Archive for September, 2008

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Posted in Career, News on September 27, 2008 by Fax

Guess what guys: I’ll start working next Monday.

Or as I usually put it, I’m going to become a real person next Monday.

You know me (well, maybe not, but I know you want to :-)), I’m pretty calm and cool about things, and this is no different. Yet I’m really curious about everything that is about to change. Or is it really?

I guess the only major difference is the fact that I’ll have a monthly pay-check. I will stay in Porto at least this semester – I will only move out again, either some place else in Portugal or in the World, when I can fully support it myself. Financially, that is. Other than that, there will be a few changes in terms of organisation perspective, responsibility, and my daily routine.

Before I hop on I’ll just mention that it is still an internship I’m doing to finish my degree. I’ll be doing my best in order to have a shot at staying in the same company afterwards, for reasons I’ll explain in a second. The company I’ll be working for, Critical Software, creates highly dependable technologies. I’ll be working on tools that help making sure that… well, that everything goes right during the development of such technologies :-) I am so glad I have people other than engineers reading this, and still I almost forget to adapt my writing accordingly ;-)

Now why did I choose this place? Well, the company has been growing impressively, expanding to new markets every time they sense an opportunity. They have seized opportunities very well so far – they seem to know exactly what they are doing. They are especially concerned with quality in everything they do. They have high-profile clients all over the globe, and have contracts in a sector, among others, that I nurture a particular interest in: the aerospace industry. There seems to be something happening all the time. And that’s it

… I want to be immersed in a dynamic environment. I want challenges, I want to beat them and to be beaten sometimes. I want to learn as much as I can.

I don’t want to sit down and get well paid for doing the same thing over and over. Well not yet, at least, and not for a long while, I believe.

I’m young ;-)

Right now is the perfect time to go crazy. So to speak. I won’t want a vibrant job full of risk and travel when I’m trying to raise kids. Neither do I want a stagnant job while I still have yet to do a lot of things I want to do and have more than 90% of the world to see.

So yeah, hold me back, hehe :-)

An old thought came to mind when I visited the Ferreira Port wine cellars yet again, earlier this week while my French friends Aldric and Lise were visiting Porto. One of the previous times I’d been there, years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to spend some of my first pay-check on two or three bottles of a Vintage Port. No, no, not for the first-pay-party, I wasn’t even much of a drinker back then. The idea was to let them age until certain very special occasions occur. I don’t know if it’s any sort of hypnotic induction by the tour guides, but I still think it is a very good idea.

The problem is… how many bottles? ;-)


My dream is to fly – Second Life

Posted in Second Life, Technology on September 11, 2008 by Fax

Guys, in the past few days I’ve been exploring Second Life (SL). Bear with me here.

“You’re not so new here” is a sentence I’ve heard a lot from people in there. In fact, I created my SL account back in January 2007, to figure out what the hype was all about. To be honest, I didn’t like it back then.

First, the name itself felt like a really bad choice, for me. Second Life, what do you mean, Second Life, the first thing you have to realise to be able to live your life to the fullest is that there’s only one life, the First one. Wasting precious First-and-only Life time on a Second Life sounded awkward to me.

Then, well, my computer was too slow to render everything in agreeable time. So basically I must have played around with it for less than an hour.

Last week though, while I was cleaning up my e-mail box, I noticed a message I had marked as interesting but totally forgot about afterwards. It was a business competition developed by McKinsey, inside SL. I checked if there were plans for new editions, but nothing so far. Then I kept browsing the subject, and ended up on the download page for SL. Hey, they’ve got a Linux version. Why not give it a try? It’s a social waste of time, but I’m all for new business ventures, I find it stimulating. Let’s see what it’s all about, on a computer that can handle it.

After using the “Forgot your passord?” form (obviously), I was in. I got used to the controls, and after a few minutes I realised I was hooked on flying. For those who don’t know, your character (or rather, your avatar, the character you present to the fantasy world) can fly. I wouldn’t just walk from place to place. Apart from being much faster, although a bit harder to control, it makes me feel totally free. Well, maybe that’s just me, everytime they ask me which super-hero power I’d rather have I don’t hesitate.

Then I started noticing the social aspect of SL. Some people call it 3D-IRC (that would be three-dimensional Internet Relay Chat, not a Star Wars robot), and I totally understand why. If you see someone passing by, just say hello, either to everyone in a short radius around you (although you can shout to those who are farther) or just strike a private conversation with them. If you think you might like to see each other again, you can just exchange calling cards. These are like your business card with your contact, so that you don’t need to meet again to catch up – if you let them go, you may never see them again, this SL world seems bigger than the Real Life (RL) one. If you guys get to appreciate each other’s company, then you can become friends, with other options such as knowing if the other is on-line, current location, etc.

I met a lot of strange people. Yeah, I’ll give you that, there’s some weird stuff going on. But that’s in terms of image and role-playing, and that’s fine. I mean there’s people walking around looking like fairies or cartoon characters, or armed with swords, or with tails, or with wings… or sometimes with all of the above… and then some more. But that’s the outlook they chose to reflect their personality – that’s more than fine, that’s healthy. There’s enough social conditioning in RL, SL should be a place for nurturing fantasies. Above all, and overall, people have seemed to be very nice. Of course there are not so nice people around. But I think the frame of the game – a place where you go to express yourself in ways you can’t for some reason in your RL – naturally tends to attract nice RL people.

An example. In my second day inside, I was laying on the beach (in fact I was being paid for that, can you believe it?) and I noticed this woman nearby. Anyone who knows me in RL knows I’ve got this thing for red hair (*grins*) so I strike conversation (obviously). We talk, and eventually she says I look like Fred Flinstone. What she meant was that I had only used SL’s basic tools to create my avatar, when there was a lot of stuff for sale that would make me look more real. Skins, better clothes, hair… Guess what – she takes me shopping! She took me to places where I could find stuff for free, mainly lower quality demo versions of products. Yes, usually you need money (L$, Linden dollars), which you can get by buying it with real money (1 US$ = 270-300 L$, which is enough to buy you… umm… maybe a fairly good outfit, don’t quote me on that one) or by working somewhere doing some thing (like I did, getting paid for suntanning – obviously, the pay for that one sucks), or by building something and then selling it. But I’ll talk about business later. When I look a little bit less like cookie monster, I decide to show her a Zen retreat I had found while exploring the day before, as a token of my appreciation. The place is really nice, Japanese-inspired, and people gather there for 20 minutes at a set time everyday for a meditation session. The owner actually has that activity in RL, and wrote a few educational notes for newcomers. After being there for a while, me and her realise we have a favorite place in common, and decide to go there together.

The Lost Gardens of Apollo. If you have a SL account, go there. It’s an absolutely marvelous place. No, I don’t use these words often *grins*. It was exactly what I needed to see on the first day to be convinced to stay. It is beautiful, magic, and has the kind of fantasy that makes you wish there was a place like that in RL. She tells me we shouldn’t be there in casual outfits, and she gets into a princess-like dress. Well, I only have jeans… but I’m an engineer so I painted them black matte and put on a shirt, and I was ready to go. We went up (well, flew, obviously, no elevators here) to the dance floor, where (streamed) cuban slow music was playing, with hanging vases of pink and white flowers, letting petals fly around the dancers, with a fantastic view over the island and the sunset. Sorry guys – SL seems to bring up the romance in me. We danced, and had a really nice conversation, from experiences in SL to music taste in RL. In the end, after several hours spent together, being in so many different places and settings, I felt really comfortable with this person.

Now isn’t that completely brilliant! Virtual friendship is something I had never thought of, and believe me, I had my share of IRC back then. This is different. This provides different experiences – hell, I’ve surfed, went hang-gliding (not that I needed it to fly, but hey), went on several types of boats, played hang-man… I was even shot off a cannon! Always accompanied by at least one person, friends or strangers at the moment. As such, it stimulates many more sensations – whereas IRC would just be chatting back and forth, with text coming up on your screen, SL provides sounds and images, which are enough to ease a connection between social beings. Now, I already have a decent group of friends, and all have a very particular story of how we met and how we connected, and I learn from them and share experiences however virtual they are. People try to keep SL separate from RL, but as the connection forms we tend to get more comfortable, and the line dividing them becomes fuzzy. Heh, for example, I met a SL little girl, yesterday, daughter of a couple I know through a friend, who wanted to be friends with me because I have bunnies in my RL backyard :-)

Now in what concerns business. There really are opportunities in there. Brazilians seem to have seized them well, you can see a lot of Brazilian products around the place, especially in fashion. It is also known that companies like IBM have a presence there, and so do other organisations (University of Porto is one of them, for example). There’s a whole economy to it. But what surprises me is the amount of really talented and creative people in that world. There’s a lot of fantastic stuff, from clothing to buildings. I really am impressed. But anyway, I was (and still am) looking for something new to create, and have more than just a social presence here. I have realised, though, that to make that kind of effort you need to take more time from your RL, which I’m not so eager to do. The perfect thing would be to have something in both worlds… and I’ve got some ideas, but… well maybe I’ll write another post on them eventually, that would be a good sign!

There’s a lot more to say. It all boils down to this: SL can be a waste of RL time if you go in too deep, and I’m sure it is easy to let that happen. There were a couple of times I felt I should pay attention. But as an extension, as a place to live experiences that are not so regular in RL, not possible in RL or you just lost hope that they could happen in RL, Second Life can be a place where you can express yourself completely free from social conditioning. That and flying :-) oh man, the flying…

Virtual me, at the Lost Gardens of Apollo

Virtual me, at the Lost Gardens of Apollo

I know what you did last summer

Posted in Erasmus, News, Travel, Vacation on September 1, 2008 by Fax

Hey guys,

I’ll start out by telling you about what I’ve been up to lately – vacation!

Less than a month after I arrived from Bristol, I was already hopping on a plane to get back there. The plan was to fly there on the 30th, taking my big suitcase empty, and then come back there after the vacation trips, pack the rest of my stuff and for the last time (this year) (yeah, I’m optimistic about it :-)) fly back from Bristol to Porto, on the 20th.

Throughout the year I got myself convinced that Bristol would be completely empty in the summer, since all the students should go somewhere else. Well I was wrong – there was pretty much the same lively atmosphere, both during the day and during the night.

Actually, if anything, there were more people. But that was only because the Bristol Harbour Festival was going on. The city was absolutely crowded. Check these out (photos from my phone):

Millenium Square during the Harbour Festival

Millennium Square during the Harbour Festival

Pero's Bridge during the Harbour Festival

Pero's Bridge during the Festival

There were all sorts of weird stuff going on. Like here, a row of people throwing water baloons at another row of people:



Fun! And it wasn’t only the Millennium Square, Queen’s Square was the same or even better, with concerts going on and inflatable parks for kids. Wow!

Well I had other plans anyway: on the 2nd of August I flew to Pau, in the French Pyrenees, where Hubert would pick me up to take me to Bayonne, where the Ferias (huge) party was going on. Again sorry and thank you very much at the same time for the trouble of driving me that night, Hubi! There I also met Felipe, Lorenzo, Marion, Nico and Tim, great to see you guys again :-).

Bayonne is located in the Basque Country, so if you think “Hey, you are dressed just like the people in Pamplona!”, now you know why. The party was immense. If you are Portuguese, imagine Queimódromo in the alleys of a city. Same thing. That was during the night – young people having fun “their way”. During the day, they were all sleeping :-) and the city was taken by older people and children, having fun “their way” as well. The place was really lively and happy, I have to go back there with more time.

Bayonne Ferias

Bayonne Ferias (photo by Felipe)

I say I want to go back with more time because after all I was only there for two nights and one day. On the second day we (Me, Felipe, Hubert, Lorenzo and Tim) packed our things and got in the car for a loooong trip all the way to Italy – we basically did the whole south of France!

The goal for the first day was Antibes, where Tim’s brother kindly provided us with space to sleep at his place. We stopped in Carcassone, half-way there – it’s a beautiful and well preserved medieval city.

So we spent the night in Antibes, and in the morning Tim showed us a nice walk on the rocks by the Mediterranean.

With time for a swim

With time for a swim

Then in the car again we go. A cheer as we cross the border, Italy! Tunnels and bridges along the Mediterranean, until we arrive in La Spezia. We have dinner with Lorenzo’s family, our hosts for those days, and it doesn’t end very well… some high-tension scenes, but hey – in the end the dinner was for free :-).

From La Spezia to Portovenere it took only 20 minutes. My words, stepping out of the car: “this is beautiful”. Lorenzo told me to “wait until you see it by day”. What a wonderful place.

Streets of Portovenere

Streets of Portovenere


Portovenere (photo by Felipe)

The views were absolutely amazing, I could make a photo blog out of them.

Well there we spent a bit more than a week. Each day was usually comprised of waking up around 12 (or later :-)), eating something between a breakfast and a lunch, and then hopping on Lorenzo’s boat and going to a different place around there, for a relaxing afternoon in the Mediterranean. Absolutely relaxing indeed. Just sunbathing while being rocked by the can’t-really-call-them-waves on the boat, going for a swim, exploring little islands, eating peaches, fishing… there was actually an ice-cream boat, just in case you went “ah, if I had an ice-cream right now, I’d be absolutely perfect”.

Afternoons in Portovenere

Afternoons in Portovenere

When it got around 7 we’d weigh the anchor and go back before the supermarket closed. We’d have dinner and go out, usually to a beach party nearby. Great times :-).

When we didn’t go on the boat for some reason, we’d explore the city or other places nearby. After all, the Cinque Terre are so close people usually think Portovenere is one of them. So we visited four of the “Five Lands” (only leaving Corniglia for next time) – Monterrosso al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore. These were beautiful villages as well, all by the Mediterranean. Between Manarola and Riomaggiore is the Via dell’Amore (“Walk of Love”) – if you are considering impressive places for kneeling in front of your soul-mate and saying the M-word, you can’t go wrong with this one.



Time flew. Soon it was time to wish to come back (Lorenzo, I’ll be your neighbour one day! Thanks again mate!) and then catch another flight, this time to Paris! Marina, who had joined us in Portovenere a couple of days before, joined me in this one. Ed had arrived that day as well, and broke a sweat running after our train – I’ll never forget that, mate! A long trip ensued. Train, bus, airport, airplane, another bus and trains and metro, and none of us was able to sleep. But even when absolutely exhausted, Paris is an amazing sight. Very open streets, bright buildings, iconic places, I liked it a lot. My local friends Roxane and Sahir were brilliant tour guides, thanks a lot again girls :-).

I was too tired to believe I was there!

I was too tired to believe I was there!

Again, I must go back with more time. After all this second French leg of my trip only lasted for four days, two of them in Paris. Another day was spent visiting very impressive châteaus in the Loire Valley, and the last one, a nice lazy Sunday, walking around Chartres, a nice little city dominated by its magnificent cathedral.

Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord

Alas, time to go home. Not without stopping by Bristol first, as planned. Everything packed, empty room, and this time not taking the key with me, I was ready to go. Well, more or less :-). But it’s definitely more than time to move on.

Stay tuned for what’s happening next!