Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Location: New Zealand

Marni D. Sheppeard

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another Kea

I have been wondering about the identity of the NEW commenter, Kea2. It turns out that wikimedia has a cheesy photo:


Anonymous chimpanzee said...

Been at SIGGRAPH '08 all week, met with your friend Louise Riofrio. Each day, making new (& promising!) contacts on your behalf..even Louise. Of course, for myself (my vision of a satellite R&D organization, analogous to your dream of a Category Theory Inst).

Ran into

Dr. Violete Ivanova
Instructor & IT Consultant
Educational Visualizatioin & Media
Office of Educational Innovation & Technology
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Massachusetts Inst of Technology

after she gave a widely praised talk about female astronauts (!). This reminded me of Louise (& yourself), who have had astronaut aspirations. I sought her out, mentioned your names, & she produced TWO business cards: 1 for & 1 for you 2 rascals ("give them to your female astronaut friends"). This conference is very rich in interaction, people dole out business cards like they breathe air.

I met with some major Research Institutions (Microsoft Research, Disney Animation, Fraunhofer Inst/Germany, DFKI/Germany). The last 2, within the last 24 hrs. Both are professors AND Directors (i.e., power). I simply asked if they could use a math whiz (some mathematical physicist in NZ, who uses a "parrot avatar"). Already, PIXAR uses an applied mathematicians (both UCLA math PhDs, 1 is now CS prof @Stanford) as math consultants. So, there should be an opening for you..SOMEWHERE!

Basically, Computer Graphics (simulation of light & physics/motion of physical phenonmena) is computer simulation. Something, many physicists already do. CG research does stuff like Monte Carlo simulations, "Photon mapping", BRDF (Bidirectional Radiance Distribution Function..a variant of a Wave Function for computer graphics computation). So, this stuff is easy stuff for you.

I brought a copy of your recent paper (rejected FQXI proposal), & showed it to the ex-Director of Microsoft Research Labs (formerly a CS prof @Caltech), & he immediately picked up on "operads". But, then said "I don't understand the rest of it". He gave me a referral to the current director of MS Research. And, for my vision of an R&D Institute (& yours), he gave me a contact @MS Research ("external funding" dept).

Man, ran into some really interesting people yesterday. One is an ex-Johns Hopkins CS professor, who is in Entrepeneurial mode in Silicon Valley. Has experience in getting grant funding, & has scored business successes (e.g., Silicon Graphics workstation accessories). Really smart guy, & he & I hit it off. We will be talking after the conference.

Lesson Learned:
"working on Applications" (your own statement) needs to get a 50/50 split in your daily work schedule. There is NO MONEY in theoretical physics (L. Randall/Harvard said one doesn't get rich doing this), so look to this rich field of Computer Graphics. It's ACM/Assn for Computing Machinery SIG (special interest group) called the BIGGEST sig in all of ACM! Because, the graphical nature lends itself to various markets: scientific visualization, film/TV animation & special effects, & most importantly MASS-MARKET consumer entertainment (e.g., Xbox 360, gaming, graphics cards for PCs, etc).

"granted they are talented, but what makes them sucessful is HOW THEY CAPTURE AN AUDIENCE:
-- xxx, impressario
[ handled the Vladimir Horowitz comeback at Carnegie Hall ]

The Computer Graphics research community HAS this "feel", so its something scientists should seriously make a concerted effort in (they already are, via Scientific Visualization).

I believe you have a future in this area, as a math consultant. Engineer types are notorious for "hand waving" (i.e., non mathematically rigorous shenanigans), so your services are very desirable. This could FUND your theoretical physics dream..NOT waitressing ("burying my head in my head"). A few people were incredulous, when I mentioned this to them.

"Blue skies baby..BLUE SKIES!"

Your vision of "blue sky research" should be coming to fruition, it's not a matter of IF..but WHEN.

August 15, 2008 1:29 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Chimpanzee, I don't care about money. You just don't get it. Do you really think I'm going to move to the U.S. for a job I don't want, which will no doubt take up even more of my personal research time than waitressing? No thanks.

August 15, 2008 9:11 AM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...

When I mentioned your name to various entities (PIXAR, Disney, et al), I mentioned that the implementation is *remote* consulting. I.e., over the Web (video conferencing, blogging, etc). No need to move. I did mention to them, your vision of starting your own Category Theory Inst. MS Research has an "external funding" dept which could fund this.

A few entities mentioned that they prefer personal interaction. I did find out today, that Google seeks out "general talent", not targeted applicants for a project (however, they are 1 of the places that prefer personal interaction & a move is required).


Your situation (& Physics in general) is in a SEVERE down-cycle. Look at the recent 80 million (?) shortfall in Fiscal 2008 budget, resulting in significant layoffs at SLAC & Fermilab. Although, I heard an angel came in with 5 million (plus there was a last minute Federal "save") to prevent the layoffs. I worked with the Strings '07 organizers (a post-doc, very helpfu) who told me the field was hurting for money. Your approach of trying to compete with other entities (who are associated with universities, infrastructure, etc) is not an optimistic strategy (obvious). Funding decisions are skewed over to the conservative side, so a lone researcher like yourself VS xxx (the category theory guy you mentioned). Who's gonna win? From a "risk management" point of view, you need to find a better option. This SIGGRAPH thing sounds very promising (it even exceeded my intial expectations!), I met a bunch of physicists today! 1 was a nuclear physicist do a startup, & another was a CS professor (& Dept Head) @U. of Indiana (try to figure out why he switched from Physics to Computer

Everyone needs to have a Funding Model. "Taking care of Business" as the saying goes. I have heard yourself & Bee, make some "cries for help". This is the basis for my effort lend a helping hand. I happened to walk by a Berkeley CS prof today, who was on his cellphone. He was talking business with xxxx..something about money. Academics isn't all about "book knowledge", there is a significant "real world knowledge" component (grant funding, buying equipment, hiring people, etc) I mean, EVERYBODY has to deal with the M word: Institutes that are founded, budgets for equipment & hires, etc. I happened to run into a key contact today (U. of Mass/Amherst alumni, who knew 1 of my research colleagues back in my day..25 yrs ago), here is what he told me:

- I sit on NSF boards, which reviews proposals
- we were part of an infrastructure initiative that got funding for 33 million

This is the guy I'm looking for, an insider who has experience on Infrastructure startups. I.e., it's an exercise in Business, writing proposals. REALITY. I would just have him handle the logistics of an infrastrucure startup (my vision of an R&D institute), & my role would be a researcher (with some management responsibilities, to establish research direction)

"Deals are what make the World go 'round"
"Money is the lubrication that make the world turn"

Somehow, a simple mention of entrepeneurship (making $$) has been misinterpreted as a mathematically illogical thing, & even "evil"! I was just thinking today of the Fields Medal in Mathematics, isn't the monetary award a measly $500 check? That is really pathetic. Even the Nobel Prize (couple million, usually divided among more than 1 awardee), isn't that much. This demonstrates how Math/Science is economically depressed. This is probably why college attendance for these fields are hurting. People want a decent living, not poverty! (you mentioned this adjective yourself in our private emails).

I will say that I'm pretty discusted with some of the .com "made off like a bandit" activity. Do a startup, get VC funding ("money sharks"), go public, then do a "pump & dump". I don't like that either. It seems to be "legal" (within the current flawed laws), but very unethical. A recent Caltech Physics PhD (whose dad was 1 of the co-founders of Wolfram Research, & went to my high-school), told me he was not happy with the patent system (it comes down to how much $$ you have to hire patent lawyers, etc). So, he joined his MIT undergrad buddies in a startup in Las Vegas/NV to sell robots to the mass market(!).

A bit of Philosophy. "You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped". I'm really disappointed to hear your negative response (Bee, also). I was given some advice by a friend a few years back:

"Don't try to save the world"
"Just do your own thing"

Certainly, my vision/plans will benefit from all these contacts. I believe there has been a simple misunderstanding on your end. I am not advocating being a money grubbing capitalist, just trying to get a better economic funding model for research types like yourself (& me).

A couple of people (both Caltech CS profs) I spoke with also expressed surprise at your position of having to waitress. I mean, this is a red-flag..something is wrong. You say you want privacy & quiet time, well...a service job like waitressing severely cuts into this valuable time. This I simply don't get.

I met a couple of Australian natives at the end of the day. He (NDRC/National Digital Research Centre, Translational Research Leader, he's out of Ireland) immediately stopped what he was doing, & Google searched a company that might be an option for you. He immediately sent me an email with that URL, who hires "quants" (background in Physics).

DE Shaw & Co

"Other Positions

The positions listed above can be thought of as our recruitment perennials, since we are almost always seeking strong candidates in these categories. In addition, however, we often have openings in other areas within the firm, and in various new departments that crop up when we start new lines of business. We would be happy to review your resume even if you haven't been able to identify a particular opening that seems well suited to your background or interests. While some positions will of course require domain-specific experience, we are somewhat unusual in the extent to which we tend to value evidence of raw ability and extraordinary competence, with less concern for the extent to which a candidate's specific experience matches a particular, currently open position. In fact, if your background is unusually impressive but happens not to match any of our current searches, we might well invent a position for you rather than miss the chance to employ an extraordinarily talented individual."

I.e., they will pickup talent "which has fallen through the cracks [ of Standard Model Academia/Industry ]". Your talent/passion is pretty obvious to me, so isn't this a better option than waitressing?? Come on!

August 15, 2008 11:25 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Chimpanzee, I am waitressing because I prefer to work honestly than in a business culture. Some of the positions you mention do sound interesting, I admit, but I am very dubious that you can find any offers that won't compromise my ethics. You think I have to accept the reality? NO, no and no. I have said this before. The society you value is full of people who belong on the scrap heap of cultural evolution. Call it evil if you like. I look forward to a better future.

And please stick to short posts. Long posts may be deleted. My physics readers don't want to be bored by this drivel.

August 16, 2008 9:15 AM  
Blogger nige said...

How is it a cheesy photo?

Do you mean that the yellow block at its feet is a piece of cheese that Kea2 is eating in the photo?

If so, it is asking for trouble. Cheese is not a good food for birds, since I think all dairy products contain the sugar lactose and you need to have the enzyme lactase to digest it. I don't think that birds have lactase!

That might have played a factor with the previous Kea you reported which died from an overdose of milk chocolate. Really, parrots should be more diet conscious. If they're clever enough to talk, they should eat the right things!

August 17, 2008 5:32 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Nigel. I suspect it is cheese in the photo. Yes, bad food is a problem for kea, but they can eat many more things than other birds, having adapted to an omnivore diet in the mountains.

It's not the lactose in the chocolate that's a problem for them. There are many fat kea around tourist spots who clearly survive on a high lactose diet. I don't like feeding them, but it's questionable whether this helps them because many of their food sources have been commandeered by introduced competitors, like humans and stoats, which attack their nests. Their numbers are declining rapidly, but more due to pest poisons, accidents involving human technology (I saw one being shredded by the bullwheel of a rope tow once) and stoat attacks than due to their human diet. Adults can deal with the stoats and other predators, but they have difficulty raising young.

August 17, 2008 1:23 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Here we go: a good parrot diet, including cheese and pasta.

August 17, 2008 1:39 PM  

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