Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Playing chess against the computer just now
discovered that I could lower the difficulty from level 2 to 1
then I actually won
I still can't believe it.
I took that queen down
I attacked a king
the dawn of an era
i'm still shocked

I sometimes write about games and logic on my math blog at xinvogue.blogspot.com

Friday, February 17, 2012

Make something beautiful

The Artist of the Beautiful, a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne was a supremely edifying experience.  I will surely read it again. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

There is no 'i' in research

Why keep writing papers?  Who is reading?

There are reasons to write good papers I know - advancing research by exposing facts and thoughts, and even if no one is reading now, someday it may light another's way.
There are reasons to write bad papers too - practice in one's academic field, and adding to the 'productivity' count for career advancement.   
I can think of other good reasons to write papers - training others, engaging in collaboration, combating boredom, ...

If we were to focus on advancing society however, there would be much fewer papers.  If you got nothin' to say, don't say nothin'.  I mean say it in your notepad, say it to your facebook friends if you want.  In this scenario, there would be bad papers, there would be important papers, there would be meta-papers (that review others, that explain connections with past and future work), there would be popular papers (that court power/policymakers, money/capital, that seek popular understanding and support) , there would be the orphan papers still (no problem)

There would be a great division of labour, with some specialist writers, even multimedia specialists, you know, to make cool videos and sculptures and installations.  There would be more communities (there are some strong communities e.g. in some critical physics research where it's clearly more about the mission than the men.)  There would be growing wikis to organize the information produced.  

The current system sort of works but more community would make it stronger and faster.  It would also make a more literate public that can then contribute to research - in fact and in kind.

I think 'everybody' should know math well - in the same way masses know good literature, masses participate in religion, masses debate politics.  Instead, the masses are shut out of math and science by the unsexy image and horrible PR.
Instead, there is an ivory tower breached only very slightly by cool publications - Caltech E&S (bet you never heard of it), MIT Technology Review, Science, IEEE Spectrum, Valleywag (just kidding - that's Silicon Valley news, but actually that's the idea: imagine if 'research' had a valleywag?  I mean, what's everybody so damn uptight about?)  Popular books and blogs are also the right way to go.  All this generates interest which generates wealth. 

My guess is that once you figure out how to fund it - you know it's easy to fund current 'tech' news because there are gadgets to be sold - you're basically able to massively produce science media.  It can be done; people figured out how to sell the tradition of Jesus, so it's not that science is too boring or anything.  

Academia ought to be recruiting thinkers at a higher rate (everybody ought to be free to be a thinker.)  Then also it ought to be more connected to the lowly world outside.  I once met a great professor that claimed expertise in Mesopotamian archaeology and such.  Not a word of Arabic he spoke.  Not a trip to Iraq.  Dude, how can I take you or your interminable papers seriously? 

Let's talk about what scientific information you use and how you get it. 
Also, there's a great opportunity to make science/research/rationalism/math sexy in these African parts.  Let's talk about this too.  I mean, some steps are simple: put the existing journals online.  Have themes/topics for some editions.  Let someone write an introduction/editorial.  Open up for comments. 

Disclaimer: I have not written many research papers, and indeed may never do so.  I sometimes try to write about math (xinvogue.blogspot.com)  I admire people who share their enjoyment of math.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Portraits and Concrete

In the weeks right after I ditched grad school, I walked across the street from Caltech, my home of five years, to PCC (Pasadena City College.)  What I saw in the huge PCC library made me nearly cry - there was art on the walls, a series of paintings (acrylic sketches?  photographs?) of people, different ages, different races, all sorts of people.  It was like a hug saying you are welcome to this community, or at least we will like to try to welcome you.  If there had been pictures like that on the walls at Caltech, life might have been much easier.

Soon after, I was a volunteer judge at a local elementary/middle school's science projects.  It was not a white school.  I noticed that whereas American kids were drilled (drilled, truly) in the scientific method from an early age, I was not.  Aha!  This explained why I found research difficult - compared to the Americans - in spite of having obvious academic talent and preparation.  In my own primary and secondary schooling, the research process was not emphasized, but teaching and learning and 'rithmetic and 'riting were.

While I admired the kids' ingenious projects that day - comparing sounds and colours and whatnot - I couldn't imagine having to drag through doing them myself.  The stories interested me; the process did not.  I actually do not like "the process." Experimenting following a recipe reminds me of what my mother called cooking and gives me a nasty headache.  Recording and reporting results, I always found dumb and obvious.  This is partly because you already know what's going to happen: "it's a straight line, Newton's law holds woo-hoo!"

One of the co-judges was an arrogant and rude scientist.  I was glad to be rid of his type.  Then the school, I thought it was quite harshly built - very large, very sturdy, very unlike a hug.  Children need colours, they need fantasy, instead they had the set of Prison Break, and unfriendly photographs of very dead white people.  Poor babies.