I feel like writing again

It’s been some very busy months lately. Since I started my Master’s degree, I’ve been working hard on my research and on publications based on it. I am happy to announce that the first draft of my first first author paper is done, and now I wait for the comments of other authors. Also, in December I became a rotation author on Astrobites, which is pretty cool. I’m also working on an extra project (which I can’t talk much about right now) and doing other science stuff on the side when there’s free time.

So, as you can imagine, there hasn’t been much room for writing non-scientific articles. Even gaming (my cup of tea when it comes to cheap entertainment) is set to background lately. The posts here in this blog are actually a repost from my previous website, so that is why there is some weird stuff like missing images and so on. Additionally, they reflect opinions that I had at the time of writing, and they probably changed a lot since. I don’t wanna erase these posts though. In fact, I want to go back to writing again.

Since I stopped blogging, I feel like there’s this hairball of ideas inside my stomach that can’t find its way out. Things like the current state of science in Brazil, where things are going, the situation of diversity in all kinds of fields, personal life strife that’s been going on, and even some experiences that I think worth of writing about.

I’ve been actively tweeting these issues, but it just doesn’t feel the same. For instance, how is it possible to regurgitate all my opinions on, say, the directions that the skeptical and atheist movements are taking at the moment (which, by the way, are thoughtfully explored on the blog Skepchick) in just 140 characters? The answer is: it is not. Also, I feel that tweeting doesn’t click the same skill buttons as does full-fledged blogging: it seems like I’m rusty on the non-scientific writing, which is really bad.

In conclusion: yes, I do intend on getting back to writing again. I might as well start making this blog a bit more public if that happens, since I’ve kept it behind the curtains for too long of a time now. Posts will generally be shorter too, because that is in vogue at the moment. I think 500 words limit is a good choice. Don’t wanna ramble too much. Also, no more obligatory featured image: it just gets in the way of writing. No more eye-candy for the readers, I guess.

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I feel like writing again

A new chapter has just started

I like to see my life as a book. And I remember quite well the most recent chapters: the chain-reaction that led to my decision of studying astronomy, the first year as a student of physics, then the exchange period to Netherlands, the limbo-like period in which I dedicated to setting myself up to grad school… And now, I have just started it, so the last weeks have been quite hectic (reason why I haven’t written since the beginning of March). Two weeks ago, I moved to São Paulo, the biggest city of South America, so I could study astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo (USP).

By the way, people who don’t know Portuguese almost always pronounce “São Paulo” in a weird way (at least for us) – which is completely fine! I always mispronounce Groningen, the city where I lived for one year, since I left there (but when I was there, I was dedicated to say it correctly). If you’re curious about our language, the tilde over the letter A means a sound like the U in the word “dump”. So, the correct pronunciation of “São” uses that sound instead of “Sao”. And if you’re even more curious, São Paulo is the Portuguese name if a saint – more specifically Saint Paul, in English.

I’m not new here in this city. I know, maybe all to well, how it is to live here: the long trips to get around the city, being always cautious with your stuff, the huge quantities of people, planning your day carefully to make it as efficient as possible, and, of course, dealing with the inefficiencies of the systems. And this is what really gets me, because I’ve been spoiled: Netherlands was too efficient, at almost everything. I don’t want to blame this country that I love so much for my frustrations with São Paulo, but it is impossible to not miss how good NL was when everything here is so slow and bureaucratic. Just as an example, when I lived in NL, we could simply order a free pre-paid SIM card for a cellphone and we would get it delivered at home. This can’t be done in Brazil: you have to go to a store and buy it, and this can be a pain in the ass if you live in a city like São Paulo.

Okay, that might have been a dumb example, but there are some other ones, such as the process we have to go through to get a simple magnetic card to use the public transport system here. I don’t have much to complain about the transport itself, because SPTrans, the company responsible for it, has been doing a fairly good job, I think. But here is the thing: in order to enjoy free or discounted transfers between buses, subways and trains, you have to have the magnetic card, and it can only be bought at very few selected stores sprinkled though the metropolis. The ones that carry student discounts have to be ordered by the school, and to get it from SPTrans, you have to wait in a 1-hour long line under the scorching Sun.

But enough complaining. Dang it, I didn’t want this post to have so much rant, but I guess that’s where my thoughts wandered, and I needed to vent. It’s fine that the systems are inefficient, things will never be perfect, I’ll get used to them. What I also need to get used to is the new routine. Grad school is different, there are more responsibilities. There is also the need to show my work to the world. I’ve been doing research on my own pace for some time, but I don’t think there are many products to be shown. I need to get into the game. Once I’m done with moving and dealing with the initial bureaucracies and headaches, I’ll will dedicate 100% to research (or at least that’s the plan). Yes, I do not have a definitive place to live yet, so I’m staying at my brothers’.

If you’re a prospective graduate student for the University of São Paulo, here is a pro tip: you don’t need to live near the campus. In fact, I would recommend not living there, because housing price is bloated, and the region is not very safe – especially to the west and southwest of the campus, where there is a favela nearby. I hear that thieves specifically target students that live around that region, because they usually carry notebooks and expensive cellphones. What I recommend is to get a place near a subway or train station, or near a bus station on a bus-only lane, and preferably in a building with 24h security (which we call “condomínio”). If the trip is too long, I found that the best way to spend the time is with a good book – a paper one, because ebooks and tablets attract too much attention and you may end up being robbed. Well, sorry for these kind of somber notes, but I just felt it needed to be stated.

I have a lot of ideas in mind to write more blog posts (such as the observations I did, pictures I’ve taken, my research projects, the recent astronomical happenings etc.), but I just haven’t found the time to materialize them. It’s been such crazy weeks lately, and it makes me feel bad that I’m not writing or being more productive. Moving is hard, but eventually things will settle down. Until then, I’ll try to keep at least the one-blog-post-per-week pace.

A new chapter has just started

Crazy week afterwords

Featured image: Trajectory of the Rosetta spacecraft between October and December of 2014. Credit: ESA.

Well, my crappy internet is down, and this was a hell of a crazy week, so, while my brother is on the phone trying to figure out why we’re internetless, I guess it is a good time to write about the things that happened on the last days. Let’s start with the astronomy stuff.

It’s all over the news: we landed on a comet. And I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about it. Fact is: ESA launched the Rosetta mission 10 years ago (after 10 previous years of planning), and on 12 of November, 2014, Rosetta (some kind of satellite) deployed the small robot Philae on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And this is a big thing, because landing on an object 500 thousand kilometers away from Earth and traveling as fast as firearm bullet is extremely difficult, besides these measurements of position and velocity having uncertainties on them (because we can never be 100% certain). Just think about this: if we were 1% uncertain of the distance, we could have Rosetta pass by the comet up to 5 km away from it. Luckily for us, I would guess the uncertainties are not as high as 1%, and I believe Rosetta is able to make small manouvers. Anyway, I just want to acknowledge the European Space Agency, NASA and every person involved in such a feat (including the European tax payers, because they helped fund this mission). Congratulations!

Also, still on the astronomy notes: New Horizons is waking up next month. This satellite is on its long and cold way to the dwarf planet Pluto, and it will study this [Kuiper belt] object in a level of detail that has never been done before. Just like Rosetta, the spacecraft is, right now, in some kind of sleep mode (I guess just like our computers) in order to save precious power, and will be awaken in order to be ready to probe Pluto and its moons in 2015. Unfortunately, this is not going to be a long-lasting orbiting mission like Cassini on Saturn, because it will quickly escape Pluto system’s gravity and go ever so distant from us. Luckily, the scientists found a good second target to study after New Horizons leaves Pluto, and it’s another Kuiper belt object, but an even more remote one. Again: congratulations to the teams working on NH, it’s another step towards knowing more about our own unexplored cosmic backyard.

Now, moving on to something more on the personal side. During October, I was a bit silent here on the blog. But the truth is that I had two blog posts completely written and revised, ready for publishing, and another text half written. However, I decided not publish them. During October, we had elections here in Brazil, and that is the subject of the two posts I wrote. The reason why I did not publish them is because they were too personal. While this is my personal website, I feel like I should keep the content as free as possible from non-astronomy-and-science related cluttering. Even though politics heavily influence the scientific community, I believe that, on expressing myself publicly, I should just nudge my way through the political stream. This means that I will not openly state my votes (because they’re too personal, and secret by the way), but I might make things clear on subjects that directly affect my interests.

On the same line, let me point out something that made me quite happy: this TED talk. Michael Green, along with other business and foundations leaders, have come up with this new (and seemingly better) way to measure the social welfare of a country, the Social Progress Index. It is based on a series of objective analysis (see their methodology) that branch into many more aspects of social and economic qualities than other indexes, such as the GDP (only income) and HDI (income, life expectancy and education). The cool thing is that, as the study points out, Brazil has come a long way in the last years into becoming the developing country with the highest SPI, which means that, in general, Brazilians have been living in a better social environment than countries like Russia, China and India. Of course, we are not in the same level as USA, New Zealand or Finland, but the path seems promising. In fact, Brazil is seen, among the international community, as an example of effective social policies that aim to fix many urging issues, such as extreme poverty and famine. All this, alongside many other improvements to basic and advanced education are reasons for me to be proud of being part of this amazing country. On the other hand, there are certain aspects that can potentially bother and shame me, such as the Chamber of Deputies delaying the Brazil/ESO ratification on a weekly basis.

And, for the last item, the one that made my week very crazy, is an idea that I have been cooking on my mind ever since I got into studying astronomy, but ended up happening a little bit sooner than I thought: I will get my Master’s degree at the University of São Paulo (USP). After coming back from Netherlands, I and my peers had some conversations that ended up pushing me over the edge, and I decided to make the application for the Master’s before I finish my Physics graduation. The thing is that I am already almost done with it anyway, and since I already have a diploma (on engineering), I might as well just try and make things more efficient for me. Besides, I am completely fed up of traditional college classes. So, last month, I did the admission exam for USP, and the past week, results came in: I passed! There are two next steps: passing on the curriculum analysis, and then getting a scholarship (which will probably be the hardest part). But I’m pumped up. It’s not 100% guaranteed that I will end up starting my Master’s at USP next semester, but I’m fighting for it. I spent the last days filling forms and getting some documents (among them the letters of recommendation – thanks to my supervisors for arranging them) ready in order to make the application, and also just talking to people about the things that need to be addressed (such as choosing a research supervisor and a project). The next results will be out around December 1st, so I will probably write about it as soon as they’re out.

And that was it. Yeah, maybe it doesn’t sound like crazy and exciting week. But it was for me. Also, I got my hands on a little item that will let me take a few steps further into photography, and I might post a review in the coming days. Stay tuned!

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Time to capture some meteors and make time-lapses!
Crazy week afterwords