TITLE: Three Notes for a Friday AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 19, 2007 3:45 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Three thoughts from recent reading. From a professional standpoint, one is serious, one is light, and one is visionary. You'll have to decide. Understanding the New In their New Yorker article Manifold Destiny, on the social drama that surrounded Grigory Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture, Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber write:
On September 10, 2004, more than a year after Perelman returned to St. Petersburg, he received a long e-mail from Tian, who said that he had just attended a two-week workshop at Princeton devoted to Perelman's proof. "I think that we have understood the whole paper," Tian wrote. "It is all right."
Mathematics, the theoretical parts of computer science, and theoretical physics are different from most other fields of human knowledge in a way that many folks don't realize. The seminal advances in these areas create a whole new world. Even the smartest, most accomplished people in the field may well not understand this new world until they have invested a lot of time and effort studying the work. This should encourage those of us who don't understand a new idea immediately the first time through. Dressing the Part In Why I Don't Wear a Suit and Can't Figure Out Why Anyone Does!, America's most X-generation sports owner, Mark Cuban, writes:
Someone had once told me that you wear to work what your customers wear to work. That seemed to make sense to me, so I followed it, and expected those who worked for me to follow it as well.
This is good news for college professors. If you believe the conventional wisdom these days, our customers are our students, and their dress is the ultimate in casual and comfortable. I can even wear shorts to class with little concern that my students will care. But what about all of our other customers -- parents, the companies that hire our students, the state government, the taxpayers? They generally expect something more, but even still I think that academics are unique among professionals these days in that almost everyone cuts us slack on how we dress. Or maybe no one thinks of us as professionals... Now that I am a department head, I have made adjustments in how I dress, because my audience really is more than just my students. I meet with other faculty, higher-level administrators, and members of the community on a regular basis, and where they have expectations I try to meet or exceed them. Cuban is basically right, but you have to think of "customer" in a broader sense. It is "whoever is buying my immediate product right now", and your product may change from audience to audience. The dean and other department heads are consuming a different product than the students! Controlling the Present and Future Courtesy of James Duncan Davidson, another quote from Alan Kay that is worth thinking about:
People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.
Alan Kay has always encouraged computer scientists to take ownership of the tools they use. Why should we settle for the word processor that we are given by the market? Or the other basic tools of daily computer use, or the operating system, or the programming languages that we have been handed? We have the power to create the tools we use. In Kay's mind, we have the obligation to make and use something better -- and then to empower the rest of the users, by giving them better tools and by making it possible for them to create their own. -----