Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sixth Meeting, Warsaw Poland

Well, I had a world wind trip to Poland in June 2010 that was exhausting given the travel delays and cancellations on top of the normal six hours lost traveling east. I flew out of Philadelphia Sunday afternoon June 20th, 2010 on US AIR bound for Frankfurt. The flight was delayed about an hour on takeoff and landed on-time in Frankfurt. At 5:30am, we took the bus from the tarmac to the terminal and then proceeded to baggage claim and then customs. It was a long bus ride, making me more anxious this trip as we swerved following a small highway system under the terminal buildings until we came to the exit where the bus filled up to the brim like sardines emptied.

Since Frankfurt is a connection hub, many of the travelers were on edge as they positioned for lines. Thing flowed much smoother than I had expected when the agents split off and added more ports to pass through customs. I then had to check in on my Warsaw leg, passed through security half undressed again and then preceded to the Lufthansa Business Lounge for a couple of hours. Connected on the web for my messages and snacked. Boy was it crowded. I waited until 12:00pm and proceeded to the gate for the flight to Warsaw. As luck had it, I had a middle seat. Without much leg or arm room, I tried to sleep the whole flight as I pondered the coming RS3G workshop and EUNIS conference. It was a non-eventful short flight lasting less than two hours.

As we flew into Warsaw Poland from the sky, I could see the roof tops and architecture. The cookie cutter housing complexes filled the landscape. The land seemed very flat with no mountains visible by sight. It was a sunny day with little cloud cover. The pastures were green and the landscape appeared well watered. I was wearing shorts coming from Philadelphia while my fellow travels were donning long jeans and jackets. So, I expected a temperature drop as I hit the mid-afternoon air. The Warsaw Airport was not very large. I think it had two major terminals with air carriers spread throughout them without much forethought. My plan was to check out the travel and information desk and then proceed by bus to the centre of town. I found the information desk quickly and proceeded to request maps and directions for the bus stand. I was instructed to take Bus 175 and it would cost $2.80 polish zloty or about $.70 US. I found the bus stop easily and waited a few minutes checking out the time schedule for the next Bus on the pole.

Then, a rather pudgy and nice fellow, ventured to ask me in broken English if I wanted a taxi to the city. I pondered and wondered how long the wait for the bus will be and asked him how long would it take and how much will it cost to take me to the Sofitel Hotel in downtown Warsaw called the Victoria. His answer was 35 minutes and $40 polish zloty or $13 US. Considering my previous trips abroad and my inclination using the taxis as my opportunity to learn, I took up his offer and proceeded to a small red Taxi about 100 meters away. I was about six inches taller than the taxi driver. His name was Andrew and with his accent, we began talking about my trip and his taxi business. It was a pretty straight shoot to the Hotel in the middle of the day. As we drove out of the airport, I noticed it was not a highway like those found Germany or like I95 up the east coast of the US. It was filled with stop lights, busses and small cars lining the two lanes both ways. Occasionally I would see a truck or SUV.

The airport is about 8 kilometers from the center of town. So, the ride included many stops and starts giving me a chance to learn a little about Andrew and modern Poland. It had uniqueness in that there were no 100 floor skyscrapers. The roads were well paved. Sidewalks were a combination of brick and Belgium block. I saw lots of cafes and restaurants with outside sitting. And, colored stucco seemed the most prevalent facing on buildings even though Brick seemed very popular.

Andrew ventured to explain the age of the buildings, the reconstruction post WWII and talked about the changes since communism and the Soviet controlled government was replaced by their democratic government born from the Solidarity movement. His opinion was “things” were much better and he was very proud of how the country has progressed over the last two decades. I mentioned the EUNIS conference and keynote Lech Walesa and he explained how Lech was well liked by the common worker. We also talked about the 200 anniversary of Chopin and the Polish celebration underway throughout the city. As predicted by Andrew, the taxi pulled up to the hotel within 30 minutes. I paid the fare, retrieved my luggage and ventured into the hotel to register – which also went smoothly. Everyone I met spoke enough English to help or direct me.

I looked around the hotel for a few minutes, located the restaurants and bar and then went up the elevator to the 5th floor to find my room. The room was more modern than I expected. It could have been a nice Marriott or Hilton room in Philadelphia with a queen bed, a full size bathroom and wireless networking – a must for me. It had a nice robe and lots of towels. The room also overlooked the beautiful Saxon Garden with a nice view. The Victoria Hotel was just a few steps away from the historic and business center of the capital – and the University. The Victoria harmoniously combines Polish tradition with a modern French flair. I was surprised by the size of the rooms compared to other Hotels I have stayed in Europe. Yet, many of the outside corridors and halls seemed sparse. Some of the large banquet rooms were in use by corporate gatherings identified on the marquee. So, the Hotel was busy. Monday evening, the Hotel had a string quartet playing Chopin set by the front door as one entered.

RS3G/CEN Social

Traditionally, the RS3G (Rome Student Group) has an informal social the night before the workshop. On this trip, we met Monday night at the Likus Concept Store Wine Bar at 8:30pm for drinks and light Polish fare. The store is housed in the former central baths – part of the old town totally rebuilt after the war. It was connected to the outside wall along the University’s main gate way.

About 30 people showed up for the RS3G social where we tested red and white wines and Polish prepared dishes for several hours before returning to our respective Hotels. Of course, the TV was on as many watched the World Cup Soccer. Across the street from the wine bar was the The Czapski Palace, situated in the centre of Warsaw at 5 Krakowskie Przedmiescie. It is connected with Chopin, the composer and pianist’s family. In the south wing of this late-Baroque Palace, once property of the most distinguished families of Poland, lived Frederic Chopin with his parents in 1826. Their drawing room, featuring the period furniture and the composer's memorabilia, has been renovated. Chopin Family's Salon is open to the public but was closed during the week of EUNIS and RS3G. I walked by and read the signs. The architecture and soft colored stucco matched the surrounding building. Parking was tight everywhere and I did not see parking garages or large lots filled with cars. Many cars parked along the side streets angled in front of the sidewalks. I found it interesting there were no parking lines drawn, but the cars were very uniform.

RS3G Workshop

The RS3G Workshop was on Tuesday starting at 10:00am and lasting until 4:30pm. I presented EdUnify and gave the group an update on our progress aligned with the Student Mobility Project underway with Janina Mincer Daszkiewicz from Warsaw University. She presented an update on the 12 web services created to support the nomination and acceptances of students study abroad. It is a great example of collaborative application development. They have created a framework across stakeholders leveraging web services. Janina has master of computer science students doing all the development work. They also attended the Workshop. The next step for the Student Mobility Project will be to schedule a code sharing project in February 2011 inviting six to ten other countries and their institutional consortiums to bring small teams together to implement the shared framework with their student information systems. They will then all register the services in EdUnify. One student is working on the automatic lookup of services in EdUnify. So, that will also be leveraged next year.

Also at the RS3G Workshop, Tore Hoel and Jan Pawlosky, Chairs of the CEN Workshop on Learning Technologies presented an update on Europe’s standardization efforts funded by the EU. Several great projects are underway from wireless roaming across EU institutions to identify management through federation. Internet2, EA2 and the push by CEN is really making progress in the EU much faster than in the US.

Other topics covered were National Course Databases under development, EduROAM and Ploteus – a unitied portal for each country giving students a common look and feel entry point. All three sessions focused on creating common resources for the participating countries to employ with their member institutions.

Cloud computing by Fulcrum Technologies reviewing a demonstration project in the UK with Biztalk and Web Sphere spanning technology stacks. This was a short presentation by a system integrator interesting in promoting SOA.

ECAM – Terena – Next steps to support Student Mobility. European Committee for Academic Middleware (ECAM) was established in September 2006 as a steering committee for TERENA Task Forces. The Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association offers a forum to collaborate, innovate and share knowledge in order to foster the development of Internet technology, infrastructure and services to be used by the research and education community.

CEN WSLT – Workshop for Learning Technologies, next steps with ECAM in Spain, October 2010. RS3G will have a joint workshop with CEN. European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is a business facilitator in Europe, removing trade barriers for European industry and consumers. Its mission is to foster the European economy in global trading, the welfare of European citizens and the environment. Through its services it provides a platform for the development of European Standards and other technical specifications.


I was excited to attend the opening session at EUNIS where Lech Walesa was scheduled as the keynote. This was the 16th conference for EUNIS (European University Information Systems organization). About 200 or so registered for the conference –but that is my guess. The main lecture hall in the Library Building was the primary venue for the conference. Jan Madley, the Director of Centre for Open and Multimedia Education, University of Warsaw is the President of EUNIS and opened the conference and introduced special guest and keynote.

The Welcome address by Lech Walesa – co-founder of Solidarity, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1983, President of Poland 1990–95 was surreal. Lech changed the world by simply organizing people to stick together and overcome the self interests of those in power. He invented a peaceful movement to change Poland organized to serve the interests of those in power who stayed in control over the interest of the many – who could not speak at the individual level. It was an awesome experience seeing Lech enter the lecture hall and sit right in front of my seat and row. I closed my laptop, watched, listened and waited to hear his insights, perception of history and future.

Lech Walesa gave the keynote in Polish, translated in English. So I was not totally lost. As a former electrician and laborer, Lech is now pushing countries to align and think less about the importance of borders and more about how we can make society better by improving how we work together and share our assets. He still calls himself a revolutionary – using a blackberry. The small crowd of 200 got their pictures with Lech and he was very likeable. He is not as tall as I had envisioned, but his personality filled the room.

Lech’s challenge to EUNIS is to break down the technical barriers inhibiting mobility and commerce across the EU – and world. He invited us all to be revolutionaries and not accept the status quo. I felt Lech was talking to each person on an individual level – connecting us as a community with humor and passion. After Lech’s Welcome address, Jan Madley presented an interesting discussion on levels of Abstraction. He walked us through examples of abstraction and how the method helps us solve problems and address complexity by simplification. Maciej SysÅ‚o presented a summary of Outreach to Prospective Informatics and Computer Engineering Students. The decline in computer science majors across the globe and specifically in the US was reviewed. New initiatives underway to outreach and promote computer science in secondary schools to potential students were also summarized. David Simonsen (WAYF) Revealing the Identity of Federations was interesting and entertaining. WAYF stands for Where Are You From? - A SAM-L supported network of trusted providers linking their systems together to support identify authentication across dissimilar systems.

I presented my EdUnify paper and overview on Wednesday afternoon after lunch to a room of about 30. My abstract paper on EdUnify was published in the Book of Abstracts. The EUNIS presentations are limited to 20 minutes. So, I talked fast and reviewed the slides quickly introducing EdUnify to the EUNIS audience. I weaved the theme of Music and Chopin into the idea of having a registry and lookup service that will enable transparency and interoperability across systems like Music offers across languages, time, style, etc. Harmonizing electronic services published by stakeholders begins with identifying how these services can be reused and accessed by the community. I showed the demo site quickly and referenced the pilot work of RS3G and the Student Mobility Project. A final book of the complete paper is expected in a month or so I was told.

Later that evening, EUNIS participants met at the Skwer Gallery at 9, an Art Gallery in the basement with a full bar and several large rooms to circulate and network. The event included music from a small ensemble. And, there was Polish finger food including some sweat desserts.

My return trip home was not as easy as my arrival. At 6:00am, I checked my email and was notified my flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia was canceled. Not replacement schedule. So I rushed to call USAIR on the hotel phone. Took several tries, but I got an agent finally. The first agent tried to find flight alternatives and was telling me there are very few choices coming west. She offered to call LOT, which had a flight to Amsterdam and then I could connect with a USAir flight to home. She put me on hold and hung up. I called back and got another agent. This agent suggested I proceed to the airport and get to the terminal to find the best alternative. So, I did that. I rushed downstairs and took a private car for a fixed fee of $75 to rush me to the airport. This ride was much different than my arrival. The rush hour travel and rain seemed to slow the ride down. I got dropped off in fifteen minutes and rushed to find LOT. LOT referred me back to Lufthansa and after bouncing around the first flow and second floor; I concluded the best thing would be to take my original flight at 11:30 to Frankfurt and attempt to find a flight home from Germany. So, I followed that plan. While waiting, I checked Expedia for flights and wrote down a half a dozen options with different carriers.

Landed in Frankfurt and proceeded to USAir. There were hundreds of passengers waiting to get flights changed with two representatives sitting at their computers. Given the lines, I proceeded to American to check out one of the options I had previously listed. They only had business class seats left to Chicago and that would require another ticket to fly from Chicago to Philadelphia. So, I bought another round trip ticket from Frankfurt to Philadelphia with a return trip in September. After about twenty minutes, I proceeded to the American Lounge and got online to buy the USAir ticket for my leg from Chicago to Philadelphia. Booked that flight, but could not print the boarding pass because of the FAA rules of being 6 hours within flight time. So, I took the risk I could get the boarding in Chicago.

The flight to Chicago was an extra two hours longer than the Philadelphia segment. I sat next to a Chicago lawyer specializing in Copyright and Trademark law, so we had an interesting conversation about his trials and work internationally. And, I took the opportunity to discuss some of my own IP issues and learned a thing or two about agreements that contain assignments and transfer of Copyrights.

Sitting in the front of the flight to Chicago, allowed a quick exit on landing. So, I rushed to customs which is a long 10 minute haul. I passed customs quickly after pleading with the agent to allow me to move ahead of the line. I left Terminal 5 and proceeded to the Tram to Terminal 2. It was obvious; I was not going to make the 7:00pm flight to Philadelphia. Got to the Terminal and rushed to the US Air ticket counter, where the agent proceeded to tell me the flight I was scheduled on was late and over sold. She suggested I take the 3:30pm flight which was also late and scheduled for 8:00pm departure. So, she changed my ticket and I then had 30 minutes to make my way to the gate. The flight home on my final leg was delayed another hour, and I finally landed in Philadelphia at 12:00am. Exhausted, I proceeded to my parked car and finally felt relived I was home.