by Pablo de Castro

This post is the result of a self-imposed free-writing exercise while crossing on a plane, therefore it differs in format and content from my previous compositions. My aim was to write what I was thinking, without editing or overthinking. Here you go!

It’s Saturday, 5:35pm and I happen to be in the last row of seats of a Boeing 717 that has just taken off from Venice and is heading towards Palermo (Sicily). My final destination is a small Sicilian town called Erice, where tomorrow morning the 8th International School of Science Journalism will start. I am taller than 95% of the people of the world, so I barely fit in this corner of the plane, perks of just being a point on a statistical distribution tail. My knees are pressed against the front seat and my shoulders touch at the same time the wall and the arm of the person seated next to me; this is a low-cost airline and I did not make my employer pay extra for a nicer seat.

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I can really feel the vibrations of the left plane rotor, which is only about two meters away from my eardrums. I tried to sleep already and it did not work, so I started to wonder what else I could do during the remaining 1,5 hours of flight. After a few minutes, I decide to take out my tablet from my backpack and try to sketch the components of a software module I am developing. This module will integrate a family of deep learning models for jet classification and regression with the monolithic CMS software, which as I recall telling you in the past is the largest and most active open source scientific software project by several metrics.

The scheme of the software components and its relations looks reasonable, what else can I do while I am on the plane? I do not have internet access, so social media or news are out of the picture. Is it possible to do actual work on a plane? Connecting to the computing clusters where I do most of my coding and analyses is not possible due to the lack of connection. I cannot take out my 13″ notebook, where I have a basic local development environment for some of my projects, because it will not fit comfortably and it will likely get scratched and damaged whenever the person in the seat in front of me moves around, which is fairly often. All of a sudden, I have an eureka moment:  what about using this time to write a blog post?

Given that I am going to a journalism school, it could be a great warm-up exercise. Furthermore, I have been extraordinarily preoccupied lately, so I have not been very active on the network blog. I realised that it was going to be more challenging than usual, because I always write partially using internet in order to find reading material and data sources, but also for some English language help (e.g. synonyms and collocations). It normally takes me somewhere between three and six hours to write a short blog post from start to finish, plus some extra time for fine tuning it until I am happy with the results.

Can I draft a blog post before the plane touches the surface of the Earth? Not sure, but I will give it a try, I am always fond of challenges! In any case, I will have to change my normal writing style because I cannot cross-check stuff online and I cannot be a perfectionist, given the time constraints. I am also limited in the range of topics, anything too technical would required access to some additional bibliography. So I start writing, without a well defined topic, based on the situation around me and following my line of thoughts without rewriting or corrections, which is commonly known as free-writing.

The planes lands abruptly, I had not seen the floor approaching, because this row of seats does not have windows. I have a look to what I have written so far, five medium size paragraphs, which kind of make sense together as a blog post. I have brought my camera, so I can always add some photos the Sicilian north-west coast at the very end.

We stop moving, time has also flown and the self-imposed challenge has kept my mind away from the physically uncomfortable situation. I would like to address you, the readers, before I get off the plane: I think when people start to get up from their seats, they might have great stories or tips on what to do during low-cost flights or similar situations…