To Canterbury

My summer included a trip to Canterbury, England. The University of Kent was hosting a computer science education conference, ITiCSE 2013. I was presenting and I also participated in my favorite part about ITiCSE: a working group.

Arriving in Canterbury was painful for a variety of reasons:

  • The rainfall during my departure was so intense that the O’Hare roof couldn’t keep up. My second favorite part about traveling to ITiCSE is the chance to read books, but it was difficult to find a seat in the airport that didn’t have a leak overhead. My reading material? Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken.
  • Despite my calling ahead, my bank hadn’t cleared my debit card for overseas use. I left on a Thursday and I was able to get a hold of my wife at 4:45 PM on Friday. She called our bank and got the problem rectified shortly before close of business. Thank goodness for marriage.
  • On landing in London, I visited the men’s room but left a small bag. By the time I discovered my loss, I had already left the baggage claim area where the restroom was, and going back in required a complete security check. So much for getting to Canterbury early.
  • Getting from London to Canterbury involved riding the Heathrow Express to Padding Station, riding the London Underground to St. Pancras International Rail Station, and riding a high-speed train from St. Pancras to Canterbury. All was going well until I couldn’t figure out which train was high-speed. I got on the wrong one, turning a one-hour trip into a three-hour one. The teacher in me saw the cause of my trouble: the people I asked help from were too familiar with the transportation system. Their instructions leaned on knowledge that I didn’t have.
  • The hospitality office at the University of Kent had no record of me paying. I was stubbornly confident that I had paid, but then doubted myself. So, I pulled out my credit card and paid. When I returned home, I found records that I had indeed paid. Kent refunded me, but the exchange rate had changed so much I lost $16 out of the deal. That’s a nice pancake breakfast for my wife and me, gone forever.

Once settled in, I looked at the university map and saw a maze-like structure. I was sure it was a hedgerow maze, probably with a dragon in it.

Not the hedgerow maze I was expecting. Rather, its dual. Still, it was something to help me decompress after the trials of being up in the sky for a day.

The real labyrinth wasn’t quite so glamorous, but it was a nice way to unwind after a stressful arrival.

Being in England again brought back many memories of my honeymoon with me wife. We had traveled here 10 years earlier with backpacks and a tent to embark on our new life together. I saw again the small garden-yards, the buildings of bygone centuries sticking out anachronistically next to shoe stores and business complexes, and the melting pot that is England. Oh, I saw fun expressions too.

Are you barmy about salami? I am.

One night we ate at the Old Buttermarket. Above our table was a call for lifelong learning.

The Old Buttermarket serves pub fare and pub wisdom.

I ordered the oven pancakes, which were better than the waiter made them sound.

Oven pancakes, made of cheese and vegetables and crepes. No sweetness. “Comfort food,” said the waiter.

One of the things I must contend with when traveling internationally is criticism of America. I’ve yet to hear a good argument that there’s anything special about Americans that make them so abominable. I’m pretty certain that if these same critics had grown up in America, they would be just like the Americans they tease. I think what provokes their criticism is the pride and fear that is common to humanity. My country puts that universal brokenness in the public eye, and that brokenness is mistakenly called American.

Did you know begging is illegal in Canterbury?

Mikey stands behind the no-begging law.

The University of Kent hosted the conference and put us up for the night. That was really great. Full English breakfasts everyday. Cheaper rates. And fun artifacts.

Toilets with options. How much flush do you need?

I’m guessing they use the term grit as an abstraction. This box contains sand, but the next one might have sugar, which would go well with the tea.

We should do this in America.

Conferences tend to have special banquets one of the nights. We took a bus to Dover, which is pretty close to France. The food was enjoyable, I learned about the Codespells project, and I got to see the famous white cliffs.

My friend Jamie in the Dover town hall.

The white cliffs of Dover.

Strangely, I did not attend many sessions. The working group paper and my own presentation kept me busy. It was worth missing things though, because now my Erdős number is 5. I did see one of the creators of Haskell speak, not on Haskell, but on computer science education.

The most meaningful part of attending ITiCSE 2013 came from working closely with my working group. I signed up so that I could see how real education researchers operate, and I spent most of the time early on feeling very inadequate. Statistics and psychology are not my strong points. However, my colleagues in turn expressed envy of my technical skills and classroom ideas. We all need each other. It’s just like the vandalism says.

Not in four years. Not in forty.


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