Thursday, February 17, 2005


The past month or so has been busy. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll be giving a tutorial on my resonator simulation code, and -- if the kami that govern my interactions with Office feel benevolent -- I will quickly finish the last bits of the slide, poster, and report that are due at the BSAC office for the upcoming industrial advisory board meeting. Then I'll have some breathing room for a while, which I plan to use to move two in-progress journal papers from mostly finished to submitted. That will be a relief to me, and I'm sure my collaborators will be pleased, too.

As I sat at the computer this evening, absent-mindedly humming along with the radio while I set up scripts to time two alternate methods for computing thermoelastic damping (conclusion: my method wins), I thought about how cheerful I am now. This is fun! I'm in a position where my job is to think about the things I've loved to think about since I was a kid, with the added bonus that the results of those thoughts seem relevant to people who are building interesting things. I have been playing with computer programs late into the nights for about two decades, now, and I still find it entertaining.

When I feel that I need a break, I clean around the house, or I read from interesting technical books, or I walk to the grocery store -- and those chores are usually fun, too.

I'm lucky to be able to find such joy in work and chores, but I've been this way for a long time, and so I usually don't think much about it. But preparing for the tutorial tomorrow reminded me of a time about three years ago when I had a similar busy stretch, also ending in a tutorial. I don't look fondly on that time; there were many reasons, but one major reason was that I disliked large parts of my research work. Most of the feedback I received was negative, a hazard common to anyone who writes software, since few users write an e-mail until they run into a bug -- and I was still figuring out how to shrug off the more rude (and usually more clueless) of those complaints. I was in the middle of a major revision to SUGAR (another simulator I worked on for a long time), and at any given time it seemed like more was broken than was working. I felt nigh to murderous toward some of my colleagues, and my feelings toward some of my friends were not markedly kinder. It was the second time as a graduate student that I seriously considered walking away.

There has not been a third time.

I would not wish to go back to being a young child -- though that sounds better than going back to middle or high school! -- but there is something to the idea that we should be as little children. I was a curious kid, and I loved to play with things that interested me. I'm taller now than I was, then, and I've changed in other ways as well. But I'm still curious, and I still love to play with the things that interest me. I've moved from pegboards to PDEs, and it has been a long time since I squeezed the color from the fallen petals of a crabapple tree; but I'm still able to spend my time at play. And when I can shrug off the irritants and unkindnesses and stupid mishaps that litter my days -- and those of everyone else -- the world still seems to be a fun and intriguing place, just as it did then.

However fun it the world may be, though, I should go eat something and devote some time to contemplating the insides of my eyelids.