23 June 2008

Nancy Drew

Morning edition's "In Character" series covered Nancy Drew today. I never read her books, but I appreciate the commentary.

Crime writer Laura Lippman said, "One of the nice things about Nancy Drew books is that it validates curiosity as a virtue, which was not always the message in a lot of things that little girls where told."

Engineers and scientists need to be curious to pursue research. My curiosity always came in the form of wanting to know and solve riddles and puzzles. I had Games magazine for a long time when I was a kid, and there was one riddle book at the Oak Park library that I would check out almost perpetually.

Still today, though, I have to remind myself to foster that curiosity. There are so many opinions and ideas of what research to work on, that I can easily get derailed on the high-level commentary and understanding. At some point I have to dig in, and it's my curiosity that will facilitate the transition.

22 June 2008

pressure and emptiness

One evening over dinner at the workshop last week we talked about differences between industry and academia.

At a one-day workshop held last fall for Martin Vetterli at EPFL, there was a very good panel of people who had been both in academics and in industry. I remember clearly that Stéphane Mallat gave his perspective on the issue: The two have different main challenges in their jobs. In industry, there are deadlines where there is great pressure to deliver and a lot (millions of dollars, future of a start-up) on the line. In academia, there is a kind of emptiness one gets from working on a problem for several years without seeing any fruit from your work.

When I brought that up, folks had some interesting thoughts to add-- that most people in big companies never feel that kind of pressure in industry, and that in fact the pressure of teaching in front of 300 students for the first time could be more stressful than any work deadline. I wish more people felt that way. Maybe profs would be more prepared for their courses!

Joint Workshop on Fusion, Mining and Security for Networks

I had a great time at this workshop last week. It was held at McGill University in Montréal, and there was an interesting mix of systems folks and theory folks. In a panel on the last day, there was a discussion about what is more important in the study of computer and complex networks today-- theory or practice?

The answer (from Matt Roughan) was that clearly both are important, but that the research that can be applied to practical problems will win. In a way this is a universal truth-- Newton, Gauss, Einstein, Daubechies all won because their theory was applicable. (Though I would like to refer you to my earlier post on Stigler's law.) On the other hand, the work of abstract mathematicians, a few of whom I know and love, won't be useful for at least another century... and without them we would be hosed (to use what I understand is a Canadian phrase).

It brought to mind a discussion I had heard some time ago about how in every discipline, either applications are leading theory or theory is leading applications. The speaker at that time said that he believed disciplines go through phases where either one or the other is ahead. I thought that was very interesting. His point was that in the study of sensor networks right now, the applications are leading the theory.

01 June 2008

the set game

A friend of mine just introduced me to the Set Game! It's cool. Check the "how to play" link which takes you to a flash tutorial...

I'm playing the daily puzzle every day :)