Wednesday January 19th

Dreams of Yesteryear and Today; the start of a new semester

I started Spring semester this week

  • So far, it’s been amazing. I’m in love with all of my classes! I’ve already sat in on a Number Theory class, attended my first Random, Probabilistic Graphs class and my Algebra IV class on Rings and Module Theory, which has been exhilarating. I’m waiting to attend my Elliptic Curves class, which is in an hour. I stayed up last night going over notes for our first class, reading about Ramsey Theory, and adding books to my wishlist that I’d like to buy over time. I will definitely be writing a lot of proofs this semester, learning some probability and learning things about integers, too.
  • This semester, there are familiar classmates, and even a study group already forming for Real Analysis. So I’m stoked.
  • A part of me is still a little heartbroken from having left, but I get to go back again for Christmas (fingers crossed), and my friends are already planning a trip with me then. So there are things to look forward to on multiple fronts.

Rekindling a fire

  • While I was home, a friend of mine hung out with me and we visited my high school, as we were in the area doing research for his thesis paper.
  • As it turns out, the subject was someone we both knew, who had won multiple awards, but there was a dearth of information on the subject matter.
  • Part of this lack of information was because in my country, especially in the Arts, there is a lack of archival processes. This is interesting because when I first graduated high school, I worked on a local soap opera and met a producer from the show who asked me to work on a gig where I organized archives (newspaper articles, etc) for the Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s big move to a new space. My friend was surprised when I told him this, and that I had done such important work, interestingly, because doctoral scholars have visited to study the place (for example, during my brief time there, a student from Spain was doing her dissertation work on the place), and it was co-founded by a Nobel Prize winner.
  • When I first started my PhD, I began thinking about databases, and so for this particular problem, one of the issues is that even in our local libraries, the database system and information retrieval is quite poor (not to mention, there is a general lack of data). My dad likes to say that we collect data or information, but we don’t do anything with it, and that part of this issue stems from the colonial legacy whereby countries in our region obtained independence, but we at the local level were taught to be admininstrators and delegate to a higher power, which means that we have had to unlearn systematically how to designate and begin to redesign our own systems.
  • So anyways, I left with my friend fairly frustrated, because the persons at the libraries basically told us that even though this library was specifically for local heritage information, it couldn’t be of much help and that we should “use Google” within the library (again; the delegation to an outside entity). I kid you not; we were literally sitting with our phones, in a library, Googling things and trying to navigate their database that struggled to make a connection between the person’s first and last name, or where they primarily worked (and every single person who has been trained in lighting design locally knew this individual, or had been trained by them or someone who trained with them in some capacity, and the person received a national award and even received a letter of recommendation from the father of modern lighting design to go to Yale). And I began to think about knowledge discovery systems, because even the information and databases that we do have locally don’t find structure or meaning between the entities of the data that do exist within the databases. So that’s something I think that would really be of value locally.
  • One of the biggest issues, however, is that the kinds of people who do work in this area are simply not interested in working on these kinds of systems (generally) in developing countries. So a lot of the work just becomes software used by companies and organizations in first world nations that don’t benefit significantly from access to these kinds of systems. And it’s a difficult thing to explain to an outside entity (say, asking for an outside consultant to build such a system; this is something my dad has experience working with, which led to much frustration (and can be a huge financial loss when they don’t deliver) and to his eventually building his own systems throughout his career).
  • Furthermore, there’s a real divide between the technical and the Arts in my country, which is something I’ve always struggled with. The intersection of persons who really understand the needs of the Arts community and have technical skills is rare. If you are considered “gifted” intellectually within school, you are steered away from the Arts, which means that technologically, there is a lack of persons who can help artists use things like software to make systems that would really help their industry. So that’s kind of a larger, interesting goal that might be something I can eventually contribute to, or establish some kind of fund to make this happen to connect people with the skills to do that with artists who would benefit from these systems. The really interesting intersection is my own; people who have had an exposure to the Arts, understand how it works locally and have technical skills. And I was lucky because someone in my high school (a professor, perhaps) had the insight to let a handful of us pursue both Science and Art classes.
  • But this isn’t about the Arts; it’s about people who are technical and can contribute to a domain-specific area, understanding what the people who use those tools need rather than designing an out of the box piece of software that doesn’t consider what they truly need. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. My dad basically spent his entire career doing this for developing economies (he’s a huge database and data person, and is also super into open source; these days he’s into video recording and editing technology, which is funny because it means he has a bunch of questions for me about all kinds of random stuff). I remember he once told me that they were doing research on whether certain emerging agricultural industries were competitive economically, as well as tradeoffs between modes of transportation. Apparently, my country once had trains that were meant for the European population, but when they left, they abandoned the infrastructure. We use primarily cars and smaller buses now (but they don’t go to all parts of the country because they need to make money so some places are inaccessible), but there has been unpublished research (I’ve been told by my dad) comparing the two systems and determining which was more efficient and that sort of thing.

My high school

  • The school is responsible for educating several engineers, doctors, lawyers, leaders in the Arts and educators.
  • It also offered squash, netball, football, tennis, gymnastics, badminton, theatre, singing, swimming, and the eco-Activist’s club. I might have, at some point been involved in all of these. There was also a steelpan group (I played drums for those briefly) and a Classical Ensemble (my brother played cello for that). I was also in both the Christian club and the Indian Cultural Club, too, I think, and even made a drawing of Mother Lakshmi one year for our yearly exhibit.

This week

  • I have a couple meetings but still feel a bit out of place. I’m still grappling with being back. The food from home is helping.
  • I’ve also been doing yoga in the mornings during the week, which has been fantastic. My parents put me on to that.
  • One of the things that is always a little startling coming back is the value of money. You become painfully aware of how much each dollar is worth compared to back home, converting back and forth. And there is a bit of guilt in spending it, but in a few months I’m pretty sure I’ll get back to my usual grind.
  • In yoga, one of the things the instructor talks about is “setting an intention” each day. I think for this week, my intention will be to continue to be grounded, be aware of my health, sleep, and to take my time getting back to work here, as well as to be organized for this semester.
  • I have some anxiety about some parts of the year, but for now I’m trying to take each day and each week at a time.

And that’s it

Written on January 19, 2022