Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Conference (page 1 of 14)

In Seattle

I was in Seattle this weekend at the POD Network conference, a conference of academic technology and professional development types.

I’ve not been in Seattle in a while, so it was cool to be there. And the crowd at the conference was terrific: very technically savvy, so they knew what I was talking about, but they could also ask interesting questions, and very engaged. Especially impressive for a crowd that had already been at the conference for three days and hadn’t yet had lunch.

via flickr

It was the first time I’d given a big talk since finishing the book, and it was good to see that it seems to hold up in public.

After my talk I spent the afternoon on the monorail (how often as a futurist do you get to ride on an artifact from the future?) and visiting the Experience Museum Project and Seattle Public Library, two of the cooler pieces of architecture… well, anywhere in the world.

via flickr

The Experience Music Project is said to look like a melted Jimi Hendrix guitar from above; that could well be urban legend, but I do know is it’s really cool on the ground.


I'm in Marseille, France, for another hour or so. Since I got here I've been running around, looking at demos, working on my talk, or walking around and taking pictures, so I've not had a lot of time to post. However, I'm now in the train station, waiting for a train to Paris, and rather than walk around one more neighborhood with my bags, I decided to just hang.

via flickr

Before I came here, I checked out my local bookstore for travel guides on Marseille. There aren't any. This is the second (or maybe third) biggest city in France, yet according to the travel industry no one goes here: tourists avoid it in favor of Aix or Lyon or other more attractive places. You'd never know that it wasn't a destination here: the train station is full of backpackers and families with rolling luggage.

via flickr

But I can see why it's not considered by the guidebooks to be authentically French, in that imaginary pure Gallic way: being a 3,000 year-old port city, Marseille is a real hybrid, with people from all over the Mediterranean. Lots of Tunisian and Moroccan restaurants, west African shops, tourists from Scandinavia and Spain, and the occasional English speaker. It's not as hyper-developed as some cities; it's more like Budapest than Vienna, but it's by no means unattractive or run down, nor is it palpably unsafe.

via flickr

I gave my talk on contemplative computing on Friday afternoon, right after lunch. Somehow I seem to gravitate to the post-lunch talk times, but what can you do. I was up until 3 the night before refining the talk, and the next morning tinkered with it some more; partly I was still cutting it down, and partly I was working in references to earlier talks and some cool demos I had seen at the conference exhibit hall. But I think it paid off: I was certainly pleased with the talk, I think it introduced the ideas well, and people seemed to like it.

via flickr

I'll put up a copy of the talk with pictures later.

One of the great things here has been the food: both nights I ran into people with whom I went out to dinner, and we found various Moroccan or Tunisian places that were excellent. I may have to buy a tagine when I get home.

via flickr

Okay, off to get my train. More from Paris!

Starting my trip

I'm at SFO, on my way to the Lift 2011 conference in Marseille. Curiously, while it's the second largest city in France, it doesn't seem to be a place that you can get to from here; plus, thanks to some complications with my travel plans (which my conference organizers were incredibly good about dealing with, I must say for the record), I'm flying to LAX, connecting to a New Zealand Air flight to Heathrow (ah, Heathrow!), then taking Air France to Paris. After that, it's onto the TGV, for a three-hour train ride to Marseille.

I'm actually quite looking forward to that last, as it'll give me a chance to see something of France. Other than one hurried connection through De Gaulle about five or six years ago, I haven't been in France at all, and hear there are some parts that are cool.

My talk at the conference is on contemplative computing, and is part of a session on the concept of "Slow." I'm doing a much less technical version of the talk this time: the first couple times I gave it, I was speaking to HCI and new media audiences, and this one will be a broader mix of people (though since it's sponsored by an organization devoted to next-generation Internet activities, there will be plenty of folks who do know technology). So rather than being a lot of stuff about the skilled nature of calm and name-checks to Wittgenstein and Weiser, the main message of this talk will be "you don't have to let information technologies drive you nuts."

I'm experimenting with just taking my iPad2, and leaving the laptop behind. This means I can't work on the slides, but I consider that a good thing: given that when I can I'll promiscuously throw in images and new ideas at the last minute, it's better for me to have the discipline of a fixed set of images to work with. I can– and as I hear other speakers, fully expect to– revise the talk itself, and it occurred ot me last night that I could actually edit it on the iPad and read it on the device. I don't know if that'll be cool or dangerous, or a little of both.

But given that my talk style is now to use almost all images and no text, I think this new approach will work.

I've also not packed ANY books at all: I've got other stuff to work on, and besides, I put a couple things on the Kindle. (I'm very skeptical of ebooks being useful for intellectual work, given that serious reading is a martial art, but I figure they should be fine for Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler.) So I'm now in the curious situation of having a camera that's considerably heavier than my computer. I can live.

I got here ridiculously early– we start boarding at 11:20, and I got to SFO just before 9. But better that than rushing through the airport. And besides, I can work in airports and airplanes as well as anywhere.

Off to Oxford

After lunch with one of the founders of the field of cognitive archaeology, it's off to Parker's Pieces to catch the bus to Oxford. I'm commenting / chairing a session tomorrow in a conference on visualization in the age of computerisation, a subject that of course is slightly irresistable to me.

I've decided to try the kamikaze-like move of not taking any laptop at all– just my camera, beloved Moleskine notebook, plenty to read and write, and my iPhone. I want to reduce the amount of stuff I'm carrying, but I also suspect this a secret way to convince myself that I could really use an iPad– that under the right circumstances, I could make it a viable mobile tool. Fortunately the waiting times for the new iPad are insane, so I'm in no danger of actually getting one.

Besides, it's good to play around with tools, to better understand which ones you really need, and which ones you don't. Self-experimentation is always valuable.

Evening in

It started snowing this morning, and hasn’t stopped. I didn’t expect to see several inches by this evening, but that’s what we’ve got.

I went to the conference for a morning session on innovation systems; it was interesting to compare attempts to build systems here to ones I’ve seen or been involved with in Silicon Valley, thought reading John Kay’s Obliquity has made me skeptical of all attempts to reduce things as complex as innovation and entrepreneurship to a set of business processes. However, that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t keep trying to work on these issues, just that we need to recognize that our best efforts are likely to move the needle just a little.

My kind of place

I confess I didn’t know much about the Mobile Life Centre, but was quite favorably impressed with it. There’s a neat group of students, and several really great senior researchers, including a couple who’ve had close ties to Microsoft Research.

After that I met Heather and had lunch in a pizza and kebab place in Gamla Stan.

Today's lunch: Kebab and chips

It was unexpectedly huge, so instead of eating out, after going to the Royal Palace and the medieval museum, we had coffee at Coffeehouse by George, bought some bread and cheese at NK, and had dinner in our room. Between Heather having a bit of a cold and it being freezing cold outside, a quiet evening inside seemed like the thing.

It's snowing! WTF is it doing snowing?

Our hotel room, by the way, has been quite nice: it’s essentially a studio apartment, with a little kitchen, and one of those slightly mysterious European bathrooms (what do people have against showers that don’t spill water everywhere)?

Our hip, ultramodern hotel room in Stockholm

We leave Stockholm tomorrow morning, and head back to England. Then we have Saturday to ourselves, and Sunday the kids arrive for a week.

Just another quick note

After the conference, Heather and I went to the Vasa Museum, which is pretty incredible.

Vasa Museum

The Vasa was an 17th-century warship that sank within minutes of setting sail off the waters of Stockholm. (The amazing thing is, everyone involved knew that the design had been screwed up, and nobody was willing to tell the king.)

Vasa Museum

In the 1950s, an explorer found it; for the next several years the Swedish Navy worked to salvage it, the scientists spent more years preserving and reconstructing it. Finally, they built a museum around it, rather than try to move it again.

Vasa Museum

The museum itself is quite amazing, and the Vasa is spectacular. Of course, had it been a successful warship it would have been worked to death; the fact that it sank immediately, and therefore is available to us today, is a great example of how surviving historical artifacts and documents can be the unusual and anomalous things, not the everyday and truly representative ones.

Vasa Museum

If you can’t tell from the pictures, the Vasa itself is huge, and the space around it is fantastic. Very worthwhile. As Heather notes, so much of what you can see in an interesting city is actually stuff you can see, with some variation, in many great cities– the Asian art museum here may be as good as the one in Paris or San Francisco, but they’re all Asian art museums– but this is one of a kind.

Lots more pictures here.

In Stockholm

We’re in Stockholm, Sweden for the next couple days. I’m at a conference at the Mobile Life Center, in Kista, which is the high-tech neighborhood of Stockholm. Lots of interesting-sounding stuff the next couple days, but we got here in time to see a little of the city.

After flying from Heathrow via Amsterdam, and taking a taxi from Arland airport to the city (hint: take the train, there’s nothing to see driving), we got to our hotel, then immediately set out for Gamla Stan, the old town (actually its old island).

Around Gamla Stan this evening

More about it later; I’ve got a bunch of pictures up on Flickr. It’s a really cool place.

Around Gamla Stan this evening

Expecto Patronas Twin Towers

I’m in a taxi that’s barreling down the freeway to KLIA, and will get to the airport really early and have lots of time to explore and take pictures, or die a fiery death. Could go either way. (How fast is 140 km/h? Must remember to check if I survive.)

On my last night in Malaysia, my hosts and a couple other conference speakers– we were from Venezuela, Turkey, South Korea, and the U.S.; we could have been the setup to a joke involving a bar, a one-legged parrot, and a hilarious misunderstanding over the word for “hand lotion”– drove up to Kuala Lumpur to have dinner at the Patronas Twin Towers.


KL, as its called, has plenty of interesting architecture and monuments, but they’re all literally dwarfed by Patronas. It’s one of the tallest buildings in Asia, and views of it command premium prices in the condos nearby (and a few have plummeted in value after a bigger project closer to the Towers has blocked their view). I saw pictures of it when it first opened, and thought it looked interesting but overdesigned and a little gimmicky– Cesar Pelli’s attempt to create a South Asian vernacular postmodernism. It’s certainly distinctly Asian, but it’s anything but a gimmick. It’s masterful.


From a distance, its lit in a way that gives it complete dominance over the skyline. Other buildings aren’t dark by any means, but they can’t come close to Petronas.


It’s bright, certainly, but that’s not what draws you in: the lighting is varied and complicated, a mix of lights that illuminate the tower, accentuate certain details, and enhance the shadows.

We parked in the mall beside the tower, and headed to a park with a huge fountain (the synchronized water show kind, invented by a Stanford product design grad) and a good view of the tower.


Fortunately, for once i was not the only person in my group with a camera and a tendency to take vast numbers of pictures.


Up close, the towers look like something on Pandora: they don’t so much reflect the light as glow, almost as if they were phosphorescent.


Looking at them, I was reminded of jellyfish or a bright ship’s wake. At the same time, it’s not just a glow: you can still see an amazing amount of detail, thanks to the judicious way the lights are set, and the presence of shadows in just the right places.


Greetings from Putrajaya

Speaking at a conference in a few minutes. In the Green Room going over my talk. I love this time.

image from

On my way to Asia

I’m in the Singapore Air lounge at SFO, on my way to Singapore and Malaysia. I’m spending a day with my dad and stepmother in Singapore (after 40 years as a professor in the US, Pop decided it was time for a new career challenge, and so took a gig in Asia), then on to Malaysia, where I’ll speak at a futures conference. I wrote an article [pdf] about the futures scene in Malaysia a year ago (it’s one of the most forward-looking countries in the world), and some of what I talked about is starting to brew. It’ll be interesting to see it first-hand.

This is an insane trip. My wife had to get up at 4:30 for the San Francisco Marathon, and the kids and I ran the 5K this morning, so we all bundled into the car before dawn, and fought out way to the Embarcadero. Miraculously I found street parking.


The kids enjoyed the 5k, though I think for them it’s not the running that they’ll remember but the number and variety of snacks, samples, juices, and smoothies that they were able to try at the end. When you’re 8 pain is temporary, but the memory of getting a Jamba Juice from a guy in a banana suit is forever.


Then it was back in the minivan, across town to Golden Gate Park, and to the finish line for the half marathon. We got there a minute after she finished, got some food, then headed back to the car and to SFO. Dropped me off, into the loving embrace of Singapore Air.

There are times when you’re made very aware of just how much your family makes your life possible. Exactly two months ago I was in London and Cambridge; now I’m headed to the other side of the world. Most spouses who have to deal with such schedules or who find themselves married to travel addicts take to drink. Next time, she comes with me. The kids have also adjusted well to having a parent away (heaven knows they’ve had plenty of experience), but I think it’s time to take it to the next level. They can find us on Facebook if they need instructions about how to use the stove.

I’ll be in Malaysia until Friday, then I fly back here, and the next day turn around and head for another gig in the Rockies. When it rains it pours.

Naturally I’ve got the mobile version of my life set up. And now that I have a 500 gb hard drive, I can carry pretty much my entire movie collection with me. Not like I need the distraction. It’s just nice to have. I think many travelers have one indulgence of this sort: my dad carries five times as many ties as he could possibly need, other people carry books, yet others pack extra clothes.

In many ways I love Singapore Air, but the one complaint I have about them is the absence of common space: on SAS or United you can get up and stand, which is essential for my sanity; Singapore doesn’t really have any public space, and they’re happiest if you’re just confined to your seat the whole 20 hours. This time, my patrons have put me in business class, which means I essentially have my own cabin. My hope is I can do some calisthenics in it without disturbing other passengers. Seriously.

Of course, as always, the main attraction for this kind of trip is the chance to get some serious thinking and writing done. I need to work more on my talk, but I’m also going to try to finish “Paper Spaces 2: Revenge of the Fallen” before I return home. I’ve really got all the material I need to get it done, and I can only re-watch Mission Impossible 3 so many times in one 24-hour period.

[To the tune of Pat Metheny, “Holding Us,” from the album A Map Of The World (a 3-star song, imo).]
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