Carnegie Mellon’s HCI Institute has joint masters program with the University of Madeira, located in Funchal on the beautiful island of Madeira. We visited the program toward the start of our time in Switzerland, in mid February. The joint masters program has been running for several years, but I had never visited the Madeira campus before. Instead, I’d interacted with students during their semester in Pittsburgh (at the start of each Madeiran student’s joint degree) and with faculty who visited Pittsburgh from Madeira.

It’s no surprise that visiting Madeira gave me a different perspective on things, just another example of how local a global perspective can be. Our visit was part tourism, part work. On the tourism front, we enjoyed traditional foods in local restaurants and at the homes of a faculty host; we experienced the island’s focus on the visitor/tourist, we enjoyed a tremendous range of fruits at the local market and saw the out door social time of local residents near a downtown bar. We nearly froze swimming in the volcanic (not hot) pools and wandered through the beautiful tiered botanical gardens a cable car ride away from the main city. We learned a little bit about the history of the island, its sources of power (always interesting to energy researchers), its imported wildlife (not much was there before it was settled), its variable climate (from base to top) and raucous celebration of carnival.

Coastline … along with interesting liquers Dried fish -- a local specialty Seaside volcanic sand
Madeira photos on Flickr

On the work front, the visit was a reminder of the value of face-to-face meetings, the distance that students must feel from those of us in Pittsburgh once they return to Madeira (and vice versa), and the importance of both social and structured work time.

It was also a reminder of how many ways and in how many places the same ideas are being explored by researchers. Whether in Bangalore, India; Zürich, Switzerland; Pittsburgh, USA; or Funchal, Portugal people who care about sustainability (or surely any other research topic) are attempting to create and deploy technology in the largest way they can, and understand how it works. Each of these groups could work in isolation, but working together we can (hopefully) accomplish more, and for me personally each has resulted in a very positive outcome: collaborations as diverse as the groups that I have come to know.