Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Works and Days of Hands.

.. There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
~ T.S. Eliot, Prufrock

My productivity level has struck an all-time low .. or so it feels.

I think I'm strung out (or is it strung over?) on caffeine, partly because of high workload, low productivity, and the fact that it's $2 Latte Wednesday at the corner Espresso Royale Caffe. [1]

At any rate, the outlook doesn't look good. By typical standards, it's still early in the evening, yet the parallel lines on the sheets of legal pads are beginning to burn into my retinas; fluorescent light (the office standard) has slowly become an intense, eye-squinting white and everything underneath its glare takes on this surreal, unrelenting glow.

I feel mildly terrible and generally unmotivated towards the tasks at hand. A few talks and presentations come to mind.

  • As of the middle of last week I'd been working feverishly to understand a theorem whose proof will be one of my class presentations this semester. Great stuff and fun pictures, despite the technical nature of the theorem.

  • As of the last few days I've maintained a mild paranoia, if only because there seemed a discrepancy between the strict statement of the theorem and the version we've been using freely in class.

  • As of a few hours ago, I've realized that I was reading the wrong theorem. The one my prof suggested was actually a lighter version to the theorem with the supposed discrepancy. In fact, I only needed to read the first five pages of that article instead of, say, the first fifteen.
I suppose that's what happens when you don't keep in constant contact with your profs. \:

On a related note, my presentation for that class has been delayed for another week and a half. It never fails: I always choose the wrong times to procrastinate and by symmetry, the wrong times to over-work .. but at least the presentation is done.

Then again, inevitably the week will pass and I will forget everything and fumble through the presentation. Trust me.

Later that week is possibly another presentation. Rather, it's a talk: a contributed talk at a five-day conference at Dartmouth where I have to explain how the problem I worked on (with my very kind collaborator, of course) differs from other solved problems in Sub-Riemannian Geometry and the Analysis of PDE, and why it might be of any interest to anyone.

Mind you, the audience would be the movers and shakers of the aforementioned areas of study, which means that they don't have to be merciful.

[ponders this]

I'll just stick to explaining what we actually proved. That's likely a lot safer ..

.. but still, I have a bad feeling about this.

Some ideas are beginning to take shape, in my mind. I can't explain what I mean. But it feels like progress.

I think I'm developing a knack for asking (somewhat) interesting questions, if only to myself. These seems a good sort: the sort which requires strategy and work to answer. They come fleetingly and irregularly, but they come.

Now if I could only solve a few .. at best, they live in the pages of my notebook (the one I keep for mathematical speculations) until the day that they are found to be ill-posed or solved, by me or others.

It feels like hope, if only a little hope .. say the varying levels of understanding tragedy, as expounded by Aristotle. A good tragedy should affect men of all levels: for noblemen it should inspire and induce catharsis. For lesser men, it should at least give a sense of shock or pity, however misunderstood.

It's something, at least: something to work with.

I'm still advisor-less, and by implication, a coward.


Unrelated Note: I've discovered during warmer days that I can make it there from my office in about a minute, if I'm going at an all-out sprint and there's no undergrad traffic (say, during the dead time between start and end of classes).


Anonymous said...

The worst thing that the audience can do to you is not to follow your talk (which itself is hardly a disaster, considering how often this happens). Any reaction from them is a good reaction.

Anonymous said...

Calm down. You're learning how to do research for the first time. It's ok to make mistakes and mess up a lot. The important thing, however, is not to get yourself stuck in a rut where you beat yourself up over mistakes or whatever.

Lastly, a piece of advice would be to make sure to always have several "mathematical irons" for yourself---i.e. don't choose a single research problem. If you get stuck, then work on another one.

Otherwise, you're just wasting good time and energy.

Just some thoughts.