Reflections on the MOLTO Kick-Off Meeting

MOLTO started on 1 March and had its kick-off meeting at UPC in Barcelona the week after. The meeting lasted three days, which were very intense: the official programme was from 9 till 18-20 each day, but the work really started at breakfast and lasted till way after the late Catalonian dinners.

The talks and presentations were excellent, and there's nothing I would have liked to omit - yet, the coffee and lunch breaks should have been much longer! As always, discussions in small groups during the breaks are a very productive time. I don't really know how to solve this dilemma, except by making the meetings last more days. But then they would be difficult for everyone to attend.

MOLTO, like all European projects, is specified in great detail in the Proposal, and its later version, the DoW (Description of Work, now officially called the TA, Technical Annex). So is there anything left to discuss in a kick-off meeting? Well, the first-day presentations were, as Lauri put it, rather like sermons, where the common faith of the congregation was repeated and confirmed. But sermons do have a function, and it was good to see everyone nodding and that no schisms arose. Moreover, the presentations were, just like good sermons, well prepared, smart, and entertaining, and they did open new perspectives on well-known things.

The second day was opened by Michel, the Project Officer, who reminded us of what the European Commission expects from us, and also gave a couple of alarming examples of what can go wrong. The summary of his message was, however: "work hard, but have fun". This is an excellent advice, but one could quite as well change the "but" to an "and". I see no contrast between hard work and fun: on the contrary, the greatest and most sustained fun I have ever had is in combination with hard work, such as climbing a mountain, digging a ditch, or hacking GF. In other words, any hard work that constantly yields progress is fun.

However, if the work is just hard but there is no progress, one should rather do something else. Hence, in MOLTO: if anyone gets stuck in work that obviously leads nowhere, it's better to try something else, such as to go out and dig a ditch for a while. If nothing else helps, ask your WP leader or - if you are a WP leader yourself - the Coordinator whether the task at hand is worth doing at all.

The bulk of the second day was the work package discussions, where we agreed about the next six months' work at each site. No surprises here, just confirmation and refinement of the DoW. The day was concluded by a dinner, but before that we also had a business meeting of the 6-person Steering Group, where we among other things agreed to proceed with the current logo designed by Olga. This decision followed the clear voting result from the whole group. We also agreed about the venues of the remaining six MOLTO meetings: they will be arranged in each September and March in Bulgaria (Sofia or Varna), Gothenburg, Helsinki, Vienna, Barcelona, and Gothenburg.

The last day was devoted to tutorials, whose purpose was to tell "what everyone in MOLTO should know" about statistical machine translation (Cristina), ontologies (Borislav), and GF (Aarne and Krasimir). A first tutorial, about the state of the art in machine translation, was given by Lauri on the first day. I can't say anything about my own part, but the other ones were just excellent, and I will certainly go back to their material, reread them, and follow the links. In some other EU projects, I've been disturbed by not having a clue about the other participants' key technologies. A two-hour tutorial will not make anyone an expert, but it can at least introduce the main concepts and adjust expectations to the right level.

In the future meetings, we will certainly have some more tutorials. We will also have Work Package meetings and Business meetings. And we'll have dinners, lunches, and coffee breaks - which I at least would like to make longer than 30 minutes. But as we won't need project and WP overviews any more, we will have at least one whole day for scientific talks and demos reporting what everyone has achieved in the project. We will also hear talks by our Advisory Board members and other guests.

Now I just can't wait for the next MOLTO meeting! Ever since the site leaders and the project manager gathered on Styrsö in February 2009, I knew this could become a first-class consortium. But now that I've also met the rest of the staff from each site, I am really confirmed about this.

So: thanks, Jordi and Sebastià and the whole UPC staff, for the excellent organization! Thanks, everyone, for making the meeting so stimulating! Please don't hesitate to send in your own blogs about the kick-off meeting or any other topic!