A Day in My Life #lifebookswriting

Let’s see, a typical day. That’s actually hard because there are seldom typical days.

So here goes:

5-7 am. Wake up. Actually my wife wakes up first, usually. I let her have the first shower and either read or check email. If I’m teaching undergraduates, there’s always something from a student. Usually along the lines of “I’ve just started this homework at 11:45” They’ve had it for two weeks, “and can you extend the deadline past 12?”  I never check my work email during the evening when there’s a class. It only encourages them. Mind you, if it’s something substantial, I answer it.

She’s done, out walking the dog and training our cats. So it’s time for my morning ablutions. Before they went to uni, this was when I’d wake our boys. Wake them for the first time, that is. Now I just shower.

Breakfast: For someone who occasionally posts dashed good recipes, I keep it simple. A quesadilla; tortilla on griddle, hot sauce on tortilla, cheese on hot sauce, fold, and brown both sides. Mexican soul food. Did I mention I’m as anglo as they come? By now the tea is cool, but that’s fine.

Then I write and do author stuff. I’m usually sitting at the end of the table across from my wife, and she’s doing much the same. Atlanta traffic is ferocious.  If you can, and we often can, it’s best to wait it out. If I leave at 8, I’ll get in at 10. If I leave at 9 I’ll get in at 10. If I leave at 9:45, I’ll get in at 10. The car seats aren’t that comfortable.

Then it’s research, right now really difficult optimization problems – large systems of simultaneous transcendental equations (If you get that you’re good), or machine learning. We’re looking at faster ways to do Boltzmann machines. That Stat. mech. I took as an undergraduate in the dark ages still comes in useful.

This is often the truly fun part of being a professor. Working with the PhD students and teaching them how to formulate – then answer problems. Undergraduates are the next most fun, but they’re a little clueless. That can get frustrating. The rest, administration trolls and arbitrary power struggles over trivial things; well that can take a hike.

Usually, lunch at my wife’s office. She’s also a professor. Then after more work, the drive home.

Atlanta traffic comes into it’s full power in the afternoon. Between 3 and 6, it’s a parking lot. So we go the back way. Still an hour on the road, but at least you’re moving. We follow the line of march from Sherman’s army on the way home. There’s nothing wrong with the South that a visit from William Tecumseh Sherman couldn’t fix.

Then it’s a couple hours more writing, usually a mixture of work and fiction. Always with a pot of tea. Unless the trolls have been active; then it’s a beer.  Since we’ve had children, I’ve usually done the cooking (my wife nursed the kids when they were infants), and she’s done the cleanup (I played with and changed them). That division of labor has survived school, scouts and university. Before then we used to swap. Dinner, walk the dog, and in the immortal words of Pepys “off to bed.”

Nails it.

Jorge Cham nails it. Except my chair is blue and doesn’t come above my shoulders, this could be me with a student. I even look like the professor, except I don’t wear vests. (But I do wear shorts until it snows.)

phd070615s

How FORTRAN changed my life.

Back in the day, when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was a college student, I took FORTRAN. I was well on my way to applying to Medical School, great MCAT’s, good GPA at a serious university in a real subject, and it just seemed the way I would go.

Then in my final term, I took FORTRAN. WATFOR on punched cards, using a cpu-minute at a time on a big IBM mainframe. A multi-million dollar machine my laptop would run rings around today. I took to it like a duck takes to water. I was in love. Within the first day, I’d finished the book and was on my way. My backup plan, graduate school in science, became my plan. Probably for the best, as I’m not sure how inspiring a Medical Doctor I’d be.

I ended up using far more CPU time than I expect was budgeted. Tried some simple numerical integration techniques in my Statistical Mechanics class, probability distribution analysis for the lab I worked in, and even wrote routines that are still in use today. (Translated into C and incorporated in a molecular mechanics package.)

FORTRAN even influenced the science I ended up training in. The NMR people didn’t play with programming, the crystallographers did. So I started on my career developing and studying algorithms, by working out methods to squeeze big problems into little machines with appropriate approximation algorithms.

So while I’m not allowed to admit it today, at least not admit it and keep my credentials as a full fledged computer science profession, I still have a soft spot for the language.