About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Saturday, December 25, 2010

random christmas greetings and seven things about myself

I received text messages today wishing me a Merry Christmas. For the life of me, I do not know the senders. One of the senders identified himself/herself(?) and just to make sure, I used my online stalking powers to check on the sender's identity. I don't know who that person is.

So what to do when that happens? Since I did not want to be a churl, I texted back, "Merry Christmas to you and your family."

I don't really go around the blogosphere much-- the blog entries that I do read are my friends' blogs, and the blogs that turn up while doing google searches. So I was surprised when a friend, Helen, decided to give me an award. So I'd like to thank Helen first.

My interpretation: seven things (about the self) and seven blogs.

Unfortunately, there are only two blogs that I actually visit (on a semi-regular basis). The first one, of course, is Helen's A Quarter For My Thoughts and Beyond, and the second one is Nath's Imprints of Philippine Science, a science related blog.

As for my seven things:

(1) I try to be minimalist. A (dead) mathematician I admire, Paul Erdos, has said "Some French socialist said that private property was theft … I say that private property is a nuisance." Although I cannot carry minimalism to the extremes he took it (living out of two suitcases), I share the notion that owning too many things is no good because things need to be maintained; you have to spend time and money maintaining property.

This is also one reason I dislike knick-knacks (especially souvenirs whose only purpose is to be a souvenir): they take up space without any purpose. My version of hell is an infinite collection of knick-knacks (from Boracy, Vigan, and other tourist spots) and being made to dust them through eternity.

(2) In spite of my efforts not to own tangible things, I love books, and buy too often. My thesis adviser and I share this love of books; since he earns more, he buys more books than I do. (I suppose this is good for me, because our reading overlaps.) Bookstores are moneytraps for me; even though my only mission is to buy school supplies, I sometimes end up buying books. I've decided to use electronic books to keep our house spacious, but it's hard to resist actual paper.

(3) I'm trying to save money for intangibles (stock, bonds, etc.). While I was an out-of-school youth, I read Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor and got interested in personal finance. I went through a finance phase (reading various popular books and selections from Investments-related textbooks), and learned about the need for a good portfolio.

(4) I'm a procrastinator. Although I know what I should be doing (saving money and investing, writing papers, etc), I spend a lot of time randomly surfing the web. There's a comic strip I read; you can find there Newton's Three Laws of Graduation. The First Law applies.

(5) I'm a skeptic. Repeated exposure to crazy stuff (Bulalo is good for hypertension being the most recent example.) has made me doubt many of the things people take for granted. I find it hard to take things on faith; if there's a statement in a math or physics book, I try to figure things out from first principles just to make sure that I have firm foundations for belief (that is, construct a proof). When I do take things on faith, I try to remember that I took it on faith, and that eventually, there ought to be a reckoning.

For example, interchanging the order of two limiting processes in mathematics is something physicists perform without much ado, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that I need to justify the step. Religion is also another thing taken on faith, and I have thought carefully about what I believe. Also, I believe in continuously improving my bullshit detector.

(6) I'm a dabbler. I'm interested in a lot of things: physics, math, finance, fiction, etc. A physicist's career depends on concentration, and dabbling in many things is dangerous in an era of specialization. The spread of my interests means it's hard to know everything. Even one subfield of theoretical physics can consume a lifetime, and dabbling reduces the time I ought to be spending on specialization. One advantage though of being interested in many things is I'm never bored. There's always something new under the sun.

(7) I like reading biographies of famous mathematicians and physicists, and I am drawn to people who were good teachers. There are ongoing efforts to improve the teaching and research environment in my country, and I take inspiration from people like John Wheeler, Lev Landau and Enrico Fermi whose own efforts helped create the environment I desire. I dream of a time when Filipinos with PhD's from the Philippines can be proud of the fact. A few decades ago, graduate education in physics here in the Philippines was like being cast-away in the middle of nowhere. I hope that, like the physicists and mathematicians I admire, I can do my part in improving physics teaching and research here.

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