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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.