Me and my Ph.D. It rhymes!! [Warning: Narcisistic Post]

So I am reinstalling Ubuntu on my work computer because I totally screwed up the permisions for the users. Turns out you can take away your own admin abilities and without them there is no reasonable way to get them back. Still, I couldn't be happier with Ubuntu in general as a work computer. As a home computer I still have a few gripes but thats why I spend most of my time in the windows partition. Actually, I do have a problem. I can't print to the public printer here in Birck because I can't find printer drivers for a cannon imageRUNNER 5570 for Linux. I'll keep looking.

So I wanted to write about me today because studying for the Ph.D. area exams has gotten me focused on how I seem to think differently then most people. The way I have typically described it is almost like a learning dissablility. When I first learn something I usually have trouble understanding and keeping up with whats going on. This is expecually true with math classes *shakes fist*. However, you ask me a year later about the class and it is very likely I can apply what I have learned much better then my classmates. I should qualify that, I know how to apply it much better, the nitty-gritty often escapes me though. But, in engineering the knowing how is usually the hard part. For instance boundry conditions and differential equations can be solved by computer. Picking those boundry conditions is still an art.

I also have a rather weak memory for how far I have gotten in school. I recently gave up playing World of Warcraft because I had difficulty getting engaged in quests. I would pick up a quest, read it, and then forget where I got it and often even that it existed. Despite getting to level 30 (night elf hunter, and I had Humar as my pet :-) ) I rarely knew where towns were and how to get from here to there. It just sucked and was way to much effort because I suck at its main skill, memorizing and keeping track of many different things at once.

I take pride in being able to see connections that others don't see. I am not sure if it is skill or just an almost manical obsession with it (if you spend all of your time trying to do something it can make up for mediocracy). Really this is what this blog has always been about. Its an outlet for various connections and ideas I have from reading news articles and whatever else I have managed to pick up along the way. I have always wondered if there was some connection between this ability and my relatively poor memory (Ha! didn't even realize I wrote that until now when I am reading this over and revising it...) . Well I found an interesting article today that described a direct relationship between an individuals ability to focus and the supposed "size" of their memory. The researchers determined that often people with great memories don't memorize more, they just make sure to get the important stuff. Ok, so thats fine but the interesting part was these last few sentences:

This is not to say that people who can't screen out stimuli are dumber. As Vogel noted, "Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people." The more you rattle the marbles around in your brain, the more creative new connections you make, as it were -- connections that might be lost on those focusing intently [on what you wanted to memorize]
Bingo! At least it made me feel good about myself :-) I often find that my creativity and my ability to function are inversely proportional to each other. It seems like the times when I am least functional (forget to pay the bills, have a disaster of a bedroom, and what not) are the times when I have my greatest ideas. Ok, that is alittle egotistic since I really don't have any great ideas that have been proven correct. At least that is when I have the ideas that I enjoy most. Its funny, but my room was probably at its cleanest durring my masters while I was writting my thesis.

I do seem to go about research in a different way then most people. I tend to treat it like design. Start with an intuitive guess and then slowly refine the design, adding and subtracting as needed. Often what ends up is quite different then what I started with. It was funny looking back on some of the stuff that I wrote for my masters thesis on the thermoelectricity of ionic solutions. I suppose it was somewhat confusing for my advisor because I must have come to her with 5 or 6 complete theories of electrolyte thermopower durring the 2 years I worked on the project. Each time I would manage to convince her and myself it was true before finding some new bit of information that made me rethink things. I am quite proud of where I ended up but it was a long road.

Its tough to describe the power that these strikes of intuition have over me. My labmates and friends probably can actually... :-) I will put it this way: there are only two things that make me content, TAing and working on or listening for these gut feelings.

I don't really know where this is going. Mostly I am expressing some doubt as to my career choice. Academia isn't the same beast that it was. Unless you are freaking amazing you have to fight for money, publish papers, network, write books, write grants, and budget what money you have better then thousands of other very intellegent people. I just don't think I can do that and I don't think that I can achieve the reputation neccessary to not have to do those things. Sure, in industry I will also have many of the same responsibilities but I have a feeling that I am more likely to be utilized better. Basically, in academia I have to fit a single job description but in industry I have much more freedom to find a position that I can excel at. Im not saying getting a Ph.D. is wrong, it will doubtless help me obtain this magical job I speak of, but I no longer feel like I am here to experiance my Ph.D. I am here to get it and move on.

I'm not sure thats a good thing. I am a big proponent of always enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Kind of hard to enjoy the journey with your eyes so focused on the prize...

And what ever happened to ending these posts with a question! That used to be my favorite part. Maybe this is part of maturity, not only do you start giving up on your dreams but you start "Tell'n it like it is" with no room for doubt...

(Is that a question?) <--- At least that is!!!!



So I read recently of someone who believes that there will be an economic depression far worse then that of the 70's in about 5 years. Most of the crash will come from a saturation of computers and their ability to increase productivity. If you think about it, for most of the last 20 years our economic prosparity has been driven by our ability to continiously produce more with less. Computers and the robotics they made possible have made all aspects of our work more efficient. More efficient means more wealth can be created per person so all our lives are better then the ones before it.

Once everyone has a computer and every process is automated what happens? Sure, we will have incremental improvements but nothing like what we have seen over the past 25 years. So suddenly our ability to create more wealth platues at just the moment that the size of our work force begins decreasing. The stock market, a classic measure of our economies well being, requires productivity gains to fuel its growth. With the stock market crash that follows the stagnation of productivity people's retirements and savings are decimated. Spending falls, more goods chaising fewer dollars leads to deflation, deflation means people get fired, the massive amount of debt our country has accumulated comes due... a.k.a. not good times.

Ok, so this happens... not alot we can do about it in all honesty. What I am more interested in is how our society will handle this massive change. I am a big believer in the fact that extreme changes in society only occure with correspondingly drastic economic or political changes. The great depression and world wars changed the way our government thought about its responsibilities to its citizens. The end of the roman empire changed the relationship between peasent and king. I probably could go on.

So what happens this time? We are at a unique point in our history I think. Never before have we known so much about how we work and never before has such a potential to learn more existed. Brain research is exploding and, unlike in the past, it is being supported by hard data i.e. like a news article I read this last week. The article discussed how men get more pleasure then wemon when seeing people "get whats comming to 'em". How do they know this? They took FMR scans of participants brains and litterally just watched their pleasure centers of the brain light up. No more asking them clever questions to figure out just how much they liked it.

We are poised to learn just what makes us happy. More then that, we are poised to learn the "right way to live". Just what it is I don't know but i bet it isn't what we have now.

What is funny is just as we may be getting out of this recession we will enter another because of The Revolution (the energy crisis when we run out of fossil fuels). All in all it looks kind of grim for our generation. I think though what I mean to say is that it isn't all going to be bad. This is an opportunity for change and well, we have a chance to do it right. Like they said in Ender's Game, "The right voice at the right time can change the course of history...".