Sometime in late 2006 -just a few weeks after I saw the photograph of a Portuguese family- I wrote to the organisers of a medium-sized technology-related workshop/conference taking place in June 2007: the INSPIRE conference.
Starting from 1997, I had been attending this event roughly every other year. First as a plain “listener”, then gradually starting to propose contributions as oral or poster presentations.
Ten years after having started this process, I proposed to the organisers the idea of proposing myself as a chair for a session, rather than a presentation. The session was to be called “So you had something to do with INSPIRE”.
The rationale for such a session was that the number of stakholders for which spatial information and spatial data infrastructures are core business, but ignore the INSPIRE directive is larger than the INSPIRE “managers” see.
So: the possibility of creating a bridge to communities such as grid computing (in 2006: call it whatever you like today), limited area modelling in meteorology, real-time flood forecasting in Brasil, or contaminated site remediation multi-nationals, sounded to me like an interesting experience….also because I had been spending a non-neglectable part of my paid time at work to explain to my managers and clients the importance of awareness about INSPIRE for their business.
The fact of being aware about INSPIRE is not just “fact-based information” for your Saturday morning readings, or techno-chit-chat to impress you parents on a Christmas dinner and reassure them that their investment in you degree was not totally wasted.
It implies that you (yes, you!) may have a role in saving some 90 MEuro per member state per year by having the Directive exist. As my friend Loriano says: “did anybody lose 90 MEuro ?”
The organisers of the 2007 event liked the idea, and invited me to promote the session to potential contributors.
During the rest of the Winter and Spring I spent time to contact, in writing, by phone, or in actual meetings, professionals which I thought may be interested in submitting an abstract for the “So you had nothing to do with INSPIRE”.
The session eventually did not happen: I managed to collect only two presentations, one of which was mine, and the other from Brasil. Some senior researchers questioned my invitation (“this does not relate to our work“), some private sector managers didn’t even pretend to say “we might consider the revenue deriving in the next quarter by funding your trip to attend the conference“.
As the first record companies told Frank Zappa, when he proposed his first works “No Commercial Potential”.
I still proposed a standard presentation about this topic, with the same title of my wannabe session, taking time off work to attend the conference and paying my travel (see PDF here)
On the way to the social dinner, I told one of the organisers that that was the last time I was attending the conference…not because I felt crossed for the session not taking place, simply because I wanted to find a different context to propose some ideas bubbling in my loaf.
During the same event, I was also invited to have a screening of a Z-movie produced with some collaborators a few months earlier (The Revenge of the Killer Chihuahua and of the Zombies). and -last but not least- I almost managed to miss my return flight, having forgotten the time zone difference between Portugal and Italy.
Following these events, and the sight of an old man selling fish along a road in Porto, indeed I stopped attending the conference.
This was up to 2010. In February, during a train trip from Milano Follonica to present our BMP project in the context of a national awareness raising event, I received a call from the INSPIRE guys, announcing that I was selected as an in-kind facilitator for one of the technical working groups which are making the directive happen.
This activity led me to attend the INSPIRE during the past three editions, still for a presentation each time, but also collaborating with others to propose other contents, such as a mash-up on biodiversity, a mini-football mini-tournament, and other activities related to INSPIRE less than some think (but also appreciated by some others!).
So – why am I spending a Saturday morning to recollect all of this ? An instant urge to feed my ego, a cold forcing me at home ? Following a conversation I had last night, driving between Parma and Reggio Emilia, I realised that possibly my perspective in 2006 was not necessarily totally wrong, but needed improvement (so: it was wrong…).
INSPIRE folks (not just EU officers): keep up the good work!
The top picture is by Fausto Giaccone, and the girl on the right is called Maria Emilia. About my age. The other pictures are by the author of this blog, and some of the readers of this post have seen the subjects portrayed…sooner or later (Cagliari, 2005, and Istanbul, 2012)
p.s. Just in case you are interested and not informed: Frank Zappa at some point opened his own record company. While he did some huge stuff before 1981, The records he made after sound like he lived at least relatively happy ever after, and suggest that he may be resting in good peace.