Saturday, January 28, 2012


"15.  If you open a store in a college town, and maybe even if you don't, you will find yourself as the main human contact for some strange and very socially awkward men who were science and math majors way back when.  Be nice and talk to them, and ignore that their fly is open."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

waiting for the inevitable news ..

for the record, i'm writing this before one particular committee sends out their apology emails and selects those who proceed to campus interviews.

i don't think i'll make it that far.  as for why ..

judging from how today's phone interview went, i think i sounded like a space-cadet theorist who couldn't manage to explain anything in layman's terms, much less his own results.

what i didn't expect was that the committee members present in the interview actually wanted to ask about my research.  in fact, they had carefully read my research statement and wanted to get a clearer picture of what a measurable differentiable structure is!


the one time an audience wants to know about my work, and i go and fvck it up.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

my digital self.

this afternoon i sat down and thought about what kind of person i seem to be, based on what's on paper and what's available online [1].

online. the good news is that i don't seem to be a degenerate, and it looks pretty professional, with a few personal tidbits .. like road race times and a few bits of photography (allowed public).

the annoying thing is that my papers, what few of them, are scattered on both google and bing searches.  this is particularly annoying, since even fewer of them show up on mathscinet.

underlying this, i realise that i'm not very prolific, so every little part counts .. /-:

paper. i browsed through my teaching and research statements and my vita today, and i cringed .. but at no one particular thing.

most of all, it's the research statement.  the beginning is a good effort, but then it gets technical .. too technical.  i wonder if anyone took the trouble to read it, because it's .. bloody technical.

it suffers from the same problem that i exhibit, while preparing and giving talks: i'm always worried that nobody has any idea of what i'm talking about [2].  it's one thing to be amongst colleagues; it's just that i've been given a lot of blank looks in my time ..

[0] L: if you know a way to invite jeηna to guest-blog, then let me know.  otherwise these poor web-roamers deserve, at least, to be ferried quickly away from a mathematical minefield. q-:

[1] this isn't just an intellectual exercise in self-analysis.  tomorrow is a phone interview, you see ..!

[2] maybe it's inevitable that we mathematicians just work on abstruse things.  i don't ever expect anyone to appreciate the gory details of my proofs.  on the other hand, i envy certain people ..such as those working on PDE.. because they don't need to spend a page or more explaining that their field actually exists ..!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

the more things stay the same, the more they change.

so tomorrow is the fourth [1] time that i'll be giving this particular talk, regarding differentιable structures on metrιc spaces. i'm hoping that it will be the last, for a little while.

call me paranoid, but i feel uneasy when i talk about the same thing too often; i worry that i'm not getting new ideas or making enough progress on my research.

some of my colleagues have attended this same talk several times, those poor souls .. but i think i see their motivations. i've done the same thing myself. at least for me, it's hard for me to learn something new in the short span of a talk, even if it is a 2-hour period, so often a good talk is worth hearing again.

once, this caused no end of confusion:
it was right after my ph.d. defense, and there were two back-to-back conferences. i was worried that i'd bore my colleagues to death by giving my thesis talk twice. so in one i stuck to my thesis, and in the other i discussed a completely different project in preparation.

makes sense, right?
besides, maybe people will be impressed at my versatility ..! [2]

of course, i was wrong. once i told my colleagues, they were alarmed and made a fuss about it. you see, both conferences held parallel sessions of contributed talks, and my talk was running opposite a well-known and prominent researcher in my field. so a lot of people, expecting to hear it next week, skipped my talk and went to his.
oh well; we're all young and stupid for once in our lives, right?

so i've learned my lesson .. somewhat. i still can't bring myself to give the exact same talk. besides, i've not yet given the version of the talk that i wanted!

you see, the driving mechanism behind the theorem consists of genuinely new techniques for dοubling metrιc spaces, which are inherently geοmetric in nature. in every past talk, i've spent too much time expositing and only hinted at this.
perhaps it's a risky proposition to discuss techniques of proof during a seminar, but i want to show the audience why the theorem is actually geοmetric.

the seminar is two hours long (2 x 45min), which must be enough time if i forgo the pleasantries. i think i will say a lot and write little, at least regarding the parts that should be "well-known."
at any rate, after this i'm retiring the talk for a while. besides, there's this new project that i want to talk about instead, in mid-february .. (-:

anyways, i'm rewriting part 2 of the talk now. back to work!

[1] it also depends on how you count. last march i talked about it at an AMS Special Session, but i had promised different things in the abstract and only advertised the theorem. besides, it was a weaker theorem then.

[2] thinking back, it was a particularly stupid decision on my part. i ended up writing and preparing two talks where i could have written one. to add to the context: this was also during the three weeks that my thesis corrections were due, and time was very much a factor ..!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

distractions, distractions ..

i should stop having my in-box open, while at the office;
it seems that i never get anything done otherwise.

maybe i should start treating email like postal mail, and check it just once (or twice) a day, keep message replies serious and professional, and leave it alone.

* more on this later, but i have actual work to do now.
[added 18 january 2012]

i think most people are driven to check their email or social networks because they are curious: did someone message me?

perhaps it would help to remind myself:

for email: i'm not old enough or important enough yet to warrant too many messages of importance in one day. that said, the answer is almost always no and it's not important anyway, which is a good enough reason that i shouldn't bother ..

.. and get back to work.

for facebook: maybe i should allow myself license and make more creative constraints.  for example, what if I allow myself 10 total minutes of facebook time at the office?

at first it seems like 10 minutes is very little; on the other hand, how long could it take, to log in, check a 1/2 page of updates, and then log out?
that's all that i every really do anyway.

the problem is that once i'm logged in, then i may as well click another link to see if it's interesting. the problem lies in the iteration.
as it happens, my watch has a chronometer, which means that i can actually measure this .. but would it be considered facebookkeeping..? (-:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

jet lag does not make for good talks.

well, by finland time it is now friday.  i may have failed to meet my new year's resolution last week, but the spirit of it is still strong.  oddly enough, i also have something to say.

(to be fair, i jotted this down last weekend in a cafe, but some thoughts are new-ish and worth sharing.)

on thursday afternoon (last week) i gave a talk.  it wasn't the worst one i've given and i didn't go over my time limit, which is good.  if i've learned anything, though ..

.. never, ever underestimate the afflictions that jet lag can bring.  i'm starting to think that sleep medications and/or vitamin and mineral supplements may be worth the trouble.
earlier that morning i woke up at 3:30, despite feeling very tired at midnight.  i couldn't go back to sleep, so i did what seemed like a good idea at the time ..

.. and went running outside for a few miles.

in retrospect, of course, it wasn't a good idea.  at that point the fluffy, fine snow became weak ice and an unescapable slush; the way was slippery, dark, and uneasy at times.
as the speaker before me settled into the final slides of a proof sketch, i remember my pulse starting to quicken a little.  though i've given a version of the talk before, i didn't feel wholly prepared.  every other time was a 2-hour version on the chalkboard, at a pace that i could set myself.

the trouble with slides is that, in some sense, your fate is sealed.

the presentation is pre-meditated by the very choice of medium.  unlike a chalkboard, you can't suddenly follow a natural flow; there's little (if any) room left for improvisation [1].

imagine asking the audience to wait a moment while you recompile your LaTeX! (-:

perhaps the best analogy is that of a stage production, in that you have to remember how the slides go.  in other words, you have to remember your lines.

the jet lag, however, caused me so much drowsiness that i couldn't summon a panic, so i wasn't (visibly) nervous [2].  on the other hand, i unintentionally acquired too much material to discuss ..

.. yes, i mean "acquired."

that probably warrants an explanation, which is below.
i was also so drowsy that i couldn't remember the exact order and content of my slides, despite having prepared them a few nights before and revised them after my very-early-morning run.

the very last slide was somewhat technical and required a few subtle details.  i became paranoid about forgetting the right ones ..

.. so during the talk, i started a painful descent into an information overload: at every slide, i'd follow the narrative and then give a series of additional details ..

.. sometimes examples and at other times, remarks about the proof ..

.. because, or so i reasoned:
if i give all the details, then i can't possibly miss the crucial ones!

to be fair, i was tired and jet-lagged and had no business giving a talk.
now that i think about it, it's a wonder that i actually ended on time .. rather, there's a very clear but unsavory reason:

upon reaching the final, technical slide, i realised that there wasn't enough time left to discuss it properly.  so i cut my losses, clicked through it, and gave a verbal summary instead ..

.. all the while pointing at various terms of an estimate that were probably nonsensical to everyone but me.

so the problem was that half of the audience knew the background, could have arrived 10 minutes late into the talk, and not missed anything.  i must have bored them terribly.

as for the other half, i couldn't really tell; i've always found it hard to read faces, especially for looks of comprehension.

epilogue. a friend who was in the audience later told me that the classroom was full when i gave my talk.  some people were standing in the back, in fact. this only made me feel uneasy about the whole thing. \-:

discussing these thoughts later,

on the plus side, a colleague who gave a later talk was spared the pain of giving too many definitions, because i had already covered them. (-:

[1] one can very easily argue the opposite, of course.  some of my colleagues have pointed out that it can be equally hard to remember the whole talk in its entirety, even with written notes as an aid.  good, polished slides are therefore like a guarantee that something polished gets delivered to the audience.

[2] sometimes i think that years of running 5K races and 800m dashes in high school track-&-field has normalised the onset of adrenaline, for me.

Monday, January 09, 2012

choosing another journal ..

disclaimer: if you are looking for the tv show "the bachelor" then sorry: you clicked on the wrong link. instead, jεnna burkε's blοg can be found at this direct link.

.. say: if you haven't clicked on the link yet (and left this website for good) then can i ask a small favor?
  1. run the search on "οveranalyst blοg" again .. actually, a few more times,
  2. click on ms. burkε's link each time.
it's not that i want her to gain popularity;
it's not that i want her to lose, either.

(to be honest, i don't even watch the show.)

you see, the sooner her blοg is the #1 hit for the web search above, the fewer people will be frustrated at stumbling upon my blοg and not hers.

granted, this site is called the frustratεd οver-analyst, but i've only ever meant to blog about my own troubles and not cause more troubles for others.  the last thing i want is for this blοg to go the way of the blues [1] and it was never meant to be a huge, popular website anyway. 

that said, i'm going to write about maths now.

i have an aversion to the professional part of being a mathematician.  at the very least, i'm not particularly good at it.  it's probably the reason, in fact, why i became an academic in the first place: avoiding reality and the rat race has always been part of my lifestyle.

so part of the job of research is to submit and publish scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals .. which is part of that aversion.  yes, it's a necessary task, but it still bothers me each time.

regarding talks at conferences [2] i don't mind giving those, even if i'm similarly inept at that skill too.  that seems to me a more reasonable errand because:
  • i can see the audience, occasionally gauge their reaction; 
  • they wouldn't be there if they weren't somewhat interested [3] or at least, are willing to take a chance;
  • often i know many people in the audience, and some of them are friends.
as for figuring out where one of my preprints belongs .. how should i know?  i'm still patting myself on the back for having finished a complete, readable draft!

that said, i'm not a natural writer, either .. which makes me wonder, sometimes, how i became a mathematician in the first place.

but i digress:

today i spent a great deal of the afternoon, looking up citation numbers, submission timelines, and journals my colleagues have published, in order to get a sense of what is fitting.

before leaving the office, i narrowed it down to 2-3 choices, but i'm still ambivalent.

to be fair, i already chose a journal some months ago.  in fact, i didn't have to think too hard about it.  in my mind it was exactly the right one ..

.. and they said no.


on the other hand, it was the fastest rejection that i've ever received .. and the kindest, too.  maybe it's standard lip-service, but all the reviewers had good things to say about my submission, to the point where ..

.. if i had to describe it as a break-up in a relationship,
then it sounds like a "it's not you, it's me" sort of thing:

in their words:

we .. cannot publish your paper, because the level of excitement it generates is not high enough (although the level of interest is very solid) ..

.. we have to be extremely harsh in our selection. And we are aware that we may be making a mistake in this case.

barring the paper's acceptance, i don't think i could have asked for more than that.


perhaps i just missed the cut and they needed to reject it, along with many other good articles that now have to find new homes .. it's what makes me feel better, anyway.

oh well: time to pick another journal.
eeeny, meeny, miny .. (-:

[1] as bleeding gums murphy would say: "the blues isn't about making yourself feel better; it's about making other people feel worse!"

[2] .. which reminds me: i'll discuss how my most recent talk went, in a later post.  stay tuned!

[3] in the case of large conferences with several parallel sessions (of contributed talks) it could be that, to the average participant, my title/abstract was the least uninteresting in that time slot, and it would feel too wrong to not attend any of the talks.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

not the website you were looking for?

according to my stats tracker, i think a lot of you recently came across my blog by accident.
trust me, i know:

i've been keeping this blog for a few years,
and it's never gotten 8000+ hits in one day.
so if you were looking for jeηηa burkε's blog @ theο,
then here's the direct link.

otherwise, could someone tell me who is the "οver aηalyst" that everyone is looking for, on google?

new year's resolutions, of a mathematical nature.

  1. learn about Riccι curvature.  this is beginning to look like one of those subjects that i can't get away with not knowing.  it seems to come up every year or so, if only as a special case of a new phenomenon in metrιc spaces.

    for example, if you believe this preprint, then there may be some hope for a second-order theory of sobοlev spaces, which sounds really cool ..!

  2. write a paper (or two) about geοmetric measure theοry.  this is partly to convince people (including myself) that i know something about GMT ..

    .. though, to be fair, it will probably be from a metric space viewpoint.

    speaking of which, i have something written now in the form of notes, but the result isn't good enough yet.  now that i think about it ..

    .. edited resolution: if i don't get a better idea by vappu (1 may), then i'm submitting a final form of my write-up.

  3. get a new job [1].  this isn't completely within my control, of course, but then again, nothing really is.

    my family has been asking where, and i've been telling them that i don't know.  it's not like it's up to me, right ?.. and it's a dangerous enough thing to want something, anyway.
    i guess it doesn't hurt to indicate a small preference: it would be nice to stay in helsinki for two years, maybe three .. if only because i like it here.  my colleagues are fine people, the city is comfortable [2] and it would be nice not to have to pack up and move again.

    (ye gods, i hate moving.)

    sometimes i watch my colleagues (the tenured and tenure-track ones) and they always seem busy with administrative tasks.  it's not that i'd say no to a decent permanent job, but:

    • i may not be that good at research, but that doesn't mean that i want to stop it;

      there are still a few ideas that i want to work out,
      a few problems that take a few years to solve ..

      .. that is, if i'm the one to solve them.

    • i still don't feel like i know anything.  right now i couldn't be anyone's advisor; i don't know my field well enough to think of ph.d. problems for the next generation ..

      .. so a few more years of experience would be helpful.

  4. *new* work out a new proof every month. [3]  i browse through the arXιv fairly often (every monday and thursday) but apart from titles, abstracts, and introductions, i don't really get much out of it ... which is my own fault.

    lately i feel like i've been using the same methods, over and over again.  according to gian-carlo rota, every mathematician has only a few tricks .. which sounds dooming.

    maybe it's worth seeing if rota was right or wrong.  if anything, it can't hurt to read more.

  5. update this blog every friday at least once a week.  lately my posts have been sparse, though i can't really tell you why.

    maybe it's the inevitable effect of having kept it up for so long, and that there are fewer things worth sharing.  maybe mathematics is getting less frustrating for me ..

    well, a boy can dream, right?

    i could use an easy resolution, anyway.  besides, there are always the resolutions above to write about; maybe doing so will actually convince me to fulfill them .. (-:
[1] to those not in the know: i have nothing against my current job.  it's great, actually, but the contract is for one year only.

[2] it would help, of course, if i finally sat down and learned some finnish.  fortunately, this is a list of mathematical resolutions, so i can leave it off the list ..! (-:

[3] originally it was going to be one proof per week, but then realised that it was too unrealistic.  i might as well start off small, first.