Friday, June 29, 2012

conference, day 5: neither in nor out .. but still tired.

[from last night's draft]

there's something about having completed a ph.d. that irrevocably changes one's perspective.  for one thing, it tends to turn perfectly normal people into workaholics .. that is, if they weren't workaholics before;

even if they were, it still urges them to extremes.

so the trouble with conference participation is that it doesn't feel like work, though it does take an appropriate share of brainpower and energy.  even if confusion sets in early, it takes quite an effort to try and follow a talk, especially when it pertains to an area other than one's own interests. [1]

so this week has worn me out.  i think i avoided making a choice, really.  the options were either:
  1. attend the conference as an unambiguous participant, or
  2. leave it alone completely and work as usual.
in trying to do both, i achieved neither of them.  honestly, i felt distracted all the time:
when sitting in a talk,
i was thinking about my own research;

when at the office,
i thought about the conference.
i'm glad that i gave a talk on tuesday, though.  it seems to have sharpened my mind, and the questions and later discussions from audience members have stimulated some new ideas.  i think i see the core of my proof more easily now, and some results can in fact be sharpened and improved ..

.. which is a mixed blessing:  once these matters are settled, then it will make an unambiguously better paper; on the other hand, now there are more matters to settle and it will take more time to settle them .. and i was hoping earlier to finalise the preprint, right away. \-:

worthwhile things have no reason to be easy, i suppose .. but it would be nice to have something easy to do for a change.

at any rate, conference season isn't over yet, as next week is the european congress.  i don't know whether to laugh, cry, or just not react and get to LaTeXing.

[1] friends of mine have called mathematics a divisive subject: everything is either obvious or impossible, and often mathematicians react as such.  it probably makes us harder people to deal with than absolutely necessary.

conference, day 3: trapped by convenience.

[yes, this entry is out of order.  after a little thought, it doesn't seem that bad to post.]

sitting in the back of the lecture room, i quickly became lost in the gory details in the middle of a plenary talk (as usual).  so i started looking around.

it happens that the laptop screens of others are within my view.  this is hardly precise statistics, but it seems that most people are checking their email and writing replies .. with an occasional PDF open.

it seems like an honest enough reason to have a laptop open.  the life of academics is busy, among other duties, with getting back to colleagues, fellow committee members, or administrative staff at our home departments.

maybe technology has enthralled us, in both definitions of the word [1].

in theory, inventions like vacuum cleaners and automobiles and email have simplified the workings of modern life; on the other hand, not having maids or chauffeurs or secretaries at our beck and call, we are ourselves responsible for handling these matters instead.

it's not completely wrong to say that technology has created more work for us, not less.  modern life is conceptually more complicated, in that our schedules are fuller with the trappings of convenience.

[1] according to its entry in the free online dictionary,
en·thrall  (n-thrôl)
tr.v. en·thralled, en·thrall·ing, en·thralls
1. To hold spellbound; captivate: The magic show enthralled the audience.
2. To enslave.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

conference, day 4: more bad behavior.

like anyone else, i have my fair share of bad habits .. just that, at conferences, they become more manifest.

take coffee consumption, for instance:
typically i drink 2-3 cups per day [1], but at conferences, there is always a morning coffee break and an afternoon one, too.  somehow conference participation culture is difficult to overcome:

as long as there is a break, then why not a coffee?
then there is the relaxation after a full day at a conference, often at a pub with many friends and colleagues.  the problem is that maybe just one more too easily translates to one-too-many, and often it's quite late at night when i finally find myself back in my room.

staying up late,
drinking alcohol to excess,
drinking coffee to excess .. and then having to wake up early!

none of these vices are really that serious, but they really wear me out if done too much in concert.  i feel it already with this week's conference; i can only imagine how again it can be, when i find myself next week in Krakow ..!

[1] for me, it's two cups in the morning, just after waking up, and one shortly after lunch, but not right afterwards. the effect of caffeine seems wasted if it is put in direct opposition to the sleepiness after a midday meal.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

conference, day 2: words, words, words.

[written last night]

i complain a lot about having long, complete paragraphs on talk slides.  to explain, it was simply part of how i learned how to give talks:
though they don't perform arithmetic nearly as much as the general public believes, many mathematicians still find it easier to parse an equation than to read through a whole paragraph of sentences.

that's the whole point of mathematical notation:
it's meant to be a powerful shorthand for quantitative ideas.

so if you can formulate something as an equation or inequality or formula, then usually it's just fine to write it that way, include some indication of what the hypotheses are, and then explain verbally what it means. [1] it's what i prefer, at any rate.
on the other hand, maybe i'm not being fair.  i happen to be a native english speaker, so my level of effort is minimal.  when talking at international conferences, people occasionally tell me that i should slow down my talking pace [2].

the fact is that for most people in the world, english is a less-than-perfect second language, and to speak well requires deliberate care for the right words to indicate the right meaning.
put another way, say that you're talking to an international audience:

in that case, why wouldn't you write up completely, readable english on your slides, in the event that the audience doesn't understand you (or rather, your accent) ..?
i don't have to like it, but i understand why it happens.

[1] if everything had to be on a slide, then what's the point of having a human speaker in the room?

[2] that actually happened earlier today: one guy in the audience asked me to go slower.  at the time i tried, but i don't think it worked out as he wanted.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

conference, day 1: already, bad behavior.

[from yesterday's draft, on a scrap of paper]

i'm getting "worse" when it comes to behaving myself at conferences.  usually i pay attention for the whole of the first day -- an honest effort, if you will -- but it's already day one and by the second round of plenary talks, i'm not listening much anymore. [1]

instead, there's an odd thread that's run loose from my talk preparations, which are preliminary results and not yet submitted.

there's some leeway here in the hypotheses;
i wonder if i can prove something better?

so i spent most of the talks, scribbling.  every talk gets my undivided attention for ten minutes, you see; if it doesn't catch my interest after that, then i'm working on my own problems.

i'm not the only one "misbehaving" though:
during the last plenary talk of the morning, i heard the unmistakable sound of fingers typing on a laptop's keyboard .. and the keys are rather thin at that.

then again, it could be one of the forthcoming speakers, making last minute changes to make a more reasonable or accessible talk .. in which case, they would have my solemn appreciation.
speaking of which, i was subjected to a few painful talks today.  it's not the subject matter was particularly bad, but that the method or presentation was somewhat .. lacking.
in one contributed talk, there were screenshots of a PDF of the speaker's actual paper [2].  i suppose it could be worse: around 2-3 years ago, i attended a conference in which the speaker actually opened up a PDF copy of his paper, and scrolled up and down to get at the right theorems to talk about!

in another talk today, one slide consisted of a single paragraph that was twenty lines long of pure text.  (i counted, if only because of indignation.)


how anyone is supposed to follow those kinds of talks is beyond me ..!
to be fair, the first two plenary talks gave nice introductions to the Heιsenberg grοup, which was initially surprising but later made perfect sense. (i forget that there is a rich history of fοurier analysιs on this kind of Lie grοup, if only to show that it is a theory that isn't completely specialised to Euclidean spaces.)

[1] then again, the conference is centered around the topics of fοurier analysιs and pseudοdifferentιal οperatοrs .. neither of which i study.  it only happens that the conference is being held at my university and that it is easy to attend.

[2] the speaker was quite ambitious: in twenty minutes he even made it to section 7!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

LaTeX woes: when making slides, sometimes one must use slides.

so i'm going to be on this train for the next three hours .. which, at this stage in my life, equates to talk-writing time. [1]

i thought i took care of everything:
while updating the linux version on my netbook, the internet connection in my apartment suddenly seized .. so for a few days, my laptop was kaput.

i was able to save all my data before scrapping for a complete re-install [2]. there was even time, before leaving to see friends for the holiday, to re-install LaTeX (as TeXLive).
the plan was simple:
  1. on the way there, finish LaTeXing up a bad first draft of the results [3];
  2. start LaTeXing up slides for a talk on tuesday.
so #1 was fine, since i didn't expect to finish the draft anyway;

as for #2, apparently installing the latest version of TeXLive doesn't necessarily mean that it also installs beamer and pstricks.


it just goes to show that you can't predict everything.  so now i'm downloading the packages from the free wifi on the train .. which is going slowly.

*sighs further*

in the meanwhile, i'm fleshing out the talk outline, using old-school slides.
the format is faithful enough to beamer so that the visual output is similar, and it's not like the code is that different: copying-&-pasting a few begin{slide} ... end{slide} commands never hurt anyone, right?

(i probably wouldn't have gotten to working out the diagrams, anyway.)

[1] it's amazing how computer manufacturers have been able to extend battery life on netbooks.  these days, if inclined, i can code over most of a transatlantic flight .. not that i really would .. after all, a boy has to catch up on his hollywood films on small airplane screens, right?  (-:

[2] thank you very much, ubuntu one!  (it's a shame that dropbox gets all the spotlight for offering the same service.)

[3] it's easier for me to edit a bad draft into a good one, rather than to write a good draft from scratch .. that is, as long as the draft isn't that bad.  (just as in wall climbing, sometimes i need to make mistakes before i know exactly how to do it right.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

nature abhors a vacuum; it might make a good workspace.

if i could spare the space, then i'd arrange for a two-room office.  the main thing would be that one room would not have any computers in it at all.

it would have a big window, though [1].

along with a ban on computers, that room would contain little more than, say, a sturdy, level table and chairs.  books and bookcases would go in the other room, with the computer(s) and file cabinet(s) and all the scratch paper.  the point would be to keep that one room bare, uncluttered, and uncomplicated.
the philosophy would be to "bring only what you need; otherwise it should be empty of distraction, perfect for thinking.."

i'm even wondering whether the table and chairs are absolutely necessary for efficient work [2].
on the other hand, a chalkboard seems like a good idea .. but in keeping with the vibe of the room, the board must be erased after each work session.  now that i think about it, chalkboard paint would keep it simple:

literally, to write on the walls .. [3]

[1] if only to mark the passage of time.  a wall clock seems too forced.  on the other hand, the onset of dusk and darkness seems something reasonable to keep in mind, if only to pace yourself and the work involved.

[2] for me it would be enough to take a wooden board, something like a removable shelf from a bookcase.  i'd sit with my back to one wall, prop the board on my legs, and it would support a notebook as i would write in it.

[3] .. but not, say, on the windows. that's too reminiscient of that film, a beautiful mind: drawing diagrams on top of window glass seems, to me, too much like trapping yourself inside a box of symbols, keeping the world .. even sunlight .. at bay.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#1100: doing the details, hacking the unconscious.

after writing out details on paper at home, this morning,
        mulling over them while walking to the bus,
                and realising, while on the bus, what needed to be done ..

.. i started LaTeχing like a fiend in the office.

i like the results now.

it's never clear to me whether the work is sufficiently hard, in the sense that i've proven something worth proving.  still, the results fit together, and they do address something i've wanted to understand for a while.  my hope is that they explain something ..
.. maybe even to someone else!  a boy can still dream, right?

as i've hinted at before, i've essentially turned someone else's theorem into a tautology .. though not exactly [0].  so the real novelty here, if any, is a human one: i was brave (read: foolhardy) enough to think that it was actually possible, and gotten lucky in spite of it.

regarding part of the process: yesterday i had this out-of-the-ordinary, peripheral thought that i've seen this pattern before, used it somehow and an old idea might fit ..

.. but i suppressed it, deciding to delay the heavy thinking until "tomorrow," meaning today.  as for my reasons:
  1. i think more carefully in the mornings .. and oddly enough, sometimes it's when i'm uncaffeinated.  sometimes i suspect that, not being completely awake, i can trick myself into doing work: a kind of marshmellow test, if you will.

  2. i want to be able to sleep well at night.  odds are that if i worked at it right away, then i would be tired by nightfall, wouldn't get the details right, and be bothered about it over a fitful night of sleep .. only to wake up unready for real work. [1]

  3. i think i was also trying to hack my unconscious toolbox, by pushing the thoughts out of the forefront of my awareness.  sometimes i wonder, to what extent, my conscious mind ever really does my mathematics for me.
if anything, i can't remember anything "notable" i've proven in a single day, and i don't want to start now.  once i do that and once i know it works, then i'll be obliged to do so every time .. just to convince myself that i'm not as lazy as i could be.

strange: sometimes the only reason why i'm not lazy is because of my compulsions.  maybe this is just a very mild instance of a supposed interplay between creativity and .. well, madness.

in other news, this is my 1100th post on this blog; it still astounds me how much i have to complain about mathematics, after 7 1/2 years. (-:

[0] it's more like a weak converse, and a full converse in a special case.  it's still bothering me that i haven't got a complete tautology .. but maybe it'll work as an open problem and spark some interest.  who knows?  stranger things have happened, like someone actually taking the time and effort to improve on my work.

[1] talking this over with colleagues, apparently i'm far from the only one who is aware of this.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

news gets old, normal life returns.

so after all of these months, i think the news has really sunk in: i'm really going to be okay .. at least in regards to jobs.
i've seven more years [1] of being an academic mathematician lined up.
if all goes well, then perhaps i can stretch that to as long as i like.

these circumstances are no longer "news" to me.  they've taken hold of my reality instead, become a part of it.  for better or worse, i'm going to believe them to be facts and to plan out my future with them in mind.

as a result, the hedonistic treadmill has started up its merry pace again.  my childish glee has disappeared and i've stopped being impressed with myself:
yeah, yeah -- so you won't starve for a while.
big deal: what's next?
in other words, i'm back to being my usual, frustrated self.  with my current project, i can prove a little something, but not quite what i believe to be true.

a lot of perfectly good paper's gone into the recycling bin;
i've deleted and commented out a lot of the LaTeX markup in my current set of research notes.

 on a related note, i'll have a new preprint [2] soon;
i've turned someone's theorem into a tautology,
which isn't very polite, i'm afraid.

i wince when i think about my other projects and how long it's been since i've gotten back to my co-authors. maybe it's good that i'm not a professor yet, because i'm hardly responsible enough for how busy of a life that gets.

why is it so hard to keep one's promises?
(it would be a lot easier if everyone would assume that i'm simply an untrustworthy person.)

[1] that is, one + six: a 1-year deferral, and 6 years before the tenure decision at my future employer.  why do i suspect that the busiest times of my life are yet to come?

[2] depending on how it goes, it might be a joint paper.  we'll see how convincing i am, by how nicely i can ask.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

article post: in which GMT meets .. social science?

on the lighter side of things .. this is by far one of the more interesting abstracts that i have read, in recent memory:
Geοmetric Measure Theοry As a Monster Mash (link)
Sha Χin Weι

Abstract. I argue that mathematicians crucially make use of monsters -- entities and concepts that break form and expectation, and hybridize across alien (unrelated) theories. But I will also argue that (1) mathematicians do this consciously as a research practice, and (2) this is considered a perfectly legitimate, if not generic process. In other words, in mathematics the creation of monsters is recognized as part of the working practice of a creative mathematician.

Why is this the case? Why perhaps is this so legitimate in mathematics whereas it may seem more transgressive in physics and its sibling empirical sciences? I suggest that rather than deductively erecting propositional lattices atop a fixed set of axioms and definitions, mathematicians practice the formation, deformation, and reformation of conceptual patterns.

I also suggest that mathematicians can exteriorize their practice in mathematics as technology. The example that I will trace is the formation of geometric measure theory in the late 1960's through the 1980's, in which several mysterious pathologies in the classical notion of area were resolved by a monstrous re-interpretation of surface using notions from real analysis (abstract measure theory).
it's interesting how well this guy understands mathematicians, which is something different from understanding mathematics.  this is not to say that he cannot reconstruct the proof of the deformation theorem, but it sounds like he's thought a lot about how mathematicians think.

so i have no rebuttals, only rejoinders:

In other words, in mathematics the creation of monsters is recognized as part of the working practice of a creative mathematician. Why is this the case?

how else can you test how "reasonable" a theory is?

it's not like we mathematicians are tethered to reality.  it's similar to having philosophical arguments, to the point where words break down and definitions become crucial.

put another way, empiricists have the luxury of running experiments; one prepares the setup, let the particles run, and records the data.  theorists, on the other hand, are afforded no such tests.  there is no difference between the design of a "thought experiment" and its implementation, so these degenerate examples (or "monsters" if you will) are our version of 'control experiments.'

Why perhaps is this so legitimate in mathematics whereas it may seem more transgressive in physics and its sibling empirical sciences?

because, unlike scientists, we can do very well without loyalties to reality.

i have met some brilliant physicists, but at the end of the day, they must cede to physical law .. or the current fashionable speculation of what should be the correct law (e.g. string theory).

up to human frailties, pure mathematicians are under no such obligation.  i would even say that computer scientists (not engineers) are more free than physicists.

I suggest that rather than deductively erecting propositional lattices atop a fixed set of axioms and definitions, mathematicians practice the formation, deformation, and reformation of conceptual patterns.

that would be in keeping with what i've observed about research and researchers.  we draw from examples, wonder if the phenomena we observe is truly general, or whether the situation can take on a degenerate turn.

other than logicians and their ilk, i know very few mathematicians who start with axioms and start "computing" with them, seeing what comes out.

I also suggest that mathematicians can exteriorize their practice in mathematics as technology.

i have heard the word "technology" thrown around, quite often.

usually it refers to new insights that allow us a better understanding of a previously not-well-understood phenomena, or a newly-tested set of "tools" that allow us to make many more (or simply more precise) conclusions that were previously impossible.

so yes: it sounds to me like the conceptual version of technology.

The example that I will trace is the formation of geometric measure theory in the late 1960's through the 1980's, in which several mysterious pathologies in the classical notion of area were resolved by a monstrous re-interpretation of surface using notions from real analysis (abstract measure theory).

hold on: what are you calling "monstrous" ..? (-:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

focusing on the non-negative side of things.

friends of mine have often accused me of focusing too much on the negative.  my previous post only gives evidence to their accusations, i suppose [1].

so in efforts to demonstrate my abilities at being a happy, well-adjusted member of society, let me focus genuinely on the positives of my "new" life:

i can plan my travels now.  it's a hard thing to promise anyone where you will be, if you don't know your base of operations.  now that i do, i can plan again.

i can accept a previous invitation to spain, another one to switzerland, which i've never been.
who knows? maybe i'll finally stop by ρisa,
invite myself into the scuοla nοrmale superiοre.

a boy can dream, right? (-:
i don't have to write another grant proposal, this september.  thinking about this makes me so happy.  words cannot express my joy at being free .. free from grant-writing.
free at last, free at last!

some days i wonder if i unconsciously chose the 1-year deferral, so that i wouldn't have to suffer the pain! and frustration! of writing yet. another. twelve-page proposal .. only to wait six. dreadful. months for the nsf panel to exercise their creativity in the only form they know how ..

.. which is finding new reasons for rejecting the application ..!

maybe i'm just a bad writer, incapable of any real improvement.
maybe i don't understand mathematical fashions and trends,
how to point out the strengths of a project (i.e. "sell" it).

i don't know; i'm just fed up with all of it.
i just want a year off from september grant-writing.
i even wrote a grant proposal last year, and i wasn't even in the states!  it's what's allowing me to stay happily abroad for the next year .. so i guess i can't be that bad of a writer.

to be fair, it was a lucky coincidence to learn about the academy of finland deadlines after arriving here and sorting out the particulars of a new life [2].  had i known about them beforehand, i would probably have been an emotional mess for months.
so yes, this is not so much a positive feeling as a non-negative one.
despite that, i assure you that you cannot know how happy i feel about it.

i have staved off "growing up" for another year.  maybe i hang around too many important senior people, but they always seem busy .. and i mean a different order of magnitude and shape.
i mean, i might be "busy" with finishing a research preprint, and in a few days i should think about writing that talk, get back to a colleague about an idea that i wrote them about .. and next week might be that deadline for submitting that long-delayed mathscinet review.

as for them, a single day could be: morning meetings with students, committee meeting after that (which might require driving to another site and back), preparing lectures, giving that day's lecture, rushing back to the office to meet with a visiting collaborator .. and after that work-session, there are probably several dozen emails that require some sort of reply.  peppered through it all are constant knocks on their doors, followed by reasonable-but-so-many little requests ..
in the words of ρaul graham, having been successful in their research and mentoring, they've switched from the maker's schedule to a manager's one.  most of them are also early morning people, i suspect, because it's the only time of day that they have to themselves.

i remember a slight taste of that kind of schedule in my first postdoc.  on teaching days, my life hardly felt like my own until i stumbled home in the darkness.  i felt like i never had time for any particularly good ideas.

that said, i feel more productive now than i ever have, before.  in another year, the novelty will probably wear off and the productivity will cease .. but until then, it's going to be a good ride.

so yes, this is another non-negative perk,
but surely it's reasonable to appreciate one's freedoms?

[1] never mind that this is an instance of the fallacy of the consequent, and doesn't actually prove anything.  this, of course, is further "evidence" to my non-FOL-savvy friends .. [sighs]

[2] this is also strange to say, but here goes: contrary to expectation, maybe it was a good thing that i didn't spend the fall semester at MSRΙ, where they had a thematic semester in metric geometry.  for the longest time i thought that decision might ruin my life.  my consolation at the time was that, being ever a man of poor judgment, i was bound to make an even worse mistake in the future ..

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

how i feel? honestly ..?

ask me how i feel — now that all of this job seeking business is over — and i still don't quite know what to say.  there's relief, i guess, but that's not quite it: not all of it, anyway.

i feel free, which is to say: empty.

i've spent close to a month fretting about whether i could successfully defer .. and for that matter, whether it was really the right thing to do [1].   of the last two years, i spent most of them worrying about jobs, about the economy, about the future .. and whether tenure-track jobs will become a thing of the past.
i could swear that this year and last, more and more universities are replacing 
tenured positions with instructorships.  it could just be my imagination, though.

i worried, my friends worried for themselves, our mentors worried for us.

you'd think that with the cause of my worries now gone, with the worry now gone, a great wave of relief would replace it.  i thought so, too.  i'm still waiting for it to roll in.

last year's spring was a silent one, apart from the occasional explicit rejection email or letter [2].  some of my friends made it closer to the coveted goal: for a little while i was living vicariously through my officemate, who scored an interview or two, only to miss his shot in the final rounds.

in the end, one postdoc friend left academia, tired of the political infighting in the department that prevented his hire.  my officemate and i separately left the united states for a better life, if only temporarily: my contacts brought me to finland, while his led him further south.

maybe we were a randomly unlucky sample, maybe those postdocs and graduate students from more prestigious universities had better luck than us, maybe things are really that bad.  all i know is that the experience has left me embittered, and i no longer expect any human kindness from the market.

i think i have become a worse person, more equipped to survive .. but worse, nonetheless.

when i think of my obtaining a job, i don't think of myself as having won anything.  i've just not lost, that's all.  so perhaps free or empty isn't quite right;

sometimes i still feel angry.

[1] ultimately i acted in my own self interest, but that doesn't mean that i don't see the consequences it causes for others.  my accepting the grant means that another equally-qualified applicant loses his chance for it.  i know quite a few colleagues that are still waiting, still applying for openings now.

[2] a note to departments: i get very little snail mail that is not a bill or an advert.  in particular, most of my mail is bad news.  consider the scenario where one of your job applicants is taking that instant, using up that tiny spark of energy, to tear open that painfully thin envelope that will ultimately confirm his suspicions of rejection.  so do us a favor and just send an email: a quick read, a quick delete, and it's gone.

Monday, June 11, 2012

mildly mathematical: sometimes basic arithmetic matters.

first, another disaster quietly averted ..
-- -- ✂ -- --
.. IPv4, which is how we’ve been doing business — a 32-bit address consisting of four octets separated by decimal points, e.g. — only allows a total of 232 addresses (just under 4.3 billion). Tally up all the people in the world with single or shared Internet equipment that needs at least one public IP address, as well as all the enterprise-level (private, government) systems in need of the same (every website, for instance), and you can see where the 4.3 billion ceiling was bound to be a problem.

Enter IPv6, which uses 128-bit addresses, allowing up to 2
128 addresses (a number with too many zeroes to write out, but about 3.4 x 1038) — the leap in addressing possibilities from IPv4 to IPv6 is literally exponential.

-- -- ✂ -- --
.. and second, when clichés are made quantitative:
-- -- ✂ -- --
Driving the point home, he added, "Think about this: even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you."

-- -- ✂ -- --

Friday, June 08, 2012

Farewell, professor. We will remember you.

Today I learned that Prof. Frederιck W. Gehrιng passed away, last week.

I wish I had gotten to know him better, years ago.  Being a student at the time, I guess I just didn't know what to say.

We'll miss you, Professor;
we'll make sure that your work and ideas will live on.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

having my cake, eating it later.

in an earlier post, i promised to share my thoughts about the job search.

i still intend to .. but again, not right now;
instead, i thought i'd announce something else.
some of you already know about this, but for those few who don't:
the academy of finland approved my grant application.


one of my grants finally gets approved;
it was just a matter of escaping the u.s. to find the right committee. [1] (-:

so i could have stayed here for another three years as a postdoc, with little/no teaching duties.  they also agreed to the travel funds that i asked for, too ..
but yes: could have.

having agreed to a tenure-track offer in the states — given my word, two months ago —  this put me at an impasse.  so the negotiations began ..

.. and as of now, i'm deferring professorial life.  the position in the states is still reserved for me, for next year's fall, and i'm electing to stay in helsinki for one more year.

it's more than i could have hoped.
it's been a good year.

i'm slightly relieved, to be honest.  i still don't think i'm ready to be a professor yet, one of these more senior guys who advises and mentor students.  some of you may disagree, but the point is now moot:

i'm going to remain as janus for a while longer,
and professor geminus will have to wait until late 2013.

maybe i'll be ready for another chapter of my life, by then.

[1] i could spend the rest of this post complaining about the nsf .. but instead, i'd just like to express my gratitude to the academy and the nation of finland, who have been very kind and generous to me and my colleagues in the past years.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

mildly mathematical: augmented reality, take one.

In the picture below, (a) indicates clipped images from a video, and (b) is the processed output, which can detect the blood flow of the subject's face!

cropped from the original image, as found here.

it makes sense that blood flow would cause small visual changes, but it would never occur to me to re-render reality to detect this!

as for where this image came from ..
-- ✂ -- --
Eulerιan Videο Magnification for Revealing Subtle Changes in the World by Haο-Yu Wu, Michael Rubιnstein, Eugene Shιh, John Guπag, Frédο Durand, William T. Freemaη.

Our goal is to reveal tempοral variations in videos that are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye and display them in an indicative manner. Our method, which we call EuΙerιan Videο Magnificatiοn, takes a standard video sequence as input, and applies spatial decοmposition, followed by tempοral filtering to the frames. The resulting signal is then amplified to reveal hidden information. Using our method, we are able to visualize the flow of blοοd as it fills the face and also to amplify and reveal small motions. Our technique can run in real time to show phenomena occurring at tempοral frequencies selected by the user.
-- ✂ -- --
these kinds of advancements worry me too, of course:
imagine, for example, if someone implements a fast version of this EVM into an add-on for google glasses.

now suppose you believe a recent study, which claims that one can often detect liars by the flow of blood to the face.

voila: an instant lie detector ..!

i mean, i'm impressed by this kind of scientific advancement, but call me cynical; most of us probably lie a lot on a day-to-day basis, and this could very well be the undoing of our civilization.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

mildly mathematical: thoughts of maps and lists.

when one has just returned from traveling, one's thoughts inevitably turn to the next trip.

that said, i've visited 32* of the 52 (extended) united states** so far ..

.. but i have never been to iowa or mississippi.  as it happens, during the next calendar year there are AMS sectional meetings scheduled for those places.

organising anything is always some kind of headache .. but it might be fun to meet up in the middle of nowhere,

scrawl on legal pads together,
and find the local espresso pump and watering holes.
so if anyone is planning a special session thereabouts, then let me know. (-:

** the way i see it: if idaho and wyoming count as states, with their small populations, then puerto rico and washington d.c. belong in the fold.  (i've been to d.c., otherwise the count is 31.)

* as for how i count .. layovers at airports don't count and driving through states doesn't count, either.  my count would otherwise increase to 38.

Monday, June 04, 2012

no more traveling, still dreaming.

so i'm back in the office today.
the bug's bit me again;

i'm thinking about curνature again,
but avoiding all discussion of manifοlds.
there's a metric space way to think about them, sure .. but i still find it a complicated approach.


call it mathematical daydreaming; having just returned back from holiday, i'm just too used to being idle and not doing any actual work. (-:

Sunday, June 03, 2012

still on holiday: a dense packing.

so i'm returning to helsinki today.  my plan remains in effect, however, so until tomorrow morning, i am still on holiday and hence, not working.

the decision to put a halt to the maths has been surprisingly easy to enforce this week.  maybe there's hope for me, that i'm not as much of a workaholic as i suspect i am. [1] it may also have helped that my friend from school, a non-mathmo, joined me over the course of 4 countries ..

.. in 6-7 days.

it would have been wiser, in retrospect, to take a more leisurely pace.
this alternative, however, suffers the defect of long stretches of lazy afternoon.

while my friend would be perfectly happy, with wifi on his iPhone, i'd probably be increasingly tempted to work out a little lemma or to sharpen one theorem in a special case.

having sat on many trains, this week, this was a very real temptation. i instead read camus and rousseau, hoping to decode the mystery that is the french mind ..
another convenient distraction was the confusion of speaking french in france.

in having to choose between translating menus, map directions, and train schedules -vs- thinking about subtle differences in a technical definition, one option simply had to be set aside.

it's one thing if i'm traveling alone, miss my train, and follow my own maths daydreams instead.  when someone else is on the same itinerary, though, responsibility asserts itself in a very real way ..

.. and so i stayed on holiday, my mind firmly focused on travel.

anyway, here are a few more snapshots:

and then there was this shot, from a champagne cave. what struck me most was, despite its rotational symmetries, how densely these wine bottles could be packed:

as for some further data, this particular cave has 4km(!) of hallways to store their bottles ..

.. which makes sense because -- according to the tour guide -- each bottle is aged for at least 3 years, and the comtes de champagne (as displayed above) for 10.

[1] to be honest, i don't think that i work excessively much .. or at least, i honestly think that i'm lazier than my peers.  then again, we're mathematicians, so my benchmarks might be a little skewed.

all i know is, my non-techie friends regularly point out that i'm a workaholic.