Thursday, August 29, 2013

Office Space: I came through and I shall return

Dear Diary,

As I feared, I have a new desk.  I knew that the old desk was fleeting. Now my beloved wall calendar (I didn't even get to see what the picture is for August and September is almost upon us!) is forever stuck in July.

John wound up moving in, but I took his desk and switched the contact information on the website so Professor Burke can still find us.  The easiest part of the move was switching computers because I didn't have to.  I already had an account on this one.

Truthfully, I'm not sure what to do with all the extra desk space.  I've kept all of my books and things in approximately the same amount of space as before (approximately 1 by .5 meters) for fear that the rest of the table space is an illusion and can't be trusted.  I heard that at zoos, they only put a very small drop at the edge of giraffe cages and this is sufficient to prevent them from leaving.  You see, diary, the giraffes are so tall that they perceive even a small change in the landscape elevation as a large drop.  How exactly this applies to graduate students is a mystery since we do not have any extraordinary talents to take advantage of.  However, I seem to be psychologically unable to use the entire table space!  Tricksome zookeeper mischief is surely afoot!

Most importantly, I no longer have constant access to Lucas.  I will have to write down my questions and make the most efficient use of my meeting time with him.  Maybe I can even work through some of my questions by reading literature or group notes.  This could cut down on the amount of time that I bug him (but I will still need to bug him!).

Moral of the story:  Always turn your wall calendar to the next page at the beginning of the month.  You never know when you'll see your last day!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Butch Cassidy and Sundiary Kid

Dear Diary,

We're on the run!  Estamos bandidos Yanquis. Lucas sent me a copy of his thesis for publication on the website, but the library won't let you publish theses on your own until they have fully processed it and put it on their website.  Sorry, Lucas!  You'll have to wait a few months...It is good work, though, and should be shared with the entire world.

WORLD:  You'll have to wait too!  In the meantime, diary, we'll have to be wary of crossing the library.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lucas Defends


Lucas defended his thesis today to a packed classroom of assorted department members.  He was measured, focused, and took all of our suggestions from the presentation preview.  He also wore pleated pants (something I can not make work!).

Right now we're headed out to lunch with the newly minted doctor.  Congratulations Lucas!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cayley-Hamilton Tricks

Diary, OMG!

There's a super slick trick to find the inverse of a matrix.  Consider a 2 x 2 matrix and write out the characteristic polynomial.  For example, consider a matrix A

column 1:  2  1
column 2:  0  1

with characteristic polynomial in x:


But the Cayley Hamilton theorem says that we can replace the variable x by the matrix A.  So,


And multiplying on the left by the inverse gives


WHICH IS MIND BLOWING!  Where has this trick been all my mathematical life?!  It's on the same short cutting plane as Gaussian Elimination to solve systems of equations or finding out that Leif Ericson actually discovered America before Columbus!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Professor Burke asked me to put together the rule book for the group in a Latex document about how to manage your material on the group server.  I'll have more on that later.

While doing so, he dropped this: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of tiny minds" which is a dynamite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  After reading the entire essay, Self-Reliance, I now see that a lot of Professor Burke's insistence on being independent in your research has an intellectual brother in Emerson's writing.

Because I know you're a hipster, Diary, and wouldn't like me quoting the well known stuff, I'll give you my three favorite snippets:

"If I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil"
"Your goodness must have some edge to it, —else it is none."
"As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds"

Man, I feel like that last one everyday.  The worst part about this essay as that no matter how much I am attracted to it, I can never pick it up as my personal creed.  The whole point of it is to not blindly believe in anything...that means I can't even believe the people who are not blindly believing in anything!  So meta!

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say `I think,' `I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere.

Real subversive stuff! Till next time, Diary!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Imposter Syndrome

Dear Diary,

I've been feeling down lately.  Things aren't going my way.  I feel like I can't work to the level that I feel comfortable with.  I fear to know how bright and capable my colleagues think I am.

Oh wow!  What's this?!  It's a seminar for people who have "Imposter's Syndrome"?  Well, it seems like they've caught me.  I should go on September 19 to see how to be more confident about how others think of my work.

Hmm...can I even respectably go to this lecture if others know that I'm seeking help to be more confident?  This could backfire...but the website says that even women at Caltech have confidence issues.  And young girls in families tend to be typed into different social roles over their siblings.  Apparently, when a woman uses her '...intuitive perceptiveness and charm to gain approval...she feels that this praise is based on her charm and not on ability.'

Ok, I'm sold; this sounds like it could help me out.  There, I clicked the RSVP!  It's too late to turn my back on success now!

[Editor's note: Dr. Valerie Young author of "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women" will be giving a lecture on September 19 on this topic.]

Friday, August 2, 2013

When you ride like lightning, you're gonna crash like thunder

Dear Diary,

I received some good research advice today and wanted to share it.

It is tempting to approach physics by making a lot of intuitive guesses.  The danger is, if you go too fast, your answer might be wrong or only right in certain cases.  The assumptions that you make may come back to bite you if you don't understand them or if nature doesn't agree.

Professor Burke wants to emphasize that the things we do demand the opposite.  You must go slowly and understand each step of the way.  A key point is to understand the style and assumptions of your derivation...not just the answer.

I should keep this mind while I continue studying: play it safe, take your time, and be transparent.  Check everything.