TITLE: A Lot To Learn This Semester AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 21, 2011 10:38 AM DESC: ----- BODY: It's been a good start to semester, though too busy to write much. My Intelligent Systems course shows promise, with four teams of students taking on some interesting projects: recognizing faces, recognizing sign language, classifying transactions in a big-data finance context, and a traditional knowledge-based system to do planning. I am supervising a heavier-than-usual set of six individual research projects, including a grad student working on progressive chess and undergrads working on projects such as a Photoshop-to-HTML translator, an interpreter for a homoiconic OO language, and pure functional data structures. This all means that I have a lot to learn this semester! I'm also still thinking about the future, as the dean's 3-year review of my work as department head proceeds. Yesterday I watched the video of Steve Jobs's commencement address at Stanford. This time around, his story about the freeing power of death grabbed special attention. Jobs gets up each day and asks himself, "If this is your last day on Earth, will you be happy doing what you are doing today?" If the answer is "no" too many days in a row, then he knows he needs to make a change. That's a bracing form daily ritual. When it comes to this level of self-honesty, on most days I feel more like Howard W. Campbell, Jr. than Steve Jobs. I think I also finally grok this aphorism, a favorite saying of a friend: "Real men don't accept tenure". It can be an unhealthy form of academic immortality. The question I ask myself more often than not these days is, "Are you programming?" Let me substitute "programming" for "writing" in a passage by Norman Fischer quoted at What I've Learned So Far:
... programming is a sort of absolute bottom line. "Are you programming?" If the answer is yes, then no matter what else is going on, your life -- and all of life -- is basically OK. You are who you are supposed to be, and your existence makes sense. If the answer is no, then you are not doing well, your relationships and basic well-being are in jeopardy, and the rest of the world is dark and problematic.
A day without writing code is like, you know, night. (With apologies to Steve Martin.) -----