Of ships and harbours

In spite of the strong opinions and the somewhat gloomy aspect of some of the last few entries, I usually somehow avoid expressing more intimate feelings, with truly fatalistic posts being rather the exception here - only a few have popped up over the last few years, the cryptic Deja Vi in late 2007, I guess, or the train post from 2008. Curiously, while the situation now may be such that the expression of my feelings is called for, it should not be in an overly dark context, however I may be saddened by the way the matter has taken its course.

"A ship is in harbour safe, but that's not what ships are built for", a citation my sister Monica has been quoting ever since she moved back to Germany some 7 or 8 years ago. I posted this exact same thought here just as I was boarding, back in 2008; arriving in Waterloo, a few months back, I got a postcard from her reminding me, once again, of this saying. Ever since I recognized myself to be who I am, I've been making it a point of taking myself out of the comfort zone - after all, that's not what I'm here for. And now, having fallen in love as I hadn't in a very long time, I found myself noting just how such could be taken to be the ultimate test for the quote, as I considered dropping everything from my sport, my countries or my Ph.D. to be with the one person who, to date, best described what people call a soulmate.

And yet it was not to be, not now. Maybe because the other person had already found her safe harbour, maybe for other reasons which shall be entirely mysterious to me, but it shouldn't matter. It saddened me, deeply, and I walked away with a bitter taste. And yet, I was reminded just how the simple occurrence of such feelings was, is a fantastic thing by itself. To have those feelings, of being truly alive, of liking someone so much, no matter the implications or complications, gave a whole new meaning to the idea of taking my ship far out of the harbour, of venturing into wholly uncharted waters - and I shall hold dearly to the new ideas and values I've considered over these past few weeks as a measure, a standard for my future sailings.
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The original title was "Of ships and harbours, isomorphisms and fancy new carbon wheels", but I figure the Choi-Jamiolkowski isomorphism or the Krauss operator-sum representation of Gaussian maps shouldn't, however they helped me get through the latter days by providing something distant and abstract to think about, warrant any thoughts here. Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart. Now, about those carbon wheels... Well. I take part in the hardest sport in the world. Damn, running a marathon is something I would do as part of my off-season. And cycling has shaped so much of who I am, that I feel justified in rewarding myself with some non-plus-ultra tools of the trade, specially when I need a little cheering-up. So, like I did after previous heart breakings, I went out on a small shopping spree for new carbon wheels and time-trial handlebars for the upcoming season. The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys...
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I may not buy a boat just yet, but I'm eager for my skipper's license. To the sea!


Dear Humans: you're doing it wrong, part I

Yet another thread of not-entirely-disconnected thoughts on the current state of affairs. This post (and any eventually forthcoming in this series) should not be taken as set in stone; some points are up not only for discussion, but also for a possible rewriting. Still, to paraphrase Pullman: no one has the right to read this blog without being offended.
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An article on the Süddeutsche Zeitung a few weeks ago reported spiritual and psychological counselling to university students as being on an all-time high. Students fight with course overloads and the pressure to perform, in additional to the usual doubts and uncertainties that abound in the early phases of their supposed adulthood - sometimes on the verge of a burn-out.

My advisor in Erlangen, and a recently-promoted post-doctoral researcher in Waterloo, obtained 5-year assistant professorship contracts without a permanent-position option. A recent article on Nature denotes tenure as necessary "to protect academic freedom; faculty members can disagree with popular opinion, express negative views about their institution, or research unpopular topics". Meanwhile, both the Universities of Erlangen-Nürnberg and of Waterloo resort to underpaid graduate students to serve as teaching assistants to tutor the very undergraduates who should, arguably, be the main focus of such institutions.

This Monday's IQC colloquium presented a very interesting (re-)formulation of known questions in Quantum Information as problems in asymptotic geometry. Unfortunately, beautiful mathematical structure was perverted - prostituted, maybe? - into finding a supposed application - with the speaker even going to lengths to instigate experimentalists to try and implement a proof-of-principle demonstration.

And the online triathlon/cycling community I regularly take part in has a discussion on the migration of bike parts manufacturing and development jobs to China; one of the books I've just finished reading preaches off-shoring unfulfilling tasks to India to maximize rentable working hours, but maybe this is a discussion for part II. Never mind for now.

Our civilization has managed to automate most of its existence. It has developed fantastic theories on effective and efficient management and production; let alone the incredible advances on communications and transportation we now take for granted. Yet, one is still expected to fulfill a 40-hour working-week labouring as much as two hundred years ago. Dear humans, you're doing it wrong.
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Sure, I find it appealing that abstract ideas can find their way into possible experiments - if something positive can be won from the work done in the lab. I still envision mathematicians playing with such structures for the sake of mere curiosity - of knowledge for knowledge's sake - rather than for a need to report back supposed applications, or, worse yet, an increased number of publications.

If I have but one fear, one idea I dread for the future ahead, it is that of ending up trapped in a rat race. A friend recently characterized the scientist's profession as one requiring one to be "an efficient, well-organized artist" - to which he added that such ideal "corresponds more or less to an oxymoron". Whether I actually possess all traits necessary to emerge 'victorious' from such a pressure-instigating scenario doesn't enter into consideration. In fact, while I've come to realize I've produced less-than-optimal performances in certain processes and activities over the last few years, and currently strive towards more efficiency and efficacy for the goals I have ahead of me, I recognize that I have more than once avoided putting myself in situations where striving for a higher step led to potentially destructive behaviour. Be it for reasons of ethics, sportsmanship or health, I've opted to throttle back, even if it meant giving up on eventually achieving higher accomplishments (*). The same may just apply in to Academia. Publish-or-perish my behind. Either this is fun, or I'm quitting to start a small café.

(*) Have you seen "The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner"? When he stops the race and looks around... - not just the Belle & Sebastian song , I recommend the movie as well.
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Not surprisingly, yet again the theme here involves Academics and the Future. Entering my 3rd year as a doctoral student, I only have a bare idea of where I could go from here - that is, if I am to follow Physics as a career of sorts. Balance seems to be an important keyword. My work as a researcher must somehow be compatible with my current and future sportive endeavours, long-term travel plans, and the eventual prospect of developing a relationship with a significant other. And I don't seem willing to give up on any.
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I'm surprised I never posted xkcd #137 here. It's a fantastic epitome for much of what I'm very often thinking:
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Maybe I'm starting a café anyway.


The Updated Whiskas Facts

Back in the end of 2007, inspired by a similar posting from my friend Rocca, I wrote my very own fact sheet (in Portuguese). I've since wanted to bring out an English version for the sake of my international readership, but always ended up writing about something else. So, finally, here with you, and once again in no particular order, the updated 2010 Whiskas Facts:

... is known to the civilian world outside as "Ricardo Wickert"
... quantifies entanglement in quantum-optical Schrödinger cats
... has ridden a bicycle in as many as ten different countries
... has jumped from a moving car
... makes award-winning pancakes for breakfast
... prefers Cabernet, Malbec and Carmenére wines
... took part in left-wing militant organizations
... started his own dotcom at the age of 15
... is an atheist
... coordinated and executed roadside cleaning efforts in major highways
... dances the tunes of Franz F., Belle & Sebastian and Los Campesinos
... but also enjoys a concert with Wagner, Schubert, Ludwig van. & co
... has an airplane pilot's license (and two different driver's licenses, too)
... worked part-time with NGOs supporting cyclists' rights to the road
... spent summers building robots during high school
... won and lost money playing poker
... worked as a free-lance and event photographer
... plays table-tennis "quite well for a non-Asian"
... has absolutely no idea what is currently on TV
... took second place in the Brazilian Physics Olympiad during high school
... is addicted to caffeine
... has high-contrast skin colours
... is ichthyophagous, meaning a vegetarian who also enjoys seafood
... has planted trees and written poems (but has no kids)
... was born on a Tuesday, at 7:28 PM Brazilian Standard Time
... has dyed his hair orange, and is eager to do it again
... was run over by a car and robbed at gunpoint
... drank 42 bottles of sparkling wine to celebrate his Bachelor's degree
... invests in stock markets and still hopes to retire before turning 40
... speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish, German and some French
... loves to dance (which absolutely shouldn't imply he knows how to)
... believes he is what he does
... and thus jumps in frozen lakes to prove his point
... has run a marathon for love of a woman


A Musical Affirmation

I'm a non-orthogonal, stochastic, or maybe symplectic luminary-hearted soul got some of it wrong.

I'm "The Loneliness of the Middle-Distance Runner" in a "Stars of Track and Field"-kind of way,

I'm not Ulysses. I'm never going home.

Thus, it is only fitting that I suffer from Transatlanticisms.

You throw parties? How cool, I throw knives.

I know the trick is to keep breathing.

I'm pleased to spell "Ha-ha-ha, I've destroyed the hopes and the dreams of a generation of faux-romantics". But I do appreciate the smell of coffee on your breath against my neck.

And I'll blow you all to the wall when you realize what I've been working for.

(This is definitively a non-usual Thin Grad Line post. Just so that you all may learn a bit about my current music tastes... And my apologies in advance in case some of the videos are not available to Youtube viewers located in different countries.)