Thursday, November 26, 2009

Done and Printed

Just got done printing the final copies of the thesis on nice cotton paper. Printed on Thanksgiving morning (early hours) 2009. So that's it then. No more changes. Nothing more to do than turn it in to the Dean's Office on Tuesday. And I am thankful to be done. And also thankful to have something meaningful to celebrate for my 50th post. If it were not for the pressure to produce a paper from this, I think I would feel a tremendous sense of release. As it is, were it not for a sense of obligation to my advisor, I would be quite happy to drop the paper altogether. But for right now, I'm going to forget about it, drink Apricot Ale, and eat turkey (or shrimp fajitas).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Loose ends

Hmmm... well...
So the last time I posted, I had just turned in the first draft to my advisor. Now I've already defended, and made the few changes recommended by the committee, and got that back to the dean for their perusal.

The defense was quite a shock. For my first master's, I did a project, so there was no defense. For my second, the defense was great -- like having a conversation with a couple of friends who really liked something I'd done. This defense was quite different. I had to prepare a 35 min presentation, and the idea was that I'd present then answer questions. But about 10 minutes in, one of the committee members asked about something I'd said, and from then on it rained questions and criticism: "well, have you considered this case? why not?", "the point you're making is obvious -- it's well known", "let me tell you how you should have gone about this." It was pretty rough. And I realized that from the beginning, the project I'd been assigned was a bad fit for a defense. I was simply trying to provide a known capability. They were expecting a research project. So while for me, all I had to do was test that the capability worked properly, they cared nothing at all about how robustly it was implemented, only whether it was superior to other techniques, and if so, under what circumstances. And the one piece that we added on at the end that did have a research angle they found completely uninteresting.

Really, I shouldn't have been so surprised. I knew that they would be more interested in results and research than in all the time I had taken to understand and express the statistics behind the formulas. I don't even think they read those sections of the thesis -- the only comments I got were on the abstract and the results sections. And oddly, after all the questions and enough suggestions for things I should have done to do a dissertation on, they didn't require me to do anything beyond a few minor changes. It was a big reminder to me, though, of what the research life is like, and why I didn't do the Math Ph.D. You have to give your life to the subject. You do one thing, and do it to the exclusion of everything else. You become an expert in one little narrow area by studying everything ever written on it, and then you help push the boundary. You go out and seek grant money, fund graduate students, spend your life promoting your research, and in the end, perhaps, you have a result named after you, or a well-known paper, or a set of disciples carrying on the torch. And compared to that investment, the time I've spent writing code, testing, compiling sources, and trying to express it all in words the best way I can seems like nothing, and the results of my labors feel amateurish, which, in reality, they are. I have yet to find the thing worth devoting my life to. My passions at this point are reactive rather than creative. I wonder if perhaps I ought to be content with being a skillful workman. Ultimately I do not want to, but that too is a reactive passion, a cry against meaninglessness. Already I am looking for my next educational experience -- already the void is stirring inside me. Part of it is about boredom. Another part is just hearing someone say, "you have done measurably well." That is why it stings when I realize that all the A's on coursework and words of praise from my advisor, and even my own feeling of satisfaction amount to a mere forgery. I want to say, "you can't possibly expect me to take it *that* seriously -- I'm only doing this for fun. It's just not that important. I get just as much pleasure from laying laminate well." Then again, maybe all these thoughts right now are the post-defense emptiness talking. So either way, here I am recording, so I can look back later and think either "at one point, he really got it," or "how could he have thought that?"