Monday, December 29, 2008

keep going

How does one do something new in a contentious area?
How do you contribute when your words are being scrutinized for their relevance to long-going battles?
One option is to stay out of the fray. You simply don't follow the daily fights. You withdraw, and build up your own form. You design your own notation, and find as much as you can with that notation.
The danger of this approach is either irrelevance, or prolongation of the battle. There may well be much that is rich and interesting that has not been formalized, but is assumed by one side or another. It may well be that the outsider doesn't get far enough. On the other hand, if there is much that is assumed, but is wrong, if the whole edifice is mud and cotton, then a solid arrow may simply pierce through and head off in a new direction, leaving the participants simply more injured than before leading to more fighting and misery.
The other approach is to move very slowly. To take in a few contentious issues at a time, and one by one connect them to more solid ground. Develop a few new colorful pebbles, but make sure these pebbles lie on solid shores and sparkle brightly enough to capture the attention and content of battlers.

Monday, December 08, 2008

academic

Wikipedia on Academia:
Academia is sometimes contrasted pejoratively with "practice", such as daily living, employment, and business. Critics of academia say that academic theory is insulated from the 'real world', and thus does not have to take into account the real effects, results, and risks of actually performing the actions which academics study. Academic insularity is sometimes referred to as the ivory tower. This often leads to a real or perceived tension between academics and practitioners in many fields of knowledge, particularly when an academic is critical of the actions of a practitioner. Depending on the degree of criticism, the practitioner's critique of academia could also be seen as anti-intellectualism. The balance to the view from the practitioner is that even if academia is insulated from practice in the real world, that does not mean academic study is valueless. In fact it is often seen that many academic developments turn out only much later to have great practical results. However, given that among practitioners there is a perception of academic insularity, it may increase the value and impact of the academician's studies and or opinion if they take that insularity into account when discussing or offering criticism of a practitioner or a practice in general.
I've been struggling with this question of the value of academia within an intensely practical fast-paced development environment. There are two aspects in which one's work may be judged overly academic. First, the topic itself may be perceived as useless. Secondly, too much emphasis on clear writing may be seen as a waste. The main issue here is time. Both of these things take too much time compared to the immediate needs.

From this perspective, however, an academic approach can be seen as a long term approach. On the one hand, tools are developed that may not be immediately necessary, but will provide fuel and resources for years to come. Secondly, communication without a delineation of context is also short-termed. It assumes a shared understanding that is rather fragile. People reading at a later time may well misunderstand.

Its this second goal that I've been most reluctant to give up, and I question the split. I don't want to give up clear writing, both for its practical benefit and for its personal benefit. Writing poorly takes the power away from the person writing. The truth is that there is a personal story here related to the group I am working in. I'd like sometime to try to write this out more clearly, but its probably better not to give too many details.

As a thread to follow up on, one of the books I read in high school that was influential was Herman Hesse's "Glass Bead Game". I've been meaning to come back to this book. I felt like Hesse had read my academic dreams and then put them into a larger context together with a warning to not become overly isolated.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Great first line to a technical paper

In the last few years, our vision of the dynamics of the Solar System has notably changed, and the picture of the planets moving around the Sun in a regular quasi-periodic motion has suffered many outrages.
J. Laskar, ICARUS 88, 266-291 (1990)
"The Chaotic Motion of the Solar System: A Numerical Estimate of
the Size of the Chaotic Zones"

Friday, November 28, 2008

finishing things

I've been trying to do things more quickly. To just get things done, even if they're not great.
This involves knowing that I put, say, an hour into something, and what I came up with is reasonable for an hour's work.
Some things I just take forever on. I was trying to understand why. I have this image of certain important things that are very fragile and complicated. I picture a many armed Hindu God carrying many plates, each with a crucial element that needs to eventually be combined with something else. But this God is on rather shaky footing, and must hop continually in order to avoid dropping one of the plates. Anything that touches on this domain must be treated very carefully, because it won't be a top priority. It needs to make sure it doesn't break anything, and the very process of doing it may involve helping to combine together some of the plates.
I don't think there's anything to be done accept to realize when something can be done independently of this blue creature. Then it can just be finished in its usual partial messy way, but not cause so much damage.

Friday, November 21, 2008

correspondence

When to write?
This evening, I am tired. I have made progress on big messy things that are not very satisfying. I have moved forward two steps through oatmeal and piles of string.
I tell myself, just take it easy. Don't bring in more stimulus, and the passage of time will bring new views. So I am deciding that my thoughts are not important for the next 10 hours.
And where do I find myself 1/2 hour later? Writing to people long overdue emails, and putting my disowned thoughts down on this blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

chapters

What always shocks me about language is how obvious and powerful some words can be.
And when I think back to the time when my mind was in a knot, I imagine these words and what they would have meant to me then.
"I just can't believe how valuable people are."
This thought has such richness, and wonder how I could possibly maintain the tightness in its presence. But such a thought was unthinkable. All words were gray. All passed over piles of theorems and jagged bits of past and little jabs.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Paperless

I spend a lot of time on my laptop. Many documents are available there, and many transactions can be performed. At the same time, I feel like there are hidden problems.
My laptop even replaces watching TV sometimes. Last night, instead of watching a DVD on my TV, I watched the Simpsons on my laptop. The difference was that I can put the screen anywhere I want. On the one hand, TV has sentimental value to me. But further, the idea of a screen that is watched for certain purposes being located in one place has its role. Its like organizing our space. What happens when we open up the possibility of continually changing spaces?
How do we live? We are creatures of habbit.
This is something I have a problem with. I tend to get myself into continually changing environments. Yet there is a good part of me that this doesn't work for. How can something grow, when its environment is always shifting? I grew up with two houses, going back and forth between my father's and mother's, transferring twice a week until high school. Each place was different, with different rules and expectations, positive and negative aspects. I trace a lot of my scattered approach to life back to a coping mechanism for this lifestyle. My parents tell me that it was what everyone was recommending at the time for divorced parents with kids. However, the opinion later changed. A topic for future research/discussion.
Back to paperless. Despite all the benefits and time that I do indeed use digital media, it scares me. There's an underlying fear that the bottom has fallen out. That Borges' image of the infinite library is at hand. At the heart of this is perhaps the requirement for new skills at maintaining ourselves and new dangers to recognize. But for myself, I try to recognize the same patterns that I see in my approach to people, research, and organizing my life in my digital/paper approach.
Here is a random document I found in my search for the term "paperless office" (a review of a study called "The Paperless Office" by Abigail J. Sellen and Richard H. R. Harper). In the conclusion of the review, this line caught my eye:
Second, the digital alternatives to paper need to be better designed. Until that happens, until paper is used as an analytical resource for the design of technologies, paper will almost certainly continue to be the medium of choice.
It just reminded me to be wary of the hidden costs of using digital media. Paper hasn't been around for ever, and our current digital technology and metaphors won't be around forever, but technology shouldn't be quite as powerful in its role as dictating what questions we ask and what kinds of collaborations we pursue.

Sorry for rambling. Let me again blame the medium. Or more precisely, this medium seems to make this kind of shallow jumping around easy to do.
Finally, let me just add, as a "direction for further research", that perhaps where digital media fall short is in their very lack of physicality. We have a lot of intuition about our three dimensional world. To quote from my undergraduate thesis (on adiabatic invariants!) "We are largely concerned with getting ourselves from here to there and moving other things from here to there." The computer desktop metaphor is just that, a metaphor, not a reality. It is still largely a two dimensional model, with links between different chunks of 2-D space. You may argue that a book is also largely two dimensional. But the links between the different pages occur truly in space. The flipping of pages and the locating of later pages deeper in the book than earlier pages, is something that screen reading does not fully replicate.
Its surprising, but I find myself having to mount a defense for our poor 3 dimensional world!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

standards

I was recently told that I should lower my standards. That I take too long to get things done because I want perfection. There's some truth to this, but I think really I need to aim lower. Shoot for smaller things. If the project is too big then if you fail, you fail spectacularly. It is just totally useless, the work you put into it. There's a point when something is clearly pretty good: most of the pieces are in place and it basically is what it claims to be. Now, by lowering my standards, I certainly don't want to not achieve that level. Standards should come in at the final stage: how well to polish.

The problem is that I tend to end up with lots of partial results that each require a lot of work to even get to the "pretty good" stage. Its confusing because I look and see lots of work that I've done, but none of it seems to amount to much. There's a temptation when the time comes to account for what you've done, to paste together all these partial results and try to pretend that its one grand whole. Doing this would indeed be lowering my standards, but I don't think that this is the right thing to do. It doesn't leave you with much, unless you spend half your time tricking people and confusing them and convincing them that any holes in your argument are due to their lack of reasoning ability.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

santayana

I've been finding audio lately.
Here's chapter 3 of George Santayana's "Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy".
I haven't absorbed it all yet, but the first part on separation of duties between experts and scientists (thinkers?) is right along the lines of what I have been thinking about and dealing with.
Later he concludes that relativity is a welcome, acceptable revolution in science, but with it must come humility. I'd like to understand better what he's saying here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

knot

I'm always drawn to traumatic history.
The topic I'm involved in is one part physics, three parts scattered remnants of trauma. The question is whether there is anything left of me before this knot dissolves. The poison infects everything eventually. Now my current collaboration is getting sucked into the old mess. The same issues of credit, hurt egos, unfulfilled dreams rear their heads. But perhaps this time they occur in a vacuum where they don't actually have effects. And after playing themselves out, sadness can be felt and people can move on. But again, this really doesn't seem to be the normal role for people in physics, and I wonder how much reality there is to this crazy quest.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

today

I have been pushing hard lately. Just get things done. But nothing very specific. Many small things that set the stage for other things. Too abstract.
Today my dad told me that he thought I am a bit lost. That he's never before seen me without a clear path forward. But has my path ever really been clear? It has certainly not seemed that way.
Today I was at Barnes and Nobles for awhile. I saw people from within my isolation and didn't talk to them. But I feel like some processes are playing themselves out that have been hidden and pushed below. I think some of this is good. I was actually looking at this feeling of isolation, and deciding not to fight it in that moment. One thing I have come to realize about myself is that I am basically an introvert. I've learned to be an extrovert, but its not always so natural to me.
I picked up a book called "Loneliness" by John Cacioppo. I read the description of a New Yorker who started a relationship with an old girlfriend who was not thriving in the city. In the midst of the ensuing misery, he is staring out the window and sees the image of a sad, lonely person. At first he thinks this is himself, but then the image moves backwards, and he sees it is someone mirroring him out the window! This connection pulls him out of himself, allowing him to see his situation more clearly.The story made me cry. Ok, just a little.
Here's an interview with Cacioppo.
Actually, I'll add that while reading this book, I was noticing the focus on statistics which was annoying me. There's an interplay between personal antecdote and supposedly objective analysis. It was also the discussions about genes that bothered me. Like the gap between these two ways of understanding is too great.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

a name for yourself

I seem to be pretty good at pushing things close to completion and then leaving them there. I somehow lack that spirit to really run with something. The way I think of it is that I build up structure so that I can enjoy the benefits of things in a relaxed way. Having to jump up and down in glory and deal with people who either didn't get as far as you or want to pull you higher, just isn't fun for me. But maybe defining yourself isn't so bad? Maybe there are new realms of uncertainty you enter?
I just keep thinking of John Cusack in High Fidelity when he finally decides to commit to a relationship:
I can see now I never really committed to Laura. I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and... I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that's suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.

Monday, September 08, 2008

ready to give up

Just one of those days where it seems like I just can't keep going on in the same way.
Whatever that means.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

coming together

Our minds can live in many places at the same time.
I feel spread across the country, spread across disciplines, philosophies, loyalties, lifestyles.
I blame it on the internet sometimes- my scattered approach, but really my use of the internet as a tool developed naturally. At each step it seemed to solve a prearticulated problem. On the other hand, what often comes to mind is those stories about wish fulfillment. The ways in which getting what we ask for is what destroys us.
Maybe its just been too long since I've been in touch with a certain voice inside me. The voice that does cross boundaries and includes the various parts of me.
Maybe because I am working, holding things in suspension, creating small environments for things to grow, I can't access this voice. And I'm overwhelmed by too many pieces at the same time. I worry that there is no end. That its just one expanding blow after another with not enough glue to put it together.
I enjoyed painting for the first time in awhile. This is what painting is for me. It is putting things together. I used to think that I could put anything down on the paper or canvas and find a way to make it harmonious. Maybe giving up on this is why I've been unable to paint for so long. But maybe its time to believe in it again. But belief in the more humble sense of a longing and dreaming rather than a "must get it done now".

Friday, August 22, 2008

unstable

I have this funny feeling of sitting at the top of a bowling ball. Certainly it must have something to do with the amount of effort (useless perhaps?) I've been putting into thinking about how to approach the dynamic aperture problem. Find the separatrices and beyond that is unstable.

But its also a feeling from reading Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong blog for awhile, and considering the turn on of the LHC and the turn-off of so much US particle physics. I've never know quite enough about particle physics to be really excited about finding the Higgs boson. I never really got past renormalization and feel like there's something not so good about it, or that the lesson it is teaching needs to go all the way back to the beginning.

And with the Bush administration having already done its damage, google mostly taken over people's brains, I just really don't know where things will go next. What I usually do in times like this is just wait. I try to be quiet, to not make any decisions, and to let things play themselves out. Then I get swept in whatever direction. I don't like this feeling of complete uncertainty. Its familiar, but its reached a deeper level now. I know myself enough to know that I probably still have agendas, but at the moment they all seem dangerous and wrong. There is nothing to do but wait.

Friday, August 08, 2008

move slowly

Action items:
* brother changed name
* wedding to attend (not my own)
* books being neglected
* more time for self not involving tossing keystrokes into big mouth of lattice optimization and evaluation and politics of avoiding blame

Sunday, July 13, 2008

ahhhh

This is a very satisfying link.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

narrative amidst chaos

What do we say when there is nothing clear to say?
When according to your standards, you want to shout: "mush!"
The tree was covered in dark spindly bark. It was surrounded by small bushes with crisp green waxy leaves. This region of the forest had long been considered problematic. It was in fact just a restful region surrounded by stone walls rather by accident. Nothing really that special, just a confluence of hard to categorize, misty and perhaps obscure lives, corners and the usual uncertainty.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

learning things from the ground up (or being buried in the mud?)

I feel like I've been learning certain things lately in the slowest, worst way possible.
I have to get results out of this code that I didn't write, but I have been trying to turn into something more friendly, familiar and reliable. I collaborate with one other person who has slightly different aspects of the code he is interested in developing. We try to keep in synch, but changing things break other things and I often find myself with a broken code and the tortuous question of whether to push on and fix the problems or go back to a slightly worse previous version that I know works (or at least the parts I have checked).

During this process, I am forced to learn about things that I don't feel like learning at that particular time. In the end I do learn certain things, and after I know them, I also have a sense of how they can break, how one can confuse them for something else.

I'm somewhat reminded of a comment by one of my physics professors during college relating to thermodynamics. One of the math professors suggested that there is a beautiful way to understand thermodynamics. If one just understands a certain structure, then thermodynamics fits into it very nicely. (sorry for vagueness, I never actually learned thermodynamics very well)
But the physics professor responded that he thought it was better for students to first muck around in details before getting the clearer grander picture.

So what am I afraid of? I do learn in this process. I think the problem is that I am encountering real design flaws, or perhaps imperfect implementation. As a result, I will likely never actually rise to that level of clarity, and then have only gained an extremely obscure skill: familiarity with a code very few people use. Perhaps I won't know the ultimate value of this until later. I have a feeling that much of the technical details I am learning could be learned much faster and easier in some other way. But perhaps there are lessons involving people, egos, creations, and collaboration that will be very valuable (if I can ever escape from this situation!!)

Monday, June 09, 2008

building out of real materials

I used to think that the world was built out of nice equally sized objects.
Now the pieces turn out to be sharp, crunchy, not very flexible. And even I am such an object.
We all clunk together, forming something larger.
I guess this is just a reminder to myself not to try to make things into what they are not, and to not pretend that I myself am infinitely malleable.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Too many connections

I have more and more ways to communicate but do it less and less. A fluid dynamics image comes to mind. A reservoir with multiple pipes coming out. At some point the outflow is faster than the inflow.
I am confounded by the long tail I so thought I desired. I go through my music and find things like: The Little Goat by the Gothic Archies.
Where and when did I pick this up? And again the same image: I don't listen to music because of the variety and randomness of it all. No center, no emotional story I can control. Getting run over by the digital age. The computer metaphor claiming to overcome all. Making our selves and our lives meaningless as other science/engineering images have: the machine, the molecule.
Too much. My eyes have been diverted. My senses have been distracted.

Monday, May 12, 2008

local/global

There's a certain line of thought in accelerator/beam physics connected to the question of the local/global dichotomy. I'll just put some preliminary thoughts, which is basically what I always do here anyway.
Let me start by linking to the book by Forest. In this book he continually makes the point that one should replace local Hamiltonian dynamics by global map-based methods in the modeling and analysis of storage ring physics. Of course one still needs to use some kind of local theory (a symplectic integrator) to get the global results to begin with, but the emphasis is on this separation of duties. He rails against the old school that mucks around theoretically in the local s-dependant Hamiltonian, basically saying that they never get very far because the real machines are so complicated as to make the approach useless.
Why has this new approach not completely caught on? Is it entirely due to idiosyncrasies and historical development of the field? Is it the old timers holding on to their beta functions and simple coupled theories and not allowing a more general approach that renders their knowledge obsolete?
This may be part of it, but I think there is also something fundamentally flawed about the approach from a scientific community perspective. Certainly there are local quantities and global quantities and global analysis of results coming from local quantities is quite important. The problem is that the physics model is never complete. There are always more local effects to include and if one takes a particular piece of physics and pushes this local/global picture too far, one ends up with software, methods and sociology that shows too much of a disparity between large and small.
The connection I would draw is to large corporations -- say Starbucks or Borders. On the one hand, these companies can accomplish certain large things quite efficiently. But on the other, they are going to change slowly in response to local requirements because they are defined in terms of their final goals. The analogy here is to the computer code that implements the model. (Part of my motivation for thinking and writing about this is my own frustration, partly just from lack of programming skills, in modifying a code based on these principles to do what I want. The structure is fine, but the scale is off for certain types of changes-- too much effort to do something small-- though some would argue that these things are useless, it is exactly here where the disagreement could be fleshed out.)
The problem with the local/global split is that it encourages this building of large structures without allowing many people to understand the workings at intermediate levels. It turns people into either workers or consumers, and leaves the power to mould the system in the hands of just a few.
I don't want to minimize the value of the particular local/global split that Forest advocates for storage ring physics. I think it is quite valuable and the clarity it provides is important. However from a pedagogical and sociological perspective, this leaving out of all forms of intermediate levels of understanding or analysis ultimately may prevent alternative more powerful synthesis and understanding to emerge, in addition to contributing to a polarized environment (though certainly no one person is to blame for this).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

people art technology

Yesterday I went with an old friend into the city.
First we caught the last hour before closing of an awesome exhibit at the MOMA:
Design and the Plastic Mind.
It was full of ideas about how to think about the technological changes confronting us, from a variety of ways to visualize metaphysical spaces and complex data sets to ways that we may be changing. There was a story-board progression about how smell could go the way of sound, with nose amplifiers and processors to better magnify pheremones in order to more easily pick out a compatible mate.
Next we took the train down to the financial district and went to the Winter Garden in the World Financial center, which is adjacent to the Twin Towers site. There, the Shua group had an installation piece and performance called Giant Space Detail. I'm not sure I've fully processed it and gotten the concept, but it has a lot to do with paying attention to a place and the lives of the people in it. The performance involved interaction with people using the building, and most of the performers themselves had been enlisted from workers in the building. There was also an interesting interaction with the Twin Towers "Ground Zero". At the large windows where people can look out over the site, the group installed television monitors showing video taken from around the area of day to day working situations together with headphones and accompanying audio. To me, it had a powerful grounding effect that is very counter to the using of 9-11 as a propaganda tool. It really focuses you on the more mundane reality of the place, rather than a "shock and awe" approach.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

dignity with computers

What does it mean that computers get fast, and that we can more clearly state some of our approaches to life in terms of algorithms? What happens to people in this process?
Does the fact that computers can beat us at chess mean that we shouldn't play chess? And is it really computers beating us (really somebody has programmed that computer).
Just a lot of disconnected thoughts, trying to say something about how to maintain integrity in the midst of our toys/tools seeming to surpass us.
One sees in the story of Stephen Wolfram for example, a person who thought that his computer tools are so powerful that nobody needs to do math or science anymore.
I don't want to say that computers can't do the things we do. I just want to say that we should stay clear about who we are and what we care about. If we create a computer that we believe experiences things as we do or does things that we respect, well then, let us respect that computer and what went into creating it. But we should not lose ourselves in the process. As long as we understand and experience self-worth and respect, then life is worth living and we don't need to worry so much about whether some other person or machine or computer has accomplished more, or is more than us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

falling trees

There's a gigantic tree in my back yard that fell down a month or so back. It has just been a part of the general background chaos that doesn't effect me until I realized that it really wasn't too far from my own apartment. And there are more of them that could fall.

I'm feeling very ungenerous these days. Like just keeping up some kind of schedule is all I can manage. And this schedule doesn't even serve me so well. Ungenerous to myself as well.

I ran out of propane and got the tank filled up again. But I have yet to reopen the pipes and light the pilot lights of my heater and stove. Partially completed tasks everywhere. Open bags and spare coins sit around useless.

I look out my window as usual and delicate pink and white flowers are blooming on one of these dangerous trees. Behind it there is fog, and birds in this wilderness landscape that is still so foreign to me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

documents

There's a nice article at the Institue of the Future of the Book blog about TeX and whether or not its a technological backwater.
I've been thinking about this kind of thing lately, feeling like I really need to get better at documenting my work. My typical approach is to learn lots of different things, none of them particularly well. So I know LaTeX passably well, a little bit of Word, a little bit of PowerPoint, and in order to keep a foot in the open source world, I've been trying out NeoOffice. For presentations, I also tried out the LaTeX Beamer class and created a PDF for a short talk a few weeks back.
I guess the general theme here is emphasizing (or at least not deemphasizing) the human element in the human-computer interaction/relationship.

Monday, April 07, 2008

clearing

Page 137, Kafka on the Shore:
I walk on for a while and reach a round sort of clearing. Surrounded by tall trees, it looks like the bottom of a gigantic well. Sunlight shoots down through the branches like a spotlight illuminating the ground at my feet. The place feels special, somehow. I sit down in the sunlight and let the faint warmth wash over me, taking out a chocolate bar from my pocket and enjoying the sweet taste. Realizing all over again how important sunlight is to human beings, I appreciate each second of that precious light. The intense loneliness and helplessness I felt under those millions of stars has vanished. Bat as time passes, the sun's angle shifts and the light disappears. I stand up and retrace the path back to the cabin.
This passage for me is a wonderful description of what it is like to have a moment of clarity and respite amidst a difficult time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

shifting sands

My work still feels like building something without a solid foundation.
Lately I've had this image of how ones gets things done in the world: kind of like churning butter, just start doing something and if you do it long enough, something crystalizes out of it. Creating something out of nothing.

One thing I will say is that I am damned tired of computer metaphors for everything. I am ready to start applying other kinds of metaphors to computers! Return of the desktop, file cabinet, river bank, stark trees, swamps, cathedrals and bazaars.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

strange shores

Many different collaborations, continue to move forward at a snail's pace, trying to not make them incompatible. Work has been difficult. A battle. But I don't want to be a fighter. I really don't.
It is pouring rain in Long Island. Last night I drove home after bowling, slightly drunk, hitting big pools of water, one road closed, I suppose from flooding. My neighbor, also bowling, who left first, wasn't here. I wondered what I would do if he still wasn't back in the morning. Call friends, call hospitals. But he returned at 4AM.

I read theory. My friend turned me on to Jodi Dean's blog, I cite.
Good stuff, but I spend too much time on the computer. Life is still too thin.

Yes, its still raining. And water leaks from the roof onto my futon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

group cohesion

Thinking about religions such as Transcendental Meditation and Scientology, I'm led back to issues of relativism. Are groups really allowed to do what they want? Should we be criticizing and imposing our values?
These questions are partly stimulated by recent press about the protests against the scientologists, and about their disconnection policy. The scientologists argue in favor of group cohesion, saying that they have the right to isolate those who don't fit in.
Reminds me of Jane Jacobs' arguments in The Life and Death of Great Cities about how some social environments have an all or nothing sharing policy. A dynamic group results from public space, in which people can interact while keeping their privacy.

Yes, this is a question I keep coming back to: how can we have the feeling of belonging without too much insularity and closedness?

(Yes, regarding scientology as a religion is a slippery slope. The slippery slope of relativism? Or maybe its just pointing out that I need to come to terms with Transcendental Meditation more directly.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

productive?

Reaching a point of productivity. But there is always a worry that this is incompatible with the rest of life.

On another note:
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has passed away. I will perhaps write more later.
I had just resumed my reading of Mikael Rothstein's book about comparing the TM and Hari Krishna attitudes and approaches towards science.

Friday, January 11, 2008

ssc aftermath

I'm still interested in this question of how the fact that the SSC (see here or here) wasn't built influenced the future of accelerator physics. Check out this list of technical notes and imagine the amount of work contained, much of it quite painful. Would these people ever have been motivated to do this had they known that the thing wouldn't have been built? The tools and insights forged in the process were quite valuable, but the whole issue of credit and respect seems to have become particularly skewed as the motivations shifted. Just my somewhat outsiders perspective.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

with or without beauty

I look out the window at black tree lines against bluish pink still dark sky.
There are oppressive structures that ask for simplicity and say that beauty is too complex/extraneous. But then they yield their own complexities: piles and crumples and extraneous things. The good art and science of aesthetics has been so quiet, standing back so shyly.

Friday, January 04, 2008

forming a discipline

There is something horribly redundant about the way work gets done in my group.
People push forward, and then months later its as if nothing was learned. The same concepts are being reimplimented and explored in new computing/people contexts. At some point it might be useful to outline the geography of the infrastructure that causes this to happen. The problem is that results are needed. So people somehow cannot afford to be outwardly interested in infrastructure.

The problem for me is that on the one hand I am good at building infrastructure, but on the other, this is not openly respected.

So my research projects move forward at a snail's pace. But what else can I do? If I push too hard in any direction, I fear that the delicate fabric will break. I see this has happened to some people. They have pushed very hard and in the end form a sub-discipline of whom there is only one expert. Then they spend years scratching their heads (or perhaps shouting and tearing themselves apart in frustration) wondering why all these idiots don't learn these perfectly obvious things that they know.

Without a robust connection to the world of ideas (which typically requires the environments that a university can offer), a subject will remain fractured and inefficient.