makers and researchers will use this system to search and assemble film and multimedia work. We need people like Lynette Chiang, who are trained in IT and experienced in the arts to make that revolution happen.