So you want to reach for the stars? #cultivatethatmindset

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It’s actually a converted shed on a concrete base with a big and a small telescope on a column in the centre. I built them myself from parts you can order online. I can also take photos through them, which is wonderful but also a bit of a challenge. First, I have to adjust the telescope very accurately to focus on what I want to capture. But because the earth is constantly revolving on its axis, you’re endlessly correcting. So I’ve fitted it with a highly accurate motorised drive.

I’ve been star-gazing for as long as I can remember. The night sky absolutely fascinates me. I’ll never forget seeing Jupiter through my very first, rather wobbly telescope. Even then I realised how old the universe is and what a privilege it is to be able to see it all. These days I do it on a slightly bigger scale, with my own garden observatory. Martijn Dekker Chief Information Security Officer at ABN AMRO

One photo per night

Another difficulty is that the camera emits heat, which also distorts the picture. So I have to cool it to about -25 degrees Centigrade with a special cooling element. Even after that, the camera often takes three or more hours to properly light the object and take a photo. That means I sometimes end up taking only one photo per night! Or none at all, because something goes wrong. Then I have to work out what happened and how to correct it.

Love of complexity

I love solving tricky problems like that. Looking for causes, trying things out – and yes, failing too – is all part of this hobby. So it’s even more gratifying when it finally goes well! There were similar challenges in my degree programme (maths), and I also encounter them in my work – information security – which is another extremely complex area given that we deal with such a large volume of data and technological developments are moving so fast. As a result, it’s no longer done by just a handful of people but now concerns everyone throughout the bank. That’s why we increasingly focus on people as well as technology.

I’m all for making mistakes

We try to create a happy flow for our colleagues, a way of using our systems which is both safe and enjoyable. ABN AMRO is ahead of the game in this, but if we want to maintain that lead we’ll have to keep on experimenting. That means not being afraid to make mistakes. It’s just like astronomy: you’ve got to be prepared to make mistakes in order to make progress. So I’m all for making mistakes, provided we learn from them.

Solar eclipse in the desert

I have to say that the Netherlands is just about the worst place in the world to be an amateur astronomer; it’s a close second after the bottom of the sea! Our geographical location and high levels of light pollution make it difficult to get a really good view of the stars. That’s why I often go abroad to practise my hobby. Recently, for instance, my twin brother and I went to the US to watch a solar eclipse in the desert. It was a wonderful experience, and one I’m keen to share. So I often give talks about astronomy and the universe to schools. I hope to make others as enthusiastic about it as I am. If I can get young people to become more excited about science, I’ll be delighted!

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