Friday, July 30, 2010

papers, ideas, and dust.

i didn't do much thinking today, which made me feel a little guilty. instead, i cleaned the workspace in my apartment ..

.. which only made me feel even more guilty.

under varying layers of dust, i found sheets torn from legal pads and unlined backs of preprint pages. on them were research ideas, expounded by my colleagues and me, which i promised to work on and think about ..

.. which i never did.

i found spiral-bound journals with entries dating from last month to 2-3 years ago. some were notes i took while reading certain articles. some were brief, half-baked ideas that came to mind in the strange hours of the night, and others were attempts at adding rigor to those ideas (with varying levels of success). each time, i thought i saw something promising; with a little more work, a little insight, maybe they could become interesting problems ..

.. but they didn't.

there were preprints and articles that i planned to read .. but did not;

there were printouts of lateχ, beginnings of research articles i started, but failed to finish;

there were even photocopies of conference schedules, with certain talks circled. i planned to attend them .. but in the end, i was elsewhere.

i made a mess at first -- it's inevitable if you want to clean up anything substantial -- and i threw piles of paper into the recycling bin.

so farewell to that paper i browsed, a year ago: the abstract was false advertising. the theorem is true, but it didn't fit my application.

there goes that idea and my scratchwork with it, into the bin: i should never have tried weak-* limits for that problem, anyway. it didn't record enough geometric information.

i tear away the first and last pages of a stapled bundle of paper, full of scrawls. the middle pages fall into the bin, and i restaple those two pages. the intermediate work is all wrong. that last idea could work, though, if i can work around this one obstruction ..

i've told others before:
out of every 10 ideas i have,
eight surely won't work; they last less than an hour.
the ninth takes another day or two to disqualify.
as for the tenth, it leads to the next 10 ideas.
on occasion, the process terminates, and i prove something mildly interesting. before it does, however, one ends up with a lot of paper ..

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