Leaving the hotel, the first iconic landmark that hits you in the eye in fairly uncompromising fashion is the Palace of Culture and Science. A “gift” from Soviet Russia to the people of Warsaw, its 40 million bricks are put together in the socialist realist style, that could probably also be called “Ghostbusters” or “Gotham City”. In the evening, it was the venue for our conference dinner, kindly sponsored by the Ministry of Sport and Tourism. There were no Batman signs shining into the sky, but the décor was strking none-the-less – literally a Chopin symphony of blue lighting and pink fountains. The effects of this trip back to the 70s on the conference delegates can be witnessed in the photos!
Putting the monolithic palace behind me, I walked up Krakowskie Przedmiescie, past the Nicholas Copernicus Monument and the impressive frontage of the University. Copernicus was of course Poland’s greatest astronomer, coming up with the heliocentric model of the Earth revolving round the sun (rather than the other way round). Nearly five hundred years after Copernicus was formulating his revolutionary theories based on observations made through a couple of pieces of glass, we in the grid community are discussing how to handle the petabytes of data that will stream from huge radio telescope installations, such as the Square Kilometre Array.
Moving on to the Old Town, I emerged into the striking Plac Zamkowy. On the right rose the red brick walls of the Royal Castle. It was hard to believe that the castle had essentially been reduced to rubble in 1944 – painstakingly reconstructed over 17 years from 1971, today it looks like it has stood undisturbed for at least 500 years. Outside the castle was a poster exhibition about life in the Soviet era. My eye was immediately caught by photos of 1980s computers, which the Special Services used to store data about people they were ‘interested’ in. They were tracking so many people, the card indexes they were using grew way out of control and it was hard to find information - a bit like trawling a paper version of the internet without a search engine. This reminded me of David Broster’s keynote on Wednesday, who warned that there are still people out there today tracking information about us in our digital lives, not necessarily with the best of intentions.
I finished my short walking tour in the heart of the Old Town in the Market Square, where a statue of Warsaw’s famous warlike mermaid marks the spot where the Town Hall used to stand. She is the inspiration behind our GridCast poster for eChallenges, and the e-ScienceTalk team has been busily blogging, filming and interviewing this week – a big thank you to them. The conference ends today, so with reluctance I will soon be waving goodbye to Warsaw’s gracious buildings and monuments (perhaps with slightly less reluctance in the case of the Palace of Culture and Science!)