Wednesday, February 29, 2012

to my credit, i wasn't wrong.

remember when i said that "by the end, i'll have given 3 talks in 3 weeks?"

well, that's still true [1];
it's just that the plan has changed.

by the end of this week and next, i'll have given 5 talks in 5 weeks ..


it's my own fault, really: a problem with saying no, my sense of do-goodery [2] .. that sort of thing.  more precisely,
this week's talk is a continuation of last week's, after the seminar organiser suspected that i had more to say and suggested that i could take my time with the topic.

next week's talk is actually an expositional one.  it's meant to give the background for other speakers, who otherwise have only 20-25 minutes each for their talks.

[1] sometimes i tell people that i have a sister, which is true.  it is also true, however, that i have more than one sister. (-:

[2] .. and yes, "do-goodery" is an actual word.

Friday, February 24, 2012

a snapshot from last week.

last week, i spoke with a university dean, and he fired off the standard question that one hears in interviews:

"so, describe your research to me."

i gulped.
so i told him about embeddings of metric spaces,
gave a toy example of computer networks,
and hinted that additional geometrical constraints give a "litmus test" to check embeddability.
then a few seconds of silence followed.

him: so .. you study non-euclidean geometry?
me: highly non-euclidean geometry!

well, at least he smiled.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

dr. strange-talk (or how i stopped worrying and love my audience)

i've been giving a lot of talks lately.

after tomorrow, it will have been three talks in three weeks [1];
on top of that, each talk is newly written [2].

it's getting a little tiring [3] ..
.. and yes, i promise to stop with the footnotes now .. for a while, at least. q-:

if i've learned anything about giving talks in the last few weeks and months, it's that there is a trade-off at work:
  1. you can either be clear and never get through all you wanted to say;
  2. you can plow on, say what you want to say, lose more than half the audience, and probably go overtime.
(this isn't even accounting for questions from the audience, in the middle of the talk.  for some reason, this happens to me all the time.)

anyway, i've opted for option #1.  the operative word here, though, is all.  at this point, i think i'm already doing well if the audience actually remembers something from my talk.

let's face it:
metric spaces make a pretty abstract setting.  most people know this area as a playground for topologists and occasionally, gromov.  other than that, it's a bit mysterious.

like any other field of mathematics, it gets very technical very quickly.  if the audience is full of specialists, then sure: i can say what i want to say.

being a newish field, though, i've been reminded and re-reminded that apart from my immediate colleagues, nobody has ever heard of this stuff ..

there's also the context to consider:
at a conference or workshop, it's safe to assume that your audience is tired from the rigors of travel and stress.  besides, they're probably preoccupied with their own talks .. so half of them are probably not listening.

a quarter of them are probably confused by one of your first four definitions .. and if you're using slides, then they will be lost for the remainder of your talk. [4]
i think i'm being generous, here.

every one of these aspects is familiar to me.  i may be a rather unique (read: strange) person, but i like to think that some of my experience and bias is kin to others'.

this sounds like i'm giving up, but i'm not.  it's just that my expectations have changed.
i liken it to having taught undergrads for a while, planning for the possibility that some students will be curious about the subject, but being aware that most of them just want to get through the class.

it's not their fault: they want to do something else in life, and prefer to be curious about other things.

to think otherwise sounds like complaining about why the entire audience doesn't specialise in your field.

the only difference between you and your students is that you happen to have a ph.d. and suffered your share of misery for your achievement.

they, of course, have not: among other reasons, it's usually because they're younger than you.
that said, i know that tomorrow is my talk, that i will not get through half of what i wanted to discuss, but that doesn't matter.

i'm going to have fun.

i'll try to say why i think this stuff is cool,
give an idea of why it's hard,
and an idea of why the proof should work.

anyway, i still have a few pages to write .. so: back to it!

[1] a more precise count would be 2 weeks and 2 days, but my point persists.

[2] somehow it doesn't seem fair to use slides, if i am given two hours to talk.  what's the hurry?  as i told a colleague recently, i can think as fast as a chalkboard, but not as fast as a computer.

[3] to clarify, i mean "tiring" and not "tiresome" .. though audience members might agree with both.  you'll have to ask them. (-;

[4] odds are that few, if any, of us have thought about repeating a slide later on, just to remind the audience of an important technical point.  this is rarely a problem with chalkboards, of course ..

chalkboards: 1, slides: 0  .. ho ho!

sometimes being a little antisocial is helpful ..

this morning i worked at an idea for a while, until 9am.

when i thought about heading to the office, continuing with other bits of work, i got up to fetch my knapsack .. but then paused.

we have many visitors, this week;
there's lunch and then a seminar [1],
probably afterwards, a few discussions ..

.. so i sat down again, looked once more at my diagram ..

maybe 10am instead?

.. and continued to work at my kitchen table, with these funny "projections" on Lebesgue null sets.

i like my colleagues, i enjoy talking with them, but time often runs away if i don't keep a close watch on it ..

.. and in general, projects don't naturally fit themselves into my schedule.

like anyone else's work, my projects need attention and creativity .. and according to zenhabits, creativity needs solitude: to paraphrase,

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for contructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” 
~Rollo May.

at any rate, solitude may not be necessary for me, but it is sufficient.  so to my friends, i enjoy your company ..

.. but i'll see you, sometime.  there's work to do. q-:

[1] as a general rule, seminars in finland are 2 hours long (2 x 45 min).  suffice it to say that it's something of a time investment.

Monday, February 20, 2012


i've just been given a paper to review for Math Reviews, which was accepted into an Elsevier journal ..

.. so, in light of recent boycotts, i now have a dilemma.


any advice, guys?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

not the usual kind of interview question, but ..

today someone complimented me on my suit and asked me if i did my own ironing .. which was flattering, but .. startling.

.. but yes, i ended up deciding on wearing a suit to day one of the interview.. but i stopped short of wearing a tie.  having never given a talk while wearing a tie, i thought it best not to have anything resembling a noose around my neck, especially if i encounter a firing squad of "this isn't clear" kinds of questions ..

.. which happened anyway.

somehow i planned for 23 slides (not counting pauses) in 50 minutes, with some slides intended to be quick ones to clarify the notation.  probably i got through 14-15 .. which is good enough:

i told a robust enough story,
explained a few definitions by way of concrete examples,
and advertised my results.

somehow i picked up this rule about jobs talks: you should never end early, which seems contrary to the advice that as long as you don't go overtime, then you are fine.


oh well.  at least i didn't dress too badly for the occasion .. (-:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

a talk, a flight, another flight .. another talk.

ye gods, i'm giving another talk. by the time this is over, it will be three weeks in a row of giving talks. there's a bit more pressure for this upcoming one, though.

it's a job talk.

i feel overwhelmed.

my interview was moved up one week. so instead of 1.5 weeks to settle everything, meet my commitments, and prepare for the inteview, it's instead become a few days. part of me wonders how fair this is, but i'm not holding the cards in this game.

i came back from spain on saturday afternoon; today i fly out.

i feel unprepared.

my talk's not finished yet, not by half. with 3+8 hours of flight time, though, i'm hoping to have it finished before the captain announces to us "to turn off all electronic devices before landing."

that's not a problem. i've been under tighter spots before. it's everything else.

i'm tired from the conference, from meeting and talking to new people all the time. i want to go back to work, finish that preprint, resubmit another preprint, start on the new things that i promised others that i would.

i want to be a mathematician again.

by tomorrow i have to be on my best behavior: friendly, receptive, ready. it's not that i consider myself a degenerate -- not a complete one, anyway -- but like many mathematicians i'm an introvert. it takes me a great effort to be outward and actively be nice to people. it's getting harder, every year.

i'm dreading the onslaught of questions -- both those that they will ask me and those that i'm supposed to ask them. i don't know what to ask, other than the obvious ones. i'm already amazed that i made it to the shortlist and their department deigns to talk to me ..!

i'm tired and i want to go home.
 the problem is that i don't have a home anymore.

 i haven't had one in a very long time.

i also misread my flight times. i thought my flight today was 4pm, but that's my return trip. it was 11:30am that, printing out my itinerary, i realised that takeoff is instead at 1:55pm ..


so if i'm lucky, i'll arrive to the airport 45 minutes before takeoff. i don't know if they'll let me board, but the first leg is within Europe and maybe they won't be so picky about intercontinental rules.

i have to try;
i don't know what i'm doing anymore,
i don't know the odds of success,
but i know i have to try.

it's the only thing left that i can do.

epilogue: they checked me in with 40 minutes to go, before takeoff .. which was anyway delayed because of the plane's late arrival ..

.. so i guess it's time to finish that talk ..!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

you can't have your talk and eat it, too.

i give up.

when it comes to giving talks, i must have a personal heisenberg uncertainty principle when it comes to two quantities:

1. clarity and exposition,
2. depth and new tools.

(more, to come ..)

i feel like an outlier at this conference, which is called "function theory on infinite dimensional spaces (xii)."

infinity is a scary thing,
infinitely many dimensions even more so.

sure, i many study metric spaces, which include Banach spaces as examples.  my context is always finite-dimensional, though, and the challenges tend to be overcoming a lack of smoothness or geometric structure.

i liken it to studying life on the sea floor, honestly.

(maybe more, to come.)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

i used to be cleverer when i was younger ..

no, i am not jεnna burkε from the bachelοr, for i am far uglier and i do maths.  you can find her here instead.

while loading up my web browser today, the mathscinet search page appears .. and suddenly i'm confused:
ye gods: what article did i want to look up?
i'm so forgetful .. what could it have been?

i mean, lately i've been thinking about this theorem and how to extend it,
but there's nothing in the literature that fits .. i checked already ..
then it occurred to me: it's the start page.

why is it now the start page?!?
but then i remember ..

[[[ rewind to yesterday ]]]

i'm loading up the web browser, intent on looking up a reference and the statement of a particular lemma, and so my start page appears ..

.. which is gmail.

absently i log in, and there are emails to reply.  so i start replying, wondering what to say for one particular message ..

.. and 20 minutes later, i realise that i never ran the mathscinet search!

*argh* ..!

an idea immediately comes to mind.  clicking on "settings," i switch my start page to mathscinet.
well, if i forget again and do what my browser tells me to do,

then at least i'll be directed towards mathematics,
which is a more productive form of confusion and misdirection ..
[[[ fast-forward back to today ]]]

i sigh and press Alt-F4, and the browser window disappears .. but then i remember that i wanted to check my email.

i'm about to click on the firefox icon, but my LaTeX is suddenly staring at me .. so i give up.
i probably don't have any new mail .. and if i do,
it's probably not important: i'll do it later.


sometimes my past self is too smart for his .. er, my own good .. (-:

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

short and sweet!

awesome: the preprint so far is under 10 pages.
this rocks!

though the writing is tight, the discussion is not too spare.  in fact, there are ..

* flips pages *
* counts *

.. at least 4 pages of set-up, in the event that the reader knows nothing about the subject. [1]

this suggests, of course, that the work is not deep .. which i admit is true.  i prefer to think of it as light-hearted, myself.

put another way, this is no marathon or triathalon;
it's like your friendly neighborhood 5K or a sunday bike ride.

*  *  *

too often i feel like my work is overly technical and painful to read (as well as to write) and that the ideas are hard to state simply.

with this little paper, this is not the case.  it really is a simple idea!
basically, i'm treating a metrιc question in euclιdean spaces, and exploiting the fact that smooth 1-fοrms are good objects with which to test 1-dimensiοnal currents.  in the obsolete format of analogies from standardised tests, the intuition is that ..

curreηts : generalιzed surfaces :: distributiοns : generalιzed functiοns.

anyways, back to work: the preprint won't write itself, and it hardly seems like work at all ..

[1] for those of you who know me personally, i suppose this is in keeping with my manner.  it seems that every time i give a talk, at least half of the contents are expositional.