Monday, May 14, 2007

Angry


  • NSF requires us to book our international flights on American carriers which often means a code-shared flight. So I do so, spending more taxpayer-funded grant money than I should, and what does it get me? Well, I can't book the seats until I show up at the airport. So I'm spending 50% more than I should to get service worse than if I booked directly. Let's us all pray that I get a good seat...if she's not too busy choosing sides in sporting events.
  • I never liked Mathematica. I "grew-up" with Maple and just figured my DNA didn't go that way. Sure, Mathematica is just about the most unforgiving (and arguably least natural) syntax out there, I'm sure to folks in Illinois it makes some sense. But then there's their (site) licensing. Every year, Wolfram makes sure to remind you that productivity doesn't matter one lick when you need a quick answer and it won't run because the password is expired. Sure, we have paid for the license, but they make us enter these silly passwords. And no, no warnings that we might want to make sure to get our passwords soon or else we'll encounter this situation. It's so avoidable, but hey, their new and improved version has the periodic table included...oh boy!
  • The topic de jour is tenure and the attainment thereof. I figure I'll post some thoughts eventually once they crystallize, but in the mean time, it gets me thinking about school administrators. Afterall, tenure decisions usually get input from one's dean and is ultimately made by some cabal of Vice President and Board. Anyway, I was going to say that they are one's enemy, not just in getting tenure but in your very survival. But really, as scientists, I suppose that's too lofty a role because ignorance is the enemy of research and teaching. No, administration (with all due respect to Dean Dad) is some lower evil force through which you must battle. The incessant sand whipping around you as you battle in the desert; the yucky mud as you travel through a swamp. You can't battle the administration, you slog through it. If you're good, really good, you use its energy against itself ala Tai Chi. But it takes time for such mastery.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mathematica sucks. Wolfram is a crackpot, and a scumbag. At least that's what the physicists who knew him in the early 80s tell me.

thm said...

One thing I'm sort of glad I did is to have bought the student version of Mathematica as a student, then pay the tribute fee upon graduation which lets you convert your license to a genuine, full professional version, at a total cost much less than buying a new professional version. That gets around a sort of chicken and egg problem of trying to justify buying it for work without using it.

I say sort of because although I can see how powerful Mathematica is, I still haven't done anything definitely useful with it (except for using Integrate[]), which is partly because it can be infuriatingly difficult to figure out simple things if you're not an experienced user. Like how, for example, do you start with a set of {x, y} data and make a set of {x, y, y^2} data? In Excel, or Igor, or Origin, it's trivial and intuitive.

I did take the free online introduction to Mathematica course, and have been working through the notebook, and so now I know three ways to make the {x, y, y^2} data and do feel I'm getting a sense of how to do things the Mathematica way. I hope it'll turn out like TeX, where you're rewarded after the steep learning curve with a very useful tool, but I'm still not 100% convinced that I'll actually be able to do anything useful with it in the end.

Carl Brannen said...

I also bought the student Mathematica when I was a math grad student. I simlated a few differential equations, but I found it rather painful to use.

Recently I've been playing with things that need symbolic calculations. I've used MAXIMA, which is free. But MAXIMA chokes on the problems, and I suspect Mathematica might do better.

My problem was to find the equations of motion for particles around black hols in Schwarzschild an Painleve coordinates. Instead of doing it the easy way (with Christoffel), I want just 3 DEs, so you vary the integral of proper time over coordinate time.

Doug Natelson said...

I like the "administrators as environmental influence" analogy, particularly because if the administrators are really working well, you should never have to think about administration at all. Our current dean has been very very good, but her term is ending soon, and many of us are scared about what the future may hold, since it's very easy to imagine ways that someone could do a worse job.

Uncle Al said...

ignorance is the enemy of research and teaching

Ignorance is the mother's milk of management. As with ISO 900x and Six Sigma, process is all and product is meaningless. Anything can fit in the hole. The hole is important.

"Mr. Angry Physicist.. we see that you have only one Nobel Prize, and in Chemistry at that. We cannot offer tenure to an overall unproductive, unfocused career."

Dalmer-Benz purchased Chrysler for $37 billion and sold it for $7 billion, by the book. Productivity bonuses all around!

a quantum diaries survivor said...

Hi Angry,

yes, the NSF policy is bad... In the country who has taught the world the marvels of free trade, we see these rules popping up. Tsk, tsk.

But it could be worse, some companies in Germany prevent their employees to use the bonus miles they collect with business flights. At least, if you fly enough you can get a business class upgrade every once in a while...

(which btw is the best way to use miles)

Cheers,
T.

Gordon said...

BTW -- it is possible to use the administration for good! If you can slide in with a proposal that makes everyone look good (including the dean -- hey -- you can say you got that center started) you might even get some money from them. I'm serious! Really!

Angry said...

Gordon, use the administration for good? You must be some kind of academic Jedi Knight, albeit one a bit slow with his RSS feeds, huh?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant tool... obtuse documentation. I could write, in ten different programming languages, within 10 minutes, what it takes hours to figure out how to express in mathematica.

Anonymous said...

Their Simplify[] and FullSimplify[] functions consistently suck.

Anonymous said...

Mathematica frequently generates corrupted files, causing you to lose weeks, if not months of work. Mathematica has no excuse as it is the only software that produces so many corrupted files, compared to any other software. No other software is as bad as this! I am surprised how they got away with it, with this problem being around for maybe 20 years since the beginning.

Anonymous said...

use omega CAS
http://www.omega-math.com