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paper rocks

Today I completed the final draft of my dissertation (deadline for submission is September 30).

At peace. For a few hours at least. :)

The past few weeks have meant a lot more juggling than usual between the thesis and clevercactus, as I double-checked the theory and performed additional simulations and such. I had started the previous revision cycle at the beginning of August, after the public release of cc beta2, and back then I had to reorganize the document structure that I had completed by the beginning of July (refactoring). What's interesting about this (yeah, I was wondering too) is that I ended up doing the core of the document-refactoring work on paper. For the math part, I would have expected it, since when working with equations nothing beats pen and paper. But for the document outline itself...

Yes, I know there is outliner software. Yes, I tried it. Yes, it didn't work.

And no, it wasn't a problem with the software, but rather with the hardware.

That is, the main reason why it didn't work is because, to be able to connect all (in my mind) the pieces into a... err... "coherent narrative", I really needed to look at everything at once. And given that the final document is 3 parts, 12 chapters and two appendixes, well, doing it on-screen would mean a lot of scrolling up and down or a really tiny font. I couldn't deal with either. So what I did was write down different parts of the contents on paper and organized them and reorganized them on the wall (invisible tape to the rescue) , redoing some of them, until the structure was finished...

For example, this is how part of my living room wall looked a couple of weeks ago (since then, most of those papers have migrated over to a wall my room, where I can look at them sitting on the computer).

I don't know if it was an efficient solution or not, but it worked pretty well for me. And I have to say, I learned all over again (as it happens every few months when I pick up pen and paper) that when you can't just press Backspace to delete what you just wrote you think a lot more carefully about what you're going to write. It forces in a sense to pace yourself since you can't write as quickly as you think, whereas in the machine you can type before you've even thought about what you're saying! Okay, okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. :-) All of this was, in this case, was a big bonus, and a big help in the process.

Conclusion: barring blackboards (even the fancy ones that transmit data to a PC, or print the image on the board), wallscreen (preferrably touch sensitive) displays, or holographic projectors that can express my thoughts, paper is still the best choice. Portable. Low power (very!) and user-friendly.

So today when I finished (sometime ago) I went out for a Pint of Guinness at Nancy Hands (a great pub across the street--okay, one of the four great pubs across the street :)) and watched the sun setting filtered through the hues of the pub's windows. Then back home and cooked a good, wholesome, healthy dinner: cheeseburgers and fries. Ah. Heaven.

Now off to disconnect my brain for a while. A sort of Pavlovian self-reward. Watch a movie. Or something. Read a book. Ah, yes. I'm reading this incredibly great book on the history of the KGB called The Sword and the Shield: The Secret History of the KGB but I obviously haven't been paying much attention to it since after a few fits and starts I really started it about a week ago and I'm still only 150 pages into it. The book is based on actual KGB files stolen by an ex-KGB agent (okay, he wasn't an ex-agent when he stole them!) and smuggled out of Russia after the Wall fell. It covers basically everything from its post-revolutionary beginnings (Lenin's Cheka) to today's SVR (the resulting foreign-intelligence arm of the KGB after it was split in the early 90's along CIA-FBI or MI5-MI6 lines)--although information on the SVR is understandably thin, the book constantly traces past events back to the present, along with the "official" SVR story surrounding them. Who needs spy novels when you can read about the real thing?

Anyway. Back on Planet Earth tomorrow.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 16, 2003 at 8:35 PM

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