Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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That was the week that was

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Just a short update. The past weeks have been quite busy. First there was quite a big conference at our department. An impressive number of people was here to give talks an discuss stuff. Not really my area of interest, though, so I didn’t attend too many talks. As a fun exercise in web design, go to the conference’s web page and try to find out the schedule of talks. I couldn’t find it…

… which can be explained by three things: Firstly, I’m using a web browser that seems to ignore <blink> tags, secondly I’ve seen quite a few web sites and learned to ignore the topmost bit of the screen and, thirdly, that link wasn’t there on the initial version of the web page. So I had learned to access the page and immediately scroll down to see the speakers’ names before the thing started. Which was what I continued doing later on, thus not seeing that link.

It’s probably a big point in web design that important changes to your pages may not be subtle as people who’ve seen the page before may not notice them. In real life this is known, btw. Whenever they change the way that traffic is controlled, i.e. if Stop signs are added or removed, if new traffic lights are installed, if crossings are replaced by roundabouts, there’ll always be big signs warning the drivers about the changes. Probably because if you drive there regularly you’ll be on ‘auto-pilot’ and not actively see them.

The next week a summer school started. It’s quite a big one that goes on for almost three weeks. Even with the main topic, Algebraic Groups, not being my direct area of interest either, the topics and lecture series covered a wide range of subjects. There’ve been all sorts of different talks. The usual boring ones, but unusually few of those. There were people speaking about subjects I don’t care about but speaking so well that it was great to be there. And while I didn’t technically understand what they were doing, a good lecture can still give you an idea what a particular subject area is about and that it actually is interesting.

This week then, there was the most interesting lecture series for myself and our group. It has the flashy title Lie groups, Nahm’s equations and hyperkähler manifolds. Uh-huh ‘hyperkähler’ sounds funky, was what my flatmates said when hearing about it. Then they wanted me to explain what the word means. Which is a bit tricky. Particularly when they tell you to only use a single sentence without any expressions they don’t know, with ‘complex numbers’ being one of those expressions.

The not-entirely-fun part of the lecture series was that the professor who organised the summer school decided that we should take notes and type them up, so there can be collected notes for all the lectures. That could be a nice idea. But the fact is that good notes are really hard to make and doing that will take much more time than one thinks it does. It would also require the lecturers themselves spending a lot of time doing it. And it would require them to acknowledge that many parts of their lectures are actually quite hard. Usually they’re happy to do that when questions are asked, but it’s no information that comes along with the lectures you are hearing. (In fact, I thought it’d be neat to have a little bar running along the side of the notes that changes colour depending on how non-obvious what is written there is. Whether doing that computation required e a three minute scribbling or a three year thesis.

The whole thing could have been organised much better as well. While there was the order to make notes, no real or directions were given. Both could’ve been helpful for making uniform notes for all talks or for clarifying what the aim of those notes is. Just to please the people who were to lazy to take their own notes? Or something to benefit others learning about the topics as well?

Anyway, with that lecture series I mentioned I had a bunch of four lectures to take notes of. For the sections that I understood it took ages because I wanted to try and make it sort of readable. And for the others it took ages because I found them hard to understand and thus had to be careful to not get any mistakes in there. As I’m not a big fan of formulae, I’d also be unhappy with notes that are mainly made up by them, so I wanted some text as well. I’ve typed everything now which again took much longer than I expected and was lots of ‘fun’ battling LaTeX. Not that I dislike LaTeX, but at times I thought that it being more freeform, just as my hand-written notes, would be quite nice.

The lecturer of that course will still be around until Monday. He has been helpful with the transcript of the first two talks already. Talking to people in person just remains the most useful way of getting more information. So I’ll go again, to improve the notes, get some good references for the bibliography and talk him into writing a nice abstract / introduction giving a good motivation for what is done in the text.

An over decorated formula from the notes I took

Nice formula? A bit over-decorated, I’d say. But at least it might contain one letter that people understand without further explanation.


Elsewhere… I’ve found my very first black and white photos from about twenty years ago. They were made with a Box camera which uses nice big roll film and which I’m tempted to re-vive now. The photos look very retro though and I couldn’t find all of them. … Then, by coincidence I met a couple of friends in town to day who had just met some other friends of ours who were in town on a spontaneous visit. So we had an equally spontaneous pizza meal. Nice. … And while meeting all of them in the middle of town, another friend of my friends happened to walk past. She was looking for a room and our flatmate Daniel will be in France from September, so we’re looking for someone to rent the room for a year. So I showed her the room… coincidences-are-us. In addition my parents left for Australia. I’m jealous… and all they could do beforehand was complain that they’ll have to spend 30 hours in or around planes.

July 9, 2005, 22:01

Tagged as uni.

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