Ploughing Through Theoretical Physics Textbooks Is Therapeutic

And finally science confirms it, in a sense.

Again and again, I’ve harped on this pet theory of mine – on this blog and elsewhere on the web: At the peak of my immersion in the so-called corporate world, as a super-busy bonus miles-collecting consultant, I turned to the only solace: Getting up (even) earlier, and starting to re-read all my old mathematics and physics textbooks and lecture notes.

The effect was two-fold: It made me more detached, perhaps more Stoic when facing the seemingly urgent challenges of the accelerated world. Maybe it already prepared me for a long and gradual withdrawal from that biosphere. But surprisingly, I felt it also made my work results (even ;-)) better: I clearly remember compiling documentation I wrote after setting up some security infrastructure with a client. Writing precise documentation was again more like casting scientific research results into stone, carefully picking each term and trying to be as succinct as possible.

As anybody else I enjoy reading about psychological research that confirms my biases one-datapoint-based research – and here it finally is. Thanks to Professor Gary for sharing it. Science says that Corporate-Speak Makes You Stupid. Haven’t we – Dilbert fans – always felt that this has to be true?

… I’ve met otherwise intelligent people, after working with management consultant, are convinced that infinitely-malleable concepts like “disruptive innovation,” “business ecosystem,” and “collaborative culture” have objective value.

In my post In Praise of Textbooks with Tons of Formulas I focused on possible positive explanations, like speeding up your rational System 2 ((c) Daniel Kahneman) – by getting accustomed to mathematics again. By training yourself to recognize patterns and to think out of the box when trying to find the clever twist to solve a physics problem. Re-reading this, I cringe though: Thinking out of the box has entered the corporate vocabulary already. Disclaimer: I am talking about ways to pick a mathematical approach, by drawing on other, slightly related problems intuitively – in the way Kahneman explains the so-called intuition of experts as pattern recognition.

But perhaps the explanation is really as simple as that we just need to shield ourselves from negative effects of certain ecosystems and cultures that are particularly intrusive and mind-bending. So this is my advice to physics and math graduates: Do not rely on your infamous analytical skills forever. First, using that phrase in a job application sounds like phony hollow BS (as unfortunately any self-advertising of social skills does). Second, these skills are real, but they will decay exponentially if you don’t hone them.

6 volumes on all of Theoretical Physics - 1960s self-consistent series by my late professor Wilhelm Macke

On Writing or: What Do I Need to Smoke to Understand Your Websites?

This is a verbatim quote.
(“This” refers to the second part of the title. The first one is a lame reference to Stephen King, of course).

It is a question asked by a former colleague some years ago who had been exposed to my proto-blog websites for the first time. These websites are subject to my ongoing Website Resurrection Project.

I had planned to give you a dull, corporate-status-report-style update on the project, but there is nothing more to say but: To my utmost surprise I am really maintaining these websites still, in addition to this blog, in addition to our so-called company blog and websites (hardly discernible as such) … and in addition to excessive usage of social media since last year.

The more interesting question is: Why?

Why am I writing (pseudo-)blogs and why am I engaged in so many different conversations?

This post has also been inspired by Michelle Hatzel’s post on Virtual Dwellings.

I confess, my very first website was a business website (even discernible as such) – this was in 1997, the golden age of IT, before the dotcom crash – and me an aspiring freelance IT consultant. The Y2K version of this (German) site is still available, tagged as archived.

Thus I am not a serial website creator and deleter – I migrated the old stuff over and over to several new platforms and my rule is not to delete anything and cross-link all my profiles and websites. I am fascinated by the intricacies of Digital Legacy, by the way.

The only exception to this way taking large parts of the website offline and gradually ‘resurrecting’ them now. I dare say one of the reasons I am writing online is my desire to confront myself with my dated writing and thinking.

I am intrigued by ambiguity and by attempts to bridge chasms, most notably the ones running through my own (online?) persona. This was what made me craft the lengthy site title of this blog and this made me create three different sites back then – different in layout, style and content. In this blog I am aiming at exactly the opposite by combining everything.

Often I felt compelled to or obliged to write an ‘expert blog’, e.g. on cryptography and digital certificates. Theoretically this is the way to build an online community and reputation as the social media experts tell us, and it is a matter of fairness to add to the free repository of knowledge that had been invaluable to me as a professional.

But I already felt bored before I even got started. Though I do write about science and IT I cannot disentangle from personal stories and weird associations.

I called my personal website e-stangl.at my personal console – replying to my individual WHOAMI – and that’s exactly what it was. I started experimenting with the interaction between language, content, layout and the technical underpinnings of websites. I have spent hours in moving something one pixel to the left or to the right and musing about which colors to pick in order to perfectly represent the spirit of a website.

Adding a disclaimer I need to state my web tech knowledge is dated now and I don’t say that my sites are particularly beautiful or well done. But my own web design and web writing is one of the few things I ever tried my hands on that are devoid of my – otherwise all-encompassing and irritating – perfectionism.

My ancient websites are based on a homegrown ‘content management system’ that antedated some of typical blogging softwares’ features, but it lacked the options of adding categories and tags in a flexible way. This is due to my former belief in being able to really categorize in advance what you are going to write about. But I am an avid re-tagger and re-categorizer, and re-arranging my web content is really raking my personal Zen Garden.

Harima-ankokuji-sekitei01

Yes, there is nearly only navel-gazing at these websites, and – in a sense – this is an upside of making a website your fortress on the web, your personal dwelling. Though I had received unsolicited feedback via e-mail now and then, I know I am writing only for myself. Since these are technically not blogs and not hosted on a well-indexed platform they are basically not found. The whole point is writing with an imaginary public audience in mind that theoretically could read it, but not in your wildest dreams expecting any feedback ever.

I started this blog with the same ‘intentions’, but suddenly the fortress with its well-defined boundaries turned into a conversation. Years before I had loathed the concept of my comments published at other websites and other bloggers’ comments published to mine – blurring the boundaries between ‘mine’ and ‘your’ virtual territory. I imagined all kinds of stalkers and fringe scientists invading my websites. Unfortunately that did not happen.

Now I consider myself part of that large network and I don’t care about the boundaries. It is the process, the endless stream of different conversations that meet in a place that I might call my online dwelling. It is like a roundabout or crossroads, not like a building.

This is most likely the reason I plunged in to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ gleefully – as a rather late adopter. Again I finally ‘got’ the idea of resharing and retweeting existing content which seemed absurd and useless to me before: It is about being a thought leader DJ. I accepted that all human utterance is entirely plagiarism (Mark Twain) and came to terms with all of writing (any myself) being cliché. No, this time I won’t pingback to my article featuring Sandra Bullock as the nerdess. quoting my article about cliché has become cliché it its own right.

The greatest mystery to myself was probably why I am blogging in English. About 10 years ago I had suddenly decided I needed to have an English version of subversiv.at and e-stangl.at. I planned for a 1:1 correspondence of English and German pages and I failed epically on that: I dreaded keeping them in sync. The English version just never wanted to be a translation of the German one or vice versa. It was more like: Here is a keyword – now write down your free associations in German and English.

I am not sure if this explains anything but my English reading at that time comprised the following books that I still consider most influential.

The following website – my first English-only website has materialized itself out of the blue in 2005 after having devoured such books in parallel to your daily dose of ‘corporate communications’. It was about a ‘group project’ whose activities I had the honor to chronicle.

EPSI

EPSI is a prestigious middle European Think Thank dedicated to: Elementary research, painting blogs, collecting space and doing something. (This was our logo).

For better or for worse: My brain switches to English when pondering on smart aliens who plan to subvert the corporate world, for example. I had written extremely weird stuff in German also – that triggered the quote used as header, but German and English weirdness cannot be translated into each other. As an important initiative in The Website Resurrection Project – I started commenting on my former, weird German ‘Subversive Newsletters’ in English, and I started adding ironic and sarcastic comments on my former Pivotal Articles in German such as my graduation speech.

This post has reflected an important characteristic of all my online writing: It is a about trains of random thoughts, loosely connected, and not all planned strategically. It is finally about a global conversation, not so much about exposing my monolithic work of art to the public.

If you do not know how to close a random post – add a quote:

We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that’s more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.

And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.

— Christopher Locke in Internet Apocalypso, Chapter 1 of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site.
Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

— Thesis Nr. 22 of 95 of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Spam Poems and Search Terms Poems: Preliminary Results

[ Spoiler ]

I started drafting this post when I has been waiting anxiously for [Spoiler] this blog post [/Spoiler]. In order to set the stage for this I need to let the narrative unfold – the unbelievable story of Search Term Poetry.

[ Unnecessary Egocentric Intro Comment ]

Actually I once figured I would unlock the universe’s fundamental secrets as a scientist or invent something ground-breaking as an engineer. Later I hoped for leaving my mark by contributing to internet standards. None of that happened.

But finally my time has come: I have started a viral, grassroot movement – bridging the chasm between art, geekiness and procrastinating by means of The Net.

[ The Dawn of Search Term Poetry (still egocentric) ]

I proclaim that The Subversive El(k)ement founded Search Term Poetry on Dec. 12, 2012 (12-12-12!). Historians of art: If you are aware of any earlier creations of search term poems or spam poems, let me know!

[ The Professionalization of Search Term Poetry. Enter: The Philosopher ]

But I have been trumped on the spot by a real philosopher’s search term poem. How could a tech / geek blog and related search terms compete with something like “existential frustration is not pathological”?

[ The (Intermittent) Marginalization of Search Term Poetry. Exit: Subversive Elkement ]

My second search term poetry experiment  probably got lost in all those end-of-year-best-wishes-posts. Which is a pity as I believe my searchers have become less geeky and more philosophical, searching e.g. for “theory about stupid questions”.  But I did not use the proper social media channel yet.

[ The Birth of Spam Poetry. Enter: The Linguist ]

But then some the movement suddenly inflated, sparkled by a harmless post by Alex Brown on alleged (but interesting) spam. This in turn triggered my dabbling in a new genre – spam poetry which triggered … a whole lot of activities by Alex:

  • Search term poetry by Alex – avant-garde type dreamscapes – as in these movies I usually do not understand. But I was really intrigued by “Ice hockey: without ice.”

[ The Globalization of Spam Poetry. ]

[ The Viralization of Search Term Poetry and Spam Poetry ]

[ The Social Marginalization of Search Term Poets and Spam Poets ]

BTW these activities have not exactly increased our numbers of followers on Twitter. But revolutionaries are often misunderstood and laughed at when the revolution is still in its infancy.

And now I have the pleasure to show off pieces or search term art that might really convince art critics.

[ A Digression – There is no digressification, is it? ]

And I need to digress to set the stage: This is the kind of stuff that would be accepted by publishers fooled by fake artists. Similar to one of my favorite examples of fake art: A well-known German comedian prentends to be an aspiring Russian artist presenting his songs to a German audience of ‘experts in art’ – who start a hilarious over-serious intellectual discussion on this type of art:

[ The Zen-ification of Search Term Poetry. Enter: The Founder of The BLAHS ]

So this means: Mark Sackler, please submit your Search Term Haikus to some well-respected publisher of poetry! (Without the humor part, but maybe they would not notice anyway)

[ The Scientification of Search Term Poetry ]

I believe (linguists and philosophers, correct me) that the key to optimization of search term poems is to find real sentences or at least verbs that let you build sentences. E.g. in one of my poems I connected “the first heat pump” with “it was built”. The fun is always twofold: 1) in the fact that somebody really submits a clause like “it was built” to a search engine and 2) the connected with a totally unrelated noun. And it this case the whole sentence sounds a bit like Yoda a – a goodie for geeks

It can also work with nouns, such as in “rodent electric chair”, then specified in more detail by “a sustainable product”.

The very best search terms are full (meaningful) sentences whose creator already did that for your: Connecting words that had used in your blog in a completely different way. My current favorite – not yet art-ified – is a search term by visitors of one of my German blogs:

“2012 das jahr in dem die erde gefriert”
(2012 the year the earth froze)

submitted by a Google Image searcher. The target article was about how to utilize the freezing of a large vessel of water in a heat pump system.

Mark’s haikus score particularly high on this word connection scale(*), as demonstrated e.g. by:

“Many worlds are around us
So why don’t you leave.”

(*) To be investigated in future PhD projects in linguistics.

OMG, now I have dissected how art works and/or explained puns – a sacrilege maybe. On the other hand I have provided the blogger community with some advice on building great search term poems. Now I want to hear from you! Publish your  #searchtermpoems and #spampoems – and let us know on Twitter!

________________________

If this article was not top search engine optimization re search term poetry I do not know what is…