Friday, February 24, 2006


People are funny contraptions.
They carry the influences from so many different sources.
I have tried to graft my mother's use of simple exclamatory statements onto a darker, more unwieldy branch. It works to some extent, serves its purpose and even contains some wisdom. But it leaves gaps behind.
Yes! I will see you soon! That sounds great!!
I haven't yet gone beyond the double exclamation point, which my mom has long left behind for the 5, 10, 20 exclamation points. Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for visiting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
These lines skate across the surface of my life. I leave them as colorful decorations, stand-ins for something more. A more substantial relationship. They go to the heart of a simpler version of me. They are forgotten. Put in stacks to be understood at a later time. Always later. After I can remake myself in a different mold, these lines will speak directly to me.
From my dad I have story telling. But at a more immediate level, I have his voice, his intonation. Here there is a vein of interaction, a reaching out for the world. In me it is inconsistent, another graft. My readings of politics are abstract, impotent, voyeuristic. And defensive. A preparation for repeats of ideological battles of the past.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


need to the build bridges from lab to beam frame. just a lorentz transformation you say.
just maxwell's equations, you say. just quantum field theory, I respond.
use the symbols and they become stronger.
a new typeface is a new material. will \mathbb combined with \mathcal
stand up in an earthquake? under heavy traffic?
is such "poetry" absurd?
well, maybe bad, but not absurd. maybe has a rather small audience.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

sausage thesis

1) Get a bunch of results. Express in a variety of notations of varying degrees of clarity and redundancy.

2) Come back to these results several years later. Do not read all the details. They will overwhelm you.

3) Create many appendices. Put old material in appendix and cut and paste final results to text.

4) Create storyline in text, tying results together. Unify notation and migrate material from appendices back to main text.

5) Remove some of the appendices.

6) Create even more of a meta-story line. Call this the "introduction" and "conclusion".

*.5) (where * \in 0...6) despair of healthfulness of process to self and those unfortunate others who must consume.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

a building dream

We had to climb these thin buildings, climbing up thousands of feet into the air. We were given a contraption that would tell us two different stories, each emanating from a different part of the device. As long as you were very still you were ok, but I found myself wanting to stretch out, relax, and I knew that that would mean that I would fall. The end of the task finally arrived and we were given a choice, which I didn't clearly hear. To my great surprise everyone else, when hearing the choice jumped off their buildings to their death. I held onto mine and slid all the way down. Only one other person also made it down. I gave that person a high five and a hug and joined a few others who were waiting there, a bit curious about what had gone on up there.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

life within

When the life feels like its draining out, it can feel like by running a little faster it can be recovered. I think that I just need to clean up my apartment and I'll find it hiding underneath the papers in the corner. Or maybe its the mildew on the ceiling that's obscuring it. When I just sit on my bed and relax and find that slowly the blankness turns colorful and feelings well up from the void its always so funny that I was so convinced that I was waiting to be found in some dark corner. It was true in a certain sense... just not hiding underneath my various jackets and books strewn about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the procrastination sets in

There are just too many of these...


This whole process of trying to get job offers is strange.
One of the positions doesn't exist, but they are opening up a position for me. The problem is that in order to do that they need to think there is a reasonable chance that I'll actually take the job if they offer it to me. In this case there is a reasonable chance to take the job, but I'm wondering how effectively I'm communicating that. When I am overworked it seems that this ability to judge this type of thing is seriously impaired. I think that my natural tendency is to be the nice guy and make all sorts of promises that I can't keep. So I go in the other direction and keep things very formal and brief. I feel like I'm involved with this elaborate poker game of bluffs and counterbluffs, which I'd like to break out of and just tell the truth. The problem with some types of truth is that they are complicated and can be seriously misunderstood if not fully understood.

Anyway, my advisor suggesting to me that this is an exciting offer and I should be "enthusiastic" is one of the hardest aspects of this whole process so far. I'm not much of a bargainer.

I was thinking about what it would be like if the process of getting married were like this... if the goal was to get two or three offers and then take a few months to consider them, weigh the pros and cons and then make a decision. Maybe all the applications would be due around April sometime and the responses would filter in by May/June...

I was going to say that I must clearly be out in left field, but thinking about it I wonder if right field isn't the better analogy... maybe missed the game due to bad traffic? uh.. anyone?

Monday, February 06, 2006

sans soleil

enjoying this movie.
narrator says about the 60's in Tokyo: (approximately)
"I could not join with the Utopian idealists who wanted to combine those who revolt against poverty with those who revolt against wealth"

Is this an intelligent line? It sounds good at first. I'll have to think about it more.


When someone claims that a certain subject is "understood" or "well understood", one should be careful of reading too much into it. Interesting things happen at the interface between subjects. It may well be that person claiming something is understood is not actually the one that understands it. And the one who does understand the subject may not understand the other suject that the given author is writing about.

My feeling is that the subject of quantum mechanics is like this. Each aspect is understood, but not many people understand all the different aspects. When these different aspects are combined, surprising things may result that some people know but just don't realize are "surprising".

This is what the process of teaching is about- combining together the understandings of different people to combine a unified understanding. It is not always given a lot of respect because people within the system may not see a need for the global understanding. They know what they know and they know in a certain sense what other people know and the system fits together to run the accelerator or detector or even to compute the 3 loop diagrams or whatever. It is a network of knowledge and people have enough information about the interfaces that they can usefully contribute, but don't know many of the insights that the whole picture contains. The negative attitude towards teaching and integration of understanding can be partly self serving worry that they won't be as important once the whole thing is seen clearly and also a real concern that those that spend their time on integration may well not appreciate the depths of the subject and the strength of the network itself may in danger if too many people were to work on integration instead of detailed work within a defined area.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Today I added pieces of yellow and small green lines. I forgot what a diverse activity painting can be!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

arrogance in science

My thesis distracting google search for today was "arrogance physics" which led me to this article from Physics Today entitled "Arrogance- a Dangerous Weapon of the Physics Trade". The author, J. Murray Gibson, argues that arrogance is a two-edged sword. A valuable tool in science that is then misused outside in the scientists dealings with people and other subjects.

There are two questions I have. The first is whether the desirable quality in research is really adequately described as arrogance. And if it is, might there not be another way to accomplish the same thing? He seems to be refering to unshakable confidence. Really, what one needs is the ability to follow through. You take some (possibly counter-intuitive and doubtful) hypothesis and take it extremely seriously. But one can be confident without being arrogant, I think. Suppose you tell someone something and they respond by furrowing their brow, looking at you quizically and responding with quiet confidence: "sorry, but you are wrong." I don't think that this is arrogance, and I think that it can be very effective at getting a point across. It gives the perspective that the other person has been understood. An arrogant attitude comes across when the other person is not carefully listened to. Just the surface of what they are saying is taken in, but the arrogant person is so confident that they could not have a relevant point, that they disregard the majority of what is being said.

I think that instead of arrogance being the desirable quality in itself, it is more a side effect of putting so much of one's self into a particular idea. If that idea turns out to be wrong, or not particularly usefull to most people, then when dealing with those people it is a sad fact that you don't share so much in common. It is the protection against falling into irrelivance that underlies arrogance. An honest discussion of exactly what you are working on with an earnest attempt to bridge the gap may well result in most people shrugging their shoulders and finding you rather odd for putting so much effort into that one thing.

I admit that it is sometimes easier to be arrogant. For example, after hearing a brief overview of what my research about, if someone were to tell me that they thought my research was wrong, I would be very tempted to completely disregard what they are saying. I don't expect someone to really get what I am doing based on a 30 second blurb and thus may assume that they don't have a relevant criticism. But patience is still a better approach in this situation, if you really want to communicate something to the other person.

When two people have some common understanding, then arrogance can play a useful role in a conversation. It is a sort of posturing. It is a short-hand way of telling the other person, that they have not been careful enough to understand what you are saying. My advisor and I trade this attitude back and forth sometimes, and I think he is an extremely non-arrogant guy otherwise. It is not so serious because it is understood that it doesn't represent a true lack of respect.

So there are these games that are played. Gibson makes a good point about this in the article. He says that he knows just how to shout at his advisor in order to get what he wants and not make him mad. But if a black person or a woman were to take a similar tone, it may not work. The games are played at an emotional level and not often articulated. It is in this realm where unrecognised sexism and racism can enter. One finds that people who are not in the dominant group are not as effective at the unarticulated interpersonal dynamics because of different emotional responses based on stereotypes/generalizations about a group.

Someone like Lubos Motl would argue that such interpersonal dynamics are not really so important, and when they are, the members of the underrepresented group find different or better ways of getting the same thing. For example, he argues that because male physicists find female physicists "beautiful", they are more likely to want to collaborate with them. (I'm trying to find the exact place he said that but can't seem to. See here for a recent discussion thread on this topic that he was involved in.) Arguments along these lines show a not very subtle understanding of inter-personal dynamics. He treats that subject as if it can be discussed without an evaluation of what terms mean and the process of dialogue where people come to an understanding. It is exacerbated by the discussion being in English and that not being his native language, but I don't think that that's the main issue. When someone like Clifford Johnson tries to engage him in a more subtle discussion of similar issues he either gets defensive or says that he can't understand the logic of the discussion.